HC Deb 20 July 1983 vol 46 cc540-1 3.18 am
The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)

I beg to move, That the draft Housing (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 7th July, be approved. This order makes amendments to the Housing Act 1980 in consequence of article 87 of the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order which provides the Northern Ireland Housing Executive with a power to enter into indemnity agreements with building societies.

Section 3(8) of the Housing Act 1980 provides for the exclusion of certain recommendations made to building societies from the scope of section 16(3) and (5) of the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976. This order amends section 3(8) to extend the exception to cover recommendations about indeminity agreements made by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive with the consent of my Department.

This order is to be made under section 38(2) of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 which enables the law of any part of the United Kingdom to be amended in consequence of any provisions of Norther Ireland legislative measures.

I commend the order to the House.

3.19 am
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

On a point of order earlier I undertook that I would raise only one point, and that briefly, on this order. Nevertheless, it is a point of constitutional and practical importance.

If hon. Members from other parts of the kingdom had happened to look at the order they would have been surprised not only that it was amending a United Kingdom statute to fit a Northern Ireland order, but that it was introducing into a United Kingdom statute, parallel with the words "Secretary of State", the term the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland". Going no further and knowing no more, such hon. Members might have felt some offence and astonishment to see a Department treated as if it was a Minister.

The explanation is that we in Northern Ireland live under what we call direct rule. It is a state of affairs which is described as interim and is prolonged from year to year by an order which is annually made in June or July. We greatly resent this condition in which we are kept and we believe that the uncertainty and provisional character which it implies for our constitutional arrangements is itself a source of encouragement to the enemies of our Province.

When that annual order renews the Prevention of Terrorism (Interim Provisions) Act 1974 it renews a provision which says that wherever one reads the word "Department", it really means "Minister responsible for the Department". Thus, tonight at 3.22 am we are writing into a statute of the United Kingdom words which do not mean what they say but which mean what, by virtue of an annual renewal order, a temporary provisions Act says they mean.

We do not do it only on that occasion. We constantly provide for an order to be subject to affirmative or negative procedure when that is not true. The expression "subject to affirmative procedure" is to be read to mean "subject to negative procedure"; and the expression "subject to negative procedure" is to be read as "subject to no parliamentary procedure at all" by virtue of the 1974 Act as annually renewed by the renewal of direct rule each year.

Such is the violence which is done to the statute book of the United Kingdom, as well as to all common sense and constitutional propriety, by the deliberate process of maintaining Northern Ireland on a 12-month lease, so to speak, whereby, in contrast with the rest of the United Kingdom, our arrangements are accorded only from year to year.

Those who sit on this Bench have come—it is a word commonly used nowadays— mandated by those who sent us here in such agreeably large numbers. It was with a mandate to put an end, so far as in us lay, to direct rule, and it is for that purpose that from time to time we trespass on the patience of our fellow Members of this House by drawing attention to the anomalies, absurdities and intolerable consequences of the unique form of government which is maintained in Northern Ireland and which we refer to as direct rule.

The early hours of the morning may not be suitable, from some points of view, for constitutional disquisitions, but for another reason they are highly suitable. It is this arrangement—it is the determination to treat Northern Ireland as something temporarily and specially dealt with — which creates the necessity for hon. Members, instead of dispatching the legislative business of the kingdom in the normal and proper way at normal times, to attend these seminars that we conduct for them with the assistance of Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office. That observation enables me to resume my seat on the agreeable note of thanking the Under-Secretary of State for the competence as well as the bonhomie of his contributions to our debate.

3.26 am
Mr. Chris Patten

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I must attempt to respond in kind, although rather more briefly. It would be injudicious, and would require more courage than I can summon up without a little Dutch assistance, for me to follow the right hon. Gentleman into the arcana of the legislative process. Once again, he made his argument with eloquence and clarity. I find it difficult to believe that those who bomb, maim and murder are encouraged to bomb, murder and maim by our constitutional arguments and discussions, but that must be a difference of opinion between us. Tonight it would be foolhardy of me to do other than take the world as it is. In the right hon. Gentleman's view, our legislative processes are imperfect. The solution, in the Government's view—as the right hon. Gentleman knows, although he does not agree with us—is to dispense with the need for them by achieving a workable scheme of devolution. On that happy note—on which I assume that there will not be total consensus —I shall resume my seat.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Housing (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 7th July, be approved.