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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I welcome the amendment. It would have been absurd to leave the issue as a reserved and therefore potentially transferred matter. There is no such thing as a Northern Ireland zone in outer space compared with the Northern Ireland zone at sea. In so far as it is possible to regulate activities in outer space, it will almost inevitably be through international treaties. Therefore there would have been a potential conflict between Schedules 2 and 3 if the matter had remained in Schedule 3.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 147:

Page 55, line 44, leave out ("20, 21(2) and (3)") and insert (" 18, 20, 21(2) to (4)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 147 to 151 and 165 to 167 represent a further modification which I suggested at Committee stage might be needed in the detail of which particular

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provisions of the Bill are designated as excepted and reserved matters. As I indicated before, we intend that the main provisions of the Bill, reflecting as they do the agreement, should be excepted so that they are beyond substantive change by the Assembly. If the Assembly wishes to propose changes, it may do so, and in particular the agreement makes a number of provisions about reviews in the course of which it might do so.

However, there are some provisions which we think should be reserved or even transferred. They are not central to the agreement. Sometimes that is also necessary in order to avoid inadvertently preventing the Assembly from acting perfectly legitimately.

Amendment No. 147, with Amendment No. 165, moves the provisions on the executive committee from the excepted to the reserved field. This move is dictated by the technical reasons I referred to. It would permit the Assembly to confer functions on the Committee. That seems to us welcome flexibility.

Amendments No. 150 and No. 167 move the matter of unlawful oaths substantially into the reserved field. Since legislation on oaths is itself a reserved matter under the terms of the Bill, and since existing legislation, which the Assembly might perfectly legitimately wish to modify, refers to oaths, it seems to us that there is no reason to deny it flexibility to do so, subject to the safeguards associated with reserved status.

Amendment No. 166 omits several matters from the reserved field, notably the Assembly commission. Since the composition and functions of the commission are in large part in any event left to the Assembly to define, and its composition is regulated by standing orders, and since the commission is not an institution provided for by the agreement but a filling out of the mechanics, it seemed to us right to leave the Assembly free to make its own dispositions in this area if it wished. In doing so it will of course be subject to the safeguards of Assembly procedure, especially the petition of concern mechanism.

We have also proposed in Amendments Nos. 148 and 149 excluding from the excepted field certain provisions on members' interests and audit. Were they to be included, any substantive legislation by the Assembly in those areas would be impossible. The same logic applies to the treatment of the clauses on legislative proposals to remedy ultra vires acts and interpretation of Assembly Acts in Amendment No. 151. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I agree with the general thrust of what the Minister said about the amendments and I support them. However, I did not follow his final remarks. Amendment No. 149, which deals with financial control, accounts and audit, excepts such matters from the provisions of the clause; in other words, they become transferred matters rather than reserved matters. It allows the Assembly control of its own audit.

Some of the amendments which we debated yesterday increased the powers of the Assembly over the Comptroller and Auditor General and that is correct. However, Amendment No. 151 refers to the legislative

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power to remedy ultra vires acts and appears to prevent the Assembly from tinkering with those powers. Those amendments move in opposite directions. Amendment No. 149 gives the Assembly greater powers, while Amendment No. 151 limits its powers in the matter to which it refers. Both those proposals are right, but I was not sure that that was what the Minister was saying.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, it is our intention that the provisions of the Bill should not be open to change by the Assembly. That is also the case with ultra vires acts. That probably explains why we have taken such a path. Our debate yesterday on audit safeguards related to a different issue; the wider audit control of the work of the Northern Ireland departments. Here we are talking, for example, about members' interests and so forth. There is a logic in our approach to the issue.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendments Nos. 148 to 151:

Page 55, line 45, leave out (" 41(7)") and insert (" 41").
Page 55, line 47, leave out ("section 55(1)") and insert ("sections 55(1) and (Financial control, accounts and audit)").
Page 56, line 1, leave out ("and 71") and insert (", 71 and 73").
Page 56, line 2, after ("77") insert (", (Legislative power to remedy ultra vires acts) and (Interpretation of Acts of the Assembly etc.)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Reserved matters]:

[Amendment No. 152 not moved.]

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 153:

Page 56, line 29, at end insert (", but not the law relating to abortion").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee on 27th October I explained that the Government's decision to withhold powers relating to abortion from the Scottish and Northern Ireland parliaments was of great concern to a much wider swathe of the electorate than those concerned with the morale issue. The Government's position would have been more easily defended had they not allocated powers over euthanasia to both the Scottish parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. One must ask why the two devolved structures should be entrusted with authority over one form of killing but not over another.

In Committee, I drew attention to the debate on the Scotland Bill on 27th July 1998 in which the Scottish Office Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, reminded us that abortion had been placed in the list of reserved matters. He then added significantly that the reserved matters:

    "can be reviewed by agreement between the two parliaments".--[Official Report, 27/7/98; col. 1305.]
I thought that that was encouraging; it was a start.

Those words encouraged me to withdraw my amendment and with the benefit of hindsight that was a wise decision. In the interval, your Lordships returned to the Scotland Bill on Report. On the fourth day we debated the contradiction inherent in the Government's efforts to grant the Scottish parliament the power to

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legislate on euthanasia but not on abortion. Winding up for the Government on that occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, accepted that the Government had to make their case, adding these significant words which transformed my view entirely:

    "That case [the Government's] can be made briefly, but powerfully and persuasively. It is simply this. If in the future there were to be a considerable difference in the abortion law north and south of the Border and that in itself produced a significant cross-Border trade of women seeking abortion, that would be regarded as offensive by public opinion. That is the case that I make. It is the case upon which I rely".--[Official Report, 3/11/98; col. 212.]

The Government's problem is the land frontier in the case of Scotland: an open border and in most cases an unmarked border. But that demolishes the same Government's arguments against my proposal in Committee with regard to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Irish Sea is regarded by some and deplored by others but it is there and we cannot ignore that. Crossings of the Irish Sea are controlled, admittedly for a different purpose. But at the port of entry and at the airport of entry one has an obligation to have in one's possession a document of identity.

Even if we eventually have a real ceasefire, there will be a continuing need for those controls to exist between the island of Ireland, north and south, and the island of Great Britain. Those powers will remain necessary to eliminate the flourishing drugs trade between the two islands. Alas, I regret to say that on the other island it is centred mainly on Dublin; and that is no criticism of the Irish Republic.

Now that the Government have admitted that their case rests solely on the land frontier problem with Scotland, I trust that your Lordships may support my reasonable and balanced amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Stallard: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Fitt, who I understand cannot be here because of a hospital appointment, I am more than happy to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. I have no hesitation in agreeing with what he said about the need to leave the decisions in the hands of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In fact, the Government have said on more than one occasion this year in ministerial replies that they have no plans at present to extend the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland. They have said that umpteen times.

But this debate is not about abortion. It is about giving those people the right to decide the questions raised by this amendment. I do not wish to go into the details of the Abortion Act and so on. That is not what this is about. It is about leaving the right to decide that in the Northern Ireland situation. We know that strong opinions are held in Northern Ireland. I happen to agree with many of them. There are strong opinions there and the people should be allowed to discuss and decide on the issue themselves. That is why I support the amendment.

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5.15 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, on Second Reading and in Committee, I advanced a number of arguments in support of the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has placed before your Lordships' House today. It would be tedious to reiterate arguments which your Lordships have already heard.

What can be said in addition to those arguments already deployed? First, there is a reference in a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who has gone out of his way to be extremely helpful and patient in dealing with the questions which arose in Committee. That letter is dated 9th November. It contains a reiteration of the remarks he made in Committee and states:

    "We have no intention of foisting unwanted change on the law on this matter upon the people of Northern Ireland".
I welcome that statement.

On 26th October a letter was issued by Matthew Ellesmere of the Constitutional and Political Division of the Northern Ireland Office in response to a letter from a Mrs. McCann of Dumbartonshire. In his letter he went even further. He said:

    "In such circumstances the Government recognises that any change to the law should only come about at the request of a broad cross-section of the people who live there.

    I hope that this will reassure you that the Government has no intention of forcing any change on the people of Northern Ireland and will continue to honour their wishes in this matter".
It is important to put those statements on the record because there is a sustained and determined campaign, especially in another place. As recently as in the past two weeks, a further Early Day Motion has been tabled calling for changes in the law. Many Parliamentary Questions have been tabled. There is intense pressure by Members who would wish to use the Private Members' procedure to change the law over and above the heads of the elected politicians from Northern Ireland.

It would not have been necessary to have this debate today had the Government gone as far as reiterating what one might call the John Major principle. That was the principle which the former Prime Minister adumbrated to a cross-party group who went to see him during the life of the last parliament. He said that his government would not allow time for the law to be changed until the majority of politicians from Northern Ireland requested it. That seemed to me to be a perfectly proper position. He also said wryly that he was pleased to see such unanimity among the unionists, nationalists, Liberals, Conservatives and socialist representatives who went to see him that day. It is ironic, is it not, that we constantly berate people in Northern Ireland for a lack of consensus and for not perhaps co-operating with one another to the extent that they might do but on that issue, which unites the community, we are prepared, in many cases for politically correct reasons, to go over their heads and seek to impose from outside?

As the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, said to the House, this issue is not about whether we are in favour of or against abortion. The issue is about who should decide on that matter. We should not build further inconsistencies into our law. As the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, pointed out on the Scotland Bill, we have

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said that the Scottish parliament will decide on the issue of euthanasia but not on the issue of abortion. I find that inconsistency extraordinary. It would be far better to say that in the case of each devolved assembly, each alone will decide those crucial ethical questions.

They are grown-up people who can have those debates in their own communities. They do not need us to hold back those issues. After all, even the Government have conceded that this is a question which will be transferred ultimately to Northern Ireland if that is the wish of the Parliament there. Why do we not make a clean job of it now and take this issue away from the cut and thrust of Westminster politics and allow it to be decided in Northern Ireland, where cultural traditions may be different from some of the traditions which we have in England, but that is how it should be within these islands? If we are truthful and honest in our belief in favour of devolution, then we should be saying that such questions should be decided there and not merely on the basis of our own views about abortion here at Westminster.

For those reasons, I believe that this amendment is moderate and reasonable. It does not seek to open up the substantive question of abortion. It merely seeks a decision on the issue of where this matter should be concluded, whether it should be here or in Northern Ireland. I hope that the amendment will commend itself to your Lordships' House.

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