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Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 73 and 74:

Page 11, line 28, leave out ("are") and insert ("were").
Page 11, line 29, at end insert ("on the day on which the Assembly first met following its election").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 75 not moved.]

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 76 to 78:

Page 11, line 30, leave out ("or") and insert ("and").
Page 11, line 37, after ("Minister") insert ("or junior Minister").
Page 12, line 2, after ("vacant,") insert ("the nominating officer of the party on whose behalf the previous incumbent was nominated may nominate a person to hold the office who is a member of the party and of the Assembly.
( ) Standing orders shall provide that if--
(a) the nominating officer does not exercise the power conferred by subsection (8) within a period specified in standing orders; or
(b) the nominated person does not take up the selected office within that period,").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 23 [Exclusion of Ministers from office]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 79 and 80:

Page 12, line 6, after ("Minister") insert ("or junior Minister").
Page 12, line 12, after ("Minister") insert ("or junior Minister").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 81 not moved.]

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 82:

Page 12, line 18, leave out from ("because") to ("other") in line 19 and insert ("it is not committed to such of its members as are or might become Ministers or junior Ministers observing the").

The noble Lord said: The government amendments in this group reflect comments made during earlier stages of the Bill and during consultation with the Northern Ireland parties. Amendment No. 82 addresses the feelings many had that the provisions in the Bill as they stood on excluding parties from office were too vague. In particular, it was felt the ability to exclude a party because of the "likely failure" of its members to uphold the pledge of office was too hard to judge and could lead to a party being vulnerable to exclusion because of the behaviour of an individual.

The amendment makes it clear that exclusion under this provision is based on the Assembly's judgment of the party's own policy, and exclusion is possible if the Assembly believes the party is not committed to its Ministers upholding the pledge of office. An example might be if a party came up with a firm policy of not complying with decisions of the executive committee or rejected out of hand the provisions of the ministerial code of conduct.

I see that Amendment No. 86 is now a joint one. The amendment ensures that if the Secretary of State believes the Assembly should consider a motion for exclusions, she must require the Presiding Officer to move a motion for the Assembly to debate and vote on.

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Government Amendment No. 84 is a purely drafting point, making clear that all resolutions under this clause will require cross community support to be successful. I beg to move.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I shall not speak at length to Amendment No. 86, not least because of the sheer exhilaration of seeing the Minister's name appearing on our amendment. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, agreed with this amendment when we discussed it at an earlier stage and I am grateful to the Government for so gracefully acceding to it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I think that perhaps I should have added my name and the noble Lord would have felt even better, at least on this occasion.

I have only one small point. How will anybody know whether a party is committed to its members observing the pledge of office if they are still armed and their followers still have semtex, and so on? It seems to me to be extremely difficult to know.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: The issue here is whether the Secretary of State knows, and whether he or she believes that she knows, at least as regards Amendment No. 86.

Lord Dubs: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, for his help on that. It would be a broad judgment that the Secretary of State would have to make in the round, taking all facts and factors into account.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I was speaking to Amendment No. 82 in which the Assembly has to make the judgment, but I take it that the same reply from the Minister will do as a portmanteau reply for both questions.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 83 to 85:

Page 12, line 21, after ("Ministers") insert ("or junior Ministers").
Page 12, line 29, leave out ("subsection (1), (2) or (3)") and insert ("this section").
Page 12, line 38, after ("Minister") insert ("or junior Minister").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham moved Amendment No. 86:

Page 12, line 40, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 87:

Page 12, line 43, leave out ("party concerned") and insert ("junior Minister or the political party").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 23, as amended, agreed to.

19 Oct 1998 : Column 1295

Clause 24 [Dates of elections and dissolutions]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 88:

Page 13, line 27, at end insert--
("(3A) At an Assembly elected under this section or section (Extraordinary elections) shall meet within the period of eight days beginning with the day of the poll at which it is elected.
(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A), a Saturday, a Sunday, Christmas Day, Good Friday and any day which is a bank holiday in Northern Ireland shall be disregarded.").

The noble Lord said: Once again the government amendments in this group reflect the valuable debates we have had on the Bill both here and in another place. New Clause 90 radically restructures the Bill's provisions on extraordinary elections, bringing it more into line with the provisions of the Scotland Bill.

In the Bill as it stands, the Secretary of State may dissolve the Assembly and call fresh elections if she believes the Northern Ireland Ministers are unable to carry out their functions. This was seen as leaving too much power in the hands of the Secretary of State, and planning for failure.

Accordingly, the new clause in Amendment No. 90 leaves the power to call early elections to the Assembly on a majority of two thirds of all members--that is to say, not just those voting. In addition, a fresh election will be triggered if the Assembly fails within six weeks to elect a First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Amendment No. 88 clarifies that the Assembly shall meet within eight working days of the election.

I urge noble Lords to reject Amendment No. 91 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. This amendment seeks to prevent any order-making provisions about elections creating new criminal offences. The House has this year already approved two orders which included provisions on criminal offences: the Referendum Order and the New Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order. The sort of offences we are talking about cover a number of areas. Perhaps most significant are provisions on electoral fraud. This is a sensitive issue in Northern Ireland, and provisions are certainly necessary.

It is a moot point whether the provisions of such orders would fall foul of the noble Lord's amendment--whether we are creating new offences or applying existing ones. But on the grounds of clarity and consistency, I urge the Committee to reject the amendment. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: The Minister correctly described the purpose of Amendment No. 91 standing in my name: that the Secretary of State should not be able, by order, to create criminal offences.

It is a difficult judgment. I believe that we legislate too much by subsidiary legislation, by secondary legislation, by order. At some stage we have to try to draw a halt to it by saying that we shall not make important law by means of orders. A few years ago, there were many fewer Acts of primary legislation on the statute books; and far fewer books full of statutory instruments. Unless at some point we in Parliament

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draw a line under it, and say that we shall have fewer statutory instruments, and draft improved primary legislation, the position as regards legislation on the statute book which people in this country are expected to obey will become worse.

That is a huge principle to apply to a small part of the amendment. However, if one does not stop somewhere, one will never stop. Serious offences require primary legislation rather than being invented at the whim of the Secretary of State and bowed through Parliament. Such measures are not always "bowed through", but in this House we have a convention that statutory instruments are not opposed. If we continue to put important legislation into statutory instruments that convention will not deserve to survive. At some point, the House will have to decide that we shall vote against statutory instruments of which we do not approve rather than automatically passing statutory instruments on to the statute book without opposition. That is not intended to be a threat but an observation on the number and importance of statutory instruments which are brought before us.

The relatively minor provision in Amendment No. 91 puts down a small peg in an attempt to illustrate the general point I make.

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