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My noble friend said that a couple of the amendments were unnecessary. I think that this is partly what goes wrong in politics. She knows what she means; her officials in the ministry know what they mean; and we, having heard her, understand what she means. But it is clearor the amendments would not have been tabledthat the Bill is not as explicit as the debate that we have just had. Given the way the world operates, people will not go back to Hansard in future years to find out what the Minister of State, in all earnestness, said. Debates are inclined to get down to what the Bill actually says. If, for example, the word institution is not necessary but happens to express what my noble friend says she favours better than the word person, it is quite absurd not to replace person with institution. That is the kind of almost professional conservatism and inertia in public administration that we were worried about in elements of the Probation Service. Open-mindedness says, If thats a better way to express it, lets do that. I would like my noble friend, in the spirit in which this exchange has taken place, to go away and think about that and see whether she cannot meet it at Report.
On provision, the same point applies. What has come across from this debate is that the Chamber feels strongly about the responsibility of the Secretary of State to provide the financial means for making effective the arrangements that are put in place or which have been theoretically prepared for ensuring that the resources are there to make a reality of aspiration. Aspirational legislation can become quite dangerous, because people become very cynical. What matters is that the meat and the mechanisms are there. From that standpoint, I again ask my noble friend whether she will not go away and think seriously about what has been said and whether, in the spirit of the creative open-mindedness which she has argued should have a place in the Probation Service, she cannot, within the channels of government, meet it at Report.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order is made under Section 55 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Its purpose is to amend the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. The amendment order has the sole purpose of restoring the agreement between the two Governments into domestic law after it was lost when the Northern Ireland Act 2000 was repealed, consequent on the Assembly returning.
The order will give effect to an agreement between the British and Irish Governments on the continuing role of the Special EU Programmes Body. The SEUPB is one of the six north/south implementation bodies set up following the Belfast agreement in 1998 to promote cross-border community co-operation understanding and action between people and organisations in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It manages the implementation of the EU social, economic, reconciliation and cultural programmes, worth £608 million.
The Special EU Programmes Body has fulfilled its role well throughout its existence. All the key EU regulatory and expenditure targets have been met, and evaluations show that the EU programmes it manages are meeting their objectives. Co-operation offers clear mutual benefits. We want the role of the special body to be completely clear to all.
The need for the order can be traced back to a change in the regulations governing the funding for EU programmes that occurred during the suspension of the Assembly. Funding for EU programmes and the regulations that govern them are agreed in seven-year cycles. The new EU regulations for the cycle that began this year contain some differences from regulations governing the previous funding period. These differences could have caused certain functions of the SEUPB to lapse, specifically those relating to the successor to the INTERREG III programme, which has been allocated €256 million over the next seven-year funding cycle.
The British and Irish Governments acted on 25 July 2006 to ensure that the Special EU Programmes Body could continue to operate in 2007 by reaching agreement on its continued role in an exchange of letters. That agreement was then incorporated into domestic law by designating the exchange of letters as a relevant agreement under paragraph 10(3) of the schedule to the Northern Ireland Act 2000, the Act that provided for suspension. When the Northern Ireland Act 2000 was repealed following the recent restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the incorporation of the agreement into UK law ceased to have effect. We therefore need to restore the status quo anteto reincorporate into domestic law the agreement between the two Governments on the role of the Special EU Programmes Body. The order seeks to do this and to ensure, beyond doubt, that the important work of the SEUPB can continue. I emphasise that the order is solely to clarify the role of the SEUPB and the shared understanding of the two Governments on the matter. It does not affect other north/south implementation bodies.
The order does not change any existing functions of the Special EU Programmes Body, nor does it add or remove existing functions. Its purpose is to ensure that the programmes body can continue to perform its role in the 2007-2013 EU funding cycle and thereafter.
The order will introduce into domestic law the clarity to ensure that the territorial co-operation objective, widely referred to as INTERREG IV, can carry on its work funding cross-border community projects that benefit the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
I repeat that this amendment order made under Section 55 of the Northern Ireland Act has as its sole purpose the restoration of the agreement between the two Governments into domestic law after it was lost when the Northern Ireland Act 2000 was repealed. We all applaud the repeal of that Act.
Lord Trimble: My Lords, I have a couple of queries arising directly from what the Minister said. He said that the purpose of the order is to restore something which has been lost because of the repeal of the Northern Ireland Act 2000. The repeal of that Act was clearly signalled and intended to take place on the restoration of the Assembly. Why was this not anticipated? Why was it not included, for example, in the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill, which clearly contemplated restoration and the repeal of the 2000 Act? Why has this slip occurred?
My second question relates to an exchange of letters in July 2006. Before the exchange of those letters, was there any consultation with the Northern Ireland political parties and which Northern Ireland political parties were consulted?
I have little to say other than that I welcome this order. It is interesting that we have an order containing letters from two Governments to each other. I am extremely pleased that someone in the Northern Ireland Office picked up what we might have lost with the 2000 Bill and put it together fairly quickly. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said, it is a pity that they did not save us the trouble and sort it out before we got to this stage. I support the order.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this order, which we certainly welcome. I take the opportunity to wish him a happy birthday. His presence here tonight is above and beyond the call of duty and we are very grateful.
Lord Laird: My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining the Order in Council. A number of points occurred to me, as an innocent Back Bencher. Surely paragraph 4.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum should refer to paragraph 10(3) of the schedule to the Northern Ireland Act 2000. Has the draftsperson been neglectful in not mentioning the schedule, or am I reading this thing incorrectly?
Regarding the definitions in the London/Dublin exchange of letters of 25 July 2006, were these not originally agreed on 18 June 1999? It would certainly appear to be that way to me, but I wait to hear what the Minister has to say.
Following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said, was the order really necessary? If the original Act had taken account not only of suspension but of devolution we would not be going to the trouble, expense and time here tonight of putting this order through.
Lastly, will the Minister confirm that the order is not retrospective? I know that the EU implementation body has been working away for the past month during devolution. Will the Minister confirm that there is nothing that the implementation body has done during that period that would be unlawful ?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am pleased to note the return of the noble Lord, Lord Laird. He has obviously had a return to robust health by the fact that he is here at the first available opportunity. I am sorry if I have missed his attendance previously, but I am pleased to see him back in his place after quite a long absence.
This is purely a technicality. If we could have planned for everything, we would have had everything done at the right time, but the situation was not like that with restoration. It was not done under the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act, because it is purely a technicality, and it is the sort of thing that the power in Section 55 is intended forso there is nothing abnormal about that. I fully agree that there were debates at the time. In fact, during the suspension Section 55 was not available because of the special arrangements under the 2000 Act, and there was a discussion between the two Governments at the time about how this would be done by an exchange of letters. So it was done to classify those letters as a relevant agreement, so they were covered by the legislation. That was purely for tidying-up purposes.
I have no doubt that there may be other issues lurking round, although I do not know because there is nothing in my brief about that. The fact of the matter is that there was a fairly long suspension of the Assembly, when we were trying to do business as usual for the people on the island of Ireland.
Section 55 of the 1998 Act provides us with an enabling power to deal with the implementation bodies. We are bringing this one forward as swiftly as possible following the restoration, but it is an appropriate use of the legislation.
The Special EU Programmes Body is operating on a statutory footing, on the basis of the unamended implementation bodies order. The amendment adds a reference to the latest supplementary agreement with the Irish, therefore making clear our mutual understanding about the remit of the body in relation to EU funding schemes. Nothing is changed in how the body is working, and to the best of my knowledge nothing is affected by the work that has gone on in the past month.
With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, I do not think that the issue of retrospectivity comes into it because the relevant agreement in the letters was there anywayit has simply moved from one piece of legislation to another. That is perfectly straightforward. No one has raised any questions, and there is nothing in terms of spending. As for the way in which the programmes are being done, the regulatory rules under the EU are all being fulfilled; as far as I am aware, they fulfil the remit of the programmes. So it is not even a lacuna in that sense. We are simply in the normal course of things bringing up to date the provisions for Northern Ireland.
Lord Trimble: My Lords, this is my second attempt at an intervention. I remind the Minister about my query over whether there was appropriate consultation with Northern Ireland political parties before the July 2006 exchange.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not have an answer to that. It was an integral part of the Belfast agreement, but I am not sure whether there was consultation with the political parties. This was last year, so I cannot speak from personal experience about that, but if there is an answer to give the noble Lord about that I should be able to give it to him before the close of the debate. I am not sure whether it would have been appropriate to consult, if it was a government-to-government operation, but that I cannot say.
Lord Trimble: My Lords, I may be able to help the Minister as to the reason for the question. After suspension in 2002, further arrangements were made to provide for the care and maintenance of the north/south co-operationand I think that that is the third agreement cited at the beginning of Mr Hains letter in July 2006. Associated with that exchange of letters were clear understandings, incorporated in correspondence, between the Government and the Northern Ireland parties whereby to ensure that the spirit of the agreement and legislation was fully honoured there were arrangements to consult those parties when any significant decision had to be taken under the care and maintenance arrangements. I know that in the previous Parliament the undertaking was fulfilled, but I am not sure that it was being fulfilled in 2005 and 2006, which is why I intervened.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, bearing in mind the background and the position that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, occupied at the time, I shall certainly get a definitive answer to that and write to noble Lords. I cannot answer his question tonightI can confirm that. However, to the best of my knowledge in the period since the summer of 2006, when the exchange of letters took place, I have answered no parliamentary questions on this issue in this placeand they would have come across my desk. No one has raised the issue with me in correspondence about any lack of consultation. I am not saying that as an excuse, but it has not been the hottest issue in town. Nevertheless, if commitments were given about consultation, the noble Lord is entitled to an answer about what took place, and I give the assurance that I shall get the answer for him.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, these regulations are pursuant to important provisions of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. Section 6 of that Act included a series of new provisions designed to increase young peoples participation in positive leisure-time activities. This was broadly welcomed in both Houses. In January this year the legislation came into force and is now extending opportunities for young people.
Youth Matters, the July 2005 DfES Green Paper on youth activities, highlighted evidence indicating the benefits to young people of engaging in constructive out-of-school activities. Those activities were shown to aid personal and social development, diverting young people in danger of disaffection and anti-social behaviour.
However, research findings and testimony from young people themselves, which informed Youth Matters and the subsequent Youth Matters: Next Steps, published in March 2006, revealed that positive activities were frequently inaccessible, expensive, unpopular or simply unavailable. Furthermore, the evidence showed that these barriers to participation were often greatest for vulnerable and disaffected young people, who have the most to gain from participating.
For that reason we brought forward Section 6, which inserted a new Section 507B into the Education Act 1996, placing new duties on local authorities. They include a requirement to consult young people about local activities; to publicise and keep up-to-date information on things to do locally and places to go; andthe main dutyto secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, access for all young people in the authority to sufficient educational and recreational leisure-time activities for the improvement of their well-being, and sufficient facilities for these activities.
Section 6 also included, in Schedule 1 to the 2006 Act, an amendment to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to update its definition of recreational or training facilities so that it referred to the new legislation. Unfortunately, while Section 6 was still subject to parliamentary scrutiny, the section of the Disability Discrimination Act that we sought to amend through Schedule 1 was itself amended by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) (Further and Higher Education) Regulations 2006. This rendered the Schedule 1 amendment irrelevant since it referred to a paragraph that had been amended.
We propose these regulations to remedy that straightforward error by my department. They correctly locate the new definition of recreational or training facilities within the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and will restore coherence within Section 6.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these technical amendments and for his frankness in explaining that they are required only because of an error made by the Department for Education and Skills during the passage of the Education and Inspections Bill last year, or, as the Minister in another place, Bill Rammell, said:
I declare an interest as a trustee of the Disability Partnership, a charity which seeks to offer practical ways to increase social inclusion across the disability spectrum. This is an issue of great concern to many, as was highlighted by the lengthy and earnest debate in both Houses during the passage of the Education and Inspections Bill. I do not intend to rehearse the arguments today but I take this unexpected opportunity to emphasise the need to understand and appreciate the complexities of disability.
I appreciate that much has been done to improve physical access to buildings, but this is not just about ensuring wheelchair access, important though that is. Indeed, less than 4 per cent of disabled people use a wheelchair. There is a great variance in disability and often fluctuating conditions within that disability. If we are to encourage young people to make the most of the opportunities available to them, we must respond flexibly and sensitively to their needs. Many young people with disabilities often feel insecure in unfamiliar settings. It is vital that we do not throw them in at the deep end without the necessary support and guidance to make them feel safe.
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