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It being after Six o’clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [13 March].

Clause 30


Extent

Amendment made: No. 1, in page 20, line 29, at end insert—

‘(3) Section (Sustainable development) extends to Northern Ireland only.'— [Huw Irranca-Davies.]

Clause 16


Department with policing and justice functions

Amendments made: No. 2, in page 12, line 30, after ‘subsection' insert ‘(2A),'.

No. 3, in page 12, line 30, at end insert—

‘(2A) The Act may provide for the department to be in the charge of a Northern Ireland Minister appointed by virtue of a nomination—

(a) made by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly; and

(b) approved by a resolution of the Assembly passed with the support of a majority of the members voting on the motion for the resolution, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting.'.

No. 4, in page 12, line 40, at end insert—

‘(4A) There must not, at any time, be more than one department in relation to which provision of the kind mentioned in any of subsections (2A), (3) and (4) is made by Act of the Assembly.'.


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No. 5, in page 13, line 5, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 and insert—

‘(b) immediately before the matter became a transferred matter, was a devolved policing and justice matter (within the meaning given by section 4(6)).”'.

No. 6, in page 13, line 13, leave out subsection (3).— [ Huw Irranca-Davies. ]

Schedule 2


Department with policing and justice functions

Amendments made: No. 7, in page 22, line 20, at end insert—


‘PART A1


Department in charge of minister approved by resolution of assembly

Introduction

A1 (1) This Part of this Schedule has effect in relation to a Northern Ireland department—

(a) the functions of which consist wholly or mainly of devolved policing and justice functions; and

(b) in relation to which an Act of the Assembly provides, by virtue of section 21A(2A), for it to be in the charge of a Northern Ireland Minister (the “relevant Minister”) appointed by virtue of a nomination—

(i) made by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly; and

(ii) approved by a resolution of the Assembly passed with the support of a majority of the members voting on the motion for the resolution, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting.

(2) In this paragraph “devolved policing and justice function” has the same meaning as in section 21A (see subsection (6) of that section).

Section 18 not to apply to relevant Minister

A2 (1) Section 18 (Northern Ireland Ministers) shall not apply in relation to—

(a) the relevant Minister; or

(b) the Ministerial office held by the relevant Minister (the “relevant Ministerial office”),

and paragraph A3 shall apply instead.

(2) But the references to Ministerial offices in—

(a) subsection (1)(c) and (d) of section 18; and

(b) subsection (5) of that section (in the definition of M),

shall be taken to include the relevant Ministerial office.

Provisions relating to relevant Minister

A3 (1) Where any of the conditions in paragraphs (a) to (e) of section 18(1) is satisfied—

(a) the relevant Minister shall (if holding office at the time) cease to hold office; and

(b) the relevant Ministerial office shall be filled by applying sub-paragraphs (3) to (6) within a period specified in standing orders.

(2) The relevant Ministerial office shall be filled by applying sub-paragraphs (3) to (6) before section 18(2) to (6) is applied in relation to the other Ministerial offices.

(3) The First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly shall nominate a member of the Assembly to hold the relevant Ministerial office.

(4) The nomination shall not take effect unless it is approved by a resolution of the Assembly passed with the support of—

(a) a majority of the members voting on the motion for the resolution;

(b) a majority of the designated Nationalists voting; and


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(c) a majority of the designated Unionists voting.

(5) If—

(a) the nomination does not take effect within a period specified in standing orders; or

(b) the nominated person does not take up the office for which he has been nominated within that period,

a further nomination of a member of the Assembly shall be made under sub-paragraph (3).

(6) Sub-paragraphs (3) to (5) shall be applied as many times as may be necessary to secure that the relevant Ministerial office is filled.

(7) The holding of office as First Minister or deputy First Minister shall not prevent a person being nominated to hold the relevant Ministerial office.

(8) The relevant Minister shall not take up office until he has affirmed the terms of the pledge of office.

(9) The relevant Minister shall cease to hold office if—

(a) he resigns by notice in writing to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister;

(b) he ceases to be a member of the Assembly otherwise than by virtue of a dissolution; or

(c) he is dismissed by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly and the Presiding Officer is notified of his dismissal.

(10) If the relevant Minister ceases to hold office at any time, otherwise than by virtue of sub-paragraph (1), the relevant Ministerial office shall be filled by applying sub-paragraphs (3) to (6) within a period specified in standing orders.

(11) Where—

(a) the Assembly has resolved under section 30(2) that a political party does not enjoy its confidence; and

(b) the party's period of exclusion under that provision has not come to an end,

no member of that party may be nominated under sub-paragraph (3).

(12) Where—

(a) the Secretary of State has given a direction under section 30A(5) in respect of a political party; and

(b) the party's period of exclusion under that provision has not come to an end,

no member of that party may be nominated under sub-paragraph (3).

(13) In this paragraph, a reference to a period of exclusion under any provision is, in the case of a period of exclusion under that provision which has been extended, a reference to that period as extended.'.

No. 8, in page 22, line 33, leave out ‘subsections (6) and (7)' and insert ‘subsection (6)'.

No. 9, in page 25, line 17, leave out ‘subsections (6) and (7)' and insert ‘subsection (6)'.

No. 10, in page 28, line 9, leave out ‘21A(3)' and insert ‘21A(2A), (3)'.— [ Huw Irranca-Davies .]

Schedule 4


Minor and consequential amendments

Amendments made: No. 11, in page 35, line 25,leave out from ‘after' to end of line and insert ‘“section” insert “4(6),”'.

No. 12, in page 36, line 10, at end insert—

‘Inquiries Act 2005 (c.12)

13A In section 30 (Northern Ireland inquiries), in subsection (6), for “subsection (3), (4) or (5)” substitute “any of subsections (3) to (5)”.'— [Huw Irranca-Davies.]

Order for Third Reading read.


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6.17 pm

Mr. Hanson: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had a positive debate —[ Interruption. ]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. If hon. Members are not staying for the debate, could they leave quickly and quietly?

Mr. Hanson: Over the course of its consideration, on Second Reading, in Committee—particularly given that there was a Committee of the whole House—and on Report, we have had a useful discussion about the principles of the Bill. I commend right hon. and hon. Members on their valuable contributions to today’s debate. Contrary to assertions made by Members, the Government have listened to some of the points that have been made and have tabled amendments that have made a material difference to the nature of the Bill. As with every piece of legislation, it is not possible to accept every amendment or every point made in the debate. There will be differences between us, but I have moved on several points and I am pleased to see that those have been incorporated in the Third Reading of the Bill.

As right hon. and hon. Members will know, there is a clear path open to us now on Northern Ireland’s political development to ensure that, as has been stated by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, by the end of 2006 we bring about clear political progress for the political organisations in Northern Ireland and for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland. It is now for local politicians to take forward that task of devolution. I am pleased that we are meeting today, in the week that the Assembly reconvened following the passing of earlier legislation; that we have in place Assembly Members who are signed up again to take part in the Assembly; and that we had debates on the Floor of the Assembly this week, with participation from Members from across the Assembly. I believe, as do the Government, that the Assembly offers a better future for Northern Ireland. Now, through the Bill, we are in a position to take forward the possible next stages of devolution in Northern Ireland by devolving criminal justice and policing.

Given what has been said today, no one fails to accept that there are still major hurdles to overcome and that work must be done, not least to get the proper Executive-led Assembly back in place by November. Additionally, difficulties are self-evident to anyone who has been involved in our debates on the possible devolution of criminal justice and policing. However, the Bill sets a clear path before the House: devolution in October or November—I hope—at the very latest with the Executive back in place. At some point in the future, we will have the framework and opportunity for the devolution of criminal justice and policing. For the sake of having the discussion again, the famous triple—or perhaps now even quadruple—lock is in place whereby the Assembly, the Secretary of State and the Government must agree with the House of Commons if such devolution is to take place. In all essence, however, the framework is in place.

The framework is in place because, hopefully, no one can deny that there is progress towards a political
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solution in Northern Ireland, however slow that might seem. The latest IMC report of 26 April states that the Provisional IRA leadership is committed to a peaceful path. There is work to be done and efforts to be undertaken, but we must realise that there is movement and that Northern Ireland today is unrecognisable from how it was at the height of the troubles in recent years.

The Bill makes progress on the devolution of policing and criminal justice, but it does much more than that. It takes forward the modernisation of our electoral system so that we will be brought in line, over a staged period, with the rest of the United Kingdom’s electoral law on political party funding. It also modernises the electoral canvass and allows for the appointment and operation of the chief electoral officer. Again, it does so to put Northern Ireland in a fair frame of progress towards proper elections and electoral law.

The Bill also provides for an extension to the order-making power under the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 to facilitate the continued decommissioning of loyalist weapons. That issue has been a major bone of contention today, but I will press, along with hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially the hon. Member for North Down(Lady Hermon) and DUP Members, for the decommissioning of loyalist weapons. The Bill puts in place a framework to give us extra time, should we need it.

The Bill will also make important contributions to the existing criminal justice and policing regimes in Northern Ireland. It will give investigators and prosecutors new powers to tackle serious and organised crime. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is new to his position, will be taking forward those measures in due course to ensure that we do what we say we will do, namely, crack down on organised crime and criminality in Northern Ireland. We will continue to take the effective steps that have been seen over the past few weeks to tackle the cross-border smuggling of petrol and cigarettes, and other problems.

An issue close to the heart of the hon. Member for North Down is central to the Bill. The Bill provides corporation sole status to the office of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I gave her an assurance that we would do that when we were considering the on-the-runs legislation in Committee and, following her representations, we have done so. We have responded to her concerns, so—dare I say?—the Government have listened. We have also responded to other points that members of that Committee raised, albeit not all of them.

There are several other key aspects of the Bill that we should consider. Only today I moved a new clause on sustainable development, which is now part of the Bill, to ensure that we protect our environment for our children and grandchildren. We have introduced important measures to safeguard the future of the environment and are giving legal status to the£59 million investment that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has brought forward to support
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sustainable development. That means, in real life, that we can use the £59 million to do important things for the people of Northern Ireland. That includes putting solar panels—this is part of my political domain—in new social build housing, with 600 panels this year and 600 next year, to help the environment. Those are the challenges on improving our environment.

The Bill also contains key provisions for a single wholesale electricity market, with opportunities for new investment, new efficiencies, new economies of scale and security of supply—the things that matter to the people on the island of Ireland as a whole, both north and south of the border. It is a pragmatic approach, welcomed by all hon. Members, to support the economic well-being of Northern Ireland in the future. The Bill achieves what it set out to achieve—it helps us to make progress on the devolution of policing; it modernises our election law; it provides support for sustainable development; and it looks at giving extra support to tackling crime. It is a good Bill.

On behalf of the ministerial team, I thank the many officials from the Northern Ireland Office and the devolved Executive, reporting to direct rule Ministers, for the time and effort that they put in over many weeks, months and, in some cases, years, to bring the clauses to fruition. A tremendous amount of work went on behind the scenes. As a Minister, it is important that I recognise that.

The Bill will add to the value of Northern Ireland and add strength to devolution. I commend it to the House.

6.26 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson: By and large, we welcome the Bill, although we have tried to improve it in various ways. I thank the Minister for the way in which he introduced it and took it through Committee. It has been possible to explore it in great detail, and he was always willing to take interventions. It does credit to the House that we have analysed it in that way, in particular on the Floor of the House, which has been useful in part.

We have some concerns. We were worried about abolishing the annual canvass and tried to put a time scale on that so that there would be canvasses in 2015 at the latest and every 10 years after that. We were also a little concerned about the ability of the chief electoral officer, working with the Secretary of State, to cancel those canvasses, but we are where we are and we recognise the need to modernise the system. The important thing is that we have a full register of electors in Northern Ireland.

We were a bit concerned about the donations for political purposes, although we did not touch on that greatly. We would have liked a time limit on donations from the Republic of Ireland, but the Government turned that down. I regret that. We tabled an amendment to address that, but sadly we did not reach it because of the lack of time. However, those donations remain a concern, for obvious reasons.


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