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Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 3:


Page 4, line 10, at end insert--
("(3) In this Act "Minister", unless the context otherwise requires, means the First Minister, the deputy First Minister or a Northern Ireland Minister.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, government Amendments Nos. 3, 5 and 26 are purely a matter of drafting and move one final time our old friend the omnibus definition of "Minister", which would now occur in its rightful place where the expression is first used in Clause 7. It will be deleted from Clause 9, and the reference in the interpretation clause--Clause 98--is corrected.

Amendment No. 4, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is an amendment to Amendment No. 3. I am grateful to him for the amendment, which I believe seeks to clarify the drafting in the definition of "Minister" in Clause 7. However, I believe that the amendment is not necessary. I believe that, as it stands, the definition is entirely clear. Amendment No. 3 amends Clause 7 to include a definition of "Minister" as meaning,


There can be no doubt who the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are; they are provided for in Clause 16. It is clear that the Bill's definition of a "Northern Ireland Minister" does not cover junior ministers.

Clause 17 provides that the determination on the number of ministerial offices should cover,


    "the number of Ministerial offices to be held by Northern Ireland Ministers".
The following clause, Clause 18, deals with how these offices are filled; namely, by the d'Hondt formula. The posts allocated by Clauses 17 and 18 are clearly the senior ministerial posts and are separate from the permissive provisions on junior Ministers in Clause 19.

I do not believe that there is any doubt about the definition of "Minister" in the Bill, and I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, will not feel it necessary to press his amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 3, Amendment No. 4:


Line 4, at end insert ("other than those determined under section 19").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, had I had the benefit previously of hearing what the Minister has just said, I probably would not have put down the amendment. The Minister described the Bill as not having had an ordinary timescale. Since he has shifted the definition, it has not even had an orderly timescale, let alone an ordinary one.

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I do not yet understand exactly what a "Northern Ireland Minister" is. I am sure that the noble Lord can tell me. What kind of an animal is he? The noble Lord made clear many times in our proceedings on the Bill that the Government will not accept any amendment which seeks to alter the terms of the Good Friday agreement. I would be the first to agree with him that, since it was confirmed in a referendum in both the North and the South, that agreement was the expressed will of the population and that any unravelling--to use a word that the Minister has used in previous stages of the Bill--should be in response to the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland and not done arbitrarily from Westminster.

The House will remember that the agreement states that executive authority is to be discharged on behalf of the Assembly by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and up to 10 Ministers with departmental responsibilities. The noble Lord described his amendment as a drafting amendment. It is in a sense a technical amendment in that it was introduced into Clause 9 as a definition which was required because the phrase "a Minister" appears in several places in the Bill and clearly ought to mean the Northern Ireland Cabinet, consisting of the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the departmental Ministers, as the noble Lord has just said. The departmental Ministers presumably have a measure of control over junior Ministers appointed under Clause 19, which the Government inserted in Committee.

The purpose of my addition to the government amendment is twofold. Its first purpose is to thank the Minister for the amendment brought forward on Report to make it clear that junior Ministers must be members of the Assembly. I regret that I was not in the Chamber at the time to hear what the Minister very generously said on that occasion.

Secondly, it is surely right to exclude junior Ministers from the body which I referred to a few moments ago as the Northern Ireland Cabinet. Clause 22(1), for example, does precisely that: functions may not be conferred legislatively on a junior Minister. It seems to me imperative that any definition clause, which the government amendment is, should make it clear as soon as practicable in the Bill what is included and what is not.

I take what the Minister said in respect of my amendment to the government amendment extremely seriously. Nonetheless others may wish to discuss the matter. I therefore beg to move the amendment.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for moving his amendment, if only because it gives us a chance briefly to discuss the role of the junior Ministers. I realise from his remarks at a previous stage of the Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, believes that there is not yet a consensus as to what functions they should exercise or as to how they should be appointed but that

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it is clear that they will not have a major role. In my opinion, it is important to know what role they will have, and this is a chance to discuss that matter. It is one thing to say that the role of junior Ministers is still unclear; it is altogether something else to say that they are outside our consideration. They will be an important part of the machinery of government in Northern Ireland.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, would agree that his Amendment No. 6 would be redundant if his Amendment No. 4 were to be passed.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, and vice versa; that is quite right.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am one of those who expressed some hesitation about the appointment of junior Ministers. The Northern Ireland Office has functioned for several decades with sometimes four, sometimes five, Ministers managing all the departments, and indeed more than will be the responsibility of the executive, at least in the initial stages, because the Northern Ireland Office has had responsibility also for security matters as well as for the departments which are to be devolved.

Nevertheless, I am not against the appointment of junior Ministers, if that is what is required in Northern Ireland. I can see that it will help in the management of the Assembly--which will be difficult enough, given the complexities--to have some junior Ministers to help the 10 departmental Ministers who will be in charge.

I take this opportunity to draw attention to the fact that, although we have been told by the Minister at frequent intervals that we have to stick to the absolute letter of the agreement, the insertion of junior Ministers into the Bill is a departure from that agreement. Of course, I understand that it departs from the agreement with the encouragement of the parties in Northern Ireland; it is a matter that was not thought of when the precise words of the Good Friday agreement were settled. But there have been a number of other matters of the same character that we have discussed in the course of the Bill. This is one place where the agreement is being "bent", which I think may be a more appropriate word than "broken".

As the Minister said, Amendment No. 3 once again moves the definition of "Minister". The noble Lord described it as moving the definition to its rightful place. As I said on an earlier occasion, I believe that its rightful place is in the definitions clause, Clause 98, which contains every other definition that applies to whole of the Bill. There are some definitions which apply to only one clause, and I think it is sensible to have those in the clause to which they apply, but it seems to me that general definitions are much better put in a single interpretation clause. When so many other definitions are contained in Clause 98, I believe that this one should be there as well. However, I made that point earlier and it did not commend itself to the Government, so I shall not press it at this stage.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am not opposed to the appointment of junior Ministers provided

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there is a general role for them. Being rather cynical, I cannot help but recall the time when Stormont was flourishing, admittedly in its last decade, when certain Prime Ministers occasionally appointed junior Ministers but did not seem to have any jobs for them. My cynicism then took root. I felt that when the Prime Minister of the day, whoever he might have been, was in some difficulty with his own party, it was perhaps a temptation to appoint junior Ministers to ensure that a vote of confidence could be carried without having to rely entirely on Back-Benchers. I hope that my suspicion was not well-founded, but, as an outsider at that time, I am afraid that that was my perception.

At present the Minister and his colleagues have the responsibility for two major departments and, if I may venture to say so, discharge their duties efficiently and well. We should therefore consider very carefully whether there is a need for duplication of responsibility which I do not believe would be in anyone's interests. I believe that the First Minister and ultimately the Secretary of State may be under pressure from those who feel that unless all of the tiddler parties are placed in posts, junior ministries and so forth, it will be difficult to keep the peace. Although that may be an unworthy thought, we may need to be prepared for such pressure being applied at a later stage.


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