Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Modification) Order 2003

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:58 pm on 9th December 2003.

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Photo of Lord Shutt of Greetland Lord Shutt of Greetland Liberal Democrat 6:58 pm, 9th December 2003

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Lord President for presenting the order. When the elections took place on 26th November, a majority of those who were elected were in favour of proceeding with the Belfast agreement. That is absolutely clear—approximately 70 per cent of those elected were in favour of pursuing the Belfast agreement. The order is about paying the people who were elected on that day. I well understand the concerns about whether the Assembly sits or not and whether people should be paid if it does not.

As the Minister indicated, there is the representative role. I am not clear about the extent to which the MLAs will be taking up that representative role. It seems to me that they could be encouraged to do so and I shall be interested to hear her view on that. The constituents of the MLAs will have all kinds of concerns and I want to be certain that the MLAs, although not sitting in an Assembly, have access to government as representatives of the people. It seems to me that they ought to have. It may well be that being involved in the real lives of their constituents may lead to people being concerned that the Assembly is not sitting and that it should do so and should work.

I, too, hope that the talks process will now work well and that we can get the Assembly sitting. It is important that the review takes place, not least as regards the designation of people and the silly position which the alliance had to take in allying itself with one group in order that the Assembly could sit on an earlier occasion. But if, in effect, the Assembly does not sit, how long should the order last and what further mechanisms will there be? The Assembly is supposedly to run for four years. I should hate to think that four years would elapse and that, in effect, the order would remain in place.

However, we are in uncharted territory because the election was called on the basis that there would be a devolved Assembly. I do not believe that any of us quite understands why it did not work, but the choreography was such that there was supposed to be a devolved Assembly and that is why the election was called. Let us hope that no one can now say that this group is not representative of the Northern Ireland people. The Members were elected a week or so ago under a fairly decent electoral system and therefore it should be possible for them to be seen as the people who need to get on with that job.

Therefore, from these Benches, for now we agree with the order. However, sadly, there may need to be some modification if we do not see the progress for which we all hope.