HL Deb 08 February 1999 vol 597 cc82-96

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs) rose to move., That the draft order laid before the House on 28th January be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, first, I welcome the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on taking up the Northern Ireland portfolio on the Opposition Front Bench. I look forward to co-operation with him in the usual way.

The draft Departments (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 before the House today seeks to consolidate with amendment the law dealing with the administration of public services in Northern Ireland by government. departments.

It is the first in a series of pieces of legislation paving the way for the transfer of power to the Northern Ireland Assembly, following the Good Friday agreement, the referendum and the elections to the new Assembly last year. In that context, I fully understand the concerns surrounding the issue of decommissioning, an issue which we shall have ample opportunity to discuss on Wednesday, 16th February in this House.

One of the issues which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland referred to the Assembly for consideration in July 1998 was agreement on the number of ministerial posts and the distribution of executive responsibilities between those posts.

The First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) issued a statement on 18th December 1998 setting out their proposals for the structures of Northern Ireland departments and north-south implementation bodies and areas of co-operation. This order deals with that part of the statement which concerns departmental structures. As a result of the order there will be 10 departments plus the department of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. In accordance with that statement concerning departmental structures, the order provides for the establishment of five new Northern Ireland departments and renames three existing departments. The titles of the three other Northern Ireland departments remain unchanged.

I should perhaps clarify that the changes are to the Northern Ireland departments, not to the Northern Ireland Office. The Northern Ireland Office will remain under the direction of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whose responsibilities in relation to Northern Ireland will be greater post-devolution than those of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales after devolution.

The order does not deal with the functions of the Northern Ireland departments. The redistribution of statutory functions across the new departmental structure will be effected by subordinate legislation through a transfer of functions order, the details of which are currently being settled. Although the transfer of functions order will not be considered in this House, there are a number of other pieces of legislation related to devolution for Northern Ireland which will be brought forward in coming weeks. These include an order to make consequential modifications of enactments, orders to commence various provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and an order setting the date on which power will be transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

This order is therefore a further step along the road to a devolved administration for Northern Ireland. It frames in law the proposals on departmental structures set out in the statement made by the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) on 18th December last year. The proposals were contained in an interim report by the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) which was discussed and approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly on 18th January 1998. I believe that should be 18th December 1998. A final report will be brought to the Assembly on 15th February with a determination by the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) on ministerial offices.

Most of the provisions of the order are not new. The order is largely a consolidation of existing law. Unlike the situation in Scotland and Wales, there is already in Northern Ireland a constitutional framework for devolution. There thus exists a body of law dealing with the administration of public services by government departments spread over many years with numerous amendments. This order has provided the opportunity to consolidate and update the language of that body of law into one enactment. There are two elements which are not a consolidation—the provisions for the new departmental structures and an enabling provision dealing with junior Ministers. I should now like to summarise the main provisions of the order.

Articles 1 and 2 deal with the title, commencement and interpretation of the order. Commencement will be by an appointed day order. It is proposed that that will take effect from a date prior to the introduction of devolution to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Article 2 also deals with the exercise of departmental functions by junior Ministers. It enables junior Ministers to exercise functions under the order to the extent authorised by determination of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister under Section 19 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. It is thus an enabling provision only.

Article 3 introduces the main changes to the existing law and provides for the new departmental structures. It provides for the new structures to comprise three existing departments: the Department of Education, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Finance and Personnel. It provides for the renaming of three departments: the Department of Agriculture would become the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development; the Department of Health and Social Services would become the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety; and the Department of Economic Development would become the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

The order also provides for the creation of five new departments. These would be the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure; the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment; the Department for Regional Development; the Department for Social Development; and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. As I stated earlier, the functions of departments will be addressed separately in a transfer of functions order which is currently being prepared.

Article 4 re-enacts existing provisions and in doing so enables the departmental Minister to distribute the functions of his or her department among its officers and provides for departmental functions to be exercised subject to the direction and control of its Minister.

Articles 5 to 7 also re-enact existing provisions. They give departments the status of corporate bodies, make provision for the use of official seals by departments and for documents issued by them and their Minister to be received in evidence as official documents. Article 8 transfers the existing powers of the Secretary of State to assign functions to or to transfer functions between Northern Ireland departments to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister acting jointly.

Normally an Order in Council is published for public consultation. This order has not been published. However, the changes it will introduce comply with those set out in the agreed statement of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of 18th December 1998. Also, the order has been circulated to and considered by the First Minister (Designate), the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and the Northern Ireland Assembly party leaders.

The order forms part of the legislation to be put in place for devolution of powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is the basis on which the 10 Northern Ireland departmental Ministers will be appointed in accordance with agreements reached in Belfast on the night of 17th December 1998 and the number of departments proposed comes within the limits set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th January be approved.—(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Blease

My Lords. I thank my noble friend the Minister for the detailed and informed way in which he introduced this important Northern Ireland order. Like many others in this House, over many years I have sought to apply my practical experience and reasoned opinion to Northern Ireland legislative measures. I consider this order to he most crucial and challenging, especially concerning the future for parliamentary democracy, community well-being and prosperity in Northern Ireland.

Some of the changes in the departments mentioned by my noble friend are extremely challenging and worth noting. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development could not be better in my view. It is an important aspect of the Northern Ireland scene. Questions also arise from the range of functions under the Department of Environment and the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment. They are challenging changes and very relevant to present needs.

The Departments (Northern Ireland) Order is firmly based in the Belfast agreement. In today's issue of the Irish News, it is stated Speaking last night, Mr. Trimble rejected claims that his party wanted to 'park' the Good Friday agreement. 'I don't believe the process is deadlocked at all, ' he said. 'Seamus and I are working very hard to implement the agreement and our objective is to see that the agreement is implemented in full. We will, I am sure, achieve a position by early to mid-March of having everything ready for devolution to occur On the same page, the newspaper states Speaking from Brussels Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, who is on a mission with Mr. Trimble to secure European money for Northern Ireland, said: 'Let's see what happens. We have got the agreement in place. we have got, within the next week, the proposals for all of the institutions, then we move into the period of devolution. I am fairly confident that by the time that period comes we will be moving into a position where those in the European Commission and the Council of Ministers will be able to see that this is working'. Even a brief perusal of the order indicates that it is a product of many hours of acute study and the application of practical experience and knowledge of many listed Acts of Parliament going back to 1921. These are set out in Schedules 2 and 3 of the order. It requires a tremendous historical span to cover the application of the practical changes which are necessary. We warmly acknowledge the careful and experienced application by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Ministers, the advising staff, the Civil Service officials, and the parliamentary draftsmen who produced that challenging and important document.

I understand that arrangements have been made for a series of explanatory and consultative conferences dealing with the practical aspects of procedures and methods. I understand that those were made available to the elected Members of the Assembly and their assistants. It is important that they should have an opportunity to examine the devolved system, such as the proposed Assembly.

I ask my noble friend the Minister whether such arrangements were made and, if so, how many training, advisory, information and other seminars or events for Assembly Members have been organised or planned by the Northern Ireland Office. How many of the 108 Assembly Members indicated their intention to attend each scheduled event and how many stayed for the full duration of each named event? Were senior Civil Service officials, having direct experience of the Assembly's legislative processes and of drafting arid implementing Assembly business, included, to assist at and participate in such events?

It is important to ask that series of questions because there is quite a lot of talk about people not being involved in the arrangements. However, every effort has been made, and many hours have been spent, in trying to explain the new, devolved methods.

Perhaps I may refer to last Friday's published statement by the president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce. He told an audience, which included the First Minister designate, that the Northern Ireland Assembly will inherit an economy which i; at its lowest point in the economic cycle for a decade. He warned that some 40 per cent. of Northern Ireland's GDP, representing 45, 000 jobs, depended on the beleaguered textile and agri-business sectors and that there was every reason to fear for the short-term future of the economy.

He added that it is vital, therefore, that the Assembly Members and civil servants are able to take up the reins of government immediately and make a meaningful contribution to the future economic, educational and social well-being of Northern Ireland. It is important at this stage that those who are thinking of the well-being of their children, the aged, the sick and of all their neighbours in Northern Ireland should gel: down to the business of setting up the Assembly as quickly as possible.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, when the Northern Ireland Bill left this House a few months ago, I think that it legislated for six departments, although it may have been six plus one. We now have 10 plus one. I simply do not believe that the most efficient way of running and governing 1.3 million people in six counties is by having 10 Ministers and all that follows in the form of bureaucracy and civil servants, however competent and willing. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, pointed out that the economy is not in a strong stag. I was sorry to see last night that it looks as though Mackies is finally going.

The Government started on a high-risk strategy, culminating in great success with the Good Friday agreement, and they deserve great credit for it. However, good strategists know that frequently the time comes for a change of direction. We have 10 departments plus one rather than six because Sinn Fein had to have two places in the government. That is an example of the Government once again rolling over. I do not accept that that policy should continue. I am not saying that it was wrong at that time, but that is the way that it appears to the people, certainly in County Antrim.

We are on the brink. If by Good Friday 1999 we are not to lose all that was gained on Good Friday 1998, we need a change of direction and a serious hardening of the stance with regard not only to the republican movement as a whole, but to all terrorists. We are rapidly moving from a position where Northern Ireland was one of the safest parts of the United Kingdom in which to walk about, day or night, to the position where it will be among the most dangerous. I refer to the decrease in community policing and control of large areas of our cities. Now, that is permeating into the country and the villages. They are becoming unpoliced. We have drugs, intimidation and gang warfare. We have all the "nasties", well led and well controlled by those who know how to do it best.

Unless the Government change their view and policy and take a tougher line, by Easter 1999—I hope that it does not happen but I have always been cautious about the agreement—dear old Northern Ireland will have exchanged open terrorism, albeit tightly controlled by security forces, with the security forces well on top of the terrorists, for widespread crime. The Government will wish that they had brought a very good agreement to the table and signed it. They may lose the opportunity by releasing too much control. Policemen are no longer supported by soldiers in West Belfast. Indeed, some of the strongholds of the police force are being pulled down. I refer to some of the watch towers and observation towers. Those bad boys—I shall not call them "terrorists"; they are criminals—are starting to build and to move freely. I assure your Lordships that that is very dangerous. I hope that the Government will heed that. If not, they will not deliver what we all hope for, which is a well policed, well managed country as a result of the achievements on Good Friday 1998.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I am delighted to have the privilege of following my noble friend Lord Glentoran. His remarks did not come as any surprise to me. He succeeded a father who played a very large role in stabilising Northern Ireland and establishing fair and equal government. The family, as a whole, have continued to play an indispensable part in guiding and advising those who do not always listen to common sense.

I suppose that the order may be regarded as a kind of enabling measure. Like my noble friend Lord Glentoran, I understand that six departments were regarded as reasonable, but the figure has now been upped to 10 plus one in an effort to provide jobs for the boys. It is good to see the Treasury, for a change, being so benevolent, provided that it is happy to finance that, and is equally happy to do so for that which is yet to come with regard to Scotland, Wales and eventually London, when it has "home rule". They too will add to the bargain.

I used the word "enabling" earlier because this order will come into force and the structures operational only when much more fundamental developments are firmly in place. I notice that the Secretary of State and others have been expressing the hope over the weekend—and I hope that I do not misquote them—that the "two sides will compromise". Who precisely is expected to compromise? A year ago it might have been reasonable to suggest that unionists and republicans might compromise. I think that it can be taken from all that has already been said and from the knowledge that noble Lords have acquired that the unionists have compromised in the sense that the Government have made a long list of concessions at the expense of the majority population. But the Government have extracted no significant concessions whatsoever in return. There has been absolutely no balancing factor.

Decommissioning remains a crucial issue. The wise words of Mr. John Hume become more and more relevant by the day. He said some years ago on this topic, Political parties cannot be expected to sit down in government with men who have guns on the table; guns under the table; or guns outside the door". The supreme importance of the issue is illustrated in a poll published in this evening's Belfast Telegraph which is generally recognised as Northern Ireland's number one newspaper. That poll shows that 84 per cent. of respondents to the poll want the IRA, UDA and UVF to decommission now. A surprising aspect of the poll is that of that 84 per cent., 80 per cent. were "yes" voters in the referendum.

Considering that we are often told by the Government that the "yes" voters provided supreme authority for the Good Friday agreement, the amnesty for murderers and every other dubious adventure, surely in the face of that expression of public opinion by a reputable body, the Government will not ignore this latest verdict of those "yes" voters who have sustained the Government's case for the past 10 months. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, those voters are now beginning to have second, third and fourth thoughts.

But decommissioning will be much more difficult for the reasons which I provided to your Lordships on the 3rd September 1998 when we returned to the House for a one-day sitting. I said on that occasion, With regard to the proscribed list, the membership consists of terrorist groups who have identified themselves by claiming what they regard as achievements; namely, a murderous campaign". They boasted about that. I went on to say, That is indiscriminate slaughter which puts the public in fear I come back to that phrase on this occasion. I continued: I mention fear. I am in fear because I am concerned by the existence of an unknown body to which almost 70 per cent. of the Provisional IRA's mechanisms and munitions have been quietly transferred since 24th July of this year. Those transfers as I said on that occasion on 3rd September continue as we deliberate here today". The worrying thing is that, Despite all the efforts of the intelligence services throughout the entire British Isles, the structure of the new body has not been penetrated or identified, nor has the identity of its members or approximate locations, It does not appear to be its intention to become involved and active until the early part of next year, by which time its striking. power may surpass anything that has gone before".-— I Official Report, 3/9/98; cols. 26 and 27.] That was a reference to my contribution in your Lordships' House on 3rd September. The "striking power" was not to become evident until the early part of this year—in other words, during these current months of this year.

One Martin McGuinness, ignoring the fact that he has been presiding over the transfer of arms for all those six months since I illustrated the realities of the situation, now complains that some of his IRA arms have been "stolen", as if anyone would survive the customary discipline imposed on anyone who stole Mr. McGuinness's "toys" from any cupboard.

But those terrorist bodies which have transferred weapons and explosives, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said—he illustrated it very vividly as a man who knows exactly what he is talking about—have now increased their domination over their own people, not the people of other religions or political beliefs. They have succeeded to a point where there now exists a reign of terror which pats the Gestapo in the shade. The terrorists groups are no longer engaged in sectarian conflict. They are now challenging Parliament and the authority of this state, the United Kingdom.

I make this special plea to all present. Surely we, as an element in the state, have a bounden duty to rescue all those law-abiding citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever their political or religious views, from this ever-increasing reign of thuggery and tyranny.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, I would not presume to comment on the grave concerns that have been voiced tonight by the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran, and Lord Molyneaux. I was here on 3rd September and I heard the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, make the statement to which he referred. It was a chilling thought that he expressed at that time. It is of great distress to me that his optimum has not risen in the intervening period. Noble Lords who have spoken so far have long experience of the politics and pain of Northern Ireland which I cannot beg.. n to match.

We on the Liberal Democrat Benches are supportive of the process which led to the Good Friday agreement and beyond and which has now delivered the legislation which is before your Lordships' House. We have a few minor concerns but we shall be supporting the Government on this legislation.

Devolution is long overdue in Northern Ireland. The idea of devolution itself has been coloured by memories of failed models and troubled histories. It is particularly important that we make sure that devolution is established fairly and properly now. We hope that the order before the House this evening will do just that.

We hope that the departments envisaged by the legislation and set out by the Minister are what most people in Northern Ireland had in mind when they voted for the agreement last May. It may be that there have been increases in the number of departments and that that is done to accommodate varying interests in Northern Ireland. But as long as the momentum of the peace process can be kept moving forward, we hope that these departments wilt succeed. As a reflection of the expression of the popular will the order is acceptable. We are particularly glad that there has been consultation and co-operation in the construction of the new executive. There was perhaps a time when Westminster sought to impose new structures upon the reluctant people and politicians of Northern Ireland and when anything which was imposed was doomed to failure. But we believe that this order has genuine input from local people. That gives it a greater legitimacy, which will be needed as time goes on.

There are a number of specific issues about the proposed structures with which I should like: he Minister to deal. The Department of Agriculture is being renamed the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Of course, there is much more to rural areas than farming, as we know in Wales. We welcome this symbolic shift in the department's title, which recognises this fact. We hope that the new department will have new powers and responsibilities towards rural areas; indeed, such a change would be very welcome. I am sure that many people in the rural population of Northern Ireland who are not directly involved in agriculture would readily agree with that.

We note the absence of a department of equality. This is a significant concern for many, within both the Nationalist and the Republican communities. We would like to know whether there are assurances that there will be a junior Minister responsible for equality issues; working out of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

My final point relates to tourism. There is no strategic view of tourism shown in the order. Tourism is potentially an economic lifeline to many of the hard-pressed parts of Northern Ireland. We believe that much can be done to create an alluring image of Ireland which, in the future, may give cause for optimism and dispel the more depressing opinions that many people may have about the Province. North/South co-operation on tourism could be very valuable. Tourism seems to come under the remit both of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and, so far as concerns visitor amenities, the Department of Culture, Arts arid Leisure. We hope that there will be some rationalisation of the functions which the order will transfer.

Having voiced those very minor criticisms, I reiterate that my party takes great pleasure in finding so few flaws in an order with such wide and substantial implications. Although, as I said, I pay the greatest respect to the views which have been expressed by those who know the Province so well, I hope that the order will help to bring inclusive and peaceful self government to Northern Ireland in the future.

8.45 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the order and for the welcome that he extended to me in my new role. I am, of course, very honoured to be given this appointment and look forward to the challenges of my task and of doing business with the Minister in the manner he described. We do have a bi-partisan policy, but it is not a blank cheque. The Minister mentioned the transfer of functions order, but can he say when it will be ready and whether the difficulty is in its drafting or in securing the necessary agreement?

In his valuable contribution, my noble friend Lord Glentoran referred to the disadvantages inherent in having so many departments, as indeed did other speakers. I share his concern but, at the same time, I recognise that it may be necessary in order to have an executive and an Assembly that will he acceptable overall. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, made many interesting points which were thought provoking. I shall enjoy reading them carefully in tomorrow's Hansard.

However, at present, one Minister covers health, social security and education. This could be broken up into three or four departments, each with a Minister, so it will clearly not be as efficient an administration as we have at present. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, referred to the Treasury impact. But it is not just a question of the cost: it is the speed and efficiency of decision making. The Minister may like to reflect upon how many Ministers will be doing his job after the executive is set up.

My noble friend Lord Glentoran touched upon the security situation and the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, raised the extremely important and sensitive issue of decommissioning and so called "punishment beatings". I believe that "mutilation assaults" would be a more accurate description. We will have a good opportunity to debate this issue next week at Starred Questions, and later that evening when we discuss the Northern Ireland decommissioning order. However, the Minister may like to check his diary, as I think he will find that the 16th is a Tuesday and not a Wednesday.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, also referred to the interesting statistics published in the Belfast Telegraph. I think that they well illustrate the desire for peace in the Province, rather than a return to violence and confrontation. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred to the popular will: let us hope that it will prevail. I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, regarding the security situation and I will be exploring it in detail next week.

Can the Minister say what is expected to happen to the non-departmental public bodies? Are they likely to continue as before, or will their functions change? Members of your Lordships' House well know how members of those organisations will feel at the moment.

I am sure that the Minister is well aware of the downside of the size of the executive. On that basis, we are content with the order and look forward to a successful outcome of the peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday agreement.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and for the support that the Government's proposals have earned here this evening. I shall deal specifically with the questions that were put to me by various noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Blease asked a number of questions. I believe he referred in particular to the training that was given to members of the Assembly in recent months since the elections. I think it was called "the transition programme". There have indeed been a series of information seminars and other events for Assembly members. I shall be very happy to write to my noble friend giving him fuller details. I can only add that, in a sense, some of those events are still continuing. I am proposing to have meetings with senior members of each party as regards some of the responsibilities of one of my present departments; namely, the Department of the Environment. So it is possible that more things are happening than will be encompassed in a direct answer to my noble friend's questions. However, I shall certainly do my best to give him the information.

My noble friend talked about the state of the Northern Ireland economy. I am not sure that I agree with the pessimism that characterised his remarks. Yes, there are certainly some difficulties. The situation as regards Mackies was a real blow. But, on the other hand, there are other more optimistic indicators. There is enormous international interest in investing in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State, other Ministers, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister went on what I believe was called the "11 city tour" of North America. There was much interest in the opportunities that Northern Ireland presents and we are receiving other expressions of interest from businessmen in many countries. If one looks at the actual straightforward economic indicators—for example. economic growth, a falling level of unemployment, and so on—I should have thought that the economy of Northern Ireland is, on the whole, doing pretty well and that political stability, together with the promise of peace, will encourage the economy to do even better.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, questioned the efficiency of increasing the existing number of departments to 10, plus the new department of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. None of that concerns this Government. Those were decisions made by the political parties in Northern Ireland who were elected to the Assembly. The decisions on the number of departments and the delineation of the departments were made in long talks in Parliament buildings which ended on 18th December. I do not think it is appropriate for the noble Lord to blame the Government, if blame is an appropriate word. These were decisions made by locally elected politicians of the various parties. Those were the conclusions they reached. We are giving effect to the decisions made by those politicians.

The noble Lord also suggested that we are in a dangerous period and there is a need for a change of direction. Certainly the Secretary of State has said that the coming few weeks will be difficult. There are problems, some of which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. The Government do not minimise the difficulties that exist. On the other, hand the cease-fire still exists, even though some brutal acts are taking place. I believe someone mentioned punishment beatings, but I do not think that is the right term. However, as I said, we are satisfied that the cease-fire exists. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland are grateful for that, much as everyone deplores the beatings and other brutal activities that are still continuing. We are going through a difficult phase but we have to set cur sights on the enormous prize of giving full effect to the Good Friday agreement.

If I understood him correctly, the noble Lord also suggested that too many police stations were being closed down. We would not close a police station or an Army base unless that was the advice to the Government from the chief constable and the security forces. The chief constable has said on a number of occasions that he scales down the level of his requirements in terms of security consistent: with his assessment of the security situation. We are conscious of the need to make sure that we do not go too far in that direction but that our actions are guided by the best possible advice.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in a somewhat pessimistic speech said that there had been too many concessions to republicans. I disagree. I do not think that is what the Government have been doing. Certainly the Good Friday agreement represented, as it were, the need for all parties to it to compromise and to make concessions. I do lot believe that the concessions have been all one way. The Government continue to endeavour to be as even-handed as possible between the various communities in Northern Ireland. That is not always easy to achieve, but we are set on doing that.

The noble Lord referred to this evening's Belfast Telegraph. Of course the vast majority of people want decommissioning to happen, as do the Government. We have said on countless occasions that it is not a matter of whether decommissioning happens, but when it is to happen. It is clear that there is pressure on the various paramilitary organisations to move towards decommissioning as quickly as possible. I share the noble Lord's concern about the various beatings and acts of bullying and intimidation that have occurred. Of course they are deplorable and of course they have no place in a civilised society. The Government have said repeatedly that they have to stop. Within recent days the Secretary of State has talked to the various political parties and has made clear her position of total opposition to those activities.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for his party's support for the peace process and for the general thrust of what we are doing. He asked a specific question about agriculture. Agriculture is one of my responsibilities. I am clear that the rural development aspect of the work of the Department of Agriculture, as it is now called, is an important part of our work. Indeed I think it is widely recognised that this has been successful in helping some of the poor, rural communities to overcome at least some of the disadvantages from which they suffer. As the negotiations in Brussels proceed with Agenda 2000, which has a clear element of rural development, Brussels as a whole may well be more supportive of further work in rural development in all European Union countries. The change of name is not a matter of extra resources; it is a matter of making clear the responsibilities of that department; namely, agriculture and rural development.

As regards the noble Lord's question about equality measures, it is for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to decide whether there is to be a junior Minister responsible for equality within the department of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, where responsibility for equality has been placed. It is not for the Government to determine how that is to be done; it is for the parties at the Assembly to decide.

The noble Lord also referred to tourism and its importance. Of course there has been agreement between the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on tourism in terms of north-south co-operation. The Government think tourism is important and we wan: to do all we can to encourage it. However, north-south co-operation has been identified in the Good Friday agreement as an area of possible co-operation. The decision reached by the parties at Stormont, published on 18th January 1999, states, A publicly owned limited company will be established by Bord Failte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to provide the following services". There follows a list of tourism services, the planning and development of tourism, the publication and dissemination of information in overseas markets, market research and so on. In so far as the parties have reached agreement, I think it is clear that they too share the noble Lord's concern about the importance of tourism and the need for it to be an area of co-operation.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked about the transfer of functions order. This is a detailed order which specifies which particular Act of Parliament will be within the responsibility of any of the new departments. It is a complex task. I have seen some of the draft lists of Acts of Parliament being related to the new departments. That work is taking place at the moment and the order should be ready later this month. I do not think it will reveal a great deal. It will show long lists of legislation for those who wish to study that in detail. There is no question of disagreement on it; it is simply a matter of doing the work thoroughly and having the list prepared.

The noble Earl also asked about non-departmental public bodies and their future. There is no change proposed in this legislation. It is for the parent department, the new Ministers and the Assembly to decide what the relationship with NDPBs will be. It is for them to decide whether any individual non-departmental public body should continue to exist or if its functions should be located elsewhere. As regards the order we are discussing, no change is intended. I again thank your Lordships for the comments made.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I apologise to him and the rest of my colleagues—my noble friends on this side of the House may be grateful that I was occupied by another event—that I was not able to take part in the debate. I hope that the Minister can give me the following information, if he has it available, or write to rr e about it. Am I right in thinking that the Department of Agriculture deals with all agricultural activities both in Europe and without: food production, forestry, fresh water and sea fisheries, equestrianism and horse-racing? Am I right that all these duties still come under the aegis of the Minister, and will that continue to be the case? Is anything different proposed in the order? I should indulge in a certain amount of gleeful laughter at the thought that some matters, particularly horse-racing, might be devolved to another department. Will the noble Lord write to me on that matter?

Lord Blease

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord can deal with a further matter at the same time. Does the order in any way encompass anything to do with law and order or decommissioning in the future in Northern Ireland? If decommissioning has not come into any of these orders, is it not then a matter for the standing Northern Ireland government, even under the devolved system?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, this order does not deal with criminal justice, prisons, police or security. Decommissioning was not the specific responsibility of any department, so it does not fit with the noble Lord's question. Essentially, criminal justice and those other matters are reserved powers and will stay the responsibility of the Secretary of State.

As regards the question about agriculture, yes, the noble Lord is right in saying that food, agrifood development, science, veterinary matters, rural development, forestry, sea fisheries and so on all come within the new Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Inland fisheries will go to the new Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, although sea fisheries will stay with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

As regards the responsibility for horse racing and related matters, I will write to the noble Lord. It was not totally clear quite where the responsibility lay; it has lain with more than one department up to now. I think I will be more accurate if I write to him.

May I conclude by thanking your Lordships for your contributions to the debate. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at nine o'clock.