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Mr. Garnier: While my hon. Friend is waiting, may I give him a little reassurance? I broadly agree about the motives behind clause 20(2) and (3), but I have absolutely no doubt that the judges who take the oath in Northern Ireland will deliver justice as dispassionately and with as much sense of justice as any holder of judicial office who has taken the existing oath. We need not worry about the quality of justice that will be provided by judges or holders of judicial office in Northern Ireland, but I wholeheartedly accept the point that my hon. Friend makes about the symbolism of the original oath and the message that the Government are trying to send by removing it.
Let me put those questions to the Minister, who sits on the Government Front Bench in default of the Secretary of State, who ought to answer. The Secretary of State bears the responsibility for introducing the Bill, but he made a long speech, lasting more than 50 minutes, and then walked out of the Chamber, so he is no longer able to answer any question that the House may have. Hon. Members could not have a clearer example of the way in which the Government are treating Parliament. It is absolutely monstrous and absolutely scandalous, and if that is what happens when a party achieves a majority of 200 over the other parties, it is a wonderful example of the working of the Acton principle that power corrupts and greater power corrupts further.
I shall still ask those questions. If the Queen is no longer to be the apex of our justice system, who is? No one is substituted under the Bill. Will it be the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Will it be the Prime Minister in a new regal role? Will it be the legal profession itself, enjoying some sort of platonic hegemony by virtue of its own specialised knowledge? Will the Minister resort to the mantra of Marxism- Leninism and say that justice will be done in the people's name? That is remarkable. We are removing the Crown from the apex of the judiciary in Northern Ireland, but the Minister will not tell me what the Government are putting in its place. How can Parliament possibly pass the Bill, which removes the relationship between the Crown and the judicial system in part of our country, without the Secretary of State being here to answer questions and without the Government being prepared to tell us what they are putting in its place?
Mr. Davies: There is no point my giving way to the hon. Gentleman. I want the Government to give me an answer. I do not want them to be saved from answering a necessary question by interventions from their Back Benchers. The Government must respond, because there is simply no way that the House can vote for the Bill tonight unless we have an answer to that elementary question.
Mr. Davies: No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He wants to act as a foil to save the Government from complete and utter embarrassment. They do not want to answer the questions, or they do want to tell the House that they have no answers. Ministers are simply sitting on the Front Bench and are not answering the most fundamental question that is raised by the Bill.
Mr. Davies: No, I am very consistent. You have known me a long time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and you know that when I say that I will not give way, I will not give way. Normally, I enjoy giving way on such occasions and the hon. Gentleman knows that I often enjoy giving way to him. However, I will not give way to anyone on the Government Benches who simply wishes to obfuscate. The issue cannot and will not be obfuscated. We require an answer from the Government. Who or what will replace the Crown, which is being removed from the apex of the judicial system in Northern Ireland?
Mr. Davies: Exactly the same goes for the hon. Gentleman. I will take no further interventions from Labour Back Benchers until I get an answer to the most fundamental and pertinent question raised by the Bill.
Mr. Browne: To spare hon. Members a repetition of this ill-informed contribution to the debate, I point out to the hon. Gentleman that he will find the answer to his question in proposed new section 12 of the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978. The words appear in clause 4 of the Bill, which states:
Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman has, in fact, said that the Bill is complete nonsense. If the oath of allegiance is removed, judges will no longer have to accept that the Crown stands above justice in Northern Ireland. Their allegiance to the Crown will be abolished and they will apparently be beholden to no one. However, the Minister tells us that, for certain purposes, the role of the Crown is being emasculated but retained. What is the logic of that?
If the Minister wanted to introduce a purely republican measure, he would presumably have cut all the links with the Crown. However, he does not have the courage to do that or does not want to that, so he cuts some links and removes the oath of allegiance that is absolutely key to the relationship between judges and the Crown and that sets it out clearly in a way that no other procedure could.
If the Minister is suggesting that the Crown still has a role in Northern Ireland as an overarching authority for the judicial system, why is the oath of allegiance being abolished? Why is the symbol of that relationshipthe royal coat of arms in courthousesbeing taken down only in Northern Ireland? If he thinks that is desirable, I return to the question that he refused to answer earlier. Why does he not roll out the measure in the rest of the Kingdom?
In the time that the hon. Gentleman had to prepare for the Billhowever long that wasI take it that he read the review. The arguments for the changes to the oath in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland are set out in the review and they are accepted by the Government. The arguments and discussion about the symbols in courtrooms and outside courts are set out in the review, and they are accepted by the Government. That is the raison d'être for the Bill. It has nothing to do with republicanism or non-republicanism, and the hon. Gentleman does not know which it is anyway.
Mr. Davies: The Minister has now betrayed himself completely. He is essentially saying that the arguments for the proposals are contained in the review. However, it is not an independent review. It was set up by the Government, packed by the Government and run by the Government. It is the Government speaking to themselves.
I refer the Minister and the House to the constitution of the review and to paragraph 1.5 on the composition of the review group. The chairman of the group is Jim Daniell. Who is he? He is the director of criminal justice at the Northern Ireland Office and chairman of the review group. The chairman is a civil servant who works for the Secretary of State and is on the payroll of the Northern Ireland Office. The next member is Glenn Thompson, director of the Northern Ireland Court Service, and another, Brian White, is the head of the criminal justice policy division at the Northern Ireland Office. In no sense is this an independent review.