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Mr. McNamara rose

Lembit Öpik: I say to the hon. Member for Hull, North that I will fight, fight and fight again to save the monarchy that I love. I give way to him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Not on this point. We have heard enough on this.

Mr. McNamara: I do not wish to intervene on that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely going to say that the hon. Gentleman should look not to the fourth row of the Opposition Benches, when worrying about watching his back, but to the second row.

Lembit Öpik: I note the hon. Gentleman's fifth columnist point and it will be dealt with appropriately, but not in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have fears regarding the hon. Gentleman's anti-monarchist principles and I have sought to satanise him, but the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford accused him of being a shield for Ministers. I have often regarded the hon. Member for Hull, North as little short of a Cromwell, bringing his roundhead supporters—

Mr. McNamara: Not a Cromwell!

Lembit Öpik: Okay. The hon. Gentleman, to use his own phrase, is a fifth columnist, but the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford sees such a republican and Front-Bench conspiracy that he chooses to offend the hon. Member for Hull, North, as we can see from the rage seething within him.

I have raised concerns, but in no sense can the Bill be regarded as a conspiracy to pander to the republicans. Any objective analysis surely shows that, even if aspects need to be improved and amendments need to be made, the Bill is a genuinely progressive effort to create independent, free-standing, transparent and effective human rights oriented legislation in terms of justice for the citizens of Northern Ireland. That is why I am dubious about the claim made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford.

We have heard a great deal about how the Bill represents giving up sovereignty and losing the Queen's right to own and run all that she surveys, but that shows deep misunderstanding of what it will do. I am not joking now: for the Bill to be republican oriented legislation that detaches Northern Ireland from Her Majesty's empire, it would have to detach the prosecution service, the inspectorate and the judiciary from Crown involvement. Let us consider the Bill. It does not do that, but instead ensures that the Queen will appoint the Advocate-General and the Advocate-General will still be in charge of the reserved matters involving international relations, defence, tax and national security.

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Of course, Stormont will appoint the Attorney-General, but the Attorney-General and the Advocate-General—that is a royal appointment—will appoint the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. There will be devolution, but there will also be an intimate relationship between that appointment and the existing structures.

Let us consider the inspectorate. The Secretary of State, acting for the House and, by implication, the Queen, will appoint the chief inspector with the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland. The chief inspector will appoint the inspectors. Once again, the Secretary of State will be intimately involved in appointments. If I understand the procedures correctly, those appointments will not be devolved outside the existing system.

Let us consider the Lord Chief Justice. The Prime Minister will consult the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, but, ultimately, the appointment will be made by the Queen. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister must advise the Queen of appointments to the judiciary. Perhaps that is a formality, but they must do so none the less. There is sufficient assurance for me, as a non-republican, that the Bill does not dismantle existing structures and will not send Northern Ireland sailing off into separate republican status, so I am comfortable that that should not be a key issue for tonight's debate. Of course, hon. Members may draw their own conclusions.

I refer to the Opposition's reasoned amendment. Once again, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford confused me. He said that he is not opposed in principle to the legislation, yet the amendment, which carries his name, says:

If I understand that correctly, he opposes an element of his own amendment. Perhaps he is considering whether to vote for it or not.

Mr. Quentin Davies: The hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood me, as he will discover if he reads Hansard tomorrow morning. I said that we do not oppose in principle 90 per cent. by length of the Bill, which covers devolution of justice to Northern Ireland and the establishment of the new restorative justice for child offenders. We are, of course, very much opposed in principle to the two pernicious points buried in all that, to which I drew particular attention: the provisions relating to the oath of allegiance and the royal coat of arms in courtrooms.

Lembit Öpik: Okay. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for misrepresenting him and thank him for his clarification, because it is indeed important clarification. It shows that the Conservatives oppose the Bill in only two key areas of 294, which is a much better hit rate than 90 per cent. Were I even 90 per cent. satisfied with legislation, I would probably vote for it. Were I 98 or 99 per cent. in favour, as it seems the Conservatives are, I would not table a reasoned amendment saying that the legislation is wrong and encourage hon. Members to vote against it.

Mr. Davies: Now I am able to correct the hon. Gentleman. I did not bother to interrupt his point about a hidden agenda, but I said that those two pernicious

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provisions are the hidden agenda in a large Bill that deals with other matters. Therefore, we are right to focus on that unacceptable double kernel.

Lembit Öpik: I am even more confused. I may have a rogue copy of the reasoned amendment, but all hon. Members can see that it says, in black and white:

If the hon. Gentleman expects us to accept that those two key points are sufficient grounds for us to believe that Northern Ireland's justice system is genuinely, not theoretically, being detached from the existing structures in the rest of the UK, he must also explain why he does not believe that Scotland is already a republic. Scotland has far greater autonomy and is far more detached from the Crown than Northern Ireland will be following any conceivable change under the Bill, even if it is implemented by a fanatic. The hon. Gentleman may still think that he can vote for the reasoned amendment, but I ask other hon. Members to read it for themselves and think about what message the Conservatives are putting out.

My other concern about the reasoned amendment involves the words

I have made the body of my points perhaps slightly lightheartedly, but I make a serious point here: the Conservative party is increasingly unclear about where it stands on devolution. Very recently, a Conservative Member of the Welsh Assembly said that there should be more devolution to the Assembly and other Conservatives believe that more rights should be given to devolved Assemblies. Is it now Conservative policy to support devolution for Wales, and perhaps more so for Scotland, or to oppose it?

If the Conservatives accept that at least a proportion of them support Scottish and Welsh devolution, why are they so afraid of it for Northern Ireland? I suggest that they want to imply a conspiracy that does not exist. The Conservative party needs to clarify its strategy on devolution and, if it does, it will be able to play a far more constructive role in debates such as this.

Let me in all humility say that I am not here to lecture the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford, who has more years of experience in the House than I do, nor do I cast any negative aspersions as to his intent. However, if the hon. Gentleman and his party are serious in their support for the Good Friday agreement, they should think about the messages that they are sending. He has said that the Conservatives were pulling out of the bipartisan agreement, and that was implicit in his remarks in this debate. With measures such as the Bill it is hard to see what that means. Does it mean that, de facto, the Conservatives will oppose every piece of legislation, even if it has merit? We have been told that, even if they agree with 90 per cent. of the legislation, they will oppose it.

I can assure the House that the bipartisan arrangement continues, but it is between the Government and the Liberal Democrats. Not long ago, I was encouraged when the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford and his hon. Friends were so persuaded by the Liberal Democrat arguments that they chose not to vote against the

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extension of the amnesty for decommissioning weapons. It was to the hon. Gentleman's credit that he showed bipartisanship at least towards the Liberal Democrats. I ask him once again to show the reserve and judgment that he showed on that evening. Can he honestly look himself in the mirror and say that by voting against the Bill he is making Northern Ireland a more just place?

The Bill has limitations and weaknesses, which I have asked the Minister to deal with, but it is fundamentally a good measure. I should be very surprised if anyone who, in the fullness of time, sees the intent of the Bill being implemented would disagree.

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