Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Opposition have no problem with the motion, although we do have long-standing and considerable arguments against the amount of time made available for discussion of the Bill. Important amendments have been tabled by the Government. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has pointed out how difficult it is to respond to Government amendments published on Friday and selected by your conference at 12 noon today, Mr. Speaker.

Clearly, the passage of the Bill has been thoroughly unsatisfactory. The hon. Gentleman's concern is but the latest example, although I must point out that it would have helped if he had not voted for the original programme motion and the knives inserted during Committee. If he had not done so, we might be considering on Report a Bill of which we had at least read

4 Mar 2002 : Column 23

the 32 clauses that we must now deal with today. I fear that important Government amendments may not be discussed in spite of their immense significance to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Will my hon. Friend confirm that a great many clauses—possibly the majority of them—were not discussed in Committee and that tens of amendments and new clauses also went undiscussed because of the programme motions?

Mr. Blunt: To be precise, 32 clauses and 7 schedules were not discussed. That is plainly unsatisfactory. The Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons is examining the way we legislate, and the Bill provides an example of our profound failure properly to do our job as legislators.

I do not hold the Minister responsible for that in any way. He conducted himself well in Committee, seriously considering amendments and replying to points with care and courtesy. I am delighted to see that many of the substantial number of amendments that I tabled on Wednesday were adopted by the Government as their own amendments on Thursday, which is a proper way to reflect what happened in Committee.

It remains a pity that the Committee was not able to complete its business. Indeed, that is more than a pity: it is a scandal. If I go on any longer about that, however, we shall have even less time. I am happy to support the motion.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): Important matters lie at the end of the list of amendments. It would be a tragedy if those matters were not discussed in the House. No real public discussion would have taken place of matters that all parties in Northern Ireland, no matter what view they take of the Bill, require to be debated.

It would be a terrible tragedy if the House had no opportunity to hold a thorough discussion of matters that are currently in the arena of controversy. This is the place where controversy should be aired and arguments put and debated if we believe in democracy.

Lembit Öpik: In supporting the motion, I want to make two brief points. First, I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your clarification about the understandable restrictions on your time, although that indicates something that we should consider in future: it has been a tremendous strain on the Opposition parties to prepare our responses in the two and a half hours that were available. However, perhaps that matter is one for the Modernisation Committee rather than for us.

Secondly, as the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) rightly said, it was clear in Committee that the Under-Secretary took seriously the representations that were made, although I was concerned that, sometimes, the Government seemed a trifle inflexible about taking those points on board. I deduce from the Government's willingness to consider several of the amendments that were discussed but not accepted in Committee that they want to make amends on Report. That is healthy.

I hope that the Government will be able to provide clear justification where there are still differences between us. I am sure that will be achieved as the debate progresses.

4 Mar 2002 : Column 24

As regards the limitations on time in Committee, it is true that at the beginning we supported the Government's programming timetable. In response to the comments of the hon. Member for Reigate, the Conservatives could have been a little more co-operative when there was an opportunity mid-way through the Committee stage to extend the time. It is perhaps disingenuous for the Conservatives to criticise others when they did not accept that opportunity, although we do not want to pursue that matter in detail now. I hope that, given the spirit of constructive dialogue that we enjoyed in Committee, the Report stage will be similarly constructive.

Question put and agreed to.

New Clause 1

Appointment of Queen's Counsel

'(1) Her Majesty may from time to time, on the recommendation of the Secretary of State, appoint members of the Bar of Northern Ireland, Queen's Counsel in Northern Ireland.
(2) The power of the Secretary of State to make recommendations under subsection (1) is exercisable only after consultation with a Committee of the Judicial Appointments Commission consisting of all the judicial and legal profession members under a procedure to be determined by the Committee.'.—[Mr. Blunt.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.42 pm

Mr. Blunt: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I hope that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has had enough time to consider his response to the new clause as it was tabled in Committee, although we did not reach it.

The new clause has been proposed because there was no consideration of the appointment of Queen's Counsel in the review and the matter is not dealt with in the Bill. However, the Bar Council of Northern Ireland wants to sort out the problem. In the course of my preparation for dealing with the Bill for Her Majesty's Opposition, I visited Northern Ireland. One of the people I met was Eilís McDermott, the chairman of the Bar Council of Northern Ireland, who briefed me in detail on the issue.

The immediate concern of the Bar Council of Northern Ireland is that the Lord Chancellor has announced a new Judicial Appointments Commissioner for Northern Ireland and has given him a role—as set out in the Lord Chancellor's letter of 9 July 2001 to the chairman of the Bar Council. It states:

It was envisaged that the role would include

As that is an important matter, one would have expected the Lord Chancellor to have received a reply on the detail from the Bar Council of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the letter from the Lord Chancellor emerged only when people went through the papers of the

4 Mar 2002 : Column 25

late chairman of the Bar Council after his untimely death. In those circumstances, it is hardly surprising that there was no reply.

The vice-chairman, Henry Toner QC, wrote to the Lord Chancellor on 21 December:

I have had an opportunity to study what the Bar Council of Northern Ireland calls its "silk report", and my new clause is an attempt to meet as closely as possible its recommendations for the appointment of Queen's Counsel within the set-up of the Judicial Appointments Commission established under the Bill. Specifically, the new clause says that the sub-committee for appointing Queen's Counsel should consist of the members of the Judicial Appointments Commission who come from the judicial and legal profession. That comes as close as is reasonably possible to the proposals in the Bar Council's report.

In paragraph 25, the silk report, which was finalised on 20 March 2001, says:

I accept that my proposal is not identical with that put forward by the Bar Council of Northern Ireland, but, given the constraints under which we are operating, it is as close as it could reasonably be.

Next Section

IndexHome Page