HL Deb 15 September 2003 vol 652 cc734-5
Lord Williams of Mostyn

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd July be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, as your Lordships know, following suspension on 15th October, Section 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 2000 came into force. By virtue of the schedule to that Act there is a power to legislate by Order in Council. That power was limited to the first six months of suspension but can be extended for a period of six months at a time. The House agreed an extension in April. This second order, therefore, provides for a further renewal of these powers for six months from 14th October 2003.

A number of your Lordships who have an interest in Northern Ireland made very firm representations, to which I hope I paid careful attention, that we need a sensible period of time to be able to reflect on and discuss, if necessary informally, new legislation before it comes before Parliament as an Order in Council.

We have done our very best, where practicable, to allow a twelve-week consultation period, as I promised your Lordships earlier, for new legislation before it is laid before Parliament as an Order in Council. As your Lordships know, that has already been done in respect of proposals for draft orders on employment and partnerships, and similar consultation is underway with draft legislation on gambling and licensing. Such an approach will give your Lordships ample opportunity to influence legislation before it is finalised. I recognise that many noble Lords will regard this further continuance as a regrettable necessity; a necessity I suggest it is. I beg to move.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, we accept that this is a consequential effect of the suspension of the Assembly. We express our thanks and appreciation to the Lord President of the Council for giving us this substantial consultation period. We have no objections.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, we too thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for the consideration he has always shown in matters concerned with Northern Ireland. However, for the second time we find ourselves having to renew this order. It is most unfortunate that we have to do so. It is our fervent hope and expectation that this will be the last time we have to renew it.

The order runs to 14th April 2004. Long before then we anticipate that elections will have been held and that the Assembly is once again sitting in Northern Ireland and dealing with its own devolved legislation.

As my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton reminded the House last Friday, we on these Benches supported the Government's case, albeit reluctantly, to postpone elections in the spring of this year. We gave fair warning then and subsequently that we would not be willing to do so again. Can the noble and learned Lord give us any idea when those elections might be called? It is vital that we are able to give all the people of Northern Ireland hope that very soon they will once again be able to manage their own affairs without having continually to look towards Westminster.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness. I agree with the noble Baroness and know that noble Lords on the Opposition Front Benches hold the same view. We want Assembly elections as much as anyone. I have repeated my approval of the observations made on many occasions by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. We very much hope—I cannot go further—that elections will he possible this autumn.