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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I rise to express my support for my noble friend's amendment. As was the case with the amendment of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, it seems to me that the logic behind this amendment is self-evident in terms of what the Bill contains, as outlined in Clauses 3 and 11. Equally, there is quite an important principle at stake here that the Government seem to have acknowledged in both those clauses. After all, we are told that the whole basis of the Good Friday agreement has been to recognise a government assumption--a heroic one perhaps but, nevertheless, one which the Government have made--that terrorist parties that have been allowed to participate in the new arrangements as a result of the agreement have given up the Armalite in favour of the ballot box. As the noble Lord knows, I am highly sceptical about whether that assumption is justified. However, let us assume that it is; indeed, we all hope that it is.
It seems logical, therefore, that we should not give comfort in this clause, any more than we do in other clauses, to parties that have not agreed to the rules to which the rest of us in parliamentary government have subscribed. Indeed, unless everyone plays by those rules, those who resort to violence, bombs and the Armalite tend to have an advantage which is denied to the rest of us and which destroys the body politic in the polity in which we live.
A commission whose accumulated political wisdom is the reason for its existence should be a body that represents parties that subscribe wholly to the rules to which the rest of us are subject. If the Government do not subscribe to the sentiments expressed in my noble friend's amendment, the logic of that will be even less easy to follow than the logic originally put forward by the noble Lord in his justification--initially at least--for rejecting Amendment No. 14A.
I turn to the matter of substance before us, as outlined in Amendment No. 15. I indicated earlier what had led us not to include the restriction contained in this amendment. I believe that our line was and is valid. As it stands, the government amendment is what we intended to commend to the House. The reason behind that is the fact that the panel is not a government body but one belonging, quite properly, to the parties. They will have to work together to make the panel work.
However, I have listened to what noble Lords opposite have said. I believe that the panel has a very important task to complete and that it must work. Noble Lords have made the point that the Government's amendment would add a degree of inconsistency to the Bill. For those reasons, and bearing in mind the fact that this matter needs to be approached both sensitively and practically, I am prepared to accept the noble Lord's amendment as drafted. It is certainly correct as drafted. I am happy to acknowledge that point this evening and to concede on this issue. That is the position of the Government.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I was a little concerned earlier that my noble friend Lord Astor would be the only person this evening to receive a concession from the Government--that is to say, to be fair, other than the many concessions contained in the Government's amendments to the Bill, which are concessions or re-thinks arising from the Committee stage. However, I am delighted to see that I, too, have actually scored a concession. Indeed, as the noble Lord pointed out, if consistency is what we are about, if he is prepared to be consistent with me on the Parliamentary Oaths Act, I must be prepared to be consistent with him on the treasurer point. Therefore, I accept the noble Lord's point in that respect. I am delighted to accept his acceptance of my amendment.
Apart from the matters specified in subsection (3), the Secretary of State may require a report on any matter that he chooses, regardless of whether or not it is strictly within the competence of the commission. Indeed, he could require a report on any topic that does not fall within the competence of the commission at all. That would be clearly perverse but, as the clause is presently drawn, the Secretary of State would be perfectly entitled to do so.
I am wary of conferring broad powers on Ministers, especially where there is no clear, and certainly no compelling, case to do so. I cannot see a compelling case for the broad power conferred by subsection (2). Under my amendment the Secretary of State would be empowered to require the commission to review and report on any matter or matters listed in subsection (1). That in itself is a considerable power but I think a perfectly acceptable one. I cannot see a case for going beyond that; hence my amendment. I beg to move.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I hope that he will explain something to the House, or rather to me as I have not understood it. This is perhaps a relatively minor matter, but is he not advocating something of a Henry VIII power here if a power is added, perhaps by ministerial order, and therefore amends something which is embodied in primary legislation?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not think that we are advocating a Henry VIII power here. We are providing no more and no less than some necessary flexibility. It is certainly not my intention to introduce a Henry VIII power here; that would be wrong and improper. However, we may not have listed fully all the kinds of matters that might properly fall to the commission to consider. The wording in the Bill provides some small measure of flexibility which should enable that position to be covered. It is no more and no less than that.
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