HC Deb 27 June 1947 vol 439 cc828-36

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

11.6 a.m.

Mr. John Beattie (Belfast, West)

As this is the principal Clause in the Bill, it is my intention to ask for clarification so that I may be satisfied that the work we are doing this morning is not to have a reaction on the policy which I have been pursuing for the last 30 years. Clause I gives certain powers in regard to certain schemes extending athwart the land frontier. The Clause deals with the use or development of water power for the purpose of generating electricity or for any other purpose; I believe in the development of electricity by water power, and I think we can benefit to a great extent by the development of a scheme of that kind; but will this power be used along the road which we on this side of the Committee have travelled for the last 50 years—the development of electricity nationally? Or will it be continued on the old road of private enterprise? I want the Home Secretary to answer these points. We have certainly made a little headway in schemes of nationalisation in a particular direction, but when we thought we were getting to the end of the road, we discovered that we were subject to a form of semi-socialisation.

The Clause also deals with the storage or supply of water. We all know that a necessity of mankind is water, and anyone who tried to stop the development of a scheme for the conservation and supply of water would be acting against the interests of the population. In parts of Northern Ireland we are living in a very primitive condition. In County Down there is no water supply to any homes outside a particular area. The only supply is by means of certain systems of water containers. In the City of Belfast we have a very up-to-date water supply which comes from the Mourne Mountains. At times we have tried to get it extended, but we have not been successful. That scheme would bring comfort to areas out- side Belfast, in County Down. The most primitive places, under twentieth century conditions, are those villages and towns which we find without proper water supplies or proper sanitary conditions. That state of affairs operates within a given area, and if this Clause is to help to bring nearer a water supply for the homes of County Down and other areas which are without such a facility, I will give it my wholehearted support. I want to be assured that this power will be used in the direction I have outlined.

The Clause also provides for the drainage or irrigation of land, and I will not oppose that, because I know its necessity and importance. Next there is the supply of electricity. I want to see electricity in every home in Northern Ireland and I want to ensure that any power which this House may grant to the Government of Northern Ireland will be used for the purpose of bringing electric light and power to the outlying parts of the Six Counties. Could I have an assurance on that from the Home Secretary? At the present time there is in Northern Ireland an Electricity Board, and the scheme which we have there is operating very well within limits. However, the Government of Northern Ireland will not put into practice, because of the cost, the plea which I am making for the giving of power and light to the outlying areas, and the people who require light and power in those outlying places have not the money to pay the overhead charges incurred in the expansion of the system. I want to have an assurance from the Government that this scheme will be operated for the benefit and welfare of the community and not in the interests of private enterprise. The Clause also provides for: the provision, maintenance, improvement, alteration or abandonment of highways, railways, inland waterways or bridges. These are things which, 20 years ago, I began to strive to see developed in my day and generation in Northern Ireland. During the war we had very heavy traffic on our roads and over our bridges and railways, and it is well to have the power contained in this Clause. At this point I want to make it known that I speak here, not as was circulated in a "round robin" when I came into the House some years ago as a defender of the I.R.A., for I am an Irish Presbyterian, but as one who believes in the development of labour and Socialism in the life of Ireland. My aim and object during the 30 years I have been in public life has been in that direction. I say this because of the "round robin" which was circulated. Having made this explanation because I considered it was necessary, I will now proceed. We are told that this Clause gives power for schemes to be undertaken outside the Six Counties. That is a pleasing sound to my ears, and it is a sound which will bring joy and contentment in both parts of Ireland. I am glad that this is one medium by which the Home Secretary can bring the two opposing forces in Ireland together, at any rate in one sphere.

The Chairman

I must ask the hon. Member to confine himself to the Clause of the Bill which we are discussing, and to what is precisely contained in that Clause.

Mr. Beattie

I bow to your Ruling Major Milner, because as one who has occupied a similar position to you in another place, I know your difficulties, and I want to meet with your requirements. The Clause says: This Section applies to schemes … being schemes extending as well to the portion of Ireland outside the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Northern Ireland as to the portion of Ireland within the jurisdiction of that Parliament but not further. In other words, we are to go across the border and work unitedly in the interests of the peoples of the two States in Ireland. I welcome that because it is a step in the right direction, and it may lead us to happier and more contented times. Having said this on Clause 1, I am not going to overdo my welcome to it. It is a very long Clause and it contains much that is gratifying. I want to have from the Home Secretary the assurances for which I have asked, because I feel I am entitled to get them as the representative of the view of Labour in this House, not only for the Six Counties, but all over Ireland. We want to be assured that there will be no abuses of this Clause during the period alluded to. I hope the Home Secretary will not think me too harsh in my statement, but that he will be able to deal with the points I have raised on this Clause.

11.15 a.m.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

I am glad to have the opportunity of saying a word on this Clause. I believe I am the senior Irishman who is a Member of the House of Commons, and in my constituency, and indeed throughout the country, it is hoped that the schemes contemplated in Clause I of this Bill, as presented to the House by the Home Secretary a fortnight ago, will commend themselves to people on both sides of the Border as being of profound significance in the economic expansion of Irish industry. When I was a young man in Ireland, I served very many years in cooperation with that great Irishman the late Sir Horace Plunket. I sat in a whole series of conferences with him in connection with the development of Irish agriculture and with various schemes, some of which are contemplated in the first Clause of this Bill. The Lough Erne scheme, to which attention was called on the Second Reading, has been hanging fire for many years, and has-been looked forward to on both sides of the Border with anxious hope as being of great importance in its possible consequences to the development of economic power in Irish industrial expansion. This Clause gives the opportunity for that great scheme to be brought into operation. Since I was a young man, travelling in Northern Ireland on various schemes of development, the bridging of the Foyle has been constantly discussed by both sides as part of the economic development of Northern Ireland. This Clause also contemplates that scheme in a practical way.

The only part of the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Beattie) which I can endorse is the concluding sentences when he said that the Clause presents the opportunity of bringing the people on both sides of the Border into closer co-operation and friendly understanding. As an Irishman who is still ex-ceedingly interested in all parts of the country and of its people, I should like to congratulate the Home Secretary on the admirable speech which he made on the Second Reading of the Bill. It was sound common sense and in relation to this particular Clause I say—though possibly I am travelling a little bit over the line—that those parts of his closing speech on the Second Reading in which he referred to these schemes have created a profound impression on people on both sides of the Border, which will be of great consequence to all sections of the community. I welcome this Clause.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mx. Ede)

My hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. J. Beattie) has asked for an explanation of this Clause. In the course of his speech he found it necessary, as it appears always to be necessary when discussing Irish affairs, to tell us his religious affiliations. I could not help being reminded of a line written by the most famous son of the college I attended: New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large. In the hon. Member's speech there was an atmosphere which I was hoping we should not have to combat again on this Bill. This is a Clause which enables us to get over some of the difficulties created by Section 4 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, which confined the activities of the two Governments to their respective sides of the Border. That has not merely created difficulties for one but for both. There are schemes which it is desirable should be the subject of cooperative effort by both Governments. This Clause is designed to overcome those restrictions for the purpose of enabling schemes that ought to operate on both sides of the Border to be carried out.

The most immediate need with which this Clause deals is the difficulty with regard to the hydro-electric development of the River Erne and Lough Erne. From time to time the Government of Southern Ireland have themselves approached Departments of the Government of Northern Ireland with regard to that matter and the carrying out of the necessary works in Northern Ireland. A grant of facilities for the operation of the scheme generally will involve the utilisation of the available water power of the upper and lower loughs which are situated wholly in Northern Ireland, but have part of their catchment area in Southern Ireland and flow out to the sea through Southern Ireland territory. It will involve the alteration in the statutory levels fixed in respect of the two loughs.

There is a practical problem which must be solved, and, as far as I know, the doctrine that water finds its own level has no theological signifiance at all. It is entirely a matter of a practical proposition which, if we can carry it through, will be mutually advantageous to both countries.

With regard to the railway the same kind of thing operates. The carrying out of this project will involve some interference with roads and bridges, including railway bridges which run across the frontier. In those cases one end of the bridge is in one territory and the other end is in the other. Really, it is ludicrous that an important scheme of this kind cannot be carried through because there happen to be two Governments owing to the Act of 1920. [Interruption.]This is not a Bill to end partition. If it were, it might be rather more difficult to get it through.

I want to put to the Committee this fundamental proposition. This is a Clause to deal with practical physical difficulties which have been created by the legislation which we propose to amend. I am asked to give assurances that these schemes, when developed, will be developed in accordance with Socialist practice. The Parliament of Northern Ireland is, for the matters within its competence, a self-governing Parliament. What its attitude towards the social development of electricity may be in this case, I do not know. It is no concern of mine at this juncture. We give these powers to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. It is the duty of the people of Northern Ireland to see that these powers are exercised appropriately and effectively when they have been granted.

I commend the Clause to the Committee as a practical Clause, as one which extends the area of self-government in Northern Ireland and enables co-operation to take place between the Government of that province and the Government of Southern Ireland on matters which will be of mutual advantage. I cannot help thinking that it may well be that, in working out some of these schemes, people on both sides of the Border may find that in the practical affairs of life the needs of people, no matter where they may be found in the world, are curiously alike, and that there may be other spheres in which at the moment co-operation appears impossible and into which they may be led if they can make a success of this Clause. I earnestly ask the Committee to agree to the Clause.

Mr. Beattie

The Home Secretary and I are not in disagreement on the principle, because it is by force that the Northern Ireland Government is compelled to enter into a joint scheme for the development of electricity on the River Erne. Years ago I advocated, in the Northern Ireland House of Commons, that there should be co-operation on this scheme. I stressed the necessity of immediate co-operation to save the land of the Six Counties from flooding. During those years I did not get any information or encouragement in regard to the point of view that I put forward. I hope that when the Home Secretary is given the powers for this co-operation, at least he will take an interest in seeing that they are carried out. I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman that on 11th February, 1946. the Prime Minister, Sir Basil Brooke, warned the electorate that the Battle of Ulster was coming. This is what he said— The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont): I fail to find any reference to the Battle of Ulster in this Clause.

Mr. Beattie

I gave that as the heading because the newspapers used that heading He intimated to the electorate—

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member is not in Order It is not in Order to discuss the Battle of Ulster at the moment.

Mr. Beattie

He intimated that the development of electricity on the River Erne may be an inroad into, or the encroachment upon, the preserves of the Government of Northern Ireland and that a Socialist Government is a dangerous Government. He says: We must fight the Socialists[...]

The Deputy-Chairman

I cannot allow the hon. Member to pursue this argument. It has nothing to do with the Clause under discussion.

Mr. Beattie

I wanted this scheme, with the co-operation of the Eire Government. I wanted to pursue a line of Socialist co-operation in the development of electricity on the River Erne. That is the principle I was propounding to the Home Secretary earlier—

The Deputy-Chairman

I was not present when the hon. Member made that speech, but he is now repeating something he has already said. I must rule that the hon. Gentleman is out of Order.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)

As I understand the point made by the hon. Member opposite, what he was trying to say was that, although this Clause will give to the Northern Ireland Government powers to develop electricity, there are circumstances in which the Northern Ireland Parliament will act so that these powers are not likely to be adequately used, and he was asking the Home Secretary whether, beyond this Clause, there is anything the Home Secretary can do, and that, I submit, is perfectly in order.

The Deputy-Chairman

I was directing the hon. Member's attention to the fact that he was talking about matters outside the Clause. The hon. Member stated that he had already made this point, and therefore there was the possibility of repetition.

Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)

Further to that point of Order, Mr. Beaumont. I listened to what the hon. Member said and, like the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), I can see that his point was lucid and clear, and I do not think he ought to be ruled out of Order.

The Deputy-Chairman

Order. It is not the normal practice of the Committee to call in question the conduct of the Chair.

Mr. Beattie

I apologise for that mistake Mr. Beaumont, but I was trying to explain that the Home Secretary had announced proposals which have been reached by common agreement, and if that is so, I shall be happy to support Clause I, but I do not want the Home Secretary to think that I got up here with the usual passion of an Irishman addressing an audience. I think it was rather unbecoming of the Home Secretary to make reference in the way he did to a man who, for the past 30 years, has made personal sacrifices in trying to join together the two parties in Ireland. In spite of what he said about my remarks, I am prepared to support the Clause.

Mr. Ede

I should be very sorry if anything I said offended the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. J. Beattie). I do not think that the reference I made to his remarks was anything to which an Irishman, above all people, would take any exception. Let me say, with regard to the remarks he has just made, that Northern Ireland is a self-governing country. It is not under leading strings from the Home Office, and its powers will have to be exercised by the Northern Ireland Parliament as a responsible Parliament. I can certainly say that, while I hope they will be used for the benefit of the people of Northern and Southern Ireland, the ultimate responsibility is upon the people of Northern Ireland to see that that takes place.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.