HC Deb 15 July 1974 vol 877 cc140-58
Mr. West

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 7, line 35, leave out seventy-eight' and insert 'eighty-one'

The Chairman

With this amendment we may discuss Amendment No. 5, in line 43, at end insert 'except that in the constituencies of Antrim North, Antrim South and Fermanagh and South Tyrone one additional member shall be added in each case'.

Mr. West

The purpose of the amendment is to increase the representation in the Northern Ireland Assembly of the three constituencies referred to in Amendment No. 5.

I heard the arguments earlier about increased Northern Ireland representation in this House, and I heard the case put forward that it would mean calling in a boundary commission to readjust boundaries. However, the present case is one in which the boundaries do not have to be readjusted. There is an imbalance between the average representation of the other nine constituencies and that of the three to which the amendment refers.

Antrim, North has a representation of 14,881 constituents per Member. Antrim, South has 14,810 constituents per Member. Fermanagh and South Tyrone has 14,357 constituents per Member. Those figures compare with an average of 13,000 per Member in the other nine constituencies in Northern Ireland. We propose that one additional Member should be given to each of the three constituencies.

I understand that it is normal British practice to give a greater representation to rural areas where the geographical area is large and the population on the ground is sparse. Fermanagh and South Tyrone, which I represent in this House, is the most rural constituency in Northern Ireland. Geographically, it is the largest constituency. It stretches from Lough Neagh to Belleek. It is peculiar that this is the only constituency out of the 12 that requires a quota of over 9,000. Therefore, I propose that in Antrim, North and Antrim, South and Fermanagh and South Tyrone the schedule should be amended to allow one additional Member for each constituency.

Mr. Molyneaux

When I questioned the previous Secretary of State about Antrim, South he said that we could not have more representatives because eight was the maximum number fixed for all the constituencies. I could never discover why he should have picked on that magical number. It seemed to be plucked out of the air for no apparent reason. The theory seemed to be that if we had more than eight Members there might be a great deal of confusion. I should have thought that, with the peculiar set-up of proportional representation, the size of Antrim, South, with all the interests and different bodies represented that made for the maximum confusion, one more Member would not make all that much difference. Is there any valid reason why the ceiling should still apply after our experience of the last year?

Rev. Ian Paisley

We are coming back to an old theme. This matter was ventilated on the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill. We went over the ground then.

It seems unfair that hon. Members should talk about Stormont's hands not being clean regarding the giving of fair representation to the people of Northern Ireland. That suggestion has been made and refuted in this House. One hon. Gentleman opposite said that all the trouble and bloodshed in Northern Ireland was the result of the minority not being properly represented. The minority representation in the Assembly was exactly the same in percentage figures as in Stormont. A PR, STV or any other electoral system that is fair does not alter the situation one iota. It may strengthen the minority in a majority party, but it does not alter the population of the country. If it did, it would not be a fair electoral system. I do not think that hon. Members should say that Stormont was unfair when the hands of this Parliament have not been strictly clean regarding the number of Members returned to the Assembly.

My constituency deserves an additional Member. In the previous debate—I have HANSARD here, but I will not weary the Committee by repeating what I said—I pointed out that a minority representative would be returned for Antrim, North. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) knows that the results for Antrim. North showed that there would probably be two Members from his group returned if there were the proper number of seats. In Belfast, West only 11,865 votes are need to return the candidate. However, in Antrim, South another seat should be added on the ratio of the figures, which means that there should be nine representatives for Antrim, South. The same goes for Antrim, North. When we go to Fermanagh and South Tyrone the figures show that there should be another representative there. Does the Committee want to be fair? If it does, it should agree to add three seats.

If this Committee wants minorities to be represented, the Convention should be enlarged to 100 members. That would provide a better opportunity for various people to be represented. It was my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) who suggested that there should be a larger Convention.

I ask the Secretary of State to consider why it is that North Antrim, South Antrim and Fermanagh and South Tyrone are under-represented in the Convention. There should be equality of representation, and it ill becomes hon. Members to make snide remarks about the old Stormont when they have here an opportunity to remedy the situation but are not prepared to put the matter right.

We urged this proposition on the previous Secretary of State, and he came up with the magical figure of eight Members. I do not know where he got the figure eight from. I thought that, according to the scriptures, seven was the number of perfection, but the previous Secretary of State evidently went beyond perfection.

I hope that people will not think that we are asking for three more seats in the sure knowledge that nobody else could win them. In my constituency, the extra seat would probably go to one of the minority parties. As I told the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of State during the previous debate, we are not interested in who will be returned to these seats. We are interested in getting fair play and fair representation.

I ask the Secretary of State to consider the matter sympathetically tonight to see whether he can do something to help. If he makes this gesture, the people of Northern Ireland will see that he is prepared to give them equal representation in this Convention. We have to realise that this Convention will come up with plans for the future of our Province. I believe that everybody should be fairly represented on the Convention, and I ask the Secretary of State to consider the matter favourably.

Mr. Kilfedder

I intervene briefly to support the amendment. It is a worthy amendment and the Secretary of State should accept it.

United Unionists from Northern Ireland are fighting for a fair representation for the people of the Province. What is more, we are virtually asking for extra representatives who will not belong to our party, so that in the Constitutional Convention there will be people who can voice opinions other than our own. It is to our credit that we are fighting for this extra representation, and I hope that the Secretary of State is not smiling, because I am—

Mr. Merlyn Rees

It is an appreciative smile.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Plaid Cymru might interpret it differently.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said, this Convention will shape the future of our Province. He referred to the fact that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) suggested that there should be 100 Members. In the previous debate I advocated a Convention of 150 members.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is paying us one of his rare visits. The hon. Gentleman has woken out of his sleep, and I am glad to see him here, asleep or not. When I advocate 150 members the hon. Gentleman is afraid that there will be elected to the Convention to represent the minority people who do not belong to that misnamed Social Democratic and Labour Party. They thought up a name that would take in everybody. He is afraid that the minority will be represented by people other than the SDLP.

9.15 p.m.

I tabled an amendment asking that the present membership should be doubled to 156. In reply I had a letter saying that the Chairman of Ways and Means regretted that he was unable to select my manuscript amendment. I am sorry that it was not accepted. I put it forward in all sincerity. People may think "Why have 150 people sitting in Stormont when there were only 52 in the old Stormont Parliament and 78 in the Assembly?" But we are not here providing for an assembly. We are providing for a body of men and women who will, I trust, try to work out with good will an arrangement satisfactory to the majority and minority.

It would be worth the Government's spending extra money to give the salaries to the additional Members. We should then have not only the DUP, Vanguard Unionist and SDLP but representatives of other people who perhaps would not reach the present quota. It is sad that when we want everybody represented in the Convention we shall not have enough people there.

Unless every spectrum of opinion is represented in the Convention—people we may not approve of—they will afterwards say "We had no part in shaping that constitution. We reject it in the name of the people." That is why I put forward the notion that we should double the number of Members. As that amendment was cast aside by the Chairman of Ways and Means, I have pleasure in supporting the proposition that there should be three additional Members.

Mr. Flit

The Committee has just been subjected to the most ludicrous set of arguments we have ever heard. There is a sizeable minority of people in Northern Ireland who do not want increased representation in either the House of Commons or the Convention.

The amendment allegedly asks for an extra three Members of the Convention. We have been told of the magnanimity of the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) who says that the seats may go to his political opponents. Whether or not that happens, Northern Ireland must be the most expensive part of the United Kingdom to govern. If there were 150 Members, as the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) would like, it would rise to 200, and there would be representatives of the North Down Harriers Association and the Crossmaglen Greyhound Association. People would be desperately seeking names to make them eligible for a seat.

We see the crocodile tears of the hon. Member for Down, North, who is desperately afraid that minorities in Northern Ireland may not be able to express their view on a Constitutional Convention. What has been happening these past 50 years? Under Unionism minorities in Northern Ireland were trampled into the ground. Now all of a sudden we have this great change of heart and the hon. Member wants all the minorities, all the pigeon clubs and the darts clubs represented in this Convention. This amendment should be rejected with the contempt it deserves.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I want to answer the points made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). This proposal was put forward in 1973 when the previous administration was introducing what is now the 1973 Constitution Act. In the constituency of the hon. Member 11,865 voters can return one Member to the Assembly or to the Convention, whereas it takes 14,394 voters to do so in South Antrim. For him to say that it is arrant nonsense for us to put forward this proposal is to fly in the face of his profession of civil rights for the people.

I said in 1973, before there was an Assembly, that the number of people returning Members to the Assembly, and now to the Convention, should be the same all over Northern Ireland. Why should my people in North Antrim not be entitled to another Member? Why should the hon. Gentleman's constituency have a special privilege? Is he so worried about the result of the election? It would be far better to have more people attending the Convention. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said that as many people as possible should be at the conference table so that every possible view can be put. We are simply saying, and we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) that you, Mr. Thomas, have ruled out his amendment and we cannot speak on it—

The Chairman

Order. I did not rule it out. I did not select it. There is a difference. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) spoke to his amendment as he was able, under the terms of this amendment.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I defer to your ruling, Mr. Thomas. I am glad that the way in which you ruled the amendment out was by saying that it was not selected. It lets us down a little easier but it is the same thing in the long run.

This is an important issue. The House of Commons has lectured the people of Northern Ireland and we have been told that the Unionist Party in Stormont jackbooted the people and would not give them votes and so on. The same percentage was returned to the Assembly as to the old Stormont. I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I say that Governments can change the electoral system, they can have PR, the list system, whatever system they like, but if people are in the majority they will come out as a majority.

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has raised an important issue of cost. We see from paragraph 14 of the schedule that remuneration is to be at the rate of £2,500 a year. Those who come from Ulster must realise that if 78 people or 81 people, or whatever, are paid £2,500 a year for being Members of the Convention some people on this side of the water will begin to ask a few questions.

The Strathclyde region of Scotland, give or take a few thousand, has roughly the same population as Ulster. There are people on the Strathclyde council who will be spending as many hours doing council work—particularly if they hold convenorships of committees, and so on—as many of those who attend the Convention. Therefore, the question of costs is legitimate. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was quite fair in that on a previous occasion I made something of a meal of the fact that everyone ought to be represented. I would hope that the various shades of minority opinion are represented, and not least the men of violence on both sides, by those who are most congenial to them. Therefore, there is an argument on the other side as well.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Questions of the size of constituencies and under-representation and over-representation are not applicable merely to Northern Ireland. One of the first Bills that I had to pilot through the House in the 1966 Parliament was about a procedure arising out of a Boundary Commission report and based on the fact that those reports are often five years out of date in their population projections. Something then had to be done for a certain number of very large constituencies in this country. It did not happen to receive universal praise at the time, but it was based on the fact that there were grave differences, as there are now, in the United Kingdom. This matter does not relate only to Northern Ireland. The Meriden constituency has an elecorate of about 100,000. The Brigg constituency has about 90,000. I think that there are constituencies of over 100,000 but I have not checked, so I do not offer any as examples. I see one hon. Member shaking his head. There are arguments based on the fact that the figures given in The Times book are always out of date. They are always based on the last Boundary Commission report, for obvious reasons.

First, therefore, there are differences in size, and there are differences between city constituencies and rural constituencies. With the suburban developments and new town developments in the United Kingdom as a whole there are bound to be differences in size. It would be impossible to achieve a situation in which that was not so.

The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) quite successfully sought to argue the case for 150 seats. I am not necessarily agreeing with his argument, but he put it forward. However, he then fell back on the 78 figure. Three is better than the extra 80 for which he argued originally. The extra three seats, while proportionately supporting his argument, do not add up to a great deal. I concede that if it were 30 or 40 extra seats it would be a different argument, but we are talking about three extra seats, for Antrim, North, Antrim, South and Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Everyone has been talking about the Newfoundland Convention. In my historical searchings since we drew up the White Paper—I assure hon. Members that it was not before then—I was looking at another Convention held in Ireland in 1918. Strange as it may seem, it consisted of 78 members, so there may be some biblical connection, or something about the figures 7 and 8 or 8 and 7. But 78 it was.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Did the right hon. Gentleman read about the Hibernians?

Mr. Rees

I shall not go any further than saying that 78 seems to have some connection with Ireland.

The existing provision of the Bill is based, quite simply, on the existing provisions for the Northern Ireland Assembly. That Assembly was created by the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973 and was then given 78 members, allocated between the 12 constituencies in the way set out in the Schedule to that Act. The Northern Ireland Assembly Act was separate from the main Bill, for what I regarded as very good reasons, because it was a suggestion that I put forward which the then Government accepted; but they both knit together to make the procedures for the Assembly. The Northern Ireland Constitution Act, which followed the Assembly Act, introduced a provision to enable the number of Members returned to the Assembly by each constituency to be amended. The procedure chosen was to permit the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland to make a supplementary report on the membership of the Assembly in the course of its normal examination of constituencies in Northern Ireland.

9.30 p.m.

The Boundary Commission's prime terms of reference are to advise on the boundaries for parliamentary constituencies for the purpose of elections to the House of Commons. The commission makes reports on these boundaries for 10 to 15 years, which means that the next Westminster re-boundarying will be in about 1980. I know that from what happened under the previous administration, because I was interested in this matter and tabled a Question at that time.

As the boundaries on which the number of constituencies is based were the same, it was thought by the previous administration that the same Boundary Commission should be charged with the duty of considering, in the course of its normal consideration of boundaries, what changes, if any, were required to the representation in each constituency in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

It would require a change in the Act whereby the Boundary Commission could do it in a number of years' time—say, by 1979 or 1980. Section 28(2) provided that changes in the numbers should be hooked on to the Boundary Commission changes which would be made by the Westminster Act.

Captain Orr

I am not a lawyer. The right hon. Gentleman's argument appears to be misconceived. What Section 28(2) is dealing with is simply where the Boundary Commission is, in its normal course, dealing with the ordinary constituency boundaries for the House of Commons. This legislation is absolutely necessary. Obviously it would have to do something about the constituencies for the Assembly. It was a piece of legislation which was vital. It would not be affected if the Secretary of State simply took the power by Order in Council to alter the schedule to the Constitution Act. His argument about the difference in constituency sizes for the House of Commons is totally irrelevant.

Mr. Rees

I do not think that it is irrelevant. It is the same argument—that there are differences. In the Constitution Act the previous administration decided—I think rightly—that changes in the numbers should be considered when the Boundary Commission was looking at the size of constituencies in Northern Ireland. I admit that I could introduce legislation, no doubt in advance of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee which would look at it in detail later in the year.

I would not want—nor do I believe that any politician would want—to say to civil servants "Look at that constituency. Let us get an extra number there." It must be done outside the purview of politicians. We have always done it through boundary commissioners or, following reports of boundary commissions, through legislation.

There used to be a separate Northern Ireland Boundary Commission. If the amendment were accepted, I do not believe that there could be an election for about a year, because I would put all the seats in Northern Ireland up to the Boundary Commissioners. Not only Antrim, North and Antrim, South and Fermanagh and South Tyrone are affected. It is not my job as Secretary of State to alter the number of seats in Northern Ireland; that is the job of the Boundary Commissioners. If the amendment is passed, it will delay elections even more.

Captain Orr

The Secretary of State is making a very odd argument. He is saying that because the Boundary Commission has power to make changes, when constituency boundaries are being redrawn the Boundary Commission should amend the number of Members in the schedule, and that that has always been done by the Boundary Commission. He is saying that in his opinion that situation should continue. Was the schedule originally drawn up by the Boundary Commission?

Mr. Rees

In the first place it was drawn up by the Boundary Commission—that is, the figure of 78—in the spirit of the Act. This is not a job for me. If I were to start on it, others would be asking for this representation. The matter is best left to the commission.

Captain Orr

I can see certain pragmatic reasons, but no reason in law or logic, why the right hon. Gentleman should go to the Boundary Commission to make these minor changes. I do not think that his arguments are good, and it appears to me that the case made by my hon. Friends has been made in equity. I cannot hear any complaints from anywhere else, and I would have thought that the change could easily be made by administrative action. I hope that my hon. Friends will continue to press the matter.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Secretary of State has played around with the figure of 78 as though it came out of the air. However, there were 52 seats in the old Parliament and 26 seats in the Senate. The two were added together, which is why we now have 78 seats. The decision to divide Northern Ireland into 78 seats was made not by the Boundary Commission but arbitrarily by the Secretary of State. We are now asking whether this Parliament can do something to give fairer representation. Should not this Parliament be leading the way?

Mr. Rees

Arbitrary though that decision may have been, it would now be wrong for another Secretary of State to take another arbitrary decision. The decision should go through the Boundary Commission and not be applied just to the three constituencies that have been mentioned.

If the amendment were to be pressed successfully, it has been calculated that the election could not take place for more than a year. Perhaps that is what hon. Gentlemen want.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The right hon. Gentleman says that it would be an arbitrary decision, but he would be looking at the facts. The previous Secretary of State had no regard for anything but the Senate and the Northern Ireland Parliament. He added the total seats together and came up with the figure of 78. We said earlier that that should be looked at. It was discovered that South Antrim, North Antrim and Fermanagh and South Tyrone had too many electors. If the House carried the amendment tonight, the Boundary Commission would have nothing to do with it.

Mr. Dalyell

After all the odium that he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) went through in the mid-1960s and the unjust attacks upon them of fudging the Boundary Commission, I can well understand that my right hon. Friend is sensitive on this issue. I should like to ask a factual question. Is it the Boundary Commission that makes these decisions? Is there any difference between the Boundary Commission operating on the Convention, which we have been led to believe is of a temporary nature, and the Boundary Commission operating in circumstances that are far more permanent? I have sat here for the last 10 minutes a little alarmed about another matter. Here we are talking about things that are far more permanent than we were led to believe three or four hours ago. That is the fear that I have.

Mr. Molyneaux

I repeat what I said last week, that I have always respected the fairness of the Secretary of State. I believe that he acts in what he believes are the best interests in Northern Ireland, but, again, he has misinterpreted Section 28(2). It seems to me that the provision at the end of that subsection is simply a consequential action following the normal course of the Boundary Commission's activities in periodic revision of boundaries, and that when it simply redraws constituency boundaries it then introduces a supplementary report dealing with the Northern Ireland Assembly representation. It is as simple as that. But it does not seem to say anywhere that the Secretary of State shall not, on the basis of the existing constituency boundaries, vary representation in the Assembly or the Convention.

Mr. Kilfedder

The Secretary of State said that I had abandoned my claim for 150 seats and was supporting a claim for three. Of course, I am in no position to press the Committee to a Division on 150. I still believe that 150 is the right figure, and I was only hoping that the Secretary of State, wishing to take in a wide stretch of opinion, would accept my recommendation. The other point I wish to make is that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has left after his brief intervention.

Mr. Dalyell

Will my right hon. Friend simply confirm whether this is a question for the Boundary Commission or for the Secretary of State?

Mr. Merlyn Rees

All I am saying is that Section 28(2) of the Constitution Act hooks the matter on to the Boundary Comission, and subsection (3) says that The recommendations in a supplementary report shall not be such as substantially to alter the number of members specified in section 1(1) of the said Act of 1973 (total number of members of Assembly); and those recommendations shall be such as to secure, so far as practicable, that the ratio of the electorate of each constituency to the number of members to be returned by that constituency is the same in every constituency. I believe that the previous Government were right. They took their decision on 78 and that in future the matter should be handled by the Boundary Commissioners. If I were to take this matter

on I could not do it simply for three seats, because there are 12 constituencies. I realise that the leader of the official Unionists is keen that the Secretary of State shall never get involved in these things but that they should be left to an independent person. I cannot be independent. That is not my rôle in terms of dealing with these matters. I must advise the House that these questions should be left to the Boundary Commission.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

I welcome the Secretary of State's conversion to the belief that these matters should be left to the Boundary Commission and not interfered with parliamentarily. We all remember very well what happened in the 1965–70 revision. It happened to benefit me personally very much, but it was a most unfortunate piece of gerrymandering by time rather than by district. While I understand the arguments that have been put from my side of the Committee, I welcome the principle of the Secretary of State not deciding the number of seats as more important, and therefore the slight mathematical unfairness, which I concede exists, seems to be less important than having the Secretary of State follow the recommendations of the Boundary Commission.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 131.

Division No. 82.] AYES [9.45 p.m.
Winterton, Nicholas McCusker, H.
Bradford, Rev. R. Paisley, Rev. Ian TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Craig, Rt. Hn. William (Belfast, W.) Ross, Wm. (Londonderry) Mr. James Molyneaux and
Dunlop, John Taylor, Edward M. (Glgow, C'cart) Capt. L. P. S. Orr.
Fairgrieve, Russell West, Rt. Hn. Harry
Kilfedder, James A.
Armstrong, Ernest Colquhoun, Mrs. M. N. Ennals. David
Ashton, Joe Conlan, Bernard Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)
Atkins, Ronald Cook, Robert F. (Edinburgh, C.) Evans, loan (Aberdare)
Atkinson, Norman Cox, Thomas Evans, John (Newton)
Bates, Alf Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, Maryhill) Ewing, Harry (St'ling, F'kirk & G'm'th)
Beith, A. J. Cronin, John Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.
Bennett, Andrew F. (Stockport, N.) Dalyell, Tam Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)
Bidwell, Sydney Davidson, Arthur Flannery, Martin
Bishop, E. S. Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Dean, Joseph (Leeds, W.) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Booth, Albert Doig, Peter Ford, Ben
Broughton, Sir Alfred Dormand, J. D. Fowler, Gerry (The Wrekin)
Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan) Dunn, James A. Galpern, Sir Myer
Buchan, Norman Dunnett, Jack Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Callaghan, Jim (M'dd'ton & Pr'wich) Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth George, Bruce
Clemitson, Ivor Eadie, Alex Graham, Ted
Cocks, Michael Ellis, John (Brigg & Scunthorpe) Grant, George (Morpeth)
Cohen, Stanley Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Coleman, Donald English, Michael Hamilton, William (Fife, C.)
Harper, Joseph Marks, Kenneth Spearing, Nigel
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole) Spriggs, Leslie
Hatton, Frank Mendelson, Jonn Stallard, A. W.
Hooley, Frank Millan, Bruce Stewart, Rt. Hn. M. (H'sth, Fulh'm)
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, [...]chen) Strang, Gavin
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Moyle, Roland Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Murray, Ronald King Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Hughes, Roy (Newport) O'Halloran, Michael Tierney, Sydney
Hunter, Adam O'Malley, Brian Tinn, James
John, Brynmor Orme, Rt. Hn. Stanley Tomlinson, John
Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Ovenden, John Tyler, Paul
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Palmer, Arthur Urwin, T. W.
Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Park, George (Coventry, N.E.) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Pavitt, Laurie Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Kaufman, Gerald Pendry, Tom Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lamborn, Harry Perry, Ernest G. Watkins, David
Lamond, James Prescott, John Whitlock, William
Latham, Arthur (City of W'minster P'ton) Rees, Rt. Hn. Merlyn (Leeds, S.) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Lawson, George (Motherwell & Wishaw) Roderick, Caerwyn E. Wise, Mrs. Audrey
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Rodgers, George (Chorley) Woodall, Alec
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Rooker, J. W. Woof, Robert
Loyden, Eddie Rose, Paul B. Young, David (Bolton, E.)
McCartney, Hugh Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
MacFarquhar, Roderick Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mackenzie, Gregor Skinner, Dennis Mr. John Golding and
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Small, William Mr. Walter Johnson.
Madden, M. O. F. Snape, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Captain Orr

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 7, line 36, at end insert: 'and (c) Members of the House of Commons for constituencies in Northern Ireland'. The amendment speaks for itself. It simply proposes that Members of the House of Commons who represent Northern Ireland constituencies should automatically be members of the Convention.

It appears that the Secretary of State will opt out. We have had considerable discussion about the chairmanship of the Convention and it seems that the right hon. Gentleman will not be in the chair. But it is important to the Convention that it should contain people with experience of the House of Commons and who have views about what might or might not be acceptable to the House of Commons in order to advise the Convention.

We who represent Northern Ireland constituencies fit into both categories. We are the most freshly elected people in Northern Ireland. In addition, some of us have considerable experience of the House of Commons. Even those who have recently become Members of the House of Commons have, as a result of our debates here, been able to learn something about it and about what might be acceptable to the House of Commons. It would be sensible if people who represented Northern Ireland constituencies had the right to attend the Convention, to listen to the arguments and to give the Convention advice from time to time.

Mr. Beith

The experience of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) is well known and well respected, but I find it difficult to follow his argument. If he felt the need for what he proposes, he could stand for election to the Convention and might be elected. But it would be far from desirable to add to the Convention a block of Members who, in their representation, were very much less proportional than the Convention would be. It would, in effect, distort the representation of the Convention if a block of Members from the House of Commons were added to it.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman made a point which was different from the point of the amendment when he suggested that it might be possible for Members of the House of Commons who have an obvious interest in the matter under discussion to attend the Convention but not to be Members of it. It is difficult to understand the case simply for adding a group of 12 Members, elected under the Westminster system, to the proportionally-elected Convention.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Roland Moyle)

I wish to reply to the amendment in the spirit in which the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) moved it.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he would like Members of the House of Commons to be in the Convention so that they could advise the Convention about what would be acceptable to the House of Commons. We have given the parameters in the White Paper, but the alternative has already been put forward by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith): namely, that if the people of Northern Ireland felt that it would be of advantage for Members of the House of Commons to advise the Convention they could elect such Members as offered themselves for election to the Convention where they would be able to make constructive contributions.

That would have the advantage of allowing them to give advice and to attend the debates and, as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, it would not distort the representation of the Convention, which would be directly answerable to the Northern Ireland electorate. The great thing about adopting that solution is that Parliament would not tell the electorate of Northern Ireland who should represent them in the Convention, even to a moderate degree; the people of Northern Ireland would decide that for themselves.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I find it hard to believe that the spokesman for the Liberal Party should be so much against the amendment, because his Leader put it forward when we discussed the Northern Ireland Assembly—

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to re port Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report progress.