Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Lady Hermon: I tried to restrain myself but I cannot.

At one point in the Murphy case, which was delivered as recently as October 2001, the court emphasised the fact that Northern Ireland was treated in exactly the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom with regard to flag flying. Therefore, it cannot be consistent with that judgment or with the Belfast agreement for the royal coat of arms to be taken out of court rooms in Northern Ireland because it would not be consistent with the position in the rest of the United Kingdom. I cannot reconcile myself to the Minister's remarks, which are entirely at variance with that court judgment.

Mr. Browne: I knew what the hon. Lady's argument would be. She made it perfectly clear before and did not need to intervene again. However, her argument does not alter a word of my answer.

I turn now to amendment No. 274, tabled by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh. I find the amendment perplexing for some of the reasons that engaged me in an intervention with the hon. Member for Reigate. The amendment provides that, as well as the royal arms, no other symbols may be displayed in court rooms, anywhere in a courthouse, on the exterior of a courthouse or in any other building used as a court. Although the word ''symbols'' is used in the review, it is clear from the context of the preceding paragraph that symbols means royal arms. We have not used the word ''symbols'' in the Bill because we were advised that it could be taken to include symbols—this might seem ridiculous but it is correct—such as the words ''fire exit'' if they appear on a sign, the statues of justice or of peace in the Londonderry courthouse, as was mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, or the county crests displayed in the court rooms at Downpatrick or Bangor. I do not think that my hon.

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Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh objects to those symbols, but they would be covered by the amendment. Even if we exclude the ridiculous example of the fire exit—I may need to be persuaded by those who are advising us that such a symbol would be included—the amendment would certainly include those other symbols.

The amendment would preclude the possibility, suggested in the review, of identifying a symbol that could reflect the separation of the court from the Executive and contain the qualities that the hon. Member for North Down urged that the symbolism in certain court rooms should have. Consistent with my earlier contribution, the Government do not wish to close down that possibility. For those reasons, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh to withdraw the amendment.

New clause 3 would insert into the Bill a requirement that every courthouse and court room in Northern Ireland should display a coat of arms. The amendment is inconsistent with the principle of a neutral working environment and I therefore oppose it. The review was set up by the Belfast agreement to deliver an efficient and effective criminal justice system that has the confidence of all parts of the community. The review specifically referred to creating an environment in which all those who attend court can feel comfortable. The new clause is not consistent with those aims. To be fair to the hon. Member for East Londonderry, he did not argue that it would be, but invoked other reasons. New clause 3 would require us to go back to court rooms and courthouses that do not currently display the royal arms and put up more symbols, and the Government are not prepared to do that. For those reasons, if my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh presses his amendment to a vote, I shall ask the Committee to resist it.

Mr. Mallon: I thank the Minister for giving us his views, which I found most interesting. I simply want to pose one question to Opposition Members in relation to the earlier part of our debate. Why did the review group make such a recommendation? As I have tried to explain, it would not have been the most radical grouping to grace Northern Ireland in the past 30 years. I suspect that when its members spoke to people, groups or lawyers, it was self-evident that the issue had to be dealt with if we were to have a new beginning. However, the implied view, at least, of Opposition Members was that all the new legislation could and should have gone ahead without this unfortunate theme sitting in the middle of it, which would hold everything up and cause controversy. That is pushing the case beyond reality. The hon. Member for Reigate seemed to imply that the Government should ignore or rebuff recommendation 141. He seemed to be saying that there was no onus on the Government to incorporate that recommendation into legislation.

With respect, I challenge that view firmly on the grounds of bluntness—I mean no pun—because the legislation does not stand a pup's chance of working for the broader nationalist community, and there will not be the slightest chance of devolution unless the matter is dealt with. The notion that it would be

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possible to conclude the Bill without such a provision simply does not stand up.

I enjoyed—no, enjoyment is not the word; that is too sadistic. I took a certain pleasure from the embarrassment shown by Opposition Members when it seemed possible that that they might have to vote in favour of the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry—that really was between a rock and a hard place. But the Chairman, in his wisdom, rightly ruled that the two would not be compatible and hence a sense of relief replaced a sense of embarrassment.

I think that the Minister owes me one, in the sense that I deflected attention from his proposals in the clause. He is getting away in the smoke, and I think that he realises it. I hope that, before the Committee ends, he will at least nod in the direction of one of my amendments.

I was interested in the potential subversion that exists in Scotland, England and Wales regarding the monarchy and incipient republicanism. I regard myself—in Irish and European terms—as a republican, but not anti-monarchy in the sense that the hon. Member for Rayleigh meant. None of my comments or amendments was measured in that way. The case was made for me when the Minister, the hon. Member for Reigate and others pointed out the remarkable preponderance of symbols that exist in the Royal Courts of Justice, especially in Belfast. Listening to their comments, I got the impression that those symbols were everywhere. There were so many that they were in all types of rooms, which seems to be ample justification for the amendment that I tabled.

6.45 pm

I want to make another point about heritage. One of the most startling examples is Dublin castle, which was the seat of British power before 1922, and the seat of military and intelligence might. It has potent associations with that period of Irish history. All those symbols are preserved almost in their entirety. It is remarkable to walk into the James Connolly room. I am sure that there is nobody here who does not know that James Connolly was shot in 1916, after coming from Scotland. He was brought into that room, and all the symbols are retained there.

I am not advocating heritage vandalism: far from it. I am trying to ensure that people younger than myself, who have not had the experiences that I have been lucky enough to have, feel comfortable in our system. If I were to tell hon. Members that I and people in my community do not feel comfortable in those court rooms or those contexts, I would ask you not to judge that on the basis of bad faith, but to regard it as an honest observation.

I shall definitely press my amendment to a vote. I shall make a point that I made earlier, but in stronger language. I have had a bellyful of flags and symbols, be they so-called republican flags, tricolours, Union flags, the commemorations of hunger strikes, gable walls, King Billy, King James or whatever. I am sure that the entire population of the north of Ireland have had the same bellyful. I am trying to secure, at least in the courts of law, some relief from that. I do not want to

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be offensive to any other section of the community, but to feel a little bit part of it, at ease with it, and belong to it much more than at present.

Flags are not something of great interest. The only flag that I am interested in now is that raised by the starter at Cheltenham in a few weeks. Nevertheless, I am glad that the Committee has considered that problem honestly and has said what it thought. It is a problem for us, but the Chairman's ruling is absolutely correct. I regret that the hon. Member for East Londonderry will be unable to put his new clause if clause 66 is ordered to stand part of the Bill, but I have moved my amendment to redress the imbalance.

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman is prejudging the situation.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 23.

Division No. 22]

Mallon, Mr. Seamus

Atherton, Ms Candy Barnes, Mr. Harry Blunt, Mr. Crispin Browne, Mr. Desmond Calton, Mrs. Patsy Campbell, Mr. Gregory Clarke, Mr. Tony Dobbin, Jim Francois, Mr. Mark Garnier, Mr. Edward Hayes, Mr. John Hermon, Lady
Heyes, Mr. David Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter McIsaac, Shona McWalter, Mr. Tony Merron, Gillian Mole, Chris O¨pik, Lembit Stringer, Mr. Graham Turner, Mr. Andrew Tynan, Mr. Bill Woodward, Mr. Shaun

Question accordingly negatived.

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 17, Noes 7.

Division No. 23]

Atherton, Ms Candy Barnes, Mr. Harry Browne, Mr. Desmond Calton, Mrs. Patsy Clarke, Mr. Tony Dobbin, Jim Heyes, Mr. David Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter McIsaac, Shona
McWalter, Mr. Tony Mallon, Mr. Seamus Merron, Gillian Mole, Chris O¨pik, Lembit Stringer, Mr. Graham Tynan, Mr. Bill Woodward, Mr. Shaun

Blunt, Mr. Crispin Campbell, Mr. Gregory Francois, Mr. Mark Garnier, Mr. Edward
Hayes, Mr. John Hermon, Lady Turner, Mr. Andrew

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 67 to 69 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Prepared 12 February 2002