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Lord Dubs: The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, is, yes. The Assembly has the power to prorogue. It can control its own sittings and set its own periods of adjournment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Perhaps I may respond briefly to a remark by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, about fixed term parliaments. It is not appropriate to debate the matter on this clause. However, I believe that one of the advantages of the British constitution is that we do not have fixed-term parliaments. It means that our elections are short, which is highly desirable when one considers some comparable countries overseas. It also enables Parliament to resolve a situation where a government have lost the ability to govern; and there are plenty of historic precedents to which one could point.

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Clause 43 negatived.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 111:

After Clause 43, insert the following new clause--

("Part IVA
North-South Ministerial Council and British-Irish Council

.--(1) The First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly shall make such nominations of Ministers as they consider necessary to ensure--
(a) such participation in the North-South Ministerial Council as appears to them to be required by the Belfast Agreement; and
(b) such participation in the British-Irish Council as appears to them to be so required.
(2) It shall be a Ministerial responsibility of a Minister nominated under subsection (1)(a) or (b) to participate in the Council concerned in such meetings or activities as are specified in the nomination.
(3) Such a Minister shall act in accordance with any decisions of the Assembly or the Executive Committee which are relevant to his participation in the Council concerned.
(4) A Northern Ireland Minister may in writing authorise another Minister who has been nominated under subsection (1)(a) or (b) to enter into agreements or arrangements in respect of matters for which he is responsible.
(5) The First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly shall, as far in advance of each meeting of either Council as is reasonably practicable, give to the Executive Committee and to the Assembly the following information in relation to the meeting--
(a) the date;
(b) the agenda; and
(c) nominations made under subsection (1) for the purposes of the meeting.
(6) A Minister who participates in a meeting of either Council by reason of a nomination under this section shall, as soon as reasonably practicable after the meeting, make a report--
(a) to the Executive Committee; and
(b) to the Assembly.
(7) A report under subsection (6)(b) shall be made orally unless standing orders authorise it to be made in writing.
(8) Subsection (3) does not affect the operation of section 19 in relation to the powers of Ministers.
(9) In this section "participate" shall be construed--
(a) in relation to the North-South Ministerial Council, in accordance with paragraph 5 of Strand Two of the Belfast Agreement;
(b) in relation to the British-Irish Council, in accordance with the first paragraph 5 of Strand Three of that Agreement.").

The noble Lord said: The next three groups of amendments deal collectively with the various bodies to be set up under strands 2 and 3 of the Belfast agreement. The Government's amendments introduced four new clauses to replace the existing Clauses 65 to 67 on which I have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that they stand part of the Bill.

Before considering each group in turn, I remind noble Lords of the important institutions which are to be set up under strands 2 and 3 of the agreement. Those are: the North-South Ministerial Council which will develop co-operation between the Northern Ireland Administration and the Irish Government; the British- Irish Council, sometimes called the Council of the Isles, which will promote dialogue and consultation

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throughout these islands; and the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference in which the British and Irish Governments will co-operate on all matters of mutual interest including non-devolved Northern Ireland matters.

In addition, under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council, at least six implementation bodies are to be identified and established for the specific purpose of implementing on an all-island or cross-border level policies agreed in the council.

Strands 2 and 3 are an integral part of the Belfast agreement. That is reflected in the fact that they will now constitute a distinct part of the Bill rather than being included under "Miscellaneous and General" as at present. The various institutions I have outlined will enable the Northern Ireland administration to develop positive relationships and practical co-operation within the island of Ireland and within these islands in a way which will deliver real benefits to all the people living in these islands.

During consultation with the parties, two key issues have emerged in respect of the clauses: first, the need to ensure that Ministers in the North-South Ministerial Council are properly accountable to the Assembly, without introducing additional checks and balances not envisaged in the agreement which would hamper its effectiveness; secondly, the need to make clear that participation in the council when required is an essential responsibility of ministerial office.

The new clauses address these issues and reflect a number of points made by the parties. Ultimately, the key to successful development of North-South and East-West arrangements is not to be found in legislation. What is needed is for the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland to demonstrate the spirit of trust and co-operation that was the foundation of the agreement and to work together for the benefit of all the people. I am confident that, as with so many other challenges that have been faced, the politicians of Northern Ireland will prove able to rise to this challenge.

Turning to the detail of the new clauses, Amendment No. 111 requires the First and Deputy First Ministers to make such nominations as to ensure appropriate representation by Northern Ireland Ministers in the North-South Ministerial Council and in the British-Irish Council. This representation is clearly that which is required by the Belfast agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has tabled Amendment No. 111A which seeks to ensure that the nominations shall be in accordance with paragraph 30 of strand one and that no one Minister shall represent the Assembly on his or her own. Paragraph 30 of strand one states that arrangements to represent the Assembly shall be such as to ensure cross-community involvement. While the clause's current reference to the agreement takes in this paragraph, I have some sympathy for the point raised by the noble Lord. If he will withdraw the amendment, I will consider further whether there needs to be more explicit reference to the need for representation to be on a cross-community basis.

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Returning to Amendment No. 111, it is clear that Northern Ireland Ministers operating in the councils are fully accountable to the Assembly and must act in accordance with any relevant decision of the Assembly or executive committee. As my colleague the Minister of State said when this was being considered in another place, the council will be accountable both to the Dail in Dublin and to the Belfast Assembly. It must be so.

Accountability requires openness and transparency and these amendments also ensure that the Assembly is fully informed about business at the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council. This includes being given details of the agenda and ministerial nominations in advance of meetings and a report on their outcome. Of course, Ministers will continue to be accountable to the Assembly in the relevant Assembly committee for their operation in either council, as they are for all their responsibilities.

Another important aspect of participation in the North-South Ministerial Council is that it is an essential responsibility of ministerial office. That is clearly set out in strand two of the agreement and is given effect in Amendment No. 111. It is my belief that Ministers will live up to their pledge of office by discharging all their duties. The people of Northern Ireland will expect them to do so. Of course, should a Minister fail to carry out this responsibility, as with any other breach of the pledge, it will be for the Assembly to decide whether any action is appropriate. If for any reason a Minister is unable to participate normally in the council the agreement allows for the First and Deputy First Ministers to be able to make alternative arrangements. This amendment enables the Minister to authorise another Minister who is nominated by the First and Deputy First Ministers to attend the council to enter into agreements or arrangements in respect of matters for which he is responsible, thus enabling work in the North-South Ministerial Council to proceed.

This is a complex area of the Bill through which we are seeking to give full effect to the provisions in strand two of the agreement for alternative arrangements. We will continue to give close scrutiny to this clause to ensure that this objective is met.

Amendment No. 111B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, would enable all Ministers, including the First and Deputy First Ministers, to authorise another Minister to enter into agreements on their behalf. This provision is intended to enable only those Northern Ireland Ministers with departmental responsibilities to make such authorisation, and hence I must resist the amendment.

Amendment No. 112 provides that the Assembly may pass legislation for the purpose of giving effect to arrangements or agreements entered into by Ministers in the North-South Ministerial Council and in the British-Irish Council. There had earlier been some doubt as to whether the Assembly had legislative competence in this respect. This amendment ensures that the Assembly has the necessary authority. Amendment No. 112 also contains an important further provision in relation to the accountability of the North-South Ministerial Council to the Assembly.

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On the specific matter of establishing new implementation bodies, which I know is of concern to some Members of the Committee, we have made clear that no agreement to establish a North-South implementation body shall come into operation without the specific approval of the Assembly. This is in line with paragraph 12 of strand two of the agreement. While Amendment No. 180, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Holme and Lord Lester, and Amendment No. 112C, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, would also have this effect, they go further by requiring Assembly approval for every agreement entered into in the councils. This clearly goes further than the agreement, which envisages Ministers being able to operate within their defined authority and therefore not requiring specific Assembly approval for every decision.

I turn to the remainder of the amendments in the group tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I propose to accept Amendment No. 112A, which helpfully makes clear that it is only Ministers who may enter into agreements in the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council. Amendment No. 112B proposes that, as a result of agreements in the North-South Ministerial Council, Acts of the Assembly should enable functions to be transferred to a body rather than to an authority, as currently drafted. The language currently used is taken from the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 and, in view of the establishment of implementation bodies, it may be that the suggested language would be more appropriate. If the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the amendment we will look at the language further.

Amendment No. 112D suggests that the definition of an implementation body should be made with reference to paragraph 12 of strand two rather than to paragraph 11. I confess that I am unclear as to the reasoning behind the suggestion. The existing definition is entirely appropriate since it simply defines implementation bodies as set out in the agreement as bodies to implement on an all-island and cross-border basis policies agreed in the North-South Ministerial Council.

Before leaving the group, perhaps I may also mention government Amendment No. 226, which is a related technical amendment and includes provision to ensure that agreements made in the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, or in relation to implementation bodies, come within the Assembly's legislative competence. I beg to move.

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