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Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Bill

Volume 834: debated on Wednesday 29 March 1972

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Considered in Committee.

[Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]

4.0 p.m.

The first Amendment that I shall call is No. 8. I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee to take with it Amendment No. 9.

On a point of order, Sir Robert. It will be within the recollection of many hon. Members that, as reported at column 361 of HANSARD for yesterday, the Attorney-General, speaking on behalf of the Government and winding up the debate, gave a quite specific undertaking to the House that he would introduce an Amendment today to make clear that the 40 days during which a confirmation order or an annulment must be brought before the House would exclude Saturdays and Sundays. In order that I should be quite sure that he knew what he was saying, I drew to his attention that the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946, included Saturdays and Sundays, so that the House could know what his undertaking meant when he introduced the word "sitting" in mentioning the 40 days which is not in the Bill. After consulting the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland designate, the Attorney-General returned to the Despatch Box and affirmed to the House that his words meant precisely what they said—that they excluded Saturdays and Sundays. The Amendment which appears in the name of the Secretary of State for the Home Department does not honour that undertaking. It goes back to the definition in Clause—

Order. I am afraid that the point which the hon. Member is making is not, strictly speaking, a point for me. In bringing it to my attention no doubt he has made right hon. Members cognisant of what he is driving at, and if they wish to intervene they may do so to give satisfaction or not to him. There is no more that I can say. There- fore, I must take another point of order which Mr. Pardoe wishes to raise.

Further to that point of order, Sir Robert. There is a difficulty here. There was a clear understanding that the Government would put down an Amendment to meet the point which has been made by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). If I am wrong about that I am in good company because I believe that most hon. Members thought the same. In view of this misunderstanding, if it is such, would you, Sir Robert, accept a manuscript Amendment to permit the point put by the hon. Member to be taken as an alternative to the proposal which is being made by the Attorney-General? If not in Committee, could such a draft Amendment be considered on Report?

Further to that point of order, Sir Robert. I did mislead the hon. Member, but I do not think it was quite in the terms that he has suggested. If he will read again what I said, he will see that I said we were to provide an Amendment so that an order could be made which would lapse, if it were

"not approved by affirmative Resolution, within 40 sitting days".
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) intervened to say that he was glad to hear me say:
" '40 sitting days', which excludes Saturdays and Sundays, which were included under the 1946 Act. I take it that this will be in the Amendment tomorrow?"
To that I replied:
"I understand that '40 sitting days' actually means what it says."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March, 1972; Vol. 834, c. 361.]
I was incorrect, and I must, therefore, have misled the hon. Member. In those circumstances, may I support the proposal put forward by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and invite you, Sir Robert, perhaps to accept a manuscript Amendment possibly today?

I am much obliged to the Attorney-General. I shall be happy to consider the manuscript Amendment when I see it.

Further to that point, Sir Robert. As we are dealing with this matter fairly quickly, it might be for the convenience of everyone if the Government, having accepted the principle, instruct their draftsmen to provide the suggested Amendment to make sure that we can get it right. Otherwise, manuscript Amendments coming from the Floor of the Committee—

I do not wish to detain the Committee longer than necessary, but I wish to put a question on your selection, Sir Robert, without in any way challenging it and while realising the difficulties under which the Committee is labouring.

The point refers to the list of Amendments which you have joined with Amendment No. 10, and particularly new Clause 1. My hon. Friends and I tabled a list of Amendments many of which have to do with reserving legislative powers for Northern Ireland to the United Kingdom Parliament and giving the Secretary of State powers to make certain regulations subject to an affirmative order passed by each House of Parliament.

I fully accept that the Amendments referring to these matters should be grouped with Amendment No. 10, but new Clause 1 seeks to repeal the Special Powers Act, and we set very considerable store by that and regard it as of enormous importance. I submit that this is an entirely different matter. I do not see how the Committee could debate the question of the Special Powers Act being continued by this Bill as part of a general debate on Amendment No. 10. I therefore ask you to reconsider, if you will be so kind, whether you can afford a separate debate, as I hope you will be able to, but if not, to provide for a separate Division.

I am obliged to the hon. Member for what he has said, and I am also very much obliged for his giving me notice that he would raise this point. The Committee will readily understand that I have been under great difficulty in the selection of Amendments having regard to the timetable and matters of that kind. I feel that I cannot deviate from the numbers of debates which I have arranged, but I take the point made by the hon. Member and will grant a Division on the new Clause to which he has referred.