Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Trimble: The material that the Minister has just given us is interesting and we want to reflect on it. I note that he said that there is a strong case for ensuring that the committees are composed in particular ways and that senior people, particularly senior judicial members, should chair them. If there is a strong case for ensuring that, why is he content to leave in existence a provision containing absolutely no safeguard?

Mr. Spellar: I have alluded a number of times to the composition of the commission, and we believe that we can rely on the commission to discharge its functions appropriately. We have given it the enabling power and we have confidence in it. Interestingly, we believe that a similar case can be made for some appointments lower down the system, but we do not propose to tie the hands of the commission in that regard. We have confidence in the commission, and I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press the amendment.

Mr. Carmichael: It is almost a convention that at this stage of our consideration the Minister says that we have had a good debate. I do not think that we have had a particularly good debate, because there has been no force of argument from either side. I say to the

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Minister, with regret, that his arguments were unusually and uncharacteristically lacking in weight. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann suggested that he would reflect on the arguments on amendment No. 1. I sincerely hope that he will do so, because the issues that we have raised remain unresolved to my satisfaction, and they are substantial and important.

On amendment No. 1 and its consequential amendment No. 2, the difficulty is that the Minister has demonstrated the wisdom of the approach taken by the criminal justice review in the first place. The requirement for lay membership of the commission is there because the people who would be drawn from the legal profession would not necessarily reflect the community as a whole. To extend that to the commission as a whole would create the host of problems that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann raised, and I hope that Minister will deal with those.

On amendment No. 50, it is exceptionally dangerous to offer unfettered discretion for delegation to such a commission. There are any number of ways in which it might be abused. I am not suggesting that it would be, but the possibility exists and there should therefore be safeguards. The parallel that came to my mind was with local government. For example, planning decisions are considered by a planning committee but ratified by the council as a whole. That is eminently sensible. It is not unusual and there are plenty of precedents.

I am mindful of the time and have no doubt that we shall revisit the issues, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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:
Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)
Barnes, Mr.
Carmichael, Mr.
Casale, Roger
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Coaker, Vernon
Grieve, Mr.
Harris, Mr. Tom
Hepburn, Mr.
Hunter, Mr.
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Lucas, Ian
McGrady, Mr.
Palmer, Dr.
Robathan, Mr.
Spellar, Mr.
Swayne, Mr.
Swire, Mr.
Taylor, Ms Dari
Thomas, Gareth
Trimble, Mr.

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