Clause 40

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 18th January 2007.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 5—Duration of sections 20 to 39—

‘(1) Sections 20 to 39 shall expire at the end of the period of12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(2) The Secretary of State may, by order made by statutory instrument—

(a) repeal sections 20 to 39; or

(b) provide that those sections are not to expire at the time when they would otherwise expire under subsection (1) or in accordance with an order under this subsection but are to continue in force after that time for a period not exceeding 12 months.

(3) No order may be made under this section unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.’.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I wish to speak to the new clause that stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire. Its effect would be that the powers that we have just debated in clauses 20 to 39 would have to be renewed annually. On Second Reading, we asked the Minister how long he envisaged that the powers in those clauses would be in place; we would like to see a situation in which such powers were no longer necessary in Northern Ireland. Although clause 40 provides for the Secretary of State to repeal sections 20 to 39, there is no provision for Parliament to take stock of whether the powers are still necessary or to debate how they are being used. The clause allows the Secretary of State rather than Parliament to decide when such a debate might take place, and we believe that it is important that Parliament should have an annual debate.

Clause 39 very helpfully requires a reviewer to produce a report on the operation of the powers, but makes no automatic provision for Parliament to consider the reviewer’s findings. It would be useful, given the nature of the powers, for Parliament to discuss how they are being used and to take account of the views expressed by the reviewer. New clause 5 is, therefore, a simple repeal and renewal clause. It states that the provisions of sections 20 to 39 should lapse at the end of a 12-month period, but should be ableto be renewed by statutory instrument for a further12 months. That is similar to mechanisms thatare already in place—for example, the arms decommissioning schemes in Northern Ireland and control orders in the United Kingdom as a whole.

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

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the provision could be extended for another 12 months, but no longer than that?

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

No, the intention is that it could be extended for 12 months and then for a further 12 months after that.

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

Perhaps I did not explain myself properly. Would there be only one further period, or could it be repeatedly extended?

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The intention is that it could be repeatedly extended at 12-month intervals.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman wants to give the appropriate parliamentary scrutiny to these important and significant powers. However, the level of parliamentary scrutiny that is implied in his amendment is unnecessary and I shall explain why.

We have been through an extensive process in considering the powers in part 17 of the Terrorism Act 2000, many of which are being repealed and not being replaced. However, we are replacing those that we regard as necessary to deal with the ongoing situation and the risks that may arise as a result of it. We have already reduced to a minimum the powers in the Bill.

We all look forward to the day when the situation in Northern Ireland is as secure as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom and we work to that end, but at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, we have to prepare on the basis that an additional risk of serious public disorder exists in Northern Ireland. None of us wants it, but what happened at Whiterock shows that such events may still take place. It is a matter of record that, since last summer, the activities of dissident republican groups have caused about £25 million-worth of criminal damage. There is still a residual dissident threat and a threat of paramilitaries feeding into and off organised crime.

The remaining threat must be taken seriously and it may remain for a considerable time. All of us—the police, politicians and communities—do what we can to counter that threat and to build the conditions for peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland, but it is likely that these powers will be needed for some time. I will come later to the accountability mechanisms.

I will repeat what I said in an earlier debate about the role of the independent reviewer. He will report to the Secretary of State on the working of the new powers and the Secretary of State must then place his report before Parliament on an annual basis. There will be no question of the Secretary of State making secret judgments that no one knows about; the report will have to be placed before Parliament and on the record. Members of the House will be able to scrutinise the report and to ask questions about it. That is a sufficient and proportionate level of accountability; it is not necessary to return to the House every year to renew the powers in the clause.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I am not convinced by the Minister’s argument, but I will reflect on it and perhaps return to the issue at a later stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.