House of Commons
Tuesday 6 February 2007
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Broads Authority Bill (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Tuesday 20 February.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Hornsey Central Hospital
Hornsey Central hospital closed in 2000. At the time of its closure the hospital was underutilised and in a poor physical condition. In November 2006, Haringey Teaching primary care trust board endorsed plans for a new community hospital on the Hornsey Central site. The PCT aims to commence building work in the summer.
I thank the Minister for that statement. He will be aware that the London strategic health authority backs the bid for community hospital funding from the Government, but my understanding is that it is held up by technical accounting difficulties because of its connection to a local improvement finance trust scheme. Will he assure my constituents that they will not be denied this health facility due to those technical accounting difficulties?
I have been reading the hon. Lady’s blog on this very subject, and I commend it to all hon. Members as an eloquent and persuasive endorsement of Government health policy, calling as it does for an expanded range of services delivered from a modern community hospital setting. She will know that the Department is considering the very bid to which she refers, but I hope that, like me, she will celebrate the fact that her PCT has endorsed this ambitious £12.8 million scheme, which seems likely to succeed. I look forward to reading on her blog about it all being made possible by Labour’s substantial investment in the NHS.
All primary care trusts are funding photodynamic therapy for age-related macular degeneration in line with National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance. NICE is appraising Macugen and Lucentis for treating this condition and it expects to publish guidance in October.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that Macugen, an anti-vascular endothelial growth factor drug that can stop macular degeneration occurring in the eyes of elderly people, has already been approved in Scotland. As the increase of diabetes is likely to result in a vast increase in age-related macular degeneration, is it not time that the English authorities were allowed the same funding to give people the drug that is now available in Scotland?
My hon. Friend is right that the Scottish Medicines Consortium has approved Macugen since August, although it has not arrived at any decision on Lucentis. Its view will be superseded by NICE guidance when it is available. The important thing is that decisions on the cost and clinical effectiveness of new drugs should be made by independent clinical authorities, not by politicians, and that is precisely why we established NICE and back it in making its judgments.
The Secretary of State will be aware that 57 people start to lose their sight daily through this condition, and the average annual cost of support is £9,500. Given that these therapies are widely regarded as being very effective, is there not a case for fast-tracking the NICE decision so that fewer people go blind?
No patient should be refused Lucentis or Macugen simply because NICE guidance does not yet exist, but NICE needs to evaluate the new treatments thoroughly and it has decided, I think rightly, to evaluate them together so that the two treatments can be compared with each other as well as with the existing treatment. That means that it is taking a little longer, although it started on the evaluation before Lucentis was licensed, as it was only a couple of weeks ago. The guidance will be ready as fast as possible, consistent with arriving at a good, thorough and fair decision.
My right hon. Friend will know that wet AMD is also being treated at the moment on the NHS in some parts of the country by the use off-licence of a drug called Avastin that is licensed for the treatment of bowel cancer. When or if either of the drugs being appraised by NICE come into the marketplace with NICE’s approval, will Avastin still be available on the NHS if both the clinician and the patient believe that it should be?
My right hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point. As he has said, Avastin has not been licensed for use on macular degeneration, although it is being used by some clinicians with the support of the NHS. The problem is that the companies concerned—Genentech which manufactures it and Roche which distributes it in Europe—have not applied for a licence for its use on macular degeneration, and no clinical trials have been conducted for that purpose. At the moment, if a clinician wants to use Avastin and the patient is willing to have an unlicensed drug used, it is available on the clinician’s judgment, which will continue to be the case within the NHS. Although we cannot require the companies concerned to apply for a licence, in view of the very promising results that have been reported by a number of doctors, I urge both companies to initiate clinical trials for the use of Avastin for people with macular degeneration and to consider applying for a licence in the light of those trials.
What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that people have the same opportunity to receive treatment for macular degeneration right across the country? In particular, Northern Ireland seems to be the last part of the United Kingdom to receive access to drugs, while others on the mainland benefit from them based on NICE guidelines.
On the basis that prevention is better than cure, will my right hon. Friend congratulate Simon Kelly’s team at the Royal Bolton hospital, which has established a firm link between AMD and smoking? Does she agree that we should get the message across to all smokers in the land to try to avoid incidences of that difficult condition?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I readily congratulate that team on its excellent research. The introduction of smoke-free legislation later this year will be an important step forward in public health generally, and specifically in reducing the risk of other people acquiring that appalling condition in future. We will, of course, redouble our efforts to get across the message about the huge dangers involved in smoking for people of any age.
The hon. Lady is right, because one has to look at the consequences for an individual and for social care and health services of a patient losing their sight. However, it really is not good enough for Conservative Members constantly to demand additional funding for new drugs, new treatments and additional services, when they have been wholly unwilling to support additional investment in the NHS—investment that we made and they voted against.
I think that the frightening thing is the speed with which the degeneration occurs—one of my constituents recently wrote to me about it. What are the Government doing to further research into vision and particularly into AMD? I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement on Lucentis today.
My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point. Research on vision and on many medical conditions is the responsibility of the Medical Research Council, the funding for which we have significantly increased. I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the review that we recently published of eye-care services, which emphasises the need to ensure that local primary care trusts get the best possible local eye-care services, with an emphasis on early diagnosis and better treatment in the community.
As we have heard, despite Macugen being approved by the Scottish Medicines Consortium, and Lucentis receiving its European licence, neither drug will be appraised by NICE until later this year. Given the real concern felt by many—in particular, the Royal National Institute of the Blind and people such as Alice Mahon—that cash-strapped PCTs are withholding funding, and given the fact that the Government are not assessing what proportion of patients recommended for such treatments are being turned away, which is something that my PCT is struggling to answer, what concrete assurances can the Secretary of State give that PCTs are following her instruction that funding should not be withheld purely on the grounds that NICE has not yet issued its guidance?
Just before Christmas, we reiterated guidance to the NHS that no patient should be refused Lucentis or Macugen, or indeed other treatments, simply because NICE guidance does not yet exist. Until NICE issues its guidance, as it will later this year, it is up to each primary care trust, whose professional executive is chaired by a clinician, to consider each case on an individual basis. The hon. Gentleman has to decide whether he supports NICE, which is widely regarded as a model around the world, or wants to go on undermining the outstanding and important work that it does.
Maternity/Paediatric Services (Hartlepool and Teesside)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agreed the recommendations of the independent reconfiguration panel as regards building a new hospital accessible to the people of Hartlepool, Stockton, Easington and Sedgefield and improving local community services.
Two and a half years ago, the Prime Minister was quoted in the Hartlepool Mail as saying, with regard to the University Hospital of Hartlepool:
“There is no question of the hospital closing or services being run down. John Reid is saying it won’t close, I’m saying it won’t close, I don’t know what the next authority is you go to.”
Given that, as my right hon. Friend said, the Secretary of State has accepted recommendations from the independent reconfiguration panel that will result in the closure of the hospital, can she advise me as to what authority I go to next?
I should remind my hon. Friend that in terms of the independent reconfiguration panel recommendations, we are talking about opening a new hospital. I recognise that changing the way in which health services operate is a very emotive issue, as he has indicated. However, it is also important to say that the panel looked at the best way of ensuring that maternity and paediatric provision met high-quality care and safety standards and concluded that centralising consultant-led maternity and paediatrics on one site would make the best use of staff and ensure patient safety.
May I support the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) in the concern that he expressed? I declare an interest as an honorary vice-president of the Royal College of Midwives. Midwives are deeply concerned about the reduction in paediatric and maternity services that will occur throughout the country if the Government’s proposals are carried forward. Will she listen to the RCM, which represents mothers, babies and mothers-to-be? Its views are important, and it believes that the local provision of paediatric and maternity services is essential for the safety and well-being of mothers and children.
Midwives are always deeply concerned to ensure that the services offered are safe and of high quality. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report that has been published today, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has put together with input from the Royal College of Midwives. It talks about the importance of those services but also recognises that things sometimes have to change as regards the way in which they are delivered, particularly when demographic changes and changes in medical technology and staffing patterns mean that there needs to be a bringing together of services if they are to be safe and of high quality. That is the best thing for patients and for midwives as well.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that there is no threat to maternity services in Hartlepool and never has been? The residents of Hartlepool—I am a Hartlepudlian by birth and upbringing—are worried about reports in the press that the hospital at Hartlepool will be demolished. That cannot be so. As the new hospital is established and begins to function, it will provide specialist services, but Hartlepool General hospital will remain as a secondary form of medical provision—hard-nosed clinical provision for the community.
My hon. Friend is quite right to say that and to point out that there is a consultation process on how to put together a package to examine existing facilities, improve services in the community and prepare for a new hospital with high standards of safety and care.
Will the Minister consider favourably requests to refer cuts in community hospitals to the independent reconfiguration panel? My constituents refuse to believe that the closure of every NHS bed in our community hospitals will serve their needs and they hope that the panel will intervene. I look forward to an answer from the Minister.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows about the process that has been established to make referrals to the independent reconfiguration panel. Consultation is undertaken with the local community; overview and scrutiny committees can examine that and refer the results to the Secretary of State, who decides whether to take them to the independent reconfiguration panel.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the consultants of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust made a statement to the independent reconfiguration panel that the maternity and paediatric services are not safe enough or of sufficiently high quality? Will she explain why a new hospital would ensure that we have safe services that are of sufficient quality for the constituents whom we represent?
My hon. Friend is right to say that the clinicians showed strong support for the independent reconfiguration panel’s conclusions. A consultation is taking place on them, but she can be assured that the outcome will be high quality, safe services, which are best for her constituents.
As the Minister knows, the independent reconfiguration panel’s conclusions in December 2006 are similar to those of the Tees service review, which reported in December 2003. Will she therefore tell the House why, in August 2004, the Department instructed the strategic health authority to conduct its own review to revisit the Tees service review?
The future of maternity and paediatric services in the area has been controversial for many years. Opinions have differed. Emerging standards were set when we considered the way in which paediatric services should be delivered. The Darzi review was undertaken, but when the Secretary of State examined the issues that the joint overview and scrutiny committees raised, it was decided—straightforwardly—to refer the matter to the independent reconfiguration panel.
I wish that the Minister would be honest and say that, in July 2004, Peter Mandelson said that he was off to Europe to be a Commissioner and a by-election was held. The Department held a review with the intention of maintaining the fullest range of services at Hartlepool hospital so that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister could promise the people of Hartlepool that their hospital would be maintained. That is now all over. How can the Minister justify the fact that three years have passed, during which money was spent and people in Hartlepool and north Tees did not know what would happen to them, only to arrive at the same position? How can she and her ministerial friends have the effrontery to accuse us of standing in the way of change when, during the by-election, her right hon. Friends, including the Prime Minister, objected to change?
The hon. Gentleman has to make up his mind whether he is interested in a future for patients and people who work in the health service or whether he wants to go around nit-picking about every decision that is made. The process has been clear and decisions have been taken in the best interests of patients in the area. It is about time that the hon. Gentleman got behind the decision-making process and the improvements that we are making to the NHS in the local area.
I empathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright). Will the Minister and the Secretary of State deal with an issue that I raised last month—whether the decision of the Greater Manchester PCT should be referred to the independent reconfiguration panel?
We had ample opportunity to assess the disastrous effects of the NHS internal market that the Conservative Government introduced in the 1990s, which is why we scrapped it. By contrast, this Government’s approach has seen record investment in the NHS with about 300,000 more staff compared with 1997, better pay and longer holidays for our NHS staff, more choice for patients and waiting lists at their lowest level since records began.
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. I was not allowed to use the word “marketisation” when I tabled the question, but marketisation certainly still exists. That was brought home to me by letters from constituents—highly skilled cytologists in the county of Worcestershire. That county has just lost the contract for its own cytology services to Gloucester, which is 40 to 50 miles away from where my constituents live. With the increasing impact of marketisation on health care, this problem will—
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As it happens, I have had the opportunity to see the hon. Gentleman’s column in his local newspaper, Kidderminster’s The Shuttle, in which he objected to the fact that his local NHS was getting its cervical smear service in the most efficient way possible. I draw his attention to what Dr. Abudu, the cervical screening co-ordinator for the local primary care trust, said—that the new cervical cancer screening service will give women faster and better results and that they will go on having their samples taken locally. Although I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman’s clinical expertise, I would expect him to support his local NHS in getting the best value and the best services for his local constituents, which is—
Is it not the case that the various royal colleges speak out strongly in favour of an internal market and service reconfiguration? What more can the Secretary of State do to ensure that senior consultants argue strongly for service reconfiguration when it is in the best interests of good clinical practice.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that clinicians need to be in the lead in deciding how best to organise local services and then in arguing the case—if the decisions are difficult, as they sometimes are—with the local public. I am glad to say that this morning we published two excellent clinical reports from the national clinical director for maternity and children’s services making the case for change and yesterday we published a report from the national clinical director for primary care services. That is exactly the kind of approach that the royal colleges are, I am glad to say, supporting.
May I ask the Secretary of State about the impact that the private clinical assessment, treatment and support centres—to which patients will be referred by their GPs, first in Cumbria and Lancashire—will have on what seems to me to be the internal market? Is not there a risk that these centres, with their guaranteed income, will distort the internal market, and directly undermine patient choice and staff morale? Might not they create the possibility of a conflict of interest in which the same group runs the treatment centre to which patients will be referred? Will they not also undermine the viability of local hospitals?
Clinical assessment and treatment services are an essential part of continuing to give patients better and faster care and, in particular, of ensuring that we achieve our goal of reducing waiting times to an absolute maximum of 18 weeks for most hospital operations by 2008. For most patients, of course, the waiting time will be far less. Whether those services are run by NHS organisations or by the independent sector will depend on decisions being made in each region on how to get the best services and the best value for money. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support that, because it is in the interest of patients.
GP Services (Calderdale)
In recent years, there has been a steady increase in the number of GPs working in the Calderdale primary care trust area, and major improvements to primary care facilities.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Hundreds of residents in the Mixenden area of my constituency have recently signed a petition calling for their local GP surgery, which is very popular and vocal in the community, to be included in the redevelopment plans for the area. Will the Minister outline what support his Department will give to the project to improve GP services in that part of Halifax?
My hon. Friend’s constituents will welcome the announcement today of an additional £202,000 for capital investment in her primary care area. The local primary care trust is seeking additional GP hours at Horne street, in the centre of Halifax, for which I know my hon. Friend has been campaigning. Also, between 2001 and 2005, four new purpose-built practices have been built in the area, including the Horne street health centre, and there have been major extensions and refurbishments at a further eight practices. My hon. Friend’s local community has already seen massive investment in primary care as a consequence of this Government’s policies, and I expect that to continue. I hope that she will continue to work in partnership with her primary care trust to continue the investment in primary care services.
I am sure that GPs and patients will benefit from GP services being opened up to enable them to do more clinical work, with less being done in hospitals. Does the Minister agree, however, that there should be no role for bureaucrats in the PCTs blocking referrals from Calderdale or other PCTs for any other reason than clinical need? On what grounds have 100,000 more managers and bureaucrats, who are blocking treatment on grounds other than clinical need, been appointed to the health service since 1997?
That is a disgraceful attack on the integrity of the people who do their best to manage the health service in our local communities. What we really need is a proper partnership between the managers and the clinicians—supported, I hope, by responsible politicians—making the right decisions locally to meet the needs and expectations of patients. If the formula advocated by the hon. Lady’s party were applied to her constituents, there would be a reduction in health expenditure in her constituency.
NHS Finance (Oxfordshire)
None. Local managers and health practitioners are best placed to make decisions about NHS provision in Oxfordshire.
I am surprised that the Minister is unable to make an assessment about the service cuts, because Oxfordshire primary care trust has been forced to create restrictions, including those on consultant-to-consultant referrals, and on so-called low-priority treatments for hernias. It is now looking at placing restrictions on hysterectomy, tonsillectomy and D and C procedures. As someone who voted for the increased resources that the Government put in, and for the tax rises involved, will the Minister now explain what “elective stretch” is? Will he confirm that it involves forcing people to wait up to the maximum waiting time, as is now being proposed in Oxfordshire? That is not what we envisaged when the Government were talking about reducing waiting times.
Does the hon. Gentleman welcome—I should like him to nod if he does, if that is allowed—the 17 per cent. increase in allocation for revenue over two years in his PCT area? Does he welcome today’s announcement of an additional £1.4 million capital in his local PCT infrastructure, which is an increase from £1.1 million last year? It is not Liberal Democratic policy to spend one additional penny on the national health service—
Will my hon. Friend join me in praising the accomplishment of staff at all levels in the NHS in Oxfordshire, not only in reducing the deficit, but in starting up the wonderful new children’s hospital that we have alongside £100 million of new investment to extend services relocated from the Radcliffe infirmary? Are not those achievements of which the NHS and the local community can truly be proud?
At last, a right hon. Member who is talking up the national health service and paying tribute to the everyday heroes—the professionals on the front line—who are making a difference to the quality of patients’ lives. The reality is that much of the redirection of resources in local health economies is leading to enhanced services, resulting in services that patients need and want. I am proud of the fact that we treat children in our national health service no longer as little adults but as children, and ensure that they have access to the specialist services that they need and deserve.
Many of the changes in Oxfordshire that are causing concern are not cost driven; they are seemingly driven by a desire to centralise. Labour’s manifesto at the last general election promised that mothers would have greater choice. If the recommendations of the Shribman report, published today, are followed through, that will reduce choice for mothers and threaten many valued maternity units, such as that at the Horton general hospital in Banbury. Why are this Government so hellbent on centralising NHS services?
What women and fathers tell us they want from the whole experience of antenatal care, post-natal care and the actual birth is choice. That choice is home birth, or the opportunity to have the birth at a maternity-led unit or a consultant-led unit. What is important in every community is that we make a reality of that choice for home-based birth, midwife-led birth and consultant-led birth. When we produce our plan to deliver our commitment that by 2009 every parent in every community will have access to that choice, the hon. Gentleman will finally understand that we are responding to what parents tell us they want.
Some of my constituents have written to me to say that they cannot get vital cancer treatments on the NHS in Oxfordshire, but now have the opportunity to travel and make use of addresses in Scotland, where such treatments are free. What advice, encouragement or support can the Minister offer such patients?
Does the hon. Gentleman support the role of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, because the Conservative party needs to make that clear? How dare he talk about cancer care when waiting lists and waiting times are at record low levels? The scandal was that too many people died unnecessarily because of the disinvestment in the health service under the Conservatives.
Local Improvement Finance Trust Scheme
The NHS LIFT scheme is delivering modern surgery facilities that co-locate a range of services offered in the heart of deprived communities. To date, 107 super-surgeries have opened under the LIFT scheme and a further 80 are under construction. Throughout 2006, on average one facility opened every week—a rate of progress we expect to continue throughout 2007.
I thank the Minister for that reply. In my constituency, the LIFT centre in Stapleford serves 18,500 of my constituents—nearly a quarter of the whole constituency—with a range of services from health to dentistry to social services and many others that were not available locally before. In my last question at Health questions, I asked Ministers about the difficult reorganisation of secondary services in Nottingham. In this question, I ask the Minister to reinforce success. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) says, prevention is better than cure; let us reinforce the primary health sector.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The Stapleford care centre scheme is an excellent example of the success story that is LIFT. It has quietly got on with investing £1.2 billion in some of the most deprived communities in the country, which often have the poorest primary care services, and is delivering for constituents such as those of my hon. Friend. The extra time that we have allowed Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust may provide breathing space which will allow staff to work in the new community facilities that have been created in my hon. Friend’s constituency and others nearby.
The maternity unit in Oswestry closed last Wednesday, and there is huge public pressure for it to be reopened as a demountable unit. Would LIFT funds be relevant to such an operation? I shall be visiting the strategic health authority tomorrow; would the Minister like to ring the chairman and chief executive before my meeting?
I commend the hon. Gentleman on his opportunism, but LIFT relates to primary care facilities throughout the country. We have heard him make his point about his constituency, but I think he should be focusing his attention on what his party will do to improve primary care in the same way as the Government.
How does the 30 per cent. increase in capital funding for PCTs fit in with the LIFT scheme? Should the Government not be focusing investment much more on dental practices, so that areas such as Biddulph in my constituency can have new NHS dental surgeries?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Only today we announced £60 million of capital for primary care trusts across the country to invest in improving dental facilities for communities like my hon. Friend’s, and her PCT will benefit from the extra cash.
The truth is that more dentists and more GPs are working in our communities. There is more to be done to ensure that people everywhere have access to the highest-quality primary care services, but we have a strategy to provide new buildings through the LIFT scheme and recruit extra staff to work in some of the most deprived communities in this country.
What is the Minister doing to ensure that the exclusivity given to LIFT companies is not deterring or deferring other interested investors from building new GP surgeries, community hospitals and other core services in LIFTCo areas?
The hon. Gentleman makes the point very well. A mixture of investment is being made in primary care: LIFT is one example, but other forms of finance are also improving primary care facilities. What is important is not the means by which funds are delivered, but ensuring that facilities are built quickly so that we can rapidly improve primary care in communities—particularly those that need enhanced primary care services—and prevent the ill health to which Labour Members have referred.
Improving public health relies on the engagement of many partners in the private, public and voluntary sectors, as well as individuals and their families. There are many examples of private sector employers making a positive contribution, and of key agents contributing to improving public health.
Contrary to what the Secretary of State told my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) a few moments ago, the Government gave PCTs no choice but to enter into private contracts with providers of non-complex, non-urgent procedures. Those private treatment centres are still being paid regardless of whether they complete the work. Have the Minister and the Government made any assessment of how much taxpayers’ money has been wasted on those contracts, and on contracts like them?
What is clear is that 480,000 people have already benefited from access to independent treatment centres. The way in which the NHS used to buy from the independent sector—the old-style ad hoc spot-purchase procedure—led to the paying out of more than 40 per cent. of the cost of the same sort of service. Bulk procurement has cut the cost of doing business with the independent sector.
I am pleased to say that the Plymouth and Bodmin treatment centres are on target for up to 100 per cent. capacity. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not want to suggest that his constituents should not benefit from quicker and good access to health care.
I was very taken when I visited a pharmacist in my constituency recently—Coopers chemist on Abel street in Burnley—by quite how much work it does in the field of public health, such as in methadone administration and smoking cessation. Is that a model that my hon. Friend the Minister hopes to build on?
I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. Our partnership with pharmacists has grown and grown. Chlamydia testing is happening throughout London through Boots, many pharmacists provide blood pressure testing, and I am pleased to say that next week the Co-op is promoting condom use as part of our safe sex strategy. I will be down at the Co-op in Rossington to support that, and I hope that every Member will take the opportunity to support their local Co-op in promoting good sexual health. However, we have not begun to realise the contribution that pharmacists can make in providing the best quality services at the most local level for the people whom we all represent.
Wilson, Mr. Speaker; nearly there.
Is the Minister aware that recent research has found that when a hospital is built on a 30-year private finance initiative basis, the taxpayer ends up footing a bill of £55 billion for only £8 billion-worth of investment in capital assets? Does the Minister think that that is good value for money?
Of course we are not just talking about paying for the building; we are paying for the services as well. We should also be mindful of the fact that when we came to power in 1997 much of NHS stock predated the establishment of the national health service. I am proud that we have been behind a major hospital-building programme—not only hospitals, but LIFT projects—and that we have been working with different partners in the community to provide the best possible health service for all the people of England.
Is not the private sector’s involvement in public health through the food industry’s guideline daily amount food labelling system confusing, complex and requiring of a certain strenuous level of mental arithmetic? Is it not really an attempt to undermine the Food Standards Agency’s traffic light system? I can say with some personal authority that showing the red light to fat, sugar and salt is the correct thing to do.
It is fantastic that a discussion about which system should be displayed on the front of our packets of meals of whatever sort—such as shepherd’s pie or soup—has become so prominent in public debate. I personally think that the colour-coded traffic light is easy to glance at, but we, along with the industry and the FSA, have commissioned some independent research to find out what works best for consumers. I would not mind if we had a mixture of both GDA and traffic light; I think that that would be helpful. However, what is important is that we have something that is simple for the public to understand.
Has any assessment been made of the impact that the proposed independent treatment centre at Braintree might have on the Broomfield hospital PFI scheme? Will the Minister be kind enough to ask her hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the answer to Question 18, so that she can tell me when it is expected that that scheme will get the go-ahead—or that it will not?
I understand that there will be announcements soon, and intensive discussions are taking place between the trust, the strategic health authority and officials to conclude the rescoping exercise. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s point about where the independent treatment centres fit into that jigsaw.
UK Stem Cell Bank
I am grateful to the Minister. Does she agree with the Medical Research Council, the scientific community and patient groups that there have been enormously beneficial developments—for instance in tackling neurodegenerative diseases—as a result of research combining animal and human materials? Given that she allows research involving human embryos, why is she delaying important research involving chimeras and hybrids? Is that not inconsistent, and is that not putting important medical research in the UK at great risk?
Yes, many scientists took part, and I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to that effect.
We think that we should go further than the law currently allows, which is why we propose to make exceptions to the prohibition by way of regulation. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Science and Technology Committee is holding an inquiry, and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is also discussing and debating this issue. I felt it very important to have pre-legislative scrutiny of changes to human fertilisation and embryology legislation, to make sure that we have as wide a discussion as possible. We are not trying to deter research in the area, but we have to be absolutely convinced that such research can be carried out and regulated in the right way, to make sure that we can take public confidence with us.
By next year, this Government will have trebled investment in the national health service compared with 1997, including substantial extra funding for GP services and a new consultant contract. That has led to 32,000 more doctors in the NHS compared with 1997, and the improving or refurbishing of more than 2,800 GP premises.
GPs and consultants are both dedicated and hard-working. Parts of the NHS are clearly short of funds, yet there has been a recent fifteenfold increase in consultants’ pay, and GPs earn, on average, more than my chief constable, considerably more than a brigadier and nearly four times average teachers’ pay. Is it not therefore time for us to draw a clear line between the money paid to GPs and consultants to do their job, and the money that they have to provide services?
I am very interested in the implication of what the hon. Gentleman has to say, and I am sure the British Medical Association will be too, since he seems to be proposing a reduction in GP pay. The reason why GPs are paid significantly more under our new contract is that we were determined to deal with the parlous state of general practice that we inherited from the hon. Gentleman’s party and his Government, when thousands of GPs were taking early retirement and medical students simply did not want to become GPs. As a direct result of our new contract, GPs are doing far more to prevent ill health and far more to support people with long-term conditions. The result, as a recent international survey showed, is that our general practice is among the best in the world.
Does my right hon. Friend remember that before 1997 the general public were concerned about the brain drain of doctors going to work in other countries, and will she make sure that we do not return to those days by ensuring that we pay doctors properly?
My hon. Friend is right, and I am proud of the fact that we have more than 32,000 GPs, which is a rise of more than 4,500 compared with 1997, and very nearly double the number of GP registrars in training. That shows that the investment, improvements and reforms that we are making in the NHS are paying off for GPs and their patients. All of them would be put at risk by the policies of the Conservative party.
The Government negotiated a new contract with GPs, defined in it a series of outcomes that the Government presumably want, and linked the payment of improved remuneration to GPs to the delivery of those outcomes. The Secretary of State then made a speech blaming GPs because their income has gone ahead of her budgetary expectations. Is it not hardly surprising, therefore, that morale among GPs is low and that there is a divorce between them and the Government? The GPs feel, “If we’ve delivered what the Government wanted, what more can we do?”
I am very surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has not welcomed the fact that there are 360 more GPs in our east midlands region than there were when he left office. We did indeed negotiate with the BMA a performance-related pay contract. Because GPs are doing so much more than we anticipated at the time, particularly on prevention and long-term conditions, they are rightly being paid more. We will of course continue our discussions with the BMA, in order to ensure that the public go on getting the best possible value from that contract, but now that we are giving GPs even greater freedom and responsibility with practice commissioning, I have no doubt that the services that patients receive in the community from general practice will continue to improve under this Government.
My right hon. Friend will know that I had the pleasure of welcoming her excellent Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), to Leicester, East, where he launched a new £12.8 million GP centre for my constituency. I agree that it is important that we should pay GPs a proper salary, but what responsibility will she place on them to ensure that they provide more training contracts for trainee doctors? I have heard anecdotal evidence of students going through medical school and coming out to find that there are no jobs for them. Can my right hon. Friend ensure that there is more responsibility on GPs to ensure that that does not happen?
I am delighted to hear my right hon. Friend’s praise for the new GP centre and new health centre in his constituency, and I know that it is excellent. I am glad that the number of GP registrars in training has doubled, as I have said. Although we have some 300,000 more staff in the NHS than in 1997, some newly qualified graduates are finding it difficult to get jobs this year. However, I am glad to say that there are some 2,000 more training places available for new doctors than there are medical graduates in England. I hope that that reassures my right hon. Friend.
Is not the real point of public concern the one raised by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) in Prime Minister’s questions last week, when he asked the Prime Minister—and received no satisfactory answer—why GPs are being paid considerably more and doing considerably less in the way of after-hours and weekend service?
I stress that if a GP practice has decided not to carry on taking responsibility for out-of-hours services—and most of them chose not to do so—it does not get paid for that service, which is then the responsibility of the primary care trust to provide. In most places, that system works very well. GPs are earning more because they are doing more. In particular, they are doing more to care for people with long-term conditions, such as coronary heart disease, and there are thousands of people who are alive today as a direct result of the new contract. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would want to congratulate GPs on that achievement.
Will the Secretary of State tell us why on 17 January she told the BBC that the Government should have insisted that the new GP contracts limit the profits that hard-working GPs can earn in relation to total income, but on 4 February she told ITV that she did not believe in capping GP profits? She is all over the place. Will she tell the House her view today?
I have made it clear ever since I became Secretary of State for Health that part of our responsibility is to ensure that we get the best possible value for the increased investment and contributions that we have asked all our constituents to pay. As I have indicated, the main reason GPs are being paid significantly more is that they are doing more under the quality and outcomes framework. It is also true that a number of GP practices are taking a larger share of the practice income as profits. That is of course an issue that we will continue to discuss with the BMA to ensure that the increased investment that we are making in GP practices continues to be reinvested for the benefit of patients, as well as giving GPs the fair return that they deserve.
NHS Staff Pay
NHS employers should not request that staff work additional days without pay.
Is the Minister aware that the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust has written to its staff asking them
“to contribute one extra day of work without additional pay”?
Given the mess that Ministers are making of the NHS, with community hospitals under threat and physiotherapy, midwifery and health visitor jobs cut, and an inherited deficit for that trust of £17 million, which is carried forward year after year, would not it be more logical for Ministers to give up a day’s pay and contribute it to the trust?
I know that the trust wrote to its employees and that that followed the setting up of a clinical governance group, which considered possible measures in response to a projected overspend of some £5 million. In retrospect, the group, which included staff representatives, felt that it had gone slightly over the top in that request. The trust is still looking for ways to cut back—for example, on agency and bank staff—but it is rightly also seeking to ensure that it breaks even at the end of the financial year.
Making It Better and Healthy Futures Consultations
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State today has asked the independent reconfiguration panel to undertake a review of the issues raised in relation to the reconfiguration of in-patient services for women, babies, children and young people in Greater Manchester.
I welcome that announcement from the Minister. I am sure that she is aware of the strong feeling in Rochdale about the Rochdale infirmary. The campaign to preserve that hospital is ably led by Father Arthur Nearey, the chairman of the Friends of Our Hospital group. What is the time frame for the inquiry? Will the Friends of Our Hospital group be consulted on the proposals that are made?
One can imagine that the news that there is to be another stage in the process will not be welcomed in those areas of Greater Manchester where people had thought that maternity and paediatric services were established. My constituency is one of those areas, so what reassurances can my right hon. Friend give me that ministerial commitments made on the Floor of the House about the future of secondary paediatrics and maternity services at North Manchester general hospital will be met by the further review?
As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, a very clear process exists for these matters. The proposals will go before the joint overview and scrutiny committees, which will look at all the relevant clinical evidence and take into account all the points that have been made in the consultation process so far.
Access to Contraceptive Services
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about access to contraceptive services; and for connected purposes.
This Bill is very timely, given that contraception awareness week starts on Monday. This Government have an excellent record on sexual health, having made it one of the top six priorities for the first time in the history of the NHS. There has been unprecedented and much needed investment to fight the large numbers of sexually transmitted infections and bring down teenage pregnancy rates in the UK. They are the highest in Europe, and HIV is also on the increase.
Condoms are the focal part of the Bill, and they are still the best form of contraception both to prevent pregnancy and to stop the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The Bill has three main objectives—to include condoms in the category of free contraception that may be dispensed without charge by general practices, to ensure that commissioned sexual and reproductive health services include the free provision of condoms, and to require that any publicity material on sexual health provided in a general practice will promote the availability of free condoms to those who want them.
General practitioners provide 80 per cent. of contraception for people in the UK, and contraception has been free on the NHS since 1975. There are 14 different types of contraception available, and GPs can provide all of them free—with the exception of condoms. Neither male nor female condoms are included in what GPs can provide free. Although some GPs set aside part of their budget to allow free provision, that is by no means universal. The Bill seeks to correct that strange anomaly. It is a historical legacy that condoms are not freely available at GPs’ surgeries, and given the massive preventive benefits that greater access to condoms would bring, it is time to right that wrong.
When contraception was first prescribed free of charge on the NHS in 1975, condoms were exempt because they were classed as “non-medical devices”. I recently found an article written by Toni Belfield from the Family Planning Association in 1989—almost 20 years ago. Depressingly, it highlights the same anomaly and quotes from a GP’s letter to the British Medical Journal in 1975:
“It is surely the last straw if the government intends to insult us by filling up our surgeries with lots of louts queuing up for the issue of condoms.”
Thankfully, attitudes to sexually transmitted infections, and GPs, have moved on since then. Everyone now understands that with infections such as HIV using a condom can save someone’s life.
When we speak of making condoms freely available on the NHS, of course someone has to pay, but it would be a small up-front investment that resulted in massive long-term savings: savings on preventing unwanted pregnancy and the need for abortion or maternity services; savings on preventing sexually transmitted infections, reducing the need for treatment and the demand for screening; savings on the massive price of medication to treat HIV—a lifelong infection for which there is still no cure—and savings on the human cost of that and other infections, such as chlamydia, which leave an ever-increasing number of both men and women infertile, and cost the NHS huge amounts in fertility treatment.
Condom provision must be free because, as with any consumer product, the higher the price, the lower the take-up. In the July 2004 edition of The Lancet the RAND corporation reported an interesting experiment that proves the point. The corporation distributed 13 million free condoms annually in Louisiana through almost 2,000 retail outlets and publicly funded clinics. After three years, there was an increase in condom use from 40 to 54 per cent. by men and from 28 to 36 per cent. by women. At the end of the three years, the corporation tried to recoup some of the programme’s costs by selling heavily subsidised condoms to retail outlets and letting them resell the condoms for just 25 cents each. Instantly, condom distribution nose-dived by 98 per cent. Free distribution was reinstated, and condom use rose again.
As the author of the RAND report says:
“The lesson: even in the world’s richest country, the right price for condoms is zero.”
The question is not whether we can afford to dispense free condoms at GP surgeries, but whether we can afford not to. We need to make it easier for young people and those in hard-to-reach groups to get hold of condoms free. That way, they are more likely to get them and more likely to use them. The GP’s surgery is the most logical place for people to go, and providing condoms in general practice will encourage patients to start talking about contraception and sexual health to doctors and practice nurses. That would be another massive step in the right direction.
The Government have done much to raise awareness of good sexual health and the need for protection. The current awareness campaign, “Condom Essential Wear”, is a good example and was welcomed by the independent advisory group on sexual health and HIV, but it, too, stressed the need for sufficient free condom supplies and said that GP surgeries were a key outlet for provision to
“meet demand stimulated by the campaign and support the message”.
The Government are due to give their response to the independent advisory group’s report in March. It would be great if they took account of its recommendation and allow GPs to dispense free condoms, which would go at least some way towards easing the difficulties faced by contraceptive services in the UK as a whole.
Many family planning and community contraceptive clinics are being closed or reduced because primary care trusts have to cut their budgets. Contraceptive services and centres are an easy target, and as they remain the only outlets where condoms are provided free, there is now an even bigger access issue. As such centres close down, more and more contraceptive services are pushed into general practice, so it is only right that GPs should be able to provide equally comprehensive services and extend their provision of free contraception to condoms. The general practice of the future may commission services as well as provide them. The Bill is forward-thinking and would ensure that if GPs commission sexual health services, the provision of condoms free of charge is included as a matter of course.
The final aspect of the Bill concerns promoting and advertising free access to condoms. Signposting is fundamental to encourage take-up and promote education, and will help normalise the use of condoms, which in turn will lead to more responsible condom use and greater awareness of the importance of sexual health.
The Bill is supported by the Family Planning Association, the Terrence Higgins Trust, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Nursing and the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV. The all-party pro-choice and sexual health group, the all-party AIDS group and the independent advisory group on sexual health and HIV also support it. I hope that the House will do likewise.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Natascha Engel, Mr. Neil Gerrard, Chris McCafferty, Norman Lamb, Lynne Featherstone, Lorely Burt, Anne Main, Laura Moffatt, Dr. Howard Stoate, Dr. Doug Naysmith, Dr. Evan Harris and Mr. David S. Borrow.
Access to Contraceptive Services
Natascha Engel accordingly presented a Bill to make provision about access to contraceptive services; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 15 June, and to be printed [Bill 57].
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I noticed that during the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) on her ten-minute Bill, there was not a single Opposition Front-Bench health spokesman present. Is it not a convention—
Orders of the Day
Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill
Not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
New Clause 5
Northern Ireland department with policing and justice functions
‘(1) In section 17 of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 (c. 33), the inserted section 21A of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47) (Northern Ireland department with policing and justice functions) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsections (1) and (2) substitute—
“(1) An Act of the Assembly that—
(a) establishes a new Northern Ireland department; and
(b) provides that the purpose of the department is to exercise functions consisting wholly or mainly of devolved policing and justice functions,
may (but need not) make provision of the kind mentioned in subsection (3), (4), (5) or (5A).”
(3) After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) The Act may provide—
(a) for the department to be in the charge of a Northern Ireland Minister elected by the Assembly; and
(b) for that Minister to be supported by a deputy Minister elected by the Assembly.”
(4) In subsection (6)—
(a) for “and (5)” substitute “, (5) and (5A)”;
(b) at the end insert “, or by Order in Council under subsection (7C)”.
(5) After subsection (7) insert—
“(7A) If it appears to the Secretary of State that there is no reasonable prospect that the Assembly will pass an Act of the kind described in subsection (1)(a) and (b), he may lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council which—
(a) establishes a new Northern Ireland department;
(b) provides that the purpose of the department is to exercise functions consisting wholly or mainly of devolved policing and justice functions;
(c) provides for the department to be in the charge of a Northern Ireland Minister elected by the Assembly and for that Minister to be supported by a deputy Minister elected by the Assembly; and
(d) provides for Part 3A of Schedule 4A to apply in relation to the department (with any necessary modifications).
(7B) The draft of an Order laid before Parliament under subsection (7A) may contain supplementary, incidental, consequential, transitional or saving provision.
(7C) If the draft of an Order laid before Parliament under subsection (7A) is approved by resolution of each House of Parliament, the Secretary of State shall submit it to Her Majesty in Council and Her Majesty in Council may make the Order.
(7D) No more than one department may be established by virtue of an Order under subsection (7C).”
(6) After section 21A of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47) insert—
“21B Section 21A(5A): transitional provision
(1) This section has effect in relation to—
(a) the first Act of the Assembly to establish a new Northern Ireland department and to make provision of the kind mentioned in section 21A(5A); or
(b) an Order in Council under section 21A(7C) establishing a new Northern Ireland department.
(2) The Act or the Order may include provision for or in connection with securing that the department is to be treated, for the purposes of section 17, as not having been established until the time at which devolved policing and justice functions are first transferred to, or conferred on, the department (“the time of devolution”).
(3) The Act or the Order may include provision for or in connection with applying paragraph 11E(3) to (6) of Schedule 4A (with any necessary modifications) to enable elections to be held, before the time of devolution, to select—
(a) a member of the Assembly (“the relevant Minister designate”) to be the person who is to hold the relevant Ministerial office as from the time of devolution; and
(b) a member of the Assembly (“the deputy Minister designate”) to be the person who is to hold the deputy Ministerial office as from that time.
(4) Where the Act or the Order includes provision by virtue of subsection (3), it shall secure that (notwithstanding paragraph 11E(1) of Schedule 4A)—
(a) if the relevant Minister designate affirms the terms of the pledge of office within a specified period after the time of devolution, he shall become the relevant Minister;
(b) if the deputy Minister designate affirms the terms of the pledge of office within that period, he shall (subject to paragraph (c)) become the deputy Minister;
(c) if the relevant Minister designate does not affirm the terms of the pledge of office within that period—
(i) he shall not become the relevant Minister, and
(ii) paragraph 11E(10) and (11) of Schedule 4A shall apply as if the relevant Minister had ceased to hold office at the end of that period otherwise than by virtue of section 16A(2);
(d) if the deputy Minister designate does not affirm the terms of the pledge of office within that period—
(i) he shall not become the deputy Minister, and
(ii) paragraph 11E(10) of Schedule 4A shall apply as if the deputy Minister had ceased to hold office at the end of that period otherwise than by virtue of section 16A(2).
(5) In this section “devolved policing and justice function” has the same meaning as in section 21A (see subsection (8) of that section).
(6) In this section “relevant Minister”, “relevant Ministerial office”, “deputy Minister” and “deputy Ministerial office” have the same meaning as in Part 3A of Schedule 4A.”
(7) After section 21B of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47) insert—
“21C Section 21A(5A): power of Assembly to secure retention or abolition of deputy Ministerial office
(1) This section applies if a new Northern Ireland department is established—
(a) by an Act of the Assembly which makes provision of the kind mentioned in section 21A(5A); or
(b) by an Order in Council under section 21A(7C).
(2) Standing orders shall require the committee established by virtue of section 29A to consider the operation of the Ministerial arrangements provided for by Part 3A of Schedule 4A.
(3) The committee shall, by no later than two years and ten months after the time at which devolved policing and justice functions are first transferred to, or conferred on, the department (“the time of devolution”), make a report on the operation of the Ministerial arrangements provided for by Part 3A of Schedule 4A—
(a) to the Assembly; and
(b) to the Executive Committee,
and the report must include a recommendation as to whether or not the deputy Ministerial office (see subsection (8)) should be retained.
(4) If before the end of the period of three years beginning with the time of devolution (“the initial period”) the Assembly resolves that the deputy Ministerial office should be abolished at a time specified in the resolution (before the end of the initial period), the Secretary of State shall make an order abolishing the deputy Ministerial office (see subsection (9)) at, or as soon as reasonably practicable after, the time specified.
(a) subsection (4) does not apply; and
(b) the Assembly does not resolve, before the end of the initial period, that the deputy Ministerial office should be retained for an additional period ending after the initial period,
the Secretary of State shall make an order abolishing the deputy Ministerial office as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the initial period.
(a) subsection (4) does not apply;
(b) the Assembly resolves that the deputy Ministerial office should be retained for an additional period ending after the initial period or for one or more further additional periods; and
(c) one of those additional periods ends without a further additional period having begun,
the Secretary of State shall make an order abolishing the deputy Ministerial office as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of that period.
(7) A resolution of the Assembly under this section shall not be passed without the support of—
(a) a majority of the members voting on the motion for the resolution;
(b) a majority of the designated Nationalists voting; and
(c) a majority of the designated Unionists voting.
(8) In this section “deputy Ministerial office” has the same meaning as in Part 3A of Schedule 4A.
(9) In this section references to an order abolishing the deputy Ministerial office are to an order amending this Act and any other enactment so far as may be necessary to secure that the Northern Ireland Minister in charge of the department for the time being—
(a) is not to be supported by a deputy Minister (within the meaning of Part 3A of Schedule 4A); and
(b) need not belong to the largest or the second largest political designation (within that meaning).
(10) An order under this section may contain supplementary, incidental, consequential, transitional or saving provision.”
(8) Schedule (Northern Ireland department with policing and justice functions) (Northern Ireland department with policing and justice functions) shall have effect.
(9) In section 96 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47) (orders and regulations) in subsection (1), after “17(4),” insert “21C,”.’.—[Mr. Hanson.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Powers of the Secretary of State with regard to conditions for devolving policing and justice matters—
‘After section 4 of the Northern Ireland Act, 1998 (c. 47), insert—
“4A (1) If by 1st May 2008 no resolution has been passed by the Assembly of the type referred to in section 4(2A), then, notwithstanding anything in section 4(2) or (2A), the Secretary of State may lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council amending Schedule 3 so that devolved policing and justice matters cease to be reserved matters with effect from such date as may be specified in the Order.
(2) If the draft of an Order laid before Parliament under subsection (1) is approved by resolution of each House of Parliament, the Secretary of State shall submit it to Her Majesty in Council and Her Majesty in Council may make the Order.
(3) An Order made under this section—
(a) must confer all functions with regard to devolved policing and justice matters on the Northern Ireland department referred to in section 21(3) of this Act, if established by Act of the Assembly;
(b) must establish a new Northern Ireland department in the charge of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister acting jointly, if not already established by Act of the Assembly;
(c) may make such modifications of enactments as appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient in consequence of the transfer of devolved policing and justice matters; and
(d) may make such consequential, supplemental or transitional provision as appears to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient.
(4) Nothing in this section prejudices the operation of Part III of this Act and the Assembly may amend or revoke an Order made under this section.
(5) In this section “devolved policing and justice matter” has the same meaning as in section 4.”.’.
New clause 4—Primacy in intelligence gathering—
‘(1) The Police Service of Northern Ireland shall retain primacy in matters of intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), “primacy in matters of intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland” shall include in particular lead responsibility in Northern Ireland for the—
(a) strategic assessment of intelligence needs;
(b) overall assessment of intelligence gathered;
(c) appropriate dissemination of intelligence gathered;
(d) recruitment, conduct and use of covert human intelligence sources;
(e) interception of communications; and
(f) deployment of directed and intrusive surveillance
in matters connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland.
(3) Sub-section (1) applies whether or not the intelligence concerned relates or may relate to national security.’.
Government amendment No. 28
Government new schedule 1—Northern Ireland department with policing and justice functions.
Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of the significant and historic progress that has been made over recent weeks in Northern Ireland. First, we had the agreement at St. Andrews. Last week we had the latest Independent Monitoring Commission report, which confirmed the Provisional IRA’s ongoing commitment to an exclusively political path. Last week also saw the unprecedented move by Sinn Fein in favour of support for Northern Ireland’s policing and justice institutions, which I think that all sides will welcome, and which I hope will be built on over the next few weeks and months.
I am most grateful to the Minister for taking such an early intervention. Will he put on the record his condemnation of the outrageous remarks by the Sinn Fein leader, in that it is wholly inappropriate to talk about “putting manners” on the police, while Sinn Fein has embraced policing at long last?
The hon. Lady speaks for herself on these matters. I will put it on record that I very much welcome the fact that last week, for the first time, Sinn Fein, by its ard fheis, supported the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The following day, the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) indicated that when crimes are committed in communities that have traditionally not supported the police, those communities should now work in co-operation with the police. We need to look at the positives. I accept the hon. Lady’s comments, but let us look at the positives in relation to what has happened over the last two weeks.
I understand the Minister’s sense of relief and delight at the announcement, but it is by their fruits that we shall know them. I hope that he will not allow himself to indulge in any false euphoria merely because certain people who have broken the law innumerable times in the past now say that they might obey it. Let us see that they truly do, and that they truly uphold it.
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. From my perspective, the statements and the work undertaken by Sinn Fein in getting to the situation where, a week last Sunday, the ard fheis confirmed support for policing, are a welcome engagement with the criminal justice system and policing. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), as the Minister with responsibility for the police, and myself, as the Minister with responsibility for criminal justice, welcome that, as does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Obviously, we need to see progress on that. I am aware that there are political parties that wish to examine how it operates on the ground. But let us not get away from the fact that there has been a significant change. The IMC report last week confirmed and backed up that move by the Provisional IRA.
I join the Minister in welcoming progress when progress is made. However, I am sure that he agrees that there is yet more to do and that it is not appropriate for Mr. Adams to indicate that he supports some functions of policing, yet to hold back on giving support to other elements of those functions. For example, he is indicating that he supports civic policing, but he will not support what he describes as “political policing”, which is the stand against terrorism in Northern Ireland. He must give full support to the police in exercising their functions to oppose the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA and any other terrorism organisation—whether loyalist or republican. He must require people in his constituency and elsewhere to give full support and information to the police so that they can counter attacks.
The hon. Gentleman paints a vision of how policing should operate in a normal society, and I look forward to the day when that happens. I want to see Sinn Fein taking up a role on the Policing Board and becoming involved in local policing on the ground. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that last week’s events were a significant step. New clause 5 is significant too, because it deals with the possible devolution of policing and criminal justice matters to the Assembly in due course.
Does the Minister accept that some of us genuinely believe that Sinn Fein and the IRA have moved forward? Although it is a matter of judgment, does he agree that actions are likely to follow on this occasion? If they do follow, that will give rise to an expectation that Members who sit on the Opposition side of the House should be willing to share power, given that policing was one of the matters on which they set a fundamental condition for Sinn Fein to fulfil.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that power sharing should follow as a result of signing up to policing and the test being fulfilled to the satisfaction of the parties. I am encouraged that there has been a widespread debate on policing among members of Sinn Fein. The ard fheis was overwhelmingly in support of policing. The Member for Belfast, West indicated the following day that members of Sinn Fein should co-operate with police on the ground on the very day-to-day issues that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) mentioned. I am confident that that will develop over the next few weeks and months—through the election and up to devolution on 26 March. We should welcome such developments for all concerned.
I put the situation in context at the beginning of my speech because we are at the brink of restoring power-sharing institutions for those very reasons. Now is the time for us to stick to the terms of the St. Andrews agreement. Given that elections have been called for 7 March, and that there is the possibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly being restored on 26 March, there is no room for further delay or hesitation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that the options are devolution on 26 March, or dissolution on 26 March. The time is right for us to make a push forward, and I believe that the last outstanding challenges to devolution are being overcome.
One of the key aspects of the St. Andrews agreement was the need for discussion and a commitment on working towards the devolution of policing and justice in May 2008. New clause 5 sets out the broad details of a further model for a Department with policing and justice functions. The model was devised following discussions with Northern Ireland parties, and in the Government’s view, it could be likely to give rise to a broad acceptance among parties and consensus on a new model for the devolution of policing and criminal justice.
The Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East, and I hope for consensus among the political parties on the way forward in the event of discussions on policing and criminal justice. We have talked many times in the Chamber about the triple lock and the fact that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister need to make a proposal to the Assembly, that the Assembly needs to agree and to make a request to the British Government, that the British Government have to make a proposal to the House of Commons and that the House of Commons has to approve devolution. However, we must address the model for that devolution. New clause 5 is a further option that represents as good a prospect as any for the resolution of any possible disagreement on the devolution of policing and criminal justice. It will add to the models that have already been included in legislation.
It is unusual that provision is being made, with regard to this particular model only, for it to be implemented either by the Assembly, by choice, or by the Secretary of State, reluctantly, in the event that the Assembly cannot agree on a model for the devolution of criminal justice and policing. It is our clear wish that the Assembly should reach cross-community agreement on any model for a future devolved Department, but in the event of such agreement not being reached, the Secretary of State will, as a last resort, have an order-making power to impose on the Assembly the model in new clause 5, subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
The Minister speaks of the model for any future policing and justice Department. Does he accept that many people—not just Unionist, but right across the community—have concerns about any political party or movement that has been associated for 30 years with crime, violence and terrorism, and that a period of time needs to elapse to ensure that people see that that group has become sanitised and has emphatically departed from its old ways, before consideration can be given even to the model that might be considered for devolving policing and justice?
In the St. Andrews agreement the Government expressed their wish to see the devolution of policing and criminal justice matters by May 2008. We want to have discussions with the Assembly, and the Assembly must reach a conclusion on those matters, but there is a period of 12 months—from now, 15 months—for those discussions in any potential devolved Assembly that is restored on 26 March, and the triple lock applies.
There is an opportunity during that period for the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned to be resolved satisfactorily. The Government see devolution as a distinct possibility. I accept that he has concerns about the matter. There has been tremendous movement in the way that Sinn Fein have operated up to the ard fheis in the past couple of weeks. That movement, in my view, will continue through the next 12 months and gives the opportunity for that devolution to be considered by the Assembly, and ultimately, with the triple lock that we have mentioned, by the House of Commons.
The Minister said loudly and clearly to the House today that it is the Government’s intention to “stick to the terms” of the St. Andrews agreement. He will know that that agreement states that it is
“for the Assembly to request the devolution of criminal justice and policing from the British Government by May 2008.”
It is not acceptable for the British Government to reverse what was agreed at St. Andrews and impose the provisions of the new clause. Has the Minister unpicked the triple lock?
I think that the hon. Lady and I are saying the same thing, in the sense that the Government are committed to the arrangements under the triple lock whereby the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister propose to the Assembly, the Assembly agrees, and it requests the Government and the House of Commons to support that devolution. New clause 5 adds a further devolution model for consideration.
If we reach a point where the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have proposed devolution, the Assembly has accepted devolution, and the House of Commons has voted for devolution, but the stumbling block is the model of devolution, and if the Assembly cannot reach a conclusion on the model of devolution, the Secretary of State will seek to impose a model to help resolve the impasse. That is the purpose of new clause 5. It is not intended to interfere in any way with the Assembly, which I hope and expect will be restored on 26 March, or with its ability to choose a route for the devolution of policing and criminal justice.
No. The model in new clause 5 is in addition to those in the 1998 and the 2006 Acts. It is for the Assembly to fill that post via election from an Assembly Member. The Government are simply saying that in the event of no agreement being reached on the model, they would consider imposing that in new clause 5, reluctantly, at the last possible moment, if that was the only matter that was stopping the devolution of policing and criminal justice. The key point is that it is for the Assembly, through its elected officials and the Assembly’s vote, to request that devolution. We want it to happen by May 2008, but it is for the Assembly to make that judgment in due course.
Is the Minister telling us that the Secretary of State has completely dropped the suggestion that was in his paper that was issued during the Christmas recess in late December, namely, that if a vote had not been taken in the Assembly by May 2008 to have devolution and to appoint Ministers, the Government would take all steps necessary to make that happen, including the appointment of Ministers?
The Secretary of State wants the Assembly to make the decisions on the devolution of criminal justice and policing. When it is restored in the next 12 months, I hope that it will put that triple lock proposal to this House. My right hon. Friend will impose new clause 5 if that is the stumbling block. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend.
New clause 5 incorporates the power for the Assembly to adopt the new model. It provides for it to be in the charge of a Northern Ireland Minister, supported by a Deputy First Minister. Subsection (5) sets out an order-making power under which the Secretary of State may establish the Department using the model if the Assembly has been unable to reach agreement. Subsection (6) allows for a Department of policing and justice created under this model to be established in shadow form until the point at which policing and justice functions are devolved. It also allows for a Justice Minister designate and a Deputy Justice Minister designate to be elected before the devolution of policing and justice, and provides that they will take up their positions provided that they take the pledge of office in due course. The proposal to have a deputy Minister is intended to be temporary. The new clause means that that would, in effect, lapse after three years unless the Assembly decides within that time scale to retain it in the longer term.
Subsection (7) places a duty on the Assembly to review the working of the model and to report on the matter no later than two years and 10 months after devolution of policing and justice. Subsection (8) gives effect to the associated schedule and subsection (9) provides that the order to abolish the deputy Justice Minister post may be made by the negative resolution procedure.
Government amendment No. 28 and new schedule 1 also apply. New paragraph 11B of schedule 4A to the 1998 Act amends the arrangements made by the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 for appointing the First and Deputy First Minister so that the Justice Minister and Deputy Justice Minister are appointed after the First Minister and Deputy First Minister but before other Northern Ireland Ministers.
On a question of definition, in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 the Government used the phrase “junior Minister”. Does the Minister regard “deputy Minister” and “junior Minister” as interchangeable, or is there a purpose in having the two different phrases?
The new clause uses the phrase “deputy Minister” in line with the titles First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The individual will be the deputy Minister. There will be a Minister in the Executive and there will be a deputy Minister who is outside of the Executive. That is a model for the Assembly to choose, should it wish to do so.
I understand that. The Minister may want to come back to me, but I am asking him to explain why the phrase “junior Minister” is used in some legislation and “deputy Minister” used in this legislation. There may be some logical reason for it but, for the sake of definition and to avoid wrangles within the Assembly, it is probably helpful to have on the record the reason why the two different phrases are used. I recognise that it may take the Minister 10 or 15 minutes to consider that.
I will respond to the hon. Gentleman when we have checked the legality of the position. In essence, the model that we have before us today will ensure that the Justice Minister is a member of the Executive and that the Deputy Justice Minister is not a member of the Executive.
The Minister has mentioned the justice Minister and the deputy justice Minister. Will he make it abundantly clear that the Secretary of State is not taking any powers to force a shadow deputy Minister on the Assembly against the free vote of that Assembly?
The powers that the Secretary of State is taking to impose a model—the model in new clause 5 is the model that the Secretary of State would wish to impose—would apply in the event of the Assembly not being able to agree a model for devolution while agreeing the principle of devolution as a desirable outcome. The powers for the Assembly to determine its operation in terms of the wish for devolution are still there, but the question of the model will be for the Secretary of State in the event of the non-resolution by the Assembly of any potential model. The Government want the Assembly to make its decisions in its own time on these matters, but we retain the right to impose a model if devolution is progressing but the stumbling block is the final model.
Although it is true to say that the powers allow the Secretary of State to impose a model, the Minister has not suggested that the Secretary of State is taking upon himself any right or any power to impose a shadow Minister on the Assembly against the will of the Assembly.
Is the Minister therefore saying that if the Secretary of State, perhaps as a last resort, were to impose the model, that model would then go back to the Assembly, in which case it could well be that that the Assembly would still be unable to decide exactly who should take up the positions? Is that a possible scenario?
That could well be a possible scenario. Again, I emphasise that it is for the Assembly to determine the model for devolution. The model before us today will give the power to the Secretary of State to impose this particular model in the event of the Assembly not reaching a conclusion. I hope that the Assembly will reach a conclusion, which is the basis on which we are proceeding.
The Minister has still not answered the question. I am not talking about the Secretary of State imposing a model on the Assembly. I want to know whether the Secretary of State has the power, after imposing a model, to impose a Minister, a shadow Minister or a shadow deputy Minister for the policing and justice portfolio?
The Secretary of State’s role is confined to putting in place the model within which the Assembly can operate. New clause 5 simply says to the Assembly that if devolution is agreed without a model for devolution being agreed, the Secretary of State has the power to broker a deal by imposing this particular model on the Assembly. Ultimately, the Assembly will choose who fills that post.
I must be missing something here. The Minister has not clearly stated that the Government do not reserve the power to appoint Ministers. If he could say that there is no question of a Minister or shadow Minister being imposed, that would clarify the matter for the House.
It is not the Government’s intention to impose a Minister on the Assembly in any way, shape or form. The purpose of the new clause is to put forward a further model that the Assembly can consider and come to a conclusion on whether it wants to adopt it. In the event of the Assembly’s not agreeing on a model because of differences between Members, the Government reserve the right to impose this model on it. Who fills that model is a matter for the Assembly. I cannot be any clearer than that.
Perhaps I could have another try. The House understands that the Government are taking the power to impose the model—we can draw a thick black line under that. We are trying to draw out from the Minister whether he will, under any circumstances, have the right—the power—to impose a stated person to be a Minister or shadow Minister. Will he have that power, or not? It is a fairly simple question.
As far as I am concerned, the Secretary of State does not have that power. The purpose of the new clause is to put down a model for the Assembly. The people who will elect individuals to posts are in the Assembly itself. This discussion is about whether the Assembly has the ability to put in place a model. If it does not have that ability when it wishes to take forward devolution, the Secretary of State will impose the model that is before us today.
To make it absolutely clear, does the Minister therefore agree with the Secretary of State, who said when he came to the Assembly’s Sub-group on programme for government that he had no intention of taking any power to impose any Minister on the Assembly under any set of circumstances?
I think that I have said—even if not to the extent that hon. Members wish—that there is no power in the Bill or the new clause for the Secretary of State to impose a Minister on the Assembly. [Interruption.] I thought that I had said that to the hon. Gentleman’s satisfaction, but obviously not. [Interruption.] I am pleased that he is content. The purpose of the new clause—I know that I repeat myself, but it is for the sake of clarity—is to ensure that in the event of the Assembly not reaching an agreement on a model, the Secretary of State can place this model before it for consideration.
The Minister is in essence confirming that the Secretary of State has withdrawn what he gave us all on the third or fourth day of Christmas in terms of the intention to be able to impose a Minister if necessary. However, he has also said that the power to impose a model is to deal with the situation only if the issue of the model is the last stumbling block to the devolution of justice and policing. If other issues are stumbling blocks—if, for whatever reason, the DUP wants to exercise its triple lock—the Secretary of State has no means of dealing with that. We do not have a date determined for the devolution of justice and policing.
The hon. Gentleman has been with me in Committee upstairs and on the Floor of the House when we have discussed other legislation in relation to the triple lock. The Government have been very clear that we want and expect devolution to the Assembly to take place as soon as possible—if possible, by May 2008. However, it is ultimately up to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to propose the matter to the Assembly, which must agree and make a request of the Government, after which a vote will take place in the House on the proposal. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) will see that happen in the next 12 to 18 months. I repeat that it must be a matter for the Assembly to consider, and we want that to happen.
The purpose of the new clause is to ensure an extra model for consideration by the Assembly. If the events that I outlined happen—the First Minister makes a proposal, the Assembly agrees and the Government agree—but the election mechanism causes a blockage, we will reluctantly use the powers under the new clause to ensure that a workable position is achieved.
The new clause states:
“If it appears to the Secretary of State that there is no reasonable prospect that the Assembly will pass an Act”
to set up a model for devolving policing and justice and especially a model for the relevant Department. Will the Minister confirm that the fall-back position for which the new clause provides will not be exercised before May 2008? Will the Government comply at all times with the triple lock requirement, even if the date of May 2008 passes? Will he put that on the record?
Again, I thought that I had put that on the record. Obviously, such matters need repeating. Nothing has changed on the triple lock, which is in place. However, the Secretary of State wants to consider ways in which we can encourage the devolution of policing by providing for an extra model. In the event of a further model proving unacceptable, the Secretary of State will retain the right to impose the model if that is required to break the logjam. I emphasise that nothing interferes with the triple lock in the context of what we are discussing today.
The provisions are the outcome of a long-standing commitment to devolve policing and justice functions. We have always made it clear that we will not do that until the time is right, which is when the safeguards that I outlined have been established. Devolution cannot happen until the Assembly passes a resolution, with a cross-community vote requesting it. I put that on the record and hope that it satisfies the hon. Lady. The Northern Ireland parties in the Assembly must decide when the time is right and Parliament must agree.
On the timing of devolving the policing and justice powers, the Minister knows that some justice powers reside with the office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, especially those for appointing judges and so on. Under the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, the Secretary of State must issue a commencement order for those powers. Do the Government intend not to devolve the powers in the 2002 Act for judicial appointments until there is overall devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland?
I hope that I can help the hon. Gentleman. The Government made it clear in the discussion document that was published a year ago that they intend the functions to transfer, but only when justice functions generally are transferred. That remains the Government’s position and I hope that that satisfies him.
The group also contains amendments tabled by members of the Social Democratic and Labour party. Those amendments aim to circumvent the safeguards and allow the Government to impose the devolution of policing and justice matters without the Northern Ireland Assembly’s support and agreement. I am afraid that I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle—as I have done on several occasions in the past two years—that I do not agree with his proposal. It would go against the spirit of the Good Friday agreement and I cannot therefore support it. Not only that, but new clause 2 would require responsibility for policing and justice to be given to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, instead of being left to the Assembly’s discretion.
As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are reluctant to impose a model on the Assembly because we want the Assembly to determine the model. Imposing a model that appears to command little support in the Assembly and that it and the Committee on the Preparation of Government have effectively rejected cannot be right. The Secretary of State has made it clear through new clause 5 that the Government’s view is that if a model must be imposed on the Assembly, it should be the new one, not one of the previous ones. I reluctantly have to say to my hon. Friend—we are usually in common cause—that I cannot support his new clause and I ask him to withdraw it.
As to new clause 4—[Interruption.] I am glad to see that I am getting at least some support from certain parts of the House. It is always nice to have the support of one’s fellows. New clause 4 was also tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle. It is designed to overturn plans announced by the Government on 24 February that responsibility for national security and intelligence work in Northern Ireland will transfer from the police to the Security Service later this year. You will expect me to say this, Mr. Speaker, but I believe that the Government’s plans are sound, sensible and logical.
Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, national security is an accepted matter for which the Secretary of State is responsible and it cannot be devolved. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East, dealt extensively with this matter in Committee and elsewhere. The change will take place later this year to align operational arrangements with the political and constitutional responsibilities, which will facilitate the devolution of policing and justice in due course. The change is one of the welcoming, normalising measures that are coming before the House to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, mirroring the relationship between the Security Service and the police across the UK as a whole.
Operationally, the change will make for a consistent and co-ordinated response across the UK to the threat from terrorism in all its forms. I am sure that hon. Members would welcome that, not just in respect of the historical terrorism that has been inflicted on Northern Ireland, but regarding the wider potential threats that exist against the UK. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle, who opposes the change, fears that it risks damaging the progress made on policing reform post-Patten, and he would probably also raise the issue of policing accountability. I hope that I can assure him that we are taking a sound, logical step and that those fears are misguided. We believe that the objectives that we seek will bring security for the people of Northern Ireland.
In conclusion, I commend new clause 5. I emphasise that it is designed simply to widen the choice for the Assembly and as a last resort for the Secretary of State. I say again that the triple lock remains in place. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle will, after speaking to his new clauses on national security and other matters, withdraw them. The Committee and the House can consider these matters fully.
Before the Minister finishes, will he return to the issue raised by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon)? I find it a little confusing. New clause 5(5) includes the provision:
“If it appears to the Secretary of State that there is no reasonable prospect that the Assembly will pass an Act of the kind described in subsection (1)(a) and (b), he may lay before Parliament the draft of an Order”,
which will establish
“a new Northern Ireland department”.
It is confusing because subsection (1)(a) and (b) replace subsections (1) and (2) of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006. Is not the Secretary of State given the power to introduce the Department even though the Assembly has not agreed to do so? I am a little confused about the wording.
I will certainly look further into those points and respond to them during the course of the debate or in my winding-up speech. His points are detailed ones and I want to ensure that our provisions are legally correct with respect to them. I thus hope that I have given him the assurance that he seeks and I will certainly return to those issues in a few moments. We are also still reflecting on the matter raised by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), but again I shall endeavour to respond later in the debate. I commend Government new clause 5 to the House, which I hope will accept it.
I thank the Minister for committing to come back to me on the difference between—or similarity between—the definitions of “junior Minister” and “deputy Minister”. It would be acceptable for the Minister to admit that the use of such terms is simply a matter of random variation, and that there is no difference between them. This might not seem important now but, as with so many aspects of Northern Ireland legislation, if the matter is not clarified, it could lead to problems in the future.
New clause 5 could be useful, if the intention is to allow the Assembly as much flexibility as possible in regard to the structure of the Department. However, proposed new subsection (7A) is a bit worrying because it seems to allow the Secretary of State to lay an Order in Council to provide for a new Northern Ireland Department exercising justice and policing functions
“if there is no reasonable prospect that the Assembly will pass an Act”
to establish such a Department itself.
I heard what the Minister said about this; he got himself into rather deep water. This brings us back to an issue that we raised during the passage of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006. We are a devolutionist party, and we are on record as having long supported the aim of devolving policing and justice functions to the Assembly. Given the importance of policing to society, however, we must be very careful about when those functions are devolved. That is what lies behind hon. Members’ questioning of the Minister a few minutes ago.
The Assembly has been suspended for four years. From the Assembly elections in 1998 until the beginning of this suspension in October 2002, the Assembly went through a series of stop-start iterations in a process involving various periods of suspension. Even when it was functioning, there were several crises and resignations of First and Deputy First Ministers. In such an unstable situation, would it be wise to devolve policing and justice functions to the Assembly by imposing that kind of a solution unilaterally? We cannot allow a function as important as policing to be devolved to an Administration that does not appear to have the necessary stability to apply such functions sensibly.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it would be wrong to devolve such powers to the Assembly against its wishes. As I understand it, however, it has been confirmed over and over again that that is not the intention. The triple lock is in place. We are talking about a model that is one of many; others might come along. At the end of the day, whether the powers are devolved will be a matter for the Assembly, because the triple lock is in place.
I am afraid that my communications skills must be letting me down today. I thought that I had said that the triple lock applied. The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 and other matters relating to the devolution of criminal justice that we have dealt with over the past 12 months have established the triple lock, which ensures that the First and Deputy First Ministers have to propose the measure, the Assembly has to accept the proposal, the British Government have to agree to it and the House of Commons has to vote on the matter. If anything, that is a quadruple lock.
The Minister’s words are reassuring, but this does not seem to be set out in the Bill—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) appears to share my concern about this. It is not what the Minister says, but what the Bill says that matters.
I raised this issue with the Minister earlier, and he has kindly agreed to come back to us on it later. I want to draw the attention of my hon. Friends in the Democratic Unionist party to subsection (5) of the new clause, which provides that the Secretary of State may establish a new Department if
“there is no reasonable prospect that the Assembly will pass an Act of the kind described”
in subsection (2) of the new clause. Subsection (2) overrides subsections (1) and (2) of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006. I do not have the benefit of the technical support that the Minister has, but as far as I can see, this means that the only Act that will now be applicable is the one referred to in subsection (2) of the new clause.
Yes, subsection 2(1)(a) and (b). My reading of the new clause is that proposed new subsection (7A) will override that, but I might be wrong. This is worth exploring. I entirely agree with the concerns that have been expressed by my hon. Friends in the DUP.
We all agree on what we want the Bill to do, but there is a question over what it actually does. The hon. Members in the DUP should share our concern if the Minister’s assurances are not backed up by the legislation.
The Government might have the best intentions in the world today, but if a Secretary of State in the future chose to interpret the legislation as I believe it can be interpreted, and as the hon. Gentleman correctly explained, we have a problem. It takes us to the point made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) about the triple lock process. At the time, the Minister reassured us that devolution of policing and justice would be subject to that triple lock. He emphatically sought to reaffirm that today, but for the reasons that I have outlined—I do not need to repeat them—we are concerned that the triple lock process is compromised to an extent because of the way in which the legislation is phrased.
I have no other motive for raising this except to highlight a concern that could come back and bite us. As I said, we support the aim of devolving policing and justice functions to the Assembly, but we are concerned about the apparent ability of the Secretary of State to take the decision to devolve such powers even if the Assembly does not want them or if it is not stable enough to exercise them responsibly. I do not for a moment suggest that the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would do that, but we are not framing legislation for the present; we are framing it for the indefinite future. Northern Ireland business is notoriously good at taking much longer than we expect.
I ask the Minister to clarify that and to explain the use of the phrase “no reasonable prospect” in proposed new subsection (7A). Should a Secretary of State really be devolving such important powers to an Assembly if there is no reasonable prospect of that Assembly taking the decision itself to ask for such powers? Those are our concerns about that part of the new clause.
New clause 4 is interesting because it raises other questions. We need to ask the Government for a number of clarifications and for them to give many more specific reassurances. The third report of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs for the 2005-06 Session gave a number of examples of east-west organised crime, such as cigarette smuggling to Scotland and, most worryingly, the use of Northern Ireland as a back door into the United Kingdom by people traffickers. It would be useful to have a co-ordinated approach to organised crime in the UK. However, the Government should reassure the House that the police in Northern Ireland will not lose their ability to fight a lot of the organised crime that goes on within Northern Ireland and which is Northern Ireland-specific in terms of the links with paramilitary organisations. There could be an unintended consequence that leads to that kind of restriction.
The police and the Assets Recovery Agency have done a huge amount of work on that problem, with a good degree of success. It would not be helpful to Northern Ireland, or to the fight against organised crime, for any expertise to be lost or diluted. I hope that the Minister will make a commitment to work closely with the south of Ireland on the joint challenge of securing our sea and land borders.
As the Minister said, new clause 5 introduces a fifth model on top of the four that the 2006 Act gave us. When we debated that Act, I predicted that the Government would come back with at least one additional model because, from the nature of things, it would obviously be needed. The Minister and other hon. Members shook their heads, but lo and behold we have an additional model, this time as a default model.
The Minister emphasised that the Secretary of State would use the powers in new clause 5 if the one stumbling block to the devolution of justice and policing was the departmental model, but it is highly likely that the departmental model will not be the stumbling block. Other considerations or calculations will cause the DUP to resist the devolution of justice and policing by May 2008 or at some other time. That is the fatal flaw arising from the 2006 Act and it still needs to be addressed. We have argued to the Government that giving the DUP the triple lock in such an indefinite and unfettered way means that the date of May 2008 is merely aspirational. No matter how many times the Secretary of State says it, no matter how many times the Prime Minister says it, no matter how many times Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness say it, the date remains aspirational at best unless the Government back amending legislation to make the date of May 2008 a definite, determined backstop, a time by which the devolution of justice and policing must be achieved.
Notwithstanding earlier welcomes for the advance in Sinn Fein’s position on policing, Members should recognise that it involves qualifications. Yes, Sinn Fein is calling on people to report crime to the police if they are victims, and Gerry Adams has even said that young republicans, indeed republicans of all ages, should be free to join the police. But Sinn Fein is still saying that it will not join the institutions of policing unless and until the DUP agrees on a definite date for the devolution of justice and policing. For as long as the DUP has a veto on an indefinite basis, Sinn Fein will continue to resile from its responsibilities on the Policing Board. The main aim of new clause 2 is to place a time limit on the veto, thereby removing Sinn Fein’s excuse for not stepping forthwith into the institutions of policing and the positions that would come to its members following the election.
Apart from the fact that the provisions of new clause 5 will be invoked only if the model is the outstanding issue, the new clause does nothing to deliver the devolution of justice and policing by May 2008. It does not remove the veto preventing the transfer of powers, and it does not resolve the question of appointment. As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) pointed out, if it is left to the Assembly it could prove difficult to effect an appointment in the Assembly. We have more than a triple lock or a quadruple lock; we have what could be described as a double version of that, which we have tried to disentangle in new clause 2.
The Government’s new, fifth model involves a Justice Minister and a Deputy Justice Minister. Who does the Minister think would take the job of Deputy Justice Minister? It is a complete non-job, and I think that a person would have to be certifiably mad to take it. For one thing, it is a temporary post, to be reviewed after two years and 10 months. Regardless of what lead responsibilities the Deputy Justice Minister may have, agreement must be secured from the Minister, and also from the First and Deputy First Ministers. Securing agreement from, potentially, three parties will be a curious enough affair in itself. Moreover, the deputy Minister will be under the direction of the Minister, as will everyone else in the Department.
As the Minister is aware, we are not dealing with that situation here; we are dealing with the situation in Northern Ireland, and the suggestion has been made that, because there could be difficulties in respect of parties allowing other parties’ representatives to take up the post of Justice Minister, as a solution the post of deputy Minister might be added to the mix. It is thought that that post might have a significant balancing role. However, as the Minister pointed out, the deputy Minister will not attend the Executive, although the Secretary of State’s Christmas statement contained the suggestion that the deputy Minister might attend the Executive from time to time—that they might have a sort of high-chair at the Executive table in which they would be allowed to sit from time to time.
Why any party, or any member of a party, would want a post in such circumstances is beyond me. If a default is needed for the current model, I am not sure that the default that the Government have come up with is the best or most sensible one. This default will be hard to implement not only in terms of parties agreeing to other parties taking positions, but it will be difficult for some parties to agree to themselves taking up those positions.
Our new clause 2 is an attempt to break the logjam in the devolution of justice and policing. I say openly and honestly that we are seeking to circumvent the indefinite DUP vetoes that are in place courtesy of the triple lock and of Sinn Fein and the British Government agreeing to them in the comprehensive agreement and in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006. New clause 2 would provide that if the Assembly has not passed legislation setting up a new justice Department by 1 May, the Secretary of State may make an order setting up a new justice Department, to which powers will be devolved under the direction and control of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister acting jointly.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the Social Democratic and Labour party’s amendment circumventing the triple lock. How would it contribute to better community relations in Northern Ireland if the wider community was not supportive of setting aside the triple lock and there was a kickback or resentment and a growing escalation of communities’ anger at the possibility of that lock being bypassed? How would he present that argument, alongside enhancing confidence in the community about the devolution of policing and justice at some point in the future?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I shall respond to it in the following way. Sinn Fein is using as its excuse not to take part in the policing arrangements the fact that it does not have a definite date for the devolution of justice and policing. New clause 2 would give a definite date for that devolution, thereby removing that excuse from Sinn Fein and ensuring that it will have to participate in the Policing Board when nominations to it take place after the election. I believe that if Sinn Fein fully participates in the policing arrangements, community confidence will significantly rise. People have welcomed the progress made in Sinn Fein’s position as a result of the resolution passed at the recent ard fheis; would not confidence be even greater if Sinn Fein were to implement fully that resolution with no qualifications and no holding back?
Under our amendment, the triple lock would still apply until May 2008; parties would have discretion and choices as to what form of devolution they want and when exactly they want that to be activated. However, by May 2008 devolution would take place, not with the Secretary of State having to impose a model or having to impose the appointment of Ministers—as he suggested might possibly be the case in his paper issued over the Christmas period—but simply by the provision of the default that the powers would go to the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. My belief is that that would concentrate the minds of the people in that office, because if they had any sense they would not want those functions resting long in their office.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that much of what he wants is contained in new clause 5? I am reading it so I am completely sure that it says that the Secretary of State can create a new Department that manages policing and justice if there is no reasonable prospect that the Assembly will pass an Act of the relevant kind. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should welcome new clause 5 because it already gives the Secretary of State the chance to circumvent the triple lock.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The Secretary of State has said on other occasions that he is introducing new clause 5 partly in response to our arguments, but the fact is that it does not compare at all with new clause 2. Under new clause 5, the Secretary of State would simply impose a departmental model if that was the last outstanding issue—it would not secure devolution of justice and policing by May 2008. If, however, there were other obstacles to devolution, the Secretary of State would not produce a model and the British Government would take no action to deal with the obstacles.
New clause 2 makes it clear that devolution of justice and policing can and will happen by May 2008, and it gives the First and Deputy First Ministers every incentive to use their powers to make proposals before that date, and to use their influence to ensure that devolution is passed in the Assembly according to a suitable model before May 2008. Otherwise, the functions will transfer to their Department, and they will then be free to use the Assembly’s procedures to create another department, and to transfer the functions. However, our political goal in new clause 2 is to ensure that we have a definite date for the devolution of justice and policing.
New clause 2 says that for the very good reason that that form of words has been used throughout Northern Ireland legislation. As we know, Secretaries of State at times claim that they can foresee particular prospects—that certain other things might well be in the offing, and that they would not want to trip up some other, existing development. That is why we need to deal with the matter in this way.
New clause 5 is different in a number of respects. First, it imposes a model that we clearly do not favour, and once it is imposed we will be stuck with it until the Deputy First Minister’s role is reviewed and changed after one or two terms. Our proposal would ensure that, if the Assembly had agreed on a model and people had not agreed on a date before May 2008, we got devolution, and that the Secretary of State did not impose a model. The powers would simply transfer to the office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, who could dispose of the powers under a subsequent order in the Assembly. So new clause 2 would give us a definite date and would ensure that we properly respected the difference between the role of the Assembly and the devolved structures, and of Westminster and the Secretary of State. It is clear, however, from earlier discussions and from the interventions of many Members that new clause 5 would lead to confusion, so new clause 2 is different in a number of key respects.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have listened very carefully to him and I am growing increasingly frustrated with his argument. I am particularly astounded by it, given that he and his party claim to be a pro-agreement party. He knows perfectly well that, according to the agreement, the transfer of any currently reserved powers needs the broad support of the parties. Indeed, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 points out that cross-community support is needed for the devolution of policing and justice. How can he reconcile new clause 2 with his party’s claimed pro-agreement stance?
We are a pro-agreement party—we are completely pro the devolution of justice and policing. It is a priority for us and it has been delayed for far too long, which is why we are trying to determine a date on which it is achieved. The hon. Lady mentions the provisions of the Good Friday agreement and of the 1998 Act. Under the latter, there must be a vote in the Assembly with cross-community support. The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 proposed a tighter definition requiring a vote by parallel consent. On the basis of the current numbers, the vote would be entirely in the control of Sinn Fein and the DUP.
I tabled an amendment in Committee to reverse the triple lock on cross-community support, as opposed to parallel consent, and the hon. Lady who now preaches to me about consistency voted against it. She voted against adhering to the provisions of the 1998 Act. The inconsistency is in the hon. Lady’s position, not in ours.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing a so-called preacher to intervene again. We are not talking about the devolution of health or education, which are already with the Assembly. We are talking about the devolution of policing and justice, which are fundamental, key issues in Northern Ireland. Surely the hon. Gentleman should stick to the provisions of the agreement, which require
“the broad support of the political parties”.
I have not invented that and it was not dreamed up by the Ulster Unionist party: it is in the Belfast agreement. That is the position that I have defended.
The date of May 2008 is in the St. Andrew’s agreement. We accept the date and we want to give it real meaning. It is an issue, because unless we create more certainty around it, uncertainty and confusion will grow around Sinn Fein’s position on policing. The process can do without that. More confidence would be created if we had certainty about a date for devolution of justice and policing, which would allow or force Sinn Fein to commence its full involvement in policing. That could create more confidence, and we would then have achieved agreement and sufficient confidence before May 2008 to ensure that there is agreement in the Assembly. The purpose of our clause is to ensure that parties have every incentive and we have the best circumstances before May 2008.
New clause 4 deals with another matter of deep concern to the SDLP. In 2005, the Government announced that primacy in intelligence policing in Northern Ireland would pass from the PSNI to MI5. That is due to happen in October and it was re-confirmed, as the Minister suggested, in a discussion paper on the devolution of justice launched last February.
The Government argue that after the devolution of justice a devolved Minister for justice from a particular party could not receive briefings on subversive activity. Nobody is really arguing for that. The issue of who gets intelligence information—the devolved Minister for justice or the Secretary of State, if it is to do with national security—is a separate issue from that of who has primary responsibility for gathering the intelligence. The SDLP argues that the PSNI should continue to have primacy in intelligence gathering, including on subversive activity, as provided by Patten. The Government want to give it to MI5.
Patten envisaged that on matters of national security the Chief Constable would report not to the devolved Minister for justice but to the Secretary of State. We accepted that, but Patten also envisaged that the Chief Constable would do the reporting, not MI5. The Government’s proposals are a departure from Patten.
I shall explain why the change is so wrong. First, the PSNI has undergone the Patten reforms, whereas MI5 has not. We cannot ask how many people work for MI5, including how many of them are Catholics or Protestants. It will not tell us. We are not allowed to know anything about the organisation, but we are asked to have confidence in it. It is not only nationalists who should have a basic problem with that. The enlarged role for MI5 could destabilise the new beginning to policing.
Secondly, organised crime and subversive activity have gone hand in hand in Northern Ireland, which is why one organisation—the PSNI—should be in the lead when it comes to monitoring and tackling them. Giving any of that responsibility to MI5 carries the huge risk that it will do what it and the RUC’s special branch did in the past—hog intelligence for its own reasons and not share it with the police officers responsible for combating and pursuing those crimes and for initiating prosecutions. As a result of that, the guilty got away with murder and other crimes, so we have cause to be concerned about the implications of passing that responsibility to MI5. The House need look only at what happened with the Omagh bombing: it took MI5 seven years to pass on a warning, which the PSNI received only last year.
Thirdly, many welcome changes in matters such as informer handling and intelligence sharing in the PSNI have stemmed from the Patten report and the Stevens report into collusion, and from the Omagh report and the review subsequently commissioned by the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Taking away primacy in intelligence policing undermines those successful and important changes. Indeed, no one has any idea whether the safeguards recommended by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in her very significant McCord report will apply equally to MI5. The Chief Constable has said that they will apply to the PSNI, and that is welcome, but will that still be the case when the change to primacy in intelligence policing is introduced? There is a clear danger of the guarantees and protections in Patten being diminished or eroded.
Fourthly, the PSNI is accountable to the Policing Board and the police ombudsman for any human rights abuses perpetrated by its officers. There are structures that ensure that nationalists, Unionists and everyone else may have growing confidence that concerns or complaints about the PSNI will be dealt with, but that is not the case with MI5. The Government have continually resisted calls for MI5 officers in the north to be subject to the police ombudsman.
Fifthly, the Patten report made it explicit that
“the police service must remain equipped to detect and deal with terrorist activity, and for this they will need good intelligence capability.”
That key recommendation will be undermined or compromised if MI5 takes over primacy in intelligence policing. Again, the Omagh bombing gives an example of what can go wrong. Sam Kincaid has told the Omagh families that MI5 had intelligence that there was going to be an attack on Omagh, but that it did not pass it on. When pressed on the matter, Chief Constable Hugh Orde said MI5 held nothing back from the investigation into the bombing, but he did not deny Sam Kincaid’s allegation that MI5 did not pass on information before the bombing. We can expect such problems to arise more often if MI5 takes primacy in intelligence gathering, and the potential consequences are serious.
The question of MI5’s future in Northern Ireland has implications for the conduct of the devolution of justice and policing. The British Government will determine what is meant by the phrase “national security” and the scope of the work done by the intelligence services, so the role given to MI5 could grow. Moreover, if it has primacy in intelligence policing, its work will be outside the purview of the devolved Administration and Assembly. In the Second Reading debate on 13 December 2006, the Secretary of State told us that the Bill would give the Director of Public Prosecutions powers to issue certificates to ensure that there would be no jury trials, and that he could do so on the basis of information from the security services—MI5.
The Bill also includes provisions that would permanently recycle special powers for the police and the Army that were previously only temporary during the worst of the troubles. The legislation will remain under the control of the House and the Secretary of State; it will not be controlled by the devolved Assembly. A devolved Minister for justice could receive representations from defendants facing trial in courts funded and administered by the court service that serves the devolved Ministry stating that they had not been allowed a jury trial and had been given no reasons why. The devolved Minister would be a mere spectator in a hopeless and helpless situation. He would be unable to amend or restrict the special powers of the police—although we do not say that the Minister should interfere in the exercise of police powers; unlike others, we do not believe that Ministers should boss the police.
Politicians should not boss the police and we must ensure that policing in Northern Ireland is not seen as the accessory of partisan controls or interests. That is why the Patten controls are important. However, we do not want devolved Ministers, a devolved Assembly and its Committee left in a completely hopeless and powerless state, while significant activities that impinge on policing and justice, and which they have no power to amend, advise or question, take place beyond their control. That raises fundamental credibility issues about the future of the devolution of justice and policing. That is not what the Social Democratic and Labour party means by the devolution of justice and policing, and I should be surprised if it is what Sinn Fein means when it says that it wants to ensure that there is no lingering British control or interference in relation to justice and policing. The Bill and other measures proposed by the Government, including MI5, provide for just such ongoing control by the “securocrats” and other interests.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) will forgive me if I do not follow him down the track of his latter remarks, which are, I am sure, the opening salvo of the election campaign in which he will show that the SDLP is more green and belligerent than Sinn Fein. However, I shall comment on some of his earlier remarks because he, at least, appears to have read and understood the Bill, which cannot be said for the Liberal Democrat spokesperson. If the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has read the Bill, he has certainly not understood it, because had he done so he might have raised his voice on behalf of his sister party in Northern Ireland, which is unfairly treated by the measure. Later I shall point out to the hon. Gentleman how he was negligent, and at that stage he may want to set his position straight.
First, however, I want to indicate the unsatisfactory manner in which the Government are approaching the issue. We are at the Report stage of an important piece of legislation, yet the Government are introducing a significant provision through a side door. As we can see by the confusion in various quarters of the House, their proposals required a proper Committee sitting so that they could be thoroughly scrutinised and perfectly understood—if, indeed, anything is perfectly understood at the end of a Committee stage. None the less, it is clear that the Government have introduced the new clause on a whim, to get the Bill through post-haste. But why? Why is there such a rush to pass the Bill?
The Minister’s best hope is that it might be possible for the Assembly to address the issue by May 2008, so why is he introducing the legislation in 2007 and requiring it to be steamrollered through the House in such a manner? No one on this side of the House has asked for it to be done in that way—and I get the impression from the speech made by the hon. Member for Foyle that he has not exactly been pushing the Minister for this piece of legislation. I am not sure—perhaps the Minister will tell us—why there is a rush to get this piece of legislation on to the statute book when, as he says himself, it is clearly at least 14 or 16 months before what it contains could be imposed on us. Let us be clear: the Minister has a motive that he has not shared with the House. Perhaps when he responds to the debate he will share it with us.
The difficulty that a number of Members face with this issue is that they cannot separate in their minds the creation of a Department from the fact that that Department would not have powers devolved to it. The reality is that all that the Bill does is to create a shell. It allows the model to be put in place, but the powers that would allow that Department to operate would be devolved only at such a time as the triple lock would operate. That is what is set out in the Bill and that is what the Minister was encouraged to say and eventually got round to saying, after at least half a dozen attempts to get him to do so by my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) and others. It is what the Secretary of State said when closely examined on the issue in the Sub-group on Policing and Justice in the Assembly. I believe that, even if we had discussed this matter in Committee, the same conclusion would have been reached.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in that analysis. To reinforce that point, hon. Members should look at subsection (6) of new clause 5, which introduces into the Northern Ireland Act 1998 section 21B, on section 21A(5A). Proposed new section 21B(2) states that any Act or order introduced by the Secretary of State may include provisions that any
“department is to be treated…as not having been established until the time at which devolved policing and justice functions are first transferred to, or conferred on, the department (‘the time of devolution’).”
That reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend and others on these Benches, and by the hon. Member for Foyle, that we are talking about a shell of a Department—a model with no devolved powers.
My hon. Friend is entirely correct and draws attention to a further element of the legislation that confirms what I am saying. I can see that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire is still uneasy about the matter. He might want to go and sit beside the Minister and seek comfort from him on the issue. If he wants to intervene, I am happy to give way.
However much I may feel provoked by the hon. Gentleman, I can assure him that he is not going to drive me across to the Government Benches just now. The reason why I am disturbed is that my analysis of the provision in question is rather different. He may interpret it in the way that he describes, but it is perfectly feasible to interpret it as setting up more than just a shell, especially when one looks at subsections (7A), (7B) and (7C). Why is he so sure that the legislation, interpreted objectively, simply sets up a shell? It seems to do much more than that.
I am not interpreting the legislation; I am indicating exactly what is in it. It is the hon. Gentleman who is misinterpreting the legislation, because it does not provide any functions for the Department. That is the key issue.
In the St. Andrews agreement, the Government clearly set down their belief that devolution of policing and justice powers could occur by May 2008. The Government are of course entitled to their view on that matter, but none of the parties was required to sign up to that date at St. Andrews. Had they been so required, the Minister would have got the same answer on that issue as the party gives on the issue of devolution itself. We are a party that is condition led, not calendar led.
Throughout the process, it has been at the heart of the Democratic Unionist party’s strategy that we will not allow ourselves to be forced by deadlines to do things that would be wrong owing to the conditions on the ground. That must be the position of any sensible party if we are to have the stable and lasting devolution of any powers, including policing and justice powers.
The Minister will know that the DUP is a party that believes in devolution of the fullest possible kind. It thus believes that policing and justice powers should be devolved in the right circumstances and at the right time. He knows that that is our position because it was the position that we advanced to the Government back in 2004 when we considered matters that led to the Government’s comprehensive agreement. We made it clear that we were working towards the devolution of policing and justice powers. That is the endeavour of the DUP. I know that that is also the endeavour of the Government, and I hear that it is the endeavour of the Social Democratic and Labour party. However, the people who must build confidence so that policing and justice powers can be devolved in Northern Ireland are members of Sinn Fein. The DUP supports the police. The SDLP has taken up membership of the Policing Board and has publicly indicated its support for the police. No one questions the Government’s support for the police. The party that must prove itself to the people of Northern Ireland is, of course, Sinn Fein.
The DUP believes that the necessary community confidence must be in place before the powers are devolved to Northern Ireland. Whatever dates the Minister might put forward, the key point must be whether the community is confident that such powers should be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Among the criteria to consider at that stage would be whether the Assembly was sufficiently stable to have such sensitive powers devolved to it, and whether the model under which the powers would operate was workable and durable. We would also have to consider whether the Minister who would exercise the powers would have the support and confidence not only of one section of the community, but of the community as a whole.
When taking a decision on whether policing and justice powers should be devolved, any sensible democrat in the Assembly will make a judgment by considering such matters. They will not simply look at a calendar and say, “Ah, this is the day on which devolution should take place,” but will consider sensibly whether the circumstances on the ground are such that the powers can be safely devolved to Northern Ireland. That is the only judgment that a sensible politician would make.
I said that one of the criteria to consider will be whether the Assembly is sufficiently stable. I say to the Minister that the date of May 2008 would be at the earliest end of the tolerance of most people’s judgment of when the Assembly would be sufficiently bedded in and consolidated to allow such powers to be devolved. It is essential that Assembly Members deal with day-to-day politics and ensure that things are bedded in before the most sensitive and controversial powers are devolved to the Assembly.
Policing and justice powers are more controversial than health, education and other issues because they affect people’s lives: their safety, security and human rights. They relate to matters that touch every citizen in the country, every day. That is why such devolution cannot simply be forced by the calendar, and why great care must be taken when devolving such powers—and I say that as someone who wants the maximum number of powers, including the maximum number of policing and justice powers, to be devolved to Northern Ireland.
The second criterion that I mentioned was the model. The Minister was chided by the hon. Member for Foyle because this is the fifth model to be thrown out. I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would take a bet that it will not be the last model. Before too long, someone will return to the House with new legislation under which we will address the matter again. That is why I think that, to some extent, we are wasting our time dealing with this matter today. This will not be the last word on legislative arrangements for policing and justice powers being devolved in Northern Ireland. However, I recognise that the Government want to get things moving, so they have taken this step.
Some of my colleagues and I were heavily criticised. We irritated the Secretary of State—I know he was irritated because he told me so—with some of our remarks about the devolution of policing and justice. I said that, in the circumstances that then prevailed, where Sinn Fein was the largest party on the nationalist side and we were discussing a d’Hondt style of government, I could not imagine that in my lifetime there would be the community confidence in Sinn Fein that was necessary for those powers to be devolved. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) was attacked because he said that he could not see that happening in his political lifetime. My hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim used a metaphor of distance rather than time, saying that it was li