§ 11.58 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Roland Moyle)
I beg to move,That the Social Security and Family Allowances (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 427), a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd March, be approved.The Order maintains the principle that there should be exact parity between cash social services in Northern Ireland and those in Great Britain. It was made under the "urgent" procedure without a draft having been approved in order to enable the necessary administrative arrangements to proceed step by step with those in Great Britain. These arrangements not only have social security implications for the Department of Health and Social Security but also involve the Inland Revenue in contribution collection procedures which will become operative from the beginning of the next financial year on 6th April.
I now turn to an explanation of the Order. As the House knows, we have power to alter the present school leaving dates, and certain implications arise if those powers are implemented. For example, Article 3(1) relates to the social security scheme. It amends the Social Security (Northern Ireland) Act 1975 to secure that the earliest date from which anyone can be liable for social security contributions will be his sixteenth birthday rather than his school leaving date, and if he stays beyond his school leaving birthday he will not pay contributions until he leaves school.
Article 3 (2) deals with injury benefits. On the coming into operation of the main provisions of the Child Benefit (Northern Ireland) Order, the qualifying age for injury benefit will become the age of 16. Until then the existing arrangement under which industial injury benefit is not normally payable in respect of a person for whom family allowances are payable is maintained. This article enacts for Northern Ireland the provisions relating to family allowances and social security which are enacted for the rest of the United Kingdom by the Education (School Leaving Dates) Act 1976.
1752 I turn now to Article 4. At present, in order to establish his right to benefit a person out of work due to a strike must prove, first, that he is not participating in, financing or directly interested in the dispute, and, secondly, that he does not belong to a grade or class of workers any of whom are participating in or financing or directly interested in the dispute. Article 4 modifies these requirements by restricting the first to a requirement to prove that he is not participating in or directly interested in the dispute. Thus the financing part is eliminated. The second thing a person had to prove is wholly removed. These repeals have already been enacted for the rest of the United Kingdom by the Employment Protection Act 1975, although they are not yet operative.
The provisions of Article 5 are necessary because payment of family allowances is related to school leaving dates. The powers in that article enable awards of these allowances and related child dependency benefit to remain in payment up to a date roughly coinciding with the end of the summer term in 1976 as at present. Young people will continue to count as children for family allowances and dependency purposes up to their sixteenth birthday at least. Article 6 is supplementary.
I trust that this brief explanation will give the House an adequate outline of the provisions of the Order.
§ 12.2 a.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
The House is grateful to the Minister for being brief and helpful. The Opposition in general support measures to bring the law of Northern Ireland into line with that of the rest of the United Kingdom, and we consequently welcome this measure providing for exact parity.
I shall detain the House with only one question on Article 4. The Minister of State said something about the article, which amends part of the Social Security (Northern Ireland) Act 1975. What precisely is mean by "financing a strike"? Is the reference specifically to strike funds, or is there a wider meaning?
§ 12.3 a.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
The Explanatory Note makes the point that the Order amends the 1753 Social Security (Northern Ireland) Act 1975 and repeals in part provisions of that Act and of the Supplementary Benefits &c. Act (Northern Ireland) 1966. The Minister of State has confirmed these points. I notice that the schedule lists a number of additional repeals. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us what variations remain, assuming that we pass the Order, between the two parts of the United Kingdom in the sector of government to which the Order refers.
Are we engaged in something of a tidying-up operation, bringing legislation into line to make for smoother practice, with a greater degree of inclusion of Northern Ireland in United Kingdom Bills? That would be much more desirable and vastly preferable to the rather nonsensical procedure which we have experienced in the past four years of producing Bills here, taking them through all stages and then a few months later repeating them in Order in Council form for Northern Ireland alone.
This has been quite a day for Northern Ireland Members. It the earlier debate on defence the Government motion referred to the "territorial integrity" of the United Kingdom. The preceding Order was clearly designed to harmonise arrangements for industrial and financial relationships with the rest of the United Kingdom. This Order goes a long way towards harmonising legislation affecting what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) might permit me to call our Six Counties of the United Kingdom. As such we welcome it.
§ 12.7 a.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) in his reference to the procedures for Northern Ireland legislation. The removal of the words in the Social Security (Northern Ireland) Act would not have been necessary if the Act passed for the rest of the United Kingdom had been extended to cover Northern Ireland. In that event Northern Ireland Members would have had a greater incentive to take part in the arguments on that Act on the Floor of the House. When Bills are not extended to cover Northern Ireland, we are placed in a difficult position. We may have the freedom to 1754 speak but we do not feel morally free to do so.
Article 3(2) of the Order refers to children not having attained the compulsory school leaving age. What would happen if a child under 16 years was injured while doing a part-time jot)—say, delivering newspapers or picking potatoes on a farm? What is the possibility of the child receiving injury benefit? Or is only family allowance benefit paid? What is the legal obligation on an employer at that time? How does the employer insure such children? Are they covered by the normal terms of his insurance? Did I understand the Minister to say that a child or a young person aged betwen 16 and 19 would formerly have received family allowance only if he had been injured at work?
§ Mr. Moyle
I can tell the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) that if someone was paying a contribution to a trade union which was involved in a dispute, and if he was also the class of worker involved in the dispute, he might be regarded as helping to finance the dispute. Therefore, that possibility is now being removed so that someone who is not really involved in the dispute, although he may be paying a contribution to a trade union which is paying strike pay to those on strike, and if he is of the same class as those on strike, we will under the Order be able for the first time to obtain unemployment benefit.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) raised a point that we have discussed on one or two occasions during debates on Northern Ireland legislation, and the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) also mentioned it—that is, our attitude towards legislation in this House relating to Northern Ireland. We often have a Bill passed in the House relating to the island of Great Britain which specifically excludes Northern Ireland. Therefore, Northern Ireland Members do no feel that they can contribute to the debate. Then, at some subsequent stage, legislation of this sort is introduced applying exactly the same measures to Northern Ireland as have been applied to the island of Great Britain.
Our approach to this matter is basically that we are trying to maintain the integrity of the Northern Ireland statute 1755 book. Under previous constitutional legislation relating to Northern Ireland, a number of subjects have been reserved for legislation by a legislative body situated in Northern Ireland. I do not think we can say in this House, despite the collapse of the Convention, that a situation of that sort will never exist again. If it exists in the future and there is devolved government with a legislative body in Northern Ireland, we feel that its statute book ought to be a whole thing relating to Northern Ireland. It is for that reason that we adopt the principle of parallel legislation.
However, our approach is empirical, and if from time to time we find that it is not possible to legislate for Northern Ireland in this way, with some regret we attach Northern Ireland legislation to a general United Kingdom of Great Britain Bill.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will also recognise that even in the hypothetical event of a resumed legislature in Northern Ireland it would, without a great deal of inconvenience, be able to legislate by reference to United Kingdom statutes, just as in United Kingdom statutes we are having to legislate with reference to Northern Ireland legislation. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's introduction of the notion of empiricism. I would only say that the background against which that empiricism falls to be applied will gradually alter.
§ Mr. Moyle
The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view. I think that I have explained the Government's view on this matter. It is a matter for judgment as to where the greatest convenience or inconvenience lies. We have taken the point of view which I have just put forward. That is the explanation, and we have discussed this matter on one or two occasions previously.
My final point is about children under the age of 16 who are injured in the course of a part-time job. Under the new scheme such a person will be ineligible for injury benefit. Whether he has any remedy against his employer in those circumstances depends very much, I imagine, on legal procedures and who exactly was the cause of the industrial injury, whether or 1756 not there was any contributory negligence on the part of the employee.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Social Security and Family Allowances (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 427), a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd March, be approved.