HL Deb 03 May 2002 vol 634 cc929-79
The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The parties to the Belfast agreement saw that there was an opportunity to deliver a wide-ranging review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. The aim of the review was to ensure a fair and impartial system which could command the confidence of all parts of the community while delivering justice efficiently and effectively. Those principles underpinned the criminal justice review and they underpin this Bill.

This Bill provides the most fundamental overhaul of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland for at least 30 years. I pay tribute to those concerned with the administration of justice in Northern Ireland who have served, and continue to serve, so effectively in extremely difficult circumstances. The quality and commitment of the judiciary, the impartiality of the prosecution service and the effectiveness of the service delivered across the criminal justice system in trying times are beyond doubt.

The criminal justice review made nearly 300 recommendations across the criminal justice system. This Bill aims to be evolutionary, not revolutionary, and as such I hope it retains the very best of the current system. In implementing decisions on the review, our aim has been a justice system which not only is accountable, impartial and effective, but one which is seen to be those things by all parts of the community. The Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General have responsibility for a number of the provisions in the Bill. We shall work closely together in taking forward the legislation and both of my colleagues will have a key role in driving forward the implementation process more generally.

The key elements of the Bill are as follows: first, a judiciary whose appointment processes are transparent, open to a wider number of applicants than ever before and whose independence is protected. In the new context of devolution, judicial office holders will be appointed through a judicial appointments commission. Appointments must continue to be made on the basis of merit. The Bill also includes provision for transparent removal tribunals, for an amended oath and for the appointment of presiding judges for each judicial tier to facilitate court business.

There will be provision for a new Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, building on the existing Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions, headed, in my experience, so admirably for a number of years by Sir Alasdair Fraser. That measure will be central to ensuring public confidence and will continue to allow the prosecution service in Northern Ireland to develop in line with best practice.

There will be a new chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland and a Northern Ireland law commission. Those bodies will help to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system and facilitate its evolution into a more clearly defined and systematic process of justice.

There will be an increased number of measures at the courts' disposal to deal with young offenders. Provision will be made for persons under the age of 18 to be dealt with as children in the criminal justice system, in line with international practice and the internationally accepted definition of a child.

The Bill will allow for the implementation of a new system of youth conferencing, either as a diversionary measure or as a court-based disposal. Youth conferencing is a model with a notable international pedigree and it is already being used in a pilot form in England and Wales. The youth conferencing system created by this Bill seeks to repair the damage to social values and relationships caused by youth crime.

The Bill also delivers enhanced rights for victims and makes provision for the Secretary of State to devise and maintain a community safety strategy, including new local structures to take this forward in future.

That is a brief summary of the main areas of the Bill and I hope that it gives your Lordships a flavour of the comprehensive and far-reaching provisions involved. The process of formulating those provisions was greatly aided by the consultation processes on the review itself and on the draft Bill.

The Bill benefited significantly from the attention which it received in the House of Commons and during the consultation period launched before its introduction. I accept that some felt that more time should have been allowed to enable fuller scrutiny in the other place. But I pay tribute to the Opposition team in the Commons, the representatives of the Liberal Democrats and the Northern Ireland parties who played a serious and constructive role during the process at the other end of this Palace.

I hope that the Bill reflects the quality of those contributions and we made a number of changes as a direct result of consultation and scrutiny in the House of Commons. We amended the Bill to revert to the title of resident magistrate. We received various representations and were persuaded that the title of resident magistrate should be retained as it is already widely understood and clearly recognised as part of the judiciary in Northern Ireland.

A declaration has been added relating to the Director of Public Prosecutions' independence and we sought to clarify the consultation arrangernents between the director and the Attorney-General and between the director and the Advocate-General. We removed the retirement age for the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, in order to widen the range of possible applicants. We have amended the Bill in relation to committees of the Judicial Appointments Commission. We agreed that accountability and transparency would be improved if the involvement of members of the Judicial Appointments Commission in all judicial appointments was required.

We have acknowledged on the face of the Bill the importance of international human rights instruments relating to the prosecution service's code of ethics. I looked of course at the report of the Delegated Powers Committee on the Bill's order-making powers. We intend to consider those constructive suggestions with care.

We received a number of views during consultation about symbols and the Bill has therefore been amended. We recognise that whatever decision is taken will provoke controversy. I hope your Lordships will feel that we managed to achieve a fair and balanced approach. It is a difficult area; I do not pretend otherwise.

The review itself looks forward to a future when issues such as court symbols might be addressed on an agreed basis to the satisfaction of all parts of the community. The Government share that hope. There is nothing in this Bill which would prevent such agreement on the display of alternative symbols in due time if that is wished.

I turn to the implementation plan. Details of the steps taken to implement the recommendations of the review, including those that do not require statutory authority, are set out in the Criminal Justice Review Implementation Plan published last November. I hope that your Lordships found it helpful, particularly as the draft Bill was published a substantial time ago. An updated version of the plan will be published later this year, subject, of course, to the enactment of the legislation. The new plan provides further detail of the implementation arrangements, including more finely tuned time-scales.

We have published a document setting out the purpose and aims for the criminal justice system, as recommended by the review. A judicial appointments commissioner for Northern Ireland has already been appointed. A community safety strategy has been published for consultation. Work has begun within the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions (Northern Ireland) to prepare for the new prosecution service in line with the review.

We also hope to focus on longer-range targets. The review made recommendations regarding the devolution of justice functions. The Bill will help to pave the way to transfer those functions to the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.

Your Lordships know that policing and criminal justice are presently reserved to Westminster. The Government have signalled their willingness, in principle, to devolve responsibility for those functions to the Northern Ireland Assembly. We remain committed to that aim. Our target is to devolve policing and justice after the Assembly elections scheduled for May 2003. The House will appreciate that a final decision to devolve those functions can only be taken at the appropriate time and, in particular, taking account of security and all relevant considerations.

I think that it is fair to say that other questions, particularly the security situation, have meant that criminal justice in Northern Ireland perhaps did not receive the full attention that it deserved over these past 30 years. We hope that the Bill and the review will put that balance right.

I invite your Lordships to put forward amendments or improvements. I guarantee to give careful attention to any such amendment or improvement which is consistent with the spirit and the underlying themes of the Bill. I gave that undertaking on the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill. In consequence, I believe that it is fair to say that the Bill left this House in a much more acceptable and appropriate shape than when it came to us from the Commons. In that spirit, I offer the facility of briefings by officials from the Northern Ireland Office who will be more than happy to attend any appropriate meeting with your Lordships. I am also happy to attend those meetings. However, your Lordships may prefer to speak directly to officials. But I make those offers and I hope that they will be used.

When your Lordships' views are put forward, I genuinely look forward with interest to hearing and responding to them. I know that we shall have informed scrutiny. In this House there is a wealth of experience, not only in the workings of the justice system, but, in particular—and what I find most helpful—in the day-to-day experience of life and living in Northern Ireland.

There is one final matter. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, with his usual courtesy and scruple, has told me that because of the rearranged timing of the Bill, a different commitment means that he may not be able to stay to the end of the debate. I know that your Lordships will recognise that situation. The noble Lord is always a conscientious attendee. I thought that I would mention that at this stage. In the meantime, before the debate which I know will be interesting, I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

11.16 a.m.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal for that exposé of the Bill. I also thank him for his understanding of my predicament. I ask your Lordships to accept my apologies.

Having said that, I am delighted that we made the decision not to hold the debate on Maundy Thursday. The number of people wanting to take part in the debate has proved that it was the right decision. It is encouraging for those of us living in and working for Northern Ireland to see so many of your Lordships here on this holiday Friday.

As was clear from the noble and learned Lord's speech, the Bill heralds the most fundamental restructuring of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland probably ever. As such, the Bill needs thorough scrutiny during its passage through Parliament.

As the noble and learned Lord pointed out, regrettably, the Bill did not perhaps get all the time that it might have had in the other place due to the Government's programme Motion in Committee. Some 30 clauses out of this 90-clause Bill were not considered. Only 45 minutes was allowed for the Third Reading of the Bill. Crucial government amendments cleating with one of the most controversial aspects of the Bill were not debated at all. Therefore, I hope that this House will give the Bill the proper scrutiny and care required.

There is much in the Bill that is non-contentions and which the Official Opposition have no difficulty in supporting. We share the hope that it will improve the overall efficiency and functioning of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.

The legislation derives from the commitment given in the Belfast agreement to establish a review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland and the review body's subsequent report. Both the review and the Bill look ahead to the transfer of responsibility to the Northern Ireland Assembly for criminal justice, along with policing, following the next Assembly elections in May 2003. We support that government target. Obviously, the Government will need to make a determination at that time depending on the political situation.

In principle, the Official Opposition have no difficulty with the devolution of these maters. If the Executive and the Assembly are entrusted with legislative responsibility for such issues as health and education, it is difficult to sustain an argument that they should not be responsible for policing and criminal justice. Moreover, the growing law and order problem that exists in parts of Ulster—to which I have spoken in your Lordships' House on a number of occasions—shows that the Northern Ireland Assembly could hardly do a worse job than is currently being done by the Government. As we see on an almost daily basis, gansterism, paramilitarism, organised crime and other aspects of the Mafia society remain rife and increasing. We share the desire of the First Minister, Mr Trimble, for devolution to tie locally elected politicians from across the spectrum more closely into the fight against crime.

However, in some parts of the Bill, the issue of who exactly is in charge remains confusing and contradictory. For some matters, it is the Prime Minister. In other areas, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor retains control. Elsewhere, it is the First and Deputy First Ministers acting jointly. Surely, if we are to devolve responsibility for criminal justice, that should be done in a consistent and coherent manner. The Bill will allow us to do that, but we have some amending to do. We shall certainly want to explore the Government's thinking in Committee.

Other anomalies need to be addressed. Part 3 establishes the office of the chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, with powers to investigate a number of organisations ranging from the Police Service of Northern Ireland to health and social services boards. Some offices, for example the Inland Revenue, Consignia and the police ombudsman, are absent from the list in the Bill. Surely, ally attempt to make the list comprehensive—the slated objective of the Minister of State, Mr Des Browne—would include those and other offices. There can be no earthly reason for their exclusion and we look forward to action on the matter.

While we support much of the Bill, therefore, we have serious concerns about some of its aspects and, I fear, are totally opposed to others. A large part of the Bill, Part 4, contains proposals to reform the youth justice system, as the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, pointed out in his resumé. The most notable innovation is to introduce the practice of the so-called restorative justice system through youth conferencing to Northern Ireland. We are not opposed to that, as long as the Bill envisages youth conferences taking place firmly within the ambit of the criminal justice system under police supervision and within the law, rather than in some alternative versions that I know are occurring today. We shall have to pay particular attention to that area.

We harbour several reservations about introducing that system and those ideas into Northern Ireland before they have been seen to work effectively in other parts of the United Kingdom. In fact, there is a strong argument that Northern Ireland, due to the polarisation of society and the extent of paramilitarism there, is one of the least suitable parts of the country in which to pilot those ideas. The Government have said that they will be piloted in Belfast first, but the same arguments apply. However, having discussed that system with the police and officials in Northern Ireland, I know that when operated within the law it is proving successful.

We would certainly want greater safeguards over the individuals who may be allowed to sit on such conferences. They should not include anyone who has been convicted of a scheduled offence or is, in the opinion of a senior police officer, active in any paramilitary organisation—whether or not on ceasefire. We cannot allow restorative justice to be taken over by local paramilitary bosses or paramilitary organisations masquerading as community safety groups, restorative justice groups, or whatever.

The provisions enabling the Secretary of State to establish community safety partnerships should have no place in the Bill. That is not just because of the astonishingly sweeping powers given to the Secretary of State in Clauses 70 and 71 to legislate by order. We have serious doubts about both the possible membership and the role of such partnerships—on which the Bill is exceptionally vague.

The Government will argue that they have now published their consultation document, Creating a Safer Northern Ireland Through Partnership, which is on my desk, but it was published only in mid-April— in fact, the letter circulating it was dated 10th April—after the Bill had finished its passage through the other place. It does seem an odd way of going about things to ask Parliament to approve the concept and publish the details later.

Moreover, having already prepared the way for district policing partnerships under the Patten legislation, why do the Government now feel it necessary to proceed with community safety partnerships—either in parallel with them or, as the criminal justice review recommended, to subsume them? The same people that I mentioned in relation to youth justice are extremely unhappy about that. There is more than a suspicion that those partnerships are part of what some believe to be the unfinished business of Patten and are a means of involving former terrorists in policing by the back door and allowing district councils to raise money to buy in additional policing services.

Having watered down the original proposals for DPPs to reduce unionist hostility to Patten, the Government are now seeking to appeal to republicans by returning to Patten's original plan. Your Lordships may think me cynical, but I suspect that others will say something similar. Those partnerships should not be slipped into a Bill that deals with criminal justice. If the Government have firm proposals in this area, they should bring forward detailed legislation that can be properly debated and amended. We are being asked to give the Secretary of State a blank cheque.

We remain totally opposed to the changes to the oath of allegiance for holders of judicial offices proposed in the Bill. Once again, the Government appear to have put their desire to appease Sinn Fein/IRA above the principle that justice and lawful authority in all parts of the United Kingdom flow directly from the Crown. The oath in the Bill does not formally recognise that fact. That is one area in which there is absolutely no case for departing from practice in every other part of the United Kingdom, of which Northern Ireland is a full and integral part.

The same is true of the display of the royal coat of arms in courtrooms and courthouses. The noble and learned Lord mentioned that in his speech, and I shall have to study the Government's intentions further, but it appears that the Government have contrived to create the worst of all possible worlds. First they bring forward proposals that are opposed by unionists; then they bring forward amendments that outrage nationalists. Actually, if they have done both, they have probably got it about right. None of that is remotely rooted in any principle whatever. The Bill is about criminal justice. The Government have reduced the royal coat of arms—the symbol of lawful authority in Northern Ireland—to a debate about the architectural merits of courtrooms and buildings.

The Belfast agreement expressly recognises the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom. As such, it should share the same symbols as the rest of the United Kingdom. By their actions, the Government are putting themselves at odds with the agreement.

The Opposition will undoubtedly return to those issues as the Bill progresses through the House. I heard clearly what the noble and learned Lord said in his helpful way at the end of his speech, and I look forward to working with him, your Lordships and all those interested in improving the Bill still further in Committee and thereafter.

11.29 a.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal for his exposition of the Bill and for so readily agreeing not to proceed with Second Reading on Maundy Thursday to give us more time to reflect on it.

We on the Liberal Democrat Benches warmly welcome the Bill. It marks the passing of a further landmark in implementing the Belfast agreement, which will be all the better when it comes into operation after the Assembly elections next year. Many political powers have been devolved to Northern Ireland. The Bill, once enacted and operative, will see the passage of concomitant judicial powers to Northern Ireland and thus make for a more complete and natural liberal society.

Although progress towards that ideal has been slow and sometimes halting, the passage of the Bill and its subsequent implementation will represent a great stride forward towards normality. The effective administration of justice together with the successful management of internal security are among the vital ingredients making for a sustainable civic society.

Turning to the main proposals of the Bill, we broadly welcome the emphasis placed on human rights, although we believe that this could be further strengthened in a number of ways. It is also in keeping with the devolutionary principle that the Lord Chief Justice should have most of the powers transferred to him which are currently exercised by the Lord Chancellor.

The creation of a Judicial Appointments Commission is to be particularly welcomed. The objective and transparent appointment of the judiciary is a long overdue development in the context of Northern Ireland. In making that observation, I do not cast any aspersions on the Northern Ireland judges who have played a staunch and valiant role over the past 30 years in both a difficult context and extremely unpleasant personal circumstances, which have included one murder and many attempted ones. Their record has been outstanding and I pay tribute to them.

Of course there have been errors—and some serious ones—and that must be recognised, but that is true of all human systems of justice. Only celestial justice is perfect. The fact remains that it was the public services, including the judiciary, which prevented Northern Ireland from descending into a state of anarchy during "The Troubles"—and it was touch and go at times. The point has now been reached where it is vital to build on the achievements of the judiciary for appointments to it to be seen to be fair, merited and reflective of the community which it serves.

Northern Ireland is not unique in that respect for the same is true of all parts of these islands. In saying that, we think that insufficient attention is paid in the Bill to gender balance and we shall return to that issue in Grand Committee and at the Report stage.

Another matter of concern, which may perhaps be satisfactorily explained, is precisely how the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will go about discharging their duties in making non-partisan nominations to the Judicial Appointments Commission. That point needs to be further elucidated.

A similar query arises over the appointment of the Attorney-General as a "non-political" office. In England and Wales, the Attorney, though independent as a Law Officer of the Crown, is, together with the Solicitor-General, a prominent member of the ministerial hierarchy. Often he will have earlier, usually junior, ministerial office and later he may well move on to a more senior Cabinet post. That by custom and usage is well understood. But what is a "non-political" Attorney-General? The holder of that office will apparently have the right to participate in the proceedings of the Assembly under the provisions of this Bill, though he will have no voting powers.

In Scotland, the situation is the reverse. The Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General are appointed as Ministers in the Scottish Executive, but currently do not sit in the Scottish Parliament. Liberal Democrats are all for such diversity, which is part and parcel of devolution, but we should like the waters to be rather more charted. The unprecedented innovation in Northern Ireland, again, needs a much fuller explanation of the rationale behind it.

Furthermore, can the House have a fuller description of the relationship between the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions? That the former is to appoint the latter is clearly spelt out in the Bill, but does a relatively small community of approximately 1.5 million people really need both posts? Does it slavishly have to imitate the situation in England and Wales in this regard? And what is the justification for it? While on the prosecution service, further consideration should be given to ensuring compliance with the European Court's decision in Jordan et al v United Kingdom.

The proposal for a chief criminal justice inspector is a recognition of the need to rationalise the system of oversight which currently comprises a number of inspectorates. The holder of the post may, as some suggested, not be competent enough to cover all 10 of the services or departments he or she is given in the Bill. However, given the scale of Northern Ireland, it is worth experimenting in that way. If it proves deficient in any respect, that can be simply remedied. If it is successful, as must be hoped, it can be copied throughout the UK for anything that can cull the burgeoning number of inspectors is to be welcomed.

My noble friend Lord Shutt will be speaking to the issue of youth justice, where we believe there is a need for further strengthening of human rights.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, as regards local community safety partnerships. We welcome them in principle but we note that they are left somewhat vague and ill-defined at this stage, particularly as regards their roles and memberships. I can understand that to some extent, but we need to know precisely how the provision in the Bill is to be implemented. We on these Benches will be examining the matter closely.

However, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that the difficulties in Northern Ireland should make it the last part of the United Kingdom to undertake such an experiment. Frankly, one can gain first-class marks for arguing the opposite; that is, given the context of Northern Ireland it is even more necessary to start with such experimentation. We are not against the proposal in principle but we want to know how it will work in practice.

Finally, how much will the provisions in the Bill cost. There will be one or two savings—in the case of the proposed justice commissioner—but I imagine that there will be more additional expenditure. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord could indicate in broad terms what will he the net sum.

That said, with the few exceptions that I have indicated, we will broadly support the passage of the Bill.

11.36 a.m.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Minister for his presentation of the Bill, especially his most generous invitation to us to enter into private negotiations with him during its progress.

In this Bank Holiday weekend, we have no fewer than 18 speakers in the debate. That underlines the importance of the legislation through the judicial system in Northern Ireland and the various constitutional issues.

The Belfast agreement provided for the criminal justice review. It is regrettable that one of the final planks of that agreement is being debated today in the shadow of a crisis.

Once again, the political institutions and indeed the agreement itself have been placed in jeopardy by the actions of republicans and by proposals from Her Majesty's Government which have eroded support for the Belfast agreement. As one of the three Ulster Unionists who negotiated the agreement, I particularly regret that.

We have newspaper reports of weapons stockpiles being replenished with new Russian super-rifles; of targeting and intelligence gathering on Members of this House and Members of another place; of involvement in recent murders in Northern Ireland; of suspected involvement in the theft of files from Castlereagh police station; and of alleged IRA terrorist involvement in Colombia. The sum of that does not tally with genuine commitment to peace and democratic means.

Inevitably, some will argue that evidence on each of these issues is yet to prove compelling and that one must look at the components rather than the sum. To those people, I point to South America and to Sinn Fein's refusal to participate in the congressional investigation of IRA involvement in Colombia and with FARC.

The lame explanation offered by republicans for non-co-operation was nothing short of pathetic. It must be insulting to the committee members on Capitol Hill and, to be frank, to the intelligence of those of us from Northern Ireland and beyond with experience of their ways.

The Government must follow the example of the Bush Administration by removing their head from the sand and taking action. The Government must show that they are listening to unionist concerns surrounding the legislation before us today.

As has already been said, this Bill is extremely complex. It is comprehensive in its reform of the criminal justice system and covers issues from judicial appointments to a new prosecution service and law commission. I shall return to those matters later, but first I want briefly to refer to the proposals for regulating the use of the royal coat of arms at courthouses. I start with this issue deliberately. Given the restricted debate in another place on symbols, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, I trust that noble Lords will take the opportunity to give this most important of issues the full and comprehensive debate it merits at all stages in this House.

I welcome the Government's change of direction on the issue of the coat of arms. As noble Lords will be aware, when it first appeared, the Bill prohibited the use of the coat of arms inside courthouses, full stop. It also prohibited use of the coat of arms outside new courthouses, although it could remain in existing courthouses. Such inconsistency is incredible. It provided for the decommissioning of the coat of arms outside courthouses by reason of rust and the immediate removal of the coat of arms from the interiors of courtrooms. Imagine it—no coats of arms in Crown Courts. That was the original recommendation.

The Bill as now drafted has the same "by rust" provisions for the exterior of courthouses but some exceptions are made to the prohibition on use inside courtrooms. So the arrangements vary from one courthouse to another. The Bill provides for no consistency in practice. No great modification has occurred, but certainly there has been a change of direction. I invite the Government to continue along this path, not only to stem increasing unionist disaffection with the implementation of the Belfast agreement, but because, as they stand, the Bill's provisions are inconsistent with the Belfast agreement. Indeed, noble Lords will notice that the submission from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission states that if there are to be flags and coats of arms in courthouses, they should be in all of them. We cannot create a situation where some courthouses are more British than others.

The Bill amends the flags regulations to include courthouses, allowing the Union flag to be flown over courthouses on designated days. This means that Northern Ireland is now being treated on the same basis as the rest of the United Kingdom. However, many noble Lords will be aware that those regulations faced a legal challenge on the grounds of their compatibility with the Belfast agreement. That challenge failed; in other words, the flags regulations, introduced by the Government, were found to be compatible with the agreement. However, the removal of the coat of arms does not allow Northern Ireland to be treated like the rest of the United Kingdom and therefore it is seen by most people in Northern Ireland as being in contradiction of the Belfast agreement.

The people of Northern Ireland voted in favour of the agreement which had at its centre a principle of consent that underlines Northern Ireland's constitutional position within the United Kingdom until the majority of the people determine otherwise. The coat of arms at courts is a manifestation of that constitutional position and is something which no reasonable person could view as unreasonable or in any way excessive.

Justice flows from the Crown and the coat of arms is the physical representation of the Crown in our courtrooms in Northern Ireland, just as it is in the jurisdiction of England and Wales. By moving against the position of other parts of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland's constitutional position becomes devalued, which is clearly contrary to the Belfast agreement.

I move on to appointments. The position with respect to judicial appointments similarly must reflect what happens elsewhere. I accept that global practice is moving towards appointments commissions. In no way do we wish to resist greater transparency and accountability in the appointments process. However, unionists are concerned with the make-up of the commission, potential politicisation of the commission and, indeed, the heavy politicisation of it by the involvement of the offices of the First and Deputy First Minister. My own experience on the recently appointed Policing Board in Northern Ireland, which involves politicians, underlines my personal concern. Devolution of criminal justice functions can be achieved without some kind of devolution of the appointments process. This is a rather important issue, one to which detailed consideration must be given by noble Lords in Committee. In the same vein, a law commission for Northern Ireland must not be considered in ignorance of the size of our local legal profession within Northern Ireland.

That brings me to the final area; namely, the prosecution service. There are aspects of these proposals which, unsurprisingly, will require close scrutiny in Committee. The mistakes of the CPS in England and Wales should not be repeated, especially in terms of funding.

I endorse wholeheartedly the clear separation of prosecution and investigation functions, to be achieved by the new prosecution service. Indeed, as a member of the Policing Board, I know how important that will be: it will free up police time so that the police can be directed to other work. However, I pose one question. How is this separation to be achieved, not only in fact but in perception by the people of Northern Ireland? if we call our investigation service the Police Service of Northern Ireland, or the PSNI, and our new prosecution service, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, becomes the PPSNI, how will people understand the difference between them? Alternatives were offered by one of my Ulster Unionist colleagues in another place. I fully support her suggestion of the "Crown Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland" to avoid unnecessary confusion.

Finally, the Bill is substantive and far reaching. Unionists have a number of real concerns; I have touched on only a few. It is our duty to make the Bill better where we can, and this we shall try to achieve. It can be achieved by making the legislation consistent with the Belfast agreement and Northern Ireland's constitutional position within the United Kingdom and, specifically, by retaining our national symbols in our courtrooms.

11.47 a.m.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, I rise to indicate my support for this Bill and to give a welcome to the implementation of yet another vital part of the Good Friday agreement. I believe that it is extremely important that the process of change started by the Good Friday agreement keeps going—not just for that clear majority of the people of Northern Ireland who endorse it, but also for the rest of us, who want to see peace and reconciliation between two different traditions.

This Bill marks another part of that process of shared change aimed at reshaping the criminal justice system to make it the independent and impartial servant of both traditions. Justice should have no political master.

As my noble and learned friend pointed out from the Front Bench, the Bill forms a part of the process of preparing the ground for the devolution of policing and justice matters to the Assembly and the people it is there to serve from next year. It is my strong view that the more the institutions of Northern Ireland can be reshaped to serve equally people from both traditions, the more secure the peace process will become. As we know from other bitter disputes, no process stands still. Either it goes backwards or it goes forwards. The challenge for all elected politicians in Northern Ireland is to help the Good Friday process to go forward, because that is what a large majority of the people voted for.

The back ground to our debate this morning could not be better, with the Prime Minister yesterday telling Assembly Members and business people of a new investment package which has the potential to use resources that Mr Blair described as, once tied up in guns and barbed wire … to help to create social and economic wealth. I do not believe that this Bill is about concessions to either one tradition or another. It comes straight from the Good Friday agreement and it is about change aimed at delivering a criminal justice system that punishes the guilty, while seeking to tackle the causes of crime and especially to divert children and young people away from it. None of that is revolutionary; it mirrors all that the rest of us in the United Kingdom expect and deserve.

The Bill contains more than 200 provisions designed to modernise the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland and to ensure that it can command and maintain the respect and support of people from both traditions.

I welcome especially the proposals to improve the ways in which young offenders are treated. Our greatest challenge, here and in Northern Ireland, is to better understand why too many young people are alienated and detached from society, and to develop ways to encourage and enable them to lead more fulfilling lives. This is not their problem. It is a shared problem because the repeat offending by a handful of young people hurts us all. There is not time to expand on the problem, but it is perhaps the most urgent social issue before Parliament and the public.

I welcome, too, the proposals to give victims of crime information about discharge and temporary release of prisoners, but I believe that the proposals can and should be strengthened. It is too often the case that the victim of crime feels that he or she has had a raw deal from the criminal justice system when that system should be more about making friends than making enemies.

I understand the importance which some of your Lordships and others attach to court symbols. But they can, and often do, convey unhelpful messages to some people. The truth is that a court does not need symbols to carry out its work fairly, impartially and with proper respect for those in front of it. No court wins the respect it deserves and demands through slogans or symbols nailed to its walls. That proper respect comes from a criminal justice system which delivers justice in a fair, impartial and independent way. That is the most important symbol of all.

I understand that there is another aspect to this—that is, the need for an end to all paramilitary activity and preparations for it. All those involved must show by deed what they signed up to four years ago—that politics will shape the future of Northern Ireland without the gun or the threat to use it. The normality which we take for granted in the remainder of the United Kingdom is the normality we expect in Northern Ireland. There is no reason why I or the people of Northern Ireland should accept anything less.

That is as much a challenge to the elected politicians in Northern Ireland as it is to the rest of us. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, there is no half-way house between democracy and violence, and that is what I believe all of us in Parliament must help to achieve.

11.52 a.m.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal was at his most courteous, persuasive, objective and dispassionate in introducing the Bill. That is always an extremely dangerous sign.

I find much of the Bill objectionable on three counts. First, and least unusual, although it purports to have been considered and approved by another place, great swathes of it were never considered in Committee, on Report or at Third Reading. Now we must reconcile ourselves to considering masses of government amendments arising primarily from incompetent instructions by Ministers, defective drafting by overworked parliamentary draftsmen, and a lack of proper consideration in the other place. It is a dog's dinner of a Bill and would have been better titled the "Pedigree Chum Bill", not just for its slovenly preparation but for the rag bag of miscellaneous proposals that it contains.

Secondly, I object most strongly to some of the Bill's provisions—those relating, for example, to the display of Royal Arms at courts, under Clause 65 on page 57. Nothing, except possibly the form of the new oath, could more clearly illustrate the policy behind the Bill, which is to move on the process of pushing Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom and into the Republic of Ireland. Already it is becoming almost a condominium of the United Kingdom and the republic, rather like Egypt or the Sudan at the turn of the last century.

Many of the Bill's provisions, particularly those concerning the judiciary in Part 1, Clause 5, and those concerning the Law Officers—for example, the Attorney-General in Clause 22—rest very heavily on the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister acting jointly. I do not wish to be pessimistic about the electoral prospects of Mr Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party but the Government have been extraordinarily successful in dividing him from his grass roots supporters. Is this a policy aim rather than sheer incompetence akin to that of the main parties in France which has led to the resurgence of Monsieur Le Pen? There is now a chance, at least, that before long Mr Paisley will be the First Minister and Mr Adams his deputy. Their chances of agreement on most things would, I would guess, be rather less than those of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. I share the concern of my noble friend Lord Glentoran about local community safety partnerships. They sound suspiciously like exactly what Sinn Fein would like.

All these defects—and there are plenty more— spring from the nature and the genesis of the Bill. That brings me to my third objection to it. As the Government admit, their policy is to achieve a united Ireland by consent. That objective is shared by IRA/Sinn Fein, although its version of "consent" is consent at the barrel of a gun. That is how consent to the Belfast agreement was achieved and it is how IRA/Sinn Fein plan to achieve consent in the referendum at some time in the future on the union of Ireland.

Sinn Fein/IRA—there is no distinction to be made between those two parts of the same organisation—has swallowed up all of the concessions given to the republican cause in the Belfast agreement and given nothing in return save an imperfect ceasefire, an armistice while the final surrender is negotiated and the two symbolic acts of arms decommissioning. What has been decommissioned and by what method we are not allowed to know. We are told it is "significant". Quite so—but significant by its magnitude or by its minuscule size? Because the arms surrendered were new or because they were 80 years old? Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal know the nature and quantity of the arms which were decommissioned?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, the Lord Privy Seal tells us that he does not know. But time and time again Ministers have told us that it was "significant". The Lord Privy Seal does not know what those concessions were. We can only conclude that there must be an extremely good reason why he has not been told.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. When General de Chastelain, who heads the body supervising the decommissioning, says that the arms put out of use are significant, does the noble Lord believe General de Chastelain?

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I do not know the definition of "significant" that the General uses. I find it extraordinary that Her Majesty's Ministers, including the Minister bringing forward the Bill, do not know. Why is it so secret?

I come now to the further reason for calling this the "Pedigree Chum Bill". The chums of most dubious pedigree are, of course, Messrs Adams and McGuinness and the Prime Minister. The latter ignores the widespread belief—the Prime Minister knows whether it is true—that one or both of these gentlemen are, or at least were, members of the IRA council and thus deeply involved in murder and terrorism. He knows whether it is true that IRA/Sinn Fein is part of the world web of terrorism, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, commented earlier. The Prime Minister knows whether it is true, as many of us believe, that in between symbolic acts of decommissioning IRA/Sinn Fein has been busy buying new weapons to replace the junk it has decommissioned. He knows whether the IRA has been allowed to take possession of the lists, formerly in the possession of the RUC, of informers against the IRA. The Prime Minister knows, too, whether it is true—I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal knows—that the IRA has continued in its process of reconnaissance and intelligence gathering aimed directly at a number of my friends.

We know from the evidence of our own eyes that Adams and McGuinness consort with terrorists and murderers. We have seen them on television as principal mourners at the funerals of terrorists, walking with armed and masked men. We know that this Bill is presented at a time when the IRA is increasing its ability to wage war, and when the ability of the forces of law to defend the people of this kingdom is being reduced.

There is much in the Bill which makes it a bad Bill—born out of a cross between appeasement and collaboration with militant republicanism. I want no part of it.

12.1 p.m.

Lord Rogan

My Lords, I want to begin by placing on record the sentiments contained in paragraph 12.2 of the Criminal Justice Review. I quote: In looking at these issues we are conscious of the very great difficulties experienced by the Prison Service and the Probation Board in providing services within a divided society at a time of civil strife … It is to the credit of the staff that the Prison Service was not only sustained throughout the past 30 years but that there has been a positive record of improvement in the delivery of services to prisoners and their families". That is a well-deserved tribute to those who serve in the Prison Service and the criminal justice system as a whole in Northern Ireland, despite the ceaseless threats and acts of violence from paramilitaries.

As noble Lords have been reminded several times, the Criminal Justice Review was required under the terms of the Belfast agreement; and this Bill is the product of that review. Indeed, the legislation is of a similar magnitude to that on police reform, given its likely impact on the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.

I feel that it is important to state firmly at the outset that mistakes were made in policing reform—mistakes that could and should have been avoided. It is therefore essential that care is taken during the passage of this Bill to ensure that similar errors are not repeated.

This legislation will affect the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland from top to bottom: from judicial appointments procedures through to youth justice; the impact will be felt across the board. I therefore have little doubt that your Lordships will wish to examine each and every provision of the Bill with the utmost diligence—a luxury unfortunately not afforded to Members of another place.

Unlike many noble Lords, I am not of a legal background, but I have, with my Ulster Unionist colleagues, endeavoured to research the Bill in as much detail as possible. A notable highlight of our preparations was a particularly informative visit to the Restorative Justice Centre at Highgate, in north London. I want to place on record the thanks of myself and my colleagues to Inspector Brian Dowling and his team for agreeing to brief us on their very impressive work. I hope that, when we come to discuss the restorative justice provisions in the Bill, we shall be able to offer a level of conceptual understanding and knowledge of the practicalities of restorative justice which we did not possess only 10 days ago.

The Ulster Unionist Party prides itself on its open-minded approach to criminal justice initiatives, and in particular to those geared towards diverting young people away from the repeat offender trap. However, unfortunately, where we come from, paramilitaries view themselves as dispensers of justice and have tried to buy into the restorative justice schemes.

Paramilitaries have no place in Northern Ireland society—least of all in the treatment of young offenders. As a result, any attempt to absorb paramilitary initiatives into the mainstream justice system must be resisted. For similar reasons, the proposals on the lay magistracy must also be approached with caution. As the Bill stands, there are no criteria for appointments—in other words, no bars on criminality. We do not want criminals in the police; we do not want criminals on the Bench; and we do not want criminals involved in youth justice.

It is not only the appointment of lay magistrates that is a source of concern; it is judicial appointments as a whole. The Bill puts Northern Ireland's politicians firmly at the centre of judicial appointments procedures. It provides for a judicial appointments commission to enhance accountability and transparency—a provision that we endorse. But the proposal for the commission is flawed. What logic provides for a judicial appointments commission that may delegate its powers to subcommittees made up solely of persons who are not members of the committee?

The Ulster Unionist Party welcomes the creation of a chief inspector of criminal justice. But let us have an inspector with a truly comprehensive remit, and with the ability to inspect all bodies and agencies performing functions within the criminal justice system.

I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran: in our view, notable absentees from the list in Clause 45 include: Consignia; the Financial Services Authority; the police ombudsman; the Inland Revenue; and the Electoral Office. I understand that the Government currently have the issue under review, and I look forward to seeing a more comprehensive list brought forward in Committee.

Then, of course, there is the issue of symbols. The Belfast agreement is clear on Northern Ireland's constitutional status. It was for this very reason that so many unionists supported the agreement. Northern Ireland is to remain part of the United Kingdom unless a majority of the people of Northern Ireland choose otherwise. In the Bill, the Government are going against that principle. By banning the Royal Coat of Arms from our courthouses, they are running counter to the opinion of the greater number of people in Northern Ireland and are acting against the Belfast agreement.

The use of symbols under the agreement has already been challenged in the courts by republicans with respect to the flags regulations. The judgment of Mr Justice Kerr in that case speaks for itself— the flying of the Union flag was not designed to favour one tradition over another; it merely reflects Northern Ireland's constitutional position as part of the United Kingdom. The reason is simple. The flags regulations stipulate that the Union flag should be flown on designated days in line with the rest of the kingdom—no more, no less. Similarly, the use of the Royal Coat of Arms in courtrooms is reflective of both Northern Ireland's constitutional status and its justice system— existing as part of the United Kingdom.

Finally, I shall touch briefly on the proposed community safety partnerships. I have no option but to be brief on this subject as, save for Clause 71, there is virtually no detail provided in the Bill. These community safety partnerships appear to be vehicles by which powers unable to be secured to the district policing partnerships under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 may well be obtained by dubious community groups. I wish to place the Government on notice that support will not be forthcoming on those proposals unless sufficient detail is made available.

The backdrop to the Bill is, of course, the Government's commitment to devolving criminal justice functions after next May's Assembly elections. For that to happen, there must be stability and there must be confidence in the agreement and the institutions. Regrettably, that is no longer the case. As the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, stated, the exposure of republicans in recent weeks has shaken the process and the reverberations caused have been compounded by government inaction. The Government must now press for paramilitary organisations not only to disarm, but to disband. Unless efforts are made in this House and beyond to demonstrate to unionists and to the ordinary law-abiding population at large in Northern Ireland that their views are respected and protected under the agreement, the future of the accord itself will be placed in even greater peril.

12.12 p.m.

Baroness Goudie

My Lords, I am privileged to be the patron of the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust. Its purpose is supporting people, changing lives and building peace.

There is much to welcome in the Bill. I shall draw attention to four aspects. First, the Bill provides for the establishment of a law commission for Northern Ireland, which will review not only the criminal, but also the civil law of Northern Ireland, including practice and procedure, and will make recommendations for legislation. The Law Commissioners have existed in England and Wales and in Scotland since the Lord Chancellorship of Lord Gardiner and have proved extremely valuable. The law commission in Northern Ireland is to be representative of the community of Northern Ireland. That is an important feature.

Secondly, Part 4 of the Bill relates to the crucial matter of youth justice. The youth justice system must protect the public—by preventing, so far as reasonably possible, offending by children—and must promote the welfare of children. Those are entirely compatible objectives—indeed, neither can be achieved without the other.

The Bill will establish three significant additional sentencing options for the courts in relation to children: the reparation order, the community responsibility order and the custody care order. Under the first of these additional options, the reparation ordered to be made by the child would be to the victim of the offence, to some other person affected by it or to the community at large. It would be for the court to decide to whom the reparation was to be made and what form it should take in the individual case. Forms of reparation will be as varied as the offences in respect of which they are imposed. For example, reparation could take the form of repairing damaged property.

A community responsibility order will have two distinctive components. The first part will require the offender to receive relevant instruction in citizenship. The second part will require the offender to carry out practical activities.

Those are both community sentences. Custody care orders are a new form of custodial sentence for child offenders. A child in respect of whom a custody care order is made would be held in secure accommodation and therefore under supervision.

As well as these additional sentencing options, the Bill will create for Northern Ireland a wholly new way of dealing with child offenders and with children who, but for these provisions, would be the subject of proceedings: youth conferences and youth conference plans, the purpose of which is to require the child to carry out specified actions in order to make reparation, address the child's behaviour and meet the needs of the victim. There will be a large range of options. This is a brave experiment. Restorative justice has been pioneered in the United States, New Zealand and Australia and by the Thames Valley Police.

Thirdly, I welcome the requirement that victims be given information about the discharge and temporary release of prisoners unless there is sound justification for not doing so.

Finally, the Bill provides for a community safety strategy and local community safety partnerships. The Secretary of State has already published the community safety strategy for Northern Ireland. Community safety includes not only the reduction of crime, but also the reduction of anti-social behaviour and the addressing of other factors that affect people's perceptions of safety. The community strategy identifies what the Government see as the key priorities for community safety in Northern Ireland. The consultation document sets out the key priorities for community safety in Northern Ireland. It also sets out how these issues can be best addressed and, vitally, the means of delivery.

As we saw from yesterday's visit to Northern Ireland by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, sufficient financial and other resources have been committed. The Secretary of State will have the power to set up local community safety partnerships. That power will be exercised only after discussion with the Executive on the best way forward. These partnerships will identify local problems. They will work in association with voluntary groups and with others in the local community. The functions of the local community safety partnerships will include preparing and publishing local plans for enhancing community safety, which must fit in with the Secretary of State's strategy and reflect local concerns and the results of local research.

Taken together, this combination of measures and the many other provisions in the Bill will provide an essential framework for the advancement of justice in Northern Ireland.

12.17 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, we have rightly been reminded, most recently by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, that the Bill has its origins in the Belfast agreement, which provided that the British Government should undertake a wide-ranging review of the criminal justice system, leaving aside matters of policing and those that relate to the emergency legislation for the time being. It follows that what we think of the Bill—which, to a great extent, reflects the recommendations of the resulting review body—will depend on what we think of the agreement and of the way in which it has been variously implemented or flouted since Good Friday 1998.

For my part, in spite of many disappointments and a great deal of wanton, cynical flouting of the agreement by Sinn Fein/IRA, I continue to think of the agreement as a historically positive milestone. It marked an accumulation of extra miles travelled by ourselves and others— miles that were full of pain, but holding out great hope for future progress. Progress towards what? It is progress towards a tranquil, responsible, devolved government, such as is enjoyed elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in which all can have confidence and all can play their part.

That hope may be disappointed in the end, although I think that there have been some real achievements. The Government, and people such as myself, may find that we have been taken for a ride, together with those whom we have urged to come with us. There is already, alas, more than enough to justify doubt. If so, there will have been a most monstrous betrayal, but I shall still think it was the right course to have followed.

That is the spirit, not I hope sickeningly naïve, in which I look in particular at the Bill's proposals for appointing the judiciary and for reordering the arrangements for prosecuting offences in Northern Ireland.

My starting point is that there is not much wrong with things as they are and plenty that is very right indeed. Other things being equal, I would leave them alone. But, as we know, other things are not equal in Northern Ireland. If change is needed to secure in the minority community the necessary confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system, then there is a case for change.

In my view, the judges in Northern Ireland have, since the outset of what is still called the emergency 30 years ago, shown the most exemplary integrity and courage. I am pleased to be able to say that in the presence of one of them. I have seen the fortresses into which their homes have had to be turned, and the homes which in some instances they have been obliged to leave. Over many years I have been to the funerals and the memorial services for those who have paid the ultimate price for doing their sworn duty. I recall one murder which robbed of her life the young daughter of a resident magistrate as the family were leaving Mass. She was cut down in front of him. However, clespite his own grievous injuries, once he recovered he resumed his duties on the Bench.

One former much loved colleague in this House, the late Lord Lowry of Crossgar, survived quite undismayed two attempts to assassinate him as Chief Justice. Indeed, he is a case in point when we speak of judicial independence and integrity in Northern Ireland, for it was he who ruled at the height of the terrorist violence that the evidence of a supergrass alone could not be sufficiently reliable to found a conviction. He accordingly overturned the long-sought convictions of a number of highly dangerous people, notwithstanding that many more would obviously go unprosecuted in future.

I never heard it alleged that any of the judges was biased, and people were not reticent in what they alleged to me. All this suggests to me that the system whereby the Lord Chancellor appoints the High Court judges and below is not a bad one, with the Prime Minister recommending to the Queen appointments to the Court of Appeal. Over the years they seem to have got it right. As it happens, over the years, the minority community has been consistently represented on the Bench in the higher courts in a proportion that has been demographically proportionate to their strength, if not slightly more favourable than that.

It is sadly true that, at county court level, Catholics have been scarce, but that was because they declined appointments in many instances that could carry Diplock court responsibilities without the consoling status and remuneration of a High Court judge. But, at page 117, the review body states that, One of the strongest messages to come across was a desire for transparency in judicial appointments", and went on to say that, Impartiality, fairness, independence and freedom from political influence were themes that recurred throughout the consultation process". In a part of our country where suspicion, misperception and myth are so prevalent and so malign, I have to acknowledge that transparency in judicial appointments carries a substantial premium. There is a risk that the Judicial Appointments Commission proposed by the Bill, as recommended by the review body, will for one reason or another not have the same success in selecting the best candidate for a vacancy. I think that we shall need to look carefully at that proposal. While I take heart from the fact that the Lord Chief Justice will head up the commission, I hope that we shall increase the proportion of legally qualified members comprising the commission. It is very difficult to see how a lay person can know who is the best qualified candidate. But, that said, I think that the proposed changes can in general be supported, although in my case with a reluctant heart. I note particularly the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney.

I sorely regret what is proposed by way of a change to the judicial oath. I have to acknowledge that its inclusion in the package is a profound, provocative and I think unwarranted affront particularly to those who are Unionists. However, it is significant to me that, in the review body's report, this recommendation is rather faintly argued. It was hedged around with much, "on the one hand and on the other", as on page 142. Ultimately, the body recommended as it did only because it had received representations that the current judicial oath or equivalent affirmation and oath of allegiance could constitute a blockage, which might inhibit people from applying for judicial appointments". No evidence was advanced that the oath had so acted. I regard that as an insufficient basis for a proposal which by its implication evokes such powerful opposition.

Many noble Lords still wish to speak, and many have spoken already. It is therefore not out of disregard for the importance of many other features of the Bill—some of them the cause of much anxiety, as has been made clear today—that I turn lastly to the proposed arrangements for prosecutions. The devastating impact that the prosecuting arm of the state can have upon the lives of individuals is sometimes not wholly appreciated. It is profoundly important that people should have confidence in the way in which it is exercised. I therefore support the proposals for a prosecuting service.

The review body drew attention to the tremendous and unfair disadvantages under which the new Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales laboured when it was set up. I am afraid that I carry some responsibility for that, as I have already acknowledged to the CPS, because I did not as Solicitor-General carry enough clout, to be blunt about it, to get enough money out of the Treasury. The result was that the CPS was set up 25 per cent understaffed in lawyers, and disaster followed for some time. However, the review body also pointed to the great advantage of separating the police from the prosecuting function. The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, has demonstrated his support for that important principle. Those advantages are manifold. People tend to forget the strong pressure for an independent service that led to the Philips report, in 1981, I think, to recommend one for England and Wales.

I was very glad to read the tribute to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, Sir Alasdair Fraser, which the review body made in its report, and to hear the comments made about him today by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal. The tribute reflects the view that the role of the Attorney-General and his predecessors—and the tradition of scrupulous impartiality and independence established by Sir Barry Shaw, who held the newly created post for 17 years, from 1972—has been faithfully maintained.

But how is there to be accountability for the new service? This question of accountability is enormously delicate and difficult. Of course the Bill provides that until devolution is complete things shall go on as they are, with the Attorney-General for England and Wales superintending, and having a power to direct, the DPP in Northern Ireland. However, I am not aware of any occasion on which that has been exercised, and the review body could find none. In England and Wales he does not have any such power.

I believe that that system—notwithstanding that the Attorney-General is a member of government and a politician as well as a lawyer; indeed, I would argue, because he is both—has worked well down the years. The convention of detachment from partisan influences in considerations is well established. I believe that if the Attorney-General's staff really believed that it was being flouted in any particular instance, they would have a duty to say so to the head of the Civil Service who would have to tell the Prime Minister that he had trouble on his hands. What is more, that is a view which I held when I was Attorney-General and which I communicated to my staff.

I can, however, quite see that in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, as they will be when the administration has its own Attorney-General under the Bill, which I support, confidence in the prosecuting system will be more readily assured if the DPP or his equivalent is wholly independent in the exercise of his duties. All the same, the question of accountability remains a very difficult one. For example, there is the question of the power to enter a nolle prosequi to bring a prosecution to an end. That will have to be considered, and who ought to exercise it. Someone is always expected to be on hand in a parliamentary democracy within the legislature to answer for decisions. To have to do so when you have no power to do anything about them is, to say the least, irksome and unsatisfactory.

I return to the sombre note on which I began. This Bill takes at face value the commitment to the Belfast agreement of all who were associated with it. It provides for changes that in other circumstances I would not have been able to support. To that extent, it is the product of what I might call an act of calculated faith. It will be a monstrous but, unfortunately, not an unimaginable crime if that faith is spurned. Meanwhile, a Second Reading is well deserved.

12.31 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I regard it as a great privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden. His services in Northern Ireland were greatly enhanced by his understanding of and his loyalty to judicial principles, as was evident during his earlier time as Attorney-General of the United Kingdom. In that respect he has much in common with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal.

In previous months it has been claimed that the contents of the Bill were approved by the Weston Park agreement. However, it is now admitted that there was no such agreement. Representatives of some, and only some, Northern Ireland parties were invited to the locality of Weston Park but it does not appear that they were ever permitted even casually to chat with the two Prime Ministers who were seen to be masterminding the event. At least one noble Lord who was present on the estate—although I do not know whether he was in the building—has testified that there was no conference and certainly no agreement. However, we appear to have moved on from that kind of venture which I regarded at the time, and still consider, as a form of American "away day" of the type which has been such a dazzling success in the Middle East.

The Bill represents the final betrayal of Lord Carson, the distinguished lawyer and one time Attorney-General who championed above all else the unity of the United Kingdom early in the previous century. In regard to Northern Ireland, he is on record as having pleaded with the House of Commons, Govern us as you govern yourselves". Unfortunately, he lost that battle and to his dismay Ulster was made a thing apart. Over the decades the Foreign Office and its allies have laboured to increase that separateness. Today we have the very latest instalment—not just the latest but the most reckless drive to deprive British citizens in one part of the United Kingdom of the protection of British law which has stood the test of centuries.

Part 1 appears to run counter to basic judicial principles which are greatly prized by the entire population. Clause 1 comprises two lines and is headed: Guarantee of continued judicial independence". It states: Those with responsibility for the administration of justice must uphold the continued independence of the judiciary". Those words sound rather hollow as one ploughs through this diverse Bill. In contradiction, subsection (2) of Clause 2 proceeds to dismantle that continued independence in the following words: The First Minister and deputy First Minister, acting jointly, may by order amend". That political function demolishes judicial independence at a single stroke. It will politicise both the appointment and the removal of judges. The extent of that political influence in appointments is quite staggering to any admirer of the impartial British judicial system. Subsection (2) of Clause 2 proclaims: The First Minister and deputy First Minister, acting jointly". Therefore, one can block the other if so minded. Acting jointly they may add to an office, alter the description of an office or make consequential amendments in any enactment or instrument. However, a little local difficulty arises from the fact that those two political Ministers, acting jointly, must be of different parties and even different religions. That is written into the agreement and cannot be altered. It cannot be otherwise. It is accepted that the present holders of those posts will fall victim to the Assembly elections in a year's time. Therefore, one has to ask how more extreme First Ministers and Deputy First Ministers will act jointly on issues as fundamental as those described in the Bill. The best that one can hope for is that in many circumstances they would simply block each other and cancel each other out. However, that is not a terribly optimistic view.

An even more difficult problem arises from new Section 12A which is headed: Appointment of judges of High Court". It states: Her Majesty may from time to time, on the recommendation of the First Minister and deputy First Minister acting jointly, appoint a qualified person … by letters patent". The rather tortuous rules of the Assembly do not encourage the belief that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, acting jointly, will be proof against political pressure exercised by their own colleagues who, after all, elect them as First Minister and Deputy First Minister. It is asking too much of the human frame to suggest that they would be entirely isolated and proof against the advice and the action—amounting sometimes to dismissal—of their own colleagues.

It is equally clear that the two Ministers cannot a second time depend upon rescue from redesignation by two or three Assembly members—a rather odd event which occurred a few months ago—in other words by a reversible political sex change such as happened to the Alliance Party.

Worse still, similar arrangements are proposed for the removal of senior judges. I use again that delicious phrase, The First Minister and deputy First Minister, acting jointly". They—and we—have to consider whether it really is proper for the judiciary to be at the mercy of such political birds of passage whose authority to appoint and, sometimes, remove judges would appear to be derived, in some cases, from a rigged Assembly election, as may happen next year. It has already happened, to a great extent.

Noble Lords will, I know, have taken heed of Wednesday's speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham. He concluded that, in modern eyes, it was always anomalous that a legislative body should exercise judicial power". That is what the Bill provides for those unfortunates who will be manning important offices in the Assembly. However, it is evident from reading the Bill that it provides totally unacceptable powers to elected legislators to dominate the judiciary by exercising powers to hire and fire Her Majesty's judges.

12.41 p.m.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, who has served the people of Northern Ireland well for many years. Although I sometimes disagree with what he says, I always have a great deal of respect for him.

As we know, the Bill implements the review of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, which was set out in the Good Friday agreement. As many noble Lords have said, that review was the most important review of the Northern Ireland justice system for three decades.

As a result of the grave issues that have formed the past 30 years in Northern Ireland, when there have been reviews in the rest of the UK—and, no doubt, in the rest of Europe—of criminal justice systems, such reviews have undoubtedly and understandably not been a priority for politicians in Northern Ireland. But now, in the context of the agreement, change is under way. As my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House has made plain, that is not modernisation for modernisation's sake; it is about the justice system being impartial, accountable, transparent and, most importantly, fair. As he said, it must he seen to be fair by both traditions in Northern Ireland.

For the legislation to work, it must have the confidence of the majority of people of good will. I believe that it will have that confidence because it endeavours to maintain the best of the old system while establishing appropriate international concepts and practices. Before moving on too far, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, movingly put it, it is important to reiterate our proper acknowledgement of the real professionalism of those who have administered justice in Northern Ireland through difficult, trying and often terrible times during the past many decades.

Des Browne, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, commented on the review and the Bill in a newspaper article in January 2002. He said that, it gives us an opportunity to do things that we think all modern societies should have in place". That involves: an opportunity to have a transparent system of appointing judges, which is seen as independent; an opportunity for the justice system to engage properly with victims and victims' organisations, such as Victim Support, which is a long overdue development; and an opportunity to get young people to address their offending by confronting them with the consequences of their behaviour and linking that behaviour with other traumas—often daily traumas—in their lives. Through the process of child conferencing, those young people will, I hope, be allowed to make reparations for their offences, as my noble friend Lady Goudie said.

Those are some of the key features of the Bill. Others include the creation of the new independent prosecution service and the creation of the new criminal justice inspectorate and a Northern Ireland law commission to improve the management of the criminal justice system.

The Bill also includes the development of crime prevention measures and community safety at central and local levels. I am glad to say that in the consultative paper, which all noble Lords have received, the issue of resourcing such a strategy was not ducked. There may well be many arguments about its resourcing but it is laid out plainly in that paper.

The Bill also proposes regulating the use of symbols in Northern Ireland courtrooms and courthouses, as we have heard. It is essential to reach agreement on that. I hope, for the sake of those who have high and exacting expectations of the Bill, that we do not spend the vast majority of our deliberations on it considering just one element of the changes—court symbols. Important as they undoubtedly are, the other 200-plus provisions in the Bill are also important to the changing lives of people in Northern Ireland, who want a justice system that they can be proud of and part of.

As chair of the Women's National Commission, I regularly meet women's organisations in Northern Ireland and from Northern Ireland. Only this week I was invited to meet a great group of Ulster Unionist women Members, who were visiting the Houses of Parliament. What always strikes me in my meetings with women from Northern Ireland is that, despite the very real pain that has affected them and their families over the years, they inevitably want to talk about how things can be made better, how peace can be realistically sought and maintained, how practical measures can be put in place and how funding streams can be obtained to strengthen their communities. They are always less interested in rhetoric than in results. Many of those women argued for and supported the agreement as the best way forward for lasting peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. It is important for us in this House to assist them in maintaining their support for the agreement, from which the Bill ultimately comes. We should do so in the face of loud dissenting voices, which offer no real alternative but whose arguments can be superficially attractive to communities that feel frustrated and sometimes overlooked.

This Bill is part of the progressive devolution process that has already been set out in other parts of the United Kingdom. I believe that it is part of a better way forward for justice for the people of Northern Ireland.

12.47 p.m.

Lord Shutt of Greetland

My Lords, I rise to support the Bill as a further building block for the Belfast Good Friday agreement. Like many noble Lords, I have received several papers from organisations that are interested in and concerned about the Bill. There is no shortage of advice, which is broadly supportive of the Bill. Whether the advice comes from the Law Society of Northern Ireland or the paper from the Northern Ireland Assembly, it appears to be broadly supportive.

I am particularly attracted to the paper from the ad hoc committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Other noble Lords have referred to the lack of time in the other place. The authors of the paper complain about the lack of time available for consultation. They referred to the independence and impartiality of the legal profession. They also acknowledged their own future involvement and referred to their concern about human rights. They talked about greater transparency, particularly with regard to the public prosecution service, and an independent probation board. They set out a rather constructive list in the paper. Of course, in the future we shall spend a fair amount of time looking at the tremendous detail in the Bill. From these Benches we look forward to tabling helpful amendments in Grand Committee.

We are particularly concerned about Part 4 of the Bill, which deals with youth justice. Of course, young offenders are a problem across the UK and not only in Northern Ireland. But we welcome the provision for youth conferences, community responsibility orders and custody care orders.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission suggests that there is a need to inject a strong element of human rights by, for example, introducing international criteria. The age of responsibility should reflect the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and those should also be incorporated into other parts of the Bill; for example, in Clause 52, which deals with the aims of the youth justice system. Reparation orders are a most welcome feature in so far as they introduce an element of restorative justice. There is also a requirement that courts explain such orders in ordinary language to the child.

I trust that during the period when we discuss the Bill, and in the future as a whole, we shall not have interruptions caused by violence or by sectarian and base issues. Perhaps after the Dail election and before the next Northern Ireland Assembly elections, there will be a window when we can discuss the Bill with purpose and without too much intrusion from extramural Northern Ireland matters.

12.51 p.m.

Lord Laird

My Lords, much has been said here today by many interesting and challenging speakers, and most important areas have already been covered. For that very reason, I do not intend to extend the debate longer than is necessary.

There are many aspects to this Bill—some, I must say, good and some very bad. I join those noble Lords who hope that in Committee all parts will be closely examined in a manner that was not employed in another place. I am disappointed that the Committee stage may not take place on the Floor of your Lordships' House. This is an important measure for the future of my Province and that should be reflected in our treatment of the Bill.

Much has been made about the proposed devolution of the functions of policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly after the next scheduled elections in May 2003. Many people are concerned about the possibility of the politicisation of the justice system. That has been expressed by noble Lords today. It could be done through the input of appointees and advice from the First and Deputy First Ministers at various stages. This may show faith in the continuance of the agreement and the Assembly, which will be hard-tested.

I join again those noble Lords who are concerned about the level of support for the agreement, particularly from the Unionist community. I am afraid that, through some mishandling by the Government and underhanded activity by IRA/Sinn Fein, support for the new arrangements is at an all-time low. Much could and must be done to restore confidence.

I respectfully suggest that the House does not dismiss those appeals. We who make them are Ulstermen who are working very hard to bring our entire community back on to the straight and narrow. Such appeals should not be simply dismissed as narrow and as reflecting a particular political viewpoint which does not have a broad perspective. We are concerned about the future of our Province as much as, if not more than, anyone else in this House.

I noted in a document, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, referred, from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which I received the other day, that it would like to see, the composition of the judiciary in Northern Ireland reflect the composition of society". The problem is that the commission itself does not reflect society; rather, it has a perceived republican bias and slant, and thus is part of the cold house for Unionists to which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has referred. I may have mentioned this matter previously.

An issue which should be addressed is the inclusion of the office and activities of the Police Ombudsman when considering the remit of the chief inspector of criminal justice. Again, that matter has already been mentioned. But I believe that this could be a way of ensuring that holders of that office act in a constructive and proper way.

I, too, support the basic concept of accredited restorative justice schemes. I joined my colleague the noble Lord, Lord Rogan., on a recent visit to Highgate to hear about a pilot scheme and was most impressed. Correctly administered, it is my opinion that this could provide the answer to some problems that we have in Ulster society. But the Bill will require careful examination at future stages. I believe that we must be prepared for a long and arduous process to ensure that we get the best results possible out of this piece of legislation.

12.56 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, as other noble Lords have already made clear in their contributions, this is a most important and, indeed, historic Bill. The changes provided for in the Bill are all important in their own right, but they also pave the way for the ultimate devolution of these functions to the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.

I speak as someone who has been committed throughout my political life to the cause of devolution. As co-chair of the Scottish Constitutional Convent ion with the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and as one of the government team who took the Scotland Bill through this House, I have had the privilege of helping the achievement of devolution to Scotland. And, as a West of Scotland Scot, with, on my father's side, ancestry from both communities in Northern Ireland, I feel emotionally as well as intellectually committed to helping the same process of devolution to Northern Ireland.

Of course, policing and criminal justice are currently reserved to Westminster. But in the Belfast agreement the Government clearly indicated their willingness in principle to devolve responsibility for policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. This Bill, therefore, enacts one of the key outstanding parts of the Belfast agreement and it delivers an enhanced and modernised criminal justice system for Northern Ireland. It also delivers a manifesto commitment. The Labour manifesto for the last election said: We will … ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full and the new institutions take root … we will bring about the key reforms in the civil and criminal justice system which secure the respect and trust of both traditions". A good pace has been kept in bringing about this Bill. The review group was set up in June 1998 under the Belfast agreement. The comprehensive and very impressive Review of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland, containing 294 recommendations for change, was published in March 2000. The Government published their response in the form of an implementation plan and the draft Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill for consultation in November 2001. The Bill was introduced in another place on 18th December 2001, with its Second Reading in January 2002.

The implementation plan stated that the Government's target—not a deadline—is to devolve policing and justice after the Assembly elections scheduled for May 2003. As my right honourable friend John Reid said during the Second Reading debate of the Bill in another place, the decision to devolve can only be taken at that time, taking account of security and other relevant considerations. He stressed, as has been repeated often, that that is a target and not a deadline. Those points were emphasised today by my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn when he opened the debate.

At this stage, I do not intend to make comments at length on this long and detailed Bill. I am sure that we shall have ample opportunity to do that during later stages of the Bill. However, I want to refer to two points in the Bill. First, Clauses 27 and 28 deal with the appointment of an advocate general. I do not believe that there can be any disagreement that such a post is necessary to carry out the functions that concern excepted matters. We, in Scotland, are very familiar with that system now and it works well. Of course, the differences of Scots law make the situation different from Northern Ireland, but the basic principle is the same. Also the closeness of the legal system in Northern Ireland with that of England and Wales makes it logical that the Attorney-General for England and Wales should, as it says in the Bill, by virtue of that office", also be the advocate general for Northern Ireland.

The second point is in Part 5 of the Bill. Clauses 65 and 66 deal with royal arms and flags, mentioned by many noble Lords. The Criminal Justice Review Group says in its report—it is important to consider the exact words used: views at seminars were not entirely polarised, and there was often agreement that while flags and emblems could be provocative, removing symbols could be just as provocative. We heard the plea that any recommendation in this area should be guided by the need for sensible modernisation making the system more transparent and intelligible". As someone born and brought up in Glasgow, I am very aware of the significance of the symbols and what a sensitive and an explosive area this can be. But I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who said, if I understood his remarks correctly, that the recommendations under this heading were the worst of all possible worlds. However, I believe he added—I do not want to paraphrase him incorrectly—that as the Government have succeeded in annoying both sides, perhaps they may have done something right.

I disagree with that because I believe that what the review group recommended, what the Government accepted and what the Bill contains is a, sensible modernisation making the system more transparent and intelligible". As the Bill contains well over 200 provisions to improve the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland, it seems a pity if one becomes too hung up on the one point of court symbols.

All noble Lords know that the reforms will take time to come about. I want to conclude by echoing the words of my honourable friend Des Browne when he summed up on the Second Reading of the Bill in another place. He expressed his confidence that once these reforms have been fully implemented, Northern Ireland will have a criminal justice system that can be measured against the best in the world.

1.4 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I have no legal competence. I have to speak as a layman. Perhaps I may begin by quoting the Sinn Fein/IRA view of the Bill in January this year: It is unreasonable to expect that those who facilitated the distortion of the criminal justice system should be allowed to remain in place in the absence of clear and demonstrable evidence of a change in attitude in relation to the framework of repressive powers available to the judiciary, and in the absence of an acknowledgement that the court operated as an adjunct to the British state's criminalisation strategies. Future judicial figures should also be drawn from a wider pool of qualified candidates in order to eradicate the corrosive and unaccountable system of patronage currently in operation. The under-representation of Nationalists and women amongst the judiciary must be dealt with as a matter of urgency. The relevant areas to address also include the issues of class background, ethnic origin and political allegiance. A judicial structure should be fully representative of the society it serves, and a monitoring mechanism should ensure that this occurs and is maintained within a specified time frame". This echoes the Sinn Fein/IRA attitude to the former RUC—now the Police Service of Northern Ireland—when it demanded a 50 per cent Catholic membership, even at the expense of losing a large number of experienced police officers to make room. It then refused to join the police force and Sinn Fein/ IRA threatened explicitly to treat Catholics joining, as they treated them before", as Gerry Adams said. It now says that only a completely new police service, built according to its specifications, will be acceptable.

The Bill proposes a number of changes that will probably prove generally acceptable and workable to all. They are, however, the result of lengthy consultation and advice, much of it from organisations created since the Belfast agreement, which have their share of Sinn Fein/IRA sympathisers—Sinn Fein is very good at entryism—with their own long-term agenda. I am not speaking about the war on emblems, the oath and the Crown. Others have done that better than I can. I am speaking about a far more insidious agenda: the intention to use the new institutions to weaken the rule of law through their familiar Trojan horse technique.

The Diplock review body and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, reporting on the operation of the Terrorism Act, recommended that the time is not yet ripe for a return to jury trial, in view of the risk of intimidation of jurors which remains very significant". That did not prevent the Human Rights Commission from making a forceful case for immediate return to jury trial, wholly ignoring the continuing climate of active intimidation. I hope that the Minister can confirm that there is no intention to abolish those courts, especially as an exactly similar court exists in the Republic of Ireland for the same good reason.

Two things concern me about this Bill. One is the perversity of Part 4 on youth justice, which states in Clause 52: The principal aim of the youth justice system is to protect the public by preventing offending by children". Clause 54 is concerned with "relevant instruction in citizenship" for children who offend. That is in a country where the children—the term includes all under the age of 18—are not attacking the public but daily are being abused, beaten and terrorised, without let or hindrance, by adult paramilitaries. Surely it is the adults, and not the children, who need instruction in citizenship. Because of the conspiracy of silence over the monstrous acts of men who daily instruct children in their form of citizenship, including how to grow up able to make petrol bombs, no one must speak of those things for fear of damaging the peace process. So we see this solemn provision for protecting the public from children.

There is a yet more disturbing aspect of this section of the Bill. It comes in Clauses 70 and 71 which deal with community safety partnerships and a community safety strategy, whose laudable object is to make a place, safer to live and work, in particular by the reduction of actual and perceived levels of crime and other anti-social behaviour". The Secretary of State is to determine the membership of those partnerships. In that respect we shall shortly see the dirty footprint of Sinn Fein/IRA, for this is yet another opportunity for it to ensure that the community is represented by one or more of the very men who now intimidate that community. Hear the words of Mr Michael Ritchie, project manager of an organisation set up to promote the re-integration of released IRA prisoners into society, which again is very laudable. On 14th April he said that, because of their extensive military and command experience", such men should be allowed lateral entry into the PSNI directly at senior level. At present they are awaiting Sinn Fein/IRA's go-ahead to apply, but we are told that the party intends to allow them to do so in the future. He wants them to be free to enter the Civil Service and teaching profession—and makes this remarkable statement: An IRA officer commanding at Long Kesh could have responsibility for 700 people, negotiating on their behalf and organising them. This represents considerable management experience". Mr Ritchie also represents the on-the-run people. The object of Sinn Fein/IRA will be to define those people—not those whom they have killed or exiled—as the victims, who must be taken back into the community and made to feel loved and wanted. When we discuss the Bill in Committee, I hope that we can build in safety mechanisms to prevent that happening, which would make a mockery of justice and deprive people of any hope of seeking and securing justice and the rule of law.

I welcome the police community safety campaign in schools. The police, not the paramilitaries, are the right people to discuss the future operations of the community safety strategy. That is the way to get the police engaged with the local community—the RUC was doing that as far back as 1999—and to prevent the paramilitaries taking over the function, ending the last hope that people have of living under the protection of the rule of law.

We need to ensure that the Bill does not focus too much on curbing a menacing state. For that reason, I should like also the police ombudsman to come under the scrutiny of the chief inspector of criminal justice.

Will the victim information scheme in Clause 67 apply to the victims of the on-the-run people, whose unpunished return to the community the Weston Park formula is intended to provide? According to Clauses 67 and 68, the Secretary of State must establish a victim information scheme. What steps are being taken now by the Secretary of State to consult with victims before any further action is even considered to bring back the on-the-runs? Such consultation would quickly reveal the deep anger and revulsion that would be aroused were the perpetrators of the Enniskillen outrage and similar acts to be allowed to return to their communities scot-free—no doubt to be welcomed back by their fellow murderers, who were at least tried and served part of a sentence.

The return of such persons would be all the more intolerable in that at both Weston Park and in the many discussions on restorative justice, peace and reconciliation, and the reintegration of such people into society, the families and individuals exiled by the paramilitaries over the past 15 years or more—cut off from their world—must remain in the cold.

The on-the-runs committed or are presumed to have committed crimes for which they would normally expect to be tried. The families have committed no crime. The IRA ex-prisoners have an organisation working to reintegrate them into society. Who is doing anything for the people whom the IRA exiled? When have the Sinn Fein/IRA leaders ever been publicly held to account for what they are doing daily to innocent men, women and children—their own people? We have ample proof from the past that they can stop if they wish.

Although some parts of the Bill are valuable, I cannot but feel that some parts may prove to advance the Sinn Fein/IRA agenda, with the enthusiastic but misguided support of many well-meaning people who are preoccupied with holding the evil state to account in the name of human rights. We should make no further concessions to the Sinn Fein/IRA agenda simply to secure the decommissioning of a few more ancient and irrelevant weapons—long since replaced by new ones.

1.13 p.m.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, the Bill represents another important step by the Government towards implementing their responsibilities under the Belfast agreement. I share with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the belief that people who supported the Good Friday agreement at the beginning continue to do so. We have had doubts on the way but I still believe that, in the main, that support remains. I hope that that will continue to be the case. It would be a bitter disappointment if faith in the process was lost.

I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has any evidence that the Government are pushing Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. That was the gist of his remarks. The Government stand fully by their commitment to the people of Northern Ireland—it is they who will decide their future. That is surely a democratic process with which we all concur.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, the noble Lord knows the policy of his party and of the Government that Ireland should be united by consent—that is, that they are in favour of the union of northern and southern Ireland. The noble Lord will be aware that while the IRA stands—as it is allowed to stand—fully armed and organised, it will stand as an enforcer of that policy.

Lord Dubs

No, my Lords. I cannot speak for the Government now but they are totally committed to all the principles of the Belfast agreement which states that the future of Northern Ireland will be determined by the people of Northern Ireland. That is clear, unambiguous and democratic. No amount of additional gloss of the kind that the noble Lord seeks to put on the matter can detract from the clarity of the Government's position and their integrity.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Lord Dubs

The noble Lord, Lord Laird, regretted that the Committee stage will not be taken on the Floor of the House. The Grand Committee procedure, together with the commitment to further negotiation and discussion made by my noble and learned friend the Lord Privy Seal suggests that your Lordships will have every chance to debate the Bill in full—to say nothing of Report stage and Third Reading. Nothing in the process upon which we are embarking will prevent our having the fullest discussion—more so than in the other place—of all the Bill's details.

If I regret one thing it is that there is no voice of democratic, peaceful nationalism from Northern Ireland in your Lordships' House. Our debates would be made better and fuller if the voice of democratic, peaceful nationalism were heard as part of the process of deliberation here.

I understand how difficult and dangerous the past 30 years have been for all those connected with the judicial system in Northern Ireland. I do not have the direct experience of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, during his term of office, but I am certainly aware of the circumstances under which Northern Ireland judges have to live 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the close protection that must be afforded to them so that they may continue fulfilling their duties. We owe a tribute to them for having persevered in administering justice as fairly and impartially as possible in difficult circumstances.

The Bill is right because it represents a proper system of criminal justice for a future and peaceful society. Of course, the details are important, but the Bill sets out the way forward. Some terrible things are still happening in Northern Ireland. They are not occurring on the previous scale but there are still unacceptable levels of violence in both the nationalist and loyalist communities. Nevertheless, crime overall in Northern Ireland is lower than in other parts of the United Kingdom—even though it is increasing, partly because of drug-related incidents.

I hope that the Committee and Report stages will not be totally bedevilled by debate on the oath and the coat of arms. I understand why those issues are important and have significance, but I trust that we can take a leaf from the book of the Policing Board which managed to deal with the difficult question of a badge for the Police Service of Northern Ireland in an expeditious, sensible and balanced manner. If the board could do that in the difficult circumstances of arguments about policing, surely it should be possible to achieve the same result in respect of the oath and the coat of arms inside and outside court buildings.

Given the range of important decisions that will stem from the passing of this legislation, will the Government consider an oversight arrangement, possibly in parallel to that proposed by the Patten commission relating to policing which was also implemented in Northern Ireland? I know that the Criminal Justice Review Group did not make that recommendation but some form of oversight on the Patten precedent may be appropriate. I would also welcome more information as to what the Government see as a timescale for the changes envisaged in the Bill.

Many people in Northern Ireland want to know the reasons why sometimes there is no prosecution in relation to a specific crime. I understand the difficulties. If there is no evidence to achieve a successful prosecution, one does not prosecute, and that is normally the case. But concerns have been expressed rather more forcibly in Northern Ireland about some notorious cases where no prosecution resulted. Is there any way in which we can give people more information than has been possible in the past as to why it is not always possible to prosecute? I understand the difficulties. I ask the question simply to see whether we can make progress along that route.

The arrangements for equality in Northern Ireland are very good. They set the pattern for most other countries in the world. But perhaps the agencies and other elements of the criminal justice system ought to he designated as public bodies to bring them within Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act. I believe that that would be appropriate if it were possible.

I am also concerned as to how the judicial appointments commission will achieve a representative judicial system. As a general proposition, that is a laudable aim. But I understand that in a judicial review of the Parades Commission appointments, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland indicated that the obligation of achieving proper representation related only to religion and identity and not to gender and ethnicity. Would it not be appropriate to extend the provisions to include gender and ethnicity? In my time in Northern Ireland, when I was involved in making appointments to public bodies, I found it easier to obtain a balance between Catholics and Protestants than to get appropriate numbers of women on to bodies. The system did not find it as easy to identify the many capable women in Northern Ireland for such appointments as it should have done. I hope that the situation is improving, but I have doubts. I should like to feel that the judicial appointments commission will take that point on board.

This is a welcome Bill. I look forward to the debates in Committee and on Report.

1.23 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, it is difficult for a person with no legal training to contribute to a debate on the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill. It is also probably foolish. Indeed, late last night I had grave doubts concerning my sanity that I had had the temerity to put my name down for this debate.

Therefore in advance I beg the indulgence of the experts who have taken part in this debate and say that I wish to participate in the debate for three reasons. My family background is that my father was born in Belfast and received his early education there until intimidation forced his parents to move to Dublin, a move helped greatly by His Majesty's Government as he was able to transfer as a senior civil servant to His Majesty's Customs and Excise in what was to become the Irish Free State. I guess as a result of that I have always been aware of the delicate sensitivities of the Northern Ireland situation, long before the commencement of the problems of 1969.

On another level, I have an absolute abhorrence of physical violence and terrorism in all its forms and support any proposal which I think might mitigate the enormous human suffering which both create. And, finally, I believe I am sufficiently unbiased and independent with respect to Northern Ireland to feel that I can make a contribution, or at least ask for clarification on some of the issues raised by this Bill.

At the outset I feel it is only fair to say that I believe we have come a long way along the road to peace in Northern Ireland. But I would like assurances that some of the clauses in this Bill truly acknowledge the sensitivities of that hugely sensitive Province of the United Kingdom. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that I shall not be referring to the oath or the coat of arms, even though I hold strong personal views on both. I intend to speak on Clauses 22, 23, 56, 70 and 71.

In Part 2 of the Bill the appointment of an attorney-general for Northern Ireland is addressed. The Government are probably right to accept the recommendation of the Criminal Justice Review Group for such an appointment. But though the Explanatory Notes of the Bill state, in paragraph 47 on page 12 that, the effect of subsections (6) to (8) is to disqualify the holder from the post of Attorney General for Northern Ireland from being a member of the House of Commons, the Northern Ireland Assembly or a local authority in Northern Ireland", I am not sure that the review group's recommendation that it be a non-political post is adequately met. I know that that point was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, but he seemed to question the need for a non-political appointment. My point is how far Her Majesty's Government can be assured that anyone in Northern Ireland is non-political. Even if the person is, as the Bill states in Clause 22(4)(a) and (b), a member of the Bar in Northern Ireland of at least 10 years' standing, or … a solicitor of the Supreme Court of at least 10 years' standing", perhaps I shall be accused of cynicism or of being unduly influenced by a number of overtly political, distinguished members of the legal profession who are fellow Members of your Lordships' House for having slight doubt on that issue. I should like strong assurance on that point.

As a subsidiary point I should like confirmation from the Minister that the Diplock courts will continue. That point was raised by my noble friend Lady Park. If the answer is yes, will the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland take over the role of Attorney-General for England and Wales as regards scheduled offences?

My second concern relates to Part 4 of the Bill—youth justice—particularly Clauses 56 to 60. I know that that that has been referred to several times today, particularly by my noble friend Lord Glentoran and the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. In the interests of brevity I should like to comment on Clause 56, youth conferences and the youth conferencing plan.

The review group's recommendation sounds admirable, but the Explanatory Notes state on page 26, paragraph 116, A key feature of youth conferences is that neither the child, his parents or guardians, nor the victim can be compelled by any person or the court to participate. In particular the child must agree to a youth conference being held". Is that realistic? The highly politicised climate is still a fact of life in Northern Ireland, despite all the efforts and concessions made in the Belfast agreement. Perhaps it takes an Irish-born person to state quite categorically that nowhere in the world are memories of past events more likely to colour current and future attitudes than in Northern Ireland. The Battle of the Boyne did not really occur in the 17th century; it occurred last year—or so it seems.

Bearing that in mind, do we really think that children will agree to youth conferences being held? Has any survey been conducted into the attitudes of youth towards crime and violence? I would have to be assured that the concept has a chance of success. How confident is the Minister on that point? It is an eminently sensible idea and I am informed that it has been tried in Northumberland and in Oxford. But Northern Ireland is very different. And does it need to be part of a justice Bill?

My third and final point concerns Part 5, Clauses 70 and 71, which again have already been referred to. This is where my earlier point about looking for assurance that some of the clauses in the Bill do truly acknowledge the sensitivities of that enormously sensitive part of the UK. Clause 70 is an admirable expression of intent. But is it an unachievable "wish list"? The Minister told us that a community safety strategy has been published. I regret that I was not aware of that and therefore some of the points I am about to raise may seem stupid. I hope not. But if they are, please forgive me.

The reading of Clause 70 raises questions in my mind. Long before the word "ghetto" sadly became well known to us in the 20th century, ghettos were prevalent throughout Northern Ireland. Nothing much has changed.

Do the Government intend to have local community safety strategies based on large or small geographical areas? Would, for example, the community safety strategy for Londonderry encompass the whole of that city, or would there be a separate one for those areas where the residents call themselves "inhabitants of Derry" and one for those areas where residents call themselves "inhabitants of Londonderry"? How would the Bill when it becomes an Act implement those circumstances?

Clause 71 has made me have uncharacteristically uncharitable thoughts. Is that, as has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Glentoran, another way of enforcing the district police partnerships—the unfinished business of Patten that he referred to—which we thought had been dealt with in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act?

In subsection (1) of Clause 71 carte blanche appears to be given to the Secretary of State to divide Northern Ireland into as many bodies as he thinks fit. In subsection (3), membership of these bodies is another area where he seems to have complete control. In subsection (4)(a) there appears to be no limit imposed on their cost. Research can be fairly costly. I assume that the research will be carried out by professional researchers. In subsection (4)(d) again there is an unqualified financial drain. With regard to subsection (4)(e), annual reports cost money to produce, let alone the time expended in getting them together.

Although it is not on the face of the Bill, I assume that there would be liaison with the large number of voluntary and small community organisations who work "on the ground" and thereby a benefit from the in-depth knowledge at a local level. I should like some assurance on that aspect.

We do not want the local gangsters being put in charge of community safety. But that is what might happen if the report in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times of 14th April is correct. My noble friend Lady Park obviously saw the same report and referred to it. She referred to the organisation set up in 1998 to represent released IRA prisoners and to promote their reintegration into society. That report stated that the organisation is demanding that former IRA prisoners be accommodated in the "senior"—my emphasis—ranks of the police service of Northern Ireland because: Many prisoners are leaders within their community, and it would be inappropriate for them to join as raw recruits". If they are to be put in the senior ranks of the police service, why should they not be leaders of local community safety partnerships? This is a genuine concern on my part. I hope that my comments will be helpful in some small way during the further stages of the Bill.

1.33 p.m.

Lord Hutton

My Lords, I have read the clauses of the Bill with great interest. As I was a judge in Northern Ireland for 18 years, before I became a Member of your Lordships' House, I read with particular interest the clauses relating to the appointment of judges. I would therefore like to make some comments on those clauses.

As your Lordships know, the Bill makes an important change in the system for the appointment of judges in Northern Ireland. In effect the Bill takes away the selection of judges and recommendations as to appointment from the Lord Chancellor, who has performed that function for many years since the establishment of Northern Ireland, and gives the function to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, acting jointly, and to a Judicial Appointments Commission. That will consist of 13 members, with the Lord Chief Justice as the chairman, five judicial members, a barrister, a solicitor and five lay members appointed by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, acting jointly.

It is clearly vital that a judge should be appointed on merit alone and that appointments should not be influenced by political considerations. That is all the more important in the highly charged political atmosphere of Northern Ireland. If judges are not appointed on merit the administration of justice will suffer, as will public confidence in that administration.

In considering the changes in the system for judicial appointments set out in the Bill, I suggest that two important and preliminary questions must be asked. The first question is whether the present system under which the Lord Chancellor is responsible for appointments has worked well. If the answer is "Yes", the second question is: why has it worked well?

I think it is generally accepted that the system has worked well. I am very grateful for the generous observations made by noble Lords about the work of the judiciary in Northern Ireland during the past troubled years. It is also accepted by the review body, on whose recommendations the Bill is based, because in paragraph 2.23 the report states that, people generally have a high degree of confidence in the fairness of the system as a whole". It goes on to state that, 77% of the people surveyed expressed confidence in the fairness of judges and magistrates". That was after a difficult period of years when the judges were called upon to decide cases of the utmost sensitivity.

If one asks why the appointments system has worked well and provided judges in whom there is a high degree of confidence, the answer is that, through the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chancellor consults for their views on candidates those who are the best qualified to assess the merits and qualities of those who seek appointment; namely, the senior judges who have seen before them in the courts the counsel who may be appointed. Now, quite rightly, the views of the chairman of the Bar Counsel and the president of the Law Society are also taken.

This is the view taken by the Lord Chancellor himself with regard to the appointment of judges in England. The system of appointment in England is similar to that in Northern Ireland. As your Lordships know, there is now an annual report by the Lord Chancellor's Department on judicial appointments. Paragraph 1.23 of the report for 1998–1999 states: The Lord Chancellor regards the knowledge, experience and judgment of the professional legal community (serving judges and members of the legal profession) as the best available source of informed assessments of the suitability of applicants for judicial appointments". In his foreword to the report for 1999–2000, the Lord Chancellor states: there is no better advertisement for the judicial appointments system than the quality of the judges appointed". I believe that that observation applies as strongly to Northern Ireland as to England.

Under the changes set out in the Bill, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, at the present time a unionist and a nationalist, who are two very active politicians, will have a very important part to play in appointments. They will also appoint the lay members of the Judicial Appointments Commission. There is bound to be some concern that political considerations will come into play in ma king appointments.

In paragraph 6.16 of its report the review body recognised why judicial appointments were made the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor and were not given to Northern Ireland Ministers. It states: Since 1973 the Lord Chancellor has been responsible for making or advising on all judicial appointments in Northern Ireland … We understand that the transfer of these responsibilities to the Lord Chancellor was driven mainly by a desire to secure and demonstrate the independence of judicial matters from any political office that was closely associated with political and security developments in Northern Ireland". Those considerations are as important today as they were in the past.

The new arrangements set out in the Bill give rise to a further question: what is the purpose and function of the lay members of the Judicial Appointments Commission? They will not constitute a majority of the commission but will form a substantial part of its membership. Clause 5(8) rightly provides that judicial appointments, must be made solely on the basis of merit". But how will lay members be able to assess the respective merits of, let us say, four or five Queen's Counsel applying to be appointed to the High Court? The review body recognises that problem at paragraph 6.99, which states: if judges and/or senior lawyers predominate on a commission, then there is the danger that they might tend to appoint in their own image. On the other hand a predominance of lay people could detract from the critical importance of legal ability in assessing merit". The review body refers to a predominance of lay people, but the same problem could arise if they are not a majority but a substantial minority. At paragraph 6.104, the review body gives the following explanation as the reason for appointing lay members. It states: The lay members would be selected on the basis of the additional value which they would bring to the Commission's deliberations, including such qualities as experience of selection processes, the court users' perspective and the ability to assess the personal qualities of candidates". But if the judges and lawyers on the commission agree that among the candidates with whom they have worked closely for years., one is clearly best qualified for appointment—he may be of outstanding ability—one must wonder how it would be appropriate or desirable for that candidate not to be appointed because the lay members took a certain view of his personal qualities or of his performance in an interview.

Indeed, in the paragraph to which I referred, the review body recognises the risk that there may be compromise appointments. The lawyers may think highly of one candidate; the lay members may not be impressed by his performance in interview and oppose his appointment. There is a risk that they will compromise on another person.

The review body accepts that the present system works well. So why has it recommended a change? It is apparent in the report that there are two principal reasons. The first is that because there is now devolved government in Northern Ireland—and will, no doubt, be increased devolution of matters to Northern Ireland—it is appropriate that the selection of judges should be devolved to a Northern Ireland administration. That view overlooks the fact that for many years—from 1921 to 1972—there was a devolved government and a local Parliament in Northern Ireland, when the selection of the senior judiciary was retained by the Lord Chancellor. The retention of applicants by the Lord Chancellor is therefore not inconsistent with devolved government.

The review body refers to Scotland, which has also been referred to in our debate. But Scotland is not really comparable to Northern Ireland, because the Lord Chancellor never had responsibility for judicial appointments in Scotland. Moreover, although there are no doubt differences of political opinion in Scotland, they are not as sharply held as they are in Northern Ireland.

The second reason that the review body gives for its recommendation is the need for transparency—noble Lords have also referred to this. Transparency is important but, as has happened, greater transparency can be achieved by the appointment of a Judicial Appointments Commissioner, who will not be concerned with selection of judges, but who will oversee the process to ensure that it is fairly carried out and who can make representations and furnish an annual report. That is what has happened in England. A judicial commissioner has been appointed in this jurisdiction and the Lord Chancellor has also appointed a commissioner in Northern Ireland.

In his foreword to last year's report from his department, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor refers to the appointment of the commissioner and his deputies. He states: They will exercise a fully independent role advising me on any aspect of the appointments process they choose. I welcome the establishment of this Commission which, as Sir Leonard said, will add an important new independent dimension to the system, providing additional credibility and confidence". He goes on to say that the first annual report of the commissioner will be included in the department's annual report next year.

Therefore, while accepting the principle of transparency, there is at present in Northern Ireland a system that has worked well and is similar to the system that applies in England. I venture to suggest that it would be appropriate to give further consideration to the change to the system of judicial appointments set out in the Bill.

1.47 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am grateful for all of the contributions that have been made to the debate. It illustrates that when, as today, we have the opportunity, without pressure from competing business, we are able fully to deal with all the issues in an important Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked for reassurance on the question of the oath of judicial office, which is to be found at Clause 19. It states: "I"—and then the name is to be filled in— do swear that I will well and faithfully serve in the office of"— and a blank is left for the appropriate office. These important words follow: and that I will do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or according to the laws and usages of this realm". That is not a bad description of what a judge ought to be conscientiously aiming to do.

The noble Lord asked about district police partnerships in the context of the community safety proposals. The district police partnerships are a model designed to hold the police to account. It is therefore appropriate to include local elected representatives. The community safety areas require a different membership. We need to look to representatives from all the main statutory agencies that can contribute to community safety. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, of course there would be consultation with voluntary agencies, which are so important in that context.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, spoke about what he thought was a contradictory allocation of responsibilities in the Bill. Plainly, we will need to examine that matter in Grand Committee.

The noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Rogan, raised a similar point on Clause 45(1). I accept that that list is not exhaustive or intended to he. My colleague Mr Browne is consulting with a range of organisations at present to see whether it would be appropriate to include them. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, mentioned organisations such as Consignia, the Police Ombudsman and the Inland Revenue.

I am grateful for the general approach of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, which he said was one of warm welcome. I agree with him that one needs to be extremely careful about the subtle responsibilities of an attorney-general and a director of public prosecutions. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and I were both Attorneys-General. I must say that I was surprised on my first day in the office when I realised that I was Attorney-General for Northern Ireland as well as for England and Wales. It seems to me that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, was right in saying that there was complete independence and impartiality in the conduct of the director's office through the 25 to 30 years of which he spoke. I do not believe that it was ever suggested or contemplated that there should ever be any political interference by the Attorney-General. I share the noble and learned Lord's recollection that there was never any attempt to make a direction, although it was within the statutory power of the Attorney to make such a direction.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, and several noble Lords spoke about symbols. I understand their value and their significance and the way that they resonate. But ultimately symbols are creatures for man's purpose and they should not be allowed to overwhelm the discussion of an extremely serious Bill. As my noble friend Lord Dubs said, they are important, but there is much in the Bill which is capable of being of lasting significance and improvement in the life of Northern Ireland.

Lord Telbbit

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I hope he will understand that on this issue it is what the symbols symbolise which many of us regard as important, not the symbols themselves.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, of course I take that point. However, I remain of the view that symbols are there to serve man's purpose, not to dictate the ultimate outcome. The reason I hoped that I was responding to the noble Lord's point was the trouble I took to read out the oath. Any judge who is able to discharge the obligations of that oath will have done noble duty in his judicial capacity.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, asked about costs. We are talking of an additional cost of the order of £30 million over the next three years. In Part 1, setting up the office of lay magistrates will cost about £2.2 million. The judicial appointments commission, which I stress will be established only after the devolution of the justice functions, will cost about El million a year. The present DPP's office—I was grateful for the support given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to the divorce between investigation and prosecution, which was mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney—will need to double in size if it is to do its work properly. It has been stretched and strained in the past. That will cost about £13 million. The annual cost of maintaining the local attorney-general and his staff after devolution will be about £0.5 million.

Part 3 relates to the law commission and the chief inspector of criminal justice, costing £0.75 million and £0.55 million respectively. Part 4, relating to youth justice orders, will cost about £0.65 million. The youth conferencing agency will cost £3.5 million. 'The inclusion of 17 year-olds, which has been generally welcomed in the youth courts, will cost in the order of £1.2 million. The most significant cost in Part 5—the establishment of the community safety partnerships—is over £6 million. That is the general breakdown for which the noble Lord asked.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, spoke of the hiring and firing of judges. In the context of Clause 2, to which the noble Lord referred, it is very important to bear in mind that subsection (3) states: No order under subsection (2) may be made without the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice". That is the intended safety lock on the exercise of those powers.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was courteous and calm, as usual—always a dangerous sign. He will forgive me when I say—it is not meant in any disagreeable sense—that that is particularly so when he effortlessly produces an individual mixture of calm and hyperbole. I shall deal with the hyperbole first. It is all the more effective on the surface because it seems to be calmly expressed.

The noble Lord said, rolling his eyes and asking the metaphorical question, "The Lord Privy Seal does not know about the contents of what was decommissioned". Of course he does not—because the scheme requires that I do not. Therefore let us nail that one straightaway, shall we? I shall condescend to fact, which is always tedious upon these occasions.

There is a document in the public domain, Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, and it is dated 8th April this year. It is signed by John de Chastelain and Andrew D. Sens. It is addressed to Dr John Reid and the Minister of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the Republic of Ireland. It states: We wish to inform you that we have witnessed an event in which the IRA leadership has put a varied and substantial quantity of ammunition, arms and explosive material beyond use". If one trusts the general and his colleague—and I do— it could not sensibly be said, without hyperbole, that "substantial" could be so described because it was very small indeed. The letter states that, a varied and substantial quantity of ammunition, arms and explosive material beyond use. In accordance with the Government's Scheme and Regulations"— this is on the basis of an Act passed by both Houses of this Parliament— we have made an inventory of the arms concerned, which we will provide to the two governments when our task is completed. As before, we have agreed to the IRA's condition of confidentiality regarding details of this event, as provided for in the same Scheme and Regulations". The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was wrong to express apparent surprise at my not knowing, since the scheme and regulations on a statutory basis expressly forbid my knowing, or indeed any other member of Her Majesty's Government knowing. In the context of Northern Ireland where, as the noble Lord reminded me, symbols matter, it is very important to ensure that one is factually correct.

The second piece of hyperbole, which I know the noble Lord will reflect on and regret, is that this is a dog's dinner of a Bill and his comment, "I want no part of it". Not everyone in this House agrees with everything I say, but everyone who has spoken in this House says that there is an enormous amount of good material in the Bill which is capable of contributing to social reconstruction in that unhappy part of the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, spoke of symbols and understandably of the suspicions some have. Someone said, partly in jest, that it is difficult to find a non-political person in Northern Ireland. That is not so in my experience. There are admirable public servants there against whom the taint of the allegation of being political has never, so far as I know, been sustained. Perhaps I may take two examples almost at random. The present DPP, Sir Alasdair Fraser, the former DPP, Sir Barry Shaw, and until recently the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland. I am not saying that everyone agrees with every view they expressed, but no one said that they were political creatures. Nor could they reasonably do so.

I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Goudie for her commendation of the law commission. That is another excellent reform in the context of Northern Ireland legislation. She spoke of the very effective work and the noble Lords, Lord Laird and Lord Rogan, spoke of the extremely impressive work done in England on restorative justice in Highgate and in Thames Valley, which was a very successful pioneering scheme.

As always, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, made a statesmanlike speech. He correctly identified the fact that we are making a journey of faith and hope, not one of certainty. He spoke also of the sacrifices that the judiciary at all levels have made in Northern Ireland. Both he and I will remember seeing the very sad but eloquent tablet in the Law Courts in Belfast. It is a cautionary experience to read it because we forget sacrifice much too quickly.

My noble friend Lady Crawley posed a question about resources with which I hope I have dealt in my response giving the particular details for which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, asked.

I wish to endorse what was said by my noble friend Lord Dubs. If we work together in a Grand Committee, then I believe that it will prove to be an ideal forum for this type of Bill. There is a vast amount of detail to consider. That venue will allow us to have a dialogue with officials readily available to deal with questions as they are legitimately raised, rather than in the somewhat inconvenient way that we work in this Chamber. Furthermore, of course we shall have a full Report stage and a Third Reading.

The speech made by my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale was moving and, if I may say with respect, very much to the point. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, asked about the Diplock courts, as did the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. The recent review made it quite plain that their continuation is necessary and so they will continue for as long as they are necessary. In that context, I am glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, is in his place, not least because he called me to the Bar in Northern Ireland and gave me Silk all in the space of about five minutes. It was a happy experience both to be called and to take Silk in the same few minutes.

Northern Ireland is different now and, obviously, better in many ways. What I can say about the Diplock courts is that I am a member of the Bar over there. I think that I have spoken to lawyers, solicitors and barristers from every conceivable community background in Northern Ireland. Not one of them has ever suggested to me for a second that the Diplock courts are anything other than absolutely transparently fair. They have the advantage of having to give written reasons. Those written reasons can be challenged on appeal and, I have to say, on some occasions, when reading the judgments which have led to acquittals, I think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, would probably agree with me that perhaps he and I might both have guessed that a jury might well have convicted. As long as the courts are necessary, we shall continue with them.

My noble friend Lord Dubs asked about the general time-scale. The funding resources to which I have already referred relate to a three-year period and of course there will not be devolution of the two distinct areas until following May 2003, when the Secretary of State will have to come to his judgment.

My noble friend Lord Dubs also asked a question about giving reasons for not prosecuting. I agree that people are troubled when prosecutions are not pursued, but I have to say that, from my own experience, sometimes it is simply not possible to give a true reason for not prosecuting. Perhaps I may cite an example. A girl of 15 makes a complaint of rape. She is interviewed by a properly trained woman detective constable. The girl has complained to her father. The complaint goes into the system and is properly and scrupulously dealt with in a civilised way. But at the end of the interview, the girl says, "Actually, I wasn't raped, but I was afraid that I was pregnant and what my father would say". In those circumstances it is not possible to give a reason to the father.

Giving reasons is a very good idea in principle, and sometimes it can be achieved. However, in the Northern Ireland context—this is a point I have discussed frequently with the Director of Public Prosecutions—how can the DPP give written reasons saying that the witness is afraid, that the witness has been suborned and that the witness has been terrified? That would expose that very witness to further danger. I simply caution noble Lords to consider that what may sound good in principle—and it is—is sometimes difficult to deliver in practice.

Turning to Section 75 in the context of equality, my noble friend Lord Dubs made a good point. Of course he knows from his experience as a Northern Ireland Minister that the categories covered are able to be amended by order.

I have dealt with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, about the Diplock courts because it was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. I have also dealt with the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, on whether voluntary organisations would be consulted. The question of the division of areas has yet to be decided, but when I have further material then of course I shall revert to that issue.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, gave his informed view—for which we were all grateful—in the context of the protection of an independent judiciary. I echo what he said. It is good to see and appropriate to have recorded in Clause 5(8) that: The selection of a person … to be appointed, or recommended for appointment, to an office [namely, a judicial office] must be made solely on the basis of merit". For my own part, I think that a component from the laity is useful on such occasions, stressing, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, that they would be significant but that they would not be predominant.

Once again, I am grateful for all the contributions that have been made to our debate. I look forward to working co-operatively on this Bill, given that the interests of Northern Ireland are greater than any of our individual interests.

On Question, Bill read a second time.

2.6 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be committed to a Grand Committee.

Moved, That the Bill be committed to a Grand Committee. —(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I rise to speak for a few minutes about this issue. I know that the suggestion that more Bills should be dealt with in Grand Committee has arisen through what is called the Leaders group. A report about the decisions reached by the group and the reasons leading up to those decisions is now available in the Printed Paper Office. However, I know also that that report was already well along the way to being printed before the truly unacceptable experience that we encountered during the Grand Committee stage of the Employment Bill.

The Bill was debated for 10 days in Grand Committee. Quite honestly, it was one of the worst experiences that I have endured after 11 years in this House. Practically all the time, the atmosphere was not one bit conducive to a proper scrutiny of the Bill. Attitudes were adopted, comments were made sotto voce and not so sotto voce, and a lack of respect was shown for one person versus another. All in all, it was a pretty horrendous experience. I certainly did not think that I was capable of making the contribution to the Committee stage of that Bill that I wanted to make. In all seriousness, I was made to feel inferior and I was intimidated, and thus not able to contribute.

That is not the way your Lordships' House should work. Whenever I have contributed to the proceedings in Committee on the Floor of the House, I have felt that what I have said and what other noble Lords have said—even if those opinions are polls apart—has been listened to with respect. If the Motion is agreed to—as doubtless it will be—and the Bill proceeds to a Grand Committee, either upstairs or in the Moses Room, I worry that it will not get the scrutiny it deserves. I fear that there may be a repeat of the kind of attitude that I have described.

If the Bill is discussed away from the Chamber it will preclude the involvement of Peers who may not feel that they have a locus on the Bill but who may come in, listen to the arguments and then feel that they have something to say. That casual approach does not happen in a Grand Committee because the rooms are too small and the atmosphere is not conducive.

I hope that some thought will be given to the points that I have raised. The noble and learned Lord may care to check with those Peers who took part in the Grand Committee on the Employment Bill, which lasted for 10 days, and then decide whether or not we should proceed along this path.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, the usual channels were involved in this decision and we agreed that the Bill should go to a Grand Committee—but, as my noble friend said, that was before the Employment Bill experience. I did not attend the discussions on that Bill for nearly as long as my noble friend but I did look in from time to time. I am aware that it was not a happy experience for some Peers who were involved.

As I read the proposals of the Leader's group, this Bill would not go to a Grand Committee because it is clearly a constitutional Bill. The appointment of the judiciary and the reorganisation of the prosecuting procedures are likely to be a constitutional matter and the Leaders' Group report suggests that constitutional Bills should not go to Grand Committees—although it also suggests that there should be an increase.

The Leader's group report will be discussed later in your Lordships' House but, in regard to this Bill, that is the way it has struck me.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, as one who served, rather inadequately, on the processions and parades Bill, I found it the most demoralising experience I have had in 30 years in this building. If there is any way in which a true democracy can be given more of a free rein, we would all support it.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I did not attend the Committee stage of the Bill to which the noble Baroness referred and so I have no basis on which to make any informed reply. This issue has been agreed by the usual channels. No one suggested to me—I am grateful to see the noble Lord, Lord Roper, nodding assent—that anyone had had second thoughts about this Bill.

We all have differences about Northern Ireland but I have never found them to be ill-tempered, ill-mannered or discourteous. People are vigorous when they put their points of view—but the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and I still speak to each other outside, I hope in a spirit of true harmony. I see him smiling, as I am.

The great advantage of a Grand Committee worked properly is that officials are there who are able to provide considered replies in a better way than in the Chamber. There is every opportunity for those who are interested to be present and also, of course what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, inelegantly calls passing tradepeople do come.

It was said to me that the advantage of the Committee stage of the Employment Bill was that 10 days were available to be used, longer than had it been held in the Chamber. We need time on this Bill and I ask your Lordships to conform to the convention—I know that it is not a binding rule—that if the usual channels have agreed then we should assent.

Lord Rogan

My Lords, if I understood the noble and learned Lord correctly, he said that I was nodding my head. In fact my head was stone still.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, will understand that I was not looking at him—although I shall now. He is shaking his head. I was talking to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, a completely different beast.

On Question, Bill committed to a Grand Committee.

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