HL Deb 14 July 1999 vol 604 c397

7.10 p.m.

Lord Dubs rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th July be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in short, approval of this order is required to enable direct rule in Northern Ireland to continue until the Assembly and Executive come fully into being. At the moment direct rule is due to end on 16th July, but the proposal put to the Northern Ireland parties by the British and Irish Governments on 2nd July set 18th July as the date for devolution. Therefore, if we did not approve this draft order there would be a hiatus in the governance of Northern Ireland, albeit for two days.

While we fully intend devolution to take place on 18th July, we believe it to be prudent to extend direct rule for a full year against the possibility—a small one, we hope—that devolution does not take place according to the time-scale proposed by the two Governments. Therefore, while approval of this order in theory results in direct rule being renewed for a whole year, in practice the Government hope and expect that it will be suspended by devolution on 18th July.

The people of Northern Ireland need and deserve political structures which are more accountable to them and more responsive to their needs. Against this background, we fervently hope and trust that this will be the last time that it is necessary for a government to come before your Lordships' House for approval of the statutory provisions that underpin direct rule. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th July be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee]. —(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, while supporting the Motion, we echo the words of the Minister. We on these Benches also hope that this is the last time that the order will come before the House.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am grateful for the support. I say with a good deal of confidence that this will be the last time that I move approval of an order of this kind. I made such an optimistic comment a year ago. However, this time I have greater confidence in it. In view of the Bill to which we have just given a Second Reading and other developments, I believe that we are talking about a delay of only two days. However, we must ensure that direct rule continues in the interests of good and proper governance.

I do not believe that this is the occasion on which to go into the history of direct rule in great detail. I am not sure that I am fully qualified to do that. However, in the political life of Northern Ireland direct rule has given rise to criticism. The Order in Council procedure for legislation is not one that most people agree, happily, fully reflects the views of the people of Northern Ireland. Therefore, I am grateful for the support of the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.