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Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 248:

Page 44, line 38, at end insert--
(" . Regulation of activities in outer space.").

The noble Lord said: This is the first of several amendments which I have tabled in order to move certain issues from the reserved category to the excepted category. Earlier today, the Minister said that the fact that a matter appears in the reserved category does not necessarily mean that it will never be the responsibility of the Assembly and executive in Northern Ireland. However, I believe that that is how it will be read by some people.

I believe that there are some activities which it is right to say now will never, so far as we can see, be transferred to the devolved administration. Obviously, primary legislation could change that in the future. However, we could say that such matters will remain within the province of the Westminster Government and administration. One such matter is the regulation of activities in outer space.

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I believe that a Northern Ireland space programme is unlikely, although I am second to none in my admiration of the activities of Shorts in the missile and space field. However, so far as I know, it has no ambitions to launch its own space programme based in Northern Ireland. I believe that in those circumstances the regulation of activities in outer space should be an excepted matter and not a reserved matter. That is what Amendment No. 248 proposes and I beg to move.

Lord Fitt: I am intrigued by the wording of the amendment and the notion that a reserved matter is the regulation of activities in outer space. Anyone who knows anything about Northern Ireland will know that during the past 30 years there have been a lot of spacemen running around the place. Many of the actions could have been carried out only by spacemen and a lot of the reporting of the actions in the media and the press could have come only from outer space.

Is the wording meant to be taken seriously? It is highly unlikely that there will ever be a space programme in Northern Ireland. Before tabling the amendment, did the noble Lords discuss the possibility of an outer space programme in the Northern Ireland Assembly? Did any of the political parties in Northern Ireland make any representations to the noble Lord to table the amendment? I conclude in the way that I began; there are a lot of spacemen running around in Northern Ireland.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: No, I received no representations on this matter. I observed the fact that in Schedule 3 the Government propose that the regulation of activities in outer space shall be a reserved matter potentially available for transfer to Northern Ireland. In believing that it was better that it should be an excepted matter, I did not consult representatives of the Assembly.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I support the amendments, particularly those dealing with postal services and wireless telegraphy and the provision of programme services within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990. It is important that we should not put ideas into the heads of entrepreneurs who might put under pressure their Assembly representatives. Such pressure would be unfair because perhaps for many years to come there will be doubt about whether the issue should be under the jurisdiction of the Assembly. It would be preferable to make clear now that such issues will not be overseen by the Assembly. I believe that most Members will accept that and welcome it.

Lord Dubs: I did not entirely understand the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. I believe that we are discussing the regulation of activities in outer space.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am sorry, I understood that we were discussing the entire list.

Lord Dubs: I understand that we are talking to Amendments Nos. 248 and 282. Perhaps I may try to be

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helpful yet again to the noble Lord, Lord Cope. Amendments Nos. 248 and 282 address the matter of the regulation of activities in outer space and whether it should be in the reserved or accepted field. I am in full agreement with the noble Lord that it should be a matter for Westminster alone. The regulation of activities in outer space was not a matter with which the 1973 Act concerned itself and we do not therefore have difficulties with historical precedent. Nor do we have any existing body of Northern Ireland law on the matter.

I cannot foresee any circumstances in which we would envisage the Assembly having to involve itself in these matters. However, there is a technical problem with the point in Schedule 2 at which the noble Lord's Amendment No. 248 would insert the provision. If the noble Lord will kindly withdraw the amendment I shall undertake to bring forward a government amendment on Report to move that matter to the accepted field.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am gratified by that reply and hope that it sets a precedent for matters that I am about to raise. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 249:

Page 44, line 38, at end insert--
(" . Postal services, including the issue, transmission and payment of money and postal orders issued by the Post Office; designs for postage stamps.").

The noble Lord said: This is one of the matters for which I hope the previous amendment has proved a precedent. The provision of postal services, including the designs for postal stamps and other matters dealt with by the Post Office, are intended by the Government to be among the reserved matters. It is undesirable that postal services should be broken up by devolution and given separately to Northern Ireland. My amendments propose that such responsibilities are kept at Westminster.

There was discussion recently about the possible privatisation of the Post Office. I am not sure what stage the proposal has reached because we have heard only rumour and hints, making it difficult to follow the matter. However, if the Post Office, or some part of it, were to be privatised it would be extremely difficult if by then the Assembly were responsible for its Northern Ireland aspect. I believe that it would be better left in the excepted category so that the future organisation of the Post Office is the same throughout the United Kingdom and its universal nature is retained.

One of the issues referred to in the Government phraseology, which I have transferred into my amendment, is the design of postage stamps. We all know that there have been and are Northern Ireland postage stamps showing different designs from those used elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The same is true for other parts of the country. That has happened under a unified Post Office with no difficulty and I see no reason why it should not continue. However, to give the

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responsibility at some future date to the Assembly for the design of postage stamps seems to me a recipe for the most difficult debates one could possibly imagine.

To begin with, under international agreements, the words "United Kingdom" or any other indication of nationality do not appear on our stamps. Instead, by ancient right, the Queen's head alone appears. That would be the first point of contention in relation to the design of postage stamps for Northern Ireland if it were the responsibility of the Assembly. In my opinion, it is much better to leave those matters undisturbed and to place the postal services, including all those matters referred to, in the excepted category so that it is clear that they remain the responsibility of the central government of the United Kingdom. I beg to move.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I find what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, says persuasive but I have some concern about moving matters to the excepted category so that they can never--never is a dangerous word in politics--in any period of contemplation be something on which the Assembly could legislate.

For example, in the context of a reformed or semi-privatised Post Office, the issue of sub-post offices--extremely important to rural life in Northern Ireland--may arise. It may be something on which the Assembly--and the Secretary of State may agree--would wish to make its wishes known. Therefore, although the noble Lord is absolutely right to raise the contentious issue of the design of postage stamps as a matter which is unlikely to produce harmony if left to the Assembly, I am reluctant to see a whole category moved into permanent exceptions, as it were.

Lord Dubs: Amendments Nos. 249 and 255 would have the effect of moving postal services from the reserved to the excepted field. In introducing the amendments to these schedules, I set out for the Committee the thinking behind our general approach.

As I said, our primary concern is to give effect to the agreement set out against the background of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. Our starting point in the schedules has been the divisions between excepted and reserved matters in the 1973 Act. Those are historical precedents which we cannot ignore.

As I also mentioned earlier, where a decision has been needed about whether a matter should be reserved or excepted, a number of factors have led us to prefer the reserved to the excepted field. There may be times, possibly in circumstances yet unforeseen, when it would be useful for the Assembly to legislate on some of those matters or at least at the fringes and subject to the consent of the Secretary of State. By keeping those matters in the reserved field, we retain that flexibility. Otherwise, if we put them in the excepted category, the possibility of flexibility is lost.

These amendments would move the Post Office and postal services into the excepted field. For the reasons that I have outlined, it is our considered view that it would be preferable to keep those matters in the reserved field, as in the 1973 Act. On the basis of that, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

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The government amendment updates the definition, in paragraph 6 of Schedule 3, of postal services and the Post Office. It brings the definition into line with the Scotland Bill.

As regards the particular point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about postage stamps, it is not the Government's intention that the Assembly should legislate about postage stamps. But we consider it appropriate to reserve the whole matter of postal services for wider reasons; for example, carrier services.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: It is interesting that the Government are falling back on the Scotland Bill as a precedent at this stage, having rejected it earlier. It is interesting also that in talking about designs for postage stamps, the Minister says very firmly that the Assembly will not be allowed to design postage stamps but, nevertheless, he does not want that in the excepted category. He is leaving it in the reserved category so that the Assembly can have ambitions to do so because that is the point of the reserved category.

However, I do not seem able to make progress with the Minister. I have registered the issue as one of some importance and I have obtained at least the statement that some of those matters will never be transferred but will remain reserved. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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