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Lord Dubs: My Lords, may I say to the noble Baroness that I am delighted she is in excellent voice. I know that she established a very good reputation in Northern Ireland over the many years that she has served there so well and effectively. Whatever else may be said about any other British Minister, I know that the people of Northern Ireland always believed what she said to them. Certainly, that is what they are telling me now. It is a privilege for me to be able to follow in her footsteps, at least as far as her agricultural responsibilities were concerned. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness for the tribute she paid to the Secretary of State and other members of the ministerial team.

I welcome her comment that it is the first time that women have played a prominent part in such negotiations in Northern Ireland during many years. That is another first, and I thank her for drawing attention to it.

I am also grateful to her for the tribute she paid to the Army. We talked about the RUC earlier. The Army has also played its part in very difficult circumstances. Young soldiers have been faced with dangers to themselves and threats to their lives. Sadly, a number of members of the Army and other British troops have lost their lives in the troubles in Northern Ireland. I take her point that if a murder is not sectarian it is still a murder. Simply to dismiss a murder by saying, "It isn't sectarian,

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that's all right then" is not acceptable. We must have a society where murder of any kind is completely unacceptable, and murder is murder.

I take the noble Baroness's point about the support we have had from the United States for many years and from President Clinton in recent years. I do not know whether he will pay a visit and if so when, but certainly any support that the American Government are able to give us through the International Fund for Ireland, or by encouraging investment into Northern Ireland, would be most welcome. That would play a very large part in helping to reduce unemployment and to bed down the peace process more firmly.

The noble Baroness also asked about money for the cross-border activities and implementation bodies. I cannot say at this stage just where that money will come from, but as a Government, we have made a commitment that health and education are our priorities and we will not cut health and education in order to achieve that. We shall have to find the money from somewhere else, not from health and education.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to everyone who has paid tribute to the establishing of this historic agreement. Is the Minister aware that with such vast constitutional changes--for instance, a Northern Ireland assembly; a North/South ministerial council; a British/Irish council; and a British/Irish intergovernmental conference followed by reviews and commissions on the future of the RUC, of prisoners, of decommissioning, of human rights and so forth--the size of the task ahead will be enormous? We have always said that if there were to be a change it would be by the consent of the majority of the people. I am pleased that that is included in the deal. That has always been the guiding principle and, therefore, in the referendum the people of Ireland will now be determining their destiny.

The Minister is aware of the many issues that have been raised. I shall cover them briefly because I am concerned with matters that will arise for consideration before the referendum takes place. I refer to the future of the RUC; the premature release of terrorist killers; decommissioning, especially those dissident forces outside the deal; and continuity of the IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army and the Ulster Loyalist Forces. Many assurances have to be given on these questions which are still to be answered before the referendum. I hope that the Minister and his group within the Province will be able to give all the assurances necessary in order to get this referendum through.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support. I know that he speaks on the basis of long experience as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and he is well remembered there.

It is certainly the case that these are immense changes. It will be a difficult task to ensure that they are implemented and that the process continues at a good pace. I also agree with him that there are a number of difficult issues. Some of them will be the subject of

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legislation which will be laid before this House in the near future when there will be a chance to discuss them in detail. But it is right that not only the House but also the people in Northern Ireland should be fully aware of all the details so that they can make the most informed possible decision when they come to vote in both the referendum and, it is to be hoped, in the subsequent elections.

Social Security Bill

4.40 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 7 [Constitution of appeal tribunals]:

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 4, line 3, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (1A) below,").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, with this amendment it may be for your Lordships' convenience to discuss also Amendments Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 11.

This group of amendments relates to an issue which was the subject of much comment on Second Reading and in Committee, although in Committee some of our contributions were subject to the procedural constraint which was mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness was able to make an extremely persuasive argument and was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and to some extent myself, although perhaps having the training that I have of another place, I was more troubled about the rules of order.

I do not propose today to repeat the arguments. I appreciate the advantages of having available a range of expertise among tribunal members. But one essential expertise is an expertise specifically in conducting a judicial hearing; in identifying the issue which falls to be decided; and in marshalling the arguments which have been presented. That is an expertise which is more likely to be found among lawyers. No doubt those were very largely the considerations which motivated the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to table their Amendment No. 8 and the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to table their Amendment No. 11.

Being a natural peacemaker, following our debate in Committee, I considered whether there might be a compromise solution to the problem. There is. It might be provided that although it may not necessarily be the chairman who possesses the legal qualification, at least one member of the tribunal shall have such a qualification, leaving it to the president to decide who should take the chair on any specific occasion.

I hope that normally, if the tribunal consists of more than one member, the member so qualified would be in the chair. That would not necessarily and invariably follow from the suggestion in the amendment.

Accordingly, I ventured to table Amendment No. 6 which proposes that compromise. I am grateful to my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate for discussing it with me through the medium of the international telephone system. I say at once to the noble

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Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Higgins, that it was simply the geographical distance between us which precluded me from giving notice of what I was proposing to do.

I am sure that it would be in the interests of expedition if I were now simply to revert to silence so that your Lordships might have the reaction of my noble and learned friend and other noble Lords. Amendment No. 4 is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 6 and I beg to move.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, at this stage, with the permission of the House, I shall speak to the other amendments which have already been mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. My noble friend Lord Higgins and I have our names to Amendments Nos. 7 and 11 which are grouped with Amendment No. 4.

The noble and learned Lord has mentioned already that the substantive difference between Amendment No. 4 and our amendment is that Amendments Nos. 4 and 6 deal with a compromise situation, as it has been described, whereby at least one member of the tribunal would be legally qualified, whereas our amendments refer to the fact that the chairman should be legally qualified.

I state immediately that I should be in favour of a legal qualification being present at the tribunal in whatever capacity it were held. Therefore, I see the reason behind the amendments moved by the noble and learned Lord. In Committee, I argued in detail the reasons why I believe that a legally qualified, as I then said, chairman (but now I would say "member") is essential to the effective operation of the appeal tribunals. I shall not abuse the Report procedure by repeating those arguments at length.

As has been mentioned earlier, we were rather pre-empted by a matter of procedure, and at that stage I confined myself very carefully to the terms of my amendment. I was rather relieved that other noble Lords were not so constrained and therefore we were able to have a full discussion on the issue of whether or not a legally qualified chairman was an advantage to a tribunal.

I have sat as a member of a tribunal for 14 years during the period in which lay chairmen were removed and the element of having legally qualified chairmen was introduced. From personal observation, I felt that that did nothing except improve the operation of tribunals.

Social security law is notoriously complex and over half of those who appear are unrepresented and therefore, by definition, are disadvantaged if there is no legally qualified person available at the tribunal to interpret the complex law which must be dealt with. Although, as I mentioned, I recognise that not all lawyers are perfect in every respect, I believe that they possess abilities which they can exercise--and I am looking very carefully at the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate as I say this--which cannot be possessed by laymen and which are essential to the fair operation of a tribunal hearing.

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I recognise also that although the Government have carried on from the previous government the very proper objective of getting decisions right first time, in practice, often when an appellant comes to a tribunal it is only to find that the papers have not been prepared properly nor the law properly interpreted. Therefore, it is an advantage if one has a legally qualified member there to assist in the unravelling of the case.

I merely endorse the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. I believe that his compromise fully meets the objectives which I sought to achieve in my own amendments.

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