HL Deb 06 February 2003 vol 644 c372

Northern Ireland Orders: memorandum by the Leader of the House

In the run-up to Christmas, Lords interested in Northern Ireland affairs complained that Orders in Council under paragraph 1 of the Schedule to the Northern Ireland Act 2000 were receiving inadequate scrutiny in the Lords. These are the Orders which do the work of NI Assembly Bills while the Assembly is suspended. I agreed at the Despatch Box on 16 December to the proposition that "the usual channels should look at this matter with a degree of urgency".

Having consulted the usual channels and other interested members, I now invite the Procedure Committee to recommend the creation of a "Northern Ireland Orders Committee".

The Committee would be of open membership, like a Grand Committee. If it was considered that a particular Order warranted its attention, then following discussion in the usual channels I would move a formal motion referring the Order to the Committee. The Committee would, I hope, be able to meet at any convenient time and at fairly short notice. I accept that resource constraints apply, and in particular that it should not meet at the same time as a Grand Committee. It would meet in the Moses Room if this was available.

The Committee's proceedings would be the same as in Grand Committee, with the Chairman of Committees or a Deputy in the Chair, a Minister speaking for the Government, and a section in Hansard. Its only business would be "to consider the So-and-So Order", and its report would say only that it had done so.

The motion to approve the Order would be taken on the Floor of the House, as at present. There would be no bar on further debate at this stage (and if necessary a division); but in most cases an Order considered in Committee might be expected to be approved without further extensive debate.

It is important that this initiative is not seen in any way as a signal for long-term suspension of the Assembly, By definition, Orders of this type are made only when the Assembly is suspended. When the Assembly is restored, which the Government hope will be soon, the new procedure would lapse.

On Question, Motion agreed to.