My Lords, when I approach the subject of Northern Ireland, I do so with sensitivity to its troubled history and with an overwhelming conviction that devolution in Northern Ireland is very important. While it is certainly far from perfect, Northern Ireland politics has been greatly enhanced by devolution. Mindful of this fact, the point must be made with respect to the amendment before us today that we cannot start legislating on devolved matters as if we were in a direct rule situation without unsettling and potentially unravelling devolution. If we do so on this matter, a precedent will be set and then there will be pressure to do it in other areas. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, said, we cannot cherry pick.
Given the special value of devolution in the history of Northern Ireland, I would not want your Lordships’ House to act in a manner that created new pressures that would make the general unravelling of devolution more likely. Of course, I accept that at some point in the future there may have to be a decision to reintroduce direct rule, but we are not there yet and it would be wrong for your Lordships’ House to act in a way that does anything to revive direct rule practices, with all the attendant constitutional implications, by way of precedent.
In making this point, I should say that I have spoken to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. He regrets that he cannot be here today, but has given me permission to quote him in saying that,
“for so long as a matter is devolved, notwithstanding the current difficulties, it would be quite wrong for your Lordships’ House to pass legislation in relation to it”.
Mindful of these considerations, while today’s debate has served the useful purpose of putting these matters on record, I hope very much that the amendment will be withdrawn.