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Lord Cope of Berkeley moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 111, Amendment No. 111A:

Line 10, at end insert--
("(1A) Such nominations shall be in accordance with paragraph 30 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and shall ensure that no one Minister represents the Assembly.").

The noble Lord said: I wish to make several points on this group of amendments; a portmanteau, as it were. The first concerns the suggested title for what is described as Part IVA, which covers all the different bodies; that is, NSMC, BIC, BIIC etc. It seems to me rather infelicitous. I attempted through the Public Bill

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Office to propose an amendment suggesting that instead the title "External Relationships", a phrase from the Belfast agreement, might cover these matters in a more felicitous manner. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to propose amendments to the cross headings of Bills and therefore my amendment does not appear on the Marshalled List. I must downgrade it to a suggestion because it seems that such matters are entirely within the hands of the Minister and his colleagues rather than the Committee as a whole.

As regards the principle lying behind the drafting of the new clause, which appears as Amendment No. 111, I am content with the general approach and the way it has been developed, as described by the Minister. However, I wish to raise a number of points. First, he was kind enough to suggest that were I not to press Amendment No. 111A he would look into it. It attempts to ensure that, in accordance with paragraph 30 of strand one of the agreement, the involvement of Northern Ireland Ministers in the council should be on a cross-party basis. It seems to me that that requires that normally two Ministers should be there. Admittedly, my amendment suggests that there should always be two Ministers there, but perhaps that lays down a little too much detail. The spirit of trying to make sure that those going to the Assembly represent all the Executive--and, for that matter, all the Assembly--as far as possible, on a cross-community basis, is the right one. In due course I shall not press that amendment in the hope that the Minister will come back on it.

Amendment No. 111B leaves out "Northern Ireland" in line 17 of the new clause. As the Minister said, the subsection enables a Minister to authorise another Minister to enter into agreements. I was slightly surprised by the Minister's response. He said that the wording had been chosen in order to stop the First Minister and Deputy First Minister being able to authorise another Minister to enter into an agreement. The departmental Ministers may do so, but if both they, the First Minister and his deputy are to do so, the wording, as refined by my amendment, would cover it because the Minister is defined elsewhere in the Bill as meaning the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the departmental Ministers. I imagine that that is what we wish to happen. I am pleased that my relatively modest suggestion in Amendment No. 112A has been accepted by the Minister and I need say no more about that.

Amendment No. 112B suggests including the word "body" instead of the word "authority". As the Minister rightly said, it seems that most of the institutions referred to here are cross-border bodies. In that context, "body" might be the more appropriate word. Again, I shall not press it in the light of what the Minister said. The other small matter concerns what paragraph of strand 2 of the Belfast Agreement should be referred to in subsection (5) dealing with the implementation bodies. I thought that it was just a slip in the drafting of the Bill. But the Minister seemed to suggest that paragraph 12 had been carefully chosen and preferred to paragraph 11, which states that,

    "the implementation bodies will have a clear operational remit. They will implement on an all-island and cross-border basis".

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That is the basis of them. Paragraph 12 suggests how the bodies might develop. My amendment should have included both paragraphs 11 and 12 because of the bodies that may develop as a result of further progress over the years. I shall not press my amendment as it stands; nevertheless paragraph 12 has some validity in that context.

A more important question, addressed in my Amendment No. 112C and also the amendment of the Liberal Democrat Party, is the authority that Northern Ireland Ministers will have when attending these meetings. My amendment suggests that no agreement or arrangement shall come into operation without the approval of the Assembly whereas the Minister is suggesting that the approval of the Assembly will only be required to set up a cross-border body. I believe that the best solution probably lies somewhere between us. I wish to reflect more on that before we finalise it. But it should be clear that when Ministers attend meetings of this character they are doing so as representatives not only of the Northern Ireland Executive, but also as representatives of the Northern Ireland Assembly. What they say in the councils cannot of itself bind the Assembly, which should be able to make its own decisions as to whether to support a particular measure or not.

It is not an entirely analogous situation. As a Minister I used to go to European meetings of various councils when I was with different departments. It was noticeable that British Ministers at such European councils frequently entered parliamentary reserves on the decisions that we were making in order to permit debates to take place in this House and also in the other place to get approval for what we were agreeing to. Obviously, we did not agree to anything about which we did not believe we could persuade Parliament. Nevertheless, we entered a parliamentary reserve and, very frequently, so did the Danes. Virtually no country apart from those two ever entered a parliamentary reserve, but simply took their parliaments for granted. It seemed to me that it was the strength of the Danish and British systems that to some degree the parliaments remained in control of what Ministers did when they attended the various councils and reached conclusions, sometimes as a result of very hard bargaining in the middle of the night.

Although that situation is not entirely comparable, it is related to the situation we are discussing here. It should be clear that, in attending these councils, Ministers are answerable to the Assembly for what they do and have to obtain approval for any significant departures from the policy which the Assembly has already agreed. Quite how we express that in the Bill is more tricky. It may be that my drafting or that of the noble Lord representing the Liberal Democrats is not entirely satisfactory, but something like it needs to be stated, if only by the Minister. After all, in these days of Pepper v. Hart we hope that that can have some influence on the matter even if it is not written into the Bill. I beg to move.

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3.30 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I very much welcome the fact that the Government have made a new start in Amendments Nos. 111 to 114. We had got ourselves into a tangle with the drafting and it is right to go for a fresh and clarificatory start here on such matters as the Executive Committee being given dates, times, venues and agendas of north-south meetings, and the fact that Ministers who attend such meetings are to make reports to the Executive and Assembly, which is extremely important, and also that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have a duty to ensure reasonable attendance at the north-south council meetings. I also welcome that, in terms of new implementation bodies, the Government have tried to deal with the point raised by my Amendment No. 180 and Amendment No. 112C of the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

I wish to speak briefly about my amendment. But first I ask the Minister how frequently the Government envisage these strand 2 and 3 meetings taking place. He may reply to the effect that it is simply up to the Assembly and the Irish Government. But it is legitimate for this Committee to hear the Government's view. As regards the question of reasonable attendance, perhaps I may clarify this point. If the two DUP Ministers do not attend, would that still constitute reasonable attendance for the members of the Executive?

As regards the other amendments in this grouping, which is a somewhat motley one, I was delighted to hear that the Government will accept Amendment No. 111A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, with which the Liberal Democrat Benches agree.

On Monday the Government told us that as regards Amendment No. 111B they were intending to clarify titles generally. We are in a mess of nomenclature. We have Northern Ireland Ministers; First and Deputy First Ministers; departmental Ministers and junior Ministers. The promise that the Government have made to sort out titles throughout the Bill is welcome. I shall be grateful if the noble Lord believes it will help this amendment as well.

As to Amendment No. 112B, the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, is entirely right to try to use the word "body" rather than "authority", for a reason that neither he nor the Minister have so far mentioned. It is crucial, in building this new relationship between the new assembly and the Republic of Ireland, that we do not revert to the language of earlier discussions in Anglo-Irish relations 10 years ago and try to impute an authority that does not exist for this cross-border body. For that reason the term "body", which implies an evolving co-operative relationship, rather than "authority" is highly desirable.

I speak now, briefly, to my own Amendment No. 180, which is similar in intent to Amendment No. 112C in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I concede that mine is a probing amendment. It seeks clarification on how new north-south agreements will be endorsed, or otherwise, by the Assembly. At one extreme we have the kind of amendment which has been proposed by the UKUP in the Assembly, which I would interpret as a wrecking amendment, which provides that every single

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issue that arises has to be approved by the Assembly. Presumably that is designed by the UKUP to be a brake on the whole process. It is desirable that some positive momentum is built up in the north-south body. To that extent it is desirable that the executive Ministers have some latitude, particularly since they are now committed to reporting back to the Assembly. I hope that it will be common ground with the Conservative Benches that some latitude for the executive Ministers on that body is desirable. It is equally desirable that they should report.

I am not clear, beyond the new implementation bodies, whether the Government envisage any matters upon which the approval of the Assembly would have to be sought for agreements entered into by executive Ministers in that cross-border body. In order to determine my own attitude and my amendment, I would be grateful if the Minister could deal with that point when he responds.

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