HL Deb 20 February 1962 vol 237 cc654-6

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That, in the event of the Consolidated Fund Bill being received from the Commons, Standing Order No. 41 be considered in order to its being dispensed with for the purpose of taking the Bill through all its stages.—(Earl Jellicoe.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.


My Lords, while we are on Business I should like to raise a question concerning the Northern Ireland Bill, and to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have decided to introduce an Amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill on the Report stage, which is on the Order Paper for Thursday next; and, if so, whether any consultations have taken place with representatives of the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches in Northern Ireland and on what date any such Amendment will appear on the Order Paper?


My Lords, if I may take the second part of the question of the noble Viscount first, consultations have taken place. With regard to the Roman Catholic Church, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, had that point in mind, and the representatives of the hierarchy saw the Home Office on Friday and, at their request, saw me later on, when they put forward certain suggestions. I have not been able to verify this myself, because I heard of the noble Viscount's question only just before I came into the Chamber, but I am told that these have been discussed with the Protestant Churches since that day, and I have every hope that an Amendment will be ready which will meet the views of both bodies and also preserve the objectives in the Bill.

I hope that it will be possible to put down an Amendment to-day. If any unexpected difficulty arises I will communicate with the noble Viscount, and through the usual channels suggestions can be made for postponing the Report stage. But I hope that the Amendment will be ready; that is my expectation, and as soon as it is cleared I will send a copy to the noble Viscount at once.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble and learned Viscount. I think I ought to say that I had a letter this morning (I had no idea it was coming: I had had nothing to do with it) from seven heads of Presbyterian and other Nonconformist churches in Northern Ireland in which they say that representatives of their Churches indicated on the attached page … to-day met to consider the Bill now before Parliament at Westminster. They go on to say: We regret that prior consultation with the Churches did not, as might have been expected, take place. I read into that and the statement kindly made by the noble and learned Viscount that up to yesterday, at any rate, there had been no consultation with the Protestant Churches. As it seems to me, from what the noble and learned Viscount said, to be likely that there wili be a good chance of getting an agreement that would not be outwith the ideas of both sets of Churches in Northern Ireland, it would be far better if a postponement of the Report stage could be indicated now, so that if the Amendment is not available till to-morrow or the next day we may have an opportunity of consulting with our people.


The noble Viscount is speaking about prior consultation. I am told that there has been consultation and there are hopes of an Amendment which would go at any rate a considerable way towards meeting their views. Perhaps the noble Viscount will give me an hour or two in order to see if the Amendment can be put down. As soon as it is down, I will give him a copy, and then it could be discussed later on if a postponement was still desired.


My Lords, there is another aspect of the mattter which perhaps I ought to draw to the attention of your Lordships. That is that some of us very strongly take the view that no amendment of Clause 13 really is called for; that any Amendment which is put down—no doubt with a view to allaying apprehensions, legitimate or other-wise—should be very carefully scrutinised in order to make quite certain that it will not impede the purposes of the Bill. I know that the noble and learned Viscount is fully conscious of that, and said so; but I think it is a duty that is laid upon all of us to make quite certain that is the case. It may well be that the time available between the time the Amendment is put down and next Thursday will not be sufficient to enable us to satisfy ourselves on that point. I do not want the Government to lean over backwards in order to meet apprehensions and thereby jeopardise the purposes of the Bill. I think it is a duty on all of us to make sure that is so.


My Lords, I could not agree more clearly with the dominant view of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I said before, when I announced that I was prepared to have consultation, that it must be on the basis that the slum clearance and other matters should not be impeded in any way, and that is the basis on which I have approached the matter. I believe that something can be done which will meet both points of view. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that if it meant jeopardising the social measures which I think are essential I should not be prepared to support the Amendment. I want to add only this. I thought it was the general feeling of the House when we discussed this matter that I should initiate consultation, and I did so as quickly as possible. Those who wanted to see me I saw myself, and I tried to meet the two points of view. I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that no course will be taken which will jeopardise the matter about which he and I feel strongly.


My Lords, I am much obliged. I entirely agree with the general sentiments expressed by my noble friend and by the noble and learned Viscount. We ought to try to meet both points of view within the overall objectives of the Bill. Perhaps we may leave it over until later.