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Clause 2 - Membership of the Commission

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 25th March 2004.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter Independent Conservative, Basingstoke 10:45 am, 25th March 2004

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the issues covered by amendment No. 50, which I had not detected. It reveals a huge hole, as he said. The question is of the utmost seriousness, and the Government must surely pay attention to it. My initial reaction is that it is wholly unacceptable that, while the Government emphasise the idea of the commission as a whole being ''reflective of the community'', it should be possible for the constitution of a committee or sub-committee not to reflect that principle at all. That involves more than a tension. It creates a potential contradiction, and it is a point that needs to be seriously attended to.

I fully support the right hon. Gentleman on amendments Nos. 30 and 49. I share his deep concern about the concept of being ''reflective of the

community''. It is fundamentally flawed and impractical to implement. As the amendments suggest, the only consideration should be the quality and qualifications of the people concerned.

As to the probing amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, I thank him for his reply to my intervention about political requirements, and how far that matter should be extended. I understand his wish to sit on the fence for the time being, so we shall return to that later.

However, will the Minister, in responding to those probing amendments, deal with another issue that perplexes me? Let us suppose that the Bill is enacted and the Lord Chancellor and the other people responsible for making nominations set about trying to secure membership of the commission that is reflective of the community. What will happen if someone is disaffected or disgruntled? That could happen if an applicant was overlooked. I apologise if I am guilty of an oversight, but the Bill appears to me not to include any provision for that.

To whom should the disgruntled person bring a case? Should it be the Lord Chancellor, the very commission that rejected his application, or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Are there, or should not there be, established procedures for such a person to follow? Who is to hold the Lord Chancellor responsible for ensuring that the commission is reflective of the community?