I beg to move,
That the draft Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010, which was laid before this House on 10 March, be approved.
With this we shall discuss the following motions on Northern Ireland:
That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 10 March, be approved.
That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 10 March, be approved.
Today’s business will enable the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland through the transfer of policing and justice powers to Stormont. The three orders before the House will give effect to the historic vote at Stormont on 9 March. The vast majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to request the transfer of those powers, which was hoped for from the time of the Belfast agreement and envisaged in the St. Andrews agreement. An agreement on a timetable was reached at Hillsborough castle earlier this year.
The completion of devolution will see the arrangements for sharing power fully realised on 12 April. It will ensure that local politicians in Northern Ireland can take responsibility for decisions that should and can be taken in Northern Ireland. Today we complete our responsibilities for the peace process and complete the political process for which we have responsibility, and we enable the Assembly at Stormont to complete its arrangements for full devolution.
I am grateful to all those who have enabled us to reach this crucial moment in the history of Northern Ireland. I thank the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and all the Assembly party leaders in Northern Ireland, even if agreement was not quite unanimous last week. That Northern Ireland can today live with its disagreements and ensure that division is contained within democratic institutions sends a signal of how the political process and the peace process have transformed Northern Ireland. Today in Northern Ireland we can disagree, but we can be certain that politics will be the only way forward to reconcile disagreements. Today’s Northern Ireland has demonstrated that politics has come of age, and when the will of a cross-community majority is respected, we know that we have succeeded.
We could not have made such progress without the political will of right hon. and hon. Members of all parties and the Members of another place. Cross-party support has been essential, and that has been true for many years. I want to take this opportunity to thank the Irish and American Governments for their respective roles in helping to reach political agreement. I am sure the House will want to place on record its thanks especially to Secretary of State Clinton and the United States economic envoy for all that they have done, and continue to do, to bring the dividends of political agreement to people in every community in Northern Ireland.
The three orders before us give effect to the devolution of policing and justice matters in Northern Ireland, in line with the framework set out in Acts of Parliament since the Good Friday agreement. They reflect the Hillsborough castle agreement and the request of the Assembly for the devolution of policing and justice responsibilities approved in its cross-community vote of 9 March.
The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Order 2010 is the key document. It provides for policing and justice matters, which until now have been reserved, to be transferred so that the Assembly can legislate on them without having to seek consent. The matters being transferred reflect the Assembly’s request of 9 March. Some matters, such as national security, will remain excepted; some will remain reserved, one of which is parading. The Hillsborough castle agreement, however, envisages that responsibility for parading will transfer after a cross-community vote, once the proposed new and improved framework has been agreed and finalised.
Also reserved is the special provision for 50:50 recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We are confident that we shall reach our target of 30 per cent. Catholic composition by March of next year, and we are committed to returning to Parliament and ending the provision at whatever point in the year it becomes clear that we will reach that target. National security remains excepted under the order. It remains just that—national security—and it will remain the responsibility of UK Ministers, accountable to this House.
The second order, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010, makes a large number of amendments consequential on the changes in legislative competence. They largely involve the transfer to Northern Ireland authorities of executive functions, reflecting the transfer in legislative responsibility. The main recipient of those functions is the new Northern Ireland Department of Justice, which the Assembly has already legislated to establish.
In the case of some functions that will transfer, there is potentially an interface with national security matters. That will remain the Secretary of State’s responsibility. In those cases, the order makes clear the respective roles and responsibilities of the Northern Ireland Justice Minister and the Secretary of State. The order provides, in line with the Hillsborough castle agreement, that quasi-judicial decisions may be made by the Justice Minister, and need not go to the Northern Ireland Executive.
The order also gives effect to various transfers of property and of most of the staff in the current Northern Ireland Office. Those staff will move to the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, leaving a small number who will continue to work to me as Secretary of State on my remaining responsibilities.
Finally, the Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010 transfers functions of the Court Service in Northern Ireland, which are currently the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, to the Northern Ireland authorities, generally the Department of Justice. The staff of the Court Service will also be assimilated into that Department.
The orders will come into effect on 12 April, in line with the Hillsborough castle agreement. The Justice Department will be well provided for financially as part of the £800 million of additional money that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised for the new Justice Department. All but £26 million—2 per cent. of the Northern Ireland Office’s current baseline budget—will transfer to the Northern Ireland Executive as will the entire Northern Ireland Court Service baseline budget. The Department will be well provided for in finance, people and ideas to carry forward its work.
I readily acknowledge that not everyone was entirely satisfied by the outcome of the Hillsborough castle agreement. I believe that much of that dissatisfaction is unfounded, as the arrangements for the talks were designed to bring all the parties together in a process, which was designed from its inception to be inclusive. Even if, after 10 days, the talks were somewhat exhausting, I believe that, at the end of them, the agreement that we reached has allowed the peace process and the political process to be completed.
I am particularly aware of the remaining concern about the arrangements for the Justice Department in May 2012, if there has not been further agreement on the ministerial model for that Department. However, as set out in the Northern Ireland Act 2009, the Department of Justice will dissolve on 1 May 2012 unless the Assembly has resolved on a cross-community basis to continue the current model for appointing the Justice Minister or passed an Act to put in place alternative arrangements.
When Parliament passed the legislation in March 2009, the House was aware that the arrangements reflected agreement between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister—specifically that the arrangements set out in their November 2008 statement should be time limited to end in May 2012.
Clearly, further work is needed to agree the post-2012 arrangements. However, we should be optimistic. The parties, both at Hillsborough castle and more recently, have demonstrated their ability to meet far greater challenges and to work through all the obstacles that may be placed in their way.
I am so sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State, but will he just reassure the people at home about the Policing Board in particular? He knows that it has been very successful and that there is unfortunately some disquiet that, when a justice scrutiny committee is set up in the Assembly, it might inadvertently undermine the Policing Board’s confidence, role and status. Will the Secretary of State please address that issue?
The hon. Lady asks an important question. Like many questions that she has asked in the course of the past few months’ work, it is to the point. The arrangements for the Policing Board, those with the Chief Constable and those that envisage the Assembly’s setting up a committee were imagined in the Patten architecture. It was always envisaged that there would be an important relationship between the Policing Board, the Chief Constable, the Department of Justice and the committees that would be set up. I believe that that is properly outlined in the protocols and memorandums that we have supplied on policing architecture. Like Patten, I do not see that there would be a problem for the Chief Constable’s independence, for the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s operational capacity, for the Policing Board’s fully representative functions of the political parties or for the scrutiny work to be carried out by an Assembly justice committee.
It is, of course, for the Assembly to decide the functions of such a justice committee. However, I remind the hon. Lady that, as she knows well, that arrangement was always envisaged by Patten, and it is not a new addition by this Government or a new arrangement. I believe that it is quite possible to see how what is effectively a tripartite organisation will work effectively together in terms of the objectives of policing and scrutiny. Again, that matter will be resolved far more easily when the architecture is put in place in practice, which we will see after 12 April.
As I was saying, we of course regret the decision by the Ulster Unionist party not to vote for the transfer with the rest of the Assembly in the cross-community vote on 9 March. That remains a matter of regret not just for me, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government, but for many, not least the majority of the public and many of those who would have voted, or had intended to vote, for the Ulster Unionist party in future.
If we look at the arrangements, however, we see that they inspire confidence. I congratulate all the Northern Ireland Assembly parties on establishing successful community confidence in the past few weeks. With the vote taken last week, it is time for all parties in Northern Ireland, and all Assembly Members from every party, to again put differences to one side and work together. The majority in the Assembly expressed its view last week, and I very much hope that that majority view will now be allowed to prevail. In that spirit, the task for all the parties in the Assembly and Executive is to ensure that all aspects of the settlement work most effectively for all the people from every community of Northern Ireland.
To that end, one of the most important outcomes of the Hillsborough castle agreement was the decision by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, who listened at Hillsborough castle to the concerns of all the Assembly parties, to improve the functioning of the Executive. It is very much to the credit of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister that as part of the Hillsborough castle agreement, a number of working parties were established precisely because they had listened to the concerns of the other Assembly parties as well as members of their own parties not only at Hillsborough, but in the previous months. That is why we welcome the role of Sir Reg Empey, along with that of the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, Margaret Ritchie, who will chair one of the working groups that has been specifically set up to enhance the effectiveness of the Executive.
At Hillsborough, the parties also agreed to address and find consensus on remaining outstanding issues and existing problems. On parades, for example, the working group has already produced a report for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. It is appropriate to record in this House the support given by the Orange Order to the progress to date on, and the work to find local solutions to, parading issues and contentious parades, which has been established as a result of the work at Hillsborough castle.
In short, I remain convinced that no outstanding issues are incapable of resolution in today’s Stormont and today’s shared-power Executive in Northern Ireland. None the less, a very small number of people in Northern Ireland, who are extremely dangerous, will never accept democracy and are the enemies of democracy. We have never said that the simple fact of completing devolution and taking responsibility will overnight remove the threat that those dangerous criminals continue to pose. However, as the Independent Monitoring Commission rightly said at the end of last year, early devolution will be a potent intervention, because it shows that politics is the only way ahead, and it demonstrates that it is possible to reconcile even the seemingly irreconcilable through dialogue and politics.
The successful cross-community vote last week was the best signal that we could possibly send to those dissidents that however delusional their ambitions, they have no future in Northern Ireland. The PSNI and the Chief Constable will have the support of all Assembly Members, and continue to enjoy the support of all Members of this House and the other place and of the Government, in meeting the challenges ahead. The PSNI will have the resources that it needs, including an extra £28.7 million this year, ring-fenced—and at least £38 million next year—specifically to deal with the challenges posed by that small group of criminals who, I remind hon. Members, have little or no support in any of the communities in Northern Ireland. The policing structures are in place and the politics are in place.
I have spoken of some of those who have played a leading part in the transformation of Northern Ireland. But in truth the real heroes of this remarkable story are the people of Northern Ireland whose indefatigable spirit and courage is exemplified in the words of Kate Carroll, whose husband Stephen was murdered by dissident republicans as he served the community exactly a year to the day before the vote on 9 March. Stephen’s wife said:
“It is time to move on. We are not in the past any more. We want to speak for ourselves. We want to rule ourselves. Just get up and get on with it”.
These orders will help Northern Ireland to do precisely that.
The Secretary of State has today made a written statement on the Saville inquiry. I thank him for that statement and the measured tones in which it is written. We endorse the arrangements that he proposes, but given the sensitive nature of the subject matter and the huge size of the report, it is not appropriate to publish it in the weeks before a general election, when the atmosphere becomes increasingly charged. We understand the frustrations of all those connected with the report about further delays, but we believe emphatically that it needs to be published and considered in a sober manner in the calmer weeks following the election.
Turning to the orders, I am grateful to the Secretary of State for setting out the details today. I begin by paying tribute to the police, the judiciary and all those involved in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland over the past 40 years. They have often worked at great personal risk and many have suffered terribly, with some making the supreme sacrifice. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to everyone who ensured that the integrity of the criminal justice system was upheld.
As the Secretary of State made clear, these orders give effect to the agreement reached between the DUP and Sinn Fein at Hillsborough on 5 February, and the vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March. Once these orders pass through the House and the other place, the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly will take place on 12 April. The last major element of the Belfast agreement, made almost 12 years earlier to the day, will have been completed. For the first time since the powers were taken away from the Northern Ireland Government in March 1972, Stormont will once again exercise powers over policing, criminal justice, the courts and local security issues.
The Conservative party has long supported in principle the devolution of policing and justice powers. We said so as far back as 1998 in our submission to the Patten commission, and our view has not changed. These powers are best exercised in Northern Ireland by politicians accountable to the electorate there, not by Ministers in this House. That is why we supported legislation this time last year, even though we believed that it could have been improved with a little more time. It is why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition met the First and Deputy First Ministers in the autumn and rapidly pledged that, should we win the election, we would honour the substantial post-dated financial package agreed by the Prime Minister.
We welcomed the Hillsborough castle agreement, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition expressed his hope at the time that it would lead to the completion of devolution. Indeed, following the vote on 9 March, a spokesman for the US State Department referred to the constructive role played by the Opposition throughout the recent negotiations. At all times our overriding objective has been a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all its people have a shared future. Whether we remain in opposition or return to government in a few weeks, that is the approach that we shall continue to take. We therefore support the orders before the House today.
I commend the hon. Gentleman very much on the approach that he has outlined. The history in recent years is one in which Northern Ireland business has been approached in a non-partisan way, and I am delighted to hear that that will continue. May I therefore invite him to disown the remarks of one Ian Parsley, who I understand is a Conservative candidate in the constituency of North Down? He has commended the Ulster Unionists in a blog post on being alone in standing up for the people of Northern Ireland, saying:
“The wide-ranging attacks on the Ulster Unionist Party for failing to back the devolution of justice prior to improvements in the functioning of the Executive are an example of the complete loss of morals that now typifies the ‘Peace Process’.”
Surely that cannot be acceptable coming from a Conservative candidate.
I will come to that.
Even if any Member of this House had had misgivings about the vote on 9 March, they should remember that it represented the democratically expressed will of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Members of this House should have no business seeking to frustrate that; it is how devolution works across the United Kingdom. Equally, we should be careful in this House about seeking to force parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly into voting in a particular way. Devolution is about locally elected politicians using their judgment to make decisions on devolved issues in the best interests of Northern Ireland and based on their knowledge and experience. It is the role of Parliament to respect those democratic decisions and not to interfere. Of course, we could all use our influence, but ultimately, votes in the Assembly are for the Northern Ireland parties represented there to decide. That is a fundamental principle of how devolution works, and I trust that hon. Members in all parts of the House will continue to respect that.
I am the sole voice of the Ulster Unionist party in this House, and although I am happy to support the legislation this afternoon, I find myself in a minority position, because my party executive, my party leader and my Assembly colleagues have all voted against the devolution of policing and justice. I very much regret that. As policing and justice are currently reserved, can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House what efforts his party leader, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), made in conversation with Sir Reg Empey, my party leader? Can the hon. Gentleman explain how often the leader of the Conservative party spoke to my party leader, and say how much effort was expended in trying to persuade the Ulster Unionists to support the devolution of policing and justice in the Assembly?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for intervening, but I do not see why she cannot ask her party leader herself. I assure her that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) had several conversations with her party leader. However, as I have explained, we believe in devolution, and a national party in this place is in no position to force a local party to make a decision based on its own experience. Members of the Ulster Unionist party had a number of genuine and legitimate concerns—about education and the work of the Executive as a genuine four-party coalition—and it was the failure to deal with them satisfactorily that prevented the Ulster Unionists from backing the Assembly vote.
The Ulster Unionists are not alone in expressing dismay at the lack of a genuine four-party coalition: the new leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party made the same points in Washington last week. We hope that those outstanding issues can now be resolved in a spirit of genuine partnership and compromise in the working group at Stormont. We cannot go on with two of the coalition partners feeling excluded from key decisions, which runs counter to the inclusive basis on which the power-sharing institutions were established. Our understanding is that the working group established under the Hillsborough castle agreement to look into the issue is currently stalled. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to agree with us that it is vital that we return to a genuine four-party coalition working as envisaged in the Belfast agreement?
Once the devolution of policing and justice takes place next month, that issue will become more important than ever, if the transfer is to take place in a stable political environment. The imperative for all elected representatives is to ensure that devolution works to deliver effective law and order for the entire community in Northern Ireland. Of course, as the Secretary of State acknowledged, the immediate priority is to deal with the threat from dissident republicans. In recent weeks and months, they have increased their activities as they seek to bring death and destruction to Northern Ireland’s streets and to drag us back into the past. Barely a day goes by without the bomb squad being called out, and as recently as last Saturday shots were fired at police investigating a suspect package near the railway line in Newry. They are at risk every day, and our thoughts are with Constable Heffron who remains seriously ill. It would be wrong to exaggerate the popular support for the dissidents; equally, it would be irresponsible to underestimate the danger that they present to the public. Will the Secretary of State clarify an important point? Under the new system, who will be responsible for requesting additional support for the civil power should that need arise?
We share the hope that returning policing and justice powers to local politicians will lead to increasing isolation of the dissidents, who offer absolutely nothing to the people of Ireland, north and south. But the fullest support and backing of the police and the criminal justice system is required from everyone. Following devolution, any lingering reluctance to co-operate with the police must end. We welcome the acts of decommissioning in recent months, but tackling lawless criminality must also be a priority. People in Northern Ireland are concerned not just about paramilitary-related crime; in many neighbourhoods, they are concerned about the same issues that are far too commonplace on this side of the water, including antisocial and yobbish behaviour, lack of respect and so-called low-level crime, which blight people’s lives.
As the Executive take on their powers, a number of challenges lie ahead. The arrangements that will be put in place after 12 April are interim ones, and they will expire in May 2012. There will need to be a clear focus on establishing a permanent system following the next Assembly elections. Those matters will be for the Executive in the Assembly to decide, but in the absence of agreement before May 2012, what role is envisaged for the Secretary of State to ensure that policing and criminal justice continue to function properly?
We should be clear today about what is not being devolved to the new Justice Minister. He or she will have neither the power to run the police, nor the right to interfere with the judiciary. The Police Service of Northern Ireland will remain under the control and direction of the Chief Constable, who is primarily accountable to the Policing Board. Operational independence, as the Prime Minister said in response to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in February, remains vital, and it will be preserved. Those with responsibility for the administration of justice are under a legal obligation to uphold the independence of the judiciary. Those are absolutely cardinal principles for policing and justice throughout the United Kingdom. They must apply equally to Northern Ireland, and I ask the Secretary of State to reaffirm that we will not tolerate any political interference in such matters.
These developments in the police process are significant. They were begun by the previous Conservative Government and taken forward by the current Government. Our sincere hope is that with devolution complete, politicians in the Assembly will begin to focus on the other issues that really matter to the people of Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend may not have been here when I commented on that in my opening remarks. Some sensitive matters will be published in what will be an enormous document, and we would like it to be published after the general election in a calm and sober atmosphere, when it can be considered in its entirety. It would be inappropriate to publish that significant report as we build up to a general election, when the atmosphere will be anything but calm.
Does my hon. Friend agree that although we will not know the report’s conclusions until after the election, proceedings were, despite their length, held in an open way with the stenographer’s notes available to all, and that little in the report will not already be known to people?
It would be inappropriate for any of us to prejudge the inquiry, but I repeat—I think, for the third time—that it is most important that this significant report is published in a calm atmosphere, and I propose that it is published after the election.
To sum up, it is our sincere hope that, with devolution complete, politicians in the Assembly will begin to focus on the other issues that really matter to people in Northern Ireland. It is important to get policing and justice right, but people on the ground are also concerned about key issues such as jobs, health, transport, schools and social deprivation. It is only through making progress on all those issues that devolution will be shown to have worked. We will support the orders today, and we wish the Assembly and the Executive well in exercising their new powers.
I rise to express my support for the orders before us today, consistent with what has already been approved in the Assembly in relation to taking devolution forward towards its fuller, more rounded completion. Those of us who took part in the negotiation of the Good Friday agreement—and in its early, faltering implementation—are glad that we are now looking at the consummation of the new politics and the new beginning for policing, both of which derive from that agreement. It has been a hard and difficult course, which has involved taking institutions through all sorts of uncertainties and stalemates, as well as various suspensions and collapses, and taking the controversies surrounding the Patten report and driving and delivering its successful implementation, in spite of opposition and harassment from others—not least Sinn Fein and its supporters.
To have reached a point at which we can see the devolution of justice and policing powers, alongside the other competences of the Assembly and the Executive, is a significant achievement and development. Many of us have pursued those goals in the various negotiations that have taken place since the Good Friday agreement. Those have included the Mitchell review, the Hillsborough talks, the further talks at Castle Buildings and the discussions at Leeds castle and in various other places here and there. We have always argued for implementation calendars that included setting a clear timetable for the devolution of justice and policing, among other things. We therefore welcome the fact that we are now, finally, making moves in that direction.
These, and other issues, were addressed in the negotiations at St. Andrews. Coming out of those negotiations, certain false claims were made that the devolution of justice and policing was guaranteed by May 2008. That was clearly not the case, however. We in the Social Democratic and Labour party told the truth about that; Sinn Fein, however, lied about it to many, many people. Notwithstanding all the difficulties that were experienced then and since, we are now making welcome progress.
That progress is not complete, however. Some Members here have talked about the completion of the devolution of justice and policing, but we are not seeing a complete transfer of those powers. Indeed, the orders today reveal that certain matters remain reserved and excepted. Questions will arise, not only about the relationship between the Minister of Justice, the Executive and the wider Assembly, as they did at Hillsborough, but about the interface between devolved and non-devolved powers. We, as legislators, need to acknowledge that fact today.
I had better not start on the issue of home rule. In Ireland, history is current affairs, but I shall try to keep to more current affairs in relation to these matters. The hon. Gentleman has raised a fair point, however, and I was going to touch on a number of the questions that are still likely to arise.
We want to give the public confidence that the devolution of justice and policing is complete and that we are faithfully delivering on Patten and on the political institutions as envisaged by the agreement, but questions will arise about some of the residual matters that have not been fully and properly transferred to the control of the devolved institutions. There are a number of examples.
This House passed the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007. Among its controversial provisions is the continuing facility for no-jury courts in Northern Ireland, which was a breach of a previous commitment by this Government to ensure that all the emergency legislation would be repealed. We saw instruments to let those powers go by the wayside, but then we saw a number of those emergency provisions recycled in the 2007 Act—for example, giving the Army powers of search and arrest, which are not subject to the police ombudsman and do not have to be a matter of record for the police, even though any such police powers do have to be a matter of full record.
Particularly controversial were the provisions for no-jury trials—not on the basis of the old Diplock system relating to certain scheduled offences, but on the basis of a new system whereby the Director of Public Prosecutions would issue certificates, which could not be challenged in a court, or indeed by a court. The power to change the legislation that provided for the ability to issue those certificates for no-jury trials does not transfer to the Assembly, but remains here in this House.
In this scenario, someone might face a charge and the DPP might issue a certificate for a no-jury trial. The DPP’s grounds for doing so might be that the person is or was a member of an illegal organisation or is or was a friend, relative or associate of such a person, or that they or an illegal organisation might interfere with the due process of law by intimidating witnesses and so forth. Those are the grounds on which the DPP can issue the certificate, but in issuing it, he specifies no grounds and the person is effectively unable to challenge or question because these decisions are not in any way judicially reviewable.
We thus see the possibility of someone faced with such a certificate writing to a devolved Minister to say, “You are the Minister for Justice. My lawyer and I are being told that this is going to a no-jury trial and I have no means of contesting this. You are the Minister of Justice, so how can you stand over this? After all, we are told that everything in Northern Ireland has changed, moved on and gone to normalisation. What is being done about this?” The Justice Minister will say, “I am powerless to do anything about this” and the matter will go before the Assembly committee responsible for dealing with justice matters. It will say the same thing: “Yes, it is happening in our courts; yes, it is a certificate issued by an officer, namely the DPP, who is appointed under devolution and is meant to be working under the authority and auspices of devolution, but this power exists under an entirely ulterior, unaccountable and unquestionable basis”. The fact that the Assembly and the Justice Minister are not even in a position to question that gives rise to further questions about the completeness of devolution.
Another example is where the Director of Public Prosecutions might be instructed by the Advocate General for Northern Ireland—namely, the Attorney-General in London, who will become the Advocate General for Northern Ireland whenever Northern Ireland gets its own Attorney-General. If trials collapse or are withdrawn on grounds of national security or on the very wide and specious grounds of the “public interest” under the direction of the Advocate General for Northern Ireland, again nobody will be able to question it and the Justice Minister will again be, at best, an idle spectator, left to plead ignorance and impotence as to why. It might be on a matter of public controversy or in a very significant case such as the Denis Donaldson case of a few years ago. When that collapsed, all sorts of parties and all sorts of people were asking all sorts of questions—why has this happened; why do we not know?
In how credible a position are the devolved Administration, not only the Justice Minister, going to be if they say, “We don’t know; this is not devolved to us; there is nothing we can do. We cannot ask, we cannot be told and even if some of us are told, there is nothing we can say anyway”? That does not square with the vision of accountable devolution to which we all subscribed when we supported the agreement and as we have developed the institutions in the years since then. That is an important issue, which needs to be taken into account when we consider the limitations.
When we were involved in the Hillsborough talks, as well as addressing all the other issues relating to the relationship between the Minister and the Executive and making submissions, both written and oral, about various matters including the work of the Executive, we raised questions about the interface between devolved and non-devolved areas. One issue that arises in that context is relevant to the orders, to the associated documents relating to concordats and handling arrangements, and to the annexe on arrangements. A couple of agreements between the British and Irish Governments have been thrown in as well. Parts of those documents, and part of the main order with which we are dealing, impose serious restrictions related to national security on what information can be shared, how it can be shared, and where competence and control lie.
The Minister of State, who will reply to the debate, has heard me speak about these issues many times both publicly and privately, and he knows that the SDLP has had profound misgivings for many years. As a party that was totally committed to the Patten vision of policing, we were committed to the idea that the lead on intelligence policing in Northern Ireland should rest with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. That is what Patten recommended. He recognised that there would be national security issues that would have to be reported to the Secretary of State or a successor Minister, but he made clear his belief that, because of the history and experience of policing in Northern Ireland, the PSNI should take the lead.
That, of course, changed. The Government announced their intention a number of years ago, and got away with confirming the change during the St Andrews negotiations on the basis of the Blair-Adams document. The document conceded that MI5 would have a remit in Northern Ireland, that it would take the lead in intelligence policing, and that issues relating to intelligence policing would thenceforth be immune from any scrutiny following an investigation by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, which had not been the case previously. That was significant in the context of, for instance, the investigation by the ombudsman of the handling of the Omagh bombing. All those changes have made an important difference in terms of scrutiny and accountability.
A family in my constituency recently lost a son, partner, nephew and brother to members of the Real IRA, who murdered him. They left him stripped to his underwear with his hands taped behind his back, having shot him twice in the head. It was a very chilling old Provo execution-style killing. The family, of course, totally repudiate and condemn the Real IRA for what it has done and said, but they have also raised very serious questions about the experience to which the man had been subjected at the hands of MI5 agents who were active in and around Derry.
This is not some fanciful notion that I have conjured up about the possibility of concerns in the future. These are not theoretical concerns, but real concerns. That man’s partner told me in her grief at the wake that she had written a letter which she had not yet posted before he died. The letter, addressed to the Minister of State, expressed her concern about what was happening to her partner—the harassment to which he was being subjected, and the offers that were made to him. Mobile phones were thrown into his car, and he was told “Ring Justin—Justin will be in touch with you soon.” She has said to me, as has Mr. Doherty’s uncle and father, that it was not just people who were comporting themselves as MI5 agents who were doing this; they are saying that members of the PSNI, or people appearing in PSNI uniform, also were stating to them that they knew that this was going on and were giving advice to contact “Justin” and saying that he would be in touch. This raises fundamental concerns about whether or not policing will be transacted and conducted in the light of all the Patten principles and all the Patten promises, so we still have deep reservations about this dangerous twilight zone that exists in relation to the interface between national security, the regional policing interest and the full accountability of devolution.
Many of us saw the old Peter Sellers Clouseau movies. In one of them—I cannot remember which one—Clouseau approaches a man who is sitting with a dog and asks, “Does your dog bite?” The man replies, “No, my dog doesn’t bite”, so Clouseau goes to pat the dog, which then nearly bites his arm off. Clouseau says, “I thought you told me that your dog did not bite”, to which the man replies, “That is not my dog.” I do not believe that those of us who believe in the devolution of justice and policing and who want it to be clear and complete can fall for that excuse, so where we have reservations that devolution is not clean enough or complete enough we have the right to state that here today.
The Secretary of State also talked about these arrangements inspiring confidence. The steps that we are taking reflect much wider and growing confidence, but there are limitations to the extent to which some of the arrangements, in themselves, inspire confidence. I am thinking in particular about one for which this House has legislated and which has continued to be defended in Northern Ireland by the two main parties: the curious sunset clause that exists in relation to the new Justice Department that will be created as a result of these orders and the other instruments that have been passed elsewhere. That sunset clause tells us that unless there is an agreement to continue with the arrangement currently envisaged of electing a Minister by virtue of cross-community support, rather than appointing a Minister under the d’Hondt system as per the agreement, and to renew it beyond 2012 or replace it with something else, the Justice Department will dissolve in May 2012. That is provided for in legislation passed by this House last year.
We are talking about these steps inspiring confidence, so why do we not have enough confidence to do away with that accident—the breakdown and collapse—waiting to happen which is represented by that sunset clause? If people believe that this agreement represents—I shall use the Prime Minister’s words—an
“end to decades of strife”
and guarantees stability, why do we need a sunset clause that represents an invitation to huge instability? That danger does not just lie in May 2012, when the sunset clause would apply; the difficulty could kick in earlier. The sunset clause obviously relates to the fact that the Democratic Unionist party was determined to have a veto at all times on the appointment of a Justice Minister. Sinn Fein had at one point conceded that, but when it finally woke up to the permanent veto that it had conceded, it had to claw that back. The best that Sinn Fein could do by way of clawing it back was to put in a limitation by virtue of the sunset clause.
This is now already a matter of a little difference and contention between Sinn Fein and the DUP. Even in recent weeks, as the DUP has been selling the Hillsborough agreement, the DUP has been advertising the sunset clause in 2012 and saying, “We will ensure that not only will we have a veto now to prevent someone from Sinn Fein from being appointed Justice Minister, but we will defend and insist on that veto beyond 2012.” Meanwhile Sinn Fein is, of course, saying that it will reject and resist that veto in May 2012, and will not agree to any such thing continuing thereafter. The chances are that come the next Assembly election, scheduled for May 2011— although it could be before then, of course—those two parties will set out manifesto claims and calls on these matters. We might find that after that election there is a delay in electing a Justice Minister under the scheme that we have at the minute as they test each other out on those issues. So we could have a Department without a Minister in 2011 and then, of course, we could have a Minister without a Department in May 2012.
Those are not just political questions about what sort of crisis there might be in the Assembly and about whether or not we have a Minister. We should remember what it means for the Department to be dissolved. Under one of the orders, the Northern Ireland Court Service, for instance, will be abolished and will become part of the Department of Justice. It will not be a freestanding service in its own right—it will be part of the Department. Of course, the House already has legislation that states that the Department could be dissolved in 2012. Similarly, the Northern Ireland Prison Service is not a separate non-departmental public body or a separate freestanding agency. We call it the Northern Ireland Prison Service, but it is simply a part of the Northern Ireland Office, as is reflected in the orders that we are passing today. Similar facts apply to the Youth Justice Agency and the Compensation Agency. If the Department is dissolved in May 2012, as has been provided for already and as continues to be provided for in legislation, what will happen to all those functions? How are they to be exercised?
Although the Secretary of State has said today that there are no outstanding issues that are incapable of resolution, I would say that there are outstanding issues that still need further resolution. Although we have progress today, we need to go further and we need to see more.
In spite of all the reservations that I have rehearsed—there are many more that hon. Members will be glad to hear I shall not rehearse—we, nevertheless, are determined that we must go forward with the devolution of justice and policing. We cannot make perfection a precondition for progress. Too often, politics in Northern Ireland has been marred by people insisting that objectives—often very good objectives—should be turned into preconditions. That has turned out to be a self-frustrating stance. That is not the position that we have taken. In spite of our many reservations about the conduct of the Assembly and of the Executive, we are clear and unambiguous about where we need to go with the devolution of justice and policing. We want to go further.
We also want to place on record the fact that, like others, we have our criticisms of how the process has been conducted and managed—of the heavy focus on the positions of Sinn Fein and the DUP and of the complete aberration from the rules of democratic inclusion laid down in the agreement. That has provided for one party and the whole d’Hondt process to be bypassed for the appointment of the Justice Minister.
The original Stormont regime in the 1920s interfered with key provisions for proportional representation that were laid down for local government—those were abolished. Then they did away with the provisions for proportional representation in the Stormont Parliament. We have some concern that in this Stormont regime the parties in power have begun to do away with the provisions for proportional inclusion in the Executive. They have come up with a different scheme that allows them to deny parties that are entitled by mandate and to appoint parties that are not on the basis of patronage or other favour. In the old days, that was called gerrymandering. In these days, it is called an historic agreement—indeed, Sinn Fein calls it the best agreement ever. I record that fact not just out of concern for our own party’s position or plight, but as a matter of principle.
I want to underline that, as regards the concerns that I have outlined about the limitations of devolution, I feel for anyone—of whatever party—who will be the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland and will find themselves coming up against some of those difficulties and challenges. They will find themselves in an invidious position. In dealing with difficulties and challenges such as those that I have outlined and in dealing with the challenges caused—as the Secretary of State has rightly emphasised —by the ongoing nefarious activity of so-called republican dissidents and others, whoever is the Minister responsible for justice and policing will certainly have the support of our party in doing the job of representing the Northern Ireland Administration and the Northern Ireland Assembly in dealing with and coping with those challenges, as we must. Whatever other quibbles or issues we have, I want to make sure that nobody will be able to turn any difficulty or difference between us and anyone else into anything that could be exploited to create any wider instability or to undermine the credibility of the institutions in Northern Ireland.
May I crave your indulgence for a minute, Mr. Deputy Speaker? I wish to place on record, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) did in relation to the report of the Saville inquiry, the fact that I, too, have received correspondence from the Secretary of State, subsequent to the written statement that he placed before the House. The arrangements that he outlined in that statement, and the reasons for making them, seem to me entirely sensible and legitimate. He certainly has the support of the Liberal Democrats in taking these matters forward in the way that he has outlined.
The hon. Member for North Shropshire did not avail himself of the opportunity to disown the comments of the Conservative candidate for North Down, which is unfortunate given the importance of this matter. I suspect that North Down must be an interesting place to be these days.
We have a Conservative who supports the Unionist position rather than that of his own Front Benchers, and we have a Unionist MP who apparently supports the position of the Conservative Front Benchers. I have only ever been a member of the Liberals or the Liberal Democrats, but if I were a member of the Ulster Unionists who had enjoyed the representation of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and I then found Mr. Parsley taking her place, I might feel a little short-changed. The hon. Lady has been a hard-working, effective and articulate representative for her community since 2001. I do not know what her future intentions are, but I think there is broad consensus across the House in wishing her well.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) made a very interesting and thoughtful speech, much of which was conjecture about the politics of how the devolution of criminal justice might evolve. In that respect, this subject could more properly be discussed by the parties in Northern Ireland rather than by Members such as I in this House. I was very interested in his remarks about the interface between devolved criminal justice and reserved national security matters. This is not unique to these islands. We have had devolved criminal justice in Scotland since 1999, but it has quite properly remained the case that matters of national security are dealt with by the Government here in Westminster and Whitehall. Some of his concerns are capable of being addressed if he bears in mind two factors. First, the independence of Law Officers is supremely important. As he has said, the Director of Public Prosecutions plays a central role in this issue. I first met the current DPP when I was a trainee solicitor in Edinburgh, more years ago than I care to remember, and he is a man of unimpeachable independence. I hope that that independence will be respected by the Governments here and in Belfast.
The importance of Law Officers being independent in these circumstances is that it is a significant protection for the rights of the individual, about which the hon. Member for Foyle expressed some concern. The accountability aspects are also legitimate concerns, but I remind him that people in Northern Ireland have a direct line of accountability through the representation provided by him, his colleagues and hon. Members of all parties. They must do the job that they are elected to do—to be here at Westminster and hold to account for their decisions by the Government here and their agencies, as far as that is possible with matters of national security.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that proposals like this have been put to us before? My party was told at the St. Andrews negotiations that our concerns about national security could be met if we took seats on this Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. We were told that that would mean that we had accountability, but that of course is absolute nonsense. The idea that we would satisfy our constituents, given their experience of these issues and the suspicions that are out there, merely through belonging to something like the ISC here would not convince anyone.
I think that the hon. Gentleman goes too far when he says that that proposition is “absolute nonsense”, but I certainly grant him that it is a less than complete solution. It is a compromise of a sort that we have all had to learn to live with over the years. When it comes to matters of national security, the normal rules of accountability do not apply; indeed, it is not reasonable for us to expect them to apply in the way that they do to other Departments dealing with health, education or any other business of Government.
There is a compromise to be struck here. No solution will ever be perfect, and the problem is especially difficult when it comes to dealing with the interface between devolved and reserved government in the absence of any overarching constitutional framework.
In many ways, this is devolution by salami slicing, but problems must be capable of resolution on a case-by-case, day-by-day basis. That can happen if those engaged in resolving problems and making the devolution settlement work approach their task in good faith.
The orders before the House are very much to be welcomed, as they cement in place the final piece of devolution—namely, the devolution of criminal justice. They reflect the wishes of the Northern Ireland Assembly, as expressed earlier this month by a cross-community vote. They represent a significant step, a step that one hopes is the last in the journey.
As the hon. Member for Foyle reminded us, however, there are a number of elements that could still go wrong. That is a matter for the parties in Northern Ireland: whether they make the structure there work or not is up to them. I have always believed in devolution—as a Liberal I have always believed in home rule, although I hesitate to say so, given the loaded nature of the words in the Northern Ireland context—and I welcome the challenge. I hope that those who are now left to pick up the baton in Belfast will approach their task from the point of view that they, too, are determined to make devolution work.
In many ways, the devolution of the criminal justice system to the Assembly in Belfast should allow better government in many other aspects of life. Before I came to this House as a Member of Parliament, I earned my living as a solicitor working in the criminal courts. One cannot underestimate the extent to which criminal justice interacts with health, education, social work and many other aspects of Government business. To try to operate them without having criminal justice under the same umbrella has never made sense to me. I think that these proposals will lead not just to comprehensive devolution but to better governance for the people of Northern Ireland.
That is the prize now available to the people of Northern Ireland—better governance, integrated government, joined-up government, to use the somewhat hackneyed expression. It is up to them whether they take it. I believe and I hope that they have the capability to do so. We offer the orders a fair wind as they leave the House.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. I declare an interest as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I apologise on behalf of our party leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). He is on his way here. He had to participate in First Minister’s questions in the Assembly this afternoon and was delayed, but hopes to join us before the end of the debate.
There have been many occasions during my time as a Member of Parliament when I have opposed legislation that was being introduced on Northern Ireland, because I had concerns about that legislation and its impact on the people whom I represent. I am glad to be here today to support the orders at a critical juncture in the development of Northern Ireland in what we hope and expect will be a more peaceful environment for the people who live there.
Sadly, at the weekend we had more examples of the fact that there remains within our community a tiny element who cannot accept the prospect of peace, who cannot accept that politics is a way to resolve our differences, who cannot accept the will of the people, whose desire is for peace and progress, and who continue to engage in acts of violence. We had the gun attack in Newry on police officers investigating a suspect device, and there were other incidents in various parts of Northern Ireland. We do well to remind ourselves that the task that we are engaged in is dear to the hearts of many in Northern Ireland. It is about making progress and moving away from the dark days of the past.
It saddens me that there are still some who want to drag us back to those dark days. They offer no hope to the people of Northern Ireland. They were at it again last week, with their disruption in Belfast, Londonderry and other places, trying to drive away investment at a time when Northern Ireland Ministers were in Washington winning investment, winning jobs for our young people, and offering them the hope that for decades they did not have, when they had to leave Northern Ireland in their droves to find employment and seek the opportunities that we could not provide for them. Now that we are providing them, let us hope that the young people will remain, will see that there is a future, and will not allow the men of violence to drive them away from their homes, their families and the prospect of employment and a better future.
In the end, that is what we are about. We talk about politics, policing and justice, but what matters to the people who live in Lagan Valley whom I represent, and those who live in North Antrim and North Down, is that their families have the hope of a better future, their children have the hope of a good education, they have a good quality of life, and yes, they can go about their business without having to look over their shoulder and wonder whether they will be the next victim of a bomb or a shooting. Thankfully, we have moved a long way from those times.
I say to the men of violence—to those who would seek to use the gun and the bomb once again to try and drag us back—that I believe the resolve is there among the politicians and the people not to allow them to succeed. Today is another indication that we will not allow them to succeed. Some of the difficulties that we face have been mentioned; the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) highlighted some of them. When we look at the legacy of the past, there is still an enormous job to be done as we seek to deal with the things that have happened and address the sense of injustice felt by many in Northern Ireland.
I remind the House that we have almost 3,000 unsolved murders in Northern Ireland. That is one of the terrible aspects of the troubles that beset Northern Ireland for more than three decades. We have many who still wait for justice—and have not yet been given that justice.
The legislation before the House is important, just as the legislation before the Northern Ireland Assembly previously was important. Indeed, we welcomed the Assembly’s decision a couple of weeks ago, and my party was pleased to be there and support the motion that was brought before that House. For sure, some in Northern Ireland continue to have reservations and doubts, and I understand where they are coming from. Many in Northern Ireland support with reluctance the political progress that has been made, and their reluctance is not because they do not want things to move forward, but because there are still dark memories. There is still a lot of pain and hurt, which we need to deal with, and when they look at some in government they wonder, understandably, whether they can yet fully trust the new political dispensation.
As someone who has seen the impact of the violence on families, on the people whom I represent, on my own family and on comrades with whom I had the privilege of serving in the Ulster Defence Regiment, I understand where people are coming from, yet I know that there is no alternative but to move the process forward. Difficult and challenging though it is, we must offer to this generation and to the next the hope of something better. If that means that we have to work with people with whom we have difficulties and have had differences, and if that is the price that we have to pay for the hope of peace in Northern Ireland, it is a price that I, my party and others have been willing to pay.
The process is founded on important principles, however, because we ensured that, before the Government who now exist in Northern Ireland were formed, every party to that Government would support the rule of law and the police. Sinn Fein, among others, has given that support to the police and recognised that the rule of law is the only way forward in Northern Ireland. We welcome that. Belated conversion though it may be, it is nevertheless progress and we must keep building on it. That is why we feel the time now is right to proceed with the devolution of those important powers.
Like the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), I was disappointed that the Ulster Unionist party was not able to support the devolution of policing and justice powers at this time, and in reality its stance had more to do with what it perceived to be a party political advantage, given that an election is coming, than with a principled position. Indeed, the party said that in principle it supported the devolution of those powers; it just felt that the time was not right.
The Secretary of State referred to the words of Kate Carroll, the widow of Constable Stephen Carroll, the last police officer to be murdered by dissident republicans in Northern Ireland. When we listened to what she had to say on the anniversary of her husband’s murder, I wished that all parties had, because she said that we have to move forward and take responsibility for our own affairs. How right she is, because that is the basis for providing the stability on which Northern Ireland can become strong, its people can become strong, and trust and confidence can be firmly established.
At the time of Constable Carroll’s death, and indeed at the time of the murder of the two soldiers at Massereene barracks in Antrim, the Assembly stood united against those outrages—against those atrocities. It is a matter of regret that the Assembly could not have stood united when it came to taking the decision on the transfer of policing and justice powers, but I hope that in time the Ulster Unionist party will come to support the devolution of those important powers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I believe—certainly, it is my experience—that a clear majority of people support the devolution of those powers and a clear majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see political progress being made. They recognise that there are difficulties, as we have heard rehearsed in the Chamber this afternoon, particularly in relation to the working of the Executive. However, I share the Secretary of State’s view that now that we are getting over this perhaps most challenging of hurdles, things will settle down and we will be able to concentrate on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to the people we represent. I hope that we will have the four parties working together more cohesively within that Executive, because that is what people want to happen: they want to see devolution delivering for them on those bread-and-butter issues.
It is my expectation that there is majority support for this process. I can certainly say that those who will stand in the forthcoming election on a manifesto of dragging us back to the past and tearing down the Assembly have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland. They offer no alternative, and they have no viable solution to the problems that beset us. They are the nay-sayers: their approach is entirely negative. What hope do they offer to the young people of Northern Ireland today? I hope that people will not listen to that negativity but will recognise that whatever the difficulties we face, the way forward is through supporting the devolution of these powers and supporting the Assembly and the political stability that it can bring to Northern Ireland. We welcome the range of powers that are being devolved to the Assembly, while recognising that some powers will be reserved to this Parliament.
As regards the comments by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) about the appointment of a Minister of Justice, we are very clear that this is about public confidence, and in our view there would not be public confidence in the appointment of a Sinn Fein Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland. We have to reflect that reality, and that is why we have introduced the arrangements that we have to ensure that whoever is appointed Minister of Justice has cross-community support in the Assembly.
We want to move Northern Ireland towards a more normal form of Government. At a British-Irish Association conference that I attended last year, the hon. Member for Foyle talked about removing the ugly scaffolding of the Belfast agreement. I think that that is important. We will certainly go all the way with him on that objective, because we believe that normalising the politics of Northern Ireland is an integral part of the peace process. In future, we want to move towards what we hope will be a more voluntary form of coalition where parties come together to negotiate a programme for Government on a voluntary basis, and then establish that Government, together with an effective Opposition, because that is how democracy operates and should operate.
That is the way forward as we see it, and we want to move towards that more normalised situation. The cross-community vote mechanism is part of normalising our politics and part of moving towards that kind of system.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there would not be public confidence in a Sinn Fein Minister of Justice. Is he implying, along the same lines, that there would not be public confidence in a Social Democratic and Labour party Minister of Justice?
I am not implying that there would not be public confidence, but it is a matter for the SDLP to put its candidate forward to see whether it can get sufficient support within the Assembly to become Minister of Justice. We will look at the candidates who come before us, and the party will vote accordingly in the Assembly when the time comes.
The Secretary of State mentioned parading. I had the privilege of co-chairing the working group that was established to consider parades in the aftermath of the Hillsborough agreement. We were set a very tight deadline by the First Minister, who has now joined us in the Chamber, yet we were able to get to a point where we agreed a report that is now being worked on by the parliamentary draftsmen. We hope to have the draft Bill ready for consultation by the end of this month. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East said earlier today, it will probably be the most consulted on piece of legislation that the Assembly will have brought forward in its existence. That is good, because parading is an important issue and we want the legislation to be put in place so that there are new mechanisms and a new system for dealing with parades that will create a level playing field and be based on people’s rights, not on prejudice, as has been the case in the past. We want a shared future in Northern Ireland.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the report that has emerged from the working group on parades, was it not the case that the Hillsborough agreement promised us that there would be consultation on that report, and then legislation would be prepared? In fact, the report is going straight into legislation and only then will there be consultation.
I am very clear about what the Hillsborough agreement said, and it most certainly did not say that there would be consultation after the report was prepared. What it did say was that there would be consultation during the preparation of the report, which was what we undertook to do and carried out. Indeed, we met representatives of the hon. Gentleman’s party on at least one occasion and received written representations from them on a number of occasions, which were taken into account in finalising our report. We made it clear in the timetable, as Hillsborough set out distinctly, that as soon as the report was agreed, it would be presented to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and that the task of drafting legislation would get under way. That task is now moving towards completion. The Bill will be published and there will be a full consultation period before it is enacted by the Assembly.
We welcome the proposed changes to parading and believe that they will provide a basis for dealing with the issue that is fairer and based on respect for the rights of those who want to engage in a parade or public assembly.
Is it not the case that the work of the working group that was set up to deal with parades has not been completed, because the draftsmen are raising a series of detailed and technical issues that need to be determined before the final document is available for consultation? It would be wrong to consult on an uncompleted document.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that comment, and he is right. The working group’s representatives are meeting the draftsmen several times each week in various formats to deal with those technical issues, which is why we are not yet in a position to publish the final work. We anticipate that that will happen at the end of this month.
Reference has been made to the retention by Parliament of the power to provide for what is called 50:50 recruitment to the PSNI. As the Secretary of State will know, my party has consistently opposed that measure, because we believe that state discrimination is wrong in any circumstance. Although we share the Government’s objective to increase the level of representation within the PSNI of the Roman Catholic side of the community, we believe that the provision is a very blunt instrument. It leaves a lot of young people who would otherwise qualify to become police officers, and who pass all the tests and enter the merit pool, unable to do so simply because of the church they attend on a Sunday. We certainly cannot agree to that.
I should like to put it on record that, although earlier in the debate I expressed support for the Conservative position on the devolution of policing and justice, I was hideously disappointed that the Conservative party voted in support of 50:50 recruitment. The Ulster Unionist party differs once again from the Conservative party and we are firmly opposed to 50:50 recruitment.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, which raises a curious question. If members of the UUP had been elected to this House and taken the Conservative Whip, would they have voted in favour of extending a power that they say they have consistently opposed in principle throughout its enactment? It will be interesting to see how that works out in future. I wish to put it on the record that although the power is reserved to Parliament, we will continue to oppose its exercise in principle.
The hon. Lady mentioned the potential conflict between the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the scrutiny committee that the Assembly will establish. I understand her concern, which others outside the House have echoed. However, the scrutiny committee will have a much broader remit than the Policing Board in that it will cover all aspects of the Justice Department, not only policing. Its role is different from that of the board in that it will, among other things, play a part in scrutinising proposed legislation from the Justice Department. Its scope in respect of the Chief Constable’s operational responsibility will probably be limited. Although it will take time for those things to be worked out, there may be a basis for establishing some sort of protocol between the board, the committee and the Assembly about the way in which they pursue their respective functions.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again—he has been generous. Does he recognise that the concerns relate not only to the position of the Policing Board but to the role of the Chief Constable? There was concern that some previous drafts of the protocols spoke of the Chief Constable becoming the chief adviser to the Minister on policing and security matters, and that that would qualify or regulate the Chief Constable’s clear independent role and its integrity, making the Chief Constable somehow subsidiary to a Minister. The Patten dispensation certainly did not envisage that.
We are clear that the Chief Constable’s operational independence will not be open to interference by the Minister. The lines on that are clear and have been firmly established. Of course, the Chief Constable will be there to advise the Minister about matters that fall within the Minister’s remit, but that does not give the Minister the right to interfere in operational matters.
We support the orders. We believe that accepting them is the right move to make at an important time in the development of Northern Ireland politics.
A few weeks ago, I attended a memorial in Newry, which is now a city. It experienced some horrible things; terrible atrocities were committed there during the troubles. For example, we remember the three police officers who were murdered by an IRA gang while they conducted community duties in the town centre. Ironically, the IRA gang wore butchers’ uniforms as they carried out those assassinations—the execution of the three officers. We have just passed the 25th anniversary of the mortar attack on Newry police station, when nine Royal Ulster Constabulary officers lost their lives—the highest loss of life sustained by the RUC in one incident during the troubles. One of those officers was Chief Inspector Alexander Donaldson, my cousin, who had lost his brother, Constable Samuel Donaldson, who was murdered by the IRA in Crossmaglen in August 1970—the first RUC officer to be murdered by the Provisional IRA.
I therefore recognise the difficulties and challenges that such decisions present to people in Northern Ireland. However, as I stood in that service in Newry and listened to the long list of names of those brave men and women who had given their lives in defence of our community so that we might have the hope of peace some day in Northern Ireland, I was reminded of why we do what we do. I was reminded that the task that has been given to us as political leaders and politicians is to help to secure that better future and build on the work of those brave men and women who held the line when politics was not working and there was no agreement on how we would settle our differences. Thankfully, we now have a broad measure of agreement and it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that what we have done succeeds, that the progress we have made is built on, and that those who sacrificed their lives did not do so in vain.
That does not make right the terrible wrongs that terrorist organisations did in Northern Ireland over the years. It does not justify the terrible actions that they carried out against members of the security forces and civilians and the countless lives that were lost during that period. That is to be condemned; such actions and the terrorists’ motivation is not the way to settle our differences. This is the way to do it: by creating political stability and a Government who enable local people to take responsibility for their own affairs, firmly in the context of the United Kingdom. This Parliament will always be sovereign, but I believe that, in giving away some of its power again to the Assembly, this elected Chamber recognises the progress that has been made and that, after many difficult, dark years in Northern Ireland, people are stepping forward who are prepared to take tough decisions and give leadership—no one more so than my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East, who, as First Minister, has shown that leadership. We do these things in the hope of a better future.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) made a powerful, statesmanlike speech and I very much agree with what he said.
In what will probably be my last speech on Northern Ireland in the House, I am delighted that the First Minister and his predecessor are here. The House, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom owe a great deal to their leadership. Without the remarkable work of the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), we would not be here today. Without the courageous persistence, at a time of great personal difficulty, of the current First Minister, we would not be debating the orders this afternoon. We owe them both a great deal for what they have done and the leadership they have given, just as we owe much to many others in all political parties in Northern Ireland.
I share the disappointment that the Ulster Unionists did not feel able at the very least to abstain on 9 March. It was a great pity that they ignored the advice of my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State and that of the Leader of the Opposition, and that they persisted in voting against. That was a short-sighted and mistaken decision, and I hope that, even now, they are realising that the only future for Northern Ireland is for them to accept, as true democrats, the will of the overwhelming majority in the Assembly and give every possible support to implementing practical devolution of justice and policing after 12 April. I know that their one representative here, the hon. and courageous Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), will hold to that view, and I hope that they will come to follow her example.
It is also a pleasure to be here with the Secretary of State and his admirable, estimable colleague, the Minister of State. I pay tribute to their actions in building on their predecessors’ work and ensuring that we have the debate this afternoon. Many people have contributed a great deal, including successive Prime Ministers. We must not forget the work of Tony Blair—I think that events in Northern Ireland will be reckoned his greatest achievement as Prime Minister—that of the current Prime Minister, and also that of John Major. The accord that John Major formed with Albert Reynolds, and the way in which the chemistry between them worked, was fundamental to what has been built afterwards. I am confident that, in a spirit of true party accord, we will pass, without Division, the orders that we are considering.
When the Select Committee was in Northern Ireland in January, we took evidence from the Chief Constable, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, the Policing Board, the director of prisons and many others on devolution. At that point, things hung in the balance. Indeed, our meetings coincided with the first two days of the Hillsborough talks, and we did not quite know what was going to happen. We all hoped that the talks would result in success, but we did not know. On that first evening, when I talked to the Secretary of State, the Minister and the Prime Minister, there were real obstacles to overcome, but they were overcome.
In taking evidence from the people whom I cited, we found that the people on the ground were ready for change. Every one of them said, “Yes, we are ready.” Some went further and said, “We were ready two years ago and we are sorry it has taken so long,” but they were ready and they relished the challenge. I believe that Northern Ireland is exceptionally well served by some truly remarkable people who head its various public services. It is sometimes easy to forget that Northern Ireland has a small population. I do not think that any other part of the UK with such a small population—Northern Ireland’s is about the same as that of Greater Birmingham—has such talent to draw upon for its judiciary, Prison Service, probation service and Chief Constables.
A succession of Chief Constables have been true leaders, none more so than the late husband of the hon. Member for North Down. I believe that the present Chief Constable, with his great experience of community policing, which is terribly important, will make his mark—as did Sir Hugh Orde—as a fine Chief Constable. It is very important indeed—the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) made this plain in his remarks—that the Chief Constable has true and complete operational independence. There must never be any doubt about that, and I do not think that there will be, because it seems to me that the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and everyone else accept how important that is.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about 2012. I can understand why he feels apprehensive that everything might go into the melting pot again in 2012, which will be just a year or so after the probable date of the next Assembly elections. It behoves all of us—in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK—to try to ensure that there is no real problem or crisis at that point. Of course, if the devolution of policing and justice works as well as I believe it can, and as well as I hope and think it will, confidence will be built up over the next two years, and there should be no great hiatus, as we all hope. The hon. Gentleman made a valid point when he talked about not expecting perfection as a precondition of anything. What has struck me over the last two or three years in particular has been the way in which there has been a truly sensible and pragmatic approach from those who have led the political parties in Northern Ireland. They have recognised, as all human beings should, that perfection is a fairly elusive quality.
I often think of the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, whom I knew well, who was the Leader of the House when I was first elected in 1970—the late, great Willie Whitelaw. He is remembered for many things, including his saying that he was not going to go around stirring up apathy. He also made that immortal remark, which I frequently quote, that things are never as good or as bad as they seem. We all need to recognise that and what was implicit in the closing remarks of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, who reminded us of the dark and terrible days of the troubles. He reminded us of the bereavements in his family—other Northern Ireland Members could echo those stories from their family histories—but he also said that we must now go on. One of the most difficult things, after such a time of trouble, when so many have lost their lives, is that drawing of a line. Some who came before the Committee during its investigations were able to say, “Yes, I could see my wife’s name on the same memorial as the man responsible for her death”. That was an extraordinary and deeply moving remark to make. However, others said, “No, I can never rest until I have complete satisfaction and justice.”
“Justice” can be a very hard word. I often remember a story told to me by a friend of mine who was a great artist, John Ward, whom some Members of the House might remember—he died at the age of 90 two or three years ago. A captain of industry commissioned John to do a portrait of his wife. They discussed where the portrait would be painted and how she would pose. As John left, the captain of industry turned to him and said, “And you must do her justice.” John turned round and said, “It’s not justice she needs; it’s mercy.” We must remember the moral of that story in respect of Northern Ireland. To forget is impossible, and to forgive—however strong one’s Christian beliefs—is terribly difficult. However, if one does have Christian beliefs, as most Northern Ireland political leaders do, one believes in the power of forgiveness and redemption, which is so necessary if we are to move forward to the normality that every Northern Ireland Member of this House wants, and which one is conscious that people want whenever one goes to Northern Ireland.
I shall end with some remarks about this place, if I may. When one looks at the progress that has been made over the last two years in particular and at that remarkable achievement of 2007, when the right hon. Member for North Antrim gave that extraordinary and exemplary leadership, one realises that the influence of this House has quite clearly and properly been marginalised—that is a necessary and proper consequence of devolution. The role of the Committee that I have had the honour to chair for almost the last five years has also clearly been marginalised to a degree, as its remit has shrunk. If, as I devoutly hope and pray, we move to this final stage of devolution on 12 April, some may ask, “Is there a point and purpose in having a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs?” My answer to that would be yes, because if ever a constituent Assembly within the United Kingdom needed firm, foul-weather friends, it is going to be in the years ahead. We need within this Parliament those who passionately care about Northern Ireland even if they do not come from Northern Ireland. I know how my Committee’s work has been welcomed in Northern Ireland, as it was last week, when we published a significant report. I know that people in that most beautiful, fascinating and historical part of our country look to this House, whatever their ultimate views might be about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. Whether they look at it from a Unionist or a nationalist point of view, they recognise the responsibility vested here. I hope that although the Committee’s remit will be significantly reduced, Members will be willing to serve on it in the next Parliament to provide those firm, foul-weather friends whom I mentioned.
It has been a great honour to be involved with the history of Northern Ireland during one of the most exciting and challenging times in its recent history. I hope that we have been able to make a minor contribution to the progress that has been made. It is highly appropriate that the last significant debate on Northern Ireland in this Parliament should be on these orders. I hope and believe that we will pass them without Division, but with inward acclamation, wishing them total success.
This will be my last contribution to debates in this Chamber. My friend the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) has just spoken about making his last speech on Northern Ireland, but I wish to remind myself that the reason that these Benches are not packed to capacity today is that things are moving in the right direction. If they were going in the wrong direction, many of these vacant places would be filled.
I made my maiden speech in this House sitting as near the door as I could, because I thought that I might be kicked out. I made some terrible mistakes, according to many people. For example, I spoke for too long and I was called to account by the Speaker for making attacks on certain elements in the IRA. But I learned as I went on so that I could come here and carry the flag that I believed I had to carry. I was grateful that people started to think that we must have an end to this matter and that we could not go on with part of the United Kingdom torn by such violence.
South Down has been mentioned, and I spent all my holidays as a boy in that area. But then the IRA burned down my father’s house and I no longer had the privilege of spending my holidays there. I have been back many times since, however, and at the first meeting I attended there I mentioned that incident. I said to the people, “I’m sorry you burned down my home, otherwise you’d have seen more of me.” A little old lady at the back shouted out, “It’s a terrible shame.” I thanked her and agreed with her.
The day has come when Northern Ireland must boldly face the simple facts. There are people in Northern Ireland who have diverse religious and political convictions, but they can live together as neighbours. When I was a boy, there was more neighbourliness than we have seen for many years. Something entered the hearts of the people that destroyed the reverence for neighbourliness and kindliness. The Ulster people are not a hard people: they are a loving and caring people. I am glad that there is no disturbance in the House today. We are meeting here in calm and peace, because that calm and peace is slowly but surely being established in Northern Ireland. We are making progress in the right direction.
Of course, there will be times when both sides of the political spectrum might feel that they are being pushed, but they need to keep their hands in their pockets and remember that it is our hearts that should drive us in trying to win the best outcome for our people. I am confident that, with the good friendship in this House towards Northern Ireland, we will come to a day—although I may not live to see it—when these troubles will be forgotten. We will not forget, of course, the price that was paid or the loyalty of those who stood against assassins, but we will forget the awfulness of the days that we have come through. As we move forward, we shall see prosperity in our land. A working people live at peace. When there is no work, Satan finds plenty for idle hands to do. I want to see more and more employment coming to Northern Ireland. I want to see the young people having every chance educationally to prepare themselves for the future. I want to see a real dedication from all our people, no matter what their politics or religion, as hard-working people and parents to make their family life a thing of blessing and sunshine, not a thing of tears and regret. I hope that that is what will happen.
On the matters of policing and marching, we need level heads. We need a calm appreciation of the facts and we need to do our best to ensure that our contribution will be one that will assist the people of Northern Ireland in making progress. I would like to see in Northern Ireland the same situation as in other parts of the United Kingdom, so that when there is a march those who are legally entitled to walk—and who do not want to cause trouble but only to declare their principles—will be able to walk in peace. I refer to both sides when I say that.
I mentioned the holidays I spent in South Down. I played with the boys in Killowen, who were strong republicans and strong Roman Catholics, and I was just as strong a Unionist and a Protestant. However, they came with me to the 12 July demonstration, and I went with them to the Warrenpoint Hibernian demonstration. In fact, the Hibernian people got into trouble just before their demonstration. On the night before, one of their drums gave way. They had no drum, so they came down to the Orange hall and got an Orange drum on loan. They also got a sheet, which they covered up and on which they roughly painted their Hibernian slogan. However, as they were going through Warrenpoint the next day, the sheet came off, and all that could be seen was “To the immortal memory of King William III” and “No surrender!” Everybody laughed; nobody got up and said, “This can’t be.” There was a general mood of good will.
That good will is going to be hard to build, because there are people with very deep wounds—I think of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) sitting here, whose family I have known for years. I know what they suffered, and many others have suffered, and it is the same on the other side, but this I can say to the House. Northern Ireland is moving in the right direction, and this House needs to see that it encourages it to go forward at this time. We welcome the help of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland, chaired by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire. We also welcome the good work of the various Secretaries of State. Some of them we disagreed with and some of them we would have liked to punch at times, but we neither punched them nor disagreed with them in a muscular fashion, and today we are here in the quiet of this House.
I do not think that there will be a Division in the House tonight; I think that we will all feel that we are moving the right way. That does not mean that we have reached the end of the journey—far from it—but we are moving the right way. For those from this House who continue to take up their duties in Northern Ireland, I trust that these will become happier and happier as the days go by. Thank you very much.
It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) on what is an historic occasion. The tributes that have been paid, with the appropriate degree of caution about the future, bring to mind the history not only of the troubles, but of the role that the UK Parliament has played in such matters, going back to the earliest times of our Parliament.
The degree of co-operation and good will that we have heard today is truly important, whichever side of the political or religious divide one has come from. However, those looking back through the annals of our history will want to consider the role played by this House and the battles conducted here. They include those involving Daniel O’Connell and John Bright, as well as the episodes during the 1880s involving Parnell, followed by the obstructionism and the violence that took place in this very Chamber. That led not merely to the suspension of Standing Orders, but to their being taken away from the Speaker and handed over to the Executive, an issue that we are yet to resolve. In addition, we then had the later period, with Carson, the Black and Tans, and the problems from 1918 through to the 1920s, and then again in more recent times, with the tremendous tensions that were built up.
I follow the right hon. Member for North Antrim in his awareness of what has changed in this House, given the relative calm of this Chamber—in fact, the complete calm—compared with the ructions that were once stimulated by the great passions that reigned over the questions of Northern Ireland and home rule. They included the break-up leading to the creation of Liberal Unionism by Joe Chamberlain and John Bright on the question of home rule, which sometimes gets forgotten. I mentioned home rule in an intervention on the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), but these are momentous historic questions and huge constitutional issues. As the right hon. Member for North Antrim has said, we are here in this Chamber discussing the devolution of policing and justice, with the reservations that have been made and the acknowledgement that there is a sunset clause, although I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) modestly underestimated the role played by the Select Committee on Northern Ireland and the degree to which those policies were developed under the aegis of the UK Parliament.
All I say by way of conclusion is that the Chamber may be relatively empty, but despite the ghosts of those who have taken part in these momentous occasions, with all the passions and the tumult in this House on the issues of Northern Ireland and Ireland as a whole, we have now moved so far that the right hon. Member for North Antrim was able to touch on his origins in this House and the passions that he induced, which he explained so clearly in his speech today. The transformation of the politics of Northern Ireland is not yet complete, but the bottom line is this: great progress has been made, and the one thing that one can say is that the beneficiaries are the people of Northern Ireland and our democratic system.
Let me first pay tribute to my two colleagues who are leaving the House at the end of this Parliament. The Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), has always been a friend of Northern Ireland. He has always assisted Northern Ireland, not only as Chairman of the Committee, but as a Member of Parliament. We were concerned about him at one stage—he took a bit of time before he managed to reach the House after the last election—but he got here none the less, and he managed to change the legislation to ensure that nobody else would fall into the same difficulties. He has been a good friend, and we very much thank him for his role.
My long-time friend and colleague, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has had a colourful career. We have described him as a colossus in Unionist politics. His name will be remembered in the history of Northern Ireland as one of the most influential figures in Unionism. His leadership in the most difficult times that we have gone through has been a major factor in bringing Northern Ireland through to the peaceful and stable society that we are now enjoying. On behalf not only of my party, but of the Unionist community as a whole, I rejoice in the fact that Ian Paisley was there, that he was able to say no when the question demanded that answer, and that he was there to say yes when the opportunity was there to make progress.
I apologise for my late arrival in the House, although I think that I have broken my record of speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3 o’clock and managing to speak here just after 6 o’clock. I flew over with one of our friends from the other place, Lord Kilclooney. He likes to ensure that my feet are firmly on the ground, and he handed me a copy of the Lurgan Mail, so that I could see what was happening at the grass roots, as I think he put it. I enjoyed reading about various events around Lurgan, but I was a bit shocked to see a statement from the Ulster Unionist Assembly Member Sam Gardiner, who gave his reasons for opposing the devolution of policing and justice. They can be paraphrased in one sentence: Sinn Fein wants it, so Unionists should be against it.
Such zero-sum politics—sectarian politics—drag Northern Ireland down and back. We must recognise that it is possible to find a way forward in Northern Ireland that is a win-win solution, and that it is possible to have agreements on how we move forward in Northern Ireland that attracts the support of both Nationalist and Unionists. The devolution of policing and justice is such an issue. For 100 years, Unionists’ policy has been to have devolved powers over policing and justice.
I am not sure about the thinking of Sam Gardiner, who says that we should dispose of the epitome of the Unionist requirement for devolution simply because someone else happens to want it. Carson and Craig would not have accepted devolution in Northern Ireland without powers over policing and justice. Brian Faulkner, a later Unionist leader, was prepared to do away with devolution because power over policing and justice was removed—recognition that properly joined-up Government needs the ability to enforce powers exercised in other areas.
The devolution of policing and justice is not only Unionist policy; it is Democratic Unionist party policy. In our last manifesto in 2007, we expressly told the people of Northern Ireland that we support the devolution of policing and justice. We gave them a commitment to work towards that devolution. However, we had two caveats. First, we required community support for whatever structures were proposed. Secondly, we made it clear that we did not believe that there would be support for the devolution of policing and justice, if there were a Sinn Fein Minister.
I believe that we have met those two conditions. I am not relying simply on opinion polls, although when they are going in the right direction, we all like looking at them. The two most recent opinion polls on this subject show that people overwhelmingly want the devolution of policing and justice. We went around the country, and I addressed public and party meetings throughout Northern Ireland. Not once, at any of those meetings, did anyone say, “Stop. Don’t go ahead with this. It is a bad idea.” We placed adverts in newspapers, and people had the opportunity to respond. I received one e-mail opposing the devolution of policing and justice, and when I responded to it, I quickly discovered that it came from a supporter of another Unionist political party, who would not agree to anything in any circumstances under our dissident Unionists.
There is support in the community for the devolution of policing and justice. More than that, there is support for that devolution from all the Assembly parties, and all, save one, voted in favour of it during the debate. One party, the Ulster Unionist party, did not. However, it made it clear that in principle it supports the devolution of policing and justice. In addition, in 2003, it reached agreement at Hillsborough with Sinn Fein and others to have policing and justice powers devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly by the mid-point of the following Assembly, which would have been September or October 2005. It reached that agreement when the IRA was still killing people on the streets, and continuing its gangsterism, and when the IRA and Sinn Fein were still attacking the police, would not recognise the courts and did not accept the rule of law. In all those circumstances, the Ulster Unionist party said in 2003 that there should be devolution of policing and justice. Indeed, one of its Assembly Members, who is happy to go in front of the cameras nowadays, Mr. David McNarry, said that that had to happen, and that there had to be a Sinn Fein Minister. In much worse circumstances and with a much worse deal, the Ulster Unionists were prepared to have devolution of policing and justice, but they have now decided that it would not be opportune now.
I believe that the views expressed by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) accurately reflect the views of the Ulster Unionist party, and certainly the views of its support base. Opinion polling by my office and by the Secretary of State shows that more than three quarters of its supporters wanted the devolution of policing and justice. I do not believe that during the subsequent period there has been a significant or appreciable level of concern about the devolution of those powers. Not only are they devolved in circumstances that command community support, but we have—I suppose that this is one of the factors that created that support—a significant financial package to assist us in moving forward. Without that package, we might have to dispose of the services of up to 1,200 police officers. It is a first-class financial deal that supports the overall devolution of policing and justice.
One of the differences since the days of Carson and Craig is that we have a different system of Government, which required more detailed negotiations that continued for a considerable period. We had to devise systems to ensure that we could safely and securely ensure the independence of the Chief Constable in the operation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and the independence of the judiciary, which is just as important.
I heard the intervention from the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). We must be clear that the Chief Constable’s role as the Minister’s chief adviser relates to the Minister’s policy role, and that the Minister has no operational role in the functioning of the PSNI. The Chief Constable has complete independence without political interference in how the PSNI operates. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will defend the Chief Constable’s independence as strongly as other hon. Members on these Benches.
The important factor in the devolution of policing and justice is that it completes the whole devolution package for Northern Ireland. People can now see the jigsaw completed, and the overall context of devolution. That brings me to the reason given by the Ulster Unionist party for not devolving policing and justice. The argument was that to some extent the Executive were not functioning properly, so there was no confidence in devolving powers to it. The reality is that parties that see themselves as opposition parties—we have the strange factor in Northern Ireland that Government parties see themselves as Ministers in opposition, because the smaller parties in the Executive take that role—may say that the Executive are dysfunctional and could do better. I firmly believe that they could do better and reach more decisions, but they have reached significantly more decisions than the previous Executive led by the Ulster Unionist party. By the end of the Assembly’s final year, we will have taken twice as many decisions, and reached twice as many agreements as its predecessor. Indeed, it has to be said that the Assembly has taken much more difficult decisions than its predecessors did.
It is also worth noting that one of the difficulties preventing the Executive from moving forward was the fact that the devolution process had not been completed. It has been interesting that, in the past two Executive meetings, there have been more decisions flushing through the system than at any time previously, now that the logjam has been taken out of the way. Yes, of course we can do better, but we are doing better than our predecessors, and we are doing better month by month.
People in Northern Ireland do not want to go back to the bad old days of the past. They want to move forward and to see progress being made. They are content that we have a devolution system that has securities, vetoes and controls built into it, to ensure that no section of our community can be discriminated against. I therefore believe that we have taken a major step in moving Northern Ireland forward, to ensure that we continue to make progress and build on the peace and stability that we have, and, as we move out of recession, build prosperity for our people.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), the First Minister, for giving way. I want to put it on record that this Ulster Unionist representative in this House—for whatever time is left to me to speak for the party here—commends the Democratic Unionist party for what was a very courageous decision. Its decision on the devolution of policing and justice was absolutely right, and it cannot have been easy. I commend the party warmly on reaching the right decision. The people of Northern Ireland want to go forward, and that includes the Unionist people. All the Unionist people of Northern Ireland want to go forward with those of different political persuasions. Our common enemy—the dissident republicans, Orange volunteers and the like—would wreak havoc if they could, but they will not, because we will stand together in opposition to all paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for those comments. I believe that she has accurately reflected the position of the Unionist community. I know that she very much regrets that the Ulster Unionist party, through its leadership, has placed itself along with the dissident republicans and Unionists.
I also recognise that the hon. Member for Foyle and other members of his party are not completely content with every aspect of the arrangements for policing and justice; they have said so. If either Sinn Fein or the DUP had been left to write the agreement themselves, it would have been a very different document. That is the nature of doing deals and reaching agreements. They are compromises by their very nature, and we need to seek consensus in order to move forward. The hon. Member for Foyle could very well have said, “We didn’t have our thumbprint on this document, so we are going to vote against it or abstain.” He did not do so, however. Although it was not as they would have wished, he and his party supported it in principle and voted in favour of it. I believe that that is the position that the Ulster Unionist party should have adopted, and I very much regret that it did not do so. I am glad that the Conservative Opposition in this House made their position clear, but I regret that they were not in a better position to persuade their colleagues in Northern Ireland to follow the route that they were taking.
I strongly believe that the people of Northern Ireland support the devolution of these powers, and that they want us to get on with the work of dealing with jobs, education and health. Those are the matters that come to me when I meet people on the streets. Seldom has anyone come up to me and said, “We need to get policing and justice sorted out,” or “We need to get parading sorted out.” People want the Assembly and the Executive to get on with the day-to-day, bread and butter issues, and that must be our priority over the weeks, months and years ahead.
I should like to say a final word on the issue of the sunset clause. I started off by regarding the sunset clause as a necessary evil. Both parties recognised it as a temporary expedient, but we were unable to reach a permanent agreement on it. I have moved my position, however; I now think that the clause will assist us all. Over the next year or two, it will allow us to use our experience of having the devolved functions to determine whether any changes would be beneficial or necessary. We should not, however, wait until the period of time has passed before we sit down and try to resolve any such matters. As soon as the new Assembly is elected in 2011, it must straight away get down to working out its processes for continuing the role of policing and justice. We should not be nervous about the fact that our experience over those years will enable us to determine whether the same system should be continued, whether it should be tweaked, or whether more significant changes should be made. I am not afraid of looking at that issue in 2011-12, and I believe that the sunset clause will benefit the Assembly.
I think that, before I arrived in the Chamber, the hon. Member for Foyle spoke of not making the perfect the enemy of the good. That is exactly where we stand today. Regrettably, some people believe that we should wait until we have all our ducks in a row and everything is perfect before we move forward. We should never make progress in Northern Ireland if we did that, however, because nothing is ever perfect in politics.
The problem with the sunset clause is not simply that it requires political agreement, or that it imposes an obligation on the parties to sort out their positions. The nature of the clause is that, in the absence of an agreement, the Department will be dissolved. It is the implications of that happening that we need to consider, because that is what the House has legislated for. If we have such confidence in the future, why do we need a sunset clause that would require the Department to be dissolved? Do the parties really need that in order to concentrate their minds in the positive way that the right hon. Gentleman has been suggesting?
Every journey is taken a step at a time. It is a fact that no agreement could be reached on a final and completed version of these arrangements. We have therefore taken the first step, and we have done so with confidence and faith that we will be able to resolve these issues. I happen to believe that the arrangements that we have will probably be sufficient in 2012, but the determination that has been shown over the past few years to resolve our difficulties will be sufficient to overcome any problem that we might face at that time.
I was present in April 1998 during the final days that led up to what became known as the Belfast agreement, and I know that the hon. Member for Foyle and others were involved in reaching compromises at the last minute. Those compromises were not the finished product; they were work in progress, and they established arrangements to take forward pieces of work that were not in the final agreement. The hon. Gentleman should therefore be no stranger to the idea that, in a peace process, we do not necessarily reach the final destination at every point. We can, however, establish a firm foothold, in order to go on and build other things in the future.
I should like to refer to what the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) has just said. Yes, of course there were compromises in the Good Friday agreement, as there have been on other occasions. However, none of the compromises that we were party to involved contemplating, or legislating for, the dissolution and collapse of any arrangements. We did not sell confidence on the basis that we had a device for allowing the arrangements to collapse and disappear before our eyes if we did not like what happened around the corner. Will the right hon. Member for Belfast, East tell us whether, in the 2011 Assembly election, his party will claim to have a mandate to hold out for a continued veto on Sinn Fein occupying the role of Minister of Justice? Or will the right hon. Gentleman say, “We are relaxed and agnostic about who should be the Minister of Justice, and we will therefore be able to reach agreement with Sinn Fein”? Because that is what he is telling us.
The hon. Gentleman indicates that the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly during the period of the Good Friday agreement was not legislated for, but it did collapse—it collapsed four times, even though that was not legislated for. That is hardly a good example to draw to our attention, as they were capable of collapsing the Assembly without legislation. The one thing that can be said about the present Administration is that even though there have been difficult times, the Assembly has not once collapsed. We have continued to operate, to take our decisions, to move forward and to reach agreements. I do not doubt that there will be challenges for us ahead, but I also do not doubt that we are capable of overcoming them.
I strongly support the measures before the House. I want to thank the Secretary of State and his team for their assistance during the talks process, and indeed to thank the Prime Minister for the time that he spent in Northern Ireland. I know that there might have been a bit of impatience on their part that it took a little longer than they had expected. I do not apologise for that at all, as I believe that the agreement we now have is stronger, because we took the additional time to get it right. More than that, unlike previous agreements—whether it be the Belfast agreement, the St. Andrews agreement or many others such as the Weston Park agreement and so forth—this one is different. This one was agreed between parties in Northern Ireland. This was made in Ulster, and I believe that it will be all the stronger for that, all the more likely to stick and make it all the more likely that people will go out and stand by it. I believe that it will be a significant step towards peace, stability and prosperity for Northern Ireland.
During the nearly five years in which I have done this Front-Bench job, I have dealt with many statutory instruments. They have usually been dealt with upstairs in Committee; some have been difficult and some have been very easy. This one is, in a sense, the most important, but it is also quite easy in that we have unanimous agreement in the House that these orders should go through. They have been welcomed on all sides and I add my welcome this evening. It has been a rocky road and the last few weeks seemed particularly difficult. In spite of those difficulties, I certainly never lost hope or my faith that we would get to this position. I am very pleased thatwe have.
Right hon. and hon. Members have made some important and interesting contributions. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) certainly welcomed the orders, but raised an important issue about the sunset clause. It is a matter that we discussed when the original legislation went through last year. I wondered what would happen if we reached 1 May 2012 and an agreement had not been reached. My hope is that having reached agreement on this issue—it has been a very difficult issue and has taken longer than all the other devolution issues to resolve—the Assembly can agree again in order to renew the Department or pass legislation to set up an alternative Department that does essentially the same job. I hope that the Assembly can also start to agree on many of the issues that the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) rightly said people are concerned about each and every day of their lives. People do not wake up necessarily wondering about parading or about devolution, but they do wake up worrying about jobs, their families, transport and all the other issues that people in Great Britain worry about. I hope that the example now set—with two parties, although it should have been four, coming together to agree on a difficult issue—will be replicated in the months and years ahead.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) raised the issue of the Saville inquiry, as did my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). We are not here to discuss that matter tonight, but I repeat my hon. Friend’s words: in order to do justice to the long and expensive time taken in compiling the report, we really need the calm of the post-election period, not the pre-election period. I hope that the Secretary of State will take that plea into account.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), in a customarily passionate and forceful speech, rightly condemned paramilitary activity. It has been unfortunate that we have seen an increase in such activity. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire said, the bomb squad has been called out and we hear reports of shootings and what can be described only as paramilitary activity virtually every week. It must be regretted on both sides. I hope that devolving police and justice powers today—and doing so unanimously, in this House, at least—sends out a message that we are not going to put up with it and that we are going to tackle these issues through politics and dialogue. Even if there are disagreements, the important consideration is how we disagree. I hope that today will send out a message to those trying to wreck the process. As has been said, they do not have support in the communities; they have no support either in Northern Ireland or in the south. I hope that message gets through loud and clear.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) paid many tributes to various people, including the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, without whose fortitude we could not have reached this stage—with respect to the orders or devolution in general. The problem with naming people for tribute is that not everybody can be mentioned. I would like to add the names of Margaret Thatcher, David Trimble, John Hume and a number of unnamed and perhaps anonymous officials who have worked very hard behind the scenes to bring about devolution in Northern Ireland. I would also like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire, who has been an influential and assiduous Chairman of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. It has been my pleasure to work with someone who I consider—and I know the whole House considers—to be an outstanding parliamentarian. I wish him well for the future.
The right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has, of course, enjoyed an extremely long career. It was wonderful to hear him speaking with such optimism about Northern Ireland moving in the right direction. He rightly said that we cannot forget the struggles and the pain that so many people went through, but it is indeed good that things are moving in the right direction. I also wish him well for the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) reminded us in a characteristic speech of the long history of Northern Ireland. History is particularly important when it comes to Northern Ireland. As a Lancastrian who has many friends from Yorkshire, I know that history still plays an important role in relations between people. My hon. Friend reminded us how important history is to the present in Northern Ireland, although we want to move on from some parts of it. I certainly hope that today is part of that moving-on process.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East rightly says that people are in favour of devolution, and the Conservative party is in favour of devolution generally as well as in favour of the devolution of policing and justice. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire said, the financial package is important, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition offered immediate support to it when the matter was raised. It is a post-dated cheque; it is going to have to be written after the general election. Who knows, it may well be a member of my own party who has to write it. The package was readily agreed to. We recognised both the importance of the package and the importance of the issue that it was there to support, the devolution of policing and justice.
We have heard many speeches, today and in the past, about how successful we have been and what a long way we have travelled in Northern Ireland. I agree, although we must continue to work at peace and reconciliation and making progress; we cannot simply accept that things will always be like this. We must go on trying to normalise politics and life in Northern Ireland, and we must recognise the challenges presented by the ongoing paramilitary activity, by Saville and, perhaps, by 2012. There remains the question of who would be responsible for the support of civil powers if—very undesirably—that became necessary. Overall, however, we have made a huge amount of progress. I wish the Assembly Members well for the days ahead, which, while they may prove challenging, have the potential to be very rewarding.
This has been an excellent debate—which is highly appropriate, given that this is the last occasion on which we will debate Northern Ireland policing and criminal justice on the Floor of the House.
I am delighted that we were joined today by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). She may remember that back in 2003, when I was a Home Office Minister, she and I served together on a Committee that was considering a piece of criminal justice legislation. She kept asking me, “Why cannot this provision be extended to Northern Ireland?”, and I kept replying “That is a matter for Northern Ireland Ministers.” Of course, when I became a Northern Ireland Minister, that excuse was no longer possible—and no Minister in this Parliament can use it now, because such matters are to be devolved to a local Justice Minister and to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The three orders that we have considered represent a milestone in the long journey from conflict to peace, from a divided society to a shared future. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly paid tribute to those who deserve it most—Northern Ireland’s own politicians—for the leadership that they have shown, and the increasing political maturity that they demonstrate day by day. Now, even when there is disagreement, they can work through it together.
No one exemplifies that better than my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who always makes clear his disagreements—when he has them—about such issues as the appointment of the Minister and the interface with national security, but none the less shows his clear and unequivocal support for the progress that we are making. He rightly said that we should not make perfection an obstacle to progress, and I welcome his support for the progress that we are making.
There are many prizes for devolution. First, there is the not inconsiderable prize mentioned by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson): the £800 million of extra resources, which, although hard won, is much needed and deserved. We are confident that it will be invested wisely. Secondly, there is the welcome prospect of an Executive working more effectively for the people whom they are there to serve, fully joined up across Government. Thirdly, there is the restoration of confidence in the political institutions of Northern Ireland after years of fracture and undermining by dissident elements.
Fourthly and crucially, there is the prospect of isolating the dissident element in Northern Ireland—the element that still seeks to attack and murder police officers and still wants to take Northern Ireland backwards, although the vast majority of people there want to move forward. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) reminded us of events that have happened even in recent days, but there is a clear determination in all political parties and all sections of the community, and there is no going back. The completion of devolution is capable of isolating the small number of individuals who persist in such actions.
The hon. Members for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) and for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) rightly condemned those dissident elements and their activities. I join the hon. Member for North Shropshire in sending good wishes to Peadar Heffron as he recovers from his dreadful injuries inflicted by dissident attackers. His personal strength and the determination of his family stand in marked contrast to the cowardly conduct of those who attacked him.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the role of the Secretary of State in the future, beyond the devolution of policing and justice powers. The Secretary of State will remain the primary point of contact between the devolved Administration and central Government, and will be responsible for fostering good relations between the devolved institutions and central Government. However, he will have no role in determining the arrangements for the Department of Justice or the appointment of a Minister beyond 2012. That is a matter for the local parties and the Assembly to consider.
The Secretary of State has presented these orders with absolute confidence that the Assembly will be capable of determining the issues for themselves—the right hon. Member for Belfast, East underlined that—and that it will be possible in the coming months to learn lessons that can be deployed in decisions made after 2012. As I have said, these are matters for the Assembly, but we have every confidence that it will resolve them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle predicted that, once again, he and I would disagree about certain issues. He talked of the interface between issues that will remain the responsibility of central Government and those that will be devolved. I do not deny for a minute that that interface needs to be dealt with extremely carefully, but I believe that it can be managed. Let me return my hon. Friend to the scene from the Clouseau film that he mentioned. The importance of the protocols is that we know precisely whose dog we are talking about, and what responsibility that particular dog has.
We published a number of concordats and protocols relating to these measures, including one on the independence of the judiciary and another on the independence of the Public Prosecution Service. Let me remind the Minister of a statement made on 13 December 2006 by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), about the question of the issue of certificates for no-jury trials by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The right hon. Gentleman said:
“if the DPP judges that there is a risk to the safe administration of justice because of information that he has received, the source of which is a matter for national security in terms of intelligence and so on, he is entitled to go to the judge and say, ‘This is a certificate for a juryless trial.’ I am not trying to suggest anything else, anything more or anything less than that.”—[Official Report, 13 December 2006; Vol. 454, c. 903.]
Matters that are surely perfectly plain—the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the DPP—are clearly qualified, in that strings can be pulled when there are national security and intelligence considerations.
It is rather simpler than that. Three of the four criteria on the basis of which the DPP decides whether to issue a certificate are related to proscribed organisations and therefore to terrorist matters, which are excepted. It is clear that the DPP must consider issuing a certificate in those circumstances. Matters relating to terrorism must remain excepted.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise the progress that we are making in this regard. He will recall that in the 1980s, more than 200 juryless trials took place each year. In 2007-08, 29 certificates were issued, and in 2008-09 only 13 were issued. We are moving in entirely the right direction, and, as my hon. Friend knows, I have promised a comprehensive review of the powers in the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 before any decision is made about the renewal of those powers to allow trials without juries. I believe that it has been necessary over the course of this year and last year to retain that power, but I hope, as he does, that at some point it will be possible to remove those powers altogether, so that every trial is a trial by jury. When that happens we really will know that we have moved forward into a more peaceful future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle also talked, as he does, about intelligence policing, and I wish to set the record straight about that. The PSNI remains responsible for all policing in Northern Ireland, and it is accountable to the Policing Board and subject to the scrutiny of the police ombudsman. All the intelligence gathered by the Security Service in Northern Ireland is fully transparent before the PSNI, and rightly so. I see, day in, day out, that that relationship works and saves lives, and it will continue to save lives beyond the date of devolution. I believe that everybody in this House should support that effort. If the Chief Constable requires additional military support—this was another issue that was mentioned—he can, of course, request it through the Secretary of State. However, the Chief Constable has made it absolutely clear that his preference is for mutual aid from other police services. Again, I think that that is a normalisation measure and a step in the right direction.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley mentioned two matters that are not being devolved. The first one he mentioned was the powers under the 50:50 arrangement, and I acknowledge again his strength of feeling, and that of his colleagues, on that issue. We stand on the threshold of the 30 per cent. target being achieved—we hope that that will happen by March next year—and we have just renewed the powers to facilitate that objective. I just put it to him that, despite all the differences that we have, reaching that 30 per cent. target has been fundamental to building confidence in policing among all sections of the community. That confidence in policing has been crucial to the political progress that we have been able to make.
The Minister and I both served on the Standing Committee that considered the order to renew the legislation, so he knows that I caused a Division and voted against. Will he again confirm to the House that in the event of the 30 per cent. target being reached within the year the Government will come back to the House at that point and rescind the legislation?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding me of the commitment I made in Committee, and I am happy to repeat here that if the 30 per cent. target is reached before March next year Ministers will come back to rescind those special provisions. The target was 30 per cent. and as soon as it is reached we shall be happy to disapply those special arrangements, and we would then proceed in the normal way on recruitment.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned parading, the responsibility for which we anticipate will be devolved at the appropriate time. I acknowledge all the work that has been done and he has played a huge role in taking that work forward in very short order. I hope that in due course the Assembly will make the request for this matter to be transferred, and it is something that we stand ready to do at the appropriate time—I think that he understands that. He also made a very important point about the role of the Assembly committee, which will of course have a wider remit, examining not only policing, but prisons, the Youth Justice Agency, the probation service and criminal justice policy, and many other things. He is right to make the distinction as to who is accountable to whom. The committee in the Assembly will hold the Minister to account, and the Policing Board holds the Chief Constable to account. That is the appropriate set of arrangements, and I know that the hon. Member for North Down also makes that point clearly and strongly.
The central truth of all this is that devolving policing and criminal justice powers means that we really do have joined-up government in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) made the point that that is the key goal—I believe he said it was the “key prize”—and I can see a number of ways in which this will really move things forward. If the politicians in Northern Ireland are developing a resettlement strategy to reduce reoffending rates, they can do so more effectively when prisons and probation are joined up with health, employment services, housing services and so on. The big prize is that when devolution is completed the whole effort of government can be absolutely focused on young people, particularly those in hard-pressed areas, in order to give them a vision of something different, a way forward and a way out of antisocial behaviour or even worse. These are real prizes of devolution, and I know from listening to the debates of local politicians that they are very eager to grasp and move forward with them.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) demonstrated again his keen and long-standing interest in constitutional issues, and he reminded us of some of the history. We were all rather relieved that the violence and tumult to which he referred were not so evident in the Chamber tonight, despite the comments made by the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) about his feelings towards certain previous Secretaries of State—I shall come to those in a moment.
May I thank the right hon. Member for Belfast, East on behalf of the whole House for the efforts he made to get here tonight, having had First Minister’s questions in the Assembly this afternoon? I congratulate him, the Deputy First Minister and all his colleagues on what is being achieved. The focus in the right hon. Gentleman’s speech was on a Northern Ireland beyond sectarianism, and the whole House supports him in that aim, vision and objective. I know that he understands—he made this clear in his speech—that when policing and criminal justice is lined up with the rest of government it is more possible to deliver the vision about which he spoke.
I turn now to two stalwarts of this House who made tremendous speeches this evening, the first of whom was the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). As is his custom, he paid tribute to a great many people in his speech, but I wish to pay a huge tribute to him for all that he has done. He has remained deeply committed to the Committee that he has chaired so admirably in recent years. I know from my own personal experience that he has wise words of criticism, which are usually gently delivered, but effectively so, as well as huge warm encouragement to offer to Ministers, to other Members and to members of his Committee in order to achieve the big prize of trying to make progress. I thank him personally for the encouragement that he has offered me, and I know that I speak for others here too. He is a truly even-handed Chair of the Select Committee, and I thank him for all that he has done. He will be a great loss to this House, but we all wish him well for the future.
I turn now to the right hon. Member for North Antrim, about whom much has been said over the many years of what the right hon. Member for Belfast, East described as a “colourful” career. I think that we would all join in that opinion. Irrespective of whatever has been written about him, I have always found him in this place to be unfailingly courteous, kind, thoughtful, generous and deeply spiritual. Those things are the hallmark of the right hon. Member for North Antrim, who is right to say that there is no reason why people of strong views cannot live together if they can find common ground and work on the issues that separate them so that they can move forward together. His leadership has been crucial to the progress that is now being made in Northern Ireland. I remember his speech at St. Andrews—that crucial moment in the step forward to peace and progress in Northern Ireland—when he said that it was necessary to take the step for the sake of the children. Every time he speaks, he speaks about the future and the future for those children, and he does so in a heartfelt way. I wish to thank him for his contribution to this House and to political progress in Northern Ireland, and for what he has done to improve the prospects for people in Northern Ireland. He will, in the end, be remembered as the man who ultimately said yes.
I detect consensus in this place this evening, and that consensus has been vital in bringing us to this point, where we are on the eve of devolving policing and justice powers. The consensus has been in place here and outside this place. In particular, it was a consensus that many of us felt last week when we visited the United States. Successive Presidents—Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama—have all been involved and all been supportive in this process, as has Secretary of State Clinton, and they have all put real effort, time and support into the efforts of Northern Ireland’s politicians. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley reminded us of the hurt and pain that people still experience and the uncertainty that it has brought with it. The encouragement and the partnership in this place and beyond this place have, I think, been important.
It is very important that that sense of support and solidarity remains in place. Devolution means full empowerment; it does not mean isolation.
I thank the Minister for giving way. In the context of his reference to people still suffering pain and hurt, will he acknowledge that there is a family in my constituency who are grieving as a result of a recent murder by the Real IRA? They have serious questions about MI5’s involvement in the background to that murder—the interest to which it was subjecting that young man, the surveillance and the attention that it was giving him—and they are left believing that MI5 knows more about his murder than has been disclosed. I know that the family got the opportunity to talk to the Secretary of State, too. This is a very real issue in that context. Does the Minister acknowledge that and how does he see it being addressed? What assurances can he give that family?
First, I did not mean any discourtesy to my hon. Friend or to his constituents in not taking his intervention at first—I was not aware that he was seeking to make it. In the end, the devolution of policing and justice is about isolating those who would carry out such a dreadful deed. I bitterly regret the attack that was carried out on his constituent and I understand the distress and hurt that have been caused by that. If he wishes to pursue the issue with me beyond the debate I will be more than happy so to do—he knows that—and if there are things that I can do to support him and his constituents, I will be happy to do them. I can reassure him that the police are investigating that vile murder. If there are views that the family want to bring to my attention, I ask him please to encourage them to do so. I would be happy to meet him and to discuss that further.
I had concluded my speech, but let me say again that I wish all the politicians of Northern Ireland well in building that peaceful, prosperous future for which so many have worked so very hard.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010, which was laid before this House on 10 March, be approved.
That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 10 March, be approved.—(Mr. Blizzard.)
That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 10 March, be approved.—(Mr. Blizzard.)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 25),
That this House, at its rising on Tuesday 30 March 2010, do adjourn till Tuesday 6 April 2010.—(Mr. Blizzard.)
Question agreed to.