HC Deb 26 October 1943 vol 393 cc109-27

Order for Second Reading read.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

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

This is the fourth year in succession that I have moved the Second Reading of a Bill in substantially the same terms and for the same purposes as the present Bill, and substantially the same considerations obtain this year in favour of the Bill as obtained last year and in the years before. It is of course fully recognised by the Government as it is by the House that the prolongation of the life of Parliament beyond its normal legal life is a serious constitutional step and it is right therefore that the House should regard this legislation, while perhaps not as legislation for long debate in existing circumstances, nevertheless as legislation of a serious constitutional character.

In this legislation the decision as to the prolongation of the life of Parliament is made subject to periodical review, and the Acts only lasts for a year, but notwithstanding this it does not of course necessarily follow that a General Election would and could not take place. But it is right that this Bill should only last for a year in order that both the Government and the House may be required to review the matter year by year and not take any further liberties with the normal workings of the constitution with such a periodical review. This is a constitutional Measure, and the Government are quite properly required to justify the Measure annually to Parliament, so that Parliament may have the opportunity of reviewing the situation in the light of current conditions, and so that if Parliament thought that owing to changes of conditions or other circumstances it was right that it should be brought to an end, it may always be within the power of Parliament itself to secure this. The reasons I gave for the Bill last year were first of all the suspension of the registration of electors, and secondly, the very considerable amount of man-Power and effort which would be involved—I think to no useful purpose—by the holding of a General Election. Moreover, it would be difficult to find an issue upon which to fight the election, as we are all united about the war, and on the whole I think the House and the country are disposed to feel that, taking it by and large, the Government are not making a bad job of the war. Another reason that I gave was the possibility of heavy raiding, and although many people think of that as behind us, we cannot be sure that heavy raiding will not occur again. Those were the arguments last year.

The first objection, namely, that about the register of electors, is of course a practical one. It would have been wrong to have an election, if we could avoid it, on a stale register, but I agree that, in so far as the new legislation on this subject alters the situation, that argument will be weakened in the course of a few months, though even if the new Bill were passed, the physical labour and administrative strain of putting into operation in all constituencies simultaneously the arrangements for the preparation of a register would involve a material diversion of the war effort. The other arguments against a General Election still, I think, obtain. The possibility of heavy raiding is not a sufficient argument in itself, but if it took place it would cause dislocation, and it would be amusing to the enemy to cause disturbances in the middle of the electoral fight. However, the fundamental reason for the prolongation of the life of Parliament is that it would be seriously prejudicial to the prosecution of the war. It would be out of tune with the spirit of the nation, which is one essentially of national unity during the war, and an issue, as I say, would be difficult to find. Quite apart from the diversion of labour and materials, the distraction of attention from the primary task of fighting the war and the possible promotion of national disunity make it appear to us that it would be helpful to the enemy rather than to this country that this Parliament should come to an end at this point.

There are only two short Clauses in the Bill. One of the Clauses amends the Septennial Act, 1915. It is a curious fact to which attention has previously been called that the Septennial Act, 1915, was actually passed in 1916. It is a constitutional mystery why it became called the Act of 1915. I cannot explain it. Undoubtedly it is the fact that it was not passed until 1916. [Interruption]. I am referring to the Septennial Act, 1715, which was actually passed in 1716. I made a mistake in my first references to it. I apologise. I got 200 years in advance of the time. I am a little prejudiced that way. Subsequent legislation put the point right as regards 1715 and 1716. The Short Titles Act, 1896, made a specific provision that it should be cited as the Septennial Act, 1715, without prejudice to any other mode of citation, from which I gather it took from 1716 until 1896 for the mistake to be discovered or at any rate put right, but it was put right, and all is well now. Among the reasons for the Septennial Act was the desire expressed in the Preamble of the Act: To prevent violent and lasting heats and animosities among the subjects of this Realm. It seems to me that this is relevant to the state of affairs at the present time. Another purpose cited in the Act of 1715 was to prevent "the grievous and burdensome expenses" involved by frequent general elections. In these days of heavy taxation that is a reason which will appeal to hon. Members.

Clause 2 of the Bill applies to Northern Ireland. This Clause was brought in for the first time last year, and there was some discussion about it. I can see certain hon. Members from Northern Ireland here to-day ready and anxious that there may be some discussion about it now. If anybody else starts up they are only too ready to follow by the look on their faces. The case for the provision in respect of Northern Ireland is simple. We have in Northern Ireland a Parliament which is responsible for general legislation and administration, for law and order and good government in that important part of the United Kingdom.

If this Parliament presumes to take power to extend its life it is right that we should make provision whereby the Parliament of Northern Ireland can extend its life. There are no fundamental circumstances about Northern Ireland different from the circumstances obtaining in Great Britain, the arguments which I advanced in respect of Great Britain are, broadly, equally applicable to Northern Ireland, and I think it would be out of proportion for us to prolong ourselves and deny the right to the Parliament of Northern Ireland to prolong itself.

The other question is whether the effective legal action as to the prolongation of the life of the Parliament of North- ern Ireland should be taken by the United Kingdom Parliament or by the Parliament of Northern Ireland itself. It seems to the Government that the right body to decide upon that point is the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, and therefore the Bill provides that if the House of Commons of Northern Ireland passes a Resolution to prolong its life, it will be prolonged, and if it does not pass a Resolution, it will not be prolonged. That seems to us to be right. The question of the Senate does not arise because the Senate is elected by the House of Commons in Northern Ireland.

That is the case for the Bill, and I think it will commend itself to the House. The Bill lasts for only one year, and the matter will be subject to review in 12 months' time.

Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)

I think I should congratulate the right hon. Gentleman in advance, as probably he is going to get another Bill through with a fair amount of general support. That will strengthen him a little for the stormier waters that probably lie ahead at no distant date. It is as well to recall that the Bill would not be before the House were it not for the political truce, and I imagine that my right hon. Friend would not have been in the position to move it. That is all right, so far as the United Kingdom is concerned, but it cannot be said with regard to the inclusion of Northern Ireland.

Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Ammon

I will endeavour to show the hon. Gentleman that they are not active in that spirit of unity which has been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. As has already been pointed out, the Bill has been based on the spirit of unity and good will which obtains at this period in this country, a thing which cannot be said with regard to Northern Ireland, as is indicated by the asperity with which I was interrupted just now. We have the pleasure to-day of seeing more Members from Northern Ireland than we are usually favoured with, on one occasion and after a long absence. We are delighted to see them. I am particularly interested to see the hon. Members for North Belfast (Mr. Somerset) and West Belfast (Mr. J. Beattie). They come here united in their support of the Government. I understand that they sit in opposition in another Parliament because they cannot agree. It certainly does not seem right that Northern Ireland should come in under cover of the Bill under entirely false pretences. It has been necessary to combine in this Parliament because of the threat arising out of the war. The same threats and influences mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman do not menace Northern Ireland. There seems even less reason in Northern Ireland than here that there should not be a united Parliament. My hon. Friends and I will not push our attitude to the point of dividing the House, but we think it should be taken notice of that there has not been the same case made out as on other occasions. If and when my right hon. Friend comes forward again for the prolongation of Parliament, we hope it will be only for the prolongation of this Parliament and that other people, having settled their differences and decided that they will unite, may find some way of dealing with the matter themselves.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)

In introducing the Bill the right hon. Gentleman rightly emphasised the serious constitutional character of the proposals which it contains. This is the fourth year in which we have decided to continue our life. This Parliament was elected eight years ago on the understanding that it was not to go more than five years, the general custom being that that period usually lasted out. Only the circumstances of war justify us in dealing with the life of Parliament, which it would be otherwise undemocratic to do and difficult to justify on constitutional, Parliamentary or democratic principles. It is as well to remind ourselves that there is nothing to prevent a war-time election. They have had one in Canada, where the Government of the day received increased authority by appealing to the electorate. The same applied in Australia, where they recently went to an election, and the same thing happened there, the Government of the day getting fresh authority by appealing to the people. The same applies to New Zealand.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

The circumstances are different.

Sir P. Harris

I must be allowed to make my own speech. The hon. Member is always interrupting somebody. I was saying that New Zealand, by having an election, got fresh authority for the Government. The hon. Gentleman, who is a man of great intelligence, said that the circumstances were obviously different. New Zealand and Canada are a long way from the theatre of war, are not subject to black-out and are not liable to enemy raids. Those points do not apply in Australia, which is a theatre of war and is subject to air raids and actually to attacks on its shipping. The Channel is a much narrower protection from attack than any which exist in the case of the three places to which I have referred.

If the Prime Minister had not made a statement that the whole problem of the machinery of elections, methods of election and distribution of seats was to be considered by a Conference, to make recommendations to this House, I should hesitate to give my support to the Bill. We have a special responsibility to the public and to the electors to show that we are using the powers that we are taking for ourselves in order to safeguard their interests and to secure that the next Parliament is elected on as representative a basis as human ingenuity can devise. We have had that promise from the Government for two years, and the case for it now is just as strong as two years ago. If the proposed Conference had been appointed two years ago, we might by now have had the advantage of its Report and be in a stronger position to recommend to the public the passing of the Bill. This House has a special responsibility to convince the public that we are using this authority to the best advantage.

I am not one of those who are critical of this House of Commons. I think it has shown great virility and vitality in all circumstances. An old Parliament, it compares not unfavourably with a new House of Commons in its activities. On the other hand, if we are to go on living without fresh authority from the people we have to be more active in making preparations for the future, when the war is over and a new Parliament comes into existence. We must not present a postwar House of Commons with a blank sheet of paper and no preparations for the great responsibility it will have to fulfil. The post-war House of Commons will have tremendous tasks, much greater than those of this Parliament, where most of the concern is with the Services and the Executive. It will have to face complicated and difficult social problems which will be far more difficult than those after the last war, when the post-war Parliament made a very bad business of it. The failure of that Parliament to discharge its responsibility was responsible for many of the economic difficulties between the two wars.

We have to insist that the Government, with an old Parliament behind them without the same authority of a Parliament fresh from the electors, have really to be working out and devising plans for the post-war world. We have been asking the Government questions on many occasions to satisfy ourselves that the various Departments of State are getting ready. I do not believe many Members are satisfied that the various Departments are fulfilling that side of the work. I am satisfied with the way in which the Government are prosecuting the war, and I am a loyal supporter of the Prime Minister. We owe him everything. We owe him our safety and our security, and I am satisfied that we have now the best leadership. On the other hand, people are troubled at the lack of evidence and proof that the Government are making preparations for post-war conditions. Therefore, I say that before we pass the Bill we ought to be satisfied that the Government are preparing plans and thinking out policies—making blueprints, to use a popular phrase—for post-war conditions. All political parties have committees working out policies, but we have a shrewd suspicion that the Ministries are not co-ordinated in that respect, and that matters are allowed to drift. Some hon. Members feel, although they are satisfied with the way in which the Government are prosecuting the war, that the Government are not equally active in making preparations for the post-war world.

Mr. John Beattie (Belfast, West)

I came here to-day with one object only, to show why this House should refuse to ratify the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that the life of the Parliament of Northern Ireland should be extended for a year. I spend the greater part of my time, and I have spent the greater part of my life, under the Government of Northern Ireland. That Government was established by an Act of Parliament known as the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. We accepted that Act, and we hoped that the guarantees which were given then would be maintained by this House. But, for some reasons which I have been unable to understand, this House was induced to upset that Act by extending the life of that Parliament for 12 months. Again those backstair methods are in use, to seek the support of this House for another extension of 12 months. Not many Members of this House know Northern Ireland—I include in that a number of Members who try to represent Northern Ireland seats in this House. I have lived there, I work there, and I represent the voice and aspirations of the people not only of West Belfast but also of East Belfast, the division I represent in the Northern Ireland Parliament. It would be unbecoming of me to interfere with Clause 1 of this Bill. I give all my support to further extending the life of this Parliament, because I believe that by continuing in session this Parliament would be serving a useful purpose. But I could not say the same thing about the Parliament of the six counties of Ireland known as North East Ulster. They have not functioned as any reasonable Parliament should function in war.

Let me give one of the fundamental reasons why I think that Government should be sent about its business. At the moment we have in Northern Ireland over 20,000 registered unemployed. We have another 5,000 to 10,000 people who are anxious to come to this country to give their skill and their services in the interests of victory, but they are prohibited from moving outside the shores of the six counties. Those people are unemployed, but they are not included among the registered unemployed. We have our own local unemployment, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is fully conversant. A large percentage of those who would wish to come to this side of the water are not allowed to leave because of an organised suspicion, which is prompted by a desire to keep a state of confusion in the minds of Members of this House, and to make people believe that sinister organisations are at work to sabotage the war effort of Northern Ireland. I want to repudiate that suggestion, which was conveyed to Members on this side who have visited Northern Ireland in the past few years. The manufacturers of those illegal organisations, who are a danger to the national interest, the people who have fathered and financed them, are the very people to whom a further extension of Parliamentary life is now to be given. It is a crying shame.

The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has a long experience of the Ulster Tory. He will remember the years from 1914 to 1920, and he knows what happened in 1920, 1921 and 1922 to the upholders of Socialism in Northern Ireland because they dared to express their political outlook in the precincts of the City of Belfast, their own home town. This House will do serious damage to our war output in Northern Ireland if the Home Secretary is allowed to proceed with Clause 2 of this Bill. I have known the right hon. Gentleman as a democrat for many years. He has made reference to my facial expression, but I know that that was done in a humorous way. Both he and I are not going up the hill but down, and if we entered for a beauty competition I do not think that either of us would be in the prize list. But I know that he is aware of the political conditions in Northern Ireland, and I ask him to beware of his new-found friends. Also I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, a little lady, for whom I had much respect in days gone past, to be very careful of her new-found friends and of the methods that she is using to propagate Toryism in Northern Ireland.

I am sent here by the organised labour and trade union movement. I might have been doing useful work at home, but in the interest of national decency and of the war effort, I have made the journey here, and I am going to endeavour to get the party of which I am honoured to be a member to give some support to the removal of Clause 2 from the Bill. The Government of Northern Ireland cannot agree among themselves. Within the past 12 months they have changed within themselves. That is the first time I have heard of such a disagreement among them. They are all of the same kidney. If anything, the Government which is now in office has less appeal for the working people of Northern Ireland than any of the two previous Governments of Northern Ireland. This Government must be challenged, so that the people of Northern Ireland may have an opportunity to say who is to be the Government of that part of the country. They have not that opportunity. They have had the change of two Governments and have not been allowed to vote. The right hon. Gentleman knows how voting is done in Northern Ireland, but there is one thing I want him to remember. They can teach the British electorate how to vote. I heard the right hon. Gentleman talking about the business voter and overseas men. I had some in West Belfast and they could teach him a lesson or two. In spite of all his knowledge and experience of electoral reform, I would ask him to come the next time to West Belfast and see what happens when you are fighting the Ulster Tories, and he will get his eyes opened. I hope that he is taking my comments in a friendly spirit, as I do not intend them to be otherwise. My manner and methods may seem to be that way, but it is not deliberate.

In the "Manchester Guardian" I read that the Home Secretary says he doubts whether the Parliamentary situation in Northern Ireland could be described as Government and Opposition. That is his expressed opinion. The composition of that House at the moment consists of 36 Unionists and 16 members on Opposition. I happen to be the accredited leader of the Labour Opposition, and whether I justify that position or not is not for me to say. Sixteen members in opposition to the official Unionists in the Northern Ireland Parliament is, I should say, a position equal to that of 32 Members in the British Isles. It is three times harder for a Member of the Opposition to win a seat in Northern Ireland against a Tory than it is for such a Member to win a seat against a Tory in Great Britain. If you win a seat in Northern Ireland against a Tory, you have done some useful work. I do not go outside my own little country to talk about elections, because I have not taken part in many elections in England. I have taken part in our elections in 26 counties and the six counties, and if I can be of any service in Great Britain—in Scotland, England or Wales—at the next General Election I shall be willing to come over and give them help. The part of the Bill which in my opinion is very desirable would be the keeping in honour bound the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and I make this appeal in a sincere and earnest way because my voice here to-day is the voice of organised labour and trade unionists and also of thousands of Tories in Ulster. A certain type of Tory has got into the Government machine and is asking "How much can I get for the loyalty which I preach?" I say openly that Toryism in Ulster is conditional loyalty.

If this House prevented Ulster from getting her fair share of financial support, they would go elsewhere to get that financial support, and they would carry their loyalty with them. They did it in 1912, when the present Prime Minister came over and when I was stoned because I saved the life of the present Prime Minister. If the Ulster Tories had had their way, you would have had no Prime Minister to-day leading this country in the way it is being led. I do not want to be provocative, but I want the Home Office to understand the condition of affairs in Northern Ireland. I do not want to hear people sniping at my brother Irishmen across the border and to hear them talking about Irish political life when they know nothing about Irish political life other than through the universities and people who do not belong to the country. I feel it in my bones that I am entitled to speak in this way to this House. If in Northern Ireland, and even in Southern Ireland, the Labour movement is ever going to develop, we require the assistance of Labour in Great Britain. We of the Labour movement in Ireland are joined hand-in-hand with the British Labour movement in all matters appertaining to the social well-being and the uplifting of the working class.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether we are discussing this Bill or a subject more appropriate to the Address, because the hon. Member seems to be going rather wide of the subject?

Mr. Speaker

I have been listening to the hon. Member, and I appreciate that he is talking on Clause 2. He is entitled to say how bad the government of Northern Ireland is in his opinion and therefore that its Parliament should not have its life extended.

Sir H. Williams

We are not prolonging the life of tile Government but the life of Parliament, and there is still some difference between the two.

Mr. Beattie

I am sorry if I have not pleased the hon. Gentleman, but I am a stickler on constitutional points myself. I am discussing Clause 2 only and trying to show justification for the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw Clause 2. The reason that the Government of Northern Ireland have made this pernicious back-stair influence in this House is because they are afraid to go to the country. This Government had to have a revolution within their own party and overthrow a certain number of Tories in Northern Ireland before they were able to get into the job. They have been in the job four or five months, and people are asking why, if South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand can have an election, Northern Ireland cannot. Northern Ireland is not in the war effort in any respect like the countries I have mentioned. They have their own employment. There is no war effort from the Government point of view. We of the working class want the Government to get a chance and in the meantime to get the war effort put upon a sound footing and developed to an extent that we shall be producing an equal amount per head per man as you have been doing in Great Britain for a number of years past. We in Northern Ireland are not doing our share, and the Government are responsible for our not doing it. On behalf of the whole Labour movement, I ask him to withdraw Clause 2. If he does so, we can then have an election, and I guarantee that if one took place there would be no hindrance of any kind to the war effort. If after such an election the Tories now in power are still there, we can still join together in the common effort, but I ask that we should be given an opportunity of challenging the people who are at the moment sabotaging the war effort of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Somerset (Belfast, North)

I have represented North Belfast in this House since 1929, and I would like to say to the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. J. Beattie) that I have very much in mind the circumstances in which he fought his election, the conditions which prevailed and the fact that at the last minute he made a declaration which gained him many thousands of votes.

Mr. Beattie

On a point of Order. Is it in Order for the hon. Member to make such an inference? The declaration which was made was not made by me; it was made by the Socialist Party.

Mr. Somerset

The hon. Member, earlier in his speech, invited the Home Secretary to go to Belfast so that he could show him how things were run. Well, I do not think the Home Secretary would adopt the procedure that was followed in the hon. Member's election. I cannot see what the hon. Member wants to get at. We have in Northern Ireland a very strong Government. That Government has been changed. The hon. Member clamoured for that change, and now it has been changed he is not satisfied. He wants an election. He cannot have it both ways. If the hon. Member gets in another year, he will be lucky; I do not think we shall see his face here again after the next election. I cannot see why he does not want the people in Northern Ireland to have the same continuity as the people in this country. The hon. Member seems to forget what is the constitution of the Northern Ireland Government. One of his own colleagues who is Leader of the Labour Party is now Minister of Home Security.

Mr. Beattie

He was never Leader of the Labour Party.

Mr. Somerset

The Minister of Labour served at the bench and in the shipyards, and the whole of that Government is just as much a National Government as this Government here is. I notice that the hon. Member omitted to say a single word about his own constituency of West Belfast. He did not tell this House that most of the arms, ammunition, explosives and implements of war which have been found have been found in West Belfast.

Mr. Beattie

On a point of Order. Is it in Order for the hon. Member to say that somebody in my Division is rebellious to the British and that we are storing arms and ammunition for the killing of British Forces? I say that that is out of Order altogether.

Mr. Speaker

I understood the hon. Member to say that arms and ammunition were manufactured and made in West Belfast and were not being illegally stored.

Mr. Beattie

I said it for him.

Mr. Somerset

The hon. Member also said that Northern Ireland Members were not very much in evidence here. I do not think any Member of this House has been more regular in attendance than I have. I think this is about the second time the hon. Member has been here, and he has taken this opportunity to get at the Government of Northern Ireland. It is wrong that he should come here and make such a tirade and an attack upon a decent body of men.

Mr. Speaker

I am bound to point out that whether the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. J. Beattie) was doing right or wrong, he was entitled to talk on this Bill. His conduct in so doing does not lie within the purview of this Bill, but I think we ought to get back to the question of whether we should extend Parliament by one year or not.

Mr. Somerset

I bow to your Ruling, Sir, but I would like to give one reason why we should have another year as we have in this House.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

The 23rd year.

Mr. Somerset

When the late Prime Minister of Northern Ireland retired he received a letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who said: … That was a dark and dangerous hour. We were alone and had to face single-handed the full fury of the Germans' attack, raining down death and destruction on our cities. … But for the loyalty of Northern Ireland we should have been confronted with slavery and death. This country is indebted to the Government of Northern Ireland. In no part of the country was there so much voluntary enlistment in the Forces of the Crown. There is no conscription there, but thousands of our young men volunteered. For all these reasons I hope the House will give Northern Ireland the same facilities that they have taken for themselves.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I am glad that you, Sir, called the attention of the House to the main purpose of the Bill, which is the extension of the life of this Parliament by yet another year. I think the Home Secretary has given convincing reasons why a further extension must be regarded as a necessity, though a regrettable necessity, and yet we surely cannot do our duty as representatives, if, in passing the Second Reading of such a Bill, we do not record our feeling that we do it with a sense of reluctance and shame. In the records of our history long Parliaments have been too often bad Parliaments. Their records are not inspiring, and, behind the sense of reluctance that we feel in this respect to prolonging our own life, we must have the thought that it is wrong because we are not fully representative. Some of us were elected under very different conditions many years ago, others have been elected recently, but by a diminished electorate from which were excluded a very large number of people whose voices ought to have been heard. Our only justification is the necessity of the war, the extreme difficulty of holding a fair election now, and the hope that the next Parliament will be a better and more fully representative Parliament than this one has been even from the first. It is that hope that ought to justify us in cordially supporting the Government in passing this Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has expressed his satisfaction at the action of the Government in responding to requests, made on the three previous occasions when a similar Bill was moved for full opportunity to be given for the consideration of fundamental measures of electoral reform. I should like, on behalf of Members of all parties who joined in those requests, to thank the Government for the way in which they have been met. We have been promised something which makes it possible for us to pass the Bill wholeheartedly. A thorough inquiry into our electoral system is to take place in the near future under the highest auspices, and we may hope that, as a result, the Parliament which will succeed this will be more fully representative of the mind and will of the nation than any that we have yet known. If that is the outcome, it will be something that we shall not regret. It will be something that we can be thankful for that in passing this Measure we are opening the door, in view of the Government's promises, to a careful and impartial consideration of these issues in an atmosphere, I hope, of understanding and mutual sympathy such as we have rarely known in our past history, which will help us to understand the point of view of different parties and to see the good in all in a way that we have not done in time of peace. We may hope that as the outcome we shall get an agreed system of electoral reform which will give us a Parliament in the future, fully representative of the mind and will of the nation.

Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)

On this question of the prolongation of this Parliament and the Parliament of Northern Ireland I need only say that the case is absolutely parallel. The representatives of Northern Ireland are elected on exactly the same register as the other Members of this House.

Mr. J. Beattie

That is not correct.

Professor Savory

Registration for the election of Member to this House is exactly the same here as the register over there, and therefore, if you are going to prolong this Parliament, you have no reason whatever for not prolonging the Parliament of Northern Ireland. The conditions are exactly the same. The register is completely out of date and, further, you could not have a fair election, as so many electors are fighting overseas and a very large proportion of the women are over here doing war work. This House would be amazed at the immense proportion of electors in my constituency who are fighting for this country overseas. {Interruption.] I am refering to the constituency of the University of Belfast, which I have the honour to represent, and I repeat that the proportion of the electors who are fighting overseas is extraordinarily high—at least as high as any other University in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. J. Beattie) has made an attack. I thought it was irrelevant but, as he made it, perhaps I shall be allowed, without any bitterness, very calmly to reply to it. He has said that the Government of Northern Ireland is incompetent, largely on account of the fact that there is a very large amount of unemployment. He has given the figure as 20,000. I understood from a recent speech by the Prime Minister in the Parliament of Northern Ireland that the figures were very much less. However, even assuming that the hon. Member's figures are correct, how are they accounted for? You must remember that the Government of Northern Ireland unanimously came here and asked you to extend conscription to that country. That demand was backed up by the whole of the Ulster Members in this Parliament. It was the unanimous resolution of the Ulster Unionist Council of Northern Ireland.

Mr. J. Beattie


Professor Savory

I am telling you the truth. You preferred to allow yourselves to be influenced by the Prime Minister of a neutral country, who suddenly summoned his Parliament in Southern Ireland and issued a threat against introducing conscription in Northern Ireland, a country with which he had nothing whatever to do.

Mr. Speaker

The question of conscription in Northern Ireland seems to be a long way from the subject we are discussing.

Professor Savory

I bow to your Ruling, as I always do, Mr. Speaker. I was only referring to the matter to show that it was one of the reasons for the lack of employment. Had conscription been applied there would have been far less unemployment. Further, the Government of Northern Ireland has been doing its utmost. We have been told here by the Minister of Supply and by the Minister of Labour that the Government of Northern Ireland is doing its very best to get you to establish as many factories as you possibly could in Northern Ireland in order to employ surplus labour there and thanks to the efforts of our present Prime Minister a great deal has been done in that connection. Hon. Members would be surprised if they were to go over there to see the immense amount of work that is being done for the war. Enormous quantities of munitions are being made over there, an enormous number of ships is being built, aetoplane cloth is being made almost exclusively in Northern Ireland and almost the whole of the parachutes. We are providing shirts for your troops and working in every possible way. We are carrying on an immense war effort and are prepared to do a great deal more. A marvellous tribute was paid to us by your Prime Minister on the retirement of our former Prime Minister, Mr. Andrews, when he said that Northern Ireland had placed all her resources at your disposal and that without that this war could not have been won. Very well then. The Government of Northern Ireland has come forward and it has asked you, as it is bound to do, under the Act of 1920, to prolong its Parliament.

Last year, before we had the pleasure of the presence of the hon. Member for West Belfast a charge was made against the Government of Northern Ireland that it was only a one party Government and that we should form a coalition. Since then, of the three Labour Members, we took one into the Government, Mr. Midgley, a very prominent Socialist, a man who had been leader of the Labour Party. With regard to the six Nationalist Members, four of them do not attend—they only took the oath so as to draw their salaries—and I am afraid that if you asked the other two to coalesce with the Government of Northern Ireland they would refuse to do so. In order to have a Coalition Government you have to coalesce with somebody. We have coalesced with a very distinguished Socialist, Mr. Midgley well-known to all Members of the Labour Party and he is working hand in glove at the present moment with the Government of Northern Ireland.

Mr. J. Beattie

He is a Member of the Tory party.

Professor Savory

No, he is a Labour Member. I have spoken to him and he has said again and again, that he has not renounced any of his Socialist opinions but he has -joined with the Government of Northern Ireland in order to carry on the war effort. The hon. Member has said that there should be an election and that we should not prevent the election taking place. Is there anything more certain in this world than that if we did have an election, we should repeat the result of February 1938 and that the existing Government would be returned by an overwhelming majority, as it always has been. We have had election after election and every time the Government has been returned by overwhelming majorities. No one can doubt that the Government of Northern Ireland represents the opinion of the people of Northern Ireland. If there were to be an election the result would be exactly the same as in 1938, but, as I have pointed out, the election would be unfair, because a very large number of the best of the electors would be completely disfranchised owing to the fact that they are fighting for the battle of truth and justice on the Continent of Europe and elsewhere. This little country of Ulster has contributed so much to the victory. It has provided General Montgomery, General Alexander, Sir Alan Brooke, Sir John Dill. That is a list of great names all coming from noble Ulster families, all ready to fight for your cause and it is regrettable that a Member from Ulster should come here to-day and slander his own countrymen. I should like to remind him of that old Ulster proverb "It is an ill bird that bewrays its own nest."