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Mr. Mallon: I sincerely apologise if I have misrepresented the Minister's words in any way. I did not intend to. As a matter of fact, I am convinced that I did not, but we shall leave that to further judgment.
I agree with the Minister about the objectivethere is no question of any hon. Member being at odds with the Government about that. Surely the best way to set about achieving an objective is to put it in the legislation rather than leave it floating in the ether, hoping that some of it will stick.
Mr. Browne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that when he checks the Official Report tomorrow, he will discover that my recollection of what I think he said inadvertently is correct. However, we can now move on in the spirit in which we have debated these matters.
Mr. Browne: Let me first expand on my point. There is a shared objectiveand a shared sentimentbut a debate about how best to achieve it. The Government have firmly nailed their colours to the mast of the review's recommendations, and we endeavour to follow them as closely as possible. There will always be a difference of opinion about whether the recommendations have been properly translated into legislation. I accept that there is room for debate at the margins. However, the review recommended in elaborate detail an open and transparent
Mr. Tynan: There is a deep feeling that using the merit principle alone will exclude the possibility of a truly representative judiciary in Northern Ireland. On the basis of the argument that has been put, would it not be wise to give comfort to those who feel so strongly about the issue that they have tabled this amendment?
Mr. Browne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to clarify my position further. I think I have made it clear in Committee and in the House on more than one occasion that I have faith in the review body's recommendations, but it is important to recognise that the review body dealt with the issue of the reflectiveness of the judiciary, as submissions were made on the matter.
As hon. Members including the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh have pointed out, recommendations 69, 89, 90, 91 and 92 deal with aspects of the issue raised in the amendment. Including aspirations in the Billmy arguments have not been accepted, but there is merit in themmay accidentally have the opposite effect to that which the hon. Gentleman seeks. The innocuousness of the amendment may mask that problem, and the judiciary may be dragged directly into issues of political balance as a result. The contribution of the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) may be a forerunner to such a debate if we start to use such descriptive nouns collectively or individually in relation to judges.
Instead of depending on a statement of principle, as I am being urged to do, the Government set out their response to the recommendations on page 40 of their implementation plan. That response is to accept those recommendations: to accept that the Northern Ireland court service should take the lead responsibility in delivering them, and to set out in general terms what steps would be taken to achieve the objectives set out in the recommendations. Our response is not one of inactivity but of taking the issues forward in exactly the way that the review recommended.
Mr. Garnier: I was interested in the Minister's criticism of putting aspirations into the Bill, which is exactly the line of argument that I deployed against him when we considered clause 53 and the aims of the youth justice system. He took a different view then, but I shall not detain the House on that point.
The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh asks for a quota system, but one cannot have justice by quota system. One can have justice only by having dispassionate judges applying the law. The hon. Gentleman simply wants to include in the Bill his aspirations and political hopes concerning the appointment of the judiciary, rather than applying his mind to the real issue of how best to ensure that judges apply the legislation presented to them by the House and the common law.
The Government's argument is that the appropriate way to respond to the review commission's recommendations is to legislate when there are good and persuasive arguments for legislation. That point applies to the whole of part 1. However, when issues such as reflectiveness are better addressed in other more practical ways, we should move to take other steps. I think that our position is sustainable.
Essentially, there is only one substantive amendment in this group and that is amendment No. 110, which deletes clause 9, thereby retaining the title of "resident magistrate". The rest of the group are consequential on that. Reversion to the title of "resident magistrate" was suggested by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) in Committee and the proposal was supported by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). I am grateful to both for their contribution in that debate.
The Bill's provisions follow the review recommendation that was intended to demonstrate publicly that the magistracy is an integral part of the judiciary. The review group concluded that the term "resident" had no meaning or relevance in the modern context. These arguments, as with the other recommendations of the review, have some merit.
However, I have also listened to the view raised in the two consultation periods on the review. During the consultation exercise, the Resident Magistrates Association opposed the name change, pointing to the long history of the resident magistrate in Northern Ireland and, before that, in Ireland more generally. It is not our intention to cause offence to resident magistrates and remove a name that has been synonymous with effective justice evenly applied over the years. The title "resident magistrate" also has the advantage of being clearly understood and recognised. In addition, the resident magistrates do not feel the need identified by the review to demonstrate that the magistracy is an integral part of the judiciary. That point undermines the reasoning for making the change.
Mr. Blunt: It is an enormous pleasure to speak to amendments that, last Wednesday and Thursday, stood in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I am delighted that the amendments have now received the support of the Secretary of State and his colleagues.
The debate on this issue was one of the most entertaining in Committee. We were diverted slightly by a discussion of the cultural history of the resident magistrate and of the books and the television series that relate to the post. The Minister and I were characterised as a couple of the protagonists in the stories, but I shall not go down that path as the discussion was not necessarily advantageous to me. I was characterised according to a brief summary rather than detailed knowledge.
The Minister has listened to the arguments and the House, resident magistrates and all those in Northern Ireland who understand the term "resident magistrate" owe him their thanks. He has been prepared to listen to sensible argument.
I wish to caution the hon. Gentleman. If he wishes to support the bureaucratic tidy mind, he may have a problem. If such a mind gets to work on the policies of the Liberal Democrats with all the inherent contradictions that exist, there might not be much left at the end of the process.