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Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 5 June 2000 (continued)

Mr Leslie:

I would like to add three or four observations to the comments already made by my Colleagues. In doing so, I want to focus on the fact that this memorandum, whilst not binding, is a statement of political intent. Political intent can always be changed by events, and there is plenty of scope in the wording of these memoranda for the devolved territories to probe the boundaries that have been set out. It does not say so in the document, but it is fairly obvious to me that it should be in the interests of the devolved territories to work together to find common interests. They may be remarkably effective in doing so.

It remains to be seen how that evolves in practice and it is, perhaps, the fear of this that has set the whole tone, certainly of the Memorandum of Understanding itself, to be quite schoolmasterly in the way that it continually reasserts the power and sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament to, in its own words, retain "the absolute right to debate, enquire into or make representations about devolved matters".

It is a pity that Assembly Member Roche is not here because he always seems to be rather confused about sovereignty. He would undoubtedly find it helpful to read these documents, as they seem to be very specific on this point.

I will not go into the points that have already been made on the European Union, but I noted rather fierce wording about the differences of approach in implementing EU regulations. It is apparent that across Europe there is a very considerable difference of approach towards the implementation of regulations. Some European countries are very much more expert in this matter than others. I was struck by the emphasis, which occurred several times in the document, on the importance of having, effectively, a common approach and that Whitehall intended to have a close scrutiny role in this.

Furthermore, any devolved territory deviating from the central path would face any financial consequences that might accrue. I suggest that when the time comes, this Assembly should, perhaps, be bold in some of these matters, and it would be interesting to discuss with the other devolved territories what approach they intend to take. This will become particularly apparent when we come to matters where there are marked differences of emphasis between what is important in England and what might be important in Scotland or Northern Ireland. The last thing that we should do at this stage is clarify these matters too closely. It would be much better if that were left to emerge over time.

My final comment relates to the concordat on international relations. I was particularly struck by paragraph 22, which pointed out that "the World Service aims to bring benefit to the United Kingdom and all its constituent parts by broadcasting authoritative and impartial news and information". I wish that I felt confident that it did. I note that the devolved Administrations were invited to maintain direct links with the BBC World Service on matters of mutual interest. I very much hope that this Administration will attend to a matter of mutual interest by ensuring that its broadcasting is both authoritative and impartial. I commend this motion to the House.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Mr Deputy Speaker, you have had to endure your time in the Chair today. You are probably not enjoying it after listening to Mr Nesbitt's death-inspiring speech and some of the other contributions. Indeed, I noted some of Mr Birnie's comments were akin to being ravaged by a dead worm. The Assembly and my party appreciate the fact that the Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition have found merit in the proposal and the amendment that my party has brought forward. I hope that they will join us in the Lobby, if it comes to that, during the course of today's sitting.

3.30 pm

The real purpose of bringing forward this amendment is to secure for this Assembly what it deserves: full and proper consultation on what are indeed important matters. The question before the House is essentially that of whose interests come first. Is it the interests of this Assembly, acting for the people of Northern Ireland, or, as Mr Leslie said, are we to throw our trust in with a joint interest over which we do not have the same influence as in this place? Indeed, Mr Leslie has just asked the Assembly not to seek clarification, but the purpose of this House is to secure clarification so it can act, it is to be hoped, in the best interests of the people we represent. It is absolutely essential that we have clarification in order to move forward.

I should like to deal with some of the specific points raised. One in particular caught my attention: the issue of communication and consultation. That is exactly what we seek today, proper communication and proper consultation. This document outlines that on those two issues a certain set of procedures has to be followed. First of all, the Assemblies and the Ministers must alert each other as soon as possible to relevant developments within their areas of responsibility, preferably prior to publication. There is no established code of conduct as to how the Assemblies and the Ministers should alert each other. Is it by telephone call from Departmental Private Secretary to Departmental Private Secretary? Is it by letter or document? Is it by despatch between Departments or from the Minister? That point needs to be clarified.

It goes on to say that they must give appropriate consideration to the views of other administrations. We want to know what standard has been set for appropriate consideration. It is absolutely essential that we can at least assume that it will be higher than the consultation in this Assembly. Before Christmas we had the nonsense of the First Minister running off to Downing Street without even consulting his Agriculture Minister, and informing the Prime Minister about policy matters to do with agriculture. That was within the framework of this Assembly. Can we at least assume that consultation and appropriate consideration of people's views will actually occur, despite the previous standard of this House?

Mr Nesbitt is asking us to rubber-stamp a very unclear document. Indeed, if the issue of confidentiality - absolutely critical in some of the policies the memorandum deals with and will deal with - were to go through in its current form, we are told a code of practice would be established regarding access to Government information or that of equivalent devolved regimes, and, in due course, the requirements of future freedom-of-information regimes. Yet nowhere in these documents have we seen an outline code of practice. It is critical that the Assembly should at least be shown the code of practice so we can make a decision based not on trust - as some people would have us do - not on blind faith, but on the actual documents put before us. Without seeing that code of practice, this Assembly would be extremely foolish to endorse this Memorandum of Understanding. The junior Minister, instead of coming to this Assembly and asking us to rubber-stamp something incomplete, would be far better going back to his desk and completing the job he was given to do by his mentor, the First Minister. Perhaps if he came back with a better document, the Assembly would be pleased to lend it its full support. At the moment it is very difficult for him to ask for and, indeed, expect the full support and confidence of the House on this matter.

Parliamentary business, which appears on the memorandum, again shows some woolly-headed thinking by the junior Minister. He says in paragraph 14

"The United Kingdom Parliament retains absolute right to debate, enquire into, or make representations about devolved matters."

Fine and true. That covers the issue of sovereignty, and I have no question about that not even later in the document. But two sentences later in the same paragraph he says that Parliament itself will in future be more restricted. But what is it? Does Parliament have an absolute right or does it have a restricted right? There seems to be uncertainty, so both points are put in. What role Parliament at Westminster will have with regard to the activities of the Assembly must be spelt out clearly. In the past - and we all know our history - people said that the old Parliament fell because certain issues could not be raised at Westminster. But what side of the debate is the Ulster Unionist Party on? What side of the debate are the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on in this issue? Do they want Parliament to retain its absolute right to inquire and to debate without restriction, or do they want to see Parliament's right to debate and inquire into events in the Assembly restricted?

It is essential that the junior Minister confirm this matter to the House, because it is not exactly spelt out clearly here. Perhaps if it were spelt out in very clear and precise terms, Sinn Féin and the SDLP would not support the memorandum. But the junior Minister should confirm that, if any future Westminster Parliament so determined, it could repeal the Northern Ireland Act 1998 without reference to the people of Northern Ireland and irrespective of referenda or whatever. That point was glossed over very quickly, but it should be spelt out and verified to the House.

In moving the amendment, my party leader mentioned the role of the MEPs, who are not, as far as I can determine, asking for special privileges. However, they are asking for one thing, and that is to be consulted about issues upon which, and this is clear, the three of them have a particular expertise. It ill behoves this Chamber, as it would ill behove the Administration, to ignore that expertise which has achieved, against the odds, tens of millions of pounds for Northern Ireland, for community and infrastructure projects, which for years were denied to us. All we are seeking is proper consultation, nothing else, just proper consultation.

However, unfortunately these concordats, especially the one on the European Union, actually wipe out that consultation altogether. The one on the European Union actually establishes that the Republic of Ireland has a greater influence on, say in and right to be consulted on Northern Ireland via the North/South Council than have Unionists or Nationalists directly elected in Northern Ireland itself. That should concern everyone in the House, no matter what his political baggage. Unionists in particular should be alarmed that if this goes through in its current form it will give Nationalists a greater say because Unionists are outnumbered on the North/South Ministerial Council.

The junior Minister is asking us, in the words of James Leslie, to trust and throw our lot in entirely with the United Kingdom representative. However, the United Kingdom representative does not always have the rights and interests of the people of Northern Ireland at heart. One would like to think that the United Kingdom representative, when he or she establishes the negotiating position for the United Kingdom, would be prepared to take on board the interests of Northern Ireland. But that is not always possible and it is rarely achieved. Usually the greater interests of England, and sometimes Wales, are achieved by the United Kingdom representative rather than the interests of all the regions. It is foolish for the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the junior Minister to ask us to sign a blank cheque for the United Kingdom representative on behalf of the Assembly and to let him expect, at any time, the full support of the Assembly on these important matters.

Mr Neeson and Ms Morrice raised the issue of investment, and their points were very well made with regard to financial assistance to industry. Indeed, if the procedures established under these terms and conditions had been followed, an industry in my constituency - one of the largest employers -would today be closed.

It would have considerably slowed down the rights of a company to determine where it should best be situated. Unfortunately, I do not believe that good business practice would be possible under paragraph 7 of the concordat on financial assistance to industry. That is not the way business is done in the modern world. It would preclude many businesses from operating effectively and from making arrangements in regions of the United Kingdom. Why should Northern Ireland have to wait before making offers to companies to locate or relocate here? We should not have to wait for another region to come up with a better offer, or until the prospective jobs go to a different member of the European Union. It would be better for Northern Ireland to strike while the iron is hot.

It is essential that the House, after considering the importance of what is before it, votes for my party's amendment. This amendment will allow all parties to have greater consultation and consideration on these important matters before they are rubber-stamped. The junior Minister should return to his desk and put together a more substantial paper that we can support.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Before I call the next Member, I want to say that we have two more Members who wish to speak, plus Dr Paisley, who wishes to speak to his amendment, with Mr Haughey winding up. I am aware of the time, and I hope that Members will also bear it in mind.

Mr ONeill:

I will indeed be brief, not least because many of the points that needed to be made have already been covered. However, I reiterate that my party will be opposing the amendment, because we believe it to be disingenuous. The DUP did, as has been pointed out, have an opportunity to engage in full and meaningful discussions with the rest of the Executive. They chose not to. I can only describe it as disingenuous if they then call for further consultation.

Secondly, the whole notion that there is not enough time to discuss this is also disingenuous. The motion clearly asks the Assembly to "take note of" this memorandum, not to adopt it or make it a legal requirement. It has already been explained that there will be at least one annual opportunity to review this. If there are problems in the operation of this package that present difficulty for any part of the Assembly, there will be an opportunity to review it, because this is a modus operandi that will enable the various devolved Assemblies to interrelate and to work together.

3.45 pm

We heard this morning the Minister of Finance and Personnel's concern about the budget delays caused by suspension. We do not want to see any further unnecessary delays. It is unnecessary to delay if there are built-in opportunities to review, examine and change where required. On those two bases, it is disingenuous.

The play that Dr Paisley made on the word "concordat" was interesting. Members will remember from their history classes that the concordat was the conclusion of a row arising from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. It was concluded, as he rightly said, between the Vatican and Italy in 1929. In line with most of his analyses, Dr Paisley was at least a century or two out. If he had pursued his enquiries with that eminent librarian, he would know that the word concordat has had many uses and interpretations since then, even among peoples who have never heard of the Franco-Prussian War or Mussolini, or perhaps even the Pope.

It is out of date, and it reflects, as I have said, some of the other ideas that we are constantly getting from the DUP. Mr Paisley Jnr also referred to the good work that was being done by MEPs. I am glad he paid tribute to our party leader in this regard as well as in respect of the peace and reconciliation package. Our party leader had a similar agenda some years ago when he ensured the creation of the International Fund for Ireland which supplied money to people in need. Those are the kind of international pressures we should all be dealing with, and we should be working with the Governments involved in our devolved situation, in Europe and in an international situation. That would be a good benchmark for co-operation - the more co-operation we have at different levels, the better.

Mr Savage:

I support the junior Minister's paper. Quite a number of things have happened in Northern Ireland over the past two or three years and I am referring in particular to the agriculture industry. There has been crisis after crisis - BSE, the pig meat sector and right along the line. Every time proposals were put forward in Belfast or elsewhere, they seem to have got lost somewhere along the way. If a committee is going to be set up in Brussels, or anywhere else, I welcome that. In my experience we in Northern Ireland have lost out over the last two or three years.

I would not want this to be another quango - this country is full of quangoes - but it should be a place where people representing their industry can go to do a bit of straight talking. I am speaking primarily about the agriculture industry, but there are many smaller industries that also need an injection of funds. It would not take much to make a big difference, and I hope that the proposals put forward by the junior Minister will carry a lot of weight. Northern Ireland is a very small country, and we depend on our exporting industry so much.

This is going to be looked at every year, and we will have the opportunity to pull the rug from under the feet of these people if they are not fulfilling their obligations. One thing which concerns me very much is in paragraph 3 of Mr Nesbitt's paper, and that is that broadly uniform arrangements need to apply to the handling of matters with an EU dimension, notably financial assistance to industry. Financial well-being could have done so much to help the agriculture industry over the last two or three years - and could still do so. Finance has to come from various sources in order to get the industry back on to a level par with all our competitors worldwide.

I hope this proposal goes forward today. It will, in some small way, attempt to alleviate the problems facing the agriculture industry. Many of the small industries that we discussed today would also benefit from a bit of stability, but it would be a big bonus to the farming industry in Northern Ireland.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I have listened with interest to what has been said - especially to what Mr ONeill said. I am glad we have such a brilliant man among us, who can revise the Oxford dictionary. I trust that he will immediately write to the compilers of the Oxford dictionary and give them his definition of a concordat, because I read in the dictionary that it is an agreement; especially one between the Vatican and a secular Government relating to matters of mutual interest. My definition is from the dictionary. I did not write the Oxford dictionary. I am blamed for writing many things, but Mr ONeill is going to rewrite the dictionary. I congratulate him. I hope that he will do well, get the right definitions, and change the dictionary. Then, the next time I come, I will not need to waste the valuable time of this House explaining that the Oxford dictionary is wrong and that it cannot be upheld. The argument that he puts is absolute nonsense because we have a right to call for the business of this House to be conducted in a decent manner.

Dr Birnie tells us that we should have seen the Scottish and Welsh memoranda. Who is he talking to? We are dealing with documents for this House. He had to admit that the memoranda were not even the same. Then he said that I am a Nationalist because of the speech that I made today - and him in harness with IRA/Sinn Féin. We know who the Nationalists in this House are, and who their fellow travellers are. I will not waste time in answering that. The House can roll this through because there is a majority - Members can do that. However, that will result in sad reaping because there are ways to influence Europe, and British Ministers have singularly failed in influencing Europe.

I pay tribute to my colleagues in Europe, as I always do, but M Delors addressed me, and me alone, at our meeting with him. I was the man who pressed him on the issue of giving money to those who had felt the cruel bondage of terrorism. At the end of the day he said to me "Yes, I believe we should help them."

That money was invaluable to us. Alas, the deadline will expire and, evidently, there will be no renewal. However, those who are elected to Europe and know how it works cannot be ignored. If the Executive want to go this way they can, but all these matters raised by other Members are important and they will result in suffering for the people represented.

I have been told that I should be in the Opposition. I am an Opposition Member of this House, and everybody knows that. However, I am then told that my two Ministers are responsible for this situation. I have never heard such balderdash in all my life. They were not present. They never received a letter summoning them to meet the inquisition. I would like to tell them that the inquisition days are over and the belts, the wheels, and the tortures are past. We are a free people, and we are not going to be railroaded by anyone. We will do our own thing within the law, and I congratulate my two Members.

I laughed. When it suited people in this House to applaud my two Colleagues, they applauded them. Then, when it did not suit their political way, they derided them. They cannot have it both ways. The two Departments will go on with their work no matter who is in the seat. We know what we are going to do - and we will do it.

Alas, the House has decided not to listen to the appeal that has been made today. Upon Members' heads be it - carry on. However, they should not try and make excuses before the general public. When the general public questions Members on this matter, they should tell the truth.

Members must not try to say that they are giving a place to the MEPs when they are not. They did not even mention them. They did not see any place for them, and they should acknowledge that. They think that they can do better, but we will see. I wonder how many offices there will be and appointments made. They could have offices here, there and everywhere, but instead of spending money on offices they should be spending money on the people that need it most, and that is the farming community. Every extra penny should be going to the farming community, rather than on a grandiose scheme for offices round the world.

Mr Haughey:

I want to begin by bringing some superior classical knowledge to bear upon the debate about the meaning of the word "concordat". It simply means "it is agreed". Perhaps Dr Paisley should have been looking at the old Latin primer and not the Oxford dictionary. It was used originally to describe the agreement between the Italian State and the papacy, but it has been used many times since to describe various levels of understanding between different bodies.

I beg leave to oppose the amendment and to call upon the House to support the original motion before it. In opposing the amendment I should say, with all respect, that Dr Paisley appears to have misunderstood the purpose of the memorandum and its supplementary agreements. As has already been said, the purpose of the memorandum is to set down principles which will underlie relations between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a declaration of intent to co-operate with each other, an administrative arrangement designed to facilitate best practice and good models of communication in dealing with business, so that good channels of communication can exist and the devolved Administrations and the United Kingdom Administration at Westminster and Whitehall are fully informed of what each of the others is doing and can communicate and discuss matters with them.

The memorandum was considered by the Executive Committee on three occasions, and the papers were provided to Executive Committee Ministers. Those papers clearly set out the purpose of the memorandum. I want to show the House the document that we are talking about. It was published in October 1999; it has been available since then; and explanatory papers and memoranda have been available to Executive Ministers. The DUP Ministers would have had a better appreciation of it if they had attended Executive meetings. However, they had all the papers and these should have been passed to their party colleagues and discussed with them.

Today's debate arises out of the Executive's concern to ensure transparency at all times and to keep the Assembly fully informed. Hence, the matter is being dealt with by way of a "take note" debate, rather than by a ministerial statement or a "teed-up" question for written answer, which would have deprived Members of the opportunity to ventilate and explore fully the issues involved. These documents, and all this material, have been in the public domain since last October. For many months now parties and Members have had the opportunity to read, to digest, to debate among themselves, to explore and otherwise to internalise the content. The Executive has, in fact, fulfilled the remit which is included in Dr Paisley's amendment: it has enabled parties and Members of the House to examine, discuss and analyse the documents.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)

4.00 pm

Given that the Executive has discussed them three times, with, as I said, all the papers available to them, the purpose and intent of Dr Paisley's motion had already been anticipated and accomplished by the Executive before he tabled his amendment.

The further matters that I want to refer to arise out of points made by individual Members. I will come to them in the order that I noted them, and I will try to be as coherent as possible, although different Members did refer to the same points, and I may find myself repeating some considerations.

This concordat is between the Executive and the Westminster authorities. Dr Paisley raised the question of whether the MEPs had any role in this. Without meaning any disrespect to any of the three MEPs, the answer is "No". Because the concordat is between the Executive and the Westminster Government, it does not concern or involve Members of the European Parliament. They are not central to the operations of this concordat.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

In the papers that I have - a Memorandum of Understanding and an agreement on the Joint Ministerial Committee - the word "concordat" has not been used. The word "agreement" has been used in the Joint Ministerial Committee paper. "Concordat" is only used in the papers on the co-ordination of European Union policies, financial assistance to industry and international relations.

Mr Haughey:

The Memorandum of Understanding sets down the general principles. The supplementary agreements refer to particular areas of policy and explain how the Memorandum of Understanding is to be applied in those areas. The Joint Ministerial Council is simply a mechanism by which the members of the Executives of the devolved Administrations may consult with the Ministers and Secretaries of State at Westminster, and among themselves. It is simply a mechanism.

However, I will deal with the points made by Dr Paisley in relation to the representation of Northern Ireland as a region within the European Union. On the one hand there was his assertion that Northern Ireland needs a separate line, a separate policy and a separate approach to European issues. He specifically enlarged on that in relation to agriculture, and our need to elaborate a quite distinct and separate line about Northern Ireland's interests.

I find it difficult to reconcile that with the assertion that he makes from time to time about the absolute supremacy and sovereignty of the Westminster Government. If we are to take a separate line in Northern Ireland then we need mechanisms, processes and facilities to enable us to pursue a different line, or at least a modified line on European policy.

Dr Paisley took issue with the intention of the Administration to set up a facility in Brussels. As he rightly says, that is where all major policy decisions are taken in very important areas, such as agriculture. If he is opposed to the setting up of a facility in Brussels that would enable the Administration to pursue its interests directly through having its own servants and facilities there, would that not leave us totally dependent on UKRep? That brings me to the point made by Mr Ian Paisley Jnr, who said we should not be totally dependent on UKRep. Father and son need to get their heads together on that and decide which exactly we want. Do we want the facility to pursue our own line, or do we want to be totally dependent on UKRep? The two are not reconcilable. [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:


Mr Haughey:

We intend to set up a regional office representing this Administration and our other regional interests in the European Union. Precisely because our interests totally diverge from the interests of English farmers we need to be able to pursue a different line. That is precisely the point I am making. I am glad to say that it would appear that on this issue Dr Paisley and I are as one person.

On a practical level, the processes and the mechanisms that the Executive will develop for pursuing the interests of this region in Brussels will; of necessity, and rightly, involve a primary role for the MEPs. Without appearing to be sycophantic, I pay tribute to them for the work that they have done and the many benefits that they have brought to this region through their co-operation, interaction and sharing of power in their roles as Members of the European Parliament.

Setting up the processes, the practices and the mechanisms by which we will represent our interests as a region in the European community will involve a primary role for the MEPs, but will also, I hope, involve a role for Members of the Economic and Social Committee of the European Union, Members of the Committee of the Regions and their alternates, and many other people from a wide range of sectors in Northern Ireland society.

Dr Paisley said that we should have five representatives in Europe, rather than three. That confused me because in having three we have slightly more than our proportionate share of the 81 Members for the UK. If we were to have five that would indeed call into question the entire British link. And if that is what he wants to do he has an ally in me.

Dr Paisley said that we have never received from Europe what we have put into it. That may be true of the United Kingdom Government as a whole, but it is not true of Northern Ireland as a region. The United Kingdom Government has been a net contributor to the EU budget but Northern Ireland has been, enormously, a net benefactor of both the EU budget and UK internal budget. There is no real relevance in Dr Paisley's point.

The concordat and the memorandum mentioned the Council of Ministers because it is the primary authority in the European Union. It is comprised of Ministers from the Member States and the memorandum includes the right for Members of the Executive in the House to take their place in the Council when appropriate.

Some questions were asked about the office in Brussels. Work is ongoing by way of providing this information to the House. The office will be located close to the European Parliament building. Its staffing will be a matter for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the numbers and levels have not yet been determined.

The role of the office will be to liaise with the European Union institutions in order to ensure that Northern Ireland's interests are taken fully into account where relevant, to alert Government Departments here to issues arising in Brussels, to provide a base and support for visiting Ministers and to raise the profile of Northern Ireland in Europe.

Not all aspects of the shaping of the facility in Brussels have been agreed yet, but it will involve a formal level of representation where official business is carried out, and an informal level of representation where interests are pursued, information is gathered, lobbying is done and a facility is provided to representatives of the various sectors of industry and society in Northern Ireland.

Dr Paisley spoke about agriculture, which, in common with other major areas of policy, will be the subject of bilateral concordats agreed between the relevant departments in Whitehall and Northern Ireland. Consequently, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will have its own separate concordat with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), which will set out a framework for relations within the overarching principles set out in the Memorandum of Understanding. These bilateral concordats between our Departments and those in Westminster will be published as and when they are finalised and agreed.

Mr Neeson referred to the Pledge of Office. The Memorandum of Understanding is not legally binding either on Departments or on Ministers. Rather, it represents models of best practice which, I hope, all Ministers and Members will support. Communication is a two-way street, and the Memorandum of Understanding also applies to the United Kingdom Administration and their obligation to inform and consult us.

With regard to matters such as the visa for Mike Tyson, I should say that the Memorandum of Understanding and the concordats do not affect the constitutional position. There are still issues, such as immigration, which remain within the remit of the Westminster Government. The Memorandum of Understanding provides a framework within which consultation can take place on these issues, but at the moment it does not replace the United Kingdom Government's authority under the legislation.

Mr Neeson also raised the Mallusk case. I cannot comment on specific cases. Clearly competition will continue amongst United Kingdom regions, and the IDB will continue to make every possible effort to secure success for Northern Ireland. However, the concordat will ensure - as Dr Birnie pointed out - that competition does not lead to regions paying a higher price than they might otherwise do in order to secure inward investment. The current situation lends itself to competitive bidding between the regions. This can be to everybody's disadvantage. In certain circumstances one might be able to sneak an advantage from it, but in the main it is to everybody's disadvantage. The concordat and the memorandum of understanding provide us with a framework within which we can prevent that and, by creating jobs, reduce the subsidy burden on the taxpayer.

Ms Morrice made reference to the role of United Kingdom Ministers in relation to the supposed duality of their position in representing, first of all, the whole of the United Kingdom, but specifically the English interest in circumstances where there are three other devolved Administrations. Constitutionally that does not arise. United Kingdom Ministers do not represent England as a region. They represent all of the United Kingdom, while the Ministers from the devolved Administrations represent only the regions.

Ms Morrice also asked about Northern Ireland not being adequately represented in United Kingdom statistics. I should say in reply that this is exactly the sort of thing that the concordat is designed to deal with.

Dr Ian Paisley made reference to communication and consultation, and he set out principles and procedures for the Assembly. He mentioned telephone, fax, meeting, letter, and so on. All methods will be employed. In order to make sure that the public record is adequately maintained, in the main it will be done by writing, but in circumstances where urgency arises it may well first be done by telephone call or by other means.

Mr Paisley Jnr or Snr asked about the code of practice on access to Government information. This has been in the public domain since 1993 or 1994 and, therefore, is not a matter that has been kept from either himself or anyone else.

4.15 pm

It was Mr Paisley Jnr who raised the matter of whether the United Kingdom Parliament's authority was to be absolute or restricted. In the modern world no Parliament or Government's authority is absolute anymore. The UK Parliament, under the legislation that stands at the moment, retains overall authority but, essentially as a courtesy to devolved Administrations, it commits itself through these concordats, this memorandum of understanding, and indeed other conventions that have been drawn up through the years, to consult with devolved Administrations and not to legislate on devolved matters without such consultation. That is the situation that existed in the past, and the same convention will, I think, be applied to all of the devolved institutions that exist at the moment.

Mr Neeson asked about timescales. As I said before, these papers have all been available since October, and parties and Members should have consulted, or at least read and digested their contents.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Given that the junior Minister has accepted that a number of points raised by my party, the Alliance party and the Women's Coalition have identified, in the last two hours, a number of flaws that are apparent in this document, will the Member not reconsider his position? Will he agree to the amendment and give us time to rectify these flaws, so that this memorandum can go forward with the full confidence of the House?

Mr Haughey:

No. The various points that have been raised can be reconciled with the position that the Executive has taken. Many of the points are not contrary to the provisions of the memorandum of understanding, and the agreements that were made under it, but are entirely consistent with them. The memorandum of understanding, and the supplementary agreements, provide us with mechanisms for dealing with the points and objections that have been raised by Members.

Mr Neeson raised the question of consultation on the part of the Secretary of State with the Executive and the Assembly on non-devolved matters. Under the legislation, at the moment, these matters remain in his charge. We may agree or disagree on whether that should be the case, but in law it is. We may agree about what he should do, but what he does under the law is a matter for himself. I hope that he will consult closely with the Assembly and the Executive on those matters that remain in his charge.

Mr Neeson also asked about European legislation. Whether by directive or by regulation, consultation is with the European Parliament, but member state legislatures are notified at a very early stage of proposals from the Commission and the Council. The concordat and the memorandum of understanding will provide for an input from the three regional Executives who will make provision for debate in their own Assemblies or Parliaments and, where appropriate, in the Committees of those Assemblies or Parliaments.

Dr Birnie raised the matter of Dr Paisley's speech which he said was a speech rather more in favour of Ulster Nationalism than Ulster Unionism. I think it would stand a good chance of being adopted by people in my party as a statement in favour of Irish Nationalism, but that is another matter. On the joint ministerial Committees, Dr Birnie asked whether they would be "courts of Star Chamber" to bring devolved Administrations to heel. It may well turn out to be the reverse, where highly aggressive, deeply motivated Ministers, who have to get themselves re-elected here and in the other devolved Administrations, will seek very hard to bring the UK Secretary of State to heel on matters that vitally affect them.

I think that covers all the points raised in the course of the debate. I ask Members to note the memorandum of understanding and the supplementary agreements, and to reject the amendment.

Question put That the amendment be made.

Several Members: Aye.

Several Members: No.

Mr Speaker: I think the Ayes have it. [Interruption]

Order. The position is clear. I call for the Ayes and the Noes. If it seems to me that the Ayes or the Noes have it, I declare that that is the case. If either side disputes my declaration, Members repeat their call, at which point the Lobbies are cleared, and the Question put. It seems to me that there is extraordinary confusion about a procedure which we have gone through on a number of occasions.

4.30 pm

The Assembly divided: Ayes 27; Noes 53.


Fraser Agnew, Eileen Bell, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, David Ford, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Kieran McCarthy, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Sean Neeson, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Mark Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.


Ian Adamson, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Tom Benson, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, John Dallat, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sean Farren, John Fee, Michelle Gildernew, John Gorman, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, John Kelly, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, David McClarty, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O'Connor, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, Brid Rodgers, George Savage, Jim Wilson.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 52; Noes 23.


Ian Adamson, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Tom Benson, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, John Dallat, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, David Ervine, Sean Farren, John Fee, Michelle Gildernew, John Gorman, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, John Kelly, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, David McClarty, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O'Connor, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, Brid Rodgers, George Savage, Jim Wilson.


Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Mark Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

Main Question accordingly agreed to.


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

Appropriation Bill: Accelerated Passage


4.45 pm

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):

I beg to move

That, in accordance with Standing Order 39(2), this Assembly grants accelerated passage to the Appropriation Bill.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

This motion comes at a very appropriate time. Because I and others in this House have taken a stand, we have been held up to all sorts of attack and vilification by Members of the House who oppose us in an attempt to justify their own positions. One of the arguments they have been using is that we are out to hinder ordinary people while continuing to get our money. On radio programmes I have heard people say that we do not want people to get their hospital beds or their social services and that we are doing this because we have nothing else to say. That is a colossal lie. I am glad this motion has come before us tonight, and in the circumstances, the fact that my party approves of this gives the lie to all that. As a party we welcome that, as do others in these Benches.

Mr Dodds:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I refer the House to Standing Order 39(2), which sets out the requirements laid on a Minister who wishes to introduce a Bill and to ask leave of the House for accelerated procedure. There are three requirements: first, that the Minister give account to the Assembly of the reason or reasons for it; secondly, that he give the consequences of not so proceeding; and thirdly, that he inform the House of any steps that he has taken to minimise or avoid the future use of the accelerated passage procedure. Only then may he seek leave of the House. Are you satisfied, Mr Speaker, that the requirements of this Standing Order have been satisfied? There may have been a reference, perhaps in the Minister's earlier speech, but that speech was about the introduction of the Appropriation Bill. Nevertheless, at this stage, in terms of setting a precedent, I would have thought that it would have been more appropriate for whoever was responsible for the Bill, whoever was actually moving the motion for the accelerated procedure, to have set out the reasons for doing so, rather than simply begging that it be moved. I defer to your guidance on this matter, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

There was, as Members can imagine, a substantial amount of discussion about this with the Speaker's Office in advance. Given that the matters were on the same day, the requirements that we made of the Minister were that the reasons be set out in the statement, and that the Bill be published and available for Members on the day. This was so that Members, before having to vote on the motion before them now, would have had sight of the Bill for which they were being requested to provide a fast-track passage. The Minister is, of course, in a position to respond and may wish to do so at the end of this short debate. However, in terms of the requirements of the Standing Orders, I have no doubt that today, and in writing, the Minister has satisfied those requirements. I am making that judgement because there were substantial discussions in advance to ensure that all of these things within the sitting were before the House. The Minister may now wish to make his winding-up speech.

Mr Durkan:

As I said earlier, the approval of the Estimates and the passing of an Appropriation Act are among the most important responsibilities of the Assembly. I agree with points made by several Members that this is an unsatisfactory process. I explained the need for the accelerated passage, and how we aim to avoid the need for it in the future. However, the reality is that suspension has meant that it is not now feasible for the Assembly to undertake all the detailed stages that would normally be appropriate and essential.

I also acknowledged that we are, at this stage, implementing plans that were set before devolution, mainly in the 1998 comprehensive spending review. I agree strongly with the view expressed by many Members that we need to get down to the serious business of setting our own priorities through the Programme of Government. The question is of how best to do that, and my view is that it would be better to focus on the forward-looking aspects of this, even if that means proceeding with essentially inherited or hand-me-down plans for the immediate period.

Members will realise, and it was clear in Dr Paisley's comments, that schools, hospitals, and all other budget managers, are already working on the basis of the plans set out in the Main Estimates. I believe that the best way ahead is to approve these Estimates, and focus our attention and time on planning for the future through the Programme of Government.

Mr Speaker:

Before moving to the decision, I draw attention, as Mr Dodds did, to the Standing Orders, particularly the one in question, because accelerated passage is granted by leave of the Assembly. That means that there must be no voices against. Any single voice against would negative the motion.

Question put, and agreed to nemine contradicente.


That, in accordance with Standing Order39(2), this Assembly grants accelerated passage to the Appropriation Bill.

The sitting was suspended at 4.54 pm.



8 February 2000 / Menu / 6 June 2000