|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I turn to the remaining elements of Amendment 5. Subsections (3)(b) and (3)(c) are needed because this clause now includes a reference to civil marriage and
23 Mar 2010 : Column 872
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, asked about Scotland. As he suggested, this provision applies to England and Wales. If the Scottish Parliament wishes to do something, that is entirely up to it.
I conclude by saying that the Government welcome these amendments, which address the concerns expressed by a number of religious organisations. I appreciate the comments made by the right reverend Prelate, and I am delighted to hear that constructive discussions between the various organisations have led to a broad, supportive consensus on these amendments. As I said on Report, we need to continue to listen to views from the widest possible range of religious organisations and from others with an interest when we consider the implementation of these provisions. As I have made clear this afternoon, full consultation will be needed to ensure that the regime for the approval of religious premises for civil partnerships is workable in practice for all faiths and denominations.
These new amendments will help to achieve such a workable solution. However, noble Lords will also recall that I said on Report that this is an issue of religious freedom and religious conscience; so, should the will of the House be tested on these subsequent amendments, the Government will allow a free vote.
Lord Alli: My Lords, I very much welcome the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester and thank him for welcoming these amendments. I felt, however, that he was beginning to set out his position in any negotiations on the regulations. Perhaps we can leave those comments for a different time.
All we have ever sought to do through the amendment is to allow people of faith who want to hold civil partnerships in their religious buildings to do so. It is as simple as that, and no more difficult. We have not tried to go through the back door to allow a parish church to sue the General Synod. We had a very simple objective, which I hope we will have achieved. When I say "we", it is a real case of the Back-Benchers talking to the Front-Benchers. I ask all three parties and the usual channels to think more carefully about what those of us on the Back Benches have to say and to make it a little easier for us to intervene in our debates, because we, too, have a contribution to make to this House and it often feels as though we are not heard. I suspect that this debate will move on to a debate on the regulations, which I await with interest.
"(a) to avoid the disadvantage, or
(b) to adopt a reasonable alternative method of affording access to the benefit, facility or service or of admitting persons to membership or inviting persons as guests.""
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am very pleased to bring these orders before the House today. They provide for the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland through the transfer of the responsibility for policing and justice. In doing so, they represent the culmination of the peace process and the final working
23 Mar 2010 : Column 874
The orders reflect several elements. The outline framework has been set by successive Acts of Parliament since the Good Friday agreement. The detail of what is to be devolved reflects discussion in Northern Ireland over a period of years. The final timetable for devolution was set out in the Hillsborough Castle agreement, which was reached in early February after several weeks of negotiation. In a clear sign that Northern Ireland institutions are gaining in capacity and maturity, the British and Irish Governments were not parties to that agreement, unlike the agreements that preceded it. It was the work of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, leading the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The formal request for the devolution of the issues dealt with in the orders before us today was made by the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March, with over 80 per cent of Members voting in favour. In line with the timetable agreed at Hillsborough, the orders before us provide for devolution to take place on 12 April. Many people in Northern Ireland, and beyond, have shown great courage and leadership in making these developments possible.
President Obama, in Washington last week, paid tribute to the First and Deputy First Ministers, who, as he said, have stood together with conviction to chart an historic path towards peace. I believe that we should echo that commendation. But the credit extends well back into the past. It is right that we acknowledge the role of the party opposite in its willingness to take the early risks in establishing the peace process-notably John Major, who as Prime Minister worked closely with the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, supported by the distinguished Secretaries of State, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.
Since that period the two Governments have worked together in close co-operation and with an enormous commitment of time and effort at the very top. The present Prime Minister and his predecessor worked together to great effect with Bertie Ahern and then Brian Cowen to guide the process along. They of course worked with others outside government, and we must all remember the distinguished role of John Hume, and later of Dr Ian Paisley and of Gerry Adams. I must of course pay special tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who played a key role and whom we are proud to have among us.
This morning I read the speech made yesterday by Dr Ian Paisley in another place, his last speech in that House. For me, it symbolised just how far we have come together, and I felt quite emotional when I read it. However, we should not forget either those who have sustained the process from abroad. There has been enormous good will from many quarters, including the European Union and the other states which have contributed to the International Fund for Ireland. We have also benefited from the expertise of distinguished figures from a number of nations who have helped to advance the process.
A particularly strong and positive contribution has, of course, come from the United States. Successive
23 Mar 2010 : Column 875
All the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly accept in principle the need for devolution of policing and justice at some point. The Ulster Unionist Party, of course, had hesitations about its devolution at this point, and despite efforts to reach an accommodation, it voted against devolution. The Government believe profoundly that devolution does need to take place now, but we recognise that the concerns were of substance and sincerely felt. Nevertheless, the Assembly voted by a very large majority to move on. I hope that if the House does the same today, the doubts can be set aside and all concerned will focus on making the institutions work with their new responsibilities. I believe that that will be the case.
Let me now turn to the detail of the three orders before us. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Order 2010 is the key document. It provides for policing and justice matters, which until now have been reserved, to become transferred matters. The Assembly will then be able to legislate on them without having to seek consent. The list of matters transferred precisely reflects the Assembly's requests of 9 March. In line with that request, certain matters will remain outside the responsibilities of the Assembly; one is parading. The Hillsborough Castle agreement, however, envisages that the responsibility for parading will transfer later in 2010, once new arrangements proposed in the agreement are in place. Another exclusion from the list of matters transferring is special provision for 50:50 recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We believe, however, that it is likely that the 30 per cent target for police officers from a Catholic background will be reached later this year, and the special provision will lapse at that point. National security matters will remain excepted and will not transfer under this order to the Assembly. They will properly remain the responsibility of UK Ministers answerable to this House.
The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010 makes a large volume of amendments consequential on the changes in legislative competence. These amendments largely involve the transfer to Northern Ireland authorities of executive functions, reflecting the transfer in legislative responsibility. The main recipient of these functions is the new Northern Ireland Department of Justice which the Assembly has already legislated to establish. In the case of some functions that will transfer, there is potentially an interface with national security matters
23 Mar 2010 : Column 876
There remain concerns among some in Northern Ireland about the split between responsibility for national security and policing in justice matters following devolution. It is imperative that national security is protected in these arrangements, but clearly the post-devolution arrangements have to be workable. That is why it is vital that the Justice Minister and the Secretary of State establish clarity about their respective responsibilities. It is also important that the Justice Minister has access to the information necessary to properly fulfil those responsibilities. These statutory responsibilities are set out in the legislation before the House today.
In addition, we have set out in a protocol details of how the national security interface will work. It sets out a number of safeguards which will operate to ensure the workability of these arrangements. In addition to the existing mechanisms, I draw attention to the exceptional role that will be played by the independent reviewer, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who we have asked to review any decision to withhold information from the published reports of any of the oversight bodies. The order makes provision in line with the Hillsborough Castle agreement that quasi-judicial decisions may be made by the Justice Minister and need not go to the Northern Ireland Executive. The order also gives effect to various transfers of property and most of the staff of the current Northern Ireland Office. These staff will move to the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, leaving a small number of staff who will continue to work for the Secretary of State on his remaining responsibilities.
Finally, the Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010 establishes the Northern Ireland Court Service as a separate civil service and transfers its functions, which are currently the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor, to the Northern Ireland authorities, generally the Department of Justice. The staff of the Court Service will also be assimilated into that department. The Justice Department will have a generous financial provision. All but £26 million-that is, 2 per cent of the Northern Ireland Office's current baseline budget-will transfer to the Northern Ireland Executive, as will all the Northern Ireland Court Service baseline budget.
In addition, the Northern Ireland Executive will benefit from the £800 million financial package agreed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in October last year. These orders would come into effect on 12 April in line with the Hillsborough Castle agreement. It will then remain only for the Assembly to complete the necessary preliminaries and, notably, the selection of a Justice Minister by the Assembly on or before 12 April, and devolution will come into effect. At that point the devolved institutions will be able to focus without distractions on the important issues that are of concern to people across the community in Northern Ireland who fall within its responsibility. That includes the wide range of socio-economic issues that are already
23 Mar 2010 : Column 877
There is great scope for the devolved institutions to develop their own approaches to protecting the public from crime and anti-social behaviour that suit the Northern Ireland context best. My ministerial colleagues have worked hard to achieve this, benefiting from discussion in this House and another place. With the devolution responsibility, opportunities open up to engage the Northern Ireland community further in the local development of the most appropriate solutions to their problems.
The political progress that lies behind the presentation of these orders has the potential to make Northern Ireland a profoundly better place. It is a triumph of politics. Of course there are those in Northern Ireland-although very few of them-who do not want to see politics succeed. They believe that they can bring about political change by violence and that they have the right to kill indiscriminately without the smallest vestige of popular support in the pursuit of their ambitions.
We have seen the appalling crimes that the dissident republicans are prepared to perpetrate. Following the murders of two soldiers and a policeman last year, they continue to try to kill entirely fruitlessly and to the horror of almost everyone in Northern Ireland. They have not succeeded in taking another human life since those appalling crimes, but we are mindful of the appalling injuries inflicted on Constable Peadar Heffron, and of the further acts of violence that they have perpetrated since. In the fight against the threat to democracy, we will be unstinting.
We have ensured that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has substantial extra resources this year and next specifically to take on the dissident threat, but it is the political agreement that we have seen on the way forward in Northern Ireland and the manifest public desire for politics to work, rather than violence to usurp its place, that will most dishearten the tiny group who still believe that some benefit can come from wrecked lives and a wrecked society.
The vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this month, which the orders before your Lordships today endorse, is a vote to unite in the face of the effort of the dissidents. It is a vote for Northern Ireland to put the years of the Troubles further behind it and to face squarely the challenges of the future. I commend these orders to the House.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for a brilliant speech, brilliantly crafted and laid out on such a difficult, complex and wide subject. It was very clear and easy to understand and I thank her very much for that. As she made clear, these orders give effect to the agreement reached between the DUP and Sinn Fein at Hillsborough Castle on 5 February and to the vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March. Once these orders pass through your Lordships' House, devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly will take place on 12 April. The last major element of the Belfast Agreement, made almost
23 Mar 2010 : Column 878
Let me be clear: the Conservative Party has long supported, in principle, the devolution of policing and justice powers. We said this as far back as 1998, when I first began to represent Northern Ireland in your Lordships' House for the Opposition. These powers are best exercised in Northern Ireland by politicians accountable to the electorate there, not by Ministers in your Lordships' House or in the other place. That is why we supported the legislation this time last year, even though we believed that, with a little more time, it could have been improved. It is why my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, met the First and Deputy First Ministers in the autumn and rapidly pledged that, should we win the election, we would honour the substantial, post-dated financial package agreed by the Prime Minister.
We welcomed the Hillsborough Castle agreement, and my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition expressed his hope at the time that it would lead to the completion of devolution. At all times our overriding objective is a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all of its people have a shared future. Whether we remain in opposition or return to government in a few weeks, that is the approach that we shall continue to take, so we shall, of course, support the orders before the House today. However, there is also an important principle to consider relating to devolution.
Even if any noble Lords had misgivings over the vote on 9 March, they should remember that it represented the democratically expressed will of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Members of this House have no business seeking to frustrate that; it is how devolution works across the United Kingdom. Equally, we should be careful in this House when it comes to seeking to force parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly into voting in a particular way. Devolution is about locally elected politicians using their judgment to make decisions on devolved issues in the best interests of Northern Ireland. It is the role of Parliament to respect these democratic decisions and not to interfere. Of course we can all use our influence but, ultimately, votes in the Assembly are for the Northern Ireland parties represented there to decide.
As the House is aware, the vote on 9 March was, regrettably, not unanimous. My colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party had a number of genuine and legitimate concerns over education and the working of the Executive as a genuine four-party coalition. Failure to deal satisfactorily with these prevented the Ulster Unionists from backing the Assembly vote, and the Government know well that my party-both I and the shadow Secretary of State-implored the Secretary of State to correct that situation during the negotiations.
The Ulster Unionists are not alone in expressing dismay at the lack of a genuine four-party coalition; the new leader of the SDLP made the same points in Washington last week. We hope that these outstanding issues can now be resolved in a spirit of genuine
23 Mar 2010 : Column 879
Once the devolution of policing and justice takes place next month, this will become more important than ever if the transfer is to take place in a stable political environment. The imperative for all elected representatives is to ensure that devolution works to deliver effective law and order for the entire community in Northern Ireland.
As the Secretary of State has acknowledged, the immediate priority is to deal with the threat of dissident republicans. In recent weeks and months they have increased their activities as they seek to bring death and destruction to Northern Ireland's streets and drag us into the past. Barely a day goes by when the bomb squad is not called out. There have been the recent incidents in places like Keady, Newry and many others, and our thoughts are with Constable Heffron, who remains seriously ill in hospital today.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|