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Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Cope, in not wishing to delete the words,


I agree with the reasons he stated. Further, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are cross-community people. Therefore if a matter appears to them to be cross-community, that must surely be the correct interpretation.

Lord Newby: My Lords, we, too, have some sympathy with the arguments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. The amendments beg the question of where responsibility will lie for ensuring that the agreement is being fairly interpreted. For example, is there any role for the Secretary of State if he or she believes that the agreement has not been correctly interpreted? Is there any role for the Assembly in expressing a view if it also believes that the agreement has not been correctly interpreted? It seems to us that rather than making life easier, this series of amendments could lead to confusion which would have the opposite effect to that which the Government appear to seek.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I shall discuss the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about Sark. I understand that Sark would not be represented in its own right at the British-Irish Council but would be represented by the Government of Guernsey. I am afraid that the point that the noble Lord sought to make about the hereditary principle has not succeeded. I wish to clarify that point.

It is important that representation of Northern Ireland Ministers is exactly that specified in the agreement, as the noble Lord has said. That is the purpose of the amendment. It seeks to reflect the agreement as closely as possible. Whereas I appreciate that the noble Lord and other noble Lords who have spoken have some other concerns, the Government's position is clearly that we want to do exactly what is specified in the agreement. I believe that the amendments do just that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 51:


Page 26, line 16, after ("such") insert ("cross-community").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 52:


Page 26, line 16, leave out ("appears to them to be") and insert ("is").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 53 not moved.]

5.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 54:


Page 26, line 18, after ("Minister") insert ("or junior Minister").

10 Nov 1998 : Column 676

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these amendments, together with Amendment No. 34 considered earlier, provide that junior Ministers may participate in the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council when nominated to do so by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. This would be an entirely appropriate function for junior Ministers to be able to discharge were they to be appointed under the provisions of this Bill.

Amendment No. 60 makes clear that junior Ministers who have been so nominated may be authorised to enter into agreements or arrangements on behalf of a Minister who is unable to take part. Consequential to this, Amendment No. 65 provides that the Assembly may legislate in respect of agreements or arrangements entered into by junior Ministers who have been so authorised.

Amendment No. 73 provides that junior Ministers are eligible to attend meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, again if required to do so by the First and Deputy First Minister. As a consequence of this amendment, Amendment No. 75 deletes the now redundant definition of "attendance" in subsection (3). This responds to a point made by noble Lords during our previous consideration of the Bill.

Amendment No. 135 takes out a reference to "person" in Schedule 2 and again makes clear that only Ministers and junior Ministers may take part in the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on supporting Amendment No. 75 in this group which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and has now been supported by the Minister. To enable the House to understand what is happening, I should explain that it is proposed to delete the wonderful subsection that now states:


    "In this section 'attendance' by Ministers and junior Ministers means attendance by one or more Ministers".
That is a good piece of jargon to take out of the Bill.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, in case anyone should imagine that there is some form of collusion between the Minister and myself, I think it is possibly a question of great minds thinking alike. Naturally I must support the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 55:


Page 26, line 21, at beginning insert ("Without prejudice to the operation of section 22,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 55 is a purely drafting amendment which moves existing provision from subsection (8) to subsection (3). I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 56:


Page 26, line 21, after ("Minister") insert ("or junior Minister").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

10 Nov 1998 : Column 677

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 57:


Page 26, line 22, leave out ("or the Executive Committee").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there would appear to be a degree of commonality between Amendments Nos. 57 and 59. I shall say a few words about the former. The amendment proposes the deletion of the words "Executive Committee" from Clause 50(3). That would mean the Minister could act only in the North-South Ministerial Council in accordance with the decisions of the Assembly. That would appear to be in line with British standards of democracy. The measure is also designed to tighten up the lines of accountability and to ensure that the North-South Ministerial Council is under democratic (ministerial) control. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the thinking behind Amendment No. 57. However, it would appear to me that the deletion of "Executive Committee" from Clause 50(3) is inconsistent with the agreement. The Ministerial Pledge of Office clearly requires all Ministers to,


    "act in accordance with all decisions of the Executive Committee and Assembly".
The first sentence of paragraph 6 of strand 2 requires Ministers to be in a position to take decisions in the North-South Ministerial Council through,


    "the arrangements in place for co-ordination of executive functions within each jurisdiction".
That, by definition, includes the Executive Committee.

It must therefore be a requirement of the agreement that Ministers operating in the Council shall act in accordance with decisions of both the Executive Committee and the Assembly and I must resist the amendment.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 58:


Page 26, line 24, leave out ("Northern Ireland").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, during the consideration of Clause 50 in Committee, a number of noble Lords suggested that subsection (4) should be amended to ensure that the First and Deputy First Minister were able to authorise other Ministers to enter into agreements or arrangements on their behalf. At that stage, I agreed to consider the point further.

Noble Lords will therefore be pleased that, after consideration, I am able to respond to their concern. The purpose of subsection (4) is to enable business in the councils to be conducted when a Minister is unable to attend. It is of course possible that, for whatever reason, the First and Deputy First Minister might be unable to attend a particular meeting and it is important that they too should be able to authorise a colleague to conduct business on their behalf. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 59 not moved.]

10 Nov 1998 : Column 678

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 60 and 61:


Page 26, line 24, leave out ("another Minister") and insert ("a Minister or junior Minister").
Page 26, line 35, after ("Minister") insert ("or junior Minister").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 62:


Page 26, line 35, leave out ("by reason of a nomination under this section").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, unfortunately the grouping seems to guarantee that we come back to this topic on at least three occasions. The amendment is designed to authorise the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to substitute for another Minister who is unable or unwilling to attend a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council. The clause, if amended as I intend, would result in a situation where a Northern Ireland Minister who has been nominated under subsection (1)(a) or (b) may in writing authorise another Minister, the First Minister or Deputy First Minister, to enter into agreement or arrangements in respect of matters for which he is responsible.

The curious thing is that it would allow another Minister, other than the First Minister or Deputy First Minister to act as a substitute for the Minister of a department who was either unable or unwilling to attend a meeting. Let me give an analogy to the Palace of Westminster. Let us suppose that the Foreign Secretary refuses to attend a European Summit meeting. He reports his refusal to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister delegates the Minister of Health to go to Brussels to represent Her Majesty's Government. When the Health Minister returns, what does he then do? Does he report to the Prime Minister? He cannot very well report to the Foreign Secretary if he has refused to attend. The alternative would be that the Minister who had been parachuted into Brussels--namely the Health Minister--would go to the Foreign Office, ask to see the Permanent Secretary, lay on his desk a document and say, "These are the matters to which I have agreed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I require you to implement them." That may be a facetious argument, but things are inclined to be a little facetious as far as the working of the Northern Ireland Assembly is concerned, at least to my rather jaundiced, long-range eye.

I apologise that the drafting of the amendments has put the Minister into the position of having to deal with roughly the same subject on three occasions. I beg to move.


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