HC Deb 24 February 1977 vol 926 cc658-9W
Mr. McNamara

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the work of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights.

Mr. Mason

I have today laid before Parliament the Second Report of the Standing Advisory Commission, which covers the period from July 1975 to October 1976.

Much of the Commission's work during this period has been devoted to a study of the need for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The Commission intends to present its report later this year; I look forward to receiving its recommendations.

I am considering whether the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred (Northern Ireland) Act 1970 should be amended in the light of the amendment of the corresponding provision of the Race Relations Act. The Commission again recommends the repeal of the Flags and Emblems (Display) (Northern Ireland) Act 1954; I shall keep this in mind in the light of the situation in the Province as it develops.

The report contains a number of detailed recommendations on electoral law. I shall be looking closely at the proposal that the seven-year residence qualification for district council elections should be reduced, and at the recommendations for a common qualifying date for Northern Ireland and Great Britain. As for voting methods, most of the points made in the report apply to elections in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. I shall be considering the various points in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I have also noted the recommendation in the report that steps should be taken to improve the consultative procedures relating to draft legislation for Northern Ireland. Since last summer the opportunities for consultation and scrutiny of draft legislation have been extended.

I also look forward to receiving the Commission's recommendations on the laws on homosexuality and divorce in Northern Ireland.