HC Deb 14 May 1999 vol 331 cc605-9
Mr. Forth

I beg to move amendment No. 36, in page 2, line 20, at end insert '(c) in Northern Ireland, to the Crown Court'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 37, in clause 5, page 3, line 42, at end insert '(c) in the case of businesses or parts of businesses carried on solely or primarily in Northern Ireland, the Lands Tribunal for Northern Ireland.'. No. 38, in clause 6, page 4, line 6, at end insert—

'(d) in relation to Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State'. No. 35, in clause 7, page 4, line 13, leave out subsection (5).

Mr. Forth

This amendment concerns another matter that was raised in Committee, but has not been dealt with properly. There was a rather cursory debate on the matter, although I believe—and my right hon. and hon. Friends agree-that it raises some important and fundamental issues.

I can think of few subjects of more fundamental importance than the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. That matter arises because of the provisions in the Bill. In Committee, there was some discussion on the relationships that exist between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, their different political dispensations, the different stages of development of the political institutions in those parts of the United Kingdom and the fact that fur farming is no longer conducted in Scotland—I do not think that it has ever been conducted in Northern Ireland, a point which at this stage is of only glancing relevance. It was almost suggested that that was partly the reason for not including Northern Ireland, which may or may not be so.

Surely two more important points are at issue. One is a political point, and I make no excuse for saying so. At this time more than any other, one cannot lightly exclude Northern Ireland from the provisions of a Bill without thinking through carefully what might be read into the exclusion and what the implications might be. That consideration stands on its own, but a subset of it would rightly be the extent to which one judges that Northern Ireland along with Scotland and Wales should be dealing with these matters in their very different ways.

The irony is that the promoter of the Bill seems to have shied away from ensuring a uniformity of approach even in a matter that is so important to her. I cannot believe that anyone who feels as strongly as I know the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) feels about this matter would be prepared to allow it to be devolved. If that happened, it would be subject to the variations of politics in the different parts of the United Kingdom and different provisions might apply.

Mr. Maclean

Is there not a greater inconsistency in the Bill in that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) extends the measure to Scotland, which has its own Parliament and will be able to take action on it, but not to Northern Ireland, where no proper Government or Parliament is as yet in place, and possibly may never be, given the present circumstances?

Mr. Forth

As ever, my right hon. Friend has read my mind. I was about to come to that consideration, but first I wanted to clear my mind on whether the issues raised by the Bill were sufficiently important to justify a United Kingdom approach being imposed from the House of Commons and the Lords in Westminster, or whether with our new, modern joined-up politics these days, or whatever one likes to call them, they should be left to the discretion of the voters and institutions that are being set up in their very different ways in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Bill does neither. We are falling between all those stools—I am sorry, I should say "among" and attempt to be grammatically accurate. There is a large unanswered question about exactly what the relationship is between the matters raised in the Bill and the United Kingdom and about how we want to progress them. I would have been prepared to accept, as a matter of consistency, either that the whole United Kingdom would be covered by this Westminster legislation or that the matter should properly be dealt with by the exciting, new, modern political institutions that we are setting up in the different parts of the kingdom. The Bill does neither the one nor the other.

Mr. Morley

Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman. When the Bill was drafted, we thought that, because we had set up the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies, it would be better to consult them as a general principle on such changes. Fur farms exist in England, and it was possible that a fur farm could have moved to Scotland; it is more difficult to move to Northern Ireland. The Scottish Office agreed that, to stop such moves, it would be better to have this as a Great Britain measure. Although there are no fur farms in Northern Ireland, his logic follows. The Government do not object to the principle of the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) may have something to say about it.

Mr. Forth

That is encouraging. I shall take a nod and a wink from the Minister, sit down immediately and hear what the Bill's promoter has to say.

Maria Eagle

I endorse what the Minister said. I have had some assistance from his Department on the Bill's scope. One accepts such help from the Government even in pursuing a private Member's Bill. Their channels for finding out what other Ministries think are speedier than mine. When the Bill was drafted, there were no answers from Northern Ireland, but I understand that the Northern Ireland Office is content for it to be a UK rather than a GB Bill. If it proceeds, it would be possible so to amend it.

Mr. Maclean

I listened carefully to the hon. Lady. I am not surprised by the Northern Ireland Office, because it is usually two months behind the other territorial Departments in responding on such measures.

I was surprised by the Minister's response that, in discussion with the Scottish Office, the Government decided to make this a UK matter. If the matter were urgent, I could have understood it. The Scottish Parliament comes into effect on 1 July. If it were an animal health measure or an emergency prohibition on paralytic shellfish poisoning, we would have to move quickly to cover the whole United Kingdom. However, the Bill comes into force on 1 January 2002, and an amendment proposes to put it back to 2003. In all conscience, I cannot accept the Minister's suggestion that he made it apply to Scotland because the Scottish Parliament will not have time to consider or implement it. This is only 1999. The Scottish Parliament could have considered it in July or any time thereafter and made its own legislation.

I do not want go down the Scottish route because the amendment applies to Northern Ireland. There is an inconsistency. The Minister is not applying a measure to Northern Ireland when it is possible to do so. It could be done by Order in Council. Northern Ireland does not have a properly working devolved Assembly with government powers, yet we are applying it to Scotland, which has just got devolution and whose Parliament is responsible for mega-issues. The Scottish Parliament will have power to deal with big things, but it is not trusted to deal with this matter.

It is extraordinary that the Bill's provisions apply to Scotland and Wales despite the pending devolution of power to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. However, the provisions do not apply to Northern Ireland. Of course, at present there are no fur farms in Northern Ireland. I think that the Minister said that it would be extremely difficult to set up a fur farm in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] Hon. Members say "to transfer"—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 21 May.

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