HL Deb 21 October 1998 vol 593 cc1472-85

(". The Secretary of State shall publish, within 12 months of the passing of this Act, a review of the impact of this Act on the functions of Parliament in relation to Northern Ireland and on the representation of Northern Ireland in the House of Commons.").

The noble Lord said: this amendment allows us to raise our heads from the details of the agreement on the new mechanism to be set up in Northern Ireland, the Assembly etc., and look to a more underlying and long-term matter; namely, the English dimension to all of this, otherwise known as the West Lothian question. Trafalgar Day is an excellent day on which to discuss such a matter. I do not know my ancestry in as great detail as many Members of your Lordships' House know theirs, but all the ancestors that I know of are English, and I am a vice-president of the Royal Society of St. George, so at least in this matter I start from that standpoint.

I believe that the West Lothian question will come back to haunt us over many years if we do not answer it. It asks what is to happen to another place when substantial powers are transferred away from this Parliament to devolved institutions in other parts of the United Kingdom.

There was a time, not long ago, when substantial powers rested with Stormont as far as Northern Ireland was concerned. What we now know as the West Lothian question was answered in 1920 by a proportionate reduction in the number of Members of the Westminster Parliament elected from Northern Ireland. There were originally 13 constituencies in Northern Ireland, one university constituency and 12 of the conventional kind. Later the university constituency disappeared. Northern Ireland had about two-thirds of the number of Members of Parliament to which it would have been entitled had its representation been on the same basis as that of England. This satisfactory and undisputed response to what we now call the West Lothian question existed until very recently. However, that was an answer to the question when the only devolved part of the United Kingdom was Northern Ireland. We are now moving into a new situation in which Scotland and Wales matters, as well as Northern Ireland matters, will be devolved, though to different extents, from Westminster. That makes the question both larger and more difficult to answer.

The Government seem so far to have taken the view on the Scotland Bill and in other pronouncements that there is no answer to the West Lothian question and that they will ignore it and hope that it will go away. I do not believe that it will go away. I believe that, on the contrary, it will grow in importance as time goes on and as English people see a substantial number of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Members of Parliament voting in Westminster on English matters when English Members of Parliament no longer vote on those matters when they are devolved to other parts of the United Kingdom.

One possible way to answer the West Lothian question is to follow the Stormont route and reduce the number of Westminster Members representing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to a proportionately lower number given the population of those three countries in comparison with the population of England.

Another way to answer it is the so-called in-and-out way whereby Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales would not vote on English matters where those matters are devolved as far as Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales are concerned. That is an extremely complicated way. It appears to be the way favoured by Mr. Tam Dalyell, who has said that, if the Scotland Bill goes through in its present form, he will abstain when English matters which are devolved as far as Scotland is concerned are under discussion. That is his answer to the West Lothian question, which he himself posed in such a strong manner a few years ago.

There are difficulties with the in-and-out solution. Who will decide which Bills are solely English Bills and which Bills affect other parts of the United Kingdom? In future there will be some Bills which affect England only, some that affect England and Wales, some that affect England, Wales and Scotland, some that affect England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and some that affect other possible combinations, because some powers are to be given to the Northern Ireland Assembly which are not to be given to the Scottish parliament and vice versa, and the Welsh Assembly seems to have less powers than the others. It would therefore be an extremely complicated system to try to run. In addition, it would lead to problems for the Government if they had a different position as regards their majority in another place on some matters but not others and would lead to great difficulty as between departments. That answer to the question is, therefore, not an easy one.

An answer apparently favoured by my noble friend Lord Baker is that there should be an English parliament in addition to the devolved assemblies about which we are talking. I believe that that answer, too, has great disadvantages and would lead to a federal constitution for the United Kingdom as a whole. That is not an easy answer, therefore.

However, we are not looking for a perfect answer, because there is not one. I believe that, had there been a perfect answer, we should have been able to go along that route a long time ago. I believe that we are looking for the least bad option. Above all, I believe that the Government must address this question, because it will not go away. It will be of increasing importance as the years go on and the situation of English Members in another place becomes ever more apparent as the population sees what is happening. I fear that this is just one aspect of this process, particularly in regard to Scotland and Wales, that heads towards a break-up of the United Kingdom, which I would not want to see. I believe that all parts of the United Kingdom, as presently constituted, gain strength from one another, and I wish to see it continue in its present form. But the West Lothian question will have to be addressed by the Government at some point and will have to be answered by the Westminster Parliament. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

Although I usually agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, on Northern Ireland matters, I cannot do so on this occasion, although I strongly agree with him that the West Lothian question is extremely important and must be answered soon. The main reason why I cannot agree with the amendment is that there is no corresponding clause in the Scotland Bill. Scotland is to have approximately the same degree of self-government as Stormont had before 1972, yet there are no plans to reduce Scotland's representation at Westminster to Stormont levels, which would give Scotland only 39 or 40 seats. Instead, Scotland will be brought into line with England and Wales, albeit far too slowly, reducing Scottish representation to no fewer than 57 or 58 seats in the other place. As the Northern Ireland Assembly will have far fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament will, having no powers over criminal matters, for example, there can be no case for reducing the Province's representation at Westminster.

Lord Renton

My noble friend Lord Cope has raised a very important matter and has justifiably put it into a wide context. I should welcome the co-operation of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, on this matter. He and I served on a committee of the other place which had to consider how Northern Ireland was to be represented there after the Stormont Parliament and Government were brought to an end. The Bill is not changing that matter. Northern Ireland will have its own Assembly and will be very fully represented in the House of Commons.

As my noble friend has said, it is right that within a reasonable time of the Assembly coming into operation Parliament should consider the question of the representation of Northern Ireland in the House of Commons. All of this is linked up with the West Lothian question. A number of my noble friends in this House and old friends who are no longer in Parliament who were Northern Ireland Members were very restrained when Parliament legislated on matters that did not affect Northern Ireland but the rest of the United Kingdom. That was very splendid of them. However, we do not know how it will work in future given the present representation. I cast no slur on the present representation of Northern Ireland in the Commons, but it may be that some of them will be overzealous. It is right that the Secretary of State should be under an obligation to report to Parliament as to how matters have gone.

The broader point is that we are setting up a new kind of assembly which is different from the old Stormont Parliament and is necessarily a little experimental. On the advice of the Secretary of State we should take cognisance of how the new Assembly is working. I therefore hope that the Government will give a favourable response to the argument put forward by my noble friend whether or not they decide that his amendment is the best way to meet the case.

Lord Hardy of Wath

I shall not detain the Committee for very long. Perhaps I should say a word or two particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred to the exercise that led to an increase in the number of constituencies in Northern Ireland. Like him, I also served on the Speakers Conference, as my noble friend Lord Fitt has reminded me. The West Lothian question appears to emerge at points that are convenient to those who have little representation in the areas that may benefit, but the fact remains that for a considerable part of the past quarter of a century the country has been seen as being governed from the south-eastern corner of England. Those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and those whom I represented in Yorkshire, have felt increasingly divorced from the administration and capital in the south-east. For that reason there may well be an argument that if democracy is to continue and the sense of "country" is to develop and be maintained, there may be a case for over-representation. I do not say that this should apply for all time or that it should be cast in stone, but if people are to retain confidence in their community, society and government that consideration should be borne in mind.

A moment or two ago I was reminded by my noble friend Lord Walker of Doncaster that the previous administration was not averse to persuading the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and some of his colleagues to go into the Lobby with them on issues that had very little to do with Northern Ireland. We heard very little about the West Lothian question in that context. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and his noble friends accept that while these matters may not be permanent or eternal, there must be a modicum of flexibility to enable this Bill successfully to complete its passage through Parliament.

5.15 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

The noble Lord opposite has missed a cardinal point. The previous administration governed a United Kingdom. In those circumstances it was a unitary state. If, as has happened since the war, there is a left wing or Labour Government imposed on the rest of the United Kingdom by over-represented Wales and Scotland it does not matter. It does not matter in the slightest if those who live in the south-east have imposed on them a government of which they do not approve. In a unitary kingdom that is perfectly reasonable. I agree with the noble Lord that the further away one is from the centre of things the stronger the case for over-representation. In a unitary state that does not matter.

The difficulty arises—it is more difficult in Scotland than in Northern Ireland—where one has the slightly ridiculous situation in which the Labour Party forbids anyone to vote for it and will not put forward candidates in Northern Ireland. Therefore, all that the Northern Ireland MPs can ever do is represent a small interest in what is in effect parish council politics. I believe that that is extremely unhealthy for Northern Irish MPs.

I should like to return to the days when Prime Ministers represented constituencies in Ireland as they did in the early part of the 19th century. I believe—I may be wrong—that at the time of the corn laws Peel represented Trim or somewhere like that. Those Members represented Irish seats after the Act of Union. I do not mind that. If I were an MP and my base was such that I had only a Northern Irish view, I would not feel that I was participating sufficiently in the whole of the United Kingdom. It is a disgrace that both my noble friends on the Front Bench and the not quite so friendly noble Lords on the other side of the Chamber should forbid people to stand either as Conservatives or Labour Members of Parliament for County Down, Fermanagh or South Tyrone.

There is another incredible danger arising from the West Lothian question. For the sake of argument, let us assume that after the next election there is a Conservative majority in England but a Labour majority in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is perfectly fair in the unitary state. Let us assume further that the Tam Dalyells of this world do not vote on the question of English education and the Government of the day lose on a point that they believe to be important which gives rise to a vote of confidence. That vote of confidence in the Government of the whole of the United Kingdom will be imposed on the English by the Welsh, the Scots and perhaps even Northern Irish MPs, none of whom has the slightest interest in the education system in Biddlecombe-under-Frome in Bassetshire or somewhere like that. That is dangerous.

We should also remember that one of the reasons why England has quite frequently revolted against its kings is that Irish troops have been used, for example, by Richard II, Charles I and James II. Macaulay refers to the Irish troop garrison in Southwark. That resulted from an imposition by outsiders on the English in this context. I concede that the Irish have every right to get cross about English troops in Shannon, Donegal and Munster. But the English unfortunately—I use the word advisedly—are the vast majority of those in the United Kingdom. The whole aspect of the Bill shows the haphazard, lackadaisical and ill thought out process in the mind of Her Majesty's present advisers to the constitutional change in the United Kingdom. They do not have the faintest idea of what they are doing or of the consequences.

If I am not here in six months' time I shall still be moaning about their incompetence on the constitution. I have a feeling that that is exactly what will happen. It fills me with foreboding.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

We owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for putting down the amendment which has introduced into our rather pedestrian proceedings peals of constitutional thunder which have relieved us of our labours for the past 20 minutes or so.

One would have to have a heart of stone not to feel great sympathy for the noble Lord on the Conservative Front Bench, agonising about these constitutional issues and torn between being a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party and an English nationalist party, knowing that the logical conclusion is federalism but also that thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, federalism has become an "f' word not to be used. He may yet find himself with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in a federalist position—a position adopted by this party for a long time. However, I shall not detain noble Lords on that subject.

Is the Minister aware that the House of Commons Select Committee on Procedure has already set in hand a review of the interrelationship of legislation in the Assembly and the Westminster Parliament? I think I am right in saying that the Northern Ireland Assembly has set up a committee to feed into that process. At a more practical level, will that not in part deal with the purpose of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cope?

Baroness Park of Monmouth

It does not seem to me unreasonable that there should be a review after a year of the impact of the legislation. I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said. Some provision may be in hand to produce a result. But with the creation of the British-Irish Council and a number of other bodies with which we shall be constantly interacting internationally on the affairs of Northern Ireland, we should derive benefit from having Irish Members sitting in the House of Commons who will be conversant with the day-to-day problems.

I recognise that the Assembly will have its own important part to play. But it does not seem unreasonable that after a year stock should be taken of the impact of this entirely new world which we are entering as regards the Irish political scene: that we should have a review and consider the result.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

It is true that in former times there was some misunderstanding over the attitude of my party. In self-defence I can only say that as a party we tended to vote on the merits of the item before us. Under my reign, we tended to incur the displeasure of people who criticised me for keeping, first, a Labour Prime Minister in power for two years, and, later, a Conservative Prime Minister in power for two years longer than might otherwise have been the case. When I was asked at that time, usually every week, "When will you bring down the Government?"—of whichever colour—I had this formula, which I think I repeated in my sleep occasionally: "Provided that Her Majesty's Government are governing in the best interests of the United Kingdom in general and Northern Ireland in particular, we see no good reason for terminating the life of this Parliament prematurely".

I had not intended to contribute to this debate but I have been stimulated by comments from many noble Lords. I wish to keep on the right side of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. Now that he has raised the standard of St. George, there is the danger that if we annoy him too much he may take England out of the United Kingdom. London is almost certainly bound to go when Ken Livingstone is elected!

When the 1978 Speaker's Conference was set up by the Callaghan Government, the late Enoch Powell and at least three noble Lords at that time avoided pressing a case for representation on the scale of Scotland. Without great difference of opinion, we decided to opt for the same scale of representation as Wales rather than Scotland. We saw the possibility in the future that Scotland would be given a form of devolution, perhaps leading to home rule, or perhaps independence. We in Northern Ireland did not want our scale of representation thrown into that melting pot. Looking with hindsight, I believe that we were probably prudent to do so. The Speaker's Conference report referred to 17 or 18 members, as the Boundary Commission thought fit. In mentioning the word "fit", perhaps I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, wanted even fewer members—ideally none!

We should like to consider the establishment of a Select Committee for what I would call the devolved regions of the United Kingdom. I am glad to be reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that steps are being taken to study the impact of devolution on other parts of the United Kingdom, I hope including Northern Ireland. Given that for the time being the United Kingdom Parliament remains the sovereign Parliament and Government of the United Kingdom and will be responsible for a great many of the matters of importance throughout the United Kingdom, it seems sensible, practical and workable to have a Select Committee considering the relationship between the sovereign Parliament and the three new devolved assemblies and government.

Lord Fitt

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has opened up a can of worms. If I were to go into reasons for an increase or decrease of seats in Northern Ireland it would throw the Government Front Bench into the frenzy of a nervous breakdown. The only people who would be more concerned about that would be the Members of Parliament in another place representing Northern Ireland constituencies. Any diminution in the number of their seats would have an effect on them. Whatever may be said in public. I do not think that anyone wishes to see a diminution in the number of seats. Two Northern Ireland MPs at present do not attend—Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Whatever decision may be taken, I do not think that Northern Ireland representation will have any effect on the complexion of a British Government for the next 10 years. It is highly unlikely that Northern Ireland MPs can decide what the complexion of the government will be.

My noble friend Lord Hardy, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and others—many are here as colleagues—attended the Speaker's Conference in 1978 under the chairmanship of the then Speaker to decide whether there should be an increase in the number of seats held by Northern Ireland constituencies. In one of my usual roles in politics in Northern Ireland, I was in a minority of one. I said month after month that there should be no increase. Everyone else—Labour, Conservative and Liberal Members—said that there should be an increase from 12 to 17. When Stormont came into being on the partition of Ireland in 1920, it was given certain devolutionary powers. It was in control of health, social services, housing and employment—all the issues which affected the everyday living of people in Northern Ireland.

I remember when I first came to Westminster in 1966 running in and out of the Table Office, as it was then, trying to put down Questions on Northern Ireland—about housing, jobs, discrimination and social deprivation—and continuously being told, "They are matters for the Northern Ireland Parliament and cannot be dealt with at Westminster". I was told that all I could talk about here was defence and financial matters. I had a very frustrating time trying to break the convention— and it was only a convention; there was nothing legal about it—that one did not discuss matters which had been reserved to the Northern Ireland Parliament.

In 1972, the Speaker's Conference was set up on the abolition of Stormont. Sure enough, the Unionist Party, as it was then, under the joint leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and Enoch Powell, used all their political guile—particularly Enoch Powell—to keep the Labour government in power until they had what they wanted: the Speaker's Conference.

I remember the day it was set up and seeing the names of those who would be members. Martin Flannery, a Sheffield MP, said to me, "You would be as well not going there. They're going to increase the number of seats". We knew before the conference had even met or deliberated that there would be an increase in the number of seats from 12 to 17. I thought that the additional seats would go to my opponents in the Unionist Party. As it turned out, they did not; some of them went to the SDLP.

If there were to be any diminution in the number of seats there would have to be a re-drawing of the boundaries. In Northern Ireland, boundaries for local government and parliamentary elections are drawn far more frequently than anywhere else because they have to take into account where the Catholics, the Protestants and the Sinn Feiners live and sometimes where Alliance Party supporters live in Cherry Valley and North Down. All those factors must be taken into account when drawing the boundaries.

At present, we have 18 seats, two of the Members not attending. I do not want to cause a revolution in Northern Ireland, but if the boundaries were re-drawn I would not be too sure about Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness sticking by their pledge not to take up their parliamentary seats. That is a matter for them. If they will take advice from me—and they certainly will not—it is to take up their seats because, after all, they are elected by their constituency voters.

Northern Ireland was given 12 seats. The way in which the boundaries were delineated in the run-up to the abolition of Stormont in 1972 almost assured that the Unionist Party held those 12 seats for the most part. As a result of the divisions which existed among the nationalists, there were always split votes which meant that the Unionists would always win. When I won West Belfast in 1966 it was a miracle and they thought that I was a man from Mars. The Unionists could not believe it, but I won it and held it for five elections.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, provides that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should have a say in whether or not different issues would have arisen with the involvement of the Assembly. That would not be a matter for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; it would be for the Prime Minister of the day to decide whether to change their representation. The Secretary of State should not have the authority to decide. Although I see the ramifications of introducing the West Lothian question into Northern Ireland, I do not believe that Northern Ireland representation will have any effect on representation at Westminster or the complexion of the Government for at least 10 or perhaps 20 years.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Dubs

The House is full of temptation this afternoon. There has been temptation to discuss the West Lothian question, temptation to discuss Labour Party or Conservative Party representation in Northern Ireland; temptation to discuss the constitutional changes in this country with the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly and so forth; temptation to discuss the thesis of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, about supporting the Government or not; and even temptation to discuss English devolution. I shall resist all those temptations—perhaps they are for another day—because they go way beyond the amendment before us.

Of course we will all watch what the Assembly does. We will be fascinated by how it works. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and I have seen it and I am sure that your Lordships will be interested to see how it proceeds with its deliberations.

The intention behind the amendment is apparent; namely, in the wake of the Bill being passed to examine whether there is a case for modifying the functions of the Westminster Parliament in relation to Northern Ireland and altering Northern Ireland representation at Westminster. While we understand the thinking underlying the amendment, the Government would not wish to commit themselves on the face of the Bill to completing and publishing such a review within 12 months of the Bill being passed.

Under the Belfast agreement, the Government are committed to carrying out a general review of the arrangements following devolution, including the details of electoral arrangements and of the Assembly's procedures. But it surely makes more sense for any such review to take place only after the devolved institutions have bedded in. We need a little more time and do not wish to provide on the face of the Bill that the review process shall be carried out within 12 months. I believe that Members of the Committee will agree.

Nor am I sure whether the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is necessarily the best person to carry out the review. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, has already referred to the Procedure Select Committee of the House of Commons, which has already commenced a review of the impact of devolution in general on working practices in Westminster. I suggest that that might be the most sensible forum to discuss many of the issues which noble Lords have raised today. A Select Committee for the devolved regions of the United Kingdom has been suggested. Again, that is a matter for the other place, but a forum where such deliberations could well take place.

As regards Northern Ireland representation in Westminster, there are no plans to reduce it. Unlike Scotland, Northern Ireland is not over-represented. The legislation provides for between 16 and 18 constituencies, with 17 as the optimum. The Boundary Commission recommended 18 constituencies, the basis on which the 1997 election was fought and on which the election arrangements for the assembly were founded. The average size of constituency in Northern Ireland is 66,000, not far off the English average of just over 69,000 and a lot higher than that for Scotland of 55,000. So on an arithmetic basis, there is no case for considering changing the number of constituencies in Northern Ireland.

However, there are a number of other reasons why Northern Ireland Members of Parliament at Westminster will have a significant role to play. Initially, as your Lordships are aware, important powers relating to criminal law, the police and prisons will remain at Westminster. Northern Ireland Members will rightly have a close interest in such issues. Indeed, I believe that Parliament will not wish to take a complete hands-off attitude to the Assembly and I am sure that people in Northern Ireland will welcome the close interest and support of the rest of the UK in the path on which they are embarking.

Furthermore, there may be many politicians, particularly on the unionist side in Northern Ireland, who would not wish to have their significance reduced to a lower representation in this Parliament. Finally, Parliament will continue to have a role in legislating for Northern Ireland in a number of respects. For all those reasons, I believe that it is right and proper that Northern Ireland parliamentary representation in the other place should continue. Indeed, I believe that there is no need to set on the face of the Bill a review in a year's time. The Government are already committed to carrying out such a review when it is most appropriate.

Lord Renton

Before my noble friend replies, will the noble Lord bear in mind that it is not good enough to leave it to chance as to whether the Secretary of State will express her views to Parliament about how the Northern Ireland Assembly has worked? Is it not better that she should be asked to review the matter and let Parliament know the conclusions?

Lord Dubs

Under the Belfast agreement the Government are committed to carry out such a review. That is a firm commitment. But we do not consider it appropriate to conduct such a review within 12 months. We should consider the most appropriate time when we know how the Assembly is working. I am sure that is the way in which most Members of the Committee would wish us to proceed.

The Earl of Onslow

Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may refer to something he said which started an alarm bell ringing in my brain. He said that Parliament will take a very close overview of the Assembly. Perhaps the noble Lord can elucidate. I got the impression that that remark implied that if Her Majesty's Ministers did not like what the Northern Ireland Assembly did, irrespective of what the Assembly thought it was going to do, Ministers would overturn it without a justified fiat. Is that the case?

Lord Dubs

No, that is not the case. I do not believe I said that. I certainly did not intend it. In a general sense I believe that Parliament will show a great deal of interest in the way in which the constitutional changes in this country take place and how they are working out. I am sure that Parliament will want to discuss such matters at intervals. It may be that the Select Committee of the other place will wish to keep such matters under review. That is all I meant.

Lord Fitt

This is a matter of tremendous importance. I have already spoken of the convention which existed between 1920 and 1972 when it was impossible to ask questions about specific subjects over which the Stormont Parliament maintained control. These were unemployment, housing, health and social services and all the myriad issues under its control. That meant that one could not ask questions at Westminster because those matters were reserved to the Northern Ireland Parliament. When the Northern Ireland Assembly is set up, will a new convention be created or will we still be able to ask questions at Westminster about health, social services and all the other issues that are to be taken over by the Assembly? Will a new convention be set up to the effect that these matters cannot be talked about because they are for the new Assembly?

Lord Dubs

I do not believe that it is up to the Government to say what issues should be discussed either in this House or the other place. It is a matter for those responsible for the procedures of this House and the other place to decide what may be debated. At this stage I would not wish to suggest a new convention—far from it.

The Earl of Onslow

I am sorry to return to the issue. Of course it is for the Government to say what they will answer for in relation to the powers they have over the subjects of the Queen and of the United Kingdom. One cannot just say, "We do not know whether we are going to answer questions on this or that". That is slaphappy to the degree of irresponsibility.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

Perhaps I may help the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, before the Minister replies. The noble Lord has raised a very interesting point and I would like to enlighten him about precedents. When I came to the other place in 1970, for two years I could do nothing but ask questions about defence and taxation. For some reason I could also ask questions about the obscure issue of imperial pensions, whatever they were. Then the shutters came down when Stormont was abolished and everything was returned to Westminster.

It will be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that in 1974–75 the power-sharing executive was installed. Immediately that body took effect and began its work, the day after I returned with my usual questions on agriculture, education and everything else, the young Clerk in the Table Office said, "I am sorry, you have to address that particular query to Mr. Faulkner or Mr. Fitt, who are now in charge".

5.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs

Perhaps I may repeat what I said earlier. The House of Commons Procedure Committee is considering many of these matters. I believe it is prudent for us to see the outcome of its deliberations before asking any one else to pronounce on how we might go forward.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

We have had an interesting debate on this question. At one point I thought we were eavesdropping on a meeting of the Speaker's Conference old comrades association. That is one of the wonders of this House. The experience which has been on show in the past few minutes of this debate has been valuable to us.

I shall respond to some of what has been said without attempting to reply to the whole debate. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, suggested that my amendment should have been drawn in wider terms to cover Scotland. I tried to do that, but the Long Title of the Bill confines the issue to Northern Ireland matters. That is why the amendment is drawn in a rather narrow form. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, suggested that I was trying to hold up this Bill as a result, but the amendment does not do that. It asks for a report in 12 months time. It does not hold up the Bill or the whole process of setting up the Assembly. The amendment asks for reflection on the matter.

My noble friend Lord Onslow suggested that the Conservative Party as well as the Labour Party somehow forbade candidates standing in Northern Ireland. That is not so. On the contrary the Conservative Party produced candidates but, I have to admit, without any great degree of success. Nevertheless, they had my support on occasions, and perhaps that is the reason they were not successful. They stood as Conservatives for Parliament and local government as well, and may they continue to do so with increased success in the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, accused me of being frightened of federation on account of that word. That is not so. But I believe that a federation that consisted of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be very unbalanced. That is why I do not believe that to be a very attractive route.

The question which underlies all this is what is going to happen in respect of the West Lothian question. I was careful not to advance a single answer to it, but several for the Committee to choose from, as it were. My intention was to put the question in the Northern Ireland context, and that has been achieved. Whether or not we were able to carry an amendment of this character, we shall all have to return to this matter, including the Government and the Secretary of State. Perhaps I should have included the Prime Minister in the amendment instead of the Secretary of State, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, suggested, because inevitably he will be drawn into the issue.

This matter will not only affect Northern Ireland, but the answers to the West Lothian question as regards Scotland will affect Northern Ireland. There is no getting away from that, because one hinges on the other. It is a very difficult question. As he said, the Minister resisted temptation. He said that there were no plans at this time, but the Government will have to review the matter both in the context of the Belfast agreement in specifically Northern Ireland terms and also in response to the Select Committee in another place and public pressure as time goes on. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Alderdice moved Amendment No. 116A:

After Clause 43, insert the following new clause—