Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 14 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 2:30, 14 Chwefror 2002

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for emphasising the point that I sought to make, although perhaps not as explicitly as she has done. In her careful research, she may have read the comments that I have made repeatedly about this process: there is no implicit or explicit criticism of the criminal justice system in this process. Indeed, my understanding of the review was that it did not seek to criticise the status quo.

I have made it clear that the intention in modernising the system of criminal justice and pursuing objectives that would make the system more responsive to the modern appreciation of the needs of society, including the needs of children and victims, is to build on what exists, rather than to replace it. In the course of this short but important debate, I have tried to explain that we think it is worth building on, because it has great value. In respect of the director and deputy director, we feel that we have the right people in the right place to lead us through the transitional phase to a modern and greatly expanded Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland.

Let me close with a few remarks on the question of deadlines. Common sense shows, even without the benefit of the Glidewell report, that it would be impossible for the Government to set absolute deadlines for the completion of the process. The transitional arrangement that my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh seeks to remove from the Bill is designed to ensure that the expertise of the current office holders is available to carry us into the new service.

We are certainly not envisaging making any appointments before the clauses are commenced, but if a vacancy for either of the positions arises before devolution, appointments would be made by open competition, as such appointments are made at present. However, nobody is planning for such vacancies to arise and it is our hope and expectation that they will not and that we will be able to rely on the expertise and experience of those in post.

As I have already said, administrative arrangements are in hand to prepare the service for this transition. To have begun such arrangements was not presumption on the part of the Government, because however much the detail of the provisions needs to be debated, there is no opposition to them from any part of society in Northern Ireland or any political party. It was broadly expected that we would make the transition.

With open hands I offer to brief my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member on the progress that we are making with the preparation for the transition at any time, so that he can reassure himself that there is a proper timescale, work is being conducted at a proper rate and nobody is dragging their feet on the matter. In

the light of those assurances and in the face of those arguments I ask my hon. Friend, whom I know to be a man of great common sense, to withdraw the amendment.