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Baroness Maddock: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister a little on this point. If one looks at the cost to the health service of treating people who suffer ill health because of damp housing--it has been estimated to cost billions of pounds--one realises that £150 million is but a small sum. Is there any prospect of the Government getting to grips rather more with this issue?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, some of the broader housing repairs will probably improve problems caused by dampness and cold. Therefore, we are talking about more than the £150 million which has been allocated specifically to deal with those problems. I believe that I said that we are reviewing our whole policy in that area and that we hope to report back relatively soon.

A number of technical points were raised. My noble friend Lord Ahmed referred to the basis of the survey. Any survey has its drawbacks and it is important that this survey is supplemented by individual local authorities making detailed assessments of their own housing needs. We are considering the development and testing of a new fitness rating to replace the current standard. That will obviously have an effect on the statistical sample.

The question of empty property was also mentioned. We are attempting to tackle that in both the private and public sectors. We are now pressing some 200 local authorities to take action in areas where there are substantial numbers of empty properties.

In the time available to me, I think that I have covered most of the points raised. This survey reveals the extent of the problem. For the sake of the social and physical health of those who live in poor housing, I hope that this debate has given an indication of the Government's determination to reverse the decline in investment in housing and, in particular, to tackle the problems of poor housing in our poorest neighbourhoods and among our poorest communities.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.32 to 8.35 p.m.]

Northern Ireland Bill

House again in Committee.

Clause 70 [The Judicial Committee]:

[Amendments Nos. 184 to 189 not moved.]

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 190:

Page 34, line 17, at end insert--
("( ) A statutory instrument containing an Order in Council under subsection (3)(a) or (b) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").

26 Oct 1998 : Column 1776

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 190 requires an order under the provisions of Clause 70(3)(a) and (b) of the Bill, by which powers can be conferred on the Judicial Committee, and the Judicial Committee Act 1833 applied to proceedings under the Bill, to be subject to the negative resolution procedure at Westminster. This follows a recommendation of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation which was in line with our own developing thinking, and which we are pleased to accept.

We will take account of the committee's other recommendation, which relates to Schedule 6, on Report: we may have other changes to propose to that schedule. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I think that the Government are wise to accept the recommendations of the Select Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 191 not moved.]

Clause 70, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 192 not moved.]

Clause 71 [Provision with respect to certain matters relating to Northern Ireland]:

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 192A:

Page 34, line 23, leave out ("the following matters").

The noble Lord said: This new clause, and the three consequential amendments to Clause 71 and one consequential amendment to Clause 80 which I am taking with it, will enable the Government to continue to make primary legislation in Northern Ireland for any reserved matters specified in paragraphs 8 to 15 of Schedule 3. These are matters chiefly relating to core Northern Ireland Office and Northern Ireland Court Service functions.

The clause will also introduce a statutory consultation procedure with the Assembly for all non-urgent orders and enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of such orders based on the consultation procedure in Schedule 2 to the Human Rights Bill.

The clause also provides for the making of orders by means of an urgency procedure.

While those matters designated as being excepted will be dealt with by Bill here at Westminster and those that are transferred will be dealt with by the Assembly, some means must be found of bringing forward provision on those matters within the reserved category.

The Government remain committed to seeking to legislate by Bill on any reserved matter of special significance or contentiousness; for example, serious consideration will be given as to whether any legislation resulting from the independent commission into policing in Northern Ireland that will report in the autumn of 1999 should be by Bill; and, of course, with the consent of the Secretary of State and the approval of Parliament, the Assembly itself will also be able to legislate for certain reserved matters.

There remains, however, a requirement for legislative provision on some reserved matters, deemed to be best dealt with at Westminster, where programming constraints or the limited size of the provision means

26 Oct 1998 : Column 1777

that a government Bill is inappropriate or unfeasible. It is in those circumstances that we shall seek to bring forward an Order in Council.

The Government are aware of criticisms of the shortcomings of the Order in Council procedure and it is only because it is not possible to be sure that provision can be brought forward by Bill that we have sought to retain these powers. In an effort to alleviate the criticism of the Order in Council procedure, we have decided that additional statutory consultation should be offered. We have concluded that all orders that are regarded as non-urgent should be subject to a 60-day consultation period before the order is formally laid and approval is sought. At the same time as this Chamber is presented with a document containing drafts of our proposals, we shall refer the same document to the Assembly, seeking its comments within the same time-scale as that given to this place.

Due consideration will be given to any comments and consultation documents that are presented during that time. We hope that these additional steps will make the Order in Council procedure more palatable. I believe that Members of the Committee, like the Northern Ireland parties, will acknowledge that this legislative route will be needed by the Government and that there may be serious difficulty if we only have the Bill route open to us after devolution. It is to be hoped that our need to use the Order in Council procedure will diminish as and when items listed in Schedule 3 are moved into the transferred category to be dealt with by the Assembly.

If we could dispense entirely with the Order in Council procedure, we would do so. However, without it, the Government might have difficulty in bringing forward provisions for Northern Ireland and the latter might be put at a disadvantage. It is on these grounds that we seek by means of this clause to continue the Order in Council procedure but with the much improved consultation process. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I think it is necessary to continue with the Order in Council procedure. Direct rule has functioned through this mechanism for quite a long time. In so far as direct rule continues over reserved matters, I believe that it is necessary to continue with the procedure. I see that the Orders in Council will require the approval of resolutions of both Houses of Parliament. I am not quite sure, but I believe that that probably extends the control of Parliament over such Orders in Council. Many of them are not subject to the affirmative resolution procedure at present, although I believe that more will be as a result of the way in which this clause is drafted. What I am saying is really in respect of Amendment No. 192D, which forms part of the group under discussion at present.

It is true that many matters which are at present reserved will during the course of the next few years be devolved and transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, as we heard earlier, some matters which are currently reserved are expected to be

26 Oct 1998 : Column 1778

reserved for the foreseeable future, if not for all time. It is possible that, at some point, it would not be right to continue with the Order in Council procedure when such matters have been reduced to but a few, and that the procedure should perhaps be abandoned. However, we have not as yet reached that point.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: We regard the retention of the Order in Council procedure as a regrettable or, as I believe the Minister put it, an unpalatable necessity. I believe that the hope and expectation of devolving power to Northern Ireland is that the number of issues that would need to be dealt with by Order in Council would be very limited and by exception. The one example that the Minister gave of something that would probably not be appropriate for an Order in Council--and I agree with him--would be any change or variation to the police powers and arrangements in Northern Ireland.

When responding, and just to clarify my mind, I wonder whether the Minister could give the Committee some examples of matters that he thinks will be dealt with by Order in Council in future. I sincerely hope that it will be very few and that, as powers are transferred to the new Assembly, Parliament will not find itself, as it often has in the past, doing too much too often by Order in Council. Of course, the notice period will help somewhat in that respect.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: Having piloted a minority opposition party through this very inadequate process of Order in Council, I naturally would have preferred to see its abolition. However, for the reasons given by those noble Lords who have already spoken, retention is inevitable. I am encouraged by the contents of subsection (5) of the proposed new clause (Amendment No. 192D), which gives the Assembly, if not the right, at least the option of reporting to the Secretary of State,

    "the views expressed in the Assembly on the proposed Order".
I hope that notice will be taken of the Assembly's views.

We had such an experiment during the lifetime of what was called the "rolling devolution" experiment during the reign of the noble Lord, Lord Prior. Members of that Assembly were greatly disillusioned when, after having spent hours and days producing a submission in response to an invitation from the then Secretary of State, they found that every single one of their representations was rejected. I know that we are entering into a new age. I am sure that the present Government would not want to follow that path.

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