Motion to Take Note
My Lords, on 4 September my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland laid a number of reports before Parliament in line with his obligations under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. These reports underscore what colleagues across this House have known for some time—that the restoration of the Executive and Assembly is vital to the people of Northern Ireland. This is our top priority as we continue to work with the Northern Ireland parties to meet that objective. Without an Executive, the people of Northern Ireland have seen the quality of their public services decline, and decisions that affect their day-to-day lives kicked into the long grass. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better.
Since his appointment in July, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has met public servants from a range of sectors who are doing an incredible job in the absence of support from their political leaders. But they cannot, of course, take the decisions that are needed on public services or the economy. If we cannot secure the restoration of an Executive in good time, we will pursue the decision-making powers that are needed at the earliest opportunity.
In addition to the reporting requirements, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 requires the UK Parliament to introduce laws on same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnerships, abortion and victims’ payments. I recognise that these are sensitive, devolved issues and this Government’s preference is that they are taken forward by a restored Executive and functioning Assembly. However, this House has spoken and the duty to legislate will come into effect if the Executive is not back up and running in the next six weeks.
With the permission of the House, I would like to speak to each report topic separately. In the other place each report is being debated separately but we are being slightly more expeditious and debating them all as a single whole. Let me just run through what they are and then I will go through each of them in turn: Executive formation; transparency of political donations; higher education and a Derry university; presumption on non-prosecution; Troubles prosecution guidance; abortion law review; historical institutional abuse; victims’ payments; human trafficking; and gambling.
I will begin at the beginning, with Executive formation. I am conscious now that essentially the same issues have been discussed in cross-party talks for over two years. There are some aspects of these talks that are close to resolution. I believe the parties could agree a programme for government, measures to increase transparency and on the sustainability of the institutions. But gaps remain between the two main parties on rights, culture and identity. Both the UK and the Irish Governments share the view that these issues are resolvable. So, the Government, working closely with the Irish Government in accordance with the three-stranded approach, will now intensify efforts to put forward compromise solutions to the parties. If that does not succeed, the Secretary of State’s next update will set out next steps to ensure adequate governance in Northern Ireland and the protection of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
As regards transparency of political donations, we are proud that we were able to secure the agreement of Northern Ireland parties and bring forward legislation to open up all donations from July 2017 to full public scrutiny. I am aware that many would like to see that transparency go further and apply retrospectively to 2014. This remains a sensitive issue. When the donations regime was extended to the Northern Ireland parties in 2006, they were placed under the same obligation to report donations to the Electoral Commission as elsewhere in the UK. The difference before 2017 was that the commission could not publish the details. It was feared that to do so would risk intimidation of donors. The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act provides that greater transparency could be introduced from 2014 at some point in the future.
I would like to have been able to report more progress on this issue. However, as I mentioned to the House on the previous occasion, it should be instructive to see how donating patterns change in the run-up to an election. The Electoral Commission has yet to publish details for the period immediately in advance of the local and European elections. In addition, I would caution that opening up the historic record is not a straightforward matter. It is not a case simply of passing legislation. The reality is that this issue remains a sensitive one, particularly at this time, and we must be careful to take the time to properly consider the implications of retrospectively applying transparency. Donors must not face intimidation. As the Electoral Commission made clear to the parties in 2013, the point at which donations from 2014 will be made public is subject to an assessment of the security situation. We will look at this issue carefully, but that must be in the context of wider discussion and consultation between the Northern Ireland parties and the Government. However, our focus, rightly, must be on getting Stormont up and running.
On higher education and a Derry university, students from Northern Ireland benefit from two outstanding universities: Queen’s and Ulster University. We also recognise that many of those who come from Ulster choose to study in other parts of the UK or indeed internationally. While the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy has policy responsibility for higher education in Northern Ireland, universities are independent of government. As such, it is for a university, whether prospective or existing, to decide where to base any new campus. It should be noted that no application has been made from any organisation to establish a university in Derry/Londonderry.
The Government are aware that Ulster University has been for some time considering the development of a graduate medical school, to be located in Derry/Londonderry. This project proposal features heavily in the Derry City & Strabane District Council’s economic regeneration plans for the region. We hope that progress may be made via this route.
On the presumption of non-prosecution, the current system for dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past is not working well. This needs to change. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said recently, it is common ground across all Benches that it is simply not right that former soldiers should face unfair and repeated investigations, with no new evidence, many years after the events in question.
Although we want to find a better way to address these issues, to do so through the presumption of non-prosecution would pose a range of challenges and might not provide a complete solution to the issues at hand. A presumption of non-prosecution in the absence of compelling new evidence, whether in the form of a qualified statute of limitations or by some other legal mechanism, would likely need to be applied to everyone. This would essentially mean that an amnesty or statute of limitations would potentially apply to all those involved in Troubles-related incidents, including former terrorists.
Crucially, implementing these provisions would not remove the obligations under domestic criminal law to investigate serious allegations. Equally, it would also not end the UK’s need to comply with its international obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires an independent body to carry out Article 2-compliant investigations. To imply that this requirement would not continue would mislead veterans.
Therefore, the Government continue to drive forward a range of proposals on how best to address the legacy of the past. As part of this, we recently carried out a consultation on a framework of proposals flowing from the Stormont House agreement on how improvements could be made. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will continue to work with partners on all sides to reflect on this feedback and develop an improved system that is fair, balanced and proportionate. This work continues, alongside the Ministry of Defence’s public consultation seeking views on proposed legal protection measures for Armed Forces personnel and veterans serving in operations outside the United Kingdom.
On Troubles prosecution guidance, the UK Government recognise that historic investigations are a complex area and the subject of a range of strongly held views. We have made it clear that the way investigations into the past are carried out needs to be reformed. However, the required reforms are about not how and by whom criminal justice decisions are taken, but rather how we can have a more effective and fairer system.
Noble Lords will of course also be aware that criminal investigations, including legacy cases of Troubles-related incidents, are carried out independently of government. As set out in the update report, the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter, as are prosecutorial decisions and the guidance that underpins them. In Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, those prosecutorial decisions are made independent of government, just as they are in England and Wales, by the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland under the auspices of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.
Centrally, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland is not under the superintendence of the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland. This means that, under existing legislation, the Director of Public Prosecutions has a consultative relationship with the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland. The former cannot be compelled by the latter. This particular feature of the relationship between these key figures is an important component of the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland and it is not within the Government’s powers to direct the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland or Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.
What is central in these legacy cases is not how an individual came to have a weapon but what they did with it, and it is of course for the courts and not the Government to determine innocence and guilt. The Government are committed to reforming the current system, but this needs a new, wider approach, with practical, sustainable and workable solutions. The Government remain committed to finding those solutions.
On the abortion law review, without the formation of a restored Executive we will implement the relevant sections of the recent Act. However, we recognise that a majority of MPs want to ensure that reform happens if we continue to see an absence of devolved government, hence placing the Section 9 Executive formation Act duty on government to regulate if an Executive is not restored by 21 October 2019. That duty requires the Government to implement the recommendations contained in paragraphs 85 and 86 of the 2018 report of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women—CEDAW—specific to Northern Ireland’s legal framework for abortion, together with non-legislative measures around education and access to counselling services.
As set out in the update report, to meet this commitment we have been undertaking work to analyse and carefully consider the range of materials, both international and domestic, that have considered related reform issues and the sensitive policy questions that have to be worked through to deliver what is required. This process is ongoing, and I will be happy to update your Lordships on further progress in the second report to Parliament on this issue in the coming weeks.
On historical institutional abuse, the Government have made plain our commitment to introducing legislation in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive by the end of the year. Much progress has been made by officials in the Northern Ireland Office working in concert with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to prepare all the necessary materials to do just that. The Executive Office is to be commended for the progress it has made in the absence of Northern Ireland Ministers. It prepared draft HIA legislation in 2018 and a consultation exercise was concluded in March 2019. It is with the benefit of this progress that the Northern Ireland political parties were able to discuss in detail the implementation proposals for the commissioner for survivors of institutional child abuse and a redress scheme. The discussions between the Northern Ireland parties on the historical institutional abuse legislation and the policy decisions required to finalise it have demonstrated that there is a genuine will to reach agreement and deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.
The resultant HIA Bill was provided to the NIO by the Executive Office on 18 July and has been the focus of work in my department to make ready everything necessary to introduce the Bill at Westminster. It is a complex Bill and those documents have required significant input from legal advisers and policy officials. The UK Government’s commitment to introduce this legislation by the end of the year in the absence of a restored Executive remains resolute. Following the policy and legal work carried out in August by officials, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State wrote to colleagues to seek to secure a legislate slot for introduction. On Friday 23 August, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland held very positive meetings with representatives from victims and survivor groups, and on 30 August he met the interim advocate, Brendan McAllister. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will continue to engage with these key Northern Ireland stakeholders to update them on progress as we seek to deliver redress for victims and survivors of this dreadful abuse.
I move on to victims’ payments. We will introduce payments to victims not injured by their own hand. We have now committed under the Executive formation Act that if there is no Executive in place by 21 October the UK Government will bring forward regulations before the end of January to ensure that a victims’ payments scheme can come into force in Northern Ireland by the end of May next year. As set out in the update report, to meet this commitment we have been undertaking work to develop the detailed arrangements for the scheme with factual input from the Northern Ireland Civil Service. This has included consideration of other relevant schemes, detailed design work, discussion with certain key stakeholders and making plans for future engagement, and preparing detailed advice on the proposed architecture of the scheme—its purpose and principles, levels and methods of payment, eligibility and other technical considerations, the assessment process, and wider support arrangements for scheme applicants.
We are as well placed as possible to deliver against our obligations in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, and we propose to engage widely on the details of the scheme ahead of the date by which the regulations must be made. The views received on our proposed approach will help inform final decisions on how the scheme will be implemented.
On human trafficking, the report contains information on a number of occasions the department has considered it necessary to provide assistance and support for victims of human trafficking for whom there has been a conclusive determination that the person is a victim of human trafficking. It also outlines the reasons for provision of this support.
Clearly, it is the will of Parliament that the Secretary of State should report on this issue, but I would also wish to add a caveat about the limitations on the Secretary of State’s capacity to report comprehensively on matters of devolved competence. Consequently, I add that the report does not provide the immigration status of those victims who have been supported. The Northern Ireland Department of Justice does not hold that information and, while it might be possible for another competent authority to advise on immigration status, given the small number of victims involved—16 individuals over a three-year period—information on the immigration status of those individuals could make it possible to determine their identities. I trust that Members will agree that that would not be a welcome outcome. I acknowledge and commend the Northern Ireland Civil Service on its progress in these matters during the difficult circumstances that currently exist, and look forward to a time when these issues are properly considered by a returned Northern Ireland Executive.
Finally, I come to gambling. As many noble Lords will be aware, gambling legislation in Northern Ireland differs from that in Great Britain. This report recognises the challenges associated with the likes of online gambling and fixed-odds betting terminals, and notes that existing legislation has not kept pace with industry and technological changes. In addition, the report highlights the lack of specific services commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board to help those suffering from gambling addiction. A high-level strategic review of gambling policy, practice and law is currently being carried out by the Department for Communities. I would encourage the gambling operators to work alongside the Health and Social Care Board to ensure that all that can be done is being done.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the report on the,
“progress made towards preparing legislation implementing a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents”,
and I commend the officials who have been working on it. Your Lordships will recall that, in my original amendment to the legislation, I specifically and repeatedly used the words,
“severely injured through no fault of their own”.
On advice from parliamentary counsel, those words did not appear in the Bill that we passed, and I accepted that on the assurances given in this House by the Minister and in the other place that the legislation to implement the pension would be absolutely true to the spirit and intent of,
“through no fault of their own”.
When the commitment to implement a special pension for people who were severely physically or psychologically damaged through no fault of their own during the Troubles was enshrined in statute in July, it was warmly welcomed by those who had been campaigning for many years for the proper recognition and acknowledgement of the great harm done to them. But there were those in Northern Ireland who regrettably spread alarm and confusion among victims and survivors by claiming that the pension could go to those injured by their own hand because the legislation was “weak”. That was their term. They have either misunderstood or misrepresented what is being taken forward. The detailed legislation to implement the pension cannot be described as “weak”, for the very good reason that it does not yet exist in the form of the regulations due to come into effect by the end of January 2020. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that. Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise these regulations, including in your Lordships’ House. Therefore, I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to again give a cast-iron commitment that only those injured through no fault of their own will qualify for the pension.
There is also a report before us on the definition of a victim, which is currently set out in the 2006 Order, which was passed when I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I will make two brief points about it. First, the report says:
“In the absence of consensus on this sensitive and emotive issue, the position of the UK Government is that in order to make meaningful progress, this work would be best taken forward by a newly restored Executive”.
All I can say is, “Good luck with that!”. It is precisely because it is a “sensitive and emotive issue” that there is little prospect of agreement being reached, even if the Executive were to return. I would remind the House that those campaigning for the pension dragged themselves in their wheelchairs to Stormont year after year for tea and sympathy but little else. The local political parties failed them shamefully, instead wrangling in sectarian fashion over the definition of victims, while the terrible injustice they were suffering festered on.
Secondly, the 2006 Order facilitated the setting up of the Commission for Victims and Survivors, but it also gives access to those services provided by the Victims and Survivors Service and, when it comes into operation, the mental trauma service. It is well documented that the impact of conflict can be transgenerational. Are we to say to a child— or even a grandchild—that, because of events that took place years before they were born, they will not now get access to the support services that they need because they are no longer eligible? That cannot be right. Whichever way this is taken forward, we should proceed with caution. I welcome the cool analysis that the Minister has provided. We know that his heart is in the right place on these matters and we wish him well in the progress to come.
My Lords, I am very pleased to be taking part in this debate in the absence of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie, who cannot be with us this evening. Although I did not know that I was going to be speaking in this debate until a few days ago, I am glad that I spent a large part of the summer watching the series of BBC programmes about the history of the Troubles. It is important that those of us who wish to see a brighter future for Northern Ireland never forget its past. It has been salutary to be reminded of the situation in Northern Ireland. It is the wish never to return to those days that has lain behind much of this work.
I thank the Minister for producing these reports. I took part in the passing of the legislation, and it is good to be back here now debating not whether the Government are going to implement that legislation but how they are going to implement it. That is the thrust of these detailed reports. I also commend the Minister for the openness with which he has made them available to people from all sides of the House. Like others, we on these Benches remain committed to restoring the devolved Government as soon as possible, but we understand—not least because of the points made so impressively by the noble Lord, Lord Empey—that life in Northern Ireland goes on, and that the governance of Northern Ireland is under severe strain.
I want to talk first about the issues in the “Report pursuant to sections 3(1), 3(6), 3(7), 3(8), 3(9) and 3(10)”—a deadly bureaucratic title for something very important. The report mentions the progress of the working groups. It states that the Secretary of State used these groups to inform “subsequent weeks of negotiation”. It would be very helpful if the Minister could give the House a flavour of the intensity and productiveness of those negotiations. We have been concerned to hear from our colleagues in the Alliance that,
“the process has been treading water for the past few weeks at least”.
The report also states that:
“It should prove possible with intensive engagement to resolve the strands of talks on the Programme for Government, Transparency and Sustainability relatively swiftly”,
“the UK Government, working closely with the Irish Government, will now intensify its efforts to put forward compromise solutions to the parties”.
Can the Minister give us a little more detail of this “intensive engagement” and when this intensification of efforts will begin?
I particularly thank the Government for the section of the report relating to the transparency of political donations. That amendment was moved by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie. However, I am disappointed by what the report says. Clearly, there has been no progress made on backdating transparency of political donations to January 2014, as provided for by the 2014 Act. The report places much emphasis on the “broad consensus” among Northern Ireland political parties, but it does not make changes from the July 2017 date. Well, there was no consensus. The Alliance’s position remains that returns should be published from January 2014 onwards. Political parties may want secrecy, but that does not make it right or fair to the public.
Thirdly, the point made in the report about retrospectivity is not an issue. Parties were told by the Electoral Commission to inform every large donor after January 2014 that their details would eventually be published. Donors would have known that when they made their donations. I hope that the Minister can talk more about progress on that.
Turning to the section on higher education in Northern Ireland, the question of HE sector funding is urgent. Again, we place on record our support in principle for the proposed medical school in Derry/Londonderry, but we need to know that the funding will be in place.
The report pursuant to Section 3(13) deals with the payment for victims. My noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie has echoed many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and I will not repeat them at this late hour.
On the report on Section 3(14) about the key recommendations of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse, we echo the concerns expressed on Thursday by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan, that the recommendations have still not been implemented, in particular his comments that this,
“epitomises how the lack of an Assembly impacts negatively on … Northern Ireland’s citizens”.
Given that we are expecting Parliament to prorogue today and not return until October for a Queen’s Speech, presumably that will mean yet more delay for them. These people have been waiting far too long for redress.
I want to deal with two issues in particular, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, might be in his place for one minute longer. I listened to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, in the debate earlier this afternoon, in which I think he questioned the motivation of those of us who were responsible for ensuring that this legislation extends the rights of access to abortion care and to same-sex marriage to people in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Hayward, is not due to speak and therefore I reluctantly make the point—
He will speak in the gap.
Is he speaking in the gap? Okay. However, I can say with confidence that in all the work I saw him do, and all the work that he would have seen me do on abortion, there was never any question at all that we were doing so in a partisan way. We were doing it so that people who are citizens of Northern Ireland could enjoy the same human rights and access to services as people in the rest of the United Kingdom. That was all.
I want to ask the Minister one question. Can he confirm that the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland will take place on 21 October if no Assembly is formed, regardless of a general election or Prorogation? If that is so, what will happen to people who are currently facing prosecution under the existing law? I remind this House of a point that we made during the passage of the legislation. Decriminalisation does not mean that there will be no regulation of abortion in Northern Ireland. Since we passed the legislation, there have been wildly misleading statements made. Abortion in Northern Ireland, when the law changes, will be by medical professionals who will be under the same ethical constraints as their colleagues are in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is wrong to say that there will be a period in which there will be no regulation whatever.
My Lords, I have heard no voice raised this evening urging the restoration of direct rule, yet paradoxically when it comes to the question of abortion this House and another place did not hesitate to set aside devolution to impose laws in Northern Ireland on a highly sensitive and contested devolved question. I have never disguised my opposition to laws which in Great Britain have led to 9 million abortions—one every three minutes—and permit abortion up to birth in the case of disability. Let me make it clear as well that in the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is no human right to abortion.
This is a highly contested question and the right to life is for many a paramount right. This may not be a view that all hold, but it is a respectable minority view and it is held by millions. Indeed, over the weekend in Northern Ireland thousands of people protested peacefully against the decision made here in July through the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act—the Act we are discussing now—which imposes changes in the law on Northern Ireland. In an exemplary, dignified and united way, right across the community citizens who believe that both lives in a pregnancy matter made their voices heard. For so many living in Northern Ireland, what happened in this House and the other place made a mockery of democracy. Radical amendments, overturning devolved legislation endorsed by the democratically elected Northern Ireland Assembly as recently as 2016, were simply tagged on to an emergency Bill which had nothing to do with abortion.
This was legislation rushed through in a pell-mell way, which disconcertingly resulted in this House not amending but completely rewriting the amendment inserted in another place. The democratically elected House then had hardly any debating time for the actual text of what is now Section 9. It spent a paltry 17 minutes debating the final text of Section 9, which removes all legal protections from the unborn child in Northern Ireland until they are capable of being born alive, a point in time that is contested and in relation to which the only explicit protection applies from 28 weeks’ gestation. That is four weeks later than in Great Britain and 16 weeks later than in the Republic of Ireland. There was, of course, no consultation with the people of Northern Ireland; there was not even a specific vote on the reworded Clause 9, which was rejected by all Northern Ireland MPs who take their seats at Westminster when the matter, albeit with entirely different words, was subjected to a specific vote on 9 July.
The report produced on abortion law reform required under Section 3(10) highlights the deeply flawed nature of the new legislation on abortion coming into force on 22 October unless the Northern Ireland Executive is restored. With just over six weeks to go, the Northern Ireland Office, which incidentally I sympathise with as this legislative process was not its idea, is openly stating that,
“much further work is required before we are in a place to deliver on this duty if it comes into effect”.
Considering the enormously serious nature of the issue at stake here and regardless of your views, this is deeply troubling. These surely must be seen as matters of life and death. The report goes on to say that there is no,
“clear path forward in terms of the regulations and non-legislative measures”.
By any measure, this is patently absurd. It is bad enough for the Westminster Parliament to remove a law that the democratically elected representatives of Northern Ireland voted not to change in any way as recently as 2016, on the spurious grounds that there was a legal human rights imperative for doing so, which, as the expert legal opinion of Professor Mark Hill makes plain, is without any foundation.
It is, however, utterly extraordinary and deeply wrong to remove that law five months before requiring a new law to be put in its place. That is plainly irresponsible. This in and of itself is incredible when you reflect on it. Abortion would be legalised for any reason including gender, disability and convenience up to the point of viability on 22 October, but there is to be no notification requirement on the part of medical authorities or abortion providers to say that an abortion has taken place. There will be no requirement for abortions to take place in particular places and no explicit legal protection for the rights of conscience for medical professionals who oppose abortion for ethical reasons. What would not be tolerated elsewhere in the United Kingdom is to be imposed in Northern Ireland.
The only way that this can be prevented is for the Executive and the Assembly to be restored. The decision on how and whether to provide abortion should be for the people of Northern Ireland to decide through a proper legislative process, rather than with minimal consideration in an Act that was stampeded through Parliament without any consultation with individuals who actually live in Northern Ireland. For what it is worth, I am going to Northern Ireland later this week and will be urging MLAs to do all they can to restore the Executive. Northern Ireland deserves to be governed again by those whom the people there actually elect. To prevent this direct rule, and for so many other reasons which are highlighted and have been mentioned in our earlier debates, we must see the restoration of the Assembly and the Executive. I plead with the parties in Northern Ireland to do all in their power to bring that about.
My Lords, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Northern Ireland) Act 2015, which I steered through the Northern Ireland Assembly, gives confirmed victims of slavery a statutory 45-day “reflection and recovery” period during the process of determining their status as a victim. There is then a discretionary power to grant victims of trafficking further support if they have been given a positive conclusive grounds decision, or have not yet had a conclusive grounds decision and the 45-day period has run out.
I welcome the report before the House today, which outlines the extent to which this discretionary power has been used. The report does not outline who the numbers are referring to. Will the Minister confirm whether or not the numbers provided in the report apply only to victims with a positive conclusive grounds decision? On what basis is a decision made to grant additional support beyond the conclusive grounds decision to a confirmed victim? On what basis is it decided that another victim should receive no further support once they are a confirmed victim of modern slavery? Does the Department of Justice have guidance on the basis on which to determine whether support under Section 18(9) should be extended? Will the Minister furnish interested parties with copies of any such guidance?
Will the Minister also set out the minimum and maximum duration of discretionary support after the conclusive grounds decision has been made? Since my Bill passed, a number of victims’ care providers have argued that support should be provided for at least 12 months after a positive conclusive grounds decision. In this context, noble Lords will be well aware that the noble Lord, Lord McColl, has introduced his Bill to provide comprehensive support to help a victim recover from their exploitation for up to 12 months once they have been confirmed. I spoke in favour of his Bill at its Second Reading on 8 September 2017. It is sobering that two years have passed and victims are still living without statutory support for their longer-term recovery. At the beginning of the year, the Government began offering victims 45 days’ support in England and Wales, after the conclusive grounds decision. This was a step in the right direction but was rightly challenged in the courts because, for many victims, 45 days is plainly insufficient. The challenge resulted in a settlement in which the Government agreed that support should be provided on the basis of the individual’s needs rather than a fixed, predetermined time.
In this context, the most sensible way forward would seem to be to provide all confirmed victims of modern slavery with the option of 12 months’ support, in order to provide baseline security, but for there to be a needs assessment at 11 months to see whether that should be extended. That is certainly what I would seek by way of updating the legislation if the Northern Ireland Assembly was sitting and I was still a Member.
I was disappointed that the amendment to the Executive formation Bill put forward by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Lord, Lord McColl—on the progress of the implementation of independent guardians for trafficked children—was not in the final Act, despite assurances from the Minister that the Government would accept the amendment. The independent guardian service in Northern Ireland provides children who have been trafficked, and separated migrant children, with a trained advocate to support, represent and accompany them as they go through the recovery process. The service has been a real success and our model has been studied by other jurisdictions with a view to emulating it. In England and Wales, the section in the Modern Slavery Act on independent child trafficking advocates has still not been commenced and support is only available in one-third of local authorities. Will the Minister give an update on the number of children being helped in Northern Ireland through the independent guardian service and how this service has been received by other professionals working with trafficked and separated migrant children? If not, could he please write to me and place a copy of the letter in the Library?
Finally, I cannot sit down without making some mention of the abortion report before the House today. I expressed my grave concerns about what was then Clause 9 in Committee on 15 July and about the revised clause—now in the Act—on Report on 17 July. I still find it completely staggering that Section 9 sets out that if the Executive do not reform by 21 October, and I certainly hope they do, there should be any period of time when there is no legislation in place to regulate abortions up to the point at which a child is capable of being born alive, let alone a period of five months. During this time, and quite unlike in the rest of Great Britain, abortion providers will be free to set up clinics that cannot be licensed or assessed. Moreover, abortion will be available right up to the point of viability for any reason, including if the baby is a girl. I find no reassurance in the Government’s report that there is any credible plan to protect women and children during the limbo period. This is completely and utterly unacceptable. Not surprisingly, the people of Northern Ireland are outraged by this and last Friday approximately 20,000 people protested at Stormont about the change that is being proposed without their say or input.
The suggestion that there is a binding human rights imperative in international law that necessitates removing the current law on 21 October, before anything can be put in its place, is simply incorrect. The CEDAW convention does not mention abortion; only the international court has standing to read in such a right and it has not done so. Indeed, the notion that this is driven by some concern for human rights completely falls apart when one realises that repealing the current legislation dealing with abortion up until just before a baby is capable of being born alive, without putting anything in its place for up to five months, will actually make us less compliant with an aspect of international law which does mention abortion. At the moment we are compliant with Article 39 of the Istanbul convention, which prohibits coercive abortion, because our law does not provide scope for coercive abortion. However, if the Assembly is not restored on 21 October, on 22 October nothing will be put in its place and the door to coercive abortions in Northern Ireland will be flung wide open.
In this context I make a plea to Sinn Féin to return to its place in the power-sharing Administration, so we can make sensible and properly accountable laws for the people of Northern Ireland.
My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to finally make my maiden speech as a Conservative and Unionist Member of this great House. I say “finally” because, despite taking my seat on 20 October 2016, I have until now been bound by a Cabinet Office rule that serving government advisers can sit and vote but not speak in your Lordships’ House. Following the events of 24 July, this is no longer the case for me, so it is with a sense of great relief and anticipation that I am now able to take my place as a fully functioning Member of the House.
I would at the outset like to give thanks to a number of people: noble Lords on all sides of the House for their understanding during my three years of enforced silence; the doorkeepers and other staff of the House, who carry out their responsibilities with such diligence, kindness and good cheer whatever the hour; my two supporters at my introduction in 2016, my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood, who was my first head of section in the Conservative Research Department back in 1987, and my noble friend Lord Empey who, I am sure all noble Lords will agree, embodies all that is best in Ulster unionism; and the former Prime Minister David Cameron for giving me the opportunity to serve in this House. Leaving aside the referendum, if I may, I strongly believe that the Governments—plural—which he led achieved a great deal, particularly in restoring our economy, job creation and education reform. I was proud to have played a role in one of the seminal moments of his premiership when I helped to draft his statement on the events of Bloody Sunday.
While I join a number of former members of the Conservative Research Department and special advisers in this House, my route here—to use a phrase that will be familiar to friends from Northern Ireland—was hardly a traditional one. I was not born into the Conservative Party. In fact, I was born in a staunchly working-class area of Leeds called Harehills, where my late father was a builder and my mother a hairdresser. Yet their values were very much Conservative values, particularly those closely associated with the late Baroness Thatcher of hard work, enterprise and aspiration. It was that which led them to found a business and which allowed me, the product of a local state school in Leeds, to become the first member of our family to attend university.
That also enabled my parents to move to a relatively more prosperous part of Leeds, Temple Newsam, which forms the geographical part of my title. Temple Newsam is the ward on Leeds City Council where I was brought up and where I return most weekends. Leeds is also the part of the world where I currently pursue most of my interests outside this House, as a supporter of the Leeds Rhinos rugby league club and its charitable foundation that does such sterling work in the community to turn around young lives through sport, and as a patron of the Danny Jones Defibrillator Fund, which raises money to provide sports clubs with potentially life-saving defibrillators.
For most of my time in politics and public service, I have been deeply involved in the affairs of Northern Ireland. In the 1990s I was a special adviser to Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, and then to the late Lord Mayhew of Twysden, both men of the utmost integrity whose contributions in Northern Ireland should never be underestimated. From May 2010 until July this year I advised two Prime Ministers and four successive Secretaries of State on Northern Ireland affairs. It was a period that encompassed the statement to which I have referred on Bloody Sunday, the G8 summit, the Stormont House and fresh start agreements, the EU referendum and the confidence and supply agreement, in which I confess to having played a small part. I say with respect to some noble Lords that hands-off it certainly was not. Regrettably, it also saw us go from the longest unbroken run of devolved government in Northern Ireland since the 1960s to over two and a half deeply frustrating years of no government at all. Like noble Lords across the House, I profoundly hope that devolved government is restored and fully functioning as soon as possible.
My involvement in Northern Ireland affairs has given me a deep and enduring affection for the place and all its people. It has strengthened my unshakeable belief in the union of our United Kingdom. I am an unashamed and unapologetic unionist who believes that the best future for Northern Ireland is, and always will be, within a stronger United Kingdom. I am, though, a unionist who deeply values and respects nationalism and who wants the closest possible relationship with our friends and neighbours in the Republic of Ireland, while always respecting the constitutional proprieties. Indeed, part of the genius of the 1998 Belfast agreement is that it enables all traditions to be accommodated, through the constitutional framework it sets out, the institutions it establishes and the rights it guarantees for everyone. I remain a steadfast supporter of that agreement, in which my noble friends Lord Trimble, who was here earlier, Lord Empey and Lord Maginnis played such key roles.
Of course, I am acutely aware of the pressures created as a result of the 2016 referendum. One reason that I, as an instinctive Brexiteer, in the end voted remain was over my concern about the impact that leaving might have on the delicate and precious equilibrium established by the 1998 agreement. However, since the referendum I have been in no doubt that, for the sake of our democracy and for trust in politics, the result must be delivered and the UK must leave the EU. I remain convinced, however, that it must be done in an orderly and managed way that protects the 1998 agreement but preserves political stability on the island of Ireland and, of course, preserves the unity of our United Kingdom. I will always be a unionist before I am a Eurosceptic.
Turning briefly to the debate, I welcome the publication of the reports mentioned in the Motions of my noble friend Lord Duncan of Springbank, with whom I had the privilege of working in the Northern Ireland Office until recently. Indeed, I am pleased to see that some of my sentences have actually survived the change of administration. I wish to single out one of the reports for very quick comment: that relating to legacy cases and the prosecution of veterans. Many of my most difficult and moving meetings in Northern Ireland over many years have been with victims and survivors of the Troubles. It is clear that more needs to be done for them and I commend the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others towards a victims’ payment. At the same time, as many people have said, we must ensure that there is not a disproportionate focus on former members of the security forces, to whom we own an enormous debt. This is a complex and difficult area. I have always believed that everybody should be accountable to the law and I have a number of concerns about some of the remedies that have been suggested in this respect.
One possible way forward, which I have discussed with the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland at length, might involve modifications to Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 around what constitutes reasonable self-defence. The purpose would be to give clearer legal meaning to the moral distinction between somebody who commits a split-second error of law while carrying out their duty and somebody who sets out with the clear and deliberate intention to commit murder. Now is not the appropriate time to pursue this in detail, but I hope to return to this matter on a future occasion and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will undertake to look at this option seriously. For now, however, conscious of the clock, I am grateful for the opportunity to open my account, so to speak, in your Lordships’ House and I look forward to playing a much fuller role from now on.
My Lords, if we needed any evidence of the importance of the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Caine, in a position in which he can address your Lordships and turn his mind, in a public way, to our important issues, the speech that has just been delivered confirms what I believe many of us have long believed—his ability and knowledge of a wide range of subjects. Someone coming to these Benches with his many years of experience in Northern Ireland is a wonderful asset that we will warmly welcome across all these Benches and on all sides. The role of adviser is very important and he has not only given us commitment but done so with discretion, with dignity and without turning the focus on to himself rather than the Ministers he has been privileged to serve.
Just to illustrate my point, there is a small quotation in today’s Sun—if it is here it must be true—attributed to Mr Dominic Cummings of this parish, where he says, allegedly:
“I don’t care if Northern Ireland falls into the f***ing sea”.
The melodic prose of that comment lends some credibility to the possibility that he might have said something like it, but no such comments were ever or will ever be made by the noble Lord, Lord Caine, who has conducted his business and kept relations with all sides in our troubled Province. Having a strongly committed unionist on these Benches is most welcome. I wish him every success in your Lordships’ House and have little doubt that he will distinguish himself now that he is able and free to talk.
Turning to the business on the Order Paper, there is one small matter on which I would like clarification from the Minister, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Caine: the definition of a victim. Neither that report nor the one relating to the Armed Forces covenant appears to be mentioned on the Order Paper. I am not quite clear why.
We have just touched on the Executive formation. I said that if my dates were inaccurate I would happily correct them; yes, it was probably 5 August instead of 5 July, but it is the same difference, because the talks have not had the momentum required.
On donations, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. I have come to the conclusion that there is not a consensus in Northern Ireland on the dates for these donations. I believe that the 2014 date should be applied and made that comment when the legislation was going through in the summer.
As a former Higher Education Minister in Northern Ireland I am very conscious of the potential, having visited the Magee campus of Ulster University in Londonderry and with the city deals coming forward for that local authority area. Given the shortages in our health service, there is also great potential, particularly concerning the proposed graduate medical school, to combine a number of policies and not leave things purely to the universities. I accept that universities are independent, but only in so far as it is the public who in large measure pay for them. There is a huge social, economic and political issue here and we should pursue it rigorously.
On the issue of the abortion law review, I am conscious that on Friday there were huge demonstrations in Belfast which had very little time to get organised and build momentum. I know that a lot of people are very concerned at the haphazard way in which this has been done. There are no regulations in place on 22 October, no matter what anybody says. While people will argue, “Well, the medical profession will do this and that”, why should we have to rely on them? We are a legislature. If we have something to say, we should say it and do it, instead of this back-to-front process that has been adopted, which, I have to say, has annoyed and deeply upset many very sincere people. I hope we will return to that and that we will be able to get in place something in law that is just, proper and democratically endorsed by the people it affects most. That has been sadly lacking.
I remain strongly opposed to the proposals on legacy that came out of Stormont House. The proposal for a historical investigations unit will be a torture chamber, particularly for former members of the security services, for at least a decade and will enable republicans to set up a whole industry of people who will take legal action, make claims and try to rewrite history in the process. It is a profoundly bad idea and I sincerely hope that those who invented and support it will withdraw their support.
On historical institutional abuse, I strongly support the fact that people are trying hard to get this done, but, as we have pointed out in this House many times before, people have been moving on in age and it is becoming an increasing challenge. I hope that every effort will be made to move as fast as possible.
The report on the definition of a victim, which is not mentioned on the Order Paper today, does not even cover two sides of paper. On such an important issue, this is almost an insult to Parliament. It is so critical and so controversial, and to say that handing the thing back over to the Executive is the way forward is absolute nonsense—it is only a way of avoiding it. That is what I fear is happening and I deeply regret it.
In conclusion I will address the victims’ pensions, which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. Can the Minister give an absolutely categorical assurance to the House tonight that under no circumstances will a person who was injured by their own hand and their own actions be eligible for any payment from the state as a result of this activity? That has got the reappointed victims commissioner into serious trouble and has caused victims great distress over what has happened to them. I sincerely hope that we get a clear, unambiguous confirmation tonight that this will not happen. Whenever you see in a report mentions of working parties and looking at other examples around the world, it begins to make people nervous. I sincerely hope that the Minister can give us an assurance that does lack not any clarity whatever.
I have noticed over the years that a debate about any topic in Northern Ireland becomes a debate about everything in Northern Ireland. That is just how things are. I very much welcome the maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Caine. I realise that he had been muted politically for a long time, so I welcome him to the world of political freedom. It is therefore gratifying that we have, for a debate about everything in Northern Ireland, the DUP in some reasonable force, and other good representatives from Northern Ireland who are independent of political party. I would like other political parties in Northern Ireland also to be represented here, as that would add strength to our debates—I refer to the Alliance and the SDLP in particular.
I spent last weekend at the British-Irish Association annual get-together in Cambridge. Few politicians were present, but we had Simon Coveney, Michael Gove and the Secretary of State speak to us, and it was a pretty good occasion. Noble Lords may be wondering about the badge I am wearing; it is the badge of the campaign for Ireland to have a place on the Security Council, which is looking for British support. I mention that in passing. Obviously, the Minister could not possibly comment on that—but he will probably not comment on many other things.
That goes with the job description.
With the lack of an Executive, we are in a dangerous situation. There is a vacuum, and vacuums get filled in an unfortunate manner. I can only add my plea that we have to make progress. I repeat the plea for an independent facilitator of talks, which is surely long overdue. It would be much better to have somebody who could put the parties together. It is difficult for the Government, simply because they are in coalition with one of the main parties in Northern Ireland. I would have thought that we could make progress.
May I anticipate something the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will say? I will thank him for it before he says it. That is, we should make use of the existing Members of the Legislative Assembly and use the committee structure. Surely the civil servants, who are having to make difficult decisions, need some political backing. Although it would not be official political backing, it would surely be helpful to them if we have some of the Assembly committees up and running and giving at least their views on the whole range of issues that we are discussing today. It cannot be difficult to achieve that. Members of the Legislative Assembly can do some constituency casework, but they are not able to function as proper politicians. That is awful, and the danger is that some of them will drift away with frustration, and then we will lose the core of what we want to re-establish when direct rule is there. It is not just a matter of saying that it would be a nice thing to do; it is urgent that we do it, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for all that he will say about that later today.
I will mention some specific issues. I always make a plea about child refugees. People in Northern Ireland would welcome child refugees—I was encouraged by the response I got when I mentioned this at the British-Irish Association get-together in Cambridge between Friday and Sunday—and they are frustrated that there is no way in which the willingness of local people in Northern Ireland to accommodate child refugees can be brought into effect. I know that the Minister is probably fed up with my mentioning it so often, but we have to do something about it. I hope that if we talk enough about it, word will get through to the civil servants and others to move forward.
I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, on trafficking. Trafficking is of course partly linked to refugees, although not entirely, but it is a serious issue and we cannot do enough to tackle it and support its victims.
I also make a plea that if we had a functioning Executive, maybe we could also get more impetus behind integrated education, which I believe is still an important feature of education in Northern Ireland, but too small a feature. I would like to see more of it happen.
I am chair of a committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and we have been studying abortion, taking evidence in Liverpool, London, Belfast and Dublin. It is very detailed evidence from a range of opinions, on all sides of the argument. We would have published our report some time ago but the DUP member of the committee—a very effective member—said that he did not agree with its thrust, so we said that we would hold it and give the DUP time to give us a statement of its position. I hope we can then incorporate that into the report, which will go public at the next plenary. That will come too late for this debate, but it is right that we should give the DUP a full chance to state its views, even though the majority of committee members took a different view.
Noble Lords from the DUP have said that, under changes being made to abortion practice in Northern Ireland, there is no time limit. I am not aware of that and I would certainly be very unhappy if that was the case. We have a time limit in Britain and there is a time limit in Dublin. Surely, we cannot proceed without some form of sensible limit for any practice in Northern Ireland.
Finally, I welcome what my noble friend Lord Hain has been doing about the victims of crime and the stand he has taken on that very important issue. In my last few moments I shall repeat my plea to the Minister: can we make progress on bringing back something of the political system in Northern Ireland? If we had an independent facilitator, we could bring the parties together. Senator George Mitchell did that brilliantly. Without his skill and adroit handling of the political parties, we would not have got to where we are. It is still one of the great success stories of United Kingdom politics over the past half century or longer. We need to make progress, so let us use the elected Members of the Assembly in order that they can play a part and have their views put forward and listened to in order to influence other debates.
My Lords, I will focus my remarks solely on the issues of legacy, which have already been touched on, as well as on the issue of the proper treatment of the victims of the Troubles. These matters have been central to our discussion, and I want to focus on one of the key phrases of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. He said that people had become victims “through no fault of their own”. In my opinion, that phrase contains the possible key to unlocking the great mess of meanings around this subject. It is an enormously complicated one and the Government have struggled with it for reasons that everyone understands. However, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in this debate, along with all his other interventions in this House on the subject, was very valuable indeed.
I turn to the very important maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Caine. I can do nothing but pay tribute to the noble Lord for the role that he has played in the Northern Ireland Office. I can say quite simply that the noble Lord has made a major contribution to the stability of Northern Ireland—I am absolutely sure of that. His sense of balance, his affection for the place and his respect for both traditions has had the effect of ensuring that the advice he has given, some of it on extremely poisonous issues, has always been driven by a concern for the stability of and the maintenance of peace in Northern Ireland. Those of us who live there owe him a great debt.
The other thing I am pleased about is that the noble Lord’s speech indicated that he is going to be bringing new ideas to this House. He talked about his discussions with the Attorney-General on the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. He uttered another key phrase which should be heard alongside that of the noble Lord, Lord Hain: “reasonable self-defence”. Again, that is a phrase which could unlock this poisonous debate.
When the noble Lord, Lord Caine, referred to his concerns about the disproportionate nature of our inquiry culture, you have to understand what disproportionate means in this context. During the long years of the Troubles, I think that the police killed some 54 people. Many of those cases were uncontroversial and in some instances they were accidents, such as the killing of other policemen who were carrying heavy weapons. However, some other incidents were highly controversial. Against that minority of cases, more than 300 policemen were murdered during the Troubles, which means that they were six times more likely to be killed than to kill. However, the exact opposite is the case with the paramilitary groups. Republicans, who carried out the lion’s share of the killings, were several times more likely—something in the regions of four times more likely although it depends on which faction of republicans you want to talk about—to kill than be killed.
Let us think about the number of inquiries we have had in recent years and what the focus has been on. Some of them have been entirely justified. The noble Lord, Lord Caine, referred proudly to his work helping David Cameron draw up his address to the Bloody Sunday tribunal, which was a very important moment. I was one of the historical advisers to that tribunal and I am perfectly proud of that. However, we have an inquiry culture that bears no relation to the main facts of violence during the conflict.
Therefore, it is important that in the report that has been placed before the House today—I think it is on page 18—the Secretary of State undertakes to carry on a dialogue with stakeholders and Members of Parliament. I certainly hope that one of the stakeholders will be the Attorney-General of Northern Ireland, who has always put forward very interesting and thought-provoking ideas in this area.
When the House of Lords debated this subject some months ago, we were more or less of one mind that we must find a way of drawing a line under this. It might be a painful way and it cannot be one-sided but I see little sense that the Northern Ireland Office really registered that. I also believe that would be the view if there was a free vote in the House of Commons. Debates show that there is a hunger to find a way to draw a line under this.
It is also very important that the UK Parliament’s view is heard because ultimately the Government of the United Kingdom pay for the maintenance of this culture, not just financially but in living with the emotional effects of constantly replaying the Troubles in Northern Ireland. There is no question that 20 years after their formal end, the Troubles live on in the discourse of the community in a way that the Second World War did not live on in the discourse of London, for example—although, of course, people did talk about it from time to time.
To conclude on a slightly happier note, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned the representation of the communities and the political traditions of Northern Ireland in this House and how that could always be broadened. As chair of the House of Lords Appointments Committee, I have been thinking about this for some time, along with my committee and I have got the message.
My Lords, I am sure that we all delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Bew, has got the message and we hope to see the results of this in due course.
I add my brief congratulations to my noble friend Lord Caine for a wise, perceptive and thoughtful speech, indicative, I am sure, of many that he will give in your Lordships’ House—not just on Northern Ireland—in the years to come. My only regret is that he had three years of, I think, unnecessary purdah. He has been—the noble Lord, Lord Empey, referred to this—a wonderful demonstration of a prudent adviser. I sometimes wish that I could whip up the money to buy two tickets on Richard Branson’s spaceship and give one to Mr Cummings and one to Mr Seamus Milne.
We are talking about a very serious subject tonight and I am delighted and grateful that my noble friend Lord Duncan has introduced these reports. Every word of them underlines the shameful situation of not having an operating Assembly and Executive. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is obviously a mind reader because I wish to stress this yet again. As I indicated in an earlier debate, I am ashamed of the fact that we are going into Prorogation later today. I think it is shameful. However, even out of the most shameful situations, good can be rescued, and I say to my noble friend Lord Duncan that he will not be required to come to Parliament. I ask him, please, with his colleagues, to devote all his time over the next four or five weeks to trying to bring people in Northern Ireland together; to set up a scheme whereby the Assembly can be summoned; to create a system in which committees can meet; and, above all, with the Secretary of State to choose a moderator and mediator who can bring the parties together.
However honest and good the intentions of the Government—in respect of my noble friend Lord Duncan they are exemplary—the fact is that it is perceived that the Government are on the side of one particular party in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that they are behaving in a partisan way but that is the perception, and perceptions are important. Therefore, it is crucial that during these coming weeks we do not waste time but get on with trying to ensure that the parties are brought together so that by the end of the year at the latest, and before the third anniversary, we have an operating Executive and an Assembly that meets.
In the preceding debate, the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, talked about the inexorable drift towards direct rule. It would be a condemnation of us all if that were the result. I was in Northern Ireland at the start of the remarkable partnership of Ian Paisley—the late Lord Bannside—and the late Martin McGuinness. That was the stuff of which political miracles are made. I well remember many conversations with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who is justifiably held in the highest repute in Northern Ireland. He and Denis Bradley conducted their inquiries and we discussed them, and many of us felt that we really were on the way to the consummation of a remarkable transformation.
Then, we had the sad and unfortunate events at the beginning of 2016, since when there has been no real progress at all. My noble friend Lord Duncan has had to come to the House time and again, going through the mantra, “The parties are going to come together” and “We’re doing our best”. Of course he has done his best, but it has not yet worked and it is crucial that it does work.
We are in the middle of a great national crisis—one in which Northern Ireland is the most vulnerable part of our United Kingdom. I had thought that the whole Brexit scene would be transformed had we had an operating Assembly and Executive. Therefore, I say to my noble friend: please try to get people together during the next few weeks so that, as we move towards what I hope is a deal—no deal would be particularly catastrophic for Northern Ireland—we have an operating Assembly and Executive that are ready to come in from the wings to play their part in the crucial governance of a beautiful part of our United Kingdom but one that could so easily be lost, as could Scotland, from the country that we all love.
My Lords, I welcome the maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Caine. I am sure that your Lordships’ House will benefit greatly from his wisdom and expertise. Because of the time limit, I will confine my remarks mainly to the gambling report.
If we are to have a sensible and informed discussion about gambling in Northern Ireland, we have to recognise a very important fact from the outset. Northern Ireland has a significantly higher problem gambling prevalence rate than the rest of the United Kingdom. At 2.3%, it is more than four times that of England, where the problem gambling prevalence figure at the time of the survey in Northern Ireland was 0.5%. It is three times that of Scotland and more than twice that of Wales. This means that there are in the region of 30,000 to 40,000 problem gamblers in Northern Ireland, which means that the current shortfalls in our law and funding arrangements really matter.
As the report before us today recognises, the last dedicated piece of gambling legislation for Northern Ireland was passed in 1985. In this context, I have three main areas of concern. In the first instance, while the maximum stake on a fixed-odds betting terminal in Great Britain was set at £2 per spin on 1 April this year, no such legislation was introduced in Northern Ireland. I applaud the fact that some industry providers—Ladbrokes, William Hill, Paddy Power, Betfair, Toals and McLeans—announced that they would voluntarily reduce the stake from £100 to £2 in Northern Ireland on 1 April. However, not every bookmaker operating in Northern Ireland has followed suit. Northern Ireland’s citizens should not have to rely on the good will of betting companies to determine the stake on FOBTs, nor should they be left in a situation where there is inconsistency as some betting shops voluntarily act responsibly while others do not. This is a recipe for confusion.
I turn to online gambling, a topic on which I was fortunate enough to secure a two and a half hour debate in your Lordships’ House in November 2017. As I said at the time, while a huge amount of concern had been expressed then about FOBTs, there had not been much specific focus on problem gambling in relation to the online space. Since then, I am pleased to say that there seems to have been an increased awareness regarding the dangers associated with online gambling. Unlike betting shops, online gambling is available 24/7 without the player having to leave their house. Not surprisingly, it is associated with a higher problem gambling prevalence figure than gambling per se.
My concern in this debate is that the last dedicated piece of Northern Ireland gambling legislation makes no reference to online gambling—on account of the fact that there was no internet in 1985. The only other statutory provision of which I am aware is found in the UK Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014, again acknowledged by today’s report. Section 5 of the 2014 Act makes it illegal for an online gambling provider to advertise in Northern Ireland unless it has received a licence from the Gambling Commission.
Courtesy of Section 5, are gambling operators who advertise legally in Northern Ireland required to provide all the responsible gambling protections to Northern Ireland gamblers that they are required to provide to gamblers in Great Britain under the commission’s licence conditions? These provisions include the need for age verification of anyone wanting to gamble, the requirement to promote self-exclusion, policies and procedures for customer interaction where an operator has concerns that a customer’s behaviour may indicate problem gambling, and prohibitions on advertising to individuals who have chosen to self-exclude.
In asking this question, I note that the Section 3(11) report before us today talks about industry groups “implementing social responsibility measures” and adhering to,
“industry codes of practice and protocols”,
to protect people who may be experiencing problem gambling. What is not clear from the report, however, is whether this action is taking place because some providers are voluntarily taking these steps or because all online providers to the Northern Ireland market are having to take this action as a requirement of a Gambling Commission remote operating licence brought to bear on online providers to Northern Ireland through Section 5, even while the remit of the commission is Great Britain and not the United Kingdom.
This, in turn, leads to another very important question for the Minister. If the answer is that the legal protections for online problem gamblers in Northern Ireland are the same as those for problem gamblers in Great Britain, courtesy of Section 5, can the Minister confirm that a problem gambler in Northern Ireland has the same recourse in law as a problem gambler in Great Britain if he or she feels that gambling operators have not afforded them their due protection under the terms of their Gambling Commission licence?
In 2014, the Government opposed the idea of statutory financial transaction blocking to prevent unlicensed gambling providers—be they based in Great Britain, Northern Ireland or a foreign jurisdiction—from accessing the GB market. Mindful of this, and given the demands of Section 5, I would be interested to know what level of resources the Gambling Commission invests in monitoring who accesses the Northern Ireland market and how many unlicensed online providers they have detected trying to access the Northern Ireland market illegally.
One aspect of player protection that I welcome, and which I know applies fully to Northern Ireland, is GamStop. During early 2014, I was very pleased to work with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, on an amendment to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill to introduce a multi-operator self-exclusion scheme for online gamblers. Although the Government would not accept the amendment, they agreed to ask the Gambling Commission to introduce such a scheme. GAMSTOP indeed had a soft launch last year and, as of last Friday, I understand that 97,000 people have used GAMSTOP to self-exclude themselves from online gambling. This service relates to the whole United Kingdom and thus to Northern Ireland, although it is not yet possible to disaggregate the figures to know how many of the 97,000 are from Northern Ireland.
Can the Minister inform the House of the total financial contribution by the gambling industry to help problem gamblers in Northern Ireland? This leads me to the fact that, in a Great Britain context, five of the biggest gambling companies have just committed to giving £100 million over a four-year period to funding treatment and support for problem gamblers. This is welcome news, but what about Northern Ireland, which has the highest problem gambling prevalence figures in the United Kingdom and needs investment to help problem gamblers the most?
My Lords, I regret the time limits on this debate. I had many more words to say but my time is up.
My Lords, I too would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Caine, on this splendid speech. The Northern Ireland Assembly was the first legislature in the UK to pass new legislation on human trafficking in 2015. That legislation was rather more comprehensive than the Modern Slavery Act here because it included the provision of support and assistance to victims.
I pay special tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, for the wonderful work he did in bringing his Private Member’s Bill through the Assembly. It is a fine example of how the Assembly can work effectively, leading the way within the UK.
In passing the human trafficking and exploitation Act, the Assembly had the foresight to include a discretionary power in Section 18(9) for the Department of Justice to continue providing support to victims after the NRM process was complete. Many of those who receive a short period of support become, when it concludes, destitute and homeless and are at very high risk of being re-trafficked. By providing discretionary support to those at risk in such circumstances, victims are able to rebuild their lives and avoid the heinous injustice of falling back into the hands of their evil traffickers.
The report published under Section 3(12) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 outlines the number of people who have been rewarded discretionary support over the past three years. It states that 16 victims have been awarded further support. According to figures from the national referral mechanism, 83 adult victims have been referred in Northern Ireland, and it is estimated that about 29 to 40 of those victims will have been granted a positive conclusive grounds decision. The report does not give much detail as to why these 16 individuals got further support, rather than the other victims who also received a conclusive grounds decision. Will the Minister tell us whether officials have guidance on how to make decisions about extending support? If so, would he kindly make copies available to noble Lords?
Noble Lords will be aware of the debate and developments over recent years regarding what support should be provided following a conclusive grounds decision. They will also know of my own efforts through my Private Member’s Bill to increase support available to victims in England and Wales. I introduced the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill partly to address the gap in the Modern Slavery Act, which did not include clear protection for victims. It was especially designed to remedy the significant problems that victims face in England and Wales after being granted a positive conclusive grounds decision. This is because they have no legally guaranteed access to ongoing support or services.
We will rob victims of their recovery if we fail to help them on the road towards long-term rehabilitation. Unless we provide them with secure long-term support, guaranteed by law, we will create uncertainty, which makes it more likely that they will fall right back into the vulnerable state that made them a target for traffickers in the first place.
Supporting victims towards recovery is also central to a successful criminal justice response. We know that if we are going to see more successful investigations and convictions for these offences, we need to help victims feel safe and secure enough to tell police what they know, and even perhaps to give evidence in court. This is unlikely to be the case if they are destitute, homeless and prey to the evil traffickers yet again. This is a desperate and appalling situation, which must be put right forthwith.
My Bill proposes 12 months’ support for victims of modern slavery after a conclusive grounds decision, with leave to remain in the UK during that time. The University of Nottingham conducted a cost-benefit analysis of my Bill and found that it had the potential to save government money. A longer period of support would enable victims to get back into work, supporting themselves and contributing to the economy and the country through tax. Also, the cost of rescuing victims from crises such as homelessness and re-trafficking is high, and a longer period of support would reduce the scope for these situations.
The discretionary power in the excellent Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) is paving the way forward for longer-term help for victims. England and Wales must continue this progressive trend on victim support, and I believe my Bill not only catches Northern Ireland up, but goes rather further, so I hope the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, feels that, on victim support—if the Bill becomes law—Northern Ireland might seek to follow England and Wales.
In passing, I pay tribute to Theresa May, who took my Private Member’s anti-slavery Bill through the Commons. It has been such a great success not only in this country but in many other parts of the world. All credit to her.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Caine, on his maiden speech. I wish him well in his work here in the House.
Much has been said today about the return of devolution to Northern Ireland. Yes, it is essential that devolved government returns in Northern Ireland sooner rather than later. I suggest that that will not be an easy task but I hope that all the parties have entered into the talks process in good faith and that they continue to work to see Stormont back up and working. This was certainly the objective with which we, the Democratic Unionist Party, entered into the talks: to see the success of the talks. We said as a party that whatever agreement came out of the talks must be fair and balanced and command broad support and agreement across the communities in Northern Ireland.
The political vacuum cannot be allowed to continue. Dissident republicans are now targeting police officers on a nightly basis. Just last night we had a pipe bomb in Strabane. There are daily instances of bombs being made by dissident republicans. The worry in Northern Ireland is that someone else will fill the vacuum if we cannot get the institutions up and running. There is no doubt about that. Do we really want to bring another generation in Northern Ireland through what we all went through? I think not, so the stakes are high for getting the Assembly up and running.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, talked about health. I shall say a few words about education. Education in Northern Ireland is in a mess. You have only to speak to teachers, and to school principals in particular. The budgets are under terrible pressure. When it comes to the impact of the funding crisis in the classroom, principals, governors and parents continually bend over backwards to make sure that the cuts do not impact on the children, but it is only a matter of time.
The noble Lord spoke of our health service and the waiting list that grows continually for appointments for routine surgery, with people waiting for two years or more in agony awaiting hip replacements. We see projects that are shovel-ready in Northern Ireland, with the funding in place, that are not able to begin because there are no Ministers in place. That is right across the Province, where a number of major projects could get the go-ahead in the morning if we had Ministers in place in the Assembly.
I want to address the question of the sustainability of the Assembly and the institutions. It is completely unfair for any party to be able to walk away from the institutions over a particular issue and say, “We’re not going back into government”, and the whole house of cards comes down around us. If the Assembly ever gets back, and I hope it does, then we need to bring sustainability to the institutions and the Assembly itself.
I turn to the expansion of Ulster University and especially of the Magee campus in Londonderry. There have been proposals for a scaled expansion of the university at Magee to raise the student numbers to 9,000 from the current number of around 4,000. The problem has been the business case. We are looking at funding of around £300 million over a period of time to do what needs to be done. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, when he was a Minister, raised the issue, as did previous Ministers, of how the expansion of Magee at the University of Ulster could be resolved. There is some talk of trying to get this issue into the city deal. I see it is very much part of the city deal, and £105 million has already been announced for that deal within the city. However, it is sitting there at the moment. It is going nowhere. Once again, we need a Minister and to have an Executive up and running to push the whole thing forward. There is great talk about an independent university in Londonderry. This has been floated since 2012-13, but no firm proposals have come forward.
I want to speak very quickly about a medical school for the city. In 2016, following cross-party political support, the university continued to develop the project, working closely with the department and all relevant parties. Ulster University’s proposal is designed to address the current health crisis and future-proof care positions across Northern Ireland. The graduate entry medical school business case was submitted to the Department of Health at the start of July, following close engagement with the department and all relevant partners. The proposed first academic year of enrolments outlined in the updated business case is 2020-21. The department has worked with Ulster University on the completion of the business case, so the whole issue of the medical school has moved forward. However, once again, we are in limbo because we have no Minister to give direction on the funding. The funding is very important to move the whole project on.
I will finish by saying that we must not have a repeat in future of what we have had over the past few years, so that never again can one single party hold Northern Ireland to ransom and leave us without a Government. We need to see the institutions restored in a sustainable way. I believe that with good will and good work that can happen.
My Lords, I would like to express my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Caine, on his very fine maiden speech.
During the passage of the Bill that led to this Act, I asked what abortion law would look like in Northern Ireland after the passing of the Act. I asked whether it would be the European norm of 12 weeks or follow the Abortion Act 1967 which allows abortion up to 24 weeks and abortion of people with a disability right up to birth. That Bill passed 50 years ago and has no cognisance of modern obstetric knowledge and practice. Two months later, I am no clearer; nor it appears is the Northern Ireland Office, since it says that,
“much further work is required”.
We do know that if the Executive does not re-form by 21 October—I sincerely hope that it does—the legal framework will disappear. Six weeks tomorrow, there will be no regulation of abortion in Northern Ireland up to the point of viability. The presumption, which is rebuttable in law, is that viability occurs at 28 weeks. We will be back to the position we were in in the mid-19th century before the Offences against the Person Act 1861. I do not know how the Government got themselves into this position. They had agreed that matters would be dealt with only by or with the consent of the devolved Assembly. We have an Assembly, even if we do not have an Executive, and the Members of the Legislative Assembly were not consulted at all.
The careful planning which normally applies and which is being done for the organ donation Act, for example, has not applied to this, so I have further questions for the Minister. When will details of the new law be available for consultation? Will your Lordships’ House be consulted or has Parliament written a blank cheque for abortion in Northern Ireland? How will the Government seek the views of the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives? It will not be enough to consult only the medical profession or its professional bodies. Have the Government started to consult the medical profession? If so, when did that consultation start and with whom is it occurring? Can the Minister confirm that, in the interim period, subject to the provision about viability, it will be possible to abort a baby up to 28 weeks for any reason whatever, including if the baby is the “wrong” sex or has a minor disability? Is the guidance or consultative paper in draft form now? If so, will he place it in the Library so that we can consider it? If it is not in draft form, can it be placed in the Library as soon as it is ready?
There was no human rights deficit before this Act, but the passing of the Act will mean that in terms of the Istanbul convention, Northern Ireland will become less compliant in human rights terms. Therefore, the UK as a whole will be failing in its obligations under the Istanbul convention to protect women against coercive abortion from 22 October. The Government cannot rely on the proposed domestic violence Bill to address this deficit in the current volatile political situation. It has been said that professional bodies will regulate the matter and ensure that services are provided only in a proper manner. Professional bodies regulate conduct, not the law. That is why the Act provides for regulations.
If such an arrangement involving a complete limbo of over five months were imposed on England and Wales, there would be an outcry. There is an outcry in Northern Ireland. The necessity for the regulation of abortion has been shown by repeated CQC inspection reports on abortion clinics showing failed abortions, emergency transfers to NHS hospitals, most recently in BPAS Merseyside, and failings in the safety of services. We need a regime of inspection regulation.
We cannot know how widely abortion services will be available from 22 October. Will the drugs to induce early abortion be made available from that date? Will patients have a right to demand such a prescription? Will doctors be able to refuse an immediate prescription if they do not want to prescribe? Will women be self-administering in the absence of medical help, with the attendant risks? How will medical professionals’ rights to freedom of conscience be provided for?
Your Lordships know that this Act undermines the devolution settlement. People in Northern Ireland feel very, very strongly about this. I was among the 20,000 who went to Stormont on Friday night to protest, as was the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and again on Saturday I was out in the centre of Belfast with the many thousands who demonstrated against this change, a change in which we have had no say and still do not know what it is really going to mean. The regulations required under Section 9 must, under Section 12, be agreed after they come into effect. The regulations cease to have effect after 28 days unless approved. But the 28 days takes no account of any time in which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or both Houses are adjourned for more than four days. We cannot predict what is going to happen in the days to come. If we go to an election, as seems highly likely, it could be months before we have any clarity, but we will have no regulation of abortion from 22 October.
The Northern Ireland parties must make their return to the Assembly a priority. Government must do more to facilitate proper talks. That we should still be in bilateral talks at this stage of the proceedings is quite distressing. At the end of the day, the parties could come back into Stormont, form an Executive and then walk away again. The Act could not then come into effect. I say to Sinn Féin and the DUP that this is what they should do at the very least to remedy this unprecedented democratic deficit. In the interim, if that does not happen, there should be no limbo period at all. Government have the responsibility in this matter, having assumed it by enabling the Act. Government should pass emergency legislation to remove the limbo period, bringing the legislation into effect only after the regulations are passed or Stormont meets again. The UK would then be compliant with its Istanbul convention obligations. We need emergency legislation to cover the period from 22 October and we need any new regulations to be the subject of consultation with our MLAs so that there is some respect for the democratic rights of the ordinary people of Northern Ireland.
I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Caine, on an excellent speech and on the passion he shows in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. When Sinn Féin MLAs brought the Executive down they did so under the disguise that they had a concern about the RHI scheme. I have an abiding concern about the financial viability of many of our farmers and those who participated in this scheme in good faith, yet they are being penalised with terms and tariffs different from the mainland or those that will be enjoyed by people in the Irish Republic. That must be rectified with extreme urgency, but it is not mentioned in any of the reports we are debating.
I agree with the report pursuant to Section 3(1) that there is considerable frustration in Northern Ireland at the ongoing absence of an Executive and a large number of pressing public policy issues have gone unresolved because of that. In fact, in Northern Ireland one in 16 people are on waiting lists for a year. In England it is one in 48,524, meaning that you are 3,000 times more likely to wait over a year for treatment than in our counterparts in the rest of the kingdom. If Sinn Féin is unwilling to let the Executive be restored, then the people of Northern Ireland must be governed.
On the issue of victims’ payments, without a proper system in place in many instances families are still being denied the justice they deserve. However, there can be no equivalence between the bomber and the innocent victim. The definition of a victim must be changed; it is immoral. According to the dictionary definition, a victim is someone who has been hurt, damaged or killed or has suffered because of the actions of someone else. Those who deliberately set out to murder and those innocents who were injured or slain as a result of terrorist actions cannot be looked on as the same. To equate those who are direct victims of terrorism to those who are injured as a result of their own actions while perpetrating atrocities is insulting. We are seeking a new United Kingdom-wide definition that would exclude terrorists injured in their actions.
On 22 July, the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds raised the lack of confidence in the victims’ commissioner during Questions in the other place. On 24 July the Belfast South MP Emma Little-Pengelly wrote to the commissioner to explain the loss of confidence among victims, urging her to change course. Although the commissioner operated under a definition, this does not mean that she cannot recommend legislative change. This is particularly the case for the special pension proposed, which would require new legislative criteria. The fact that she has not done so has disappointed and dismayed many innocent victims. The Government need to work for healing among victims, rather than causing further hurt.
Without apology, the DUP has consistently advocated a strong pro-life position. Abortion is one issue where I believe alliances have developed across the main traditions in the community and the political parties. The extension of the 1967 Act has been opposed by many in all the main parties. The sheer scale of protests in Northern Ireland at the weekend shows the strength of feeling, and research by the Both Lives Matter campaign indicated that at least 100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland today who would not be alive if the 1967 Act had been extended to Northern Ireland. The drastic approach envisaged in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act would be unacceptable for Northern Ireland and leave no effective legal framework in place. Northern Ireland’s existing position has been considered down the years to offer an appropriate balance and it should be for the elected representatives in Northern Ireland, representing the electorate who voted for them, to decide this vital issue of life and death.
Another issue of considerable concern is the understandable frustration among those long-suffering victims of historical abuse. Sir Anthony Hart’s report put forward recommendations for financial recognition of the horrible crimes perpetrated against some of the most fragile and helpless young people in our society. Delay is a shame and a disgrace, and only serves to heighten the injustice against them. A lack of devolution has been a barrier to this matter being progressed. In the absence of devolution, the Government have a moral duty to meet their financial commitment, but ultimately the institutions that closed their eyes to the abuse must be prepared to make their contribution to this compensation, as has happened elsewhere.
Justice demands that we address the vitally important issue of the military covenant and the treatment of our armed forces veterans. A significant proportion of veterans who served on Operation Banner currently reside in Northern Ireland. In addition, armed forces personnel from Northern Ireland have been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries. The armed forces covenant is not about giving preferential treatment. It is a commitment of care to the servicemen and women who gave so much for our nation. It ensures that those who have served us do not suffer disadvantage by virtue of their service when it comes to provision of housing, education and healthcare.
In Northern Ireland, the covenant does not apply fully; it does elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It is a sad reality that veterans in Northern Ireland are disadvantaged at present by virtue of their service. We have the opportunity, here and in the other place, to reflect on this situation and do something about the rights of veterans in Northern Ireland. I hope the Minister agrees that a clear legislative underpinning of the military covenant throughout the nation would be a logical and sensible step.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Caine. I knew him first when he was at the Northern Ireland office in Washington, and he was most helpful to me in my early days as a Member of Parliament.
I am grateful to be able to intervene in the gap. When I had this fistful of papers thrust upon me at the end of last week, I had thought to ignore what is little more than an egotistical NIO exercise with little historical reality or future prospects. What I say is no reflection on the Minister, who has always sought to be helpful to me, but it has not gone unnoticed that at a time when both the Commons, and to some considerable degree, this House, has abandoned any responsibility to reflect the democratic will of the electorate, we are experiencing this egocentric Northern Ireland exercise, which has little historical reality and few concrete prospects. I ask the Minister: has the long-promised retrievable heat initiative independent assessor, promised some considerable time ago in this House, been appointed yet?
On 10 July, I had to reveal the scandal relating to Lee Hegarty and his £10,000 buy off for being offended by a portrait of Her Majesty. Mr Hegarty having been at the NIO in London for several years before being offended in Northern Ireland is unimportant; the then Secretary of State, on the advice of the manipulative current head of the Northern Ireland Office, Sir Jonathan Stephens, authorised a below-the-counter payment. Is his ill judgment to go unpunished for its deviousness? In respect of appointment functions that are mentioned in the papers that we have received, is that biased individual to exercise his current role? Is he to have the privilege of endorsing his placemen? Impartiality, my Lords—I ask you. Can anyone tell me why no has sought to tell us from where this £10,000 under-the-counter payment was extracted? That cannot be answered by this irrelevant mish-mash.
Left as we have been without any tangible support in Northern Ireland, I have to ask in the face of this: are we still considered to be a meaningful part of the United Kingdom? Since Northern Ireland has been neglected by three successive Secretaries of State and by two past Prime Ministers, I cannot accept that this nonsense we are debating is anything other than a trivial and dangerous bluff. If I were a Shinner—a Sinn Féiner—I would never get myself back to the Northern Ireland Assembly and, given their continuous buy-off, they will not. I caution this House that this has to stop. When are we to rid ourselves of this endemic treachery?
My Lords, it is a privilege to join the welcome and tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Caine, on his maiden speech. I have had occasion to see him at work in Stormont House in Belfast but, more important than that, to know something of the influence he has had over the years in that role. I too welcome him.
How much repetition can this House take when it comes to Northern Ireland? How much can we yearn for something new? We talk of the definition of a victim; we need a victims’ definition that covers the entire United Kingdom, in which the difference between self-inflicted wrong and innocent suffering is clearly defined. We need some recognition in Northern Ireland, and in the United Kingdom generally, of the evil in the ongoing hunt of veterans who gave so much during our Troubles; for it is the legacy of those years that still reaches out to my generation, which came through so much during them. That legacy will constantly dominate all discussions on Northern Ireland as long as we allow it to dictate how people view Northern Ireland.
It is for that reason that we must state that in the sense of victimhood, suffering, enduring and, above all, coming through the situation, everyone who lived in Northern Ireland suffered change in their lives because of the experience of the Troubles. I speak as one who has tried to serve Northern Ireland over the years in a pastoral capacity. It is when we come to recognise the special nature of victimhood—the sort of definition that Denis Bradley and I looked at all those years ago—and get to the truth of the element of what “victimhood” really means that we can clearly define the difference that society desperately needs.
The people who the reports we are considering address tonight are utterly disillusioned by the failure of the body politic. They see it in terms of their local Assembly; they are also asking questions about the nature of devolution and about who cares. So often when they look to the mother of Parliaments, they do not get a clear answer. For that reason, in my limited contribution tonight, may I simply make the plea again for realism towards what is happening in Northern Ireland, as Brexit comes down the track on to a part of the United Kingdom which will feel the full force of Brexit without an agreement?
My Lords, I add my comments to all the others about my noble friend Lord Caine’s maiden speech. In the interest of brevity, I hope he will accept the mere word, “congratulations”. Much of the debate this evening has been, quite rightly, about problems. However, when I last spoke in this House we passed the legislation on same-sex marriage. On the first weekend in August I had the pleasure of marching, in my rugby club colours, with the Taoiseach at the head of Belfast’s Pride march, with literally tens of thousands of people on the streets. For somebody who had not been to Belfast for a number of years, it was a truly joyous occasion. The city has changed and its attitudes are also, in some ways, changing.
Since then I have had the opportunity of meeting, with other people, the Minister and the Minister in the Commons to talk about the implementation of same-sex marriage legislation. I have three questions to put on the record. I know the Minister will answer these in writing at a later stage; he does not need to comment. First, will he identify the steps being taken to ensure that the deadline of 13 January for the regulations to come into effect is met? Secondly, will he identify the timeline and nature of any consultation on regulations to allow same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland from 13 January? Thirdly, what advice can the Minister give to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland who are planning a wedding in the new year? When I spoke at Queen’s University prior to the march, a number of couples were genuinely celebrating the achievement of this legislation.
In conclusion, I refer to a comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, when she intervened in a speech I was making. She said that she hoped she would be invited to my rugby club’s next party. Since then, as the noble Baroness knows, the RFU gave my club its national team of the year award at its annual dinner some 10 days ago. I guarantee that when we celebrate—some of the members are still celebrating from two Thursdays ago—the noble Baroness will be invited.
My Lords, what better way is there to get towards the end of the debate than with such an invitation? I gladly accept it.
We are grateful to the Minister for his introduction to this debate and to the earlier SI. He is always candid and honest with your Lordships’ House. We understand the frustration he feels in negotiations. We have perhaps not made as much progress as he would like. Speaking of frustration, it is worth placing on record that the only reason we are here is that there is no sitting Assembly and Executive to take the decisions we would all prefer they took. As my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lord Hain—former direct-rule Ministers in Northern Ireland—said, we are 100% committed and will work towards the end of getting the Assembly up and running and local Ministers in place.
I understand from the comments of our colleagues in the DUP that they share that objective, but if the other side of the community were represented here, they would probably lay the blame on the DUP in the same way that the DUP lays all the blame on Sinn Féin. It is only when both sides come together, saying that they need to work together and taking a step back to find the way forward, that we can get to the position we need to be in. It is wrong to apportion all the blame to one side or the other. That is certainly not the role of this House. We—and the Government—want to see discussions taking place that lead to genuine progress for the people of Northern Ireland.
The frustrations are also felt by the Civil Service, which is having to implement and act on decisions that it would rather Ministers were taking. They want ministerial guidance throughout their work. Talking to friends who work in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, it is a frustration for them that they have no Ministers to guide the work they do.
I take issue with just one comment the Minister made, which I rarely do, I have to say. He said he would be happy to update your Lordships’ House in the coming weeks. I am sure he would be happy to, but his Prime Minister is going to prevent him doing so when the House prorogues for five very long weeks later today.
It is right to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Caine, and what was a thoughtful speech that showed both his expertise and his commitment. I wish other advisers in government had the self-discipline he displayed, even though he described the frustrations he felt over the past few years at not being able to speak. I am pleased that he now can, and I hope we will hear more from him, not just on this issue, where he adds value, but on other issues; we will welcome the contribution he has to make.
What we have in these reports is a compilation of issues that have not been dealt with because of the absence of devolved government. There are issues that need urgent action. We have heard about a whole range tonight: out-of-date gambling legislation; lack of medical staff and problems in the health service; sustainable funding for higher education; through to those critical issues affecting victims. Of course, we have heard many other contributions on the issues relating to abortion. I would be very interested in the Minister’s response to the comments of my noble friend Lord Dubs—which he has made many times before—about a facilitator engaging in the discussions to help them along. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, also raised this issue. I know the Minister does his best, but he will also know that I have been quite critical of the Government at this Dispatch Box for a number of years for not engaging more. I think we are in a better place than we were, but I think a facilitator would be very helpful.
I was the Victims Minister for about two years in Northern Ireland and I was deeply affected by those I spoke to and engaged with and the stories they had to tell me. It is all very well for us to sit here and talk, but the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, made the point that unless you have actually lived through that time it is very hard to understand the depth of the impact it has on individuals. The cost of failing to have an Assembly to deal with such issues constitutes a very high price for victims and their families; they are the ones who will pay for any further delays. I welcome the Minister’s comments tonight and I am sure my noble friend Lord Hain, who has pushed so very hard on the issue of pensions, with other noble Lords, will also welcome them. I hope the Minister will say a little more about the progress made; any timescales would be helpful.
On the question of victims, I was disappointed not to see in the reports an issue I have raised with the Minister before, and I am sure he anticipated my raising it: the hyponatraemia report I commissioned some 18 years ago. It took many years to finalise and the families whose children died still feel very aggrieved that the recommendations in the report have not been implemented because political decisions are required. It is worth reflecting on that as an example. In how many areas are the lives of ordinary members of the public in Northern Ireland impacted by the failure to have an Assembly? Although that was not mentioned, can he say something about it? Perhaps he could write to me, but I think we owe it to those families to say that we care about this issue and it will not be forgotten.
The key issue in all this is the gap in governance in Northern Ireland, in the face of what we regard as an irresponsible Prorogation. I will not be taking part in any Prorogation service this evening. Exit day is upcoming and as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and others have said, the risk of no deal to Northern Ireland will be felt acutely. My noble friend Lord Hain mentioned this as well: the impact of no deal on Northern Ireland would be huge and I hope that the Minister’s colleagues in the House of Commons will not help to facilitate that by supporting Boris Johnson in pursuing it.
The outgoing Secretary of State for Work and Pensions told some truths on behalf of the Prime Minister this weekend. She commented that there is an absence of work going on under his leadership to actually try to get a deal. She estimated that 80% to 90% of government action is preparing for a no-deal Brexit. Surely, 80% to 90% of government action should be preparing for getting a deal and avoiding no deal. There is now immense time pressure, and it would be useful if the Prime Minister were to show his commitment to the future of Northern Ireland. That time could be more wisely used to avoid a damaging no-deal Brexit.
We have already heard today my noble friend Lord Murphy refer to the resignation watch that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is being placed under; such are his concerns about a no-deal Brexit for Northern Ireland—he feels it is so grave—that other members of the Government are concerned about him.
The thread that runs through these reports, and which has been raised today, is the need to restore devolved government. The reports talk about the need for renewed determination and “intensive engagement.” What does that intensive engagement actually look like? What engagement does the Minister expect to take place during Prorogation? If that is a hiatus in any discussions taking place, we are allowing Northern Ireland to hurtle towards an unmitigated disaster. Who will be involved? Can he say anything today about considerations for an external facilitator? I assure him that this side of the House will fully co-operate with him in helping to identify and support the role of such a facilitator.
I turn to a couple of other issues. One is the unanimous support of all Northern Ireland parties for compensation for victims of historical abuse. I welcome that support; a lot of work has been undertaken. We understand the Secretary of State will bring forward legislation at “the earliest possible opportunity”. Can the Minister confirm tonight that that means the legislation will be in the Queen’s Speech? There are five more weeks to work on it—quite a long time—and I hope he can confirm that, or at least say that it has not been ruled out, because it is very important.
There are a number of issues in respect of which Parliament set a deadline that action must be taken if an Executive were not in place by 21 October. These include victims’ payments, which the Minister has said something about, same-sex marriage and abortion provision. I must say I was slightly concerned when noble Lords said that there was no human rights deficit prior to this. Yes, there was, and it has been identified. I will not rehearse the long arguments we had in Committee and on Report, but the fact remains that in Northern Ireland a woman who has had an abortion, having been the victim of a violent rape, faces a greater penalty than the rapist. That can never be acceptable. We have to consider this; if that is not abuse of human rights, it is hard to identify what is. I know the Minister took those comments on board at the time but, in the light of Prorogation, we need an assurance from him that these issues are not on the back-burner and will be actively progressed. The fact that this House is not sitting does not mean that Ministers will not be doing the work they need to do to ensure that these issues are addressed.
My Lords, it has been, as is often the case, quite an odyssey this evening. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has mentioned, in these debates you tend to mention not just anything but everything.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Caine, who gave his maiden speech this evening. I have been privileged to have his forthright advice on a number of occasions; he has always been very clear when I am wrong and when I am right. I have always appreciated his candour and I know the House will appreciate it as well. He has forgotten more about Northern Ireland than some of us will ever know, and we will all benefit from his wise words, careful counsel and forthright language. I know, from listening to his maiden speech, that his father would be immeasurably proud. I will respond directly to the point he raised on the legacy issue; he raises interesting points regarding how we might define them, and I will look at them with some great care. We need to do that, there is merit in doing so, and I will arrange a time to sit with him when we may raise a glass and talk further about that to see what resolution we can reach.
I will try my best in the time available to address all the issues as best I can, in sequential order. I will begin with the concept of victims’ pensions; the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has been assiduous on this matter. The clear issue must be that no payments will be made to anyone who is injured by their own hand. That is a cast-iron statement; I have made it before and will make it again. I am happy to emphasise that; this is not for terrorists to claim funds but for those who have been seriously injured to ensure that they are able to secure recompense for the remainder of their lives. I hope that that money does some good and that it arrives as quickly as possible. My team is working actively to meet the timescale. The noble Lord and others will be aware that we have to arrange a number of elements of this to make sure that it is fair and transparent. However, we will do so, and it will be done within the timescale—that is a necessary element.
I know that a number of noble Lords have been concerned about the definition of a victim; that is a broader question than the question before us on victims’ pensions. I do not want to be drawn too much on that; I know that in answering questions the victims’ commissioner herself has made reference to her original terms of reference, which are on a broader base than we are talking about here. However, the broader question of a victims’ definition needs to be addressed not just in Northern Ireland but across the United Kingdom, and with some haste, because it has been too long. I would like to see that moving forward as quickly as I can make it so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked a series of questions—I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, who has been helpful in all matters regarding Northern Ireland. They were primarily around the restoration of an Executive, and some of them touched on the questions raised at the very end by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, on what happens during a period of Prorogation. Several things must happen. The first is that we are not on leave. The whole point of this is that the Secretary of State will now be doubling and trebling those efforts; he will have more time away from the other place to do that. At that point, there needs to be an intensification of that engagement. At present, we have been seeking to do so on the basis of a series of round-table discussions, each tasked with certain elements. Progress has been made, as I said before in my remarks in the earlier speech. Many of these are around issues of transparency and the coming together of some of the institutional elements. We are still stumbling—there is no point denying it—on the question of culture and identity as these parts fit together. I just cannot believe that we cannot solve that. That is why I believe that my right honourable friend in the other place will do everything he can during this period of Prorogation, and with the support of every Member of this House.
It is important again to recognise that moving this forward with intensity will require a greater effort from the other parties as well. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, was right to remind me that we have not had a five-party meeting since that period in August; we need to see that five-party gathering again, and there needs to be an intensification to deliver that. As I said on previous occasions today and in the past, there has never been a greater need than now to have the voice of Northern Ireland recognised throughout.
I will delve straight into the question of abortion, which a number of noble Lords raised. There are several things to put into context. If an Executive are restored, that will be a matter for that restored Executive. If that Executive are not restored, then on 22 October we will move into a period during which there will be the various elements necessary to deliver a new regime for abortion in Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, raised a number of points on some detailed questions, which I noted down and which I will go through. Until we reach 22 October, we cannot publish any documents, because at present we have to assume that we can restore the Executive. After we have reached that point, all documents will be produced and lodged in the Library, and noble Lords will have access to those. There will be no attempt to try to cover them up—they will be entirely transparent.
Again, it is our intention to focus primarily on consultation with professional bodies to ensure that we are aware of the reservations and concerns as well as to ensure that we learn from their experience. That will not just be professional bodies in Northern Ireland but also those which have gone through the system elsewhere in Scotland, England and Wales. We will draw on that knowledge to ensure that we have that information available as we go forward. Of course, the consultation will continue only after we have reached that point. As I have said, a consultative paper will be launched. It will be clearly put out and it will be transparent.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, raised the Istanbul convention, and I want to address that head on. The UK Government have signed that convention but they have not yet ratified it. This means that it has not yet been incorporated into domestic law. This is consistent with the dual approach that the UK takes in relation to international law. Further domestic legislative changes are required in order to be fully compliant with the commitments in the convention ahead of the UK’s ratification. These include some measures which the Government have brought forward in the domestic abuse Bill, including extending extra-territorial jurisdiction for the criminal courts in relation to violent and sexual offences. Therefore, no part of the United Kingdom will be bound by the Istanbul convention until we have completed the ratification process.
On the question of what will happen during the period after 22 October, any cases which are in the courts will fall. I am thinking of one particular case where the mother purchased the appropriate pills; that case will lapse. I believe that it was to happen half way through November, but it will not be taken forward. On the question of the responsibility of doctors during the period, one of the greater challenges facing this country is the purchase of drugs online. It is easy to purchase them and it is difficult to monitor. I do not doubt that there are methods that we as a Government need to consider how to address. At the moment, doctors themselves will be bound by what I would hope will be their code of ethics. That code should help to ensure that this is not a free-for-all going forward, and nor should it be. Moreover, that code of ethics needs a sound base. We also have to recognise that there is a morality clause within this. Those who feel that they are unable to move forward in this regard will not be compelled to do so and we will consult on how that clause is to work in Northern Ireland. It will necessarily draw on the experience elsewhere in England, Wales and Scotland. There will be no compulsion on any individual to be put into a situation where their faith or any other beliefs are in contradiction with the acts which they are expected to perform.
The issue that we are going to face thereafter will be a more challenging one. The noble Baroness said that this undermines the devolution settlement. Much of what we are doing right now unfortunately does indeed clearly undermine the settlement. It can be realised only when the devolved Assembly is working and the Executive are functioning. Until that happens, everything we do here undermines the devolved settlement. That is a sad admission to make, but it is true.
Perhaps I may continue by turning to some of the other points raised in the debate. I am always pleased to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. He raised the question of the responsiveness of those in Northern Ireland to child refugees. I think that we need to make some more progress on this, so I would suggest to the noble Lord that, if he will allow me, I will seek to broker meetings directly with those concerned in Northern Ireland and I will invite him to attend them. At present I cannot instruct that, but I will seek to reach out to the departments in Northern Ireland and, if I can, to local authorities as well. I want to get to the root of this issue. If there are individuals who are willing to participate, I want to know about that and I want to take this matter forward. If he will accept that, I think that we can make a little progress here.
The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, raised a number of issues on the Bill he took forward on human trafficking. It is an extraordinarily important Bill which has done good. He asked some very specific questions. Given the late hour, I hope that he will allow me to respond directly to those questions in writing and I will place the responses in the Library of the House so that all noble Lords can see them. I recognise the points he has made which are humanitarian in their endeavours and I want to make sure that I do not mislead the House in my responses to them. As I say, he will have a written reply as soon as my team can make that so.
I shall touch on a couple of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Empey. The first is his reference to the Magee campus. I hope that it will form a significant of the city deal. I believe that if we are in a situation where that can be delivered, I think that we can make some serious progress.
When looking at the question of historical institutional abuse, a matter raised by a number of noble Lords, I should say that we want to make progress by the end of the year. That is a commitment I made to the noble Baroness on the last occasion we talked about this issue. It seems like yesterday, but I imagine it must have been in July. I believe that we can make progress by the end of the year. While there are challenges tucked inside this issue and I do not want to mislead anyone about what they represent, but we will do all we can to move the matter forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, asked some questions in an area that I was less familiar with, which is that of gambling. He raised some very specific points. If the noble Lord will permit, I will write to him and lodge the answers to those questions in the House. We recognise—with the statistics that he quoted—that gambling in Northern Ireland being four times the English rate, three times the Scottish rate and twice the Welsh rate is extraordinary. I would like to get to the bottom of that and learn more. I may commission some research to find out if we can understand what on earth is going on in Northern Ireland. I commit to responding to each of the points that he raised during his intervention.
I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord McColl. He put forward the very specific question of whether officials have guidance on how to make decisions about extending support and whether I would be able to make copies of it available. As I previously advised, the provision was included in order to ensure a smooth transition for victims exiting DoJ-contracted support into longer-term arrangements. Therefore, it is exercised on a case-by-case basis, according to need. For example, we would continue to provide support to an individual under Section 18(9) where an appropriate exit plan is not in place. That is, for example, if accommodation had not been secured. In general, the support providers will work with potential victims from the point of referral into support to ensure that the appropriate arrangements are made for when they exit that support. This is why Section 18(9) has been used only in respect of a small number of cases where it has been identified as necessary and in the best interests of the victim to ensure the smooth transition to longer-term arrangements. I will be very happy to write to the noble Lord as well, confirming this information and expanding on it. I believe he deserves a fuller response than I have been able to give him this evening.
The noble Lord, Lord Hay, raised the issue of education and the noble Lord, Lord Empey, raised the matter of health. They both are in a sorry state in Northern Ireland. We know why that is and what has to be done to sort it out. There will, necessarily, be a Budget for Northern Ireland that will emerge soon after Prorogation but, as noble Lords will be aware, that is a trajectory budget based on the outgoing Executive and, frankly, it does no good in the areas that have been discussed. Therefore, I welcome the interventions and expect further discussion on this. We need to make sure that an incoming Executive are ready to take these matters forward. Should there not be an incoming Executive, responsible Ministers will take these education and health matters forward with the urgency I believe they require.
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, as ever, raised interesting points. On the RHI assessment, I have it written down somewhere. The Department for the Economy has recently updated the NIAC on progress relating to the hardship unit, including on the call for evidence, which ran from 17 June to 10 July 2019. The DfE has stated that it will move to appoint the independent chair as soon as possible. I will be held to that, so we need to make sure we get a date against it. A report providing an update on progress on the establishment of an RHI hardship unit will be published on or before 21 October 2019, in line with the requirement of Section 3(17) of the EF Act. The person in the Box needs to develop bigger handwriting because that was quite tricky.
The other issue that we need to touch on is the question of the £10,000 to the individual who was offended by the picture of the Queen. I will not comment on the details, but I might have thought that that money—even at this late stage—could be given to charity. That would be no bad thing.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, often brings us back to the point. There is disillusionment in Northern Ireland and I fully understand that. I understand why and he will as well. Politicians have let people down, both here and in Northern Ireland, and the people of Northern Ireland are no longer trusting of us. That will be manifest in many different ways as the years come and none of them will be good. That is why we need to get to the stage of intense discussions, which I spoke of before, from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
We have to intensify these talks, but they require all participants to be willing to take that next step. If we are being honest, they will have do so against a backdrop of Brexit. Sometimes politicians have to step up to challenges. They cannot simply wait for somebody else to pick up the dustpan and brush to sweep it all up and then get involved. They need to do it now. We know what is coming. We know how difficult it will be for Northern Ireland. They have got to recognise what has to be done. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the point that all need to participate in that endeavour.
My noble friend Lord Hayward raised the question of same-sex marriage. I will write to him on that. I was very pleased to hear that he marched alongside the Taoiseach in Belfast. I saw the photographs—he sent plenty of them to me, so there was no surprise there. We will meet the deadline. In order to do so, we will basically learn the lessons from the implementation of similar legislation in England and Wales, as well as in Scotland, and we will make sure that the consultation is done correctly all the way through. As for its timing, clearly, as I said, we cannot begin until 22 October, the reason being that that is when we are committed to carrying it out. However, we will do so and will make sure that the consultation, such as it will be, with each of the bodies, including on the morality or conscience clauses, is made available to all in this House and lodged in the Library.
My noble friend asked what the individuals in Northern Ireland who are preparing to get wed should do. The answer is: get ready for Valentine’s Day, because that is when they can do it. I can think of no better time than Valentine’s Day. I hope that that satisfies my noble friend. I will of course write to him confirming each of those elements.
I am getting there. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, is the last but by no means the least. I shall touch upon the hyponatraemia report. We need to get this sorted out, so I now make a commitment at the Dispatch Box that we will look at it again in greater detail to see what the problems are and whether we can move it forward. I suggest that at some point we sit on this matter over a cup of tea to see whether we can find a way forward. I think that that would be sensible and necessary.
The noble Baroness raised a number of points around the question of Prorogation. I can assure her that, as I said earlier, this is not a leave of absence. The Northern Ireland Office will be doubling or trebling its efforts to ensure that we can deliver that which we have committed to do. Importantly, we need to do so as transparently as possible, and I hope that the next series of reports that come along as part of the Bill will deliver on those items. I am not sure whether my right honourable friend is on resignation watch but I know that he will have a very busy time ahead, and I understand why.
As to the point about the external facilitator, as I said, the individual chairs of the break-out sessions are independent. We have not lost sight of that. I do not doubt that the fresh thinking that my right honourable friend brings to this will go some way towards exploring each of the elements that any potential solution is composed of.
As to whether the historical institutional abuse legislation will be in the Queen’s Speech, I bloody hope so, but I cannot commit to that. However, I can say that my right honourable friend has said that he will do all he can to ensure that it is there. I think that it should be there and that we should deliver against it.
I think that I have done it—we are now there. I thank noble Lords very much. I hope that these reports have been useful and that the next set will be as useful.