Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Mrs. Calton: I should like to press amendment No. 144 to a vote for the reasons highlighted by several hon. Members, including the hon. Members for North Down and for Reigate. We would like a separate vote on amendment No. 145 for similar reasons, although I know that the hon. Member for Reigate feels less comfortable about that amendment. We believe that the amendments would significantly improve the Bill, and we hope that the Government will take them very seriously.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman: Before we vote on the hon. Lady's two amendments, I call the Minister to move the amendment to the programme motion.

Mr. Browne: I beg to move,

    That the Programming Order of the Committee of 29th January be amended in paragraph (3) by leaving out ''11.25 am'' and inserting instead ''5 pm''.

Mr. Blunt: Whenever the Government remove a knife it is to be welcomed. The fact that the knife has been moved to somewhere slightly less uncomfortable is an improvement, although it is still not satisfactory. However, as it is an improvement, we will support the motion.

Lembit Öpik: We are making progress, although I am still concerned that we are making slow progress. I hope that the Minister will be mindful of the fact that, at this rate, we will need more sittings.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment proposed, No. 144, in page 3, line 3, leave out 'representative' and insert—

    'reflective.'—[Mrs. Calton.]

Column Number: 97

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 13.

Division No. 5]

Blunt, Mr. Crispin Calton, Mrs. Patsy Francois, Mr. Mark Hayes, Mr. John
Hermon, Lady Öpik, Lembit Turner, Mr. Andrew

Barnes, Mr. Harry Browne, Mr. Desmond Clarke, Mr. Tony Dobbin, Jim Hall, Patrick Heyes, Mr. David McIsaac, Shona
Mallon, Mr. Seamus Merron, Gillian Mole, Chris Stringer, Mr. Graham Tynan, Mr. Bill Woodward, Mr. Shaun

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed, No. 145, in page 3, line 3, at end insert

    ', including in terms of gender and ethnicity.'—[Mrs. Calton.]

    Question put, That the amendment be made:—

    The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 16.

    Division No. 6]

    Calton, Mrs. Patsy Hermon, Lady
    Mallon, Mr. Seamus Öpik, Lembit

    Barnes, Mr. Harry Blunt, Mr. Crispin Browne, Mr. Desmond Clarke, Mr. Tony Dobbin, Jim Francois, Mr. Mark Hall, Patrick Hayes, Mr. John
    Heyes, Mr. David McIsaac, Shona Merron, Gillian Mole, Chris Stringer, Mr. Graham Turner, Mr. Andrew Tynan, Mr. Bill Woodward, Mr. Shaun

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

11.15 am

Mr. Mallon: On a point of order, Mr. Conway. I seek your guidance. After the long debate that we have had I am becoming more convinced that it is theoretically possible for judicial appointments to be made under the clause and under schedule 2 without any members of the Judicial Appointments Commission taking part. I seek your advice as to when that aspect of the matter might be dealt with. Should it be when we debate the schedule, and, if so, how will that affect the decision on clause stand part?

The Chairman: I am grateful for that point of order. The Committee can now, if it pleases, debate the question that clause 3 stand part of the Bill. When that is disposed of, we shall deal with the amendments to schedule 2, in order. Of course a debate can take place, if the Chairman allows it later today, on the question that schedule 2 stand part of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman will have both those opportunities to refer to the matters in question.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Column Number: 98

Schedule 2

Judicial Appointments Commission

Mrs. Calton: I beg to move amendment No. 147, in page 71, line 29, leave out 'five' and insert—


The Chairman: With this we may take amendment No. 148, in schedule 2, page 71, line 31, leave out 'ten' and insert—


Mrs. Calton: The amendments would reduce the membership period for lay members of the commission. The Bill provides for them to be appointed for five years at a time, and for no longer than 10 years altogether. We have suggested that three years might be a better time frame in which to allow fresh minds on to the commission. We are probing to find out why a term of five years has been selected.

Mr. Browne: I am grateful for the amendment. The matter is one of judgment based on experience and consultation with those who operate in the relevant sphere. It relates to the nature of the job and people's ability to build expertise over time. The Government take the view that five years is an appropriate time.

I understand why the hon. Lady thinks that five years is too long. The judgment of Solomon might split the difference, but I do not plan to do that, because the Government think that five years would allow the members of the commission to build the experience that would enable them to work together, given the nature of the work and the frequency with which they would be asked to do it. We recognise the need for the membership to change, rather than to stagnate, but members must have sufficient time to begin to operate effectively. The Government have got the balance right, for the reasons that I have given.

Mrs. Calton: I thank the Minister for his reply, and we accept his argument. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lady Hermon: I beg to move amendment No. 91, in page 71, line 34, leave out 'may' and insert—


It may assist hon. Members to look at paragraph 2(4), which states:

    The First Minister and the deputy First Member, acting jointly, may dismiss a non-judicial member

who they are satisfied is unable to fulfil his functions for the reasons listed.

By replacing the word ''may'' with the word ''must'', my amendment would remove the discretion that is given to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and impose a duty on them. A non-judicial member who is unable or unfit to exercise his or her functions should be dismissed—that should be a clear duty, not a discretionary matter. There has been a slight oversight, which the amendment would remedy.

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for being so concise. The amendment makes it clear that the intention is to remove discretion. As the hon. Lady helpfully said, the Bill provides for dismissal in certain

Column Number: 99

cases, and she drew our attention to the applicable paragraphs.

In such cases, the Government would expect the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to act in the way set out in the Bill. It would, however, be inappropriate to impose a duty, because several of the reasons for dismissal are matters of fact, on which the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister would have to reach a judgment. Paragraph 2(4)(a) refers to a member who

    has without reasonable excuse failed to exercise his functions,

and there is a list of reasons. There would, therefore, be an element of discretion, with or without the amendment. Although the policy is clear, all cases will not be clear-cut.

Lady Hermon: Am I to understand that the Minister accepts that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are not obliged to dismiss a non-judicial member who

    has been convicted of a criminal offence?

Is he telling us that they would still have an element of discretion when considering whether to dismiss such people?

Column Number: 100

Mr. Browne: The Government's position is that there is discretion because paragraph 2 contains the word ''may'', not the word ''must'', which is why the hon. Lady has tabled an amendment. There is a list of circumstances that may apply, some of which are not as clear-cut as a person being bankrupt or being convicted of a criminal offence. The hon. Lady will know that the issue of whether someone has accumulated a criminal record exercises the minds of judges, so such matters can cause debate even though they seem clear-cut.

I light on that particular issue only because the hon. Lady did, and it is clear from the list that some of the circumstances are matters of judgment, which implies that there will be an element of discretion in any event. Our policy makes it clear that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will act in the way set out in the schedule. As in many other parts of the Bill, there is an element of trust that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will act appropriately.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Conway, Mr. Derek (Chairman)
Barnes, Mr.
Blunt, Mr.
Browne, Mr.
Calton, Mrs.
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Dobbin, Jim
Francois, Mr.
Hall, Patrick
Hayes, Mr.
Hermon, Lady
Heyes, Mr.
McIsaac, Shona
Mallon, Mr.
Merron, Gillian
Mole, Chris
Öpik, Lembit
Stringer, Mr.
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tynan, Mr.
Woodward, Mr.

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