Clause 90 — Extent

Orders of the Day — Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 4th March 2002.

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Amendment made: No. 164, in page 70, leave out line 25.—[Mr. Browne.]

Order for Third Reading read. 9.13 pm

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Today's debates represent another important step in the process of modernising the criminal justice system and implementing the Belfast agreement. The criminal justice review is the last major feature of the agreement that it falls to the Government to implement. Once again, we have shown that we as a Government will fulfil our responsibilities in full.

The Belfast agreement represents a victory for the people of Northern Ireland. It is not always easy to implement. It requires a balance—a balance recognised earlier, very perceptively, by Mr. Gummer—between recognition of the principle of consent on the constitutional status and recognition of diversity and parity of esteem. Both are enshrined in the Belfast agreement. No one got entirely what they wanted from the agreement, or from the unfolding of the agreement; but as a result of that historic agreement we have secured a functioning devolved Administration, and an enormous improvement in the social and security situation that has blighted Northern Ireland since the 1960s. None of us can afford to be complacent, but there has been a significant improvement.

The criminal justice review also holds out the prospect of improvements that benefit both sides in equal measure, I believe, and the whole community in great measure. The review made 294 recommendations over the whole range of activities in the criminal justice field. It was the most comprehensive look at the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years. The review emerged during the course of negotiations on the Belfast agreement, but I believe that it reflected a somewhat deeper feeling that it was in any case time for a more fundamental review.

Once again, there are a small number of issues on which opinions are divided largely along community lines. Here we have needed and have tried to strike a careful balance between the two dimensions enshrined in the Belfast agreement, which I mentioned earlier. However, the overwhelming bulk of the review, and the Bill which implements it, has been widely welcomed. It is worth noting that despite all the differences that we have on a relatively small number of areas, the bulk of the review has been welcomed. Moreover, having read the Committee proceedings and discussed them with my hon. Friend the Under–Secretary, I think that it was, for the most part, an extremely constructive and positively conducted Committee stage.

The Bill has been welcomed outside the House by the practitioners in the criminal justice system, including those who work with children and victims. It has been welcomed by the parties which we hope will soon administer it and by the people of Northern Ireland more generally, particularly those who are interested in improvements to the criminal justice system.

In effect, the Bill is about putting Northern Ireland at the forefront of good practice in the United Kingdom and more widely. In some areas, learning from experience of other UK jurisdictions, the Bill implements in Northern Ireland reforms which have already been undertaken elsewhere in the UK. Other parts of the Bill will put Northern Ireland at the cutting edge of international practice.

We have made a number of amendments today on Report. Many reflect important points that hon. Members made during earlier stages of the Bill. Once again, I think that the controversy surrounding some of the amendments should not distract us from the larger number that have been generally welcomed. However, there have been, and remain, areas of controversy.

On symbols, we made amendments to reflect our assessment of a reasonable balance in this controversial area. The review identified an important distinction between the outside of courthouses and the inside of courtrooms. It saw the need to strike a balance between recognising the courts' position within the agreed constitutional framework in Northern Ireland and ensuring an atmosphere within courtrooms with which all the people of Northern Ireland could be comfortable. Once again, the wisdom of Solomon was required in trying to balance those two aspects emanating from the Belfast agreement.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I appreciate the Secretary of State's giving way. The amendment that was introduced to preserve royal coats of arms was, I thought, intended to recognise representations that had been made on heritage and architectural grounds rather than to recognise the constitutional principle. If it were a question of recognising the constitutional principle, all royal coats of arms would stay.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I do not disagree with the hon. Lady's point. I merely point out that I was talking in the context of the review's original recommendations. I do not dispute the point that she makes. The review identified an important distinction between the outside of courthouses and the inside of courtrooms. In addition, I pointed out that we needed to strike a balance when it comes to recognising the courts' position.

We agree with the distinction that was reflected in the Bill's amended provisions. We believe that we have made some commonsense amendments to preserve certain coats of arms within historic courthouses.

Having listened to the representations made to us—by, above all, Lady Hermon—we do not believe that we would require a new start to criminal justice to be accompanied by what was called at one stage "architectural vandalism" of historic buildings. Our views on this have been reinforced by the practice in the Irish Republic, where court buildings including royal symbols have continued to be used.

I do regret the need to legislate on this matter at all. I believe that the position taken in the Bill is fair and balanced. However, it is no substitute for a decision taken and agreed on by the parties in Northern Ireland. That is why we delayed taking any decision in this area. As I made clear on Second Reading, we were open to constructive suggestions, particularly those capable of achieving cross-community support. Nothing in the Bill as it stands would prevent such agreement on symbols in the future either.

I have said that it would be regrettable if the issue of symbols overshadowed everything else discussed during the passage of the Bill through this House. The parliamentary stages of the Bill have seen debates of high quality on issues that go to the core of our criminal justice system: the independence of the judiciary and the prosecution service; the possible shape of the Northern Ireland justice system after devolution; the place of international human rights instruments; and the role of victims, to name just a few.

As a result of these discussions, we have clarified the Bill in a number of useful respects following representations from the hon. Member for North Down and from my hon. Friend Mr. Mallon, to which I shall refer. We have strengthened the assurance that the Judicial Appointments Commission after devolution will be solely responsible for such appointments by amending the Bill's provisions on committees to which it can delegate its functions.

As requested, we have also clarified the important role of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister acting jointly in certain areas. We have recognised in the Bill the importance of international human rights instruments on the prosecution. All of these matters have been raised by the SDLP.

I shall mention briefly some of the valuable debates that we have had on the giving of reasons for non-prosecution. I understand the strong feeling that this issue can arouse, both about the general practice and the application of the principle to particularly sensitive cases involving deaths as a result of action by the security forces. Hon Members will be aware that we have not accepted the various amendments on reasons proposed during the passage of the Bill. However, they should know also about developments in the Government's response to the Strasbourg rulings in certain article 2 cases which coincided chronologically with proceedings on the Bill and the representations that were made.

On Friday, the Attorney-General answered a parliamentary question on this subject. His response included the text of a joint statement with the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. I would urge hon. Members with an interest in the matter to study the text carefully. In brief, the DPP recognises that, in certain types of cases, the public's need for reassurance that a case has been properly investigated and that the rule of law has been maintained in the event of no prosecution following a death in which agents of the state have allegedly been involved may only be fulfilled if reasons for non-prosecution are given. In such a case, and in the absence of compelling reasons to the contrary, the director will give reasons. I hope that that goes some way towards addressing some of the concerns raised during our debates.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

I have followed carefully what my right hon. Friend has said about deaths in which members of the security forces are involved. What can he say about circumstances in which non-members of the security forces are involved, on either side, when someone who is an agent or member of the security forces is killed? Stobie is an example.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I have the joint statement with me but do not want, for reasons of time, to read it out. I refer my hon. Friend to the parliamentary answer given by the Attorney-General on Friday, which included a joint statement by him and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. That addresses the circumstances arising from the Jordan case, and I have formulated my own answer in those terms. That case was chronologically coincidental with our debates. It did not arise directly, but contributions made during debate on the Bill obviously had a bearing on my thinking on that matter as other discussions were taking place. I hope that my hon. Friend will read the statement, and if he has further questions, I shall be only too happy to respond.

I thank hon. Members for the care and attention that they gave to scrutiny of the Bill. As a result, it leaves the House improved in important ways, and that is, of course, the purpose of parliamentary scrutiny. I know that some hon. Members feel that more time could have been available. None the less, the level of scrutiny given in the time available both in and outside the House—the process began some time before Parliament engaged with it—enabled us to take the views of others on board and to develop the Bill. I hope that the House will agree that the Bill can move on to complete its parliamentary passage in the other place.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Given the Secretary of State's remarks about the conduct of proceedings, and given my views about the conduct of the Under–Secretary in Committee, does he agree that it is to be regretted that we have had no detailed consideration of several matters, particularly the new youth justice provisions?

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I have no hesitation in saying that my experience leads me to wish that several Committees that I served on before I became a Secretary of State had enjoyed such positive and constructive engagement on the issues. I share the hon. Gentleman's regret that we could not find a little more time. He probably knows that some late efforts were made through channels to which we do not always refer in the Chamber to try to find more time. There was a genuine feeling on both sides that that might happen, but it did not prove possible. It might have been more constructive to proceed in that way, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's regrets about lack of time are shared by other hon. Members. Limited time is left to us, but it may be that some of issues not yet addressed may yet be raised.

The Bill is only part of the process of reform. When we published the draft Bill, we also published an implementation plan. Not all the 294 recommendations required legislation, and even for those that did, the passage of the Bill is just the first step. The Attorney-General, the Lord Chancellor and I are committed to implementing the review recommendations. When the Bill achieves Royal Assent—on the assumption that that is the will of Parliament—we will publish a further implementation plan setting out progress made and giving a firm timetable for action.

Many hon. Members have referred to a commitment for swift action on implementation of the review's recommendations. It has been suggested that the review would benefit from an oversight arrangement. My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh proposed an amendment on the subject, which, regrettably, was not selected as it would have enabled us to discuss it in more detail on Report—as I should have liked to do.

My hon. Friend knows that we have doubts about a statutory post, as the review team—even with the policing example before it—did not make such a recommendation. Nevertheless, he expressed his views forcefully and with some import. I assure him that I shall consider further the implementation of such arrangements.

By any standards, the complexity of the reforms and the number of agencies involved are formidable, but progress has already been made. After Royal Assent, I hope that the revised implementation plan will make it clear that the process of giving effect to the review is gathering momentum.

I hope that is the case because the prize before us is huge: a reformed criminal justice system and, ultimately, the devolution of responsibility for criminal justice and policing some time after the Assembly elections in 2003. That is what we all want, however difficult it may be politically. If it is to be achieved, we have no time to waste and I hope that the House will show confidence in the process by giving the Bill a Third Reading.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 9:32 pm, 4th March 2002

I wholeheartedly agree with the Secretary of State that the consideration of the Bill in the House and in the Standing Committee has been thorough—as far as it has gone. The debate has been excellent. There have been some distinguished contributions and some lively exchanges of views—as there should be in this place. However, I emphasise the words "as far as it has gone".

I fully share the Secretary of State's regret that we have been unable to do the Bill justice. I know that it is not personally the fault of the right hon. Gentleman and that he did everything possible to ensure that we had slightly more time to consider the Bill. I hope that he will tell his colleagues that the treatment of the Bill during the past few weeks has been a classic example of the appalling damage done to the operation of Parliament by the so-called reforms of the new Labour Government. They are anything but reforms.

It is absurd that more than 30 clauses were not even dealt with in Committee. We have been unable to discuss some of the important youth justice reforms—the youth conferences and so on. At the very last moment, the Government introduced substantial and substantive changes to one of the two most controversial clauses—clause 66—which deals with courtrooms, courthouses and the royal coat of arms, but the House had no chance to discuss it. That is grotesque.

If there is to be any parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill, it will have to be undertaken by the other place. Under new Labour, we are the lower House in name and in substance. That is a most regrettable state of affairs, and I hope that the Secretary of State will pass on to his colleagues the strong feelings experienced by everyone in the House. It is especially grotesque that Members from six parties would have liked to take part in the Third Reading debate, but we have only 45 minutes for it. That is a terrible, terrible way to conduct our affairs.

As we were not able to deal either in Committee or on Report with the Government's new proposals for the royal arms in courthouses and courtrooms, I shall briefly touch on them. In substance, we welcome the Government's reconsideration, even at this late stage, and their decision to make some gesture—albeit inadequate and limited—that will at least recognise the strong feelings among the Unionist population in Northern Ireland, even if it does not mollify them.

That concession is hopelessly inadequate to redress the balance and undo the damage done by the one-sided stream of concessions in the past few months, almost all of which have been made to Sinn Fein-IRA. And it, of course, would be eclipsed out of existence if the Government committed the folly of announcing an amnesty for on-the-run terrorists.

Nevertheless, I commend the Government for having recognised—for once in deed, as well as in word—the lack of balance in the implementation of the peace process so far. Perhaps the imbalance has not been so much in the implementation of the peace process as in the Government's making all sorts of concessions not required by the Belfast agreement, and making them all in the same direction. The Secretary of State has recognised the damaging impact that that has had on confidence in and commitment to the peace process among the Unionist community. He has at least done something about that, and it would be churlish of me not to recognise it.

The Government's tactics have been pretty shambolic. They have introduced a change at the last minute. They have not assuaged much of the concern, anxiety and opposition that they aroused in the Unionist camp with the original clause 66—and they have now managed to infuriate the nationalist camp, too, by withdrawing some of the concessions that they had made. The Secretary of State smiles, but there is an alternative approach, which I have been urging on him for some months.

The Government should look upon the implementation of the Belfast agreement in terms of a balanced and agreed programmed process, in which everybody knows what they have to do by when, what the full cost will be, what the concessions will be, and how we get to the endgame. Until we have that kind of balance and understanding of the process, the programme and the schedule required, I do not think that either side will be confident that the process can really be implemented.

There are obnoxious issues in the Bill, some of which involve serious matters of principle. I spoke earlier about clause 20, and the judicial oath of allegiance. Given the appalling treatment of Parliament over the allocation of time, and several other issues that have been raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Blunt, we would be thoroughly justified in opposing Third Reading. I dare say many among my colleagues, and perhaps in other parts of the House, too, would have expected us to do that.

However, we will not vote against the Bill, in recognition of small mercies, and of the new element of pragmatism and balance that has crept into the Government's behaviour over the past few days. I welcome that, and I want to make it clear by a gesture of my own that we take it seriously and appreciate it. We want to do what we modestly can, as the Opposition, to encourage the Government to go in the right direction.

The second reason why we will not vote against Third Reading is even more important. The concessions that have been made in the Bill, some of which we find genuinely obnoxious—advisedly, I expressed myself in strong terms about clause 20—have not, for once, been made to Sinn Fein-IRA, but to the Social Democratic and Labour party. As I can see, and as I have heard in the repeated accounts of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, SDLP Members have done a magnificent job on the Bill, and have already modified it in a number of important ways.

The concession is on an important headline issue by which they clearly set a lot of store. I do not like it, for the reasons that I explained earlier. I do not like having a distinction between the oath of allegiance taken by judges in Northern Ireland and that taken by judges in the rest of the United Kingdom. However, I recognise that the SDLP has made a major positive contribution to the peace process, to law and order and to justice, with its support of the new Police Service and the Policing Board.

For once, the rewards have gone to people who deserve some rewards, and the concessions have been wrung out of the Government by people who deserve some concessions. Again, it would be wrong of us not to recognise that fact. We must swallow very hard, as I am having to do, and ask our right hon. and hon. Friends not to vote against the Bill on Third Reading.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh 9:39 pm, 4th March 2002

First, I thank my colleagues on the Standing Committee for their courtesy and help, and for the constructive way in which the Committee carried out its business. I thank those who chaired the Committee for their guidance and for the expertise that they brought to the proceedings.

I congratulate the Under-Secretary on the honest and very competent way in which he dealt with the Committee and with the issues. One could have some reliance on him. He gave nothing easily—nor did one expect him to—but he played with a straight bat, and I thank him for that.

Like the supporters of the English rugby team on Saturday, I feel a touch of déjà vu—a sense of having been here before, done it and got the T-shirt. I am trying to find an easy way of saying that this is the third time that I have stood on the Floor of the House on the Report stage of a Bill when, in effect, a googly has been bowled after a Standing Committee has dealt with things. Whatever position people adopt on an issue, that is not the way to do business; it is not the way in which to treat Parliament; it is not the way in which to encourage and nurture the Standing Committees that are so valuable. One begins to wonder whether, on issues such as this, there is a straight bat left. For that reason, I again thank the Under-Secretary, who proved that it is possible to deal honestly with an issue.

It is important to make that point because for non-lawyers, as many of us are, dealing with legislation is an onerous task. There is nothing easy about it, and it becomes all the more difficult when one knows in one's heart of hearts, as one is battling with detail in the Committee Room, getting expert advice and doing all the things that one should, that somewhere outside a dealing game is taking place which makes no reference whatever to our parliamentary process. It adds to the difficulty when one has experienced that before. However, we are big boys and we will live through it and get over it. It is a lovely thing to be able, as one walks out of the door, to look in any mirror that one passes and say, "Okay." We should all learn that lesson.

I am referring particularly, although not exclusively, to the issue of symbols. I have always tried to be sensitive when I talk about symbols in any context, because I have always tried to show respect for the symbols of others, even those with which I disagree. I have done that in this building, in the Assembly and, by and large, everywhere else. However, it is very difficult to maintain that position when, for the third time, the issue of symbols has been used as a bargaining chip by the Government in a unilateral, secretive and partisan way. It is difficult to maintain that position when one sees key principles of the Good Friday agreement and the draft Bill being used as bargaining chips—concessions to be granted to Unionists to build up confidence so that other deals can be done with others.

If I were a Unionist, I would be rather sceptical. I would look at new clause 2 and I would say to myself, "You can hold them or fold them, but don't get over-excited about what's going to happen because this is not being done in the interests of anything but the next bargain and the next deal that will be made." It hurts me to say that because I have supported Labour Governments for my entire time as a Member, including throughout hung Parliaments, day after day, and I will continue to do so. I make an appeal: it is much easier, much better and much more successful in the long run to play things straight, decent and honest than it is to become almost a roulette table for bargaining.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My hon. Friend speaks with great passion, conviction and sincerity. He is absolutely right to say that this was not the Under-Secretary's decision; it was my decision. I would like to correct the hon. Gentleman on one thing: the decision was not taken late. I could have taken it two or three months ago. I did not take it then precisely because what he likes to call "little deals" and what I like to call "discussions between parties" were taking place between his party and others to try to discover whether there was a way in which we could reach agreement. I thought it better to wait until absolutely the last moment to take a decision which I would have much preferred to be taken by the parties in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

Why did the right hon. Gentleman not discuss it with us?

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Precisely because I was advised by both parties, including by representatives of my hon. Friend's party, to stay out of the issue while the discussions continued. So I take full responsibility for the decision, but I would not like the hon. Gentleman to believe, having spent many hours discussing such issues with him, that the decision to wait until late was taken for any other reason than to try to allow the parties to reach the decision—a situation that I would much have preferred.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

I note what the Secretary of State says. It is right that he makes it clear that the decision was his, but I regret to say that there is no doubt that today's actions by the Government will have negative repercussions. I very much regret that, in the long term, they will outweigh any temporary, one-sided benefits that might accrue. I believe that the devolution of justice powers will now be more difficult to achieve and implement.

In short, this is no way to proceed. It is no way to legislate. It is no way to implement the Good Friday agreement, which requires the two sovereign Governments to show parity of esteem to every section of the community in Northern Ireland. Above all, it is no way to manage a peace process and no way to create the new beginning that we all want to achieve.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire 9:48 pm, 4th March 2002

As I said in Committee, because of the way we were sitting, the light shone all around Mr. Mallon and bathed him in an angelic aura every time he stood up to speak in Committee. I was hesitant to tussle with that saintly light, as the Minister was cast into the heart of darkness in the Room. Although I was joking then, what the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has just said underlines the genuine sincerity and honesty with which he has sought to represent the people whom he was elected to represent. We must take very seriously the frustrations that he describes because, at the end of the day, he is one of the people who has to sell these proposals to his part of the community.

I was frustrated to some extent by the Government's apparent lack of flexibility in the Standing Committee. They have made some amendments on Report, but difficulties arise when the whole process appears to the public eye to show that deals are being done outside the Chamber and that changes are being slipped through at the last minute. Even if that is not what Ministers intend, such impressions make it more difficult in practical terms for individuals—especially those on the nationalist side, on this occasion—to sell the proposals.

In addition, Ministers gave very strong reasons why they refused to do something on a number of occasions, only to change their position later—even though, if there is a clear example of a subject area in which one benefits by showing genuine openness and flexibility at all times, it is surely Northern Ireland. Examples of such an approach include resistance to the word "reflective" in place of "representation", which was discussed earlier when it was raised by my hon. Friend Mrs. Calton. A more recent example arose in the last debate on Report, when the Under-Secretary sought to give an extreme example of circumstances in which new clauses 3 and 4, which related to information for victims and next of kin, should not automatically come into play, even though new clause 4 clearly allowed an exception to be made when the public interest would not have been served.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to be in any doubt about reflectiveness and the judiciary, on which I have argued from principle. I have sought to enunciate my position in many different ways and I will not abandon that principle at any stage. I do not want there to be any suggestion that I was arguing one position and taking another. On his other example, there is a distinction between the effect of new clause 3 and that of new clauses 4 and 5. As we ran out of time on Report, I did not have the chance to explain that distinction, so I do not think it appropriate for him accidentally to misrepresent my position by anticipating what he did not hear.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

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.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara Labour, Kingston upon Hull North 9:55 pm, 4th March 2002

I shall be as quick as I can to allow other hon. Members to speak.

In the past, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that the Unionists feel that they are in a cold house. Generally speaking, for the nationalist community the issue of the administration of justice and the Police Service has been not only a cold house, but an igloo. They therefore regard the implementation of the review as at least a considerable thaw. That is why, on Second Reading, I welcomed the Bill in what, for me, were rather generous terms. In the light of how the Bill has emerged on Report, I would not make the same comments. I feel that it is like Patten all over again, and that we will have to have something like a Weston House agreement to reconsider the issues and rectify the faults.

On Second Reading, I posed three questions. Can the new structures make the criminal justice system accountable to the community that it serves? Can equality measures make the system representative of the community from which it seeks accord? Can we create a new ethos and a new beginning? I am not certain that the Bill meets those tests. On accountability, the review called for a new and independent Public Prosecution Service, but it is not there. If one looks at the history, accountability was not there because the same Director of Public Prosecutions and the same department made the decisions on all the contentious cases. Although I welcome what the European Court of Human Rights forced and persuaded the Government to do—they announced their decision when the Bill was in Committee—I am sceptical about whether the DPP would have given the same response were it not for that judgment by the court.

I find it extraordinary that the equality principle and the representative principle are not to be mandated through the judicial system, the prosecution system and the Attorney-General. As I said on Report, it is incredible that the people who will enforce the equality legislation and be responsible for making judicial decisions on fair employment and human rights will not themselves be subject to such restrictions. I am attacking not the merit principle, but the concept of an old boys' network that thinks it is above the law because it administers the law.

My final point concerns the coat of arms. I respect the argument about the architectural vandalism of taking down coats of arms from historic courthouses. However, there is no argument against curtailing those symbols when the court is in session to create the neutral environment to which my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary referred when he spoke so positively of these matters in Committee. If we were able to find a non-contentious symbol suitable for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, I am sure that we could have found one equally non-contentious for the courts. I regret that that was not dealt with. I was not party to any of the discussions that went on; I can only see what emerged from them. It will not lead to the resounding success that I thought we might achieve at the start of the Bill's passage and on Second Reading.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:59 pm, 4th March 2002

How many words can I squeeze into one minute? At about five minutes to 10 o'clock I thought that as DUP Members have not tabled a single amendment this evening I should, in fairness, give them an opportunity to speak. However, with only one minute left I shall speak as quickly as I can.

The Committee was an enormously useful experience. I thank the staff of the Northern Ireland Office, the Clerks of the House and all members of the Committee for their help and assistance and for the banter that we enjoyed in the course of our serious work.

Will the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary concentrate on two matters that have not been dealt with? First, serious confusion will arise if the title of Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland is retained. That would lead to the PPSNI being confused with the PSNI. This is a serious point that has to be addressed. Secondly, the Minister gave an undertaking that—

It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [21 January].

The House divided: Ayes 311, Noes 11.

Division number 179 Orders of the Day — Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill — Clause 90 — Extent

Aye: 311 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.