HC Deb 15 June 1982 vol 25 cc894-921
The Second Deputy Chairman

The first amendment for debate is No. 39, in page 3, line 13, leave out from 'Ireland', to end of line 17.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

On a point of order, Mr. Dean. I wish to make to you a representation that I put in writing to the Chairman of Ways and Means some time ago. I hope that that was of assistance.

It is obvious that most of the amendments that you, Mr. Dean, have suggested should be grouped with amendment No. 39 relate substantially to, if not exactly the same topic, at least closely related aspects of the same topic. However, two of the amendments relate to different matters and cannot, therefore, conveniently be debated by the Committee in connection with the rest.

The great body of amendments raise questions of wide purport and will require thorough debate, quite apart from the two amendments and subjects to which I wish to draw attention. The first of those is amendment No. 129, which relates to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the transaction of matters affecting it by the Assembly. All the amendments relate to matters which might be dealt with or debated by the Assembly, but within that wide ambit and description I submit to you, Mr. Dean, that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is in a class by itself and that it could not be satisfactorily debated if a speech were made on that subject followed by half a dozen speeches on another subject before we returned, as fortuitously might happen, to follow the argument through so far as it affected the RUC.

Responsibility for security and the security forces is one of outstanding importance. I submit to you, Mr. Dean, that the issue can be dealt with as it deserves only if it is discussed separately by the Committee. That is the first of the two particular subjects and amendments to which I wish to draw the attention of the Committee.

Secondly, amendment No. 42 relates, to use a shorthand expression, to constituency questions. It is therefore of a different character from all the other amendments which deal with the classes of subject that might fall within the purview of the Assembly. Amendment No. 42 raises the special question of the responsibilities of hon. Members and the treatment of individual questions and problems. Again, we have a subject which is not merely distinct from the remainder but which raises entirely different considerations. Therefore, I submit that it can usefully be debated only if it is taken in separation.

I appreciate that to ungroup, if such a neologism could be formed, two of the amendments from the remainder could arguably be a measure somewhat tending to protract proceedings. I am not at all sure that that would be so. It seems more likely that, if the Committee were given the opportunity of debating and deciding separately the two amendments to which I have referred, the debate on those two subjects would be more expeditious as well as more efficient and the total time taken by the Committee might well not be substantially greater.

I am not suggesting, Mr. Dean, that that is a factor that will weigh upon your mind as occupant of the Chair in deciding the grouping that might best serve the purposes of the Committee, but I thought that it was an observation that might be overheard by others and might therefore be of some relevance to considerations other than those with which you are charged particularly.

I beg to submit to you, Mr. Dean, the proposition that you would be agreeable if the Committee disjoined amendments Nos. 129 and 42 from the group and dealt with the remainder as a group as was proposed.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Dean. This is the first occasion on which I have ventured to speak on the Bill and I most certainly have no desire to prolong the debate unnecessarily. However, I must support what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has ventured to suggest to you. Amendments Nos. 129 and 130, which both stand in my name, appear to be somewhat different from the remaining amendments that have been grouped in the series. I suggest that they are different in three senses. First, they are specific. They refer to one organisation and one only, whereas virtually all the other amendments are of a much more general and far-reaching character.

The second difference is that they are limited. They are limited by the very nature of the subject. The debate, in respect of those amendments, can deal only with the RUC. Other amendments are not limited. Indeed, they are virtually unlimited. Thirdly, the RUC, because of its role in law and order and security, is a highly sensitive subject. It would be wrong to muddle it up with the generality of the debate if only for the reason that the right hon. Member for Down, South suggested—that it would be most inconvenient to find that an argument had been advanced about the RUC that was then lost in the wide-ranging debate about other matters, and then we had to return to it for there to be any cogency in the debate. I have no wish to prolong the debate. I hope that you will consider some way in which we can deal with RUC-related amendments separately, Mr. Dean.

6.45 am
Mr. Farr

Further to that point of order, Mr. Dean, I should like to support the submission that has been made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) because one of the keystones of the next discussion will be the two amendments relating to the RUC in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. The Committee wants a clear and simple debate—in so far as we can have a simple debate of these proceedings—on the RUC and the effects of the Bill upon it. It has been made clear by the right hon. Member for Down, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds that meaningful debate on what is possibly one of the most critical aspects of the Bill is not possible if we are also to debate an assortment of subjects. In that event, we shall be chopping and changing because of the hazards of selection.

Therefore I add my plea because, by this sensible proposed course, we shall probably make quicker progress. I do not see how a Minister, even one with the capacity of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, can make a meaningful reply to the group of haphazard amendments that it is proposed to discuss together. In view of the respect and admiration held by both sides of the Committee for the RUC. I urge that there be special and separate debate on these two amendments.

The Second Deputy Chairman

Perhaps it would be helpful if I gave the Committee a view at this stage. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who had the courtesy to give notice that he would make this proposition, has now been supported by the hon. Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) and Harborough (Mr. Farr). I have had the opportunity of discussing the matter with the Chairman of Ways and Means. He has fully considered the points, of which he had advance notice, but feels that it would be better to stick to the selection as on the selection list. But it will be possible to have a separate Division on amendment No. 129 and amendment No. 42 and, if there should be a request for separate Divisions on other amendments, they will be considered.

Mr. Budgen

Further to that point of order, Mr. Dean, perhaps I might place a further consideration before you, in view of the time at which this matter is being discussed. Whether security and the role of the RUC should be discussed in the Assembly is understandably important to Labour Members. For all I know, they may have known of the suggestion that amendments Nos. 129 and 42 should be severed from the remainder of the group and dealt with at a later stage. Had they heard that on the bush telegraph which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) reminds me, is such an important part of parliamentary life, I am sure that they would have taken the view that they could come and hear that debate at a later stage.

I say that because you, Mr. Dean, will know that the appearance of total agreement within the Labour Party is no more than an appearance. A number of very significant statements have already been made by Labour Members. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), for instance, said on 28 April: I should prefer the continuation of the present arrangement—direct rule in its present shape—rather than our bringing about an Assembly simply for the sake of creating one".—[Official Report, 28 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 920.]

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. I am finding it difficult to know what is the point of order that the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise.

Mr. Budgen

My point is that the appearance of unanimity and of support for the Government among Labour Members is no more than an appearance and that a number of Labour Members who in the past have played a consistent and distinguished role in the consideration of the affairs of Northern Ireland—

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman come to his point of order? We are dealing with the selection of amendments. I have already given a ruling on that, after considering the matter. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise another matter on a point of order, I am prepared to hear it.

Mr. Budgen

It may be that I am tired and that I am thus, unhappily, not putting the point with the precision that I would wish. I was making the point that I believe that there was a genuine expectation that amendments Nos. 129 and 42 would be considered later, at a time when Labour Members would wish to demonstrate their real concern that there should not be a return to a Stormont-type structure in the new Assembly.

When you, Mr. Dean, properly invited me to draw back my remarks to this specific point, I was explaining that a number of Labour Members, particularly the hon. Member for Walsall, North—I also intended to quote some interesting observations by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery)—had expressed their opposition to the structure proposed by the Secretary of State. In their view—

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. I have already ruled on the points of order concerning the selection of amendments. The provisional selection of amendments was published many hours ago, so the Committee has had an opportunity to see it and to make representations. The right hon. Member for Down, South was courteous enough to make representations. They have been fully considered by the Chairman of Ways and Means, who feels that the original selection should stand. Therefore, no further points of order arise on that.

Mr. Budgen

My point was that it might have become known through the bush telegraph that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) intended to make that submission. No one can anticipate the effect of a submission by the right hon. Gentleman. He is famed for the learning that he brings to his submissions. There was thus at least a possibility that he might succeed in changing the Chair's mind.

May I respectfully say, Mr. Dean, that there have already been a number of occasions when the Chair has modified its preference as a result of observations from the right hon. Gentleman. I merely make the point that there have been discussions in our debates about the need to safeguard the position of minorities. If ever there was a minority, it is the Labour Party—a non-attendng minority.

The Chairman

I have heard the points of order and I have already made it clear to the Committee three times that the Chairman of Ways and Means has given the subject careful consideration, having had notice of these matters. I have ruled that the original selection should stand. I have also made it clear that in view of the representations that have been made, separate Divisions can be taken on amendment No. 129 and amendment No. 42. If separate Divisions are required on any other amendments in the grouping such a request will be carefully considered. We must now proceed with the debate.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

On a point of order, Mr. Dean. I hope this will help the Committee in the conduct of the debate ahead of us. We understand the ruling that you have given on the representations made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), and other hon. Members, and we are grateful for the information about separate Divisions.

It is clear that the question of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is distinct and all-important because the security of the Province and the morale of the police are vital factors. Therefore, Mr. Dean, would it be possible for you to obtain from hon. Members who wish to speak an indication whether they intend to take part in the debate on this distinct and separate matter or whether they wish to speak on other amendments in the grouping? We might then have an orderly debate after my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has introduced the amendments—and we are deeply grateful to him for the opportunity to discuss this important matter. Could some arrangement be made for those hon. Members who wish to speak on the amendments relating to the Royal Ulster Constabulary to make their speeches first and the others hold back so that we can have an orderly debate?

Rev. Ian Paisley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Dean. You have no doubt been following the debate and will know that a new factor has been introduced concerning the SDLP. The SDLP does not officially recognise the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but the Secretary of State pleads that the Unionists should enter into some sort of coalition with it.

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising a matter for debate. It is not a point of order for me.

In answer to the helpful suggestion made by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), I think that we would get into a muddle if we tried to departmentalise a debate with a selection of amendments. All of the amendments that have been selected for debate will be in order during the course of the debate.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Dean. It would be churlish of me not to thank you for your decision that there should be separate Divisions on the two subjects to which I drew attention.

I wish to put a further consideration that I hope you will agree is in your mind. The length of debate that will be required to cover this group of amendments is clearly related to the wide span of subjects. Inasmuch as it includes two subjects that will be voted upon separately, and to that extent are distinct in character, I hope that if any proposition is made to shorten debate, the Chair will bear in mind the character of the debate which, as a result of your ruling, will have to span and embrace subjects as diverse as those covered in the general group by amendments Nos. 129 and 42.

7 am

The Second Deputy Chairman

I gladly assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Chair will take all these matters into account during the debate.

Mr. Farr

On a further point of order, Mr. Dean, in relation to the selection. As I said earlier, amendments Nos. 129 and 130 have been tabled in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I most definitely accept the ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means, because obviously he had the benefit of considering the letter from the right hon. Member for Down South (Mr. Powell). I have no doubt that the Chairman has excellent reasons for coming to his decision.

The group of amendments includes Nos. 129 and 130 relating to the RUC. Will an hon. Member who catches your eye be in order if he discusses and raises items contained in Judge Bennett's report on the RUC, which came out in 1978–79? [Interruption.] Some hon. Members may laugh, but Judge Bennett's report is a first-class document. It has never been properly debated in the House and is full of matters that are relevant to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds.

Before we begin our debate, perhaps you will confirm that we may refer to this report where appropriate and specifically relevant. I have the Bennett report with me, and parts of it are relevant to what my hon. Friend is seeking to do. May we have your assurance, Mr. Dean, that reasonable reference to the Bennett report during discussion on amendments Nos. 129 and 130 will be in order? That would be helpful to hon. Members who wish to introduce this point.

The Second Deputy Chairman

This will be a fairly wide debate because of the number of amendments that have been selected. A number of subjects are linked. It will certainly be in order to refer to all the matters that are the subject of these amendments.

Rev. Ian Paisley

On another point of order, Mr. Dean. Government amendment No. 133 seeks to change the Bill so that the Assembly can discuss reserved matters. Paragraph 5 of schedule 3 of the 1973 Act refers to: The establishment, organisation and control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and of any other police force; the Police Authority for Northern Ireland; traffic wardens". Will it be in order to discuss these reserved matters, and am I right in thinking that they can be discussed within the context of the Secretary of State's amendment?

The Second Deputy Chairman

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the amendment is in order, otherwise it would not have been selected.

Mr. Farr

On a point of order, Mr. Dean. In view of the fact that it is now after seven o'clock, that we have made some progress since the request was previously made, and that the permanent staff are due to leave their posts at 8 am to return at 2 pm, will you now consider favourably a motion that we now adjourn and report Progress?

The Second Deputy Chairman

I cannot accept that motion. The fact is that we have not made any progress.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I beg to move amendment No. 39, in page 3, line 13, leave out from 'Ireland' to end of line 17.

The Second Deputy Chairman

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 40, in page 3, line 13, leave out 'which is not an excepted or reserved matter'.

No. 129, in page 3, line 13, after 'Northern Ireland', insert 'except the organisation and operations of the Royal Ulster Constabulary'.

Government amendments Nos. 133 and 134.

No. 130, in page 3, line 17, at end insert 'unless it is a matter pertaining to the organisation or operations of the Royal Ulster Constabulary'.

No. 143, in page 3, line 17, at end insert 'which shall include the accounts of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland.'.

No. 42, in page 3, line 17, at end, insert— '(2) The matters referred to in subsection (1) shall not extend to any complaints or representations made by any member of the public in respect of his personal circumstances.'.

No. 144, in page 3, line 33, at end insert 'and—

  1. (b) the Assembly shall present to the Secretary of State an Annual Report on the accounts referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of this section.'.
No. 145, in page 3, line 33, at end insert 'and—
  1. (c) the Assembly shall present to the Secretary of State an Annual Report on any transferred matters for which an order has been made under paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of section 2 above.'.
Government amendment No. 135.

Mr. Powell

Since you gave your ruling, Mr. Dean, on the manner of handling the amendments in this group, I have been turning over in my mind what might be the most convenient way of presenting to the Committee the amendments that stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends and of presenting views upon the amendments that stand in the names of other hon. Members. It occurred to me that perhaps it would be most convenient to take a complete conspectus of all the amendments and, when they have been set out on the table, to come back along the row and deal with them one by one.

However, a more simple and convenient way may be to take the first amendment, deal thoroughly with the various aspects that it raises—although they are overlapped by amendments in the names of other hon. Members—move successively to the other amendments, and deal with each subject in that order.

Amendment No. 39 would take out of the first subsection the prohibition upon the Assembly of considering an accepted or reserved matter. It could also remove the power of the Secretary of State to refer to the Assembly an accepted or reserved matter, or any other, and therby enable the Assembly to consider it. Even on the narrow ground of the first amendment, there are two distinct aspects with which I shall deal in order.

The first is the removal of the prohibition upon the Assembly of considering suo moto matters that are accepted or reserved, That brings us straight to the nature of the Assembly that would be elected under the 1973 Act but elected for the purposes of this Bill. That nicety would escape the attention of the Members elected to the Assembly. It is a fact of life that, whatever we write into the Bill, the Assembly will debate and consider what it pleases. Any attempt to enforce upon it the limitations that we wish to put in the Bill will be ineffective. Assembly Members will say that, whether they like it or not, they have been elected at large by the people of the Province upon a different franchise to Members of Parliament. They have been elected upon a much more generous scale and they believe that whatever they wish to consider, to debate and to resolve—it will be upon Northern Ireland—they shall be entitled to do so.

I do not think that it will be found practicable with an Assembly of that sort to vest in the presiding officer sufficient powers for a limitation of this drastic character to be enforced.

Sir Philip Goodhart

How does the right hon. Gentleman envisage the new Assembly deciding what it pleases?

Mr. Powell

The hon. Member's question is one that has been raised before in these debates, and it is a difficult one. Its difficulty strengthens the assertion that I am making that the notion that we, by putting words into the clause, can put limitations into the proceedings of the Assembly is misconceived. It will, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) has, for the second time, pointed out, be difficult enough to envisage how the Assembly, without an Executive, can order its business. I presume that it is not beyond the wit of man for such a body to create a business committee and to entrust that committee with the duty of marshalling an order paper.

I am not sure that anything as simple as that would be found to be satisfactory for the quite remarkable body that, if the Bill were to be put into effect, would assemble at Stormont. That difficulty is a consequence of the anomalous nature of an Assembly which is not, or not initially, supporting an Executive. Perhaps it is difficult for hon. Members with the history of the House and with the habits that that history has created, quite to envisage what the difficulty would be.

This place originated from the demands and the requirements of the Executive. It is the place where the Crown speaks to the representatives of the people, in particular, where the Crown makes demands or requests to the representatives. Our first debates automatically arose, and our first Order Paper was automatically constituted by the purposes for which the Crown had summoned us. These were the reasons, the Crown explained in its initial address, why the Crown had sent for us. We proceeded to consider the Crown's purposes since that is what we were sent for.

Soon we began to connect with the satisfaction of those demands, the presentation of our petitions. That led to something of much greater difficulty. The ordering of petitions and the arrangements for them to be dealt with by the House of Commons was a major part of the procedure of the House, during a number of centuries.

I think that I am not mistaken, although I have not sought to verify my recollections for the debate, that it was only in the last century that we ceased to appoint triers for the affairs of Gascony at the beginning of each Session, rather than Parliament. The hon. Member for Beckenham made a point that helps us to illuminate the inherently anomalous nature—which has nothing in common with this Assembly to which we are accustomed—of the Assembly that we are creating in this part of the Bill. It is an Assembly that is not merely not the creature of the needs of an Executive but is not supporting an Executive, and to that extent has no necessary business to transact.

I am therefore grateful for the intervention of the hon. Member for Beckenham, which has strengthened my case and I am sorry if, in dealing with it, I was led into some degree of digression. It is a digression that is relevant to the main point that I am making in the amendment on which I seek to persuade the Committee. In practice, whether we like it or not, and very often we and the Government will not like it, the Assembly will debate whatever it pleases. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the Assembly, meeting on a day when there have been a series of outrages throughout the Province, discovers that what it wants to say about those outrages trenches upon an accepted or reserved matter, will then keep its mouth shut, he is mistaken. That Assembly will debate and resolve as it thinks fit.

Although we might regard that as a rather contumelious and tumultuary procedure, viewed from our point of view, it is not difficult for us to have sympathy with a body which, being elected and constituted, says "Now we will decide and nobody else will decide what we debate." True, this will not be a sovereign Assembly in the sense in which Parliament is sovereign. We shall later be discussing the ways in which the sovereignty of this Parliament in all parts of the United Kingdom can the more clearly be established and asserted in the terms of the Bill.

7.15 am

Although the Assembly that we are creating will not be, like ourselves, sovereign, make no mistake, it will share some of our characteristics. It will be unmistakably a child—I shall not enter into the details of the parentage—of the House of Commons. As such it will undoubtedly assert what it will regard as its inherent right, the right to debate what it pleases and not to be told, even by the statute creating it, let alone by any other external authority, what it may talk about and what it may not.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

On the parentage of the Assembly, would it be fanciful to suggest that one parent might be the Northern Ireland Assembly and the other parent the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention?

Mr. Powell

I had in mind a number of alternative genealogies. I thought that it might be out of Dublin by the Foreign Office. There are all sorts of parentages with which, if we allowed ourselves this metaphorical sport, we might illustrate our views as to the nature of the proposition that the Bill has placed before us. I will not be tempted in that direction.

I shall revert to the first amendment, the one that I am moving. The purpose of the first part is to prevent this Parliament from making a fool of itself by inserting in the Bill words that will be of no effect, and to warn those who create this Assembly that they will be mistaken if they think that they will limit the scope of its debates. They may allow it no powers, but one thing that they cannot prevent it from doing—one thing that I have noticed it is difficult to prevent Ulster people doing—is talking. And talk it will.

The second half of the amendment might appear to be contradictory of the first, but it is not so. Paragraph (b) enables the Secretary of State to refer to the Assembly any matter, including an excepted or reserved matter. It might seem that, having said that the Assembly will debate anything it wanted, it would be reasonable to allow paragraph (b) to stand because paragraph (b) says that if the Secretary of State asks it to debate an excepted or reserved matter then it can do so. On closer examination it will be seen to be equally derogatory for us to include a provison which says "Ah, but the Secretary of State can give permission" when it is permission to do something that, as I have already explained, this Assembly, like it or not, will do anyhow.

Largely, paragraph (b) is either otiose or derogatory, and my hon. Friends and I consider that it is better away than in the subsection. Paragraph (b) does something in addition to purporting to give the Assembly permission to discuss excepted or reserved matters referred to it by the Secretary of State. It sets up an alternative form of machinery of debate upon a reference by the Secretary of State.

The question posed by the hon. Member for Beckenham still haunts me because, remembering that we give a First Reading to the Outlawries Bill after Black Rod has struck his Rod upon our Doors, I wonder exactly how the questions referred by the Secretary of State will find their place upon that Order Paper which is such a puzzle both to the hon. Member for Beckenham and to myself.

We have arrangements and procedures in the House germane to our origins and our purpose which secure that Ministers of the Crown and the needs of the Crown have priority. Indeed, things have come to such a pass that hardly anything which does not originate one way or another from the Crown can easily get a hearing and an airing in the House. That will not be so with the Assembly. We must envisage not only that the Assembly will debate what it pleases, whether or not it is referred by the Secretary of State, but that it will not necessarily be in a hurry to debate anything which is referred to it by the Secretary of State. For example, it might decide that a debate should be adjourned, perhaps for some little time or perhaps for a considerable time if the subject does not please it, if it is not interested in it or if it does not want to debate it.

There is another objection to paragraph (b) which goes to another of the characteristics of the Assembly which it is necessary to understand. The Committee will understand only by dint of debating clause 3 as exhaustively as I hope shall be permitted. Unless it is debated exhaustively and every element surveyed, we shall set up a body without a full understanding of what we are doing.

Paragraph (b) draws attention to the fact that, the Assembly having no responsibility for excepted or reserved matters by definition, the Secretary of State shall have the power to refer to the Assembly matters for which the Assembly will have no responsibility. I am not sure whether the Committee should accept that combination. It is one thing to say "Here are matters which in due course it is hoped by process of rolling or direct devolution will come within the Assembly's responsibility and that before that happens, or while it is happening, the Assembly may debate them, although it is not responsible."

It is entirely different to pick upon subjects on which devolution is not envisaged at an early stage, and say that the Secretary of State can go to the Assembly and get an opinion upon those subjects. If those are excepted or reserved subjects or subjects which it is deliberately considered ought not to be within the purview of a devolved Assembly, then, if the Secretary of State wants advice, I suggest that reference to an Assembly which is not to have authority for them is not the correct way to go about it. If the Secretary of State should say that there is no harm in having a consultative body to which he can refer any question that is bothering him, then I tell him that the attempt to combine a consultative body of that kind with a deliberative, public, elected body of the sort of this Assembly is a very odd proposal.

Of course, Ministers in all sorts of circumstances, and very properly, have recourse to advisory bodies. They select those advisory bodies in the light of the subjects on which they require advice. They constitute them with care. The proceedings of those bodies are carefully regulated and are either confidential or, if not confidential, are duly placed on record in a recognised manner. But that will not be the case with the debating Assembly which will be set up under the Bill.

I advise the Secretary of State against having recourse by way of consultation to the Assembly, particularly on matters which are excepted or reserved; I would not object to it so much if they were matters in any case within the purview of the Assembly and intended to be devolved to it.

Summarising so far on the first amendment—this applies to the other amendments which go to the same or related subjects—vie have to recognise what we are doing; we are bringing into existence a body which will, at any rate initially, be in the full sense of the term irresponsible and which will debate what it wishes to debate and resolve what it wishes to resolve.

We shall come later and on a later group of amendments to consider the manner in which the resolutions, decisions and views of the Assembly are to be recorded. At this stage I should say, because it is connected with the inherent irresponsibility of this body, that it is unsatisfactory for an elected body of this kind to deliberate without its decisions being matters of record. There is some provision later in the clause for the recording of resolutions and for a specific written report to be rendered by the Assembly, but I am saying something wider than that and something different from that, namely—and I appeal to the general sense of our own proceeding—that there is something inherently objectionable in an elected Assembly debating without being on record as to its debate and without its resolutions taking a form in which they themselves are on record and are readily available.

That brings me to the next aspect of the Assembly to which my hon. Friends and I wish to draw attention, namely, its relation to this House of Commons and to that part of the House of Commons which consists of Members of Parliament elected to represent constituencies in Northern Ireland.

7.30 am

I pose the following question more generally than in the framework of subsection (2) of the clause. Let us suppose that the Assembly debates, and comes to a resolution on, a matter which falls or may fall to the House to decide. What is the standing of the Assembly's resolution with the House? What is the standing of hon. Members for Northern Ireland constituencies in the House in relation to the deliberations and. conclusions of that Assembly?

Let no hon. Member be too hasty to say that this is the sovereign House of Parliament and shall therefore take no notice of what the Assembly says and resolves. There will be two disagreeable consequences if one attempts to say that.

First, the Assembly will soon ask why, if it is the principle of the House to take no notice of it, did the House bring the Assembly into existence. It will ask why it is deliberating and passing resolutions if the House and Parliament take no notice of it.

We might retreat a little and say that we will take some notice of the Assembly. I regret that that is no good at all. A deliberative Assembly, the resolutions and opinions of which have been ignored by the House, is unlikely to be gratified by being told that some account is being taken of its resolutions; that the House has even managed to get hold of some newspaper reports of some of the things that were said in the course of debate; and that the House took some notice but came to its own decision.

The next stage, as the House reflects upon its relationship with the Assembly and its proceedings, is to say that it has set up an elected Assembly; it did not have to, but is did; it caused it to be elected and it considers it to be an Assembly that should take responsibility for a whole range of legislation and administration in the province—surely the decisions of that Assembly should be prima facie binding upon the House.

I do not know how agreeable or disagreeable any of those three gradations will appear to be, either to the House or to the Assembly.

I then look specially at the circumstances of hon. Members of this House. An hon. Member, for whatever part of the Kingdom he sits, is elected as an individual to participate in the debates and decisions of the House upon his own responsibility. He is not a delegate but a representative. He is a plenipotentiary for the duration of a parliament. He is entitled—nay, it is his honour—to go to his constituents and say: "Thus have I done upon my judgment; because I am your representative and you gave me that power when you made me a Member of Parliament".

Under the Bill, a Member's constituency—supposing that he is one of the new 17—will be electing five other representatives to sit together with the rest of the 85 up on the hill at Stormont. How is the Member of Parliament and his constituents to deal with that? Do his constituents accept that, although they have elected five Members of the Assembly, their Member of Parliament is still, as before, their plenipotentiary representative, called upon to do them a service of his judgment and conscience, but not their delegate?

Or are they to say, however mistakenly "But you are one. You have a lot of things to think about, a lot of concerns, and a lot of pressures are brought to bear on you in that distant Westminster to which you go, and we have five other representatives whom we have elected. It is true that we have elected them on a different system of proportional representation, but they are still representatives whom we have elected, although most of us did not vote for most of them, thanks to the peculiarities of proportional representation. They have gone off and joined the representatives of all the other constituencies in a body which has nothing else to do but to talk about our affairs and come to certain resolutions"?

Our constituents might well say "How can you disregard, how dare you disregard, what authority do you have to disregard, the decisions of the Assembly and prefer your own judgment, combined with the judgment of your peers in the House of Commons?"

From the first day of its existence, the very creation of this Assembly alters the relationship of Parliament with Ulster, and the relationship of the Members of Parliament for Ulster constituencies with their constituencies. It therefore alters the relationship of Members of Parliament for Ulster constituencies with the rest of the House of Commons. As yet, we do not revert to being the second class citizens that we used to be before 1972, but we shall be different from all our colleagues in the House in this respect, that when they go back to Yorkshire, Somerset, or wherever it may be, they will not be confronted with five other people who say "We, too, are the representatives of your constituents, and we do not agree with what you have been saying and doing. We shall hold you up to public obloquy. You should have listened to us. We are the people who know, and, anyhow, there are five of us to one of you".

No other Member of Parliament from any other part of the United Kingdom—the Orkney and Shetland Islands, or anywhere else—will be subject to that experience, but we shall be. Every time that there is a debate—perhaps, not just on Northern Ireland—and we contribute to that debate, we shall contribute to it with diminished authority.

Let not the right hon. Gentleman therefore imagine that this House of Commons will remain unscathed and unaltered by the creation of the Assembly, even—or especially—an Assembly without responsibilities or powers, except the power to talk and to reach conclusions about any subject that enters its head.

I come now to the matter to which amendment No. 42 relates, and that is the relationship of a Member of this House to his individual constituents. It is the pride of Members of this House that, in the last resort, in any matter of administration as opposed to law, a Member is ultimately the person who safeguards his individual constituents vis-a-vis the Executive. He is their last recourse, their ultimate recourse, and it is part of his crown of honour that that is his relationship to his constituents. That is as much so now in Northern Ireland since 1972 as in any other part of the United Kingdom. That it is so in Northern Ireland has been, and can still be, of great benefit in that Province in the peculiar circumstances of that Province.

In the Province it is the duty of every Member of Parliament who is doing his duty—nearly all of them do do their duty—to say to every person in his constituency, regardless of his religion, regardless of his political affiliations, regardless of any other considerations "I will serve you and I will see that you have your rights and equitable and fair treatment as I would if you were any other constituent, as I would if you were living in any other part of the United Kingdom." It has been something that Ulster has not enjoyed since 1922, which it has enjoyed since 1972—to have in each constituency a person who has that unlimited, unrestricted and undifferentiated duty towards all his constituents.

He can exercise this power because we are accorded privileges by Ministers. I do not mean privileges in the technical sense of the term, but I mean that we are accorded special treatment. We are accorded special treatment for a very good reason—as Members of the House we can make ourselves unpleasant if we are not. The House has provided procedures whereby we can make ourselves unpleasant or not as the case may be but, at any rate, can bring matters affecting our constituencies and individuals to public attention, to parliamentary attention and to ministerial attention.

Our access to Ministers is part of our access to the House. The two hang together. Our privileges as Members, our access to Ministers, our rights vis-a-vis the Executive on behalf of our constituents, are one seamless garment.

You may not be aware, Mr. Dean, that in the days of the constitutional convention, which existed from 1975 to 1976, it was the set policy—I do not say of Ministers but of those behind them—to ensure that as far as possible persons who were elected to the convention were treated as Members of Parliament would be treated in putting forward individual cases and problems. That was done quite deliberately as part of the purpose with which this legislation has been promoted, to weaken and eventually to destroy the connection between Ulster and the House, which is the essence of the Union.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) has performed an imperishable service to the House and to the Committee by placing on the record at an early stage of our proceedings the fact that this intention was known, apprehended and warned of inside his party before his party acceded to office.

What will be the position of Members of Parliament in relation to Members of the Assembly? A constituent has a perfect right to go to anyone. We have no monopoly over the appeal of our constituents. He can go to a minister of religion. He can go to the citizen's advice bureau. He can go to the local office of a Department. He can go to his local councillor. No problem arises from any of those courses of application because when he goes to his local councillor, the only one who is a member of an elected body among the array that I have mentioned, he goes knowing, and the councillor knowing, that unless it is a matter within the discretion of the council, in which case it is a matter for the councillor and not for a Member of Parliament, he is going as he might go to any other person, not armed with any special authority or status in the matter but as he might go to a friend or to the citizen's advice bureau.

7.45 am
Viscount Cranborne

What was the experience of Ulster Members at the time of the constitutional convention? Did they find that the privileges accorded to members of the convention impinged on the authority and privileges of Ulster Members in the House?

Mr. Powell

Of course they did. Suppose the hon. Member was one of four Members for Dorset, South and his constituents went to any or all of those Members. Does he think that he would be in the same position to serve his constituents as he is now? Does he think that his status and privilege as an hon. Member would thereby be diminished? The hon. Gentleman will see what will be the consequences if steps are not taken to prevent those elected to the Assembly, who are responsible for nothing qua election to the Assembly, being dealt with by the Northern Ireland Office and Ministers as if they were members of a responsible Assembly and were, as we are, the plenipotentiary parliamentary representatives of their constituencies.

That matter must be cleared up because it affects, potentially undermines, and is intended to undermine, the relationship between this House and Northern Ireland. It necessarily strikes at the nexus between constituents, hon. Members, Parliament and Government which is of the essence of the Union.

Those who wish the Assembly to be brought into existence are those who have wished to see the significance of the parliamentary link of Ulster with the United Kingdom diminished by every available means and from every possible direction.

The Government ought to tell us that it is their view, whether or not they give statutory form to it—as I believe that they should—that Ministers will continue to have the same exclusive relations with hon. Members for Northern Ireland as they hive at present with those hon. Members and with the hon. Members for all other constituencies in the United Kingdom. That is a perfectly intelligible request; everybody understands what it means and the answer should be given clearly and, if posible, should be included in the text of the clause before it is added to the Bill.

Two major conclusions derive from the cursory acquaintance that the amendments have created with the clause. The first is the consequences of an irresponsible debating body being set up in Northern Ireland by election. The second is the consequences for this House of Commons and for Ulster as part of the United Kingdom by virtue of the parliamentary Union and the creation of this Assembly. We can to some extent guard against these consequences and I believe that we should do so as far as possible, but I have in candour to say that I believe that some of the consequences are inherent, as indeed those consequences were intended and are part of the motivation of creating the Assembly.

The other major matter raised by this group of amendments comes from the amendments of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). With apologies to the hon. Gentleman for anticipating anything that he might say, I must refer to the amendments because they illustrate with particular acuteness these characteristics and the characteristic consequences of the creation of the Assembly.

The Assembly is not, at any rate for the foreseeable future—the Secretary of State will contradict me if this is not so in his opinion—to be responsible for the security forces in Ulster, especially for the police forces in Ulster. It follows that debates on those subjects and resolutions on them in the Assembly would be irresponsible in the strictest sense of the term.

That may not matter so much if it happens to be housing or VAT. I choose one "transferable" and one "excepted" for the purposes of my argument. It might be a nuisance and it might be an irrelevance if VAT were debated and a decision upon it recorded by the Assembly. It might be a nuisance if a different point of view were taken by the Assembly upon housing, for example, from that which might be arrived at by a debate in the House in which Northern Ireland Members participated.

There is no comparison between those consequences and the consequences of an elected body debating and resolving upon the reserved matter of the policing of the Province. For it would be regarded and what it said would be regarded by the people generally, and would be publicised, as if it were authoritative and responsible, which it could not and was not intended to be.

Endless harm and misunderstanding would arise if without responsibility the Assembly were able to debate and make resolutions upon that matter. It will be understood that I am not considering the circumstances in which the House of Commons has decided to devolve the policing of Ulster to an Ulster Assembly. If and when that happened different considerations would apply because by definition that would then be a sensible Assembly which was answerable for the consequences of its actions and of its resolutions. Unless and until that happens, the debate and decision upon those matters by the Assembly will be, in the very worst sense of the term, irresponsible.

That leads us back to the fundamental insight into the harm which we do, the mischief that we set on foot, by creating an elective representative Assembly with no responsibilities—not quite no functions—and the House of Commons knows exactly what is meant by "responsibilities". It is an Assembly to which nobody is responsible in the sense that the right hon. Gentleman is responsible to the House. It is a constitutional monstrosity. As a constitutional monstrosity it will avenge itself on the people who perpetrated it. I would not so much mind that because they might simply have got their desserts. But as so often happens when constitutional monstrosities are perpetrated, it will also avenge itself upon the people of Northern Ireland. They will be the prime sufferers in the long run and they are the people for whom we are responsible.

This is our first contact with the clause. I was not trying in any way to expand on the propositions, but I hope that my endeavour to illustrate the force of several of the amendments to clause 3 that are in the first group has shown the tremendous importance of the clause and the gravity of the debate that is to follow.

Mr. Prior

It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I intervene at this stage to give some preliminary views on some of the amendments, including the Government amendments, and to say that I shall try to intervene again towards the end of the debate when hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), will have had a chance to express their views.

I should have thought that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we continue with the debate for perhaps a little more than one hour and then to seek to report Progress and continue the debate in a fresher frame of mind when we meet again later today. At this juncture, I shall merely follow the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) with, as he called them, preliminary remarks. I suggest that his comments were rather more than preliminary.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I am sure that I am at one with the whole Committee in appreciating the helpfulness of the right hon. Gentleman's intervening at this stage. He will appreciate that a considerable debate will have to follow the intervention that he is about to make. No doubt other opinions will be perceptible, but, if we are to break somewhere in the debate, it would involve the least interruption of the continuity of the debate if we were to break after the right hon. Gentleman resumes his seat so that when we resume we can have a continuous debate, running right through to the wind-up speech by the right hon. Gentleman.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think that that is an unappreciative suggestion. It will probably commend itself to the Committee. If that indication reaches him, I hope that he will feel able to accede.

Mr. Prior

The right hon. Gentleman always sets out to be as helpful as he can, although I am not sure that he is particularly helpful in this regard. We have made little progress in the four long days that we have had in Committee. We have made little progress in the past 16 hours. I am naturally anxious that we should make more progress. I had not intended to make a long speech in reply to the right hon. Gentleman at this stage. I had hoped and still hope that this will allow contributions to be made by other members of the Committee before we adjourn this morning. I recognise, of course, that I shall have to return to the Committee later in the day to answer the other points that will be raised.

8 am

Many, if not all, of the right hon. Gentleman's objections to the clause would apply to any devolved Assembly set up in Northern Ireland. I find that position difficult to assess, as I understand that the right hon. Gentleman's party is committed to devolved Government. His views about the relationship between any Assembly in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom Parliament would apply to any devolved Government. Similarly, his view of the relationship between Ulster Members of Parliament here and in the Assembly would apply to any devolved Administration.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prior

I will give way in a moment.

To that extent, the right hon. Gentleman once more makes the case for total integration.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell


Mr. Prior

I think that he does, as he talked again of Yorkshire and of the attitude that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) might take if he returned to his constituency and found that he had to deal with five other Members. That is the point of the right hon. Gentleman's case.

In that view, the right hon. Gentleman is at odds with almost all other Members of Parliament representing Ulster here and all the political parties in Ulster which are seeking devolved government. The right hon. Gentleman has left us in no doubt that he is an integrationist. He is against devolved Government. He believes—wrongly, in my view—that it weakens the Union. He then goes on to give his reasons, saying that there are conspiracies in the Northern Ireland office, the Foreign Office, the Pentagon or wherever designed to have just that effect.

I do not take that view. I believe that a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland would help to strengthen the Union. I have given my reasons for that on a number of occasions. I accept, however, that it will be some time before that is likely to come about. On the other hand, as I have also said on a number of occasions, there is at present a vacuum in the political life of Northern Ireland. The purpose of the Bill and particularly of clause 3 is to seek to fill that vacuum at any rate partially.

I recognise that the proposal is not perfect and that there are great difficulties in this concept. If I had not realised that before, I should certainly have realised it now, although I realised it all along, of course. I must also reckon, however, that here are even greater difficulties in doing nothing. I do not say that that is the right hon. Gentleman's view, as he would go for total integration, but I do not believe that direct rule is any long-term answer. Nor do I believe, given the circumstances of Northern Ireland, that it would prove acceptable to the people there.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I fear that I must have failed, despite my endeavours, to make my arguments. Nothing that I said in my speech would apply to a devolved Parliament and a devolved Administation. Everything that I said arises because clause 3 deals with an Assembly that has no responsibilities, to which no Executive is responsible and that has no legislative responsibilities.

We can conduct a debate about the consequences of a devolved Assembly, legislative and executive, but I beg the right hon. Gentleman to believe that my arguments are directed to clause 3 because it deals with an Assembly without responsibilities. Those are the implications that I sought to deal with.

Mr. Prior

I have taken the right hon. Gentleman's point, but he must take the point that many of his arguments that are directed towards an Assembly that he says has no responsibility would also apply to an Assembly that did have responsibility. He has based much of his argument on the relationship that he maintains exists between Ulster Members and the United Kingdom Parliament. That relationship would undoubtedly be disturbed and changed by any fresh Assembly set up in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman cannot divorce one from the other. He is making the total integrationist case. Although he would argue that the Assembly is a body without responsibility and, therefore, that it can have a particular reference to the relationship between the House and the Assembly as it is at present constituted in its early stages, it does not alter the fact that his argument on integration is still, to all intents and purposes, the same.

Mr. Body

Would it clarify the argument about what the Unionists want if it were made clear that those Unionists who ask for devolved government did so in terms of majority rule, which is not available and which my right hon. Friend would not give them? Therefore, the Unionists are forced back either to direct rule or to that more democratic form of direct rule that, for want of a better word, we call integration.

Mr. Prior

That is a point of view that I have discussed with the Official Unionists on a number of occasions. It is not by any means a fact because there are many Unionists who recognise that they cannot have the old straightforward majority rule of Stormont and they are prepared to accept some other arrangement in order to have back devolved powers in Ulster. They are perfectly entitled to do so, and that is what we are trying to provide for in this legislation.

Mr. Budgen


Mr. Prior

I shall not give way now. We need to make progress and I have already given way twice in the space of about four minutes. I shall continue for a while before giving way again.

Mr. Farr

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. In view of the fact that since I last raised the matter one hour and two minutes ago we have made definitive progress on the road towards clause 3, would you consider accepting a motion to report Progress?

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot interrupt a speech for that purpose.

Mr. Farr

Can I do that on a point of order?

The First Deputy Chairman

The hon. Gentleman cannot raise that matter in the middle of a speech.

Mr Prior

I accept the definition that the right hon. Gentleman has given to his amendments, and hope to explain why they are not acceptable to the Government. It might be for the convenience of the Committee if set out what clause 3 seeks to do.

The clause seeks to provide for the functions that may be exercised by the Assembly before either full or partial devolution is effected. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out it is a clause of considerable importance. Indeed, it represents one of the major innovations in the Bill, as it provides that the Assembly shall have a vitally important scrutinising, monitoring and consultative role even before full or partial devolution can come about.

Clause 3(1) provides that the Assembly may on its own initiative discuss any matter within the transferred category and shall also consider any matter, whether transferred, reserved or accepted, referred to it by the Secretary of State. Clause 3(1) was drafted in this way because it seemed right that, before devolution, the Assembly should concentrate on those matters that would be within its unrestrictive legislative competence after devolution.

If there were pressures to discuss a law and order issue—in Northern Ireland terms this is a vital issue—the Secretary of State could refer that issue to the Assembly under clause 3(1)(b).

This was a matter on which I reflected further in the light of the points made on Second Reading and in representations from Northern Ireland parties. I believe that it is right to make a change. The amendments in my name go a long way towards meeting the points that were put to me and which are expressed in other amendments that we are discussing.

I hope that I can convince the Committee that these amendments represent a significant and realistic attempt to meet genuine comment.

I fully appreciate that law and order issues are of great importance to both sides of the community in Northern Ireland and that the Assembly will wish to ventilate its concerns and views in this area. It is for that reason that I have tabled amendments Nos. 133 and 134. They will permit the Assembly to discuss reserved matters, including the vitally important question of law and order, of its own volition and without any reference from the Secretary of State, although the power of the Secretary of State to refer matters in this area to the Assembly under clause 3(1)(b) will remain undiminished by the amendments that I have proposed.

It is not, however, the Government's intention in tabling these amendments to blur the distinction between transferred and reserved matters. This is, and will remain, more than merely technical. On transferred matters, it is hoped that the Assembly will be preparing itself for taking over full responsibility. I stress that. The purpose of the Assembly in its early stages is to prepare for what we hope will be full responsibility, although I personally believe that it has an important role to play long before that is reached.

Where the Assembly expresses a clear view on a transferred matter and that view clearly has the support of representatives of all sections of the community, there may well be circumstances—in fact, I think that there will be—in which I expect this House to have full regard to what the Assembly is saying, even though hon. Members might take a different view.

That is not a particularly unusual situation. It is perfectly possible and likely that from time to time the Assembly will come into conflict with both the Secretary of State and his Ministers before devolution, after partial devolution even with the Ministers of the Assembly or at any time with hon. Members. That is a problem that we must face in our relationship with any Northern Ireland Assembly. It does not lead me to the view that, because we shall face difficulties, we should not make the attempt. It leads me to believe that the position in Northern Ireland is different and requires different solutions. We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to lead them through the process to full devolved government.

8.15 am

However, law and order has always fallen into a special category. While I remain ready to listen to views and suggestions, I must make it clear that the responsibility rests with the Secretary of State. It is not only that law and order matters may be more fundamentally divisive than transferred matters, but there are limits to the discussion of law and order in an Assembly. Some security matters, for obvious reasons, should not be made public, but going beyond security in that sense there is a well-founded view that operational matters are the responsibility of the chief officer of police and that neither Ministers nor Parliament should seek to give directions to the chief officer in the exercise of that responsibility. The amendments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds are relevant to that point. I shall deal with them after he has spoken later today.

To mark the distinction between transferred and reserved matters, the Government's amendments provide that the reports produced by the Assembly on its own initiative on reserve matters should not automatically be laid before Parliament. Such a report, which after devolution would be within the responsibilities of the Northern Ireland Administration and the Assembly, should be laid before the House as clause 3(4) provides.

Sir Philip Goodhart

May I put to my right hon. Friend the question that I put to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) a few moments ago? How will the Assembly decide the matters that it wishes to discuss?

Mr. Prior

The Assembly will have the right to discuss all transferred matters and now we are giving it the right to discuss all reserved matters. Many of the reserved matters will tend to drift fairly wide, but that is a matter for the Assembly. The presiding officer of the Assembly, advised by a clerk, must take into account what the legislation says about how wide its debates can go. I suspect that some Members of the Assembly may wish to keep the debates in reasonable order.

We are doing an injustice to the likely Members of the Assembly if we always put the worst connotations on the way in which they are likely to behave.

Mr. Budgen

In default of a Supreme Court or other judicial body, what happens if there is a dispute between the Assembly and Parliament as to the matters to be discussed by the Assembly? Is there any method by which, if the Secretary of State or the House collectively decide that the Assembly wishes to extend its powers without lawful authority, it can be prevented from doing so?

Mr. Prior

If my hon. Friend does not know by now that the Assembly is an advisory Assembly with no powers, he has not been listening to the debates on the Bill over the past 60 hours or so.

Mr. Budgen


Mr. Prior

In so far as there is any dispute between the Assembly, which has no powers and the House, which at that stage still retains the power, the House is sovereign. This is a non-point. I am rather surprised to find my hon. Friend, who is a lawyer of some distinction, raising that point.

Mr. Budgen


Mr. Prior

I shall not give way—I wish to get on a bit.

Mr. Budgen

My right hon. Friend is attacking me and ought to give me the chance to reply.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) knows that if the Secretary of State does not give way he cannot intervene.

Mr. Prior

Before I gave way to my hon. Friend I was discussing the reserve matters that would not automatically be laid before Parliament.

Any report that the Assembly decided to produce on reserve matters would be in a rather different category because, even after devolution, responsibility for reserve matters would remain with the Secretary of State and this Parliament. Accordingly, I do not believe that there should be any obligation on the Secretary of State to place such orders before Parliament. Hence the third amendment that I have tabled, No. 135.

It leaves the Secretary of State with the discretion whether or not to lay before Parliament reports on "reserved" matters which the Assembly has prepared of its own volition.

Nor do I believe, however, that it would be right to amend clause 3(1)(a) to enable the Assembly to discuss "excepted" matters. These are matters which in the Government's view should be permanently the responsibility of this Parliament, unlike "reserved" matters which could be devolved in due course if a durable and stable system of Government, were established in Northern Ireland. There is thus an important distinction between "excepted" and "reserved" matters. It may be that, exceptionally, it will be right for the Assembly to discuss an "excepted" matter, but that would not be ruled out because I could refer such a matter to the Assembly under clause 3(1)(b).

Amendment No. 39 would remove clause 3(1)(b) which permits the Secretary of State to refer any matter affecting Northern Ireland to the Assembly for its consideration. I regard this as an important provision because the Secretary of State may well need the benefit of the Assembly's advice on a wide range of subjects. I am convinced that the operation of direct rule can be substantially improved by an informed input from the Assembly.

I stress the point that this could help to improve direct rule as we know it. This is what the provisions of clauses 3 and 4 taken together are designed to achieve. As hon. Members will know, clause 4 deals with the Committee system.

The power contained in clause 3(1)(b) is an important part of this scheme. Moreover, as I have said, it would be the means by which the Assembly could, albeit exceptionally, discuss "excepted" matters. Any report produced as a result of a reference to the Assembly under this provision would be automatically laid before Parliament. I believe that this provision could be of benefit both to Parliament and to the Assembly, as well as to the Secretary of State, and that it should be retained.

The Committee will also understand that we cannot support amendment No. 42 tabled by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and his colleagues which would prevent the Assembly from discussing any complaints or representations made by any member of the public in respect of their personal circumstances. It is not just on grounds of principle, because the Bill is before all things a "permissive" Bill, as the right hon. Member for Down, South put it in our discussion of clause 1. It is because the amendment would prevent the Assembly from discharging an essential element of any representative, elected body's role. It would deny them their essential duty of representing and protecting the individual interests of their constituents. That is not just a point for an Assembly that is, as it were, an advisory body with scrutinising and committee obligations and so on. It would be the position, as the right hon. Gentleman has fairly stated, in any devolved Assembly. There would be bound to be a different relationship between a constituent and a Member of Parliament, if the only Members of Parliament are the Westminster Members, compared with the relationship that there will be if there are Assembly Members at the same time. That is an inevitable consequence of having an Assembly in Northern Ireland, and one of its advantages.

Mr. Powell

I understand that if the Assembly were responsible, for example, for the administration of housing it would be entirely proper and logical for the Assembly and its Members to deal with cases, personal as well as general, relating to housing. It would not be proper for those cases to be put before a Member of Parliament, and in all normal common sense and decency he would transfer them, but we are dealing with an Assembly that has no responsibilities and where the matters of personal concern, which are mentioned in this amendment, are matters that can be dealt with only on the responsibility of Her Majesty's Ministers as responsible to the House of Commons. That is the difference.

Mr. Prior

I agree that the Assembly would certainly not have to start with the responsibility. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has pointed out on a number of occasions, he is the Minister responsible for health and social services. It was clear at a recent Question Time, as he stated, that that was the first time during the eight or 10 months during which he had held his office that he had been asked a question on health and social security. No one will convince me that there are not a great many questions that representatives in Northern Ireland would like to have asked the Minister in an Assembly had their constituents had greater access to them, which could and would be provided by an Assembly in Northern Ireland. Although it is a constitutional innovation, I do not believe that it should be ruled out because it is different from the practice that we have always assumed in the House of Commons.

Mr. Farr

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for being so courteous at this hour of the day. Is it not a fact that in Northern Ireland there is a very strong and flourishing parliamentary commissioner who deals with problems and in addition there is a complaints commissioner. They both publish voluminous reports, and in 1980 they had something like two or three hundred complaints that they investigated and reported upon. Are not complaints properly and satisfactorily dealt with through those channels?

Mr. Prior

If my hon. Friend is satisfied with the state of democracy and political stability in Northern Ireland he will be the only person who is. I do not believe that having a complaints commissioner deals with the problem adequately. Northern Ireland is asking for—

Mr. Farr

On, a point of order, Mr. Armstrong, The right hon. Gentleman is putting words into Hansard that I did not say. I did not say that I was satisfied with the political position in Northern Ireland.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order for the Chair. It is not my job to correct speeches.

8.30 am
Mr. Prior

I am sorry if my hon. Friend thinks that I put words into his mouth. If I did, I apologise. I am trying to explain that I do not believe that his suggestion about the Ombudsman is a satisfactory alternative to the arrangements that I propose. I would not put the Committee or myself through the agony of debates night after night unless I sincerely believed that the measure was necessary and right for the greater political authority of Northern Ireland. Some may disagree with me, but that is what we seek.

Sir Philip Goodhart

If members of the Assembly can raise matters brought to them by constituents, who will answer the complaints in the Assembly? In the old Assembly a time was set aside each day for Adjournment debates. Traditionally constituency matters were raised then. Who will answer such debates?

Mr. Prior

Many complaints and representations will be dealt with by Ministers in the ordinary course of correspondence. The intention is that Ministers in this Parliament will accept invitations to go to the Assembly prepared to answer questions and debates and attend Committees. The system cannot be the same as in the House, but Ministers intend to co-operate fully with the new Assembly. That applies to the period when we are trying to move towards a devolved Administration—in the initial phase. I hope that that phase will not last too long. Ministers and the Committee must make an effort to match the needs of the Northern Ireland people. That is how we can do it. Of course, such a system creates constitutional difficulties. The difficulties are already there and our purpose is to seek to overcome them.

Sir Philip Goodhart

Will a Minister be able to go to the Assembly to answer an Adjournment debate?

Mr. Prior

Such matters must be considered by the Assembly and Ministers, and perhaps the chairmen of the Committees, to be set up under clause 4, when we see how matters are developing. We do not intend that Ministers should apply the same attendance procedures to the Assembly as they do to the House, but they will seek to co-operate whenever reasonable.

Mr. Budgen

I hope that my right hon. Friend will understand. I wish to put my point accurately. Surely if the matter is left vague it will lead to nothing but conflict. There will be conflict about whether Ministers are allowed to speak in the Assembly and conflict about whether the Assembly can require the attendance of Ministers. If it is left vague there can be nothing but friction between the two organisations.

Mr. Prior

I have made it plain that there can be no requirement on Ministers to attend the Assembly. But I have also made it plain that when Ministers are requested to attend, they will seek to make themselves available, if the circumstances are propitious and if the Assembly wishes them to attend, particularly Committees, which are of great importance.

Mr. Peter Robinson

It would be useful if the Secretary of State would clarify this point. I make it clear in seeking clarification that I do not necessarily disapprove of what I took out of his earlier comments. Is he saying that the Assembly could so arrange its business that it would have the equivalent of our Question Time so that questions could be put down on the Order Paper and Ministers would be brought to the Assembly to answer them?

Mr. Prior

I do not think that these are issues on which one should reach conclusions in advance, because this is a matter that the Assembly will wish to discuss. It must be left for discussion. There can be no statutory obligation on Ministers to attend the Assembly. I do not think that Ministers would wish to get involved in Question Time at the Assembly. But there will be occasions, in the early stages at any rate, before devolved government has taken place, when it will be appropriate for Ministers, if they are requested to do so, to attend debates, make statements and answer debates. That will be a matter that is best left to the Assembly and Ministers to work out nearer the time, at the time, or after the Assembly has been set up.

I want to deal now with a group of amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams)—

Mr. Budgen

The right hon. Gentleman need not bother; she is not here.

Mr. Prior

—and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) who has sat through the whole debate and is entitled, in regard to the amendments, to take the place of his right hon. Friend.

If I have understood them correctly, this group of amendments has two objectives: to ensure adequate financial control of the operations of the Northern Ireland Assembly and ultimately of a devolved Northern Ireland Administration, and to permit close parliamentary supervision of the expenditure of the Assembly and the Northern Ireland Departments, even in respect of matters that have been devolved.

I share the desire of the right hon. Lady and her colleagues that the Assembly should be run as tightly as it can be. I attach the greatest importance to ensuring that those who consume resources are held fully accountable for their use. Nevertheless, I have had difficulty with these amendments on several counts. The most important is in the terms of principle. They appear, if they do not actually do so, severely to limit the financial responsibility of the Assembly in respect of matters under its control, or at least to keep the Assembly under very tight and, in the Government's view, excessive control from Westminster. I do not see how this can be done if devolution is to be genuine and effective, and is to be seen to be so in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, I agree that there must be close scrutiny and control of the expenditure of the Assembly and of a devolved Administration at all stages of its existence. As I understand it, the main concern of those who tabled these amendments is that the position of this Parliament must be safeguarded.

Although I cannot recommend that the Committee should accept the amendments, I should like to explain why the Government believe that the system of financial control envisaged in the Bill, taken together with the controls already provided for in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, is not merely sufficiently rigorous but would give to a devolved Administration the greatest degree of financial responsibility compatible with the ultimate authority and responsibilities of Parliament.

I should like to remind hon. Members what controls we envisage for each stage in the Assembly's life. Before any legislative powers are devolved, the cost of the Assembly and its Committees will be accounted for to this House through the present Estimates and Appropriation order procedure. The expense of the Assembly will be carried on clause 11 in the Northern Ireland Estimates. Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise those Estimates in the normal way and will be asked to vote the money required in an Appropriation order.

The Northern Ireland Comptroller and Auditor-General will continue to scrutinise Northern Ireland Departments as at present and to forward his report to the House for consideration. Such an arrangement seems to me wholly right and appropriate and does not stand in need of duplication, as the amendments seem to imply, on the part of the Assembly.

Under devolution the system will inevitably be a little more complicated. The financial arrangements envisaged were set out in some detail in paragraphs 55 to 60 of the recent White Paper. I am sure that the Committee will not expect me to go through them in detail.

Under full devolution, it will be the Government's intention to give a Northern Ireland Administration and a Northern Ireland Assembly a high degree of freedom and discretion in establishing and implementing their public expenditure priorities. That freedom should not be confused with licence. I remind the Committee that the Assembly will be required to appoint a Committee to examine the application of money by the devolved Northern Ireland Departments. That will be a Public Accounts Committee, which will be required to examine the way in money charged on, or appropriated out of, the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland, has been applied.

In addition, although the Government will take careful account of the views of the Assembly and the devolved Administration, the total resources available for Northern Ireland will continue to be settled through the existing arrangements for the public expenditure survey and will therefore have to be decided by the Government and Parliament at Westminster. That was and remains the position.

Rev. Martin Smyth

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. Are we not discussing clause 3? Is that not operative at a time when there is no devolution?

The First Deputy Chairman

We are indeed discussing clause 3. I hope that the Secretary of State will bear that in mind.

Mr. Prior

I accept that I was going fairly wide, but I was trying to answer the speeches on the amendments. Therefore, it must be in order for me to comment upon them, otherwise they would not have been grouped in such a way.

The right hon. Lady the Member for Crosby and the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant), by their amendments, want to be certain that where there is a degreee of devolved Government the members of it are acting in a satisfactory manner. They have sought to frame amendments that are designed to point up the need for some proper check on the activities of any Ministers of that devolved Administration.

That raises considerable difficulties. Once one has devolved, the powers must be left to the devolved Administration. On the other hand, the Government and Parliament at Westminster retain the overall control over expenditure. What is more, the best safeguard is the fact that one simply cannot get a devolved Administration to work unless it seeks co-operation between its various members. Therefore, if some Ministers are less popular than others, and might in certain circumstances be regarded as unsatisfactory, the arrangements that have been made by the various parties in forming a devolved Government would break down. In my opinion, we cannot go further than we have gone in control over expenditure. These amendments seek to tie down the matter in a way that would not be acceptable.

8.45 am

In a preliminary speech of some length, I have sought to set out the Government's views on this important clause. The Assembly's scrutinising role in helping to frame legislation, its monitoring role, and—under the next clause—the setting up of Committees are important in leading to devolved government. My amendments will help to give the Assembly confidence that we shall give it a fair chance to debate those matters which are important to the people of Northern Ireland. On that basis, I commend them to the House.

Several Hon. Members


The First Deputy Chairman

Order. It might help the Committee and the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), who intervened to ask me a question, if I were to indicate to the Committee that I would be ready to accept a motion to report Progress some time after 9 o'clock.

Mr. Farr

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. Some considerable time has elapsed since such a motion was last put to your predecessor in the Chair, and quite a lot of progress has been made. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave the Committee helpful outlines on the contents and implications of clause 3. We have had an excellent introductory speech from the right hon. Member—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I have indicated to the Committee what is in my mind. The hon. Gentleman must not debate it. I have indicated my discretion in this matter.

Mr. Farr

Did you say, Mr. Armstrong, that you would accept a motion soon after 9 o'clock? How soon is soon?

The First Deputy Chairman

Perhaps I can make myself clear—almost any time after 9 o'clock.

Mr. Farr

Thank you, Mr. Armstrong. I am most grateful to you for that elucidation. In my opinion, the time has now come when the Committee should adjourn its proceedings for the day. We have another full day's debate before us, and that is not very far away.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman speaking on the amendment now, or proceeding to debate what I have indicated to the Committee, in oder to be helpful?

Mr. Farr

I was saying that I thought that it was time that the Committee packed in for the day, and that we suspended our proceedings until later today.

The First Deputy Chairman

The hon. Gentleman cannot pursue that matter.

Mr. Stanbrook

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. You last accepted a motion to report Progress about eight or nine hours ago. You now say that in 12 minutes' time, in your discretion, you will accept such a motion. Surely it is not necessary for us to wait another 12 minutes to do something which all members of the Committee know is agreeable to everyone.

Mr. Budgen

Further to that point of order, Mr. Armstrong. Earlier you or one of your predecessors in the Chair said that the decision about when to accept—

Mr. Prior

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. I think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee, and would save the Committee any further embarrassment, if at this stage I were to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

The First Deputy Chairman

As the Secretary of State is in charge of the Bill, I am prepared to accept that motion.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. Do I understand that your decision on the acceptance of a dilatory motion, which you have intimated, very properly, is not debatable by hon. Members, is open to be modified on an indication from the Minister who is in charge of the Bill?

The First Deputy Chairman

Yes; that is the position.

Mr. Budgen

Further to that point of order, Mr. Armstrong. You were good enough to say that these matters were decided by precedent and principle. So that we can understand that matter better during future debates, I should be grateful if you would be good enough to give your ruling on why there is a difference in status between an application from a Back Bencher and an application from the Secretary of State.

The First Deputy Chairman

The Secretary of State is in charge of the Bill. That is the difference between him and a Back Bencher.

Mr. Prior

Further to that point of order, Mr. Armstrong. By looking around the Chamber and seeing what hon. Gentlemen were wishing to do on this matter, I was trying to save the Chair from embarrassment and hon. Gentlemen from sitting in the Chamber for a quarter of an hour raising points of order until we reached one minute past nine. I hope, Mr. Armstrong, that the Committee will accept that I was trying to help you and that I had no desire, although I am in charge of the Bill, to force the ruling of the Chair 12 minutes before it might otherwise have been made.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.

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