Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hylton: I think I may be able to help the noble Lord, Lord Lester. The Assembly will not be able to weaken the provision because it is a reserved matter. I may also be able to help the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. She will have to look up the Act to see whether it extends to Northern Ireland. If it does, it can be quoted, but if it does not, she and her friends must rely on the relevant order.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am not certain that we are being terribly helpful to the Minister, although we are not trying to make life difficult for him. I come back to the central question which has been asked but not, if I may say so, satisfactorily answered, or at least not clearly answered to my rather dim understanding.

26 Oct 1998 : Column 1713

What is the advantage of providing for the possible transfer of authority and power to the Northern Ireland Assembly? Is there any good reason for assuming that at the present time or at any stage in the future the Assembly would want to be given such power? Would it not much prefer to remain governed in all of these matters by the Parliament and Government of the United Kingdom?

The Minister mentioned the proposed disability council for Great Britain. Will it automatically extend to Scotland and Wales when they have their devolved administrations?

Lord Dubs: I shall have to look into the last point because I am not qualified to speak about devolution matters in Scotland and Wales, at least not without notice.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: As I understand it, the Scottish parliament will not have the power to deal with the equality code because that is not to be devolved to Scotland; nor, for that matter, is employment law generally.

Lord Dubs: As to the main question asked a few moments ago by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, Clause 20 gives the Secretary of State power to enforce international obligations on the Assembly. That is the reply to the first part of the question.

The second part of the question concerned the codes. The Assembly would have the power to amend or revise the codes if it thought fit. However, international obligations would come under the Secretary of State or the Secretary of State would be able to enforce such obligations on the Assembly. The basic principle remains clear. The existing body of equality law is transferred and the Belfast agreement clearly requires those matters to be devolved.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked what happens if the Assembly does not want to take on any powers which are now reserved but which might eventually be transferred. I suggest that that should be a matter for future discussions and consultation. It is not for me to say at the moment what would be the position at some future date.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: Can the Minister explain why the Government are prepared to say in the case of Scotland that the devolved government of Scotland cannot vary equality obligations, whereas in Northern Ireland they potentially can?

Lord Dubs: It is the codes that come under the legislation that could be revised, not the legislation.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: If that is right, then it is not the answer as I understood it to be. When I used the word "code", I was referring to the legislation. That is why I referred to the sex discrimination order, the race relations order and the others. When I say "code", I mean the legislation, primary and subordinate: the fair employment legislation (primary), the sex and race

26 Oct 1998 : Column 1714

discrimination and disability (subordinate). Can the Assembly amend those? As I understood the Minister, he said: "Yes, it can", subject to the need to comply with the international covenant on civil and political rights with the political overrides. That is how I understood him and that is how the question put by my noble friend Lord Holme arises, asking why Scotland would not have the power but Northern Ireland would, in potential breach of our international treaty obligations.

Lord Dubs: I am sorry if I have inadvertently misled the noble Lord and other Members of the Committee. The Belfast agreement states that those matters are to be devolved. If I said "codes", the noble Lord is right. The whole basis for the equality commission's work will be a devolved matter. I suggest the possible reason that the appropriate procedure is different in Northern Ireland from that in Scotland is that the original basis for the legislation in Northern Ireland is different in that it goes back to the old Stormont regime. We began in a different place and hence we have a different process. However, in any case we are sticking by the agreement. If the Good Friday agreement indicates that as the way forward, then it is the way we go, even if there are differences from the approach in Scotland.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I apologise for coming back to this, but the Minister keeps stressing the agreement and I go along with it. But, after all, the agreement states that:

    "The new ... Human Rights Commission ... will be invited to consult ... [about] defining, in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights".

So on human rights, Westminster legislation will supplement the international obligations but on equality that is evidently not to be so.

Lord Dubs: That is the case. I commend the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 151B to 151D:

Page 28, line 11, leave out ("member as chairman") and insert ("Commissioner as Chief Commissioner").
Page 28, line 12, leave out ("member as deputy chairman") and insert ("Commissioner as Deputy Chief Commissioner").
Page 28, line 14, leave out ("Commission's members") and insert ("Commissioners").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 58, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 59 [The Commission's principal functions]:

[Amendment No. 152 not moved.]

Clause 59 agreed to.

26 Oct 1998 : Column 1715

Lord Morris of Manchester moved Amendment No. 153:

After Clause 59, insert the following new clause--

The Disability Rights Commission for Northern Ireland

(".--(1) There shall be a body corporate to be known as the Disability Rights Commission for Northern Ireland (referred to in this section as the Commission).
(2) The functions exercisable by the Northern Ireland Disability Council shall instead be exercisable by the Commission; and that Council is hereby dissolved.
(3) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument make--
(a) further provision about the Commission's membership, staff, funding, functions, procedure and status; and
(b) such supplemental, incidental or consequential provision as appears to him to be appropriate as a result of subsection (2).
(4) An order under subsection (3) shall not be made unless it has been laid in draft before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 153, and will not detain the House more than momentarily. I addressed this amendment and all my others to the Bill in a speech in Committee on 19th October which is reported at cols. 1236 to 1238 of the Official Report.

Since then I have heard nothing that persuades me to revise the review I expressed in our earlier debate. Nor is Disability Action, representing as it does 180 member groups that cover every aspect of disability in Northern Ireland, any less concerned than it was when I gave the Committee its view on 19th October.

My good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who is also a signatory to Amendment No. 153, has raised important questions today which deserve further consideration by the Government. I hope very much that the Minister will now be able to reassure him and Disability Action about its deeply felt concerns in relation to this part of the Bill. Refreshingly, our new Government are strongly committed to fashioning their policies on disability in close consultation with disabled people. This is an extremely important issue for them to do so.

Lord Rix: I spoke to Amendment No. 153 a week ago, on the first day of the Committee stage and, indirectly, prior to the amendment being moved just now by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester. The Minister is fully aware of my questions and the need for reassurances. I believe that they are now recorded in Hansard. No doubt they will be fully considered and answered in the shortness of time, rather than the fullness of time.

Lord Renton: I hope that I may be forgiven for being a little puzzled as to exactly what we are doing at the moment. I assumed that Amendment No. 152 was a necessary paving amendment to Amendment No. 153. If I am wrong, I hope that I shall be corrected, in order to save time.

Lord Morris of Manchester: I tabled eight amendments to the Bill and they were intended to be

26 Oct 1998 : Column 1716

considered as a whole. That was why I addressed them together on 19th October. Amendment No. 153 provides an opportunity to stress again today the importance of a sympathetic response to the concerns put to me by Disability Action and other organisations of and for disabled people in Northern Ireland. I moved the amendment briefly. It was not my intention to excite lengthy debate, but to give my noble friend a further opportunity to reply as positively as he can.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page