HC Deb 05 July 1973 vol 859 cc856-9
Mr. S. C. Silkin

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 14, line 31, leave out subsection (1).

This subsection has already earned the title of the "Henry VIII subsection". Despite the extreme width of the provisions of the Bill up to this point, the subsection appears to give the Secretary of State power to do virtually everything he likes. We rather wondered why the rest of the Bill was necessary at all and why we were not simply presented with subsection (1) of Clause 24, subject, I accept, to the provisions of Clause 29, under which authority has to be given to the Secretary of State.

But, even allowing for the provisions of Clause 29, the Secretary of State is still in a position to exercise absolute power, though for perhaps a limited period of time. Those with whom I have had the opportunity to speak since the Committee stage who are well versed in these matters tell me that they have never seen a Bill or an Act which gives such wide-ranging powers as these, enabling a Minister to do almost anything he wants to do. We shall be interested to know whether there are precedents and what they are. We shall also be interested to know, in any event, what justification there is, after everything we have been discussing so far, for this long-stop, this "Henry VIII" power to be given to the Secretary of State.

Everything that the Minister has said about his distaste for having to exercise powers of this kind applies with quadruple force to the powers given by this subsection. We would like to know what the Government envisage as the use to which they might put this power so as to give, by regulations, powers additional to what is already in the Bill for the preservation of peace or the maintenance of order.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Once again this is, as the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) will agree, a matter that we considered with great care in Committee. I make no complaint that we have returned to the point again. The general approach in the drafting of the Bill, unlike that in the Special Powers Act, has been to put as much as possible in the clauses. The only truly regulatory matters are contained in Schedule 3, which, I take it, does not arouse the dissatisfaction of the Opposition since there are no amendments tabled to it. This is almost exactly the opposite approach to that of the Special Powers Act.

It would be nice to think, and I would dearly like to, that Schedule 3 regulations contained all that might be necessary in dealing with the situation at present facing us in Northern Ireland. Quite shortly, that is not an assurance which it is possible to make, which is why these additional powers are necessary in our judgment.

Since we are apparently talking about Henry VIII, it is right to say that these are powers which can only be exercised by the Secretary of State upon an affirmative resolution. I do not think that Henry VIII ever had to work like that. He certainly did not have to get Anne Boleyn beheaded by affirmative resolution. It might have been useful for the House of Commons if he had. I think he would doubtless have used the emergency procedure so that the House could not act once the head was off.

The serious point is that, quite properly, what is not asked for, although it might appear so to those outside who follow our debates, is that the Secretary of State should have some powers vested in him alone. This is not so, and this makes it sharply distinguishable from the Special Powers Act, which is repealed if this Bill is approved. Those are the arguments for the preservation of Clause 24(1).

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

My hon. Friend made a little merry with Henry VIII. Does not he think that the powers of the Secretary of State, reinforced by the Patronage Secretary and the Government Whips, exceed so far as this House is concerned the powers possessed by Henry VIII, Cromwell, Strafford, or any who have administered or attempted to administer Ireland or part of it?

Mr. van Straubenzee

We must not carry this argument too far. To take an episode which interests my hon. Friend and me, surely the powers of Henry VIII to expropriate the monasteries were considerably more than the powers the Government possess? The Government would certainly have to get the necessary authority from the House.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

If I may speak with the leave of the House I should like to say that the Minister of State has made our point for us. It certainly might not have been considered a matter very much to the advantage of Anne Boleyn if, after her beheading, the regulations under which she was beheaded had been annulled.

Amendment negatived.

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