2A. In section 24 of the Constitution Act after "elect" in subsection (1) insert "in accordance with subsection (1A)", and after subsection (1) insert—
(1A) the election shall be by single transferable vote from a list of three or more persons submitted to the Assembly by the Secretary of State, having satisfied himself that each of them commands widespread acceptance throughout the community.'.
§ The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
With this we may discuss the following: New clause 3—Presiding Officer—'The Secretary of State shall, at the beginning of each Assembly, appoint a Presiding Officer, who may or may not before appointment be a Member of the Assembly, and such Presiding Officer shall be a person who is, in the Secretary of State's opinion, likely to be acceptable to the Assembly and the community in general.'.Amendment No. 97, in schedule 3, page 13, line 8, column 3, at end insert 'Section 24(1) and (2)'.
The office of Presiding Officer will be one of the most influential, and perhaps powerful, offices in Northern Ireland, subordinate only to the Secretary of State and his Ministers. I appreciate that the Northern Ireland Constitution Act provides that such an officer shall be elected or appointed, but it is important that such a provision should be in the Bill so that we can be clear about how he is elected or appointed.
My personal view is that there should be some guarantee that the person holding that office has widespread acceptance in the community, and a straight majority vote election does not always obtain that result. It is important to obtain the general consent of the community, because the Presiding Officer will be able to appoint the chairmen of the various committees and, indeed, their deputies if the Assembly so recommends and the Secretary of State accepts. He will also be responsible for the composition and balance of the committees. That is why the Bill should contain the means to ensure that the functions are performed well. It should also ensure that the person who performs those functions faces the test of acceptability.
The Presiding Officer will have some power over how reports are gathered and in what order of priority they should be brought to the notice of the Secretary of State or this House. It is likely that in the initial stages the Presiding Officer will be responsible for recommending to Members of the Assembly how the specialist subcommittees are set up and how they should carry out the special tasks that may be allotted to them. For example, they may be asked to examine and report on various aspects of the structure of the Assembly, including its standing orders. They may even have a say in which proposals should be put to the Secretary of State or this House. We are talking of an office that will probably be responsible for so many things that, without the consent and general approval of the community, the task of the Presiding Officer will be almost impossible.
I am aware that impartiality will be called for in great measure. I am also aware of instances in which people of different political persuasions have met and come to accommodations—to adopt the word used in the discussion of an earlier amendment. As a result of such 380 accommodations, as we have heard this evening, it has been possible for someone to serve as the chairman of a local authority and to discharge his functions to the satisfaction of other members of the authority and of the people in the area. But such accommodations are few in number. Unfortunately, the practice is not widespread.
I do not wish to tread the path taken by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), but it is a known fact that in very few councils with an absolute Unionist majority have such accommodations ever been made. I understand the reasons for that, but we should bear them in mind when we are directing our attention to the office of Presiding Officer.
The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concanrion) and his hon. Friends, in their amendments, have a similar idea to mine but suggest a different means of achieving it. They would prefer to take away from the majority vote of the Assembly the election of the Presiding Officer. They would prefer that responsibility to be placed in the hands of the Secretary of State. I understand the logic of that proposal, because the Secretary of State would be answerable to this House for that appointment. I do not go completely along that road, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that in other circumstances I might have taken it.
I understand the principles that the right hon. Gentleman wants to see embodied in the Bill, with the guarantee that the Secretary of State will be answerable to this House, but I should like to introduce a further element and that is that the Secretary of State should be enabled to produce a short list of people and the Assembly should then be allowed, on the basis of its knowledge and experience, to choose the person it would prefer, by majority vote. I should not go as far as to insist that it should be done by means of the single transferable vote, although most of my hon. Friends would prefer that system. If there is another means of doing it, with the general consent of this House, I should be prepared to forgo the single transferable vote system.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
I am not quite sure of the hon. Gentleman's point. Why would it be necessary to employ the single transferable vote system? Surely under such a system, when only one person is being elected, the quota will become half plus one, which is virtually the same as electing someone by a majority vote.
§ 11 pm
It is an alternative voting system. I tried to say that I should not go to the stake for it, but the majority of my colleagues feel that this would be a fairer system. If at the end of the day no candidate came out with a clear majority—which could happen—the single transferable vote system might resolve the dilemma. But I shall not tread that road, and I hope the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) will not press me too far down it.
The person chosen should have the general support of Members in the Assembly and those whom the Assembly is serving. We would not wish the nomination and election to be the sole prerogative of the Assembly. The Secretary of State should be involved because he will have to come back and answer to the House.
I put the amendment to the Committee. I shall try to answer any points that are made, but I ought to give notice that I shall press the amendment to a Division at the end of the debate.
§ Mr. Concannon
The very fact that I am speaking to the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) means that I shall also be speaking about new clause 3. The official Opposition would like to register their vote on new clause 3 at the opportune time, but I doubt whether the opportune time will come this evening. When the Division is called, we shall probably for the first time on this unique Bill see all the Members on the Government side of the Committee in one Lobby.
Mr. J. Enoch Powell
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that there might not be the opportunity tonight for a separate Division upon the new clause. Is that absolutely certain?
§ Mr. Concannon
It is not absolutely certain. I think it will depend upon the passage of the amendment. As I understand it, we shall not be able to vote on new clause 3 until we have dispensed with amendment No. 93, which is 10 amendments away. The Opposition would like to reserve their vote for new clause 3. I am making the point that that is what we would do if we reach new clause 3.
We should set out what the Committee has achieved so far. We have established that cross-community support is of paramount importance to political progress in Northern Ireland. We wish the Bill to be given the best start it can have.
According to the Bill, the first thing the Assembly will have to do is to elect a Presiding Officer. The method of selection is laid down in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, section 24, which reads as follows:(1) The Assembly elected under the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973, and every Assembly subsequently elected, shall as its first business elect one of its members to be the presiding officer of the Assembly.(2) The person so elected shall hold office until the dissolution of the Assembly unless he previously resigns or ceases to be a member of the Assembly or is removed from office by resolution of the Assembly; and if the presiding officer vacates his office before the expiration of his term of office the Assembly shall elect another person to fill his place for the remainder of that term.I recall that the status and functions of the Presiding Officer of the 1973 Assembly were similar to those of the Speaker of the House of Commons. He regulated debates, interpreted standing orders and officiated in other day-to-day proceedings of the Assembly. As far as can be ascertained, he was not formally involved in the selection and appointment of the Northern Ireland Executive. Under section 8 of the 1973 Act the power to appoint the Executive lay solely with the Secretary of State.
The 1973 Presiding Officer did not have the absolute power to appoint the chairmen of the consultative committees. Consequently, he had limited discretion to appoint committees. It should be remembered that the Executive was appointed shortly after the 1973 Assembly was elected.
The Assembly proposed in the Bill will have an existence, regardless of whether powers are devolved to Northern Ireland. In the first instance, and probably for some time, the Assembly will undertake its consultative, scrutinising and deliberative functions without any devolution of powers.
Therefore, the position of the Presiding Officer is crucial. He will be seen as the symbolic head of the Assembly and of the Northern Ireland element of the Administration. Prior to devolution he will, of necessity, 382 exercise the functions of Speaker and Leader of the House and may undertake some of the work left to our Whips' Offices. In addition, he will have much wider discretion to appoint chairmen and deputy chairmen of consultative committees.
It should be noted that, pending devolution, the committees will be much more important and influential than were the Assembly committees of 1973–74. During the recent debate on the White Paper "A Framework for Devolution", the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) expressed reservations about the potential powers of the Presiding Officer. Reservations were also outlined by a number of hon. Members in debates on clause 4 of the Bill.
The right hon. Member for Crosby said that the election of the Presiding Officer by the Assembly would provide a "thin basis" of consent for one who would be a combination of Speaker, Leader of the House and Chief Whip. He will also have the power to appoint chairmen of committees and two deputy chairmen. He must be seen to have the support of both communities and all the major parties in the Assembly. That is very important.
The new clause stems from my experience as a Minister in Northern Ireland when the Labour Government established a Constitutional Convention in 1974. It had a limited life—six months and a possible extension—and a specific purpose, which was to submit to Parliament plans for the future government of Northern Ireland. Paragraph 53 of the White Paper on the Convention referred to the chairman:The Government proposes that there should be an independent Chairman of the Convention, a person of high standing and impartiality from Northern Ireland. He will not be a member of the Convention. The appointment will be made by Her Majesty the Queen.My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who was Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, at the time of the Northern Ireland Act 1974, on Second Reading of the Bill stressed the importance of cross-community support for the chairman and said that his appointment would be made after consultation with all parties. A senior Northern Ireland judge, Sir Robert Lowry, was appointed to the position.
We believe that the provisions for electing a Presiding Officer for the 1973 Assembly are inadequate for the new Assembly. He will be the most prominent individual in the Assembly. Not only will he have more powers and duties than his 1973 counterpart, but he will hold a symbolic and important position. Prior to any devolution, the Presiding Officer will be the leading member of the Assembly in any disputes that might arise. In the absence of an Executive, public attention will be keenly focused on the decisions and appointments of the Presiding Officer. It is therefore vital, in our view, that he is seen to be independent and impartial. The system of selection laid down in the 1973 Act is unlikely to achieve this. The Opposition propose that the provisions of the 1973 Act relating to the selection of the Presiding Officer be replaced by our new clause 3.
The purpose is to introduce an impartial, independent and acceptable person into the most prominent position in the Assembly. It is essential that the Presiding Officer should be above the politics of the Assembly if petty quarrels over appointments and placemen are to be avoided. As matters stand, the Unionist block in the 78 or 85-member Assembly will be in the region of 66 per cent. Therefore, the Unionist block will decide the choice of 383 Presiding Officer. I am not alluding to any single individual, but I have advised my hon. Friends on many occasions that, whatever they see or read about certain individuals in Northern Ireland, there are others more greatly to be feared should they succeed in gaining such a position. I am thinking of some of the lieutenants down the line in some of the parties. What price cross-community support if this happens?
If the first action of the Unionist block is to use its vote to place its own choice in that position of high trust, I do not see much chance of the minority within the Assembly accepting the placement. It was with this in mind that the Opposition tabled new clause 3 to try and give the Bill the best possible start.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
I am sure that the Opposition have studied the role of the Speaker in the old Stormont Parliament. I do not believe that Opposition Members in Northern Ireland at that time felt that the Speaker discriminated against them. Yet, he was elected by the Unionist majority. My party was the official Opposition at the close of Stormont. We had no complaints against the Speaker. Is it not true that the person who eventually takes on the Chair fills the role that is expected of him?
§ Mr. Concannon
I would not be so worried if the Presiding Officer were to be the Speaker of the Assembly, but that is not so. He will be much more than the Speaker. He will have powers of patronage, of selection, of placing people in various committees. If he were acting only as Speaker, the hon. Gentleman would be right, but the Presiding Officer has a much greater role.
§ Mr. Robinson
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. The person who eventually occupies the position takes himself out of his party role and puts himself into an independent or impartial position and acts accordingly.
§ Mr. Concannon
That is not how I read it. If the hon. Gentleman could give me a guarantee from his party, and if the other part of the Unionist Party could give the same guarantee, that it wanted someone who was acceptable to the 78 or 85 Members of the Assembly, that would go a long way to assure me, but I know that part of the Unionist Party in this place could not give me that guarantee. The only guarantee would be something to be written into the Bill, as was in the Convention report. There would then be cross-community support for whoever became the Presiding Officer. The matter is too important to be left to a straight vote if we accept the Government's White Paper and their view that cross-community support in Northern Ireland politics is the only way forward.
I have put much time and effort into studying the Bill, although I may not have made many speeches. I do not want it to fall apart at the first hurdle on the appointment of a Presiding Officer. If it does, it will be a disaster for us all.
Of course, I am in some difficulty on amendment No. 127, because it contains some words which I do not like. If I advise my hon. Friends to vote for the amendment, I am voting for the principle contained therein and in new clause 3. Unless my persuasive tongue has induced the Secretary of State to accept the principle—
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that that was in my mind. I kept a flexible 384 attitude towards a single transferable vote. I said that that concern motivated both of us. If our methods were different, it was not for the want of good intent.
§ Mr. Concannon
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said. We worked well together for a long time on matters concerning Northern Ireland, and we seem to be carrying on that relationship. I hope that he will not mind if we use his amendment as a vehicle for voting on the principle of the Bill, because it is obvious that we shall not now reach new clause 3.
I hope that it will not be necessary to vote on the issue, because it will probably have the effect of driving all Government Members into one Lobby, which will be a new experience on this Bill. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider the matter very carefully, because I am sure that he does not want the Bill, into which he has put so much work, to fall at the first hurdle when the Assembly is elected.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I am overjoyed that, for the first time in the whole miserable course of this sad Bill, which has caused me many hours of mental anguish, there is a distinct possibility that I shall be in my normal place with my friends in the Lobby against these amendments.
I shall direct my few remarks in particular to amendment No. 127. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) on his ingenuity. He has composed a paragraph which contains more controversy per line, suggestion and phrase than any other four lines that I have ever read. In the first line, we see the phrase that makes strong men quail and weaker men turn to drink, "single transferable vote".
The hon. Gentleman has said that he will not go to the barricades on that. I do not know whether he can be influenced to withdraw it immediately. I have the strongest possible objection to a "single transferable vote". It is a clever means of producing confusion and is far from conducive to producing a clear-cut and straightforward decision.
I was amazed to hear the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) say a moment or two ago that the matter was too important to be left to a straight vote. Do we not deal with matters of importance in the House? Is nothing that we discuss here of sufficient importance? Never do we have to resort to a "single transferable vote" in the House.
§ Mr. Concannon
I qualified that by saying, as does the White Paper, that things are different in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Lady does not accept that, she does not accept the Bill or the views of the Government. That is fair enough. Those of us who have worked and lived in Northern Ireland for some considerable time know, as does the Secretary of State, that Northern Ireland is different and needs different solutions.
§ Mrs. Knight
I certainly accept that things are different in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to think that I am against the Bill, but that is neither here nor there. One of my objections to the Bill is that throughout it we consistently put Northern Ireland in a inferior position to that of the House and the country. That I cannot accept.
Let me return to the wording of this most extraordinary amendment. It says gaily that 385the election shall be by single transferable vote from a list of three or more persons".How many more? Ten, 15, 50? Why three? Is there something magic about the figure three? If there are to be more, why do we not say how many more? It does make a great deal of difference. I should not have thought that it was acceptable to have such an extraordinarily vague suggestion of anywhere between three and 300 persons whose names may be on the list.
We come to the next star-studded line. Those persons' names shall besubmitted to the Assembly by the Secretary of State".What would the House feel if it was told that it was not entitled even to consider possible candidates for Speaker; that hon. Members were not competent to decide who should stand for that position? I cannot accept that.
I accept that the powers of the Presiding Officer will be wide. If they cannot be fielded by persons within the Assembly, what calibre of person will we get as general Members? I could not accept that for the House, and I am blowed if I shall accept it for the Assembly.
Who will submit the names to the Secretary of State? Will he pick them out of a hat? Are self-appointed people to come along? They may be, as in some of our elections, people seeking publicity. Even pop stars have put themselves up for election to the House. At £150, it is a cheap way of obtaining a large amount of publicity that would not be had otherwise. Will names be suggested by one person, more than one person, or a committee? Will there be a 70 per cent. majority from some mythical place to say whether those persons have some reason for having their names put forward? The whole thing is so extraordinarily woolly.
When the names drop like manna from heaven on the Secretary of State, he must satisfy himself that each of them commands widespread acceptance. How does he do that? As far as I can see they will not have had to submit themselves—certainly not according to the amendment—to the electorate.
§ Viscount Cranborne
Will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might define or judge "widespread acceptance" in the same way as he would define cross-community support under clause 2?
§ Mrs. Knight
That is an interesting point. My right hon. Friend may well decide to that. The amendment does not exactly tell him to do that, but the poor man will find it difficult to sort out how to meet the conditions of the amendment if—God forbid—it is passed.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
If the person has widespread support, why have a single transferable vote system? If there is widespread support, there will also be widespread support from the Assembly.
§ Mrs. Knight
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is another aspect to this extraordinary provision. I cannot imagine that it has been thought through properly by those who subscribe to it. The widespread acceptance must be throughout the community. We are not even sure which community we are talking about. Are we talking about the community in Belfast, the community in Ulster, the community of Unionists, or what? Why should that position have to have such a measure of 386 acceptance—again, I do not know how it will be judged—when the person involved has to be some sort of Speaker?
It is vital that the Presiding Officer should have the widespread support of those in the Assembly. Anyone with the particular and special qualities that make a good Speaker will be best known for them by those over whom he will preside. The community will not know how firm he is the Chair. It has no knowledge of how good he will be when dealing with what may, from time to time, be a recalcitrant Assembly. It is not unknown in Northern Ireland for little fights to pop up from time to time. The Presiding Officer will have to have almost as much talent as you, Mr. Armstrong, so constantly display to fascinated Members.
The amendment is nonsense and rubbish from start to finish. Hallelujah, I feel certain that the Secretary of State and his Ministers will be with us in the Lobby to vote against it.
§ Mr. Fitt
The case put forward by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) is not as clear-cut as she would have us believe. I shall take a few minutes to draw her attention to the fact that the situation in Northern Ireland is difficult and quite unlike that found here. The Secretary of State should not underestimate the amendment's tremendous importance, whether or not he agrees with its wording.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) said that he would not stick closely to the amendment's wording. He sought to establish the principle that the Presiding Officer of the newly elected Northern Ireland Assembly must have great support within the confines of the Assembly and of the Northern Ireland community. I have several years' experience of the House of Commons at Stormont. I was a member of it for 10 years. At that time the Speaker was the late Sir Norman Stronge, who was brutally assassinated. The House of Commons at Stormont had all the trappings of this House. Those elected were elected as Members of a Northern Ireland Parliament.
It was a very different Northern Ireland before 1972 when Stormont was abolished. The Unionist Party had a vast majority in the House. It had 38 or 40 out of the 52 Members. The 12 Opposition Members came from four or five different parties. It was possible for the Speaker to be extra generous with such a small and divided Opposition. That Opposition would never be a danger to the governing party.
§ Mr. Fitt
I accept that. Many were absent. One of the reasons was that it was such a frustration to be an Opposition Member. After the next election my right hon. and hon. Friends in this House could be in Government and right hon. and hon. Members at present in Government could be in Opposition. That is always possible here, but it was never a possibility in Northern Ireland. A Unionist Government took control in 1922 and won each election because of the in-built Protestant, Loyalist majority created in 1922. That majority was in power from 1922 until Stormont was abolished by the then Conservative Government in 1972. The small Opposition were never a danger to the Government party. They would 387 never sit on the Government side. It was a one-party State. Ministers did not even have to listen to Opposition arguments.
I remember the Speaker, Norman Stronge, going out of his way to be generous to the small beleaguered Opposition. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said that the Opposition were almost never there. On many days Government Members were not there either. In debate after debate only four or five Members were present. The hon. Gentleman cannot condemn the Opposition alone.
Hansard, newspaper reports and television clips prove that on the first day after we were elected to the Assembly, a combination of Members of the Alliance Party, the SDLP and then then Official Unionist Party voted for the Presiding Officer, Mr. Nat Minford. He was elected by a majority of votes. Pandemonium broke out. Members indulged in fisticuffs. People beat each other up in the corridors. The Presiding Officer—the Speaker—adjourned the House and a Member of the DUP, the Reverend William Beattie, proposed that he should be the Speaker. We had another election for a Speaker, so the House had two Speakers in one day. It was a shambles, and it continued in that way for several weeks.
When the Assembly met the next day, Members not in the coalition sat on the Government side and had to be removed by the police. That was a bad start to the Assembly. Although the Speaker had the support of the House and of a combination of three parties, he did not have the support of those who were bitterly opposed to the Assembly.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Does that not confirm my repeated pleas to the Secretary of State to amend the Bill so that he can attend the Assembly to act as a moderating influence?
§ Mr. Fitt
I did not believe that the hon. Member for Antrim, South would ever put forward such an argument. I waited for such an interjection from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who always argues that Northern Ireland cannot govern itself. I do not accept that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) referred to the Convention, the chairman of which was the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. That was a difficult and controversial period, during which we were trying to reach a conclusion. Any one who saw the Lord Chief Justice in the Chair will realise the tremendous job that he did in trying to hold the Convention together.
The hon. Member for Edgbaston seemed to be aghast at the proposal for a single transferable vote to elect Members of the Assembly. Whether she wishes it or not, successive Governments have sanctioned the single transferable vote for all elections in Northern Ireland, except elections to the House of Commons. The Assembly will be elected by that means. If the single transferable vote can be used to elect local authorities, the Assembly, the Convention and the newly created Assembly, it is nothing new to use that means for the election of a Speaker.
§ Mrs. Knight
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's remarks with care. However, I imagine that the first Speaker of the Assembly—whom the hon. Gentleman said was first-class—was not elected by the single transferable vote but was chosen from a list submitted by the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman 388 gave us a colourful description of what must have beer a horrendous Assembly. Neither of the Speakers, who both seemed to be disasters, was elected by the single transferable vote, nor has the hon. Gentleman made it clear that had they been so elected they would have been more effective. What we are talking about now is not the system by which the Members will be elected, but how the Speaker will be elected.
§ Mr. Fitt
I realise what the hon. Lady is trying to say. It is not new to have a single transferable vote in elections in Northern Ireland. The second Speaker in the Assembly was elected by the single transferable vote.
I should advise the Secretary of State that Northern Ireland still has the Stormont building, which is regarded by the people, especially the Unionists, as the place where their Parliament was. Others in the minority community never regarded it as their Parliament. Many Loyalists did not regard it as their Parliament, just as they did not regard the RUC as their police force. That was a Unionist belief.
We are jealous of the terms that we use about each other. The right hon. Member for Down, South bitterly resents Members of the European Assembly calling themselves Members of the European Parliament. There is some justification for that. However, Assembly Members will not wish to call themselves Assemblymen. There were many discussions about what they should be called. The Presiding Officer will wish to be called Mr. Speaker and the chairmen of the Departments will wish to be called Ministers, as they were in the previous Assembly.
That is because Stormont has some of the trappings and atmosphere of Westminster, which is something that the Secretary of State will have to take on board. It was one of the greatest issues to face the Assembly's standing orders committee. It decided that the Presiding Officer should be referred to as Mr. Speaker and that the heads of Departments should be referred to as Ministers. The late Brian Faulkner was called the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. It was understood that those titles had no value in law in the House of Commons.
Against that background, it may be that no one from the ranks of the 85 who are elected to the Assembly will have the support of a sufficient majority to enable him to conduct the affairs of the Assembly with the support of that House. The effect of the amendment is to say "If that is so, the Secretary of State should have the right to appoint someone from outside to preside over the Assembly's deliberations." There are those in Northern Ireland, such as the Lord Chief Justice, who would have the support of the community outside but who would not taint their hands with politics as we know them in Northern Ireland. I am sure that someone could be found outside the ranks of the Assembly to be appointed to the Chair by the Secretary of State to enable the Assembly to find its feet.
There will be difficulties—I have had experience of them—in the opening weeks of the Assembly. When the votes are declared and the deposits are returned euphoria will abound, but that euphoria will not be in Stormont. Individuals will want to assert their will or the will of their parties, in the newly created Assembly. It will be some days—it may be weeks or months—before a consensus can be found that will allow the Assembly to look to the future.
I agree with the hon. Member for Edgbaston that I do not have all the answers, but nor has she. No one has all the answers. The amendment seeks to tell the Secretary of 389 State that at the outset of this political venture in Northern Ireland, which we all hope will have some success, a great deal of deliberation and consent should be built around the newly created President of the Assembly. I urge the Secretary of State to use whatever means he can to ensure that the right person gets the job, which will be one of the most important in the new Assembly's structure.
§ Mr. Chapman
I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I hope that whoever is elected Presiding Officer, by whatever means, is a person who is willing to let the office make the man. I hope also that that man or woman will be able to act and to take decisions, inasmuch as it is in his or her power, in the interests of Ulster as a whole.
The amendment was eloquently moved by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn). Although he said that he was not entirely committed to the single transferable vote system, that is part of the amendment and I must comment on it. My main argument is very much against having the STV system, as a general proposition, and certainly for electing the Presiding Officer of the Assembly.
I know that there are various forms of proportional representation. For all I know, there may be various forms of STV. If one has an alternative vote to the traditional first-past-the-post vote, instead of a person being elected who is most liked by most people, whether or not most people are more or less than 50 per cent. of the total electorate, the person who is elected under STV is the person who is least disliked by most people. I do not believe that that is a fairer system, a more democratic system or, and perhaps more fundamentally, that it will solve the problem that Opposition Members seem to imagine. The STV system is more likely to cause disillusionment and disagreement among the elected Members.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
I say to the hon. Gentleman in all sincerity that the reason why that was part of the recommendation in the amendment is that the system is already operating in Northern Ireland. We took that as the basic guideline. I thought that I had made myself clear. The Secretary of State may say that there is another method, and that we can consider it on Report. I would accept that, but I wanted to argue the point.
§ Mr. Chapman
I understand that point of view, but I must address myself to the terms of the amendment. Whether or not we think that it is good to have an STV system for electing Members to the Assembly—I have grave reservations about that—having elected people to the Assembly on that system, it does not follow that the best method of electing the Presiding Officer is by the STV system. I rest my case on that.
I finish with one example because there is much misunderstanding. There seems to be an easy answer, that we can change the electoral system to solve the problem. In the 1945 general election in the United Kingdom, we had university seats. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will confirm this, for I do not know whether all the elections for the university seats were conducted by the STV system, but in one or two university seats that system was used. In one of those elections—I 390 think at Edinburgh university—the person who started bottom of the poll in the first round was elected in the end. That may have been an exception, but it happened. A great many people would feel that that was an undemocratic and unfair result, so they would be suspicious of the system of election.
I ask my hon. Friends to resist amendment No. 127. It may have been born of sincerity—I am sure it was—but it will cause many problems that we could not begin to tackle, including some of the deeper problems that the hon. Member for Belfast, West and others mentioned.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I ask the Secretary of State to follow the advice from my party not to accept the amendment. That is a forlorn hope because the advice that has come from these Benches has not been accepted by the Government. However, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will heed the voice of Ulster Unionists.
If what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said is in any way correct, why try to get an Assembly going in Northern Ireland if we are such baddies? If the amendments have been put forward in the hope of making sure that Official Unionists do not act in a worse manner than they did before, it would seem to be a forlorn hope. The leader of my party, in an undertone, suggested that Santa Claus might be an acceptable candidate. I wonder whether Gabriel would be?
Apart from the history, which has been related, of an abstentionist policy that set off on the wrong foot, we have missed the indirect tribute that the hon. Member for Belfast, West paid to two distinguished Speakers of the Northern Ireland House of Commons and Assembly who were strong Unionists who did not abuse their power. It would be wrong for the committee to think that they treated the Opposition benignly because there was not much of an Opposition. Sir Norman Stronge's character was such that he would have acted as a gentleman to all people. He would have defended the rights of Members and of the House of Commons.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that private money has been raised to erect a monument to Sir Norman Stronge at Stormont?
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman drawing our attention to that fact. I was aware of it. I am delighted, because Sir Norman Stronge gave a lifetime of service to the community, not only in politics but in the British Legion and other organisations. We appreciate the tribute.
I shall deal with the election of a Presiding Officer. It seems that there is a distinction between the role of Speaker and Presiding Officer. The Presiding Officer's duties are restricted and there are pressures upon him to conform to rules. I should not like the Secretary of State to follow any further the proposed new subsections to the Constitution Act, which would allow King Arthur Scargill to be appointed to the Government as a non-elected Member of the House. It seems that an elected Assembly, which is asked to advise the Secretary of State, is being circumscribed by the Secretary of State being asked to nominate those who should see that he gets the right advice. That eats at the facade of democracy that is being foisted upon Northern Ireland.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight
Could the hon. Gentleman give an example of any similar Government or parliamentary 391 Assembly where the Speaker has not been an elected Member of that particular body? Does he share my feeling that it is a terrible indictment of the people who will be elected to the Assembly to suggest that none of them would be capable of holding the respect and support of the House over which he might rule?
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I do not claim to have an exhaustive knowledge, but I suspect that they do something like that in another place. There are Members of this place who are not sure that that other place should continue to exist.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I believe that there have been colonial legislatures in which the Presiding Officer has been appointed from outside the Assembly.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Possibly. In banana colonies that might happen, but traditionally the Speaker has been appointed to safeguard the rights of the House against the monarchy. In Northern Ireland now the powers of the monarchy are virtually devolved on the Secretary of State. The proposal is for him to nominate the person who might be chosen by the House as the presiding officer. That is contrary to tradition and to British democracy.
As we have gone further into the debate the House has begun belatedly to recognise that the road on which we have been launched is leading to casualties. Unionists rescued the 1922 Act which was designed to take us out of the kingdom. One would like to think that we shall do so again. But the House will be responsible for the mistakes made in the legislation and not the Ulster Unionists, who have guided matters in another direction.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
I apologise to the Committee for not being present at the beginning of the proceedings this afternoon. I was in my constituency this morning attending the Lincolnshire Show, but I intended to be here for the first group of amendments, two of which are in my name. Unfortunately, the show was bogged down in mud and my car was stuck in a quagmire. As I tried to get it out, I realised that the Secretary of State might find himself in a quagmire if he proceeded with the Bill.
Unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was not there to assist me, as he usually is. I have the privilege of representing his daughter, who has married into a prominent farming family, in my constituency, but she, too, was not there to help me.
I do not disagree with the intent of the new clause tabled by the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). He wishes the Presiding Officer to be someone who can command the support and confidence of all Members of the Assembly. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was a Member of the Convention. He illustrated why he did not wish to see the situation that he talked of repeated, but I am not sure that new clause 3 is the answer.
I am not sure that the Secretary of State making suggestions about the appointment of the Presiding Officer would ensure that all the Members of the Assembly had the protection of and confidence in the Presiding Officer, so that from day one the Assembly had a fair crack of the whip, as the hon. Member for Belfast, West would wish. How do we know that whatever is to be imposed—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) put forward a suggestion purely for discussion—albeit with cross-community devices to ensure support, will provide the real 392 answer? I do not believe that it is possible for the Secretary of State or anyone else, without the wisdom of Solomon, to suggest for the position someone who may not even be in the Assembly.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) said, it is inconceivable that the Presiding Officer should not be a Member of the Assembly. I should be happier with new clause 3 if it did not contain the words "may or may not". It would stand more chance of being seriously considered by my right hon. Friend had the right hon. Gentleman suggested that the person concerned should be a Member of the Assembly.
§ 12 midnight
§ Mr. Concannon
That phrase was included in case a Member of the Assembly fitted the description and was acceptable to all. There is a recent precedent for this. That is exactly what happened during the Northern Ireland Convention. The then Secretary of State selected an outside person to run the 78-Member Convention. That person did the job very well and got it off to a good start. All I ask is that the Assembly gets off to a good start. In whichever way it is done, it must be acceptable to the Members.
§ Mr. Brown
That is fair enough. The right hon. Gentleman says that someone was eventually found who commanded the support of all the Members of the Convention. I am not sure whether that can be done again.
My right hon. Friend is setting much store on the fact that the people of Northern Ireland will have the opportunity to take their own decisions. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Presiding Officer will have duties other than that of Speaker. I therefore acknowledge the importance of the Presiding Officer.
As the job of Presiding Officer is so politically important, surely the Assembly founders at the first fence. If the Assembly is to be denied the opportunity of taking this first important political decision, we are admitting here and now what some of us already believe, that it is not possible for it to govern Northern Ireland.
Here is an opportunity to prove that people such as myself are wrong and that the Assembly is capable of taking real decisions and power. It should therefore be allowed to take the first important political decision over the Presiding Officer. However, according to the amendments, we shall circumscribe the Assembly's powers right from the word go. Those who support the Bill have said that we should give the people of Northern Ireland the right to elect their own Members and the right to take their decisions, yet we are not allowing those Members to elect their own Presiding Officer.
If we cannot trust the elected Members to do that, I do not see how we can trust them to undertake any of the other obligations which the Bill, to a greater or lesser extent, will impose on them. The tabling of the new clause and the amendments shows that at the end of the day those who support the Bill do not trust the electorate in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Member for Mansfield let slip just now that he thought that about 66 per cent. of the Members of the Assembly would be Unionist, to one degree or another. He is almost telling us that we might as well do without the ballot box in electing the Members to the Assembly.
The more that we debate the schedule and the Bill, and the extent to which the people of Northern Ireland, through 393 their elected representations, will be able to take their own decisions, and the more any element of election is reflected through the Assembly, with Members taking decisions on behalf of the Assembly, the more we find that those who support the Bill do not really trust the electorate. For that reason, I cannot support new clause 3.
§ Mr. William Ross
A certain amount has already been said on new clause 3 and a great deal more could be said on it, but I want to deal in particular with amendment No. 127, which is unadulterated rubbish and could have been tabled only by people who do not really know the practical outworkings of proportional representation.
Each political party in Northern Ireland has its own method of using the proportional representation system for the greatest benefit to itself. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) will confirm that in many cases his party picks an extremely strong candidate, and that candidate is expected to get a very large personal vote, which is then transferred to other weaker political assets of the same party. There are some outstanding examples of it in the local government elections. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman was himself the strong candidate for his party in his own area.
The end result is that the strong candidate can carry in two and on some occasions three other members of his party who received a mere fraction of the votes that he received. There is an outstanding case in my own constituency, where the chairman of the hon. Gentleman's party received about 3,000 votes in the local government elections and carried in with him persons who received in some case 100 or fewer than 100 votes. That is one way of operating the single transferable vote system.
A second method is the one that is generally used by the Unionist Party. It is to try to spread equally over the number of candidates selected the votes that they expect to receive. To a great extent it is the luck of the draw who loses if there are not three quotas and there are three people.
The same can be true of the system used by the Democratic Unionist Party. But what is the effect of an STV election when there is but one position in contest? The end result of using the STV system in those circumstances is that the majority counts, and the person concerned is eventually elected by something akin to the simple majority system. If three people are put up, A, B and C, and everyone votes for the three, somebody has the lowest number of votes and so he goes out. His votes are then redistributed, and ultimately it is the person who has 51 per cent. of the votes who wins. Of course, if one of the three candidates gets 51 per cent. of the votes—or rather, one over the half—he is home and dry.
§ Mr. Ross
Yes; I appreciate that. But that is still immaterial. It just adds to the number of counts that have to be made before someone winds up with one over 50 per cent. of the votes. That is the only difference.
There are two ways in which that conclusion can be reached. One is by the STV system and the other is by a series of elections, eliminating the person who has the lowest number of votes until a stage is reached where there are only two people for one position. There is a third 394 method of election, in which the person with the highest number of votes wins on the first count. The plain truth is that nine times out of ten, no matter what system is used, the individual who starts out with the highest number of votes winds up with 51 per cent. It is very rare, and it needs a certain set of political circumstances which will not exist in the Assembly, for an individual other than the person with the highest number of votes initially to win.
That is one reason why the system set out in the amendment is rubbish. Another is that there is no meaning to STV or proportional representation where there is only one position. STV can make sense only where there is a minimum of three positions and preferably four or five. If there are more than that, it becomes so complex that it is utter nonsense. That is the nonsense of the STV system which so many hon. Members are prepared to see used in Ulster in an attempt to break the mould and to destroy the Unionist monolith. I hope that those who set off down that road are happy with the result. Very few in Ulster are.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I agree that the amendment must be rejected, not so much because the Government's arrangements as proposed in the Bill are so meritorious but because what is proposed by the amendment and the new clause is so much worse.
In Northern Ireland we will have on the one hand a system based upon devolution and on the other an attempt by the Government to obtain an Administration which has the support of the minority. That is an impossible target. No matter what the Government do, it will be impossible to attain it.
It is in the nature of a democracy that there should always be some sort of Opposition. Many countries find that Oppositions are inconvenient, annoying and get in the way of efficiency, so they try to do without them. But we have found that the existence of a minority in Opposition is the guarantee of our freedom and democracy. To try to dissipate that minority in some way by providing bribes and by jiggling with the electoral system is antidemocratic. We are falling into that trap.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
We have fallen into it already, as the right hon. Gentleman says, certainly since 1972, if not before.
One thing that could be said about the Stormont system is that it worked. No alternative system that has been devised or proposed by the central Government since has any chance of working, because of the basic objective of the central Government to try to get a local Administration in Northern Ireland which somehow crosses community barriers, has cross-community support, or complies with whatever phrase the Government use for the purpose of getting minority support for the majority, which must ultimately decide matters.
Having insisted on cross-community support for any proposals that the Assembly may make, we are discussing how we can hamstring the Assembly to produce a Presiding Officer who will be the product of support from both the majority and the minority. It is not possible to legislate in such detail in the face of passions, opinions, prejudices and ordinary political warfare.
The Bill provides that the Presiding Officer must, in the Secretary of State's opinion, command widespread 395 acceptance. The new clause provides that he must be acceptable to the community in general, and the amendment refers to widespread acceptance throughout the community. On that basis, how will we find someone who is satisfactory?
The amendments and the Government's proposals do not trust the normal democratic system to work in Northern Ireland. They do not trust the representatives of Northern Ireland people.
§ Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds, West)
The hon. Gentleman must recall that a previous Conservative Government eroded the responsibilities of locally elected representatives in the local government reorganisation which was opposed by every local government organisation.
The NHS was also reorganised by that Government. They set up area health authorities with chairmen who were not answerable to anyone. Councillors were given only a small percentage of the seats on those authorities and the present Government have further reduced the places for councillors on the AHAs and on water authorities.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
That is interesting, but it is not related to the problem of how the Government can arrange matters in Northern Ireland to secure acceptance by both the majority and the minority—in effect, how to get universal acceptance for any political proposition. The very idea is incompatible with freedom and democracy. It has nothing to do with what the House wishes to do in local government. I am speaking about the fundamental basis of democracy, which is that the majority should have its way after the minority has had its say.
That is not how we legislate for Northern Ireland. We provide that the minority should have a veto over the decisions of the majority. We instantly bring to an end the normal healthy development of democracy.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
My right hon. Friend is right. What is being applied in the Bill, and especially in the amendment, is the same sort of idea. Whoever is elected as Presiding Officer needs majority support in the Assembly and also has to command acceptance in the Assembly and in the community generally. That decision should be made, not in terms of legislation passed in this House, but by the individual electors themselves.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
That was just another example of the Government trying to get round the problem. There is a minority. The minority happens not to like the way in which the majority goes about its functions. How can we therefore make the policies of the majority acceptable to the minority? It is a conundrum that will never be solved in a free and democratic society like ours.
Opposition Members, augmented by 50 per cent. since our original debates, will no doubt wish to put their propositions in greater detail. It is, however, a waste of hon. Members' time to have to consider the proposition that a candidate must be some one who already commands widespread acceptance. That is a negation of democracy. The matter should be left to the people. They should decide who among them has the greatest support. That person should be allowed to get on with the job.
396 Why should we assume that any such person will exercise his powers undemocratically? Why should the Opposition not assume, given the traditional experience of this country, that it would be possible for him to act within the normal rules, without the need for legislation?
§ Mr. Soley
Does the hon. Gentleman recall the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who referred to the old system as a one-party State? Much has been heard in these debates about the causes of violence. One cause is the political despair of knowing that there is never a chance of winning by legitimate means. If we are serious about ending violence, we should examine the legitimacy of the political system that we set up.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
The fundamental mistake was to put a Government in Northern Ireland separate from this Parliament. From the start there should have been a system of integration. The difficulty is that within Northern Ireland there have been political passions based on sectarianism. It is a phenomenon seen elsewhere in the world. One or other minority party constitutes the minority while one majority party constantly has the support of the majority of the electorate. That is normal democracy.
If one wants to change that situation, one should perhaps examine the origins of the support. The problems of Northern Ireland may have arisen because there was doubt about the Union, which meant that there had to be a Unionist majority based on the overriding desire—overriding all other political issues—of people to stay in the United Kingdom. Without that problem to contend with, there might be neither sectarianism nor political parties based on sectarian differences. It might be possible to proceed in Northern Ireland as in Wales and Scotland.
It is no use hon. Members saying, in the context of the amendment and the new clause, that by legislation one can make people fair and acceptable to everyone and that someone may not be appointed to this job unless he appears to the Secretary of State to be fair. That is not the way to make progress in Northern Ireland. If there is to be an Assembly, let us trust the people to operate the democratic principle in the normal way.
§ Mr. Prior
Having just listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), I am reminded of a remark that I made, either on the White Paper or on Second Reading—a long time ago—when I gave the somewhat simplistic reply to someone to whom I had given way during my speech that, if there was not a problem in Northern Ireland, there would not be a problem. My hon. Friend has amplified that remark only too well. There is a problem. It is all very well to suggest that, if we had tackled it differently 50 or 60 years ago, we would not have the problem now, but we do have the problem. That is why we have had a serious debate on the matter for the past one and a half hours.
I start on a lighter and more reminiscent mood. One or two hon. Members asked whether there were other Assemblies or Parliaments which did not have an elected Speaker or a Speaker chosen from the elected Members of that Assembly. There are a number, but at short notice it has been somewhat hard to find out exactly which they are. I suppose that the best example is the Senate in the United States. There the Vice-President is the Chairman of the Senate, although he is not a Member for the Senate. That 397 goes for a number of legislatures in South America and, I suspect, elsewhere. However, I shall not get too involved in that subject.
§ Mr. Amery
My right hon. Friend mentioned the Vice-President of the United States. He is elected on a majority ticket. If that were to happen in the Province, who does my right hon. Friend think would be elected, and would that person be someone acceptable to the minority?
I am sure that there are not many Latin-American countries that my right hon. Friend would like to cite as examples of the new Assembly that he is proposing.
§ Mr. Prior
I shall come to my right hon. Friend's point in my own way in my own speech.
I think it is true to say that in the seventeenth century, when the Speaker of the House was appointed by the Monarch, Members began to get fed up with the attitude adopted by the Speaker. On those occasions, the House turned itself into a Committee of the whole House to avoid the Speaker behaving in a dictatorial manner. After the past few sittings, I have certain feelings about the manner in which the Committee of the whole House now operates, but, Mr. Dean, that is no reflection on your ability in the Chair.
This has been an important debate. Under section 24(1) of the Constitution Act, the first business of the new Assembly is to choose a Presiding Officer. That arrangement is not affected by the Bill.
Several right hon. and hon. Members have expressed concern that the arrangements may lead to a Presiding Officer being chosen who might behave in an arbitrary fashion, perhaps when making appointments under clause 4(1) or (2) to the new committees of the Assembly.
To prevent that, an amendment and a new clause have been tabled. New clause 3, in the name of the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), proposes that the Presiding Officer should be appointed by the Secretary of State, leaving him free to appoint an acceptable figure, if necessary, from outside the Assembly.
Amendment No. 127, which is in the name of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams), and which was moved by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn), proposes as an alternative solution that the Presiding Officer should be elected by a single transferable vote from a list of three or more persons submitted to the Assembly by the Secretary of State who must first have satisfied himself that each of them commands widespread acceptance throughout the community.
Both those proposals would, in their different ways, give the Secretary of State a crucial role in the appointment of the Presiding Officer.
The speeches made in Committee tonight, particularly that made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. 398 Fitt), drawing on his experience of what happened in the distant past and in the setting up of the Assembly in 1973, are important and should be taken carefully into account when deciding the issue of the Presiding Officer.
Of course, there are considerable worries whether a Presiding Officer can carry the necessary confidence and conviction to make him acceptable to all parts of the Assembly. I recognise those worries and I have given them careful consideration.
We have given much thought to this matter over a considerable period. However, the Government believe that the existing arrangement in the Constitution Act should not be disturbed and that the appointment of the Presiding Officer should fall to the Assembly, as happened in 1973.
I want to give the Committee some of the main reasons why I believe that it would be wrong not to have the Presiding Officer elected by the Assembly.
First, it would be wrong in principle for the Secretary of State to be involved so closely in the Assembly's business, especially when it is our intention to give the Assembly the maximum freedom to work out proposals for devolution and when the Assembly has the potential to develop into a legislative body.
One function of the Assembly—in particular, of the departmental committees—is to monitor and criticise the activities of the Secretary of State. It would be odd, in those circumstances, for him to be seen to be making the key appointments. That point was brought out by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). The Secretary of State would be open to the criticism of making appointments or of drawing up a short list for such appointments, so as to give himself the easiest possible ride. It would put the Presiding Officer in a difficult position right from the start if it were thought that he was appointed by and was therefore perhaps under the influence or had won the support at that stage of the Secretary of State.
Secondly, as I explained on Second Reading, the requirements of clause 4(2) are such that there is no question of the Presiding Officer being able to behave in an arbitrary fashion, even if he were minded to do so, and given that the Secretary of State thought that the Presiding Officer would be an immensely powerful man. Of course, he will have a lot to do, but the freedom that he will have has been over-emphasised.
The Committee will recall that, under clause 4(2), the Presiding Officer is already subject to the specific statutory duty to ensure that the balance of parties in the Assembly is reflected, so far as is practicable in the appointments of the chairman and deputy chairman, taken as a whole and in the membership of each committee exclusive of the chairman and deputy chairman. In practice, of course, he could not perform that duty properly without consulting the parties before making any appointments, and he would certainly have to consult them carefully. Although there were no such committees in 1973, when the standing orders were prepared and when it came to the appointment of Deputy Speakers, the Speaker was empowered to consult the various interests in the Assemblyto ensure as far as possible that the nominations are representative".Therefore, he would have to carry out the same procedures as he did then in talking to the leaders of the various parties and groups in the Assembly.
399 The right hon. Member for Mansfield drew attention to the fact that the Chairman of the Constitutional Convention was appointed by the Queen, and he was not a Convention Member. In the Government's view, the circumstances of the Assembly are different. As the hon. Member for Belfast, South said, the Convention had a limited role for a relatively short period during which it was required to draw up constitutional proposals. It had no legislative role and could not be turned into a legislative body. On the other hand, the Assembly, although initially without legislative powers, is essentially a legislative body like its predecessor in 1973 and 1974, to which a devolved Government will be answerable.
It is a well-established tradition in the United Kingdom that the legislature should elect one of its number to preside over its proceedings. I have listened carefully to the arguments for departing from that precedent, but I remain of the view that it would be wrong to disturb the provisions of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act. I agree with those who argue that it is essential for the Presiding Officer to enjoy the confidence of each Assembly Member. However, that will best be secured by keeping to established custom. I say to those who may take part in the Assembly that if the Presiding Officer is to carry out his very delicate job, he will need broad acceptance. if he does not have it, it will not work. I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Belfast, South. However, I believe that the vast majority of Members of the Assembly—I hope all—will want the Assembly to work and will seek to ensure that the Presiding Officer is acceptable to all cross sections of the Assembly.
§ Mr. Concannon
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point about the difference between the Convention and the 1973 Assembly. However, we appointed the Chairman of the Convention in that way for the very reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) and I were there in 1973 and we were there for the Convention. We saw what happened in 1973 and we do not want the same situation to arise. I accept that there is a difference between the Convention and what happened in the Assembly, but the reasons for the appointment were the same as those given by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West.
§ Mr. Prior
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says, save that, although he had the experience of 1973 and therefore judged it right not to allow the Convention to elect a Speaker from its midst, after all the shenanigans it was able to elect a Presiding Officer from its midst—Mr. Nat Minford. He was an example of a good Presiding Officer and all settled down.
I should be worried about any appointment by the Secretary of State. We are seeking to place the responsibility upon the people of Northern Ireland. It is for the people of Northern Ireland to come to their own decisions. If they make a mess of it, that is up to them. I hope that they will not make a mess of it, but, if they do, that is their affair. I believe that the Assembly will prove itself, as it did with Mr. Minford and Sir Norman Stronge, to whom tributes have been paid. Most people who occupy that great Chair and draw their traditions from the House of Commons recognise that they have a duty to safeguard the interests of the Assembly as a whole and of individual Assembly Members, irrespective of their political views.
400 I recognise the anxieties which have given rise to the amendments and the new clause. I do not dismiss them lightly. One can argue about the construction of the amendments and STV, but I understand what is behind them. The past conduct of elected representatives in Northern Ireland does not justify the assumption that the impartiality of the occupant of the Chair will not be respected.
The tradition stemming from the House of Commons, that once a Member takes the Chair he leaves his party behind and is responsible to the whole House, is very deep. On that basis, I ask the Committee not to accept the amendment, however well intentioned it is. I ask the Committee to give to the people who will form the new Assembly the right, opportunity and responsibility for making the decision about their own Presiding Officer.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
The Secretary of State has answered the debate persuasively. I intend no discourtesy, nor do I wish to demonstrate that I disagree fundamentally with some of what he said, but I hope that hon. Members will support the amendment in the Lobby.
The arguments have not been answered to our satisfaction. I took it amiss that several hon. Members spoke emotively and attributed to me a knowledge and experience of rubbish. Hon. Members who alleged that were not here to listen to the opening speeches and they were absent when the Secretary of State replied.
I hope that the House will take note of those who plead with an open heart and say that they will take nothing less than they require. If that is the behaviour that they wish to impose on Northern Ireland, it is not required. They have enough problems without that.
There must be broad community support for the Speaker of the Assembly. If we were to follow the traditions of this House and the custom of recognition of and courtesy between Members who disagree fundamentally and politically, there would not be a problem. However, the post of Speaker will include the major responsibility of appointing chairmen and deputy chairmen of committees. He must take into account the balance of the political parties and the majority and minority communities. He must take into account all the influencing factors, perhaps even religion. If the post attracts such responsibilities, the Secretary of State should also become involved.
I have great regard for the office of Secretary of State, as well as for the person who holds it. The Assembly will probably not respond in the way that he fears, although I can understand his reluctance to be committed. He wishes to see the matter evolve in a way that will not cause the conflict that he fears.
The Secretary of State believes that the Assembly should take those decisions. He does not wish to be involved, because he has problems of his own, and he takes the view "Let the Assembly take the decisions and face the consequences." If he really meant that, he would not have fought so hard and for so long in Committee for this Bill. I chide him in generosity, and I go no further.
If the Committee does not take account of the special needs of Northern Ireland and the special problems that will occur because of the duties to be imposed on the Presiding Officer, and if it does not bear in mind the political and other pressures that will be put on him, I fear 401 for the future. The Committee should come to a decision tonight. Perhaps the Secretary of State will take account of the Division and bear it in mind on Report.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 32, Noes 129.378
|Division No. 238]||[10.40 pm|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Farr, John|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Budgen, Nick||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Dunlop, John||Knight, Mrs Jill|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Macmillan, Rt Hon M.|
|Molyneaux, James||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Murphy, Christopher||Mr. William Ross and|
|Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)||Mr. K. Harvey Proctor.|
|Arnold, Tom||Mellor, David|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E)||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Beith, A.J.||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Moate, Roger|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Moore, John|
|Blackburn, John||Mudd, David|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Myles, David|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Neale, Gerrard|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Needham, Richard|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Newton, Tony|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Onslow, Cranley|
|Butcher, John||Osborn, John|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M.(R'c'n)||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Patten John (Oxford)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Pawsey, James|
|Cope, John||Pollock, Alexander|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Dover, Denshore||Rhodes James, Robert|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Dunn, James A.||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Roper, John|
|Fitt, Gerard||Rossi, Hugh|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Greenway, Harry||Scott, Nicholas|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Silvester, Fred|
|Heddle, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hill, James||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Hordern, Peter||Speed, Keith|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Speller, Tony|
|Howells, Geraint||Stainton, Keith|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Stevens, Martin|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Thompson, Donald|
|Kimball, Sir Marcus||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Lang, Ian||Trotter, Neville|
|Latham, Michael||Waller, Gary|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Watson, John|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Wheeler, John|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Wickenden, Keith|
|MacGregor, John||Wolfson, Mark|
|Madel, David||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Marten, Rt Hon Neil||Mr. Selwyn Gummer and|
|Mather, Carol||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones|
|Division No. 239]||[12.50 am|
|Anderson, Donald||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Cryer, Bob||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Morton, George|
|Dalyell, Tam||Palmer, Arthur|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Penhaligon, David|
|Dewar, Donald||Pitt, William Henry|
|Dormand, Jack||Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dunn, James A.||Soley, Clive|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Fitch, Alan||Welsh, Michael|
|Hardy, Peter||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Mr. A. J. Beith and|
|Haynes, Frank||Mr. John Roper.|
|Arnold, Tom||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E)||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Kimball, Sir Marcus|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Kitson, Sir Timothy|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Knight, Mrs Jill|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Latham, Michael|
|Biggs-Davison. Sir John||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Blackburn, John||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||MacGregor, John|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)||Madel, David|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Major, John|
|Budgen, Nick||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Butcher, John||Marten, Rt Hon Neil|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Mather, Carol|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M.(R'c'n)||Mellor, David|
|Chapman, Sydney||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Cope, John||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Moate, Roger|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Molyneaux, James|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Dover, Denshore||Moore, John|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Mudd, David|
|Dunlop, John||Murphy, Christopher|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Myles, David|
|Farr, John||Neale, Gerrard|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Needham, Richard|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Newton, Tony|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Onslow, Cranley|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Osborn, John|
|Gorst, John||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Greenway, Harry||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Pawsey, James|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Pollock, Alexander|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Hawksley, Warren||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Heddle, John||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Hill, James||Rhodes, James, Robert|
|Hordern, Peter||RhysWilliams, Sir Brandon|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Hunl, John (Ravensbourne)||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Rossi, Hugh||Thompson, Donald|
|Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Trippier, David|
|Scott, Nicholas||Trotter, Neville|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Waller, Gary|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Watson, John|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Wells, Bowen|
|Silvester, Fred||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Wheeler, John|
|Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)||Wickenden, Keith|
|Speed, Keith||Wolfson, Mark|
|Speller, Tony||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Stevens, Martin||Mr. David Hunt and|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Mr. Ian Lang.|
|Taylor, Teddy (S' end E)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ THE SECOND DEPUTY CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions on Amendments, moved by a Member of the Government, of which notice had been given, to that part of the Bill to be concluded at One o' clock.
Amendments made: No. 115, in page 10, line 6, leave out from 'Minister' to end of line 8.
§ No. 87, in page 12, line 4, after '2', insert 'or 5(3)'.—[Mr. Prior.]
§ THE SECOND DEPUTY CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at One o'clock.
§ Question put, That this schedule, as amended, be the Second schedule to the Bill:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 112, Noes 22.403
|Division No. 240]||[1.00 am|
|Arnold, Tom||Hordern, Peter|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Atkinson, David (B' m' th, E)||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Beith, A.J.||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Kimball, Sir Marcus|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Kitson, Sir Timothy|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Lang, Ian|
|Blackburn, John||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Bottomley, Peter (W' wich W)||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||MacGregor, John|
|Brown, Ronald W, (H'ckn'y S)||Madel, David|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Major, John|
|Butcher, John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Marten, Rt Hon Neil|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M.(R'c'n)||Mather, Carol|
|Chapman, Sydney||Mellor, David|
|Clark, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Cope, John||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Moate, Roger|
|Dover, Denshore||Montgomery, Fergus|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Moore, John|
|Dunn, James A.||Mudd, David|
|Dunn, Robe (Dartford)||Myles, David|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Neale, Gerrard|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Needham, Richard|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Newton, Tony|
|Greenway, Harry||Onslow, Cranley|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Osborn, John|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Pawsey, James|
|Heddle, John||Penhaligon, David|
|Hill, James||Pitt, William Henry|
|Pollock, Alexander||Stevens, Martin|
|Prior, Rt Hon James||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Thompson, Donald|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Trippier, David|
|Roper, John||Trotter, Neville|
|Rossi, Hugh||Waller, Gary|
|Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.||Watson, John|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Wells, Bowen|
|Scott, Nicholas||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Wheeler, John|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Wickenden, Keith|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Silvester, Fred||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Speed, Keith||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Speller, Tony||Mr. Peter Brooke and|
|Steel, Rt Hon David||Mr. David Hunt.|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)||Molyneaux, James|
|Budgen, Nick||Murphy, Christopher|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)|
|Cryer, Bob||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Dunlop, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Farr, John||Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Knight, Mrs. Jill||Mr. William Ross and|
|Latham, Michael||Mr. K. Harvey Proctor|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Schedule 2, as amended agreed to.