Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

23 Mar 2010 : Column 887

Lord Rogan: My Lords, perhaps I may first make it abundantly clear that my party, the Ulster Unionist Party, is not and never has been against the transfer of policing and justice back to Stormont. In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, pointed out, in March 1972 the Ulster Unionist Party led by Prime Minister Brian Faulkner could not accept the removal of policing and justice, which was why the Stormont Parliament was prorogued.

As the shadow Secretary of State mentioned in another place yesterday, the Ulster Unionist Party had a number of genuine and legitimate concerns about the workings of the Executive as a proper four-party coalition. We were not alone in our frustration. The other party that has Ministers, the SDLP, has similarly expressed dismay at being excluded from the decision-making process. Our current position is that policing and justice are too serious an issue to be transferred to an Assembly and especially an Executive who to date have not shown themselves to be qualified to take on this hugely important responsibility.

While I recognise that the secret deals of some and the perhaps naive good will of others will bring about the devolution of policing and justice, I cannot understand the means by which the Government have gone about the task. I have spoken to members of the PSNI, members of the Policing Board and others in the legal profession without anyone being able to tell me what the structure of the proposed new arrangements will be. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, that planning and preparation should be the essential, fundamental element in this exercise, yet we have seen no evidence that the structures and channels of command and responsibility are in place.

While we speak of policing and justice in generic terms, it is surely not beyond the realisation of this Government that we have an inefficient Public Prosecution Service, a Prison Service whose members are screaming to have governors replaced and a police service that has yet to establish an effective working relationship with MI5. I am concerned that whereas the Garda Siochana in the Republic appears able to deal effectively with the dissident IRA-catching, charging and sending its members to prison-we do not seem to have similar success in Northern Ireland. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to play around with promises or, indeed, threats regarding the £800 million, but we do not know exactly for what that considerable sum is intended.

Unfortunately, the Northern Ireland Assembly has to date been clearly dysfunctional-with little evidence of corporate responsibility among Ministers, the Executive having been suspended for nearly six months and an Education Minister who is clearly sectarian in her attitude to state education. To date, there has been not a single discussion or even a single word spoken between the Executive members as to how these powers will be executed.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister exactly what safeguards have been considered and whether they will be implemented before 12 April. Will she explain exactly what will happen on 12 April if the dissident IRA launches a co-ordinated attack on human and economic targets? Surely these issues have been decided.

23 Mar 2010 : Column 888

If not, I fear that we are embarking on an ill conceived plan as far as command and control are concerned.

5.30 pm

Lord Browne of Belmont: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for introducing these orders. I declare an interest as the Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the constituency of East Belfast. I welcome the tabling of this Motion and hope that these orders and associated regulations will become law with minimum delay.

As the House has heard, when the former Northern Ireland Parliament was prorogued in 1972 the Prime Minister of the day, Mr Brian Faulkner, rightly expressed the view that government without policing and justice powers was not worth having at all. These powers were a necessary attribute of government then and remain so today.

For many years my party has been committed to achieving an agreed administrative structure that would facilitate the return of policing and justice powers to a local assembly and I am firmly convinced that the necessary conditions for such a transfer have now been met. First, the commitment by Sinn Fein to give its support to the police, the courts and the rule of law as a condition of its entry into government is of great significance, particularly since it has given practical effect to this commitment by playing a role as members of the Policing Board and district policing partnerships. Secondly, the order incorporates clear safeguards against political interference in policing and judicial decisions. The chief constable will continue to enjoy operational independence and the Public Prosecution Service and judiciary will remain entirely free of political influence. As a result, the whole community in Northern Ireland, and in particular the unionist electorate, can have full confidence that the impartiality of the police and judiciary will not be compromised.

In these circumstances, the return of these natural governmental functions to locally elected and locally accountable politicians seems an eminently logical step. For this reason it is surprising to say the least that not all Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly saw fit to support our prayer for a change in the relevant legislation. In particular, the unwavering opposition of the Ulster Unionist Party is frankly baffling. Members of that party supported the devolution of policing and justice powers in 2003 when neither of the conditions that I have described had been met. Moreover, the leader of that party has reaffirmed his support in principle for the transfer of powers but bases his opposition on an assertion that the Executive are dysfunctional. Clearly his opposition, far from facilitating more efficient functioning, is likely to promote exactly the opposite outcome. It is indeed significant that the last Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs, the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, has questioned the rationale for the Ulster Unionist stance. All things considered, one might be forgiven for concluding that it may have its origin in seeking merely party political advantage.

I wholeheartedly welcome the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly and look forward to the continued development of

23 Mar 2010 : Column 889

administrative structures that command the support and allegiance of all sections of the community. Therefore, I very much welcome these orders.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support the three orders that have been laid before your Lordships' House and so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, earlier in our proceedings.

I say to my noble friend Lord Maginnis that it is now 25 years since I first visited him in his constituency in Fermanagh and South Tyrone when I was a spokesman in another place. I had huge admiration for him then which continues to this day. The trenchant, no-nonsense fashion in which he speaks is not to be ignored in your Lordships' House, and I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames: he represents an opinion that is held in the north of Ireland, and one to which we should listen with some care. For instance, he said that there is great disaffection with the Public Prosecution Service. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, has supported that view and we should certainly take it into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, also said that justice delayed is justice denied. He was in fact quoting Mr Gladstone, who said precisely that. Maybe it is worth recalling that it was the same Mr Gladstone who, after the Home Rule Bill was defeated in your Lordships' House more than a century ago, mused that the one and only conspicuous failure of our political genius had been the failure to achieve a political solution in Northern Ireland. Although recent events serve to remind us that there are still paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland which would like to destroy political progress, it will surely be said of these past 15 years that British and Irish politicians and civil servants at last deployed their considerable genius in trying to find a peaceful way out of the mire. Again, I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who said it is a historic day for Northern Ireland and we should rejoice in political achievement.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s I regularly spoke in another place on Northern Ireland issues. Indeed, my maiden speech in 1979 was made in the immediate aftermath of the tragic murder of Airey Neave in the precincts of the House by the INLA. I remarked that day that:

"The bullet can never replace the ballot in a free society".-[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/1979; col. 1222.]

Although the INLA has now renounced violence, it will take many more years for memories to heal. My maiden speech in your Lordships' House in 1997 returned to the importance of finding a political strategy for ending decades of violence. I said that a way forward could never be based on anything which implied a victory for either side and suggested that:

"An end to this catalogue of violence remains the elusive prize which will reward the patience and perseverance of those constructively engaged in the present negotiations".-[Official Report, 22/10/1997; col.773.]

The orders before your Lordships' House today will enable the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland through the transfer of policing and justice powers to Stormont, exactly as my noble friend Lord Kilclooney said a few minutes ago. In turn, they give effect to the historic vote at Stormont on 9 March. That is a

23 Mar 2010 : Column 890

considerable tribute to the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach, the Secretary of State and Minister of State and their opposite numbers in Dublin, and most crucially to the First Minister and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Tribute should also be paid, as others have done, to Sir John Major, Mr Tony Blair, Albert Reynolds, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, who is in his seat today, and all those who have invested so heavily in creating this constructive way forward.

This has not been an easy time for the right honourable Member for East Belfast, Mr Peter Robinson, the First Minister. We both entered the Commons 30 years ago, and I have watched with admiration as he has grappled with the complexities posed by a devolved, power-sharing assembly. Speaking in yesterday's debate in another place, he said that,

He was also right to support the view of the honourable Member for Foyle, Mark Durkan, who spoke on behalf of the SDLP of not making the perfect the enemy of the good. He said that in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere:

"We cannot make perfection a precondition for progress".-[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/10; col. 54.]

I agree with that view and believe that it builds constructively on the fine work undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, his noble friend Lord Kilclooney, Mr John Hume and many others who have been involved in the process. Yesterday's vote made it a historic day in another place, because the debate there saw the swan songs of two significant figures in Northern Ireland's affairs. I will mention them briefly before concluding my remarks.

The honourable Member for South Staffordshire, Sir Patrick Cormack, has played a remarkable role as chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee. I know that Members on all sides of your Lordships' House who have followed these issues over the years will want to pay tribute to him for his patient and constructive role in bringing about this political achievement.

I particularly want to mention the Reverend Ian Paisley, the Member of Parliament for North Antrim. He spoke yesterday in another place, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said how moved she had been to hear his words. These were some of those words:

"The day has come when Northern Ireland must boldly face the simple facts. There are people in Northern Ireland who have diverse religious and political convictions, but they can live together as neighbours. When I was a boy, there was more neighbourliness than we have seen for many years. Something entered the hearts of the people that destroyed the reverence for neighbourliness and kindliness. The Ulster people are not a hard people: they are a loving and caring people. I am glad that there is no disturbance in the House today. We are meeting here in calm and peace, because that calm and peace is slowly but surely being established in Northern Ireland. We are making progress in the right direction".-[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/10; col. 67.]

23 Mar 2010 : Column 891

I pay tribute to the right honourable Member. I always believed that he could become the catalyst for change in Northern Ireland. We offer him and the noble Baroness, Lady Paisley, who is in her seat today, our good wishes for their future.

Devolution brings with it many opportunities and laurels. The £800 million of extra resources have been mentioned. 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. That is a huge responsibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said, but it is also a huge opportunity. Secondly, there will be a more effective and integrated Executive. Thirdly, there will be consolidation of the political infrastructure of Northern Ireland. Fourthly, a message will be sent to dissident elements that progress is made via dialogue and political action, not by murdering police officers or killing your neighbours.

The legacy of the past 40 years in Northern Ireland is almost 3,000 unsolved murders. The families of the victims of those terrible atrocities will want to hear an assurance that the passing of these orders will underline, and not in any way minimise, the importance of ensuring that those responsible are held to account. I welcome the renunciation of violence that so many have made, but they must also understand that justice is not a process by which the past is forgotten. I have never subscribed to the view that we should simply forgive and forget. No one can forgive on behalf of others. It is better to forgive and remember, for if we too easily forget what has gone before, the sacrifices and the gains will be placed in jeopardy.

I have some brief questions for the Minister. First, how will these orders affect the Policing Board's relationship with the chief constable and the Department of Justice? Is she confident that the impartiality and operational independence of the chief constable will not be compromised? That point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.

Secondly, what progress is being made on the draft Bill on parades and how will the consultation process work? Thirdly, is there a date for the publication of the Saville inquiry's report? What provision will be made in your Lordships' House to debate its findings? My fourth point concerns the intelligence agencies and was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. Mr Mark Durkan raised what he called the,

Can the Minister describe what role Parliament will have in these matters? Will Northern Ireland Members of your Lordships' House be offered seats on Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee?

Fifthly and finally, I turn to the sunset clause. The Prime Minister has said that these orders represent an end to decades of strife. Would it not have been better, therefore, to dispense with a sunset clause-to be applied in May 2012-and which could open up these wounds all over again?

23 Mar 2010 : Column 892

These orders are not perfect, but they are a victory for common sense. In a period of political turbulence, Northern Ireland needs a sense of stability. At a time when the public have a low view of politicians, it is good to be reminded of what coherent and dedicated political engagement can achieve. Other troubled parts of the world regularly look to Northern Ireland for encouragement as they seek to resolve their difficulties and conflicts. I hope that, as the years pass, the wonderful people of Northern Ireland will be able to show us how they used their genius to solve what had eluded us for so long.

5.45 pm

Lord Bew: My Lords, I rise briefly to thank the noble Baroness for introducing the orders and to congratulate her on her good fortune-which she deserves because of the benign interest that she has shown in the affairs of Northern Ireland in the period that she has been leading this House-in being able to bring forward such important and positive legislation.

I will speak to only one point at the heart of her initial speech. Other noble Lords have also referred to it. It is the issue of the independence of the chief constable. It may seem a technical difficulty with the new arrangements, but it is a very real one. Mr Peter Smith QC, a member of the Patten commission, and Mr Alex Attwood of the SDLP, have in recent months been in the van of the argument for police reform in Northern Ireland. When one recalls that in recent months they have raised issues about the new protocols, and concerns about whether the independence of the chief constable will be preserved, one realises that there is an issue here.

In particular, there is a political issue that no Government can resolve, namely the need for Sinn Fein to present the devolution of policing and justice as, in Mr Adams's words, a staging post towards a united Ireland. That might seem rather a strained way of viewing the replacement of Mr Paul Goggins of New Labour by Mr Ford of the Alliance Party. It seems a grand interpretation of what looks like a relatively small political event, but none the less that language is out there and it conditions the debate. There is nothing that the Government can do about that. However, there are fundamentally crucial new technical questions that arise from these new arrangements.

The Serious Organised Crime Agency will remain responsible to London, not to the devolved institutions. So will the intelligence services in Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness referred to the issue in her opening remarks as the interface. Very helpfully, she pointed out that where technical difficulties of competence arise, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will have a role. That is very reassuring to the many Members of this House who have enormous respect for the acumen that the noble Lord brings to these issues.

None the less, there will be problems. I will give one simple example of a crowd scene and a riot in Northern Ireland. There surely will be another riot in Northern Ireland some day soon. The chief constable will have a responsibility to deal with the aftermath in public with the Minister of Justice. However, let us say there is a shooting in the crowd and terrorists are involved.

23 Mar 2010 : Column 893

There will be issues of terrorist activity, of intercepts in relation to that activity, and of the role of the intelligence services. It is a very clear cut example of the ways in which we now have a very messy situation to which, at this point, no one has answers. The two things are caught up-the responsibility of the chief constable for national security and the responsibility of the chief constable to the local devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.

It is for that reason that I repeat a point which the noble Baroness has listened to many times and patiently responded to many times regarding the Government's support for the independence of the chief constable. I ask her to do so one more time if only because, given the difficult times ahead, it cannot be put on the record too often. With the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I also ask about the parliamentary scrutiny of these new issues as they arise. A new space of contestation has been created and the chief constable faces a new difficulty; he will have to face towards two different authorities in his operation, and the job becomes that much more difficult. We must do everything possible to help the chief constable carry out his duties professionally.

Baroness O'Loan: My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I welcome this day and I welcome the devolution of powers for policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I pay tribute to all those who have worked over the years to secure this, and in so doing I pay tribute to people with whom I would have had very little sympathy. I pay tribute to those who have moved the republican movement from what it called the armed struggle to what we have now. I also acknowledge the pain and suffering of all those who have suffered at the hands of actors of the state who have behaved as they should not have behaved. We have had reference already to the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, and to the fact that the report of that inquiry will be delayed. I do not think that I can say any more about the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, now, but I will in future.

For the past 12 years many people have played politics with our peace and our security in Northern Ireland. As we speak that continues, and the sectarianism continues. Neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein is prepared to allow the application of the d'Hondt principles to provide a Justice Minister. The parties that occupy the offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister will not allow it and the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, which sits outside, is not allowed to hold the office of Jusitce Minister. They are therefore determined that they will elect the leader of the Alliance Party to this ministry. In so doing they are electing someone who has publicly said that the Saville inquiry is pointless. The Saville inquiry was established by the British Government to establish exactly what happened on that terrible day in Derry. That causes me great concern about the proposed Minister for Justice's understanding of matters of justice.

I should, however, like to address the substance of my remarks to the issue of national security. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, has already referred to the fact that the chief constable will effectively face a dual responsibility to the Justice Minister and to the Home Secretary. I want to say a word about national security

23 Mar 2010 : Column 894

because, in Northern Ireland terms, "national security" refers only to the activities of republican terrorists and not to the activities of other terrorists who are active in Northern Ireland and who emanate, if you like, from Northern Ireland.

Previous experience has shown that terrorists who were working in both republican and loyalist communities were recruited as informants to the intelligence services and particularly to the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That led to the situation in which intelligence informants were able to engage in the most serious of crimes without being made amenable for those crimes. Those crimes included murder, attempted murder, arson, kidnapping, extortion, and all the things that go on under the cloak of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. It is said that it is necessary for informants to be engaged in crime so that they can produce information for the security and policing services. To a degree, that is undoubtedly true; they will be closer to those who are engaged in serious crime. However, the reality is that the United Kingdom has serious controls over the activities of informants and that those controls were not observed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary during all those years.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page