Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Mr. Blunt: A detailed case has made for the big bang theory, for having a day-zero start date for prosecutions by installing a new Director of Public Prosecutions and transferring the responsibilities lock, stock and barrel on one particular day. That is what the Crown Prosecution Service experienced in England and Wales, and it is not an experience that I invite the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh to take to Northern Ireland.

The test will be between delay and piecemeal implementation, and the hon. Gentleman will not be able to meet both the objectives that he set himself by saying that we do not want either. A sensible, practical approach will have to be taken to handing over full

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responsibility for all cases to the new DPP. The Government are right to be fully aware of the findings of the Glidewell report. If we do not learn from our experiences, there is not much point in having them. We should not repeat the mistakes that have been made in other jurisdictions.

I anticipate that the Minister will resist the amendment. I understand the philosophical point that the hon. Gentleman is attempting to make about the need for a new start. I do not wholly share the sentiments behind the amendment, but I understand part of the argument. No one has suggested any inadequacy in the present DPP in Northern Ireland. No one has ever made that suggestion to me. I am pretty certain that the hon. Gentleman is not making that suggestion-

Mr. Mallon indicated dissent.

Mr. Blunt: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. We are dancing on the head of a pin. The Bill will deliver the objectives that we all seek without the amendment. I hope that he will withdraw it.

Lembit Ípik: The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh is aware of this, but from where I sit the window is behind him when he stands to speak. I therefore see a silhouette bathed in an almost spiritual light. I hesitate to tussle with a saint. I have faith in the hon. Gentleman, but I am more agnostic about the text. Was religion ever otherwise?

The hon. Member for Reigate expressed concern about the big bang theory. Knowing something about astronomy, I know that the alternative is the steady state theory, where nothing ever changes. I understand why the hon. Gentleman is concerned that, as things stand, the new start of which the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has often spoken could be delayed. Nevertheless, I am persuaded by the Minister's intervention that there needs to be some opportunity to sustain continuity in the DPP's office. Indeed, subsection (4) allows some flexibility with

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regard to when the new provisions should come into effect.

As the hon. Member for Reigate said, the philosophical standpoint expressed by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh is consistent with his previous statements and is robust. None the less, on the basis of other experience, I feel that the new start will not be unduly compromised by the built-in flexibility. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Mr. Browne: I note what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire says. I know that he has an interest in and knowledge of astronomy, but I found it mildly amusing to have a Liberal Democrat talk about a steady state. I am sure that his understanding of it has been of no political assistance to him.

Amendment No. 209 would remove the provision that would continue the appointment of the current Director and Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions in the new Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland. Like the hon. Member for Reigate, I understand the opinion of my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh that the new prosecution service should represent a completely fresh start with new personnel. I understand why he makes those arguments, although I do not agree with all his reasons. What my hon. Friend suggests is not practicable or desirable.

The department of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland is a new department and, as the hon. Member for Reigate noted, it will be going through a massive expansion. It will also be taking on a large range of new functions. As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Reigate, the knowledge and experience of the current director and deputy director will be crucial in ensuring that the change is successful.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Conway, Mr. Derek (Chairman)
Atherton, Ms
Barnes, Mr.
Blunt, Mr.
Browne, Mr.
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Dobbin, Jim
Francois, Mr.
Hall, Patrick
Hayes, Mr.
Hermon, Lady
Heyes, Mr.
McIsaac, Shona
McWalter, Mr.
Mallon, Mr.
Mole, Chris
Ípik, Lembit
Stringer, Mr.
Woodward, Mr.

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Prepared 14 February 2002