HC Deb 06 May 1965 vol 711 cc1560-2
Q5. Mr. Hamling

asked the Prime Minister if he will take steps to amend the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1949, with respect to the representation of Northern Ireland in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The Government have no such plans.

Mr. Hamling

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that his remarks in his recent speech excited some expectation on these benches that we might have some reform of the abuses of the constitution in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

I cannot find any record in any speech I have made that would have given rise to those particular expectations. I am quite certain that any changes at any time in our constitution are matters which would duly have to be put before the electorate, and then to some future Parliament. We have certainly no such plans on this. I am sure the House will agree that there is an apparent lack of logic, for example, about steel, when Northern Ireland can, and presumably will, swell the Tory ranks tonight, when we have no power to vote on questions about steel in Northern Ireland, as the Bill cannot extend to Northern Ireland because of the fact that the Stormont Parliament has concurrent jurisdiction in these matters.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Does the Prime Minister recall that on 28th October, 1948, Mr. Attlee gave a pledge to the House on behalf of the Government that no change would be made in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without Northern Ireland's free argreement? Will he confirm that he supports that pledge in regard to these arrangements?

The Prime Minister

I was certainly a member of the Cabinet that made that pledge. I stand by that pledge. The right hon. Gentleman might start, on matters of taste, to look at the question of why he gets the support of his hon. Friends beside him—for example, on matters affecting housing discrimination in London—when we English, Scottish and Welsh Members cannot express our views about housing conditions in Belfast.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Would the Prime Minister answer my question? What I asked was whether, on behalf of his party, he supports the pledge given by Mr. Attlee, as he then was, when he was Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman was obviously so deafened by the concourse of candidates round him that he did not hear the answer I gave. He will find it in HANSARD tomorrow, but, just to help him, in case they do not give him HANSARD to read, I will say it again, and perhaps he will listen this time. [Interruption.] I will give the answer again, if hon. Members want to hear it a second time. I said that I was a member of the Government that gave that pledge, and I said that I accepted that pledge on behalf of the Government. I said that last time. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman gets up and wastes time asking for a repetition.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many on this side of the House, and many whom we represent outside the House, who are of the opinion that, as Ulster has an autonomous and separate Parliament, there is no reason why it should send representatives here?

The Prime Minister

I have already drawn attention to the anomalous situation. The House has no jurisdiction over large matters, including two Measures coming before the House this week, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. I would hope that Northern Ireland Members, who are here, and who are welcomed here, for the duties they have to perform on behalf of the United Kingdom in many matters affecting Northern Ireland, would consider their position in matters where we have no equivalent right in Northern Ireland.

Captain Orr

Would the Prime Minister at least repudiate the suggestion made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that a people who are taxed at the same level as anybody else in the United Kingdom should not have the right to send representatives to this House and deal with all matters which affect public expenditure? Is it not in fact now the case that, since the electorate has risen in Northern Ireland so very largely since 1920, there is a very good ease for three or four more Members—[Interruption.]

The Prime Minister

The hon. and gallant Gentleman and his hon. Friends are rather making the case against that sort of extension. It is certainly the case that Northern Ireland Members have great duties to perform here in the sense of foreign affairs, defence, and matters affecting Northern Ireland, including taxation and expenditure. What was not envisaged, I am sure, in 1920 was that those who came here with that responsibility for representing Northern Ireland interests should just become hacks supporting the English Tory Party.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I was calling the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, but there was too much noise to allow me to complete what I was saying—"for the Business Question."

Mr. McMaster

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the replies from the Prime Minister, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.