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Mr. Browne: Let me take advantage of the point that the hon. Lady makes to make a point that I have been meaning to make publicly for some time. Whereas it is appropriate for bodies that operate in a collegiate fashion to be either reflective or representative, individual appointments, such as judges, cannot possibly be seen to be representative; otherwise, it would be impossible for them to reflect society. In the context of what the Government are trying to achieve in Northern Ireland, it is important to say that it may be appropriate for some bodies that operate in a collegiate fashion to be seen to be either reflective or representative, but that that is entirely inappropriate for people such as judges, who are appointed to operate individually.
I sincerely congratulate the Governmentthe Minister will be pleased that we have so much on which to congratulate himon resisting the temptation to enhance in any real sense lay involvement in the judiciary. Experience in England and Wales shows that many lay benches can be costly, inefficient and fail to command the respect of others who work in the criminal justice system,
Despite the fact that we welcome so many positive aspects of the Bill, the Minister will not be surprised to learn that there are matters about which we are greatly disappointed. I am disappointed with recommendation 138, in which the Irish language is specifically singled out for consideration for use in courts. Such a recommendation offends other minority groups in Northern Ireland, not least the large Hong Kong Chinese community. I declare an interest in that I am the chairman, on a voluntary basis, of the fundraising committee for the Chinese Welfare Association.
In fairness to our ethnic minority groups, all minority groups should be considered fairly, so perhaps the Minister will kindly give equal attention to the language of other minority groups. Perhaps he will explain at the end of the debate what is meant by the phrase "consideration of the use of the Irish language", as used in that recommendation.
Rev. Martin Smyth: The constituency that I represent, South Belfast, contains a high percentage of people who speak other languages, so I support my hon. Friend on that issue. Surely translators could be present to help those whose main language is Irish, especially as English is spoken even in the Dail.
Lady Hermon: I thank my hon. Friend. I am reminded of the cost, which the Northern Ireland Assembly considered, of providing simultaneous translation into Irish, and such costs should also be borne in mind.
The section of the review entitled "Community Safety" contains rather odd proposals for local community safety partnerships, which will require much greater scrutiny in Committee. The proposals are odd in two respects. The first relates to the lack of detail about the composition of the partnerships. I would have liked more information on who will be encouraged to serve on them. Secondly, I am discouraged by the recommendation's similarity to the proposal in the Patten report for district policing partnership boards, as they were originally described.
Clause 71(4)(d) will give the local community safety partnerships the power to buy in additional resources. I hope that point will be clarified, because I do not want us to resurrect the original power in the Patten report that would have allowed policing to be bought in by the partnerships.
I have supported the Belfast agreement from the beginning and continue to do so. It is the benchmark against which the many changes to be introduced by the Bill must be measured. As hon. Members have said, the agreement was endorsed by a substantial majority in a referendum in Northern Ireland and in a separate referendum in the Republic of Ireland. The Government must not therefore cast aside the wishes of the majority of the people on the island of Ireland and substitute them with their own as they have done in the recent past.
I want the Government to abide by the Belfast agreement for a change and to build on it, so that it works for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland and not just a section of the population. Given the express provisions in the agreement, there can be absolutely no justification for clause 66 as drafted. It recommends that the royal coat of arms must not be displayed in any courtroom. The Minister will know that there is an express provision in the Bill not only about Northern Ireland's constitutional position in the agreement unless and until people wish otherwise, but about the use of symbols.
I was encouraged to hear the Secretary of State allude to heritage considerations. I hope that when it comes to listed buildings that have the royal coat of arms embossed in wood or sculpted in, either in the courtroom or on the exterior of the courthouse, a sensible cross-party consensus will emerge that the vandalism of those symbols will not promote mutual respect, but cause division instead.
Provisions in clause 62 also make us concerned about new courthouses. The recommendation suggests that they should be neutral on the outside, the inside and the roof. However, the agreement is not neutral about symbols, and I specifically read out the relevant paragraph. It urges all participants to use symbols in a way that shows mutual respect rather than causing division. So I cannot accept the neutrality of new courthouses and new courtrooms. Neutral is not what we voted for. I voted for mutual respect.
Mr. Trimble: With regard to arguments in favour of neutrality, which appear to have influenced the Northern Ireland Office's review group and consequently the legislation, would it not be appropriate for the Northern Ireland Office to reconsider its position? My hon. Friend argues that the agreement was not about neutrality, but about the appropriate use of symbols. In addition, the neutrality argument was rejected in the High Court of Northern Ireland by Mr. Justice Kerr in his judgment on
Instead of having blank walls inside and outside, I passionately hope that in consultation with other parties we can make the agreement work and reach a consensus on mutually agreed symbols for new courtrooms. That is what we and the people of Ireland voted for.
My right hon. Friend urges me not to exclude my comments on flag flying regulations, so I shall draw the attention of the House to a serious omission. The regulations were, as he reminded us, recently tested in the High Court. In the Murphy case, Mr. Justice Kerr had to consider whether they were compatible with the agreement. He concluded that there was no particular case to be made for the flag flying regulations to favour one tradition over another. He decided that the symbolism of the flag merely reflected Northern Ireland's constitutional position as part of the UK. The flag flying regulations reduced the number of days and they treat Northern Ireland on the same basis as the rest of the UK. That is guaranteed in the agreement, and the people of Northern Ireland should be pleased with that. The regulations exclude 12 July, but the situation is the same as in Great Britain, and if we want to be treated as part of the United Kingdom we should have agreed to the regulations on flags. I should like the Minister to address the serious issue of future courthouses because there appears to be a gap in the flags regulations on that matter.
In conclusion, the Bill represents a genuine opportunity for the Government to claw back Unionist confidence lost during the implementation of the Patten reforms. The Government can begin to repair that damage if they start to listen to Unionist concerns with open ears and show themselves to be responsive to those concerns. Mistakes were made in implementing Patten and there was insensitivity in the handling of those reforms. I urge the Government not to repeat those mistakes in reforming the criminal justice system.