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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and for the support that the Government's proposals have earned here this evening. I shall deal specifically with the questions that were put to me by various noble Lords. My noble friend

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Lord Blease asked a number of questions. I believe he referred in particular to the training that was given to members of the Assembly in recent months since the elections. I think it was called "the transition programme". There have indeed been a series of information seminars and other events for Assembly members. I shall be very happy to write to my noble friend giving him fuller details. I can only add that, in a sense, some of those events are still continuing. I am proposing to have meetings with senior members of each party as regards some of the responsibilities of one of my present departments; namely, the Department of the Environment. So it is possible that more things are happening than will be encompassed in a direct answer to my noble friend's questions. However, I shall certainly do my best to give him the information.

My noble friend talked about the state of the Northern Ireland economy. I am not sure that I agree with the pessimism that characterised his remarks. Yes, there are certainly some difficulties. The situation as regards Mackies was a real blow. But, on the other hand, there are other more optimistic indicators. There is enormous international interest in investing in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State, other Ministers, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister went on what I believe was called the "11 city tour" of North America. There was much interest in the opportunities that Northern Ireland presents and we are receiving other expressions of interest from businessmen in many countries. If one looks at the actual straightforward economic indicators--for example, economic growth, a falling level of unemployment, and so on--I should have thought that the economy of Northern Ireland is, on the whole, doing pretty well and that political stability, together with the promise of peace, will encourage the economy to do even better.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, questioned the efficiency of increasing the existing number of departments to 10, plus the new department of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. None of that concerns this Government. Those were decisions made by the political parties in Northern Ireland who were elected to the Assembly. The decisions on the number of departments and the delineation of the departments were made in long talks in Parliament buildings which ended on 18th December. I do not think it is appropriate for the noble Lord to blame the Government, if blame is an appropriate word. These were decisions made by locally elected politicians of the various parties. Those were the conclusions they reached. We are giving effect to the decisions made by those politicians.

The noble Lord also suggested that we are in a dangerous period and there is a need for a change of direction. Certainly the Secretary of State has said that the coming few weeks will be difficult. There are problems, some of which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. The Government do not minimise the difficulties that exist. On the other, hand the cease-fire still exists, even though some brutal acts are taking place. I believe someone mentioned punishment beatings, but I do not think that is the right term. However, as I said, we are satisfied that the cease-fire exists. I believe that the people of Northern

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Ireland are grateful for that, much as everyone deplores the beatings and other brutal activities that are still continuing. We are going through a difficult phase but we have to set our sights on the enormous prize of giving full effect to the Good Friday agreement.

If I understood him correctly, the noble Lord also suggested that too many police stations were being closed down. We would not close a police station or an Army base unless that was the advice to the Government from the chief constable and the security forces. The chief constable has said on a number of occasions that he scales down the level of his requirements in terms of security consistent with his assessment of the security situation. We are conscious of the need to make sure that we do not go too far in that direction but that our actions are guided by the best possible advice.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in a somewhat pessimistic speech said that there had been too many concessions to republicans. I disagree. I do not think that is what the Government have been doing. Certainly the Good Friday agreement represented, as it were, the need for all parties to it to compromise and to make concessions. I do not believe that the concessions have been all one way. The Government continue to endeavour to be as even-handed as possible between the various communities in Northern Ireland. That is not always easy to achieve, but we are set on doing that.

The noble Lord referred to this evening's Belfast Telegraph. Of course the vast majority of people want decommissioning to happen, as do the Government. We have said on countless occasions that it is not a matter of whether decommissioning happens, but when it is to happen. It is clear that there is pressure on the various paramilitary organisations to move towards decommissioning as quickly as possible. I share the noble Lord's concern about the various beatings and acts of bullying and intimidation that have occurred. Of course they are deplorable and of course they have no place in a civilised society. The Government have said repeatedly that they have to stop. Within recent days the Secretary of State has talked to the various political parties and has made clear her position of total opposition to those activities.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for his party's support for the peace process and for the general thrust of what we are doing. He asked a specific question about agriculture. Agriculture is one of my responsibilities. I am clear that the rural development aspect of the work of the Department of Agriculture, as it is now called, is an important part of our work. Indeed I think it is widely recognised that this has been successful in helping some of the poor, rural communities to overcome at least some of the disadvantages from which they suffer. As the negotiations in Brussels proceed with Agenda 2000, which has a clear element of rural development, Brussels as a whole may well be more supportive of further work in rural development in all European Union countries. The change of name is not a matter of extra resources; it is a matter of making clear the responsibilities of that department; namely, agriculture and rural development.

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As regards the noble Lord's question about equality measures, it is for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to decide whether there is to be a junior Minister responsible for equality within the department of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, where responsibility for equality has been placed. It is not for the Government to determine how that is to be done; it is for the parties at the Assembly to decide.

The noble Lord also referred to tourism and its importance. Of course there has been agreement between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on tourism in terms of north-south co-operation. The Government think tourism is important and we want to do all we can to encourage it. However, north-south co-operation has been identified in the Good Friday agreement as an area of possible co-operation. The decision reached by the parties at Stormont, published on 18th January 1999, states,

    "A publicly owned limited company will be established by Bord Failte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to provide the following services".
There follows a list of tourism services, the planning and development of tourism, the publication and dissemination of information in overseas markets, market research and so on. In so far as the parties have reached agreement, I think it is clear that they too share the noble Lord's concern about the importance of tourism and the need for it to be an area of co-operation.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked about the transfer of functions order. This is a detailed order which specifies which particular Act of Parliament will be within the responsibility of any of the new departments. It is a complex task. I have seen some of the draft lists of Acts of Parliament being related to the new departments. That work is taking place at the moment and the order should be ready later this month. I do not think it will reveal a great deal. It will show long lists of legislation for those who wish to study that in detail. There is no question of disagreement on it; it is simply a matter of doing the work thoroughly and having the list prepared.

The noble Earl also asked about non-departmental public bodies and their future. There is no change proposed in this legislation. It is for the parent department, the new Ministers and the Assembly to decide what the relationship with NDPBs will be. It is for them to decide whether any individual non-departmental public body should continue to exist or if its functions should be located elsewhere. As regards the order we are discussing, no change is intended. I again thank your Lordships for the comments made.

Lord Lyell: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I apologise to him and the rest of my colleagues--my noble friends on this side of the House may be grateful that I was occupied by another event--that I was not able to take part in the debate. I hope that the Minister can give me the following information, if he has it available, or write to me about it. Am I right in thinking that the Department of Agriculture deals with all agricultural activities both in Europe and without: food production, forestry, fresh water and sea fisheries,

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equestrianism and horse-racing? Am I right that all these duties still come under the aegis of the Minister, and will that continue to be the case? Is anything different proposed in the order? I should indulge in a certain amount of gleeful laughter at the thought that some matters, particularly horse-racing, might be devolved to another department. Will the noble Lord write to me on that matter?

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