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Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : On behalf of the whole House, I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee on Selection, my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery), for his contribution to the debate.
It is important to remind ourselves why we are here and of the purpose that led us here. We are here to appoint Members to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee. Our duty is to respond to resolutions and votes of the House. First, I should like to place on record, as is the fashion, that the Government by convention and precedent always have a majority of seats on Select Committees. Secondly, the House voted that the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee should have 13 members. Thirdly, the Select Committee on Procedure, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) also recommended that all Northern Ireland parties should be represented on the Select Committee.
The Selection Committee had to try, therefore, to reconcile two competing tensions. We had to accommodate a Government majority in the Committee of 13 members and to accommodate all the parties represented in Ulster. That would pose a difficulty for the Government if they stuck with the concept of a majority. For that reason and that reason alone, the Selection Committee decided to give up one of the Government's places on the Select Committee to the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J.
Column 863Kilfedder), thereby allowing the Selection Committee to accommodate the recommendation that all parties should be represented on the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee.
I became slightly confused by the comments of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on the concept of representation by proportion of population and membership of this House. After all, many parties stand for election to the United Kingdom Parliament and do not win seats. The logic of his argument is that those people who vote for parties that are not represented in the House should, by some process of osmosis, be represented on Select Committees. We can appoint only Members of this House to Select Committees. We have no power to do anything else. The way in which our recommendation has accommodated all the parties in Northern Ireland is the right way forward.
It is not for us to argue the pros and cons of a Select Committee for Northern Ireland. The House has voted for it. In the same way, I presume that the House voted for Select Committees for Wales and for Scotland. Equally, I could argue that my county of Kent, which is represented by 16 Members, should have a Select Committee. I do not intend to do so ; it would not be wise or sensible. As Kentish Members we can make a major contribution to the work of the Conservative party. The logic of the argument of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North has to stop somewhere, and it must stop here tonight.
The important point is that the Selection Committee is abiding by a requirement of the House. Hon. Members should, therefore, think carefully before voting for the amendments that have been tabled by the official Opposition. They would destroy the work of the Selection Committee, which is so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and to clarify one or two misunderstandings. In the light of the comment by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on the 53 per cent. to 47 per cent. division of Northern Ireland's population, I was perhaps fortunate to be told this morning that two people from Northern Ireland told the papal nuncio in Dublin that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and I were their pastors. I make it abundantly plain that in this House we represent a broad cross- section of the people in Northern Ireland, not the sectarian head count that has been set forth here tonight. We represent the constituents who sent us here. I also happen to be one of the few Northern Ireland Members who have served consistently on a Select Committee of the House. Although we did our best to include Northern Ireland, we could do it only on occasions. Other things had to be done. To criticise the setting up of a Select Committee for Northern Ireland on the ground that there are six already and it is an integrationist approach, fails to recognise that the Members whom we appoint tonight to that Select Committee will have the task of scrutinising intimately the Northern Ireland Office, which will remain, irrespective of what happens in a devolutionary settlement in Northern Ireland.
Column 864In that context, I have been perplexed about why this elongated debate is taking place. I remember only two other occasions when the membership of a Select Committee necessitated a Division. Speaking for the Ulster Unionist party, when we found out that there were so many seats on other Select Committees for Members from Northern Ireland we could have put up four names, but we put up two names to allow the other parties in Northern Ireland to be represented. In the broader pattern of Select Committees, Northern Ireland parties have been under-represented as a result of the failure of parties to put forward representatives. Therefore, I welcome the fact that a Committee that is to monitor--scrutinise--the Northern Ireland Office will have a broad cross- section of members from Northern Ireland. Perhaps it will be worth while, since other hon. Members have been refreshing memories, if I put on record the fact that although the Select Committee system is reputed to have taken its inspiration from the American Congress, Lord Glenamara recalls in his book, "Whip to Wilson" that Lord Wilson advocated such an idea in the 1960s. It is fascinating that Labour Front-Bench Members are using delaying tactics to prevent it from being set up now.
It is also worth remembering that it was under the Labour Administrations of Lords Wilson, Callaghan and Foot that the system was developed, before being brought to fruition in 1979 under Lord St. John of Fawsley, then Leader of the House in the new Conservative Government.
When we bear in mind the fact that, in 1970, the Labour party demonstrated a clear understanding of the need for an accountable democracy, there seems to have been some change in pattern. Admittedly, that Administration were kept in power by the Ulster Unionist party and colleagues, who supported them--you will recognise this sentence by now, Mr. Deputy Speaker
"so long as they governed in the best interests of the United Kingdom in general, and of Northern Ireland in particular". That Labour party presided over Northern Ireland's great democratic change in 1970--the redrawing of constituency boundaries, which gave fairer representation to the people of Northern Ireland. It was implied tonight that the people of Northern Ireland, especially the Unionists, had been guilty of gerrymandering, but it is interesting to note that it was pressure from a Northern Ireland Assembly and the Members of the House which led to the Speaker's Conference that ultimately granted us better proportional representation in the House and which allowed more representatives of the nationalist community to come to the House. We have to keep those things clearly in mind, even though I admit that some people might disagree with it. What is wrong with the motion tonight, which purportedly would give a better distribution of the seats ? Like the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), I have nothing against the nominees from the Conservative party, or the nominees from the parties in Northern Ireland and I believe that the Labour party has a right to nominate its own representatives.
We shall all discover that, despite newspaper headlines that seek to portray a scenario such as "Tory-dominated Committee savages Government", the task of a Select Committee, irrespective of what party its members come from, is to scrutinise the affairs of the Department and the Government and, in the light of the evidence, to bring a report to the House. I do not doubt that in the chemistry of
Column 865a Select Committee there will be movement ; there will be changes of opinion. I should like to think that hon., as well as right hon., Ladies and Gentlemen would go with the evidence rather than simply being in a partisan mood.
I find it difficult to understand how Members of the House who support accountable democracy can listen to the arguments made tonight by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. According to a recent speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North in the House, he does not object in principle to the Select Committee system but does object to such a system being extended to Northern Ireland. What nonsense! We see here at work a republican agenda, which seeks to separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Amazingly enough, it was Mr. Haughey and later Mr. Reynolds who, publicly and privately--although perhaps privately they said some things differently to different people--said that it was the responsibility of the House to decide how it scrutinises the Departments of its own Government ; it was not a matter for the Dublin Government or anyone outside the House.
Tonight I am happy to support the motion.
Mr. Maginnis : I do not want to quarrel with my hon. Friend at this stage, but it is a misnomer to describe the agenda of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) as a republican agenda. Tonight it was obviously a bitter, sectarian agenda, as we heard from the figures that he misquoted. It is the type of performance that we hear from bitter third generation expatriates and we would not even hear it from representatives of the nationalist community.
Rev. Martin Smyth : My hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) makes his own point, but I say to him that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North wishes to remain British but seeks to deny the people of Northern Ireland their right to have the affairs of their Province scrutinised by their Parliament.
Does it not seem strange when we contrast the efforts of the shadow Northern Ireland spokesman to thwart the democratic process with the amazing conversion of, and support for, the British judicial system shown by the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams ? Mr. Adams has seen the light and has chosen to throw himself, with a bag of British taxpayers' legal aid gold in his pocket, on the mercy of British courts in an effort to regain the right to peddle word of his organisation's terrorism throughout the United Kingdom.
Mr. Mallon : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Before he finishes his interesting speech, will he take the opportunity at least to distance himself and the Ulster Unionist party from the remarks that were made about the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North and, indeed, about many right hon. and hon. Members of the House who are first, second and third generation Irish and have no
Column 866trace of sectarianism about them, as my hon. Friend has not ? I think that it is incumbent on that party to distance itself from that remark, in the interests of fairness.
Rev. Martin Smyth : In the interests of fairness, I will say to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) that he has made his point, as the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McGrady) made his point. As far as I am concerned, as I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues here, I support the motion and I trust that the House stands firmly behind the recommendations of the Committee of Selection. I also pay tribute to the representative of the minority parties, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who consults those who should be consulted. 7.49 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : I was amazed--perhaps I should not have been--at the speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). He put forward a series of arguments about why the House should not have a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs and why we should not be voting Members on to that Committee.
It was strange because the hon. Gentleman talked about strand 1 of the talks held in Northern Ireland. He was not present at those talks and does not know what he is talking about. The basis of the strand 1 talks was to find a way to govern Northern Ireland and, once that was settled, to decide what relationship the Government or Administration would have with Dublin. To suggest that the Government are now breaking their pledge on strand 1 and that they should not be democratically accountable to the House through their own Select Committee is ridiculous. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman feels about strand 1, but it has nothing to do with whether the House has a Select Committee. At the strand 1 talks, everyone except the SDLP agreed that the Select Committee was a matter for this House and that the House should do for Northern Ireland what it does for every other part of the United Kingdom. That shows that the hon. Gentleman's argument was in tatters before he started his speech tonight. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that, because the Government have said that they have no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland remaining within the United Kingdom, they should not set up the Select Committee. The Select Committee will look at the present government of Northern Ireland. Will not the people of Northern Ireland be allowed to scrutinise their own Government as those in every other part of the United Kingdom do ?
The hon. Gentleman argued that, because the Government have said that they have no selfish, strategic or economic interests in keeping Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom if the majority of people in Northern Ireland do not want to remain within it, Northern Ireland should cease to have the same sort of government as the rest of the United Kingdom. He also argued that we were breaking with the status quo, but we are only establishing it. Every other part of the United Kingdom has that privilege.
Why should not we be allowed to have the Government scrutinised and to look at how they govern Northern Ireland ? Why should not we be allowed to ask how the
Column 867money is spent ? Why should not we be allowed to question civil servants, who have a hundred times more power in Northern Ireland today than they ever had
Rev. Ian Paisley : I should have thought, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the members of the Committee were the right people to find out what this matter is about and to scrutinise it. I am responding to the various suggestions made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. Those must be answered, for the people of Northern Ireland will say to us
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North also mentioned some percentages. I noticed that he conveniently left out the fact that, in the European elections, the Ulster Democratic Unionist party took 30 per cent. of the vote. He forgot all about that. He also discovered a statistic that the Roman Catholic population now represents almost 50 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland. It is amazing that he puts up those arguments in recommending--I am coming to the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker--that more Labour party members should be on the Committee. If this Committee is so wretched and bad and should not exist, the hon. Gentleman should ask to give up his party's two seats on it and let other Northern Ireland Members get on the Committee to do the work in which they are interested. The hon. Gentleman's argument is ridiculous. May I say on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland that this debate is a microcosm of what has happened in Northern Ireland throughout the years. No progress can be made because certain people will not let us, except if it is progress towards Dublin and a united Ireland. Tonight's debate simply holds up the people of Northern Ireland from having the same rights as people in the rest of the Kingdom.
We have argued about the basis of the Committee. My party has no seat on any Select Committee in the House because we were never offered a seat. I was thrown off the Select Committee on Agriculture and the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was put on it. He had to be taken off the Agriculture Committee because he did not attend, whereas I was a good attender. I do not know who is responsible for the Committee of Selection, but my party has never been approached to have a member on any Select Committee. I raised that matter with the Prime Minister and he said, "Oh, we'll see about it." So I could have a grouse tonight and say that, although my party has three Members in the House, we sit on no Select Committee. I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee, who did a difficult job. What would be better than to have every party represented ? After all, at the talks we have a party that has no members in the House-- the Alliance party. Yet because one Member has his own party--the UPUP--and has been returned to the House, the Labour
Column 868party thinks that he should have no say and should not be allowed on the Select Committee. It is reasonable that all parties from Northern Ireland should be on the Committee.
Other members of the Committee do not know the whole position, the questions to ask or what needs to be probed. They do not know the difficulties that we have in Northern Ireland and they will depend largely on the representatives from Northern Ireland to put the questions that need to be put.
I am sure that the Government are not over-enthusiastic about that. Their civil servants have already told me that they are not and--I do not refer to those presently in the Box. They must realise that the tragedy of Northern Ireland, where we have been unable to scrutinise the Government, must come to an end. The Committee can do that job and I hope that it will do it well. Under the circumstances, it is reasonable to have the numbers proposed on the Order Paper. 7.57 pm
Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : May I say a few words in support of the Select Committee and the amendments in the name of my hon. Friends ? A Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs is long overdue and I am pleased that it is being set up. There is an amazing democratic deficit in Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland are neglected in all sorts of ways. Before getting back to a devolved Government in Northern Ireland, the least that we can do is to get this Select Committee going and begin the scrutiny that is needed. I support the membership of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), who has done an enormous amount of work on Northern Ireland matters and who put forward his name for the original selection list. I hope that he will get on the Committee.
Some of my hon. Friends and I are sad that my party still does not allow people in Northern Ireland to join it. We are rightly asking for more Labour Members to serve on the Select Committee, yet if I went back to live in Northern Ireland I could not remain a member of the Labour party. That is disgraceful. My party needs to deal with that problem--indeed, it is dealing with it.
Recently members of the Union of Communications Workers and the Amalgamated Engineering Union were asked whether they should have the right in Northern Ireland to join the Labour party. Protestants and Catholics alike overwhelmingly stated that they wanted the right to join the Labour party and wished that they had the right to vote for it. That is not to say-- unfortunately--that they would all vote Labour, but our party should at the very least be in Northern Ireland arguing for our policies and organising. Only in that way can we in the Opposition claim really to represent the people of Northern Ireland. Attitudes to the people of Northern Ireland are often patronising. Every time we hear of another dreadful incident, we say that they just want to fight and kill each other. Yet the Labour party does not give those people the chance to cross the sectarian divide and to join a party that would fight for their jobs, their health service and so on.
I know that this debate is about only one aspect of the situation--the setting up of the Select Committee--but I hope that it will mark a new recognition of the fact that, as
Column 869long as the people of Northern Ireland want to stay part of the United Kingdom, they should have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else. And that means that the Labour party should be involved. If it were, we could change the whole nature of politics in Northern Ireland.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East is elected to the Select Committee tonight. I hope that that Committee will carry out the scrutiny of Northern Ireland affairs that they so desperately need and give the people of Northern Ireland back their faith that the people in this part of the United Kingdom care about them and understand what is happening there.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : As a member of the Committee of Selection, I cannot resist pointing out that until this evening I used to wonder why that Committee holds all those difficult meetings. Now that I have witnessed this debate in the House I can see the justification for all the work that we do in the Committee. Certainly, there have been robust exchanges of irreconcilable views this evening.
I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery). His is a difficult job. Although I do not entirely accept the recommendation that our Committee put to the House, I believe that the hon. Gentleman did everything conceivably possible to try to reach a consensus. The fact that that proved impossible was not for want of trying on his part. The House owes him a debt for the work that he did, even though a consensus eluded him.
It is always difficult to reconcile competing interests of this sort, as the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) pointed out. Some of the cross- currents cannot meet smoothly, especially since the Procedure Committee set out the rules to be followed, in the form of the motion that the House passed a few weeks ago.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) saying that his interests were not vigorously represented in the Committee of Selection. I take it that he would like to serve on more Committees scrutinising rating and valuation statutory instruments. Good Unionist that he is, I am sure that he would love to gain my recommendation that he serve on such Committees. If his name does appear on future Committee lists, he will learn that casting aspersions on members of the Committee of Selection can have its downside.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North did make a serious point, however. He was worried about the lack of places for minority parties on Select Committees. The rules of proportionality for Select Committees make it difficult to guarantee places for parliamentary groupings of only three hon. Members. As the unofficial shop steward for the minority parties, I do my best to ensure an element of rotation--but I completely understood the hon. Gentleman's complaint. This Select Committee is extremely necessary. That is why I found the speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) perplexing. I could not follow the logic of what he was trying to say. He was looking for bogeymen around every corner. Whatever birth pangs may have attended the setting up of this Committee, I hope that they will in no way make it more difficult to achieve a satisfactory resolution of the issues with which it will be concerned.
Column 870The working methods used by Select Committees--the hallmark of their success--are needed now more than ever in the Province. The hon. Member for Antrim, North rightly said that there are urgent and compelling issues to do with the governance of the Province that need scrutinising--how money is allocated, and so on. There is much work to be done ; I hope that the Committee will get on with it.
The membership is not satisfactory from the point of view of the Liberal Democrats. The Chairman of the Committee of Selection said, I think, that a statistical balance had to be observed. Arithmetically speaking, he was right ; but he must accept that my party played a robust part in setting up the Committee. We have always said that it should be set up, yet we have been denied membership of it. The hon. Gentleman and I have gone into the reasons for that at exhaustive length, but it is a shame that my party has not been able to nominate anyone to serve.
Certain alternatives should have been canvassed. For instance, do the Government really need a majority ? It would have been better if the Select Committee covering Northern Ireland had left the Government without a majority. That would have enabled it more comprehensively to represent the shades of opinion from the Province.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale said that the Alliance party has no representative in the House but has a role to play. It is essential that the strand of opinion which it represents be given a voice in the conduct of the affairs of the Province--if that is true of Northern Ireland in general, it is even more true for the membership of this Committee.
Mr. Norman Hogg : The hon. Gentleman says that he is dissatisfied with the selection that has been made, but he has not yet said how his party intends to vote on the amendments. I commend to him amendment (c)--I have done many things in politics, but I have never before been an amendment. I hope that he will feel able to support it.
Mr. Kirkwood : I can give the hon. Gentleman the satisfaction that he seeks. There is no one I would more like to see on the Committee. Speaking as a fellow Presbyterian, I know the hon. Gentleman's prejudices well, and I look forward to giving him the opportunity to argue for them at length in the Select Committee.
Mr. Kirkwood : I would be out of order if I answered that. There is always a danger of pigeonholing people. I hope that that danger can be averted on the Select Committee. While it is reasonable that people will want to advance the political point of view of their parties, I hope that they will not be stuck in the trenches of party-political warfare. The Select Committee would suffer as a result. I should have liked more imagination and flexibility from the Government. For example, they could have set up a joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. It would have provided access to talent from the other place--people with distinguished careers and experience in the Province--and made the structure and composition of the Committee that much easier. A number of other
Column 871possibilities could have been considered to make the composition better suited to the range of political opinion and community interests in Northern Ireland.
In conclusion, as the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) requested, although I repeat my tribute to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection and all our labours to get the circle squared, I cannot support the current membership of the Committee. I shall vote accordingly and ask my hon. Friends to support all the amendments, particularly amendment (c) which seeks to include the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. Why he wants to spend time trying to wrestle with the intractable problems that the Select Committee will face defeats me. We could achieve a better reconciliation of the different views by putting forward a different membership of the Committee, and I shall recommend that my hon. Friends vote accordingly.
Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown) : I shall be brief. I add my tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Mongomery). His dignity and understanding of other people's points of view enables the Committee of Selection to work effectively. It is a great service to the House that we manage to iron out most problems and ensure they do not reach the House. It is regrettable that tonight we have not achieved as much as we have in the past. The Northern Ireland Select Committee will make an important contribution to the affairs of Northern Ireland, so its composition is absolutely vital. I return to an intervention that I made regarding the description of the Committee. Of course it can be called a symbolic Committee, but its composition will ensure that it is much more than that ; it is representative of the people of Northern Ireland and it will have the widespread powers that are available to Select Committees in the House. When the Committee is in full operation, the important role that it can play will be seen in Northern Ireland.
I agree with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) that it is a pity that the Committee was not established some time ago. Nobody suggests that it will produce magic answers to many of the appallingly difficult problems in Northern Ireland, but it will have a major contribution to make in relation to the views that it will hear from the range of witnesses that it will be able to call, on whatever topic it decides to investigate in detail.
The composition was a difficult decision for the Committee of Selection and now we have to decide it in the House tonight. The recommendations are just about right and, frankly, I believe that the time has now come to get the Committee established and operating as quickly as possible, to allow it to make its contribution to the grave problems facing all the people of Northern Ireland. Let us stop the talking and get the Committee set up.
Hon. Members present tonight may not have attended the debate this afternoon, or the debate on 9 March in which I tried to argue that, although some hon. Members
Column 872might think that we are engaged in procedural matters of the House, we are without doubt involved in a political decision.
I am glad to see the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of State on the Front Bench. Earlier today, I quoted some of his comments that suggested that the Committee could not and should not be formed unless it had two qualifications : first, that it had cross- community support in Northern Ireland, and secondly, that it had cross- party support in the House. Neither of those two qualifications is present, yet the decision has been made to go ahead.
The reason can be seen in the timing of the announcement by the Leader of the House--24 hours after the Downing street declaration. The announcement was on 16 December, the day after 15 December. After all the words of the previous two years, the statements by Ministers were wiped out by that action, which clearly demonstrated that we are engaged in a political rather than a procedural process this evening.
I know that I will not be allowed to continue this train of debate, because we are talking about the Select Committee--its composition, numbers and representation--yet it is important because it affects our view of the integrity of the Government's even-handed approach to the affairs of Northern Ireland.
As to the composition of the Committee as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the best yardstick one can use is the popular vote, which was obtained in June 1987 at the last general election. On that basis, it would appear that my party, the Social Democratic and Labour party, is the only party among all those in the House from Northern Ireland which is under- represented. The other three are over-represented, by however marginal a fraction. One at least is over-represented by a factor of 10.
I listened with great interest to the ingenious arguments of earlier speakers.
Mr. Peter Robinson : I would be interested to hear how the hon. Gentleman works out the statistics. We are discussing a Select Committee of a United Kingdom Parliament. Every party in Northern Ireland represented on the Select Committee is over-represented when taken against the whole United Kingdom figure.
Mr. McGrady : I do not know whether or not to thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Much has been made of the quality of representation from the Northern Ireland political parties. I reiterate the point that my party, the SDLP, is the only party which is under-represented on the Committee, and that each of the other parties is over-represented.
Some earlier speeches suggested that the Popular Unionist nomination, the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder), was not a Northern Irish nomination but was the Government
representative--a Tory, but not a card-carrying member of the Tory party. I remind those who made that suggestion of the debates in the House on the Maastricht treaty and on the closure of the mines, when Ministers referred to the Conservative and Unionist party, looking at the Members of the House who sit behind me in the official Unionist parties, or whatever name they wish to use.
Column 873Why did the Government not carry forward the logic of their statements--that the appointees of the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland were extensions of the Conservative party--when their brethrenship had been claimed at the Dispatch Box on two vital occasions in the past 12 months ? I find that argument disingenuous. The fact that it is an unfair allocation of seats is not the opinion of my party alone. I have a one-sentence quotation from a editorial from the Belfast Telegraph, which cannot be described as a nationalist newspaper :
"The membership, six Conservatives, two Labour, two Ulster Unionists, one DUP, one Popular Unionist and one SDLP, does not mirror the political balance in the province".
As I have said, that newspaper has no nationalist leanings whatever.
Except in regard to the political aspect referred to earlier, proportionality has not applied. It will be a great pity if the Government do not take this opportunity to display even-handedness. No later than December 1993, the central community relations unit of the Northern Ireland Office issued a circular--5/93--which stated categorically that the Government must not only respect equality of representation when dealing with various communities, but be proactive in achieving that. In my view, they have signally failed to be proactive this evening in supporting the Select Committee's recommendations ; we shall therefore vote against the motion. Reference has been made to correspondence, and the way in which arrangements for nominations were made vis-a-vis my party. Having heard accidentally that the Committee of Selection was meeting, I sent a fax to its Chairman, dated 16 March. I received his reply on 17 March, when we were all present for Northern Ireland Question Time. I took on board what the Chairman had said, and we then submitted our nominations on 19 March. The process could not have taken place more swiftly or accurately.
Until then, no communication of any nature regarding the meetings, appointments or procedures of the Select Committee was made known, through the so-called usual channels, to my party or any member of it.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : Let me make two linked points. We ought to be concerned about a question that has not been answered tonight : when has each of the six Select Committees currently considering Northern Ireland administration looked into certain issues ? Between 1989 and 1990, when I served in the Northern Ireland Office, the Select Committee on Environment visited Northern Ireland, questioned me here and produced a report. I have served for a year on the Select Committee on Transport ; that Committee has not considered Northern Ireland issues, and, as far as I am aware, other Committees have not done so either.
I believe that the new proposal will bring more Northern Ireland Members on to the Committee, which is why I support the recommendations of the Committee of Selection. I hope that, after tonight's votes, Northern Ireland will receive more attention, with more Northern Ireland Members and others considering the issues ; that Departments will become more accountable ; and that the people of Northern Ireland will benefit.
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Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : If anyone had any illusions about the problems involved in legislating for Northern Ireland, today's debates should have dispelled them. We have spent about four hours debating the matter, and the Select Committee has not even met yet. I speak with the advantage of having been nominated for membership of the Committee, and I am actually looking forward to it : I think that it will be very interesting. I hope that people will not think that I am a masochist. Let me say to the Government--and to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery), who made a pretty good fist of a difficult job--that the numbers problem is a problem for Northern Ireland Select Committees in any event. The Unionists may not be so keen on the experiment in the coming months. As always in Northern Ireland, the problem is that legislation takes place in a way that shows the area to be different from the rest of the United Kingdom. In an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) mentioned the special delicacy involved in Northern Ireland legislation : it is that special delicacy which makes Northern Ireland different.
Let me tell my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) that all three political parties that organise, vote, campaign, put up candidates and so on in Great Britain do not do so in Northern Ireland, for very good reasons. People in Northern Ireland are quite capable of organising a Labour, Tory or Liberal party, but do not choose to do so, because the question of the border is too important.
When the Tory party tried to organise there, it was crushed ; when the Liberal party toyed with the idea, it was wisely advised not to become involved by the Alliance party, which presented itself as something like the Liberal party in Northern Ireland, and still does so.
There used to be a Northern Ireland Labour party--a small party, which once told me that there was a strong case for putting a gas pipeline between Northern Ireland and Scotland, that there was a far better case for that than for putting it through the south of Ireland. The party argued on the basis of there being more jobs. I am a great believer in creating more jobs, but the real reason was that the party was tending towards the Unionist position.
Rev. Martin Smyth rose
If the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale were setting up a Select Committee dealing with Scottish or Welsh affairs--which he is obliged to do in his capacity--he would seek to put only Scottish or Welsh Members on that Committee. The one thing that changes the position is the existence of a Government without a majority.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) made a good point when he said that the Government should not automatically have a majority on Select Committees, but the reality is that they do. In fact, both the main political parties would support that, because in government they would want that arrangement.
The hon. Gentleman said, very fairly and bluntly, that this was a political question : it was about political power. As political power in this country comes not from the barrel of a gun but from the ballot box, there is a case for
Column 875that argument, but the hon. Gentleman knows that in Scotland only Scottish Members would be involved. The only reason for the existence of English Members on the Scottish Select Committee is the fact that the Government have no majority there, and they stack the Committee with English Members to make up the numbers.
Logically, a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs should consist only of Northern Ireland Members, except when the Government must stack it with English Members to obtain a majority. Straight away, we see the anomaly. As I have told the Unionists, the same applies to the Government of Ireland Act 1947, which states that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom for as long as it wishes. The same legislation cannot be framed for England, Scotland or Wales. It is there only because no British political party for donkey's years has treated Northern Ireland as a normal part of the United Kingdom--and we shall not be doing so again. Having said that, let me add that we are going to have a Northern Ireland Committee, and we must make it work. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall was right in one respect : Northern Ireland does not receive the coverage it deserves. However, we are not going about it in the right way by establishing a Select Committee. It is very important that the Committee does not become a mini-Stormont ; if it does, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), and others who have spoken, will have their worst nightmares proved correct.
It was the Stormont parliament--which was virtually a one-party state--that produced so many of the problems with which we are now trying to cope in Northern Ireland. Other hon. Members have also referred to it as a one- party state--but, to be fair, the new Unionist parties have now splintered into several different groups. Let me say to any Conservative Members who will be with me on the Committee that I hope they will join me in encouraging it to meet occasionally--I emphasise the word "occasionally" deliberately, because of what I just said--in Northern Ireland. That would be useful. It would also be useful if they joined me in suggesting that the Committee visited Dublin from time to time ; it will need to do so. [Interruption.] Again, we see divisions of opinion, but this is very important. We should meet in Dublin and in Northern Ireland because