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As I said in my opening remarks, this is something that could be enacted only by the Assembly and which would require cross-community agreement because of the way in which voting takes place in the Assembly. So I shall do some research and probably bring back the amendment at Third Reading, but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(1) This section shall come into force on 25th November 2006 unless a restoration order under section 2(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 2000 (c. 1) has been made before that date (in which case this section shall cease to have effect).
The noble Lord said: This is on a very different subject. I thank the Minister for inviting me to discuss this measureI believe that he had similar discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. To use the vernacular, I suppose that it is about anticipating a plan B. In tabling the amendment, we are trying to set up a democratic process that is both transparent and efficient and allows both Houses of this Parliament to operate cohesively. The current procedure is more akin to how the Colonial Office used to rule far-flung territories of the British Empire than it is to an acceptable method of government for an integral part of the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, once referred to Ulster as an internal colony. Reliance on direct rule for the foreseeable future is unfortunately a very real possibility. The deadline set for November this year would be meaningless if it were not. Of course, the preferred option is that the Stormont Assembly will take over the handling of devolved matters, but we cannot gamble the future of democracy in Northern Ireland on that hope. It is now more than eight years since the Belfast agreement. If it is not possible to form a stable Government in that time, we must stop burying our heads in the sand and come up with an acceptable way to govern Northern Ireland from Westminster.
As the debate in Committee showed, we all appreciate the flaws in the current procedure. Current scrutiny of Northern Ireland Orders in Council is cursory, especially in another place. The closest thing to democratic accountability that the procedure allows is outright rejection by Parliament, with no possibility of amendment or improvement.
We have been challenged to come up with an alternative. I venture to think that the amendment will provide the basis for a workable procedure that will provide much greater scrutiny and accountability than what has gone before. Our previous amendment was challenged because of the potential for an irreconcilable clash between this House and another place. We have therefore returned with a new and improved version. The amendment allows both Houses to vote on suggested amendments to a draft Order in Council, which the Secretary of State would then consider and incorporateor not, as he sees fit. The amendment
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I was going to wind up my remarks at this point, but I think that it is worth saying this. The Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his team are very anxious that no plan B should be considered feasible at this stage, but this proposal is not so important that it will affect parties decisions whether to accept the opportunity to devolve government and work together. I simply do not believe that having this process on the statute book, which will allow us to handle Northern Ireland legislation democratically and efficiently, will affect the decision-making process of any of the parties negotiating the future of devolution, and I strongly support a number of the Governments policies, which may not be popular in the Assembly, and their wish to improve the economic structure in Northern Ireland, to improve and modernise the process of government in Northern Ireland, and to modernise local authorities and so on. With all that on option, I simply do not believe that a little administrative order or issue such as this will change the minds of Ian Paisley, Mark Durkan, Gerry Adams and Sir Reg Empey. I beg to move.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, a small number of Members of your Lordships House who follow Northern Ireland activities will know that, for two or three years now, I have been pressing for a change in the character of the executive order of much Northern Ireland business. That is not to say that there is no case for secondary legislation, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, the take-it-or-leave-it character of orders and statutory instruments is extremely frustrating and frankly does scant justice to the Northern Ireland business that comes before Parliament.
I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of humankindalthough after today it may be beyond the wit of the Northern Ireland Office, judging by what we have heard from itto contrive to have a protocol that is susceptible to amendment. I say to the officials who continually brief Ministers that nothing can be done, and who come out with all this rigmarole about the conflict between two Houses, that those are British constitution A-level essay-type things. Frankly, they must get it into their heads that constitutional protocols are for humankind and that humankind is not for constitutional protocols. They must get their priorities right.
Much has been said in Grand Committee and by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and I shall not delay your Lordships by repeating the arguments for determining Northern Ireland business more democratically. After all, this is not new. In the debates on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, there are signs that the Government have accepted that it would be wrong to push through primary legislation that would implement Law Commission recommendations by means of statutory instrument. I believe that Ministers from the Department for Constitutional Affairs are exploring, with opposition spokespeople, the best way in which to ensure that uncontroversial proposals are
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It is right to try to find a solution that would enable uncontroversial reports to find their way through a parliamentary process. The elements of such a process that I plan to explore would be: ensuring that the reports were genuinely uncontroversial; that they commanded support in principle, therefore, from across your Lordships' House and another place; that the choice for such a procedure would be endorsed by Parliament; that a suitable process of scrutiny could be found; and that both Houses of Parliament would have the opportunity to debate them with the possibility of amendment.[Official Report, 10/6/06; col. 574.]
If it is possible for another government department to consider a new parliamentary procedure to satisfy such criteria, why is it not possible for the Northern Ireland Office to consider a similar procedure for dealing with Northern Ireland orders? This is very important.
Speaking in support of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, I would add that it is extremely unlikely that having this measure as a safety net would somehow negatively influence the parties in Northern Ireland that are discussing whether or not to reconvene the Executive. This ought to urge the parties to get on with it and to re-establish the Executive at Stormont. While it helps as a prod to those discussions, it also gives us a fail-safe if, unfortunately, 24 November comes and goes with no restoration. We cannot then suddenly start considering what needs to be done. We need at this point to prepare for that eventuality. We should hope for the best, but we need to prepare for the worst.
Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, it is refreshing to hear the words of the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Glentoran. There has to be a plan B. Of course, Her Majestys Government have already announced such a plan because when the Prime Ministers of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom met in Armagh City in May, they said that, failing the creation of an Executive on 24 November, the Dublin Government and Her Majestys Government would work more closely together in the administration of Northern Ireland. At the time, we saw what was in my opinion substantial decommissioning by one of the terrorist groups, the IRA. The other two main paramilitaries, the UVF and the UDA, were also moving towards decommissioning. But what happened? Following the announcement by the two Prime Ministers that Dublin was going to become involved in the administration of Northern Ireland should the Executive not be created on 24 November, the two loyalist paramilitary groups immediately announced that they were not proceeding with decommissioning.
Alarm bells started ringing right across Northern Ireland. It was seen as a compromise by Her Majestys Government that the Republic of Ireland would become involved in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. Noble Lords may think that this is not important, but to the people who live in Northern Ireland it is very serious indeed. It is time that notice was taken of the danger of that statement. Whether you disagree with it or not, it was a plan B. The great news is that both the
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Yesterday we had our national holiday, and there is a holiday today as well. What was significant in Northern Ireland yesterday was that the Union flag was not flown as much as usual. Across Northern Ireland, the Ulster flagthe Northern Ireland flagbegan to emerge as the main flag flown by the majority community. That is a warning to Her Majestys Government and to Parliament in London: things are beginning to move in Northern Ireland in a very dangerous way. I do not want to exaggerate the situation, but I believe that the British majority in Northern Ireland is preparing for a major conflict. It is time that the Government addressed this problem before it overtakes them.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I realise the seriousness attached to the issue in the amendment and I hope that I have made it clear that the Secretary of State, along with the whole Northern Ireland team, shares those concerns. The current Order in Council process is not adequate in the long term, but while I do not want to revisit old battles, one has to admit that it has served Northern Ireland since, I think, 1972. I cannot believe that that was not looked at during the long years of Conservative government to try to find a better system for more scrutiny in both Houses. Obviously, a solution was not found. We do not have one either at the moment though I suspect that every Member could find a way of doing it.
We take the concern seriously, but we may not be believed until we have put our solution on the table. At the moment the Government are not prepared to put a solution on the table. I am not saying that these issues are not thought about. We genuinely do not want plan B or plan C to interfere with plan A; we want the Assembly back. It is the duty of Northern Ireland politicians to get elected and to serve their people. Direct rule and inadequate scrutiny of Orders in Council have to be second best in any democratic process. If restoration of the Assembly is not possible, we would want to engage with Members of both Houses to find a way of making the system work better. We have had discussions in the past 12 months on that but we have not come up with a Northern Ireland-proof solution, specifically for itthough I accept that the amendment isthat does not spill over into the management of the business of secondary legislation across the Houses. The Secretary of State has asked and charged the Minister of State, David Hanson, to take this matter forward with the parties in due course if that situation arrives. However, we do not want to plan for failure.
For some, the present situation is very comfortabledirect rule, part-time commuting Ministers; its great for them. They love it because they do not have to grow up and take decisions themselves. They coalesce only in attacking the Government; its the one thing that unifies them. They dont have to stand up and say what they would do, how they would fix the budget. They have no responsibility whatever. We want them
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I want to put a couple of points to noble Lords. One of my colleagues in the other place, devaluing the argument somewhat, said to me, I dont understand what the Conservatives are complaining about. They are a party of government; they have been in government and aspire to be a Government, and the Lib Dems havent been there for 100 years or near enough, yet they come up with these solutions because they think its easy. Well, it isnt easy. If it was, we would have found a solution by now. In fact, we would have found a solution under the direct rule of the Conservative Administration.
We have looked at the amendment, and I have had brief discussions during the week. If it were carried, we could not, for a start, use the Grand Committee process. We could not use the Grand Committee process in this House to discuss the draft of an amendment because it is rigidly organised to allow debate only on non-controversial matters and does not allow for changes or amendments. That does not apply to every order; many orders could be considered there. However, those orders could not go to a Grand Committee. They would have to be considered on the Floor of the House. We have to find ways of dealing with thisways that have not been found in all the years since the Stormont Parliament was first set aside.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith, talked about a fail-safe. I say with due respect that, because we are serious about the date of 24 November, a fail-safe will have to be seriously and urgently considered after that date. We do not want to do so beforehand, for the reasons I have explained.
I shall briefly address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney; it is not the first time that he has made it, and I made sure that those responsible for the issues were made fully aware of his point when he first made it. The tune changed slightly. It is not envisagedit was never part of the planthat the Government of the Republic of Ireland will in any way, shape or form be involved in the administration of Northern Ireland. We have no mandate as a Government for that and do not seek it, but I and colleagues have pointed out that the cross-border issues do not go away, given all the pressures of the economy and the position of the island of Ireland within both Europe and the world economy. For example, we have had questions in the House recently about a common
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I was going to mention the subject of yesterday earlier, and have just been reminded of it; I was obviously not there. Yesterday was the most peaceful 12 July for 30 years. In fact, it was the first time in30 years that the Army was not deployed on 12 July. That is absolutely fantastic. I am still doing duty weekends in Northern Ireland, and I have seen the collection of the bonfires ready and all the paraphernalia that goes on which people want to celebrate. I know what has happened in the past as a result of that, whether it is hotheads or others just out to cause trouble. The atmosphere that we have at the moment, when 2006 is the first time in 30 years that the Army is not out on the street on the major holiday, has to be of major significance.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, made a point about flags; I cannot respond to it in detail. I look on it as maybe positive that other flags were used rather than the flags of the past, although I take the serious pointthe implication of what he saidthat the loyalist paramilitaries are keeping their arms ready to fight British soldiers. That threat is the implication of not disarming; he agrees. It is outrageous. We want them disarmed like the others. There is no excuse for the paramilitaries to keep their weapons. There is no selling out, to use the terms that people have used in the past. The Government of the Republic will not be involved in the administration and governance of Northern Ireland, but there will be north-south co-operation as there are areas of co-operation east-west, such as the health service. Citizens of the Republic can go into hospitals in Northern Ireland, particularly the north-west, where the hospitals are closer to them than those in the south. I am sure that such good areas of co-operation will continue.
That does not mean to say that the Government of the Republic will be involved in the administration of Northern Ireland. That is not a plan B. However, it is a natural consequence that if there is not a Northern Ireland Assembly, we as the UK Government will not mind the shop. We will push forward areas of reformof public administration and of other areas in Northern Irelandand, where it suits us both, particularly in economic co-operation, it makes sense to have those arrangements. However, that can in no way be construed as the Government of the south having a role as a threat over the non-Assembly. If the Assembly were up and running, I suspect that the same thing would happen, because the economic forces would drive north and south to do such things on a joint basis.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, the noble Lords peroration is part of his rhetorical repertoire to keep the momentum going, but I am afraid that I have to bring us back to a couple of his points. He said that the Conservatives did nothing about secondary legislation during their time of direct rule because, like the Labour Party, they are a party of government, but that the Liberal Democrats have not been in government for a long time. That reveals a mindset about executive government that erodes the role of the legislature and is all part and parcel of the modern cast of mind of government. I do not find it a very convincing argument.
Secondly, the noble Lord, as he does, showed very real sympathy. As I said in Grand Committee, I remember that in a previous incarnation the noble Lord was in the forefront of radical constitutional reform, and it is good to see the residues still there, although they are becoming less and less, I fear. We must look at this from the point of view of democratic accountability. The argument that it is not convenient at this stage to consider a plan B means that there is the danger that the parties in Northern Ireland will think that24 November is a moveable feast.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I remind noble Lords around the Houseand I look at those to whom it applies on my left and rightthat interventions when the Minister is speaking on Report are for points of elucidation, not for continuing and expanding on the debate.
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