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Baroness Denton of Wakefield: As the Member on the Front Bench on this occasion, if an amendment brought forward at Report stage were acceptable from the point of view of drafting--

Baroness Seear: Surely, the only way to deal with this matter is to move that the whole name of the party should be removed. We cannot interfere with the name

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that the party has given itself. We can move that that party be eliminated from the list, but we cannot play around with the name that the party has chosen to have.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Baroness who has just spoken is right; otherwise, it is possible for me to put down a manuscript amendment in respect of any of these parties that inserts the word "obnoxious" or indeed "admirable". It simply is not suitable.

Lord Monkswell: Curiously, we can do this.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: No.

Lord Monkswell: We are referring here to a list of names which has at the top the heading "The Parties". We have before us a public Bill. We in Parliament can change any of the words of that Bill however we like. We do not have any prior legislation that defines a party and the legitimacy of a party name being sacrosanct. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is entirely in order. It is possible for us to do it. That should be the logical reason why the Government should resist the amendment. We must accept that, were we to do such a thing, it would be in order.

I wonder whether I might ask the Minister a technical question about the consultation process relating to the advice of the Secretary of State with regard to parties within Northern Ireland. Would I be right in thinking that only one signature was required on the response? Presumably there was a standard form: "This is the name of the party. This is the address of the party. I am a responsible officer of the party", and then a signature. Or was more than one signature required, or no signature at all? If we had that information, we might be able to move forward more quickly.

Obviously, if two or three signatures were required, that would suggest that the party was bona fide even though it might be small. If only one signature was required, that would suggest that an individual could have described himself as a party, filled in the form and sent it back. That would alter the Committee's view about the legislation, and its integrity or otherwise.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: We seem to be dealing with difficulties which are more perceived than real. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Lord, Lord Williams. The party about which we are talking has its own name which it is not for this place to amend. As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, it is possible for the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, to bring forward a manuscript amendment on Report. However, I suggest, as I did earlier, that he take advice on the formulation of an amendment which will achieve what he wishes. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, that the party has a serious intention of participating in the Northern Ireland political scene. The Government accept that. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord McConnell: In view of the speed with which these proceedings are going through this place, there is little time for me or anyone else to seek advice before

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the next stage which will be in a few minutes' time. I am left with no alternative but to withdraw the amendment, particularly at this late hour.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [The forum]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 14:

Schedule 2
14Page 7, line 37, after ("time") insert ("and place")

The noble Lord said: I trust that it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 15 and manuscript Amendments Nos. 17 and 18. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, may find it inappropriate for there to be amendments to the Bill today. I suspect that he finds manuscript amendments even more inappropriate. That is one of the reasons why I am wrapping them altogether. Be that as it may, I have to disagree with him. It is the duty of Members of this place to probe the Government, and to do all in their power to guard against the dangers that they see in their proposed legislative action.

I turn now to the amendments. It is clear from Schedule 2 that meetings of the forum will be at a time to be decided by the Secretary of State. However, we know little about the place. My amendments are designed, first, to probe where that place might be. It must be somewhere big enough to hold the delegates, the public and the press, because we have heard that this is a widely representative body. I should be unhappy about Castle Buildings or the Parliament Buildings at Stormont. They are not merely too small; they have unhappy memories for many of the people of Northern Ireland. It is also likely that the forum will want to move from place to place to disseminate the negotiating body's views to the widest possible audience. Indeed, we had intimations of that earlier today. It may also wish to have sub-committees meeting in various parts of the Province.

It is clear that the Secretary of State will have to provide those venues in the same way as he provides the staff and other facilities. It is equally clear that the members of the forum will have ideas of their own about where they wish to meet. So Amendment No. 15 provides for agreement between the forum and the Secretary of State as to where that should be.

In his role as facilitator, the Secretary of State should bend over backwards to accede to the wishes of the chairman of the forum in that respect. If I can persuade my noble friend to give a commitment that that will happen, I shall not need to pursue any of these amendments. I do not have to remind the Committee that although we all hope that meetings of the forum will be held in safe and secure surroundings, we must guard against the opposite. It is not unknown for meetings in Northern Ireland to have to be moved at short notice. They are cancelled only as a last resort.

I thought originally that there was a lacuna in the Bill, and that the Secretary of State was not empowered to choose the place of the meetings. However, it was pointed out to me that the last paragraph of Schedule 2 did just what I feared it did not; namely, allow the Secretary of

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State to provide the place or places. However, nowhere in the schedule does it say that he must consult the chairman of the forum. It is that assurance that I am seeking from my noble friend. I beg to move.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing forward these amendments. We are at one with the spirit of them. We agree that the place where the forum meets should not be fixed once and for all. But, as my noble friend has identified, paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 provides for that situation. It clearly gives authority for the forum's main base to move.

As was made clear by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place, final decisions are still to be reached on where that base should be. Because of the unfortunate fire in Parliament Buildings they are not a possibility. Castle Buildings in Belfast is a strong contender, but the Secretary of State has undertaken that there will be consultation.

The Secretary of State indicated also that he was ready to contemplate the possibility of the forum, or, perhaps more probably, its committees, venturing away from that base; for example, to conduct hearings. It would be his duty to see that premises were provided elsewhere.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 would delete references to the Secretary of State providing the facilities, but we believe it appropriate that the responsibility should rest with him. There is a question of accountability for resources here, which I am sure my noble friend well understands. I repeat that we shall consult fully on these matters. I hope that that reassures my noble friend about the concerns that his amendments raise.

Lord Skelmersdale: I am grateful to my noble friend. At this late hour I shall not argue with her about what my final manuscript amendment means, but I am afraid that she and her advisers have it slightly wrong, because the Secretary of State would continue to have the authority to provide and pay for all those things that she has just described. Be that as it may, I am grateful for the assurance on consultation for which I asked. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Lord Holme of Cheltenham moved Amendment No. 16:

16 Page 8, line 27, leave out ("75 per cent. of those voting") and insert ("80 per cent. of those voting or 80 representatives, whichever is the lower")

The noble Lord said: In view of the lateness of the hour I shall be brief, but this is an important point. The memorandum circulated by the Government on 21st March in association with the Prime Minister's Statement in the other place stated that decision-making in

    "the Forum will be required to proceed by broad consensus".

It is commonly accepted by Members of this place, most commentators, and certainly most unionist politicians that there can be no return to majority rule.

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The ground rules for the all-party negotiations provide for decision making on the grounds of consensus:

    "Unanimity [will be] within minimal limits and will, in all cases, ensure that any decision taken will be supported by a clear majority in both the Unionist and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland".

Surely that reason should apply a fortiori in the forum. In a nutshell, the problem is that the forum will reflect the status of the parties. We must assume that the majority, as has been the case for a long time in Northern Ireland, will tend to belong to the unionist community and the minority to the nationalist community. In the case of this body, that would be somewhat compounded by the additional 20 seats for the 10 largest parties of which only two can properly be described as nationalist. Therefore, the proportion of seats gained by the SDLP and Sinn Fein will fall somewhere short of the proportion of the electorate who vote for them. We could have a situation where 30 per cent. or less of the seats in the forum go to nationalist parties.

If Sinn Fein boycotts, as at present seems likely, or walks out of the forum, is it not possible that the SDLP will have too few seats as enunciated in the Bill at present to form the sort of blocking minority which is essential to maintain the consensus between the two communities? Therefore, although this may seem a rather narrow matter of marginal adjustment of numbers, it bears on the whole essential basis of progress in Northern Ireland, for which the forum surely must be symbolic, that the two communities themselves must be in a state of consensual agreement on something as important as the election of the chairman. I believe that it is an important concern if the process is to commend itself to the Government of Ireland and to the nationalist community. I hope that the Minister will be able to address the amendment when she replies. I beg to move.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale: If we were talking about any more than a deliberative body, I would be forced to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holme. However, looking at paragraph 4 of Schedule 2, it is clear that what we are talking about is either,

    "the election or removal of a chairman or the adoption or alteration of rules of procedure".

We are not actually talking about any substantive discussions which may or may not lead to a vote. If we were talking about that, then, yes, I would most certainly agree with the noble Lord.

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