Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 48:


Page 26, line 12, after ("Ministers") insert ("and junior Ministers (including where appropriate alternative nominations)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 48 makes explicit an obligation which was previously implied; namely, the responsibility of the First and Deputy First Minister where appropriate to make alternative nominations of Ministers to attend the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council. The circumstances in which such nominations would be appropriate are likely to be when one of the original nominations is, for whatever reason, unable to attend or participate fully in one of the meetings.

Thus, if a Minister is unable to attend, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister may make an alternative nomination from among the other Ministers. To enable the delegation to enter into any agreements or arrangements within the area of responsibility of the absent Minister, subsection (4) of this clause allows a Minister to authorise another Minister to act on his or her behalf.

However, it should be emphasised that the only way in which any Minister can participate in meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council or the British-Irish Council is by means of a nomination from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Amendment No. 48 gives effect to the requirement in paragraph 2 of

10 Nov 1998 : Column 672

strand 2 that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister should be able to make alternative arrangements if a Minister is unable to participate normally. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 49:


Page 26, line 14, after ("such") insert ("cross-community").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment, together with Amendments Nos. 51 and 72, ensures that participation by representatives of the Northern Ireland Administration in the various bodies to be set up under strands 2 and 3 of the agreement shall be such as to ensure cross-community involvement.

Noble Lords will have often heard it said that the agreement is a package which must be accepted and implemented as a package. So, when dealing with strands 2 and 3, it remains important to take account of provisions elsewhere in the agreement.

A case in point is paragraph 30 of strand 1 of the agreement which requires that arrangements to represent the Assembly in its dealings with other institutions should be such as to ensure cross-community involvement. These amendments incorporate that requirement in an explicit reference on the face of the Bill. This cross-community involvement will be an important safeguard in ensuring that the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland are taken into account when conducting business in the various institutions.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has put down Amendment No. 53 which seeks to incorporate a specific reference to paragraph 30 of strand 1. However, in view of the amendments that I have just outlined, I believe that the objective has been achieved and that his amendment is unnecessary. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I tabled Amendment No. 53 with two purposes in mind. One of them is the purpose which has subsequently been taken up by the Minister's amendments, Amendments Nos. 49 and so on; namely, to ensure that the nominations made of people to represent the Assembly in other bodies, especially at summit level, should be on a cross-community basis. I believe that that part has already been covered by the Minister's amendments which make that clear on the face of the Bill.

However, there is another purpose to Amendment No. 53. It is intended to ensure that the cross-community status of the representation is, so to speak, backed up or--if it is not too strong a word--"guaranteed" by the fact that more than one Minister will actually represent the Assembly when attending these other institutions. That will obviously provide the opportunity for Ministers of different parties, in the cross-community basis that Northern Ireland has and will have, to go together. There are two things to recommend that approach. The first is that the suspicions which sometimes arise in Northern Ireland as to what someone of a different persuasion may have said during the course of a meeting can be dispelled as a result of

10 Nov 1998 : Column 673

someone in the opposite party being there at the same time. That is one way to help disperse such suspicions which frequently arise in the Northern Ireland context.

Moreover, when the two Ministers of different persuasions go to represent the Assembly and they are both saying the same thing and backing up each other, they will be in an even more powerful position as regards the others with whom they are dealing. Therefore, it would strengthen the Assembly's representation to have two Ministers of opposite parties--or sometimes a Minister and a junior Minister--taking part in negotiations. In the special circumstances which obtain in Northern Ireland, it seems to me that that would be one way to ensure the cross-community representation which both the Minister and I are seeking to nail down in different ways in this block of amendments.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, there is just one point made by the noble Lord to which I feel there is a particular need to reply. By having cross-community representation we will, by definition, have two Ministers attending bodies such as the North-South Ministerial Council or the British-Irish Council. Moreover, because it will be cross-community representation, it means that they will be Ministers of different political persuasions. Therefore, I believe that we are really achieving the precise aims that the noble Lord seeks to achieve with his amendment. There is nothing between us in terms of what we are seeking to do. I believe that the government amendments do precisely what the noble Lord wishes to see done.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 50:


Page 26, line 14, leave out ("appears to them to be") and insert ("is").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 50, 52 and 74 represent an important clarification of the nature of the attendance and participation by Northern Ireland Ministers in the North-South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. It is already clear that the only way in which Ministers may participate in meetings of the councils is by means of a nomination from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The amendments make it absolutely clear that the resulting ministerial representation at each institution is to be that which is required by the Belfast agreement. For example, strand 2 states that,


    "Northern Ireland [is] to be represented by the First Minister, deputy First Minister and any relevant Ministers".
Amendment No. 50 makes clear that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister shall make such nominations as to ensure that this representation is achieved.

Amendments Nos. 52 and 74 ensure a similar outcome in relation to the British-Irish Council and British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference respectively. I have no doubt that noble Lords will appreciate the importance of confidence in the context of the implementation of the Belfast agreement. Confidence is required in respect of these new institutions as much as

10 Nov 1998 : Column 674

every other aspect of the agreement. It is vital for everyone to have confidence that the operation of the institutions, including the representation of the Northern Ireland Administration at their meetings, is clearly in accordance with the agreement. These amendments will help to underpin such confidence.

Before leaving the amendment, I should like to clarify a further point in relation to the British-Irish Council and the ability of members to participate in it. This Bill relates only to the participation of representatives of the Northern Ireland Administration in the council. We are clear that, under the Government of Wales Act and the Scotland Bill, the Welsh and Scottish administrations will be able to participate fully in the British-Irish Council as set out in paragraphs 5 and 6 of the first part of strand 3 as regards discussion, consultation and co-operation on matters of mutual interest. They will also be able to enter into bilateral or multilateral arrangements, including with the Republic of Ireland, to enable consultation, co-operation and joint decision taking on matters of mutual interest as set out in paragraph 10 of that section. If further provisions are requested, perhaps to facilitate joint implementation mechanisms, the Government will look favourably at any request and ensure that the desired co-operation is achieved. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, it seems to me that the wording in the Bill with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister acting jointly to make nominations to ensure such cross-community participation,


    "as appears to them to be required",
leaves the decisions entirely to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. If we take out the words,


    "as appears to them to be",
and insert "is", it is not just a question of an arrangement appearing to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to be a satisfactory cross-community arrangement. It has to be legal; that is to say, decisions made by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are open to judicial review or something of that kind. Therefore I prefer the wording,


    "as appears to them to be".
I trust the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to make the decisions and I do not want them to get involved in arguments as to whether, legally, they have properly represented the cross-community currents in making those decisions. I am not altogether happy about the wording being tightened up in the way that is suggested.

The Minister also referred to the British-Irish Council and the involvement of Scotland and Wales. He should make clear that, as under the agreement, that includes representatives of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, including, as I pointed out at an earlier stage, the hereditary Seigneur of Sark. That is a welcome

10 Nov 1998 : Column 675

recognition by the Government of the hereditary principle in adding an hereditary representative to the British-Irish Council.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page