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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I am grateful to the President of the Council for his explanation. Sometimes I feel that it is a heartbreaking task to try to bring about legislation in terms that ordinary members of society in Northern Ireland understand. Unlike the President of the Council and many other
Although I accept the noble and learned Lord's explanation, I should have liked a little more latitude in what we are trying to achieve. I shall have an opportunity perhaps to deal with some of the apparent contradictions in the Bill, and to ask again why the ordinary, law-abiding people of Northern Ireland, like myself, seem to have to strive for every little bit of comfort while those who have brought so much discomfort over 30 years appear to be spoon-fed and do not have to come to this House, or any other place, to be given the reassurances that they demand.
I do not wish to labour the point, so I shall conclude. As we go through the Bill, I hope that Members of the Committee will join me in trying to understand that the aim of every bit of legislation and every step taken should be to try to reassure ordinary members of society, who have battled against paramilitarism and gangsterism for the past 30 years. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: This group of amendments is large, but, as every Member of the Committee will appreciate, it is the nub of today's debate in Committee. I shall speak to Amendment No. 2, and the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, shall speak to Amendment No. 3. Many of the other amendments are consequential to either Amendment No. 2 or Amendment No. 3. A possible exception is Amendment No. 16, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 16 are all variations on a theme.
Although Members on this side of the Committee do not oppose the Bill, we do not agree with the serious curtailment of the Secretary of State's powers to exclude political parties or Ministers who are in breach of the Good Friday agreement or any other international agreement relating to the operation of democracy in the Province.
We do not oppose the setting up of a commission in an advisory role; in fact, we support it. However, the commissioners are not answerable to any sovereign parliament. We made the point, as did the Minister from the Government's side, that strand one of the Good Friday agreement should not be interfered with by way of recommendations, or have anything done to it by anyone other than the two members of the commission appointed by the British Government. We support that; it is what the debate is about. A direct input, not advice, into the workings of a British Parliament is no business for those who are non-British.
We need to think very carefully about several areas. Politics in Northern Ireland have no boundaries. It is a unique sort of place, certainly within Europe. The Secretary of State and his team never know what sort of problem will land on their desks at any time throughout the 24-hour dayI see the noble and learned Lord smiling. Everybody who has been involved in politics in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years is only too well aware of that. In my opinion, security is always at the heart of it all.
The commission is about monitoring the activities of Ministers and political parties in relation to the Good Friday agreement. But that is not really what it is about; it is about monitoring the activities of paramilitaries and terrorists and their relationships with political parties and Ministers. That is why it is very important that the sovereignty issue, and who has freedom of action to move and to make decisions, is kept very clear.
On the same relationship, I am concerned that, when asked at Second Reading about certain security matters, the noble and learned Lord said very clearlyit is recorded in Hansardthat the chief constable would remain responsible as the number one premier adviser on security matters to the Secretary of State. In the light of that, the Secretary of State must be free to take what actions he considers right in relation to the advice given to him by the chief constable, the general commanding at the time, or others. If those reported happenings that he needs to deal with relate directly to the political parties or a particular Minister, it seems unsatisfactory to have a situation where the Secretary of State can do nothing until he has sought the advice of the monitoring commission. That is to be avoided.
I am well aware that the amendment that we have tabled to try to correct the matter is tough, straightforward and will do just that. The minor amendments are consequential to it. I believe firmly that, on these issues, the Government have no rightthey have the power but no moral rightto delegate this sort of decision-making process to an appointed quango.
I made that comment in a rather derogatory way, but I do not wish in any way to demean the stature of the people whom we are very fortunate to have on the commission. All four are well known in their own fields, and I am sure that they are of the highest integrity. But perhaps that is why they will find it extremely difficult, on occasion, to reach a joint conclusion. They come from four very different fields of operation and from three different nationsI could say three-and-a-halfand they are strong, capable, competent and intelligent people who will make up their own minds. I fear that it is possible, even likely, that there will be times when they cannot provide unanimity of advice. The Secretary of State still holds responsibility and must hold responsibility for making the necessary decisions.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: In rising to support the tenor of what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, I want to address Clause 3 specifically and the consequential Clauses 18 and 25 in particular. My purpose is exactly the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoranto prevent a certain situation arising. I do not question the honour of any one of the four members of the monitoring commissionI know three of them, but I do not know the American. They are people of considerable ability, who have an opportunity to monitor and advise the Secretary of State. However, government should be governed and executive authority should not be vested in a quango in situations such as this one. That is a reality, and it disappoints me that, again and again, when it comes to Northern Ireland issues, there appears to be a let-out for the Government if we jump this way and another one if we jump in the opposite direction.
If I read this Bill correctly, the Secretary of State does not have the power to make a decision at variance with that of the monitoring commission. None the less, page 4, line 17 of the Bill states that, if the commission finds that action should be taken, there is no obligation on the Secretary of State to accept that advice. It states that,
Can it be that, on one hand, there is no freedom for the Secretary of State to work positively ahead of the commission if he feels that some elements within the Assembly are not committed to non-violence and so forth, and, on the other, that there is no obligation if the commission feelsand finds and rulesthat that is the situation? I hope that I have put that clearly and that the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council follows my argument. I hope that he will specifically address how we can have an option at each end of the question that militates against ordinary law-abiding people.
Neither the Ulster Unionists, the DUP nor the SDLP caused the working of the Assembly to fail. That is generally accepted. I have my own difficulty with the attitude of the Democratic Unionist Party, which was very keen to see the Assembly brought
Unless we get some change in this clause in terms of the Secretary of State's executive responsibilities, there will be no purpose in this Bill, because we will drift as we have before to the point at which the democratic process can be pulled down, worn away and undermined. I would like to believe that that is not the intention of the Governmentof either your Lordships' House or what will ensue in another place. However, it is puzzling and disheartening for me that specific commitments given to those who are law abidingI hope that your Lordships will notice that I do not talk about Unionists or nationalists but those who are law abidingare eroded before they can even be implemented, whereas those who want to work outside the law appear to have no difficulty in bending ears and getting decisions made that do not even have to be brought before this House or another place for consideration. That will be the harsh reality, unless something can be done to remedy the flaw.
On Friday, the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council congratulated me on being statesmanlike. That was unusual: I have been congratulated on many things but I am not particularly noted for diplomacy. I would like to proceed along the path that the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council has mapped out for me, but I must say, in all seriousness, that that will be impossible if we do not move in a direction that facilitates the vulnerable and the law-abiding people who are able and determined to make Northern Ireland work.
Lord Smith of Clifton: I noted that, in speaking to the amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred to what he called the uniqueness of Northern Ireland and said that the issues that came before the Secretary of State were not to be found elsewhere. I was slightly surprised at that. When he is not here, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, spends most of his time in Spain, and I would have thought that the Minister of the Interior in Spain would, from time to time, have the same sort of issues on his desk. However, I stand to be corrected.
Northern Ireland is unique, in the sense that it needs an international dimension to its conflict management. Hence the need for the commission, which we support. We do not want the commission to be in any way reduced in its proposed role or functions. As I said at Second Reading, we would not support the sort of broad amendments proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Maginnis of Drumglass. We think that they, as it were, over-enhance the role of the Secretary of State and diminish the contribution that the commission could make, if, in some unfortunate circumstance, it has to.
I have therefore proposed a compromise amendment. It is Amendment No. 16, and I propose to divide the House on it, if necessary. Our amendment would allow the Secretary of State to act in very unusualalmost extremecircumstances. We accept that there is a gap in the Bill and that one could just conceivably think of a crisis situation that required immediate action and in which neither the Assembly nor the commission could meet in time to deal with the matter. That is the rationale behind my amendment, and I will put it to a Division.
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