Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Schedule 3

Appointment to listed judicial offices

Mr. Browne: I beg to move amendment No. 72, in page 77, line 8, leave out paragraph 16.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 73 and 74.

Mr. Browne: These are technical amendments, and I shall endeavour to explain their purpose as slowly as I can, in the hope that I will understand them myself.

Schedule 3 provides for the transfer to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, acting jointly, of the power to make appointments or recommendations for appointment to listed judicial offices. The schedule is not intended to take effect until after the devolution of justice functions, when the Judicial Appointments Commission is set up.

Paragraph 16 provides for the Lord Chancellor's power under section 11(3) of the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 to employ persons to assist with investigations to transfer to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. On reflection, we consider that that power is not directly related to the Lord Chancellor's appointment functions, and that it would be more appropriate for it to be transferred to the First and Deputy First Ministers under a subsequent transfer of functions order. Accordingly, paragraph 16 will be removed from the Bill.

Paragraphs 31 to 33 provide for the transfer from the Lord Chancellor to the First and Deputy First Ministers of a number of appointment functions in relation to the industrial tribunals and the fair employment tribunal for Northern Ireland. Paragraphs 32 and 33A provide for related amendments to the definitions of ''President'' and ''Vice-President'' in various regulations.

Mr. Blunt: I do not have a problem with Government amendments Nos. 73 and 74. They appear to be merely technical. I am not so happy with Government amendment No. 72. I would like the Minister to give us further explanation.

The principle that underlies the Bill is that powers should be devolved when appropriate. That is the underlying principle of paragraph (16), which, as the Minister explained, provides the power to substitute the First Minister and Deputy First Minister for the Lord Chancellor in relation to coroners courts. Will the Minister explain why the words ''acting jointly'' do not appear after the words

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    ''First Minister and deputy First Minister''

in the schedule? Is that an oversight? I imagine that it is. Although one might accept the Government's position that this power can be transferred at a later date by regulations under other powers in the Bill, I would prefer the powers to be transferred now, unless there is a much stronger explanation why it is necessary to wait for further regulations.

What would be the consequences of including such a provision in the Bill, albeit that a further technical amendment may be necessary to add the words ''acting jointly'', which appear to have been missed out? I would be grateful for further explanation of why the transfer of power should be done later by regulation rather than being provided for in the Bill now, which would enable the power to be transferred along with the rest of the provisions when the Secretary of State gives his authority under clause 85 on commencement.

Mr. Browne: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is our intention not to include the provision in the schedule because, on reconsideration, the specific roles carried out by those employed to assist with investigations do not fit properly within judicial appointments. That is the short explanation. The words ''acting jointly'' are a red herring because whether they are needed will be determined by the other provisions in section 11(3) of the relevant Act. Sometimes those words are implied, as we shall see later in our deliberations, and sometimes it is necessary to include them specifically, but they are not always needed. The context of the provision usually makes it clear that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are intended to act jointly. The issue is a red herring because I am aware of at least one provision in the Bill in which the words are omitted, but implied.

The schedule relates to the devolution of appointment functions in relation to listed judicial offices. A person employed to assist with investigations in the circumstances described is not exercising a function in relation to a judicial office. The paragraph that the amendment will delete does not concern a listed judicial office. It was an error that the paragraph crept into the Bill in the first place and it should be taken out. It is the Government's intention to devolve the power to employ such persons to the First and Deputy First Ministers, but not in their capacity, ex officio, of First and Deputy First Ministers in relation to judicial appointments.

Mr. Blunt: I am grateful for the Minister's explanation. On the basis of his assurance that the power to appoint investigators for coroners will be devolved when justice is devolved, I shall not oppose the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 73, in page 79, line 37, leave out 'definition of ''the President''' and insert

'definitions of ''the President'' and ''the Vice-President'''.—[Mr. Browne.]

No. 74, in page 79, line 41, at end insert—

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    '33A In regulation 2(2) of the Fair Employment Tribunal (Rules of Procedure) Regulations 1989 (SR 1989 No. 445), in the definitions of ''the President'' and ''Vice-President'', for ''Lord Chancellor'' substitute ''First Minister and deputy First Minister''.'.—[Mr. Browne.]

It being after Five o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [28 June 2001] and the Orders of the Committee [28 and 31 January 2002], to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clauses 12 and 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5

Transfer of functions to Lord Chief Justice

Amendment made: No. 75, in page 86, line 30, at end insert—

    '15A In Article 46(1)(a) (chairman of County Court Rules Committee) (as substituted by section 72 of this Act), for ''Lord Chancellor'' substitute ''Lord Chief Justice''.'.—[Mr. Browne.]

The Chairman: I now put the Question on schedule 5, as amended, clauses 14 to 20, schedule 6 and clauses 21 and 22.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 7.

Division No. 8]

Barnes, Mr. Harry
Browne, Mr. Desmond
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Dobbin, Jim
Hall, Patrick
Heyes, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
McIsaac, Shona
McWalter, Mr. Tony
Mole, Chris
Stringer, Mr. Graham
Woodward, Mr. Shaun

Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Hayes, Mr. John
Hermon, Lady
Turner, Mr. Andrew

Question accordingly agreed to.

Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 14 to 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clauses 21 and 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Garnier: On a point of order, Mr. Pike. May I ask your advice on the procedures that you or your co-Chairman, Mr. Conway, will adopt in the future? Some time on 14 February, you will invite us to consent to a motion saying that we have considered the Bill and that it should be reported to the House. If today's activities are anything to go by, we have plainly not considered the Bill; indeed, we have just voted on more than half of part 1 without having

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considered a line of it. That is regrettable and brings our procedures into disrepute. I do not suggest that that is your fault, because you are as much a servant of the procedures of the House as the rest of us. None the less, it is unfortunate, to say the least—

The Chairman: Order. You have made your point, Mr. Garnier, and I understand it. You should remember that the Committee will be able to divide on the motion at the end of our proceedings. As Chairman, I am not in a position to express a view on whether adequate time has been given to our consideration, just as I could not determine the order of consideration earlier. I hope that whatever has been agreed by the usual channels will enable us to make progress. The Committee agreed the programme motion earlier today and, as Committee Chairman, I have to carry out procedure agreed by the Committee.

Clause 23


Mr. Blunt: I beg to move, amendment No. 29, in page 14, line 18, at end insert—

    '(1A) The Attorney-General for Northern Ireland in respect of Northern Ireland shall assume all the functions of the Attorney-General and Solicitor General for England and Wales other than those allocated to the Advocate General under Schedule 7 of this Act.'.

I agree that you, Mr. Pike, are equipped with the perspicacity to which the Minister referred earlier. Although you are not allowed to express an opinion on whether we have done justice to part 1 of the Bill, I have no doubt that in your own mind—

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman should not presume to read the Chairman's mind. Even my wife cannot do that.

Mr. Blunt: Let me say, before we move on to part 2, that what we have just seen is wholly unfortunate. The Minister and the Government Whip should be ashamed of the way in which they have treated the people of Northern Ireland in the consideration of part 1 of the Bill. Everything that I and other Opposition Members have said about programme motions in Committee, on the Floor of the House and in the Programming Sub-Committee has turned out to be correct.

Mr. Garnier: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunt: Of course.

The Chairman: Order. Before I call Mr. Garnier, I remind the hon. Member for Reigate that I called him to move the amendment. I have allowed him to make a brief point and I hope that his hon. and learned Friend who is about to intervene will be very brief and will recognise that I can rule his intervention out of order if it is not relevant to the amendment. Please be extremely brief, Mr. Garnier.

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