HC Deb 21 June 1973 vol 858 cc911-43

(1) Section 19 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 is hereby repealed.

(2) The representation of Northern Ireland in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be not less than 16 members.—[Captain Orr.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.30 p.m.

Captain Orr

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

For the benefit of those not familiar with Section 19 of the Government of Ireland Act I can explain that it was the section which laid down a maximum for the number of Members to represent both Southern and Northern Ireland. It is the section which still governs representation in this House. It laid down that: Unless and until the Parliament of the United Kingdom otherwise determine, the following provisions shall have effect:— (a) After the appointed day the number of members to be returned by constituencies in Ireland to serve in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be forty-six, and the constituencies returning those members shall …be the constituencies named in the Fifth Schedule". That Act was a considerable piece of devolution. It set up in Ireland a lord-lieutenant and two Parliaments with considerable powers. It gave those Parlia- ments considerable powers over taxation, powers which steadily diminished over the years as the development of taxation took place in the rest of the kingdom. None the less, there was a considerable degree of devolution, and as a quid pro quo for that it was thought that both parts of Ireland should have a considerably diminished representation in this House. The number laid down as a maximum in Northern Ireland then was 13. Since the abolition of the university seat that was reduced to 12. The question now facing us is whether or not what is being done in this Act, which to a considerable degree replaces the 1920 Act, is justified. Can there be any conceivable justification in equity, fairness and on any kind of logic that this diminution in the representation of the Northern Ireland electorate in this House shall be continued? I cannot for the life of me see that there is any justification for it.

Let us take the simple position of taxation. It was this House which down the centuries fought for the principle of no taxation without representation. Indeed, one can scarcely think of any justification for taxation of any part of the kingdom without proper and fair representation. If Northern Ireland were in a different position on taxation, even to a comparatively minor degree, there might be an argument. But under the Bill there is no difference in the application of taxation. The people of Northern Ireland are taxed in exactly the same way as the people in the rest of the kingdom. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer compiles his Budget and when the Finance Bill goes through the House they apply to my constituents in exactly the same way and according to exactly the same principles as to the constituents of other hon. Members. On the ground of taxation alone there is no argument for Northern Ireland being under-represented in this House.

It is being argued that the degree of devolution of power is a reason for a diminution of the number of Members and for putting the electors in Northern Ireland at a disadvantage with their fellows? I do not see how that argument can be sustained in the light of this Bill. We are not doing the same kind of thing as was done in 1920. There is a considerable difference. Then we set up a Government of Northern Ireland, a Governor of Northern Ireland, a Prime Minister and a Cabinet of Northern Ireland and a Privy Council of Northern Ireland. We devolved upon that Parliament at the end of three years very considerable powers. Under this Bill we are not proposing to devolve anything like the same sort of power.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) described this measure as a move towards integration, and he is right in that. There is to be no Governor of Northern Ireland, as we said in our debate on the subject yesterday. There is to be no Government of Northern Ireland in the ordinary sense. Considerably more powers are excepted matters now that were reserved matters under the 1920 Act. Even those matters which it is envisaged shall be transferred do not include all the other matters which we shall talk about on the amendments to the schedule.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State holds a totally different position from anything that was set out in the 1920 Act. He is for the present, and for the foreseeable future will be, the man who rules Northern Ireland. He is responsible to this House. It seems to me an extraordinary proposition that while my right hon. Friend, the head of the Executive, is concerned with matters of prime interest to Northern Ireland, the Province is deprived of full representation in this House. I can see no argument in any kind of equity, justice, or ordinary British principles of fair representation that could conceivably justify such a position.

I sought to put an amendment down earlier which would have left to the boundary commission the decision on how many Members Northern Ireland should have in this House. For a reason which I did not understand, it was out of order. I would have preferred that it had been left to an impartial body like the boundary commission to decide on the basis of either Scotland or the United Kingdom as a whole, or even on the basis of England—which would have produced the smallest representation—what would be a fair representation of Northern Ireland in this House.

I produced figures on Second Reading. Taking the English average, I work out that we should have four more Members in this House. I suggest in the clause that the representation here should be not fewer than 16. That is a rough and ready figure. I would much have preferred, had it been in order, or had it been possible to draft a complicated means of doing it, to see the decision on the numbers made by the boundary commission.

I return to the simple proposition that, for a part of this kingdom to which taxation applies in exactly the same way as any other part, and on which there is being devolved no particular degree of devolution, there is no possible justification, upon any principle of fairness or equity, for keeping Northern Ireland under-represented in this House.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I wish to support the powerful case which has been made for the clause by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). It would have been an absurdity if when we were enacting a new constitution for Northern Ireland—one which largely sweeps away all that has been in the past since the 1920 Act and earlier—this House had not devoted its attention to the manner in which our fellow citizens in the six counties of Northern Ireland are represented.

The question of a relationship between what, in olden days, used to be called Home Rule, and representation in the House of Commons has a long history. Many and many a summer at Hawarden did Mr. Gladstone ponder upon the theological problems of whether, given Home Rule, representation in this House should cease altogther or whether it should be diminished, and, if so, on what principle it should be diminished.

As often happens, the result, with which we have lived for more than 50 years, in the 1920 Act, was a compromise for which no fully satisfactory logical explanation could be given. It was a compromise which resulted in the few hon. Members representing Northern Ireland seats voting in this House upon matters which, in their own constituencies, were decided in another assembly. It was an anomaly which there is no means of justifying except by the process of history and by the fact that it had been desired upon balance at a past point of time to retain, in the form of representation, a link between the Province of Ulster and the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

5.45 p.m.

But I believe we have now come to a point when we can put those problems, traditions and anomalies behind us, because one thing is perfectly clear upon the face of the Bill and of the concept which is involved, and that is that, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, the House and the Government of the United Kingdom are asserting decisively in the Bill that they will be the Government of Northern Ireland, that, although there will be a provincial Assembly and a provincial Executive, and though it is hoped that in course of time a substantial devolution to that Assembly and that Executive might take place, still it is the determination of the Government here and of this House that it shall be through our will and our policy—as indeed it is through the Army of the United Kingdom that for the past four years a semblance of law and order has been maintained in Northern Ireland—that Northern Ireland shall be governed and administered.

It is, therefore, as clause after clause spells out, a form of government in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to be the master. The House has agreed to that. It has agreed to that in principle in the White Paper. It has agreed to that in clause after clause of the Bill, where the very being, the very coming into existence and the continued operation, both of the Executive and of the Assembly are dependent on the judgment of my right hon. Friend. When he answered amendment after amendment last night, my right hon. Friend appealed to the House on the ground that in the last resort he would be answerable.

Even on a small matter—a question of what should be done by Order in Council—my right hon. Friend, entirely reasonably, said that there may be powers in the Bill for such-and-such to be done by Order in Council, but in the end it will be the House which says what it will accept and what it will not accept. So I do not think there can be any dispute that, warmly though we might wish to see the Assembly and the Executive functioning, though we might wish to see their scope expand from the minimum with which they will begin, there is a decisive difference between this constitution and anything which has been enacted before since the earliest of the home rule legislation for Ireland and for Northern Ireland.

From that, it seems to me to follow ineluctably that, not formally as in the past—because formally in the past this House had legislative responsibility, and, therefore, as the initiator of legislation in this House, Her Majesty's Government had executive supremacy in Northern Ireland—but practically, the Secretary of State and the House are to govern Northern Ireland and to legislate for it. Therefore, our fellow citizens in that part of the country which is most affected should be fully represented in this House, where the Government will be called to account, where their actions will be debated, and where the key legislation, whether it be subordinate or primary legislation, will be passed, as it is being debated today.

In the past 15 or 16 months since the Stormont Parliament was prorogued and the emergency régime was brought into force, some of us have from time to time drawn attention to the anomaly that we were here debating and legislating for Northern Ireland when Northern Ireland was the one part of the kingdom which, having no representation then at home, had an inadequate representation in this Chamber. Quite properly, hon. Members representing English constituencies have pointed out the anomaly—and it is an anomaly in which we are involved at this moment—that a House in which Northern Ireland is underrepresented is enacting the new constitution for Northern Ireland. I believe that it would be a constitutional monstrosity that this should be allowed to continue. The very principles on which this House has lived and grown demand that now, in this new dispensation, there should be full—I will come to the meaning of that word in a moment—representation of Northern Ireland along with the rest of the kingdom.

The House, not unnaturally, has always taken a generous view towards the question of representation, and a particularly generous view towards the representation of those who in any respect can be regarded as a minority. Of course, it is a common joke of the Englishman and of those who represent English constituencies that there are preferences for everybody except the English. Nevertheless, it is an unmistakable principle—I think that the national sense of the United Kingdom is not unconnected with it—that the largest part of this kingdom has deliberately conceded to the other parts a higher and not a lower level of representation.

Whether it be because they are regarded in some sense as peripheral, whether it be because in the outer parts of the kingdom, in Wales and Scotland, distances are relatively great in relation to population, whatever may be the precise ground on which we choose to defend it, the fact is that for many decades—indeed, for centuries—so far from Parliament's under-representing the parts of the kingdom which could be regarded as having minority interests, it has been the policy of Parliament that if in doubt they should be over-represented.

Therefore, I believe that my hon. and gallant Friend has been deliberately leaning over backwards to put the case at its minimum. In my view, the natural case is for higher representation of Northern Ireland than that which he proposes. Representation on a higher scale would be consonant with our past practice and with the representation of other parts of the country.

But there is another reason, of a quite different character, why I believe that we should not merely take this step now but should take it generously. The reason why we are here debating the Bill today is not that for some theoretical reasons the form of government in Northern Ireland before 1973 seemed to our wisdom unsatisfactory, and that, therefore, in an access of perfectionism, we decided to introduce a new constitution. It is that the breakdown in Northern Ireland of that protection to which all our fellow citizens are entitled forced upon the attention of the House the affairs of the six counties of Northern Ireland. It was not because we chose to do it but because we found ourselves driven to concern ourselves in this House, as we have not done for more than 50 years, with Northern Ireland. It was because we were conscious that within our responsibility men, women and children were suffering and dying.

It is not unnatural that Parliament should have a great belief in parliamentary representation and that the House of Commons, above all, should have a great belief in the power of representation in the House of Commons. It seems that for this House, at a moment when our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland are living in circumstances almost unimaginable to the rest of their fellow citizens in the United Kingdom, to extend to them full representation would not merely be an evidence—and the most potent which we could give—of our concern but would be an act which in itself would help to bring reassurance.

I am not arguing at this moment that to do so would be a means of binding Northern Ireland more permanently and more closely to the rest of the United Kingdom. That could be argued, but it is not the argument which I am making. The argument which I am putting forward is one which I believe should be equally acceptable to anyone who believed that the participation of Ulster in the United Kingdom was a temporary and transitional phenomenom. I believe that such a person, provided that he was imbued at all with the principle of parliamentary and democratic representation, would be impressed by the case for full and fair representation under this constitution in this Parliament.

The argument is used—and I dare say that my right hon. Friend will use it again—that it we were now to extend Northern Ireland representation that would become a barrier to the increase of devolution—that the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly might aspire to regain—although it would be, I must confess, contrary to the spirit of this legislation if it did so—the amplitude and the authority of the former Stormont Parliament and administration. We would then at some indeterminate point of time be faced with the necessity of retrenching again. Alternatively, the fact of full representation could be used as an argument against further devolution.

I do not think that either aspect of that argument can be taken seriously. I should like to hear an hon. Member, if my right hon. Friend came forward with an order to transfer one, two or three more subjects to the administration in Northern Ireland, opposing such an order on the ground that there were 16 Ulster Members sitting in this House. That would seem to me totally unrealistic. However, even if the Government were to take the view that they could achieve so large a redevolution, if I may permit myself that expression, so that full representation would once again become inappropriate, we have become quite accustomed to legislating for Northern Ireland. It is no longer an unheard of thing to have a Bill placed before the House to alter the constitution of Northern Ireland. There is nothing entrenched in our constitution, if we enact in the Bill that there will be 16 Members to prevent this Parliament or another Parliament either increasing or reducing that number. So I ask my right hon. Friend not to rest upon an argument which really cannot be taken very seriously.

When faced with crises in the relationship of this House with those who have been governed by this House or who have been the responsibility of this Rouse, the key to success, when we have enjoyed it, has always been generosity. We have shown a willingness to share, and to share on more than an equal basis, what we ourselves enjoy.

[Mr. E. L. MALLALIEU in the Chair]

6.0 p.m.

Perhaps it is an historical reminiscence worthy of a few seconds to remind the House that the resolution which Edmund Burke was proposing when he made his celebrated speech for conciliation with Amercia drew attention to the fact, in so many words, that the North American colonies did not have representation in this House. I believe that the same spirit both of conviction in the sovereign principle of our own existence and of generosity should inspire us when considering the Bill. I should like to feel that I could move my right hon. Friend and Her Majesty's Government, now that we have the opportunity, now that a new ordinance and a new order of things is being inaugurated, to include an act of generosity which would be seen and understood as such not by just one section but by all in Northern Ireland.

Mr. McMaster

After such a powerful and moving speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) there is very little I can say in support of the new clause which was so ably proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said it appeared to be an anomaly that there should be so few Northern Ireland hon. Members in this House. I shall add one thought to that from the Northern Ireland point of view. Over the past three or four years we have been the subject of a bitter attack which culminated in the suspension of the Northern Ireland Parliament in March of last year. One of the reasons for that suspension was the suggestion that we had been unfair to a minority in Northern Ireland and that that minority was not being properly represented in the old Stormont. At the same time this House allows the minority in Northern Ireland not to be properly represented at Westminster.

It seems to be blowing hot and cold to suggest that in some way the Northern Ireland Parliament was at fault while continuing and perpetuating an under-representation at Westminster. The matters which are set out in Schedule 2, the excepted matters, show the detailed and important matters which are left to this House on which Northern Ireland does not and will not have a proper voice.

My hon. and gallant Friend suggests that there should be 16 hon. Members from Northern Ireland. If we compare Northern Ireland and its population with Scotland the number should be more like 22. England itself is less well represented than Scotland, and if a comparison with England were made the number from Northern Ireland would be 18. Thus, it can fairly be said that between 18 and 20 Members—say, 20—would be the proper representation for Northern Ireland. Therefore, in asking for 16 we are being modest.

It must be remembered that in all matters dealing with taxation the House of Commons has, and will continue to have, complete and sovereign power. Is it fair that when changes in taxation are being made Northern Ireland should be under-represented? Even when there is a Parliament in Northern Ireland, taxation, foreign affairs, defence, the Army and other vital matters of concern to Northern Ireland are dealt with by the House of Commons. For example, treason and treason felony and the special powers and other provisions for dealing with terrorism, set out in Schedule 2 as excepted matters, can be dealt with only in the House of Commons. Northern Ireland has a particular interest in them. Yet it is, and will remain, underrepresented.

One important issue concerns the European Economic Community. The debate and negotiations which fundamentally affect Northern Ireland fall within the prerogative of Westminster. One aspect concerning us all at the moment is the type of help which Northern Ireland, as a development area, is to receive from the EEC. These matters should be debated with full representation from Northern Ireland in the House, because Northern Ireland will be playing its part and making its contribution to the Community and the return which the United Kingdom expects from it through assistance to development areas. The subject will be dealt with by the House of Commons only, although it perhaps concerns Northern Ireland more than any other part of the United Kingdom.

Surely in these matters Northern Ireland should have more than its existing 12 Members. Such a low representation means that we can take little part in debate. We all know of the pressure from hon. Members to take part in debates. The pressure on the Chair when choosing speakers is particularly heavy. Thus, the opportunities for Ulster Members to play a full and important part in debates and to make the views of Northern Ireland known to the House and have them properly considered by Her Majesty's Government are correspondingly limited.

In addition to the excepted matters detailed in Schedule 2, there are the reserved matters set out in Schedule 3 which may at some time in the future be transferred to Northern Ireland. But all of them are being considered only at Westminster, and it is because they cover such important aspects of the government of Northern Ireland that I feel that the case for fuller representation of Northern Ireland should be considered with the utmost sympathy by my right hon. Friend.

I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said in suggesting that some of the reserved measures may at some time be transferred to a Northern Ireland Executive. I am thinking particularly of those dealing with the criminal law. All the main appointments of judges will continue to be the prerogative of the United Kingdom Parliament, coming under Schedule 2 rather than Schedule 3, but there are certain aspects in Schedule 3, dealing particularly with bankruptcies, insolvencies, regulation of the profession of solicitors, and so on, which are less important matters of the administration of justice and may at some time be transferred to Northern Ireland.

Is it sound to argue that representation of Northern Ireland should be limited to 12 because these minor matters may at some time be transferred to Northern Ireland? Even if they are transferred, it is always possible, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. South-West said, to redress the membership from Northern Ireland again, although that, in the circumstances, is an argument without great merit. I support new Clause 6 as strongly as I can.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)

I should like to take part in the debate because in previous proceedings in the House I have made my position clear on this issue. On analogous issues I have also taken up stances which are relevant. When we came to discuss the recommendations of the Boundary Commission for England and Wales, I did not support the Government because Bradford was to be under-represented as a result. How much more now, when the most strife-torn and troubled part of the kingdom is to continue to find itself under-represented in the House of Commons at the very time when we are enacting constitutional proposals which will, of course, reduce the amount of effective devolution to a locally-elected assembly or Parliament?

Even to the most naive Englishman, it is clear that, when the full panoply of the 1920 Act has been dismantled, when there are no Governor, no Prime Minister and no Parliament in Northern Ireland, when the Executive are to be the appointees of the Secretary of State, and when the proviso, enshrined in the 1949 Act and repeated in the 1969 Downing Street Declaration, that Ulster shall continue to be a part of the United Kingdom for as long as a majority of the Members of the Parliament of Northern Ireland want it, is being changed in the way in which it is being changed, there is indeed a diminution of the effective powers of the locally-elected Assembly or Parliament.

In this situation, it is especially important that we in this sovereign, Imperial Parliament should have effective and adequate representation from Northern Ireland. If the locally-elected Assembly is to have the diminution of powers which seems likely to be the case under the Bill, ambitious and able politicians in Northern Ireland may wish to seek their political career in the sovereign Parliament at Westminster to a greater extent than they might in the somewhat emasculated locally-elected Assembly. We should, therefore, make special provision for them and new Clause 6 is very good for that purpose.

I also believe that hon. Members from Northern Ireland, of whatever political complexion, play a very valuable educational function in our proceedings.

6.15 p.m.

We are all too little aware of the situation in Northern Ireland and, as I have said, it is a part of the kingdom that has been especially troubled. It is my belief that had we been more fully aware, had we had more hon. Members from Northern Ireland, at the critical times in 1968 and 1969 this House might have acted with greater circumspection. One can never from hindsight make sweeping generalisations from historical judgments of this kind, but it is a possibility and I do not believe, any more than does The Timesin its leading editorial today, that with the passage of this legislation somehow our problems will be over and that if this Assembly does not work we can wash our hands of it and tell Ulster that it has had its last chance. The people of Northern Ireland, as they have themselves declared, con- tinue to wish to be members of the United Kingdom and we in this Parliament will have to continue to provide adequate legislation for their needs, and to ensure that they have enough representatives in this Parliament to play their full part in its legislative processes.

I said that hon. Members from Northern Ireland fulfil a valuable educational function. I believe this to be the case whatever their political complexion. It might be argued—probably not explicitly, but in their more private and frank moments Ministers might agree—that there is reluctance to increase the representation in case we have, to put it crudely, an increase here in the more troublesome elements such as manifested themselves before Home Rule in the last century. But I believe that whatever their sentiments nationalists and republicans have as much of an educational and legislative rôle to play in this House as any other politicians from Northern Ireland. So this educaitonal function goes right across the spectrum.

There has been much talk of the Irish dimension. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) spoke of the influence of Northern Ireland Members in such vital matters as defence and foreign affairs. We are all well aware of the great strategic importance to the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland. I think we are particularly well aware of this fact at a time when the Soviet fleet is growing in strength and when the North Atlantic is becoming an area of great-power competition in the maritime sense. Winston Churchill used to remind us of the importance of Northern Ireland in the last great war that this country faced. I am convinced that Northern Ireland, like the whole of the island of Ireland, will have continuing strategic importance to us, and from the point of view of defence industries as well Northern Ireland is vital to the United Kingdom. Short Brothers and Harland, for example, provide a very important capability in the industrial sense, and the great shipyards of Harland and Wolff are vitally important to the United Kingdom. So when matters of strategy, matters of defence, matters of major industrial importance such as shipbuilding and advanced technical industries like aerospace come to be debated in this House it is right that Northern Ireland should have its fair share of Members in this Parliament.

Looking at the foreign policy implications more widely, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East spoke about the Common Market. This, again, impinges on the Irish dimension because there are optimists who say that it is through the mechanism of the Common Market that a greater degree of understanding and co-operation will be forged between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That is as it may be, but I know that in the European Parliament there is a need for adequate representation for Northern Ireland. This is recognised by Her Majesty's Government and they have sent one deputy to that Assembly at Strasbourg. If there were more representatives from Northern Ireland here, it might be that we could increase that representation. It might also be that we should have a better opportunity of having members from Northern Ireland in Stormont Castle—that is to say members who were able to take office in the Northern Ireland Office. I do not believe this would necessarily be a bad thing either.

So for all sorts of considerations—considerations of justice, consideration of better working in this House of Commons on matters that affect Northern Ireland—and also for the reassurance of the people of Northern Ireland who, in particularly difficult times, times of bloodshed and strife, have had to endure suffering and put up with the legislation of this House, often against their will, while being under-represented in this place, it is appropriate and right that we should support this amendment. I only regret that because of the mechanism of pairing I am not able to express my feelings with my feet, although I hope I have done so adequately with my voice.

Mr. Stratton Mills

The rhetoric of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) was on this occasion very much more persuasive than on other occasions, and I am glad to declare, having put my name to this amendment, that it has my full support and that I feel very strongly indeed on this issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has also put in very formidable language the case many of us support on this matter, and there is perhaps not much one can usefully add. However, I think it important to put on record some of the figures brought out in a parliamentary answer to me some three or four months ago.

I was told that the average constituency in Northern Ireland consisted of some 85,000 people, whilst the average constituency throughout the United Kingdom was 62,000, the average for Wales 54,000, and the average for Scotland 52,000. It will be noted that both Wales and Scotland have rather fewer people in each constituency, I imagine because of the size of the constituencies and also perhaps because of the greater distances and special regional problems in relation to those areas.

I would argue not only that under the new Bill is Northern Ireland going to be under-represented but that under the previous legislation when Stormont was in existence Northern Ireland was basically under-represented. So we are not approaching something new; it has merely been additionally underlined by this new measure. My right hon. Friend says that we are moving towards closer integration in this measure, and I accept that judgment. He knows that basically I accept the principles of the White Paper and voted in favour of it, but it seems to me that there is a missing dimension in the White Paper.

The Secretary of State will have very much greater powers, and one sees running right through the Bill that he is going to have to play a major rôle in the development of the new Assembly and the new institutions in Belfast. I think that flexibility is right and that there is no alternative to it. But the other side of the argument is surely that if that argument is accepted there must be proper and adequate representation in this House of Commons for the people of Northern Ireland, and that we have not got. I would estimate that it should be something like 18 to 19 if we take the Scottish or Welsh example, or 16 to 17 if we take the United Kingdom average. The latter is the figure I have in mind.

There is the equally important point that if a Secretary of State is to operate in this House with these very extensive powers spreading into all areas of Northern Ireland life, having to operate in many ways through the Assembly, he will have a very much more difficult job if he does not have an adequate parliamentary backing of colleagues from Northern Ireland in this House. It would be very much easier for a Secretary of State to work effectively with 16 to 17 Northern Ireland Members in this House than with the very limited number we are to have.

The legislation we have been dealing with recently, the legislation we are examining in this sparsely-attended Committee, and the limited number of Questions dealt with earlier today, underline the point clearly that if Westminster is to play a major rôle in this it cannot have it politically on the cheap. It must be recognised that this is the other side of the coin. My right hon. Friend knows I have voted in favour of the White Paper, I have spoken in favour of it and I have made it clear that there is no alternative but to make these proposals work. With this new rearrangement, the new Assembly, a new Irish dimension and a rearrangement of many of the activities of Northern Ireland, there is a danger that there will be a major flaw if we fail to make the Irish dimension a reality. That means that there must be adequate representation in this House.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West spoke of the need for reassurance, and I underline his words. This is why I say that I entirely accept the sovereignty of this House. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) spoke of a compact, and I do not quarrel with that. The other side of the coin is that this is a two-way process which we have to make work. That can he done effectively only by building in an additional Westminster dimension, which means additional Members of Parliament so that there are people here who want to represent Northern Ireland and will feel it worth while to come here.

We are probably in danger of it being said and believed by people in political circles that we are coming to the end of an era if people are not prepared to work and develop the Westminster relationship. This is an important factor in the White Paper. I do not know why adequate representation has not been given to Northern Ireland. I do not know whethere it is for political or other reasons that this has been blocked. I hope very much that the White Paper proposals will succeed. One of the elements which could cause them to fail would be the failure to make adequate provision for Northern Ireland in this House. This is not mere rhetoric; it is an important reality. I imagine that it is too late for the Government to think again on this. I hope I am wrong. This is something to which the Government should not close their mind over the next year. I hope that my words will have had some impact on the Front Bench.

Mrs. Bernadette McAliskey (Mid-Ulster)

It was not my intention to speak at this stage in the debate, but lest the Committee gets the impression that everyone from Northern Ireland wants increased representation I would like to make my position clear. I have no quarrel with the usual impeccable logic of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) except that which I always have with his impeccable logic. It is that it has only one flaw—it is always based on the wrong original premise.

In this case I believe the right hon. Gentleman bases his argument on the fact that he claims representation for Northern Ireland in this House to be democratic. My argument is that none of us ought to be here. We are overrepresented to the tune of 12 Members. We ought to be in our own independent country. I want to make the position of the people I represent quite clear. Inasmuch as we can prevent it, not one single, solitary further Member will put his foot over that threshold.

Mr. Molyneaux

I am afraid that I cannot hope to emulate the short intervention of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey). I content myself by saying that I support the clause, which seeks to increase our numbers at Westminster. I speak as the Member representing the largest electorate in the whole of the United Kingdom, an electorate which stands at the moment at around 150,000. Even with the re-drawing of the boundary it will contain well over 115,000 electors. Even before 1972 the volume of constituency work was something of a burden.

With the abolition of Stormont in March 1972 this work load increased by over 50 per cent. I know that this was the experience of the rest of my hon. Friends from Northern Ireland. I am aware that the Secretary of State made arrangements for former Stormont Members to have facilities for dealing with the problems of their constituents. The problem was that the constituents entirely missed this point and assumed that since Stormont had been suspended, or abolished as they chose to regard it, they had ceased to have any Members of Parliament there or, if they had, such Members had very little influence or real power to intervene on their behalf.

6.30 p.m.

I strongly support what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) about the limitations on the proposed Assembly structure. I accept too that, whether he likes it or not, the Secretary of State will continue to be regarded as the man with the real power. Because he is responsible to Westminster and because we function here, the problems will continue to be channelled to him through us—tile very small band of Northern Ireland Members. Whatever powers we may in future give to the new Assembly, the people of Northern Ireland will not be detached from the belief that only by going through their Westminster representatives to the real source of power will they achieve anything.

At present in South Antrim there are as many as eight people ranging over the entire constituency in an endeavour to solicit electoral support for Assembly membership. They will not be seen to have any specific territorial responsibility. They will simply be lumped together, a body of diverse people holding different political views and not, perhaps, spread geographically over the constituency. It will then be extremely difficult to convince the electorate that they have anyone representing them in the Assembly responsible for their particular locality.

For all these reasons the burden will continue to rest on the small band of Northern Ireland Members here. I beg my right hon. Friend to reconsider the Government's attitude and to do his best to meet the weight of opinion expressed today, an opinion which is underpinned, despite what the hon. Lady had to say, by the fact that the Unionist Party, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), who represents the Alliance Party, and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who is absent electioneering, will support this plea for adequate representation here.

Mr. John E. Maginnis (Armagh)

This is probably the most important debate during the passage of the entire Bill. When I read the White Paper I wrote on the back, "The crux of the whole question in Northern Ireland is the number of Westminster representatives against the amount of power devolved to the new Assembly." I stick to that. I agree wholeheartedly with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said—that this was the crux of the matter with regard to the American colonies.

It is a long-standing principle that the right of Parliament to levy taxation and the right of the people to representation in Parliament were interdependent. I go so far as to say that in the House of Commons we have a long-established practice of equality of representation between one constituency and another, weighted only by remoteness from Westminster.

I make no apology for doing a little research into the electoral lists of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Prime Minister represents 67,476 electors. The man in between—the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—represents 54,593 electors. The Foreign Secretary, in the extreme north, represents 34,133 electors. Here there is a complete parallel with the principle that the further one goes from Westminster the smaller is the number of constituents represented. That is justified, because the time and effort spent in travelling to and from the House of Commons takes up more energy than one might expect.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) referred to 12 representatives. Originally we had 13, but we lost one because of the abolition of the university seat. Since then there has been a population explosion in Northern Ireland, and the population figures today are much greater than they were in 1920. If, in 1920, Northern Ireland had been granted full parity of representation with the most comparable area of Great Britain—Glasgow and the county constituencies beyond to the north and west —we should have had 16 representatives, which is what we are asking for today.

It was estimated then that the taxation levied by the Parliament of Northern Ireland under its transferred taxation powers would amount to one-fifth of all the taxation collected in Northern Ireland. In 1924 the proportion was exactly one-fifth—£2.2 million out of £11 million. Accordingly, the number of representatives was reduced to 12.

Many people of various political parties made representations to the Crowther Commission when it visited Northern Ireland. One question was whether we should go for an increased representation in the Mother of Parliaments. For some unknown reason the members of the Unionist Party suggested that we should work this out not by increasing the representation at Westminster but by apportioning the taxation more in line with the relative costs of reserved and transferred services. That is a fallacious argument.

In the House of Commons there are 12 representatives from Northern Ireland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said, since the prorogation of Stormont our work has doubled. I challenge any hon. or right hon. Member to find a group of 12 Members who have had more work placed on their shoulders during the past 12 months than have the representatives from Northern Ireland. The Bill proposes to reserve all taxation powers to the United Kingdom Parliament. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West that it is an integrationist Bill. Therefore, Northern Ireland should be entitled to full parity of representation with the rest of the United Kingdom.

I have looked up the figures for the 1970 General Election. Glasgow comprises 571,318 electors, the electoral quota being 38,087. On that basis, the 263,024 electors in Belfast are entitled to 6.9 representatives. The area northwest of Glasgow—comprising Argyll; Dunbartonshire, West; Caithness and Sutherland; Kinross and West Perthshire; Ross and Cromarty; Inverness; West Stirlingshire; and the Western Isles—comprises 317,156 electors, and the electoral quota is 39,644. On that basis, the 771,192 electors in the Northern Ireland counties are entitled to 18.7 Members. The 18.7 Members for the counties of Northern Ireland and 6.9 for Belfast gives a total of 25.6. I do not know who would represent the 0.6. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South is modest in asking for 16. In my estimation the correct figure is 25.6.

The case for increased representation is unanswerable. I reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) said. If we are generous we will recognise that the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland would not give two hoots about what happened at the Assembly if they knew in their hearts that they were fully represented in Westminster. That is the key to the whole question of the future of Northern Ireland.

If the clause is rejected, it will amount to discrimination against the people of Northern Ireland and this will be inconsistent with the sentiments expressed in the White Paper. It could be termed a gerrymander—explicable only as a political expedient to buy bipartisan support.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South said that it was inconceivable that there should not be increased representation. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that he could not agree to any increase in representation for Northern Ireland because it might upset the balance between the two major parties in this country. I have reached the conclusion that he must have thought that he would be resonsible for paying for the additional representation from Northern Ireland. The common practice is to give minority areas more representation than they are entitled to. There is minority representation in the House of Commons, including the hon. Members for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey), Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). They are their own chief whips and they can come and go as they wish. If one looks back over the debates of the last decade one finds that on every occasion they have attended they have been called by Mr. Speaker and have been given proportionately more speaking time.

Mrs. McAliskey

That is a bone of contention. It is true that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is always called when he comes to the House of Commons, but that is all.

Mr. Maginnis

I will not comment on that, but I think that the hon. Lady has been called on most occasions when she has attended. It has been the long-established practice to have regard to minorities and to areas that have a minority representation.

I ask the Secretary of State to consider urgently the possibility of increasing the representation of Northern Ireland here in the Mother of Parliaments. If he is generous in this respect a lot of the trouble in Northern Ireland will come to an end in the near future.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

If all that there was to the argument about increased representation for Northern Ireland was the numerical logic argument which has been put forward today I should have to concede a great deal. But we are not discussing numerical logic. We are discussing a part of the United Kingdom which is quite different from Wales and Scotland, where a large number of people do not wish to be in the United Kingdom and where there have been problems of shooting and killing resulting in our having to have 20,000 troops there at certain times and an average of 15,000. Much as I have come to know members of the Unionist Party in this House over the past couple of years, I always find it astonishing that they shut their eyes to this basic fact of the problem in Northern Ireland.

The other day, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) argued in favour of integration, whereas today the implication was that this Bill had an integrationist tendency. I put to him the point about the "alien wedge" in Northern Ireland, which is a state of affairs that I have had to accept in recent years as I have attempted to get to know more about Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman said that if there were to be integration it would be a means, because of Westminster parliamentary methods, of getting the minority in Northern Ireland to accept integration. That was the way that he put it.

Mr. Powell

Not quite. What I said was that it would be an opportunity for that part of the minority which accepts Union and is prepared to work for it to play a full part in the political life of this country.

Mr. Rees

In that case all that I put back to the right hon. Gentleman is that there may be right hon. and hon. Members who do not like the attitude that is always put forward by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey), but what she says in this House is a fact of life in Ulster that we have to face. It is a factor in the running of Northern Ireland that any Secretary of State has to accept—not just the presence of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, but the fact that there is this view in Northern Ireland. After all, before my time Members were elected to this House whose main claim to fame was that they never took up their seats. To be elected and not to turn up was sufficient to get one's place in the pantheon of Irish democrats.

Mr. Stratton Mills

If what the hon. Gentleman is arguing is taken to its logical conclusion—and I do not think that this is what he means—there is an argument for saying that there should be no representation for Northern Ireland in this House at all. We are saying that if there is to be representation it should be fair and adequate. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) professes to be a democrat. I am sure that she will not deny that basic point.

Mr. Rees

That may be so. But I heard the hon. Lady say that she wanted to be out of it and that that was what her people wanted. It is no good ignoring this fact in Ireland and carrying on as if what goes on there is simply the aberrations of a few terrorists shooting round the place, with the remainder of the minority accepting being part of the United Kingdom.

Captain Orr

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously arguing that because our part of the United Kingdom contains what he describes as an "alien wedge" and because those people do not wish to be represented in this House, the vast majority of the people should be penalised by under-representation? That is an extraordinary argument.

Mr. McMaster

On the same point, even the minority who may want to be Republican nevertheless are prepared to go along with the majority wish to remain part of the United Kingdom and to work in a constitutional fashion. Does the hon. Gentleman say that they are not to be properly represented in the interim?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) has come nearer my point. What is to be done in the interim is a different argument. I am considering the basic problem. If I used the phrase "alien wedge", it was taken from a different context——

Mr. Powell

Lord Radcliffe.

Mr Rees

This is becoming like the Assembly in NorthernIreland——

The Second Deputy-Chairman

Order. How are they increased that trouble me How many are they that rise against me.

Mr. Rees

It becomes even more like an Irish institution when we have incantations of that kind from the Chair.

It is a major factor which hon. Members from Northern Ireland must face. Logic is not enough. There is a changing situation in Northern Ireland. On the one hand we have the argument which has been heard in recent weeks that the Bill will not work and that it will break down. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have used the word "sabotage" which the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West picked up the other day. Arguments have been put forward that this is permissible. All I say is that that is not the most stable of positions in which to talk about increased representation at Westminster.

In the interim situation it would be rather odd to alter the number of Members in the Westminster Parliament—not just from Northern Ireland but in total —in advance of a General Election. But that is purely the interim argument, and I do not press it too far because it is not a major aspect of the argument.

The Government in their wisdom are attempting in a White Paper to balance the British dimension with an Irish dimension. That is what the White Paper is about. They are attempting to face the fact that there are people in Northern Ireland who want an Irish dimension. It is a very difficult task for the Government to carry out——

Mr. McMaster

The hon. Gentleman misinterpreted me. When I used the word "interim" I did not mean the period before 28th June. I meant the period between now and the realising of the aspirations of minority, if ever. It was shown clearly in the local government elections and in the plebiscite and I am sure it will be shown in the election on 28th June that it is a small minority who want to achieve a united Ireland. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that they should not be properly represented in this House?

Mr. Rees

I was conceding the numerical logic argument and saying that there may be something in it in the short run. I am trying to look at the long-term situation. I rest my point on the fact that Northern Ireland is not like other parts of the United Kingdom. Our job is to balance the British dimension and the Irish dimension, and we believe strongly that it is very much better to leave matters as they are with the 12 Westminster seats.

Let us consider the situation in the Government of Ulster. Somehow the hon. Member for Belfast, East must be reconciled with the views of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster in the Province. Those are the two extremes which must be reconciled. They will not be reconciled by telling the hon. Lady that she ought to be in support of extra representation in this Parliament.

Mrs. McAliskey

While those of us who believe fundamentally in a United Ireland are prepared to accept at this stage that we cannot have a decisive move towards a united Ireland, we will not accept a decisive move to take us into integration with Britain. That is the point that we make.

Mr. Rees

The argument that I have been trying to put forward has been put firmly by the hon. Lady from her side of the community in Northern Ireland. However, there must be a reconciliation between the two sides on this matter. I do not believe that that reconciliation will come about by talking about increased representation at Westminster when one is trying to get the Irish dimension under way.

Mr. Wilkinson

As the broad mass of Membership of the House of Commons is so unaware of the Republican point of view—the opinions of the minority in Northern Ireland—may I ask why it should be advantageous that that voice should be diminished in this Chamber by a smaller representation than the larger one being advocated?

Mr. Rees

If it were merely a matter of numerical logic there would he much in what the hon. Gentleman said. However, it is not a case of logic in that sense. I implore the hon. Member for Belfast, East, much as he may disagree with the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, to accept that it is our job now, and after the Assembly elections, to face the facts regarding who may be returned on that occasion. Ulster is a split society. The Government are endeavouring to legislate for that split society. Our view is that to have extra representation here would be wrong.

Mr. Whitelaw

In answering an important debate like this, in which many differing views have been expressed, I think that it would be better if I started by making one purely technical point, which should be on the record because it sets out the position as it is. I do not make it in a carping way. To accept the principle of a small matter like this would not really matter. The clause seeks the repeal of Section 19 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) will find that that is already repealed in the schedule to the Bill.

If my hon. and gallant Friend asks how the 12 seats at Westminster are prescribed, the answer is that they are prescribed in Schedule 2 to the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949. That is the basis on which the 12 seats rest, and it is important to get that point on record.

7.0 p.m.

I concede that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and others who have spoken in the debate have put forward a strong argument. My right hon. Friend went back somewhat into history to Glad-stone's problems over the size of the representation at Westminster, and said that eventually there was no particular logic in the number that came out.

I think that deciding on a number is a difficult matter. I noticed that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South said that, on the whole, he would have preferred a Boundary Commission inquiry because of that difficulty.

I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and many others who were here when I first entered the House of Commons will agree that at that time there was a curious convention that Northern Ireland affairs were never discussed in this Chamber. I do not know from where that convention came, but it seemed to exist. In retrospect, I believe that that convention was a great mistake. The House of Commons has considerable responsibility for the troubles in Northern Ireland today. I have come to that clear conclusion about our position over the years. We should have been allowed to discuss these matters here. Subsequently we did. If we had discussed them earlier we may or may not have made the situation better. No one can prove either way. However, we did not discuss matters at a time when I believe we should have done so. Of that there can be no doubt. That is a personal view which does not impinge on the number of Members.

Mr. McMaster

My memory goes back 15 years. I recall discussions on many matters, including shipbuilding, the aircraft industry, and particularly unemployment as it affected Northern Ireland. These vital matters have always been debated in the House of Commons and we have taken an active part in them.

Mr. Whitelaw

That is a fair point. However, the fundamental problems of Northern Ireland were not discussed. In retrospect, I think that it would have been better if they had been discussed. I do not necessarily accept that that changes the situation about the number of Members, but it is true.

I turn now to the problem which has fairly been raised about the number of Members today. This point was discussed on Second Reading. At that time I made clear the Government's position. It is obvious—I have not been able to check—that I must have used some arguments about further devolution later, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West cannot have sought to demolish an argument which he did not suspect I was going to use. I am not going to use an argument which he sought to demolish about further transfers of devolution later.

We must look at the numbers as prescribed and as we have left them on this occasion against the background of what is being proposed. We can argue one way or another about the powers of the new Assembly and, indeed, whether in some instances they are greater or lesser than those of the old Stormont. We must accept that the proposed new Assembly, with the powers initially to be transferred to it, would, even at that stage, certainly be different in kind from anything that any other part of the United Kingdom has at this time. No other part of the United Kingdom has an Assembly that can pass laws of any sort or kind. Therefore, the representation must be looked at against that background.

The Assembly would have considerable legislative powers if the Executive were formed and matters were transferred to it. If it succeeds, as time goes on more matters can be transferred to it. That does not necessarily increase my argument for sticking to 12 Members. It is a fact of life that the Assembly would have considerable powers transferred to it and could have more. That is something that other parts of the United Kingdom do not have. In comparing one part or another of the United Kingdom with the situation and representation in Northern Ireland the work of the Assembly must be taken into account. We cannot get away from that fact.

In that connection, perhaps I should take up what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) about what he called the Crowther Commission but which, since the death of Lord Crowther, has become the Kilbrandon Commission. It has yet to report. No one knows what it will say. but I know, and the House knows, that its terms of reference are such that the report could touch upon many of the matters that have been covered in this debate.

If the report were to propose changes for other parts of the United Kingdom, representation would be bound to be one issue that would be involved thereafter. It could not be otherwise. But I am dealing with the present situation, which is that we are proposing for Northern Ireland an Assembly of a type that is not in existence in any other part of the United Kingdom, and to that extent we are entitled to say that exact comparisons between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom are not valid.

Mr. Stratton Mills

My right hon. Friend referred to the Kilbrandon Commission. Will he consider giving that commission an additional term of reference, namely, in the light of the powers contained in the Bill to consider what should be the parliamentary representation in this House for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is outside my competence to answer that question. The commission's terms of reference are within the province of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I note what my hon. Friend has said, but I cannot comment upon it.

I now come to the question of the work that the Assembly will do. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said that the proroguing of Stormont had meant a greatly increased workload for his hon. Friends and himself. I appreciate the point, but my hon. Friend went on to say that in the last year Stormont Members had somehow been bypassed and that the same thing would happen after the new Assembly had been elected, because people would take their cases up with the two or three Members at Westminster. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh made much the same point.

My hon. Friends and I at the Northern Ireland office are not able to confirm that as a fact. We have received endless representations and deputations and many letters from Stormont Members of Parliament during the last year, and I do not doubt that the same will happen with Members of the new Assembly. Indeed, we have already received representations from various members of the new district councils.

There can be no doubt that representations have come to us through Stormont Members, and I do not think that people will bypass their new local representatives in the way that my hon. Friends have suggested. Once the Executive is set up, many matters will be transferred to the Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland will make representations on those matters to the Assembly and its Members because that is where those issues will be considered.

It is suggested that the Secretary of State will have an all-pervasive position and therefore, inevitably, when a decision is required on an issue the matter will be raised at Westminster, even though responsibility for dealing with it will have been transferred to the new Assembly. That will not be so. The Executive will have authority to legislate. Unless it is on a matter of discrimination, or the issue impinges on a reserved matter, the Secretary of State will not be able to interfere in any way. The heads of the Departments in the Assembly will deal with those issues, and the people of Northern Ireland will have to deal direct with them and with the Assembly. If such matters came direct to the Secretary of State and his Ministers at Westminster, they would inevitably have to be referred back to the Executive and to the Assembly because Parliament at Westminster would have no power to deal with them. That is a fact of life which I must stress.

Having said that, I must go on to say that there are fair arguments for increased representation. However, I must equally say that there are strong arguments the other way. If we are setting up an Assembly with considerable devolved powers, it is right to stick to the representation that is laid down in the Bill, and I believe that the Government's decision to do that, based on the provision that the new Assembly will have considerable devolved powers, is right.

It is for that reason that we have made this provision in the Bill, and on this occasion I must disappoint my hon. Friends and my right hon. Friend. I understand their feelings in this matter, but I must tell them that I cannot accept the new clause and the arguments that have been advanced for it.

Captain Orr

As my right hon. Friend expected, we are deeply disappointed with his reply. We are even more disappointed that it was a reply without any argument in it. If one examines what my right hon. Friend said, one sees that he adduced no good reason for continuing this diminution.

My right hon. Friend began by talking about the convention of the House, and I think that we ought to spend a moment or two considering it. The reason why it was not possible to raise in this House issues which the House had devolved upon the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland was that under the rules of this House the Table could find no ministerial responsibility for them. My right hon. Friend is glad that the convention has come to an end and regrets that it did not end sooner. The reason for its having come to an end is that there is now ministerial responsibility in this House.

My right hon. Friend's argument underlines in the most cogent way the case that we are making. The real responsibility lies with this House of Commons, and the lack of magnanimity here will be noted and bitterly resented in Ulster. My right hon. Friend's reply underlines the fact that it is the Government's intention to treat Northern Ireland as if it were part of the United Kingdom. Could anything be more damaging to the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland than the mean-spiritedness of the House of Commons on this question of representation? We in Ulster have constantly been lectured and hectored about the need to compromise, yet when it comes to an important issue the House of Commons refuses to do so.

The most extraordinary argument of all was advanced by the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) who said that because of the existence of an alien wedge—a group of people who did not wish to be represented—the rest of the community must suffer the disability of having its representation decreased. Could anyone imagine a more fantastic argument than that? I leave it to the common sense of any ordinary person who looks at political life to realise the fallacy and the ridiculous nature of that argument.

In the light of that, could anyone imagine that we could do other than

Question accordingly negatived.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

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