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5.15 pm

Mr. Blunt: In the debate in the other place, Lord Williams did not address the issue of confidence to which I referred. I apologise for trading quotes from the other place, but my noble Friend Lord Mayhew said:

There is an issue with confidence and what everyday people think.

Mr. Browne: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important point. The issue of perception is always important in Northern Ireland and it must be addressed in these circumstances. However, as I said before, I am considering getting a notice for my desk that reads "Facts are more important than perceptions." At the moment, hardly a day goes by in Northern Ireland when people do not remind me that perceptions are more important than facts. There will be a prize for the person who comes into my office some day and says that facts are more important than perceptions. I stress that it must happen in the office—I do not encourage anybody to say it in the House to win the prize.

The issue raised by the hon. Gentleman may have been addressed by the point made by the hon. Member for North Down that there should be consequences for those who breach the undertaking. As the hon. Lady pointed out, there is no automatic provision in schedule 2 for the

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removal of a lay member in such circumstances. However, it would clearly be open to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, in exercising the powers in paragraph 2(4)(d) of that schedule, to remove a member who acted in the way that she described after having given such an undertaking. I have no difficulty with putting that on public record because that is perfectly clear in the Bill, which goes a long way towards striking the right balance between allowing those who have a past to have a future and ensuring that those who give the undertakings now required for serving on the commission stick by them. The Bill ensures that there will be consequences if they do not.

Lady Hermon: I thank the Minister for giving way. He has been very generous this afternoon, which is consistent with his pattern of behaviour. Will he clarify a further point? Two years ago, the House passed the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. Schedule 3, paragraph (8)(2) states:

What has changed so much in two years that people who have a past are not accepted for DPPs, but are accepted for the Judicial Appointments Commission?

Mr. Browne: I thank the hon. Lady for that point, which she is right to press. However, the functions of DPPs are different from those of the Judicial Appointments Commission. Their composition is different. It would be inappropriate for the Government not to treat these issues on their merits. We seek to build on the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland and change the way in which judges are appointed. To move towards a new Northern Ireland, with the establishment of the Judicial Appointments Commission, we had to look specifically at the make-up of the commission and the requirements on those serving on it. The Government's view, as expressed in the Lords amendment, is that the requirement that lay members make the necessary declaration is sufficient. Schedule 2 covers the circumstances in which such a declaration would be breached. The Government believe that the reasons set out in the Lords debate, which I have sought to paraphrase, are sufficient in relation to the Judicial Appointments Commission.

Moving on to amendment No. 2, while I accept the point about reflectiveness which is consistently made by the hon. Member for East Londonderry, the amendment relates to the pool of people from whom the candidates for judicial appointment will emerge, rather than to the reflectiveness or representativeness of the Judicial Appointments Commission itself, which is dealt with in the Bill. However, I understand the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): There is an absence of automatic sanctions if someone appointed to the commission is in breach of the written declaration, but the Minister said that there was a power for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to take action. However, what is the position if, for whatever reason, the Deputy First Minister and the First Minister do not agree? As we have seen with breaches of written declarations and other declarations by Sinn Fein-IRA in other contexts, a clear

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difference of opinion between the First Minister's party and the Deputy First Minister's parties means that they cannot agree, thus causing a problem in the application of any sanctions. How will that be resolved in this context?

Mr. Browne: The resolution of disagreement between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is a matter for them acting together. It is not for me—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) finds that risible, but he may not have fully grasped the concept of devolution despite the fact that he has been a Minister in the Executive. I am sure that he would be the first to suggest that Ministers standing at the Dispatch Box should not tell Ministers in devolved Governments how to carry out their functions.

David Burnside (South Antrim) rose

Mr. Browne: If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, it is for Ministers in Westminster to set out the context in which Ministers in devolved Parliaments will work. We are not planning for the failure of devolution, whether in Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom—we are planning for its success. In Northern Ireland, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister now have significant success in acting on a joint basis, although there have been difficulties. They recently had outstandingly successful discussions and negotiations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about an economic package for Northern Ireland—that example may be less contentious than other things with which I have to deal at the Dispatch Box. While there may be division between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister—I cannot think of any examples off the top of my head—there are as many, if not more, examples of them working together, which is what the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland is substantially about.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, North has looked at schedule 2, which gives the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister acting jointly the power to dismiss a non-judicial member if satisfied that

Clearly, that covers circumstances in which someone makes a declaration but fails to live up to it. However, it is not for me to tell the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister how to resolve that together—they are both able politicians and very good Ministers and capable of working it out themselves.

David Burnside: Does the Minister agree that he is not seeing straight? Devolution is different in the three parts of the United Kingdom. The main difference in Northern Ireland, which contradicts the Minister's point, is that there is no collective Cabinet responsibility in the Northern Ireland Executive, so our institutions are not treated in the same way as Parliaments here and in Scotland, or the Welsh Assembly.

Mr. Browne: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, but if we stray too far down that road, the Deputy Speaker might pull me back, and rightly. I merely point out to the hon. Gentleman that the beauty of devolution is that there can be different models for different parts of the United Kingdom. I also remind him—he sometimes needs to be reminded, I think—that the people of Northern Ireland voted for this type of devolution in significant numbers, including some members of his party.

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It may be that at some time in the future, a different form of devolved government may be appropriate for Northern Ireland, but that will be a matter again for the people of Northern Ireland. Just as the people of Wales and of Scotland voted for the devolution package that they have, in the majority the people of Northern Ireland voted for the devolution package that they have. If I remember the figures correctly, a majority of both communities in Northern Ireland voted for it.

Amendment No. 2 requires the Judicial Appointments Commission, so far as it is practicable, to ensure that a range of candidates reflective of the community are available for consideration for appointment to listed judicial offices. There is, however, strong competition for appointment to the judiciary, and any appointment must be made on merit. The Government have made it clear that it is desirable to have a reflective judiciary, but that is to be achieved without prejudice to each and every appointment being made on merit.

The new provision focuses on securing a pool of candidates which, so far as is reasonably practicable, is reflective of the community. Membership of the pool in itself gives rise to no expectation of appointment. I repeat: appointment is to be made solely on merit.

Together with the changes made by the Bill to the eligibility criteria and the commitment to a programme of outreach outlined in the review implementation plan, the amendment demonstrates the Government's commitment to a judiciary appointed solely on merit, while giving every encouragement to those eligible from across the whole of society to apply for judicial appointment.

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