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6 Feb 2007 : Column 806

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 Government’s 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 that—indeed, a whole new section of the Bill would have been required—so we were unable to table one. I do not know whether it would be possible to do so in another place—probably not, for the same reasons. However, perhaps the Government could reconsider the matter.

In conclusion, it has been a pleasure to take part in the debates on the Bill, and I wish it well.

9.27 pm

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 sittings—and, 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.

Mr. Laurence Robertson: Perhaps that is why we did not take up all the allocated time in Committee.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman might remember that I acknowledged that I had been sparing in some of my interventions.

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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 others—which are in some ways less challengeable—for 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 year—the Government explained and justified their repeal. They were fulfilling commitments that were made in the joint declaration in 2003. Yet all that has been reversed—what 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 commission’s 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 policing—after May 2008, I hope—could 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 Government—it has changed significantly in the past few years. At the same time, the DPP—who 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 her—can issue certificates for no-jury trials. The defendants and lawyers in those cases may well say, “We can’t 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 us—they’re 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
6 Feb 2007 : Column 808
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 ombudsman’s 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.

9.37 pm

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—

Sammy Wilson: Is that in contrast to the Minister of State, who presented the Government’s view of the Bill tonight?

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
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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.

Mr. Peter Robinson: It must be true, then.

Lembit Öpik: Even the DUP thinks that it must therefore be true.

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 back—as it surely will—I 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.

Lord Carlile’s work on this issue has been well reported. The second report on the matter stated that

6 Feb 2007 : Column 810

While, as ever, being as supportive as we can of the Government’s 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 Government’s initiatives and hope that we can achieve the normalisation of Northern Ireland’s 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 Bill’s Third Reading.

9.42 pm

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 jurors—such as a greater degree of anonymity—should 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
6 Feb 2007 : Column 811
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 Minister’s 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 Assembly—if the Assembly is to be up and running—if 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.

Although we have reservations about parts of the Bill, we will support it if it is pushed to a vote.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

6 Feb 2007 : Column 812

The House divided: Ayes 314, Noes 45.
Division No. 045]
[9.49 pm


Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Benton, Mr. Joe
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bottomley, Peter
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burnham, Andy
Burt, Alistair
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Dodds, Mr. Nigel
Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dowd, Jim
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Fabricant, Michael
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hanson, Mr. David
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Hayes, Mr. John
Healey, John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Herbert, Nick
Hermon, Lady
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Hood, Mr. Jimmy

Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khabra, Mr. Piara S.
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Knight, Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, Mr. David
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall, Mr. David
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCrea, Dr. William
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McIsaac, Shona
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh David
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Ottaway, Richard
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, James
Randall, Mr. John
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, John
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Robinson, Mrs. Iris
Robinson, Mr. Peter
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Christine
Ryan, Joan
Salter, Martin
Seabeck, Alison
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Simpson, David
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Spicer, Sir Michael

Stanley, rh Sir John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Walker, Mr. Charles
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wicks, Malcolm
Wills, Mr. Michael
Wilson, Sammy
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Ayes:

Liz Blackman and
Tony Cunningham

Alexander, Danny
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Brake, Tom
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Clegg, Mr. Nick
Corbyn, Jeremy
Durkan, Mark
Farron, Tim
Foster, Mr. Don
Gidley, Sandra
Goldsworthy, Julia
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Holmes, Paul
Horwood, Martin
Howarth, David
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunter, Mark
Lamb, Norman
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair
McGrady, Mr. Eddie
Mulholland, Greg
Pugh, Dr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Robertson, Angus
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Teather, Sarah
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Williams, Mark
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wishart, Pete
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Roger Williams and
Lembit Öpik
Question accordingly agreed to.
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