Clause 18 - Special Prosecutor

Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 15th December 2005.

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Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 3:15 pm, 15th December 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 142, in clause 18, page 9, line 35, leave out ‘Advocate’ and insert ‘Attorney’.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 143, in clause 18, page 10, line 2, leave out ‘Advocate’ and insert ‘Attorney’.

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

I should point out for the record that we are against the Bill and against every clause in it, even though, for various reasons, it has not been necessary to vote against each one.

These amendments deal with the term “Attorney General”. Under the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 the Attorney-General for England, Wales and Northern Ireland becomes the Advocate-General for Northern Ireland but only following the devolution of justice and the appointment by the First and Deputy First Ministers of an Attorney-General for Northern Ireland.

The clause, as it is worded, appears to relate to an office that will exist only after the devolution of justice. Our amendment would make the Secretary of State consult with the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland before appointing the special prosecutor.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

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

During the Division, the Minister had a private word in passing with me about the clause. I am happy to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

On a point of order, Mr. Taylor. It would be helpful if the hon. Member for Tewkesbury would explain to the Committee what the Minister said because I, too, have a genuine concern about the term “Advocate General” being written into the Bill.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

Lady Hermon is entitled to move the amendment, if she is so minded.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

In that case, I beg to move amendment No. 142, in clause 18, page 9, line 35, leave out ‘Advocate’ and insert ‘Attorney’.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 143, in clause 18, page 10, line 2, leave out ‘Advocate’ and insert ‘Attorney’.

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

In passing, I discussed privately with the hon. Member for Tewkesbury the fact that his amendment, while welcome, would change references from the Advocate-General to the Attorney-General. As he said, at present and until devolution of justice, the Attorney-General for England and Wales is the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, too. However, at devolution, the responsibilities of the Attorney-General will be divided. Devolved matters   will be passed to a local Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and excepted matters will be passed to the Advocate-General for Northern Ireland, who will be the same person as the Attorney-General for England and Wales.

The measure has already been provided for under the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, but it has not yet commenced because devolution of justice has not yet happened and will happen only at some point in the near future. Because of that, the reference in the Bill to the Advocate-General is qualified by paragraph 9(2) of schedule 6, which explains that, until the commencement of the provision, references to the Advocate-General should be read as references to the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland. It is drafting practice to reflect existing legislative provisions, even if they were not yet commenced. The interpretation for the transitional period under paragraph 9(2) of schedule 6 will, I hope, reassure the hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman that it is the accepted practice for the moment. It is in the Bill to clarify what has not yet been commenced.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

As the Minister said several times to the Committee, it is not expected that the Bill will come into force until early or mid 2007. Will he confirm that he does not intend there to be the devolution of justice and policing before the beginning or middle of 2007?

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

The Government have not yet made a decision on the timing of that legislation. We will make a judgment on when that legislation should be introduced in due course. I am not yet prepared to give any suggestion of the time scale, because we are still considering the matter.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

I am not convinced by the Minister. The appearance of the words “Attorney General” and “Advocate General” in the Bill—even though that is covered by paragraph 9 of schedule 6—mean that I am not convinced that it is not the Government’s intention to devolve justice and policing in the next two years, before the Bill comes into force. That is why, under the amendment, I suggest that we delete reference to the Advocate-General and keep reference to the Attorney-General. That would give a clear indication that there was no intention to devolve policing, as circumstances in the foreseeable future do not warrant such devolution.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.