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Lady Hermon: I appreciate the Secretary of State's giving way. The amendment that was introduced to preserve royal coats of arms was, I thought, intended to recognise representations that had been made on heritage and architectural grounds rather than to recognise the constitutional principle. If it were a question of recognising the constitutional principle, all royal coats of arms would stay.
Dr. Reid: I do not disagree with the hon. Lady's point. I merely point out that I was talking in the context of the review's original recommendations. I do not dispute the point that she makes. The review identified an important distinction between the outside of courthouses and the inside of courtrooms. In addition, I pointed out that we needed to strike a balance when it comes to recognising the courts' position.
We agree with the distinction that was reflected in the Bill's amended provisions. We believe that we have made some commonsense amendments to preserve certain coats of arms within historic courthouses.
Having listened to the representations made to usby, above all, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon)we do not believe that we would require a new start to criminal justice to be accompanied by what was called at one stage "architectural vandalism" of historic buildings. Our views on this have been reinforced by the practice in the Irish Republic, where court buildings including royal symbols have continued to be used.
I do regret the need to legislate on this matter at all. I believe that the position taken in the Bill is fair and balanced. However, it is no substitute for a decision taken and agreed on by the parties in Northern Ireland. That is why we delayed taking any decision in this area. As I made clear on Second Reading, we were open to constructive suggestions, particularly those capable of achieving cross-community support. Nothing in the Bill as it stands would prevent such agreement on symbols in the future either.
I have said that it would be regrettable if the issue of symbols overshadowed everything else discussed during the passage of the Bill through this House. The parliamentary stages of the Bill have seen debates of high quality on issues that go to the core of our criminal justice system: the independence of the judiciary and the
As a result of these discussions, we have clarified the Bill in a number of useful respects following representations from the hon. Member for North Down and from my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), to which I shall refer. We have strengthened the assurance that the Judicial Appointments Commission after devolution will be solely responsible for such appointments by amending the Bill's provisions on committees to which it can delegate its functions.
As requested, we have also clarified the important role of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister acting jointly in certain areas. We have recognised in the Bill the importance of international human rights instruments on the prosecution. All of these matters have been raised by the SDLP.
I shall mention briefly some of the valuable debates that we have had on the giving of reasons for non-prosecution. I understand the strong feeling that this issue can arouse, both about the general practice and the application of the principle to particularly sensitive cases involving deaths as a result of action by the security forces. Hon Members will be aware that we have not accepted the various amendments on reasons proposed during the passage of the Bill. However, they should know also about developments in the Government's response to the Strasbourg rulings in certain article 2 cases which coincided chronologically with proceedings on the Bill and the representations that were made.
On Friday, the Attorney-General answered a parliamentary question on this subject. His response included the text of a joint statement with the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. I would urge hon. Members with an interest in the matter to study the text carefully. In brief, the DPP recognises that, in certain types of cases, the public's need for reassurance that a case has been properly investigated and that the rule of law has been maintained in the event of no prosecution following a death in which agents of the state have allegedly been involved may only be fulfilled if reasons for non-prosecution are given. In such a case, and in the absence of compelling reasons to the contrary, the director will give reasons. I hope that that goes some way towards addressing some of the concerns raised during our debates.
Mr. McNamara: I have followed carefully what my right hon. Friend has said about deaths in which members of the security forces are involved. What can he say about circumstances in which non-members of the security forces are involved, on either side, when someone who is an agent or member of the security forces is killed? Stobie is an example.
Dr. Reid: I have the joint statement with me but do not want, for reasons of time, to read it out. I refer my hon. Friend to the parliamentary answer given by the Attorney-General on Friday, which included a joint statement by him and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. That addresses the circumstances
I thank hon. Members for the care and attention that they gave to scrutiny of the Bill. As a result, it leaves the House improved in important ways, and that is, of course, the purpose of parliamentary scrutiny. I know that some hon. Members feel that more time could have been available. None the less, the level of scrutiny given in the time available both in and outside the Housethe process began some time before Parliament engaged with itenabled us to take the views of others on board and to develop the Bill. I hope that the House will agree that the Bill can move on to complete its parliamentary passage in the other place.
Mr. Blunt: Given the Secretary of State's remarks about the conduct of proceedings, and given my views about the conduct of the UnderSecretary in Committee, does he agree that it is to be regretted that we have had no detailed consideration of several matters, particularly the new youth justice provisions?
Dr. Reid: I have no hesitation in saying that my experience leads me to wish that several Committees that I served on before I became a Secretary of State had enjoyed such positive and constructive engagement on the issues. I share the hon. Gentleman's regret that we could not find a little more time. He probably knows that some late efforts were made through channels to which we do not always refer in the Chamber to try to find more time. There was a genuine feeling on both sides that that might happen, but it did not prove possible. It might have been more constructive to proceed in that way, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's regrets about lack of time are shared by other hon. Members. Limited time is left to us, but it may be that some of issues not yet addressed may yet be raised.
The Bill is only part of the process of reform. When we published the draft Bill, we also published an implementation plan. Not all the 294 recommendations required legislation, and even for those that did, the passage of the Bill is just the first step. The Attorney-General, the Lord Chancellor and I are committed to implementing the review recommendations. When the Bill achieves Royal Assenton the assumption that that is the will of Parliamentwe will publish a further implementation plan setting out progress made and giving a firm timetable for action.
Many hon. Members have referred to a commitment for swift action on implementation of the review's recommendations. It has been suggested that the review would benefit from an oversight arrangement. My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh proposed an amendment on the subject, which, regrettably, was not selected as it would have enabled us to discuss it in more detail on Reportas I should have liked to do.
By any standards, the complexity of the reforms and the number of agencies involved are formidable, but progress has already been made. After Royal Assent, I hope that the revised implementation plan will make it clear that the process of giving effect to the review is gathering momentum.
I hope that is the case because the prize before us is huge: a reformed criminal justice system and, ultimately, the devolution of responsibility for criminal justice and policing some time after the Assembly elections in 2003. That is what we all want, however difficult it may be politically. If it is to be achieved, we have no time to waste and I hope that the House will show confidence in the process by giving the Bill a Third Reading.