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The Minister mentioned the historic decision taken by Sinn Fein in Dublin a few days ago. I make it abundantly clear that there is an over-emphasis on what Sinn Fein actually decided. Anyone with any understanding
of what was happening knew that Gerry Adams was going through a process and that the ard fheis was just a choreographed pantomime. He knew the outcome before he went to it. Had that organisation not known the outcome, it would never have gone through the process.
However, let us take it as it is and make it abundantly clear that there was no clear unequivocal support for the police, the rule of law and the courts at that ard fheis. In fact, the support was qualified, and seriously qualified at that, and therefore seriously flawed. To gain the confidence of the community, every political party in a democracy, irrespective of who they are or their political complexion, cannot deviate from the wholesome and wholehearted support for the rule of law and those who exercise itthe police and the security forces in Northern Ireland.
It was a pick-and-mix situation. It would be wrong for us to give the impression that there was a seismic shift in Sinn Feins support for policing and justice. The House should ask a simple question: does Sinn Fein support unequivocally the police, the rule of law, justice, the Crown and the judiciary today? The answer is no because there is the qualification that the Assembly has to recommence and justice and policing have to be devolved. The DUP does not accept that that support can be qualified. It must be unequivocal.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) rightly drew our attention to the McCartney case, which we have all mentioned in the past in the context of an expression of support. Those who destroyed quite a bit of the evidence were members of Sinn Fein as a political party. However, there are many other murders for which we want to ensure that the evidence is given and those responsible brought to justice.
On new clause 5, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East made it clear that the understanding is that the Department, the Minister and the Secretary of State are imposing the setting up of a Department, but that is not the case. After some time we found out that no powers are going to be devolved because there will be no Minister for the Department. That is solely part of the remit of the Northern Ireland Assembly and solely in its hands.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) said that a serious situation could arise if some other Secretary of State adds on or changes the intent. That would be serious. There was a clear intent, made at the Dispatch Box on behalf of Her Majestys Government, on what the new clause means. Any messing around by the Government and this or any other Secretary of State would bring the house down. If anyone did want to mess around and bring the Assembly to its knees that would certainly be one way of doing it, but I do not think the Secretary of State wants that to happen. He wants to get the Assembly going rather than to bring it to its knees.
When it comes to the devolution of policing and justice, a Minister must have the confidence of the community and thence the confidence of the Assembly. What reason is there for the fanciful idea of appointing a deputy Minister, other than financial gain for someones purse? In the past, it was said that the proposal for 108 Assembly Members was intended to get a few minority parties through the door. As for the 10 Ministries, which were a waste of public finance, the aim was to secure a few extra Ministers and sweeten the cherry. We
are not interested in that, but we are interested in the fact that there can be no movement on the devolution of licensing and justice.
The May 2008 date is aspirational, but let there be no mistake about this: it is in the St Andrews agreementan agreement between the British Government and the Government of a foreign country, the Irish Republicbut it was not agreed by politicians elected democratically by the people of Northern Ireland, or by the parties that are represented in this House and would be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East said, the process will be condition-led and not calendar-led. Moreover, Sinn Fein members can humour their folks as much as they like, but anyone who imagines that Gerry Kelly, Martin McGuinness or any of their colleagues will become policing and justice Minister in Northern Ireland is living in a fantasy land.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) is unabashed about his desire to circumvent the democratic wishes of the majority of the people. It seems that a policing and justice Minister must be forced on them whether or not he has their confidence. That may be the hon. Gentlemans idea of democracy, but if there is to be a policing and justice Minister, he must command cross-community support. If the hon. Gentleman is such a supporter of the Belfast agreement, he should not want to change a jot or tittle of it, and therefore should not want to circumvent the democratic wish of the majority population of Northern Ireland.
As for the hon. Gentlemans own new clause 4, I know that he has a problem with national security and the gathering of intelligence by MI5. Subversive activity now extends worldwide: there is an international network or web of terrorism, involving more than links with the IRA. In such circumstances, national security should be in the hands of MI5: I see no problem with that.
Let me end where I began. The Minister would do justice to the House, and indeed to himself, by withdrawing new clause 5. That would remove much of the suspicion that his opening remarks may have engendered.
Mr. Hanson: I will begin on a positive note by telling the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) that I will not withdraw new clause 5. I do not wish to disappoint him, but I think that it serves a purpose.
The new clause constitutes part of the general discussion of the Governments wish to ensure that policing and criminal justice are devolved by May 2008. As todays debate has made clear, some Members and parties are sceptical about that, but the discussion of the triple lock is relevant because the triple lock is a consequence of earlier legislation and earlier Government commitments.
As I said in my opening remarks, new clause 5 has a purpose, which is to provide an extra model for the Assembly to consider. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) asked why the new clause had not been tabled in Committee. The simple answer is that we were waiting for the Committee on Preparation for Government in the Assembly to complete its deliberations on the potential models. The Committee stage in the House of Commons was completed very quicklyas a result, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary
of State tells me, of co-operation and discussionand the Committee on Preparation for Government deliberated after our Committee stage had ended.
New clause 5 is another option for the Assembly to consider when it considers the potential for devolution of criminal justice and policing matters. The triple lock applies. If the Assembly does not wish to support the devolution and the First and Deputy First Minister do not wish to promote it to the Assembly, it will be almost impossible politically, let alone legislatively, for the Secretary of State to impose it on the Assembly. I assure Members that that is not the Governments wish or intention.
Lady Hermon: I listened carefully to the Ministers introductory remarks. He assured us that this was merely an additional model. Will he also assure us, to satisfy our curiosity, that new clause 5 was not discussed with Sinn Fein and not with other parties in the House? And if this is merely an additional model, why on earth are we introducing it at all?
Mr. Hanson: The Government wish to introduce additional models for the House to consider, and to give the Assembly scope to come up with another potential model if it so wishes. The Government have said that if the Assembly finds itself in difficulty only on the question of which model to approve, they will impose this model as a last resort. The model has been discussed with a number of organisations and individuals as part of the general discussions that take place in Government, and this is our best guess.
I emphasise to the hon. Lady that the question for Members is whether they wish the clause to be added to the Bill to ensure that the Assembly can consider another potential model, along with those in earlier legislation, so that if there is a consensus in favour of this model the Assembly can adopt it. If there is no such consensus, and if the Assembly wishes to choose another model, it is free to do so. If there is no consensus at all, the Government will impose this model in due course.
Mr. Peter Robinson: May I respond to the hon. Ladys point about the lack of consultation? Her party was consulted when the Secretary of State put the model to the policing and justice sub-committee of the Committee on Preparation for Government.
Mr. Hanson: We have had discussions with a number of parties, and the Secretary of State has made his view clear. The new clause would give legislative effect to an additional model. As I have said throughout, it does not have to be adopted by the Assembly; it can choose another model. If it cannot reach a conclusion, the Government will seek to impose this model for the reasons that I have given today.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: This measure does not only address the possibility of the Assembly getting stuck over choosing a model. It allows the Secretary of State to set up the Department in the first place. That is the problem; the measure is not only about the model. It gives the Secretary of State the power to set up the Department if the Assembly does not pass the Act to set it up.
The establishment of the Department does not meanI think that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) concurs with this pointthat the transfer of legislative competence to the Assembly occurs. That is a separate matter under legislation that the Secretary of State must introduce. [Interruption.] Yes, but the situation will be examined and the order undertaken only when the triple-lock procedure has been followed.
Mark Durkan: The Minister has still not explained why the Government are producing more vacuous models, at a rate that Hugh Hefner would envy. Are the Government not proposing this new model so that at the same time as they are giving assurances to the DUP and its supporters that the triple lock still stands, they are giving Sinn Fein and its supporters the impression that they are acting on the Secretary of States paper issued over the Christmas break, which suggested that the Government will take all necessary steps to ensure devolution of justice and policing by May 2008? Is not the answer to the question of who will blink next that the Government are winking at both parties?
Mr. Hanson: The Government are clear that we want devolution of criminal justice and policing matters by May 2008. That is the Governments intention, but it is predicated on the facts that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister must propose that devolution, the Assembly must accept it on a cross-community vote, and the Government must, through the House of Commons, support it in practice.
There is a power to establish the Department, but, as I have said, that does not mean that transfer of devolution functions or legislative competence to the Assembly will occur. The Secretary of State may at some point in the future judge that it is of value to allow the Assembly to select Ministers in shadow form to oversee the transfer of functions. Subsection (5) does not create a real, functioning Department; rather, it creates the legal premise for there to be a future Department, allowing the Assembly the opportunity to elect shadow Ministers if the Assembly wishes. That is the key point, and I think that the hon. Members for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) and for Belfast, East understand it. The triple lock is maintained. The Government want devolution, but we are creating an extra model that can, if the Secretary of State wishes, be established in shadow form, if the Assembly wishes to elect Ministers to it.
Lembit Öpik: I understand what the Minister says is the intent of the Bill, but will he answer the following question? Is it theoretically possible for a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to use the powers in the new clause to establish a functioning Department if the Assembly does not support that or if it has major doubts about it?
No, it is not the intentionnor is the power available to the Governmentto do that. Under the proposed legislation, the Government can establish
a Department. That does not mean that the devolution of functions will occur, nor that the transfer will occur. They are subject to legislation that we have discussed previously in the House.
I recognise that there has been considerable discussion about the issue we are focusing on. I have offered to meet the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) to take him through it, but we have been very clear about our position. If Members wish to force a Division, so be it, but I have been clear about where we stand.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) mentioned concerns about cross-border co-operation on criminal justice matters. None of the actions or measures that we have discussed would diminish the fight against crime. The Organised Crime Task Force meets and its members come from Government Departments, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Policing Board. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) chairs that meeting. There will be continuing discussion with the OCTF stakeholder group, and strategic co-operation on a north-south basis on crime issues will continue, tooas it should do.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and other Members made points about the title of deputy Minister for justice that is used in the new clause. Let me make an open admission: my initial response that there is a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister might not have been a particularly helpful contribution in terms of clarifying matters, but when people are thinking on their feet, occasionally the first thought that comes into their mind is the one that is expressed, and that was the first thought that came into my mind.
The point that we need to make is that there is a clear distinction between the two roles of justice Minister and deputy justice Minister. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the justice Minister will sit in the Executive, and the deputy will not but can be invited to do so. The precise role of the deputy is a matter for the justice Minister to decide in conjunction with the First and Deputy First Ministers. The justice Minister role will be well understood. The deputys role will be open for discussion; like my role as Minister of State to the Secretary of State, its responsibilities will be subject to discussion between Ministers.
We have made a technical distinction between the terms junior Minister and deputy Minister. We wish to ensure that there is sufficient status for a post that has the important role of backing up the justice Minister. If the Assembly were to choose this model, the name is open to discussion; I am not tied to the title as that is not a big issue. The simple fact is that the model under discussion provides for a deputy.
The deputy post is time limited. My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said that the Assembly would be stuck with a deputy post, but the post will be for a three-year period; it can disappear if the Assembly so wishes. I hope that that provides some reassurance to Members.
On a different point, a good and loyal friend of the Alliance party for Northern Ireland highlighted what isnow that it has been pointed outan obvious fact: the people who take up such posts must come from the largest and second largest political parties. In fairness to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), he made a valid point in respect of the possibility of finding suitable tenants for such posts from other parties. Why have representatives of other parties been excluded? I ask that because, as this is a new clause, we have not had an opportunity to table amendments to it.
Mr. Hanson: We have had a long discussion on this matter, and the hon. Gentleman raises those points at a late stage. We have accepted the dHondt terms. That is how the justice Minister will be chosen, and the deputy Minister will be chosen under different means. If the Alliance party does as well in the election as the hon. Gentleman wishes, it might in due course be in a position to bid for some of these posts. I think that it currently has six Assembly Members. I do not know how many the Northern Ireland electorate will deliver to it on 7 Marchthe figure might be more than six, or fewerso the Alliance might be able to provide a candidate to fill one of the positions in due course.
Mark Durkan: Is the real answer to the question of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) not to be found in the point made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson)that the DUP would not vote in the Assembly to allow Sinn Fein to enter a justice Ministry? If Sinn Fein negotiated the option of a Minister and deputy Minister with the British Government, it would clearly want to make sure that the SDLP was forced into that Ministry in one form or another, despite our misgivings about the future role of MI5 and the implications of that in terms of the position in which devolved Ministers might find themselves. Sinn Fein is trying to rule out any option except having the SDLP stuck in there, presumably with the Ulster Unionist party. That is what the Government are providing for.
Mr. Hanson: For the purposes of clarification, I repeat: this is a simple option for consideration by the Assembly, and it can choose another one. Yes, we will impose it, because it has merit across the board, and there will be an opportunity to consider it, but the point is that it is an option, and if the Assembly as a whole does not wish to pursue it, it can choose another option for devolution.
I commend new clause 5 to the House because it achieves the objective of giving a wider choice to the Assembly, and provides an opportunity to maintain the purposes of the triple lock, which we have discussed on many occasions. It will help to progress devolution in the event of failureif the Assembly cannot achieve a resolution of the potential models for the future.
I want to touch briefly on the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle, who raised concerns about national security, which I tried to address in my opening remarks. In our discussions with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Chief Constable has been supportive of this change in national security primacy. He also said that five key principles must be
met in order to secure his support. The Government accept that and we will ensure that effect be given to those five key principles. For the sake of the House as a whole, I point out that the Chief Constable wants to ensure that all Security Service intelligence relating to terrorism in Northern Ireland is visible to the PSNI, and I agree with that premise, as do the Government. He wants to ensure that the PSNI will be informed of all Security Service counter-terrorist investigations and operations in Northern Ireland, and we agree with that. We also agree with the Chief Constable that Security Service intelligence should be disseminated within the PSNI according to the current PSNI dissemination policy, and using police procedures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle also raised the question of PSNI officers continuing to deal with the great majority of national security issues in Northern Ireland under existing police handling protocols. There will be no diminution of the PSNIs ability to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998 or the Policing Boards ability to monitor said compliance. From my perspective and in view of the Chief Constables support, our approach makes sense. The Chief Constable has laid down conditions, but essentially there is support for transferring such intelligence matters to the security services. I am afraid that I therefore have to reject new clauses 2 and 4, tabled by my hon. Friend, and I urge the House to do the same and to support new clause 5.
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