Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Scotland Office

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

Baroness Butler-Sloss Excerpts
Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 17th July 2019

(4 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too support this amendment, in the context of the European dimension, which has been mentioned. It would indeed be outrageous if Parliament were not sitting when the clock is running down to 31 October. Whichever side of the referendum debate we were on, we well remember the arguments about bringing power back to this place. If this device of not allowing Parliament to sit at a crucial time is used, it would fly in the face of the assurances and pleas made at that time. We face an extremely difficult time: surely, we should be sorting this issue out within Parliament and not leaving it to others to seek remedy in the courts.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it seems to me that it does not matter whether one supports leaving the European Union permanently or remaining in the European Union. That is not the issue before the House. The issue is whether Parliament should be allowed a say on whether we leave by crashing out, leave with a deal or do not leave. It does not, in a sense, matter which of those three situations it is. What matters is that Parliament has a voice. For that reason, I support this amendment.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, they say that Brexit drives people crazy and I think there is something in this. It certainly makes people cerebral. May I put forward a few general points? First, it has been said that Her Majesty might be embarrassed by such a request. Her Majesty has been on the Throne for 70 years or so and faced many a constitutional crisis. I think she would survive.

Secondly, be careful what you wish for. Suppose we pass this amendment requiring Parliament to meet in October. It is not for the benefit of Northern Ireland. I feel rather sorry for the people of Northern Ireland, who are being used as a sort of wedge in a door—not for their benefit. Suppose there is a general election in the meantime. Suppose there is a vote of no confidence in the Commons. Is it seriously considered that requiring Parliament to meet in October would take precedence over these other events, which may very well occur in the next few weeks? If there is a general election before October, what will happen to the will of some that Parliament should meet in the run-up to the possible leaving of the European Union? If there is a vote of no confidence, the same thing might well happen.

It seems to me that the constitution is not clear on what motives have to lie behind the call for a general election, the call for a vote of no confidence or the Prorogation of Parliament. It is a somewhat ambiguous area. The speculation about this has led people to believe that it is better placed in the hands of the judges than of politicians. That may well be. I am not disputing for a moment that the rule of law is upheld by judicial review and allowing judges to decide. However, where an issue is as ambiguous as this, noble Lords should realise what they are doing in putting these decisions in the hands of judges, who might very well be summoned to meet in a great hurry; the issue would then be rushed all the way through the courts. We would be leaving it to judicial wisdom.

A great deal may happen between now and the end of October. It worries me that we should be using parliamentary procedure in this way. It would be an unfortunate precedent. As I said, think about Motions of no confidence; think about a general election and the assumption, so readily made, that the notion of Prorogation would be a terrible breach with everything that has ever happened in the 1,000-year constitution of this country.

Moreover, the action of judicial review, which is already being talked about in this House—somewhat prematurely—will depend on one wealthy individual bringing that action. Suppose there is a vote of no confidence and by some method the Queen is advised that Mr Corbyn should be summoned to form a Government. Unfortunately, I cannot afford the services of my noble friend Lord Pannick, but I am sure there are those among us and in the country who would say that the possibility of a Prime Minister widely regarded as an anti-Semite was a constitutional outrage and must be judicially reviewed.

I beg noble Lords to consider what sort of precedent might be set by using the people of Northern Ireland, speculating on what might happen with judicial review and not allowing the normal course of events to continue. To support this amendment will have repercussions way beyond what we might expect this afternoon.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
4: Clause 3, page 3, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) The report under subsection (1) must include a report to be published on or before 4 September 2019 on progress on the arrangements for appointing independent guardians under section 21 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. The report must cover—(a) the number of children for whom an independent guardian has been appointed—(i) for whom a reference has been made to a competent authority for a determination as to whether the child is a victim of trafficking in human beings; and(ii) who have been determined to be a separated child by the Regional Health and Social Care Board;(b) the immigration status of the children for whom an independent guardian has been appointed;(c) the length of time for which an independent guardian assists, represents and supports a child; (d) the number of persons for whom an independent guardian has continued to act in relation to a person after that person attains the age of 18 but is under the age of 21, with the consent of that person, according to section 21(10) of that Act;(e) the processes established to ensure relevant persons or bodies recognise and pay due regard to the functions of the independent guardian and provide the independent guardian with access to relevant information in accordance with section 21(8) of that Act and the effectiveness of those processes.”
Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss
- Hansard - -

My Lords, in moving Amendment 4 I will speak also to Amendment 10, which is consequential upon it. I declare my interests as in the register, which include my position as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery.

There is a good Northern Ireland Act on modern slavery, human trafficking and exploitation, but it does not include one aspect of the Modern Slavery Act 2015: that is, the child trafficking advocate, popularly called the independent guardian. It seems an odd omission because, following the research done by Bedfordshire University, the Government accepted that the independent child trafficking advocates are doing a good job. A number of pilot schemes are out across England and Wales—there is a similar system in Scotland —and the Government are committed to putting this right across the country in due course. So it is highly desirable and seems entirely uncontroversial that there should be similar independent guardians to look after those children brought into Northern Ireland from abroad, who have been slaves and who need the support of a mentor as they go through a process equivalent to the NRM and through the general process of coping with having been a slave and having emerged from that.

Having had a discussion with the Minister, I understand that there are some practical difficulties in Northern Ireland with a lack of guardians. The short answer to that, it seems to me, is that more guardians should be appointed. I do not wish to embarrass either the Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom Government by pressing this amendment to a vote, but I do ask the Minister to keep this under review and see that, as soon as the Executive and Assembly are up and running—which I am sure we in this House all hope will be relatively soon after this very long gap—we will have more guardians, who should become part of the system in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

Lord Morrow Portrait Lord Morrow (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I would like to make some brief comments on this modest amendment. It provides an excellent companion report to that already required by the Bill regarding the support offered to victims of human trafficking in Northern Ireland, after they have been confirmed to be a victim by the national referral mechanism known as the NRM. I look forward to the report that will be produced on the progress made to implement the provision enabling extended support, and the debate that will, of course, follow as a result.

Similarly, I support Amendments 4 and 10 because here also there is much that could be learned for England and Wales from examining the independent guardian service in Northern Ireland. This service is designed to provide separated migrant children and children who have been trafficked with someone who will support, advocate for, represent and accompany them as they try to find their place in our communities while dealing with complex immigration processes, unfamiliar schooling and child protection systems, as well as, sometimes, police investigations.

--- Later in debate ---
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for her brief introduction, and other noble Lords for their remarks, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

Ensuring that victims of human trafficking receive the support and care they require is an important issue, which this Government take seriously. It is important that the right safeguards and checks are in place to protect this group of people. This is also true in Northern Ireland, where independent guardians must be qualified social workers with at least five years’ post-qualifying experience of working with children and families, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said. Our approach in this space needs to be guided by the principle of ensuring that we do not expose these vulnerable people, or the excellent individuals who care for them, to harm.

As I said in Committee, noble Lords will be aware that these are matters for which responsibility in Northern Ireland has been devolved, therefore falling outside the responsibilities and scope of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In line with the principles of devolution, it is the Government’s view that those Northern Ireland departments charged with responsibility for these matters should be accountable not to Westminster but to the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, the Government acknowledge that if it is the will of Parliament that the Secretary of State should report on these issues, the Northern Ireland Office will engage with relevant Northern Ireland departments to ensure that she is able to do so, as far as possible, in a meaningful way, where information is available. I hope this provides a degree of reassurance for the noble and learned Baroness.

I also wish to advise on the limitations of the Secretary of State’s capacity to report comprehensively on matters of devolved competence, and to emphasise that it may not always be possible to make available the required information. We must approach these issues carefully, and with heightened sensitivity. Releasing information in relation to the number of children supported by an independent guardian could, given the very small number of individuals involved, compromise their identities. Clearly, this is not the intention of this amendment, but it is a risk we must be aware of and mitigate.

We can accept Amendment 4, on the introduction of a requirement to report on the work of independent guardians in Northern Ireland for victims of human trafficking, noting, as I said, the need to approach sensitively. We should not cut across devolved powers but, given the importance of this issue, it is reasonable for the Secretary of State to provide a report to Parliament. However, I ask the noble Lord not to press Amendment 10, on debating the report. I am happy to meet the noble and learned Baroness or the noble Lord to discuss the report when it is published. It would be most unusual for obligations to debate reports to be placed on the Government by primary legislation. As this is a devolved matter, I am happy to facilitate a meeting between the noble and learned Baroness and Northern Ireland’s Department of Health for a detailed discussion of its work in this area, as its staff are the experts in this devolved work. Based on that explanation and commitment, I hope the noble Lord and the noble and learned Baroness will feel unable to put this to a vote.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss
- Hansard - -

I am very grateful to those who have spoken in this short debate, and to the Minister, who I spoke to briefly before we started. I entirely understand the issues he has raised. As I said in opening, I do not intend to divide the House on this issue. I am, however, concerned that a system of child trafficking advocates in this country is working well and will eventually come straight across the country, and the Government are committed to that. Consequently, it would be highly desirable for there to be enough guardians in Northern Ireland for this to be provided for those children who are as vulnerable in Northern Ireland as they are in this country. However, having had assurances, together with the generous offer to discuss this with the Minister and the Minister for Health, which I and the noble Lord, Lord McColl, will be glad to take up, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.