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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I am sure that the noble Lord will join me in agreeing that since 1997 and, I believe, before that, we have never had an obdurate Government spokesman for Northern Ireland.
Lord Smith of Clifton: I am trying to anticipate the future. One never knows. I have accepted that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has been extremely amendable in the way he has presented government business to us.
We will press this on Report because the time is opportune. We are not likely to have another opportunity. I urge the Minister not just to accept and understand that this is unacceptable, but to come forward and say what the Government have in mind if we have to resort to what is unfortunately called plan B. I share the Minister's exasperation that Northern Ireland political parties are still at an impasse and we have had such an extended period of suspension. It is
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no pleasure to remind your Lordships that when the Secretary of State, Mr Mandelson, brought about the suspension, I predicted that it would be for a very long time. Actually, it is slightly longer than I thought, even in my darkest moments. I believe that the ideal solution is for devolution to be restored and that nothing would be better than for politicians in Northern Ireland to start governing Northern Ireland again. But we have to take this opportunity to adopt a belt-and-braces approach in case that does not happen. I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Minister in hoping that the political parties in Northern Ireland will come to an agreement by 24 November and urging them to do so.
Because of the procedures of this Committee, I am compelled to withdraw my amendment, but I think we will return to it. I hope that the Minister will come forward with some amendments that will allow us a positive way forward if the worst comes to the worst and there is a continuation of direct rule. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 28B. The amendments provide for a maximum level of penalties which only such offences created in Clause 23 would attack. Amendments Nos. 28A and 28B will meet the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's concerns about an unqualified delegation of power to create offences under Clause 23. I beg to move.
"( ) Where an Order in Council under this section creates an offence, it must make provision as to the mode of trial and punishment of offenders; but there is no power for the Order
(a) to impose a maximum term of imprisonment, on summary conviction, of more than three months;
(b) to impose a maximum fine, on summary conviction, of more than the statutory maximum; or
(c) to impose a maximum term of imprisonment, on conviction on indictment, of more than two years."
The noble Lord said: I shall also speak to Amendments No. 30 and 31, which stand in my name. These are gentle, non-controversial amendments. I do
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not propose to speak for too long because I rehearsed the arguments for fair trade on Second Reading. Back home they got a fair airing in some of the Belfast papers.
We in Northern Ireland believe that we are a generous and outward-looking people. Unfortunately, our history in the past number of decades has made us inward and siege-like. It is important to refocus people where possible to ask them to consider others in other parts of the world. That is why I am very keen to include the words,
Sustainable development for local authorities is obviously a good thing and I support it. The amendment is not saying that it is compulsory for local authorities and public bodies to implement fair trade; it is not saying that it is necessary for them to implement sustainable development, but they have to do their best. It has to be put on the agenda and I have great pleasure in proposing the amendment. I beg to move.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: I indicated on Second Reading that I would give some support to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, in his amendment. There are probably greater priorities for Northern Ireland departments, such as how to get the people of Northern Ireland to live together. But having said that, I support the feeling that the noble Lord brings to the amendment, and I add my support.
Lord Hylton: I recall being told many years ago that a little village called Fivemiletown was extremely polarised and totally divided on politics. There was one thing, however, which brought all the inhabitants together, which was support for Save the Children in its operation not only in this country but world wide.
I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Laird, that I am a considerable consumer of fair trade products. They are very good quality, usually, and go hand in hand with sustainable development. If you do not have a reasonable balance of power between producers and consumers, you will not have proper sustainable development. I support the amendment, and hope that it will be acceptable to the Government.
Lord Rooker: The amendments are acceptable to the Government but they are not necessary for the Bill. The Sustainable Development Strategy was launched on 9 May. It is a day that I remember well because the Secretary of State did the launch at the Odyssey in Belfast. I flew in to wind up the launch, not knowing whether I was coming or going that day. The strategy included a commitment to the purchase of fair trade products across government in Northern Ireland. This is a fairly new developmentit is only a few weeks old.
The new procurement guidance on fair trade has been issued to the Northern Ireland public sector. The guidance will apply to all new contracts with suppliers and will ensure that all new catering contracts require firms to provide fair trade products for internal meetings, conferences and hospitality. Fair trade
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goods will also be available as an option to be purchased by staff in public buildings. This measured approach fully meets our procurement requirements, particularly in relation to the EU rules and the UK regulations, and it is also in harmony with furthering wider sustainable development policy objectives.
Therefore, the amendments to the clause are unnecessary as we are already doing what they would achieve. In fact, the suggested form of the amendments would not do anything further to promote the use of fair trade products in the public sector than we are already doing. Indeed, to be slightly negative, adopting such a blanket approach might raise potential legal issues in respect of restrictive or anti-competitive practices. In the Sustainable Development Strategy we have met all those tests, so it is not subject to any arguments about restrictive or anti-competitive practices. However, I am at one with the noble Lord in bringing forward the policy because we wholly agree with it, but it is simply the case that it is not necessary to amend the Bill in the way that he envisages.
Lord Laird: I am grateful to the Minister for his heartening reply and explanation. I shall withdraw the amendment at this stage and consider the implication of what he has said. Perhaps I shall be able to talk to him on a one-to-one basis to see whether any other help can be given in this direction in the Bill or elsewhere. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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