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Clause 2 - Membership of the Commission

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 25th March 2004.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 11:15 am, 25th March 2004

It is almost a convention that at this stage of our consideration the Minister says that we have had a good debate. I do not think that we have had a particularly good debate, because there has been no force of argument from either side. I say to the

Minister, with regret, that his arguments were unusually and uncharacteristically lacking in weight. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann suggested that he would reflect on the arguments on amendment No. 1. I sincerely hope that he will do so, because the issues that we have raised remain unresolved to my satisfaction, and they are substantial and important.

On amendment No. 1 and its consequential amendment No. 2, the difficulty is that the Minister has demonstrated the wisdom of the approach taken by the criminal justice review in the first place. The requirement for lay membership of the commission is there because the people who would be drawn from the legal profession would not necessarily reflect the community as a whole. To extend that to the commission as a whole would create the host of problems that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann raised, and I hope that Minister will deal with those.

On amendment No. 50, it is exceptionally dangerous to offer unfettered discretion for delegation to such a commission. There are any number of ways in which it might be abused. I am not suggesting that it would be, but the possibility exists and there should therefore be safeguards. The parallel that came to my mind was with local government. For example, planning decisions are considered by a planning committee but ratified by the council as a whole. That is eminently sensible. It is not unusual and there are plenty of precedents.

I am mindful of the time and have no doubt that we shall revisit the issues, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.