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After Clause 43, insert the following new clause--

Review of impact of Act on functions and composition of Parliament

(". 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.").

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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