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Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): What the hon. Gentleman regards as something that has survived does one important thing. If justice flows from the Crown, which is at the apex of the justice system, it is divorced from party politics. The Crown stands above party politics. If we wish to indicate that the arrangements that are put in place are not influenced by party politics, as the legal system should not be, we can do that by putting them under the Crown. That is important symbolically in ensuring the independence of the judiciary of political influence. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to see that.

Mr. McNamara: I very much want the judiciary to be independent of political influence. For example, I wish that there had been independence at the time of the Widgery inquiry into Bloody Sunday, but the Lord Chief Justice, with all his powers emanating from the Crown, took his orders from the Prime Minister, as the revealed minute showed. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the Crown may or may not be useful for the purpose that he describes. There are other systems that manage to make the distinction without using the Crown. For people in Northern Ireland who have found the concept of accepting allegiance to the Crown difficult, as well as dispensation of justice under the Crown, it was proper to remove the coat of arms.

I should like now to deal with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who spoke about concessions being made

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to Sinn Fein. The people who spearheaded the reforms that are being introduced in terms of the nationalist community were the SDLP and my hon. Friends the Members for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and for South Down (Mr. McGrady). The people who demanded the reforms at the height of the unrest, killings, bombings and shootings and asked for the impartial delivery of justice were my friends in the SDLP. Other people may come on board, but my friends in the SDLP were asking not for concessions, but basic rights that should be given to every person. By regarding those rights as concessions, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford is not only lifting the position of Sinn Fein in the eyes of the community, but, more importantly, doing a base disservice to the SDLP and to the people who have stuck to the constitutional issues throughout the troubles. I say to him that the more he makes a bogey man out of the provisions and uses the word "concessions" to describe the basic rights for which the SDLP and others have worked so hard and long while facing such great difficulties, the more he is defeating his own purposes.

Mr. Quentin Davies: I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the important thing is to make an effort, achieve some mental clarity and distinguish between concessions, which are made reluctantly as the price for achieving something else, and things that are done for their own sake. We have had some discussion about that distinction in recent Northern Ireland debates, as it is very important that people make it. He is trying to manoeuvre me into a position in which I appear to have criticised the SDLP. Far from it. I accept exactly what he said: the aims for which the SDLP campaigned for so many years largely—there may be small exceptions that I cannot think of—rightly qualified as rights. However, the concessions are being made to somebody else: Sinn Fein-IRA. Concessions such as amnesties for terrorists who are on the run or special status for their Members of Parliament do not, by definition, apply to the SDLP, so he cannot possibly distort my position to the extent of supposing that I criticise the SDLP in the way that he describes.

Mr. McNamara: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, in his speech, he referred to the provisions as concessions to Sinn Fein. I am pointing out that they were being demanded as basic rights by the SDLP even before we had the policy of the Armalite and the ballot box. The SDLP, as Irish nationalists, wanted these rights. The Bill contains the right for people to go into a court and to accept that the justice done there is administered to them as citizens, and not on the basis of dispensation by—as they see it—a foreign country's monarch.

Mr. Tynan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Northern Ireland are no different from the people of Scotland, England and Wales with regard to their need for justice and a system that will create equal opportunity in Northern Ireland for all people? Does he agree that we do Northern Ireland and the Bill a disservice when we speak of concessions to Sinn Fein and the IRA?

Mr. McNamara: I thank my hon. Friend for the promotion that he gave me. I agree with him thoroughly. It is very sad that so much of the speech of the Opposition spokesman was taken up on these matters. This is a big Bill; indeed, it is a great reforming Bill. It does not go as far as I want it to, but it is a fresh step and should be

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received in that light. I hope that, on mature consideration, the Opposition will seek to withdraw their ill-conceived reasoned amendment and give the Government the fair wind that they deserve on the Bill, which can then be improved in Committee.

6.55 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): On balance, the Liberal Democrats welcome the Bill, as it implements reasonably faithfully the recommendations of the review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. Let those of us who have consistently claimed to support the Northern Ireland agreement remember that this debate has arisen directly as a result of that agreement. One of the most important aspects of the debate must be the fact that the Bill finally introduces international standards of human rights in legislation for Northern Ireland. I intend to concentrate on parts 1, 2 and 3 of the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and have the opportunity to deal with the other parts.

I should like to deal first with the extremely interesting speech of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who made some serious criticisms. For example, he criticised the degree to which we had all been consulted and suggested that there had been only partial consultation. In my view, in politics, actions speak rather louder than words. Although, thankfully, I was not in the House to endure the years of the former Conservative Government, my predecessors with the Northern Ireland portfolio have assured me—indeed, I have checked this point tonight—that they had almost no opportunity during that time to contribute to legislation before it appeared on the Floor of the House. It was almost a consultation dark age, during which my hon. Friends saw the lights going on and off as the Bills were drafted, but simply felt impotent because the Government refused to consult.

In that context, any criticisms made by the Liberal Democrats about consultation may have some currency. However, I am very dubious about the hidden agenda—to use a familiar phrase from the debate—of the Conservative party in seeking to find fault with almost every detail of a Bill that one should support in principle, if one steps back from it, in the context of the Good Friday agreement. It is slightly disappointing that the Conservative spokesperson can at the very least be interpreted as having made a party political speech rather than one that sought to contribute constructively to our debate.

Mr. Francois: In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford, he said that he agreed with many aspects of the Bill. He sought to take issue not with a lot of detail but with specific aspects. I listened carefully to what he said and I am pretty sure that that was his approach.

Lembit Öpik: I am grateful for that intervention; we are now slowly flushing out the shields protecting the official Opposition's Front Bench. In fairness to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a high regard, I recognise that he makes a degree of sense on that point. None the less, the tone of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford could be interpreted by the casual onlooker—if any casual onlookers follow these debates of ours—as an unequivocally negative attack on the Bill. My worry is that perception is tremendously important in respect of

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Northern Ireland matters. In assessing the effectiveness of the measures and of what we are doing, a number of individuals will take their lead from what is being said, which will affect the mood music of the process.

I have a great deal of personal affection and respect for the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford because he is genuinely trying to drive the Conservative party back towards a more consensual position. I therefore counsel him to consider the message that Conservative Members wish to convey about what needs to happen in Northern Ireland, and the way in which they want to be portrayed in the context of such an important Bill.

The Liberal Democrats believe that, in time, policing and justice should be devolved to Northern Ireland and the Assembly and that a department of justice should be created roughly along the lines of that in Scotland. We also believe that that should happen in Wales, not because we are rabid republicans but because we are keen on devolution, which is the right way forward. At heart, we believe that, although local politicians should not interfere with police operational matters, local and correctly formed structures could enhance accountability and introduce a sense of cross-community and democratic ownership of the criminal justice system. That is the great strength of devolution and it can work as well in Wales as in Northern Ireland. However, we are discussing the Province tonight.

When devolution occurs is primarily a matter of debate between the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Government. However, I believe that we should adopt the strategy that I have outlined after a substantial period of stability. To be fair to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford, he correctly stated that maintaining the independence of the judiciary is of paramount importance in that context. For obvious reasons, Northern Ireland is a highly politicised society and we must be careful to ensure that any measure that we pass here cannot be blown off course by the especially sectoral nature of politics in Northern Ireland. We cannot allow political creep to enter the judiciary.

Chapter 6 of the report of the review covers the recent development of the role of the judiciary, especially in relation to judicial review and the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into United Kingdom law. The report rightly states:

If the Bill did not provide for that, I should be worried that the Government had missed the point. However, I am glad that clause 1 states:

I shall not go into detail now—I am sure that we shall revert to the matter in Committee—but the Bill appears to provide for safeguarding against the danger that I described.

How appropriate is it to legislate for devolving judicial appointments before devolving responsibility for all aspects of the justice system to the Assembly? How reasonable is it to do that in stages? Again, hon. Members may have different views on the matter, although the hon.

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Member for Grantham and Stamford did not specifically comment on that point. I therefore assume that Conservative Members are not especially anxious about staged devolution. It makes sense because we can manage the process without changing too many aspects at once. There is great danger in moving too fast. Furthermore, we might create monsters that we cannot destroy without a great deal of work.

I welcome the establishment of a Judicial Appointments Commission for Northern Ireland. The recommendation for creating such a commission goes a long way towards ensuring a more transparent appointments process. I agree with the parts of the review that call for that. A staged, responsible approach can coherently change the judiciary and the legal system in Northern Ireland without causing too many problems. Furthermore, because transparency is heavily emphasised in the Bill, I believe that we are starting in the right place.

Paragraphs (a) and (b) of clause 3(5) provide that the five judicial members of the commission are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice and that the General Council of the Bar of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Northern Ireland must each appoint one member of the legal profession to the commission. That shows that representation will be fairly wide.

However, will the Minister explain why the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are to appoint the lay members of the commission? That contravenes the recommendation in the report to which I have already drawn attention. It suggests a mechanism that is similar to that prescribed in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 for appointing the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Why has not such a provision been included to ensure the same independence for the Judicial Appointments Commission? If we took that approach, we could ensure that the lay members reflected the community. The Secretary of State appoints the independent members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board so that they reflect the community. Again, we may wish to consider the matter in Committee.

The lay members of the Judicial Appointments Commission cannot afford to be seen to be political appointees. The Bill contains no guidance for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister about the way in which they should appoint lay members. Who is allowed in and who is not? Assembly Members and Members of Parliament are excluded, but what about councillors or members of the police? What about district policing partnership members and those involved in community safety organisations? How will the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister ensure that lay members do not suffer a conflict of interest? That is a potential weakness in the Bill, although I am ready to stand corrected.

Without providing for the guidance to which I referred or for consideration of gender and representation from ethnic minorities, which the report suggests, the Bill lays itself open to a difficulty that is easy to avoid, and perhaps to an element of sectarianism, which has been institutionalised in the Assembly by, for example, the voting system for First Minister. Furthermore, appointments to the Judicial Appointments Commission do not appear to be in line with the suggestions of the Good Friday agreement.

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