asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has received the Third Annual Report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Mason
The report has been published today and copies have been laid before Parliament. The report covers the period from November 1976 to October 1977.
During this period, the Commission presented me with two very important reports. The first looked at the case for changes in the law in Northern Ireland relating to divorce and to homosexual offences. The second considered the whole range of the existing legal protection for human rights in Northern Ireland and examined, in particular, the case for a Bill of Rights. Both these reports were laid before Parliament last year.
The Commission has also offered me further advice on the Incitement to Hatred Act (Northern Ireland) 1970; and it has offered helpful comments on a number of my proposals for legislation and on a consultative document on family law reform. I shall be taking this advice into account before laying draft Orders in Council before this House.
The final section of the report looks to the future. It expresses the Commission's concern at the constraints on its activity and on its ability to advise me on the protection of human rights generally in Northern Ireland placed upon it by its statutory remit and by its limited resources. I understand its concern about these points. In reply, I have reminded the Commission that it has already gone beyond what might be regarded as the strict terms of Section 20(1) of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 in some of the work which it has completed this year. I have said that while it must have regard to the terms of Section 20(1) of the Constitution Act, I would not wish it to interpret its role too narrowly. On this basis, I have 346W asked the Commission to let me have details of the work which it would like to do so that I can consider its practical implications, including the question of what additional resources it may need to carry it out.