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Statutory rules

Lords amendment: No. 22.

Mr. Browne: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 24 and 32.

Mr. Browne: I am delighted that we have come to the last group of amendments in the time allocated for the debate, which, on this Bill, is a significant achievement, and I am pleased that we have been able to debate the amendments to the extent desired by hon. Members.

The report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee accepted that the 16 powers in the Bill to amend it or other legislation were an appropriate delegation. However, it recommended four changes in favour of the affirmative procedure.

First, the Committee felt that the Assembly's power to omit an office from the list of those subject to the Judicial Appointments Commission under schedule 1 was of such constitutional importance that it should be subject to the affirmative procedure. Secondly, the Committee felt also that any order removing an office from the list of those for which the oath must be taken or affirmation made merited the affirmative procedure. The third change concerned orders adding or omitting organisations from the list of organisations within the criminal justice inspectorate's remit. Finally, the Committee also recommended that the affirmative procedure is appropriate for any decision to abolish the court service, as Parliament would also want to debate such a change.

Lords amendment No. 22 effects the changes recommended by the Committee, and Lords amendments Nos. 24 and 32 are consequential.

Lady Hermon: We are very pleased that the use of the affirmative resolution procedure has been extended. Lords

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amendment No. 22 caught my eye because it refers to clause 45(6)(a), which says that the Secretary of State may by order amend the list of bodies to be inspected by the chief inspector of criminal justice. It is with bitter regret that I find that the comprehensive list, which we understood would be with us before the Bill left the House, has not appeared this evening.

The Minister wrote to me about the matter on 18 March. I thought that it was more recent, but obviously time flies when I am enjoying myself. In that letter, he said,

I take it that the final decisions are to be taken this evening, and we will not have a comprehensive list.

I accept that the Minister uses his best endeavours, so I should like him to explain where the foot-dragging has occurred. Was it by the organisations that were consulted? Why has it taken so long to draw up a comprehensive list? Will he tell the House about four specific organisations that have been consulted for months? They are Consignia—that dreadful name will quickly be replaced by "Royal Mail" again, thank goodness—the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland, the Financial Services Authority and the Electoral Office. Specifically, how many meetings took place with those organisations, particularly the police ombudsman? It would have helped to restore confidence in her office if it had been included in the remit of the chief inspector of criminal justice.

7.30 pm

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) for giving me an opportunity to explain why I could not meet the target that I set myself in that list. I hope that I can reassure her that the list will be subject to affirmative procedure and must be debated, so we have not lost the opportunity to discuss it in the House.

I could not meet the target that I set myself despite the fact that I kept in close touch with the process and ensured that my officials kept in touch with our correspondents. The hon. Lady is right in her interpretation—certain organisations did not respond. Unfortunately, I do not have specific information with me, and do not wish to say which organisations did, or did not, respond in time, lest I make an error and wrongly list one as not having responded. Consignia's response, however, was not lost in the post, as was thought—I received it today. In Consignia's favour, my recollection is that it was almost unique in unequivocally welcoming inspection. I know that there has been a response from meetings with the police ombudsman. I cannot speak about the Financial Services Authority or the other organisation that the hon. Lady mentioned, as I do not have specific information to hand, but I will write to her.

A surprising number of organisations asked for more time to work out the implications of inspection. We granted an extension because if there was to be a consultation, that was the sensible thing to do. In another place, my noble Friend Lord Williams undertook to provide an update letter when Members return after the recess. I give the same undertaking to this House, and that

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letter will be provided to hon. Members too. I shall write to the hon. Lady about all the organisations, giving her precise information about when they were written to, how many meetings have taken place and who has responded. I guarantee that over the recess I will ensure that that process is pursued with vigour.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments 23 to 32 agreed to.

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Opposition Day

[17th Allotted Day]

Northern Ireland Peace Process

7.33 pm

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): I beg to move,

Our intention in tabling the motion and our decision to call this debate appears to have borne fruit already. It is significant and welcome that the IRA issued a statement of apology at 5 pm—presumably the time when it thought the debate would start, not knowing that it would be preceded by a statement in the House. A fundamental premise of the Opposition's policy on Northern Ireland and the peace process, to which I shall have occasion to return in the next few minutes, is that it should include an element of reciprocity or balance. Good behaviour should be rewarded, but bad behaviour should be penalised. People who fulfil their obligations should get their due reward, but people who break them should face sanctions.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies: There is almost no other Member to whom I would give way so early in my speech. If the First Minister will allow me to finish the next few sentences, I shall give way to him then.

The IRA statement is clearly an exceptional event in Northern Ireland—apologies do not come easy to any of us, and are rare in the history of Northern Ireland and, I believe, unprecedented in the peace process and the troubles, which together have lasted for 30 years. It follows that we should be prepared to respond positively to what, after all, are only words, albeit important words. Deeds will and must follow, but it is right for us to take account in our deliberations of the positive aspects of the IRA statement. My recommendations to the Government will be influenced by this evening's event.

Mr. Trimble: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. Does he agree that the apology from the IRA tonight may have been prompted by the investigative pieces on which some journalists have been working for the anniversary of bloody Friday in a few

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days' time and questions being asked about the complicity of certain individuals in those murders and bombings? He said that good actions should be rewarded and evil deeds punished. Does he not agree that it is significant that the statement says nothing at all about the recent violence in which the IRA has been involved and nothing about its future conduct? Consequently, it does not release the Prime Minister from the need to make clear what the Government will do in the event of breaches by the republican movement. If the Government use it as an excuse not to fulfil those undertakings, they will create a very dangerous situation indeed.

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