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Mr. Newton : My understanding is that that is the case. A number of matters will be excluded from the Select Committee's remit at the outset. One--and I note that this is the object of the Opposition's amendment--is the expenditure, administration and policy of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, which is excluded from the present arrangements for Select Committee scrutiny. It is important that that should be understood. The handling of individual cases by the Crown Solicitor's Office and advice given by the Crown Solicitor are excluded, and the drafting of legislation is also excluded.
I emphasise that, in each of those cases, the equivalent functions in respect of England and Scotland are excluded from the remits of the Home Affairs, Scottish Affairs and Treasury and Civil Service Committees respectively. Moreover, the wording that we have used in the motion replicates exactly the wording in the existing Standing Order No. 130(1) defining the remit of existing Select Committees.
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : I warmly welcome the announcement that the Leader of the House is making. Does he not accept, however, that the circumstances in Northern Ireland are very different from those prevailing in Scotland and Wales, especially in relation to the way in which legislation is dealt with--with so many orders and short debates in the House ? The power to create legislation and frame Bills would be a very useful power for the Committee to have.
Will the Leader of the House undertake that, after six months or a year, he will at least look at the question again, and also at individual cases, such as that raised by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) in an Adjournment debate a couple of weeks ago ?
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman raised two very different questions. The second was whether a Select Committee could look at individual cases. I would not want to excite expectations of that, because that would raise major issues throughout the field. No doubt my right hon. and learned Friends the Law Officers would want to look at its implications in the United Kingdom as a whole--in my judgment, quite rightly too.
The earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question could at least be presented as more innocuous, enabling me to respond in what I hope is my characteristically reasonable fashion. That suggestion, too, would have quite wide implications. But I hope that I have shown by my general demeanour in the House over quite a long period that if people come forward with a reasonable proposition and can make a reasonable case for it, I will look at it in a reasonable way.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) : I took up the matter of the exemption of the prosecuting authorities with the Journal Office, and the Journal Office informed me that that part of the Standing Order was added on 18 July 1991, at the same time that the remit of the Home Affairs and Scottish Affairs Committees was
Column 343broadened to include the expenditure and administration of the prosecuting authorities in Britain and Scotland. Would the right hon. Gentleman care to rephrase what he said about the role of the Scottish Affairs and Home Affairs Committees in that regard ?
Mr. Newton : It is certainly the case that the relevant part of the Standing Order was added at that time. The hon. Gentleman should understand, however, that the Opposition amendment would create a discrepancy between the remit of the Home Affairs Committee and that of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The Home Affairs Committee does not look at individual cases or at legal advice--I accept that the hon. Gentleman's amendment allows for that--but neither does it look at the policy of the Law Officers' Departments.
The Opposition's amendment, while it exludes individual cases and legal advice, would allow the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to look at the policy of the DPP's office. I do not seek to pre-empt the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I have to tell him that the exclusion of those legal matters from Select Committee scrutiny was carefully considered--it was carefully considered at the time and the decision was accepted by the House--and that the House would be ill advised to permit Select Committee scrutiny of matters in Northern Ireland that are not subject to such scrutiny in respect of Great Britain.
Mr. Newton : I think that that is correct. The hon. Gentleman can argue that there is some discrepancy, but his amendment would produce a significant discrepancy, as I outlined, which leads me to advise the House not to accept it.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : The recent exchanges have clarified the matter. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's argument on policy, but it is clear that his proposal will create an anomaly. The Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs will not be able to consider the administration and expenditure of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, whereas the Select Committee on Home Affairs can consider equivalent matters with regard to the Crown Prosecution Service, which discharges similar functions. There is a discrepancy, and I am sure that the Leader of the House would agree that that is undesirable.
Operations should be on a common basis. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore reconsider expenditure and administration and put the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs on the same basis as the Select Committee on Home Affairs ?
Mr. Newton : Perhaps I might revert to the words--without repeating them excessively--that I used to answer the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) when I described what I hoped was my reasonable approach. I would not rule out any further consideration of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), but I cannot give an undertaking on the matter. We need to consider it with great care. I cannot advise the
Column 344House to accept the amendment, which attempts to deal with the problem, because it raises a significant point of principle about examining the policy of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It goes beyond what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) intended, although I shall not attempt to speak for him, and it clearly goes beyond what the hon. Member for Upper Bann intended.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) : Does the Leader of the House agree that, although the amendment may or may not be important to hon. Members-- depending on where they sit--both sides of the House support the establishment of the Select Committee ? That is much more important to voters outside the House than the differences that appear on the Order Paper. The issue may involve problems of principle, but they are gnat's play compared with the principle of establishing the Committee.
Mr. Newton : I agree with the hon. Gentleman, especially since the administration and expenditure of the office in Northern Ireland is very small. When a similar point was raised in the 1991 debates, to which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred, my predecessor advanced the argument that it made little difference in practice because of the minor scale of the expenditure. The point has been legitimately raised again, and I hope that I have responded in the best way that I can.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) is right to say that the matter of overwhelming importance is whether we can set up a proper departmental Select Committee for Northern Ireland. The point of detail, while not insignificant, is small compared with the main issue.
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : If the Select Committee is set up, it will have to move about and go to Northern Ireland, among other places. Has my right hon. Friend considered the composition of the Committee in the light of the problems caused to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry because of the lack of co-operation between Opposition and Government ? Its members have been unable to travel and they have published a unanimous report, mentioned on the Order Paper, condemning the lack of co-operation. He will have to consider carefully whether the Select Committee will be affected.
Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend is a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. As he knows, I am cognisant of the difficulties of that Committee, although I have not intervened in the matter. I have frequently expressed the hope that the Opposition will return to the normal usual channels dealings and pairing, but I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not allow myself to be drawn by that line of that argument, which he was right to raise.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Is the leader of the House aware that all Labour Members on the Procedure Committee voted against setting up the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee ? Although my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) is entitled to his view, it is not shared by the majority of Labour Members, as will be shown later tonight. One of the main reasons why we are opposed is that we believe that no such Committee should be set up until general agreement is reached among
Column 345Northern Ireland Members. Bearing in mind what has taken place in the past few months, I believe that the proposal is most unfortunate. It is a sop to the Unionist party.
Mr. Newton : Not for the first time for all I know, the views of the hon. Gentleman are different from those of the majority of members of the Procedure Committee, whose Chairman is present and may wish to speak in the debate. It is also clear that the hon. Gentleman's views are not shared by a number of his hon. Friends. My view is with Birkenhead rather than with Walsall on this occasion and, probably, on many future occasions. [ Interruption .] I shall not go further and risk being accused of pursuing a policy of divide and rule. The position speaks for itself.
While the other departmental Select Committees will cease to have primary responsibility for Northern Ireland issues, they will still be able to make their specialist knowledge available. The Standing Order already allows Committees to communicate evidence and other documents to one another and to meet concurrently to take evidence and for other purposes. Indeed the hon. Member for Birkenhead knows that because he is member of the Select Committee on Social Security, which held joint meetings with the Health Select Committee to discuss community care, when I was a Minister in the relevant field. The Select Committee on Agriculture, might be carrying out an inquiry into a subject with a distinctive Northern Ireland angle. In such a case, that Committee and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee could pool their expertise by sharing their written evidence and holding a joint meeting to take oral evidence or discuss the issues involved. In that way, the specialist knowledge of other departmental Committees could be called on for the benefit of Northern Ireland, if it were to the mutual benefit of those Committees. That benefit is not lost by the establishment of the proposed new Committee.
Mr. Field : There are important differences between the administration of certain services on the mainland and in Northern Ireland. Because of the link between health and social services in Northern Ireland, the Select Committees on Social Security and on Health may profitably consider a link-up. Is the Leader of the House saying that the other Committees would not be welcome in Northern Ireland when they are pursuing evidence that is relevant to their wider inquiry ?
Mr. Newton : No, I did not say that. I do not think that I even implied it. Perhaps through the Select Committee on Liaison or in other ways, Select Committees of the House normally tell each other what they are doing and find out whether there are ways in which they can fruitfully co- operate. There is no bar of the sort that the hon. Gentleman suggested.
On the size of the Committee, the Procedure Committee's first thoughts were for 16 members, but in its later report it recommended 13 or 15. The Government propose that the Committee should have a maximum of 13 members because, the larger the Committee, the more unwieldy it is likely to become. For example, it would be more difficult for all members to take part in evidence sessions. For those practical reasons, we thought that it was probably sensible to choose the smaller of the two figures suggested by the Procedure Committee.
How the available places should be allocated will not be
Column 346an easy matter, but it is a matter for the Committee of Selection under Standing Orders. The Government strongly support the Procedure Committee's recommendation that each of the Northern Ireland parties should have a place on the Committee and that, in accordance with normal practice, the Government should expect to be able to command a majority on it.
I now turn briefly to the third motion on the Order Paper which is really a piece of housekeeping or tidying up. If the House agrees to the setting up of a Select Committee called the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, there is an obvious danger of confusion with the existing Standing Committee called the Northern Ireland Committee, under Standing Order No. 99. That Committee exists to debate matters relating exclusively to Northern Ireland that are referred to it from time to time by the House. As its closest parliamentary relatives are the Scottish Grand Committee and the Welsh Grand Committee, we propose to rename it--perhaps
unimaginatively but sensibly--the Northern Ireland Grand Committee. That change should make the different character of the two Committees abundantly clear without in any way changing the powers, composition or function of the existing Committee.
I hope that I have said enough to outline the proposals to the House sufficient to provide a basis for the debate. I commend the proposals to the House.
'expenditure administration and policy of'
'handling of individual cases by and legal advice given within Government by'.
As the last chairman of the only departmental Select Committee that existed before the creation of the present system--the Select Committee on Overseas Aid--I am instinctively sympathetic to the Select Committee system. Select Committees plays a vital role in improving the accountability of the Government to Parliament. Indeed, as current cases and inquiries show, there is a clear case for Select Committees' powers of departmental oversight to be strengthened. It is important, however, not to confuse concern for the proper scrutiny of Government with the decision to create a Northern Ireland Select Committee, for that is not the reason why the present proposal is before the House. It is not simply a procedural parliamentary matter. It has wide-ranging political ramifications relating to the Government's Irish policy.
The issues relating to the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee are different from those relating to the establishment of any other Committee of the House. Northern Ireland cannot be treated as though it is the same as any other region of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where the population have a legally enshrined right to unite with another nation state if a majority so wish. That right reflects the divided allegiances that exist in Northern Ireland, with the nationalist community aspiring to a united Ireland, and the Unionist community aspiring to maintain--indeed, strengthen--the bonds that link Britain and Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where the legitimacy of the state is questioned. It is the
Column 347only region of the United Kingdom where armed troops are deployed on the streets in support of the civil power, as they have been during the past 20 years.
Moreover, Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where the establishment of a Select Committee is an essential ingredient of one party's policy to seek steps towards greater integration of Britain with Northern Ireland. It is opposed by another party for just that reason. It has symbolic importance for both communities in Northern Ireland, which far outweighs its parliamentary significance.
In a briefing paper which I believe the Unionist party gave to the press and to others about the matter it says :
"The symbolic effects will be more immediate. This will be the first positively unionist move by the British Government since our Parliamentary representation was increased in 1979."
It continues :
"The Northern Ireland Select Committee will probably want to sit regularly in Belfast. When we see a group of familiar
parliamentarians again in Stormont with their doings reported in the local media".
That is its significance for one particular party. For that reason, in the past, the Government, the Opposition and the Select Committee on Procedure have recognised that the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee cannot be isolated from the political situation in Northern Ireland.
The original decision not to recommend the creation of a Northern Ireland Select Committee was made by the Procedure Committee in 1978, its reason being :
"The uncertainty about the future form of Government . . . for Northern Ireland."
That uncertainty has not altered.
In its report in 1990 on the working of the Select Committee system, the Select Committee on Procedure concluded that there should be no Northern Ireland Select Committee while the inter-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland were in progress. The Committee accepted that the decision to create a Northern Ireland Select Committee
"is a matter whose implications go beyond the rights and responsibilities of the House to regulate its own affairs." It is therefore not a purely organisational or procedural matter. In its last report, the Procedure Committee could
"see nothing to add or subtract from their previous views", and left it to the Government to decide when an opportune time occurred to establish a Northern Ireland Select Committee. In the past, the Government have opposed the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee. In 1990, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--the right hon. Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke)--in a submission to the Procedure Committee, asserted that the decision to establish a Northern Ireland Select Committee would need to
"command the support from elected representatives of both sides of the community in Northern Ireland."
The Government until recently held to that approach. For example, as late as June 1992, the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, when asked about a Northern Ireland Select Committee, stated :
"the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland believes that this is one of a series of complex issues that are best left open for consideration in the broad context of the current political talks."
Column 348--[ Official Report , 25 June 1992 ; Vol. 210, c. 395.]
It has now been taken out of the broad context of the current political talks.
On 11 November 1992, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey), the Secretary of State again reiterated the Government's position that a Northern Ireland Select Committee would need
"the support of the broad community in Northern Ireland."--[ Official Report , 11 November 1992 ; Vol. 213, c. 892.]
It does not have the support of the broad community in Northern Ireland.
On 15 February 1993, the Secretary of State, in response to a parliamentary question, again cited the need to examine
"the extent of support from elected representatives from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland."--[ Official Report , 15 February 1993 ; Vol. 219, c. 35 .]
It has no support from elected representatives from one of the communities in Northern Ireland.
On 22 July 1993, the Secretary of State was still concerned about the
"extent of support from elected representatives on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland."--[ Official Report , 22 July 1993 ; Vol. 229, c. 323.]
But by now, things were changing, and the matter was under review. The Government ceased to be concerned about support from both sides of the community. That means that the views and concerns of one section of the community in Northern Ireland--the minority community--no longer seem to have any relevance.
Unfortunately, the reasons for that change are all too obvious. Faced with the prospect of a defeat over Maastricht, the Government struck a squalid deal--or, as they prefer to call it, "an understanding"--with the Ulster Unionist party. The Government have put party interests ahead of the interests of all the people of the British Isles.
The primary reason why the Government have conceded a Northern Ireland Select Committee is not a high-minded concern for parliamentary democracy and the proper scrutiny of a Government department, but the need to maintain the "understanding" that was reached with the UUP before the summer recess.
Indeed, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) was reported in a recent article in The Scotsman as claiming that part of his price for supporting the Prime Minister had been the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee. The Prime Minister has not sought to challenge or deny that claim--I gave him the opportunity.
The Government have allowed that squalid deal to override the principles agreed in March 1991 for the three-strand talks process, whereby any measures that effected the institutional arrangements governing Northern Ireland would be discussed in strand one talks and under the principle
"nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."
The Labour party maintains its support for the three-strand talks process and regrets the Government's decision to undermine the framework agreed in 1991 by unilaterally starting to unravel the arrangements governing strand one of the talks. The decision to establish a Northern Ireland Select Committee without the agreement of the representatives of both communities in Northern Ireland serves only to demonstrate that the Government are still prepared to allow short-term party interests to take precedence over the peace process.
Column 349The problem is this. The Government have two agendas : first, to secure and maintain their majority in the House by keeping their own right wing and the Ulster Unionists happy ; secondly, to keep the peace process alive, as laid down in the Downing street declaration. Was it, I wonder, because the Northern Ireland Select Committee was being dangled before the Unionists that the Secretary of State could convince the Tanaiste that the Unionists would shortly return to the three-ring circus ? The Government may consider their two agendas compatible, but I do not believe they are.
This unfortunate decision will hinder the peace initiative launched by the British and Irish Governments with the publication of the Downing street declaration. It calls into question the Government's claim that their primary interest is to see
"peace, stability and reconciliation by agreement",
as the declaration puts it. There is no agreement about the establishment of the Northern Ireland Select Committee.
Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : Does my hon. Friend agree that thousands of people in Northern Ireland--indeed, the vast majority--will, if they are listening to this debate, be interested in one thing alone ? They want us to ensure that legislation that affects their
lives--legislation that the House passes every day--is properly scrutinised, as is legislation affecting other parts of the United Kingdom.
Mr. McNamara : Indeed : that is why legislative Committees are set up after the Second Reading of Bills. This Committee will have no power to investigate or alter legislation. My hon. Friend ought to know what the Committee is about.
Not only have the Government introduced their motion without the agreement of representatives of both sides of the community ; they also intend to gerrymander the composition of the Committee. They propose that the Labour party should have only two seats out of 13. In 1990, the Procedure Committee recommended that, if a Northern Ireland Select Committee was established, it should have 16 members, including three from the Labour party. That was unacceptable in 1990, when Labour had 227 Members of Parliament ; proposing that Labour should have only two seats now, when we have 270 Members of Parliament, is an abuse of power and of parliamentary
majorities--especially when we are to have parity with a party that has 30 times fewer seats.
Equally unacceptable is the proposed division of seats among the Northern Ireland parties represented in the House
The SDLP will have just one seat on the Committee, while the Unionist parties will be given four. The minority now makes up 43 per cent. of the population in Northern Ireland ; yet its representatives are to be appointed to just 20 per cent. of the seats allotted to Northern Ireland parties. With a total population split of 43 per cent. to 57 per cent., there can be no excuse for such gross misrepresentation.
The Ulster Unionist party, with 34 per cent. of the Northern Ireland vote, will be given half the Northern Ireland seats on the Committee ; the Ulster Popular
Column 350Unionist party will be given one fifth of those seats, on the basis of one seventeenth of the number of Northern Ireland seats and a vote of less than 50 per cent. in one constituency. That cannot be right.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Do I take it that the hon. Gentleman is confessing that Labour will never form a majority in the House, and therefore take the Government majority of seats ? Will he also tell us when he will come to his amendment ?
Mr. McNamara : I will come to my amendment in my own time. As for the hon. Gentleman's first question, I assure him that there will be a Labour Government. In a letter to the Secretary of State, we told him that- -although we felt that our representation on the Committee would be disproportionate--we would concede, for the sake of argument, that there should be four Northern Ireland seats. We then said, "On the balance of what is left, you may have five seats and we will have four."
We thought that a reasonable offer, and I hope that we will follow similar principles when we form the Government. That is of particular concern to us because, having reached an understanding with the Government, the hon. Gentleman and his party will be able to maintain their majority on the Committee.
Mr. Frank Field : So far, my hon. Friend has produced a powerful case against the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee. I am puzzled : if this is such a principled stand, why has the amendment been tabled ? Why do we not simply oppose the establishment of the Committee ?
Mr. McNamara : For two reasons. First, despite our principled objection, we are unlikely to succeed in the voting--although, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, we have such a powerful case that we are certainly winning the argument. Secondly, and more important-- [Interruption.] I will deal with my hon. Friend's second point shortly.
The Government have also attempted severely to restrict the terms of reference for a Northern Ireland Select Committee : that is why the Labour party has tabled an amendment. The Government motion would exclude the office of Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland from the Committee's scrutiny. If we are to have a Northern Ireland Select Committee, it is vital for it to be able to investigate all matters of concern to the peoples of Northern Ireland.
Our amendment would allow the Committee to investigate the thrust of the policy of the Director of Public Prosecutions--his order of priorities, his attitudes to policy issues such as killings by the security forces, and his decisions not to prosecute in areas where the community has real fears.
Such problems have been raised in a variety of cases, affecting both communities, and we debated them only recently in an Adjournment debate. The failure to prosecute, and lack of knowledge of the policy behind that failure, can have an adverse impact on public perceptions of the role of the security forces, and can therefore affect both the administration of justice and the upholding of the rule of law. We have not asked for any individual cases to be examined, or to be put to the Committee ; nor does our amendment suggest that we should look into the various
Column 351matters referred to by the Leader of the House. We believe, however, that the Government should, for the first time, be brought to book in regard to matters involving policy, in an area of such sensitivity as this.
It is significant that powers of administration, expenditure and organisation--powers possessed by the Scottish and Home Affairs Select Committees--are being denied to the Irish Committee, if the House decides to proceed with it. It will not run pari passu with the English Select Committees ; it will still be treated as a special case.
I hope that, if the matter proceeds, the House will accept the amendment. Even if it is carried, however, Labour will vote against the motion, because of its symbolism as a triumphalist integrationist measure. It does not have the support of both communities in Northern Ireland--something that the Government previously considered crucial. Instead of ensuring equality, it entrenches divisions that already exist, and hardens Unionist intransigence rather than encouraging compromise.
If the Secretary of State considers that this measure, the increased use of the newly named Northern Ireland Grand Committee and the partial change in legislative matters put before the House, will persuade the Unionists to sit down with Dublin, I believe that he is mistaken. They will want more and more--"As long as you pay the danegeld, you'll never get rid of the Dane".
The Government must recognise that there can be no purely internal solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. An integrationist solution will not work, because it fails to deal with the divided allegiances which exist there. The Government should not be jeopardising the peace process for the sake of a short-term political expedient, but working with the Irish Government and the parties in Northern Ireland to agree a just and lasting settlement that respects the rights and aspirations of both communities. They should not be favouring one community at the expense of the other.
For those reasons, we are opposed to the establishment of a Select Committee.