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Northern Ireland Bill

Volume 488: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2009

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill will provide an essential stepping stone to the completion of devolution, and it is a tribute to those in Northern Ireland whose political leadership and commitment has turned the peace process into an enduring political process. That political progress has been and continues to be significant, and it is essential that the momentum is maintained. The Bill will ensure that the necessary framework is in place to enable progress towards the transfer of policing and justice powers when that is requested by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Parliament approves the transfer.

When devolution is complete, we will have arrived at a significant new chapter in our history, with politicians elected in Northern Ireland being fully accountable to the people of Northern Ireland on law and order, and power truly shared. The Bill will play an important part in enabling elected politicians in Northern Ireland to assume their political destiny.

I recognise that for some the pace of change remains daunting, and of course there is still confidence to be built. However, I believe that we are unanimous in recognising that the peace and prosperity that Northern Ireland enjoys today is a fundamental consequence of the political process. When the St. Andrews agreement was concluded in October 2006, and when the devolved institutions became operational in 2007, it was hoped that there would be sufficient community confidence to allow for the transfer of policing and justice powers by May 2008. The Government committed to do all that we could to ensure that when the Assembly was ready to ask for the transfer of powers, the necessary enabling legislation would be in place.

The Government had hoped to see stage 2 of devolution completed last May, but community confidence was not ready. On 18 November 2008, significant confidence having been built by their shared leadership, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister wrote to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee to say that agreement had been reached on a way forward to enable devolution to be completed. In January 2009, the Committee reported on its deliberations on the devolution of policing and justice powers, and its report was agreed by the Assembly in a cross-community vote. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the First Minister, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), and the Deputy First Minister, for their outstanding leadership and their determination to work through the problems that stood in the way of further progress towards the peaceful end that everybody seeks.

The elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland have asked us for legislation on a critical set of issues, which they set out last November. That request was made also in the AERC report this January. It is for the people of Northern Ireland, through their Assembly, to decide when to ask for the transfer of powers, and in turn that request is for this House to decide. That is why it is necessary to have the Bill in place now and to expedite its path without undue delay. That pace is not for the convenience of the Government but to ensure that the Assembly has the tools that it needs to take the process that it has created to the next stage. There will be those who say, “But the Assembly is not going to ask for the powers just yet”. That may indeed be the case, and it has much work still to do before it can do so, including creating a justice Department and deciding which of the several available models to adopt for the choice and appointment of a Justice Minister.

Political agreement has often eluded us in Northern Ireland, and its failure has had tragic consequences. However, we have now taken that agreement to a new level of confidence, and we should have the courage to be bold and go forward. Frequently in politics, it is not possible to give everyone everything that they want, when they want it. Such moments demand political courage, and the inspiration of the story of Northern Ireland is that political courage is a quality that has reaped enormous dividends. There was a time, not long ago, when few would have believed that we could have had stage 1 devolution, with a power-sharing Administration in place. There was a time, not so long ago, when few would have believed that we could even entertain the thought of stage 2 devolution of policing and justice. The Bill marks one more step in the transformation of Northern Ireland, and I ask again for the House’s co-operation and support in expediting it.

I turn to the details of the Bill. Clause 1 and schedule 1 provide for the new departmental model proposed by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister last November, and set out how that model would operate in the period up to 1 May 2012 if it were the one that the Assembly chose. The new model would consist of a single Minister, nominated by any member of the Assembly, elected by cross-community vote in the Assembly and removed in the same way. As such, the Minister would not count towards the parties’ allocation of seats on the Executive using the d’Hondt formula.

That new model is added to the menu of options already provided for in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. If the Bill is enacted, the Assembly will be able to choose from any one of eight models in setting up a justice Department. Under the terms of the agreement announced by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the Assembly will need to reach agreement on the future arrangements for ministerial oversight of the justice Department before 1 May 2012; otherwise, the Department will automatically be dissolved on that date.

Clause 2 and schedules 2 to 6 deal with the arrangements for judicial appointments and removals. Broadly speaking, they transfer the post-devolution role that had been envisaged for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission and, in particular cases, to the Lord Chief Justice and the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman. The roles already set out in legislation for Her Majesty, for the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor as her principal Ministers and for Parliament will remain largely unchanged.

Reflecting the policy that the Assembly should agree on long-term arrangements for judicial appointments by 1 May 2012, schedule 6 will place on the Assembly a requirement to task one of its Committees with reviewing the arrangements put in place by the Bill and with making recommendations before that date. It will also put in place a freeze on new appointments to the Judicial Appointments Commission from 1 May 2012, unless and until the Assembly has reached agreement on the future arrangements for judicial appointments and removals. That freeze will not prevent judicial appointments from being made, but it will create a practical incentive to those involved to reach agreement on the way forward.

Clauses 3 and 4 will make technical amendments to the statute book to prepare the way for the future transfer of policing and justice responsibilities. Clause 3(1) provides that, post-devolution, the function of the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland in relation to providing guidance on the disclosure of juror information will be split between the Advocate-General for Northern Ireland, for national security and terrorism cases, and the devolved Attorney-General for Northern Ireland for all other cases. That reflects the split of functions previously provided for by Parliament in the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 in respect of many of the Attorney-General’s other functions.

Clause 3(2) provides that the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland will be a corporation sole, a legal status meaning that the Public Prosecution Service can hold property in its own right. That will not alter the relationship between the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Public Prosecution Service and the Assembly, as provided for in the 2002 Act.

The House will have the opportunity later to debate the relationship between the DPP and the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, which was debated and agreed on during the passage of the 2002 Act. That Act gave effect to the criminal justice review, which stated, at paragraph 4.162, that

“in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, we believe that this independence should be further strengthened, by ensuring that the relationship between the Attorney General and the head of the prosecution service, while containing elements of oversight, is consultative and not supervisory. In other words, there should be no power for the Attorney General to direct the prosecutor, whether in individual cases or on policy matters.”

Critically, the review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland went on:

“Our impression is that in some other common law jurisdictions the relationship between Attorney and prosecutor works well in practice and that the independence of the prosecutor in decision making is respected; but ultimately, if there were disagreement between the Attorney and the prosecutor on an individual case, then in law the Attorney’s will would probably prevail.”

Crucially, the review said:

“We do not believe that such an arrangement would be suitable in the Northern Ireland context.”

It might help the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), if I remind him what was said by his noble and learned Friend Lord Mayhew, one of my predecessors as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and a former Attorney-General. During the passage of the 2002 Act, he said:

“Given the highly charged atmosphere of Northern Ireland—to use a well-chosen word that appears in the review—it is important that this enormously invasive prosecution arm of the state should be exercised in Northern Ireland by an official who is entirely independent. That is a departure from the current system in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 June 2002; Vol. 636, c.CWH93.]

I can only hope that the hon. Gentleman will find his noble Friend’s words persuasive when he considers his—very well-intentioned, I am sure—amendment. Equally, in the light of the information that we are beginning to discuss together, I hope that he will perhaps see why, on balance, the criminal justice review reached its decision after careful consideration and why his hon. Friend said what he said.

Clause 4 extends the scope of the order-making power in section 86 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to provide for the possibility that Executive functions may be devolved even where the legislative competence is to remain reserved. That would provide Parliament, in due course, with greater flexibility to ensure that practical responsibility for functions sits at the most appropriate level, while still keeping legislative competence for that matter reserved to Westminster.

Let us be clear about what the Bill is not. It is not a Bill that will devolve policing and justice. Parliament has already set out the arrangements for that, in section 4 of the 1998 Act, which depends on the triple lock, whereby a motion requesting devolution needs to be tabled in the Assembly by the First and Deputy First Ministers acting jointly. After that, the motion would need to be approved on a cross-community vote in the Assembly, and then the Secretary of State would bring forward transfer orders to Parliament in Westminster for approval and debate. The Bill will not impose devolution on a majority if they later choose not to exercise that power.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the costs of setting up a new system run into hundreds of millions of pounds and that there is a further £70 million funding shortfall across the agencies involved in the process? Does he accept those figures, and what implications does he think they will have for the Assembly, which will inevitably be required to plug the gap?

The hon. Gentleman may not be surprised to hear that I do not accept those figures. Northern Ireland had—[Hon. Members: “Higher!”] It is always pleasing to take part in the Dutch auction of Opposition Members. I do not accept those figures. I begin with the premise that in the comprehensive spending review, policing and justice in Northern Ireland had a very good settlement. There are considerable historic reasons why Northern Ireland demands such a settlement. This is in no way to question the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland or any of the other agencies there, but many chief constables look at the settlement achieved by the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland with a great deal of jealousy. I say that with huge respect for the work that is done, but the fact is that there is one police officer in Northern Ireland for every 215 to 220 people, whereas in my constituency in Merseyside, the numbers are dramatically different and, I regret to say, we have extremely high crime rates.

I will give way in a moment.

Despite the considerable work that is done, the fact of the matter is that the settlement in Northern Ireland was a good settlement.

The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser) asked about additional requests that have been made for money. As a matter of course, new pressures might arise following the making of the CSR. We are asking other police forces across the United Kingdom to deal with new demands by reordering their priorities, not giving them more money. Part of what Northern Ireland must do, in being normal, is to do the same as any other police force in any other part of the United Kingdom. There may be issues—I say “may”, because it is not a matter of fact or record that they can at this stage be described as justifiable pressures for new money—that need to be resolved. That is why the Prime Minister has asked Jeremy Heywood to chair a committee that will involve officials from Northern Ireland, my office and the offices of the First and Deputy First Ministers, as well as civil servants from Departments here, coming together to look at the so-called needs for extra money.

In this economic climate, people need to be sensible and realistic. I understand why people will make demands. However, at the same time, they need to recognise that those issues may not be unique to Northern Ireland, that some of the pressures being felt there now are being felt by other police forces around the country and that Northern Ireland, whether it is under the Secretary of State or its own Minister for Justice in a devolved Department, will be expected to adhere to the same responsibilities as anybody else would. I expect people to make the case, but it does not follow that because people make a case, that case will automatically be met. There is some hard work to be done. I am grateful to the First and Deputy First Ministers and to others who are taking part in the important process that is now under way and which has its first meeting later today.

Some issues remain to be resolved before devolution can take place, one of which is the need to recognise the valiant contribution of the part-time Royal Ulster Constabulary reserve in Northern Ireland over the period of the troubles. I know that the Minister of State is currently reviewing that, but will the Secretary of State give a commitment that before devolution takes place his Department will properly recognise the contribution that those men and women made to safeguarding the entire community in Northern Ireland? Many of them paid with their lives and many still carry the injuries that they suffered during that campaign.

I will of course use this opportunity to endorse what the right hon. Gentleman says about the work and the extraordinary bravery of those people. However, as he also rightly said, my hon. Friend the Minister of State is looking at those matters. Tempted though I might be to answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question directly, it is precisely right that my hon. Friend does the work with his review. Just as the right hon. Gentleman and the First Minister have pressed their case previously, I am sure that they will continue to press it. Indeed, it concerns one of a number of issues that I am sure we will need to work through together in the coming months.

I said that it was important to be clear about what the Bill is not. Crucially, it will not decide the model for the new Department of Justice; rather, it adds one more model to the menu. It remains for the Assembly to choose which model it wants to pursue. What the Bill does is give legal expression to the work of elected politicians in Northern Ireland. In considering the Bill, we should have due regard to the work and wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland and those who produced the Assembly and Executive Review Committee report.

In addition to enabling the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland to be realised, we should also send a clear political message today to the small numbers of criminals in Northern Ireland who do not want to see peace and stability on the streets. There are criminal groups styling themselves as republicans for whom the idea of political progress, shared power and fully devolved institutions is abhorrent; they do not want to see that. Regrettably, we always feared that this would be the case. We also feared that, at the moment at which great political progress was being made in Northern Ireland, they would try to seize such an opportunity.

Regrettably, we have seen increased activity by this very small number of dissidents in the past few months, and it has been targeted particularly, but not only, at police officers. The PSNI will need to work incredibly closely with the community to ensure that the response to this activity, while increased, is also proportionate. This is not like the old days. This involves a group of people who have absolutely no support and who are condemned by everyone across the board. They thrive in an atmosphere of fear and in the vacuum that they hope to create if the political process can be stalled. Today in this House, the Bill provides an opportunity yet again to send a clear message to those who do not want political progress, who wish to stall the work of the people and the political parties of Northern Ireland, and who wish to frustrate and challenge the courage of those who are leading their political parties and Northern Ireland to a different place.

The message that this House sends, in supporting the Bill, is that the political process is winning, that it has transformed Northern Ireland, and that if we allow this transformation to continue to its logical conclusion, so that those elected in Northern Ireland become responsible for policing and justice in the months ahead, there will be no clearer signal to these people that, while they might try hard and while they might pose a threat to some, we hope that they will never have the chance to succeed, and we will never let them succeed. They are criminals, and criminal threats will never be allowed to halt legitimate processes. This House, in supporting the Bill, will send an unequivocal message that politics in Northern Ireland is winning.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for outlining the main provisions in the Bill and the Government’s rationale for bringing it before the House today. I also thank him for giving the Opposition early sight of the legislation, and for the helpful manner in which his officials have answered our questions.

The last Conservative Government began the peace process, and their work was built on by the current Labour Government. As I said in the debate on the programme motion, it has always been our policy in opposition to set party politics aside on issues concerning Northern Ireland, and broadly to support the Government in their approach to the peace process and devolution. In doing so, we have not given the Government a blank cheque, however. While trying to be as supportive as possible, we have made constructive and detailed criticisms.

At the outset, I reconfirm that we emphatically support the Belfast agreement and the current devolved institutions that followed on from it. We would like to see the institutions that were established by ensuing agreements working effectively for the good of all the people of Northern Ireland. We have therefore always supported the eventual devolution of criminal justice and policing, when the conditions were right and once the proposed model for devolution had the support of all communities. Devolution of criminal justice and policing was, after all, envisaged in the Belfast agreement and re-affirmed in the joint declaration of 2003, and subsequently at St. Andrews in 2006.

Thanks to the efforts of the last two Governments, Northern Ireland has been transformed. However, when considering the Bill today, we should remember that the current circumstances are not normal. Although the horrific levels of violence experienced during the troubles are now largely behind us, there is still a real threat of brutality from dissident republican groups and so-called loyalist paramilitaries, as the Secretary of State has just mentioned. The dissidents have openly stated that they intend to kill a police officer.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in the main, the fact that the dissident republicans have not been able to kill a policeman is down to excellent police work, and that it is thanks to Sir Hugh Orde and his team that those people have been contained so effectively? Does he also agree that the co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda Siochana is now helping to contain the dissident republicans?

I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman’s comments; I am about to make similar comments myself. I particularly agree with him about the collaboration with the Garda, which I have noticed in the border areas.

The year before last, two officers had lucky escapes in Londonderry and Dungannon. In more recent months, the attacks in Craigavon, the rocket attack in Lisnaskea and the bomb in Rosslea thankfully did not succeed. As recently as February, a 300 lb bomb was found in Castlewellan. So-called loyalist groups also pose a real danger to police officers. It is disgraceful that they have not decommissioned weapons as we approach the 11th anniversary of the Belfast agreement. A police officer was shot in the back in Carrickfergus, and of the 20 officers forced from their homes in the past 12 months, five were driven out by loyalists. The above list is far from comprehensive, and I pay tribute to the bravery of all those involved at every level of the police and security services for minimising the damage that these violent criminals wish to inflict on the law-abiding majority. As we debate the Bill, we should all remember the dedication of these public servants.

Some dissident groups have moved into drug crime, and this continues the violence. Masked men who shot a man dead in Londonderry in February were thought to be dissident republicans involved in drugs. Fuel smuggling is estimated to cost the Exchequer £100 million a year. In some areas, both dissidents and republicans are, amazingly, working together to smuggle fuel.

The Assembly should remember, when deciding whether to use the option provided by the Bill, that normal policing is extremely difficult in these circumstances and that—despite Patten recommendation 55, which states that police cars should be substituted in place of armoured Land Rovers—more and more patrols are forced to travel in armoured vehicles due to the rise in dissident violence. The dissident threat has also led to a huge increase in police overtime, with the result that £24.5million has had to be taken from this year’s budget to pay for last year. There are suggestions that the Policing Board is starting the new financial year £50 million in the red. The PSNI needs to save £263 million by 2011. Proposed police station closures are unpopular, the information technology budget has had to be reduced, and police overtime will be cut by 51 per cent. over three years.

We are therefore discussing the Bill in the context of further looming pressures on the budget. There are more than 2,000 claimants for hearing loss, which could cost a further £100 million. I have even heard reports that that could rise to £400 million. The historical enquiries team has had to cut staff. The current established figure of 7,500 full-time officers has not been achieved, and plans for police community support officers have been put on hold for three years. On the positive side, great progress has been made in increasing Catholic recruitment, which is up to 25 per cent., and on target for 30 per cent. by March 2011.

In his winding-up speech, will the Minister please confirm that police pay, pensions and conditions will continue to be set nationally after devolution? Will he confirm how inquiries into the past will be paid for in future? Who will pay for any litigation that flows from those inquiries? Could he give us an overall appraisal of the current and future financial position of the PSNI?

When the Assembly comes to debate the timing of devolution, it should be aware of the extremely difficult conditions in which the police continue to operate, and the serious financial consequences of that. I am also conscious that a number of politicians in Northern Ireland take the view that Stormont should be allowed to settle down and resolve issues such as education before taking on the additional burden of policing and criminal justice. In my opinion, however, that is strictly a matter for the Assembly.

The background to the Bill is that the PSNI is already the most accountable police force in the world. The Chief Constable is widely respected across all parts of the community and is self-evidently non-political. He reports to a Policing Board that has representatives from all political parties, and there is further scrutiny by the police ombudsman, the district policing partnerships and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Despite the ultimate responsibility resting with the Secretary of State, there is already significant involvement by representatives across all the community in Northern Ireland.

It is important to stress—as the Secretary of State did—that the Bill does not deliver the devolution of criminal justice and policing. That could have been triggered at any time since the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which gave effect to the Good Friday agreement, had there been cross-community support for it. Since then, a number of models for the devolution of criminal justice and policing have been proposed. There are currently seven such models. This Bill creates an eighth model, following exhaustive negotiations in the Northern Ireland Assembly, primarily between the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein. That resulted in a report to the Assembly, which was published in January. We believe that locally elected politicians should ultimately be responsible for such matters, but which model is chosen should be a matter for the parties in the Assembly to agree.

At the same time, we have always insisted that powers should be transferred from this Parliament only when three criteria have been satisfied: first, that all parties represented in the Executive are committed to pursuing their objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means; secondly, that all parties fully support, in word and deed, the criminal justice system, including the police and the courts; and, thirdly, that such a transfer of powers commands support across the community, as expressed through Northern Ireland’s political representatives. In our view, that is not something that should be imposed according to an arbitrary deadline or timetable, so I welcome the fact that nothing in the Bill alters the existing triple lock on the transfer of powers.

The mechanism for transferring policing and justice in the 1998 Act remains unchanged. Before devolution takes place, it must have the consent of the First Minister, a majority of designated Unionists and nationalists in the Assembly and of both Houses of Parliament. I give a guarantee that any future Conservative Government will fully uphold that triple lock while respecting the decision of the Assembly.

In addition, we have always made it clear that any devolution of policing and justice powers must preserve the operational independence of the Chief Constable and his officers; the independence of the judiciary must also be guaranteed. Those are cardinal principles that cannot be compromised. There must be no question of allowing political interference in such matters in Northern Ireland or in any other part of the United Kingdom.

We support many features of the Bill, particularly the changes to the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 in respect of appointments to judicial offices. In our view, it is right and sensible to give to the Lord Chief Justice the powers originally envisaged as being exercised by the First and Deputy First Ministers. One of our concerns when the 2002 Act was passing through Parliament was about the potential for politicisation of certain judicial appointments, but these changes go some way to allaying our fears.

We are not happy, however, that the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland is, in the words of the explanatory note,

“independent of a ‘parent’ department within the Northern Ireland departmental system”.

I listened carefully to the Secretary of State’s comments, and we will study the text that he referred to in detail, but we believe that devolution of criminal justice and policing would actually be strengthened if the DPP were superintended by the Attorney-General, who, according to the 2002 Act, may participate in the proceedings of the Assembly. We believe that the Attorney-General should be appointed by the Lord Chief Justice on the recommendation of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission.

I am confident that our amendments, if approved, would strengthen the devolution of justice, making the DPP answerable to a key figure who is accountable in turn to the Assembly. It would also give the DPP a shield to protect him on occasions when he has to deal with very contentious prosecutions. We have tabled a number of other amendments, including one that would set a time limit of six months on appointing a Justice Minister. That is in no way intended to undermine devolution, but we think that, given the security situation in Northern Ireland, it is not acceptable for criminal justice and policing to continue for an indefinite period without a Minister responsible to a democratic body.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman noticed, but in the Secretary of State’s speech, he relied on—without naming them—other common law jurisdictions, which I recall him saying would not be a good formula for Northern Ireland. He did not elaborate. As an aside, I think that that shows that if we had a proper Committee stage, we could probe much further. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will join me in asking the Secretary of State to tell us when he concludes the debate what jurisdictions the Government consulted and what those jurisdictions were asked. It would be interesting to know. I follow much of what the hon. Gentleman says; he is making a powerful point.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will have noted those comments and will reply later. We think that there should be a limit to the process, so that we have a final full-stop. It would not be sensible to have a Department without a Minister for an indefinite period.

I am aware that time is short and many other Members wish to speak, so let me summarise our position. We support the devolution of criminal justice and policing, but it is for the Assembly to decide when all parts of the community consider the time to be right. Given the dangerous security situation that is also exacerbating the financial pressures of devolving criminal justice and policing, the Assembly should think long and hard before taking this step. We believe that, should it decide to do so, this model has many merits. It would, however, be much improved if our amendment on the accountability of the DPP were agreed. On that basis, we will support Second Reading this evening.

Yet again, we have a Second Reading debate on a Bill that addresses the devolution of justice and policing in Northern Ireland. It comes, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) noted earlier, on top of a torrent of legislation on the same subject—seven previous Acts have touched to some degree on this issue. The reason for having so much legislation is that there has been so much misrepresentation about what the devolution of justice actually means. We have also had a lot of pretence about its imminence in the past, and perhaps there will be more pretence about it now.

Let us reflect on how this issue has developed over recent years. Sinn Fein used it as an excuse to put off the evil day, as they saw it, when it would have to sign up to policing. It said that it had to have devolution of justice and policing first, so the terms, principles and constructs of the devolution of justice and policing became the be-all and end-all before Sinn Fein could move forward on policing. It was essential to Sinn Fein, because it could say that when it went on the Policing Board, it would have control over the police. The Government—indeed the two Governments—started playing that line and brought us through a chicane of different legislative models and pieces of legislation in order to create landmarks, which were optical illusions to show that significant progress was being made on the road to the devolution of justice and policing. Those optics could then be served up to supporters and the broader public.

All that created fear and unease within the Unionist community, so parties such as the Democratic Unionist party worked to hold up the devolution of justice and policing with dire warnings about paramilitary control or people with paramilitary records gaining control of the police and the prosecution service, thus creating a lot of unnecessary and undue fears about what the devolution of justice and policing would entail.

What we need to remember about all this—in fairness, the Secretary of State has made this point in the past, as did his predecessor—is that a significant number of the powers previously exercised by Secretaries of State and the Northern Ireland Office had already been devolved both to the Policing Board and the Chief Constable, and rightly so. Broadly, that worked well and confounded the low expectations of many people.

We also need to remember that when the devolution of policing and justice comes, whoever or whatever the relevant Minister may be, they will not be in a position to lift the phone and tell the Chief Constable, “Set my people free; go after those people.” Ministers will not be able to interfere in prosecutions, judicial considerations or anything else of that nature. Many of the fears have thus been hyped up—apprehensions on the one hand and perhaps false aspirations and ambitions on the other. Any such falsehoods needed to be laid to rest.

With the devolution of justice and policing, there will be no going back to the political control of the old Ministry of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland, and there will be no going forward to paramilitary control. Why? Because the protections in the Patten report and the criminal justice review—two reviews set up under the Good Friday agreement—are there to stop it. Sinn Fein knows that, which is why it ended up having to sign up to policing, despite the fact that it had neither the devolution of justice and policing nor even a date for it to happen. At the time, it did not even have the agreement that it now says that it has with the DUP. Its position was indulged for far too long, with all the phoney legislation and other moves of Governments emerging from it. That is why we are back here dealing with the issue yet again today.

The DUP, of course, knows all about this, too. That is why the current DUP leader, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) told The Irish Times four and a half years ago that the devolution of justice was “no big move” for Unionists, yet we get it played again and again as though it were the biggest possible move for Unionists. Again, bad management of the process by the Government has allowed the Democratic Unionist party to move from one tactic to another.

The fact is that devolution of justice and policing will be a threat to nobody and an opportunity for everyone. It will consummate political change and policing change. It will ensure that we complete the suite of devolution in having policing and justice powers alongside all others. It will mean that MLAs will be worthy of the title Members of the Legislative Assembly, because they will be able to legislate on the criminal law alongside other matters and ensure that programmes, policies and budgets across all the services that policing has to deal with, along with other devolved services, can better mesh and engage.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept the point on additional costs, which I made earlier to the Secretary of State, and is he as concerned as me that the burden will be put on the Assembly? As the Secretary of State has pointed out, it may have to find its own means to deal with the issue.

Yes, we have concerns about that. The Assembly, Members of the Assembly and the Executive face budgetary pressures and will want to show good due diligence for any other responsibilities that they get, so obviously we want to pay attention to the budget. We want to get devolution soon, but we also want to get it right. We want to get it right by budget, right by policing and right by the needs of the justice system. We also want to get it right—the Social Democratic and Labour party makes no apology for this—by the Good Friday agreement and the principle of democratic inclusion, which was enshrined and built into that agreement. We make no apology for trying to get it right in all those areas, but we should not turn this debate into a lobbying exercise on budgetary matters, which need to be pressed elsewhere.

Is the hon. Gentleman’s reference to the Good Friday agreement a reference to the “ugly scaffolding” that he has talked about on previous occasions and the need to dismantle it?

I make no apologies. I used the phrase “ugly scaffolding”, as the right hon. Gentleman may remember from when he and I were negotiating the Good Friday agreement. Indeed, on many of the institutional aspects of the agreement, if the truth be told, he had more of a hand in negotiating some of the detail than the former Member for Upper Bann, Lord Trimble. I proudly recall many of the conversations and exchanges that we had.

We said that we wanted to ensure that some of the provisions of the agreement would be biodegradable so that, as we created a new political environment, some of the artificial protections could be dispensed with by agreement. That is what we look forward to, but we see it happening in the context of a strong and robust Bill of Rights, which the right hon. Gentleman and his party completely oppose. If there is no strong, robust, effective and articulate Bill of Rights providing protections, obviously people will want to hang on to all sorts of protections that are built into the decision-making process.

Will the Assembly not have to take into account the issue of cost when it considers whether it wishes to ask for these powers? Is it in fact not a matter that should be taken into account by this House now? We should be taking into account the nature of what is put before us. As one who has listened carefully to this debate and previous debates, it seems to me that what is before us is a perfectly reasonable answer to the problem.

First, I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point. This is not in itself a budgetary debate, and it is important not to turn the debate on the Bill into a budgetary debate. Secondly, what is before us does not provide an answer to the vexed question of how to provide for the devolution of justice and policing now and how to ensure that we have an enduring political arrangement.

In opening the debate, the Secretary of State talked about there being an enduring political settlement, but the Bill provides for a justice Department that will not be enduring. It provides for a transitional Department that will exist until 1 May 2012 and which will then dissolve automatically unless the Assembly has agreed before that to make some other arrangement. Hon. Members should consider our experience over the past number of years and the fact that the House—despite all the promises and pretensions of various Secretaries of State as they have introduced and bum-rushed different legislation through this place, saying, “It is absolutely needed and this is the impetus we need to take us over the hill, round the corner and into nirvana,”—has constantly come back to yet more Bills.

When we were considering one of the previous bits of legislation, I remember telling the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) that he had presented more vacuous models than Hugh Hefner. We still have no end to the models that will have to be presented here.

I am very much on the subject of the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, because the Bill provides for a ninth model. Indeed, the Secretary of State told us that the Bill with neither impose devolution—nor can it, because the triple lock is still there—nor make this the only model. He said that it adds only one more model to the menu. Of course, people are free to come up with other models if they want to. That is the compelling urgency that we have for this legislation and that is what the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) says convinces him that it is a good answer to the problem that we have. It is not.

We should consider the arrangement that the Bill provides for the appointment of a Minister. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) talked about the Alliance party being the elephant in the room—not in the room, hovering above the room or whatever—and it is clearly no secret that Sinn Fein and the DUP have agreed that, for the purposes of the first Minister with responsibility for justice and policing in the devolved context, the d’Hondt provisions—the provisions of inclusion in the Good Friday agreement—are to be bypassed, abandoned and subverted.

The agreement deliberately made those provisions, and when we were negotiating it was agreed—I include myself and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) here—that we should not have a situation in which parties could vet and veto each other’s ministerial appointments as that would be a recipe for instability and game playing. Yet that is exactly what has been agreed between Sinn Fein and the DUP, and it is exactly what this legislative model provides for.

I fully understand that the DUP does not want an additional nationalist Minister, which would happen if this were to be done through an additional Minister being appointed under d’Hondt. The DUP does not want a second SDLP Minister, because we might be better up to what it is at in government and elsewhere than Sinn Fein apparently is. Sinn Fein does not want a second SDLP Minister either, but what we have here is legislation that allows for gerrymandering in Northern Ireland 2009.

The old Stormont regime began in the 1920s by removing the guarantee that was laid down for proportional representation in local government. Then it moved on to remove the guarantee for proportional representation laid down for the Stormont Parliament. This Stormont regime is beginning, with the connivance of the Government, by removing the provisions for proportional representation that the Good Friday agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 laid down for the Executive in Northern Ireland and for ministerial appointments. That is why this is a serious matter. It cannot be a matter of indifference to us, and not just because the SDLP would directly lose out. We would defend this principle if it affected any other party as well, and our record shows that.

Indeed, I point out to Members the fact that whenever we were debating the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007—when the right hon. Member for Neath, as Secretary of State, produced the eighth model, which said that there could be a Minister and a Deputy Minister elected by the Assembly on a cross-community vote, but specified that those Ministers could come only from the two largest designations—we protested at that exclusion of the Alliance party. We said, “If you are going to depart from the agreement and remove the principle of inclusion, you should not introduce a form of exclusion that has clearly militated against a particular party.” Our record on that is clean and it is clear. We want all parties to be treated fairly according to their democratic entitlements, but that is not what the Bill does.

I do not want to dwell on the issue of who would be the Minister and how the Minister would be appointed, because there are more serious issues in the Bill. Whoever was appointed according to the model in the Bill—and in all likelihood, given the current thinking of the DUP and Sinn Fein, it will not be an SDLP Minister—may stay in office, but can be put out of office at any time. That does not apply to the other Ministers, who can be put out of office only in accordance with provisions in the agreement and terms for exclusion. I think it quite unfair that an Alliance Minister might be put out of office just for being annoying, although some people might consider that a good enough reason. The chances are, however, that whoever is appointed will be the Minister until the next Assembly election, if devolution comes before it.

The Bill provides that, after the Assembly election scheduled for May 2011, all the other Ministers will have to be appointed by means of the d’Hondt system, and if that has not happened within seven days, there will be an election. However, the Bill also states that we do not have to appoint or elect a Minister of Justice. Our Department of Justice can continue indefinitely without a Minister. If we consider the Department of Justice to be so important and sensitive that we must get it absolutely right, can we really be saying that we want to pass legislation whereby we are prepared to leave the ministerial post vacant after an Assembly election—that the Department can continue without a Minister? And for how long are we saying that that can continue?

The hon. Gentleman will have observed that our amendments address not only what will happen after an Assembly election, but what would happen if policing and justice were devolved later this year. We feel that in that event a Minister should be in place almost immediately, or at least as soon as possible.

I am aware of the amendments tabled by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, but I think that our amendments provide better ways of dealing with these issues, and that they are more consistent and compatible with the principles and provisions of the agreement and the 1998 Act.

Although I appreciate the opportunity that we were given to discuss aspects of the Bill with officials from the Northern Ireland Office, when we asked what would happen about the Justice Minister and how long the situation could continue, we were told, “Obviously there will come a point at which Westminster will have to intervene.” Will it? Has Sinn Fein agreed to that? It has clearly agreed to much of the Bill’s content, but has it agreed that if no Justice Minister is appointed for a significant period after the 2011 election, Westminster will have to intervene at some stage? Is this permanent devolution, or is it devolution that involves direct rule, or bits of direct rule, coming back here and there? It is unusual, and it is curious.

Why might we not have an elected Minister of Justice after the 2011 Assembly election? We might not have one because the Bill contains a sunset clause identifying 1 May 2012 as the point at which the Department of Justice will be devolved if no other provisions are made. The year will build up to that deadline and the potential stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP, which is what they intend. There was a stand-off between them over the devolution of justice and policing last year, with the Executive failing to meet for five months. Now the issue will be cranked up again in advance of the May 2011 election.

Each party will seek a mandate so that it can stand up to the other. Sinn Fein will want to push the line in asserting its rights in terms of the Ministry of Justice and policing, while the DUP will seek a mandate to hold the line against Sinn Fein’s assertions. Immediately after the election, the negotiations will begin. We will see a stand-off that could easily be reflected in a failure to agree to the election of a Justice Minister. The game of chicken will continue. According to the Bill, in 2011 we shall have a Department without a Minister, perhaps for a significant length of time.

Is it not also true that now is the time for the SDLP to stand up against Sinn Fein, give leadership to the people and gain their confidence?

We have always stood up against Sinn Fein. It is not us who are conniving and colloguing with Sinn Fein. It is not us who are in a snug pact with Sinn Fein, rushing all sorts of potentially controversial legislation through the Assembly under the accelerated passage procedure.

I took with a pinch of salt what I heard from some Members today about the need to ensure that legislation was always given due scrutiny, particularly when it was sensitive and controversial. I only hope that when it comes to the legislation on the devolution of justice and policing in the Assembly, it is not subject to the accelerated passage procedure as well. Sinn Fein, along with the DUP, has a fondness for using that procedure in the Assembly. Some of the rest of us try to stand up to Sinn Fein in those circumstances, but of course the DUP stands with it in those circumstances.

I have referred to the difficulties there could be in 2011, when we could have a Department without a Minister for a significant period of time. I now want to move on to 2012.

Before the hon. Gentleman does so, may I ask about the picture he has painted of what he considers to be the likely stand-off over the Minister for policing and justice? Does he not accept that if that kind of atmosphere prevails in policing and justice, it is also likely to prevail in the appointment of a First and Deputy First Minister, because there is the same potential for that? Therefore, if the structure, which he endorsed, for the appointment of the First and Deputy First Minister is robust enough, why does he not consider the arrangement for the appointment of a Minister for policing and justice to be similarly robust?

Simply because experience, including of how parties have dealt with this issue, shows us that it will not be. If this is about creating certainty, stability and confidence in the devolution of justice and policing, why are we going for a model that is so injected and pre-programmed with uncertainty that we have provisions for no Minister in 2011 and for dissolution in 2012? We have been told in both this debate and the earlier one about the significance of the 18 November agreement between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. That letter told us there was no fall-back, and that there was a sunset clause which was agreed only until May 2012. Do we have an enduring settlement and arrangement if we have a provision that is purely transitional and leads to the potential dissolution—that is what we are legislating for—on 1 May 2012 with no fall-back? We could have the fall-down of a Department, but we have no political fall-back. Therefore, in 2011 we could have a Department with no Minister and, because the schedule does not say that when the Department dissolves the Minister ceases to hold office, in 2012 we will have a Minister but perhaps no Department. There will be a zombie Minister, nominally the Minister of justice; there will be a Minister in office, but with no office and no private office staff, or anything else. That is the nonsense that we are legislating for in this Bill. So there is not just the badness of what has been done in moving away from the agreement and inclusion, but the madness of legislating for failure in that regard.

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister letter said there was no fall-back, but there is, of course, potentially a fall-back. We are told that this legislation is to discharge and reflect faithfully the agreement between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and all that was carefully negotiated between Sinn Fein and the DUP, but a fall-back is provided for. Paragraph 5(2)(b) of schedule 1 provides for the Secretary of State to introduce an Order in Council that would impose our old friend model 8, which the right hon. Member for Neath legislated through this House when he was Secretary of State. That model says there will be a justice Minister and a deputy justice Minister from the two largest political parties. I would be interested to hear from the Secretary of State or the Minister, either in an intervention or in a winding-up speech, whether they intend that provision as a fall-back, and if so, have they told Sinn Fein? Have Sinn Fein and the DUP agreed that there is such a fall-back? If Sinn Fein has agreed that that is a fall-back, the agreement of 18 November is already contradicted and confounded, and if it has not agreed that, it may well be upset and annoyed that this has been smuggled past it. That is one reason why we need more time to consider these matters in this House: some of us can spot things that Sinn Fein seems unable to spot, like the meaning of the words “at all times”.

As for whether the option would be the Justice Ministry or any other option, does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the event of negotiations and discussions running into the sand, the ultimate fall-back position would be this House anyway?

That is not what I want to achieve; I want to achieve devolution that happens once and for all and for good, particularly if we are, in the Secretary of State’s words, trying to talk about enduring arrangements. That is what we want to get to. I make no secret of the fact—this is shown in my party’s amendments—that what we want for a Minister of justice and policing, as with all other Ministers, is appointment by inclusion, by the d’Hondt system. If people realise just how limited the rules and powers of this Minister are going to be, they may not be as vexed. The reality is that the Minister’s main job will be getting the budget rather than setting it, because that is the job of the Chief Constable and the Policing Board, and taking the lead in preparing and providing legislation as well.

The point about 2012 is that we will have this stalemate of a Department dissolved. What will happen to its functions? Will they, as the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) suggests, then come to this House? I know that some hon. Members have tabled amendments saying that in the event of no Minister being appointed in 2011 or the Department dissolving in 2012, things revert to some sort of direct rule, some sort of appointment by the Prime Minister, or they go to the Secretary of State and so on. I do not know whether that is what he is suggesting when he says that they will revert to this House. That may be his understanding, but I do not know whether it is part of an understanding that his party has shared with Sinn Fein and that the leader of his party has shared with the Deputy First Minister—perhaps that will be elaborated on later in the debate.

The potential fall-back provided for in paragraph 5(2)(b) of schedule 1 is not much of a fall-back, because it does not guarantee that a Department and a Minister will be appointed. The fall-back brings us only to a situation in which there can be a Minister and a Deputy Minister elected by cross-community votes, and so we are back again to the need for agreement and the potential veto over who will be the Justice and Policing Minister—it is the triple lock yet again. No matter what way we look at all these things and the fall-backs, it is again a case of, “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza.” We keep coming back to the same point—the veto that will be there. Even the fall-back of 2012 turns out to be an optical illusion too, because we are confronted with the DUP veto at all times in that situation.

That is why we need to pay attention to the various amendments that are proposed on these issues. Other issues are obviously provided for in this Bill, but on judicial appointments we regret the removal of the role in the procedure for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister—not that they were going to have a significant say, because their only power was to be to ask, on occasion, the Judicial Appointments Commission to think again about a recommendation. That was all; they could ask it to have a second thought on a recommendation, but they were going to have no other powers of interference or influence on judicial appointments. This was provided for in the criminal justice review, and we regret anything that takes us away from that review.

Similarly, because the issue of a corporation sole for the Director of Public Prosecutions was provided for in the criminal justice review, we are a lot more relaxed about it than the Opposition Front-Bench team is, and we see merit in the arrangement. The detail would be hugely important—and we would all want to test it—but the principle would certainly not be an issue for ourselves. We have addressed some of these issues in our amendments as well. When the burden of our remarks has been on the main politics of justice and policing, and the ministry, we certainly would not wish to neglect on Second Reading important issues of principle in relation to judicial appointments, and provisions that flow from the agreement.

My party has also tabled amendments that deal with some other aspects of the Bill. Those are more by way of probing amendments where provisions are made for powers to switch from the Assembly to this Parliament or from here to authorities in Northern Ireland. We are not sure what is intended in such provisions and what they are meant to cover, so we tabled amendments so that we and other hon. Members can probe that.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has just offered the House a comprehensive analysis of some of the structural absurdities—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to you and to the hon. Gentleman who is speaking, but we have barely an hour remaining for Second Reading. Would you be kind enough to appeal for slightly shorter speeches than the one that has just been inflicted on us? It is very important that we hear from the First Minister, as well as from the Liberal Democrat spokesman. I might even wish to say something myself. We also need to hear the winding-up speeches.

I am sure that the whole House is aware that the clock is ticking. The hon. Gentleman has made the point well enough, and I do not think that I need repeat it.

I shall certainly curtail my remarks substantially.

Several points arose from the speech by the hon. Member for Foyle, which was a comprehensive analysis, although I did not share all his conclusions. On several occasions I would have liked to test his analysis, but I resisted doing so because of the time constraints that have been placed on the House. That is a very good practical illustration of the absurdity of the position in which the Secretary of State’s timetable motion has placed the House today. We are constrained from giving a proper consideration to this Bill on Second Reading, let alone at the later stages. We have two hours and 10 minutes for the Second Reading of a Bill that is of constitutional significance, and that is a constitutional outrage.

That said, the Liberal Democrats will support the Second Reading of the Bill. We have been supportive of the Government throughout the devolutionary process. Occasionally we have been critical friends, but I like to think that we have always been supportive and been able to reach an accommodation with the Government. I hope that by the time that we come to the end of this process, if not in this Chamber then in the other place, we will remain able to make that proud boast. However, as the Secretary of State knows, substantial issues of difference still lie between us. As things stand, it will be difficult for me to compromise on certain points that I shall mention later, on which we have tabled amendments.

We are in favour of the devolution of criminal justice. We have supported and promoted it for a long time, and we see it as the final piece in the devolutionary jigsaw. It is a major step in the normalisation process, as it is called. Several measures have already been put in place to provide greater transparency and accountability regarding operational matters, and they now need to be plugged into a democratically elected Assembly. That would be a recognition that criminal justice sits well with the other devolved Departments, including health and education. Criminal justice does not exist in a silo.

The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser) spoke earlier about the budget. Although that is not germane to the text of the Bill, It is part of the proper context in which we should consider the devolution of criminal justice. I was surprised when I heard the Secretary of State say that chief constables on the mainland of the United Kingdom would be envious of the budget given to the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland. That would probably be the only operational aspect of policing in Northern Ireland that would be the subject of envy from other chief constables. That point again highlights the inconsistency in the Secretary of State’s position. On the one hand, he tells us that we have to railroad the Bill through today because the whole process is so fragile, but on the other, he says that we have to look for cuts and savings in the front-line policing budget. We all know the context of the Patten level of policing being set at 7,500 until 2010 and thereafter of the suggested reduction to 6,000. To my mind, if devolution of criminal justice is to be successful politically, it must be given the resources operationally. If we fail to debate it in that context, we will have failed in our duty.

Our principal concern, however, relates to the provisions of schedule 1, which deal with the removal of a Minister from office. The House will be aware that the schedule proposes that a Justice Minister can be removed by a simple cross-community vote in the Assembly. The Secretary of State might argue that that is the same procedure as for the removal of any other Minister in the Assembly, but to do so ignores the political implications of that part of the Bill. We have warned the Secretary of State and Ministers not to consider policing in Northern Ireland as in any way comparable to other ministries. Policing in Northern Ireland has a particular special context and special arrangements, including those for human rights compliance and the structures for oversight and accountability that are not considered necessary in the rest of the UK.

Indeed, the subject of our debate this afternoon substantiates that point. We are offered yet another model for a ministry of justice in Northern Ireland in addition to the various others that are already on the statute book. Again, it emphasises that the justice ministry will not be just another Department and says that an issue as important as policing in Northern Ireland must have special arrangements. An entirely new Department must be created, outside the 10 Departments in the Assembly, to accommodate such weighty functions. That model says that although we have already considered how such a ministry should be structured, we have not got it right yet and that the matter is too important to be anything less than perfect. Simply to say that the Minister in charge of one of the most contentious and critical Departments can be got rid of in the same way as any other Minister ignores the special circumstances that surround the role.

Policing and justice functions are different in the Northern Irish context. They are so different that the parties in the Executive believe that they should look beyond themselves to find a person who can fulfil the role of the Justice Minister. Reference has been made to the Alliance party as the elephant in the room, but the elephant that has more determination in this debate than any other is the elephant that chooses not to come to this room. It is not the Alliance party that is pulling the strings, but Sinn Fein.

It is not the function of the Bill or the House to appoint the next Justice Minister, but we all know that it is widely said that an Alliance party nominee would be expected to take up the role, for the reasons that the hon. Member for Foyle explained. It is obvious that there is a certain logic and appropriateness in that. However, to place an Alliance Minister in a role from which they could be so easily removed is, in our view, completely unacceptable. That is our point of disruption as far as the Secretary of State and the Government are concerned. There is no equivalence between a Minister who simply has to retain the confidence of his party nominating officer and one who has to maintain the confidence of political opponents while doing the most difficult job in the Assembly.

The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) has recently been the subject of some controversy as Minister of Environment, given his views on man-made climate change. I wonder, in passing, whether he would retain the confidence of political opponents in the way that is expected of the Minister for Justice. Indeed, important though climate change is, the removal of the Environment Minister, if it were to happen, would never have the political implications of the removal of the Justice Minister.

It is also worth remembering that in a cross-community vote, the vote of a Member of the Alliance party is worth less than the vote of a Member of the DUP, Sinn Fein, the SDLP or the Ulster Unionist party—or the new force, or whatever it now is. The vote of an Alliance Member does not count in the stage that requires 50 per cent. of Unionists and 50 per cent. of the nationalists to vote, as Alliance is neither Unionist nor nationalist. Is it right that a person can be removed from such a fundamental position by a mechanism that does not even treat them as equal to the other parties in the Executive? No other party would accept such an onerous duty under such disadvantageous circumstances, and we cannot expect the Alliance party to do so.

When the House moves to consideration of the Bill in Committee, we will deal with amendments that seek to correct what we regard as an unacceptable provision. If the Government do not accept our constructive amendments, I very much regret to say that, although they will have our support on Second Reading, I cannot guarantee that they will have it much beyond that.

I rise to support the Bill. This is my first speech from the Back Benches in nearly four years, and I am very pleased that we are talking about a Bill that moves forward a process that is very close to my heart and to the hearts of all hon. Members in the House.

I am very conscious that the First Minister has not yet had the opportunity to address the House, so I shall drastically curtail my remarks to give him that opportunity. However, I am also very pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). I did not think that his speech was being inflicted on the House or on me: I enjoyed it, and he raised some serious and substantive points. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to address them satisfactorily, either when he sums up on Second Reading or on Report.

I also enjoyed the retelling by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle of his line about “vacuous models”. I enjoyed it the first, second and even third times that I heard him use it—

My hon. Friend says that he has used it only once, but today he referred to Hugh Hefner. When I heard it on another occasion, he mentioned Peter Stringfellow, which only goes to show that he has used the line more than once. However, it is a good line and merits retelling.

On a serious point, I am aware that this Bill, like many other measures introduced over the past few years, has generated unhappiness among my friends and comrades in the Social Democratic and Labour party. I sincerely hope that history will record the absolutely central role played by the SDLP in getting us to this point. When I was coming into politics, John Hume was a personal hero of mine and he inspired much of my approach. Although the realpolitik can be brutal—the electoral reality in Northern Ireland means that the Government have to deal with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist party—that does not mean that we should have less respect for what the SDLP has achieved.

Given the time, I shall restrict my comments to the issues of devolution and ministerial portfolios. As I said, this Bill is a small but very important step in the right direction. At the risk of provoking a rerun of the arguments held on the programme motion, I point out that the proposals in it are largely technical. That is not to diminish them or suggest that they are not complicated, but they are not prescriptive. The House is not setting out to tell members of the Stormont Assembly how they must proceed, but the Bill gives them another option in their general toolkit of options for facilitating what is a very important step in devolution.

For a short while, I had a role in our constitution that I think was unique. At one and the same time, I was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office under direct rule, and also a Minister in the Scotland Office, where devolution was fully functioning. That allowed me to see both sides of the Government’s work in relation to the nations and regions of the UK.

When I was a direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland, I always said that the form of government that we were able to provide there was not the second or even third best option, but that it was by a long way sub-optimal. I was looking after the Departments with responsibility for agriculture and for the environment, and I see that my esteemed successor in the latter is in his place this afternoon. I was also in charge of the Department for Regional Development, and I am very pleased that the strategic road improvement programme is opening today, after many years of the traffic jams that I inflicted on Belfast. However, the amount of time that we were able to give to such matters was, with the best will in the world, simply nowhere near as much as a local Minister can give to them. That is why I think that devolution will, in principle, result in greater confidence and better government.

That is not to say that I always agree with everything that local Ministers do. The devolved Minister with responsibility for criminal justice and policing in Scotland, Kenny MacAskill, is a man with whom I rarely agree on anything. Many of the things that he does as a Minister are wrong-headed, and many of the policies that he pursues are flat-out disastrous, but I would still rather that he was in post, having put a mandate before the people of Scotland and having been elected, albeit that he is making what I regard as mistakes, than that we did not have devolution at all. It is better that we proceed with devolution of criminal justice, albeit at a snail’s pace, with all the caveats, inconsistencies and unintended—or intended—consequences that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle outlined. That is still better than direct rule.

Obviously, because of the separate nature of its criminal justice system, Scotland has an absolutely central aspect of devolution in place. Devolution in Scotland without devolution of policing and criminal justice is unthinkable. The situation is slightly different in Wales, because there has never been a separate Welsh judiciary. Devolution in Northern Ireland will not be complete until policing and criminal justice matters have been devolved. I hope that that happens within my political lifetime—

and I hope that we do not hear a repetition of the phrase that it will not happen within our political lifetime, because that would leave an important, fairly disastrous hole in the middle of the devolutionary principle. I do not regard my political lifetime as over, contrary to any obituaries that have been written. It is important that we do not regard the current situation as in any way satisfactory until we complete that journey.

I understand the political processes that have to be gone through. I very much understand the political sensitivities, having spent a brief time in Northern Ireland, thankfully long after the troubles had ended. My only experience of such matters was meeting relatives of people killed or badly injured during that time. I was immensely privileged to attend the commemoration of the anniversary of the Omagh bombing. I will take with me for the rest of my life the extraordinary dignity of the families who lost loved ones in that most awful tragedy. We must not do anything crass and insensitive to their feelings and the memories that they carry with them, but the process has to move on. No one is arguing against that, but we have to will the means as well as the end. Everyone says, “We want criminal justice to be devolved”, but then for ever expresses caveats about the means, often as a way of delaying the day when criminal justice is devolved. We cannot use as a means of obfuscation the processes available in the toolkit that the Government are providing. They have to be used as a means of bringing about that devolution by the most equitable and fair means possible.

I want to speak on an issue that is slightly to one side of the thrust of today’s debate, but given that the Bill amends legislation on ministerial functions in Northern Ireland Departments, I hope that it is in order to do so; it may be the only opportunity that I get to say this. Obviously, if Northern Ireland is to proceed to a greater degree of normality, and to devolution akin to that in Scotland, issues to do with the enforced nature of the coalition will have to be dealt with. I believe strongly that the way in which ministerial Departments are configured in Northern Ireland militates against good government and good decision making. I understand why they are configured in that way, and why responsibilities have been separated as they have been, but it does not lead to good government.

It makes no sense that one Department has responsibility for the Northern Ireland Planning Service, while another has responsibility for planning policy. That simply makes no sense, and it does not lead to good decision making and good government. I happened to be the Minister with responsibility for both Departments, and it was months before I realised that those things were in separate Departments. It took me a while to figure out why there were two different cast lists of officials, and why, when I said, “In the meeting the other day, we spoke about planning policy statement 12” or whatever, officials looked at me blankly and said, “Minister, we are the Planning service; we have nothing to do with planning policy.” That sort of anomaly is replicated throughout government in Northern Ireland. This clearly is not the Bill nor the time to address such anomalies, but perhaps in 2012, when we are considering the new shape of the Justice Department, if a modicum of trust exists between the parties, it will be the time to do so.

It has been difficult enough in Northern Ireland to attract significant inward investment, such as John Lewis in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), who is not in his place. It was difficult enough under direct rule—whether or not we had to deal with the same people, although in different Departments, who were able to speak to colleagues—to compete with other parts of the United Kingdom, let alone other parts of Europe, and to move quickly, as Governments must, but I fear for Northern Ireland if these anomalies are not addressed in a proper review of Government. That is a bigger issue than is before us today, but it is relevant because we are talking about ministerial portfolios.

I conclude by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The issue of Northern Ireland has fallen out of the headlines here and that might lead some to conclude that it has been resolved, that it is all sorted and that there is no major heavy lifting to be done. But a lot of work has gone on under my right hon. Friend’s watch in the last couple of years, and he has gone about it in a quiet and dignified way, seeking not to inflame the positions, but to resolve them. That is the spirit in which he has approached the legislation today. I commend him for it and I commend the legislation to the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Members for Inverclyde (David Cairns) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) for truncating their remarks to allow me the opportunity to speak. I am not sure whether it will be of great value to them, because on the British Midland flight this morning I put my scribbled notes on the centre seat while I talked to the man beside me and the steward came along and said, “Can I take that rubbish away?” I can only say that it is a pity that he was not the steward on the flight taken by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). We might all have had more of an opportunity to speak in this debate.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill. It represents a significant step in introducing new propositions that will significantly grow confidence in Northern Ireland in policing and justice. It allows for a methodology whereby the people of Northern Ireland can have confidence, despite the long-held concern that most within the Unionist community felt about the prospect of a Sinn Fein Minister or Sinn Fein being in control of policing and justice.

I can easily recognise that Sinn Fein has taken considerable steps, given where it started from, in giving support to the police and encouraging people to give information to the police, and that must all be welcome, but it does not amount to its having gained sufficient confidence within the community to allow it to hold that office. I have no doubt that the prospect of any of my colleagues being Justice Minister will not enthral those who support Sinn Fein. That is the nub of the issue: the requirement that whoever holds that position has support across the community, especially given the kind of post that we are talking about. In the fullness of time, as normality in political terms gains hold in Northern Ireland, no doubt the DUP can look to that post, and there will be many very capable of holding it.

It is regrettable that my colleagues do not have sufficient opportunity to speak on Second Reading, but I hope that there will be some flexibility during the Committee stage to allow them to make their remarks. Politics is the worse for the debate being reduced to one day. I cannot understand how the business managers of this House think that it is more important that those in another place have two days to debate the Bill while we have only one day.

Those who follow Northern Ireland affairs closely will be aware of the agreement that laid the foundation for this Bill. It took many months of negotiations to reach it, and it is important to understand the background to this measure—not just what it does, but what it does not do. That affects the wider question of the devolution of policing and justice functions in Northern Ireland.

The history of devolving policing and justice powers in Northern Ireland is encouraging to Unionists. Unionists fought to have those powers involved in the original settlement when Stormont was set up, and Carson and Craigavon rightly ensured that that Parliament had them. That was the Unionist thing to do. Some people out there would make out that having policing and justice powers was some fillip to Sinn Fein. The reality is that another Unionist Prime Minister refused to continue with devolution when those powers were taken away, saying that a Parliament without them was not worth having. Those powers are no big deal—or “no big move”, as I have been quoted as saying—for Unionists. The control over those issues should be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Ministers.

The big issue—the big deal—has always been about who would have the powers under their control. My party made its position clear. I do not want to take up too much time, but the Democratic Unionist party manifesto is always worth reading. We made three specific commitments in it. First, we said that

“we support the devolution of policing and justice functions”,

and what we are doing today is consistent with that. Secondly, we said that

“we believe this can only happen when there is the necessary support within the community.”

I shall come back to that vital issue in a moment. Thirdly, we said:

“We have indicated that we do not believe there would be support for the devolution of such powers to a Sinn Fein Minister in the foreseeable future.”

We stood on those points in the Assembly election, during which we brought out a policy document on policing and justice. Some of its wording has been mangled by some of our opponents, so it is proper that it should be placed on the record. It states that

“we support the devolution of policing and justice…but believe it can only occur in the circumstances where there is the necessary confidence within the community. In the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 we succeeded in ensuring there was a triple lock on the exercise of such powers…In short, we have negotiated a veto for unionists on the devolution of these powers.”

Importantly, we went on to say:

“We have repeatedly indicated that in the context of Sinn Fein having a ministerial role in policing or justice it could be a political lifetime”—

the hon. Member for Inverclyde wondered whether that term would come up—

“before such powers would be devolved. However, we have now negotiated arrangements which allow the powers to be devolved when we are satisfied but also allow us to block a Sinn Fein Justice Minister.”

Therefore it was very clear that it was in the context of Sinn Fein’s having “a ministerial role” in policing or justice that a political lifetime could be involved. I am glad that, under the Bill, a cross-community vote will allow Unionist representatives to ensure that the person who holds the position is someone whom they believe fit to do so and someone with the confidence of the community. Equally, the nationalist community can have that confidence as well.

The hon. Member for Foyle has made much by stretching beyond credulity the issue of the arrangements in this Bill. I do not recognise the features to which he referred. Let me tell him why the d’Hondt issue came to a head with this Bill. If that system had been used, it might have helped the hon. Gentleman on this occasion, but it could have helped anybody else on a future occasion. As I said earlier, the important aspect of the position of Justice Minister is that the person who holds it should be able to gain cross-community support and the respect of the whole community in Northern Ireland. That is why d’Hondt was dumped, and it was a good precedent.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to tear down the rusty scaffolding of the Belfast agreement and get back more towards normality; the hon. Member for Inverclyde, a former Northern Ireland Minister, made that very point. We must continually reform the way in which we operate in Northern Ireland, not satisfy ourselves with what was effectively a cobbled-together version to deal with the specific difficulties that we faced. We must democratise Northern Ireland’s institutions, daily if we can. I hope that the hon. Member for Foyle will join us in attempting to make those changes to move from the unusual structures set up by the Belfast agreement, but happily much reformed by the St. Andrews agreement, which brought real accountability to the process of government in Northern Ireland.

In 2007, we made our position clear in our manifesto and policy document. By contrast, the Ulster Unionists’ position has moved considerably from where they were. I want to put on record the fact that there is no doubt that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) would have been here today—she always takes a great interest in policing matters and often speaks on them—but she is attending the funeral of a former colleague. I am sure that the House will understand her absence in those circumstances. The position of the Ulster Unionists—I do not blame the hon. Member for North Down for this—is that they signed a deal that involved Sinn Fein and would have automatically devolved policing and justice in October 2005. Even while the arms were still being held, while violence was continuing, while criminality was going on, they signed up to a deal whereby at the end of the 2005 we would have had the devolution of policing and justice powers.

More than that, when we prepared for the setting up of the Assembly we had what was called the Preparation for Government Committee, although it changed its name at some point, in which we dealt with the issue of policing and justice. The Ulster Unionist party’s representatives chided my party—I was deputy leader at the time—for not moving fast enough. Now we find—the Conservatives and Unionists’ new farce is killing us—that we are moving too fast. Let me be clear: our speed on this matter will be based entirely on the electoral commitments; there is no other basis on which we will move. Nobody else will add to or take away from the conditions that are laid down.

I welcome the Bill. We will perhaps get the opportunity to correct some of the misunderstandings that people might still have about certain aspects of it during the Committee stage.

I want to allow my good friend, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), the opportunity to make a contribution, should he catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but first I should mention the appointment of judges. We rightly took the view that judges should be appointed by a completely independent body so that they are not political appointees and therefore there is credibility to their independence. That model could be followed by others. It is a good move and, irrespective of the circumstances that brought it about, it is the right move for Northern Ireland.

This is not the end of the legislative process. Legislation has to be passed in the Assembly, which is a process that we will soon have to begin. After that, there are the stages where we will have to be satisfied that there is support for these measures, although I honestly believe that that is growing. Since we managed to negotiate that Sinn Fein would not hold the justice ministry, I have not heard anywhere in my constituency the kinds of concerns that there had been previously. However—people do not want to hear this, but it still has to be said—confidence is about more than who will operate these structures; it is also about the funding of policing and justice. That is a very important matter. I have discussed it with the Secretary of State and will no doubt do so many more times. There is no sense in Northern Ireland’s Assembly having responsibility for policing and justice if it does not have the resources to do the job. It is therefore vital that the Government divvy up in this regard.

When we entered into devolution in the first place, the Government gave us a financial commitment, about which there is some talk. I do not believe that the Prime Minister will go back on his word, and therefore I am sure that the rumours from the Treasury will be quashed at some later stage. But even though we had a deal for devolution, in which we were told that we could keep all the efficiencies made in Northern Ireland, there is talk in the Treasury that some of them will be pulled back. If people want us to have confidence in any deal that we do on finances for policing and justice, it will not set a very good example or give us confidence if the Treasury takes something back from the budget that was agreed to in the deal at the time of devolution.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish the Bill well. Like any Bill, it could be improved and my colleagues and I are happy to listen to any amendments and to take decisions based on the merit of the case presented.

I congratulate the politicians of Northern Ireland on reaching the agreement that meant that this Bill could come before the House. I want to hear from the Chairman of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs and my friend the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), so I will curtail my comments—but not because I was approached in the past 15 minutes by two Whips. That is a monumental cheek, frankly, in view of what happened earlier today.

I would like to ask a question to the Secretary of State that he might answer in winding up or in Committee. As I understand it, extraditions between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and requests for extradition from Northern Ireland to the Republic, have to come through the Ministry of Justice in London. Is there anything in the new arrangements that will allow us to avoid that process? It is not the distance of miles, but the fact that an extra party is involved in the extraditions that delays things, and it is quite frustrating for the police forces of both jurisdictions that such matters have to be dealt with through London. Will there be any change when the new judicial arrangements come in?

I was not clear about what the Secretary of State said about the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General in the Northern Ireland jurisdiction will not be like the one here, who is a party political appointment and a Member of Parliament. The Attorney-General in Northern Ireland will not be a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, although he or she will have access to it. I cannot see what the problem is. That is another example of where we could have had more time to tease out what is involved, including the relationship with the Secretary of State for Justice.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) referred to 2011 and 2012, and there is a 2010 issue, as well. For the purposes of this afternoon’s debate, let us assume that a Justice Minister is appointed from the Alliance party, is up and running in the role, but slips down the steps at Stormont—which are hard and difficult—and hurts himself badly, and then is no more. One cannot totally dismiss that scenario, but I do not wish it on anybody. What happens at the moment of such an unforeseen vacancy? It could well be that the Alliance does not wish to nominate in the unforeseen eventuality of a casual, but immediate vacancy occurring. How would that matter be resolved?

After the 2011 Stormont election, the size of the legislative Assembly has been large, and the proportional representation system allows room in the garden for most political interests. Boyd Black might lead a small, but significant Labour group in the Assembly—who knows? There is also the possibility, which we cannot dismiss, that there will be no Alliance party after the next election, and that all we will have is designated Unionists and designated nationalists. In that case, there will be an immediate paralysis that is not addressed by the legislation.

We need to keep the sanction for 2012, and for 2011, that there will be a dissolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a fresh general election if the body politic cannot agree on a new Justice Minister. It focuses men and women’s minds like a hanging if they know that they are going to face another general election. I hope that we can explore that matter further in Committee, but having raised those points I now conclude.

I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) for the gracious way in which he curtailed his remarks. I must say, any Whip who approaches him and tries to get him to speak for a very short time deserves the Whips’ cross, or some other order. If anybody is incapable of being cajoled in that way, it is the hon. Gentleman.

I am grateful also to my right hon. Friend—if I am allowed to call him that—the First Minister, who made a splendid speech. He said some extremely important things and he could, and in many ways should, have spoken for longer, as indeed should the Liberal Democrat spokesman. That underlines the point that so many Members made in the earlier debate about the allocation of time. It really is shameful. It is shameful also that some Northern Ireland Members and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser), an assiduous member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, will not be able to contribute to this Second Reading debate.

I wish to make a few brief points. When I came into the House in 1970 and sat next to a number of Ulster Unionists, who were then part of the Conservative party and a very different creation from the one that has appeared recently, we had a Parliament in Northern Ireland. As the First Minister indicated, there was a Minister in that Parliament who was responsible for policing and justice, which was an essential part of the settlement. I was here when direct rule was imposed, and I hope that I shall still be here when policing and justice are devolved again, and indeed for some years afterwards. That is why, like the First Minister and, I believe, everybody else who has spoken, I strongly support the Bill. That makes it all the sadder that we have a note of acrimony because of the curtailment of the debate.

I pay tribute to both the Secretary of State and, in particular, the Minister of State, who I hope will make a brief winding-up speech. He has endeared himself to people throughout the Province during his time there. It is crucial that, as and when policing and justice are devolved, that devolution sticks. That is why we must be guided on the timing of that devolution by those among the Unionist community who want it desperately. They have been magnanimous in not seeking to gain office for themselves, and given the current climate it is right that a member of another party, whether the Alliance party or another minority party, should hold the post of Justice Minister. That is for the people of Northern Ireland, and in particular the Assembly, to determine.

The hon. Member for Thurrock made the important point that there must be a contingency plan. None of us is immortal, and accident and death can happen to anyone, so there must be a contingency plan in the interests of continuity. I hope that the negotiations that will take place during the rest of this year, and until we have a Minister in place, will include proper provision for a contingency plan in the unhappy event of the incapacity or demise of the first Justice Minister.

It is crucial that there is proper financial stability and a proper financial settlement. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk raised that point in an intervention and that the First Minister underlined it. We all know the historic reasons why the costs of policing in Northern Ireland are so different from the costs of policing on Merseyside. The Secretary of State used that analogy. Of course, it is not really an analogy, because I could say that the costs of policing in Staffordshire, which has a population roughly equivalent to that of Northern Ireland, are much less, but of course there was not a period of 30 years in Staffordshire when more than 3,000 people were killed. We all know that it will take a long time before there is absolute normality. It is crucial that the transition from responsibility here in Westminster to responsibility in Belfast should be smooth and seamless and there should not be problems over present-day policing.

Also, we have to bring to a conclusion the cost of policing the past. The Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs produced a unanimous report on that issue, and I am glad that the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) is here, because he was a member of the Committee at that time—I pay tribute to him. However, we left a number of issues unanswered, awaiting the Eames-Bradley report. Now, when we look at the Eames-Bradley report, we must not dismiss the whole thing because of one particularly unwise recommendation. However, the furore caused as a result of that publication indicates the complexity of dealing with the past.

There is also a cost to dealing with the past. Whether one draws a line after five years or seven years, or whether one does not draw a line, there is a cost. The cost implications are considerable, and they are totally relevant to what we are discussing this afternoon, because if we create a situation where the costs are so overburdening that Northern Ireland cannot be properly policed, we will be giving a poisoned chalice to whomever holds that ministerial office and to their successors.

I will end on that note because we are about to hear the winding-up speeches and I do not want to transgress. It is crucial that what we are paving the way for here in Westminster today is a permanent solution. I want never again to see the imposition of direct rule in Northern Ireland. It would be a badge of failure for us all if that ever happened. It is therefore vital that the settlement that is agreed in Northern Ireland should be one that can last and that there should not be just one immediate Justice Minister, be they from the Alliance party or any other party, but that they should be the first in a long line. If that is the case, the work being done today will indeed be well done; if it is not, we will have failed the people of Northern Ireland, which we must not do.

Let me start by saying that the Bill is extremely complicated. It may be short and quite technical, but it is extremely complicated, in that it amends a number of previous Acts, as hon. Members have already said, and that those Acts have been amended previously. I thank the Clerks and the Northern Ireland Office for being so helpful, but at times even they had to do quite a bit of research to explain some of the things proposed by the Bill. I suggest that in future we try to find a slightly better way of dealing with legislation that amends so many previous Acts that have already been amended.

More time was needed for the Bill. Let me reiterate that Conservative Front Benchers took the view that the time would have been better spent on Second Reading rather than on debating the programme motion. That said, when the vote came we whipped our hon. Friends to support the amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone). We on the Front Bench greatly regret the fact that this debate has been truncated, when there is very little business taking place in the House tomorrow. We could have gone over into tomorrow and had a proper debate, but now we will have only two hours for the Committee stage, and there are a number of amendments to discuss.

We support the concept of devolution. Over the past four years I have probably sat on more Statutory Instrument Committees than any hon. Member in this Parliament. We have decided some very important matters in Statutory Instrument Committee, especially before the Assembly was reconvened almost two years ago. I am clearly on record as saying how wrong it is to decide major issues that affect more than 1.5 million people in Committees upstairs that were, as ever, stuffed with people who would go along with the party line, which was certainly true of Government Members. That was wrong. Those issues should have been decided by the people of Northern Ireland, and I have clearly stated that on the record.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) has said, we are very much in favour of devolving policing and justice. Of course, that has to happen when the time is right, and it has to be done in the right format. In our judgment, this model for the devolution of policing and justice is the one with the most merit. It could, however, be improved in a number of ways. We are concerned that there is no time limit for the appointment of a Minister to oversee these matters, when policing and justice are devolved. Devolution could take place without a Minister being in place, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has pointed out. After an Assembly election, all the other Ministers have to be appointed within seven days, but no time limit is specified for the appointment of this new Minister. Given the rather difficult security situation in Northern Ireland, we consider it unacceptable that responsibility should be devolved without a Minister being in place to oversee it. We have tabled amendments, which I hope that we shall discuss, to address that situation.

We hear what the Secretary of State has said about the supervision of the DPP, but we consider it unacceptable for someone in such a serious office not to be required to report to anyone or to obtain the protection of another Law Officer. Again, we have tabled amendments to try to address that situation. In regard to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) about extracting the appointment of judicial positions from politicians, we also think that it would be better if the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland were appointed by the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland, as that would strengthen devolution. We want to return to that matter in Committee.

If the Attorney-General were to appear before the Lord Chief Justice, what position would the Lord Chief Justice be placed in if the person appearing before him was effectively his appointee?

If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, we want to return to that matter in greater detail in Committee. We have tabled amendments on the subject, and we would like to discuss it at greater length at that time. We consider our proposal to be a better option.

I have only a short amount of time left, but may I just say that our final concern relates to the fall-back position? What would happen, for example, if the Department were dissolved on 1 May 2012? There should be something in the Bill to tell us what would happen in those circumstances. Again, we are trying to ensure that devolution will work. We are trying to cement it, rather than undermine it. I would be grateful if the Minister could address some of these points now, in case we do not reach them all during the very short Committee stage. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for not referring to all the speeches that were made during our Second Reading debate. I have made notes on them all, but I do not have time to go through them. Some very important points were raised, however.

As has been said, the Bill does not introduce devolution, but it might encourage it when the time is right. As far as we are concerned, that is a matter for the Assembly to decide. At this stage, we wish the Bill well, but we will attempt to improve it somewhat during the very short Committee stage that follows.

I thank everyone who has participated in the Second Reading debate this afternoon. One of the important features of the Bill is that, while it is our business here, it is very much a Bill made in Northern Ireland, reflecting the agreement between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in November last year and the report and recommendations of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee. From St. Andrews onwards, this Government have made it clear that we stand ready to do whatever we can to facilitate the move towards devolution—and now the completion of devolution—and that remains the case. That is why we have brought forward this legislation today. Of course, the question of when that will happen remains a matter for the Assembly, and the triple lock remains firmly in place. I thank the hon. Members for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) and for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) for their broad support for what we are setting out to do in the Bill and for their continued support for the devolution process and the triple lock.

I have been asked three specific questions. Police pay and conditions are currently negotiated centrally, which will remain the case at the point of devolution. The Assembly could change the situation in the future, although my recommendation, such as it is, is that it should consider change very carefully, as there are many benefits from having central negotiation. On public inquiries and who pays for them after the devolution of policing and justice, they remain the responsibility of central Government. On the future financial position, we are currently in the period governed by the comprehensive spending review of 2007, and it remains the case that throughout this period £1.1 billion will be available for policing for each and every year of that settlement. Beyond that is another matter, which will be the subject of further discussions.

Both the hon. Members for North Shropshire and for Tewkesbury raised the issue of judicial appointments. I am pleased that they signalled their clear support for the removal of the advisory role of the First and Deputy First Ministers within the process. They mentioned that they would like to see a degree of superintendence by the Attorney-General of the DPP, although the hon. Member for North Shropshire said that he was reflecting further on it. It is important to understand that the relationship between the DPP and the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland is based on the criminal justice review of 2000 and subsequent legislation. The review stressed that visible independence for the DPP is essential. I will not repeat the entire Lord Mayhew quote, which my right hon. Friend cited in his speech, but the key words were that it was important for the DPP to be “entirely independent”—the emphasis being on both “entirely” and “independent”.

There will also be a statutory duty to consult, and the consultation will be real. For example, in drawing up the code of practice for prosecutors, I expect there to be a full and frank exchange between those two people, whose relationship I expect to be meaningful. I hope to reassure the Opposition Front-Bench team—if not now, then in subsequent discussions—that the relationship between the DPP and the Attorney-General will really mean something and will count for something.

My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) made a speech that has been much remarked on—I enjoyed listening to it. He made the point that much in terms of devolution is already in place, particularly in respect of policing. The Policing Board is now in place, as are district policing partnerships, which are working increasingly closely with community safety partnerships. All that amounts to a significant devolution of functions and responsibilities. Of course, the operational independence of the Chief Constable and the police is already happening. I do not tell the Chief Constable what to do now; and I will not be able to tell him what to do after devolution either. I pay tribute to the Chief Constable and his colleagues for the part they have played in the journey that has brought us to today’s debate. It was not always easy to sit on the Policing Board or to go on to district policing partnerships, but he and his colleagues have done that.

I am afraid that I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle on his point about the d’Hondt system. Frankly, it is not for us in this place to choose the Minister; what we are doing is putting in place an additional model to enable the Assembly to do that. If I may say so, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) made a very important point when he offered a clear explanation of why d’Hondt could not be allowed to work—particularly now, when confidence is essential and the Assembly needs to keep control over the appointment. I found that to be a very persuasive argument.

My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle and others have asked what would happen if there were no agreement after 2012. The Bill provides no fall-back position beyond May 2012. Frankly, it is not for us in this place to determine any additional model beyond that period; it is a matter for the Assembly. If there were complete breakdown—this comment applies to devolution generally—then of course central Government might need to step in, but they could not continue indefinitely in that way. There is no fall-back position, as I have said, and it is entirely a matter for the Assembly. The hon. Member for Tewkesbury wants something built directly into the Bill to deal with this, but I think not. It is important to know that central Government do not have a major hand in determining what happens in a model beyond May 2012. That is a matter entirely for the Assembly.

The parties themselves will have to determine the model beyond May 2012. We are devolving policing and justice powers; we are not saying that we are partly devolving them and saving a little for ourselves. The matter is entirely for those parties. From everything that I see and hear, I am entirely confident that they can manage that constructively.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is a good friend of the peace process, and I thank him for all the constructive discussions that we have. On his major point of concern, it simply could not happen that, frivolously, the Assembly could get rid of the Justice Minister on a whim. There would have to be a motion before the Assembly, which would have to be tabled by at least 30 MLAs. That motion would have to be tabled jointly by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

In the end, there has to be a mechanism for removing someone from office. In every single one of the models—we will have nine if the legislation goes through—the mechanism for appointing the Minister is the same as that for removing that Minister. That is the justification and the rationale for this measure.

The fact remains, however, that, on the face of it, the Justice Minister will be left in a different position from every other Minister in the Executive. How can that possibly be right?

It will be a different arrangement for removal because there is a different arrangement for appointment. The same mechanism for appointment is therefore available for removal. That is entirely consistent with the other models, even if it is different in the respect that the Assembly appoints the Minister. The party leader would normally nominate the Minister and could remove that Minister. Here, the Assembly appoints and the Assembly could remove, but the safeguards mean that that could not be done frivolously.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns) for his speech. He was an excellent colleague in the time that we worked together in Northern Ireland, and he made an important contribution. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East also made an important speech that was encouraging in terms of devolution and, in particular, the Bill before us. He outlined the work that has gone into getting to the point at which the measures in the Bill have become possible. I thought it particularly striking that he took so much time to emphasise how important it is to the DUP that the devolution of policing and justice is carried through, although he of course emphasised that who exercises those powers is important. It is also important that there is widespread community confidence, although as he underlined, that confidence is growing. That is something that we can all sense.

The right hon. Gentleman, in common with the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser) and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), mentioned the issue of cost. As he knows, that is subject to considerable work, led by Jeremy Heywood, who was appointed by the Prime Minister. No doubt that work will continue to attract his attention and that of others.

I thank the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) for the remarks that he made, and for his support and his scrutiny of all the issues that we are discussing today, as well as on other occasions.

I turn finally to my dear and hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who I know was somewhat frustrated that he could not have quite as long to speak as he perhaps would have liked—we seldom do in this place. He raised some important points. If somebody left office, as it were, by accident, the Assembly would have the powers and the wherewithal to appoint somebody to stand in their place. It would be the same mechanism for then appointing somebody to succeed them.

My hon. Friend also asked about extraditions. Extraditions will not be affected by any measure in the Bill, although I am happy to meet him—

Four hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the allocation of time motion, the Deputy Speaker put the Question (Order, this day), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).