Government accepts changes needed to NI law-making

The BBC report that Lord Rooker, the government’s NI spokesman in the Lords, has stated today in the Lords that, should there be devloution by the deadline of November 24 not prove possible, “for whatever reason, the Government will quickly introduce measures to make direct rule more accountable, including provisions that will enable Orders in Council to be amended” [link may be temporary], and agreed that the current system was “very unsatisfactory”. It follows the recent vote in the Lords, also noted by Gonzo here, on amendments to the NI (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which is receiving its third reading today. But some amendments are still to be opposed and one, in particular, has been moved again. Updated Moved again, but voted down.Lord Rooker had this to say on the amendability of Orders in Council..

Lord Rooker…. With the leave of the House, because this is the last opportunity I will have to speak on the Bill as it passes through the House, I have a short point to add. We all agree on the significance of the Bill currently before the House. It recognises and builds on the ongoing transformation of Northern Ireland. It looks to the future and recognises the possibilities that lie ahead. I have set out why I do not believe that the amendment inserting the process for amending Orders in Council that was accepted on Report is helpful. However, the ministerial team and I recognise the strength of feeling in both Houses about the inadequacy of the present arrangements for dealing with the bulk of Northern Ireland legislation. They are very unsatisfactory. I am therefore prepared to give the House the following undertaking: between now and 24 November, our focus is fixed on getting devolution up and running, which is plan A, and we do not want to be diverted from that. However, if that does not prove possible, for whatever reason, the Government will quickly introduce measures to make direct rule more accountable, including provisions that will enable Orders in Council to be amended in the light of views expressed by Members of both Houses in a way that reflects the spirit of the amendment passed by this House on Report. There will be an opportunity, agreed through the usual channels, for an amendability stage in the parliamentary consideration of Northern Ireland Orders in Council. We will also ensure that we legislate for Northern Ireland by primary legislation, wherever appropriate.

Lord Rooker also expressed the governments intention to seek to overturn the amendment banning donations, to political parties here, from the Republic of Ireland..

On Irish donations to political parties, I regret that the amendment was pushed to a vote and the clause was removed at Report. I have written in detail to noble Lords about this matter. The effect is to bar entirely donations from Irish citizens and other bodies to political parties in Northern Ireland from November next year. This change clearly goes against the spirit of the Good Friday agreement and would have serious repercussions for the parties and the political process in Northern Ireland. That is why the Government will seek to overturn that amendment in another place.

And, as suggested previously, it seems that the amendment on excluding Ministers on the basis of a failure to support the rule of law has been moved again

Lord Glentoran moved the Amendment:

“EXCLUSION OF MINISTERS FROM OFFICE

(1) Section 30 of the 1998 Act (exclusion of Ministers from office) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (1)(b) insert-

“(c) because he is no longer committed to upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland,”.

(3) After subsection (2)(b) insert-

“(c) because it is no longer committed to upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland,”.

(4) After subsection (7)(d) insert-

“(da) whether he or it is committed now and in the future to upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland;”.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I made the argument for this amendment on Report. I undertook to read Hansard after the Minister’s response, because I was not totally clear in my own mind that he was not right. Having done so, and looking at Section 30 of the 1998 Act,

“Exclusion of Ministers from office”,

and reading it pretty carefully, I do not believe that the section goes far enough. That is especially true as at an earlier stage I did not move the amendment to alter the pledge of office and chose to follow through with this amendment. I beg to move.

I’ll update on the progress of that amendment as further Hansard records are revealed. Updated A very quick update.. the amendment was voted down “Contents, 97; Not-Contents, 149.”

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  • Occasional Commentator

    Per the article, Lord Glentoran moved that Ministers be excluded from office if “he is no longer committed to upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland”.

    That seems a pretty dodgy piece of legislation. He couldn’t really have meant the technical legal term ‘the rule of law‘ because it has nothing to do with the police or even to do with questions as to which Parliament should in charge. It’s more about the jurisdiction of the courts to control the government. So basically no Minister would have anything to worry about for not supporting the PSNI.

    If he meant the much vaguer everyday use of ‘the rule of law’ then it’s going to be even more difficult to get the effect he intended. SF could argue that there is no rule of law today because a British Secretary of State can interfere in NI affairs and intern the likes of Sean Kelly. And there may be current members of the Policing Board members of parties who have played fast and loose with the law in the past. So Glentoran could end up with only SF Ministers allowed in office if he’s not careful!

    Lord Glentoran should just have been honest and put in legislation blocking Ministers whose parties don’t take seats on the Policing Board, or some other simple straightforward workable piece of legislation that we can attack or support.

    My guess (and I’m no lawyer) is that this legislation would be laughed out by the courts.

  • Pete Baker

    OC

    that particular amendment, as I noted in the update, was voted down – “Contents, 97; Not-Contents, 149.”

  • Occasional Commentator

    Pete,
    I should have made clear that I knew that legislation wasn’t going anywhere. Thanks for making that clear again to other readers. But I’m still annoyed at Lord Glentoran wasting everyone’s time with such drivel.

  • Pete Baker

    OC

    Drivel it may be, at least in legal terms – that was essentially the argument put forward by Lord Rooker – but he’s perfectly entitled to raise the issue and it does go to the heart of one of the main obstacles to the restoration of devolved government.

  • Occasional Commentator

    Pete,
    I agree that it’s an important issue, and I would normally welcome any contribution to any debate on the issue, but moving this amendment wasn’t the way forward for Lord Glentoran. It reminds me of Dermot Nesbitt saying that it’s illegal under international law for the RoI to discuss Northern Ireland!.