|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: I wish to support Amendment No. 3 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. In the Bill, as it is written in Clause 1, it seems an extraordinary, simplistic and peremptory way to say goodbye to part of the United Kingdom. It does not say how large the majority must be. It could be one. It is more than likely, as in the recent past, that there will be substantial electoral fraud. The very least that could be done is that the position after the vote should be looked at. I believe that the proper authority to look at that will be the Assembly, who will know what is going on and know what has taken place. To merely state that,
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: We have a great many amendments so, in the spirit of getting through the business in the time allotted to us, I shall be very brief. I do not support this amendment because it cuts across
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I warmly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. Amendment No. 3 simply restores the power which resided in the parliament of Northern Ireland as set out in the Government of Ireland Act 1920. When Stormont was abolished, with it went the constitutional guarantee. It was replaced after a fashion by the border poll which was a clear-cut question which asked, "Do you wish to remain within the United Kingdom or do you wish to join in an Irish republic?"
As I understand it, with devolution now about to be restored, the Bill does not restore in any tangible or convincing way that constitutional guarantee because anything resembling the recent referendum does not meet the need for voters to settle the question one way or the other. In that referendum they were asked to approve what started life, and ended in a slightly more condensed but not improved form, as a document of 65 pages. There simply has to be a clear-cut opportunity for all the citizens of Northern Ireland, whatever their viewpoint, to answer the question. There must be a cast-iron assurance that any future referendum--that is if the Government reject this amendment--will be a straight "Yes" or "No" question and answer.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for some clarification. Of course, I would not support this amendment, for the reasons that have been given. Those were the reasons put forward in relation to the previous Bill which I supported.
It is true that there is no express provision in the arrangement--I do not think that the arrangement has yet been signed by all parties to it--that there should be decommissioning. I am not surprised that it is suggested that it was not part of the agreement in the sense that there was no reference to it, but was it not part of the background to the whole arrangement? Was that not why these negotiations were so difficult to conclude, and is that not why concessions were made on all sides, with the concept of decommissioning being accepted?
Lord Skelmersdale: I am slightly suspicious of this amendment, for the simple reason that it gives the power in the new subsection (3) of Clause 1 for the Assembly to second-guess the electorate of Northern Ireland. Given the circumstances of Northern Ireland, which certainly exist now and are likely to exist then, I think that that would be a bad thing.
Lord Dubs: First, I concur wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said about his delight that David Trimble and John Hume have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I am sure that has caused a great deal of pleasure on all sides of the House.
We tabled a large number of amendments to this Bill last week, as we warned the House we would. I appreciate that your Lordships have been given a great deal of work to do in preparing for today's session of
On one other preliminary matter, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has written to me to express the wish that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee will have an opportunity to examine the amendments we are proposing and report on them to the House. The chairman of the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, QC, has let me know that the committee intends to report on these amendments next Wednesday, 28th October, which will give the House good time to digest the committee's observations before Report stage.
The report of the committee on the Bill as it stands, published last week, proposes that the negative resolution procedure should attach to order-making powers in the Bill; namely, those in Clause 70 and paragraph 6 of Schedule 6. I am grateful to the committee for its report. We have already put down an amendment to make the relevant change to Clause 70. I can tell the Committee that we propose to do the same in respect of Schedule 6.
We start off this Committee stage with a discussion of perhaps the single most significant aspect of the agreement. The resolution in the agreement of the old dispute about the constitutional status of Northern Ireland opens the way to advancing beyond the conflicts that have so complicated the affairs of Northern Ireland, of the island of Ireland, and of relations between all the peoples of the United Kingdom and of the Republic of Ireland.
I say right away that the effect of the amendments would be wholly to subvert the provisions of the agreement on the consent question, and we simply cannot accept them. Clauses 1 and 2 of the present Bill, along with Schedule 1, were set out in the agreement, along with the amendments to the Irish constitution that represents the reflection in its law of the consent principle. Clause 1 provides that Northern Ireland should not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of a majority of the people voting in a poll; but that if the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of the United Ireland, the Secretary of State must put before Parliament proposals to give effect to that wish, agreed with the Irish Government.
The Secretary of State may by Schedule 1 order the holding of a poll at any time, subject to a minimum interval between polls of seven years; and she must make an order if it appears likely to her that a majority of those voting would express a wish to form part of the United Ireland. Any such order is by Clause 78 subject to affirmative resolution in this House and another place.
Those are the provisions of the agreement. I confine myself to Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, expressed a wish to deal subsequently with Amendment No. 2. Those amendments insert another, wholly new, condition to a change in constitutional status; namely, a cross-community vote in the assembly. There is nothing to suggest such an extra condition in the agreement, and it cannot be imagined that the agreement would have been concluded between the parties with such a condition. I have to say, therefore, that those who propose this amendment are effectively rejecting the agreement, whether or not that is their intention.
What we must hope is that the two communities in Northern Ireland will increasingly find ways of working together co-operatively and for the greater good, whatever the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The agreement offers the best hope there is of developing such co-operation. But if these amendments were accepted, there would be no agreement, and no such prospects.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He indicated that there might appear to the Secretary of State the possibility of change. How is that appearance to be judged? Would it be, for example, by an opinion poll?
Lord Dubs: The Secretary of State would have to make a decision in the round, based upon all the evidence available to her. I do not think it appropriate for me to indicate precisely the way she would make her decision. I believe that she would look at all the facts. Opinion polls might be helpful. Other forms of expressions of opinion by people in Northern Ireland would be helpful. She would take an overall view and we would then go through the process I have indicated.
Lord Hylton: Before we leave this part of the clause, can the Minister tell us what progress is being made by the Irish Parliament in modifying Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution in accordance with the agreement?
Lord Dubs: I am not aware of the exact timetable to which it is working. All I know is that the Government in Dublin are totally committed to playing their part in all aspects of the agreement over which they have control; and in due course such a change will take place.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page