Motion to Approve
My Lords, I am very pleased to bring these orders before the House today. They provide for the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland through the transfer of the responsibility for policing and justice. In doing so, they represent the culmination of the peace process and the final working through of the plans for cross-community government in Northern Ireland that were set out in the Good Friday agreement.
The orders reflect several elements. The outline framework has been set by successive Acts of Parliament since the Good Friday agreement. The detail of what is to be devolved reflects discussion in Northern Ireland over a period of years. The final timetable for devolution was set out in the Hillsborough Castle agreement, which was reached in early February after several weeks of negotiation. In a clear sign that Northern Ireland institutions are gaining in capacity and maturity, the British and Irish Governments were not parties to that agreement, unlike the agreements that preceded it. It was the work of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, leading the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The formal request for the devolution of the issues dealt with in the orders before us today was made by the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March, with over 80 per cent of Members voting in favour. In line with the timetable agreed at Hillsborough, the orders before us provide for devolution to take place on 12 April. Many people in Northern Ireland, and beyond, have shown great courage and leadership in making these developments possible.
President Obama, in Washington last week, paid tribute to the First and Deputy First Ministers, who, as he said, have stood together with conviction to chart an historic path towards peace. I believe that we should echo that commendation. But the credit extends well back into the past. It is right that we acknowledge the role of the party opposite in its willingness to take the early risks in establishing the peace process—notably John Major, who as Prime Minister worked closely with the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, supported by the distinguished Secretaries of State, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.
Since that period the two Governments have worked together in close co-operation and with an enormous commitment of time and effort at the very top. The present Prime Minister and his predecessor worked together to great effect with Bertie Ahern and then Brian Cowen to guide the process along. They of course worked with others outside government, and we must all remember the distinguished role of John Hume, and later of Dr Ian Paisley and of Gerry Adams. I must of course pay special tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who played a key role and whom we are proud to have among us.
This morning I read the speech made yesterday by Dr Ian Paisley in another place, his last speech in that House. For me, it symbolised just how far we have come together, and I felt quite emotional when I read it. However, we should not forget either those who have sustained the process from abroad. There has been enormous good will from many quarters, including the European Union and the other states which have contributed to the International Fund for Ireland. We have also benefited from the expertise of distinguished figures from a number of nations who have helped to advance the process.
A particularly strong and positive contribution has, of course, come from the United States. Successive Administrations have worked with enormous energy and commitment to help develop agreement in Northern Ireland and to ensure that political advance was accompanied by material benefits, particularly in the form of new investment. In the current Administration, I should like to offer particular thanks for the help and support we have had from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has taken personal responsibility for the Administration’s policy in Northern Ireland and shown to all those who have dealt with her a deep knowledge of Northern Ireland issues and sensitivity to its particular circumstances. Nor, finally, should we forget those figures in the Congress and the Irish-American community who have over the years exerted a powerful positive influence in encouraging advance.
All the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly accept in principle the need for devolution of policing and justice at some point. The Ulster Unionist Party, of course, had hesitations about its devolution at this point, and despite efforts to reach an accommodation, it voted against devolution. The Government believe profoundly that devolution does need to take place now, but we recognise that the concerns were of substance and sincerely felt. Nevertheless, the Assembly voted by a very large majority to move on. I hope that if the House does the same today, the doubts can be set aside and all concerned will focus on making the institutions work with their new responsibilities. I believe that that will be the case.
Let me now turn to the detail of the three orders before us. 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 become transferred matters. The Assembly will then be able to legislate on them without having to seek consent. The list of matters transferred precisely reflects the Assembly’s requests of 9 March. In line with that request, certain matters will remain outside the responsibilities of the Assembly; one is parading. The Hillsborough Castle agreement, however, envisages that the responsibility for parading will transfer later in 2010, once new arrangements proposed in the agreement are in place. Another exclusion from the list of matters transferring is special provision for 50:50 recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We believe, however, that it is likely that the 30 per cent target for police officers from a Catholic background will be reached later this year, and the special provision will lapse at that point. National security matters will remain excepted and will not transfer under this order to the Assembly. They will properly remain the responsibility of UK Ministers answerable to this House.
The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010 makes a large volume of amendments consequential on the changes in legislative competence. These amendments largely involve the transfer to Northern Ireland authorities of executive functions, reflecting the transfer in legislative responsibility. The main recipient of these 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 responsibility of the Secretary of State. In these cases, the order makes clear the respective roles and responsibilities of the Northern Ireland Justice Minister and the Secretary of State.
There remain concerns among some in Northern Ireland about the split between responsibility for national security and policing in justice matters following devolution. It is imperative that national security is protected in these arrangements, but clearly the post-devolution arrangements have to be workable. That is why it is vital that the Justice Minister and the Secretary of State establish clarity about their respective responsibilities. It is also important that the Justice Minister has access to the information necessary to properly fulfil those responsibilities. These statutory responsibilities are set out in the legislation before the House today.
In addition, we have set out in a protocol details of how the national security interface will work. It sets out a number of safeguards which will operate to ensure the workability of these arrangements. In addition to the existing mechanisms, I draw attention to the exceptional role that will be played by the independent reviewer, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who we have asked to review any decision to withhold information from the published reports of any of the oversight bodies. The order makes provision 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 most of the staff of the current Northern Ireland Office. These staff will move to the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, leaving a small number of staff who will continue to work for the Secretary of State on his remaining responsibilities.
Finally, the Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010 establishes the Northern Ireland Court Service as a separate civil service and transfers its functions, which are currently the responsibility of my right honourable 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 Justice Department will have a generous financial provision. All but £26 million—that is, 2 per cent of the Northern Ireland Office’s current baseline budget—will transfer to the Northern Ireland Executive, as will all the Northern Ireland Court Service baseline budget.
In addition, the Northern Ireland Executive will benefit from the £800 million financial package agreed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in October last year. These orders would come into effect on 12 April in line with the Hillsborough Castle agreement. It will then remain only for the Assembly to complete the necessary preliminaries and, notably, the selection of a Justice Minister by the Assembly on or before 12 April, and devolution will come into effect. At that point the devolved institutions will be able to focus without distractions on the important issues that are of concern to people across the community in Northern Ireland who fall within its responsibility. That includes the wide range of socio-economic issues that are already within the responsibility of the Assembly and the responsibilities of policing and justice which it will assume on 12 April.
There is great scope for the devolved institutions to develop their own approaches to protecting the public from crime and anti-social behaviour that suit the Northern Ireland context best. My ministerial colleagues have worked hard to achieve this, benefiting from discussion in this House and another place. With the devolution responsibility, opportunities open up to engage the Northern Ireland community further in the local development of the most appropriate solutions to their problems.
The political progress that lies behind the presentation of these orders has the potential to make Northern Ireland a profoundly better place. It is a triumph of politics. Of course there are those in Northern Ireland—although very few of them—who do not want to see politics succeed. They believe that they can bring about political change by violence and that they have the right to kill indiscriminately without the smallest vestige of popular support in the pursuit of their ambitions.
We have seen the appalling crimes that the dissident republicans are prepared to perpetrate. Following the murders of two soldiers and a policeman last year, they continue to try to kill entirely fruitlessly and to the horror of almost everyone in Northern Ireland. They have not succeeded in taking another human life since those appalling crimes, but we are mindful of the appalling injuries inflicted on Constable Peadar Heffron, and of the further acts of violence that they have perpetrated since. In the fight against the threat to democracy, we will be unstinting.
We have ensured that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has substantial extra resources this year and next specifically to take on the dissident threat, but it is the political agreement that we have seen on the way forward in Northern Ireland and the manifest public desire for politics to work, rather than violence to usurp its place, that will most dishearten the tiny group who still believe that some benefit can come from wrecked lives and a wrecked society.
The vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this month, which the orders before your Lordships today endorse, is a vote to unite in the face of the effort of the dissidents. It is a vote for Northern Ireland to put the years of the Troubles further behind it and to face squarely the challenges of the future. I commend these orders to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for a brilliant speech, brilliantly crafted and laid out on such a difficult, complex and wide subject. It was very clear and easy to understand and I thank her very much for that. As she made clear, these orders give effect to the agreement reached between the DUP and Sinn Fein at Hillsborough Castle on 5 February and to the vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March. Once these orders pass through your Lordships’ House, 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 ago 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.
Let me be clear: the Conservative Party has long supported, in principle, the devolution of policing and justice powers. We said this as far back as 1998, when I first began to represent Northern Ireland in your Lordships’ House for the Opposition. These powers are best exercised in Northern Ireland by politicians accountable to the electorate there, not by Ministers in your Lordships’ House or in the other place. That is why we supported the legislation this time last year, even though we believed that, with a little more time, it could have been improved. It is why my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, 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 honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition expressed his hope at the time that it would lead to the completion of devolution. At all times our overriding objective is a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all of 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, so we shall, of course, support the orders before the House today. However, there is also an important principle to consider relating to devolution.
Even if any noble Lords had misgivings over the vote on 9 March, they should remember that it represented the democratically expressed will of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Members of this House have no business seeking to frustrate that; it is how devolution works across the United Kingdom. Equally, we should be careful in this House when it comes to 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. It is the role of Parliament to respect these democratic decisions and not to interfere. Of course we can all use our influence but, ultimately, votes in the Assembly are for the Northern Ireland parties represented there to decide.
As the House is aware, the vote on 9 March was, regrettably, not unanimous. My colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party had a number of genuine and legitimate concerns over education and the working of the Executive as a genuine four-party coalition. Failure to deal satisfactorily with these prevented the Ulster Unionists from backing the Assembly vote, and the Government know well that my party—both I and the shadow Secretary of State—implored the Secretary of State to correct that situation during the negotiations.
The Ulster Unionists are not alone in expressing dismay at the lack of a genuine four-party coalition; the new leader of the SDLP made the same points in Washington last week. We hope that these 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. That runs counter to the inclusive nature on which the power-sharing institutions were established. In our view, it is vital that we return to a genuine four-party coalition, as set out in the Belfast agreement.
Once the devolution of policing and justice takes place next month, this 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.
As the Secretary of State has acknowledged, the immediate priority is to deal with the threat of 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 drag us into the past. Barely a day goes by when the bomb squad is not called out. There have been the recent incidents in places like Keady, Newry and many others, and our thoughts are with Constable Heffron, who remains seriously ill in hospital today.
We share the hope that returning policing and justice powers to local politicians will lead to the increasing isolation of the dissidents. They offer the people of Ireland, north and south, absolutely nothing. But it will require the fullest support and backing of the police and the criminal justice system from everyone in our Parliaments and living in Northern Ireland. Following devolution, any lingering reluctance to co-operate with the police must be at an end. While we welcome the acts of decommissioning that have taken place in recent months, tackling loyalist criminality must also be a priority. It is not just paramilitary-related crime that concerns people in Northern Ireland; in many neighbourhoods it is the same issues that are far too commonplace on this side of the water—anti-social and yobbish behaviour, lack of respect and so-called “low-level crime” that blights people’s lives all the same. As the Executive take on these powers, there are a number of difficult challenges ahead.
In addition, the arrangements that are to be put in place after 12 April are interim. They expire in May 2012. There will need to be a clear focus on establishing a permanent system following the next Assembly elections.
We should also be clear today what we are not devolving to the new Justice Minister. He or she will not have the power to run the police, nor will they have the right to interfere with the judiciary. The PSNI 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 honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition in February, remains vital and will be preserved.
Those with responsibility for the administration of justice are under a legal obligation to uphold the independence of the judiciary. These are absolutely cardinal principles for policing and justice throughout the United Kingdom. They must apply equally in Northern Ireland. We cannot tolerate any political interference in these matters.
The noble Baroness also mentioned that 50-50 policing had not yet been devolved. However, everybody here knows that there is an undertaking from the Government, which is agreed by my party, that it will end, come what may, the next time it is due for review. As far as the parades issue is concerned, she also said that there was more work to be done on that. We agree.
It is our sincere hope that with devolution complete politicians in the Assembly can begin to focus on the other issues that really matter to the people of Northern Ireland. While it is important to get policing and justice right, people on the ground are also concerned about issues such as jobs, health, tax, schools and social deprivation. The Assembly Executive must not let the Northern Ireland people down any more.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for introducing these orders. We very much welcome them and wish them well. The Liberal Democrats have long believed that policing and justice powers should be devolved to the Assembly, if and when it wanted such powers. It is a crucial element to devolution and it will be a significant achievement when the powers are indeed devolved in April as the agreement has set out. These orders are the next step in that process.
The Assembly voted earlier this month, as we know, by a cross-community vote to ask for the powers to be transferred from Westminster to Northern Ireland. That was a momentous occasion, as it is today, signifying a new era for the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. We are confident that the Assembly will rise to the challenge and show that it can deliver for all the people in Northern Ireland. Devolution of policing and justice will deliver an enhanced level of accountability to the people of Northern Ireland and allow more direct representation of their needs to the departments and agencies that are responsible for delivering the services and benefits that are part of justice and policing powers.
The orders represent the cementing of the peace process. This issue has represented innumerable challenges and difficulties for the political parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish Governments. It has taken almost 12 years from the signing of the Good Friday agreement to reach this point—a long and hard journey—where a crucial element of the devolution settlement has finally been put in place.
Once the powers contained in the orders have been transferred to the Assembly, I have no doubt that the Assembly will demonstrate that it is capable of taking responsibility for difficult decisions and will take those decisions in the best interests of all the people in Northern Ireland. The devolution of policing and justice is an opportunity for leadership and a chance to make a genuine contribution to Northern Ireland’s political growth and development by publicly demonstrating that Members of the Assembly have confidence in the abilities and stability of the devolved institutions, even when it comes to sensitive issues such as policing and justice.
On a more practical note, there needs to be joined-up government in Northern Ireland. One needs only to look at some of those who become entangled in the criminal justice system—those with drug problems or mental health issues, or with educational difficulties and speech and language problems—to see the interplay between the criminal justice system and wider societal problems. Those issues are simply not dealt with properly unless those sitting in the Executive in Northern Ireland are able to deal with the wider picture and have full responsibility for tackling those problems.
It is only right that, as on other issues, locally elected and accountable people will have the opportunity to influence and direct policy on policing and justice matters and to work with their colleagues in the Executive to bring coherence to policing and justice. Devolution will not be able to deliver in all the areas that it needs to until these powers are transferred.
Momentous as this debate in this House is today, what is important is what happens once these powers have been transferred to Northern Ireland and how the Assembly delivers on criminal justice for the people of Northern Ireland. The speeches in the Assembly during its debate on transferring policing and justice powers showed that Assembly Members themselves wanted to see better services for victims and witnesses; more visible policing on the streets; increased integrity in sentencing; better management and rehabilitation of offenders; and the prevention of offending and anti-social behaviour on the streets of Northern Ireland. That is what we all hope the Assembly will be able to achieve once it is taking decisions on these matters for itself. From these Benches, we wish all Assembly Members every bit of good luck in this challenge.
My Lords, just in case there is any doubt, I have been a lifelong devolutionist. I also had the privilege of being at the right hand of David Trimble—now the noble Lord, Lord Trimble—when he negotiated the Belfast agreement. I would be happy if Northern Ireland were confident and able to deal with devolved policing and justice. I would be ecstatic if Northern Ireland’s political machinations over the past three years had been based on honesty, openness, industry and integrity, but, sadly, that is not the case. Hence, today I want to put the record straight.
Today we have a Prime Minister and a Secretary of State—Shaun Woodward—who have chosen to ignore the centre ground of politics in Northern Ireland in favour of an exclusive carve-up of its future among two parties that are driven by years of mockery and exploitation of the people of Northern Ireland. Before anyone tells me that I should be celebrating the transformation of the DUP and Sinn Fein, let me spell out the inconsistencies of those two parties. The latter has, as we all know, murdered its way to power; it is led by murderers who not only will never be brought to justice in this life but will never be publicly examined. I have, by necessity, accepted that and sought to put the past behind me, as has the Ulster Unionist Party. But at the same time, every alleged mistake and misjudgment of police and military who were placed, ill prepared and ill equipped, between the killers and the vulnerable general public 40 years ago is still being judged against today’s background of comparative normality.
For 12 years—a political lifetime in new Labour parlance—we have been promised and waited for the Saville report, only to be given the impression over the past few days that we are not likely to hear any details until after the election. We will not hear about the £200 million-worth of millionaire lawyers that the initiators dare not reveal at the hustings. Against that, retired police officers, some now in their 80s, are still being held to their honour obligations in relation to events up to 30 years past. There are no millionaires there—they are lucky, while their retirement has been held to ransom, if they get lunch expenses for their time.
There is not much point in going into the history of the DUP, which brought down the Sunningdale agreement in 1974, when Sinn Fein did not even exist as a political party and we could have dealt with people such as the late Lord Fitt. The same DUP mimicked the Red Berets at their King’s Hall rally, misled the unionist electorate with lies about the danger of the Belfast agreement and then proceeded to undermine it, weaken it and remove its safeguards at St Andrews and through its recent Hillsborough aberration.
Why has it been necessary for me to recount these destructive realities from the past? It is quite simply because Shaun Woodward has pandered to the baser instincts of these very people with £800 million of blood money. Let me try to understand that vast sum that the Secretary of State threatened to deny policing and justice unless a deal were done. Was this money actually needed for policing and justice? If so, was the Secretary of State telling us that he was prepared to leave the people of Northern Ireland at the mercy of dissident IRA and criminal gangs? Was this a bribe: “I will create a little trough into which you can stick your snouts”? When one sees what has gone on over the past eight or nine years—not least the wheeling and dealing of the past few days—I suppose that anything is possible. Or was it blackmail: “Secretary of State, we will do anything, but you will want to pay us”? It has to be one of those three, unless, of course, the Minister is minded to admit that it was simply the mindless arrogance of Shaun Woodward. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, described him last week as the worst Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the past 11 years. Well, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was very wrong: Shaun Woodward has been the worst Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the past 38 years and it is against that background that I evaluate his policing and justice debacle.
Before I leave the £800 million mystery money, let us remember that Northern Ireland has been asked to make over £400 million-worth of savings this year, with £113 million being deducted from health and social care, which is already underfunded by up to £600 million compared to England. The DUP and Sinn Fein are no better than Shaun Woodward at understanding and controlling public finances. The wastage in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister alone is staggering. It has 400 staff, which is more than Downing Street. There are four separate ministerial private offices and eight advisers. The recent opinion poll commissioned by the same office cost upwards of £40,000. This figure alone would have paid for an extra four heart operations or seven hip replacements.
Moreover, opinion polls are not the flavour of the month. The Secretary of State spent the equivalent of one heart operation plus one hip replacement on his own creation—his own loaded question—to deliberately mislead the public in Northern Ireland. Noble Lords should listen to the question. It reads:
“I believe we should transfer policing and justice powers to Stormont”—
that would have been all right, but it goes on—
“so that the Executive can get on with the job of improving life for everyone in Northern Ireland”.
Is that a loaded question? Yes, just as loaded and heartless as trailing a poor, grieving widow out on the first anniversary of her husband’s murder to make a personal appeal. How cynical can the Northern Ireland Office be?
Let me now move to the state of policing and justice that the Assembly will inherit. We have a Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland that could not win the Omagh bombing prosecution, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, from this House, won a civil case based on the same incident. The Public Prosecution Service could not win the McCartney murder case, despite dozens of witnesses. This was the same Public Prosecution Service that would not prosecute the Thomas Devlin murder until the persistence of the family and the public forced it to do so, when a verdict of guilty against the two defendants was obtained after the victim’s families were put through hell. That is the same for most trials where few if any serious crimes are brought to court inside a period of two and a half to three years. Justice delayed is justice denied.
Forty-four thousand police files go annually to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland. Justice is regularly delayed. Is it any wonder that we have a high rate of recidivism? It is similar with policing. Just this weekend a major police operation was fired on by dissidents without fire being returned. Despite more than half a dozen dissident murders in the past year or thereabouts, not a single shot has been returned. In one case, the police, having dissident gunmen in their sights, were congratulated on withdrawing from the scene. What are we getting into?
I know from long, personal experience at the coal face that no one from the Assembly is equipped to provide what policing and justice require in Northern Ireland. Paul Goggins, despite the hindrance of the Northern Ireland Office, has made a valiant effort, but there is no one in the Northern Ireland Assembly who would know a gun from slingshot or who has any practical knowledge of youth justice, the probation service, prisons, courts or any of the complex aspects of what has to be undertaken. Not only that, but the agreed, negotiated d’Hondt system has to be corrupted for a Minister of Justice to be appointed. Not an iota of planning and preparation has been achieved. No one in your Lordships’ House who has served our country in uniform will be other than shocked that not a single command or infrastructural provision has been decided on, let alone established. One might as well put David Ford, an agreeable man against whom I have no prejudice whatsoever, into a rocket aimed at the moon and expect him to come back.
For the right reasons but with the wrong approach, we are heading for disaster. That is progress, or so I am meant to believe. If I look depressed, that is only half of what I feel.
My Lords, there is a saying in Northern Ireland that if you have to say something, say nothing. This is the time to say very little, so I will therefore be brief. It is easy to raise emotions in Northern Ireland because although there is an agreement it is by no means an assurance of a long-term settlement.
I was Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, working with the police. The devolved Parliament at that time had its own Attorney-General. That was the position of the Ulster Unionist Party at that time: devolution, control of policing and control of the judicial system. Then we had direct rule and all that was lost, including the then Parliament at Stormont. Indeed, when I was Minister of Home Affairs I was shot 10 times in my body by republican terrorists. However, we have moved on. This is not the time to talk about red berets or anything else but to look forward, we hope to a new horizon in Northern Ireland. It deserves a chance.
When asked recently about the devolution of policing and the judicial system, Mr Gerry Adams said, “Oh, yes, we must get it. We must get it out of the hands of the British. We have never had that in Northern Ireland”. Once again, Mr Adams showed his lack of knowledge of history. We had it for 50 years, from 1921 to 1972. All we are asking for now is to have it returned to the devolved institution at Stormont. That is what we negotiated—David Trimble and I, supported by my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, and the present leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Sir Reg Empey. This is one of the things we achieved in the Belfast agreement. The legislation before us is simply a fulfilment of what was requested at Easter 1998. Therefore, I welcome the orders that have been presented to the House. However, I want to make one or two small points in relation to them.
First, I firmly agree with the idea of the 50/50 enrolment into the Police Service of Northern Ireland being retained in our national Parliament. That should not be a devolved matter. Secondly, as regards property being transferred, I notice that the address of the independent commission—that is not its full name—is not given. Does it not have any property, or is it intended that we should withhold from the public the address of the property that it occupies? All the addresses of all the other properties are listed but not this one. I should like to know the reason why no address is given. In relation to the transfer of property, I am astonished to see that Stormont House is not being devolved. We have three Stormonts in Northern Ireland: the Parliament Buildings at Stormont; Stormont Castle, where the Northern Ireland Office is based; and, of course, Stormont House. Stormont House was always part of the devolved institution at Stormont. It was, in fact, the home of the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament. As he had long distances to travel every day, perhaps from Londonderry or from Fermanagh, a home was provided for him. When we got direct rule, the then Government of Mr Heath stole Stormont House and took it over. I would have expected it to be transferred, on the completion of devolution, back to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The one thing that I am delighted about is that the whole question of policing and justice is now being transferred to Stormont. That was the traditional position of the Ulster Unionist Party throughout 50 years. When we got direct rule in 1972, the then Prime Minister—the late Brian Faulkner—resigned, which brought about the collapse of devolution in Northern Ireland. He said that there was no sense carrying on governing Northern Ireland if policing and justice were not devolved. When Mr Heath decided to take those powers away from Northern Ireland, it brought about the collapse of devolution. Devolution will collapse once again if we do not get those powers back to Stormont. That is what we are trying to achieve today.
Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, is right in one respect. There are problems with the Northern Ireland Executive. They are making little progress. The whole question of secondary education in Northern Ireland has not moved for a year under this Executive. The whole question of the reform of local government is static—nothing is happening. There is a possibility that if the Executive do not start producing results for the people of Northern Ireland, they will lose credibility and will collapse once again. But let us give Northern Ireland a chance. Let us see whether they can deliver. If they do not, regrettably, we could refer back to direct rule.
My final point relates to one of the issues that arose in the debates about the transfer of security and policing in Northern Ireland over the past few weeks. What really worried some of us was what would happen if law and order in Northern Ireland collapsed yet again. You cannot rule out that possibility. There is progress and we welcome it, but not everyone wants progress. There are those who are still trying to bring about the collapse of law and order. Certainly, policing in the Newry and South Armagh areas leaves much to be desired. There were recent incidents at Newry court house and one this weekend when rugby supporters could not travel to Dublin because terrorists had blocked the railway line. What happened? There was a suggested bomb. We do not know whether it was a real bomb. The police went to look at it. They had no cover and they were shot at and had to retreat. This is what is happening on the ground, so be warned. What we are deciding today is taking a risk. It is a risk worth taking but it does not guarantee utopia.
The one thing that worried many of us before we finally came down in favour of the devolution of policing and justice was the question of what happens if the civil authority in Northern Ireland yet again fails to control law and order and requires the aid of the military. There was discussion in Ulster broadcast on BBC radio. The Sinn Fein member on the panel was challenged, “Would you, if you had justice and policing transferred to Stormont, call to your aid the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom?” His answer was scary. “We are republicans. Our job is to get the British out of Northern Ireland, not to call them back in”. That damaged support for devolution of policing and justice among many people in Northern Ireland because they do not want to be in a position where they could not call on the Army to support the police should there be a collapse in law and order. So I ask the Leader of the House to confirm that, if there is a collapse of law and order, it is a matter for the Chief Constable of the PSNI to take directly to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and that the Army would come to our aid on the advice of the Secretary of State for Defence so that any Minister for policing or justice under this new legislation would not have to be consulted or make the decision about whether the Army comes to the aid of the civil power in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, we have heard in the speeches that we have just listened to praise for what has been achieved and genuine concerns about how it has been arrived at. Personally, thinking back over the years of my professional life, I have no doubt that this House needs to send out a loud and clear message that, in terms of politics, this is a historic day for the people of Northern Ireland. I think back to the numerous funerals that I have conducted for policemen, members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and civilians, and to the numerous police and Army families whom I have attempted to comfort.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for mentioning two names in the run-up to what has been achieved—Albert Reynolds and John Major. I am firmly convinced from having been involved in the preparation of the Downing Street Declaration all those years ago that it was a turning point in the political progress that has brought today about. I pay tribute to those two men. Sometimes history judges them ill when they deserve more. I pay tribute to successive Secretaries of State, not least those who sit in your Lordships’ House. I pay tribute to the people, not the politicians alone, in their homes, their work, their streets and their fields, who over the past 30 years have borne the brunt of our disturbances, our troubles and our suffering.
It would be wrong today to minimise what those who have expressed concerns have said about how today has been reached in political terms. I share the wishes of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that today should mark a point at which healing can take place and that there can be a greater sense of unity in trying to incorporate all political parties in the way ahead. As I said on this subject on a previous occasion, this is a chance to rejoice in political achievement, but political achievement is only part of reconciliation. The real battle, the real challenge and the real problem for Northern Ireland, its Assembly and its people are the hearts and minds of its people. You cannot legislate for reconciliation. You cannot compel people to be reconciled. You can set in place the structure that will make it more encouraging and more possible. We need to send out a message to the Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly that they have the good will of this House and of Parliament as they attempt to take on this new dawn that devolution means in political terms.
Members of your Lordships’ House who, like me, come from Northern Ireland have been closely involved over the years with what I have described as the suffering of the darkness. We need to recognise the reality of today. To reach this point in political terms has called for great courage by politicians. That is not to dispute the reservations that our noble friend Lord Maginnis expressed, which have to be faced up to and tackled. However, as the Leader of the House and others have said, many, many people have contributed to bring this day about and today is a day when we say: let us be thankful and let us have the faith and courage to move forward.
My Lords, perhaps I may first make it abundantly clear that my party, the Ulster Unionist Party, is not and never has been against the transfer of policing and justice back to Stormont. In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, pointed out, in March 1972 the Ulster Unionist Party led by Prime Minister Brian Faulkner could not accept the removal of policing and justice, which was why the Stormont Parliament was prorogued.
As the shadow Secretary of State mentioned in another place yesterday, the Ulster Unionist Party had a number of genuine and legitimate concerns about the workings of the Executive as a proper four-party coalition. We were not alone in our frustration. The other party that has Ministers, the SDLP, has similarly expressed dismay at being excluded from the decision-making process. Our current position is that policing and justice are too serious an issue to be transferred to an Assembly and especially an Executive who to date have not shown themselves to be qualified to take on this hugely important responsibility.
While I recognise that the secret deals of some and the perhaps naive good will of others will bring about the devolution of policing and justice, I cannot understand the means by which the Government have gone about the task. I have spoken to members of the PSNI, members of the Policing Board and others in the legal profession without anyone being able to tell me what the structure of the proposed new arrangements will be. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, that planning and preparation should be the essential, fundamental element in this exercise, yet we have seen no evidence that the structures and channels of command and responsibility are in place.
While we speak of policing and justice in generic terms, it is surely not beyond the realisation of this Government that we have an inefficient Public Prosecution Service, a Prison Service whose members are screaming to have governors replaced and a police service that has yet to establish an effective working relationship with MI5. I am concerned that whereas the Garda Siochana in the Republic appears able to deal effectively with the dissident IRA—catching, charging and sending its members to prison—we do not seem to have similar success in Northern Ireland. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to play around with promises or, indeed, threats regarding the £800 million, but we do not know exactly for what that considerable sum is intended.
Unfortunately, the Northern Ireland Assembly has to date been clearly dysfunctional—with little evidence of corporate responsibility among Ministers, the Executive having been suspended for nearly six months and an Education Minister who is clearly sectarian in her attitude to state education. To date, there has been not a single discussion or even a single word spoken between the Executive members as to how these powers will be executed.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister exactly what safeguards have been considered and whether they will be implemented before 12 April. Will she explain exactly what will happen on 12 April if the dissident IRA launches a co-ordinated attack on human and economic targets? Surely these issues have been decided. If not, I fear that we are embarking on an ill conceived plan as far as command and control are concerned.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for introducing these orders. I declare an interest as the Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the constituency of East Belfast. I welcome the tabling of this Motion and hope that these orders and associated regulations will become law with minimum delay.
As the House has heard, when the former Northern Ireland Parliament was prorogued in 1972 the Prime Minister of the day, Mr Brian Faulkner, rightly expressed the view that government without policing and justice powers was not worth having at all. These powers were a necessary attribute of government then and remain so today.
For many years my party has been committed to achieving an agreed administrative structure that would facilitate the return of policing and justice powers to a local assembly and I am firmly convinced that the necessary conditions for such a transfer have now been met. First, the commitment by Sinn Fein to give its support to the police, the courts and the rule of law as a condition of its entry into government is of great significance, particularly since it has given practical effect to this commitment by playing a role as members of the Policing Board and district policing partnerships. Secondly, the order incorporates clear safeguards against political interference in policing and judicial decisions. The chief constable will continue to enjoy operational independence and the Public Prosecution Service and judiciary will remain entirely free of political influence. As a result, the whole community in Northern Ireland, and in particular the unionist electorate, can have full confidence that the impartiality of the police and judiciary will not be compromised.
In these circumstances, the return of these natural governmental functions to locally elected and locally accountable politicians seems an eminently logical step. For this reason it is surprising to say the least that not all Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly saw fit to support our prayer for a change in the relevant legislation. In particular, the unwavering opposition of the Ulster Unionist Party is frankly baffling. Members of that party supported the devolution of policing and justice powers in 2003 when neither of the conditions that I have described had been met. Moreover, the leader of that party has reaffirmed his support in principle for the transfer of powers but bases his opposition on an assertion that the Executive are dysfunctional. Clearly his opposition, far from facilitating more efficient functioning, is likely to promote exactly the opposite outcome. It is indeed significant that the last Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs, the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, has questioned the rationale for the Ulster Unionist stance. All things considered, one might be forgiven for concluding that it may have its origin in seeking merely party political advantage.
I wholeheartedly welcome the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly and look forward to the continued development of administrative structures that command the support and allegiance of all sections of the community. Therefore, I very much welcome these orders.
My Lords, I support the three orders that have been laid before your Lordships’ House and so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, earlier in our proceedings.
I say to my noble friend Lord Maginnis that it is now 25 years since I first visited him in his constituency in Fermanagh and South Tyrone when I was a spokesman in another place. I had huge admiration for him then which continues to this day. The trenchant, no-nonsense fashion in which he speaks is not to be ignored in your Lordships’ House, and I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames: he represents an opinion that is held in the north of Ireland, and one to which we should listen with some care. For instance, he said that there is great disaffection with the Public Prosecution Service. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, has supported that view and we should certainly take it into account.
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, also said that justice delayed is justice denied. He was in fact quoting Mr Gladstone, who said precisely that. Maybe it is worth recalling that it was the same Mr Gladstone who, after the Home Rule Bill was defeated in your Lordships’ House more than a century ago, mused that the one and only conspicuous failure of our political genius had been the failure to achieve a political solution in Northern Ireland. Although recent events serve to remind us that there are still paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland which would like to destroy political progress, it will surely be said of these past 15 years that British and Irish politicians and civil servants at last deployed their considerable genius in trying to find a peaceful way out of the mire. Again, I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who said it is a historic day for Northern Ireland and we should rejoice in political achievement.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s I regularly spoke in another place on Northern Ireland issues. Indeed, my maiden speech in 1979 was made in the immediate aftermath of the tragic murder of Airey Neave in the precincts of the House by the INLA. I remarked that day that:
“The bullet can never replace the ballot in a free society”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/1979; col. 1222.]
Although the INLA has now renounced violence, it will take many more years for memories to heal. My maiden speech in your Lordships’ House in 1997 returned to the importance of finding a political strategy for ending decades of violence. I said that a way forward could never be based on anything which implied a victory for either side and suggested that:
“An end to this catalogue of violence remains the elusive prize which will reward the patience and perseverance of those constructively engaged in the present negotiations”.—[Official Report, 22/10/1997; col.773.]
The orders before your Lordships’ House today will enable the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland through the transfer of policing and justice powers to Stormont, exactly as my noble friend Lord Kilclooney said a few minutes ago. In turn, they give effect to the historic vote at Stormont on 9 March. That is a considerable tribute to the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach, the Secretary of State and Minister of State and their opposite numbers in Dublin, and most crucially to the First Minister and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Tribute should also be paid, as others have done, to Sir John Major, Mr Tony Blair, Albert Reynolds, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, who is in his seat today, and all those who have invested so heavily in creating this constructive way forward.
This has not been an easy time for the right honourable Member for East Belfast, Mr Peter Robinson, the First Minister. We both entered the Commons 30 years ago, and I have watched with admiration as he has grappled with the complexities posed by a devolved, power-sharing assembly. Speaking in yesterday's debate in another place, he said that,
“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”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/10; col. 70.]
He was also right to support the view of the honourable Member for Foyle, Mark Durkan, who spoke on behalf of the SDLP of not making the perfect the enemy of the good. He said that in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere:
“We cannot make perfection a precondition for progress”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/10; col. 54.]
I agree with that view and believe that it builds constructively on the fine work undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, his noble friend Lord Kilclooney, Mr John Hume and many others who have been involved in the process. Yesterday's vote made it a historic day in another place, because the debate there saw the swan songs of two significant figures in Northern Ireland's affairs. I will mention them briefly before concluding my remarks.
The honourable Member for South Staffordshire, Sir Patrick Cormack, has played a remarkable role as chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee. I know that Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House who have followed these issues over the years will want to pay tribute to him for his patient and constructive role in bringing about this political achievement.
I particularly want to mention the Reverend Ian Paisley, the Member of Parliament for North Antrim. He spoke yesterday in another place, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said how moved she had been to hear his words. These were some of those words:
“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”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/10; col. 67.]
I pay tribute to the right honourable Member. I always believed that he could become the catalyst for change in Northern Ireland. We offer him and the noble Baroness, Lady Paisley, who is in her seat today, our good wishes for their future.
Devolution brings with it many opportunities and laurels. The £800 million of extra resources have been mentioned. 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. That is a huge responsibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said, but it is also a huge opportunity. Secondly, there will be a more effective and integrated Executive. Thirdly, there will be consolidation of the political infrastructure of Northern Ireland. Fourthly, a message will be sent to dissident elements that progress is made via dialogue and political action, not by murdering police officers or killing your neighbours.
The legacy of the past 40 years in Northern Ireland is almost 3,000 unsolved murders. The families of the victims of those terrible atrocities will want to hear an assurance that the passing of these orders will underline, and not in any way minimise, the importance of ensuring that those responsible are held to account. I welcome the renunciation of violence that so many have made, but they must also understand that justice is not a process by which the past is forgotten. I have never subscribed to the view that we should simply forgive and forget. No one can forgive on behalf of others. It is better to forgive and remember, for if we too easily forget what has gone before, the sacrifices and the gains will be placed in jeopardy.
I have some brief questions for the Minister. First, how will these orders affect the Policing Board's relationship with the chief constable and the Department of Justice? Is she confident that the impartiality and operational independence of the chief constable will not be compromised? That point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.
Secondly, what progress is being made on the draft Bill on parades and how will the consultation process work? Thirdly, is there a date for the publication of the Saville inquiry's report? What provision will be made in your Lordships’ House to debate its findings? My fourth point concerns the intelligence agencies and was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. Mr Mark Durkan raised what he called the,
“dangerous twilight zone that exists in relation to the interface between national security, the regional policing interest and the full accountability of devolution”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/10; col. 52.]
Can the Minister describe what role Parliament will have in these matters? Will Northern Ireland Members of your Lordships’ House be offered seats on Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee?
Fifthly and finally, I turn to the sunset clause. The Prime Minister has said that these orders represent an end to decades of strife. Would it not have been better, therefore, to dispense with a sunset clause—to be applied in May 2012—and which could open up these wounds all over again?
These orders are not perfect, but they are a victory for common sense. In a period of political turbulence, Northern Ireland needs a sense of stability. At a time when the public have a low view of politicians, it is good to be reminded of what coherent and dedicated political engagement can achieve. Other troubled parts of the world regularly look to Northern Ireland for encouragement as they seek to resolve their difficulties and conflicts. I hope that, as the years pass, the wonderful people of Northern Ireland will be able to show us how they used their genius to solve what had eluded us for so long.
My Lords, I rise briefly to thank the noble Baroness for introducing the orders and to congratulate her on her good fortune—which she deserves because of the benign interest that she has shown in the affairs of Northern Ireland in the period that she has been leading this House—in being able to bring forward such important and positive legislation.
I will speak to only one point at the heart of her initial speech. Other noble Lords have also referred to it. It is the issue of the independence of the chief constable. It may seem a technical difficulty with the new arrangements, but it is a very real one. Mr Peter Smith QC, a member of the Patten commission, and Mr Alex Attwood of the SDLP, have in recent months been in the van of the argument for police reform in Northern Ireland. When one recalls that in recent months they have raised issues about the new protocols, and concerns about whether the independence of the chief constable will be preserved, one realises that there is an issue here.
In particular, there is a political issue that no Government can resolve, namely the need for Sinn Fein to present the devolution of policing and justice as, in Mr Adams's words, a staging post towards a united Ireland. That might seem rather a strained way of viewing the replacement of Mr Paul Goggins of New Labour by Mr Ford of the Alliance Party. It seems a grand interpretation of what looks like a relatively small political event, but none the less that language is out there and it conditions the debate. There is nothing that the Government can do about that. However, there are fundamentally crucial new technical questions that arise from these new arrangements.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency will remain responsible to London, not to the devolved institutions. So will the intelligence services in Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness referred to the issue in her opening remarks as the interface. Very helpfully, she pointed out that where technical difficulties of competence arise, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will have a role. That is very reassuring to the many Members of this House who have enormous respect for the acumen that the noble Lord brings to these issues.
None the less, there will be problems. I will give one simple example of a crowd scene and a riot in Northern Ireland. There surely will be another riot in Northern Ireland some day soon. The chief constable will have a responsibility to deal with the aftermath in public with the Minister of Justice. However, let us say there is a shooting in the crowd and terrorists are involved. There will be issues of terrorist activity, of intercepts in relation to that activity, and of the role of the intelligence services. It is a very clear cut example of the ways in which we now have a very messy situation to which, at this point, no one has answers. The two things are caught up—the responsibility of the chief constable for national security and the responsibility of the chief constable to the local devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.
It is for that reason that I repeat a point which the noble Baroness has listened to many times and patiently responded to many times regarding the Government’s support for the independence of the chief constable. I ask her to do so one more time if only because, given the difficult times ahead, it cannot be put on the record too often. With the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I also ask about the parliamentary scrutiny of these new issues as they arise. A new space of contestation has been created and the chief constable faces a new difficulty; he will have to face towards two different authorities in his operation, and the job becomes that much more difficult. We must do everything possible to help the chief constable carry out his duties professionally.
My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I welcome this day and I welcome the devolution of powers for policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I pay tribute to all those who have worked over the years to secure this, and in so doing I pay tribute to people with whom I would have had very little sympathy. I pay tribute to those who have moved the republican movement from what it called the armed struggle to what we have now. I also acknowledge the pain and suffering of all those who have suffered at the hands of actors of the state who have behaved as they should not have behaved. We have had reference already to the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, and to the fact that the report of that inquiry will be delayed. I do not think that I can say any more about the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, now, but I will in future.
For the past 12 years many people have played politics with our peace and our security in Northern Ireland. As we speak that continues, and the sectarianism continues. Neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein is prepared to allow the application of the d’Hondt principles to provide a Justice Minister. The parties that occupy the offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister will not allow it and the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, which sits outside, is not allowed to hold the office of Jusitce Minister. They are therefore determined that they will elect the leader of the Alliance Party to this ministry. In so doing they are electing someone who has publicly said that the Saville inquiry is pointless. The Saville inquiry was established by the British Government to establish exactly what happened on that terrible day in Derry. That causes me great concern about the proposed Minister for Justice’s understanding of matters of justice.
I should, however, like to address the substance of my remarks to the issue of national security. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, has already referred to the fact that the chief constable will effectively face a dual responsibility to the Justice Minister and to the Home Secretary. I want to say a word about national security because, in Northern Ireland terms, “national security” refers only to the activities of republican terrorists and not to the activities of other terrorists who are active in Northern Ireland and who emanate, if you like, from Northern Ireland.
Previous experience has shown that terrorists who were working in both republican and loyalist communities were recruited as informants to the intelligence services and particularly to the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That led to the situation in which intelligence informants were able to engage in the most serious of crimes without being made amenable for those crimes. Those crimes included murder, attempted murder, arson, kidnapping, extortion, and all the things that go on under the cloak of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. It is said that it is necessary for informants to be engaged in crime so that they can produce information for the security and policing services. To a degree, that is undoubtedly true; they will be closer to those who are engaged in serious crime. However, the reality is that the United Kingdom has serious controls over the activities of informants and that those controls were not observed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary during all those years.
The introduction of a surveillance commissioner, in an attempt to regulate the process of informant handling and management, was a welcome development. However, what happened in Northern Ireland continued to happen notwithstanding the role of the surveillance commissioner, who was unable to identify what was happening in the situation. In essence he could not identify the level of criminality in which those informants were involved, and he accepted the assertion that they were not currently involved in crime—which I was told by a police officer meant “at this moment they are not committing a crime”. This was misleading the surveillance commissioner.
Primacy has now moved to MI5, where many former Special Branch officers are employed. It is vital that in the exercise of his functions the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will be more effective than the surveillance commissioner was in managing these issues. Lessons must be learned not only from the successes of the Royal Ulster Constabulary but also from the failures of that organisation.
I want to say something about the £800 million which I think needs to be said. The £800 million reflects the amount needed to make justice and policing in some measure fit for purpose in Northern Ireland. Over the decades many compromises have been made in the management of policing, justice and the prisons. It has left us with a situation in which we have many unresolved problems, several of which have been referred to today—the dysfunction in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the serious dysfunction in the Prison Service, and many other problems which arise in the operation of our probation service and things like that. There will be significant challenges for the new Ministry of Justice, but there will also be significant challenges for each of us as we seek to give our consent and our support to the activities of that ministry. There can be no more further playing politics in these matters.
I hope that as we move forward all the people of Northern Ireland will do all they can to assist not only in the resolution of today's problems as they are caused by the dissident republicans, but also in the resolution of yesterday's problems and the significant pain that still exists—the pain of those from all parts of the community who have suffered murder and the pain of those whose loved ones were disappeared by the IRA. I call on all those—obviously not noble Lords—who have any information about the whereabouts of the disappeared. More have disappeared than are formally acknowledged to have been disappeared. I call on people to give this information so that others can lay their loved ones to rest.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the contributions to today's debate—in many ways an historic debate. As ever, the contributions have been helpful, constructive and largely supportive.
First, however, my excellent Bill team tells me that when I spoke of the Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010, I suggested that it establishes the Northern Ireland Court Service whereas, of course, it abolishes it. I thought it terribly important to put that on the record.
This will be the last opportunity that we have in this House to debate substantive policing and justice matters before those matters are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 12 April. Noble Lords from all sides of the House have made an enormous contribution to the political process in Northern Ireland—and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, is in his place. That spirit of co-operation has been entirely in evidence today as we celebrate the completion of the process of devolution to the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Bew, suggested, I am indeed fortunate to be in a position to move the orders today.
I shall now deal with many of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, spoke of the vote on 9 March and rightly emphasised that this was the democratic will of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. I note the views that the noble Lord expressed, but it is now time to move on in that spirit of co-operation and partnership that he suggested and to which other noble Lords have alluded.
The noble Lord said he hoped that the outstanding issues could be resolved in an inclusive manner with a four-party coalition. I know that that is a matter of concern for many noble Lords. I entirely agree that there are a number of issues which still require resolution, and this is recognised by the Northern Ireland parties themselves, two of which are represented here today. That is why the Hillsborough Castle agreement made provision for a number of working groups to look at the working of the Executive and other outstanding issues. I am sure that we all welcome the fact that Sir Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie are chairing one of these groups, and we all look forward to the outcomes.
I recognise that it is a difficult process, but these people are all now involved in the process, and we should celebrate that. However, I acknowledge the frustrations voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. Concerns have been expressed by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, about the capacity and workings of the Northern Ireland Executive. However, I believe that with the working party looking into these matters, and the fact that all the powers have now been devolved, the Executive can now really focus its attention, without distraction, on the issues which are perhaps of most importance to the people of Northern Ireland today—issues such as education.
We need to have a clear focus on 2012. The parties have demonstrated their willingness and desire to make devolution work and their ability to work together to overcome difficult issues. There is work to be done before 1 May 2012, but I am optimistic, as I am sure most noble Lords are, that this work can and will be taken forward in a spirit of co-operation.
Several noble Lords have spoken of security issues. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, were right to point out that there will be problems. New technical questions will arise with this new process. However, the fact that in the protocol we have details of how the national security interface will work is helpful, and the position of the independent reviewer, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is key. He will help the people of Northern Ireland to work through the various problems.
Many noble Lords have spoken about the chief constable and the judiciary and the importance of their independence. I fully endorse the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Browne of Belmont, on the independence of the chief constable and the judiciary. The fundamental principle that the police are impartial and free from political control is enshrined in legislation and was underlined in the Good Friday agreement and the Patten report. We wholly endorse the principle of judicial independence in Northern Ireland as well as in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is recognised in statute and it will be underpinned by the concordat by the Northern Ireland Executive and the other bodies.
On the reporting of the chief constable, he is operationally responsible but accountable to the Secretary of State in respect of those of his functions which touch on national security. As for his other functions, he of course reports to the Policing Board. I hope that that is clear.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, asked what would happen if there was a request for military support, should circumstances change. As I said, the chief constable has operational responsibility and operational independence, and it would therefore be for him to decide whether military support was required. The accountability for operational matters is to the Policing Board, and on operational matters he has primacy.
The clarification I asked for was on the suggestion that in some way the new Minister of Justice in the devolved institution of Stormont would be consulted or have some say in the decision. Can it be clarified that, if a situation develops in Northern Ireland and the civil authority requires the support of the Army, the chief constable will go directly to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will then consult with the Secretary of State for Defence, and that the Minister of Justice in the devolved institution will not be involved in that decision?
My Lords, the best thing I can do is to quote what the chief constable recently said:
“The decision to request military support would obviously require detailed discussions with the Policing Board, and I would not do it without raising the issues with the Minister of Justice because I think it is appropriate to do that. I work as an operational chief constable in a democracy, in a tripartite system between a Minister of Justice, a Policing Board and myself, and that is entirely appropriate”.
Those are his words.
I regret that decision. It is the decision of the chief constable, and not of the Government. This is a very serious matter, because you could have a Minister of Justice from Sinn Fein, and as they have already said there is no way in which they want to bring back the British Army into Northern Ireland on an operational basis. Their job is to get rid of the British Army, not to bring it back.
I understand the seriousness of this issue and the concern expressed by the noble Lord. Going back to the quotation, the chief constable has said that he would not do it without raising the issues with the Minister of Justice, but I do not think that that would necessarily bind him. He has operational independence, so if he felt that it was necessary to seek assistance from the security services or from the Army, I am confident that he would do so without being bound by the views of the Minister of Justice.
My Lords, I have not yet spoken but want to ask one question on that. When the military were operating in Northern Ireland, there was legislation which enabled them to do so. Therefore, if the chief constable wishes to bring them back in anything other than bomb disposal, there would need to be legislation. Therefore, the chief constable could surely not do it off his own bat.
Before I respond to that I will await some advice from the Box, because it is such an important issue. I will return to it shortly if I may. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, asked what would happen on 12 April if dissident republicans launched an attack on civilian targets. In the event of such attacks, the police and security agencies will of course respond accordingly. National security will remain an excepted matter, as we have said many times, and the responsibility of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will continue to be answerable here, in Parliament, for arrangements for safeguarding national security.
The noble Viscount asked whether legislation would be necessary to enable the military to operate. Legislation is already in place in the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007.
I rather liked the description by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, of the devolution of policing and justice as the cementing of the peace process. As she said, it is indeed an opportunity for leadership in the Assembly and in Northern Ireland. Several noble Lords have lamented the lack of leadership in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I suggest that the time has come for leadership.
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, expressed many trenchant views, and I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that I heed the views of the noble Lord. I do not think that the noble Lord would wish or expect me to address directly his remarks about my noble friends. The important thing is that we have reached an agreement, and it is now time to look to the future, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, said, and to the fulfilment of the Belfast agreement.
The noble Lord made various remarks about the £800 million that is being made available in the context of devolution. I respect his views, but I think that the people of Northern Ireland will be very happy to have that generous amount of money to assist them in the transformation in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, mentioned the Saville report. I note their views, but I refer them to yesterday’s Written Ministerial Statement on the report’s publication.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response so far, but she has brushed over the fact that the Secretary of State threatened to take away the £800 million. No one will be unhappy about money coming to Northern Ireland, but we all need to know whether the Secretary of State was prepared to deny this money to the people of Northern Ireland. Was it bribery, or was it blackmail? A straightforward answer would be helpful.
My Lords, I think most noble Lords would agree that it was neither bribery nor blackmail. The Prime Minister reached agreement last October that that amount of money would go to Northern Ireland to ensure that policing and justice could be devolved appropriately and that the people of Northern Ireland had the requisite money for that. It was neither bribery, nor blackmail; it was part of an agreement.
The noble Lord also spoke of the failures of the PPS in higher profile cases. Of overarching importance is the need for a defendant to receive a fair trial. The difficulties in the trials which he mentioned are not exclusive to Northern Ireland; similar difficulties arise in England and Wales.
The noble Baroness said that perhaps the appointment of the Justice Minister was the result of playing politics with a piece of Northern Ireland. As we all know, the Justice Minister will be nominated by a Member of the Assembly and elected on a cross-community vote, which reflects the November 2008 agreement between the First and Deputy First Ministers that was endorsed by the AERC in its January 2009 report.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, raised the interesting issue of the address of the Independent Monitoring Commission and Stormont House. I understand that there were security considerations. In any event, the address is not necessary in the drafting of the order. Stormont House is currently the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast, and it will continue to be so after the devolution of policing and justice. My right honourable friend needs a base in Belfast for the functions that he will continue to perform. The devolved Administration will control almost all the premises on the Stormont estate.
I repeat that there are three different Stormonts: the Stormont parliament building, Stormont Castle and Stormont House. Stormont Castle is the base of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State. Stormont House was the base of the Speaker of the devolved institution at Stormont, and should revert to being that under devolution to Stormont.
Yes, my Lords. I hear what the noble Lord says. My noble friend said that it is a bit like the Pugin Room. It probably is.
Stormont Castle is not the base of the Secretary of State; Stormont House is. Therefore, we can conclude that the Secretary of State will retain Stormont House but not Stormont Castle. Have I got that wrong? Oh God.
Indeed, my Lords. I will swiftly move on. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked for an update on parading. As we know, the agreement at Hillsborough outlined a route map to finding and implementing a new and improved framework for regulating and adjudicating on parading. A working group was established that has brought forward proposals, and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will bring forward for consultation later this month a draft Bill that seeks to implement those agreed outcomes. The Bill will be introduced to the Assembly in the autumn.
The noble Lord asked about the security and intelligence agencies and the interface with the role of Parliament. The Security Service remains accountable to Parliament through existing oversight arrangements that were established under the Security Service Act 1989, the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Three groups of commissioners oversee current work in Northern Ireland: the intelligence services commissioner, the interception of communications commissioner and the surveillance commissioner. The Intelligence and Security Committee will continue to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the security and intelligence agencies and to report to Parliament. The Secretary of State remains responsible for national security issues, and the public can raise issues with representatives in this House and in the other place.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. She will recall that one of my questions was whether it might be possible, as part of the accountability process, for Members of your Lordships’ House from Northern Ireland to serve on that committee and to entrench the relationship between Parliament and the overseeing of intelligence issues in Northern Ireland.
I will write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House, if I may.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, spoke about informants who were involved in crime. The security and intelligence agencies do not sanction the activities of any informants in criminal activities.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also raised the issue of the sunset clause. As set out in the Northern Ireland Act 2009, the Department of Justice will dissolve on 1 May, 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 this legislation in March 2009, it was aware that these arrangements reflected the agreement between the First and Deputy First Ministers that the arrangement set out in their November 2008 statement should be time-limited to come to an end in May 2012. Work is clearly needed to agree the post-2012 arrangements, but the parties, both at Hillsborough Castle and more recently, have demonstrated their willingness and desire to make devolution work, as well as their ability to work together to overcome difficult issues.
The vote in the Assembly on 9 March marked a watershed moment for Northern Ireland. The noble and right reverend Lord is right when he says that this is an historic day. That was an historic agreement, and I wholeheartedly endorse his comments on reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I commend him for his work on this issue.
Throughout the political process, the Government have been clear that responsibility for policing and justice matters should properly lie with the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have maintained that those politicians making decisions on policing and justice matters in Northern Ireland should be directly accountable to the people of Northern Ireland. We have also maintained, however, that the Assembly should only take on those responsibilities when it decided that it was ready to do so. When the Assembly decided on 9 March that it was ready to take on those responsibilities, it was clear that the political process in Northern Ireland had matured.
The transfer of powers which will take place on 12 April will mark another watershed. From 12 April, the Assembly will be able to completely focus on those issues which affect the people of Northern Ireland on a day-to-day basis. Jobs, health, investment, education, and now law and order will be in the hands of locally accountable politicians. This can only benefit the people of Northern Ireland, and it can only help to secure the political stability that we have worked so hard to achieve. I think we should rejoice today, and I am delighted to commend the Motion.