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We return to the Department of Justice Bill, which is enabling legislation that will simply permit the devolution of policing and justice to happen at some time. Most parties have said that they believe in the devolution of policing and justice and that the powers of policing and justice should be returned to the Assembly.
I must set that in the context of the many other challenges that we face. I listened with interest to the closing remarks of Mr McGimpsey. The Assembly certainly faces many challenges. My constituents have told me that the economy is top of their agendas and that they are worried about how we are going to get through the hard times of the recession. They have also told me that the banks are still crippling small and medium-sized businesses and that those businesses have not the clout to withstand the excessive charges that are being forced upon them. My constituents have said that they are concerned about whether they will have jobs at the end of the recession. They worry that even businesses with high productivity will not be able to survive the recession.
My constituents have said that they are concerned about whether they will be able to afford their mortgages and keep their homes. They are also worried about the number of hospital beds, some of which have been lost through the Department’s foolish direction in policy, and about the cuts in which we will all have to play a part.
Bearing all those points in mind, we know that Sinn Féin has held up vital decisions in the Executive in the past. There was a logjam of necessary legislation simply because that party was not getting its own way. Members may say that that is childish. It is not only childish; it is damaging to the prosperity of Northern Ireland.
So, we ask ourselves what the recipe is for combating the hard economic times that we are living in. Sinn Féin’s answer is to simply increase the financial burden on the Executive and the people of Northern Ireland. I want to address Sinn Féin’s demand for the immediate devolution of policing and justice powers.
Given that there is a recession and that people are losing their jobs, homes and other things, why is there such undue haste? The answer is political dogma and the unrealistic promises that Sinn Féin made to its supporters. The House has no responsibility for any promises made by any party; each party will either stand or fall on its own promises at an election. We cannot be held to any timetable that is suggested by a particular party in the House just because it made promises and is unable to fulfil some of them.
My party has made it abundantly clear that there are two issues that must be addressed. The first issue is cash, which my friend from East Londonderry Mr Gregory Campbell alluded to in his speech. The second issue is confidence. I want to address both of those issues, because they are relevant to our discussion.
The First Minister and his deputy have been in talks with the Prime Minister and Treasury officials about money for the devolution of policing and justice powers. What has been the Government’s response? We all know that there is a black hole in the policing budget and that the demands for increased policing have not been realised in the community. In the midst of their demand that we should immediately devolve policing and justice powers, the Government recently added to the pain by demanding £17 million of further cuts.
We also know that there are increasing demands on the police. For example, there is no package in place for members of the part-time police Reserve, who gave excellent and sterling service throughout the years of Provisional IRA terror, murder and mayhem. We have to provide financial support to deal with that demand, because it will not go away.
One of today’s papers carries the headline:
“Axe falls on PSNI Drugs Squad”.
In the midst of everything, we have a situation where the drugs squad will be removed despite the community wanting more police on the streets to deal with the drugs that are out there. Let us not close our eyes to the real drug problem that exists in Northern Ireland. There is a major drug problem here, although many people want to close their eyes to it and suggest that it is not as big as it is. That problem is causing the destruction of the lives of both young and old.
On top of that, there is a demand on us from the Patten report. I listened carefully to Mr Kennedy’s opening remarks when he said:
“our fingers are not in this”.
Let me tell him what his and his party’s fingers are on. At the time of the Patten discussions, one of the leading politicians in his party at the time, Lord Maginnis, the then MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, entered into negotiations on the Patten proposals and agreed to a change in the name of the RUC and the destruction of that organisation. Let not Mr Kennedy try to be pious and say that their fingers were not involved: we know exactly where the fingers of the Ulster Unionist Party were. Its fingerprints are all over this; they were also all over the Weston Park talks when the Ulster Unionist Party was ready to devolve the powers of policing and justice without anything —
I am endeavouring to point out, Mr Deputy Speaker, that Mr Kennedy was supposed to be dealing with the same Bill, yet he spoke about this very issue. Therefore, if it is being suggested that the matter is not within the Bill’s remit, Mr Kennedy, too, must have been totally without the Bill’s remit, because I am dealing with the issues that have been raised. It must be very uncomfortable listening for him, but rest assured that the Ulster Unionists are not getting let off on this issue.
Under Patten, there was a demand for the axe to fall on the full-time Reserve. At a time when there is a demand out there for more police on the ground, what is happening? The axe is falling on a vital part of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Not only has the full-time Reserve given sterling service, but its members want to continue to give sterling service, yet the axe is going to fall on them. That is a recipe for disaster. Therefore, it is not enough to say that we have the devolution of policing and justice powers; the accompanying cash must be made available. Failure to provide that, and failure to put adequate numbers of police on the ground, means that drug lords and community Hitlers will continue to take control of estates and desire to take greater control of estates that they had previously lost.
I have constituents in my office daily demanding action on antisocial behaviour, which is thuggery under another name, and it is not being tackled. When I bring in the police, they tell me that they do not have the manpower to deal with antisocial behaviour. Therefore, although it is important to say that, yes, we need the devolution of policing and justice powers, we had also better face up to the reality that we need sufficient people on the ground in order to be able to do the job. Without the money to pay for them, we will not have the men on the ground. Therefore, let us not live in cloud cuckoo land.
That may be unpalatable for Sinn Féin —
No; the Member will, I am sure, want to make a vital contribution to this debate at some later stage.
However, Sinn Féin is saying that we must have policing and justice powers devolved now. Of course, if it closes its eyes to the reality check that is those community challenges, it is living in cloud cuckoo land.
We are told that the answer to those community challenges is police chiefs recommending the closure of police stations and cutting police numbers and overtime. That has led to a lack of confidence in the community. The First Minister said, “Let us go to Mr Brown.” I appreciate the efforts that the First Minister has been making to try to get the Treasury and Mr Brown to come up with money.
However, what money can he come up with? Remember that words are cheap. Mr Brown has the certainty of tenure of only a few months before a general election is held. He has no certainty that he will be there beyond then. He can promise the world, but can he keep his promises? When we look to the past and see how easily promises have been set aside, we would be absolutely foolish not to learn lessons.
Others will say, “But what about the Treasury? It will still be there.” However, let us look at Treasury figures. We know that its figures have been suspect in the past, because often when the Chancellor of the Exchequer stands up in the House of Commons, he is recirculating money that he had already promised. It is simply a recirculation. Promises have not been realised in the past.
What happens if this Prime Minister’s tenure is almost over? Ah, we say, we will look to the Conservatives. Of course, we will then look to their sidekicks, or their tail: the Ulster Unionist Party will guarantee us money. There will be no problem, because Mr Kennedy will say that his party has such influence with the Conservative Party. Although the Ulster Unionists may be only the tail of the cow, they will, nevertheless, be able to assure us that we will have all the money that we need.
That is living in cloud cuckoo land. Without the money, there cannot be the proper devolution of policing and justice.
I feel sorry for Basil; he is so sensitive today. I never referred to any Member as an animal, I mentioned a party. With the greatest respect, Basil, I have been in politics for a long time, so do not try to lecture me about what we are allowed to do or say.
That is rich. I am led to believe that one of Mr McCrea’s colleagues Alan McFarland used someone’s Christian name earlier. Pardon me, is that “Colonel” McFarland? How am I supposed to refer to Mr McFarland? This really shows that the Ulster Unionist Party is on the run on this issue. They are certainly scared of being exposed for exactly what they are. [Interruption.]
Where was I before that interruption?
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am very happy to address my remarks through the Chair. I was always told that it is very bad manners to turn one’s back on people and refer to them at the same time. Being a good parliamentarian, I try to look around the Chamber as much as possible.
Let me explain what I was going to say before the UUP got very sensitive and very hurt. Certainly, they seem to have been scalded in some way. I was talking about the promise of money. The Tories and the Ulster Unionists are going to assure us about getting that money. However, we already know that they cannot do that. Mr Cameron and his colleagues have said that there will be 10% cuts on everything, straight across the board, and policing was not excluded. He did mention two areas that would be left out — international development and health — but, of course, that has changed. There will now be cuts to the health budget as well.
During much of the early part of the Member’s speech, I was heartened to find myself in full agreement with Dr McCrea. At one point, I got the impression that because of his consistent concerns, Dr McCrea was going to join the Ulster Unionist Party in the Lobby and vote against the Bill. Dr McCrea has rightly highlighted the issue of finance. But which parties in the House promised the mother and father of financial settlements for the mother and father of political settlements? Was that not Dr McCrea’s party, the DUP? What happened to the new fairer deal?
I suppose that Mr Kennedy thought that that would somehow put me off my stride; that somehow I would shake when he got up; that it would be like being beat over the head with a dead sheep. We never promised that there would be money for the devolution of policing and justice. That was not promised. Therefore, let him not move the goalposts.
He is representing a party that says it is going to take the leadership. As far as the Tories are concerned, they are going to sweep the boards at Westminster. Therefore, they believe that they are the party with the wherewithal to assure the money for policing and justice; they can whistle because they have the upper lip. The truth, as Mr Kennedy well knows, is that he cannot, and I suggest, should not, take the electorate for granted.
That is an insult to the electorate. We can be sure of one thing: his leader at Westminster, Mr Cameron, has promised that there will be cuts of 10%. There is no money for the devolution of policing and justice. Interestingly, the Ulster Unionist Party is looking both ways. Before I left Westminster, Conservative Front Bench Members told me that policing and justice powers must be devolved now. They may not have told Danny because he is too far down the chain. Nevertheless, they should have told his party leader. [Interruption.]
I am happy to do so.
We will not run away from the issue of the money for the devolution of policing and justice. We must ask ourselves whether we can trust the promise of a Labour leader that the money is there. He is a Prime Minister who might be in office for only a few months. He could face the situation in which he has to rely on Ulster votes to stay in power. Indeed, the Conservatives could have to rely on Ulster votes to get elected. Remember this: our votes will be used to do what is best for Ulster, unlike the actions of the Ulster Unionists in the past. We will make our decision based on what is good for Northern Ireland and Ulster. Can we trust either party? [Interruption.]
Can we trust either of the two parties across the water to make the decision to provide the money? The answer is no. We must remember that, in the past, they broke their word to Northern Ireland. Mr Kennedy and his party’s friends forced the Anglo-Irish Agreement onto the people of Northern Ireland even though the people rejected it. Therefore, we cannot trust them to provide honest answers to the people of Northern Ireland. They messed up the reduction of police numbers, and the policy of 50:50 recruitment, and they destroyed the RUC through negotiations. That was under the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.
Words are cheap, and the people of this Province have been left to pick up the pieces and work with the mess. The money to pay for the devolution of policing and justice must be promised by Westminster or raised through taxes. However, as the Assembly does not have tax-raising powers, the money cannot be obtained by our raising taxes here. So, how can we secure that money and provide the services that are demanded by the community and that will resolve the demands of a dissatisfied public? The only way to do that, if there is no money coming from Westminster and if taxes cannot be raised, is by cutting services.
It is good that Mr Kennedy wants to give an answer. It will be interesting and entertaining.
Without money from Westminster, we will have to cut services and slash budgets. My question is, where? On top of all the pressures of recession, will those cuts be in education? Will they be in hospitals? Of course, some local hospitals are disappearing under the stewardship of Sinn Féin and Ulster Unionist Ministers. Will the cuts be in housing, roads or job creation? I listen to people in the community who tell me that they want MLAs to get on with the business that they were elected to do. Instead of looking for additional powers at this time —
With the greatest respect, Members are still shouting from a sedentary position. They know that that is the opposite of parliamentary procedure. However, I suppose that they have never been there, and never will be there.
The community is craving for us to deal with the recession. People want us to deal with the issues that are having an impact on their daily lives. The community wants more police on the streets; it wants the thugs taken off the streets and it wants our elderly people to be able to sit in their houses at ease at night without fear of an attack. However, it is not good enough for Sinn Féin to simply say that, whether or not we can pay for it, we will have the devolution of policing and justice because of political dogma, as I said earlier, or because of a promise to its electorate that it knows it cannot keep.
Sinn Féin must wake up and smell the coffee. It can shut out reality; it can demand devolution of policing and justice immediately, or else. Or else what? I will come to that in a moment.
Sinn Féin has seats in the mother of Parliaments, but it does not go there; it absents itself. However, in that Parliament, a triple lock was secured; in fact, it was a quadruple lock. We were told that the devolution of policing and justice would come about when it was decided by the politicians in Northern Ireland. There were various steps to be taken by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, and by the Assembly and Westminster, and those were to be put in place.
Does anyone think that, after fighting hard for the triple lock to get things right, to find answers and to achieve confidence, we, as elected representatives, should just roll over to appease Sinn Féin, and hand over to it the locks that were given by the mother of Parliaments? Should we let it unpick those locks as it did the vaults of the Northern Bank? As far as I am concerned, the answer is no. That is fantasy land; it is not reality. We had better face reality in this debate.
The cost of devolution is important, but there is another issue of concern to unionist people, which is the lack of community confidence. There is no lack of confidence in the brave men and women who protect us; indeed, we salute them, because they have defended the people of Northern Ireland through very difficult times, even when they faced murder, mayhem, destruction and terror. Those who were responsible for that terror ought to be condemned and the guilt must be upon their shoulders for so doing.
We salute the memory of those members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC, the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve and the other security forces who died, because they went out to protect us. We do not have a lack of confidence in those who protect us; but there is a lack of confidence in those who are in authority over them. The suggestions of continuous closures of police stations do not add in any way to the confidence of the unionist community.
There is no use in brushing things under the carpet; I call a spade a spade, and I might get into difficulties for that. Nevertheless, I would be happy to do so, because there are other issues in the community that must be dealt with before confidence can be gained.
Let us consider the issue of parades. There are people in the republican community who do not want any Prods’ feet walking on what they call their roads. They do not want any Orange feet walking on their roads. In fact, those are the Queen’s highways; they do not own those roads. Therefore, people should have the liberty to walk down Her Majesty’s highways without insult to anyone.
My friend the Member for Upper Bann, who sits beside me, has campaigned constantly about the situation on the Garvaghy Road. The Member for North Antrim could talk to us about Rasharkin and other places.
We now find that the Orange Halls that have been damaged and are constantly under attack are no longer being attacked with paintbrushes: tractors are trying to bust into them. Tractors are being driven into the sides of them. Those issues have to be dealt with. We talk about having confidence in the community: we have to have confidence that those who perpetrate these despicable actions against a law-abiding community will be tackled and brought to justice.
When the police take certain actions, members of Sinn Féin howl and cry about a return to brutal tactics. They say that there is no need for all of these stoppages, and that there are not stoppages in both places. Those actions were aimed at dissident republicans. I do not know why the police would go into loyalist areas to look for dissident republicans.
We must deal with these issues, but the tragedy is that some people are not willing to face them. In the midst of our greatest economic crisis, what does Sinn Féin do? It threatens to pull the place down. It intimidates unionists, and says do not give control of policing and justice to them. Sinn Féin says that it will pull the House down. I suggest that Sinn Féin thinks very carefully about its actions. Remember this: unionist representatives, and the people that they represent, did not give in to IRA weapons, and we will not surrender to Sinn Féin words. We will not give in to demands that threaten and intimidate us, and tell us to do something or else. Those days are over.
In case anyone is under any illusion, as far as I am concerned, the issues, including those of finance and confidence, must be settled before we have proper devolution of policing and justice. Those issues cannot be brushed under the carpet.
I appeal to Members across the House who really want the devolution of policing and justice, and I am led to believe that every party has said that it wants the devolution of policing and justice. How do we hasten that moment? Allow Northern Ireland to have a genuine peace; allow terrorists to be taken on and defeated; and give evidence, if anyone has evidence, on who is perpetrating such dastardly acts as were perpetrated against two of my young friends at Massereene Barracks in Antrim.
We have a job of work to do. We must instil confidence within the community. People tell me what “the people” want. Where do they think I live?
I have three offices in South Antrim. That might be a smart remark from the Member for Upper Bann, but I will tell her something. I have three offices in my constituency, which were not there before: at the end of the constituency in Glengormley; in the heart of the constituency, in Ballyclare; and in another part of the constituency, with my colleague the Member for South Antrim Mr Clarke, in Antrim town. We are in the community. We are with the community and we are listening to them. The community is not telling me day after day that the greatest need is for policing and justice to be devolved now. They say “get it right”.
First, Sinn Féin should deal with the issues that it has power over, instead of threatening to bring the House down or putting logjams on legislation in this place. We must deal with the people that are hurting because of the recession, and try to help them through the most difficult days that any community has had to suffer in the recession, and then build that confidence, to allow people to be respected throughout the Province, whatever part they are in, to allow the community to move together.
As far as I am concerned, the time is not right. The Bill does not do that.
The Ulster Unionists have a wonderful time building a straw man only to knock him down. That party does not tell the truth to the people of Northern Ireland. The Bill does not say that the devolution of policing and justice powers is imminent.
Is the devolution of policing and justice powers not the Ulster Unionist Party’s policy? Is it not the Conservative Party’s policy? I had better be careful not to look in the direction of the Ulster Unionist Benches. Conservative policy is to devolve policing and justice powers now. That is what that party has told us. I see that Mr Kennedy is shaking his head. Has he not been talking to Mr Paterson or to Mr Campbell? Or, indeed, is the conversation one way, with the Conservatives saying, “this is what you should do, Mr Empey; we make demands and tell you what to do”? Do the Conservatives say “jump”, and the Ulster Unionists say, “how high, Mr Cameron?” The Ulster Unionists may ask that question because they want to stay in with their coffers and keep what they gain from their relationship with the Conservatives.
I refer the question back to the Ulster Unionists. A statement made by Mr McNarry reads as follows:
“Any financial package for the transfer of policing and justice powers needs to be rigorously tested for its financial sustainability, risk management and contingency planning against potential shortfalls. It should be rolled out over a five-year period initially being funded entirely by Westminster. Only then, on the basis of the outcomes of this five-year period, should it be fully transferred.”
Is that the Ulster Unionist Party’s policy? That is not what Mr Kennedy said in the debate. The Ulster Unionist Party wants to be able to blame everyone else, and it tries to build up a straw man, only to knock him down. I do not need any straw man; I face the facts as they are. The Bill does not hasten by one hour the day of the devolution of justice and policing powers. The Bill is an enabling piece of legislation. If Mr Kennedy believes that policing and justice powers should be devolved at some time, why would he not approve the enabling power? The fact is that he is playing silly politics. That is not a sign of maturity; rather, it is a sign of total immaturity.
We know that SDLP members play little games with each other from time to time; I suppose we should allow them to have that enjoyment while it lasts.
The motion relates only to the Bill, which is a piece of enabling legislation. I assure the House that if the Bill stated the date for the devolution of policing and justice powers, I would vote against it. However, the Bill does not do that, and Mr Kennedy should not pretend that it does. The Ulster Unionist Party should pay more respect to the people out there, because they can read. They know exactly what the Bill says. They do not accept what is read into the Bill by someone who has a political agenda of his own, failed as it is.
I say to all Members that they should face reality. They should allow Northern Ireland to have confidence and stability, and when the day comes that the devolution of policing and justice powers is appropriate, enabling legislation will be in place to facilitate it. That day will come, it will be tested, and each party will have to declare its hand.
I know exactly where I stand, but I doubt whether Mr Kennedy knows where Mr McNarry or some of his other colleagues stand on the issue.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. After that 34-minute speech, we can only be glad that the previous Member to speak did not sing.
As several Members said, the Bill is a piece of enabling legislation. I am surprised that the SDLP has not clarified whether it will vote against the motion. The Ulster Unionist Party said that it will vote against it, even though it is in favour of the devolution of policing and justice powers. That is disappointing, because voting against the motion will be not done for credible reasons; however, I will go into that later.
I will work my way through Members’ contributions, including that of William McCrea. It is no coincidence, a LeasCheann Comhairle, that three of the 12 apostles are sitting side by side. Two of those Members have made the most negative contributions to the debate on policing and justice thus far. Indeed, I think that those Members’ speeches were directed to their own party rather than to anyone on this side of the Chamber. However, those matters will have to be resolved in DUP meetings and discussions.
When I sat here during the Hain Assembly, the interim Assembly and all the other Assemblies, I heard similar words from the 12 apostles. I heard all sorts of demands being placed on society, on Government and on my party. They always spoke about what they would not do rather than what they would do. “Never, never, never” was the mantra that was always used across the Chamber. However, in fairness to them, they eventually did the right thing for broader society. They agreed to share power with their nationalist and republican neighbours. I am not criticising the DUP for that, because that was the right decision. Having been so negative during that period, that party eventually made the right decision.
I hope that the right decision is also made about the devolution of policing and justice powers. Although it is being debated among politicians here, the Bill is about improving the community’s daily lot. It is about ensuring that we deliver for the community. I have heard a lot from some Members about the need for community confidence and community support. We must not deny the community its fundamental right to policing and justice. We must not deny ourselves, as politicians, authority over policing and justice, and I do not mean interference in the day-to-day operation of the courts or policing. If we deny those things, we will truly have let the community down.
William McCrea made much of financial contributions. He is right in some ways, because we need a good financial settlement. However, the argument was countered by his interactions with the Ulster Unionist Party about David Cameron’s promise to make 10% cuts across the board. Is William McCrea arguing that David Cameron will not touch policing and justice in the North of Ireland if he gets into power, with the matter having been left in the hands of the British Government? Is he telling us that David Cameron will not take 10% off the NIO budget? Of course he will; David Cameron will slash the NIO budget.
In these hard financial times, we need to ensure that it is local politicians who manage the finances. As local politicians, we must ensure that those cuts, which are designed simply to balance the books, are not made. Politics is very difficult, and anyone who entered politics, or this place, for an easy ride is foolish. Politics is about having the courage to make hard decisions, and the decision to share power was one such decision.
The Ulster Unionist Party’s stance on the Bill is not sincere. That party is using the Bill as a political weapon as it seeks electoral revenge on the Democratic Unionist Party. Every party has the political right to try to increase its mandate, but I ask the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party to reflect on its strategy. Its strategy appears to be to object to the Department of Justice Bill because it is being proposed by the DUP and Sinn Féin. The Ulster Unionist Party has hitched its wagon to the Traditional Unionist Voice.
The Traditional Unionist Voice agenda is quite simple: to tear down the institutions and the power-sharing arrangements and return us to a pre-1969 arrangement. Perhaps some members of the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP believe that that would be some sort of Utopia. It is complete and utter political madness, and it is not going to happen. No Government involved in the process, either the British Government, the Irish Government, or, indeed, the Government of the United States, is going to agree to such a strategy for this part of Ireland. Why waste political time and energy hankering after something that is not going to happen?
The Ulster Unionist Party claims to support power sharing. I heard Mr McFarland and some other representatives of his party say that they want the Executive to work and for services to be delivered on the ground.
Why is that party choosing a strategy that, in effect, will bring an end to this institution? That is what it is about. That is what it has hitched its wagon to.
The issue is whether the Executive or the Assembly will work in the open, transparent and consensual way that was envisaged. If the mess in education cannot be sorted out, if the Executive cannot meet and work constructively, if all Ministers are not involved in the decision-making process, a consensus cannot be achieved, there will not be community confidence and this place will be doomed to failure because it will be burdened with issues that it cannot cope with.
With respect, under the Ulster Unionist Party’s strategy, there will not be an Executive, because Jim Allister is intent on tearing down these institutions, the power-sharing arrangements and the peace process. The Ulster Unionist Party has hitched its wagon to him, which is an electoral strategy; not a political strategy.
No, I will not give way. Dr McCrea again raised the issue of community confidence, as did one of the other apostles. I want someone from the DUP Benches to tell me how they are building confidence in the unionist community. No Member from the Benches opposite has touched on that subject. Is there a responsibility on me, as an Irish republican, to assist in that process? Yes, there is. Is there a responsibility on me, as a Sinn Féin representative, to do that? Yes, there is. However, we cannot do it on unionism’s behalf. I want to know what unionism is doing to build community confidence.
As my colleague from South Antrim Dr McCrea said, he and I are members of the Loyal Orders. We make no apology for that. Mr O’Dowd, by his own admission, said that he can help in the process of building confidence. He can help with the parades issue, which would instil confidence in the unionist/Protestant community. It is the Member’s party that holds the key to achieving that. We are proud to be members of the Loyal Orders. We want to walk the Queen’s highway, which the Member and his party try to prevent us from doing. Until his party help in that process, there will be no confidence in the unionist community.
Mr Clarke must understand that the Loyal Orders are one section of the unionist community; they are not “the” unionist community. They are an important section, but they do not speak on behalf of the unionist community.
I assume that Mr Clarke is a member of the Orange Order. If we are to build confidence for the transfer of policing and justice powers, perhaps the best thing that could happen would be for the Orange Order to start to engage with nationalist communities. It could also start to engage with Sinn Féin, which represents, through the ballot box, the majority of the nationalist and republican community. Therefore, Mr Clarke could use his influence on the Orange Order. If that organisation’s representatives were to knock on Sinn Féin’s door for talks, we will talk to them.
If the Member casts his mind back, he will remember a recent parade in Rasharkin. Dialogue about that parade was suggested. However, a member of Mr O’Dowd’s party openly protested on the street on the evening of the parade in an attempt to prevent the Orangemen walking down the street.
Order. During their contributions, Members should turn their attention to the Bill. They can have other discussions on another day. Also, Members should speak through the Chair.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. It is important that the Bill passes its Second Stage today. I am sure that the Member opposite will agree that the legitimate right to protest is enshrined in any democracy, which will continue to be the case when policing and justice powers are transferred. I am sure that the Member has been involved in the odd protest. I want to ensure that we have the confidence of the unionist community for the transfer of those powers.
The closure of police stations has also been mentioned as being damaging to the unionist community’s confidence. The closure of police stations is the operational responsibility of the area commander; it will not be the responsibility of the next justice Minister, whoever that may be, nor will it be the responsibility of any justice Committee. It will and should remain the operational responsibility of the senior police officers on the ground, who know the requirements of the communities that they serve. Those officers should consult widely with the local DPPs and should engage with community representatives, but the responsibility lies with them.
I thank the Member for giving way. I am sure that the Member is well aware of the proposed closure of Edward Street police station in Portadown.
Does the Member not share my surprise that only 12 members of the public attended three meetings about the closure and that just one letter was received expressing opposition to it? None of those people was a political representative.
Some parties are using the closure of police stations as a political platform rather than dealing with the needs of the communities that they serve.
I return now to the enabling powers for the transfer of policing and justice. Mr McCrea said that there must be confidence in the PSNI and how it operates. I agree with him 100%. It is also worth noting that the PSNI’s senior command structure supports the transfer of policing and justice. Confidence, therefore, exists in that organisation, and the people whom we task with delivering policing on the ground are confident.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Dallat] in the Chair)
However, some people assume that the Police Service cannot be criticised. Willie McCrea and others criticised Alex Maskey for his stance today. During the summer, the PSNI arrested four of approximately 100 loyalists who gathered in a small nationalist enclave in Banbridge. Senior members of the DUP in the area were with the loyalists at the time, but none of them was arrested. However, they protested about those arrests outside the police station. Is that wrong? Were they entitled to do that? Are they, as public representatives, entitled to share the concerns of those people? I believe that they are. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
I will move on to other contributions to today’s debate.
Have you protested outside Lurgan police station?
I will abbreviate what Mr Moutray said: many loyalists were upset because the people of Banbridge exercised their democratic right to elect a Sinn Féin representative. Surely that is wrong.
Confidence is a cross-community factor. Republicans and nationalists must have confidence in the institutions, and we also face challenges. The administration of policing and justice in this part of Ireland does not have a fine history; it has, in fact, a dark history. As republicans, we want to assure, and be assured, that we get policing and justice right and that a new justice Department will not be open to the abuses of the past. As part of that, we must have confidence in the Benches opposite. We must ensure that the DUP and the Ulster Unionists operate in a fair and open-minded manner. We could come up with excuses to argue against the transfer of policing and justice.
Mr Campbell devoted his contribution to giving Sinn Féin a lecture on how it must step up to the mark. Mr Campbell, I observed you over the summer in Coleraine. You certainly have not stepped up to the mark. [Interruption.]
Tá brón orm, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Were I to seek confidence in the unionist community from leadership such as his, I would not have any confidence at all. I am thankful, however, that Mr Campbell’s stance in Coleraine is not representative of the majority of the unionist community.
The Member said that the nationalist community in Banbridge elected a single Sinn Féin councillor. Does he accept that the scenario in Coleraine is exactly the same? I happen to have been elected by many people there, and when I speak for them, I speak for them. No intimidation from anyone inside or outside the Chamber, from the Back Benches or the Front Benches, will change my attitude.
I agree with the Member that he was elected by the people of Coleraine. I am glad that he used the word “intimidation”, since he has failed miserably to provide leadership during the ongoing intimidation and murder. He has shown moral and political cowardice throughout.
I have listened with intent to contributions from SDLP Members. I think that they have spoken for about one hour during the debate. During that entire time, I have not heard the needs of the community being mentioned once. I have not heard the word “community” mentioned once. All that I have heard about is the needs of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, what it wants and what it requires, not what is needed by the community in relation to policing and justice, or what is needed for an ongoing peace process and the establishment of a new beginning on this island. All that I have heard from SDLP Members is what they need and how badly they feel that they have been treated in recent times.
SDLP Members may believe that it is disingenuous of Sinn Féin to support a nomination from the SDLP Benches. We would do so, but we cannot persuade Mr Robinson, the leader of the DUP — or, as has already been stated, the Ulster Unionists — to support it. If the SDLP requires cross-community support, which is, as Martina Anderson stated, enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, it is up to it alone to see Mr Robinson and Reg Empey and persuade the two parties opposite to support it. For many years, the SDLP has told us that it receives support from all sections of the community. It is now time to use that influence and get support from the Benches opposite. Sinn Féin is on record as saying that, if the SDLP nominates, it will support that nomination.
Much has been made about compromises in all negotiations. We are in a divided society. We are building a peace process, and we are moving on to a new beginning in this part of Ireland. All parties need to compromise their positions. For that, Sinn Féin does not apologise. We will not compromise on any of the basic principles of the Good Friday Agreement or what we are about. However, if the SDLP tells us —
I thank the Member for giving way. He spoke about compromise, and I remind him that the SDLP opposes the Bill because it will stand the principles of equality and inclusion, as laid out in the Good Friday Agreement, on their head. It looks as if Sinn Féin will nod in assent to that. Furthermore, the exclusion of the d’Hondt principle, regardless of what party it applies to, although it applies to the SDLP in this case, is a fundamental and flagrant injustice.
The injustice that I have heard about so far is the one that the SDLP claims is being done to it, not to the community or to the people who need policing and justice or to the communities who need a new beginning. In a one-hour contribution to the debate thus far, two SDLP Members have not once mentioned the community.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. If Mr O’Dowd has the chance to go upstairs and check a copy of the Hansard report, he will find that we spoke about the needs of the community. In fact, the SDLP led on policing reforms. The johnny-come-latelys of Sinn Féin did not support policing for eight years.
I am more than happy to check the Hansard report. The SDLP’s position of giving in to the Mandelson Bill held back policing reform. As has already been said by the deputy First Minister, the SDLP never once requested the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Assembly.
The SDLP and the UUP try to present the alternative Government to the media and how things would be different if they were in charge. From today’s debate, however, it is clear that the Ulster Unionist Party fundamentally disagrees with the SDLP about how policing and justice powers should be transferred, how the Minister should be elected and what powers there should be. There would be no agreement between those two parties if they were in charge.
No; I have given way enough. I am about to come to an end. Today is a stepping stone towards the transfer of policing and justice powers. Sinn Féin does not demand it because it wants it.
It is not a case of Sinn Féin putting it up to any party, or else: that terminology has not been used by any of its Members here, in private, or in briefings to anyone else. We are seeking the transfer of policing and justice because it is required, needed on the ground and because communities are crying out for it. We are seeking policing and justice because it is part of the St Andrews Agreement, which was signed up to by the party sitting opposite and by the Irish and British Governments, which also have responsibilities in relation to this issue. Sinn Féin is seeking the transfer of policing and justice because the party is about creating a new beginning for the lives of everyone on the island of Ireland.
I commence by identifying some areas of crucial importance; namely, public confidence, budgetary requirements and infrastructure.
I do not believe that public confidence and the budget are available in significant quantities at the moment to ensure an early date for devolution of policing and justice. However, we must be prepared for the day when it eventually arrives, and the debate is concentrating on the mechanism for that event.
The motion ensures that the framework will exist and the Department will have a name when devolution occurs. People must understand clearly that the Bill is not the start of policing and justice being devolved; it puts in place the infrastructure that will be required when that happens.
For devolution to occur, the qualifying criteria of public confidence and sufficient funding to run the justice Department must be met. I do not believe that anyone could say that public confidence is anywhere near high enough throughout the Northern Ireland population for the process to begin. There are obvious and major concerns that the funding required for Northern Ireland to have the policing and justice systems that it deserves will fall far short of what is really needed.
I appreciate and thank the First Minister for his ongoing efforts to have the level of funding raised to a realistic level. Like me, he believes that Northern Ireland deserves only the best and must have the budget to ensure its delivery. As the motion is purely technical and designed to put in place the structures needed to form a justice Department, I support it.
There is a temptation in this debate to have a little bit of fun, settle scores, and play a bit of political knockabout. Yet, there are serious issues for us to debate and discuss. In the past, I have made it clear to Members on the Front Bench that if they want to engage properly with us, we will engage. We understand the difficulties facing the Executive, the Assembly, and other matters: Ulster Unionists are prepared to discuss them.
However, we are not prepared to be presented with a fait accompli that we are asked to rubber-stamp. If nothing else has been learnt in the past, Members should have learnt that nothing progresses in Northern Ireland without consensus. Consensus is not demanded; it is built by trust. Showing that something is being done right, and well, builds confidence that something more can be done.
Our opposition to the Bill is principled. We have been vilified in the debate by Members in the Alliance Party; we have been patronised by Members in the DUP; and we have been given a lecture in the obvious from Sinn Féin. However, all of that is for nothing. You should not talk to us; you should listen to us, because we have got things to say that need to be heard. We understand that the DUP is the largest party and that Sinn Féin is the second-largest party, but both parties can move nowhere if they do not bring all of Northern Ireland society with them.
At the outset, I should have declared an interest as a member of the Policing Board; I do so now. I have looked at the intimate details of the financial challenges facing the PSNI. I also talk to senior and junior officers and I understand their frustrations and the changes that they would like to see made, and I appreciate the areas of best practice in which the PSNI is falling behind other forces. The PSNI would like to address all those issues and engage positively with the Northern Ireland people in order to make things better for everyone, but it cannot do that in an environment in which nothing else works.
When addressing the motion, I must point out our performance with respect to other issues, notably, from my perspective, education, although I know that other Members mentioned parades and such like. If we cannot address those issues and find proper closure and a satisfactory way forward for all of the people of Northern Ireland, what makes us think that we can do it with policing and justice? That will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
When it comes to putting out some of the facts, there was much discussion, and some Members were reluctant —
With respect to the Member’s point about the Executive’s failures on education and on a range of other matters, maybe the Member will clarify whether he would prefer those matters to be un-devolved and sent back to be dealt with at Westminster. Would his party prefer direct rule to devolution, because that is the natural outworking of what he has said? If he is saying that underperformance in those areas makes devolution completely flawed, surely he must argue for sending the responsibility for those matters back to Westminster.
I must say, and I do so with some reluctance, that many parents in Northern Ireland today wish that education was not devolved. They worry about the fate of their children. They want clarity and someone to make decisions, whatever those decisions might be. Instead, we have a complete and utter mess.
The Member alluded to the frustrations that we know many parents have about education. But he said that many parents would prefer the education process to be un-devolved. Does he accept that if that were the case, we would have no academic selection of any kind to complain about?
Returning to the debate, certain statements and calls for clarification were made about the general principle, and, because some Members believe that there is a distinct possibility that the Conservative Party will form the next Government, they have alluded to what that party thinks, does and says. For the record, and because Members do not understand, let me quote what Owen Paterson said during the passage of the Northern Ireland Act 2009:
“We have therefore always supported the eventual devolution of criminal justice and policing, when the conditions were right and once the proposed model for devolution had the support of all the communities.”
That is the standard, and I am also prepared to say — [Interruption.]
Would the Member care to go on to say what Owen Paterson proceeded to say and do? The Conservative Party supported the legislation’s passage through Westminster, unlike the Ulster Unionist Party. Can the Member clarify for which part of the party the UUP is now speaking?
I am grateful to the Member for giving way. The phrase “undue haste” struck a chord, because it was Dr McCrea who said that this legislation is being driven forward with undue haste. Was that not a fine statement?
I am grateful to my colleague for bringing that point to my attention. I agreed with many of the comments that the Reverend Dr William McCrea made during his speech — certainly in the first hour of it that I heard. In fact, Mr Kennedy said that we thought that he was coming over to support us, because all the points that he made are precisely the reason that we have an issue with the legislation. Frankly, I cannot understand why there is a dichotomy in the DUP’s position on the devolution of policing and justice powers. Why does the DUP say one thing in public but other things in private? No community confidence yet exists to move the legislation forward. Our concern represents a principled opposition to undue haste in progressing the legislation. I think that I heard today —
I will tell the Member why, and I am putting out a challenge here. The window of opportunity to devolve policing and justice powers, if we are to do that, is open before Christmas. It is probably open in the last week in October and the first couple of weeks in November. After Christmas, we are into Westminster elections, when there will be purdah —
I will finish my point and then let people in. We will go into purdah, during which time we will get no decisions from Westminster. There will possibly be a change of Government, but certainly there will be a Government that will have many financial matters to deal with in the United Kingdom. They will not be interested in this place. We will then have Assembly elections. It will be three years, at the very least, before powers can be devolved.
I do not know whether it is the case, but I have heard it said that it is politically untenable for Sinn Féin to wait that long, because it has made promises, which it is quite OK for it to do. However, we have been told that, if we do not pass the legislation now, the danger is that the Assembly will collapse. The danger is that we are trying to satisfy one set of expediencies at the expense of others. We do not want to put that particular test to the people of Northern Ireland. That is why we are saying that we should be objecting to the Bill now. I am talking directly to each and every Member of the Assembly when I say not to put my party in a box that says that we are rejecting the legislation out of hand. Do not say that this is party political posturing or that we are trying to make political gain at the expense of unionist colleagues. That is not the case. What we are saying directly to Members here and now is that there is a problem.
If Members want to come to talk to us, they can do that. Despite all the platitudes that have come in our direction, nobody has come to talk to us. Members have said in the Chamber that we have had a difference of opinion with the SDLP.
I am happy to be corrected — the SDLP can speak for itself, and I will take an intervention — but I understand that the SDLP’s preference is to rerun d’Hondt in its entirety and, if that is not possible, the next party should take the office. That party happens to be the SDLP. We agree with that position. The leader of our party is on record as saying that we will support an SDLP candidate, having said what our position is first.
Perhaps the Member will clarify what his party leader was raging about in the newspapers when somebody uncovered the miraculous information that David Ford is not a unionist. He said that an Alliance Party Member holding the post of justice Minister would have serious implications because it would be unthinkable that a non-unionist should occupy that office. He was, in effect, hanging a “no nationalist need apply” sign over the door.
I am delighted that the Member has given way. Perhaps he should have listened to Naomi Long’s question. The simple fact is that the leader of the Member’s wing of UCUNF said in the press that the justice Minister must be a unionist; now he is saying that a member of the SDLP is acceptable. Which does he mean? He cannot mean both.
In the Great Hall, I have had to deal with some inappropriate language from Alliance Party colleagues. I find it offensive that the Alliance Party — a party that was founded on the principles of inclusivity — tried to take political advantage of a situation to realise its real ambition of making itself relevant and making one of its Members the Minister of justice. My comments are being reported by Hansard. We have serious concerns that if the proper procedures are not followed in the selection of a Minister of justice, that Minister will not be able to command the support of the entire House and of society as a whole.
Order. I regret that I have to ask Members again to ensure that their remarks are made through the Chair. It is my responsibility to ensure that I hear what is being said, but I cannot hear because of remarks that are being made inappropriately. Let that be the final request for respect for the Chair.
May I ask the Member a question very respectfully so that you will hear, Mr Deputy Speaker? Did the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland say that the justice Minister would have to be a unionist? How does that equate with Mr Basil McCrea’s statement that an SDLP member would do? I did not know that the SDLP had joined the unionist camp.
That question would be best put to the man himself, who is not here. [Interruption.] For those of you who care to listen rather than indulge in pointless rhetoric, our position is that if you want to resolve the issue, you will have to start talking to the rest of the people here and not only the DUP/Sinn Féin axis.
The position of the Ulster Unionist Party, which was stated earlier by Mr McFarland and which will be stated again by Danny Kennedy, is to agree with the SDLP and to rerun d’Hondt. If that is not possible —
We are clearly confused here — [Laughter.]
It was not the policy of the SDLP to rerun d’Hondt; it was the Ulster Unionist Party’s. During the meetings of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, the policy of the SDLP was to run on the end of d’Hondt, but I am happy that it has now joined with us in suggesting rerunning d’Hondt.
The Ulster Unionist Party has made it clear from the start that if a new Department is to be created, d’Hondt must be rerun. Under that, a unionist — in this case the DUP — would have first choice of Departments and could take the Department of justice. That is the context of that comment, and to suggest that it meant something else is incorrect.
It may or may not be rubbish. [Laughter.] In the sense — [Interruption.]
I take many interventions in the House, and I am prepared to answer straight questions with straight answers. There are very few Members from whom I have refused to take an intervention, and what I now see in the Chamber is very childish behaviour.
I have precious few opportunities to offer Members a solution or to suggest what they should do. However, there are several things that the Executive must do: they must resolve the education debacle; they must prove that the Executive can meet in a totally inclusive way; they must deal with some of the more contentious issues in ‘A Shared Future’ — although I am not sure what document we are dealing with now — and they must prove that they have the maturity to deal with real issues. If they can do all those things, they will demonstrate to the people of Northern Ireland that they are making decisions, that they can make it work, and that they can be trusted. What I have seen recently does not fill me with confidence, and when people —
We hear a great deal from the Ulster Unionist Party about the responsibility of others. What is the responsibility of the Ulster Unionist Party on the devolution of policing and justice? Furthermore, what is unionism, and particularly Mr McCrea’s class of unionism, doing to promote confidence in the unionist community on policing and justice?
The responsibility of the Ulster Unionist Party is to place the devolution of policing and justice in a stable political environment. Our caution to the Assembly is that if those powers are devolved with undue haste and without the appropriate consensus, such stress will be placed on the Assembly that it might collapse and we might never get it back again. That is an important issue, although some Members have said that that does not matter, and the House had a lecture earlier from Sinn Féin about what such a collapse would mean.
In 1998, the Ulster Unionist Party did the heavy lifting. It took the risks to put the Assembly together through conversation with our colleagues in the SDLP while some johnny-come-latelys from Sinn Féin tagged along at the end, and there was neither sight nor sound of the DUP.
Because we believe in devolution, we addressed the important issues: ‘A Shared Future’, the people of Northern Ireland, and the way forward, and we have taken heavy losses in doing the right thing. When Members use platitudes and tell us that we must do the right thing, I must tell them that we are doing the right thing.
We are saying that this is not the right time and that conditions are not right. You have not built the consensus; you have not got community confidence, and you have not shown us that you can do anything worthwhile. In fact, I found it particularly rich when the deputy First Minister stood up, intervened, and said that we brought the Assembly down, when he held it to ransom for 150 days. That sort of hypocrisy makes everybody else in the country look at this place and wonder what we are doing up on the hill.
I am grateful to my honourable friend. Would he be surprised to learn of the Alliance Party’s stand just over a year ago when its leader, David Ford, said that the Alliance Party would not take the policing and justice Ministry? He went on to make the same argument when he said:
“The Alliance Party will not be taking the Policing and Justice Ministry. This Executive is failing in its duties, so Northern Ireland needs a strong and coherent opposition. We are providing that opposition and we will continue to do so. The Executive is in crisis over planning, the environment, the 11-plus, Irish language, and the multi-sports stadium issue”, to name but a few. [Interruption.]
Order. I am having difficulty hearing Members, and there is an important issue that I need to clear up. Did I hear Mr McCrea say that he would withdraw the remark “hypocrite”? That is necessary for the Hansard report. Mr McCrea may continue.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The intervention from my colleague Mr McCallister is helpful. It shows that there are people in the Chamber who have got ambitions that do not solely rest beyond their own self interest. If the Assembly wishes to come to terms with the future and not look to the past or rehearse the old arguments, or not be a hostage to those things that were wrong, but look forward, confident in its ability to deal with the challenges that face our society, that can be done in discussion here. Those are issues.
With regard to registering our disapproval and our concern for the timescale, which I accept is not present in enabling legislation, there are other issues that lead us to believe that those decisions will be taken sooner rather than later. We wish to make it clear that any undue haste or unseemly rush to make an appointment will end in severe disappointment, and that is the point that we are trying to make. We will use whatever political platform we have to address those issues. Do not misinterpret it: do not think that we are against the devolution of policing and justice in principle. We want to have control over those issues, and we want to tackle all the problems facing society in Northern Ireland. We want to have control, but we can do so only when we have the correct conditions.
From my experience on the Policing Board, I know about the financial pressures on the PSNI, and other elements of the criminal justice system are severe and are likely to get worse. We must deal with those issues, and we cannot countenance the early devolution of policing and justice until those issues are sorted out.
I want to conclude on those matters, and I hope that I have not baulked at anyone who wanted to have a go. I hope that everybody who wanted to have a go has had a go. I see the First Minister on his feet. I was a bit worried that I had neglected him.
I am grateful to the Member for giving way; he has been generous in giving way when Members have asked. He indicates that the force of the Ulster Unionist Party’s position is that it is a principled position; that party supports the devolution of policing and justice, but has concerns about the timing. That is a perfectly sensible position to adopt, but the Bill does not say anything about the timing of the devolution of policing and justice. It is about the principle that, at a point in time, when the Assembly decides it appropriate, it will draw down the powers. It is an enabling piece of legislation dealing with the principle alone. If his party agrees with that principle, why would it not support the Bill? If it does not agree with the timing at the stage when it is brought forward, it will have the opportunity then to vote against the transfer on account of the timing.
I thank the First Minister. I was coming to a conclusion, so I will answer that point, and it will then be for someone else to carry on the debate.
The point that we are making is that, when a Bill comes before the Assembly for its Second Stage, that is one of the opportunities for us to outline our very real concerns. The most important thing that I can say is that we need to have a proper discussion among all parties about those issues, with a view to moving forward.
Some people may disagree with the tactic that we have chosen, and which I believe other parties have chosen, but we want to emphasise and reinforce our absolute concern about what appears to be a runaway train. We do not want the devolution of policing and justice to happen unless it is going to succeed, but we do want it to happen, and we are prepared to engage. We are not playing party politics. We are prepared to take the brickbats from others in the Chamber, because that seems to amuse them. We are trying to send a serious message to everyone: if they want to move forward on contentious issues, all parties in the Executive — in fact, I would go so far as to say all parties — need to be involved in the discussions, and their concerns must be taken countenance of.
The Bill has three clauses, and constitutes enabling legislation. Clause 1 and clause 3 present no problems for the SDLP. We fundamentally oppose clause 2, because it is a fundamental departure from the provisions and promise of the Good Friday Agreement. We stand by that agreement.
The principle of the devolution of justice and policing is one that the SDLP cherishes and champions. We have pressed, urged and called for the devolution of justice and policing for many years. While Sinn Féin was opposing the devolution of justice and policing that was taking place in 2001 and 2002 — through the establishment of the Policing Board and the transfer of powers from the Secretary of State and NIO to the Policing Board on the one hand and the Chief Constable on the other — the SDLP was making the devolution of justice and policing happen. We are not going to take lectures or questions from Sinn Féin suggesting that we have opposed the progress of the devolution of justice and policing or the implementation of the Patten report. We drove the implementation of the Patten report when Sinn Féin was still rejecting it.
When I was deputy First Minister, I sought agreement with the then First Minister on how to frame progress in relation to the wider debate on the devolution of justice and policing powers to the Assembly. I also raised that issue in meetings with members of other parties, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, when I discussed the possibility of taking some new initiatives in the Executive, including, perhaps, the appointment of additional junior Ministers from some of the other parties, because there was further work to be done to build on devolution. Unfortunately, those proposed initiatives came to nothing because of the sort of disagreements that were ongoing at that time. We know what those were, and we know what brought about suspension in October 2002.
I was on public record as saying that we needed to start framing our understanding of how we would move forward on the devolution of justice and policing. Even after suspension in October 2002, when all-party talks were convened by the two Governments, again we were saying that the whole question of making progress on the devolution of justice and policing had to be included in those negotiations.
That was included in various submissions that we have made in other talks since then, including those at Leeds Castle and elsewhere. Therefore, I do not take any nonsense from Sinn Féin that we have not been pushing for the devolution of justice and policing.
We believe in the devolution of justice and policing, not only because we are democrats who believe in maximising the powers that are exercised by democratically elected people on this island but because we believe that that is clearly provided for in the vision that is set out in the Good Friday Agreement and in Patten, which stems from the agreement. We believe that the Assembly will only be deserving of the title of a legislative Assembly when it has the power to legislate on criminal law.
We are also very clear that there could be key benefits across a number of services to the community if justice and policing were devolved, because there could be better meshing of programmes, better gearing of policies and better organisation and sharing of budgets across services if they were all to come under the devolved Budget. Only a couple of weeks ago, the SDLP ran a conference in Belfast on youth justice, and we used that as an example of why we are crying out for the devolution of justice and policing.
A number of services that are already under devolved control are also relevant to justice and policing, but we do not always get proper meshing and interface between services, resulting in budget breakdowns and budget black holes. Contrary to what Mr O’Dowd says, we are very strong and positive, for good community reasons, in our support for improving our services and improving performance and efficiency as we deliver them across the sectors. We believe in the devolution of justice and policing.
We have also consistently said that the parties here should unite to deliver the devolution of justice and policing, not only by completing the Good Friday Agreement but by facing down the sinister threat from so-called republican so-called dissidents. We have said consistently that those people are still using the old Provo-speak of “Crown forces”, “British police force”, “collaboration” and “collusion”, which is what we heard from the Provos and Sinn Féin during the 1980s and 1990s. They are using that language not only to intimidate members of the Police Service and to extend that intimidation and threat to their families but to try to create a wider sense of intimidation and fear across the community.
The best answer that we, as democrats, can give to the dissidents is to unite. We showed a united response after the murders in Antrim and Craigavon earlier this year, but we must show not only a united temporary, emotional response but united deep-running and real political unity. We can best do that by joining to deliver the devolution of justice and policing, and that is what we want to do. We know the sinister agenda of the dissidents, and we know that they are trying to use the present sense of instability and uncertainty.
I hope that some Members will be more careful with some of the language that they use in the debate. Saying that there have been all sorts of threats in the exchanges that are going on privately is dangerous talk. I hope that that is not the tone of any exchanges that are going on between Sinn Féin and the DUP and between the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. I hope that it is not the tone of any briefings that the DUP is giving to its people, because if people were to try to create the picture that we will be on the verge of collapse if someone does not get their way on this issue, it would be grist to the mill of the dissidents. They want to create and feed off the prospect of instability, so they will continue to exploit any differences and difficulties that there are around the issue. Let us resolve those difficulties sooner rather than later.
The Member suggests that support for the Good Friday Agreement is a selfish party interest. It is absolutely fundamental to us, and we have stood by it.
We are aware that Sinn Féin has ditched all sorts of elements of the agreement. We all know that my Oxford speech was a defence of the agreement and an exposure of how Sinn Féin has sold it out on several levels on a number of occasions.
What is the sell-out in the Bill? Clause 2 is the sell-out. It provides that the Minister of justice will not be appointed by d’Hondt, as is prescribed by the agreement. Nor will the Minister be appointed according to democratic inclusion, which is the method that was enshrined in the agreement and included in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Minister will be appointed by another means that has not been provided for in either the agreement or in the 1998 Act.
Earlier, I listened to Martina Anderson quote section 17(4) of the 1998 Act, which states:
“The number of Ministerial offices shall not exceed 10 or such greater number as the Secretary of State may by order provide.”
She then quoted section 17(5), which states:
“A determination under subsection (1) shall not have effect unless it is approved by a resolution of the Assembly passed with cross-community support.”
Clearly, she was trying to give the false impression that the agreement provides for a Minister to be appointed by cross-community support if the number of Ministers will exceed 10. That is not what the 1998 Act says. Basically, the Act says that if there are to be more than 10 Departments, that decision must be approved by cross-community vote. The Act and the Good Friday Agreement provide that Ministers will head Departments and all Ministers will be appointed according to the rule of democratic inclusion that is used in the Assembly, which is d’Hondt. That democratic inclusion is provided for absolutely in the agreement.
I thank the Member for giving way. On a number of occasions in the debate, he and his party colleagues said that in the past, they have advocated, urged and sought the transfer of policing and justice powers or, as Mark said, the framework for an understanding of how that might happen.
Given the fact that, obviously, none of that advocating, urging or seeking an understanding of how the Assembly might sort all that out has actually ended in the transfer of policing and justice powers, is the Member now telling us, on the SDLP’s behalf, that if a positive answer to those questions cannot be obtained, he is prepared to say that under current circumstances, there will not be devolution of policing and justice powers?
The sum total of the SDLP’s line is that the transfer of policing and justice powers will not happen. I ask the SDLP whether, given all that experience, it is now telling people that, because of the arguments that it has outlined, we can now look forward to a future in which there is absolutely no prospect of the transfer of policing and justice powers? That is the choice: the Assembly either does what it takes to get the transfer of those powers, or it does not.
That is a simple question that requires a simple answer.
I thank the Member for his lengthy intervention. Let us be clear: the SDLP does not believe that subverting the Good Friday Agreement is the price that needs to be paid to secure the devolution of policing and justice powers.
Obviously, the Member believes that the Assembly must do whatever it takes. Why does Sinn Féin have that imperative? It has that imperative because it sold out in the St Andrews Agreement. It pretended that it had secured the devolution of policing and justice powers by May 2008. It told the public that that was signed, sealed and delivered. It said that the DUP had no choice: there would be devolution of policing and justice powers by May 2008.
The SDLP has never claimed that it has the deal done on devolution of policing and justice powers. We never claimed that we had stitched up the DUP or anybody else. We have always been honest. When we could not reach agreement, we were honest about it. We did not pretend that we reached agreements when we had not. That is what Sinn Féin did going into the St Andrews talks, and it is what it did afterwards. It misled the electorate and itself. Now the penny has dropped among its own members, who are becoming panicky.
What else did Sinn Féin do at St Andrews? It forfeited the agreement by giving new vetoes to the DUP. Those vetoes help to gridlock and worsen the situation that now exists in Government. Contrary to the DUP’s claims at the time that they would improve Government, a number of the changes that were made at St Andrews have added to the difficulties that we experience at present.
If Sinn Féin had its way, there would even have been in the St Andrews Agreement the exclusion from Government of parties that did not vote for members of its party and the DUP to be First Minister and deputy First Minister.
That was in the comprehensive agreement that Sinn Féin had agreed with the DUP and the two Governments, and it was going to be included in the St Andrews Agreement. The DUP and Sinn Féin said that any party that did not vote for a First Minister and deputy First Minister from their respective parties would be excluded from ministerial office, not for breaking any law, committing an offence or wrongdoing, but simply for exercising a democratic —
Sinn Féin obviously cannot take the truth. I have a few more truths to tell. Sinn Féin was prepared not only to sell out on democratic inclusion but to introduce a new rule to exclude parties that did not support it. Our negotiations with the DUP were the only thing that seemed to unnerve it sufficiently and change the position. Sinn Féin made no move to defend the agreement at that point; rather, it introduced a perverse exclusion of parties that exercised the right not to support people for the positions of First Minister and deputy First Minister.
Sinn Féin allowed exclusion then, and it has allowed it again this time. The Bill says that the justice Minister will not be appointed by d’Hondt or by any such means. The devolution of justice and policing should be as the agreement provided; there really should be a rerun of d’Hondt. We quickly gathered that other parties did not want a rerun of d’Hondt for different reasons, such as not wanting to upset Ministers. There were also questions about how a rerun would be engineered in such a situation. My party said that using a d’Hondt top-up as a way of meeting the problem was fair enough. That was our position regardless of who would have benefited from it. We defended other parties’ interests as well as our own under the agreement.
When related legislation on the devolution of policing and justice was being debated, we opposed any election of a justice Minister, and, in particular, we protested against the method of election for a Minister that would have excluded members of the Alliance Party specifically, not on the grounds of mandate, but on the grounds that its members are not designated either unionist or nationalist. We actually defended the Alliance Party’s rights in that respect. We said that the law was flawed, particularly because it was going to discriminate against the Alliance Party.
The Bill is basically a charter for discrimination, because it allows the DUP to show patronage to one party — a party of its choosing — for the ministry and to discriminate against a party that is democratically entitled to it. That is a carry-over from the old Stormont days, when the systems of proportional representation were removed first for local elections and then for parliamentary elections. By departing from d’Hondt, this new Stormont regime has begun to remove and interfere with the proportional representation inclusive provisions that are laid down in the agreement. Those principles are fundamental for the SDLP, not in our own interests as a party, but as Irish democrats who want to honour the agreement that is the express will of the Irish people.
As for Sinn Féin’s generous support of an SDLP nomination: how specious and vacuous can you get? That was an entirely empty gesture by Sinn Féin to keep itself right after it made a huge gaffe by allowing Martin McGuinness to agree with Peter Robinson that the justice Minister will be appointed by a cross-community vote at all times. I repeat: at all times. That is going to be a permanent DUP veto on a Sinn Féin Minister and, any time that it wants, on a nationalist Minister. That absolutely guarantees that no nationalist need apply.
Sinn Féin agreed to that wording, it slept in on it, and it said that it was great. However, when we pointed out the problem, the party said that the wording was not meant to mean that and that perhaps either some punctuation marks were missing or one or two words were wrong. Everyone else knew what “cross-community support at all times” meant. It was a permanent DUP and unionist veto on who could be justice Minister, which is absolutely contrary to the principles and promise of the Good Friday Agreement.
Sinn Féin did two things to try to undo that damage. It said that its preference was to support an SDLP nominee. Straight away, I said to the deputy First Minister and junior Minister Gerry Kelly that they would just support the Alliance Party nominee when the SDLP nomination was defeated. In response, I got a shoulder shrug from the deputy First Minister and something between a grin and a smile from junior Minister Gerry Kelly. Therefore, Sinn Féin’s support for an SDLP nominee is an entirely empty gesture to try to cover up serious folly and a serious mistake in its negotiating position.
John O’Dowd said that it is up to the SDLP to sort out the DUP and the UUP, even though Sinn Féin handed those parties a veto that it did not need to. We already heard the reference to the triple lock and the quadruple lock. I remember the First Minister saying in the House of Commons that there would be a double-double lock, not just a quadruple lock. Sinn Féin handed those parties a veto and is now telling the SDLP to do what it can to sort them out. If Sinn Féin wants the SDLP to repair its damage, it should step aside instead of getting in the way.
The Member had an opportunity to vote against the Bill in Westminster, a place that he thinks highly of because he is resigning from here to go and live in Westminster. He had an opportunity to vote against the Bill, but he left before the vote took place. Why did he do that?
There was not going to be a vote; certain parties had agreed that they were not going to divide the House. We made clear our point of principle in opposing aspects of that Bill, just as we have done today. We will record our opposition by voting against the Bill because of clause 2, not because we are opposed to the devolution of justice and policing. The Good Friday Agreement does not need to be sold out to facilitate the devolution of justice and policing. [Interruption.]
I hear more from Martina Anderson. I heard her say earlier that she never said that the SDLP was not entitled to the justice Ministry. On several occasions in the late summer of 2008, she said that the SDLP was arrogant and did not have any entitlement to any Ministry. She will find copious references to that in the media, which quote her. She was not the only one; at the same time, Alex Maskey said that the SDLP was putting petty self-interest ahead of the national interest on the devolution of justice and policing. Both of them indicated that the Alliance Party could be entitled to the justice Ministry. Of course, that was before the deputy First Minister had his moment of epiphany and told me that Sinn Féin would support the SDLP. We did not hear anything about a Sinn Féin preference to support the SDLP when Martina Anderson and Alex Maskey were having a go at us in late August and early September 2008. The record on that is clear, just as it is on the phrase that Dolores Kelly quoted about the devolution of justice and policing and political lifetimes. Mr Simpson did say that.
He was quoted in the media; I can give those references to the Member. Why would he not have said it? The phrase came from a DUP policy document that was issued during an election campaign, and the leader of the DUP was happy to clarify it several times in Westminster. Therefore, it would be odd if some DUP MPs had not used the phrase “political lifetime”.
I have the policy document with me. The Member should listen carefully to what it says:
“We have repeatedly indicated that in the context of Sinn Fein having a ministerial role in policing or justice it could be a political lifetime before such powers would be devolved.”
That was the context.
The document continues:
The DUP still has that power. That power is not removed by the Bill.
What were Sinn Féin’s two big ways of sorting out the gaffe in the joint letter from the First Minister and deputy First Minister that ceded that there would be a unionist veto at all times on the appointment of a justice Minister? As well as making the completely bogus promise to the SDLP of their votes on the nomination, they also secured the sunset clause of May 2012 in the Westminster Bill.
It is important that people understand how this Bill connects with the other legislation that already exists at Westminster. People talk about the need for confidence and stability before they will agree to the devolution of policing and justice powers, but it is also important that we address the need to ensure that there is absolute confidence and stability when we get devolution. The formula that has been negotiated between Sinn Féin and the DUP does not give us that.
Yes, we can elect the first justice Minister here by cross-community support, contrary to the provisions of the agreement. When the Assembly returns after an election in 2011, the justice Minister will, again, have to be elected by cross-community support. We know that all sorts of negotiations and stances might be taking place at that time. It might be a considerable time before we get a justice Minister agreed and appointed. In 2011, therefore, we could come back here and have a Department with no Minister.
Then, of course, there is the sunset clause: Sinn Féin’s guarantee that this is only a temporary arrangement and veto that cannot last beyond 2012. The sunset clause says that, in May 2012, the Department will be dissolved, unless there has been agreement to continue that arrangement or there has been agreement on other models. When I asked Alex Maskey earlier what happens if there is no agreement in May 2012, he meandered a bit but eventually said that there will have to be agreement because there is no fallback position.
That is not true. A fallback is built into the legislation, and either Sinn Féin is aware of it and is pretending that it is not there — just as it was aware of all sorts of other things that it conceded and pretended were not there. The party pretended that things going on at St Andrews — such as making sure that we could not move away from academic selection — were not there and just focused on other things. The fact is that there is a fallback.
Paragraph 8 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 2009 provides for a fallback. Paragraphs 6 to 8 provide for the crash of the dissolution of the Department in May 2012 — Sinn Féin’s guarantee that the DUP will have to cede its veto at that time. Paragraph 5(2)(b) of schedule 1 to the Act states that paragraphs 6 to 8 of schedule 1:
“are not to apply at all if an Order in Council has been made under section 21A(7C) of the 1998 Act.”
Section 21A(7C) was inserted into the 1998 Act by the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007. Therefore, it is not from the agreement, and not really from even the 1998 Act. It allows the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to impose the model for the devolution of justice that was legislated for in the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007. Therefore, the fallback is there.
I think that the DUP know that that fallback is there. Its members may have been careful not to show it off in public, but they know that it is there. The NIO is maybe being careful not to show it off in public and let on that it has provided the DUP with that cover of a fallback, but it is there, contrary to Sinn Féin’s claims. Again, that shows the absolute failure of Sinn Féin’s negotiation on that and other matters.
The Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 provides for a Minister and a deputy Minister elected by parallel consent. That model is the fallback position for May 2012. That means that the DUP will continue to have a veto over the appointment of any nationalist justice Minister. The fallback is there, and, in many ways, the DUP probably feels quite smug that it still has the at-all-times veto. If the DUP does not agree anything else with Sinn Féin, that is the fallback position.
Sinn Féin was wrong to give the DUP that veto in the first place and wrong to allow it to remain. Did Sinn Féin know that that fallback position was there? Is Sinn Féin happy with that? If so, why is Alex Maskey pretending that there is no fallback position, and that Sinn Féin will have the DUP over a barrel at that time? Can anybody tell me?
I will make my remarks through you, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
At the time of the 1998 Act, I believe that the SDLP was the largest party and had several Members at Westminster — the place that Mr Durkan feels so gracious to, feels he owes loyalty to, and, I think, swears an oath in. Is that where he is talking about that Act coming from?
Of course a justice Ministry will have to be set up. However, if that were to collapse, the clause to which Mr Durkan refers will have to get the agreement of Sinn Féin. That is what he is leaving out of his comments. Mr Durkan claims that Sinn Féin has sold the community a pup; he is saying that the community was stupid. I, for one, do not believe that.
I do not think that the community was stupid. However, Sinn Féin managed to con people on some of the issues, as it has done on several other occasions in relation to selling out on the Good Friday Agreement. That is something that we will not do.
The Member referred to the 1998 Act, but, remember, the clause was inserted into that Act only in 2007.
At the time, the SDLP opposed that Act in Westminster. We spoke against it and we exposed that issue. Today, Sinn Féin tried to pretend that there is no fallback. Yet John O’Dowd seems to be saying that, of course, there is a fallback, which totally contradicts what Alex Maskey was trying to tell us earlier.
Remember, Sinn Féin does not decide whether the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland activates that power. Potentially, we could have a Tory Secretary of State, or a situation in which there is a very narrow majority in Westminster and all sorts of deals have to be done. The Secretary of State can simply decide to activate those powers. Sinn Féin’s only power of veto comes through the exercise of parallel consent during the election of the Minister and the deputy Minister. However, the DUP has a veto too. The fact is that the at-all-times veto is still there; there is no other fallback position. That mistake lives on with Sinn Féin.
A number of Members asked whether it is time for the devolution of policing and justice. I make it very clear that it is. It is not time to ditch aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. It is significant that the DUP and the Alliance Party say that they regard what is in clause 2 of the Bill as a very useful precedent, and no doubt they will be returning to that in future reviews. Those parties will say that that precedent has been conceded, and, when it has been conceded here, ask where else can we go with that. That is the position of those parties. However, do not let Sinn Féin pretend that it has conceded that precedent.
I know that the First Minister and the deputy First Minister have been in a series of negotiations, and I do not expect them to spill the beans at this stage. However, finance is a hugely important issue, not just for the services under justice and policing but for our wider Budget.
Of course, people will want to know that the funding, whatever funding there is, will be properly ring-fenced, not only according to Treasury terms but according to our own Budget priorities and interests.
I am a little perturbed when I hear people from the DUP Benches start to write all sorts of new preconditions into the community confidence requirement. Indeed, a couple of DUP Members said today that the DUP must be satisfied on the parades issue and that that would be one of the tests of confidence.
I do not know whether the Member is saying that I am suggesting that none of those issues was raised in that debate. I am making the point that several DUP Members today referred specifically to the parades issue as a key test of community confidence. They suggested that if people are satisfied with the position on parades and if people are allowed to parade down certain roads, that would satisfy a test of confidence.
We need to be careful about the route that the test of community confidence takes. During the history of our process to date, different issues have, at times, been bundled together during different negotiations and have been bartered for. There is a potential difficulty in that the Bill could be cleared and everything else could be ready to run, whereupon the DUP could say that it will trigger the process as long as it receives one or two more wee things. At that point, Alex Maskey will tell us that the devolution of justice and policing is so imperative that those things will be a price that we have to pay.
I do not want to dwell on the subject of parades only. Members did not only refer to the issue of individual parade locations. For instance, we know that the DUP wants a particular outcome on the winding-up of the Parades Commission. That is, potentially, not the only item on its shopping list. From time to time, we hear that the DUP wants to scale down and merge the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission. We know that it wants to bullet through the idea of a bill of rights, and we also know that its approach to the North/South review is to keep it low and go slow.
The First Minister also recently suggested changing the voting arrangements in the Assembly. One could be forgiven for thinking that people are preparing a portfolio for a review or quasi-review. I want the First Minister and the DUP to assure the House that they are not lining up those issues so that they can say that they can support the devolution of justice and policing only in the context of a review in which other changes are made. It might also want to stitch the UUP into such arrangements because it does not like how the UUP is positioning itself to take pot shots on the one side while it receives pot shots from the TUV on the other.
How will the DUP stitch the UUP in? We heard the First Minister say that all other parties must be stitched in. He might come up with the brainwave of a review exercise, through which he unveils his shopping list and through which he is able to tell Jim Allister that the DUP secured change through the St Andrews Agreement and is pursuing more change now, challenging him to outline his strategy and agenda. Of course, the two Governments will feel that they have to give Peter that review if it is the context in which the devolution of policing and justice can get over the line. That is what the Governments have always done. It is what they did with David Trimble and on other occasions since.
They will be unable to resist the review, if demanded, as the context of change, and they will be able to resist few of the demands therein. Sinn Féin will certainly not be in a strong position to resist any demands: it has not resisted any demands so far. It asked today what else it can do, because it must do all it can to achieve the devolution of justice and policing. That is how weak a negotiating position Sinn Féin has put itself in.
It agreed to the gerrymandering that is provided for in the Bill, which will allow people to deny parties their entitlements. That is not the only form of gerrymandering that Sinn Féin has agreed with the DUP. It has allowed the gerrymandering of the new local government boundaries. Three out of 26 councils that are currently, or will be, under nationalist majority are going to be under unionist control.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I have stuck more faithfully to the Bill than most other Members have done.
I offer that as an example of the gerrymandering that Sinn Féin will allow to take place. No council areas will be moving from majority unionist control to majority nationalist control. Three council areas, and more than 100,000 people, will be moving the other way. That gerrymandering will happen without any sort of protection, and it shows that Sinn Féin does not look after the nationalist community’s interests: it only looks after its own interests.
We will oppose the Bill because Sinn Féin has been so pathetic on the issues. We can have no part in supporting clause 2, and we do not want anyone in the future to misrepresent any support that we would give to clause 2 as meaning that we had agreed to concede on the agreement when we never would.
There have been some lengthy speeches on what is a relatively short Bill that should be fairly non-contentious, given that it is simply enabling legislation. Nevertheless, there have been some very entertaining contributions, not least from the various SDLP Members, telling us about the dismantling of the Belfast Agreement and the many times that the DUP outwitted Sinn Féin. It is great stuff altogether, and I wonder whether they are available to speak at our party conference later in the year.
We also heard from Basil McCrea, who said that the Ulster Unionist Party now wants to support the nomination of an SDLP Member as justice Minister. Yet, on 24 August, Sir Reg Empey, the Ulster Unionist leader, said:
“Many unionists — those who are not agnostic on the issue — would be very concerned that our first Justice Minister could therefore be someone who is not pro-Union.”
Basil’s contribution contradicts his party leader’s position, and, having given himself away so many times in the debate, he might find himself in some trouble.
The Bill will not deliver the devolution of policing and justice. It is enabling legislation, and it is simply one cog in the overall machinery required to get powers transferred to the Assembly. As was said earlier, the Bill’s title has been agreed by everyone, including the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, and is non-contentious. However, clause 2, which deals with the appointment of any future justice Minister, is important. It is not only consistent with what my party has said, but it ensures cross-community buy-in.
Throughout the debate, the SDLP has been exercised on that issue. It appeared not to want to have that cross-community support for whoever the future justice Minister might be. Of course, any future justice Department will be subject to certain sensitivities and must be seen as being different from any other Department, and, therefore, maximum buy-in from both communities is important. However, that is secured in the Bill.
We have heard that there will be no Sinn Féin justice Minister. That is also important, because the prospect of a Sinn Féin Minister would not instil confidence in the unionist community about the devolution of policing and justice. We have ensured that that will not be the case. That certainty goes some way towards building confidence in the unionist community.
That is contradictory to the position of the Ulster Unionist Party. I listened to Danny Kennedy at the start of the debate, who talked about early devolution of policing and justice. We should consider those remarks in the wake of David McNarry’s rogue paper — as it turned out to be — in which he said that we would not be looking at the devolution of policing and justice for another five years.
It is hard to take the Ulster Unionist Party seriously when it says things like that, because we all know that if that party had still been the largest party, it would have completed the devolution of policing and justice by 2005, and there would have been absolutely no barriers to a Sinn Féin Member becoming a justice Minister. In fact, some members of the Ulster Unionist Party said that it was inevitable that a Sinn Féin Member would become a justice Minister and that it was bound to happen. The Ulster Unionist Party is not interested in safeguards.
Earlier in the debate, we heard that even before the institutions were restored a couple of years ago, it was the Democratic Unionist Party alone that insisted that Sinn Féin had to support the police, the law and the courts system.
The Ulster Unionist Party was not interested in that. Alan McFarland said that he had a preference for d’Hondt to be rerun, and Basil McCrea talked about their justice Minister of choice being an SDLP Member.
Returning to a system of d’Hondt in order to nominate a future justice Minister would re-open the possibility of Sinn Féin taking that post. It is worrying for members of the unionist community to hear the UUP open the door once again for Sinn Féin to take the justice Ministry — even more worrying than Basil’s support for an SDLP Member taking the position.
The Ulster Unionist Party also spoke about its “principled” objection to the legislation. Not many people in the Chamber think that there is anything “principled” about its opposition today. It is not a genuine concern; it is simply posturing and political point-scoring.
Mr Farry teased out an interesting point: the complete lack of confidence that the Ulster Unionist Party has in its senior party colleagues in the Conservative Party. There will be a Westminster election within the next few months, which is highly likely to result in a Conservative Government. If the Ulster Unionist Party honestly believes that the link-up with the Conservative Party will give it more influence in national politics — an idea it sold to the unionist electorate in Northern Ireland — why does it fear this legislation so much? Surely, the UUP’s colleagues in the Conservative Party will block it in Westminster. I think that we know the truth of that situation; the relationship will unravel rapidly after the Westminster election.
My colleague Gregory Campbell highlighted the fact that the Bill is about supporting the principle of the devolution of policing and justice. All parties in the Assembly have said that they support — in principle — the devolution of policing and justice. Many of us, including Members of this party, have issues over the timing of it, but if Members support the devolution of policing and justice in principle, they should have no difficulty in supporting the Bill today.
The Bill will not establish a timetable for the devolution of policing and justice. There are a number of outstanding issues. One of the larger issues is that of finance, and I note that the First Minister said that some progress was made in the meeting with the Prime Minister last night. However, issues still remain, and those figures need to be tested.
The second important issue is that of confidence in the community. We have consistently said that if policing and justice are to be devolved, there must be adequate confidence in the unionist community for that to occur, and that it must be tested. The First Minister has indicated that, as a large stakeholder in the unionist community, the Ulster Unionist Party has a say in that, although listening to some of the nonsense that has come from its Benches today, I am not sure that that is altogether wise.
The Bill contains safeguards, including the cross-community element of the appointment of a future justice Minister, which I think is important. That will help to build some level of confidence in the unionist community that there will not be a Sinn Féin justice Minister. That is one of the most important issues.
The Bill is about supporting — in principle — the devolution of policing and justice. If the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP genuinely want to see the devolution of policing and justice, they should support the Bill.
The general principle of the Bill is that policing and justice should be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I agree with the Bill on that point. The Alliance Party believes that it is important that that be done, for a number of reasons.
Devolution is not complete. We are committed to seeing devolution completed, not because we are blind to the flaws of our devolved Administration, but because we are not blind to its potential, if it is worked properly. We believe that completing this process will allow devolution to mature and move forward. If one is a devolutionist, one should be committed to running all our affairs locally.
I have been concerned about parts of the debate today because of the creeping form of people in the House who seem to feel that their interests would be best served by not having devolution of any issue to the Assembly. If people want confidence to be instilled in the community, it seems a mighty strange way to go about it — to undermine confidence in the structures that we have at the moment, and to talk up the benefits of direct rule. Therefore, I am concerned about the tone of some of those comments.
I believe that we need our affairs to be run locally, and we need local Ministers to step up to the mark. In different ways, some Ministers do that on occasions. Some Ministers do not, and it is fine to be critical in those instances. Despite all the difficulties that we have experienced over recent years, I believe that we are better off with devolution than we would have been without it.
It is a sign of political immaturity for people to want to tackle only easy issues. Earlier today, in his closing remarks in a discussion on a different topic, the Health Minister said that health is at least as important as policing and justice; I agree with him. Health is at least as important as policing and justice, and we are happy to have health devolved despite all its attendant difficulties and financial pressures. We have confidence that we can handle health better than it would be handled by direct rule, yet we are nervous about doing the same thing with policing and justice.
Does my colleague agree that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety would benefit from the devolution of policing and justice? Both Departments would cut costs if they could co-operate on issues such as offending levels and alcohol problems, which contribute to the occurrence of a lot of offences.
That is undoubtedly true. Indeed, a realisation of the joined-up nature of devolution would help to restore public confidence in these institutions and make people feel that devolution has benefited them.
Although it is easy and appropriate for us to hold Ministers to account week in and week out in the Assembly, little emphasis has been put by any party on defending the Assembly’s record. That is largely because people are nervous of the institutions and of the people with whom they are in Government. Ministers could sell the proposition to the public more effectively if they went out and confidently argued the benefit of devolution for their people. If they sold devolution to the public rather than look nervous about their partners in Government, perhaps some parties’ electoral fortunes would reflect that confidence.
In discussing the Bill, we would be foolish if we did not recognise the central role that the devolution of policing and justice powers holds in the wider devolution project. We can talk about quadruple locks, triple locks and whatever else, but no one can be in any doubt that the devolution of policing and justice powers was important to the majority of parties at St Andrews, when we discussed what form devolution would take and the time frames for its completion. The SDLP repeatedly emphasised its importance in those discussions. It was clearly very important to Sinn Féin and, indeed, had the appearance of being a make-or-break issue for that party.
It was important to the DUP, which said that it was committed to the devolution of policing and justice powers when the time was right. Some of what I have heard today makes me wonder about that, but the inclusion of the Bill for debate in the House at least indicates that the DUP remains committed to the devolution of those powers.
I also thought that it was important to the Ulster Unionist Party. At that time, it had been arguing that policing and justice should be in the hands of local politicians when the timing was right. I cannot understand that party’s angst about the enabling legislation. The Ulster Unionist Party is focusing on timing, but timing is not in the enabling legislation.
The fact that a Department has come to the House in a timely fashion with important legislation that will get a full Committee Stage and proper public consideration and responses, and the fact that the Assembly will be allowed to do its job properly, is a welcome departure from what we have had in recent years with cobbled-together Bills being put in front of us and then forced through under accelerated passage. I openly, and on the record, commend the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister for that. The fact that the legislation has been brought in a timely fashion means that we will have the opportunity to explore in detail all the issues that have been raised during the debate today. Making plans for the legislative framework to be in place when the time is right for the devolution of policing and justice powers is the correct action to take. We would all be entitled to be critical if that did not happen.
The issue is about whether we are moving forward with the devolution of policing and justice powers. Earlier, my colleague Stephen Farry stated our position on the Bill and its proposed mechanisms. I do not intend to rehash that; it is already on the record.
I am happy for a cross-community vote to be introduced on policing and justice. Mark Durkan talked about a precedent being set. I simply refer him to what Stephen Farry said: although some of us may wish that appointing a future justice Minister, instead of using the d’Hondt system, could be a Trojan Horse to get a voluntary coalition, we do not think that it is. The fact that that particular Department, in these particular circumstances, is handled in this particular way sets a rather limited precedent. Much as I might wish that it were otherwise, that is the reality. It would be wrong to suggest that it is anything other than that.
My party is on record as saying that we prefer a voluntarily coalition. The Bill does not change that, nor does it advance it. We do not take our position because we want to exclude any particular party, nor do we think that we would automatically be on the inside through those arrangements. We simply believe that running Government by having people come together to agree programmes in advance would be a more robust arrangement.
The timing of the devolution of policing and justice powers has remained the most divisive issue. It is relevant to the Bill in that that issue will be affected by the finances that are available. No one here or anywhere else would argue against the First Minister and the deputy First Minister going to Westminster to petition jointly for the best budget that they can get. It is absolutely right that they do that. It is hard, though, to conceive how they can do that if the Assembly took no active interest in the devolution project for policing and justice. The people with whom they are dealing would have no truck with them; they would say that they should be talking to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the budget for policing and justice. I would prefer locally elected representatives to be arguing the case for the budget for policing and justice rather than ceding that right to the NIO. I am not saying that I necessarily prefer the locally elected politicians who are doing the job, but that is democracy, and I accept it.
We must be realistic about the budget for policing and justice. It is not often that I agree with John O’Dowd, but I did today. He was correct: we are living in a dreamworld if we think that there will not be cuts. The question is: who will take the decisions on where those cuts will be felt? Whom do we trust to take the decisions about what stays open and what closes, about how many police officers we have and about where the cuts are to be made? We need to know who will be taking those decisions. Despite my reservations about how the Executive function, I still prefer such decisions to be taken by locally elected Ministers.
We also need to be realistic about timing. We need to ask ourselves from whom we will get the better deal. If we are to petition the Prime Minister or the potential future Prime Minister, we need to know who is most likely to do the better deal on the financing of policing and justice. Timing will be crucial, because we know that a general election is just around the corner. It seems that, in national politics, the pendulum has swung. Instead of politicians trying to convince the electorate that there will be no cuts, they are now in competition with each other about how dramatic the cuts that they make will be. We must be realistic and accept that the cuts will be deep. The cuts will affect Northern Ireland, not least because of its reliance on public sector employment, and they have enormous implications for policing and justice. I suspect that that now represents one of the better opportunities to strike a deal on financing the transfer of powers.
The building of confidence cannot be achieved overnight; it takes time and requires a process. Part of the frustration in the House and beyond is that, sometimes, processes do not lead to quick delivery. However, the process in itself is beneficial as it moves people forward and allows progress to be made.
As someone whose party has no Ministers in government, I fail to comprehend why everyone who belongs to a party that has Ministers in government is so negative about their performance that they cannot see the benefit of a local Minister delivering policing and justice. It boils down to a fundamental question: do they believe that direct rule Ministers would have done a better job than their Ministers? It would be easy for me to put forward that view, because my party does not have a Minister. That would be an easy get-out clause for me, but that is not my opinion. It is beneficial to have accountability and for local people to have access to those Ministers, each of whom can concentrate on a single portfolio as opposed to working simultaneously on three or four that have been lumped together. I am surprised that parties with Ministers are so reluctant to make progress on that project.
The building of confidence also requires stable devolution. For that to exist, the process of devolution must be complete. The transfer of policing and justice was always going to be the difficult element of that, but it is time to grasp the nettle. As Stephen Farry said, the security of the programme for the new Minister is crucial to confidence, because it relates directly to his or her ability to deliver. If a justice Department is to run smoothly and be capable of delivering, the programme for the Minister must be as widely agreed as possible, so that it can be brought into effect before the powers are devolved. That programme must be part of the process.
As justice lies outside the current Programme for Government, the potential exists for every decision of the justice Minister to come before the Executive. That would not be good for the Minister, the delivery of policing and justice or the Executive. As far as policing and justice are concerned, we are here to serve the public. Therefore, all parties in the House must seriously consider how to work best collectively to meet the priorities of the people in Northern Ireland.
Finally, each of us has it in our gift to create or destroy confidence through our attitudes, actions, speeches and tone. All of those factors affect people’s perceptions of how confident they should be about the Assembly’s structures and ability to deliver.
As I mentioned earlier, I have reservations, and those have been reinforced through listening to today’s contributions from the DUP Benches. The DUP is endeavouring to create a dual-speed approach, and that has the potential to undermine confidence. Although the Bill creates an illusion of progress, the DUP is also trying to maintain, in its constituency, the belief that there is no real movement. At some point, the DUP must decide on one approach, because it can ride two horses for only so long. The strategy of riding two horses led to many of the difficulties that have been exhibited within unionism since the St Andrews Agreement and the Assembly elections, because people were uncertain as to the DUP’s intent. People should confidently state their intent, believe in it, and follow through on it. They are much more likely to build confidence through doing that than through equivocation.
I understand the Ulster Unionist strategy of trying to row behind and unpick that confidence. However, the DUP should be wise to that because it is exactly the strategy that it used with the Ulster Unionists. Frankly, it was a very successful one because the Ulster Unionists equivocated. Had the members of the Ulster Unionist Party come out more confidently and defended their position, I suspect that the results may have been slightly different. I hope that that is not what is happening because it could be very damaging to community confidence.
I am grateful to the Member for giving way. I listened carefully to what she said about the terms and conditions under which the Alliance Party will assume the responsibility of policing and justice, should that be afforded to the party. I also listened carefully to her analysis of the position of the Ulster Unionist Party. The Member failed to genuinely understand the honourable and genuine position that we have taken. Although we are in favour of policing and justice powers being devolved to Northern Ireland in principle, and while we, as a party, worked very hard to achieve devolution in Northern Ireland, we do not think that current conditions — or the example that the Assembly and Executive set — are good grounds for the early devolution of policing and justice. The idea that we are simply playing political games is not correct. I wish that she and her colleagues, and members of other parties in this House, would accept that.
I thank Mr Kennedy for his intervention because it gives me an opportunity to address something that I was going to leave unaddressed. It is the question of whether the UUP’s concerns are genuine. If its concern is about timing, the content of this Bill is of no concern because there is no timetable in the Bill. If that concern were genuine, the party would let the Bill pass and resist its enactment.
I am grateful to the Member for again giving way. Like a great many Members of this House from various political parties, it seems that she simply does not understand that the enactment of this legislation would raise expectations that the devolution of policing and justice would take place sooner rather than later. We are simply saying that all of us should pause until the conditions for that are right.
Despite Mr Kennedy’s patronising tone, I fully understand that, because I can read the legislation. The creation of expectation is as much down to the pantomime tomfoolery of some people who spoke about this Bill as it is down to anything that is included in the Bill. The Bill does not create a timetable for the devolution of policing and justice powers.
Mr Kennedy said that this matter is not a game, but people seem to be enjoying it very much today. With the raucous laughter, the tee-heeing and the constant witty banter that was going on, it felt like it was a game for some people. However, it is a very serious issue. Perhaps if all the interventions and discourse had been in the same serious tone as Mr Kennedy’s last two interventions, we may have been more convinced that this debate was genuine.
When we talk about the conditions being right, we have never really got to the bottom of exactly what those right conditions would look like for the Ulster Unionist Party and what its contribution to creating them will be. I do not see the contribution that the party made in today’s debate outlining that or in any way giving us an indication of what its contribution to creating those conditions would be. I am happy to be open-minded about that, but, based on what I have heard, I remain to be convinced that there is more to the Ulster Unionist stance than pre-election tactics.
The other point that I want to raise relates to clause 2 and the election of a justice Minister, because that is the specific issue with which the SDLP has a problem. Some Members think that they ascended the mountain in 1998, and came back with the way in which devolution would look for forever and a day written on tablets of stone. Those Members believe that to change a dot or a comma in that document undermines some great principle. The principles of devolution are about power sharing, fairness, stability and delivery. D’Hondt is not a principle: it is a mechanism.
If a mechanism is treated as a principle, one is saying that what was good for 1998 is not only good for 2008, but is good for 2028, 2048, 2058 and 2068. That tells me that there is no opportunity for betterment, change, progress or development. That is an extremely depressing world view. I would not be happy if we were to unpick the fairness, the sharing and the recognition of people’s participation that underpin the Good Friday Agreement. However, it is not the same to say that there is a principle at stake, simply because a mechanism is going to change.
That brings me to the next issue, which deals with Danny Kennedy’s earlier point about the Alliance Party’s role in all of this. Some people seem to think that if they shout about that long enough, we will be too embarrassed to rise to our feet to talk about such issues, which actually matter to the people who elected me, David Ford, Stephen Farry and the other Alliance Party Members. Those issues matter to us whether we or any other party end up with the justice Ministry. It is not a matter of who holds the post, but of how they conduct themselves once in that post.
When Stephen Farry cautioned earlier against working on the assumption that we would simply take the post if it is offered, he was serious. I do not expect Members to believe that that is the case, but I caution them against ignoring that we have said it. We want to see devolution working. We want to see it functioning. I suspect that unless we get clarity on policing and justice matters; unless we deal reasonably with the issues in the Bill; and unless we are willing to move forward and deal with timetabling, the Assembly will have much bigger problems ahead.
I think it is now Mr Kennedy who does not understand, because I have not raised the issue of security of tenure. To be blunt, there would be no electoral damage to any of my colleagues if they were to be tossed out of their offices by the DUP and Sinn Féin for trying to be an Alliance Party Minister for policing and justice. Therefore, security of tenure would not particularly concern us. That is not the key point. The key point is whether the justice Minister would have security of programme and could deliver what is on the agenda for the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr Kennedy may be worried about grappling for seats and positions, but that is not our primary concern, despite the fact that he wishes to paint us in that way.
I have not met your wife, but she gets my sympathy. [Laughter.]
I have to say that this issue makes me angry, because there can be misunderstandings about some of these things, and then there is the wilful taunting that adds nothing to the discussion and does not further the debate. Instead, it exposes the fact that some Members have treated today’s proceedings as a game, rather than a debate about legislation, and that undermines their position that they are approaching it with anything like a serious attitude. If you want to be taken seriously, behave seriously, and people will read from that what they will.
I mentioned the risks to devolution if we do not deal with these issues, and earlier, the DUP said that it would not be bullied. I agree that it should not be bullied, because bullying is inappropriate and not the way to do business. Neither should the DUP be arrogant or dismissive of the needs of its partners in Government. I say partners, plural, because there are four parties in Government together. At all levels of the Executive, there must be some sense that although parties may be in strong positions due to the mechanisms and vetoes, it will only last as long as everyone else is willing to tolerate it. We need generosity, not because one wishes to be generous to those with whom one has little in common, but because a lack of generosity is likely to cost dear. For that reason if no other, people need to look at how they might co-operate better, and that, in itself, would be the biggest confidence-building measure that we could see in this House.
I support the Bill. I have been out of the Chamber, because the Agriculture Committee was meeting today, so I apologise for not being here for everybody’s contribution. In between times, it became clear what issues were being raised. We have listened to the clear way in which members of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee explained the process and the progress so far, and they are to be congratulated. It is not necessary for me to go over everything that has been said, but I will highlight a few major points that can stand to be repeated so that everyone understands them.
Furst o’vau tae unnerscoar tha fact that this bill isnae tha pittin in place o’ policin en justis; it is maer er less tha grun woark that gauns afoar tha basic woark sterts. It is simply apenin tha gaet o’ tha fiel tae alloo tha woarkers in. Them that’s gaun tae wroucht in it wullnae be allooed in tae tha wricht terms er met oan tha plans, an tha fue plennin permisshun gien alang wi’ tha green paper regerdin tha go aheed.
First, I underscore the fact that the Bill does not constitute the introduction of policing and justice; it is merely the groundwork that must be done before the foundation work commences. It merely opens the gate of the field to allow the workers in; the workers will not be allowed in until conditions are met on the plans and full planning permission is granted, along with the green paper of the go-ahead.
In this analogy, the conditions that must be met are those that have been set by elected representatives, and one of the key issues is funding. Devolving policing and justice is a huge undertaking that will need a huge influx of new money, not simply another Budget reshuffle. The DUP will be working to ensure that there is adequate funding to carry out all the obligations that this will bring, including the judiciary and policing matters that go back as far as the claims for loss of hearing from when RUC officers were under fire back in the dark days of the Troubles. There must be enough money to ensure that policing on our streets increases and that confidence in the police force is built up, so that when people ring the police they are sure of a response within half an hour and do not have to wait two hours for the one car to answer a call in Portaferry before it makes its way up to Carrowdore.
Those conditions must be addressed before we get anywhere near devolving policing and justice. However, we are putting the process in place. Another condition will be to ensure that, ultimately, the justice Department is accountable to the electorate in some form or fashion, as opposed to constituents who face problems having no redress and being met with the same answer to all their questions, “this is not in our remit”.
(Mr Speaker in the Chair)
A lecturer in law at the University of Ulster has said that it is essential that more accountability be brought to the judiciary, which, at the risk of sounding trite, is a law onto itself. Although it is essential that there can be no political machination mixing with the appointment of the judiciary, the appointment of an Attorney General will ensure that there is greater accessibility and accountability for the public when the occasion demands. That is also very important and is something that we must consider.
We must, and will, ensure that only those who are appropriate to the role are elected to it and that that will not be determined with a political slant, but with a fitness-for-purpose angle that takes into account the character and experience of that Member. That has to be the crux of the matter as well.
The Green Paper that will allow the building of the Department of justice to commence will be a stamp of approval by the majority of the electorate. That will be when the confidence of the community is behind the Department and when enough change has occurred that people believe this to be the way forward. That is the benchmark, and that is when we will be happy for work to begin on the foundations that we have laid today.
It must also be remembered that, just as building control checks for dangers in new developments, there is one final check that will come in 2012. Should the people not be satisfied that this building is a safe one for the people of the Province, there is an automatic dissolve. The sunset clause, which others Members, including my colleague Jimmy Spratt, have mentioned, gives peace of mind for the public to know that this is not an eternal solution unless it turns out to be the right and appropriate one. That is the key.
In the end, public confidence is the most important thing for the DUP, and, as a party, we have given our assurance that public confidence is the Green Paper without which no building work will commence. The DUP continues to hold fast to the fact that our triple-lock veto remains in place and will ensure that no work will commence until the people are ready. That is clearly where we stand on this issue.
The Bill does not set things in motion. It merely allows that, once things are to be set in motion, the mechanism and structure are there, so that we can then begin. We have come a long way, and we should recognise how far we have come — all of us individually, and collectively as parties — but that does not mean that we forget all that has happened before now and do not learn from those things.
I support the passing of the Bill through this stage in the Assembly, which will allow for any of the problems and issues that individual Members have to be addressed and incorporated into the Bill before its later stages and before it becomes an Act. Therefore, there are processes that allow us to bring issues on board. I give the Bill a general welcome, with a view that the devolution of policing and justice will happen. We need to ensure that when that does happen, we are prepared and have safety guarantees and controls in operation to ensure peace of mind for all those involved: ourselves, our constituents and the whole of Northern Ireland. I support the motion.
The starting point for comment is the DUP speeches on the Floor of the Assembly today. In my view, Peter Robinson and the DUP — that is, the DUP in the Assembly and in the country — hold all the cards when it comes to the issue of the devolution of justice. For that reason, it is important that the issues raised by the DUP in today’s speeches be addressed.
It was Dr McCrea’s speech that captured the essence of the current DUP conundrum. From my observation, I thought that the First Minister listened very attentively to what was meant to be a definitive statement by elements in the DUP about how they see the issue of the devolution of justice. Although John O’Dowd understandably and, to some degree rightly, compared that speech with previous speeches from that element in the DUP, who eventually signed up to partnership and going into government with the other parties, the circumstances now are different from those that prevailed when the DUP made those decisions; that is self-evident.
What did Dr McCrea say in his speech? In one way he struck me as being a TUV wolf in DUP undergarments. We should not dwell on that image too long, but that was nonetheless the tone, content, character and conviction of what Dr McCrea was saying, no doubt on behalf of his colleagues in the DUP. Dr McCrea said that neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party in London can be trusted to provide honest financial answers. That is tantamount to saying that the financial test set by the DUP for the devolution of justice powers can never be satisfied.
He went further and said that, in his experience in his three constituency offices, the community did not have the confidence or the interest in the devolution of justice powers. That is tantamount to saying that the community confidence test can never be satisfied.
Subsequently, he went further and said that the DUP had a quadruple lock, which they would not hand over. That is the critical point, because the DUP has to make a choice as to how it goes into the Westminster election. Should it go into the election without having agreed to the devolution of justice on the basis that it can tell the unionist constituency that it did not bend the knee to nationalist requirements? The DUP has to decide whether it views that as the position of strength as it goes into the Westminster election. It was clearly the view that Dr McCrea, and whomever else he represents, was taking.
Alternatively, will the DUP make the essential choice that there is a growing majority in favour of partnership, equality and power sharing — about which I have a lot to say later — and proceed on that basis?
If Members read the tea leaves about what happened in London last night, they will see that it is clear that the bottom line has, or has all but, been reached with regard to the London Exchequer’s offer to the DUP and Sinn Féin. Martin McGuinness, who was here a minute ago, might say that the financial arrangement can be reached in New York, and Peter Robinson might say that it cannot, but he and the deputy First Minister know that the moment has arrived. Whatever our differences about the Department of Justice Bill and all the other matters that I will comment on, the DUP should make that call and make it quickly.
Jim Shannon made a thoughtful speech, as he often does. He said something that the DUP has never said in the endless Assembly and Executive Review Committee meetings that went nowhere. He said that there was not enough accountability as regards the judiciary. I have not heard that from a DUP spokesperson before, and I have never heard it from a Sinn Féin member in all those meetings. I, and my colleagues in that Committee, have been talking about it, but that comment captured the very essence of why people need the devolution of justice powers now. There needs to be more accountability around the judiciary. We need to have a sentencing guidelines council that is made up of people who can give advice, but not direction, to our judges about sentencing policy and practice.
We also need to have a new phase of reform of our Public Prosecution Service, which, in hard case after hard case — which, unfortunately, represents too many cases — has proved that it has a culture of plea bargaining; does not tell victims and survivors what is going on; does not outline the height of the evidence to the judge in a trial; and, consequently, hands out inadequate sentences in too many cases
I could go on about the unfinished business of justice and policing reform, which has been denied to the North over the past number of years and which is now so self-evident and compelling that, on those grounds alone, the DUP should go over the wall.
I do not diminish the difficulty that Peter Robinson faces, because as soon as he says that the devolution of justice is on, Jim Allister will say that he has had his four, five or whatever number of vetoes that Sinn Féin has conceded to him, and he did not use them. It is not an easy choice, but it is the rational political position and the position of strength that he must now adopt very quickly during his trip to and from America.
The reason that Mr Robinson should have particular confidence is because of the contradiction in Ian Paisley Jnr’s earlier intervention, when he said that republicans and nationalists had failed to deliver agendas on policing and justice. That is self-evidently wrong. For example, the Justice Oversight Commissioner would not have signed off the implementation of the Patten report two years ago to the extent that he felt that 90% was substantially, or fully, accomplished. Furthermore, we would not have had the two pieces of criminal justice legislation that arose from the Good Friday Agreement, and I could go on.
I do not think that the point that Ian Paisley Jnr made is evidence-based, but the more important argument is that which I have said to him privately and in a number of public sessions. I believe that unionism’s finest hour in the last seven or eight years was going to the Policing Board with the SDLP and sticking to the Policing Board with the SDLP. Although there was every reason for the unionist parties and the SDLP to fracture and destroy the Policing Board in the period up to 2007, that never happened. That was despite the Police Ombudsman’s reports into Omagh, Operation Ballast and the activities of a serial killer in north Belfast; despite the hurt that unionists felt around the severance of so many officers from the ranks of the RUC and the running down of the full-time Reserve; despite the ongoing threats of terror; despite the fallout from the appointment of Hugh Orde; and despite the fact that toys were thrown out of the pram on several occasions. Despite all of that, unionism never walked from the Policing Board, and the consequence of that was that despite suspension, political turbulence and all of the doubts from 2002 to 2007, the parties on the board stuck to the task. Reformed policing — in our view in the image of Patten; in unionists’ view in the image of something else — was delivered by the board. That is why unionism should agree to the devolution of justice.
The SDLP was also tested in the most difficult circumstances in the life of the first Policing Board, when Sinn Féin excluded itself and demonised those on the board and those who signed up to join the PSNI. However, although we stumbled we never fell, and in the most adverse circumstances, and in arguably in the hardest issue of our political lifetime, we succeeded.
Today of all days, when we have a new Chief Constable, and two months after a new Lord Chief Justice was appointed to the High Court, it seems to me that there is a coincidence of opportunity that we should not allow to be missed, and I hope that it will not.
Today, we heard from Martin McGuinness: he was up and down constantly, which was strange to see from such a passive Minister who does not normally get so agitated or involved on the Floor of House. However, he and his colleagues were on their feet constantly, making a fundamental political point in an effort to damage the SDLP legacy and contribution to the devolution of justice. Mr McGuinness thought that it was a good argument, and he essentially asked what the SDLP had done to deliver the devolution of justice when it was the primary nationalist party. For four reasons, that argument is holed with contradictions and holed below the waterline. I shall explain why and, in doing so, I shall expose what Sinn Féin has done.
The first reason is that we did not have much of an opportunity between 1998 and 2002 to do it, but that was not the point. The point was that the people of Ireland endorsed an approach to the devolution of justice and policing through the Good Friday Agreement, which states:
“the British Government remains ready … after consultation, as appropriate, with the Irish Government, in the context of ongoing implementation of the relevant recommendations, to devolve responsibility for policing and justice issues.”
That is what the Irish people endorsed in the Good Friday Agreement, and that was the mandate that they gave to the political parties to bring about the devolution of justice and policing.
Is Martin McGuinness saying to the people of Ireland that, in 1998, Sinn Féin endorsed that approach, but that any year thereafter it can change its approach? I know that that is the standard by which Sinn Féin lives with regard to the equality and partnership provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.
Is Sinn Féin telling the SDLP that, in 2000, 2001 and 2002, it should have aborted the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, usurped the democratic will of the Irish people and gone ahead with the devolution of justice, even though the implementation of relevant policing and justice recommendations had not been carried out? What folly it would have been to devolve policing and justice in those years when Sinn Féin did not have the confidence to go on the Policing Board. Sinn Féin should not berate the SDLP for what it did during those years, at a time when the republic movement was stealing documents down the hill, robbing banks in Belfast city centre and had not decommissioned a weapon.
The Member and I had a little spot on ‘Hearts and Minds’ some time ago, and I want to ask him a question on an issue that we discussed. I am less interested in all the criticism that my party receives from SDLP Members, because that is what they do: they do not do it very well, but that is how they live.
Not really; we are now looking at a social, democratic and leaderless party. It is all very well to criticise my party, and the SDLP can do that for the next month of Sundays if it wishes. However, the electorate will make their judgement on those matters, and they have recently made some decisive judgements.
Notwithstanding all the criticisms that the SDLP may wish to make of my party’s approach to the situation, could it please, for once, address how it would have, or will, secure the transfer of policing and justice powers. Will the SDLP tell us whether it can do it, will do it, or how it will be done? How will the SDLP transfer those powers? Either it adapts the SDLP approach and does its best to ensure that policing and justice are not devolved just because it cannot get a Ministry — that is how that party thinks — or does it want to look after the greater good and do its best to reach an accommodation to have the powers transferred so that we can all get on with developing accountability around the wider policing and criminal justice system with the other twin pillar of the independence of the judicial system? Will the SDLP please tell us how it will do it? It can criticise Sinn Féin for another week if it wishes, but tell us how it will do it.
I reassure the Member that I intend to answer those questions in full, consistent with the Bill. Sinn Féin cannot berate one party if what is being said usurps the Good Friday Agreement, and that is what it is saying about what happened during those years. However, it is about more than that.
During that time, because the criminal justice system was not fit for purpose, SDLP members went about the task of making it fit for purpose to prepare it for the devolution of justice at the earliest possible opportunity. That is what we did, consistent with the principle of the Good Friday Agreement about the implementation of the relevant justice and policing recommendations. We went about the business of changing policing and justice in order to create the opportunity for devolution to happen as soon as possible.
Sinn Féin knows that, because the SDLP had to sit down with Sinn Féin in what became known as the “Welly Park tutorials”, whereby the SDLP and Sinn Féin sat down with the Irish Government and had to go through — in a pretty tedious way, I may say — the changes that were required to policing and justice in order to maximise the changes and the timing of the devolution of justice. That has not been publicly known until now, but we had to sit down with Sinn Féin. Mr Maskey was not there. None of the Sinn Féin Members currently in the Chamber was there. However, two Sinn Féin members were there; the junior Minister and one of the party’s senior officials, who, mysteriously, is no longer a senior official — but that is probably another story.
We had to sit down with Sinn Féin in order to persuade and convince that party of what was required. That was done in the run-up to the Hillsborough negotiations, which happened to be in 2003, after suspension. In those negotiations, we in the SDLP won a whole series of changes to criminal justice — not as much as we desired or negotiated for, but we won them. At that stage we stated in document after document, publicly and privately, to the Irish Government, the British Government and anybody who would listen, that we believed that the standards of criminal justice could now be attained in order to fulfil the principle of the Good Friday Agreement to bring about the devolution of justice and policing.
SDLP members are criticised for what we did on our watch, but what we did was consistent with the democratic wish of the people of Ireland. Then we did the heavy lifting to change the criminal justice system and argued, publicly and privately, for the devolution of justice. At the same time, Mark Durkan, as deputy First Minister, went to the then First Minister and tried to convince him to go in that direction, because we believed, as the policing experience proved, that the earliest possible devolution of justice —
I will come to that. We believed that the earliest possible devolution of justice would demonstrate the stability and strength of the arrangements, and that there was a contradiction in the unionist argument that essentially agreed to the devolution of much policing power but held back on the devolution of justice powers. Remember the context in which all that happened — Sinn Féin had not signed on for policing and was adopting a hostile attitude to the PSNI, the Policing Board and the DPPs.
Sinn Féin has no argument because of its exposure on policing and justice issues during that period, and it has no reason or basis on which to criticise we in the SDLP for the big and difficult work that we were doing throughout that period. Let us not hear any more about what we did when we were the primary political party.
I will give way in a moment.
I am a democrat, and I always have been; I have always accepted the will of the Irish people, both North and South, about how we conduct our political affairs. When 98% of the people of Ireland, in election after election, adopted the democratic approach, it was a grave error, with immense fallout, that others did not do so as well. Nevertheless, this morning Alex Maskey rightly said that the SDLP had a mandate at one time for the devolution of justice. I have answered that. He went on to say that the mandate from the nationalist community then fell to Sinn Féin, which was, he said “mandated and obligated” to take forward the relevant issues.
If we are to be judged on what we did, let us now judge Sinn Féin on how it has fulfilled its mandate to defend the Good Friday Agreement, secure the devolution of justice, and defend nationalist interests into the bargain. Gerry Adams wrote, not in 2009 or in 2008 but in 2007, to the Assembly to say that there was no reason why a date could not be agreed within a month. Martin McGuinness sent a letter to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee saying precisely that.
You have to hand it to Peter Robinson, although I suspect that he had not necessarily spotted the residual veto power that he may have through the 2007 legislation. I shall return to that in a minute.
When Sinn Féin was given the mandate granting it the obligation to negotiate on behalf of the nationalist people, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness said that a date should be agreed within a month. Sinn Féin sat down with the First Minister, and it emerged with a DUP veto at all times for all times. At that moment, when Sinn Féin’s failure to negotiate was so brutally exposed, the history of the devolution of justice was written.
The DUP learned that when you sit down with Sinn Féin and get a veto once, you can do it twice. The DUP learned that even when you do not sit down and get a third veto, you can claim it anyway, as the First Minister did on 7 July 2009 when he came out of his meeting with Gordon Brown and said, essentially, that Reg Empey also had to agree. Having given that level of veto to Reg Empey, the issue is whether Cameron is prepared to provide satisfaction to the DUP on the financial issue.
That is what happened to the devolution of justice and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement when the nationalist community gave primacy to Sinn Féin. There was not one, not two, not three, but a family of vetoes on who makes the decision on when the devolution of justice will happen.
I wish to comment on the history lesson that the Member has provided. The period of history that he refers to, covering the engagement among Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Dublin Government and others, is an interesting period on which to reflect on the issue of policing. As those negotiations went on, Sinn Féin stated to all the parties around the table that the British Government could be moved further.
The SDLP and the Dublin Government stated that the British Government would not make further legislation on policing and justice. Sinn Féin said that the British Government could be moved if the parties at the negotiations remained united. The SDLP and the Dublin Government broke ranks. The SDLP joined the Policing Board, and real change on policing was delayed by a number of years. The British Government then brought forward further legislation on policing and justice, which is exactly what the SDLP said would not happen.
If the Member wishes to give a history lesson, he should give a complete history lesson. I will sum up what he has said so far: it is Sinn Féin’s fault that the SDLP did not ask for the transfer of policing and justice in the first place, and it is now Sinn Féin’s fault that the SDLP will not support the transfer of policing and justice. Does the SDLP have a mind of its own?
With all due respect, Mr Speaker, the Bill must be understood in the context of what previously transpired. Therefore, every comment is not only sourced in the debate but is sourced in clause 2 of the Bill. Everything that I am saying is relevant to that, because the issue comes down to how we got to that point and what that says about the nature of devolution and about who has held the whip hand in negotiations. That is why my comments are so important.
I want to respond to the issues that were raised by Mr O’Dowd. His comments were contradictory. He said that implementation of real change in policing was delayed for several years because of the SDLP’s decision to join the Policing Board. Why then, in the run-up to Sinn Féin’s decision to join the board, did Gerry Kelly say, in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ and in an interview on ‘Hearts and Minds’ with me, that there had been unprecedented change during previous years? He is quoted as saying that on the front page of the ‘Belfast Telegraph’. He has said that on record. One cannot reconcile the assertion that there has been unprecedented change during the SDLP and the unionist parties’ tenure on the Policing Board with the line that Sinn Féin has sold in the debate, which is that real change was delayed for years.
Why did Gerry Adams go to the then chairman of the Policing Board, after Sinn Féin had made its decision, and tell him that, if had not been for the board’s work, Sinn Féin could not have made that decision? Sinn Féin cannot have it both ways. Gerry Kelly’s words are on record. That is what happened, those are not disputed matters, and they are publicly known.
I want to deal with the Alliance Party’s comments. Although they were, as always, well-rounded and developed, they contained two or three essential political flaws that need to be addressed. Stephen Farry said that the Bill’s provision for the establishment of a justice Ministry was the lesser of two evils. I cannot reconcile myself with that: I do not understand how giving parties vetoes on ministerial appointments is better than what was guaranteed under the Good Friday Agreement and under legislation on the entitlement to ministerial office. I cannot reconcile how a veto on who becomes a Minister is better and is a lesser evil than the rights and guarantees of the Good Friday Agreement.
I will give way in a moment; I want to finish my point.
I do not understand why, if the Alliance Party believes that there are flaws in the Good Friday Agreement’s architecture, it indulges a bilateral change to the agreement rather than having a conversation with the DUP and Sinn Féin, as the DUP First Minister has suggested.
I do not understand how it is a lesser of two evils to appoint a Minister who will be the captive of the First Minister and deputy First Minister when the powers of Ministers have been eroded further because of the St Andrews Agreement and the ensuing legislation. I do not see how the Alliance Party can reconcile, and describe as the lesser of two evils, a veto, a bilateral change and a Minister’s being captive with the provisions that used to exist.
The Good Friday Agreement, which the Member’s party has trumpeted as its structures and mechanisms, contained a veto over the appointment of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. That had to be put to a cross-community vote. When that was removed at St Andrews, the SDLP, among other parties including the Alliance Party, believed that that was a retrograde step because it removed collectivity from the Executive. Therefore, the SDLP cannot, on the one hand, argue that the Alliance Party wants to introduce a veto.
If the Member reads the Good Friday Agreement, of which the SDLP was apparently the architect, he will see that it is riddled with vetoes and is, in fact, built on them.
I note that the Member did not deal with my second and third points, regarding bilateral change and a justice Minister being a captive. However, let us deal with the issue of the veto. The political circumstances in 1998 required that a message be sent out to our community saying that there was a new order of things. In order to demonstrate that, and to show the collective wisdom and will of the people to bring about a transition from pre-1998 politics to Good Friday Agreement politics, there was an election to a joint office of the Assembly. Those were the circumstances that existed then.
The circumstances that exist now for the devolution of policing and justice are very different. The unionist parties, the SDLP and Sinn Féin are sharing responsibility for much of the heavy work that must be done on policing; no one has walked away from the Policing Board, and that board has unanimously appointed a Chief Constable. If the Policing Board has the maturity to do that, the same principle can apply to the devolution of justice and to the appointment of a Minister.
I thank the Member for giving way, and I apologise for not answering his other two points. I held off on answering those, because I indicated that I wanted to intervene on the specific issue of a veto. The Member’s last point raises some interesting questions. He suggested that political circumstances can change the approach that is taken. Up to this point in the debate, the SDLP has basically said that what was inscribed in 1998 could never be changed and that the appointment mechanism was immovable and untouchable. That is precisely the position to which the SDLP has been holding, so there is an issue about political change. I do not think that the SDLP was happy when the appointment mechanism was removed.
I do not believe that a justice Minister will be held hostage. My colleagues and I have said, very clearly, that the security of programme is the key to ensuring that no Minister will be held hostage. The Member is right to say that the justice Minister could be removed from the post. That situation is preferable to the current one, in which an underperforming Minister can continue to underperform ad infinitum and never be challenged directly.
I wish to answer the Member’s third point on the issue of unilateral and bilateral change. We have made it crystal clear that we do not see that as either opening the door to wider change or as a Trojan horse. Other people can interpret that whichever way they want. If the Bill is passed, all other posts in the Executive will continue to be filled using the d’Hondt process, until such times as the Assembly chooses otherwise.
I thank the Member for those comments. I wish make two points: first, the Alliance Party said that the Bill has a limited precedent. However, the words and comments that have been made in recent weeks indicate that some people are beginning to think that that is not the case. There may now be a situation in which people will try to maximise the opportunity created by the removal of d’Hondt, the creation of exclusion politics, the end of equality and the denial of partnership, all of which are required by elements of Sinn Féin, on the DUP’s watch. I suggest that the Member cautions herself very profoundly before she casually concedes and suggests to the House that what has been agreed has a limited precedent. In time, I think that the Member will regret those assertions.
Secondly, there was an inconsistency in the Alliance Party’s intervention, made during Mr Kennedy’s contribution, on the issue of what Mr Empey may or may not have said about who could be justice Minister. Mrs Long’s contribution had substance in that regard. It is inconsistent for the Alliance Party to tell the Ulster Unionist Party that Mr Empey was basically saying that no nationalist need apply, when the Alliance Party will today vote for a Bill that will have that consequence.
The Alliance Party cannot berate a party leader for taking such a stance, even though it may be appropriate to do so, unless it, in not agreeing to the Bill’s Second Stage, votes down a clause that has the same impact, because it is in the legislation and referred to in statements made by the First Minister, with the consent of the deputy First Minister —
I thank the Member for giving way again — at least there are some people in the Chamber who give way.
There are other posts in the Assembly, including your own, Mr Speaker, which are filled on the basis of a cross-community vote. None of those posts specifies that no unionist need apply, that no nationalist need apply or even that no member of the United Community group need apply. The suggestion that the inclusion in the Bill of the requirement for a cross-community vote represents a veto against nationalism is simply not borne out by the facts.
That is totally different to the leader of the UUP faction of UCUNF’s statement, which made particular reference to me, that the justice Minister must be a unionist. It appears that he meant that the justice Minister must be a unionist if elected by cross-community vote, although the SDLP would be acceptable if d’Hondt were used.
That confirms my point, and I will explain why. [Laughter.] Regardless of the facts in this place, the fact in this case is unambiguous and has been stated publicly — the DUP will exercise its veto on nationalist applicants for the justice Ministry, just as Sinn Féin has exercised its veto on a nationalist’s holding the eleventh ministry in the Government. That is what the legislation does. The Alliance Party can package that in whatever way it chooses, but it will be signing off on legislation that means that no nationalist party need apply for the justice Ministry.
I want to briefly return to the points that Mr Durkan made on the sunset clause. The First Minister will comment on that issue, and I look forward to his comments. I want to repeat that Mr Alex Maskey’s interpretation this morning is not correct. He said that the arrangements are temporary, that there is no fallback position and that we do not know what will happen in 2012. He concluded by saying that there is no fallback position in the Department of Justice Bill or in any other previous legislation passed at Westminster. I repeat that our understanding of the relevant clause and the schedule is that there is a fallback position. Sinn Féin either knew that and did not tell anyone, or it did not know, which would show the folly of its negotiating position.
Accepting “at all times” and “for all time” was the biggest strategic error that Sinn Féin made in its negotiations on the devolution of justice and policing powers. Out of that error flowed the strength of the DUP and the weakness of Sinn Féin in the negotiations. The Department of Justice Bill is at its Second Stage, and we have the shadow of “at all times” and “for all time” over the legislation and back on the Floor.
Sinn Féin was spooked, because it knew that nationalism could not live with a situation in which the DUP had such a capacity to veto. As a consequence, Sinn Féin tried to unpick the clause and conceded even more ground. Having conceded that ground, we are back where we were when “at all times” and “for all time” meant that no nationalists need apply.
The number of Members in the Chamber has swollen, obviously in expectation of my imminent contribution. I want to assure them that I do not intend to keep them long — just about five minutes more than the 41 minutes that Mr Attwood kept us.
It is amusing that the debate on what must be one of the simplest, most straightforward and shortest pieces of legislation to have come before the House is now well into its seventh hour — and the clock is still running. It is a simple and straightforward piece of enabling legislation, as Members have said. It simply names the Department, an issue about which I do not think anyone has raised any concern. Clause 3 refers to the commencement, which is to be carried out jointly at a later date by the First Minister and deputy First Minister; and it refers to the mechanism for the appointment of a justice Minister, which has been a bone of contention during the debate.
The legislation sets out an additional method of appointment, in that the nomination must be approved by a majority of all Members, and a majority of nationalists and a majority of unionists. I hear that method being criticised as if somehow it breaks the principle of d’Hondt, that tablet of stone set down in the agreement. The resounding response to that criticism from these Benches is: so what? The DUP has no love for d’Hondt or any abiding desire to see its continuation. To break that principle, therefore, is something in which we take pride.
Nor is what is in place representative of some sort of unionist Utopia. As much as some of us might like to, we do not get to choose who we want. The appointment of a Minister requires cross-community consensus. There are those who say that that arrangement is not inclusive, but how much more inclusive does it get than to have a requirement that the person who holds that very sensitive and important position must have been voted for in the House by a majority of nationalists and a majority of unionists? That is as inclusive as it gets. The model that the legislation will put in place also strengthens and solidifies the unionist position for which the DUP has been arguing for a considerable time. As some Members said, it ensures that, given the sensitivity of the position, no member of Sinn Féin can hold it.
There has been discussion — indeed, rancour — about timescales. Again, as has been pointed out, there is nothing whatsoever in the legislation about a precise timescale. Many other major steps are to be taken before the devolution of policing and justice can happen. There are many high hurdles — perhaps that should be high hedges — that we have to get over before we can even contemplate the actual devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly.
The Assembly must pass a section 4 motion of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 requesting that we have those powers devolved. Westminster must pass the relevant Orders, and there must be agreement there on that. I find some of the Ulster Unionist Party’s criticism curious, given that its Members expect their colleagues, their new-found friends, their paymasters in the Conservative Party, to be in power in the coming months. I would have thought that the UUP Members would have had much more confidence in their colleagues than some of them exhibited today. A Minister also needs to be identified, and there must be a subsequent Supply resolution and Budget Bill to deal with the financial aspects of the devolution of policing and justice powers.
I want to dwell a little on the critical issue of financing. There are, as everyone is aware, serious shortfalls with regard to the financial position for policing and justice. We have all heard about the discussions of the Policing Board, and the NIO demand for further cuts to front line policing. Many of those issues have been teased out and explored in great detail by the Assembly and Executive Review Committee.
Examples include the hearing loss claim, which, at the last estimate, represented a bill of around £120 million and rising all the time; the thorny subject of the cost of inquiries, and the fact that before inquiries take even a single piece of evidence, they can already be sitting with a £15 million bill; and the legal aid bill, which is habitually overspent by £20 million to £30 million each year, and is covered by the Exchequer, year in year out.
Various figures have been bandied about in respect of the actual cost of the devolution of policing and justice powers. I do not think that it is helpful to put a precise price tag on that. Although some of those shortfalls are historical or legacy costs that should be picked up by the Exchequer, others have been put forward in an opportunistic fashion as agencies within the justice sector bid for absolutely the best of everything, with knobs on. I argue that much of that is discretionary expenditure that could be looked at, as that sort of expenditure is, during the monitoring rounds each year.
However, within the present budget there are clearly a substantial number of significant shortfalls that need to be addressed to create the confidence that we can have, and exercise, in policing and justice powers in a way that does justice to the people of Northern Ireland. It would be foolish to proceed without proper budget cover in place. The ramifications of that could be quite stark, potentially leading to further cutbacks within policing or within other front line services.
Last weekend, there were three consecutive nights of rioting in the Lurgan area. Unfortunately, rioting is something that, from time to time, can plague this part of the world. It does not take too many consecutive nights of rioting in too many places for the existing budget for public order to be well and truly busted, and for money to be sought from other areas. The knock-on effect of that could be within policing — perhaps in the rollback of community policing or some of the educational projects that the police engage in — or, there could be a cut to other budgets, for example health or education. The proper financial package and budget cover must be in place before we can move forward with confidence.
Community confidence is a very important outstanding issue. I have said before that I, and unionists in general, want the devolution of policing and justice powers. We want to see the control of those powers placed within local hands and administered by the people whom they elect to represent them in the Assembly. Our forefathers fought for policing and justice powers in the 1920s, and the determination to take those powers away was one of the very reasons why our Parliament collapsed in the 1970s. The devolution of policing and justice powers has always been a unionist ideal. From the inception of the state, unionists have wanted control over those powers.
Through my membership of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, I have examined some of the financial shortfalls. However, I have seen other shortfalls within the system that can only be amended if control is placed in local hands. For example, there are necessary reforms to be made that could put an end to the inflated level of expenditure on the legal aid bill, and sentencing policy, most Members would agree, could be toughened up, mindful of not interfering with the independence of the judiciary.
Unionists desire control of the policing and justice powers. Although we have that desire, we need to build confidence in the Assembly having those powers, and that will be helped by addressing the financial issues that underpin devolution. This is a fairly simple and straightforward piece of legislation; however, it is clearly not a simple or a straightforward matter.
We still have many hurdles to overcome before we can say with confidence that we want to have policing and justice powers transferred. The Bill in no way advances us, in time, towards that day. It is a necessary step, but we still have some significant distance to travel.
The debate was never likely to be easy for you to handle, Mr Speaker, or for the Deputy Speakers. The devolution of policing and justice powers is a sensitive issue, and one that is vital to us all. It is a life-and-death matter for the people of Northern Ireland. That is the nature of its importance, and the discussions in the Assembly and Executive Review Committee and in the House have been critical.
Therefore, I was glad, and I would not have expected anything else from you, Mr Speaker, that you took the sensible line of allowing Members some flexibility. Members may be thinking that I say that because I intend to stretch that flexibility, but I do not. I am responding to the debate and, therefore, to comments that have already been made. As those comments have already been made, they must have been in order. Therefore, I must be in order in responding to them. [Laughter.]
It was a bit of a stretch to understand how some issues raised today were relevant to an enabling Bill that essentially has two key elements, especially given that the Second Stage of a Bill is confined to a debate on its general principles rather than its particulars. Of course, Members can object to various elements of any Bill, but they have the opportunity in Committee and at Consideration Stage to propose and table amendments for consideration. Therefore, the Assembly has today been considering the principle of whether the Bill’s Second Stage should be agreed. That was the only issue on which the House had to decide, not whether every aspect of the Bill is precisely in place in the way in which Members want. That is for further Stages of the Bill to determine.
The debate did not always reach lofty heights, and elements of it were not edifying. Sometimes, we need to stop and consider where this Province has come from over the past number of years and, perhaps, recognise each Member’s important role to ensure that the Assembly continues to make progress. I am a convinced devolutionist; I have always been so, and part of my conviction that devolution is the best way forward for the people of Northern Ireland comes from my 30 years at Westminster, most of which were served during periods of direct rule. I will never agree with anybody who thinks that it is better for the people of Northern Ireland to be part of a system of government that allows people who have no roots in this community to take decisions on its behalf.
Indeed, I will go further. Decisions are taken at Westminster in a way that gives no effective say to the elected representatives from this part of the United Kingdom. My colleague Dr McCrea will know about that, because he and I are both old-timers in the House of Commons. We know the procedures, whereby Orders in Council were passed after an hour and a half of debate, sometimes at 3.00 am. Those matters were shoved on to the end of business because people did not want to keep English, Scottish and Welsh MPs from getting home to their beds.
That was the way in which Northern Ireland affairs were treated. Those Bills went through without any amendments or any opportunity for people to do more than have, perhaps, one Member of their party speak on the issue at hand. No amendments were permitted to Orders in Council. That is what we will go back to if we do not make a go of the Assembly.
People may be a little bit unhappy about structural aspects, and there are many things that I want to see changed, but we must not start questioning devolution itself. It is very much in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it delivers best for them.
The devolution of policing and justice powers will be initiated when the Assembly alone determines that the time is right. In that context, I have already mentioned that the Bill is preparatory in nature. Clause 3 makes clear that its provisions will become operative only after the Assembly has agreed to proceed and when the deputy First Minister and I jointly make a formal commencement Order. The Bill is an enabling Bill. It deals with the structures associated with setting up a Department of justice and the mechanism for appointing a justice Minister.
Throughout the debate, I heard a number of Members say that if we expect them to vote for this kind of legislation, we should talk to them. That shows that they do not understand the legislation that they are dealing with. This legislation is not the result of some recent backroom deal or of some negotiations with the Government or between the deputy First Minister and me. The Bill is the direct result of an agreement by the Assembly after the Assembly and Executive Review Committee presented its first report to the House. That Committee considered all the relevant issues and heard evidence from the deputy First Minister and me when we discussed those matters with it. There was a full debate on the Committee’s report in the Assembly, in which these issues were discussed.
Perhaps I will go off at a tangent here: I cannot understand the SDLP’s position. Throughout the seven-odd hours of the debate, it has said that it will vote against the Bill. Why? It did not vote against the Assembly and Executive Review Committee’s report to the Assembly, which contained those selfsame issues. If it did not vote against that report then, why is it saying that it will vote against the Bill’s Second Stage, which is a principle Stage, today? There is no consistency in that position whatsoever. I cannot understand how the SDLP has got itself into that position.
I will go into more detail on the subject of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists later. However, I listened to Mr Kennedy when he dispensed with the hat that he wears as Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and firmly placed his party hat on his head. He seemed offended at the suggestion that the Member for East Belfast Mrs Long might think that the attitude and position that the Ulster Unionist Party had adopted was anything other than a natural and principled stand that was in the interests of the whole community. Well, we must say it as it is: the Ulster Unionist position is entirely synthetic, and there is no degree of truth and honesty in it. It is absurd, given that party’s history on this matter.
It might be worthwhile to take a bit of time to look at the Ulster Unionist Party’s position. UUP Members have indicated that they believe in the devolution of policing and justice. I knew that they did so, because I can recall during the stewardship of Mr Trimble, now Lord Trimble, and Seamus Mallon, and during the stewardship of the now Lord Trimble and Mr Durkan, that there were all sorts of difficulties for the Executive and that negotiations were held periodically.
During one set of negotiations, the Ulster Unionist Party reached an agreement. At no stage did it publish that agreement because it lost the election that followed and the party was not required to deliver on it. However, it is worth knowing what the Ulster Unionist Party had signed up to; the same Ulster Unionist Party that said today, for point scoring purposes, that it wants to see the devolution of policing and justice but that this is just not the right time and that it is too soon. What was the Ulster Unionist Party’s position? The document that they agreed stated, and I quote:
“Ulster Unionists want to see the devolution of policing and justice on a basis that is robust and workable and broadly supported by the parties. In the next Assembly, we will seek agreement on the practicalities of such devolution, including the necessary institutional arrangements and legislation, with the objective of achieving devolution towards the mid-point of the Assembly’s lifetime.”
Remember, that was in 2003. The document goes on to refer to the UUP’s willingness to:
“support arrangements for consultation and co-operation in policing and justice matters with the relevant authorities in Ireland.”
That is from a document that the Ulster Unionist Party signed up to.
My recollection, and I am sure that those who were more intimately involved will tell me if I am wrong, is that the guts of that were agreed at a meeting in Hillsborough; a meeting in which the then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party took himself off a few hours early, and I am not sure of the reason, leaving the present leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in charge. The document is not something that one can say was due to David Trimble and was in the past: the thumbprints of the present leader are on it, as are those of many of the people who are here in the Ulster Unionist ranks today.
In 2003, the Ulster Unionist Party believed that the devolution of policing and justice should take place at the mid-point of the following Assembly, probably around the end of the summer holidays in October 2005. Does anyone in the House remember what conditions were like in 2003? If Members will permit me, I will remind them. Killings were still taking place that were being attributed to the Provisional IRA; cover names such Direct Action Against Drugs, and so forth, were being used; racketeering, gangsterism and criminality were still going on; Sinn Féin had given no support to the police, the courts, or the rule of law; yet the Ulster Unionist Party was content, at that stage and in those circumstances, to have the powers of policing and justice devolved.
What the First Minister has omitted from his historical detail of the events of 2003 is that the leading nationalist party at that time was the SDLP, and that the Ulster Unionists, as the largest unionist party, had a responsibility to create stability for the people of Northern Ireland, and was attempting to give leadership. That was not helped by the antics and the attitudes of the Democratic Unionist Party.
Nonetheless, an important consideration that he omitted was that generally, the broader Unionist family always considered it somewhat easier, difficult though it was, to negotiate with the SDLP than have to deal with Sinn Féin in the way that the First Minister finds himself doing now.
Here we find out how the Ulster Unionist Party got itself into so much trouble. It negotiated for the day without recognising that there is a tomorrow. The negotiation was held, and the decision taken, before an election. Everyone knew what the outcome of that election would be. The trend at that time made it abundantly clear that the SDLP was no longer going to be the largest party. Even if the Ulster Unionist Party missed what everyone else knew to be the facts, would anyone really put into legislation an arrangement that would have allowed Sinn Féin to take the position if the electorate had changed its mind in future years?
It is not a case of it being easier because the negotiations were with the SDLP. The Ulster Unionist Party was negotiating with Sinn Féin as well. Let us be clear that this was not a deal or a stitch-up that was done with the SDLP. It was an arrangement that would have been set for as long as the Assembly’s legislation lasted. It is entirely synthetic for the Ulster Unionist Party to object in the current circumstances. Sinn Féin has given its support to the police, the courts and the rule of law; there has been decommissioning, which had not taken place when the agreement was signed; and it is clear that its campaign is over, if the various bodies that the Government set up to look at weaponry and the role of terrorist organisations are to be believed.
Conditions have changed since 2003, and there is no one out there who will say that they have not changed for the better. If conditions have changed for the better and it was OK to devolve policing and justice in 2003, why is not OK to do it in 2009? The Ulster Unionist Party cannot answer that question.
I could take the discussion back to the negotiations that took place all the way through the process.
The First Minister talked about people not voting against this in the Committee. In the Committee, all parties agreed that the title of the Department would be the Department of justice. However, we voted against the second bit — the Ministers etc — and I think it is correct to say that the SDLP voted against. When the report came to the House, we voted against it. The suggestion that we all voted for it is not correct.
Our objection now is that the head of the Government is totally dysfunctional. There is no agreement between the two main parties: they are fighting over education, the Maze stadium and everything else. Policing and justice cannot be devolved to the Executive, the First Minister and the deputy First Minister with any hope that there will be stability, particularly as long as issues such as parading and Eames/Bradley remain unresolved.
I will deal with the point about dysfunctionality first, and then the Committee issue. How dysfunctional was the Executive in 2003 when the Assembly was collapsing every other week? The Ulster Unionist Party wanted to have the powers devolved to a dysfunctional Executive in 2003. I will come to more detailed comparisons of dysfunctionality later.
The Member has built a straw man so that he can knock it down, but I think that there is a genuine misunderstanding on his part regarding the Committee issue. I was not referring to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. Rather, I was referring to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, which we appeared before in relation to this matter. That Committee brought its report to the Assembly, and the Assembly passed that report after a vote. At that time, the SDLP did not vote against the report. The SDLP now wants to vote against the principle of something that it agrees with because of the details of something that it did not previously object to.
Mr McFarland put his head above the parapet. I recall the Preparation for Government Committee during the good old days of the Assembly. The Member for North Down Mr McFarland and I were members of that Committee when the issue of policing and justice was discussed. Through its spokesman, Mr McFarland, the Ulster Unionist Party said that it acknowledged that confidence in the unionist community was not yet there, and that it was not possible to agree to the devolution of policing and justice at that time. However, he went on to say that if the barrier of Sinn Féin announcing support for the police were removed and devolution was restored — both of which have happened — that would provide the necessary confidence. Those were the conditions that he laid down. On that same occasion, he then had the audacity to attack the DUP for its reluctance to provide a time frame to assist Sinn Féin. He regarded that as a misguided position. Therefore, the party that claims that it could not touch the principle of the Bill is the same one that chided us for not giving a timetable for the devolution of policing and justice during meetings of the Preparation for Government Committee.
I am grateful to the First Minister for giving way. I am the third person to put my head above the parapet. [Interruption.]
I hear a lot of yahooing and cavorting. However, having listened to the First Minister’s explanation, I want to make a serious point. Does he agree that circumstances have changed since the time that he referred to? Does he agree that the Executive have faced difficulties? Does he agree that there has been some difficulty with dissident republican activity? Does he agree that there have been difficulties with education, with parades, with the Maze and other issues, all of which have served to undermine public confidence in these institutions?
I was not an MLA during the days that the First Minister referred to. Therefore, I know about the optimism that existed outside this place. People had can-do attitudes and were eager to see what could be achieved.
The First Minister spoke most eloquently, and I mean this most sincerely, because he has the privilege of rank and he can talk with a command of the detail. He agreed that some of the issues that were raised by my party deserve serious consideration. Our opposition at this stage is aimed at sending the message that we are concerned about the long-term future. We are quite happy to work with people to try to resolve the issues, but we feel that we are missing a trick. There is a danger of winning the battle but losing the war.
Again, I will address the dysfunctionality argument, because it has permeated the debate. It probably came to a crescendo when Dolores Kelly spoke. During her tirade, as she threw her arms in the air, she indicated that the Executive had agreed nothing and that they could not take decisions that will benefit the people of Northern Ireland. That argument was followed up by the Ulster Unionist Party. None of that is new; they have been pumping out those same arguments every day for a long time. As soon as there is a difficulty — and difficulties will always occur in government — they talk about a dysfunctional Executive that cannot agree and about the Assembly not working. They do, of course, have a ready audience in the form of the media, which looks for any issue on which they can cause controversy.
Let us have a more objective consideration of the exact nature of that dysfunctionality. Such consideration is within the context of the debate on the Bill because a dysfunctional Executive has been suggested as one reason for not proceeding with it.
Comparisons can be made with the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party, which are the two parties of the centre. The message that they seek to send out is that, if only they were in government, everything would be peace and light, the sun would shine every day, the children would be skipping in the streets, and life would be wonderful.
Let us, however, consider the facts. The SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party jointly led the Government during 31 months of devolution, whereas the current period of devolution stands at 29 months. The Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, therefore, had more time as leaders of the Executive than the DUP and Sinn Féin. What was accomplished? How many agreements did the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists reach at the Executive during that period? I will tell them: when Seamus Mallon was the deputy First Minister, they reached 194 agreements, and, when Mark Durkan was the deputy First Minister, they reached 126 agreements. Over a period of 31 months, they reached a total of 320 agreements.
Surely the current lousy, dysfunctional Executive could not meet the standards set by the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. Surely the 320 issues on which they reached agreement was such a benchmark that it could never be beaten. However, in less time than it took the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists to reach agreement on 320 issues, the current Executive have reached agreement on 451 issues. We have, therefore, significantly increased the standard.
I will do so in a moment.
Very few of those 451 issues went to a division. Those two parties, over a longer period, accomplished about two thirds of the number that we have achieved. Despite that, they sit there, sanctimoniously pointing the finger and saying that dysfunctional parties cannot run the Executive — we have done a better job than them.
It is a matter of record that the legislation that was approved, the agreements reached and work done amount to much more happening during the tenure and leadership of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party.
Does the First Minister not agree that one of the most important problems in society is the cancer of sectarianism? That must be addressed, but what did the dysfunctional Executive do last week? Sinn Féin published its document, and the DUP subsequently published on its website the document on which it thought it had secured agreement with Sinn Féin.
I will, but it is better that I answer one intervention before taking another.
I find it slightly offensive that the Member attempts to chide the Speaker for giving me the flexibility to respond to remarks that she made earlier. The Member allows herself the flexibility to talk about a dysfunctional Executive but, if anyone dares to respond, she complains to the Speaker about his allowing similar flexibility.
I am grateful to the First Minister for giving way. I accept that the landscape is different from what it was in 2003. I also accept that the DUP is now the leading party in unionism, although I hope that that will be temporary. However, let me bring matters up to date: based on the comments of the First Minister’s senior colleagues here today, some of whom hold dual mandates in this House and in Westminster, and given the not insignificant warnings that were posted today from this House; assuming that the enabling power will pass through its various stages and will be granted to the First Minister; how optimistic is he of achieving the devolution of policing and justice soon?
Before the First Minister responds to that point and to the issue that was raised by Dolores Kelly, I make it absolutely clear that every Member has had an opportunity to speak during the Second Stage of this Bill. All Members on all sides need to be honest: they received quite a bit of latitude in going outside the Second Stage of the Bill. Let us have a wee bit of honesty: the First Minister is answering comments that were made in this House by a number of Members. Let us not have double standards; let us protect the integrity and the business of this House, because that is what this is about and what my job is about.
I make it clear to the Member who asked the question — to those in the Chamber and those outside it — that, from the earliest moment of the prospect of devolution to Northern Ireland, documents from the Democratic Unionist Party were submitted to Government that argued the importance of the devolution of policing and justice powers. It is not a new position for us: it has always been our position.
As was mentioned in the debate, it was of particular importance to Carson and Craigavon during the negotiations that saw our Stormont Parliament being set up that the critical functions of policing and justice would be part of the Government’s responsibilities. Brian Faulkner did not think it worth having a Government without those responsibilities for the reasons that a number of Members set out. We want policing and justice powers to return to Northern Ireland.
However, our consistent position, which was laid down in manifestos and in policy documents, is that because of the life-and-death, vitally sensitive issues that touch on the lives of every citizen, which I set out at the beginning, it had to be done right. It had to be done in a way that inspired community confidence. Community confidence was put at the heart of our manifesto. It was put at the heart of all our policy documents not to obstruct the devolution of policing and justice but because it was regarded as the essential ingredient.
Think what would happen if we were to have policing and justice powers with a justice Minister, and a significant section of our community could not stomach the fact that that was the position. All sorts of scenarios could be played out. It is vital that we have community confidence. It is also vital, as soon as we have all the other ingredients in place, that we all go out and win that community confidence; we should not sit back and hope that it comes along.
We recognised that two elements were central to achieving community confidence: the institutional arrangements and the financial arrangements. They would be critical in convincing the public that devolving policing and justice powers was the right thing for us to do.
If I had a blank piece of paper and I were left on my own to write the scheme, I would not come up with that which we have. It is not the best scheme out, any more than our devolution structures are perfect; indeed, they have their imperfections.
I feel no embarrassment or any disloyalty to either the deputy First Minister or the Assembly. If I see ways of improving how we do business in the Assembly to get better delivery for the people of Northern Ireland, I have a duty to speak out. That is not to degrade or denigrate the great deal that we have achieved already. I believe that we have secured agreements where nobody expected us to. I believe that we have been able to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland; however, we have perhaps not sold properly what we have delivered. I believe that changes that have benefited the people of Northern Ireland over the past two years would never have been seen under direct rule.
Coming back to policing and justice, it is essential that we deal with the issues of institutional arrangements and finance to ensure that we build the community confidence, which, in our view, is essential.
As far as the institutional arrangements are concerned, broadly speaking, I believe that the arrangements in the Bill are fair and workable. If I did not believe that, I would not have recommended them to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee or, perhaps more importantly, to my colleagues. Therefore, I believe that the institutional arrangements can get the support of the community.
The financial arrangements are not yet in place. Indeed, for months we have been talking to officials and to Ministers without much movement on the matter. Most of the work has been in identifying where the pressures were and the extent to which those pressures were inescapable. I think that we now have thorough engagement with Government about what they will do to be able to meet the financial pressures that, unquestionably the police and justice agencies, prisons probation boards and the other bodies will face.
However, we are not there yet. We are still interrogating those figures, and we are almost in a stand-off position, because we are leaving it to officials in the Department of Finance and Personnel to advise us on whether the proposals meet the necessary criteria. That is a responsible position for us to adopt. Rather than attempt to impose a political will to push on to get devolution quicker than the finances would allow us or to hide behind finances as a reason to hold back, we are allowing officials to look at the finances realistically and to tell us the position that we would put the Province in.
I point out to Members that finance is no small issue. Any member of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee who has looked at the details of the finances knows that they represent very considerable pressures. The Government identified those pressures in some way when they gave us £27 million or whatever it was in the past weeks, only to effectively take £17 million back again by tightening the screw on spending.
Issues that are related to hearing loss could cost hundreds of millions of pounds, and it would be madness for the Ministers who are responsible for making recommendations to ignore those. We must deal with big-ticket items such as legal aid and equal pay, and pensions are no small matter. We also have to deal with a long list of what might be considered in simple, one-line terms to be small items. However, their cumulative effect makes them bigger than any of the big-ticket items.
Finance is not an easy matter to manage, but in my view, the Prime Minister and his officials are now dealing with it seriously. I believe that we made real progress on a number of those issues not just last night, but in previous meetings. Therefore, we are making progress. We are not going to the United States to have a meeting about policing and justice, but if the Prime Minister is there, and we are there and time is available, we will want to try to make further progress, because we want to see what the Prime Minister is prepared to do on some of those issues. Therefore, I hope that we can make more progress than we have made so far on the financing of policing and justice.
But that still leaves us with the matter of community confidence. The Ulster Unionist Party seems to be feeling a little sensitive about being left out, but, as I have pointed out publicly — and I do not retract one word of it — when the Democratic Unionist Party put into its manifesto that it was essential to be satisfied that there is community confidence, it did not say that it wanted the confidence of the leader of the DUP, the DUP Assembly group or the party as a whole; it said that it wanted community confidence.
The Ulster Unionist Party is part of that community, and we will want to hear exactly what it has to say on these matters. However, it will not be able to duck the serious questions that we have to face. If the UUP wants to give me plenipotentiary powers and allow me to take decisions on its behalf, I will do so, but, in my view, the matter is such that the Ulster Unionist Party, the Alliance Party, the SDLP, Sinn Féin and anybody else in the Assembly should have their say about whether the time is right for devolving policing and justice. They will not be ignored during the process.
I listened with interest to what the First Minister said. Throughout the debate, we have been signalling that we have concerns and opinions about which we would like to engage with him. However, we have been royally vilified, and some Members even laughed and called into question the points that we brought forward. It seems to me that if there is to be a way to build community confidence, it could be ably demonstrated in the Chamber by how people respond to heartfelt and genuine concerns; concerns that I happen to know are shared by many people, not just members of the UUP. Therefore, I say to the First Minister that I hear what you say, but actions speak louder than words.
First, I do not believe that anybody was laughing, scoffing or otherwise screaming at him about any concerns that he may have. I rather suspect that some of those concerns are shared on these Benches. The inconsistency in the Ulster Unionist Party’s position is that having and expressing those concerns is a reason to vote against an enabling Bill, which does nothing to determine the date for the devolution of policing and justice. That is the gap between our positions.
Similarly, I cannot understand why the SDLP did not vote against the Assembly and Executive Review Committee’s report, but claims that it will vote against the Bill tonight. Likewise, the Ulster Unionist party says that it believes in principle in the devolution of policing and justice, but, like the rest of us, has concerns, and therefore will vote against having the legislation in place that, at a later stage, will enable that to happen. Surely we have enough confidence in ourselves to know that the issue will come to the Assembly, which can then determine whether the moment is right. I have said publicly — now for the fifth or sixth time — that we will not reach that stage until we have had the very conversations that the Member suggests should take place.
This is a community issue. In fact, I will go further; it is not just a matter for the parties in the Assembly. If Members look at the process paper that the deputy First Minister and I handed over to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, they will see that a consultation process with the community as a whole is one of the process points that must be followed. Would it not be wrong for us to ignore what the community has to say about such an important matter?
Again I go back to the issue: I do not object in any way to Members expressing concerns about timing or, indeed, the mechanisms that will be used, but that is not the subject of the Bill that is before us tonight.
I am grateful to the First Minister for giving way again. We accept that the legislation is enabling legislation, and it is a fact that it contains no time or date. However, it is very important that the First Minister and all Members of the House understand that, crucially, it is also a fact that the Ulster Unionist Party and other parties have been excluded from the detailed negotiations that are ongoing in Downing Street and that will undoubtedly continue in Washington, New York or somewhere else in the United States of America this week. That raises the fundamental concern that we cannot and will not, as a political party, give a blank cheque to those negotiations.
I do not think that anybody would ask that of anyone in the House; I would not ask my own party colleagues to give me a blank cheque on those matters. Every one of them will want to see exactly what the financial arrangements are; they will want absolute open and transparent disclosure in the course of the further discussions that we have, as indeed they will for any other issues that are of concern to them.
I ask my honourable friend to think back to the talks at Weston Park in which the Ulster Unionist Party took the lead. The only news that we were given was drip-fed to us from people who were in the talks. Certainly, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party did not tell the people of Ulster what was agreed there.
That applies not just to what happened at Weston Park, it has to be said. The Ulster Unionist Party even attempted to stop me, as a Minister, from getting Executive papers. I had to go to court to get financial and other papers that were going to the Executive and that they withheld from me. Therefore, I will not take lectures about the lack of consultation and so forth.
I am being open. I have indicated publicly that I am willing to set up a mechanism, both for the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists, to talk about the issues that the Executive have to deal with and about any other matters that they want. I have asked my special advisers already to see whether arrangements can be made with the special advisers of the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP to ensure that we have a better relationship.
Let us be very clear: this is not a matter of Sinn Féin and the DUP keeping the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP out. Up to now, it has been a matter of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party seeing themselves as being opposition in the Executive. I hope that we will see a change in that situation. Indeed, we have heard an example of that today. There has been talk about huckster shops and people getting Executive papers at the last moment. What happened when the papers were given out with plenty of time? On the same day that the Finance Minister sent a paper to other Ministers, it was leaked to the BBC. If we are to have an Executive in which there is a proper functioning partnership —
The Member should not ask where the leak came from; he might get an answer.
The facts are that the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party have gloried in being opposition in the Executive. It did not really matter what the issue was; they wanted to be against it. If they thought that there was going to be the least bit of hardship over a decision that was to be made, they wanted to be against that general principle. That is OK for an opposition party; we expect such parties to do that. However, if we have parties in the Executive, particularly in circumstances where greater responsibilities are going to be handed over, we expect a team to be playing together. That is not simply a case of Sinn Féin and the DUP allowing greater disclosures to the SDLP and Ulster Unionists; it is a matter of those parties playing as part of a team.
I will give way in a moment. We had a second example in the Chamber today, with an Ulster Unionist Minister. Can anybody imagine a Minister in any Cabinet anywhere in the world coming to an Assembly about a financial matter in the way that that Ulster Unionist Minister did today? That Minister has 50% of the block grant, which is all the money that is available to us in Northern Ireland. He has a better settlement than any Health Minister has ever had. What is his reaction to the first difficulty that comes along, the first hard decision that he has to make? He said that it is the Finance Minister’s fault.
That is not the way that Executive Ministers should be acting. The Health Minister signed up to the Budget; he agreed to it, and we expect people to work together in the Executive as a collective. That is even more important.
If we have not moved too far away from the point that Mr Kennedy was going to raise, I will give way to him.
I am grateful to the First Minister for giving way, yet again. Methinks the First Minister doth protest too much, particularly on the issue of the role of what are called “opposition” parties operating in the Executive. It seemed to me and to a large number of people, including Members of the House and people outside the House, that he and his party successfully deployed such tactics in the period when the DUP was not the leading party and when he did not have the full responsibilities that he has now. It is a bit rich of him to lecture us in those terms today.
The Member’s memory is a little defective, because we held exactly that kind of role, and we made it clear that our objective in relation to the Belfast Agreement was to bring it down. That was our deployment, and since we made the changes that were required due to the unsuccessful negotiating of the Ulster Unionist Party and managed to get a better deal for the unionist community in Northern Ireland, we have succeeded. The electorate supported us because of the programme that we were developing. Is the Ulster Unionist Party saying that it is adopting the tactics of the DUP because it wants to bring the agreement down? That is where those tactics were bound to lead, and that is why we deployed them.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair)
If the Member is against the structures that we have here and the form of devolution that we have, I recognise that he has a right to carry on with the wrecking tactics, if that is the idea. However, we have got a better deal now to stand over the kind of structures that we have. If the Member wants the system to work, I hope that he will join with the rest of us as full members of the team, working with his Executive colleagues as part of a collective, and not leaking information and trying to damage the Executive by handing out stories to journalists that might be of interest in order to undermine the Executive and its work. I am not suggesting that the Member leaked the information, because he was not there.
I am grateful to the First Minister for giving way. Why would we want to wreck something that we created and worked hard to create? Let me reassure the First Minister and other Members, lest they may be in any doubt: the Ulster Unionist Party worked hard to create the conditions for devolution, and we will continue to work hard to create proper conditions for the devolution of policing and justice. We are not in the business of wrecking, and we never have been — unlike some parties in the House.
I get around the Province as much as, and perhaps more than, most Members. I meet people of every shade of opinion and at every level of our society. If the Member thinks that through his party’s constant references to dysfunctionality, comments about the Executive not doing particular things and decisions not being taken, it is supporting and building up the credibility of the structures that we have here, he is mistaken. In the community, there is an unhealthy disrespect for the Assembly and for the work that it does. It is our responsibility to show that we can act responsibly and that we want to make the Assembly and Executive work. That is a job that every one of us has to do, and we will not do it if we try from the inside to act as saboteurs or fifth columnists and try to bring it down.
We, on these Benches, are not trying to wreck anything: we have never sought to wreck anything here. We have tried to make the Assembly and Executive work, and we have done that by proposing motions that suggest better ways of handling issues in relation to public finances and that suggest that all the parties work together in a new Committee to deal with a lot of the structural problems in the Budget. All of those motions contained positive proposals to deal with those issues, and we proposed them in order to play our part and not to wreck anything. However, each proposal that we made to deal with serious issues, and deal with them collectively, was voted down by Sinn Féin and the DUP.
I could tell an entirely different story, but I do not think that it would help to bind the wounds that exist.
Some Ministers sit at the Executive table, texting people outside to get details of confidential discussions to the press, and I do not believe that that is the best way forward for the Executive. Furthermore, some Ministers record their dissent in the minutes on every issue that is a little bit controversial or that might have a downside to it. Being in the Executive is about taking difficult decisions, and it is about being unpopular at times because of those decisions. One cannot be in a four-party mandatory coalition, and take all the benefits of being in that coalition, but, at the same time, use one’s position to make out that the other members of the coalition are responsible when things go wrong. If an Executive are to function properly and take the responsibilities that we are talking about, there must be more collectivity within it, and a more responsible attitude must be taken.
I will not make any more of that point, but I want to make it clear that there is not a one-way process that the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party are being kept out of. Those parties’ actions have created a gap between them and the two leading parties in the Executive. I hope that that gap can be closed, and I hope that there is a will on the part of the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP to do that. If there is a genuine desire to be a more collective Executive, and to move forward, I believe that that will be reciprocated by both Sinn Féin and the DUP
I must move on now, because I have spoken for almost an hour, and I am not even halfway through my responses to comments. [Laughter.]
On four occasions, Members referred to the devolution of policing and justice powers not occurring in “a political lifetime”. I have sourced the original reference to that and the context in which it was said. The references that were made in the House of Commons were made during a discussion of legislation that specifically designed a ministerial role for Sinn Féin in policing and justice. Nigel Dodds, and possibly others, made those comments in that context. Those remarks were clearly made in that context, and they were also set out in the DUP’s policy document in the same context. However some people in the House, and other mischievous and malevolent people outside it, have chosen to use those comments without being honest enough to give the context in which they were made.
During an intervention, Mr Kennedy made some remarks about his concern about the financial package — Members will note that I am still dealing with the first person who spoke in the debate. Mr Kennedy’s remarks related to the financial package, and, to paraphrase his case, he is looking forward to learning the outcomes of the current financial discussions while telling us to look at what happened the last time.
Well, let us be clear what has happened. No other part of the United Kingdom has had a better deal on financing than Northern Ireland. When we go to the Westminster Government to discuss issues on which we require financial assistance, they are not slow at pointing out that they will talk to us about those matters, but that repercussiveness is such that they have problems when they make such gestures to Northern Ireland, because other places in Scotland, Wales and elsewhere will ask for the same.
When the original settlement was made, we were granted a guaranteed flat real growth, plus an additional £100 million each year, over the comprehensive spending review (CSR) period. That was at a time when many Whitehall Departments were facing reductions in their budgets. Furthermore, we were given an additional £100 million in 2007-08 to manage the delay of introducing water charges, and to provide funding for innovation.
Moreover, we had access to additional spending under end-year flexibility of £320 million; a £400 million contribution from the Irish Government for a substantial new roads programme; and a breaking of the link between access to borrowing under the reinvestment and reform initiative, with a requirement to close the gap with other GB councils in tax rate. Indeed, had that latter point not been agreed, we would not have been able to freeze rates, as we have done, over the last three years of the Budget settlement.
As Finance Minister during the negotiations on the comprehensive spending review, I was able to secure additional funding over and above that which was previously agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
That included an additional £443 million over and above the CSR guarantee; access to additional end-year flexibility over and above the previous agreed figure of £295 million; and access to £106 million of reinvestment and reform initiative (RRI) borrowing. That was the nature of the package that was agreed when we entered into devolution — a very good package for Northern Ireland. If the figures are added up, we have had access to a figure of around £1 billion, which we have used.
However, that is not where the Executive stop. Even after we got into Government, we were prepared to go back to the Prime Minister when issues were at stake. I remember going to Downing Street with the Finance Minister and the deputy First Minister to argue the case, and we came back with agreements from the Government worth about £900 million, which allowed us to have money available for the equal pay issue and to have funds available for a further deferment of water charges. We negotiated very good financial packages from the Government in the past, and we will not settle for a financial package for policing and justice that is second best.
Will the First Minister tell us exactly how much of the £900 million was to go towards the equal pay issue and why the matter has not been resolved?
The Finance Minister was intending to talk about that today, but I do not know whether he has managed to do so yet. An offer has been made on equal pay, and we are waiting for — [Interruption.] The Member says no and the Finance Minister says yes. I suspect that the Finance Minister knows an awful lot more about it than the Member. The offer has been made. Obviously, it has to be considered by the unions on behalf of their members, and they will come back with a response.
Again, it was this Administration that recognised the inequality and sought to put it right. That inequality was there when the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP were the main parties in Government, but it was this Administration that decided that the issue had to be tackled, and I hope that it can be dealt with as speedily as possible. If the Member will forgive me, I do not want to get into the figures while the Department and the unions are in the middle of negotiations.
I come to the issue of the sunset clause, which will interest the Member for Foyle. The sunset clause is as much a challenge to the Executive and the Assembly as it is an attempt to ensure any particular outcome thereafter. We will be working until 2012 under the system that we have agreed. With the benefits that the Executive, the Assembly and its Committees will have of seeing any operation of policing of justice under those structures, they will be able to determine what the most appropriate future structure for policing and justice may be. They might decide that they want to change it, or they might decide that as it has worked so swimmingly they want to keep it, but whatever happens, they will decide from a position of experience.
I am not planning for failure. I want us to succeed, and not only with regard to the operation of the function. I want any negotiations to succeed in working out where we go in 2012, as far as a permanent resolution to the structures is concerned. It is not surprising, and it is not wrong, for any Member to say “OK, one can plan for success but failure may be the result whether one wants it or not”. Therefore, what do we do in circumstances where, although we want an outcome in 2012, we cannot agree on one? It is absurd to suggest that if we were unable to agree in 2012, that the judges and the police will not be paid and that there will be no ministerial responsibility. We all know that the Government have a back-up plan in mind. I suspect that the Government would step in after a period of time, anyway. We do not intend to get to that stage. We do not plan for failure. We want those negotiations to reach a successful outcome.
The Member for Foyle has a particular view of what the legislation might mean.
I am aware of the section that he is referring to, and I am aware that it is possible to put on it the construction that he puts on it. However, neither he nor I knows what the courts would decide in those circumstances. I suspect that if he is using the same lawyers to advise him as advised the Minister for Social Development in the past, it might be as well if he does not place too much reliance on the advice that he has received thus far.
Our advice thus far is not in line with the view being expressed by the Member for Foyle. Indeed, whether it was or was not would not concern me, because I want to see agreement reached on a way forward, and if it is not reached, I rather suspect that, before that legislation is used to map the way forward, the Government will have considered other possibilities rather than imposing a resolution on us. Although, in some legal sense, the Member may be able to construct an argument that that is what might happen, in a political sense, it is very unlikely that that route would be taken by a Secretary of State.
I will now turn to the other SDLP consideration. Alban Maginness, Mark Durkan, and, particularly, Alex Attwood dealt with the issue of the departure from d’Hondt. At times, I wonder whether anybody really thinks that the heart and soul of the Belfast Agreement is the d’Hondt mechanism; that somehow it is the indispensable part of the Belfast Agreement; that somehow it is of such import and such moment that nothing else can exist unless d’Hondt is in place. There are Members who treat d’Hondt as if it were the law of the Medes and Persians, which changeth not. It is a mechanism: that is all it is. It is a mechanism to achieve proportional representation.
I want to know what the great sin is. What is the draconian measure that the deputy First Minister and I were proposing to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee should be deployed in order to get a justice Minister appointed? Clearly, it must be dreadful. It must be some bigoted system that we have concocted. It must be partisan in the way that it is presented, because nothing can compare to d’Hondt. What is this system? It is that we want to ensure that both sections of our community are supportive of the new justice Minister, to the extent that we not only require a majority of Members of the Assembly to endorse it; we want to ensure that it is endorsed by a majority of the nationalist Members and a majority of the unionist Members. That will ensure that the person appointed will have support across the community and not simply the confidence of a nominating officer, which is all that such a Minister would have if he or she were appointed through d’Hondt.
The position is of such importance that we believed that the second mile was necessary to ensure that the person appointed has the confidence of the widespread community. I admit, from a party point of view, that I do not have the kind of adherence to the d’Hondt system that the Ulster Unionists have declared themselves to have, as has the SDLP. It is a system that can give a result through proportional representation, but I would rather be a justice Minister who is appointed by the cross-community vote of the Assembly than one who is simply appointed by the nominating officer of my party. That would give me a lot more force, strength and influence in the community.
The key principle of the Good Friday Agreement is democratic inclusion according to mandate. The d’Hondt system was one mechanism to achieve that, and there are others. However, the key principle is democratic inclusion according to mandate. This Bill bypasses that, because it creates a situation in which one party is able to deliberately discriminate against a party that is entitled to a further Ministry and pick another party that does not have the mandate for that entitlement. The principle is democratic inclusion according to mandate. That is the issue.
Upstairs, the First Minister told me that the DUP wants that option so that it can permanently veto Sinn Féin. It is intended as a permanent veto; he told me that directly and honestly in discussions. Let him not pretend that it is otherwise.
The issue of Sinn Féin’s holding of the Ministry has already been dealt with. Sinn Féin already indicated that it would not put anyone forward for it. Sinn Féin and the DUP were in a structure in which we had the ability to put someone forward but, in spite of having that ability, we decided that this was the fairest possible system and one that was likely to bring the widest level of support for the person who is to hold the post.
The methodology that we are using is not unique. It is used for critical votes in the Assembly, the Speaker is elected according to it, and the deputy First Minister and I are required to have that level of support. There is nothing new in the fact that some positions are appointed by a system that is different than Mr Durkan’s precious d’Hondt system. That system is not the only show in town, and I cannot think of any issue other than the matter of policing and justice for which it is more important to have cross-community support and to have a Minister who has support that is drawn from both sections of the community.
In relation to Mr Durkan’s mathematics, if we had decided to use the d’Hondt system, an additional Minister would not have been added; the Minister could have come from the existing 10. Therefore, it would have had no impact on the number of SDLP Ministers. We reckoned that because the final decision on the way that we would operate would not be made until 2012, that was a good step to take because we could see how it worked and could make judgements based on that.
The First Minister may recall that, in our discussions, the SDLP made it clear that if parties were to choose the option of keeping 10 Departments by creating one new Department and merging some others, we would have no problem with that on the basis that d’Hondt would be run. That is what the Good Friday Agreement requires and envisages; we never opposed that, and, in fact, we wanted that. He is the man who says that he wants to reduce the number of Departments, and he is the man who rejected that option. He did so because he did not want d’Hondt because it is based on democratic inclusion according to mandate. That was in the Good Friday Agreement, but it would not allow him to veto Sinn Féin or any other nationalists that he chose to.
The Member should not get excited. He is not going to hear me denying the fact that I have no attachment to d’Hondt; I hold my hands up to that. I do not believe that d’Hondt has any exceptional powers or provides any exceptional outcomes compared with any other proportional system. In many ways, d’Hondt distorts the outcome.
I return to my initial proposition. The current Executive have been able to agree much more often than their predecessor Executive, and reach more decisions and operate more smoothly than they did, without interruptions because of suspensions and collapse. The fact remains, however, that improvements can still be made.
I have still not dealt with the issue that affects the “cross-Benchers”, whose votes effectively do not count on certain matters. Of course, I am ready, through the Assembly and Executive Review Committee and elsewhere, to look at all the issues, such as how appointments are made, including appointments to the positions of First Minister and deputy First Minister. All of that can be in the mix, and we can consider how we might go forward. Perhaps, some day, we will get change that is beneficial and that normalises the democratic rules in the Chamber.
During the debate, some Members have talked about the agreement as though it were the end point of a process. Will the First Minister agree that the Good Friday Agreement was put in place so that we could facilitate further agreements and developments in this place that would be democratically challenged, just as is happening with today’s debate, so that we can further democracy and progress, rather than simply enshrining everything according to what was agreed in 1998 and failing to see that any further progress can be made?
The Member is absolutely right. Some people treat politics and political ideology as though they were theology, in that they must not change and they are fixed. Politics moves, and circumstances change. Improvements can be made, and new systems can be recognised. New conditions apply, and changes are, therefore, necessary. Even if the agreement did not allow for change, politics would require it. Politics can never stay at one fixed point.
Even if the Assembly could improve on what has gone previously, it would be nonsense for it to say that what has gone previously is so special and important that not one word, dot or title of it can be changed. No sensible politician would ever take that position. If improvements can be made, they should be made, regardless of whether they offend the architects of the original structures. We must recognise that politics is about change, improvement and better delivery for all people. That requires the machinery of government to be modernised continually.
I want to discuss the remarks that Mr Farry, a Member for North Down, made. He talked about the removal of a justice Minister. He also made certain remarks that, effectively, asserted that an Alliance Party Minister, in those circumstances, would not be anybody’s patsy. If the House felt that it was electing a justice Minister who would be a serf, or subservient, or any of those other terms that were being used by certain Members in a derogatory fashion, I do not believe that it would vote for such a person.
The justice Minister will have to perform a difficult role. That person will require my support and that of the deputy First Minister and, I suspect, that of every one of our Executive colleagues and the Assembly itself. Therefore, that Minister’s role will not be one in which he or she is isolated.
Under the legislation, the justice Minister will play a full part in the workings of the Executive. He or she will be able, and be entitled, to ask for my support and that of the deputy First Minister on matters that he or she believes to be important. The Minister will be able to go to the Finance Minister if he or she believes that there are pressures that require him to go back to the Treasury, for example.
Therefore, no matter what the final result of the Assembly’s vote might be, we do not consider that the person who is appointed will be some kind of hand puppet who will be manipulated by the deputy First Minister and me.
As regards Mr Farry’s point about the Minister’s removal, I do not believe that anybody would consider it right that, because we have some political disagreement with the Minister who is appointed, he or she will be turfed out. We are talking about the removal of a Minister for real reasons, regardless of whether they are to do with his or her behaviour outside the political arena, or with a matter of trust, for example.
Protocols can be worked out by the new Minister and his or her Executive colleagues. Therefore, we can look at protocols to deal with functioning, and not just for removal, incidentally. If I were justice Minister, I would want to know much more about the decision-making process to ensure that if action needed to be taken, I would have the necessary support to do that. Protocols will have to be put in place for that.
Dealing with policing and justice will require decisions to be made now, not in weeks’ or months’ time. Unquestionably, we will want to ensure that we give the Minister whatever support we can to ensure that he or she can do his or her job to its full potential.
I am grateful to the First Minister for giving way. I appreciate that the Assembly has yet to finalise and discuss the issue of timescales. However, will he comment on the importance of trying to reach as much consensus on policy matters from all political parties in advance of devolution to assist in its smooth running? That way, we can prove to people that devolution can make a real difference to people’s lives.
The Member has a valid point. We cannot have a Programme for Government to deal with the existing Departments, and not have an agreement on the programme for policing and justice. Obviously, a new justice Minister will have to operate within the status quo of the existing structures, unless there are agreements on how those can be changed. Just as there is a Programme for Government for other Departments, we will want a programme for policing and justice. We will want to start work on that as soon as practicable. Our only difficulties are that we are still outside the Department in that we do not know exactly which issues it will face. We know that some of the big issues will be set in the community; however, I think that we probably need a greater deal of knowledge about the internal issues of the Department.
The Member for North Down Alan McFarland, who has since disappeared from the Chamber, started off his contribution by making some very helpful comments about the level of devolution that has already taken place. Some people believe that we are moving into new territory with the devolution of policing and justice. However, as Mr McFarland pointed out, the Chief Constable and the judiciary are already independent, and they effectively take care of the operation of the police and the courts, respectively. The Policing Board, which has been functioning for some considerable time, is also independent. There has been a high level of agreement in its decisions. I believe that it is entitled to the respect of the community for the job that it is doing.
On behalf of the Assembly, I take this opportunity to wish the new Chief Constable every success in the job. I know that he will have the support of Assembly Members. He is undertaking a difficult task, but it is good to know that he was selected unanimously by the panel. That puts him in strong position as he takes up the post.
Mr McFarland was right to point out that a high level of devolution of policing and justice matters has already taken place in Northern Ireland. We are looking at taking over the last vestiges of that: the policy and legislative role that exists.
I thank the First Minister for giving way, and I apologise for missing his earlier comments. On the issue of the Executive taking over the vestiges of policing and justice policy, will the Minister reassure the Assembly that the posts of the permanent secretary and senior directors will be subject to public and open competition?
Is the First Minister in a position to confirm whether senior NIO officials, who work down the road from here, will move across en masse to become senior officials in a Department of justice? If that is the case, does he think that that is a good way of building confidence, given how the NIO has handled certain issues in the past?
The powers have not been devolved. Ipso facto, we have not taken any decisions on those issues, and the Executive have not considered any paper on those matters. However, NIO officials might have a view on that, and the NIO itself might well have a proposal.
The Northern Ireland Office and officials here might be making some working assumptions. Ultimately, if the powers come here, those are matters that we will have to consider in due course, and I am sure that the Executive will want to look at them. However, no paper on that matter has come to the Executive.
There was a slight change in tone from the Member who raised the issue; he started off by talking about staff in general terms before referring to heads of Departments and higher level staff. If there were to be a complete clearout, and present staff were to be replaced by some — I was going to say virgin figures, but I do not want to be misunderstood — fresh faces who have no experience of the issues that have been dealt with in recent weeks, months and years, there would be very real problems. Therefore, there has to be a transfer of staff, but the extent and level of that is something that we have yet to deal with.
Now that the matter has been taken down to a particular individual, it would be entirely wrong for me to comment on it publicly. We are happy to discuss with the SDLP and others the processes that we can go through. I reiterate that we need people with experience and knowledge of the operation of policing and justice, particularly in circumstances in which we do not have experience of operating those systems.
The passage of this piece of legislation will not make one bit of difference to what could happen as regards an existing Department. Until a commencement Order is signed, powers will not be devolved. If any Minister in the Northern Ireland Office wants to act before the Assembly makes a decision, he or she will be accountable to the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster for any expenditure that takes place. Having some knowledge about the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster, I would be loath to take that burden upon myself. There has to be a legal basis for the expenditure of money.
If movement were taking place, it would not be unnatural for preparations to be made. No doubt, there are people who are applying their minds to that at the moment. Whether that is the final outcome is something that time alone will tell.
The issue of parading was raised by a UUP Member. I agree with him; it would be the worst of circumstances if a new justice Minister had to go into a post and have to deal with controversial parading issues. If it is possible to make progress on that through the work of the Ashdown review group, it should be done. Parading is one of the issues that my colleagues and I have been pressing with the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, and we will continue to do so.
It is essential that we get agreement on parading, because it exercises the minds of the people whom I meet than more than the devolution of policing and justice. That is a fact. Parading is raised more often with me than the devolution of policing and justice powers. That does not take away from my desire to see policing and justice powers devolved, but if we are talking about issues that resonate with the community, parading is a problem in our community that has to be tackled. A review group has been looking at the issue and has brought in a considerable amount of expertise. That group has looked in depth at the options over a very long period, and it is close to achieving an outcome. I hope that that outcome will be supported and that we can get the necessary changes on parading.
The Eames/Bradley group is not separate from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) or the general issue of inquiries, as regards the pressures that could be applied on the funding for policing and justice.
I have my own views on the Eames/Bradley proposals, as does my party, and we will publish them before too long. We are not altogether sympathetic to the general proposals. There are ways of dealing with the past, but if we are somehow expecting to reach an agreement on a common history of Northern Ireland, we will wait for a very long time, spend an awful lot of money, and still not have a result.
My understanding is that, in discussions that the First Minister and deputy First Minister no doubt have had, the Government have accepted that they will fund the inquiries that are ongoing. My understanding is that their proposal is that anything coming out of Eames/Bradley and the HET will come across with policing and justice. How does the First Minister see policing and justice, which will be complicated enough when it comes, being able to settle if, in the middle of it all, we are dealing with, and funding dealing with, the past?
Let me deal with the funding issue. We have identified all the pressures that we can at present conceive that the Department of justice would face in this comprehensive spending review period and beyond. That clearly takes into account the kind of issues that the Member raises.
Every Department will have pressures on it for more expenditure. However, as a former Finance Minister, I know that there is very often an easy answer, which is that Departments should fund those things themselves. Therefore, a number of bids that were made could be absorbed within the Departments. However, policing and the courts, for instance, do not have slack in their budgets. Therefore, if there is a long list of items that are additional pressures, and there is no likelihood of slippage, one needs to be very clear that there will be some way to fund those additional elements.
I do not want to go into the details of what the costs may be, but if there is no agreement on the outcome of Eames/Bradley, it is difficult to quantify its costs. As far as I am concerned, a lot of the stuff in Eames/Bradley would go into the waste-paper basket, and the cost for the kind of arrangement that I would envisage would not be great. Others in the Assembly might have a different view. Those are the sort of difficulties that we face, because we are facing pressures that we cannot at present quantify, but we recognise that we have budgets that do not have the degree of slack to deal with those issues if the Assembly or the Minister decided to proceed. Therefore, the Member has identified one of our difficulties in relation to financing. At the end of the day, it is not an exact science, and we simply have to make a best-faith effort.
I spoke earlier about dysfunction. Statistically and conclusively, I showed that there was greater dysfunction in the previous Executive than in this one. However, one issue that goes to the heart of people out there believing that there is that level of dysfunction is the total exaggeration in some Members’ remarks. For instance, Dolores Kelly said that there were 53 Executive papers stuck in the system. Well, there are not. There are only 28 draft Executive papers being considered in the system, four of which were received in the past fortnight alone. When we receive those papers, there is a process for approving them and putting them to the Executive. Ministers will have their say on those issues, and they will want to make comments and to see the extent to which those comments are taken on board by other Ministers. Therefore, the not 53, but 28 draft Executive papers that are there do not mean that we are stuck on 28 matters. There are 28 works in progress.
Of course there are delays. It is inevitable that there will be some differences, not just between the DUP and Sinn Féin, but between Sinn Féin and other parties, or between the DUP and other parties. That is the nature of coalition government. Live with it, folks. In a coalition, issues will arise on which the coalition partners do not agree: that is a fact of life. Therefore, the extent to which a Minister is prepared to compromise to get his or her paper or Bill through will determine exactly how much progress is made in that Department.
There was double exaggeration concerning the papers in the system. There was exaggeration of the number of papers blocked in the system and exaggeration of the extent to which they are blocked. For the most part, those papers are working their way through the system. As one who believes that there are ways in which to improve the existing blockages in the system, I want to make it very clear that the extent to which there are blockages is nothing close to that claimed by the SDLP Member.
On 7 July, a letter, on the important matter of the Child Poverty Bill that is going through Westminster, was sent to the First Minister’s office by the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. Seventy-one days later, a response came back, and was received by the Committee 36 minutes before its meeting began at 2.00 pm last week. Does the First Minister think that that is an exaggeration, or does he concur that that is not a very efficient or effective way in which to do business?
I am happy to look at the individual case that the Member raises. However, I am pretty sure that there is a bit more behind it than what he simplistically outlined. There will be papers and issues on which considerable work has to be done by the time it is received in OFMDFM. However, that is not to say that OFMDFM is dysfunctional. We have shown that OFMDFM is less dysfunctional than it was during the time that the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP were in office; that it has managed to get more decisions through; and that it has had fewer suspensions and stoppages.
Instead of saying that there are problems here and there, people should recognise that we have improved our processes. However, there is more that we can do, and I am happy to respond to suggestions. I want delivery to be as fast and effective as possible. Clearly, if it was as simple as the Member outlined, that is an example of where greater expedition would have been more appropriate. However, I rather suspect that as soon as I look into the matter, I will find that there were other circumstances, of which the Member has neglected to tell the Assembly.
I remind the First Minister that the periods of suspension that affected a previous Assembly and Executive were not a result of any failure of any function at Executive level or inside OFMDFM. Those suspensions were entirely to do with issues, faults and failings elsewhere in the process, not faults in the institutions. The First Minister seems to be blaming the SDLP and the UUP for those suspensions. To nail that lie, they were no fault of ours at the time. The fault lay elsewhere.
I could stand at the Dispatch Box and, to justify the decisions that I make, say that all the issues delayed in the system are somebody else’s fault. It is very easy to pass the buck. The Member knows that, on his watch, the system ground to a halt. He was not able to find ways forward, and that is what he is expecting us to do. Whether the problem was created in our Department or not, Mr Durkan says that we should resolve those problems. However, when he held the office of deputy First Minister, he and the then First Minister were unable to resolve problems. We have been able to resolve more problems in a shorter period, and we have not had any suspensions. One issue held back business; however, that did not stop any Ministers from doing their work in their Departments, and it did not stop for one day the Assembly from meeting.
It appears that Mr Durkan wants to rewrite the history books before he leaves this place and moves on to bluer pastures. He has given us a history lesson during today’s debate. His former partner in government, David Trimble, insisted that the British Government brought down these institutions on numerous occasions. In the SDLP’s workings with David Trimble, it failed miserably to ensure that we had a working Executive and that David Trimble lived up to his obligations under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
I will not step into the middle of this internecine battle in the nationalist community without wearing a coat of armour. I would get peppered if I did. I see that Mr Durkan wants to lobby further.
I want to correct Mr O’Dowd. Let us be clear: suspensions happened as a result of the failure of so-called agreements and breakthroughs that were negotiated by Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party and the British and Irish Governments, not the SDLP. Moreover, I remind Mr O’Dowd and the First Minister that, when suspension came in October 2002, I refused to agree to the exclusion of Sinn Féin, which Tony Blair sought. He gave us grounds, and he named names. I refused because we insist on standing by the principle of democratic inclusion according to mandate. We stood by it and never buckled. Sinn Féin has buckled and is buckling again in its attitude to the Bill.
As you can see, Mr Deputy Speaker, the election has started. I suspect that we will hear more about those issues as time goes on.
I want to mention some issues that Mr Basil McCrea raised. He believes that, if he smiles and speaks gently, he will come across as reasonable and give the impression that everything that he says has a real element of sincerity and importance. He said that the Bill was being presented as a fait accompli and that Members simply had to accept it. As I already said, far from it being a fait accompli, it is a proposal that came from an Assembly Committee after it had considered and taken evidence on the matter. Thereafter, the Committee brought the report to the Assembly, which voted to approve it. It is not a fait accompli presented by the deputy First Minister and me; it is a full-blown Assembly process that ensures everybody’s involvement and further ensures that everybody knows the issues and has the opportunity to have a say on the matter. Can we rubbish completely the idea that it is a fait accompli?
Mr McCrea continued by saying that the matter is proceeding with undue haste. He knows how many months ago the Assembly and Executive Review Committee brought the proposal to the Assembly. That does not constitute undue haste when bringing a Bill to the Assembly. It did not come out of the blue, because it was in the process paper that we provided to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee. Moreover, we published it and made it available to everyone so that people knew the exact steps.
I want to point out to Mr McCrea that we arranged the 37 steps — it feels like 90 steps — into six groups. He must have known about that because, as an assiduous Member, I am sure that he ticked each box as we dealt with the matters and knew the outstanding issues that still had to be addressed. Therefore, the matter was not presented with undue haste, it did not take him by surprise, and it certainly was not presented as a fait accompli. The Ulster Unionist Party is hanging on to those excuses to justify opposing a principle that it has supported in the past. That party knows that it is a principle that has nothing to do with timing. Therefore, it should vote in favour of the Bill today. However, for party political purposes, it wants to go outside and tell the people that it did not approve the devolution of policing and justice.
That is what it comes down to. That is not a responsible position for any serious political party to adopt, and it requires the Ulster Unionist Party to rise above those issues. If that party agrees with the principle — the Member is smiling, and, no doubt, saying to himself that the DUP did not do that when the Ulster Unionists were the largest party —
As the Member said, his party did the heavy lifting, but, unfortunately, he got ruptured in the process. [Laughter.] The DUP did not agree with that process. However, the Member tells us that he agrees with what we are doing, and he agrees with the devolution of policing and justice powers. Therefore, he is not in the same position as we were, and he should support the legislation, which has the clear purpose in principle, at its Second Stage, of agreeing to the devolution of policing and justice powers when, eventually, the proposition comes to the Assembly, and the time is right.
I apologise if I have smiled too much and been too friendly in the debate, which was not in any way intended to minimise the seriousness of its content.
There has, perhaps, been a misunderstanding, and I may not have made myself clear. When I spoke about a fait accompli, it was not necessarily about the enabling legislation; it was about the whole debate on the devolution of policing and justice. The point that I wanted to make, whether in this gathering or elsewhere, is that it would not be possible for our party to be brought in at the final stages of a discussion only to be presented with a case that had been sorted out between the two larger parties, and to be asked our opinion about a proposal that had already been agreed by those parties.
I listened to the First Minister’s comments about the need for consultation and involvement on the issues. For the purposes of clarity, we were not talking about a fait accompli in relation to those issues. When it comes to the use of the phrase “undue haste”, I realise that matters have been talked about and that proposals have been discussed in various Committees. However, I said earlier that I thought that there is a window of opportunity, in certain circumstances, to deal with this matter sooner rather than later. If such a thing were to be contemplated, however, I believe — my party colleagues agree with me — that this legislation is being pursued with undue haste. It may be that there are other reasons of which we are unaware, but we are prepared to engage on those matters.
I have tried to articulate a general point. People level accusations about political opportunism: let us be honest, that has been done before in the House but not by me, I hasten to add. Despite that, I want the First Minister to consider, and reflect on, the critical issue of trust so that we can determine how to move forward. The reason why we object to the Bill at this time is because we do not trust that we will have another opportunity to influence this discussion. I am quite happy for the First Minister to disabuse us of that idea; the way forward is to have proper dialogue.
We are interested in hearing what the First Minister has to say. We are fully committed to devolution and to this place. We have done the heavy lifting, and, as my colleague Danny Kennedy said, we are not the wreckers. We are the people who made this place happen, and we will continue to work for the betterment of all the people of Northern Ireland.
The Member for Lagan Valley cannot blame us if the Prime Minister wants to meet the deputy First Minister and me but does not ask him to come along. However, I have no doubt that the Assembly and Executive Review Committee will want to talk to the deputy First Minister and me about the financial issues. I would be very surprised if the Government do not want to talk to other parties as well about those issues. However, I am sure that the Government want to make progress by talking to the deputy First Minister and me before they talk to other parties, because we have a particular legal responsibility in relation to policing and justice.
I do not want to proceed with policing and justice and agree to the finances without having openness, as far as the Committee and the Assembly are concerned, about what the propositions are. In my view, if we are to have the kind of confidence that we want, it is essential that people are content that we have the funds necessary to do the job.
I will be honest with Members: nobody expects that all the items on the long list that we received from the Assembly and Executive Review Committee will be delivered or that the figures that the Committee has produced will be replicated. In some cases, the figures have turned out to be greater than the Assembly and Executive Review Committee expected but in many cases, they are less.
As a former Finance Minister, I do not believe that I ever went into any monitoring round or, indeed, the Budget, without being in receipt of bids that were two or three times greater than the amount of money that was available. When we ask the agencies and divisions of the Departments where the pressures are, it is inevitable that any cute civil servant will think that it is their chance to get their pet issue dealt with and will throw that into the mix. Work must be done by the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, the Treasury and the deputy First Minister and me to ascertain the strength of every bid that is submitted. We have been doing that, and it is a process with which we are presently engaged.
I will give way in a minute.
I want to make it clear to Mr Kennedy that he has no more information about what went on last night than any of my Party colleagues have. The meeting only took place last night, and Department of Finance and Personnel officials are still examining the figures. Therefore, it would be wrong of us to indicate what we have been able to achieve unless we are absolutely certain that we are dealing with real figures and that the issues stand up.
I am happy to be as open as possible in these matters to ensure that when a decision has to be taken, people do so with the full knowledge of our financial preparedness to deal with the matter.
I thank the First Minister for again giving way. He has clearly indicated that he expects that he and the deputy First Minister will attend the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, which is charged with examining some of those issues. Equally, as the Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, I seek his commitment that he and the deputy First Minister will make themselves available to appear before the Committee at the relevant stage of the Bill.
I was not touting for an invitation to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, but we have always been happy to go along if they want to speak to us. It is always a pleasure to appear before the Member for Newry and Armagh’s Committee and we can certainly do that, not only to discuss the issue of financing for policing and justice but to discuss the wider issue.
I am always happy to open up a debate on these issues. The debate will allow for some misconceptions among the public to be removed. There are people who are deliberately attempting to mislead the public. One person in particular, who is no longer an elected representative, has said that Sinn Féin would be in control of the police, the courts and the appointment of judges and that policing was going to be a North/South issue. The list went on; lie after lie was peddled. The more discussion that there is on the issues, the happier I am because I believe that we have adopted a perfectly defensible position.
Finally, the Member for Lagan Valley Basil McCrea remarked that the deputy First Minister indicated that this was all going to be settled on Wednesday. The Member may have a different interpretation of what the deputy First Minister was talking about, but, in my view, the deputy First Minister was saying that he hoped that the financial issues will be resolved on Wednesday. I do not think that he was referring to the wider issues of confidence, which are part of the process paper.
I would love to think that the financial issues will be resolved on Wednesday, but my advisers and the deputy First Minister’s have been working on the figures with financial officials for most of the day. I expect that there is still more work to be done. If the Prime Minister makes us a very generous offer, which we think settles the financial issues, we will be happy to come back and tell colleagues about that and we will hope to gain their support.
I am not even sure whether the deputy First Minister heard the remarks that we were discussing. However, I am sure that he will read the Hansard report and have a word in the Member’s ear. The interview outside 10 Downing Street was conducted on the basis of the financial negotiations of which we had been a part, and which the deputy First Minister indicated will be carried forward in the US on Wednesday. I do not think that there was any doubt that he was talking about a resolution of the financial issues.
The Member for West Belfast Mr Attwood has left the Chamber, but I must say that I found the first 10 or 12 minutes of his speech particularly rich. He felt that it was appropriate to lecture the DUP about its apparent opposition to the devolution of policing and justice. With a straight face, he stood there and named one DUP Member after another and said that they were apparently against the devolution of policing and justice. He said that that was dreadful, given all the good things that would happen if policing and justice powers were devolved.
However, the people at which Mr Attwood was pointing the finger will go through the Lobbies and vote in favour of the Bill. He is pointing the finger, yet he will be voting against a Bill that provides enabling powers for the devolution of policing and justice. I was about to use unparliamentary terms about hypocrisy that you would not allow, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I will not use them, but it seems out of sorts for someone who is going to vote against the Bill to chide those who will be voting in favour of it about their commitment to the devolution of policing and justice.
I thank Members for their contributions to the debate, and I understand why so many of them wanted to take part. We have had a very considerable debate, and, as we approach 9.25 pm, it is almost like being at Westminster. The length of the debate indicates the sensitivity and importance of the issue to Assembly Members and to the wider community. I thank Members for the questions and points that they have raised.
The devolution of policing and justice will bring significant additional responsibilities but, more importantly, it will carry enormous potential for all of us here and for all our people. It will bring real local accountability and real local leadership and provide genuine synergies between policing and justice policies and the wider social and economic initiatives of the Executive and the Assembly.
We are determined to work faithfully through the steps that remain to be taken, which we identified in November 2009, and to secure the community confidence that is necessary for the devolution of the policing and justice functions. It is vital, therefore, that we get the preparations right. The Bill will put us in a position to respond decisively once the Assembly resolves that the time is right to initiate the transfer process. With my speech having almost reached the two-hour mark, I commend the Bill to the Assembly.
Both parties that indicated that they will oppose the Bill accept and support its principles. Therefore, I hope that they change their minds, act according to the principles that they say are consistent with their positions and go through the Lobby in support of the Bill.
Ms Anderson, Mr Boylan, Mr Brady, Mr Bresland, Mr Brolly, Lord Browne, Mr Buchanan, Mr Butler, Mr Campbell, Mr T Clarke, Mr W Clarke, Mr Craig, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Mr Hamilton, Mr Irwin, Mr G Kelly, Ms Lo, Mrs Long, Mr A Maskey, Mr P Maskey, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCarthy, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Dr W McCrea, Mr McElduff, Mrs McGill, Mr M McGuinness, Miss McIlveen, Mr McKay, Mr McLaughlin, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Murphy, Mr Neeson, Mr Newton, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O’Dowd, Mrs O’Neill, Mr Paisley Jnr, Ms S Ramsey, Mr G Robinson, Mr P Robinson, Mr Ross, Ms Ruane, Mr Shannon, Mr Simpson, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr B Wilson, Mr S Wilson.
Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Brady and Mr Hamilton.
Mr Attwood, Mr Beggs, Mr D Bradley, Mrs M Bradley, Mr P J Bradley, Mr Burns, Mr Cobain, Mr Cree, Mr Durkan, Mr Elliott, Mr Gallagher, Mrs Hanna, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Kennedy, Mr Kinahan, Mr A Maginness, Mr McCallister, Mr B McCrea, Dr McDonnell, Mr McFarland, Mr McGlone, Mr McNarry, Mr O’Loan, Mr P Ramsey, Mr K Robinson, Mr Savage.
Tellers for the Noes: Mr P J Bradley and Mr McCallister.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Second Stage of the Department of Justice Bill [NIA 1/09] be agreed.