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The introduction of a surveillance commissioner, in an attempt to regulate the process of informant handling and management, was a welcome development. However, what happened in Northern Ireland continued to happen notwithstanding the role of the surveillance commissioner, who was unable to identify what was happening in the situation. In essence he could not identify the level of criminality in which those informants were involved, and he accepted the assertion that they were not currently involved in crime-which I was told by a police officer meant "at this moment they are not committing a crime". This was misleading the surveillance commissioner.
Primacy has now moved to MI5, where many former Special Branch officers are employed. It is vital that in the exercise of his functions the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will be more effective than the surveillance commissioner was in managing these issues. Lessons must be learned not only from the successes of the Royal Ulster Constabulary but also from the failures of that organisation.
I want to say something about the £800 million which I think needs to be said. The £800 million reflects the amount needed to make justice and policing in some measure fit for purpose in Northern Ireland. Over the decades many compromises have been made in the management of policing, justice and the prisons. It has left us with a situation in which we have many unresolved problems, several of which have been referred to today-the dysfunction in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the serious dysfunction in the Prison Service, and many other problems which arise in the operation of our probation service and things like that. There will be significant challenges for the new Ministry of Justice, but there will also be significant challenges for each of us as we seek to give our consent and our support to the activities of that ministry. There can be no more further playing politics in these matters.
I hope that as we move forward all the people of Northern Ireland will do all they can to assist not only in the resolution of today's problems as they are
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am very grateful for the contributions to today's debate-in many ways an historic debate. As ever, the contributions have been helpful, constructive and largely supportive.
First, however, my excellent Bill team tells me that when I spoke of the Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010, I suggested that it establishes the Northern Ireland Court Service whereas, of course, it abolishes it. I thought it terribly important to put that on the record.
This will be the last opportunity that we have in this House to debate substantive policing and justice matters before those matters are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 12 April. Noble Lords from all sides of the House have made an enormous contribution to the political process in Northern Ireland-and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, is in his place. That spirit of co-operation has been entirely in evidence today as we celebrate the completion of the process of devolution to the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Bew, suggested, I am indeed fortunate to be in a position to move the orders today.
I shall now deal with many of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, spoke of the vote on 9 March and rightly emphasised that this was the democratic will of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. I note the views that the noble Lord expressed, but it is now time to move on in that spirit of co-operation and partnership that he suggested and to which other noble Lords have alluded.
The noble Lord said he hoped that the outstanding issues could be resolved in an inclusive manner with a four-party coalition. I know that that is a matter of concern for many noble Lords. I entirely agree that there are a number of issues which still require resolution, and this is recognised by the Northern Ireland parties themselves, two of which are represented here today. That is why the Hillsborough Castle agreement made provision for a number of working groups to look at the working of the Executive and other outstanding issues. I am sure that we all welcome the fact that Sir Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie are chairing one of these groups, and we all look forward to the outcomes.
I recognise that it is a difficult process, but these people are all now involved in the process, and we should celebrate that. However, I acknowledge the frustrations voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. Concerns have been expressed by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, about the capacity and
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We need to have a clear focus on 2012. The parties have demonstrated their willingness and desire to make devolution work and their ability to work together to overcome difficult issues. There is work to be done before 1 May 2012, but I am optimistic, as I am sure most noble Lords are, that this work can and will be taken forward in a spirit of co-operation.
Several noble Lords have spoken of security issues. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Loan, were right to point out that there will be problems. New technical questions will arise with this new process. However, the fact that in the protocol we have details of how the national security interface will work is helpful, and the position of the independent reviewer, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is key. He will help the people of Northern Ireland to work through the various problems.
Many noble Lords have spoken about the chief constable and the judiciary and the importance of their independence. I fully endorse the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Browne of Belmont, on the independence of the chief constable and the judiciary. The fundamental principle that the police are impartial and free from political control is enshrined in legislation and was underlined in the Good Friday agreement and the Patten report. We wholly endorse the principle of judicial independence in Northern Ireland as well as in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is recognised in statute and it will be underpinned by the concordat by the Northern Ireland Executive and the other bodies.
On the reporting of the chief constable, he is operationally responsible but accountable to the Secretary of State in respect of those of his functions which touch on national security. As for his other functions, he of course reports to the Policing Board. I hope that that is clear.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, asked what would happen if there was a request for military support, should circumstances change. As I said, the chief constable has operational responsibility and operational independence, and it would therefore be for him to decide whether military support was required. The accountability for operational matters is to the Policing Board, and on operational matters he has primacy.
Lord Kilclooney: The clarification I asked for was on the suggestion that in some way the new Minister of Justice in the devolved institution of Stormont would be consulted or have some say in the decision. Can it be clarified that, if a situation develops in Northern Ireland and the civil authority requires the support of the Army, the chief constable will go directly to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will then consult with the Secretary of State for Defence, and that the Minister of Justice in the devolved institution will not be involved in that decision?
"The decision to request military support would obviously require detailed discussions with the Policing Board, and I would not do it without raising the issues with the Minister of Justice because I think it is appropriate to do that. I work as an operational chief constable in a democracy, in a tripartite system between a Minister of Justice, a Policing Board and myself, and that is entirely appropriate".
Lord Kilclooney: I regret that decision. It is the decision of the chief constable, and not of the Government. This is a very serious matter, because you could have a Minister of Justice from Sinn Fein, and as they have already said there is no way in which they want to bring back the British Army into Northern Ireland on an operational basis. Their job is to get rid of the British Army, not to bring it back.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I understand the seriousness of this issue and the concern expressed by the noble Lord. Going back to the quotation, the chief constable has said that he would not do it without raising the issues with the Minister of Justice, but I do not think that that would necessarily bind him. He has operational independence, so if he felt that it was necessary to seek assistance from the security services or from the Army, I am confident that he would do so without being bound by the views of the Minister of Justice.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I have not yet spoken but want to ask one question on that. When the military were operating in Northern Ireland, there was legislation which enabled them to do so. Therefore, if the chief constable wishes to bring them back in anything other than bomb disposal, there would need to be legislation. Therefore, the chief constable could surely not do it off his own bat.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Before I respond to that I will await some advice from the Box, because it is such an important issue. I will return to it shortly if I may. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, asked what would happen on 12 April if dissident republicans launched an attack on civilian targets. In the event of such attacks, the police and security agencies will of course respond accordingly. National security will remain an excepted matter, as we have said many times, and the responsibility of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will continue to be answerable here, in Parliament, for arrangements for safeguarding national security.
I rather liked the description by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, of the devolution of policing and justice as the cementing of the peace process. As she said, it is indeed an opportunity for leadership in the Assembly and in Northern Ireland. Several noble Lords have lamented the lack of leadership in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I suggest that the time has come for leadership.
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, expressed many trenchant views, and I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that I heed the views of the noble Lord. I do not think that the noble Lord would wish or expect me to address directly his remarks about my noble friends. The important thing is that we have reached an agreement, and it is now time to look to the future, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, said, and to the fulfilment of the Belfast agreement.
The noble Lord made various remarks about the £800 million that is being made available in the context of devolution. I respect his views, but I think that the people of Northern Ireland will be very happy to have that generous amount of money to assist them in the transformation in Northern Ireland.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response so far, but she has brushed over the fact that the Secretary of State threatened to take away the £800 million. No one will be unhappy about money coming to Northern Ireland, but we all need to know whether the Secretary of State was prepared to deny this money to the people of Northern Ireland. Was it bribery, or was it blackmail? A straightforward answer would be helpful.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I think most noble Lords would agree that it was neither bribery nor blackmail. The Prime Minister reached agreement last October that that amount of money would go to Northern Ireland to ensure that policing and justice could be devolved appropriately and that the people of Northern Ireland had the requisite money for that. It was neither bribery, nor blackmail; it was part of an agreement.
The noble Lord also spoke of the failures of the PPS in higher profile cases. Of overarching importance is the need for a defendant to receive a fair trial. The difficulties in the trials which he mentioned are not exclusive to Northern Ireland; similar difficulties arise in England and Wales.
The noble Baroness said that perhaps the appointment of the Justice Minister was the result of playing politics with a piece of Northern Ireland. As we all know, the Justice Minister will be nominated by a Member of the Assembly and elected on a cross-community vote, which reflects the November 2008 agreement between the First and Deputy First Ministers that was endorsed by the AERC in its January 2009 report.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, raised the interesting issue of the address of the Independent Monitoring Commission and Stormont House. I understand that there were security considerations. In any event, the address is not necessary in the drafting of the order. Stormont House is currently the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast, and it will continue to be so after the devolution of policing and justice. My right honourable friend needs a base in Belfast for the functions that he will continue to perform. The devolved Administration will control almost all the premises on the Stormont estate.
Lord Kilclooney: I repeat that there are three different Stormonts: the Stormont parliament building, Stormont Castle and Stormont House. Stormont Castle is the base of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State. Stormont House was the base of the Speaker of the devolved institution at Stormont, and should revert to being that under devolution to Stormont.
Stormont Castle is not the base of the Secretary of State; Stormont House is. Therefore, we can conclude that the Secretary of State will retain Stormont House but not Stormont Castle. Have I got that wrong? Oh God.
Lord Kilclooney: Stormont Castle is the base of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Stormont House is temporarily used by him, but it was always the home of the Speaker of the Northern Ireland parliament. Under devolution it should go back to where it was.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Indeed, my Lords. I will swiftly move on. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked for an update on parading. As we know, the agreement at Hillsborough outlined a route map to finding and implementing a new and improved framework for regulating and adjudicating on parading. A working group was established that has brought forward proposals, and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will bring forward for consultation later this month a draft Bill that seeks to implement those agreed outcomes. The Bill will be introduced to the Assembly in the autumn.
The noble Lord asked about the security and intelligence agencies and the interface with the role of Parliament. The Security Service remains accountable to Parliament through existing oversight arrangements that were established under the Security Service Act 1989, the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Three groups of commissioners oversee current work in Northern Ireland: the intelligence services commissioner, the interception of communications commissioner and the surveillance commissioner. The Intelligence and Security Committee will continue to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the security and intelligence agencies and to report to Parliament. The Secretary of State remains responsible for national security issues, and the public can raise issues with representatives in this House and in the other place.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. She will recall that one of my questions was whether it might be possible,
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The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also raised the issue of the sunset clause. As set out in the Northern Ireland Act 2009, the Department of Justice will dissolve on 1 May, unless the Assembly has resolved on a cross-community basis to continue the current model for appointing the Justice Minister, or passed an act to put in place alternative arrangements. When Parliament passed this legislation in March 2009, it was aware that these arrangements reflected the agreement between the First and Deputy First Ministers that the arrangement set out in their November 2008 statement should be time-limited to come to an end in May 2012. Work is clearly needed to agree the post-2012 arrangements, but the parties, both at Hillsborough Castle and more recently, have demonstrated their willingness and desire to make devolution work, as well as their ability to work together to overcome difficult issues.
The vote in the Assembly on 9 March marked a watershed moment for Northern Ireland. The noble and right reverend Lord is right when he says that this is an historic day. That was an historic agreement, and I wholeheartedly endorse his comments on reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I commend him for his work on this issue.
Throughout the political process, the Government have been clear that responsibility for policing and justice matters should properly lie with the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have maintained that those politicians making decisions on policing and justice matters in Northern Ireland should be directly accountable to the people of Northern Ireland. We have also maintained, however, that the Assembly should only take on those responsibilities when it decided that it was ready to do so. When the Assembly decided on 9 March that it was ready to take on those responsibilities, it was clear that the political process in Northern Ireland had matured.
The transfer of powers which will take place on 12 April will mark another watershed. From 12 April, the Assembly will be able to completely focus on those issues which affect the people of Northern Ireland on a day-to-day basis. Jobs, health, investment, education, and now law and order will be in the hands of locally accountable politicians. This can only benefit the people of Northern Ireland, and it can only help to secure the political stability that we have worked so hard to achieve. I think we should rejoice today, and I am delighted to commend the Motion.
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