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Rev. Ian Paisley: The seat, my own constituency of North Antrim, was filled; a DUP man won it.

Mr. Mackinlay: Indeed.

I do not want to press the amendment to a vote. There could be subsequent reshuffles, and I do not want to scupper anything! In the gap between now and the matter being considered in another place, there should be some reflection on this question, on the matter of the Presiding Officer and on one or two other matters. I cannot see why it should not be possible, by agreement--there is agreement--for amendments to be made in another place that could go through on the nod when they come back to the House.

There is a mood in the Chamber for tidying up this measure. It would help the Secretary of State to have an improved Act on the statute book.

Mr. Mallon: I have much sympathy with the amendment and I look forward to hearing the Minister's view on it, but it could run contrary to the whole reason for the proportional system, which is to create a proportional representation within a constituency in an election, and I am strongly in favour of that. A by-election under proportional representation becomes a majority vote election, especially in the Northern Irish context, and the amendment would defeat that purpose.

The amendment also runs contrary to the d'Hondt system in relation to appointments within the assembly. Under that system, if a Minister dies, becomes President of Ireland or is no longer a Minister for some other reason, the post returns to his party. The amendment would create a contradiction with that element of inclusivity.

The proportionality according to which appointments are originally made, be they in cabinets or committees or in the assembly itself, could be changed by the by-election process envisaged in the amendment. To take an extreme example, if a party was on the borderline of having enough of a mandate to have one of its members appointed a Minister under the d'Hondt system, and a

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member of the party subsequently died or left, it might then have too few members for that ministerial post. Does the party lose its claim to the post because the element of proportionality has changed?

I know that that is an extreme case, that in normal practice it would not happen and that those who would push it to happen would be very churlish indeed. That points to the contradiction that exists. The problem as regards independence is obvious, but we have to remember that there is no such thing as independence in Northern Irish political life. Some people with strong opinions might label themselves as independents--during the forum elections one of the local newspapers carried a marvellous headline, calling on all independent candidates to unite so that they could present a united voice in the forum. I should have thought that it would have been much easier to join a political party and have done with it, but that points up the difficulties.

Like the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) who moved the amendment, I do not think that it should be pressed to a vote, but I would be interested to find out what the Minister has to say and to hear the reaction to it. He knows that on 2 February the matter was discussed at length in the talks. In fairness, the minute tells us that the discussion was inconclusive.

Mr. Robert McCartney: With his experience as a member of the Senate of the Dail Eireann, can the hon. Gentleman assist us about the position there when there is a by-election, as happened recently in a seat in north Dublin and another in Limerick? The proportional representation system of single transferable vote is, I understand, the same. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what happened on those occasions and whether a similar system to that suggested in the Bill is applicable there?

Mr. Mallon: The hon. Gentleman knows full well the answer to that question. In Dail Eireann there are by-elections. We are dealing with a different system. In Dail Eireann, members of the Government are appointed by the leader of the largest party, which forms the Government, so there is not the proportionality factor either in committees or ministerial positions and that is the essential difference. I take the point, as having a by-election looks more democratic, but, in essence, it runs counter to all the other arrangements.

Mr. William Ross: The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that that is the essential difference. It is that in Dail Eireann, if the Government lose their majority they go to the country. Perhaps I am wrong, but, as I understand it, we are talking about a fixed-term body. That is the essential difference between the Dail and this House, and what is being proposed in the Bill.

Mr. Mallon: Again, the Government need not necessarily go to the country. One of the most successful Governments in the Republic of Ireland--that led by Sean Lemass--was a minority Government from the day they began until the day they ended, and lasted for the full term. That does not answer the hon. Gentleman's question, however.

The issue was discussed in the talks process and, according to the minutes, was inconclusive, but there is a substantive case for the Government to reconsider the

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matter, measure it in accordance with the proportional representation system for election and with the d'Hondt system of appointment to committees and Cabinet positions. Having studied it, they might move, hopefully, towards the amendment.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I support the general thrust of the debate. We have considered the matter and recognise some of the issues. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) used the illustration of someone becoming President of Ireland, which, with proportionality, might result in a Sinn Fein candidate moving up. It could be the other way round and involve a Sinn Fein man becoming President of Ireland and an SDLP person going to the assembly.

The question to face is the principles and patterns that have been accepted for the assembly. It was in the light of proportionality that we tabled our amendment. We recognise that if we are to go down that road, there must be some consistency. It was said earlier that the Unionists would be most likely to win, which would be wonderful. The amendment shows that we are not seeking to hog any assembly. The reality is shown by a recent Omagh council by-election. The council swung because, following the death of a Unionist, a Sinn Fein councillor was elected. It could be said that that is democracy at work. In councils, the Dail Eireann or a Parliament such as this, it is possible to wheel and deal so that a party can retain its governmental role, assisted by others. However, in the assembly it is proportionality right through, and I believe that it is incumbent on the Government, especially in the week before the Bill goes to the other place, to think again and make some amendment.

The matter is important for another reason. The amendment would clear the position and leave no ambiguity. If it is left open for a vacancy to be filled by some method chosen by the Secretary of State, whoever that might be, there could be controversy about whether that person had acted judiciously or with bias. If the Bill is clear about how vacancies should be filled, there is no room for further argument.

9.15 pm

Dr. Godman: Despite my respect and affection for my hon. Friends the Members for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), I have some reservations about the amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock offered no comparative evidence about where the system that he envisages operates. My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh was asked about recent by-elections in the Republic, in Limerick and Dublin. As I said earlier, both were won by representatives of the Irish Labour party. I recall another by-election in Dublin where Mr. Joe Higgins almost pulled off a dramatic victory over the issue of water rates. What of the interests of the electors in such a system?

I readily acknowledge the need to take account of the special needs of Northern Ireland and the important question of proportionality. Nowhere are such considerations more evident than in the Knesset. The system there is a disaster, but it is still democratic. All I am saying is that electors in a constituency must have the right to voice their view at a by-election about the conduct of the previous Member, whether he is dead, in prison or whatever, and about the conduct of the party concerned.

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Labour has suffered some remarkable reverses in Scotland. My Scottish friends on the Government Front Bench will recall the Govan by-election, which we lost.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): That is one.

Dr. Godman: There has been more than one; I am talking about our most recent defeat, when we lost to the SNP despite the massive majority Bruce Millan had enjoyed. I have listened carefully to the Minister, but we must give serious consideration to the interests of the electors.

Mr. Mackinlay: My hon. Friend has challenged me to cite an example of such an arrangement. I am open to correction by my hon. Friend, but I have to remind him that we, in this place, in this parliamentary Session, have passed clauses in the European Parliamentary Elections Bill that mean that there will not be any by-elections. So he and I voted for precisely this formula. I assume that he voted for it--if not, he should not have a chance of a Cabinet job either. We all voted for it. That is something that we have taken on board in this parliamentary Session.

If I had done some research, I suppose that I could trot out half a dozen examples. The Australian Senate, which is elected, has a system--by convention admittedly--in which when a vacancy occurs the premier of the state from which the Senator comes nominates someone from the party that held the seat. Even if the premier is a member of the Country party, if the Senate seat was held by the Australian Labour party, he nominates an Australian Labour Senator, no doubt recommended by the leader of the party.

There are plenty of precedents, but the most important is that my hon. Friend and I voted for such arrangements--


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