Committee

Part of Northern Ireland Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 11th March 2009.

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Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Crossbench 4:00 pm, 11th March 2009

I join other noble Lords in expressing my heartfelt sympathy at the death of Constable Carroll. He was a long-serving police officer, who came from the Irish Republic many years ago to serve in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He served there with pride for many years, and it is so sad, in what we believed was a new, peaceful era, that he should die at the hands of republican murderers. It is important to note that he joined the RUC at one of its most difficult times and not at a time when arrangements were made to—perhaps I use the word improperly—nursemaid certain people into the police. Instead, when there was a need to serve, he served faithfully.

I feel totally inadequate in the company of noble and learned Lords. For 26 years in Parliament, I had the benefit of the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Trimble. I am not a lawyer, hence my feeling of inadequacy when dealing with technical points that are exceedingly complex and involve a series of pieces of legislation. At the same time, I am deeply concerned that your Lordships' House is being asked to legislate for a fix. The ideas that are enshrined in the Bill, whatever may appear to be their strengths, are designed to create a very narrow and restrictive approach to justice and policing in Northern Ireland. I believe that the approach is based on a deal that has been done between two major parties to carve up, in their separate interests, what needs to be done in Northern Ireland.

I will attempt in a moment to address the amendments that I propose. In the mean time, we have only to look at five months of inactivity by the Executive in Northern Ireland to realise that the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein are not brothers in arms—or out of arms—except when it is expedient for them to show some sort of joint approach, as we have seen in the past day or two. That is not the basis on which we should be taking forward legislation that concerns the administration of justice.

My Amendments 1A, 1B and 1C illustrate alternatives to new paragraph 3A(1)(b)(i) in Schedule 1, in which we are being asked to approve a situation where a single Member of the Assembly could nominate the Minister. That is there for a reason. The reason is that if we arrange for one Member to propose who will be the Minister, we do not have the embarrassment for either the DUP or Sinn Fein of having to be seen to nominate someone outside their party. That is unsatisfactory. I do not know which would be best. It might be an idea to put that responsibility on the First and Deputy First Ministers and to test their sincerity in that respect. Alternatively, if we are going to leave it to Members of the Assembly, it should be not just one Member but perhaps eight Members of the Assembly. The third option is that nominating officers from each of the four main parties come together to decide whom they will nominate. That would not let Sinn Fein and the DUP off the hook and out of the responsibility that they should be exercising jointly for the benefit of those in Northern Ireland. I hope that that—inadequately, I know—explains my Amendments 1A, 1B and 1C.

If I may, I shall briefly allude to Amendment 2A, which deals with one of the strangest aspects of the Bill, where the Minister appointed Minister for Justice could in fact be the First or Deputy First Minister. If he were the First or Deputy First Minister, he would for ever have a veto on whether he could be removed as the Minister for Justice. That appears to me to be an injustice.

Amendment 4A deals with the strange provision for a resolution to remove the Minister, where cross-community and separate majorities give the DUP and Sinn Fein power not exercisable by anyone else in any other circumstances. Again, we are being asked to endorse the carve-up of a power. Similarly, Amendment 5A would leave out the words,

"is moved by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly".

In this instance, total power would be given to the leader of the DUP and the leader of Sinn Fein to act in a carve-up.

Those points, I admit, though understood by me, have not perhaps been adequately addressed in technical language. However, they are relevant and applicable. Hence, I ask the Lord President to say whether "made in Northern Ireland", as the Secretary of State says, actually means "contrived in Northern Ireland", but put into a form that, in the longer run, will present us with problems that could ultimately cause the Assembly to crumble. I beg to move.