Official Report (Hansard)
Date: Tuesday, 22 January 2008
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Jeffrey Donaldson (Chairperson)
Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Ian McCrea
Mr Alan McFarland
Mr John O’Dowd
Sir Nigel Hamilton Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service
Mr Neill Jackson )
Mr Geoffrey Simpson ) Northern Ireland Civil Service
Mr Tony Canavan )
The Committee will continue its inquiry into the devolution of policing and justice matters. Hansard is in attendance. We have received a letter from Gail McKibbin from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). It confirms that Sir Nigel Hamilton will be joining the Committee this morning, but that he will be unable to respond to questions that the Committee raised about the post of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.
Is there any explanation as to why that is the case?
We can ask Sir Nigel Hamilton for an explanation. We will proceed to the evidence session.
Good morning, Sir Nigel and gentlemen. Thank you for agreeing to brief the Committee at such short notice. The normal format for evidence sessions is that we will invite you to make a short opening statement, which will be followed by questions from members. The Committee normally proceeds with questions according to the terms of reference of its inquiry in the following order: matters to be transferred; ministerial models; and timing and preparations for devolution, relating to policing and justice matters. However, given that the Committee is nearing the end of its inquiry into the devolution of policing and justice, it is especially keen to hear about the progress that the Northern Ireland Departments are making in anticipation of devolution.
Before we proceed, I invite members to declare any relevant interests. I declare an interest as a member of the Policing Board and the Privy Council.
Mr I McCrea:
I am a member of Cookstown District Policing Partnership.
If there no other interests to declare, we will proceed. Sir Nigel, you are very welcome. Please begin by making a short opening statement.
Sir Nigel Hamilton (Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service):
Thank you very much, Chairperson. My colleagues are Geoffrey Simpson, Tony Canavan and Neill Jackson; I will refer to them in my opening statement.
I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Committee on the preparations being made by the Northern Ireland Civil Service to take receipt of devolved policing and justice matters. The inquiry is at an advanced stage, and the Committee has heard extensive evidence from the Secretary of State, and others, on the proposals for devolution. The genesis of the work and the various planning assumptions are in the discussion document that was published by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) in February 2006.
I should make it clear that whether devolution should be sought, what the conditions might be and the timescale are subject to political agreement, and the exact nature of the transfer is yet to be determined. Those are matters for political consideration and consideration by Ministers. Therefore, there could well be issues that are of interest to the Committee, on which I will be unable to comment. Ultimately, it is for the Assembly to decide which powers and functions it wishes to devolve and those which it does not. However, I hope that my evidence will prove to be helpful to the Committee in its considerations.
The Northern Ireland Civil Service’s planning assumption is that it must be ready to receive policing and justice powers, as described in the NIO discussion document, with a new Department of justice taking on board most functions. That would represent a significant change in public administration. Therefore, it is imperative that our preparations for change are meticulous and complete by the due date. It is not simply that we must prepare for the creation of a new Department; we must also cater, for example, for the transfer of staff, records, casework, ICT, finance, and so on. I will return to that matter in a moment. All of that must be legislated for, and staff and the public must be kept informed of developments.
As the Committee knows, a complex programme is being led by the NIO, as it will be the Secretary of State who will be responsible for giving over the powers, and that is where responsibility for, and working knowledge of, policing and justice functions currently resides. There is full engagement in the programme from representatives of Northern Ireland Departments to ensure that the transferred functions can be readily assimilated, in due course, into the devolved Administration and its Executive and administrative arrangements.
I will share with the Committee several aspects of the preparations for structures and the process. They are the programme management machinery, including engagement by Northern Ireland Departments; the steps to devolution; and the implications for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.
In relation to the programme management machinery, it has been important from the outset that the devolved sector works closely with the programme established by the NIO to plan effectively for the devolution of policing and justice powers. While recognising the separate political accountabilities to Ministers in the two Administrations, it is important that there should be full engagement — as there is — to avoid duplication or omission. The Northern Ireland Civil Service is engaged in that programme work at several levels. At the highest level, there is a sponsor group chaired by the Northern Ireland Office’s permanent secretary, Jonathan Phillips. The Northern Ireland Civil Service is represented on that group by Bruce Robinson, the permanent secretary of the Department of Finance and Personnel, and Rosalie Flanagan, the director of executive services in OFMDFM.
Underneath them, an NIO programme board is taking forward the work of the programme, and my colleague Mr Canavan represents the Northern Ireland Civil Service on that programme board. At project level, the Northern Ireland Civil Service is represented and engaged on nine separate projects: legislation, office services, ICT infrastructure, ICT business applications, transfer of assets, records and corporate file plan, personnel, finance and budgeting, and communications. We will be happy to enlarge on some of those areas later if the Committee wishes.
We also want to ensure that all our staff involved on those projects have the opportunity to share together their experiences to ensure that there is cohesion, and mechanisms have been put in place for that.
Beyond that, there is a high-level Devolved Administration Board for the devolution of justice, which I chair. The purpose of that board is to monitor the progress of the programme and to ensure that the needs and views of the devolved Administration are considered fully. That high-level programme board includes Bruce Robinson and Rosalie Flanagan from the sponsor group, Tony Canavan and other colleagues from the Department of Finance and Personnel and OFMDFM, as well as representatives from some of the other services, including the NIO, the Northern Ireland Court Service and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). In some senses, it is a mirror image of Jonathan Phillips’s group, and it will ensure that everything converges.
Finally, we have a separate project in OFMDFM, chaired by deputy secretary John McMillen, to consider the implications of functions that may become the responsibility of the proposed Department, post devolution. Neill Jackson and Geoffrey Simpson are involved in that work.
I hope that members see from the preparations that have been made that extensive engagement has been put in place to prepare and plan for the work, and it is all taking place in circumstances where decisions on the shape and timing still lie in the political arena. Our planning assumptions are based on the 2006 NIO discussion document and the various provisions already in primary legislation, such at the Justice ( Northern Ireland) Act 2002.
I am confident that with the robust programme management arrangements that have been established, and with the dedication of the civil servants involved, we can be ready for a smooth transfer of powers in whatever form and timescale the Assembly agrees.
The next issue is the steps that need to be taken for devolution to happen. The devolution of policing and justice will require several legislative measures to be enacted by the Northern Ireland Office and the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. Officials from the Northern Ireland Office and OFMDFM are working together to identify the provisions needed and to determine the sequencing.
As you know from the presentations to the Committee, the NIO is scoping the reserved legislative provisions governing policing and justice and drafting the Orders. The First Minister and the deputy First Minister will then be specifically responsible for sponsoring a Bill for the establishment of a Department with justice and policing responsibilities. They will also bring before the Assembly a determination for the number of ministerial offices to be held by Northern Ireland Ministers and the functions to be exercised. The Bill will have to be introduced to the House following approval of an OFMDFM resolution on those issues.
The timescale requires the Assembly to report to the Secretary of State by 27 March. If that timescale is met, it will present challenges for the passages of the legislation. We are considering how both the administrative and legislative procedures available will allow the legislation to be in place to enable devolution to happen.
Two issues require political decision. The Committee is aware that the legislation provides for a number of alternatives for the appointment of a Minister to a new Department. The option chosen will have implications for the consequential running of the d’Hondt procedure. Secondly, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 limits the number of ministerial offices to 10, unless the Secretary of State makes an Order increasing that number. Clearly, if an increase in the number is not agreed and is then sought, some realignment of existing ministerial posts will be required.
The final aspect is the implications for OFMDFM. They were described in detail in our written submission to the Committee on 7 January 2008; however, for completeness, I will summarise the position briefly. As I have said, we have a project established under the direction of a senior official to consider the implications for OFMDFM on taking over transferred functions. That project is overseen by a board of officials, including representatives from the Departmental Solicitor’s Office and the NIO. There is representation also from the Attorney General’s office, the Public Prosecution Service and the Court Service.
The representation on this project reflects the fact that the main implications for OFMDFM arise in relation to appointments to judicial office, and, subject to ministerial agreement, funding support for the Public Prosecution Service. On the devolution of justice and policing, provisions of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 will be activated, which will result in the First Minister and the deputy First Minister taking responsibility for appointing an Attorney General for Northern Ireland and making judicial — and certain tribunal — appointments. In addition, the 2006 NIO discussion document proposed that the First Minister and the deputy First Minister should take on sponsorship responsibility for the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission and the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman — though I would have to say that it is accepted that the independent position of the Ombudsman would be enhanced if the office were appointed and supported by the Minister for justice, rather than OFMDFM. Given that OFMDFM is responsible for making judicial appointments, it would separate the Ombudsman issues from the Judicial Appointments Commission.
All the proposals that I have outlined in relation to OFMDFM remain matters for political consideration and political decision, but in all of this, we must ensure that the necessary prudent preparatory work is done.
I apologise if I have covered a range of issues at broad level. There is significant engagement in an extensive range of preparatory administrative work by the Northern Ireland Civil Service. Progress has been made, but much more still needs to be done. However, I am confident that, with the skills and the application of the Civil Service, we can be fully prepared for these responsibilities.
Thank you, Sir Nigel. That is a comprehensive summary and we very much appreciate it. What discussions have taken place between OFMDFM, the board that you chair and the NIO about the arrangements for the devolution of policing and justice?
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
There is membership of those bodies. Bruce Robinson and Rosalie Flanagan sit on the sponsor group of the NIO, which means that they have oversight of what is going on at NIO level. They bring that back to the Devolved Administration Board, which I chair. There is a linkage between all those pieces of work, because those on the board and those who sit on the groups at senior level share information.
The Committee has been in correspondence with the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister on matters that it will fall to that Department to implement in the event of the devolution of policing and justice. You also referred to some of those matters.
The Committee has a specific interest in matters relating to the Attorney General, but I know that you cannot talk about those in detail today. However, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the Committee has concerns about its capacity to report to the Assembly before the end of February on the preparations for the devolution of policing and justice. We have not had any real detail on the preparatory work that the Department has done on matters that it will implement, such as the appointment of senior judges, the appointment of the Attorney General — and the Department’s relationship with him or her — and the issue of where the Public Prosecution Service will sit in the panoply of the criminal justice system and the departmental arrangements in the Assembly.
We hope to report on those important matters by 29 February 2008. They are mainly matters for political consideration, and we hope that discussions will be taken forward in due course.
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
You are correct — they are matters for political discussion, and they are being considered. Ministers have been made fully aware of all those matters, and it is their responsibility to undertake decisions on them.
I am trying hard to understand why they are matters for political consideration, because the 2006 NIO discussion document states that there was a choice about whether the PPS was devolved from the Court Service and administered by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. I am trying to work out what is political about that, because the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is the best place for the PPS to have a home and be administered. It is not as if the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister can do anything with the PPS. It could be administered by the Department of Finance and Personnel, or the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, but the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister seems to be the logical place for it, so that its budget and its administration remain separate from the Court Service. That is not related to anything political.
At the moment, the Attorney General for England and Wales is a political position that is decided by Government. Will the Attorney General’s position here be a political one? I understood that it will not be a political position and that the matter will be decided by a panel. The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister appoints the Attorney General, but the panel gives it an official rubber stamp. I am trying to understand why this is a political and contentious issue. Perhaps I am being dozy, but I am trying to understand why it is a sensitive issue.
We were within an ace of suggesting that the Committee summons people and papers here, because there has been a total lack of co-operation from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, and one would have thought that it would have been interested in engaging with us. It is good that you are finally here, because it has been difficult for me and the Committee to understand why there is such sensitivity around the issue. We understand the issues about Departments and Ministers, and we understand about the timing — clearly, those are political issues — but we are having difficulty in understanding why those two issues have been moved into the political arena. We received a letter stating that we were not allowed to discuss those issues. I am simply trying to understand why they are so sensitive.
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
Obviously, I cannot comment on behalf of the First Minister. However, decisions are required about whether the PPS will be a non-ministerial Department, and about the nature and extent of the oversight of the Civil Service’s work. Decisions are required, but they are not decisions for civil servants to make.
The role of the Attorney General is not a political issue per se, but it is for politicians to decide how an Attorney general is to be appointed, on what basis, and what functions are to be exercised. Those are matters for Ministers, not for officials.
With everything else in this panoply — and we have looked at it in a fair amount of detail now — it is clear who is doing what and why they are doing it. We are having difficulty grasping what the new role of the Attorney General will be, because, up until now, the role of the Attorney General has been clear. Traditionally, the Attorney General has supervised the PPS and been answerable for it. We are told that there is to be an Attorney General for Northern Ireland, but what will his or her role be? Will the Attorney General be the person who is summoned to the scrutiny Committee on policing and justice to answer on behalf of the Court Service, or will David Lavery be summoned to do that? Why are we putting the service at arm’s length?
Somebody somewhere must have some idea of what this is all about. The Committee has a clear idea about most of the issues under consideration because somebody has appeared before the Committee to tell us what they think; for example, the NIO has given evidence. With those issues, it all makes sense. The role of the Attorney General is the one issue about which there is a degree of confusion, because no details are available. If we are saying — and maybe we are — that the appointment of an Attorney General will be the political appointment of a judicially qualified MLA to oversee the system, that is OK — that is clearly a political choice. However, my understanding was that that would not be the case. I understood that the Attorney General would be independent and would be selected from among a group of QCs or retired judges, and that he or she would be the link between the Assembly and the court system. Is that right? I am having real difficulty finding out why nobody seems to know anything about this matter, or, if they do, why they are all saying that they cannot talk about it.
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
I will invite Tony to respond in a moment. There is an important distinction to be made between a political decision or a political appointment and a decision that is to be taken by politicians. Civil servants do not have a say on the role, function or remit of the Attorney General, nor do they have a say on the appointment process. We can offer options and so on, but that is all. In this case, it is up to the First Minister and deputy First Minister to make the decision. Once that decision is made, we can work on it and implement it.
So you think that it is a political appointment — is that what you are saying?
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
No. I explicitly said that it is not. It is for politicians to make the decision on the nature of the appointment — whether the role will be part time or full time, whether it is a legal appointment, and so on. Tony might like to comment on whether it will be regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Those are matters on which decisions have not yet been taken.
Up until now, the rules of the game have been quite clear. If we went to Westminster now, we would find absolute and detailed rules about how to select an Attorney General, what he or she is not allowed to do and his or her role. However, when this appointment is moved to Northern Ireland and taken away from whomever the Attorney General is at Westminster, suddenly we know nothing about the role at all, and the entire matter is up for discussion with OFMDFM — how the post is to operate, how it is selected, who does it, and so on. Is that all put in a Magimix somewhere to eventually end up as a political decision?
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
It is not quite as dramatic as that.
Mr Tony Canavan ( Northern Ireland Civil Service):
A number of details about the functions of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland are contained in statute. They are set out primarily in the Justice ( Northern Ireland) Act 2002, and they relate mostly to the relationship with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). They outline the changes to the current relationship of superintendence that the Attorney General based in London has over the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the new, slightly more arm’s-length relationship that will exist with an Attorney General for Northern Ireland.
The legislation also gives the power of appointment of the DPP and the deputy DPP to the Attorney General. It refers to a number of functional aspects of the relationship, including consultation on the code for prosecutors, consultation with DPP on matters for which the Attorney General will be accountable to the Assembly, and consultations on responsibilities relating to the annual report of the DPP.
Other statutory functions are set out in legislation: the Northern Ireland Act 1998 contains provisions relating to devolution matters and cases relating to the boundaries of devolution, involving the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council; the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2004 contains a responsibility to issue guidance for criminal justice organisations on human rights standards; and the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 contains a requirement that the Attorney General will be consulted by the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice on his programme of inspections.
On relating those functions to comparable legislation on the appointment of the Lord Advocate in Scotland under the Scotland Act 1998, one will find that much has been left unsaid about the role of the Assembly and in contrast to the Scottish Parliament. There are, therefore, aspects that are not stated clearly.
A raft of functions relating to the Attorney General’s non-statutory role in defending the public interest in matters relating to civil law will pass across, because they are carried out currently by the Attorney General for England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, such roles will be carried out by the new Attorney General. However, that is not set in statute though custom and precedent have established that the Attorney General has a role with regard to vexatious litigants on contempt of court proceedings and the appointment of amici curiae in courts, and will continue to have that.
The Attorney General might also be given a range of functions by extrapolation from the work that is done by the Attorney Generals in London and Dublin and the Lord Advocate in Scotland — providing legal advice to the Executive, for instance. However, that is not laid down in statute, so it would be for the First Minister and deputy First Minister to decide.
The Justice ( Northern Ireland) Act 2002 contains provisions relating to the appointment by First Minister and the deputy First Minister, but it does not contain anything about the appointment process. The Criminal Justice Review 2000 first raised the possibility of Northern Ireland having an Attorney General separate from England and Wales, and the review stated that it should be a non-political appointment. There were also references to the non-political nature of the appointment in the debates in Parliament on the Justice ( Northern Ireland) Act 2002. There is, therefore, that collateral for the view that the appointment of the Attorney General should be non-political. However, it is up to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister to consider further details on the appointment and laid terms.
The Justice ( Northern Ireland) Act 2002 also contains provisions relating to the required qualifications of any Attorney General; for example, being a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland or a Northern Ireland solicitor for 10 years. Therefore, there is some statutory provision for what the Attorney General will do and what his or her qualifications will be. It has been said that an MLA can become the Attorney General. That would not be permitted, and that is stated in the Justice ( Northern Ireland) Act 2002.
Thank you, Mr Canavan. That is the first straight answer on this issue that the Committee has received, and it helps us to understand with what we are dealing. It seems ridiculous to say that we cannot talk about the issue.
I will begin with my easiest question. Some reserved matters fall between the interface of the devolved justice Ministry and the London Government, but they are relevant to Northern Ireland. Where are the protocols and memorandums that are due to be prepared in respect of sharing of national security information — where relevant — with the Policing Board and the devolved Administration or the Minister. We have been informed that following the devolution of policing and justice, there will be some issues that touch on national security, and the minister will have to understand how those matters are dealt with. Decisions will have to be made about what the Minister for justice — if one is appointed — will hear on issues that might arise on national security.
Where are we in the administrative arrangements, in respect of memoranda and protocols that will govern the sharing of information, let us say, on national security? I could ask about other issues that are not going to be transferred.
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
Those are not matters for the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The Northern Ireland Civil Service has nothing to do with national security. Those matters would be taken up by NIO colleagues.
I appreciate that national security will not be a devolved matter. However, it has been acknowledged by the NIO, in correspondence with the Committee, that some aspects of policing and justice touch on national security. Those with responsibility for overseeing such matters will need to understand how national security will be handled and what type of information they can expect to receive on issues with a national security dimension.
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
Mr Chairman, that correspondence is from the NIO, so I cannot answer the member or comment.
Are you saying to the Committee that, at this stage, in your work programme as head of the Civil Service, nothing is being done in respect of arrangements for sharing information where issues of national security could affect the devolution process?
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
No, Mr Chairman; I have said that this is a matter for the NIO. I cannot comment; I have not seen the correspondence. I am not involved. Mr Attwood will recall that national security was not the responsibility of any of the nine project teams that I read out. It is a matter for the NIO and the Department of justice to take forward in the first instance.
Clearly, members, this is not a matter for the Northern Ireland Civil Service. It is not a matter with which Sir Nigel or his board should be dealing.
I am surprised by that comment. NIO officials gave evidence that there would be a need for sharing certain information. That requires certain protocols and a memorandum of understanding.
In three or four months, we may be in a position where justice and policing powers are devolved, and I expect that whatever information-sharing protocols are needed will be in place by that stage. I am surprised that, as yet, Sir Nigel’s team seems to be unsighted or not involved in that work. It seems to be work that might legitimately fall within his responsibility.
My second question arises out of Alan’s earlier question. I note what was said about the future role of an Attorney General. Is there any indication of when the process of appointing an Attorney General might begin? If we are to have devolution of justice in May, the timetable, both for us to finish our business and for decisions to be taken on the transfer of powers, is very tight. Some of the detail of that, namely the appointment of an Attorney General, in the event that there is to be a transfer of powers, might already be established. Can you share with the Committee any indication of when a process might be initiated for the appointment of an Attorney General, given it that will take some time?
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
No, I cannot. I must repeat what I have said. It is for Ministers to decide on the nature, the role, the remit and the appointment process. When Ministers so decide, officials will take it forward.
I appreciate that. Can you help the Committee further? Is there any indication from Ministers as to when they might decide?
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
That is a matter for Ministers.
I appreciate that, but you are the head of the Civil Service. You have given the Committee indications about preparedness on your side of the house; for everything to be in place when decisions are taken. Would it not be helpful for you to know when Ministers might make a decision about, for example, the Attorney General? Would it not help you to complete your business?
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
Decisions on all those issues would give us more time to prepare. I am not in a position to comment on the nature of, or timetable for, such decisions. That is a matter for Ministers, who are aware of the issues. It is they who must make those decisions. I am sorry, Chairperson; I will repeat what I said at the outset. There are a number of issues on which I cannot help the Committee. I am being explicit about that.
It is for the Committee to speak for itself, but I would like some help on some of these matters, even though it does not appear to be forthcoming. That is not your fault, I might add. I can understand why you are answering in such a way.
My third question is about staffing. Will you tell the Committee whether all the NIO staff currently involved in policing and justice matters will come over en masse in the event of devolution? Bearing in mind all the issues around the transfer of policing and justice powers, are there any indications that there might be any recruitment of staff to deal with those responsibilities?
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
I might be able to help you a bit more on that one. There are several things to say about this matter, because I would not want the Committee to be misled. As I said in my presentation, the first responsibility of the NIO is to pull together, in a putative Department for justice within the NIO, all those functions and resources that would transfer to the devolved sector. When the legislation is drafted and decisions are made on the functions that transfer, those staff, who are wholly or mainly engaged in the functions that will be transferred, and whose rights are protected in the event of transfer, and will move across to the devolved sector. Similar situations have arisen in local government reorganisation and the review of public administration.
At the moment, as I understand it, the NIO is effectively dividing itself into those functions that would transfer, along with the required staffing responsibilities, and the remnant NIO functions that would not transfer. On the date of devolution, therefore, all those staff would go to work in the devolved sector. It may also mean that some home civil servants would have to come to us on secondment. There may also be some Northern Ireland civil servants in the remnant NIO who will stay on the other side.
Secondly, there are clear differences in grades between the NIO, the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Northern Ireland Court Service, particularly at executive level. Those are being worked on at the moment so that we are fully aware of what would happen on the date of devolution. We can then put a strategy in place to ensure that, after devolution, there would be a convergence of those terms and conditions. However, I would not want the Committee to think that on day one of devolution, all NIO staff will become Civil Service staff on exactly the same terms and conditions. It will take time for one to migrate to the other.
I will just say one more thing to Mr Attwood. I suspect that a decision will have to be made about whether NIO staff in corporate services functions, such as personnel and finance, will be coming to us or staying where they are. Nevertheless, staff involved in criminal justice and policing functions will transfer to the devolved side when the functions transfer. The staff will come with the functions either wholly or mainly. I hope that that helps.
That is very helpful. I have a final question about money. Can you tell the Committee about the outcome of the budget for policing and justice? Are you satisfied that, over the next three years of the comprehensive spending review (CSR), that budget will be sufficient to maintain the level of justice and policing provision that we have heretofore enjoyed? Given that the budget will be transferred en bloc, including a considerable budget for justice and policing provision, do you see pressures on the policing and justice budget from the risk that it will be vulnerable to other Ministers believing that they can spend the money better than a devolved justice Minister might?
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
I cannot comment on what the outcome of the CSR will be for the Northern Ireland Office. I do not have any responsibility for that matter; as it has not been an area of concern to me, I have not done any work on that issue. The project team that is considering the matter, which includes a senior member from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), is working on splitting the Northern Ireland Office budget into one that would be devolved and one that would remain with the NIO. It is much too early to provide any analysis on whether that would be adequate. However, I would be very surprised if colleagues from DFP, and the DFP Minister, did not want to be absolutely satisfied with the quantum of the budget, when it is eventually extracted from the Northern Ireland Office.
It remains to be seen, following devolution, whether the budget for criminal justice and policing will be ring-fenced and managed, or whether it will formally become part of the Northern Ireland block grant. That matter will have to be discussed by the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the Executive at that time.
It is intended that the budget will be transferred as part of the overall block.
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
The budget for justice and policing would be transferred as part of the overall block.
As I understand it, the budget is earmarked until 2011, and it is based on the costs associated with the establishment of the PSNI. From 2011, the policing and justice budget will be part of the overall Budget, and it will become part of the debate, such as the one that has taken place over the past few weeks, on the Budget.
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
It would be premature to say how the policing budget and the overall Budget will relate to each other.
It is too early to say at this stage.
Sir Nigel Hamilton:
Yes, it is premature at this stage. However, the issue is at the forefront of the thinking and work of DFP colleagues.
I thank you Sir Nigel, and your colleagues, for your attendance this morning. I hope that you understand that the nature of our questioning is because we are anxious to draw together all the information to enable us to present as full a report to the Assembly as possible. The Committee has a sense that our report to the Assembly, which we need to make by 29 February, will include a number of issues on which political agreement has not yet been reached. From there, it will be a matter for Ministers and others to take forward those discussions.