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I apologise for participating in the debate after being prevented by service on one of the Committees of the House from being present for the opening speeches, although I am not sure that anything was said in the opening speeches which was relevant to the single point I shall make.
I notice that there is not present at the moment on the Treasury Bench a representative of the Northern Ireland Office. I suspect that that may have been the case throughout the debate. Measured by lines, however, more of the Bill is concerned with Northern Ireland than with the rest of the United Kingdom.
You often have been present, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the late hours of the night or the small hours of the morning when the House has considered Orders in Council under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 which apply the legislation of the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland. It will be recalled that frequently on those occasions my colleagues and I have complained about that procedure. We have argued that there is no possible reason why the House should not legislate at one and the same time for all parts of the Kingdom instead of the legislation for Great Britain having to be clumsily dittoed in the form of an Order in Council for Northern Ireland under the 1974 Act. It is my delight to observe that that is exactly what is being done in this Bill. Although it requires more words to do it for Northern Ireland than for Great Britain, the Government have apparently found no difficulty whatsoever in including Northern Ireland and the appropriate application to Northern Ireland in a United Kingdom Bill.
When my hon. Friends and I have made that objection, Ministers have sung a repeated song. They have said "Yes, it is perfectly true that we could have included the content of this Order in Council in a United Kingdom Bill, but it is our anxiety to maintain the statute book of Northern Ireland intact, complete and inviolate so that if and when devolution returns again to Northern Ireland we can simply hand over the statute book and they can go on from there". Well, the enthusiasm for a Northern Ireland statute book seems at any rate not to have got as far as redundancy payments.
The whole argument is a nonsense and a prevarication. Although the Northern Ireland Parliament, which passed the 1965 Act, which Clause 2 of this Bill amends, had extensive powers of taxation and had powers to legislate quite differently, if at all, from this House, on the subject, for instance, of redundancy, it barely used those powers during the 50 years of its existence.
If hon. Members will compare the introduction to Clause 1 with the introduction to Clause 2 and in particular the words in brackets, which describe the effect of the respective parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland legislation which is being amended, they will find that they are as like as two peas in the same pod. In the same year—1965—in which this House introduced for Great Britain the provisions of the Redundancy Payments Act, the Parliament of Northern Ireland did exactly ditto by an Act of Parliament of Northern Ireland.
In this Bill, the House and the Government are behaving in an entirely sensible way, a way which is consistent with good legislation. They are using the same Bill in order to amend, uniformly, law which is already uniform in all parts of the United Kingdom. By doing that, they are enabling hon. Members from all parts of the kingdom, if they like, to avail themselves of the opportunity to participate in all stages of legislation, whereas, in the procedure of which I am complaining, Northern Ireland Members are expected to apply themselves to legislation in the form of an Order in Council when that legislation, in proper legislative form, has already gone through all its stages in both Houses.
I therefore want to thank the Government for having legislated in what my colleagues and I regard as the proper way for Northern Ireland in this respect. Irrespective of the merits of what they are doing, they have done it in a proper way. I wish to place upon record the fact that this shows that there is no substance in the continued arguments in favour of legislation late at night by Order in Council on matters in which the law in Northern Ireland is intended to be brought into or kept in perfect unison, as it should be, with the law in the rest of the United Kingdom.
This House has been concerned for many days in the recent past with the question of legislative devolution to other parts of the kingdom—to Scotland and Wales. Of course, I have no intention of trespassing upon that already well-trodden ground. I simply draw attention, on the basis of Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill, to the fact that Northern Ireland in that whole debate is, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), the exception that proves the rule and that legislative powers of an extensive character were conferred upon the Parliament of Northern Ireland but that the Parliament of Northern Ireland did not use those powers to give itself different law from the rest of the United Kingdom, because it understood perfectly well that the effect of using those powers would be that it would gradually grow away from the rest of the United Kingdom, which was the one result that it was determined to prevent.
The converse is, of course, that if we confer those powers upon parts of the kingdom which, on the Government's own admission, are to be regarded as nations we cannot expect the same result. On the contrary, we must expect the law in those parts of the kingdom will become rapidly and increasingly diverse from the law of the rest of the country so that, whether we like it or not, a move towards separate status is implicit in that legislation.
I recognise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I must already be trying your patience and I desist from that line of argument, patent though the facts are upon the face of this Bill.
I end by expressing the hope that in the future the Government, when amending the law in both parts of the kingdom—Great Britain and Northern Ireland—will, wherever possible and much more often than in the past, use the method adopted in this Bill and not the procedure by way of Order in Council to which not only my hon. Friends and I but those whom we represent so strongly object.