HC Deb 16 December 1993 vol 234 cc1367-70

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Dewar

Will the Minister say something about the clause? The week has been dominated by Irish affairs of one sort or another, and we have here the corresponding provision for Northern Ireland. I should like to know how the machinery will work. 1 say that rather apologetically, because I understand that there is a different system over there—one that reflects the tensions, difficulties, frustrations and worries of the political and physical situation there.

I recognise, for example, that many statutory foundations must be laid here which do not have to be laid for Northern Ireland affairs. Obviously, the Order in Council is the instrument that governs in this matter. It would be interesting for the Committee if the Minister could explain just for a minute—I do not invite a learned paper on this—how this will operate in Northern Ireland, what the safeguards are and what the legislative foundation is on which the officials will work in gathering and administering this particular increase in national insurance contributions.

You may remember, Mr. Morris, because you may have been in the Chamber for at least part of these proceedings, that there was no need for a money resolution for Northern Ireland. I asked what happened in Northern Ireland and was told, slightly dismissively, that such a resolution was not necessary. Now is the chance to discover why and how the difference exists and operates.

Mr. Hague

I can give a brief explanation which will set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest and clarify the matter.

Clause 4 provides that a corresponding Order in Council under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 will be subject to the negative rather than the positive resolution procedure. Hon. Members who take an interest in Northern Ireland legislation will be familiar with this provision. It simply gives advance warning in the Bill that corresponding provisions will be anacted in Northern Ireland.

It is designed to ensure immediate parity for people there with the arrangements that will apply in the rest of the United Kingdom. The purpose of the clause is to make it clear to Northern Ireland Members that they can take part in the debate on the Bill's substantive provisions in the knowledge that any change made to its substance will be made later in parallel Northern Ireland legislation.

It is worth noting that clause 4 does not apply to clause 3, as clause 3 deals specifically with amendments to the corresponding legislation for the Province. Clause 4 applies to the rest of the Bill, which does not deal specifically with Northern Ireland. I hope that that has clarified the matter for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dewar

We are privileged. Not only has the junior Minister mastered his brief on this, but we have present the Minister of State who is long conversant with Irish affairs and no doubt can help us out.

As I understand the Minister's explanation, he is saying that this is a trigger. It flags up to any Irish Member that he can wholeheartedly take part in our debates, knowing that there will be some form of legislation put in place by Order in Council. I presume that that procedure does not involve the elected representatives directly or any form of debate or discussion, at least in the public forum. Therefore, Northern Ireland Members can come along and share in the excitement of our deliberations in the certain knowledge that what is decided will then be reflected.

I do not know what the Council of the Order in Council is. I presume that it is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—one Privy Councillor, rather than Privy Councillors, which is one what usually thinks of. I presume that it is not a body with a set membership that meets round a great table like the great Council of the North in the 15th century, sending riders out in all directions with the glad tidings of what the great men had decided. In any event, I think that I understand the point.

One subsidiary question is of interest. At one point I set out to draft a series of amendments—they may be on the amendment paper—which were intended to turn this from a negative to an affirmative procedure. It was pointed out to me by various people who are much more expert than I that that was not necessary, because I was merely returning the law to the state in which it was. Therefore, the whole matter was redundant. But is there some sort of change in the procedure in Northern Ireland that reflects short-term problems and which means that certain matters do not apply? Is the negative procedure a result of that? I did not quite follow that point. I know that the Minister will have followed my halting attempts at an explanation and will be able to come up with a clear exposition of the situation, to which I look forward.

Mr. Hague

The hon. Gentleman is correct and we are now at one in our interpretation of the clause. It is a good description to say that the clause is a flagging-up for Northern Ireland Members. It means that they can participate in deliberations on the matter knowing that it will be reflected in Northern Ireland legislation, despite the fact that most of the rest of the Bill does not specificially refer to Northern Ireland. I am not aware of any special circumstances that have led to any change in procedure, but if there are any I shall write to the hon. Gentleman and make that clear.

Mr. Dewar

I do not want to turn this into a dialogue. That seems inappropriate in the Chamber. One would feel more at home in Standing Committee in such an exchange.

Clause 4 says: An Order in Council … which states that it is made only for purposes corresponding to those of section 1 or 2 of this Act—

  1. (a) shall not be subject to paragraph 1(4) and (5) of that Schedule … but
  2. (b) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution by either House of Parliament.
I presume that that means that if we were not specifically excluding paragraph 1(4) and (5) of the schedule, which the rubric in brackets helpfully tells us is an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament, the Order in Council would be subject to an affirmative resolution. Therefore, the fact that we are taking that out must be for some special purpose and reason. In other words, in making the Order in Council subject to a negative resolution, we are upsetting the norm. We are rebutting the presumption of what would normally happen in terms of paragraph 1(4) and (5) of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. What I am trying to get at is why we are upsetting the norm here.

It is as clear as the nose on my face that the Order in Council would usually be subject to an affirmative resolution. We are rebutting that and making it subject to a negative resolution, and the simple question is why.

Mr. Hague

The best way to explain this to the hon. Gentleman is to say that there is no benefit in making the Order in Council subject to affirmative resolution. Doing so would provide a separate opportunity for Members of Parliament to debate the application of the changes to Northern Ireland, but all those changes can be debated during the passage of the Bill.

Therefore, although it would provide an opportunity for an additional debate as it specifically relates to Northern Ireland, using the negative resolution procedure is perfectly in order on this occasion because Northern Ireland Members have had the opportunity to participate in this debate. As it happens, they are not here and have not participated, but had they wished to do so, they could have used this opportunity rather than the opportunity that would have been given by the passage of an affirmative resolution through the House.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Listeners to the exchanges might have been foxed. Does the Minister agree that, in effect, he is denying Northern Ireland Members the opportunity to debate the matter on an affirmative resolution? If I am wrong, please tell me. In respect of legislation for Yorkshire, it would be perfectly possible, would it not, for the hon. Gentleman or any other Member from Yorkshire to participate on the Bill, but if there was no opportunity to participate on an affirmative resolution when it applied to Yorkshire, they would be denied the opportunity?

Mr. Hague

They would be denied the opportunity of participating in a debate on an affirmative resolution, but not denied the opportunity of participating in debates during the passage of the Bill. Therefore, Northern Ireland Members will have had the same opportunity as all hon. Members to participate in the debate. As it happens, they have chosen not to do so but the same legislation applies to them. The effect of the Bill is the same for them as for the rest of the United Kingdom and the effect of this part of the clause is merely that the debate is concentrated on the passage of the Bill, rather than requiring further affirmative resolutions, confirming what we would have dealt with already during the Bill's passage.

Mr. Dewar

I think that I should bale out of this discussion while the going is good. I may be tempted to tell the Minister that there is an obvious follow-up question, to which he will already have turned his mind. If he is saying that there is no point in having an affirmative resolution procedure because, ultimately, the debate is in the Chamber and Northern Ireland Members have a right to participate in it, I cannot understand why the normal powers under schedule 1 to the 1974 Act envisage that there should be an affirmative resolution. We are now upsetting and removing that provision and substituting an unusual set of circumstances—a negative resolution.

May I put the matter simply? I promise that this is my last effort. In what circumstances would schedule 1 and the affirmative resolution apply and not be withdrawn by the legislative drafting that we are now considering?

Mr. Hague

The circumstances in which that would not be done would be if there were no risk of the affirmative resolution and passage of the Bill being so separate in time that there was no parity between the different parts of the United Kingdom. Because the measure is designed to take effect in April 1994, the time in which an affirmative resolution could be considered, which would introduce the changes in Northern Ireland at the same time as in the rest of the United Kingdom, would be very limited. To avoid the risk of the measure being implemented at different times in different parts of the same country, the procedure is adopted in this case.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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