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Schedule 5

Volume 951: debated on Friday 9 June 1978

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Minor And Consequential Amendments

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 86, line 26, after 'if', insert 'for'.

The amendment is simply to correct a printing error.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 97, line 40, leave out 'as it applies to Northern Ireland'.

This amendment is simply to remove words which are unnecessary, as they already appear in lines 23 and 24 of the same page.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 100, line 28, leave out from 'words' to end of line 30 and insert

'from "any such moneys" to "Northern Ireland)" substitute the words "money in the Supreme Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland".'.
This is a technical amendent consequential both on the new provisions for funds in Part VII of the Bill and on the repeal of Section 30 of the Administration of Justice Act in Schedule 7.

Amendment agreed to.

12.45 p.m.

I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 106, line 26, at end insert—

'In section 2(3) for the words from "is a barrister-at-law" to the end substitute the words "has practised for not less than five years either as a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland or as a solicitor of the Supreme Court" …'.
I hope that the House will bear with me if I take a little longer in introducing this amendment, as it makes a substantial difference. It is an amendment to the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) Act 1959 relating to the qualifications for appointment as a coroner. At present, Section 2(3) of the 1959 Act provides that barristers and solicitors of five years' standing who are—I emphasise the word "are"—practising in Northern Ireland shall be eligible. This means that candidates have to be drawn from the ranks of practising barristers and solicitors.

The rule has been abandoned for all other judicial appointments, so far as I know, because it precludes from appointment those who have practised but who have taken up other posts even if those people would otherwise be suitable. The amendment, if passed, would bring the position for coroners into line with that for all other judicial appointments by requiring that eligibility shall rest on having practised for the necessary period but it shall not be necessary for candidates to be in practice immediately before appointment.

It is only honest to say that the need for the amendment arises partly from the difficulty which has been experienced in finding suitable practitioners who are willing to undertake the duties of coroners in the Province. Although coronerships are part-time, the duties are burdensome and not very well remunerated. I seize the opportunity of paying tribute to the way in which coroners in the Province perform their duties.

The question of remuneration is at present under review, coroners may be glad to hear. It is hoped that with the establishment of the new court service greater clerical assistance wil be available to them. It is thought that the amendment may help to solve what otherwise would be a problem.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 106, leave out lines 34 to 38 and insert—

'In section 36(1) for the words from the beginning to the end of paragraph (a) substitute—

"(1) The Lord Chancellor may by rules—

(a) made after consultation with the Treasury, make provision with respect to the records, accounts and returns which the Lord Chancellor may require coroners to keep and submit to him with respect to information to be supplied by coroners;".
For section 36(2) substitute—

"(2) The Lord Chancellor may with the consent of the Minister for the Civil Service determine—

  • (a) the salaries or fees and superannuation to be paid to coroners and to registered medical practitioners employed under section 27(2);
  • (b) the fees and allowances payable to persons assisting at post-mortem examinations;
  • (c) the allowances payable to witnesses under this Act.".'.
  • With this we may take Government Amendment No. 19.

    Section 36(1) (a) of the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 provides that rules shall fix the salaries or fees of coroners, the fees of other persons employed for the purpose of the coroners' courts, and the allowance to witnesses.

    In recent years, for reasons which will be familiar to the House, these matters have had to be adjusted fairly frequently, and there is no real need for subordinate legislation for this purpose. Following a similar change made in England and Wales in 1977, the amendment provides for these salaries, fees and allowances to be determined by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. The rule-making powers in relation to records, accounts and returns, referred to in the new Section 36(1) (a) remains unaffected. Amendment No. 19 is consequential and simply removes from Schedule 7 repeals which would then be unnecessary.

    May I ask the Solicitor-General whether this allowance payable to witnesses under the Act would be the same as that for appearing in any ordinary court hearing? Some of these cases in regard to the settlement of compensation are very important in the coroners' courts to the people concerned. I am sure that the Solicitor-General is aware of that. I should like the matter to be clarified.

    I do not pretend to understand the details of the amendment, but I think the effect of what the Solicitor-General has said is that it makes it easier to alter the remuneration of those with whom these provisions are concerned. That may make it easier to keep up to date with changes that ought to be made. If that is so, we on the Conservative Benches would welcome the amendment. I should like the assurance of the Solicitor-General on that point.

    I do not know whether the coroners have any sort of body or association, but I would like to know whether there is any statutory provision about consultation in connection with the fees or any process by which such consultation is ensured. Whilst I welcome anything which makes it easier, less ponderous and quicker to deal with coroners' fees, we are all very much concerned nowadays with what processes of consultation there are open to people whose fees are being fixed.

    The hon. and learned Gentleman's question is obviously a fair and relevant one. I hope that there will be consultation when coroners' fees are being discussed, but I am told that there is not statutory provision for consultation. I hope that that will not discourage those who deal with these matters from consulting.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment made: No. 11, in page 106, line 40, leave out 3 'and insert 3(1)'.—[ The Solicitor-General.]

    I beg to move Amendment No. 12, in page 109, leave out lines 4 to 6.

    Amendment No. 12 is simply a paving amendment for Amendment No. 20. Paragraph (b) of Section 137 of the County Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 deals with the salaries and expenses of the county court service. Under the Bill the county court service will cease to exist as a separate entity, so provisions such as this paragraph which relate to that service can be repealed in the interests of general tidiness.

    Section 138 provides for rules of court to specify how fees are to be paid. This can also be repealed because of the new provisions in Clause 116(4).

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 112, line 34. at end insert

    'and for the words: "being eligible for appointment as resident magistrates" substitute the words "being persons who are eligible for appointment as, or have previously been, resident magistrates".'.
    This is a substantive amendment to Section 10 of the Magistrates' Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 which is the provision governing the appointment of deputy resident magistrates To ensure the prompt despatch of business in magistrates' courts it is necessary to have an adequate number of persons who can be called upon to act as deputies when the need arises.

    The amendment will enable retired resident magistrates to be appointed as deputies, and it brings the position into line with the provisions of the Bill relating to the appointment of deputy county court judges and the appointment of persons to assist in the transaction of business in the High Court.

    Although I understand the pressures that are on the courts in Northern Ireland and the necessity to recall people from retirement, I am not very happy about the principle. When a person has served his stint it is not a good principle to recall him. I know that judges have been recalled. I am thinking especially of the Lord Chief Justice, who was recalled and did a great deal of work. However, I do not like the principle.

    I note what the hon. and reverend Gentleman says. I do not thing that it is intended that everyone who is enjoying a well-earned rest should regularly be summoned back to service. However, as he pointed out, it is not unusual in the Northern Ireland judiciary, nor is it unusual in this country. All we are asking for at present is that the power should exist if the occasion arises.

    I had assumed the amendment to go merely to the eligibility for appointment, not to any liability to serve in that capacity against one's wishes. There are two opposite situations. One is that the law may provide that someone who has been a resident magistrate or any other kind of judge should, if called upon, be under a duty to return and continue in his judicial capacity. The other is merely reciting the eligibility. I thought we were merely saying that, even though a person has gone beyond retiring age and therefore has retired, he is eligible if he wishes to continue to serve as a deputy resident magistrate.

    If the second proposition is correct, I think that the hon. and reverend Gentleman's fear is unfounded. Perhaps the Solicitor-General will be able to clear up that point.

    What concerns me, as I think it will concern the hon. and reverend Gentleman, is this. I agree that there should be the ability to appoint deputies. Provided that it is a voluntary act on the part of the retired person returning to do further work, I do not object to it. I think it is a very good thing, because ability is not always related to age. Experience comes with age. Therefore, all other things being equal, the fact that a person has reached retiring age will mean that he has had that much more experience. If he is fully fit and in possession of all his faculties, there is no reason why he should not continue to do a good job in that office providing that he does it voluntarily and is not obliged by law to return.

    The danger is that on the whole deputies cost less than regular appointments. There must be a great temptation to make up for the shortage of judge power by having deputies. It would be wrong if we allowed ourselves to use a provision like this to deal with a shortage of manpower by the regular use of deputies. Although that would save money, one could not justify using deputies for that purpose.

    If people are to sit regularly they should do so by virtue and in right of their office, not merely as deputies from day to day.

    I sound that note of warning. I am not saying that anybody has it in mind to act in this way, but the Solicitor-General will know, as I do, that over the years some people have been used as commissioners regularly. Looking back on it one feels that it might have been more dignified if they had been given a regular appointment if their services were to be used as regularly as they were used. Even now some people are sitting as deputies and recorders on such a scale that it might be felt that they are deputies in name only but are doing a full-time job.

    May I seize this opportunity ton confirm what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. Of course there is no obligation upon someone who is invited to become a deputy resident magistrate actually to take advantage of the invitation. Probably what was in the mind of the hon. and reverend Gentleman —he will correct me if I am wrong—was that it could be tempting for those in authority to invite people to come out of retirement when they should be left to enjoy their retirement. It is for that reason that I seize the opportunity to say, as was echoed by the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival), that it is not intended for this provision to be used as a normal method of ensuring the continuity of the business of the courts.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 117, line 8, at end insert—

    'In section 178, as originally enacted, for the word "Ministry" where it twice occurs substitute the words "Lord Chancellor".
    In Schedule 2—
  • (a) in paragraph 1(2) for the word "Governor" subsitute the words "Lord Chancellor";
  • (b) in paragraphs 1(3) and 8 for the word "Ministry" wherever it occurs substitute the words "Lord Chancellor";
  • (c) at the end of paragraph 1(4) add the words "by regulations made under paragraph 8";
  • (d) in paragraph 2(2) for the words from "who" to the end sustitute the words "who has taken the said oaths after a previous appointment as a member of any such panel or who has taken the said oaths as required by section 7 of the Magistrates Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 1964";
  • (e) in paragraph 6 for the words "The Ministry may pay" substitute the words "The Lord Chancellor may, out of money provided by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, pay" and for the words from "Ministry may determine" to the end substitute the words "Lord Chancellor may, with the approval of the Minister for the Civil Service, determine";
  • (f) at the end of paragraph 8 add—
  • "(d) be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament in like manner as a statutory instrument and section 5 of the Statutory Instrument Act 1946 shall apply accordingly."'.

    Amendment No. 14 relates to the Children and Young Persons Act (Northern Ireland) 1968. Although that Act contains many provisions which will continue to be the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or of the Area health boards, responsibility for the holding of juvenile courts contained in Schedule 2 will transfer to the Lord Chancellor. Amendment No. 14 amends the 1968 Act accordingly.

    The Northern Ireland (Modification of Enactments) (No. 1) Order 1973 has already modified Schedule 2 to the Act, so that the Lord Chancellor is responsible for the appointment of members of the Juvenile Court panel.

    Amendments Nos. 22 to 24 repeal the references to the 1968 Act in the modification order.

    1 p.m.

    This amendment gives me an opportunity to rehearse the arguments contained in my Amendment No. 1, which was not fortunate enough to be selected, because the principle of it is contained in this Government amendment.

    Since the Bill was introduced into this House, I have been seeking an explanation for the radical change which took place in it in the other place against all the arguments which had been rehearsed by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and which in my view contained important political overtones.

    I regret very much that there is no representative from the Northern Ireland office present on the Treasury Bench, although I understand the difficulties.

    I am concerned about this matter because, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General replied to the Second Reading debate, he said:
    "I have been invited at certain junctures in the debate to embark upon some of the political issues which arise, unhappily, from time to time in Northen Ireland. I am a simple lawyer, and I prefer to leave these issues to those who are more closely concerned with the problems of the Province."—[Official Report, 17th April 1978.]
    I know that my right hon. and learned Friend is very modest, but I do not think that any of us would say that he is a mere "simple lawyer". He is a practising politician, like the rest of us, and I believe that he dodged the issue on that occasion. It was also dodged in Committee, and that is why I and two of my hon. Friends voted against the Government on every occasion that they proposed transferring power from the Secretary of State to the Lord Chancellor.

    In the other place on 19th January, the Lord Chancellor argued very strongly and cogently against the pressures which had been applied for the transfer of the control of this important Department of State from the Northern Ireland administration to the political control of a British Minister. He tried in a series of arguments to show that there was no need for the change. He said that the Bill as originally drafted would not affect the independence of the judiciary and that there was no need for the transfer of power.

    As regards the deployment of the judges, again he made the point that this would still be the responsibility of the Lord Chief Justice and possibly of the Lord Chancellor, that there was, therefore, no fear of ministerial manipulation and there had been no evidence of it in the past, and that the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland was satisfied with the arrangements made in the Bill.

    Thirdly, the Lord Chancellor argued that the importance of this measure was that it relieved the Northern Ireland judiciary of many administrative functions and gave them to a Minister and that that Minister should be a Northern Ireland Minister responsible in Northern Ireland. Then he argued that in any event his was, as well as a judicial function as Lord Chancellor, a ministerial administrative function, and he could not see why people aware of this should be afraid of the Secretary of State. He made a strong and cogent argument that it was important that the administration of a Department should be in the hands of a Minister readily accessible locally who would have personal knowledge of many of the problems which existed within the Six Counties.

    Finally, the Lord Chancellor argued that the administration, certainly up to county court level, was from 1973 in the hands of the Secretary of State in any event, having been transferred from the old Ministry of Home Affairs.

    So strong and powerful were my noble Friend's arguments that there were only two or three speakers to follow him and, when the Opposition and a number of Unionist peers moved that this responsibility should go from the Secretary of State to the Lord Chancellor, my noble Friend clinched his argument by quoting to the official Opposition paragraph 67 (a) of their own 1973 White Paper setting out their Northern Ireland constitutional proposals:
    "responsibility for the appointment of county court judges, magistrates, coroners and a limited number of other appointments of a quasi-judicial nature will be reserved to the Lord Chancellor; and responsibility for the administration of the courts and tribunals in question will be reserved to the Secretary of State … It is the view of the Government that all judicial appointments should be made … on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor, and that there should be a unified administration of the courts for which the Secretary of State should be answerable to Parliament."
    On the basis of that, the Bill was given a Second Reading in another place with the Government's face firmly set against any transfer from the Secretary of State to the Lord Chancellor in the administration of this new Northern Ireland Court Service.

    However, a mere fortnight later, my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor announced to the other place the complete reversal of his position—a conversion not quite as dramatic as that of St. Paul but nevertheless quite sudden. The only substantive reason which one can find, reading my noble Friend's speech, is that he had read an editorial in The Times. I must say that if the basis for changes in Government policy is to be editorials in The Times, I am afraid that the policies of this Labour Government will be of a strange and other worldly order.

    My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor argued that in practice the issue concerned appearances more than reality. But if that is so, I suggest that it is of assistance to look at the arguments advanced for this range by the Unionist peers and the Opposition in the other place.

    It was argued that if the control was to remain in the hands of the Secretary of State it would be urged by subversives that the courts were being manipulated for political reasons. That argument was dealt with very fully by my noble Friend earlier.

    But the history of the judiciary in Northern Ireland is what whatever complaints could have been made a decade or so ago about some of the appointments that were made to the bench, once people were on the bench either of the county court or the High Court, no arguments whatsoever could be made about the way in which the gentlemen on the bench fulfilled their functions. One could argue about the legislation that they were administering, but one could not argue about the way in which they carried out their judicial function.

    Indeed, if one considers the physical threats, the violence, the intimidation, the pressures upon their families and the actual deaths of members of the judiciary, to which reference was made earlier, one realises that their role has been quite exemplary in the Northern Ireland situation.

    Nor, indeed, could it be argued that their judgments were to any extent necessarily favourable to the Ministry at the time. Indeed, some of their judgments caused profound embarrassment to police, Governments and security forces at the time. One thinks, perhaps, of some of the people who were acquitted on the evidence produced before the court and who then had to be interned at the moment at which they were acquitted under the system before we had direct rule and before we got rid of internment without trial. The judges acted with impartiality and integrity on the evidence that they had.

    Again, one thinks of the leading Hume case when we in this House passed through an Army Act in the space of three hours with all three sections of the Bill done at the same time in the other place. The judges showed that they were there to interpret the law. Therefore, the argument about the independence of the judiciary and about manipulation and the argument that they could be undercut by subversives are not shown in practice to be true or correct.

    But, in fact, accepting that argument, putting the service under the control of the Lord Chancellor is turning that argument on its head and giving credence to things that subversives might have said, because it has been shown that it can be argued, on the one hand, that it could not be left to a Secretary of State because there might have been a devolution of power away from the centre and the British Government were not too certain about what would happen in the Six Counties.

    But there is an even more powerful argument if one is to argue about subversion and the excuse. That is that if the political control and responsibility is removed from the Secretary of State's hands across to a judicial officer and Minister of the British Cabinet, separate and distinct from Northren Ireland, it strengthens the argument of the nationalists—not "nationalists"; I withdraw that—the terrorist people who are seeking to subvert the course of justice and the institutions of justice by saying "These are colonial administrators coming across, directed here by a British Lord Chancellor". So one turns the argument on its head in that way.

    I also believe that by taking the control of the service into the hands of the Lord Chancellor, what we are saying, despite all the plaudits that we have given to the system in the past, is that basically we do not trust the Secretary of State or trust the Northern Ireland service itself to be controlled locally if some time a devolved power comes, and that we believe that the position could be that under a devolved Government there could be a situation in which an Administration would seek to subvert the law. If one starts off on that basis, one can never have any sort of basis of trust for any devolution, if it comes.

    However, I believe that there is also a more powerful argument against it. I believe that this is indicative of a phase that we are seeing in Northern Ireland of creeping integration into the United Kingdom system completely. I do not know what the hon. Members who represent the Six Counties who are present today think about that. Some, I imagine, favour complete integration. Others want a devolved system and want to be looser. But what I think is happening is the appearance of creeping integration, because we are taking one of the most important institutions in the State, the administration of the judiciary, and putting it into the control of a United Kingdom Minister. That Minister is not the Secretary of State with particular responsibility for Northern Ireland or future devolution but another United Kingdom Minister.

    It was argued in the other place that this was what the judiciary and the Bar wanted. Does that necessarily make it right? But if it was what they wanted—and this was what was being argued before Second Reading—why did we have to wait the 10 or 14 days or so before this sudden conversion? Why was it not all neatly parcelled up before? What were the other pressures that were there?

    1.15 p.m.

    It is fair to say that the Bill had had a longer gestation period than even that of an elephant. It is 10 years since the first reports were produced which are the basis of this important Bill. In that period, these views for the integration were advanced, rehearsed and rejected, and now they have been accepted. Why were they rejected before when they have been accepted now?

    It is said that the minority representatives within the legal profession may have requested this particular decision. I wonder whether they did so. Or was a particularly loaded question put to them?—not specifically loaded, but with an ambiance, a background, an implication. Was it said "It would be better to go to the Lord Chancellor because the next Secretary of State that we might have, from whatever Administration, might not be a nice, kind gentleman"—such as the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) or the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), or my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—gentlemen all considerate, who would never interfere? Was it said, "Better be warned in case we get a nasty one. Therefore, we shall leave it under the hands of the Lord Chancellor"?

    Was that said to the minority? Or was it, perhaps, that their vanity was appealed to. Were they flattered by actually being asked whether they wanted the Lord Chancellor, and "Was it not nice to be able to think that they could have him in the Six Counties?"?

    Or is it, perhaps, nearer the truth that the minority and, indeed, I think, others at the Northern Irish Bar and amongst the judiciary never carried through their thoughts to what were the institutional and the political implications of this decision? This decision is an important part of it.

    Why did the Opposition argue so forcibly for it in the other place and welcome it so effusively in this House? That they are a Unionist party, I understand. I have never had any doubts about that, and certainly their recent actions have more than underlined that principle that they adopt.

    But why, therefore, did they ever originally have the contrary as their policy back in 1973? Or is it that at present, in their assiduous wooing of the Ulster Unionists, they took an opportunist case in order to support Unionist demands on something and to try to ingratiate themselves in their favour?

    I believe that that is true. I also believe that this is a danger. The danger is that the present Government are perhaps seeking not to be outwooed, or not to be outwith the wooing, and in their desire to get a quick passage of the Bill through the House, in an otherwise crowded and contentious programme, they were prepared to agree and go along with this proposed change rather than have the Bill which they had originally drafted and on which they had been so firm before.

    It is a sad tale because we have never had an explanation in either House of the reasons for the change. I think it is a dangerous course that the Government are following. I believe it is leading to the symptom of creeping integration and I think it is doubly dangerous because I do not even believe that it is deliberate policy. I just do not think sometimes the Government are aware of the consequences of their own actions. I oppose the amendment.

    I have listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), and I think that there are some matters that should be put on the record. When Stormont was in existence, I think a change was made and the Lord Chancellor did appoint High Court judges. I do not think that when Stormont was in existence anyone was talking about what he interprets as creeping integration.

    I would like to make my position clear. I believe in a devolved form of government in Northern Ireland.

    I thought I had made clear in the quotations I used that I was aware of what the situation was before. The point I was making is that this is a newly created Northern Ireland court service amalgamated from three courts which in the past have been the responsibility of the Minister for Home Affairs and the Secretary of State, and which we have transferred, hook, line and sinker, to the Lord Chancellor.

    I think it should be underscored and underlined that the Lord Chancellor had a judicial function in Northern Ireland when Stormont was in existence and there is no change in having the Lord Chancellor involved in the operation of the courts and the appointment of judges. It is not an absolute change.

    As far as I am concerned, Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and that is what the position is at the moment. By the law of this House, if a majority of people in Northern Ireland wishes it to be otherwise it will cease to be so. That is a very strange law; what would happen with a majority of one? But that is the present law. But that does not undermine my strong adherence to the view that Northern Ireland should have a Parilament of its own and a Government of its own.

    If I thought the hon. Gentleman was right in what he said, that this Bill will weaken the chances of Northern Ireland having its own Parliament and Government at some time, then I would be very happy to take the line that he is taking, but I do not think that that has anything to do with this matter. I appreciate his position, which he has put carefully. A Lord Chancellor of a Labour Government has knocked down the proposal that he should have authority under the terms of this Bill and argued forcibly on that matter. Then, a few days later he read an article in The Times and was suddenly converted.

    We have to probe a little further because the decision to change this was a decision to which the Government came after hearing representations right across the board. Those of us who are Members for Northern Ireland had a document issued to us by the members of the Bar, which includes both sections of the community. In fact, strong and influential members of the Bar in Northern Ireland belong to the Roman Catholic community. They were very determined in their lobbying of the Members from Northern Ireland that this change was imperative and that hon. Members should push for it.

    As I have said on another occasion, the Bill did not start in this House. I regret that, because Northern Ireland Members did not have the opportunity of a full discussion in Committee. I agree with what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central said in Committee. There was only one Northern Ireland Member present, but only one could be present because both sides of the political divide in the Province were ignored when the Committee was appointed—as was the division within Unionism. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) was picked as the most suitable Northern Ireland Member to represent Northern Ireland on that Committee.

    On behalf of my constituents I resent the fact that on the only Northern Ireland Bill to come before the House this Session which has gone through a proper parliamentary process—First and Second Readings, and Committee—Northern Ireland Members are treated so shabbily. That is no reflection on the Solicitor-General. He has sought to meet the Northern Ireland Members in every possible way, and those of us who raised points on Second Reading had explanations from him which we appreciated. But it is hardly fair that only one Northern Ireland Member was on a Committee dealing with a major Bill which will change the whole system of the courts in Northern Ireland.

    That is water under the bridge, but the determination of the Northern Ireland people to have a devolved form of government and a Parliament of their own is in no way undermined because we are dealing with this matter in this way.

    A devolved form of Government does not need to interfere with the courts of Northern Ireland. I should like the courts to be part of the whole judicial system of the United Kingdom. If there were a devolved form of Government and Parliament in Northern Ireland tomorrow, there would be no need to change the law, because the Lord Chancellor would still have the responsibility.

    If we had a Parliament and a Government of our own, this law and the courts would have to be changed in the face of a new and terrible problem—that the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland, who would have a very rough ride, would suddenly be in charge of this difficult matter. I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central would find occasion to point out that a politician—probably a Unionist politician —was now interfering in the courts.

    There has been a good deal of criticism of Ministers for Home Affairs. I was not long in this House before Stormont fell, but even in my day, there was serious criticism of Ministers for Home Affairs for interferring with the administration of the judiciary. I am happy that this matter will now be taken out of the political arena and put into the hands of those who deal with matters of the law.

    I take the point that, to some extent, the Lord Chancellor is a political appointee but he does deal with these matters here and I do not see why he should not deal with them in Northern Ireland. This arrangement also flows from the fact that, when this House destroyed the Parliament of Northern Ireland, the Attorney-General of England and Wales became also the Attorney-General of Northern Ireland and was appointed separately.

    1.30 p.m.

    In my view, these changes having been made, it will be better that the courts are not administered by the Secretary of State but that responsibility should rest with the Lord Chancellor. This is a matter of agreement across the board. I am not sure that one could flatter the members of the Bar Council to whom the hon. Member referred. I know some of these gentlemen, and I do not imagine that flattery would get very far with them. Nor do I suppose that they are much impressed by English politicians of any kind. I think that it would be a matter of half a dozen of one and six of the other. The truth is that these people came to their decision in their wisdom.

    It should be said also that not only are the people personally concerned in favour of the change but across the board there is a general agreement. I am sure that if the section of the community represented here by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) were hot under the collar about the matter, that hon. Member would be here today to let the House know, in his own forceful way, that his section of the community was disgusted that the Secretary of State was to lose some power.

    But that is not happening. There is a general consensus, which is not unusual in Northern Ireland. Some people think that the people of Northern Ireland are always at one another's throats. But there has been consensus on other things, which, perhaps, the House of Commons has not taken to heart.

    As my hon. Friend says, all sections of the community seem to think that the Housing Executive should be put into limbo and a new Executive formed. However, if I were to pursue that, you would, I am sure, call me to order, Mr. Speaker, and, since we are coming so near the Sabbath day, I do not wish to be called to order. So I shall come back to the essence of the matter.

    As I say, this change is generally accepted across the board. Some of us would have been happier if the Bill had been brought to this House first. I understand from the Solicitor-General—he put me right on the last occasion when I mentioned the matter—that it is not unusual for Bills to start in the other House. However, I believe that this particular proposal is acceptable to all sections of our community.

    I understand how the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central feels. He feels that there has been a conversion. I take it that, in his view, it was a conversion not from darkness to light, as the Apostle Paul's was, but from light to darkness. But I understand the hon. Gentleman's view. Either a man is perverted or is converted, and I gather that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Lord Chancellor is perverted in this instance. However, I must be careful not to pass any strictures on the character of the Lord Chancellor, and I do not intend to.

    I believe that this proposal is acceptable to all the people of Northern Ireland. Certainly, whatever the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central may say, the Solicitor-General will know that his party is not wooing mine. My voting record in the House proves that. This is a question of what is good for all the people, and I am sure that what is proposed is good for all the people.

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) for his support on the issue raised by the amendent. He seized the opportunity to complain that only one hon. Member representing a constituency in Northern Ireland was present on the Committee. Perhaps, in view of that, I should point out for the record that today, on Report, two hon. Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland are present, and perhaps, as the hon. Gentleman said, this may imply a high degree of satisfaction with the Bill among constituencies in the Province.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said, it is true that at an earlier stage in our deliberations I claimed the lawyer's privilege of confining myself to the driest of dry technicalities. I am accused of dodging the issue in Committee. I think that my hon. Friend knows why I did not consider the Committee to be the appropriate occasion for rehearsing the constitutional arguments which he has raised.

    But I cannot pretend to entire innocence of constitutional issues in Northern Ireland, so I think it right to reply to what my hon. Friend said. Indeed, I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to make clear what were the motivating considerations which led to conversion, perversion—change of mind—on the Government's part in this matter. It should be said at the outset that changing one's mind in response to argument is not necessarily wicked on every occasion. The Government have kept an open mind.

    What concerns my hon. Friend is that, by giving responsibility to the Lord Chancellor rather than to the Secretary of State, the Bill represents a drift from devolution towards integration. I wish to set his mind at rest. There is no deep mystery about it. There are no integrational implications. No secret deals have been done. The purpose of the amendment, both among those who proposed it and among those who accepted it, is quite different from that.

    Let me, first, remind the House—I know that this will be welcome to the hon. Member for Antrim, North—that it remains the Government's aim to restore devolved Government to Northern Ireland as soon as that can properly be done. But let us be clear what devolution means. It does not mean that every decision automatically becomes the responsibility of the local Administration. That is not devolution. That is the path to separatism and independence.

    Devolution means that an elected authority in Northern Ireland would be responsible for an extensive range of matters, but that other matters would be reserved to the central Government. That must be true of any devolutionary settlement. Perhaps my hon. Friend would wish to go further than that—that can be debated on another occasion—but I wish the House to be clear that that would not be the Government's policy.

    Perhaps we should have a brief historical resume in this context. By the Supreme Court of Judicature (Ireland) Act 1877, judges in Ireland were to be appointed by the Queen, on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor. That has been the position throughout most of the history, certainly of the Province and, one might even say, of Ireland itself.

    Let us then look at what happened in 1973, when there was a different Government. The appointment and removal of members of the judiciary were excepted matters, that is, matters which were the sole responsibility of the Government at Westminster. Other matters affecting the administration of the courts were reserved matters, that is, matters for which the Westminster Government would have responsibility but on which the devolved Government could legislate, with the permission of the Secretary of State, and subject to approval here.

    It was the intention of the Government of that day that responsibility for the administration of the courts should remain with the United Kingdom Government. That is the intention of the present Government. There has been no change of view about that. In 1976, my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wrote in a letter to the Chairman of the Constitutional Convention:
    "There are a number of matters which it would be inappropriate to transfer. These include all judicial appointments and the administration of the courts".
    The House will see, therefore, that it has been the established policy of successive Governments to retain responsibility for the judiciary and courts administration at Westminster. That policy has been dictated, as I understand it, by the need to ensure that there can be no fears, however ill founded, that the independence of the courts will in any way be diminished.

    It was precisely for that reason—the need to preserve both the independence of the judiciary and the plainly apparent independence of the judiciary against even the most misguided of attacks—that we were persuaded to reconsider our original proposal that the Secretary of State should be responsible for the administration of the court service in Northern Ireland. It is true, as my hon. Friend reminded the House, that my noble Friend said in another place that this did not affect the independence of the judiciary. I do not think that it does. What it may affect is what people think about the independence of the judiciary.

    It is true that my noble Friend was reluctant to remove functions from the Secretary of State in such a way that it might be taken to imply that my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State, or some previous Secretary of State, had been less than satisfactory in his discharge of the office. No such implication was intended and no such implication would have been justified, but it might have been thought, wrongly, to be the case.

    When he was introducing the Bill in another place, my noble Friend said that it was in his capacity as a Minister of the Crown, rather than as head of the judiciary, that he held responsibility for the administration of the courts in England and Wales, therefore it made no difference whether the Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State had the responsibility in Northern Ireland. In practice, the same officials would have the same day-to-day running of the courts. They would be doing the same job. There is no question of trusting anyone. At that level the same people would be doing the same jobs.

    In fact, administrative considerations —particularly local knowledge at the higher administrative levels, and the fear that otherwise it might be thought to imply a criticism of the Secretary of State—were the main factors governing the initial decision to vest ministerial responsibility—as an innovation I repeat—in the Secretary of State rather than in the Lord Chancellor. It is true that the Lord Chancellor said all that in another place, but following the Second Reading debate in another place it became increasingly apparent that there was a very strong feeling in the judiciary, among the legal profession, and among non-lawyers, among the clients of the legal profession—the people who in one way or another would be affected by what went on in the courts—that ministerial responsibility for administration should rest with the Lord Chancellor. It did not rest wholly on an editorial in The Times.

    It was evidently felt that to leave the administration of the courts with a Minister, who also had a political role in the Province, might be misunderstood, and that it could undermine public confidence in the independence of the courts. In the light of a very strong expression of view in Parliament and in the Province that responsibility should rest with the Lord Chancellor, my right hon. Friend and my noble Friend reconsidered the position and decided that it would be right to make the change which is now embodied in the Bill, and which has been almost universally welcomed.

    I have explained the situation at some length because I think it is important that there should not be any misunderstanding about this. I want to make it as clear as the English language can make it that the overriding concern was that there could be no possible grounds—however misguided, however fanciful—to complain that the courts in Northern Ireland were coming under political influence.

    It is an old and sometimes overworked adage that not only must justice be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done. I think that this is a case in which that adage can properly be invoked.

    As the hon. and reverend Member for Antrim, North said, if there is any suggestion, however misguided, that the courts might be subjected to political influence, the people who object will depend upon the politicians who are exercising the influence, and this may change from time to time. But the fact is that the amendment to the Bill has nothing to do with integration nor, as my hon. Friend suggested at an earlier stage in our proceedings—I think he implied it again today—with trying to appease the Opposition or to make life easy for my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor.

    I hope that the House will accept that our one concern in this matter is the independence, and the manifest independence, of the judiciary, which must be preserved against any imputations which might undermine the confidence which it has properly built up among all sections of the community in the Province.

    Amendment agreed to.