HC Deb 13 April 1978 vol 947 cc1654-6
15. Mr. Bradford

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will comment on the proposed changes in the law in Northern Ireland in respect of homosexuality.

Mr. Dunn

I intend to publish proposals for a draft Order in Council which, if it is approved, would make certain changes in the law relating to homosexuality. The proposals will be accompanied by an explanatory document with the intention of assisting the process of consultation, which will then begin and will continue for a period of three months. Careful consideration will be given to the response and representations submitted during this extended period before firm proposals are put before this House.

Mr. Bradford

Does not the Minister agree that changes in the divorce law and in the licensing laws in Northern Ireland are a sufficient imposition upon the Province for one Parliament? Does he not accept that the method by which these changes are to take place is quite reprehensible as we shall not have an opportunity to amend the Government's proposals? Therefore, will he be guided by the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, who do not regard a change in the law on homosexuality as being a matter of high priority?

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman brings two matters to the attention of the House, the first of which deals with a constitutional aspect. This House decided the methods by which Northern Ireland should receive its legislation. Until this House changes its mind, I am its captive. As for the hon. Member's question, it is true that there are some major pieces of legislation before the House. However, this is no excuse for me or my right hon. and hon. Friends to neglect to prepare for such legislation to come before the House.

Mr. Powell

As one who supported the corresponding legislation in Great Britain when it went through this House, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware of the constitutional difficulty of applying to Northern Ireland by Government decision and on Government responsibility measures which are adopted in respect of the United Kingdom only on the initiative of Private Members and as a result of free votes in this House?

Mr. Dunn

As the right hon. Gentleman says, there are problems, but there would be no excuse if the present Government neglected their responsibility of keeping in touch with social law reform in Great Britain.

Mr. McNamara

Will my hon. Friend point out to his critics that the remedy for this situation lies in their own hands and that, if they came forward with sensible proposals to the Government for devolved government within the Six Counties, they could then decide their own domestic legislation without having to bother this House about it?

Mr. Dunn

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I hope that those hon. Members who heard him say that will take note of it.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does not the Minister agree that he has made a very serious statement in that he has said that constitutionally he cannot proceed with any legislation for Northern Ireland by way of a Bill? Is he aware that his statement will cause great alarm to the people of Northern Ireland? Is he aware also that across the whole Province there is a rejection of this proposal? Should not people in Northern Ireland have every right in this House to express a view about and to amend legislation of this nature? Will he now consider bringing this matter before the House in the form of a Bill?

Mr. Dunn

I did not say what the hon. Gentleman accused me of saying, and any interpretation which he puts upon what I said is his own responsibility. I am aware of the sensitivity of this issue. Strenuous representations have been made; they are bound to be made in a situation of this kind. They will all be borne in mind, including a petition which has been presented to me by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and his right hon. and hon. Friends.

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