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Lord Williams of Mostyn: I believe the answer is that the Scotland devolution is a first devolution whereas at the moment powers are effectively "devolved" to the Northern Ireland Department of Economic Development. The noble Lord is right that provisions on equality in this Bill are reserved by subsection (3), but that does not extend to the wider body of equality law--for instance, fair employment and equal opportunities. I agree with the noble Lord that the outcome will be different on this basis in the context of Northern Ireland, but that is because significant responsibilities for matters in this area already rest with the Northern Ireland Department of Economic Development.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: If the noble Lord will forgive me, I do not understand that answer. The Bill makes provision for collapsing the EOC for Northern Ireland, the CRE for Northern Ireland, the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland and the Disability Rights Council for Northern Ireland into the equality commission. It therefore amends the equality legislation dealing with those four bodies. That is a matter for which provision is made under the Northern Ireland Bill within the meaning of paragraph 17 of Schedule 2. In my dealings with officials from the Northern Ireland department, when I have had the pleasure of discussing it with them, I have understood that that was therefore a matter that was not to be devolved.

The Northern Ireland department does not have the power to make laws; only the Westminster Parliament has that power. As I have tried to explain, the laws so far made by primary and delegated legislation have been approved by the Westminster Parliament. If we were now to transfer to the Northern Ireland Assembly the law-making function over sex equality, race equality, religious equality and disability equality, that would be to erode national standards in a quite extraordinary way. I am sure that that cannot be intended by the Government. Nothing that I have seen in the Good Friday agreement or the Bill as it stands gives notice that that is the intention of the Government, which is why I would be grateful to have further clarification of the point.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I understand what the noble Lord has said, but I do not understand how it

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comes within the compass of Amendment No. 130. It may be that I am being unnecessarily obtuse. I do not believe that any of the propositions that the noble Lord puts forward are germane to Amendment No. 130.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My remarks arise out of the remarks of the Minister in reply to a question put by me. Referring to the Official Report, I understood him to say in response to a contribution from me that equality legislation would be a devolved subject. It was in response to that that I rose to my feet. However, it may be better if this point is clarified hereafter.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I believe that it would be beneficial if the matter could be clarified now. I had thought that as the Bill stood it was intended that equality and human rights legislation would remain a Westminster responsibility. But I understood the Minister to say just now that it would be devolved, either now or in future. Perhaps I misunderstood the Minister.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I said that I hoped the agreement made plain that all existing responsibilities of Northern Ireland departments would be devolved. Much of the current equality legislation has been the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Department of Economic Development. There will be no change. I am perfectly happy, if it is required, either to discuss matters privately with the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Cope, or deal with them in writing, in which case I shall place a copy in the Library. The answer is that in dealing with an amendment like Amendment No. 130 one should not be tempted or teased into other more philosophical general views.

Lord Desai: I shall not be tempted to enter into this debate or even the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. I believe that I already know the answer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 53 [The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission]:

Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 131:

Page 25, line 36, at end insert ("independent of Government and political parties and").

The noble Lord said: After various preliminaries the Committee comes to what I consider to be Part VI of the Bill proper. I hope that the Committee will permit me to say something by way of introduction to the amendments standing in my name. They seek to achieve a number of purposes. The first is to ensure that the human rights commission is independent, is seen to be independent and has sufficient resources to carry out effectively functions that are somewhat wider than those currently carried out by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland. I hope that the new commission's additional functions will be: first, to investigate breaches of human rights; secondly, to litigate in its own name; thirdly, to assist individuals in legal actions; and, fourthly, to scrutinise both assembly and Westminster legislation that may

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affect human rights in Northern Ireland. The commission should also be free to decide its own financial priorities.

Amendment No. 131 inserts words to clarify the meaning of "representative of the community" in line 37 on page 25 of the Bill. We know that Northern Ireland is a deeply divided society, not only between two broad traditions but also within particular communities. The divisions are religious, political and cultural. It is essential that the human rights commission be seen to be independent of government and political parties. I believe that that principle is accepted by Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, it would be difficult for the Government not to accept it in the light of paragraph 5 on page 17 of the Belfast agreement. It is also in accord with the Paris principles. I trust that the amendment will find favour with the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: We support the sentiment behind the amendment. The commission must be seen to be independent of government and sufficiently well endowed with funds to be effective. However, we are troubled by seeking to bar anyone who belonged to a political party from being a member of the commission. It is one thing to say that political parties cannot secure nominations, which is quite right. However, the fact that in one's life one has belonged to a political party is scarcely misconduct or a disqualification from holding office on an independent commission of this kind. Therefore, although we support the sentiment that lies behind the amendment we do not believe that it is right to limit in that particular way the pool from which candidates can be chosen.

Lord Kingsland: With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, whose sentiments on this issue I entirely share, I believe that a statement from the Minister that he agrees with the underlying principle to which the amendment is directed should be sufficient to guarantee the objective that he seeks.

I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Lester. I agree with him, except in one respect. I believe it to be consistent with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that up to the moment of appointment the particular person could be a member of a political party but, thereafter, should behave independently. One thinks as an example of British commissioners in the European Community, many of whom have been very active members of political parties but who, quite successfully, have been seen to become, as if by a stroke, very independent once they are installed in Brussels. I see absolutely no reason why the same cannot apply to human rights commissioners in Northern Ireland.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am happy to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that there is no difference between us. We intend that the human rights commission should be wholly independent of government and political parties and that is why the Bill is constructed in this way. It ensures that the commission is independent. The commission decides

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how it is to carry out its functions, what staff to employ and which cases to support. It is free to give any advice that it chooses to the Secretary of State and the Assembly. It will be able to investigate where it believes that human rights issues are involved. It will itself define what "human rights" means, although that definition must include convention rights. All of that is already in the Bill. There is also the provision in paragraph 11 of Schedule 8. Having put our stance as unambiguously and as clearly as possible, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hylton: I am grateful for all of the comments that have been made on the amendment. I understand the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, about party membership. However, one wonders whether that may be dealt with by resignation in the manner suggested by the Opposition Front Bench. However, my principal concern is the total independence of the commission. I note what the Minister has said. Therefore, for the time being I am prepared to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 53 agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage of this Bill begin again not before 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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