HL Deb 06 November 2000 vol 618 cc1350-4

(".—(1) A person who is a Minister of the Government of Ireland, or of a Commonwealth country, has no power to make, confirm or approve any subordinate legislation, or to do any act so far as the legislation or act, which—

  1. (a) is incompatible with any of the Convention rights;
  2. (b) is incompatible with Community law;
  3. (c) discriminates against a person or class of person on the ground of religious belief or political opinion;
  4. (d) in the case of an act, aids or incites another person to discriminate against a person or class of person on that ground; or
  5. 1351
  6. (e) in the ease of legislation, modifies an enactment in breach of section 7 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

(2) "the Convention rights" has the same meaning as in the Human Rights Act 1998.").

Baroness Jay of Paddington

I apologise to the Committee, I have only recently been following the procedures on this Bill with the noble Lord, Lord Laird. I have advised the noble Lord that I am, in turn, advised by the authorities that Amendment No. 35A is irrelevant to the subject matter of the Bill. I did forewarn the noble Lord that I would say this and the House authorities also so warned him.

I can only repeat, as I am sure is familiar to the Committee, that the Companion to the Standing Orders states that amendments must be relevant to the subject matter of the Bill. It makes it clear further that the advice of the Clerks should be taken in relation to matters such as these. The Clerks in the Public Bill Office advised me, and I believe advised the noble Lord, Lord Laird, that, as this Bill is confined to matters relating to disqualification from membership of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly and the holding of certain offices, but this amendment seeks to act on participation in certain kinds of Assembly business—namely, to prevent a Minister of the government of Ireland or of a Commonwealth country confirming or approving subordinate legislation—it follows that the amendment is not relevant to the Bill.

As Members of the Committee will be aware, our procedures in the House are governed by the House as a whole and not by any one individual, and as a consequence the House has a collective responsibility to ensure that our procedures are followed. I intervene at this time for that purpose. With that in mind, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Laird, to accept the advice the Clerks offered to him and to me, and not to move Amendment No. 35A.

Lord Laird

I thank the noble Baroness for her remarks and everybody involved in this matter. I accept the advice which has been supplied to me and I shall not move the amendment. The purpose in tabling new Clause 4 was to make the point that there is a very high standard to which Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly operate. At present, Northern Ireland Ministers and departments are strictly forbidden by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 from doing anything that would infringe human rights arising from the European Convention.

Through the implementation by the British Government of the Belfast agreement, our own Northern Ireland Ministers have extensive human rights obligations but their Irish counterparts do not. Unlike the United Kingdom, the Irish Republic has not yet incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into its own domestic law, nor has the Republic of Ireland fulfilled its obligation under the Belfast agreement to ensure that at least an equivalent level of protection of human rights as those which will pertain in Northern Ireland. Under the Belfast agreement, the Irish Government have a duty to establish a human rights commission with the mandate and remit equivalent to that within Northern Ireland. No such commission has yet been created in the Irish Republic. Consequently, a joint committee of representatives of the two human rights commissions has not yet materialised, even though the Belfast agreement was created two-and-a-half years ago.

We are enormously disappointed by the slow progress made in respect of human rights in the Irish Republic. It is more than two years since the passing of the Belfast agreement, but so far the Republic has totally failed. Consequently, we in Northern Ireland can have no confidence that Irish Ministers sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly would appreciate the significance that we have in Northern Ireland of upholding fundamental human rights. There must be equality of treatment between Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Ministers who take their seats.

I shall be looking at another way of bringing forward an amendment at Report stage. I shall have discussions with the relevant authorities.

[Amendment No. 35A not moved.]

Clause 4 [Short title]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 36: Clause 4, page 2, line 1, after ("Disqualifications") insert ("(Ministers and Members of the Legislature of Ireland)").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to make the citation under which the Bill is to be known, if it is passed, which I hope it is not, that much clearer. It suggests that it should be cited as the Disqualifications … Ministers and Members of the Legislature of Ireland Act 2000". Otherwise it will not be clear to anyone who looks at the Bill among others what it is all about. That is the purpose of the citation. It seemed to me that slightly fuller wording was necessary. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

This would have been a consequential amendment required only if amendments relating to Irish Ministers and members of the Irish parliament had been accepted. As no amendments to the Bill referring to Ministers and members of the legislature of Ireland have been accepted, we believe that this amendment is unnecessary. For those reasons, it should be rejected.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

We accepted Amendment No. 25 as regards Ministers and the Government of Ireland not very long ago. The amendment may not be perfect, but it is not quite as bad as the Minister suggests. I shall consider the drafting between now and Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

In the Title:

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 38: In the Title, line 2, after ("Commons") insert (", the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to make the Title more accurate. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Again, this is a consequential amendment which would have been required if Amendment No. 33 had been accepted. However, as Amendment No. 33 was not accepted there is no good cause to have a reference to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. The amendment is both irrelevant and unnecessary and I ask the Committee to reject it.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

I invite the noble Lord to say whether he recognises that some of us feel, not altogether light heartedly, that it might be justified to insert into the Title the words "and who has asked for it?". Throughout our proceedings today we have tried, I hope courteously, and, alas, at the expense of inciting the wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, on the Liberal Democrat Benches to discover who has asked for the Bill. We have not succeeded.

Will the Minister say that between now and the next stage of the Bill, whenever that might be—I hope it will not be the usual period of six months—that the answer, or the refusal to answer, will be reconsidered? It is high time that we were told who has asked for the Bill. Failing that, we should be told why it is considered to be irrelevant, if that be the case.

During our debate today I have had in mind the couplet from a hymn which I believe was written by the divine John Donne.

Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws Makes that and th' action fine". My noble friend Lord Cranborne tells me that it was written by George Herbert. The Bill is said to be a tidying up operation and today we have been looking at the room which the Government seek to tidy up. No one in living memory has occupied that room; no one sweeps a room which has never been occupied unless they have a good reason for supposing that it will be—and that quite shortly. If so, by whom?

We want to know in whose name is the room being swept. If the Minister cannot answer tonight—I should have thought that it was a simple question—I hope that he will answer as soon as an opportunity arises at the next stage.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I had thought that the Minister, or the noble and learned Lord, was going to answer.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I was simply going to observe that the noble and learned Lord's speech was entertaining and consistent in its persistency, but it did not address the matter before the Committee, which was the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

That produced a short if more interesting debate than I had anticipated. It also left unanswered one of the important questions we have asked in different forms all day. That is the question to which we shall continue to seek an answer at later stages. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 39 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 40: In the Title, line 3, leave out ("and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 43: In the Title, line 5, at end insert ("or chairmen or deputy chairmen of committees of the Dáil Eireann or the Seanad Eireann or of joint committees of the Oireachtas; and to make provision with respect to who may he chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory committee of the Assembly").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 not moved.]

Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.