§ Considered in Committee
§ [Mr. BERNARD WEATHERILL in the Chair]4.34 pm
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Weatherill. I wish to raise a point of order of which I have given you prior notice. I hope that I may put it to you in ample terms sufficient for the significance of it to be understood generally. I believe that it is one of constitutional importance not merely for the proceedings in this House but also for the relationship between the Executive and this House.
My submission to you, Sir, is that we cannot proceed on this Bill in Committee unless and until the House passes the appropriate and necessary financial resolution to enable us to do so. There took place on 10 May a brief debate upon the financial resolution which was moved by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten). In the intervening fortnight, it has been possible to consider what the Minister said on that occasion and to examine the wider implications of the financial resolution upon which this debate purports to proceed.
I think it would be common ground that we cannot proceed in Comittee upon a Bill that involves expenditure but has not been covered by a money resolution moved on behalf of the Crown by a Minister and passed by the House. On the face of the financial resolution, which was passed on 10 May, it appeared that only one specific provision had been made in that way in respect of this Bill. The operative words in that resolution which, I think, Mr. Weatherill, you will have in front of you, as I have in front of me, are thatit is expedient to authorise any payments out of or into the Consolidated Fund which are attributable to section 4(2) of the last-mentioned Actthat was a reference to the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973—to subsequent elections of members of the AssemblyOne, and one only, of the causes contained in the Bill before the Committee of public expenditure is met by the terms of that financial resolution. We understand—we are indebted to the hon. Member for Oxford for that understanding—that the reason why this specific item is covered in this way is that the financial resolution pertinent to the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973, as it became, covered only the cost of the election of one assembly and not of subsequent assemblies, it having been decided at that time to detach the election of the assembly from the general constitutional provisions in what became the Northern Ireland Constitution Act of 1973. Consequently, certain expenses were in advance taken upon chance, so to speak, directly by the United Kingdom, particularly the holding of that one first election for which action had to be taken before the provision could be made in the 1973 Bill. We are therefore perfectly clear why that item is covered.
I do not think, however, that it can be disputed that the Bill now before us will involve other public expenditure. I am at the moment using that deliberately relatively wide term "public expenditure". In doing so, I might perhaps 1072 be permitted, referring back to the debate of 10 May, to repeat my regret about the inadequacy of the financial memorandum available to us at the time. According to "Erskine May", the financial memorandum should set out the total amount of public money that would be involved. The term is quite general. It involves money from any public sources whatever. Hon. Members were denied that full information, although a certain amount of it has transpired in the meantime in response to questions that have been put down. I do not, however, think that it can be disputed that this Bill will result in the incurring of public expenditure upon objects that were not contemplated by the 1973 Act.
The Assembly which would be set up under the Bill has different functions in part, and initially will have wholly different functions, from the Assembly that was created by the 1973 Act. It must follow that public expenditure will be incurred as a result of the Bill which could not be incurred and has not been incurred as a result of the 1973 Act.
You might, Mr. Weatherill, as I did, have concluded from that that there was a direct step in reasoning whereby one was entitled to say that there should be a financial resolution which would specifically cover those new and additional forms of public expenditure. Unfortunately, it involves me having to detain you and the Committee a little longer than would otherwise be necessary. There are two intervening stages in the argument that it is necessary to submit, because they are vital to the proposition which I am putting.
The money resolution, of course, provides for payments out of the Consolidated Fund. There is no doubt that in providing for such payments we are dealing wih the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom. Much of the expenditure, if not all, involved under the new Bill, except that specifically dealt with by the financial resolution passed on 10 May, will in the first place be met out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland. It would be a mere quibble—I am sure that you, Mr. Weatherill, will already have arrived at that conclusion—simply to say that because that expenditure is dealt with by a different Consolidated Fund from that which the House directly controls the submission that I make to you does not arise. You will have perceived that is so on two grounds.
Section 16 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 contains the words:The Secretary of State may from time to time".I notice an eager assent, Mr. Weatherill, on your part when I pronounce those words. I do not know whether, from that, I can anticipate that any part of any provisional conclusions or views that you may have arrived at is connected with that wording. Simply noting that passing phenomenon, I complete the quotation:The Secretary of State may from time to time pay out of moneys provided by Parliament into the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland such sums by way of grant as he may with the consent of the Treasury determine".There is in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973—which is still on the statute book and still in operation; it is not a section which has been suspended by the Northern Ireland Act 1974—a power on the part of the Secretary of State to make payments out of the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund into that of Northern Ireland. The 1973 Act set up a new constitution for Northern Ireland to replace that which was so ill-advisedly, 1073 unadvisedly and hastily abolished in 1972, and naturally made that provision. It is contained in section 16 of the 1973 Act, which I have just read.
There is no doubt that payments for the purposes of the 1973 Act out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom into that of Northern Ireland are duly authorised by that Act. That legislation was in accordance with, and under the aegis of, the financial resolution of that time which preceded the Committee debate on the 1973 Bill.
The new Bill creates in part, and initially wholly, new constitutional arrangements which do not exist and have not existed for Northern Ireland. It must involve additional payments and payments for different purposes out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom into that of Northern Ireland. There is, so far as I can see, only one escape from that conclusion, though I am not sure that that escape is even theoretically open to the Secretary of State. It would, of course, be theoretically possible for the Secretary of State to say after the Bill had received Royal Assent—if such an unfortunate thing should happen—"I am not going to make any payments out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom into that of Northern Ireland for the purposes of the Act. I have looked at section 16. It says 'may'. That is my decision."
I do not believe that the Secretary of State will say any such thing, for two reasons. It would be not merely uncharacteristically unreasonable of the right hon. Gentleman, but inconceivable for any Department of State to enact a new regime and not be prepared to finance that regime. A second reason for the impossibility of any such negative action on the part of the Secretary of State is that there are no other funds under this dispensation that could be made available to meet that expenditure. When there has been functioning in Northern Ireland a Parliament with taxing powers, the payments made out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom into that of Northern Ireland, have been in the way of supplements to the total revenues and for the total expenditure incurred in Northern Ireland. There was a discretionary element governing other sources which flowed into the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland. Since there were certain taxes and impositions which were within the control of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, it was possible for the Government in the United Kingdom to say to the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland "If you want that extra expenditure, you pay for it. There is no extra grant going out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom." That is not the position, nor will it be in the foreseeable future.
There is no tap that can be turned on to supply money for new public purposes in Northern Ireland other than the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom. That is not merely a practical fact; it is an indisputable fact. There is no doubt that, as a result of this legislation, there will have to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom into that of Northern Ireland sums for purposes which were not envisaged by the 1973 Act.
That is the basis upon which I ground my contention that the money resolution was insufficient to enable the Committee to proceed with the consideration of the Bill. I have taken a proposition into account, not merely to dismiss it myself but because I believe that the whole Committee will be disposed to treat it critically. There is a proposition that the words 1074The Secretary of State may from time to time pay out of moneys provided by Parliament into the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland such sums by way of grant as he may with the consent of the Treasury determineare perfectly general. I have heard it suggested—I put it no more precisely than that—that those words are to be regarded as a completely open permission for such sums to be paid, not for the purposes envisaged in the 1973 Act but for different purposes.
I repudiate that proposition, both on textual grounds and, more solidly, on the grounds of reasonableness and of the whole relationship between the House and the Executive. If the Committee examines the terminology of the money resolution on which section 16 of the 1973 Act is founded it will find that it was prefaced by the wordsfor the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make new provision for the government of Northern Ireland.I do not believe, and I must admit that after several endeavours to do so I have failed to believe, that those words are meaningless. I cannot believe that when the House resolved that it was expedient to make financial provision for the purposes of the 1973 Act it meant something different—that for the purposes of giving the Secretary of State a blank cheque in perpetuity it was expedient that this and that should happen.
I cannot accept that proposition, and I do not believe that it can be acceptable. Despite the words "from time to time"—which were necessary because, if the 1973 Act was to continue, the grants had to be made not just in one dollop, but from time to time as necessary—"from time to time" was not a promise of diuturnity, still less of perpetuity; it was merely saying to the Secretary of State, "You do not have to make the grant once a year or all at one time, you can make grants as and when you consider it to be necessary", but all that was controlled and limited by the purpose for which that decision was taken, not merely in the terms of the financial resolution of 1973, but in the necessity of the case.
If you, Mr. Weatherill, should rule that section 16 of the 1973 Act adequately covers all the new expenditure, not contemplated in that Act, which would be incurred under the Bill you should consider what consequences would follow. It will alter the relationship between the Government and the House and it will mean that a power given to Ministers to spend for one purpose is thereafter deemed to enable them to incur expenditure for different purposes that were not contemplated at the time when the original power was given.
I take an example from the previous office of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I can imagine circumstances where the Secretary of State for Employment has been given power to incur public expenditure, duly authorised by a money resolution and consequent legislation. I do not believe that the proposition can be seriously advanced that the Secretary of State is thereby entitled to incur public expenditure on other matters pertaining to the Department of Employment, which are not lawful until new legislation affecting the Department and giving it new powers has been passed, and that the old powers can just be carried on.
In this case, it is a new charter, a new dispensation, as between the Government and the House on the control of public expenditure. We shall be told that once we have given power to a Minister to spend public money for certain purposes that can be, so to speak, spread forward over any further legislation and any new purposes that may 1075 subsequently be brought forward. I do not believe that that can be the contention and it is for that reason that I have taken the time of the Committee and engaged your attention, Mr. Weatherill—and I apologise for having done so—in putting forward my submission.
We are clearly considering something that does not begin and end with Northern Ireland or the Bill. It means that the Government have only to get a clause like section 16 of the 1973 Act through the House in the form of a money resolution and into the charging provision of the legislation and the House will have lost the control which it has hitherto exercised over the expenditure of Governments.
There is a converse to this and there is a symmetry between control of the House over expenditure and the exclusive responsibility of Ministers for public expenditure. It is not a mere antiquated form whereby Ministers, and no others, can come to the Dispatch Box and demand from the House the facility, the right, to spend public money and to pay moneys out of the Consolidated Fund. It is only those Ministers whom we in the Chamber can call to account.
The rights and financial privileges of Ministers and the powers of the House are symmetrical and coequal. I warn hon. Members that if the interpretation which would imply that section 16 of the 1973 Act covers new and uncontemplated expenditure that will be incurred under the Bill is allowed to stand they will have established a very serious precedent for the future and they had better look sharply about themselves when they are presented in future with a money resolution that says "For the purposes of any Act in the present Session to do this particular thing, it is expedient that money be paid out of the Consolidated Fund" and realise that those preparatory words, which they thought were limitations, will be disregarded and they will be told: "Never mind about the preamble, all that you have to attend to is the fact that the Government have been given the power to spend money".
I do not believe that you, Mr. Weatherill, above all as Chairman of Ways and Means and the supreme guardian—more than Mr. Speaker himself—of the financial privileges and rights of the House, will allow to stand a proposition that is so monstrous in its effects.
Therefore, I submit the proposition that it is not proper and not in accordance with procedure for the House to proceed to consider the Bill in Committee until a new financial resolution authorising payments out of the Consolidated Fund for the purposes of the Bill, which are different from, additional to and distinct from those in the 1973 Act, has been presented to the House and passed by the House.
§ 5 pm
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. Although your time and that of the Committee is precious, I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) had any cause to apologise for bringing this serious constitutional matter to the notice of the Committee. He brought it to the notice of the House after the Second Reading debate. The hour was late and the House was weary after that debate. I fear that few hon. Members were in the House and not a great deal of attention was paid to 1076 what the right hon. Gentleman was then saying. Perhaps that was a pity because we might have been able to start our proceedings in better order today.
I do not know what a Minister of the Crown will have to say about this. The right hon. Gentleman gave you notice of this point of order, Mr. Weatherill. I am sure that you will have some words to address to the Committee, but if we are to be told that the money resolution accompanying the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 covers the expenditure for the Assembly provided for in the Bill, I must say to you, Mr. Weatherill, and to the Committee that the Assembly provided for in the Bill is not the Northern Ireland Assembly of 1973. It is different from that Assembly; its functions are different. It is an entirely different animal, or at least it will remain a different animal until direct rule is suspended if ever this rolling devolution gets to that point.
The money resolution of 1973 covered legislation for the new constitution that was brought in by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. That Act is different from the Bill before us today. The Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 defines powers to be devolved to a Northern Ireland Executive and to a Northern Ireland Assembly. Under the Bill before us, the position is different. The burden of progress—if I can use that word in this context—falls in larger measure on the Assembly. It is not so much a case of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State devolving powers, as of the Assembly, when it is elected, submitting its proposals for the resumption or assumption of devolved government in Northern Ireland. It will then be for the House and the other place to approve the proposals that may be presented by the Secretary of State.
The Assembly provided for in the Bill is something of a hybrid. It is as much in the nature of a constitutional convention as of an Assembly as we understand "Assembly" from the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973.
You will remember, Mr. Weatherill, that the Northern Ireland constitutional convention was set up in 1974 to enable the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, to put forward their own proposals for the future Government and constitution of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly that we are considering today would have similar duties to that Northern Ireland constitutional convention.
With the convention of 1973–74, it was left to the Secretary of State of the time to decide how to achieve a power-sharing Executive. It fell to the Secretary of State to do that. In this Bill, as clearly explained in the White Paper, the Government will institute any reasonable scheme of administration that has the support of a substantial majority of the Assembly and is acceptable to both sides of the community.
In effect, this is a constitution-making body. In effect, it is a constitutional convention—a second constitutional convention. In any case, even if you do not accept what I have said in that regard, Mr. Weatherill, it is clear that the Assembly provided for in the Bill is entirely different from the former Northern Ireland Assembly and should be covered by its own financial resolution. In the absence of a satisfactory financial resolution, I submit, with great respect, that we should not proceed further in Committee today and that you, as Chairman of Ways and Means, 1077 should consider the matter, as I am sure that you have. The upshot should be that you should report the matter to the House for proper action.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. I support the pleas by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). You will remember, Mr. Weatherill, that in the short debate on the money resolution on 10 May, the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) pointed out that assemblies that do nothing still manage to spend money. In other cases, they continue to have money spent on them even though they are not in being.
The hon. Gentleman's observation inspired me to make some inquiries, the most revealing of which produced from the Secretary of State in a written answer on 20 May the startling information that, although the Northern Ireland Assembly established by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 has not met since 1974, it has continued to cost the taxpayer, through one of the funds mentioned by my right hon. Friend, well over £100,000 a year. The total for the past seven years is well over £1 million. It might be helpful to you, Mr. Weatherill, and to the Committee if I quote the figures because they are relevant to the discussions in which we are engaged. The written answer states:
You and the Members of the Committee will have noticed, Mr. Weatherill, that in 1976–77 the expenditure increased by 25 per cent. which was two years after that ill-fated Assembly ceased its operations.
The total costs during each financial year were as follows: Year Cost£ 1975–76 150,200 1976–77 221,800 1977–78 115,900 1978–79 109,400 1979–80 151,900 1980–81 123,900 1981–82 138,000 —[Official Report, 20 May 1982; Vol. 24, c. 183.]
The figures show what can be wasted by an Assembly when it is not sitting and, for that matter, not even in existence except on paper or in statutory rules printed in italics declaring that weighty measures were being introduced under the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The hon. Member for Hendon, North was right to be alarmed at the thought that an Assembly sitting, but doing nothing, could spend another £2 million a year.
That brings me to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South in the debate on the money resolution. It was not clear to me and it may not have been clear to the House on 10 May whether the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten), meant that £2 million to be an annual figure, an estimated figure, or a once-for-all figure. He reluctantly admitted that the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund would be impoverished. That was the word used by the hon. Member for Hendon, North. We were not quite clear about that matter. The phrase in the money resolution to which my right hon. Friend has drawn attention—to make new provision for the resumption of legislative and executive functions by the Northern Ireland Assemblyrequires a great deal of clarification to say the least. The 1973 Act, as the hon. Member for Epping Forest said, 1078 provided for a structure which was at least clearly defined. People may not have liked the look of it, but at least they knew what it consisted of. Whatever its many faults, its powers were set out clearly. There was no room for doubt about the scope and jurisdiction with regard to its legislative and executive functions.
If the Bill before us had been designed to resume those functions—the functions given to the 1973 constitution and the Assembly created thereby—but excluding the undesirable features of the 1973 Act, the money resolution on 10 May would have been adequate.
Even if we ignore the wilder experiments in the Bill, the clauses most closely related to the money resolution are so different in character from what went before that they could not remotely be likened to what was described as the resumption of former activities.
A further serious complication arises from the split timing of the proposal. It is doubtful whether the money resolution covers at the same time, or at a stroke, the two stages. The initial stage is when an Assembly is elected and meets to perform duties which were not provided for in the 1973 Act, if it ever gets round to that. One example is the much-inflated power of scrutiny. The second element involves the various improbable events in the Assembly after it is elected, such as that elegantly referred to by the Secretary of State as "cobbling together" a 70 per cent. majority so that the Assembly might proceed to certain other activities involving legislative functions,, of a sort, and executive functions, of a sort.
The money resolution cannot cover both those spheres. It may attempt to provide the financial wherewithal to perform one, but it cannot do both because that would be a contradiction. On 10 May the Minister was unable to convince us that such matters had been provided for adequately in the money resolution. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South and the hon. Member for Epping Forest, I believe strongly that the Committee cannot and should not proceed without more adequate financial provision.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
It may be convenient for me to give my assessment before we take the matter further.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for giving me notice of his submission. He and the Committee will know that I have given it careful consideration.
I am dealing with a point of order. I shall take further points of order later. This is an important matter.
The money resolution for the Bill, agreed to by the House on 10 May, covers the cost of the next and subsequent Assembly elections and by-elections. It is necessary because their cost, unlike the other charges under the Bill, is a charge upon the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund. All other charges under the Bill will be met out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, which is a separate fund from the United Kingdom fund.
Payments out of the Northern Ireland fund do not require a money resolution since the Northern Ireland fund has certain independent sources of revenue. The Government of the United Kingdom may, as the right hon. 1079 Gentleman said, at any time contribute to the Northern Ireland fund by way of grants out of moneys provided by Parliament, but there is no obligation, either under existing legislation or under the Bill, upon the United Kingdom Government to make increased payments into the Northern Ireland fund to help meet the expenditure arising out of the Bill.
If, however, the United Kingdom Government should decide to make grants to the Northern Ireland fund to help meet this expenditure, they have authority to do so under section 16 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. Subsection (1) of that Act states:The Secretary of State may from time to time pay out of moneys provided by Parliament into the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland such sums by way of grant as he may with the consent of the Treasury determine and may, in connection with any such payment, impose such conditions as he may with the like consent determine.That authority, as the Committee will observe, is unrestricted as to the amount of money to be paid in and as to any time limit on such payments. As from 1973 that authority has been a continuing authority and part of United Kingdom law.
When the Northern Ireland Constitution Act was before the House in the form of a Bill in 1973 the provisions of section 16 were covered by a money resolution, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, agreed to by the House on 24 May 1973. I apologise for quoting the money resolution, but it is important. It states:for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make new provision for the government of Northern Ireland, it is expedient to authorise payments out of moneys provided by Parliament and payments out of or into the Consolidated Fund.The opening words of that resolution recite the long title of the Bill for the purposes of identification. They are not intended to restrict, and have never been construed as restricting, the purposes for which the moneys authorised may be spent.
The effective part of the money resolution starts with the words "it is expedient". That is standard practice for each money resolution submitted to the House. It will be noted that in the effective part of the resolution no limit on the amount of money nor on the time within which it might be paid was imposed. In those respects it reflects the provisons of section 16 of the 1973 Act which I have already cited.
Finally, I shall answer a specific point asked by the right hon. Member and others. Control over any such payments will of course be retained by the House of Commons in so far as they will have to be included in the Estimates which will need to be submitted to the House and agreed by it.
For those reasons I am satisfied that it is proper for us to proceed with the Bill.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. I am grateful to you for describing the statement that you have just made as your assessment. I am sure that you will appreciate the great importance to the House—and not merely in this context—of the matters which this question has brought to our consideration. With great respect—I am grateful to you—I must say that all the points included in your assessment were not entirely unfamiliar to me when I made my submission. I do, 1080 however, believe that what you, Mr. Weatherill, have said will not have diminished but will have increased any anxiety felt by the Committee.
Perhaps I might be permitted to explain the reasons for that anxiety. You, Mr. Weatherill, explained, indubitably correctly, that expenditure in Northern Ireland flows directly out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund into which money flows from time to time from the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund. You referred to independent sources available for the replenishment of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. We are confronted with circumstances in which those other sources cannot be varied by anything which is not within the control of the House. There is no taxing power in Northern Ireland, nor will there be in the new Assembly, whereby the flow of money into the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund can be varied or increased.
You stated, Mr. Weatherill, and obviously correctly, that the payments made under section 16 of the 1973 Act by the Secretary of State are voluntary payments. They are "may" payments and not "shall" payments. You said that they were unrestricted, but you were careful to say that they were unrestricted in amount and time. Of course they are unrestricted in amount, because the restrictions in amount are imposed by other procedures of this House. Of course they are unrestricted in time, so long as the purposes of the 1973 Act are being fulfilled. It would be impossible, unless that were a terminable Act, to put a terminus of time upon those payments out of the Consolidated Fund Act. What you did not say, Mr. Weatherill, was that they were unrestricted in respect of purpose. With great respect, unless they were unrestricted in respect of purpose, the contention would appear to stand that a specific money resolution is required.
It is quite true that the terminology of section 16 is a continuing terminology, but so it is bound to be in the drafting of any Act which is intended to continue. But surely, Mr. Weatherill, the proposition cannot be intended that by authorising in one context payments out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom we are held to have authorised payments out of the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund for other purposes.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this was the point you touched on when you said that the terminology of the money resolution "for the purposes of etc. was purely for the purposes of identification. I do not know whether other members of the Committee are as alarmed as I am to hear that. I admit that I had not realised that when we passed a money resolution, starting with the words "for the purposes of a Bill which has just had a Second Reading, we did not mean that at all. I had not realised that we were proceeding immediately to giving an unlimited power of expenditure, unless it was otherwise limited in the financial resolution, to the Secretary of State.
Perhaps I was not attending to these matters in 1973 quite as continuously as I am today, although I was attending to them. Perhaps no other hon. Member representing a seat in the rest of the United Kingdom was in those days attending to them more carefully. I mean no disrespect to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) and other hon. Members. However, I cannot recall directing my mind to the terminology of the money resolution which immediately followed the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill in 1973.
Had my attention been so directed, I confess that I would have been astonished and alarmed if I had been told 1081 then what you, Mr. Weatherill, have been advised and have advised the Committee now—that by that financial resolution and the provision in the 1973 Act which enacted it, we were giving a permanent power to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to pay out of the Consolidated Fund sums not merely unlimited in amount or unlimited in time, but unlimited in purpose, and that they would be applicable to new purposes, not merely not envisaged by the 1973 Act but actually incompatible with that Act, because the purposes envisaged in this Bill are a consequence of the suspension of the 1973 Act. So it must follow that they are different purposes from those which we contemplated in 1973.
This is a matter of great seriousness. Clearly it places an interpretation which, so far as I am advised, has not been placed before on the money resolutions passed by the House and upon the consequences of those resolutions.
If I may say so, Mr. Weatherill, I was encouraged by the appearance during your assessment of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, and correspondingly abashed to observe his subsequent departure, because we have a difficulty. It is not a difficulty which has been created by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It is evident from your assessment that this matter goes much wider than his responsibilities, and that the difficulty in which the Committee finds itself informed that in the past without apparently being aware of it—although perhaps hon. Members will say that they knew it all the time—we have given a carte blanche for expenditure out of the Consolidated Fund of a voluntary character by way of grant for purposes not envisaged nine years earlier. This is something that the House as a whole has to handle. A mere Committee considering this Bill is not in a position to handle it. Clearly I can speak only for myself, but I feel that the statement that you made to the Committee has, in a sense, by its very precision and clarity, underlined and intensified our difficulties.
Mr. Weatherill, I am sure that your eyes, too, have been on the clock, and I am therefore sorry that at the outset of our proceedings we have already spent nearly an hour in considering this proposition. However, I am sure that you will also accept that a point of order of this character, and of a constitutional character of this kind, albeit at the beginning of the Committee stage of a Bill, is a matter of serious import.
I recall that one of your predecessors in the Chair, now deservedly ennobled, deserved well of the House. At the commencement of the Committee proceedings on the European Communities Bill 1972, Wing Commander Grant-Ferris, as he then was, was sufficiently patient with the constitutional problems which confronted the Committee to remain in the Chair to receive the submissions of hon. Members throughout the night. It was a function for which the House of Commons, both at that time and subsequently, has always been grateful to your predecessor in the Chair. Perhaps events of recent weeks have made us even more lively in our recognition of our debt to him.
I am venturing to say that we face a real and deep constitutional impasse, which it is difficult for this Committee, as a Committee, to resolve, and which only the House, as a House, it appears to me, can resolve. I do not know whether the point of view that I am expressing is one that commends itself to other hon. Members. I hope that there may be means whereby we can obtain the assistance that we need. I cannot think that it would be 1082 right for the Committee to proceed, leaving on the record the statement upon not the authority but the assessment of the Chair that a total carte blanche, irrespective of the purpose of legislation, has been given for payments out of the Consolidated Fund by the financial resolution attached to a specific Act.
I hope, therefore, Mr. Weatherill, that you will permit me to appeal to you to consider the matter further and to carry it beyond the point which underlay the assessment which you were good enough to make to the Committee.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. The statement that you made was extremely clear, but it deepened my anxiety about the serious constitutional points that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) raised at the beginning of our proceedings.
When I was a Minister at the Colonial Office many years ago there were many dependencies that had their own budgets. It was possible for Ministers to take action independently of money being voted from the House because no money had to be voted from the House.
With regard to the United Kingdom, we have always rightly assumed, ever since the Great Rebellion, that the authority of the House rested on our ability to control Supply. If I understand aright, we are being asked to approve the financial consequences of a 1982 Bill on the basis of a 1973 Act. Those measures both happen to be about the Northern Ireland constitution, but one is no more related to the other than is a Bill about housing in Great Britain related to one about housing in England and Wales. There is no link between the 1973 Act and the 1982 Bill.
I should like to ask whether there is a precedent—I have searched assiduously without success—for the money resolution of an old Act being tagged on to a new Bill When there is no direct connection between them. I wonder whether it would be easier for the Government to get out of this serious difficulty by taking back the Bill and coming forward with a new money resolution integral to the new measures that they are proposing.
If you were to think that that solution was right, Mr. Weatherill, you might invite the Secretary of State to suspend the Sitting now to see whether this step could be effected at short notice so that when we meet again after the recess a proper measure will be before us instead of this curious hybrid that tries to marry part of a defunct Act with a new Bill, which, whatever we think of it, ought to be clean from from that point of view, if it is to be seriously considered by the Committee.
§ The Chairman
Order. I shall answer the question asked by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), particularly on precedent, because that might help the Committee. I can quote a precedent. Section 3(1) of the Shipbuilding (Redundancy Payments) Bill 1977 gave power to the Secretary of State to make payments to British Shipbuilders. Those payments were a charge on the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund and were consequently covered by a money resolution. Section 3(2) of the same Bill gave power to the Department of Manpower Service for Northern Ireland to make payments to Northern Ireland companies. Those payments were a 1083 charge on the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund and consequently were not covered by a money resolution. That is the precedent.
§ The Chairman
They came out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. I stress that the House retains control over money paid into that fund by means of the Estimates.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Further to the points of order that have been raised, and your two rulings, Mr. Weatherill.
I would summarise what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said as follows. He deplored section 16 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. However, if he deplores it, that does not remove one iota of its force. What it says is absolutely clear. It does not relate itself to the Northern Ireland Assembly or anything else.
I have looked back at the long title to the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which does not say anything about assemblies. It says that it isAn Act to make new provision for the government of Northern Ireland".That is the long title. Part II, which contains section 16, is headedLegislative Powers and Executive Authorities".The second half of part II is headed "Financial provisions". That part does not concern the Assembly but is about what it says it is about—financial provisions. Clause 16 is not in the context of Northern Ireland Assemblies or anything else but is in the context of a Bill, now an Actto make new provision for the government of Northern Ireland".Clause 16(1) statesThe Secretary of State may from time to time pay out of moneys provided by Parliament into the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland such sums by way of grant as he may with the consent of the Treasury determine and may, in connection with any such payment, impose such conditions as he may with the like consent determine.As the right hon. Member for Down, South will see when he looks at Hansard, several times he slipped into saying "the Consolidated Fund," which is the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, when he meant "the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland." They are distinct and different. The Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland is not, and never has been, subject to the same controls by the House as the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, for this reason: that for which we have to impose taxation is the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom. It is that which is within the historic control of the House of Commons. That control is in no way cancelled by section 16, because, if there is any burden or charge to be imposed on public resources from the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, that requires the vote of the House. Therefore, I respectfully submit that the House has not surrendered one iota of its control.
In their submissions, various right hon. and hon. Members have bewailed the fact that they did not think of the consequences of section 16 of the 1973 Act when it went through its Committee and Report stages in the House. However, that is now beyond redress. Convenient as it might have been in terms of saving the time of the 1084 House—convenient as it might have been to have a separate money resolution attached to the Bill, which we are about to consider—that would be a work of supererogation because it is validly covered by the money resolution attached to the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 which, I repeat for the sense of clarity, was in no way confined in its scope to the provision of the Assembly. That was only one of a large number of matters that were covered, and its so widely drawn long title was accurate—An Act to make new provision for the government of Northern Ireland".Both Houses of Parliament assented to that.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill, I wish to make a practical suggestion. You described the remarks that you read from an obviously prepared statement as your assessment. You have heard the observations of a number of right hon. and hon. Members on what is plainly an extremely difficult point. Listening to the detailed arguments that have been put forward with great learning and experience, I have found it difficult to form a conclusion.
However, it seems that you were right in describing your prepared remarks as an assessment for, if I may use an analogy of the law courts, it would be wrong for a judge to come into court and, after counsel had opened his case and without any further observation, to read the judgment. We have the advantage of considerable learning and advice being given to the Chair in what is a very difficult matter. It would be wrong for the Chair to rule on this matter now. I agree with the word that you used, Mr. Weatherill—"assessment"—meaning a preliminary point of view that was reached without the benefit of argument. I suggest that this discussion now be adjourned—there are many methods open to the Chair—in order to allow further consideration. In that way, the learning and the eloquence that has properly been put before the Chair can be considered so that that which started quite properly as an assessment may reach fruition in a considered ruling.
To do otherwise would be to give the impression to the Committee—I am sure that the Chair would not wish to do so—that the Chair had come to this Committee with a written, pre-considered ruling without having had the benefit of considering the arguments that have flowed backwards and forwards in Committee. I hope that we shall allow the Chair to give proper consideration to the matter. If not, there is surely a risk of error.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Weatherill. I wonder whether those of us who are not so learned in the procedure of the House and who have been most impressed by the expertise displayed by many of the speakers could have a little elucidation about the implications both of your assessment and the point that has been made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). The issue appears to be one of fundamental constitutional importance. From reading the previous proceedings on the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973 and seeing the wording of the money resolution, I feel that there are good grounds for concern about the development of the rules governing this place if your assessment turns into a ruling.
I am mostly worried about the meaning of money resolutions themselves. I take it that they are a special 1085 means of authorising charges on the public revenue in a separate way from simply including charging provisions in the various sections. The reasons for money resolutions are, first, convenience and, secondly, the constitutional position of this House and the Executive concerning all charges on the public revenue. Before we enter into detailed discussions of a Bill, we must always pass a money resolution, but in this case the money resolution is extremely scant in its terms.
The resolution seems to say that extra charges on the public revenue that might be required because of new arrangements for election of Members to the Assembly shall be authorised by this money resolution and then we are referred back to the money resolution that applies to the 1973 Act.
That resolution begins:That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to establish a Northern Ireland Assembly, and to provide for election to that Assembly, it is expedient to authorise.If one leaves for the moment the point that that was simply by way of description, one sees that the terms of that resolution are very wide indeed. It concludes with the wordsany payment into the Consolidated Fund.5.45 pm
What was authorised in 1973 was unlimited power to charge upon the public revenue and, if the assessment is to be a ruling, indefinitely into the future. One matter about the philosophy of money resolutions that I have understood from reading about them in "Erskine May" is that they are protected in the sense that no one who drafted the procedure wished Members of Parliament other than the Government to authorise expenditure that was not already narrowly confined. Therefore, in order to avoid the possibility of framing a money resolution in narrow terms, so that no amendment to the Bill could be proposed by a Back Bencher which might involve expenditure additional to that covered by the resolution, it was deprecated that money resolutions should be framed tightly. "Erskine May" is full of references to the Speaker saying that it is undesirable that the terms of a money resolution should be narrowly drawn.
It is obvious that at that time it was taken for granted that the Government would not in a money resolution simply authorise a charge on the public revenue in very wide terms—so wide that there is no restriction whatsoever—or authorise for any Act of lasting validity a blank and undated cheque. Constitutionally, that must be fundamentally wrong. It is contrary to all the principles of the supremacy of Parliament over the Executive and one cannot see how, in principle, it could possibly be right. For those reasons, I also ask you to reconsider your assessment.
§ The Chairman
Perhaps it would be advisable for me to rule on the matter now because we have had considerable discussion. I am grateful for the views that have been expressed, but I explained to the Committee in my assessment that expenditure involved, other than the cost of electing the Assembly, will be met from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, and no money resolution is required for that. The Committee agrees that.
Should the Government desire to make grants to that fund they have clear powers to do so under section 16 of the 1973 Act. That is part of the statute law of our country. Control over such payments will be with the House 1086 because they must be included in the Estimates that must be submitted to and agreed by the House. Therefore, I now rule that it is in order for us to proceed under this money resolution.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Further to your ruling, Mr. Weatherill. I wonder whether you would clarify two points, one of which arose out of your reply to the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amer) ). When he asked for a precedent you were good enough to quote section 3 of the Shipbuilding (Redundancy Payments) Act 1977. You pointed out that since that was a United Kingdom Act, the Great Britain provisions were met by section 3(1) and the Northern Ireland provisions were met by section 3(2). However, I feel that the difficulty of the right hon. Member for Pavilion was that the precedent that he was seeking and which the Committee is seeking is that of a charging power given for the purposes of one Act being applied for the purposes of a different Act.
May I put it to you this way, Mr. Weatherill. The precedent would be established if section 3(1) of the Shipbuilding (Redundancy Payments) Act 1977 v, ere applied for the purposes of a new Bill, say the "Shipbuilding Welfare Fund Bill 1982". In that case, we would have a new Bill for a new purpose. Surely it cannot be possible that the Government would say, or that we would be advised, that they do not need to have power because we have given the Minister the necessary' power in connection with redundancy payments.
Essentially, that was the point that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook)) was making. I am sure that what he said will be within your recollection, Mr. Weatherill, namely, that over the past 20 or 25 years there has been a change in the drafting of money resolutions. I can remember that I had to defend them when I was Financial Secretary. It was frequently complained that the terms of the financial resolutions were tied too closely to the individual prescriptions of the Bill to which they applied. That objection was met by widening the terms of financial resolutions. The purpose of the widening was to enable Members to move amendments within the general scope of Bills without always being told "You cannot have that amendment because it is not covered by the money resolution."
The point on which I ask you to comment, Mr. Weatherill, is that we made this relaxtion and change in our procedure with no thought whatever that by doing so we were giving more carte blanche to the Government at the end of the day when the Act was on the statute book, and that, least of all, there was no significance in the introductory formula. I think we all said "If this is a money resolution for the purpose of this Bill and we know what the purposes of the Bill are because they are clear enough from the terms and the scope of the Bill, then give us a money resolution which is wide enough."
The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) was unfair, despite my confession, in saying that the Committee and the House in 1977 did not think of the consequences because, perfectly innocently, they supposed that they were making provision for the purposes of the 1973 Act, which the hon. Member for Tiverton read out. In 1973, hon. Members could not have imagined that, even with foresight, they were making provision for a quite different provision for the government of Northern Ireland to be made nine years later.
1087 We are in the difficulty of having the ruling which you have just given, Mr. Weatherill, but nevertheless are without a valid precedent for what we are doing, as was sought by the right hon. Member for Pavilion. We are in a situation that was probably unfamiliar and unsuspected by the Committee when it considered the Bill. I hope, Mr. Weatherill, that you will be able to respond to the suggestion that if we are to proceed with the Bill we need to be covered by a precedent which precisely matches what is happening in this case rather than, with respect, that which you cited to the right hon. Member for Pavilion.
§ The Chairman
Order. Let me reply to one point of order at a time. I apologise to the Committee if I did not make it plain, but in giving that precedent to the right hon. Gentleman I should have said, and I say now, that the authority for the payments out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund was section 16 of the 1973 Act, the one that we are already dealing with.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
May I add my support to the interpretation that the Committee has given to your ruling, Mr. Weatherill. I am particularly worried that you have hinged your ruling on section 16 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. I believe I can truthfully say that that came as a great surprise to us.
The Committee should be aware that we are attaching an unusual gravity to a small section in a 1973 Act. We are seeking to make that section a well of unlimited depth whereby the Exchequer has access to funds ad lib. But section 16 of the 1973 Act was never debated in Committee, or on Report, and in July 1973 went through the House on the nod.
I submit to you, Mr. Weatherill, that in 1973 the House was otherwise occupied and that if there had been an inkling in those months of June and July 1973 that this consequence was to be hinged upon this tiny little section in the 1973 Act, it would certainly have been the subject of detailed discussion, amendment and debate.
Although I have the greatest respect for all of your rulings, Mr. Weatherill, I cannot agree that just two precedents will suffice. We are discussing a matter of constitutional consequence. It is of great significance and importance to the whole of the United Kingdom. It is a matter that deserves, and should have, a money resolution of its own.
§ The Chairman
Order. What the hon. Gentleman said is a matter of opinion. The fact is that the House has agreed to a money resolution. The Constitution Act 1973 is now part of statute law and we are bound by it.
We should now proceed to the motion in the name of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the order in which proceedings in Committee on the Northern Ireland Bill are to be taken shall be Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1, Clauses 3 to 6, Schedule 2, Clause 7, New Clauses, New Schedules and Schedule 3.—[Mr. Prior.]
§ Mr. Powell
I am sorry that I did not rise immediately, but I thought that other hon. Members had done so. [HON. MEMBERS: "We did."] I am happy to defer——
§ The Chairman
Order. I thought that the other hon. Members who rose were still intent on pursuing the previous point of order.
§ Mr. Powell
I am grateful to you, Mr. Weatherill. I hope that nothing I say will take any wind from the sails of other hon. Members who may wish to speak to this motion. If I can say it without impropriety, I can well understand that you, Mr. Weatherill, might have felt that they wished to continue to examine the astonishing subject that has been before us during the past one and a half hours.
I have some observations to make on this motion. There are respects in which the proposal is objectionable. I do not know whether it is the custom in such cases for the Secretary of State to consult other elements in the House before tabling such a motion. I am not aware that my hon. Friends and I were consulted and I hope, therefore, that he will not regard it as a discourtesy if, not having been consulted, we find ground for taking objection to it.
In recent years, and quite frequently, it has become the custom of the House to adopt in Committee a motion of this kind to ensure that the schedules, as used to be the case, are not considered at a long distance of time from the clauses to which they relate, so that the Bill, despite the traditional manner of drawing it up, is regrouped more rationally. None of us takes any exception to that practice. It has produced more handy and tidy debates in many cases, and on the whole has been an improvement on procedure, as it was some decades ago.
However, the application of that general and laudable principle to this Bill, and the motion before the Committee, is defective in at least two respects. The motion proposes to take schedule 2 after clauses 3 to 6 but before clause 7. Clause 7 is interesting, because it gives the Bill its baptism. At this stage, I do not wish to say anything against clause 7, but one wonders why it is thought appropriate to spatchcock schedule 2 between clauses 6 and 7.
That train of thought leads to another. Some of the amendments that schedule 2 makes to the 1973 Act, which has already been referred to a good deal this afternoon, can be regarded as consequential upon or related to the Bill's substantial provisions. I fail to understand why they were more specifically related to clauses 3 to 6 than to clauses 1 and 2.
There is no doubt about what I am about to say. Perhaps I should modify that injudicious certitude and say that I understand that there is not likely to be any doubt about the fact that schedule 2 amends the 1973 Act at large. If that is correct, as I expect, Mr. Weatherill, you may be advised that it is, schedule 2 not merely serves the purposes of the body of the Bill, but enables the Committee to propose and consider a series of amendments to the 1973 Act.
The Bill enables us to amend the 1973 Act, and one of the principal vehicles for the amendment of that Act is schedule 2. That being the case, it seems to be in accordance with our general practice that, instead of 1089 bringing the schedule forward, we should be able to deal with it at its normal late place in the consideration of the Bill.
We have a lot still to find out about the meaning of the clauses. Indeed, the large number of amendments that have been tabled is eloquent testimony to the difficulty that many hon. Members, not only those from Northern Ireland, have found in construing the provisions of the clauses and understanding how they fit together both practically and legislatively.
After we have accomplished that task—I fear from the nature of the clauses that it will necessarily be a long and difficult one—that is the time when hon. Members will be ready to make up their minds as to the respects in which they feel the 1973 Act could benefit by amendment. If anything, I am sure that this was an oversight, but in effect the motion denies the Committee the opportunity to consider at the latest point, with retrospect on all the debating that has gone before, what further amendments it wishes to propose in schedule 2 to the 1973 Act.
I suspect that when we have been able to contemplate the working of the 1973 Act, as applied progressively by the rolling, if not the steamroller, devolution procedure envisaged in the Bill, the Act itself will take on quite a different aspect. By the time the Committee has completed its consideration of the Bill and the new clauses in the normal order, there are many aspects of the 1973 Act that I believe it will still want to have the opportunity of amending. I believe it would have been right—this is one of the objections that my hon. Friends and I have to the motion—for schedule 2 to have been taken in its normal place before schedule 3 and almost at the end of the consideration of the Bill.
There is another novelty that absolutely defeats me. New schedules are to be taken before the existing schedules. I was under the impression that our basic procedure was first to take clauses contained and then new clauses, followed by the schedules and the new schedules. Why on earth we should take the new schedules before the existing schedules, I cannot imagine.
It is only fair to make the concession that I recognise the convenience of schedule 1 being attached to clauses 1 and 2. In that respect the motion serves the convenience of the Committee, but unless the Secretary of State is prepared to amend the motion, the difficulties to which I have drawn exception are serious, and, speaking for my hon. Friends and myself, we would not be inclined to discuss the Bill in accordance with the motion.
§ Mr. Budgen
I confess to finding some difficulty in considering the order in which my right hon. Friend proposes that we should consider the Bill. It seems to me that overhanging our consideration is the menace of new clause 4.
The Committee will recollect that the right hon. Member for Mansfield, (Mr. Concannon) and his hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) have persistently argued that they wish to see a united Ireland by consent, and to that end they have most properly tabled new clause 4. I hope I shall be forgiven if I refer the Committee to the new clause in some detail, because its prime importance will then be obvious. It refers to:Relations with the Republic of Irelandand the four hon. Members whose names appear on the new clause wish to move: 1090The Assembly shall, by its Standing Orders, make prov.ision for the establishment of a Committee of Members of the Assembly for the purpose ofI shall soon adduce some undenied reports to support the proposition that the Secretary of State may agree to new clause 4.
- (i) discussing such matters as it or the Assembly may consider necessary to improve relations between the Assembly and the Republic of Ireland;
- (ii) entering into discussions with those authorities in the Republic of Ireland as seem appropriate with regard to (i) above;
- (iii) reporting such discussions to the Assembly together with such recommendations as may have been approved by the Committee and the appropriate authorities in the Republic of Ireland.".
§ The Chairman
Order. We must not get on to the merits of new clause 4. We are dealing with the order in which the clauses are taken.
§ Mr. Budgen
Of course, Mr. Weatherill. Nevertheless, if the Secretary of State will agree to new clause 4, that important agreement will change the whole attitude of many members of the Committee towards the remainder of their consideration of the Bill. If the proposed Assembly is to be vested with powers to consider an all-Ireland dimension with a view to creating a united Ireland—which is what the Opposition properly want—many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), will wish to put in the Bill tight conditions upon the way in which those committees may consider these important matters.
I respectfully suggest that if we were able to have a discussion on new clause 4 at an early stage, the House would know whether that was or was not one of the items upon which the Secretary of State will make an important concession. I do not in any way wish to debate the merits of the matter. Nor do I wish to cast any doubt upon those whose attitude to politics is always to seek consensus. The Secretary of State, in his understandable desire for consensus, and because he may think that there will be circumstances when he will wish to have the active support of the Opposition, might wish to make a real and substantial concession to them. I say that as a result of some cursory consideration that I have given to reports in the papers.
On 2 April, in The Times, Mr. Julian Haviland reported, under the heading "Prior's Ulster assembly given Cabinet backing":Another change agreed yesterday, partly on the Prime Minister's insistence, weakens the White Paper's reference to the parliamentary tier of the Anglo-Irish consultative council, a concept which provokes both Unionist and backbench Conservative opinion without cutting much ice with Mr. Charles Haughey, Prime Minister of the Irish Republic.But the White Paper is said to be more positive about the so-called 'Irish dimension' than previous government statements. It emphasises the 'legitimate aspirations' of Ulster's minority community.On 6 April which, you will recall, Mr. Weatherill, was the day after the publication of the White Paper, there was a report in The Guardian by Julia Langdon and David Beresford called "Cold shoulder for Prior's Ulster proposals". That article also heralded what may be a substantial concession. It said:The Secretary of State is thought to have toned down the section of the White Paper dealing with the 'Irish dimension' since he brought his draft plan before his ministerial colleagues in Cabinet.1091In the proposals put forward yesterday, Mr. Prior was careful to stress that decisions about a parliamentary tier for the new Anglo-Irish Inter-governmental council would be taken by the London and Dublin Parliaments. But"—I am sure you will agree, Mr. Weatherill, that it is always the "buts" that are interesting—he said that it was possible that members of an elected assembly in Northern Ireland could take part if a parliamentary level was established.".I am not dealing with the substance of the matter. I am merely explaining why it is likely that my right hon. Friend will make a substantial concession at a later stage. I am explaining why, if it, is made, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will feel that they would have preferred to know about it at an earlier stage. I am not seeking to comment on the substance of the matter. I am merely trying to assure you, Mr. Weatherill, that I can conceive that there is a possibility of such a concession being made.
You will remember, Mr. Weatherill, that on the morning of 10 May, when it was still uncertain how various parties in this House would vote on Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Bill, there was an authoritative article in the Financial Times by Margaret van Hattem. She said, plainly as a result of guidance, where it was likely that the Government would make concessions to lubricate the Bill through its Committee stage. She set out several points where, as she regrettably called it—I would not use such a vulgar phrase—the horse-trading might take place.
§ The Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate all his points to the clauses, the amendments or whatever, and the order in which they should be taken. He must not discuss the merits.
§ Mr. Budgen
I quite understand. I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Weatherill, for your guidance. I am going through those points because many hon. Members might think, as they hear me making my request that new clause 4 be considered first, that my belief that there could be a concession is purely imaginary, that it springs from my mischievous mind and that there is no evidence to support it.
I hope that I am explaining that several important pieces of guidance have been given to the press and that they have never been denied. Thus, I assert that there is a serious possibility that a concession may be made. Far be it from me to speak on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but some right hon. and hon. Members might change their attitude towards the Bill if they thought that that concession would be made. I am not saying that they feel sold out—no one in the Tory Party speaks in such vulgar terms. But if I may speak in the more delicate terms that this side of the House employs, some colleagues may feel that it is regrettable that the necessary concessions had not been referred to at an earlier stage.
Before I am attacked for my imagination and, as perhaps some loyalists might say, malice, under the subheading "The Anglo-Irish dimension", the Financial Times of 10 May said:The opposition parties will press for the early establishment of a parliamentary tier to the Anglo-Irish Council and for direct provision in the Bill for Northern Ireland assembly members to take part in it.The article continues with the important words that have never been denied: "This also appears negotiable". In 1092 other words, it seems to hold out a clear signal that if the Labour Party played along and gave its support, the Anglo-Irish Council would become a reality. The Labour Party could then legitimately argue in Northern Ireland that it had taken significant steps towards the creation of a united Ireland.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I was somewhat surprised at one of the hon Gentleman's remarks and have been puzzling about it since. He referred to being attacked by loyalists as though it were rather like being attacked by wolves. I wondered whether he used the expression with its Northern Ireland connotation or whether it is now an "in" word in the Conservative Party. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can help me on that.
§ Mr. Budgen
The right hon. Gentleman should understand that those whom I described as "loyalists" are those splendid people whom every party should cherish who believe that legislation should go through on the nod and who say, as it were, "I don't understand a word of it, old boy, but Jim's a good chap and we have to do something".
§ Mr. Budgen
A moment ago, Mr. Weatherill, you referred with elegance and diffidence to your written observations as a preliminary assessment. As we are giving detailed consideration to the Bill with a view to improving it, it is important, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) says, to get the words right. In my English ignorance, I used the term "loyalist", which has an important but different meaning in Northern Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman was right to take me up on it.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I apologise for interrupting so soon after the previous intervention. The matter of cross-community consent features very largely in the clauses and schedules covered by the motion. Perhaps the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) could help us further in defining categories. If those whom he describes as "loyalists" represent one section of the Conservative Party, may we assume that all the rest are unionists?
§ Mr. Budgen
I do not know. We are now in more progressive and ongoing days. I would not wish to suggest that the present progressive party should in any way be hampered by its outdated past. I am sure that our present stance must be very different, as I understand that we are now committed to progressive materialism, more legislation and much that might well seem alien to our fuddy-duddy past.
I merely suggest that, as there is a serious possibility that an important concession will be made on new clause 4 which may change the attitude of many Members, it should be considered at the beginning, so that there is no misunderstanding later.
§ Mr. Amery
You were kind enough to advise me, Mr. Weatherill, that my amendments Nos. 1 and 4 were outside the scope of the clause to which they referred because the clause dealt only with the resumption of functions previously possessed by the Assembly and did not cater for new functions. The purpose of my amendments was to suggest that the Assembly should effectively become a regional local government authority.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Things have been rather confusing lately. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman may not be anticipating something that will come later. It is difficult to relate his remarks to the Secretary of State's motion to alter the order in which the Bill is taken. If I have misunderstood the drift of his argument, perhaps he will forgive me.
§ The Chairman
Order. I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's preliminary assessment of what the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) was about to say. I hope that the right hon. Member for Pavilion does not intend to dwell upon an amendment that was not selected. We are dealing with the order in which the clauses and schedules should be taken, as set out in the Secretary of State's motion.
§ Mr. Amery
I was coming to that, Mr. Weatherill. I do not think that I am anticipating. You were also kind enough to say that the points that I wish to make in amendment No. 4 could perfectly well be put in a new clause under schedule 2.
Without going into the merits of the case in any way, it is well known to you, Mr. Weatherill, that many of us who are uneasy about the Bill would like local government to be restored in the Province, but the Secretary of State has, so far, set his face against that. I shall not go into the argument as to who is right or wrong, as there will be opportunities for that later. If, however, the new clause that you were kind enough to indicate would be in order were carried at a late stage in the discussion, much of the earlier discussion might well be wrecked and spoilt and the Committee would have wasted its time through not having first considered the crucial question of the main direction in which the element of devolution under discussion should go.
§ The Chairman
Order. I am sorry to stop the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that it would be wrong and unfair if he discussed here helpful guidance that was given to him in private. He was given the opportunity to come and discuss his amendments and the ways in which it might be possible to help him, but we cannot discuss that here. Certainly it has nothing whatever to do with the motion now under discussion.
§ Mr. Farr
I wish to question one or two points about the sequence of selection, which I find thoroughly mystifying. As has been eloquently put by Members on both sides of the Committee, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), a good case can be made out for accepting or altering any order that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State suggests. I am sure that at the end of the discussion the House should, and probably will, resolve to follow common sense and to take the darned things in chronological order.
§ Mr. Farr
I have not even started to deploy my argument. I enjoyed my hon. Friend's argument. Perhaps I may make some progress with mine.
I cannot understand why the new schedules should be taken before schedule 3, or indeed why the Bill should be 1094 chopped around further. I can perhaps understand taking schedule 1 after clause 2, but it is difficult to understand why schedule 2 should be taken immediately after clause 6. In any event, the whole thing does not really make sense, as in the provisional selection that you, Mr. Weatherill, have been good enough to make, clauses 11 and 12 are included in a group of amendments to be taken later.
I suggest that we have the new clauses first and that after that we should work in chronological order. The advantage of having the new clauses first has been pointed out. For instance, if the Government intended any changes of emphasis in the new clause relating to the Republic of Ireland, the House would benefit from knowing of it now. Indeed, it is not the only new clause on which the House would benefit from knowing the Government's view before it reaches the nitty gritty of the Bill rather than afterwards
I agree that if, for instance, new clause 4 were recommended by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, it would tinge the whole colouring of the Bill.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
I hesitate to intervene too brutally in the internal disputes of the Conservative Party, or the Conservative and Unionist Party as it used to be known in the old days, but if it is any help at all, either to the hon. Gentleman or to his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South West (M r. Budgen), I have received no sight of this horse that is supposed to be up for trading. If I or my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) did have a sight of it, we would want to have a long hard look at it to ensure that it could do the job that we thought necessary and was not something that was being carried out of the knacker's yard—not that I am suggesting that the Financial Times trades in knackers; if anything, the contrary is true.
§ Mr. Farr
I know that the hon. Gentleman is an honourable and straight-forward man. I have no doubt that he has told the House what he believes to be the truth. However, I can tell him that a lot goes on between his right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and other right hon. and hon. Friends that he does not know about, just as on this side of the House there are a good deal of things that my right hon. Friends discuss that I do not know of. It would be as well if we were to have the official Government view in relation to new clause 4.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
Would it make any difference to the hon. Gentleman's argument, and to those of my hon. Friend, if the Government were to give an indication at this stage, perhaps by a statement, of a change of mind? I should have thought that it would be helpful for the Government to do that and it would also suggest that we should not proceed any further today so that we could give proper consideration to the statement.
§ Mr. Farr
I will gladly give way to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State if he wishes to say something at this time. He must be beginning to sense the view of the Committee that there is quite a bit behind new clause 4 that the Committee should know of.
I do not disapprove of new clause 4, but hon. Members will have their view of the whole Bill coloured by the outcome of new clause 4. That is one reason why I think, 1095 as I have said, the amendments should be taken in chronological order but that the new clauses should come first.
I have probably been in the House too long, but I have never understood why new clauses come first on Report but not in Committee. I am sure that there is a good reason. Only this week the Transport Bill went through the House. Several important new clauses were taken on Monday and Tuesday, finishing with the Third Reading at about 9 o'clock on Tuesday. The whole tempo of that Bill was coloured by the new clauses that were taken first. We got them out of the way. Some were accepted by the Government, some were withdrawn and others were just discussed. However, we had the correct colouring of the subsequent nitty gritty of the debate and the Bill made more sense thereafter.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
The hon. Gentleman expressed some puzzlement at the fact that new clauses are taken last in Committee and first on Report. I do not know what authority lay behind it, but the explanation that was given to me at an early stage in my own parliamentary days by the late Walter Elliott was that Committees are deemed to start with a blank piece of paper. As each clause is ordered to stand part, it is, as it were, put on to the blank paper, until, at the end of the Committee's work, it has constructed or reconstructed a Bill. However, when it comes to be reported, it is a whole, presented as a whole. One begins by saying what has to be added before looking at the individual parts of it. In other words, the procedure in Committee is essentially a block-building exercise, whereas the procedure on Report is an inspection of a predetermined entity. There are wiser persons on this subject than I who are silently listening to this but it is an item of law that I thought might interest the hon. Gentleman and, possibly, the Committee.
§ The Chairman
I was very interested in the right hon. Gentleman's assessment, but I do not think that it has anything to do with the motion that we are discussing.
I believe that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) was coming to a conclusion.
§ Mr. Budgen
On another point of order, Mr. Weatherill. When the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) made his helpful intervention, his right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) was not in the Chamber. Several assertions have been made about high-level contacts that can be made. Would it not be for the convenience of the Committee if an opportunity were immediately given to the right hon. Member for Mansfield to tell us whether he has had any private conversations with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about any proposed concessions on new clause 4?
§ The Chairman
Order. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) will have the opportunity to speak if he so wishes.
§ Mr. Farr
With great respect, Mr. Weatherill, I was not coming to my conclusion. My speech, short as it is, has been interrupted, quite properly, by several hon. Members.
I come to the main reason for my disagreement with the order of selection laid down by my right hon. Friend. If one turns to the 13 or so new clauses that have been tabled, which I submit should be discussed first, one finds some of great consequence. We have already referred to new clause 4 and asked what is the view of the Government, or, for that matter, the view of the Government of the Republic of Ireland, in relation to closer parliamentary consultation. There are also many other important clauses. Some of them, if they were discussed first and got out of the way, would perhaps make unnecessary any further discussion on the Bill in the foreseeable future.
For instance, if we were to discuss new clauses 11 and 12 first, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), in relation to referendum 1 and referendum 2, and the House were to decide that it wished to see these excellent proposals put into effect, it would make any further progress on the Bill meaningless, until such time as the referendums had taken place, and therefore, served as a useful point of guidance to the House.
A further important point that the House should seek guidance on before it proceeds to discuss the details of the Bill——
§ Mr. Budgen
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) took me up on this point. I do not wish to detain the House. I should point out that we are in Committee.
§ Mr. Farr
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. As always, he is right.
New clause 3 has been tabled by the right hon. Member for Mansfield and concerns a presiding officer. Again, it is an important new clause. It would be sensible if the Committee were to discuss the presiding officer, how he is to be appointed and how the selection is to be made before discussing the Bill's details. Later—probably on another day—we shall discuss references in the Bill to the presiding officer. As far as I can see, the Government have not set out how he is to be selected, or any of the details found in new clause 3. They are not included in the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) has tabled a new clause dealing with the remuneration of Assembly members. During points of order, we discussed the financing of the new Assembly and the relevance of the 1973 Act. However, new clause 8 deals with the remuneration of Assembly members. It represents a critical financial angle and affects the cost of the Bill to the country. In addition, new clause 10 refers to the size of the Assembly and suggests that there should be 68 members instead of 78. If the number of members is 68, the cost to the Exchequer will be less. Therefore, such matters must be considered differently. The recommended order moved by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does not make sense, because later today we shall discuss new clauses 11 and 12. The whole idea should be dropped, because it is meaningless.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
It is true that consultations took place at an early stage, before the preparation and drafting of the White Paper. There were further consultations before the drafting of the Bill. However, all hon. Members greatly regret that the Government did not find time to reflect on the useful and informative debate on the White Paper before drafting the Bill. They might have avoided many headaches if they had done so.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I shall come to that point in a moment. Consultations also took place on the drafting of the White Paper and the Bill within the party that supports the Government. Various reports surfaced in the press and elsewhere on that matter. Perhaps, whenever the Secretary of State consulted, he obtained opinions that he did not like and he was then forced to act in defiance of the advice that he had received. Wisely, or unwisely, he may then have decided to give up the idea of consultation altogether.
That brings me to the point legitimately raised by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst). Earlier it was asked what consultations, if any, took place. The hon. Gentleman also asked that question. To my certain knowledge, no such consultations took place with any member of my party. I do not know whether there were consultations with any other hon. Members for Northern Ireland constituencies.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I assure the hon. Gentleman that no consultations have taken place with members of my party.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information. Perhaps we can assume that the Opposition's silence means that they were not consulted about the wording of the motion. Indeed, their silence must indicate consent to that proposition. I hope that their silence will not be perpetuated throughout the debate, because Her Majesty's Opposition always have a constructive part to play in our affairs.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) extracted an undertaking and promise from the Leader of the House that there would be consultations on those aspects with which the Leader of the House was involved. That means the processing of the legislation. However, having heard hon. Members' assurances that no consultations took place before the drafting of the motion, I must point out that the Secretary of State is making his task much more difficult. He has put us all in the intolerable position of being unable to understand why he has grouped the clauses and schedules in the way that he has.
We all understand that the purpose of such a motion is to group, or perhaps to regroup, clauses and schedules to allow for a constructive and orderly debate and for the Committee's convenience. However, all of us believe that the proposed grouping is clumsy and unnatural. Clauses 1 and 2 deal mainly with the 1973 Act and with the modifications made in the 1974 Act. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South, I find the grouping incomprehensible. We have given great thought to the 1098 motion and have examined it carefully. We have tried to consider it sympathetically and to see how we could contribute to the smooth and orderly running of the debase, but we cannot find any justification for the proposed arradgement. Unless the Secretary of State is prepared to be reasonable and to accept the very convincing reasons that hon. Members from both sides of the Committee have put forward, we shall resist any attempt to proceed further with discussion of the Bill.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
This matter is of the utmost importance to the people of Northern Ireland. I wish to address my remarks to new clause 4. The debate will be reported in Northern Ireland and the people should know its contents. Under the heading
§ Relations with the Republic of Ireland,
`The Assembly shall, by its Standing Orders, make provision for the establishment of Committee of Members of the Assembly for the purpose of
§ That clause is of utmost importance to the debate of this subject by representatives from Northern Ireland. It would certainly change my attitude to certain aspects of the Bill which I have discussed both in the White Paper debate and also on Second Reading.
§ If the Secretary of State wants the people of Northern Ireland to know exactly what is in his mind, he should tell us whether he intends to accommodate Her Majesty 's Opposition on the proposals that lie in new clause 4. If that is so, I warn him that there will be serious opposition from my party here and in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the proposals in the White Paper referring to a parliamentary tier in an Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council? That seems to command the support of the Government Front Bench but not of their Back Benches.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
All I can say is that in these consultations—as they have been called though I would hardly upgrade them to consultations—we put our views and the Secretary of State listened to them. It is evident that he did not take any of them on board in regard to the main principles where our objections lie.
We were put off that interesting subject by talk about a club. That was said to every Unionist deputation that visited the Secretary of State. We were told that it would be only a club like the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or the Inter-Parliamentary Union and that those who wanted to join could do so. I am opposed to any such forum and I have always made my opposition known forthrightly.
I asked the Secretary of State what the position of a Member of the Assembly would be if he decided to join the club and the Assembly voted to censure him because it was opposed to any of its Members being a member of this club, or whatever the Government want to call it. Of course, we got no satisfactory response from the Secretary of State.
1099 My attitude to relations with the South of Ireland is simple. We should go back to the principle that was always followed by previous Governments of Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
Would the hon. Gentleman care to tell the Committee whether he was given any understanding about what the club would be licensed to do? The people of Northern Ireland would be concerned about that since we are not too happy that its object is to maintain Ulster within the United Kingdom. Will the club be licensed to take us out of the United Kingdom?
§ The Chairman
Before the hon. Gentleman is tempted to answer that, may I point out that we are straying again into the merits of the issue rather than the order in which clauses will be taken.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
There has been a good deal of latitude in the Committee, Mr. Weatherill, for other Members not from Northern Ireland. After all, this is the only public forum we have. It is the only opportunity we have to discuss these matters. Far be it from me to try to find a way round your ruling, but I am trying to put the case as to why we should hear first about this clause. Having heard about it from the Secretary of State we can clear our minds.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I will give way in a moment.
I was of the opinion that the club was to be a licensed club. I will say no more. Knowing the capacity of representatives from the Irish Republic and of other Members for a certain beverage, I thought it was going to be a hail-fellow-well-met thing. As I do not frequent that sort of club either, I am not concerned.
§ Mr. Budgen
Since the hon. Gentleman no doubt has more extensive research facilities than some of us, can he tell us whether he has heard any denial by the Secretary of State that proposals of this sort are, in the words of the article by Margaret van Hattem, negotiable? Usually, when mistaken journalistic leaks or forays, however one likes to put it, are made, one hears about it from one of the Government's public relations officials. I think I am right in saying that there are 1,500 public relations men within the Government machine and it is usual for one of them to pick up such a mistake. I assume that not all of them are drinking tea all the time. If a scandalous assertion is made it is usually possible for the Minister against whom it is made to deny it immediately. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he has noted any such denial?
§ The Chairman
I am sorry to keep interrupting the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), but he said just now that there had been a good deal of latitude in this debate. I should remind him that I have on several occasions told the Committee that hon. Members must confine their remarks to the order in which the clauses, new schedules and new clauses are taken. I stress that we must not get into a debate on the merits of any specific new clause, particularly not the one which the hon. Gentleman is being tempted to talk about.
§ The Chairman
That is in order and that is what has happened so far. I am anxious to ensure that we do not go beyond that.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I think, Mr. Weatherill, that you should censure those who led me along different lines rather than censure me. I was only trying to be helpful on queries that were put to me.
What was sold to us by the Government was some sort of club that raised our eyebrows. I put to the Secretary of State and his colleague Lord Gowrie the very question that was put to me by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). I asked what the purpose of the club would be. We came to the conclusion that it was to be a friendly, happy-go-lucky sort of place where people exchanged views. The Secretary of State should relieve the minds of the people of Northern Ireland and of hon. Members.
I envisage an outburst of real anger in Northern Ireland if, almost at the end of a long debate—it is evident that there is going to be a long debate in Committee—this clause is accepted by the Government. If they intend to accept the clause, it is their duty to tell us what their mind is generally on the matter. Do they intend to negotiate it, amend it, or keep the principles in it, or, as we understood from the Secretary of State, go back to the old Stormont practice whereby Departments of Government had departmental relationships with departments in the Southern Government but there was no institutionalised Irish dimension? That has always been the position that Unionists have taken on the matter.
I view this matter with great seriousness. It lies at the heart of the controversy on the constitution in Northern Ireland. The matter cannot be put under the carpet until a late stage of our discussions. It is essential that this Committee should be given the opportunity to know what is in the mind of the Government. If it is in the mind of the Government to accept the clause the probability that we shall have to put down other amendments arises immediately. We cannot put our arguments if no guidance is to be given by the Government on what is the heart of the matter.
I invite the Secretary of State to clear the air. The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to help the people of Northern Ireland and that he wants to help the parties in Northern Ireland. His best course would be to issue a clear-cut verdict today on whether he intends to give in on this clause. If the Secretary of State fails to respond, this debate will prove to be a debate in which tempers will rise. Hon. Members will become exasperated. If, at the end of the day, the right hon. Gentleman accepts the clause, he may as well forget about his whole Assembly, the Assembly elections and everything else.
I believe that I speak for all Unionists who are determined that nothing in the Bill will undermine the position of the people of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and that the Assembly will not be a back door into the Irish Republic. The 1,800 people in the Falkland Islands deserve to be defended but the 1 million people of Northern Ireland who want to remain in this kingdom will, if necessary, defend themselves.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has hearkened to the closing words of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). It was a weighty threat that the hon. Gentleman delivered. I have no doubt that he carries with him his colleagues in the Democratic Unionist Party. I had thought that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were among the least lukewarm towards the Assembly that the Bill proposes to bring into existence.
I wish to confine myself strictly to the procedural motion. In general, I find logic in the sequence that the Secretary of State has proposed to the Committee. I am a little surprised, however, that there was no consultation with the parties concerned, particularly the Northern Ireland parties, because this would have smoothed our proceedings. We are anxious to help the Government to improve their legislation. Such consultation can lead to the avoidance of lengthy debate. I have stated that I accept in general the logic of the order. I am, however, puzzled by the place in which it is proposed to take clause 7 of the Bill. I was moreover alarmed when my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) spoke of some kind of agreement between the Government and the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon).
§ Mr. Budgen
I can help my hon. Friend. I was not saying that there was an agreement. I was saying that authoritative articles had spoken of this point, as one of them put it, being negotiable, and I said that I believe that the support of the Opposition at some future stage might be important to the Secretary of State. I hesitate to use the words of the article in the Financial Times but I wondered whether there would be some horse trading or whether there had been some horse trading. I thought that it would be useful to give the Secretary of State the opportunity to deny it at this late stage if he wished to do so, but that, if he did not, to let the Committee know, so that his decision might inform our debates.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I say "Amen" to that. I have also heard the words of the hon. Member for Antrim, North. The point can be met in one of two ways. Either the Secretary of State can reassure us, as only he can reassure us, or we could be allowed to change the order and dispose of new clause 4 right away. The new clause would then be removed from the consideration of the Committee, like a sort of bad dream, following which we can wake up and get down to the Bill as a whole.
I cannot believe that there are grounds for these suspicions because the Bill is based on the White Paper.
In paragraph 23 the White Paper states thatThe Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council, which has been established following the Anglo-Irish talks and Joint Studies which began in 1980, gives institutional expression to the unique relationship between the two governments without affecting national sovereignty.These are important words. The paragraph adds:It is now for the Parliaments concerned to consider whether the governmental meetings of the Council should be complemented by an Anglo-Irish body at Parliamentary level in which members of the Parliaments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland could take part.This is clearly a preposterous clause not requiring much time and not requiring much consideration. It is not for the Assembly to consider how there can be an improvement in relations. It is not proper that the Assembly should seek to improve relations with a sovereign State, the Republic 1102 of Ireland. This is nonsense and preposterous. I understand the suspicions that exist in the breasts of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members. I am sure, however, that all these suspicions can be allayed by the Secretary of State. If he is not able to allay these suspicions, I submit that the order should be changed and that new clause 4 should be taken first and dealt with as it should be dealt with.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
My hon. Friend has referred to the White Paper. Has he noticed that paragraph 8 states:The importance of an agreed and stable system of government in Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly recognised."?That seems to indicate goodwill on the part of the Government for an agreement. It is therefore all the more astonishing to hear what hon. Members have had to say about lack of any consultation at this stage. I refer them to paragraph 8.
§ The Second Deputy Chairman (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not go down that road. The hon. Gentleman must relate speech to the order in which we take the proceedings rather than the merits.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I intend to gallop back up the road to the batting order on the Bill. I am grateful to my hon. Friend because agreement is what the Government need if they are to bring about any useful change in the government of Northern Ireland. Obviously there will not be agreement and good will if there is the slightest suspicion that new clause 4 is taken seriously as suggested, no doubt with malice, in certain organs of the press.
I hope that these suspicions will be removed either by a clear statement from the Secretary of State or by a change in the sequence of business so that hon. Members can dispose of new clause 4 at the outset.
§ Mr. Gorst
I should like to draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that we have not yet had from the Chairman of Ways and Means, as is normal practice, any selection of amendments beyond schedule 1. Consequently, hon. Members do not know for certain whether the Chair will have selected new clause 4, although I suppose it is unlikely that it will not have been selected as it appears in the name of the official Opposition. The Chair has already shown that it goes along with the order by making its selections as far as clause 1 and schedule 1. That is part of what we are debating. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) comment on that?
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Those are matters that are within the purview of the Chair. I would never comment on them. It is not for me to question what amendments or new clauses are selected by the Chair. I do not wish to be drawn into these disorderly courses by my hon. Friend.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Those words are in the ears of the Chair.
The Secretary of State has power to reassure our troubled hearts and minds. It has been suggested that there 1103 is some kind of understanding that some such provision might be acceptable to the Government. I am sure that that is wrong. I understand the concern of hon. Friends and right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. I suppose that the Secretary of State will explain his choice of the order in which the proceedings are to be taken, and deal with the points that have been raised.
§ Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)
The House owes a great debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) for raising the point that he did. He not only drew attention to the bare bones of the procedural motion but he put a practical gloss on the proceedings. If his request is acceded to it will enable us to make proper and speedy progress.
One of the more unsatisfactory aspects of dealing with legislation arises in Committee. I was privileged to serve on-the Standing Committee on the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill. During the course of their consideration of the Bill the Opposition spent many hours on procedural motions—sittings motions, the order in which clauses should be taken and so on. The effect of that action was that when, as inevitably happened, the guillotine fell, we galloped through the remaining clauses of the Bill.
§ Mr. Budgen
I intervene with great diffidence, but I believe that even the mention of guillotine is most unfortunate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will feel deeply disturbed at such a suggestion. This is an important constitutional Bill which he will want adequately discussed. It is almost insulting for my hon. Friend to have mentioned the guillotine.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My hon. Friend's interruption enables me to clear up a point over which I was perhaps confusing the House. I would not dream of implying that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would think of introducing a guillotine for a considerable time. [Interruption.] My right hon. and hon. Friends are anticipating what I was about to say. I hope that my right hon. Friend would not consider such a step in a Bill of such an extraordinarily controversial character. I am always apprehensive when my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West ventures to reprove me in private. When he makes an intervention during the course of remarks I make in the Chamber and reproves me in public I take careful note of what he says.
It may be that by mentioning the dreaded word "guillotine" I have put something in the Secretary of State's mind which was not there before. I am sure that the possibility had occurred to him and I hope that he rejected it instantly. I mentioned the word "guillotine" in the context of the argument that I was developing at the time. I do not want to stray from the rules of order and the subject of the debate—I am sure that you, Mr. Armstrong, would remind me if I did—but I should like to draw a parallel between what happened during the Committee stage of the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill and what may happen now. The Opposition spent many hours discussing various points which were not directly relevant to the substance of the Bill. They talked about sittings motions, for example, before we considered clause 1.
§ Mr. Gorst
I hope that I am not as sensitive as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) but the thought that those of us on the Government side of the Committee might indulge in irrelevant discussion in the way the Opposition could be expected to seems a little offensive.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My hon. Friend always clears me of inadvertently making imputations that would cast aspersions on the capacity of my hon. Friends to stray from the point. My hon. Friend is right to remind me that none of our hon. Friends would dream of introducing irrelevancies into a debate.
§ Mr. Budgen
My hon. Friend has made a most unfortunate aspersion against the Opposition. The Opposition have made it plain from an early stage that they support the Bill, not by voting for it, but upon terms. One of the advantages of an early consideration of new clause 4 is that if the Opposition do not succeed with the new clause they may realise that the Bill will never be what they want. They may then decide in an honourable and logical way to vote against it. I hope that my hon. Friend does not wish to draw a distinction between our hon. Friends and the Opposition. When the Opposition realise that what they demand as a condition can never be met they will take the honourable step of opposing the Bill.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My hon. Friend has once again done me a service by making the point far more succinctly and effectively than I could. He is right. I was merely recalling for the benefit of the Committee the behaviour of the Opposition on the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill.
I regret that the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and his colleagues who represent the views of the Opposition on Northern Ireland were not fortunate enough to be selected for service on that Committee. I can say without fear of contradiction by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, since he did not serve on the Committee either, that the Opposition's behaviour at that time precluded proper discussion of the Bill.
The Opposition spent so much time at the beginning of the Committee stage on matters that were not directly relevant to the substance of the Bill that the Government were forced, after many hours of debate, to introduce a guillotine to get their business. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West reacts with horror at the mention of the word "guillotine", but I do not apologise for using it, because I wish to stress that if we want to make proper progress and to make sure that the Government have the opportunity to take their business in a logical order we must consider not only the order in which the clauses are taken, but the practical consequences of the order in which they are considered.
That is why I said that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West had done the Committee a service. As has been amply demonstrated by the comments of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is unable to lay this hare at the beginning of our proceedings it wll raise so many doubts and worries in the minds of the Committee that he may find that the reasonable progress that he could have expected will not be made.
§ Mr. Farr
I have been listening to my hon. Friend with rapt attention and I agree that it is critical that our right 1105 hon. Friend the Secretary of State should lay to rest the concern felt by my right hon. and hon. Friends about new clause 4.
However, my hon. Friend has raised another hare during his excellent speech. If we are to have sensible, meaningful and harmonious discussions on the Bill, as we all hope that we shall, my right hon. Friend must give another undertaking as soon as possible. He must seize an early opportunity to lay to rest any suggestion that there will be a guillotine on the Bill. It is important to get that crystal clear if we are to have constructive, useful and harmonious discussions on a matter that is critical not only for Northern Ireland, but for the whole United Kingdom.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I should be trespassing on your good nature, Mr. Armstrong, if I pursued my hon. Friend down that road, but I am sure that his remarks have been noted and inwardly digested in the proper quarter.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West would curb his natural excitement at what he sees, though you, Mr. Armstrong, are unable to see it, and the implications of that prospect.
It is important for us to take new clause 4 first, so that our proceedings can continue with due expedition. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a Unionist. After all, he and I have the privilege of belonging to the Conservative and Unionist Party. I know that some of my hon. Friends throw up their hands in horror at mention of the word "guillotine", but we should be even more justified in throwing up our hands in horror at the suggestion that the Conservative Party is no longer a Unionist party. That suggestion was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, but I hope that it was in a spirit of sarcasm, which, I remind him, is generally regarded in cliches as being the lowest form of wit and one which the House does not normally associate with him.
§ Mr. Budgen
I assure my hon. Friend that my comments were made in that spirit. I agree that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit and I apologise.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I feel that I am not one who should receive apologies from my hon. Friend. As always, he speaks with a grace and elegance which I should do well to try to emulate.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will forgive me for alluding to a conversation that we had several months ago in which he emphasised that he was still a Unionist. I have considerable respect for my right hon. Friend and I believe that he felt that that assertion was consistent with the Bill and the White Paper that preceded it.
However, paragraph 23 of the White Paper and the silence that my right hon. Friend has maintained throughout our debate, which seems to have centred increasingly on the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, give rise to some legitimate questions in the minds of true Unionists and, if I dare say it in the presence of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), Loyalists as well.
1106 Those legitimate questions centre on whether the Bill will strengthen or weaken the Union. One of my principal reasons for disliking the Bill is that I take issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State——
§ The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. The Committee is discussing the order in which clauses should be taken. The hon. Gentleman must not go too wide of that.
§ Viscount Cranborne
Thank you, Mr. Armstrong. I shall endeavour to follow your guidance as always. I was merely trying to point out to the Committee that the doubts about whether the Bill will weaken the Union are such that, unless they are laid to rest by a satisfactory consideration of new clause 4 at the beginning of our proceedings, our discussion in Committee will not go as smoothly or as well as all of us would like.
The strength or otherwise of the Union is central to whether the Bill will go smoothly. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to give us an opportunity at the earliest possible date to examine this matter. We have an opportunity to examine it in new clause 4 which is already on the Notice Paper. That is a reasonable request. I hope that those who arrange these matters will, with their customary expedition and understanding and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) said, with the sensitivity that we expect, revise their initial conclusions to enable us at least to consider a point which is of crucial importance to all of us in debating Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I support what has been said about the proposals. Indeed, all the speeches so far have bee n critical of the Secretary of State's proposals for the order in which business will be taken. I can understand the difficulties. Perhaps the Secretary of State said something in commendation of his proposals while I was briefly out of the Chamber. I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for indicating that he did not. We have heard no speech in support of the proposals. Therefore, we do not know the grounds on which the proposals have been placed in this order. If we did know, it might help us to decide whether to support them. The fundamental difficulty is that the Bill does not stand by itself and justify itself in its wording. It amends legislation passed by the House in 1973. Since the Bill consists of amendments to machinery created almost 10 years ago, the order in which the business is to be taken requires justification. I have studied the recommende order in which the proceedings are to be taken. I cannot see the logic of that order. It may be that there is no one system or obvious logic about it. For that reason, it is a pity that we have not had the benefit of the Secretary of State's words of support for his proposed order.
If one were to try to assist the Government in this respect, one would, of necessity, have to examine those parts of the Bill that appear to be so fundamental to its merits that they ought really to be considered first and to have priority. Our attention is drawn immediately to the new clauses, especially new clause 4. That was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). It is not the only new clause but it is the most important one. It deals with relations between this country and the Republic of Ireland. A grew deal of history, constitutional matters and other aspects of 1107 law are involved. If the new clause were debated it would no doubt require a great deal of time. New clause 4 also introduces into the discussion the so-called "Irish dimension" which is highly controversial and which, I believe, has no place in legislation for Northern Ireland but to which the Opposition appear to have committed themselves with regard to any support that they might wish to give to the Bill. It is fundamental to the Bill and should be considered at an earlier stage than that proposed by the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Gorst
It might meet my hon. Friend's worries if clause 5, which provides for the dissolution of the Assembly if it is in the public interest that the Assembly should be dissolved, were put in a different order and came at the beginning of the Bill. Would that reassure him if he felt that what was proposed could be quickly dissolved, particularly if anything happened under new clause 4? Would he not feel reassured that the Government's heart was in the right place?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I can see the merits of that proposal, although it appears odd to start a Bill by considering the circumstances under which the point and purpose of it could be dispensed with. That would occur if the Assembly which the Bill purports to set up were to be dissolved. I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. This is a matter of fundamental significance to the Bill and to the Government's policy in relation to Northern Ireland and, therefore, should be considered earlier in the order of consideration of the Bill than has been proposed.
New clause 4 is not the only clause that introduces fundamental subjects for consideration that should be considered much earlier in the Bill. New clause 1 is fundamental to the issue, yet it comes far down the order proposed by the Secretary of State.
New clause 1 puts before the Committee the issue of devolution and the practical problems of devolution. The new clause raises the West Lothian question. This arises under all provisions for devolved government in the United Kingdom which remove from the jurisdiction of the House and the jurisdiction of individual hon. Members questions relating to a part of the United Kingdom with a devolved Assembly that will have the right to determine matters without further reference to this House. There was much discussion during the debates on Welsh and Scottish devolution some years ago about how to solve the West Lothian question. It is a great stumbling block. There is no remedy for it. One must accept the problem and accept that under a system of devolved government for part of the United Kingdom the powers of the House will be limited.
This matter is without precedent in our constitutional history and we should not approve it without the most convincing reasons. New clause 1 is not only fundamental to the Bill but fundamental to the relationship between the United Kingdom and any part of it which might, by any system of devolution proposed in any Bill, provide for devolved government and therefore the exclusion of certain questions from this House because they are reserved for the other Assembly. The whole matter is so confusing that new clause 1 should be considered first. The West Lothian question should be before us. I am sorry that the Government appear to have no solution to that.
1108 New clause 2 tabled by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) is also of fundamental importance. It is entitledSaving for the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.That is of importance because the Bill purports to confer upon a separate subordinate legislative Assembly for a part of the United Kingdom powers which, if not in constitutional theory, in practical effect, may mean that the supreme authority of this Parliament is diminished. Surely none of us is prepared to accept that either in principle or in practice.
New clause 2 puts into words a principle that should not be touched. That is as fundamental as a Northern Ireland Bill that begins by stating that there shall be no change in the constitutional arrangements for Northern Ireland except with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. Governments always see fit to put that at the beginning of Northern Ireland legislation. The assertion of the supreme authority of this Parliament should be at the beginning of such legislation.
For those reasons, I do not see the logic of the Secretary of State's proposals for the order in which the provisions should be debated. Subject to anything that he might say to justify the order, I doubt whether I shall be able to support it.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) is the Liberal spokesman on Northern Ireland affairs. We are delighted that he has returned after a long absence. We hope that he is fit enough to play an active part in the Committee's deliberations. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will respond to the question about which parties were consulted. I say that deliberately because I was in the United States in March last year when the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight were there. Our paths did not cross, but I saw them on television and elsewhere arguing cogently their stance on Northern Ireland affairs. Out of respect for what they have done for Britain in the United States in expressing a bipartisan policy, I should have thought that they would be consulted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I hope that we will be given a clue about what has been said recently.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) aroused our suspicions. When suspicion enters, love goes out. I have no love for the Bill, although I have a warm affection for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am disappointed that he has not enlarged upon the reasons for the motion. I am moved now to be suspicious about every clause and every word in the Bill. Those suspicions were aroused initially when I heard that the proposals in the White Paper and the Bill were approved by—of all Cabinet Committees—the Overseas and Defence Committee. That says it all. [Laughter.] The right hon. Member for Mansfield may laugh. Perhaps he is opening the door to even more suspicions. We are concerned about the new clause. It might have been discussed by the Overseas and Defence Committee because it is concerned with the Republic of Ireland. If the right hon. Gentleman laughs, our suspicions are doubled.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Overseas and Defence Committee might have been 1109 distracted from the weighty considerations of the Bill by the more pressing problems building up in the South Atlantic?
§ Mr. Body
The hon. Gentleman underlines the problem cogently.
Of course, the United States and the Republic of Ireland are entitled to express an opinion about what should happen in Northern Ireland. We should listen to what they say, but the decision about what should be done should be made not by the Overseas and Defence Committee, but by a Committee which is concerned with the internal and constitutional affairs of this country. That is how these things work and where the decision should have been made before the Bill came to the House.
I hope that before the debate on the procedural motion is concluded and we vote on it the Secretary of State will reply and deal with the serious ground for suspicion provoked originally by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. I do not have to explain to my right hon. Friend that we are dealing with the future of a terrorist-stricken province. We have to guard our words and deeds carefully lest those minded to resort to terrorism are encouraged to do more of their filthy work. It is desperately important for the security of Northern Ireland that we have an explanation from my right hon. Friend about our fears.
Until then, I shall suspect every manoeuvre connected with the Bill, including the procedural motion, because that is in itself a manoeuvre. It is not just a procedural motion. Procedure is important for one powerful reason. Freedom lies deep in the interstices of procedure. We must get it right. We cannot get it right until we make it fair. It will not be fair unless minority views can be expressed.
This procedural motion is intrinsically curious. We shall be called upon to settle schedules 1 and 2 before we examine clauses 3 to 6, schedule 2 and the subsequent new clauses and new schedules. So we have to settle schedules 1 and 2 before we examine the new clauses. I wish to draw attention to two items. The first is perhaps of lesser importance. It is the table of constituencies that is contained in paragraph 11 of schedule 2. It shows how many Members of the Assembly will come from each parliamentary constituency. Ten will come from South Antrim, and rightly so, because it is the largest and most important of the Northern Ireland constituencies, and only four will come from West Belfast. The table is clear enough, and at this stage none of us seeks to amend it in any way.
However, new clause 10 proposes 68 instead of 78 Members. If that were accepted, it would be difficult for us to accept the table in schedule 2. I appreciate that new clause 10 has not yet been selected, because of course, we have only the provisional selection of the Chair, and "provisional" means what it says. We must assume that there will be a subsequent selection, and new clause 10 may be added. The Committee would then be in appalling difficulty. We should not be able to discuss new clause 10 if we had already disposed of schedule 2. We should be making a nonsense of the Bill. It would not be orderly—it would be distinctly disorderly. Moreover, it would be strikingly stupid.
The second item to which I draw attention is paragraph 4(2) of schedule 1, which is of fundamental importance. If I understand it aright, it deals with the famous West Lothian question. It says: 1110It is hereby declared for the avoidance of doubt"—I want to stress that phrase—that the Assembly may, as part of its power to legislate for the specified matters, pass Measures appropriating moneys for the services administered by the specified department or charging sums on, or providing for the payment of sums into, the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland in respect of the specified matters.That is very clear. It concerns what one might describe as the sovereignty of this House.
Those of us who are anxious about the West Lothian question, and who remember how it troubled our debates on devolution for Scotland and Wales and, as many say, caused the downfall of the devolution measure for Scotland, wonder how we are to reconcile it with new clause 2, which is a clause of enormous importance It stands in the names of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneux), his right hon. and hon. Friends. It seeks to resolve the West Lothian question. It says:Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters and things in Northern Ireland and every part thereof'.Nothing could be clearer than that. It seeks to resolve the West Lothian question. But how can we reconcile it with the part of schedule 1 which we are called upon to dispose of before we deal with the new clauses and which, ironically, contains the phrasefor the avoidance of doubt"?It is ridiculous. In schedule 1 we are seeking to avoid doubt, yet the biggest doubt of all will be created unless we end the dispute and difficulties involved in the West Lothian question.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I am trying to follow my hon. Friend's persuasive argument, but I do not understand how new clause 2 will resolve the West Lothian question.
§ Mr. Body
Perhaps we should argue about that later, and it is something that I think we shall have to argue. I do not want to deal with the merits of the new clause, and I should be out of order if I were to do so. I have mentioned it because, as I understand it, it is an attempt to bring to an end any difficulties that may arise from the West Lothian question. It manifestly declares that this House is sovereign and that anything that this House decides must prevail over any decision of the Assembly. If that provision were passed, we should be in great difficulty with schedule 1, which of course would already have been disposed of.
§ Mr. Budgen
Perhaps the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) can help the Committee in this connection. I remember that when we started our interesting and ultimately successful discussion of the Scotland and Wales Bill, there was a preliminary clause which was very similar to new clause 2. It said that all that followed was not to affect either the unity of the kingdom or the sovereignty of this Parliament—or words to that effect. I used to sit behind the right hon. Gentleman, and I remember shouting out in my rough way "A mere preliminary puff' as the debate proceeded. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that. Perhaps I was wrong to suggest that only new clause 4 should be debated earlier, and that we should also debate new clause 2. After all, that would set what I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would agree would be the useful precedent of the Scotland and Wales Bill.
§ Mr. Body
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. In fact, I filched from those debates an amendment which was tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who led for the Opposition in those devolution debates. As one would expect, he drafted an admirable clause. I have filched it, and I hope that it will be in the Table Office before the evening is out. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West will add his name to it, and thus give it distinction and respectability.
In the debate we are laying the foundations for our deliberations for the rest of the evening or for however long it is before we dispose of the Committee stage. Edmund Burke said:Good order is the foundation of all good things.I cannot see how we are making good order out of our proceedings as a result of the procedural motion. I shall be of that persuasion until my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State responds to the debate, as I hope he will, answers some of the points and gives some positive reasons, because so far we have had none from him.
§ 8 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)
I am willing to reply to the debate at a suitable time, but I thought that it might be wise to hear hon. Members' views first.
§ Mr. Body
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I assumed that he would reply. We know his courtesy and expect him to reply. I am grateful to him for confirming that he will do so.
There is another reason why I suggest that we are not proceeding in an orderly way. It is possible that we shall not finish the Committee stage this evening. We may have another evening. I hope that we will not take too long. Obviously we shall not have another evening until after the recess. Therefore, in the recess we shall have opportunities to consider the Bill in greater detail. We shall set our minds to it. We shall spend some time on it and we shall reflect on clauses 1 and 2 and schedule 1.
I have a hunch, in view of some of the comments that have been made, that we shall think of a number of defects in the Bill that must be put right. Therefore, when we come back after the recess I have a feeling that some more amendments will be tabled for the Chair to consider, so that the Chairman's provisional selection may be extended. If that is to come about, we must be particularly careful about the order in which we deal with the amendments.
We shall have to deal with schedule 1 before we deal with clauses 3 to 6. There are a number of matters to be considered. I do not wish to deal with them, or to argue their merits. That would only take time and I am conscious that we have debated the issue for a while already.
When we examine clauses 3 to 6 during the recess we shall see that a number of amendments should be tabled, which we hope will be selected. Those amendments will affect schedule 1. However, by that time we shall have disposed of schedule 1. That will add greater difficulties to making sense of the Bill. Whether we like the wretched thing or not, at least we hope that it will make sense at the end of our proceedings. As a result of the motion we will be prevented from tabling those amendments unless my right hon. Friend or the managers of the business of the 1112 House are willing to have plenty of time on Report, when we may be forced to tidy up and put right mistakes that we have made as a result of the procedural motion.
The other matter that I hope my right hon. Friend will bear in mind is that, as the debates go on, it is just conceivable that, because my right hon. Friend has an open mind on these matters, he will be persuaded that changes are needed in Northern Ireland, which would extend local government. He has not yet—no doubt he will in due course—referred to the opinion poll that gave the impression that the Bill was supported. It may be that what the opinion poll is saying to the Government and to the House is that people want a greater say in matters such as education and transport, which are local government matters. We hope that before our deliberations on the Bill are completed we will have persuaded the Government that it is necessary to restore local government powers to where they belong so that Northern Ireland may be treated in the same way as Scotland or Wales, or even England, as some Conservative and Opposition Members would wish. We shall be prevented from moving those amendments if in the meantime we have proceeded on the lines of the procedural motion.
Therefore, there are three substantial reasons why we should reject the motion and continue with the Bill in the ordinary way. With respect to my right hon. Friend, I remind him of what St. Paul said to the Corinthians:Let all things be done decently and in order.Even if we have an indecently obnoxious Bill, please let us try to deal with it in good order.
§ Mrs. Knight
I make it clear that it is not part of my intention to delay the deliberations on the Bill. In his post, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, for whom I have great respect and admiration, is on a bed of nails and I do not seek to throw upon him a quilt of tacks. Nonetheless, by now he must be well aware of the worries in the minds of many of us who oppose the Bill. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends dislike opposing the Government as much as I do. The opposition is coming genuinely from deep worries about the Bill. The more I hear about it, the more worried I am.
I suggest that it would be a good analogy to consider the question of the order in which the proceedings are being taken as if a traveller were setting out on a journey. He arrives at a crossroads and finds that the road ahead is narrow, dark and full of shadows. There are bends, pitfalls and all sorts of blockages. It would not be out of order to suggest that no traveller would wish to travel many miles down a road and find such a blockage across the road that prevented him from going further and forced him to return. I do not seek to make a long speech. Therefore, I shall refer only to one of the new clauses. I sincerely believe that new clause 4 can be cast in the role of a blockage.
If we go down the road of the examination of the Bill in Committee and stumble over new clause 4, that will cause the greatest possible difficulties. Worse than that, those who have voted for the Bill so far along the road might find that, when they consider all the implications of new clause 4, they would not have voted that way and would have taken a different course. New clause 4 is fraught with reasons to be suspicious. I am absolutely in agreement that it would be extremely desirable to improve relations between any groups of people, between any Assemblies and Parliaments. I am not against improving relations between this mythical Assembly and the 1113 Republic of Ireland. The problem is that we do not know how it will be decided what is necessary to be done to improve relations.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Surely it is improper to suggest that this Assembly should be desirous of improving relations with the Republic of Ireland. That is a matter of United Kingdom foreign policy. My hon. Friend's suspicions have even greater foundation than she suggests.
§ Mrs. Knight
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is another facet of new clause 4 that worries me. It is an issue that is bound to arise when we discuss the powers that the Assembly will have. It seems that these decisions will not be taken democratically, and that is the feature that makes the Bill such an appalling minefield. Decisions on how to proceed will not be taken as we take them in the House of Commons, and I find that deeply offensive. I also find it reason to be suspicious. That is the sort of worry that is in the minds of so many hon. Members about the way in which we are proceeding with our work on the Bill.
§ Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Basildon)
These are my first words on the Bill. At the outset I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the courtesy that he has shown to the Committee by being in his place throughout the entire debate. I hope that his presence throughout all our discussions on the Bill will be similarly attentive.
We may find ourselves in difficulties with the motion because of the speed with which my right hon. Friend moved it. It was almost through the House before we had blinked. It is with humility that I tender some advice to my right hon. Friend. It might have been rather better if he had made an opening speech to set out his reasons for introducing the motion and changing the normal order of discussing a Bill. The Committee's progress might have been facilitated had he done so. As right hon. and hon. Members have intimated, no reasons have so far been advanced—not even by way of intervention—why we should have a procedural motion. That accounts for the attitude of hon. Members in Committee. My right hon. Friend must not be too surprised by the feelings that have been expressed so far.
The first question that I must ask my right hon. Friend is why the Government should propose to depart from the normal order of consideration, which is line by line and clause by clause. It is important that we discover the reason for that. Secondly, what consultation, if any, took place before he decided to table the motion? That could be important subsequently and might facilitate progress. It will help if we know the channels of communication and consultation that my right hon. Friend is proposing to use in tabling motions and considering amendments.
§ Mr. Proctor
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am rather innocent about any channels and whether they are usual or unusual. I take the common sense view that 1114 probably I would not be included in either. I hear what my hon. Friend has to say, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend hears what we have to say.
§ Mr. Gorst
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind when making his plea to my right hon. Friend that there are no channels? There is the division across the Floor of the House. There is an Irish Channel in the Opposition Benches and there is an Irish Channel in the Government Benches. Apart from that there are many ebbs, flows and tides among Conservative Back Benchers. When my hon. Friend is discussing the order in which we shall consider the clauses, he should bear in mind that the "usual channels" should be very unusual.
§ Mr. Proctor
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Before I answer the substantive part of his intervention I should say that there is not an Irish Channel between us. There is the St. George's Channel, and that being so my hon. Friend was not quite accurate in his geographical designation of what breaks Northern Ireland geographically, but not in a national, political or constitutional sense, from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Several political parties are represented in the House and when we discuss Northern Ireland matters the political parties are fairly clearly defined. Certainly they should form part of the consultations. A sizeable number of Conservative Members feel that they should be consulted in some form. The Back Bench Conservative committee on Northern Ireland affairs might be the appropriate forum in which to discuss these matters. It has already been said in an intervention that that has not occurred. That was my criticism of my right hon. Friend which, no doubt, he will take note of and correct in due course.
In listening to the debate I have wondered why there has been no support for the motion. That is a question that I cannot answer. However, not one word has been said in favour of it even by the official Opposition.
§ Mr. Budgen
May I remind my hon. Friend that we had the same unhappy performance on Second Reading.? I do not remember anyone from the Tory Benches coming forward to make a sustained case for the Government's proposals.
§ Mr. Budgen
Every other speech from the Government Benches was opposed to the measure, and, when one thinks of the prospect of the Tory Party being in power for the next decade, one would have thought that there would have been some helpful speeches from able and ambitious men.
§ The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. We are getting a long way from the motion that is before the Committee.
§ Mr. Proctor
I am not an ambitious man, but I take my hon. Friend's point. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has heard it too.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will give the Committee some good reasons as to why he put forward the procedure motion. I live in hope to be convinced by my right hon. Friend—faith, hope and charity—on this matter. This has been a productive debate. As a relative newcomer to the House, I found the debate worthwhile if only for the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about the 1115 distinction between the order of new clauses in Committee and on Report. That was interesting, informative and educative to a new Member.
In an attempt to be helpful to my right hon. Friend I commend to him that he should consider what has occurred in other Committees. I have the honour to serve on the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill which seeks to amend the Mental Health Act 1979. That is an interesting and complex subject, as this is, and it refers back to other legislation. The Ministers on that Committee kindly agreed at the outset of the deliberations to provide the Committee with the briefing notes that are available to Ministers clause by clause. That has facilitated progress on the Bill, as the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) knows, and a more informed discussion is taking place. The same would apply to this Committee and I commend that practical proposition to speed up progress on the Bill. I hope that my right hon. Friend will respond to that in the spirit in which I have put it forward.
I said at the outset that I would return to the form of consultation about the order of the clauses. Were the individual Northern Ireland parties consulted? Was the Ulster Unionist Party consulted? From an earlier intervention, it would appear not. Were the Democratic Unionists consulted? From a similar intervention, it would appear not. Were the Liberal Party and the SDP, which regrettably are not represented tonight in this important debate, consulted? Was the official Opposition consulted about the arrangement of clauses and schedules that have been placed before us in this procedural motion? The answers to those questions will be helpful to the Committee in making progress.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West spoke about the position of new clause 4 in the order of debate and especially about its importance to the rest of the Bill and the need to have clarification of it. I shall not weary the Committee by re-reading the full text of the crucial amendment put down by the official Opposition, which pinpoints the Irish dimension in this legislation. The Irish dimension is a principal reason why many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are so opposed to what we are proposing.
§ Mr. Gorst
There have been many references to bringing forward new clause 4 for the purpose of discussion. May I put it to my hon. Friend, and through him to others, that to do so now when the Irish Government are not very popular in Britain might be a political timing which would embarrass the Government if they wished to accept the amendment. It may be politically desirable for the Government to keep the matter away for a few weeks or months until we reach that point in the Bill.
§ Mr. Proctor
I recently put down a question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the Irish dimension and neutrality and she, speaking with the full authority of the Government, made it clear that she was disappointed and dismayed by the attitude of the Irish Government. I shall come to the point whether it would be better to put off the matter because of what has happened in the Falkland Islands or whether it is better to deal with it now.
§ Mr. Budgen
I intervene only to give my hon. Friend an opportunity to think for a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) made an absolutely monstrous suggestion. Everybody understands that when the Secretary of State considered the Irish dimension he knew perfectly well that the Republic of Ireland was, and is, a neutral State which might have a foreign policy distinct from our own. He entered into considerations of an Irish dimension fully aware of that.
The consequences of what has happened in the last couple of weeks were foreseeable at any time and it is absolutely illusory to pretend that any sensible, imaginative statesman could say that the whole thing came as an embarrassing surprise. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not put forward that argument. I hope that my hon. Friend will dispose of the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North with all the vigour and force at his command.
§ Mr. Proctor
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I did not do as my hon. Friend bid me because I wanted to remain within order in this debate on a tight procedural matter. I was seeking to be of assistance to the Chair by not being led down that path, however much I agree with my hon. Friend. It was a self-denying ordinance imposed upon myself, something I always do when I speak in the House.
I believe that there is a more immediate way of disposing of new clause 4—even more immediate than any proposed change to the procedural motion might be. Fortunately, we have with us my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and also the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) who tabled new clause 4. We have in the Chamber the two participants who will have the greatest say in these matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West enticed the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) to intervene in his speech to say that there had been no negotiations with the Government on new clause 4. Unfortunately, at that time the right hon. Member for Mansfield was not in the Chamber. We could dispose of at least one side of this equation on new clause 4 and thus speed progress on the Bill if I could urge the right hon. Member for Mansfield similarly to agree that no negotiations or deals have taken place on the acceptance by the Government of new clause 4. I shall be happy to give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he wishes to reinforce what his hon. Friend said earlier.
It seems that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to intervene. That is cause for considerable concern. But that is only one side of the equasion.
§ Mr. Proctor
I am conducting a litmus test and I shall be happy to give way to my hon. Friend when I have completed the second part of it. The red paper did not turn blue.
§ Mr. Proctor
As always, I am grateful for sedentary interventions by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West.
I now apply the test to my right hon. Friend. I am delighted to see him in the Chamber and I have already paid tribute to the fact that he has been here throughout the 1117 debate. Can he give an assurance that the Government have not had negotiations, talks, or behind-the-Chair assignations, on new clause 4? What is the attitude of the Government on new clause 4? Again, I shall gladly give way if my right hon. Friend seeks to intervene.
§ Mr. Proctor
I am concious of the fact that if I sit down my right hon. Friend will still not be able to speak. I renew the invitation to my right hon. Friend to dispose of this point as it has taken up a considerable time.
§ Mr. Proctor
We shall all control our patience, or impatience, until my right hon. Friend can make his speech after one or two other of my hon. Friends have sought to catch your eye, Mr. Weatherill.
§ Mr. Farr
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. The Committee will understand my right hon. Friend's reluctance to say anything at this time. After all, he was not the architect of new clause 4. I hope that it has not escaped my hon. Friend's notice that the architect of the new clause has been reluctant to intervene. His name is at the top of the list of those appearing on the Amendment Paper. He is now in his place, although he was not present earlier when the matter was initially raised. He is reluctant to comment on my hon. Friend's suggestion, and therefore the Committee must draw its own conclusion.
§ Mr. Proctor
As always, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, and for underlining the litmus test that I endeavoured to carry out. I understand my right hon. Friend's reluctance to intervene because he has not had the opportunity of hearing the arguments that have been put forward. As a result, he may wish to reserve his position.
Obviously, we have been unable to dispose of this matter, and that could easily have been done had the right hon. Member for Mansfield intervened. That underlines the concern that all hon. Members who have spoken feel about new clause 4 and the Irish dimension. It underlines everything that my hon. Friends have said about the placing of its debate within our proceedings.
§ Mr. Body
Perhaps my hon. Friend will bear in mind what the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said. The Northern Ireland newspapers will be publishing this debate tomorrow morning and they will soon be going to bed. It is important that we have a Front Bench assurance that there has been no collusion about new clause 4. Otherwise an adverse inference will be drawn in the Northern Ireland newspapers if we are not careful.
§ Mr. Proctor
My hon. Friend is quite right. This is a serious matter. I do not know what the deadlines are for the newspapers and other media of Northern Ireland, but I have tried my best to help the Committee by directing the question to the two participants—the architect and my right hon. Friend who should be the demolition expert. The demolition experts on the new clause should be occupying the Front Bench and should not have to rely on the demolition of new clause 4 as a result of pressure from the Back Benchers.
1118 An onlooker might feel that we were making heavy weather of this matter—[Hors. MEMBERS: "Not at all."]—but he would be uninformed. This brief debate Las demonstrated the great strength of feeling, interest and concern with regard to Northern Ireland, the Bill and what we are about. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reassure all those hon. Members who have spoken with one voice that there is nothing about which we should be concerned.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)
I am always fascinated by the procedures of the House. I was fascinated by the first debate on the money resolution. If you, Mr. Weatherill, like the rest of us, had been present during the short debate that has followed, you would have been enthralled, as have we all, by the remarkable attention that has been given to the Secretary of State's proposed batting order.
You would also have been made clearly aware, Mr. Weatherill, of the deep anxiety that is apparently felt on both sides of the House, especially on the Tory Back Benches, and you would have heard the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) draw attention to the licence that could result from freedoms given by new clause 4.
The matter is extremely serious. The short debate will not thoroughly explore all the problems that have been touched upon. We may have an opportunity to return to them. We should examine the implications of some of the other new clauses. Many hon. Members have dwelt on new clause 4. If we are to discuss the batting order we should examine other new clauses. Many of them are important. Perhaps they should be brought forward so that their contents can be examined before we proceed. New clause 4 contains the implications of what may flow from continuing talks with a country that claims territory over which British sovereignty runs. We have witnessed the results of that recently and are suffering from it. We may suffer more in the future.
I am appalled at the suggestion that we should send people to a cosy club and give them a licence to extend what they talk about into quarters in which they should not meddle. That could be dangerous for the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. Nor do I like the implications of new clause 3. It, too, should be sorted out early during the Committee stage. It has been tabled by the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). It gives the Secretary of State power to appoint a presiding officer. It says that he may or may not be a member of the Assembly. In the days of the convention, we were perfectly prepared to accept the Lord Chief Justice being appointed as presiding officer. He was a highly respected member of the Northern Ireland community. But that body was quite different from the one that is proposed here. The Lord Chief Justice was a popular choice. He was welcome in the chair and did an excellent job. We are not in that ball game today. The appointment of, or even the possibility of appointing, a non-elected person as presiding officer is a dangerous path to tread.
Not many weeks ago there was a short debate about whether a non-elected Member should occupy the Chair in this House. The House, for the procedures of which we all have the greatest respect, firmly decided that that was completely wrong. The motion to make that change was thrown out. One might say that it never touched the ground. If there is to be an elected body in Northern Ireland, it is essential that we adhere to the normal 1119 convention that a presiding officer is also subject to the rule of the ballot box. We should be vary chary of going down any other road.
Those of us who sit in this House have great respect and increasing admiration for its conventions and procedures. If we are to proceed in an orderly fashion in any Northern Ireland Assembly—many hon. Members have commented in your absence, Mr. Weatherill, on the need to do that—we should accept as the basis for orderly proceedings that which obtains here. There should be a clear understanding that the Secretary of State will not accept anything so daft as the proposal contained in new clause 3. That certainly needs to be cleared up. After all, the people of Northern Ireland will be voting for the folk whom they wish to attend to their affairs. They will want people whom they trust to direct the affairs of Northern Ireland. That being so, it is only reasonable that those elected should pick their own presiding officer.
Presiding officers are many and varied. In this House, Mr. Speaker presides in the Chamber and there are many Chairmen of Committees. They all have their own attributes and ways of carrying out their duties, and they are all accepted by Members of Parliament because we know their merits and their standing in the House and we are prepared to accept their rule. Generally speaking, we all have such respect for all of them that their slightest word is our command.
The people of Northern Ireland should not be treated as though they were less able than we are to find from among themselves men or women capable of acting as presiding officers. In the past, I served on a council in Northern Ireland of which the chairman was a lady. Perhaps I should say "chairwoman" or "chairperson" in modern language. She did a very good job. Over the years, I served under many chairmen and was impressed with most of them. Those who do not impress do not last long. I see no reason to suppose that things would be any different in a Northern Ireland Assembly. A presiding officer appointed by fellow members of the Assembly could, of course, be removed by them. If the Secretary of State declined to remove someone who was unacceptable, we should be in very deep water.
The Secretary of State should give an undertaking that new clause 3 will not be accepted. It should be brought forward to a very early stage in our proceedings and disposed of as soon as possible, so that we shall not be troubled by it any more than we hope to be troubled again by new clause 4.
§ Mr. Ross
Yes, I would be prepared to go along with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I appreciate that he is suggesting that all these new clauses will have to be taken one by one and debated in detail so that we know exactly what the Government thinking is. We could then point out to the Secretary of State the shortcomings that are so evident to all hon. Members. I and my hon. Friends would certainly be prepared to look sympathetically at the suggestion that has been made.
1120 New clause 2 seems to have been causing some difficulty to one or two right hon. and hon. Members. It stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and myself. It reads:Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters and things in Northern Ireland and every part thereof.".Some people seem to be curious as to why that new clause appeared. I should like to set their minds at rest. We were concerned because such a provision was not there. I think that it is the first time that such a clause has not appeared in the several similar pieces of legislation that have appeared, or been attempted, for Northern Ireland. For instance, in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, section 4(4) says:This section does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Northern Ireland".It appeared previously in the 1920 Act and in many of the Acts for different colonies that have received self-government down the years. I was concerned that we could not find it in the Bill.
The problem is that the present Bill continually refers back to the 1974 Act, which in turn refers back to the 1973 Act. It is like going through a maze to find out precisely what is being talked about here.
§ The Chairman
Order. Before we go too far in discussing every clause, I must repeat that we are concerned at this moment only with the order in which they are taken.
§ Mr. Ross
I appreciate that, Mr. Weatherill, but I am trying to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to the fact that many right hon. and hon. Members believe that he is taking the clauses in the wrong order. I am drawing attention to the great difficulties that we all experience whenever we try to get clear in our minds precisely what the order should be.
§ Mrs. Knight
Is not the hon. Gentleman making the same point that I made, that if this clause came later down the road that the traveller is taking, it could make him come all the way back to the beginning, whether or not it were passed, because it is basic to the structure of the measure?
§ Mr. Ross
I agree with the hon. Lady. I was struck by her remarks on that point. However, I always believe that if a sermon is good it is worth repeating a second, third or fourth time. I do not see any good reason why we should not follow the good advice which was given to me by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who is no longer with us.
§ The Chairman
Order. If any hon. Member wishes to make any comments he must be in the Chamber, not outside it.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
On a point of order, Mr. Weatherill. If an hon. Member is not present in the Chamber, is it possible for the Chair to see and address him?
§ The Chairman
It is not at all possible, but it is possible for the Chair to hear certain comments and I was merely reflecting upon that.
§ Mr. Ross
Thank you, Mr. Weatherill, for your guidance. If I were outside the Chamber myself, I should certainly not wish to transgress, because, as I pointed out in my opening remarks, we accept the latest word of the Chair, as is our bounden duty. I shall move on, as the debate has been short and several right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could help the Committee by telling us which new clause he would like to deal with first. Does he want to dispose of the horrible new clause 4 and get it out of the way? Will he tell us what his order would be? That is the subject under debate. We are discussing the procedural motion and the order of selection. What is the hon. Gentleman's view?
§ Mr. Ross
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his help. Indeed, he has always been helpful to us. I agree that new clause 4 would be an excellent measure to discuss first. However, there are other provisions that are almost equally important and that should be debated fairly early on. The House has accurately identified new clause 4 as being at the crux of the matter. It has recognised that it should be disposed of as soon as possible to allieviate the fears and concerns of the people in Northern Ireland. They will be very annoyed when they realise its contents.
However, I am trying to deal with new clause 2. Whenever we traced back the provisions, we could not find anything comparable to new clause 2 in the Bill. Therefore, we decided that we should table the new clause so that people would know where we stand. We were concerned that the constitutional position that had been clearly outlined in other legislation—which is important and which requires early examination—was being left out. We wondered whether our constitutional position was being undermined in some insidious fashion. Therefore, we thought it wise to discuss the matter to set the people's minds at rest, to alleviate their anxiety and to show them that we are committed to Northern Ireland's constitutional position and that we want to maintain it.
§ Mr. Farr
I might be able to put the hon. Gentleman's mind—and that of the Committee—at rest about the wretched new clause 4. Its architect is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. A comparison can be drawn between the Bill's long title and new clause 4. We could tentatively conclude that the new clause could not possibly fall within the ambit and purview of the long title. Perhaps you could reassure us, Mr. Weatherill, or give us some guidance. To give you a chance to examine it, the long title states:To make new provision for the resumption of legislative and executive functions by the Northern Ireland Assemblyand so on. However, there is no reference in the long title to relations with the Republic of Ireland. Given the stringent selection of amendments, I should have thought that you could tell us that the new clause was not likely to be selected.
§ The Chairman(Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
The hon. Gentleman is anticipating my selection. I repeat that we are not discussing new clause 4. I made that point on numerous occasions. We are discussing the order in which the clauses and new clauses and schedules will be taken. We are not specifically discussing new clause 4.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Farr
On a point of order, Mr. Weatherill. We have spent considerable time on this and the Committee is anxious to move on. It has been made clear by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that we are all concerned about the implications on new clause 4. If you were to give us your expert and candid opinion, Mr. Weatherill, possibly after a whispered consultation to which the Committee will turn a blind eye, as to whether you think there is any likelihood of new clause 4 being selected, and if you thought it was unlikely in view of the long title of the Bill, we could probably proceed apace.
§ The Chairman
I have no intention of being tempted to give any candid opinions on whether I shall select new clause 4 or any other amendment. What the Committee is anxious to do is to hear the Secretary of State. The whole matter may then be cleared up. Perhaps we could get to that.
§ The Chairman
I am most grateful for the hon. Gentleman's helpful suggestion, but I am not proposing to deal with that now.
§ Mr. Ross
By now the Secretary of State, having listened to the debate, must be well seized of the fact that new clause 4 is disturbing and that the Committee feels that it should be brought forward for early discussion. I trust he is also aware that many hon. Members think that other new clauses should be discussed at an early stage
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I am anxious that my hon. Friend should not be too beguiled by what has been said to him by the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) and by others in interventions in his speech. If he will read section 12 of the 1973 Act, in conjunction with clause 1(3), he will find that there is every reason to suppose that new clause 4 might be brought very easily within the ambit and scope of the. I hope he will not be too easily reassured.
§ Mr. Ross
I assure my right hon. Friend that I am not easily reassured by comments. That is why we must consider again the batting order of all the new clauses and of the amendments so that we understand clearly what is being attempted and try, in so far as in us it lies, to improve the Bill. Section 12 of the 1973 Act to which my right hon. Friend has referred says:A Northern Ireland executive authority may—When one reads that, one's anxiety increases. I heard someone say earlier from a sedentary position that clause 1(3) would also give concern, never mind new clause 4. You will appreciate, Mr. Weatherill, that there is deep concern in the House about all these matters and about the constitutional position of the Province which might be undermined in a variety of ways. There may be nc reference in the legislation to this Parliament being at the end of the day the sovereign body, or a body might be set up which could rapidly turn into an all-Ireland council which could undermine and destroy our position.
- (a) consult on any matter with any authority of the Republic of Ireland;
- (b) enter into agreements or arrangements with any authority of the Republic of Ireland in respect of any transferred matter."
1123 We must consider carefully the order in which the clauses and amendments are taken. An excellent case has been made to bring forward the important matters that have been raised in this all too short debate.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
In my view, at least, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been right to reserve his remarks until the conclusion of the debate, and not to adopt the course suggested by some hon. Members to offer an explanation at the beginning about the proposed order in which we should discuss the clauses and schedules. After all, we gather that there has been some restriction, limitation or curtailment of the discussion that he has had through the usual channels at least with the minority parties in the House on the order that we should adopt for these proceedings. We know for certain that there has been no consultation through what have been called the unofficial channels.
The only way in which the Secretary of State could have been aware of the very real fears that are entertained by hon. Members was to listen to them being voiced today. Had he begun the discussion by pinning his colours to a mast, it would have been very difficult for him to move subsequently to meet the fears that had been expressed by hon. Members as we hope and trust he will do shortly when he comes to reply to the debate.
I join my hon. Friends in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) on concentrating our attention on new clause 4 and upon all the implications of delaying our consideration of it until very late in the consideration of the Bill as a whole. I began by wondering why my hon. Friend had pulled out new clause 4 for this proposed excessively favourable treatment. I knew that the Irish dimension, or the Southern Irish dimension, of this argument was a matter of great sensitivity—as it has been, I suppose, ever since the days of Sunningdale and perhaps earlier. We know the destructive force that this proposition and this idea have exerted upon the internal politics of Northern Ireland ever since. I began by appreciating that point. But equally, as hon. Members have pointed out, there are other different reasons why some of us are critical of, or even opposed to, the Bill.
There is the whole question of devolution and the form of devolution that the Bill proposes. As our discussions and debates unfold, we shall be making clear our objections to this proposed rolling, drunken devolution in the same way as we expressed our opposition to a different pattern of devolution during the consideration of different legislation in the last Parliament. Bearing that in mind, I wondered why new clauses 1 and 2 in the name of the official Unionists could not be singled out for equally favourable treatment. If we could resolve very early in our consideration of these matters the primacy of this House over the activities of the proposed Assembly in the way that new clauses 1 and 2 would enable us to do, then the opposition that many of us feel for this measure might be diminished.
I reflected also on why new clauses 11 and 12 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir. P. Goodhart) concerning a possible referendum should not equally be singled out for this priority treatment. I recall that in our deliberations on the Scotland and Wales Bill, the Government of the day, once the Bill had begun its 1124 course through the House, recanted and agreed that the concept of a referendum should be embraced in that legislation.
The Government then proposed that the order of discussion of the clauses should be changed, so that the referendum could be discussed at an early stage and the remainder of that ill-fated Bill could proceed. Having listened to the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South-West and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), I agree that discussions on the new clause 4 should be given priority.
What can the Secretary of State do to meet our fears and objections? I do not doubt that he will tell us with complete honesty that he has had no secret negotiations or contracted any backstairs deals with the Opposition Front Bench. It would not be surprising for any Secretary of State to have regular contact with his Opposition equivalents and to give cursory consideration to such matters, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will assure us that no deal of the type that has been suggested has been struck.
That does not remove the real fear that the Opposition will proceed with the deliberations on clauses and amendments on the basis of what they have read in the press—and that the Secretary of State will give favourable consideration to new clause 4. They may accept that it is a matter that is negotiable and accordingly behave one way during the proceedings. It is possible that other hon. Members will proceed on the assumption that it is not a clause that the Government could accept in a month of Sundays.
If there is to be any movement or negotiation on the point, it would be far better to have it concluded at an early stage so that we know where we stand. I ask the Secretary of State to give generous consideration to the points and anxieties that have been expressed. The only way for him to do that is to agree not to press his motion but to take it away and bring it back with new clause 4 written into it in the place that hon. Members clearly desire it to be. I hope that in the interests of progress and amity he will do that.
§ Mr. Gorst
My hon. Friend is making suggestions to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about how we might strike a deal. Will he include in his suggestions the need for an assurance from our right hon. Friend that either new clause 11 or new clause 12, which provide for a referendum, would be acceptable to the Government? That would reinforce the feelings of many of us that a satisfactory conclusion would ultimately be reached.
§ Mr. Gardiner
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's intervention, which will have been heard by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It was not a point that I had intended to make.
It has been clear from the debate that the new clauses that have been tabled and those that will be tabled as a result of our deliberations are regarded as matters of crucial importance and the fact that new clauses will arise from our discussions leads me to oppose the idea that all the new clauses should be taken at the start of our proceedings.
There has been some discussion about when new clauses are best taken, and several of my hon. Friends have mentioned their experience on Committees handling other 1125 legislation, although those proceedings were conducted upstairs and this Committee is being taken on the Floor of the House.
I should like to add a relevant consideration arising from my experience on the Employment Bill Committee. The timetable motion on that Bill prevented any new clauses from being discussed, either in Committee or on Report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) was taken to task for mentioning the dreaded word "guillotine", but I make no apology for stressing that if the important new clauses to this Bill are to be taken in the order suggested by the Secretary of State it is crucial for us to know that the legislation will not be made subject to a timetable motion.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be able to give us an assurance that on this piece of constitutional legislation, which is of such critical importance to the Province and the whole United Kingdom, he has no intention of seeing it through on a timetable motion.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
I came into this debate only three-quarters of an hour ago. I did not realise until today the significance of such a motion. I have taken part in Committee proceedings only in Standing Committees. Usually they deal with Bills of less importance than this. I listened with care to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) and to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). It is clear from what they said and from the implications in the new clauses that there is need to resolve the order in which we discuss the new clauses.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) and others have drawn attention to the importance of new clause 4. It would not be sensible to pick out the new clauses which I believe to be of most importance, but my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate was right to say that for those of us who are anxious about devolution and the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament they are most important. Debating new clauses 1 and 2 at the beginning of our consideration will affect the Bill's colour.
There is a way of resolving the matter amicably. The Secretary of State is a patient man. He has seen controversial Bills through Committee. He exercised great skill in dealing with the Employment Bill in the first Session of this Parliament. His skill in steering that Bill through Parliament shows that he recognises that it is possible to proceed by agreement.
It should be possible to withdraw the motion and during the recess, or in the week that we return, for the Secretary of State to consult the minority parties and the official Opposition so that he can explain the Government's likely attitude to the new clauses. I cannot anticipate my right hon. Friend's attitude.
§ Mr. Body
Will my hon. Friend seek to persuade the Secretary of State that he should consult not only the official parties but some of his right hon. and hon. Friends? A growing number of them are anxious about the measure. Some hon. Members who have floated in and out of the Chamber were sympathetic to the Bill, but now have second thoughts.
§ Mr. Brown
I take my hon. Friend's point. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State replies he could 1126 resolve the problem easily by explaining the Government's likely attitude to the new clauses. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, whose arguments I followed closely and with which I agreed in substance, it is not likely that my right hon. Friend will preclude debate by introducing a timetable motion. It is absolutely essential, and I am certain that my right hon. Friend would want to ensure that new clauses 1, 2 and 4——
§ Mr. John Spence (Thirsk and Malton)
Should my right hon. Friend not go just a little further? New clause 4 goes to the very root of the Bill, and it is absolutely vital that we have a ruling from the Secretary of State, not just an indication.
§ Mr. Brown
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence), and I support what he says. Enough debate has taken place on the relative merits of the new clauses, and if my right hon. Friend can give us some indication about his likely attitude to the various new clauses, we shall be reassured to some extent. If he cannot do that, the most satisfactory way to proceed would be to withdraw the motion for the time being and talk privately with the individual parties NA ho have tabled amendments. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) has tabled a major new clause. I am certain that my right hon. Friend will want to tell the Committee the Government's attitude to that new clause, because of the bipartisan approach that there has been to Northern Ireland politics between the two major parties over the past 10 years. So when the official Opposition table a new clause it is essential that they and the Committee should be given an early indication of the Government's attitude.
Other new clauses relating to the role and supremacy of the Westminster Parliament have been tabled by the Official Unionist Party. The representatives of that party, too, should be consulted. Naturally, one does not like secret debates taking place, and if my right hon. Friend can give the Committee a clear idea of his attitude to all the new clauses, that will avoid the business of private consultation, which is necessary but slightly messy and undesirable. Some of us do not represent Ulster constituencies and are not members of the official Opposition, but we represent Government supporters.
I have the good fortune to be the secretary of the Conservative Party, Northern Ireland Committee. The Secretary of State constantly makes himself available to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), myself and other members of the Committee, and we have taken every opportunity to pass on the various views that exist within the parliamentary governing party. However, at the end of the day it is not committees or ambassadors that will decide the view of the House and the Committee on the Bill, but individual Back Benchers on both sides of the House.
The most satisfactory way to proceed is to have a clear statement tonight before we have to commit ourselves to a particular order of consideration. We want a clear assurance from my right hon. Friend that the new clauses which immediate stand out as being important and go to the heart of the Bill will be debated.
§ Mr. Body
My hon. Friend is being persuasive. Could he employ his skills of persuasion on the Opposition Benches and try to succeed, where the rest of us have failed, in drawing out the right hon. Member for Mansfield 1127 (Mr. Concannon) about whether he has had any discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about new clause 4? We have been trying hard to find out whether there has been discussion or negotiation between the two Front Benches. Some of us become a little suspicious when Front Benches gang up together. It would be good if my hon. Friend could use his arts of persuasion to try to draw out the right hon. Gentleman before it is too late.
§ The Chairman
I must repeat to the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) what I have said on numerous occasions. He must confine himself to the motion and not speculate on what the Opposition's views may be.
§ Mr. Brown
I have been led astray by interruptions. I note what you have said, Mr. Weatherill.
With regard to the motion, it is fair to note that the names of the right hon. Member for Mansfield and his colleagues are attached to new clause 4. If I were the official Opposition spokesman and had tabled such a new clause, I would not merely have gone along to the Table Office and left it at that. I would have wanted to seek a private meeting with the Secretary of State so that I could obtain his opinion. I am in danger of getting out of order. It is not for me to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman how he conducts the business of the official Opposition. If I were in his position, before I tabled the new clause I would have sought an indication of the likely attitude of the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
I shall draw my hon. Friend back to the subject of the new clause, which is of concern to all hon. Members. Am I right in thinking that he is saying that he is absolutely against any form of timetabling? There is an understanding that on a constitutional measure of this importance, no timetable should be allowed, so that there is full and fair discussion.
§ Mr. Brown
In the motion one item is "New Clauses". It is clear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in moving the motion, intends to ensure that at some stage the new clauses will be debated. The new clauses are a long way down in the order. The debate centres on whether new clauses should be at the beginning of proceedings rather than at the end. The "New Clauses" item is near the end of the list that my right hon. Friend has given in his motion. I do not think that there is any ill motive——
§ Mr. Brown
I should like to proceed as time is pressing and I do not want to detain the House unduly. I shall give way to my hon. Friend if I may pursue this point in answer to the intervention that was made. I hope that I am still in order.
The "New Clauses" item is low down the list. It is in the motion moved by my right hon. Friend. I do not believe that there is any evil motive in my right hon. Friend's motion. I cannot believe that I would be proved wrong, because this is a constitutional matter. 1128 Constitutional matters are traditionally given a great deal of debating time in the Chamber. It is right that that should continue.
§ Mr. Brown
I cannot imagine that the Bill will be treated differently from other constitutional Bills. I am disturbed to hear the word "timetable" used in the debate. It is a word that cannot be relevant to the Bill. There is no need for us to talk about a timetable in this debate. This is a constitutional issue and there are conventions and traditions that guide our proceedings on constitutional matters. My right hon. Friend has a great sense of parliamentary tradition and I do not believe that he would ever dream of allowing the word "timetable" to enter his mouth.
New clauses are included in the motion and debating time will be given to them. The real argument——
§ Mr. Farr
My hon. Friend has moved on a considerable way since I first tried to intervene on new clause 4. I wish to ascertain the exact sequence in which the Committee will discuss the new clause. For example, will it be at the forefront of our proceedings or will it come later, the latter course being intended in my right hon. Friend's motion? Does my hon. Friend attach any significance to the fact that apart from the sponsorship of the right hon. Member for Mansfield the new clause is sponsored also by an official spokesman for the Opposition on Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs? I refer to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). Does my hon. Friend attach any significance to that?
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend will be aware that we have been warned on several occassions that we should not discuss the substance of the new clause. When I drew the Committee's attention to the names that appear immediately above the new clause I was concerned that I might not be in order. I hesitate before responding to my hon. Friend but there may be some significance in the fact to which he has drawn attention. It indicates that informal consultation could have taken place between the Government and the Opposition Front Bench. It is clear that we need to know the Government's attitude to new clause 4 before we can decide whether to approve the motion.
I apologise for detaining the Committee unduly but clearly the order of proceedings is vital. If my right hon. Friend explains the Government's view on the individual new clauses, that may enable us to decide whether we can approve the motion. Alternatively, my right hon. Friend should consider withdrawing the motion to enable further consultation to take place between the Government, the official Opposition, minority parties and Conservative Back Benchers. If further consultation takes place privately on the Government's likely attitude towards the new clauses, it might be possible for us to proceed in an orderly manner and as speedily as is consistent with the traditions of the House of Commons, one of which is that we give careful consideration to measures of this constitutional magnitude.
§ Mr. Prior
This has been a very long debate. I had better start by reading out what the procedural motion seeks to do, which is to take clauses 1 and 2 first, followed by schedule 1, clauses 3 to 6 followed by schedule 2, clause 7 and then the new clauses, the new schedules and schedule 3.
1129 My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) said that he thought that it was very important that we should conduct our proceedings with decency and in good order. That is precisely why this motion was tabled. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) wondered why we must have a motion at all. As I have been listening to this debate I have wondered that myself and I have come to the conclusion that such a motion is highly necessary if we are to conduct our proceedings properly. I shall explain why the Government and I thought fit to put the proceedings down in the order that we have.
Let me say straight away that, as I understand it, these proceedings do not necessarily mean that no new clauses are taken until the end of the Bill or until we have reached the point where I have suggested that they are put in. That is entirely a matter for the Chairman, who decides what should be discussed. My hon. Friends have waxed passionately about the fact that no new clauses might be taken until the end. If they read the Order Paper and the list prepared by the Chairman of Ways and Means, they will see that new clauses 11 and 12 are taken with amendments to clause 2, well up in the course of the Bill.
It is for the Chairman of Ways and Means to decide the selection of amendments and the new clauses and how they are to be taken, not for myself or the Committee. This motion sets out to try to maintain decency and good order, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, and at the same time to establish a clear method of voting on the amendments, clauses, schedules and new clauses as and when we reach them.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made an extremely interesting point when he answered remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough wondered why we did not always take the new clauses before we began the Bill and why on Report we dealt with the new clauses first. For those right hon. and hon. Members who were not in the Committee when the right hon. Member for Down, South answered, it is, as was described to him by Walter Elliott many years ago, a process whereby when one goes into Committee one starts with a clean sheet and then adds, clause by clause, to the clean sheet until one has a Bill. It does not seem unreasonable, where it is possible, that the Government should start with a Bill and then the Committee should go through it clause by clause and build it up again. That would seem to me to be the logical way of proceeding. At the same time, as the Government Bill is being taken clause by clause, it is right for the Committee to take the amendments and the new clauses as directed by the Chairman of Ways and Means so that the amendments and new clauses are debated consistently with the operation of the Bill.
The purpose is that if there are new clauses that have no direct connection with the Bill as it is drafted and approved on Second Reading, it is not unreasonable to believe that they would be taken at the end of the Bill if they are selected by the Chairman of Ways and Means.
§ Mr. Prior
I shall not give way for the moment. It would be relevant to set out why I have put down i he motion in this order, because it makes good sense.
We have put down clauses 1 and 2 first and then schedule 2. Clauses 1 and 2 give detailed effect to the provisions about full and partial devolution. Immediately after that it seemed right that we should take schedule 2 because it contains important amendments to the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 and is clearly essential to the scheme of the Bill and our plans for devolution. It seemed right to take clauses 1 and 2, deal with the amendments and the new clauses that are relevant to clauses 1 and 2 and then move on to schedule 1.
Then we come to clauses 3 to 6 which deal with the amendments to the Northern Ireland Constitution Act. Schedule 2 follows because it contains amendments to that Act and is essential to the scheme of the Bill. That seems to make perfect sense. Then we take clause 7, which is the tidying-up clause. Then we take the new clauses, the new schedules and schedule 3, which states the amendments that are required to that Act.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Down, South and I examined the amendments that he and his hon. Friends put down. It is better to take schedule 3 at the end, because if any further changes are made to the Northern Ireland Constitution Act they can be taken into account in schedule 3. That seemed to me to be the right way to proceed and that is why we have stuck to it.
When I am asked about my attitude to new clauses, I must be careful or I shall be ruled out of order by the Chairman of Ways and Means, because we are not discussing the merits of individual clauses. All that we are discussing is where they should be taken, if they are selected, in Committee.
New clause 4 seems to be causing the most concern. However I do not know whether the Chairman of Ways and Means will select new clause 4 for debate. [Interruption.] I genuinely do not know. What is more, it is clear from what my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough said that he thought that it was doubtful whether the new clause fell within the long title of the Bill. In any event, it is not for me to decide the selection of new clauses or amendments to be debated.
It would be entirely wrong for the Government to give more than an indication of their attitude to any new clause or amendment when we are discussing a procedural motion and before hearing the arguments adduced. I can imagine that if I gave an indication now on the Government's likely views on a new clause or an 1131 Government's likely views on a new clause or an amendment hon. Gentlemen would be hopping up and down saying that it was a gross discourtesy because I was prejudging the issue before I had heard the arguments. Therefore, I cannot be drawn into discussing the merits of amendments when debating a procedural motion.
I said on Second Reading that relations with the Republic was not a matter on which further legislation is required. Although I shall listen carefully to the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), I see no reason to change my view on that now. On Second Reading I said:There is already statutory provision in the 1973 Act enabling a Northern Ireland Administration to reach bilateral agreements with the Government of the Republic on transferred functions if they so wish. Hon Members interested in the proposed interparliamentary body will appreciate that an elected Northern Ireland Assembly would provide an opportunity for a valuable Northern Ireland input to any such body on which this House and the Dail may agree."—[Official Report, 10 May 1982;Vol. 23, c. 473.]In that respect the proposals are complimentary, and not alternative, to the Government's policy of maintaining sensible and close arrangements for co-operation with the Republic. It would be inappropriate if I went further than that tonight.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
I acknowledge my right hon. Friend's persuasive arguments on rejecting or accepting new clauses. I accept his argument if he says that there are some new clauses that he cannot accept. To do otherwise may well cause confusion and consternation. However, perhaps my right hon. Friend will say what clauses he would be prepared to accept.
§ Mr. Prior
I do not believe that is the way to proceed. It is not a sensible way of conducting our affairs. The Government believe that the Bill, as it is laid down and as it has received a Second Reading, contains the main points and principles on which we rest our case. We are not looking for major amendments or new clauses, although we are, of course, listening to the views of the Committee and are prepared to make changes as the Bill goes through. There is in no sense any collusion, consultation, or anything of that nature as between one side of the Committee and any other parts of the Committee on these matters.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the burden of our argument is not that he should say "Yes" or "No" but rather that we should have a debate on this matter so that, once having heard the Committee, he should make his decision? We want an immediate debate on new clause 4. We do not want the right hon. Gentleman to wipe it out. We seek a debate, following which we can listen to his reply.
§ Mr. Prior
Provided the new clauses are selected and moved, presumably by the right hon. Member for Mansfield, there will be a debate. But that is not likely to happen today—at least, I doubt it. We should all recognise that this is an important matter that will need debate, but the purpose of the procedural motion is not to decide what shall or shall not be debated. I have tried to set out a reasonable order in which matters can be debated and voted upon.
1132 I apologise to the Committee, but earlier I made a mistake. I said that schedule 2 comes after clauses 1 and 2. I should have said schedule 1.
We have had an exceptionally long debate on a matter that is generally accepted to be a procedural question on which it should not be difficult to reach agreement. I have followed the usually accepted process on these matters. I have tried to deal with all the points that have been raised. I think that the time has come when we can agree that this is a perfectly reasonable arrangement. The selection of amendments and new clauses and when they should be considered is a matter for the Chair. On that basis I rest my case and hope that we can now proceed.
§ Mr. Gorst
I do not want to delay the Committee. Indeed, I had no intention of speaking when I began listening to these long hours of discussion. However, the overwhelming, if not unanimous, view is that new clause 4 should be brought forward for discussion at an earlier stage, assuming, Mr. Weatherill, that it is your decision to select it. It would be desirable to discuss the new clause at an early stage because it forms the very basis upon which we shall consider everything else that follows, assuming that it is acceptable.
I am not necessarily of a suspicious nature, but I have always understood that the job of an Opposition is to oppose. When Opposition spokesmen sit with a look of great satisfaction on their faces—I would not dream of suggesting that they have had either too much to eat or drink because they have not been away long enough for that to be possible—I can only assume that that satisfaction is with the motion. Unsuspicious as I am by nature, that makes me wonder what is in it for them.
My right hon. Friend has been scrupulous in his reply. He is right not to prejudge the issue, and it was the very openness of his mind on this subject, which was transparent in his remarks, that makes me feel that for the sake of our discussions it would be much safer if, Mr. Weatherill, in your wisdom you were to select the new clause and in your further wisdom you were to allow it to be discussed at a very early date.
§ Mr. Budgen
Perhaps I may briefly explain why I am so saddened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's reply. I placed before him three serious reports that made considerable allegations against him. The first suggested that at some stage before the White Paper was approved by the Cabinet there was an element in it which proposed that there should be an Anglo-Irish Parliamentary Council. It is plain that that would be deeply disturbing to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. My right hon. Friend had an opportunity to deny that, but he did not take it.
I read a second and a third report by reputable journalists which suggested that the proposals were still negotiable and that they probably still have the support of my right hon. Friend.
§ It being Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.