Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I did not gain the impression that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, in moving his amendment, was thinking in terms of dates in the calender. As I understood him, he seemed to be concerned with the principle of reciprocity. As the Good Friday "secret scrolls", as I call them, were assented to by paramilitary representatives and some political parties, but signed only by two governments, the latter undertook to introduce and support in their respective parliaments in broad terms the various elements of legislation with the declared intention that they should become Acts in their separate jurisdictions.

Her Majesty's Ministers have insisted that the Good Friday package must remain intact and must not be unpicked or unstitched. Those of us who have sought to introduce a degree of common sense into some of the rather loose and confused wording of the agreement

26 Oct 1998 : Column 1804

have, in the view of some members of the Government, been on the wrong side of the fence. Therefore, I should have thought that it was very logical that both sovereign governments would feel bound to deliver the package intact. Again, like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I emphasise that we are not talking about preconditions or dates in the calender; we are simply recognising the necessity of the principle of reciprocity and of moving roughly in the same time frame.

The latter is particularly important in regard to the amendment of the Irish constitution. We must recognise this and defer to the Irish Government. Irish governments are subject to the judgments of the Irish Supreme Court, which sometimes has the tiresome habit of striking down government legislation if it runs counter to the basic written Irish constitution. In this case, I understand that an application has already been made to the Irish Supreme Court regarding the compatibility of the Good Friday agreement with the Irish constitution, so there could be some delay or a hitch in that respect. However, that should not be used as a reason for delaying progress in the Irish Republic within its jurisdiction on all those matters to which it has set its hand. For example, it would be natural to agree that powers should not be transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly until the promised changes are well under way, without the danger that the Irish Supreme Court might obliterate them.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I, too, feel that we ought to consider the matter in the context of the reassurance of the people of Northern Ireland. I say that because, under the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference section of the Belfast agreement, reference is made to the,

    "recognition of the Irish Government's special interest in Northern Ireland and of the extent to which issues of mutual concern arise in relation to Northern Ireland".
There is also a reference to the conference addressing, in particular,

    "the areas of rights, justice, prisons and policing in Northern Ireland",
that is, until responsibility is devolved to a Northern Ireland administration, which may be some time hence.

I believe that in view of the constant recognition in the Belfast agreement of a special right of interest accorded to the Republic of Ireland in the affairs of Northern Ireland, it is necessary to redress that balance a little and reassure Northern Ireland by showing that the Republic of Ireland also has made binding commitments on which this agreements rests. I feel that it is a question of reciprocity and of reassurance and is important for that reason.

Lord Dubs: I believe that the Irish Government have made important progress in this matter but I do not think it is right while awaiting similar or comparable legislation in Dublin to delay introducing measures into Northern Ireland which will be of benefit to the people of Northern Ireland. I believe that the benefits of what we seek to do stand on their own and we ought to get on with implementing that.

26 Oct 1998 : Column 1805

I wish to indicate to the Committee what progress has been made in Dublin. The Irish employment equality Act has been passed. Equal status legislation is in preparation, to be introduced later in the year. The Irish Government will ratify the Council of Europe framework convention on national minorities by the end of the year. They will publish before the end of the year a human rights commission Bill which they hope to bring into operation early next year. The all-party commission on constitutional matters is looking at the question of further constitutional protection for human rights. It seems to me that that represents quite some progress. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, used the phrase "well under way". I should have thought that, if one applies that test to what is happening in Dublin, one can say they are well under way, even if perhaps they are not moving as rapidly as we are. My limited knowledge of legislative processes in Dublin suggests that once legislation is presented to the Parliament there, it goes through much more quickly than is the case in Westminster. Therefore perhaps they can catch us up, even if the legislation is started somewhat later.

However, there is another point which relates to the wording of the Good Friday agreement. The agreement refers to comparable steps by the Irish Government and states,

    "The measures brought forward would ensure at least an equivalent level of protection of human rights as will pertain in Northern Ireland".
It seems to me that if the Good Friday agreement has suggested that there should be equivalent protection in Dublin as will pertain in Northern Ireland, clearly we have to move first in order that they can match us; otherwise, they will not know what to equal. Therefore even by the test of the Good Friday agreement, I think it is right that the Dublin Government should see which way we are moving before they move themselves.

But, frankly, the most important argument--as I have indicated under five different headings--is the progress that is being made in Dublin. I believe that the Dublin Government are as committed to implementing all parts of the Good Friday agreement as we are. Their time-scale may not be identical but they are clearly indicating that they intend to make rapid progress. Therefore I believe that the noble Lord's two amendments are not appropriate.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am interested to hear of the important progress being made on this kind of legislation in the Republic of Ireland. I agree with the Minister that sometimes that Parliament manages to pass measures more quickly than does ours. That is probably primarily because it is much smaller.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: Will the noble Lord also concede that one of the reasons why we take a little longer is because your Lordships' House--as opposed to the other end of the building--improves legislation and scrutinises it carefully in a way that is not possible elsewhere?

Lord Cope of Berkeley: That is correct. I also believe that the small size of the Irish Parliament

26 Oct 1998 : Column 1806

contributes to that effect. The Minister set out the progress which the Republic has made. That encourages me to think that, if my amendments were to be included in the Bill, that would not long delay the coming into force of the measure. If the Irish Parliament is making progress, there will be no delay at all in the provisions coming into effect.

As regards their need to see our legislation before they draft theirs, it is amply available to them. The only difficulty is that our legislation is constantly on the move. I have lost count of the amendments which are being passed. I believe there are more than 260 government amendments to the Bill, including whole clauses. Some of the amendments which the Government tabled have already been withdrawn before we have reached them. There is a little block of amendments (Amendments Nos. 194 to 199) which have been withdrawn by the Government.

I agree that it is difficult to know how our legislation will turn out at this point, or even how the Government intend it to turn out. Nevertheless, the Minister has explained why he does not wish to support these two amendments. Regardless of the legislation, it is important that, in the matter of human rights and equality, the two jurisdictions move hand in hand, stride by stride, with one another. It is important for the reassurance of people on both sides of the border in the island of Ireland.

However, this is not a time to push the amendments, and therefore when we reach them I shall not seek to press them.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 194 to 199 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 199A:

Page 38, line 44, at end insert--
("( ) In so far as any of the property mentioned in subsection (1) was not immediately before the commencement of this section vested in the Department it shall vest in the Department at that commencement; and subsections (1) and (2) shall have effect notwithstanding anything in any deed or other instrument relating to the property to which those subsections apply.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 75, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 76 agreed to.

Clause 77 [Savings for existing laws]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 200:

Page 39, line 12, leave out from ("the") to end of line 13 and insert ("operation in or in relation to Northern Ireland of any law in force on the appointed day or passed or made before that day,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page