Amendment 16A (to Amendment 16)

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative 9:00 pm, 17th July 2019

My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 16 with a good deal of consideration. First, when the Bill was introduced by the Government, it was absolutely plain that its scope did not embrace either same-sex marriage or the abortion provisions. In that situation, it was also introduced as a Bill that required dealing with by a very quick procedure.

We have already dealt with same-sex marriage, which was already passed by the Assembly at Stormont, but this provision is quite different because it was dealt with by the Assembly at Stormont and voted against. Our friends from Northern Ireland—the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, for example—have assured us that things are different. I was honoured to be a Minister in Northern Ireland for 10 years, but that was rather a long time ago. I have no doubt that things have changed quite a lot in a number of ways, including the fact that I no longer have any responsibility for it.

It is extremely important, to my mind, that the constitutional situation in Northern Ireland is taken into account. If the Bill had been introduced in such a way that this was already a subject within it, even if it was quick that would be something. But the Bill was introduced to the House of Commons as one that had to be dealt with quickly for the executive functions of Northern Ireland to continue. This subject matter is well outside that scope. What has happened since is that the House of Commons has introduced, voted on and supported an amendment to deal with abortion in Northern Ireland, which is important and, of course, has human rights connections and consequences. So far as I am concerned, the scope of the Bill has therefore been altered by the House of Commons. It already had that provision in it when it came here. It is therefore not surprising that our clerks took the view that the scope of the Bill now enabled the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, to be tabled and voted on.

In my submission, it is vital that we know that the present Assembly, or the Members elected to serve in it, will be content with the ultimate decision reached by the Government as a result of the consultation that the Minister indicated is to be undertaken. No doubt in the course of that, they will be able to find out a good deal about the present views of the Assembly Members. I expect the consultation will do its best to secure the agreement of those Members. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said, it would be better still if the Assembly were to meet but my understanding is that it is not in our power to arrange that. What we can do is to require that the consent of its Members is obtained. I have little doubt that any kind of reasonably flexible consultation will take full account of their views. I would hope that it resulted in an agreement by its Members, at least by a majority, in favour of the ultimate regulations.

This is not so much about the subject matter of the Bill, so far as I am concerned, except that it is outside its original purpose. The matter is also in a Bill that our Constitution Committee strongly recommended should not be dealt with by this method. These are very important matters. Should regulations be created in this way for Northern Ireland without every possible respect being paid to the attitude of the people of Northern Ireland to this subject? I have received a very large number of emails and other communications suggesting different points of view on this matter. Not all have been in one direction, but most were against doing anything about this. That is not why I support this: it is because I believe it essential that the devolution settlement should be observed as far as we possibly can. We cannot make the Executive meet, unfortunately —that is a matter that they have to agree—but we can secure their point of view on this important matter and I strongly support this amendment for these reasons.