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Although we welcome the recent statement by Sinn Fein, the Bill reminds us that not all things are as they should be in Northern Ireland, as the Minister has recognised. The fact that trials without juries are still going ahead, albeit on a decreasing level, is testament to that. As we said in Committee and again today, we are concerned about how the decision on the mode of a trial is arrived at. I would still prefer the Lord Chief Justice to make that decision instead of the DPP. I hope that the Minister might reconsider that.
In Committee, I expressed concern about the stop-and-search powers given to the police and the Army. While I recognise that they are needed, the police should be given time that is judged reasonable rather than time that they feel is necessary. That is a small point but it could be important. Given that the Province is improving to such an extent, the fact that those powers still exist is a sad reminder that everything is not quite right.
In Committee, we questioned the Governments extension of the powers of the Human Rights Commission. We do not particularly approve of that, but it will not cause us to vote against the Bill, which we support and wish well.
There is another matter that would more properly be dealt with through a new clause, but it was not possible to do so. The police in Northern Ireland would like to have some of the powers contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 with regard to setting bail conditions. PACE does not apply in Northern Ireland, which is subject to the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, as amended. Having taken advice, it became clear to us that it would be enormously difficult to design a new clause to achieve thatindeed, a whole new section of the Bill would have been requiredso we were unable to table one. I do not know whether it would be possible to do so in another placeprobably not, for the same reasons. However, perhaps the Government could reconsider the matter.
Mark Durkan: We have a lot more discomfort than the Minister and the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) about many aspects of the Bill, but that has not prevented us from being able to engage in positive and effective exchanges on several important issues in Committee and during other debates.
I join the Minister and the hon. Member for Tewkesbury in acknowledging the performances of all members of the Committee. I particularly want to put on record my thanks to the Chairs for the understanding that they showed to me when I was unable to attend one of the sittingsand, indeed, when I was able to attend a subsequent sitting and had some tuning in and catching up to do. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) certainly accommodated me well in his chairmanship.
We must recognise that the Bill involves some serious issues. Ministers have presented it in the name of normalisation, but much of it normalises the abnormal. Features such as the provisions for no-jury trials, for which only annually renewable legislation previously provided, will be permanent under the Bill. That is a significant problem. Why make a provision permanent when, throughout the worst of the troubles, it was subject to annual renewal and justification by Parliament? A certificate from the DPP, which cannot be questioned or challenged, will provide for such trials. We cannot be comfortable with that.
The Bill similarly recycles powers for the police, and otherswhich are in some ways less challengeablefor the British Army. Again, those powers were part of the emergency provisions in Northern Ireland that were annually renewable during the worst of the troubles. The House repealed them last yearthe Government explained and justified their repeal. They were fulfilling commitments that were made in the joint declaration in 2003. Yet all that has been reversedwhat was repealed has been recycled. Those of us who welcomed the initial commitment to repeal and voted for it must obviously question the reintroduction of those powers.
We discussed the extended powers for the Human Rights Commission. We regret the qualifications and restrictions on them. We welcome some of the steps forward but we would have liked more. We believe that the commissions work will work for us all in Northern Ireland in future. We do not share some hon. Members views that the commission is somehow congenitally subversive.
On Second Reading, I said that the Bill was pregnant with implications and complications for the devolution of policing and justice. In his remarks on Third Reading, the Minister considered the administration of justice and policing. I simply want hon. Members to understand that a future devolved Minister for justice and policingafter May 2008, I hopecould be in an invidious position.
Let us consider what will happen if MI5 has primacy in intelligence and policing, is beyond the accountability of the police ombudsman, and the meaning of primacy and national security continues to change, courtesy of the UK Governmentit has changed significantly in the past few years. At the same time, the DPPwho will supposedly be an officer of the devolved Administration but will act, as the Secretary of State told us, on the basis of information that the intelligence services give him or hercan issue certificates for no-jury trials. The defendants and lawyers in those cases may well say, We cant accept this. We want to challenge it. People may write and make representations to the devolved Minister and members of the relevant Assembly Committee asking for the ruling to be changed. Yet the measure is likely to remain under the control of the Secretary of State and the House, and not be devolved.
A devolved Minister could therefore say, Yes, my Department and I might provide the budget for the Court Service and the broad administrative cover, but all the powers and practices have nothing to do with ustheyre beyond our control. As devolved Minister for justice, I do not have the right to propose an amendment or review to remove the provision for no-jury trials. As Minister for justice, I am not privy to the advice and
information given to the DPP, even though he is meant to be an officer of the devolved Administration. The police and the Army will continue to have special powers, and the Army will not be subject to the police ombudsmans powers. A devolved Minister will simply not be in a credible position.
If a serious problem arises with activities associated with MI5 or information that it did not pass on or sat on, the entire devolved Administration, not only the Justice Minister, could be caught in an invidious and impossible position. I hope that the Government will address that. That sort of scenario or vista is not what we envisaged when we considered the fullest possible devolution of justice and policing in the context of the fullest possible devolution of everything in the context of the Good Friday agreement.
I would be very surprised if the provisions square with the standards that Sinn Fein says that it has set. Before its members take up their positions on the Policing Board, Sinn Fein says not only that the DUP must clearly agree a date for the devolution of justice and policing, but that if devolution of justice is to be meaningful, there must be no ongoing or continuing British involvement or securocrat influence that is sometimes exercised in respect of policing and justice. This legislation may mean that we do not reach that position. It may provide excuses for Sinn Fein not to move on policing and it may present further real difficulties that stand in the way of implementation of devolved justice and policing. That is why we have a number of sensitivities and why we have raised a number of serious issues as well as specific points about the amendments.
Overall, we would like to leave hon. Members thinking about the key questions of political context and political impact. We ask the Government to address those key questions and hope that they will do so by reflecting positively on some of our suggestions about useful changes that could be made to the Bill. We hope that that will help to unlock the deadlock that will continue to exist on the devolution of justice and policing.
Lembit Öpik: First, I thank the Chairmen of the Standing Committee, which was the most enjoyable on which I have served in five or six years. That is an amazing thing to say about Northern Ireland, but it was a really excellent Committee. In fact, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), who managed affairs in Committee, revealed himself to be a charming and likeable man. I would go as far as to say that he has my full support, which
Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman should have let me finish, as I was about to say that they are all honourable and very likeable men, whom it would be nice to meet socially. However, the problem is that, despite all the good discussion, they showed themselves professionally unwilling to listen. There were moments of hope in Committee that the Government would take
on board various suggestions of Opposition Members, but they responded, unfortunately, in the most miserly way to them.
I accept the need for some legislation in this regard and I support the intentions of Ministers, but three areas remain the cause of considerable concern to the Liberal Democrats. I should add that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) highlighted some important issues that we also discussed in Committee at some length. I associate myself with many of his comments.
Despite the comprehensive efforts of the Minister and others to reassure us that the Bill does not repeal the triple lock, I feel that it does. Both the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) made some powerful points about that. They were suspicious of the content of new clause 5, which really seems to weaken the triple lock. The DUP is confident that it has not been compromised, but I take a different view. That is a worry because it seems to be back-pedalling on previous commitments. I also associate myself with the view of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) that the triple lock, as reported in The Irish Times, has to some extent been repealed.
We have just voted on our second concern, which is about commencement and looking back at data from the past. It simply cannot be right that the Human Rights Commission cannot take evidence relating to many months or years ago, because it is often the history of a complaint that is most salient to the verdict at the end of an inquiry. The Government obviously take a different view, and we are disappointed by that. All that I can say is that we hope that they will monitor the situation. If the commission feels that it needs the powers to go backas it surely willI hope that the Government will accept that they have made a mistake and modify the legislation accordingly.
The most serious problem that the Liberal Democrats have with the Bill is the matter on which we voted after our debate on amendment No. 15. The problem is clause 7, which does something completely wrong and sets a dangerous precedent for British legislation as a whole. The fact that there is no provision in the Bill for an appeal against a decision for a trial to be held without a jury is bad enough; what is worse is that such appeals are expressly prohibited. It cannot be right that the Director of Public Prosecutions can issue a certificate for a trial to be conducted without a jury, without the defendant having any means whatever of making representations to the DPP or of appealing that decision.
it could be strongly argued that the ouster of judicial review of tribunal decisions contemplated by clause 11 has not been justified by any argument advanced by the Government. There is a real danger that this would violate the rule of law in breach of international law, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the fundamental principles of our common law.
While, as ever, being as supportive as we can of the Governments initiatives to find a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, I say with regret that the precedent that clause 7 sets for British law is so great that the Liberal Democrats cannot bring themselves to vote for the Bill. It is also a matter of regret for us that the Conservatives seem to have taken a different view now, perhaps because this is Northern Ireland legislation. I would counsel them to recognise, however, that the precedents that we set in Northern Ireland legislation go into British law, and that there is a danger that such provisions could be carried further as a result.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: The problem with taking clause 7 out is that I cannot see a right of appeal anywhere else in the Bill. It provides for a limited right of appeal, and I would have liked to see a little more, but at least it is a right of appeal. If we took clause 7 out, there would be nothing.
Lembit Öpik: We have debated this issue a few times already, and I hold a different view from the hon. Gentleman. This is a matter of principle, and I hope that the Conservatives will consider voting against the Bill as a whole because of this issue.
We support the Governments initiatives and hope that we can achieve the normalisation of Northern Irelands police service, with full participation on all sides, but it is because of the precedent that the ouster clause will set in British law that we feel that we must oppose the Bills Third Reading.
Sammy Wilson: I join other hon. Members in thanking those who chaired the Committee for the excellent way in which they did so, and for the amicable way in which business was conducted. As one of the newer Members, I would also like to thank them for the way in which they sought to guide those of us who are parliamentary apprentices and still learning the ropes and rules of the House.
It has been made clear in our discussions in Committee and in our debates today that there are many aspects of the Bill that we welcome, as well as some with which we are unhappy and which we believe to be mistakes. Nevertheless, the tenor of the Bill is such that it addresses issues of concern to people in Northern Ireland. It will at least ensure that some of the safeguards that people feared were being removed are left in place.
We have discussed the possible retention of non-jury courts. We also believe that, when there are to be jury courts, the safeguards that will be placed on those selected as jurorssuch as a greater degree of anonymityshould give a greater assurance that the administration of justice will not be tampered with by those who seek to subvert it in order to carry on their criminal activities.
One issue has not been discussed today. We have debated organised crime in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, and the proposed requirements for licensing in the private security industry will be
welcomed. There was great concern about those who had been involved in paramilitary activity and who had used their paramilitary groups as a front for carrying out what they described as private security initiatives, which in reality were a means of demanding protection money. Licensing those who will carry out private security will go some way to addressing the concerns expressed by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee when it considered organised crime.
We do not think that the Human Rights Commission has proved that it is capable of carrying out its existing extensive role. It has not clothed itself in any glory in its first four or five years. To give additional powers to such an untried and untested organisation, which has failed to live up to its duties so far, is wrong.
On the devolution of policing and justice, we welcome the Ministers assurance that the triple lock remains in place. We sought that arrangement not so that we could have a veto that we could use unwisely, but because the devolution of policing and justice is crucial and could have a detrimental effect on the Assemblyif the Assembly is to be up and runningif it was introduced too soon. There needs to be a degree of control so that it is not simply handed over to meet the political demands of Sinn Fein. There had to be, and there has to be, confidence that those powers can be properly exercised by the Assembly and those in it. That is why the triple lock is so important and why we welcome the assurance that it is in place. DUP Members have made it clear time and again that we do not intend to use it unwisely, in some petty manner, but it will be used if we think that the devolution of policing and justice will be detrimental to the exercise of trying to get devolution up and running.
I raised a query in Committee. I still have not received an answer. Perhaps the Minister will respond now, because it exercises all of us. Why does the power in clause 25 for the police and the Army to stop vehicles extend to all vehicles apart from aircraft that are airborne? He promised that he would do his best to enlighten us. How did he intend the police to stop an aircraft that was airborne?
Paul Goggins: To the best of my understanding, if we did not exclude aircraft we might allow the police to stray into air traffic control matters, which would be well beyond their remit. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman so that he gets a formal reply, but that is an indication of why aircraft are excluded from the provision.
Sammy Wilson: I thank the Minister for that explanation and for clearing that up. We feared that the flying squad was going to have a totally different connotation in relation to the police in Northern Ireland or that the police were going to recruit Superman, who would fly along and knock on the cockpit window.
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