HC Deb 20 June 1973 vol 858 cc803-6

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. McNamara

There is just one small item to raise on this clause relating to subsection (3), which reads: No Measure, Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland or other instrument and no act done by any person shall be treated for the purposes of this Act as discriminating if the instrument has the effect, or, as the case may be, the act is done for the purpose, of safeguarding national security or protecting public safety or public order. We are using this basically as a tag upon which to hang a brief mention of the Flags and Emblems Act. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will know of the degree of unhappiness that there is in the minority section of the community in Northern Ireland about that Act. It is our information that the existence of the Act is in many ways an affront to people who quite legitimately, as is now recognised in the House, whilst being citizens of the United Kingdom, looked forward to the possibility of there being a united Ireland.

We feel that there are adequate provisions under other legislation regarding the preservation of law and order and the preservation of public safety and of public order as termed under the subsection to render quite easy and possible the repeal of the Act by the Government at this stage. It would be a gesture, but an important one.

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. I doubt whether the Flags and Emblems Act comes under this clause. If the hon. Gentleman does not go too far with it, I am prepared to turn a deaf ear, however.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful to you, Mr. Mallalieu. The point I am making relates to the question of an Act of Parliament of Northern Ireland which concerns … national security or promoting public safety or public order. I am seeking some statement of the Government's intention with regard to the Flags and Emblems Act. We feel that the circumstances covered by that Act could adequately be covered by other legislation. The Act is regarded as something of an affront to quite a number of Her Majesty's citizens.

Captain Orr

Can my hon. Friend say a little more about the extension of the term "discrimination" to include political as well as religious opinions? There may be some kind of case law, for example, dealing with the definitions in the clause. I do not know. Supposing, for example, that one were to form a political club and to say, "We shall admit as members only people who hold our own political views." Would that be held to be discriminating on grounds of political opinion? This seems a possible difficulty. Have there been examples of discrimination on grounds not of religion but of political opinion which have made this provision necessary? Upon whose advice was it felt necessary to extend it in this way?

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) criticised subsection (3). I very much welcome it. Without it, we would have very great difficulties indeed.

Mr. McMaster

We have now reached the end of Part III of the Bill dealing with provisions on religious and political discrimination. Part III consists of seven clauses, all of them devoted to the subject of discrimination. It even appoints a committee called the "Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights". But the human rights seem entirely to consist of consideration of discrimination.

There seems to be almost an obsession in the Bill with matters of discrimination. It provides that there shall be no political or religious discrimination. But there are other matters which concern human rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of arrest and equality under the law.

What concerns us most in Northern Ireland is the disregard of the rule of law, but there are no provisions in the Bill to deal with that. It is a much more serious complaint and should have been covered in Part III, particularly as it refers to human rights. In the troubles in Northern Ireland over the past three years, ordinary rights have been taken away by assaults on individuals by members of the IRA in particular. People have been injured, maimed or killed and their property destroyed. These matters should be much more a concern of the Bill.

It is certainly a matter of grave concern to me that these should be the only provisions set out here which concern my right hon. Friend and the Government. They seem to imply that the root of the trouble in Northern Ireland has been some form of discrimination.

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. This clause deals with measures. The hon. Member is dealing with illegal actions by individuals. I will again turn a deaf ear if he does not go on for too long.

Mr. McMaster

I am dealing with Clause 23 which states: For the purposes of this Part of this Act a Measure, an Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland or any other instrument discriminates against any person or class of persons … My complaint is that this Clause and others in this Part of the Bill are concerned too much with discrimination. This clause and the six preceding it do no justice to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Peter Mills

I welcome what was said by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). He is right that subsection (3) makes important exceptions to the definition of discrimination. Actions are not discriminatory if they are done for the purpose of safeguarding national security, protecting public safety or public order. I believe that the question of flags is outside the scope of this clause.

The point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) is not a problem at all. If he looks at subsection (2) he will see that it says, For those purposes a person discriminates against another person or a class of persons if he treats that other person or that class less favourably in any circumstances than he treats or would treat other persons in those circumstances. This is a matter for the courts to decide.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Forward to