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Mr. Hain: That was not the reason that we refused the hon. Gentleman's amendment. The translation of the Welsh word, "Senedd", is "Parliament", but Westminster is the Parliament. There is no Parliament in Walesthere is the Assembly.
The right hon. Gentleman was not present for the entire debate, but one of the arguments against calling the Assembly "the Senedd" was that people would be confused. That is on the record for everyone to see. There is no question but that the use of the word "Assembly" in the Bill will cause confusion, as that has already happened in the press. The Government should take a long, hard look at the problem. It may be their political intention to make the body look, feel and sound like an assembly to persuade individuals that the transition is not a great one. I am agnostic about that, but I feel very strongly
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that the Secretary of State should explain why the Government are willing to countenance confusion between the new creature and the original body that was set up and called "the Assembly".
I support amendment No. 26. This morning, the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform published its 18th report, which considered the Bill. It drew attention to paragraph 4 of schedule 1 and the power that it gives the Secretary of State to determine the conduct of the Assembly's proceedings:
"These directions may contain provisions of a substantive and not just a procedural nature. For example, they may include requirements as to the majority required for election. Although the bill does not prescribe what, if any, directions must be given in this respect, paragraph 4(3) and (4) of schedule 1 specifies that a particular use of the power may be to require provision corresponding to sections 16 and 18 of the Northern Ireland act 1998, which set out the majorities required in elections, and the formula for filling ministerial offices, under that Act."
We would like the Secretary of State to comment on what the power will be used for. We are concerned that he has taken the power upon himself, and will not allow the Assembly to decide these matters for itselfa point that we made, albeit less emphatically, in amendment No. 4. Why can the Assembly not decide those matters for itself? The matter has invited comment from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, so I hope that the Secretary of State can provide a cohesive reply.
I found amendment No. 7 entertaining, as it deals with parliamentary privilege and makes the preposterous assumption that one can prove an exemption for malice. I hope that the Secretary of State will explain why on earth the Bill includes such a fatuous provision.
I do not believe that the provision would have any efficacy in a court of law. It is a moot point, but the Bill does not stand or fall on it. I am not persuaded, however, that there is a coherent reason for the inclusion of a provision that rather offensively suggests that, although it is not the case for any other political body in the United Kingdom, there is a particular opportunity and likelihood of malice in Northern Ireland. In my experience, Northern Irish politicians are some of the most generous-hearted and loving people one could hope to meet, so planning for such a failure is an offence to right hon. and hon. Members from Northern Ireland.
Finally, I rather like amendment No. 6, which gives the Assembly the ability to discuss, and have an input into, Orders in Council that are made in Parliament between 15 May, when the Assembly is recalled, and any such time that a restoration order is made to restore devolved powers to the Assembly.
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I think that that is the right thing to do. Assembly Members should be able to have proper input into matters affecting people in Northern Ireland, for which the Assembly will ultimately be responsible and with whichsignificantlyAssembly Members will be elected to deal.
The amendment would solve an ongoing problem that the Government accept is real. The problem is that the Orders in Council process is simply an unacceptable way to govern the Province. The amendment would also give the Assembly authority to have real decision-making input on matters that are part of its governing role, but we must be careful to stipulate that its provisions should not apply for ever. Despite Government assurances, if that happens there is a risk that deadlines will slip and that we will end up with a new and semi-operational Assembly that runs in the slightly ad hoc way that has been described.
I shall be somewhat concerned if the Minister chooses to reject the amendment, as the cross-party support for it is evident. The SDLP, the DUP and the Liberal Democrats support it, and I imagine that the Conservatives will be sympathetic to it
Lembit Öpik: I am now certain that the Conservatives support the amendment. Unfortunately, Sinn Fein Members have not been able to make it here today, but I am sure that they would do so too. The Government are always looking for consensus, and they have it with this amendment. They should respond by accepting it, or at least by tabling an amendment in their own words on Report that would achieve the same thing.
Will the Secretary of State say what damage could possibly be done by explicitly including the Assemblyor the forum, if that is the preferred name for the bodyin the decision-making process in respect of Orders in Council? That would relieve some of the pressure that all of us feel when it comes to the inability to amend legislation, and it would also give the Assembly the sort of real responsibilities that we all agree would be helpful.
Mr. Hain: I shall give a more detailed response when I reply to the debate, but I want to point out that there was no cross-party support for the proposal at all. If there had been, I do not think that all the parties would be ready to turn up on 15 May to take part in what I think will be a positive spirit.
Lembit Öpik: I suspect that the Secretary of State will find that there has been a degree of movement on this matter. From the interventions made during the debate so far, I get the sense that there is cross-party support for the amendment, or for something like it. I look forward to hearing what other hon. Members have to say, but I hope that if the proposal does enjoy cross-party support
From a sedentary position, the right hon. Gentleman says that there is no cross-party support for the proposal, but I was going to make a
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different point. If it turns out that there is cross-party support for it, I hope that the Secretary of State will consider the amendment seriously.
Mark Durkan: The Secretary of State intervened to say that the proposal did not have cross-party support. However, the DUP and the UUP seem to support it, and my party clearly supports it, as it is our amendment. The absence of cross-party support seems to be down to Sinn Fein, yet the right hon. Gentleman has said that the outcome of the review of public administration must be that we get seven super-councils. That outcome does not have cross-community support, but is supported only by Sinn Fein. That is a paradox that the Secretary of State cannot explain.
Lembit Öpik: What the hon. Gentleman says reminds me that cross-party support was not a big consideration in the introduction of water charges or of student loans and tuition fees: both were opposed unanimously, even by Sinn Fein.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : The hon. Gentleman is trying to build consensus, which is what the whole process is about. As someone elected to an English constituency, perhaps I am able to raise this question: does he agree that the Bill should be about giving more trust to the elected Members of the Assembly? Might not it be possible for the Secretary of State to consider allowing some of the Bill's more pernicious provisionssuch as those to do with Standing Orders and how the leader of the Assembly is electedto be amended by them?
Lembit Öpik: That is a fair point. I would go so far as to say that Members of the reconstituted Assembly might be justified in feeling slightly patronised. They are being expected to work towards achieving an operational Assembly, but they are not going to be able to get actively involved in the decision-making loop for legislation that will be going through when the Assembly is operating.
The Government would not lose anything by accepting the amendment. The hon. Member for Foyle has underlined the fact that there has been some movement. A common-sense position has been achieved, with which all the parties from Northern Ireland represented in this Chamber seem to agree.
I hope that the Secretary of State does not say that Sinn Fein has a veto on the proposal, as that would be very unhelpful. I am sure that he would accept that the fact that the SDLP, the UUP and the DUP all agree that the proposal is a good ideasubject to some consultation with the Alliance, Sinn Fein and othersis a good reason to consider accepting it. Anything else would suggest that the Assembly was being set up to do what he wants, and that it will not be allowed to do what it and the people of Northern Ireland wantthat is, to make important decisions and have an input into the feedback loop.
The Minister of State has placed great store in having a constructive dialogue about how we can do things better than we do under the Order-in-Council process. I shall be interested to hear what the Secretary of State
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has to say, after he has reflected on the fact that we seem to have moved from a position where there was no support for the amendment to one where the key players in the debate and in Northern Ireland politics all agree that it would be sensible.
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