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Amendment 1

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 3:08 pm, 15th July 2019

My Lords, the amendments in this group all stand in my name but I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Trimble and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, for adding their names to all but one of them. These are very simple amendments, which I trailed last week at Second Reading. All they do is alter dates in the Bill. They do not cause any impediment whatever if, miraculously—I think it would be miraculous—a Northern Ireland Executive were set up in the very near future. I think there is common agreement among those who follow the affairs of Northern Ireland closely that it is, sadly, very unlikely that any significant change will take place by the August date in the Bill. I regret that, just as I regret that for more than two and a half years now we have had no Northern Ireland Executive and no Assembly.

My noble friend who will respond to this debate knows full well my views on the desirability of summoning the Assembly, having its committees working and, above all, having an Executive, the absence of which has deprived the people of Northern Ireland of proper devolved government for more than two and a half years, but we must be realistic. Your Lordships’ House will be going into recess, as will the other place, at the end of next week. We come back briefly in September. By then a new Prime Minister will have been in office for some weeks, but nobody in this House or the other place imagines, much as we might regret it, that the new Prime Minister will have anything at the top of his agenda other than Brexit. All eyes will increasingly be focused not on a date in the middle of October but on a date at the end of October—31 October.

In these circumstances it seems sensible to avoid the constant coming back for a renewal, effectively, of a mandate. We have done this too often now. Therefore, in these amendments I am suggesting that we delete the October date, insert a fallback date of 13 January in its place, and that for a fallback date we have not 13 January but 10 April. I have put that date for a very deliberate reason. That will be the 22nd anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. I hope that might focus minds, particularly in Northern Ireland. It will also take off what some people might consider undue pressure.

I intervened on my noble friend’s wind-up speech last week and indicated that I was minded to table amendments to this effect. He responded very graciously. The amendments are now before us and I very much hope that the Committee will see them as non-controversial, giving more time to the parties and people of Northern Ireland to restore proper devolved government and taking away the ever-increasing threat of direct rule, which no one who cares about Northern Ireland and who was excited by what happened nearly 22 years ago wants to see happen. I trust that my noble friend will be able to give me a very satisfactory answer to these amendments. I am grateful to my noble friend and the noble Baroness for supporting them and I beg to move.