The Stormont Papers
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Volume 10 (1929) / Pages 427 - 428
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Volume 10 / Page 427

ORDERS OF THE DAY. House of Commons (Method of Voting and Redistribution of Seats) Bill.

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."â??(The Prime Minister).

The PRIME MINISTER: The reason why I am taking the responsibility of moving the Second Reading of this important Bill myself is because, like the Temperance Measure, it is one which rightly belongs to the Government as a whole and not to any particular Department. (Hon. Members: Hear, hear). And I also felt that it was a task of some magnitude which might possibly call for criticism from one part of the House or another, and that it was really my duty as Prime Minister to take upon my own shoulders the full responsibility for everything that appears in this Measure. Now, the foundation rests upon a Clause in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and perhaps if I read that short Section of the Act it would help hon. Members in understanding why we have adopted this particular procedure for carrying out the reconstitution of the new divisions throughout the Ulster area. In the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, Clause 14, Section 5, lays it down: â??

After three years from the day of the first meeting of the Parliament of Northern Ireland that Parliament may alter the qualification and registration of the electors, the law relating to elections, and the questioning of elections, constituencies, and the distribution of Members among the constituencies provided that in any new distribution the number of the Members shall not be altered, and due regard shall be had to the population of the constituencies other than university constituencies. The three years have long elapsed and therefore this Parliament has the fullest authority to change from the old system of proportional representation to a system of single-member constituencies. Now, there are several ways in which the Government could have approached the matter. A suggestion was made in October, 1927, by a Motion by the hon. Member for North Belfast, who is not in his place at the moment, that this House is of opinion, before the principle

of Proportional Representation embodied in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, is abolished a select committee of this House should be set up to consider and determine whether the Government have authority to set aside the provisions of the said Act and if so to define the boundaries of the new constituencies.

In the first place, as I have pointed out, the Act of 1920 gives this House full power. There is no question whatever with regard to that part of the Motion. With regard to the second part of the Motion, all I have to say is that the House itself turned it down. In other words, the House expressed the opinion in no uncertain tones that no select committee should be set up for that purpose. Therefore the matter was thrown back upon the Government to prepare a scheme such as would be appropriate to the wishes and desires of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. DEVLIN: Of the Unionists.

Mr. HEALY: Of the jobbers.

The PRIME MINISTER: Before I go any further in the matter I would like to say that there was undoubtedly another course open to my colleagues and myself. What was possible to do was to set up some tribunal to have gone all over the area and. to have held an inquiry and eventually to report what he or they considered was the appropriate division of Ulster. But I had in my mind a lively recollection of what befell a learned K.C. whom we appointed in connection with the abolition of Proportional Representation as applied to local government in the Ulster area, and what happened there was that those who to-day will probably take a keen interest in this particular proposal of the Government refused to come before that learned gentleman to give him the benefit of their experience and their knowledge of localities.

Mr. HEALY: Because you gave only a fortnight's notice.

The PRIME MINISTER: Therefore I feel very strongly that to institute some tribunal of that sort to-day might, and very likely would, have met with a similar fate to that which met the learned K.C. who was asked on behalf of the Government to undertake the task in regard to

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