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Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): I am most grateful to the Minister for taking such an early intervention. Will he put on the record his condemnation of the outrageous remarks by the Sinn Fein leader, in that it is wholly inappropriate to talk about “putting manners” on the police, while Sinn Fein has embraced policing at long last?

Mr. Hanson: The hon. Lady speaks for herself on these matters. I will put it on record that I very much welcome the fact that last week, for the first time, Sinn Fein, by its ard fheis, supported the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The following day, the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) indicated that when crimes are committed in communities that have traditionally not supported the police, those communities should now work in co-operation with the police. We need to look at the positives. I accept the hon. Lady’s comments, but let us look at the positives in relation to what has happened over the last two weeks.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I understand the Minister’s sense of relief and delight at the announcement, but it is by their fruits that we shall know them. I hope that he will not allow himself to indulge in any false euphoria merely because certain people who have broken the law innumerable times in the past now say that they might obey it. Let us see that they truly do, and that they truly uphold it.

Mr. Hanson: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. From my perspective, the statements and the work undertaken by Sinn Fein in getting to the situation where, a week last Sunday, the ard fheis confirmed support for policing, are a welcome engagement with the criminal justice system and policing. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), as the Minister with responsibility for the police, and myself, as the Minister with responsibility for criminal justice, welcome that, as does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Obviously, we need to see progress on that. I am aware that there are political parties that wish to examine how it operates on the ground. But let us not get away from the fact that there has been a significant change. The IMC report last week confirmed and backed up that move by the Provisional IRA.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): I join the Minister in welcoming progress when progress is made. However, I am sure that he agrees that there is yet more to do and that it is not appropriate for Mr. Adams to indicate that he supports some functions of policing, yet to hold back on giving support to other elements of those functions. For example, he is indicating that he supports civic policing, but he will not support what he describes as “political policing”, which is the stand against terrorism in Northern Ireland. He must give full support to the police in exercising their functions to oppose the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA and any other terrorism organisation—whether loyalist or republican. He must require people in his constituency and elsewhere to give full support and information to the police so that they can counter attacks.

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Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman paints a vision of how policing should operate in a normal society, and I look forward to the day when that happens. I want to see Sinn Fein taking up a role on the Policing Board and becoming involved in local policing on the ground. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that last week’s events were a significant step. New clause 5 is significant too, because it deals with the possible devolution of policing and criminal justice matters to the Assembly in due course.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Does the Minister accept that some of us genuinely believe that Sinn Fein and the IRA have moved forward? Although it is a matter of judgment, does he agree that actions are likely to follow on this occasion? If they do follow, that will give rise to an expectation that Members who sit on the Opposition side of the House should be willing to share power, given that policing was one of the matters on which they set a fundamental condition for Sinn Fein to fulfil.

Mr. Hanson: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that power sharing should follow as a result of signing up to policing and the test being fulfilled to the satisfaction of the parties. I am encouraged that there has been a widespread debate on policing among members of Sinn Fein. The ard fheis was overwhelmingly in support of policing. The Member for Belfast, West indicated the following day that members of Sinn Fein should co-operate with police on the ground on the very day-to-day issues that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) mentioned. I am confident that that will develop over the next few weeks and months—through the election and up to devolution on 26 March. We should welcome such developments for all concerned.

I put the situation in context at the beginning of my speech because we are at the brink of restoring power-sharing institutions for those very reasons. Now is the time for us to stick to the terms of the St. Andrews agreement. Given that elections have been called for 7 March, and that there is the possibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly being restored on 26 March, there is no room for further delay or hesitation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that the options are devolution on 26 March, or dissolution on 26 March. The time is right for us to make a push forward, and I believe that the last outstanding challenges to devolution are being overcome.

One of the key aspects of the St. Andrews agreement was the need for discussion and a commitment on working towards the devolution of policing and justice in May 2008. New clause 5 sets out the broad details of a further model for a Department with policing and justice functions. The model was devised following discussions with Northern Ireland parties, and in the Government’s view, it could be likely to give rise to a broad acceptance among parties and consensus on a new model for the devolution of policing and criminal justice.

The Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East, and I hope for consensus among the political parties on the way forward in the
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event of discussions on policing and criminal justice. We have talked many times in the Chamber about the triple lock and the fact that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister need to make a proposal to the Assembly, that the Assembly needs to agree and to make a request to the British Government, that the British Government have to make a proposal to the House of Commons and that the House of Commons has to approve devolution. However, we must address the model for that devolution. New clause 5 is a further option that represents as good a prospect as any for the resolution of any possible disagreement on the devolution of policing and criminal justice. It will add to the models that have already been included in legislation.

It is unusual that provision is being made, with regard to this particular model only, for it to be implemented either by the Assembly, by choice, or by the Secretary of State, reluctantly, in the event that the Assembly cannot agree on a model for the devolution of criminal justice and policing. It is our clear wish that the Assembly should reach cross-community agreement on any model for a future devolved Department, but in the event of such agreement not being reached, the Secretary of State will, as a last resort, have an order-making power to impose on the Assembly the model in new clause 5, subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The Minister speaks of the model for any future policing and justice Department. Does he accept that many people—not just Unionist, but right across the community—have concerns about any political party or movement that has been associated for 30 years with crime, violence and terrorism, and that a period of time needs to elapse to ensure that people see that that group has become sanitised and has emphatically departed from its old ways, before consideration can be given even to the model that might be considered for devolving policing and justice?

Mr. Hanson: In the St. Andrews agreement the Government expressed their wish to see the devolution of policing and criminal justice matters by May 2008. We want to have discussions with the Assembly, and the Assembly must reach a conclusion on those matters, but there is a period of 12 months—from now, 15 months—for those discussions in any potential devolved Assembly that is restored on 26 March, and the triple lock applies.

There is an opportunity during that period for the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned to be resolved satisfactorily. The Government see devolution as a distinct possibility. I accept that he has concerns about the matter. There has been tremendous movement in the way that Sinn Fein have operated up to the ard fheis in the past couple of weeks. That movement, in my view, will continue through the next 12 months and gives the opportunity for that devolution to be considered by the Assembly, and ultimately, with the triple lock that we have mentioned, by the House of Commons.

Lady Hermon: The Minister said loudly and clearly to the House today that it is the Government’s intention to “stick to the terms” of the St. Andrews agreement. He will know that that agreement states that it is

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It is not acceptable for the British Government to reverse what was agreed at St. Andrews and impose the provisions of the new clause. Has the Minister unpicked the triple lock?

Mr. Hanson: I think that the hon. Lady and I are saying the same thing, in the sense that the Government are committed to the arrangements under the triple lock whereby the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister propose to the Assembly, the Assembly agrees, and it requests the Government and the House of Commons to support that devolution. New clause 5 adds a further devolution model for consideration.

If we reach a point where the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have proposed devolution, the Assembly has accepted devolution, and the House of Commons has voted for devolution, but the stumbling block is the model of devolution, and if the Assembly cannot reach a conclusion on the model of devolution, the Secretary of State will seek to impose a model to help resolve the impasse. That is the purpose of new clause 5. It is not intended to interfere in any way with the Assembly, which I hope and expect will be restored on 26 March, or with its ability to choose a route for the devolution of policing and criminal justice.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Can the Minister state clearly that in none of the models are the Government suggesting that they will impose a Minister of policing and justice on the Northern Ireland Assembly or on the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hanson: No. The model in new clause 5 is in addition to those in the 1998 and the 2006 Acts. It is for the Assembly to fill that post via election from an Assembly Member. The Government are simply saying that in the event of no agreement being reached on the model, they would consider imposing that in new clause 5, reluctantly, at the last possible moment, if that was the only matter that was stopping the devolution of policing and criminal justice. The key point is that it is for the Assembly, through its elected officials and the Assembly’s vote, to request that devolution. We want it to happen by May 2008, but it is for the Assembly to make that judgment in due course.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Is the Minister telling us that the Secretary of State has completely dropped the suggestion that was in his paper that was issued during the Christmas recess in late December, namely, that if a vote had not been taken in the Assembly by May 2008 to have devolution and to appoint Ministers, the Government would take all steps necessary to make that happen, including the appointment of Ministers?

Mr. Hanson: The Secretary of State wants the Assembly to make the decisions on the devolution of criminal justice and policing. When it is restored in the next 12 months, I hope that it will put that triple lock proposal to this House. My right hon. Friend will impose new clause 5 if that is the stumbling block. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend.

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New clause 5 incorporates the power for the Assembly to adopt the new model. It provides for it to be in the charge of a Northern Ireland Minister, supported by a Deputy First Minister. Subsection (5) sets out an order-making power under which the Secretary of State may establish the Department using the model if the Assembly has been unable to reach agreement. Subsection (6) allows for a Department of policing and justice created under this model to be established in shadow form until the point at which policing and justice functions are devolved. It also allows for a Justice Minister designate and a Deputy Justice Minister designate to be elected before the devolution of policing and justice, and provides that they will take up their positions provided that they take the pledge of office in due course. The proposal to have a deputy Minister is intended to be temporary. The new clause means that that would, in effect, lapse after three years unless the Assembly decides within that time scale to retain it in the longer term.

Subsection (7) places a duty on the Assembly to review the working of the model and to report on the matter no later than two years and 10 months after devolution of policing and justice. Subsection (8) gives effect to the associated schedule and subsection (9) provides that the order to abolish the deputy Justice Minister post may be made by the negative resolution procedure.

Government amendment No. 28 and new schedule 1 also apply. New paragraph 11B of schedule 4A to the 1998 Act amends the arrangements made by the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 for appointing the First and Deputy First Minister so that the Justice Minister and Deputy Justice Minister are appointed after the First Minister and Deputy First Minister but before other Northern Ireland Ministers.

Lembit Öpik: On a question of definition, in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 the Government used the phrase “junior Minister”. Does the Minister regard “deputy Minister” and “junior Minister” as interchangeable, or is there a purpose in having the two different phrases?

Mr. Hanson: The new clause uses the phrase “deputy Minister” in line with the titles First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The individual will be the deputy Minister. There will be a Minister in the Executive and there will be a deputy Minister who is outside of the Executive. That is a model for the Assembly to choose, should it wish to do so.

Lembit Öpik: I understand that. The Minister may want to come back to me, but I am asking him to explain why the phrase “junior Minister” is used in some legislation and “deputy Minister” used in this legislation. There may be some logical reason for it but, for the sake of definition and to avoid wrangles within the Assembly, it is probably helpful to have on the record the reason why the two different phrases are used. I recognise that it may take the Minister 10 or 15 minutes to consider that.

Mr. Hanson: I will respond to the hon. Gentleman when we have checked the legality of the position. In essence, the model that we have before us today will
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ensure that the Justice Minister is a member of the Executive and that the Deputy Justice Minister is not a member of the Executive.

4 pm

Dr. McCrea: The Minister has mentioned the justice Minister and the deputy justice Minister. Will he make it abundantly clear that the Secretary of State is not taking any powers to force a shadow deputy Minister on the Assembly against the free vote of that Assembly?

Mr. Hanson: The powers that the Secretary of State is taking to impose a model—the model in new clause 5 is the model that the Secretary of State would wish to impose—would apply in the event of the Assembly not being able to agree a model for devolution while agreeing the principle of devolution as a desirable outcome. The powers for the Assembly to determine its operation in terms of the wish for devolution are still there, but the question of the model will be for the Secretary of State in the event of the non-resolution by the Assembly of any potential model. The Government want the Assembly to make its decisions in its own time on these matters, but we retain the right to impose a model if devolution is progressing but the stumbling block is the final model.

Dr. McCrea: Although it is true to say that the powers allow the Secretary of State to impose a model, the Minister has not suggested that the Secretary of State is taking upon himself any right or any power to impose a shadow Minister on the Assembly against the will of the Assembly.

Mr. Hanson: The Secretary of State has the power to impose the model in new clause 5, which potentially includes a shadow Justice Minister. The Government want the Assembly to reach a conclusion. These are last resort measures for the Government to consider.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Is the Minister therefore saying that if the Secretary of State, perhaps as a last resort, were to impose the model, that model would then go back to the Assembly, in which case it could well be that that the Assembly would still be unable to decide exactly who should take up the positions? Is that a possible scenario?

Mr. Hanson: That could well be a possible scenario. Again, I emphasise that it is for the Assembly to determine the model for devolution. The model before us today will give the power to the Secretary of State to impose this particular model in the event of the Assembly not reaching a conclusion. I hope that the Assembly will reach a conclusion, which is the basis on which we are proceeding.

Dr. McCrea: The Minister has still not answered the question. I am not talking about the Secretary of State imposing a model on the Assembly. I want to know whether the Secretary of State has the power, after imposing a model, to impose a Minister, a shadow Minister or a shadow deputy Minister for the policing and justice portfolio?

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Mr. Hanson: The choice of those Ministers is for the Assembly. The Secretary of State will not choose the Minister; the Assembly will choose the Minister. In the event of an impasse on the model of devolution, the Secretary of State will—

Dr. McCrea: The Minister has not answered the question.

Mr. Hanson: I have answered the question: the Secretary of State will consider imposing a model, if the model issue is the stumbling block for devolution. The Assembly will eventually decide who fills those posts.

Dr. McCrea: And if the Assembly does not do so, who will impose the shadow Minister and the shadow deputy Minister? If the Assembly does not do so, does the Secretary of State have that power?

Mr. Hanson: The Secretary of State’s role is confined to putting in place the model within which the Assembly can operate. New clause 5 simply says to the Assembly that if devolution is agreed without a model for devolution being agreed, the Secretary of State has the power to broker a deal by imposing this particular model on the Assembly. Ultimately, the Assembly will choose who fills that post.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I must be missing something here. The Minister has not clearly stated that the Government do not reserve the power to appoint Ministers. If he could say that there is no question of a Minister or shadow Minister being imposed, that would clarify the matter for the House.

Mr. Hanson: It is not the Government’s intention to impose a Minister on the Assembly in any way, shape or form. The purpose of the new clause is to put forward a further model that the Assembly can consider and come to a conclusion on whether it wants to adopt it. In the event of the Assembly’s not agreeing on a model because of differences between Members, the Government reserve the right to impose this model on it. Who fills that model is a matter for the Assembly. I cannot be any clearer than that.

Mr. Laurence Robertson: Perhaps I could have another try. The House understands that the Government are taking the power to impose the model—we can draw a thick black line under that. We are trying to draw out from the Minister whether he will, under any circumstances, have the right—the power—to impose a stated person to be a Minister or shadow Minister. Will he have that power, or not? It is a fairly simple question.

Mr. Hanson: As far as I am concerned, the Secretary of State does not have that power. The purpose of the new clause is to put down a model for the Assembly. The people who will elect individuals to posts are in the Assembly itself. This discussion is about whether the Assembly has the ability to put in place a model. If it does not have that ability when it wishes to take forward devolution, the Secretary of State will impose the model that is before us today.

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