12 Mar 2014 : Column 338

The amendments would in effect restrict the penalties for copying to exact and counterfeit copies only. The sanction would therefore fail to address the very problem the designers have told us about.

The combined effect of the amendments would be to create greater uncertainty by extending criminal penalties to unregistered designs, and to fail to tackle a genuine grievance by narrowing the provision to cover only exact copying. We are tackling that grievance in the Bill. I hope that, in the light of my comments, the hon. Gentleman will not press his amendments.

Let me now turn to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. I always enjoy his speeches, in which he proudly talks of the contribution of Scotland, not only to the UK but to nothing less than world history. He is absolutely right about that. For me, the Scottish enlightenment is one of the great events in the history of ideas, and I always enjoy hearing celebration of it.

I understand the principle behind the hon. Gentleman’s amendment and the importance of the issue to legal services and innovative businesses in Scotland. We have been working closely with the court services in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, as well as with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service in England and Wales, so that we can take account of their views. Let me make it clear to him again: the Government will look favourably at any proposal to site a local division wherever there is a business need, and a local division can be located in Scotland should there be enough cases to support one. I said on Second Reading that it was very possible that there could be one in Scotland, and I stand by that.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will consult with the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland and with the court services in those jurisdictions. It is not necessary to legislate to ensure that the consultation and co-operation will happen, because we are already doing it. It is also not necessary to legislate nationally in order to set up a local division, because the process for doing so is purely administrative. That process is set out in the unified patent court agreement. We will be following it with consultation.

Pete Wishart: I am reassured by what the Minister has said. He has been consistent in his responses on the issue. Let me try to put it in another way. Does he foresee any reason why the Court of Session in Edinburgh could not acquire one of the divisional courts of the unified patent court?

Mr Willetts: The only reason I can imagine for that not happening is if there were a conspicuous lack of demand for the services of a local division. That is the issue: if there is no demand for it, there is no point setting it up. The hon. Gentleman, however, assures us and we are hearing a lot of people say that there is a demand for it. We are saying that, if there is a demand, it is likely to go ahead, but we do not need to legislate for what is an administrative process to set something up in response to demand. If demand is substantial, it will happen. I hope that I have made our position clear.

New clause 1 was tabled by the hon. Member for Hartlepool. On this, he is in a bit of a muddle. We have set out our plans on copyright exemptions, following the Hargreaves review. Some hon. Members may recall the large volume of reports and consultation exercises that I wielded in Committee. We have had an enormous amount of consultation and engagement with stakeholders

12 Mar 2014 : Column 339

on the planned copyright changes. We do not need a new clause such as this to provide for yet more consultation and consideration. We are grateful to all those who have responded to the various consultations and we have continued to engage with stakeholders since the timetable for the last review came to an end. We have made a number of technical changes following the helpful input of stakeholders, and we consider that the regulations have been improved as a result. They will be different in the light of the valuable consultation process.

The hon. Gentleman read out at great length my response to a parliamentary written question last week— I do not think there are any copyright exemption issues in quoting at such length from parliamentary answers—in which I said that the draft statutory instruments are now being finalised, and we anticipate that they will be laid before Parliament

“as soon as this process is complete.”—[Official Report, 6 March 2014; Vol. 576, c. 945W.]

I will go a tiny bit further for the hon. Gentleman and say that probably, and I very much hope that, they will be laid next week.

I fully recognise that laying the draft statutory instruments next week, if we are able to do so, still means that this process will have taken longer than we forecast and expected. That is a source of great frustration, but we are dealing with parliamentary draftsmen, and they need time to sharpen their quill pens, to get the right parchment out and to prepare their processes. Nevertheless, we will be laying the draft statutory instruments very soon indeed.

1.45 pm

I am not yet in a position to confirm the exact structure of the draft instruments, but—as I undertook upstairs, in Committee—I listened to concerns about bundling and expect to be able to lay a number of statutory instruments. I reiterate my commitment to write to hon. Members on the matter as soon as possible. What I said in Committee about unbundling wherever possible was simply so as to ensure that debate could happen in separate, coherent units. It might be the case that one or two have to be taken together, but we understand the crucial point, that each substantial area should have its distinctive debate. That is what we will try to secure.

The measures included in the copyright exemption package will benefit innovation, competition, research and education and will increase respect for copyright law. The sooner we can bring the measures into force, the sooner the benefits will start to be realised. The hon. Member for Hartlepool, however, is now calling for a further delay in the process—that would be the effect of his new clause—but we do not need further delay. The Labour Government tried to tackle the problem; as we had the Hargreaves report, so his Government had the Gowers review. The difference is that after Gowers, they were not able to make any progress and they did not bring legislation before the House. I believe that they broadly accepted Gowers, which was not dissimilar to Hargreaves, but we are making far more progress in getting on and implementing measures in this important area than the Labour Government did.

Pete Wishart: The Minister simply cannot get away with that. I am not leaping to the defence of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), which I am sure

12 Mar 2014 : Column 340

he can do for himself, but the Labour Government did bring in the Digital Economy Act 2010, which the Conservative party said it would support and implement. Whatever happened to that?

Mr Willetts: We are talking about the copyright exemptions covered in new clause 1. Let me be absolutely clear that, by comparison with any previous Government, we are now moving on to implementation. I have said to the House that we will be aiming to lay the draft statutory instruments before Parliament soon.

Mr Iain Wright: When I was discussing new clause 1, I asked about the commencement date. Given the imminent and fast-moving laying of the draft regulations, does the Minister anticipate that the commencement date will be 1 April?

Mr Willetts: I have the experienced and wise Leader of the House beside me on the Front Bench, and I think that things are reaching the stage where, arithmetically, once we remove the weeks in which the House is not sitting, it will be hard to have the commencement date as 1 April. We recognise that it might be some time shortly after 1 April. That will depend on how the timetable pushes out.

A paradox in the position of the hon. Member for Hartlepool is that we are here getting on with something that the Labour Government were not able to implement, but he is standing up to say that it is taking us too long, while bringing before the House a new clause that would make things take even longer. We do not need any more delay, we want to get on with it and we are trying to get on with it. The only effect of his new clause would be to bring the process to a grinding halt so that he can have yet another review, when the last thing we need is more reviews. I hope that in the light of that he will withdraw the new clause and not press his other amendments.

Mr Wright: It has been an interesting debate on this group of amendments. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for taking part.

The Minister started with amendment 6. He said, rightly, that the Government are implementing the Scottish exemption. The whole purpose is to provide as much reassurance as possible that, despite any premature disclosure, research plans are protected under freedom of information. I am not entirely certain that he has provided that to the satisfaction of the research community, but this is something that we will need to look at.

The Minister went on to talk about clause 13, and I still maintain that there is a huge inconsistency between the approaches on the infringement of registered design rights and on the infringement of unregistered design rights. Looking at the body language and the eyes of the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), I would say that he thinks that too. I cannot understand why having criminal sanctions in respect of unregistered design rights would have a chilling effect on innovation but such sanctions in respect of registered design rights would not. Surely the position is inconsistent. My other concern is that this is hindering and penalising micro-businesses and small businesses. Registering a design is a huge cost to business. The cost of registering a single design or the first design in a multiple application with

12 Mar 2014 : Column 341

the Intellectual Property Office can be £60. For every additional design in a multiple application the cost can be £40. That cost and the time scale can be particularly prohibitive to design businesses, which is perhaps why we see only a relatively small proportion of designs being registered.

The Minister may recall that in Committee I mentioned the different lengths of protection. Although registered design rights provide 25 years of protection compared with the 10 to 15 years of protection provided by unregistered design rights, registered design rights need to be renewed every five years. The cost of re-registering a design increases on a sliding scale by about an additional £100 each time, up to a cost of £450. So on a five-yearly basis the cost of re-registering a design for small businesses and micro-businesses could be in excess of £1,000. That seems to be penalising small businesses and micro-businesses, and inhibiting innovation as much as possible. That is not what we should be doing. I maintain that the costs of employing and commissioning a lawyer to deal with this process are prohibitive now and will be in the future. All this is costing designers a fortune and I am not convinced that the Minister has a consistent position.

The Minister finished by discussing new clause 1 and saying that I am in a bit of a muddle on it. If I am in a bit of a muddle, most experienced stakeholders in the copyright business are, too. The Government have floundered. They have taken far too long, floundering in the dark. They are not providing the certainty and long-term vision that is so important to the future of the UK economy—it needs that. We need to show our lack of appreciation for what the Government are doing. He has not been able to provide any real certainties. We may have the measures in a couple of days or we may have them in a couple of months, but there does not seem to be any great co-ordination and certainty. We are also still in the dark on the issue of bundling. It is not good enough for him to take more than two years on this and I want to show my dissatisfaction by testing the opinion of the House on new clause 1, although I will not press the other amendments.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 209, Noes 254.

Division No. 231]


1.53 pm


Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Davidson, Mr Ian

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Hendrick, Mark

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lazarowicz, Mark

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watts, Mr Dave

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Julie Hilling


Stephen Doughty


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, rh Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evennett, Mr David

Farron, Tim

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Freeman, George

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Munt, Tessa

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Selous, Andrew

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Tomlinson, Justin

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Claire Perry


Mark Hunter

Question accordingly negatived.

12 Mar 2014 : Column 342

12 Mar 2014 : Column 343

12 Mar 2014 : Column 344

12 Mar 2014 : Column 345

Third reading

Queen’s consent signified.

2.5 pm

Mr Willetts: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I start by giving thanks to all those who served on the Committee and spoke on Report. I thank the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) for his lively scrutiny of the Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) on his close and constructive engagement with the Bill.

The UK is in a strong position. As recently as January this year, the US Chamber of Commerce ranked our IP framework as second only to that of the US, and our IP enforcement as the best in the world. We are now maintaining and improving that global position. According to the most recent United Kingdom trade and industry business barriers survey, one in four British businesses had been put off doing business abroad because of the risk of IP theft. That is why we are working with businesses to improve their understanding of IP protection and providing specialist IP attachés for overseas markets.

In the course of our debates, several Members have spoken specifically about China. On the basis of my recent visits to China, I can assure the House that we are noticing a significant change in China’s attitude towards IP. It is putting resources behind enforcement and we are engaging closely with it. Most recently, the Intellectual Property Office and City of London Police met senior Chinese police and customs officers and contributed to an Interpol training programme for 400 Chinese police managers.

At home, we have been equally tough on tackling IP crime, and £2.5 million has been invested in the police IP crime unit, which has made 17 arrests since its launch in September and helped to suspend 690 worldwide websites that were selling counterfeit merchandise online. The new crime unit is also leading on a ground-breaking initiative in collaboration with the creative and advertising industries to target infringing websites offering illegal downloads of music, films and books, and to disrupt the advertising revenue on such sites. We are also making it easier, quicker and cheaper for businesses to resolve their IP disputes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hove and others have asked how we will ensure that businesses are educated appropriately about the changes that the Bill will introduce. We will be taking action in a number of ways to educate business. We will be building on existing guidance and we will incorporate education about the changes into our wide-ranging outreach programmes. We will be working with key organisations, such as Anti Copying in Design, to ensure that businesses are clear about what the new law means for them. But our focus will not just be on business. To raise awareness about the new criminal offence brought forward in the Bill, the Government will provide training for trading standards officers and engage in other measures.

12 Mar 2014 : Column 346

The Bill has been broadly welcomed by industry and by Members of this House and the other place. It will offer real support to Britain’s 350,000 designers, which is long overdue. The design measures in the Bill will improve the legal framework for both small designers and large businesses. The introduction of a criminal sanction for the intentional copying of a registered design in the course of business has sparked the most debate in this House and the other place. Opinion remains divided on whether a criminal sanction for design copying is necessary, but I believe that the right balance has been drawn and I look forward to seeing how the sanction has deterred criminal activity from taking place.

Let me be absolutely clear. We believe that a culture of copying in design is not acceptable in this country. However, we have listened to concerns that the wording of the criminal sanction is not clearly enough defined. Amendments were made in Committee that were welcomed by industry organisations the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys and the IP Federation. The Bill that we are sending back for the other place to consider has been further improved.

Other changes to the designs legal framework made in the Bill have been widely welcomed. They include clarifying who owns a design and removing inconsistencies between EU and UK systems. Clarifying the IP landscape increases certainty for industry and makes it easier to use IP in the course of business. That aim is also carried through into the patent changes, such as marking products with an internet link and increased work sharing arrangements with overseas patent offices.

In 2013 the total number of UK patents processed surpassed 2.5 million. Our numerous UK patent holders have benefited from the very successful patent opinions service, and the Bill provides a logical and useful extension of that service. The proposal to allow the Intellectual Property Office to initiate revocation proceedings has been welcomed by patent holders, with one SME stating:

“It makes absolute sense that revocation proceedings should be able to be started by the IPO....as clearly SMEs cannot afford the high legal costs to challenge patent validity.”

That is just one of the many ways in which the Bill will help SMEs.

Finally, I wish to touch on the Freedom of Information Act exemption, which led to some debate in Committee and on Report. The exemption provides the appropriate parity with Scottish legislation, and I am certain that the Ministry of Justice will wish to review how it operates in practice.

The Bill is not an attempt to solve every IP issue; it is part of a wider programme. Nevertheless, every measure in it is practical and desirable and reflects the views of our designers and creators. I very much hope that the House will support its Third Reading.

2.12 pm

Mr Iain Wright: As I said during my opening remarks on Second Reading, intellectual property matters and its importance is growing in the world of the 21st century. Britain will retain and extend its comparative advantage and ultimately create wealth, prosperity and rising living standards for all in this country, not by undermining employee rights, sacrificing the security of

12 Mar 2014 : Column 347

those in work and racing to the bottom, but by commercially applying our research, innovation, creativity and design skills. That requires a robust legal framework to ensure that people’s creative efforts, whether in music, film, broadcasting, video games or high-value manufacturing, are not stolen.

On Second Reading, I quoted the recent report of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport on the creative industries. It is worth quoting again:

“Given the importance of the creative sector to the UK economy and the relative importance to that sector of strong IP protection, strongly enforced, the Government must do more to protect and promote UK IP as a system for growth.”

That is what we have tried to bring about during our deliberations. On a number of occasions in Committee, the Minister and I mentioned the recent Global Intellectual Property Index, produced last year by Taylor Wessing, in which the UK was placed at No. 1 in the world for IP. It should be the objective of the Bill and of IP policy that this country should retain that No. 1 spot in the face of fierce competition around the world.

The desire to remain the best in the world drove the Opposition to question, challenge and scrutinise the Minister throughout the passage of the Bill. We do not want to see a chilling effect on innovation in this country—a concern raised by some senior industrialists—and the introduction of criminal sanctions for up to 10 years for infringing registered design rights needed to be considered extremely carefully. I hope that we have done that.

There remains a concern. Last month, the Institute for Public Policy Research said in “March of the modern makers”, its excellent report on the creative industries:

“Overall, government policy both on…promoting value in intellectual property and on protecting intellectual property from theft has unravelled somewhat.”

The IPPR highlighted the fact that

“Enforcement measures are delayed, proposals for new copyright exceptions are being brought before Parliament with unproven benefits and potential risks, and new systems for better access to copyright material have not yet been given a chance to prove their value.”

There remains a risk that the UK will slip down the global rankings for IP faster than a music track slips down the download charts—

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Very good!

Mr Wright: Thank you; I thought long and hard about that. It is copyrighted.

The risk I mentioned will remain if the Government continue to provide such an unravelling policy with uncertainty, delay and lack of enforcement.

I thank hon. Members for contributing during the Bill’s different stages, particularly in Committee. I am delighted to see in their places the hon. Members for Hove (Mike Weatherley) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who made excellent contributions. I would like to think that the deliberations were good natured throughout. I thank the Minister, who was never less than polite—if occasionally grumpy.

Mr Willetts: Never!

Mr Wright: He knows it is true. I also thank the Minister’s officials.

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In many ways, the Bill is brief and flimsy. However, like the issue of IP itself, it is important and often overlooked. We will continue to hold the Government to account, to ensure that we retain the No. 1 spot in something that gives us a significant comparative advantage in the modern economy, now and in the future.

2.16 pm

Mike Weatherley: The Bill is excellent as a step in the right direction. At times, back in 2010 and 2011, it felt as if the juggernaut that is intellectual property rights was heading towards dilution as the norm. However, I feel that the brakes have been applied recently and that the mood in both Parliament and elsewhere is now changing.

We have an excellent IP Minister in Viscount Younger, and I found John Alty and others at the Intellectual Property Office to be very accommodating and helpful. However, given that the Bill is the main legislation on intellectual property over a full Parliament, it is important to mention some of the items that have not been included but should definitely be considered.

The first is education. Government and industry must work together to inform the public better about the fact that IP is important to every single one of us. Is it too much of a stretch to say that our NHS depends on our protecting IP for our creative industries? I do not think so. Without the £71.4 billion added gross value that we generate from our creators, which includes £15.5 billion from overseas earnings, we would need to borrow or raise taxes elsewhere. Those are not attractive options.

As a country, we should thank the creative industries for being such an important contributor to our economy. I welcome all Government measures to support the industry, and protecting IP is one measure of support. I have challenged the IPO to provide details of 100 forums a year that we need to be at to promote IP. Industry has committed to find representatives to go to those forums. That, and other measures, need to be carried out.

The second item not included in the Bill is what I refer to as “follow the money”. If we can stop sites that host illegal material advertising and, additionally, find a way to stop payments being made for illegal material via Mastercard, Visa, PayPal and other forms of payment, we can take away the main reason why many of those sites exist. I recently met representatives of the police intellectual property crime unit and others on that very point. Following a very useful discussion, I hope we can produce a report with suggestions in the next month or two. I thank Steve Head, the commander of PIPCU, and his team for their excellent work and support. I have also just met Google representatives to discuss the same point.

All that brings me to search engines generally. We often forget that it is not the search engines that create or consume illegal content. I am aware of a band that recently released a CD that was on 20 Russian torrent sites within an hour—it did not appear on Google rankings until some hours later. The CD was not on those Russian torrent sites because it was on Google; it was there because the Russian sites were monitoring what was on iTunes. I am currently working with Google on some suggestions and I have promised the Secretary

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of State for Business, Innovation and Skills a report on the matter shortly. I thank the law firm Olswang for its assistance.

There is one other point in the IP chain that needs to be mentioned—internet service providers. Like search engines, they are not the persons creating or using illegal content, but their lines are transporting the activity. They do not need to be the policeman, but they can be part of the solution. Whether that is via a levy on users to fund education enforcement or whether it is making the ISPs accountable for illegal activity is something to be debated. None the less, I am sure that they need to be part of the solution.

A worrying footnote is that I am told that the voluntary copyright alert programme—VCAP—proposals cannot be implemented for at least a year once an agreement has been found on the other technicalities that we are going through at the moment. I must say that that feels more like prevarication than determination to implement, but I am not a technical expert, so I cannot comment on that further, but I would welcome others doing so.

The industry has made it clear to me that it feels that a US-type IP tsar or director-general would be useful in co-ordinating Departments and industry and delivering IP-related initiatives.

Mr Iain Wright: It should be you.

Mike Weatherley: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion. I would like to see the Government at least look at the idea. I appreciate that we have an IP Minister, but his priorities would be different to those of a director-general.

Finally, above all else, what the Bill needs is for the Prime Minister to state categorically that IP rights are the same as property rights, and are something to be cherished and protected. In many ways, Europe is looking to us, in the UK, for IP direction, and this repeated message is important so that rights are not drip fed away.

The IPO is organising an IP enforcement conference for June, which will be important. Indeed we are renaming that conference “Respect for IP” and I am sure that it will form part of the Government’s direction on IP generally. In summary, there is still much to do, but this is a good Bill overall and a positive step in the right direction.

2.21 pm

Pete Wishart: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the last Back-Bench word in this Intellectual Property Bill. It is significant that this is the first dedicated intellectual property Bill that I have actually seen in my 13 years in the House, and I would like us to mark that. I hope that we see many more in the future.

I thank all Members who have taken part, especially those on the Front Benches who have contributed so much to what has been a very friendly look at some of these issues. I did not know until Sunday that the Minister and I share a birthday. I wish him a belated happy birthday, and hope that he had as good a day as I did.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Who is older?

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Pete Wishart: I would not dare to answer that one. None the less, I hope that the Minister had a good day on Sunday. No Minister could be better equipped to deal with a Bill on intellectual property than the one who is famously known as “Two Brains”. He has deployed those brains to a fantastic extent as we have discussed this over the past few weeks.

Is the Chamber not quiet? We have had just one speech from the Opposition Benches and one from the Government Benches. That reinforces the point made by the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), which is that we need a champion for IP in this House. We need to get this matter fixed properly. It is unsatisfactory that IP is placed in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills when all the other disciplines that IP is there to serve—the creative industries, music, film and television—are handled by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. There is something wrong in the way that this is managed across Departments. It is unsatisfactory that the Minister who is responsible for intellectual property is an unelected lord whom we do not get an opportunity to question and who does not lead debates in this House. We need to start thinking properly about how this matter is co-ordinated across Whitehall.

It is surprising that there is so little interest in this matter. Let me just go over the figures again. The creative economy has grown by 8.6% in recent years and is now worth something like 4.3% of our total GDP. That is £71 billion a year—that is what the IP industry contributes to our economy. I would expect people to be rushing into the Chamber to contribute to debates such as this, but, as I have said, the House is empty. It is disappointing to see so many empty seats and to hear so few contributions on something that is so important and significant for our whole economy.

When it comes to intellectual property, Governments only get one shot. We heard mention of the Gowers review, which was conducted in my first few years in the House under the first Labour Government. The Minister was right to say that progress on the matter was slow until Hargreaves stepped in. None the less, the Gowers review was really what defined that first Labour Government for me. I remember leading an Adjournment debate on the conclusions of the Gowers review in Westminster Hall. We managed to discuss some of the things that had been suggested.

Under the second Labour Government—the Minister was a little unfair on them—we had the Digital Economy Act 2010. With exceptions, it was an important and meaty piece of work that was prepared to be quite brave and to take on vested interests. I do not know whether other Members remember this but we had thousands of e-mails about that legislation. I remember too the bravery of the Labour Government in pursuing it in the face of such orchestrated opposition. The sheer number of e-mails coming through from organised groups and self-proclaimed digital champions is the sort of thing that spooks Members of Parliament. The Labour Government were brave and it was unfair of the Minister not to recognise that or the efforts that were made to address some of the clear issues that we have in the creative economy, especially in digitisation.

The Conservative Government said that they would pick up measures in the Digital Economy Act. I remember the then shadow Minister coming to the Dispatch Box passionately to support and defend the Digital Economy

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Act, but what happened? Absolutely nothing. That is not entirely the fault of the Government. They have had legal disputes and ongoing tensions with the internet service providers. Now that we are just about there, we have no clear way forward for the Digital Economy Act. That Act, in terms of the Hargreaves process, is probably more important than this Bill. It is probably the one thing that could make a real difference in re-educating new generations of people who want to access content responsibly. We need measures on the statute book. We are running out of time in this Parliament, so it is very unlikely that we will see them. It is a big, big loss and a massive disappointment for all of us who want to address, productively and constructively, the very many issues that concern our creative economy.

What has defined this Parliament is Hargreaves, and this Bill is probably the end of the process. Is it good enough? Well, there are good things in it. The digital copyright exchange is a fantastic innovation, and the things that Richard Cooper demonstrated proved that positive and good things can be done. There are obviously exceptions. I know that we will be looking at all that in a statutory instrument over the course of the next weeks. There is great anxiety and concern in the industry, and the Government must listen to it. Yes, I know that we consult stakeholders and hold meetings with them, but the Government must listen to these people and take what they are saying a little more seriously, because they run incredible creative industries.

I thank the Minister for his response to my concerns about the divisional court in Scotland, which I raised on Second Reading and again in amendments. I assure him that we will produce the demand for such a court, if that is the only thing stopping Scotland securing it. I am pleased that that was the only barrier that he was able to detect to our having a divisional court in Scotland. I look forward to reporting that back to the legal establishment in Scotland, so that we can move the matter forward.

Then we come to the huge elephant in the room—Google. We must address Google, because it is the gatekeeper—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. This is about what is in the Bill, and not what is not in the Bill. I have given the hon. Gentleman a little bit of scope, but we are now running into danger. I know that we are not under any time pressure, but we need to talk about what is in the Bill and not what is not.

Pete Wishart: My last word on Google is that we must deal with it. We must ensure that we address the matter. This Bill is good, but thin. I know that the Hargreaves process was dealt with in a number of ways. There has been the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, statutory instruments and of course this Bill. As I have said, this is the first dedicated intellectual property Bill. The response from the design industry has been mixed. Obviously, it welcomes some of the very good measures, such as criminal sanctions in the areas of

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registered designs. I note that there was disappointment that unregistered designs were not included, but we had a good debate about that. I hope that we can revisit that at some point and deliver more satisfaction to our design industry.

All in all, we are where we are with this. We look forward to going forward. Let us be a little more creative and imaginative when it comes to dealing with intellectual property and copyright issues. The Government have more or less concluded their look at intellectual property. Now it is time to start thinking about how we go forward. Let us go forward constructively and with a bit more imagination.

2.30 pm

Mr Willetts: I want briefly to make two final comments. First, several Members referred to the need for an IP tsar. Let me make it clear that we have something better than a tsar—a viscount. In Viscount Younger of Leckie we have a Minister who is already discharging those responsibilities very well. Of course, for those who say that it is not right that he is in the House of Lords, it is worth pointing out that under the previous Government the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Lord Mandelson, was in the House of Lords. Having a Minister in the House of Lords is a very reasonable way of proceeding, and Viscount Younger does an excellent job.

Finally, I am grateful for hon. Members’ contributions. I am not sure that I would describe the Bill as thin. I would certainly call it a slim but well-proportioned and effective Bill. On that basis, I hope that it will secure a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill: Programme (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 24 June 2013 (Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (Programme)) and 9 July 2013 (Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.

Subsequent stages

2. Any further message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Mark Lancaster.)

Question agreed to.

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Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

Consideration of Lords amendments

Clause 6

Reduction in size of Assembly to be reserved matter

2.31 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Andrew Robathan): I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this we may take Lords amendments 2 and 3.

Mr Robathan: Lords amendment 1 is the first of a number of amendments made in another place at the Government’s behest following extensive discussions there. They follow changes we made to the draft Bill after discussions in this House’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I hope that it can therefore be said that we have listened to people during the passage of the Bill and that it has been improved as a consequence.

Lords amendment 1 limits any reduction in the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly to one Member for each constituency—from six to five. It also requires that any such reduction must have cross-community support in the Assembly. In the other place it was correctly pointed out that under the Bill’s previous provisions the larger parties in the Assembly could legislate to reduce its size by a substantial number. The House of Lords was of the view that there would be limited safeguards to prevent them so doing.

Many in Northern Ireland believe that, with 108 Members, the Assembly is too large, but it is not the Government’s intention that the Assembly should shrink dramatically. When it was established, the intention was that it should be a widely inclusive body, which is essential to the healthy functioning of the Northern Ireland settlement. The Government therefore tabled this amendment to ensure that the drafting of the Bill better reflects that policy. We hope that the Assembly will carefully reflect on the possibility of reducing its size at a time when spending in all parts of the public sector is under pressure.

We are, of course, leaving it to the Assembly to decide whether to reduce its size, and the amendment confines any reduction to one Member per constituency. If the Assembly decides to take that up, smaller parties and minority voices will still be well represented. I trust that the House will agree that these are welcome amendments.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): My colleagues and I are comfortable with Lords amendments 1 to 3, which we think are sensible, so we will not oppose them. Any reduction in the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly should quite rightly be a decision for that Assembly. As an MP who no longer sits in the Assembly, like some of my Northern Ireland colleagues sitting behind me, I agree that any reduction in its size should be voted on by the Assembly, rather than imposed from here.

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Although my party agrees that there is a case for reducing the number of Members of the Legislative Assembly at some stage, any discussion of that must take into account the sensitive local considerations. Such a move might be inadvisable at the current time. We firmly believe that any change to the Assembly’s composition must be guided by the principles that it should be representative, proportionate and reflective of both traditions in the wider community.

As Baroness O’Loan said in the other place, reducing the number of MLAs returned to each constituency could have serious consequences for representation in Northern Ireland. We must always be careful not to leave certain areas unbalanced or unrepresentative. We have a clear interest in retaining plurality of representation and must pay keen attention to factors that are specific to Northern Ireland when making these decisions.

We have also made it clear that we are concerned about the increasing concentration of power in the hands of two parties. We would be cautious about any measure that might exacerbate that situation. For that reason, we support the measure to ensure that the Secretary of State requires a cross-community vote in the Assembly before any legislation to reduce its size can be passed. That cross-community element is embedded in the Good Friday agreement of 1998 and the consequential Northern Ireland Act, which was passed in July that year. Embedded in that Act were the principles of proportionality, mutual respect and understanding. Given the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland, and given that we do not wish to exacerbate the situation, we feel it would be better if those principles were embedded in the size of the Assembly. I am therefore happy, on behalf of my colleagues, to support the amendment.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Our party strongly supports reducing the size of government generally in Northern Ireland—and across the United Kingdom for that matter—including the number of Government Departments in Northern Ireland. We are also on record as wanting to see a reduction in the number of Assembly Members. We believe that Northern Ireland can function more efficiently and in a leaner and better way with fewer politicians for the size of its population.

In May there will be elections to new councils in Northern Ireland, the number of which will have been dramatically reduced from the present number, and the number of councillors will also be reduced. We are in favour of the general thrust to reduce the size of government, and we have already put proposals to the Assembly’s Assembly and Executive Review Committee on that issue.

When the Minister responds to the debate, will he comment on the consultation that took place with the Assembly parties on the amendment? Although, under the amendment, the decision to reduce the number of MLAs can be taken by the Assembly, it can reduce the number by only one for each constituency—from six to five. I would certainly be very interested to know to what extent the Government consulted on that provision with the Assembly parties, because it has been generally understood that the measures that would come before the House would have the broad consensus of parties in Northern Ireland.

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Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Perhaps when he responds the Minister will say not only whether consultation was held, but with whom it was held and what information was given by the individual parties. That would allow us to see whether the results of the consultation are in line with what he proposes today.

Mr Dodds: I am sure the Minister will have heard the point that my hon. Friend makes.

Mr Robathan: I will correct this if I am wrong—it was before my time—but my understanding is that as a result of the consultation with the parties in the Assembly, which I believe took some time, the intention was to reduce the size of the Assembly by one Member per constituency. The problem with the Bill as drafted, until amended, is that it would allow the parties in the Assembly, if they so wished, to reduce the number by as many as they wished—perhaps down to one—because there is no limit. That is their lordships’ point, which we took on board in saying that the number would be determined by that which had been consulted on.

Mr Dodds: I thank the Minister for that clarification.

We certainly take on board the reasoning behind the amendment. What strikes me, though, is the Government’s concern about the Assembly passing legislation on a substantial reduction that could disproportionately affect the smaller parties. One of the things that was raised in the previous debate and is worth raising in this debate is that the Government did not express any corresponding concern when proposals were brought before this House on reducing the number of constituencies for the United Kingdom Parliament. We well remember the debates in this House, which ultimately came to nothing, about reducing the number of seats. Many of us from Northern Ireland constituencies pointed out that the net effect in Northern Ireland would be a reduction of two parliamentary seats. In fact, it would have provided for a rolling review whereby the number of seats in Northern Ireland—and indeed in other parts of the UK—could have been adjusted upwards and downwards virtually from election to election. That would have had not only a very destabilising effect on the political process generally, but a direct, knock-on, consequential effect on the number of Assembly constituencies and Members. The concerns expressed across the House—certainly by all the Northern Ireland parties—did not seem to have the same resonance with Government.

I accept the sincerity with which the Minister has brought this matter forward. We should bear it in mind, however, that the number of Assembly Members would have been directly affected as a result of the proposed changes that eventually came to nothing but were certainly intended by the Government. That would have had a major impact on the Assembly and its workings—on the stability and outworkings of the agreements, and so on. When we are discussing the size and powers of the Assembly, and all the rest of it, sometimes things are done that have, or could have, very direct impacts.

We have no particular number in mind for the size of the Assembly, but we do believe that it is time to get on with it. Now that we have this enabling power, assuming that the Bill is passed with the amendment in place, we hope that the parties that have been reluctant to reduce the size of government, and thereby the burden of

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government and the extent of the over-governance in Northern Ireland, will take seriously the views of the people out there. I hear that people on all sides believe there needs to be a reduction in the numbers in the Assembly and in Government Departments. There is an idea that interfering with or changing in any way anything to do with the institutions that were set up by the agreement would somehow undermine the process, but that is not sustainable or tenable. People are looking for more efficient government and for Government to save money in a time of austerity, and we should take their concerns on board. I hope that people will now take this enabling power and use it to reduce the size of the Assembly.

We once heard the then leader of the Social and Democratic and Labour party, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), say that some of the ugly architecture of the agreement needed to be done away with. Some people still hold the view that nothing about the institutions can change at all. However, we are now in 2014, many years on from the Belfast agreement and a considerable way on from the St Andrews agreement, and it is time that politicians responded to people’s views and concerns and took a lead in reducing the burden of government on households and on taxpayers.

2.45 pm

Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): I congratulate the Government on listening to their lordships and accepting these amendments.

Fifteen years on, I am a bit like the Good Friday agreement myself—that much older and that much greyer.

Mr Robathan: And wiser.

Paul Murphy: Not so much wiser, I think.

I vividly recall that we decided on the final number for the Assembly in the middle of the night on Maundy Thursday. There was an argument that the Assembly should be bigger than it turned out to be—some of the smaller parties thought it was essential that they should all be represented—but we came to what appeared to be something of a compromise with 108 Members. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). When the Government were dealing with the United Kingdom parliamentary boundary changes, they were challenged—I challenged them, as did the right hon. Gentleman and others—about the consequences of reducing the number of MPs in Northern Ireland for the Assembly, and therefore for the whole balance that had been agreed. That is now water under the bridge, so it is not an issue today, but it shows the mentality at the time.

In Wales, we have a population of 3 million compared with a population of 1.5 million in Northern Ireland, and an Assembly of 60 Members compared with an Assembly of 108 Members in Northern Ireland. That is obviously quite a difference. The Government recently appointed the Silk commission, which has recommended that the number of Members of the National Assembly for Wales should be increased because it has now achieved primary legislative powers and therefore has an insufficient number of Back Benchers to scrutinise legislation.

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I very much take the point that there is no great merit in having a set figure if there is agreement to reduce it. My only mild criticism of the amendment is that it specifies a figure of five, and if, with agreement, the parties said that it should be four, the Bill would prevent them from implementing that. Nevertheless, a reduction from six to five is a start. Two important principles lay behind the number that was chosen: first, the need to make the Assembly in Northern Ireland as pluralist as possible so that as many points of view as possible are represented, which was a good approach; and, secondly and crucially, the need to ensure that changes are agreed with the political parties in Northern Ireland. I would be interested to hear what the Minister says about any consultations he or his predecessors had with Northern Ireland’s political parties to come up with the final figure and final recommendation that we are considering.

A few weeks ago, Northern Ireland was, in a sense, captured by a crisis about a so-called one-sided deal that may have occurred some years ago. I do not want to go into the details of that, but merely say that anything that is one-sided will eventually flounder. Everybody has to agree; otherwise, eventually, the deal will not last. This can be very difficult. For example, our agreeing on the release of prisoners in Northern Ireland—perhaps the most difficult part of the Good Friday agreement—was based on the agreement of the parties involved in the talks. Therefore, the key aspect of the amendment, which I wholly support, is the importance of getting general agreement.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a deal brokered and supported by one party for republican terrorists who are on the run from justice in Northern Ireland cannot be described as a “so-called” one-sided deal? It is a one-sided deal, and its secrecy makes it a dirty deal as well.

Paul Murphy: Mr Deputy Speaker will stop me if we go into the details of what we discussed some weeks ago, but I will simply say that the principle of all parties agreeing a policy is critical to its success. The issue, as the hon. Gentleman has just said, is one that involved not just political parties, but paramilitary organisations as well. The principle, however, has to be agreed: there must be agreement between the parties all the time, even if it takes weeks, months or even years to achieve it. Otherwise, it will be so fragile that it simply will not continue to have any validity at all.

I agree with the Lords amendments. I will also be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the consultation that was held on the details of the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): I also rise to support the Lords amendments. It is worth noting that my party agrees with the Democratic Unionist party on this occasion, because that has been a rather rare occurrence in recent years. We wish to see significant reform of the Assembly structures and the burden they place on the population of Northern Ireland.

The principles of the Good Friday agreement—power-sharing, inclusion and proportionality—are very important. Whatever changes are made to the Assembly, they need

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still to reflect those principles. There are many ways in which those principles can be implemented in practice to allow Northern Ireland to have a leaner, more efficient Government. I believe that that would benefit all the people of Northern Ireland and that it is something the Assembly should wish to take forward. We should be open to reform that would make our Government more agile and that would allow our governance to move away from the structures that often impede its ability to deliver for the electorate. Obviously, we would like the Assembly reforms to go much further, but that is a matter for the Assembly and Executive Review Committee. However, I concur entirely with the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) that the time for talking about this has come to an end. We now need to see real progress and take the opportunity these amendments present to reduce the number of Members per constituency and then, as part of that process, reduce the number of Government Departments so that there is a correct balance between those in the Executive and those in Back-Bench positions holding them to account.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): I apologise for not being in the Chamber when the debate commenced on this very important Bill. Will the hon. Lady identify what the Alliance party believes to be the impediments that the Assembly’s current structures have resulted in?

Naomi Long: I appreciate the opportunity to do so, but I will not go too far, because Mr Deputy Speaker will be quick to reign me back in. In terms of what the AERC is looking at, we want a review of the question of an addition to the numbers of Members and Departments. We also want to move away from the Assembly’s designation system—which I believe copper-fastens sectarianism within our structures and manages division rather than addresses it—towards a weighted majority voting system. I believe that that would be much more fluid and that it would allow Government and, indeed, Assembly decisions to be taken much more quickly and easily than is currently the case with our mutual vetoes, which do not serve Northern Ireland well.

I would also like the Assembly to have opposition structures similar to those in this place, which has a properly financed and funded Opposition who can hold the Executive parties to account. It is a very difficult job. During my time in the Assembly I sat as part of the unofficial Opposition—we were not in the Executive—and although it was a very nice place to be and we could be critical of what was going on without having the responsibility of making the decisions, it was not properly funded or researched. Often it was done on a shoe string in comparison to the support received by the majority of Assembly Members, who were members of Government parties and had access to the relevant structures.

Sammy Wilson: I think that anyone listening to this debate would be surprised to hear that, while there appears to be a willingness to see the changes mentioned by the hon. Lady, there has been absolutely no move towards making them. Indeed, a properly structured, effective Opposition could be easily obtained if those who talk about it were prepared to drop out of the Executive and take up opposition positions, but, of course, they do not.

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Naomi Long: That is interesting, because it suggests that it might be the DUP’s plan for after the next elections. It, too, has called for a properly structured and funded Opposition at the Assembly, but I do not see it walking away from the post of First Minister and all its other Executive posts. This is not about which is the biggest party in Northern Ireland, because government is founded and constructed on proportionality. Why would we as a party walk away from our proportional entitlement to govern when others do not? This is not about the Alliance party being in opposition—that is not a point of principle. We did our part in being constructive in opposition. This is about having an Opposition who could be formed of Members from bigger and smaller parties co-operating and collaborating together, as can happen in this place. It is rather facetious to suggest that one party leaving the Executive and essentially giving its ministerial responsibilities to other parties with which it fundamentally disagrees would be a way of structuring opposition.

I believe that the AERC reforms will come and I will certainly press for them, as, in fairness, will my colleagues in the Assembly. However, we need to convince those in Northern Ireland—we need to take cognisance of this—who have felt politically excluded over a long period of time that such reform is not designed to further exclude or diminish their role in the governance of Northern Ireland. The stability we enjoy today requires buy-in from all sections of the community, and we cannot squander that simply in order to have efficiency.

Lady Hermon: Is there any evidence to suggest that the general public in Northern Ireland wish to have an Opposition at Stormont or whether, in fact, they are in favour of power sharing between parties that, collectively do their very best for everyone in Northern Ireland?

Naomi Long: I think there is evidence that the public would like to see an Opposition, and that evidence is their frustration with the amount that can be delivered under the Executive and the structures as they stand. The most common complaint about the Assembly is its lack of delivery, and I think that all Members would recognise that that is a challenge for all of us whose colleagues are representatives there. People feel frustrated that things take so long and that the process is far too cumbersome.

I think that an Opposition would help to speed up that process and that they would, therefore, be welcomed. I concede that people may not necessarily articulate the argument in favour of an Opposition so directly, but I believe that the implication is that most people would respond if we cut through some of the morass of slow and weighty governance and its burden on the Assembly and created more efficient governance.

I am happy to support the amendments. I believe that a reduction to five seats would maintain the principles of inclusion, proportionality and power-sharing. I also believe that they present the Assembly and the AERC with a renewed opportunity to get about the business of reducing the size of the Assembly, reducing the level of governance and, with the powers they have, starting to deliver real change for the people in Northern Ireland.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I also rise to support Lords amendments 1 to 3, particularly relating to the size of the Assembly.

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We live in days when everything that is spent by elected representatives and their offices and by institutions, ministerial Departments and Government is scrutinised to the nth degree by the public and the press. That is right and proper and we should be above reproach in such matters. That also means that, just as we expect our constituents and businesses to deal efficiently with finances, we must do the same. Leaner does not mean meaner: it means that we can do things better and more efficiently.

For the record, I supported the partnership Government at the Assembly, because that was the way forward at the time and it still is. Although an Opposition will hopefully come at some time, the shape of Government in Northern Ireland enabled all the parties to sign up and be part of the decision-making process. Whether we reduce the number of seats to five or to four, the principle remains that efficiencies need to be made, which means a reduction in the number of Assembly Members.

3 pm

Money must be spent wisely, and every effort should be made to ensure that the money that can be saved through efficiency measures is saved. We are not exempt from efficiency savings, and our party has long believed that there are too many seats in the Assembly. I fully support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) has said. Although I fully understand the notion that there must be representation for all areas, to have 108 seats for a population of 1.8 million seems excessive. I therefore fully support the idea that a reduction makes sense. It would reduce the financial and administrative burdens, and savings would be substantial.

I support the fact that such a decision can and ought to be made in the Assembly with cross-community support—by all the parties together—and I therefore support the change to allow the Assembly to make such a determination. My right hon. Friend mentioned that we will have council elections in May. That has come about because the decision was made to realign councils and reduce the number of councillors. The prime mover of that was efficiency, but it was also to produce council administrations that can deliver.

In my area, North Down and Ards will come together. Those of us who live in the Ards area perhaps find an alliance with North Down very difficult to accommodate—[Interruption.]—but the two councils have to come together to cover areas between Bangor and Portaferry. It has to happen, so while people in Ards want to ensure that they retain their character as Ards people within North Down and Ards, the people of North Down will want to do the same.

Lady Hermon: It is awfully nice of the hon. Gentleman, my constituency neighbour, to give way. I wonder whether he would love to take this opportunity to put on the record his admiration for the people of North Down, just to make sure that nothing in his remarks a moment ago might be misconstrued. North Down is, in fact—[Interruption.]—yes, the jewel in the crown of constituencies in Northern Ireland.

Jim Shannon: I am very pleased to say how enamoured I am of the people of North Down. The people of Ards will lead the way in that relationship. We also share a football ground between us: Ards plays at Bangor—

Mr Dodds: You have not got a team.

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Jim Shannon: We have got a team. The team has a lot to do, but we are doing our best.

We work alongside the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) in this Chamber on many issues. We work together as MPs, and the councils will also work together. I was just making the important point that we want to retain the character of Ards.

I read with interest the views of Members in the other place who questioned the ability of the Assembly to handle an issue of such size and complexity. I firmly believe that the Assembly can function and do its job as long as there are no behind-the-scenes deals by the Government. One such deal was referred to by the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy). That matter rankles with us all, and it will do so until we can have a debate and sort out the whole matter. Such deals cause disruption and end up eradicating the trust that has been built up over the years.

I took part in a debate about the adult autism strategy this week. In it, I highlighted the way in which the Northern Ireland Assembly has, across the United Kingdom, led the legislative field in Europe with its Autism Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. It is a comprehensive Act for autism that beats the legislation anywhere else in Europe. I therefore believe that allowing the size of the Assembly to be a reserved matter is only right and proper. I am sure that the Minister will respond very positively, but we now need action: the words are over; let us have action and let us have the deal done.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Inspired, as ever, by the wondrous words of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), I can only say that I am sure the Deputy Prime Minister, were he present, would say that he not only loves the people of North Down, but adores the people of South Down—in fact, of all the Downs—and that he would almost certainly express his adoration and passion for the whole of northern Europe, nay the globe. For the record, may I say on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition that we have immense respect and affection for the people of North Down and, if you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, especially for their elected representative, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon)?

I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) is not in the Chamber. He is currently gliding smoothly into Dulles airport for what used to be the St Patrick’s day celebrations, but are now the St Patrick’s fortnight celebrations. He has assured me that he will watch this debate with keen interest. I have no doubt that when the party starts in the White House, he will demur from any invitations in order to watch it on catch-up.

Ms Ritchie rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. As much as I am enjoying the entertainment—I allow a little scope, but I am not sure how far that scope will take me to airports around the world—I think that the hon. Lady does not wish to intervene now, and I want to hear the hon. Gentleman get to at least some of the Lords amendments.

Stephen Pound: An unusual feeling of amity is spreading its warm embrace over the House today, in many ways because we have discussed this matter in some detail.

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Certainly those who were in their lordships’ House to hear their discussions will have been impressed, as I was, by the speeches of the noble Lord McAvoy, who made his case very powerfully, and of the noble Lord Alderdice, who in a very detailed refutation of the amendment moved by the noble Lord Empey, made the case for preserving the present size—108 Members—of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

It is in some ways unfortunate that the Dublin statement made in August 2012 by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson)—he called for a reduction in the size of the Assembly and of the Executive, and mentioned there being an Opposition—has slightly coloured today’s discussion. The then shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), said that that contribution was unhelpful, unwarranted and unnecessary.

One of the most important points made today was mentioned by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long). She referred to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, which is currently considering these very matters. It is appropriate for that process to continue, and we support the Lords amendments.

Mr Dodds: The hon. Gentleman mentions the Assembly and Executive Review Committee. The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) asked whether, if there was agreement among the parties and even in that committee for a reduction to, say, four Members per constituency, anyone in this House would oppose it. I presume that Her Majesty’s faithful and loyal Opposition might go along with a widespread view expressed by Members of the Assembly and the parties.

Stephen Pound: The contribution made earlier by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) was extraordinarily impressive in that it was the first time I have ever heard any politician on the Floor of the House seek a diminution of powers and a reduction in the number of elected Members. The leaner and, if not meaner, then certainly cleaner and greener Executive and Assembly, as was mentioned—[Interruption.] Sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I withdraw the word “greener” in that context? That was entirely a slip of the tongue, and I will arrange for something better.

The point is that the Bill very carefully circumscribes the numbers—no fewer than five, not more than six—so the definition is fairly tight. Clearly, if something results from the AERC that it wishes to bring to the House, I am sure that the Secretary of State will look at it. Our opinion would be that it is a devolved or reserved matter that should be dealt with on that basis.

In relation to other discussions about the future formation of the Executive and the Assembly, I was interested to read on the official Conservative news website ConservativeHome, which I have to say I read out of a sense of duty, rather than delight—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We should not go down that line.

Stephen Pound: Indeed, not Mr Deputy Speaker. A rapprochement between the Conservatives and the DUP is proposed, although in my experience the DUP is most eminently not for sale: I have never heard of such a proposal in my life.

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Mr Robathan: I am afraid that I cannot be quite as entertaining as the hon. Gentleman, and I shall not try to be. ConservativeHome is not an official website. It is very interesting to read. I believe that it is called a blog, although I am a little out of date on such matters. People may put whatever they like on it. It is not an official website. However, we welcome support from all parties.

Stephen Pound: It was the word “Conservative” that fooled me, and the fact that the author of the article was a distinguished Conservative Member of the House and a former member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

We are considering the first group of their lordships’ amendments. Just as the Opposition said in the upper House, we are happy with the structure of the amendments and will not oppose them. All the contributions that we have heard today have been positive and forward-looking, and all have given us hope for the future.

If I may say so in closing, it was particularly impressive to hear the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy), who was so much a part of the process. He has worn well, as has the peace process. Long may both continue to flourish.

Mr Robathan: I will respond briefly to a couple of the points that have been made.

First, I hope that it will reassure the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) to hear that I, too, have argued endlessly for a reduction in the number of Members in this House, just as a turkey might wish for Christmas. I have always said that there are too many Members of the House of Commons. Personally, I would reduce the number to 500, although that is not my party’s current policy.

I welcome the views of the right hon. Member for Belfast East on progress—[Interruption.] I am sorry, I mean the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). The hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) is also sitting in the Chamber and I can see one or two differences between the two of them. The right hon. Member for Belfast North spoke about the need for change in the political structure in Northern Ireland. All the parties in Northern Ireland realise that there needs to be change.

I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast East about opposition. What is important is that the people of Northern Ireland want to see the Government in Northern Ireland held to account. We understand why the set-up came about in the Belfast agreement and we support that reason. However, I do not think that anyone believes that the current First Minister and Deputy First Minister structure will last for ever, because very few things do.

I was asked whether there was consultation with the Assembly parties. There was consultation with the parties before the Bill was amended. The clause was consulted on. The assumption in the consultation was that there would be a reduction of one Member in each constituency. That was inserted as a safeguard to ensure that a greater reduction was not steamrollered through. The smaller parties felt, rightly or wrongly, that they might be disadvantaged if there were a reduction of two Members per constituency. I think that this is a matter for the

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Assembly. However, the consultation was about a reduction of one Member per constituency and that was agreed to. That is why we brought forward Lords amendment 2.

The right hon. Member for Belfast North mentioned the reduction in the number of constituencies in the United Kingdom for the Westminster Parliament. I have put my cards on the table and said where I stand. I have been roundly pilloried for that from time to time by my constituents. However, because a different electoral system is employed for the Northern Ireland Assembly, such a reduction would not have the impact that he suggests. If there were a reduction in the number of constituencies in Northern Ireland, there would still be the same number of Assembly Members per constituency. There would be an overall reduction, but the same number of Members per constituency. The smaller parties would be protected because they would have the same number proportionally per constituency.

Mr Dodds: I am interested to hear what the Minister says. I am at a loss to understand how he can make that assertion, because he does not know, and nobody knows, what the Boundary Commission would come up with. We do not know where the two seats would be lost or what the configuration of the new 16-seat arrangement in Northern Ireland would be. Depending on where those seats were lost and where the boundaries were drawn, there could be a disproportionate effect on my party or on smaller parties, or there could be an impact on the nationalist-Unionist balance. He cannot assert what he has just said with any confidence because he does not know, and none of us knows, what the Boundary Commission recommendations would be in such a circumstance.

Mr Robathan: With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that applies to any boundary of any constituency. My point is that the proportional representation system would allow smaller parties to have their say. Of course, there might be some unhappy situations. If I were able to stray beyond the remit of this debate, I would point out that there is a disproportionate number of Labour seats in the House of Commons, given the number of votes. However, I would not dream of mentioning that at the moment.

3.15 pm

Paul Murphy: The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) referred to what the reduction would be if two seats were lost. There would be a reduction of 10 Members of the Assembly. There would be a further reduction of 18 Members if the number of Members per constituency were reduced to five. That is a reduction of 28 Members. The Minister does not seem to grasp the fact that the situation in Northern Ireland is totally different from the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom. The very fine balance of cross-community support could be affected by doing that.

Mr Robathan: On the contrary, I do grasp that fact. I do understand that the situation is different. The right hon. Gentleman worked very hard on the Belfast agreement and afterwards as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He will know that the settlement is not perfect and that many people would disagree with the current boundaries. We believe that the Assembly should be enabled to

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determine the reduction in its size. That is what clause 6 does, with the safeguard of Lords amendment 2. It is only an enabling clause, because we have devolved the matter to the Assembly and are allowing it to sort it out. I am sure that it will do so.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 10

Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland

Mr Robathan: I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 4.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments 5 to 8.

Mr Robathan: The amendments that were made in the other place to clauses 10 and 11 relate to the way in which responsibility for the civil service commissioners and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission might be devolved to Northern Ireland in future. The intention of the amendments is to ensure that there is sufficient opportunity to debate the arrangements before an order is brought before Parliament for devolution and to ensure that the important issues that need to be considered are highlighted before devolution takes place.

We had already undertaken, as a first step, that there would be a full public consultation on those issues. That commitment remains. Clause 10 would move the appointment of the civil service commissioners for Northern Ireland from the excepted category to the reserved category, making it possible for the civil service commissioners to be devolved using procedures that are laid down in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Those procedures require cross-community support in the Assembly and a vote in each House of Parliament.

Lords amendment 4 to clause 10 will require the Secretary of State to lay a report in Parliament at least three months before he lays any order under the 1998 Act on the devolution of responsibilities in respect of the civil service commissioners for Northern Ireland. In that report, the Secretary of State will be required to set out the effect that the order would have on the impartiality of the Northern Ireland civil service, the merit principle for appointments to it and the independence of the civil service commissioners.

The intention of the amendment is to allow sufficient time to consider the arrangements for the devolution of the commissioners, if that should happen. Although responsibility for the civil service in Northern Ireland is already devolved, the Government recognise that the House might want to take into account the overall arrangements governing the civil service before deciding whether to devolve the appointment, functions or procedures of the civil service commissioners, given the extremely important interests that the commissioners safeguard. We have agreed that we will facilitate a debate on those issues at that stage.

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Mr Dodds: Given that the functions and proceedings of the civil service commissioners are already devolved, what reason does the Minister have for making the civil service commissioners themselves subject to the extra procedure?

Mr Robathan: The issue is whether to devolve the civil service commissioners to Northern Ireland. The civil service itself is already the responsibility of Northern Ireland, whereas the commissioners are currently under the control of the UK Government.

Mr Dodds: I am talking about the proceedings and functions of the civil service commissioners—not the civil service—which are already devolved. I am asking why there is an extra procedure in terms of the civil service commissioners, their appointment and so on.

Mr Robathan: Currently, I understand, the civil service commissioners for Northern Ireland answer to the UK Government, but by devolving this issue, they will answer to the Northern Ireland Executive. I believe that to be the case, but just in case I am wrong—[Interruption.] Yes, the proceedings and functions are currently reserved, whereas the appointment is excepted. We intend to change that, so that appointment will also be reserved. I think that is a sensible way forward, and I thought it was supported.

Paul Murphy: I am not sure about this, but the Minister may know the answer. What is the position of civil service commissioners in Wales and Scotland, and particularly in Scotland?

Mr Robathan: Since the right hon. Gentleman was once Secretary of State for Wales, he might be better able to answer that than I am. I will write to him and let him know because I do not know the situation in Scotland and Wales.

Clause 11 proposes moving responsibility for appointments to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and its functions, from the excepted to the reserved category, making it possible for those responsibilities to be devolved in future. As with civil service commissioners, that raises questions about the commission’s independence, including its accountability should it be devolved in future.

Lords amendments to clause 11 set out a similar procedure to those to clause 10, and also require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament at least three months prior to introducing any order on the devolution of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. In that report, the Secretary of State is required to set out her view about the effects that such an order would have on the commission’s independence, the application of internationally accepted principles relating to human rights institutions, and the relationship between the commission and the Assembly. We recognise that these issues are of real concern to those concerned with the effective operation of the commission.

Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has done an enormous amount of good in Northern Ireland, although that is not generally

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or widely recognised. Will he explain whether the commission is pleased and content with the changes that will be implemented by the proposed legislation?

Mr Robathan: The point about the Lords amendments is that there will be no change to the current status of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. We initially intended it to be devolved to the Assembly and the Executive, but any change will take place after further consultation. I am afraid the answer to the hon. Lady’s question will come during further consultation rather than now.

Devolution of the responsibilities of civil service commissioners and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will, of course, be subject to consultation, and the Lords amendments intend to ensure that devolution is approached with proper consideration and scrutiny. I hope that the House will agree that that is the right approach.

Lords amendments 7 and 8 are technical amendments concerning the commencement of clause 24. Members will be aware that clause 24 amends an order-making power already passed in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, to allow us to take forward, by order, the changes to the new biometric framework in the reserved and excepted fields. The Northern Ireland Department of Justice could not legislate for that because the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 received Royal Assent too late, on 25 April 2013. The amendments will allow us to bring the position of Northern Ireland regarding the retention, use and destruction of biometric data in the interests of national security, or for the purposes of terrorist investigation, into line with that of Great Britain.

As the Bill is currently drafted, clause 24 would come into force on the day the legislation is passed. However, the order-making power in paragraph 8 of schedule 1 to the Protection of Freedoms Act is not yet in force. The amendment to commencement is intended to avoid a situation where the amendment to the order-making power in clause 24 comes into force before the power itself. That would have no practical effect and is technically undesirable. The change is entirely technical and has not been prompted by any debate or concerns in the other place. I hope that the House will agree to it.

Mr Dodds: Again, I would be interested to know the extent and outcome of consultation with the Executive parties about the issues covered by the amendments, other than the technical points relating to clause 24, which are of no particular concern and accepted by virtually everyone. Lords amendments 4, 5 and 6 deal with civil service commissioners and human rights commissioners. These are enabling powers that would transfer civil service commissioners to the reserved category. As the Minister said, the functions and proceedings of civil service commissioners are currently reserved.

The issue of reporting to Parliament was debated in the other place. I have no difficulty with as much parliamentary debate, scrutiny and accountability as there can be on these matters, or with bringing forward a report, as proposed by the amendments. I have no concerns about that and would certainly not oppose it. However, the purpose of the report to Parliament is, first, about the effect that the transfer would have on the independence of the commissioners, secondly about the

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principle that appointments should be based on merit after fair and open competition, and finally about the impartiality of the Northern Ireland civil service. One concern was that as things stood, without the Lords amendments, if Parliament wanted to pass responsibility for that matter to the Northern Ireland Assembly, it would do so by Order in Council, since such matters are reserved. That would not allow for amendments, and would be simply accepted or rejected in its entirety.

It would, of course, allow for any concerns about the independence of commissioners, appointments on merit, or issues of impartiality to be debated, but if there were concerns about those matters then no doubt Members of this House and of the other place would vote accordingly. If there are concerns about any of those things, I presume that the Government would not have an Order in Council. One wonders what the purpose of the measure really is.

There will be a debate and a report. Presumably everyone will say, “Well, we’re all content and happy,” and we will proceed to the Order in Council. However, if people say that they are not happy, or if the report states that things are not good, the Order in Council will not be introduced. To me, the whole thing seems effectively like window dressing, and I wonder about its purpose, other than to allow an extra debate, which I am perfectly content to have.

Mr Robathan: The amendment—[Interruption.] I think the Cheltenham festival is on, which is of great interest to the Irish—and to me, as it happens.

The amendment takes account of the concerns that were expressed in the other House. I believe the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the clause rather than the amendment. The amendment is designed to provide further time before anything is devolved.

3.30 pm

Mr Dodds: With respect, I am addressing the amendment, which seeks to introduce a new requirement. It means that, at least three months prior to seeking parliamentary approval for an order, the Secretary of State must report to Parliament on the three issues I have described. The simple point I am making is this: if there is any concern or debate, or the slightest suggestion that there would be a detrimental effect on the independence of the commissioners, or on the impartiality of the Northern Ireland civil service, or that appointments would not be made on merit, the Government would not bring forward an Order in Council. A response would be given to a request from the Northern Ireland Assembly saying, “I am sorry, but this is the reason.”

I am not opposing the measure, but asking about its real effect. Presumably, the report will not be subject to any vote, because the only legislative instrument is the Order in Council. The measure does not seem to have much effect in reality other than to provide for another debate, which I am not opposed to. I am very happy to give the issues the greatest possible scrutiny and debate.

Lady Hermon: I agree wholeheartedly with the valid points the right hon. Gentleman makes. Even if we do not press the amendment to a Division, I urge him to include me—he is well capable of doing this on behalf of Democratic Unionist party Members—as someone

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who also seeks a clarification on this from the Minister. If the impartiality of the Northern Ireland civil service is called into question, the Secretary of State should not proceed with any such report.

Mr Dodds: I join the hon. Lady in that, and the Minister has heard it. It is entirely sensible. None of us in the House or, I dare say, in the Assembly would want to undermine in any way the independence of the civil service commissioners or allow anything to interfere with the principle of appointments based on merit after fair and open competition. We would not want anything to disadvantage the Northern Ireland civil service by casting a taint on its impartiality. My experience in government—I have been in the Northern Ireland Executive—has left me with the highest regard for the Northern Ireland civil service, which has done an immensely good job by and large, in many difficult situations in the governance of the Province.

I raise those points not to oppose the provisions, but to query them. Sometimes, we ask why legislation is necessary. The provision strikes me as being somewhat superfluous in terms of parliamentary process. We are legislating to say, “Let’s have a debate at some point in future.” I do not see why we need to do so, unless somebody does not trust someone who might be in power in future—they might believe that that someone might not act in the best interests of the civil service of Northern Ireland.

The same comments apply to Lords amendments 6 and 7, which propose making a prior report in respect of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, like the one that is produced on the civil service commissioners for Northern Ireland. I will not rehearse the separate arguments in that regard.

Lady Hermon: Amendment 6 obliges the Secretary of State to look at

“the application of internationally accepted principles relating to national human rights institutions”

as they may apply to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. I draw the House’s attention to the word “national”. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a regional human rights institution, not a national one. How can the Secretary of State comply with that statutory obligation?

Mr Dodds: I do not know whether the hon. Lady will seek to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, but she makes a good point. I look forward to the Minister responding to it. As she says, the amendment mentions “internationally accepted principles” and their application vis-à-vis national human rights bodies. Her point is valid. The amendment says that not only the independence of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a matter for the report, but the relationship between the commission and the Assembly.

Given that the clause is a small provision—it simply provides an enabling power, which the Order in Council will implement—on what basis will the report be compiled? Will there be an investigation? Will there be an Assembly inquiry, with evidence being taken on how the measures operate? If it were devolved, it would be a matter for the

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Assembly, so what would be the purpose of reassuring ourselves in this House and in the other place about all these matters three months prior to a debate?

Ms Ritchie: I support the amendments and I understand the points that have been raised by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) on their reasoning and the rationale behind them. In relation to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the civil service commissioners, the amendments are sensible. It is right that before any discussion of the future devolution of these elements, proper consideration is given to the impact on the impartiality of the civil service.

I well recall the considerable discussions in 1988 and 1989 in this House and the other place on the advances to be made on ensuring there is respect for people in workplaces and on fair employment. References were made then to the need to respect the merit principle in private sector organisations above a certain level of employee. Comments were also made about the Northern Ireland civil service and the need for impartiality, fairness and due participation across the community if we were to build a society that was reflective of and proportionate to the wider Northern Ireland. I see the amendments in that context.

It is important that any report on the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission pays regard to the importance of its independence in conforming to internationally recognised standards and maintaining a balanced relationship with the Assembly. In that respect, I regret that the Government have not seen fit to introduce a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland. There has been considerable discussion and indeed, some months ago, the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) sponsored the visit of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Consortium to discuss the need for such a Bill—and the impetus within the wider community for it—that would enshrine the rights of all in legislation. Such a Bill is still urgently needed. It cannot be covered by a UK Bill of Rights. There are rights that are peculiar to Northern Ireland, which has a particular political situation that needs to be recognised. I regret the fact that the Government did not see fit to introduce a Bill of Rights that could have run concurrently with the Bill through both Houses. I ask the Minister to reflect on that issue when he sums up, to talk to his colleagues in government, and to ensure that such legislation is introduced.

I know what the Minister’s response will be. He will say that such a Bill would need the support of all parties in Northern Ireland, but I can tell him that the idea has received considerable support among the wider community in Northern Ireland, with considerable impetus behind a Good Friday agreement based on the principle of consensus and agreement. I think he would also find such support here. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the need for a Bill of Rights.

This is our last opportunity to discuss a Bill which, although short, is important to Northern Ireland. I have only one regret. During the Bill’s earlier stages, we were concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding the issue of an increase in the Assembly’s mandate from four to five years. On Second Reading I described the issue as a mystery, because it was never resolved. I would not like to think that that was part of a secret

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deal between two principal parties in the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government. Yet again, I ask the Minister to clarify that issue.

Other issues relating to Haass have been raised during the Bill’s passage. My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) raised the issue of the Historical Enquiries Team, and asked how there could be more coherence in inquiries so that patterns and trends that emerged could be dealt with. In that connection, a book called “Lethal Allies”, about the Glenanne gang, was published recently. A pattern emerged in the type of activity involved in murders of that kind. We felt that those issues could have been reflected in the Bill.

All of us who represent Northern Ireland constituencies and take our seats here want a just and lasting settlement for everyone which is based on our moving on. It is interesting to note that Richard Haass, who spent six months in Northern Ireland drawing up proposals on reconciliation, on the past, and on flags and emblems, said today in a United States congressional committee that he wanted Northern Ireland to move on. He has expressed his fear that it could slip back into the violence of its troubled past if we, as politicians, do not grasp the opportunity to deal with divisive issues. I believe that that opportunity exists now, and that we should move forward.

I believe that there should be no more secret deals, no more on-the-run letters, and no more get-out-of jail passes, as I think they were termed by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). We must move forward on the basis of transparency, openness, fairness, equality and proportionality for all. The amendments will take us a step further towards fair representation, and a consensual approach to politics and to dealing with issues that still need to be addressed in Northern Ireland.

Jim Shannon: I want to make a couple of brief comments about the civil service commissioners and the Human Rights Commission.

Northern Ireland has had its own civil service since the 1920s, and, as others have said, it has done admirably over the years. The Northern Ireland civil service itself is and always has been a devolved matter, but in 1998 it was decided not to devolve the civil service commissioners at least for the time being. Like their Whitehall counterparts, they are responsible for ensuring that appointments to the civil service are made on merit, and on the basis of fair and open competition. I believe that the amendment will ensure that by requiring the Secretary of State to present a full report to the House, so that all will be open and transparent before any devolution takes place, and I therefore support it.

Naomi Long: In the light of what was said by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be helpful if the Minister told us on the basis of what evidence the Secretary of State would prepare the report? The only reason for debating the report would be contention about its content. There would be a reason for debating it if, for example, the Secretary of State said that there was no issue relating to fairness and transparency, but other Members disagreed. The substance on which the report was based would be important in informing any such debate.

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Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Lady for making that point, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) did beforehand. The Minister has heard it made very forcefully, therefore, and I will touch upon it now as well. We do seek that clarification. I am sure the Minister has received lots of scribblings from his civil servants in the corner to enable him to respond and we look forward to hearing what he has to say.

3.45 pm

This amendment safeguards the transfer of the power to ensure that political pressure from any angle cannot be applied. We have some concerns about that, so we seek clarification on the point. After the revelations of this month we must have openness and transparency—oft-used terminology, but it is still very important—from all parts of Government to restore trust. We need to be convinced as elected representatives that proposals are being made for the right reasons and with the right focus and attention.

There will be ample time for the House to debate and influence any decision before ratification. Some have asked why we need to do that, and I am sure the Minister will respond on that. This is a sensitive issue that must be handled appropriately. All Members who believe in the importance of due process and order will agree on that.

A debate must be held in this place to ensure that the appointment of human rights commissioners is devolved for the correct reasons and not due to pressure from, or, God forbid, appeasement of, any section or organisation. The amendment ensures openness and transparency and that proper process will be followed. I like the idea of the Northern Ireland Assembly having a say in human rights, too.

The hon. Members for Belfast East and for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North have commented on this issue. We now look for a full response from the Minister. It is more important than ever that we rebuild the trust that has been somewhat desiccated of late.

Stephen Pound: Two points really need to be made. First, this is some of the most important business we have discussed on the Floor of the House. It is a matter of some shame that the Government did not introduce this group of amendments on Report in the other place, as that would have allowed a more informative and in-depth discussion. We could have spoken to it at greater length.

I wish to place on record at the outset a reiteration of the comments my noble Friend Lord McAvoy made in the other place: the Opposition do not oppose these amendments; in fact, we support them. However, I feel it is essential that we place on record one crucial and important factor. When we are talking about the institutions in Northern Ireland, we must not see them through the prism of Great Britain. Lord Alderdice referred in the other place to the size of the Assembly and said specifically that comparisons with Wales and Scotland were otiose, as there are functions and duties that fall to the Assembly in the Northern Ireland that are entirely different, and in many cases involve far harder work than would be found in Scotland or Wales. The obvious example is the land border with another country.

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As all Members know, there are also huge key differences between the Northern Ireland civil service and the Westminster civil service. People who spend some time in Northern Ireland swiftly realise that civil servants in Northern Ireland have an entirely different role. They have a much higher profile partly because when there have been occasions such as the suspension of the Assembly or different governance arrangements, civil servants have taken decisions that are very often taken by Ministers. They are known far more widely; they have a higher profile. They engage with the public and they promote policies. The difference is not just practical; it is also cultural. That makes the report all the more significant.

I feel, however, that the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) has put his finger on an important point. There is a lacuna in the amendment regarding the nature, format, structure, content, aim, intention and extent of the report. We need to have an idea of the precise intention behind it. Will it be a tour d’horizon of the whole issue relating to the civil service commissioners? Will it cover just a specific point? Will it be an update? We need to have some idea, because this is an extremely important subject. I cannot imagine that anyone in the House will object to the issue of impartiality and the merit principle.

I said that I would be brief and, for once, I shall keep my word. These are important matters, and they perhaps need to be ventilated at length on another occasion, but for the moment we support the amendments. We seek further clarification on the nature of the report, and we underline yet again a fact that must never be forgotten— that we are talking about an entirely different sort of civil service. We must bear that in mind in making any decision on these matters. We support the amendments.

Mr Robathan: I am glad that everyone supports the amendments, although it was not entirely clear to me that that was the case as I listened to the debate. The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) has just pointed out something that I should have known—I suspect that the former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) already knew it—which is that there is only one home civil service, which has one set of civil service commissioners. The Northern Ireland civil service is separate, which is why it has separate civil service commissioners. The answer to the right hon. Member for Torfaen’s earlier question is that there are no similar relationships in Scotland or Wales. This is not something I have come across before, actually.

The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) asked why we have the amendments. The reason is that, in the second Chamber of this Parliament, concerns were expressed—by, among others, Lord McAvoy—that insufficient safeguards and transparency had been built in. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has suggested more than once, there were concerns about trust and transparency. In response to those concerns, the Government tabled amendments in the other place that will allow further consultation if anyone is concerned. I understand that their lordships wish to have a debate on the matter in their House; whether they do so or not is another matter.

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Naomi Long: There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that the Secretary of State will be compelled to lay an Order in Council. They would therefore do so only if they were convinced that all was in order. On what basis, therefore, would the report be produced? Any report that we would debate in this House would be a positive one, and we would need to see the evidence base for that. It would be interesting to know precisely where that would come from.

Mr Robathan: The hon. Lady has put the cart firmly before the horse. I know that this is very old fashioned, but I believe that the purpose of consultation is to consult and to listen to what people have to say. If, for instance, everyone were agin the devolution of these powers, there might not be a report. The purpose of the amendments is to say that we will not bring one forward until there has been consultation. I am astonished to find people criticising the Government for trying to be consensual.

Naomi Long: Far be it from me to tell the Minister what his own legislation says, but it does not actually say that at all. It does not say that there will be consultation followed by a report. It says that a report will be produced, and that a debate on that report will be held three months before an Order in Council. That time scale suggests that the Secretary of State will already be intending to have an Order in Council, and will already have decided that the issues are not a problem. It is the basis on which such a decision will be made that we are trying to discover today.

Mr Robathan: I assure the hon. Lady that the reason for the amendment is to allow further consultation so that the report can be issued. If she wishes to be a consultee, I am sure that that would be fine. We have not laid down every step and turn that will be taken, but we are trying to proceed with the support of the parties. We have had the support of all parties for the amendments, so I am not entirely clear what the concerns are. Transparency and trust have been discussed, but that is what we are trying to allow—transparency, so that everyone trusts the process.

Mr Dodds: The Minister seems to be getting a little tetchy, if I may say so. Members of the House are carrying out their parliamentary duty to scrutinise the Bill. As the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) said, amendments were introduced on Third Reading in the other place, not on Report, so this is the first chance we have had to debate them. It is perfectly proper to examine the amendments, even though we will not divide the House on them. This is the first opportunity we have had to debate these matters.

May I pick the Minister up on his reference to Members in the other place raising the issues, to ensure that there will be a debate? Is the Minister saying that there will also be a debate in this House on the report?

Mr Robathan: The report will certainly come before the House. If there is a need for a debate, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that there is one, as I understand it—

Mr Dodds: It is not for me—

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Mr Robathan: If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to call for a debate, we will have one. This is a matter for consultation—

Mr Dodds: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Robathan: Hold on. The reason the amendments were introduced on Third Reading is the perceived unhappiness in the other place about the existing clause. The amendment allows for further consultation, and the amendments have been welcomed. They are not designed to harm the parliamentary process in any way; quite the opposite, they are designed to allow further consultation.

Mr Dodds rose—

Ms Ritchie rose—

Mr Robathan: I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman first.

Mr Dodds: I am grateful for the fact that the Minister has now placed on me the responsibility and burden for initiating debates, Government business and so on. I hope that he will involve me more often. I am surprised, but I welcome it and will follow him up on it—I am happy to discuss it with him in more detail. He is simply saying that we may have a debate and all the rest of it, but what is the purpose of a report being drawn up, and it being of such importance, if it is not to be debated? Why will the Minister not give a firm commitment that we will have a debate on the report?

Mr Robathan: I will respond after the second intervention.

Ms Ritchie: I thank the Minister for giving way again. Further to the intervention of the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), where in clauses 4, 5 or 6 is it specified that there will be consultation? Reference has been made by the Minister to consultation, but the Bill does not actually say that.

Mr Robathan: The reason for our discussion now is the amendments to the clauses. We are having a debate on the Floor of the House of Commons to discuss those matters. I am telling the hon. Lady that there will be consultation, whatever it says in the piece of paper in front of her. The point of the report is to inform parliamentarians of the Secretary of State’s view about the effect of devolution after consultation. She will not come to that view without having consultation. If there is agreement, there is not necessarily a requirement for debate; if there is some disagreement, there would be a requirement to debate—but we are aiming for consensus. The point made by the hon. Lady about what is actually written down in the amendment is somewhat spurious.

Ms Ritchie: I have to say, and my colleagues across the parties in Northern Ireland who sit here would agree, that the legislation would normally state whether there was to be consultation, so that that consultation could actually take place. No one was trying to say one thing, but to do the other.

Mr Robathan: I say quite categorically that the purpose is to allow the Secretary of State to consider the issues transparently, engendering trust, which has been mentioned. There will be consultation—I can assure the hon. Lady of that.

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Let me deal with something else the hon. Lady mentioned. I was surprised she said that human rights in Northern Ireland were different from human rights elsewhere, as I seem to recall that human rights are usually referred to as being universal. Although there are sad and particular conditions in Northern Ireland, I do not think that the human rights of an individual there are any different, and nor should they be treated differently, from those of somebody elsewhere. We have the Human Rights Act 1998 in place, and if all parties in Northern Ireland wish to propose some special legislation at the Westminster Parliament, we would of course consider it, but I see no need for such a thing, and I have never heard anybody suggest there was a need before.

4 pm

Ms Ritchie: May I suggest to the Minister that a Bill of Rights is required in Northern Ireland to deal with the special circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland? There may not necessarily be cross-party consensus, but there is a need for that Bill of Rights to deal not only with issues of the past, but those that have an impact on the present and the future.

Mr Robathan: I will take that suggestion away and consider it, but I have not heard that from anybody else in the four or five months I have been doing this job.

This has been a rather longer summing up than I expected and, on that note, I shall conclude.

Lady Hermon rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Is the Minister giving way or has he concluded?

Mr Robathan: I have concluded.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Is the hon. Lady indicating that she would like to speak?

Lady Hermon indicated assent.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I therefore call Lady Hermon.

Lady Hermon: I would indeed like to speak on this group of amendments, so thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to do so.

I am very surprised, and exceedingly disappointed, that the Minister seems not to have read the Belfast agreement. If he had done so, he would understand that it contains an entire page and chapter dedicated to human rights. In fact, the agreement creates the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and gives it, among other things, the statutory obligation to bring forward and advise the British Government on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland which contains rights particular to Northern Ireland. That obligation is in the Good Friday agreement or Belfast agreement—whatever one chooses to call it, it is still the same thing. So I was disappointed that he put it on the record this afternoon that he does not understand that the agreement contains a specific obligation about a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland. Whether or not we all wish to have one is a completely different matter, but the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) has made a very valid point.

I listened carefully to the Minister’s response to the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). When pushed strongly by various interventions, the Minister gave a categorical assurance that there would

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be consultation before a report was brought to this Chamber or indeed the other House. I ask him to give the same categorical assurance, and reassurance, that any report brought forward by the Secretary of State would be discussed not only in another House, but in this Chamber.

When I came to the Chamber to debate this Bill for the final time, the atmosphere was cordial. I apologised for being a little late, but the atmosphere was cordial at that stage. It grieves me to have to say that the Minister has unnecessarily churned up a lot of disagreement and annoyance, because there is now confusion about what these amendments mean. It would have been helpful to the House if better clarification had been given in his wind-up and if he had not wound up so very quickly that other hon. Members to whose points he was responding did not have an opportunity to have their views aired properly in this House. I am disappointed to be saying that on the record.

I welcome the Minister’s appointment to the Northern Ireland Office. He had not been particularly well, having had an operation on his leg, and we are delighted to see him back in this House. However, may I just urge him to spend a little time, before he next speaks in a Northern Ireland debate, reading the Belfast agreement, which is supported by thousands and thousands of people? I will give him this opportunity to correct the record by allowing him to intervene on me to show this House that he has read it in depth and that somehow the provisions on the Bill of Rights escaped his attention.

Mr Robathan: With the leave of the House—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The Minister does not require the leave of the House. He may intervene on the hon. Lady.

Mr Robathan: I understood from the Belfast agreement, which I have to confess I read some 16 years ago when it came out, that the setting up of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission dealt with the particular issue of human rights. If I am wrong, I apologise.

Lady Hermon: I would urge a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office please to refresh his memory about the Belfast agreement. It is really embarrassing for a Minister who took up his job last autumn to make an admission to the House that he has not read it since it was signed in 1998.

Moving swiftly on; it is important when considering this amendment for the Minister to have clarified the point about the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission being measured by the Secretary of State who has to report to this House and to the other House on

“the application of internationally accepted principles relating to national human rights institutions”.