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Column 339

Mudie, George

Mullin, Chris

Murphy, Paul

O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)

O'Brien, William (Normanton)

O'Hara, Edward

Olner, William

O'Neill, Martin

Parry, Robert

Patchett, Terry

Pickthall, Colin

Pike, Peter L.

Pope, Greg

Powell, Ray (Ogmore)

Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)

Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)

Prescott, John

Primarolo, Dawn

Purchase, Ken

Quin, Ms Joyce

Radice, Giles

Randall, Stuart

Raynsford, Nick

Redmond, Martin

Reid, Dr John

Robertson, George (Hamilton)

Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)

Roche, Mrs. Barbara

Rogers, Allan

Rooker, Jeff

Rooney, Terry

Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)

Rowlands, Ted

Ruddock, Joan

Sedgemore, Brian

Sheerman, Barry

Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert

Short, Clare

Simpson, Alan

Skinner, Dennis

Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)

Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)

Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)

Soley, Clive

Spearing, Nigel

Spellar, John

Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)

Steinberg, Gerry

Stevenson, George

Stott, Roger

Strang, Dr. Gavin

Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)

Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)

Turner, Dennis

Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold

Walley, Joan

Wardell, Gareth (Gower)

Wareing, Robert N

Watson, Mike

Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)

Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)

Wilson, Brian

Winnick, David

Worthington, Tony

Wray, Jimmy

Wright, Dr Tony

Young, David (Bolton SE)

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Alan Meale and

Mr. John Cummings.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the draft Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 (Continuance) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 14th February, be approved.

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Departmental Select Committees

7.9 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I beg to move,

That Standing Order No. 130 (Select Committees related to government departments) be amended, by leaving out lines 5 to 8, and, in the Table, after the entry relating to National Heritage, by inserting the words--


"9A Northern Ireland Affairs                   |Northern Ireland Office; administration and   |13 4"                                                                                        

                                               |expenditure of the Crown Solicitor's Office                                                                                                 

                                               |(but excluding individual cases and advice                                                                                                  

                                               |given by the Crown Solicitor); and other                                                                                                    

                                               |matters within the responsibilities of                                                                                                      

                                               |the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland                                                                                                 

                                               |(but excluding the expenditure, administration                                                                                              

                                               |and policy of the Office of the Direct or of                                                                                                

                                               |Public Prosecutions, Northern Ireland and the                                                                                               

                                               |drafting of legislation by the Office of the                                                                                                

                                               |Legislative Counsel).                                                                                                                       

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following motion :

That Standing Order No. 99 (Northern Ireland Committee) be amended, in line 2 and in line 15, in each case after the word Ireland' by inserting the word Grand'.

Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Newton : The purpose of the first motion is to establish a Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee within the existing framework of departmentally related Select Committees, as I announced to the House on 16 December.

As the House knows, since 1980 our Select Committee system has been based on links between individual Committees and one--occasionally more than one- -Government Department. As the departmental structure has changed, the Committee structure has changed to reflect it, most recently in 1992 with the setting up of new Select Committees on National Heritage and on Science and Technology.

That pattern follows the recommendations of the Procedure Committee in 1978. The Procedure Committee did not recommend a departmental Select Committee for the Northern Ireland Office, but only because of uncertainty about the future constitutional arrangements for the Province.

In the last Parliament, the Procedure Committee, then--as now, I am happy to say--under the distinguished chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P Emery), carried out a major inquiry into the working of the Select Committee system. The Procedure Committee found that it was

"anomalous from a practical point of view that no separate Select Committee exists to oversee the affairs of Northern Ireland". In principle, it supported the setting up of a separate Committee, but accepted that the time for it was not ripe--for various reasons somewhat similar to those pertaining in 1978.

The Committee did, however, devote some thought to the size and composition that such a Select Committee might have when circumstances made it appropriate to bring it into being. It recognised that it would be reasonable if not essential for the Government to have a majority on

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the Committee, and that the political parties based in Northern Ireland should have reasonable representation on it. For those reasons it saw that the Select Committee would need to be somewhat larger than the other departmentally related Committees, all of which at present have 11 members.

The Committee also recognised that the Committee of Selection's formula for determining the places available to minority parties would need to be amended to take account of the special factors involved.At the end of last year, in a further report, the Committee returned to those issues, and recommended to the House that the Committee should consist of either 13 or 15 Members and that all the Northern Ireland political parties represented in the House should be represented on the Committee.

For some time, then, the question has been not whether there should be a Northern Ireland Select Committee, but when.

I told the House before Christmas that, in response to the Procedure Committee's recommendation, the Government had come to the view that the time for a Northern Ireland Select Committee had now come. That judgment was made--I accept it was an act of

judgment--taking account of all the relevant political considerations in Northern Ireland. I am sure that there will be a widespread welcome in the House for a move that puts parliamentary accountability in this respect on all fours with the arrangements in relation to other Government Departments.

Let me now say a few words about the details of our proposal.The first part of the motion paves the way for more effective scrutiny of Northern Ireland matters, along the lines that I have just sketched, by ending the present arrangements for the scrutiny of Northern Ireland matters whereby agriculture in Northern Ireland is looked at by the Agriculture Committee, housing in Northern Ireland by the Environment Committee, and so on.

The second part of the motion sets up a new Select Committee. Following the model of the Scottish Affairs and Welsh Affairs Committees, we propose that it should be called the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

The new Committee ought to be able to look at the full range of the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. For that reason we have included in its remit not only the Northern Ireland Office, which deals with security and constitutional and political questions, but what are described as

"other matters within the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland".

Under the present administrative arrangements, that formula embraces the Northern Ireland Departments, such as the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Economic Development, as they are subject to the discretion and control of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. It is clearly desirable, however, to provide for the possibility of change if agreement should be reached on different political structures.

The form of words used in the amendment to the Standing Order would ensure that, once the Secretary of State ceased to be responsible for an area of policy, it would no longer fall within the terms of reference of the Select Committee. In other words, Westminster will oversee only those things for which Whitehall is responsible. Associated public bodies in Northern Ireland are also included in the terms of reference.

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Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Comptroller and Auditor-General for Northern Ireland will continue to be responsible to, and to give his evidence and reports to, the Public Accounts Committee, as he does twice a year under the present arrangements ?

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