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Mr. Gregory Campbell: I wish to make a few comments about the use of the term "acting jointly". I rarely agree with the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon)—for instance, she signed an early-day motion congratulating the Republic of Ireland football team on its success in the World cup, whereas I signed one congratulating the England team. That shows how far apart she and I are politically.

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The term "acting jointly" is superfluous. The office of Attorney General for Northern Ireland will be fundamentally important in law. It should be funded by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, with no need for the term "acting jointly" to be used in the Bill—as it is, ad nauseam. The fact that the term appears again and again shows how weak the Government must feel the two Ministers can be at times.

The words "acting jointly" are unnecessary. One would not have thought that funding the Attorney General for Northern Ireland would require their inclusion in the Bill at all.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): Following on from what the previous speaker said, I must tell the House that, on the ground of parity of esteem, I congratulated both the Republic of Ireland football team and the English team on their World cup success. I look forward to teams from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales achieving similar success, and to my having the opportunity to congratulate them as well. I take pride in what these islands achieve, and do not want to hold one island up against the other.

I do not appreciate the logic of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) in respect of the amendment. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) has made most of the points that I was going to make, so I shall not delay the House. However, if we say that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, acting jointly, must appoint the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, it follows logically that both will have to agree to fund that position, acting jointly. We should therefore keep the phrase in the Bill.

Mr. Browne: Lords amendment No. 5 clarifies two matters in the Bill. In establishing the new Attorney General for Northern Ireland, it is important we should avoid, as far as possible, any potential ambiguities. The Lords amendment has been tabled with that aim in mind.

First, the Lords amendment clarifies that the funding for the new Attorney General is to be provided by the First and Deputy First Ministers. They, of course, will fund the Attorney General from money appropriated by Act of the Assembly.

Secondly, the Lords amendment clarifies that the Attorney General may appoint staff, subject to approval by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister as to numbers, salary and other terms of employment. Those members of staff will become civil servants on appointment.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) asked whether the Government intended to set out the amounts paid in salaries and any other terms and conditions of employment for such staff. I must tell him that the Government singularly do not intend to do that, as those are matters for the Attorney General, subject to any approval required from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Lords amendment No. 5 was tabled in response to the Northern Ireland Executive's view that the new Attorney General will need such provision in order to carry out his functions. Amendment (a), moved by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), would remove the words "acting jointly". As I said in Standing Committee and on Report, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister must act jointly in exercising their functions in relation to the

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local Attorney General's office. Generally, they must do so, for the reasons set out by my hon. Friend the Member for South Down and supported by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt).

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) said that the Bill's repeated use of the term "acting jointly" was otiose and a sign of weakness. I have taken the Bill through the House and have been asked, for purposes of clarity, to express in the Bill many things that I thought were implied by the Bill or that could reasonably be inferred from its wording. However, the Government consider that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister must act jointly, and we believe that it is preferable, therefore, that we make that clear in the Bill. That is why we state as many times as we do in the Bill that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister must act jointly.

Mr. Dodds: The Minister has stressed repeatedly that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister must act jointly, but does not that emphasise that Northern Ireland really has joint First Ministers as, in effect, the First and Deputy First Ministers cannot act separately?

6 pm

Mr. Browne: No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman; his point has no merit. The devolution settlement for Northern Ireland clearly provides for a process for electing a First Minister and a process for electing a Deputy First Minister. [Interruption.] It may well be one process, but there is a process for the election of a First Minister and for the election of a Deputy First Minister. In terms of the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, it may be technically one process. I have not been present when it happens. However, there is a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister and they are not joint First Ministers, as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

A number of specific points were raised with regard to the amendments and their effects, which I shall deal with now. The hon. Member for North Down says that the requirement for the Attorney General and Advocate General to work jointly will delay devolution. It is not the Government's intention to devolve justice functions until the institutions of devolution are ready to receive them. An important aspect of whether the institutions of devolution are ready to receive those functions will be the confidence that the First and Deputy First Ministers will be able effectively to discharge the functions that will be imposed on them. It is a question not of delaying devolution but of a judgment having to be made that the institutions are ready to receive those important functions. Part of that judgment will be the ability of the First and Deputy First Ministers to carry out the statutory duties that are required of them, acting in the way that they are required to do.

Proposed subsection (2B) of clause 22 in Lords amendment No. 5 does not have the words "acting jointly" because they are clearly unnecessary there. The provision requires that the First and Deputy First Ministers approve the matters referred to. It makes no difference whether we say that they must approve such matters together or separately, because it amounts to the same thing. Obviously, both of them need to approve such matters before that provision can be satisfied.

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In an intervention on the hon. Member for North Down, the hon. Member for Reigate suggested that the local Attorney General could be appointed at any time. I think that he is technically right, but the local Attorney General will be appointed on devolution. The Attorney General is appointed by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister under clause 22(2). There is no provision that precludes the commencement of this clause before devolution, but the working assumption is that it will commence after devolution.

Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on that point. I would appreciate some clarity. Clause 86 states:


It continues:


In the process of the devolution of justice, I should have thought that the big bang theory would not be the right one. It might be better to put the individuals and posts of Advocate General and Attorney General in place before devolving certain functions. A progressive roll-out of different powers under the Bill might be appropriate.

Mr. Browne: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Like many that he has made, it may have some merit and I shall consider it. It does not need to be addressed in this debate because, as he says, the flexibility in the Bill can deal with it. I had anticipated that his point would be somewhat different from a progressive roll-out of devolution, but we shall continue to consider it. The intention is not to have an Attorney General appointed other than in the context of devolution, but it may, in the fullness of time, prove more sanguine to appoint such a person in anticipation of the act of devolution so that offices and staff can be in place.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman sought assurance about all consent powers being transferred to the Advocate General where appropriate. We have the order-making power to transfer those powers under clause 28(2), and I shall take into account his observations about the exercise of that power.

Lords amendments Nos. 27, 28 and 29 are purely technical and add further offences to the list of those in relation to which the Advocate General for Northern Ireland must give consent before a prosecution can be undertaken. After devolution, the new local Attorney General will have no power to consent to prosecutions. The Director of Public Prosecutions will exercise most consent provisions, but a very few—in relation to national security and international relations, for example—will be exercised by the Advocate General for Northern Ireland. Schedule 7 lists the offences for which the Advocate General's consent will be required.

I ask the House to agree with the Lords in the said amendments and invite the hon. Member for North Down not to press her amendment.

Question negatived.

Lords amendment agreed to.

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