HC Deb 22 November 1978 vol 958 cc1422-38

11.30 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. J. D. Concannon)

I beg to move, That the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 8th November, be approved. It is well known throughout Northern Ireland that my stamina is unimpaired. I could not give the youth of Northern Ireland a better example, since I have always been a non-smoker.

This order will extend to Northern Ireland provisions similar to those of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 which have been in operation in Great Britain since 1st July 1975.

It will enable persons convicted of relatively minor offences to wipe their slate clean after a specified period, provided that they are not reconvicted within that period. The order will not apply to those convicted of serious offences, such as those committed by terrorists.

While official records of a previous conviction will not be altered or destroyed, the order provides that, for most purposes in law, the ex-offender may act and must be treated as if the past conviction has not taken place.

Certain exceptions from the order will be made by means of subordinate legislation coming into force simultaneously with this order. These exceptions would provide safeguards in cases of job applications or judicial proceedings where it is essential that full details of a person's background are known.

A similar order to that now before the House was laid at the beginning of this year and was debated in the House on 6th March. During that debate the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) drew comparisons between the provisions in the draft order, which allowed subordinate legislation to be made subject to negative procedure, and the corresponding provisions in the 1974 Act which provide that similar subordinate legislation for England and Wales shall be subject to affirmative resolution.

He was particularly concerned about article 6(13), which allowed my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to vary the length of the rehabilitation period after which a conviction would become "spent". That article would thus have conferred on the Secretary of State a major power and one that could have fundamentally affected a major provision of the legislation—but one subject only to negative procedure. In view of the anxiety about this point expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, I withdrew the motion to approve the original draft order.

Since then, my colleagues and I have carefully examined the arguments put forward by hon. Members to see what changes it might be desirable to make to the original draft order. I must stress, first, that we believe that there was no general defect in the drafting of that order, nor, as I told the House during the debate in March, was there any attempt at sleight of hand by the Government. The draft order was drafted in exactly the same way as all other orders dealing with reserved matters in Northern Ireland, and the arrangements it contained for subordinate legislation followed the pattern prescribed by the Northern Ireland (Modification of Enactments) Order 1973.

However, on re-examining the draft order, we believe that there is a case for making an exception. We now take the view that the nature of the power to be exercised in the particular case of article 6(13) is such that we should provide exceptionally that subordinate legislation under that article should require the approval of Parliament. Article 6(13) of the draft order now before the House provides for that. There is also a consequential amendment to article 11. The order will extend to Northern Ireland provisions similar to those of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which has been in operation in Great Britain since 1st July 1975. I have no doubt that it will be welcomed as a valuable and humane addition to the law in Northern Ireland, and I commend it to the House.

11.34 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

As the Opposition gave their support to the order on 6th March, there is nothing that I need to add in detail. The House is indebted to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for making the point that he did, as a result of which article 11 has been amended. We support the order.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I have a pleasant duty in taking part in the debate. It is to say "Thank you" both to the Minister of State and to the Secretary of State. I am aware from my own past experience that a junior Minister at the Dispatch Box takes upon himself no small responsibility when in the course of a debate he decides, in the light of what has been said, to withdraw the motion that he is putting before the House on behalf of the Government. That is what the right hon. Gentleman did in the early hours of 7th March. I believe that that was a considerable parliamentary act and shows that in debating these orders we are not wasting our time and that due note and attention is paid to the arguments which we put forward.

As to the Secretary of State, to whom of course it fell, that having been done, to decide whether he should produce a new order, I thank him for the openness of mind with which he reconsidered the matter. I am sure that he was right to decide that a power which enabled him, by order, to vary the length of the rehabilitation period after which a conviction becomes spent is a power which, even in the somewhat peculiar circumstances of legislation for Northern Ireland, ought not to be exercised except with the positive assent of this House. Accordingly, the order comes before the House tonight with that important difference.

Even since March we have been making considerable progress in methods of legislating for Northern Ireland. One of the most jarring characteristics of the order in its original form was that a ministerial order in respect of Great Britain would have required the affirmative action whereas a ministerial order doing exactly the same thing in the ambit of exactly the same policy for Northern Ireland would have gone through subject only to the now very scanty negative procedure. Of course, this arises only in so far as we continue to legislate for Northern Ireland separately and by order; and in so far as Northern Ireland legislation is legislation of this House, then such a difficulty as arose six months ago could not arise again.

There is just one observation that I want to make in that context. One of the ways in which we are moving towards proper legislation for Northern Ireland is by means of what I am afraid my hon. Friends and I are getting into the habit of calling technically the theft clause, be cause I think it was first experimented with in the context of the Theft Bill. The terms of that lay down that An Order in Council…which contains a statement that it operates only so far as to make for Northern Ireland provision corresponding to provisions contained in this Act shall be subject to the negative procedure. The use of that clause enables Northern Ireland Members to participate in United Kingdom legislation on all fours with their colleagues and in effect makes those Bills United Kingdom Bills.

The reason why I mention this is that I want to make absolutely certain that the words corresponding to provisions contained in the United Kingdom Bill would include such a matter as the control of delegated legislation. I believe that they do and I believe also that the essence of the theft clause is that identical provisions have to be made for Northern Ireland in order to attract the negative procedure. This is an important matter. It could be of significance in the future, and even if the Minister cannot tonight provide the reassurance that I hope will be forthcoming I trust that he will let us know later, because this is clearly a matter that we shall have to attend to if we are to continue to legislate in this manner for the United Kingdom as a whole.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

I am sure that we all join in welcoming the new Under-Secretary of State to our debates. We all heard with satisfaction the news of the improvement in the health of his colleague, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn), whom we miss very much.

It is perhaps with some relief that in discussing this order we are dealing not with terrorist offences or with tobacco, but with offences which I have heard described in Northern Ireland as honest, decent crime. We are indebted both to the Minister of State and to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), in consequence of whose intervention the Minister withdrew the previous order.

One of the disadvantages of the present system of direct rule is that it exposes those who administer it, and administer it conscientiously, to the temptation of procedural short cuts, if that is the word, such as the substitution of negative for affirmative procedure. This disadvantage which is attendant upon the present system of direct rule places an additional burden of vigilance upon this House, even if it may sometimes appear to the Executive that, as the Minister of State put it in our previous debate, the House makes heavy weather of it.

In any case, I welcome the order and the further impetus that it gives towards unification of legislation throughout the United Kingdom.

11.43 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

I think that we are making rather heavy weather of this order. It is called the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order, but I cannot see how it will in any way rehabilitate offenders.

The order is dealing with persons who have been sentenced to six months' and up to 30 months' imprisonment. It is saying that after they have served their sentences, if they do not get into trouble again for the periods set out in table A, the rest of the community will not know that they committed an indiscretion in the first place.

One can make many arguments about this. What about a person who is sentenced to nine months' imprisonment? No one ever hears of a person being sentenced to seven months' or eight months' imprisonment. It is normally six months, and the next period is nine months. The person who is sentenced to nine months is inclined to feel rather aggrieved that the same rehabilitation period applies to him—10 years. That arises because if the sentence exceeds six months, but not 30 months, the rehabilitation period is 10 years. Table B says that if a person has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of six months, the rehabilitation period is seven years.

People not entirely in tune with what happens in this House or in the Northern Ireland Office may be inclined, on reading the purport of the order, to believe that something is being done to rehabilitate these offenders into society. But that is not so. All we are saying is that if a person does not get into trouble again for seven years following a six-month sentence, or for 10 years following a sentence in excess of six months but not exceeding 30 months, we can erase his name from the conviction book. That does little for the unfortunate person who is sentenced to imprisonment. The person who has been sentenced to nine months would have a legitimate reason for looking askance at this provision. I see no reason for the order in Northern Ireland. There are many more serious problems with which we must deal.

The order provides that a person who is sentenced to six months' imprisonment has that conviction taken off the record after seven years. That is not worth the time that we are spending on the matter.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

The Government have chosen to commend the order to the House because they wish the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 which applies to the rest of the United Kingdom to apply to Northern Ireland. I do not believe that that is a good Act. It provides that it is an offence to mention that a person has been convicted in the past if that conviction is spent. That is a considerable contribution to a person's rehabilitation. We are legislating to give statutory protection to falsehood. Under the order, it is wrong and against the law to mention the truth, namely, that a person has been convicted in the past. That is an important matter which the House should have considered more seriously when the original measure was passed. I was almost the only hon. Member who opposed the Bill. That is why I am here tonight.

The Government have paid no attention to the record of the Act's operation and the experience of the civil and criminal courts in working it. Soon after we passed the Act the Secretary of State introduced the order which provided for exemptions. There are so many classes of exemption as to make worthless the provisions of the Act. I have no doubt that people such as accountants will be added to the list of exemptions. As it is the Act applies to very few people.

Perhaps more serious is the provision which was not fully considered by the House. Under the Road Traffic Act 1972, as amended by the 1974 Act, an endorsement on a driving licence for a drink and driving offence must remain there for 11 years. The original offence would be serious, by its very nature. But for the individual it might have been rather petty. Nevertheless, anyone who has been so convicted must bear it on his licence for 11 years. If he is a professional driver, he will not obtain a driving job for that period because no one will employ as a driver someone who has an endorsement for such an offence.

I am told that offences involving drinking and driving are unduly prevalent in Northern Ireland. I do not know that from personal experience. I have been to the Province twice in the past 18 months, and I have observed that in respects other than terrorism the inhabitants appear to be very well behaved. But no doubt this is a serious matter because, after all, the Minister said that this did not apply to serious offences. He is quite wrong, of course. It can apply to almost every crime in the book, except one which is punishable by a life sentence, namely, murder. Any offence, apart from that, could be visited with imprisonment of less than two and a half years. I have in mind such offences as interference with children, cruelty to children and matters of that kind. All those would be covered by this order.

It follows, therefore, that we are now applying to Northern Ireland an Act with that sort of defect. It means that people who have been convicted of serious offences in Northern Ireland will be rehabilitated after the appropriate period—five, seven or 10 years, or half that if they are juveniles—and nothing can be said about their convictions. Even a mention of a conviction can give rise to an instant action for defamation and damages, and there is a criminal provision as regards revealing a conviction. But a person who had been convicted of a drinking and driving offence must bear the stain on his licence for 11 years. There must be an injustice in that.

Bearing in mind that The Guardian made a point of investigating this problem and drew attention to this injustice earlier this year, I am surprised that the Government have not taken note of it and made some attempt to put matters right as between offenders of this kind and offenders in respect of other crimes.

11.52 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies will have welcomed the contributions made by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). We are glad that he has the same spirit as Ulster men and is not prepared to surrender, even when it comes to an Order in Council in this House.

I want to make a brief comment about the way in which this legislation is being handled. Although we appreciated the action of the Minister of State in withdrawing the previous draft order, it in no way helped forward how Northern Ireland is governed and legislated for at present.

We have this order before us. If we do not like one of its provisions, we have to vote against the whole order. There is no proper amending process and, although representations can be made, we can do little else. In this case representations were made, and the Minister in his wisdom was prepared to withdraw the draft order and reconsider it. If the matter had been dealt with by one of his colleagues, it may be that we would have been met with a stubborn refusal to budge. We have had experience of that with other orders. We have to be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the master's table in Ulster today, because we are not legislated for properly.

I should not like it to be thought that the consensus of Northern Ireland Members is one of happiness about the way in which we are legislated for. The only solution for Northern Ireland is a proper devolved Government with proper powers and with security in their own hands. Although congratulations were extended when a second Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was appointed, the added presence of the hon. Member concerned is not sufficient to deal with the pressing matters which are left untouched because of the present system of governing Northern Ireland.

We were glad to hear the news about the progress of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn), and we trust that he will soon be back in his place on the Treasury Bench. All the people of Northern Ireland share that view. We may not agree with many of the hon. Gentleman's actions, but we do not want to see him sick or indisposed.

We also regret that, on the orders of the Leader of the Opposition, the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) is no longer on the Conservative Front Bench. We admire the hon. Gentleman's stand and are always pleased to see a man standing up for his principles, whether they are popular or unpopular. That may be the kiss of death for the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will accept lay remarks in the spirit in which they are meant.

There are serious matters in the draft order. I spoke to the Minister before the debate about the use of the word "rehabilitation" in the title. There is nothing about rehabilitation in the draft order. Some of us thought that the Minister might tell us about the rehabilitation of H block and what action he was taking on that matter, but I must not stray on to that controversial ground now.

We are making it an offence for one person to mention that another has been convicted of a criminal offence. Article 5 provides that: no evidence shall be admissible in any proceedings before a judicial authority exercising its functions in Northern Ireland to prove that any such person has committed or been charged with or prosecuted for or convicted of or sentenced for any offence which was the subject of a spent conviction". Yet it appears that that evidence can be used in courts elsewhere in the United Kingdom because the draft order also states that when a question is asked about a person's previous convictions: the question shall be treated as not relating to spent convictions". I do not understand that provision. Why is Northern Ireland given a special mention?

Mr. Stanbrook

The Act covers Great Britain. The draft order refers only to Northern Ireland because that is the only part of the United Kingdom to which the Act does not apply.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Although I bow to the hon. Gentleman's superior knowledge of the law, the Minister will need to explain the position in detail. There will be plenty of time; for him to reply because this debate can run until 1 a.m.

Mr. Concannon

My brief sets out exactly what the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said, namely, that these provisions apply to Northern Ireland. I am now dealing only with Northern Ireland, and therefore the provisions have to be set out in this manner.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Minister now saying that no evidence will be admissible in any proceedings before a judicial authority anywhere else in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Powell

I think the effect is that if one puts this order and the Act together, they cover in all respects the whole of the United Kingdom. We thus have the extraordinary appearance that this relates only to Northern. Ireland whereas it is, as it were, filling the hole.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I should like this matter to be clear so that when people come to study it they will not need the superior opinions of hon. Members.

Mr. Concannon

I am receiving some marvellous help tonight. It looks as though everybody has read my brief. The right hon. Gentleman has set out the exact position and I can only confirm it.

Rev. Ian Paisley

It is an easy way for the Minister to get out of the problem merely to say that he agrees with another right hon. Gentleman. However, having been given the assurance that under these provisions a person from Northern Ireland will stand in every other court of the country as he will stand in a court in Northern Ireland, that satisfies me.

Article 10(2) of the order reads: Subject to the provisions of any order made under paragraph (5), any person who, in the course of his official duties, has or at any time has had custory of or access to any official record or the information contained therein, shall be guilty of an offence if, knowing or having reasonable cause to suspect that any specified information he has obtained in the course of those duties is specified information, he discloses it, otherwise than in the course of those duties, to another person. Proceedings under that article are to be instituted only by the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, as is clear from article 10(8). What happens when a matter is referred to the DPP and he refuses to take action? This has happened in Northern Ireland on many occasions when people have been rightly aggrieved about certain matters and action has not been taken. The DPP may be able to argue the matter on legal niceties, but why is this exemption made in these provisions? Why cannot the person involved institute proceedings? After all, he is the one who is affected?

I am not arguing whether this is a sufficient safeguard, because we could conduct a long debate on whether one should wipe out what a person has done. I take the view that if a man has paid the penalty for a crime that he has committed, that crime should not be held against him. But I understand that difficulties arise in judicial proceedings, because if a person continues with a life of crime the sentence of the court must be a deterrent. It must be longer if a person habitually walks in the path of crime. I understand that element, but I also believe that a person's right should be safeguarded and that he should not be in the hands of a Government Department—even a judicial department—which may be divorced from the Executive. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House why, under article 10(2), the proceedings are in the hands of the DPP.

The Minister said that terrorist crime would not be taken into consideration under the order. Surely, if a terrorist crime did not receive an appropriate sentence, it would be included in the order. I do not see how we can overrule terrorist crime. Subject to clarification and help from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Orpington, as I read article 6, it provides: The sentences excluded from rehabilitation under this Order are—

  1. (a) a sentence of imprisonment for life;
  2. (b) a sentence of imprisonment or corrective training for a term exceeding thirty months".
If a person commits a terrorist crime and does not get such a sentence, it is still a terrorist crime.

The hon. Member for Orpington said that various crimes, because of certain circumstances, do not merit the same length of imprisonment. Therefore, a person who carried out the same type of crime as another person but did not go over the limit would get the benefit, whereas someone who went perhaps a month over the limit would not get the benefit.

I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Orpington that this is not very good legislation. It may not be very helpful to Northern Ireland, after all. I appreciate the motivation behind it. I do not think that a dark cloud should hang over a person because of one crime that he has committed. I have a record, and I am very proud of it. I have no objection to anyone saying to me "You have been in prison". I went to prison out of a deep conviction. Indeed, I would go again. If the Government had their way, they might want to put me in prison again.

I appreciate that there are some good points in the order, but I suggest that this would have been a good time to look at the whole of the legislation before bringing it in. I realise that is not in the Minister's bailiwick. However, I suggest that, before laying draft orders which have the effect of bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, this might be a good time to look at the principal Act.

12.8 a.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

The debates on this and the previous order clearly demonstrate the danger of adopting what is advocated by the total integrationists, namely, that all Acts of Parliament should automatically apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said that he looked forward to the time when there would be unification of legislation throughout the United Kingdom. I suggest that he merely echoed what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) constantly says in the House. The right hon. Gentleman is an advocate of total integration, and he is not ashamed of it. He does not want to see the Stormont Parliament or the Assembly re-established. There are others who pay lip-service to the re-creation of Stormont, but they, like the right hon. Gentleman, do not want Stormont to be brought back.

We should beware of having Northern Ireland legislation automatically incorporated in English legislation. For example, some hon. Members wanted the industrial relations legislation to be applied to Northern Ireland. They wanted a clause put in stating that it applied to Northern Ireland. I objected to that being done. As it turned out, it was sensible that the legislation did not apply to Northern Ireland.

Both this draft order and the previous one are not good pieces of legislation. I agree with the criticism of this order. We should learn from experience of the working of the English enactment and consider whether we in Northern Ireland can produce something better. I do not believe that just because it has been enacted for England or Great Britain, it is necessarily good law. It should be looked at again, and if a better law can be produced for Northern Ireland, let Northern Ireland lead the way.

The order sets out the periods of rehabilitation appropriate for every sentence imposed by the courts. What is the justification for a five-year wait for someone convicted of an offence and fined? Is it not the case that under Northern Ireland law there is a much wider list of offences for which the penalty could be a fine than is the case in England? Equally, for an offence which a short term of imprisonment would be imposed in Great Britain, the courts in Northern Ireland are more likely than not to be satisfied with the imposition of a fine.

Certainly Northern Ireland criminal legislation from 1921 to 1974 tended more towards leniency, generosity and compassion for the wrongdoer than did the equivalent English enactments—apart from crimes of deliberate violence, which never met with any sympathy from the Ulster people, of whatever religion. The Ulster people were, certainly until the outbreak of terrorism, a law-abiding community. The order, quite properly, does not provide for the rehabilitation of serious offenders, such as those engaged in terrorist offences.

What is wrong with the order is that it follows too closely the English enactment of 1974 and takes little account of the pattern of penalties imposed by the Northern Ireland courts. Where a Northern Ireland court imposes a disqualification for, say, a motoring offence, or perhaps, a drunk driving offence, it is right that the period of rehabilitation should cease with the disqualification or endorsement.

I take up what the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said on this point. This is a bad part of the order, in that it does not show greater leniency for that type of offender. Where a Northern Ireland court imposes only a fine, the rehabilitation period is five years. Surely this is too long. I should have thought that three years was long enough in such a case.

What about a parent convicted and fined for failing to send his child to school? Has he to wait five years to be rehabilitated? I regret that before introducing the order the Minister did not check carefully with the Northern Ireland enactments and the court records. Had he done so, he would have found that, by and large, the courts in Northern Ireland are less likely to impose severe penalties, and less likely than are courts in England to find themselves dealing repeatedly with the same offender. Despite the fearful atrocities committed by Irish Republicans in recent years, the population as a whole is peaceful and law abiding.

People should show compassion towards those convicted of "ordinary" offences. The doctrine of "never forgive and never forget" cannot be acceptable in an enlightened and progressive community which believes in dealing with an offence and accepting a person back into the community once he has paid the penalty. Such a person should then be helped to start afresh. Certainly, it is only compassionate that after a period of rehabilitation the person should have the slate wiped clean. There can be very few who would quibble with giving a fresh start to a person who wishes to lead a decent life again.

On that basis, I welcome the order, but the Government would have been wiser if they had looked at the anomalies in the English Act and seen how it worked and how it could have been improved. Then we should have had something that might have provided an incentive to wrongdoers who have been sentenced, and have paid a penalty to go straight.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Concannon

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said in the debate on the previous order, sometimes people will advise us "Tonight you will have very little difficulty and you will be away very early." I often reply "You do not know Northern Ireland", or "You have not been in on as many discussions on Northern Ireland as I have or, you would be very wary about making such predictions".

The present position in Northern Ireland is that there is no chance for anybody to wipe the slate clean. The order gives us the same opportunity as there is within the rest of the United Kingdom.

My Home Office colleagues have already explained to the House that as the law has been in operation in Great Britain for about three years, they are about to undertake a review of the whole subject. That will cover some of the points raised tonight.

Hon. Members have not, thank goodness, asked me to withdraw the order. I do not think I could have gone through that again, no matter what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said. Through the right hon. Gentleman's efforts, we shall now be four-square with the law in the rest of the United Kingdom, and when the Great Britain measure is reviewed we shall be able to review our legislation at the same time.

The purpose of the order is to make it easier for people to live down minor offences committed at some time in their past. A criminal record can be a bar to employment, and the social stigma attached even to a minor offence such as shoplifting is such that fear of exposure can haunt a person for the rest of his life. The order helps offenders to wipe their slate clean.

In Northern Ireland we have not had that chance. The order will be of particular benefit to young people, so many of whom in Northern Ireland have committed offences through immaturity and have changed their outlook as they have grown older.

As I have said, when the experience of the Great Britain Act is built upon we shall be able to go forward in unison. We shall have been learning from the experience of the rest of the United Kingdom.

I welcome the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) to our Northern Ireland debates. When I heard that he would take part I knew of his history as the only hon. Member who opposed the Great Britain measure, and I thought that I had enough trouble without welcoming him. But he has served a useful purpose tonight, and I hope and trust that the hon. Gentleman will come to other Northern Ireland debates, not keeping us up too long at night, but giving us the benefit of his undoubted wisdom in these matters.

Everyone has given a general welcome to the order. There is nothing more I wish to say. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to pull me into the minefield of the usual arguments that we have, but I have noted what he said. As he rightly assumed, I shall deal with his points in writing.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the final part of my speech, namely, the powers of the Director of Public Prosecutions?

Mr. Concannon

As a general rule, public prosecutions must be authorised and initiated by the DPP for Northern Ireland. That was the chief reason for establishing the post. It is the statutory function of the DPP to decide whether there is a prima facie case for prosecution. That is why the DPP plays a special role within the Department in Northern Ireland. I think the hon. Gentleman knows, and has said, that certain matters are treated differently in the courts in Northern Ireland. That is why he understood the reference to the Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman understands the situation.

As I have said, the DPP has an integral role within the law in Northern Ireland. If I have not put that correctly —I am not a lawyer—I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall quickly correct myself by letter. What I have said is how I understand the position in Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 8th November, be approved.