Clause 49

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 18th January 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Extent

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

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

I will not detain the Committee, but I need some clarification on an issue that may be of some interest to you, Sir Nicholas, as a proud representative of an English constituency. Why do the provisions that enable the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission extend to England, Wales and even Scotland, which has its own judicial system? The clause makes it clear that the powers of the commission, which will be significantly increased under clauses 13 to 19, extend to England, Wales and Scotland.

Will the Minister give some justification for the far-reaching extension of the powers of the commission? Were any hon. Members from constituencies outside Northern Ireland sounded out about this? Did the commission seek the extension?  Will he give examples of situations in which the commission will need the powers? Clause 13 gives the commission the power to institute proceedings of its own volition, if a victim or potential victim is involved.

Does that mean that residents of England, Scotland or Wales, who might not necessarily be British nationals, can avail themselves of the right given to them by the extension in clause 49 to oblige the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to take judicial proceedings on their behalf, even though they do not fall within the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland? The commission has not justified to my satisfaction such an enormous extension of its powers to the rest of the United Kingdom.

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

I support the hon. Lady’s remarks, but I make the point that it is unsatisfactory to deal with issues under statutory instruments that apply only to Northern Ireland, not least because such measures are not amendable.

We have mentioned the fact that certain elements of the Bill could be dealt with by statutory instrument. Will the Minister confirm that a Committee to consider Northern Ireland legislation could not consider matters extending to Scotland, for example?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office 3:45 pm, 18th January 2007

You were not present, Sir Nicholas, for our earlier discussions about the Human Rights Commission, but even so I think that you would rule me out of order if I were to go into all the arguments that we have had in previous debates. However, there is a simple response to hon. Members’ questions. The Human Rights Commission was established under UK-wide legislation, so the amendments must apply on the same basis, which is why the provision has been included in clause 49.

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

Perhaps I should have raised this as a point of order, as it is not really the Minister’s responsibility, but I hope you will allow me to make the point, Sir Nicholas. The Bill is entitled the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill, and it is important to ensure that the Public Bill Committee accurately reflects the possible relevance of the Bill to, in this case, Scottish Members.

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

As the hon. Gentleman has suggested, I think that that is more a matter of House procedures generally than something to be considered in relation to the Bill. I was pleased to hear him say for the first time in our deliberations that something might not be the responsibility of the Minister.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

I shall be content if the Minister will deal with the outstanding questions. Did the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission press for the provisions? I find the Minister’s justification extraordinary, since the Northern Ireland Act 1998 established the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in order to implement the Belfast agreement, which was signed on Good Friday. I did not think that the provisions extended to the entire UK,  but there we are—we learn something every day. I live in Northern Ireland and I respect the commission’s jurisdiction. Will the Minister confirm, for the benefit of hon. Members who represent constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales, that anyone in the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom can now ask the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to take a case to court on their behalf?

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

I hope that I can allay the hon. Lady’s fears. First, no one has pressed for the provisions. We have to make them for legislative reasons, not because an external body has pushed for them. The key point, which I hope will reassure her, is that although the legislation in question is UK-wide—we need to amend it because of the changes that we are making in Committee—the provisions do not apply outside Northern Ireland. For example, the power to enter institutions applies only in Northern Ireland. The matter is simply legislative: because the legislation is UK-wide, we have to amend the UK-wide legislation, but the powers relate only to Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 50 and 51 ordered to stand part of the Bill.