HC Deb 27 June 1974 vol 875 cc1713-5
14. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will now take steps to increase the number of constituencies in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Orme

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to a Question from the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) on 4th April.—[Vol. 871, c. 1421.]

Mr. Marten

In spite of that answer, will the Minister look at some of the highly inflated electorates in some of the Northern Irish constituencies, because they are simply not fair? If the argument is that because the people sometimes have a local Assembly, which operates or does not operate, they need fewer MPs, will the same doctrine apply if Scotland gets a local Assembly? Shall we cut down the number of Scottish MPs'? Would it not be a gesture for general peace in Northern Ireland if an offer were made to increase the number of seats?

Mr. Orme

I am sorry that I cannot meet the hon. Gentleman's point. I think that hon. Members will recognise that Northern Ireland is in a unique position. The Government feel that to increase representation now would be detrimental to the general political situation. The Government want Northern Ireland people of both communities to start resolving the problems in Northern Ireland themselves. We do not necessarily believe that they can be resolved on the Floor of this House.

Mr. Beith

Does the Minister accept that at the beginning of a period of considerable constitutional discussion, it is undesirable that that option should appear to be closed and out of the Government's mind? Could not the real reason for their unwillingness to give the representation to which Northern Ireland is entitled, in view of the extent of its affairs controlled from Westminster, be the fear that the results of elections not conducted on proportional representation would be unfair?

Mr. Orme

We had proportional representation for the Assembly elections. If the Executive had remained, and if power sharing, which was becoming a great success in Northern Ireland, had remained, we should have had an Assembly and a form of government in Northern Ireland, plus representation in this House, without equal in any other part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Duffy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are English Members who represent electorates in excess of any in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Orme

I am aware of that.

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