Northern Ireland

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th August 1966.

Alert me about debates like this

4.50 a.m.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

At the outset I should apologise to the right hon. Lady who will be replying to this debate for keeping her up to this early hour of the morning. By the same token, I am delighted to see some of my hon. Friends from Northern Ireland in the House because if I had not been elected for Belfast, West, they would be at home in their beds.

I understand it is now the practice of my colleagues from Northern Ireland to keep a shadow on me in this House and I only hope they will have an opportunity of speaking in this debate, perhaps to refute some of the assertions which, in all honesty, I may be forced to make.

I realise that in this House many conventions exist, and I understand that if I were to abide by the rule book all I could discuss during this debate would be defence, foreign affairs, Income Tax and the Post Office.

To me this seems entirely illogical, because the problems which exist in Northern Ireland, and the problems which I will attempt during my term in this House to bring before the notice of the House, are far more serious than can be dealt with by these Ministers. I am not a lawyer and I make no claim to any knowledge of the legal profession, but I deliberately worded the motion I am now discussing on Her Majesty's Government's responsibility in Northern Ireland and my interpretation of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, which is the constitution of Northern Ireland. I find that I can put only one interpretation on the words of Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, and these words are: Notwithstanding the establishment of the Parliaments of … Northern Ireland … or anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters, and things in Ireland and every part thereof. I say, Sir, that this gives ultimate and over-riding responsibility to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and as the representative of Belfast, West, as the representative of 26,000 people, I stand here to demand of the British Government that they accept the responsibility which they themselves have written into this Act of 1920.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Order. Before the hon. Member proceeds any further with that line of argument I had better correct him. Section 75 of the 1920 Act to which he has referred does not confer responsibility on Her Majesty's Ministers in the United Kingdom over matters within the competence of the Northern Ireland Government. My predecessors in this Chair have ruled repeatedly that matters within the competence of the Northern Ireland Government, and therefore matters for which Her Majesty's Ministers in this House are not responsible, are not subjects for debate in this House.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

On a point of order. In view of your Ruling, I wonder if you could tell me whether, as vast Exchequer subsidies go from this Government to Northern Ireland, we should be in order in giving reasons why these subsidies should not go through?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

That would be in order. In so far as subsidies are paid by the United Kingdom Government, the matters relating to the payment, or the desirability of the payment, of those subsidies are matters that can be discussed in this House.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

Further to that point of order. Is it not correct, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to say that the jurisdiction of this House is a little wider than that? I quote from page 773 of the current edition of Erskine May, which describes the scope of discussion for Consolidated Fund Bill debates such as this and states: Thus, whereas the field of debate on the main Consolidated Fund Bill of the year and upon the Appropriation Bill is normally commensurate with the whole range of administrative policy … It therefore includes not only the mere matter of substance, but the whole background of policy attaching to it.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

The hon. Member is quite right. All matters of administrative policy within the competence of Her Majesty's Ministers in this country are open to debate on the Third reading of the Bill. But I was explaining to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) that he cannot argue in this House an interpretation of Section 75 of the 1920 Act that differs from that which my predecessors have ruled.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

Further to the point of order. Am I right in understanding that what you were saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that Section 75 of the 1920 Act does not give, as it says, final and ultimate authority to the Parliament at Westminster, because the Parliament at Stormont is recognised as being subordinate ultimately to the powers of this Westminster Parliament? If I understood you correctly, you were saying that this was not so.

We have always believed that if any Minister gets up at the Dispatch Box in this House, using the powers of Section 75, he can intervene directly in the operation of the rule of law—such as, for instance, by the Home Secretary—in Northern Ireland. May I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if the Home Secretary was satisfied that it was right for him to intervene directly in the affairs of Northern Ireland, he would be the supreme authority delegated with the powers given to him under Section 75. Your Ruling seemed to me to suggest that he does not have that power, but I suggest that Section 75, in anybody's clear interpretation, gives the Minister in this House overriding authority over the Parliament at Stormont.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I think that the confusion that has arisen in the hon. Member's mind is due to the fact that he has failed to distinguish the position between the United Kingdom Parliament and the United Kingdom Government. It is perfectly true that the 1920 Act, in Section 75, which has been quoted, gives this Parliament supreme authority over matters in Northern Ireland and enables the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate on matters affecting Northern Ireland. On the other hand, the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government as regards matters in Northern Ireland is limited and Her Majesty's Ministers in this country have no responsibility for matters which are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Ministers—the Government—of Northern Ireland.

Therefore, because in respect of those matters there is no Ministerial responsibility in this House, it is not open on the Third Reading of the Bill to raise matters for which Her Majesty's Ministers in this country are not responsible.

Photo of Mr Edwin Brooks Mr Edwin Brooks , Bebington

Further to the point of order. As I understand the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this Parliament has ultimate responsibility for matters affecting Northern Ireland. In a Ruling on 3rd May, 1923, which is cited in Erskine May, Mr. Speaker said: With regard to those subjects which have been delegated to the Government of Northern Ireland, questions must be asked of Ministers in Northern Ireland, and not in this House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1923; Vol. 163, c. 1624.] Bearing in mind that Members of this House, as I understand it, are, as Members of this Parliament, exercising ulti- mate responsibility, I now seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to how it is possible for Members of this Parliament to put questions to the Government of Northern Ireland in the way suggested in Mr. Speaker's Ruling in 1923.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Obviously it is not possible to put questions to Her Majesty's Ministers in Northern Ireland. It is open to Members of this House as a legislature to promote legislation affecting Northern Ireland, but today we are discussing the Consolidated Fund Bill. Hon. Members in this debate are entitled before voting on the Third Reading to discuss matters of administration for which United Kingdom Ministers are responsible, but since United Kingdom Ministers are not responsible for matters that are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Government, matters of that kind cannot be raised in this debate.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

Further to my point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With regard to the point you made, am I entitled to say that, as this Parliament votes money to the Northern Ireland Government, and I believe that Ministers in the Northern Ireland Parliament exercise their control over local government franchise, for example, wrongly—I could illustrate this—we should not vote that money to Northern Ireland?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I do not think that it will be very convenient if we pursue hypothetical questions about precisely what can and cannot be discussed in the debate. I have indicated to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) that he cannot proceed on the interpretation which he has given to Section 75, because that is in conflict with established authority and a number of previous Rulings given by occupants of this Chair. I shall follow any speeches made by hon. Members and tell them if they transgress the bounds of what is in order in this debate.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

Whilst the questions raised by my hon. Friends may be hypothetical, the problems which exist in Northern Ireland are anything but hypothetical, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They are only too concrete, and I, with my hon. Friends, intend to bring them before this Parliament on every possible occasion and, through it, before the British people.

We are discussing a Bill which makes way for the payment of massive subventions of British taxpayers' money, money of the constituents of my hon. Friends who are paying Income Tax to the Treasury which in turn is paid out to the Northern Ireland Government, but none of my hon. Friends can question how that money is spent. That is an absolutely farcical situation.

I wish to make one or two points which I am sure will be within the rules of order, first on the question of the Representation of the People Act as it applies to Northern Ireland. I was elected to this House under the same Act of Parliament as every other hon. Member. But the atmosphere under which I was elected was completely different from that which existed in any other constituency in the United Kingdom.

The returning officer in Northern Ireland is responsible for the running of elections in Northern Ireland, but the payment comes from the pockets of the British taxpayer. Therefore, I believe that I am quite in order in discussing the activities of the returning officer in Northern Ireland in connection with the 12 seats which return hon. Members to this House.

Why have the British Government since the 1920s failed to have even an observer in Northern Ireland when elections were taking place to elect hon. Members to this House? Two years ago, we heard of the atmosphere which prevailed in Smethwick, but in Northern Ireland this atmosphere has prevailed since 1920, and particularly in the constituency of West Belfast which I represent. The British people showed their concern about the attitude adopted by one of the candidates at Smethwick at the 1964 election. But no voice has been raised against the Unionist Members, the Unionist Government and the Unionist returning officer in Northern Ireland for the practices which have taken place at every election since 1920.

I ask the Minister of State these questions. Why has the returning officer acting as agent of this House, in the past, and up till a few months ago, deliberately sited polling stations in my constituency in favour of the Unionist candidate? Why have polling stations been sited as far away as possible from the anti-Unionist area? Why has it come about that people who wanted to go to the polling station and vote anti-Unionist were not afforded police protection from being attacked by bigoted mobs?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman pursues this line of argument, I must invite the right hon. Lady to tell me whether the Home Office exercises responsibility over the conduct of elections in Northern Ireland. I should myself have doubted that it did, and, unless the Home Secretary claims to exercise responsibility for the conduct or supervision of elections in Northern Ireland, it will not be in order for the hon. Gentleman to pursue that line of argument.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are we to take it from your last observations that, if the Minister were to reply "Yes", the debate would be allowed to continue along the lines so far developed, but that, if she replies "No", you will not permit the debate to continue along those lines?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I should be guided by anything the right hon. Lady says. But the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is criticising the conduct of returning officers at Parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland and discussing the atmosphere in which those elections take place, and what I am investigating is whether or not the Home Secretary claims to exercise any responsibility for the conduct of returning officers in Northern Ireland. Unless the Home Office does claim to exercise any such responsibility, it is no use asking the right hon. Lady to reply to the matters which the hon. Member for Belfast, West is now raising.

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

As I understand the position, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the returning officer in Northern Ireland—as with returning officers in every part of the United Kingdom—has sole responsibility for the conduct of the election and is not responsible to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. There is no distinction as between Northern Ireland and Great Britain but even in Great Britain it is the returning officer who is responsible for the conduct of elections.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

If it was found in a constituency in England, Wales or Scotland that a returning officer had failed in his duty, had shown undue bias towards one or other of the political parties, had failed to protect electors in performance of their right and duty to vote, who would be responsible for either censuring that individual or taking against him? Would it be the Home Office? Will the Minister tell us that?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. In so far as returning officers or any other members of the public commit breaches of the law which can be investigated by the courts, the courts of the land are the appropriate authorities before which agrieved citizens can bring their complaints. There are several matters which are justiciable in a court but for which no Ministers, either in this country or any other country, have jurisdiction.

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Woolwich West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) represents the electors of West Belfast. Surely it is in order for him to raise in this House the grievances of his constituents. I would submit that in raising grievances from his constituents in the House, my hon. Friend is in order.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I have tried to indicate the limits within which the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) can quite properly in this debate ventilate the grievances of his constituents. I would not wish to indicate that I wanted to prevent him doing so. All that I am saying is that there is a limit on the responsibility of Her Majesty's Ministers in this country for matters that take place in Northern Ireland, and I am bound by the Rulings of my predecessors to say that I must see that the limits of debate on this matter are observed in accordance with the precedents which have been laid down.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In answer to the excellent point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), would you not agree that at least the hon. Member for Belfast, West can raise in this House matters relating to his constituency? Would you not agree that your Ruling really means that it is about as useful an exercise as washing your feet with your socks on to send hon. Members here from Northern Ireland if, when they get here, they cannot discuss some of the things which almost prevented them from becoming elected Members of Parliament? It is about as useful an exercise as that.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On 26th May, 1966, I tabled a Question to the Home Secretary in which I asked my right hon. Friend if he would seek discussions with the Northern Ireland Government with a view to legislation to secure the transfer to him of responsibility for the administration in Northern Ireland of elections to the United Kingdom Parliament. My right hon. Friend replied: The Northern Ireland Government have no functions in relations to elections to the United Kingdom Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1966; Vol. 729, c. 130.] That would tend to suggest that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) can talk about the actions of the returning officer, as it is not within the jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Parliament.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I do not think so. I think that the Question was quite properly addressed to the Home Secretary by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), and quite properly answered. There is responsibility on the Government for the promotion, if they think it desirable, of legislation affecting Northern Ireland. But I am sure that the whole House is aware that in a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill we cannot possibly introduce matters requiring legislation, whether it affects Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom. We are confined in this debate to matters of administration, and, on those grounds, any matters involving legislation would be out of order completely.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There are two matters which I wish to put to you. First, with regard to the responsibility of Ministers, whilst it is clear that Ministers in Northern Ireland have a certain exclusive jurisdiction and that their administrative acts are not answerable for in this House, is it not proper to consider that there is this aspect to it? This House is responsible for the expenditure of something like £60 million in Northern Ireland this year. Ministers in this House have to decide how much of the finances which come to their Departments are to be allocated to Northern Ireland. They have policies with regard to Northern Ireland. Is it not, therefore, proper to discuss Northern Ireland affairs from the side of the Ministers who are in this House and who decide what proportion of their funds should be allocated to that country?

Secondly, am I correct in saying that, since the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, all the decisions with regard to the relevance of Northern Ireland matters in this House have been confined to the question of the admissibility of formal Questions at Question Time which, again, are confined more to Departmental matters than to matters of general policy which, I respectfully submit, come within the ambit of this debate?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

The hon. Gentleman has raised two points of order. On the first, there are a number of matters affecting administration in Northern Ireland which can quite properly be raised in this debate. They include, as he indicated, matters relating to subsidies and other payments out of the Consolidated Fund for purposes in Northern Ireland. Matters which indirectly affect trade or employment or unemployment in Northern Ireland have repeatedly been allowed both at Question Time and in debate. But the dividing line must be whether or not there is any Ministerial responsibility in this House.

On the second point, there is no distinction between what is allowable at Question Time and what is allowable in a debate of this kind. The test in all cases must be the limit of Ministerial responsibility, because it should be obvious to all hon. Members that no good purpose is served by hon. Members raising questions about Northern Ireland in this House, either in this debate or at any time, unless they can direct their questions to some point for which a Minister of the Crown here is responsible and therefore can answer.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A few minutes ago you ruled that it was not proper for us to discuss questions of returning officers, because the Secretary of State has no responsibility for their conduct, but it was within my recollection that the Secretary of State had power to appoint over certain returning officers in Northern Ireland and I have here the Representation of the People Act, 1949, Section 17(3,b) of which says: In the case of a constituency wholly contained within the county borough of Belfast or any county the returning officer shall be such under-sheriff as the Secretary of State may by order direct. Surely if the Secretary of State has power to appoint these returning officers it is proper for us to criticise the conduct of those returning officers and show that they should not be appointed by the Secretary of State.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

If the Home Secretary informs me that the Home Office is not responsible for the conduct of returning officers, either in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, that question cannot arise.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

It will be obvious from the concern expressed by my hon. Friends that this matter will be raised again and again during the lifetime of this Parliament until a satisfactory solution is arrived at. During the course of your remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you said that we are able to discuss questions of employment and unemployment for which a Minister in this House is responsible, but perhaps I may illustrate my concern by saying that if the electoral law in Northern Ireland were carried out in the democratic manner of every other constituency in the United Kingdom, I have no doubt that it would ensure a different type of representation in this House.

For many years, constituencies in Northern Ireland have been represented by members of the Unionist Party and I have heard some of them speak since I arrived here a few months ago. I heard one hon. Member stating during the debate on the economic position that the people of Northern Ireland regarded the present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as an incompetent who had mismanaged the economy and who will go down in history as one of the worst Prime Ministers of the century. I do not know if that is the sort of claptrap that this House has been listening to from Unionist Members over the last few months, but if the hon. Member who made those remarks claims to speak for Northern Ireland, then I am the worshipful master of an Orange Lodge.

It is absolutely ridiculous. I am very concerned about the economy and the discussions which have taken place, and about the deflation which is to be practised in the United Kingdom, particularly when I reflect on the high unemployment figures in many constituencies in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister said that he would regard a figure of 2½ per cent. unemployment as being not intolerable within the context of the present economic situation. Have any of the Unionist Members during their time as representatives in this House illustrated cogently just how serious the unemployment situation is in Northern Ireland?

Let me quote some figures: in Dun-gannon there are 1,044 unemployed, representing 10·1 per cent. of the population; in Enniskillen there are 1,616 unemployed, representing 12·8 per cent.; in Kilkeel there are 479, representing 18·8 per cent.; in Londonderry there are 2,910, representing 10·4 per cent.; in Newcastle there are 644, representing 11·5 per cent.; in Newry there are 2,194, representing 14·5 per cent.; in Omagh there are 1,011 unemployed, representing 10·5 per cent. and in Strabane there are 1,370, representing 16·1 per cent.

These are figures which would never have been brought to the attention of this House by the Unionist Members because none has an Ulster Unionist majority and consequently money disbursed by this Parliament is denied to these areas. These areas are denied any industrial development on the ground that they are not worth it, that they are anti-Unionist and worthy of no consideration. This Parliament hears of these figures and about Short Brothers and Harland. I have as much sympathy as any Unionist Member over the plight in which it finds itself. I realise that before the end of the year there will be 1,200 unemployed and before the end of next year there will be 4,000 unemployed. As a Socialist I do not want to see any unemployed man in Northern Ireland, irrespective of his religious or political beliefs. This is not so with my Unionist colleagues, who deliberately deny employment to areas in the country because they do not support the Unionist Party. This is a position which should not be tolerated by this Parliament.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member again. I merely want to assist him by indicating that in so far as he is, quite properly, discussing unemployment in Northern Ireland, he must expound this in terms of being referable to acts of Her Majesty's Government in this country. He must not introduce matters affecting unemployment that relate to the administrative acts of the Government of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

We have illustrated this time and again, and no doubt I will have to illustrate it again before the conclusion of this debate. The fact is that £60 million of British taxpayers' money is paid annually to the Northern Ireland Parliament, and that Parliament then sets out to attract industry. What is not known is that it attracts that industry to Unionist areas and denies British subjects the right to work. That, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is where the responsibility of this Parliament lies.

I want to speak of unemployment as it at present exists in Northern Ireland and of the effects which deflation might have in the months ahead. Within recent months, the British public and, indeed, this House, were made aware of the true situation existing in Northern Ireland in a way not dreamed of previously. The British public is still largely unaware of what is happening in Northern Ireland, and I am supported in this contention by none other than the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, who gave a most stupid Press conference the other day.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I must remind the hon. Member that no Minister in this House has any responsibility for what the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland may say.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

I could not agree with you more, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland stated that it is hard to explain things to an Englishman. What an admission for the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. That Prime Minister is representative of a party which claims to be so much an integral part of the United Kingdom.

If there is any dramatic increase in unemployment in Northern Ireland, due to measures taken by this Government, then it could lead to a worsening of the position even as it exists today. In 1929 to 1931, everyone on this House at that time laughed at Hitler, but as soon as unemployment figures rose in Germany, so Hitler's strength rose. We have a few miniature Hitlers today. Northern Ireland is indeed worthy of special consideration in economic matters in whichever way the Government propose to act. If there is to be any substantial rise in unemployment, it will certainly fall on that section of the community least able to defend itself.

There are many subjects I should be prepared to discuss, but I do not want to go outside the rules of order, and I hope that I have been able to illustrate that in Northern Ireland there is an unnatural political situation. The concern which I voice on behalf of my constituents, and my hon. Friends on this side of the House, is such that I believe that whatever discussions take place between the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom should be made public. The minority in Northern Ireland looks outside the boundaries of the Stormont Parliament. That minority looks to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom with hope and calls to him for assistance in its plight. It is a plight which those people have had to withstand for many years.

I realise that questions on the electoral law of Northern Ireland cannot be dealt with by the Minister this morning, but I ask her in all sincerity to take cognisance of the remarks which have been made, and I also ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether you can in any way help us to rid ourselves of the conventions which exist in this House and which prevent me from discussing the welfare of my constituents. I find it rather frustrating when I look to this House for justice for my constituents—because I know that any plea that I make in the Stormont will certainly fall on deaf ears.

I am pledged to support the Labour Administration in this country, and I close with the remarks I made during the course of my maiden speech; if I support Socialism in England, Scotland and Wales I am entitled to ask my Socialist friends to support me in my fight for social justice and democracy in Northern Ireland.

5.30 a.m.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

I will not detain the House for very long. It is a frustrating thing to me that whenever we seek to raise questions concerning Northern Ireland there is always an atmosphere of humour, as though we are discussing something very funny. This is one of the greatest weapons deployed to destroy any argument, apart from the barmy convention that we have, which allows me to discuss Timbuctoo, Rhodesia, Peru or the Argentine but forbids me to discuss matters which are of vital interest to my constituents.

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Woolwich West

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is even more barmy that an Irish Member can discuss the grievances of constituents in West Woolwich but cannot discuss the grievances of his own constituency of Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)?

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

I said at the beginning of my speech that humour was always introduced into such debates as this. To seek to debate these matters here is about as useful an exercise as washing one's feet with one's socks on; no good comes out of it?

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

When we discuss the Irish question as it appertains to the six counties of Ulster—because they have not got all nine counties; they have got only six out of the nine—the weapon of humorous ridicule is used. It is regarded as very funny—very Irish. I do not know when the last anti-Unionist Member for Belfast, West was heard here. I think it was a long time ago.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

He did as much good there as he would have been able to do here. I am sure that Members who represent the other 11 seats in Northern Ireland would not mind having detailed discussions about the problems of the people of Northern Ireland, because they are very fond of saying that nothing is wrong with the situation there. They fight like the devil to prevent us finding out. With their co-operation, we could discuss intimate details of aid and Northern Ireland's Government, and why it is called Britain's political slum.

These conventions should not be established for ever. When the convention began in 1922, there was doubt about whether we could debate the Stormont. When the then Speaker was asked whether questions unrelated to defence or foreign affairs in Northern Ireland could be discussed, he said that he would have to have notice of the question. I do not blame him for using that convention.

So far as I can tell, it has never been ruled upon, but that first convention has always been fastened on by previous Speakers, who we know are non-political but who used to be Tories. This has been used as a weapon to prevent us——

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to make remarks which in any way reflect on my predecessors in the Chair.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

I withdraw that remark. Despite this convention, responsible people in Northern Ireland, such as Captain O'Neill, have said that discrimination is practised and that certain things are wrong, that they should not be expected to wave a magic wand, but that the matter should be left to them. But we have left it to them—not to Captain O'Neill: I recognise his statesmanship and courage in meeting Mr. Sean Lemass on 14th January, 1965, and on 9th February in Dublin.

These meetings seem trivial, and we would be appalled that it should be thought that meetings between two Ministers of different Governments are evidence of courage. But this is a courageous act by Captain O'Neill. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland thinks things are wrong, yet we are prevented by the conventions of the House from discussing the matter. The Lord Chancellor last week gave hope to all hon. Members on this side when he said that, although we should not throw overboard every precedent, nor should we seek refuge in and be bound by all these decisions. It was case law: what one judge decided was the law, unless he was over-ruled by a higher court.

As a 32-county Irishman, I want the prosperity of the people of Northern Ireland and the whole of Ireland, and I want them to live in the kind of atmosphere which is natural here. I want to see this brought about, and it will come about all the more quickly if this Parliament exercises its authority. Very wisely, when it gave Northern Ireland certain functions and powers, it said, "We will keep the over-riding authority to ourselves under Section 75." That can mean only keeping the power to intervene when we believe that to be in the best interests of Northern Ireland and of this country. In quiet conversation, some hon. Members opposite recognise even better than we do what the situation is. Hon Members opposite have said, "Let us tackle it in our way". But that way has not been successful, and progress has been hindered because they have sheltered behind the fact that the full spotlight of Parliamentary debate cannot be directed at Northern Ireland. We may debate the loss of civil liberties in any country in the world except Northern Ireland. The atmosphere there would be 100 per cent. better if we could. I fervently hope that shortly we shall have in Northern Ireland the atmosphere for which I ask. I ask the 11 Unionist Members to tell the truth to the people back home—the truth that this Parliament will not stand for this for ever and a day.

5.42 a.m.

Photo of Mr Edwin Brooks Mr Edwin Brooks , Bebington

I should like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) in the point which he has been developing about the powers of this Parliament to discuss, matters relating to Northern Ireland. When I became a Member of the House a few months ago I was unaware of this long history of precedent and of the numerous arguments which had taken place about the rights of this Parliament in this respect. I became aware of the problem when, in reply to a series of Questions on 26th May, 1966, Mr. Speaker referred hon. Members who were seeking to discuss matters relating to Northern Ireland to Erskine May, page 354. Mr. Speaker pointed out that all he was concerned with was what was in order at Question Time. He said that the hon. Member would find that the matter was dealt with in Erskine May, page 354. The reference in Erskine May relates to the inadmissa-bility of Questions and there are a number of references given to Rulings by Mr. Speaker in times past, one of which dates from 7th March, 1922.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Order. It is not appropriate in this debate to go into Rulings which have been given by Mr. Speaker or any of his predecessors at Question Time.

Photo of Mr Edwin Brooks Mr Edwin Brooks , Bebington

The point which I was trying to make was whether Rulings which have been given at Question Time necessarily apply to those other parts of our Parliamentary procedure which do not involve Questions.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Equally we are not involved this morning in questions of Parliamentary procedure. All that we are concerned about is matters of administration, whether affecting Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom, within the competence of Her Majesty's Ministers in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East

On a point of order. Is not the point whether Rulings on Questions affect this debate? I should have thought that on that groundwork my hon. Friend would have proceeded to develop various points under the subject of the debate.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

As I understood it, the hon. Member was making a speech and not raising a point of order. When a number of points of order were raised earlier I indicated, I hoped clearly, my own interpretation of the rules of order by which I am bound. Rules of order may be changed. But where they are established by custom or otherwise accepted, I am bound to preserve them. If the hon. Member wants to argue that these conventions should be changed, then some other occasion must be found for arguing that. It is not appropriate tonight, on the Consolidated Fund Bill, when we are concerned with matters of administration, to argue that our Parliamentary conventions should be changed.

Photo of Mr Edwin Brooks Mr Edwin Brooks , Bebington

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my difficulty is that I am not clear about the basis on which the convention, to which reference is often made, rests. In the same exchange on 26th May, the Prime Minister, referring to certain conventions, said: There is the convention which all Governments in this House have fully honoured about not dealing with matters which are within the responsibility of the Stormont Parliament".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1966; Vol. 729, c. 722–3.] I take it, therefore, that this is a matter of time honoured procedure and one which is not necessarily based on any statutory or mandatory obligation. As I understand it, Section 75 of the 1920 Act, to which reference has been made, simply states: Notwithstanding the establishment of the Parliaments of Southern and Northern Ireland"— and it goes on: … or anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished … In an earlier Ruling tonight you drew a distinction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, between the authority of this Parliament and the authority of this Government. In the course of later remarks I tried to seek clarification as to how the supreme authority of this Parliament, to which reference is made in the 1920 Act, could be exercised when there is no means available to hon. Members to put questions to the Ministers in Stormont. I suggest, with respect, that this is a constitutional matter which requires clarification and reappraisal. It is obvious that the Irish question is still with us. It is obvious that this matter, which tormented the people of Ireland for many decades during the 19th century, is still, at least in parts of Ireland, particularly parts of Northern Ireland, with us.

I should have thought that it was a most serious matter, bearing in mind the considerable threat to law and order which now exists in Northern Ireland, if it is not possible, because of the sovereignty of this Parliament, for hon. Members to discuss grave developments which have been taking place in Northern Ireland in recent weeks.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Order. I will explain the matter again to the hon. Member. It is perfectly competent for this Parliament to intervene, in any legislative sense, in Northern Ireland. The competence of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament has been preserved by Section 75, which would, therefore, for example, enable this legislature to revoke or amend that Act; but that would involve legislation. It is not permissible, in debating the Consolidated Fund Bill, to introduce matters which involve legislation. We are concerned tonight only with matters of administration for which Her Majesty's Ministers in this House are responsible. That is the difficulty I am in. I do not want the hon. Member to think that any Ruling I have given tonight or any of the Rulings I have quoted from my predecessors in any way preclude the rights of this House as a legislature to intervene, if desired, in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you advise us wherein lies the definition, or the source of the definition, which states that the supreme authority is to be defined as being an administrative authority solely?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I think that if the hon. Member will look at the text of Section 75 he will find that it is quite clear that what is reserved is the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament—that is quite clear—and legislation can be introduced, and often is introduced, affecting Northern Ireland. There is no doubt about that. But in this debate we are discussing matters of administration, and only matters of administration, for which Her Majesty's Ministers at Westminster are responsible.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East

I am afraid, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that is not very clear to me. Where is it defined that the sovereignty of this Parliament shall be solely a legislative sovereignty?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

That is really inherent in the proposition. The sovereignty is expressed in legislative terms. Parliament exercises sovereignty over any part of the United Kingdom by legislation, but it has delegated administrative responsibility in certain matters to the Government of Northern Ireland. It is the Ministers in Northern Ireland who are alone responsible for these matters of administration which this Par- liament has devolved on them. If hon. Members want to seek an opportunity of suggesting that the Government of Ireland Act should be amended, they should seek appropriate opportunities for doing so, but it cannot be raised here.

Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thank you for your patience and for the courteous way in which you have answered these points of order. Nevertheless, I draw your attention to the wording of the Section about which we have heard so much. It states: … the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters, and things … If it means that the authority is undiminished over all matters, does not that mean that there is a general residue of authority even in administrative matters?

Might I draw attention to the fact that one of the debates tonight is to be on Rhodesia. Under the Act of 1923, a Constitution was granted to that country making it almost independent, while still retaining a generous measure of residue of authority in the ultimate event vested in the British Crown. Even though there are administrative matters which, following the illegal declaration of independence on 11th November of last year, are now vested in the Governor, I take it that it would still be competent for us to discuss the subject; and that if that debate is reached you will not rule that such matters are outside the rules of order in such a debate. Rhodesia is 6,000 miles away; Northern Ireland is less than 60 miles from the mainland. Is it not proper to consider that there is a residue of administrative authority in that connection as well?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I hope that I shall not be called upon to give any Rulings with regard to what is admissible when we come to deal with Rhodesia. At the present rate of progress, if we spend much more time on Northern Ireland I doubt whether we will get to Rhodesia, but with regard to the hon. Member's other question I must adhere to the Ruling I have given: that there are matters within the exclusive administrative competence of the Government of Northern Ireland, and those are not debatable in this House.

Photo of Mr Edwin Brooks Mr Edwin Brooks , Bebington

Do I take it, therefore, that notwithstanding whatever administrative incompetence might, perhaps, be discerned in the affairs of Northern Ireland, it would still not be proper for hon. Members in any way to discuss the matter, even bearing in mind that the administrative machinery is in large measure operated by means of moneys coming from the national Exchequer?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Order. I have not said that. All my Rulings have been directed to consideration of what is "administration" in this debate on this stage of this Bill.

Photo of Mr Edwin Brooks Mr Edwin Brooks , Bebington

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to add my support to the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) about the courteous way in which you have dealt with these very protracted points on procedure and order. All hon. Members will appreciate the difficulty under which we labour in the background of the discussion.

5.55 a.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

I came to listen to the debate tonight under the impression that we might have a useful discussion on economic affairs in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

We are not allowed to.

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

Indeed we are. I was encouraged by what I read in a Northern Ireland newspaper on 31st July in which the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is quoted indirectly as say that fear of unemployment will be the main plank of his platform tonight, fear that it might increase as a result of the squeeze. If he had put forward that fear at some length tonight he would have had my warm support. He went on to say, according to the article: I have been deliberately quiet during the last few weeks like other hon. Members for Northern Ireland, in case anything I might have said would be used by irresponsibles to add fuel to the discontent. I wish the hon. Member had remembered that, because the dry tinder is still there in some quarters of Northern Ireland. That is why I am grateful that, with certain exceptions, on the whole very little of an inflammable nature has been said tonight.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

May I point out that there is something different when we have these debates. Why will the kind of unemployment envisaged be so delicate in Northern Ireland? Why will it be so inflammatory? Will the hon. Member explain that?

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

I was not suggesting that unemployment as such would be inflammatory in any way, but that certain things have been said and far more could be said and I am grateful that those things have not been said, which would be far more inflammatory. I feared that the hon. Member was going to repeat what he said before.

The hon. Member had some other interesting things to say. I am sure that he was correctly reported. If not, I will give way to him. He said he would catch Mr. Speaker's eye on Tuesday, and of course he did not, and again on 8th August for his speech tonight. The newspaper story goes on to say: It is always very difficult to get into an economic debate at Westminster. How is it that Fitt feels assured of catching the eye of the Speaker? Recently at the request of the Government Whip he didn't move his 20 amendments to the Finance Bill. … It seems interesting that any hon. Member should feel so certain he is to be called not only on one but on two occasions".

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Woolwich West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have ruled that we can discuss in this debate only matters for which Her Hajesty's Government are responsible. I submit that Her Majesty's Government are not responsible for the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt).

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I think that is a perfectly valid point of order.

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

I entirely welcome your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker and the assertion made by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). I do not know whether the hon. Member for Belfast, West feels the same.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

This particular Press report was written by a political journalist. I at no time told him that I would be called by Mr. Speaker. That is his own construction which was put on the words. Would not the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) agree that the whole basis of that article was subsequently used by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in discussions with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

I have absolutely no idea. As far as I know, these discussions were private and will remain private. But I have heard the hon. Member talking about the construction put on his words on other occasions, and I have heard the expression that a nod is as good as a wink on many occasions. [An HON. MEMBER: What does that mean?] It means exactly what I meant it to mean and the hon. Gentleman is quite intelligent enough to work it out for himself.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West, spoke of his experience—or lack of experience—on the Consolidated Fund Bill and rather suggested that my hon. Friends and I would not have been here if he had not been present. He was, of course, quite wrong. We have been here on a number of occasions discussing the affairs of "Sea Eagle" and other subjects, and many times I have given the unemployment figures for Northern Ireland.

I hope that the hon. Member will contain himself and will have a look at HANSARD. We must remember he is on the payroll of two British Parliaments and he had better have a look at HANSARD in both. He also suggested that my hon. Friends—and I think he was being frivolous—were following him about. But we do not waste our time. We shadow more substantial things.

I thought that the hon. Member took a rather narrow view of his constituency duties. He referred to the fact that he represented 26,000 people, but of course in fact he represents 67,000 people. The 26,000 represent the number who, perhaps misguidedly, voted for him.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East

On a point of order. When is the speaker from the Opposition Front Bench going to reach the Consolidated Fund Bill?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I was hoping that he would shortly do so.

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

I did not think that anything I said was out of order.

If I may once again simply refer to the remarks of the hon. Member, who was not called to order, when he referred to my hon. Friend's attack on the Prime Minister of this country and his speaking of the Prime Minister's mismanagement of the economy. My hon. Friend was perfectly entitled to draw that conclusion. But, of course, the hon. Member for Belfast, West had presumably forgotten that he himself, when he thought he was beyond the ears of this Parliament and this country, made a stinging attack on the leader of the Labour Party during the seamen's strike.

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Woolwich West

What has the seamen's strike got to do with the subject of this debate?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I think I must allow the hon. Member to make his speech in his own way. I have already allowed a fair amount of latitude, but time is getting on and I hope that the hon. Member will bear in mind the Rulings I have given on what is in order in this debate.

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

We then come to the hon. Member's comments on the unemployment figures. He says that he cannot discuss the unemployment difficulties which are not the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government, but however that may be, he could well have discussed certain aspects of them. We have had from Short Brothers and Harland a circular from the shop stewards—I think it is to the Member of Parliament concerned: You will no doubt be aware that 4,000 workers in the above firm are due to become redundant between now and 1967. Frankly we are very worried about this, and we have taken a great deal of action about it from this side of the House as the right hon. Lady will know. So I resent very much the remarks the hon. Member made about the attitude of my hon. Friends and myself about unemployment. He could also have spoken of the Joint Anti-Submarine School at Londonderry which is very much the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. He could have made a plea for its retention and made a plea to stop the proposed move to Devonport over the next few years. Incidentally, the hon. Member should be ashamed of himself for some of the things he said, because in this case, which happens to be in my constituency, I have fought extremely hard, as have my hon. Friends, to retain this organisation there because, among other things, it employs a very large number of people, most of them middle aged, who will never be able to find work elsewhere, who have never known any work other than the Royal Navy and who do not belong to my party and who do not vote for me at elections, as is very well known. Apart from that, the base has an immense spending power for the area as a whole. It was a fight in which, if I may say so, Opposition Members at Stormont, except for certain members of the main party opposite, have played no part. And that is a shame on behalf of those people who are working there——

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

Surely, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it cannot be in order for the hon. Member to criticise Members of Stormont in this House.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

The hon. Member is quite right. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) is not in order in criticising the actions of Members of Stormont in this House.

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

That is very difficult, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as you will be the first to appreciate, as we have one sitting here. Is he to escape free? He is sitting here and drawing salaries from two Parliamentary payrolls.

This is my opportunity to say, and in a sense, therefore, I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising the matter, that it is high time that the Government looked again at the question of moving the Joint Anti-Submarine Training School. At the beginning of the year a joint service committee was set up by the Government to inquire into the feasibility, practicability and timing of this move to Devonport. I know, and it is well known that that joint service committee recommended not only that the move should not be made, but that the base at Londonderry should be extended.

That, is why I ask the Government to think again about this. Why have they turned down the report of that committee? If it is to be turned down, why has not the report been published so that the taxpayers and those who care about defence and economy in Northern Ireland can see the reasons for themselves? I am sure that they will be joined by the hon. Member for Belfast, West in pressing for this to come about.

When I asked a Question about this last week and about whether the committee had existed and had reported as I had indicated, the response that I got was unsatisfactory. When I asked whether it had existed, the Minister of Defence actually shook his head. I give notice to the Government in the friendliest possible way that I have evidence from other members of the Government to the effect that the committee did exist and so reported. I hope, therefore, that there will be no further attempt to deny the existence of that committee.

The hon. Member might have referred indirectly to the question of the shirt trade in particular and textiles in general, for which the Board of Trade has considerable responsibility. I have taken many deputations from the Northern Ireland Federation of Shirt Makers to the Board of Trade. They led the way in proposing exactly what the Government have done for the shirt trade of this country. If the hon. Member doubts what I am saying, he had better look up the tributes which they were overkind in paying to me on that subject.

Furthermore, the hon. Member might have made inquiries about what is happening concerning the air link which I and various of my colleagues have been trying to encourage for the Londonderry area since 1958 and which, in recent months, has looked like coming to fruition. These are some of the matters—and only some of them—which the hon. Member might have raised tonight.

As you have indicated, Mr. Deputy Speaker, time is getting on, and I do not want to keep out certain hon. Members from Wales who will have interesting contributions to make, with possibly less difficulty that hon. Members opposite have found. I shall, therefore, be as brief as I can. Without wishing to be polemical, I must say, however, that I have seldom listened to an attempt to make a speech which combined so much irresponsibility with so much factual inexactitude as the hon. Member for Belfast, West made tonight. I question whether it was wise at this moment, when there is a certain amount of dry tinder about in Northern Ireland, to initiate a debate on this particular question—I say this to other hon. Members opposite in all sincerity—especially as we are awaiting an answer to a Question tomorrow.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose——

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

I shall not give way. Mr. Deputy Speaker wishes to move on. It is possible in debates of this kind to say things which, I am sure, would not be said other than with sincerity, though perhaps mistakenly, but which at the present time could stir up undesirable elements, could be inflammatory and, at worst, could lead to violence.

In the past few months, a number of people have made great efforts. Tributes have been paid to Captain O'Neill and others who are trying all they can to move forward to a happier feeling in the whole community. Their efforts have been attended by some success, and I pray that they will have continued success. Let us do all we can from here to help, perhaps if only by restraint in this House, for what we must not encourage, and this is desperately serious, is the kind of attitude that "Nobody cares about us, we have no friends in the party opposite and everybody is against us".

That is unhealthy in itself and inimical to the interests which hon. Members on both sides of the House have in mind for the advancement of the community. I hope that the hon. Member for Belfast, West will receive no more attention than is customary. He is well known in Northern Ireland for what he says. I hope that he will be recognised again tonight for the political lightweight that he is.

6.12 a.m.

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

This has been an interesting debate, though I feel myself in some difficulty in answering it because you, Mr. Deputy Speaker have from time to time ruled that many of the points raised were out of order and, at various points when my hon. Friends were speaking, other hon. Members have risen to claim that other points were out of order. It will be difficult for me to answer the debate and myself keep within order.

There has been a good deal of hilarity at times, as sometimes happens in debates on Northern Ireland, but I regard the subject of Northern Ireland as very serious and one which the House should treat—and I am sure does treat—very seriously.

I shall probably be stepping where angels fear to tread, but I shall try as far as I can to state the constitutional background and the responsibilities of the Government here for Northern Ireland. The Government of Ireland Act, 1920, set up the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and gave that Parliament power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Northern Ireland, subject to a list of exceptions.

There are about 20 of those exceptions, which include such matters as the conduct of international relations, the Armed Services, coinage, the postal services and so on. These exceptions over which the Parliament and Government of the United Kingdom retain control are commonly called "reserved services", and all the other functions of government which are in the hands of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland are called "transferred services". Housing, the siting of industry, electoral boundaries, and electoral qualifications insofar as electors to the Northern Ireland Parliament are concerned, are transferred.

The validity of an Act of the Northern Ireland Parliament may be decided in the Northern Ireland courts from which appeal lies to the House of Lords. It is also possible for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to obtain from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council a determination as to whether an Act of the Northern Ireland Parliament is beyond that Parliament's powers. Elsewhere in the Act it is provided that the Governor of Northern Ireland must be free from religious discrimination in his exercise of the prerogative and executive powers which are delegated to him. In so far as allegations of discrimination relate to actions by the Northern Ireland Government themselves, they may be tested in the courts as conflicting with this provision. As regards allegations of discrimination by local authorities in the exercise of their executive powers, it would be for the courts to determine whether they were competent to hear them.

I come now to the controversial Section 75 of the Act, to which there has been a good deal of reference in the debate.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East

Before leaving the question of discrimination, are we to take it from that summary description of the position that the Home Secretary in this House is not required to accept any responsibility if there are complaints of discrimination by either local or central government in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to continue with this part of my speech because my references to Section 75 will, I hope, clear up some of the misconceptions.

The first point to note is that Section 75 preserves the supreme authority of Parliament but not the Government of the United Kingdom over all persons, matters and things in Northern Ireland. I stress that the word used is "Parliament", not "Government". This means that in no event can there be any question of the United Kingdom Government interfering in transferred matters without legislation passed by virtue of that Section. It would need legislation by this Parliament. It is perfectly possible for the United Kingdom Parliament to change the situation by passing legislation.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East

I am not a constitutional expert, but, since in our constitutional practice there is no division between Government and Parliament but the Government is made up of Parliament, wherein does this definition arise?

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

It arises in that it is only Parliament which can pass an Act of Parliament. The Government themselves acting as a Government or Cabinet could not pass legislation. It is only this House and the other place which could pass legislation to alter the situation.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East

It is not a question of legislation. It is the question which I raised on points of order earlier. Wherein is it defined that that authority—that is the word used—is a matter of legislation? As I understand it, authority is not defined solely as legislative authority. Where is it laid down that it arises in that way under the Government of Ireland Act?

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

We have authority as regards certain subjects but not those which have been reserved for the Northern Ireland Government unless this Parliament passes an Act on those transferred matters. If my hon. Friend will consider this, he will see that an Act of Parliament is needed to change the situation. To put it as simply as I can—it is not an easy subject to put simply—the Government have powers in those matters which are reserved to us. We have not powers in those matters which have been transferred to the Northern Ireland Government. But it is perfectly competent for this Parliament to take such action as it thinks fit, through legislation to change that position.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

Mr. Fitt indicated assent.

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

I hope I have stated it plainly. I am encouraged because I see even the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) nodding his head.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but this is a very important point to us all. Would it be impossible for the United Kingdom Government to appoint a Royal Commission to examine the way in which the present Government of Ireland Act is working?

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

That is a question which a number of my hon. Friends have put to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I will come to it in a moment. It might have been possible, but it was decided that it was not the right way to tackle the problem. It is perfectly possible for the United Kingdom to change this situation, but we should have to think a long time before attacking the problem in that way.

I should like to remind the House that there has never been an occasion in which legislation on transferred matters has been applied to Northern Ireland against the wishes of the Northern Ireland Government. Section 75 of the 1920 Act provides authority for it to be done. It could be done by this Parliament according to Section 75, but it would do great harm to relations between the two Governments.

The purpose of Section 75 was to preserve the power of the United Kingdom Parliament to terminate or change the Constitution of Northern Ireland, and it could do that. Successive Governments have taken the view, however, that so long as Northern Ireland retains its present Constitution, it would be wrong for the United Kingdom Government and Parliament to interfere in matters for which responsibility has been delegated to the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament.

What I have been saying does not mean that the United Kingdom Government is unconcerned about what goes on in Northern Ireland. We are greatly concerned, and we are aware of the disquiet being expressed about the situation there. There are those who urge intervention by Parliament in the exercise of its powers under Section 75, or for the Government to set up an inquiry into the working of the Government of Ireland Act. I can only say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear in answer to Questions on 28th May that does not favour that kind of action. He has said that he prefers the method of informal talks with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Captain O'Neill, and, as the House knows, the first of those contacts took place at a working lunch last Friday at which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was also present.

I am not in a position to tell the House now what was said at those talks, although I understand that those who took part considered that they had had a profitable discussion and that the talks would continue in a few months' time. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is to answer Questions about these talks later today, and I think that we must await the answers to be given to those Questions by my right hon. Friend.

I want to turn for a moment to the points which have been raised about the economic situation in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members have referred to the economic situation there and speculated on the possible effects of any increase in unemployment over the next few months as a result of the Government's actions. There has been speculation both outside and inside the House that, as a result of the Government's new Measures, there will be an increase in unemployment, and it has also been suggested that, if that were to happen, it could lead to serious social and political disturbances.

That can only be speculation, and I do not think that it is possible at this stage for anyone to give a detailed assessment of the new restrictions as they will affect Northern Ireland or any other area of the United Kingdom. All that I can say is that it is the Government's inten- tion to continue to treat Northern Ireland for this purpose no less favourably than a development area in Great Britain and to shield it as far as possible from the full effects of the measures now in force. I cannot say more than this but I am sure my colleagues in the economic Departments will take note of what has been said in this debate.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

I am interested to hear from my right hon. Friend that Northern Ireland is to be treated no less favourably than the development areas, but part of the argument deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was that there had been deliberate economic deprivation and starvation of certain counties. Will the Government see that this is put right?

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

I am talking about the effects or possible effects of the Government's economic measures announced over last two or three weeks. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State is to answer a Question from the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) on Thursday about the effect of the Government's new policies on the unemployment situation in Northern Ireland. I am only too well aware that the unemployment figures for Northern Ireland are consistently higher than those for the rest of the United Kingdom.

The unemployment figure in the middle of last month was nearly 28,000, representing 5·9 per cent. of the insured population, but I have been pleased to see that, in recent years, there has been some improvement. Indeed, during the first nine months of 1965, unemployment was lower than for the corresponding period in any of the 10 years previous. Even so, the average was too high at 6·4 per cent.

I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West said about unemployment being in areas in Northern Ireland. I visited one of those areas when I was in Northern Ireland a few weeks ago. I went to Newry, which is almost on the border between Northern Ireland and Eire and an area which he quoted as having over 14 per cent. unemployment, which is very great for a small town of that size.

I visited the meat processing factory recently built and opened by a Danish firm which is employing a number of people and was interested to see that it is probably the most up to date in Europe. I was glad to see that something at least was going into Newry to help ease the unemployment situation there.

The critical position of Short Brothers and Harland, the aircraft firm, and of Harland and Wolff, the shipbuilders, have been mentioned. I understand the concern, for both have been mainstays of the Northern Ireland economy in the past. The future of both is dependent to some extent on action by the Government here.

First, I shall deal with Short Bros. and Harland. Early in 1965 the Government decided to make drastic reductions in the military aircraft programme. From the start, we recognised that this decision was of particular importance for Shorts, both because the Government are the majority shareholders and because of the already serious unemployment situation in Northern Ireland.

Accordingly, it was decided to carry out a comprehensive review of the company's potential and of the best use which could be made of its labour force and other assets. Consultants were appointed and they submitted their report in December. Among other things, they recommended that Shorts' production should be diversified, through joint ventures with existing companies, into other activities, particularly mechanical engineering. The consultants further recommended that a negotiator should be appointed to handle the discussions with possible partners for Shorts. In March, it was announced that Sir Matthew Slattery, a former Chairman of Shorts, and Mr. Derek Palmer, one of the industrial advisers of the First Secretary of State, had been invited to carry out the diversification negotiations.

Questions on the progress of the diversification exercise are for my right hon. Friend the First Secretary, but on 7th July, in answer to a Question by the hon. Member for Belfast, East my right hon. Friend said that the Northern Ireland Government and ourselves were working closely together on this problem.

I am very pleased to see that Rolls-Royce has decided to rent one of the Northern Ireland's Government factories, near Belfast, for the manufacture of aero-engine components. This scheme will eventually employ over 2,000 and, although it has no direct relevance to the diversification of Short Bros., some of Shorts' workers may find employment there.

The problems of Harland and Wolff are bound up with the general question of the future of the shipbuilding industry in the United Kingdom as a whole. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is to make a statement this week on the Government's decisions on the recommendations of the Geddes Committee on the shipbuilding industry, and I must ask the House to await that statement. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) raised the question, as he has previously done, of the Joint Antisubmarine School. As he knows, the then Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy announced on 26th October last year that the Government had decided, with regret, that this establishment must be moved from Londonderry to Plymouth. The hon. Member for Londonderry has been active in trying to get this decision changed, but he has frequently been told that the operational arguments for moving the establishment remain decisive.

Although this matter is kept under review, no Government establishments have yet been identified as being suitable for transfer to Londonderry to replace the Joint Anti-submarine School.

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

Would the right hon. Lady inquire on what basis the Committee's recommendation was made?

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

The hon. Gentleman asked a Question only last week of my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence for the Royal Navy, and he was told that my hon. Friend preferred not to publish the report of the Committee. This is a matter for my hon. Friend, and the hon. Gentleman must pursue this matter with him.

Mention has been made of recent trouble in Northern Ireland. We should all be very careful in what we say in this House not to exacerbate that trouble. I made my first visit to Northern Ireland and Eire in the middle of June of last year, the week before the serious trouble occurred. It is a beautiful country which unfortunately has a history of strife, trouble and bloodshed. There is still religious strife in Northern Ireland and old controversies and battles are still being fought.

As everyone recognises, it is a country with great economic difficulties, which are being slowly overcome. Northern Ireland has a prosperous agricultural industry; it has good factories like the one I have mentioned at Newry, and there is a great need for more industry in Northern Ireland. But that country, with strife and bitterness, will not attract new industry and investment. As I said when I was in Northern Ireland, if I were an Ulsterman I should think that it was time to stop living in the past, with old hatreds and old feuds and I should look to the future of the economy, because it is there that the happiness of the country lies.