Clause 13 - Appeals commissioners

Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 15th December 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 2:45 pm, 15th December 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 141, in clause 13, page 8, line 10, at end insert—

‘(1A)Before making appointments under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must consult, and secure the approval of, the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission.’.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 110, in clause 13, page 8, line 11, leave out from ‘State’ to ‘widespread’ in line 12 and insert

‘shall as far as practicable secure that the Commissioners are representative of and can command’.

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

The amendment refers to the appointment of appeals commissioners. I have no intention of speaking to it at length, but I want to introduce the concept of involving the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission and I wonder what the Minister has to say about it.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his brevity. His amendment would inject a role for the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission into the appointment of the appeals commissioners.

The commission’s role is to promote people to judicial posts; it is not concerned with the allocation of judges to certain courts or certain parts of the system. Furthermore, only one appeals commissioner needs to be a judge. If the amendment were accepted, the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission would have a role in appointing non-judicial commissioners.

As hon. Members are aware, a retired judge will chair the appeals commissioners and it is not clear to me that the JAC should have a role in deciding how a retired judge would be employed.

The amendments tabled by the Democratic Unionist party would ensure that the appeals commissioners were representative of the community and sought wider community support. I agree with that, and I shall try to ensure that there is widespread acceptance of the appeals commissioners across the community at large.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I rise to speak to amendment No. 110, which stands in my name and the names of my colleagues.

I welcome the Minister’s remarks, as it is important that the commissioners are representative of the community. We have had problems with various public bodies—the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission, to name just two—whereby the Government have given a commitment that they would be representative of the community. Unfortunately, the Government have not delivered on that, so I hope that the Minister will follow the commitment through in this case.

Under the provision as drafted, there is a limited duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the commissioners secure widespread acceptance. That needs to be tightened up. Our amendment would place   a much greater duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the commissioners represented the community. It is vital that, in such a sensitive area, the community can have full confidence in people who are given this important task. For the Secretary of State merely to have regard to that requirement is a weak obligation that falls far short of his duty in other areas. We ask the Committee to accept the amendment.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I pre-empted the discussion. As in previous discussions on community acceptability, the Government want commissioners who will command the respect, trust and support of the community at large. That does not mean that we want to be prescriptive about the representative nature of the role. We want people who are not unacceptably unrepresentative and we want to ensure that they have the support of the community. That does not necessarily mean that we will be able to achieve a balance between men and women, young and old, Protestant and Catholic. We want to ensure that, however we manage that in terms of the commission, the community at large accepts that the commission is doing an impartial job and supports it.

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

Does the Minister accept that, in tabling earlier amendments on having a number of certification commissioners, some Committee members were arguing for an international dimension? The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Lagan Valley might restrict that scope by insisting that the appeals commissioners had to be representative of the community. That would restrict the ability to appoint people from outside Northern Ireland.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

It has taken time, but my hon. Friend is becoming my hon. Friend again at last. We are ending the Committee on a joyously co-operative note.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

The Minister worries me greatly. Is he now saying that he will have an international element?

Mr. Hansonindicated dissent.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

Well, the Minister said he agrees with his hon. Friend. I hope he will clarify the position.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I said that the Government wish to have commissioners who are representative of the community at large and who have community support at large. I am not implying anything. I am simply saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) that at last he is not opposing what I have said. That is welcome at this late stage in Committee.

The Democratic Unionist party amendment, to which the hon. Member for Lagan Valley spoke, would be prescriptive. As with previous clauses, I am saying to the Committee that we will ensure that individuals who fulfil the role of appeals commissioner are representative of the community in the broader sense and will have its trust and support.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

As the Minister will know, the clause is not worded in terms of any of the commissioners   being representative of the community. The wording is that they command

“as a group ... widespread acceptance throughout the community in Northern Ireland.”

Given that this is such obnoxious legislation that is despised by the vast majority—I emphasise, the vast majority—of people in Northern Ireland, how in heaven’s name does the Minister expect to get three people who command widespread acceptance?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Again, I could bring forward an appeals commission—

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I am on my own again, am I? We are back to normal practice. It is like the Christmas truce in the first world war.

I am expecting to have, and I want, an appeals commission that has widespread acceptance in the community. I cannot have one Muslim, one Jew, one Protestant and one Catholic on that commission. I want a group of people who are respected, who hold the trust and confidence of the community at large, who are able to do the job because they are the best people for it, and who, in doing so, are representative of the community at large and have its confidence. I cannot be clearer than that. Such individuals would have the respect and confidence of the community and would be the best people for the job. I want that element in this legislation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 16, Noes 12.

Division number 43 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 13 - Appeals commissioners

Aye: 15 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Nos: A-Z by last name

NOES

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.