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Mr. King : I listened to a broadcast this morning in which the hon. Gentleman made a similar point about what happens during an election campaign. Whatever we try to do to deal with the evil of terrorism, there is no easy answer; there is no pat solution that is absolutely foolproof and perfect every time. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have an army of excellent conscientious officials who have warned everyone of the difficulties and the problems and
Column 45of what the anomalies might be. Should we sit here saying that everything is too difficult and do nothing? In an election, should we try to rule every single candidate, even the biggest nutter who will never get near saving his deposit, and inspect every word he says, or should we make it a requirement of candidature that a person should be a valid candidate? Those people have achieved the opportunity of a democratic election and the platform provided by that democratic election, and before election a candidate must at least know that he runs that risk. It is not a perfect solution or an automatic guarantee, but at least they have to face that risk.
I may not persuade the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), but, although we do not believe every poll we see, it would appear that he has not persuaded the members of his party who, in the poll that I saw, overwhelmingly believe the measure to be a sensible and necessary precaution, and that people standing for democratic election in Northern Ireland should have no hesitation or inhibition about making that declaration.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : My right hon. Friend has just spoken about every option having some difficulties. Will he join me in wondering whether, in a few minutes' time, we shall hear at last some constructive suggestion from the Opposition Front Bench on at least one option?
Mr. King : I should not like to raise my hon. Friend's hopes on that. I have seen the Labour party's comments in the statement issued at the time of the consultative paper, expressing reservations about it.
I believe that it is not sufficient for hon. Members simply to walk by and say that the situation has to be allowed and tolerated. The House will know that other, more substantial, approaches might have been taken, and I have no doubt that there will be those who argue for the proscription of all organisations that might be supportive of violence and terrorism. The Government have not taken that option. We have decided to put forward in the Bill what we feel is a response to the problems faced in the council chambers. We recognise that there is an unacceptable situation at the moment, and we are determined to provide some means whereby those who feel affronted have some chance to do something about it.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) rose--
Mr. Benn : I am very grateful to the Secretary of State, but these are important questions that only he can clarify. If in the course of an election a candidate makes speeches which are not covered by the Bill, after he is elected an attack on the elected candidate is an attack on the electors who elected him. This is the problem to which the Secretary of State has not turned his mind. When we start interfering, either by a ban on broadcasting or through the provisions of the oath, we are interfering with those who elected the people concerned and not with the candidate. Will the Minister say something about that problem? He said that there is overwhelming support for the policy. If that is the case, such candidates will not be elected ; if it is not, they will. That is the problem which arouses anxiety in the minds of many right hon. and hon. Members.
Mr. King : The right hon. Gentleman's last point is a bit muddled, because the support is for the fact that candidates should be required to sign such a declaration. There seems to be general agreement that most people will sign it. The criticism from one side is that of course they will sign it and then they will not follow it. They will have to address that matter, but they will know at the time that they will be at risk of being found in breach of the declaration, and that that could lead to a five-year disqualification. Although it is not a perfect measure, and although there are many criticisms of, for instance, the ban on direct access to the media, they are not shared by Ministers in the Irish Republic, nor by Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, who does not go around apologising for the measure that he brought in. He believes that it is a justified and sensible measure. I believe that that will prove to be the case in Northern Ireland, and that the measure, albeit with the difficulties, problems and reservations that people have, will prove to be far more effective than people think.
In the society that exists in Northern Ireland, it is necessary to respond to the genuine and deeply held grievances arising out of the sufferings there. The measure is often talked about in connection with Sinn Fein exclusively, but I am talking about both extremes--those on the Loyalist side as well as those on the Republican side. Violence and support of a twin-track policy, whatever it may be, are equally repulsive and offensive from whichever side they come.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) chastised me, saying that I would need to address the problem. I shall listen to what he says he would do to address the problem. I have addressed it and have rejected some other measures. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has spent more hours than he would probably care to reflect on discussing and consulting with a whole range of different people on what would be the right response. There is widespread recognition among many politically active people in Northern Ireland, and in the Churches, that a response is needed, and, while it is not perfect, they see this as a genuine atempt to reflect a concern that exists. I am very encouraged that that attitude and appreciation appear to be widely reflected among the people of Northern Ireland in both religious communities.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : Taking it one step further, and assuming that a member of Sinn Fein signs that declaration, one of the arguments put forward by those who asked the Government to do something about this matter was that there appeared to be a double standard : that the right hon. Gentleman and his ministerial colleagues were asking Unionist elected representatives and others to sit down in council chambers with Sinn Fein, while they themselves refused to meet Sinn Fein elected representatives. If a Sinn Fein member signs the declaration, will the Secretary of State meet him?
Mr. King : No, we have no such proposals. If Sinn Fein were to repudiate violence, we would have to consider that. There is a clear distinction between not advocating or supporting violence and failing to repudiate it. I am aware that that was one of the criticisms in the representations made to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. The House will have an opportunity fully to debate this measure not only today but in Committee. The
Column 47Government believe that it is an appropriate response to circumstances that cause great offence and grievance. In no sense does it seek to exclude from elected office anyone who wishes to pursue the democratic path in the way in which all hon. Members expect-- without violence, intimidation or murder as the aid and adjunct to a campaign. We offer the opportunity for all to stand. We merely require that, if elected, the candidate will observe the standards for which the House has stood for centuries. That is the basis on which we put forward the Bill, and I commend it to the House.
"That this House, whilst welcoming the proposals to extend the franchise in Local Government elections in Northern Ireland, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which is unnecessary because incitement to violence and displays of support for terrorism are already criminal offences ; which will increase sectarian conflict in Local Government ; which will assist the cause of the supporters of violence ; which will place the judiciary in an invidious position, and which does nothing to encourage confidence in the operation of Local Government in Northern Ireland or to heal the divisions in that society."
I shall not follow the introduction of the Secretary of State, not because I concede his argument but because we should consider the Bill and its penicious effects.
The Labour party welcomes the proposals to end the anomalies in the electoral register. Unfortunately, that is the only part of the Bill to which my party can give its support. The central issue is the declaration against violence, to which I shall devote my remarks. The case against this legislation has been made so vigorously that I am surprised the Government have been foolish enough to introduce it :
"democracies have to be careful in seeking to defend their democracy by not adopting means which play into the hands of terrorists, and therefore, I think we should seek to derogate as little as possible from the normal standards of justice and government which we would normally apply There are always people who will come forward and seek to persuade law enforcement agencies of governments that there are short cuts to solving terrorist problems ; that there is no need to be moderate, civilised and restrained in our response. However briskly, forcefully and determinedly one might have to respond to particular situations, I do think those other qualities should not be forgotten, lest they simply increase the size of the sea within which the terrorist fish can swim do not try to take short cuts with the law in order to produce short-term results that may cause longer-term problems. Do not neglect the task of tackling the real grievances which may provide the terrorist with some of his support in the community". The Government apparently do not share that point of view. It was put forward most eloquently and effectively by the hon. Member who probably knows more about countering terrorism and who has served longer in Northern Ireland than anyone else--the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott). All those words came from a Northern Ireland information service handout of a speech made by the hon. Gentleman in 1986. That was the background against which the Government started again after the last election, but they have cut themselves off from such a policy by a series of measures over the past six months. This measure is perhaps one of the most regrettable. It is a disappointment to all fair-minded men
Column 48that the Government, reacting to the Prime Minister's pressures, have not listened to the words of wisdom of the hon. Member for Chelsea.
The Bill does not address itself to the problem of reducing the size of the sea in which the terrorist swims. It does not even place the sandbags in the way of the terrorist tide, nor does it even fence off the sea with barbed wire, which might catch the odd terrorist minnow. It simply strings a white tape along the edge of the water, which is insufficient to dry the swamps in which the paramilitaries feed.
The Labour party declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill for several reasons. It is misconceived and unnecessary, does nothing to eradicate violence, is futile, will strengthen the paramilitary case and it is apparent that it will have quite unintended consequences that the Government have equally obviously failed to consider. The Secretary of State's case for the Bill rests on two assumptions--that the presence of Sinn Fein in local government is alone responsible for the disruption of local authority business, and that its presence is offensive to other councillors and the citizens of Northern Ireland. On the first point, the Secretary of State has misled himself. The greatest disruption in council chambers has been as a result of the Unionist campaign against the Anglo- Irish Agreement, not the presence of Sinn Fein. Some 20 of the 21 district councils made representations in favour of these proposals to the Under- Secretary. Of those 20 councils, 15 experienced some disruption as part of a protest campaign against the Anglo-Irish Agreement ; that did not concern the presence of Sinn Fein.
Only six councils signed the declaration of fair employment embodied in the current fair employment legislation ; 14 did not sign, yet it is mainly those siren voices--those local councils that were so upset at sitting down with Sinn Fein--who would so insult their fellow citizens that they would not sign fair employment declarations and took part in a campaign of disruption against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The Secretary of State's first point falls on that count.
Mr. Brazier : As a Catholic, I am most concerned about fair employment in Northern Ireland, as is the right hon. Member. It is important to make progress, but the considerable progress made over the past few years has not led to a fall in terrorist violence. Something else must be done, and the House looks forward to hearing the right hon. Gentleman's views.
Mr. McNamara : I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on promoting me to the Privy Council ; he must tell his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about that. I am protesting not as a Catholic, but as a citizen. Fair employment is not a question of Catholics or Protestants, but of human rights.
I agree with the Minister that the presence of Sinn Fein gives rise to strong and understandable feelings of revulsion and outrage. As we know-- the Prime Minister has often told us so, especially with regard to apartheid--such strong emotions are not a rational basis for policy decisions. The argument must be considered in greater detail. One must ask why Sinn Fein participation arouses such anger. It is because it supports a campaign of violence by the IRA. If we are serious about ending the anger, we
Column 49must be serious about ending the violence. The Bill simply suggests that the underlying problem will go away if it is concealed from view.
The Bill does nothing to hinder the IRA. It will do nothing to put those who employ violence behind bars. It will not cut off the flow of arms or lead to their seizure. It attempts to limit the expression of support for paramilitaries, but that is already a criminal offence, which is why we believe that the Bill is unnecessary. There are a battery of powers in the criminal law that deal with the expression of support for violence. Section 21 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 and section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1987 make it an offence to invite or solicit support for proscribed organisations. Is that not what the declaration is supposed to be about?
Article 9 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 makes it an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour if it is likely that hatred or fear will be aroused. Is that not what the declaration is about? These powers are available to the authorities now, but we are asked to permit action to be taken against people for what they are, rather than for what they do. This involves a reversal of policies that have been followed since the phasing out of internment and the end of special category status in the mid-1970s.
The Bill is also futile. Oaths and declarations were abolished in 1973. The decision was taken with the support of the Government and Opposition of the day. Among the various reasons was one put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who said :
"I take leave to doubt whether the Act ever achieved its purpose. An oath excludes, by its nature, only the scrupulous and honest Those who are prepared to take an oath in which they do not necessarily believe will not be excluded by the requirement of the oath this requirement operates chiefly as a rather purposeless irritant."--[ Official Report, 17 April 1973 ; Vol. 855, c. 423.] The argument was unanswerable at the time ; it remains unanswerable now. As we have seen, Sinn Fein has already announced its intention to sign the declaration.
The Bill strengthens the position of the paramilitaries. The real beneficiaries of the Bill will be those whom it seeks to defeat. That has been an unfortunate trait of the Government's policy over the past six months. Sinn Fein will be able to portray itself as the only party that the Government feel is a serious threat to their ability to rule in Northern Ireland. This is a major moral and political boost to that party. One has only to look at the statements issued by Sinn Fein since the declaration was first mooted to see the ill-conceived satisfaction with which its leaders welcome the Bill. My party is not prepared to support a Bill that gives such comfort to the supporters of the paramilitaries.
Under the headline "Thatcher's Crackdown will Fail" in Republican News of 24 November, an article points out that the Bill is "an admission that Britain cannot crush Sinn Fein support but will still try to stop the Nationalist people choosing who will represent them Thatcher is introducing these latest laws precisely because of the political effectiveness of Sinn Fein In her own pig-headed, jackboot way she is letting us know that we have been adopting the right tactics and strategy!"
That is how Sinn Fein sees it.
Column 50If one were tempted to dismiss this simply as idle rhetoric, one need only look at the effect of the original proposals put forward in the consultative document on voting behaviour. Shortly after the paper was published, Sinn Fein trounced its rivals in two Belfast city council by-elections, increasing its share of the first preference vote from 55 per cent. to 63.6 per cent. in one case--a seat that it was expected to win--and from 43 per cent. to 49.8 per cent. in the other--a seat that it was expected to lose to the SDLP. What clearer warning could have been given to the Government to think again? The Bill is a blow, not against the supporters of the paramilitaries but against constitutional Nationalists. It seems an insult to my hon. Friends in the SDLP, who have been fighting violence on the hustings in a democratic manner for the past 20 years, to say to them, "If you are to stand for election in local government, you must sign this declaration."
The Bill is particularly ironic at a time when my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and his party have pitilessly exposed the bankruptcy of Sinn Fein and its ideas and methods. For the Government to suggest that the Bill, which is so welcomed by those whom it is designed to combat, is a serious contribution to the fight against the paramilitaries defies all logic. Sinn Fein and the IRA have dared the Government to take such a step and the Government have been foolish enough to take the bait.
Why do the Bill's legitimate targets enjoy the Government's predicament so openly and thoroughly? They recognise, where the Government do not, the advantages that it offers them. Simply by forcing the Government to introduce a Bill directed at Sinn Fein, the paramilitaries have succeeded in obliging the authorities to place the elected members of their organisation on a pedestal and not in the dock. This is a morale booster for the convinced supporter of the IRA or for the experienced gunman, but, more seriously, it will undermine confidence in the authorities among those tens of thousands of people whose attitude towards the Republican movement wavers between sympathy and disgust.
What, these people will ask, do the Government have to hide? Why do they seek to change the electoral rules because they do not like the outcome? What is the point of voting? The old slogan, "If voting could change anything, they would make it illegal," will win converts to the Bill if we adopt it. I cannot think of any better way to damage the credibility of the democratic process. That will be the effect of using the electoral rather than the criminal law in the fight against the paramilitaries. The west Belfast by-election results must be a constant reminder to us all.
Sinn Fein will take comfort from another aspect of the measure. If a Sinn Fein member is disqualified, his party will receive a propaganda bonus. When the by-election takes place, Sinn Fein cannot lose, because there will be one of two results. In electoral districts where the councillor was elected at an early stage of the count, another member of his party is likely to be elected, probably with an increased majority, thereby thumbing the party's nose at the legislation. Where the disqualified councillor was elected at a more advanced stage of the count, the seat will probably be lost. I leave it to hon. Members to ponder which scenario would have the most damaging effect on the democratic process ; the first, because the Bill was shown to be useless, or the second, because it gave a continuous argument that the rules had been changed and the goal posts moved.
Column 51The Bill is also discriminatory. Its damaging effects are compounded by the fact that its target is essentially those who are misleadingly called "Republican" paramilitaries. As the list of proscribed organisations is discriminatory, there is a major inconsistency in the Government's position. Unlike the situation with the broadcasting restrictions, the UDA is not covered, so we have the ludicrous position where it will not be possible to support the UDA on television but all too possible to support it in the council chambers.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman hasread the new declaration. Specifically, under schedule 2 it states : "I will not by word or deed express support for or approval of-- (a) any organisation"--
and so on--
"(b) acts of terrorism (that is to say, violence for political ends) connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland."
Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that we added paragraph (b) to ensure that the measure was even-handed and covered both sides.
I turn to the unintended consequences of the Bill. Most obviously, the Government seem to have forgotten the second of the two reasons why oaths and declarations were prohibited 15 years ago. That is all the more surprising when one considers that among those voting in favour of the abolition of the oaths one finds the names of three future Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, including the present incumbent.
Mr. William Ross : The hon. Gentleman has been talking about by- elections as though they were going to be exactly the same as proportional representation elections. Has he studied the number of district electoral areas in Northern Ireland in which the IRA-Sinn Fein element had a majority of the Nationalist vote?
Mr. McNamara : The point of my examples was that the IRA did not have a majority of the Nationalist vote but won the by-election. I turn to the sub-plot underlying this matter. For us in Great Britain, the requirement to sign a declaration eschewing the use of violence for political ends may appear to be the height of reason, but in the overheated atmosphere of Northern Ireland this takes on connotations which are not immediately visible to us in the House. The problem which we face is not whether the declaration is reasonable in itself, nor whether the wording is reasonable, but its very existence.
The existence of almost any declaration will create suspicion and unease in Northern Ireland. It smacks of the bad old days of Stormont and discrimination, where oaths and declarations were used to maintain the Nationalist population in a state of second-class citizenship. Whether we like it or not, this is the way in which the Bill will be perceived in Northern Ireland and was the reason why the Cameron commission was so strong in recommending ths abolition of oaths and declarations.
Even more important, there is a further unintended consequence ; that is the way in which the Bill will intensify
Column 52sectarianism in the council chambers. The Bill is an attempt to strike a blow against Sinn Fein, but it is not a well -directed sniper shot ; rather, it is a careless blast of buckshot. It is already apparent that many district councils have descended into chaos following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. With this Bill, they will become even more of a sectarian bear pit because, in several councils, the behaviour of members, understandable though it might be, clearly shows that they have fallen into the trap set for them by Sinn Fein. They have allowed Sinn Fein to appear to be the injured party with their opponents cast as the real exponents of violence.
I can understand the emotions that inspire such behaviour, but, with this Bill, things will be even worse. Councillors will have even less incentive to attempt to counter the Sinn Fein case by reason, turning instead to the law. Local authorities will be paralysed, as there will be constant efforts to goad councillors into violating the declaration. There will be countless actions to disbar councillors and constant challenges to establish exactly what the declaration means.
That last point is of particular significance. What does the declaration mean? As it stands, there will be efforts to disbar Sinn Fein councillors, but its activists have, in the past, shown themselves sufficiently sophisticated to be able to circumvent the declaration. For instance, it does not take much imagination to predict Mark Antony style perorations, such as "I support the right of the South African people to enter into armed struggle to secure their freedom. I support the right of the Afghan people to enter into armed struggle to secure their freedom. I support the right of all freedom-loving people to fight to secure their freedom." Does that fall within or without the bar?
Those concerns are accentuated by the vagueness of the terms of the declaration.
"For the purposes of subsection (1) above a person shall be taken to express support for, or approval of, any matter if his words or actions could reasonably be understood as expressing support for, or approval of, it."
Mr. McNamara : What does the Minister mean by that? If I say that I support all freedom-loving people in their fight, is the Minister saying that freedom does not exist in Northern Ireland? Are we saying that we shall get a person because he opposes apartheid? That is farcical and the Minister knows it.
Those concerns are accentuated by the vagueness of the terms of the declaration itself. According to clause 6(2), to which the Minister referred, the grounds for disqualification are the use of words or behaviour which "could reasonably be understood" to be violations of the declaration, but what does that mean? In effect, we are being asked to abdicate our responsibility to the courts and to offer a poisoned chalice to the courts. I am also concerned that extra-territorial effect of clause 6(3) constitutes a major departure in international law, which is likely to further frustrate Britain's international reputation because a person can now be "done", not for what he says in the British Isles, but for what he says in Timbuktu, Toronto or Washington.
Only last week, the European Court of Human Rights once again found against the Government in respect of the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974. That
Column 53will lead to yet another challenge. It is open to dispute whether a case under article 9 of the convention, which protects freedom of expression, would succeed, but a case under article 3 of the first protocol, which deals with free elections, would appear to stand a high degree of success. I do not wish to see this country dragged through the courts again.
To make matters worse, the matter of enforcement proposed by the Government is perhaps the worst aspect of the Bill. By placing the onus on councils, councillors and individual citizens to take action, it will intensify the conflict in local government, possibly also setting them up as targets. I see from The Daily Telegraph of 25 November that the Minister justifies this provision in terms of the need to protect the impartiality of the Law Officers. I wish that the Government had displayed a similar concern in the Stalker affair. We cannot protect that which is not perceived to exist in Northern Ireland.
It is a cowardly excuse because, if the evidence is there, action could and should be taken under the emergency powers legislation dealing with inciting anyone to support violence. However, the Government are saying no and are doing that deliberately because they know that the same standard of evidence is not required in a civil action as in a criminal action. That again shows the Bill to be the farce that it is. The Government have insufficient confidence in their own measures to take responsibility for its enforcement. The court might well be cluttered up with applications against councillors of all persuasions. Many of those applications may be dismissed out of hand, but not all applications against Unionist councillors will be considered vexatious. Many councillors have taken part in paramilitary displays or have issued bloodthirsty calls to illegal and armed resistance against the decisions of this Parliament.
For example, in an interview shortly before the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Councillor Ivan Foster of Fermanagh council, former deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist party and commander of that party's paramilitary wing, the Third Force, warned that he and his supporters would resist the decisions of this Parliament. He said :
"I know how to use a gun. There's no use carrying a gun unless you know how to use it. There's no use carrying a gun if you don't intend to use it."
Why will the Government not take responsibility, under the provisions of this Bill, to seek to disbar a person who says such a thing?
Even more outrageous was the threat to Ulsterbus and its staff, issued in June 1985, by Councillor Sammy Wilson, a leading member of the DUP and recent lord mayor of Belfast. When Ulsterbus refused to provide transport to a demonstration in Castlewellan, which ended in violence, Mr. Wilson announced :
"It now seems that the Northern Ireland office has enlisted not only the RUC but the transport industry in its offensive against the Unionist population. Such a move can place Ulsterbus vehicles and drivers in an extremely vulnerable position."
However, no action was taken on that. Under the provisions of the Bill, will action be taken in future on something like that?
Mr. McNamara : Members of the Transport and General Workers Union, driving buses in Northern Ireland, know that it is a real threat to their security because they have seen what has happened to the buses.
The Ulster Resistance Movement is designed to intimidate this House. That movement is organised and dressed on paramilitary lines. Prominent members of this House were present at the foundation of that movement, including the leader and deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist party and the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker), and took part in various threatening marches around the Province. Within the last month, a large cache of arms was found in Armagh, accompanied by Ulster Resistance uniforms, including the red beret that the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) were proud to wear.
Many of us in this House still remember the disgraceful scenes that took place on the Loyalist day of action in March 1986. Unionist councillors played an active role in attempts to instigate violence and to disrupt normal life in the Province.
The list of such activities is endless. I shall limit myself to one further example, that of the hon. Member for Belfast, East, who is also a member of Castlereagh council. The hon. Gentleman's prediliction for taking part in paramilitary displays is not as well known in this House as it is in Northern Ireland. He took part in a parade in Portadown, dressed in paramilitary style. In Enniskillen, he announced that the organisation-- Ulster Resistance--had commenced paramilitary training. He did not confine his activities to the Province. His invasion of Clontibret in County Monaghan led to his conviction before the special criminal court.
Although I am sure that the House will agree that such episodes are to be deplored, that is not the primary purpose in bringing those facts to light ; it is to bring to the attention of the House the fact that large sections of both communities have an ambiguous attitude towards the use of violence. What is more, in the context of this Bill, what the hon. Member for Belfast, East did would presumably prevent him standing for election as a member of his local council--of which he is at present a member--for five years, but it would not prevent him standing for election as a Member of this House or as a member of the European Parliament. Is that not hypocrisy? It is one rule for local government elections in Northern Ireland and another for this place and the European Parliament. That is why the Opposition are not prepared to accept the Bill.
There are two types of violence in Northern Ireland. First, there is the violence of those who seek to alter the constitutional status of Northern Ireland through force--the Republican paramilitaries. Secondly, there is the violence of the paramilitaries who seek, at best, to maintain the status quo or, at worst, to turn the clock back to the Northern Ireland of the pre-civil rights era--Protestant resistance. That is recognised by the authorities, but not by the Bill.
Under clause 6(a)(ii) it would be possible to make a speech in support of Loyalist organisations such as the UDA, the Third Force and Ulster Resistance, provided that person did not support specified acts of terrorism. It states that he would be in breach if he expressed approval of
"acts of terrorism (that is to say, violence for political ends) connected with Northern Ireland."
Column 55Speeches can be made in general about any sort of violent organisation in Northern Ireland. It will be right and proper for divisional commanders to prepare, to march and to wear paramilitary uniform because their organisations are not proscribed and they cannot be connected to any specific act of terrorism. The Government surely cannot expect a court to say that if a person does not seek to defend a particular act of terrorism, that should be taken to be a connection with that act. That would be too much of a burden for the courts.
That same restriction does not apply to broadcasting because other organisations are not proscribed. A person can appear on television and openly support Protestant Resistance, Third Force or any other Nationalist offshoot that might pop up and is not proscribed--but not under this legislation. It does not add up.
I have sought to show that the Bill will affect politicians from both sides of the community and that it will lead to further sectarian divisions. If it does not, it will appear to be one-sided. We cannot tell what will happen because so much has been left to the discretion of the courts. Instead of dealing with the roots of violence and sectarianism, the Bill will further divide the communities as each side tries to equalise the score in the disqualification league table. The Secretary of State reminds me of Flan O'Brien's
"determined chairmen who convert disorder into bedlam."
The Bill is an attempt by the Government to save the people of Northern Ireland from themselves. It may be deplorable that certain malevolent types emerge victorious from a secret ballot, but that is reality. The answer is to win the argument with their electorate, not to drive their supporters completely out of the political process. By requiring the judiciary to arbitrate between the conflicting factions, to decide who can serve on local authorities, and to define the limits of political debate in Northern Ireland, the Government are asking the state to substitute itself for the electorate. That will obviously damage public confidence in the judicial system. The Bill does not require judges to decide specific cases on the basis of commonly held principles--it is an attempt to make them decide what those standards should be. That is a task for the elected representatives of the people and the people themselves. There are no short cuts. Not content with militarising the judicial process--as the Government have done under the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order--they are now intent on politicising the judges as well. The beneficiaries of that can only be the paramilitaries. For that reason, the Opposition will vote against Second Reading.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : Before I begin my remarks on the content of the Bill, I want to respond to some of the comments of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) who threw together some partial pieces of information, dangled them in front of the House and expected us to reach a conclusion on that brief information.
The hon. Gentleman described councillor Ivan Foster as a former deputy leader of the DUP, but Mr. Foster has never been the party's deputy leader and he is not a councillor. The hon. Gentleman said that Mr. Foster had
Column 56said that he had a gun, that he knew how to use it and that no one should carry a gun unless he was prepared to use it. I, too, could make such remarks. Like Mr. Foster, I legally hold a weapon. If Mr. Foster were not prepared to use a gun, and if the authorities did not expect him to be able to use it, he should not have been given permission to hold one. If hon. Members knew where Mr. Foster lived, they would understand why he needs a weapon to protect his life and the lives of his family. There is nothing in the remarks of the former lord mayor of Belfast to which anyone could take offence, and there is nothing in them that needs to be answered.
The hon. Gentleman made wild remarks about me. He said that I appeared at Portadown in paramilitary uniform. That demonstrates his wild imagination. I was wearing a three-piece suit, on top of which I wore a normal blue overcoat. I was wearing a beret, and I shall tell the House why. The Chief Constable issued an edict that anyone who wore a beret would be considered to be in paramilitary uniform and subject to certain laws. I disagreed with that edict and said that boy scouts and girl guides would have to be careful about what they wore to their gatherings. The edict was absolute nonsense. I was merely thumbing my nose, as were others, at the Chief Constable. The hon. Gentleman referred to the police recently uncovering arms in Northern Ireland and said, as is widely accepted in Northern Ireland, that the weapons belonged to the Ulster Resistance. The security forces have no information to substantiate that claim. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the weapons were found alongside Ulster Resistance uniforms. That is not true. The Ulster Resistance uniforms and berets were handed back to its members after being taken by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. They were not found with the guns that were displayed.
Mr. Mallon : In the interests of accuracy, would the hon. Gentleman like me to tell him the name of the person involved, whose house is exactly half a mile from where I live? I assure the hon. Gentleman that those uniforms were found with the guns at that house.
Rev. Ian Paisley : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the House to discuss a matter that is before the courts? The person charged was a Mr. Spratt, whom I know very well. He was not charged with having guns or with being a member of the Ulster Resistance--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman appears to be committing the same offence as that about which he is complaining. If it is the case--and I am not aware of it--that ther person to whom reference has been made is the subject of charges laid before the court, it would be wrong for the House to discuss that because it would be sub judice.
Mr. Robinson : I hear your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I assure the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) that if he listens carefully to the prosecution evidence when the case comes before the courts he will find that I am right and he is wrong.-- [Interruption.] I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes.
A letter from the Minister dated 24 November shows the purpose behind the Bill. It shows that there are difficulties in local government as a result of the presence
Column 57in council chambers of elected representatives whose declared support for terrorist violence is incompatible with the democratic process. That is of great concern not only to elected representatives of the Unionist community but to other elected representatives and to other representatives of the community as a whole.
I should have thought that no one could have faulted the Government for taking account of those real concerns and attempting to do something about them. Many councillors in Northern Ireland have expressed their concern to the Secretary of State and others, and have asked the Secretary of State to bring forward a measure to deal with the matter. I should be the last person who could fault them for that. I have some strictures to apply, but they certainly do not relate to the basis and purpose of the legislation.
Again, for the sake of accuracy, I inform the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, that before the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed, as a result of the presence of Sinn Fein members there were boycotts and adjournments of local government. Such action started directly after the May elections and before the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed. I say that just in case the hon. Gentleman is the least bit interested in accuracy, although his speech showed that he had no great concern for it.
In his letter to elected representatives forwarding a copy of the Bill, the Secretary of State properly showed the nature and importance of the measure. The problem of security and violence in Northern Ireland is well known to the House. More than 2,750 people have been butchered as a result of the terrorist campaign. Few families in Northern Ireland have not suffered as a consequence, if not directly by a member of their family being killed, certainly by a friend or close relative being butchered. That violence has transcended the religious and political divides in Northern Ireland. It is a matter of concern for everyone.
I must agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North--this measure will not address that problem, and it is unlikely that people will die as a result of the measure. However, I do not believe that the real purpose of the measure is to deal with security. If it is to do anything, it is to clean up the democratic process. If that is its purpose, it should be welcomed by the House. There are some outstanding examples of the hypocrisy which pertains in democracy in Northern Ireland. For instance, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), in the council of Londonderry, a Sinn Fein member was returned who had previously been before the courts for being a part of the bombing team who blew up the council offices. Sinn Fein members who gloried in the death of district councillors are members of the self-same councils. No one can suggest that it is a pleasant task for people who believe in the democratic process to sit in council chambers with people who have taken that kind of action and expressed those views.
In many ways, the Secretary of State gave away the weakness of the measure when he responded to my earlier intervention about the double standard perceived by many Unionists--that the Secretary of State would encourage Unionists calmly and peacefully to take part in council debates with members of Sinn Fein, while he and his colleagues would hold them at bargepole length and ensure that they are not allowed into the Northern Ireland Office at Stormont castle.