Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 5 June 2000 (continued)

Dr Birnie:

I welcome the Minister's statement. My question is about lighthouses and the Commissioners of Irish Lights, and arises from the report which was presented to the Assembly by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on 18 January 1999. Under the section relating to the North/South body in aquaculture and marine matters it says

"Given that the CIL functions in an East-West context, arrangements will be made to maintain linkage with the relevant British authorities."

I understand that the context is that for over a century now lighthouse provision in this island has been funded out of a general lighthouse fund to which the current Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, John Prescott, acts as trustee. He subsidises the operation of lighthouses in the North and, it has to be said, in the Republic of Ireland as well.

Were arrangements relating to the East/West aspect of lighthouse operation discussed at the recent meeting which the Minister reported on?

Ms Rodgers:

Legislation is being prepared to deal with the important issues that come under the jurisdiction of the Commission of Irish Lights, in particular, where the British Government has a concern. However, the arrangements were not discussed at the last meeting.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Will the Minister tell the House which waters the Irish Government now controls but did not control prior to the setting-up of this body? There is, take it from me, deep concern in the Carlingford Lough region about what is happening there.

Will she explain how the body has an estimated spend of £431,000 since it was set up? What has that money bought for the people of Carlingford or Foyle? I would like to know where the money is to be spent or was spent. According to page 25 of the Northern Ireland Estimates 2000-01 it will be spent on services under the Government of Northern Ireland for the year ending 31 March 2001.

Ms Rodgers:

The Commission is now responsible for the Newry area including the Newry canal, Clanrye river and others.

The rest of the question related to the money spent on-

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

The money spent as listed in the Estimates.

Ms Rodgers:

That is the provision for next year.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

What is it buying?

Ms Rodgers:

I think that that will be a matter for the Commission.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I will raise the matter with the Minister at the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, which I chair. I hope she will have answers then.

Mr Speaker:

Order. May I remind Members that these are questions to the Minister about the statement. Questions to the Minister on the Estimates, for example, will be taken at another time. Clearly the Minister cannot be prepared for questions on Estimates when the statement is about the North/South Ministerial Council meeting. The purpose of the questions is to address that particular issue.

Mr Bradley:

I note from paragraph seven of the Minister's report that the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Mr Fahey, confirmed that the Irish authorities are content with the progress of the transfer of Irish Lights to the new Commission. Will the Minister say whether the transfer will have any bearing on the jobs of those currently employed by Irish Lights?

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for that question. No, it is intended that the contracts of employment of Irish Lights staff will transfer with their functions and there will be no detrimental change in their working conditions.

Mr Ford:

Aquaculture is one of the important functions of the new body. Given what she has said, will the Minister expand on the timescale for legislation in this area?

I noted her comments on the idea of an advisory body to work with the cross-border body. Given the wide range of functions included in that body's remit, I find it difficult to see why representatives of anglers or landowners on the Owenkillew river would necessarily want to be on the same advisory body as those who fish or sail on our saltwater coasts. Will the Minister give consideration as to whether more than one body might not be more appropriate?

Ms Rodgers:

With regard to the licensing of aquaculture, the legislation amending the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952 to extend the functions of the Loughs Agency, including the development and licensing of aquaculture in Lough Foyle, continues to be progressed. A number of policy matters between the two Departments sponsoring the Loughs Agency - the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources in Dublin - proved more difficult to settle than anticipated. However, instructions are now being finalised and forwarded to the draughtsmen in both jurisdictions. I hope that the legislation will be brought forward in September.

The second part of the question related to consultation. We are awaiting proposals which will include sub-committees for the areas and functions.

Mr ONeill:

I welcome the Minister's statement. I wish to draw attention to the need for work to be done on the conservation and management of our fishery stocks as a natural resource. Does the Minister agree that that should receive priority status amongst the work of the Department and the council?

Ms Rodgers:

I wish to thank Éamonn for that question. The Commission will deal with the need to conserve stock, to develop the fisheries and to manage the whole area. The answer to the question is "Yes". I accept the importance of the issue, and I look forward to seeing the Commission work very fruitfully in that area.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

In her statement the Minister said that good progress was being made. Is she concealing the reality of the situation? A departmental memo from Mr Derick Anderson to a Mr Lavery contains the most disturbing news that seizures of illegal nets and boats on the tidal Foyle have fallen from over 700 nets and 80 boats in 1996 to 350 nets and 40 boats in 1999, and that illegal fishing has been taking in excess of 10,000 salmon from this area per annum.

That is the equivalent of between one half and one third of the legal commercial catch. As the Department is unable to recruit the temporary staff required to maintain this river, should the Minister not have brought this material to our urgent attention in her statement today, to make us all aware of the current dire and, indeed, most disturbing situation?

2.15 pm

Ms Rodgers:

My report was on the central meeting, which dealt with the legislative and administrative arrangements that must be put in place to deal with the many issues that will come under the commission's management. There is good evidence of deterrents: continuous vigilance will be needed, and temporary staff are, in fact, being recruited to deal with this. I was reporting on the discussions we had on putting the arrangements in place. There has, of course, been a three-month gap. We had intended to have a meeting in May, but, unfortunately, we were unable to. We hope that that meeting will now take place at the end of this month.

Mr Dallat:

Can the Minister assure the House that the Commission will avail of every opportunity to promote angling tourism on an all-Ireland basis? What proposals are there to encompass the activities of The Honourable The Irish Society, which controls fishing rights on other rivers in Northern Ireland?

Ms Rodgers:

I can assure Mr Dallat that I want to see the Commission developing the tourist potential of angling and fishing in particular, on a North/South basis, and I have no doubt that it will proceed to do that.

Mr Wells:

The Minister thanked the hon Member for South Down, Mr ONeill, for his question - and very helpful it was too - but I can assure Members she will not be thanking me for my question. Will the Minister take it from me that many of the anglers who fish in the waters that flow into Carlingford Lough remain totally and implacably opposed to this whole process? They see this as artificial interference in the good management of Carlingford Lough, as was carried out by the Fisheries Conservancy Board, and they also see it as being done for pure political expediency.

Many of the anglers feel very aggrieved that they now have to liaise with a body whose local office will probably be based in the Irish Republic and that they will have to buy two licences, one from the old Fisheries Conservancy Board, and one from this new body. This will do absolutely nothing to promote angling and fishing in Carlingford Lough, and there will not be one more fish left alive as a result of this vast expenditure.

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for his question, which is, indeed, very welcome. All questions are welcome; that is what I am here for. In relation to the licensing situation, the Fisheries Conservancy Board in Northern Ireland and the Eastern Fisheries Board in the Republic of Ireland operate as agents of the Commission in delivering services. Arrangements are in hand for the commission to begin delivering services itself as soon as possible. The commission has approved staffing and accommodation, and there are other proposals which await approval. The Commission will be taking over the ongoing work.

The staff of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission have an effective track record in the protection of fisheries in the Foyle area as part of their role in the Foyle Fisheries Commission. I expect that they will continue to deal effectively with poaching in their extended areas of responsibility. In relation to licences, it is not true that people will have to pay for two. Those who have mistakenly bought a licence to fish in one or other area, will, if they write to the Commission, be given the right to fish in both areas.

With regard to the areas which come under - [Interruption]

They will be allowed to fish in both areas with whichever licence they have bought. There is no problem with that. When they want to fish in areas that come under the Fisheries Conservancy Board, they will be able to buy, at a very cheap rate, an endorsement of the licence they have, not two licences. The licence that they already have can also be endorsed at a very small fee, which is much less than the sum of the two fees added together.

Mr Hay:

The Minister said that there was no real difficulty for employees of Foyle Fisheries Commission to transfer to the Implementation Bodies. I know, from Foyle Fisheries Commission employees, that they have had great difficulty and could not understand why they were doing it. Following on from that, can the Minister guarantee that those people who have transferred their pension rights, employment rights - and every other accompanying right - will have those rights safeguarded?

My other question concerns the North/South Ministerial Council. My understanding is that Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners, who control a fair portion of the River Foyle and have a reasonable amount of activity on it, have not been consulted on any issue concerning the area they control. I hope, that when the Minister sets up the advisory committee about which she is now talking, the Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners are brought into the equation. She may rest assured they have a great deal to say concerning the whole issue of this advisory panel now being set up by the Minister. I wish to make it clear to her that Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners very much wish to be contacted by her concerning the whole issue of the area they control.

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for his question and advice. I hear what he says about Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners. As I have already stated in response to an earlier question, employees of the Foyle Fisheries Commission will be guaranteed that there will be no detrimental impact on their employment, and their contractual rights will be transferred.

Memorandum of Understanding and Supplementary Agreements


Mr Speaker:

The Business Committee agreed an indicative time of two hours for the debate on the Memorandum of Understanding and Supplementary Agreements. I remind Members that they will have seen only one amendment on the Marshalled List.

Junior Minister (Office of First and Deputy First Ministers) (Mr Nesbitt): I beg to move

That this Assembly takes note of the Memorandum of Understanding and Supplementary Agreements between Her Majesty's Government and the Northern Ireland Executive Committee.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. What is the time limit on these speeches today?

Mr Speaker:

Under the new Standing Orders - and I hesitate to advise Members of this - there is no limit on time. Members will recall there was a time limit of 10 minutes in our Initial Standing Orders. Now that is no longer the case. The Business Committee has, however, given an indicative timing for the debate as a whole of two hours. Clearly, Members speaking for longer will limit the amount of time available to their Colleagues and other Members of the Assembly. Those in the Chair will try to assist Members to keep to reasonable brevity, consistent with being able to express their views with clarity.

Mr Nesbitt:

The purpose of the Memorandum is to set down principles which will underlie relations between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved institutions. As such, it is central to the way in which business will be conducted in each part of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Assembly is part of the governance of the United Kingdom. It is our task to formulate and deliver public policy for which we have the responsibility in Northern Ireland, in line with the needs of the local electorate. However, we are also part of a bigger picture, and we need to take account of what is happening elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)

This document is therefore designed to reconcile these two roles. It is not legally binding but it is a statement of political intent, binding in honour only. It reflects the post-devolution politics of co-operation, goodwill and a recognition of mutual responsibilities. Some may say that the document should be legally enforceable. However, trying to make the arrangements enforceable in law would not be in keeping with the spirit of co-operation, which is necessary for devolution to work. Such an approach would merely serve to indicate a breakdown of relations and a distrust in the goodwill of others to implement these proposals.

The Memorandum was agreed between the United Kingdom Government, the Scottish Ministers and the Cabinet of the National Assembly of Wales on 1 October 1999. The Executive Committee has now considered the documents and agreed them with one addition, which I will come to shortly. It is useful to have a document setting out clearly and sensibly the ground rules for our relations with the United Kingdom Government and the other devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales. I now propose to say a few brief words about each of the five documents in the Memorandum that is laid before the House today.

First, the overall Memorandum of Understanding contains the main principles to be followed, and it deals with communication, consultation among Administrations, exchange of information and confidentiality, and the monitoring and management of the devolution settlements. It establishes a commitment by the Administrations to good and timely communication with each other, to co-operation on matters of mutual interest, and to the exchange of information on scientific, technical and policy issues. It also provides for the arrangements set out in the Memorandum to be reviewed and updated at least once each year.

Secondly, the agreement on the Joint Ministerial Committee sets out the terms of reference for that committee, and how it will operate. The committee brings together Ministers from each of the devolved Administrations and from the United Kingdom Government. It considers reserved matters that have an impact on the Executive Committee's responsibilities, and in turn, devolved matters that have an impact on reserved matters. Plenary sessions, chaired by the Prime Minister, will be held at least once each year. The committee will monitor relations generally and will be able to address particular problems and issues that may arise. Already there is what could be called a small family of subject-specific Joint Ministerial Committees. They have been established, for example, on health, poverty and the knowledge economy. These committees have embarked on a useful programme of work. Indeed, it is interesting to note that today the First Minister and the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety have been in London attending a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on health.

Thirdly, on the co-ordination of EU policy issues, the concordat sets out how EU business is to be handled, including the exchange of information, the formulation of a single UK policy line, attendance at EU councils and related meetings, implementation of EU obligations and infraction proceedings. The agreement recognises Northern Ireland's distinctive position within the United Kingdom in terms of its relationship with another member state and therefore extends the terms of the concordat to cover the North/South Ministerial Council as well as the European Union dimension of the cross-border bodies. This is the additional aspect to which I referred earlier.

This EU concordat also sets out the United Kingdom Government's intention that Ministers of the devolved Administrations should be fully involved in discussions about what could be calle the UK policy on issues falling within their areas of responsibility.

The status and functions of the UK's permanent representation in Brussels are unchanged, and the devolved Administration will be able to take part in less formal discussions with EU institutions and interests within other member states. Northern Ireland has always had a strong interest in European affairs. The agreement will enable us to have our devolved status acknowledged and also retain the benefits of having the weight of the United Kingdom behind us on agreed policy positions.

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Fourthly, the arrangements proposed in the Financial Assistance to Industry agreement are consistent with the provisions in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and aim to balance fairness and value for money with the need to negotiate flexibly and effectively. The aim of this concordat is to resolve the difficulties that arise from competing UK agencies bidding against each other for large mobile investment projects. The arrangements give the commitment that Northern Ireland Ministers and their officials will be fully involved in discussions on United Kingdom policy in this area.

Fifthly, the International Relations concordat covers the formulation of UK policy on implementation and conduct of international relations, co-operation over legal proceedings, representation overseas, visits, public diplomacy, trade and investment promotion, and finally diplomatic and consular relations. It makes clear the Executive Committee's responsibilities for implementing international obligations on the UK which relate to its devolved responsibilities, and also the arrangements for the Executive to play its part in the conduct of international relations. It reflects a mutual determination to ensure close co-operation in these areas between the United Kingdom Government and the Executive Committee Ministers in Northern Ireland, with the objective of promoting the overseas interests of the United Kingdom and all its constituent parts.

Sixth, and finally, for the statistics concordat, it is sensible that each Administration has the comparative information it needs. The agreement will help ensure that such information continues to be available at Northern Ireland and UK levels. The concordat sets out an agreed framework for co-operation between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations on all matters in relation to statistics. I would like to add that the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) was involved from the outset in its preparation.

I have spoken briefly about what these documents are. They are a first attempt to set out a basis for a working relationship in this new era of devolution within the United Kingdom. More detailed provisions relating to individual policy areas will follow in bilateral concordats to be drawn up between individual Departments of the United Kingdom Government and their devolved counterparts. As a first attempt, therefore, I think these documents are both comprehensive and comprehensible. Provision has been made for the concordats to evolve and be developed in the light of experience. They are merely working documents and part of the machinery that potentially will allow the Executive Committee to work well with the rest of the United Kingdom. As I said at the outset, Scotland and Wales have already considered and agreed their respective documents and are already putting the principles into practice.

I commend the memorandum and the supplementary agreements to the Assembly.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I beg to move the following amendment: Delete all after "Assembly" and add

"will not take note of the Memorandum of Understanding and Supplementary Agreements between Her Majesty's Government and the Northern Ireland Executive Committee until the political parties have been consulted thereon."

On Thursday, these documents were delivered to our pigeon-holes, and today we are expected to rubber-stamp something of deep significance. It is all right for Mr Nesbitt to tell us that these are not legally binding. This is a statement of political intent, and that is just as binding as a legal document.

The problem is that we have an Executive that has run wild taking powers to itself, and whether those powers are legal or whether we are just talking about political intent, they lay hold of them, as has been seen by the action of two of the Ministers, the First and Deputy First Ministers, who threatened two of my Colleagues with a grand inquisition chamber today. I am glad that my two Friends said no.

It is very interesting that they did not summon the two IRA/Sinn Féin Ministers who saw to it that no Union flag flew, in keeping with the present status of the law, on their buildings on Friday. I even understand that no flag could fly over the office of the Secretary of State, because that property too is under the control of the Minister of Health.

I find it highly reprehensible that the First and Deputy First Ministers quoted newspaper reports without naming the newspapers and said that, because of those newspaper reports, they were summoning my Colleagues to attend a meeting. When Members of the Executive think that they have the power to summon Members - [Interruption]

Mr J Kelly:

Does this statement by Dr Paisley have any relevance to the discussion of this document?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

May I ask Dr Paisley not to stray from the document in front of us.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Yes, but I am illustrating a point. If this deaf and dumb man does not understand the point - [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Dr Paisley, I must ask you to desist from that type of language.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

What did he say?

It is quite parliamentary, I assure you. The Clerk could not show you anything in the book that says that calling a man deaf and dumb is either unscriptural or out of keeping with the laws of this particular place.

I am seeking to illustrate how power has been seized by people who are drunk on it - they are not going in accordance with legality.

We have a new word here, and I congratulate the ecumenist who introduced it. He has got into religious language for the first time. This is a concordat.

It is interesting to know the history of such concordats. I went into the Library, and consulted our brilliant Librarian friend, Mr George Woodman, who is good to us all and treats us all with great respect. I must say that I respect him for his wisdom and for his love of books. He found for me the meaning of "concordat".

A concordat is an agreement, a compact, between the Vatican and secular government on matters of mutual interest. I laughed when I saw that. I wondered why his Leader had been away to the Vatican early on in this Assembly to see Papa himself, and I wondered why the Deputy Leader on the other side was also away visiting the Pope - but things are coming out in the wash. The word "Papa" is Italian for "Pope" - in case this dear man gets excited.

At least they have this ecclesiastical language. A famous concordat was signed in the 1920s between the fascist Mussolini and the Vatican. We are in good company. The name they have used to describe this particular document is most interesting.

There are many things I could say today, but I am a parliamentarian and there are others who want to take part. I could speak for two hours on this subject, and rightly so, and you could do nothing about it, Mr Speaker. I am not going to do that. I will allow time for capable people to serve their own interests. This concordat on co-ordination of European Union policies on Northern Ireland is the most one-sided document I ever set eyes on. For the information of Mr Nesbitt, there are three parts to Europe. Only one part is emphasised in this document: the Council, which consists of all the member states' Ministers on the relevant subject. There are also the Commission and the Parliament. This document says nothing whatsoever about the European Parliament. It ignores the fact that the leader of the SDLP is a member of the European Parliament. It ignores the fact that Mr Nesbitt's own party has a representative in that Parliament, and it ignores the bitter fact that in the last five European elections I have beaten them all, and I am still in Europe.

What mighty benefit did this country ever get from Europe? Even our enemies would cite the peace and reconciliation money. Who got that? The three MEPs got it, but they are now to be ignored. There is no place for them in this document. Why is that? Love of greed for power. Little birds fly through the windows where the Executive meets, and then they fly to me and tell me what is happening. They tell me of great discussions, held secretly and with laughter. "We can put a spoke in Ian Paisley's wheel in Europe" they say, "We will set up our own office, financed by the people of Northern Ireland, and use it for party political ends to forward our own selfish interests, and we will not need to consult the MEPs. We might whisper a few little things in John Hume's ear to keep him sweet and happy, but the others, especially Ian Paisley, will not know." If that is the way they want to play it, let them. It is an outrage to the people of Northern Ireland.

This House knows that all the vital decisions for the agriculture industry are made in Europe. They are not made by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. If we are going to get agriculture out of its present mess and bankruptcy, we need a regional policy for Northern Ireland in Europe that is different from any policy for Scotland, Wales or England. We have different needs, which must be met. Now there is talk of unity, of a single common policy.

2.45 pm

That happened with the present Minister of Agriculture. I regret that she is not in the House today. She went to Europe with the Fisheries Minister and came home telling us that she had got the best of a bargain, yet 15% of our cod industry disappeared. Why? Because she was part of one presentation. We need to have the power, and the right, to make a presentation on a regional basis.

Other European countries that have devolved government such as Germany have catered for their areas and the needs of those areas, even though they are different from the national needs. In fact, when they suffered from swine fever, special legislation was passed in Europe to exempt parts of Germany, the national territory, from those regulations. We have a set-up here in which we are all going to be one, and the Executive thinks that this is how it is going to get anything better for Northern Ireland.

I have sat in Parliament and heard fierce criticism of the peace and reconciliation money. I have heard English Members of the House crying out "Why do we not get this? Why is it not for us?" It was given by M Delors of whom I was never a fan, but at least he realised, because of the pressure that we were putting on him, that people who had suffered tragedy in the past should be tended to, and their needs attended to, by places that got vast amounts of money from Europe. We won that argument, and we got that money.

We need time to consider this document. We need to get provision into it to enable every representative, whether in Europe, in the United Kingdom Parliament or here, to get his voice heard on this.

Various Assemblies and Conventions have met in this House - I have sat in them all. There were only two that I was delighted to sit in, and they were the two that my dear wife was a Member of. It was always a delight to come up and be with her in this House, because I do not see as much of her as I would like. Even when it was only a consultative body with no power, we were able to get the Commissioner to our Committee meetings. The Commissioners are now asking why. The reason is that the Executive does not want them to come to Committee meetings here.

Why should the Commissioner for Fisheries not attend the Agriculture Committee of the House? Why should the men who are responsible for industry not attend the appropriate Committee of the House? The way to get into Europe is to bring these men here, let them see the country and get them to our Committees where they can hear from the representatives who are on those Committees. That has all been swept away; there is not a word about that - not even a consideration or a mention.

We are told that this is a consideration document and that it is easy to understand. I understand what they are doing, and the people of Northern Ireland will understand it. I have marked certain things in this document, and I could go over them. However, it seems that the Executive is intent on driving this through today. We got it on Thursday, and we have to come here today and make these decisions.

These decisions, although they are not legal, are the policy under which the Executive is going to work. They are going to have sad effects upon our economy, our fisheries, our agriculture, our health and social services and all other matters that have now very much become part of Europe. I wonder how all these supposed good Europeans that I have heard are in the Assembly think that the European dimension can be dismissed. Three representatives are needed. In fact, we were done out of the number we needed. Compared with the South of Ireland, we should have at least five or seven members in Europe. We were done out of that. In fact, at the beginning they only wanted us to have two members.

The Official Unionist Party said that only two should go to Europe. It thought that they would both be Official Unionists, and was glad there were three, because it discovered that its man was always the third to be elected. That is why that was changed. However, we should have five representatives in Europe, and we should not be diminishing their value. Members in this House may not like me. I do not care a fig - I will sleep well tonight and wake in the morning and have my porridge as usual.

Members in this House are saying to their MEPs "We are finished with you now. You have had your say; you got the money and we have spent it. Now, as there is no more peace and reconciliation money coming, we can dispense with you." I must tell the rest of my story. They said "We will set up this wonderful office." I have heard of offices being set up before in Europe. They did a mighty lot of good!

The poor businessmen who went over were highly charged for what I, a Ballymena man, could have offered them for nothing. I said to a man "What did they charge you?" "Well," he said, "it was a large sum of money". I asked "What for?" "To take us round". Any goat could surely take a person round that place. It is desperate what that office did. Then it tried to get all the parties to be members of it. It actually put on the names of two of my Colleagues. I wrote to tell it that the Democratic Unionist Party was not in the office and to take the names off. I had a terrible job getting it to take my Colleagues' names off the notepaper. It insisted that it was a broad church, taking in everybody. That is a church of which I do not want to be a member.

Now another office is going to be set up. Perhaps Mr Nesbitt, seeing that he knows all about this, has defended it, and is its chief apologist, could tell Members some things about this office that is going to be set up. Where will it be located? How much money is being set aside for it? There is not a word about that. It is just passed over without any detail. How many people are going to work in it? Who is going to supervise it? Is the hon Gentleman going to have a continual junket to Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg?

Mr Nesbitt:

Hear, hear.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

He is saying "Good". I thought that he, as a friend of Sir Reg Empey, would not like any perks. However, he did not get on as many quangos as Sir Reg, and so he was unhappy. Let us talk about this office. Where is it going to be? How many members are there going to be? What standing and influence is it going to have? Who is it going to sway? Does he think that the representatives he sends, civil servants, will be able to do for him what public representatives find great difficulty in doing - getting through to the heart of Europe and getting what we deserve from it? Everyone should remember that, per head of population, we have never got out of Europe the tax money we have put into it.

That is not my statement; that is the statement of the British Exchequer. Let us get down to what is going to be beneficial.

So as far as I can see, these concordats are about strengthening the hold of the Executive, and strengthening the hold of the First and Deputy First Ministers on the levers of government. Well, if people want them to strengthen their hold, let them. But what about Northern Ireland's key industry, agriculture? We cannot have the same laws as the rest of the UK. Our system of agriculture is different. It grew out of a land war, out of people who owned everything and had to let go. Some of the great contenders among the leaders of Northern Ireland were men eminent in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland who fought the tenants' rights for the Ulster Protestant farmers. There were tenant rights fought for the Roman Catholic people as well. Our farming system is different. Our people are not tenant farmers. Their farms are smaller than those in England. It is a different type of farming. What does for the farmers of England does not do for our farmers.

Let us look at what happened in the BSE crisis. The Baroness was Minister at the time. Some of the farmers worshipped her. They always said "We had a lovely meeting with the Baroness", but I found her absolutely barren as far as farmers' needs were concerned. The farmers decided to hold a great rally at the King's Hall, and I was asked to go along and say a few words.

I was not highly critical of anybody, but a man from the Agricultural Producers' Association was. However, the Baroness thought that it was I. Now, I could have said "Amen" to what he had said, but I did not. She got furious with me, and when we went in to see the Prime Minister she said "How dare you say what you said?" I asked what she meant, and she repeated what this spokesman from the Agricultural Producers' Association had said. I told her that I had not said it but that I agreed with it. I said "When you were in Tokyo you said Ulster farmers will be treated the same as farmers in the rest of the United Kingdom." We did not have a BSE crisis. In fact, there is a bigger BSE crisis in the Irish Republic today than we have here in Northern Ireland.

It is because of what happened back then that we have a crisis in our industry today. Eventually the British Government had to admit that we were different after John Hume, Jim Nicholson and Ian Paisley met the authorities in Brussels and insisted they would not take no for an answer. They agreed that we were different and that they were prepared to make some slight move, but we are not out of that yet. What would happen if everyone agreed there was no such thing as a special place for Ulster's agriculture, not because we are Cinderellas, but simply because it is our right? Would the Minister come back and tell us that another 15% of an industry has gone simply because we have had this concordat, and they have had one vital matter considered and agreed?

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The British Government also tell us that they will know what is happening, that they will start early. I defy them to tell me what is happening in Europe - for Europe does not know what is happening. There is more business brought to the House in speed in Europe than anywhere else. And there is special legislation whereby the Commissioners can get a thing through the House in a gallop. To say that there is going to be a way whereby we will all know what is coming and will have weeks of discussions and be able to be in on the bottom floor is an amazing statement. For even those in the various Commissions do not know where the bottom floor starts in some of those proposals, and they certainly do not know where it ends.

Overall, the United Kingdom representative will be the Office who will approach the European biggies. It will not be public representatives doing the approaching, he will. I always thought that the Parliament was a place for lobby, but, evidently, now it will be a place where lobbying will be ineffective because the Commissioner can say "We have a concordat. We have agreed with your representative that this is what you are getting." And if the representatives from the Executive in Ulster say "This is the way", then they can say "We do not want to listen to you."

So here we have something that we need to take care of. I have spoken too long already, but it needed to be said. I have no apology for what I have said. I say to the representatives "What skin is it off your face to take this back for at least a week, or for two weeks, so that the parties in the House can all have a look at it and then come back and say where they differ and have a proper debate on it?"

Mr Neeson:

I have a fair amount of sympathy for the points that Dr Paisley has made, and there are a number of issues within the documents that need clarification. If Dr Paisley were to establish some form of timescale whereby this could be brought back to the Assembly, I would be prepared to go along with that.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I do not want to prolong the thing. But I want to have time to look at it.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I ask Dr Paisley to address the House through the Chair.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Mr Speaker, in reply to the question that has been put to me, we can have a timescale - a reasonable timescale - and we must have an opportunity to put down amendments to various things that the Executive wants to carry through. That would be reasonable. Let it go back to the parties, for there is no use in taking it back to the Committees, because they are divided. Let them go back to the parties and let the parties then come. But I would be happy to go to the various Committees if that were the mind of the House. I would have no problem with that.

Mr Neeson:

There are a number of issues that need clarified on what is being proposed. I do not necessarily agree wholeheartedly with Dr Paisley, because in many ways what is being put forward strengthens devolution, but there are concerns. For example, does the Pledge of Office undertaken by individual Ministers oblige them to fulfil the understandings reached within these concordats? On the question of the memorandum of understanding, what measures are envisaged for general consultation with the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly - rather than the Secretary of State - on non-devolved matters in which the people of Northern Ireland have a particular interest? One example, from the Scottish Parliament, is that Jack Straw has allowed the entry into the United Kingdom of Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist.

The event will take place in Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament has spoken out against his being allowed into the country. I see a serious conflict of interest arising in that situation.

I agree with what Dr Paisley said in relation to the concordat on co-ordination of European Union policy issues as they relate to Northern Ireland. I quote directly from the document, underlining the case that has already been made:

"The role of Ministers and officials from the devolved administrations will be to support and advance the single UK negotiating line which they have played a part in developing."

The case of the BSE crisis is crucial in showing the fallacy of going forward with a single UK policy. Devolution is there to reflect the interests of the individual regions of the United Kingdom.

What plans do the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have to bring European legislation to the attention of the Assembly, and to ascertain the views of Members?

One other issue that greatly troubles me is in the concordat on financial assistance to industry. All the regions of the United Kingdom are in competition. A few years ago, the textile company Hualon wanted to establish a large factory at Mallusk. However, due to the delay resulting from the intervention of another UK region that opposed the grant assistance which was being proposed for Hualon, Northern Ireland lost the opportunity of a major investment.

With regard to financial assistance to shipbuilding, the Government are abiding strictly by the European legislation - other regions of Europe are not.

There are a number of issues that need to be clarified in relation to the document, and I ask the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to seriously reconsider pushing this through the House today. Let us have some further consultation on it.

I recognise the need for these concordats to develop the necessary linkages, and I appreciate Mr Nesbitt's point that they will be reviewed annually. However, I ask for more time for the Assembly to consider a meaningful input.

Dr Birnie:

We should be grateful for the speech from the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party - not so much because it was a good example of Unionism, but because it was a good example of an exposition for Ulster Nationalism. The memorandum of understanding has been in public circulation since October 1999 in its Scottish and Welsh form - the Northern Ireland version differs slightly. A careful reading suggests that the arrangements are not about strengthening the prerogatives of our Executive, but are about a series of working arrangements aimed at trying to give coherence to the United Kingdom in an era of devolution. I would have thought that the Democratic Unionist Party would be in favour of maintaining the United Kingdom.

With respect to the amendment proposed by the DUP, if it wished to have more consideration of these provisions, its two Ministers could have been present at the meeting of the Executive last Thursday.

They need not have relied on little birds flying in and out to relay messages from the Executive Chamber. The amendment would negate the motion entirely if passed, so we do have to be somewhat unclear as to whether its intention or indeed its consequence suggests that it is truly an amendment indeed.

As the leader of the Alliance Party has already pointed out, there is currently a dispute between the Scottish Parliament and the Home Secretary in London, Jack Straw, over his decision. The dispute relates to who should actually control immigration policy for Scotland and, more specifically, whether Mike Tyson should go to Glasgow to fight. Perhaps he should come to Stormont instead. I use that example because it illustrates that what we are talking about today is not a piece of constitutional arcanery; it is not simply about changing the constitutional furniture in a way which will have no impact on the lives of ordinary people. The relationship between decisions at different layers of government within the United Kingdom affects everybody. The intense public interest in Scotland in the Tyson decision is indicative of that point.

I welcome the publication of these concordats. The whole structure of memorandum of understanding plus concordats is to serve, as one academic observer, Prof Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit in London, has put it, as a sort of gearbox within the rapidly changing post-devolution structure of government within the United Kingdom.

The idea of the memorandum of understanding, I think, first emerged back in July 1998 when Lady Ramsey was speaking in the House of Lords on the subject of Scottish devolution. But now the memorandum of understanding and the associated concordats are out in the open, and I trust that none of these mechanisms is designed to smother devolution at birth.

Now it has sometimes been feared, particularly by the SNP - and in a curious way it would seem that the DUP adopts a position somewhat similar to that of the SNP on these issues - it was feared, and perhaps still is feared by Scottish Nationalists, that the joint Ministerial Committees are some sort of device to discipline the devolved Administrations so that they toe the London line on policy issues. But I think that they offer the potential for those Administrations, including our own, to have a greater input into the formation of central United Kingdom Government policy. I welcome the Chancellor of the Exchequer's initiative in December of last year when he established JMC steering groups, and I understand that one is meeting today to bring together the various United Kingdom Administrations on topics such as child poverty, pensions and the digital age economy.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said that the purpose was to create

"a new covenant of common purpose".

I think that even Dr Paisley, precisely Dr Paisley, could not object to the particular ecclesiastical allusion which is contained in that.

As regards EU matters the concordat speaks of maintaining a

"common United Kingdom negotiating line within Europe".

I welcome this, notwithstanding what has been said by other Members who have spoken, because advice which I have received from experts in Germany based on their experience. Each of the 16 German provinces - or Länder - has on occasions attempted to pursue a separate position, be it on agriculture or industry, in Brussels. The result has been detrimental to the Federal Republic of Germany's overall bargaining position in the Council of Ministers.

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The implication, I believe, is that in the long run we in Northern Ireland are better off with a common single United Kingdom position. This should, of course, be drawn up with input from the Northern Ireland Executive and, rightly, there is provision for that in the concordats. I also welcome the provision for and emphasis on monitoring industrial policy. The chief benefit here is the avoidance of expensive bidding wars between the various regions of the UK which would simply work to the benefit of a small number of global multinationals, by enabling them to move back and forth between regions where, they claim, they might set up a factory and to squeeze more and more Government grants out of long-suffering taxpayers. The concordat sets up a mechanism which will, hopefully prevent such bidding wars and hence achieve better value for money on behalf of the taxpayer.

In general these concordats follow the template already established last October in Command Paper 4444 relating to Scotland and Wales, though it is worth noting there are a few details relating to our own particular position - space is provided, formally speaking, for the operation of both the British-Irish Council and the North/South Ministerial Council.

To conclude, I welcome this take-note motion from the First and Deputy First Ministers. These arrangements are, as the junior Minister noted, not legally binding, but they are part of the evolution of the UK Constitution and, just as that Constitution has in previous centuries successfully adapted to earlier challenges, I have no doubt that it can do so again in this era of devolution.

Ms Morrice:

I too took a great deal of time to go through these documents, and I have come to the conclusion that a great deal more clarification is needed, certainly on essential issues. If I may I would like to go through each of the memoranda and point out issues where certain clarification is needed. I will begin with the specific Memorandum of Understanding - and this is a simple point but one which perhaps lies outside our jurisdiction - but there are many references to four Administrations. Obviously, there is one in Northern Ireland, one in Scotland, one in Wales and one in the UK. I do not understand how the role of the UK Ministers, acting on behalf of England as well as of the UK, fits in here. A great deal more clarity is needed in order to understand England's position in this newly-devolved situation and how UK Ministers, acting on behalf of non-devolved issues UK-wide, can also act on behalf of English issues.

I go on to what is, perhaps, a less contentious but equally important point about the rules on financial assistance to industry. The document states

"Separate but comparable arrangements apply in Northern Ireland."

There are common guidelines for industry. All parties to this concordat commit to mutual consultation in adequate detail and to a reasonable timescale where any party proposes to change its policy and practice. This is vitally important and could be very valuable to this devolved Government in Northern Ireland. For example, there is a consideration that we could, perhaps, change our support to industry and reduce our corporate tax rates, similar to the situation in the south of Ireland. When this was proposed in the past, the answer from London was always "Oh no. We must stick to the UK-wide line." I am assuming that, within this concordat on financial assistance to industry, we have the right to change policy as long as we consult in time. It would be valuable to clarify that we have that right.

Next, I wish to make a general point concerning statistics. I do not know whether Members notice this, but often Northern Ireland does not appear when UK-wide statistics are issued. Perhaps this occurs simply because television news leaves Northern Ireland out, but it definitely does not appear on UK-wide statistics adequately enough. Perhaps we could make sure we insist that Northern Ireland always appears on UK-wide statistics.

My final point, the most detailed of all, concerns the European Union. Both Dr Paisley and Mr Neeson have mentioned our need always to share the UK line. The point that has been made that the BSE crisis exemplifies the problem where a solid, standard UK line is not appropriate in Brussels. I would also refer to parts of these concordats concerning the North/South Ministerial Council and the Special EU Programmes Body, and the fact that agreement will be reached at a North/South level on certain European issues. I want to know how agreement at that North/South level can be transferred into UK-wide agreement to adhere to a common line. There is no clarity on this issue. It has certainly not been thought through enough, and the UK-line argument must take much more account of the specific needs and demands of Northern Ireland as a distinct and special region within the UK.

On issues such as representation, I tend to agree with Dr Paisley when he speaks of the value of the role of European Parliament Members, for example. I am surprised that this document does not refer to Members of the European Parliament and their role in lobbying at European level. The question of representation does not in fact simply mean representation in Brussels, and I would be very interested in asking the junior Minister a question. I noticed a reference to representation overseas in the concordat on international relations:

"The devolved administrations may establish offices overseas within the framework of their responsibility for devolved matters (including for the provision of information on devolved matters to the public, regional governments and institutions, and promotion of trade and inward investment)."

I would be fascinated to know what consuls, embassies or offices we intend to set up in Africa, Asia, Latin America or Eastern Europe. A great deal more information would be useful on these issues. I agree that these documents are important, and Members of this House would appreciate more time to understand their exact implications and the Executive's exact intentions when we sign up to or at least take note of them.


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