Northern Ireland department with policing and justice functions

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 6th February 2007.

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1 In Schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 (c. 33), the inserted Schedule 4A to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47) (department with policing and justice functions) is amended as follows.2 After Part 3 insert—

"Part 3A

Department in the charge of Minister and deputy Minister

Introduction

11A (1) This Part of this Schedule has effect in relation to a Northern Ireland department—

(a) the functions of which consist wholly or mainly of devolved policing and justice functions; and

(b) in relation to which an Act of the Assembly provides, by virtue of section 21A(5A)—

(i) for it to be in the charge of a Northern Ireland Minister (the "relevant Minister") elected by the Assembly, and

(ii) for that Minister to be supported by a deputy Minister (the "deputy Minister") elected by the Assembly.

(2) In this paragraph "devolved policing and justice function" has the same meaning as in section 21A (see subsection (8) of that section).

Modification of section 16A

11B (1) Section 16A shall have effect subject to the following modifications.

(2) Subsection (2) shall have effect as if, at the end there were inserted "; and the deputy Minister (within the meaning of Part 3A of Schedule 4A) shall cease to hold office."

(3) Subsection (3) shall have effect as if, for paragraph (b) (and the word "and" before it) there were substituted—

"(aa) once those offices have been filled, the relevant Ministerial office (within the meaning of Part 3A of Schedule 4A) and the deputy Ministerial office (within that meaning) shall be filled by applying paragraph 11E(2)(b) and (3) to (8) of that Schedule; and

(b) once those offices have been filled, the other Ministerial offices to be held by Northern Ireland Ministers shall be filled by applying section 18(2) to (6)."

Section 18 not to apply to relevant Minister

11C (1) Subject to sub-paragraphs (2) to (5), section 18 (Northern Ireland Ministers) shall not apply in relation to—

(a) the relevant Minister; or

(b) the Ministerial office held by the relevant Minister (the "relevant Ministerial office"),

and paragraphs 11E to 11G shall apply instead.

(2) The references to Ministerial offices in subsection (1)(c) and (d) of section 18 shall be taken to include the relevant Ministerial office.

(3) In the application of section 18(5) to a political party which is entitled to two or more Ministerial offices, the reference to Ministerial offices (in the definition of M)—

(a) at any time when the number of Ministerial offices held by members of the party (apart from the relevant Ministerial office) is nil, shall be taken not to include the relevant Ministerial office; but

(b) at any time when the number of Ministerial offices held by members of the party (apart from the relevant Ministerial office) is one or more, shall be taken to include the relevant Ministerial office.

(4) In the application of section 18(5) to any other political party, that reference to Ministerial offices shall be taken to include the relevant Ministerial office.

(5) For the purposes of this paragraph, a political party is entitled to two or more Ministerial offices if the nominating officer of the party would be entitled to nominate persons to hold two or more Ministerial offices under section 18, assuming that—

(a) on each occasion on which a nominating officer of a political party is entitled to exercise the power conferred by section 18(2), he does so within the period mentioned in section 18(3)(a);

(b) the nominated person, in each case, takes up the selected Ministerial office within that period; and

(c) the reference in section 18(5) to Ministerial offices (in the definition of M) is taken to include the relevant Ministerial office.

Section 19 not to apply to deputy Minister

11D (1) The deputy Minister is to be treated for the purposes of this Act as if he were a junior Minister, but the provisions of section 19 (junior Ministers) shall not apply in relation to—

(a) him; or

(b) the office held by him (the "deputy Ministerial office"),

(so that, in particular, the deputy Ministerial office shall not count for the purposes of any formulae or other rules mentioned in section 19(2)); and the following provisions of this Part of this Schedule shall apply instead.

(2) The functions exercisable by virtue of the deputy Ministerial office shall be those determined in relation to that office by the relevant Minister and the deputy Minister acting jointly.

(3) The relevant Minister and the deputy Minister shall consult the First Minister and the deputy First Minister before making any determination under sub-paragraph (2).

Provisions relating to relevant Minister and deputy Minister

11E (1) When devolved policing and justice functions are first transferred to, or conferred on, the department mentioned in paragraph 11A, the relevant Ministerial office and the deputy Ministerial office shall be filled by applying sub-paragraphs (3) to (8) within a period specified in standing orders.

(2) The relevant Ministerial office and the deputy Ministerial office shall be filled by applying sub-paragraphs (3) to (8)—

(a) before section 18(2) to (6) is applied in relation to the other Ministerial offices; and

(b) before the procedures specified in any determination under section 19 are applied in relation to the junior Ministerial offices.

(3) Any member of the Assembly may stand as a candidate for election as—

(a) the relevant Minister; or

(b) the deputy Minister.

(4) But a member of the Assembly may not stand for election to either of those offices unless—

(a) he belongs to the largest or the second largest political designation (see paragraph 11H);

(b) he is nominated by another member of the Assembly; and

(c) if he is a member of a political party, the nominating officer of the party consents to his nomination within a period specified in standing orders.

(5) A candidate shall not be elected to either of those offices by the Assembly without the support of—

(a) a majority of the members voting in the election;

(b) a majority of the designated Nationalists voting; and

(c) a majority of the designated Unionists voting.

(6) A candidate shall not be elected to hold office as deputy Minister unless—

(a) the relevant Ministerial office is filled; and

(b) the candidate and the relevant Minister belong to different political designations.

(7) A person elected to the office of relevant Minister or deputy Minister shall not take up office until he has affirmed the terms of the pledge of office.

(8) If a person elected to either office does not take up the office within a period specified in standing orders, his election shall be deemed to be ineffective.

(9) The relevant Minister or the deputy Minister shall cease to hold office if—

(a) he resigns by notice in writing to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister;

(b) he ceases to be a member of the Assembly otherwise than by virtue of a dissolution;

(c) where consent to his nomination was required under sub-paragraph (4)(c), he is dismissed by the nominating officer who consented (or that officer's successor) and the Presiding Officer is notified of his dismissal.

(10) If the relevant Minister or the deputy Minister ceases to hold office at any time, otherwise than by virtue of section 16A(2), the office shall be filled by applying sub-paragraphs (3) to (8) within a period specified in standing orders.

(11) But if—

(a) the relevant Ministerial office is filled by virtue of sub-paragraph (10); and

(b) the person appointed as the relevant Minister belongs to the same political designation as the deputy Minister,

the deputy Minister shall cease to hold office and the deputy Ministerial office shall be filled by applying sub-paragraphs (3) to (8) within a period specified in standing orders.

(12) Standing orders may make provision with respect to the holding of elections under this paragraph.

Eligibility to become relevant Minister or deputy Minister

11F (1) The holding of office as First Minister or deputy First Minister shall not prevent a person being elected to hold—

(a) the relevant Ministerial office; or

(b) the deputy Ministerial office.

(2) Where—

(a) the Assembly has resolved under section 30(2) that a political party does not enjoy its confidence; and

(b) the party's period of exclusion under that provision has not come to an end,

no member of that party may be nominated under paragraph 11E(4)(b).

(3) Where—

(a) the Secretary of State has given a direction under section 30A(5) in respect of a political party; and

(b) the party's period of exclusion under that provision has not come to an end,

no member of that party may be nominated under paragraph 11E(4)(b).

(4) In this paragraph, a reference to a period of exclusion under any provision is, in the case of a period of exclusion under that provision which has been extended, a reference to that period as extended.

Change in number of Ministerial offices held by members of a political party

11G (1) If, as a result of the relevant Minister ("the former Minister") ceasing to hold office and the relevant Ministerial office being filled by virtue of this Part of this Schedule,—

(a) the total number of Ministerial offices held by members of a political party increases; or

(b) the total number of Ministerial offices held by members of a political party decreases,

all other Northern Ireland Ministers shall cease to hold office and those Ministerial offices shall be filled by applying section 18(2) to (6) within a period specified in standing orders.

(2) But sub-paragraph (1) shall not apply if—

(a) the former Minister ceased to hold office by virtue of being dismissed by a nominating officer under paragraph 11E(9)(c); and

(b) before the relevant Ministerial office was filled, either of the conditions in sub-paragraph (3) was satisfied in relation to each member of the Assembly who was a member of the political party of the nominating officer.

(3) The conditions are that—

(a) another member of the Assembly sought to nominate the member under paragraph 11E(4)(b) for the relevant Ministerial office but consent to his nomination was not given in accordance with paragraph 11E(4)(c); or

(b) the member was elected to the relevant Ministerial office, but the member did not take up the office within the period specified in standing orders by virtue of paragraph 11E(8).

Interpretation

11H (1) In this Part of this Schedule "nominating officer" has the same meaning as in section 18.

(2) For the purposes of this Part of this Schedule, a member of the Assembly is to be taken—

(a) to belong to the political designation "Nationalist" if he is a designated Nationalist;

(b) to belong to the political designation "Unionist" if he is a designated Unionist;

(c) otherwise, to belong to the political designation "Other";

and the size of the political designations "Nationalist", "Unionist" and "Other" are to be determined in accordance with section 16C(4) and (5)."

3 In paragraph 12(1), for "or (5)" substitute ", (5) or (5A) or an Order in Council under section 21A(7C)".'.— [Mr. Hanson.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 9:15 pm, 6th February 2007

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

I begin by thanking the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend Paul Goggins, for his sterling work in Committee. I managed to escape the Committee completely, but my hon. Friend, and the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend Bridget Prentice, who joined the Committee, worked hard. I also thank the Committee members who are present in the House today for their contributions to the Bill.

The purpose of this Bill is straightforward. It ensures we can continue to build on justice and security for the people of Northern Ireland. It has been evident tonight in the debate that all hon. Members recognise that during the past two years there have been significant changes in Northern Ireland, and it is in that context that the Bill comes before the House tonight.

The IRA's war has been declared over. The Independent Monitoring Commission has confirmed that the IRA's guns and bombs have gone, and that the organisation is winding down. The final arbiter, which is positive for democracy, is the ballot box not the bullet. Sinn Fein has bought into policing, as it has been asked to do; it has actively encouraged republicans to co-operate with the PSNI in solving crime, as it has been asked to do; and it has now encouraged young republicans to consider joining the PSNI, as it was asked to do.

The pillar of support for policing is now in place, and the ard fheis a couple of weeks ago has brought a great new dawn for Northern Ireland. The pillar of power sharing must now go alongside that. We have got to the point for local politicians where the process outside office must end and the progress in office can begin on 26 March 2007.

An election has been called for 7 March. We will have that election and an outcome to it, and I hope that an Executive will be formed on 26 March. No one should be in any doubt that it must be formed on 26 March. That is the date set down in the St Andrews agreement and that is the date in the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. It will not change and, dare I say it, anyone who is basing their political strategy on pushing devolution beyond 26 March or trying to stop devolution altogether will find that they will be left behind. If the Executive is not formed on 26 March 2007, the Assembly will dissolve and the world will move on, and everything that has been done to date—I pay tribute to those Members who have worked hard to bring us to this point—will be lost as a result of that failure.

The Northern Ireland of 2007 is not the Northern Ireland of 1977. We can now move forward to the day when the devolution process is complete. With that comes the potential real challenge of the devolution of policing and justice powers. The Government strongly believe that that should be achieved by May 2008. We have had a discussion today about the processes, and I do not need to repeat those comments now. But I believe strongly that all that has happened since the ard fheis a couple of weeks ago has reinforced the view that Sinn Fein can now deliver on policing and that we need to ensure that by May 2008 we look at the devolution of policing and justice powers.

Provided that Sinn Fein continues to follow through on its clear commitment for policing and the courts, in the terms set out in paragraph 6 of the St Andrews agreement, and enshrined in the ministerial pledge of office that I hope Ministers will take on 26 March, there is no reason why the devolution of criminal justice powers cannot be achieved by May 2008.

As hon. Members have said, particularly in Committee, a paramilitary threat still persists. It is clear that dissident republicans and some loyalists remain determined to undermine democracy, peace and stability. Organised criminals still seek to exploit businesses and generate funds for paramilitary organisations through illegal means. There is still illegal activity, and there is still a severe dissident threat. We cannot leave the people of Northern Ireland vulnerable to such activity and crime, which is the prime reason for the Bill tonight. The House should be in no doubt that the safety and security of the citizens of Northern Ireland remains the Government's first and overriding priority.

The Bill ensures that justice can be delivered through a fair trial. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland took through Committee reforms to the jury system, which will help to minimise the risk of a perverse verdict. However—this has been discussed this evening—hon. Members know that the risk remains, due to paramilitary and, indeed, community pressure on jurors, of difficulties with juries. The new system of non-jury trial will help to counter that risk to the administration of justice based on a defined statutory test, which we have discussed this evening.

The Bill will also ensure the security of the people of Northern Ireland. It provides the police and the military, which have had a historical role in supporting the security of the people of Northern Ireland and which will continue to provide protection to the people of Northern Ireland, with the necessary tools to do the job. Northern Ireland continues to be a unique operating environment for the police and the Army, and I am satisfied that the powers in the Bill are the minimum necessary for them to do their job properly.

We have touched on the human rights issues, which are at the heart of the Government's vision for Northern Ireland as it moves forward to normalisation. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission plays a key role in protecting and promoting human rights, and the Bill and the measures that we discussed on Report include important provisions to ensure that the commission can carry out its duties more effectively.

I want to thank all those involved in the proceedings of the Bill. I thank the officials, who have worked tirelessly over many months to bring the Bill to its state today, and the Under-Secretary, members of the Committee and hon. Members who spoke on Report. I thank those hon. Members who joined the debate in the House tonight and pay tribute to them for the constructive way in which they contributed to the debate.

The Committee speedily deliberated on the Bill—members of the Committee required only half the allocated time to consider it. I am encouraged by that and believe it to be a testament to the necessity of this Bill in the context of a normalised Northern Ireland. The Government will reflect on some of the points raised on Report before the Bill enters another place, which will happen shortly. I am confident that the security normalisation programme, the recognition that Northern Ireland is changing for the better and the potential for the devolution of policing and criminal justice when Sinn Fein takes its roles on the Policing Board, which I hope that it will do in future, and works with the community to support policing in Northern Ireland will make the Bill a valuable addition for the people of Northern Ireland.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 9:23 pm, 6th February 2007

I begin by thanking my team who worked in Committee. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend Mr. Bone, who, as the Minister said earlier, hardly missed a minute and made a number of valuable contributions. I also thank the Ministers and their officials for the way in which they have always been prepared to discuss outside the Chamber aspects of the Bill. That has been very useful, and I hope that it has led to a more informed debate than might otherwise have been the case.

I want to echo what the Minister has just said: I hope that the Executive can be formed. We have spent many hours discussing Northern Ireland issues upstairs as a function of statutory instruments, which are not amendable and which we must take or leave. That is not the best way to run Northern Ireland, and I hope that the process comes to an end. I represent an English seat and visit Northern Ireland as much as I can, but I cannot possibly have the same knowledge or feel for the issues as people in Northern Ireland, so I hope that progress can be made.

Although we welcome the recent statement by Sinn Fein, the Bill reminds us that not all things are as they should be in Northern Ireland, as the Minister has recognised. The fact that trials without juries are still going ahead, albeit on a decreasing level, is testament to that. As we said in Committee and again today, we are concerned about how the decision on the mode of a trial is arrived at. I would still prefer the Lord Chief Justice to make that decision instead of the DPP. I hope that the Minister might reconsider that.

In Committee, I expressed concern about the stop-and-search powers given to the police and the Army. While I recognise that they are needed, the police should be given time that is judged reasonable rather than time that they feel is necessary. That is a small point but it could be important. Given that the Province is improving to such an extent, the fact that those powers still exist is a sad reminder that everything is not quite right.

In Committee, we questioned the Government's extension of the powers of the Human Rights Commission. We do not particularly approve of that, but it will not cause us to vote against the Bill, which we support and wish well.

There is another matter that would more properly be dealt with through a new clause, but it was not possible to do so. The police in Northern Ireland would like to have some of the powers contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 with regard to setting bail conditions. PACE does not apply in Northern Ireland, which is subject to the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, as amended. Having taken advice, it became clear to us that it would be enormously difficult to design a new clause to achieve that—indeed, a whole new section of the Bill would have been required—so we were unable to table one. I do not know whether it would be possible to do so in another place—probably not, for the same reasons. However, perhaps the Government could reconsider the matter.

In conclusion, it has been a pleasure to take part in the debates on the Bill, and I wish it well.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party 9:27 pm, 6th February 2007

We have a lot more discomfort than the Minister and Mr. Robertson about many aspects of the Bill, but that has not prevented us from being able to engage in positive and effective exchanges on several important issues in Committee and during other debates.

I join the Minister and the hon. Member for Tewkesbury in acknowledging the performances of all members of the Committee. I particularly want to put on record my thanks to the Chairs for the understanding that they showed to me when I was unable to attend one of the sittings—and, indeed, when I was able to attend a subsequent sitting and had some tuning in and catching up to do. Sir Nicholas Winterton certainly accommodated me well in his chairmanship.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

Perhaps that is why we did not take up all the allocated time in Committee.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

The hon. Gentleman might remember that I acknowledged that I had been sparing in some of my interventions.

We must recognise that the Bill involves some serious issues. Ministers have presented it in the name of normalisation, but much of it normalises the abnormal. Features such as the provisions for no-jury trials, for which only annually renewable legislation previously provided, will be permanent under the Bill. That is a significant problem. Why make a provision permanent when, throughout the worst of the troubles, it was subject to annual renewal and justification by Parliament? A certificate from the DPP, which cannot be questioned or challenged, will provide for such trials. We cannot be comfortable with that.

The Bill similarly recycles powers for the police, and others—which are in some ways less challengeable—for the British Army. Again, those powers were part of the emergency provisions in Northern Ireland that were annually renewable during the worst of the troubles. The House repealed them last year—the Government explained and justified their repeal. They were fulfilling commitments that were made in the joint declaration in 2003. Yet all that has been reversed—what was repealed has been recycled. Those of us who welcomed the initial commitment to repeal and voted for it must obviously question the reintroduction of those powers.

We discussed the extended powers for the Human Rights Commission. We regret the qualifications and restrictions on them. We welcome some of the steps forward but we would have liked more. We believe that the commission's work will work for us all in Northern Ireland in future. We do not share some hon. Members' views that the commission is somehow congenitally subversive.

On Second Reading, I said that the Bill was pregnant with implications and complications for the devolution of policing and justice. In his remarks on Third Reading, the Minister considered the administration of justice and policing. I simply want hon. Members to understand that a future devolved Minister for justice and policing—after May 2008, I hope—could be in an invidious position.

Let us consider what will happen if MI5 has primacy in intelligence and policing, is beyond the accountability of the police ombudsman, and the meaning of primacy and national security continues to change, courtesy of the UK Government—it has changed significantly in the past few years. At the same time, the DPP—who will supposedly be an officer of the devolved Administration but will act, as the Secretary of State told us, on the basis of information that the intelligence services give him or her—can issue certificates for no-jury trials. The defendants and lawyers in those cases may well say, "We can't accept this. We want to challenge it." People may write and make representations to the devolved Minister and members of the relevant Assembly Committee asking for the ruling to be changed. Yet the measure is likely to remain under the control of the Secretary of State and the House, and not be devolved.

A devolved Minister could therefore say, "Yes, my Department and I might provide the budget for the Court Service and the broad administrative cover, but all the powers and practices have nothing to do with us—they're beyond our control. As devolved Minister for justice, I do not have the right to propose an amendment or review to remove the provision for no-jury trials. As Minister for justice, I am not privy to the advice and information given to the DPP, even though he is meant to be an officer of the devolved Administration." The police and the Army will continue to have special powers, and the Army will not be subject to the police ombudsman's powers. A devolved Minister will simply not be in a credible position.

If a serious problem arises with activities associated with MI5 or information that it did not pass on or sat on, the entire devolved Administration, not only the Justice Minister, could be caught in an invidious and impossible position. I hope that the Government will address that. That sort of scenario or vista is not what we envisaged when we considered the fullest possible devolution of justice and policing in the context of the fullest possible devolution of everything in the context of the Good Friday agreement.

I would be very surprised if the provisions square with the standards that Sinn Fein says that it has set. Before its members take up their positions on the Policing Board, Sinn Fein says not only that the DUP must clearly agree a date for the devolution of justice and policing, but that if devolution of justice is to be meaningful, there must be no ongoing or continuing British involvement or "securocrat" influence that is sometimes exercised in respect of policing and justice. This legislation may mean that we do not reach that position. It may provide excuses for Sinn Fein not to move on policing and it may present further real difficulties that stand in the way of implementation of devolved justice and policing. That is why we have a number of sensitivities and why we have raised a number of serious issues as well as specific points about the amendments.

Overall, we would like to leave hon. Members thinking about the key questions of political context and political impact. We ask the Government to address those key questions and hope that they will do so by reflecting positively on some of our suggestions about useful changes that could be made to the Bill. We hope that that will help to unlock the deadlock that will continue to exist on the devolution of justice and policing.

Lembit Öpik: First, I thank the Chairmen of the Standing Committee, which was the most enjoyable on which I have served in five or six years. That is an amazing thing to say about Northern Ireland, but it was a really excellent Committee. In fact, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Goggins, who managed affairs in Committee, revealed himself to be a charming and likeable man. I would go as far as to say that he has my full support, which—

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 9:37 pm, 6th February 2007

Is that in contrast to the Minister of State, who presented the Government's view of the Bill tonight?

Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman should have let me finish, as I was about to say that they are all honourable and very likeable men, whom it would be nice to meet socially. However, the problem is that, despite all the good discussion, they showed themselves professionally unwilling to listen. There were moments of hope in Committee that the Government would take on board various suggestions of Opposition Members, but they responded, unfortunately, in the most miserly way to them.

I accept the need for some legislation in this regard and I support the intentions of Ministers, but three areas remain the cause of considerable concern to the Liberal Democrats. I should add that Mark Durkan highlighted some important issues that we also discussed in Committee at some length. I associate myself with many of his comments.

Despite the comprehensive efforts of the Minister and others to reassure us that the Bill does not repeal the triple lock, I feel that it does. Both Mr. Robertson and Mr. Bone made some powerful points about that. They were suspicious of the content of new clause 5, which really seems to weaken the triple lock. The DUP is confident that it has not been compromised, but I take a different view. That is a worry because it seems to be back-pedalling on previous commitments. I also associate myself with the view of Lady Hermon that the triple lock, as reported in The Irish Times, has to some extent been repealed.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

It must be true, then.

Lembit Öpik: Even the DUP thinks that it must therefore be true.

We have just voted on our second concern, which is about commencement and looking back at data from the past. It simply cannot be right that the Human Rights Commission cannot take evidence relating to many months or years ago, because it is often the history of a complaint that is most salient to the verdict at the end of an inquiry. The Government obviously take a different view, and we are disappointed by that. All that I can say is that we hope that they will monitor the situation. If the commission feels that it needs the powers to go back—as it surely will—I hope that the Government will accept that they have made a mistake and modify the legislation accordingly.

The most serious problem that the Liberal Democrats have with the Bill is the matter on which we voted after our debate on amendment No. 15. The problem is clause 7, which does something completely wrong and sets a dangerous precedent for British legislation as a whole. The fact that there is no provision in the Bill for an appeal against a decision for a trial to be held without a jury is bad enough; what is worse is that such appeals are expressly prohibited. It cannot be right that the Director of Public Prosecutions can issue a certificate for a trial to be conducted without a jury, without the defendant having any means whatever of making representations to the DPP or of appealing that decision.

Lord Carlile's work on this issue has been well reported. The second report on the matter stated that

"it could be strongly argued that the ouster of judicial review of tribunal decisions contemplated by clause 11 has not been justified by any argument advanced by the Government. There is a real danger that this would violate the rule of law in breach of international law, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the fundamental principles of our common law."

While, as ever, being as supportive as we can of the Government's initiatives to find a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, I say with regret that the precedent that clause 7 sets for British law is so great that the Liberal Democrats cannot bring themselves to vote for the Bill. It is also a matter of regret for us that the Conservatives seem to have taken a different view now, perhaps because this is Northern Ireland legislation. I would counsel them to recognise, however, that the precedents that we set in Northern Ireland legislation go into British law, and that there is a danger that such provisions could be carried further as a result.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The problem with taking clause 7 out is that I cannot see a right of appeal anywhere else in the Bill. It provides for a limited right of appeal, and I would have liked to see a little more, but at least it is a right of appeal. If we took clause 7 out, there would be nothing.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

We have debated this issue a few times already, and I hold a different view from the hon. Gentleman. This is a matter of principle, and I hope that the Conservatives will consider voting against the Bill as a whole because of this issue.

We support the Government's initiatives and hope that we can achieve the normalisation of Northern Ireland's police service, with full participation on all sides, but it is because of the precedent that the ouster clause will set in British law that we feel that we must oppose the Bill's Third Reading.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 9:42 pm, 6th February 2007

I join other hon. Members in thanking those who chaired the Committee for the excellent way in which they did so, and for the amicable way in which business was conducted. As one of the newer Members, I would also like to thank them for the way in which they sought to guide those of us who are parliamentary apprentices and still learning the ropes and rules of the House.

It has been made clear in our discussions in Committee and in our debates today that there are many aspects of the Bill that we welcome, as well as some with which we are unhappy and which we believe to be mistakes. Nevertheless, the tenor of the Bill is such that it addresses issues of concern to people in Northern Ireland. It will at least ensure that some of the safeguards that people feared were being removed are left in place.

We have discussed the possible retention of non-jury courts. We also believe that, when there are to be jury courts, the safeguards that will be placed on those selected as jurors—such as a greater degree of anonymity—should give a greater assurance that the administration of justice will not be tampered with by those who seek to subvert it in order to carry on their criminal activities.

One issue has not been discussed today. We have debated organised crime in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, and the proposed requirements for licensing in the private security industry will be welcomed. There was great concern about those who had been involved in paramilitary activity and who had used their paramilitary groups as a front for carrying out what they described as private security initiatives, which in reality were a means of demanding protection money. Licensing those who will carry out private security will go some way to addressing the concerns expressed by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee when it considered organised crime.

We do not think that the Human Rights Commission has proved that it is capable of carrying out its existing extensive role. It has not clothed itself in any glory in its first four or five years. To give additional powers to such an untried and untested organisation, which has failed to live up to its duties so far, is wrong.

On the devolution of policing and justice, we welcome the Minister's assurance that the triple lock remains in place. We sought that arrangement not so that we could have a veto that we could use unwisely, but because the devolution of policing and justice is crucial and could have a detrimental effect on the Assembly—if the Assembly is to be up and running—if it was introduced too soon. There needs to be a degree of control so that it is not simply handed over to meet the political demands of Sinn Fein. There had to be, and there has to be, confidence that those powers can be properly exercised by the Assembly and those in it. That is why the triple lock is so important and why we welcome the assurance that it is in place. DUP Members have made it clear time and again that we do not intend to use it unwisely, in some petty manner, but it will be used if we think that the devolution of policing and justice will be detrimental to the exercise of trying to get devolution up and running.

I raised a query in Committee. I still have not received an answer. Perhaps the Minister will respond now, because it exercises all of us. Why does the power in clause 25 for the police and the Army to stop vehicles extend to all vehicles apart from aircraft that are airborne? He promised that he would do his best to enlighten us. How did he intend the police to stop an aircraft that was airborne?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office

To the best of my understanding, if we did not exclude aircraft we might allow the police to stray into air traffic control matters, which would be well beyond their remit. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman so that he gets a formal reply, but that is an indication of why aircraft are excluded from the provision.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I thank the Minister for that explanation and for clearing that up. We feared that the flying squad was going to have a totally different connotation in relation to the police in Northern Ireland or that the police were going to recruit Superman, who would fly along and knock on the cockpit window.

Although we have reservations about parts of the Bill, we will support it if it is pushed to a vote.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 314, Noes 45.

Division number 45 Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland department with policing and justice functions

Aye: 314 MPs

No: 45 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.