Northern Ireland: United Kingdom Status

Speech by Thomas W. Boyd, Esq., J.P. Delivered in the Northern Ireland House of Commons, Wednesday, 29th January, 1969.

Mr. Boyd (Belfast, Pottinger): First of all may I congratulate the Prime Minister on the presentation of his philosophy this afternoon? Perhaps much of what I have to say will reinforce some of the points he has made. Maybe my historical approach to our situation is a little different from his, but that does not detract from the central idea which he expressed in his concluding remarks—that what he wishes to maintain and develop is full British citizenship in Northern Ireland. With that I can agree profoundly.
As I looked at the terms of the Motion it struck me that it was rather addressed to hon. Members on the Government side of the house, many of whom wished to be in the United Kingdom but not of it—and there is quite a difference. So I decided to put down an Amendment, which would not in any way weaken the central theme of the Motion but would strengthen it and make it more specific. The Prime Minister has said that he is concerned with our status as an integral part of the United Kingdom, just as I am, but in my view the Motion does not express adequate acceptance of the changes necessary to establish full British citizenship in Northern Ireland. There is no clearly stated intention to introduce a full and free system of government at all levels, on an equal basis, without regard to any form of privilege.

[Editor’s Note: The text of the motion being debated was:
“That this House, conscious of the immense benefits accruing to Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom, affirms once more its determination to maintain and where possible strengthen that status, and supports the Government in their policy of preserving without any sacrifice of constitutional principle, the close relationship which has always existed with successive United Kingdom Governments and which has consistently served Northern Ireland’s best constitutional and other interests.”]

Because of this lack of clarity I now beg to move, to leave out from “affirms” in line 2 to “strengthen” in line 3 and to insert:

“its determination to establish and maintain the reforms necessary to”.

If this Amendment is accepted the text of the first three lines will be as follows:

“That this House, conscious of the immense benefits accruing to Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom, affirms its determination to establish and maintain the reforms necessary to strengthen that status.”

I have been at pains to examine many of the differences in legislation which exist between ourselves and the rest of the United Kingdom. There is quite a lengthy list. I will mention just a few of the omissions and shortcomings. There is no Land Commission, no leasehold reform and no scheme for comprehensive education; we have no modern town and country planning legislation, no new Companies Act and no payment of expenses to local authority representatives and as yet we have no contractual relationships with hospitals outside the State system—namely, the U.V.F. and Mater hospitals; but most important, we have lower standards of democracy, particularly in the failure of the Government to permit all of our citizens to vote in local government elections.
These and many other things illustrate the differences between us and and our fellow citizens in Great Britain. Taken together with the fact that we have higher unemployment and lower average earnings they present a formidable challenge, not only to the Government but to every Member of this honourable House, as well as to business interests and trade unions.
The Prime Minister has dealt at some length with our constitutional position. For the sake of clarity, that there may be a clearer understanding as to what our views are, I also propose to examine this. Like the Prime Minister, I anticipate that before this debate ends a variety of views on our constitutional status will probably have been expressed. Some hon. Members may be of the opinion that our relationship with Britain arises from the Act of Union of 1801. The Prime Minister made a slight mention of this in the course of his speech. In my view it would be an interesting historical exercise to examine that Act and the circumstances surrounding it.
To give my views about it, I would refer to what Earl Cornwallis, the architect of the Act, said in a letter to his friend Ross. His remarks hardly support the validity of the Act of Union. Earl Cornwallis said:

“My occupation is now of the most unpleasant nature, negotiating and jobbing with the most corrupt people under heaven. I despise and myself every hour for engaging in such dirty work, and am supported only by the reflection that without an Union the British Empire must be dissolved.”

I am indebted for that quotation to G. C. Bolton, who wrote a book called The passing of the Irish Act of Union, the quotation is taken from page 157.
Dr. Dixon (North Down): Would the hon. Member give way for a second? To assist him, could I tell him that it cost Castlereagh £150,000 to buy his seat?
Mr. Boyd: I accept the figure quoted by the hon. Member. Most of us, I think, have bought our seats in this House through efforts and not through money; at least I should like to think so.
Perhaps I ought to suggest that the rather ragged remnants of the Government should meet around the table, now in their possession, upon which, it is asserted, the Act of Union was signed in the hope that they might raise the spirit of Earl Cornwallis. He perhaps could advise them on how to avoid self-destruction. On the other hand, it may be as well to regard the Act of Union as irrelevant to our present position. A recent pronouncement of the House of Lords Committee for Privileges declares that Ireland as a political unit no longer exists and hence the 1920 Government of Ireland Act is the sole authority for the constitutional existence and status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. This Act, and this Act alone, defines the scope of the powers of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and without these powers it would be impossible for this Legislature to operate as a body subordinate to the Westminster Parliament.
The 1949 Ireland Act, as the Prime Minister has said, conferred on this Parliament the power to decide whether Northern Ireland should remain within the United Kingdom and, so long as it so remains, Northern Ireland is, as Lord Stonham stated recently, as much a part of the United Kingdom as Scotland or Wales. This does not alter our subordinate position. Nor does it mean that we possess sovereign or dominion status. Northern Ireland was not included in the 1931 Statute of Westminster, the Act which conferred dominion status on such countries as Australia and Canada, and therefore Northern Ireland does not exist nor can it exist as a Sovereign State in international law. Nor can it be regarded as a protectorate of Great Britain. As part of the United Kingdom its position and status, whether ordinary or special, must be found within that Kingdom itself.
What consequences flow from the fact that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom? First, the Province, however autonomous one might regard it, is still subject to the demands of the Parliament of the entire Kingdom and in those essential respects without which it could not be regarded as part of the whole. A superficial reading of Section 4 of the Government of Ireland Act, which empowered this Parliament to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Northern Ireland, might lead one to the conclusion that these are sovereign powers but such is not the case. As I understand it, the judicial experience in Canada, where the Provinces have a similar power under the provisions of the British North America Act, shows that a province, though largely autonomous in local matters, cannot be regarded as sovereign. It consequently follows that one sovereign state cannot contain another sovereign state. The powers of the Northern Ireland Parliament must be read subject to the supreme authority at Westminster.
Secondly, the power conferred is a power delegated by a central Legislature to a provincial one within the context of a unitary Constitution. It follows, therefore, that there is nothing in law to prevent the United Kingdom Parliament from revoking validly the entire delegated power of Stormont and conferring new restricted powers upon it by repealing or modifying the Government of Ireland Act itself. I am reinforced in this view by remarks contained in a speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Mid Down (Mr.Kelly), now the Attorney-General, on 15th June, 1966, when this House was discussing certain incidents which had occurred on 6th June, 1966. I propose to quote from what he said on that occasion. He stated:

“It is this false and unjust image about Ulster which is shown on the national television screens and does this man, the Reverend Ian Paisley, not realise that he is weakening our Constitutional ties in the United Kingdom?”

At that point the Prime Minister interjected, “Hear, hear.” The then hon. and learned Member for Mid Down continued:

“Does he not realise that Westminster and the British people will not take anything at all short of fair play from anybody within the United kingdom? Does he not realise that his conduct will bring about a lack of respect and goodwill from the majority of the people of the United Kingdom and that some day, if that goes too far, in Westminster by a very short Act of Parliament they will undo our very existence?”

My quotation goes on:

“Dr. Dixon (North Down): Hear, hear.
Mr. Minford (Antrim): Never.
Mr. Kelly: Does he not realise that? If one belongs to the United Kingdom and has any British association at all one must behave oneself and conform to the standards of fair play which have always been the essence of the British way of life.”—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th June, 1966; Vol. 64, cc. 300, 301.]
I hope that the Attorney-General will tell us today that he stands fully and completely by that, particularly the reference to British standards, because British standards include the right for all citizens to vote in all elections.
Returning to the Government of Ireland Act, I should point out that modification of the Act has in some cases been effected by the Westminster Parliament directly or even indirectly by authorising this Parliament in such regards under Section 6. There are not many examples of indirect operation. I can think of one—the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1932. There are many examples of the direct operation of this principle. Nevertheless, in this connection it is important to note that this Parliament alone, without the authority of Westminster, cannot amend any provision of the Government of Ireland Act.
Thirdly, as a good Presbyterian would say, Section 6 shows that where any Act of this Parliament deals with any matter with respect to which it has power to make laws, which is dealt with by any Act of the Westminster Parliament after the appointed day, namely, 3rd May, 1921, the Stormont Act would be read subject to the act passed at Westminster, and so far as it is repugnant to that Act it would be void. This principle extends to statutory instruments made by this Parliament or by the Parliament at Westminster. It is quite clear that the Act passed at Westminster and the Westminster Parliament will prevail over any attempt made by this Parliament to pass inconsistent legislation.
Again, this emphasises the point that the Parliament at Westminster is the unquestionable supreme authority in the United Kingdom. It would be incredible to me that the founding fathers of the 1920 Act had the intention of creating a vacuum in Northern Ireland by delegating to Stormont the final authority to legislate or not to legislate for the Province with impunity under all circumstances and at the same time provide for no authority, national or international, to ensure that such power is being exercised properly—not abused—and for the purpose for which it was granted. Such a vacuum does not and cannot exist in the constitution of a province in any sovereign state in the world and there is no reason to think it can be otherwise in Ulster.
There must inevitably exist some authority to oversee or supervise the exercise of legislative power by this Parliament over a matter which, though otherwise local or regional in nature, has assumed a national significance due to any reason. If the overall or ultimate power in such cases does not lie with the national Parliament there is no sense in which such a Parliament can be said to possess jurisdiction over the entire country as a unit.
The Prime Minister has dealt with this matter of the convention. Quite briefly, I would say that there may be a convention that there is no undue interference by the Parliament at Westminster with matters transferred to this Parliament, but it does not mean that this practice can become a part of constitutional law. As the Prime Minister has reiterated, it is quite clear from Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act that there should be no doubt that the convention cannot take the place of statute law. This Section above any other Section of the Act sets at rest any doubts that any person may have about the supreme authority because its terms make the matter clear and specific, and anyone who attempts to misunderstand, for political reasons, or misrepresent this Section to my mind is acting against the public interest.
Neither Section 75, or any other Section of this Act nor any subsequent legislation by Westminster states that the supreme authority under Section 75 is to be exercised only in cases of emergency or abuse of power. Nor can any such conclusion be implied from the scheme of the Act. Whether legislation should be enacted on a transferred subject and applied to Northern Ireland thus remains a question to be determined entirely by the Parliament at Westminster.
No court of law in the United Kingdom can question the validity of any legislation enacted by that Parliament even though it concerns a matter delegated to this Parliament under the Act, for no amount of delegation of powers to a subordinate legislature can be effective so as to divest the central sovereign legislature of such powers under all circumstances. Such an abdication of the responsibility on the part of a sovereign state is impossible in constitutional theory and practice.
Having, I think, established the point, having been supported by former views expressed by the present Attorney-General and having had the explanation given by the Prime Minister I say that in this situation and, indeed, in any other, we cannot challenge the authority of the Westminster Parliament. Let those in the Unionist Party, those people who for their own political ends and ambitions are seeking to undermine that overall authority, beware of the consequences. The Prime Minister has outlined some of the possible consequences. I need not go into them in detail. Hon. Members are well aware of the advantages accruing to Northern Ireland from the fact that we are part of the United Kingdom. We fully uphold that authority whatever Government may be in power at Westminster, not as an empty gesture but with an insistence that nothing less than British standards in citizenship shall apply without delay here.
Mr. F.V. Simpson (Belfast, Oldpark): Hear, hear.
Mr. Boyd: The Prime Minister has covered a period of six years. A good deal has taken place which he has not touched upon and without a greater trespass on time no one would expect him to touch upon these points. I agree that the present position is distressing, but I would suggest quite seriously that the major blame lies with the Prime Minister and with his Government for their failure to meet the legitimate needs and aspirations of moderate people of all sections of our community.
Mr.F.V. Simpson: Hear, hear.
Mr. Boyd: There is also the failure of the Government to accept advice and help from all parts of this house. I remember on May 4, 1966, standing at this Dispatch Box and warning the Government that their failure to deal with the situation which was clearly developing then would lead to serious consequences. I said on that occasion that if I were proved wrong I would be a happy man. I would be a happy man today if I had been mistaken in the forecasts I made on that occasion.
I defended the Prime Minister against the attacks which were launched against him by the Rev. Mr. Paisley when he declared that they would remove this lundy, as they called him, from the position of Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Later in the month of June I pressed the Government to deal with this. The Prime Minister in the meantime had made a very strong and serious speech attacking these people who are out to destroy Northern Ireland. I asked him if he was prepared to take stern action under the Special Powers Act against these people. That took place on 23rd June. I was told that these people were not subversive, but five days later an order was made under the Special Powers Act to deal with an organisation which presumed to call itself the Ulster Volunteer Force. Why was that order made? If one reads carefully what the Prime Minister said on 23rd June one will discover it was made because during that weekend murder was done in the streets of Belfast.
Again I was unhappy that I had been proved right.
If I might turn to another matter, the former Minister for Commerce, the right hon. Member for East Down (Mr. Faulkner), resigned from the Government. To my great surprise and I suppose to the surprise of almost everyone in Northern Ireland he said he was doing so mainly on the basis that the Government had failed to face up to the demand of those who were saying, “One man, one vote.”
I have been a Member of this House for some years and I was in this House when the right hon. Gentleman as Minister of Home Affairs was responsible for the Electoral Law Bill. He claimed that it was mainly a consolidation Measure. More than 200 amendments of one sort and another were tabled but on every occasion the right hon. Gentleman resisted even the simplest ideas to reform and improve our electoral law, such as poll cards in all elections and so on. He summed it up in a sentence and it is this:

“We did not bring forward any alteration in principle because we do not believe that an alteration in principle is necessary for the welfare of Northern Ireland.” [OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th January, 1962; Vol. 50, c. 1104.]

Does he now believe that that alteration is for the welfare of Northern Ireland?
Mr. F.V. Simpson: He has changed his mind.
Mr. Boyd: But more remarkably, he gives us the basis of this change the fact that only a small proportion of the money spent by local authorities comes directly from the rates. Last week in this House the Minister of Development gave the present figures. He said that from Government sources the local authorities received 62 per cent. of their expenditure; from rating sources they received 28 per cent. and from services, that is, trading services and so on, they received 10 per cent.
I have been at pains to obtain the figures which were operating at the time the right hon. Member for East Down was pushing his Electoral Bill with the help of the guillotine in 1962. In 1961-62 the proportions were: 60 per cent., 31 per cent. and 9 per cent. In 1962-63 they were similar. Does the right hon. Member for East Down, a former Minister for Home Affairs, say that because there was a change from 31 to 28 per cent. this change of three per cent. justifies his present attitude? Surely the arguments he is now using could have been used with equal force in 1962. Therefore I think his case collapses on that point. Nevertheless, the enunciation of the principle is welcome even from the right hon. Gentleman, who did not examine the problem when he had the power and was in a position to deal with the matter.
It would take a great deal of time to examine the activities of the former Minister of Home Affairs. The Prime Minister has touched on some of these, but the right hon. Gentleman more than any other has been adamant in his refusal to concede the justice of the demands for a full measure of democracy at all levels of government. I regard his other activities as somewhat sub judice as it is my opinion his conduct in relation to recent disturbing events should be investigated and reported upon by the Cameron Commission.
Mr. F.V. Simpson: Hear, hear.
Mr. Boyd: Having spent a considerable time in criticism without indulging in abuse I now intend to make what I hope are constructive suggestions. I commence with the restructuring of local government. The Government failure to deal with this matter has been exceedingly laggard and so that they may increase their speed from the present slow astern I would suggest that the Prime Minister should appoint a Minister of State with the sole responsibility of producing a scheme in this Session of Parliament setting out the boundaries of a new set of local authorities.
I am aware that the Prime Minister announced some considerable time ago that he intends to set up a powerful, broadly-based Commission to deal with the Derry area. I recall asking him to do that precise thing on 31st October last. I was told by the then Minister of Development that this was a job for the local authorities concerned and he was satisfied they would carry it out. About a fortnight afterwards the Prime Minister was boasting about the great Commission he was going to set up.
This shows quite clearly that the Government have a closed mind to ideas expressed from this side of the House. This has been evident time after time, but I hope on this occasion the Prime Minister will take seriously my suggestion about a Minister of State with the specific charge of dealing with local government. Boundaries must be fairly drawn without regard to political considerations of any kind, and should not be tied to any county or other boundaries where practical considerations might otherwise indicate. The Government should give a firm undertaking that at the same time as the scheme is introduced there will be the introduction of votes for all citizens without any restrictive qualification.
If the Government are prepared to accept these propositions, we for our part would be happy to see this work carried out by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Mr. O’Neill) who, although he is what I would call a classical Tory in many ways, is a person of honesty and integrity and with a deep sense of justice. Such a course should receive support from the majority of hon. Members in all parts of this House. Some years ago the Prime Minister said Ulster was standing at the crossroads. He repeated that remark more recently. I conclude by saying: We have been standing at the crossroads far too long. Let us as a Parliament and a people move into a more enlightened future.
Mr. F.V. Simpson: Hear, hear.

The above extract from the published record of the debate was sent by a brother of the late T.W. Boyd, Samuel H. Boyd, who now lives in Cwmbran, who has also provided the following ‘Postscript’:

“As we watch the tortuous slow-moving pace of the Peace process negotiations and the posturing of current Northern Ireland politicians as they duck and weave to avoid committing themselves to realistic and meaningful compromises, …we can judge from his Stormont speech reprinted above what his comments might be…
My own are summarised in a shortened version of my letter published in The Belfast Telegraph in December, 1995:

“In the euphoric aftermath of Clinton’s visit and the dubious parading of constitutionalist credentials by certain unionist and nationalist politicians, we should all reflect on the genesis of the last 25 years of conflict, and the part they played in stirring up the flames of hatred.
Had they taken note of the advice and warnings in the mid-sixties, by the leader of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, we might not have entered this tortuous cul-de-sac of history.
His representations to Prime Ministers Terence O’Neill and Harold Wilson were ignored, the consequences of which here have been so graphically apparent, and should give pause to intransigent leaders, who urgently need to evaluate their stan0ces.”

Published in The Green Dragon No 6, Spring 1998.

Samuel H. Boyd