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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. I note all of their remarks, including those that will be pursued in another

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context. I refer to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton. I would make just one point to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. The Bill is a serious contribution to the decentralisation of power. It cannot be taken on its own. It is an initial stage. But, together with the cumulative process to which this Government are committed, we will truly be devolving power, both democratically and administratively, to the English regions, to the greater benefit of all our regions and all parts of our regions. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Northern Ireland Bill

3.55 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.--(Lord Dubs.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 95 [Short title and commencement]:

[Amendment No. 133 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Excepted matters]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 134:

Page 53, line 40, after ("legislative") insert ("and other").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment is designed to widen the scope of paragraph 3(b) of the schedule to include the exercise of powers other than and in addition to legislative powers. In the course of our debates on Report yesterday, there was a recurrent desire to ensure that rigidity does not occur at any stage subsequent to the passage of the Bill. The very fact that thus far the Government have found it necessary to introduce more than 450 of their own amendments to the Bill--I have heard that we can expect more amendments at Third Reading--points to the necessity for providing the Government with sufficient flexibility to cope with the emergence of unexpected flaws, as emerge they will, without recourse to further legislation. As this paragraph deals with a wide range of international relations, I trust that the Government will eagerly accept the degree of flexibility which my amendment offers. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, before I respond to the noble Lord's specific amendment, it may be helpful if I say a few words, as I did in Committee, about our general approach to Schedules 2 and 3 as they are fundamental to what we are seeking to achieve in the Bill. We have been concerned in these schedules, as elsewhere in the Bill, to give effect to the Belfast agreement. Paragraph 27 of the agreement provides that the Assembly will have authority to legislate in reserved areas with the approval of the Secretary of State and subject to parliamentary control. We did not therefore have the option of removing the reserved category or fundamentally changing its nature.

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We have accordingly taken as our starting point the divisions between excepted and reserved matters set out in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973.

As your Lordships will recall, we have had to bring some of the descriptions in the schedules up to date for one reason or another. Putting matters in Schedule 2--the excepted field--is a big step, a once and for all move. Clause 4 of the Bill allows for movement between the reserved and the transferred fields by Order in Council. On the other hand, excepted matters cannot be moved out of that category other than by way of a Westminster Bill. The Assembly will not be able to legislate on any excepted matter except where it is ancillary to other provisions. This differs from the Scotland Bill where there is no such inflexibility. It therefore follows that we should only put matters in the excepted category where, in all the circumstances, it would be wrong for the Assembly to have any power at all to legislate on any aspect of them, even a peripheral one, and where we see no likelihood of the situation ever changing. We have therefore sought to retain flexibility by preferring the reserved category. The result is the list of matters in Schedule 3. That list includes a number of matters which the agreement envisages as being suitable for transfer such as criminal justice and policing. Some of these matters may be transferred sooner rather than later, but only when the time is right and there is a general agreement required by the Bill.

There are other matters in Schedule 3 which we do not envisage transferring. However, it may at times be useful for the Assembly to be able to legislate on some of these matters; in some cases on the core of the subject matter and in others only at the margins. Such legislation would only be possible with the consent of the Secretary of State and will be subject to parliamentary control under Clause 13.

Before moving on, I should also like to underline a point that I have made to your Lordships before about the differences between our approach and that of the Scotland Bill. The key to this lies in the fact that the Scots have started with a clean sheet whereas we are building on a legal foundation of arrangements for devolution in Northern Ireland going back many years which were affected in some degree by the agreement. There are some areas where our approaches converge and others where comparison may be deceptive. I hope that your Lordships find that introduction helpful because it underlies a great deal of the Government's approach to the amendments we shall be discussing.

I now turn to the specific details of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. I am grateful to him for his explanation. The purpose of Schedule 2 paragraph 3(b) is to ensure that the Northern Ireland Assembly has the necessary legislative competence it needs in order to give effect to agreements or arrangements made in the North-South Ministerial Council or the British-Irish Council under Clause 51 or in relation to the activities of North-South implementation bodies. Without such provision the Assembly will be unable to pass the necessary legislation as it would fall into the category of international relations and be an excepted matter.

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However, the Assembly does not require any other powers in order to give effect to these arrangements. The Bill, as drafted, ensures that the Assembly has all the powers it needs. Any other powers in respect of international relations remain excepted. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to pursue his amendment.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I would have felt happier had the noble Lord emphasised rather more the two words in the amendment "and other". I believe it was Anthony Eden who once said that the important thing is to remember that foreign affairs are foreign. We do not make the decisions; namely, those of us at Westminster who have the good fortune, if that is the correct term, to serve in the Assembly. The fact is that decisions are made elsewhere and, with our ever-increasing involvement in the European Union, we shall find many decisions are taken over the head of Her Majesty's Government and even more in the form of the three devolved structures now in the making. I shall not predict what is going to happen to London itself beyond saying that it would be rather sad if it was to leave the United Kngdom!

By rejecting this amendment the Government may have cause to regret the lost opportunity to widen their ability to deal with situations arising from decisions taken, for example, by various strands of the European Union. The rejection of the amendment creates a certain danger in relying on the text of the present Bill. It will not be a perfect instrument even when it receives Royal Assent. I believe that it is a fear shared by many noble Lords. But considering that we shall continue to amend the Bill right up to the end of Third Reading on the Government's initiative, we have been wondering for some time whether there is ever going to be a finish to the Bill, which was the hope of us all when we started out. However, as the Minister has again sought refuge behind his self-made immunity certificate, I have no choice but to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 135:

Page 53, line 42, leave out ("person") and insert ("Minister or junior Minister").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 136 not moved.]

Lord Molyneaux moved Amendment No. 137:

Page 54, line 2, leave out ("paragraph 11 of").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Schedule 2 paragraph 3(b) (ii) appears unduly restrictive, particularly when one considers that Strand Two is very wide-ranging, which has always been the intention. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, accompanied me to Dublin when we each led our respective teams. We were criticised for so doing. Neither of us regrets our action. When we faced the Irish Government across the table we were disappointed that we did not have more reciprocity, if I may use that word. If that had been the case, the path that we now tread might have been much easier. We did not make much progress. Other road blocks were set

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down in the way, as I suppose was inevitable. Can the Minister explain why it is felt necessary to curtail the activities of those who will be participating in the Strand Two discussions, particularly given the possibility of what I might call "bolt on" additions to Strand Two? They may become inevitable and desirable simply because of very valuable developments. As goodwill and co-operation become more acceptable and desirable as a result of the Strand Two discussions at various levels, I sincerely believe that there is need for real flexibility. I beg to move.

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