§ 7.24 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 23rd October be approved [28th Report from the Joint Committee].
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Flags Regulations, laid before this House on 23rd October, be approved.
§ These regulations make provisions for the flying of the Union flag, and other flags in certain circumstances, at government buildings in Northern Ireland. If approved by your Lordships, the regulations will place the flying of flags in Northern Ireland on the same basis as in the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ The political talks that led to the Belfast agreement were lengthy and difficult. It was a tremendous achievement, setting out the way forward for Northern Ireland, a new beginning founded on agreed principles and a shared vision of the future. The agreement represents an historic compromise in many complex and sensitive areas which have long been a source of division in Northern Ireland, and it sets out principles agreed by the parties which can assist in addressing such issues. But we were under no illusions that implementing the agreement would be an easy task. Some issues, of which the flying of flags is one, will take longer to resolve. The regulations laid before the House tonight are intended to provide an interim resolution of this issue until the Northern Ireland Executive can itself reach agreement.
§ Since devolution, flag flying has been the responsibility of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Northern 1193 Ireland, Sinn Fein Ministers have instructed their officials not to fly the Union flag from government buildings under their control. The Executive and the Assembly were unable to resolve this issue and in the absence of such an agreement, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State concluded that he must make provision to regulate the flying of flags.
§ In drawing up the regulations, the Secretary of State took account of the provisions of the Belfast agreement. One of the foundations of the agreement is the principle of consent, that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom as long as the majority of its people wish it to do so. All the parties to the Good Friday agreement accepted that principle. The Union flag is the flag of the United Kingdom. It is not a political symbol, nor is it the property of only one section of the community. It is entirely consistent with the principle of consent that the Union flag be flown at government buildings in Northern Ireland, as it is flown at government buildings throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. The regulations provide for that—no more and no less.
§ The Secretary of State also had regard to another foundation stone of the agreement, the principle of equality. The principle of equality requires that there must be just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both traditions in Northern Ireland. The agreement recognises the legitimacy of both political aspirations and the right of both traditions to participate in the devolved institutions, so long as they are committed to peaceful and democratic means.
§ The regulations, therefore, go no further than is necessary to reflect practice in the rest of the United Kingdom. They require that flags are flown at government buildings in Northern Ireland on the days specified and on no other days. That means that the Union flag will not be flown on four days on which, prior to devolution, it was flown only in Northern Ireland—Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Easter Sunday and 12th of July. In making this reduction, the regulations respect the sentiments of the majority of both traditions in Northern Ireland who wish to work together to resolve differences and to build respect and mutual understanding.
§ In drawing up the draft regulations, the Secretary of State took into account the views of the political parties in Northern Ireland, and the view of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The flags order, which gave the Secretary of State power to make the regulations, was made on 17th May. When it became clear that the Northern Ireland Executive could not reach agreement on the flying of flags, the Secretary of State wrote to the Northern Ireland political parties on 10th July informing them that he was considering making regulations and seeking their views.
§ On 8th September the Secretary of State sent draft regulations to the Assembly, as he was required to do by the flags order. The Assembly set up an ad hoc committee to consider the draft regulations: its report was debated in the Assembly on 17th October and adopted as the Assembly's report. On 18th October the Presiding Officer wrote to the Secretary of State 1194 enclosing a copy of the Assembly's report. That report did not contain any agreed recommendation, but instead set out the points made by the parties and others in their submissions to the ad hoc committee set up by the Assembly to consider the draft regulations.
§ The Secretary of State considered very carefully all the points made, but in the absence of any recommendations agreed by the Assembly, decided that it would be wrong to depart from the principle that the arrangements for flag flying in Northern Ireland should mirror practice in the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Turning to the detail of the regulations, Regulation 2 requires that the Union flag is flown at the seven principal government buildings listed in Part I of the schedule on the days listed in Part II of the schedule. Those days are the same as those listed by Royal Command by Her Majesty issued on the Royal Prerogative and circulated to all UK departments by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. They do not include the four additional days on which the Union flag was flown from government buildings in Northern Ireland prior to devolution.
§ The Union flag must also be flown on the specified days at any other government building not listed in the schedule, where it was the practice to fly it on the specified days in the 12 months preceding 30th November 1999.
§ The regulations do not apply to Parliament buildings. The Flags (Northern Ireland) Order gives the Secretary of State power only to make regulations for government buildings, defined in the flags order as those buildings in Northern Ireland wholly or mainly occupied by the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The regulations therefore do not cover Parliament buildings. It is for the Northern Ireland Assembly, through the Assembly Commission, to decide what arrangements are made for its own building. And it is entirely right that it should do so.
§ We do not believe that it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to regulate the manner in which flags should be flown over the seat of the devolved administration. Hitherto, there has been no complaint about the way in which this matter has been dealt with by the Assembly authorities.
§ Regulation 3 allows the Union flag to be flown at a government building during a visit by a head of state other than Her Majesty the Queen.
§ Regulation 4 requires that the Royal Standard is flown at a government building during a visit by Her Majesty the Queen. As is the requirement in the rest of the UK, the Royal Standard is to be flown only while Her Majesty is in the building and must be flown in a superior position to the Union flag if the Union flag is also flown during the visit.
§ Regulation 6 requires that the Union flag is flown at half mast at the specified government buildings following the death of a member of the Royal Family, or of a serving or former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.1195
§ Regulation 7 provides that where the Union flag is required or permitted to be flown on the specified buildings on the specified days, it may also be flown at any other government buildings on the same day and in the same manner.
§ Regulation 8 allows the European flag to be flown alongside the Union flag on Europe Day, at a government building not specified in Part I of the schedule. It also allows the national flag of a visiting head of state to be flown alongside the Union flag on the occasion of a visit by a head of state other than Her Majesty, at a government building other than that or those being visited.
§ Regulation 9 prohibits the flying of flags on government buildings other than as provided for by the regulations. That means that the Union flag may not be flown on days which are not specified in the regulations.
§ I believe that these regulations are consistent both with the principles of the Belfast agreement and with the wishes of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, from both traditions, who wish to see flag flying handled in a sensitive, respectful and, above all, non-provocative way. The regulations properly recognise Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom, while respecting the concerns of those who hold to a different identity and aspiration. What we are seeking to achieve is mutual respect, both for the flying of the Union flag—and other flags as provided in the regulations—and for those who hold to a different political aspiration by limiting the flying of the Union flag to reflect practice in the rest of the United Kingdom. The flying of the Union flag to provoke others shows no respect for that flag.
§ We hope very much that the Northern Ireland Executive will be able to find an agreed solution to this issue, making these regulations unnecessary. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already given an undertaking that, should the Executive reach agreement, he will revoke the regulations. I am happy to repeat that commitment to this House. The regulations are intended to help reduce tension over this issue, so that the Executive can agree a way forward. If the Executive succeeds in doing so, I shall be happy to return to this House to seek approval to revoke the Regulations. I commend the regulations to the House.
§ Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 23rd October be approved [28th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)
§ Lord Glentoran
My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this order before the House tonight. On reflection, it is sad. But it is not disastrous. Devolution in Northern Ireland has happened; Stormont is up and running; and most people are pleased about that. The fact that on this occasion Stormont and the Assembly were unable to make this particularly difficult decision and bring forward a Bill to decide how and what flags should be flown is understandable to those of us who know and study Northern Ireland politics.
1196 The only point I want to make, to be provocative, is that we only need look behind the first page to see who the mischief makers were. It is unfortunate that members of the republican movement took up ministerial posts within Stormont as part of the government process of part of Her Majesty's Kingdom but could not bring themselves to reach agreement with their colleagues on the flags issue. In the light of that I congratulate the Government, in particular the Secretary of State, on grasping this nettle and giving us the leadership we expect from Her Majesty's Government in laying down these draft regulations that we are debating tonight.
The regulations are right. They bring Northern Ireland in line with the United Kingdom. They ensure that the Union flag is flown on government buildings on occasions where in the rest of the United Kingdom it would be expected to be flown. They ensure that the Unionist population are quite clear and have no argument about the sovereignty of the government of the Province.
I pose two questions to the Minister. The first relates to the reason the Secretary of State in another place rather than the Assembly had to make these regulations. As the Minister said, Sinn Fein instructed its officials to pull down the Union flag from their buildings. Can the Minister say what sanctions are laid down should, despite this order being passed in your Lordships' House and through this Parliament, they continue on the same road?
The second question is more light hearted and I hope will be easier to answer. As I understand it, the government buildings—seven in all—where the Union flag is to be flown are clearly designated. Is there anything in the order which covers the movement of the institutions currently in those buildings? If a Union flag is currently flown on a building which houses, for instance, the DoE, and if for some reason in the future the DoE moves from that building, I hope that it will not leave the Union flag behind. I shall be interested to know whether that is covered.
In general, I welcome the order. Perhaps the best advice one can give—going into the detail in a lighthearted way—to those people managing public buildings where national flags are flown is to provide only one flagpole.
§ Lord Shutt of Greetland
My Lords, I rise from these Benches to support the order before us this evening. In the document we received from the Northern Ireland Assembly we again read of the deeply divided society, and it is tragic that what seems to many of us a simple matter of flying a flag is such a problem in Northern Ireland. But we know that it is.
We want to pay tribute to the Northern Ireland Assembly for having six meetings on the issue and tackling it. Unfortunately, it has not been able to come forward with a united recommendation. It is my belief that the issue would be better settled in Northern Ireland by the people of Northern Ireland. I hope and trust that the regulations are an interim position.
1197 I should like to think that flags could be constitutional; they could be diverse but unifying. We could examine where there could be unity. Could there be unity in the flag of St Patrick? Could there be unity in flying the flag of Europe? Could there be unity in a Northern Ireland flag? Indeed, would it be worth while for those in Northern Ireland to have a competition to design a flag under which people in Northern Ireland can unite?
For the moment, we are faced with the regulations, which we on these Benches support. However, I hope that they represent an interim position and that the matter can be resolved in Northern Ireland.
§ Lord Rogan
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and many others in the Chamber, I am saddened that we have to discuss the flying of a national flag here tonight. The fact of when and where the national flag is flown in the United Kingdom should not be in issue. As one who lives in Northern Ireland, I deeply believe that it should not be decided by Northern Ireland.
The national flag should be a national issue—a constitutional issue—it should not be a devolved matter for a regional Minister. Why was it devolved? Was much thought given to the devolution of a quintessential national issue?
In any event, the parties who signed the Belfast agreement—unionists, nationalists, loyalists and republicans—accepted the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's constitutional position within the United Kingdom. I am disappointed that some of those signatory parties have acted immaturely since the agreement with respect to their obligations to the agreement and have created issues such as flags.
That we are even discussing the matter tonight is made worse by the fact that there are flaws in the regulations themselves. Those who have shown a lack of maturity on this issue have deliberately misinterpreted the concept of "parity of esteem" in the Belfast agreement.
It is true that parity of esteem is an essential part of the Belfast agreement, but as the agreement stated:the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities".The reference to sovereignty is singular. The "sovereign government", referred to in paragraph 1(v) of the section of the agreement relating to constitutional issues, is the British Government and it is the British Government who will exercise their power in Northern Ireland,with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people".Parity of esteem relates to culture, social treatment and political opinion. The constitutional aspects of the agreement are not subject to the concept of "parity of esteem". The constitutional status of Northern Ireland is not subjective; it does not depend on how the 1198 individual feels. The constitutional status is a fact and one which was agreed to and endorsed by the Government of the Republic of Ireland by agreeing to amend Articles 2 and 3 of their constitution, in so doing removing their territorial claim to Northern Ireland.
As the constitutional status is a fact, it is implicit that some visible manifestation of the constitutional status will exist. Flying the British flag over government buildings is a visible manifestation of Northern Ireland's constitutional status. That is implied in the agreement. Therefore, those parties lacking maturity should, in acting responsibly with respect to their commitments, both explicit and implicit, recognise that the flying of the union flag over government buildings on the same days as in other parts of the United Kingdom is part of what they agreed to.
As I have indicated, it is disappointing to find that these regulations are necessary, even more so that they are flawed. They are flawed in more than one respect. First, the regulations do not apply to Parliament buildings because of the restrictive definition of government buildings. It is also regrettable that the national flag will not be permitted to be flown above the seat of a devolved government within the United Kingdom.
Will the Minister give an assurance that if no agreement is reached on the issue he will review the situation within a fixed period of time? Otherwise, Northern Ireland will not be treated in the same manner as the rest of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are, and will be, permitted to fly the flag of the nation, yet the Northern Ireland Assembly, one of the three devolved legislatures, will not.
Secondly, can the Minister confirm that effective sanctions will be exercised against Ministers if the flags are not flown in breach of the order or if additional flags are flown in breach of the order? Without an undertaking to use court action against those who breach the regulations, the regulations are a toothless tiger which some in Northern Ireland will always seek to exploit.
Thirdly, why is it that Schedule 1 lists particular buildings rather than simply the buildings where the Ministers operate from each department in the government? Surely it would be more logical to define the place where a flag is to be flown as the departmental headquarters rather than a particular building. The venue for the departmental headquarters may change over time.
But it gets worse. Paragraph 9 of the regulations states:Except as provided by these Regulations, no flag shall be flown at any government building at any time".Surely, the seat of the devolved legislature, the Parliament building—or as we call it at home, "Stormont"—should fly the Union flag.
1199 I return to the Belfast agreement for my final point. It states:All participants acknowledge the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need in particular in creating the new institutions to ensure that such symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division. Arrangements will be made to monitor this issue and consider what action might be required".That is the final paragraph of the section of the agreement on rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity. It is not within the section concerned with constitutional issues and does not extend to the national flag. It is questionable whether within that paragraph any flag, never mind the national flag, constitutes a symbol or emblem.
Under the Belfast agreement, the principle of consent dictates Northern Ireland's constitutional position, which at this time is within the United Kingdom. Therefore, Northern Ireland shares the national flag of the United Kingdom. Government in Northern Ireland is devolved from the national Government here in Westminster. Northern Ireland has a British devolved government and any flag that represents it, as with the Government here in London, should be the Union flag. It is unfortunate that this matter is even being debated tonight.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I agree with the thrust of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. However, perhaps I may put three specific questions to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in the spirit of genuine inquiry. The first question relates to paragraph (4) of Regulation 2 which requires—the noble and learned Lord used the word "allows"—the "European flag", which presumably means the European Union flag, to be flown in addition to the Union flag on Europe Day. Does a parallel obligation apply to government buildings in England, Scotland and Wales?
My second question is related to Regulation 3 which provides that the Union flag may be flown on the occasion of a visit by another head of state. Why "may"? Surely, it would be most unusual, as well as highly discourteous to the visiting head of state, for the Union flag not to be flown on such an occasion.
I turn finally to Regulation 9 which provides:Except as provided by these Regulations, no flag shall be flown at any government building at any time".To anyone who comes from the United States, where the Stars and Stripes flutters over all public buildings 365 days a year, that must seem quite extraordinary. One is talking about an obligation to limit the flying of the national flag perhaps to 19 or 20 days a year, allowing for the occasional royal visit. Will the noble and learned Lord comment on that when he replies?
§ Lord Mayhew of Twysden
My Lords, having been untypically critical in recent months of certain aspects of the Government's policy on Northern Ireland, it is only fair that I should stay tonight to congratulate the Secretary of State upon these regulations. I do not for a minute suppose that by doing so I shall make his day.
1200 The Government rightly seek reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I take care not to say "produce reconciliation" because that must be found within those who are divided within the community of the Province. All of us in this House wish them well. However, we know that Northern Ireland is a place in which flags and emblems are wont to have highly emotive and generally opposing connotations for each side of the community. Therefore, I do not find it surprising, but share the regret already expressed by noble Lords, that Her Majesty's Government have tabled these regulations tonight. It is not surprising for the reasons which all of us who have had the privilege of studying, let alone living in, Northern Ireland well understand.
However, to deny the exclusive legitimacy of the Union flag when discussing what flags, if any, shall be flown from the public buildings of this Union is to deny even-handedness. There can be no reconciliation in Northern Ireland unless Her Majesty's Government are seen to act even-handedly. They would not be evenhanded if they permitted the flying of the tricolour alongside the Union flag, because that would be seen as denying the exclusive legitimacy of the flag in what is by law and—of much more recent significance—the consent and action of all those who support the Good Friday agreement, part of the Union. The agreement is the latest, and perhaps most vivid, instrument to uphold the principle of consent in the context of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. In those circumstances, to argue and demand that the tricolour should have parity of esteem (to coin a phrase) with the Union flag is to act provocatively and in breach of the spirit of the Good Friday agreement.
I make one additional point on which perhaps I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. These regulations have been very skilfully drafted and are not all one way; that is, the Unionist way. They exclude certain days when the flag has been habitually flown in Northern Ireland which are not days of obligation in the rest of the United Kingdom. I for one was always uncomfortable with the flying of the Union flag on 12th July. I believed that that served to make it perhaps a partisan flag, whereas it is, and should be, a flag that symbolises the Union under which all who have respect for the law can stand comfortably. Therefore, I believe that that is a skilful and legitimate way to demonstrate even-handedness in these regulations.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, I do not believe that the Union flag is flown over this Parliament as a parliament building—I have given thought to this matter only in the past minute or so—I suspect that the Union flag flies over this building whether or not Parliament is sitting, because it is a royal palace. I am prepared to be told that I am wrong about that. However, I do not believe that there is any departure from uniformity with the rest of the United Kingdom if the flag does not fly over the Stormont building.
1201 There must have been much pressure on the Secretary of State from those who oppose the regulations, and I diffidently congratulate him on facing it down.
§ Lord Molyneaux of Killead
My Lords, my views are broadly in line with the thinking of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden. I echo his congratulations to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on the intelligent and tactful way in which he introduced the regulations.
Like all other noble Lords, I note that the Northern Ireland Assembly could not reach agreement on this issue. Given the Assembly's composition, that failure was hardly surprising. Perhaps the lesson is that it is very unwise to involve the Assembly in matters which lie entirely within the responsibilities of the Secretary of State, responsible as he is to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Having consulted—admittedly in default and not for the want of trying—and having received conflicting advice from the parties in the Assembly, the Secretary of State finds himself quite unnecessarily in a no-win situation—because in Northern Ireland, as in many other areas, there are questions which cannot safely be asked.
In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, a serious constitutional point is involved. Under constitutional law Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom. Surely any matter which touches on that fact is solely within the jurisdiction of the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom. Therefore, it follows that in the Northern Ireland Assembly no Minister in a devolved body has any legal right or function and should not become involved in any issue such as that which is legally discussed by your Lords hips today.
It is not a question of possessiveness on the part of Her Majesty's Government and Parliament. There is the damage created by inviting the Northern Ireland Assembly to become entangled in arguments over issues on which it can take no actions anyway. It should be appropriate for the Secretary of State to make available to the Assembly the equivalent, perhaps, of a White Paper as a matter of courtesy, but not necessarily to consult. If one consults, one is engaged in a divisive exercise and one gets conflicting answers. To go beyond that matter of courtesy of the publication of the equivalent of a White Paper for the Assembly would lead to damaged relations within the Assembly. It could cause unnecessary friction over legislation in the promotion of which the Assembly and its Ministers could have no legitimate role.
The noble and learned Lord the Minister expressed the hope that the day might come when powers of this nature might be devolved to the Assembly. While I share his hope that current progress will be maintained, I would caution against the transfer of any powers of concern solely to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In my humble opinion, it is safer by far to retain all such constitutional matters within the sovereign Parliament, where divisive influences are not generally generated.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, I, too, find myself in the most agreeable situation of being able to welcome the regulations most warmly. I should like also to pay my tribute to the courage and good sense of the Secretary of State. This is a very wise decision. It must have been a hard decision to take. As a result, I daresay he will continue to receive a good deal of flak. But I am sure that he has done the right thing. It is an enormous pleasure to be able to welcome something so positive.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I suppose anyone who visits Northern Ireland and is not familiar with that part of the country will be amazed at the widespread use of flags, flying not just from public buildings but from private houses. In that respect, Northern Ireland is clearly different from other parts of the United Kingdom. It is not just flags, but kerb stones, graffiti on gable ends and so on. It is surprising at how prevalent is the habit of trying to demonstrate one's allegiance by flags and other symbols. Therefore, I appreciate the difficulty that the Secretary of State was in in trying to deal with this issue in the absence of any clear lead from the Assembly or the Executive.
I share the welcome given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to the sensible decision not to fly the flag on 12th July. I am bound to say that the United Kingdom is no longer uniform in respect of flying flags. In Scotland a decision was made to fly the flag on fewer occasions than those listed in the regulations. To express a personal view—I do not wish any disrespect to the individuals concerned—i see that in Scotland the flag is flown on fewer occasions because some of the lesser members of the Royal Family do not have flags flown on their particular days. I was surprised that we have so many days in England. I was not aware that some of the members of the Royal Family have flags flown on their birthdays. I wonder whether it is not worth thinking about that as well in the context of the wider United Kingdom. I say that without wishing any disrespect to the individuals concerned; but we fly the flag a good deal.
I read with interest the report of the Assembly and its failure to agree. I noticed that the SDLP made one interesting suggestion; namely, that both flags—the Union Jack and the tricolour—may be flown on occasions when there are meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council, of north/south bodies and of the British Irish Council. Given that the regulations contain provision for flying the flag of another country when a visiting head of state happens to be present, that seems worth thinking about. Therefore, the SDLP's suggestion has merit.
I notice that the Northern Ireland Assembly, without any difficulty, devised its own logo—the flax flower. I am not aware of any dissent. I suppose that what Northern Ireland needs is its own flag, as well as the Union Jack. I am surprised that the Assembly did not think of flying the flag of Saint Patrick on such occasions. I thought Saint Patrick was acceptable throughout the whole community. So I am a little 1203 surprised that the report of the Assembly, in so far as I have looked through it, does not contain any reference to the flag of Saint Patrick.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that the Union flag incorporates the cross of Saint Patrick?
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, certainly it does. I learnt that when I was a Boy Scout many years ago. Nevertheless, I was pondering out loud as to why the flag of Saint Patrick is not used, given that the flag of Saint George is used on occasions in England. Perhaps it is not used in an official capacity, but certainly I have seen it used on occasions. Having said that, it is not for us to devise flags and symbols. Essentially, the issue is one which we would wish the people of Northern Ireland and their politicians to resolve. I hope they will soon be able to decide such matters for themselves without having them imposed upon them. I appreciate the difficulties of the Secretary of State and I think he has moved forward in the only way possible.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, I am grateful for the support for the regulations which comes from almost all sides of the House.
Perhaps I may deal with the specific questions raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked why it was the Secretary of State and not the Assembly which made the decision. The reason is that the Assembly cannot reach an agreed solution. My right honourable friend in another place has already given an undertaking that, if the Executive is able to reach agreement, he will revoke the regulations. The noble Lord, perhaps less seriously—as he put it—raised the question of what will happen if one of the government buildings moves. If one of the government building moves it will no longer be a government building, so the obligations in relation to flags will not remain in respect of that building. The Secretary of State's order-making power is enough to add additional buildings if that proves to be necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, raised a number of specific points. First, he asked me to give an undertaking in relation to a review. I have already said that my right honourable friend in another place has indicated that if the Executive reaches agreement, he will come back to this House and revoke the regulations.
Secondly, the noble Lord raised the question of enforcement. There is in the primary regulation under which these regulations were made no power to provide sanctions. It is unlikely that in reality this clear regulation will be disobeyed. However, if it is disobeyed by anyone, it will be a matter for the courts to decide what is the most effective way to enforce the terms of the regulation.
The noble Lord also asked whether departmental headquarters would be a better criterion for determining specified buildings. We believe that listing the specified buildings is a much clearer definition. I said in answer to the question raised by the noble Lord, 1204 Lord Glentoran, that if there is a change that can be dealt with by an amendment to the terms of the regulation.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, raised the question of the Parliament buildings. The regulation does not cover Parliament buildings because they are not government buildings. We cannot include Parliament buildings in the regulation at all; nor do we seek to do so. That is a matter for the Assembly to decide for itself. The regulations do not prevent the flying of the Union flag over Parliament buildings because they do not apply to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked why the regulations do not require the flying of the flag on the visit of a foreign head of state. We believe that it would be better to allow that to remain permissive. In certain circumstances, requiring the Union flag to be flown from the building visited could cause disruption. The noble Lord also asked whether the European flag has to fly on any United Kingdom building. I do not know the answer to that question. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord in respect of that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, suggested a consultative document on flags, arguing that the Assembly should have no role in relation to the matter. As has been made clear, the powers on flag flying are devolved not just in relation to Northern Ireland but in relation to Scotland and Wales as well. The Secretary of State is able to make decisions only because of the special powers given to him while the Assembly was suspended. We would prefer that the Northern Ireland Assembly itself determined these issues. However, it has not been able to reach agreement and so the Secretary of State, as he indicated he would if agreement was not reached, has determined for himself what he thinks to be the right course.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked whether the flying of flags should be reduced, as it has been in Scotland. The position is that the Scottish Parliament has not yet considered the flying of flags on Scottish government buildings. We think that the right course is to reflect what is the practice in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is what the regulations reflect.
I hope that, with the exception of the one question left outstanding in relation to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I have answered all the questions raised by noble Lords.
On Question, Motion agreed to.