Skip to main content


Volume 951: debated on Friday 9 June 1978

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

1.45 p.m.

I beg to move Amendment No. 16, in page 127, line 53, column 3, leave out '4' and insert '14'.

I can be very much briefer on this occasion. The purpose of the amendment is to correct a printing error.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move Amendment No. 18, in page 135, leave out lines 33 to 35.

I shall not detain the House long. I put down three amendments to suggest alterations in the Schedule. For some unknown reason—perhaps a mere quirk of selection by the Chairman of Committees—my amendments to delete the whole of the Act of Union and the Government of Ireland Act 1920 from the Schedule were not chosen for debate.

I will explain to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) that the selection was mine. The hon. Gentleman's amendment would have affected the whole Bill, whereas Amendment No. 18 is dealing with a limited part of the Bill. His other amendment, therefore, was strictly out of order.

I had not imagined for one moment that any considerations other than good order would have governed your decision, Mr. Speaker. The amendments were put down not in a lighthearted vein completely but in order to draw attention to a point that I tried to make in the dying seconds of our proceedings in Committee.

I wanted to draw attention also to what I have always felt has been a weakness in the way in which we produce our Bills. In the space of a couple of hours in Committee we passed a Bill of about 140 pages and 120 clauses and seven schedules. We considered amending or repealing 202 pieces of legislation. Forty whole Acts of the United Kigdom Parliament were repealed, and 96 parts. Eight Acts of the old Irish Parliament were repealed completely and 10 partially repealed. Of the Stormont Parliament, 35 Acts were partially repealed. Three Orders in Council were wholly repealed and 10 were partially repealed. All this was done, Mr. Speaker, in almost the twinkling of an eye.

It has always seemed to me in regard to matters such as this, particularly when there are schedules, that the presentation and the purpose of the Bill deserve a better explanation. This is a point that I have made in the past, when very heavy consolidation measures have been going through the House. This is a point which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers Department has taken on board since that time.

I am sure that the whole House regrets that Chapter 2 of the Statute of Edward III, made at Westminster in the Fourth Year of his reign after the Conquest, will no longer apply to Northern Ireland. We weep for it but we should have liked to know to what that chapter applies.

Wait a minute. There is a strange Act of the Irish Parliament called the Demise of the Crown Act (Ireland) 1634. There we have a degree of future scanning which was very prescient, perhaps, at least in 26 parts of it.

My general point is that there should be better presentation of Bills, particularly when we have enormous schedules of repeals, which draw attention not only to what is being repealed but to the relevant parts of the measures. Had I been in order, Mr. Speaker, I should have been delighted to debate those statutes at length.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. The hon. Gentleman referred to his comments in the dying seconds of the Committee stage. I ask him to address his mind to the comment he made then, when he stated that it was a crying shame that there was not one Northern Ireland Member present. If the hon. Gentleman will try to recall that occasion, I think he will agree that there was one such Member present. I have tried to have the record rectified. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman will take steps to do that or—

I would certainly say that at least there was only one Northern Ireland Member present. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) was actually there when I made my comments, but if he was of course I withdraw them.

That proves that I am the most broadminded Speaker that this House has ever known.

It was a matter of relief to me, Mr. Speaker, that you felt unable to select my hon. Friend's amendment proposing to delete, at a stroke, the whole of the Government of Ireland Act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) has, with his usual perspicacity, grasped the fact that the schedule we are debating is really a consolidation schedule. It is an attempt to produce a briefer and tidier statute book. The way in which we deal with consolidation measures in the House might sometimes be a little clearer, but I assure my hon. Friend that I will make sure that what he has said is passed on to the appropriate authorities.

I am not sure whether he really wants a reply to the amendment that he has proposed—

My hon. Friend shakes his head, therefore, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment on the basis of the assurance I have given.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 19, in page 137, column 3, leave out lines 52 to 54.

No. 20, in page 138, leave out line 31 and insert—

'Section 137(b) and (c).
Section 138.'.—[The Solicitor-General.]

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 139, leave out line 37 and insert—

'In section 23—
  • (a) subsection (3);
  • (b) in subsection (7) the words "or (3)" and "and fees";
  • (c) subsections (8) and (9).'.
  • This amendment is designed to repeal two small parts of a statutory section which is consequent on other provisions in the Bill.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 22, in page 142, line 35, after '1964', insert

    Schedule 2 to the Children and Young Persons Act (Northern Ireland) 1968'.

    No. 23, in page 142, line 44, leave out from '1959' to end of line 46 and insert

    the Magistrates' Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 and the Children and Young Persons Act (Northern Ireland) 1968'.

    No. 24, in page 143, line 12, after '49', insert ', 57( d)'.—[ The Solicitor-General.]

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    1.55 p.m.

    I do not want to detain the House very long at this stage, but I wish to return to three points which have been touched upon at various stages in the course of the passage of the Bill.

    The first concerns Clause 9 and the eligibility of solicitors who have served for a period of 10 years and who, after three years as deputy county court judges, still do not qualify to be appointed to the High Court. The Solicitor-General was very kind in replying to this point of detail in correspondence. In that correspondence he stated that the situation obtained not only in Northern Ireland, but in this part of the Kingdom as well and therefore it would be a matter for consideration in the Royal Commission report.

    I appreciate the length at which the Solicitor-General replied. I ask him to confirm this afternoon that the Royal Commission will address itself to this matter. It is so easy in a large report, if there has been a very large remit, for one or two specific matters to be overlooked. I ask him to call the attention of the Commission to this point because it has aroused very strong feeling in Northern Ireland among solicitors who believe that a solicitor who has qualified as a county court judge should be eligible for appointment to the High Court.

    There are reasons why this should not be the case. Some people contend that as a solicitor's job is confined by definition to courts other than the High Court this is a reason for not making them eligible. Having said that, I must point out that there is a strong argument against creating two classes of county court judge in Northern Ireland as a result of this legislation.

    I also wish to raise the point relating to Clause 69, which deals with the creation of the Court Service. On Second Reading and in Committee we raised points which showed that there could be disruption in redeployment. We said that the Government should look at the possibility of impairment of career prospects in the new Court Service. Again, the Solicitor-General was kind enough to write to me. There is one important suggestion which might be made, even at this late stage in the Bill's proceedings. Those in the Court Service who may be affected by the question of mobility, who may be disrupted or redeployed, or whose career prospects may be impaired should have recourse to some kind of arbitration.

    The present staff of the county courts and petty sessions have no right of access to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. If that is to remain the case, many members of the new Court Service will feel that they must have an impartial arbiter to consider their grievances. This is the case in many grades of the Civil Service. If those in the new Court Service had an arbiter to whom they could have recourse on unresolved disputes, they could be sure that the disputes would be looked at impartially This is a very important matter.

    There is also the point about the rights of the existing staff appointed under the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. That point was not met in correspondence. We felt on Second Reading that they might forgo rights that they acquired when they were appointed under the Lord Chief Justice. If the Solicitor-General would comment on this matter. I should be very grateful.

    The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), with his usual lucidity, argued his case very well. What he did not disclose, in spite of indulging in his usual semantics, was his political philosophy on Ireland, which is that it should be a matter not of devolution but of total separation. In all honesty, he must accept that. Therefore, I do not think that we should spend too much time discussing this Damascus road change for the Lord Chancellor about which he complains, particularly as the hon. Member's underlying philosophy is the complete separation of Northern Ireland, and indeed of the whole island of Ireland from the United Kingdom.

    2.0 p.m.

    I have listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) has just said. I shall return to it in a moment. However, despite my own fears about parts of the philosophy of the changes that have taken place in the Bill, this must be recognised as being one of the most important Northern Ireland measures to have gone through this House, certainly since I have been a Member, apart from the controversies that we have had with regard to direct rule and so on.

    It is an important measure because it seeks to aim to reorganise the whole of the system of the administration of justice. That should be recognised. We should also recognise the considerable work of the distinguished Northern Ireland purists who have done the preparatory work and produced the preparatory reports which led to the introduction of the Bill. It is an enormous and important Bill and it should be recognised as such. It is something which will be tinkered with and perhaps altered from time to time. But, while the Six Counties remain the Six Counties, it will be the major piece of legislation governing the administration of the courts there. Therefore, we should salute those people outside this House who not only drafted the Bill but produced all the various reports necessary to produce it. That ought to be understood, accepted and acknowledged.

    I turn to the point made with regard to conversion. I am now even more confused and confounded. It was said that conversion was from darkness to light From what I have heard from the Solicitor-General, it is not so much darkness and light as encircling gloom. The situation now appears doubly contradictory. Not only did we in opposition support the administration being in the hands of the Secretary of State, but when the former Secretary of State wrote to the Chairman of the Constitutional Convention he said that we were reserving the administration. Subsequently my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, in another place, said that we were not reserving it but giving it to the Secretary of State. A fortnight later he changed his mind. This is very strange.

    The Solicitor-General has been confusing a number of things. He sought to suggest that we did not appreciate the role which the Lord Chancellor played in the appointment of people to the judiciary in Northern Ireland both before and after direct rule. Who had control of the administration of the courts? The administration of all the lower courts, certainly the county courts and below, was in the hands of the administration in the Six Counties. By this Bill we have established a very important institutionalised Government Department—the Northern Ireland Court Service—which I hope will be staffed with men and women of integrity. I hope that it will do a good job. It is a new and important Government Department within the Six Counties which will come under the possible control of an indigenous Minister from the Lord Chancellor's Department. I think that that is wrong.

    The hon. Member for Belfast, South accused me of not revealing my hand with regard to what I consider should be the future of the Six Counties and the island of Ireland. I must admit that I have some prejudices about what should be the best course for this Government, and future Governments, to take. In the past errors have been made, not least because of the powerful persuasion of some of the hon. Gentleman's predecessors who went to the extent of armed rebellion before the 1914–18 war to force the hand of a democratically elected British Government. Be that as it may, I should like to see a united Ireland. I do not think that we shall get it tomorrow, but equally I do not think that we should do anything whatever in the Six Counties which either takes them nearer to the United Kingdom or further away. We should leave the situation as it is. In terms of the domestic legislation of the Six Counties, I believe that nothing should be done in this House until such times as the people of the Six Counties are prepared to accept a devolved government on the basis of the terms laid down in the White Papers of different Governments.

    That has always been my attitude. I thought that that would have been recognised by the hon. Member for Belfast, South, without my having to comment upon it.

    Does the hon. Gentleman include any possible legislation for the reorganisation of secondary education in the Province in his principle that there should be no such domestic legislation in advance of devolution?

    The hon. Gentleman is seeking to embarrass me on the question of comprehensivisation being introduced in the Six Counties. I believe that it should be introduced. However, I believe that it should be done by agreement and consultation among the people involved. If not, it should not be gone ahead with because that is something which people should work out themselves.

    I return to the Bill. Despite my reservations, and despite what I have said about this being creeping integration, there is no doubt that the Bill is important. It will soon go on to the statute book. We must ensure that both in terms of the Administration and of the judiciary we have the same quality and calibre of men who in difficult times have seen to the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. I am sure that we shall get that.

    2.7 p.m.

    The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) underlined the importance of this measure. It needed to be underlined. It is a very important measure. I agree with some of his criticisms about the way in which this House has to deal with this legislation. I regret that today there is not a fuller turnout of Northern Ireland Members. I believe that Northern Ireland Members are a little grieved—I could perhaps use a stronger word—that Friday is always the day when Northern Ireland business is debated.

    Nothern Ireland Members perhaps live further from this House than any other hon. Members. Friday is usually a day when a Member of Parliament likes to be at home in his constituency. Incidentally, there were four hon. Members from Northern Ireland present at the beginning of the debate rather than two. I am sure the House is delighted that those four hon. Members did not take part. I am sure that the officials of the House were also delighted, because I have learned that Friday is not a popular day.

    This is an important measure because we are introducing a new system and a new court. We are also changing procedures. We are dealing with many matters that have been under consideration for a very long time. I believe that the Bill now has overwhelming support in Northern Ireland. Even the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central, who has reservations—we all have reservations—would agree that this measure will have a good effect upon the future of the judiciary in Northern Ireland and upon the administration of justice.

    I understand where the hon. Gentleman stands on these matters, but one's viewpoint of the interpretation of history tends to colour a person's outlook. The hon. Gentleman pleaded guilty to having prejudices. I never knew he would make such a confession. The armed rebellion he mentioned resulted from a shoddy political deal between nationalists in this House who wanted to leave the United Kingdom and who were not a bit concerned about the future of this part of the United Kingdom and did a deal to get this Act on the statute book. Perhaps I should not digress, Mr. Speaker.

    I know that the hon. and reverend Gentleman is fond of quoting St. Paul. I was going to put forward the view "Let brotherly love continue" and ask the House to drop that subject.

    Perhaps that quotation is not too appropriate, Mr. Speaker. I can think of other quotations such as "From such turn away". I shall now turn away from that subject.

    I believe that justice in Northern Ireland needs to be done and to be seen to be done. The system proposed in this Bill appeals to all sections of the community. Everybody feels that this is a good Bill and that the law we seek to enact is a good one which will be helpful to all the citizens of Northern Ireland.

    I trust that when the new Court Service is set up the difficulties outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) will be considered. I trust that there will be some form of appeal. I trust that those who are employed in the Court Service will have an opportunity of appealing if they find themselves in difficulty, or if they consider that they are being discriminated against in employment or in job advancement. I hope that the Solicitor-General will consider that matter and will satisfy us upon it.

    The judges, magistrates and court officials in Northern Ireland have a difficult job to do, but we hope and pray that normality will eventually reign. If the system that is now being set up weathers the severe storm, no doubt those difficulties will pass. When we reach better days, that system will be found to be tried and proved, and will be of great advantage to the citizens of Northern Ireland.

    I wish to put on record the fact that the next time the Government—whatever Government it may be—introduce a Bill on Northern Ireland and refer it to a Committee upstairs, they will ensure that it contains adequate representation from Northern Ireland. It is unfair that only one hon. Member from Northern Ireland had the advantage of being present at the deliberations on the Bill.

    I believe that the provisions of this Bill will do good and that we are on the right lines. Despite the Lord Chancellor's conversion or perversion, I thought that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central intended to say that the light was so dazzling that it blinded him. However, I believe that this Bill, when enacted, will set up a system that will be of advantage to all the citizens of Northern Ireland. That is its objective, and I believe that that goal can be achieved.

    2.15 p.m.

    Taking to heart your text, Mr. Speaker, "Let brotherly love continue", I wish to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General for the care, clarity and courtesy with which he has helped the House and, on an earlier occasion, the Committee.

    As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and others have said, the Bill when enacted will bring about a beneficial reform of a profound character of the judicial system that took shape, when there was one Ireland, united under the Crown. I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) graciously mentioned those who prepared the legislation. The traditionally minded, like the hon. Gentleman, who regrets the repeal of medieval statutes and the legislation of Ascendency Parliaments, may sigh for the passing into history of such ancient institutions as the assize. There were those who were sad when the Crown court took its place on this side of the water. However that may be, it is a matter of satisfaction to all who cherish the Union, as we do on this side, that the courts of Northern Ireland should follow a pattern similar to that of England and Wales.

    The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central swallowed the bulk of the Bill, but jibbed at the responsibility for the new Northern Ireland Court Service being entrusted to the Lord Chancellor. I shall not rehearse the argument on the amendments both upstairs and downstairs, but we are glad that the Government, having heard the representations of those who are most knowledgeable and concerned and the opinion of the Opposition as expressed by noble Lords in another place, and opinions also expressed in this House, have agreed with us that it is more appropriate that the control should rest with the Lord Chancellor than with the Secretary of State. Both, I may say in passing, are English Ministers.

    Surely nothing should be left undone by the Legislature to assure, to buttress and to demonstrate the independence of the Northern Ireland judiciary. That confidence it receives—and this despite the regrettable necessity of the Diplock procedure.

    The Solicitor-General ackowledged that the fairness of the judges in Northern Ireland is generally recognised, and their integrity was commended by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Cen- tral. This short debate enables this House to salute the courage of the judges, magistrates and all who serve the courts in Northern Ireland. Justice is impartially administered there, despite cruel threats and savage attacks.

    I conclude by echoing the tribute paid by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) to the two late president magistrates. Mr. Staunton and Mr. McBirney, and Judge Rory Conaghan. Let them be remembered with honour.

    2.18 p.m.

    The text you suggested, Mr. Speaker, commends itself to me above some others which have been ventilated in this debate, because it has the advantage of being so clear that it requires no exegesis. It has been applied in these debates, and it is a sad reflection that the way in which it has been applied here cannot always be reflected in the Province.

    I begin by expressing double appreciation to the House for the forbearance with which it has received a substantial number of Government amendments, both in Committee and today on Report. Those amendments proved necessary partly because of a substantial amendment in another place, and partly because inevitably there has been a reaction to the suggestions made. I hope that we have reacted in a way that suggests we have been prepared to polish the Bill as we go along.

    Secondly, I am grateful to the House for the welcome which has been accorded to the Bill and for the co-operation of all who have participated in the debates. I bear in mind what was said by the hon. and reverend Gentleman the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that those who have abstained from contributing have also made their contribution.

    The Bill will not satisfy everyone in all its detail. Indeed, it has not wholly satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). I appreciate his reasons and I am grateful for what he said, that, despite the defects he thinks it has, he believes that it is still an important Bill which has a contribution to make to the future of the Province. I do not claim—unhappily it is all too obvious—that it will solve all the problems of the Province. Some of the issues that have arisen today will remain unresolved even after the Bill is on the statute book.

    I was asked by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) for answers to certain questions which have been ventilated during our debates. I am not sure whether I can carry very much further what was said in Committee and what I attempted to set out when I wrote to him.

    As regards the eligibility of solicitors for appointment to the High Court, a matter which I know has concerned from time to time my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade—

    No—Under-Secretary of State.

    If I said Secretary of State, that was a prophecy. However, I am sure that if I were in danger of forgetting the problem my hon. Friend would ensure that I did not do so.

    I cannot give any undertaking on what matters the Royal Commission will consider. It is only honest for me to point out that the appointment of the judiciary is not within its terms of reference. When I referred to the report of the Royal Commission I had in mind that there is likely to be a great deal in what it reports about the relations between the two branches of the profession which may affect the decisions that we make about these matters. Meanwhile, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not have overlooked Clause 107, which makes a move in that direction and provides that where someone moves over from one branch of the profession to the other his service in the one branch will count in computing his qualifications for judicial office.

    Secondly, the hon. Member for Belfast, South and the hon. Member for Antrim, North mentioned that not all the rules of service as regards the new Court Service have yet been evolved. They are being discussed. I am sure that what has been said in our debates will be borne very much in mind. I cannot give an undertaking that any form of appeal to some sort of impartial arbitrator will be incorporated. I think that we all hope that the need for it will not often arise.

    There will not be a mass redeployment of people from the jobs which they are already doing. I shall ensure that what the hon. Member for Belfast, South said is passed on to those who are dealing with these matters. I think that that is the only comment that I can make on his third point. I trust that he will forgive me if I do not attempt to elaborate in a vacuous manner when I have little to say about it at this stage.

    The Bill has had a fair wind from all parts of the House. I hope that that is a good omen for the future of the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. I believe that it will encourage everyone concerned in Northern Ireland to accord under the new dispensation the high level of confidence that they have shown so far to those involved in the administration of justice. What I am about to say by way of tribute cannot be said too often. I reiterate the tributes paid to all those involved at every stage in the administration of justice in the Province. They have carried out their duties in conditions which I am sure history will recognise perhaps more clearly than some of our contemporaries.

    This is an important Bill. I echo the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central to all who have played their part in producing it both in the course of consultation and in the course of official and administrative duties. To many of them I am personally deeply indebted. Without their aid I should never have understood some of the things that in the course of our debates I came to understand. I believe that the Bill will enhance the administration of justice in the Province and through it the protection of individuals from unlawful activities and from injustices alike.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.