HC Deb 04 April 1974 vol 871 cc1420-2
3. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what consideration has been given to increasing the number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament at Westminster in line with the recommendations of the Kilbrandon Report.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I would refer the hon. Member to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's statement in answer to a supplementary question on 19th March—[Vol. 870, c. 843.]—that he could give no undertaking that the Government would implement the recommendation in the Kilbrandon Commission's Report about increased representation of Northern Ireland in this House.

Mr. Biffen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the demand or the suggestion for increased representation has been made from a wide variety of sources, and that in the previous Parliament both Mr. John Mackintosh and Mr. Stratton Mills argued for this? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there may still be circumstances in which political initiatives will be required to try to bring some kind of peace to the unhappy Province of Northern Ireland, and in those circumstances will he at least say that his mind is not irrevocably closed on this topic?

Mr. Rees

I am well aware of the need to consider anything that will bring peace in Northern Ireland, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that Northern Ireland is not Scotland or Wales. It is a split society, and has been so split in social and cultural terms for a long time. Many people in Northern Ireland, whatever we may think about it, look to the South and not to this country. The problem that we all face is to bring these two communities together. This is a fact of life that has shown itself in this House. To talk of increased representation in this House in that context is not facing up to the facts of life.

Captain Orr

Surely what the right hon. Gentleman has said is highly inflammatory. It is suggesting that Northern Ireland should not be treated as a full component part of the United Kingdom. If it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to accept the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, how can under-representation in this House conceivably be justified?

Mr. Rees

I do not see any circumstances in which extra representation of Northern Ireland, with its history, would be a means of bringing the peace that we all want. It is facing up to the facts of the real problems in Northern Ireland that is needed. It is a fact that some people march with the flag of the South. In my view, if that is what they want to do, they are entitled to do it, however much one may disagree. [An HON. MEMBER: "They do that in Birmingham."] Yes, but for very different reasons. Northern Ireland is a split society. What we are engaged in doing is bringing the two parts of the population together.

Mr. Fitt

Unlike Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland now has an Assembly which to a large extent gives control of affairs into the hands of the Northern Ireland people. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that in such circumstances it is quite unnecessary to have increased representation here?

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend is right. Another factor in the situation, and the reason why such a proposal was not in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, is that there is an Assembly and an Executive in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity of raising the matter on the Adjournment.

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