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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I suppose that the nearest thing to a cabinet in the Bill is an executive committee set up under Clause 20. That does not include junior Ministers but only the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and Northern Ireland Ministers; that is, those whose positions are established under Clauses 17 and 18. As to the role of junior Ministers, we shall have a greater opportunity to discuss that matter in the context of Amendment No. 6 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I do not wish to cut across the debate that we shall have then, except to say that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made reference to "tiddler parties". I do not endorse such a pejorative expression. The smaller parties will not necessarily have an opportunity to have ministerial posts. We have left it mainly to the Assembly, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to decide what is appropriate in the way of junior Ministers. That is why the powers to establish junior Ministers are simply enabling. I say no more than that; otherwise, I shall pre-empt the debate on the next amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this mini debate that went rather wider than I expected in the context of this particular amendment. When the Minister sought to pre-empt my moving the amendment I understood him to say that the addition of,

was unnecessary because it was quite clear that in his amendment deputy Ministers were not included. Therefore, I am delighted to hear that I have got it right. The noble Lord indicates by a nod that that is so. In that case, I am delighted that my amendment is not needed. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Amendment No. 4, as an amendment to Amendment No. 5, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment No. 3 agreed to.

8 p.m.

Clause 9 [Scrutiny by Ministers]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 4, line 23, leave out subsection (3).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 22 [Statutory functions]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 12, line 24, leave out ("(but not a junior Minister)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 6 has a very simple objective. It is so simple that it is almost self-explanatory. The House has just agreed in Amendment No. 3 that in this Bill "Ministers" as defined does not include "junior Ministers". Therefore, one cannot have it both ways. If "Ministers" does not include "junior Ministers" there is no need to exclude junior Ministers from this particular clause. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I regret that I cannot welcome Amendment No. 6 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. This amendment seeks to enable junior Ministers to have statutory functions conferred upon them.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, that is not so at all. The House has just agreed that the definition of "Minister" does not include "junior Minister". Therefore, functions are not being conferred on a junior Minister but only on what may be called a senior Minister. All that the amendment seeks to do, if I have correctly understood my noble friend, is to improve the drafting considerably.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am advised that there may have been a misunderstanding about the purpose of the amendment, in that it does not include junior Ministers. I am still not sure that I have completely understood the purpose of the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, moved his amendment very briefly. I am not sure what he seeks to achieve. However, I believe that the purpose of this amendment, in the circumstances, is unnecessary.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, it is quite clear that the only purpose of the amendment is to remove from the Bill redundant words. I suggest that the Government are well advised to accept this helpful drafting amendment. From what the Minister said, he may perhaps have misunderstood the purpose of the amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, there has been some confusion in this matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said, my intention is to tidy up the Bill and remove what I regard as extraneous words. I was reinforced in my belief by the response of the Minister when dealing with Amendment No. 3. However, given the way in which parliamentary proceedings work we do not have to make a decision on this matter tonight. The noble

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Lord and his advisers can reflect upon it and it can come back from another place. A great raft of amendments will come back. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Cope can give me the exact number, but I believe that about 450 amendments have to be agreed to and discussed in another place. The Government will have ample opportunity to return to this matter if I am right in my assertion that these words are superfluous.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may seek to clarify matters. I regret the misunderstanding that has arisen on this particular amendment. As I understand it, the noble Lord wants to delete a term that he believes to be redundant. That would be so if the clause referred to a Northern Ireland Minister. However, the particular wording refers to "a Minister". Therefore, the words in brackets are appropriate to clarify what is meant.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I am becoming even more confused. Presumably, the Minister was listening to the words that he uttered in dealing with Amendment No. 3 which state:

    "In this Act 'Minister', unless the context otherwise requires"--
in this particular case it does not--

    "means the First Minister, the deputy First Minister or a Northern Ireland Minister".
A Minister is a Minister is a Minister as defined in Clause 7 as we have just amended it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I am not sure that he was correct in suggesting that this matter could be resolved in the course of this Bill going to the other place and returning to this House. If this amendment is not made there will be no opportunity for the other place, or this House at a later stage, to make it. If the amendment is made now and it turns out that it should not have been made, the other place can correct it and this House can agree to that correction. Therefore, I believe that we should make the amendment now and if necessary the other place can correct it. It is a very simple drafting amendment that brings this particular part of Clause 22 into line with the amendment agreed a few moments ago.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I do not know whether the Minister wants to intervene before I finally sit down. I am very conscious of the fact that this is Third Reading.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I regret the misunderstanding that has occurred. The intention is that the Assembly should not be able to confer statutory functions on junior Ministers. If Clause 22 were silent on the matter--for example, as it is in relation to local authorities--the Assembly could confer functions. That is the point at issue. I still urge the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, this places me in a rather difficult position. If, with the excision of the words,

    "but not a junior Minister",

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the clause allows legislative functions to be conferred on junior Ministers, we have made a glaring error in agreeing Amendment No. 3. However, I believe that there will be an opportunity for the other place to correct this matter despite what my noble friend Lord Cope said simply because the Bill has been amended so much. I am sure that if Ministers and their advisers decide that I am right they will find a way of squeezing it in somewhere. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 60 [Financial control, accounts and audit]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 31, line 25, after ("made,") insert ("an Act of the Assembly or other").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are amendments of real substance and represent a further strengthening of the protection for proper audit in the Bill. They reflect a helpful dialogue which has been going on between my colleague, Paul Murphy, and the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in another place.

Amendment No. 8 to Clause 60 ensures that anyone other than the Comptroller and Auditor General who exercises auditing functions has the same freedom as the comptroller from direction or control by the devolved authorities.

Amendment No. 9 to Clause 65 is intended to underpin the independence of the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland by ensuring that he cannot be removed unless two-thirds of the total number of Members of the Assembly endorse that proposition.

Amendment No. 7 to Clause 60 is a matter of drafting and there is a related repeal in Amendment No. 39 for incorporation into Schedule 15.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, as the Minister said, Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are a useful strengthening of the Comptroller and Auditor General's position. I am not sure why Amendment No. 7 is necessary. It adds the words,

    "an Act of the Assembly or other"
in front of the words, "Northern Ireland legislation". However, the words "Northern Ireland legislation" are specifically defined in Clause 98 as including acts of the Assembly. The amendment therefore seems to me redundant. The words to be inserted are simply unnecessary, given the definition in Clause 98 at page 55 of the Bill.

While the Minister seeks to confirm what I say, perhaps I may say a word or two about the other two amendments. As the Minister said, these amendments reinforce the position of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I think that is desirable. In particular, the two-thirds rule, applied under Amendment No. 9, means not merely two-thirds of those voting but two-thirds of the whole membership of the Assembly. That is a slightly novel formulation in UK law; namely, that two-thirds of a legislative assembly should have to vote on an issue. However, I do not think that it is necessarily

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undesirable on those grounds alone and I support the reinforcement of the position of the Comptroller and Auditor General. My main reason for intervening, however, is to raise the point on Amendment No. 7.

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