§ INCREASE OF NUMBER OF CONSTITUENCIES
IN NORTHERN IRELAND
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 10, leave out'18 or less than 16'and insert'24 or less than 21'.
§ No. 2, in page 1, line 10, leave out '18' and insert '16'.
§ No. 4, in page 1, line 10, leave out '16' and insert '14'.
§ No. 6, in page 1, line 14, leave out '17' and insert '22'.
§ No. 7, in page 1, line 14, leave out '17' and insert '15'.
§ No. 8, in page 1, line 16, leave out '16' and insert '21'.
§ No. 9. in page 1, line 16, leave out '16' and insert '14'.
§ No. 10, in page 1, line 16, leave out '18' and insert '23 or 24'.
§ No. 14, in page 2, line 5, leave out '17' and insert '22'.
§ No. 15, in page 2, line 5, leave oat '17' and insert '15'.
§ Mr. McNamara
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. May we take it that there will be two Divisions, as one of the amendments is to reduce the number of seats and one is to increase it?
§ The Chairman
I should have said, before I called the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) to move his amendment, that if the Committee desires to have a Division on amendment No. 3, and amendment No. 3 is negatived, I shall be prepared to allow a separate Division on amendment No. 2 if that is required by the Committee.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It has been said by the Government that the aim of the Bill is to give fair representation in Parliament to the people of Northern Ireland. I 1751 notice that, writing in Tribune, the Minister of State emphasises that very point when he says that the question really iswhether the people of Northern Ireland deserve fair representation in Parliament.It is the contention of the Government, of the official Opposition, and, I believe of the Official Unionist Party, that the Bill will accomplish fair representation in this House for the people of Northern Ireland. I take a different view, because I do not believe that the numbers decided on by the Speaker's Conference—and consequently by those hon. Members who found themselves involved in the proposals of the Bill—give fair representation numerically to the people of Northern Ireland. I want to develop this aspect, because it is very important to the people of Northern Ireland.
I always thought that when a Speaker's Conference was called concerning the boundaries of constituencies and the increase in constituencies, the prime purpose of such a Speaker's Conference was to hear from all parts of the House the exact feeling, and to hear the representations that Members of this House might have to make in relation to what is a very important matter.
We know that the Speaker's Conference was so constituted that only Official Unionists had the opportunity of taking part in the deliberations. Those deliberations are, of course, secret. Some Members of this House to this day do not know and never will know what took place in those deliberations.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Is not the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) aware that a member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party was a member of the Speaker's Conference?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am not arguing that point, with all due respect to the hon. Gentleman. I am talking of the Unionist representation. At that time there were other voices of Unionists in this House. There was my colleague the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) who is beside me. There was the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), who at that time was leading the Vanguard 1752 Party. There was also the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), who has not been a member of the Official Unionist Party. Surely those three Members, as against one Member from the SDLP, had a right to have their voices heard at the Speaker's Conference? That right was denied them. I have no objection to the hon. Member for Belfast, West having been at the Speaker's Conference, because he had a right to be heard on this issue, but what about the section of Unionism for which I am speaking? I shall maintain in the debate that I am speaking for a wider section of Unionism than were the two hon. Gentlemen who were at the Speaker's Conference, because my view has been endorsed by all sections of the Unionist-voting people in the Convention, which was elected on proportional representation. This needs to be kept in mind.
§ Mr. Fitt
I fully concur with the objections that have been raised by the hon. Gentleman. Even though it has been said that the Speaker's Conference was kept private and that we were not supposed to say what happened at it, may I tell the hon. Gentleman from the Floor of this House that I made vehement pleas to have as many people from Northern Ireland as possible at the Speaker's Conference. I also urged that the press should be admitted and that the proceedings, if necessary, should be held in Northern Ireland. It was certainly not by any action of mine that the Speaker's Conference was held in such privacy.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The official Opposition are involved in this as much as are the Government. The Government, when they talk about fair representation for Northern Ireland, should make sure that it is fair representation. That was not the case at the Speaker's Conference. A large section of elected Unionism was not heard. The elected representatives of that Unionism—Official Unionism, Vanguard Unionism, Democratic Unionism and Independent Unionism—had put firmly on the record their attitude to the number of seats, which is the issue that we are debating in this House today.
§ Mr. Stallard
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech, and I apologise for interrupting at this point. I should like him to tell me something, if he will, because 1753 it is important to my own thinking, and we are all trying to develop our attitudes on this very important question. Would he have adopted the same approach about increased representation were Stormont still in existence? In other words, would fair representation have the same kind of connotation, given an Assembly or a Government in the Six Counties such as existed with Stormont, or would the hon. Gentleman have other considerations? It is an important question and one that I would like to get clear from my own point of view.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
My view is that it is more important for Northern Ireland to have a devolved form of government than to have extra seats here. I should make it clear that that is a personal view.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I shall deal with the Convention report. I put this on record in my Second Reading speech. I am not going back on anything that I said before. If the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) wants to say something about it, he can. The hon. Gentleman is now leaving the Chamber. On Second Reading I made it clear that my aim and objective was to have proper devolved government in Northern Ireland. That was also the primary objective of the Convention. The hon. Gentleman, who has run out of the Chamber, was not a member of the Convention, so it ill becomes him to deliberate on the matter. That is the issue.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I want to finish this point. We are coming here not like Cinderellas pleading with this Parliament "Please give us a few more Members of Parliament". If we are to have fair representation, it ought to be fair. Northern Ireland is entitled to fair representation in this place.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
No, not on this point, because I am only just developing it.
1754 I believe that we should have proper devolved government in Northern Ireland. I take the parallel with Scotland. A Scottish devolved Government will not take away seats from Scottish Members here. This is a vital point. When Stormont came into existence, seats in this place were taken away. Now there is a reconsideration on the part of the Government and talk about fair representation. If we are to be fair, Northern Ireland should have proper devolved government. I am prepared to have the issue of proper devolved government in Northern Ireland put to the test in a referendum, in the same way as is to be done for Scotland and Wales. However, we should have fair representation in this place. If I were asked to make a choice, I should go for devolved government in Northern Ireland. I should be content, although it would not be fair, to have just the 12 seats here. However, I am not arguing for that today.
§ Mr. McNamara
I think that in this matter the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is perhaps more honest than some of those who sit on the Bench with him. I should like to put two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, does he agree that acceptance of the policy of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), which the Bill embodies, means that his hopes of an acceptable form of devolved government in Northern Ireland are considerably reduced because we should be moving to an integrationist situation?
Secondly, I understand that the hon. Gentleman put his name to the majority report of the Convention and the proposed Act at the end. Clause 52 provides:The number of Representatives from Northern Ireland in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be such number (but not less than 20) as may be determined by a judicial commission appointed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom within six months of the appointed day.The Official Unionists, in getting what they have got from the Government, regrettably, have in fact got the worst end of the stick compared with what the majority of the Convention thought they wanted. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me for quoting from a book with an orange binding.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The hon. Gentleman should quote more from books with 1755 orange binding. The Government, the official Opposition and the Official Unionists, in the Speaker's Conference, did not have before them a Member representing the other side of the coin of Unionism. What is more, the report flew in the face of what elected Unionist representatives of the people of Northern Ireland had already agreed to.
I want now to come to the Convention. The main aim of the Convention was to have devolved government in Northern Ireland. I brought this point out in my speech on Second Reading and I repeat it and lay it on the line here. The Convention report, at page 11, refers to representation at Westminster. It states that the UUUC, which at that time consisted of the Official Unionists, the Democratic Unionists and what became the United Ulster Unionist movement because of defection from the body of the Vanguard Unionists led by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), the UPNI—Mr. Faulkner's party —and the Northern Ireland Labour Partyargued strongly for an increase in Northern Ireland's representation at Westminster and the Alliance Party was also prepared to give active support to this if agreement was achieved on a constitution.The Alliance Party differed in that at that time it said "You cannot increase the number of MPs at Westminster until you have agreement on the constitution." Subsequently, when the Alliance Party made its submission to the Speaker's Conference, it changed in regard to that matter. In a very short submission, the Alliance Party stated that it would like to have 20 seats at Westminster. The Alliance Party, on page 12 of its submission, stated thatThe Alliance Party is in favour of increasing the number of Westminster seats in Northern Ireland from 12 to 20.It also wanted representatives to be elected by proportional representation.
Therefore, we find that all sections of Unionism at that time agreed that there should be an increase. That was agreed to by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East, and people have adhered to him in the Convention. This argument is a red herring. They were not asking for extra seats as extra seats. They did not want anything different from any other part of the United Kingdom. They wanted fair representation. They did not 1756 want anything beyond what was given to any other part of the United Kingdom.
The Convention report states thatThe Report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution—hereinafter referred to as the Kilbrandon Report—also recommended an increase.I have heard hon. Members argue that the Kilbrandon Commission was wrong to recommend an increase in representation in this place. A number of hon. Members, who have now been converted to the fact that we should have extra seats at Westminster, at that time argued against extra representation.
The Convention report continues:The UUUC favours a number between 20 and 24 and advances the following arguments in support of greater representation".The Convention was elected on the single transferable vote. It was not really proportional representation. It was a similar electoral system to that in the South of Ireland. At that time the House of Commons wanted to identify us as closely as possible with the Republic. The Convention was elected on a single transferable vote—the kind of system that we have in local government, that we are to have for the European elections and that has been argued for on both sides of the House of Commons by those who believe in some kind of PR. No one in this place could argue that the Convention was elected in a manner not agreeable to those who are in opposition to the Unionist way of thinking.
The elected Unionists, who had a firm majority in the Convention, argued not for the number of seats which were agreed to at the Speaker's Conference by the two spokesmen of Official Unionism —five, perhaps four, and at most six—but for 20 to 24.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.Those parties did not argue that we should have parity with England. That is what the Bill will give us. It does not give us parity with the rest of the United Kingdom, as I shall show. That is not my summing up of what is taking place. That was issued by the Library through its research division. It issued a paper which said that all that had been given by the Speaker's Conference was the principle 1757 of parity of representation at least with England. Therefore, it is not what I say but what the research division of the Library says.
We are getting parity only with England, not with the United Kingdom. We never asked for parity with England. We asked for parity with the rest of the United Kingdom. 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.
The Convention report says:The allocation of United Kingdom funds, including those spent in Northern Ireland, is determined by 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.That refers to the proposals for devolution in Scotland and Wales.
The report continues:The UUUC suggested that the precise number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament and the Northern Ireland constituency boundaries should be determined by judicial commission. The UPNI also argued for equality of representation with other parts of the United Kingdom and suggested that at least one of the Northern Ireland Members should be included in United Kingdom representation at the European Parliament.The Northern Ireland Labour Party, which I understand has some fraternal connection with the Labour Party, also suggested that Northern Ireland should be given adequate representation in the House of Lords. It put forward the figure of 20 for the House of Commons. What I am seeking to do, with the hon. Member for Down, North, is to put before the House today what the Northern Ireland Convention wanted. The Northern Ireland Convention was an elected body and had the right officially to voice Unionist opinion. I want to add that not only did the Unionists, who had the majority in the Convention, want more than is offered to us today on the basis of fair representation, but the Alliance Party has said "We want 20 seats". It has had a change of mind and is prepared to go for the 20 seats. The Northern Ireland Labour Party has also said "We want 20 seats".
Therefore, the overwhelming voice of the elected representatives of Northern 1758 Ireland has said "Fair representation means not parity with England but parity with the rest of the United Kingdom. Therefore, we should have what the Convention report recommended. We should have the 20 to 24 seats".
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain when this newfound desire for democracy began? I seem to remember that when the hon. Gentleman and Ulster Unionists generally had their own way they did not bother unduly about legalising democracy. They managed to do all that they wanted to do as regards housing, jobs, and so on, without this legality. Is it not a fact that it is only in the last few years since there has been real opposition to the position occupied by the Ulster Unionists that a new-found desire for democracy and legality has suddenly emerged—possibly in the last six or seven years, and not before that?
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. The hon. Member is getting out of order. We are not discussing legalising anything. The Committee is discussing whether we shall increase the number of seats in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Flannery
On a point of order, Sir Myer. The point that I made is absolutely relevant to the question of the expansion of the number of seats in Northern Ireland and, indeed, is fundamental to that. It is being watched by the whole population there, as well as by a large number of people in England. Therefore, with due respect, I believe that I have raised a relevant point—although I shall accede to your ruling.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. I am obliged to the hon. Member for doing that. I disagree with the hon. Member. The point is that we are discussing whether we should increase the number recommended in the Bill.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I should have thought that, even if there had been a late conversion, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) would have welcomed it. I do not accept what he said, but if Northern Ireland representatives are moving towards democracy, as he suggests, he should be happy about it and not argue against it. I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman 1759 said but, as you, Sir Myer, have ruled that I cannot discuss it further, I am not permitted to follow his line of argument. I should be quite happy to do so on another occasion at some other time—
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is concerned with making comparisons between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, may I ask whether he is aware that one of the many reasons why I do not like the Bill is that if the same principles of representation were applied to Staffordshire— which is, in part, my responsibility—as it is proposed should be applied to Northern Ireland. we should need an additional two seats to make it 12 instead of the 10 that we have at the moment? In the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to see that proper comparability is established throughout the United Kingdom, has he considered how many additional seats we should need to establish in Staffordshire to bring it into line with the sort of representation that he now proposes for Northern Ireland?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I should have thought that that was a matter of concern for English Members. It is no concern of mine. If English Members are prepared to be under-represented, that is their business, and I am not at all concerned about it. I am dealing with a matter that has been put forward by the party to which the hon. Member belongs. The Labour Party is trying to argue down the throats of the people of Northern Ireland that the Government are giving fair representation. If the Government would say in this House "We are not giving you parity with the rest of the United Kingdom; you are getting parity only with England," we should at least have a basis for honest discussion. But an attempt is being made, by a whole welter of propaganda efforts, to tell the people of Northern Ireland "You are getting exactly the same as the rest of the United Kingdom".
I shall take up the point made by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott). I shall consider one of 1760 the English seats about which he seems to be so concerned. Newcastle, Central—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Newcastle, Central has 23,556 constituents, while my constituency has 102,828. When one compares those, one sees that the seat which I represent is four-and-a-half times larger than one English constituency.
§ Mr. Grocott
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has come on to that point. It is of tremendous interest to me because, representing as I do Lichfield and Tamworth, one of the matters that concerns me about Northern Ireland is the small size of the electorates of the constituencies there. Ten out of the 12 are substantially smaller than my own. Naturally, I take the view that I am capable of representing 100,000-plus constituents, and I do it, I hope, rather better than many of the Members in Northern Ireland.
I should have thought that although the hon. Gentleman is anxious to have the constituency sizes reduced, and although he is honest and frank enough to admit that he is not concerned about the rest of the United Kingdom—I think that I paraphrase him accurately—he must, surely, be concerned about it to the extent of considering how we would physically accommodate the Members in this House if we were to apply to the rest of the United Kingdom the principles of representation that he is now trying to apply to Northern Ireland.
I have not done my sums, but my guess is that it would need at least half a dozen more Members of Parliament for Staffordshire alone. The hon. Gentleman must consider the physical problems involved. If we had representation on that scale, the House would look like a crowd scene from "Ben Hur".
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Knowing the way that the House is attended, one could be sure that one would get a seat if there were 800 Members rather than the 600-odd now. I am amazed at what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is typical of things that are said in the House about Northern Ireland. Let us look at the size of the Northen Ireland constituencies which the hon. Gentleman has been busy 1761 despising, saying that they are small, and make a comparison with both Scottish and English constituencies.
In Glasgow, for instance, the Central constituency has 20,412 electors. That would be the size of an old Stormont constituency in our Northern Ireland Parliament. The constituency of Western Isles has an electorate of 22,709; Orkney and Shetland has 28,307; Caithness and Sutherland has 29,598; Glasgow, Govan has 26,941. The constituency of Newcastle, Central has an electorate of 23,556; while Gateshead, West has 29,796.
If one puts those figures beside the consituencies in Northern Ireland, one sees how much out of proportion Northern Ireland is in the electoral quota in relation to the electoral quota in parts of England and Wales. Armagh has 93,496 electors, while Fermanagh and South Tyrone has 72,319. Of course, the hon. Member who represents that constituency does not come here too often, so no doubt he has time to look after his 72,319 electors.
It is noticeable, too—I am not making any point about this, but it is interesting to comment on it—that the Republican-held seats have the lowest quota. A Republican vote is worth, in some cases, one-and-a-quarter to one-and-a-half times the value of a Protestant Unionist vote.
Londonderry has 94,871 electors; Mid-Ulster has 81,937; Antrim, North has 102,828; Down, North has 98,901; Antrim, South has 125,924; Down, South has 89,855. In the Belfast seats, Belfast, East has 76,740 electors; Belfast, North has 66,651; and Belfast, South has 70,256. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) represents a constituency of 59,924 electors.
Putting those figures together, one can see how in this matter Northern Ireland has been so badly treated by this House. There has been a determination by both sides of the House to do that. I have heard Conservative spokesmen saying that there should not be more representation for Northern Ireland in this House. They have also said that they did not feel that the time was even ripe to discuss this matter. The Labour Party, too, has commented on this issue.
1762 What I am asking today is whether Northern Ireland is to receive fair representation—not extra seats but the representation that it ought to have. It is clear that the line that is drawn in this House is parity with England and not parity with the rest of the United Kingdom. A greater injustice will now come about, because the Government have made clear that if they win the referendum there will be devolved government in Scotland but in no way will they reduce the number of Members of Parliament from Scotland, and the same applies to Wales. Yet when it does not seem to anyone in Northern Ireland that steps will be taken to have a devolved form of government there in keeping with democratic principles, where the wishes of the majority will be acceded to, we are to have our numbers fixed not on the basis of parity with the rest of the United Kingdom, as they should be, but with England. That is very unfair indeed.
There is another matter that disturbs me. Attempts are made to argue that these seats will go one way or the other. It is the business of this House to see to it that the people of Northern Ireland have proper numerical representation in this House, but it is no business of this House how the people of Northern Ireland vote in those constituencies. That is the business of the electorate. Yet in order, probably, to persuade certain hon. Members of the Left wing of the Labour Party, it is said that these seats will go entirely to Republicans.
That statement was made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He said:Of the 17, it is quite likely that four or five could be anti-Unionist seats."—[Official Report, 9th November 1978; Vol. 957, c. 1168.]That statement alarms me, because that could not happen unless there were to be colossal gerrymandering. Looking at the map of Northern Ireland, one sees that that is an absolute fact. If one wanted to carve out those seats in that way, I do not know how one could ever get five such seats.
The Minister of State went a little further, when he wrote to Tribune saying:Nevertheless, given the statutory rules which bind Boundary Commissions, the geography of Northern Ireland makes it very 1763 likely that there will be a majority of non-Unionist voters in perhaps five of the new constituencies … Four or five anti-Unionists would be likely to be on our side of the House and in a hung Parliament likely to give us a majority too.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. Before we proceed on this line, let me say that I am in a difficulty. The question of the duty of the Boundary Commission does not enter into our deliberations this afternoon. We could get into very dangerous and what I would regard as strictly out of order contributions if we were to look at the matter from the viewpoint of how these constituencies will ultimately vote when they are created. I therefore ask hon. Members to keep in line with what the Bill provides and not to try to discuss the duty which will devolve upon the Boundary Commission when the Bill becomes law.
§ Mr. McNamara
On a point of order, Sir Myer. I am sorry to appear to be seeking to challenge your ruling. However, one of the points that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has been making concerns the arguments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, both in the presentation of the Bill and earlier, about what might happen—in fact, it was said with a greater degree of certainty than that—about the representation in this House should extra seats be allocated to Northern Ireland.
The occupants of the Chair on those occasions did not rule my right hon. Friend out of order when he made these points. If these are the arguments being advanced for the increase in the number of seats which we are discussing under the amendment, are we not in order in examining the grounds for the supposition of the Secretary of State in making this one of his binding arguments? I am informed that that was one of the arguments that he used at the Speaker's Conference to persuade people of the wisdom of this matter. Whether that is true I do not know. I was not there, and it is only the whisper that one hears about these things.
Let us consider what my right hon. Friend said on Second Reading. He referred to 1764an increased number of anti-Unionist members on the Labour Benches.I asked that we should seethe documents, papers and workings by which my right hon. Friend arrives at that rather remarkable conclusion".—[Official Report, 28th November 1978; Vol. 959, c. 245.]I regarded that as a wide and sweeping assumption and, democratically, as a dangerous statement to make, flying in the face of the known facts about the distribution of population in Northern Ireland. Surely, we are allowed to pursue that point.
§ 6 p.m.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. Let me deal with one point of order at a time. I have listened carefully to it. I remind the hon. Member that this is not a Second Reading debate. That is the first point, and an important factor in our debates. The House is now in Committee and there are entirely different orders and Standing Orders governing our deliberations. It has already been explained that this is a narrow Bill, simply deciding whether the number of seats in Northern Ireland has to be increased or not and by what number.
We are now dealing with an amendment to go beyond what is included in the Bill. To get into arguments about how those seats will ultimately be disposed of in political terms is, in my opinion, out of order. So long as one deals purely with the number of seats being created, which the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) wishes to amend, that will be in order, but I do not see anyone being able to juggle on a narrow tightrope of this kind.
§ Mr. McNamara
If what is feared as a result of statements is that there might be suggestions of a deliberate gerrymander to obtain a desired result—
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. It would be completely out of order to deal with what will happen when the Boundary Commission gets down to examining the situation.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Perhaps you can help me, Sir Myer. Am I right in thinking that when the Boundary Commission reports this House can accept its report or reject it?
§ Mr. Fitt
On a point of order, Sir Myer. May I draw your attention to the evidence of the Leader of the House to the Speaker's Conference? I referred to evidence given the previous week by Mr. Justice Murray, the Deputy Chairman of the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission, who had said that he was not concerned with politics, religion or any other consideration in drawing up boundaries. He said that he was concerned only with the numbers of people—in other words, a head count.
I referred to this in paragraph 144, speaking to the Leader of the House:Mr. Justice Murray, Deputy Chairman of the Boundary Commission in Northern Ireland, said quite clearly last week that he could only take into account—this would be his primary consideration—the number of people, the number of heads, he would not be able to take into account any religious or political criteria. If that is so then a very important part of the whole Northern Ireland problem would be neglected if we are to look at the figures purely on the basis of the number of heads?In reply, the Leader of the House said:I think it would be very difficult to give instructions to the Boundary Commission which would take into account all the factors which you have mentioned though some of those factors might be taken into account. But again I think that is primarily a question for the House of Commons to decide in the way in which it sets up the Boundary Commission or the way in which it passes judgment on the Boundary Commission. I am not saying these are not important matters but we would hope the issue for this Conference is something different. Of course those questions are matters which the House of Commons can discuss both before and after the Boundary Commission is established.In paragraph 157, again in answer to my questions, the Leader of the House said:The House of Commons will consider all those matters because obviously those considerations will be put to the House of Commons when it makes its decisions.Time and time again, as any hon. Member can see from the minutes of evidence, in answer to my questions the Leader of the House said repeatedly that there would be no restriction on debate in this House before or after the setting up of the Boundary Commission.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
That is exactly what the House has done. There was no restriction during the Second Reading debate on what had been pro- 1766 mised. As the hon. Gentleman himself said, the House will finally decide whether to accept or reject the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. This afternoon we are considering whether to leave out18 or less than 16and insert24 or less than 21and in another case to leave out "18" and insert "16". That is what we are to discuss.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I have been trying to keep within this argument, but when the people of Northern Ireland are told that they will get fair representation and then Ministers say that possibly five seats will go to anti-Unionist candidates, they are perplexed. They wonder how Northern Ireland can be carved up in this way.
The Secretary of State and his colleagues have been quite open about this in the House and in letters to the press. They have said that the aim is four or five Members who will be anti-Unionist. Immediately that is said, the people of Northern Ireland ask how they are to have fair constituencies when it has already been decided that they must be Republican constituencies. That is an important point which comes into the numbers question.
On the increase in numbers, the Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Labour Party have come into line with the thinking of the UUUC. The Vanguard Party made a submission in which it said that proper representation would be as many as 30 seats. If that were increased, no hon. Member would be able to suggest that all of them—there were only to be five originally—would vote in a particular way.
That is my point, Sir Myer, within your ruling—that we are talking about the number of seats. Numbers are now very important when Government spokesmen are prepared to make such strong statements about how these constituencies will be made up and the type of voters that will have the majority.
§ Mr. Thorne
The hon. Member is confusing me. To judge by his statements in the House, he seems confident that these additional seats will return Unionist and other representatives on a similar basis as at present. I think that that is right, that 1767 additional seats will almost certainly be represented by Unionist and pro-Unionist Members. Surely, he recognises that the Secretary of State and his assistants are saying what they are about the likely representation in order to influence some of us on this side of the House to withdraw our opposition to the Bill as it stands. That is the sole purpose of it. I suspect that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is well aware of that.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I have already said that this was done to persuade certain elements of the Labour Party. However, the House is not in a position to say how the Boundary Commission will draw the boundaries. If we knew how the boundaries were to be drawn, the conclusions that are drawn could be verified and substantiated. If one looked at a map of Northern Ireland it would be difficult, but not impossible, to tell how one would carve five extra Republican seats out of the present boundaries, keeping in mind the population ratio. That is the aim. If that is what the Government want done, the people of Northern Ireland will naturally ask how this is to be fair representation.
The House should not be concerned about what Members are returned from the particular seats. We should be concerned about the number of seats that will give proper numerical representation. The trouble is that the House does not like the way people vote in Northern Ireland, and there have been many experiments to try to change it. We have tried to change it by changing boundaries, councils, voting and how people vote. At the end of the day the majority of the people will still get their message and convictions across.
It is unfair for Government spokesmen to make the statements that they are making. The people of Northern Ireland must inevitably ask whether the Boundary Commission will so deal with the boundaries that the end product will be what the Government are now saying.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
My impression was that Government Ministers said that out of the total of new seats for Northern Ireland there could be perhaps four or five that voted with the Government. They did not say that out of the new extra number of seats—five, six or whatever—there would be four or 1768 five extra Republican seats. They indicated that the total representation which might vote with the Government out of the new conglomeration could be as high as four or five.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The hon. Gentleman did not listen to me carefully, or he would not have made that remark. This is what the Minister of State said, and I quote from Tribune:Nevertheless, given the statutory rules which bind Boundary Commissions, the geography of Northern Ireland makes it very likely that there will be a majority of non-Unionist voters in perhaps five of the new constituencies.I am not trying to misrepresent anybody in this House.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has not risen to speak on this issue. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has not seized the point that was made by my right hon. Friend in his article. I accept the argument of the hon. Gentleman about the substance, but on the use of the word "new" he is perhaps following a false trail. My right hon. Friend was talking about new in the context of the 17 new constituencies, not the creation of five new seats.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on Second Reading:On the basis of this Bill, there will be 17 seats, and it is possible … 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 the time to look at the make-up of the population and examine the breakdown, he will find that that is feasible.—[Official Report, 28th November 1978 ; Vol. 959, c. 245.]I then rose on a point of order to ask whether we could have the documents, papers and workings of the Secretary of State. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will concede that his first point is incorrect, but on the second point I believe that his argument is valid.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It is incorrect only in the sense that the Boundary Commission is not obliged to change every constituency. We have had a reshuffle of seats in the past in Northern Ireland. When I came into this House, Antrim, 1769 South was a far larger constituency than it is today. There was then a change. Belfast, West was slightly enlarged, Antrim, North was enlarged, Antrim, South was reduced, but the other seats were left as they were. It does not follow that every oncsttuency must be changed. I concede that there will be more than five new constituencies. That does not mean that all 17 will be absolutely new constituencies. If I have misrepresented anyone, I apologise sincerely.
We are dealing with numbers today. We are dealing with numbers that have been commented upon, and it has been said that this will give Northern Ireland fair representation with the rest of the United Kingdom. I take exception to that That is why I am moving this amendment which is in keeping with the finding of the Northern Ireland Convention, which was an elected body set up by this House. It is also in keeping with other parties which have now come in and changed their minds, however belatedly, and which believe that the number of seats should be about 20.
The figure put today could be four or five or even six. We might get four or five, but it is hardly likely that we will get six. Even if we get six we still do not have fair representation for Northern Ireland in keeping with the rules that govern electoral quotas in the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
I wish to oppose this amendment because the mover of it has worked on an assumption, namely, that there is something that he describes as the United Kingdom quota that the figures in the Bill do not tally with. There is, of course, a Great British quota. If the hon. Member reads the document that has been prepared by the Library he will find clearly stated in that document that were Northern Ireland to receive 16 seats, which is the minimum number proposed in the Bill, it would be in line with both the quota that England receives and the quota that is described in that document as the Great British quota.
On the other hand, if the hon. Member is trying to suggest that Northern Ireland is not receiving the same number of seats as Scotland or Wales, his point is valid. But it is valid only to the extent that were Northern Ireland to receive the same 1770 number of seats as Wales one would hope that the Boundary Commission would increase the number from 12 to 18. Were it to be put on the same basis as Scotland, I freely admit that 18 is not the required figure. It would have to be 19.
One could argue that the situation in Scotland is different from that in Northern Ireland. Therefore, in drawing the boundaries of the constituencies, at least in Scottish terms, one is to some extent limited to what is possible within the geography of that region of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is wrong in supposing that Northern Ireland will not receive a comparable number of seats if we take the Great British quota or the English quota. His argument holds good only if he compares what is in the Bill with what Scotland at present receives.
I declare an interest in that I was a member of the Speaker's Conference. All of us who took part in those deliberations had a single objective—to give electoral equity to Northern Ireland in terms of the democracy of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that any of us was motivated by a desire to see this or that party, this or that religious group, or this or that political group receive advantage from what we did. Our thoughts turned on the fact that it has become generally accepted in this House that the people of Northern Ireland are under-represented at Westminster, and have been so under-represented for over 50 years, as the Leader of the House pointed out.
It is true that Northern Ireland had Stormont for many years. In fact, in this House we believed that Stormont so ruled Northern Ireland that we had little need to take account of what was going on in the Province. But that is all history. Since Northern Ireland has not had a proper Government of its own, even in the local sense, for six years, it would be wrong to continue to allow under-representation in the one democratic and elected Chamber in which the Northern Irish people still have a right to express their views in full.
The Speaker's Conference was created out of a feeling on both sides of the House that this wrong should be put right. I feel very privileged to have been a member of that Conference.
1771 I add that I shall not be satisfied until Northern Ireland not only has fair representation at Westminster but has a devolved administration of some sort or other. Only then can Northern Ireland stand on all fours with any other part of the United Kingdom. Only then can the people of the Province say that they enjoy the same democracy as the rest of the citizens of the United Kingdom, and that they have the same right to control their affairs and the same voice in Westminster.
To that extent, the figure that we arrived at in the Speaker's Conference has one flaw which I would want to see removed. I hold what some people would call a simple view. In the last analysis, I believe that each one of us in this Chamber should represent approximately the same number of electors. At present there is a serious imbalance in the number of electors whom we represent. We have heard the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) say that Staffordshire is under-represented. If he takes the so-called English quota of 65,000, he is right. By the same token, I am representing too many people in West Berkshire, because my constituency numbers more than 80,000. As we begin to get the spread of seats correct for the regions, we shall be forced to look at the whole structure of parliamentary representation in this Chamber.
If we were to work on simple mathematical calculations, with everybody representing about the same number of people, England should have an increase of 12 seats from 516 to 528. Scotland should have its number of seats reduced from 71 to 59 and Wales should have its number reduced from 36 to 32. In other words, Scotland should have a reduction of 12 and Wales a reduction of four. That meets the point that was made by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth, because 12 more seats for England and a reduction of 16 for Wales and Scotland would give a net result of about the same number of Members as we have already, and the representation would be much fairer, particularly to England.
Because there are geographic considerations of which we must take account—this argument has been used for leaving Scotland as it is—and because the Speaker's Conference was considering 1772 Northern Ireland representation, we had to decide whether we should aim for a figure approximating to the Great British quota or whether we should put Northern Ireland on a par with Scotland or Wales. In our wisdom, or otherwise, we came to the compromise solution embodied in the Bill.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I wish that the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) would put his party political allegiance and his nationality in his pocket for a moment and look at the matter with equity. If we had put Northern Ireland on a par with one of the regions, which region would we pick? Scotland has a geographic structure which is very different from that of Northern Ireland. Scotland is very much larger in land mass. Northern Ireland is on a par, in terms of land mass, with Yorkshire. It did not seem reasonable to say that Northern Ireland should have 19 seats, giving it the same quota as Scotland.
What about Wales? Geographically Wales is more similar to Northern Ireland, giving a quota of 18 seats. Some of us thought that the least that we could do was to put Northern Ireland on a par with Wales. This would put Northern Ireland somewhere between England and Scotland. To draw a parallel between Wales and Northern Ireland is not unreasonable. However, it was fair to ask "Why Wales"? Why did we not choose England? In equity we felt that the answer lay in a compromise between the top figure of 19 seats, as in the case of Scotland, and the bottom figure of 16, as in the case of England. Taking Wales as the nearest region to Northern Ireland and drawing a comparison, we decided that 17 was the figure on which we should advise the Boundary Commission to work. It should accept that 18 was the top figure and that 16 was the lowest.
Of course, it could be said that we should have gone for the Scottish figure, because Scotland has the best representation of any part of the United Kingdom, but I am prepared to accept the geographic argument and say that it does not apply to Northern Ireland. I therefore agree with the overall recommendation of Mr. Speaker's Conference that 17 is the ideal figure, with 18 and 16 as the alternatives.
1773 6.30 p.m.
It has been pointed out in the paper prepared by our Library that we have set a ceiling for Northern Ireland that is, to some extent, unusual when laying down what should be the number of seats that any region may reasonably claim for its representation. The Northern Ireland electorate has increased by more than has that of any other part of the United Kingdom since 1949. If a ceiling is set for the number of seats in Northern Ireland, it may be argued that if the electorate increases enormously we may have this debate again in 10 years' time, with hon. Members arguing that Northern Ireland's population is so large that 18 seats is not a reasonable number to give fair, democratic representation.
There is some force in that argument, but although Northern Ireland's electorate has increased by 19.5 per cent. since 1949, that increase is represented only by 14,052 people—about 25 per cent. of the number of electors who will be required in future to return an hon. Member for a constituency in Northern Ireland. Therefore, if in the past 30 years we have reached an increase of only one-quarter of the number of electors who will be required for a new seat, is it not reasonable to say that we shall probably have to wait another 30 or 40 years before enough people have joined the electoral roll in Northern Ireland and for any of us to feel that 18 seats is too small a number to give fair representation?
Why did we choose a ceiling figure at all? Our view was that we had not only the responsibility to decide what would be an equitable figure to give Northern Ireland parity with other parts of the United Kingdom but a duty to give the Boundary Commission a target figure that we felt might be described as the optimum result if Northern Ireland were to have fair representation at Westminster.
We believe that the figure of 17 is that optimum result, but because drawing boundaries is a more difficult task than we may imagine, we thought that to freeze the figure on a single number and to say that it was the only number on which the Commission could work might make its job so difficult that it was better for 1774 us to give it the flexibility of plus or minus one.
We hoped and believed that that would allow the Commission to draw new boundaries with the greatest fairness to all the people living in Northern Ireland —without regard to their political loyalties, religious affiliations or party choice.
We wanted to create as much equity as possible. I oppose the amendment because I believe that Mr. Speaker's Conference reached the right decision. I may be biased, because I was a member of the Conference, but I believe that the figures in the Bill are right and those are the figures for which I shall vote.
§ Mr. McNamara
The whole House is indebted to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who had the good fortune to be a member of Mr. Speaker's Conference and who has explained to us in great detail how the Conference reached its conclusions. That I disagree with those conclusions is another matter, but that the hon. Member has done the House a service in explaining properly, for the first time, how the difficult decisions were arrived at and what principles guided the Conference cannot be denied and is important to the House and the people of the United Kingdom.
I was fascinated by some of the little gems in the hon. Gentleman's speech when he put Yorkshire in one place, equated Scotland with Wales, drew a parallel here and moved a continent there and a subcontinent elsewhere. He almost became, for the House, a great cartographer, if not the greatest apologist. His speech was an interesting and valuable one, however, and we are grateful for it.
If we are to grant more seats, it should be the minimum number of seats, and to get my amendment in order, within the terms of the Bill, I have chosen 16 as the minimum number.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) spoke of some of the speeches made on Second Reading and of promises that may have been made or implied to my hon. Friends to get them to support the Bill, or to members of the minority Republican or non-Unionist population in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman was pointing to a very dangerous procedure.
1775 If the House had decided that it would consider the introduction of proportional representation in General Elections in Northern Ireland, the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the minority might get five or six seats might have been fair. That assessment could be made on the basis of population or the way in which votes had gone in other elections in Northern Ireland, whether for local government, the Assembly, or the Convention. However, to align certain parties in Northern Ireland with one side or the other would not be acceptable to them. In particular, the Alliance Party would not think of itself as a party of the minority. It claims to cross the divide between the two sides, and under proportional representation the Alliance Party would presumably win one or two seats. Indeed, I understand that in the elections for the European Assembly on 6th June—
The Second Deputy Chairman (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is aware that we are not discussing proportional representation or the European Assembly elections. Perhaps he will therefore return to the amendment.
§ Mr. McNamara
I was taking up a point that has been developed before and that was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who said that the minority might get five or six seats under a system of proportional representation. I said that that might be possible if the House had agreed to implement a system of proportional representation, although some parties that would reasonably hope to gain seats in such an election would regard themselves not as parties of the majority or the minority but as parties that straddled the divide.
The point that I was going on to make was that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was not referring to that sort of situation. He was referring to the sort of situation in which the Boundary Commission in Northern Ireland would take into consideration various factors, such as population, natural boundaries, county, city and town boundaries, and so on, and, on the basis of those considerations, propose a number of extra seats for Northern Ireland. My argument is that if the aim of my right hon. Friend was to persuade us and the people of Northern 1776 Ireland that, somehow, magically, they would get increased representation in this House, either he was badly advised or, as I believe, he was, perhaps unconsciously, misleading people about what a possible result would be. I do not believe that it was his deliberate intention to mislead, but I think that that will be the consequence of what has been said.
It is very dangerous to make that sort of statement anyway, for exactly the reason that the hon. Member for Antrim, North gave. If this House is to say that we should give extra seats to Northern Ireland—I do not think that we should—we cannot then say "But this is going to be the result of the election". It is absolutely wrong for us to argue in that way. It is wrong because, assuming that the Boundary Commission will be impartial, as I am sure it will be, if it leads to hope unfulfilled and promises unkept it can make the political situation far worse than it is.
If it is meant as a nod and a wink at the Boundary Commission that, somehow or other, extra seats can be carved out, with a sort of Republican cordon sanitaire along the border, or Derry city just taken out and given representation by itself against a general background, that will be a very bad situation and will amount to a reversal of the arguments that many of us were advancing about the situation in 1968 and 1969.
Hon. Members know that basically I am against the extra seats being granted to Northern Ireland, but if we are to think in terms of the way in which these extra seats are to be granted, I think that there is a great deal of substance in what the hon. Member for Antrim, North said. I much regret that, so far, we have had no interjection from the Official Unionists. I see that their Bench is completely empty.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am sorry. There will be joy amongst the angels in heaven for one sinner doing penance, and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) is right now back in the fold. There is hope for salvation for the hon. Member for Antrim, North. He may yet repent and join the right hon. Gentleman. I apologise to the right hon. Member, but not to his colleagues, for 1777 none of them has taken part in this debate. It looks as though the Government will have to do their dirty work for them in justifying the decision to increase the number of seats.
The hon. Member for Newbury said that there was a great sense of burning injustice which had forced this House to clamour at the doors of the Leader of the House and of the Leader of the Opposition and say "Please write to Mr. Speaker and establish an electoral conference so that we can bring justice to Northern Ireland". What a marvellous situation it is, in terms of the way in which the tremendous formation of conscience, under the pressures of a lost vote and of a possible General Election and no Lib-Lab pact, was forced upon us. Is that the truth of the matter? In a sense, would that it were so. But that, of course, is not how it happens.
In this numbers game, we have a full house. We have extended another line in order to extend the life of the Government for perhaps another six weeks, or three months, and sometimes I think that we have to say to the Government that though they make their alliances, for which we understand the reasons, and though we would be better off, and are better off, without a Tory Government, sometimes when we make these arrangements we may live to regret them.
It is ridiculous to talk about the five Members who may or may not come in, who may or may not represent a minority, as holding the balance in a hung Parliament, because if there are five of them, what about the other 12? Does it mean that they will have gone back to the other side?
I recall the 1964–66 Parliament—briefly, because I was in it for only a few weeks. If Northern Ireland had had this increased number of seats in 1964, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) would never have formed his Administration. In brutal party terms, the Government should think about that situation. The Government might really believe that if this increase in numbers goes through Parliament, Members from Northern Ireland will run around beating their breasts and saying "How sweet, how kind, how noble, how 1778 beautiful. We will support this Labour Government, yea, till the last day of November, until which time they can legally remain in office." Do my right hon. Friends think that that will happen?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should look at the voting record of the pack of them. For example, the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) has been a consistent Tory Unionist, voting that way all the time against the evils of Socialism. How did these Members vote on the question of Harland and Wolff and the Shipbuilding Industry Bill, and on so many other Bills, in order to twist us and put the Government on a rack so as to get their way and achieve this Bill?
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
I want to get the essence of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. His cynicism about his own Front Bench is his own business, but is he saying that although we have parliamentary democracy and claim that people have rights, the people of Northern Ireland are to be denied those rights, which are enjoyed by the people in Scotland, Wales and England?
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Gentleman himself said that the people of Northern Ireland were to be denied the rights of the people of Scotland, so I do not think that he can bring that point forward as an argument.
As the hon. Member for Newbury knows, I am for full democratic representation of all people in the island of Ireland. I am all for the principle that there should be one vote for one man, one woman or one child over the age of 18, whether by the single transferable vote, first past the post, or whatever. But I do not believe that that representation should be here, and I see no point in advocating the policy that the number of seats here should be increased.
I believe that the Six Counties are for the time being part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but whilst I believe in their administration and the provision of services to them, I would do nothing to increase their representation here. I have always adopted the position that the right of the people in that area should be to join their fellow Irishmen in Dail Eireann or an institution with another name if they wish.
1779 I do not wish to see their representation increased here.
If the hon. Gentleman is to argue for increased representation for the people of Northern Ireland, he should take the line advocated by the hon. Member for Antrim, North. if they are to have representation they should have the best. The best would be what the Convention argued, what the members of the Convention put their signature to, and what members of the Official Ulster Unionist Party in this House have thrown away. Not one amendment from the Official Unionists seeks to achieve what they all wanted in the Convention—to persuade the Committee by the power of their arguments to bring forth the model Bill from the Convention report which would give that representation. I put my name to the hon. Member's amendment because I felt that this important matter should be debated.
When we consider the alterations that we are making in this numbers game, in this political bingo, we should remember that the prize may be control of the balance of votes in a hung Parliament. Any change in the numbers of Northern Ireland representation in this House is something that the Government and the Opposition Front Bench have tried to avoid. They have swept it under the carpet, not appreciating its significance. It is a matter of fundamental constitutional significance that the House is seeking to increase the representation.
The franchise that existed in the old Irish Parliament before 1800 mirrored very much the franchise of this House; corrupt boroughs, limited franchise, very few voters. Then, when the Catholics were given the forty shilling vote, the vote became very important. After the election of O'Connell and the defeat of Vesey Fitzgerald, part of the price for emancipation was the forfeiture of the forty shilling franchise for the £10 franchise. After the passage of time and the introduction of the Reform Act, the franchise in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, as it then was, became on a par.
The representation in this House varied from time to time. Under the Act of Union, until 1832 it was 100. From 1832 to 1885 it became 105. One could argue that after the famine that represented a degree of over-representation.
1780 Perhaps Liverpool, Scotland, should have got one Member earlier and the Bowery, in New York, should have got one, as well as Boston. Nevertheless, there was that increase to 105. It dropped by two in 1918 to 103, and between 1918 and 1922 the representation was 105.
The best description of how the figures were arrived at was in the paper presented to Mr. Speaker's Conference by a Ms Frances-Jane French, MA, M.Litt, of Dublin, in which she examined in considerable detail the arrangements made in the Cabinet and the Cabinet sub-committee that dealt with Ireland in the years of the coalition of the time.
The War Cabinet held a meeting on 7th October 1919 at which it decided to set up the Cabinet Committee on Ireland. Under the chairmanship of Walter Long, former Chief Secretary for Ireland, a former Tory Chief Whip and a member of the coalition, the Committee was set up to consider Irish policy and make recommendations. This was after the Home Rule Act had been passed and it was in suspension after the outbreak of the First World War.
The Cabinet agreed on 25th November, after a full discussionthat [the] Cabinet Committee [on Ireland] should proceed to work out the Bill or Bills … necessary to give effect to the policy proposed in its third report".Unfortunately, there are no records of that report. I am not quoting in full, but giving sidelines. Hon. Members may wish to see the paper itself in the green box in the Library. No mention was made of the number of seats allocated to Northern Ireland or any arrangements for determining any constituency boundary. It was recommended that the Cabinet Committeeshould be asked to submit alternative drafts on any matters on which the Committee felt that the decision should rest in the CabinetNo alternative drafts were ever submitted to the Cabinet Committee on the question of the number of seats to be allocated to Northern Ireland or on the arrangements for deciding the constituency boundaries.
The first draft of the proposed Bill that went before the Cabinet Committee, entitled "Representation of Ireland in House of Commons of United Kingdom" 1781 stated, in subsection (a) of section (1), that:The number of members to be returned by constituencies in Ireland to serve in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be 42 [i.e. 30 for Southern Ireland & 12 for Northern Ireland] and the constituencies returning those members shall (in lieu of the existing constituencies) be the constituencies determined by the Commissioners appointed by His Majesty for the purpose.That is the origin of the number 12.
The fourth and final report of the Cabinet Committee on Ireland, dated 2nd December 1919, stated that:This committee are now in a position to make their final recommendations in regard to Bill X" [the Government of Ireland Bill, 1919/20]. The report went on 'The Sub-Committee [on finance of the Cabinet Committee] also make the following recommendations on points which have not yet been settled:—(a) They recommend that representation in the Imperial Parliament should be in proportion to population which should give Ireland about 63 or 64 members' [i.e. 18 or 19 for Northern Ireland and 45 or 46 for Southern Ireland].7 p.m.
But:At a meeting of the Cabinet held on 3rd December 1919. 'Walter Long, Chairman of the Cabinet Committee [on Ireland] read the heads of the latest proposals of the Cabinet Committee, which had not yet been circulated.' These included:—'8. That representation in the Imperial Parliament should be in proportion to population which should give Ireland about 63 or 64 members.''10. That the total number of Irish elected members should be three times that of the representation of Ireland in the Imperial Parliament.' … 'It has the additional advantage that the same constituencies will serve for the Imperial and the Irish elections, each constituency will return 3 members on proportional representation instead of the one they will return to the Imperial Parliament.'It was also agreed at this Cabinet meeting:—'That the Chief Secretary for Ireland [Mr. later Sir Ian Macpherson], in consultation, if he desired, with one or more of his colleagues, and with such Irish officials as he might desire, should complete the draft of the Bill on the basis of the above provisional decisions, as soon as possible, with a view to its further consideration by the Cabinet.'—[no mention made in 'the above provisional decisions' referred to here, of the question of the allocation of seats to Ireland in the Imperial Parliament or to the question of the determination of the constituency boundaries].1782A second draft of the proposed Bill … was printed on 6th December 1919. Clause 15 of this Bill entitled 'Representation of Ireland in the House of Commons of United Kingdom' states in subsection (a) of Section (1) that:—'The number of members to be returned by constituencies in Ireland to serve in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be [sixty three] and the constituencies returning those members shall (in lieu of the existing constituencies) be the constituencies returning members to serve in the Parliament of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland and the number of members to be returned to serve in the Parliament of the United Kingdom by all such constituencies shall be such as may be determined by such Commissioners as aforesaid, and each such constituency shall return one member.'At a meeting of the Cabinet … held on 10th December 1919, Clause 16 of the proposed Bill, entitled: 'The Representation of Ireland in the House of Commons' was discussed and'The Cabinet agreed:— (a) that subject to the result of an interview which the Prime Minister intended to have with the Irish members of the Government, Clause 16 of the Bill should be amended so as to reduce the number of Irish members provided for in thee Imperial Parliament to 42' [i.e. 12 for Northern Ireland plus 30 for Southern Ireland]—[There is no subsequent Cabinet Minute on the result of the Prime Minister's interview with the Irish members of the Government].(b) that the Government should be prepared to re-consider the whole clause when they had ascertained the general opinion of the House of Commons on the question".The Cabinet at its meeting on 19th December 1919 agreed after some discussion:— 'to accept the recommendations of the Cabinet Committee that the number of Irish members included in the Bill should be 42' And 'The Cabinet invited the Cabinet Committee to examine the Bill in the closest detail before its introduction in Parliament.'A further draft of the proposed Bill was printed on 2nd February 1920. Clause 17 of this entitled, 'Representation of Ireland in House of Commons of United Kingdom' stated in subsection (a) of Section (1) that:—'The number of members to be returned by constituencies in Ireland to serve in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be 42 and the constituencies returning those members shall (in lieu of the existing constituencies) be the constituencies named in parts I and II of the Fourth Schedule to this Act.The Cabinet at its meeting on 24th February 1920, the day before the Government of Ireland Bill was given its formal First Reading in the House of Commons and was ordered to be printed, came to various conclusions regarding the Bill after'The Prime Minister pointed out that with a Bill of so controversial character much 1783 would have to be left to the temper of Parliament and many adjustments would doubtless have to be made in it later on.'Subject to these conclusions (none of which dealt with the allocation of seats to Northern Ireland or the drawing of the constituency boundaries),'The Cabinet gave their general approval to the Draft Bill but it was recognized that owing to the difficulty of forecasting public and Parliamentary opinion it would be necessary for the Cabinet to accept important modifications in the Bill during its passage through Parliament.'The writer of the paper draws an interesting parallel betweenthe clause dealing with Irish representation at Westminster, as it appears in what is clearly a preliminary draft of the Bill and the comparable clause in the Bill as it was eventually printed for its introduction into the House of Commons, notwithstanding what took place regarding this matter between these two events.This preliminary draft of the Bill is in the form of a duplicated typescript and is headed: 'Government of Ireland Act 1919'. The draft bears no date, but its contents would date it circ. the latter part of October, 1919. Clause 15 is entitled—
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to read out a document that the Committee is perfectly able to get from the Vote Office if it so wishes?
The Second Deputy Chairman
I had been wondering when the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) would relate what he was reading to the amendment.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am relating it to the amendment, Mr. Godman Irvine. We are arguing how the number 12, which we are seeking to amend, was originally arrived at. Until we have settled that, we are not in a position to judge whether it is right to make additions to, or deletions from, the number in question.
Some of us did not have the great advantage of being able to talk about the arguments in this fairly important paper in Mr. Speaker's Conference. Other hon. Members have a right to direct their attention to the arguments in the paper, particularly because of the conclusions with which I disagree. I disagree with them entirely, except to say that they would support what the hon. Members for Antrim, North and Down, North would perhaps argue.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
May I, Mr. Godman Irvine, draw your attention and perhaps the attention of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) to the fact that the document has been in the Vote Office since last autumn. Therefore, the idea that hon. Members other than those who served on Mr. Speaker's Conference have had no opportunity to read it is a little far-fetched, to say the least.
§ Mr. McNamara
I have not argued that hon. Members have not had an opportunity to read the document. What I have argued is that they have not had an opportunity to debate it, which is a different matter. We are entitled to do that, and to measure the value of the argument.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
Surely the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) is entitled to put forward the evidence in the paper and read it to the Committee, if need be, to answer what the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said in his speech. I find the paper very interesting, and hope in time to use it.
The Second Deputy Chairman
If we were never allowed to quote from documents available in the Vote Office, speeches might be somewhat attenuated. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) is entitled to refer at reasonable length to what is in a document that is available.
§ Mr. McNamara
I had not been quoting in extenso from the document. I have not adopted the policy of someone who once, in the American Senate, read from the second sentence to the penultimate sentence of "Gone with the Wind" in order to claim that he was merely quoting and not reading the whole document. I have tried to show where the figure 12 comes from. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newbury was following my argument with the care that he generally gives to hon. Members' arguments, as was shown by his intervention. He will have observed from what I have said that we should perhaps have had 18 or 19 Members for Northern Ireland and 45 or 46 for Southern Ireland. I am seeking to examine the arguments which led us to our conclusion on the actual numbers involved in 1920–22.
1785 One subsection of the draft Bill said:After the date of the first meeting of the Irish Parliament the number of members to be determined by constituencies in Ireland to serve in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be forty-two and the constituencies returning those members shall (in lieu of the existing constituencies) be the constituencies named in the second part of the First Schedule to this Act, and no University in Ireland shall return a member to the Parliament of the United Kingdom.We know that the Irish were allowed to send a university Member for some time. The paper continues:In the Schedule setting out the constituencies, Ulster was to consist of nine counties, with the constituency of Donegal/Fermanagh returning two members and that of Monaghan/Tyrone two members. In all, the nine counties of Ulster were to return 15 members to the single Irish Parliament proposed in this document.I think that we can skip one or two of the following paragraphs. The important matter is that the Bill as it was ordered by the House on 25th February 1920 to be printed said:After the appointed day the number of members to be returned by constituencies in Ireland to serve in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be forty-twoand so on.
A new third subsection reads:'On the appointed day, the members returned by constituencies in Ireland to serve in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall vacate their seats, and writs shall as soon as convenient may be, be issued for the purpose of holding an election of members to serve in the Parliament of the United Kingdom for the constituencies other than University constituencies mentioned in Parts I and II of the second schedule to this Act.'—[The constituencies named in Part II of the second Schedule are those constituencies in the six North Eastern counties of Ulster].We arrived at a figure of 12 Members for Ulster. The figure remained more or less the same until the current problems in Northern Ireland began. Once that figure was arrived at constitutionally the people of Northern Ireland were represented sometimes by only Unionists. At other times some of the representatives were abstentionists or people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). At other times representatives did not turn up, even though they were Unionists. There was an interesting representation. Nobody challenged that situation until the unhappy problems began in Northern Ireland. Until than no one 1786 questioned the Northern Ireland representation in the House. That is of fundamental importance.
We were in a unique situation. At that time Northern Ireland Members could ask any question that they wished about England, Scotland and Wales, but they could not ask questions about housing matters in their own constituencies, for instance. Other Members could ask how many slums there were in their areas, what were the rates and any other question. But neither an English Member nor a Northern Ireland Member could ask about the Six Counties. Nobody seemed to mind.
One of the reasons for the troubles was this self-imposed gag. We had two classes of Members of Parliament. We had Ulster Unionists, who could ask about anything anywhere except in their own constituencies, and the rest of us.
What caused the sudden demand to increase the representation? The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and his Government decided, for sound reasons, that they should suspend the constitution of Northern Ireland. After that, everybody questioned whether Stormont would ever be restored to what it had been. The decision was made to get rid of Stormont and the old Governor-General and to start again with a power-sharing Assembly.
Some of the powers of that power-sharing Assembly were to be different from those of the Stormont Parliament, and the decision was made by a number of Ulster Unionist Members, particularly by Captain Orr, who then represented Down, South, to seek to influence the House to consent to extra representation for Northern Ireland. The agitation for extra representation stems from then. Captain Orr moved new clause 6 "Representation in United Kingdom Parliament". It stated:(1) Section 19 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 is hereby repealed.(2) The representation of Northern Ireland in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be not less than 16 members."—[Official Report, 21st June 1973; Vol. 858, c. 911.]The new clause was brought up and read a First time. The number chosen —16—is interesting, not only because it is 4 times 4 but because it is the minimum number which the present Bill suggests is applicable to Northern Ireland. Captain Orr was perhaps less 1787 ambitious than some but his caution and modesty is rewarded in the Bill. At least he achieved what he asked for—possibly more in terms of extra seats. But I think that he received little of what he deserved.
Captain Orr argued that we should have more seats. His successor, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) who then represented Wolverhampton, South-West, supported that proposal. He used the delightful phrases that we have come to expect from him. He said:Many and many a summer at Hawarden did Mr. Gladstone ponder upon the theological problems of whether, given Home Rule, representation in this House should cease altogether or whether it should be diminished, and, if so, on what principle it should be diminished."—[Official Report, 21st June 1973; Vol. 858, c. 914.]The right hon. Member came to a fairly sound conclusion that there was no real basis for deciding how any number was arrived at.
I have tried to show from the quotations that I gave from the Cabinet minutes of the time that basically, although there had been a certain logic in the numbers originally suggested, when one came to the position of the 12 Members and the 30 Members there was no logic in it at all. One of the important points in the paper was the fact that these were decisions taken by Cabinet in Cabinet, without any reference to the House. One could almost say that this decision to set up a Speaker's Conference, which has resulted in today's Bill, was taken by the Cabinet in Cabinet, without any reference to the party or the principles and policies of the Government up to that time.
The matter was debated in full. It was said in 1973 that the right hon. Member for Down, South had suggested that there should be 16 Members for Northern Ireland.
In many ways he was advancing the same kind of argument as that put forward by the hon. Member for Antrim, North today. What is more interesting, when we look at this debate on the numbers game—because this basically is what the debate and the policy of the Government has been about—is that it calls to mind what was said by Mrs. McAliskey, when she seemed to sum up the position of my hon. Friend the 1788 Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)—though I am not sure that he would normally call her in aid. She said, speaking of the argument put forward by the right hon. Member for Down, South—although he was at that time representing a Wolverhampton seat—that the right hon. Gentleman based his argument on the claim that representation in this House for Northern Ireland was democratic.
Her argument was that none of the Northern Ireland Members ought to have been in the House. She thought that the Province was over-represented to the tune of 12 Members because Members ought to have been in their own independent country. Mrs. McAliskey wanted to make the position of her constituents quite clear. In so far as they could prevent it, not one single solitary Member would put his foot further over the threshold at Westminster.
The interesting argument here is the one advanced by my right hon. Friend, who is now the Home Secretary, on this question of the numbers game. He advanced the argument which is the one to which I believe we should apply our minds. He argued that the situation in Northern Ireland, in terms of politics, terrorism, economics and the divide which exists in the community, was such that the aims and objects of this House should not be concerned with particular number but should be concerned with trying to find a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. My amendment seeks to reduce the proposed number of Members to represent Northern Ireland here. I hope that it will help to concentrate the minds of the people of Northern Ireland upon their problems and prevent them from looking to this House for a solution to those problems. Those will be the arguments that will cause me and my hon. Friends to seek to divide the Committee this evening.
I return to the point which I raised earlier in relation to the speech made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North. He spoke about what had been in the Convention report. We may recall that the report contained a model Bill for the future government of Northern Ireland. That model Bill contained a part VIII, dealing with Northern Ireland representation in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This is dealt with in clauses 51 to 54. It is interesting that it comes. 1789 between part VII, dealing with legislative powers in the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and part IX, dealing with law and order.
Clause 51 said:Without prejudice to section 52 of this Act, Northern Ireland shall have the right to be represented in the Parliament of the United Kingdom by a number of Representatives similar to those returned to that Parliament by any other part of the United Kingdom comparable to Northern Ireland.Clause 52 states thatThe number of Representatives from Northern Ireland in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be such number (but not less than 20) as may be determined by a judicial commission appointed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom within six months of the appointed day.Clause 53 states thatThe judicial commission shall in addition determine the boundaries of each constituency in Northern Ireland to return such Representatives.Clause 54 states thatAfter the report of the judicial commission the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall enact legislation to give effect to such report.If we compare these proposals with the Bill which we have before us, and the numbers game which we are all engaged in, the point of interest is the question of numbers. The first important point to arise from clause 52 is that we go from a boundaries commission to a judicial commission. I am certain that members of the majority party in the Convention at that time would not have made an issue of that provided that they got their particular numbers of representatatives—at least 20. That takes us back to the question of the magic number spoken of by the hon. Member for Antrim, North, which is proposed by the Government but with which I disagree. Speaking to the hon. Member's amendment, I would be interested to know why, although he pays great attention to the Convention report, he is a little bit more modest than the Convention. Although the Convention report asks specifically for 20 or more Members, the amendment of the hon. Member for Antrim, North and his right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South, to which I have appended my name because I am interested in it, is to the effect that we should leave out18 or less than 161790 and insert24 or less than 21".I am sorry that I said that the hon. Member for Antrim, North was less modest than the right hon. Member for Down, South. I should have said that he was not emulating that right hon. Gentleman's modesty. He is, in fact, asking for more. It would be interesting to hear in more detail why he felt that it was necessary to depart from the Convention report by one iota.
If we are to accept that we should increase the number of Members from Northern Ireland we must work out precisely what the figures should be. Is there to be comparability with the United Kingdom, that is, is the representation for England, Scotland and Wales to be added together and divided by the number of electors? Or are we to have comparability with Scotland, with Wales or with England?
Once we begin on that basis with the numbers game we cannot take geographical factors into account. It is wrong that because a person lives in the Western Isles, for example, with all the advantages and disadvantages involved, his vote should be more valuable than the vote of someone living in central Hull, with all the advantages and disadvantages that that involves. If we are to get into the numbers game, everything must be of equal value. By their piecemeal additions the Government have failed to decide upon what the membership of this House ought to be. Had they done so they could then have decided upon an electoral quota instead of going about it the other way, namely, deciding upon the quota and then fixing the membership.
There are other reasons why the numbers game is important. The aim of the policies put forward from both sides of the Committee has been to achieve a devolved form of government in Northern Ireland. The object of that was that it was felt that the people in Northern Ireland would then be better able to look after their immediate domestic affairs. As a Socialist, I believe in devolution of power from the centre, enabling individuals to make as many decisions as possible about their own future, against the background of a solid economic and social base. If we are to decentralise, we must 1791 encourage devolution in Northern Ireland as well as in Scotland and Wales.
The trend in the numbers game to increase the number of seats does not lead to such devolution. That was the argument of the Government when in Opposition. Instead, such a trend leads to the argument of the integrationists. The next argument that will be made is that if we have so many more Members of Parliament we ought to ensure that we can get along without any devolved Parliament. It will be said that all that will be needed will be readjustments of the powers of local authorities.
Northern Ireland is not like any English county. I said that the Secretary of State was being dishonest. He argues that it is still the policy of the Government to achieve devolution. However, the only way of achieving this end it by ensuring that there can be no move towards integration. We must ensure that the people in the Six Counties look to themselves and seek to take powers from the Secretary of State. Once the extra seats are given such an argument is lost.
§ Mr. Stallard
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just when the seats have been granted that the problem will arise; it is during the vacuum that will exist between now and 1984, when the extra seats may well be a fact? Does he agree that there will be a tendency to operate in this period as though the seats had been allotted? There will be no motivation for seeking a political solution based on the lines which he has eloquently described. Does he agree that it is damaging to the aspirations of those of us seeking genuine devolution in Northern Ireland that this should be so?
§ Mr. McNamara
My hon. Friend is right. The year 1984 is perhaps a sad one to mention in this respect. Big brother with the big stick will have won the argument. Democracy will have gone. It will be argued time and again "We are being more democratic by giving more seats to Northern Ireland". Democracy is not merely a question of majorities and minorities and of who receives a certain amount of representation. There might be the most vicious totalitarian majority possible. That would not be democratic, even though it was elected. Democracy is concerned with the way we 1792 treat people, with our attitude and respect for the rule of law. It is concerned with the quality of representation. It is not one separate item. It is not a question of votes and powers. It is to do with all sorts of rules, how we play the game, how we treat one another and so on. The system set out in the Bill will not be democratic.
The increase in numbers will remove the pressure for devolved government. Pressure will then increase for representation at local government level. When the troubles were on in Northern Ireland it was not at Stormont that the rub came. It came at local level, in job discrimination and so on. With this Bill we shall be returning to the possibility of such conduct.
If hon. Members believe that the object of the exercise is to get for Northern Ireland what is right, they should vote for the amendment of the hon. Member for Antrim, North, and should regret the fact that the Official Unionists have not tabled amendments to the Bill.
If hon. Members do not accept that argument and regard what is happening as not being in the long-term interests of the people of Ireland, or of the people of this island, they should vote for the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend and myself as the provision which will do the least harm. But whatever they vote for, if they vote for the Government's proposal they must do so appreciating that it is a shabby compromise produced in shabby circumstances—something that the Government and our party will regret.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I support the amendment and hope that the Committee will allow it to pass. The people of Northern Ireland wish justice to be done to them, and this is one way in which justice can be achieved.
There is nothing more nauseating than a patronising speech, but I regarded the speech made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) as offensive. It was offensive to me, as I am sure it was to most Unionists in Northern Ireland, because the hon. Gentleman had the privilege—a privilege that was denied to me and to many of my colleagues in Northern Ireland—of serving on the Speaker's Conference which ended by making the recommendation which is embodied in the Bill.
1793 There were on that Conference two representatives of Unionist thought in Northern Ireland—the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). I was not invited to be a member of that Conference, nor were the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who represents the Democratic Unionist Party, the former representative of the Vanguard Party, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), and the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop).
Therefore, this is our chance in Committee on this Bill to put forward our demand for justice in the name of the Ulster people. No longer should we accept something less than justice. What has been put forward does not satisfy me or the Ulster people. We all seek the opportunity to engage in a political debate on Northern Ireland. Surely, the more Members who represent Northern Ireland in this House the better the debate will be and the sooner we shall have a political settlement.
The hon. Member for Newbury admitted that when serving on the Speaker's Conference he accepted what he regarded as being second best for Northern Ireland. That is not good enough. If that was his approach to a serious constitutional issue, I am not surprised that the Conference ended by recommending a paltry figure of few extra seats, which was an insult to the people of Ulster.
§ Mr. Stallard
The hon. Gentleman said that the presence of more Members from Northern Ireland would mean more discussion in this Chamber about the affairs of Northern Ireland. On what does he base that remark? As he looks round the Chamber, does he suggest that if the Unionist and Loyalist faction had another three, four or five seats in this place all the Benches would suddenly fill and we should be able to have adequate discussion on Northern Ireland? Is not that suggestion just pie in the sky? Surely such a move would contribute nothing that would benefit the people of Northern Ireland.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
Debate need not necessarily take place in this Chamber. If I 1794 had to make the choice between extra seats in this Parliament and a devolved Parliament in Northern Ireland, I should opt for a Stormont Parliament. In such a Chamber many matters could be freely debated. I am referring not to the old Stormont but to a Stormont in changed circumstances. It would be a place in which issues would be live and which more people would attend and be eager to debate matters of importance to the Ulster people.
However, until that devolved Parliament is created, if more Members from Northern Ireland are sent to this place they will be able to speak more effectively for the Ulster people. They will be able to say "I have been elected by so many people in Northern Ireland, and therefore my voice is entitled to be heard".
Ulster people are fed up with elections. We have had election after election in which the Ulster majority have put forward their views and advanced reasonable views seeking a devolved Parliament. But, in the meantime, the more Members who are in this place talking for Northern Ireland, the better chance the Ulster people have to make their views known.
§ Mr. Stallard
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that this is an "either-or" situation? Is he saying that the clamour for extra representation in this House is a reaction to the abolition of Stormont? Does he not believe that a devolved Parliament, Assembly or Convention, whatever it may be called, could discuss at a later stage the subject of representation?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
If a choice involving one or the other were open to me, I should opt for the Stormont Parliament. However, I have always believed that if justice is to be done to the Northern Ireland people Northern Ireland should be fully and properly represented in this Chamber. I raised this matter long before most hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland came to Parliament. I added my name to this amendment in order to secure justice for the Ulster people.
As I said on Second Reading, the Bill perpetuates an injustice to the Province. I reminded the House of the remarks of a leading Scottish anti-devolutionist, the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who said that by rights Ulster should have 23 seats in this place. I am 1795 astonished, therefore, that Ulster Members could come to Westminster and ask for fewer seats. I regard it as extraordinary that Ulster Members could vote for fewer seats than the number put forward in the Convention report, which had the backing of Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, who in turn had the backing of the majority of the people in the Province.
I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) when quoting at some length from various documents. I felt that he was giving an effective answer to the hon. Member for Newbury, who tried to insult the efforts made by myself and the hon. Member for Antrim, North by suggesting that we could make a comparison between Northern Ireland and Yorkshire.
We already suffer in Northern Ireland from Whitehall decisions. I dislike the fact that Whitehall civil servants, under their Northern Ireland Office Ministers, make decisions for Northern Ireland when they do not live there, do not pay bills there and do not experience life there. They are not truly aware of the problems in Northern Ireland.
Rating in Northern Ireland, for example, is carried out on the basis of a region in England. That region may be Yorkshire. I have repudiated that system in the past. I repudiate any suggestion that for the purpose of representation in this place Northern Ireland should be considered on the same basis as Yorkshire.
The brief prepared by the Library makes it clear that if Northern Ireland were given the same representation as Scotland it would have 19 seats. That figure is based on the electoral quota for Scotland, which at present requires 53,649 electors on average to elect one Member. It is interesting to consider the history of how the present representation of 12 Members came about. I shall not repeat what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central said, except to remind the House that the first Home Rule Bill that was enacted—the Government of Ireland Act 1914, which never came into effect—provided for 42 Irish representatives in this place, 12 of them from Northern Ireland.
The Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Macpherson, during the proceedings on the 1920 Bill, said: 1796In the Act of 1914 Ireland was given 42 Members in the United Kingdom Parliament. On the population basis the number would properly have been 64, but the number 42 was selected, not on any logical principle, but as a sort of adjustment to meet circumstances that might arise in future, including a scheme of devolution."—[Official Report, 29th March 1920; Vol. 127, c. 940.]It seems that a figure was grasped out of the air. It seems that the view was taken that any figure would do for Northern Ireland—namely, whatever number would satisfy some of the Northern Ireland politicians and get through the House.
I am not certain whether I am absolutely right, but I believe that in 1920 the population in the South of Ireland was 3 ½ million, and in the North 1 ½ million. On the basis of the figure of 64 Members in the 1914 Act and the 1920 Act, Northern Ireland should now have 20 Members in this place. How is it that the hon. Member for Newbury can suggest that justice is being done to Northern Ireland by offering it the paltry few extra seats contained in the Bill? That is why I make my protest.
I am not here to accept second best for the Ulster people. As others have demanded in the past, including those on the opposite side of the political fence, I am here to demand justice for Northern Ireland. On that basis I expect to receive support from other hon. Members.
Scotland and Wales have more generous representation in this place than England. Scotland has proportionally more seats than Wales. Even now, with the prospect of Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, there has been no attempt—there will be no attempt—to reduce the representation from those regions in this Parliament. There has been no attempt to ensure that each constituency in the United Kingdom is based on the same number of voters. The reason is simple. It has long been recognised that because of the distance of Wales and Scotland —especially Scotland—from Westminster and the poorness of those regions compared with England, justice compelled the provision of more Members than the population warranted in Scotland and Wales.
There is no harm in asking for equality with Scotland. Northern Ireland, like Scotland, is remote from the centre of Parliament. For Northern Ireland, com- 1797 munications are even more difficult than they are for Scotland. There is a stretch of water between us and Great Britain. That makes life difficult for those engaged in industry and commerce, and it makes life more expensive for those living in the Province.
One reason for the development of local resentment against London interference—the Whitehall civil servants—is the dictation from Whitehall, which regards itself as knowing best. The people of Scotland have long since shown that they repudiate the arrogant assumption of Whitehall civil servants that they know best. They do not know best, and they have proved that over the decades. The people of Northern Ireland realise that Whitehall civil servants do not know best when it comes to dealing with problems of Northern Ireland. Therefore, the Ulster people would like to see a Stormont Parliament established. In the meantime, I wish to see more Members from Northern Ireland in this place so that Northern Ireland's point of view may be put forward.
Was it right or sensible that Bournemouth, for instance, in the 1930s had the same size of electorate as the hunger marchers of Ellen Wilkinson's Tyneside? The principle of London weighting is accepted in salary negotiations to cover the additional cost of living in the capital. Perhaps there should be a similiar principle in democratic representation for the poorer regions of the United Kingdom.
Proportional representation is advocated by those who want to see every vote have an equal value. Surely we can argue that, in the national Parliament, representation should take note of depressed areas. I do not believe for one moment that the hon. Member for Newbury represents a constituency which is a depressed area. That is why I find it so annoying the fact that he can dismiss Northern Ireland's appeal for extra representation. This House should take note of the fact that Northern Ireland is poorer than the rest of the United Kingdom. An area which is depressed and geographically far removed from Westminster ought to have more Members in this House.
I see no real argument against the poorer regions having more Members than 1798 the prosperous regions. The people and the problems of the poorer regions are more demanding of Government initiative and of parliamentary time, as well as of public expenditure, than the prosperous regions, which are usually well represented because the density of population ensures that there are more Members.
The stupendous moral authority which the Scottish and the Welsh Members had in this House in the hungry 1930s was in part in consequence of their complete involvement with the hardships of their constituents. Those Members were able to speak from the heart because they represented electorates which were small enough to enable them to become completely absorbed in the problems and tribulations of their constituents.
Every Government publication, including those of this Government, has shown where Ulster stands in the prosperity league of the United Kingdom. It stands at the bottom. Over 20 per cent. of Northern Ireland families are in receipt of supplementary benefit, as compared with 15 per cent. in England. We have twice the national average for unemployment. We have a 50 per cent. higher sickness benefit rate, and four times the national average for family income supplement. Government reports have shown that the housing position has worsened in the last five years. There is a greater proportion of families in substandard housing in Ulster than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. If ever a region of the United Kingdom needed more representation in this House, it is Northern Ireland.
We might also look at the European Parliament for an analogy. Northern Ireland was given three seats, although its population justifies only two. I know that the right hon. Member for Down, South and his colleagues wanted only two seats, not three.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I wanted three, but if we had been offered four I should have taken them. I should have taken six seats if they had been offered, for the simple reason that representation and democracy cannot hurt any region or any country. The more representatives Northern Ireland has in the European 1799 Parliament, the better. Unless the offer of three seats instead of two was made for entirely sectarian reasons, the justification for strong representation in the Parliament at Strasbourg, and for representation on the EEC committee, where policy is formulated—and especially on those committees which deal with social and regional matters—is to be found in the needs of a poor area.
I do not intend to reiterate what I said during my Second Reading speech. Certainly, I do not intend to follow the example of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central, who spoke for just over an hour. Northern Ireland should have more seats than are offered in the Bill put forward by the Government. We should, out of justice for Northern Ireland, have more seats.
If we are ever to create—as I want to see created—in Northern Ireland a fair and just society, this Parliament had better start on that route by making sure that justice is done to Northern Ireland by giving it its proper and full representation in this House, bearing in mind that the analogy on which we must work is not that of Yorkshire or of Newbury but of Scotland. We want something better than Scotland has, bearing in mind that Northern Ireland has a great deal to endure.
§ Mr. Stallard
It is not my intention to delay the Committee for longer than is absolutely necessary on this important constitutional matter. It is not often that I find myself in too much sympathy with the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) or with his hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev, Ian Paisley). I confess to a certain amount of sympathy with them on the question of the discussion of representation from the Six Counties and with their type of argument, albeit that I want to oppose the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Antrim, North.
I do not think that we can seriously begin to discuss this issue on the naive comparison made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he suggested that Yorkshire and the Six Counties can be equated. This ultranaive comparison between the Six Counties and any other part of the United Kingdom does not bear any examination; nor would anyone, of whatever political 1800 persuasion, if he thought about it for a few seconds, feel that such an important issue could be discussed on such a basis.
I asked the hon. Member for Antrim, North, in an intervention, why he had not been so vociferous in the past, during the existence of Stormont, on the question of representation and the number of seats. He honestly answered that his priority, even now, would be some form of devolved government in the Six Counties rather than increased representation. I found some measure of agreement with him there. If I can find that measure of amity and agreement, even from where I stand—and there is no secret about this—with someone who is so diametrically opposed to everything else that I say, I feel entitled to hope that there is at least some chance of finding agreement among politicians in Northern Ireland on other proposals, before we get to the question of representation.
I do not accept that it is an "either-or" situation. I put that to the hon. Member for Down, North. I think that we can discuss devolved government, and that we ought to be discussing some structure of devolution for Northern Ireland at all levels. A devolved Convention, Assembly, or whatever it was, could then discuss representation and decide whether it wanted more or less. It would be for that body to decide and not for us sitting here.
The degree of interest in the problem can be seen by the small number of hon. Members present tonight. Do we honestly believe that hon. Members here should make the decision? If we were honest, we would agree that they ought not even to have a voice in such a decision. It should be for the devolved Assembly to decide what the representation should be. That Assembly would be composed of people on the spot who understood the position. It should be for them to decide, in conjunction, perhaps, with the Mother of Parliaments, or with the base unit, the size of representation.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
That is exactly the point that we have been trying to make. The Convention was the last elected overall body for Northern Ireland, and it was the Convention which came to a conclusion, albeit not unanimously, about the number of seats which justly should be given to Northern Ireland. I suggest 1801 that if there were another election the fall-out in the electorate would not be that much greater. Even the Northern Ireland Labour Party and the Alliance Party are now coming into line with the thinking of the Convention. The hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that if an elected body makes a decision this Parliament should think about it. I should point out that an elected body made a decision and that this Parliament is going against that decision.
§ Mr. Stallard
It saddens me to think that sometimes we are so much in agreement, but I can leave it at that. It is one of those things about the situation in the Six Counties.
I believe that our priorities are wrong. The priority now is not increased representation. That has certain implications for the minority, for myself and for many others in this country who do not have the same kind of long-term aspirations as the hon. Member for Antrim, North. The fact that we are discussing increased representation ties us more closely to permanent direct rule—the consolidation of integration—and that will be for ever more.
As I said in a previous intervention, the situation will be almost dormant until 1984. Who will discuss any political initiative in the vacuum between now and the implementation of the Bill or the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Antrim, North? It will be pointed out that we have already discussed this matter and that it is in the hands of the Boundary Commission. Therefore nothing can be done politically, or in any other way, between now and 1984, and by that time the situation may have got much worse.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Has the hon. Gentleman considered that when the Kilbrandon Commission proposed that Northern Ireland's representation at Westminster should be increased from 12 to 17 or thereabouts it made that proposal in the context of devolution? It did not say that it would depend upon whether there were devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. It said that, whether or not there were devolved institutions, Northern Ireland was underrepresented in the House of Commons and that its representation should be 1802 increased. Has the hon. Gentleman considered that?
§ Mr. Stallard
Yes, I have. That was not the minority opinion of the Kilbrandon Commission, which was an important opinion. It was not adequately discussed in this Chamber, but it should have been. It did not, in fact, substantiate what the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) has said. But, even if it did, as he said, it justified increased representation. Therefore, we come back to the numbers game. We come back to where we began.
I was once near Balloch in Scotland and, because I had lost my way, asked someone "How do I get to Loch Lomond from here?" He said, "If I were going to Loch Lomond, I would not start from here". We are in that kind of situation. If I were looking for a serious permanent solution to the problems of the Six Counties, I should not start with the numbers game. I should start from a completely different viewpoint.
I should start—I make no apology for this—from the position that one day this country will have to give up any sovereignty over that part of the island of Ireland. If I start from that position, like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), who gave us an eloquent history lesson on representation, I say that Northern Ireland should not have any representation here. Therefore, I should not agree to an increase in the numbers of those who should not be here in the first place. That puts my argument in perspective. I suggest that with these amendments and the Bill we are going in the wrong direction, because we are consolidating integration.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
On the question of integration, I think that the hon. Gentleman earlier unwittingly erred in saying that the Bill was the final act of total integration. Does he agree that perhaps there will be one other stage, namely, the establishment of a regional council or councils, or administrative body or bodies, and that will be the death knell of a devolved Stormont Parliament?
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Stallard
I do not recollect saying that it was the final stage. I would not have said that. But I agree that this is a step in the direction to which the 1803 hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention. The next step would be to form some kind of county council. Indeed, I think that it has been suggested. I imagine that the Secretary of State would be the chairman of that county council, operating with his civil servants. In fact, he is. That is about the size of it now, although it is not perhaps generally recognised. That would be the next stage, but that would be entirely in the opposite direction to the one in which I wish to go. Therefore, hon. Members will recognise why I oppose the amendments and the proposals in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Down, North made comparisons with Europe. If we play the numbers game, the logic is that we should send 635 Members to Europe. Why are we sending only a few if we are to be represented there on the basis of numbers? I understand that each prospective Member—I confess that I have not taken too much interest in this matter—will represent about 250,000 electors. The argument being put forward here is that Northern Ireland Members already represent too many constituents and that therefore representation should be increased. Is not that an argument for increasing to hundreds the United Kingdom's representation at the European Parliament?
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. We are not discussing the European Parliament. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to come back to the amendment.
§ Mr. McNamara
On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. Surely we are discussing the argument for extra representation. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) was drawing an analogy to prove how ridiculous the argument was.
The Second Deputy Chairman
I was trying to deter the hon. Gentleman from going too far upon the road on which he was beginning to start.
§ Mr. Stallard
I apologise if I was straying too far from the amendment. I was endeavouring to reply to a point which had been made in the debate and to which no objection was taken when it was mentioned. Therefore I thought 1804 that I was entitled to reply to the justification prayed in aid by the hon. Member for Down, North regarding more representation for Northern Ireland in Europe. I think that he was sad that the Official Unionists had been prepared to accept two Members as opposed to the proffered three. He wanted four, five, six or more.
I was trying to reply to that part of his argument by referring to the way in which the numbers game has been and is being played. People ask me "How can you justify only 12 seats from Northern Ireland on the basis of population?" I reply that if Northern Ireland had its devolved structure—Government, Convention, Assembly, Executive or whatever—12 would be too many because we have our Sovereign Parliament here and we have accepted a reduced number for Europe on the basis of the electorate. Is there not an analogy there'? That was the point that I was trying to make.
§ Mr. McNamara
Does my hon. Friend agree that this question also arises in terms of the representation of Luxembourg in Europe compared with Northern Ireland's representation here? Luxembourg is entitled to so many because it is over-represented on the basis of my hon. Friend's argument.
§ Mr. Stallard
That is right. Again, I am grateful for that intervention because it adds weight to the point that I am trying to make. If we become so deeply involved in this numbers game, there is no sense to it at all. Irrespective of Luxembourg, or any other part of Europe—to bring the argument right back to the amendment, Northern Ireland and this Committee—what I am trying to prove is that the situation in the Six Counties is not simply an arithmetical problem. One cannot solve the problems of Northern Ireland by mathematics. Otherwise, they would have been solved many years ago.
I said at the beginning that the ultanaive comparison made by the Secretary of State with other parts of the United Kingdom does not bear examination. But we ought not to forget it, because if that is the basis of the Government's thinking, the whole thing goes to pot. We cannot solve the problems in that part of the island of Ireland simply on the basis of arithmetic alone. The problem goes 1805 much deeper than that. If it did not, why have we had the situation that has existed since 1968? Why has all this trouble been caused if it was simply and purely an arithmetical decision that was needed, if all that we had to do was to divide the population by X and get so many representatives and we should be happy ever after? That is rubbish. It is absolute nonsense.
What has been proved, if anything has been proved at all in these past few years during the short debates that we have had here, is that there is no British solution to this problem, arithmetical or otherwise. The solution lies with the people in the two parts of the island of Ireland. It is our job here to make sure that the people of Northern Ireland are given the opportunity, the structure and the government in order to be able to solve the problem.
Therefore, as I have said many times, I start from a different standpoint, because I am convinced that it is the only thing that has never been tried. We have tried everything else. I suppose that in the last 10 years everything has been tried, except increased representation, and we are now trying that. My reading of various press reports, in the North as well as in the South and in various journals here, is that the Bill will add nothing at all. It will contribute nothing towards a solution of the problems in the Six Counties. On the contrary, it may well harden the attitude on both sides and contribute to an increased polarisation of the two communities.
Therefore, I want no part of the kind of solution which will worsen the problems of all the people who have suffered so much in the Six Counties in the past 10 years. I am seeking a peaceful reconciliation, not a repolarisation of those two communities. That is what the Bill does, and the amendment will do it even more.
For all those reasons—I do not want to delay the Committee any further at this stage—I hope that the Committee will vote against the amendments.
§ Mr. Craig
We have had a long and tedious debate. I do not think that in this Bill we are concerned with the solution of the problems that beset the people of Northern Ireland. We are concerned only with fair and proper representation 1806 in this Parliament for the people of Northern Ireland.
It is a matter of judgment as to what is fair and proper. I believe that if there is not to be devolution in Northern Ireland, the figure of 16 to 18 would be totally inadequate to represent the interests that are special to Northern Ireland as distinct from the rest of the United Kingdom. However, I am an optimist. I take at face value the commitments by the two major parties of this Parliament that they intend to work towards devolved power. Therefore, I address my mind to what is reasonable, having regard to the prospects of devolution.
There is a well-established practice in the history of British franchise of weighting the electoral quotas in favour of interests that are not numerically strong. Agricultural interests in the sparsely populated rural areas always had special consideration when one drew the boundaries of their constituencies and therefore increased, the number of Members representing them as against the more populous industrial areas.
That is a perfectly valid analogy in arriving at what is an appropriate figure for Northern Ireland. My judgment leads me to a figure in the mid-20s as the best solution. It is not for me or for individuals to press the point as one of personal opinion. We must have regard to the usual procedures and practices of this Parliament. Those practices and procedures led us through the Speaker's Conference, where people of many political shades, with honesty, integrity and good will, made their judgment as to what they should recommend to the House of Commons and to another place. I am disappointed that their recommendation was not greater.
I find it odd, indeed, that, having got that recommendation, some hon. Members would dispute even that allotment of additional representation. It is difficult to proclaim that one is supporting democracy and at the same time deliberately to stand in the way of better representation for the people that one purports to represent. It is even stranger if one happens to belong to a party that calls itself the Social Democratic and Labour Party. I do not know what the Ministers were hoping to do when they highlighted the possibility 1807 of some of these additional seats benefiting minority parties. I do not suggest that it was an effort to bribe people into voting in certain directions. I think that they were, very properly, showing how undemocratic it was for those hon. Members to seek to deny people better representation in this Parliament.
I cannot say how soon progress will be made on the devolution front, but in the meantime there is an appalling lack of accountability by Government to the electorate and people in Northern Ireland. We must use what institutions are available to us to improve the standards of democracy.
I welcome this short step forward. I sincerely hope that those hon. Members who have indicated this evening that they would deny the people of Northern Ireland adequate and proper representation will reconsider their position. A diminution of democracy is no way to seek progress.
§ Mr. Fitt
From the outset, I have regarded this Bill as one of major constitutional importance. It will affect the composition of the House and consequently will determine whether we have Labour or Conservative Governments. Leaving aside for a moment my involvement with Northern Ireland, as one who has consistently supported the Labour Government I feel that in their attempt to stay in power over the past few months they have been cutting off their nose to spite their face.
They have gained a few extra months from an agreement with Unionist Members under which they will abstain to keep the Government in power. The new seats will come into being in 1984. One can only go on their track record, but Unionist Members have never been known for their alacrity in jumping into the Lobby in support of a Labour Government.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Fitt
If the right hon. Gentleman will sit still for a moment, I shall answer these questions. I intend to clarify how 1808 I see the issue. Would I support them if they voted Socialist? The answer is "No". Was a deal done with the Speaker's Conference? I have doubts. One should not say that on the Floor of the House, perhaps, but I am saying it now, and I shall give my reasons.
This attempt to cling to power by doing a deal with the Unionists, which began in early 1977, followed pledges by Labour Governments, and particularly by the present Home Secretary, that in no circumstances would Northern Ireland be given extra representation before community government or consensus politics were created in Northern Ireland. One has only to read the debates in Hansard to see conclusively how often the Labour Government refused the demand for an increase in the number of seats.
Few hon. Members are here for this debate. Those who are absent will have to reckon with that fact—particularly Labour Members. Those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, particularly on the Back Benches, who are sponsored by the trade unions and who are committed Socialists—there are still some in the Committee tonight—must accept that if there is a hung Parliament after the election of 1984 or 1985, going on their record the Unionist Members will support the Conservatives. That will mean that the Labour Movement and the trade union movement will not see the Socialist Government for which they voted. It therefore behoves the Committee to consider carefully the decision that it lakes tonight. This is a Bill of major constitutional importance.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, indeed it is. Therefore, surely, the representation in this House and the distribution of constituencies should not be decided on those grounds. The hon. Gentleman is now saying that this is a dangerous step because of something which may happen to party advantage in 1984.
§ Mr. Fitt
I do not mind these interventions—in fact, I am looking forward to them—but if the hon. Gentleman listens, he will hear why I am opposing this increase.
An increase in the number of seats to 23 or 24, as is suggested by the amendment, would certainly determine the complexion of the Government. That is 1809 why the Bill is of major constitutional importance. I should have hoped that before setting up a Speaker's Conference to consider such a Bill, everything involved would be debated on the Floor of the House. Although I was a member of the Speaker's Conference, I resented the cloak of secrecy that applied to us all.
Some people in the Committee who will be voting on this issue tonight are not aware of everything that was said at the Speaker's Conference. As soon as we met we were told that the Conference was secret, and that only certain parts would be made public and printed. There were other parts that were not to be disclosed. I am not allowed to come from the Speaker's Conference and talk to my colleagues in the Tea Room or corridors and tell them why a certain decision was made. I am not even allowed to tell them now. When I made an interjection earlier this evening about a matter raised in Mr. Speaker's Conference there was a howl. That is not democracy at all.
If the Committee has to take such an important decision we should all be aware of everything that was said, who said it, and the constituency that he represents.
§ Mr. McNamara
On a point of order, Sir Myer. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is making some interesting and in some ways exciting observations. I understand that whatever may be the convention he may say what he likes in this Chamber and accept responsibility for what he says. If he feels that there were matters at Mr. Speaker's Conference that should be mentioned, he is perfectly entitled to state them, no matter what was agreed at that Conference. He has a responsibility as a Member to take his own decision. It is another question whether it is advisable.
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
What the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) can do is rather limited. If he took part in the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill, that would have been a more appropriate time to debate this than the narrow confines of the present Committee. We cannot have a general discussion of what he does or does not know. The 1810 issue is whether we should increase the number of seats, as contained in the amendment.
§ Mr. McNamara
On a point of order, Sir Myer. I do not think that you have quite answered my question. I was not for one moment suggesting that my hon. Friend should go outside the rules of order, but if he accepts the responsibility for what he says and it is relevant to the amendment being discussed, he is entitled to state it, whether or not it was recorded in the minutes of Mr. Speaker's Conference.
§ Mr. Flannery
At the beginning of the debate the Chairman said that this was a narrow Bill, and he is absolutely correct. It is not purely in the mathematical sense that it is narrow. In order to justify a certain number of seats, it is surely necessary to bring politics into the argument. To narrow it further prevents us from raising many important points.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
The Bill suggests a certain mathematical arrangement or an increase in the number of seats to be allocated to Northern Ireland. That is agreed by everyone who has paid the slightest attention to the contents of the Bill. There are two groups: we are discussing one group of amendments that seeks to increase the number of seats and another that seeks to reduce that number.
§ Mr. Fitt
I am speaking on the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), which seeks to increase the number. I do not want to see an increase from 17 or 18 to 23 or from 12 to 23. I do not want an increase at all.
I believe that this Bill, which can determine future Governments of this country, has not been adequately discussed. People who went into the Lobby to vote for the Government on Second Reading were not aware of everything that was said at the Speaker's Conference. I believe that there was an undue restriction there. Every Member of Parliament should have been party to and privy to every aspect of the discussions, because ultimately they can affect his party, his constituency and future Governments of the country.
1811 On the very first day that we met I proposed that the press should be brought in to hear what we had to say, that, if necessary, the Speaker's Conference should go to Northern Ireland, and that there should be no hindrance or restriction on the number of persons making representations. I wanted everything to be open and above board.
One member of the Conference said that he did not think the proceedings should be open or that there should be any record of who had spoken or what constituency he represented. I asked him why. He replied that we might start getting a lot of anonymous letters. To any Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland getting a lot of anonymous letters is the least of his worries. We get them every day; indeed, I should be disappointed if I did not get them. If we did not get them, at least three or four postmen in Northern Ireland would be sacked. The whole atmosphere of the Conference was "Let us deliberate and take decisions, but do not let anybody know who said what". Is that democracy? I think it is in direct conflict with our ideas of democracy.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
The hon. Member must know that such decisions as were reached in the Conference were reached on a simple majority vote. That is a pure case of democracy in action. If the hon. Member is saying that his voice is the only one to which people should listen, and that no one else has any rights, he is not talking about democracy.
§ Mr. Fitt
When the Leader of the House sent for me and asked me to serve on the Speaker's Conference I had serious doubts, but I felt that it was as well to be there to see what was happening. A few days later I said, with no disrespect to any member of that Conference, that when I looked at the composition of the Conference—the people who had been appointed to it—
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. We are not starting a discussion on the composition of the Conference. I see that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is having a little smile to himself. Obviously he appreciates the position. The Bill, as it tells us in the explanatory memorandum, is to give effect to the 1812 recommendations in the report of Mr. Speaker's Conference on electoral law. That is where we stand at the moment.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)
On a point of order, Sir Myer. Surely the Speaker's Conference must have discussed the question whether the figure should have been 10, 14, 16 or 25 seats. Therefore, the House should be given some information about the kind of factors that members of the Conference took into account in arriving at their decision. We have been told, as I understand it, that members of the Conference. as a committee, decided that they would meet in secret and impose this conspiracy of silence. That is an insult to the House of Commons which set up the Conference. It should have informed the House, so that the House could make a better decision.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
On a point of order, Sir Myer. Since these facts have been revealed—I was not aware of them in as much detail as we have been given—is there any way that the House can send for the secret minutes so that we may apprise ourselves of the arguments? Mr. Speaker's Conference carries a great deal of weight and it is important that we should be able to sift all the arguments. It appears that much information is unpublished. We should surely be able to look at what took place at those meetings.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. There is nothing to prevent his providing himself with a copy of that evidence, but we cannot discuss the matter now.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Further to that point of order, Sir Myer. In my speech I went into great detail about how Mr Speaker's Conference arrived at the figure of 17 seats, with the flexibility of one up or one down. It is a pity that the hon. Members who are raising points of order were not able to find the time to be in the Chamber to hear my speech.
§ Mr. McNamara
On a point of order, Sir Myer. The point of order of my hon. 1813 Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) concerned not the availability of printed evidence of matters taken in public, such as the evidence of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and others, but the fact that there were a number of sessions, even before conclusions started to be reached—unless they were reached before evidence was taken in public—when decisions were taken about composition, rulings, the evidence to be heard, and so on.
My hon. Friend wants to know the content of those discussions so that he knows what weight to attach to various arguments. The recommendations of the Conference were taken on majority decisions and the number of votes counted rather than the weight of the arguments.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
We are beginning to waste time needlessly. Let me make abundantly clear, for the last time, that there are no steps that the Committee can take to deal with the question of what transpired at Mr. Speaker's Conference.
We have under consideration amendment no. 3 and that is what I propose to hold hon. Members to in our discussions.
§ Mr. Fitt
Amendment no. 3 is designed to increase the number of seats proposed in the Bill. I listened to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) discussing what took place in Mr. Speaker's Conference and I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) questioning the whole basis of how the provision of 12 seats for Northern Ireland was originally arrived at.
Before we take a decision on the amendment, we should be fully aware why there are 12 seats at present, why the Bill proposes 17 or 18 seats, and why the amendment suggests that there should be 23 seats. A decision taken in total ignorance on a matter of this magnitude will not be in the interests of the House, the country or the Government.
During the proceedings of the Conference I asked the Leader of the House whether there were any written records to which I could have access concerning the question why 12 seats were granted in 1920. I asked the Leader of the House: 1814We heard last week from Judge Murray that there is no written record as to how the figure of 12 was arrived at. Is that right, have you any knowledge of the reasons for this number?The rather cavalier reply of the Leader of the House was:When you say no written record, in these Crossman days I dare say there are written records lying around the place!Lying around the place! I could not find them, and I do not know what place the Leader of the House was talking about. My right hon. Friend saidI am amazed they have not reached the newspapers.I, too, am amazed, because I do not know where they were lying around in the first place. If I cannot get them, I do not know how the newspapers can get them. But all this is an awful admission of ignorance of why the figure of 12 seats was fixed in the first place.
I then asked the Leader of the House:You said in your opening remarks that Northern Ireland was under-represented by the number of seats it has. If that is true in 1977 it has been true for these past 50 years, is that right?He replied "Yes, that is so." Then I said:It has always been under-represented since the creation of the state in 1920?He replied "Yes, that is right."
What were the Labour Governments between 1945 and 1951 and 1964 and 1970 doing when there was such a blatant injustice? What were they all doing when Northern Ireland was being so grossly unjustly treated? The answer is that they had a comfortable enough majority to keep them in office and did not have to depend on votes from Northern Ireland. That is why Northern Ireland did not get its representation.
The amendment seeks to increase the number of seats from 16 or 17 to 23. I think the hon. Member for Antrim, North will accept that were it accepted it would end for ever any hope of trying to bring about reconciliation between the communities of Northern Ireland.
The first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the present troubled period was the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). He was accepted as being impartial, as holding the ring between the warring communities. His successor, the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), 1815 also a Tory, was there for only a few days. He was accepted as not knowing much about the situation but as not leaning to one side or the other.
My right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary, when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was seen as being in the ring trying his best, in a very difficult situation, to bring together the two communities. But the present Secretary of State is seen by the minority as being a Unionist. That is why there is such ill feeling about this proposal. People in the minority community feel that the Secretary of State is in support of the Unionist majority and is not in any way trying to take into consideration the feelings of the minority population.
When there is a Secretary of State who so antagonises one section of the community in Northern Ireland, one can guarantee that he will not achieve any success there. He has put himself in one camp. He has ostracised the minority community to the extent that he has done, and this proposal is the straw that will break the camel's back.
The Bill was brought in by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It should have been brought in by the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary should be here on the Front Bench. He is the Home Secretary for the United Kingdom. He is in charge of all the Representation of the People Bills which come before the House. He is in charge of all means of electoral reform. But the Government have tried to underplay this proposal. Not many Ministers are on the Front Bench today. They want it all kept in a low key and a low profile because if the Labour and trade union movement in general were aware of the ramifications of the Bill there would be uproar.
I have received a letter, not from an Irishman or a Catholic but from an English Socialist. When it appeared in the press that there was to be an increase in the seats for Northern Ireland, this lady wrote, from 36 Princess Gardens, West Acton, London:Today I read in 'The Times' the Prime Minister's announcement of his intention to create a situation of even greater imbalance in the representation of MPs from Northern Ireland in the House of Commons. I am utterly dismayed with the actions of the Labour Government in relation to its responsibilities in Northern Ireland. We must have one of the worst Labour Prime Ministers of all time, and 1816 it is with this in mind that I have decided to abstain from voting Labour at the next election.In my position as an Executive Committee Member of the Ealing Community Relations Council, I represent the interests of the Irish community on the council, and I have always urged Irish people to vote Labour in their best interests. Now I shall cease to do so and shall instead urge them to refrain from wasting their vote on the Labour Party and to follow my example in abstaining from casting any vote at all.I congratulate you on your criticism of the Prime Minister's action and have noted carefully the lack of opposition from Labour MPs.I have not yet replied to that letter, but I intend to do so. I intend to send with my reply the voting lists so that the author of that letter knows who are the real Labour Members who voted with me on the Second Reading of the Bill. As a Socialist, it hurts me to receive a letter from another Socialist saying that that person will refrain from voting for a Labour candidate. But that has resulted from the Government's attempt to buy themselves a few short months more in office.
What have the Government done in Northern Ireland? The Bill is allegedly designed to bring people together and to create a just representation in Northern Ireland. That is what the Secretary of State said when he spoke of the Bill. What do the people say? The Irish News in Belfast is recognised as a newspaper which represents the minority view in Northern Ireland. On 1st December it stated:Mr. Callaghan is proving to be the typical capricious British politician in his attitude to the North. Has he forgotten so easily the Westminster debate of four years ago when the then Prime Minister, Mr. Wilson, declared: As a Government we believe that the only hope for the future of Northern Ireland lies in power-sharing.'From the lips of the head of a Labour Government, Unionist-Loyalists were told that there would be no integration; that Sunningdale was far from dead; and that strenuous efforts would be made to resurrect the Executive government in which power would be shared.Such Labour convictions were expressed after Westminster had seen how a democratically conceived exercise in shared power had been at the mercy of Unionist-Loyalist obduracy during the Executive's five months of existence.It was made clear to the opponents of Westminster's will that if they continued to show such reckless disregard for the agreed policy of broad participation by all political groups in government here, this would be regarded as a calculated decision to take the road out of the 1817 United Kingdom to which they were even then confessing unswerving loyalty.The Unionist Members, to a man, brought to an end the Executive that was so painstakingly built up in 1974. Were they chided or scolded by the Labour Government? They were not. They were commended. They were promised extra seats to bolster their intransigence.
Allegedly, it is still the Government's intention, with the support of the Opposition, to recreate consensus politics in Northern Ireland. An increase in the number of seats, particularly the increase which is demanded by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), will make doubly certain that there will be no political movement in the next two or three years.
The right hon. Member for Down, South travels the length and breadth of his constituency telling people "Now that we have the promise of extra seats the next item on our shopping list is a return of power to the local authorities in Northern Ireland." Those are the local authorities which caused such turmoil when they were able to do what they wanted to do. An increase to 23 in the number of seats will make any political movement unlikely.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North was right to chide my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for writing in Tribune that the increase in the number of seats would mean, in effect, that four or five of those seats would go to non-Unionist Members. That is utter rubbish, if it is not even worse, if it is not blatant lies, as I say it is. It is an attempt to con the Labour and trade union movement into accepting the Bill.
Even if it were true that with the increase in the number of seats four or five non-Unionists would be sent here, do the Government believe that that would contribute to a lessening of the present tension in Northern Ireland? It would do no such thing, because the minority community in Northern Ireland now says "We have an Irish aspiration. We want to believe that some day, we do not know when—it may be years, and we do not know how many—Ireland will be united." In other words, to use a phrase that came out of the Conservative Government 1818 under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), there is an Irish dimension. The minority in Northern Ireland must be allowed to believe that some day Ireland will be united by consent—certainly not by violence. My record of opposition to violence is well known to most hon. Members.
But it is now being seen in Northern Ireland that the Government are saying "You who believe in the Irish dimension should forget all about it. We do not support you. Whether you think there will be a united Ireland by peaceful transition or otherwise, you are not getting it. Instead, you will get total integration, because we have done a deal with the right hon. Member for Down, South and want to stay in power. We are not terribly concerned about how you in Northern Ireland feel about this. In fact, we are not terribly concerned about the conditions in which the 10,000 or 11,000 troops are operating. We are concerned about staying in office." That has brought about a great deal of antagonism and resentment among the minority.
I quote from another editorial in the Irish News, a representative voice of the minority, which says:The clamour over the last year or so is simply the Loyalist reaction to the abolition of Stormont, and there is no use in their denying it".The Unionists have lost their absolute control of Stormont, their total control of the whole population and everything that went with that. They are saying "If we are not getting that back, we shall settle for a highly acceptable second option—more seats, and the more the better."
§ Mr. Fitt
Yes, they want integration.
The editorial continues:The Labour Government's decision following the Speaker's conference, to provide an early introduction of the Bill (although the Boundary Commission may take a couple of years to reach its final recommendations on constituencies) can only be described as a cynical manoeuvre to ensure a maximum number of Loyalists' votes and owes nothing to a desire to provide for simple electoral justice.
§ Mr. McNamara
Is not the logic of my hon. Friend's argument the logic of what I was arguing before, and which some integrationist Unionist hon. Members are arguing and declaring to be the 1819 case—that with the extra seats giving integration they will guarantee a return of local government on the old basis as well? Is not that what is being offered as a guarantee of how powerful they are and what their squeeze is on a Labour Government? Will that be the next thing if we try to stagger on until November?
§ Mr. Fitt
My hon. Friend, if he had been present, would have heard me say that. In Northern Ireland the right hon. Member for Down, South is repeatedly telling his audiences, wherever he may find them, that they have got this promise from the Government of an increase in the number of seats. He is telling them that the next item on the shopping list will be the return of local authority powers.
I have noticed that there may be Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen in this House who are all unaware of the boiling resentment in Northern Ireland because of this proposal to increase the number of seats. This is a matter that cannot be disregarded. What this Bill is saying to constitutional politicians like myself is "There is only one of you at Westminster. We do not need you any more." There are the "Gang of seven" as they are referred to by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). If I had seven hon. Members from my party here this Bill would never have seen the light of day.
I continue with the editorial:The Labour Government's about-turn is now staggeringly obvious and must be painful for those in the Labour ranks who once believed that no Labour Government would turn so easily from self-righteousness about the Northern Ireland problem to doing 'deals' with the 'Ulster Unionists'. The Labour Government no longer has fixed loyalties. In its actions it is becoming difficult to distinguish it from a Conservative Government.The concluding passage of the editorial corresponds to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard), who I believe has shown a great deal of courage and principle by resigning from his office. There are very few hon. Members in this House who are so involved and so concerned about what is happening in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend has shown courage in resigning to express his opposition to this Bill. There is nothing phoney about the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North, and I am quite certain that his electorate 1820 will give him all the support necessary in Future elections.
The editorial states in conclusion:Britain still evades the issue of the natural aspirations of the Irish people and still cannot see that the lessons of history show that she cannot always rule this part of Ireland. Direct rule and more seats at Westminster are merely leading her into a cul-de-sac.I turn to the remarks of the hon. Member for Newbury. Two or three times during his speech he said that what was happening in Northern Ireland was just and democratic. He had much to say about democracy in the Province and the democratic will of the Northern Irish people. Let me say this to him: the last time that the Irish people—not the Northern Irish people—had a vote on a constitutional issue was in 1918. Of the 102 Irish constituencies which were represented in this House, 78 returned Members who said that they wanted a united Ireland. That was what democracy was all about. The overwhelming majority of people in Ireland in the 1918 election returned 78 Members out of 102 who wanted a united Ireland.
What was the democratic action of the then Government, who were so concerned with the concept of democracy? Did they consider the fact that 78 constituencies out of 102 obviously wanted Ireland to be united? Did that Government heed that demand? No, they did not. They brutally partitioned Ireland in the interests of a wholly fake Unionist majority. That is why we are having this debate. Can anyone say that the partitioning of Ireland, leaving as it did an artificial minority and an artificial majority in Northern Ireland, was a roaring success? Just think of the past 10 to 20 years.
Think of what has been happening to the people of Northern Ireland, to the young soldiers in the British Army, to the murdered members of the RUC and the UDR. Has partition been a success? It has not. This proposal to increase the number of seats will force constitutional politicians into a cul-de-sac from which they will never be able to escape. My party has consistently sought constitutional answers to the problems of Northern Ireland. At all times we have condemned violence. We have always said that, one day, we should like to see a united Ireland.
1821 At my party conference last November a motion was carried which said that the British Army and the British presence in Northern Ireland could no longer be seen to be acting in an impartial way. That presence was seen to be operating openly and blatantly in support of the Unionist majority and its aspirations. That motion was carried by 700 votes to two. That proves that the Government's actions are forcing constitutional politicians such as myself into a position which we would rather not be in.
I turn to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Antrim, North. He refers to articles in Socialist periodicals in which Government Ministers have got down to the level—that is the only way to put it—of trying to "con" the readership of Tribune. I do not believe for a moment that Dick Clements believes all this. Neither does anyone else.
If all of the proposed extra seats were to be held by the SDLP the problems in Ireland would not be solved. These problems cannot be settled by an increase in the number of seats. The hon. Member for Newbury spoke of democracy in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that Northern Ireland was ever a democracy. It never will be under the present system. It was not democratically conceived and brought into being. The State of Northern Ireland was brought into being against the wishes of the overwhelming majority in the island of Ireland. As a result, a phoney border was drawn. It is one which breaks up houses. The border goes through one house and leaves two rooms in the Republic and two in Northern Ireland. The border runs through a village. One side of the street is in the Republic and the other is in Northern Ireland.
Something had to be done to appease the then threatening Unionists. The same is happening with this Bill. It is appeasement all over again. This time the Government are appeasing by granting the Unionists a number of seats. If all the extra seats were held by my party it would do nothing to lessen the tensions. Northern Ireland was deliberately designed as a sectarian State. Let no one talk about the majority there. It is a phoney majority. It was never a majority. It is a minority in the island of Ireland but it has succeeded time and 1822 again in intimidating various Labour Governments.
What do we do tonight? Strictly speaking, we are discussing an amendment to increase the number of seats. I shall oppose that proposal. However, is it too late to ask the Government to change their mind? This has happened before on Irish issues. In 1913 legislation on Home Rule passed through this House but was suspended following the outbreak of the First World War. That legislation was never put into operation.
We all know that the present Government can last for months only—perhaps fewer than we all think. The Government do not have to grant these seats to the reactionary forces of Unionism in Northern Ireland. By enforcing this legislation, the Labour Government are likely to lose English, Scottish and Welsh Socialist support in what will be a crucial General Election.
There is no rush for this legislation, because the seats will not come into being until 1984 or 1985. Why the rush? I suspect that the right hon. Member for Down, South told the Government "If you do not grant us this Bill to enable me to claim a victory in Northern Ireland, we shall vote against the Labour Government and bring about their defeat."
As this Government do not have many more months to live, I believe that for the sake of their self-respect, and for the sake of Labour Members and the working-class and trade union movement, which this Government allegedly represent, and, indeed, for the sake of their own consciences, the Government even at this late stage should think again.
I note that the Home Secretary has not attended these debates. I wish that he would take part in this debate in order to justify these proposals.
§ Mr. McNamara
My hon. Friend will recall that when the vote was taken on this amendment on the legislation relating to the Irish constitution, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary voted against it, as did my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Minister of State. However, it is only the Minister of State who is here to face the music and to explain his reversal of view—an explanation that we all await with interest.
§ Mr. Fitt
I agree with my hon. Friend. When this Bill becomes law, an atmosphere of political collision will be created between the minority and majority communities of Northern Ireland. That atmosphere will exist even though the boundaries will not be drawn or the seats taken up until 1984 or 1985. However, in the intervening years there will be hostility and resentment. The Unionist Party will take the view that it has scored a victory, and the minority party will feel that it has been beaten. Therefore, some means will be devised to level out the situation.
My constituency of Belfast, West—which contains many troubled areas, in which houses have been wrecked, where there is high unemployment, bitterness against the action of the security forces, and where many murders and maimings have occurred—is where the effects of the Bill will be felt. They will be felt not on the half-empty Benches of this Committee, because most people in this place have never been to Northern Ireland. I agree that over the past few years a number of hon. Members have gone out of their way to go to Northern Ireland, but the vast majority in the House have never been. Some members of the Speaker's Conference were never in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Fitt
Indeed. They have not told us about that yet. Probably we shall hear about that in 30 years' time.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North told the House that the Northern Ireland Labour Party and the Alliance Party were now in support of the Bill. That is not strictly true. There are serious divisions within the Northern Ireland Labour Party. Some say that the Bill is acceptable, while others oppose that view. I know that one of its leading spokesmen, David Bleakley, who was a Minister in a previous Northern Ireland Government and a member of the Convention, is not in support of an increased number of seats for Northern Ireland Members in this place. He has said publicly that if the number of seats is to be increased the increase should take place within a system of proportional representation.
1824 The Alliance Party and the Liberal Party made submissions to the Speaker's Conference. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) in his place. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) is speaking with a great deal of support in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman is not regarded as an eccentric or as somebody who does not know anything about Northern Ireland. The minority in Northern Ireland fully support the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). I am not sure what feelings exist on the Liberal Bench, but when the hon. Member for Cornwall, North made his statement he had the full support of the minority population. That was brought about by the proposal to increase the number of seats in this place.
At the end of the day the House will ensure that the Bill becomes law. That is because it is Government policy. Even if that were not so, I suppose that there would be enough Opposition Members to ensure that the Bill became law by giving it their support. I ask the Government —it is a call that will not be heard—to reconsider the disastrous effects that the Bill will have, and even at this late hour to search their conscience and to withdraw it.
§ Mr. Powell
When my hon. Friends and I were elected in October 1974 we said in our common address:We are determined to obtain equality with other parts of the United Kingdom in parliamentary representation.At every election meeting that I adressed I assured those to whom I spoke of my conviction that that was something that the House of Commons would not refuse. I believed that because I thought it impossible for the House, having declared that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom—that is the official, acknowledged status of Northern Ireland—to alter that status without the consent of a majority of its inhabitants. The House knowing that since 1972 there has been virtually no other elected representation of the people of the Province except in the House, I thought it impossible for the House to decline to accord to that electorate at least equal representation with other parts of the kingdom.
However, something happened two years after the commencement of this 1825 Parliament that removed the last possible objection that could be urged against what in any case would otherwise have been self-evident and inherent in the House of Commons and its constitution. There was always the argument that Northern Ireland, until 1972, had for 50 years had a local Parliament in which much of the locally applicable law and administration was transacted.
Therefore, if this House were at this point to give Northern Ireland full representation, which it has not had since 1922, in the Parliament of the United Kingdom that would certainly, it was argued, be an obstacle—perhaps a compelling obstacle—to any form of restoration or creation for Northern Ireland of self-governing institutions. That was the one remaining case—the one case—which could be made in this House with self-respect against Northern Ireland being fairly represented.
But that argument was disposed of by the House itself two years ago. Two years ago the House itself decided that the full representation—indeed, the representation on a scale higher than that proposed in this Bill—of Scotland and Wales in this House could be no impediment to there being in the case of Wales a local Assembly but in the case of Scotland a fully-fledged local Parliament. So this House—not just the Government —took the decision which removed the last argument, for this House resolved that there was no incompatibility between full representation here—indeed, a high scale of representation here—and the creation of devolved institutions, including parliamentary institutions.
§ Mr. John Ellis
The right hon. Gentleman has said twice that that could be the only argument, but I put it to him that there is another argument. I do not wish to interrupt him at an inconvenient time, but perhaps he will deal with this other argument in the course of his speech. if 40 per cent. of the people, in view of what had been done, had never accepted it in the democratic way that we do here, and if they were to see the creation of more seats as reinforcing the divide which had existed since the inception, would not that in itself be a fair argument for saying that if the minority 1826 were to view the creation of seats as further estranging them that might be a reason for not doing it?
§ Mr. Powell
I must admit that that is not an argument that I can follow. If not to be estranged is to have the prospect of local institutions, then I have pointed out that full representation has been declared by this House to be no barrier to local institutions. If, of course, not to be estranged is to be taken out of the United Kingdom altogether, then no degree of representation will deal with that. Small or great are alike in that respect.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) must address himself to the fact that the claim not to belong to the United Kingdom cannot be met by any alteration of status within the United Kingdom or within this House. So I say that it was not unnatural, upon that decision of this House, taken in the context of Scotland and Wales, that there was no incompatibility between what many regard as the appropriate constitutional future for Northern Ireland and fair representation in this House, that at that point the Government declared that in their opinion Northern Ireland was not fully represented, and ought to be, and proceeded by the proper constitutional method, the conventional method, the method which we have followed for many decades, with agreement in this House, to decide how such a decision should be implemented and how Northern Ireland should be given equality with other parts of the United Kingdom.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Stallard
I am following closely the right hon. Gentleman's argument about the valid comparison with Scotland and Wales. But does he accept that on Second Reading the Secretary of State superseded those discussions and arguments when he said that in Stormont days, when there was a degree of devolution in Northern Ireland, representation was based on 89,000 and now it should be based on something nearer 50,000, as in the United Kingdom? Does he accept that there is a real fear and danger in the minds of many Scottish and Welsh Members and electors that that will be used as a precedent for reducing representation from Scotland and Wales to 12 1827 seats and seven seats respectively? That argument has been resurrected by the Secretary of State's comparison.
§ Mr. Powell
As I understood and recollect the remarks of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on Second Reading, they were entirely in line with what I am saying, namely, that this decision of the House does not in any way prejudice, prejudge or create an obstacle to any future decision which may be taken as to the local constitution and administration of Northern Ireland.
Parliament proceeded in the proper way to determine how full and fair representation, against which no argument any longer remained, should be accorded to Northern Ireland by setting up a Conference under Mr. Speaker in accordance with precedent—a precedent which has been followed on even larger constitutional matters affecting the composition of and election to the House of Commons.
That Conference comprised 29 hon. Members under the chairmanship of Mr. Speaker. It could not be said that those hon. Members, for the most part, approached the question which was put before them either with closed minds or light-heartedly. Indeed, they addressed themselves de novo to whether it was proper that Northern Ireland should have increased representation at all. It can hardly be said that it was a Conference packed with hon. Members whose minds were already made up on the subject. It is true that they came—one would have thought that they were obliged to come—to a decision by an overwhelming majority that Northern Ireland should have increased representation. But they did so only after deliberation and consideration of such evidence as they decided was relevant.
When they proceeded to decide by how much that representation should be increased, they arrived at their conclusion almost unanimously; there was one dissentient. That is an important fact for Northern Ireland. It is important that when this major step—and such it is—is taken, it should be taken with the overwhelming consent of Members representative of all parts of the House of Commons acting in a constitutional manner and in accordance with precedent when dealing with such questions. It is that 1828 which will give assurance to the people of Northern Ireland that in future this question will not be the football of politics in the House of Commons or in this country. It is a decision which, as near as it ever can, the House of Commons as a whole has taken and is taking.
In arriving at the figure, the Conference naturally addressed itself to the level of representation in other parts of the United Kingdom. It established that an increase of four seats would give Northern Ireland equality of representation with the overwhelming preponderant part of the United Kingdom.
If the Conference had said "Our recommendation is that Northern Ireland should have 16 seats", we could not have denied that that was broad, fair justice for Northern Ireland. The House of Commons would have been entitled to say to us "We have put you in Northern Ireland on an even footing with the overwhelming majority of the Kingdom of which you are an integral part". But the Conference did not do that. It took note of the fact that there is a higher scale of representation in Wales and in Scotland and that on the basis of those two scales Northern Ireland would have 18 and 19 seats respectively.
Naturally, my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneux) and I, as any other hon. Members representing Northern Ireland in our places would have done, pointed to the analogies between the circumstances of Northern Ireland and of Scotland, but we pooled, as we do in this House when we act as a House, our views with those of our colleagues. And the view of our colleagues was that the analogy with Wales was the closest, but not complete. It was upon that view that the Conference decided finally—and we thought it our duty to ensure that that decision was, as nearly as possible, the unanimous decision of the Conference—that the the representation of Northern Ireland should approach that of Wales. Indeed, it will equal that of Wales if, in the exercise of the discretion which it is to be given, the Boundary Commission recommends 18 seats.
So there is no mystery about how the figure comes to be in this Bill. There is no mystery about how it was arrived at. There is no mystery about the report behind the Bill, which had the support, 1829 as nearly as it can be mobilised, of the whole of the House of Commons ; and there is no mystery about the reason why the House of Commons, virtually as a whole, supports this decision. It is because this decision is in accordance with the principles of the House of Commons itself that it could not take any other decision without renouncing those principles and weakening the basis of its own authority.
My hon. Friends and I will support the Bill as it stands because it embodies the virtually unanimous recommendation of Mr. Speaker's Conference and as near as may be the unanimous will of the House of Commons, to which, as the essence of the union of the United Kingdom, it is our pride and our right to belong.
§ Mr. John Ellis
I sought, in an intervention, to challenge the contribution that has just been made and I feel that I must challenge it more. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that, with the passing on of Stormont, the last remaining reason, there could be no reason—and I think he said it two, three or even four times in his speech—why the more normal figures should not apply for Northern Ireland. I believe that it would be remiss in this debate if that statement were allowed to go unchallenged.
Returning to the point that I made when I intervened, it is a bit of an anachronism, as we stand here, that if there is one part of the British Isles, or this conglomeration of islands as such, where it can be demonstrated that there is different history, and in many ways a different culture, that place must be Northern Ireland—much more so than Scotland—yet this is the one area for which some of its representatives seek to make the bonds more iron hard. I wonder why that is.
It is perfectly arguable, if we are talking about democracy as we know it, to say that there is something inherently wrong if, after an election—most hon. Members who represent English, Welsh and Scottish constituencies believe that they are here to represent all the people—the minority who did not vote for the Member elected believe that in the constituency they cannot have any faith that they will 1830 get justice in the matter of pensions, in housing and where that should be allocated, or on anything else.
The extraordinary situation is that about the only time one sees the parties united on anything is when they are getting more money for themselves. As soon as the money is allocated for a factory, for instance, there is immediate division about where that factory will be placed, and so on. There is no trust on the part of 40 per cent. of the community in the other 60 per cent. The writ does not run. That is the situation that we face in looking at the increased number of seats. We seek to heal and to change.
It is a legitimate argument that hon. Members should judge the Bill and these amendments solely on the question whether they will do anything for democracy or to bring the communities together, or whether they will do the reverse. In my view, the Bill will do the reverse. We have sufficient indication of that in the way that the communities have regarded this matter. It is being fed back to us in many ways, in some of the speeches that we have heard this evening, that the 40 per cent.—as was inevitable, it seems—have objected violently and said "This divides us more". Therefore, we are not helping the cause of democracy by the Bill or, specifically, by these amendments. That is a fair argument.
Let us look at one of the significant pieces of evidence that came from Northern Ireland, where a great deal of research was done into people's attitudes towards these issues. It was revealed that a substantial section of the community, Catholic and Protestant, supported direct rule. That was a terrible indictment of their native politcians. That must mean that they have no faith.
§ Mr. Ellis
No, but it is an indictment of people in the Province, who say "We are different. The English will never understand the problems of Catholics and Protestants. They have never lived here." I accept that. However, when questioned on this matter, a large number of people, Catholics and Protestants, said—perhaps it was self-evident from their unhappy history—that whoever was 1831 the majority could not gain the support of the minority in any way until their own institutions, and Stormont itself, blew apart.
Before I became a Member of Parliament, as a citizen of this country who was responsible in some way I always thought that this was a situation that had festered over the years. I came to the conclusion that the House of Commons never discussed it. Certainly, in my early years here we never discussed it. That was because we were so sick of the whole issue, which had festered on and on, and so long as the people there managed to get by without too much killing, we would keep quiet and say nothing. The situation changed dramatically when that unhappy Province blew itself apart and the House of Commons had to take notice and had to take action.
I am not filibustering in any way. All that I seek to do, by any means available, by this Bill or any other, is to lessen the division and the sectarianism in Northern Ireland. The Bill does not do this. By giving more seats it will make the minority even more isolated; they will fear that their legitimate aspirations are being pushed further away. The mass of the people, who are not active politicians, despair of their heritage. No one has challenged the survey, which showed that a significant number of Catholics and Protestants would prefer direct rule—
§ Mr. Ellis
Yes, because, they say, "Our experience of our institutions shows that we cannot trust each other and we cannot trust those elected to give us a fair crack of the whip. Everything they do is a negation of what we believe."
That is deplorable. We here should be the guardians of all the great virtues. But one of those virtues is to be able to take decisions for oneself, democratically and with tolerance, seeking the trust of those who disagree. Not all these things happen in Northern Ireland. The great majority of the people, Protestant and Catholic, who are not killers or members of murder gangs, want to live in peace. The heritage of liberty demands that 1832 people stand up and declare themselves for it.
Unchallenged evidence shows that a huge number of people concluded that they could not achieve that and that they would rather give the control of affairs to Englishmen. They say, in effect, "Even with the increase in seats, policy will be decided by people who disagree with us." All too often, the charge is that we do not live there or know the background. But that survey shows that they are prepared to let us make the decisions.
§ Mr. Fitt
Is my hon. Friend aware that during the sitting of the Constitutional Convention in Northern Ireland, when Northern Irishmen of all religious persuasions sought desperately for a political solution, 48 hours before it ended, an Englishman—the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—said in a public speech in Belfast, in the words of Cromwell: "In the name of God, go." He did not want Northern Ireland politicians or the Constitutional Convention to succeed. Yet that is the right hon. Member who is now saying that an increase in seats will not prevent the creation of political structures in Northern Ireland. He will do his best to ensure that no locally-based structure is created in Northern Ireland.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. I thought that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) had risen to ask his hon. Friend to refer to the amendment under discussion. He did not do so, so I will ask the hon. Member to come to the amendment.
§ Mr. Ellis rose—
§ Mr. McNamara
Had it been a point of order, Sir Myer, I should have addressed you directly, as I have done in the past. My hon. Friend gave way to allow me to make an intervention.
1833 My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) talked about direct rule and the majority of the people preferring it. He was correct in what he said, but the argument for direct rule was based on the status quo. It was an argument for direct rule and not for increased representation.
Sir Myer, there is a lot of talk below the Gangway.
§ Mr. McNamara
Following his great statement, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) pointed to that thing below the Table there and said "Take away this bauble." That was a denial of democracy if ever there was one. In that way we would end up with a military dictatorship.
§ Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
On a point of order, Sir Myer. There seems to be an informal meeting at the door which is preventing us from hearing the proceedings of the Chamber.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Will hon. Members refrain from talking, so that we can hear what is being discussed on amendment No. 3?
§ Mr. Ellis
It is difficult to maintain a train of thought. The speeches of the right hon. Member for Down, South are always worth listening to. I thought he was trying to demonstrate that there could be no logical reason for opposing the Bill. I challenge that assumption. The Bill will do nothing to lessen the sectarian hostility that divides the unhappy community. It is an alien situation in a democracy to have within communities— for the purposes of the argument I make no difference between Catholic or Protestant—groups of people who go outside the law in pursuit of their political aims. It cannot be judged within those parameters. Will the fundamental question of the creation of these seats do anything to lessen the sectarian divide? Will other more moderate points of view be heard in this Committee?
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
Does my hon. Friend accept that extension of representation for Northern 1834 Ireland is important for the Government? The Government can abrogate responsibility for solving the real problems of Northern Ireland by this exercise of extending representation in Northern Ireland. Does he also not agree that although the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made an impeccable analytical argument, he failed to reach any conclusions? He is arguing that Parliament can never be wrong because constitutional decisions have been taken. But there is no comparison between the political, social and economic situation in Northern Ireland and in Scotland and Wales. Those comparisons are therefore not only unfair but completely unacceptable.
§ Mr. Ellis
My hon. Friend takes the argument one step further and challenges the prime motivation of the Bill. I hope that that point will be developed in the course of the debate. I am trying to be kinder and ask whether the Government's aim is to lessen the sectarian divide and improve the situation. If that is their belief, I am seeking to argue against that proposition, because I do not believe that it is true. If hon. Members attempt to buttress the argument even further by appearing to put a gloss on an unsatisfactory situation, that is an even bigger condemnation of these amendments.
I cannot see why, if the ratio of the divide in Northern Ireland is 60 to 40, there is not a similar ratio in representation in the seats that we already have. The outcome of these extra seats is, in the circumstances, unlikely to change the situation one iota. What it is likely to do is further to alienate the already alienated 40 per cent.—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is 39 per cent."] I do not wish to quibble about this. The point I am trying to make is that we can make democracy work only if after the elections the people who did not vote for the successful Member do not go out into the streets—
§ Mr. McNamara
On a point of order, Sir Myer. Will you ask the Ulster Unionists who are making interventions to stand up on their hind legs and make their contributions properly so that we can follow the train of thought of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis)? Otherwise, we shall have to appeal once more for silence and my hon. Friend will have to repeat many of his arguments.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
I have been listening intently for the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) to come to the point of the amendment under discussion—I was anxious not to miss that—and therefore I did not hear any interjections. If I hear any sedentary comments, I shall certainly ask the hon. Members concerned to rise in their places.
§ Mr. McNamara
Further to that point of order, Sir Myer. I distinctly heard the words "Where did you get 40 per cent. from?" from two or three Ulster Unionist Members in a sedentary position. I should have thought that their references to that number 40 were related to what we were discussing today. The amendment concerns the question of numbers. Ulster Unionists have been very reluctant to take part in the debate. They have come in and out rather like yo-yos. If they have a contribution to make, they should stand up and make their points in accordance with the proper procedures.
|Division No. 34]||AYES||10.00 p.m.|
|Anderson, Donald||Dempsey, James||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Doig, Peter||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Dormand, J. D.||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Ashton, Joe||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Duffy, A. E. P.||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Dunlop, John||Kilfedder, James|
|Bean, R. E.||Dunn, James A.||Knox, David|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Dunnett, Jack||Lambie, David|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Eadie, Alex||Lamborn, Harry|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Lamond, James|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||English, Michael||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Boardman, H.||Evans, John (Newton)||Lofthouse, Geolfrey|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Eyre, Reginald||McCartney, Hugh|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Farr, John||McCusker, H.|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||McElhone, Frank|
|Budgen, Nick||Fookes, Miss Janet||McKay, Alan (Penlstone)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)|
|Campbell, Ian||Ford, Ben||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Cant, R. B.||Forrester, John||Maclennan, Robert|
|Carson, John||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)|
|Carter, Ray||George, Bruce||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Cartwright, John||Golding, John||Mallalieu, J. P. W.|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Gourlay, Harry||Marks, Kenneth|
|Cohen, Stanley||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Coleman, Donald||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Concannon, Rt Hon John||Grant, John (Islington C)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Conlan, Bernard||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mather, Carol|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Hardy, Peter||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Cowans, Harry||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Hayhoe, Barney||Molyneaux, James|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Hooley, Frank||Morgan, Geraint|
|Davidson, Arthur||Horam, John||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Morton, George|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hughes, Rt Hon C (Anglesey)||Moyle, Rt Hon Roland|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Hunter, Adam||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Deakins, Eric||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||John, Brynmor||Neave, Alrey|
§ your ruling on all these matters. However, I assure the Committee that I shall not be put off. I shall make my speech and, if it takes me that much longer, I shall have to detain the Committee to do so.
§ It does not matter whether the figure is 40 per cent. or 39 per cent. What I am saying would be true even if the figure were only 10 per cent. If, after an election, a significant number of people—perhaps as low a proportion as 5 per cent.—feel so aggrieved that they go outside democratic forms altogether—
§ It being Ten o'clock the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.