asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made towards the establishment of a Speaker's Conference on electoral law.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has consulted other party leaders about the possibility of a Speaker's Conference to consider a wide range of matters, including those left over from the 1973–74 conference, but agreement has not proved possible. My right hon. Friend proposed in his speech of 23rd March that the question of the representation of Northern Ireland at Westminster should be referred to a Speaker's Conference, and is now consulting the other party leaders on this matter.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it would be quite wrong and illogical for the second Speaker's Conference to consider only representation from Northern Ireland? Will the Home Secretary consider the over-representation arising from devolution to Scotland and Wales, which would be unfair to English voters and greatly resented by them? Will he ensure that that issue is included in the second Speaker's Conference?
Bearing in mind the speed or otherwise with which devolution to Wales and Scotland is carried out, I think that that would be the appropriate moment to give consideration to the numbers for Scotland and Wales. It is not the intention of the Government at the moment to interfere with those numbers.
Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate when the Government propose to take action on the recommendation of the earlier Speaker's Conference in 1973 that democratic rights should be extended to patients in mental illness hospitals?
I cannot give any assurance on that issue. However, I shall consider it. It was given consideration during the course of the 1971 legislation and during the passage of the Representation of the People Act. There would be a need for legislation.
Will my right hon. Friend take an early opportunity to clear up a niggling matter that is of concern to some people, namely, the non-availability of postal votes for parish council elections, which are invariably held on the same day as district council elections, for which postal votes are available? This is a hangover of the reorganisation of local government and is something that should be cleared up as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend is right; it is an anomaly. It is basically a matter of money and expense, but it is an important issue.