§ Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—1880
§ thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 48 (Debate on clause or schedule standing part), The the clause stand part of the Bill:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 114, Noes 18.
§ The Chairman
I called the hon. Member. There will be time; I shall call the other hon. Gentlemen in due course.
§ Mr. McNamara
I hope that that is so, Mr. Murton, because earlier the Government moved the closure when one of my hon. Friends was on his feet.
§ The Chairman
I called the hon. Gentleman because his name is on the amendments that were not selected, and I 1881 assumed that he wanted to speak on the clause.
§ Mr. McNamara
It is a pleasure to know that one can have amendments that are in order but not selected, as most of my amendments have been out of order.
The purpose of my amendments was to deal with the way in which the Bill may be cited. The clause provides:This Act may be cited as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1978, and shall be included among the Acts which may be cited as the Representation of the People Acts, and this Act and the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Acts 1949 and 1958 may be cited together as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Acts 1949 to 1978.My amendments would have provided that the Bill be cited as the Representation of the People (Great Britain and Northern Ireland) Act.
I cannot understand why amendments such as these did not attract the signature of the Ulster Unionists. I should have thought that they would have signed for different reasons from those of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt).
I wanted the citation of the Act strengthened to show precisely what it and the preceding Acts did. For the Ulster Unionists it would have demonstrated, peradventure, that the representation of Great Britain was the same as that of Northern Ireland. For my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West it would be a continuous reminder that he had still a long way to go before the Six Counties of Northern Ireland ceased to be represented in this Parliament. Therefore, it would represent for him a continuous spur to try to have rectified what is being done in this Bill for good sense to prevail, and for us to get rid of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and redress the situation by reducing it to what it was before 1800.
One could argue that we might well have had the pre-1800 situation with a better sort of Parliament in Ireland had some of the work of Members in the House of Commons in the nineteenth century been appreciated and followed up, instead of the Ulster Unionists inciting Ulster to rebellion, led by the Tories, under Lord Randolph Churchill.
1882 That is all by the way. The main purpose of looking at the contents of these amendments is not only to question the points that I have raised but to see whether there is some way in which the citation of this measure can draw attention to what has been done.
We have taken Northern Ireland and treated it separately and differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. A completely different electoral register is to be used for drawing up the constituency boundaries. We are giving the Boundary Commission completely different instructions from those for the rest of the United Kingdom. Therefore, the distinction between the two parts should be properly drawn.
We have amended an Act that dealt specifically with this—the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. The last amendment that we debated dealt with the important alterations to the role of the Boundary Commission in Northern Ireland. Accepting the amendment that I suggested would have drawn people's attention to what is happening.
It is interesting to note that we have for Northern Ireland a floating idea of representation contained in the Bill—it floats between 16 and 18. There are very different provisions for Scotland and Wales, where the parent Act refers to "not less than", and very different provisions for the United Kingdom where I think it uses the phrase "in the region of" in relation to numbers. Here we have a situation in which Northern Ireland is being singled out in a specific, separate and distinctive way.
If we had agreed to the title that I suggest, and that I would have moved if my amendment had been selected, we should have had a citation that would have brought to the memories of people in the House, and perhaps, outside, the way in which the Bill has been drafted, to show that we are determined to retain the anomaly of one form of election for representation in this House but different forms for local authorities, for Assemblies if they come about, and for the Parliamentary Assembly of Northern Ireland.
We are, all in all, creating in this Bill a curious and senseless anomaly. It is a very sad thing for the Labour Government to have done or even contemplated. It is good to have driven home yet 1883 again the point that the Labour Government have crawled to the Ulster Unionists in order that they should remain in power. It is a sad thing to have to say about one's own Government.
The citation would also have drawn attention to the fact that a change of policy has been made without reference to the parliamentary party, the national party, or the national executive of the party. That is a matter of importance. It would also have drawn attention to the fact that we have had no acceptance or even acknowledgment from our own Front Bench that there has been a change of policy. For them even to have admitted grudgingly that there had been a change of policy would have been welcome to us.
For all these reasons we should have accepted the amendments which were in order but were not chosen for debate.
Now we shall be left with a Bill for which the citation will read:This Act may be cited as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1978, and shall he included among the Acts which may be cited as the Representation of the People Acts, and this Act and the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Acts 1949 and 1958 may be cited together as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Acts 1949 to 1978.It is an unhappy way to cite an Act of such a nature. It almost suggests that this evening we have done something of which we may be proud. I do not believe that we have. We have stored up trouble for ourselves in Ireland, and, regrettably, in this country.
It is not a happy day, or a happy time, and I regret that we are citing the Bill under a general heading covering membership of the whole of this House and not distinguishing between the Great Britain seats and the Northern Ireland seats. I hope that we shall vote against the clause.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas
I should like to follow the remarks of my hon. Friend, who has just said that the Bill is not something of which we should be proud and certainly not something that we can cite as a House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill that has been given the consideration that it deserves.
A number of us were fully prepared to speak on clause 1 when the Govern- 1884 ment suddenly moved a closure motion. I am reasonably certain, without looking up the relevant issues of Hansard, that the other Acts with which this Bill is now linked, under clause 2 received more consideration by the House.
We are asked to cite the Bill as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, for a number of reasons. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that we should do so because the Ulster Unionists in their election manifestos had consistently put the claim for more seats. That may be so, but it was not in the October 1974 manifesto of the Labour Party, and 1 remind my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that we are supposed to be here to carry out that manifesto. There was no mention of increasing the number of Northern Ireland seats at Westminster. We said:There must be some form of power-sharing and partnership because no political sytem will survive, or be supported, unless there is widespread acceptance of it within the community. There must be genuine participation by both communities in the direction of affairs.The right hon. Member for Down. South asks us to judge the situation in the Six Counties as though we were dealing with six counties in Lancashire, the South-West, the Midlands, or some other part of England.
§ Mr. Thomas
The right hon. Gentleman wants us to ignore the 300 years' struggle by the Irish people to create one nation. He wants us to ignore the events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and to imagine that we are dealing with six counties in Great Britain. He looks at the matter as a constitutional theorist and ignores the reality of what is happening in the Six Counties.
The Government want us to cite the Act in this way, but there was a complete contradiction in the Secretary of State's speech on Second Reading. He said:Northern Ireland's present level of representation was set in 1920. At that time, a devolved Parliament was established in Northern Ireland responsible in both legislative and administrative terms for a wide range of matters. It was then generally accepted that, because of the existence of that devolved Government, Northern Ireland did not need 1885 the same level of representation at Westminster as did those other parts of the United Kingdom which did not have a devolved Government. Northern Ireland was allocated 12 seats plus a university seat. If seats had been allotted in proportion to population on the same basis as in Great Britain, Northern Ireland would then have received 17 or 18 seats.He was saying that because of devolved government in 1920, Northern Ireland was not given, and should not have expected, the same number of representatives in this Parliament. Later, the Secretary of State said:Let me restate briefly what the Government's policy is. We are as convinced as ever that the only way to find a fair and durable solution to Northern Ireland's political problems is to restore to the Province a devolved Government in a form that is acceptable to a majority of the people in both parts of the community. I make that statement without qualification, and I think it is one that the official Opposition would endorse."—[Official Report, 28th November 1978; Vol. 959, c. 421-427.]So we are asked to cite the Bill as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1978 on the basis that the Secretary of State is saying that the essential policy of the Government is to bring about devolved government in Northern Ireland, in the Six Counties. At the same time, he uses the argument that, because of devolved government in Northern Ireland from 1920 onwards, for 50 years nothing was done about this situation.
If it is the aim of the Government to have devolved government in Northern Ireland, their case for additional seats does not stand up to argument. I hope that the Minister of State will come clean on this. I think that it is an insult to the House that the Secretary of State himself is not present, although as far as I know he is voting in the Lobbies. He should be here to answer these points.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Can you explain to me how the hon. Gentleman's speech is in any sense in order in terms of the citation of the Bill in clause 2?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman was in order possibly up to the last two sentences, when, I am afraid, he drifted off—if I may put it that way—into the question of the number of seats. He should confine himself to the subject matter of clause 2.
§ Mr. Thomas
I readily accept your advice, Mr. Murton. The essence of what I am saying is that we are being asked to cite the Bill as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1978, and we have been given all kinds of reasons why we should do so. I dealt with some of the arguments used by the right hon. Member for Down, South. I went on to deal with the arguments used by the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State's argument for citing the Bill as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1978 was that in 1920, because of a devolved Parliament in the Six Counties, there was no justification for increasing the number of seats for Northern Ireland in this House. He said that the Government's policy was clear—they wanted to see devolved government in Northern Ireland. Why, then, are they giving the extra seats now?
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) has made clear why the Bill was brought forward. It was, of course, to ensure that the Ulster Unionists supported the Government on the Queen's Speech, and presumably will support the Government until the Bill receives the Royal Assent. But what happens then? I assume that the Bill could be an Act in a short while. Where, then, I wonder, will be the loyalty of the Ulster Unionists to the Labour Government?
Another reason given why we should cite the Bill as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1978 is the Speaker's Conference. I have here the letter from Mr. Speaker, dated 13th February 1978, dealing with his Conference on electoral law. I have been looking at the list of those who sat on that Conference. I do not remember that the House was ever given the opportunity to decide who would serve on the Conference, and I attend this place regularly. I readily accept that among those serving on the Conference were Members of the House who are members of the Ulster Unionist groups, with a legitimate connection with Northern Ireland.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is moving away from the Committee stage in dealing with questions raised on Second Reading. He must return to the question of citation.
§ Mr. Thomas
We are told that the major reason why we should cite the Bill as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1978 is the result of Mr. Speaker's Conference. We are asked to say that that is a justification for so citing it. I am saying that that justification exists only if those who formed the Conference were a reasonable sample and cross-section of hon. Members. That Conference was not. None of my hon. Friends who are always present when Northern Ireland matters are discussed—Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery)—was a member of the Conference. Not one member of the 80-strong Tribune group was a member of the Conference.
§ The Chairman
We must not go into the composition of Mr. Speaker's Conference. It is not germane to the clause.
§ Mr. Thomas
Then I simply say, Mr. Murton, that the composition of the Conference does not inspire me to cite the Bill as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1978.
§ Mr. Thorne
Will my right hon. Friend the Minister address his mind to the alternatives? It seems to me proper, in considering the citation, to examine what might be a more realistic way of citing the measure. Has he considered whether it should be cited as the "Concessions to Ulster Unionists Act 1978" or the "Survival of Labour Government Act 1978"?
§ Mr. Thomas
I could add "The Day the Labour Government Sold Their Soul for a Few More Days Act 1978". I am sure that there are many other possibilities in the minds of my hon. Friends.
I simply say, Mr. Murton—I thank you for your indulgence—that I have been asked to cite the Bill to my constituents as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1978. I am trying to give some indication why I shall find that difficult. Another part of the letter from Mr. Speaker to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reads as follows:The Conference first met on 27th July 1977 to consider their course of proceeding. They decided that the deliberations of the 1888 Conference should be in private and that the record of their deliberations should not be made public. They also decided that the names of Members voting in divisions of the Conference should not be published, though the number should.I am asked to try to persuade my constituents to accept that they should cite the measure as the clause proposes on the basis that they cannot check how any hon. Members voted in any Division and cannot consider the no doubt deep analytical deliberations of the members of the Conference. They are not allowed to do that—
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is not allowed to do it either. I have been more than indulgent, but I must rule that we cannot discuss any further the question of Mr. Speaker's Conference.
§ Mr. Thomas
I find difficulty because the title implies that it is a Bill of constitutional importance. It is a Bill of fundamental constitutional importance. It suggests to the people of the Six Counties that something is being done to deal with their traumatic problems. But all that is being done is to tie the Six Counties to Britain against the clear aspirations of the Irish people for a united and independent Ireland.
I cannot cite the Bill as proposed because we have spent nothing like enough time on it. Debates have been deliberately cut short by the Government and the Whips' office. I wonder whether Members of the House of Lords, including Lord Scanlon, have been told to be there at 3 a.m. today, so that the Bill will be law by 4.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Thomas
I hope that those "bovver boys" in ermine spend as much time on this measure as they spent on the measure to nationalise the aircraft and shipbuilding industries. I shall vote against the clause.
§ Mr. Flannery
I oppose clause 2 on the ground that the Bill is not a House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill. It has been given an aura of democracy, based upon expediency. It is an abortion.
The Bill is being considered with indecent haste. Its importance is not 1889 fully understood. I am convinced that it will harden attitudes in Northern Ireland. It will strengthen the hand of the para-militaries and the IRA because it is not what it says it is.
As usual, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke in precise, legalistic language. As usual, his conclusions were totally detached from humanity. He did not understand what he was saying. His precise, academic approach shows no compassion for the people.
The right hon. Member speaks of Northern Ireland as if it is the same as any other part of the United Kingdom. It is not. It is a unique part of the United Kingdom. It is the result of 800 years of brutal imperialism. It was imposed upon the Irish people by drawing a line round an inbuilt Protestant majority.
§ The Chairman
I must interrupt the hon. Member's discourse. We are discussing a very narrow point. He is going wide of it. He must confine his remarks to clause 2.
§ 1.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Flannery
I shall try to accept your advice, Mr. Murton. I believe that some of the points that I am making are relevant. The title of the Bill suggests that there are oppressed minorities in, for instance, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Northumberland, and other parts of the country. There are not. The reality is that we are dealing with a Northern Ireland measure, not a House of Commons measure. The comparison does not hold water. Yorkshire did not have a line drawn round it. The people there were not excluded, because they were in a religious minority, from obtaining jobs or houses.
This point has not been taken into account even in the naming of this measure. The Bill is an expediency, a capitulation to keep the Government in power. It is disgraceful, because it means that only a handful of us will represent the democratic aspirations of the bulk of the Irish people. Will the Bill improve in any way the position in Northern Ireland? It will worsen it. Will it improve the position in Southern Ireland? Of course not. Will it improve the position in the whole of Ireland, as its title im- 1890 plies? It will not. It will harden the situation in Britain. It has come before us now—after 50 years of oppression—because the Government are in great difficulty. This demagogic title, which is a misnomer, has been given to it to get it through and keep us in power for a few more days or weeks.
The loyalty of those voting for the Bill has never been with us. Those who are listening to us in our own country and in Northern and Southern Ireland will regard the few voices on the Labour Benches as the authentic voice of those who regard the Bill as being totally at odds with the name given to it in clause 2.
The Irish News of 30th November really described the Bill properly. It said:More Unionist Voices at Westminster".That should be the name of the Bill. The enthusiasm of the Ulster Unionists for this misnamed Bill arises from the fact that they know that they will have more Unionist Members in the House, voting Tory, as soon as they are freed from the Labour Government. The editorial, describing this Bill, says:Mr. Mason, who opened the Second Reading on the Government's Bill, was unction itself when he spoke about the need for fair do's' all round.… The Government, he declared with a rhetorical flourish, can no longer put up with the situation of only 12 seats.No longer! For all these years the minority community has been held in miserable subjection. Bombs have had to be exploded before we could get this misnamed Bill.
We are doing something tonight that will take a long time to undo. This misnamed Bill has placed in dire jeopardy people in Northern Ireland and parts of England. I am deeply ashamed that the Labour Party, the Whips, and the Front Bench in particular, should have pushed us into this position, without giving us the proper time to discuss this serious measure. I am ashamed of what has happened today.
§ Mr. Litterick
I shall speak very briefly. I find it difficult to accept that this legislation should be entitled the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill. That sticks in my throat, because I am a political person, a member of the Labour Party, and I was sent to this place on an election manifesto that 1891 said nothing about this legislation. The Labour Party conference has never discussed action on the lines laid down by this Bill, because it has never had the chance to do so. The Bill should be retitled the Direct Rule (Continuation) Bill.
In making this kind of concession to a political element in Northern Ireland the Government are perpetuating a situation that the vast majority of people in mainland Britain would agree is indefensible. We are trying to put an aura of respectability round a situation that cannot be justified. This Bill means that the Government have abandoned any commitment to power sharing. It can give the British people no guarantee that the Ulster Unionists, having got their pound of flesh out of this Government in the form of extra seats, will not return in a month or two to ask for something else. That something else will be the restoration of Stormont. In other words, they will want a 1920 situation plus this legislation. They will continue to have British military support for sectarian government in Northern Ireland. That is all that this Government have done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr Flannery) was right to say that by bringing forward this Bill we are guaranteeing the British people more bloody trouble in future years. We shall do that because we are ossifying a political situation that appar-
|Division No. 40]||AYES||[1.55 a.m|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Dempsey, James||McCusker, H.|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Dewar, Donald||McElhone, Frank|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Dormand, J. D.||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Duffy, A. E. P.||McKay, Alan (Penistone)|
|Bates, Alf||Dunlop, John||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Bean, R. E.||Eadie, Alex||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Beith, A. J.||English, Michael||Mallalieu, J. P. W.|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Evans,loan (Aberdare)||Marks, Kenneth|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Evans, John (Newton)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Fookes, Miss Janet||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Molyneaux, James|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Morgan, Geraint|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||George, Bruce||Morris, Rt Hon Charles B.|
|Campbell, lan||Golding, John||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberayon)|
|Carson, John||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Morton, George|
|Carter, Ray||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Hardy, Peter||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Cohen, Stanley||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Neave, Airey|
|Concannon, Rt Hon John||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Noble, Mike|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||John, Brynmor||Oakes, Gordon|
|Cowans, Harry||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Ogden, Eric|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Paisley, Rev lan|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Park, George|
|Davidson, Arthur||Kilfedder, James||Pendry, Tom|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Lamond, James||Penhaligon, David|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Deakins, Eric||Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Radice, Giles|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
§ ently has defied the wit and courage of Westminster-based politicians for all these years.
§ We neglected Northern Ireland in the period between 1922 and 1970. We paid attention to it only when the guns began to fire. That is a judgment on the House of Commons of earlier years. But it is surely totally unjustified for the House of Commons to continue to act in the same cowardly way in the face of the problems in Northern Ireland. Why do we in London repeat the mistakes of the past? There is no justice in this respect, and I cannot accept the title of the Bill.
§ Mr. Concannon
I note that not even the short title of the Bill can escape the scrutiny of my hon. Friends. The reason why the Bill carries this short title is explained in the long title.
The Bill's primary purpose is to amend rule 1 of schedule 2 to the parent Act, the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949. It is therefore logical that the Bill should be entitled likewise, the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill, as was the Act of 1958, which also amended the 1949 Act. I cannot advise the Committee to vote against the clause.
§ Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 113, Noes 18.
|Roderick, Caewyn||Strang, Gavin||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Roper, John||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Ross, William (Londonderry)||Tinn, James||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Urwin, T. W.||Woof, Robert|
|Sever, John||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)||Wrigglesworlh, Ian|
|Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)||Ward, Michael||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Snape, Peter||White, James (Pollok)||Mr. Donald Coleman and|
|Spearing, Nigel||Whitehead, Phillip||Mr. Ted Graham.|
|Canavan, Dennis||Mikardo, lan||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Cryer, Bob||O'Halloran, Michael||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Parry, Robert||Woodall, Alec|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Home Robertson, John||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Loyden, Eddie||Skinner, Dennis||Mr. Tom Litterick and|
|McNamara, Kevin||Stallard, A. W.||Mr. Martin Flannery|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ The Chairman
The Question is, That I do report the Bill without amendment, to the House. As many as are of that opinion say "Aye".
§ The Chairman
I should point out in regard to this Question, which I have put to the House, that it is stated in "Erskine May", at page 533, that it is now regarded as a formal Question and that the Chairman had deprecated debate on it, and I suggest that this should extend to any question of a Division. This is the usual procedure. I hope that the House will agree to that.
§ Question agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Stallard.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Standing Order No. 53 states thatIf a motion to re-commit a bill as a whole be made, Mr. Speaker shall permit a brief explanatory statement of the reasons for such re-committal from the Member who makes, and a brief statement from a Member who opposes any such motion, and shall then put the quetion thereon.I call Mr. Stallard.
§ 2.7 a.m.
§ Mr. Stallard
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall keep within the bounds of your instructions and be brief. First, I move that the Bill be re-committed because of the absence during the whole debate of any senior Government Minister. Secondly, the Secretary of State has not been seen in the House since the debate began. On an extremely important constitutional matter one could have expected that as a matter of courtesy. Nor has the Home Secretary or anyone from the Department been in the Chamber during the whole debate. Because of the nature of the Bill we would have expected, as well, the courtesy of at least a visit from someone in that Department, and a voice.
I move that the Bill be recommitted also because of the curtailment of debate by the Government on at least two occasions, and on another occasion when we were refused permission to debate the Question, That clause 1 stand part of the Bill.
For those reasons, and because I consider the Bill to be one of the most important constitutional measures to be discussed this Session—it is almost as important as some of the devolution stuff that we discussed in the last Session, and we know how long that went on—I beg to move that the Bill be recommitted. suggest that it is being pushed through with undue haste not for political reasons but for sheer expediency. I do not accept that the Bill has been adequately discussed by a sufficient number of hon. Members, and it has not been given the courtesy that it merited by Front Bench spokesmen from the Departments concerned.
§ 2.11 a.m.
§ Mr. Concannon
I object to the recommittal of this measure to the House. The Committee stage has been taken on the Floor of the House, not upstairs. All hon. Members had the right to be here today and to put their views. On the
|Division No. 41]||AYES||[2.11 a.m|
|Canavan, Dennis||Mahon, Simon||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Cryer, Bob||Mikardo, Ian||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||O'Halloran, Michael||Woodall, Alec|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Parry, Robert|
|Flannery, Martin||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Home Robertson, John||Skinner, Dennis||Mr. Kevin McNamara and|
|Litterick, Tom||Stallard, A. W.||Miss Jo Richardson.|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Fookes, Miss Janet||Neave, Airey|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Noble, Mike|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||George, Bruce||Oakes, Gordon|
|Bates, Alf||Golding, John||Ogden, Eric|
|Bean, R. E.||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Beith, A. J.||Graham, Ted||Park, George|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Pendry, Tom|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hardy, Peter||Penhaligon, David|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Radice, Giles|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||John, Brynmor||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Roper, John|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Campbell, Ian||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Rowlands, Ted|
|Carson, John||Kllfedder, James||Sever, John|
|Carter, Ray||Lamond, James||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Snape, Peter|
|Coleman, Donald||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Concannon, Rt Hon John||McCusker, H.||Strang, Gavin|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||McElhone, Frank||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Cowans, Harry||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Tinn, James|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||McKay, Alan (Penistone)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Davidson, Arthur||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Mallalieu, J. P.W.||Ward, Michael|
|Deakins, Eric||Marks, Kenneth||White, James (Pollok)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Whitehead, Philip|
|Dempsey, James||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Dewar, Donald||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Molyneaux, James||Woof, Robert|
|Dunlop, John||Morgan, Geraint||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Eadie, Alex||Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.|
|English, Michael||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Morton, George||Mr. John Evans and|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Mr. Bryan Davies.|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Notice being taken that Strangers were present, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant
|Division No. 42]||AYES||[2.26 a.m.|
|Loyden, Eddie||Parry, Robert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|McNamara, Kevin||Stallard, A. W.||Mr. Gerry Fitt and|
|Mahon, Simon||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||Mr. Tom Litterick.|
§ question of who should be here, as was said earlier, I speak for the Government in this matter.
§ Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 53 (Re-committal of bill):—
§ The House divided: Ayes 18, Noes 112.
§ to Standing Order No. 115 (Withdrawal of Strangers from the House), put forthwith the Question, That Strangers do withdraw:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 7, Noes 112.
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Neave, Airey|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Fookes, Miss Janet||Noble, Mike|
|Bean, R. E.||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Oakes, Gordon|
|Beith, A.J.||George, Bruce||Ogden, Eric|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Golding, John||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Park, George|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Graham, Ted||Pendry, Tom|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Penhaligon, David|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Hardy, Peter||Radice, Giles|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Home Robertson, John||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Campbell, Ian||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Roper, John|
|Canavan, Dennis||John, Brynmor||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Carson, John||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Carter, Ray||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Sever, John|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Kilfedder, James||Skinner, Dennis|
|Coleman, Donald||Lamond, James||Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Concannon, Rt Hon John||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Snape, Peter|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Spearing, Nigel|
|Cowans, Harry||McCusker, H.||Strang, Gavin|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||McElhone, Frank||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Cryer, Bob||McKay, Allen||Tinn, James|
|Davidson, Arthur||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Urwin, T. W.|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||McNair-WiIson, M. (Newbury)||Walnwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Mallalieu, J.P.W.||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Deakins, Eric||Marks, Kenneth||White, James (Pollok)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Dempsey, James||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Dewar, Donald||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Woof, Robert|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Morgan, Geraint||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Dunlop, John||Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.|
|Eadie, Alex||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Morton, George||Mr. Alf Bates and|
|English, Michael||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Mr. John Evans|
|Evans,loan (Aberdare)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 2.38 a.m.
§ Mr. Concannon
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
In the debates on Second Reading and in Committee, we heard a lot about the supposed origins of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have done what we can to answer the fears that have been expressed, but we do not seem to have met with great success.
Much has been made of a change of attitude by the Government since 1976. We do not for a moment pretend that the Government's view on the question of Northern Ireland representation has not changed over the past few years. It has, but let us remind ourselves why that change came about. To do that we need to recall the events that culminated in the early months of 1977.
For the previous two and a half years—since May 1974—direct rule had prevailed in Northern Ireland. There was no devolved government. But it was this Government's intention to restore devolved government as soon as an 1898 acceptable basis could be found. That, of course, is still our policy. However, because of the absence of devolved government, there was pressure on us to increase Northern Ireland's representation in this House. It was put to us that Northern Ireland's relative under-representation in comparison to the rest of the country had been justified in the past by the existence there, but nowhere else, of a devolved Government which handled many of the Province's affairs. It was further argued that, in the continuing absence of a devolved Government, the under-representation could no longer be justified and should be corrected. In other words, increased representation was presented as a kind of compensation for direct rule.
The Government rejected that argument. We saw no justification in seeking to increase Northern Ireland's representation—a process that would take several years—solely in order to plug what was a temporary gap. It might well have transpired that by the time the process of increasing the representation had been completed, devolved government would have been restored.
§ Mr. Litterick
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Government supporters do not appear to be much interested in what the Minister is saying, but I should like to hear him. Please would you ask them to behave themselves?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If there is some ground swell of conversation, I am sure that it will not now continue.
§ Mr. Concannon
Perhaps it is the excitement of what I am saying.
The Government resisted the calls for more seats for Northern Ireland, and we suggested—as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) reminded us so assiduously on Second Reading—that the question of Northern Ireland's representation should not be tackled in advance of a resolution of the constitutional impasse in the Province.
But in February 1977 there was an event of some significance. Since the establishment of a separate Parliament for Northern Ireland, under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, there had been widespread acceptance of the view that devolved government in a particular part of the United Kingdom should be accompanied by lower representation at Westminster for that part of the country. In the debate on the question of devolution to Scotland and Wales, that view first began to be seriously questioned, and in the early hours of the morning of 2nd February 1977 the House of Commons gave its verdict. Voting on an amendment to the Scotland and Wales Bill, the House rejected any reduction in the number of MPs representing Scotland and Wales following devolution.
This radically altered the situation that we faced in Northern Ireland. There we had a part of the country that everybody agreed was under-represented, and yet the justification for that under-representation had been removed in the 2nd February vote. Parliament had made clear its view that full representation was warranted regardless of the existence of devolved government, and that is why, in the next month, the Prime Minister announced that the question of Northern Ireland's representation would be referred to a Speaker's Conference.
What does the Bill do to the long-term future of Northern Ireland? The basic problems that we face in Northern 1900 Ireland stem from the existence there of two communities with conflicting aspirations as to the long-term constitutional status of the Province, and their inability up till now to set aside their long-term ideals and find a compromise to allow for a shorter-term resolution of the differences that divide them.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State continues to seek ways to achieve the necessary compromise. He is currently in touch with all four major political parties in the Province, and he is hoping for further discussions with them to find ways of making progress.
Throughout the debates on this Bill, my right hon. Friend and I have stressed the importance of looking at it on its merits, and in a positive light. We often hear claims that this House does not pay enough attention to the serious affairs of Northern Ireland. I hope that the Bill helps in that respect.
I respect the views of those who oppose the Bill. They do so through sincere and genuine beliefs. But I must say one thing to them: "Do not let your attitude to this measure distort your view of what the Government are seeking in Northern Ireland." We seek a return to devolved government in Northern Ireland. We insist that it must be on a basis acceptable to both sides of the community.
We also continue to believe that the long-term constitutional status of Northern Ireland cannot be changed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. If that consent comes, we shall not stand in the way of change, but as long as Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom we see no justification for denying it fair representation in the United Kingdom Parliament, and this Bill is the outcome.
§ 2.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Neave
We hope that the Bill will receive its Third Reading. We accept a great deal of what the Minister of State said about devolved government in Northern Ireland. I have already said that we do not regard the extra seats for Northern Ireland as a substitute for devolved government, when the time comes.
The right hon. Gentleman explained the Government's rather sudden conversion to extra representation in terms of 1901 what happened in February. The Conservative Party has made clear since its election manifesto of October 1974 that in its view Northern Ireland is under-represented. It clearly is under-represented. The electorate in Northern Ireland has grown by a considerable figure since the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Anyone who looks at those figures will feel that the case for the Bill is overwhelming. We hope that it will soon become law.
On Second Reading on 28th November I said:The electoral quota for Northern Ireland has increased from 50,000 in 1925 to the present level of 86,000.I also said—I know that the Secretary of State thought that this was a strong point:The electorate in Northern Ireland has grown by 500,000 since 1922."—[Official Report, 28th November 1978; Vol. 959, c. 253.]That had happened without any increase in representation, and it is one of the strongest reasons why we think that Mr. Speaker's Conference was right in its recommendations. When the Prime Minister announced those recommendations last spring, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said that we would support the Bill at all stages, and we have done so.
As far as I know, no Opposition Member has ever suggested that the Bill will resolve all the political and social problems of Northern Ireland. Of course it will not. Nor can anyone seriously predict how people will vote in the 1980s, when the Boundary Commission has done its work and the Bill is implemented in terms of constituencies.
What is important is that Northern Ireland should be equitably represented in relation to the rest of the United King-dom. We believe that increased representation will benefit the whole community and that the Bill does not necessarily entrench any one community in regard to representation, and we hope that the Boundary Commission will soon be enabled, by the Bill's becoming law, to starts its work.
§ 2.48 a.m.
§ Mr. McNamara
I wish that I could join my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and the hon. Member for Abing- 1902 don (Mr. Neave) in welcoming the Third Reading of the Bill. Unfortunately, I cannot do so. I do not see it as heralding a new dawn, either for the House or for the Six Counties of Northern Ireland—or, indeed, for this island of ours here. I think that we shall regret the effects of the Bill for many days, and perhaps many years.
I listened with interest to what my right hon. Friend said about the sudden conversion that took place in the early hours on the Scotland and Wales Bill. The conversion really took place when we did not get our guillotine motion through. The sudden realisation that Northern Ireland was under-represented—if it is under-represented here, and if it should be represented here in the first place—came because of pressures put on my right hon. and hon. Friends that if they wanted to remain in government they would have to increase the number of seats in Northern Ireland, and that they could not afford to affect the representation in Scotland and Wales, either.
It seems that the Gaelic fringe has been the support of this Government, as it has of Liberal Governments in the past. But that little bit across the water will place us in considerable difficulties.
I suggested earlier that had my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) faced the increased number of Members for the Six Counties that the Bill suggests, in all probability he would never have formed his Administration in 1964.
It is also interesting to note that we are increasing the number of seats, as a Government and party, in the Six Counties at the same time as the Boundary Commission is reducing the number of Labour-held seats in London. That is an odd thought. Perhaps it does not reflect the idealism of the Labour Party. But we are prepared to condemn ourselves to pristine purity and Opposition. I did not think that that was what we were about.
I believed that our party's policies were not to increase representation in the House for the Six Counties. If one spoke to any member of the Shadow Cabinet when we were in opposition or to any member of the present Government the impression was given that we should aim for a united Ireland. But that is not so today.
1903 We desire what should be the long-term objective, but we conspire to ensure that in our short-term attitudes and projects the ideal—if such it is—of a united Ireland is not achieved. We fail to ensure that justice is achieved, and perhaps we perpetuate injustices in our own country.
I do not believe that by strengthening the bond between the Six Counties and our country we have done anything towards achieving peace in Northern Ireland. I do not think that we have done anything to stop bombs in this country. We have done nothing to improve the reputation of this Government and the House.
Our proud boast was that we would hold the ring. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was Home Secretary the troops went in. We were there to hold the ring between the communities until they worked out their own solution. We said that we would act together to help the communities to come to terms with the situation and try to live together. We believed that whatever happened to the Six Counties, we should help them by acting fairly, and by not altering the status quo unless the people wished to alter it.
That was our attitude. That is what we said when we attempted to form the Assembly. Those were our principles when we called for the Convention. We laid down three principles—that the solution must be acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland and to the House, and must recognise the Irish dimension.
Instead of holding the ring we have come down heavily in favour of one side. There is no clamour by the minority for extra representation in the House. Indeed, most of them want no representation here at all. Their representatives are here because of the historical accident of 1920.
My right hon. Friends, for seasons that I understand but because of short-term expediency, have come squarely down on the side of one of the parties in the dispute. That means that we no longer hold the ring, whatever the Secretary of State may say about hoping to achieve a devolved Government. That hope has now gone, except that is might be achieved in some other disastrous political situation or—God forbid—under a Government led by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). If that should happen, the Ulster Unionists, with or without the 1904 extra seats, will put on the squeeze, demanding that those powers should be returned to local government. We have heard the Ulster Unionists already guaranteeing that, as they have delivered the extra seats, so they will return the power to local government. It was there that it all started. We shall not be able to oppose that, because we have started that process today.
The result of the decision of my right hon. Friend to increase representation in Northern Ireland will be that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) will no longer be regarded as an eccentric within this place. There will be people who will say that as we have betrayed our mission and come down heavily on the side of one of the parties to the dispute it is not now worth the trouble, the expense, the lives, the investment, to remain there. People will ask whether the work done by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to attract employment has been worth it if the political environment is not to improve.
It is ironic to recall the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when, in 1973, he addressed the House during the proceedings on the Bill dealing with the constitution and dealt with the status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. He said that the Ulster Unionists should accept the proposal and come willingly into partnership, or all bets would be off. There had to be a compact between both sides. We saw what happened in that compact. We saw how those who sit on the Ulster Unionist Bench led the UWC strike against a democratically elected Assembly, against the wishes of this sovereign Parliament, and helped to bring the Assembly down. We saw how they succoured the actions of the Provisional IRA. We saw how they sabotaged the Convention, how they voted against what we on the Labour Benches regarded as proper Socialist measures.
In the past few weeks, on votes before and after confidence motions, they have played ducks and drakes with us, squeezing everything they can out of us. Are they doing it to restore peace, harmony, bliss? Or are they doing it so that they can return to the bitter sectarian regime that existed in Northern Ireland before our troops went in and our 1905 boys began to lose their lives? That has been their policy.
In the past, in some difficult times, I have protected the backs of members of the Government Front Bench on matters affecting Irish policy. I did so because I believed that it was working in the long-term interests of peace between all the communities in Northern Ireland. I am afraid that I am no longer in a position to act in that way. I must be suspicious of every action of the Government Front Bench, and of its every motive. Its fine ideals have gone out of the window in a squalid desire to retain office at any price.
§ 2.58 a.m.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I respect and acknowledge the sincerity and tenacity of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). Unlike him, I welcome the Bill as a measure of belated justice. The explanation given by the Minister of State for the astonishing change of mind on the part of the Government was of interest. So was the different explanation given by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central, and other Labour Members. Historians will find the explanation of those hon. Gentlemen more convincing than they will the explanation of the Minister of State. If I may call to mind some words of T. S. Eliot, the Government have done the right thing for the wrong reason.
As for the Conservative Party, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), we did not require conversion. We have long held that Northern Ireland is under-represented in the House of Commons. We have not deviated from that position, and for that reason we welcome the Bill.
We have heard some fanciful and some pessimistic speeches from Labour Members alleging what the Bill does and does not do. Those of us who take an interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland receive objections from every corner of the Province when a measure arises that excites apprehension or disgust. My appreciation is that the minority in the Province, as distinct from politicians who claim to speak for them, are not unduly apprehensive, because the Bill is intended to do justice to Northern Ireland in respect of its representation in Parliament.
1906 This Bill will give Northern Ireland a fairer representation befitting a parliamentary democracy in the only legislative assembly in which the voice of Ulster can be heard. The right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who sit for Northern Ireland constituencies are heavily burdened, particularly because of the troubles and the Macrory gap which was opened by the abolition of the Parliament at Stormont.
The Bill, when enacted, will give some relief to representatives in Parliament and to those whom they represent. The Bill does not affect the freedom of the people of Northern Ireland democratically to choose their constitutional future and national status. They had an opportunity to do this in the plebiscite, known as the border poll, held in 1973, when a substantial majority of the Northern Ireland electorate—including, despite intimidation, many Catholics—chose the Union. Having so chosen, they are surely entitled to proper representation in the House of Commons and, I might add, with a closing reference—which is surely out of order—to my new clause, in another place as well.
§ 3.3 a.m.
§ Mr. Litterick
This is one of the saddest parliamentary occasions in which I have participated. The Government have completed a large circle of their policy on Ireland—one which was embarked on by a previous Government.
I cannot agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) about the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Abing-don (Mr. Neave) to the effect that the Conservative Party needed no sudden conversion to the idea that the six counties in Northern Ireland needed stronger and more numerous representation in this House. The last Conservative Prime Minister made strenuous efforts to bring about some kind of rapprochement in Northern Ireland among the contending sectarian groups, as did his Labour successor. What brought about the conversion was the obduracy of the most powerful sectarian group in Northern Ireland and the tactics which it used in Northern Ireland to wreck the Assembly and subsequently in this place to embarrass the Government who had a virtually non-existent majority.
1907 I do not think that this legislation is the type of enactment that will excite the respect of adult men and women in the community, because they understand well that this is a piece of political expediency. They understand that this is a group of politicians turning in order to hang on to office. They understand that politicians will behave in this way and that they have survival instincts, like everybody else, and want to hang on to their jobs. But, at the same time, the community expects of politicians that they will at least try to adhere to certain reasonable standards of what I call public morality. They expect that principles to which parties say they adhere and hold valuable will be defended and cherished whatever difficulties the Government meet at any time. But what the public have seen in this piece of legislation is a Government—I would prefer to say a group of politicians, office holders—simply running away, simply putting fig leaves over a hideous political problem in order to satisfy a short-term political need of their own.
In our view, the result of that will be that the people in mainland Britain—I hope that nobody will take offence at my using that phrase, it is just a handy one for me—will not have to endure the longer-term consequences which I fear will arise from the fact that this Bill has been passed. I think it much more likely that the people of Northern Ireland will have to endure for a very much longer period than would otherwise be the case a repetition of the things which they have experienced because of the problems in Ireland.
We are not simply giving the electorate of Northern Ireland more seats in this place. We are, as the Secretary of State said on another occasion, welding Northern Ireland to the British body politic. We can understand the desire of certain politicians to do that. Since Carson we have all understood that. But we did not expect that a Labour Secretary of State would be a Carsonite, and that is what he is, in principle. We do not expect this of a Labour Secretary of State because we have understood—at least, we as a Labour movement thought we understood—for a long time that Carsonism—if I may use that phrase—is simply another brand of Toryism in a particular 1908 cultural political setting, that is, the setting of Northern Ireland.
In terms of our principles, we have always felt that the British Labour movement could never have any truck with it, and now we find that our Government—I wish that I could find a way of speaking in inverted commas—are giving aid and comfort to what Brian Faulkner in his memoirs called the ghost of Carson.
Having mentioned Brian Faulkner, I think that it is worth while in the context of the Bill to dwell for a moment on his career. He was, above all, an Ulsterman. He saw himself as an Ulsterman. As it happens, he was one of the most sophisticated politicians that Ulster has ever produced—possibly the most sophisticated. But he had weaknesses and blind spots, like the rest of us, and one of the stranger ones was that, as he confessed in the last chapter of his memoirs, he was not sufficiently aware of the significance of the religious differences that existed within the community in which he was born and raised.
Faulkner regretted that he had not paid more attention to that. He clearly felt that had he paid more attention to it the damage that the Orange lodges were able to do to the Assembly, thereby wrecking virtually every political purpose that he had ever conceived, might not have occurred. The result was that Faulkner, who was one of Ulster's most distinguished politicians, ended his political life as a failure.
It seems difficult for an Ulster politician to operate on the basis that he is neither a Protestant nor a Catholic. Those who have tried to do so have usually failed. Sometimes they have been killed for making the attempt. Faulkner merely failed. It may be that he was luckier than others. However, he tried—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who worked with him for some years, came to understand this clearly—to demonstrate that it was possible to have been born a Protestant in Ulster, even to be, as Faulkner was, a member of an Orange lodge, and still to consider oneself part of a polity that deserved balanced treatment, in which the law should be enacted and applied to every citizen regardless of religious affiliation.
Faulkner learned the hard way. He discovered—given the dominance of the 1909 Orange lodges, it is not yet possible but he worked towards it and had a measure of success—that it was beginning to be possible in Northern Ireland to get people with different original religious affiliations to agree to seek at least the common ground and to build on that.
That approach was smashed by those who sit on the Unionist Bench. They smashed what was the beginning of real hope for Northern Ireland, for the whole of Ireland and for the people of mainland Britain. The people of mainland Britain have had to pay heavily in treasure, blood, fear and in violation of their system of justice on behalf of the Unionists. All that has happened to us because of them. It has happened because of the weakness of successive Governments.
We arrive at the position where we surrender to the Unionists by giving them more seats in this House. That is supposed to make things better, but no speech that I have heard from the Secretary of State or his Ministers has given any indication of what might be made better as a result of giving the Unionists more seats. There is no doubt in the minds of my hon. Friends that the Bill will merely increase the number of Ulster Unionists who sit in this place. That is all that it will do. What is different about that? What is better about that?
With respect to the Conservative Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Abingdon, it does not make much sense to say that it is fairer that the people of Northern Ireland should have as many seats pro rata as we have on the mainland. We should remember that the Irish have had that. They had it long ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) pointed that out at great length. It was not a matter of representation in terms of parliamenary seats. It was a simple matter of British authority over the Irish. It still is. That has not changed. In fact, that has been made worse. We are reverting to an older situation. We are returning to an older relationship. As I have said, this is a continuation of direct rule.
We have had that not merely in the past decade but in the long distant past. We should remind ourselves that most of the really violent rebellions by the Irish against the use of British authority over 1910 them have been led by Protestants. If we think for a moment we realise that the eruption of Orange Protestantism within Ireland is a recent and relatively eccentric thing in Irish history, and it will pass.
The Bill seeks to make direct rule permanent. We shall find in the fulness of time that the familiar facts of the relationship between Britain and Ireland will resurrect themselves once again and that both peoples will have to pay a heavy cost.
§ 3.15 a.m.
§ Mr. John Ellis
In the midst of all the troubles that we have to face, the coming debates, the General Election, and all the important matters to be considered, I have to confess to a feeling of inadequacy in the context of the subject that we are discussing tonight. It is a pity that so few hon. Members are present on this occasion.
We know that there were difficulties in Ireland which were apparent long before my own party was ever represented in this House. We know that there were great men in the Liberal Party in those days. Year after year the problems of Ireland had to be faced by those great men. Acts were passed. Governments were brought down. That was in the days when we were a mighty Empire and could influence events all over the world, yet with all the influence that we had, we could never satisfactorily deal with the affairs of that island.
One forms friendships in one's life. It is not just a courtesy title when I refer to my right hon. Friend. I do not use the words lightly. We are friends and we shall remain friends, yet on this issue we are divided. I can say the same concerning my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). We have been together ever since we came into this House. I have arguments with him. Perhaps I do not ask as much as he does. I look at the Bill solely in the context of whether it will improve the position in Northern Ireland and whether it will lead to a lessening of hatred, bitterness and strife.
I quail at the prospect of making decisions tonight, even at this stage, in the light of my knowledge of the problems faced by all those great men. Some were rogues but they were very great men, 1911 utterly sincere, and they grappled with this problem to very little effect. Tonight in this place we join that band as we decide what we are to do and ask whether the position will be improved by what we do.
Nothing that I have heard, in all the hours that I have spent in considering this problem, convinces me that by giving these extra seats the years of bitterness and strife will be brought to an end or the prospect improved in any way. I do not believe that it will be changed. Indeed, the minority will feel more alienated than before. People both north and south of the border have become soured towards what would be regarded as conventional politics in many other parts of the globe. They are affected in their political judgments by the fact that they are still fighting the old sterile battles. This has been to the detriment of the lives of people in the south of Ireland and in the north. I believe that that will go on, and that we shall not improve the position by this measure.
As regards the voting position in the House, if a decision were taken to increase representation because of the domestic situation, that would be a heinous crime. I want to see a Labour Government returned. I hope that we shall lose the next General Election. If the card had been played—[HON. MEMBERS: "Win."] I am sorry. Did I say "lose"? I was thinking that, in the context of Ireland and its problems, I should prefer to lose that election if it meant that, while I had been a Member of this House, I had played a meaningful role in achieving a satisfactory solution. I do not want to order events. If people in Northern Ireland would stop killing each other, provided that it was a reasonable society, I should not mind if it were a capitalist society. I make that considerable concession.
Earlier, I intervened in the speech by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He said that the existence of Stormont was the only viable reason for opposing this measure and that now that it had gone, there was no reason. I challenged that statement then and I challenge it now. I have an overwhelming conviction which I think supersedes the judgment made by the right hon. Gentleman. Will this Bill improve the age-old rift, the unhappy stalemate? Will 1912 it reconcile communities, or make people more bitter?
I submit, with all the sincerity that I can muster, that we shall join those other great men and those other bright measures that have been canvassed in this situation, because we have been no more successful than they were in making progress. Indeed—I am sorry to finish on this note—if the Bill goes through, it will be interpreted as strengthening all the hatred and bitterness. I am sorry to have to say that. I am also sorry that the House has been unable to play a better role tonight.
§ 3.23 a.m.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) has repeated the question which he asked earlier in our proceedings today and the challenge which he issued, perhaps most personally to me, to say whether I believe that this measure will be ameliorative, will contribute to a reduction of violence and of the fear under which people live in Northern Ireland. I answer him directly. I believe that it will.
It is because I believe that it will that, since March 1972, from that Bench there, I have pointed to this measure as perhaps the first necessity for the welfare of all in Northern Ireland following the events of 1969 to 1972.
Having stated my conviction. I shall briefly give my reason. There has been much talk about two communities and their divisions and mutual antagonisms. But the immediate reality of violence in Northern Ireland is not warfare between two communities; it is the oppression of both communities—but more, of the two, of the Roman Catholic minority—by a movement, the object of which is to alter by violence the status of Northern Ireland, contrary to the present clear wishes of a majority of its inhabitants.
That movement, that force, lives upon hope of success. It lives upon uncertainty. It lives upon reasons which can be given by it to itself—by which it can still convince itself—for believing that if it continues its oppression and violence, if terrorism continues, that will alter the decision of this House and change the status of Northern Ireland.
We have in many ways, by contradictions in our behaviour, made it easier for that delusion—for such I believe it to be —to be entertained by what are called 1913 the men of violence. The most manifest contradiction was that while proclaiming Northern Ireland to be an integral part of the United Kingdom, this House until recently steadily refused to recognise that fact in the most elementary form in which membership of the United Kingdom is recognised—by representation on an equal basis in this House.
Representation on an equal basis will deny no man in Northern Ireland anything that he has. It will deny none of the aspirations which people such as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) wish to see accomplished without violence. It will do nothing to place any obstacle in their way. It will certainly place no obstacle in the way of new constitutions, if they can be evolved, which meet the specifications which have been laid down.
It will take nothing away; but it will give something. It will give to all concerned an added conviction of stability, a conviction that there is not an ambivalence on the part of the United Kingdom, speaking through this House, as to its undertaking that the status of Northern Ireland as part of the Kingdom shall continue as long as that is the will of the majority of its inhabitants.
So I say that the measure is beneficent in its effect, and, having accomplished something which—I am using these arguments now not for the first but for the hundredth time—I believe to be beneficent, I would not wish this House to part with this Bill with feelings of mean self-accusation. The House has not been fair to itself in this debate today. It is not true to say that the House of Commons is doing this thing because of a squalid deal for votes in the Lobbies, to save or to prolong the life of an Administration. I shall prove that.
First, if that had been so, I would not have confidently, in October 1974, when the outcome of the election still lay in the future, been convinced to the point of assuring those to whom I spoke that this was a measure which the House of Commons, sooner or later, could not refuse. Again, if this had been a squalid deal, one could not, in my opinion, have induced 29 hon. Members, under the chairmanship of Mr. Speaker—members who had no interest in any deal what- 1914 ever; who considered the matter ab initio—to arrive at an all but unanimous conclusion.
The Prime Minister himself, when this decision was announced on 23rd March, 1978, stated openly that it was in no consideration or expectation of support, either in the Division which was to take place that night or generally, from myself or my colleagues. The Prime Minister was telling the truth. In that Division, as a matter of fact, three of us—my hon. Friends the Members for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) and Armagh (Mr. McCusker) and myself—felt obliged, in recognition of what the Prime Minister had said, not to vote against him that night. But when he said, and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Rev. Ian Paisley) confirmed, that there was no understanding, no promise given or received, he said no more than the simple truth. If it had been otherwise, then indeed it would be an unworthy reason for the House of Commons to do something which is self-evidently fair and reasonable towards a part of the Kingdom. It would alter the character of the act which the House of Commons has now performed. Those of us who know the House of Commons could never doubt that it would do this sooner or later because it was implicit in the Union and in this House itself, nor do I understand anyone who can say that by granting full representation to a part of the Kingdom this House can be doing otherwise than place the greatest obstacle it can in the way of injustice or misrule. If there has been injustice, if there has been misrule in Northern Ireland, then we who come from Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Powell
I was sent from Northern Ireland by those who elected me, as the hon. Gentleman was sent by his constituency—
§ Mr. Powell
Since the hon. Member has mis-stated the event, I will put it on the record. It was a voluntary act upon my part to decide that I could not in 1915 conscience stand again for a seat that I would have held by 20,000 votes.
§ Mr. Powell
I am sorry that 1 was diverted for a moment to something personal because this is not a personal matter, except that the House of Commons is personal to all of us.
I repeat—if there is injustice, or has been, in Northern Ireland, if there is misgovernment, or has been, in Northern Ireland, what surer way to remedy it could there be, so long as Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, than by bringing Northern Ireland fully within the representation of this House and by giving it all the rights and laying upon it all the duties which are enjoyed by and laid upon all other parts of the United Kingdom? That, as Members of this House, we must believe.
|Division No. 43]||AYES||[3.35 a.m.|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Fookes, Miss Janet||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Neave, Airey|
|Bates, Alf||George, Bruce||Noble, Mike|
|Bean, R. E.||Goldlng, John||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Park, George|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Graham, Ted||Pendry, Tom|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Hardy, Peter||Radice, Giles|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Roper, John|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||John, Brynmor||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Campbell, lan||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Carson, John||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Sever, John|
|Carter, Ray||Kilfedder, James||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Lamond, James||Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Snape, Peter|
|Coleman, Donald||Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Spearing, Nigel|
|Concannon, Rt Hon John||McCusker, H.||Strang, Gavin|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||McElhone, Frank||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Cowans, Harry||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Tinn, James|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||McKay, Alan (Penistone)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Ward, Michael|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Mallalieu, J. P.W.||White, James (Pollok)|
|Deakins, Eric||Marks, Kenneth||Whitehead, Philip|
|Dempsey, James||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Dewar, Donald||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Woof, Robert|
|Dunlop, John||Molyneaux, James||Wrigglesworth, lan|
|Eadie, Alex||Morgan, Geralnt|
|English, Michael||Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Mr. Joseph Dean and|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Morton, George||Mr. John Evans.|
|Canavan, Dennis||Manon, Simon||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cryer, Bob||Mikardo, lan||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||O'Halloran, Michael||Woodall, Alec|
|Flannery, Martin||Parry, Robert|
|Home Robertson, John||Richardson, Miss Jo||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Litterlck, Tom||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Mr. Kevin McNamara and|
|Loyden, Eddie||Skinner, Dennis||Mr. John Ellis|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.1916
§ So we ought not to part from this Bill with other than a sense of pride and of relief that at last the House of Commons has acted in accordance with what it has for so long professed—that Northern Ireland is, for as long as the majority of its inhabitants desire, an integral part of this Kingdom.
But though it was foreseeable, it has seemed to many of us—those who have watched from without and those within—an unconscionable time a-coming. Now that it has come, it seems something strange that the thing desired so long should at last be achieved. I find myself using the words of Elizabeth I:
The Lord hath done this thing, and it is wonderful in our sight.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 104. Noes 17.
§ Bill read the Third time and passed.