HC Deb 28 November 1978 vol 959 cc236-362

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

I have to inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the leader of the Liberal Party. Mr. Secretary Mason.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I heard you call my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to open, the debate. This is an important constitutional matter, affecting representation in this House. Normally on these occasions the debate is Opened either by the Home Secretary or the Leader of the House, and either one or the other replies. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is to open the debate on behalf of the Government and that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is to reply. I understand also that at least the Shadow Leader of the House will reply on behalf of the Opposition. I should like your advice on this.

It seems to me that is a House of Commons matter concerning representation in this House and that we should hear from the Leader of the House on it. It is of vital importance to us. Although I cast no aspersions on either of my right hon. Friends who are due to address the House on behalf of the Government, it seems to me in some ways derogatory to the honour and dignity of this House that on platters concerning representation and sitting in it neither the Leader of the House nor the Home Secretary is to speak in the debate.

Mr. Speaker

As I understand it, the convention is that the Government are one and that any Minister speaks on behalf of the whole Government. It is not for the Speaker of this House to tell the Government of the day whom they must put up to speak.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely it is insulting not only to the House but to the people of Northern Ireland that this debate on additional seats for the Province is in the hands merely of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of State. The practice has been for the Leader of the House and/or the Home Secretary to open and to close such a debate.

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) is called to speak, these are matters to which he might refer in the course of his speech. I hasten to add that there is no promise implied there.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not concerned who speaks on this Bill on behalf of the two Front Benches. However, am I right in saying that, this being a constitutional Bill, the entire proceedings will be taken on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Speaker

That will not be decided by me.

Mr. Mellish

Let us hope, then, that we get some assurance about it.

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter that will be decided by the House itself. I have no doubt that if there is a motion, it will be discussed on the Floor of the House.

Mr. McNamara

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. One point arises on your selection of the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member the leader of the Liberal Party. Some Members would object to any increase in the representation. If that amendment were carried and were to be accepted as a principle, such Members might then seek to say that any increase in representation should be on a proportional representation basis. if the amendment is carried, will amendments in Committee and on Report in favour of proportional representation be ruled out?

Mr. Speaker

Rulings on the Commitmittee stage will be made by the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Mr. McNamara

On a further and last point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to raise this matter. However, can you explain the precise status of the explanatory memorandum on the "Effect on Public Service Manpower"? It states that The Bill will have no effect on public service manpower. If the Bill is carried as it is, there will be five extra constituencies. Shall we then have constituencies without returning officers, polling clerks, and so on? What is the effect of the statement that public service manpower will not be affected? Are we to have typically Irish elections?

Mr. Speaker

It is for the hon. Gentleman himself to make that point if he succeeds in catching the eye of whoever happens to be in the Chair.

Mr. McNamara

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I was asking not about that matter, but for a direction on what credence we can place on that statement and how we should approach the explanatory memorandum, because there seems to be a nonsense in that respect.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is directing his question to the wrong person. I never comment on the quality of what is submitted to the House. I have my own views, but I stay alive by keeping them to myself.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise if I have missed something. I assume that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be opening the debate. That raises a problem for me. I should have thought that the Home Secretary was the appropriate Minister, as this is a constitutional measure.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman did miss something. That point has already been dealt with.

Mr. Thorne

Could you bear to repeat the reply that you then gave, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

The truth is that I could not.

4.22 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Roy Mason)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Perhaps I may divert for a moment and tell my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) that the main reason why my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and 1 are dealing with the Bill is that, first, electoral matters in Northern Ireland are my responsibility; the issues in the Bill are predominantly Northern Irish. Secondly, Mr. Speaker's Conference dealt exceptionally with Northern Ireland and with no other part of the United Kingdom. The Boundary Commission will report to me. My job will be to lay the Order in Council before the House. Therefore, as I am primarily involved, I thought that I should take the Bill.

The Bill will not have any effect on public service manpower. After the job has been done and the report has been placed before me and an Order in Council has been laid before the House, it may then have an effect on manpower and we shall be able to determine it at that stage.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I am delighted to see the Secretary of State here. Surely the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) made a good point. This is a matter of great constitutional importance to the House. It is a matter on which it would have been helpful to have heard not only the Secretary of State, but the Leader of the House. This is a point of substance. I think that it is much better to have the substance than the shadow.

Mr. Mason

This is a substantial Northern Ireland matter, and I am the substance for Northern Ireland.

The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the recommendations of the Conference under your chairmanship, Mr. Speaker.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mellish

He has not said"Hello"yet.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the right hon. Gentleman help us about the Committee stage of the Bill? Will it be held on the Floor of the House, or will it be relegated to a Committee from which Northern Ireland Members will be excluded?

Mr. Mason

I do not think that either the hon. Gentleman or his right hon. and hon. Friends will be excluded from participating in the Committee stage. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be wise enough to give Members the opportunities that they are requesting.

Mr. Mellish

It has to be taken on the Floor of the House anyway.

Mr. Mason

The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the recommendations of the Conference under your chairmanship, Mr. Speaker, which reported in February this year. I am grateful for this further opportunity to express the thanks of the House to you, Mr. Speaker, for having presided over that particularly valuable Conference on the affairs of Northern Ireland.

The report of your Conference, Sir, was admirably short and to the point. The Bill seeks to follow that good example. It contains only one substantive clause, which provides that the number of parliamentary constituencies for Northern Ireland should be Not greater than 18 or less than 16 ". It then goes on to give the Boundary Commission a target figure of 17 at which to aim when it draws up the new constituencies.

The remainder of the clause deals with consequential matters. It ensures that the Boundary Commission can use up-to-date electoral registers in its calculations, and it removes an anomaly which would otherwise have arisen in connection with the supplementary report that the Commission is obliged to make whenever it reviews parliamentary constituencies.

The Bill follows as closely as possible the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. The House will recall that the conference decided that there should be 17 parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland. It also decided that the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland should be given a degree of flexibility to overcome any practical difficulties. It recommended therefore that the figure of 17 should be open to variation, subject to a minimum of 16 and a maximum of 18.

These recommendations have great authority. They come to us from a Speaker's Conference, which is the traditional source of advice for Parliament when it is considering changes in electoral law. Moreover, they come from a Speaker's Conference on which the views not only of the national parties but of both political traditions in Northern Ireland were represented. So the views of both communities in the Province were heard and taken into account before the Conference reached its conclusions.

Finally, the Conference's recommendations were very nearly unanimous. Having taken evidence and heard the arguments, it decided by 22 votes to one that 17 seats were the appropriate level of representation for Northern Ireland in this House. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear last April that the Government accepted the recommendations as eminently sensible and fair

But I accept that the Bill is not welcomed by everyone in the House. [HON. MEMBERS:"Hear, hear."] Therefore, I hope the House will find it helpful if I take some time to explain why Mr. Speaker was asked to set up a Conference to review Northern Ireland's level of representation, and why, therefore, we are considering this Bill today.

Northern Ireland's present level of representation was set in 1920. At that time, a devolved Parliament was established in Northern Ireland responsible in both legislative and administrative terms for a wide range of matters. It was then generally accepted that, because of the existence of that devolved Government, Northern Ireland did not need the same level of representation at Westminster as did those other parts of the United Kingdom which did not have a devolved Government. Northern Ireland was allocated 12 seats plus a university seat. If seats had been allotted in proportion to population on the same basis as in Great Britain, Northern Ireland would then have received 17 or 18 seats.

For the next 50 years or more Northern Ireland's under-representation at Westminster was not seriously challenged. It was generally thought fair that Northern Ireland should have a lower representation since so many of its affairs were debate and its laws made in the local Parliament at Stormont, not at Westminster.

But since a devolved Government in Northern Ireland was first established, the importance of central government in the lives of everybody has grown. More and more it is by the central Government at Westminster that the crucial decisions are taken and must continue to be taken —for example, on matters such as taxation, management of the economy and public spending.

Decisions taken centrally on these matters must, inevitably, affect the policies and scope for action of whatever devolved Assemblies may be in existence; and they vitally affect the interests of all citizens of the United Kingdom wherever they live. Given that, in addition, central Government also have sole responsibility for such matters as defence, foreign affairs and international obligations, the need for a broadly similar standard of representation at Westminster for every part of the United Kingdom becomes very strong indeed.

It was, I feel sure, against that background that Mr. Speaker's Conference looked at Northern Ireland's representation and considered whether it was adequate. A quick look at the figures may be instructive. At present each of the Northern Ireland Members of Parliament represent on average some 86,000 electors. That compares with a figure of around 66,000 for England, 57,000 for Wales and approaching 54,000 for Scotland. Furthermore, the largest Northern Ireland constituency contains over 125,000 constituents—almost 25 per cent. more than the largest constituency anywhere in Great Britain. Some of us in this House representing Great Britain seats may shudder at the thought of a constituency that size. My own constituency is more than 10,000 above the average for England. Yet the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) represents nearly 50,000 more electors than I do.

There are three reasons why the representation of Northern Ireland in this House should be increased.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

There There are seven reasons present—on the Unionist Bench. I shall tell the House about them.

Mr. Mason

The first reason, which to my mind is the most compelling, is the simple point of equity. How can it be right that the voices raised and the votes cast in the interests of the Northern Irish people here—where the Government's major policies are exposed to acceptance or rejection—should be muted and minimised as compared with those of the rest of the United Kingdom?

If we believe in fair dos all round, I do not see how we can argue that a British subject who happens to live in Northern Ireland should just for that reason automatically carry less weight in Westminster than his fellow citizens who happen to live somewhere else.

Mr. McNamara

My right hon. Friend has made a most important and very telling point. Perhaps he will also explain to the House why, in the Government's opinion, a British subject who happens to live in England should have less representation in this House than someone who comes from Wales or from Scotland.

Mr. Fitt

That is too complicated.

Mr. Mason

No, it is not. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) wants to jump in very quickly to try to railroad the Secretary of State. The average in England, Wales and Scotland will be very near to the average that we are now allocating for Northern Ireland-17. In fact, if it was based on Scotland, Northern Ireland would probably get 18 or 19 seats. If it was based on England, Northern Ireland would probably get 16 seats. So it is a mean of the averages of the three other provinces of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Mellish

I accept that there are some anomalies in Northern Ireland—and this is only part of the story—but does my right hon. Friend agree that there are also serious anomalies in Wales, in particular, and in England? He cannot just deal with Northern Ireland and say that there are anomalies there.

Mr. Mason

Yes, but England, Scotland and Wales have been generously represented in this House over the past 50 or more years as compared with Northern Ireland. The first point I make is that of equity, fairness, justice and equality. It is right that Northern Ireland should now have its fair representation.

Secondly—and this argument is in some sense an aspect of the first—why should the people of Northern Ireland have their access to their Members of Parliament, and the service they can render them, so much more restricted than is the case anywhere else in the country? On average, each Northern Ireland elector has to share his Member of Parliament with some 86,000 others—over 50 per cent. more than his Scottish counterpart.

No matter how hard the Northern Irish Members work—and I appreciate how conscientious they are—there are just not enough hours in the day to do that massive job as fully as I am sure they would like to do it. We ought no longer to put up with this situation because a Member of Parliament today is not only concerned with debates in this House but also acts as a mediator between his constituents and the Government machine.

That leads to the third reason—the grossly unfair burden placed upon the Members concerned. In view of the kind of service constituents now expect from their Members, it is quite unreasonable to ask anyone to represent a constituency of 100,000 people or more; and all the more so when other Members have half that number.

On this question, one must also recognise the logistic problems of the Northern Ireland Members in carrying out their duties, with their large constituencies and the distances that they have to travel. So I say that fair play is fair play for the Members as well as for the constituents We cannot all have absolutely equal-sized constituencies, but it is only right to remove the worst disparities.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

My right hon. Friend talks about democracy, but he knows as well as I do that in Northern Ireland politics is communal politics rather than the type of politics that we have here. There is there a minority community and a majority community. Is it not a fact that at present the minority community is represented by one of our friends only? There are two—[An HON. MEMBER:"No—Fermanagh] For whatever reason, does not my right hon. Friend accept that the majority community, on a gerrymandered basis, has 10 Members here to our one? What kind of democracy is that?

Mr. Mason

They have been elected in Northern Ireland on the same basis as Members here are elected, although they have much larger constituencies. Of the 12 Members of this House from Northern Ireland, 10 are of the various shades of Unionism and two are anti-Unionists. On the basis of this Bill, there will be 17 seats, and it is possible—

Mr. McNamara

There may be.

Mr. Mason

—once the boundaries have been redrawn, going for an electorate of just over 60,000 per Member, for there to be four or possibly five anti-Unionists out of the 17. Therefore, the minority population in Northern Ireland should be able to get increased representation in the House of Commons. If anyone wants to take time to look at the make-up of the population and examine the breakdown, he will find that that is feasible.

Having said that, I say to my hon. Friend that we are on test, because in two years' time it should be established, and we can see that there is a possibility of an increased number of anti-Unionist Members on the Labour Benches.

Mr. McNamara

Will my right hon. Friend give way on this point?

Mr. Mason

No. I am sorry, but I have been giving way enough, and I must make progress.

Mr. McNamara

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My right hon. Friend has made a fundamental point. Is it in order to ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to ensure that the House has placed before it the documents, papers and workings by which my right hon. Friend arrives at that rather remarkable conclusion?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

It would not be in order to ask the Chair that question. The hon. Gentleman is very ingenious.

Mr. Fitt

My hon. Friend is not as ingenious as the Secretary of State.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Chair takes responsibility for many things, but not for the business of the House.

Mr. Mason

This Bill simply increases the number of constituencies in Northern Ireland. It does not deal with the method of election to be used. The amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party complains about this fact. He is concerned that the scope of the Bill does not allow the House to decide whether proportional representation should be used for the election of Northern Ireland Members. Of course, I understand his concern to get this matter discussed, but I must suggest to him that Parliament's consideration of this Bill is not the right occasion for that discussion

This Bill follows directly from Mr. Speaker's Conference. Mr. Speaker's Conferences traditionally do not give reasons for reaching their conclusions, but, as I read the report of the Conference, it seems clear to me that Mr. Speaker decided that we should be concerned only with the matter referred to in the terms of reference, that is: the number of parliamentary constituencies there should be in Northern Ireland "— nothing to do with the method of election.

I have tried to frame the Bill based solely on Mr. Speaker's Conference. I think that that was the right course. I do not think that this is time to discuss proportional representation, which is a major constitutional issue deserving of quite separate consideration. I know that it has been suggested that the special circumstances in Northern Ireland, which have already been accepted as sufficient reason for the use of proportional representation and the single transferable vote in local and provincial elections in Northern Ireland, as well as in the elections for the European Assembly, would justify its use also for elections to this House. I can understand this point of view, although I do not feel that it would be generally accepted.

I suggest that many people would wish to argue that an election to this House is a very different thing from an election to the European Assembly. The European Members will be returned by a variety of different methods—although for subsequent elections a common system is envisaged which would, incidentally, remove the present difference between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the method of election used. And, when the European Members sit down together, it will he to do a very different job from that of Members of this House.

The Assembly will not be an executive body and there will not be the same need for Members there to be"constituency"Members as they are here. It is not perhaps for me to speculate about the views of other hon. Members, but I imagine that there would be many who, valuing the traditions of this House, would think it very unusual if one method were used for electing some Members of this House and a different method for others.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the terms of reference of Mr. Speaker's Conference were agreed by all the parties in the House before that Conference began work?

Mr. Mason

I cannot confirm in detail what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I imagine that my right hon. Friend the Lord President would have secured acceptance from the parties concerned before Mr. Speaker appended his signature to the terms of reference under which he was to chair the Conference.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that there were in this House Members for university seats, elected by proportional representation? Does he agree that no great harm—in fact, the contrary—accrued to the House as a result of those seats?

Mr. Mason

That is probably one of the reasons why the House decided to get rid of them.

I do not, however, wish to embark on a debate about PR today. This Bill is not about methods of election. Nor does it pretend to be a means of solving Northern Ireland's constitutional problems. It does not represent a change in the direction of the Government's political and constitutional policy in Northern Ireland.

Let me restate briefly what the Government's policy is. We are as convinced as ever that the only way to find a fair and durable solution to Northern Ireland's political problems is to restore to the Province a devolved Government in a form that is acceptable to a majority of the people in both parts of the community. I make that statement without qualification, and I think it is one that the official Opposition would endorse.

For over two years I have been seeking ways of making progress towards the restoration of such a devolved Govern- ment, and I continue to do so. It is no good going about the job with a fanfare of trumpets and in the full spotlight of publicity. That way we encourage extremism and make moderation all the more difficult. I am patiently exploring all possible avenues of advance, and I am seeking to persuade the political parties to come along with me.

I put forward certain ideas a year ago. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the parties held back. That was their decision, but it was no reason for me to give up. I am in no way committed to any particular form of constitutional model, and I have made that clear to the parties.

Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)

In his introduction this afternoon. my right hon. Friend said that lower representation for Northern Ireland had been justified in the past by the existence of devolved government. My hon. Friend now tells us that it is the affirmed policy of the Government to bring about once more an acceptable devolved Government there. Would not that justify lower representation of Northern Ireland here? Could we not tackle that problem, if my right hon. Friend feels that it is so important, before increasing the representation? What will the Government do when they have satisfactory devolution to Northern Ireland? Will they get rid of the seven new Members of Parliament?

Mr. Mason

No, and my hon. Friend must recognise the changes that have taken place—

Mr. McNamara

We have. We are in a minority.

Mr. Mason

Scotland and Wales are being offered devolution and are to maintain their existing parliamentary representation. That highlights the injustice of Northern Ireland having no devolution and lower representation. We are trying to straighten that out.

Mr. McNamara

My right hon. Friend did not say that in September 1976.

Mr. Mason

There are a number of ways in which to approach the task of creating a form of government capable of securing the necessary widespread acceptance in Northern Ireland. I told the House on 9th November that I had already had informal discussions with the leaders of the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Labour Party. Since then I have had a similar informal talk with the leaders of the Official Unionist Party. Arrangements are in hand for me to meet the Democratic Unionist Party. These meetings are being conducted without publicity or artificial deadlines, and I am satisfied that that offers the best hope of making progress.

In these discussions, the Government's aim remains unchanged. The restoration of devolved government, acceptable to the parties who will have to work it and the people who will live under it, remains our goal. We shall go on in pursuit of it. I have no time for those who say"You can never win; cut your losses and abandone your hopes; settle for integration ". That is not the answer today any more than it was in 1920 or in 1973; and it is not what this Bill is about.

Some of my honourable Friends have already argued that this Bill is somehow"integrationary ". Of course, I respect that view, but I should like to explain why we do not agree with it. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and—as this House has laid down in statute—it will so continue as long as that is the wish of the majority of the Northern Irish people. That being the present position, Northern Ireland citizens from both the majority and the minority communities deserve fair representation in the national Parliament. That is a statement of natural justice; it has nothing to do with integration.

While the link with Westminster continues, it is better for everyone, whatever his view about the link, that he should be fully represented at Westminster.

There is no reason why this Bill should make it more difficult to restore a system of devolved government in Northern Ireland. The level of representation of any part of the United Kingdom is not a yardstick against which the prospects of devolution can be measured. There is no rule that high representation equals low prospects of devolution.

Indeed, what have we seen recently? The part of the country with the highest level of representation is Scotland. That has not stood in the way of Parliament agreeing—subject to the wishes of the Scottish people to be expressed in a referendum—to devolution to a Scottish Assembly. If the necessary political will can be found on both sides in Northern Ireland, we can achieve devolution there, too. It is that will which matters, not the level of representation at Westminster.

So I hope that the politicians and the people of Northern Ireland—on both sides of the community—will see this Bill for the plain act of justice that it is. Its effects will not be felt immediately and certainly not for the next elections to this House.

Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)

Thank goodness.

Mr. Mason

If Parliament approves the Bill, it will be for the independent Boundary Commission to carry out its statutory task. It may take it up to two years to reach its final recommendations. That is because the Commission's rules of procedure ensure that all objections which may be raised to its first proposals are fully ventilated and weighed, and that impartiality, like justice, is not only observed but is seen to be observed.

When the new boundaries are finally drawn, all the political groupings in Northern Ireland should see the benefits. For with 17 seats rather than 12 at stake, there will be greater opportunities for all parties to gain representation in this House. I have heard it suggested that the new seats will all be in Belfast, or east of the Bann, and that they will therefore all be Unionist seats. I think that is most unlikely to be the case.

The effect of the redistribution will be felt equally throughout the Province: the Boundary Commission is required by rule to draw the boundaries of all 17 new constituencies so as to produce electorates as close to the electoral quota as possible.

In short, this Bill will bring three significant advantages to Northern Ireland. It will afford an opportunity to the representatives of both communities in the Province to increase their representation in this House and to make the voice of Northern Ireland fully and fairly heard. Secondly, it will enable the electors of Northern Ireland to have the same degree of access to their parliamentary representatives as do their fellow citizens elsewhere in the country. Thirdly, it will ease the burden on Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies by distributing the work load between 17 rather than the present 12 Members.

All the people, all the elected representatives, and all the political parties in Northern Ireland have something to gain from this Bill—and none of them has anything to lose.

Mr. Kilfedder

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at the beginning of this debate and an assurance that all stages of the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House? Since it is such an important constitutional matter, I believe that if it is taken on the Floor it will show respect to Northern Ireland and its people.

Mr. Mellish

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that since I raised the matter earlier in the debate there is now a motion providing that the Bill is to be taken on the Floor of the House. That motion has been tabled, I understand, by the Government. If that is the case, I hope that that motion will be carried overwhelmingly. May I be told whether I am correct?

Mr. Mason

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I tried to indicate that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is responsible for business—I do not have that responsibility—would give the opportunity, especially to Members from Northern Ireland, to participate. That was as clear an indication as I could give to the House, although I emphasise that I do not have personal responsibility in these matters.

Mr. McNamara

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My right hon. Friend has not answered the question. If, judging by what we have heard from Mr. Speaker, the Government are indivisible and one, may we have a statement from that very diffuse godhead whether the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Mason

The motion is on the Order Paper.

Mr. McNamara

It is not.

Mr. Mason

I am advised by representatives of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that it will be taken on the Floor of the House.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If it is any help to the right hon. Gentleman, I wish to make clear that the Opposition want this matter to be debated on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not know whether the Chair is required to rule on these points of order. However, I remind the House that, at the end of the Second Reading debate, it is open to any hon. Member to move to commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House.

Mr. McNamara

I thank you for that advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the motion does not appear on the Order Paper. These things never do appear beforehand.

4.55 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

Perhaps we may now get back to the Second Reading of this Bill.

We should like to thank Mr. Speaker for the Conference that he held, for its results, and for the work of those hon. Members who took part. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made clear in April, we shall give our fullest support to the Second Reading of this Bill. We have for some time past acknowledged the inadequate representation of Northern Ireland in this House, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has fully explained the position. A passage to this effect appeared in our General Election manifesto of October 1974.

On electoral quota alone, Northern Ireland is badly under-represented. This is the central argument on the Bill, and the official figures are worth repeating. While the quota for Scotland is 53,649, for Wales 57,362, and for England 66,434, that for Northern Ireland is 86,142. The quota for the United Kingdom is 64,504. This means that Northern Ireland has 22,000 more electors per Member than England, 31,000 more than Wales, and 36,000 more than Scotland. We believe that the electoral quotas in the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom should be more nearly aligned. By this test, there is no argument against this Bill. The case for it is irresistible. In our submission to Mr. Speaker's Conference this time last year, we argued that the view of the report of the Royal Commission under Lord Kilbrandon should be adopted.

There were two recommendations of Kilbrandon with regard to Northern Ireland which we then supported. These were that the level of representation of all parts of the United Kingdom should be determined by the same rules. Representation should be mainly related to population but should take into account also geographical considerations. This guidance has been noted in this Bill, Kilbrandon having recommended that the number of seats for Northern Ireland should be increased to 17, or thereabouts. This is similar to the view of Mr. Speaker's Conference.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Government of Ireland Act 1920, when the number was somewhat arbitarily fixed at 13, including a university seat, and in 1948, with the abolition of university representation, the number was reduced to its present level. The electoral quota for Northern Ireland has increased from 50,000 in 1925 to the present level of 86,000. The electorate in Northern Ireland has grown by 500,000 since 1922. Therefore, there must clearly be increased representation because of the increase in the electorate in Northern Ireland since the Government of Ireland Act.

In 1944 a Speaker's Conference recommended 12 seats for Northern Ireland. The present difficult situation appears to stem from the retention of this figure under the Redistribution of Seats Act after the war. This has continued the disparity since in 1948 the quota for Northern Ireland was already 71,000 and 57,000 for Great Britain. This position led to a sense of unfairness in the Province, and there was even talk of second-class citizenship. It also created some huge constituencies in a relatively small geographical area. I believe that the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has a huge constituency of over 120,000. Northern Ireland constituencies are, on average, slightly larger in area even than those in Scotland, if one takes total acreage figures, and so forth, of constituencies.

The second Kilbrandon recommendation adopted by the Conservative Party was that the principle of devolution did not justify serious under-representation of the kind that I have described. I agree with what the Secretary of State said. The position came into sharp relief with the suspension of the Stormont Parliament in 1972. This undoubtedly threw extra burdens on Northern Ireland Members, but we are not supporting the Bill simply because of the absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland. If one takes the case for representation on its merits, Mr. Speaker's Conference must be right, and we do not consider that these extra seats are a substitute for eventual devolution.

The view that one must wait for devolution—it might have been a view at one time—is no longer realistic or fair. I confirm what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to the Opposition's view. We are not supporting the Bill because we want integration. That direct rule must continue for some time there can be no doubt. There is no immediate possibility of devolution. Like the Government, we in opposition have been trying to work out a form of regional administration in the short term. This would be based on the restoration of certain local powers to an elected regional council.

We have asked the Secretary of State whether he will invite Sir Patrick Macrory to advise on the current situation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is giving that request consideration. There is still much patient discussion required before even this small return to a democratic control of local services may be made.

Thus, while there can be yet no certainty about the next step, though our aims are clear, the problem of parliamentary seats is urgent. Extra Members in this place will help the government of Northern Ireland in the short term, as direct rule should be more accountable to the people of the Province, though I do not think that that will be fully achieved until we have considered Northern Ireland legislation in the House —there are considerable problems in that respect—and provided the Province with some widely accepted political forum.

The attitude of the Government and their supporters to the proposed increase had, prior to March 1977, been anything but enthusiastic. Some Labour Members are still unenthusiastic. As late as 18th March 1976 the present Home Secretary, who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said: I visited many parts where even to talk about extra representation in this House is to fly in the face of history and cultural attitudes." —[Official Report, 18th March 1976; Vol. 907, c. 1520.] The right hon. Gentleman said that it was not possible to have extra seats for Northern Ireland. He said that he believed that we had to wait until the divide in Northern Ireland had been healed and the two communities were working together for the good of the Province. No one can honestly say that that ideal has yet been realised, although we are trying hard to achieve it. As recently as 1st February 1977 the Leader of the House ruled out a separate inquiry into Northern Ireland representation. The Government's opposition, however, mysteriously vanished in the next few weeks, between 1st February 1977 and 23rd March.

Then came the night when the Government were threatened with defeat on a motion of confidence. Lo and behold, the Prime Minister suddenly announced Mr. Speaker's Conference, which was warmly welcomed by the Opposition. I think that that is a fair statement of those events.

That volte face seems to have upset some Labour Members. No doubt they will tell us about it as the debate proceeds. It was followed by the Government's acceptance, on 19th April 1978, of the recommendations and the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that we would do our best to ensure the passage of the Bill. We rejoiced, as we do now, at the Government's conversion to a measure to place the representation of Northern Ireland on a more equitable basis in terms of quotas. That is the true test of the Bill. We hoped that the Bill would have been taken in the previous Session. It is still not clear why there should have been delay. However, the Bill is before us and we welcome it.

As to opinion in Northern Ireland, no doubt hon. Members from the Province will be giving their views as well as other hon. Members. I refer to the Liberal amendment, to which the Secretary of State referred. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it must be resisted. Our view is that the effect of introducing a proportional representation system for parliamentary elections would be completely against the view that we have always adopted, that there should be one uniform system for all parts of the United Kingdom. All parts of the United Kingdom should be voting simultaneously in a parliamentary election to decide the composition of the United Kingdom Parliament. There is a clear distinction between Parliamentary elections and local elections.

In our view the effect would also be bad because it would isolate Northern Ireland at a time when we wish to support the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We agree with the right hon. Gentleman in believing that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom.

Although much turns on the decisions of the Boundary Commission, I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that only two years would elapse, as against the evidence in the report that these matters would take four years. Everything turns on the decisions of the Boundary Commission and it is to be hoped that its work will be completed as speedily as possible. However, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the Bill should benefit all sections of the population. It is the duty of the Boundary Commission to find an equitable solution to the constituency problem.

We should remember that the constitutional convention of 1975–76, abortive as it was in many ways, established a wide range of support for extra parliamentary seats. We thoroughly support the right hon. Gentleman in saying that the Bill is an act of justice by the only test that is possible, namely, quotas per Member.

For all the reasons that I have outlined, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Bill and, if it be necessary, to vote in favour of its Second Reading.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

I beg to move to leave out from"That"to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: That this House, whilst acknowledging that the number of Members of Parliament representing Northern Ireland ought to be increased, declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill because its narrow scope fails to provide an opportunity for this House to determine whether or not those Members should be elected according to the principle of proportional representation. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I tabled the amendment not because we objected to the increase in the number of seats but solely because the Bill is so narrowly drafted that it does not permit amendments in Committee in the way that we wanted. We very much regret the narrow drafting, because it obliges us to decline formally to support the Bill's Second Reading. We were advised that the only way in which we could make our point was to table the amendment. That is why the amendment was drawn in the form in which it now appears.

I shall seek to reply to the earlier intervention of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). If the amendment succeeds there will be no Second Reading. Therefore, his distress or concern is unimportant.

Northern Ireland has had a relatively small representation in the House since the Government of Ireland Act 1920. That is because it was given its own House of Commons. Since the devolution proposals mention no reduction of Scottish and Welsh representation when those two parts of the United Kingdom have their own Assemblies, it is no longer right that Northern Ireland representation should remain at a comparatively low level. Indeed, it has been wrong since the abolition of Stormont and the advent of direct rule.

I wish to make it clear that in spite of the formal terms of the motion we support the proposal that the number of Northern Ireland seats should be increased. We have steadily supported that concept and argued along those lines.

The matter does not rest there. In a newspaper report in The Irish Times on 10th October we read: The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Mason, has promised the SDLP that he will seriously consider the possibility of introducing proportional representation for Northern Ireland in future Westminster elections. Such a move, if it did come about, should enhance the chances of non-Unionist parties winning seats. The article continues: Mr. Mason gave his assurance at a private dinner party with the SDLP's six top officials at Stormont Castle…according to reliable sources in Belfast. His guests, especially party chairman Mr. Dennis Haughey, put up a spirited case for changing the present straight-vote system to PR. The Secretary of State listened to their arguments then while stressing that he could not promise anything, gave an undertaking to study the proposals seriously. It seems extraordinary, or odd, to say the least, that the Bill has been drafted in such a fashion that there is no way in which we can introduce what the Secretary of State has said he would consider so seriously.

We know that parliamentary draftsmen can and do carry out most difficult and obstruse instructions loyally and with great skill and ability. The European Assembly Elections Bill was an example. It would not have been difficult to set draftsmen to produce a Bill that would allow PR to be discussed in Committee.

I suppose that the kindest hypothesis is that the draftsmen had no instruction to that effect and that they went ahead on the basis of the report of the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference. However, if the terms of reference of that Conference were narrow—the Secretary of State has said that they were, and I agree with him—surely a Second Reading debate is exactly the time to broaden the circumference of the Conference.

The less kind hypothesis is that deliberate instructions were given to draw the Bill in such a way as to make it impossible to table a PR amendment. That is what has happened. It is possible that what The Irish Times wrote did not happen. However, if it did not happen, surely the right hon. Gentleman would have written to The Irish Times to point that out. In either case the Secretary of State determined to give no serious study to the mode of election. I wonder why that was. Was it because it was part of the Government's deal with the Ulster Unionists?

If the Bill had been drafted to take account of the September accommodation with the SDLP the Unionists might not have been prepared to abstain on the vote on the amendment to the Gracious Speech. The matter can be put right quite easily, if the Secretary of State will withdraw the Bill in its present form, give suitable instructions to draftsmen, and reintroduce it in a form which could be the subject of the proposed amendments, aimed at getting proportional representation written in. Alternatively, let the Secretary of State use the device adopted in the European Communities Bill to permit the House to choose the method.

The proposal in the Bill is an important landmark in the history of Northern Ireland. Apart from the abolition of separate representation of Queen's university, Belfast, the number of territorial Members has not changed since the General Election of 1922. The change that we contemplate today gives us the opportunity to consider other matters as well. The House could use this opportunity either to repeat the same kind of mistake made 50 years ago or to make a more constructive contribution to political affairs in the Province. Under the terms of the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1919 and the Government of Ireland Act 1920, local elections in 1920 and provincial parliamentary elections in 1921 and 1925 were conducted on the principle of proportional representation. The Unionists did away with proportional representation in local government in 1922, in time for local elections in 1923. This was clearly of constitutional importance. The question of signifying the Governor's assent was referred to the Cabinet in London. The Governor's assent was eventually given, but this was the only case in which it was not given automatically.

The results of the 1925 provincial parliamentary elections indicated that issues other than that of the border were beginning to emerge. Nevertheless, the Unionists replaced proportional representation with"X"voting, or first past the post, in time for the 1929 election. In the nine elections from 1929 to 1965, an average of 24 of the 52 seats were not contested. There was a change in 1969, about the time the present troubles started, when only seven seats were uncontested and the Unionists showed signs of folding up, even without the influence of proportional representation.

In 40 years the reversion to"X"voting has brought no lasting peace to Northern Ireland. It has, instead, resulted in an increase in tension and dissatisfac- tion, culminating in the violent disturbances of the past 10 years. I am not trying to prove that proportional representation is a panacea and that its introduction would instantly stop the troubles. What I am saying is that the fairer the system of voting the better will people feel that they are represented. It is only fair to say—there has been talk about the resentment of the minority—that all Members of Parliament in Ulster look after all constituents, and look after them very well. I believe that feelings of being wronged are felt by an infinitesimal percentage of the population of Northern Ireland.

Doing away with proportional representation within the Province half a century ago was a profound mistake, which we must not allow to be repeated on the occasion of our proposing increased representation at Westminster. Therefore, we must take this opportunity to avoid a repetition of error.

Northern Ireland has an adult majority community twice the size of the adult minority community. The community is divided to an extent which, fortunately for us, is almost unknown on this side of the Irish Sea. Since the end of the First World War, and even before that, the minority has felt itself to be unfairly treated by the majority. The consequent airing of grievances has received widespread attention. Since 1969 much has been done to remedy those grievances, including the application of proportional representation in local, provincial and European elections. The minority fears that the continuation of"X"voting for Westminster elections, when there is a clear and convenient opportunity for a change in method, is a sign that the majority will do all that it can to put the clock back in other matters as well as in elections.

Failure to deal with grievances which can be dealt with leads to political and social weakness, as unhappiness and frustration lead to violence. The grievances about the method of election to Westminster can be dealt with so easily through a system which is manifestly fair to the majority as well as the minority, so that the voters can choose personally those by whom they wish to be represented. We suggest four multi-Member constituencies, each with not fewer than three Members of Parliament, which would give the number that Mr. Speaker's Conference suggested. The joyful thing about this suggestion is that it can be taken up immediately, not in two or three years, and not with the expenditure of much Government finance, as has been suggested. It could be done next week. The number of Members of Parliament representing Northern Ireland could be augmented to the numbers suggested by Mr. Speaker's Conference.

The great difficulty here is the tremendous talent that the two sides have for driving each other into a corner. The Unionists cannot see any good in those whose provincial objectives seem to be to destroy the link with Great Britain, though they know that the SDLP will react even more strongly. Nevertheless, they persist. Equally, the SDLP insists that the British should abandon the Unionist majority, well knowing that the Unionist reaction will be even stronger. Both sides are deadlocked and neither gives the public impression that it genuinely wishes to reach a settlement.

The present Bill, suitably amended—and by that I mean amended in the way that my right hon. and hon. Friends suggest—gives the Unionists an opportunity to beat the deadlock. They are collectively the largest group of parties, whose strength has been proved in four provincial elections between 1973 and 1977. There can be no doubt about this. The proportional representation voting figures proved that political strength and political power are inseparable from responsibility. Strength implies responsibility for the whole, beyond narrow selfish interests. Let the Unionists use that strength by agreeing to a far higher standard of democracy than obtains in the rest of the United Kingdom. This will prove that they are not wholly intransigent, thus making it less easy for the SDLP to maintain its intransigence.

Why should the Unionists fear giving a little from a position of strength? Why should they fear being the first to introduce a sensible and realistic method of election? It has been said that it would be wrong for one part of the United Kingdom to use one system while another employed a different one. We agree that it is wrong. We should like the whole of the United Kingdom to use proportional representation. But somebody has to start, and what a good time to start when we have more seats. We know that the Unionists and the SDLP can, and do, talk to each other privately on a reasonable basis. Probably they feel impelled in public to take up untenable positions from which they cannot retreat. They both say that it is the responsibility of the other to take the initiative.

Let us at Westminster discharge part of that responsibility at least by not allowing them to put the clock back, as it was put back in 1929. The Unionists complain, with their tongues firmly in their cheeks, that all electoral arrangements must be identical with those in Great Britain—as if that would extinguish the differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom any more than the use of such tongue-in-cheek phrases such as"equal citizens"and"standards of democracy ".

There are differences and they cannot be extinguished. There is the difference that Northern Ireland has a land frontier with an independent State which, by its constitution, lays claim to the whole island of Ireland and looks toward the reintegration of the national territory. Then, Northern Ireland is separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea. It suffers from a degree of violence which has been unknown in the rest of Britain since 1745.

For nearly 60 years Northern Ireland has had a separate Government and separate laws. Is not that a difference? The people there are divided among themselves in a manner quite different from divisions that we may have in the rest of Great Britain. Even so, the Northern Irish have been part of the United Kingdom for the best part of 200 years, since 1800. We cannot, we will not and we must not abandon them. What we seek is that there should be enough give on both sides so that they have a chance to settle their own problems. I hope that this amendment will be supported.

5.21 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

I am not sure how decisions are taken in Cabinet about who should promote a Bill and present it to the House at the Dispatch Box. This Bill has far-reaching constitutional implications, affecting the relationship between Northern Ireland and Britain. It will have an effect upon membership of this House and upon future United Kingdom Governments. An extra five seats in Northern Ireland could determine the membership of this House and, consequently, future Governments in the United Kingdom. For that reason alone I thought that it might have been more appropriate for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to present the Bill.

On second thoughts I realised why the Home Secretary could not present the Bill. If the Home Secretary ever writes his memoirs, or if the reports of Cabinet meetings taking place now are published in the future, I am certain that it will be shown that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary found this to be one of the most distasteful pieces of legislation that he had had to put up with throughout his political life. I intend to prove that assertion before I finish my speech.

I do not accept that the Bill was brought before the House with the intention of ensuring equity, fairness and justice for the electorate of Northern Ireland and its Members of Parliament. Again, I intend to prove that. I regard the Bill as being of major constitutional importance, affecting the entire relationship between Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that we can discuss in total isolation apart from all the other things happening there, the question of an increase or a decrease in the number of parliamentary seats in Northern Ireland. We have to bear in mind all the events that brought Northern Ireland into being, which led to the creation of that State. These were all part and parcel of the 1920 settlement. At that time the figure of 12 parliamentary seats was arrived at.

I believe that it is of vital importance to the whole of the United Kingdom that there should have been a White Paper preceding the Bill. All hon. Members ought to have had the opportunity to discover the far-reaching implications within the Bill. It is not motivated by a concern for equity, fairness, justice and does not spring from concern for overworked Members representing Northern Ireland constituences. It is motivated by something much less laudable.

The Bill has not been introduced because the electorate has found it difficult to get in touch with its Members of Parliament. Anyone who has represented Northern Ireland constituencies knows that the electorate, if it cannot get one hon. Member, will certainly get another. It is difficult for any hon. Member representing a Northern Ireland seat to refuse anyone. The Bill comes before the House because of the political arithmetic—because of the instinct for political survival on the part of the Government.

Since the election of 1974 there have been a number of occasions on which questions have been put to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister concerning an increase in the number of parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland. Until recently the answer has always been that there was no need to increase that number. The dates of these questions and answers can be readily obtained from the Library. On 16th January 1975 the then Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, was asked whether the Government had any intention of increasing the number of seats. The answer was short and to the point. It was"None, Sir." The Government had no intention of increasing the number of seats then.

On 13th March 1975 a supplementary question was asked by an Opposition spokesman during Question Time. During the course of that supplementary question the spokesman said that it was the opinion of his party—and we have heard this from the Opposition spokesman tonight—that there should be an increase in the number of seats. The reply given by the then Minister of State was: We are aware that that is in the manifesto. We are also aware that those who sat on the Government Front Bench in the previous Parliament did not necessarily hold that view." —[Official Report. 13th March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 738.] It would be interesting to know whether, during the period of Conservative Government between 1970 and 1974, any recommendations were made to increase the number of seats. In a background paper which has been drawn up in connection with this debate we have been told that at the time of the debates that took place within the Conservative Party, particularly in relation to the Northern Ireland constitutional proposals, it was the strong opposition from the Labour Party that prevented the then Conservative Government from increasing the number of seats.

I ask the Government: is it the fact that the Labour Opposition between 1970 and 1974 used all their powers to persuade and deter the then Conservative Government from increasing the number of seats? We have heard this rumour before, and it is now reported in the background paper. Is it true? It was believed then that Labour's opposition to an increase in the number of seats arose from the fact that it believed that any increase in the number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament would result in there being more Unionists who would naturally vote with a Conservative Government. Again, that is the politics of survival. If that was the reason for the point of view of the then Opposition, it will be understood why I take a certain view now.

Mr. McNamara

Does my hon. Friend agree that in those heady days of opposition, the Opposition Front Bench was, perhaps, focusing rather narrowly on the situation in 1964 when, had those seats been in existence, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as he then was, would have formed his second Administration?

Mr. Fitt

I certainly accept that. I had intended to refer to it and to emphasise its importance to the House. Any increase in the number of representatives from Northern Ireland can affect the membership of this House, and consequently the political complexion of the Governments in the years which lie ahead. I believe and I shall be giving reasons for my belief—that the Opposition Members from Northern Ireland who would be elected to this House would certainly not be, as I have been, in support of a Labour or Socialist Administration.

My next reference is to 19th March 1974. At that time Northern Ireland was in the grip of a Fascist-led strike. That was a strike which, a week after it took place, brought crashing to the ground the Sunningdale power-sharing executive which had been so painfully and assiduously built up by people in Northern Ireland, with the support of the Conservative Government and with the support of the then Labour Opposition. It was during that time, while that strike was going on, that another Question was tabled to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. In a supplementary question he was asked by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) whether he would implement the recommendations in the Kilbrandon report to increase the number of seats to 17. The Prime Minister's answer was again very short and very much to the point. He said: I cannot give any such undertaking."—[Official Report. 19th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 843.] That executive was brought crashing to the ground by the actions of those very same gentlemen who are sitting in the House today. These were people openly in association with para-military organisations, which brought to an end an edict of this House, of the then Conservative Government. That power-sharing executive had the full support of all parliamentary parties in this House except the Ulster Unionists.

On 4th April 1974, a week after the downfall of the executive, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is now the Home Secretary, said this in answer to a question on the increase in the number of seats: I am well aware of the need to consider anything that will bring peace in Northern Ireland, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that Northern Ireland is not Scotland or Wales. It is a split society, and has been so split in social and cultural terms for a long time. Many people in Northern Ireland, whatever we may think about it, look to the South and not this country. The problem that we all face is to bring these two communities together. This is a fact of life that has shown itself in this House. To talk of increased representation in this House in that context is not facing up to the facts of life. That was my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. That is why he is not here this evening, and that is why the Bill is being taken at the Dispatch Box by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Later, in answer to a question from the Conservative Opposition whether the Government would increase the number of seats, my right hon. Friend said: I do not see any circumstances in which extra representation of Northern Ireland, with its history, would be a means of bringing the peace that we all want. It is facing up to the facts of the real problems of Northern Ireland that is needed. It is a fact that some people march with the flag of the South. In my view, if that is what they want to do, they are entitled to do it, however much one may disagree. There was an intervention by an hon. Member who said: They do that in Birmingham. My right hon. Friend went on to say: Yes, but for very different reasons. Northern Ireland is a split society. What we are engaged in doing is bringing the two parts of the population together."—[Official Report, 4th April 1974; Vol. 871, c. 1421-2.] On 27th June 1974, a month after the downfall of the executive, the question was asked whether there would be an increase in the number of seats. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, said in reply: I am sorry that I cannot meet the hon. Gentleman's point. I think that hon. Members will recognise that Northern Ireland is in a unique position. The Government feel that to increase representation now would be detrimental to the general political situation. The Government want Northern Ireland people of both communities to start resolving the problems in Northern Ireland themselves. We do not necessarily believe that they can be resolved on the Floor of this House."—[Official Report, 27th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 1714] That was the situation then and that is the situation today.

My next reference is one of which everyone in Northern Ireland will be well aware, and I should like hon. Members to take particular notice of the year, 1976, because it relates to the whole content of what I am about to say. On 12th January 1976, my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, now the Home Secretary, in the debate on the report concerning the constitutional convention, said this: The Government are aware of the strong views held by many on the question of parliamentary representation at Westminster. They are also aware that in the past 50 years some Members elected to the Westminster Parliament have not taken their seats—another reflection of a divided community. The Government do not feel able to recommend reexamination of the question of the number of Northern Ireland constituencies returning Members to the United Kingdom Parliament in advance"— this is very important— of an agreement on a system of Government commanding the most widespread acceptance." —[Official Report, 12th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 56.] The reasons that my right hon. Friend was then giving were that, if the Government conceded that there should be further constituencies in Northern Ireland, it would make it less likely that the Unionist majority, who would perhaps capture practically all the five seats—at least four of the five—would then want to engage in discussions in any way with the minority in Northern Ireland, because it would have achieved its second option.

The Unionist Party wants something in Northern Ireland which it knows it cannot get. That is a return to Stormont, with all the powers that it had prior to its abolition in 1972 by the Conservative Government. It seems at the moment that no sane political party in Britain would agree to that demand. If the Northern Ireland Unionist majority does not get its first objective—a return to Stormont as it was—it will settle for a highly acceptable second option. That second option is an increase of Unionist Members at Westminster, who will then be able to blackmail whatever Government happen to be in power and to carry on with the blackmail until they get their second option, which is the return of power in Northern Ireland to the local authorities. That would be a return by the back door to Unionist ascendency.

Mr. Mellish

The old story.

Mr. Fitt

What have these past 10 years been about? Are we to return to that system under the Unionists? This was the attitude of the Government throughout those years. They did not want to increase representation in advance of an acceptable political solution being arrived at by Northern Ireland politicians in Northern Ireland. But suddenly things changed. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary left the Northern Ireland Office and was replaced by the present Secretary of State. We then began to see changes. The first change which I noticed—and this is the reason for the change in attitudes—was that the Government began to suffer electoral reverses at by-elections. Throughout those years we had quite a number of by-elections. The one which I regard as very important in relation to my argument was the by-election in Woolwich, West which was brought about by the death of Bill Hamling. He was replaced by a Conservative, a replacement which eroded the Government's voting strength.

The next by-election took place on 4th November 1976 in Walsall, North and was caused by the resignation of John Stonehouse. He was replaced by a Conservative. The elevation to the peerage of my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington, as he then was, caused another by-election. He was replaced by a Conservative. Another by-election was caused as a result of the appointment in Europe of Roy Jenkins, and the constituency of Birmingham, Stechford returned a Conservative, too. There was then the by-election in Ash-field. The Labour Party lost that seat. This was followed by a by-election in Ilford, North, and the Conservative Party won that. It was at that time that a change took place in the Government's attitude.

With the honourable exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), there was a change in the attitude of Labour Party managers. They looked across the Floor of the House and saw at least five, six or seven hon. Members who have been lovingly referred to by the hon. Member for Down, North as"the gang of seven ". But the Labour Party managers did not see the"gang of seven"as right-wing Unionists, or as the men who brought to an end a structure of government in Northern Ireland which gave the best hope for the future of that part of Ireland for 50 years. The Labour Party managers were unconcerned about the past Right-wing activities of those hon. Members. They were thinking about preservation for themselves.

One could almost notice the glances which passed between the Government Bench and the Ulster Unionist Bench. As a result, an illicit, sordid, little relationship evolved between the Government and the"gang of seven"which enabled my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to take a car down to Brighton and sing to the Trades Union Congress that he would not meet Maggie at the church because he had already come to a relationship with certain people and he no longer needed to meet the right hon. Lady.

Therefore, this Bill has nothing to do with equity, fairness or justice. It has nothing to do with principles. It has been brought to the House for sheer political expediency so that the Government can remain in power. Only last week my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office and I, accom- panied by Opposition Members, debated the order dealing with the rehabilitation of offenders, which takes some steps towards rehabilitating prisoners who have been found out in criminal acts. I would refer to this Bill as the"Rehabilitation of Unionist MPs Bill ", because these were men who were involved in open conspiracy with all sorts of organisations.

My hon. Friends can remember very well the events which took place in 1974, and at least one hon. Member—the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—was doing exactly the same thing in 1976, when he was engaged in a strike, which was fortunately abortive, which tried to bring to an end the reign of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. One of the slogans which the strikers used was"Mason must go ". But, fortunately for the peace of Northern Ireland, that strike proved to be of no particular consequence.

We then had the setting up of Mr. Speaker's Conference. I knew well that I would be a member of Mr. Speaker's Conference. I allowed myself to become a member on the ground that it would be as well if I were in there watching what was going on rather than being told about it at second hand, particularly when I heard that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was a member, because he needs a lot of watching.

To say the least, I was sadly disappointed at the composition of Mr. Speaker's Conference. I notice many of my hon. Friends present this evening. There are my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston-upon-Hull. Central (Mr. McNamara), Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). They have all been to Northern Ireland and know what has been happening in Northern Ireland. They are concerned about what has been happening. They ask questions about Northern Ireland. Yet not one was appointed to Mr. Speaker's Conference.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)


Mr. Fitt

I accept what my hon. Friend says, and I am glad that he said it. Irrespective of the qualifications of those hon. Members who served on Mr. Speaker's Conference, I said to myself " I know what the result of this conference will be." I was not very wrong. The result was 22 to 1, which was exactly the outcome that I expected.

Why was it that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey, the former Chief Whip, who has consistently taken part in Northern Ireland debates and Northern Ireland Question Time, was not asked to take a place on Mr. Speaker's Conference?

Mr. Mellish

Because I support the minority view.

Mr. Fitt

Exactly. Because my right hon. Friend would have said things and voted in a way that would have been unpalatable to the Government.

Mr. Mellish

That is right.

Mr. Fitt

So we had the setting up of Mr. Speaker's Conference. That was a revelation. On the first day of that Conference we were told that lost of the meetings would be in secret so that this House and everyone else would not know what the discussions were about. I asked why it had to be in secret. I was quite prepared to let everyone in the United Kingdom or anywhere else know my attitude. I remember one hon. Member —I will not repeat his name—saying that he did not want this to go on the record because Members might be intimidated. But Northern Ireland Members are intimidated 24 hours a day. That just shows the air of unreality in that Speaker's Conference. Its members did not want to take any decision for fear of intimidation, yet Northern Ireland needs men of honesty and courage.

At Mr. Speaker's Conference we called, first, the Leader of the House. For many years I have had the utmost respect for my right hon. Friend, so I say with a great deal of sorrow that his responsibility for setting up the conference and putting his name to this Bill has caused me to be greatly disappointed.

I would have preferred that the document of evidence given by the Leader of the House to Mr. Speaker's Conference had been made available to every Member of the House. It was a piece of evidence which was made public on 30th November 1977. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdon (Sir D. Renton) asked the Leader of the House about the manner in which the Boundary Commission would set about its deliberations. He asked in question 117: you would agree that there should be no difficulty about the necessary legislation being introduced in this session of Parliament? He then went on in question 118: With respect, the question of the work of the Boundary Commission arises only after the necessary statute has been put on the Statute Book, is that not so? The Leader of the House replied"Yes, that is right."

Lo and behold, a few weeks later the Prime Minister came to the Dispatch Box and said that the Boundary Commission could begin its work right away before this Bill had become an Act of Parliament. I do not believe that the Boundary Commission should have been given the authority to look into 18 seats which may never come into being. There was no guarantee that this Bill would become an Act of Parliament.

We find in the evidence given by the Leader of the House that 12 seats were apportioned to Northern Ireland as a result of the 1914 Act. When the 1920 Act became law, it said that 30 seats would be given to the Irish Republic, then the Irish Free State—but these were never taken up—and 12 seats would be given to Northern Ireland—which were taken up—with the addition of one university seat.

I asked the Leader of the House whether he would agree that these seats came into being as part and parcel of an overall settlement of the Irish question and whether all sorts of things had to be considered in line with that. The Leader of the House agreed. I asked him if he would produce all the documents and papers relevant to the settlement at that time. He said that he could not. He did not know where they were—he thought they were lost. I wonder whether they ever existed and, if they did, what they said, because I believe that they would have been of the utmost importance in enabling us to take the right decision on this Bill tonight. They were part of the overall settlement.

I asked Mr. Justice Murray, then in charge of the Boundary Commission in Northern Ireland, what criteria should be used in the creation of the number of seats. I asked him whether it was possible to take account of tradition, religion and conscience, outside of the number of people involved. His quite clear and distinct answer was"No ". He said that that did not concern him. Therefore, he was not concerned about the real differences existing in Northern Ireland—the differences between the minority and the majority; the facts of history which determined that there should be a minority and a majority—the majority being Protestant and supporting the United Kingdom, and the minority being Catholic and aspiring to the eventual reunification of Ireland.

None of this could be discussed at the Conference. I was repeatedly told by the Leader of the House that the Chamber was the place to discuss these things. He said that these were matters for the House of Commons. But one cannot discuss all these matters on the Second Reading of a Bill of this importance. There are many hon. Members here who will want to make valid contributions to this debate.

The whole way in which this Bill has been engineered is unsatisfactory. I want to make certain that the Boundary Commission does not only count heads if and when it is given the responsibility of creating further constituencies in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), who opened for the Opposition, said that other geographic measures would be taken. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the whole of the Six-County geographic area would be taken into account in the creation of new constituencies. I do not accept that. The only basis for the creation of new constituencies is where the population justifies it. One does not bring wasteland into a constituency to make it a particular size.

These seats should be created where the population of Northern Ireland lives —in an area 30 miles around Belfast. People live there because there are more jobs and factories. I cannot see anyone wanting to increase the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, because the population there would not justify it. Therefore, I believe that these new seats will be taken up by the Unionists if and when they are created. The Secretary of State has said that he believes that the SDLP will get perhaps two or three of these seats.

Let me tell my right hon. Friend that even if the SDLP won all 17 seats it would not change the problems affecting Northern Ireland. It is not all about seats; it is about many other things in Northern Ireland. The way that the Bill has been introduced clearly comes down in support of one community rather than the other. That is why it will be a total disaster. [An HON. MEMBER:"There is a bomb in every line."] I hope that that is not true, but I cannot discount that possibility.

Many people in the minority community believe in a united Ireland and want to see progress in that direction, no matter how slow it may be. They want to see Ireland united by constitutional means and not by coercion or the campaign of murder being waged by the Provisional IRA. When those people see the humiliation that has been heaped upon me in the House, they are bound to wonder whether I have been right to try desperately to make politics work in Northern Ireland. I lead a party which has stood between the IRA and the Catholic population and has prevented that population from being forced into the ranks of the IRA. Our supporters will see the Bill as my recompense for loyal support of the Labour Party, not only in the past four years, but since 1966, and they will ask what they have got out of politics. They will wonder whether the other fellows are doing it the right way by using violence. That is the real tragedy of what the Bill will mean to Northern Ireland.

It is only a two-clause Bill, but every-line is riddled with dissension. It will polarise the communities and will create more difficulties. It will do nothing to further the stated aim of the Government and will become a focal point for even more dissension.

This was all pointed out clearly to Mr. Speaker's Conference. The party that I have the honour to lead said in its written submission: The original allocation of 12 seats to Northern Ireland in the Westminster Parliament was part of an overall settlement of the Irish problem in 1920 which involved the setting up of two Parliaments in Ireland with the ultimate objective of them finishing up as one. The basic approach has been repeated ever since by successive Westminster Parliaments. It would be both foolish and wrong, therefore, to consider Westminster representation in isolation from all the other aspects of the Northern Ireland problem. This is particularly true when all aspects of a settlement are at present under consideration…In terms of SDLP policy for future constitutional structures which emphasise the nature of both the British and Irish dimensions and which coincide with the stated policy of the British Government, endorsed by all parties at Westminster, any increase in representation at Westminster would undeniably tip the scales in one direction and seriously, if not totally, undermine the possibility of an acceptable solution. We are therefore implacably opposed to any increase in Wesminster representation. If one believed the Secretary of State's argument that the SDLP would get some of the extra seats and the claim of Unionist Members and members of the Alliance Party and other political forces that SDLP members want only power and jobs, one would think that my party would be pushing for more representatives in the House. But the SDLP is not interested in personal gains or extra seats. It is interested in trying to bring the two communities in Northern Ireland together. Extra seats or personal aggrandisement are the last things it cares about.

In its submission to the Conference, the SDLP also said: The peculiar circumstances of Northern Ireland are well known to members of the Conference and need no elaboration. We would submit that the Conference would be better employed examining the method of election of the present representation at Westminster. When the Conservative Government abolished Stormont in 1972, they established proportional representation for local elections and elections to the Assembly. Hon. Members on both sides of the House also supported the decision that the only fair way to ensure that the voice of the people of Northern Ireland was heard in Europe was to institute proportional representation for elections to the European Assembly.

It was proposed that three seats should be allocated to Northern Ireland. Unionist Members displayed their total arrogance by thinking that they could capture two of the seats and that the other would be taken by a non-Unionist—perhaps a member of the Alliance Party, but more likely by an SDLP member—and, when the Unionists decided that they could not win the third seat, they had the audacity, effrontery and cheek to table an amend- ment to the Bill proposing that the number of seats allocated to Northern Ireland should be reduced from three to two. They were willing to lose a seat for Northern Ireland rather than have it filled by a non-Unionist. That shows their supreme arrogance. The House rejected the amendment.

I support the proposal of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). I am opposed to any increase in the number of seats, but, if we are to have such an increase, I suggest that the system of PR should be used in the elections. I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said so often when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland is not Glasgow, Edinburgh or Cardiff. History has decided that Northern Ireland is different. It is part of the island of Ireland and is not on the land mass of Great Britain. There are 13,000 or 14,000 British troops in Northern Ireland and men were murdered today and yesterday because of the history of Northern Ireland. That does not happen in Glasgow, Birmingham or any other city in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland cannot be treated like any other part of the United Kingdom. There are exceptional circumstances in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State said that he did not think that PR would be acceptable to hon. Members because of the traditions of the House. What a great argument! I have no hesitation in telling my right hon. Friend that I am not concerned with the traditions of the House. I am concerned with bringing peace to Northern Ireland and the traditions of the House mean nothing against that. I do not accept the Secretary of State's arguments for rejecting proportional representation.

I recognise that there are sincere and honestly held objections to PR in Britain. That statement is not the contradiction that some people may believe it to be. I know that many of my close political friends and colleagues on the Government Benches believe that PR in Britain would be disadvantageous to the Labour Party.

What I am about to say might seem to be a contradiction But if I were living in Scotland, Wales or England and a member of the Labour Party I should not support PR. Since 1974 I have seen the deals that have been done with the various parties. The ultimate in dirty little deals was that with members of the Unionist Party. That does not make for democracy. Different people have their own interpretation of that word.

I understand the reservations that are felt by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends about PR. I should probably support them if I represented an English, Welsh or Scottish constituency. But I do not. I represent a Northern Ireland constituency.

PR is so necessary because of the basis on which the Six Counties State first came into being. I suggest that hon. Members on both sides of the House go to the Library and read the report of the debate which took place on 13th March 1920. This contains a speech by Sir Edward Carson, who later became Lord Carson. He said that when the Government set out to create a State of Northern Ireland visits were made to every town, village and hamlet in the counties of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan to see if it would be possible to govern the ancient Province of Ulster from Belfast. He said that it was found that there were 280,000 Catholics in those three counties and only 70,000 Protestants. He said that those poor people had to be sacrificed to the fortunes of a Dublin Government.

What a sad commentary that is on the creation of a State. Northern Ireland was set up on a Catholic and Protestant head count. That is why we have had violence and death in almost every decade since that State came into being.

That is why we cannot hope to have normal elections as we have in the rest of the United Kingdom. The majority that existed in 1920 is still the majority. The people who comprise that majority believe that they have full rights to absolute power, privilege and patronage in Northern Ireland. They believe that those who are opposed to them politically are second-class citizens.

That situation existed when the February 1974 elections took place two months after the power sharing executive was set up. The election was called for reasons of particular interest to he United Kingdom—namely, the miners' strike. That was not of everyday importance in Northern Ireland at that time.

In Northern Ireland the election was not about the wages and working conditions of miners. It was not about the three-day week or about Tory philosophy as opposed to Socialist philosophy. The election in Northern Ireland resolved round how to get rid of the executive because some members of that executive were from the minority community. That was just too much for certain people to take.

The election took place in a highly emotional and dangerous atmosphere when mass intimidation was taking place. Members of the UDA were seen on the streets. Neither the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is now Home Secretary, nor anyone else could travel the roads in Northern Ireland safely because of the road blocks and intimidation. I had to travel to his office by helicopter. Because of the atmosphere at that time, 51 per cent. of the electorate voted against the Sunningdale partners in that executive.

For 51 per cent. of the vote, 11 seats were gained. That was completely disproportionate and unrepresentative of the wishes of the people. I am the sole representative of my party in the House as a result of that election.

I try to use my words carefully. I have always hesitated to say this, but a label has been put on the SDLP. It is known as the"mainly Catholic"Socialist and Democratic Labour Party.

The mass of the people who support the party that I represent are in the minority in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State knows that members of my party have friends and colleagues throughout Europe and the world. We have a Socialist commitment to the international Labour movement. In no circumstances have we acted as the spokesmen for the Catholic community rather than the Protestant majority.

I would not wish it to be thought that I speak as a nationalist. I speak as a Socialist who knows of the deep cultural divisions that have been created by centuries of Irish history.

I shall now try to analyse the effects of the Bill. It will cause great division. It will polarise the community. It will do nothing to help bring into operation community Government or acceptable political structures in Northern Ireland.

Some credit must be given to the right hon. Member for Down, South as a political figure. I do not blame him for the Bill. I blame the Government. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for providing leadership for the party with which he is associated. He has made his position clear. He does not want devolved Government in Northern Ireland. He does not want power sharing. He has been consistent in his opposition to that.

Indeed, within 48 hours of the convention failing, the right hon. Gentleman, who was in Belfast, using Cromwell's words said"For God's sake go." That was at a time when many of his colleagues were trying desperately to find agreement in the convention. The right hon. Gentleman has nothing to be ashamed of. I give him credit for his leadership. However, I am opposed to every single issue on which he stands.

The home-bred type of Unionist in Northern Ireland—unlike the right hon. Member for Down, South—wants Stormont back. The right hon. Member for Down, South does not. That is a contradiction. The Unionists cannot have Stormont, so they will settle for a second option—an increase in the number of Northern Ireland seats. They have been successful so far, but the Bill is not yet on the statute book.

The right hon. Member for Down, South made a speech on Friday evening which was reported in the press on Saturday. In his endearing nudge, nudge, wink, wink attitude, he said that local authority power would be back in the hands of the Northern Ireland people much sooner than anyone here thought. He said that there was to be a regional council in Northern Ireland and that local authority powers would be handed back to the Unionist majority.

Has the House any idea what effect that had on the anti-Unionist community? My phone never stopped ringing. All weekend people came to me and said"In the name of God, Gerry, what are the British Government thinking of?"That was the effect that it had.

Mr. Powell

The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that the majority of the people who were listening to me in Warrenpoint were Roman Catholics and the majority probably were not Unionist voters. Not a single voice, question or objection to what I said was raised during one and a half hours of questions that followed my speech.

Mr. Fitt

The right hon. Gentleman must have mesmerised them just as a lot of people have been mesmerised by the right hon. Gentleman over recent years. The right hon. Gentleman has said repeatedly, and it has been said by his hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), in the press and on television that when they went to Westminster, they had a shopping list. The first item on that shopping list was extra seats at Westminster. The right hon. Gentleman said that the second thing on the shopping list was the return of local government powers.

This shopping list has been granted to the Unionists by an allegedly Socialist and Labour Government. I can only say that any self-respecting shopkeeper who allowed these people on to his premises could not think much about it. It was not a shopping list that they had. I believe they were shoplifting. If they had come into my store, I would have had store detectives keeping a close eye on them.

By this Bill, we are increasing the number of seats. I predict they will be taken by Unionist representatives.

My right hon. Friend, the Member for Bermondsey was in the House in 1946. He will remember that every Unionist from Northern Ireland voted against the National Health Service. I have checked this in Hansard

Mr. Mellish

Of course. What my hon. Friend says about the Ulster Unionists is well known. Until we had civil rights disturbances and what has flowed from them, and until the arrival of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), not a single decision was taken on which the Unionists (lid not automatically vote with the Tories. I do not know whether they took the Tory Whip. They might just as well have done so. There should be no doubt about that.

Mr. Fitt

My right hon. Friend will have an even clearer recollection of the 1964–66 Parliament when his party had a small majority of three. On each and every occasion, the Unionists voted against the Government. I am delighted also to see my hon. Friend for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), for the Unionists defeated a canal project in his constituency at that time. Unionist votes from Northern Ireland determined what was to happen on a local issue in Manchester at that time. That has been the pattern ever since this Government were elected in 1974.

It has given me great satisfaction, to support the Government, however small their majority, on all the Socialist proposals that they have brought forward, including the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act and the Dock Work Regulation Act and others, on which the Government were winning by one or two votes. On each and every occasion, the Unionists from Northern Ireland were voting against them.

Then the Government lost their majority. They find now that they have to enter into some form of discredited arrangement to try to keep themselves in power. If the Unionists get their way over this Bill, they will be in a position to engage in even greater blackmail, to the detriment of every trade unionist and working-class person in the United Kingdom. The Bill will have a long-term effect.

I should like to quote from an article in The Guardian of 22nd March 1977 written by Derek Brown, a very competent reporter, who was based in Northern Ireland at the time of a great number of incidents. He said in that article: What the Unionists are asking for and what they are perilously near achieving, if their own euphoric forecasts are to be believed, is the total reversal of Westminster policy on power sharing. They will not talk of marginal concessions like more troops, tougher security legislation or increased representation at Westminster. Instead, their aim is the acceptance in one form or another of the principle of restored majority rule in this divided Province. The article goes on to say: They all mean the same thing—majority rule. And majority rule, however contrived or described, means continued and probably increased violence. Others, apart from the Unionists, would prosper. The Provisional IRA, for example, would have what justification it still needs for carrying on the fight against the oppressor, while the Army and the police would find further employment guaranteed. That is exactly what this Bill does. In passing legislation of this kind, we should have recourse to history to see what happened to Ireland in the past and to see if there are any lessons which we can learn. I suggest that there are many lessons. I would like the Government to take note of them before it is too late.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is strongly opposed to devolution and has written a book on the subject. I believe that he had some very pertinent things to say. In a chapter in relation to Northern Ireland, when he tried to draw a parallel, or perhaps a distinction, he said: Speculating on the might-have-beens of history is seldom a very profitable business, but it is perfectly feasible to argue that politicians like Randolph Churchill who deliberately played the ' Orange Card' in order to frustrate Home Rule were indirectly responsible for the Easter Rising, the Irish Civil War and the eventual separation of Southern Ireland from the United Kingdom, and that had Home Rule been granted, the Republican cause might have died the death and a united Ireland would still form part of the United Kingdom. I find it hard to disagree with that. I only add the proviso that the 1913 general strike in Ireland, the lock-out and the way that workers and trade unionists were treated by the employers in Dublin had no mean effect in leading to the rebellion that took place in 1916. That certainly was a factor.

In the same book, my hon. Friend, referring to the Leader of the House, said: Mr. Foot went on, ' If the Labour Government and the Labour Movement cannot bring the politics of persuasion to success, then very often what we condemn our people to is the politics of violence and force, as we can see across the Irish Channel '. That was said by the Leader of the House. This legislation, for which my right hon. Friend was largely responsible, will have exactly that effect.

Early this month, at the SDLP annual conference, motion no. 70 was passed by 700 delegates, with two dissenting votes and one dissenting voice. It said that the SDLP regarded it as inevitable that the British must leave Ireland one day, that they should not leave overnight but should stay there and do all they could to bring the communities together and create political structures acceptable to everyone not only in Northern Ireland but in the island of Ireland and then leave, because Britain had no long-term future there.

That is right. It is nothing new in SDLP policy. From its very inception, I played a large part in drawing up the constitution of the SDLP. I can remember vividly making it clear that the party stood for the reunification of the island of Ireland—and not motivated by any hostility to the people of Britain. It is not necessary to hate Britain before one can love Ireland. Quite the reverse. I have many friends in the United Kingdom and I regard the British people as the most tolerant people on the face of God's earth. I know that many of my hon. Friends will agree that Ireland must one day be united—not by coercion but by consensus and by the will of the people of Northern Ireland.

Some people say that the Bill will have no effect. I say that it will have an effect. Although the SDLP is tenaciously sticking to its commitment and its ideal of a united Ireland, motion no. 70 would never have appeared on its agenda but for this Bill. We knew the recommendation of Mr. Speaker's Conference and we knew that with indecent haste the shotgun wedding between the Government and the Ulster Unionists had to be legalised. That is why the First Reading came immediately after the Queen's Speech, and the Bill is up for Second Reading today. That was the main reason for motion no. 70, which was carried almost unanimously.

The Secretary of State may say that we should gain some seats and should therefore be pleased. It is all a question of votes. Over the past four years, when the Government were liable to win or lose by a small majority, I was for ever being asked to vote and asked"Do you know, whether Frank Maguire is coming?"As soon as we knew that there was to be a close vote, the gentlemen of the press began to speculate on whether we would win or lose by one or two votes. The question always was"Is Gerry coming?"or,"Is Frank coming?"But then it became unnecessary for Gerry or Frank to come because the Lib-Lab pact was agreed; and when that had run its course, the deal was made with the Unionists.

It is all a question of votes. Does this House never learn? When the Irish Parliamentary Party was represented in this House, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, made a speech in the Albert Hall in which he claimed that he would have the support of the Irish nationalists when they came to Westminster. After the election, in the debate on the Queen's Speech, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond, sitting, I presume, on the Opposition side of the House, said: I rise to give expression to a point of view entirely different from that of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. And perhaps it is as well that, at the earliest moment in the new Parliament, the fact should be emphasised that the Irish Nationalist Members, though they have been freely included in the calculations of the Government majority by the British Press, in reality stand, as they have always stood, apart and independent and allied to no British party, but prepared to accept what they consider to be good measures for Ireland from any British party in turn. That was a question of votes. Prime Miniser Asquith was including the Irish Parliamentary Party in his calculation of the votes which would be necessary to get legislation through—just as my right hon. Friends are doing today. The only difference is that they are prepared to settle for a little less: they do not count votes, they count abstentions.

That is why it is difficult to understand how this Labour Government have allowed themselves to get into such a position. I was hoping that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would be here, but I was hoping even more that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would be here. It is freely rumoured and reported that it was the Leader of the House who arrived at the arrangement under which the Bill has been brought forward so speedily.

In 1953, the ex-Minister of Health, Nye Bevan, perhaps remembering how they had voted against the National Health Service Act, said of the Northern Ireland Members: When I consider the deplorable level of Parliamentary representation that Northern Ireland has in this House at the present time "— I think that he was talking about quality rather than quantity— when I consider their meagre contribution to debates, their old-fashioned arguments and the extent to which they are obviously under the influence of vested interests in Northern Ireland, it seems to me that the time has come when we ourselves ought no longer to be oppressed by their presence and our legislative processes interfered with by their votes."—[Official Report, 6th July 1953; Vol. 517, c. 1018.] Nye Bevan was always one of my idols and I understand that he was a close friend, political colleague and confidant of the present Leader of the House.

When the Leader of the House was meeting the Unionists, did he stop for a second to think"What would Nye have done in these circumstances?" Would Nye have tolerated such a descent into the gutter? My right hon. Friend is also the biographer of Nye Bevan. I wonder—even yet, does he not have a twinge of conscience about the activities in which he has engaged to enable the Bill to come before us tonight?

It will take all the oratorical excellence and the gifted eloquence of my right hon. Friend to justify what he has done. At the end of the day he will have failed, because no socialist with a drop of red blood in his veins could or should have allowed himself to be part of a deal to bring this Bill to the House.

That is why I oppose the Bill. I intend to oppose it until it eventually leaves the House.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

I paid careful attention to what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said. Much of it sounded strangely familiar. The hon. Gentleman reminded me of a former colleague of ours from Northern Ireland who, when told that we had heard his speech before, confessed"Yes, I know, but I thought I should do it for the benefit of the new boys."

The one part of the hon. Gentleman's speech that puzzled me was that in which he appeared to blame the Government's by-election defeats on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. For the life of me, I could not work out whether he regarded the right hon. Gentleman as a greater liability to the Labour Government if he were here in Great Britain or in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman said that there had been a campaign in Northern Ireland that"Mason must go ", but it seemed to me that when the right hon. Gentleman was appointed the hon. Gentleman had a rather different message—" Mason must not come."

The hon. Gentleman also reiterated his complaint that a majority exists in Northern Ireland. We have heard all the reasons why he finds that deplorable and objectionable. He has repeated this many times, but he always stops short of suggesting a remedy, because clearly tinkering with the electoral processes will not have the desired effect. One can only assume, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman has in his mind—or perhaps it is in the minds of some of his associates—a final solution about which we may hear one day.

It has been alleged by the hon. Gentleman, and in a rather more gentlemanly way by the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), that the Bill is the result of a pact. I hope to prove conclusively that no such pact was made. But I can assure all hon. Members present that if we ever do engage in a pact the results will be much more spectacular than those delivered by the Liberal Party. If anyone doubts that, let him look at what we have gained without a pact.

I am sure that we would all join in expressing appreciation of Mr. Speaker's chairmanship of his Conference, which produced the basis for the Bill. With his customary fairness, he ensured that the views of all interests were heard and carefully considered, and with his customary skill he guided us towards our various conclusions, by showing just that hint of impatience of which we are all conscious when in the Chamber a colleague discharges the fourth or fifth barrel of a supplementary question. Mr. Speaker was ably supported by the two joint secretaries to the conference, Mr. Chesterton and Mr. Willcox, who processed an enormous volume of literature and facts and figures to assist us in our deliberations during our eight meetings.

Today we are carrying forward a process initiated by the Prime Minister on 23rd March 1977. Contrary to certain colourful and unbalanced reports, some of which have been repeated in the House today, no mystery surrounds that decision. The Prime Minister's words are recorded in the Official Report. He said: irrespective of the way in which he "— the right hon. Gentleman was referring to me— and his colleagues vote tonight, it is my intention, with the consent of my colleagues, to refer to a Speaker's Conference…the question of the representation of Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Antrim, South has made no bargain with me about that. I have no idea how he intends to vote, but I told him and I repeat here publicly what 1 intend to do." —[Official Report, 23rd March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 1304.] A few minutes later I confirmed what the Prime Minister had said. My intervention is to be found at column 1305 of Hansard of 23rd March 1977.

Towards the end of the debate further confirmation came from the Lord President, who had been present at our talks. Like the Prime Minister, he reported to the House fully and openly on the talks, in which he had expressed the view that Northern Ireland was under-represented in the House, whether or not an acceptable devolution for the Province was achieved. Both the Prime Minister and the Lord President indicated that they would seek the agreement and consent of the parties to what the Government proposed.

Here I wish to express our appreciation of the prompt response from all parties in Great Britain represented in this House, which enabled the Conference to be established and to begin its deliberations. It would be remiss of me to fail to record my own party's gratitude to the members of the three main parties who served on the Conference. We were greatly struck by the diligent attention given to the vast quantity of documents that required detailed study by right hon. and hon. Members and undoubtedly made great demands on their time at a period when their other commitments were very heavy.

Those whom we represent would also wish us to express our gratitude to the Leader of the Opposition and those of her colleagues who have consistently advocated the granting of equal representation in Parliament to our part of the United Kingdom. There is for us and for the people of Northern Ireland great significance in the fact that the legislation before us is being introduced by a Labour Government with the full support of a Conservative Opposition, and backed in principle by every other party in Great Britain. This consensus indicates that the Bill and the principle that underlies it transcend mere party political considerations.

For that reason, we all have a duty in this debate to remove certain misunderstandings. First, it has been suggested that the granting of equal representation is somehow related to the prospects of restoring some form of devolved government to Northern Ireland. The Lord President on 23rd March 1977 supplied the answer. He said: My right hon. Friend "— he was referring to the Prime Minister— and I have on a number of occasions made clear that we accept that Northern Ireland is under-represented in this House, whether some acceptable devolution settlement for the Province is achieved or not."—[Official Report, 23rd March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 1404.] It has been said that acceptance of the principle of equality would in some curious way lessen the desire for local, elected control over everyday affairs in Northern Ireland. But why should Northern Ireland attitudes be so very different from those in Scotland, where overrepresentation in Parliament has in no way diminished the desire for Scottish control over Scottish affairs?

In Northern Ireland the leader of my own party, Mr. West, is currently engaged in exchanges with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in a genuine attempt to establish some form of elected regional authority, which, in the Secretary of State's words, can take responsibility for the great majority of those matters which affect the daily lives of the people who live there ". On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I supported that aim in the House as recently as 9th November this year. Far from discouraging that movement towards devolution, today's recognition of equal status will encourage Ulster people, as distinct from certain political figures, to redouble their efforts to obtain British standards of democracy in all other respects.

The House will have noticed that today's business has been referred to in other places somewhat loosely as a Bill to provide extra seats for Northern Ireland. That is not so. It is not the object of the Bill. For that reason, I have been careful at all times, today and on other occasions, to use the term"equal representation ".

The Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council proposed to remedy the under-representation of Northern Ireland, and the same formula has been placed on the record on many occasions by the official Opposition. The spokesman for the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Isle of Ely, said in this House on 30th June 1977: There seems to be no political party that would not like the people of Ulster more constructively, more properly and more equitably represented in this House."—[Official Report, 30th June 1977; Vol. 934, c. 700.] I am very well aware—we have heard it repeated here today—that the Liberal Party would favour a system of proportional representation, not just for Northern Ireland but for the United Kingdom as a whole. Perhaps I might point out that, even if one accepted the objectives at which Liberals were aiming, there would be no advantage, no reason and no sense in having proportional representation for Northern Ireland alone to supply representatives to this House where the decisions are taken by 635 hon. Members, excluding Mr. Speaker, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and your colleagues. For that reason, I am afraid that it must be for the United Kingdom as a whole or nothing.

I can well understand the reasoning of the Liberal Party. However, our experience of PR in Northern Ireland for local government, for example, shows that, although undoubtedly it spreads representation over a whole collection of parties, it does not alter the balance between the major parties on each side of the Unionist-Republican divide. The only effect of PR has been the continuing fragmentation of the main blocs. The hon. Member for Belfast, West, in a slip of the tongue, conceded that. He said that some of the new seats might be represented by his party or some other party on his side of the fence, so that quite clearly he sees what PR is leading to and what the outcome will be. This continuing fragmentation of both the main blocs in Northern Ireland has been the greatest single cause of failure so far to make progress or even to take the first steps towards devolution.

Some years ago, the SDLP, led by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, used the slogan in an election,"One Strong Voice ". But the application of PR in the interval which has elapsed has already weakened that strong voice on his side as well as on ours. It has hampered greatly the efforts of the Secretary of State in trying to assess opinion or even to discover precisely what is in the minds of the various elements in the Northern Ireland community.

In any case, although some people may feel justified in arguing for PR for 12 very large constituencies such as we have at the moment, that proposition is demolished utterly when we come to consider 17 or 18 seats, because the logic is that a greater number naturally will improve the opportunities for more accurate representation.

There is no denying that attitudes have changed greatly since the days when the present Home Secretary was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. One of the changes is the greater desire, which cuts right across the old dividing lines, to be represented fully and equally in this House which is now recognised as the place where decisions are taken and laws are made. It is in this much more fluid situation that Her Majesty's Government have been able, and perhaps have been persuaded, to meet the reasonable demand for equal representation in the Parliament which represents the whole of the Kingdom.

I may perhaps do the House a service if I deal with the proposed number of seats. The evidence laid before Mr. Speaker's Conference showed that the effect of using Great Britain quotas as a guide to the number of seats in Northern Ireland would result as follows: parity with England would give us 16 seats; with Wales, 18 seats; with Scotland, 19 seats; and with the whole of Great Britain, 16 seats.

I have said already that our claim has always been equal and not extra representation. That is the answer to the allegation made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West about my party's attitude when it came to the seats for the European Parliament. We never said that we wanted extra or unfair representation. By common consent—it was admitted even by the Government of the Irish Republic —Northern Ireland's quota would have been two seats. The fact that artificially we were being offered three seats tended to arouse suspicion and would have left us open—and still does—to the charge of having accepted extra representation.

I can remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), many years before he became a Northern Ireland Member, saying again and again consistently that what we wanted and what this House ought to give to Northern Ireland was equal representation—no more and no less. That remains the policy of the party for which I speak. I do not think that I am breaching any privilege if I say that the Conference came almost unanimously to the same conclusion.

I suppose that the over-representation of Scotland could be defended on the ground that the largest Scottish constituency is rather more than three times the area of the largest Northern Ireland constituency. Perhaps Wales rather more closely resembles Northern Ireland in area, density and remoteness. The figure of 18 seats for Northern Ireland is in any case likely to be regarded as the most convenient when the independent Boundary Commission appointed by this House begins to put together the district council areas or in some cases perhaps the electoral areas to produce sensible and workable constituencies.

It is a great cause for satisfaction that the Bill has attracted the general support of the major parties and of all reasonable people in this House. Constitutional developments are much more enduring in their effect and much more stabilising when they are backed by general agreement. My party gives its support to the Bill confident that in the future those hon. Members who will represent Northern Ireland can be relied upon to think and act constructively and, together with their colleagues from the three other parts of the Kingdom, to make their contribution to the better government of Ulster and of the nation to which we all belong.

6.58 p.m.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

The House will be delighted to know that I propose to speak for only a short time. We have listened to some very long speeches, and I know that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate.

I declare at once that it is with regret that I speak in the way that I intend to do to my right hon. and hon. Friends. My record in this House is fairly well known. I suppose that loyalty to my party has been of paramount importance to me. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I was given the job of Chief Whip. I always saw that job as making sure that people voted loyally for the party which they had been elected to represent.

However, Ireland and matters concerning Ireland are for me matters of great conscience. I make no apologies for that. I hold my views as sincerely as any hon. Member on the Opposition Benches. I was brought up to believe and have always believed that the early settlement of 1920 was a scandal and a disgrace. When one considers what happened following that settlement in the Province of Northern Ireland to those who made up the minorities, one appreciates that the story is one of shame and disgust.

I have had eaten into my soul the injustice with which politicians gerrymandered and, having done so, made sure that certain elements in the North were allowed hardly to express a view until, eventually and inevitably, in 1968 we saw the growth of the civil rights movement and the riots and then the whole thing blew up in one huge bomb.

Since then, one has felt sick and sorry, and never at any time have I admired or attempted to justify the appalling brutality committed in the name of those who hold the same views as I do. Those responsible are nothing but thugs and murderers. They have destroyed many of the ideals that I hold. The same applies to supporters of the opposite view. They are also thugs and murderers, and have done equal damage.

The House should understand that it is in that context that we talk about the Bill. I understand the approach of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), but I found the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland almost contemptuous. He sounded as though he were talking about Scotland, Wales and England. He made the kind of speech that Ministers make when introducing Boundary Commission reports.

This debate is about Northern Ireland. We are talking about a situation from which the past cannot be eradicated. The minority in Northen Ireland have been and will continually be denied rights. Willy-nilly in what we are doing today we are in fact perpetuating what I have always regarded as an evil. We are proposing to increase Northern Ireland's representation in this House, but, whether we like it or not, the fight will depend on the question whether one is a Catholic or a Protestant. Elections in Northern Ireland are fought not on economic policies, what is best, whether one should go Left, Right or Fascist, but on whether people are Catholics or Protestants. That is an insult.

I must be as right today as I have ever been. The day must come when there will be a united nation in Ireland, both South and North, and elections will be fought on economic arguments and on whether one should vote Right, Left or Centre.

My right hon. Friend, with a certain amount of smugness and meekness, introduced the Bill as being in the same category as a Bill for Scotland or England. I am not taking that from him. My instinct tells me that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was nearer to the ball. I am not suggesting that a deal has been done, in the sense of a written concordat. However, this must have activated the Government to ensure that they are able to carry on in the months ahead. I understand the manoeuvrings of Government—I was part of them for years—but I would never stoop to that. However, that could be the only justification for the grave injustice of Ulster suddenly appearing on the Government Front Bench. All the sadness, the irregularities and the under-representation almost brought us to tears. It was portrayed as a tragic situation. We all felt so sorry. But it is rubbish, and we all know it. There is no sincerity.

The Conservative Party is in great difficulty, too. The record of the Ulster Unionists is famous. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West asked a relevant question. Up to 1968 the Ulster Unionists mingled and intermixed with the Conservatives. That was evident when the Labour Party was in Opposition for 13 years. After all, it was the Conservative and Unionist Party. It was all one and the same, and I always understood that. Whenever anything was promoted by the Labour Party in Opposition or by the Labour Govern- ment, the Ulster Unionists automatically voted with the Conservatives. I am not suggesting any wrong motives.

I think that I did a grave injustice to the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) last time I spoke, but I shall not do so this time. The hon. Gentleman's record is very good, The Conservative Party must support the Bill. I know that we shall be smashed in the Lobby tonight. I know that we shall also be defeated in Committee—which must be on the Floor of the House because this is a constitutional Bill—and the Government will win. They will also get their Third Reading. They will then just have to keep their fingers crossed and hope for continued support from the Ulster Unionists in the months ahead in order to stay in office until my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wisely and sensibly decides to go to the electorate. That is what the Bill is about.

I cannot vote for the Bill. I shall go into the Lobby and vote against it. My principles and loyalties, not only to the Labour Party but to the people who are associated with me, will not allow me to support and perpetuate a system that was started in 1920, with the representation of the Ulster Unionists. I never wanted them, I do not want them now, and I live for the day when they are out of this House for ever.

7.5 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Protestant people of Northern Ireland, who have been severely maligned in this debate.

I wish to take up two points immediately. First, the former Chief Whip of the Labour Party, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) talked about injustice and discrimination going on now against the Roman Catholic minority in Ulster. The Labour Government are ruling Northern Ireland. There is no Unionist of any kind in the Government of Northern Ireland. The Unionists have no say in any decision that is made in Northern Ireland. In 1972 the government of Northern Ireland passed to this House. If there is discrimination against Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, the guilt is on this House. If there are acts of violence against the Roman Catholic minority, it is the responsibility of this House to put them right. No Ulster Unionist has at any stage had any say in the government of Northern Ireland since 1972.

Mr. Mellish

I did not suggest that this had suddenly arisen since 1972. In fact, I thought that I said the opposite. I said that from 1920 onwards, with the power of the Ulster Unionists, the oppression of the Roman Catholics was there for the world to see and none could deny it. However, I admitted that in 1968, because of the civil rights demonstrations, there was a change. There was another change when the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) joined the United Ulster Unionists. But the fact was that the United Ulster Unionist Party was there for the world to see.

Rev. Ian Paisley

When the right hon. Gentleman reads his speech he will find that he spoke in the present tense. He was talking about today. I want to make it clear that if that kind of thing is going on in Northern Ireland, the guilt lies upon the Governments of either the Conservative Party who abolished Northern Ireland's Parliament or of the Labour Party to which the right hon. Gentleman belongs. That should be made perfectly clear.

The right hon. Gentleman is longing for a united Ireland. But what happened to the Protestant minority in the South of Ireland? To where have they been driven? When the border was established, between 7 per cent. and 8 per cent. of the population of Southern Ireland were Protestants. Now the figure is about 2½ per cent. The Roman Catholic population in Northern Ireland is increasing. We are often told about the increase in the Roman Catholic population. But the Protestant population is being driven out of the South of Ireland.

I do not propose to talk at any length about legislation that affects the life of the individual in the Irish Republic, but legislation on the statute book there goes into family relationships. Such legislation is ruled by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Nor do I propose to deal with marriage, contraceptives or divorce. However, these are facts which we must face.

Those who oppose the Bill have not replied to the statistical argument for equal representation. I do not believe that the Bill will give equal representation, but the argument for an increase in representation has not been answered or refuted, because the facts declare that if we are to do justice to Ulster and say that it is part of the United Kingdom, we must give rights equal to those in the rest of the United Kingdom.

What are the facts? In England it takes 66,434 electors to send one Member to this House. In Wales, it takes 57,362 electors to send one Member to this House. In Scotland it takes 53,649 electors to send one Member to this House. In Northern Ireland it takes 86,142 electors. Those 86,142 electors carry the same financial responsibility, pay the same taxes, and shoulder the same responsibilities as electors in any other part of the United Kingdom. Therefore, there can be no argument by anyone who believes in elementary rights, if we are talking about the rights of the people.

We have very often heard in this House, from both Front Benches, that Ulster is a part of the United Kingdom. In a debate such as this we may be reckoned to be part of the United Kingdom, but we certainly are not reckoned to stand on a plane of equality, and it is evident that Ulster has to be rated in a different manner.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when introducing this Bill, mentioned the special circumstances of Northern Ireland. He said that we needed proportional representation for local elections in Northern Ireland because of the special circumstances; we needed proportional representation for the Assembly and Convention elections; we needed proportional representation for the European Assembly; but we do not need PR for Westminster.

I can well understand the righteous ire of those on the Labour Benches, because if one is going to follow the logic of the argument one has to say that one should have PR, for it is a special circumstance in Northern Ireland. I do not go with that argument. 1 do not agree that there are any special circumstances whatsoever in Northern Ireland in regard to the strength of the electorate to return representatives to this House, or to local authorities, or to a local parliament in Northern Ireland.

We should remember that the first Stormont Parliament was elected on proportional representation. There was no difference, numerically, between those who were returned by PR and those who were returned through a first-past-the-post system. If one studies PR elections in Northern Ireland, one finds that in most cases those who come at the top of the poll under PR are usually elected—though not in all cases.

There is no doubt about that at all. Therefore, the suggestion that PR is some kind of ointment that will cure the running cancerous sore of Northern Ireland is nonsense. Even the present Prime Minister of Ireland, when he was talking with the Prime Minister of this country recently, said that he wanted to abolish PR. In fact, he went to the Southern electorate on a referendum trying to abolish PR.

We find that the system of PR is not, therefore, a system that will make any real change. The question of the special circumstances in Northern Ireland is always mentioned. I know what is meant by the phrase"special circumstances ". The special circumstances are that there is a majority of people who do not want to go into a united Ireland. If the majority was the other way there would be no discussion in this House, the border would be abolished immediately, and there would be a united Ireland.

I have heard from the Labour Benches and from the Liberal Bench loud, strong cries for majority rule in Rhodesia. When it comes to Northern Ireland, these same people, arguing a special case, tell us that there should not be majority rule. Their objective seems to be to prevent the wishes and aspirations of the majority of people in Ulster being realised.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), in a very lengthy speech in which he careered over the past, the present and the future, told us about the bringing down of the executive. In this House I asked the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he would submit the executive to the ballot box and he said"Never ". That executive, he said, would be in power for four years and there would be no elections. It was the election in February of that year which brought down the executive. It was the ballot box that brought down the executive. When this Parliament refused to listen to the ballot box, something happened. That was what brought the British Government to their senses. They realised that they could not foist a minority Government on the people of Northern Ireland.

I was at Stormont on the day when the executive took its place. I counted 44 armoured cars parked in Stormont grounds. That was a show of British might well in keeping with the worst type of colonialism—" We will make you take this Government." No one will make the people of Northern Ireland take any Government which a Westminster Government undemocratically foist upon them. They will not surrender their heritage by dictation which is not based upon the ballot box.

The answer to the problem of Northern Ireland is simple. Let the politicians say"All right, let us put it to the vote." Why is there no talk about a referendum for Northern Ireland? Scotland is to have a devolved Government and must have a certain percentage of votes if it is to have the Act which has been before this House for a long time. Wales will have the same. What about the people of Northern Ireland? Are they not going to be allowed to decide, by a referendum, what sort of devolved Government they would like?

I make it clear that I would prefer a devolved Government in Northern Ireland to any increase in representation in this House. It would not worry me if there were a reduction in the number of Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies, if we had a properly devolved Government in Northern Ireland. But, in justice, no one can argue against this case because the facts and the statistics are there to be seen.

One has only to compare some constituencies. There is the constituency of Newcastle, Central. Though not as large as a Northern Ireland constituency for Stormont, it can get a Member elected to this House with about 23,000 votes, whereas the Leader of the Ulster Unionists, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has 125,000 electors, and my own constituency has 103,000. Yet Newcastle, with an electorate of 23,000—a seat the same size as a seat in the old Stormont Parliament—can return a Member.

One has only to look through the figures. I went into the Library to see how many constituences have fewer than 30,000 electors. There are quite a number. There is Glasgow, Central with 20,000; Western Isles, with 22,000; Orkney and Shetland, with 28,000; Caithness and Sutherland, with 29,000; Glasgow, Govan, with 26,000, and so on. I could go on.

Let us now consider the constituencies in Northern Ireland. Armagh has nearly 94,000 electors. Fermanagh and South Tyrone—the hon. Member for which constituency occasionally comes to this House, and does not stay long when he is here—has 72,000 electors. Londonderry has nearly 95,000 and Mid-Ulster has 81,000. My own constituency has almost 103,000, according to the latest list that has been prepared: South Antrim has almost 126,000; Down, North has 98,000 and Down, South, 89,000; Belfast, East has 76,000; Belfast, North has 66,000; and Belfast, South has 70,000. The hon. Member for Belfast, West, who made a long speech, has the smallest constituency, of 59,000.

However, with all due respect to the right hon. Member for Bermondsey, a former Labour Chief Whip, it should be noted that the Roman Catholic-dominated constituencies are the smallest ones. The Protestant constituencies are the largest. One has only to look at Fermanagh and South Tyrone and at Belfast, West, with electorates of 72,000 and 59,000, respectively, to see that the other constituencies are very large indeed. There is, therefore, a case for extra representation in this House, and that case has not been answered.

The population in Northern Ireland is increasing more rapidly than it is increasing on this side of the water. The electoral lists show that. Is there no time when this House will, on the ground of population rise, do justice to the people of Northern Ireland? They are not asking their representatives to put on a sob story here and say"Please give us our rights." If the House does not want to give Ulster her rights, let it keep these extra seats. We are not here to beg, or to congratulate people on doing something that is a basic act of justice.

Let us consider the Speaker's Conference. It did not represent the opinion on the Northern Ireland Benches in regard to Northern Ireland. Two official Unionists were appointed to the Conference. There were other strands of Unionism at that time, sitting on these Benches, including my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), myself, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), who then represented the Vanguard Party, and the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), who is not associated in this House with the Parliamentary Unionist Party.

Surely, if the Speaker's Conference had an eye on getting full representation from the Northern Ireland Benches it should have had another strand to put the other side of the Unionist coin. But that was not done. Was that also part of what we have been hearing tonight about a deal done between the Government and the official Unionists, when there were two official Unionists and one representative, and the four other Members of Parliament had no votes whatsoever?

I think that there was a reason for that. The only recently elected body in Northern Ireland for the whole of Northern Ireland was the Convention. The Convention had something to say about this matter. In its terms of reference it was asked to comment on this matter, and so it did. In the report of the Convention, on page 11, we find a whole paragraph concerning representation at Westminster. Here we read that The UUUC, UPNI and NILP argued strongly for an increase in Northern Ireland's representation at Westminster ". I understand that the Northern Ireland Labour Party has friendly relations with the British Labour Party and sends fraternal delegates to its conferences, so the Northern Ireland Labour Party was arguing for this as well. The report also says that the Alliance Party was also prepared to give active support to this ". The reasons that were put forward by the Convention were as follows: Northern Ireland, as an integral part of the United Kingdom, ought to be represented in the United Kingdom Parliament on a basis and scale similar to that used to determine the representation of comparable parts of the Kingdom". That is a reasonable argument, which cannot be gainsaid. Secondly, Northern Ireland is taxed on the same basis as the rest of the country and therefore the power of Parliament to tax must be balanced by the right to representation ". We come to the question of taxation without representation. We know what happened in the American colonies when that situation came to a head. We know all about the Boston Tea Party and the other drinks that were forced down the British throats because they would not settle for this basic elementary right.

The next reasons were as follows: The allocation of United Kingdom funds, including those spent in Northern Ireland, is determined by the Parliament at Westminster. Parliament legislates for Northern Ireland Devolved Government in other parts of the United Kingdom is held by Her Majesty's Government to be fully consistent with parity of representation in the United Kingdom Parliament. It was made clear by the Leader of the House that even when Scotland got its devolved Assembly there would be no reduction in the number of Scottish Members in this House.

These were the arguments that were put by the Convention, which was the last elected body in Northern Ireland—elected, incidentally, under the PR system, which seems to give it a greater credibility. The report stated: Accordingly, this Convention concludes that the number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament at Westminster should be increased to between 20 and 24, the boundaries and exact number of the constituencies to be determined by judicial commission on a basis and scale similar to comparable parts of the United Kingdom. What is more, at the last election, all those who took the endorsement of the UUUC at the time had this on their election address: We are determined to obtain equality with other parts of the United Kingdom in parliamentary representation. We should have 21 Members of Parliament if we are going to be treated the way Scotland is. Here we have a firm commitment, yet that side of the Unionist coin was not available at the Speaker's Conference, which did not hear the views of people who held that to have equal representation we would need more than the seats that are promised and have now been agreed.

I have read carefully the background paper that has been prepared by the Library. There is some very interesting material in it. It points out that there is no published record of the Conference's deliberations. We do not know whether the argument was ever put from the point of view of the Convention, but the paper goes on to say: However, the Conference clearly put aside what one may call the historical argument for compensation, and also the demands for equality with Scotland, principally argued on grounds of Northern Ireland's similarity to Scotland in remoteness from Westminster, cultural and ethnic differences and so on. Therefore, we have the Speaker's Conference meeting to discuss whether Northern Ireland should have more Members of Parliament and deciding that it should have more, and then we come to the question of the number. With respect to the hon. Member for Antrim, South, the number is not comparable with representation from the whole United Kingdom taken together, according to the Library document; it is comparable only with representation from England.

According to the background document —not according to what I say, but according to the document—the number of seats now offered in the Bill is not in keeping with those for the whole of the United Kingdom but is comparable only with those for England. Yet we in Northern Ireland have remoteness. We have a large population, which is underrepresented. At present its Members of Parliament have to do the work of local authorities. The whole of the work of the Ministry of the Environment, which takes in those responsibilities which are under local government here, rests upon the Members of Parliament.

What is more, the arguments that were put to the Convention are also listed. I can well understand the hon. Member for Belfast, West making all the quotations that he did, because when the Convention's report was presented, the then Secretary of State—now the Home Secretary—said: The Government are aware of the strong views held by many on the question of parliamentary representation at Westminster. They are also aware that in the past 50 years some Members elected to the Westminster Parliament have not taken their seats. That has nothing to do with it. If a part of the electorate in Northern Ireland elects men who do not want to come here, that is their business. If those men present themselves to the electorate and the electorate say"We return you "—and that happened in both Mid-Ulster and South Tyrone on two occasions, when people stood as abstentionists and won through an abstention—that has nothing to do with the question whether they should be here. If they do not want to come, that is their business. But the Government do not feel able to recommend re-examination of the question of the number "— they are not even prepared to re-examine it— of Northern Ireland constituencies returning Members to the United Kingdom Parliament in advance of an agreement on a system of government commanding the most widespread acceptance."—[Official Report, 12th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 56.] Today the Secretary of State committed himself to an impossibility. If that is his task, I can tell him now that he will never accomplish it. If anyone in this House thinks that it will be accomplished, he can sit here until he rots; it never will be accomplished in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government will secure a form of government that will be acceptable to the majority of both sides in the community. That is an impossibility, because it is nonsense to suppose that one can reconcile the irreconcilable.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West told us that his aim is to get the British out. Who are the British that he wants to get out? The people of Northern Ireland claim to be British. I claim to be a British subject. I am not like the hon. Member for Belfast, West. I carry a British passport. He carries a passport of the Republic of Ireland. No wonder the people of the Province were incensed at the executive.

I was a member of a deputation from the Assembly to the Parliaments of Belgium and the Netherlands. When we boarded the plane, the two SDLP Members went not through the United Kingdom passport control but through the other control, presenting Republic of Ireland passports. Yet these men claimed to be Ministers of the Crown and demanded the right to be in the Government. Even so, they did not have the decency to travel on the passport of the country for which they claimed to hold ministerial office.

These factors cannot be reconciled. The majority of the people who want the British out of Northern Ireland also want the Protestants out. They want everyone out except themselves. It is not the 16,000 troops who stand between the SDLP and its goal. Neither is it the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the RUC Reserve, or the UDR. The obstacle for the SDLP is the determination of the majority of the people not to go into a united Ireland.

This House can browbeat that majority and change the electoral system. It can tell itself that that majority will be war-weary. But I can tell this House that the determination of the Ulster Protestant people is as strong as ever. If the Secretary of State thinks that he will reconcile the irreconcilable and that he will produce a system that will win the support of a majority for a minority that wants to break away from this country, he has ahead of him a long and fruitless task.

Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) talked about reconciling the irreconcilable. How does he reconcile his alleged loyalty to this House with his threats of disloyalty to any decision of the House with which he may disagree? Is he aware that no one in this House wishes to force the majority or any others in Northern Ireland into accepting a status against their will?

Rev. Ian Paisley

I have no loyalty to this House. My loyalty is to the Queen. That is expressed in the oath that I took when I became a Member of this House. I have no loyalty to the Secretary of State, or to a Labour or Conservative Prime Minister.

Let me take the hon. Member up on one other matter. Is there no effort to try to push the majority in Northern Ireland into a situation that they have rejected? What does the hon. Member think about the Sunningdale agreement, which, according to Mr. Ivan Cooper, the SDLP claimed was the way to trundle the reluctant majority into a united Ireland? How could one say that 22 per cent. of the electorate must have 40 per cent. of the seats in the Government of Northern Ireland? That is what the executive represented.

The Secretary of State will not reconcile the irreconcilable. If that is his proposition, so be it. There may be friendly talks. We have all talked to him before, and we have made statements. We have told him that the statement that we have presented has been endorsed by the electorate and that there can be no going back on it. Is the hon. Member for Antrim, South saying that we are now to go for a regional council, or something like that? I have not heard that proposition, and I shall be most interested on Friday to hear the new proposals as they were outlined in the speech by the right hon. Member for Down, South at Warrenpoint—at a meeting he says that was attended by many of the hon. Member's Roman Catholic constituents. I am sorry that I was not there to take part in that most interesting meeting.

The issue before the House, therefore, is whether we do justice to the people of Northern Ireland. The Bill does not do justice in terms of securing equal representation. We are not getting equal representation. We are getting representation comparable with that of England. That is the background of the document which has been presented to us by the Library.

Furthermore, we do not have comparable representation with Scotland and Wales, as we should have. The people of Northern Ireland, through an election based on proportional representation to the Convention, made a recommendation to the House.

The document shows that many people made representations. The Ulster Liberal Party, of which we never hear in Northern Ireland, did so. I do not think that that party has even one councillor in the Province. Nevertheless, it made a long representation, with deep mathematical implications. There was then a submission from the party that I lead. That was in keeping with the Convention report and with the views that I express today. The Grand Lodge of Scotland made a submission, as did the Vanguard Unionist Party, which, before its demise, was led by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). That party asked for 30 seats. There is a big difference between what Vanguard wanted and the five or six seats provided by the Bill.

The people of Northern Ireland feel that if the House meant to do them justice and give them equality of representation it would be providing a figure nearer to that suggested by the Convention report.

I agree with the principle of the Bill and I shall vote for it. I shall table an amendment if I am selected for the Standing Committee—

Mr. Mason

I tried to indicate at the outset that after the Bill receives a Second Reading the Whip will move that it be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I welcome that, because I feel that all hon. Members, whether for or against the Bill, should have the opportunity to discuss it in Committee and to table amendments. They can then seek to help the legislation, or, if it is the will of the House, to hinder it. There should be a free discussion on the matter, and the freer the discussion the better for us all.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

I shall not follow completely the line of argument adopted by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), but I wish to point out that, whatever he said about the Republic of Ireland—and I hold no brief for the Republic—I understand that it did not hinder the hon. Gentleman in any way in his apostolic endeavours. Indeed, I believe that a number of buildings have been erected in which there occurs that for which he is famous—namely, the usual Sunday silent collection. I wish the hon. Gentleman luck.

I wish to examine in a little detail the Government's attitude in introducing this Bill. They have not thought out the consequences of this legislation. There has been an irreversible twist in the Government's policy in favour of Unionism and the Unionist ascendancy. Whatever lip service my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may pay to the concept of devolution, he cannot deny that there has been a complete and utter change of policy. It would at least be a little decent if the Government were to admit that to be the case.

There has been a change in policy and it has been well documented. Indeed, it has been set out in documentary form by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). In many ways my hon. Friend was a little too kind to the Government and to the Cabinet. There were other people who commented on this situation. We had statements on this matter by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security, who in earlier days had responsibilities in Northern Ireland. In 1974, in reply to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), my right hon. Friend said: I am sorry that I cannot meet the hon. Gentleman's point. I think that hon. Members will recognise that Northern Ireland is in a unique position. The Government feel that to increase representation now would be detrimental to the general political situation. The Government want Northern Ireland people of both communities to start resolving the problems in Northern Ireland themselves. We do not necessarily believe that they can be resolved on the Floor of this House."—[Official Report, 27th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 1714.1 That was an interesting comment.

Out of the catalogue of saints my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was omitted. Perhaps I may remind him of what he said in 1976 in his present office. He then said: Northern Ireland is numerically under-represented in this House, but I firmly believe "— he said that as only the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), brought up on northern ale, could say it— that the most effective way of strengthening democracy in Northern Ireland is for agreement to be reached on a form of devolved Government that demands widespread acceptance in both parts of the community."—[Official Report, 2nd December 1976; Vol. 921, c. 201.] Therefore, there has been a complete reversal of policy.

Where is the Government's policy now? Let me take the case of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. We remember the happy days when, from his seat below the Labour Gangway, my right hon. Friend led the assaults on the then Labour Government's legislation on the Ulster Defence Regiment. We remember his brief and graphic description of the Ulster Unionists of that time to whom he referred as"the parliamentary B-Specials ". Compared with the present representatives, the representatives in those days were as policemen in "Toy Town ". We all remember Mr. Ernest, the policeman, and certainly the representatives in those days were on a par with people from Noddy's little town. The present representation in Northern Ireland has completely changed. Perhaps there is one exception, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Indeed, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was not here from 1966 to 1970.

Mr. Powell

Yes, I was.

Mr. McNamara

I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. He was here at that time. I meant to refer to the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). I beg the right hon. Gentleman's forgiveness. I was mixing up constituencies but not perhaps attitudes. Apart from the right hon. Member for Down, North, maverick that he has always been, we had a complete change. We had, for example —and I am sorry that he has left the Chamber—the hon. Member for Antrim, North [HON. MEMBERS:"He has gone to eat"] I think that the hon. Gentleman is a good trencherman, but is now adopting the same tactics over Republic marches in Armagh as he adopted in 1967 and 1968. Because of his attitude on civil rights, he brought about the demise of Stormont. The hon. Gentleman certainly has not changed.

Then we must consider the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). When Minister for Home Affairs, he had a fine reputation from 1968 to 1969. Now he is in the Unionist Party again acting like a yo-yo—in and out and in and out again. I remember the right hon. Gentleman when he was reviewing paramilitary parades, standing like a latter-day Carson before the marching ranks. We also remember his great addresses from the balcony at Stormont.

They are now all on that Bench—a far harder, meaner group of politicians than anything we had when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House described them as"parliamentary B-Specials ". With my right hon. Friend's command of language, we must all wonder how he would describe them now—if only he did not depend on their votes.

My right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security worked out Labour's policies on Northern Ireland. We decided not to give increased representation because we wanted to prevent integration. We wanted to prevent what will now happen under my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—a situation which he sought weakly to deny. He seeks to deny that we are drifting into integration. My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but this is what is happening. We have heard the hon. Member for Antrim, North say that there will be no power sharing. We know that the official Unionists will not consider participation in Government as considered by the Tory Front Bench or by the Labour Front Bench. It means that devolved Government will just not happen.

The Unionists do not want this on Her Majesty's Government's terms. They want to go back to the old Stormont days. The hon. Member for Antrim, North said, in effect,"Keep your extra seats, cut down our representation, but give us back our old Stormont." That is what he said and that is what he is after. I understand his attitude. I think it is wrong and it may be the result of original sin. However, it exists as a recognisable concept. At least the Ulster Unionist position is honest. That is more than one can say of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will not even admit that there has been a change of policy.

Mr. Mason

My hon. Friend should not cast aspersions of that nature. I hope that he will withdraw them. I hope that he will not try to prove that in my tour of office in Northern Ireland I have been dishonest. There is not a change of policy. I spelt out in my speech that we are bent upon devolved government in Northern Ireland, hoping that we can get the participation of both communities in the Province. That is our aim. My hon. Friend knows that there is an integrationist bloc among the Unionists and a devolutionist bloc. He pays too much attention to the integrationists.

Mr. McNamara

I said that there was a change in policy on the matter of representation. Then I said that my right hon. Friend was scarcely being honest if he thought that a devolved policy would come about under a devolved power-sharing Government if we grant extra representation, when we know from the very make-up of the Unionists that they will not agree.

My right hon. Friend should follow the logic of his argument. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend does not want devolved government. I do not believe that he would not like to see devolved government. Of course, if he could achieve it that would be a splendid feather in his cap. However, he will not get it. He knows that. The Government are granting extra representation, but we shall not get devolved government. If we are not to get it, my right hon. Friend's policy is rather like looking for gold at the end of the rainbow. There has been a fundamental change in policy and my right hon. Friend should recognise that fact.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West went through the numbers game he spelt out how the present situation arose. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) was quick to point out that there is no formal pact between the Ulster Unionists and the Government. I think that that is a fair summary of what he said. He stressed that there is no formal agreement. However, the Ulster Unionists are in a powerful position. They do not have a formal agreement, although I believe that at one time there was the promise of a signed document. No document has been signed that states"We shall do this and we promise a vote here and a vote there ", but the Ulster Unionists are in a less formal, but more positive and strong position.

That is what the right hon. Member for Down, South said on 9th November. The right hon. Gentleman said: Nevertheless, I say, that presented in this Session of Parliament with the achievement of that legislative act, an act which we believe in all conscience will be beneficial and peaceable to all classes and persons in Northern Ireland, it must be a compelling duty upon us to see it through on to the statute book. We are duty bound not to suffer, so far as in us lies, this Session of Parliament to be brought to an end until that act of justice of the House of Commons has been enshrined in a statute."—[Official Report, 9th November 1978; Vol. 957, c. 1256.] Those are marvellous words for my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House. But what would happen next week if we had a three-line Whip on Ford and there came a vote of confidence? It is not necessary to have a straightforward agreement with the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. The right hon. Gentleman could even have one or two of his hon. Friends passing through the Opposition Lobby as long as the rest of his hon. Friends abstained on the nod and the wink principle. If the issue arose, it may be that the Liberals would support us. That might appeal to the Liberals as we are pretending to be tough. That would mean that the Ulster Unionists could vote in whichever way they pleased. The numbers game can continue and we know it.

My right hon. and hon. Friends should remember that the extra seats will not stop the progression. The Ulster Unionists already have a promise from the Conservatives that they will help them obtain more power in local government. They have already had a promise from the Conservatives that they will be given help to obtain power in the new regional councils. They do not have to work on the Conservatives. They have to work on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Government as a whole.

When the Ulster Unionists take that approach and work on my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to get their extra bits and pieces in local government we shall give them a little extra power in various quarters. Perhaps in the next Order in Council that we shove through we shall give them a little more responsibility, for example, for a certain local authority. That is what they all want. The Unionists councillors want it and the SDLP councillors want it. Do the SDLP councillors want to elect a Unionist council? It must be recognised that they are utterly frustrated. However, that is what direct rule is all about. It is meant to make those concerned face their responsibilities and find a form of devolved government.

The Government will be squeezed. Various concessions will be granted. That is the road that the Unionists will take. My right hon. and hon. Friends have fallen into their hands. The former hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South, Sir Knox Cunningham, was fond of quoting Kipling in the House but I shall quote another piece of Kipling which reads: And that is called paying the Dane-geld; But we've proved it again and again, That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld You never get rid of the Dane. That is exactly the policy that is being followed. That is exactly the policy that my right hon. Friend is accepting and to which he is succumbing.

The Government, under the leadership of our former Prime Minister, went into Northern Ireland with the intention of reform. We shall go back and enter a vicious circle. We shall go right back to the time when the Unionists were in control. That is where the Government policy is leading. That is what the policy is all about. It does not matter whether there is another devolved council. If the Unionists have extra representation here and extra power in the local authorities in the North, what reason have they to worry about anything else?

Mr. Fitt

Has my hon. Friend taken note of clause 1(5) in which it is stated: For subsections (5) and (6) of section 28 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 …there shall be substituted … Has he taken that in conjunction with the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South on 13th November on the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Bill, in which he said that the 1973 Act no longer bore any relationship to what was happening in the House? We find that the right hon. Gentleman's words have been proved absolutely and totally correct by the Bill.

Mr. McNamara

I must say that the right hon. Member for Down, South, on a Bill of that nature, was making a pregnant point.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West, as he has given me time to consider how I shall finish my speech. Before doing so, I shall draw attention to another matter that I consider to be of importance.

Having changed the rules of the game, the Government are now no longer the impartial referee in Northern Ireland in hoping and encouraging both sides to try to reach an honourable agreement. It now seems that everything is up for grabs. It seems that anything and everything may be discussed.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) has spoken about the withdrawal of troops becoming relevant in the argument. Questions raised within the Six Counties about the independence of the Six Counties become relevant. Observations about trying to engage in some sort of accommodation with the Republic become relevant. These issues cannot be disowned as wild or foolish chatter. That is how the comments of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North have been treated in the past. The situation has totally changed because there have been fundamental policy departures. Everything has now to be reconsidered and reexamined. The honourable course of the Government in holding the ring has gone.

We have a sister party in Socialist International called the SDLP. The blow that has gone to that party by the Bill does not involve the prestige of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West. It does not involve his solitary vote. Oh, how we wooed it! Oh, how we telephoned to get that vote when the occasion demanded! These matters do not merely involve my hon. Friend and the SDLP. There is involved the giving of credibility and the maintaining of credibility to a party which, whether we like it or not, and I personally do not, is a last safeguard against violence. It is violence, not just in one community, but in all communities. That means threats to our own constituents, civilians and soldiers alike. We must be aware of that when we speak of these things. A part of their credibility with the minority has been taken away. Not that it could be dictated to by Government, not that sometimes what it said would have been taken into consideration. What certainly should not have been done was to administer the kick in the guts which it has received over this Bill.

The attitude of the minority representatives to this Bill was known. We have come down heavily in favour of the majority. We are reversing the policy started on 14th August 1969. That is the policy that has been changed. There is an "Ulsterisation" taking place in Northern Ireland, It is not merely a question of the defence forces, it is a matter of politics, of politicians. It is an"Ulsterisation"which looks back to what happened in 1920, and not to what should have been happening after the events of 1968 and the leadership my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave at that time.

Several 114m. Members rose


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. It is intended to commence the Front Bench speeches at 9.20 p.m. There are still six right hon. and hon. Members anxious to take part in the debate. They have been present throughout the whole of the proceedings. I appeal for brevity so that I may accommodate all of them.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

This is a Bill to bring about just representation for Northern Ireland in this House. It is fantastic for the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) to make out that this is a Bill to restore or buttress a Unionist ascendancy. Just because all problems cannot be solved on the Floor of the House of Commons—as they cannot—it does not follow that we cannot benefit at Westminster from advice on Northern Ireland and United Kingdom matters, from additional colleagues. Nor does it follow that if we have constituencies in Northern Ireland with fewer people in them it will not be a boon to those people who have recourse to their Members of Parliament.

The debate has ranged fairly widely, so I hope that I may be forgiven if I digress to consider the insufficient representation of Northern in another place. I shall not rake over the failure in the 1960s of the claim advanced by the Irish Peers Association for the admission of all peers of Ireland to the Upper House whether they were British subjects or not, or whether they were resident in British or foreign territory. There was no element of territoriality in the system of Irish representative peers. Yet the claim failed and, that for the time being, was that.

This Bill is about the House of Commons, but the House of Commons is part of a bicameral Parliament. I am not asking Ministers for a statement today, but I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends, who are more likely to be concerned with these matters in the future, to give some thought to the recruitment either of peers of Ireland with seats and service in Northern Ireland, or of new Ulster creations to the other place.

Mr. McNamara

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Is he sugsentatives, or the selection of everyone by sentatives, or the selection of everyone by right?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) indicated that he would stray, but I doubt very much that what he is discussing comes within the ambit even of the Second Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I defer at once to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although it prevents me from replying to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central. I shall be glad to deal with that in some other way. The hon. Member is, however, quite right when he says that the Bill represents a change of policy on representation. The consistency has been on the Tory Benches. The Bill is an extraordinary but most welcome change of ministerial minds. It is more welcome to the Conservatives than to some of the hon. Members sitting behind the Government Front Bench.

This change of mind is not exactly a death-bed repentance, but repentance did come with electoral death in prospect. We have a system of collective Cabinet responsibility. I suppose that we now have collective Cabinet repentance. I presume that the Minister for Social Security has recanted. I am not entirely sure about the Home Secretary, since he is not here. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland spoke of this Bill as being an expression of natural justice, but he must know that a blinding light of natural justice struck the Cabinet when it was threatened by defeat on a motion of confidence in March 1977. That is when its resistance to an increase in representation evaporated, as though it had never been. On this point I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). If the Government are guilty of anything they are guilty of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

The present Home Secretary was formerly Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and is conspicuous by his absence from this debate. Despite his responsibilities in connection with representation of the people. The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) raised a point of order with the Chair before our debate. He asked why the Home Secretary was not here. He knows why. The answer is contained in those emotional words uttered in this House on 18th March 1976, and quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and the hon. Member for Belfast, West. One is bound to sympathise with the hon. Member for Belfast, West. He has indeed been deserted by the Government that he has supported. The SDLP feels—and I understand it—that it has been let down, just as the Northern Ireland Labour Party at an earlier stage believed itself to have been thrown over by the British Labour Party in favour of the SDLP.

I wish that this Bill could be given an unopposed Second Reading. In the constitutional convention of 1975 to 1976 virtually everyone, except the SDLP—I am not sure about the position of the one-man Ulster Dominion group—favoured an increase in representation. This is a measure required by democracy. It is not what has been suggested in some of the lurid speeches that we have heard—a measure designed to do down the SDLP and the non-Unionist population. If it is enacted—and I hope that it will be—and the Boundary Commission performs its task and elections are held for the new constituencies, the hon. Member for Belfast, West may well find himself facing some competition from other non-Unionist colleagues. Is he against that?

Mr. Powell


Mr. Biggs-Davison

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) says that he is, but I do not know. Surely the hon. Gentleman was right when he said that this matter should not be determined by considerations of party advantage. Surely anyone who believes in parliamentary government should not want any part of the kingdom to be under-represented. This Bill will not decide whether, when, how, or if, there is to be legislative devolution. It will not do the fearful things that are contained in the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast, West. I dare say that in his present bitterness he will not pay much heed to what was said by the Lord President of the Council in this regard, but if he studies the report of the Royal Commission on the constitution, he will find that Kilbrandon recommended that Northern Ireland representation should be determined by the rules applied to other parts of the Kingdom.

Kilbrandon was certainly favourable to devolution. The Royal Commission saw no conflict. It makes no sense to suggest that because one believes in devolution one is opposed to just representation in this House of Commons.

I know that there are Labour Members who do not accept that the Union is permanent, but that the Union should endure is certainly the prevailing will of the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that the Union will endure, as do most Protestants and many Roman Catholics in the Province.

I quite understand the position of the SDLP. It wishes the Union to be ended but, to do it justice, it does not suggest that this should be forced upon the majority in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, it tells us that it aspires to take part in devolved institutions within the United Kingdom and to win the confidence, and even the partnership, of the majority. But does the hon. Member for Belfast, West really think that the attitude to the Bill evidenced in his speech, and so far adopted by his party, will really help to"bring the communities together ", to use his words? Is it likely that such an attitude will obtain the understanding and co-operation of other persuasions? I fear not.

Whatever the motives of Ministers—I am not the keeper of their consciences, thank goodness—the Bill is surely directed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the improvement of the democratic process and of parliamentary government. It is directed to the removal of an injustice that has disfigured the constitution for far too long.

8.11 p.m.

Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)

I pay my respects, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), who now speaks from the Back Benches, because at least he is consistent. Through the period that I have spent in this House he has earned my respect for his consistency, although I disagree with him entirely because of his espousal of minority rule in Rhodesia and of similar injustices towards a section of the community in Northern Ireland. But at least what he has to say is consistent.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

The hon. Gentle-tan knows that it is not true to say that I support any injustices in Northern Ireland. Secondly, I am not at the moment in support of minority rule in Rhodesia but of the transitional Government which is directed to the achievement of majority rule.

Mr. Rose

The hon. Gentleman protesteth too much. Those who have read his book on Ulster, and those who have debated with him and heard him in the past, will form their own judgment with regard to that. But that is not the purpose of my intervention today.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will, I am sure, forgive me for sharing with others who have spoken a rather unworthy thought, namely, that the timing of the Bill is not entirely unconnected with the mathematics of voting in this House and the state of the parties. The irony is that such expediency cannot even he justified on the ground of expediency. The voting on the Loyal Address resulted in a majority of 12, because seven Ulster Unionists abstained. If we deduct seven from 12 we get five, and if we then add one member of the SDLP, we get six, so that even the Whips did not do their homework very well in that respect. It cannot be justified, even on the ground of expediency, that we have betrayed a party and a principle for which we have long stood. Indeed, we have driven that party into a position which is not very far removed from that of the extremists in Northern Ireland who support the Republican cause.

Here we are proposing an increase in the number of parliamentary seats to be allocated to Northern Ireland. It was not very long ago that I first came to this House. Every time I tried to raise the question of Northern Ireland, it was ruled out of order because we had a constitutional convention, and that constitutional convention prevented us from raising any matter connected with Northern Ireland, notwithstanding the fact that any Northern Ireland Member could vote on a matter pertaining to Manchester or any other part of the United Kingdom. That was justified, too, by the very same people who now justify the increase in seats to Northern Ireland.

In a sort of sense the wheel has turned full circle. Now that we no longer have the autocracy of Stormont, the rule of the tyranny of the majority, perhaps, in Stormont, it is sought to compensate for that situation by introducing more Northern Ireland Members into the United Kingdom.

Historically, the two assemblies that were created in 1920 were created in the way that they were because it was envisaged that those two would come together, not that they would grow apart and not that they would become dominated by one faction, as happened in the North. It is an irony, again, that, if democracy has really taken root—and I hold no brief for the governing party in the Republic of Ireland—it has taken root to a greater extent in that part of Ireland than in the other part.

I remember the maiden speech in this House, in a debate which I initiated under Standing Order No. 9, of a rather notorious young lady—

Mr. Fitt


Mr. Rose

—who made a particularly unpleasant and chauvinist remark in that maiden speech. She was a lady who was prone on occasion to make unpleasant remarks. She certainly was not noted for charming femininity in her approach to the Northern Ireland question. She said that the Englishman had not yet been born who could understand the problems of Northern Ireland or of Ireland. I objected very strenuously to that remark, but in one sense she was right. She was right in the sense that the Minister today, and those who support the Bill, with their so-called argument from equity, fail utterly and totally to understand the background of Northern Ireland, the history of Ireland, and the symbolic way in which this will be regarded in Ireland, and particularly in Ulster.

Symbolism, believe it or not, can be very much more important than fact. Four or six Members more need hardly make much difference to this Chamber. It was a very symbolic gesture which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said, pushed his party into taking the stance which it did not take before concerning the presence of British troops in Northern Ireland. That is one of the first evil consequences of the Bill.

Ministers and hon. Members in this House all too frequently fail to understand the emotionally charged and long historical memory of people in that part of the United Kingdom, which is quite different from Scotland and quite different from Wales. In that sense the lady to whom I referred was right, although I did not particularly appreciate her remarks at the time. I believe that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends fail to understand the historical context in an area in which long memories and symbols still, unhappily, dominate people's thoughts and often dictate the actions of those who live in what is now a part of the United Kingdom.

I wanted to raise earlier the question of past Boundary Commissions. My right hon. Friend had a lot of interventions and I do not blame him for not giving way, but I should have liked to ask the rhetorical question: when has there been a Boundary Commission in Northern Ireland that has been fair? What about 1920? What about the annexation of Fermanagh and Tyrone, the two areas which had voted consistently against Unionism?

Mr. Fitt


Mr. Rose

Those two counties were brought in because the four counties were not viable as an entity. Was that a fair Boundary Commission? Michael Collins would have turned in his grave had he known what would happen after having signed the treaty. The men of moderation such as Michael Collins, who signed that treaty, actually believed that we in Britain would keep our word. We failed to keep our word in that regard.

Were the Boundary Commissions fair when they drew those amazing boundaries in Derry and in other parts of Northern Ireland, such as Fermanagh? It was admitted later that the boundaries were gerrymandered. Does anyone in the minority community have a right to believe that a Boundary Commission will be fair? The very fact that today in this House there are 10 Unionists and two Members on the other side, rather than a ratio of two to one, would indicate something of the same nature. I for one do not blame those hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West, who have serious reservations about this matter.

What we really did was to create an artificial entity in which we could perpetuate the rule of a built-in majority over a minority. Not only did we do that, but in those areas where the minority were the majority we also drew the boundaries in order to see that they did not hold sway at local government level. I am particularly concerned about the remarks which were made about local government. I hope that at the end my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will tell the House whether there is any truth in the rumour that we shall now establish some sort of local government structure which will once again resurrect all the miseries and antagonisms which were caused by the kind of situation which existed before the"Derrymander"and all the rest which was exposed by some of us in this House. That was denied by the Unionists at the time, but ultimately, when they were forced into the open it was admitted to be wrong and they admitted that the boundaries had to be changed.

I am very much in favour of devolution. I see Europe more in terms of regions than of nations. On this I am perhaps a heretic to many hon. Members who share my views over Ireland and other matters. But I rather see a future in Europe where regions become more important than perhaps even the national entity. That may be one of the ways in which the long-standing Irish problem will be solved—within the context of a Europe which is no longer so concerned about national boundaries. It is significant that when more devolution is being granted to Scotland and Wales, and when even the Basques are getting it in Spain, we should at this period be advancing integration in Northern Ireland.

This is not a matter of equity. Those who say that really must say it with their tongues in their cheeks. This is a matter of whether one is looking towards the greater integration of that part of the island of Ireland which is known as Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom or whether one is looking towards some sort of devolution.

Indeed, in the past, although not in the recent past, I have been deeply involved in matters pertaining to Northern Ireland. I have stepped back over the past few years because the men of violence have taken over. Whether they wear IRA berets, or whether they belong to one of the militant Protestant organisations, to me they are equally abhorrent because one does not play with the lives of children and innocent people in that way. I have always condemned that violence. In a sense, I believe that the greatest enemy of democratic change in Northern Ireland was the IRA, and that had it not been for the IRA those of us who were in favour of change in Ireland would have won through by now.

Therefore, once the concept of power sharing was destroyed by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who gave us such a dire warning before, whose role in this is not an entirely honourable one—I put it no higher than that—and who has hardly helped to bring the two communities together, I came to the conclusion that in the long term it will not be what we say in this House that will decide what happens in Ulster. I believe that Ulstermen will decide what happens in Ulster. I have come to a new conclusion. I have stepped back from the arena after a longer period in it and have come to the conclusion that Ulstermen, whether Protestants, Catholics or agnostics, have a common interest, and curiously enough, a common personality, whether their traditions be from the Scottish plantations or from the Gaelic traditions of Ireland.

In a sense, Ulster is an entity of its own. The problems of Ulster will be solved, because more and more people in Ulster, tired of the violence and of what it is doing, will come together to solve their own problems. Therefore, it will not help if we send more representatives to a talking shop at Westminster where debates on Ireland are attended by the vast serried ranks of hon. Members whom we see here today. That is an indication of the interest which people in this country take in Northern Ireland.

Recognising that, all that introduction of more Members from Northern Ireland will do is not to improve the position of Northern Ireland or aid its people, but merely to allow those people, whoever they are and for whatever party they are elected, to influence events in the United Kingdom itself, to vote on matters which do not even touch on Northern Ireland, and to use such power as they may have —as, indeed, we see today in particularly tight situations—in dispensing their favours.

I believe that devolution, power sharing and confidence in their own institutions is what the people of Ulster now need, whether their allegiances historically have been to the Republic of Ireland or to the United Kingdom.

The Unionists have played the Orange card once again—all seven Orange cards this time—in order to support a minority Government. I regard that kind of expediency, and the acceptance of that bribe, as a debasement of politics and something dishonourable on the part of the Labour Party. I am not afraid to say so from the Back Benches of this House.

As I said, not long ago we could not raise the question of Northern Ireland. There were Ministers, who still sit in their ministerial positions today, who were able to countenance that. Yet those same people are today asking us to have more Members from Northern Ireland. That is the kind of hypocrisy that I have seen during my 14 years in this House. When I put forward the idea of an Ombudsman for Northern Ireland I was told"That is not a practical proposal, young fellow"but it was introduced by the previous Prime Minister only three years afterwards. That is the kind of hypocrisy and expediency that I have come to despise.

What we need are new initiatives, not the cosmetic changes of four, five or six Members more. That is a diversion, because this Government have not taken a single political initiative in relation to Northern Ireland, other than to use methods which only the most insensitive person with regard to the whole history of Ireland would take. The use of special powers and emergency provisions have not helped in the Northern Ireland situation. They have exacerbated the situation. Hon. Members need not take that from me. They should take it from the peace people who came to see us only two weeks ago. They were people without an axe to grind on behalf of extremism. They were trying to bring the communities together. They would say that the actions we have taken to deal with terrorism have exacerbated the situation.

I believe that this very Bill will exacerbate hostility, provoke antagonism and cause a greater distrust of our Government. Above all, how can the minority community, and the party which represents it and many of the majority as well, ever trust us again? How can we, who on so many occasions called upon the help of some of our friends from Northern Ireland when we were in a tight spot, ever turn round and look them in the face again having betrayed them tonight?

I believe that this Bill is a complete about turn. We have had the quotations from the Home Secretary. It is an unnecessary and offensive Bill. It is a completely irrelevant Bill in the context of the problems which Northern Ireland faces today. If one wants to be a complete constitutionalist in terms of fairness, but without the slightest understanding of Ireland and Irish history, then, of course, it is logical. But that kind of logic is the lack of logic which stems from a lack of knowledge of the background of the situation. No one in my party with a shred of honour and integrity and the knowledge of the history of that unfortunate part of Ireland should be prepared to accept this shabby compromise, this shabby deal made with the Opposition for the sake of a few votes.

Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

In his castigation of his own party, will the hon. Member bear in mind that the Ombudsman—that eminent English lawyer who was appointed to take up operations in Northern Ireland—stated that there was not one single instance of culpable action to be found in the organs of local government? Will he bear that in mind when he not only castigates his own party but tries to reflect the situation in the Province unfairly?

Mr. Rose

The terms of reference of the Ombudsman to whom the hon. Gentleman refers have no connection with the argument that I was putting forward. I do not think he has entirely followed my argument, which was that at each stage in the pathetic history of Northern Ireland, whatever the Government's complexion, everything that was done, was clone two, three or four years too late. Those of us who first raised this matter were treated almost with scorn. When we tried to break the Convention we were unable to do so. It was not until the bombs were flying that the Convention broke itself.

At each stage we have done too little too late, and when we have acted we have done the wrong thing—for example, internment was the greatest sin of the Conservative Party. All this has nothing to do with the findings of the Ombudsman. At every stage we have acted too late for that action to have any effect, and, when we have acted, we have usually done so in the wrong direction.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)

I shall try to abide by the appeal to keep remarks brief. This debate is very illuminating, even if a little wearisome. I cannot avoid the temptation to make some observations apart from the immediate issue before us.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) treated us to one of those eye-opening speeches that has dominated the debate today. I was hoping that his long silence indicated that he had learned something, but his speech showed that he had been silent for another reason and that he had learned nothing.

I did not quite follow his points. He referred to the Boundary Commission in the most reckless way. It sounded as if he was claiming that Boundary Commissions serving this House were guilty of malpractice. But he did not even get the facts on that accurate, because that Boundary Commission was never allowed to report. The Government of the Irish Republic, having been warned in advance that the Commission was to make recommendations increasing the size of Northern Ireland, had it silenced effectively.

There has been a strange alliance between those opposing the Bill, which is an elementary step in justice and democracy. I wish that hon. Members opposing the Bill would not try to put labels on us. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) had no hesitation in putting labels upon us. However, I would much prefer the label that he attached to us than the one that I could put on him.

Somewhere in this unholy alliance is a group that could be described as"the red brigade ". In that brigade there is the Republican platoon. The red brigade, with all its faults, has maintained or sought to maintain the banner of freedom and democracy, standing for the rights of the individual. I shall be interested to see how many of its members take a stand tonight on the basis of one man, one vote and fair play throughout the country, because that is what the Bill is about.

Another matter of great illumination was a new understanding of the word "diarrhoea"— particularly verbal diarrhoea. Diarrhoea is accurately described as a great outgoing. As I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), I could only describe his speech as a great outgoing or a great outpouring. But I wonder whether he realised how much came with that outpouring. Sadly, his speech differed from the other kind of diarrhoea, which is usually over quickly and without too much fuss. The verbal diarrhoea of the hon. Member for Belfast, West was all too long, and contained the most startling revelations.

I cannot believe that the majority of his constituents believe him when the hon. Member says that his party stood between the Roman Catholic community and the IRA. I have a much higher opinion of members of the Roman Catholic community than he has; there was never any question of their rushing to join the mad violence of the IRA. It is absurd to claim that but for the SDLP they would have done so.

The hon. Member enlightened us when he said that he stood for the reunification of Ireland. He does not stand for that. The only time that Ireland has been united has been under the Crown, and that is the last thing that he stands for. Whatever sort of united Ireland he may want, it cannot be described as reunification of Ireland.

I was interested in the hon. Member's reckless willingness to ascribe motives to the Government. He has long experience of ascribing motives for one reason or another. I was more intrigued when the supporters of the Government joined him in making these allegations. It is strange that those who made these allegations of the Government doing a deal are the very people who have been complaining about their votes not being bid for.

I am happy that my leader has put the facts before the House. There has been no deal, and no buying of the Ulster Unionist votes. I accept completely the sincerity and honesty of the Secretary of State, who said that he brought the measure forward to improve the standard of democracy in Northern Ireland. That is long overdue.

I pay tribute to Mr. Speaker and the Members of his Conference for their work. Unlike some other hon. Members, I shall not cast doubts or aspersions on the integrity of Mr. Speaker or his Coference, which set about a difficult task in an admirable way. That is not to say that I am not a little disappointed. I had hoped for a much more generous recommendaiton, but it is a matter of judgment and I accept that the Speaker's Conference carried out its duty according to the customs and practices of the House. People can quote figures until the cows come home, but the decision was reached honestly and fairly by people acting according to the practices of the House.

I had hoped that more regard would have been paid to the well-established practice of comparison. As the background paper says, the recommendations do not take that factor adequately into account. We cannot complain on a purely statistical basis. Statistically, the recommendations are in line with the position in the rest of the United Kingdom.

On the basis of the English quota, Northern Ireland would have been given 16 seats. On the Welsh quota, we would have 18 seats. The Scottish quota would give us 19 seats and the average quota would give Northern Ireland 16 seats. However, inherent in these figures is the fact that other parts of the United Kingdom have different quotas, which arise not just out of an historical sequence of events but because of special circumstances in those parts. The smallness and remoteness of Northern Ireland should have entitled it to a much more generous quota, but I am happy to accept that the recommendation has been made in good faith, and it represents a real step forward for the people of Northern Ireland.

Indeed, I would almost go as far as to describe today as a red-letter day, but bearing in mind the colour of some of the remarks of Labour Members that might be an inappropriate description. It is, however, certainly an important advance for the people of Northern Ireland. A long-standing injustice has been put right and it will enable those who come to the House to play a much more effective part not only in representing the people of Northern Ireland, but in contributing to the work of the House.

We are here not only in the Northern Ireland interest but in the United Kingdom interest. The smallness of our representation has imposed an enormous burden on us and our contribution has necessarily been limited. I have the privilege of being on the delegations to the Council of Europe and Western European Union and I am conscious that in attending to those duties I am increasing the burden on my colleagues who have to stay here. It is a disproportionate burden, and I welcome the proposed increase in the number of seats because it will enable Northern Ireland Members to discharge their duties to the House, the country and their constituents much more effectively.

I do not want to spend too much time on the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). It is most unfortunate that people should play party politics with the difficult circumstances in Northern Ireland. Whatever the merits or demerits of proportional representation, it is not right that they should be advanced on a basis of discrimination in the United Kingdom. There is no special circumstance that justifies changing the rules of democracy within the United Kingdom.

Like many other people in Northern Ireland, I resented the approach in determining our franchise and constituencies for the elections to the European Parliament. An effort was made to rig the democratic process in order to ensure that a minority party would have a chance of representation. There was no other reason, and such a reason can never be good enough for advocating a change in the democratic franchise. I hope that the House will bear in mind that the amendment does not relate only to Northern Ireland. It should be seen in the context of the electoral practices of the United Kingdom.

Not only do I support the Bill; I welcome the way in which the Secretary of State introduced it. It was characteristic of his whole approach to the administration of Northern Ireland. He has been full and frank in meeting the situation. He has not doubted that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. We were happy to see the dictates of expediency thrown aside and the situation described as it really is. In doing this he has not fuelled the fires of violence—far from it. This sort of plain and honest approach to the problem will help to bring peace and stability. The Secretary of State's approach to the Bill will reinforce the good work that has been done already to bring peace and stability to Northern Ireland.

It is sad that in that step we have once again succeeded in highlighting how difficult it is to achieve a consensus of the different sections of the community that will enable Parliamentary democracy to function.

The words of the hon. Member for Belfast, West have underlined that difficulty. Whatever hopes I had of the Ulster Convention arriving at a formula that would bring about an all-party agreement were not well founded if what he said today represents what his party stands for in the Convention. It is a sad situation. Those of us who wish to see a devolved Parliament will not give up our endeavours. We cannot be asked to subtract from the fundamentals of parliamentary democracy. We shall do what we can within that framework. We shall not be helped by those who wish to stand on its head the normal rule of parliamentary demo-affairs of the United Kingdom.

I had hoped that that lesson had been learned. Today's debate leaves me wondering how much has been learned. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the House sets the Bill on a fair course I believe that the Bill will prove to be a useful step towards democracy in Northern Ireland, not only for the majority but for the minority parties.

It is astonishing to think that the SDLP, which built itself up on the slogan of"One man, one vote"should today be represented in the House by an hon. Member advocating a policy that would deny Northern Ireland a full vote in the affairs of the United Kingdom.

8.48 p.m.

Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)

It is sad to hear the confession of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). He has turned his back on any prospect of co-operation, participation and power sharing with other Northern Ireland parties. I hope that in time he will reconsider that position.

I speak as a member of Mr. Speaker's Conference. I do not associate myself with the remarks which have been made by several of my hon. Friends. The matter that we are discussing goes to the root of democracy. If there is not fair representation, one cannot have a proper democracy. One of my colleagues asked why, without power sharing, we should give this Bill to the Northern Irish. For me, it is a simple matter because it goes absolutely to the root of democracy itself.

I accept that Northern Ireland is an exceedingly difficult part of the United Kingdom. But so long as Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and so long as it remains difficult, does that give us the right to deny to Northern Ireland what we cede to all other parts of the United Kingdom? I cannot see that it does. I represent an area of the country that is predominantly Tory. I would like to see many fewer Tories in the South-West of England, but I would not think it right to come before this House and suggest that, because I do not support the Tory cause, it would be right or proper for there to be a lessening of Tory representation in the South-West of England.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) suggested that the passage of this Bill might open new doors, doors which Opposition Members might not wish to be opened. I would argue that if the passage of this Bill does involve the House in a reconsideration of its positionvis-a-visNorthern Ireland, and does involve it in a reconsideration of the relationship between the North and the South, so be it. It is the principle that is important. Certainly, I support that principle.

The Speaker's Conference found little difficulty in coming to its conclusions. As soon as the issue was posed and as soon as it was accepted that Northern Ireland should be taken as an integral part of the United Kingdom, it did not take long for any of us to see that the under-representation was so obvious that something had to be done about it. One merely has to look at the constituency of Antrim, South, which has already been mentioned, and to recollect that the constituency is larger than Glasgow Central, Glasgow, Govan, and Glasgow, Queens Park, put together. to realise the basic inequity which exists within a certain part of the United Kingdom.

The right hon. Member for Belfast, East referred to the options available to Mr. Speaker's Conference. In considering the paper put before us by the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission, it was clear that we had an option basically of granting Northern Ireland representation comparable with England, which would be 16 seats, or with Wales, 18 seats, or with Scotland, 19 seats, based on their electoral quotas. Some of the arguments relating to the remoteness of the Province no longer hold water. Now that travel to Aldergrove airport is so easy, there are hon. Members in Northern Ireland who can reach their constituencies faster than I can. I do not think that that argument can be tolerated any longer. I accept, however, that there are certain geographical limitations in the form of rivers which may force a boundary to be drawn differently than it would have been on a simple electoral quota basis.

Representing a rural constituency, I believe that I am the only Labour Member who can speak with any authority on this issue. I represent about half a county, and I can say that it is very difficult to try to represent adequately a large area. Therefore, consideration must be given to the physical size of the constituency. Accordingly, I was driven to the conclusion that the suggested figure of 17 Members should be adequate, with a little leverage either way. I was prepared to endorse the findings of Mr. Speaker's Conference.

I very much agree with what has already been said about the Liberal amendment. The Social Democratic and Labour Party, in its representations to Mr. Speaker's Conference, made a telling point about the 1974 Election after the breakdown of the power sharing executive, when the Ulster Unionists effectively swept the board, though the voting figures showed that the margin between those who supported power sharing and those who opposed it was much narrower. Nevertheless, it is absurd to suggest that some hon. Members can be elected by the first-past-the-post system and others on the basis of proportional representation, whatever the arguments for proportional representation. I do not believe that that is a tenable proposition.

We may also consider that there could be an argument for extending representation on the basis of what the people of Northern Ireland seem to be saying. There have been no elections recently but the Strathclyde university poll bears out the findings of the 1976 opinion poll conducted by National Opinion Polls for one of the television companies. The Strathclyde poll shows that more than 79 per cent. of Catholics and 72 per cent. of Protestants in the North support direct rule. Those figures are similar to the NOP findings in 1976. If the people of Northern Ireland are saying in that way that they want direct rule to continue. it seems to me that there is a further powerful argument for their being entitled to more representation in the forum that is carrying on the rule of the Province.

Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington)

I intervene now because I do not know whether I shall catch the eye of the Chair. My hon. Friend talked of integration in terms of representation. He appears not to have considered—nor, apparently, did Mr. Speaker's Conference—integration in terms of government. Will he acknowledge that direct rule is not the same as integration? If one is to go along the road to arguing that there is a case for parity of representation, should not that develop into parity of treatment in terms of legislation and the jurisdiction of this House, rather than of Ministers, over the affairs of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Watkinson

I have not used the word "integration"at any stage in my speech. But I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's last point. Part of the test of being part of the United Kingdom is that one is prepared to accept the legislation passed by this House. I see the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) nodding his head, but I think that he has views about homosexuality, for example, suggesting that he would not be prepared to support the application of this country's legislation on the matter in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Powell

The point is that legislation was passed through this House in respect of England only, on a free vote on a Private Member's Bill. What I object to is the prospect—I do not think that it is a very close one—that it might be applied as a matter of Government policy by Order in Council to Northern Ireland. So I am not really adrift from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Watkinson

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.

It was my good fortune to visit the Province only last week, when I was the guest of the Gloucestershire Regiment. I was very impressed by the regiment's efficiency and competence in very difficult circumstances. It does not need me to describe to hon. Members the position in which the soldiers find themselves. For me, the experience was somewhat depressing in that I saw places where it was not possible for me to go alone. Certainly it was not suggested that it would be wise for a Member of Parliament to do so.

I was in the Londonderry area and, as part of my tour, I flew over the country. That experience gave me a good insight into the problem. The commanding officer pointed down and said"There you see the scrubland and the hills. That is where the Catholics are. There is the marshland down by the lake. That, too, is where the Catholics are. That is the fertile plain. That is where the Protestants are."

I have long held the view that the basic reason behind the problem in Northern Ireland is involved in land. There is no more basic matter for men than the possession of land or territory. It goes profoundly to the essence of our very being. In Northern Ireland, there is an essential battle about the ownership of land.

The Protestant State in Northern Ireland was created in and was preserved for the Protestants deliberately. In fact, three provinces of historic Ulster were, as it were, siphoned off in order that that Protestant State could be created and maintained as a Protestant entity.

That degree of passion which is aroused in the Province, aided by the religion which gives rise to added passion, is such that we in this House and the country at large have to accept that we are dealing with two communities where the nationalistic sense burns so deeply that it makes Scottish nationalism look a pale, guttering candle in comparison.

The Protestants have shown quite clearly that they will fight for that country. Equally, there is an organisation which is given great support in the community. I know this from being in such places as Dungiven. The Catholics there and in other places are prepared to give support to the Irish Republican Army. So we have these two forces in conflict with each other.

What is the outcome of this likely to be? To some extent, I share the gloom of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central who suggested that direct rule would continue, that we might eventually be able to bring the security position under control, and that we might"Ulsterise"the situation so that the RUC and the UDR could manage the country. I have my doubts about that.

One of the grim prospects held out by the right hon. Member for Down. South is that Ulster must be prepared, if it is to continue on its present path, to endure the killings which go on and on in that Province. I do not think that there are any new initiatives which will resolve this difficulty overnight.

Certain right hon. and hon. Members advocate consistently the idea of power sharing. I have tried to explain to Opposition Members before now that they do so because it goes to the essence of our politics. When confronted by a difficulty of this kind, we tend to seek the compromise. That is the British way. Certainly it is a way which I should like to see developed. But I do not hold out any great hope for it, especially after listening to the hon. Member for Antrim. North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who left this House in no doubt that there was not much hope of matters moving in that direction. If power sharing is not possible, I see no immediate way out of this House continuing on its present course for the Province. I think that we shall have to continue with direct rule.

Having said that and having pointed to some of the difficulties, I reiterate the view with which I started. In my view, the Bill is entirely justified. We cannot any longer allow the people of Northern Ireland to endure under representation. If certain consequences flow from that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central pointed out, so be it. I think that the principle must stand.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

I agree with the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) that Northern Ireland cannot continue to be under represented in this House.

As a member of Mr. Speaker's Conference, I particularly resent some of the insinuations made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) that somehow the Speaker's Conference had been set up in such a way that political partiality, not equity of parliamentary representation, was its objective. I would add to that resentment my feeling about the speech by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) who suggested that even the Boundary Commissioners could be got at to make the Bill a useless and gerrymandered document.

Having said that, and adding my thanks to Mr. Speaker and his staff for the excellent way in which the Conference was organised and the papers were put before us with so much detail about parliamentary representation within the United Kingdom generally, the single exchange of questions and answers which remained most clearly in my mind was between the hon. Member for Belfast, West and the Leader of the House on 30th November 1977. The questions and answers appear on page 26 of the minutes of evidence. I intend to quote the exchange that took place, because it is extremely important in understanding the Bill and the ramifications of the legislation when it finally becomes an Act of Parliament. The hon. Member for Belfast, West put to the Leader of the House: You said in your opening remarks Northern Ireland was under represented by the number of seats it has. If that is true in 1977 it has been true for the past 50 years, is that right? The Leader of the House replied,"Yes, that is so." The hon. Member for Belfast, West repeated his question: It has always been under represented since the creation of the state in 1920?' The Leader of the House replied,"Yes, that is right."

It seems from those questions and answers that, although one might say that it was no more nor less than the simple truth, the Leader of the House—after all, he is an expert on these matters—was saying that no matter whether there had been a Parliament at Stormont since 1920 or some other form of institution since 1973, throughout that time Northern Ireland had been under represented in this the Mother of Parliaments.

It has been suggested by at any rate one Labour Member that the right hon. Gentleman's change of mind was part of some political intrigue between the Government Front Bench and the United Ulster Unionist Party. In fact, that was not the kind of statement that we would expect from a person of his understanding of the constitution of this country unless he had given very careful thought to how he would answer those questions.

It seems to me therefore, that one can fairly say that the right hon. Gentleman had considered Northern Ireland with its Parliament at Stormont or without its Parliament at Stormont, that he had considered Northern Ireland with its Assembly or without its Assembly, and that he had come to the conclusion that no matter what devolved Administration there might be in a region of the United Kingdom, that could not be a makeweight for the number of seats that that area should fairly have in the Westminster Parliament.

It seems to flow from that not only that the right hon. Gentleman is clearly right in saying that Ulster has been underrepresented but that the addition of these seats in no way exonerates the present Government, or a future Government, from seeking to set up some form of local Administration in the Province.

The amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Belfast, West seems to be completely out of place, for if he had thought about that answer he would surely have reached the same conclusion as I have.

It has already been said by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West that the Strathclyde poll suggests that direct rule is much more popular in the Province than those on the Government Back Benches have sought to suggest during this afternoon. Whether that be the case or not, I simply reiterate my view that the Government have no case to put to suggest that extra seats for Northern Ireland at Westminster somehow satisfies, or should satisfy, the natural desire of the people of Northern Ireland for a proper and effective devolution of power to their Province.

In my simple view, this Bill—which I welcome—like the Speaker's Conference, sought to put right a wrong, a wrong which I believe most fair-minded Members of this House recognise. Indeed, it has been said that those who seek to argue that this Bill, somehow or other, will upset the balance of the political situation in Northern Ireland are, as has been pointed out, the very same Members who would no doubt wish to tell us that the people of Northern Ireland have been discriminated against in terms of their ability to vote as other members of the United Kingdom have voted. They cannot have it both ways. But if the Leader of the House is to be believed—and I believe him—all of us in the House tonight should recognise that in this small Bill we are putting right a wrong of 58 years' standing. It should make us blush for shame that we have allowed so much time to pass before putting matters to rights.

One might just wonder what the situation in Northern Ireland would now be if we had put that wrong right many years ago. Who knows what Members of Parliament might have come to this Chamber? Who knows what they might have been able to tell us about their Province that we have lever been able to hear? Who knows whether the present political situation, the unhappy situation of terrorism, and so on, would in fact have been created if those extra Members had been sitting in this Chamber, able to make certain that we did not forget their fellow men?

Lastly, I shall make just one comment about the number of seats. I hold a very simple view, which is that a Member of Parliament sitting here in Westminster should represent, no matter from where he comes, roughly the same number of people. I know there are geographical arguments to tell me that it is not always possible to reach a simple mathematical quota for every Member of Parliament, but I cannot help wondering how long this House of Commons will continue with a system which creates such an enormous imbalance between the number of votes that an English Member of Parliament has to poll to come to Westminster and those that a Scottish Member of Parliament has to poll.

I would also say to the Government—and perhaps I am saying it to both Front Benches—that if Assemblies are to be given to the regions of the United Kingdom, I believe the people of England are going to feel that they are becoming—and rapidly—the poor relations in terms of our parliamentary democracy. That is not to say that I do not want to see Northern Ireland replete with 16 or 18 seats at Westminster, and with it own regional council or that I do not wish the same for Wales and Scotland; it is simply that we cannot continue with an increasing imbalance between England and English constituents and those of other regions of the United Kingdom.

I therefore hope that when the Boundary Commissioners do their work, which I am sure they will complete with total impartiality, they will bear in mind that even if the United Kingdom quota, in terms of electors, would give Northern Ireland 16 seats, 18 seats would put Northern Ireland on a par with Wales. That may be not as good as Scotland, but it would be somewhere in the middle.

However, the flexibility which the Speaker's Conference has provided for the Boundary Commissioners to enable them to oscillate between the lower figure of 16 and the higher of 18 should give that equity in parliamentary representation in Northern Ireland which I have wanted for many years, which I now welcome, and which will, God willing, by 1984 mean that this House will have a number of additional Members from Northern Ireland.

9.17 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

Throughout the debate hon. Members have described the Bill as an act of justice to Northern Ireland. However, it is certainly bruising the English language to describe as an act of justice a piece of legislation that perpetuates an injustice to Ulster and the Ulster people. I do not see why the Ulster people should be expected to fly into a frenzy of delight about the Bill when they know, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and his six colleagues know, that these five extra seats fall far short of Ulster's fair entitlement on the basis of Scottish representation.

That is not just my opinion, and neither is it the opinion only of the Ulster people. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), a prominent member of the Labour Party and a leading anti-devolutionist, declared that by rights Ulster should have 23 seats. He was speaking from a close knowledge of Scotland.

The Northern Ireland Convention majority report, which represented all shades of Unionist opinion, demanded 20 to 24 seats for the Province. To my knowledge, the Unionist voters in Northern Ireland, and the Unionist Party itself have not gone back on that declaration—that is, not until now when the Powell seven, as I call them, have settled for five extra seats.

By accepting fewer seats than the Province should have on the basis of Scottish representation, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are doing an ill service to the Ulster people. Out of geographical considerations Scotland was given slightly more seats proportionately than England. Since Northern Ireland, unlike Scotland, is separated from the mainland by a stretch of water which incidentally creates expensive transport problems, I believe that the Province should be treated more favourably than Scotland.

That is not all. Scotland will soon have its own Assembly. The Scottish people want control of their own affairs, and they have rejected as inadequate the regional councils. But, arrogantly, the Government and the Powell seven deem the Ulster people unworthy of having a legislative Assembly at Stormont. Arrogantly, this Government and the Powell seven deem the regional councils, which are disliked by the Scottish people, as good enough for the Ulster people. Arrogantly, the Government and the Powell seven have refused to give the Ulster people the opportunity of deciding for themselves in a referendum whether they want a Stormon Assembly.

So much for the democratic rights of the Ulster people. But Ulster has even been denied by the Government and the Powell seven the right to a representative in the Common Market Parliament.

It is the only region of the United Kingdom that has been penalised in this way.

Northern Ireland is a depressed area with the highest unemployment in the United Kingdom, and with a standard of living lower than that in Great Britain. However, despite the Government and the Powell seven, Northern Ireland will have the opportunity on 7th June to be represented in the Common Market Parliament. Even so, the people of Northern Ireland would have been denied by the Powell seven the opportunity of having three candidates. Originally, the Powell group tried to deny Ulster people the opportunity of having a direct vote for representatives in the European Parliament.

We have a reverse situation in discussing this Bill in which the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has been arguing against increased representation for Northern Ireland. Certainly the people of Northern Ireland wish to have a devolved Parliament of Stormont, and in my opinion they would prefer to have that Parliament instead of increased representation. If this Bill is supposed to do justice to the people of Northern Ireland, let it do so and let there be proper representation in this House for Northern Ireland. Let us at the same time stop the move to integration which has been started by the right hon. Gentleman and his six acolytes.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I wish to preface my remarks by paying a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) for all he has done for the cause of peace in Northern Ireland. We regret that he is no longer on the Opposition Front Bench. However, we are delighted that he is still making a contribution to the solution of the most difficult problems of the Province. We listened carefully to his characteristic intervention and his most interesting suggestion that we could also look to representation in the other place to make the problem more amenable to solution.

I wish that I could continue in this ecumenical vein with regard to the Leader of the House. The only toast I could propose to him is that of"Absent friends ". Where is the right hon. Gentleman? We have heard the speech of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is now present. Furthermore, we shall hear the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, replying to the debate. I pay tribute to the work he has carried out in the Province. But as this is a matter that very much affects this House, I believe that the Leader of the House should be here. It is a matter for regret that he is not present.

It is a matter of personal regret that the right hon. Gentleman is absent, because the confrontation between the right hon. Gentleman and me has been billed in advance on television and elsewhere as the best show in town. However, it is a production that needs two stars. I hope that the show will not be indefinitely postponed and short-circuited, otherwise we shall put the soubriquet of the Windmill Theatre into reverse. It will be not"We never closed ", but"We never opened ".

The absence of the Leader of the House was commented on by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). The Home Secretary's absence was commented upon by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). Apparently the explanation advanced was that those right hon. Gentlemen find this Bill distasteful because of various utterances which they have made in the past. That may well be the case. For all I know, they may even disagree with the Bill, but it is a new constitutional doctrine that one can somehow dissociate oneself from a Bill which has been approved by the Cabinet of which one is a member and oppose it in the Smoking Room, but not in this House. It is seeking to cleanse oneself, as it were, by not giving tongue to one's view—by becoming a kind of oratorical Pontius Pilate. That is an entirely new doctrine. The Bill is a collective measure of the Government. It is supported by the entire Cabinet. Therefore, in supporting it they are all equally praiseworthy or all equally culpable. We cannot have a modified doctrine of Cabinet responsibility for the Bill.

The Bill is opposed by a minority in the House, but that is a small minority. It is supported by all shades of opinion in the House and all shades of opinion within the Unionist Party. Given the premise of the argument, the retention of the unity of the United Kingdom and our electoral system, it is difficult to understand how the Bill can possibly be rationally opposed.

The Bill has been described as an act of simple justice. That, indeed, is what it is. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It will be so for the foreseeable future. It is wrong that it should be under-represented.

I do not wish to go again into the statistical argument that has been recited by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) as well as by the Secretary of State, but the figures tell their own story.

The electoral quota to elect a Member in Scotland is 53,000. In Wales it is 57,000, in England it is 66,000 and in Northern Ireland it is 86,000. It may be that on the figures Scotland is over represented. No doubt that is arguable. However, that is another subject and another debate. If Scotland is over represented, that has no bearing on the argument that Northern Ireland is underrepresented, and that under the Bill for the first time it will be fairly represented.

Mr. Flannery


Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished this part of my argument.

That is why your Conference, Mr. Speaker, approved the reform by 22 votes to one.

Mr. Flannery

The hon. Gentleman seems to have so over-simplified the politics of Northern Ireland that he believes that the mechanistic counting of heads means democracy. The debate to which he has listened has revealed conclusively that Northern Ireland was a gerrymandered State from the beginning and that 51 per cent. of the votes produced 12 Members in this place, 10 on the Opposition Benches and two on the Labour Benches. That is a total misrepresentation. Through sheer expediency the Labour Government now propose to give more seats to a grossly over-represented group. That will produce more difficulty and drive more people into the hands of the IRA in Northern Ireland. That will be the impact of the pseudo-democracy that we are now having to accept.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Gentleman's views on Northern Ireland seem to be as about objective as his views on education. I had not concluded my remarks. I was at the starting point. I was not at the terminus but at the point of departure. I was dealing with justice and electoral arithmetic. However, I recognise the complexity of the situation in Northern Ireland and I shall be referring to it.

It was the Conservative Party that was the first party in the House to recognise the anomaly.

Mr. Powell

No, it was not.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It was the Conservative Party that pressed for reform. That appeared in a 1974 election manifesto. The Conservative Party may have been late, but it was not as late as the Labour Party. That is undoubtedly true. The Labour Party was last in the field.

It was with a certain amount of scepticism that I listened to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland supporting the Bill and saying that it is a measure that meets the demands of equity, fairness and justice. That may be true but, it really does not apply to the motivation of those in the Government who have supported the Bill. There is a distinction between the measures in the Bill and the motivation that lies behind it. I do not have to add anything to the devastating exposé of the hon. Member for Belfast, West. There was much of his speech with which I disagreed—and in a speech of that length it would not be difficult to find something to disagree with. But on that point, concerning the bona fides of the Government, I thought that he made a case, as did the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central, which was unanswerable. It was all the more effective being addressed by one hon. Friend to another.

Mr. Fitt

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) did very well, too.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I feel that I would be quite out of place, quite de trop, among such a band of brothers. But why was this change—and this is the point—opposed by the Government so strongly before March 1977? Suddenly there was this change of both practice and principle. It is said that Henry VIII first saw the Gospel light in the eyes of Anne Boleyn. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland first saw the Gospel light in the eyes of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell).

This was not a conversion of principle on the part of the Government. It was a conversion of practice. Their minds were concentrated by the electoral situation here and that led to a reversal of policy. That is the simple truth. Well, that is politics and I do not necessarily condemn it entirely, but one should recognise that change for what it was. It was political and not a conversion of principle on the grounds of equity, fairness and justice. We have seen all sorts of coalitions in our time. We have seen the Fox-North coalition, and this coalition, for a temporary purpose, may well be in that tradition. But one does not have to pretend that it is anything other than that.

We have heard various points in the debates. First, there was the devolution issue. It is said that this issue justified under-representation. That certainly was the argument used at one time, that because Northern Ireland had a devolved legislature it was not entiled to full representation at Westminster. That was rejected by the Kilbrandon Commission. The idea, of course, does not stand up in logic or in practice. It does not stand up in practice because since 1972 Stormont has gone, alas. It stands up even less—

Mr. McNamara


Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes, alas. I think that it is a sad thing that it has happened. It is also out of accord with the situation which may well be created by the emergence of local assemblies in Scotland and Wales. But most of all, the arguments are really on different issues. They are quite distinct issues. The fact that one devolves responsibility on certain issues does not entail, in consequence, that there should be under-representation in an Assembly which is discussing different issues. The two events are not connected in logic. There is no contradiction between devolution and centralisation, nor is there any justification for under-representation in the main legislature because one has a devolved legislature at the same time.

With regard to the question of numbers, the proposal of Mr. Speaker's Conference embodied in the Bill has the merit of flexibility. The arithmetic is right and while there is a recommendation of 17 seats there is the allowance of flexibility between 16 and 18. It is good to have a certain amount of flexibility when the Boundary Commissioners are examining the problem.

The opposition has principally come from the hon. Member for Belfast, West, who speaks for the SDLP. He is perfectly entitled to his view in this House. The fact that it is a minority view does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. One can criticise his arguments on a number of grounds. First, although the hon. Member represents the views of the SDLP, he does not represent necessarily the view of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Fitt

Neither does the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Gentleman has not yet heard what I am about to say on this point. He must not indulge in these prophetic gifts when, if he waits a moment, he will be able to hear what I say. The SDLP certainly represents a substantial body of Roman Catholic opinion in Northern Ireland—nobody could deny that—but there are many Catholics in Northern Ireland who support the Union, and that is clear also. It was clear at the time when the border poll took place. I wish that people were more aware of this. Perhaps I might say that they would be more aware of it if Catholics were better represented in the ranks of the other parties in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Fitt

The hon. Gentleman has said that the border poll was of some political significance in Northern Ireland. In fact, the SDLP, which I lead at the moment, advised our supporters not to vote on the border poll, because we knew already what it would mean. We knew what happened in 1920. On the other hand, I have heard from the Labour Benches—and I hope that the hon. Gentleman speaking for the Opposition, will not get involved in the same type of euphoria—that the only way to prove whether either the Catholic or the Protestant population support one or other of the political parties is by the results of the ballot box. The SDLP at the moment is the second largest political party in Northern Ireland—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) spoke for 79 minutes, and the winding-up speeches will be very brief.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It was certainly the second longest intervention that we have had in the course of our debate. I am not trying to prove too much by what I am saying. I fully acknowledge the position of the hon. Gentleman's party, but we should not try to prove too much. The fact should be known that there is not an identification between the hon. Gentleman's party and the Catholic population of Northern Ireland, because there are considerable numbers of people who support the Union in different ways. That is my point, and it is not the same as saying that they support the Unionists.

The hon. Gentleman made much of the fact that this reform would benefit the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland. It may do or it may not, but once again we are in the realm of speculation. We are not even in the realm of psephology, which is an inexact science. We are in the realm of prophecy.

I have confidence in the equity, fairness and justice of the Boundary Commission in Northern Ireland. Having read the evidence which it gave to Mr. Speaker's Conference, and having read what Mr. Justice Murray and Miss Simmons had to say, I have every confidence that it will do its best to see that the measure is interpreted fairly in the context of Northern Ireland. Here the case of the hon. Gentleman is not proven. It may well be that a substantial proportion of the five seats will go to parties other than the Unionist Party.

Mr. Fitt

Or the other way round.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes, but one cannot conclude that this is a benefit for the Unionist Party. It may turn out to be that, but that is not its intention, and it is not a necessary conclusion to draw from its provisions.

Mr. McNamara

In fact, the Secretary of State made the point that it would benefit the SDLP.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall not judge between these rival faiths. I am agnostic on this issue. I am saying that the position is open, that it could go either way and that no firm conclusion can be drawn for the benefit of any party from the provisions of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West seemed to think that this measure would advance integration. Again, this is quite a separate issue. Just like devolution, integration is a separate issue on which we may have views. But the future of integration will depend upon the measure of agreement which is reached between the communities in Northern Ireland itself, just as the future of devolution will depend upon that basic premise. It will depend on the willingness and ability of all those in Northern Ireland who are concerned with politics to achieve justice for the communities there. This Bill does not affect the issue of integration one way or another.

The point about proportional representation has been of importance to our discussion, because we have the Liberal Party amendment. I fully accept that this is not a clear cut and dried case. A lot of arguments have been put forward, and can be put forward with great justification, for PR in the particular situation of Northern Ireland. One can see those arguments in the special situation there. But I think that those arguments are outweighed by the principle that elections for this Parliament, taking place at the same time throughout the United Kingdom, should be on the same basis. That was the point which was so strongly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon and was supported in the extremely telling speech of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson). I believe that that argument must prevail over the admittedly valid arguments which the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) put forward.

Mr. Freud

Does the hon. Gentleman really feel that it does not matter what brings about an absolutely rotten inequality in which over 40 per cent. of the people of a country are represented by only two out of 12 Members of Parliament? Surely the important thing is to have the right representation.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

At this moment I do not want to enter into that argument. But I think that I have been perfectly fair to the points made by the hon. Gentleman in saying that there was substance in them but that they must be subordinated to the general argument of principle.

One comes back to where we began. This is a long, overdue measure of reform. We have had a number of excellent, constructive and statesmanlike speeches. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) on his contribution. It is true that this is a minor measure, but it is a measure of justice. The basic problems of the Province will not be affected radically one way or another by the Bill. They must be resolved in other ways. But meanwhile it is right that Northern Ireland should have a more effective and representative voice here. We wish the Bill a speedy passage on to the statute book.

9.44 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. J. D. Concannon)

We have now progressed from a short Mr. Speaker's Conference report to a short Bill. However, I think that our discussions today have reflected the fact that the substance about which we have been talking is a very important issue in Northern Ireland. I have never felt so unwanted as I feel today. It seems that anybody in the House could have wound up the debate.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said he was looking forward to this great confrontation with the Leader of the House, but I have a sneaking feeling that he is winding up today only because the Opposition have only one Front Bench spokesman for Northern Ireland. My old opponent, the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) is now sitting on the Back Benches. If I were the hon. Member for Chelmsford I would contain myself a little over this big confrontation. From my experience in the House, when this confrontation comes about it will be such that if it were a snooker match my right hon. Friend would have to give the hon. Member about a five-black start.

This is a serious matter. I have lost count of the times that I have stood at the Dispatch Box during the past four years commending Northern Ireland legislation to the House. Today is different from most other occasions because today I am speaking to a Bill rather than an Order in Council. Before the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) intervenes to say that he wishes that there were more Bills and fewer orders, I shall anticipate him because I am well aware of his views. Certainly we differ on that question. We differ for a very simple reason—this Government want to see a return to devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Direct rule is only an interim arrangement. Therefore, we continue to use Orders in Council drafted to be consistent with Acts of the Northern Ireland Parliament or measures of the Northern Ireland Assembly. We see this as the principal way to legislate for Northern Ireland on transferred matters during direct rule. The fact that we have legislated in this way will greatly ease the handover to devolved government when the end of direct rule comes.

Mr. McNamara

How interim is"interim "?

Mr. Concannon

Until the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise.

The argument about the method of legislating for Northern Ireland is very relevant to today's debate. Although the Bill has had a general welcome, I recognise that it has also caused some concern. Some right hon. and hon. Members—notably my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) who gave a very good exposé of his party's opposition to the measure—have expressed the fear that increased representation at Westminster will bind Northern Ireland more closely and even permanently, to Britain and make an acceptable form of devolved government even more difficult to attain.

The Government, through their actions, have demonstrated their determination to continue the search for an acceptable form of devolved government in Northern Ireland. It would be a tragedy if others in Northern Ireland abandoned that search because of their misinterpretation of the Bill.

The Secretary of State has already explained why the Bill is before the House. It is not seen by the Government as a step down the road to complete integration. The Bill simply corrects the injustice arising from the fact that the electors of Northern Ireland have a lesser degree of representation than their fellows elsewhere in the country.

The Bill shuts no doors and forecloses no options. It does not set the long term future of Northern Ireland in any rigid mould. Self determination for the people of Northern Ireland—not representation —is the key to the future of the Province. The majority of the people of Northern Ireland at present clearly wish to remain as part of the United Kingdom. Therefore that must remain the position. But as the Secretary of State has said, no British Government will stand in the way of a change if that is the freely expressed wish of the majority. That was the view of the previous Conservative Government and it is our view. The Bill in no way alters that.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)

Do I understand the remarks of the Minister as meaning that the Government have set their hearts against any possibility of a united Ireland, which is the clear view of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who spoke for more than an hour?

Mr. Concannon

Had the hon. Lady listened to me just now she would have heard me say that the Government would not stand in the way of the expressed wish of the majority of people in Northern Ireland. That was the view of the last Conservative Government and it is the view of this Government.

The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) moved the amendment in the name of the leader of the Liberal Party. The Bill implements the recommendation of Mr. Speaker's Conference, the terms of reference of which referred only to the number of parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland. The method of election is an entirely separate matter. The Conference did not consider it; neither, therefore, does the Bill. However, it would be unusual if one method were used for electing some hon. Members and a different method used for others.

Mr. Fitt

I am delighted to see the present Home Secretary in the Chamber. I am sorry that he was not here for my speech. Has the Minister of State taken account of the reservations expressed over a number of years by the Home Secretary to the effect that Northern Ireland is not Scotland, England, or Wales? It is a place apart, and we cannot apply the same restrictions to the electors of Northern Ireland that we apply to other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Concannon

I do not have long and I wish to get on to other matters.

Mr. Fitt

Does the Minister agree with the Home Secretary?

Mr. Concannon

I was at the Northern Ireland Office when the present Home Secretary was making the speeches that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) quoted. I have all the quotes in front of me.

In general, the Bill has received the welcome that I would expect for legislation giving effect to a near unanimous recommendation of an all-party Speaker's Conference. But hon. Members have raised a number of matters and I shall deal with as many as I can.

To be fair, I should start with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West. He asked why we changed our mind over representation. If he had not interrupted me, I would have dealt with that aspect and, perhaps, had time to deal with one or two other matters as well.

The Government have long recognised that Northern Ireland was underrepresented in the House in comparison with other parts of the United Kingdom. For some time there was a general belief that the existence of devolved government in a certain part of the country justified a lower level of representation there. I have copies of the speeches of the current Home Secretary from which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West quoted and I have copies of other quotations as well. I have been at the Northern Ireland Office for four and a half years and I am grateful that some of my speeches have not been quoted.

My right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary said, when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: The question of Northern Ireland representation at Westminster continues to be raised. I accept that Northern Ireland is under-represented and that this becomes more apparent the longer that direct rule continues." —[Official Report. 2nd July 1976; Vol. 914, c. 813.1

Mr. McNamara

It was the Government's policy that devolved government and power sharing were a prerequisite to increased representation. My right hon. Friend seems to refuse to recognise that this alteration has taken place.

Mr. Concannon

My hon. Friend should have allowed me to continue. I intend to deal with that matter. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said when introducing the Bill, Parliament has approved Scottish and Welsh retention of full representation even after devolution. It was then that it became clear that each part of the country should have full representation, regardless of the existence of devolved government and it was then that the Government acted on Northern Ireland representation.

Mr. Fitt

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that at the beginning of the debate many reservations were expressed about the way in which the Bill was being introduced, on the grounds that it is of supreme constitutional importance because it will change the number of Northern Ireland Members in the House and that they could decide the future of government in Northern Ireland. Many people said that the Bill affected the Representation of the People Acts and that the Bill should have been introduced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rule that before the debate is concluded there should be some expression of opinion by a Home Office representative and, in particular, by the Home Secretary.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member will be well aware that I cannot ask for a voice from the Home Office. I must allow the Minister to reply.

Mr. Concannon

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) spoke for one and a quarter hours. I have lost count of the number of times since March 1977, that the ridiculous allegation has been made about a deal between the Government and the Unionists. My right hon. Friend has denied the existence of any pact between the Government and the Unionists. The allegation is not true.

The voting lists are evidence of that. Immediately after the deal was alleged to have taken place seven Unionists voted against the Government on a confidence motion. No Unionists voted for us. The day after that vote we had Northern Ireland Question Time. The first Question was from the hon. Member for Tyrone, who had voted against the Government on the vote of confidence and he wanted more money for his constituency.

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to refer to a constituency that does not exist in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Concannon

The hon. Member to whom I referred acknowledged that he knew about whom I was talking. If there was a pact there is little evidence of it. Any idea of a pact is absolute nonsense.

The Bill arises from the acceptance, in the light of devolution proposals for Scotland and Wales. that the people of Northern Ireland are under represented at Westminster. The Bill provides for an increase in seats in Northern Ireland to the same pro rata level as that in the United Kingdom. The Bill has nothing whatever to do with pacts or deals.

I am confident that the Boundary Commission will, as always, carry out its task of drawing the new boundaries with the utmost impartiality. Under the Commission's statutory procedure the electorate will have an opportunity to object to the Commission's proposals or to make alternative proposals.

The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland is bound by the same rules of

Division No.4] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Meyer, Sir Anthony Steel, Rt Hon David
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Morrison, Rt Hon Charles (Devizes) Wainwright, Richard (Coine V)
Ewing, Mrs. Winifred (Moray) Pardoe, John Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Penhaligon, David Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Freud, Clement Rathbone, Tim Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Home Robertson, John Sillars, James TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Sinclair, Sir George Mr. A. J. Beith and
Kershaw, Anthony Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Mr. Russell Johnston.
Knox, David
Abse, Leo Banks, Robert Blaker, Peter
Adley, Robert Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Blenkinsop, Arthur
Alison, Michael Bates, Alf Boardman, H.
Allaun, Frank Bendall, Vivian Body, Richard
Anderson, Donald Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Booth, Rt Hon Albert
Armstrong, Ernest Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Boscawen, Hon Robert
Ashton, Joe Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Benyon, W. Bottmley peter
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Berry, Hon Anthony Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)
Atkinson, Norman (H' gey, Tott' ham) Biffen, John Bradford, Rev Robert
Awdry, Daniel Biggs-Davison, John Bradley, Tom

procedure as are Commissions for the other parts of the United Kingdom. It must publicise its initial proposals, allow for objections, conduct local inquiries where necessary and eventually submit its report and recommendations to the Secretary of State. That might take up to two years. That may seem a long time, but it is essential that the Boundary Commission is seen to be impartial and that its procedure is beyond reproach. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) that the matter will have to be returned to the House. Any gerrymandering would be abhorrent to the Boundary Commission and certainly to the chairman, who is Mr. Speaker. It is not possible for the Government to make predictions about which parties will be returned for the new 17 seats. The quota is about 60,806. In Belfast, North the electorate totals 66,000. The figure for Belfast, South is 70,000, for Belfast, East, 76,000, for Belfast, West 59,000, for Antrim, North 103,000, and for Antrim, South, 126,000. I cannot believe that the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley will apply anywhere else but to those constituencies which have over 100,000 electors. There is much that I could say, but I must conclude my speech.

Question put,That the amendment he made:—

The House divided: Ayes 27, Noes, 355.

Bray, Dr Jeremy Golding, John Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Brittan, Leon Gourlay, Harry Marks, Kenneth
Brotherton, Michael Graham, Ted Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Grant, George (Morpeth) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Grant, John (Islington C) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Bryan, Sir Paul Gray, Hamish Marten, Neil
Buchan, Norman Grist, Ian Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Buchanan, Richard Grocott, Bruce Mather, Carol
Buck, Antony Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Maude, Angus
Budgen, Nick Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell) Mawby, Ray
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Hannam, John Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Campbell, Ian Hardy, Peter Maynard, Miss Joan
Cant, R. B. Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Mellish, Fit Hon Robert
Carmichael, Neil Hart, Rt Hon Judith Mikardo, Ian
Carter-Jones, Lewis Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Channon, Paul Hayhoe, Barney Mills, Peter
Churchill, W. S. Hicks, Robert Miscampbell, Norman
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Holland, Philip Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Clark, William (Croydon S) Hooley, Frank Moate, Roger
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Horam, John Molyneaux, James
Clegg, Walter Hordern, Peter Monro, Hector
Clemitson, Ivor Huckfield, Les Montgomery, Fergus
Cockcroft, John Hughes, Roy (Newport) Moonman, Eric
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Moore, John (Croydon C)
Coleman, Donald Hunter, Adam More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Cohen, Stanley Hurd, Douglas Morgan, Geraint
Concannon, Rt Hon John Hutchison, Michael Clark Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Conlan, Bernard Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Morton, George
Cope, John James, David Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Corbett, Robin Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Costaln, A. P. Jeger, Mrs Lena Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Cowans, Harry Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Neave, Airey
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jessel, Toby Nelson, Anthony
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) John, Brynmor Neubert, Michael
Cralgen, Jim (Maryhill) Johnson, James (Hull West) Newens, Stanley
Crawshaw, Richard Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Newton, Tony
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Normanton, Tom
Cryer, Bob Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Oakes, Gordon
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Ogden, Eric
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Onslow, Cranley
Oavis, Clinton (Hackney C) Jopling, Michael Orbach, Maurice
Deakins, Eric Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Judd, Frank Ovenden, John
Dempsey, James Kaberry, Sir Donald Page, John (Harrow West)
Dewar, Donald Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Doig, Peter Kerr, Russell Paisley, Rev Ian
Dormand, J. D. Kilfedder, James Park, George
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Klmball, Marcus Parker, John
Douglas-Mann, Bruce King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Pattie, Geoffrey
Drayson, Burnaby King, Tom (Bridgwater) Pavitt, Laurie
Duffy, A. E. P. Lamborn, Harry Pendry, Tom
Dunlop, John Lamond, James Perclval, Ian
Durant, Tony Lamont, Norman Peyton, Rt Hon John
Eadie, Alex Langford-Holt, Sir John Phipps, Dr Colin
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Latham, Arthur (Paddlngton) Pink, R. Bonner
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Leadbitter, Ted Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Lee, John Price, C. (Lewlsham W)
Emery, Peter Le Merchant, Spencer Price, David (Eastlelgh)
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Lester, Jim (Beeston) Radlce, Giles
Evans, John (Newton) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Eyre, Reginald Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) hodes James, R.
Falrbairn, Nicholas Lltterick, Tom Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Fairgrieve, Russell Loyden, Eddie Richardson, Miss Jo
Farr, John Luard, Evan Rldsdale, Julian
Faulds, Andrew Luce, Richard Rifkind, Malcolm
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Lyon, Alexander (York) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Finsberg, Geoffrey Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) McCusker, H. Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Flannery, Martin McElhone, Frank Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Macfarlane, Nell Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Fookes, Miss Janet MacGregor, John Rooker, J. W.
Foot, Rt Hon Michael McGuire, Michael (Ince) Rose, Paul B.
Ford, Ben McKay, Alan (Penlstone) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kllmarnock)
Forrester, John MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Ross, William (Londonderry)
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekln) MacKenzie, Rt Hot. Gregor Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'l'd) Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Rowlands, Ted
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Ryman, John
Gardiner, George (Relgate) McNair-Wllson, M. (Newbury) St. John-Stevas, Norman
George Bruce McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Scott, Nicholas
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John McNamara, Kevin Sedgemore, Brian
Glyn, Dr Alan Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh) Sever, Jonn
Shaw, Arnold (Word South) Stradllng Thomas, J. Weatherill, Bernard
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Strang, Gavin Weetch, Ken
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Wellbeloved, James
Shelton, William (Streatham) Taylor, Mrs Arm (Bolton W) Wells, John
Shepherd, Colin Taylor, R. (Croydon NW) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart) White, James (Pollok)
Short, Mrs Renee (Wolv NE) Tebbit, Norman Whitehead, Philip
Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Temple-Morris, Peter Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Silkin. Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwlch) Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S) Whltlock, William
Sims, Roger Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) Whitney, Raymond
Skinner, Dennis Thorne, Stan (Preston South) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Smith, Dudley (Warwick) Torney, Tom Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire) Townsend, Cyril D. Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Snape, Peter Urwln, T. W. Wlnterton, Nicholas
Spearing, Nigel van Straubenzae, W. R. Woodall, Alec
Speed, Keith Varley, Rt Hon Eric G. Woof, Robert
Spence, John Vlggers, Peter Wrigglesworth, Ian
Spriggs, Leslie Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V) Young, David (Bolton E)
Stallard, A. W. Wakeham, John Younger, Hon George
Stanbrook, Ivor Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Steen, Anthony (Wavertree) Walker, Terry (Klngswood) TELLERS hOR THE NOES:
Stoddart, David Warren, Kenneth Mr. James Hamilton and
Stokes, John Watklns, David Mr. James Tinn
Stott, Roger Watklnson, John

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 39 (Amendment on Second or Third reading):—

The House divided: Ayes 350, Noes 49.

Abse, Leo Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Falrbalrn, Nicholas
Adley, Robert Channon, Paul Fairgrleve, Russell
Alison, Michael Churchill, W. S. Farr, John
Anderson, Donald Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Faulds, Andrew
Armstrong, Ernest Clerk, William (Croydon S) Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Ashton, Joe Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Flnsberg, Geoffrey
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Clegg, Walter Fisher, Sir Nigel
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Cockcroft, John Fookes, Miss Janet
Awdry, Daniel Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Banks, Robert Cohen, Stanley Ford, Ben
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Coleman, Donald Forman, Nigel
Bates, Alt Concannon, Rt Hon John Forrester, John
Belth, A. J. Conlan, Bernard Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekln)
Bendall, Vivian Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'l'd)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford a St)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Cope,John Gardiner, George (Relgate)
Benyon, W. Costaln, A. P. George Bruce
Berry, Hon Anthony Cowans, Harry Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Blffen, John Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham)
Biggs-Davlson, John Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) Glyn, Dr Alan
Blaker, Peter Cra'gen, Jim (Maryhltl) Golding, John
Blenklnsop, Arthur Crawshaw, Richard Goodlad, Alastalr
Boerdman, H. Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Gourlay, Harry
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Graham, Ted
Boscawen, Hon Robert Davidson, Arthur Grant, George (Morpeth)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Davies, Ifor (Gower) Grant, John (Islington C)
Bottomley, Peter Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Gray, Hamish
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Deaklns, Eric Grist, Ian
Bradford, Rev Robert Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Bradley, Tom Dempsey, James Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dewar, Donald Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Brlttan, Leon Dodsworlh, Geoffrey Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Brotherton, Michael Dolg, Peter Hampson, Dr Keith
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Dormand, J. D. Hannam. John
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Jamea Hardy, Peter
Bryan, Sir Paul Drayson, Burnaby Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Buchanan, Richard Duffy, A. E. P. Hart, Rt Hon Judith
Buchanan-Smith, Allck Dunlop, John Harvle Anderson, Rt Hon Miss
Buck, Antony Durant, Tony Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Budgen, Nick Eadie, Alex Hayhoe, Barney
Bulmer, Esmond Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Heseltine, Michael
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hicks, Robert
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Emery, Peter Hodgson, Robin
Campbell, Ian Evans, John (Newton) Holland, Philip
Cant, R. B. Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Hooley, Frank
Carlisle. Murk Eyre, Reginald Horam, John
Hordern, Peter Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Huckflela, Lea Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Miscampbell, Norman Shepherd, Colin
Hunt, David (Wirral) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Sllkln, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Hunter, Adam Moate, Roger Silkln, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Hurd, Douglas Molyieaux, James Sillars, James
Hutchison, Michael Clark Monro, Hector Sims, Roger
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Montgomery, Fergus Sinclair, Sir George
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartlord) Moonman, Eric Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Moore, John (Croydon C) Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)
James, David More, Jasper (Ludlow) Smith, Timothy John (Ashfleld)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Morgan, Geralnt Snape, Peter
Jenkln, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Morris, Alfred rvvythenshawe) Spearing, Nigel
Jesse 1, Toby Morris, Rt Hon Charlea R. Speed, Keith
John, Brynmor Morris, Michael (Northamptbn S) Spence, John
Johnson, James (Hull West) Morrison, Rt Hon Charles (Devizes) Stainton, Keith
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Stanbrook, Ivor
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grlnstead) Morton, George Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederic* Stewart, Ian (Hitchln)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Jopllng, Michael Neave, Airey Stoddart, David
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Nelson, Anthony Stokes, John
Judd, Frank Neubert, Michael Stott, Roger
Kaberry, Sir Donald Newton, Tony Stradllng Thomas, J.
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Normanton, Tom Strang, Gavin
Kershaw, Anthony Oakes, Gordon Summersklll, Hon Dr Shirley
Ktlfedder, James Ogden, Eric Taylor, R> (Croydon NW)
Kimball, Marcus Onslow, Cranley Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Tebbit, Norman
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Page, John (Harrow West) Temple-Morris, Peter
Knox, David Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Lamborn, Harry Paisley, Rev Ian Tlnn, James
Lamond, James Park, George Torney, Tom
Lamont, Norman Parker, John Townsend, Cyril D.
Langford-Holt, Sir John Pattle, Geoffrey Urwln, T. W.
Lawrence, Ivan Pavltt, Laurie van Straubenzee, W. R.
Leadbltter, Ted Pendry, Tom Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Le Marchant, Spencer Percival, Ian Walnwrlght, Edwin (Dearne V)
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Peyton, Rt Hon John Wakeham, John
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Phlpps, Dr Colin Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Pink, R. Bonner Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Loveridge, John Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Luard, Evan Price, David (Eastleigh) Warren, Kenneth
Luce, Richard Pym, Rt Hon Francis Watklns, David
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Radice, Giles Watklnson, John
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Ralson, Timothy Weatherlll, Bernard
McCusker, H. Rathbone, Tim Weetch, Ken
McElhone, Frank Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Wellbeloved, James
Macfarlane, Neil Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Wells, John
MacGregor, John Ronton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) White, Frank R. (Bury)
McKay, Alan (Penlstone) MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Rhodes James, R. White, James (Pollok) Whitehead, Philip
MacKenzio, Rt Hon Gregor Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Whltelaw, Rt Hon William
Macmlllan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Rldsdale, Julian Whitlock, William
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Rifklnd, Malcolm Whitney, Raymond
McNair-Wllson, M. (Newbury) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Wllley, Rt Hon Frederick
McNalr-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Williams, Rt Hon Allan (Swansea W)
Madel, David Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Marks, Kenneth Robertson, George (Hamilton) Rooker, J. W. Wilson, William (Coventry SE) Winterton, Nicholas
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Ross, William (Londonderry) Woof, Robert
Marter.. Nell Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Young, David (Bolton E)
Mather, Carol Rowlands, Ted Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Maude, Angus Ryman, John Younger, Hon George
Mawby, Ray Salnsbury, Tim
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin St. John-Stevas, Norman TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Meyer, Sir Anthony Sever, John Mrs. Ann Taylor and
Mlllan, Rt Hon Robert Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Mr. Joseph Dean.
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Totl'ham) Flannery, Martin Lee, John
Buchan, Norman Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Loyden, Eddie
Canavan, Dennis Freud, Clement Lyon, Alexander (York)
Carmlchael Neil Grimond, Rt Hon J. McGuIre, Michael (Ince)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Grocott, Bruce McNamara, Kevin
Clemitson, Ivor Home Robertson, John Magulre, Frank (Fermanagh)
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Maynard, Miss Joan
Corbett, Robin Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Ewing, Mrs. Winifred (Moray) Kerr, Russell Mikardo, Ian
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Latham, Arthur (Paddlngton) Newens, Stanley
Orbach, Maurice Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Thome, Stan (Preston South)
Ovenden, John Sandelson, Neville Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Pardoe, John Short, Mrs Renee (Wolv NE) Woodall, Alec
Penhallgon, David Skinner, Dennis
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Richardson, Miss Jo Spriggs, Leslie Mr. John Ellis and
Rodgers, George (Chorley) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) Vlr. Tom Litterick.
Rose, Paul B.

Question accordingly agreed to

Bill read a Second time

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. John Evans.]

Committee tomorrow.