HC Deb 16 April 1973 vol 855 cc154-79

Again considered in Committee.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman

Before I call upon the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) to resume his speech, I wish to keep the Committee up to date about what is going on. I have to inform the Committee that further amendment sheets containing Amendments Nos. 32 to 36 and new Clause 2 have been made available in the Vote Office. Amendment No. 32 is selected for debate. Amendment No. 33 will be discussed with Amendment No. 15 and other amendments. New Clause 2 is not selected. Amendment No. 34 is selected for debate. Amendment No. 35 will be discussed with Amendment No. 25 and other amendments. Amendment No. 36 will be discussed with Amendment No. 15 and other amendments. Mr. Kilfedder.

Mr. Kilfedder

I was just concluding my remarks, Sir Robert. I know that it is almost futile to appeal to the Government to have second thoughts; none the less we from Northern Ireland wish to put our views on record, and we trust that this system of proportional representation will not be repeated in the next election after that held on 28th June.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

I will not delay the Committee for too long, but I cannot allow speeches of the kind we have heard from the hon. Members for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) to pass without comment. The Committee will have noted their attack on proportional representation—

Mr. English

I must make it plain that I started my speech by saying that I was not attacking proportional representation in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) was doing so, but I hope that the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) will not mix us all in one bag, because there is some distinction between myself and the hon. Member for Down, North.

Mr. Johnston

Considering, with all respect, that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West referred to it as an archaic and undemocratic system, I do not think that this can be represented as some sort of encouragement—

Mr. English

STV, not PR.

Mr. Johnston

I want basically to deal with two points. The first is the whole question of whether it is better to have some kind of proportional system rather than no kind of proportional system. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West indicated that he preferred the list system. I shall not engage in argument with him on that issue except to say that, as he well knows, the list system obviates altogether—we have an example in Holland—the possibility of constituency representation. With that system one has a whole area represented, and there is as far as possible a relatively accurate mirror reflection of the party affiliations of the candidates. These are reflected in the returns to Parliament.

I think that the constituency representative system has advantages. I suspect that is primarily the reason for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland choosing STV rather than the list system, allied to the fact that he was trying to act in a relatively short time. I should not try to argue that the list system is to be disparaged, but the experience of Germany indicates that there is a pos- sibility of combining the two systems in an effective way.

What I seek to rebut is the whole approach of the hon. Member for Down, North, who seemed to regard any attempt to have a proportional system of elections as wrong. The hon. Gentleman describes himself as a democrat, but I tend to suspect that he is simply anxious that the kind of electoral system which will ensure the continuance of power of his political party is sustained. Unfortunately, he was fairly short of argument and fairly strong on assertion. I failed to understand the basis of his argument.

Mr. Kilfedder

I believe that proportional representation—and I thought I said this—will make little difference to the political representation in Northern Ireland. I was arguing that I did not want to see an alien system introduced to Northern Ireland when it is repudiated and rejected in the rest of the country. If such a system is introduced in Great Britain I shall welcome it in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Johnston

If the hon. Gentleman's approach is simply based on what may or may not happen in this country, that is hardly a matter of principle. It seems, from what the hon. Gentleman has said, that if it is not done in this country he accepts it, and if it is not done in this country he also accepts it. Surely the hon. Gentleman has an attitude of his own about whether per se it is the right thing.

The hon. Gentleman said that the countries which operate proportional representation are mainly reactionary. That is absolute and utter rubbish. Are the Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Norway and Sweden—reactionary? Is the Netherlands reactionary? Is Belgium reactionary? Is the Federal Republic of Germany reactionary? The hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about.

The hon. Gentleman said that the introduction of STV would be a great blow to democracy. On what does he base that assertion? He alone knows because he alone has access to the mystical wisdom on which he appears to base that view. I saw no evidence to justify that assertion in anything that he said. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to interrupt, and it looks as if he might wish to do so, I shall give way.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am not certain whether I am conscious of the limitations of this debate, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has been to the Free State and has had some contact with their politicians. No doubt he was not impressed by the back benchers on the Fianna Fail side of the House. It will be found that PR has thrown up reactionary representatives in many other countries which have the system. I do not mean that the whole membership of the Eire Government is reactionary. When France had proportional representation there was grave instability—

The First Deputy Chairman (Miss Harvie Anderson)

Order. We cannot digress to this extent.

Mr. Johnston

I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Deputy Chairman, but it is hardly necessary.

I will conclude with two points. First, I believe that the Government are right to try to introduce into Northern Ireland a system which gives the minorities a better chance of representation in the Assembly and of participation in the working of the future Government than they have previously had. That, after all, is what in essence the Bill is about. I would not spend time arguing with the hon. Member for Nottingham, West about the pros and cons of proportional representation systems, but it seems to me extremely important in this context that the Government have consciously reached a conclusion that, in dealing with what is essentially a community under stress, it is better to try to introduce some kind of proportional system than to adhere to the "first past the post" system which we have operated in this country for so long. We are probably the only country in Europe purely to operate that system. France has the double mandate system.

Mr. English


Mr. Johnston

The hon. Gentleman is a fund of knowledge.

What was wrong—and this is fundamental and important—with the 1920s experiment in Northern Ireland with proportional representation was that it was not given sufficient time.

Mr. Orme

It was working too well.

Mr. Johnston

If I remember the figures correctly, in the second election, in 1925, the Unionists lost seven or eight seats not to Nationalists or Republicans but to other, more moderate Unionists. There was clear evidence that the system was working.

Secondly, I hope that the new system will not be a once and for all system for this election but will be given genuinely enough time. I do not think that proportional representation is a panacea any more than anyone else does. Generally, in countries which have operated it for a long time in Europe it is a reflection of the stability of their societies and the way they have got into the custom of operating political compromises—coalitions and so on, things we are not used to in this country. But one cannot expect a system simply to solve overnight stress conditions like those in Northern Ireland. We must give it time, and I hope that the Government will do so.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I want to make a few remarks at this stage about the system of single transferrable vote.

It seems that the Government, as the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) said, have concluded that for the people or Northern Ireland, in order to hear the viewpoints of minorities which hitherto evidently have not been heard in the Northern Ireland Parliament, a system of proportional representation is necessary. They have concluded that this is the way to give the minorities their chance to be heard. If the Government and the Opposition in this House are acting honourably in this matter, they should also extend proportional representation to the election of Members of this House from Northern Ireland. It is just as important to have proper representation from Northern Ireland in this House because in this House many powers which are of the utmost importance to the people of Northern Ireland will be undertaken. This House cannot have it both ways.

Members from Northern Ireland are saying to the Government and the Opposition that if they have concluded that STV is the only way to get proper representation for minorities in the Northern Ireland Assembly, they should go the second mile and say that the 12 Members of this House from Northern Ireland will be elected on the same system. It is an argument from which they cannot get away. But both major parties in this House are on the hook. The larger parties do not want STV in this country. They say "We're not having it." If 12 Members were elected by STV there would eventually be agitation that all Members should be elected under the same system. That would be repugnant to the parties concerned.

10.15 p.m.

We heard from the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) an able exposition of another system. I noticed that the hon. Member for Inverness was not prepared to take him up on it. He said that he would not enter into a debate with the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Salford, West, had pointed out that, although the majority of votes were cast for Fine Gael, that party is not now in government in the South of Ireland. That is a system in which a party can obtain the majority of votes but not be the Government.

There can be arguments on all such systems, but I solemnly warn the Government that the STV system will not make any difference. The old arguments will still be raised, the old fights will still be fought, and on a broad basis there will be the same representation.

When the Northern Ireland Parliament began there was proportional representation. The Nationalists abstained, and, therefore, the Members of that Parliament had to look after the interests of all their constituents. If there were two Unionists from a particular area and the Nationalist abstained from attending, the two Unionists had to do all the work. To force upon the Nationalist people the fact that they must have some representative to whom they could go, there was a return to the British system, and for a long time proportional representation was not mooted in Northern Ireland. It is only in recent years that there has been the agitation for the system.

Mr. Orme

I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's not realising that it is not just the minority that will benefit by STV. His own party, for example, will benefit, because under the single transferable vote system minorities within the majority will be able to obtain adequate representation. Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that?

Rev. Ian Paisley

Yes. I certainly accept that there may be some benefit, but if we are arguing only for our own ends, if we favour the system only for our own selfish interest, wanting to get more people in to our parties, I can only say that that is not the way to look at the matter. We should consider what is better for the people of the whole of Northern Ireland. Whether there is the STV system or the British system as it is exercised in the single-seat constituency, the overall picture will remain the same.

The Committee is attempting to alter what is wanted by the majority in Northern Ireland. The majority wish to remain within the United Kingdom. Every step that has been taken has been an attempt to divide that interest or weaken it. Time will tell. I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet. The hon. Member for Inverness said that there was no change in the basic political philosophies after proportional representation was done away with in the early 1920s. There was still the same number of Unionists, though they may not have been the same brand of Unionists. There was the same number of Republicans or Nationalists, though they may not have been the same brand or have belonged to the same party. But the overall picture was not changed.

Mr. Orme

Does the hon. Gentleman want an assembly dominated by Mr. Faulkner and his party, as in the past, or does he want to see democratic expression? That is what the Opposition are concerned to see—representation, whether on the majority side or on the minority side, of the community as a whole. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating on 28th June. The hon. Gentleman is making many qualifications about what might come out of 28th June. We are saying that it cannot be worse than what went before.

Rev. Ian Paisley

If the only argument that can be put forward by the Opposition Front Bench is that things cannot be worse than they were before, we are wasting our time. We should be looking for something better.

Mr. Orme

It will be better.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Gentleman said that it cannot be any worse.

Mr. Orme

No, it will be better.

Rev. Ian Paisley

That is different but it is not what the hon. Gentleman said. I cannot comment upon what he thought he said or what he meant to say. I can only comment upon what he said, and that is exactly what he said. I do not want to cross swords with the hon. Gentleman. He said that it cannot be any worse. We should be trying to make things better. We shall not change the overall picture in Northern Ireland. It is all right for people to say with great sincerity, "Well, the Government have consciously come to a decision that the way to get the minority represented in the law-making machinery is by STV."

Mr. Orme

In both communities.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Yes, I agree. I am not arguing that point. It is then fair that people should add that it is equally important that this minority, which evidently has not been heard properly, should have an opportunity to be heard in this House. Why not introduce STV for Northern Ireland representatives here? It is a logical step.

Mr. Whitelaw rose

Rev. Ian Paisley

I was giving way to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English).

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Things seem to have become a little confused. To whom was the hon. Gentleman giving way?

Rev. Ian Paisley

I was giving way to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West.

Mr. English

I changed my mind about intervening.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The people of Northern Ireland who are looking on at this point are saying exactly what Captain Craig said. He has been quoted already tonight. It is all right for hon. Members to say that that is in the past. We were hearing about Lloyd George earlier from the Liberal benches. That was quite acceptable. It seems that we are imposing on Northern Ireland a system which we do not want in the rest of the United Kingdom. I am simply saying that if we are to be sincere and logical we must go the rest of the way—I leave out the Liberal Party here—and have proportional representation for the 12 seats in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Whitelaw

I will begin by dealing with the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) because it is leading the discussion. He argued from his considerable knowledge of these matters in favour of the list system and against STV. He asked me how it came about that STV had been chosen. The answer is that this was the system which many of the parties and organisations in Northern Ireland which spoke to me about this matter and submitted papers on it put forward as being the one they thought best.

We had someone in my office working on the list system. A great deal of work was carried out in considering the list system on the one hand and the STV system on the other. I must admit that at one time I was convinced that the list system was the better of the two. After careful consideration of both systems and listening to the arguments one way and the other—they are narrowly balanced—I came to the conclusion, with my colleagues, that it was right to go for STV, which was the system favoured by those who had spoken to me. Therefore, I can give the assurance that the work has been done and that there is no reason for not changing if at a suitable time it is thought right that such a change should be made.

The question why proportional representation has been chosen was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Provision for proportional representation was made in the 1920 Act and was abandoned. Proportional representation as a method of election in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland has been advocated by several of the parties and by many of the organisations and bodies which have made representations to me in the past year. It is fair to point out that when it was in government the Ulster Unionist Party said that it would consider the system on its merits, although it was not committed to it. Nevertheless, the STV system had been used in Northern Ireland. It was used for election to the Senate at Stormont. Therefore, there were arguments in its favour.

My hon. Friend the Member for Down, North—my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North made a similar point— said that this system had been introduced because it was the system in the South and that it was a step to a united Ireland or that it had been introduced to please the Government of the Republic. I repudiate that suggestion, for the simple reason that I genuinely believe it to be extremely unfair to Her Majesty's Government. It would be unfair to suggest that this could have been in our minds. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North said that every step taken—

Rev. Ian Paisley rose

Mr. Whitelaw

If I may be allowed to continue, I shall give way in a moment. My hon. Friend said that every step taken had been a step towards a united Ireland. I must repudiate that. There were many critics in this Chamber of the border poll, but no one could say that the border poll was a step towards a united Ireland. When my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North says that every step taken has been a step towards a united Ireland, I hope he will concede that a Government taking such a step would not have had the border poll.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Secretary of State would not want deliberately to misconstrue what I said or put into my mouth words which I did not speak. I never mentioned Southern Ireland tonight or said that the Southern Ireland people had forced this step on the Government. Perhaps the Secretary of State will read HANSARD. Other speakers said that. Nor did I say that every step taken had been a step towards a united Ireland. Those words were used by my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). I should like the Secretary of State to get this matter absolutely clear. I shall defend what I have said, but I shall not try to defend things which I have not said.

Mr. Whitelaw

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct, and if I have in any way misrepresented what he said I unreservedly withdraw and apologise. But I must ask him to read HANSARD in the morning. I am often mistaken, and I should not be surprised if I was mistaken again, but I took down the words that "every step taken by the Government had been a step towards a united Ireland". I thought that they were his words, If I am wrong, I am wrong.

However, if I am repudiating the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North, I am entitled to do so. It is not fair to Her Majesty's Government to impute motives which clearly we do not possess and which arouse unfair and unnecessary fears in people's minds. It is unreasonable and wrong to do so.

Like others, I do not know whether the system we propose will produce better answers. No one can be certain until the system is tried. But I believe from the representations made to me that it is worth trying and that the many people who think it will help in the circumstances of Northern Ireland may well be right. At least we should see whether they are.

The arguments of the hon. Member for Antrim, North go far wider than the Bill, which is concerned only with the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. He will have other opportunities to put forward his arguments about elections to this House should he wish to do so.

I hope that, on the assurances I have given about consideration of the list system as opposed to STV, the hon. Member for Nottingham, West will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. English

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It seems that he adopted proportional representation not because the Southern Irish had it but because representations were made to him that the Southern Irish had it. This will not be the first time that an archaic piece of history has been imported into the contemporary Irish scene.

I, like the right hon. Gentleman, hope that the system will work, although I fear the worst from it. In these circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.30 p.m.

Captain Orr

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 13, leave out from 'on' to the end of line 15, and insert— on July 2nd 1973 at Parliament Buildings, Stormont". I had to draft this amendment before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the date of the election. My purpose is not to be arbitrary about when the Assembly should meet, but I do not think it right to leave the decision on when and where the Assembly should meet solely to the arbitrary judgment of the Secretary of State. Hypothetically, we might hold elections to the Assembly and the Secretary of State might decide that the Assembly should not meet at all or that it should be downgraded by meeting in some extraordinary place. The purpose of the amendment is not to bind the Secretary of State but to discover his intentions. In an exchange on Second Reading, he said that in Committee he might tell us something about it. Perhaps he may find the amendment a useful peg on which to hang his remarks.

Mr. Orme

Knowing the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) as I do, I am sure that he is not being mischievous with this amendment. The Opposition think it would be unfortunate if Stormont were connected with the new Assembly. That is not a criticism of what has happened in the past. A fresh start is being made with this election, and the Assembly will not be a Parliament but an Assembly with power-sharing and many other functions. It will perhaps be more powerful than was Stormont.

Captain Orr

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the new Assembly should not meet in the Parliament buildings at Stormont?

Mr. Orme

I did not say that. This is a serious question, and I am not sure whether or not it should meet there. We do not want to impose on the new system the attitudes of the past. We look forward to the future of the people of Northern Ireland whom this new Assembly will represent. We do not want any commitment in this respect, but I would ask the Secretary of State to take into account the historical situation and also to look to the future. Whatever the new building may be called, we hope it will not be called Stormont, because as a consequence it will carry with it connotations of the past that we want to be rid of. This is not put forward in any sense of wishing to be against the majority or the minority, but it affects the future of this new elected Assembly. I think that should be said from the Opposition Front Bench tonight.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I am surprised that in Committee on this Bill the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) should make such a reactionary statement. I would remind him that Stormont is a district of Belfast. From the way the hon. Gentleman spoke, one would think that Stormont was the holy of holies of the Unionist Party. It is a district of Belfast in which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who never agreed with the Government, have spent many days working for and helping their constituents— and still do.

Members of the Northern Ireland Labour Party are closely identified with the Labour Party represented tonight by the hon. Member for Salford, West. Vivian Simpson, a hard-working member of the old Stormont, has an office in Stormont and carries out his constituency work from that office. If we are to send out from this Committee the message that if the Assembly meets in the old Parliament buildings that will cause a reaction among certain elements of the people, that would be pandering to the lowest wishes of a section of the community.

It is like saying that the Secretary of State should not run his business from Stormont Castle, or that he should not operate from the same Cabinet room as did a former Prime Minister because that former Prime Minister is repugnant to a large section of the community, and that the Secretary of State should set up an establishment somewhere else. That would be an absolutely ridiculous suggestion. To say that never for all time will a policy-making body operate from that building in Northern Ireland is a reactionary and foolish attitude. If we are to get over the past we need to take the past by the horns and say that we should meet in that building and that it will be a different type of Assembly.

I remind the Committee that originally the castle was known as Stormont Castle, and from that castle came the name "Stormont". It was this House of Commons that built the Parliament building and that gifted it to the people of Northern Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Gifted it?"] Yes, gifted it to them. No better Parliament could decide that the new Assembly should use that gift, given by this House, to the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. McNamara

We should bear in mind the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), which was not quite in the strain of argument that was picked up by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). The Stormont Parliament is a very beautiful building. It is stately, it sits on top of a hill, and it is approached by a most beautiful processional drive. It is in lovely grounds. It stands there looking majestic, apart, separate, and away from the people.

That, in fact, is my main criticism of the situation of the Stormont building. There are no pubs just across the road from it. There are no dining rooms. There are no Government offices. There are no places where ordinary people come and go to and from to make it part and parcel of and central to a thriving city, town or community.

That is my criticism of the use of Stormont Castle. It is on a hill, separate and remote.

Mr. Pounder

I think the spirit of the amendment is abundantly obvious. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) does not want a long period to elapse after the new Assembly election before the new Assembly meets and gets down to the work that will face it. His reference to "a suitable place" for such meetings struck me as being non-controversial and entirely feasible. We have a Parliament building. For goodness sake let us use it. It is the right size and shape. It has the right offices.

I thought that the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) was being fairly light-hearted in his intervention. However, from a sedentary position and with no sense of humour, the hon. Mem- ber for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) injected a serious note into the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

We have spent the past hours trying to build up a spirit and message of hope for democratic institutions for the people of Northern Ireland. Now we appear to have got ourselves bogged down discussing a trivial matter like where the Assembly should meet. This is probably the most dispiriting and discouraging five minutes that we have experienced all day. I am appalled and horrified that the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South should evoke the feeling that has been expressed from the Opposition benches. It is a grim token for the future if that is the spirit which prevails.

Mr. McMaster

Stormont is in my constituency. I resent very much the remarks of the hon. Members for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) and Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). The implication is that they have swallowed hook, line and sinker all the Republican propaganda which has been poured out in Northern Ireland. They say that they want to dissociate themselves from the past. To say that is to imply that there was something wrong with Stormont. How they can do that when a bomb exploded today in High Street in the centre of Belfast and when the IRA goes on bombing, I cannot understand. They imply that our present troubles were caused by some fault in Stormont when, clearly, there is a group of Republican killers at work in Northern Ireland who are encouraged by speeches like those of the hon. Members into thinking that their propaganda is being accepted by this House. It is totally wrong. I resent all the remarks and implications from the Opposition benches. The sooner we in this House face reality, the better it will be for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Fitt

I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) about the geographical location of Stormont. I have listened attentively to what has been said by my hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). But the hon. Member for Antrim, North and anyone else who represents a Nor- them Ireland constituency in this House must recognise that Stormont is more than a geographical location. It may be that it is situated at the top of Newtownards Road. It may be that it has all the trimmings referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull (Mr. McNamara). But in political terms we are talking about the death of the old Stormont, about the death of one-party government in Northern Ireland and about the death of the arrogant Unionism that we knew in Northern Ireland from 1920 until the imposition of direct rule. It is more than a geographical location.

10.45 p.m.

There are many facets on which I would agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, North. The real politics of what should be happening in Northern Ireland, the battles between Right and Left, between capitalism and Socialism, have never been allowed to take place under the old system of Unionism as we have known it.

Stormont is more than a geographical location. The hon. Member for Antrim, North knows it even better than I do. It was a system which operated just as much against him as against myself. The people in control of Stormont were the hierarchy of the Unionist Party. They did everything they could, within the confines of the geographical location of a particular parliamentary building, to prevent both the hon. Gentleman and myself from being elected to such an Assembly.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North recognises that it is more than a house on the top of a hill at the end of the Newtownards Road. He must know that to the minority in Northern Ireland Stormont was a symbol of oppression. Stormont was the House of Commons in Northern Ireland which promulgated the Special Powers Acts, the Public Order Acts, and all the oppressive and regressive legislation against the minority in Northern Ireland.

This debate is concerned with trying to bring into Northern Ireland politics not one-party government, but some form of community government in which the whole community in Northern Ireland can participate.

It was not only the minority population, the Catholic, the Republican population, which was oppressed by the Unionist Government at Stormont. The hon. Member for Antrim, North suffered the rigours of imprisonment because he did not fall into line with the edicts which were being promulgated by the Unionist Government.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman one question. Tomorrow there will be a Bill before the House which in many ways is a re-enactment of the Bill—

The Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not in order.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I will put the question another way. Because the House of Commons has passed Acts repugnant to the people the hon. Gentleman represents, may I ask whether he suggests that we should no longer meet in this place?

Mr. Fitt

I understand and sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman has said. Should we allow ourselves to fall into the position whether we agree with the traditions of the House of Commons or of Stormont? After all, we are living in a different age; we are living in a changing society. The result is that Members are elected by their constituents to demand or to request change.

I am not over-enamoured of the geographical location of this building or its architectural merit. I am here to represent West Belfast, and I do not give two damns whether there are statues surrounding the House. I am here to voice the sentiments of my constituents. The hon. Member for Antrim, North is here to do that, and he does it eloquently. I am certain that the hon. Gentleman is not concerned about the geographical location of this House. All that he wants to do is to echo the sentiments of his constituents, just as I am trying to put forward the views of those whom I represent.

As was said on Second Reading, Stormont has serious connotations. I am now 47 years old, but I remember that when I was 16 or 17 Stormont was a place to which people like myself did not go, There was thought to be a bogyman at the place. Anyone who was a member of the minority group was scared out of his bed on hearing the word "Stormont". I eventually went to Stormont to try to change it, and I was not the only one to make that attempt. The hon. Member for Antrim, North, in his representation of Bannside, also tried to change it. I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West. The word "Stormont" has serious connotations for the Republican Catholic minority in Northern Ireland.

I am not speaking for the men of violence, for the gunmen and for the people who cause explosions. My record in the House takes me away from that type of representation. That must be clear to everyone. But I should not let anyone on either the Government or the Opposition benches try to cast aspersions on the sentiments which have been put forward by my hon. Friend.

There is the serious problem of where the new Parliament is to be situated. We regard this Chamber as having two sides to it—the Government and the Opposition. At the moment we are operating under a capitalist system with which I am in complete disagreement. We have a Socialist Opposition. I have sat on both sides of the House, and I hope very soon to be sitting on the benches opposite when the Labour Government are back in power, and, according to some, it will not be long before that happens.

But what will happen when the new Assembly is created on 28th June? I understand that if all the Members of the House of Commons were present at any given time there would not be enough room on the benches in the Chamber for them and they would have to sit in the Galleries. A similar problem exists in Stormont, though on a smaller scale. What type of Assembly are we to have? I pose the question to the House and particularly to the hon. Member for Antrim, North.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman shares many of my sentiments. He wants to represent his constituents. He is not particularly looking for office or for personal aggrandisement. Stormont has a single Chamber, as we have here, but if the election of 28th June proves to be what the Secretary of State wants it to be, who will sit where?

We can never have normal politics in Northern Ireland or in any other country, particularly in Europe, unless we have a viable Opposition, an alternative Government. We shall see the results of what the Secretary of State is proposing on 28th June. What type of Chamber shall we have. Where will those opposed to the Executive sit? Shall we have normal politics, as we have in this part of the United Kingdom? Will there be a Labour Opposition to a Conservative Government, or Conservatives opposed to the coalition parties in Northern Ireland?

All the arguments adduced by the hon. Member for Antrim, North fall to the ground because we are now seeking an election on 28th June to determine the attitude of the people of Northern Ireland.

That will not be the end of the Secretary of State's problems. It will be only the beginning.

Mr. Whitelaw

The last remark of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was no doubt the understatement of the year. He will appreciate that. I have no illusions about the period after 28th June. I do not think that anyone else has, either.

Perhaps I should address myself to what I think was the main point of the amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). That was the seeking of clarification about the position after 28th June. I sought to answer him during my speech on Second Reading when I said that it would obviously be wrong that the new Assembly should meet so long as the present Northern Ireland Parliament was in existence although prorogued. That Parliament remains in existence and prorogued until the constitutional Bill has passed through all its stages in Parliament, not only through the House of Commons but through Parliament, and has become an Act. Therefore, I do not believe that it would be possible for the new Assembly to meet until the constitutional Bill becomes an Act.

Thereafter, it would be right for the Secretary of State to have close consultations with the leaders of all the parties, as soon as the constitutional Bill had become an Act, as to what would be the most appropriate time for the Assembly to meet, I do not think that there will be any difficulty about this. I see no difficulty in the timing. Bearing in mind the time of the year, it is important that as soon as practicable after the constitutional Bill becomes an Act the Assembly should meet. That is the important point. I accept what my hon. and gallant Friend says.

Captain Orr

Would it be my right hon. Friend's wish—to go no further— that the constitutional Bill should become law before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would certainly be not only my wish but my most earnest desire. But in that I am in the hands of the House of Commons and of another place. That is for them to decide and not for me. But I earnestly desire that that should be so. It would be most desirable.

As to the other part of my hon. and gallant Friend's amendment, I hope that it will be possible for us not to get involved in great mystical discussions about buildings in Northern Ireland. We have to be absolutely pragmatic about the whole position. We have to realise that the facts on the ground and all the considerations which have to come into effect as to where a Parliament is likely to meet, where it could meet if it did not meet there and all sorts of implications, could not possibly be put into an Act of Parliament.

Perhaps I should say to the hon. Member for Belfast, West, that, after the election, if the Assembly, in its wisdom, wanted to change around its chamber so that it had a circular chamber, or in any other way, it would be possible for the Assembly to decide that it wished to do so. There would be no difficulty in doing that if that were the wish of the Assembly.

We made it perfectly clear in the White Paper that it would be for the Assembly, as far as possible, to work out its own system and method of working. Surely that is the sensible way of proceeding.

Apart from that, the main assurance that I want to give to my hon. and gallant Friend is that the new Assembly should meet as soon as is practicable after the constitutional Bill becomes an Act. I would wish to have consultations with the leaders of parties as to when this point should be.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Orme

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that, in consultation with him, the leaders of the parties will make recommendations to him as to where the new Assembly may meet, and that he will take into consideration their recommendations? In other words, is there nothing fixed about where the new Assembly will meet?

Mr. Whitelaw

Practical considerations inevitably arise. It is incumbent upon those who suggest that the Assembly should meet anywhere else than where it meets at present to produce somewhere where it can conceivably meet. As for its name, hon. Members will know from their experience of life that once something is given a name, whatever else it may be thought fit to call it and whatever may be the reasons for doing so, it will always be called the same thing.

Captain Orr

In the light of what my right hon. Friend has said—I concede that he has largely met what I wanted about the date and about the building in which the Assembly might meet—I think he has met the purpose of the amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Captain Orr

I beg to move Amendment No. 32, in page 1, leave out lines 19 to 21.

I have found some difficulty in getting an amendment on the Order Paper which meets precisely what I want to do about the financial provisions. I wanted to draft an amendment to provide that the Members of the new Assembly should be paid an expenses allowance based upon attendance. Apparently, it is out of order to do that as it comes within the bounds of the financial resolution which we passed on Second Reading. Therefore, I have had to produce this amendment, which deletes the requirement for a salary.

The Assembly is a body without power. It will have power only as a result of devolution, and the devolution principles may or may not be embodied in the constitutional Bill. It seems wrong that we should pay large salaries to the Members of the new Assembly when we do not yet know what will be the extent of its powers. It would be proper to leave the consideration of salaries to a time when the powers devolved upon the new Assembly have been made clear.

There are great dangers in paying high salaries to an assembly which is elected before its powers are known. To do that is to build in an incentive to remain sitting. To put the matter crudely, it is a form of corruption to which we should not be a party. When the Members of the new Assembly do a proper job that requires a lot of time and entails a great deal of responsibility, they should be paid.

In the meantime, I would like my hon. Friend to tell us what is in the Government's mind. Why has this proposed scale of salary been chosen and set before the powers have been determined? On what basis was the amount fixed? How long is it intended that this salary shall be paid? What, if any, provision is to be made for review of the salary? Will the Assembly eventually have power over the salaries of its members as the old Stormont did? There are many things we would like to know. Meanwhile, my view is that the Members of the Assembly should be paid simply their expenses and should not get any more until some decision has been taken about the extent of their powers.

Mr. Molyneaux

It has been alleged that the Assembly will be like a glorified county council. As a member of Antrim County Council, which I regard as the best in Northern Ireland, if not in the United Kingdom, I remind the House that a county council has the right and privilege to elect its own chairman and vice-chairman, and that its committees have the right and the privilege to elect their own chairmen and vice-chairmen. That right and privilege is being denied to the Members of the Assembly. Members of county councils are entrusted with this power and scope but receive no payment. Bearing that in mind, it is illogical to suggest that the Members of the Assembly should be paid what is a relatively high salary in comparison with that paid to Members of this House considering the amount of work they will be asked to do.

It is certainly wrong that Members of the Assembly should be paid a salary in the initial stages before they and others have decided exactly what their rôle and functions are to be. To put it in the refined and polite terms used by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), it is undesirable to offer this kind of incentive. I think that it will hamper and inhibit the Members of the Assembly in the decisions they will be called upon to make concerning their structure and functions. A reasonably generous expense allowance would be sufficient until such time as we saw what the structure was to be.

Mr. Peter Mills

I find this an interesting debate because I am a little concerned about the way my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has criticised what we are trying to do. If the amendment were carried, there would be no salary at all, which would be unfortunate. By the very nature of the Assembly, surely a salary is appropriate. Surely my hon. and gallant Friend agrees that if there is to be an Assembly its Members should be paid an appropriate salary. The Government feel very strongly that they should be.

The comparison ought really to be between the Assembly and the United Kingdom Parliament and not with local government. One cannot have it both ways. If one wants this to be an important and responsible Assembly, one has to give its Members a fair salary. My hon. and gallant Friend suggests expenses only. That, again, would hardly be fair. I believe that it is right in all the circumstances to ensure that suitable people are not prevented from standing by lack of reasonable payment.

This is an important point, and I hope that on reflection my hon. and gallant Friend will seek to withdraw the amendment. We believe that it is important that the Members have a salary appropriate to their important job in the new Assembly.

Captain Orr

I find my hon. Friend's argument very unconvincing. He has rested his case upon the statement that the Assembly will have considerable responsibility. He likened it more to this House than to local government. But to begin with, in my view, it will not have the kind of powers devolved upon it that are envisaged in the White Paper. I do not believe that it will ever have those powers. It will never be more than a local government. Therefore, the comparison with local government is appropriate.

I should like to help my hon. Friend by withdrawing the amendment, but I do not think I should. We should mark our concern about the future and our lack of confidence in the kind of job that will be done, and I must advise my hon. Friends to divide on the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made: —

The Committee proceeded to a Division; but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Ayes, The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN declared that the Noes had it.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

  1. Clause 2 8,238 words, 2 divisions
  2. cc202-23
  3. Clause 3 8,006 words
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