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Northern Ireland (Elections) Bill

6 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Dubs.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Skelmersdale) in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Disqualification]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 28, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: During the Second Reading debate yesterday, the Minister was kind enough to refer to this amendment. I am grateful to him. My motive was not to enable Her Majesty's Lieutenants to stand for the assembly but to discover why such a provision was necessary in the Bill. Perhaps I may ask whether such a disqualification section has been employed in regard to any previous body. If the answer is yes, it still remains a curious device.

The Minister stated yesterday that the duties of Lords-Lieutenants specifically exclude them from holding a political post or engaging in political activities in certain areas; and I agree. But as the Lord-Lieutenant is appointed by the Sovereign, his duties are surely outlined in some detail by the Sovereign. Therefore the restriction is already in force. Why is it necessary for a government department to seek parliamentary approval for a disqualification already provided by the Crown, and which the Sovereign herself is quite capable of enforcing without reference to Parliament?

I am sure that the Minister will have reflected on this matter overnight. I welcome his conclusions. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: I support the amendment, but in doing so I declare an interest--indeed, it is my

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argument. I did not see the amendment until today so I have not undertaken a great deal of research. However, if my memory serves me correctly, my late father represented East Belfast as an elected Member of the Stormont Parliament, later became a Cabinet Minister, later still became a Member of the Senate, and, finally, was Speaker of the Senate in Stormont until such time as it was prorogued. If my memory serves me correctly, throughout that time he was Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant for the City of Belfast. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, indicates to me that my memory is correct. That may be a precedent which contradicts the Bill.

Lord Dubs: Clause 4 sets out the disqualification from membership of the assembly. As in the rest of the United Kingdom, it disqualifies Lord-Lieutenants and Lieutenants from representing their county or county-borough in a political post, in this case, the assembly. This amendment would change the legislation to provide for Lord-Lieutenants to stand in the assembly if they so wished.

Perhaps I may refer to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. It is my understanding that the prohibition is applicable to each particular piece of legislation, so there would be separate legislation debarring Lords-Lieutenants from standing for the House of Commons, and so on. That is why we need similar legislation in this instance.

I think that this is an undesirable amendment for the following reason. The Lord-Lieutenant is Her Majesty's representative in a particular county. I quote from the duties of Lord-Lieutenants:

    "In particular, he should keep in mind that, as Her Majesty's representative, he should stand aloof from politics in his county and should not, therefore, take part in political activities in his county or hold office in political party organisations in his county."

There is of course no prohibition on a Lord-Lieutenant standing in the assembly elections for any Northern Ireland constituency outside his own county or county borough. But to compromise the integrity of the Lords-Lieutenants in Northern Ireland as well as to provide an unwelcome precedent for the rest of the United Kingdom by accepting this amendment would be extremely undesirable.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for having given me notice of his question. He referred to the situation as regards his father. We are talking about provisions for the assembly which are the same as for the House of Commons. It seems sensible to have the same provisions. Therefore, even if historically there were a different practice, it seems proper that Lords-Lieutenants should be constrained in the way that I have suggested is proper.

I urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment; and, if he has any friends who are Lords-Lieutenants who wish to stand for election elsewhere than in their own counties or county boroughs, to urge them to do so.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I do not imagine that there will be a great rush of nominees for that particular post. However, I wish to confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said about the distinguished services

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rendered to the whole of the United Kingdom by his late father. He served with distinction in all those positions to which the noble Lord referred. I wish to state that sincerely.

In a sense the Minister has confirmed my suspicions that the restrictions on the behaviour and eligibility of Her Majesty's Lords-Lieutenants and Lieutenants are already in being, and probably enforced for all I know by the Crown. I am still not clear why Parliament is being asked to replicate, or perhaps override, instructions which will have already been given, fairly firmly I imagine, by Her Majesty.

However, I have taken note of what has been said. I hope that further consideration will be given at some future stage to what appears to be a rather confused arrangement. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clauses 5 to 9 agreed to.

Schedule [The Assembly]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 2:

Page 4, line 4, leave out from beginning to ("as") and insert ("The first meeting shall be held at such time and place").
Page 4, line 5, at end insert ("and subsequent meetings at such times and places as the Assembly decides").

The noble Lord said: In view of the Minister's helpful reassurances yesterday, I shall not move Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 5.

[Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.]

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 4, line 13, at end insert--

("Conditions of holding office

. No person shall hold any office in the Assembly if he belongs to a party which--
(a) is attached to a proscribed organisation which is listed in Schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 and which--
(i) has not declared, and is not honouring, a permanent and total cessation of violence,
(ii) has not surrendered its illegal weaponry, and
(iii) has not dismantled its paramilitary structure; and
(b) has not made an unequivocal declaration of its acceptance of the six principles contained in the Report of the International Commission on Decommissioning, which establish a commitment to--
(i) employ exclusively peaceful means; and
(ii) abide by the democratic process.").

The noble Lord said: All who were present for our debate yesterday will remember that a common theme ran through many, if not all, of the speeches; namely, the need for effective decommissioning to ensure the workability of the proposals, and even the initial assembly.

The Minister reminded us of the Prime Minister's undertaking, given some four weeks ago (at col. 661 of Hansard), that if, during the course of the first six months of the shadow assembly, or even the assembly

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itself, those provisions were shown to be ineffective, the Government would support changes to the provisions to enable them to be more effective.

However, the six-month timescale has been to a great extent shortened by the declaration last week of the IRA ruling out any possibility of the disarming of their war machine, and by this week's statement that the IRA will permit those of its members who are also members of Sinn Fein to serve in the assembly.

So we have the benefit of two declarations of intent from the IRA: first, that the IRA will serve in the assembly; and secondly, a declaration of no intention to leave the guns outside the assembly. Thus, the IRA have rendered obsolete the Prime Minister's trial period of six months. We can take that as being over and done with. We now know for certain that the present provisions have already been shown to be ineffective. As from this day, the Government are duty bound, in the words of the Prime Minister, to "support changes".

Some may find the Prime Minister's words,

    "The Government will support changes",

rather puzzling. However, being of a charitable nature, I shall not quibble over the Prime Minister's statement, but shall modestly cast myself in the role of initiator of a proposal which the Government can then support.

My Amendment No. 4 therefore launches the initiative, which I expect the Government to support, in line with the Prime Minister's undertaking, which undertaking simply requires to be updated in line with the two very clear declarations of intent by the IRA. I beg to move.

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