Lord Duncan of Springbank
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.