Northern Ireland (Electoral Commissioner)

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 9:57 pm on 6th February 1984.

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Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea 9:57 pm, 6th February 1984

I beg to move, That the draft District Electoral Areas Commissioner (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 15 December, be approved.

The purpose of this draft order is to provide for the Secretary of State to appoint a district electoral areas commissioner, whose function will be to submit to the Secretary of State a report setting out his recommendations for the grouping together in Northern Ireland of district wards into electoral areas for the purposes of local government elections by proportional representation using the single transferable vote system. It may be helpful to the House if I briefly explain the background to this draft order.

The local government boundaries commissioner, who was appointed under section 50 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972, is currently carrying out a review of the number, boundaries and names of local government districts in Northern Ireland and the number, boundaries and names of the wards into which each district is divided. The commissioner's revised recommendations were published on 18 January.

District council elections in Northern Ireland are held according to the principle of proportional representation, each elector having one transferable vote. For the purposes of these elections, and for no other reasons, it is necessary for district wards to be grouped into electoral areas. However, the grouping of wards does not fall within the remit of the local government boundaries commissioner. The existing district electoral areas were set down in 1973 under the provisions of the Electoral Law (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 which have now been repealed as spent. The existing district electoral areas have remained the same since 1973, because there have been no changes to district council and ward boundaries prior to the present work of the local government boundaries commissioner.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in answer to a written parliamentary question of 27 July that he would be bringing proposals before Parliament to provide the means by which the wards recommended by the local government boundaries commissioner would subsequently be grouped into district electoral areas and to establish procedures so that interested parties may make representations on the proposed groupings. The draft order now before the House fulfils that undertaking. I will describe its main provisions.

Article 2 of the draft order provides for the district electoral areas commissioner to be appointed as soon as practicable after an order has been made giving effect, with or without modifications, to the recommendations of the local government boundaries commissioner.

Because it is theoretically possible under the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 for a local government boundaries commissioner to be appointed at any time to make recommendations in respect of particular districts and their wards—that is, outside the statutory 10-yearly review of local government boundaries — article 3 of the draft order also provides for a district electoral areas commissioner to be appointed following any such part-review.

The first schedule provides that the terms and conditions of appointment of the commissioner will be determined by the Secretary of State with the approval of the Treasury. It also provides for the appointment of staff, assistant commissioners and assessors to assist the commissioner.

Schedule 2 sets out the procedure which the district electoral areas commissioner will be required to follow in conducting his review, and which will enable interested parties to make representations on the proposed groupings of wards. The commissioner will have to publish provisional recommendations and invite representations in writing during the month following publication. After that, he may hold public hearings to consider objections to his proposals and will be obliged to hold public hearings if representations are made by district councils or by more than 100 local government electors in a district. After considering the representations made in writing and at any hearings, the commissioner will be required to submit final recommendations to the Secretary of State.

In making his recommendations the commissioner will be required to follow the rules set out in schedule 3 to the draft order. Schedule 3 specifies, among other things, that each electoral area shall consist of not less than five and not more than seven wards. I shall say more about that requirement in a few moments because I am fully aware that it has caused concern to some right hon. and hon. Members.

Article 5 of the draft order provides that once the commissioner has submitted a report to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State shall lay that report before Parliament. In order to give effect, with or without modifications, to the final recommendations contained in the report, it will be necessary to lay another draft Order in Council before Parliament.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), supported by a number of his right hon. and hon. Friends, has tabled a motion inviting the Government to amend the draft order so that the district electoral areas commissioner be empowered to recommend electoral areas consisting of less than five wards in some circumstances. We considered the range of the number of wards to be grouped very carefully in preparing the draft order, and, in the light of the representations received, the debate on this draft order was deferred to allow time for further consideration.

Despite the fact that I gave careful thought to the representations made to me, that consideration has confirmed our original view that for the purpose of holding local elections by proportional representation, using the single transferable vote system, the rules set out in schedule 3 are most likely to optimise the effects of that system. I know that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends do not agree with the use of PR for local elections in Northern Ireland, but that is not the point of this debate. Parliament decided in 1972 that PR should be the electoral system for local and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland because use of the simple majority system in local elections gave inadequate representation to substantial minorities in the institutions of provincial and local government.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford

Which minorities have been given representation as a result of STV?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I shall deal later with some of the results of PR. When I reply to the debate I shall deal with the various points raised. However, there have been many beneficial changes in Northern Ireland as a result of PR.

The principle was confirmed in the Northern Ireland (Local Elections) Order 1977. The hope was the PR-STV would increase the chances that representatives of both sides of the community would have to co-operate for local government to operate effectively. We remain of the view that that method is right for these elections, given Northern Ireland's circumstances.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East

If PR is all right for Northern Ireland, why is it not all right for this House?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

The Government continue to attach a high priority to the principle of proportionality in Northern Ireland, as it provides the best mechanism for involving all major strands of constitutional political opinion in local government institutions. This is a key tenet of our policy —going much wider, of course, than just the sphere of local government — that only through such cross-community involvement can Northern Ireland look forward to a stable and prosperous future in which locally elected representatives can have a greater say in the effective government of the Province.

Given that the principle of using proportional representation and the single transferable vote has been established, it is a question of implementing a system which maximises the effects of giving equitable representation to candidates supported by a substantial minority of the electorate. It is, I believe, widely recognised in the theory of the STV system that that is best achieved in constituencies of five to seven seats. Restricting the grouping of wards in this way also affords greater certainty about the size of electorates and about the degree of proportionality across the Province. The latitude in the 1972 legislation, which allowed for groups of four to eight wards, resulted in electoral areas comprising four wards being far from exceptional — as had been envisaged in the 1972 legislation—and accordingly the overall results of past local elections have not been as proportional as the system should have provided. That is why the terms of this order are different from those of 1972.

While appreciating the need for the commissioner to be allowed flexibility, we have concluded that to provide for groups of five to seven wards would achieve the best balance of these important considerations.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

Does not the order give every appearance of moving toward a predetermined desired electoral result? An inescapable inference to be drawn from what my hon. Friend is saying is that the Government have in mind something which they consider desirable and that the number of wards has been chosen with that in view.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

That is right. Proportional representation is designed to give the highest possible percentage of voters the election of a candidate of their choice. The move from four wards to five will increase statistically from some 60 to 85 per cent. the number of electors who will be represented on the local council by a candidate for whom they voted. That is the function of proportional representation. I know that some right hon. and hon. Members do not like proportional representation, but I happen to do so. However, my speech tonight has nothing to do with that matter. The system has obtained in Northern Ireland since the measure was passed in 1972, and today we are introducing an order to carry it forward into next year's elections.

The right hon. Gentleman's motion also referred to it being expedient for the Commissioner to be empowered to recommend electoral areas consisting of less than five wards where such recommendation would avoid an area being divided between two Parliamentary constituencies". Ideally it would be helpful to all concerned—electors, parties and electoral officials—if, when necessary, local and parliamentary electoral boundaries coincided, but on this occasion I am afraid that this cannot be. Some of the wards recommended by the local government boundaries commissioner in his revised recommendations published on 18 January are split between parliamentary constituencies.

Also, because of the sequence in which the boundary reviews are carried out, it is likely that certain electoral areas would have to be split anyway because of the larger number of district council areas compared with parliamentary constituencies. But although it will not be possible this time to avoid splitting some electoral areas between parliamentary constituencies, the Government are very conscious of the organisational and administrative difficulties that this can cause for parties. We shall be reviewing the sequence in which electoral boundary reviews are carried out in Northern Ireland for the future.

The next district council elections in Northern Ireland will take place in May 1985, and the House will appreciate that the district electoral areas commissioner will be faced with a difficult task which must be completed in good time for those elections. This draft order is essential for the successful conduct of next year's district council elections in Northern Ireland, and I therefore commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 10:09 pm, 6th February 1984

I do not intend to delay the House for long. Indeed, it would be almost unseemly for me to intervene in this row between the various Union parties and the Conservative party. However, I will help a little, much to the disappointment of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I shall not be looking towards Dublin; I shall be giving the British view. He will understand the implications of that for Northern Ireland. I am sure that he will know exactly what that means from the various things that I have said elsewhere.

The order provides for the appointment and functions of a district electoral areas commissioner. I suppose that the House could be forgiven for forgetting that during the past exchanges and believe that it was about introducing a new type of voting system. It is not. I do not want to say any more on the interventions that took place during the Minister's speech; Democratic Unionist party Members shouted from a sedentary position: "If PR is all right for Northern Ireland, why is it not all right for this House?" I heard that clearly. They are right to shout that. It simply underlines the point that I have made a number of times, that the reason why it is not all right here but is all right in Northern Ireland is that Northern Ireland never has been and never will be treated as a normal part of the United Kingdom by any Government or party in Britain.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

It is not just a British view, it is a practical view with strong, historical support. I am sure that members of the Unionist party regret it deeply, but I also know that they agree with me that no British Government or political party have ever treated Northern Ireland as a normal part of the United Kingdom. The Unionist party regrets that deeply. I happen to feel that, while it is regrettable on one level, it is more important to understand it and then to make the choice whether we should be moving towards a united Ireland, some form of independent Ireland or something in between, or full integration with the United Kingdom which would please members of the Democratic Unionist party. The hon. Member for Antrim, North will know which of those three options I choose, and it is certainly not the last two because I do not believe that they are workable or sensible.

The Unionists are not well placed to argue against PR on the grounds that—I heard another hon. Member say this sotto voce — it was gerrymandering, because the history of gerrymandering in Northern Ireland would not put the Unionists in a good light. I have said this before, and I shall say it again, particularly in view of the tone adopted by the Official Unionists and the Democratic Unionists, that if they had made a better effort to take the minority community of Northern Ireland with them, if there had not been the discrimination in housing, employment and the drawing of boundaries, Northern Ireland might have had a different history.

My mind returns to the Cameron report on the 1969 disturbances. One of the things that that report found was that the minority community did not just have deep and legitimate grievances about housing and employment; it also had them about the way in which boundaries were drawn, particularly for Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , Lagan Valley

I would, in other circumstances, have been reluctant to play this card against the hon. Gentleman. I happen to have in my hand the Boundary Commission report for England dated June 1969. If we want lessons on gerrymandering, we have only to read that report and see what happened in the House of Commons when the then Home Secretary gerrymandered the report. The report was the product of Mr. Speaker's Conference. It was gerrymandered so that it was not brought in for the 1970 general election simply because —the late Mr. Crossman explains it fully—the Labour party would have lost an enormous number of seats throughout England and Wales. Therefore, it was gerrymandered to prevent the Conservative party from having its fair share of the seats.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman is trying to prove. I am trying to point out that the Unionists are not in a position to criticise others. I do not say that I am in a position to criticise —[Interruption.] However, my reason for not doing so is very different, even if that gives rise to some hilarity. The history of Northern Ireland has resulted in great loss of life and liberty because of the way in which boundaries have been drawn. There may have been arguments between the two main parties in this House about whether seats and boundaries were being fairly drawn, but the arguments have been fundamentally different and have not resulted in the bloodshed that has been seen in Northern Ireland. Until Unionist Members face up to that fundamental difference, they will continue to ignore the powerful feelings of the minority community and so continue to ignore the causes of the violence.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East 10:15 pm, 6th February 1984

I listened to the homily delivered by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), but only parts of it had anything to do with the order. As the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to pour out his unchecked facts, it is essential that someone should set the record straight. He spoke about discrimination in housing in Northern Ireland, but he should bear in mind that 60 per cent. of public sector housing is in the hands of Roman Catholics. If that is discrimination, when the Roman Catholics represent only about one-third of the population, it is clearly discrimination against the Protestant community.

I should like to query some of the other facts which the hon. Gentleman gave us, but this debate does not lend itself to that. Accordingly, I shall restrain myself and deal with the order. I have no doubt that the order will be passed by the House. A Conservative Government and Conservative Members will pass it, even though, unfortunately, those hon. Members are not here to listen to the arguments. They will be led through the Lobby without ever having considered them.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

Some Conservative Members.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East

Very few Conservative Members will have listened to the arguments. I should not like to think that the Northern Ireland Assembly had to rest on such a small percentage of its members attending, because it would then never have a quorum.

No doubt the commissioner will be appointed and will do a good job within his terms of reference. However, to the people of Northern Ireland the order cries out that they are being treated differently. No one can take that away from the hon. Member for Hammersmith, because the order says that Northern Ireland is different. That is precisely why Unionists in Northern Ireland are against it. The order requires the people of Northern Ireland to go to the polls using a different electoral process from that used by our fellow citizens in the United Kingdom for local elections in Britain. The system is pressed on us not only for local elections but for the elections to the European Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I have fought on both systems, so I cannot be accused of having a preference simply because one electoral system might be better for me. Having successfully used both systems, I am entirely happy with a system of proportional representation. I do not believe that the system of single transferable votes gives a fully proportional result at the end of the day. I believe, as the United Ulster Unionist Council did in the Northern Ireland Convention report, that there should be a modified list system. That system was felt to be best for Northern Ireland and was agreed by the Unionist parties in the Northern Ireland Convention. I still adhere to that system and believe that it is the best for Northern Ireland. It is a truly proportional system, and the proportionality of the result holds no fear for me.

Northern Ireland is being treated and punished for the Republican propaganda put out in the early part of the civil rights campaign. However, the people who advocate the system foisted on us would not for a moment dream of imposing it on the citizens of the United Kingdom for parliamentary elections. Indeed, if they did some might find it difficult to be in government. That is one reason why they will not move. Their principles are so high that decisions are made on the basis of what is good for their party, not on what is fair and proportional.

When arguing the case for excluding fewer than five wards being grouped, the Minister is saying that the result would not truly reflect the percentage of the electorate voting for a particular party. That is true. The fewer the seats in an electoral area, the more distorted the result.

If one accepts the premise that Northern Ireland must have proportional representation, one must be pragmatic enough to know that Government Members would not have that system for themselves. It would be unparliamentary to suggest that the Minister is being hypocritical. I shall not use that term in the House, but it is clear that the Minister would not be prepared to operate that system for himself. However, the system has been foisted on Northern Ireland and I suppose that we have to accept that it would be wrong for our results to be distorted by having even two, three or four wards in each of the electoral areas.

For instance, it is not unknown for a candidate to be elected by a mere handful of first preference votes, yet, in a four-seat area, a party with anything between 30 and 40 per cent. of the vote could win only one seat. That means that 35 per cent. of the vote could achieve the same representation as a mere 100 votes. That distortion would not be helpful to the electoral system. For that reason we must accept the restriction that the Minister is placing upon us. However, I ask him to bear in mind that in parts of Northern Ireland it takes considerably more electors to return a councillor to local government than it does in others.

For example, in the Moyle area, a small rural area, there are about 9,000 electors, but it takes 689 electors to elect one councillor. In Belfast it takes 4,444 electors to elect a councillor. The multi-member constituency areas which the Minister has imposed upon us mean that in Belfast, for instance, in a seven-seater — the most common size in Belfast—a councillor will be mothering 30,000 electors. Local government is supposed to bring us down to the grass roots of public opinion so that there is close contact between the local councillor and the elector. The advantage to the councillor in Moyle is that he has only 700 electors to keep under his wing.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

The hon. Gentleman said that the councillor in Belfast had to mother 30,000 electors and then came back to talk about the single ward.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East

I accept that. The Minister must give us a further assurance that, although he suggests that there should be five, six or seven wards in each of the electoral areas, the commissioner will be informed that there must be a maximum of six wards in any electoral area in Belfast, and preferably five to reduce the size of each electoral area. That will mean more electoral areas for Belfast, but the people of Belfast must pay that penalty.

The Minister also said that the commissioner would have a difficult task to perform, and that as the elections will take place in May 1985 the commissioner would have to get down to work and sort out the electoral areas expeditiously. The Minister will be aware that under the order, as under the 1972 Act, he cannot appoint the commissioner until the local government boundary commissioner has finalised his work. The Minister should be aware that the local government boundary commissioner's recommendations have been published and can be objected to until 17 February. After that, the boundary commissioner need not, but can, decide to order further public inquiries. If he takes that course, he must consider the results of the inquiries before giving his judgment to the Secretary of State.

If that were the case, and further public inquiries were held, the local government boundary commissioner's final recommendations would not be received until May or June of this year at the earliest. That means that the Minister cannot appoint a commissioner to deal with electoral areas until the summer. Then the commissioner must begin work, grouping together the areas. We should remember that he must change at least one third of the electoral areas in the Province because of the changes in wards and the additional wards that have been created. Therefore, it is likely that when his provincial recommendations are published there will be cause for public inquiries in many parts of the Province. Those public inquiries can either be called automatically by the commissioner, or by a district council, or by at least 100 electors who wish to have an inquiry. I doubt whether the process could reach that stage without at least a handful of public inquiries being held.

After the provisional recommendations are published, it is likely that there will be a series of inquiries across the Province. The representations made at those inquiries must be taken into consideration. No doubt they will be reported upon and the views of the electorate presented to the Secretary of State. Perhaps when he replies the Minister can tell us whether the electoral areas, as defined by the commissioner, will then be brought before the House again.

Whatever the process may be, it will certainly take until the last months of 1984 or even into the beginning of 1985. Nomination day will be some time in April, and I suspect that the political parties would like a week or two in which to select their candidates, so it will be a rushed process. Will the Minister give an undertaking that he is confident that the commissioner can perform that task in the period specified? If he cannot, what does he plan to do about it?

I should also be interested to hear what are the criteria on which the commissioner will act when grouping the electoral wards. A few general criteria are set out in the order, including the specification that the wards must adjoin at some part. However, I have sat through many public inquiries for the boundary commissioner and have heard arguments about whether almost every street, road or housing estate, either geographically or socially, is part of a ward. Yet after the boundary commissioner has separated the wards because of those criteria, the electoral areas commissioner will come along and bunch them together again. It is the height of nonsense that one commissioner should separate wards, only for the other to put them together again. What criteria, other than the few general terms that are set out in the order, will the commissioner be required to apply to the combining of the electoral wards?

We have dealt with the small two, three or four-ward electoral areas which have been prohibited by the order, but there should be a general welcome to cease having any electoral areas, such as in Castlereagh and in Banbridge, where there are eight wards in the one electoral area. That is far too cumbersome. I worked in Castlereagh. Those councillors who had put themselves before a large electorate felt that they were in some way superior to those poor beings who came from four-seat areas. The more that electoral areas are brought to a similar size, the more evenly distributed will be the burden between the councillors in their constituency work and the more similar will be their status.

Distance is another factor which I ask the Under-Secretary to pass on to the commissioner when deciding the grouping of wards. There is a considerable disparity between the work of a councillor in an urban area and that of a councillor in a rural area. There is a vast difference between the Fermanagh council, which covers 187,557 hectares, and North Down, which has little more than 7,000 hectares. Representation must take into account the amount of travelling that public representatives must undertake. There seems to be no requirement for the commissioner to take those matters into consideration, but it is essential that he should do so.

The Under-Secretary needs to give a word of clarification about what the order means when it refers to each electoral area being given a name. I trust that in that process he will not get us into any arguments about Londonderry and Derry, but is satisfied that a letter will signify a name. If he is not satisfied, perhaps he can make that point clear. I guarantee that if he puts names, either from geography or history, on each of the electoral areas, there will be a long process of hearings in the Province, in which he might not like to be involved.

I am convinced that, no matter which electoral system the Under-Secretary decides to concoct and impose on the Northern Ireland people, their views will still come out and be as fervently for the Union, despite what the hon. Member for Hammersmith may wish. They will still maintain a Unionist majority in Northern Ireland, no matter what system operates.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry 10:33 pm, 6th February 1984

In his opening remarks, the Under-Secretary kindly referred to the motion standing in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. He did not seem fully to understand just how reasonable and wise that motion is. He decided to retain his original view, despite his kindness and consideration and the fact that he had a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and myself. My view differs from that of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). While, apparently, he is prepared to accept a proportional system of election, I am opposed to such a system, root and branch.

The Convention report is supported by many people. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has always been outspoken about his view. I make no apology for saying that I differ from the view of the Convention report on that matter. I believe that the Convention was wrong to take that view because that electoral system differs from the British system. The first-past-the-post and the simple majority system is far and away the best electoral system. I am prepared to argue the merits of that system and the demerits of porportional representation with anyone at any time and in any place.

The Minister should be aware that the general opinion in Northern Ireland is that the Government are now deaf to the views of the Unionist population. For instance, the local government commissioner in his review of local government boundaries made it plain that he did not wish to change the name of Londonderry, but the Government chose to snub him and to make a decision under pressure from Sinn Fein and the Irish Independence party. I have yet to fathom the reasons for that. I believe that it was a most foolish decision which will cause great trouble for the Government and do no good, whether it was a sop to the SDLP or to Republicanism in general, because they will not be bought off with as little as that.

If there was nothing to be gained, why was the decision made? That question will be asked time and again and I fear that it will never be answered because the Government have no answer. If they say that the answer is, "Majority rule OK" we shall echo that because, if majority rule is OK from a Republican viewpoint, majority rule is OK in Ulster at large.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

The Unionist party has always argued for a measure of self-determination and self-expression in Northern Ireland. It could be argued that the choice by an elected local authority to change its name was an expression of local opinion and therefore to be admired and applauded as one small step towards the greater principle of self-expression by the Province as a whole. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it could be seen in that light?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

If at the same time the Government are unwilling to accept majority rule elsewhere and if majority opinion is carried when it is a Republican demand and refused when it is a Unionist demand, one cannot see it in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. If he understood all the connotations and feelings involved in the change of name he would realise how much it is resented. It was made not for any good purpose but deliberately to assert the views of Republicanism over those of the Unionist people of Londonderry.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that there was a time in the history of that city council when the SDLP was arguing against the change of name?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

That is certainly true. I remember the arguments very clearly as they were carried in full in the local press. The hon. Gentleman will recall that it was only when the more extreme element of the nationalist Republican population began to gain electoral support that, in order to maintain its own position, the SDLP saw fit to change its view. The SDLP now says that it is satisfied with the minimal change that has been made, but the more extreme elements in the IIP and Sinn Fein are already saying that it is not enough and they now want the charter of the city changed so that the name of the city and the county can be changed.

Photo of Mr Harold McCusker Mr Harold McCusker , Upper Bann

This proposal will help them.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

As my hon. Friend says, this proposal will help them, but I shall come to that later.

I have listened to many arguments about proportional representation in the House. The more I listen to them, the more convinced I become that very few people understand not just the mechanics of it but its effects. We are told, first, that the reason for keeping the system is to optimise votes. In other words, it is to give minorities—and the smaller the minority the better— better representation. The truth is that in so doing one creates not a cohesive society but a more and more divided society, with the inevitable result of allowing each and every minority its own spokesman. When we create a system which allows a small grouping to elect its own man, its own representative, the members of that grouping have someone to whom to go for help. The end result is that instead of tying the community together, every grouping has its own person who tries to improve his own position within his community.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East said that it would make no difference to the overall position. It would make no difference to the overall position as regards the broad Unionist-Nationalist blocs, but it would create an enormous amount of in-fighting within each bloc. Anyone who has taken part in the elections, and who has looked at the results of elections, in Northern Ireland knows well that there is very little cross-voting from Republican on the one hand to Unionist on the other. But there is considerable cross-voting between DUP and Unionist party, even down to Alliance, and between Sinn Fein, SDLP, IIP and whatever else. While the overall position would not change, there would be division where there were formerly cohesive and stabilising forces in Northern Ireland society.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

How can the hon. Member attribute all of that to proportional representation when there are three separate Unionist parties elected to this House by the first-past-the-post system?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

Three? Differing Unionist parties have been elected to this House, but I no longer see three. I see just two. If one looks at the situation on the ground, which is what the spokesman for the Liberal party should do, one will understand why there are three DUP hon. Members and more hon. Members on these Benches. When one looks at the electoral viewpoint on the ground, the reasons for that become apparent. People vote for what they perceive to be the strongest candidate within their own general bloc in the area in which the candidates are standing. That is a fact, and I do not hear a dissenting voice from either side of the House.

Secondly, on the question of contact, the single-Member constituency allows the Member to be the representative of everyone in the constituency. I assume that that is why people came to me from the Bogside and the Creggan, and some of them still tend to come to me. Whenever one has one's own representative, one has no contact with the representative of a differing party, and therefore those who have no contact have no reason to think good of an opposing representative. Indeed, they have every reason to think ill of him because that is the story they are fed by their representatives, who are anxious to improve their electoral position.

Proportional representation does not unite and it does not cross community barriers. It institutionalises sectarian politics in Northern Ireland. I have never been able to understand why that is not apparent to those in this House who constantly promote that system of elections for Ulster. One could say, of course, that it is easier to get elected. But what is the benefit of getting smaller minorities elected when they are going to fight constantly with other groupings, because they will always be anxious to improve their strength and position in society? There is no incentive for them to try to co-operate with others and there is every incentive to put forward their own point of view regardless of the effect that will have on the community. The real effect of giving minorities a voice is to create a group of minorities who are bound to quarrel among themselves.

Another effect of PR has not yet been mentioned. A by-election may take place because of death, resignation, police inquiries that lead to the disappearance of the elected man who does not like the inquiries, or assassination. For a by-election we use not PR but what is in effect the first-past-the-post system. If the individual who passes on or out of the council is in a five-seat area where he is one of two from one block and there is an election using the first-past-the-post system, those who were able to elect three out of five will be able to elect one out of two. That is as inevitable as day follows night. We have seen that happen and we know that it will happen again and again. That is the same on every occasion unless there is an equal number of seats or wards in the group.

If there is a vacancy, there are only one or two logical lines to follow. The first line is to say that the group of wards has its representatives, although they are diminished in number, and to let that situation remain until the next council election. The second line is to hold an election for the entire group of wards. The Government show no sign of doing that, but that is the only fair way in which the problem can be resolved. The control of a council can be changed by an unfortunate death, and that change cannot be made by the operation of the normal first-past-the-post system. The issue has not been raised in the House before but I ask the Minister to address himself to it and to tell me why by-elections have to be held on the basis of one seat in a five-seat constituency to fill a casual vacancy.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East has referred to the possibility of giving a name to a district electoral area. I often disagree with the views of DUP Members, but on this occasion I find myself in wholehearted agreement with the hon. Gentleman. An extremely foolish suggestion has been made and if the Minister has any sense he will have nothing to do with it. I trust that he will continue using letters, which are perfectly all right. I think that the people of Northern Ireland would see the introduction of names as a step in abolishing wards as we know them. That would be the next logical step, and I believe that that is in the minds of whose who wrote or drafted the relevant passage of the order. In addition, there are the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

By accepting the view that is set out in the order, we are putting the commissioner in a straitjacket. He will be left without the room he needs to manouevre in drawing his boundaries around the most reasonable areas in each council district. The Minister will know that circumstances and conditions differ widely from ward to ward and county to county in Ulster. The commissioner should be allowed the maximum amount of room for manouevre.

I listened with care to the hon. Member for Belfast, East when he talked about a substantial minority being able to elect a person of its choice. I thought that he would raise that topic and so I remind the House of the results of the general election. In a five-seat constituency, one requires roughly one sixth of the votes to win. That is about 16½ per cent. In a six-seat constituency, the requirement is one seventh of the vote. That is roughly 14 per cent. In a seven-seater the requirement is one eighth, which is exactly 12½ per cent. In reality, a shortfall of 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. will still permit election. There is a certain loss as the votes transfer down the line.

The most extreme element in our politics is Sinn Fein. In Antrim, North it obtained 6½ per cent. of the vote and in Antrim, South it secured 5·6 per cent. For the purpose of the exercise, I am tying the Workers party and Sinn Fein together. Very few of us in Northern Ireland would see very much difference between them. In Antrim, East the figure was only 1·5 per cent. In Belfast, North, the figure was 18·6 per cent., in Belfast, East it was 2·9 per cent., in Belfast, South it was 5·3 per cent., and in Belfast, West Sinn Fein got 36·9 per cent. and the Workers party 4·3 per cent., a total of 41·2 per cent. In Strangford and in Down, North they got nothing.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

My right hon. Friend is fortunate that he does not have that trouble.

In Down, South the figure was 9·6 per cent., in Newry and Armagh it was 23·2 per cent., Sinn Fein gaining 21·9 per cent., in Fermanagh and South Tyrone the figure was 35·9 per cent., in Mid-Ulster it was 31·3 per cent., in Foyle it was 21·4 per cent., in Londonderry, East it was 15·4 per cent., Sinn Fein gaining 13·8 per cent., in Upper Bann it was 14·9 per cent., with the Sinn Fein gaining only 9·4 per cent., and in Lagan Valley it was 6·3 per cent.

That means that if there were five seats in Belfast, North, Sinn Fein would be bound to get at least one seat. If Belfast, West had five seats, it would get two to three seats. If it had seven seats, it would get a minimum of three seats. If Newry and Armagh had five seats, it would get at least one seat, and if it had seven seats, it would get at least two. If there were five seats in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, it would get two seats, and if there were seven it would get three. That is in each district electoral area in those constituencies, provided that the votes are evenly distributed, which they would not be. In Mid-Ulster, the party would get between two and three seats, and in Foyle it would get one to two. In Londonderry, East it would get one seat in seven, and in Upper Bann it would get one in six.

Perhaps that does not appear too bad until one realises that such votes tend to be concentrated. Therefore, the result, with the level of votes in certain constituencies, would probably give that party more seats than the figures show at first sight.

Will the Minister tell us why the Government want Sinn Fein to win? It is the only logical explanation of having this system of election. Do they think that Sinn Fein could deliver a deal, where the SDLP dare not? That, I believe, is the real reason for Cardinal O'Fee's remarks recently, for which he was so much criticised. He was setting out to protect the position of his church because he is no longer sure thatve Sinn Fein will be defeated by SDLP. It was the real reason for Bishop Daly's anxious request during the past weekend that the Unionists throw a lifeline to the SDLP.

The Government tell us that they are opposed to Sinn Fein, yet right down the line they keep, create and maintain the very system of election that gives them an electoral voice. They cannot be doing that by accident, unless they are even more ignorant of the effect of the results of the use of PR than I think they are.

Let us look at the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). The figure was 6·3 per cent. for Sinn Fein and the Workers party, and it was concentrated in one or two wards. They will fall inside a single electoral area. One would have thought that it was impossible in a place such as Lagan Valley for the Sinn Fein to get a Member elected. Under PR, it is almost certain that it would.

I ask the Minister again why the Government allow this system, which guarantees Sinn Fein a tremendous success. Why do they want Sinn Fein to win?

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 10:54 pm, 6th February 1984

I was a Member of the House when the question was first raised about how elections should take place in Northern Ireland. In those debates the House was packed with enthusiastic Labour supporters—I notice that one member of that party is present tonight. Some Liberals were enthusiastic that they had a single transferable vote system. That is not proportional representation. There is nothing proportional about it. Able exponents argued what proportional representation was. There was a great division in the Liberal party at the time about it. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) can read all of the wonderful speeches that were made. The purpose was to destroy the Unionist majority——

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Oh, yes. We were told that we must come into line with the Irish Republic as it had a wonderful system, which we should adopt. Nobody suggested that that wonderful system should have been adopted by this House.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

We believe that it should be.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

The Liberal party has no say, as it is only a tiny minority. It is like the minority in Northern Ireland that is squealing for this system, because it will help them. We were never told by any of the leading protagonists of the system that Mr. Haughey's party wanted to change the wonderful system in the Republic and conducted a referendum on the ground that it was unfair. It was defeated, however. The first Parliament of Northern Ireland was elected under this system and the result was that the Unionists had the same majority as they have in the Assembly.

All of the rigging and drawing of boundaries does not change the determination of the Unionist people. It does not matter how often the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) looks towards Dublin; we are not going the Dublin road. The party to which he belongs thought that it had us on the way with Sunningdale. Dublin was only a Sunningdale away, but it did not happen because the majority of the people said "No".

I should have thought that the hon. Member for Hammersmith would be delighted that the majority of Unionists in the Convention of Northern Ireland should have come out in favour of some form of real proportional representation, safeguarding constituency interests and having a modified list system. Although the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) says that he did not accept that, the three Unionist parties accepted it unanimously. I refer to the Official Unionists under Harry West, the Vanguard Unionists under Bill Craig, and my party. I did not hear shouts of delight in this House and people saying, "Oh, the Unionists have now come to a point when they will accept it. No, it must be STV or nothing because that is like the Republic."

The whole thing is designed to make us conform with the Republic. The hon. Member for Hammersmith smiles but if he was a fair-minded man he would have said, "Is it not good that the Unionists have been prepared to say that this is the way in which we should go?" The Convention report was chucked out even though it said that minorities should be in the same place as majorities in committees and there should be 50–50 representation. Nobody said that that was a good concession to get out of the Unionists. It was ignored, because the House wants to get us on the Dublin road. There was great enthusiasm for that. We now find that they are not happy with what they have done and that they want to help forward the so-called minority parties a little further.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

They are substantial minorities.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Let no hon. Member kid himself. The Sinn Fein party will increase its electoral support, and the Cardinal knows that. He does not want to be a chief without Indians, so he now says that one can morally justify a vote for Sinn Fein, a vote for the party that speaks of an Armalite in one hand and the ballot box in the other. But I remember Bishop Daly saying at the election that anyone who voted for Sinn Fein was voting for violence. Now it has changed. Why? Because anyone who has read Irish history knows that the extreme Republican elements will take over. They took over before. The British Government told us long ago—and it is recorded in history — that they never talk to the Republican movement of the South, they would never talk to Michael Collins. But they soon had Michael Collins over here. In fact, the members of this Tory party had a sticky-bun tea session with the leaders of the IRA with Gerry Adams. They brought him out of prison, and they flew him in by helicopter to take tea and sticky buns. I do not know what other liquor they put into him, but I leave that to the imagination.

The system of proportional representation is part of a conspiracy to destroy Northern Ireland, and the House thinks that it will succeed. I have news for the House tonight. The House can wrangle as much as it likes, but the force of the conviction of the majority will come through. The House will reap what it sows. What the hon. Gentleman the Member for Londonderry, East said about Sinn Fein members being elected to councils will take place, and those Sinn Fein members will attend the councils. They do not object to attending the councils. They will be there. They will not come to this House or to the Assembly, but then, of course, nor will some of the Official Unionists come to the Assembly. They will be in the councils and, exactly as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, they will cause division in the councils, and they will bring the councils to a standstill. That is what the Minister evidently wants, because he is preparing the way for the House to be told that the Government will have to talk to them and will have to get a deal with them. The deal will be at the expense of the Unionist majority. That is what this whole business is about.

The House tonight, with empty Benches and with hon. Members unconcerned about Northern Ireland and its tragedy, darkness and blood, proceeds along this road, with hon. Members smiling as if it was a wonderful thing that they are doing. The House will reap what it sows, and it need not blame the leaders of the Unionist community of either side of the House. It need not blame us for what it is doing, because it will reap what it sows, and the United Kingdom's own soldier boys will reap what the House is doing. I said that in this House, and I was laughed at. I was told, when Stormont was prorogued, that it was all over. I said that that was a Sunday school picnic and that now the real action would be seen. Who was right? The House knows who was right.

I say to the House tonight that it can proceed. I shall vote against the order, because it is not in the best interests of Northern Ireland. It will not help to stabilise Northern Ireland and it will not help any true minority that wants representation to have representation. It will be a bone of contention and conflict. We have seen this.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith said something about majority rule. I accept majority rule, and not only in Londonderry. Let us have majority rule right through the Province. If the House wants majority rule, let us have it in every section of the community. I do not see hon. Members rising. The House has heard hon. Members saying tonight "Majority rule for Londonderry". There is no majority rule for Belfast and there is no majority rule for the Assembly.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He gives me a great deal of encouragement at times, although he probably does not realise it. He seems to be saying, "Let us go back to the old voting system and get rid of all the old gerrymandered borders." I am inclined to agree with that. One could take the result of the 1918 election in Ireland, could one not?

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I do not get the hon. Gentleman's point at all. It makes no sense. It is no good hon. Members standing up and arguing for a majority vote when it suits them, because I have heard people defending what has happened in Londonderry, saying that, after all, it was a majority vote. I have heard the Minister insult the Unionist electorate by saying that its leaders are only grubbing for votes, that they should stop grubbing for votes, let the people have their way, and change the name of the district council from Londonderry to Derry.

The Minister talks about compromise. The Unionists in Londonderry said, "After all, the council does not control only Londonderry, but part of the hinterland. Have a compromise, call it the Foyle council." But did they really desire a compromise? No, they wanted to do something that they had wanted do for a long time—to cut the British connection. That is what it is all about. Anybody who lives in Northern Ireland knows that.

If hon. Members want majority rule, let them have it in the district council of Londonderry. But let them have it in every other district council and in the Assembly. The attitude of the House is that it is all right to have majority rule if it is Republican, but a Unionist majority must not rule at all. That is wrong. Some day the House will reap the results of that policy. It has gone down the wrong road on the electoral system.

We have heard accusations about rigging boundaries. I was not a member of the parties which did that. I can claim that the Democratic Unionist party had nothing to do with boundary changes. The only good action of the House was to give me a whole section of Carrickfergus and Larne and establish my seat. I was thankful for that and grateful for the gerrymandering.

At the end of the day the majority in Northern Ireland will vote one way, and will keep on voting that way. There will be no weakening. We have been battered and bombed, ridiculed and scorned; the House changed the electoral system and prorogued our Ulster Parliament. But at the end of the day the people are as determined as ever. I am prepared to rest my case on the will of the majority.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , Lagan Valley 11:07 pm, 6th February 1984

I shall be brief. The object of our early-day motion was to give the commissioner sufficient flexibility to do two things. First, it was to provide district electoral areas sufficiently compact to allow councillors to identify with those who elected them and to enable the electors to identify with their representatives. That is manifestly impossible where, as the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said, there is a vast multiple electoral area of wards with a total electorate of about 35,000—greater than would obtain in many British constituencies, even after the redrawing of the boundaries. Secondly, the object was to avoid drawing electoral areas so large and unwieldy that, inevitably, they would at some time breach the new constituency boundaries.

I have with me the report to which I referred in the earlier debate—not to quote it against the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), but for a more constructive reason. The report in 1969 quoted the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949 and the rules for redistribution. Rule 4(c) states: in Northern Ireland, no county district shall be included partly in one constituency and partly in another. That was clear in the directive to the local government boundary commissioner and the commissioner who will be brought into being if this order is agreed tonight. It is not tolerable that we should be permitting the commissioner to bring into being these vast multiple areas, if he so desires, to make nonsense of the new constituency boundaries which have been the result of about seven years endeavour by the parliamentary Boundary Commission. The necessity and desirability of preserving the parliamentary boundaries has been dealt with by Sir Frank Harrison in the current report on the local government boundaries.

He says: It was pointed out at the public hearings by many persons of differing political views that this"—— the crossing of boundaries—— results in confusing electors partly because they may have to go to different polling stations for different elections but more importantly because neighbours with common social problems within the same local government district will have to go to different Assembly and Parliamentary members where local government boundaries are not coincident with Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies. He finally dismisses all that and says that, nevertheless, the most that he can do in making his revised recommendations is to propose changes in local government boundaries which breach other constituency boundaries only where the case for such change is strongly made out on social and demographic grounds.

Surely the parliamentary Boundary Commission takes account of these various considerations. Who is to say that Sir Frank Harrison, in the context of his duties as boundary commissioner for local government affairs, knows more than the Boundary Commission which laboured for seven years on parliamentary constituencies? I hope that the Minister, even at this late stage, if he cannot amend the order in conformity with the reasonable suggestion that we put forward, will feel able to give the commissioner some guidance and suggest that he should exercise plain common sense to avoid the man trap into which he might otherwise fall.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

It would assist the House if the Minister, when he replies, could clear up a point raised by my right hon. Friend and also, previously, by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who both suggested that it would be possible for the Secretary of State to give advice and counsel to the commissioner after his appointment in order to modify, interpret or add to the terms of the order.

I would have thought that that would be an unlawful procedure on the part of the Secretary of State, and I hope that—as that point has bulked large in the debate—the Minister will deal with the legality, one way or the other, of such a procedure.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , Lagan Valley

In my generosity, I was assuming that the Minister would deal with that problem. I was judging from his expression when the point was made.

Rule 4 in schedule 3 uses the words: A name shall be given to each electoral area. Is there any intention to substitute a name for the method hitherto used—a letter of the alphabet? If so, I beg the Minister to think again. We have enough trouble at the moment. The Minister and his colleagues will have enough trouble adjudicating on the many other requests coming into the pipeline for change of district council names. They have not finished yet, having made the fatal change in the case of Londonderry.

It seems that Ministers are very selective about which recommendations of the commissioners they accept and which they reject. In the revised boundary commissioners' report, it is stated clearly that, in regard to the district of Londonderry, It is recommended that the boundary and the name of the district, established by the Local Government (Boundaries) Order (NI) 1972, shall remain unchanged". I hope that there will be second thoughts on that subject.

The Minister accidentally revealed that it was intended that this representation and grouping might possibly be continuing and open-ended. In other words, if a certain party consistently did well in a particular electoral area it illustrated that there was something wrong with the system and, therefore, the system would be changed.

I take a cynical view of Whitehall attitudes to elections in Northern Ireland, because I can well remember a right hon. Gentleman who sat on the Conservative Benches saying to me in the aftermath of an STV election in Northern Ireland as he sat head in hands thinking about the result, "Jim, I have to confess that I have come to the conclusion that a majority will still be a majority no matter how we rig the system."

We will not take kindly to further experiments and devices, because I assure the Minister and other hon. Members that their devices, and all the intrigue which has been tried in the past, will have the opposite effect to that which is wanted.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford 11:16 pm, 6th February 1984

The Minister, in presenting this draft order, was clearly ill at ease. He may have been thinking ahead to Thursday's debate, or it may be that he knows that most Conservative Members do not support the principles contained in the draft order. The Conservative party stands opposed to proportional representation and STV, and if Conservative Members were listening to the debate they would all be voting against the draft order. The trouble is that there are only three members of the Conservative party present and only one each from the Labour and Liberal parties. The troops will come in in a few minutes to vote the order through without hearing the merits of the argument.

STV does not dramatically change the results in Northern Ireland. The issue is not whether we have STV; it is whether we have the same electoral system in Northern Ireland as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. No argument put forward this evening has defended the idea of having a separate system in Northern Ireland from that to be found elsewhere in Great Britain other than by those who want the same system in Northern Ireland as exists in the Republic of Ireland.

It was interesting to note that for the first time in any debate in which the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has taken part on Northern Ireland, he did not refer to the position in the Republic of Ireland. The reason for that was that Fianna Fail stands opposed to STV. That is why he did not wish to draw the analogy with the Republic of Ireland.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) mentioned the recommendations of the local government boundary commissioner about the name of Londonderry. The Government's decision to change Londonderry to Derry is not based on the commissioner's impartial recommendation. Oh, no, they have thrown that aside. It is a decision by the Minister which is biased and politically motivated and which will create greater division and polarisation in a city where we want greater co-operation. It was a bad decision by the Government, and the Conservative party should be ashamed of it in so far as it affects the affairs of Londonderry city.

The grouping of wards of five and not more than seven has many implications into which we do not have time to go in detail. If the Minister studies the local government boundary commissioner's report he will find that many of the 26 councils will have only 15 wards. It means that they will have only three electoral areas under the new system that he proposes. Why is he proposing it? Remember, this is a different STV system from the one that we had for the last local elections.

The reason is that once again the Government are trying to rig the local government results in Northern Ireland. They tried last time, and they failed, so this time they have changed the system and rigged it yet again. The Minister gave us the reason; it is to bring in small minority parties. That cannot mean the Official Unionist party, which is the largest pary in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party, the SDLP or the Alliance party. The only small party that the Government can help to bring in under this newly rigged system is the Provisional Sinn Fein, and that will be the result.

Unfortunately, this system will also mean that council areas will cross more parliamentary boundaries than hitherto, and so it does not provide a good working relationship between locally elected councillors and Members of Parliament. One other point that has not been brought out this evening is that the order discriminates against town dwellers in Northern Ireland, despite the fact that they form the majority in Northern Ireland. Under the new recommendations, many of the towns will have six wards, including Armagh city. Only five of them can be grouped in an area. One ward can be outside, making six wards in all. Many towns will have one ward outside, in a rural area. One ward in six represents about 16 per cent. of the area. Those townspeople will be overcome by the rural voters and will not obtain representation on the council.

Finally, I hope that the Minister will reply to a point made frequently in the debate. I refer to the fact that it is important that there are no names for the electoral areas. The Minister should take up the challenge and declare that there will be no names for the electoral areas. We must have confirmation of that tonight, otherwise we shall have to go back quickly and start thinking of very attractive names for them.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea 11:21 pm, 6th February 1984

With the leave of the House, perhaps I can draw the debate to a conclusion. To say that the debate has ranged widely would be a slight underestimate. However, I should like to concentrate on the order and the arrangements that it proposes for the election in 1985.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the Minister does not need the leave of the House. If he had to obtain the leave of the House, I should certainly object. Surely he does not need it.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

The hon. Gentleman is quite right.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

We want to put forward the arrangements to conduct the elections in 1985. We are not tonight—although one could have been forgiven for thinking it—talking about the principle of proportional representation for local government elections in Northern Ireland. We decided to do that in 1972, and it was reaffirmed in 1977. This order, which makes the detailed arrangements for the conduct of the elections next year, comes under the auspices of the 1977 order. For reasons that seemed good to the House in 1972, good to the House in 1977 and, I believe, would seem good to the House today, it has been decided to use proportional representation for local government elections in Northern Ireland.

I hope that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) will forgive me if I do not go down the road that he travelled on constitutional matters, and I assure him that I will apply the same rule to other hon. Members who sought to traverse those routes. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) spoke at length about the merits of proportional representation. The order is concerned not with those merits but with ensuring that we make the provisions for the implementation of proportional representation as effective as possible. That is why we have provided for the limit of five, six or seven wards in any particular district. The hon. Member also mentioned the question of timing, and I must confess that it is tight.

With regard to the hearings that may eventually have to take place, we have provided in the order for the appointment of assistant commissioners. They will be able to undertake a number of those hearings and sufficient assistant commissioners will be appointed to ensure that we get the order and arrangements through in time to hold the elections in 1985.

We will eventually need a new order to come before the House to confirm the arrangements finally made. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the modified list. A modified list system leaves the choice of the number of candidates to the parties concerned, whereas STV leaves the choice to the electors. The whole point about STV is that it is for the benefit of the voters rather than for the parties. The modified list system——

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

No. The debate ends at 11.30. There is a chance to draw a balance between proportionality and the links between the Member and the area that he represents. I believe that STV is most effective in achieving that.

Hon. Members talked about the size of areas in Belfast. I cannot give an undertaking, not least for the reasons that are implicit in the intervention by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), that the Government will give any guidance to the commissioner in coming to decisions. The commissioner will act according to the guidelines in the draft order, but, of course, it will be possible for councils and electors to make representations to the commissioner along the lines advanced by the hon. Member for Belfast, East. It would not be proper for the Government to give that guidance.

The only criteria which the commissioner must follow are those set out in schedule 3 to the draft order. Apart from that he must apply his experience and judgment, taking account of any representations made to him.

Much has been made about the question of names for the electoral districts. A letter designating an electoral order is not a name. The order provides that the names of electoral areas will be a matter for the commissioner. Of course, he will be open to representation from those who are interested in such matters.

I am sure that the commissioner, whoever he is, will be conscious of the sensitivity involved in names in Northern Ireland. No one with experience of Northern Ireland could fail to realise the sensitivity involved. I am sure that he will receive advice from the parties and district councils about appropriate names.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford

I am alarmed at the Government's proposal to give names to the electoral areas. I agree that it is a sensitive matter. Will the Minister confirm that the district councils will have the right to change the names?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

The commissioner will decide the names and the councils can make representations to him about the names. Eventually an order will come before the House, including such matters.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) talked about the name of the historic city. I do not want to go down that road, but he advocates that there should be no difference between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In Great Britain such a matter would not have come before a Minister. It is within a council's competence to change its name. In this case we are simply bowing to the wishes of the authority to change the name of its council, not of the city.

In a proportional representation, single transferable vote by-election there is no first-past-the-post election but an absolute majority election after transfers if necessary. The candidate who first achieves more than 50 per cent. of the votes is elected.

I should like to knock down two arguments in the debate. The first was that STV was chosen because for some reason we wished to align the electoral system of Northern Ireland with that in the Republic of Ireland. Nothing could be further from the truth. We sought a system which would provide for Northern Ireland a mode of election to achieve the aims which I set out in my opening remarks. Secondly, this Government are totally and absolutely opposed to everything that Sinn Fein stands for and we shall do our best to ensure that the aims that it seeks are not brought about. We absolutely detest the advocacy and means of violence.

The right hon. Member for Down, South interrupted when I was asked whether the Secretary of State can give guidance to the commissioner once he has been appointed. No. It is for the commissioner to conduct his review in accordance with the rules set out in schedule 3 to the draft order. In reaching his determination he may, of course, have regard to representations made to him during that review, but Ministers will play no part in that once the commissioner has embarked upon his review.

I commend the order to the House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 102, Noes 13.

Division No. 153][11.29 pm
AYES
Ashby, DavidJackson, Robert
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Beith, A. J.Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Boscawen, Hon RobertKey, Robert
Bottomley, PeterKing, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Brinton, TimKnight, Gregory (Derby N)
Brooke, Hon PeterKnight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)
Burt, AlistairLawler, Geoffrey
Conway, DerekLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Cope, JohnLightbown, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Lilley, Peter
Fenner, Mrs PeggyLloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Forth, EricMacfarlane, Neil
Fox, MarcusMaclean, David John.
Freeman, RogerMalins, Humfrey
Gale, RogerMaples, John
Galley, RoyMather, Carol
Gregory, ConalMayhew, Sir Patrick
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Merchant, Piers
Ground, PatrickMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Hampson, Dr KeithMitchell, David (NW Hants)
Hargreaves, KennethMoate, Roger
Harris, DavidMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Harvey, RobertMoynihan, Hon C.
Hawkins, C. (High Peak)Neubert, Michael
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)Newton, Tony
Hayes, J.Normanton, Tom
Hayward, RobertNorris, Steven
Hind, KennethOttaway, Richard
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Powell, William (Corby)
Holt, RichardPowley, John
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Hunt, David (Wirral)Raffan, Keith
Hunter, AndrewRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Roe, Mrs MarionThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Rowe, AndrewThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Ryder, RichardThorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Sayeed, JonathanTwinn, Dr Ian
Scott, Nicholasvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Walden, George
Skeet, T. H. H.Waller, Gary
Speed, KeithWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Speller, TonyWatson, John
Spencer, D.Watts, John
Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Stern, MichaelWolfson, Mark
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)Wood, Timothy
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Yeo, Tim
Stradling Thomas, J.
Sumberg, DavidTellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Mr. John Major and
Terlezki, StefanMr. Ian Lang.
NOES
Beggs, RoyRobinson, P. (Belfast E)
Boyes, RolandSkinner, Dennis
McCrea, Rev WilliamTaylor, Rt Hon John David
McCusker, HaroldWalker, Cecil (Belfast N)
Maginnis, Ken
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesTellers for the Noes:
Nicholson, J.Mr. William Ross and
Paisley, Rev IanMr. Clifford Forsythe.
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft District Electoral Areas Commissioner (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 15 December, be approved.