Northern Ireland (European Assembly Elections)

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 11:40 pm on 6th February 1984.

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Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea 11:40 pm, 6th February 1984

I beg to move, That the draft European Assembly Elections (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1984, which were laid before this House on 23 January, be approved.

These regulations provide for the conduct of elections in Northern Ireland to the European Assembly. The House recently approved similar regulations for England, Wales and Scotland. The draft Northern Ireland regulations will replace the European Assembly Elections (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1979, and in most respects do not differ from them in substance. The new regulations are necessary because of various changes in electoral law since 1979. They apply, with appropriate modifications, provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1983 which are equivalent to the provisions applied by the 1979 regulations. As the House will recall, the Representation of the People Act 1983 was a consolidation measure.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I first set out briefly the main changes which have been made since 1979 and which are common to the Northern Ireland regulations and the regulations for England, Wales and Scotland. I will then go on to describe the ways in which the Northern Ireland regulations are different.

The principal change resulting from the application of last year's Representation of the People Act is the exclusion of Saturdays from the computation of time for the purposes of the election and absent voting timetables. The timetable will thus be extended in line with the parliamentary elections timetable. As a result, statutory restrictions on election broadcasts will apply for a period of six weeks before polling day, rather than five weeks as previously. The recent provisions enabling voluntary mental patients to be registered for parliamentary elections will also apply for the purposes of European Assembly elections.

These draft regulations, like the corresponding Great Britain regulations, provide for candidates' permitted election expenses to be increased from £5,000 plus 2p for each entry in the register of electors to £8,000 plus 3½p per entry, to take account of inflation. Similarly, the maximum payment that an agent may make without obtaining a bill or receipt will be increased from £12 to £20 and the maximum amount which an individual may spend without the agent's authorisation will be raised from £3 to £5.

I turn now to the main special features of the draft Northern Ireland regulations. The most obvious difference between these regulations and the Great Britain set lies in the rules governing the method of election and the procedure for the count, because in Northern Ireland the election will be by proportional representation using the single transferable vote system. This method of election is set down in the European Assembly Elections Act 1978, which also provides that Northern Ireland shall form one constituency returning three representatives. The Government believe that it is right for these arrangements to be retained for this year's elections, and the draft regulations therefore reflect this position, which is enshrined in the 1978 Act.

Right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies will know only too well that there is a widespread belief that electoral abuse takes place on a serious scale in Northern Ireland. It is not possible within the confines of these regulations to introduce significant new measures to deal with personation; that would require primary legislation. However, I know that the chief electoral officer and his staff, in co-operation with the police, will make every effort to apply existing procedures with the maximum effectiveness for these elections.

These draft regulations enable us, however, to make some changes in postal voting procedures so as to reduce the opportunities for malpractice. In line with the rules applying to the Northern Ireland Assembly and district council elections, it will not be possible for an elector to obtain an absent vote for the European Assembly election on the ground that he or she no longer resides at his or her qualifying address. Hon. Members will have read the Government's White Paper reply to the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee on the Representation of the People Acts, Cmnd. 9140, published last week and will know that we are proposing similarly to limit the availability of postal votes in Northern Ireland for future parliamentary elections. This is, of course, different from what is proposed for the rest of the United Kingdom, but the Government believe it to be justified, given the serious level of abuse which is peculiar to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

The Minister used the word "similarly" in relation to these regulations compared with the White Paper on the reform of the Representation of the People Acts. Will he make it clear that the similarity is simply that apparently the absent vote for removal will not be available in the European election, whereas it is proposed not to give the absent vote on holiday in Northern Ireland in the context of the Representation of the People Acts?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

That proposal is similar, but the proposal in the White Paper goes much wider and no doubt there will be an opportunity to debate that in due course. As I say, we believe that this departure is justified, given the serious level of abuse which is peculiar to Northern Ireland.

The regulations also tighten up the requirements for certification of postal voting applications made on grounds of blindness or other physical incapacity in line with Northern Ireland regulations made for last year's parliamentary election and foreshadowed in the White Paper to which I referred.

I conclude my opening remarks by making a general point about this year's European Assembly election. The elections will be held in all member states during the period 14 to 17 June. Under the Community Act of 1976, they should have been held from 7 to 10 June, exactly five years after the last elections, but agreement was reached on the slightly later dates because the elections would otherwise have coincided with certain holidays in member states. Throughout the United Kingdom, polling will be on Thursday 14 June. The counting of votes cannot begin until polling has finished in every member state.

I seek the approval of the House to these draft regulations, which are necessary for the conduct of the election on 14 June in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 11:48 pm, 6th February 1984

I shall be brief and uncontentious, and resist the temptation to have round two on PR, despite the Minister's early reference to that. Nor shall I comment on the serious problem of malpractice voting in Northern Ireland. I note, as I noted in the previous debate and as I have on other occasions, that there are differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and that that is inevitable in the circumstances. The Labour party will not be dividing the House on this issue, as we accept that these provisions are necessary.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down 11:49 pm, 6th February 1984

Before coming to the main purport of my remarks, I wish to refer briefly to the exchange some moments ago between myself and the Minister. If there were no other reason for my hon. Friends and myself to vote against these regulations, as indeed there is, it would be justified on the ground that they embody a principle involved in the White Paper on the reform of the Representation of the People Acts, namely, that it is tolerable to withdraw a right of exercising the vote from the electors of one part of the United Kingdom on the ground that there are particular risks of malpractice alleged in that part. The remedy for that is, if necessary, to take special precautions in that part of the United Kingdom. It is not justifiable to punish the electors in one part of the United Kingdom for the faults and failings of others by withdrawing from them the right of a franchise that is possessed everywhere else. As the Minister has said, this is a matter that will have to be considered more at large in the context of elections to the House, but it would have been disingenuous to pass it over as it was mentioned by the Minister and thus brought to light and to the attention of the House.

Even if the regulations were defeated tonight, the European elections would nevertheless take place in Northern Ireland and would nevertheless take place upon the principle of proportional representation. Even if this is so, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I intend to vote against them to affirm our abhorrence of the imposition of a different system of voting in Northern Ireland, at an election comprising the whole of the United Kingdom, from that which is to apply in the rest of the United Kingdom, and to mark our disapprobation at the manner in which the party which sustains the Government has departed from the natural meaning of the position which it took up when in Opposition and the pledges that were implicit in the votes and speeches which Conservative Members made at that time.

The provisions in the European Assembly Election Act 1978 were the subject of a good deal of debate in the House. We had it twice over in two successive Sessions—1976–77 and 1977–78—and the second occasion was split by proceedings to obtain a guillotine motion. In effect, there were three sets of debates in the 1974–79 Parliament upon the principle of the European Assembly elections. There was, therefore, ample opportunity for hon. Members, parties and Her Majesty's Opposition of the day to make their position clear on the various contentious matters which arose. The contentious matter with which I am immediately concerned is the proposal in the Bills which became embedded—I would not use the Minister's word "enshrined"—in the 1978 Act that in Northern Ireland alone in the United Kingdom is the election to be conducted upon the principles of proportional representation.

There was ample opportunity and occasion for views to be placed upon the record, and the Opposition of the day put their views on the record repeatedly, clearly and firmly. I must weary the House—not, I hope, at too great a length — by recalling the view of the Conservative party and the Conservative Opposition while the provisions were being passed into law. In many instances the wording that was adopted by the Opposition spokesmen is valid today, is lapidary, and I could not improve upon it. I shall not quote—if I were to do so, it would take much longer than the total time that we have available for the debate—all the appellations made by the then Conservative Opposition of total rejection of the principle of PR elections in one part only the United Kingdom.

In the debate on 25 April 1977 the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who is now the Minister of State, Home Office, said: in elections that cover the whole United Kingdom, it would be very undesirable to have a different electoral system in Northern Ireland from what we have in the rest of the United Kingdom. It would lead to all kinds of problems that we should be wise to avoid. So outspoken and so clear was that statement that I remember that the then Home Secretary who was in charge of the Bill challenged the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he was expressing a personal opinion or speaking officially for the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman confirmed that he was speaking for the Opposition and, quite remarkably, when Mr. Whitelaw, now Lord Whitelaw, replied to the debate for the Opposition, he took the unusual step not merely of affirming and confirming that his junior had spoken for the Opposition officially but of telling the then Home Secretary that what he had said represents my view and the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Shadow Cabinet.

If it is possible for a party in Opposition to commit itself to a principle and a point of view solemnly and deliberately, that is what the Conservative Opposition did in the context of the debates upon the European Assembly Elections Bill.

What was the view which, so solemnly, Lord Whitelaw declared was the view of the shadow Cabinet, of which he was a prominent member? I beg leave to remind the House of some of the words which he used. He said: First, it breaches the principle that any election involving the whole of the United Kingdom at the same time should be held on the same basis throughout the United Kingdom.

That was the same point that had been made by the right hon. Member for Witney. Lord Whitelaw said, secondly: I know only too well that some people in Northern Ireland will seek to suggest that in making this decision we are being less than full-hearted in our commitment that Northern Ireland shall remain part of the United Kingdom for as long as that is the wish of the majority of its inhabitants.

Lord Whitelaw went on to a most solemn and significant assertion, which is, as I shall presently argue, if possible, more valid today than it was seven years ago when the then right hon. Gentleman made it. He said: It would be wrong of those people to suggest that, but the overriding importance of this commitment to Northern Ireland is so ingrained in my mind that I am loth to give even the smallest indication of breaking it."—[Official Report, 25 April 1977; Vol. 930, c. 756–945.]

So solemn and sacrosanct was the then right hon. Gentleman's view, so vital was that commitment, that on the ground of even the appearance of it being shaken by the deliberate introduction of a difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the kingdom in an election spanning the whole of the kingdom—on that ground alone—he rejected what stands in the Act to this day.

It was upon that basis that, when the final decision was taken to keep this provision in the Bill—a year later on 2 February 1978 — the Opposition took their stand. Again I shall trouble the House with a speech on which the Conservative party, Her Majesty's Opposition of the day, went into the Lobby. The right hon. Member for Witney said: Our belief, and the principle to which we hold, is that where elections are held across the kingdom on the same day, they should be held under the same system in all parts of the kingdom, and that if they are not so held, there will be renewed doubt and renewed speculation in Northern Ireland about the intentions of the House of Commons and the present Government towards the constitutional position of the Province.

Those who heard the intervention in the debate on the order, just concluded, by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) will have no difficulty in understanding from that illustration the significance and reality of the anxiety that the right hon. Member for Witney then expressed. He continued: It is surely dangerous to multiply without necessary cause special arrangements, exceptions and all the ways in which Northern Ireland is made different from the rest of the United Kingdom. Surely if we persist in treating Northern Ireland as abnormal and exceptional in all circumstances, we make it more likely that the abnormal and exceptional features that exist will be perpetuated. Surely, we should be on the other tack, trying to reduce and confine what is exceptional in the circumstances of Northern Ireland.

He concluded, just before the Division took place: We have thought seriously about this problem over recent months.

Indeed, it was not a snap decision. There had been 18 months or more for the Opposition of the day to make up their minds to debate it. They were not speaking at adventure on an issue that had been sprung upon them at short notice. The right hon. Gentleman continued: We have concluded that the overriding principle should be that where elections of this kind, quite different from local elections or elections for the Convention or the Assembly, are held for the first time in the United Kingdom, across the Kingdom, on the same day, it would be unwise to hold them in Ulster under a different system from that under which they are held in the rest of the Kingdom." — Official Report, 2 February 1978; Vol. 943, c. 749.] It was on principle—it could not have been designated more clearly as a matter of principle going to the very heart of the position of Northern Ireland in the Kingdom and of the safety of the citizens in that part of the United Kingdom—that the then Opposition voted. Study of the Division list discloses the name, naturally, of the right hon. Gentleman who made that winding-up speech and, naturally, the name of the right hon. Gentleman, now Lord Whitelaw, who was so seized of the importance of the absence of differentiation that it was to him of overriding significance, and also the name of the right hon. Lady who is now the Prime Minister.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

I understand that the Minister perused that list while preparing for this debate with some anxiety and was relieved to find that chance, a pair, or perhaps some other occasion——

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

If it was an abstention on principle then, quite uncharacteristically, the Minister concealed it from the knowledge and admiration of the rest of us.

It was not surprising that, in 1980, when the Opposition who took that solemn position of principle had so recently formed the Government and had the power to legislate, Lord Whitelaw, then himself in turn Home Secretary, wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who then represented the Antrim, South constituency, on this matter. He pointed out—it is obvious—that it would be quite possible that the EEC might resolve, in a manner which was mandatory on the member states, on a uniform form of election in all of the member states, in which case any domestic variation would be ruled out and the form of the electoral process would be settled for us over our heads by the superior authority of the EEC. But he recognised, did the Home Secretary, as early as December 1980, that that might not happen, as, indeed, it has not happened. He said to my right hon. Friend: If it becomes clear by early 1983 that new arrangements will not be in effect throughout the Community for the 1984 elections, the Government will have to reconsider the arrangements established by the European Assembly Act 1978. Nobody who knew what Lord Whitelaw had said on that subject and nobody who knew the position of principle which the then Opposition had taken up could be in any doubt about what was meant by the reconsideration of the arrangements. They knew that the Government were, in accepting what was inevitable, committed by their position to legislate before the next European elections in 1984.

I do not suppose that one could be in possession of a finer collection of incriminating material for a debating success. But my hon. Friends and I are not interested in a debating success. The matter is much too serious. It is, I say again, literally a matter of life and death, and it is the more so because of the increasing clarity with which it is perceived. There is a real relationship between the continuance of terrorist violence in the Province and the continued existence of doubt as to the sincerity, firmness and reliability of the declared intention of successive Governments of the United Kingdom.

I do not for a moment believe that Lord Whitelaw, in his distant cloud-capped palace, has changed the sentiments that he expressed repeatedly and strongly in 1977 and 1978. I am equally sure that the lady who is not for turning is of the same mind now as when she went through the Lobby on 2 February 1978. It is not characteristic of the right hon. Lady to be pushed out of a position of principle that she has deliberately and consciously taken up. I am confirmed in this view by the fact that in recent months we have noted in Northern Ireland that both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have more and more clearly been proclaiming that the key to peace and stability in Northern Ireland is the conviction—a conviction to be held not only in this House, not only in this part of the kingdom, but in all sections in Northern Ireland, in the Irish Republic and elsewhere in the world—that, for the foreseeable future, the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is not in any manner of doubt, that it will continue as far ahead as can be foreseen. Therein—and this has been a perception for which we have had to wait too long—the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have repeatedly declared, lies the key to reassurance, to peace and to the ending of violence.

In those circumstances, and in the light of the very reasons why, in 1978, the Conservative party and the Prime Minister herself voted against PR in Northern Ireland at European elections, not only have we a right to demand, but we are entitled in common sense and reason to expect, that even now the Government will do what they are in all moral duty committed to do, and amend the law for the European Assembly elections so as to bring it into conformity with the principle in which surely they still believe.

I am not asking for anything that is impracticable. Governments, even in periods when they are not always successful, not always presenting a brassy front of unbroken confidence and success, are still very powerful creatures. It is in the power of any Government to pass through both Houses in a short time a Bill to embody a principle to which they are committed, for which most of their members have personally voted, and a principle which nobody on either side of the House, or any other House, will be able to dare to challenge. There is no section of the House from which hon. Members would rise up and say, "No, we are doing wrong in establishing that a United Kingdom election should be held on a uniform basis throughout the United Kingdom." This would not be legislation that would have to labour its way through months of Committee and controversy. It would be an act of self-evident justice and, in any case, an act that the Government owe to themselves.

Now that the Government have themselves affirmed publicly the connection between the fulfilment of their duties to the people of Northern Ireland and the removal of this blemish from the statute book, we are entitled to say to them, "We expect you to do your duty."

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 12:10 am, 6th February 1984

We have before us not only the regulations but the remarks with which the Minister introduced it. I am reminded of his words at the end of the previous debate. He said that the Government were wholly opposed to Sinn Fein, that they would have no truck with it and that people should realise their attitude to it.

It is strange that the action of Sinn Fein at the polling booths will now be bowed to, and the rights of individuals in Northern Ireland will be taken away, because the Government have not the guts to ensure that the law of Parliament is upheld on polling day in Northern Ireland.

I say as a citizen of the United Kingdom that the people whom I represent have the same rights as every other citizen of the United Kingdom. If there are privileges for the citizens of the remainder of the United Kingdom in casting their votes, the people of Northern Ireland—British citizens as they are—must be permitted to have and to exercise those same rights. If the Government are not prepared to ensure that the people have those rights and that they are defended, the Government will have abdicated their authority to Sinn Fein and the IRA. That message needs to be re-echoed in the House. I may not receive support from the Government Benches, but I think it terrible that a Minister of the Crown tells us that the law must be different in Northern Ireland because of the threat and interference of Sinn Fein.

It is all very well for the Minister to pass responsibility on to the chief electoral officer and some poor girl sitting behind the ballot box. Everybody knows the intimidation, threat and actions of Sinn Fein and the IRA. How can those people stand up against that? They cannot do so. Even the SDLP workers are afraid to challenge them because they know that there may be a knock on the door and an assassination. SDLP workers say that it is impossible to work in some areas because of the intimidation and threats.

The Unionist party knows how difficult it is for its workers. For many years the village of Toomebridge was part of my constituency. I know the problem faced by my workers in Toomebridge school because of the threats against them. It was only because they were determined not to give in to intimidation that they were able to carry out their work on polling day. But the Government have abdicated their authority and a right will be taken away from the people of Northern Ireland who wish to exercise their vote.

Some arguments may be used in the House concerning elections that are peculiar and special to Northern Ireland, such as local government elections and elections to the Stormont Assembly. But in overall United Kingdom elections there is absolutely no argument for changing the system for one part of the United Kingdom. It does not happen in elections to this House, but it happens in elections to the European Assembly. The old excuse was given that certain seats must be guaranteed to the minority. The old argument was trotted out that there would probably be proportional representation all over the United Kingdom, following a directive from Europe overriding the wishes of this sovereign Parliament. But that has not happened. The House has the sovereign right to decide what sort of electoral system should be used in the European elections. Why, then, should the House not say that the system used in the United Kingdom for election to the United Kingdom Parliament on a United Kingdom election day should also be in operation in Northern Ireland? What better way could the Government find of defeating Sinn Fein? If Northern Ireland were divided up, it would be impossible for a Sinn Fein candidate to get a seat anywhere in Northern Ireland.

I go a step further. The Minister has said that the Government have declared themselves absolutely against Sinn Fein. Why should the House enact legislation which permits a spokesman of an outlawed organisation to stand in this election? Why does the House not go the whole way and tell the people that if they want the Armalite, the killings and the bombings, if they want to hold their Ard Feis in Dublin and bring a man in to address them, so that they can clap and cheer when a policeman is murdered by their murder gangs, they can have that but they shall not stand for election in Northern Ireland? Sinn Fein is only the IRA murderers in an election suit, and the sooner the House awakens to that fact, the better for us all.

The Government have an opportunity to prove themselves. So far they have refused to do so, and the election will be held on the basis not of proportional representation—let us not bluff about that—but on the single transferable vote system, which differs from the other proportional representation systems, and will be different from any other part of the United Kingdom.

We will have the election, and the man who coined the phrase, "the Armalite in one hand, and the ballot in the other hand" — Danny Morrison, the opponent of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) — will be in Northern Ireland. Into every home, free of charge, the candidate's election literature will go, advocating violence and paid for by the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. Sinn Fein will be given a commission to carry its murder literature into every home in Northern Ireland.

The House has it in its power to stop that. It could say that if people wish to be affiliated to or linked with a proscribed organisation, that is their business, but it is the business of the House to ensure that taxpayers' money is not spent to take that propaganda into every home in Northern Ireland. If there was a real determination to deal with the IRA, that is what the House would do.

I cannot accept when the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State says that the key to the situation is that in the foreseeable future there will be no united Ireland. In my opinion, that is to lull the Unionist population asleep. Let them say, "All is well", and then behind that vow, that declaration, go on eroding the foundation and basis of our Unionist heritage. That is what the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland think.

We heard tonight that we will have some name changes and a wonderful number of different names in Northern Ireland. They will all point the way to Dublin; the way to an all-Ireland settlement; and the way to the surrender of the principles of the Union. It is because of that that my colleagues and I will be voting against the regulations.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:20 am, 6th February 1984

We are all entitled to ask from our different standpoints precisely why the Government have brought before the House tonight a set of regulations for the Northern Ireland elections which are so radically different from those which they brought forward for elections in the rest of the United Kingdom just over a week ago.

It is rather hard to press the task for explaining the matter on the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, because in a previous existence he was known to advocate systems of proportional representation, not just for Northern Ireland but for the rest of the United Kingdom as well. That is to his credit. It is almost an accident that he finds himself having to make this defence. Hon. Members are right to look deeper to find the justification for it.

I do not believe that I can share the explanation proffered by Unionists on both sides of the House, but it does not reside with the particular Under-Secretary who replies to the debate——

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

—the Minister of State, who replies to the debate. If we look back at the debate which took place just over a week ago, it is surprising to reflect that there will go through the Lobbies later tonight, in support of a system of proportional representation for the European elections in Northern Ireland, at least some of those people who went through the opposite Division Lobby then to oppose a proportional representation system for the same elections in another part of the United Kingdom.

I tried at that time to obtain some explanation, and perhaps we can go a little further tonight and do so. When the orders for Great Britain were debated I put precisely the same question to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. He said, speaking of me: He is only too quick to condemn the system under which we have been content to run our elections for generations and which has survived successive Governments, and to embrace another system. In the face of that comment I asked the Under-Secretary: Why, then, are the Government enforcing precisely the system that he criticises in Northern Ireland? His reply was, That is not a good point.

I shall quote a little more of the reply to obtain its full intellectual depth: If that is the full extent of the hon. Gentleman's reflections on Northern Ireland, it is as well that he is not the Liberal spokesman on Northern Ireland." — [Official Report, 26 January 1984; Vol. 52, c. 1159.] For my sins I used to be. The phrase that I quoted is the full extent of the Under-Secretary's explanation as to why his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would, 10 days later, find himself defending precisely the opposite of that which the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department was advancing then. I hope that we obtain a better explanation from the Minister of State tonight.

When one seeks explanations for why the Government are proposing proportional representation, they tend to come in a sinister variety. One presumes that the Government support, as I do, the operation of proportional representation in elections of many kinds in Northern Ireland in the belief that it is a way to ensure that the range of opinion present within that Province is represented in the bodies to which those elections are sending members, and that majority and minority opinion in the Province will be effectively represented thereby. But if that is so, why is that Province alone singled out for that particular treatment? Why is that privilege one that should be extended only to people in that Province and not to those taking part in the same election in other parts of the United Kingdom?

The explanations that one might seek are worrying. Could it be that the presence of violence and of gunmen operating in the community in some way creates and strengthens the resolve to give representation to minorities in the community? It is a very extraordinary proposition for the Government to adopt, and a very strange message to give people in the rest of the United Kingdom, that if people feel that the electoral system does not represent them they should look at a province where there is violence, because that is the sort of place where electoral systems are changed. That is a very curious message to give.

For a slighlty less dramatic but equally sinister explanation of the puzzle, one could look at the fact that there is something that distinguishes the European elections in Northern Ireland from those in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is simply that neither the Conservative nor the Labour party will be standing in those elections, or exposing themselves to the system being used there. They may therefore be content to apply the system in the rest of the United Kingdom——

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman should know very well that the Liberal party has stood at a great many elections in Northern Ireland, and has a long record of taking part in them and of supporting the use of proportional representation there.

It is difficult to see anything other than those rather sinister and worrying explanations for the Government's willingness to support a system in one part of the United Kingdom for one set of elections that they do not propose to use in the rest of the United Kingdom. The total failure of the Ministers responsible for the other end of this proposition—those in the Home Department—leaves the Minister of State with a very difficult task of explanation.

I shall support the regulations tonight, because I believe that such a system should be used in Northern Ireland, but I shall find myself in the Division Lobby with some hon Members whose actions will be very difficult to explain. They will have gone through the Division Lobbies in one week to oppose the use of proportional representation and 10 days later they will be in the Lobby to support it, in exactly the same election, on the same day, for another part of the United Kingdom. If the Minister of State can explain that, he has a genius I have yet to witness.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford 12:27 am, 6th February 1984

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has successfully exposed the humbug of those on the Government Benches in their attitude towards PR and the STV.

I shall vote against the regulations, not simply because of the single transferable vote system which we are using but because we are using two systems within the United Kingdom. That is the principle that we are opposed to. We are opposed to the fact that a system which applies to Great Britain is not automatically applied to the whole of the United Kingdom when the whole of the United Kingdom is voting on one day to elect 81 members to the European Assembly. Of course, it is an Assembly and not a parliament, and that point must be underlined again and again. It is an Assembly wih no real Executive, no Opposition, no parliamentary structure, no Prime Minister and very little executive power. That is one of the weaknesses of assemblies and of the present limitation of the powers of our Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

In our earlier debate, when we discussed proportional representation, we showed how it would help the Provisional Sinn Fein in the local elections in 1985. As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said, the STV was introduced into the last European elections to guarantee a seat for the minority. That was the political bias behind that decision. But once again that type of thinking is rebounding on the Government. It now appears that the minority will elect a member of the Provisional Sinn Fein to the European Assembly in this year's elections. It is now touch and go between the SDLP and the Provisional Sinn Fein as to who will represent the so-called minority. By that I mean the political, not the religious, minority. The Nationalist minority is now having a great contest between the SDLP and the Provisional Sinn Fein. Thus, yet again, the Government are embarking on a system of electoral rules for Northern Ireland that will assist the forward movement of the Provisional Sinn Fein party.

The regulations will assist the Provisional Sinn Fein in a second way—by the increase in election expenses. It is strange that, although the same electoral system does not exist in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, automatically the increase in election expenses is extended to Northern Ireland. The Minister gives inflation as his excuse and recommends that the allowable expenses for European candidates in Northern Ireland shall be increased from £25,000 to £43,000.

Few political parties in Northern Ireland can find £43,000 to fight a European election. Certainly the Official Unionist party and the SDLP cannot find that money. Not enough plastic buckets exist in Northern Ireland for the DUP to find it, and the alliance parties certainly could not raise that money.

Only one party could raise £43,000—the party which supports the raiding of banks and post offices. Once again I refer to the Provisional Sinn Fein. That is the one party which will take advantage of this monstrous increase in allowable election expenses. Once again the Government are aiding Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland elections.

Polling day in Europe varies throughout the 10 European countries involved. In the Protestant reformed countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, polling day is on Thursday 14 June. In the Roman Catholic countries such as Italy and France, polling day is on Sunday 17 June. The law states that the count cannot take place until polling has taken place in all countries — after the close of polling stations on the Sunday evening.

When will the count take place? According to the debate on the Great Britain regulations last week, the Government are not to state when the count will be but will leave it to the discretion of returning officers. The count could take place, therefore, on the Sunday evening. The Ulster Unionist party wants an assurance from the Government that the count in Northern Ireland will not commence on a Sunday.

Another interesting item in the regulations applies only to Northern Ireland because of the strange electoral system. After polling is over, a verification of votes must take place before the count is begun. To save time, is it possible for verification to take place between the close of polling and the count, which I hope will commence on Monday 18 June? That would mean that Northern Ireland votes would be known more quickly and the other United Kingdom seats would not be announced many hours before we know the result of our first count. We have to have various counts because of the electoral system.

Schedule 1 also refers to the limitation of broadcasting outside the United Kingdom. Radio stations, both legal and illegal, exist outside the United Kingdom. In Ireland Radio Telefis Eireann as well as illegal stations operate. If any of the Northern Ireland candidates participate in programmes put out by stations outside the United Kingdom, will they be infringing election broadcasting laws?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East 12:34 am, 6th February 1984

In many ways this debate follows naturally from the previous debate on the regulations, for the weakness in them is repeated in these regulations. Northern Ireland must again suffer the injustice of a different system of election from that of other parts of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who sits alone on the Liberal Bench, believes the different system to be a privilege for the people of Northern Ireland, but the people believe otherwise. If he thinks that it is such a privilege, I hope that he will not leave it to some poor soul in the Liberal party in Northern Ireland, which represents only a handful of people and which gets only a couple of handfuls of votes but that he will come across to Northern Ireland as their champion, put his name forward for election, and reap the benefit of the privilege of what he calls proportional representation.

We in Northern Ireland know that the purpose behind the system is a conditioning process so that we can be likened to the Republic of Ireland, which uses that system of election to the European Assembly. I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) say that it is not a parliament; of course, it is not. Therefore, I hope that he will no longer call himself an MEP, but an MEA. The hon. Gentleman may think that the latter is similar to the noise made by a cat, but I hope that he will continue to declare that it is not a parliament and will go a step further by declaring that he hopes that it never becomes one.

It was interesting to observe the dexterity of the Minister, who, only two hours ago, was able to argue in the debate on the Northern Ireland electoral areas commissioner that the result of proportional representation becomes so distorted with less than five seats that we should not have it. Now he says that we should have proportional representation for three seats. It is one thing to argue, from one week to the next, that one part of the United Kingdom should not have proportional representation but that another should, but if the Minister can argue, within two hours, the reverse of his previous argument we must give him credit for his acrobatics.

When replying to the debate, will the Minister give us some guidance about the methods that can be employed under the statute whereby the present abuse of the franchise in Northern Ireland can be stemmed? Is he saying that a power can be employed by the police or the presiding officer whereby those who come to the polling booths must prove some identity? Is it possible to require voters to produce identity without primary legislation in the House? It has been known for many years that there has been electoral abuse in Northern Ireland. It did not occur only last week or when this legislation was drafted. It has continued for many years and was highlighted by the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election and each election since then. The Secretary of State and the Minister have been aware of the abuse of the electoral system in Northern Ireland. They have received representations from the political parties in Northern Ireland, but now the Minister tells us that he will not take action at this election.

That fact reflects once again what we believe to be the underlying and sinister motive of the Minister in introducing this obnoxious system—to assist and prod on the Sinn Fein movement. Many people would accept that a preponderance of the votes cast for Sinn Fein were cast by those who died at least in the past five years, or by those who came to the polling station to discover that, while they were working, someone had cast their votes, or by those who did not go out to vote at all and who never discovered that someone had voted in their absence. Many votes are put into the ballot box by that method. If hon. Members who do not represent Northern Ireland visited the Province on election day to see Sinn Fein in action, their eyes would be opened and they would join Northern Ireland Members in demanding that that abuse of the electoral system should be stopped. They should do that instead of coming up with lame excuses at midnight as to why this action has not been taken.

In the previous debate, the Under-Secretary said that the modified list system would not be beneficial and showed that he did not understand the meaning of that system. The modified list system operates on single-Member constituencies. A number of such constituencies covering the whole of Northern Ireland elect Members on the same basis as the first-past-the-post system which operates for the United Kingdom Parliament. In addition there is what can most easily be described as a topping-up system, so that proportionality on the overall result can be gained through a list, thereby giving us the benefit of the individual constituency worker who is closely aligned to those he is representing and a manageable constituency rather than the multi-Member constituencies that the Under-Secretary is forcing us to have by a system of proportional representation.

Some people, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, take to constituency work. Some do not so enthusiastically take to that task and can put their name on a list and leave themselves free for portfolio work or another job that they might do for their party in the body to which they are elected. There are advantages in the UUUC suggestion of a modified list.

I do not believe that there is much enthusiasm among hon. Members to go into the Lobby to support the Under-Secretary. I suspect that if he had not been paired off that fateful day when others had to put their names on the voting list, the Under-Secretary would have voted in the same manner as many hon. Members will vote on this measure. Some hon. Members doubt whether the Under-Secretary supports the Prime Minister on this issue, but I hope, for his sake, that he supports her on at least some other issues.

The issue of Sinn Fein has been raised. The Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary and the Government as a whole must soon make a decision on whether Sinn Fein can legitimately stand in elections while subscribing to the principle of the Armalite in one hand and the ballot paper in the other. It is all very well for the Under-Secretary to condemn in the House Sinn Fein's policies and what Sinn Fein stands for and to say outside, as the Secretary of State has said, that its members are enemies of democracy. He is opening a democratic system for Sinn Fein to abuse while the Government have the power within their hands to stop Sinn Fein abusing the democratic system and let democracy work in Northern Ireland.

I shall be in the Lobby voting against the regulations. I do not accept that the electoral system for Northern Ireland should differ from the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not accept that there should be different regulations governing Northern Ireland elections than obtain elesewhere in the United Kingdom. The vote will give me the opportunity to vote against the principle of EEC membership. I shall vote against the Under-Secretary and for the principle propounded by the Prime Minister. I hope that those right hon. and hon. Members who support her, who believe that she is doing a great job for the country and hold her in high regard, will join us in the Lobby and vote for her policy.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives 12:44 am, 6th February 1984

It is perhaps an irony of this debate that Members on both sides have spoken in disparaging terms about the European Parliament but show considerable enthusiasm for standing in the elections on 14 June. Indeed, I believe that two Official Unionist Members went through quite a tussle to get their party's nomination and I have no doubt that the Democratic Unionist hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will put in a massive effort to retain a seat in the European Parliament which he apparently disparages so much.

I intervene with some hesitation in a debate on a Northern Ireland matter. My purpose is to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for an explanation. I have always been fascinated and somewhat baffled by what would happen if there were a European Parliament by-election in Northern Ireland. I believe that this was touched on in the previous debate. Would it be held on the single transferable vote principle or on the first-past-the-post principle? That does not seem to be laid down in the regulations or in the primary legislation.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who spoke for the Liberal party, did not make out a great case for proportional representation for the European Parliament elections or make great claims for the merits of that system. I have served in the European Parliament for nearly five years. I am not seeking re-election, as I believe that one job is enough for anyone. I do not understand how Northern Ireland representatives can have not just dual, but a triple mandate—but they are different, of course.

Photo of Mr Harold McCusker Mr Harold McCusker , Upper Bann

If the hon. Gentleman takes that view, why did he fight the general election last year?

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

I do not think that anyone would have wanted a by-election in the Euro constituency of Cornwall and Plymouth, but I made it perfectly clear that if I was elected to this House I should not stand for re-election to the European Parliament.

During my term in the European Parliament I have noticed some great abuses of the PR system. For example, Members are now sent—not returned—to the European Parliament from the Republic of Ireland without ever having submitted themselves to the electorate in a European election. They were not even on the list, yet they are nominated willy-nilly to serve in Strasbourg.

An equally if not more scandalous abuse of PR is practised by the French Gaullists, who cynically set out to change their membership every year under a system known as the tourniquet. People actually stand, but they go on a rota. I hope that in advocating the merits of PR the Liberal party will address itself to the abuses. The case for PR is presented by the Liberals and the SDP as though it were a wonderfully fair system, whereas our first-past-the-post system is regarded as totally unfair. I hope that they will recognise that there are flaws in PR and that as practised by some countries it is the negation of democracy.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

I share the hon. Gentleman's criticism of some systems of PR, but may I take it that he therefore favours the STV system? Will he make it clear whether he intends to vote for that system when the Government seek at the end of this debate to enforce it in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

I believe that for this round of European elections we shall be forced to go for PR. As for tonight's vote, unlike the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) I recognise the Government's problems. It is very difficult to change the system now. Indeed, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was less than fair in his concluding remarks. Of course the Government have the power to pass the necessary legislation, but boundary commissioners would then have to decide how three Euro-constituencies for Northern Ireland should be formed, and that takes time.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

The hon. Gentleman has overlooked the fact that there have been many months during which such legislation could have been brought forward, since it became evident that there would not be a common system throughout the EEC. As for a Boundary Commission, it is possible for the legislation which altered the position in the 1978 Act to prescribe a grouping of constituencies, as a grouping was prescribed originally for Great Britain in 1978.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

That is right. Nevertheless, there are statutory procedures, certainly for England, and already in England we have had two sets of proposals from the Boundary Commission for Euro constituencies for the election on 14 June. I do not believe that if the process were started now—or in a few weeks' time, or even in a few days' time — following the passing of special legislation, there would be enough time for Northern Ireland. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends would be the first to complain that they were being pressurised in the framing of those constituencies—"framing" was a bad word to have used in this context; I should have referred to the drawing of constituencies — and that things were being rushed through. Some Opposition Members would probably wish to object to the constituencies that were being proposed.

I accept the basic premise that it is wrong to have a different system. I should like to put ale clock back on this matter, but I appreciate the difficulties the Government are facing, the initial mistake having been made, and therefore, with the greatest reluctance, I shall support the Government tonight.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea , Mid Ulster 12:52 am, 6th February 1984

I look forward with interest to hearing the Minister's speech in reply to the debate, so I shall not delay the House. I was delighted that, when speaking on this instrument, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) kept away from his usual "tell me the old, old story" type of Republican propaganda. I understand that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) does not attend the proceedings in this Chamber. It seems that he does not really need to do so because his views are adequately expressed from the Opposition Front Bench.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith does himself a great disservice and insults, and continues to insult, the people of Ulster who have been injured, maimed and butchered by the merciless enemies of democracy and of the United Kingdom, not only in Northern Ireland but—as we have witnessed with the Harrods bombing and many others—in this part of the United Kingdom.

It is an absolute disgrace that Her Majesty's Government should permit men who are but the political face of murderers to stand at this election. I had the great privilege of keeping from this House—from winning the election for Mid-Ulster—the person whom Sinn Fein now will put up and send, if it can, to Europe. If anyone thinks that the electorate of, and the Roman Catholic community in, Northern Ireland will turn away dramatically from Sinn Fein in this election, he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. We have had the statements of the Sinn Fein cardinal giving his support to the Sinn Fein candidates and excusing people for voting for such people in the past election, and he was no doubt preparing the ground for the coming election in June.

It is a disgrace that Her Majesty's Government, when they have it within their power to stop these men, who are but murderers in another guise, from standing at this election, have not been willing to take this tree by the roots and pull the roots out completely and stop these men from standing. I agree with my hon. Friends, and with the remarks from both sides of the Chamber, on proportional representation. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who is the Liberal party's Northern Ireland spokesman. If the Liberal party and the SDP were really anxious about PR and truly believed in it, they would have taken a different approach to the allocation of places for the Select Committees. The Liberal party was willing to outdo its SDP partners in getting all the seats on the Select Committees. It was willing to give the people of Northern Ireland only two seats when it, with fewer Members, was willing to take six or eight seats. If the Liberals believe in PR, they should at least be consistent. However, they have shown no consistency. They have shown nothing but hypocrisy. I was delighted that they were shot down, brought to book and made to bow in submission to the continued objection of Northern Ireland Members. We now believe that we have obtained a fair share of the Select Committee seats.

The Ulster people, the British subjects of Northern Ireland, have suffered so much from the enemies of this kingdom and it is a disgrace that they must suffer another insult tonight. They will have to take from the House, from Her Majesty's Government, the insult of being treated completely differently from the rest of the United Kingdom's citizens. We demand to be treated as equal citizens in this great kingdom. We demand our equal rights. That which is a proper system for voting in the European election in England, Scotland and Wales is appropriate, too, for the people of Northern Ireland. Therefore, I shall join my colleagues in the Unionist camp in dividing the House on the regulations. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made an excellent contribution in drawing the attention of the House to speeches of the past and reminding certain right hon. and hon. Members of their previous stand. It will be most interesting to see how those Members will react tonight.

Earlier in the day we had the agriculture debate and we have been debating Northern Ireland affairs since about ten o'clock. The greatest number of Members in the Chamber has been 22 and the total number of Members is 650. They have not been very interested. I wrote down the comment of one of the Members who voted in the previous Division. As he walked past he said, "No one seems the least bit interested in this today." I think that that sums up the whole story. It is an utter shame and the empty Benches on both sides of the House—most of the Opposition Benches are completely empty—are an insult to the important business of people of the United Kingdom, the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea 12:59 am, 6th February 1984

With the leave of the House, I shall speak again.

I shall reply briefly to some of the points made in the debate. I imagine that it must be virtually a unique occurrence in this Parliament that the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) made his maiden speech on this sitting day, but spoke twice subsequently on the Floor of the House. I hope that he will not make a habit of speaking so frequently in the days to come. The speeches have all been of such a uniformly high quality, although we cannot agree with everything he said, that we all look forward to hearing him again.

The right hon. Gentleman raised two or three points of interest. In particular, he took the Government to task for increasing, to compensate for inflation, the election expenses figure in line with that for the rest of Great Britain. Had we not done so, I suspect that we would have been taken to task by hon. Members for not increasing it in line with that for the rest of Great Britain. We wrote to all Northern Ireland parties last year, including the Ulster Unionist party, to ask, among other things, their views on the proposal that there should be an increase in the permitted election expenses as set out in the regulations, and mentioning the figures. We had no reply from the Official Unionist party.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford

It is impossible to reply until one knows what the electoral system will be. It is only now that we hear that we shall have an electoral system separate from that in Great Britain. If one accepts the principle of a separate electoral system, which is now being proposed, it follows logically that one must have a separate system for election expenses. That is why I am criticising the proposal. One is applying a system for election expenses for a first-past-the-post election to an election in Northern Ireland that will be by STV.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I think that the right hon. Gentleman, in reading the figures, imagined, despite the points made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), that we would have a different system for this election. If we had not made the increase the figures would have been out of kilter. Even if the point that the right hon. Gentleman made has any validity, surely some views could have been expressed on alternatives if it was felt that the increase would be as damaging as has been presented to the House today.

The right hon. Gentleman said that in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, at least it would be inappropriate for the count to start on a Sunday. He asked whether verification of the votes might start earlier so that the count could start on Monday. Those are matters for the chief electoral officer, but I shall make sure that his attention is drawn to the right hon. Gentleman's points. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not deal with foreign radio stations today. I shall write to him as soon as I can establish exactly what the legal position is.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) took me to task on several matters, first for suggesting that, whereas I argued in the previous debate that four members was the minimum number to provide proper proportionality, I was now arguing that three was adequate. It would be difficult to provide that we had five seats in Northern Ireland. Having three seats, and treating Northern Ireland as a single constituency, will get a more proportional and a fairer result than three first-past-the-post contests.

The hon. Gentleman also asked, as did the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), about the measure that we shall be able to take within the existing procedure to counter personation. We shall do all that we can within the existing procedures and in the closest possible consultation with the chief electoral officer and the Royal Ulster Constabulary——

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

In a moment. The hon. Gentleman should not be so hasty.

We have also introduced within the regulations other matters that we can tighten up without primary legislation. However, to go further, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, would need primary legislation in the form of a Bill, to be carried through the House. We do not have the time to do that for the elections. I hope that we can count on the hon. Gentleman's support when we introduce it.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East

I am grateful to the Minister of State for giving way. He said once again, "We shall do all that we can". What can the Minister do?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

By bringing together those responsible for the conduct and supervision of the elections, including the RUC, we shall be able to apply existing procedures with much more effectiveness than in the past. I should like to correct a misapprehension, unless others have heard news that I have not heard. I am an Under-Secretary, not a Minister of State.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

How is it possible, without principal legislation, to withdraw the right to vote on removal whereas any other precautions and provisions cannot be taken without principal legislation?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I am not a lawyer but am advised that the original order enables that change to be made and that the legislation on holidaymakers and similar provisions are not covered. I cannot say more than that or argue with it. I am advised that that is the legal position. We have these powers under existing orders.

The right hon. Member for Down, South and the hon. Member for Antrim, North raised the principle that, because there is an abuse in Northern Ireland, it is not appropriate to take special measures to deal with it but that those measures should be achieved by rigorous enforcement of existing law rather than by introducing special measures for one part of the United Kingdom. I accept that, in many ways, that is an unsatisfactory method of dealing with the problem. The Government have been faced with a choice between the lesser of two evils.

Because of the high level of abuse, right hon. and hon. Members will know that the Government have received representations from every constitutional party in Northern Ireland about it. Unless we take special measures, there is a grave risk that we shall undermine the fundamental democratic process in the Province. I do not believe that the removal of an absent vote on the grounds of change of address will disfranchise many voters, if any, but if we allow the process of electoral abuse to continue an increasing number of voters will be disfranchised at Northern Ireland general elections. Hon. Members raise the wider issue of holidaymakers but, fortunately, that is not a matter for discussion today.

I shall now deal, I cannot say with a great deal of relish, with the main burden of what the right hon. Member for Down, South said. The Government have no intention to reintroduce a Bill to provide for a different system of elections in Northern Ireland for the European Assembly. I understand the Unionist stance. It remains the Government's view that, given the different nature of Northern Ireland's political society and its party system as compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, there is a strong case for an electoral system in Northern Ireland for the European Assembly which is likely to lead to the election of three MEPs who represent the great majority of voters. The principle that Northern Ireland's three representatives should be elected by STV was established in 1978 when Parliament passed the European —[Interruption.] Not against my vote. Members of the present Government voted in each Lobby on those occasions. We did not make a commitment but there was a strong feeling that there should be a uniform system throughout the United Kingdom. There are three reasons. The first was the belief, which was widely held at the time, that there would be a uniform system of elections throughout the EC by the time of the 1984 elections. Secondly, those votes were, in the terminology of the House—we know that all votes are free—free votes. That is why I would not have needed to have been paired on that occasion. There was no Whip. That is why members of the Conservative party could be found in each Lobby on that occasion.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

The hon. Gentleman is confusing Divisions on the principle of proportional representation with the Division of 2 February 1978 on the differentiation between the system in Northern Ireland and the system in the rest of the United Kingdom. I think he will find that that was a Division on a decision of the shadow Cabinet and that right hon. and hon. Members were whipped to follow the lead of the leader of the party and the shadow Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman will find that he is mistaken.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

If I am, I apologise to the House, and I confess that I have been looking at an earlier Division list rather than the one mentioned by the right hon. Member for Down, South. I will establish whether, on a matter of that sort, a party Whip was imposed, and I will write to the right hon. Gentleman if I have inadvertently misled the House, which I certainly would not wish to do.

What is clear to those who read back on the history is that, whatever was said from the Opposition Bench when the Conservative party was in opposition, since we came into office, there have been repeated exchanges of corespondence between those in the Home Office who are responsible for these matters and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), and those undertakings that were given to him were merely to re-consider the position. No undertaking has ever been given to him in that correspondence since the Conservative party took office that we would change the system to ensure that Northern Ireland followed the same system that——

It being one and a half hours after commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business):—

The House divided:Ayes, 93, Noes 13.

Division No. 154][1.10 am
AYES
Ashby, DavidMayhew, Sir Patrick
Beith, A. J.Merchant, Piers
Boscawen, Hon RobertMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Bottomley, PeterMills, lain (Meriden)
Brinton, TimMitchell, David (NW Hants)
Brooke, Hon PeterMoate, Roger
Conway, DerekMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Cope, JohnMoynihan, Hon C.
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Neubert, Michael
Fenner, Mrs PeggyNewton, Tony
Forth, EricNormanton, Tom
Fox, MarcusNorris, Steven
Freeman, RogerOttaway, Richard
Gale, RogerPowley, John
Galley, RoyRaffan, Keith
Goodlad, AlastairRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Gregory, ConalRoe, Mrs Marion
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Rowe, Andrew
Ground, PatrickRyder, Richard
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Sayeed, Jonathan
Hargreaves, KennethScott, Nicholas
Harris, DavidShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Harvey, RobertSkeet, T. H. H.
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)Speller, Tony
Hayes, J.Spencer, D.
Hayward, RobertSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Hind, KennethStern, Michael
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Holt, RichardStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Stradling Thomas, J.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Sumberg, David
Hunter, AndrewTerlezki, Stefan
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Key, RobertTwinn, Dr Ian
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Walden, George
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)Waller, Gary
Lang, IanWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Lawler, GeoffreyWatts, John
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Lightbown, DavidWolfson, Mark
Lilley, PeterWood, Timothy
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)Yeo, Tim
Maclean, David John.
Major, JohnTellers for the Ayes:
Malins, HumfreyMr. Donald Thompson and
Maples, JohnMr. David Hunt.
Mather, Carol
NOES
Beggs, RoyRobinson, P. (Belfast E)
McCrea, Rev WilliamTaylor, Rt Hon John David
McCusker, HaroldTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Maginnis, KenWalker, Cecil (Belfast N)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Nicholson, J.Tellers for the Noes:
Paisley, Rev IanMr. William Ross and
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)Mr. Clifford Forsythe.
Powell, William (Corby)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft European Assembly Elections (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1984, which were laid before this House on 23rd January, be approved.