Five-Hour Debate On Northern Ireland Provides Fireworks But No Division
The House of Commons on Friday last debated for fully five hours the sectarianism, religious and political, of the Government of Northern Ireland.
The occasion was the amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill, signed by over 200 M.P.s demanding that no further powers be granted till present powers are used democratically. The amendment was not moved, so there was no division. From the speeches, more fully noted below, we pick three significant statements made in the course of the debate.
MR. BING: "Any legislation we pass to-day must have one prime object— the destruction of blind sectarianism. . . . If there came from that front bench (the Opposition) one word of condemnation of sectarianism what a difference that would make."
MR. DELARGY: " We must remember that this business of Northern Ireland is our responsibility. It is wro.ig to regard it as a religious squabble. It is false and mischievous to regard it as a problem which concerns Irish people alone."
MR. McENTEE: "If to give a fair show to all hers who have signed the the Government of Northern Ireland are not prepared the people in Northern Ireland, not only the 200 memamendment, but a large majority of this House will vote against them."
From Our Parliamentary Correspondent
The M.P.s of the Imperial Parliament are still fascinated by the Irish Question. There was evidence of that on Friday, when the House of Commons debated the Northern Ireland Bill. Fridays are usually quiet days in the House: and most Members are on their way to visit their constituencies, to keep week-end speech-making engagements, or, if their homes are far from London, to enjoy family reunions.
the hearing. But anyone who went to hear it in the expectation of the fun of an angry and passionate disputation must have been disappointed. It was interesting, but not particularly exciting. It was goodtempered, too, and there were moments of merriment. Once or twice a storm brewed up, but it was as often dispersed.
The debate had little to do with the Bill, to the particular provisions of which no one took exception, and which are to give the Ulster Government powers to undertake public works in water, electrichl and drain
age schemes. The point of the debate was, whether the present Ulster Government are worthy of more or any powers at all.
On the ground that the Ulster Government are not worthy of more powers, 200 M.P.s, some Liberals hut most of them members of the Labour Party, put down a motion for the rejection of the Bill. It was not moved. however. The critics were, as they said, satisfied to focus English attention once more on the state of affairs in Ulster, without throwing out a Bill, the contents of which they did not disapprove.
THREE QUESTIONS Mr, Geoffrey Bing, Labour M.P. for Hornchurch, was the first to speak for the gallant 200, and he made the best speech of the day. He made his case in a pleasantly reasonable way, and at times with an eloquence that hushed the House. " Before this House can agree to grant additional powers," said Mr. Bing, " to the Parliament of Northern Ireland, the great majority of Members on this side of the House —and, to be fair, I believe a con siderable number of hon. Members on the opposite side—will, I think, need to be satisfied on three points.
" They will need to know whether the dictatorial powers at present exercised by the Home Secretary of Northern Ireland are justified or whether they are merely a weapon against political opponents.
" Secondly, they will want to know whether the express provisions of Sections 5 and 8 of the Government of Northern Ireland Act against religious discrimination are properly observed or whether the Government of Northern Ireland are fostering religious discrimination for party purposes.
" Thirdly. they will want to know whether in Northern Ireland both Parliamentary and local elections are democratically and fairly conducted? When the Government of Northern Ireland come to this House as a subordinate Parliament to ask for further powers, it is perfectly right and proper for this House to exercise its undoubted constitutional right to require from the Government of Northern Ireland an account of their stewardship.
" One of the most distressing things in dealing with Northern Ireland," continued Mr. Bing, " is the careless way in which they have flung away the powers entrusted to them by this House. 1 would have thought that the most vital power which a Parliament can possess is the right to make laws for the liberty of the subject.
" Yet under the Northern Ireland Civil Authorities • (Special Powers) Act, first temporarily and then finally, the Government of Northern Ireland has handed over to the Executive the right to make every law affecting the life and liberty of the On the important subject of franchise, Mr. Bing said: " We are at this moment giving powers to the local authorities but, before we do so, we have the right to know whether or not they are representative bodies.
" Over a period of time the Government of Northern Ireland have been pursuing a policy of giving plural votes to corporations, to business concerns, to company directors, and taking away votes from the ordinary man in the street.
That in the Northern Ireland House of Commons, was advocated as early as 1928, as the right and proper thing to do. The then Home Secretary, speaking on business votes and the votes of company directors, said: These two classes of persons represent what one might describe as strong financial interests in the country, and so are entitled to preferential treatment.' "
hi a stirring peroration, Mr. Bing said: " Any legislation we pass today must have one prime object—the destruction of blind sectarianism. This sectarianism can be ended in
this House to-day. Hon. Gentlemen who sit above the Gangway on the opposite side of the House are all Members of the same party as the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite.
" If there came from that Front Bench one word of condemnation of sectarianism, what a difference it would make. Is there one hon. Member on the benches opposite who believes in his heart that Roman Catholics are in fact 99 per cent. disloyal? Is there not to be found one hon. Member who will get up and state that what the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland said was wrong and should be withdrawn?
"Is there one hon. Member on the other side of the House who believes that every provision of the Special Powers Act is justified?
" Then are we not to find on the opposite side of the House one hon. Member who will get up and denounce even one provision of that Act?
" Is there one hon. Member opposite who does not believe in the democratic principles of One man, one vote ' ? Then are we not to find someone who will get up and denounce the Northern Ireland Elections and Franchise Acts. 1946?
" What we say to-day on this little Bill affects not one small Province of the United Kingdom. It proves
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