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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I entirely accept that this is largely a technical and enabling order and therefore I have only one question to ask. Years pass, the Minister introduces similar orders and I always ask the same question. I omitted to give her the appropriate notice of it and so if she wishes to write to me I shall be quite happy with that. Have the Government come to any conclusion about what is to happen with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme in so far as it applies to Northern Ireland? The Minister has heard that question so often that I am tempted to have an anniversary dinner for the two of us because I never have a conclusive reply.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, the noble Lord puts me in a very difficult situation. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I seem to be inviting myself to dinner. I fear that I cannot cancel the invitation, but I suspect that we should celebrate when I can give the

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noble Lord the answer which he would like to hear. I can assure him that it is a matter of concern and I shall write to him to update him on the position.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Parliamentary Constituencies (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

11.55 a.m.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th October be approved [29th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of this draft order is to give effect, without modification, to the recommendations made by the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland in its fourth periodical report on parliamentary constituencies, submitted to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 21st June of this year. In accordance with Section 28(2) of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 the commission also submitted to my right honourable friend on the same day its second supplementary report. Today's draft order also gives effect, without modification, to the supplementary report.

The Northern Ireland Boundary Commission published its provisional recommendations in January last year. In accordance with Section 6(2) of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 the representations received on the recommendations caused the commission to hold five public local inquiries between May and June last year. Following on from the inquiries, the commission published its revised recommendations in January this year.

Under the provisions in Schedule 2, paragraph 1(4) of the 1986 Act, the commission has now recommended that Northern Ireland should be divided into 18 constituencies for parliamentary elections and that five members should be returned to a Northern Ireland Assembly from each of the 18 constituencies. This increases the total membership of a Northern Ireland Assembly from 85 to 90. These revised recommendations are the commission's final recommendations and form the draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Northern Ireland) Order before us.

The Government are confident that in arriving at the recommendations incorporated in the draft order the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission has complied fully with the relevant requirements of Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is satisfied that sufficient opportunity was given for representations to the commission. On that basis, I commend the draft order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th October be approved [29th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Denton of Wakefield.)

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we are most grateful for the care with which the commission conducted its work. I have only a single question to ask.

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The commission suggested that there might be benefits in altering its procedure for the future. Those suggested modifications are in pages 31 to 34 of the report. Have the Government come to a view about acting on those suggestions, or is it perhaps too early? If it is too early, perhaps I may expect a letter in the post.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, has the noble Baroness had an opportunity to read the Hansard report of the debate which took place when a reallocation of the seats and the setting of the boundaries in Northern Ireland last took place in 1978? At that time there was great controversy. There was a Speaker's Conference, of which I was a member, which sat on 12 occasions. There was great opposition both in the Speaker's Conference and in the Commons itself. It arose particularly because the then major opposition party in Northern Ireland, the SDLP, of which I was the leader, took the view that to increase the number of seats in Northern Ireland would lead to integration. The argument for integration was led by the then MP for South Down, Enoch Powell, and the Unionist Party.

One could stand here today and speak for hours about the history of these matters. There are legitimate questions to be asked. When the Northern Ireland state came into being, a parliament was created which had 52 parliamentary seats representing seats returning members to Stormont. They were given quite a number of powers—in fact, all the major powers—about unemployment, health and social services. The only matters that were kept from them were the powers to collect tax and to manage defence.

Under those circumstances it was decided that they would be given 12 seats at Westminster because the parliament of Northern Ireland retained so many powers. After the demise of the Northern Ireland parliament in 1972, an assembly was set up which did not last for very long. At that time the Labour Government—my noble friend was then Home Secretary—were in the grip of the Unionist members; that is something like what is happening today with a different Government.

The Unionist members were able to push, blackmail and dragoon the Labour Government into setting up the Speaker's Conference, which ultimately led to an increase in the number of seats because they believed in integration. I led the Opposition party at that time and it was totally opposed to any increase in the number of seats representing Northern Ireland constituencies. I fought tenaciously along those lines in the other place, but eventually the measure was carried and the number of seats was increased from 12 to 17. It is rather remarkable that when the seats were fought at the succeeding election in 1983, of the five seats which had been created, four were won by the Opposition; namely, the party that had campaigned against any increase in the number of seats. Therefore, it is quite obvious that that party is no longer so opposed to the increase in the number of seats.

In these recommendations an extra seat is created. That extra seat was created amidst considerable controversy. It was perhaps not made public, but the controversy was considerable. The original report, referred to by the noble Baroness, recommended a

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reduction of one in the number of constituencies, the seat in question being held by a member of the SDLP. If that recommendation had been carried out there would not have been the peace process because the SDLP would have refused to become involved in the process if it had been going to lose one of its seats.

Pressure was applied from many sources both within and outside Ireland. To make certain that that seat continued in being, the boundaries had to be rejigged and another seat created—West Tyrone. That will probably be a nationalist seat held either by Sinn Fein or the SDLP. Therefore, one can see that it is not a straightforward recommendation. There were very highly political motives behind the recommendations of the Boundary Commission.

Allied to that, there is the recommendation that an assembly be set up in Northern Ireland. One does not need to go into the Government's change of attitude in relation to Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Government refuse adamantly to countenance any suggestion that an assembly is set up in Scotland whereas in Northern Ireland they are making arrangements for an assembly to be set up with an increase in the number of seats.

The Government have said that, if there is to be an assembly in Scotland, there will be a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs who take their seats at Westminster. As regards Northern Ireland, the Government take a contrary view. They say that there will be an assembly of 90 members and an extra seat will be given in the process. That seems to be a totally different and, as regards the Government's proposals for Scotland, untenable argument.

There are to be 90 members of the Northern Ireland assembly. In fact, it will be the most over-governed place in the United Kingdom. Every Westminster constituency will have five assemblymen. I have had some experience of that. Those five assemblymen will all be competing to see who can be successful in taking the Westminster seat from its present holder. Therefore, the scene has been set for all sorts of in-fighting and dog-fighting between the assembly men to take over the Westminster seat.

Under the present proposals, the framework document and so forth, the assembly is to be given very large powers, if agreement can be found, within the assembly and by the members elected thereto. I have serious reservations about whether or not the assembly will ever come into being, or if it does, whether agreement will be found.

If the assembly is founded and is successful, what powers will it be given? Will it be given all the powers that were formerly held by the Stormont Parliament, which had only 52 seats, or the previous assembly, which did not last very long? Will all the powers as regards Northern Ireland affairs be given to that assembly? Will there be any suggestion of a reduction in the number of Northern Ireland MPs taking their seats here? That seems to be the argument as it is applied to Scotland. I can foresee some very great problems arising within that assembly of 90 members. I can quite

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understand that. They will want to take decisions in relation to the constituents whom they represent and with whom they are living in the same country.

This increase in the boundaries is not a straightforward question. The extra seat was given because of outside intervention. The most important question is this: if and when the assembly comes into operation, what powers will be given to it? If quite a number of powers are transferred to the assembly, will that affect the number of MPs from Northern Ireland who take their seats in this House?


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