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New Clause—(Saving For Legislative Powers Of Parliament Of Northern Ireland)

Volume 414: debated on Monday 15 October 1945

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Nothing in this Act shall restrict the powers of the Parliament of Northern Ireland to make laws with respect to any matter with respect to which that Parliament has power to make laws, and any laws made by that Parliament with respect to any such matters shall have effect notwithstanding anything in any Defence Regulation having effect by virtue of this Act and applicable to Northern Ireland, or in any order or other instrument made under such a Regulation.—[ Mr. Ede.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Bill applies throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland as well as Great Britain. As I explained during the Debate on the Second Reading, and as has been raised during the course of this evening by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr and Bute (Sir C. MacAndrew) certain of the purposes covered by Sub-section (1) of Clause 1 may relate to matters falling within the legislative powers of Northern Ireland. These purposes cannot easily be dissociated from other purposes which are limited to matters reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. There have been negotiations between the Government of Northern Ireland and myself and the Government of Northern Ireland are satisfied that the form of words we propose to include in the Bill will amply safeguard their legislative independence.

This is a Bill in which I have had a considerable interest, and I am afraid if I had known the Home Secretary's views on criticism, I should have had a great deal more interest in it. However, this new Clause I do welcome, as it safeguards the legislative authority of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. It would be a most extraordinary thing if it was suggested that at this stage anything should be done which would interfere with the Parliament's legitimate statutory and constitutional functions as set out in the Act of 1920. The right hon. Gentleman has already said there will be full consultation in all matters connected with this Bill and its future operations and I think that this Clause is not only to be welcomed, but is also very necessary, in order to clarify the position for no other part of the United Kingdom is run on the federal system, and our position has not always been quite clear. This Clause makes it clear that the functions of the Parliament of Northern Ireland are not affected and it can pass its own laws, which it could pass under the 1920 Act.

I suggest that a rather unusual constitutional position has arisen over this matter. At an earlier stage the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary to make rather drastic Amendments, and I am sorry if I had some rather harsh things to say. I do wish to congratulate him on the way he has conducted the Bill, but there is now a rather more important point. The constitutional position must have been known when the Bill was in draft. It has not arisen only in connection with this Bill. My recollection, as one who was for a short time a Minister at the Home Office—and the right hon. Gentleman can correct me if I am wrong—is that the constitutional position was not clear. Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether these negotiations which have been going on with the Government of Northern Ireland arose as a result of the fact that this Clause was left out of the original Bill and the Government of Northern Ireland drew his attention to it? If so, it was very bad drafting by whoever was responsible.

I wish to assure the Noble Lord that anything which he has said earlier to-day has not given me the slightest cause for offence, and in fact I cannot think of what he is alluding to. I have known the Noble Lord in this House for a long time, and like the tow-paths on the side of the River Thames, we take him as we find him. However, earlier I made a complete confession that in the original draft of the Bill and in the revised draft which this Government submitted, Northern Ireland was omitted. I admit I ought to have known it, but I overlooked it and I apologise to the Committee. The Northern Ireland Government drew my attention to the position in which they were placed and we then went into negotiations to see what form of words would safeguard their position. They are satisfied with these, and may I assure the Noble Lord that after this experience, as far as the Home Office is concerned, I shall always inquire when bringing in a Bill, whether the Government of Northern Ireland is affected or not? I do not undertake always to take their view, but I will certainly take their opinion, and I hope that future amendments of this kind will be avoided.

11.30 p.m.

I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the whole Committee for the graceful way he has apologised to the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.