HC Deb 11 April 1912 vol 36 cc1422-4

We do not think that where Ireland has obtained full control of her own affairs, either justice or policy requires Ireland to continue to be represented here on the same footing in regard to population as the other component parts of the United Kingdom, for whom this house will still continue to be the organ of legislation; nor do we believe that the Irish people, themselves, are prepared to advance any such claim. Under our plan, the Irish representation at Westminster will be reduced to forty-two; in other words, Ireland will have a Member here, roughly, for every 100,000 of her population. This arrangement does not necessitate any general redistribution; but it involves the merger of some of the Irish boroughs and counties, and the grouping together of some counties which at present have separate representations. Three boroughs will be left: Belfast will have four Members, Dublin three, and Cork one. The Universities for this purpose will cease to be represented.

There will be eight borough Members and thirty-four county Members. I may point out that on the assumption that the Irish representation here continues for party purposes to be divided in something like the same proportions as it has been for the last five and twenty years—that, of course, is a mere asumption, but upon that assumption—the forty-two Members will consist roughly of eight Unionists and thirty-four Nationalists, showing a Nationalist majority of twenty-six votes. [An HON. MEMBER: "Very useful."] There have been very few Houses of Parliament in my experience of over a quarter of a century—only, I think, one—in which such a number has sufficed to turn the scale of political fortune between the two great British parties. It may be asked why do we retain as many as forty-two, or, indeed, any Irish Members at all. Ireland, it may be said, will at first, at any rate, be making no contribution to Imperial expenditure, and why should she have a vote in its determination? That is an argument that may be used with equal truth and with much greater cogency at the present moment. Ireland is not now making any contribution to Imperial expenditure—not a halfpenny—of any sort or kind, yet we have with us 103 Irish Members with the same right of voting as the rest of us. The justification for the retention of a reduced number of Irish Members rests upon much broader grounds. In the first place, the Imperial House of Commons will still continue to tax the whole of the United Kingdom.

Next, for some years at any rate, this House of Commons and the Imperial Executive will be responsible for the administration of all the reserved services in which Ireland is vitally interested. But, further, in our view, whatever other changes may be made, and however far the devolution of local affairs to local bodies may be carried, the House of Commons must continue to be the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, fairly representing all its constituent parts and inviting the cooperation of each of them in the supervision of their common interests, the transaction of their common business, and the discharge of their joint and corporate trust to the Empire as a whole. It is true that for a time, and until there are further applications of the principle of devolution, Irish Members will be here with an unfettered right to vote. For the reasons I have already given, a very substantial reduction in their number makes that a matter of much less practical importance than it was, and we think it may well be found to be the duty of the House of Commons—after this Bill has become the law of the land—the duty of the House of Commons, which is absolute master of its own procedure, to anticipate in some degree further developments of statutory devolution by so moulding its own Standing Orders as to secure the effective consideration and discussion of legislation affecting only one part of the United Kingdom, by those who, as representing that part, are alone directly interested.


In their own country?