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Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon) : To what extent are the new TECs modelled on the private industry councils in the United States, which my right hon. Friend had the opportunity of studying earlier this year? What encouragement or inducements will be given to the chief executives of companies in local economies to join the new councils? Does he have an answer to the problem that faces constituents such as mine where there are relatively few chief executives of large employers in our towns, but large numbers of plant directors, at lower than chief executive level? Finally, if my right hon. Friend is encouraged and stimulated by the PIC example in the United States, does he intend to give TECs any interface or mechanism to link them with local education authorities at secondary level to encourage employers to have some input into what is taught in our schools?
Mr. Fowler : Obviously, there must be a relationship between the training enterprise councils and the education system. Indeed, there must be a relationship and direct links between training and education and between industry and education. I believe that those links are developing.
My hon. Friend asked me about the origins of this plan. It certainly contains elements of the United States
Column 32experience and the West German experience, but above all it recognises that employers locally know the needs of their labour market and therefore the training needs to guide us.
My hon. Friend also asked me about the positions of chief executives and staff. One real advantage of the programme that we are putting forward is that we can get good people, top people, from local companies to come on to the boards of the training enterprise councils, but the work will be carried out by the professional staff who are now employed by the Training Agency, and who can be seconded to the training enterprise councils. I hope that in that way we can get the best of both worlds.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) : As the Secretary of State has commended the West Germany scheme to the House, will he tell us when, under his proposals, average skill levels in this country will equal those of West Germany? He need not be too precise in his answer : the year will do.
Mr. Fowler : During the 1990s we shall be able to catch up with the West Germans. If the hon. Gentleman considers my White Paper, he will see that comparisons with West Germany and with Germany go back not just 20, 30 or 40 years, but well into the last century. It is a long-standing problem and I believe that the TEC is the best hope that we have to catch up not only with Germany, but with our other major competitors. If we do not do that, our prospects for the 1990s will not be as good as they otherwise would be.
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East) : As somebody who has worked closely with the Training Agency, will my right hon. Friend accept how pleased I am that its excellent staff will be part of the new proposal and under the guidance and control of those at the front end of the consumption of training? Will my right hon. Friend also accept that it is the skills shortage, in part caused by the fact that employers have not been in control of available training, which has led to the present problems faced by industry?
Mr. Fowler : In the past, we have failed to attract the involvement and enthusiasm of all employers in the way that we might. That is not to say that some extremely impressive training is not already taking place. The aim must be to bring up the standards of every company in this country to the standards of some of the best. I believe that some real progress has been made in the past four or five years, and I want even more progress based on that.
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : Why should we have any confidence in employers leading the way in training, when the lack of apprenticeships in the past few years has clearly demonstrated that they cannot see beyond the end of their noses? We not only need to train people for the jobs that are available now : we also need a long-term strategy for training in the future. Employers who are concerned only with the present profits that can be made will not pay that factor sufficient attention.
Mr. Fowler : I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is the employers who provide the jobs. Whatever his own ideological hang-up on this might be, training must be relevant to the jobs that the employers are providing. He asks what evidence there is of employers changing; I believe that it is there for him to see. One example is that of the compacts that have now been formed between
Column 33education and industrial companies. Thirty of such compacts are up and beginning to run after a few months. That is an incredible rate of progress. There is new enthusiasm among employers and we should use it.
Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that this kind of programme is vital and will be warmly welcomed by manufacturing industry? Does he also accept that the problem does not lie so much with school leavers, because within five years they will be able to get any job for which they have been trained at school? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the great problem lies with the unions, which, last time, helped to kill off the apprenticeships that are the seed corn of all industry? Does my right hon. Friend believe that, this time, there is any greater hope that the unions will not just look upon people who are training as cheap labour and so scare them away, or make sure that they do not get the jobs that are vital to the country?
Mr. Fowler : My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is not just a matter of employers understanding the importance of training, but of the work force and the trade unions understanding its importance. I believe that the Trades Union Congress made a bad mistake regarding the employment training programme for unemployed people, and I believe that many members of the TUC recognise that. I hope that that mistake will not be repeated with training in employment.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : In the absence of any reference in the statement to Northern Ireland, is the Minister indirectly complimenting us on the excellence of our education system and the training facilities already in place? Will he please convey to those industrialists who are fearful of not having an adequately trained work force in the future that we in Northern Ireland have lived with low wages and high unemployment and that there is a great appetite for employment opportunities in the Province? Will he commend those industrialists to look to Northern Ireland as a possible location for some of the new investment that they may require in the future? I am confident that the excellence and skills of our work force and the good relations that have always existed between management and employees will be rewarding for those who take up the opportunity of investing in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Fowler : I am glad to endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the importance of Northern Ireland and also about the importance of investing there. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is sitting on the Front Bench and he will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. The reason why Northern Ireland is not mentioned in the White Paper is that it does not apply to it, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is presently consulting on this issue.
Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West) : In relation to existing skills and the need for new skills in the construction industry, will the new arrangements allow firms whose activities are factory production orientated, which do not have any construction site activities and which therefore, get no training or advice from the CITB, to withdraw from it, providing that they pay the levy that they would have paid towards their own training activities?
Mr. Fowler : My hon. Friend will understand from my statement that we are seeking to move the statutory industrial training boards to an independent, non-statutory basis. The specific issue that my hon. Friend has raised is essentially a matter for the CITB and industry to consider under the new arrangements. Certainly, if my hon. Friend thinks that something is unfair, we shall be glad to look into it. Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n) : Although I acknowledge that we are facing a skills shortage in the economy and although I accept that we must change the way in which we train our young people and the unemployed, does the Minister accept that, particularly in rural areas and constituencies such as mine, it will be very difficult for employers to find the time and the resources to take the lead in the type of enterprise that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind under the new TECs? Does he accept that, especially in rural areas, we need a far more co-ordinated approach and that the Welsh Development Agency and the Scottish Development Agency should also be involved and have a role to play? Does he also agree that schools, and especially careers teachers, need to be given more resources to provide advice on training? In the past few weeks in the press we have heard talk about the Enterprise Scotland initiative. Where does that fit in with the current programme?
Mr. Fowler : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will make a statement shortly--it may be tomorrow--and will also issue a White Paper then about the position in Scotland.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although machinery and technology may be the same the world over, what makes the competitive difference is the skills of the people using that machinery and technology? The skills of our people are our greatest asset ; at the end of the day they are our only asset. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the White Paper will do much to help to develop the necessary skills? My right hon. Friend should be assured that we in north Oxfordshire and in the Cherwell valley want to be among the first of the TECs, building on what we have already achieved with Enterprise Cherwell, the local employer training network and other initiatives to ensure that, locally, we have the skills to take us into the next century.
Mr. Fowler : I am grateful for that offer. I am sure that there will be a number of areas around the country that will want to make bids soon as a result of the White Paper. Obviously we shall consider them all.
What my hon. Friend has said about training is absolutely right. The demographic influence must also be underlined, because, by 1995, there will be a million fewer under-25s in the labour force. That adds to the importance of training in employment as well as considering other items such as training unemployed people to acquire the resources, and the source of new recruits.
Column 35greatest obstacle to employment is the shortage of skills, without any recognition that this Government have been in power for the past nine years and he has been a Minister in it for the past nine years? If there is a shortage of skills, the Government must take the prime responsibility for it.
If the right hon. Gentleman does not recognise that, will he accompany me-- we both represent west midlands constituencies--to see the training schools of major engineering companies that have been shut in the west midlands in the past nine years? Does he acknowledge that two thirds of engineering apprenticeships in the west midlands have collapsed under this Government? Is not the abiding legacy of the past nine years that a whole generation of young people have left school with no opportunity for skills training? He has created a generation without hope.
Mr. Fowler : That is just political jargon and slogans. It is also shallow and superficial. Probably more progress has been made in training during the past five years than during the past 40 years. If the hon. Gentleman wants to go round the west midlands, he should look at the training at Rover, Jaguar and Lucas, get up to date on the current position in the west midlands and then come back to the House.
Mr. John Watts (Slough) : In view of the need to make the maximum use of skills in the economy, especially in the Thames valley, where the problem of skills shortage is not new, does my right hon. Friend have specific proposals for the special training needs of disabled people and ethnic minorities, whose abilities are much under-used in the economy?
Mr. Fowler : We have sought within the training programme to make special provision for the disabled. We shall keep that under review, because I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we must use their skills. The same applies to members of ethnic minorities. Recent research conducted in London shows that many of them have skills and can go into employment. I want more people from the ethnic minorities to go into employment, and opportunities for them to do so will arise during the next few years.
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : Do not the facts speak for themselves? Since 1979, industry has closed training schools, dismissed its training officers and got rid of indentured apprenticeships. I am talking about real training, not about the superficial training that the Government provide. Genuine training in crafts and genuine indentured apprenticeships have disappeared because of Government policies. The only way to get them back is to encourage employers to take them on again, but it cannot be done without money, statutory obligations and Government intervention. That is the way that we should go.
Mr. Fowler : The hon. Gentleman believes that statutory obligations and central control will cure the skills shortages, but he is speaking against a background of failures in the past. Since the 1960s, such policies have failed. We recognise that employers have the crucial responsibility for training in employment, and it is sensible to base that training at local level.
Mr. James Cran (Beverley) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the White paper emphasises, crucially, the contribution that training can make to closing the productivity gap between Britain and its major European and American competitors? Does he further agree that there is no reason to believe that employers will not rise to the challenge that he has set for them, given the contribution that they have already made to the youth training scheme?
Mr. Fowler : That is right, in relation not only to YTS but to employment training. In addition, productivity is improving substantially. The position has improved greatly during the past five years, and we now have a good opportunity permanently to improve our training arrangements.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Does the Secretary of State recognise that many of my constituents are at a loss to understand why the Government plan to spend £7 million to £8 million on building a city technology college in Bradford, which few of my constituents want, at a time when Bradford college, which makes a positive contribution to skills training, is having its budget cut by £200,000 and must sack staff and cut classes? Will he investigate the matter urgently?
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, in Bradford and west Yorkshire generally, employment training is regarded as a complete flop? What safeguards will there be against employers who are ready to reap the benefits of training for which other employers have paid but who are not prepared themselves to invest in proper training?
Mr. Fowler : The city technology college is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but I believe that it will add to the skills in the country. It will certainly not detract from them.
Far from employment training being a flop, during the past 12 weeks it has got off to an extremely good start. Almost 100,000 people are being trained under the scheme, which is vastly in excess of what the Labour Government achieved. It is no good the hon. Gentleman saying that it is a flop. It is not, but he and his hon. Friend have put every obstacle in the way of training. The public will remember the Labour party's record on that.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : In relation to the remarks about training officers, will my right hon. Friend note that the number of training officers in the Institute of Personnel Management has grown to such an extent that they have developed their own section? May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the furniture industry? One reason why there is an acute skills shortage in that industry today is that the trade unions did not allow us to take on as many apprentices or dilutees as we wanted to. They obstinately refused to allow numbers to be increased. I welcome the fact that the pre-entry closed shop will be abolished. Will my right hon. Friend examine the position of the London furniture school, which is under threat? It is the only centre of excellence in Europe for the repair and maintenance of musical instruments.
Column 37closed shop, the White Paper is concerned with barriers to employment, and needing a union card before one can get a job is such a barrier to employment.
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central) : Did the Secretary of State see the comments reported today by the chairman of the Trustee Savings bank, who suggested that the acute skills shortage was a socially divisive time bomb? Will the White Paper, with its threat to industrial training boards, its lack of additional resources and its commitment to an organisation of training that was rejected in the Secretary of State's original White Paper on employment training, strengthen the fears about an acute shortage of training and skills? When will the Secretary of State face the fact that the Government's record has left the country short of skills and of the ability to compete, especially in the Common Market after 1992?
Mr. Fowler : The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that skills shortages have appeared suddenly in the past 10 years. Any objective commentator would say that skills shortages in Britain go back over 50, 60 and 70 years. The devices used by the Labour Government have been proved not to work, and we are putting that right.
That the Agriculture Improvement (Variation) (No. 2) Scheme 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 1983) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments &c.
That the draft Merchant Shipping (Safety at Work Regulations) (Non-UK Ships) Regulations 1988 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments &c.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
Order for Second Reading read.
Hon. Members often complain that too little Northern Ireland legislation comes forward in the form of a Bill for proper debate in the House. I do not think that such a complaint could be directed at the Queen's Speech because the House will have a full opportunity to debate and to consider in Committee many of the measures in it. Today we shall debate the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Bill and tomorrow the House will have before it the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill. Although the latter is a United Kingdom measure, it contains some important provisions relating to Northern Ireland.
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : I apologise to the Secretary of State for intervening so early in his speech. He will have seen the comments in today's newspapers from which it appears that the Government will want to derogate from the ruling of the Strasbourg court. That might arise in tomorrow's debate and it would be useful if the Secretary of State could tell us whether that will be included in the Bill that the Government intend to bring before the House tomorrow.
Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman had better wait and see. I shall leave it to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to speak about that. I do not want to anticipate anything that he might say. I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.
I was speaking about the Northern Ireland matters that the House will have a full opportunity to debate. In that context we shall also have a Bill on fair employment. This comes on the back of the criminal evidence order that the House approved at the end of the last Session. It was about the ban on direct broadcasting by certain organisations and was approved by the House after being presented by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The police and criminal evidence order for Northern Ireland will give added rights of protection to those taken in for questioning. We have a fairly full range of measures and legislation coming before the House and they will be dealt with in their proper order in due course.
Before I deal in proper order with today's Bill, perhaps I could be permitted to put the legislation in its overall context because I am conscious that each measure always has its critics. Each item that is proposed is approved or rejected by one side or the other. It seems to be left to a few hon. Members to put them into context and to show how they form a general pattern and approach to the issues that we face in Northern Ireland. I should like to put the Bill in the context of our overall theme of fairness and justice for the people of Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that we have an effective response to the evil of terrorism and proper protection for the rights of the community as well as respect for the rights of individuals.
That which we seek is blunt and simple and perhaps it is fairly obvious, but it is worth repeating against the
Column 39background of some of the criticisms that we receive. What we seek for the people of Northern Ireland is the same as that which we seek for people throughout the United Kingdom. We seek better prospects for jobs and self respect for people. We seek better housing and better education for our children. We want to see proper health care and good amenities and we want to see better community relations, tolerance, peace and order and the cessation of violence in the Province.
Those are our overall objectives, but no single measure or item can go to the heart of solving the problems of Northern Ireland. On a broad front, we seek to advance the cause of good government and to improve the condition of people in Northern Ireland in all those areas. Obviously those objectives are shared by the overwhelming majority of the people who wish to see nothing more than the cessation of violence and a better and safer life for themselves and their families.
In the work carried out by me and by my colleagues in government, we pay great attention to such issues as economic development. Of course we take pride in the fall in unemployment and in the confidence of so many companies in Northern Ireland that have substantially increased their investment in the past year. That has improved employment prospects. We are pleased to see companies from overseas and shall seek to maintain, as the latest public expenditure statement shows and as my hon. Friend the Minister of State made clear, our determination to support industrial development and investment in the Province. We want more jobs, but at the same time we want to ensure that there is no discrimination in the distribution of those jobs and that opportunities are presented across communities without regard to religion or opinion.
There has been substantial investment in housing in recent years; we want to maintain that level of investment, which is much higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom. We want to see an increase in home ownership and the elimination of the worst housing conditions in some of the high-rise flats. I confirm our determination to see improvements in that respect.
I have considerable admiration for the standard of health care in the Province. Since I have been Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I have gained considerable respect for the hospitals and the general practitioners in the Health Service there. The Province is well served by the Health Service and we wish to see that maintained. We also want to see high standards in education. It is an easy and proud claim that Northern Ireland has high standards in educational achievement, but we also know that it has a serious problem because of the number of people who fail to achieve any qualifications. There is no room for complacency in education, and we are keen to see how education can play its part in dealing with conditions in the Province. I emphasise again the importance that we attach to the initiative by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), of support for integrated education. That will prove to be an important contribution.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. I know that, conventionally, debate on Second Reading is wide, but I remind the Secretary of State that he is going very wide of the provisions of the Bill.
Mr. King : I seek to explain the background to the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I understand the point that you are making. It is important to tell the House about the measures that will be coming forward. As I said at the beginning of my speech--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that it is difficult for the Chair subsequently to contain the debate within the proper parameters when the Secretary of State ranges as wide as he is doing.
Mr. King : I apologise, and entirely accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that Northern Ireland Members are concerned that our opportunities for debate in the House on Northern Ireland measures are limited, and I sought to do the House the courtesy of outlining the context in which we are bringing forward the Bill. I entirely understand your remarks, and I will respect them.
Mr. King : I have all these problems in mind. They are all part of the framework. Anybody who knows Northern Ireland understands, in the politics of Northern Ireland, the game of pluses and minuses--who is up and who is down--and knows that these are important considerations. They are reflected in this legislation, as every hon. Member who represents a Northern Ireland constituency knows.
We seek in the measures that we are taking, and in particular those dealing with peace and order and the cessation of violence, to respond to people's interests and concerns on matters in which terrorism and support for violence pose challenges to democratic society. These concerns are relevant to the Bill. We have taken a number of steps in law and order to try to ensure that the work that the security forces do for the protection of the community is as effective as possible.
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : Is there not a contradiction in that, at a time when we are introducing week after week legislation dealing with the law in Northern Ireland, the Government will not, I believe, obey the diktats of the European Court in relation to the law with which we shall deal tomorrow? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that petulant ladies make bad law?
Mr. King : I think that I am suffering from one or two late arrivals to the debate. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place when the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) raised that point and sought to get me to comment on it. I suggested that he should wait, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should wait, for tomorrow's debate when the subject can be properly addressed. I am conscious of my responsibilities. I recognise the connection between all these items, the perception of them, and the perception of the legislation before the House. It will be perceived not simply in isolation, but by many in relation to other matters that are
Column 41currently on the agenda. That is why I took the liberty, subject to correction, to put these matters in the widest context possible. In law and order, we have sought to address the concerns about the position of the security forces, to ensure that the balance of justice with the firm pursuit of terrorism can be maintained, and that the security forces have the necessary facilities and are furnished with the right instruments to be able to discharge their responsibilities to the community. I have already referred to several measures in the last Session that addressed this problem. Others will be introduced with the legislation tomorrow. We believe that they provide protection for the community by providing the security forces with those proper instruments, but we also believe that they provide the proper respect for the rights of the individual, as I said earlier.
We have taken a number of steps to try to ensure that individual rights are properly protected, whether in measures that have already been discussed, the codes of conduct for the RUC, the codes for the Army and security forces, the guide to the exercise of the emergency powers or tackling the problems of delay of appeals so that people do not feel that justice is delayed and there is some inhibition on their right of appeal. Those steps are a measure of our determination to protect individual rights as well.
Against that background, the Bill seeks to address certain grievances and anomalies in local government. I begin with two anomalies. Clauses 1 and 2 deal with the franchise for district council elections in Northern Ireland and bring it broadly into line with that for Parliament. That change will sweep away earlier legislation widely perceived as discriminating against Nationalists in Northern Ireland. It will enfranchise for district council elections in Northern Ireland about 10,500 people, called "I" voters--that "I" stands for imperial Parliament voters--who are at present unable to vote in local council elections. They are people who, under the 1962 legislation for Northern Ireland, failed to meet the special nationality and residence qualifications laid down for district council elections. This legislation confines the right to vote to Commonwealth citizens who either were born in Northern Ireland or have resided in the United Kingdom for the whole of the seven years preceding the qualifying date for registration.
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : The Secretary of State has said that every one of those 10,000 people who gains a vote is naturally a Nationalist. How does he prove that sweeping statement? We cannot allow it to go unchallenged. There is no evidence that that is so, and many Army wives and many who might vote Unionist are among those 10,000.
Mr. King : I said that it was "widely perceived" as discriminating against Nationalists. It is true that among those who will now be enfranchised are the wives of service men who find themselves unable to meet the qualification of having been in the United Kingdom for the whole of the seven years. If it is perceived as discriminating both against Nationalist and Unionist voters, and if therefore it will command the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, I shall be delighted. That would be a happy outcome.
Column 42It is no secret in the history of this measure that it was perceived at the time as discriminating in that way. Citizens of the Irish Republic who are not also Commonwealth citizens, British citizens who do not meet the residence requirements and wives of service men are excluded from voting. This change will extend the franchise to them. This restriction has already been removed in parliamentary elections and for Assembly elections. The discrimination in respect of council elections has persisted for too long. I hope that I shall have the support of the House for the removal of this long-standing grievance.
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : Is my right hon. Friend able to confirm that, after the provisions of clause 1 have been become effective, the franchise for district elections in Northern Ireland will be identical to the franchise for district elections in Wales, Scotland and England?
Mr. King : I have a feeling that my hon. Friend has asked that question because there is a trick in it. I shall get that checked rather than reply off the cuff, and I shall ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to answer. I say that in the kindest possible way because there may be some point of which I am not aware. I warn my hon. Friend that there are two other changes which I think will go much closer to achieving his objective. At the moment, in Northern Ireland, convicted prisoners can vote at district council, although not parliamentary elections. Certain patients compulsorily detained in mental institutions or otherwise unable to make a patient's declaration are also unable to vote. That involves about 850 people. The legislation will remove the right from them as they do not have the opportunity to vote elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Those are the key changes in the voting arrangements.
The second anomaly is covered by clause 9, which relates to the changes in the arrangements for disqualification. At present, for a person whose term of imprisonment or detention in the British Isles or the Republic of Ireland is for three months or more, disqualification applies while he is in prison for five years from the date of conviction. The proposal in clause 9 will change that to five years from the date of discharge.
It will of course be apparent that the effect of the present arrangement means that those who are convicted and receive a heavy sentence serve no disqualification if the five years has expired by the time they leave prison. However, people who serve a short sentence--perhaps of three months, which is the qualifying level--may emerge from prison and still have to serve another four years and nine months' disqualification. That is an anomaly, and the change proposed in the legislation is that the disqualification period shall apply from the date of discharge.
The most controversial part of the Bill concerns the declaration against terrorism. Clauses 3 and 5 provide for the declaration against terrorism to be made by candidates at, respectively, district council and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland. Clause 4 provides for a similar declaration to be made by candidates co-opted to fill casual vacancies on district councils. The terms of the declaration in each case are set out in schedule 2. Candidates will be required to declare that, if elected, they will not express support for or approval of proscribed
Column 43organisations or acts of terrorism--that is to say, violence for political ends--connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland. Clause 6 defines the behaviour that will constitute a breach of the declaration. Clause 7 sets out the enforcement mechanism, which will be an application to the High Court for a determination that the declaration has been breached.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : With regard to the precise definition of terrorism, the Secretary of State has referred to violence for political ends. The fact is that Governments have always believed in violence for political ends. There was terrorism in fighting Nazis in Germany. What is the precise definition of terrorism? Is it only violence against us? What are we really talking about?
Mr. King : The definition is spelt out as it is in the Bill to clarify the matter. It is violence against the person in that definition. As the hon. Gentleman understands, this is a vexed matter and that is why the rather strange definition is included, in somewhat less legalistic language, as "violence for political ends". In the end, that is a matter for a court to determine, as are the interpretations. That is my understanding of it.
Mr. William Ross rose --
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) rose
Clause 7 also defines the persons enabled to apply for a determination of breach of declaration. In respect of a councillor, that includes the council itself, other members of the council or electors of the council. In respect of the Assembly members, they are other members of the Assembly or electors of the Assembly constituency concerned.
Clause 8 sets out the consequences of a determination by the High Court that a declaration has been breached. The councillor or Assembly member to whom the determination applies will be disqualified from both council and Assembly office for a period of five years from the date of the determination.
Mr. Flannery : Will the Secretary of State kindly explain a little more his opinion of people, whether or not they are terrorists, who profoundly believe that they are fighting for a cause and hold a belief-- something like the French Resistance? Does he really believe that they will not sign something and that they will tell the truth if they profoundly believe in their cause? I think that he is dreaming. I do not think that it is on.
Mr. King : The most offensive sentence in the English language of recent times from a so-called political platform was the statement, if I can remember the words correctly, "Will anyone here object if, with the ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in this hand, we take power in Ireland?" What that sentence says, and what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) I am sure is not seeking to justify but is seeking to believe is inevitable, is that we can tolerate a situation in which people will exploit to the uttermost the freedoms and opportunities that a democratic society can provide while at the same time they reserve the right to kill, maim and intimidate those who argue against them.
Mr. Flannery : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In his argument the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to say that I agree with the statement about an Armalite in one hand and a ballot paper in the other. Let me place it on the record that I am totally opposed to that. The Secretary of State must not say things like that. I was asking him to give us a detailed explanation of how he thinks that someone who believes in something profoundly or wrongly will tell the truth if that is against what he profoundly believes in. That is what I am asking the Secretary of State to do. That has nothing to do with what he imputes to me.
Mr. King : The House will have heard that I was most careful not to suggest that the hon. Gentleman was in any way seeking to support or condone violence. The problem that the hon. Gentleman was trying to state was that this is not an appropriate response to the problems of those who try to take full advantage of the democratic freedoms and yet at the same time defile the sacredness of democracy by their attempt to use violence and intimidation to get their way. The hon. Member for Hillsborough made a specific point. He asked whether I seriously thought that those people will not just sign the declaration in any case. They may do it. That is all right, but they do that in the knowledge that, if they sign and then commit what may be demonstrated and can be established in the courts to be an offence against that declaration, they will face the consequences. At the moment, they face no consequences whatsoever. I have complete sympathy with councillors in council chambers in Northern Ireland trying to discharge their responsibilities to their electorate in a democratic and honest way. I find it intolerable that they must listen to and endure that kind of unacceptable abuse. It is a total abuse of the democratic process. Would the hon. Gentleman just walk by on the other side? Would he say that we must have some respect for people's views which are not quite the same as our own, or would he stop and say, "I respect other people's democratic opinions expressed in a democratic way, but if they are carried to the extent of violence and intimidation, there has to be some protection, some right of access for democratic councillors to protect them against that situation"?
Mr. John Hume (Foyle) : If I heard him aright, the right hon. Gentleman is saying that, if elected, councillors will not call for support for violent organisations, but they can call for as much support as they like, including the quotation that he has just given, during the election campaign. That means that if they are elected and call for the same support in the council chamber, if a member of the public, not the authority, takes a civil action and they lose their seat, they can fight the election again, use the same language again and get re-elected. Are not the Government handing them a weapon to disrupt local government?