HC Deb 21 June 1973 vol 858 cc983-6
Mr, Stratton Mills

I beg to move Amendment No. 69, in page 36, leave out line 24.

Curiously enough, I hope to have the support of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) for this Amendment, since she and I are the only persons in this House who attended Queen's University. Perhaps she has an interest in and affection for it. I had better explain the amendment carefully, therefore.

Schedule 6 repeals Section 64(1) of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which provides that the Parliament of Northern Ireland will not be able to alter the constitution or divert the property of, or repeal or diminish any existing exemption or immunity enjoyed by the University of Dublin, or Trinity College, Dublin, or the Queen's University of Belfast, unless and until the proposed alteration, diversion, repeal, or diminution is aproved Then it sets out the procedure and goes on to state— in the case of the Queen's University of Belfast by a majority of those present and voting at a meeting of each of the following bodies convened for the purpose, namely: The Senate and the Academic Council, and the Convocation of the University: That is an important safeguard for the university in terms of protection from a regional Parliament or Assembly. The university puts considerable store and importance on having its rights protected in this way by the Government of Ireland Act. It could be said that there is an entirely new situation—that there is an additional University, of Coleraine, and that it does not have the protective cover of that Act. My answer to that would be that the University of Coleraine is protected by the charter that it has received from the Privy Council and that, equally, most of the universities throughout Britain have similar protection in their charters. Therefore, I think it essential that Queen's and the University of Coleraine should be in a similar position.

There may be a need for a completely new charter for Queen's University. I hear that there are some thoughts on that matter. If there were a new charter it would have written into it a form of protection similar to that contained in Section 64(1). But until there is a new charter this power under Section 64(1) should be maintained, so as to protect the position of the university.

Mr. David Howell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the very clear way in which he set out this important point concerning the need for Queen's University to have protection. In fact, however, the amendment would not provide the protection that he seeks and which is necessary for Queen's University. Either way, Section 64(1) has to go, but what is needed instead is protection of an appropriate kind, and I do not think that that can be achieved simply by means of a modification order.

I would propose to my hon. Friend that an undertaking be given by the Government to return to this matter at a later stage and see if we can find the words necessary to meet the requirement of Queen's University. This is a very complicated matter, and a great deal of consultation will be needed, but if my hon. Friend will accept this undertaking I hope that he will be good enough to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Mrs. McAliskey

Sharing the interest of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) in matters concerning Queen's University, I have a recollection of some of my former activities while serving my apprenticeship in that august establishment. One of the most impressive moments was at a time of acute housing shortage in Belfast, when a number of us felt it only just and proper that, certain properties being in a fit state for accommodation and being the property of the university, the university would be fulfilling its social obligations to the community if such houses were used for the homeless or ill-housed in the poverty-stricken areas of the Shanklin and Sandy Row. We found that we came up against the very bodies the hon. Gentleman mentioned—the Convocation and the academic board—because these houses were the property of the university.

We also found at the time, as privileged members of society—being students at Queen's University—that many of the facilities that were open to us on the property of Queen's University were not open to other members of the Belfast community who did not have the same opportunity of attending that establishment. I should certainly like to see the integrity and the rights of the university preserved, and its academic pursuits not controlled by any assembly, but my own opinion is that when this matter is dealt with again by the House serious consideration should be given to the vast amount of property owned by the university and not put to any good use by it, that might more usefully be put to the use of the Sandy Row community.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Minister of State can help me. This is perhaps the most important measure affecting the entire United Kingdom since the Common Market debate. At the present time the Liberal Party is very prominent in its electioneering, its chuntering and its general goings-on. Yet, in front of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) I see a mile of empty benches—well, half a mile. Where are those hon. Members from the Liberal Party who have been so busy telling us how important they are to the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend the Minister of State has sat through all these debates. Can he tell me how many Liberal Members have been present at any time——

The Chairman

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Member cannot tell his hon. Friend that, because I will not allow him.

Mr. Stratton Mills

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his sympathetic reply to this narrow but important point. In view of his generous undertaking, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Sixth Schedule to the Bill.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

There is one point which has been intriguing me about Schedule 6 ever since the Bill was published. This schedule deals with the enactments that will be repealed following the passing of this measure. At the bottom of pages 44, 45 and 46, respectively, I see that we are repealing parts of the Botswana Independence Act 1966, the Swaziland Independence Act 1968 and the Tonga Act 1970.

I am sure that there is a good reason for this, because I have great faith in those drawing up our legislation.

Mr. David Howell

The hon. Member's faith is fully justified. There is an excellent reason for this. It is that the parts concerned contain savings for the powers of the Northern Ireland Parliament—that is, they allow the Northern Ireland Parliament to amend the specific provisions of the Acts in question even though they were passed after the appointed day for the purposes of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. For the purposes of a Constitutional Bill, which we hope will eventually become an Act, it is necessary to repeal these parts. That is the answer to the question and I hope that the hon. Member feels that it justifies his faith in our legislators.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Bill reported, with amendments; as amended, to be considered tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 162.]

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