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Lembit Öpik: I had been about to say that, although I was stunned and delighted that the hon. Gentleman agreed with me, I do not necessarily agree with everything that he said. I escape on a technicality.
The list of questions, excluding the question about numbers, is salient and requires a reply. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) correctly suggested that one method of ensuring the perception of the independence of the Judicial Appointments Commission was to allow the Crown to make the appointments. I do not entirely agree, not least because I support devolution. However, it is understandable that those who are uncomfortable say that, in the absence of a convincing response, the Crown should continue to be in charge. The Government are obliged to provide an assurance, especially to those who are worried about bias.
Appointment for five years is perhaps too long because, even if we solve the problems in Committee, we need to review the matter sooner. Does the Minister believe that we should have an interim review, perhaps after one or two years, to ascertain how matters are settling down?
Moving on to clause 5, I agree that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister should have the ability to refer an initial recommendation of an appointment back to the Judicial Appointments Commission. Paragraph 6.107 of the criminal justice review makes it explicit that if the same name were resubmitted to the First Minister or Deputy First Minister, it would have to be accepted. However, that is not made clear in the Bill. As it stands, we do not know whether the commission can reconsider an application only once, or whether the First Minister and Deputy First Minister can refer a recommendation back a number of times. I am pleased with the thrust of the provision, but that point needs clarification. I am also pleased that the officers are to be appointed entirely on the basis of merit, but that does not take away this slight confusion, and we should not leave the matter to be decided by precedent.
Mr. Browne: Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, I want to reassure him that the Bill is clear in its recommendation that, the first recommendation having been refused, and following reconsideration, the provisions of the review are to be followed and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will be required to accept the second recommendation, even if it relates to the same person.
Clause 20 specifies a new oath. It is right to modernise that practice, and this is a good time to do it. I also welcome the appointment of a local Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, as set out in clause 23. Again, though, the Bill provides little guidance on how that person should
Clause 28 establishes that the Attorney-General for England and Wales should be the Advocate-General for Northern Ireland. It is right that someone should adjudicate on whether a piece of legislation is within the competence of the Assembly. Although that is not mentioned in the report of the criminal justice review, it is implied, in terms of what the Bill is expected to achieve. Have the Government given any thought to the working relationship between the Attorney-General and the Advocate-General? Are there precedents involved, or are weand the Governmenthappy to leave that question to be determined by the appointees?
We also welcome the establishment of a public prosecution service for Northern Ireland. That is essential to maintain consistency through the Bill. I agree with the arguments in the criminal justice review for the need to separate the prosecution function carried out by the police from the organisation responsible for carrying out investigations. Indeed, the report states:
We further welcome the establishment of the office of a chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland with a view to carrying out inspections of key organisations in the criminal justice sphere, such as the police, the public prosecution service and the probation board. There is a lack of clarity, however, as to what the chief inspector's role should be. That is highlighted in clause 46(2) and clause 47(6). His or her role should be either to investigate all the organisations mentioned and take an overview of the situation, or to investigate specific problems within an organisation that are likely to have to come to his or her attention through an individual case.
I turn to some of the very interesting comments by the Opposition spokesperson that I have not already covered. I was confused by what seemed to be a number of inconsistencies in what he said. He referred to the Government's hidden agenda. When I intervened on him to ask him to clarify that, he said that there was not a hidden agenda but a difference of view with regard to methods. Later on, however, he returned to the theme of the hidden agenda, and I was horrified to learn that, in his view, there was little short of a republican conspiracy going right up to the top on the Labour Back Benchesin the form of the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)that is trying to throw away all that is noble and wonderful about the monarchy, and to provide us with the freedom to change the world as we know it.
Lembit Öpik: I hear calls of "Shame!" coming from the Labour Benches. I shall goad the closet republicans over there by saying that I believe that we have a fine Queen who conducts herself in an honourable fashion, and that the Prince of Wales will one day make an honourable and fine King and I look forward to being one of his subjects.
Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman referred earlier to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson's comments. Would he care to comment on the failure of the Conservative spokesperson to explain the hidden agenda to which I referred, regarding the youth criminal system and the pilot project to be undertaken in Northern Ireland? The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford mentioned that he was coming to that, but he never got to it and would not take any more interventions. Does the hon. Gentleman have any views on the matter?
Lembit Öpik: That shows just how easily youth passes us by. Of course the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford was entitled to focus on his primary concerns, and it is not for me to question his omission. Perhaps he was saving that point for his colleague to make, just as I am saving points for my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle to make. Should she catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, she will expand more on that question.