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In my book, that is not quite the same as legislation. I think that my noble friend Lord Cope, and indeed all of us, would wish to know exactly what is the progress of the legislation in the Republic of Ireland to back up the referendum, and whether it is appropriate. It certainly seems to me to be within the context and understanding of the agreement to have such amendments as this in place.
Lord Dubs: The noble Lord's amendments make the commencement of the Bill conditional on a number of developments relating to the Republic of Ireland. Essentially they now concern amendments to Articles 2
The amendments to Articles 2 and 3 have already been approved by an enormous majority at a referendum in the Republic. The point at which this and other key aspects of the agreement come into force is settled. The provisions are somewhat involved, but it may be helpful if I summarise them.
The British-Irish agreement, which is attached to the Good Friday agreement, will come into force on an exchange of notes between the two Governments. That agreement provides that the amendments must come into force on that event. The amendments are themselves so cast as to permit this. This date will, as is made clear by the same international agreement, be the same as that of the creation of the north-south bodies; and, as the "Implementation" section of the Good Friday agreement sets out, that will also be the day that the assembly assumes its legislative and executive powers. It will be on that day also that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State makes a commencement order covering Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill, and Schedule 1.
So all those steps will happen on the same day. I hope the noble Lord will be content that there will be absolutely parallel action here. I believe that the spirit of this amendment is met, but a statutory provision appears unnecessary. In any event, this Chamber will have an opportunity to reflect whether sufficient progress has been made with the agreement before it comes into force because the devolution order made by my right honourable friend under Clause 3 must be approved here and in another place. In the light of that explanation I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Monson: I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, could possibly clarify something? Is he saying that Articles 2 and 3 can be modified overnight, as it were, without going through any legislation progress in the Republic? That is what I have inferred from what he has just read out.
Lord Dubs: The position as regards Dublin is that the Irish Government have already legislated to achieve the amendment of Articles 2 and 3. An Act was necessary to make provision for the referendum held on 22nd May. That Act made all the necessary provision, subject to the outcome of the referendum, to achieve the desired result. In other words, the legislation there took place first and it will come into force on the date agreed, subject to approval by the referendum. That approval did of course take place.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: There is a further complication. An application is now before the Supreme Court in Dublin asking it to rule that the Act dealing with the referendum is out of order because it conflicts with another part of the Irish constitution. Until that has been before the Supreme Court, we will not know what will happen.
Lord Dubs: I cannot possibly comment on that, but we need to act in good faith on the assumption that the Irish Government will fulfil its part of the agreement and we intend to fulfil ours. The Irish Government, as I said, have in fact taken the necessary action to give effect to the amendment of Articles 2 and 3.
Lord Fitt: The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will be aware--indeed, he just referred to it--that one of the most emotional aspects of the constitutional position in Northern Ireland was the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The Unionist majority, or the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland, whatever term is used, regarded that particular section of the Act as a guarantee. I think it was Section 75, which I will quote from memory:
Many people in Northern Ireland who voted against the agreement--I cannot quantify them--voted "No" specifically because of the repeal of that section of the Government of Ireland Act. So one can see how emotive it was, because the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland felt concerned about all the guarantees that they had been given by the Union with Ireland Act 1800 and the Ireland Act, 1949 (under a Labour government); and particularly by the emotive words contained in Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act. They regarded this as their bulwark against any attempt to put them out of the United Kingdom. Given that it has such emotional significance to the Unionist majority, every effort should be made by the Irish Government to do away with Articles 2 and 3. If Section 20 of the 1920 Act is repealed while Articles 2 and 3 remain in the
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am far from being an expert on the constitution or law of the Republic of Ireland, or for that matter of anywhere else. I am not a lawyer. However, as I understand it, the legislative events in Northern Ireland have made the change in the republic's constitution--the abolition of Articles 2 and 3--conditional on the other factors in the agreement attached to the Belfast agreement coming into play. It is conditional. Should all this process collapse at some point, the changes in the Irish constitution will not therefore come into force. It would be most unfortunate if through this Bill we were to set up a situation in which the changes to our constitution set out in Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill, and in particular the changes to the Government of Ireland Act, to which, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has rightly said, a great deal of importance is attached, were to come into force or to be put into law unconditionally. At the moment, that seems to be where we are heading. The republic's change is conditional; our change is unconditional, except on the passage of this Act.
The Minister relies on the fact that this provision will not come into force until an order is made by the Secretary of State. He actually said, if I heard him correctly, that such an order appointing the commencement day would need to be approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. I am not sure that is correct. It is true that Clause 3 requires a resolution of each House of Parliament for the commencement of Parts II and III of the Bill, but this provision is in Part I of the Bill. It therefore falls under Clause 83:
Of course, it still requires an order by the Secretary of State to come into force. What the Minister is asking us to accept is that the Secretary of State will not make us such an order until these other things have happened. We are relying on the word of the Secretary of State. I do not wish to cast doubt on that but we will wish to give further consideration to this point. In any case, as I said in my opening remarks, I think that, on reflection, Amendment No. 219 is too widely drawn. In those circumstances, unless the Minister wishes to comment further, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.