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Finally, the Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010 transfers functions of the Court Service in Northern Ireland, which are currently the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, to the Northern
Ireland authorities, generally the Department of Justice. The staff of the Court Service will also be assimilated into that Department.
The orders will come into effect on 12 April, in line with the Hillsborough castle agreement. The Justice Department will be well provided for financially as part of the £800 million of additional money that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised for the new Justice Department. All but £26 million-2 per cent. of the Northern Ireland Office's current baseline budget-will transfer to the Northern Ireland Executive as will the entire Northern Ireland Court Service baseline budget. The Department will be well provided for in finance, people and ideas to carry forward its work.
I readily acknowledge that not everyone was entirely satisfied by the outcome of the Hillsborough castle agreement. I believe that much of that dissatisfaction is unfounded, as the arrangements for the talks were designed to bring all the parties together in a process, which was designed from its inception to be inclusive. Even if, after 10 days, the talks were somewhat exhausting, I believe that, at the end of them, the agreement that we reached has allowed the peace process and the political process to be completed.
I am particularly aware of the remaining concern about the arrangements for the Justice Department in May 2012, if there has not been further agreement on the ministerial model for that Department. However, as set out in the Northern Ireland Act 2009, the Department of Justice will dissolve on 1 May 2012 unless the Assembly has resolved on a cross-community basis to continue the current model for appointing the Justice Minister or passed an Act to put in place alternative arrangements.
When Parliament passed the legislation in March 2009, the House was aware that the arrangements reflected agreement between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister-specifically that the arrangements set out in their November 2008 statement should be time limited to end in May 2012.
Clearly, further work is needed to agree the post-2012 arrangements. However, we should be optimistic. The parties, both at Hillsborough castle and more recently, have demonstrated their ability to meet far greater challenges and to work through all the obstacles that may be placed in their way.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): I am so sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State, but will he just reassure the people at home about the Policing Board in particular? He knows that it has been very successful and that there is unfortunately some disquiet that, when a justice scrutiny committee is set up in the Assembly, it might inadvertently undermine the Policing Board's confidence, role and status. Will the Secretary of State please address that issue?
The hon. Lady asks an important question. Like many questions that she has asked in the course of the past few months' work, it is to the point. The arrangements for the Policing Board, those with the Chief Constable and those that envisage the Assembly's setting up a committee were imagined in the Patten architecture. It was always envisaged that there would be an important relationship between the Policing Board, the Chief Constable, the Department of Justice and the committees that would be set up. I believe that that is
properly outlined in the protocols and memorandums that we have supplied on policing architecture. Like Patten, I do not see that there would be a problem for the Chief Constable's independence, for the Police Service of Northern Ireland's operational capacity, for the Policing Board's fully representative functions of the political parties or for the scrutiny work to be carried out by an Assembly justice committee.
It is, of course, for the Assembly to decide the functions of such a justice committee. However, I remind the hon. Lady that, as she knows well, that arrangement was always envisaged by Patten, and it is not a new addition by this Government or a new arrangement. I believe that it is quite possible to see how what is effectively a tripartite organisation will work effectively together in terms of the objectives of policing and scrutiny. Again, that matter will be resolved far more easily when the architecture is put in place in practice, which we will see after 12 April.
As I was saying, we of course regret the decision by the Ulster Unionist party not to vote for the transfer with the rest of the Assembly in the cross-community vote on 9 March. That remains a matter of regret not just for me, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government, but for many, not least the majority of the public and many of those who would have voted, or had intended to vote, for the Ulster Unionist party in future.
If we look at the arrangements, however, we see that they inspire confidence. I congratulate all the Northern Ireland Assembly parties on establishing successful community confidence in the past few weeks. With the vote taken last week, it is time for all parties in Northern Ireland, and all Assembly Members from every party, to again put differences to one side and work together. The majority in the Assembly expressed its view last week, and I very much hope that that majority view will now be allowed to prevail. In that spirit, the task for all the parties in the Assembly and Executive is to ensure that all aspects of the settlement work most effectively for all the people from every community of Northern Ireland.
To that end, one of the most important outcomes of the Hillsborough castle agreement was the decision by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, who listened at Hillsborough castle to the concerns of all the Assembly parties, to improve the functioning of the Executive. It is very much to the credit of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister that as part of the Hillsborough castle agreement, a number of working parties were established precisely because they had listened to the concerns of the other Assembly parties as well as members of their own parties not only at Hillsborough, but in the previous months. That is why we welcome the role of Sir Reg Empey, along with that of the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, Margaret Ritchie, who will chair one of the working groups that has been specifically set up to enhance the effectiveness of the Executive.
At Hillsborough, the parties also agreed to address and find consensus on remaining outstanding issues and existing problems. On parades, for example, the working group has already produced a report for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
It is appropriate to record in this House the support given by the Orange Order to the progress to date on, and the work to find local solutions to, parading issues and contentious parades, which has been established as a result of the work at Hillsborough castle.
In short, I remain convinced that no outstanding issues are incapable of resolution in today's Stormont and today's shared-power Executive in Northern Ireland. None the less, a very small number of people in Northern Ireland, who are extremely dangerous, will never accept democracy and are the enemies of democracy. We have never said that the simple fact of completing devolution and taking responsibility will overnight remove the threat that those dangerous criminals continue to pose. However, as the Independent Monitoring Commission rightly said at the end of last year, early devolution will be a potent intervention, because it shows that politics is the only way ahead, and it demonstrates that it is possible to reconcile even the seemingly irreconcilable through dialogue and politics.
The successful cross-community vote last week was the best signal that we could possibly send to those dissidents that however delusional their ambitions, they have no future in Northern Ireland. The PSNI and the Chief Constable will have the support of all Assembly Members, and continue to enjoy the support of all Members of this House and the other place and of the Government, in meeting the challenges ahead. The PSNI will have the resources that it needs, including an extra £28.7 million this year, ring-fenced-and at least £38 million next year-specifically to deal with the challenges posed by that small group of criminals who, I remind hon. Members, have little or no support in any of the communities in Northern Ireland. The policing structures are in place and the politics are in place.
I have spoken of some of those who have played a leading part in the transformation of Northern Ireland. But in truth the real heroes of this remarkable story are the people of Northern Ireland whose indefatigable spirit and courage is exemplified in the words of Kate Carroll, whose husband Stephen was murdered by dissident republicans as he served the community exactly a year to the day before the vote on 9 March. Stephen's wife said:
"It is time to move on. We are not in the past any more. We want to speak for ourselves. We want to rule ourselves. Just get up and get on with it".
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): The Secretary of State has today made a written statement on the Saville inquiry. I thank him for that statement and the measured tones in which it is written. We endorse the arrangements that he proposes, but given the sensitive nature of the subject matter and the huge size of the report, it is not appropriate to publish it in the weeks before a general election, when the atmosphere becomes increasingly charged. We understand the frustrations of all those connected with the report about further delays, but we believe emphatically that it needs to be published and considered in a sober manner in the calmer weeks following the election.
Turning to the orders, I am grateful to the Secretary of State for setting out the details today. I begin by paying tribute to the police, the judiciary and all those involved in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland over the past 40 years. They have often worked at great personal risk and many have suffered terribly, with some making the supreme sacrifice. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to everyone who ensured that the integrity of the criminal justice system was upheld.
As the Secretary of State made clear, these orders give effect to the agreement reached between the DUP and Sinn Fein at Hillsborough on 5 February, and the vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March. Once these orders pass through the House and the other place, the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly will take place on 12 April. The last major element of the Belfast agreement, made almost 12 years earlier to the day, will have been completed. For the first time since the powers were taken away from the Northern Ireland Government in March 1972, Stormont will once again exercise powers over policing, criminal justice, the courts and local security issues.
The Conservative party has long supported in principle the devolution of policing and justice powers. We said so as far back as 1998 in our submission to the Patten commission, and our view has not changed. These powers are best exercised in Northern Ireland by politicians accountable to the electorate there, not by Ministers in this House. That is why we supported legislation this time last year, even though we believed that it could have been improved with a little more time. It is why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition met the First and Deputy First Ministers in the autumn and rapidly pledged that, should we win the election, we would honour the substantial post-dated financial package agreed by the Prime Minister.
We welcomed the Hillsborough castle agreement, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition expressed his hope at the time that it would lead to the completion of devolution. Indeed, following the vote on 9 March, a spokesman for the US State Department referred to the constructive role played by the Opposition throughout the recent negotiations. At all times our overriding objective has been a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all its people have a shared future. Whether we remain in opposition or return to government in a few weeks, that is the approach that we shall continue to take. We therefore support the orders before the House today.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I commend the hon. Gentleman very much on the approach that he has outlined. The history in recent years is one in which Northern Ireland business has been approached in a non-partisan way, and I am delighted to hear that that will continue. May I therefore invite him to disown the remarks of one Ian Parsley, who I understand is a Conservative candidate in the constituency of North Down? He has commended the Ulster Unionists in a blog post on being alone in standing up for the people of Northern Ireland, saying:
"The wide-ranging attacks on the Ulster Unionist Party for failing to back the devolution of justice prior to improvements in the functioning of the Executive are an example of the complete loss of morals that now typifies the 'Peace Process'."
Even if any Member of this House had had misgivings about the vote on 9 March, they should remember that it represented the democratically expressed will of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Members of this House should have no business seeking to frustrate that; it is how devolution works across the United Kingdom. Equally, we should be careful in this House about seeking to force parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly into voting in a particular way. Devolution is about locally elected politicians using their judgment to make decisions on devolved issues in the best interests of Northern Ireland and based on their knowledge and experience. It is the role of Parliament to respect those democratic decisions and not to interfere. Of course, we could all use our influence, but ultimately, votes in the Assembly are for the Northern Ireland parties represented there to decide. That is a fundamental principle of how devolution works, and I trust that hon. Members in all parts of the House will continue to respect that.
Lady Hermon: I am the sole voice of the Ulster Unionist party in this House, and although I am happy to support the legislation this afternoon, I find myself in a minority position, because my party executive, my party leader and my Assembly colleagues have all voted against the devolution of policing and justice. I very much regret that. As policing and justice are currently reserved, can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House what efforts his party leader, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), made in conversation with Sir Reg Empey, my party leader? Can the hon. Gentleman explain how often the leader of the Conservative party spoke to my party leader, and say how much effort was expended in trying to persuade the Ulster Unionists to support the devolution of policing and justice in the Assembly?
Mr. Paterson: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for intervening, but I do not see why she cannot ask her party leader herself. I assure her that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) had several conversations with her party leader. However, as I have explained, we believe in devolution, and a national party in this place is in no position to force a local party to make a decision based on its own experience. Members of the Ulster Unionist party had a number of genuine and legitimate concerns-about education and the work of the Executive as a genuine four-party coalition-and it was the failure to deal with them satisfactorily that prevented the Ulster Unionists from backing the Assembly vote.
The Ulster Unionists are not alone in expressing dismay at the lack of a genuine four-party coalition: the new leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party made the same points in Washington last week. We hope that those outstanding issues can now be resolved in a spirit of genuine partnership and compromise in the working group at Stormont. We cannot go on with two of the coalition partners feeling excluded from key
decisions, which runs counter to the inclusive basis on which the power-sharing institutions were established. Our understanding is that the working group established under the Hillsborough castle agreement to look into the issue is currently stalled. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to agree with us that it is vital that we return to a genuine four-party coalition working as envisaged in the Belfast agreement?
Once the devolution of policing and justice takes place next month, that issue will become more important than ever, if the transfer is to take place in a stable political environment. The imperative for all elected representatives is to ensure that devolution works to deliver effective law and order for the entire community in Northern Ireland. Of course, as the Secretary of State acknowledged, the immediate priority is to deal with the threat from dissident republicans. In recent weeks and months, they have increased their activities as they seek to bring death and destruction to Northern Ireland's streets and to drag us back into the past. Barely a day goes by without the bomb squad being called out, and as recently as last Saturday shots were fired at police investigating a suspect package near the railway line in Newry. They are at risk every day, and our thoughts are with Constable Heffron who remains seriously ill. It would be wrong to exaggerate the popular support for the dissidents; equally, it would be irresponsible to underestimate the danger that they present to the public. Will the Secretary of State clarify an important point? Under the new system, who will be responsible for requesting additional support for the civil power should that need arise?
We share the hope that returning policing and justice powers to local politicians will lead to increasing isolation of the dissidents, who offer absolutely nothing to the people of Ireland, north and south. But the fullest support and backing of the police and the criminal justice system is required from everyone. Following devolution, any lingering reluctance to co-operate with the police must end. We welcome the acts of decommissioning in recent months, but tackling lawless criminality must also be a priority. People in Northern Ireland are concerned not just about paramilitary-related crime; in many neighbourhoods, they are concerned about the same issues that are far too commonplace on this side of the water, including antisocial and yobbish behaviour, lack of respect and so-called low-level crime, which blight people's lives.
As the Executive take on their powers, a number of challenges lie ahead. The arrangements that will be put in place after 12 April are interim ones, and they will expire in May 2012. There will need to be a clear focus on establishing a permanent system following the next Assembly elections. Those matters will be for the Executive in the Assembly to decide, but in the absence of agreement before May 2012, what role is envisaged for the Secretary of State to ensure that policing and criminal justice continue to function properly?
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