All 4 Baroness Suttie contributions to the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] 2022-23

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 7th Jun 2022
Wed 22nd Jun 2022
Wed 6th Jul 2022
Wed 13th Jul 2022

Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Northern Ireland Office

Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
2nd reading
Tuesday 7th June 2022

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate 2nd reading Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Liberal Democrat Benches broadly welcome the Bill in the context of delivering on the commitments set out in New Decade, New Approach—an agreement that, we should recall, was agreed by both the DUP and Sinn Féin, as well as by the majority of the other political parties in Northern Ireland. However, I deeply regret the context and political circumstances that mean it has proved necessary to pass the Bill here in Westminster. I appreciate that the Minister and his department are not directly responsible for negotiating changes to the Northern Ireland protocol, but the lack of progress in that regard and the sense of distrust that now pervades is hampering his department’s abilities to make progress on all matters of Northern Ireland politics.

It is the Government’s incompatible promises and their choice of the hardest possible Brexit that have taken us to this point, and it is the current absence of trust that is not allowing us to move forward and make progress. It is hard not to reflect that if it was possible to bring sufficient levels of trust to bring about the talks that led in the 1980s and 1990s to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, it is surely possible to do the same today in finding a practical way forward on the protocol. I have spoken privately to the Minister about finding someone all sides respect to act as a facilitator in this regard, and I sincerely hope that, behind the scenes, more is being done to resolve the stalemate on the protocol than currently appears to be the case. The people of Northern Ireland voted in good faith last month to have a functioning Assembly and Executive to tackle the many strategic, economic, healthcare and education issues that are so much in need of attention. The Government must leave no stone unturned in moving on from this current stalemate.

I turn to some specific aspects of the Bill, which, as I said earlier, we broadly welcome. As a Scot and a linguist who studied French and Russian at university, I am extremely aware of the importance of language to identity and culture. Indeed, I come from Hawick in the Scottish Borders, where we have our own very independent and distinct version of Scots and hold on fiercely to the cultural and musical traditions that stem from that powerful linguistic identity.

Embracing cultural and linguistic diversity should not, however, lead to prejudices against “the other”. Can the Minister confirm that “sensitivities” of others will not be interpreted as encompassing the prejudice or intolerance of others to another’s national or cultural identity? Can he also confirm that the provision should be read as a qualification only on cultural expression when interfering with the recognised rights of others?

Regarding the Irish language commissioner, can the Minister explain the rationale for placing in the Bill ministerial approval by the First and Deputy First Ministers of the Irish language standards produced by the Irish language commissioner? Can he further say whether consideration has been given to the risks that this provision could be used to frustrate the purpose of the commissioners? I believe there is a risk that this could result in unnecessary delays and so I ask the Government to reflect on whether this provision is really necessary.

The Committee of Experts—COMEX—which oversees compliance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages under the auspices of the Council of Europe has also broadly welcomed the commitments in the Bill. It has, however, assessed the package as falling short of fulfilment of the broader range of treaty-based obligations towards the Irish language entered into by the UK. Can the Minister say what further steps the Government plan to ensure that those international obligations are met?

Finally, can the Minister say why there was no consultation with Ulster Scots speakers prior to the Secretary of State’s Ministerial Statement that accompanied the introduction of the Bill? I welcome that he said he met them himself last week. The Bill moves away from a focus on Ulster Scots speakers as a linguistic minority to UK recognition of Ulster Scots as an ethnic group. The Minister will be aware of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s concerns and recommendations about conflating Ulster Scots as a recognised linguistic minority with Ulster British as a political identity. He will know that Ulster Scots speakers are from across the community in Northern Ireland. Will he please give us some reassurances in this regard when he concludes?

Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Northern Ireland Office

Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I echo the sentiments in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. Briefly, I repeat that of course we believe that it would have been hugely preferable for the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive to be dealing with these issues today. As a strong believer in devolution, I always believe that these issues should be dealt with by the politicians closest to those who are involved. Indeed, I was speaking earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and confessing that it is difficult for people who are not from Northern Ireland to understand some of the sentiments and the passions that stem from this Bill.

As your Lordships’ Constitution Committee said in its brief report this week, it would of course be preferable for the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly to have been dealing with these issues, but none the less, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, said, New Decade, New Approach was agreed by the majority—not all—of the parties in Northern Ireland. That was over two years ago and it is now extremely important that we make progress on these issues of identity and language.

The amendments in this group are probing amendments and are primarily about ensuring that the rights of others are respected and that promotion of one cultural and linguistic diversity does not lead to prejudices against the other. It is important that the “sensitivities” of others are not interpreted as encompassing prejudice or intolerance to another’s national or cultural identity. It is also important that proper consideration is given to any potential unintended consequences of the Bill. The word “sensitivities” risks being interpreted subjectively. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, suggested at Second Reading, it might be preferable to align the qualifications with the international standards set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

I have added my name to Amendments 5 and 6, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, said, are both probing amendments. I will concentrate my remaining on Amendment 6, which highlights the importance of remembering other languages used in Northern Ireland, including all spoken languages and sign language. It is important that the measures in the Bill do not lead to exclusion of the new communities in Northern Ireland, who do not have any particular affinity to either Irish or Ulster Scots. I am thinking of the fairly extensive Polish, Lithuanian and other eastern and central European communities, as well as the Chinese community, particularly in Belfast and Dungannon.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
- Hansard - -

The noble Lord is from Dungannon, I understand. No? Forgive me.

The Belfast/Good Friday agreement made reference to

“the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including … the languages of the various ethnic communities, all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland.”

Can the Minister say whether thought has been given to developing a comprehensive and needs-based language strategy, which includes all the other languages used within Northern Ireland, including sign language?

--- Later in debate ---
Parliament should not entertain such nonsense, so my amendment seeks to ensure that no public authority is required to treat any national flag or expression of sovereign identity in parity with our own national symbols and identity. All people must be treated equally and be equally entitled to pursue their legitimate political aspirations peacefully and lawfully, but there is no requirement that the United Kingdom should dilute the primacy of our national identity in pursuit of this parity of esteem concept, which has long been recognised as part of the so-called republican struggle. This would not be allowed to happen anywhere else in the United Kingdom. In addition, my amendment would close off any more absurd litigation that tries to push the boundaries and costs the state millions of pounds overall.
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I add my best wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and wish her well. This morning, she sent me an email saying that she is feeling a little better, but we are certainly missing her contributions to this afternoon’s debate.

I have added my name to Amendments 2, 20 and 37, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, said, are probing amendments to understand a little better from the Minister why this particular definition of “public authority” was chosen in the Bill. I want to add to the questions already asked by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. Can the Minister expand on paragraph 23 of the Explanatory Notes and say what kind of circumstances he can imagine where public authorities would be added or removed as a result of this legislation? I should note that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has suggested that Section 6 of the Human Rights Act would provide a better, wider definition of “public bodies”. Does the Minister agree, and can he explain why that definition was not used in this Bill?

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

My Lords, with permission, I will speak to Amendments 2, 20, 37 and 39. This set of probing amendments relates to the definition of public authorities that are subject to the Bill’s provisions. We are against it for the following reasons. We are convinced by the case for an expansionist approach to the range of public authorities captured by the Bill. Given the Minister’s insistence that the statement of funding accompanying the Bill does not give rise to any responsibility for the Government, it seems unconscionable that the Executive should have to bear the cost of UK-wide bodies adhering to requirements or requests issued by the offices created under the legislation. More than that, at a time of a crippling cost of living crisis and with mounting challenges facing our health service and criminal justice system, we believe that a precautionary approach is preferred.

Implementation should be targeted. We have consistently expressed concern about whether this legislation is proportionate or reflective of the priorities of the majority of people in Northern Ireland. There is a fear that expanding the extent even further would impact on public confidence. There is already concern about the framing of certain provisions, namely the identity and culture principles and their potential impact on competing fundamental freedoms. It may be prudent, therefore, to display caution and monitor the impact of the Bill before making further wholesale changes. There is already provision in the Bill allowing Ministers to amend the definition of “public authority” moving forward.

The proposed new clause in Amendment 39 would oblige public authorities to comply with obligations accepted by the United Kingdom under the Council of Europe’s European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. It is worth noting that the Ulster-Scots/Ulster-British commissioner would already be under an obligation to advise on the effect and implementation of the charter under proposed new Section 78R(3)(a).

I am pleased to speak to Amendment 32 in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Dodds of Duncairn, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown and Lord Hay of Ballyore. As I will reflect in more detail in the debate on subsequent groupings, the integrity of the provision of the Irish language commissioner and the Ulster-Scots/Ulster-British commissioner depends not only on the commissioner having identical functions but on their being accorded equal importance, and on this equal importance being made manifest—certainly through each having a similar cost footprint, in terms of both the running of their offices and their impact on the action and spending of public authorities. In this context, it is absolutely imperative that the existing functions of the Ulster-Scots/Ulster-British commissioner are given access to as robust an enforcement mechanism as those pertaining to the Irish language commissioner.

In this context, it is really concerning to note that, as currently defined, the Irish language commissioner is favoured with powers of enforcement on two bases that are denied the Ulster-Scots/Ulster-British commissioner, one of which we will address in this grouping and another in the eighth grouping. In my Amendment 32 in this grouping, a public authority is required by proposed new Section 78N to

“have due regard to any published best practice standards”

produced by the Irish language commissioner and to

“prepare and publish a plan setting out the steps it proposes to take to comply with”

this duty. Inexplicably, while the Ulster-Scots/Ulster-British commissioner is similarly given the responsibility of issuing guidance to public authorities, the Bill before us today contains no parallel obligation on public authorities to have due regard to their guidance. Neither does it contain any parallel obligations on public authorities to prepare and publish a plan setting out the steps they propose to take to comply with this duty.

I very gently express the hope to the Minister that the Government can understand why some within the unionist community regard this extraordinary difference of treatment as discrimination. It is vulnerable to be characterised as a crude attempt to set up two commissioners with the apparent intention of generating the sense that the two communities are being treated equally, hoping that one will not have the sense to check and see that the standards of protection afforded it are dramatically weaker than those afforded the other. This discriminatory difference of treatment can be resolved by Amendment 32, which affords the Ulster-Scots/Ulster-British commissioner the same respect as the Irish language commissioner in the form of placing equal statutory obligations on public authorities to have regard for his or her advice and to publish a plan setting out how they intend to comply with his or her advice.

I am genuinely at a loss to understand how anyone sensitive to the challenges we face in Northern Ireland, let alone a body supposedly committed to the notion of equality of esteem, can have regarded the enforcement provisions afforded unionists in the Bill as anything other than discriminatory when compared with the enforcement provisions afforded nationalism. I urge the Minister to recognise that this inequality of treatment is utterly indefensible and flies in the face of the principle of equality of esteem. I plead with him to accept this modest amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Lord Dodds of Duncairn (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the noble Lord. A lot of those questions are for the Minister; I look forward to hearing what he has to say in relation to these matters.

I want to clarify the point about the St Andrews agreement and the Irish language provisions, which were also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. He is quite correct that Sinn Féin went to the Government at the very last minute and wanted provision to be made but, of course, it was not a matter for the negotiations between the parties; it was a last-minute effort by the Sinn Féin negotiators to get the Government to commit to doing it. Of course, the Government made some commitments but they were not binding on the local parties and, because it was a devolved matter, that is where it stayed.

As far as we are concerned, just like abortion, the issues of identity and language are matters for the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is the basis on which agreements were made. Going forward, I believe that it is dangerous for the stability of the Assembly and all the other institutions if the Government take this pick-and-mix approach and decide that they will act unilaterally on certain issues. That is not sustainable and will ultimately cause major problems. It has done so already but it will cause more problems down the line.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
- Hansard - -

I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, said about Amendment 40, which I co-signed. It is primarily a probing amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, made the point that if the Bill goes through unamended, it is extremely important that this House and the House of Commons are able to probe exactly why the Secretary of State has deemed something to be appropriate. “Appropriate” is a very subjective term, and it is not sufficient just to lay orders before Parliament. It is important that it is fleshed out, discussed, debated and aired. I agree with the earlier comment about some of the statements in this House and in the House of Commons not always being sufficient. If the Bill goes through unamended, it is important that there is some form of parliamentary scrutiny of why the Secretary of State has taken these measures because he or she has deemed them to be appropriate.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, some very important constitutional points have been brought up in this debate, and I know my noble friend will want to reflect with care upon them. Since this is the last debate in Committee, I shall make a simple general point. It takes the form of an injunction to my noble friend. It is that between now and Report, he seeks to do all that is possible within the Bill to address the considerable and deeply felt reservations and concerns that have been brought up during these proceedings. This is a Bill for which we unionists will never feel any enthusiasm, but it would be good if on Report there will at least be some diminution of the concerns and reservations that have been expressed this afternoon.

Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Northern Ireland Office

Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I echo many of the points just made by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. I also repeat the comment that many of us made in Committee: it is with regret that we are debating this Bill at all. It should be debated in Northern Ireland by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Having said that, we broadly support the Bill, but we tabled these amendments in Committee and have tabled them again here to probe the Minister further. Having reread the debate from when we discussed similar amendments in Committee on the definition of public authorities, I do not believe that the Minister gave a substantial explanation of why the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission were not explicitly included under the Bill. It seems, to me at least, that both bodies would have a substantial role to play in these matters. Like the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, I ask the Minister to give an explanation in his concluding remarks for why they were not covered in this legislation.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, first, I apologise for my non-participation at Second Reading, due to the fact that I was at Queen’s University on that day receiving an honorary professorship, and in Committee because I had Covid. However, I watched that stage from the comfort of my bedroom and found that some very interesting points were made on that day. I support and endorse the comments made by my noble friend Lord Murphy and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie.

The Bill would have been much better dealt with in the Northern Ireland Assembly by its Members. Obviously, however, there is a necessity for the UK Government, via the Northern Ireland Office, to bring forward this legislation in Parliament because it could not seem, regrettably, to be progressed through the Northern Ireland Assembly. I support the clauses and central purpose of the Bill: to deliver on large aspects of the New Decade, New Approach agreement, which was the basis of an agreement between the five main parties in Northern Ireland, resulting in the formation of the Executive, the Assembly and other institutions in early January 2020. I support the Bill and want to see it implemented, subject, obviously, to the amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Murphy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, along with others that I have tabled in respect of powers to do with the Secretary of State.

I believe in and support the Irish language. I did Irish at school up to GCSE/O-level and then attended, on two separate occasions, the Gaeltacht in north-west Donegal. You were expected to speak Irish in the house you were allocated there and in the school—the Irish College. I am also a firm believer that place names in Ireland, both north and south, and many words in Irish inform and teach us about her heritage, our unique geographical landscape and our environment. In fact, many of our towns on the island, north and south, have Anglicised versions of the old Irish names. That is not by way of a political point; it is simply a historical fact of heritage.

I also support the provisions for Ulster Scots as a linguistic grouping that transcends traditions in Northern Ireland. In many ways, perhaps it should not be conflated with identity, but I understand the pressing amendments in that respect. My name is from the lowland Scots, so I represent the Gael and the Planter, which I do not see as an offensive personal identification mechanism. Like the Ulster poet John Hewitt, I see that as a means of identification because it represents the richness and beauty of diversity and challenges us all on that necessary path to reconciliation.

To revert to the amendments on public authorities, I am very much in agreement with my colleagues who have just spoken. I suppose part of the reasoning behind the original drafting was that the Bill was meant to be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, hence there was no reference to the Northern Ireland Office and the Human Rights Commission, which has direct responsibility and derives that authority from the Northern Ireland Office.

I make a special plea to the Minister, because we are dealing with this in the UK Parliament, to give due consideration to and accept these amendments. I also suggest, if that is not possible today, that he goes back to his ministerial colleagues in the NIO to see what may be possible and considered acceptable through the passage from this House to the other place, and in so doing that have a period of reflection. I know that these issues were also discussed in Committee because other areas are not included, such as the UK Passport Office, vehicle tax and registration, the Parades Commission, Covid testing and money and tax services.

I believe that for the provisions of the Bill to have meaning in government circles, the two mentioned here—the NIO and Human Rights Commission—need to be immediately included and the Government should give consideration to those and others in the fullness of time. I fully support this amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I can understand much of what the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, is saying. I entirely agree with the Bill where it says that the Irish language commissioner should have powers of due regard if public authorities do not come up to the standards that the commissioner expects. I entirely agree with and in no way denigrate that.

However, I am slightly puzzled, especially in light of what the Minister said earlier about the sensible change that there has been in the title of the commissioner. There is a difference between the way in which the commissioners operate, because they have different functions. Clearly, the Irish language commissioner is concerned about the Irish language, but the Ulster Scots commissioner goes beyond that. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, referred to paragraphs 5 and 6 of the NDNA agreement. Paragraph 5.14 in Annex E says that the commissioner will deal with

“the language, arts and literature associated with the Ulster Scots/Ulster British tradition in Northern Ireland.”

This is followed by another sentence:

“The Commissioner’s remit will include the areas of education, research, media, cultural activities and facilities and tourism initiatives.”


In paragraph 5.16, it goes on to say:

“The functions of the Commissioner will be to … provide advice and guidance to public authorities, including where relevant on the effect and implementation, so far as affecting Ulster Scots, of commitments under”


various charters. So it is quite clear that the agreement meant that the two commissioners, in their different ways, would oversee the work of public authorities in Northern Ireland on the issues that were debated and agreed before that agreement was signed.

There is a case based on getting confidence across the community because, as the Minister knows, nothing can happen properly in Northern Ireland unless there is confidence and trust across all communities in Northern Ireland. Not just the nationalist and unionist communities but everybody has to see that there is fairness, and that people are being treated equally.

There is an opportunity before this Bill goes to the other place for the Government and the Minister—provided there is still a Government in situ over the next few weeks; I rather fancy that, by the time this session has finished, the Minister might be the last Minister of this Government still in office, but we will have to wait and see—to reflect on the points that the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and others have made and to listen to other people in Northern Ireland on what the answers to these things might be. It also seems an ideal opportunity, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, might have mentioned this, to talk to the Ulster- Scots Agency and to the bodies dealing with the Irish language in Northern Ireland to get their views on the progress of the Bill. There is an opportunity to have another look at this to ensure that there is full confidence, across the board, in what is an essential piece of legislation.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, on Monday I had an extremely useful meeting with Ian Crozier of the Ulster-Scots Agency. Although I cannot support these amendments, they do raise some very important points, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, just said.

The Bill as drafted places a duty on public authorities to have “due regard” to the Irish language commissioner, as has been discussed, but creates no such duty in respect of the commissioner responsible for Ulster Scots and the Ulster-British tradition. This is therefore causing some lack of trust and some concern. This difference of approach was not specifically set out in New Decade, New Approach, which suggested that both commissioners should be treated the same way on this point.

Will the Minister respond to the fears that have been expressed in the debate and, indeed, by the Ulster-Scots Agency that treating the two commissioners differently through this legislation risks undermining the credibility of one of the commissioners? Like the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, did, I ask whether the Minister has already met the Ulster-Scots Agency. If not, will he do so and listen directly first-hand to its very real concerns?

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, like other speakers, I have very considerable sympathy for the views that the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, expressed. I urge my noble friend the Minister to keep the key words “parity of esteem” constantly in mind. That is the heart of the matter. I hope he will indeed reflect further, as he has been encouraged to do. It really would be a tragedy not to do all that is possible to allay the considerable misgivings with which this legislation is currently viewed by many unionists in Northern Ireland.

Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Northern Ireland Office

Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I echo the view of the Minister in the sense that the debates have been very good, informative and useful. They have also been informed from the point of view of many contributions from Members of your Lordships’ House from Northern Ireland, which enhanced the quality of the debate considerably. I thank the Minister for the very civilised way he handled this Bill at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report, and all Members of your Lordships’ House who took part.

The Minister rightly says that the Bill is based on New Decade, New Approach, which was an all-party agreement some years ago in Northern Ireland, and the Bill faithfully sticks to that agreement. There have been some improvements and, again, I am so glad that the Minister and the Government were able to accept those changes; for example, to how the Secretary of State’s step-in powers would be dealt with by Parliament. There were also changes, such as the Castlereagh Foundation, which originally was not in the Bill, and in the title of the commissioner for Ulster Scots to add the Ulster-British tradition. These came about because we had a good debate, and because these were sensible things to do.

I wish the Bill well. It is founded on the principles of the Good Friday agreement of equality, of ensuring that people have respect for each other, and of parity of esteem—which came up many times in debate. There is still an opportunity in the House of Commons for further changes to be made, so long as they are in step with the agreements made in Belfast. I wish it well on its legislative journey.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I too thank the Minister and his Bill team for the constructive and positive way in which they have engaged with noble Lords on the Bill. I also thank my colleague Elizabeth Plummer in the Lib Dem Whips’ Office for her constant support and knowledge as somebody from Northern Ireland.

The Minister sets an extremely positive example—perhaps the gold standard—with his willingness to listen and make changes, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, has said. It would be deeply welcome if a similarly constructive and listening approach were to be used for the two other Bills that have not yet reached your Lordships’ House: the legacy Bill and the Northern Ireland protocol Bill. It is unlikely, perhaps, but one can live in hope.

I have two final brief points, if I may. I believe that everyone, including the Minister, has agreed at various stages of the Bill that it would have been much preferred if the Northern Ireland Assembly had been dealing with this Bill. The Northern Ireland Assembly, with all its relevant experience and expertise in being much closer than many of us are here, would have been much better placed to deal with this legislation.

During the slightly unusual and turbulent period that we are going through, I none the less hope that the new Northern Ireland Secretary will allow the Minister to use his many years of experience to leave no stone unturned in helping to bring back a functioning Executive and Assembly as soon as possible. It is in no one’s interest, least of all the people of Northern Ireland, for this current stalemate to continue.

Lord Browne of Belmont Portrait Lord Browne of Belmont (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for all his hard work and dedication during the passage of the Bill. I am pleased that he and the Government have accepted the amendments to the title of the Ulster Scots/Ulster British commissioner and acknowledged the important role that the Castlereagh Foundation plays in research and exploring the shifting patterns of social identity in Northern Ireland.

Without wishing to add to the Minister’s workload over the Summer Recess, I ask him whether he would consider looking at two important issues in the Bill, as it makes its way to the other place. First, I believe that the proposal for the Secretary of State to overrule the Northern Ireland Assembly sets a dangerous precedent. Secondly, it needs to be made clear that, although the two commissioners have different functions, they should have equal weight in those functions so that the unionist community can be given an equal opportunity to complain through its commissioners across the spectrum of their function. I hope that these points will be given full consideration when the Bill reaches the other place. I thank the Minister again for all of his advice and work.