HC Deb 30 November 1937 vol 329 cc2029-33

11.16 p.m.

Mr. Lloyd

I beg to move, in page 9, line 28, to leave out from the beginning, to "be," in line 32, and to insert For the removal of doubts it is hereby declared that it is and always has been within the functions of the Government of Northern Ireland to secure that in Northern Ireland precautions shall, as in other parts of the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend is much obliged to my hon. Friends for drawing his attention the desirability of giving further consideration to this Clause. He has had consultations with representatives of the Government of Northern Ireland, and as a result he has put clown this and the following Amendment. They will have the effect of making clear the status within the United Kingdom of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland in the matter to which the Bill relates. These Amendments will dispel any impression that the Clause has the effect of imposing new obligations on the Government of Northern Ireland.

11.17 p.m.

Sir Ronald Ross

I should like to thank my hon. Friend for the Amendment, which, as he has said, has been agreed with representatives of the Government of Northern Ireland, and corrects the constitutional position. I admit that I am not altogether happy as to the position under this Bill of the part of the United Kingdom from which I come. The Bill is essentially a Defence Measure. It affects civilians as well as soldiers and sailors, and it is an ancillary part of the defence of the country as a whole against air raids. As far as I can see, the burden of our local expenditure is put upon us, and it puts us in an entirely different position from any other part of the country, because the point has been taken by hon. Members opposite, and assented to on this side, that this is a national duty, the expenditure for carrying out which should come from the Treasury, and not put upon local bodies. I should say in fairness that there is this difficulty, that of course the administration of air-raid defence in Northern Ireland must come under the Government of Northern Ireland. It is normally the head of the machinery which would appropriately administer it, and therefore there is a constitutional difficulty which must be obvious to all Members. I think the Government should consider whether some block grant could be given in the way of assistance to the Northern Ireland Government in the discharge of this duty, which as regards the industrial area around Belfast is a vital matter of national defence.

I have a further question to ask regarding the allotment of equipment. When the right hon. Gentleman was moving the Second Reading of the Bill, he said there would be a certain amount of equipment in connection with air-raid defence work which would be manufactured centrally and issued. I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether he will give a general assurance to-night that Northern Ireland shall be in a no worse position as regards the free or assisted issue of that equipment than any other part of the country. I do not wish to push our claims too high, because I think that as regards a lot of places our part of the United Kingdom will probably be safer from air raids than any other, but there will be places which will need efficient and up-to-date air-raid equipment, and I ask for an assurance that our treatment shall be as generous as that of any other part of the United Kingdom.

11.20 p.m.

Mr. H. G. Williams

I should not have joined in this discussion at this late hour but for the fact that the Clause does raise a somewhat unusual constitutional issue. Section 4 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, is the Section which disables the Government of Northern Ireland from passing legislation in respect of certain matters. Sub-section (2) relates to the making of peace or war or matters arising from a state of war; or the regulation of the conduct of any portion of His Majesty's subjects during the existence of hostilities between foreign states with which His Majesty is at peace, in relation to those hostilities. Sub-section (3) deals with the Navy, the Army, the Air Force and the Territorials. It is not often that we get these constitutional issues arising, and even if it be 11.20 I think it is important that the House should understand exactly what it is we are declaring or altering. We are declaring the law when we say that it always has been within the power of the Government of Northern Ireland to regulate the conduct of any portion of His Majesty's subjects, or rather, that it is not within their power as the Act stands, "during the existence of hostilities." I think those are the pertinent words. We ought to know exactly the law we are declaring in the Amendment, or what law we are altering. I understand that this is an agreed Clause, but it is important to the Commons House of Parliament in Great Britain to know exactly what it is to which we have agreed.

11.22 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

In a word, we are simply declaring what the state of the law is. We have gone into the question at some length with the Government of Northern Ireland, and I think that in the absence of the Home Secretary, who is the Minister who deals with Northern Ireland, we might postpone further consideration of this to a further stage of the Bill. This is an Amendment to remove doubts; it does not change the law.

Sir R. Ross

Will my right hon. Friend answer the point I put about Northern Ireland not being worse treated as regards the issue of air-raid precaution equipment than the other parts of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Elliot

I think it would be impossible for me to give a further assurance at the present time. Of course that point will be borne in mind, but the Home Secretary would be the proper Minister to give such an assurance.

Mr. Davidson

Have we to take it that the whole question of the status of Northern Ireland will have to be discussed before we can discuss the question of the Government's generosity?

11.23 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I have heard with astonishment the statement of the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is not fair to a Committee of the Whole House that we cannot have the necessary explanations. The Under-Secretary of State, we understood until to-day, was the person in the Department who had special charge of this matter and who, on occasion, helped the Home Secretary to deal with it in public, although it was a matter that was assigned to the Under-Secretary. It is not fair that we should be told: "I am the make-weight. I do not profess to be able to deal with the subject," and for the Secretary of State for Scotland, on a constitutional point raised by one of the hon. Members for Ulster, to say that the hon. Member must wait until the Home Secretary was here. I protest against this treatment of this Committee. I hope that, on another occasion, the Patronage Secretary, when he finds at an earlier stage of the proceedings that the Ministers who an on the Front Bench are incompetent to deal with questions raised by such simple people as the Members for Ulster, will withdraw the Measure and let us go on with something else—or let us have a night off.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 9, line 35, at the end, add: and that the Parliament of Northern Ireland has power to make laws for such purposes.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.