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Lord Whitty: My Lords, these issues are complex. Nevertheless, it is important to be able to measure one form of deprivation against another, as long as one understands the context of the components of that index. My noble friend is right. However, the people to whom he refers as a "bunch of academics from Oxford", I refer to as "eminent independent advisers". The basis of that index is out for consultation. I have no doubt that my noble friend's colleagues in London will have comments on it, as will those from rural areas.

Financial Services and Markets Bill

3.38 p.m.

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Eriskay Causeway) Order Confirmation Bill

Read a third time, and passed.

10 Feb 2000 : Column 776

Northern Ireland Bill

3.39 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Suspension of devolved government in Northern Ireland]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 1:


    Page 1, line 12, after ("statutory") insert ("or standing").

The noble Lord said: Clause 1(4) opens up a range of committees and the amendment seeks to protect all persons who might be drawn, perhaps inadvertently, into membership of ad hoc committees or who are inveigled or elected to serve thereon. The subsection could expose Ministers, chairmen and deputy chairmen who might want to serve on the Northern Ireland Select Committee or Grand Committee.

There is a degree of overlap and vagueness in the Bill. I refer, in particular to Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly who currently serve on such committees by virtue of being elected to the other place. There should be no room for doubt in the interests of those who, perhaps through ignorance, might breach the law as enforced by the Bill.

On the wider question of Northern Ireland Committees, I suggest, as a contribution to avoiding or filling the dreaded vacuum in Northern Ireland, that it might be a good idea to encourage the Northern Ireland Grand Committee to meet more frequently--as required by law. It has not been fulfilling its potential for two or three years, although that is no reflection on any party. That committee can have up to six meetings per year but, disappointingly, it has not met since last summer. Meetings of the Grand Committee would be a way of making people in Northern Ireland of all parties and creeds feel that they were not being neglected or forgotten.

Membership of the Grand Committee is open to all elected representatives who have taken their seats, so there are good grounds for assuming that they will continue to work together, as they did when they met more frequently. That would in itself do much to reassure the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that we can rely on the Minister to use his considerable influence to remove what appears to be a blockage in the usual channels and thereafter to ensure that meetings of the Grand Committee are restored to their authorised frequency.

The Northern Ireland Select Committee was established in the face of a good deal of opposition, mainly from the Northern Ireland Office. Its remit was faulty and still is. Like the Grand Committee, the

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Select Committee was encouraged to range over all Stormont departments, thereby duplicating the scrutiny and other excellent work done by United Kingdom government departments. Trade and industry is one example. The first excursion by members of the Northern Ireland Select Committee was to Korea to consider how exports to that country from the United Kingdom might be improved. That issue was being tackled from another angle by the Department of Trade and Industry, resulting in unnecessary duplication of effort.

It was my responsibility to spearhead the campaign for the Select Committee. My proposed terms of reference, which I tabled at 10 every morning that the other place was sitting, were:


    "There shall be a Northern Ireland Select Committee to scrutinise the decisions of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, for which there is no counterpart in Great Britain".

I lost that battle. Consequently, successive Secretaries of State were deprived of the opportunity to meet Members of your Lordships' House and benefit from advice and assistance on matters that could not be touched upon by any other committee--such as law, policing, security and constitutional issues. I am not suggesting that we should invite the other place to amend meaningless terms of reference that it has operated for several years, but noble Lords might consider the formation of a Select Committee of their own on the terms originally proposed. I am convinced that such a committee would provide the Secretary of State with the means of valuable contact with your Lordships now that the House of Lords is rapidly acquiring a legitimacy that allegedly did not exist until a few months ago. I beg to move.

Lord Smith of Clifton: I join the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in his amendment--partly because it is identical to one introduced by one of my honourable friends in another place. The purpose of this simple amendment is consistency, so that all who hold office in the Assembly are treated equally.

The Bill allows some committee chairs to perform their functions without their committees. Clause 1(3) states that no committee of the Assembly,


    "is to hold a meeting or conduct any business",

during a suspension. However, subsection (4) states that only the chair or deputy chair of statutory committees will not continue to hold office. In effect, the chair and deputy chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee, Procedures Committee, Committee of the Centre, Audit Committee and Public Accounts Committee can continue to carry out their functions without their committees being able to meet to discuss the issues and without chairs and deputy chairs being able to take account of the opinions of their committee members, which seems illogical and indefensible.

In the other place, the Minister focused on the role of the chair within the committee, but there is nothing to hinder the chair continuing his work with the clerk to his committee and external bodies. The chair of the Audit Committee, for example, routinely meets with

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the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Failure to suspend the chairs of standing committees means that it will not possible for certain elements of the Assembly to continue working through suspension. Is that what the Government intend?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The amendment would ensure that the chairman and deputy chairman of all committees of the Assembly would cease to hold office during suspension, not just the chairman and deputy chairman of statutory committees. I hope to offer both noble Lords reassurance that will go some way to allaying their concerns.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith, pointed out that Clause 1(3) makes it clear that no committees of the Assembly can meet or conduct any business during suspension. That includes statutory and all other committees. All Assembly committees, statutory or standing, will cease to function for the duration of the suspension. Subsection (4) deals only with individuals who hold statutory office under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, just as Clause 3 deals with their reappointment in line with the provisions of that Act.

The Bill does not address the various non-statutory appointments such as the chairmen of standing committees. Nevertheless, they too will cease to exercise any of their functions during a suspension because their committees cannot meet and conduct any business. While emphasising that the suspension provisions in Clause 1 will impact on all committees of the Assembly, I express the hope, on the basis of what I have said, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

I should like to deal with the specific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead. As he knows, this Bill deals only with the committees of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It does not deal with either the committees of this Chamber or those of another place. In particular, in does not deal with the Northern Irish Select Committee or the Grand Committee.

It is a matter for both Houses to decide the terms and frequency of the meetings of these committees. As the noble Lord implicitly acknowledges, the frequency of meetings is not affected by this legislation. With respect, I do not think that this is the appropriate place to try to deal with the points he has made. It is a matter for each individual place to decide how best to proceed. In the light of my explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am grateful for the clarification provided by the noble and learned Lord in regard to the points made, especially those made by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, who may wish to say something in response. In regard to the second point, I freely acknowledge that I was pushing my luck a little and going beyond the terms of reference. However, there is a relationship here. If we can illustrate that the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom is using its mechanisms to the full to look after the needs, wishes and desires of the people of Northern Ireland, it will be much easier to find a

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solution and an end to the vacuum. That is why I ventured to go a little wider than I should have done. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord but renew my appeal that he should use his very considerable influence to ensure that something is done to restore those committees to their former operational efficiency. In view of what has been said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


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