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Religious Discrimination

Volume 14: debated on Thursday 3 December 1981

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will list the provisions enacted by the Parliament of Northern Ireland which discriminated between persons or classes of persons on the gound of religious belief.

I am not aware of any such provisions.

Does the Minister accept that the reference in section 17 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 cannot be taken to reflect unfairly on the integrity of those who promoted the legislation under the Government of Ireland Act 1920?

I am pleased to reassure the hon. Gentleman and the House that section 17 of that Act does not reflect on the competence and, more particularly, the integrity of the draftsmen who drew up that legislation.

Will the Minister of State examine the legislation enacted by a succession of Northern Ireland Parliaments, with particular reference to the way in which the Civil Authority (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922 was used exclusively against the Catholic population in Northern Ireland? When the House took over responsibility for Northern Ireland affairs, why was it necessary to pass the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act? The legislation might not have been seen to operate against the minority, but the attitude of Ministers and a succession of Prime Ministers made clear what the majority population of Northern Ireland was entitled to do against the minority.

None of the provisions of any of the Acts discriminated on religious grounds. It is clear to the hon. Gentleman and everybody else that acts of discrimination occurred, and therefore some sections of the Northern Ireland community withdrew their consent to the working of Stormont. That is why Stormont was disbanded.

Discrimination on religious grounds, North or South, is to be deplored, but will the Northern Ireland Office make required reading for those who brief people about the history of Northern Ireland what the American Mr. Hewitt has written in the British Journal of Sociology, which puts the allegations of discrimination at Stormont in a different light?

I am not aware of that issue of theBritish Journal of Sociology, but I shall draw it to the attention of officials in the Northern Ireland Office.

In the light of the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), will he give an assurance that a Ten-Minute Bill to remove the parts of the 1973 Act which are inconsistent with his reply will not be opposed by Her Majesty's Government?

I do not think that I can give any such assurance. I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would share my view that section 17, with its prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of religion or politics, is positively reassuring for the population of the Province.