§ The Chairman
Perhaps it would be convenient to discuss at the same time the Amendment in line 2, to leave out "jurisdiction or functions."
§ Mr. Healy
Yes. The Northern Ireland Government seek to get rid of certain responsibilities in respect of certain appointments. The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Northern Ireland Act, 1833 1922, can be put into force any time the Government please. It is abrogated for the moment, but only temporarily. The Northern Ireland Government canprohibit the holding of inquests by coroners on dead bodies in any area in Northern Ireland specified in the order, either absolutely or except in such circumstances or on such conditions as may be specified in the orderor they canprohibit the holding of any particular inquest specified in the order….That is an extraordinary power which the Northern Ireland Government seek to take. We know that it was only in the case of an emergency that the Government of this country ever sought powers of that kind, and it was only for a short time during the "Black and Tan" period in Ireland. But the Northern Ireland Government have kept this Act on the Statute Book for 30 years and they have power by Order in Council to make it effective.
Recently there occurred a case in County Derry where an inquest was to be held on a child. Out of all the specialists to whom the Northern Ireland Government pays fabulous salaries, and from all the doctors in County Derry and up to Belfast, the coroner could not find a single doctor to do a post mortem. The coroner threatened to put in force the well-known and comprehensive powers of coroners, which so frighten the Northern Ireland Government that they now wish to abolish the handicap or impediment imposed by the 1920 Act.
They will now be able to appoint their own friends on their own conditions to any position as coroner in Northern Ireland. They have an almost exclusive bench of magistrates or referees or chairmen of tribunals, every single one of whom was prominent politically or as a helper of the Northern Ireland Government in quite recent times. They wish now to take the same powers with regard to the appointment of coroners. This is something which is whittling down the 1920 Government of Ireland Act Section by Section and line by line until it is repealed.
The limitations of the 1920 Act were imposed in order that ultimately there might be a united Ireland; that the Northern Ireland Government should eventually feel the need of a united Ireland. In the meantime, certain impediments were imposed on them to make 1834 them reconsider their antagonism to a united country. That is the reason why my hon. Friends and I oppose Clause 5.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde
I am a little puzzled by the terms in which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Healy) moved his Amendment. He said that, as it stands at present, the Clause would give power to the Government of Northern Ireland to appoint coroners from among their friends in a way which would be objectionable to him, but in his Amendment he says nothing about appointments at all.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The hon. Member objects to the Government of Northern Ireland being able to legislate for the removal of coroners, and also in regard to their jurisdiction and functions, but he says nothing about the appointment of coroners. The present law relating to coroners in Northern Ireland dates back to the old days of the Union, when the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. It is governed by the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, which laid down that the appointment of coroners should be—as it is in this country today—in the hands of local authorities, and also that the power to remove coroners for disability or misconduct of any kind should rest with the Lord Chancellor of Ireland.
§ When the Government of Ireland Act was passed in 1920, and local Government in Northern Ireland was set up, that power of the Lord Chancellor devolved upon the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. So far as I know there has never been any complaint about that power, but it may be that the Government of Northern Ireland, as part and parcel of the whole question of coroners, wish to legislate for the removal of coroners as well as for their appointment.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone spoke about the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act, 1922, under which the Government of Northern Ireland, he suggested, had power to prohibit of holding of inquests altogether. That is not my construction of that Act. Section 10 does not give an absolute power of prohibition; it merely gives a limited power of substitution. It says:
the Minister of Home Affairs may … prohibit the holding of inquests by coroners on dead bodies… in Northern Ireland….
It goes on to say that if he does that he has to provide that both the functions of the coroner and jury must be carried out by someone else.
§ There is no power to prohibit inquests. There must always be an inquest on a dead body, where the circumstances are unusual and a doctor's certificate has not been issued.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde
The Northern Ireland Government never wished to prohibit the holding of an inquest. What they wished to do, for purposes of convenience, was, in certain cases, to make it possible for the coroner to sit without a jury.
§ Mr. Healy
Section 10 (1, a) says that the Minister mayprohibit the holding of inquests by coroners on dead bodies in any area of Northern Ireland specified in the order, either absolutely or except in such circumstances or on such conditions as may be specified in the order; or, prohibit the holding of any particular inquest specified in the order…
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde
It is perfectly clear on the face of it that there is no absolute power to prohibit the holding of an inquest. There is simply the power of substitution, namely, that a coroner can in certain circumstances sit without a jury. In England and, I believe, in Scotland only in a very small proportion of cases is it necessary for a coroner to sit with a jury. The purpose of this Section was simply to allow the coroner in those cases to sit without a jury in Northern Ireland.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde
I do not want to take up the time on the Committee on this point.
I have not the Act in front of me, but from my reading of it I understand that the way in which it has been applied in Northern Ireland has simply meant that in certain circumstances the coroner can sit without a jury. The coroner to whom 1836 this power has been applied particularly has been the Coroner for the City of Belfast, who has to hold an average of three inquests a day. It is not convenient, except when he should ask for it, for him always to sit with a jury.
The purpose of this Clause is to bring the law concerning coroners in Northern Ireland into line with the law for the rest of the United Kingdom under the Coroners Act, 1926, which sets out quite clearly the circumstances in which coroners should sit with juries and the circumstances in which it is not necessary for them to have juries. I am sure that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone will appreciate that a much greater strain is put upon the juries in Northern Ireland than those in this country.
There is a much larger jury panel in Northern Ireland. That is because here it is the exception rather than the rule that civil actions in the High Court should be tried with a jury, but in Northern Ireland it is the rule rather than the exception that civil cases should have juries. That means that greater demands are made upon the jurors of Northern Ireland, and that is all the more so because the power of challenging jurors in the High Court and in the lower courts is much more frequently exercised in Northern Ireland than it is in this country. A very large jury panel has to be maintained. Therefore, it is an incubus upon the coroner if he has to have a jury in cases in which in this country it would not be necessary for him to sit with a jury.
That brings me back to the Special Powers Act, which simply confers upon the coroner the right of sitting without a jury. It certainly seems not unreasonable that the Parliament of Northern Ireland should have power to legislate in all matters relating to coroners, and to bring the law in relation to coroners into line with the law in this country. It is therefore time——
The hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to be advancing an argument which would be more appropriate to the Motion, That the Clause stand part of the Bill, than to this specific Amendment.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has 1837 sought to restrict the powers which it is proposed to confer upon the Government of Northern Ireland in regard to this matter. He has not sought to restrict completely those powers, but simply to restrict them in relation to removal, with which I have already dealt, and in regard to jurisdiction and functions. My point is that, in regard to jurisdiction and functions, which are the essence of the question, the Parliament of Northern Ireland should specifically have power to legislate, and so bring the law in relation to coroners in Northern Ireland into line with that of England.
§ Mr. Healy
I would draw the attention of the hon. and gallant Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) to what the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act said. He has tried to convey the idea to the Committee that the simple question here is that the Northern Ireland Government desire powers for coroners to hold inquests without a jury. It is the very opposite. That Government want to get rid of both the coroner and the jury. The Act says that the Minister may, by Order,… provide for the duties of a coroner and a coroner's jury (or of either of them) as respects any inquest prohibited by the Order being performed by such officer or court as may be determined by the Order.It says "officer or court." They want to get rid of both coroner and jury and to appoint an officer or court.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The effect of the two Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South. Tyrone (Mr. Healy) would be to emasculate the Clause. I gather from his speech that that is not his intention and that he approves of the general intention of the Clause.
He now raises the point which was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) on the Second Reading, that if the Clause were passed the Northern Ireland Government might give an undertaking that, as a quid pro quo they would give up the power of prohibiting inquests. In my reply I gave the House an assurance that the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act of 1838 Northern Ireland had no conceivable reference to what is intended to be done under the Clause.
Following on the debate, I got into touch with the Northern Ireland Government. I can now confirm that that statement is strictly correct. One Section of the Civil Authorities Act enables the Government of Northern Ireland to substitute an alternative form of tribunal for the regular coroner's court. There is no intention whatever on the part of the Northern Ireland Government to take anything resembling such powers in the new coroner's legislation for which they are, so to speak, seeking authority under the Bill.
It has, however, come to my notice that two orders relating to the Belfast coroners, which dispense with a jury unless the coroner requests one, have remained in force as a matter of expediency. Those two orders have never been criticised in any quarter and the relief afforded to Belfast juries has been welcomed. The Northern Ireland Government have promised to promote immediate legislation to apply provisions similar to those of Section 13 of our Coroners (Amendment) Act, 1926. That Section provides for the holding of inquests without juries in certain cases. The law in Northern Ireland will be on the same basis as it is here.
This provision will allow those orders to be terminated without inconvenience. I am assured that, in future, similar orders will not be used except in circumstances of real and immediate necessity.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ I think that gives the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. M. O'Neill) a full answer to the points he raised. I can assure him that the matter would not be affected by his Amendment, but, as the matter has been discussed, I thought it might be most appropriate for me to give the answer now.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedule agreed to. Bill reported, without Amendment.1839
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill has been fully discussed and each Clause in it has been passed by the Committee without a Division. We are now, of course, confined to discussing what is in the Bill, and, as the House has clearly indicated that it approves each of the provisions of the Bill separately, I hope that it will now see its way to give a unanimous Third Reading to the Bill.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Robens
I think we can agree to give this Bill its Third Reading without a Division, but there is one point which I think might be cleared up before we part with it and it goes to another place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. M. O'Neill) asked the Home Secretary whether or not particulars of the expenses of the Governor would be given to this House. I rather gathered from the reply that the Minister said that they would not be given, but I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to clear up the point.
Would it not be the case that, if my hon. Friend were to put down a Question at the appropriate time as to what were the actual expenses incurred by the Governor of Northern Ireland, he would be given a reply either by the Home Secretary, the hon. Gentleman himself or somebody from the Treasury? Surely, it must be the case that, when Parliament has decided that a maximum of£10,000 may be incurred as expenses, Parliament should be able to inquire from time to time what is the exact amount of expenses in total which has been claimed? I think that if the hon. Gentleman were to clear up that point, it would give a rather better reply to the question which my hon. Friend put to him.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
If I may reply, by leave of the House, I would repeat that, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary said, the particulars of the Governor's expenses being charged on the Consolidated Fund will not be before the House in the ordinary way. I am advised that in such cases, if the right hon. Gentleman or any hon. Member were to put down a Question, an answer could be given in principle, but not in detail. I am not quite certain how far that goes, I am bound to confess. I think the hon. Member would be given 1840 all the information he required for the purposes of argument without being told the precise particulars of an individual private income, which would otherwise have to be disclosed. I think that is the answer which the right hon. Gentleman requires.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
On a point of order. Is it not quite improper for a promise to be given that the private financial relations between a taxpayer and the Revenue may be disclosed to an hon. Member of this House?
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Sir D. Savory
I have been under the impression during the whole of the discussion on the Bill that the question in which some hon. Members are interested is not that of the Governor's salary, but that what they really want is to have no Governor at all. They have simply used the Bill——
§ Sir D. Savory
What is in the Bill has been proved to be absolutely reasonable: first, that the salary of the Governor is one on which he has to pay Income Tax, and that the allowance for expenses is extremely reasonable compared with the expenses allowed to our Governors and to our Ambassadors abroad. A full answer has been given on that question.
With regard to the£2,000, on which stress has been laid, it has also been shown that this expense, although nominally no longer to be defrayed by the Government of Northern Ireland, will be met by the fact that the Government of Northern Ireland have taken over the secretarial and the office expenses—the maintenance of the office, typewriters, and so on—and that this will really amount to the£2,000 which nominally the Government of Northern Ireland are no longer paying.
The question of coroners has been dealt with fully by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary. It has been shown that what the Government of Northern Ireland desire is simply to have the same position as the Government over here. My right hon. and gallant Friend 1841 has given an assurance that in no case under the Special Powers Act will the verdict be taken away from the coroner, but that it may be a question, as is so often the case in England, of having a coroner's inquest without the jury because such a large number of cases comes before the Belfast jury and a good deal of unnecessary strain would be put upon them if it were always essential for a coroner to have a jury. It is, therefore, purely a practical question and not a political question, and it has been solved most reasonably.
The Bill is necessary owing to the fact that, as has been shown, the Governor is unable to meet his expenses, and we do not want him any longer to be financially embarrassed. The remaining Clauses of the Bill are largely technical and I am glad that they have been allowed to pass unopposed. I therefore share the hope of my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State that the Bill will be given a Third Reading without a Division.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.