DPPs, declarations and disqualifications..

The debate on policing in the House of Commons yesterday, which as Mick noted earlier none of the DUP MPs attended, related to an Order of the Day which, among other things, removed the disqualification of anyone who had served a custodial sentence from becoming an independent member of a District Policing Partnership – the Order was passed without a division. Report here. Instead the sentence will have to have been discharged 5 years before appointment to the DPP… and all members of DPPs, both political and independent, must “make a declaration against terrorism”. The measures are intended to come into force on 4 September. According to the Minister responsible, Paul Goggins, that declaration will be

“I declare that, if appointed, I will not by word or deed express support for or approval of…any organisation that is for the time being a proscribed organisation specified in Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000; or acts of terrorism (that is to say, violence for political ends) connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland.”

From Minister of State, Paul Goggins

The order deals with three specific issues: the requirement for independent members of DPPs to make a declaration against terrorism; the rules concerning disqualification; and the functions of the Belfast DPP sub-groups. The order inserts a range of provisions into the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, and, by its nature, is complex. I therefore hope that hon. Members will bear with me as I go through the detail.

Article 2 brings into force section 15(1) to (5), section 16(1), section 19(1) and schedule 1 of the 2003 Act. Section 15 brings the arrangements for independent members into line with those that already apply to political members in requiring them to make a declaration against terrorism before the Policing Board can consider their application. It is in the same terms as the declaration that prospective local councillors are already required to make. If an independent member appears to have acted in breach of his or her declaration against terrorism, it will be within the power of the Policing Board, or the council with the approval of the Policing Board, to remove that person from membership of the DPP.

and later in the debate

When the hon. Gentleman mentioned the criteria for disqualification, he put his finger on a very sore point. It is a difficult area, but all we can do in this place is to bring the rules for independent members of DPPs into line with those for the political members. All members, both independent and political, must make a declaration against terrorism and, as it is short, I shall read it out. It states:

“I declare that, if appointed, I will not by word or deed express support for or approval of…any organisation that is for the time being a proscribed organisation specified in Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000; or acts of terrorism (that is to say, violence for political ends) connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland.”

That is an unequivocal statement by any would-be independent member of a DPP of their complete aversion and opposition to acts of terrorism, so although the hon. Member for Aylesbury has identified a difficult area, I hope that gives him comfort that we are aware of the need to make progress to sustain a more hopeful future.

The relevant sections of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003 are here

And Lembit Öpik’s contribution, whilst initially a little cheeky, is interesting

As for the consequences of the order, the main question is whether the safeguards are adequate to prevent criminality and corruption from seeping into appointments to the district policing partnerships, a point that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) elucidated in some detail. I see it like this: in theory, it is a risk, but in practice, it is not a very big one. There will be an onus on those choosing whom they want as members of the DPPs to exercise a degree of common sense. I accept, as my late father used to say, that sense is not always common, but there are elements in the decision-making process for appointing members of the DPPs that cannot be guaranteed through further legislation. There would be a bigger danger in over-legislating, rather than allowing a degree of autonomy and accepting that with that comes a degree of risk.

By the same token, the sub-groups are likely to provide a political balance, because that is the mood music of the cross-party and cross-community consensus in Northern Ireland politics at the moment. I am prepared to give the benefit of the doubt because sometimes we see more problems than we need to try to solve. If that does not work out, it will need attention, but we do not need to worry about that just now.

There is also, it’s worth pointing out, a review of the status those specified groups, et al, underway.