Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Mr. Kilfoyle: I am a little puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's argument. The clause is specific about who can be appointed to the positions. Surely that is the antithesis of the aspirational type of legislation to which he refers.

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Mr. Garnier: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I am not sure that I follow his point. If he is suggesting—I do not think that he is—that anybody of good standing should be allowed to be appointed DPP of Northern Ireland, that is not what we want. Perhaps I have misunderstood him.

Mr. Kilfoyle: I am not suggesting that. I recognise that these are specific jobs, requiring specific talents and qualifications. The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to the fact that there is a small pool of people from which to draw for appointment to those functions. Although the deputy director will stand in for the director, it is specified that one must a barrister and one a solicitor. That further refines the numbers from which they can be chosen.

Mr. Garnier: That is merely a function of the job and of the people from among whom the appointed person can be selected. The deputy will have to have been a member of the legal profession for seven years; the director for 10 years. I doubt whether anyone who is appointed director or deputy director will just scrape past those minimums. If they are to have the authority and experience necessary to carry out their jobs, they are likely to be people of many years' standing. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the lack of symmetry. The Attorney-General can continue in the job until the age of 70, but the director must stop at 65. It may be that the Attorney-General will retire on his 70th birthday but will appoint the Director of Public Prosecutions to succeed him, giving him another five years in office.

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh for tabling the amendment, because it has given us the opportunity to highlight the relevant recommendation in the review, recommendation 59, and to discuss an important issue relating to the qualification and independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions and to the system of his appointment.

As I pointed out in response to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), the Government fully accepted the recommendation of appointment by open competition, with the qualifications set out in the recommendation, and did so explicitly on page 33 of the implementation plan published at the same time as the Bill. We fully endorse the principle of open and fair competition for such posts. Indeed, it is the status quo in relation to a large number of public appointments that the Government have made in Northern Ireland.

The Commissioner for Public Appointments has approved the process that the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland have established. I am not in a position—as some hon. Members wish me to be—to set out the specific details of that process as they relate to the post that we are discussing. However, I can tell the Committee that it includes the public advertisement of the post, so that all those who qualify may consider whether to apply for the job; an independent element on the interview panel; and, in relation to some posts, predetermined questions, so that everyone is asked the same questions at interview.

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A significant amount of pre-planning takes place, and the procedure is submitted to the Commissioner for Public Appointments for approval to ensure that it qualifies as open and fair competition.

Of necessity, because some of the posts are unique—or comparatively unique, if that is possible—it is impossible to set in stone a procedure that should apply to every post. To some extent, the procedure must be individually designed for each post. For those reasons, the Government believe that it would be impossible to include a statutory definition of ''open and fair competition'' in the Bill. Given that that is now the standard appointments procedure in Northern Ireland for such posts, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh said, the Government believe that it is unnecessary to state in legislation that appointments should be made in that way. In any event, it would be unusual to state in legislation the appointment procedure for a particular job. I know that this legislation sets out a complex procedure, by way of the Judicial Appointments Commission, for the appointment of the judiciary in Northern Ireland, but I hope that the Committee will understand why that must be set out in statute.

The details that the amendment would insert are unnecessary. The status quo already ensures that the appointment will be made by open and fair competition as a result of procedures that are already well established in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mallon: When the Minister refers to the status quo, is he saying that the method that will be used will be by public appointment?

Mr. Browne: It is probably my fault, but I did not understand my hon. Friend's question. The Government have appointed people to public appointments in Northern Ireland by a process that fits the description in the recommendation, which refers to the procedures established by the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland. The recommendation is couched in those terms because the review was aware of the procedures established by the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland. The Government intend that those procedures, which are set out in general terms, will apply to this post. Such procedures have recently applied in relation to appointments in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mallon: I have listened with interest to the Minister's remarks, and his reference to an implementation plan. Some of us have experience of implementation plans from other Bills, and know that people should not too readily believe that what is in an implementation plan will be implemented as the legislation requires. I profess that I am sceptical about implementation plans.

I refer specifically to the implementation plan drawn up under the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill and to the assurances given in this, or a similar Room, by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), the then Minister. He was an honourable man who honoured his commitments in relation to everything that he said, but had not the type of control to ensure that others acted equally honourably.

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Therefore, I am not enamoured of, or impressed by, this Minister's recourse to an implementation plan, nor will I be persuaded by it.

We should not lose sight of the fact that these measures are proposed in preparation for devolution. The director who is appointed will not live forever. When, subsequent to the first elements of devolution, appointments must be made again, is it not incongruous that the system of open competition that is applied by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive will not pertain? If something is important, it should be put in the Bill, using all the skills available.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Is my hon. Friend not persuaded of the Minister's emphatic endorsement of the philosophy underlying the amendment? If an appointment were unsatisfactory, the Minister's words as recorded in Hansard would clearly show Parliament's intention that the procedure be open and fair. I should have hoped that that would sufficiently convince my hon. Friend that the substance of his amendment has been accepted.

11 am

Mr. Mallon: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I regard the Minister as a honourable man, but when the Bill emerges from the Committee, he will not have the final say on the matter. We know that from experience. We are debating the Bill, but I would be surprised if there were not negotiations on it taking place elsewhere. I would also be surprised if, on Report, a rabbit or two is not pushed into or pulled out of a hat, depending on the direction in which the political wind is blowing.

I cast no aspersions on the Minister's honour. However, I have no confidence that, when it comes to dealing with such important matters, assurances given will ultimately be honoured. I do not mean to imply that the Minister would not honour them, but others may not. That has happened before—Bills have been guillotined on Report without even being debated. In spite of my hon. Friend's best efforts to convince me that the plan would be implemented, I cannot withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 12.

Division No. 9]

AYES
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Calton, Mrs. Patsy
Francois, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Hermon, Lady
Mallon, Mr. Seamus
Turner, Mr. Andrew

NOES
Atherton, Ms Candy
Browne, Mr. Desmond
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Dobbin, Jim
Heyes, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
McIsaac, Shona
McWalter, Mr. Tony
Merron, Gillian
Mole, Chris
Stringer, Mr. Graham
Woodward, Mr. Shaun

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Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Mallon: I beg to move amendment No. 207, in page 18, line 41, leave out '40(3) or'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 206, in clause 40, page 23, line 32, leave out subsection (3).

Mr. Mallon: This amendment is consequential on the amendment No.205 that I have tabled to clause 40(2).

Mr. Browne: I think that it relates to clause 40(3).

Mr. Mallon: I thank the Minister.

The essence of the amendment is the belief that there should be no power for the current Attorney-General to direct the prosecutor, whether in individual cases or on policy matters. The clear recommendation in the review at paragraph 4.162—recommendation 45 in the summary—was that

    ''there should be no power for the Attorney General to direct the prosecutor, whether in individual cases or on policy matters.''

That is how things should be, and I see no reason why the ending of the power should await the devolution of justice responsibilities. Nor do I see why any such power should remain in the hands of the Advocate-General for Northern Ireland. Accordingly, I oppose clause 40(3). There may be an explanation for not adhering to the recommendation in the review, but we have yet to receive one. I regret that I have had to come at the matter by way of a consequential amendment, but it has enabled me to explain my thinking on the issue.

 
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