Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am sorry to intervene at this point. I just wanted to agree with and support what the Minister has said about the level of threat and the rumours that are in the newspapers today and were in the Irish Times yesterday. It is extremely important that security measures involving both police and the army are solely determined by the level of threat. After all, Irvinestown has reminded us once again, although we needed no reminding, that the threat does not come only from those who belong to the larger and better known paramilitary organisations but potentially, increasingly, from break-away movements of one kind or another. It is the threat from them, just as much as from any of the larger organisations, that has to be taken into account by the Secretary of State and his security advisers in deciding when to reduce any security measures that there are, including troop numbers and everything else. That has always been the policy, and I am delighted that the Minister has confirmed that it is still so.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I felt that I had made it abundantly clear in my opening words that the one target word in that sub-section was the word "review". I did not mention anything likely to be destructive of the Belfast agreement. I know that we used to be told in former times--last year and the year before--that the substitution of the word "may" for "shall" or vice versa would unravel the whole agreement, none of which I believed. That was the kind of theology. It was that word "review" to which I took exception and which I made clear I regarded as highly dangerous. I should have perhaps suggested the word "amendment" or "consultations". I did try to make it clear that on occasions when we have had these high-wire acts in the way of reviews, cameras and the law, ambushing everybody as they come in and out, putting their own slant and interpretation on what has been said, that was quite frankly destructive of any peaceful way forward. I derive some comfort from the fact that I am in line with the junior Minister in another place. I quoted the words to the Committee. I do hope that he will not be accused by certain Members of the Committee here of trying to destroy the Belfast agreement. In the light of the curious reaction I have had, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

10 Feb 2000 : Column 784

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 3:

    Page 2, line 3, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: A study of the Northern Ireland Act 1998--which, after all, is the governing Act at the moment--reveals that only two years ago we asked why--

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I believe that we have yet to come to Clause 3. This is Amendment No. 3.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Effect of restoration]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 2, line 6, leave out subsections (2) to (7) and insert--

("(2) Sections 16 to 19 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (relating to the election of the first minister and deputy first minister, the determination and filling of ministerial offices and the appointment of junior ministers) shall apply.".).

The noble Lord said: I am grateful for the correction, as I had indicated that I was discussing Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 together as they are grouped together on the groupings list.

Given that so much study was devoted to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 during its progress through this Chamber only two years ago, we have to ask why what we approved without even a Division--namely, the complicated mechanism for appointing the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister--has now been largely set aside by Clause 3 of the Bill before us. One can understand the desire to avoid delay in appointing, or perhaps reappointing, those two senior Ministers. However, in the likely event of the period of suspension--renewed or otherwise--lasting for perhaps a year, does it not seem likely that the situation, including the political situation, may have changed to such an extent that the original mandate of one or both of those two Ministers will be no longer sustainable? In that situation, would it not be prudent for those two senior Ministers to be reinstated to begin with in designate form and thereafter to seek a renewed mandate in the form of fresh internal elections in the Assembly, perhaps after a period of four weeks?

I understand that in another place a junior Minister took the line that any election during or immediately after suspension would be, to use his words, a very delicate matter. It might be said that Ministers had foreseen the events in the Welsh Assembly yesterday and those which may yet occur in the Scottish Parliament. All of us who have had to submit ourselves to election may feel that all elections are delicate matters, particularly in a marginal constituency. It is not clear whether the juggling between Section 16 of the 1998 Act and Clause 3 of the Bill perpetuates the requirement for a kind of joint departure of both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister; in other words, if one goes, the other must go. One might call that a kind of legislative suicide pact. In the light of

10 Feb 2000 : Column 785

yesterday's confusion in Wales, is it possible that there is now a need for a rethink, not to damage the sacred agreement but simply to clarify the rules governing present and future mechanisms within the Assembly? I believe that it would be disastrous if, following a restoration, there was confusion and chaos on the first day back. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: Once again, I regret to say that I cannot support the noble Lord's amendment. It seems to me that if suspension occurs (whatever the period of time it takes for democracy to be restored), it would be less than just after all the work, the negotiations, the effort and leadership of both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister--Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon, respectively--that they should not resume their posts when democracy is restored. If, as the noble Lord suggests, their mandate has run out, surely the democratic processes will take their own natural course within the Assembly and within the Province, and new elections will follow in the normal way. I believe that it is absolutely right that when democracy is restored after a suspension, those in post should remain there until the democratic processes of the system decide otherwise. As I say, we cannot support the amendment.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: On Tuesday in another place my right honourable friend Mr Mandelson, set out the rationale behind the Bill. He made it clear that the intention was to suspend the institutions in order to create a temporary pause, a breathing space, in which a short review could take place, after which a restoration order could be made.

Fundamentally, the enabling power in this Bill will suspend only the operation of the institutions. The institutions themselves will remain intact. In particular, the Assembly will not be collapsed or dissolved. Similarly, members of the Executive and the First and Deputy First Ministers are not being permanently discharged. Their functions will simply be exercised, for a temporary period, by the Secretary of State. A restoration order will then return all of the institutions intact to the point before suspension took place. Clause 3 has been drafted to allow a smooth, uncomplicated and swift return to devolution.

If Clause 3 were drafted in the way proposed by the noble Lord, in effect one would have to have new elections for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister--and that would suggest that the suspension was intended to be a long-term proposition, which it is not. In addition, it might suggest some permanency that would be damaging to the process of building the trust and confidence which are necessary for the restoration of the institutions.

The vast majority here and in another place have expressed their disappointment at the need to present this Bill. These views are based on the fact that most people want to see the Good Friday agreement work. They want to see power successfully devolved to Northern Ireland. They do not want to see a return to direct rule. The Government are in total agreement

10 Feb 2000 : Column 786

with those views. That is why, instead of dissolving the institutions and repealing the Northern Ireland Act 1998, we are putting arrangements in place to allow for what we hope will be a short suspension. It would not be conducive to a swift and positive return to devolution to have to re-establish the Assembly from scratch after suspension. It would not help to create stability; it would have the opposite effect. I hope that in the light of what I have said, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am grateful for the noble and learned Lord's response. I can only hope that the obvious conflict between the 1998 Act and the present Bill will not, when the Assembly is eventually restored, cause the whole operation to end in chaos and tears yet again. I hope that the gentle warnings that I have given may at least enable some consideration to be given to the possibility that the experts may not be entirely right. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Orders made under this Act: supplemental provision]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page