Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Jimmy Spratt (Chairperson)
Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Simon Hamilton
Mrs Carmel Hanna
Mr Alex Maskey
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Alan McFarland
Mr John O’Dowd
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr

Witnesses:

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Shaun Woodward)
Mr Anthony Harbinson, Northern Ireland Office
Ms Hilary Jackson, Northern Ireland Office

The Chairperson (Mr Spratt):

Good afternoon, Secretary of State. I welcome you to the Committee. I understand that you have time constraints this afternoon, and that you will be able to stay with us for 45 minutes to an hour. Your colleagues Hilary Jackson, political director; and Anthony Harbinson, director of resources, are also very welcome.

Before we start, I ask Members to declare interests. I declare that I am a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

Mr McCausland:

I am a member of Belfast District Policing Partnership (DPP).

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I am a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

Mr A Maskey:

I am a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

The Chairperson:

I ask members to make sure that mobile telephones are switched off; that also applies to the Public Gallery.

Secretary of State, I understand that you will make a short opening statement, and that you will then be happy to take questions from members. I think that most members will have questions for you. Welcome again, and I ask you to make your opening statement.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Shaun Woodward):

Thank you very much, and thank you to all the members of the Committee for being here this afternoon and continuing your extremely important work. I shall begin, Mr Chairman, by referring back to the events of the last few weeks and the last day.

Very clearly, people in Northern Ireland were deeply and rightly concerned about the two terrible criminal attacks that took place: the pre-planned attempt at mass murder that succeeded in killing two very brave young men at the Massereene Army barracks; and the murder of the very brave police constable two days later in Craigavon. What has been demonstrated very clearly — if there is anything good that can be found out of the terrible tragedy for all the families involved — is the strength of the political process that you have all established here. The criminals who wanted to bring about a shaking of confidence have been shown that not only are the political institutions — of which this is a very important part — stronger, but the roots of the political process are deeper and reach far wider.

Members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board who had the privilege of travelling, as I did, to the United States the week before last, will have discovered that people there looked at what happened in Northern Ireland and saw two things. They saw real shock that those events could have happened, but they also saw the people of Northern Ireland unite. They saw all the political parties and their leaders come out together to condemn the attacks and send a very clear signal to the world that the small group of criminals who may be capable of launching and carrying out those cowardly attacks cannot succeed in disrupting the extraordinary political progress here because it is so deeply rooted.

I observe that because one of the things I feel even more strongly than I did the last time I came before this Committee is that, rightly based on the principle of establishing confidence and carrying out confidence-building measures in the communities of Northern Ireland, the real answer to the criminals who tested the political institutions and the people of Northern Ireland the week before last — and tried again yesterday with 37 hoax incidents — is to continue the political progress and the work on devolution. It is, of course, precisely because this work is succeeding that these criminals carry out such acts. They fear the consequences of devolution being completed, of the politicians here sharing power of all Government Departments and policing and justice being transferred from me, as Secretary of State.

Politicians here have rightly responded in stating their commitment to continue with the political progress that is being made. It will be built on confidence and clear principles, and I hope that, by answering your questions this afternoon, I can help with that. I firmly believe — as does the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach, and the President of the United States — that the completion of devolution is the best answer of all to the threat that is posed by those criminals, albeit a small number, who refuse to move out of the grip of the past, and who masquerade with some political project that clearly has no place in Northern Ireland today, as was demonstrated so firmly in the very courageous words of the deputy First Minister and others, and in the very strong words of the First Minister.

The best answer that we can all give is the completion of devolution. Having said that, the work that this Committee has done has been extremely important in helping that process achieve the level of confidence that is required in communities.

I know that the Committee wanted to raise a number of issues and one of those concerns protocols and concordats. We are still in process of finalising those, but we are very close to completing them. There are two protocols: one is on policing architecture; the other is on national security. There are two concordats: one each on judicial and prosecutorial independence. Within weeks, I will be able to share them with this Committee and I will be happy to do so. You will find no surprises in them, but it is important that we get them right and, as we are in the process of finalising them, I should just say to you that I will bring them to you as soon as they are ready. There is nothing mysterious about their not being ready: we just need a few more weeks.

I know that you are keen to test me on the area of resources for the Department of justice. The Assembly has yet to decide whether to set it up, what model it wants and when it will choose to request the transfer of power.

I have four things to say about resources. The first is that I stand by the statement that the settlement achieved in the comprehensive spending review was a fair, reasonable and good settlement for policing and justice in Northern Ireland. It is worth saying two things in relation to that.

The first is that you would not find a police service or a chief constable anywhere in the United Kingdom who got as much as they wanted in the settlement. You would find several who would point to Northern Ireland as having got a settlement that was, in their eyes, particularly generous. That does not mean that I do not understand why every single member of this Committee, and every single member of the Policing Board who sits on this Committee, would like to have had more. However, that is something that everyone here would have in common with every police service and force throughout the UK. I believe that it was a good settlement.

The second issue is about some pressures that are genuinely additional to those forecast in the CSR settlement. The Chief Constable and others have identified a pressure in relation to claims for hearing loss. That involves a substantial level of claims: a number of been made and more are expected. It is not clear how many will be made. However, to give you some sense of quantum, in the police service in the constituency that I represent, St Helens South in Merseyside, at any one time there might be up to 100 officers armed. However, in Northern Ireland, those numbers go into several thousand.

Northern Ireland has had to deal with a very different kind of problem, and I recognise that. That is one reason why I wanted to set up the Heywood committee, which is looking at a whole series of issues. I must tell you that I would not recognise some of them as additional pressures: they are pressures which must be managed within resources, just as for any other police force in the UK. However, there are some that go beyond that, such as the hearing loss issue. The issue of inquiries has understandably preoccupied people and the Heywood committee will look at that.

I know that you want to raise some issues with me about the future of the Northern Ireland Office, and Hilary Jackson might be particularly well-qualified to deal with that, as we have worked on a number of those issues together. There are the issues that I would not regard as business as usual in respect of the reallocation of priorities, which have arisen as a consequence of the problems that we have seen in the last few weeks in relation to the activities of a small number of criminals who, nonetheless, have the capacity to cause massive traffic disruption on our streets.

The activities of those criminals must be seen in the context that there is no substantial, and almost not any, community support for them. Nonetheless, those activities make a demand on the Police Service. To ensure that we continue with a normal Police Service, the Chief Constable wishes to make some additional demands, about which I am currently in discussion with the Treasury and the Prime Minister.

It is very important that the situation is seen in context. It is not about going back to the past; it is about dealing with a very real and very dangerous threat. That threat is from a small number of dangerous criminals who have little or no community support. It is important that they get a clear political response to the problems that they wish to pose to security issues here. That political response is the united response by the party leaders and the politicians in the Assembly, and it is important that the police have the resources that they need to continue with normal, neighbourhood and good community policing in the face of that type of challenge. I am determined to help the Chief Constable and the Policing Board in seeking to meet those aims.

That is a brief outline of where we are. Good progress is being made on the legislation. Westminster provided for the additional eighth model for the devolution of justice and policing, which deals with a number of technical issues. The Assembly, through the work of your Committee, asked us to do that, and that is now back with the Committee. If it chooses, the Assembly will shortly begin to discuss the work of which model it would wish to choose for a Department of justice.

Assuming that confidence continues to build in the coming weeks and months, the Assembly will be in a position to vote on whether it wants those transferred powers to be effected. I believe most sincerely that the best answer to all of the problems that are posed in Northern Ireland is the completion of devolution stage 2 sooner rather than later. If I can help you today or in the coming weeks, I am happy to be at the disposal of the Committee.

The Chairperson:

Last week, we heard from the Chief Constable and the chairperson of the Policing Board about the very real pressures that they are under. Secretary of State, you also mentioned that, particularly in respect of the hearing loss claim. That claim has substantially increased and continues to do so monthly. The figure of £90 million for that has risen to around £130 million. There is also considerable concern about historical enquiries and other legacy issues, and the equal pay claims in respect of the Civil Service.

An additional pressure, relating to the commutation of police pensions, has emerged in the past two or three weeks. We understand that, as a result of a court hearing, the Home Secretary will announce that an additional period of pensions will be paid across the United Kingdom. We understand that that will result in an additional pressure of £22 million over a two-year period. Pensions are treated differently in other parts of the United Kingdom than they are in Northern Ireland, and we want you to consider that issue sympathetically.

I appreciate that you provided some insight into that. At what stage are the discussions with the Treasury on the pressures that are on the PSNI, and is there likely to be an announcement on that? As the issue rumbles on, it creates unease and difficulties for the Committee and for the Assembly. We need some reassurance on that.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

Let me be very clear with the Committee. In the event that the Assembly asks for the powers of policing and justice to be transferred to those who are elected here, it is not the intention of the Government to pass over an underfunded and under-resourced Police Service of Northern Ireland.

However much people may have wished for more, my strong view is that the CSR settlement, set in the context of a policing settlement in any other part of the United Kingdom, is good. The Heywood committee is not yet halfway through its work on the additional pressures. At least two more meetings will take place: one in the coming weeks and one at the beginning of May. The aim is to have achieved a resolution to those issues by 6 May 2009.

The Heywood committee will deal with some issues. Realistically, others will take longer than the committee timetable allows, and those could be used by some as a reason to delay stage 2 of devolution. One such issue that comes to mind is pensions. Debates on several issues could continue indefinitely: whether they are included in the departmental expenditure limit or annually managed expenditure (AME); how much would be included in AME; or how they compare with other parts of the UK. However, if that issue were precipitated more quickly, it might not be in the long-term interest of the stability for which the Chief Constable is arguing in wanting to transfer pensions from the departmental expenditure limit to AME.

One would want some issues to be resolved on principle, and as a matter of urgency, in the context of the Heywood committee: for example, points were raised about understanding historical enquiry issues and an understanding about issues of hearing loss. Although some issues may persist beyond that time, that should not in any way be confused with any lack of good intent by the Government. They want to do what is right for the people of Northern Ireland within the broad parameters of a settlement that can be UK-funded. The Government want a settlement that is not based on people simply trying to re-present arguments from the run-up to the last comprehensive spending review and making another pitch to gain a higher figure than the one for which they settled at that time.

There are difficult issues, but much good progress has been made by Jeremy Heywood’s committee, and the Prime Minister and I are keeping a close eye on the process. On 6 May 2009, or shortly thereafter, we hope to have concluded the discussions on financial issues, specifically those relating to pensions and commutation.

Mr Anthony Harbinson (Northern Ireland Office):

The point is that all pension costs throughout the rest of the CSR period are fully funded. Money set aside with the Treasury has funded commutation issues. For the period of the CSR, therefore, I do not see that there is a pension problem. If we move from a departmental expenditure limit to a completely AME-based pension, that might raise some issues, but those are being dealt with, as the Secretary of State mentioned, as part of the Heywood discussions.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Secretary of State, thank you for your opening remarks; I know that they were made sincerely.

Let me cut to the chase: there is no doubt that politicians here want the devolution of policing and justice, and it is taken as read that we are on that page. However, that statement has consequences, and your seriousness in wanting us to take on policing and justice will be measured by the financial package and what that delivers, and you said as much. We should recognise how serious you are about that, and perhaps you will tell us.

Our investigations over the past six weeks show a shortfall, or serious pressures, on policing and justice that amount to approximately £660 million over the period of the CSR. That is about one third of the amount that we currently receive. Have you gone to the Cabinet and said that that is a ballpark figure for the settlement to enable you to deliver your commitment on the devolution of policing and justice? You may say that you will hand over to us a fully funded service, but “fully funded” may not cover that shortfall of £660 million.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

Let me take you back a stage. Perhaps I should bank those compliments now, because I suspect that my next comments will not earn any plaudits. One should not judge the settlement as a virility test whereby more money demonstrates greater commitment.

To be frank, the commitment that we all, including the Prime Minister, showed in support of the way that the political parties responded to the events of the past few weeks is arguably the greatest measure of all. I do not want to confuse a simple weighing of cash against genuine commitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and to the people of Northern Ireland. Particularly in the current economic climate, that will be —

Mr Paisley Jnr:

That commitment and rhetoric will not pay the bills. It will not build the prisons, it will not fund the lawyers and it will not finance the Police Service.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

With huge respect to the lawyers, it may be that they need to earn slightly less.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I have no difficulty with that.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

I am glad that we can at least agree on that. I caution you, because we will do our best for the people in Northern Ireland, and we will do our best for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. However, it would be extremely foolish to imagine that any supplement can be made regardless of the fact that we face arguably the biggest global recession that any of us have faced in our lifetime or which has been faced at any other time. Therefore, not only a financial commitment must be made, but to the institutions and to the other kinds of commitment that the British Government are prepared to make as part of your virility test of our commitment to the process.

However, I have made it clear that the CSR settlement should not be dismissed as a zero-sum game whereby the achievement of arguably one of the strongest settlements for any police force in the United Kingdom now does not matter. It does matter, because it is an important baseline.

That baseline, however, has met some additional challenges, which is precisely why I set up the Heywood committee and precisely why it is not helpful to provide a running commentary on the discussions and negotiations that are taking place. As you know, civil servants from Northern Ireland are represented on that as well as the Treasury, Number 10 and other senior civil servants, with a view to honouring the Prime Minister’s commitment to do the best that we can should the Assembly request the transfer of powers. It is important to allow that committee to do its work. The issue should not be judged only by the number that is produced at the end.

When stage 1 and stage 2 were conceived at St Andrews, the Prime Minister felt that it would have been possible to produce a substantial amount of additional financial help for the Executive and the Assembly at the end of 2008. The financial circumstances were very difficult, and that additional financial help was not requested at the time of St Andrews. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister felt that he would be able to provide that help. I ask that the situation be seen in context and in the round, and not by pitting one area against another and measuring success by whether one part achieves a greater sum than another.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Have you put the Cabinet on notice —

The Chairperson:

You are stretching your time, Mr Paisley.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I appreciate that, and I do not want to stretch your patience any further.

Have you put the Cabinet on notice that the settlement package could result in a significant requirement for additional funding? You do not want that to come as a shock to the Cabinet. It is not about virility; it is about commitment. Commitment will be measured by our ability to deliver on this. Do not underestimate our desire to deliver, but if we are short-changed, we will not be able to do so. That is the issue, Secretary of State.

The Chairperson:

Mr Paisley, I will not allow you to come back on that point, because I have to be fair to all members.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

With huge respect to the question, I do not put the Cabinet on notice, because that is simply not how Cabinet works. It does not work by putting the Cabinet on notice. One creates a sensible process in which people can sensibly discuss the issue, negotiate the numbers and identify the real pressures from those that are expected to be absorbed from the CSR settlement.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Have you done that?

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

I have done that by establishing the Heywood committee, which senior civil servants attend, including those from Northern Ireland. I am sorry if you had not noticed that we had done that, but we have done it. What matters is that the committee rationally discusses the issues and achieves, if possible, a settlement that recognises, and can distinguish between, legitimate additional pressures and those that are expected to be reordered priorities within an existing CSR settlement — which is exactly what you would expect from any other police force. It is important for Northern Ireland to live in that space: it is the same space that everybody else occupies, and it is a good space to live in. However, that does not mean to say that I do not recognise additional pressures, and that is why I set up the committee.

Mr A Maskey:

I thank the Secretary of State for his presentation and I thank for his colleagues for joining him.

It is unfortunate that people are bandying around figures, because the Committee has not agreed any figure. It is still in the midst of the important task of reviewing the overall financial position it expects to be in. Following on from Ian Og, obviously we are concerned that we get an appropriate budget for the forthcoming Department. I welcome the Secretary of State’s assertion, and I accept that the Government will want to ensure that there is a proper budget in place for when the new Department is set up.

It is a bit premature to be having this discussion, in that the Committee is still in the midst of an inquiry and is carrying out its assessment on the finances. Another important factor is that the Heywood committee is currently carrying out its work. There is still a lot of work to be done and agreements to be reached. Hopefully, it will be on the better side of the budget requirements, whether they are pressures or inescapables. It is unfortunate that figures are being bandied about.

I want to put on the record that the Committee does not have a position on what the shortfall might be at this moment. Suffice it to say that we are anxious that we get an appropriate budget. We are clear in our own minds that there is a need to deal with what are inescapable pressures and budget requirements, as opposed to what we would want to see. Obviously, all of the parties that represent the wider community want to have the maximum budget at their disposal to ensure that they can deliver the best, most efficient and effective criminal justice system when they are duly charged with that responsibility.

Will the Heywood committee consider the ongoing questions around efficiency savings as a factor that might impact on a future Department? Efficiency savings are necessary, and it is important that we continue to do that. However, sometimes efficiency savings become further cuts. Will the Heywood committee look formally at what the consequences may be as regards expectations around efficiency savings?

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

Thank you for your comments about numbers. It may be helpful to lay before the Committee an example of why I think it is important to be flexible about the issue. The original assessment by the PSNI on hearing-loss claims was £68 million. However, in a short space of time that became £98 million, and, to quote the figure that Mr Paisley used, it is now £130 million. So far, the PSNI has received around 2,900 potential claims. For obvious reasons, it is not entirely clear what the final number will be. Indeed, it is not entirely clear whether some of those who could make a claim in the future might have a hearing-loss problem for a different reason.

Again, it is important to look at the matter on a case-by-case basis. We must recognise that there will be such pressures and the situation might change, which is one of the reasons why we should not produce a number too quickly — and, in some cases, a formula might be better than a number. The Heywood committee may be establishing points of principle, rather than numbers. However, I say that, not because I know where the Heywood committee will be on 6 May, but because I have approached Heywood with an open mind: we have a set of issues to resolve, and the best place to resolve them is in a process that brings together people who can genuinely bring their best intentions to the table with the objective of doing their best for people in Northern Ireland.

In relation to that, the questions that must be asked are: will Northern Ireland have a budget for the policing service that will maintain the levels of confidence that are — and I remind the Committee of this — the highest of any police service, anywhere in the UK; will it have the money to fund its 7,500 officers; and will it be able to meet the challenges that it faces on the streets — such as those encountered in the last few weeks? I am confident that the process will produce an answer to all three of those questions.

Efficiency savings are being examined in every area of public services in the UK, and we must remind ourselves of the purpose of those efficiency savings. They are not implemented to make cuts, but to realise whether we can be more efficient about what we do. If it is possible to be more efficient, more money will be available to redistribute back into public services.

A very good example of that is the money that the Prime Minister delivered for Northern Ireland last year, which the Executive used to assist with those in the greatest difficulty — for example, in relation to water. That money would not have been available to people here had the Government not been consistent in its drive for efficiency savings. However, I repeat that efficiency savings and value for money should not be confused with making cuts; instead, they are concerned with whether we can be more efficient about what we do. For those of us who depend on the money that we take from taxpayers for our livelihoods, it is good that we are always seen to be mindful of looking for value for money and efficiency, but not at the expense of services.

Mrs Hanna:

Good afternoon, Mr Woodward; you are very welcome. The financial climate has certainly changed; there is no doubt about that. That makes it all the more worrying that some of the identified pressures, particularly those around hearing loss and pensions, are so far out.

I want to ask you about the Legal Services Commission, because I cannot get my head around the figures, particularly with respect to the legal-aid bill. That bill, as we know, is more than twice as high here than in other parts of the UK. That is despite the fact that there is a higher number of legal representations there. Has the Northern Ireland Office examined those figures in detail?

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

We have indeed examined those figures. The Lord Chancellor is responsible for a number of dimensions within the legal service here, and he is as concerned as I am about those issues. That is why he is examining them in the round.

As the Committee will be aware, we have managed to meet the shortfall in legal-aid pressures for 2009, but clearly there is a problem for the coming years that remain inside the CSR. I am very mindful of that, which is why if I had to say that hearing loss was the first issue, I would put it before the Heywood committee. Furthermore, we must address the current problem of legal aid here and the long-term issues behind that.

There are issues around efficiency and legal costs that concern the public. For example, the legal fees involved in the Saville Inquiry have fuelled concern in Great Britain. I make no apology for that inquiry because I believe that it was absolutely the right thing to do, and it was absolutely right that it should be independent. Indeed, one could never place a value on that inquiry, because of the confidence that it built, and the fact that it demonstrated that the British Government were prepared to hold the mirror up to everybody, including itself. However, when more than £100 million of what may end up being a total spend of £190 million was spent on legal expenses, and when newspapers such as ‘The Daily Mail’ list many lawyers who have now been remunerated to the tune of seven figures, it undoubtedly throws up the question of legal fees in Great Britain.

You might ask what the price of justice and the best legal representation is, and that is a perfectly legitimate question to ask. Again, I would counsel against simply saying that the alternative must be to set a price for counsel at the lowest possible figure. I am not suggesting that those views would apply to any member of this Committee, but I would counsel against that because it may not always be in the interest of attaining the degree of justice that we want.

There should be some caution about how it is approached, but the Committee should be reassured that we recognise the problem now. We have had to fix it out of spending reserves, for this year. That situation cannot continue indefinitely, and I am mindful of that, as is the Lord Chancellor. That is why it is one of the issues that the Heywood committee is looking at, not only in the short term, but the long term.

Mrs Hanna:

Thank you for that. I was not thinking of the lost fees for the lawyer, but a cap on the fees. It is taxpayers’ money, and, as you said, Secretary of State, we are in a different financial climate now; the money is not there.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

I think that you would find a lot of public support for that.

Mr McFarland:

Thank you, Secretary of State, for appearing before the Committee. I want to talk about the legacy issues. The Chief Constable said that a substantial part of his budget that he might reasonably expect to spend on current policing is, in fact, spent on dealing with the past — as has been the case for some time. You will be familiar with the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past and its recommendation that we should parcel up a lot of those legacy issues and, perhaps, leave that with you so that policing and justice transfer might continue with money spent on live, current policing rather than on continually dealing with the past. What is your thinking on that?

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

I accept the problems that dealing with a particular burden of the past poses for the PSNI. The way in which the PSNI has to deal with Northern Ireland’s past is different from the way in which other police services elsewhere may have to deal with their pasts. The work of the Historical Enquiries Team is one example. It has 3,000 cases to work through and, as we know, it has begun work on barely more than half of those. That demonstrates the scale of the problem in Northern Ireland, which is why, I think, everyone appreciates that it is different. I appreciate what the Chief Constable says and the amount of time that his officers spend dealing with the past.

I do not want to confuse what I may say about the need to deal with the past with any sense of wanting to draw a line, and not deal with the past. In the future, part of the success of Northern Ireland will be judged on how it gets out of the grip of the past, but is able to live with it in a way that helps people reconcile themselves with it. The future should not only be built on aspiration and hope, but on a system and a body of law that is fair and just. Therefore, that has to be part of the way forward.

I am aware that those costs pose a problem for the PSNI. However, the priorities for how the police deal with its budgets are a matter for the Chief Constable and the Policing Board. I think that the Eames/Bradley group has begun to offer some interesting thoughts about how we might move forward. I made clear my position on the idea of recognition payments. It was right to remove that proposal from the table so that the other 30 recommendations could be looked at more carefully.

There is no question that when the current funding for the Historical Enquiries Team runs out in two years’ time, the work will not be done. It is almost certain that the team will not have opened half the cases, and it will not have been able to conclude even a fraction of those. That work has to go on, and one must ask whether there is a better way of continuing that work. It may be done in exactly the same way, but inside a different body. In the coming weeks, I will try to begin to lay out a way in which it may be possible to move forward on some of those issues, which, perhaps, would include some of the work in respect of the Police Ombudsman.

Equally, I want to enter a note of caution. That work can only be done by consensus. This is not about the British Government laying down a system for Northern Ireland — I wish to underline that. Most people in this room will know that I will work on those issues only if there is consensus. If we can find consensus on some of the issues — not only with regard to the policing budget, which will be important, but for the benefit of everybody in Northern Ireland — it will be important to begin to find mechanisms that may help us deal with some of the issues of the past. There may be better ways of doing that than the way in which we are doing it currently, as Eames and Bradley have shown on a number of fronts.

It may be a good idea to try to try to bring some of those things together to be looked at by some type of commission. However, those are infant ideas at present; they are not fully developed. It would be inappropriate for me to go further than that this afternoon, except to say that I would like to pay tribute to what Eames and Bradley did. As well as potentially helping to relieve the police of some of the burden they currently shoulder, there may also be proposals in their report that will help communities to find it easier to become reconciled in what have been extremely difficult circumstances.

Mr Hamilton:

I want to underscore the fact that there is a desire to have policing and justice powers devolved. Many reasons for that have evolved during the course of our Committee work over the last number of weeks on financial issues and systemic problems. It would be nice if local politicians could have a stab at doing a better job than you and your predecessors have done.

I must also emphasise that, if you want the devolution of policing and justice and the whole devolution project itself to be a success, there is a price to pay. As a Committee, we would be foolish not to attempt to extract that price from you and the Government, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. I do not want to put an exact figure on that because the Committee has not taken a view on the validity of the bids; but a large number of them seem to be valid and worthy, on the face of it.

You have said that you do not want to hand over an underfunded and under-resourced policing service, but you have also said that you consider the CSR settlement for the police to be good, and to be viewed as such by other police forces in the United Kingdom. Those other police forces do not deal with the history that our police force has to deal with; they do not deal with the consequences of that history and its impact on, for example, the Historical Enquiries Team, the hearing loss claim and the ongoing dissident republican terrorist threat in our midst.

Having said that, am I correct in sensing a more positive attitude from you and the Government to dealing appropriately and satisfactorily with those legacy issues? I refer to the hearing loss claim, which will be inherited by this Administration — and which is very substantial, as the Chairman has pointed out — and issues connected with the policing of the past. If devolution is to be successful when it happens, those issues have the potential through their cost to drive us into a position where it is very difficult to make a success of it.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

Let me start by saying that it is not about your detecting a more positive attitude. If I look at the work of my predecessors in achieving the comprehensive spending review settlement, I conclude that everyone has always been very positive and has always wanted to do their best. That is why the settlement for the policing service in Northern Ireland was as it was. It is not strictly comparable with other police services elsewhere. You are right, that is a genuine recognition — not a bonus — of the extra levels of work that are required in Northern Ireland as a consequence of the difficulties that have been faced.

It is not that I am more positive this afternoon about recognising the hearing-loss claim than I was a year ago. A year ago, the estimates on hearing loss were exactly half of what they are currently. Therefore, I point out that I am doing precisely what I always would have done. Genuine new pressures emerge and have to be distinguished from those that may be genuine but are not new, and there may be a case to look at things again. That is why, as a part of the Heywood process, I have done that.

The other thing that it is important to say is that, if we are not careful, there is a danger that we could do two pieces of damage. The first is to suggest that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is underfunded, when it is not. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is well funded. Could it use more? Yes. But can more be obtained? That is difficult, but we are trying. It is important to recognise the context, as I discussed with Mr Paisley, of a global financial situation in which many millions of people are losing their jobs, many businesses are going bust and many people are having difficulties paying a mortgage and keeping their homes.

In all that, we have to keep a sense of proportion. That does not mean that we will not do what is right for people in Northern Ireland — of course we will. However, that cannot simply be done despite what is happening in London and despite what is happening in Dublin. Within the island of Ireland, look at the Republic and see what is happening, and then understand the difficulty of simply wishing to meet a set of needs by saying that we can give you the money and that that proves how committed we are to you. That money has to come from somewhere. It has to come from taxpayers. There are now a million fewer people paying tax than a short time ago, for reasons that are perfectly obvious.

That leads me to my second point. I remind you that I will make the best possible case that I can. However, there is a very important — I would argue even more important — issue at stake, and one that has not been talked about much this afternoon. You mentioned devolution in the context of a price. Devolution, I think, needs to be understood for what it is. It seems to me that devolution in Northern Ireland is not about getting, or not getting, more money. Rather, it is about power being in the hands of people who are elected in Northern Ireland.

There is a danger if the discussion is only about money. Of course money is important. However, it becomes fetishised to the extent that one loses the point, which is — if the Assembly asks for it — the powers that I currently hold. I believe that devolution should not be seen only in the context of getting more cash. It is about asking the question: do we want power to be in the hands of people from political parties that share power in Northern Ireland, are elected in Northern Ireland, and, therefore, are seen to be fair to every community in Northern Ireland? That is a really important issue, and one on which everyone here has worked very hard.

As we move toward what might be the final hurdle, I think that it is important not to lose sight of that. It is precisely the strength of that commitment, trust and representation which is allowing this to work. It is not working simply because we are able to dangle large bags of gold in front of people’s eyes. The people who came out onto the streets of Antrim that Sunday morning after two soldiers were murdered came out because they wanted to show people the value that they placed on a peace process, which is a political process.

In understanding the questions that the Committee is asking me, one must not lose sight of the value that we all still attach to devolution. It is not just about bringing in more cash, but about truly bringing power back to the people. It about those elected in Northern Ireland being accountable to the people of Northern Ireland. That, above all, seems to me to be the greater benefit of devolution — greater than the amount of cash involved. However, I do not underestimate how important that cash is to everyone in the room.

Mr McCartney:

Thank you for your presentation. My questions are about the Heywood committee’s findings and how those findings will be framed. Will those findings be about the cost and the realistic projections that some of those issues are going to mean; or will they make recommendations as to who should be responsible for carrying things forward, particularly in respect of the legacy issues? Some of the other justice agencies have given presentations to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, and have talked about their views on underfunding. Are the committee’s findings just about costing or will recommendations be made as to who should carry forward the resource work?

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

Ultimately, the Heywood committee will reach its deliberations and a report will be submitted to the Treasury. That report will be seen by me and by the Prime Minister. It is a safe bet that the Prime Minister will not be short of representations, which will continue to be made when the Heywood committee concludes its work. However, I think that you have identified a number of areas that the Heywood committee is likely to look at and report on. You are right to ask those questions because I believe that the report is likely to move in a number of ways, rather than in one single way. It may not be possible, on some of those issues, to reach a conclusion, because a formula may be more sensible. For example, the issue around pensions may be not decided yet.

Again, it may be that a formula will be more appropriate than a number in dealing with the issue of inquiries for one good reason. I write to Lord Saville on a regular basis to ask him when he will be finished, and he cannot tell me. That is the value of an independent judicial inquiry. Everybody in this room must also feel that frustration. There is some common sense that it might not be sensible to simply tie this up with numbers or formulas as an alternative.

I expect that the Heywood committee will be quite tough on some issues, and it is right that all those issues are looked at. For example, this Committee has taken evidence from the Probation Service, which is an excellent body that has delivered an excellent service, and it has had its largest ever increase. However, it said that it wants £18 million more. That is quite hard to grapple with in these financial circumstances.

Again, I have no doubt that that issue will have found its way on to the table. That is exactly the type of issue that we realistically expect to be dealt with in a comprehensive spending review settlement that has already been made. As I said, I am not running the Heywood committee; rather, I am waiting for its report. Therefore, this is not a conclusion; it is just my judgement.

However, I do think that issues such as hearing loss claims are in a completely different league. Clearly, if there were no capacity to find additional help and resource for issues such as hearing-loss claims — regardless of what is said about the value of devolution as regards the transfer of powers to the people here — it would be extremely difficult for the police service to deliver normal policing. That is a view that is shared in London. It is not a view that is to be sold in London; it is one that is shared in London. The Heywood committee is looking at how to deal with that. Therefore, I am not saying that this is an open-and-shut case, and I am not saying that it has been dealt with — it has not.

We are genuinely trying to reconcile those issues within a difficult economic envelope; however, you should never, for one moment, doubt the Prime Minister’s commitment and mind to doing the best possible deal that we can for the people of Northern Ireland, because we want this to work and we will do everything that we can to help.

The Chairperson:

Will the findings or the recommendations of the report be referred to Northern Ireland at some stage, or is it an internal Cabinet report?

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

At this stage, the report is an internal document for the benefit of the Treasury and for us to try to achieve a resolution to the financial issues, with a view to genuinely trying to separate out the additional financial pressures from what might be described as the slightly regurgitated pre-CSR pressures. The report also attempts to deal with some of the other issues that have come on to the table in the meantime. I doubt that we will bring together the issues raised around the additional burdens placed on police by the work of criminals over the past few weeks in the Heywood report; however I am not ruling that out, because it may become sensible to do so.

This is really an attempt to get a grip on the precise numbers in order to identify new needs from old needs, as those might be distinguished. I cannot say that we will publish the Heywood committee report because it may amount to only a couple of pages. Could those couple of pages be published? I am not Jeremy Heywood, so I cannot answer that. He has done the work for me, so that we are able to achieve this. Those numbers are being shared with members of the Heywood committee with whom everyone here has contact.

However, in so far as I can give you an undertaking, I am happy to discuss with Mr Heywood whether some, if any, of what he may produce can be shared with the Committee at a later stage. I would not hold my breath in expecting that to happen, because, in the end, the report may be a private memorandum between Jeremy Heywood and the Treasury. However, I am happy to raise that question with him to see whether the report can be shared in some form.

The Chairperson:

We are out of time; I know that you must be away in one hour. However, a number of other questions have not been answered.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

I am happy to write to the Committee in response to those questions.

The Chairperson:

We were going to ask you do that. The Committee has received a lot of evidence on figures. We have not come to any conclusions about those at this point in time, and there have no discussions about them. Obviously, some of the figures that have been raised are aspirational, and we intend to look at those before we commit to a final report.

Thank you very much for coming along today. We appreciate your time, and we appreciate the answers that you have given. Perhaps not everyone appreciates the answers but, at the end of the day, I am sure that we will have further discussions on this issue before we have the final report. I understand that you do not rule out the possibility of coming along to this Committee at some stage before the final report is due.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

I am happy to come along again.

The Chairperson:

Thank you very much.

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