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Lord Cope of Berkeley: I have a good deal of sympathy with the amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. In the course of describing the role, as planned, of the Department of the Environment in its various guises, the noble Lord revealed what not everyone in Great Britain has appreciated over the past few years. I refer to the extent to which direct rule has been very direct and very complete. Until now, under direct rule, the Department of the Environment has had all those powers.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, I hesitate at the phrase "the whole Stormont estate". It does not seem to be logical or very wise that Stormont Castle, Stormont House and the government buildings that lie below them should be included in the part to be controlled by the commission. But it does seem that the commission has a good case for controlling Parliament Buildings itself and the main part of the fine grounds, down to the two entrance lodges, particularly as Amendment No. 116A refers to controlling events which may occur on the terrace in front of Parliament Buildings.
I have occasionally attended events there--band concerts by the RUC and so on--with great pleasure. It is a wonderful setting for such events and I hope that they will continue. However, it should be, I am sure, the commission in future which gives permission and makes the arrangements for such events to happen from time to time when possible, rather than the Department of the Environment, if such a department is set up. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has put his finger on an important matter. I trust that the Government will be able to respond at least fairly favourably.
The Earl of Onslow: I rise only to say that the Department of the Environment has no say in what happens in West Clandon village hall; it has no say in what happens in Guildford town hall; and it has no say in what happens in Surrey County Council. It seems rather odd that it has these draconian powers over Stormont. If I were from Northern Ireland, I would be very cross about it.
Lord Dubs: It is a pleasure to have the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, back with us. I appreciate the constraints under which he will make contributions in the House in future. Nevertheless, it is good to see him
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that there is no intention on the Government's part to interfere with the right of the Northern Ireland Assembly, through the Northern Ireland departments, to control and manage all government property in the transferred field. For example, we intend to table an amendment to paragraph 1 of Schedule 3 to limit the reservation of government property to that property which belongs to Her Majesty in right of the Crown, or which belongs to a department of the Government of the United Kingdom, or is held in trust for Her Majesty for the purpose of such a department. All other property of the Northern Ireland departments will become a transferred matter, thus avoiding what could have been an undesirable fetter on the Assembly. We shall return to this point later.
Clause 75 deals with property held in trust or used for the purposes of the previous Northern Ireland Assembly or partly for that purpose and partly for other purposes. This essentially refers to the Stormont estate, but that is actually held in trust for the purposes of the old Stormont Parliament and the public departments in Northern Ireland rather than for the previous Assembly. So the Government will be introducing an amendment to Clause 75 to put beyond doubt that the clause is intended to refer to the Stormont estate. The Assembly commission will be responsible for whatever property, staff and services are required for the Assembly's purposes. That will certainly include Parliament Buildings itself, but the commission will have no capacity to hold land for the purpose of the public service in Northern Ireland and can have no jurisdiction over those parts of the Stormont estate which are not required for the purposes of the Assembly. The clause vests control of such property in the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland and makes clear that in future, subject to one exception, all such property shall be applied for the purposes of the Assembly or such other purposes as the department may determine. As the Department of the Environment will be accountable to the Assembly, that will give the Assembly fairly comprehensive control.
The exception to which I referred is found in Clause 75(2), which provides that the Secretary of State may require the department to make available to him or to her any premises or facilities which fall within the scope of the clause except Parliament Buildings itself, subject to payment of such charges as the Secretary of State and the department may agree.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, acknowledges the likely need for the Secretary of State to have suitable accommodation on the Stormont estate. I am delighted to hear that he senses no widespread objection to that. It would facilitate the kind of close and constructive working relationship with the new institutions which the Government certainly want to develop. He expressed concern, however, about the implications of the word "facilities". I can assure him that the term was not included with any ulterior motive. It is the language of the equivalent provision in the 1973 Act and simply reflects the likely need for ancillary services to be made
However, I can give the noble Lord the assurance that the sole intention behind the clause is to enable the Secretary of State to obtain appropriate and convenient office accommodation and support services on the Stormont estate and that there is no intention on our part that the terms of the clause should be used to override the views of the Assembly on what should be the appropriate use of the Stormont estate as a whole. To do otherwise would fly in the face of the principle of devolution. Indeed, in general, I and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would expect any arrangements made between the Secretary of State and the Department of the Environment to be reached by agreement following consultation and to be generally acceptable to all interested parties, including the Assembly. I trust therefore that, with those assurances, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his new clause.
Lord Alderdice: I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. I hope he appreciates that, with regard to accommodation for the Secretary of State, the noble Lord and his colleagues, staff, and so on, there is no sense of anything other than a welcome and a feeling that we all wish to work together.
However, there are some practical problems. The Bill states that Parliament Buildings is the only place that is exempt. I do not need to tell Members of your Lordships' House that when one comes to work in a building where one parks one's car is a rather important issue. It will be no surprise to your Lordships to know that, apart from the functioning of the Assembly chamber itself, office accommodation within the building and car parking space outside it are matters that have preoccupied myself and my colleagues considerably over the past few weeks.
As the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, indicated, the question of curtilage is critical. According to the Bill, it is Parliament Buildings alone. Therefore, the Assembly commission will have no right to decide anything about who should and who should not use the car parking spaces immediately outside the building. In practical terms, we have been doing that, but there is a real question as to whether the Bill gives us the right to do so. When we move beyond that, we are immediately into the question of the driveways, as to who can park on them and who cannot, where and when.
Indeed, there are questions of security. Just yesterday we were honoured to have a visit from the President of the Czech Republic, President Vaclav Havel. Recently we have had visits by President Clinton and the Prime Minister. It is of great importance that the Assembly commission should be able to make arrangements properly and decently for such guests. It needs to have some say over what happens in relation to the driveways; whether the grass is cut; questions of security and so on. And yet it is quite clear that we have no say in that. It must be done at arm's length through the Department of the Environment. Our experience of that department, whether recently or over a long period
It would be quite possible to say that an element of the parliamentary estate--that portion which is not being used for other buildings which involves the driveways, the lawnways and so on which directly surround Parliament Buildings itself--could be identified and that portion of property which is entirely appropriate to Parliament Buildings and the functioning of the Assembly would come under the remit of the commission. That is not necessarily a complex business.
Of course, there is the question of Stormont House, Stormont Castle and whether they may be appropriate settings for the new executive which will quite clearly need extensive accommodation outside of Parliament Buildings. In the past, when there was a Northern Ireland administration, it used Stormont Castle. Apparently it is undergoing renovations but in future there may be a wish to use the castle. Those are not specifically matters for the Assembly commission. The commission's concern is not just with Parliament Buildings but its surroundings--the car parks, drives, lawns, gardens and so on. Those are all matters which are associated directly with Parliament Buildings and would affect its functioning and its proper keeping in order. Those matters should be the responsibility of the Assembly commission.
It is a complex legal matter which goes back to a number of Acts of the Northern Ireland Parliament and subsequently back to 1933. A number of the comments which the Minister has made about technical changes which he hopes to introduce in respect of Clause 75 and others are matters which the commission and I shall wish to study closely. There has been a reasonably full airing of these matters. I shall be content to withdraw the amendment but I shall reserve my right, on my own behalf and on behalf of the commission, to return to the issue at a later stage if we are not able to work out matters satisfactorily.
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