Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

We share the hope that returning policing and justice powers to local politicians will lead to the increasing isolation of the dissidents. They offer the people of Ireland, north and south, absolutely nothing. But it will require the fullest support and backing of the police and the criminal justice system from everyone in our Parliaments and living in Northern Ireland. Following devolution, any lingering reluctance to co-operate with the police must be at an end. While we welcome the acts of decommissioning that have taken place in recent months, tackling loyalist criminality must also be a priority. It is not just paramilitary-related crime that concerns people in Northern Ireland; in many neighbourhoods it is the same issues that are far too commonplace on this side of the water-anti-social and yobbish behaviour, lack of respect and so-called "low-level crime" that blights people's lives all the same. As the Executive take on these powers, there are a number of difficult challenges ahead.

In addition, the arrangements that are to be put in place after 12 April are interim. They expire in May 2012. There will need to be a clear focus on establishing a permanent system following the next Assembly elections.

We should also be clear today what we are not devolving to the new Justice Minister. He or she will not have the power to run the police, nor will they have the right to interfere with the judiciary. The PSNI will remain under the control and direction of the chief constable, who is primarily accountable to the Policing Board. Operational independence, as the Prime Minister said in response to my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition in February, remains vital and will be preserved.

Those with responsibility for the administration of justice are under a legal obligation to uphold the independence of the judiciary. These are absolutely cardinal principles for policing and justice throughout the United Kingdom. They must apply equally in Northern Ireland. We cannot tolerate any political interference in these matters.



23 Mar 2010 : Column 880

The noble Baroness also mentioned that 50-50 policing had not yet been devolved. However, everybody here knows that there is an undertaking from the Government, which is agreed by my party, that it will end, come what may, the next time it is due for review. As far as the parades issue is concerned, she also said that there was more work to be done on that. We agree.

It is our sincere hope that with devolution complete politicians in the Assembly can begin to focus on the other issues that really matter to the people of Northern Ireland. While it is important to get policing and justice right, people on the ground are also concerned about issues such as jobs, health, tax, schools and social deprivation. The Assembly Executive must not let the Northern Ireland people down any more.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for introducing these orders. We very much welcome them and wish them well. The Liberal Democrats have long believed that policing and justice powers should be devolved to the Assembly, if and when it wanted such powers. It is a crucial element to devolution and it will be a significant achievement when the powers are indeed devolved in April as the agreement has set out. These orders are the next step in that process.

The Assembly voted earlier this month, as we know, by a cross-community vote to ask for the powers to be transferred from Westminster to Northern Ireland. That was a momentous occasion, as it is today, signifying a new era for the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. We are confident that the Assembly will rise to the challenge and show that it can deliver for all the people in Northern Ireland. Devolution of policing and justice will deliver an enhanced level of accountability to the people of Northern Ireland and allow more direct representation of their needs to the departments and agencies that are responsible for delivering the services and benefits that are part of justice and policing powers.

The orders represent the cementing of the peace process. This issue has represented innumerable challenges and difficulties for the political parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish Governments. It has taken almost 12 years from the signing of the Good Friday agreement to reach this point-a long and hard journey-where a crucial element of the devolution settlement has finally been put in place.

Once the powers contained in the orders have been transferred to the Assembly, I have no doubt that the Assembly will demonstrate that it is capable of taking responsibility for difficult decisions and will take those decisions in the best interests of all the people in Northern Ireland. The devolution of policing and justice is an opportunity for leadership and a chance to make a genuine contribution to Northern Ireland's political growth and development by publicly demonstrating that Members of the Assembly have confidence in the abilities and stability of the devolved institutions, even when it comes to sensitive issues such as policing and justice.

On a more practical note, there needs to be joined-up government in Northern Ireland. One needs only to look at some of those who become entangled in the criminal justice system-those with drug problems or

23 Mar 2010 : Column 881

mental health issues, or with educational difficulties and speech and language problems-to see the interplay between the criminal justice system and wider societal problems. Those issues are simply not dealt with properly unless those sitting in the Executive in Northern Ireland are able to deal with the wider picture and have full responsibility for tackling those problems.

It is only right that, as on other issues, locally elected and accountable people will have the opportunity to influence and direct policy on policing and justice matters and to work with their colleagues in the Executive to bring coherence to policing and justice. Devolution will not be able to deliver in all the areas that it needs to until these powers are transferred.

Momentous as this debate in this House is today, what is important is what happens once these powers have been transferred to Northern Ireland and how the Assembly delivers on criminal justice for the people of Northern Ireland. The speeches in the Assembly during its debate on transferring policing and justice powers showed that Assembly Members themselves wanted to see better services for victims and witnesses; more visible policing on the streets; increased integrity in sentencing; better management and rehabilitation of offenders; and the prevention of offending and anti-social behaviour on the streets of Northern Ireland. That is what we all hope the Assembly will be able to achieve once it is taking decisions on these matters for itself. From these Benches, we wish all Assembly Members every bit of good luck in this challenge.

5 pm

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, just in case there is any doubt, I have been a lifelong devolutionist. I also had the privilege of being at the right hand of David Trimble-now the noble Lord, Lord Trimble-when he negotiated the Belfast agreement. I would be happy if Northern Ireland were confident and able to deal with devolved policing and justice. I would be ecstatic if Northern Ireland's political machinations over the past three years had been based on honesty, openness, industry and integrity, but, sadly, that is not the case. Hence, today I want to put the record straight.

Today we have a Prime Minister and a Secretary of State-Shaun Woodward-who have chosen to ignore the centre ground of politics in Northern Ireland in favour of an exclusive carve-up of its future among two parties that are driven by years of mockery and exploitation of the people of Northern Ireland. Before anyone tells me that I should be celebrating the transformation of the DUP and Sinn Fein, let me spell out the inconsistencies of those two parties. The latter has, as we all know, murdered its way to power; it is led by murderers who not only will never be brought to justice in this life but will never be publicly examined. I have, by necessity, accepted that and sought to put the past behind me, as has the Ulster Unionist Party. But at the same time, every alleged mistake and misjudgment of police and military who were placed, ill prepared and ill equipped, between the killers and the vulnerable general public 40 years ago is still being judged against today's background of comparative normality.

For 12 years-a political lifetime in new Labour parlance-we have been promised and waited for the Saville report, only to be given the impression over the

23 Mar 2010 : Column 882

past few days that we are not likely to hear any details until after the election. We will not hear about the £200 million-worth of millionaire lawyers that the initiators dare not reveal at the hustings. Against that, retired police officers, some now in their 80s, are still being held to their honour obligations in relation to events up to 30 years past. There are no millionaires there-they are lucky, while their retirement has been held to ransom, if they get lunch expenses for their time.

There is not much point in going into the history of the DUP, which brought down the Sunningdale agreement in 1974, when Sinn Fein did not even exist as a political party and we could have dealt with people such as the late Lord Fitt. The same DUP mimicked the Red Berets at their King's Hall rally, misled the unionist electorate with lies about the danger of the Belfast agreement and then proceeded to undermine it, weaken it and remove its safeguards at St Andrews and through its recent Hillsborough aberration.

Why has it been necessary for me to recount these destructive realities from the past? It is quite simply because Shaun Woodward has pandered to the baser instincts of these very people with £800 million of blood money. Let me try to understand that vast sum that the Secretary of State threatened to deny policing and justice unless a deal were done. Was this money actually needed for policing and justice? If so, was the Secretary of State telling us that he was prepared to leave the people of Northern Ireland at the mercy of dissident IRA and criminal gangs? Was this a bribe: "I will create a little trough into which you can stick your snouts"? When one sees what has gone on over the past eight or nine years-not least the wheeling and dealing of the past few days-I suppose that anything is possible. Or was it blackmail: "Secretary of State, we will do anything, but you will want to pay us"? It has to be one of those three, unless, of course, the Minister is minded to admit that it was simply the mindless arrogance of Shaun Woodward. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, described him last week as the worst Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the past 11 years. Well, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was very wrong: Shaun Woodward has been the worst Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the past 38 years and it is against that background that I evaluate his policing and justice debacle.

Before I leave the £800 million mystery money, let us remember that Northern Ireland has been asked to make over £400 million-worth of savings this year, with £113 million being deducted from health and social care, which is already underfunded by up to £600 million compared to England. The DUP and Sinn Fein are no better than Shaun Woodward at understanding and controlling public finances. The wastage in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister alone is staggering. It has 400 staff, which is more than Downing Street. There are four separate ministerial private offices and eight advisers. The recent opinion poll commissioned by the same office cost upwards of £40,000. This figure alone would have paid for an extra four heart operations or seven hip replacements.

Moreover, opinion polls are not the flavour of the month. The Secretary of State spent the equivalent of one heart operation plus one hip replacement on his

23 Mar 2010 : Column 883

own creation-his own loaded question-to deliberately mislead the public in Northern Ireland. Noble Lords should listen to the question. It reads:

"I believe we should transfer policing and justice powers to Stormont"-

that would have been all right, but it goes on-

Is that a loaded question? Yes, just as loaded and heartless as trailing a poor, grieving widow out on the first anniversary of her husband's murder to make a personal appeal. How cynical can the Northern Ireland Office be?

Let me now move to the state of policing and justice that the Assembly will inherit. We have a Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland that could not win the Omagh bombing prosecution, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, from this House, won a civil case based on the same incident. The Public Prosecution Service could not win the McCartney murder case, despite dozens of witnesses. This was the same Public Prosecution Service that would not prosecute the Thomas Devlin murder until the persistence of the family and the public forced it to do so, when a verdict of guilty against the two defendants was obtained after the victim's families were put through hell. That is the same for most trials where few if any serious crimes are brought to court inside a period of two and a half to three years. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Forty-four thousand police files go annually to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland. Justice is regularly delayed. Is it any wonder that we have a high rate of recidivism? It is similar with policing. Just this weekend a major police operation was fired on by dissidents without fire being returned. Despite more than half a dozen dissident murders in the past year or thereabouts, not a single shot has been returned. In one case, the police, having dissident gunmen in their sights, were congratulated on withdrawing from the scene. What are we getting into?

I know from long, personal experience at the coal face that no one from the Assembly is equipped to provide what policing and justice require in Northern Ireland. Paul Goggins, despite the hindrance of the Northern Ireland Office, has made a valiant effort, but there is no one in the Northern Ireland Assembly who would know a gun from slingshot or who has any practical knowledge of youth justice, the probation service, prisons, courts or any of the complex aspects of what has to be undertaken. Not only that, but the agreed, negotiated d'Hondt system has to be corrupted for a Minister of Justice to be appointed. Not an iota of planning and preparation has been achieved. No one in your Lordships' House who has served our country in uniform will be other than shocked that not a single command or infrastructural provision has been decided on, let alone established. One might as well put David Ford, an agreeable man against whom I have no prejudice whatsoever, into a rocket aimed at the moon and expect him to come back.

For the right reasons but with the wrong approach, we are heading for disaster. That is progress, or so I am meant to believe. If I look depressed, that is only half of what I feel.



23 Mar 2010 : Column 884

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, there is a saying in Northern Ireland that if you have to say something, say nothing. This is the time to say very little, so I will therefore be brief. It is easy to raise emotions in Northern Ireland because although there is an agreement it is by no means an assurance of a long-term settlement.

I was Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, working with the police. The devolved Parliament at that time had its own Attorney-General. That was the position of the Ulster Unionist Party at that time: devolution, control of policing and control of the judicial system. Then we had direct rule and all that was lost, including the then Parliament at Stormont. Indeed, when I was Minister of Home Affairs I was shot 10 times in my body by republican terrorists. However, we have moved on. This is not the time to talk about red berets or anything else but to look forward, we hope to a new horizon in Northern Ireland. It deserves a chance.

When asked recently about the devolution of policing and the judicial system, Mr Gerry Adams said, "Oh, yes, we must get it. We must get it out of the hands of the British. We have never had that in Northern Ireland". Once again, Mr Adams showed his lack of knowledge of history. We had it for 50 years, from 1921 to 1972. All we are asking for now is to have it returned to the devolved institution at Stormont. That is what we negotiated-David Trimble and I, supported by my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, and the present leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Sir Reg Empey. This is one of the things we achieved in the Belfast agreement. The legislation before us is simply a fulfilment of what was requested at Easter 1998. Therefore, I welcome the orders that have been presented to the House. However, I want to make one or two small points in relation to them.

First, I firmly agree with the idea of the 50/50 enrolment into the Police Service of Northern Ireland being retained in our national Parliament. That should not be a devolved matter. Secondly, as regards property being transferred, I notice that the address of the independent commission-that is not its full name-is not given. Does it not have any property, or is it intended that we should withhold from the public the address of the property that it occupies? All the addresses of all the other properties are listed but not this one. I should like to know the reason why no address is given. In relation to the transfer of property, I am astonished to see that Stormont House is not being devolved. We have three Stormonts in Northern Ireland: the Parliament Buildings at Stormont; Stormont Castle, where the Northern Ireland Office is based; and, of course, Stormont House. Stormont House was always part of the devolved institution at Stormont. It was, in fact, the home of the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament. As he had long distances to travel every day, perhaps from Londonderry or from Fermanagh, a home was provided for him. When we got direct rule, the then Government of Mr Heath stole Stormont House and took it over. I would have expected it to be transferred, on the completion of devolution, back to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The one thing that I am delighted about is that the whole question of policing and justice is now being transferred to Stormont. That was the traditional

23 Mar 2010 : Column 885

position of the Ulster Unionist Party throughout 50 years. When we got direct rule in 1972, the then Prime Minister-the late Brian Faulkner-resigned, which brought about the collapse of devolution in Northern Ireland. He said that there was no sense carrying on governing Northern Ireland if policing and justice were not devolved. When Mr Heath decided to take those powers away from Northern Ireland, it brought about the collapse of devolution. Devolution will collapse once again if we do not get those powers back to Stormont. That is what we are trying to achieve today.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, is right in one respect. There are problems with the Northern Ireland Executive. They are making little progress. The whole question of secondary education in Northern Ireland has not moved for a year under this Executive. The whole question of the reform of local government is static-nothing is happening. There is a possibility that if the Executive do not start producing results for the people of Northern Ireland, they will lose credibility and will collapse once again. But let us give Northern Ireland a chance. Let us see whether they can deliver. If they do not, regrettably, we could refer back to direct rule.

My final point relates to one of the issues that arose in the debates about the transfer of security and policing in Northern Ireland over the past few weeks. What really worried some of us was what would happen if law and order in Northern Ireland collapsed yet again. You cannot rule out that possibility. There is progress and we welcome it, but not everyone wants progress. There are those who are still trying to bring about the collapse of law and order. Certainly, policing in the Newry and South Armagh areas leaves much to be desired. There were recent incidents at Newry court house and one this weekend when rugby supporters could not travel to Dublin because terrorists had blocked the railway line. What happened? There was a suggested bomb. We do not know whether it was a real bomb. The police went to look at it. They had no cover and they were shot at and had to retreat. This is what is happening on the ground, so be warned. What we are deciding today is taking a risk. It is a risk worth taking but it does not guarantee utopia.

The one thing that worried many of us before we finally came down in favour of the devolution of policing and justice was the question of what happens if the civil authority in Northern Ireland yet again fails to control law and order and requires the aid of the military. There was discussion in Ulster broadcast on BBC radio. The Sinn Fein member on the panel was challenged, "Would you, if you had justice and policing transferred to Stormont, call to your aid the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom?" His answer was scary. "We are republicans. Our job is to get the British out of Northern Ireland, not to call them back in". That damaged support for devolution of policing and justice among many people in Northern Ireland because they do not want to be in a position where they could not call on the Army to support the police should there be a collapse in law and order. So I ask the Leader of the House to confirm that, if there is a collapse of law and order, it is a matter for the Chief Constable of the PSNI to take directly to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and that the Army would

23 Mar 2010 : Column 886

come to our aid on the advice of the Secretary of State for Defence so that any Minister for policing or justice under this new legislation would not have to be consulted or make the decision about whether the Army comes to the aid of the civil power in Northern Ireland.

Lord Eames: My Lords, we have heard in the speeches that we have just listened to praise for what has been achieved and genuine concerns about how it has been arrived at. Personally, thinking back over the years of my professional life, I have no doubt that this House needs to send out a loud and clear message that, in terms of politics, this is a historic day for the people of Northern Ireland. I think back to the numerous funerals that I have conducted for policemen, members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and civilians, and to the numerous police and Army families whom I have attempted to comfort.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for mentioning two names in the run-up to what has been achieved-Albert Reynolds and John Major. I am firmly convinced from having been involved in the preparation of the Downing Street Declaration all those years ago that it was a turning point in the political progress that has brought today about. I pay tribute to those two men. Sometimes history judges them ill when they deserve more. I pay tribute to successive Secretaries of State, not least those who sit in your Lordships' House. I pay tribute to the people, not the politicians alone, in their homes, their work, their streets and their fields, who over the past 30 years have borne the brunt of our disturbances, our troubles and our suffering.

It would be wrong today to minimise what those who have expressed concerns have said about how today has been reached in political terms. I share the wishes of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that today should mark a point at which healing can take place and that there can be a greater sense of unity in trying to incorporate all political parties in the way ahead. As I said on this subject on a previous occasion, this is a chance to rejoice in political achievement, but political achievement is only part of reconciliation. The real battle, the real challenge and the real problem for Northern Ireland, its Assembly and its people are the hearts and minds of its people. You cannot legislate for reconciliation. You cannot compel people to be reconciled. You can set in place the structure that will make it more encouraging and more possible. We need to send out a message to the Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly that they have the good will of this House and of Parliament as they attempt to take on this new dawn that devolution means in political terms.

Members of your Lordships' House who, like me, come from Northern Ireland have been closely involved over the years with what I have described as the suffering of the darkness. We need to recognise the reality of today. To reach this point in political terms has called for great courage by politicians. That is not to dispute the reservations that our noble friend Lord Maginnis expressed, which have to be faced up to and tackled. However, as the Leader of the House and others have said, many, many people have contributed to bring this day about and today is a day when we say: let us be thankful and let us have the faith and courage to move forward.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page