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Mr. Snape : Will my hon. Friend reflect on the likely outcome of the electrification of the Aire valley line ? In the short term, the passenger transport authority will have to pick up the additional bill, but if the rateable value is increased once the overhead electrification masts are replaced and switched on, that will make it less likely that new rolling stock can or will be introduced.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend is right. We have been battling to try to persuade the Government to incorporate expenditure on new rolling stock for the new electrified railway. In view of the massively increased administrative charges under privatisation and the difficulties that will occur in any event, the Government might have taken the
Column 851expenditure into account in assessing the rateable values, and reduced the totals significantly so that the charges would represent an encouragement to provide services rather than a disincentive. I fear that there will be disincentives. My fears are not based on a belief that privatisation will be a success ; privatisation is a potential disaster, as I said when the legislation was before the House-- but I do not want to go over those arguments again. I am concerned about the passengers, because it is they who will pay the revenue stipulated in the order. The passengers and freight users will be the means of providing that income. When starting on this disastrous course, the Government might have at least considered the passengers and freight users, so that we could expand the use of the railway network rather than diminish it. Under the order, I fear that it will be diminished.
Although there are emergency provisions in the legislation, if a service is diminished because a franchisee goes into liquidation and cannot sustain it, the rate revenue will be required whatever the circumstances. That is a grave fault.
Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) : My hon. Friend mentioned Menwith Hill station. I understand that that is a GCHQ listening station, so can my hon. Friend explain why British Rail is being charged on its rateable value ?
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend is right. Unfortunately, the Minister for Public Transport mistakenly thought that Menwith Hill station, which is a spy listening station, was a British Rail station. I mention that by way of explanation in response to my hon. Friend's intervention, Madam Deputy Speaker. When the Minister asked British Rail where the station was it could not tell him, for the simple reason that Menwith Hill is a 250-acre site on the moors above Harrogate, with 21 radomes. It would have made a most unusual railway station. I shall not go any further down that road, Madam Deputy Speaker, having clarified the question. Unfortunately, the mistake was due to the lack of knowledge--some may say ignorance--of the Department of Transport and of the Minister for Public Transport. The debate has been useful and the fact that it has not gone to its full length should not detract from that. Its brevity is partly due to the narrowness of the debate and the minimal amount of information conveyed in the order, which simply refers to the current state of legislation. If British Rail is broken up--I hope that, because no franchisees come forward, that will not happen--the
Column 852Government will have to examine their method of applying the rateable value, because it will no longer be possible to apply it nationally.
Because the arrangements will apply in a completely new context, I urge the Minister to provide a better explanation. There should be an explanatory note on every statutory instrument, to enable the user to understand the background as a whole. Understanding should not depend on possessing all the other relevant statutory instruments. Although no consolidation is required in this instance, statutory instruments often span a wide range of activity. It is unfair that people should have to buy three, four, five or six statutory instruments to obtain a full explanation and full knowledge of the position.
That is unfair because, as with every other activity, the Government impose a charge of such magnitude to cover services provided. People are denied the right to information, but every week cartons and cartons of discarded current public documents are taken away from this place for shredding. If the statutory instruments were given away for nothing the Government might have a case--but as they charge so much for them, the explanatory notes should give as full an account as possible.
Mr. Baldry : The Opposition have tried very hard, and on occasion quite humorously, to make this order appear much more complicated than it really is. I believe that everyone now accepts that we are simply dividing 100 per cent. of what would have been paid by British Rail, if it had remained a nationalised industry, between two bodies--the British Railways Board and Railtrack. The split represents the rateable value of the prescribed property occupied by both bodies. The reason for the impossibility of bringing the order before the House earlier is that care needed to be taken in arriving at proportions for division of the relevant property. But the same property as last year stays in the formula rating ; nothing changes there. The rate bill stays exactly the same as would have been the case if British Rail had remained a nationalised industry ; nothing changes there. The effect on the money going to local authorities is exactly the same ; nothing changes there. And the amount of money that the railways have to pay out is exactly the same as would otherwise have been the case ; nothing changes there, and any suggestion that more money is being extracted from the railways is complete bunkum.
The order simply adds one ratepayer. It does no more and no less, and on that basis I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Railways (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 14th March, be approved.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Madam Speaker has decided that all the amendments on the Order Paper are selected for debate but that any that are to be moved will be moved formally at the conclusion of the debate.
Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : I beg to move, That Mr. James Cran, Mr. Charles Hendry, Mr. Andrew Hunter, Sir James Kilfedder, Mr. Eddie McGrady, Mr. Ken Maginnis, Mr. Jim Marshall, Mr. Peter Robinson, Mr. Clive Soley, Mr. Richard Spring, Mr. John D. Taylor, Mr. David Wilshire and Mr. Mark Wolfson be members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Members who serve on the Committee of Selection. We may disagree from time to time, and we often have to debate issues, but we never descend into matters of personality, and we always maintain a sense of humour. I believe, indeed, that most members of the Committee would agree that it is a pleasant one on which to serve.
The setting up of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was always going to be a difficult matter. I do not think that any hon. Member in any part of the House would disagree with that assertion. I realise that it was impossible to accede to the requests of all the political parties involved. The minority parties are normally entitled to one place on departmental Select Committees, but there are exceptions. On the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs a Scottish nationalist Member takes one of the Labour party's places, and on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Plaid Cymru does likewise. The situation in Northern Ireland is different, and it is very complex. Northern Ireland has 17 constituencies. The seats are held by Members from four different political parties, none of the three major political parties on the mainland being represented. Herein lies the crux of the problem.
The unique character of Northern Ireland's parliamentary representation meant that the usual formula would have to be adapted. The Committee of Selection took into account the views of the Committee on Procedure, which had looked at the issue twice in recent years. In its 1990 report on the working of the Select Committee system, the Procedure Committee envisaged that a future Northern Ireland Select Committee would consist of 16 members, and the suggested break-down was eight Conservatives, three Labour members, two Ulster Unionist representatives, one Democratic Unionist, one Popular Unionist, and one representative of the Social Democratic and Labour party. This was revised by the Procedure Committee in December last year, when a membership of 13 or 15, which the Committee thought would be procedurally acceptable, was suggested. It was also observed--and this is a very important point--that it seemed sensible that all Northern Ireland political parties represented in the House should be represented on the Committee.
It has always been the case that the Government of the day can expect to have a majority on Committees of the House. That is not in dispute. On 9 March 1994, the House, by 324 votes to 221, approved the setting up of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and decided that it should consist of 13 members. The Committee of Selection
Column 854was then faced with the task of setting up a Committee that would give all Northern Ireland parties representation, would accommodate the Opposition and would guarantee a Government majority- -not an easy task. The difficulties involved in meeting all these criteria must be readily apparent to all hon. Members.
Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow) : If the Government wanted to have a majority on the Northern Ireland Select Committee, as they have on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and every departmental Select Committee, they could have implemented the Procedure Committee's recommendation that there should be seven Government members, two Labour members and one from each of the political parties in Northern Ireland. That would have been the simplest way of dealing with the matter. Why did the Procedure Committee decide that the Select Committee should have 13 members rather than 16, with the Labour party's representation reduced by one but the Ulster Unionists' representation remaining at two ?
Sir Fergus Montgomery : I shall, in fairness, deal with those points in due course. The hon. Gentleman's basic point is that the Labour party should have three seats rather than two.
The composition that we decided recognises closely the Procedure Committee's original proposal, which was that the membership should consist of six Conservatives, two Labour representatives, two Ulster Unionists, one Democratic Unionist, one Popular Unionist and one SDLP representative. In 1990, the Procedure Committee recommended a Committee of 16. On that basis, the Conservatives have lost two places, having come down from eight to six, and the Labour party has lost one seat, having come down from three to two.
To ensure full participation by all the Northern Ireland parties, the Government were prepared to allow their majority to be maintained by the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder). Although there is no formal link between the Popular Unionist party and the Conservative party--the hon. Member for North Down certainly does not take the Conservative whip-- the hon. Gentleman is a consistent supporter of the Government in the Division Lobbies. I suggest, in fairness, that if the boot had been on the other foot--if there had been a Labour Government and a Labour Chairman of the Committee of Selection--the Labour party would probably have taken six seats and that one seat would have gone to the SDLP, which, while it does not take the Labour whip, has a link with the Labour party and agrees with it in respect of many things. I believe that the Labour party would indeed have relied on the SDLP for its majority. It goes without saying that there can be no guarantee that the hon. Member for North Down, or, for that matter, any other hon. Member, will always support the Conservative side of the Committee.
In reply to the other point that the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) put to me, I have to say that we considered it right that the Ulster Unionists should have two places on the Committee. After all, it has more than twice as many seats as any other Northern Ireland party, and it has just over half of the Northern Ireland seats in the House. This is a Northern Ireland Committee, and it would be nonsensical to fill it with members from the mainland. The whole purpose of setting it up is to bring Northern Ireland Members together to discuss issues that are of
Column 855concern to their constituents. Surely it is logical and reasonable for the Ulster Unionists to expect greater representation than the other Northern Ireland parties.
Mr. Dixon : How, then, does the hon. Gentleman justify the fact that the Government have a majority on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs even though there are very few Scottish Conservative Members and a majority on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs even though there are very few Welsh Conservative Members ?
Sir Fergus Montgomery : The hon. Member has been in the House a long time and knows as well as I do that the Government have a majority. I do not know whether he was a Member of Parliament between 1974 and 1979, when the Labour Government lost their majority in the House. The then Opposition --the Conservative party--always accepted that the Government must have a majority on Committees. That has always been accepted.
Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown) : In view of the point that the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) has just put to my hon. Friend, I must say that the Northern Ireland situation is entirely different from those in Scotland and in Wales. We know that it is a very delicate and difficult political decision. There are exceptional problems in that area and one feels desperately sorry for the people who live there. Therefore, the Committee of Selection had to look at Northern Ireland in a different light compared with Wales and Scotland. That should deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon).
Sir Fergus Montgomery : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I do not argue that our nominations are a statistically accurate reflection of the composition of the House. It is clear that the Labour party would ordinarily expect to have more than two places. However, I had hoped that Labour, like the Government, would be prepared to accept less in order to ensure that every Northern Ireland party was represented on the Committee because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) pointed out, special factors apply to Northern Ireland.
Earlier today, we had a debate on the business of the House, when the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) was rather unfair in his criticism of the Committee of Selection. The House made its decision on 9 March. I had hoped to set up the Committee on 16 March. The other Northern Ireland parties had all let me have their nominations ; I did not have to ask for them. That is the usual procedure. However, there were no nominations from the SDLP.
The Clerk of the Committee, who was very efficient and hard working, spent the whole of the morning trying to find an SDLP Member. As we had no nominations from the SDLP, I deferred the setting up of the Committee for a full week. We set up the Committee in the following week when we had the nominations from the SDLP. There was no intention on our part of being unfair to the SDLP ; we wanted to ensure that it had representation on the Committee.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) : I take cognisance of the veracity of the hon. Gentleman's statement. Nevertheless, it does not alter the fact that my party was not contacted about the proposed meeting or the
Column 856subsequent meeting. I made contact because I had heard rumours in the House that there was a meeting taking place. There were no lines of communication. There was no direct contact with me or with any other members of my party to enable us to be aware that nominations were required for a meeting on a particular date. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take that as a genuine expression of the truthful position.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : There is an hon. Member who represents the minority parties in the House--he does that extremely well. When the Committee was set up, he relied on the parties concerned to get their nominations to him. That happened. The nominations came to the hon. Member or to me. All the other Northern Ireland parties got their names in on time. Because we wanted to be scrupulously fair, the meeting deferred for one week the setting up of the Committee so that the SDLP could be represented. I hope that the hon. Member for South Down understands that.
Mr. Dixon : I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for continuing to intervene. Is it not a fact that at the first meeting of the Committee of Selection to set up the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs the only thing that we decided was the composition of the Committee--the number of members on the Committee from each political party ? After we decided that, the meeting was adjourned for a week to allow names to come in. The SDLP could not put in any names because it did not know who would be on the Committee. Indeed, the Labour party did not put in any names because we were still arguing about whether we should have three or two positions on the Committee. At the first meeting we talked about only the composition ; we talked about the names at the second meeting. There was no need to look for SDLP Members--they would not be represented because we had not decided on the representation.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : At the beginning of my remarks, I said what a pleasant Committee the Committee of Selection was. Perhaps I should rethink what I said in the light of all the hon. Gentleman's interventions. I must refresh his memory. The reason why the setting up of the Committee was deferred for one week was to get the names in. That is true.
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : I shall refresh my memory. I believe that the week that the hon. Gentleman is referring to was the week of the last Northern Ireland Question Time, during which my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and I were present. If my memory needs further refreshing and it was the previous week, that was the week that we debated the renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act when my hon. Friends the Members for South Down and for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and I were present. At least we should put that on the record, and the record will show that that is right.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : The hon. Gentleman has made his point. When I was explaining the procedures of the Committee, all I was trying to say was that it is up to the parties concerned to get their nominations in on time. As the House had decided that we should set up the Committee, it is funny that the other Northern Ireland parties understood that and got their names in.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : I am not sure whether this hard- working hon. Member from another party looks after Northern Ireland and the minority parties because I have been consulted three times in the whole Parliament by that hon. Member. That should be put on the record as well.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : A lot of things are being put on the record tonight. All I can say is that, in all the speeches that I have made in the House, I have never had so many interruptions.
There are five amendments on the Order Paper. If all five of them are carried, the Labour party would have seven members on a Committee of 13.
Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) : Hear, hear.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : The hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear". It may be very pleasant for the Labour party. Certainly it would not be pleasant for the Tory members who will be kicked off the Committee if the amendments are carried, and it would not be fair on the Northern Ireland members. We should be happy to see more Northern Ireland members on the Committee because the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs is there to look after their interests. I simply say to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg), whom I always find agreeable, that when he is asking for more members, he should remember that this Committee is for the needy, not the greedy.
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : The hon. Gentleman has expressed an important principle--that there is a strong case for having more Northern Ireland members on the Committee. Would he extend that principle to Scotland and Wales ? Can we have more Scots on the Scottish Affairs Committee ?
Sir Fergus Montgomery : If the hon. Gentleman checks, he will find that there are 11 members on both the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee. On the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, we have made a great concession--there are 13 members because Northern Ireland is represented by four separate political parties. The number of members of the Committee was increased to 13 to meet that.
Sir Michael Neubert (Romford) : Would it be true to say that the intervention of the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) overlooked the crucial fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) mentioned earlier that the two major mainland parties will not be represented in Northern Ireland and that is what makes it a different Committee from the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee ?
Sir Fergus Montgomery : I agree with my hon. Friend, who is a valuable member of the Committee of Selection. He is right that that is one of the difficulties that we had to bear in mind all the way through.
We thought of all sorts of different arrangements for the composition of the Committee. In fairness, most people would agree that, no matter what we decided, there would still be aggrieved hon. Members in the House. Several Tory Members desperately wanted to serve on the Committee, but we could not place them on it because we had only six places to fill. We voted on the six hon.
Column 858Members whom we thought were the best choices. That was a great disappointment to some of my hon. Friends, and some of them have had harsh words to say to me since then.
Given the peculiar circumstances, the composition that we eventually presented to the House is as fair as it was possible to be to all the parties involved. Therefore, I hope that the House will agree with and accept our nominations.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) : I beg to move the amendment
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The Speaker has instructed that the amendments will be taken formally at the end of the debate but it is perfectly in order for hon. Members to discuss them now.
Mr. McNamara : At the end of the debate, I shall beg to move the amendments standing in my name and that of my hon. Friends. Let I say at the outset to the Government Members whom we are suggesting should be taken from the Committee that we do not attack them in any personal way. Everybody admires their sterling qualities--the problem is that they are overshadowed by the sterling qualities of my hon. Friends, whose names we have proposed. The House will have noted that we have not put up a candidate against the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). That is because he is a class apart--from which stream, of course, is a question for the House to judge. However, it is not true, as has been maliciously suggested, that he is regarded by the Opposition as being a member of the Ulster Unionist party. That cannot be true, as he sits on the Government Benches. However, he is the chairman of the Northern Ireland Back-Bench committee and it seems correct not to oppose his membership of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee. The House will have noted that the composition of a Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee is not merely a procedural parliamentary issue. It has significant political consequences. Until recently, the Government were prepared to acknowledge the wider implications of a Northern Ireland Select Committee, and accepted the need for cross-party support for it. The Northern Ireland Select Committee is not viewed in Ireland simply as an administrative issue--it has a profound symbolic significance.
A Northern Ireland Select Committee is an integral part of the Ulster Unionist party's political agenda and is seen as an integrationist measure. The fact that the Government now support the new composition is seen as evidence of their own political inclination, and belies the Government's self-proclaimed aspiration to be merely a facilitator to the agreement.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : Will the hon. Gentleman explain why having one Select Committee looking after most of the issues affecting Northern Ireland is integrationist when having six is not ?
Mr. McNamara : Had the hon. Gentleman graced our earlier debates, he would have known of the symbolic importance which is attached to the Select Committee, in particular by the Ulster Unionist party. It is part and parcel of its agenda, which includes altering the legislative procedures in the House and having a devolved assembly
Column 859if it can have one without a broad Irish dimension. It is part and parcel of a political party's agenda, and of what was regarded as being strand 1 of the talks
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) rose
Mr. McNamara : May I answer the question, and then I will be only too delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman ? It is part and parcel of strand 1 of the talks which are now beginning to be unravelled.
Mr. Maginnis : Was it the hon. Gentleman's political philosophy that it was his task and that of his party to frustrate the wishes of the largest political party in Northern Ireland and merely to act as a spokesperson for one of the smaller political parties ? There appears to be little logic in his argument that, because the Ulster Unionist party believes that there should be accountable democracy, he should set out almost single-handed to defeat it.
Mr. McNamara : The hon. Gentleman flatters me if he thinks I have such power.
It is the policy of the British Labour party to work for a united Ireland by consent. It follows that any measure that is seen as being integrationist in any way or as tightening the bands between this island and Northern Ireland is something to which we are opposed. It is because of that
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) rose
Mr. McNamara : Could I finish my point ? We oppose it because we regard it as an integrationist measure.
Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) asked a good question, to which he has not so far had anything that amounts to an answer. How can it be more integrationist to have a single Select Committee focused on the Northern Ireland Office than to leave the affairs of that office to be treated as part and parcel of the activities of the Agriculture Committee, the Environment Committee, the National Heritage Committee, the Transport Committee and dozens of others ? That appears to stand reasoned argument on its head.
Mr. McNamara : If the right hon. Gentleman does not appreciate the symbolic significance in Northern Ireland of the establishment of the Select Committee, he should not be establishing it. That is why it is being fought for. It is not being fought for to provide better administration for the Northern Ireland Office. The Leader of the House himself has said that half a dozen Committees are quite capable of doing it any way. All that the Government are doing with this Committee is increasing bureaucracy, and I thought that the Government were against increasing bureaucracy.
Mr. Bowden rose
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. Before the hon. Gentleman gets truly launched, may I point out that we are concerned with the composition of the Committee and not its functions or whether or not it should be set up ?
Mr. McNamara : I agree with you entirely, Madam Deputy Speaker. The points are being put to me by hon. Members, and I am trying to facilitate the debate.
Mr. Bowden : It is important that the hon. Members whom we are to put on the Committee tonight--because as you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, that is what we are discussing--are more than a symbol. Surely they must form an important working group of hon. Members looking in detail at some of the serious problems which Northern Ireland is facing. Is it not a mistake just to call the Committee symbolic, as it is much deeper and more important than that ?
Mr. McNamara : With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that it is. The Ulster Unionist party, in a reference that it made to the press in a briefing paper, spoke of the symbolic importance of the Committee, and of restoring responsibility back to Stormont. Those are not my words but those of the UUP. That is the significance of the Committee and that is why its composition happens to be of particular importance.
The Government have claimed that they have no selfish strategic or economic interest in Ireland, but they have now allowed a selfish, petty and short- term party interest to dictate their policy towards the establishment, and therefore towards the composition, of a Northern Ireland Select Committee. The political dimension in the composition of the Committee is clear for all to see.
The negative impact of the creation of the Committee is compounded by its proposed composition. The Government are still simply replicating majority rule. Indeed, the Ulster Unionist party said in a briefing paper that the Northern Ireland Select Committee is already harking back to the Stormont regime. The population of Northern Ireland is now split roughly 43 per cent. to 57 per cent., and yet there has been no attempt to ensure that the minority community has a fair representation on the proposed Committee. The Social Democratic and Labour party received twice as many votes as the Democratic Unionist party and 10 times as many as the Ulster Popular Unionist party, and yet it is to receive exactly the same representation on the Committee. A party that stands in just one constituency and receives just 2.5 per cent. of the votes cast in Northern Ireland--the UPUP--is to get one place on the Select Committee, and possibly even the chairmanship. That gives a completely new definition of the word popular. The SDLP has been allocated one place on the Select Committee, despite receiving 23.5 per cent. of the votes cast in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Peter Bottomley rose
Mr. McNamara : With the greatest respect, there is only one and a half hours for the debate. The hon. Gentleman may wish to speak, and the Northern Ireland parties probably wish to contribute. I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.
Sir Fergus Montgomery rose
Mr. McNamara : I am prepared to give way to the Chairman of the Select Committee.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : The hon. Gentleman complains bitterly that the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) has been given a place. May I remind him that the Government could have taken seven places, and
Column 861only took six ? The hon. Member for North Down was given a place from the Government side, which did not affect the placing of Opposition Members.
Mr. McNamara : The hon. Gentleman's point would lead me to an argument that I shall advance later.
The Leader of the House said that the Government
"should expect to be able to command a majority"--[ Official Report , 9 March 1994 ; Vol. 239, c. 345.]
on the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, yet they have accepted that there should be only six Conservative places on the Committee. That is because they consider the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) to be an honorary Tory. That may be an unfair thing to say about the hon. Gentleman, but, as the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) said, the Government have conceded that the circumstances of Northern Ireland are peculiar, which is what we argued to the Secretary of State.
We suggested that both the Government and the Opposition should be prepared to surrender seats to the Northern Ireland parties. We proposed that the Government should have five seats and the Labour party four, with the remainder divided between the Northern Ireland parties. Instead, the Government allotted only two seats to the Labour party, despite the fact that it has 270 Members in the House. That is an outrageous distortion of the principle of proportionality on which the Select Committee system is supposed to be based. That gross misrepresentation cannot possibly be justified, even though the Select Committee on Selection agreed that my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) should press for three Labour members, despite our first proposal to the Secretary of State.
In Northern Ireland, such gerrymandering serves as a reminder of past abuses of power. The decision to allocate the seats in such a biased way damages the Government's reputation in Ireland and thereby damages the peace process. It is vital that, in any future inter-party talks, there is no question of the Government entering discussions with a hidden agenda, which the composition of the Committee implies that they have.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has repeatedly claimed that the Government have no blueprint or master plan, yet the decision to establish the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee with such an unrepresentative composition casts serious doubts over that assertion. Many have been left with the suspicion that the Government's squalid deal with the Ulster Unionist party has meant a series of concessions to its integrationist agenda, including changes in legislative procedures and the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee.
The biased composition of that Committee aggravates the matter still further because it means that the Conservative and Unionist party and Ulster Unionist party will have an overwhelming majority of 10 to three. Yet the Government had pledged that there would be no return to majoritarian institutions in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the Secretary of State said in speech on 20 January :
"there can be no going back to a system which has the allegiance of, and is operated by, only one part of the community."
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : The hon. Gentleman has just made me a Tory.
Mr. McNamara : I can understand the hon. Gentleman's unhappiness about such a description, but it would be fair to say that, on most matters regarding
Column 862Northern Ireland, he would tend to support the Unionist and Conservative and Unionist position rather than that of the Opposition. However, I am prepared, in the interests of fairness, to make it a majority of nine to four.
Such a cynical short-term policy as the Government have adopted represents a betrayal of the people of these islands. In Britain and Ireland, the overwhelming majority long for a political settlement that will bring peace to these islands. That is not helped by the composition of the new Select Committee.
Such a political settlement must inevitably include some form of devolved power-sharing assembly to govern Northern Ireland and the decision to grant the UUP the Select Committee reduces still further any possibility of agreement on a devolved assembly with a broad Irish dimension.
The Ulster Unionists have always managed to secure a large measure of their integrationist agenda. As a result, there has been no incentive for them to compromise and accept a form of devolved Government, with adequate recognition of national rights and aspirations. A devolved assembly in Northern Assembly should establish committees to monitor the government of Northern Ireland. That should not be done by a Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee at Westminster dominated by the Conservative and Unionist alliance. Those are reasons why we are concerned about the composition of the Committee.
I know that the fact that we have tabled five amendments has caused concern to Conservative Members, no more so than to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, who is the Chairman of the Selection Committee. He is terribly afraid that, if all the amendments were carried, the Conservative party would be left with only the hon. Member for Basingstoke on the Committee. Let me assure him that once we have carried the first two amendments, we shall cease to push for any more.