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Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is a matter for us all. In fact that comment demonstrates the contempt with which the Labour Party treats Parliament. This is a matter for this House. Back Bench and Front Bench should unite to force the Government to come here to

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explain themselves. They have had 24 hours to prepare. Waiting until tomorrow is not good enough. It is a disgrace.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has been generous in expressing agreement with my remarks on Monday. I hope that he will not be too upset if I say that he is quite over the top today. It seems to me that no contempt for Parliament is involved here. The reasons he gives for his remarks do not stand scrutiny. There is a tradition of making a Statement on the first possible day. Instead of having this minor wrangle, I wish that we were expressing our deepest sympathy with the families and friends of those who have lost their lives, and our best wishes to those who have been injured and who must make a recovery. That would have been a good course to have followed today. If the Minister had made a Statement, he could have said very little except that an investigation was under way.

To suggest that the offer of resignation by the chairman of a company in the private sector itself constituted a justification for a change of course does not stand up to scrutiny in any way.

I believe that we should have a Statement tomorrow. The Government should take the matter carefully and calmly. I am disturbed by the suggestion that the Deputy Prime Minister is returning from an official visit to China because of this crash. He cannot undo the event; it has occurred. He cannot conduct the investigation; that is for experts. He should not be making instant policy decisions. So I see no need for that. We want calm consideration of the matter in the hope that the public will in due course be reassured about safety and that the railways will have the future which we all wish them to have.

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I am replying because my noble friend the Leader of the House is at Donald Dewar's funeral. Perhaps it is worth remembering why we are here on this occasion. Four people were killed yesterday and a large number of people injured. I have a good deal of personal regard, as he knows, for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He normally has a sure and felicitous touch. However, I do not think that what he said today coincided with what we know of him from the past. It is not right or appropriate to say about my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston that he could not be bothered to get out of bed to come to the House. He has always been honourable and open in this House and taken his duties with enormous seriousness, as we all know.

Perhaps I may put the context. It always strikes me as being a particular cruelty of fate that people who are going to work or about their own engagements on a train come to their death. It would have been possible to make a Statement, as the noble Lord said, which contained virtually nothing; I wonder where contempt for the House would there have lain. This is a matter

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of serious, grave and national importance. My noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston intends to make a Statement to the House tomorrow. By that time he hopes that he will have had a first preliminary report from the inspectorate. That is showing a decent regard for Parliament--indeed, for the only House which is presently sitting. I repeat: in my mind it is better to show a decent regard for those who have lost life or have been injured, to commend those who have discharged their public duty nobly and honourably and to wait until tomorrow so that my noble friend Lord Macdonald will be able to help the House in a way that he has a duty to do.

I do not propose to say anything further because I do not think that it is decent or appropriate to do so.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, as one who has been offered and refused the resignation of a chief executive of a large nationalised industry, in very similar circumstances, perhaps I may say how much I agree with the remarks which have been made.

None of us has any idea at this stage what caused the incident and no one can do anything to assist. The sole effect of discussion of an incident of this type at this stage is increased distress and a blurring of the issues at stake. It is a problem which understandably occurs with the press and which is only exacerbated by early knee-jerk Statements.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I have had the privilege of sitting on the Government Front Bench in circumstances very similar to those which now pertain as regards the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston.

I recall a similar incident, an air accident--an area for which I then had responsibility--involving a helicopter crash in the North Sea. The House of Commons was not sitting. The late Lord Soames was on the telephone to me at eleven o'clock in the morning saying, "You must make a Statement this afternoon". I prepared the Statement and made it.

I believe that the views of the Opposition and Back-Bench Members of the House should have been taken into account. Whatever the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, thought he was or was not able to say, I, too, think that he should have been at the Dispatch Box to make a Statement.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, as one who had responsibility in this area in opposition, perhaps I may say that I agree 100 per cent with the statement made by my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn. I think it much better that we pause and consider what has happened at the earliest opportunity--tomorrow. I am sad that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has taken the view that he has. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that this is not a party matter. It is a matter where all of us are entitled to exercise our point of view but, frankly, it is no use doing so one day after the tragedy has occurred. Does the noble Lord agree?

Noble Lords: Next business!

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Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

3.18 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to whom the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 and 2,

Schedules 1 and 2,

Clauses 3 to 14,

Schedule 3,

Clauses 15 to 64,

Schedule 4,

Clauses 65 to 70,

Schedule 5,

Clauses 71 to 74,

Schedules 6 to 8,

Clauses 75 to 77.--(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill

3.19 p.m.

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

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 65 [Special Provision for Northern Ireland parties]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 177:

    Page 41, line 36, leave out ("each") and insert ("a").

The noble Lord said: This clause has already been debated. I understand that other noble Lords wish to dissent. I beg to move.

Viscount Astor: On an earlier occasion, we debated a group of amendments of which this amendment formed part. However, subsequent to the government answers and other government amendments added to the Bill, I have two points to make. I gave the Minister notice that I wanted to speak on the amendment.

My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish made clear his opposition to the large group of amendments that the Committee considered last week relating to various Northern Ireland issues. It is regrettable that such a large grouping did not lead to a detailed debate on the application of Part IV to Northern Ireland, with which these amendments are

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concerned . It is an issue of the utmost importance and I hope that your Lordships will allow me to make some limited points on the amendments.

I apologise for the absence of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. He is today attending the funeral of the late First Minister of Scotland, Mr Donald Dewar. I hope that my noble friend will be joining us later today or the next time that we consider the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 177A and 178 allow for a blanket exemption of Northern Ireland from Part IV. Perhaps the Minister will consider the words of the Minister in another place, Mr Tipping, who said earlier this year:

    "I hope that one day soon the situation will be normalised and the provisions in the Bill will apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. However, that has not yet been achieved".--[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee G; 1/2/00; col. 190.]

Last week, the Minister here said:

    "Political developments in Northern Ireland have undoubtedly taken an important step forward since the Neill committee report was published, but there remain special factors which cannot be lightly dismissed".--[Official Report, 10/10/00; col. 246.]

It is important for Ministers to spell out what they mean by the situation in Northern Ireland being "normalised" so that the exemptions allowed by the amendments can be ended. Who will define normalisation? Will it be the Assembly, the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister? How will normalisation be achieved? What will be regarded as normal? What are the special factors that the Minister referred to last week? We do not know the criteria that will be used to make the judgment. I am not asking the Minister to pre-judge the issue. I simply want him to explain the criteria on which it will be judged. We need to know how the terms are defined before we deal with the issues again on Report.

There is one other issue that I should like the Minister to address. In so far as the amendments allow for a complete exemption from Part IV, will they allow the foreign funding not only of political parties in Northern Ireland, but of referendum campaigns? In that case, will foreign funding be allowed in the rest of the United Kingdom as well?

It seems possible for a political party to be set up in Northern Ireland, to receive foreign funding from America, Europe or even Australia and to use that funding not to contest elections in Great Britain, because that is ring-fenced under the Bill, but to campaign in a referendum in Great Britain. What is to stop that? I cannot find any means of preventing it. I am sure that the Government do not intend that to be permissible. Perhaps the Minister will consider whether there is a loophole. There might be a provision elsewhere in the Bill to prevent it, but if not he should consider the issue.

Those two short points are important. I should be grateful for a response from the Minister.

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