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Earl Russell: Perhaps I may elaborate on that. It has happened to me that I have put down a prayer and then found that time was not available to debate it. As regulations become more frequent, that may happen to others.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I stand to be corrected and I would not wish to challenge the noble Earl's memory--perhaps I would like to challenge the noble

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Earl's memory. I recall that on at least one occasion we ran out of time in terms of the 40-day rule. I have been in the House since 1990 and I cannot recall not being able to debate regulations by virtue of there being no time. The Government have to make time available if noble Lords are praying against regulations. We have certainly run out of time because of the operation of holiday periods and so on--that can indeed be an obstacle--but not because of what the noble Earl has suggested.

Earl Russell: It was neither a social security regulation nor under this Government. It is a rare event. I hope it may remain so. But regulations are becoming more frequent and we need the security.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Earl has not described to us a situation in which he sought to pray against regulations but he was not permitted to do so because of pressure of government business. I cannot conceive of that. We have certainly run out of time because, as I said, we have failed to come within the 40-day rule. That may be influencing, perfectly properly, the noble Earl in his concern.

Under the negative procedure, noble Lords have the right, the power and the duty to scrutinise legislation. On social security legislation, I have on occasion held up a regulation by the negative procedure. We debate such matters as we normally would. In addition, draft regulations will be published formally and the DfEE will be actively seeking comments from key opinion formers in the childcare field. That will give many interested parties an opportunity to comment. The regulations are open to public consultation. We are indeed anxious to ensure that they are right and that they do what they are required to do.

I have listened with great interest to the points made in the debate. We are delighted that the principle of the clause has been so widely welcomed. I recognise the concerns, not merely of Members opposite but of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, on this side, that the regulations should be further scrutinised. As I have said, the DfEE will publish draft regulations formally for comment. I do not wish to be unco-operative. In the light of the views expressed, and because this policy development is important--it is very good news for parents and children--I should like to reflect further on this issue to see whether I can be more helpful and perhaps return to the House on the matter on Report.

Lord Goodhart: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for agreeing to reconsider this issue. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 [Northern Ireland]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 62:


Page 8, line 42, leave out from ("credit") to end of line 43.

The noble Lord said: Carelessness or not, it is a fact of parliamentary life that over 90 per cent of Northern Ireland legislation is debated by your Lordships outside prime time. Tonight is no exception. That said, I make

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no apology to the Committee for unashamedly producing what may best be described as a stage two probing amendment. For the benefit of the Committee, no, I have not got the wrong Bill.

Clause 16(1) provides for WFTC and DPTC to be excepted matters under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and outside the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am sure we all agree that that is absolutely the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, there is a problem. Subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 16 together provide a loophole in the Government's intentions by allowing the Northern Ireland Assembly to amend or repeal the employment rights order as amended or applied by Schedule 3 to the Bill, provided that the amendment or repeal affects employment rights generally. The fact, as stated in the Explanatory Notes, that WFTC and DPTC are excepted matters could otherwise prevent that. I could describe this as a stage two probing amendment, stage one being the question that I asked the noble Baroness the Minister at Second Reading, to which she helpfully produced a reply in the form of a round robin letter to my noble friend Lord Higgins. The letter stated:


    "However, it seems unlikely that any Northern Ireland Assembly would want to deny the citizens of Northern Ireland the important employment rights which are available to their counterparts in Great Britain".

Legislation is very often about coping with the unlikely. If the Government blow a hole in their own Bill, I question it not once, but twice. Does the Minister have anything to add in regard to my worries on this issue? I beg to move.

Lord Astor of Hever: I commend my noble friend, with his perceptive eye for detail, on picking up this point. The Committee should be grateful to him. As my noble friend said, he raised this point at Second Reading. The Minister stated in her letter to my noble friend Lord Higgins that the Northern Ireland Assembly would be unlikely to repeal this order; but the inconsistency is there. I look forward to the Minister clarifying this point in more detail.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The effect of this amendment would be to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to single out for repeal or amendment the protections contained in Schedule 3 for those entitled to WFTC and DPTC. I am puzzled that the noble Lord should want that to happen. It is extremely unlikely that the Northern Ireland Assembly would ever want to deprive the people of Northern Ireland of the protections enjoyed by their counterparts in Great Britain except in the context of a wider reform of employment rights.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I explained the intention and effect of Clause 16 as it stands in the Bill. Subsection (1) provides that WFTC and DPTC will, like tax matters in general, be excepted matters under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and therefore outside the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly. So far, so good. But the Bill also contains the Schedule 3 provisions amending employment law. Employment law is not an excepted matter. It is a transferred matter and therefore within the legislative

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competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Northern Ireland legislature has always been able to have different provisions in employment law from those that apply in Great Britain, although it has chosen, with only rare exceptions, to have exactly the same provisions.

The situation is that the Tax Credits Bill not only covers WFTC and DPTC, which are excepted matters, but also amends employment law which is a transferred matter for Northern Ireland. So a compromise was necessary and this is achieved by subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 16. It is exactly the same compromise as was reached in relation to the National Minimum Wage Act on which the provisions of Schedule 3 are modelled. The compromise is reflected in subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 16. It enables the Northern Ireland Assembly to amend the Schedule 3 protections as part of a general amendment applying to similar protections in Northern Ireland law, but it does not allow the Assembly to single out those protections for special treatment. The effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to single out the protections for those entitled to tax credits for amendment or repeal in contrast to provisions in other comparable legislation such as the National Minimum Wage Act.

I apologise for this somewhat technical digression on Clause 16 but I hope I have persuaded the Committee that the clause as it stands strikes just the right balance between the rights of tax credit recipients throughout the United Kingdom and the right of the Northern Ireland Assembly to amend Northern Ireland employment law as it sees fit. I hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale: In introducing and explaining my amendment the Minister has done a better job than I did in moving it. I rather wish that he had moved it himself. However, he did not take the Committee much further forward. The matter that my noble friend and I addressed was that, however unlikely, the Northern Ireland Assembly could repeal its employment rights legislation. If it did so it would repeal its part of Schedule 3 to the Bill, which no one wants to happen.

I readily accept the comment of the Minister that I have tabled the wrong amendment to deal with the matter but we do not want the Northern Ireland Assembly--or do we?--to have the slightest chance of throwing out the baby with the bath water. That would be a mistake. For that reason I have pursued the matter. I shall read carefully what the Minister said. At this stage I am fairly sure that I shall have to return to the issue at the next stage of the Bill. However, at that stage it will no longer be a probing amendment. Even I cannot produce a stage three probing amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I hope that I can persuade the noble Lord that he does not have to come back to the matter at Report stage. I did not criticise the drafting of his amendment. I thought that what the amendment intended was quite clear. I did not seek to say that the amendment was defective, but that it ignored the compromise which had been reached in other legislation between the Northern Ireland and the

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rest of the United Kingdom on employment law and tax credits. I sought to persuade the noble Lord that when there is a general change in employment law in Northern Ireland that should be a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly because that is one of the transferred functions, but that the Assembly should not be encouraged or allowed to pick out amendments to this legislation and therefore produce an anomaly for recipients only of working families' tax credit and disabled person's tax credit.

That was the argument I sought to put. I do not expect the noble Lord to respond now, but between now and Report stage I hope that he will feel that I have made his amendment unnecessary, rather than that it was in any way defective.


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