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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am aware of and grateful for the fact that the Liberal Democrats have consistently supported the agreement. That support is much appreciated and I hasten to acknowledge it. However, in answer to the last question put to me by the noble Lord, I am afraid that there is no reference to junior Ministers in the agreement. His question related to the spirit of the agreement, and the agreement contains no reference to junior Ministers. However, there was a request from the political parties during the discussions that took place with them in the course of the summer that there should be a facility on the face of the Bill to enable junior Ministers to be appointed.

The noble Lord's Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 seek to put junior ministerial posts on a similar footing to Northern Ireland Ministers. Amendment No. 18 would

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require any determination or order under Clause 15 to set out the number of junior Minister posts as well as the number of Northern Ireland Ministers. Amendment No. 29 would then apply an amended version of the d'Hondt formula to the appointment of junior Ministers. The d'Hondt formula, as amended in the noble Lord's amendment, would take into account both the number of ministerial and junior ministerial posts that a party already had in calculating the d'Hondt formula. The effect would be to make it more likely that smaller parties could obtain junior ministerial posts at least, even if they had not been strong enough to obtain posts on the executive committee.

No doubt the noble Lord feels that the Government have not been overly sympathetic to the points that he and his colleagues in another place have made on this subject. We recognise the importance of inclusivity in the new Assembly, as well as the concept of strict proportionality. Perhaps more important than both, however, is the point that I made at the outset; namely, the need to stick to the letter of the agreement as much as possible and, where that is not possible, to be guided by the views expressed to us during the consultation process that has taken place over the past few months.

Noble Lords will know that there is no specific reference to junior Ministers in the Belfast Agreement. There has been general agreement that junior Ministers might have a useful role to play. However, there does not yet seem to be a consensus as to what functions they should exercise or how they should be appointed.

Given the lack of an explicit reference to the agreement and consensus among the parties, the Government thought it right to include Clause 17 in the Bill as an enabling clause. It will then be for the parties to agree among themselves as to what kind of role junior Ministers might play. What is clear, however, is that junior Ministers will not have a major independent role. Indeed, government Amendment No. 31 makes it clear that statutory functions may not be conferred on junior Ministers--statutory functions being matters that should rest simply with the senior Ministers referred to in the agreement.

As for the formula proposed, I wish to emphasise that the Government fully understand the noble Lord's desire for the new structures to be both proportional and inclusive in nature. But nothing in Clause 17 as it stands would prevent that. Indeed, the clause leaves it open for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in making a determination and the Assembly approving it to decide to use the d'Hondt formula or indeed any other appropriate formula in appointing junior Ministers if it wishes. But it is left to the First and Deputy First Minister to make such a determination and to choose the method by which they would be appointed.

I hope that the noble Lord will accept that the effect of the clause that we have included in the Bill will be to enable the d'Hondt formula to be used if that is the wish in Belfast. In the light of my remarks, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, it is shocking, is it not, that the Government should depart from the strict

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letter of the agreement when we have been told off for even hinting at doing so on other occasions. The noble Lord is not prepared to go so far away from the letter of the agreement as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale proposed. Nevertheless, the inclusion of junior Ministers is a departure from the letter of the agreement. I do not disagree with it; however, in view of the strictures that have been pressed upon us at different times for doing so, it is worthy of note. Coming so soon after the noble Lord, Lord Williams, explained that Amendment No. 16 was a failsafe--when I had been told off a few moments earlier for being pessimistic in requiring a different failsafe--perhaps it is only a question of which amendment is accepted and whether it has the approval of the Front Bench opposite.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way--

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, perhaps I may advise noble Lords. The Minister has replied. Because the noble Lord, Lord Cope, had not intervened previously I was seeking to be flexible. However, I think that it is not possible to extend flexibility any further. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will complete his contribution quickly and then the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, ought to speak.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I apologise if I have in any way stepped outside the conventions of the House. I merely wished to draw attention to the nature of the Minister's reply in this case. Not having spoken before, I thought that my intervention was in order. If it was not, I apologise to the House.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, in answer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I suggest that the Minister is not departing from the letter of the agreement. I said specifically that there was a "spirit of the agreement" with which I was concerned. I take the points made by the Minister. I hoped that he would be more sympathetic towards the amendment because this could be an extremely divisive subject. I was not trying to give an advantage to smaller parties, although I must declare an interest in that I am a member of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. However, I take the points the noble Lord made and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 8, line 24, leave out from second ("the") to end of line 27 and insert ("number of Ministerial offices under subsection (1)(a) is the same as the number of functions under subsection (1)(b).").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is intended to simplify the extremely contorted wording of Clause 15(3). It means exactly the same but to my mind the amendment states it more clearly and is, I hope, as legally fireproof.

Amendment No. 20 is slightly different. I appreciate that to pass both amendments would not be possible, but should Amendment No. 19 not appeal, then Amendment No. 20 might be acceptable. The argument for that

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amendment is different. The subsection states that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister may make a determination about the number of ministerial offices to be held. It continues:

    "at the date of the determination",
there should be the same number of Ministers for the departments existing at the date of the determination. It seems to me that the determination may change the number of departments. They will not necessarily get it right first time and may need to make a change in the number of departments later. It has happened both within the Northern Ireland Office and within the Government of the United Kingdom many times that departments have been amalgamated and split again. No doubt it will happen in the course of time with the Northern Ireland departments.

The way in which I suggest it should be changed will enable a determination to take account of the change that is being made in the number of Northern Ireland departments at the time the determination is made rather than having to keep to the number that there happens to be when the determination comes about. These are small drafting points, but nevertheless I modestly put them forward for the Government's consideration. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for the amendments, which I believe are intended to clarify some of the language of the clause. I do not think I am being disloyal to our draftsman if I admit that the language is difficult in places. The noble Lord himself made that point. But the concepts we are dealing with are not easy and I am afraid that I do not believe that the amendments will have the desired effect suggested by the noble Lord.

Amendment No. 19 seeks to make it clearer that the meaning of Clause 15(3) is that each department must be headed by a Minister, and that each Minister gets only one department.

As I said during Committee stage, this is what Clause 15(3) already achieves. Before devolution, there will be an agreed number of departments. Those in charge will exercise particular functions. This subsection provides that each of those departments is headed by a Minister, and each department is headed by the holder of a different ministerial office, that is, no Minister will be in charge of more than one department.

The drafting of the noble Lord's amendment, on the other hand, does not quite work. The noble Lord seeks to link the number of ministerial offices to the number of functions described in Clause 15(1)(b). But any given Minister might need to exercise a number of different functions, even within a single department. The important thing is that Ministers are not in charge of more than one department, not that they should be responsible for only one function.

Amendment No. 20 is presumably also intended to clarify a drafting point. I assume that the noble Lord feels the reference to departments

    "existing at the date of the determination"

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is redundant, and that this subsection merely needs to mention the number of departments set out in the determination.

The reference to departments

    "existing at the date of the determination"
is there for a reason, however. The reference makes it clear that any legislative changes needed to create or suppress Northern Ireland departments must already be in place before d'Hondt is run. The reason for this is that it would be confusing if a determination under Clause 15 were made mentioning a Northern Ireland department and allocating it under d'Hondt, if the legislation necessary for creating this department was not in place and remained subject to the decision of the Assembly. It is not hard to imagine how a Minister would react if he had been appointed to a ministerial post under d'Hondt while the department he was supposed to head did not yet exist, and the functions he was supposed to exercise were still in the hands of another Minister.

The clause as it stands requires the Assembly first to complete the necessary groundwork, and then to approve the division of responsibilities between Ministers in the form of a determination. I believe that this is a common-sense provision and that it meets the aims the Minister sought to achieve with his amendment. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment he put forward.

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