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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I am grateful to the Attorney-General for what he has said, although I am not in the slightest convinced by his argument. He and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, have very much missed the point—I hope that that was not deliberate—that I was trying to raise. I have tried to take a panoramic view of the Bill. There is evidence that one small section of society has been considered, and considered in detail, whereas the interests of society as a whole have been grossly neglected. There is a barrenness in this Bill in terms of the way in which it conveys a sense of Britishness—a sense of what we agreed in the Belfast agreement in April 1998.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord does not think I am some kind of mad extremist who has no time for or consideration of others within our society; that is not the case, nor is it the case with my noble friends who sit beside me. However, we are left with a feeling of neglect and of having been ignored. If I do nothing else this evening, I want to convey the feeling of neglect and of diminution that the Bill brings to us, insofar as there is nothing—but nothing—with which I can associate myself. There is nothing tangible in terms of who I am, and who a great number—a majority of people in Northern Ireland—have agreed they are in terms of the April 1998 agreement.

Lord Rogan: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 122:



"24A In section 6(5) of the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 (c. 41) (proceedings for offences under that Act), for "Attorney General for Northern Ireland" substitute "Advocate General for Northern Ireland"."

The noble and learned Lord said: This is a short technical amendment which adds a further offence to the list of those in relation to which the Advocate General for Northern Ireland must give consent. Prosecutions under the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 have an impact on international relations. That has two consequences. First, offences under this Act fall within the excepted field in Northern Ireland and, secondly, the giving of consent for such prosecutions should therefore remain with the Advocate General for Northern Ireland at Westminster. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 25 to 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Public Prosecution Service]:

[Amendment No. 122A not moved.]

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6.15 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: We come to Amendment No. 123. If this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 124 and 125.

Lord Smith of Clifton moved Amendment No. 123:


    Page 17, line 35, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—


"(a) the Attorney General"

The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 123 and the consequential group of amendments, I must state that devolution, which I entirely support, means having arrangements that are appropriate to the region in question. In the Bill, we have exactly the opposite: the Bill merely slavishly mimics the judicial infrastructure of England and Wales, giving no thought to what is appropriate for the relatively small size and scale of Northern Ireland.

I raised the point at Second Reading, and I asked why it was felt necessary to have both an Attorney-General and a Director of Public Prosecutions who, in any case, would report to the Attorney-General. Because of time constraints, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House did not answer the question. I subsequently wrote to him, and, characteristically, he replied quickly and fully. I greatly appreciate that. However, the reply did not convince me, hence the tabling of the amendments.

The noble and learned Lord wrote:


    "Of course, the responsibilities of the proposed Attorney-General for Northern Ireland in relation to criminal matters is only one aspect of a much wider role he plays in relation to the administration of justice. Just as in England, the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland has important functions in relation to contempt, vexatious litigants, family law, the appointment of amici curiae, charities and vesting orders affecting public rights of way".

The inventive officials in the Northern Ireland Office might also have padded out the list by adding the opening of fetes, umpiring cricket matches and the like. The functions are so onerous that, in the past, they were easily discharged by successive Attorney-Generals for England and Wales acting as Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, including, in his time, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and his successor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. They say that they visit regularly, but I suspect that it is not too frequently nor for too long a time. I doubt that the Northern Ireland matters that crossed their desks took up as much as 10 per cent of their time. I would be pleased to be contradicted on that, but I would want evidence.

The proposed Attorney-General for Northern Ireland could easily discharge the duties and effectively assume the role of Director of Public Prosecutions. As he is non-political, the independence of the prosecution service from political interference would be adequately safeguarded.

At Second Reading, I also asked what additional costs would be incurred if the Bill were enacted as it stood. I was told that it would be some 30 million. Given that huge sum, it is incumbent upon us to see that there is no unnecessary extravagance. By combining the twin roles of Attorney-General and

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Director of Public Prosecutions, a significant saving could be made. That is the sole purpose behind the amendments. The amendment will attract the total hostility of the lawyers' trade union, but most taxpayers would support it. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: I fear that I may show my ignorance once again. I would like to support the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, except that, if I understand things correctly, the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland is responsible for giving advice to the Northern Ireland Government on all legal matters. If that is so, it would be somewhat incompatible that the Attorney-General, giving his advice on legal matters to the Government of Northern Ireland, should also be the public prosecutor. Am I correct in that assumption?

Lord Goldsmith: The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, invited me to call evidence as to the amount of time that Northern Ireland matters take up for the Attorney-General. Indeed, three Members of the Committee who either do or have held this post are presently in the Chamber. Therefore I cannot call evidence because I cannot choose between calling my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to deal with it. The fact is that the legal affairs with which the Attorney-General has to deal are substantial and they take a considerable time. A member of my office in Belfast attends every week. Thus it would not be right to assume that these were not important and onerous matters.

I want to say a word about the two posts dealt with by the amendment. The review group recommended, and the Government support—I do not think that there is any opposition—the notion that an independent person should be responsible for prosecutions in Northern Ireland. Under the terms of the Bill, that person is to be the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The review group also saw the need for and recommended a post of Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, as there is at the moment. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, pointed out, there are duties that have nothing to do with prosecutions, but which are currently carried out by the Attorney-General for England and Wales as Attorney-General for Northern Ireland. Those duties cover matters relating to civil law, the public interest in contempt cases, family law cases and in charity cases. The list is extensive and considerable and it is a quasi-judicial role. I believe that I can say without contradiction that the Attorney-General carries out an important public interest role. It goes much wider than simply the question of prosecution.

What else the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland might do would be a matter for others to decide. I turn specifically to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. It would be a matter for the Assembly and the Executive to decide whether they wanted the locally appointed Attorney-General also to act as a legal adviser, in the same way that I have the privilege to act as a legal adviser to the Government in

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Westminster. That would be a matter for them to decide and, if they decided that that was appropriate, it would for them to pay for such legal advice. It is not for me to say, but it could well be that the result would be an Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, locally appointed, who would have substantial advisory functions in relation to the devolved administration.

In those circumstances, it seems to me entirely appropriate that there should be both an Attorney-General—in this case, in accordance with the review, a non-political Attorney-General but one who would provide a line of accountability to the Assembly in Northern Ireland; accountability is a very important aspect of this—as well as, separately, a Director of Public Prosecutions who will be independent and who will not report. I must disagree with the formulation of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, on this. The relationship of consultation is carefully set out in the Bill because the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions is to be preserved.

The end result is the proposal will not slavishly follow the infrastructure in England and Wales. Indeed, it is not the same infrastructure as in England and Wales. There are certain important differences which the review considered appropriate, having regard to the situation and circumstances in Northern Ireland. In the light of the combination of the explanation given by my noble and learned friend the Lord Privy Seal in his letter and what I have now attempted to say, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Smith, may be persuaded that there is enough for two people to do and that it is entirely appropriate for there to be two posts.


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