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In spite of all the reservations that I have rehearsed-there are many more that hon. Members will be glad to hear I shall not rehearse-we, nevertheless, are determined that we must go forward with the devolution of justice
and policing. We cannot make perfection a precondition for progress. Too often, politics in Northern Ireland has been marred by people insisting that objectives-often very good objectives-should be turned into preconditions. That has turned out to be a self-frustrating stance. That is not the position that we have taken. In spite of our many reservations about the conduct of the Assembly and of the Executive, we are clear and unambiguous about where we need to go with the devolution of justice and policing. We want to go further.
We also want to place on record the fact that, like others, we have our criticisms of how the process has been conducted and managed-of the heavy focus on the positions of Sinn Fein and the DUP and of the complete aberration from the rules of democratic inclusion laid down in the agreement. That has provided for one party and the whole d'Hondt process to be bypassed for the appointment of the Justice Minister.
The original Stormont regime in the 1920s interfered with key provisions for proportional representation that were laid down for local government-those were abolished. Then they did away with the provisions for proportional representation in the Stormont Parliament. We have some concern that in this Stormont regime the parties in power have begun to do away with the provisions for proportional inclusion in the Executive. They have come up with a different scheme that allows them to deny parties that are entitled by mandate and to appoint parties that are not on the basis of patronage or other favour. In the old days, that was called gerrymandering. In these days, it is called an historic agreement-indeed, Sinn Fein calls it the best agreement ever. I record that fact not just out of concern for our own party's position or plight, but as a matter of principle.
I want to underline that, as regards the concerns that I have outlined about the limitations of devolution, I feel for anyone-of whatever party-who will be the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland and will find themselves coming up against some of those difficulties and challenges. They will find themselves in an invidious position. In dealing with difficulties and challenges such as those that I have outlined and in dealing with the challenges caused-as the Secretary of State has rightly emphasised -by the ongoing nefarious activity of so-called republican dissidents and others, whoever is the Minister responsible for justice and policing will certainly have the support of our party in doing the job of representing the Northern Ireland Administration and the Northern Ireland Assembly in dealing with and coping with those challenges, as we must. Whatever other quibbles or issues we have, I want to make sure that nobody will be able to turn any difficulty or difference between us and anyone else into anything that could be exploited to create any wider instability or to undermine the credibility of the institutions in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD):
May I crave your indulgence for a minute, Mr. Deputy Speaker? I wish to place on record, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) did in relation to the report of the Saville inquiry, the fact that I, too, have received correspondence from the Secretary of State, subsequent to the written statement that he placed before the House. The arrangements that he outlined in that statement, and the reasons for making them, seem
to me entirely sensible and legitimate. He certainly has the support of the Liberal Democrats in taking these matters forward in the way that he has outlined.
The hon. Member for North Shropshire did not avail himself of the opportunity to disown the comments of the Conservative candidate for North Down, which is unfortunate given the importance of this matter. I suspect that North Down must be an interesting place to be these days.
Mr. Carmichael: We have a Conservative who supports the Unionist position rather than that of his own Front Benchers, and we have a Unionist MP who apparently supports the position of the Conservative Front Benchers. I have only ever been a member of the Liberals or the Liberal Democrats, but if I were a member of the Ulster Unionists who had enjoyed the representation of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and I then found Mr. Parsley taking her place, I might feel a little short-changed. The hon. Lady has been a hard-working, effective and articulate representative for her community since 2001. I do not know what her future intentions are, but I think there is broad consensus across the House in wishing her well.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) made a very interesting and thoughtful speech, much of which was conjecture about the politics of how the devolution of criminal justice might evolve. In that respect, this subject could more properly be discussed by the parties in Northern Ireland rather than by Members such as I in this House. I was very interested in his remarks about the interface between devolved criminal justice and reserved national security matters. This is not unique to these islands. We have had devolved criminal justice in Scotland since 1999, but it has quite properly remained the case that matters of national security are dealt with by the Government here in Westminster and Whitehall. Some of his concerns are capable of being addressed if he bears in mind two factors. First, the independence of Law Officers is supremely important. As he has said, the Director of Public Prosecutions plays a central role in this issue. I first met the current DPP when I was a trainee solicitor in Edinburgh, more years ago than I care to remember, and he is a man of unimpeachable independence. I hope that that independence will be respected by the Governments here and in Belfast.
The importance of Law Officers being independent in these circumstances is that it is a significant protection for the rights of the individual, about which the hon. Member for Foyle expressed some concern. The accountability aspects are also legitimate concerns, but I remind him that people in Northern Ireland have a direct line of accountability through the representation provided by him, his colleagues and hon. Members of all parties. They must do the job that they are elected to do-to be here at Westminster and hold to account for their decisions by the Government here and their agencies, as far as that is possible with matters of national security.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that proposals like this have been put to us before? My party was told at the St. Andrews negotiations that our concerns
about national security could be met if we took seats on this Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee. We were told that that would mean that we had accountability, but that of course is absolute nonsense. The idea that we would satisfy our constituents, given their experience of these issues and the suspicions that are out there, merely through belonging to something like the ISC here would not convince anyone.
Mr. Carmichael: I think that the hon. Gentleman goes too far when he says that that proposition is "absolute nonsense", but I certainly grant him that it is a less than complete solution. It is a compromise of a sort that we have all had to learn to live with over the years. When it comes to matters of national security, the normal rules of accountability do not apply; indeed, it is not reasonable for us to expect them to apply in the way that they do to other Departments dealing with health, education or any other business of Government.
There is a compromise to be struck here. No solution will ever be perfect, and the problem is especially difficult when it comes to dealing with the interface between devolved and reserved government in the absence of any overarching constitutional framework.
In many ways, this is devolution by salami slicing, but problems must be capable of resolution on a case-by-case, day-by-day basis. That can happen if those engaged in resolving problems and making the devolution settlement work approach their task in good faith.
The orders before the House are very much to be welcomed, as they cement in place the final piece of devolution-namely, the devolution of criminal justice. They reflect the wishes of the Northern Ireland Assembly, as expressed earlier this month by a cross-community vote. They represent a significant step, a step that one hopes is the last in the journey.
As the hon. Member for Foyle reminded us, however, there are a number of elements that could still go wrong. That is a matter for the parties in Northern Ireland: whether they make the structure there work or not is up to them. I have always believed in devolution-as a Liberal I have always believed in home rule, although I hesitate to say so, given the loaded nature of the words in the Northern Ireland context-and I welcome the challenge. I hope that those who are now left to pick up the baton in Belfast will approach their task from the point of view that they, too, are determined to make devolution work.
In many ways, the devolution of the criminal justice system to the Assembly in Belfast should allow better government in many other aspects of life. Before I came to this House as a Member of Parliament, I earned my living as a solicitor working in the criminal courts. One cannot underestimate the extent to which criminal justice interacts with health, education, social work and many other aspects of Government business. To try to operate them without having criminal justice under the same umbrella has never made sense to me. I think that these proposals will lead not just to comprehensive devolution but to better governance for the people of Northern Ireland.
That is the prize now available to the people of Northern Ireland-better governance, integrated government, joined-up government, to use the somewhat hackneyed expression. It is up to them whether they
take it. I believe and I hope that they have the capability to do so. We offer the orders a fair wind as they leave the House.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. I declare an interest as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I apologise on behalf of our party leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). He is on his way here. He had to participate in First Minister's questions in the Assembly this afternoon and was delayed, but hopes to join us before the end of the debate.
There have been many occasions during my time as a Member of Parliament when I have opposed legislation that was being introduced on Northern Ireland, because I had concerns about that legislation and its impact on the people whom I represent. I am glad to be here today to support the orders at a critical juncture in the development of Northern Ireland in what we hope and expect will be a more peaceful environment for the people who live there.
Sadly, at the weekend we had more examples of the fact that there remains within our community a tiny element who cannot accept the prospect of peace, who cannot accept that politics is a way to resolve our differences, who cannot accept the will of the people, whose desire is for peace and progress, and who continue to engage in acts of violence. We had the gun attack in Newry on police officers investigating a suspect device, and there were other incidents in various parts of Northern Ireland. We do well to remind ourselves that the task that we are engaged in is dear to the hearts of many in Northern Ireland. It is about making progress and moving away from the dark days of the past.
It saddens me that there are still some who want to drag us back to those dark days. They offer no hope to the people of Northern Ireland. They were at it again last week, with their disruption in Belfast, Londonderry and other places, trying to drive away investment at a time when Northern Ireland Ministers were in Washington winning investment, winning jobs for our young people, and offering them the hope that for decades they did not have, when they had to leave Northern Ireland in their droves to find employment and seek the opportunities that we could not provide for them. Now that we are providing them, let us hope that the young people will remain, will see that there is a future, and will not allow the men of violence to drive them away from their homes, their families and the prospect of employment and a better future.
In the end, that is what we are about. We talk about politics, policing and justice, but what matters to the people who live in Lagan Valley whom I represent, and those who live in North Antrim and North Down, is that their families have the hope of a better future, their children have the hope of a good education, they have a good quality of life, and yes, they can go about their business without having to look over their shoulder and wonder whether they will be the next victim of a bomb or a shooting. Thankfully, we have moved a long way from those times.
I say to the men of violence-to those who would seek to use the gun and the bomb once again to try and drag us back-that I believe the resolve is there among
the politicians and the people not to allow them to succeed. Today is another indication that we will not allow them to succeed. Some of the difficulties that we face have been mentioned; the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) highlighted some of them. When we look at the legacy of the past, there is still an enormous job to be done as we seek to deal with the things that have happened and address the sense of injustice felt by many in Northern Ireland.
I remind the House that we have almost 3,000 unsolved murders in Northern Ireland. That is one of the terrible aspects of the troubles that beset Northern Ireland for more than three decades. We have many who still wait for justice-and have not yet been given that justice.
The legislation before the House is important, just as the legislation before the Northern Ireland Assembly previously was important. Indeed, we welcomed the Assembly's decision a couple of weeks ago, and my party was pleased to be there and support the motion that was brought before that House. For sure, some in Northern Ireland continue to have reservations and doubts, and I understand where they are coming from. Many in Northern Ireland support with reluctance the political progress that has been made, and their reluctance is not because they do not want things to move forward, but because there are still dark memories. There is still a lot of pain and hurt, which we need to deal with, and when they look at some in government they wonder, understandably, whether they can yet fully trust the new political dispensation.
As someone who has seen the impact of the violence on families, on the people whom I represent, on my own family and on comrades with whom I had the privilege of serving in the Ulster Defence Regiment, I understand where people are coming from, yet I know that there is no alternative but to move the process forward. Difficult and challenging though it is, we must offer to this generation and to the next the hope of something better. If that means that we have to work with people with whom we have difficulties and have had differences, and if that is the price that we have to pay for the hope of peace in Northern Ireland, it is a price that I, my party and others have been willing to pay.
The process is founded on important principles, however, because we ensured that, before the Government who now exist in Northern Ireland were formed, every party to that Government would support the rule of law and the police. Sinn Fein, among others, has given that support to the police and recognised that the rule of law is the only way forward in Northern Ireland. We welcome that. Belated conversion though it may be, it is nevertheless progress and we must keep building on it. That is why we feel the time now is right to proceed with the devolution of those important powers.
Like the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), I was disappointed that the Ulster Unionist party was not able to support the devolution of policing and justice powers at this time, and in reality its stance had more to do with what it perceived to be a party political advantage, given that an election is coming, than with a principled position. Indeed, the party said that in principle it supported the devolution of those powers; it just felt that the time was not right.
The Secretary of State referred to the words of Kate Carroll, the widow of Constable Stephen Carroll, the last police officer to be murdered by dissident republicans
in Northern Ireland. When we listened to what she had to say on the anniversary of her husband's murder, I wished that all parties had, because she said that we have to move forward and take responsibility for our own affairs. How right she is, because that is the basis for providing the stability on which Northern Ireland can become strong, its people can become strong, and trust and confidence can be firmly established.
At the time of Constable Carroll's death, and indeed at the time of the murder of the two soldiers at Massereene barracks in Antrim, the Assembly stood united against those outrages-against those atrocities. It is a matter of regret that the Assembly could not have stood united when it came to taking the decision on the transfer of policing and justice powers, but I hope that in time the Ulster Unionist party will come to support the devolution of those important powers.
Mr. Donaldson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I believe-certainly, it is my experience-that a clear majority of people support the devolution of those powers and a clear majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see political progress being made. They recognise that there are difficulties, as we have heard rehearsed in the Chamber this afternoon, particularly in relation to the working of the Executive. However, I share the Secretary of State's view that now that we are getting over this perhaps most challenging of hurdles, things will settle down and we will be able to concentrate on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to the people we represent. I hope that we will have the four parties working together more cohesively within that Executive, because that is what people want to happen: they want to see devolution delivering for them on those bread-and-butter issues.
It is my expectation that there is majority support for this process. I can certainly say that those who will stand in the forthcoming election on a manifesto of dragging us back to the past and tearing down the Assembly have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland. They offer no alternative, and they have no viable solution to the problems that beset us. They are the nay-sayers: their approach is entirely negative. What hope do they offer to the young people of Northern Ireland today? I hope that people will not listen to that negativity but will recognise that whatever the difficulties we face, the way forward is through supporting the devolution of these powers and supporting the Assembly and the political stability that it can bring to Northern Ireland. We welcome the range of powers that are being devolved to the Assembly, while recognising that some powers will be reserved to this Parliament.
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