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Lord Maclennan of Rogart: Does the Minister feel able to address, even briefly, an argument that was advanced by the chairman of the Constitution Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, about the importance of prior authorisation in the event of individuals being subjected to jurisdictions overseas where the panoply of defences and arguments would not apply? Can he say-although he clearly has not followed what I have said-what he thinks is the virtue or otherwise of the arguments proposed by the noble
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Lord Bach: What we are taking about in this Bill is a defence of bribery that could be tried only in United Kingdom courts. It could be as a result of activities by an accused overseas, but anyone charged, as I understand it, would be tried in our courts under our rules with that same fairness for which our rules allow.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: I raise a matter to which I alluded on the last occasion, with regard to the number of prosecutions in the past five years, if any, of any members of the armed services or the intelligence services in respect of bribery and corruption.
Lord Bach: The noble Lord asked me that question before, and I still do not have the answer-but I suspect that there have been very few prosecutions, if any. Even after this Bill has passed, if it is passed in its present form, we do not expect to have very many cases of this kind to report. That is part of my argument. We believe that with the Clause 13 defence the vast majority of cases will not end up in court, because the member of the Armed Forces or the intelligence services who is suspected will have available the defence in Clause 13. That is something that the police and the prosecutor will know.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: I just ask for the Minister's help. Let us suppose that one is persuaded by him of the difficulties of specific authorisation in advance for the security services and Armed Forces. What I am not clear about is his fundamental objection to Amendment 1 from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, which preserves Clause 13 but in a different form. Could he explain that to me?
Lord Bach: With the greatest respect to the noble and learned Lord, the amendment would not preserve Clause 13, which is a defence to an offence of bribery. The offence is committed but there is a defence to it if Clause 13 is satisfied. What the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, suggests is that there be an exemption altogether to the offences of bribery set out in the Bill, so no offence would have been committed at all.
Lord Baker of Dorking: In the light of the Minister's remark that, if the House does not agree with the Government's proposals, the Government may bring forward no other proposals, I suggest that would be a dereliction of duty on the Government's behalf. It may be necessary to use these powers and, if is necessary to use them, protection must be given to those who use them. The essence of his argument against prior authorisation is impracticability. Let us suppose that the power to tap telephones and open letters did not exist today and someone suggested that it should be given to the Government in the same way as he recommends a power should be given for bribery. It would have no chance of passing whatever, because the principle has been established that, when you ask a citizen of this country to perform an illegal act, it requires the prior authorisation of the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary or the Secretary of State for
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Lord Bach: I accept the noble Lord's great experience on this point, but I am advised that with regard to offences of the kind that we are discussing, a case-specific approach would be completely impracticable. For example, for members of the Army in Afghanistan who have to take decisions quickly, out of the blue and without expecting to, in dangerous situations, there would be absolutely no way in which such prior authorisations could be given by a Secretary of State for Defence in London. That would also apply to those in the security services, who also have to take decisions of this kind sometimes. I hoped it was generally agreed that the case-specific authorisations were absurd.
As I understand the Minister, the essence of the Government's objection to Amendment 3 is that it would make prior authorisation impracticable. However, the whole point of Amendment 3 is that it allows the Secretary of State to authorise; it does not require him to authorise in any circumstances where he considers it impracticable. It would not prevent acts of bribery on behalf of the state going forward in such circumstances. In any event, each act of interception has to be authorised by the Secretary of State. It is very difficult to understand why a different approach should be taken in this context.
With the greatest respect, the Minister simply has not answered the concern expressed by a number of noble Lords in this debate. Clause 13 is defective, because it contains no procedure whatever for consideration by the Minister who is answerable to Parliament prior to acts of bribery being carried out by the state. This is a matter of enormous public importance. It purports to protect the public interest only after the event by a criminal prosecution-a cumbersome procedure, which as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has explained, is also unfair, because it places the burden of proof on the defendant, who will not have access to the necessary information. It gives inadequate prior guidance to those individuals who will be carrying out the acts of bribery on behalf of the state.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that nothing in the valuable work of the Intelligence and Security Committee can rectify these defects in Clause 13. In the light of the support given in the House today, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
"Mr Speaker, I wanted to report to the House at the earliest opportunity on the agreement reached between the DUP and Sinn Fein at Hillsborough Castle, and which we and the Irish Government fully support. Their agreement will lead to the completion of devolution of power to Northern Ireland. I will also report on the accompanying arrangements that Parliament will need to make to enable devolution to be completed.
I am making this Statement conscious that General de Chastelain has today announced that the INLA, responsible for more than 110 deaths during the Troubles, and the official IRA, have decommissioned their weapons. The House will want to record our thanks to the international commission, which has overseen decommissioning by the UDA, UVF, PIRA and now INLA and the official IRA, as part of the process of moving Northern Ireland from violence to peace.
In 1998, with the signing of the Good Friday agreement, Northern Ireland opened a new chapter in the peace process. The St Andrews agreement marked the next step forward. Now we have reached a significant and defining moment. Each of the Northern Ireland agreements since 1998 has had a different basis on which it was reached. The Good Friday agreement was an agreement between the participants to the talks, including the two Governments. St Andrews was an agreement between the two Governments, later endorsed by the parties through their participation in the newly-elected Assembly. The Hillsborough Castle agreement-the final stage of the journey to completing devolution-was reached between the two parties which were the largest in the Assembly following the 2007 elections. It was the outcome of many hours of talks, consultations and plenary meetings involving all the Assembly parties. We should be in no doubt about its significance. Without this agreement the work done at St Andrews and Belfast could not have been moved forward. Without the completion of devolution the whole process of devolution and the peace process
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For decades, conflicts over institutions have dominated the politics of Northern Ireland. Even in the past two years a failure to agree on the devolution of policing and justice has cast a shadow over Northern Ireland's politics. When the cross-community vote takes place on 9 March and the parties request the transfer of powers, Northern Ireland's politicians will have, by 12 April, full control over their Government and be able to focus on the economy, jobs, housing, public services and, of course, policing and justice. With this agreement, communities once locked in the most bitter of struggles are choosing to be bound together in a shared future, with a common destiny, and it must be in a spirit of partnership.
None of this could have been achieved without working closely with the Irish Government, and I pay tribute to Brian Cowen; the Irish Foreign Minister, Michael Martin; and to the Taoiseach's predecessors, Bertie Ahern and Albert Reynolds. Nor could it have been achieved without the continued and unstinting support of the American Government and Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. I especially want to thank Secretary of State Clinton for her generous support.
This agreement is the conclusion of a process, and the House will want to record its thanks for the work of Tony Blair, and before him John Major. The House will want to thank previous Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland. I want to record my personal thanks to them and to the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and his Minister the right honourable Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East for the time they spent in detailed negotiations and for their patience, resilience and wisdom.
Two weeks ago, the Taoiseach and I joined the parties for part of their negotiations in Hillsborough. There has been comment about the amount of time needed to reach this agreement. We should recognise that the talks were demanding because they went to the very core of Northern Ireland's shared future. But implicit in the agreement now reached between Sinn Fein and the DUP, and there for all to support, is an even greater prize: that the parties together seize this opportunity to build a new trust in a fresh spirit of respect, co-operation and understanding. It is my view that this agreement represents a reasonable concord for all to be able to put difference to one side and enter in a spirit of good will to a better shared future.
There were four crucial breakthroughs. First, the parties have resolved the outstanding issues on the transfer of policing and justice powers and agreed a timetable for the completion of this final stage of devolution. Following community consultation, the First and Deputy First Ministers will jointly table a resolution seeking a transfer of policing and justice powers by means of a cross-community vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March-four weeks tomorrow-for devolution to occur on 12 April. Then Parliament will be asked to approve the necessary transfer orders so that devolution can occur on 12 April.
Thirdly, the parties have committed to a new and improved framework for regulating and adjudicating on parades which will maximise cross-community support. At its core is a commitment to ensuring local dialogue, transparency and mediation, as well as specific proposals for dealing with contentious parades. The First and Deputy First Ministers will set up a co-chaired working group to take forward this work with legislation on the agreed outcomes completed in the Northern Ireland Assembly before the end of this year.
Fourthly, this agreement also proposes to address how devolved government could work better in Northern Ireland. In the talks, all the parties raised the issue of the need for greater efficiency and transparency and also the need for greater inclusiveness. It is clear from the agreement that this was firmly recognised. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have therefore proposed three very important working groups at Executive level, to begin work immediately. I am pleased that the First Minister is in the House today as we discuss this.
The first group will look at how the Executive might function better and how delivery might be improved, and two further working groups will deal with all outstanding Executive business and make recommendations on how progress can be made on all outstanding matters from the St Andrews agreement.
The House will know that last October I sent to all party leaders in Northern Ireland my proposals for a financial settlement-worth an additional £800 million to underpin the new department of justice-available only if and when the parties decided to take the historic step of requesting the transfer of powers of policing and justice. All the details of this have been studied by the Assembly and Executive Review Committee.
The financial settlement will ensure stability for the new department, enabling it to deal with those issues outstanding from the Troubles and current security needs. I am sure that it is the wish of the House to ensure that in reaching such an agreement the new department has the resources to complete the Patten proposals on policing and meet the unique pressure of Northern Ireland's past and present security needs.
Taken together, these parts of the agreement will lead to a better functioning Northern Ireland Executive who are better able to focus on growth, jobs, public services and of course law and order. I believe our duty now is to do all we can to encourage the parties to support and give effect to this agreement.
Subject to the cross-community vote on 9 March, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have now agreed to support an accelerated passage for the budget Bill and any related Assembly steps to ensure devolution of powers by 12 April.
Too many lives have been lost in Northern Ireland. Just a few weeks ago, dissident republicans tried to murder a police officer, Constable Heffron. They did not succeed, but he was very badly injured. There have
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The IMC report at the end of last year was clear: early devolution would be a potent intervention on the activity of the dissidents. So the decisions made in the past few days are the most powerful signal we can send to those who choose violence over politics. I hope that the whole House will join me in sending an unequivocal message to those who would defy the will of the people: that the politics of peaceful change must irrevocably succeed in Northern Ireland and it must overcome whatever obstacles are put in its way.
The next stage is to show that this new stability can bring results in jobs and prosperity. So I am grateful that Secretary of State Clinton has immediately announced her invitation to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to meet her and the US economic envoy, Declan Kelly, to see how together the UK, Irish and American Governments can accelerate all options for encouraging new inward investment into Northern Ireland.
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