HC Deb 16 April 1973 vol 855 cc133-54


Captain Orr

I beg to move manuscript Amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 6, leave out "78" and insert "100".

The Chairman

With this amendment we are to take manuscript Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 6, leave out "78" and insert "81", and manuscript Amendment No. 29, in the schedule, page 5, after 'Fermanagh and South Tyrone', leave out "5" and insert "6".

Captain Orr

The object of Amendment No. 3 and the others is to determine in the first instance the thinking of the Secretary of State about the size of the Assembly. I do not wish to say very much at this stage, as we want to expedite the Committee proceedings. I should like simply to ask my right hon. Friend why he has chosen to select the number 78. It appears on the surface, and in the light of the arguments which we may have upon the schedule, to have been arbitrarily selected. It appears to have carried with it the result of making a certain inequitable division between the various constituencies.

The Unionist Party, which I represent, put forward in its suggestions at Darlington the number 100 as a reasonable size for the Assembly. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us why he did not consider 100 to be the right size and why he thinks that 78 is right.

In the light of what my right hon. Friend may say later, perhaps we can return to this subject a little later on.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I have tabled Amendment No. 4, to leave out "78" and insert "81". I feel that the Committee should give serious consideration to the Government's plans for the breakup of these 12 constituencies. It was evident on Second Reading that hon. Members are not aware of the way that these constituencies were broken up. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), the Opposition spokesman, said it would be too radical at this late stage to try to have the same number of voters for the return of the same number of Members to the Assembly. In view of the facts of the situation, that is not so.

By a simple consideration of the constituencies, one will find that there should be three alterations in the number of seats given in the Assembly for each of these constituencies. It is proposed that each constituency shall have six Members. One of these constituencies, West Belfast, has an electorate of 71,192. That means that in that constituency the number of electors per seat would be the lowest in the whole of Northern Ireland —11,865—and the average ratio would be 5.3. In other Northern Ireland constituencies, when the allocation of seats comes below the halfway mark—when it is 5.4 or 5.3—usually only five seats are allocated, but in the case I have mentioned there are to be six seats.

In Fermanagh and South Tyrone—I am sorry, that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus) is not now present with us— the ratio is the same, 5.3, but only five seats are allocated. I therefore propose that one seat should be added to Fermanagh and South Tyrone. As it is, 11,865 voters can return a Member in West Belfast, whereas it takes 13,917 in Fermanagh. That is clearly not fair. No radical change is needed. I am keeping to the plan that the Government themselves have devised. If the Government are to be consistent, let them be consistent, and keep to the results of their own homework.

In Antrim, North and Antrim, South there are 100,032 voters, which gives a ratio of 7.6, but, strange to relate, instead of making that an eight-seat constituency, it has been reduced to seven. The whole of Antrim is always looked upon as strong Unionist territory, and it seems that where there is strong Unionist territory the number of seats is reduced. In my constituency this is actually not true. In others ways of voting, Antrim, North always return Unionist candidates. Here I use the word "Unionist" in the broadest possible sense. I do not just mean official Unionists, because there have been other brands of Unionist and other phrases of Unionsim there. Antrim has a most interesting electoral history which repays study. Nevertheless, there is a considerable Republican element, as, for instance, in Ballycastle. I do not say that all the people in Ballycastle are Republican—many would say they are Nationalists. There is also the whole of the Glens area.

If the House were consistent it would say "Irrespective of who may be returned, we will be absolutely fair, and we are prepared to relate the number of seats as near as possible to the allocation of Members." My constituency should be an eight-member constituency. It is quite possible that this tells against my own political thinking, but that consideration should not come into the situation tonight.

We should be absolutely fair, because Westminster is saying to Northern Ireland" We do not think that Stormont was fair. We think that there was something suspicious about it." That assertion could be made and could be rebutted, but if this Parliament is reading an ethical lecture it should have its hands absolutely clean. On this issue, those hands are not absolutely clean. The Northern Ireland people know that North Antrim, a large constituency, should on the Government's own figures have more representation, and I contend that a second seat should be added, bringing the total up to eight.

Antrim South, with an electorate of 115,152 is the largest constituency in Northern Ireland, and probably the largest in the whole of the United Kingdom. There is a ratio of 8.7. But what happens? It is made an eight-seat constituency, whereas there should be nine seats. West Belfast is a Republican area and returns a Republican to this House. Only 11,865 votes are needed to return that candidate, but if a person happens to live in the area of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), 14,394 votes are needed. By adding three seats justice can be seen to be done in the allocation of these seats. I know that the hon. and gallant [...] mber[...] for Down, South (Captain Orr) [...]argue[...] that there should be 100 seats, [...]am[...] not arguing that case tonight.

We are in Committee, but I have a feeling that no amendments will be accepted. I do not know whether that is true, and I hope that it is not. Perhaps some of the more able Members of the Committee can tell me how a Bill can be taken and finished without a Report stage. I appreciate that it is only possible to have a Report stage if there are amendments in Committee. I hope that we are not carrying out a charade.

I make a plea on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland that are under-represented and are not properly represented. We are not arguing about gerrymandering. On one occasion I sat in the gallery of this House when boundaries were being discussed. One side said that the other side was gerrymandering. That allegation was denied. I listened to the election results in Southern Ireland. I was glad to hear them at each other's throats, each side alleging gerrymandering.

I am not saying that the seats to which I referred have been gerrymandered. I am saying that in all fairness to the electorate three seats should be added. That is my simple proposition.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I shall confine my remarks to Amendment No. 29, concerning the representation proportions for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The hour is not late, and the House responded to the Government's appeal to act with dispatch during Second Reading. Therefore, it is the more surprising that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus), who is supposed to represent Fermanagh and South Tyrone in this House, although he made a speech during the Second Reading debate has disappeared when his constituency comes under review in Committee.

It is not necessary for me to say much, because the matter was ventilated during the Second Reading debate. The Committee has heard some cogent words from my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I understand that the Secretary of State has received a communication from Fermanagh County Council, which held a meeting on 13th April and requested that the representation of Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the proposed Assembly should be increased from five representatives.

The county council in its representation said: Note the great number of local government functions being transferred to centralised administration, the reduction in control by elected representatives at local government level and the resultant need for more elected representatives in the Assembly. It referred to what it termed: the unfair proportion of five elected representatives for such a large geographical area and the unfair population ratio of electorate for each representative. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) was right, in the Second Reading debate, to say that if we are to make an adjustment in favour of Fermanagh and South Tyrone it will involve other adjustments.

Although it is true that 13,518 electors in Fermanagh and South Tyrone will account for one seat in the Assembly, there are three constituencies in worse plight—Antrim, North, Antrim, South, and Belfast, East. It is also the case, as I suggested in an intervention in the Second Reading debate, that there is a general under-representation west of the Bann, where there is one-third of the population of the Province but less than one-third of the representation. I freely admit that Fermanagh and South Tyrone is not the only hard case, but there is justification for adjustment of the representation proposed, and I ask my right hon. Friend to take this into account.

Mr. McMaster

Although Belfast, East has an electorate of almost 81,000, we have been allocated six seats—the same number as Belfast, West, which has an electorate of 71,000. This means that 10,000 more electors in Belfast, East are not represented. So that no charge of gerrymandering can lie against the Government, they should consider whether their magic figure of 78 seats is correct.

Other areas have been mentioned, particularly Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where the number of electors is exactly the same as that in Belfast, West. Yet the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone is to have one fewer representative than Belfast, West. That is an outrageous example. Apparently without logical reason, the same applies to Antrim, North. Other constituencies are in much the same plight, in that constituencies with the same number of voters have different numbers of representatives in the Assembly. I therefore support the amend- ment and ask the Government to look again at the number of representatives.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I wish to raise only one point. In doing so, I must say that I do not believe that the Secretary of State could have got the right figure for an Assembly such as this without the aid of a Boundary Commission and much more deep-seated thought than has been possible. I could not be a party to any argument for there being 79, 81 or 100 seats. On the other hand, as the right hon. Gentleman well understands, neither could I be a party to saying—he himself is not—that the figure of 78 is absolutely right. There is no real criterion by which it could be measured.

In my view, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to substantiate his figure on a much more objective basis after the election if there is a Boundary Commission, which would take a long time to consider and report and would inquire into population figures and movements in depth.

Earlier, I referred to a question put to me today by the Alliance Party. It asked why the Secretary of State used the 1972 figures rather than the 1973 figures—although I must admit that I do not know whether it would be possible to use 1973 figures in the middle of 1973. There has been a considerable movement of population, and some of the argument used in this discussion has been based on population. It is only on that one point that I wish to intervene.

Mr. Molyneaux

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has made an unanswerable case for an increase in the two County Antrim constituencies. I agree that both should have an extra seat on the new Assembly. Both have rapidly expanding populations, and it is evident that in a short time the already large quota per Member will be increased, to such an extent that the representation pattern will become completely distorted.

I also strongly support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and others that an extra seat should be given to Fermanagh and South Tyrone. My hon. Friend made a convincing case with which I heartily agree.

I support the amendment.

Mr. Whitelaw

I will deal first with the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) because it is somewhat different from the others. He asked "Why 78?". The White Paper said that the figure for the new Assembly should be about 80, and we set about fixing the figures on the basis of what the White Paper said.

The number chosen is not immutable. It may be thought right, with the benefit of experience, to change the size of the Assembly. Although the size is fixed for the first Assembly, there is no reason why a decision should not be made later that there is a better figure.

We set about trying to find the best and fairest balance between the areas on the basis of the figure of about 80 stated in the White Paper. We followed that by doing what we said we would do, which was to base the numbers on the Westminster constituencies. We thought that that was the fairest basis. We in no way claim that what we are doing is comparable to the efficient job that would be undertaken by a Boundary Commission in normal circumstances. Such a claim would be absurd. A Boundary Commission, taking its time, would look at all the figures, consider the whole basis, and make recommendations.

To have elections quickly we have inevitably to do a much more rough and ready job than would be done by a Boundary Commission. We set out, on the basis of the Westminster constituencies and on the principle of about 80 for the Assembly, to devise the fairest basis we could, consistent with another factor, which I mentioned in my speech on Second Reading. That factor was that on the proportional representation single transferable vote system we believed it right not to go above a maximum of eight members for any one constituency, because of the size of the ballot paper that that might produce, nor to go below a minimum of four, because we believed that that would reduce the value of the proportional representation system.

We cannot claim that we did anything like the job that could be done by a Boundary Commission taking a considerable time over it. Here I should make [...] ear[...] to the hon. Member for Leeds, [...] (Mr. Merlyn Rees) that we used the 1973 register. That register reflects 1972 figures, but it was the only register available to us.

I come to the points raised by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), who asked why we proceeded on those figures. We examined all the possible permutations around the 80 mark. I looked into them myself with the greatest possible care to ensure that as far as possible we achieved the fairest balance consistent with having not more than eight Members in any one seat or fewer than four.

No one can suggest, whatever they may think about my election interests in other parts of the United Kingdom, that I could conceivably have been anything other than totally impartial in looking at the position in Northern Ireland. Having looked at these figures with the utmost care, I have come to the conclusion that this is the fairest basis we could manage.

On a straight figure basis there would be an argument—if we went to 81—for the case which my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has argued. That would offend the principle, which we believe to be right, of not having more than eight Members for any constituency. Equally on that basis it would be quite possible for North Antrim to go to eight. It would not necessarily mean that Fermanagh and South Tyrone would go above five. Then we come to the question of the East Belfast seats. We looked at the figures as best we could and we believed that on balance it was fairest that the Belfast constituency should have the same number of seats. This was on the basis of trying to be as fair to everyone as we could, recognising all the difficulties involved in the numbers in the schedule.

No doubt a Boundary Commission would have taken longer and would have come out with a different answer. I hope that I have said enough to convince the Committee that we have tried to the best of our ability. I personally have taken great care with this task of seeking to devise the fairest possible basis, consistent with the figures. With that in mind, I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will feel satisfied and will not press the amendment. We do not rule out the possibility that the number of seats in the Assembly can be changed.

Captain Orr

I wonder, Sir Stephen, whether you would be kind enough to let me know whether you intend to call Amendment No. 4 for a Division if Amendment No. 3 is withdrawn.

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Stephen McAdden)

Amendment No. 4 is not selected for a Division.

Captain Orr

In that case, to establish the principle—and in spite of what my right hon. Friend has said—we shall have to press this amendment. I must tell the Committee that I would prefer the amendment of the hon. Member for Antrim. North (Rev. Ian Paisley).

The Temporary Chairman

If there is a preference in this matter the Chair would not seek to obstruct the hon. and gallant Gentleman's intention. If he wishes to divide on Amendment No. 4 instead of No. 3 and Amendment No. 3 is withdrawn, a vote on Amendment No. 4 is perfectly permissible.

Captain Orr

I am grateful, Sir Stephen, because in the light of the argument that is what we would prefer to do. I concede that the Secretary of State had a difficult job, having set himself two principles. I do not see how, within those principles, he could have produced anything different. However, I do not concede the two principles. I do not concede the principle of limiting the Assembly to 80 Members. I accept the fact that the House of Commons approved the White Paper and therefore he was faced with that figure.

Mr. Whitelaw

As my hon. and gallant Friend is now arguing on Amendment No. 4 I do not think that he or anyone else will imagine that striking a fair balance would be any easier with 100 Members rather than 78.

Captain Orr

I certainly concede that. The other principle which my right hon. Friend has enunciated is that of not having more than eight members in a con- stituency because of the difficulties which this would produce in the proportional representation system.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

The Secretary of State has got himself into these difficulties by adopting a very archaic electoral system. A truly proportional representation system would not have these constituencies; it would be the whole of Northern Ireland.

9.15 p.m.

Captain Orr

I understand that. The hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment on which we can discuss that matter.

My point is that the limit of eight pet constituency is arbitrary and is based on the assumption that we in this Committee shall not make any amendment to the proposal to introduce election by STV. I should hope that we would make changes in that respect.

The arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) about Fermanagh and South Tyrone and by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) are persuasive. Despite what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, I prefer to withdraw my amendment and hope that the hon. Member for Antrim, North will press his amendment to a Division.

Rev. Ian Paisley rose——

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I should explain that the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has expressed his desire to seek leave to withdraw his amendment in order that we may have a vote on Amendment No. 4. If the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) insists on speaking, he will prevent the amendment of the hon. and gallant Member from being withdrawn. It makes the matter a little complicated. Is it your pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 4, in page 1, line 6, leave out "78" and insert "81".—[Rev. Ian Paisley.]

Question put, That the amendment be made: —

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. English

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 7, leave out subsection (2).

The Temporary Chairman

With this amendment it will be convenient to take the following: Amendment No. 10, in Clause 2, page 2, line 12, leave out subsection (3) and insert: '(3) Voting in the poll shall be by proportional representation on a list system, that is to say—

  1. (a)each elector may vote for one political party and that party's candidates shall be elected in proportion to the votes it receives;
  2. (b)each elector may also vote for one person on the list of candidates of a political party for which he has voted in that poll;
  3. (c)to such extent as a party is entitled under paragraph (a) of this subsection to have its candidate elected, the candidates of that party shall be elected in order according to the votes cast for them personally, beginning with the candidate with the highest number of such votes'.

Amendment No. 11, in page 2, line 12, leave out subsection (3).

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 88.

Division No. 107.] AYES [9.20 p.m.
Biggs-Davison, John Maginnis, John E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Kilfedder, James Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Mr. James Molyneaux and
McMaster, Stanley Rev Ian Paisley.
Atkins, Humphrey Hornsby-Smith.Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Batsford, Brian Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Benyon, W James, David Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Biffen, John Johnston Russell (Inverness) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Jopling, Michael Scott, Nicholas
Bray, Ronald King, Tom (Bridgwater) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b gh & Whitby)
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Kinsey, J R. Shelton, William (Clapham)
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Kirk, Peter Shersby, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Knox, David Simeons, Charles
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Le Marchant, Spencer Soref, Harold
Clegg, Walter MacArthur, Ian Speed, Keith
Cockeram, Eric Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Spence, John
Corrnack, Patrick Maddan, Martin Stainton, Keith
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Marten, Neil Stanbrook, Ivor
Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas Mawby, Ray Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Drayson, G. B. Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Dykes, Hugh Mills, Peter (Torrington) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne.N.) Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Eyre, Reginald Moate, Roger Tugendhat, Christopher
Fietcher-Cooke, Charles Monks, Mrs. Connie Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Fookes, Miss Janet Monro, Hector Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Fortescue, Tim Murton, Oscar Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Fowler, Norman Nabarro, Sir Gerald ward Dame Irene
Goodhew, Victor Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Weatherill, Bernard
Gower, Raymond Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Grant, Anthony (Harrow. C.) Peel, Sir John Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Green, Alan Percival, Ian
Grylls, Michael Price, David (Eastleigh) TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Mr.Marcus Fox and
Haselhurst, Alan Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Mr. Hamish Gray
Hawkins, Paul Raison, Timothy

Amendment No. 12, in page 2, line 27, leave out from 'votes' to end of subsection (4) and insert: 'cast for him personally exceeds one quartet of the votes cast for the candidate elected by the fewest personal votes'.

Amendment No. 14, in page 2, line 34, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 38, leave out 'and transferring'.

Amendment No. 30, in page 5, leave out the Schedule.

Mr. English

The effect of Amendment No. 5 would be to solve all the problems we have just been discussing, because it knocks out all the constituencies in Northern Ireland with the object of making the whole of Northern Ireland a single constituency. It is consequential upon Amendment No. 10, as are all the other amendments in this group.

Like most hon. Members, I am wholly in favour of the system of election we have in the United Kingdom for the United Kingdom because it creates a two-party system in which the electorate has a right that it does not have under proportional representation. It can choose which Government it likes. It can choose to re-elect the party in power or it can choose the Opposition. For the United Kingdom that works well, but I have never thought that it worked well in individual areas, because individual areas may be one-party areas. In Northern Ireland, for historic reasons, that has come to pass.

To change the British system of election for the single transferable vote system seems to be going from the frying pan into the fire. In some senses, STV is a little more proportional than is the British electoral system, but let us for a moment consider its history. It was invented in the 1850s by two Liberals who were not even radicals in their day, a Dane and an Englishman.

9.30 p.m.

When I refer to the 1850s, I am talking of a period when democracy in Europe did not exist; it did not even exist in this country. We had just experienced the 1832 Reform Act, under which the electorate went up from about 4 per cent. of the population to 6 per cent., if my memory serves me aright. There was yet to be enacted the Reform Acts of the 1860s which were the cause of the foundation of political parties. There were no political parties in our modern sense. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Conservative and Unionist Association was founded after the 1867 extension of the franchise. Even that extension of the franchise in England, Scotland and Ireland did not bring democracy. If we define "democracy" merely as a majority of the male population being able to vote, we did not get that in the United Kingdom until the middle of the 1880s.

We are talking about an electoral system that was invented at a time when nobody in Europe had any experience of democracy at all. That is why it was invented. Democracy existed in one part of the world, namely, the United States. In the 1850s the United States was not regarded as we now regard it. It was thought of as a vulgar, conformist, rather ignorant society by Europeans—a country in which there seemed to be a strange domination by those strange, unEuropean things called political parties.

That is the system which we are introducing into Northern Ireland today—a system which was deliberately invented to reduce the power of political parties. It was invented in a period and by people with no experience of democracy. I regard the situation as a little sad, because it is one of the least popular systems of elections in the world. It is used in Ireland, but in no other sovereign State of which I am aware is it solely used. In Australia it is used for one House—the Upper House, not the one on which the Government depends. It has been used in Tasmania and in some other odd places like that, but it is the least popular electoral system in the world that we are proposing to introduce. There has to be good reason for that.

Let us consider the alternative which I am seeking to put forward in its place —the alternative of a far from unpopular electoral system. In fact, it is the commonest in Europe, in one form or another. It was adopted in Belgium in 1899, a half century after this extraordinary single transferable vote system. It is interesting to consider the circumstances in which it was introduced in Belgium. Belgium at the time had a communal problem, with a deep division between the Catholic Party and a Liberal Party which, like most European Liberal Parties, was to some extent anti-clerical. In this case one party was based on the Walloons and the other on the Flemings. This system was introduced to be totally fair. It is used in countries like the Netherlands and Belgium, where there is a division of religious opinion just as there is in Northern Ireland. Its object it to be totally fair, by party, to the political views of the electors.

In the variation which I have used I have given the electors the right to choose the candidates of their party who, to them, are the most preferable. In its basis it is just the opposite to the STV system, which is deliberately designed to encourage individual personalities at the expense of political parties.

A person has every chance of being elected under the STV system if he is an Independent Unionist, an Independent Paisleyite, an Independent Devlinite or anything else. It is designed to encourage the destruction of political parties, which is no doubt precisely why in Southern Ireland one Government proposed to abolish it and why in Southern Ireland it has been intentionally restricted, in a way that I shall describe in a moment, to produce a three-party system as far as possible.

Once a true proportional representation system on a list system was introduced in Belgium in 1899, it spread over most of Europe. It spread to Scandinavia. After the First World War it spread to most of the countries of Central Europe. It is one of the most popular electoral systems in the world and, in that respect, quite unlike STV.

I have described the difference in the abstract between the two systems. I want briefly to repeat what I said of the results of an STV system in Southern Ireland. I can only presume that the Secretary of State has adopted this archaic, undemocratic system, which is basically what it was intended to be, because it is the system which exists in the Republic of Ireland. I cannot think of any other reason for anyone doing it.

Let us just consider what I said in the debate on the White Paper. What happened in the 1969 election, as distinct from the last election in the Republic? In terms of the first preference of the electors the Fianna Fail vote went up between 1969 and this year, yet the party lost and ceased to be the Government. In 1969, combining the first preference votes of Fine Gael and Labour, they had more than 50 per cent., yet they lost. This time they had less than 50 per cent., but they won, formed the Government and have an absolute majority in the Dail.

That can happen under the British system of election. It happened in Britain in 1951 when the Labour vote was slightly ahead of the Conservative vote and Labour still lost the election. I am prepared to tolerate that under the British system of election because it has other advantages which proportional representational systems do not have. No electoral system is perfect, and one mistaken result can be tolerated in a system like the British one which does not pretend to be a proportional representation system.

If it is intended to go all over Ireland saying "We are introducing proportional representation into Northern Ireland" and any result flows like that which flowed in the South of Ireland, we shall increase what is called the credibility gap between politicians and the electorate. In the present circumstances in Northern Ireland surely it is important above all to produce as exact a reflection as possible of the views of the electorate.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will say that there is a modest but effective difference between the STV as it is used in the South of Ireland and the way in which he proposes to use it. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on not introducing it exactly in the form in which it is in the South of Ireland. In the South of Ireland the bulk of constituencies have either three or four Members, and the fewer the Members the more distorted and the less proportional the system becomes. In most constituencies in the Republic, barring two, a candidate needs between 16 and 20 per cent. of the votes to get elected.

By increasing the number of Members per constituency the Secretary of State has made the system better in Northern Ireland but far from perfect. In the majority of constituencies candidates will have to get between 12½ and 14 per cent. of the votes in order to get elected. In South Antrim 11 per cent. would get a candidate elected, but that is balanced out by Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where 16 per cent. of the votes would be needed to get a candidate elected.

Let us take the general case. Between 12½ per cent. and 14 per cent. of the votes will be needed for candidates to be elected in most constituencies in Northern Ireland. I sometimes wonder whether this is what the argument over Sinn Fein is all about. It is possible that even in Catholic areas it may not get a percentage anything like that. Therefore, it may be to the advantage of extremist minorities to say, "I am not standing, because under this Act or the Emergency Powers Act, or for some other reason, I cannot stand", whereas the truth is that they do not want to stand and be shown up for having the small support they have when there is no possibility of being elected even if they have substantial support.

With a list system and, say, 80 seats— it could be 100 or any other number— anybody who got slightly more than one-eighty-first—in other words, about 1 per cent. of the vote—would be likely to get elected. The small minorities could be represented, if that was wished. Apart from the extremists on one side or the other, there are small minorities in Northern Ireland, some of which deserve to be represented. For example, there are Catholic Unionists, and we know from recent events that there are Protestant as well as Catholic IRA men. Small fractional groups could be represented with a proportional representation system, but they would never be represented under an STV system.

I should like to put two points to the Secretary of State. Earlier today, in a Select Committee upstairs, I was cross-questioning the Head of the Civil Service. I asked him whether he felt that the Civil Service was often very good at dealing with conventional wisdom but less good at producing new ideas for unconventional situations. His answer, which was given in public, will surprise hon. Members because it was not a rebuttal of the statement in the question.

I wonder whether what has happened here is that everybody has looked at the nearest available place, the South of Ireland, and said, "Let us have that", and not thought about the possible results. Because of those possible results I should like to put another point to the Secretary of State. I hope that some result which we can all build upon will flow from the elections. I will not press the right hon. Gentleman too hard on this amendment because he has agreed that these elections should be held early and has produced the Bill separately. Like most hon. Members on this side of the House, I am grateful for that. If he had not done so, I should have pressed him much harder on the amendment, because he would have had more time to change the system. In the circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman is probably bound to say that he cannot change the system that he has adopted, even if he had been totally converted to the idea that it was bad. But if, as I fear rather than hope, it turns out to produce the kind of mess that this system can produce, I hope that for any subsequent election he will give me the assurance not merely that it can be changed—we know that is true; this Bill is for one election—but that he will start somebody in his office on the job of considering what would happen under a proportional representation list system and how that could be introduced if the STV system turned out to be bad and messy, and needed to be changed.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am sorry that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friends and myself has not been selected separately so that the Committee would have a chance of dividing upon it. I realise the futility of trying to persuade the Government to abandon the system of proportional representation as set out in the Bill, but I feel that we Unionist Members from Northern Ireland, and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) ought to put on record our views about it and our deep desire to maintain the British electoral system in Northern Ireland. I want to see all the British laws, except one— and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) is not present —established in Northern Ireland. The one exception is the Industrial Relations Act in its present form.

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 stipulated that proportional representation might be dropped after three years, and such a move did not have to be approved by this Parliament. That was written into the legislation which went through the House. Proportional representation was abandoned in time for the local elections of 1924 and for the General Election of 1929.

It is worth recalling what was said during the Report stage of the Government of Ireland Bill. There was a short reference to proportional representation, and it was obvious that several Members —Liberals as well as Conservatives— were not all that anxious about its establishment in Northern Ireland. Sir L. Worthington-Evans proposed an amendment that proportional representation in Northern Ireland ought to be extended for from three years to six years, and said: I frankly say I shall take the view of the House upon the question, and if the House think three years ought to remain, or if they prefer six, I shall be guided by their wish. Captain Craig, who later became Lord Craigavon and whose name was given to a new town in County Armagh said: This proportional representation system was forced upon Ireland against the wishes of every representative of Ireland,"— and he was not challenged on that— I think, with the exception of two, and originally it ought never to have been passed. First of all, it was against the wishes of all the Irish representatives here, and, in the second place, we Irish strongly object to have all these wretched experiments in legislation perpetrated on us. If you think so highly of proportional representation you should begin by imposing it on yourselves. Those words were spoken by Captain Craig in 1920, and 53 years later I can utter them to my right hon. Friend and to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) because I know that the Liberal Party is anxious now, and has been, for some time now, to see proportional representation introduced here, but it will never find any comfort for that idea from the spokesmen of the two major parties in the House. The reason is clear. It is that they do not want a third party. They do not want a stronger Liberal voice in the House.

I listened, as I always do, with great respect to the Secretary of State, but he talked about the need to compromise, the need, even if we do not like their views, to have every element represented in Parliament. But in that case surely my right hon. Friend should push in Cabinet the views which the Liberal Party has been urging without much success, for many years. More than two of its candidates in the GLC elections would have been successful if there had been proportional representation. Captain Craig said in 1920 what we, the representatives here of the majority in Northern Ireland, say today.

It is worth referring to another former Member, perhaps as distinguished as the Front Bench Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland, a namesake of his, Sir J. D. Rees. He said: I should also like to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to leave it at three instead of six, for the reason that the insertion of six will condemn these Irish Parliaments to the system of proportional representation for six years. They are sincerely to be commiserated with on having to put up with it for even three years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1920; Vol. 134, c. 1242, 1243.] When we hear appeals about proportional representation, we should remember what was said then, and that Members refused to extend the system to six years. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) does not heed the words uttered in 1920 by Sir J. D. Rees.

Mr. Russell Johnston

What is the point of quoting these words, which are purely assertions and lack any substance of argument?

Mr. Kilfedder

I have often heard the Leader of the Liberal Party in this House quoting ancient documents, if I may call them that. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is like that."] Yes, he is like that. We are being castigated today because we abolished proportional representation in Northern Ireland, but it was this House that gave us the power to abolish it.

I am trying to emphasise that, even in 1920, when proportional representation was introduced for Northern Ireland, against the wishes, apparently, of all but two of the Irish representatives from the whole of Ireland, this House would not extend its operation from three years to six. That is a valid point to remember when discussing this proposal.

I listened with respect to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). I do not wish to take up his interesting remarks, for which there is a great deal to be said. He said, I believe —I may have noted his remarks incorrectly—that the Government introduced proportional representation because it was the system employed in Eire.

Mr. English

I do not think that I said that that was the reason. I said that I could not think of any other. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what the reason was.

Mr. Kilfedder

I share the view, in any event, that proportional representation has been brought into Northern Ireland to remove a dissimilarity between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, one stepping stone to please the Republican element which has been fighting against the majority, against law and order, and against the establishment. I look upon it as a step towards a united Ireland. For that reason, I find it repugnant. I think that my hon. Friends share that view.

Mr. Lynch tried to get rid of proportional representation in Southern Ireland. He found it most unsatisfactory. I should not like to say too much about Mr. Lynch in this Chamber. One has to remember, however, that the Fianna Fail Party gerrymandered constituencies in the South of Ireland—for instance, South Donegal and Leitrim, which I mentioned in an earlier speech today. The only Unionist there was a Major Sheldon. The Fianna Fail Government deliberately reduced the number of Members for that constituency by one, so that the Protestant people were prevented from having a candidate for the Dail.

Mr. Russell Johnston

I am happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman, in his criticisms of the actions of Fianna Fail, that clearly no gerrymandering was ever undertaken by any Unionist organisation in the North. Jack Lynch tried to get rid of it twice, and twice failed in referenda.

Mr. Kilfedder

I appreciate that Mr. Lynch failed to get rid of PR. I take up two points in the intervention of the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston). First, with regard to Northern Ireland and the allegation of gerrymandering, if that had been so it would have been possible to challenge it in the courts, right up to the highest court of the land. That was not done. As there are astute lawyers among the Nationalists or the Republicans, I can only take the failure to take legal proceedings as evidence that they had nothing on which to base such a case.

With regard to the Irish Republic—

The Chairman

Order. We really cannot go into the Irish Republic. We have quite enough to do in dealing with Ulster.

Mr. Kilfedder

I do not want to go into the Irish Republic, Sir Robert. That is why I am making these remarks. I follow what you say, Sir Robert.

One should look at any country which has proportional representation. That is why I draw the Committee's attention to the Dublin Dail. There the majority is mainly reactionary, although one has exceptions such as Dr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien. But I have another valid objection to proportional representation. It presents grave difficulties for the Members who will represent the constituencies set out in the Bill. We shall have six or seven Members, or eight in one case, representing a separate Westminster constituency in the new Assembly. Under our system of elections, Members are personally identified with their constituencies. I assume that hon. Members on both sides of the House of Commons take pride in their constituency. Our whole basis of democracy is founded upon and dependent upon the relationship of the Member of Parliament and his constituency. Once one gets rid of that personal relationship and introduces six or seven Members representing one constituency, one delivers a serious blow to democratic traditions.

Proportional representation will not produce the marvellous results for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is hoping. It will, I trust, on 28th June produce a clear answer from the people of Northern Ireland that they still support the link with Britain; that they still support—

Mr. McManus

Careful, now.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am speaking here of the Democratic Unionist Party as well as the Unionist Party—

It being Ten O'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.