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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab):
I congratulate the politicians of Northern Ireland on reaching the agreement that meant that this Bill could come before
the House. I want to hear from the Chairman of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs and my friend the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), so I will curtail my commentsbut not because I was approached in the past 15 minutes by two Whips. That is a monumental cheek, frankly, in view of what happened earlier today.
I would like to ask a question to the Secretary of State that he might answer in winding up or in Committee. As I understand it, extraditions between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and requests for extradition from Northern Ireland to the Republic, have to come through the Ministry of Justice in London. Is there anything in the new arrangements that will allow us to avoid that process? It is not the distance of miles, but the fact that an extra party is involved in the extraditions that delays things, and it is quite frustrating for the police forces of both jurisdictions that such matters have to be dealt with through London. Will there be any change when the new judicial arrangements come in?
I was not clear about what the Secretary of State said about the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General in the Northern Ireland jurisdiction will not be like the one here, who is a party political appointment and a Member of Parliament. The Attorney-General in Northern Ireland will not be a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, although he or she will have access to it. I cannot see what the problem is. That is another example of where we could have had more time to tease out what is involved, including the relationship with the Secretary of State for Justice.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) referred to 2011 and 2012, and there is a 2010 issue, as well. For the purposes of this afternoons debate, let us assume that a Justice Minister is appointed from the Alliance party, is up and running in the role, but slips down the steps at Stormontwhich are hard and difficultand hurts himself badly, and then is no more. One cannot totally dismiss that scenario, but I do not wish it on anybody. What happens at the moment of such an unforeseen vacancy? It could well be that the Alliance does not wish to nominate in the unforeseen eventuality of a casual, but immediate vacancy occurring. How would that matter be resolved?
After the 2011 Stormont election, the size of the legislative Assembly has been large, and the proportional representation system allows room in the garden for most political interests. Boyd Black might lead a small, but significant Labour group in the Assemblywho knows? There is also the possibility, which we cannot dismiss, that there will be no Alliance party after the next election, and that all we will have is designated Unionists and designated nationalists. In that case, there will be an immediate paralysis that is not addressed by the legislation.
We need to keep the sanction for 2012, and for 2011, that there will be a dissolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a fresh general election if the body politic cannot agree on a new Justice Minister. It focuses men and womens minds like a hanging if they know that they are going to face another general election. I hope that we can explore that matter further in Committee, but having raised those points I now conclude.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) for the gracious way in which he curtailed his remarks. I must say, any Whip who approaches him and tries to get him to speak for a very short time deserves the Whips cross, or some other order. If anybody is incapable of being cajoled in that way, it is the hon. Gentleman.
I am grateful also to my right hon. Friendif I am allowed to call him thatthe First Minister, who made a splendid speech. He said some extremely important things and he could, and in many ways should, have spoken for longer, as indeed should the Liberal Democrat spokesman. That underlines the point that so many Members made in the earlier debate about the allocation of time. It really is shameful. It is shameful also that some Northern Ireland Members and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser), an assiduous member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, will not be able to contribute to this Second Reading debate.
I wish to make a few brief points. When I came into the House in 1970 and sat next to a number of Ulster Unionists, who were then part of the Conservative party and a very different creation from the one that has appeared recently, we had a Parliament in Northern Ireland. As the First Minister indicated, there was a Minister in that Parliament who was responsible for policing and justice, which was an essential part of the settlement. I was here when direct rule was imposed, and I hope that I shall still be here when policing and justice are devolved again, and indeed for some years afterwards. That is why, like the First Minister and, I believe, everybody else who has spoken, I strongly support the Bill. That makes it all the sadder that we have a note of acrimony because of the curtailment of the debate.
I pay tribute to both the Secretary of State and, in particular, the Minister of State, who I hope will make a brief winding-up speech. He has endeared himself to people throughout the Province during his time there. It is crucial that, as and when policing and justice are devolved, that devolution sticks. That is why we must be guided on the timing of that devolution by those among the Unionist community who want it desperately. They have been magnanimous in not seeking to gain office for themselves, and given the current climate it is right that a member of another party, whether the Alliance party or another minority party, should hold the post of Justice Minister. That is for the people of Northern Ireland, and in particular the Assembly, to determine.
The hon. Member for Thurrock made the important point that there must be a contingency plan. None of us is immortal, and accident and death can happen to anyone, so there must be a contingency plan in the interests of continuity. I hope that the negotiations that will take place during the rest of this year, and until we have a Minister in place, will include proper provision for a contingency plan in the unhappy event of the incapacity or demise of the first Justice Minister.
It is crucial that there is proper financial stability and a proper financial settlement. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk raised that point in an intervention and that the First Minister underlined it. We all know the historic reasons why the
costs of policing in Northern Ireland are so different from the costs of policing on Merseyside. The Secretary of State used that analogy. Of course, it is not really an analogy, because I could say that the costs of policing in Staffordshire, which has a population roughly equivalent to that of Northern Ireland, are much less, but of course there was not a period of 30 years in Staffordshire when more than 3,000 people were killed. We all know that it will take a long time before there is absolute normality. It is crucial that the transition from responsibility here in Westminster to responsibility in Belfast should be smooth and seamless and there should not be problems over present-day policing.
Also, we have to bring to a conclusion the cost of policing the past. The Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs produced a unanimous report on that issue, and I am glad that the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) is here, because he was a member of the Committee at that timeI pay tribute to him. However, we left a number of issues unanswered, awaiting the Eames-Bradley report. Now, when we look at the Eames-Bradley report, we must not dismiss the whole thing because of one particularly unwise recommendation. However, the furore caused as a result of that publication indicates the complexity of dealing with the past.
There is also a cost to dealing with the past. Whether one draws a line after five years or seven years, or whether one does not draw a line, there is a cost. The cost implications are considerable, and they are totally relevant to what we are discussing this afternoon, because if we create a situation where the costs are so overburdening that Northern Ireland cannot be properly policed, we will be giving a poisoned chalice to whomever holds that ministerial office and to their successors.
I will end on that note because we are about to hear the winding-up speeches and I do not want to transgress. It is crucial that what we are paving the way for here in Westminster today is a permanent solution. I want never again to see the imposition of direct rule in Northern Ireland. It would be a badge of failure for us all if that ever happened. It is therefore vital that the settlement that is agreed in Northern Ireland should be one that can last and that there should not be just one immediate Justice Minister, be they from the Alliance party or any other party, but that they should be the first in a long line. If that is the case, the work being done today will indeed be well done; if it is not, we will have failed the people of Northern Ireland, which we must not do.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Let me start by saying that the Bill is extremely complicated. It may be short and quite technical, but it is extremely complicated, in that it amends a number of previous Acts, as hon. Members have already said, and that those Acts have been amended previously. I thank the Clerks and the Northern Ireland Office for being so helpful, but at times even they had to do quite a bit of research to explain some of the things proposed by the Bill. I suggest that in future we try to find a slightly better way of dealing with legislation that amends so many previous Acts that have already been amended.
More time was needed for the Bill. Let me reiterate that Conservative Front Benchers took the view that the time would have been better spent on Second Reading
rather than on debating the programme motion. That said, when the vote came we whipped our hon. Friends to support the amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone). We on the Front Bench greatly regret the fact that this debate has been truncated, when there is very little business taking place in the House tomorrow. We could have gone over into tomorrow and had a proper debate, but now we will have only two hours for the Committee stage, and there are a number of amendments to discuss.
We support the concept of devolution. Over the past four years I have probably sat on more Statutory Instrument Committees than any hon. Member in this Parliament. We have decided some very important matters in Statutory Instrument Committee, especially before the Assembly was reconvened almost two years ago. I am clearly on record as saying how wrong it is to decide major issues that affect more than 1.5 million people in Committees upstairs that were, as ever, stuffed with people who would go along with the party line, which was certainly true of Government Members. That was wrong. Those issues should have been decided by the people of Northern Ireland, and I have clearly stated that on the record.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) has said, we are very much in favour of devolving policing and justice. Of course, that has to happen when the time is right, and it has to be done in the right format. In our judgment, this model for the devolution of policing and justice is the one with the most merit. It could, however, be improved in a number of ways. We are concerned that there is no time limit for the appointment of a Minister to oversee these matters, when policing and justice are devolved. Devolution could take place without a Minister being in place, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has pointed out. After an Assembly election, all the other Ministers have to be appointed within seven days, but no time limit is specified for the appointment of this new Minister. Given the rather difficult security situation in Northern Ireland, we consider it unacceptable that responsibility should be devolved without a Minister being in place to oversee it. We have tabled amendments, which I hope that we shall discuss, to address that situation.
We hear what the Secretary of State has said about the supervision of the DPP, but we consider it unacceptable for someone in such a serious office not to be required to report to anyone or to obtain the protection of another Law Officer. Again, we have tabled amendments to try to address that situation. In regard to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) about extracting the appointment of judicial positions from politicians, we also think that it would be better if the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland were appointed by the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland, as that would strengthen devolution. We want to return to that matter in Committee.
Mr. Peter Robinson: If the Attorney-General were to appear before the Lord Chief Justice, what position would the Lord Chief Justice be placed in if the person appearing before him was effectively his appointee?
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, we want to return to that matter in greater detail in Committee. We have tabled amendments on
the subject, and we would like to discuss it at greater length at that time. We consider our proposal to be a better option.
I have only a short amount of time left, but may I just say that our final concern relates to the fall-back position? What would happen, for example, if the Department were dissolved on 1 May 2012? There should be something in the Bill to tell us what would happen in those circumstances. Again, we are trying to ensure that devolution will work. We are trying to cement it, rather than undermine it. I would be grateful if the Minister could address some of these points now, in case we do not reach them all during the very short Committee stage. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for not referring to all the speeches that were made during our Second Reading debate. I have made notes on them all, but I do not have time to go through them. Some very important points were raised, however.
As has been said, the Bill does not introduce devolution, but it might encourage it when the time is right. As far as we are concerned, that is a matter for the Assembly to decide. At this stage, we wish the Bill well, but we will attempt to improve it somewhat during the very short Committee stage that follows.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I thank everyone who has participated in the Second Reading debate this afternoon. One of the important features of the Bill is that, while it is our business here, it is very much a Bill made in Northern Ireland, reflecting the agreement between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in November last year and the report and recommendations of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee. From St. Andrews onwards, this Government have made it clear that we stand ready to do whatever we can to facilitate the move towards devolutionand now the completion of devolutionand that remains the case. That is why we have brought forward this legislation today. Of course, the question of when that will happen remains a matter for the Assembly, and the triple lock remains firmly in place. I thank the hon. Members for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) and for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) for their broad support for what we are setting out to do in the Bill and for their continued support for the devolution process and the triple lock.
I have been asked three specific questions. Police pay and conditions are currently negotiated centrally, which will remain the case at the point of devolution. The Assembly could change the situation in the future, although my recommendation, such as it is, is that it should consider change very carefully, as there are many benefits from having central negotiation. On public inquiries and who pays for them after the devolution of policing and justice, they remain the responsibility of central Government. On the future financial position, we are currently in the period governed by the comprehensive spending review of 2007, and it remains the case that throughout this period £1.1 billion will be available for policing for each and every year of that settlement. Beyond that is another matter, which will be the subject of further discussions.
Both the hon. Members for North Shropshire and for Tewkesbury raised the issue of judicial appointments. I am pleased that they signalled their clear support for the removal of the advisory role of the First and Deputy First Ministers within the process. They mentioned that they would like to see a degree of superintendence by the Attorney-General of the DPP, although the hon. Member for North Shropshire said that he was reflecting further on it. It is important to understand that the relationship between the DPP and the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland is based on the criminal justice review of 2000 and subsequent legislation. The review stressed that visible independence for the DPP is essential. I will not repeat the entire Lord Mayhew quote, which my right hon. Friend cited in his speech, but the key words were that it was important for the DPP to be entirely independentthe emphasis being on both entirely and independent.
There will also be a statutory duty to consult, and the consultation will be real. For example, in drawing up the code of practice for prosecutors, I expect there to be a full and frank exchange between those two people, whose relationship I expect to be meaningful. I hope to reassure the Opposition Front-Bench teamif not now, then in subsequent discussionsthat the relationship between the DPP and the Attorney-General will really mean something and will count for something.
My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) made a speech that has been much remarked onI enjoyed listening to it. He made the point that much in terms of devolution is already in place, particularly in respect of policing. The Policing Board is now in place, as are district policing partnerships, which are working increasingly closely with community safety partnerships. All that amounts to a significant devolution of functions and responsibilities. Of course, the operational independence of the Chief Constable and the police is already happening. I do not tell the Chief Constable what to do now; and I will not be able to tell him what to do after devolution either. I pay tribute to the Chief Constable and his colleagues for the part they have played in the journey that has brought us to todays debate. It was not always easy to sit on the Policing Board or to go on to district policing partnerships, but he and his colleagues have done that.
I am afraid that I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle on his point about the dHondt system. Frankly, it is not for us in this place to choose the Minister; what we are doing is putting in place an additional model to enable the Assembly to do that. If I may say so, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) made a very important point when he offered a clear explanation of why dHondt could not be allowed to workparticularly now, when confidence is essential and the Assembly needs to keep control over the appointment. I found that to be a very persuasive argument.
My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle and others have asked what would happen if there were no agreement after 2012. The Bill provides no fall-back position beyond May 2012. Frankly, it is not for us in this place to determine any additional model beyond that period; it is a matter for the Assembly. If there were complete breakdownthis comment applies to devolution generallythen of course central Government might need to step in, but they could not continue indefinitely in that way. There is no
fall-back position, as I have said, and it is entirely a matter for the Assembly. The hon. Member for Tewkesbury wants something built directly into the Bill to deal with this, but I think not. It is important to know that central Government do not have a major hand in determining what happens in a model beyond May 2012. That is a matter entirely for the Assembly.
Paul Goggins: The parties themselves will have to determine the model beyond May 2012. We are devolving policing and justice powers; we are not saying that we are partly devolving them and saving a little for ourselves. The matter is entirely for those parties. From everything that I see and hear, I am entirely confident that they can manage that constructively.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is a good friend of the peace process, and I thank him for all the constructive discussions that we have. On his major point of concern, it simply could not happen that, frivolously, the Assembly could get rid of the Justice Minister on a whim. There would have to be a motion before the Assembly, which would have to be tabled by at least 30 MLAs. That motion would have to be tabled jointly by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
In the end, there has to be a mechanism for removing someone from office. In every single one of the modelswe will have nine if the legislation goes throughthe mechanism for appointing the Minister is the same as that for removing that Minister. That is the justification and the rationale for this measure.
Mr. Carmichael: The fact remains, however, that, on the face of it, the Justice Minister will be left in a different position from every other Minister in the Executive. How can that possibly be right?
Paul Goggins: It will be a different arrangement for removal because there is a different arrangement for appointment. The same mechanism for appointment is therefore available for removal. That is entirely consistent with the other models, even if it is different in the respect that the Assembly appoints the Minister. The party leader would normally nominate the Minister and could remove that Minister. Here, the Assembly appoints and the Assembly could remove, but the safeguards mean that that could not be done frivolously.
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