Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Session 2002-2003

20 January 2003


ANNUAL REPORT 2002

EMBARGOED

Not to be published in full, or in part, in any form before

11.00 a.m. on TUESDAY 21 JANUARY 2003

Commenting upon publication of the Committee's Annual Report 2002 (HC 271), Michael Mates MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"In recent months our approach to our work has been significantly affected by the suspension of devolved government in Northern Ireland.  Like others we have been concerned that, under the legislation governing suspensions, the Government can put the Northern Ireland Assembly's bills through Parliament as draft Orders in Council, without any possibility of detailed scrutiny or amendment.  Many of these measures are substantial, yet in the case of nine of the former Assembly bills introduced as draft Orders in Council between 15th November and 1st December, seven were put to the House for a final decision within two weeks.

"We raised the matter with the Secretary of State.   He replied that if it became necessary to introduce draft Orders in Council which were not part of the Executive's programme, the Government would provide a prior consultation period "wherever possible" and would seek to secure more extensive debate of the draft Orders in the Northern Ireland Grand Committee.

"While we welcome the conciliatory nature of the Secretary of State's remarks, we are disappointed that no firm commitment has been made to allow more detailed consideration of the remaining bills which had been before the Northern Ireland Assembly. It appears that the House will still not have a proper opportunity to discuss and perhaps amend the current group of bills, although the Secretary of State has described them as "important legislation". This lack of scrutiny inevitably increases the likelihood that the laws passed will be flawed in some part. We are urging the Government to provide for more rigorous parliamentary scrutiny of these bills".

Limited copies of the Report will be available upon request from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at 7 Millbank and to members of the press from the Press Gallery, House of Commons. Copies will be available at the time of publication from the Stationery Office in Belfast (02890 238451).  The Report may be  viewed on the Committee's website from approximately 3.30pm on the day of publication at: www.parliament.uk/commons/selcom/niahome.htm.

For interviews with the Chairman please contact the office on 020 7219 2172.