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Lord Monson: My Lords, I remind noble Lords who oppose this amendment that the law in Northern Ireland on sexual matters already differs from that in the rest of the United Kingdom in that the age of consent in Northern Ireland is 17 rather than 16. So there is a precedent. My main purpose in rising is to ask the noble Baroness who is to reply to confirm an answer that was given to me in Grand Committee, I think by the Leader of the House, to the effect that the Northern Ireland Assembly, if and when it reconvenes, would definitely have the power to repeal this Bill if it goes through and becomes an Act in so far as it affects Northern Ireland, if a majority of Assembly Members so decided. Can the noble Baroness please confirm that on the Floor of the House?
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, there should not be any doubt about the attitude of the elected Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It has always been a tradition that those matters that affected the entire community right across the religious divide would be dealt with by its own elected Assembly. It is true that the Assembly looks to be some way off. That should not in any way give us the opportunity in this place to impose on the people of Northern Ireland of all religions and all political views something that they clearly would not want any more than they wanted, for example, abortion legislation when it was carried through these two Houses.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I find myself in some difficulties here. Some noble Lords may recollect that I tend to take an interest in both social legislation and legislation affecting Northern Ireland. They have come together here today. I also have an attachment to the concepts of parliamentary debate and fair play. I am tempted to support my noble friend's amendment if she takes it to a vote, but I would feel slightly uneasy about doing so if I had not heard the arguments put by the Government that might be to the contrary. If all I hear from the Government is, "No, we do not like it", but with no reasons given, what am I to do? I must make up my mind having heard only one side of a debate. All other noble Lords will be in the same position. For example, I am uncertain as to whether if
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the legislation goes through unamended in respect of Northern Irelandthat is if we do not accept the amendment proposed by my noble friendthat the Assembly when it is reconvened would have the power to undo it.
I hope that the Leader of the House will not stick by the undertaking given or the threat made by her colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, that all we will hear is whether or not the Government like or dislike this amendment. I hope that she can find it in her heart to be so generous as to give us the Government's view, which I think would be quite authoritative, about whether the Northern Ireland Assembly would or would not have the power to repeal this. Surely, it is essential to know that before we can take a decision on the amendment.
It would be unparliamentary conduct if we were to be denied the benefit of the noble Baroness's view, which will no doubt be buttressed by the notes about this issue that are received from the officials in the Box. After all, in this House today, there is no one more authoritative on the matter than the noble Baroness. Before I make my decision on this amendment, I will await what she says. It would not be fair to do otherwisewould it?
By the way, while I am on my feet, I am so glad that I stayed on to hear this little debate. I shall now know where to find in Hansard the words of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, on the subject of the way in which we treat the people of Northern Ireland. As I understood them, his immortal words, which I jotted downI shall not hold them word by word, but I shall look them up in the Official Report tomorrowseem to show a remarkable similarity to things that I have said on Northern Irish legislation in this House more than once; namely, that we must not treat the citizens of Ulster differently from the remainder of the citizens of this kingdom. Amen to that. But almost every bit of Northern Ireland legislation that I have seen passing through this House during the time of this Government has done exactly that. That is why I have voted against so much of it. I welcome the prospect of having in the Lobby with me time and time again in the future, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I apologise for being a few minutes late returning to the Chamber. I have spoken earlier on this issue. This is not the first time that I have tried to persuade the Government to tread carefully. After 30 difficult years, which were nothing to do with today's issue, Northern Ireland is in a period of transition.
Again and again, those of us who live and work in Northern Ireland are looking for points where the community can come together. In social terms, we are not and never have been anything other than a compassionate society. Politically, we have had huge difficulties. But socially, I believe that Northern Ireland is as compassionate a region as anywhere within the United Kingdom. We do not indulge in gay
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bashing and such things. Even the noble Lord, Lord Alli, would probably concur with me on that. It is not a practice that
Lord Alli: My Lords, the noble Lord tempts me. But, if it is of any help, I could write to him providing some of the details of the abuses and violence in Northern Ireland towards young people and particularly young gay people. Rather than bore the House with that, perhaps he will let me do that.
At this Report stage, we already know what the Government think. We heard it ad nauseam in Grand Committee. I think that we particularly heard the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. On looking at the Official Report, one will find the Government's position 100 times over.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I am relieved that I do not tempt the noble Lord, Lord Alli, to expand on what he has already said. Within Northern Ireland there is a general consensus. People will not accept having this legislation imposed on them: 87 per cent of respondents in Northern Ireland have indicated that at best they do not understand what this legislation is about. That is not the basis on which to move forward in a region of the United Kingdom that has other problems to solve during this transitional period. So I ask the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, to press ahead with this amendment on the basis that we cannot have, for example, Northern Ireland excluded when it comes to the Mental Capacity Bill but included when it comes to this Bill.
There is inconsistency so far as the Government are concerned. When it suits the Government to include Northern Ireland, without deep consideration of the needs of the people of Northern Ireland we are included in legislation. When it suits the Government to do otherwise we are excluded. As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, remarked there is no consistency. Let us not add antagonism to what is a bad Bill. I think that the result of the previous vote indicated that the majority feel that this is a bad Bill. Again, let us not add antagonism to what is a bad Bill by pressing this issue against the proposed amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness will seriously consider the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I made the Government's reasons for legislating in Northern Ireland very clear in Grand Committee. Those reasons concern fairness and social justice, Perhaps I may restate for the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, what I said in Grand Committee and which was reported in Hansard: when the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive are restored, they will be able to decide on transferred matters. I oppose the amendment of the noble Baroness.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I thank her very much for what she has said and for the fact that she has already breached the policy set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland,
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who said that the Government would not reply in any way to the amendments put before the House. Now that we are back to normal working, can we get on?
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, it is strange to be moving an amendment in this atmosphere. It is completely new to me and, I would guess, completely new to all noble Lords in the Chamber today. But so be it, we have to get on with the business in hand.
On the issue of Northern Ireland, I think that the point has not been accepted; that it is due to the fact that the Assembly is suspended and is therefore not capable of making either a decision to say "yes" or "no" or of making any kind of contribution to the debate that I feel that it is quite outrageous to impose this Bill.
I want to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who said that agreement had been reached between the Front Benches about pre-legislative scrutiny. Some of us are not party to such agreements. Some of us are little, humble Back Benchers who never hear about what is going on in the corridors of power and between the usual channels. But, let us face it, we are part of the legislature as well. We have the right to hold our views, to express and to debate them. I do not want to be rolled over and told that there is an agreement between the Front Benches that pre-legislative scrutiny is not on order and therefore, in other words, the Back Benches are to be muzzled. That is not what I joined this House for.
I do not want to become acrimonious over this issue because it is too important for that. I have listened carefully to all noble Lords who contributed to the debate, and in particular to the contribution from Northern Ireland. I wish that noble Lords really understood Northern Ireland. I can understand that they think that Northern Ireland has had an all-too difficult past and has been a problem for many years, in fact since 1921. But the reality is that it is an important part of the United Kingdom and we cannot either ignore it or ride roughshod over it. That is wrong, and we ought to take the lead by saying just how wrong it is.
There is no question that if I were to press the amendment to a Division, I probably would not win. So I simply tell the Government that I shall come back to it at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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