HC Deb 12 June 1972 vol 838 cc1135-41

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

For any hon. Members who were not here earlier today I should explain that there are three orders to be discussed, one dealing with the export of animals, which is fairly narrow, one dealing with employers' liability, which is very narrow, and the third, the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order on which there can be a pretty wide discussion. Therefore, if the House should decide to take the first two orders fairly quickly there can be a wide debate until 2.30 a.m. according to the Business Motion which has been approved.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. David Howell)

As you have reminded us, Mr. Speaker, it is intended to give the House this evening the opportunity of a wide-ranging debate up to the maximum time available for the three orders. The procedure that is in mind is that I should speak now on all the orders, formally moving the order relating to the export of animals compensation, and after that it will be open to the House to raise topics within the scope of all three orders.

Mr. Speaker

I think there is some misunderstanding. I thought that the Under-Secretary was to have moved the first order dealing with the export of animals so that we could get rid of it as quickly as possible in the interests of the House, then deal with the second order, and on the third order he was to have made his much more substantial speech.

Mr. Howell

I will gladly proceed in that way if that is the wish of the House. The first two orders are very brief and I will speedily speak to those, always ready to go into detail if necessary.

I beg to move, That the Exported Animals (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Order, 1972, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th May, be approved. The order gives effect to provisions contained in a Bill at Stormont designed to extend the scope of the Exported Animals (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland), 1952, to provide for compensation in respect of animals lost through maritime peril whilst being shipped from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. The order also places a limit on the amount of compensation payable on any one animal under the 1952 Act. The Bill at Stormont had passed through all stages in the House of Commons.

Livestock exporters from Northern Ireland were protected by existing legislation only in respect of losses through outbreaks of foot and mouth disease affecting a port in Great Britain. The compensation fund is self-supporting through levies paid by livestock shippers. Existing legislation had no limit as to amount, which was left to the discretion of the trustees. The order proposes a limit of £200 per head, which seems a sensible figure.

The other major reason for new provisions on compensation derive from losses of cattle at sea, and from the particular case of the sinking of the "Hereford Express" in October, 1970, when 250 cattle were lost. The owners of the cattle, having paid into the compensation fund the levy required by law, found claims for compensation to be outside the scope of that fund, as the powers of the existing Act did not cover such a contingency. The trustees of the compensation fund having considered the case, and having consulted with all interested parties, favour the extension of the fund to cover maritime risks including the retrospective compensation involved in indemnifying the owners of cattle lost on the "Hereford Express".

Although it is unusual to invite the House to endorse this kind of payment, I think it right to follow in this respect the judgment of the trustees, particularly where public money is not involved. It is not, after all, unusual for trustees to be asked, and to agree, to recommend the variation of the terms of a trust to meet changing or special conditions, and that is what I am asking the House to do.

10.4 p.m.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

The order is unusual in that it is a case of a piece of delegated legislation being used to amend original legislation. I make no complaint about that. For the very special circumstances that prevail in Northern Ireland, the House has seen fit to give some very unusual powers to the Secretary of State. However, Article 3(4) says: An order made under subsection (3) shall be subject to negative resolution. Since it is made clear in the interpretation part of the order that the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) applies, I take it that it is a proper reading of the order to suggest that that is a reference to negative resolution by the Stormont Parliament. Therefore, it must be made absolutely clear before the order is approved whether any orders would be made under subsection (3) of the Exported Animals (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) while the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act are in force. If it is correct to interpret the Article as meaning that orders can be made only when they can be subject to negative resolution of Stormont, I assume it is correct to say that no such orders will be made, and that if the Secretary of State wishes to exercise such a power he will do so by Order in Council.

I have noted with special care that the preamble to the order says: …Her Majesty, in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 1(3) of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act…". Section 1(3) makes it very clear that any amendments to law, and, I presume, any other changes in the law in relation to Northern Ireland which flow from them, are subject to Orders in Council in this House. If that is the case, then the provisions of Article 3 of the order cannot apply.

The question results from correspondence between the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Department about the way in which the order should work. In the Department's reply a reference was made to Section 4(4) of the Schedule to the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act. There is a provision there whereby the Secretary of State may make orders under this power which will be subject to the normal procedure for annulment of statutory instruments by this House, but it is not a binding requirement. It is an option which the Secretary of State may exercise. Therefore, it must be made clear tonight whether, if we approve the order, the Secretary of State will make orders under article 3 of the order by Order in Council and make them subject to the procedure of this House.

The point may seem a narrow one, but in the period over which the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act may operate we can envisage a number of cases where the procedure being used tonight may be used again, and there would be a requirement for amending the law of Northern Ireland in such a way as to make provision for further delegated legislation to flow in Stormont if Stormont were restored to power. In those circumstances, we must be absolutely clear whether any parliamentary procedure will be applicable to orders which are the body of delegated legislation of Northern Ireland.

I think it is a proper interpretation of at least the spirit of what the Secretary of State said when he introduced the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act that legislation of Northern Ireland would be subject to the scrutiny of this House. I hope that that applies properly to delegated legislation also.

Since reference was made, in correspondence with the Select Committee on this order, to paragraph 4(4) of the Schedule to the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, we must be clear as to whether delegated legislation in respect of Northern Ireland, particularly under Section 2(3) of the Act, is to be subject to annulment.

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

The Bill to which this order refers had reached Second Reading stage in Stormont, but because of the decision by the Government to suspend Stormont we are now discussing the matter in the House of Commons. In view of the time that had been given to the matter at Stormont, it is tempting to let it slide here. I do not suggest long discussion, but nevertheless we do have responsibility for Northern Ireland, including its agriculture, and I have several questions to put.

First, bearing in mind the new methods which are being used for the carriage of animals, would it not have been better, now that we are updating the 1952 Act, to extend these provisions to air transport?

Secondly, with reference to the figure of £200 as the maximum compensation in the order, surely it must be a matter of general agreement that the prices of animals, of a certain type at least, are increasing rapidly. Since the levy varies, as I understand it, from cattle to sheep to swine, should not maximum compensation vary accordingly?

Thirdly, can we be told—correspondence would suit—how many claims have been received to date and how many granted?

10.12 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

I represent an agricultural constituency, and agriculture represents a very large part of our income in Northern Ireland. The order enables a levy to be imposed on all exporters. While initially this may be a comparatively small sum, we all know from experience that these things have a habit of increasing. People have a habit of expanding their empires, and costs and salaries may increase. Will there be any process of appeal against what might be regarded as exhorbitant increases?

I am sorry that air transport has been excluded, as I understand it. Remote as we are, and feeling, as I do, that air freight will play a significant part in the Northern Ireland economy, we would be happier if we could be assured that this aspect will be taken into consideration, perhaps at a later stage.

10.14 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Will the Under-Secretary of State tell us why air transport is not incorporated in the order? Is he aware that the Bill which is the subject of the order was withdrawn at Stormont for further consideration of this matter? What has he in mind to bring air transport within the reach of the compensation set out in the order?

Does not the Under-Secretary of State realise that if we do go into the Common Market—which will not be by my vote—air freight will be very important because, instead of being on the periphery of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland will be on the periphery of the Common Market? Therefore, we need compensation to cover air transport of animals.

Mr. David Howell

I am grateful to hon. Members for the brief comments they have made. The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) raised the important procedural point which, as he says, has wider application. He is deeply experienced in these matters and, as he says, these have already been raised in correspondence with my right hon. Friend. His central question was whether regulations made under this order, and by implication he means any order and any regulations of this kind, are to be made subject to the Order in Council procedure. He asks for a reassurance and I am afraid that I am not in a position to give it.

As is made clear in the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, while it is the intention and while it has already proved to be the practice, to bring before this House for Order in Council procedure—whether the urgent procedure or the more normal procedure—the various pieces of legislation which would have come before, and in most cases had gone through the Stormont Parliament, I have to say that so far as regulations under orders which would have been subject to annulment or the negative Resolution procedure in the Stormont Parliament are concerned, these, as was made clear during the debate on the passage of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, are not subject to annulment and negative Resolution procedure in this House. If the hon. Gentleman asks "Why", I suppose that the basic answer is that one Parliament cannot do the work of two.

We are in a temporary position, as the word "temporary" in the Act implies. There would be an obvious practical difficulty, even impossibility, about bringing every regulation made under this order or every other order before the House for annulment. I am afraid that I cannot give the assurance for which the hon. Gentleman asks. He raised other related matters which are still the subject of discussion. There are still further issues in this whole area of annulment of regulations and statutory orders and so on which have to be looked at. On that point I cannot give him the general or specific reassurance which he seeks.

As to the question of air perils, raised by the other hon. Members who have spoken, the Bill does not apply to air perils because only valuable pedigree livestock which will be over the £200 limit travel by air. None travel by air at present. While I fully accept that in future some development of this kind might be necessary—and I will certainly take into account the fact that all Members who have spoken in this debate have raised the same point and therefore I recognise itssignificance—it was not the intention that this order should cover air perils. As for the £200 maximum, this represents the estimated maximum value of commercial stock in the foreseeable future. Again, the situation may change but the figure of £200 is the one that stands at the moment.

I hope that I have met the various points that have been raised. This is, as you have indicated, Mr. Speaker, a small matter. It involves changing the state of the law governing the operation of this trust and does not involve the expenditure of public monies. It is an order which makes sense of things, helps exporters and thereby the agricultural industry in Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Exported Animals (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Order, 1972, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th May, be approved.