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The noble Lord said: The premise on which this amendment is based is to ensure that when the Secretary of State makes an order to suspend the Assembly, it must be approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. This is an enabling Bill which, as I said at Second Reading, gives very wide powers to the Secretary of State. It gives him the ability to suspend the Assembly at any time without any further requirement to consult Parliament or to make a Statement.
Yet Parliament has to pass an order to allow power to be restored. That seems to be somewhat illogical. The Act, as it will be, does not have to be used now or at the weekend. In future there may be very different circumstances and the Act would be used without any consideration of the matter being given by Parliament. It is an extremely broad and sweeping power that is being given to the Secretary of State. It may have very serious implications. I beg to move.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has just said. Obviously, it is extremely important that the order which sets the suspension in motion should be approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. Sadly, that is not how I read his amendment. It appears to mean that the Act would not come into force, and would not become available to the Secretary of State, unless there had been approved a draft of such an order by both Houses of Parliament. There would have to be a subsequent order and another pair of approvals in order to set the suspension in motion. I do not believe that is desirable.
It would be unusual to require an affirmative resolution simply for the bringing into force of the Act. Secondly, it may delay permission being given for the actual suspension owing to the necessity of having two measures of approval, one for the Act itself and the other for the resolution. Therefore, while agreeing with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, I cannot agree to the amendment as I read it.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I cannot support the amendment. Last week the Secretary of State himself in another place had a timetable in mind. He seemed to suggest that, with everyone's co-operation, the Bill could complete all its stages in both Houses and receive Royal Assent at a given time, followed by commencement, in his view, almost automatically. That seemed to be what he had in mind. I believe that is desirable.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Through his amendment the noble Lord seeks to provide that the commencement order bringing this Act into effect should be subject to further parliamentary scrutiny and approval. Although the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, raised questions about its efficacy, I understand that he supports the principle. Although I understand the reasons for moving the amendment, I believe that it is inappropriate.
It is customary for the power to make a commencement order not to be subject to parliamentary approval. In giving its approval to this Bill the House will, with regret, I believe, be giving my right honourable friend in another place authority to suspend devolved government. He has made it clear that he will act on that authority by the end of this week if clear and credible progress has not been made on decommissioning, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, has said. That is the reality of the position. To be required to return to the House within days for further approval is neither sensible nor appropriate.
Members of the Committee may also wish to note, first, that the report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee which considered these matters, has given the legislation a clean bill of health. Secondly, subsequent restoration and revocation orders under the Bill, should it become law, would require parliamentary approval. In those circumstances, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
The noble Lord said: I risk repeating what I said a few minutes ago. In another place the Secretary of State expressed the expectation and hope that the Bill would complete all its stages. He also said that he hoped that it would receive Royal Assent before the end of this week. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, said, that is the normal custom for a Bill as important as this, and that any commencement should not be delayed in any way by reference to any other bodies at any other level.
As a loyal subject, I would not presume to anticipate Her Majesty's decision. Therefore, my amendment is designed to ensure that the commencement follows closely on receiving Royal Assent. It suggests a round figure of 24 hours after Royal Assent. But in view of the deterioration in confidence within Northern Ireland and all the rumours, reports, forecasts and so forth, I suggest that, subject to the Royal Prerogative, the commencement announcement could be made perhaps as early as 12 noon tomorrow. We certainly should not allow the situation to drift over the weekend: that would be absolutely disastrous. I beg to move.
Lord Glentoran: I have some sympathy with this amendment but, after considerable thought, I believe it is best to leave the Secretary of State with maximum flexibility as to when he operates the suspension, if indeed he has to. However, I reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, as regards the suspension being sooner rather than later if the deterioration continues, according to the press and one thing and another. We must not forget that the Ulster Unionist Party conference meets on Saturday. The First Minister, David Trimble, will be in serious trouble by then if we have not got either the product or the process has not been suspended.
Furthermore, the people attending that meeting will come from right across the Province. If they have not heard in due time of the suspension and arrive in the knowledge that it has not happened, there could be considerable difficulties in getting the decision that we want from them. I am being very practical and recommend to the Government that if suspension is seen to be necessary--I still hope that it will not--it is made in adequate time to be announced in Northern Ireland on the six o'clock news.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I appreciate that the noble Lord wishes to ensure that a prompt decision is made as to when suspension should take effect, particularly as it is such a major step. But as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has said, the effect of the amendment is to require the Secretary of State to make a commencement order within such a short timescale thereby negating the flexibility of allowing an order to be made in the first place.
In practice, this amendment to the Bill would not allow my right honourable friend in another place to take account of any developments that occur before the Bill receives Royal Assent or even just after that. I am sure that the Committee is aware of the rapid changes that can occur in the political process in Northern Ireland, particularly the propensity for developments at the eleventh hour. We must not assume, even at this late stage, that commencement will be necessary. Indeed, many of us hope that there will be enough progress so that suspension is no longer needed.
Equally, the Government must be able to react quickly to preserve the progress that has been made so far and to ensure good governance in Northern Ireland. Assurances have been given, both here and in another place, that those developments must occur by the end of the week or devolved government will be suspended.
Emphasising again that the amendment will require the Secretary of State to trigger suspension of the devolved institutions even if the political context did not warrant it, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for his qualified support of the amendment. I am grateful to him also for issuing a little reminder of certain crucial timetables and crucial meetings taking place in the early part of the weekend, which I was too timid to mention.
I understand the constitution and niceties of these matters. I hope that, at least, the amendment and what has been said in support of it will be taken on board by the Secretary of State--sensitive, as he always is, to the possibility of dangers and troubles further down the road. I am confident that we can leave the matter to his judgment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
We all hope that this will be a short suspension but, were it not to be, these amendments seek to require the Secretary of State to review his decision on the payment of Assembly members every six months. Before devolution, there was a great deal of controversy about the level of payment of Assembly members. That was exacerbated further by the salaries they voted themselves when devolution took place. To allow any public suspicion in Northern Ireland that payments will be carried on over an extended period would be most unfortunate.
There is no political advantage in arguing for the retention of Assembly members' wages if there is little or no work being carried out. I envisage that if the Assembly is still in suspension after six months and no
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