Clause 90 — Extent
Orders of the Day — Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill
Mr Lembit Ípik (Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)
I would not seek to misrepresent the Minister, and there is no time to enter into detailed discussions on that matter now; I am aware that at least two hon. Members on the Benches behind me want to speak.
None the less, in relation to that point, as Mr. Blunt pointed out, I supported the timetabling motion. I still hold the view that it might have provided enough time for the Committee stage in certain circumstances, but with the benefit of hindsight, I must say reluctantly that I probably was not right to be sympathetic in terms of the time allowed for Report and Third Reading. I make that comment with some humility; we have had discussions outside the Chamber, and I have to say that Conservative Front Benchers were probably right. We could have had the very discussions to which the Minister just referred, but we no longer have the chance to do so.
We have covered many specifics, including flag and emblems, and the inclusion of human rights legislation in the Bill. It goes far in that regard, but as hon. Members know, the Liberal Democrats would have taken it further. We also discussed the independence of advocacy and crucial issues relating to youth justice. In my view, the latter involved many important principles, and we did not take advantage of the opportunity to handle youth offending differently, as organisations such as Youth at Risk, which seeks to get down to the motives of offending rather than trying to prevent reoffending in a more superficial way, seek to do.
Given that we do not have time to debate those matters in more detail, the question on my mind is: what happens next? I guess that the answer will be based on the degree to which those who are in a position to make the Bill work will make the decision to do so. Some individuals in the Chamber will have a heavy influence on the degree to which the nationalist and Unionist communities take the Bill on. I hope that they accept that, even with its flaws, it is a huge step forward and most of it was uncontentious.
In that context, the Liberal Democrats are very happy to offer our assistance and to help if there is any way in which we can do so, although we are realistic and recognise that many people in the communities of Northern Ireland are already doing that work. I sincerely hope that Sinn Fein, which is, sadly, not represented in the Chamber, will regard the Bill as a step forward and not act as a dog in a manger by saying that, because not everything was exactly how the party wanted it, it will stand by and refuse to co-operate with what the Government seriously intend to be steps forward. In a few years' time we shall see if the Bill has worked.
I am pleased with the Bill in principle, and I think that all parties can accept that an overwhelming majority of its 294 proposals represent a step forward for justice in Northern Ireland.