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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I ask for confirmation that at some stage in the future the number of departments and therefore the allocation of functions to them can be changed, even if only by an elaborate process and the re-running of the d'Hondt formula, should that happen. Can the Minister give me that assurance? He is doing so by nodding, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 19.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

4.45 p.m.

Clause 16 [Northern Ireland Ministers]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 21 to 25:

Page 8, line 38, leave out ("such a resolution") and insert ("a resolution under section 28(2)").
Page 9, line 35, leave out ("his") and insert ("that officer's").
Page 10, line 11, leave out ("registered political party") and insert ("party registered under the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998").
Page 10, line 12, leave out ("an officer") and insert ("a member of the Assembly").
Page 10, line 15, leave out ("an officer") and insert ("a member of the Assembly").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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Clause 17 [Junior Ministers]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 10, line 17, leave out from beginning to ("determine") in line 18 and insert ("The First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly may at any time").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 26 I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 27, 28 and 228. Amendment No. 26 is a technical and drafting point. It makes it clear that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister can make a determination under this clause at any time, and regardless of whether the First Minister and Deputy First Minister were elected under Clause 14(1), that is, at the start of the Assembly's term or under Clause 14(8), that is, in mid-term.

Amendment No. 27 provides that any junior Minister appointed under this clause should be a member of the Assembly. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for raising this point at Committee stage. Amendment No. 28 removes the need for a determination under this clause to attract cross-community support.

There has been some criticism that the Bill's provisions make gridlock too easy to achieve. We do not agree with such criticisms, but we are conscious of the need to ensure Assembly procedures are not made unnecessarily complicated.

Deleting this provision would go some way towards simplifying procedures in this area. We do not believe it would result in any reduction in the level of protection enjoyed by minorities. After all, a determination under this clause needs first to be agreed by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister acting jointly. If members of the Assembly are not content, they will always have the option of triggering a cross-community vote through a petition of concern.

Amendment No. 228 is a transitional provision enabling determinations and appointments of junior Ministers made and approved by the Assembly before the appointed day to carry forward after devolution. I commend these amendments to the House.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, noble Lords see me in an unexpected position. The lot seems to have fallen to me to continue on behalf of our Benches. I wish to raise a point which refers to what my noble friend said in proposing our amendments. I am concerned that the amendments proposed by the Government seem to enable the two major parties and one other to have a rather unfair distribution of junior ministry positions in the assembly. I wonder whether the noble Lord could respond to that concern.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am in some difficulty. I believe that the noble Baroness raises an issue that is not linked directly to the amendment now before the House. She is perhaps speaking to a different amendment.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I desired to reserve my right to speak at the end. Given that these are government amendments I was afraid that if other noble Lords

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wanted to speak I would not be behaving in accordance with the Report stage procedures. That was the reason for my hesitation. The Government intend to leave this matter to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. They believe that to be fairly straightforward. We want to make the process as smooth as possible and do not believe that we are doing anything that is untoward. The provision for junior Ministers was not in the agreement but came about as a result of discussion with the parties. We are simply enabling the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to make determinations as regards junior Ministers. We leave it to them and to the Assembly to take that matter further. I do not believe that I am able to help the noble Baroness further.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendments Nos. 27 and 28:

Page 10, line 19, leave out from ("of") to ("in") in line 20 and insert ("members of the Assembly specified in the determination shall be appointed as junior Ministers").
Page 10, line 34, leave out ("passed with cross-community support").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

Clause 19 [Northern Ireland departments]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 11, line 9, at end insert--
("(3) If an Act of the Assembly which establishes a new Northern Ireland department provides for it to be in the charge of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly--
(a) the department shall not be regarded as a Northern Ireland department for the purposes of subsection (2) or (3) of section 15; and
(b) the office held by those Ministers as the head of the department shall not be regarded as a Ministerial office for the purposes of subsection (4) of that section or section 16.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 30 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 31, 33, 34, 229 and 230. This group of amendments deals with the location of prerogative and statutory power after devolution. Amendment No. 30 reflects the interest shown by some of the parties during the consultation process in creating a department of the centre under the joint control of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Such a department has obvious parallels in Whitehall. There was also a similar department in existence during previous periods of devolution in Northern Ireland. Its functions would be entirely for the Northern Ireland parties in the Assembly to determine but could include both policy co-ordination and possibly statutory functions as well. There is no explicit provision for such a department in the Belfast agreement. Therefore we have provided for such a department to be created by Act of the Assembly. Equally, however, if the parties agree on its creation during the shadow phase the transitional provision in Amendment No. 229 will enable it to continue in existence after devolution too. Amendment No. 30 also ensures that if such a department is created it will not count towards the Bill's maximum of 10 ministerial offices; nor will it count towards d'Hondt.

10 Nov 1998 : Column 661

Amendment No. 31 deals with Clause 20 which sets out how statutory functions will be dealt with after devolution. These functions form the bulk of the power at any administration's disposal. Clause 17 enables junior Ministers to be appointed in a determination approved by the Assembly. This amendment makes it clear that statutory functions may not be conferred on junior Ministers. The agreement is clear that statutory functions belong as before with the Northern Ireland departments acting under the direction and control of their Ministers. Junior Ministers will be able to assist Northern Ireland Ministers in the exercise of their functions but will not be able to exercise them independently.

Amendment No. 33 is a minor drafting point to reflect the fact that the definition of "Minister" has now been moved by Amendment No. 6 into Clause 8.

Amendment No. 34 recasts Clause 21 which deals with prerogative and other executive powers. Despite the sometimes grand language of this clause it deals with far less significant functions than those covered by its predecessor, Clause 20. The vast majority of functions to be exercised by Northern Ireland Ministers will be those conferred on them or their departments by statute.

Amendment No. 230 ensures that existing prerogative orders remain in force after the appointed day. As this amendment makes clear, the most significant prerogative power exercisable under this clause is the management of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. As for the grandly named "other executive functions", these simply mean the powers which the Government can exercise in the same way as a normal citizen, for example the power to enter into contracts. Other than clarifying the position with respect to the Northern Ireland Civil Service, the main significance of this amendment is the ability of Northern Ireland Ministers to exercise prerogative powers directly without being authorised explicitly by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. This is important for administrative reasons. Even relatively mundane departmental tasks such as publishing leaflets depends to a degree on using prerogative powers, and clearly it would be absurdly cumbersome to require explicit approval for this.

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