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Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 13, line 3, leave out ("Arrangements") and insert ("Concordats").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have moved briskly to the question of agreements between the Northern Ireland departments and departments of the

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United Kingdom Government. Clause 26 provides that they shall be called arrangements. In other legislation before us they are called concordats. Indeed, at Committee stage the Minister referred to them as concordats. It seems a better name in that it is a little more specific. It will have an agreed meaning of a specific arrangement of this kind. That is desirable.

It is desirable that these arrangements should be, relatively speaking, formal so that everyone understands where the responsibilities lie when arrangements are made. Those of us who have served in another place, and many noble Lords who have served in local government, for example, know of the confusion that exists in many people's minds about which part of the great machine within central or local government is responsible for specific responsibilities. People are frequently confused as to which it is. The greater the clarity, the better. It is not only a question of where the buck stops but also of people being able to refer their queries to the right place, to take up their grievances in the right place, and so on. The arrangements, as they are described in the Bill, should be on a formal basis when the function of one department is to be carried out by someone else.

For the same reason--it is the point of Amendment No. 40--such agreements, such concordats, should be legally binding. Although the ultimate responsibility will still rest with the higher authority making the concordat, nevertheless the higher authority has a right to expect that if the lower authority (the one receiving the concordat) does not do its job some legal sanction will apply to that lower authority. Otherwise the higher authority will have to breathe down the lower authority's neck all the time to ensure that the right actions are carried out in full.

I therefore believe that it would be desirable that the concordats should be known as such. However, the more important point is that they should be legally binding while still leaving the ultimate responsibility where it is placed by the appropriate statute. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, the amendments relate to Clause 26 which deals with agency arrangements. Those arrangements would allow for Northern Ireland departments to carry out functions on behalf of other United Kingdom departments or public bodies and vice versa. They are concerned purely with operational matters. These are not the same as the concordats which will be drawn up and agreed between the Northern Ireland Executive and United Kingdom government departments. Concordats are not intended to be legally binding contracts or treaties. They will be non-statutory agreements to promote effective communications and joint working between the two Administrations. As your Lordships will appreciate, there is a significant difference between agency arrangements under Clause 26 and the concordats, which will be agreed in due course. I therefore cannot agree to these amendments and would ask the noble Lord not to press them.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the Minister's answer affects my opinion on whether the arrangements

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should be called concordats, but not my opinion as to whether they should be legally binding. I hope that the agency arrangements under Clause 26 will be legally binding on the departments which enter into them, otherwise there will be difficulty about who is responsible when things do not go entirely according to plan. We all know that in government departments things do not always go according to plan and it is sometimes difficult to pin down the blame. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 40 not moved.]

Clause 27 [Statutory committees]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 41:

Page 14, line 19, at end insert--
("( ) Standing orders shall provide that a chairman or deputy chairman shall cease to hold office if--
(a) he resigns by notice in writing to the Presiding Officer;
(b) he ceases to be a member of the Assembly; or
(c) he is dismissed by the nominating officer who nominated him (or that officer's successor) and the Presiding Officer is notified of his dismissal.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 41 is a technical amendment which brings the treatment of committee chairmen into line with other officeholders in the Bill. The clauses dealing with the appointment of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Northern Ireland Ministers and the Presiding Officer set out the circumstances in which they will cease to hold office. This amendment does the same and mirrors the provisions for Northern Ireland Ministers in Clause 16(9).

Amendment No. 231 enables committees of the Assembly established and committee chairs appointed during the shadow phase to carry forward after devolution. I commend the amendments to the House. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 31 [Constituencies and numbers of members]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 16, line 43, after ("29") insert ("or 30").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment. Clause 31 provides for any Order in Council changing a parliamentary constituency in Northern Ireland to have effect from the next election of the Assembly. This could be either a normal election under Clause 29 or an extraordinary election under Clause 30, which was inserted as a new clause in Committee. This amendment adds a reference to elections under Clause 30. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 38 [Commission]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 20, line 5, leave out ("statutory functions conferred on the Commission;") and insert ("functions conferred on the Commission by virtue of any enactment;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this, too, is a technical amendment. It ensures that the functions of the Assembly Commission includes those conferred on it by the Northern Ireland Act when enacted, as well as any conferred on it by Act or resolution of the Assembly. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 20, line 20, after ("Assembly") insert ("(other than proceedings on the Crown side of the Queen's Bench Division)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the principal function of the Assembly commission is to provide or ensure that the Assembly is provided with the property, staff and services required for its purposes. Thus, proceedings by or against the commission would relate to matters such as employment law. The amendments make it clear that they would exclude matters of public law. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

5.15 p.m.

Clause 40 [Petitions of concern]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 45:

Page 21, line 3, at end insert--
("( ) Standing orders shall provide that the matter to which a petition under this section relates may be referred, in accordance with paragraphs 11 and 13 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement, to the committee established under section 11(3)(a).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords this relatively minor change to the Bill's provisions of petitions of concern reflects points made by the parties during the consultation exercise and is designed to bring the clause more clearly into line with the provisions of the agreement.

As the Bill stands, a petition of concern leads automatically to a vote on the issue which then requires cross-community support to succeed. During consultation with the parties, it was made clear to us that the petition ought to be linked to the special committee procedure set out in paragraph 11 of strand 1. Paragraph 13 of strand 1 sets out the procedure linking a petition of concern to the special procedure in paragraph 11. This agreement provides for the special committee to be able to examine and report on whether a measure or proposal for legislation is in conformity with the equality requirements, including the ECHR Bill of Rights. The amendment requires the Assembly, through its standing orders, to set out procedures by which petitions of concern may be referred to such a committee for scrutiny. It therefore brings the Bill more fully into line with the agreement and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 42 [Powers to call for witnesses and documents]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 46:

Page 23, line 2, leave out (", including this Act").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment. It changes the definition of "statutory functions" to,

    "functions conferred by virtue of any enactment",
removing the reference to "this Act".

Removing the reference to "this Act" was felt to be necessary since having references to it in some places and not in others could cast doubt on whether references to enactments elsewhere in the Bill included references to this Act, which they should. I beg to move.

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