Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Pike. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. This discussion is difficult because, while we are dealing with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, you have allowed the Minister to argue a general case. Could we have your guidance on when to address the fundamentals of the issue, which the Minister is beginning to do?

The Chairman: I shall give a ruling. I was listening closely to the Minister. Following an earlier intervention, I said that we were going slightly wide of the amendment, which refers purely to a date, although it has regard to symbols. We cannot avoid

Column Number: 342

mentioning symbols to some degree, but please keep that to a minimum. We shall consider other symbols later, so we should keep to the amendment. I hope that that is helpful to the Committee.

Mr. Browne: I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Pike. I was endeavouring to respond to specific points that have been raised. As they were deemed to be in order, I thought that it was appropriate for me to respond and inform the continued debate.

The Chairman: Perhaps the Chairman was too liberal in allowing people to go a little wide of the mark.

Mr. Browne: Well, you can say that Mr. Pike. I am always careful to observe the Chairman's decisions. I am grateful to you for the subtle nuance of your last observation.

I want to leave space for agreement in the future. In the meantime, the Government have undertaken to consider carefully the outcome of the consultation exercise and the parliamentary stages. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, in considering all the representations that we have received, including those expressing concerns about certain provisions—on heritage grounds, for example—perhaps a sensible balance has been struck. That approach enhances the importance of the debate; it does not detract from or devalue it.

The amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh would redefine a new courthouse as any courthouse first used after 30 March 2000, which is the date that the review was published. Although the review was published on that date, the Bill that will implement it is currently the object of our scrutiny and has not yet come into effect. The implementation plan published last November made it clear that the implementation of new measures would require legislation. It would not be appropriate for the legislation to make retrospective provision. Accordingly, the provisions cover courthouses that are opened after the Bill becomes law. I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh that no building in Northern Ireland has been constructed in haste, or in anything other than the context of its normal scheduled building time, in response to the provisions. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Blunt: As the Minister is inviting the Committee to resist the amendment, I should be grateful if he would reassure hon. Members that any building completed before the enactment of the Bill will have a royal coat of arms outside.

Mr. Browne: The hon. Member for Reigate is capable of understanding the Bill's provisions. The prohibition of royal arms on the exterior of future buildings applies only to new courthouses built after the Bill is enacted. It could not mean anything else.

Mr. Mallon: I have listened with interest. People have realised from recent experiences that the question is at the core of life in Northern Ireland. I believe that there are two or three choices in dealing with something of that nature. One can finesse it away, pretend it does not exist, or look it in the face and

Column Number: 343

work out how to deal with it. I prefer to look it in the face.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) about symbols. I have no problem with that. I want to avoid a situation in which the gap created by the process of implementation and enactment is such that the Bill will become law long before devolution occurs. As the hon. Member for North Down suggested, there is not time within which to solve this, but there is time within which it might fester. That is one of my problems in terms of timing.

The amendment is not perfect, but it is less imperfect that the Government's wording,

    ''after the coming into force of this section''

of the Bill. This clause's coming into force does not guarantee the coming into force of other clauses of the Bill, devolution or the new beginning for which we all hope. Nevertheless, it was right to table the amendment, it was right to make the case and I shall continue to make the case on amendment No. 274.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 22.

Division No. 21]

Mallon, Mr. Seamus

Atherton, Ms Candy Barnes, Mr. Harry Blunt, Mr. Crispin Browne, Mr. Desmond Campbell, Mr. Gregory Clarke, Mr. Tony Dobbin, Jim Francois, Mr. Mark Garnier, Mr. Edward Hayes, Mr. John Hermon, Lady
Heyes, Mr. David Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter McIsaac, Shona McWalter, Mr. Tony Merron, Gillian Mole, Chris O¨pik, Lembit Stringer, Mr. Graham Turner, Mr. Andrew Tynan, Mr. Bill Woodward, Mr. Shaun

Question accordingly negatived.

5.15 pm

Mr. Mallon: I beg to move amendment No. 274, in page 58, line 4, at end add—

    '( ) No other symbols must be displayed—

    (a) in any courtroom,

    (b) in any other place inside a court-house,

    (c) on the exterior of a court-house, or

    (d) in any other place outside a court-house which is used for the purposes of the court-house.'

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take new clause 3—Display of Royal Arms—

    'It shall be mandatory for the Royal Arms to be displayed—

    (a) on the exterior of each court-house; and

    (b) in each courtroom.'.

Mr. Mallon: Many of the points that can be made for and against the amendment have already been made, but I shall explain part of the thinking behind it. I venture to suggest, perhaps arrogantly, that it is tidier than the Bill in defining ''a courthouse'' and ''courthouse precincts''. The Bill tries to define those terms, and I have also tried to do so.

The definition that is used in relation to polling stations immediately comes to my mind. It refers to the

Column Number: 344

tutelage of a polling station, which takes in all parts of the building, and not just the room in which polling takes place, including the outside grounds and the fencing, railings or whatever there might be. That might be a tidier way in which to look at the issue.

The amendment would not have been tabled if there were not a Government proposal. Sometimes we forget that. There would not be a Government proposal had we been able to reach an agreement in the negotiations prior to the Good Friday agreement. We were unable to reach such an agreement hence we decided that the review body, which has now made a proposal, would be set up.

It may be worth taking a second or two to look at the report and ask, as with the Patten report, whose names are on the front of it. As was helpfully pointed out, Patten is a former member of the Conservative party, a former Minister of Education and Science, a former commissioner, a present commissioner, a former Governor of Hong Kong. He is not a raving nationalist from the heartland of south Armagh, such as myself.

By and large, the review body was made up of civil servants. Civil servants to the north of Ireland are not, have not been and probably never will be noted for their strong views about anything, but after consultation, a view was presented to the Government by the review body. It stems from the negotiations prior to the Good Friday agreement and, through the review body, is reflected in the legislation. It is not the result of huge lobbying by me—or, indeed, by the hon. Member for East Londonderry. We shared the view that it was an issue, but our views on it were diametrically opposed. It is important to consider it honestly.

The amendment tidies up the Government's definition of a courthouse; perhaps an alternative wording would be better than either proposal.

Lady Hermon: The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the Bill falling in line with the Patten review recommendations. Does he accept that that is not always appropriate? For example, the Patten report specifically recommended that the policing badge should be entirely free of any association with either the British or the Irish states. I believe that the hon. Gentleman alluded to that. However, the subsequent legislation and the unanimous agreement of the Policing Board were contrary to the recommendation in the review. The review is not set in concrete. Therefore, the Bill does not necessarily have to follow its every letter and jot.

Mr. Mallon: There is some validity to the hon. Lady's point. However, I do not intend to define the symbols of the police; I leave that to others. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and the substantive difference in what we are dealing with is that we must all be—I will not say comfortable, because one can never be comfortable in such a context—at least satisfied that the experience of justice in Northern Ireland is there for the entire community. I do not know what arguments may come from others, but I do not think that we will hear the argument that, since the state was formed, justice has encompassed the entire

Column Number: 345

community—nor will we hear the argument that, in effect, the whole community in Northern Ireland had the same emotional attachment to the process. That is part historical, part political and part colonial. However, change must take place.

A large section of the community regard the proposals, rightly or wrongly, as an indication of how the Bill will work when enacted. I accept that a section in the north of Ireland will look at them with a jaundiced view, but if we are to make the essence of the Good Friday agreement work, we must get people with different ideological, emotional and political attitudes to work as one. We will not achieve that if, one way or another, we hide the fact that they exist.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 12 February 2002