Life Sentences (Northern Ireland)

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Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman may think that my arguments are weak, but his contributions are sometimes right over the top. The system is not colonial. If the hon. Gentleman wants home rule for Northern Ireland, perhaps he should go and articulate that view elsewhere. The present process has been established because of the ungovernability of Northern Ireland, which is due to many factors not directly under the Government's control. It is not for this Committee to tackle all those issues now.

The matter could be considered on the Floor of the House, but Northern Ireland is only one constituent part of the United Kingdom, although it is an important part that takes much Government attention. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman setting out every item of primary legislation that the Government have introduced. It is a considerable number, and while the hon. Gentleman did not agree with all the measures, they were none the less fully debated in both Houses of Parliament. It is not possible to deal with every piece of legislation as the hon. Gentleman suggests. Every Department wants many matters to be presented for consideration by the House. In any parliamentary Session it is not possible to satisfy all those departmental needs. That is the reason for the Queen's Speech. It is why the Government must refine things down to the matters that are of prime importance to the different constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

There is another factor determining the need for the order. It is needed to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998. If it had to wait in line with all the other measures that the Government are considering, we would be out of compliance with the Act during that time. I do not want that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that Governments should comply fully with the Human Rights Act, not only, as in this case, to protect people in prison, but to protect the interests of society in general.

Mr. Thompson: Surely the Minister acknowledges that, because there is now a devolved Parliament in Scotland, there is more time for other matters to be dealt with in the House.

Mr. Ingram: No. The Government have introduced a great deal of legislation. The fact that a part of the United Kingdom is devolved, with legislative powers—which, indeed, the Northern Ireland Assembly has, too—does not create gaps in the legislative programme. Other matters move into the gaps. I have tried to explain that Governments must reduce the number of measures in their programmes in accordance with parliamentary Sessions. It is not true that devolution of Scotland and Northern Ireland results in empty slots.

The Chairman: Order. I have permitted this exchange to continue for a while, but it does not arise from the order.

Mr. Ingram: I became wound up while arguing for my cause. I accept your ruling, Mr. McWilliam.

Notwithstanding some of the criticisms that have been made of the process that has been used, the Order is an important measure. It brings the United Kingdom into compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 as I have explained, and provides important protection to people in prison, as well as wider society.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the proposal for a draft Life Sentences (Northern Ireland) Order.

        Committee rose at Eleven o'clock till this day at half-past Two o'clock, pursuant to Order of the House [14 March].

The following Members attended the Committee:
McWilliam, Mr. John (Chairman)
Beggs, Mr.
Browne, Mr.
Cran, Mr.
Ellman, Mrs.
Godman, Dr.
Jackson, Helen
McCartney, Mr. Robert
McIsaac, Shona
McWalter, Mr.
Ross, Mr. William
Taylor, Mr. John M.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.
Thompson, Mr.
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 109(4):

Dowd, Mr. John (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury) Ingram, Mr. Adam (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)

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Prepared 22 March 2001