§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. The object of the Bill is to remove, for limited purposes, certain restrictions placed on the legislative powers of the Parliament of Northern Ireland by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. That Act, as your Lordships are aware, established the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland within the framework of the United Kingdom. It reserved certain powers, such as those concerned with foreign affairs, war and peace, and currency, to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It conferred the power to deal with other matters such as law and order, health, transport and matters of that kind, on the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland, but, under the scheme of the Act, restrictions relating to the reserved matters are placed specifically upon the legislative powers of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and the executive 108 powers are co-terminous and co-extensive with the legislative powers. It is for that reason that the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House is mainly drafted in the form of lifting restrictions on the legislative powers of the Northern Ireland Parliament.
Since 1920, it has become apparent, as time has gone on, that the restrictions are unduly hampering to the Parliament of Northern Ireland in legislating in regard to matters which are really purely of domestic concern to Northern Ireland. These matters are, so to speak, accidental, and were obviously not contemplated when the Act of 1920 was passed. As a result, further powers taking away some of these restrictions have from time to time been conferred upon the Parliament of Northern Ireland. I might just refer, for example, to the Acts passed in 1928, in 1932, and as recently as 1945, under which additional powers of legislation have been conferred upon the Parliament of Northern Ireland. All these extensions have, of course, left the main framework and structure of the Act of 1920 unimpaired, and that is also the case with the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House, the object of which, as I said earlier, is to remove certain restrictions on these legislative powers.
The Bill deals with a substantial number of quite independent matters, and I think it is hardly necessary for me to go over them in detail. May I take one example from Clause 1? The Act of 1920 confines the powers of the Parliament of Northern Ireland to the territory of Northern Ireland, and obviously that very hampering in cases where it may be exceedingly useful for the Northern Ireland Government to come to some arrangement with the Government of Eire in regard to some scheme, such as, for example, an electricity scheme which would cross the boundaries of Northern Ireland and Eire. Clause 1 of the Bill, therefore, will remove the restriction on the powers of the Northern Ireland Parliament to deal with a matter which crosses the boundary in that way.
The other matters which are dealt with in the clauses are, as I have said, of a separate character. Probably the most satisfactory way of discussing this measure would be for me to deal with any points which your Lordships may 109 think fit to raise on the discussion of this Bill. I hope that that method will appeal to your Lordships and, in the belief that it will do so, I beg to move that this Bill be now given a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª. —(Lord Chorley.)
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I rise on behalf of my noble friend, Viscount Simon, who is unfortunately unable to be here this afternoon. There is one point which I should address to the noble Lord. In the course of his remarks, he drew your Lordships' attention to Clause 1 of the Bill; I wish he had drawn your Lordships' attention to Clause 2. As I understand it, in Section 5 of the principal Act—that is, the Government of Ireland Act, 1920—it is laid down that the Parliament of Northern Ireland shall not make laws which will in fact take any property without compensation. There is no doubt that in 1920 it was an established custom that if the State should take property from a private individual, it should pay a reasonable and proper price for it. But we have moved some distance since that time, and property is now taken from the private citizen—as witness the Transport Bill—quite regardless of its proper value.
Turning to Clause 2 of the Bill which we are discussing, your Lordships will see in paragraph (a) that the Northern Ireland Parliament is, as I understand it, now allowed to take property without paying compensation. I do not know whether the noble Lord could explain the terms which the Government have in their minds in regard to this very unusual subsection. Perhaps the noble Lord could tell your Lordships—because it is important—whether it is intended to repeal the whole of Section 5 of the principal Act of 1920, and, if not, why we have these somewhat curious words inserted in the Bill now before us? That is one point which my noble friend asked me to raise. I feel it is a point of some importance, and I trust we shall have some explanation as to how Section 5 of the principal Act of 1920 was in any way unduly "hampering"—to use the noble Lord's own words—upon the Government of Northern Ireland.
§ LORD CHORLEY
Only one matter has been raised, and that is in relation to Clause 2, which, as the noble Earl points 110 out, alters Section 5 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, under which the Parliament of Northern Ireland is precluded from making a law to take any property without compensation. The Courts have construed this Section as meaning "full compensation." There are numerous occasions when it is not reasonably practicable to pay full compensation in what one might take to be the technical meaning of the expression, as, for example, when a local authority have certain of their powers transferred to a central authority, or some other service of a local authority—for instance an electricity undertaking—is transferred to a central organization. In those circumstances, it may be a perfectly satisfactory method of carrying through the transfer, for the central authority simply to take over the assets and liabilities of the local authorities, as is, in fact, being proposed in connexion with electricity undertakings in this country under a Bill of which your Lordships are aware. It is that type of case with which this clause is concerned.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
With great respect, I think that is a case with which it cannot be concerned. Clause 2 (1) (a) says: "as regards the transfer of property of persons other than local authorities."
§ LORD CHORLEY
I rather think the position of the local authorities is dealt with further down in the same clause. This particular subsection deals with the trading or revenue producing services. It provides that, whatever the Parliament of Northern Ireland may prescribe as to the amount, time and manner of payment of compensation on the transfer of the property of a public utility undertaking, whether a local authority or a private concern, to another undertaking, shall not be liable to be declared invalid on the ground that Section 5 (1) of the Act of 1920 has been violated. It thus leaves entirely to the discretion of the Government of Northern Ireland the decision as to the basis of compensation to be made. It does provide, however, that in the case of such undertakings belonging to a local authority the restriction in the 1920 Act is now lifted, unless the law relating to the transfer makes provision for the recoupment of moneys payable by the local authority on outstanding loans raised for the purpose of the undertaking, or alternatively for the transfer to the new 111 authority of the debts and liabilities of the local authority, as former public utility undertakers.
The point is that the Northern Ireland Parliament ought to be empowered to take the same sort of action as is in fact taken in this country. The method of doing so, I would submit to your Lordships, obviously ought to be left to the Parliament of Northern Ireland, just as in dealing with our domestic legislation in this country it is dealt with by our own Parliament. The subsection is divided, in effect, into two paragraphs—paragraph (a) which deals with private companies, and is the one to which the noble Earl has referred, and paragraph (b) which deals with local authority undertakings. I am not sure that that will altogether satisfy the noble Earl, but I think it should be a satisfactory answer, because it appears to me—and I hope it will so appear to your Lordships—that the Parliament of Northern Ireland, in dealing with a domestic matter, whether it is unification of their transport system, the setting up of a national health service, or whatever it may be, should be left to legislate in exactly the same sort of way as our own Parliament here in Westminster.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I can only speak again with the leave of your Lordships, but there is just one further question I would like to ask the noble Lord. He talked chiefly of paragraph (b), which does not concern me. I have referred only to paragraph (a), and that paragraph, as I understand it, deals quite clearly with the property of persons other than local authorities. The noble Lord in his speech discussed the matter of full compensation. All I am asking for is adequate compensation. Paragraph (a), as I read it, definitely says that the property of private individuals can be taken, under laws made by the Parliament of Northern Ireland. without any compensation whatsoever. I really cannot believe that that is the wish of the Northern Ireland Parliament. If that is so, since the days when I knew something about Northern Ireland they must have turned very much to the Left from the path which they used to pursue. I should like an answer from the noble Lord as to whether it is intended that the Northern Ireland Parliament shall be allowed to take property from private persons without giving them any compensation whatever.
§ LORD CHORLEY
Your Lordships will, I am sure, appreciate that the Government of Northern Ireland have been in very close collaboration with the Government of this country on the drafting of this Bill; indeed, your Lordships would hardly expect that a Bill of this kind would be introduced into Parliament in this country unless there was, in fact, the need for such legislation in Northern Ireland. The noble Earl has said that it is hardly to be contemplated that the Government in Northern Ireland would wish to take over property from private companies, and concerns of that type, without making provision for some form of compensation. Obviously that is so. Surely, we must leave the Parliament of Northern Ireland to make what arrangements appear most suitable and reasonable to them, and not try and tie them down in the way in which they were tied down in regard to these matters very nearly thirty years ago, when the Government of Ireland Act was passed. It can hardly be complimentary to the Parliament of Northern Ireland that we should wish, by legislative means in this Parliament, to cut down their discretion to deal with problems of this kind in the way which appears most suitable and reasonable to them.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.