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Mr. Tom King : Would the right hon. Gentleman care to discuss the speech that he is making with the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who would be the first to denounce violence? Does he believe that any of the movements that he has mentioned, and which he believes to be nationalist, managed to achieve so derisory a vote as Sinn Fein achieved in the Republic of Ireland, where it managed 1.8 per cent. of the vote? The right hon. Gentleman gave his own game away by admitting that there was a slight difference, that there is a universal franchise and the people are able to vote and that there is therefore no excuse for violence.
Mr. Benn : If there is derisory support for Sinn Fein, no one advocating violence would ever be elected. That is the absurdity of the Secretary of State's argument. He says that there is no support for violence, but when Sinn Fein members are elected and take a view of the national struggle which is theirs and not mine, he says, "We will take away your right to sit and to vote." It is exactly the same with the ban on broadcasting. My intervention touched the core of the matter. If we attack elected people, we are really attacking those who elected them. That is the principle upon which representative government depends. If the Secretary of State wishes to intervene again, I should listen to him for hours.
If we attack a Member who has been elected to this House and say that he cannot broadcast on the BBC, we are attacking his electors, because all of us here are nothing without those who sent us here. That is what representative democracy is about. The Secretary of State is not taking further measures against those engaged in the armed struggle--he is taking measures against those who have been elected by choosing the route of the ballot box.
Mr. Mallon : Somehow I have been drawn into this. Lest my silence indicate consent in either direction, I must say that I think both points are wrong. I do not think that there is any aura of invincibility or rightness about paramilitary or terrorist activity in Ireland or anywhere else ; nor do I think that they will be defeated by this type of legislation. The only way in which terrorism and paramilitary activity in Ireland will be defeated is when
Column 84people, in their own hearts and minds, decide that they will not give the terrorists support. That is the weakness in this measure, as it has been in the other measures that we have seen in the past three weeks.
Mr. Benn : I shall not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman, except to say that the immediate issue goes back a long way. In 1884, Sir William Harcourt, the then Home Secretary, refused to give London control of its own police because of "Irish outrages". My grandfather was elected in Tower Hamlets in 1892 as a home ruler, and Ritchie, the Tory Member he beat, said that if Ireland had home rule there would be chaos, anarchy and civil war.
The Secretary of State should not tell the House that this is a new move by dangerous Left-wing Members to try to encourage the bullet in Northern Ireland. Partition was a product of the bullet. The Black and Tans and the partition of Ireland were the imposition of partition by force and it ill befits a Government who favour partition to say, "Now we've cut you up by force, you must commit yourself to limit your aspirations to the structures that we set." It has been noted that it is time that constructive things were said.
Of course the horrific loss of life in Ireland is of concern to everyone. I know no one who believes that that is the way forward for Ireland but, like any war--this is a war, and not crime in the ordinary sense as it is presented--it has to be brought to an end by negotiation. Although I am not an Irish Member, I wanted to speak in this debate because every attack that the Government make on civil liberties in Ireland encroaches on us. It begins in Ireland and then comes here. I have seen it with police action, with the Prevention of Terrorism Act, as with constituents of mine in Bristol.
The reputation of British justice abroad is about as low as it can be. [Interruption.] Of course it is. Why do Conservative Members think that the Belgian Government took the decision that they did? Why has the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg ruled against British decisions 21 times? Mr. Gorbachev will come to this country this week and may meet the families of the Birmingham six, just as the Prime Minister went to meet--
If the war in Ireland is to end, there must be a round table conference. The jurisdiction of Britain in Northern Ireland must end--not under threat of the bullet, but by a decision of the British Parliament. Every assistance must then be giving to try to bring the fractured communities together. I have a feeling that, because of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, some of the Protestants in the North would be happy to see the end of the British Government because they do not have much time for what the Government are
Column 85doing under the stealthy mechanisms of that agreement. More people come to that conclusion day by day as policy after policy fails. Instead of an oath, a pledge or whatever else must be given before someone can represent his people in local government, it would be better if the Government had the sense to open the whole question to public discussion in a round table conference. For that reason I shall vote against the Bill being given a Second Reading and I advise as many of my hon. Friends as possible to do the same. Only in that way can we focus upon the real issue that we are debating. 8.11 pm
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : I trust that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will forgive me if I do not follow him but, sadly, I could not find anything in his outburst with which to agree.
I welcome the Bill. I heard what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about possible anomalies, and the Bill may not be 100 per cent. the ideal measure, but that does not mean that we should stand back and do nothing. Decent people are disgusted by the fact that people can stand in local government elections in Northern Ireland even if they are convicted terrorists or support terrorism. It is offensive to every bone in their bodies that people who refuse to reject terrorism can take part in the elected offices of Northern Ireland.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Is it not possible that decent people in Northern Ireland will refuse to sign the declaration because they do not believe in oaths or declarations? Are they not the very people that this Bill is supposed to encourage? They will cut themselves off from the political game.
Mr. Burns : I do not quite understand the hon. Gentleman's remarks. If he has read the Bill he must know that we are asking people to make not an oath, but a declaration. I remind him that before any hon. Member can take his seat in the House he must sign an oath of allegiance or affirm. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's argument. For two long and tortuous decades, the people of Northern Ireland have suffered at the cowardly hands of the IRA, which has indiscriminately attacked not only the Army and the police but the elderly, women, children and innocent people wanting to go about their normal lives and business. The IRA cares nothing for the damage, misery and uncertainty that it has caused over the past 20 years. It has scant regard for the sanctity of life or for democracy itself. It has failed ever to win the intellectual argument of its case, so it has resorted to the use of the Armalite and the bomb to try to achieve its aims.
Since 1983, democracy in Northern Ireland has been affronted by the election of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams). To add insult to injury, in 1985, 59 Sinn Fein members were elected to local government in Northern Ireland. It is a travesty of justice that convicted terrorists and apologists for violence should be allowed to participate in the democratic institutions of Northern Ireland, while the IRA continues its murderous campaign of bombings, without ever rejecting a policy that is so repugnant both to democracy and to decent people.
The IRA seeks to undermine the democratic fabric of society in Northern Ireland, which is why it is so
Column 86imperative the people who seek local government office should make a declaration rejecting violence before they can take their seats in any council chamber in the Province.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Is the hon. Gentleman sure of the consequences of such a declaration? Does it mean that those who do so are rejecting the Government's purchase and deployment of the Trident nuclear weapon--
Mr. Burns : I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not allowing me to be tempted down that irrelevant path-- [Interruption.] I could easily answer the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) in the proper debate, but it is not the subject of this debate, on this measure, on this night.
I am pleased that the Bill will put a stop to individuals seeking election and taking seats in local government in Northern Ireland before they have signed a declaration against terrorism. That will be warmly welcomed not only by the vast majority of hon. Members, but throughout the country in Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland itself. No longer will councillors have to sit in the same chamber with those who openly espouse the cause of violence, which is so deeply repugnant to them. This measure amply demonstrates the Government's commitment to block any loopholes and to stop the propagation of terrorist propaganda advancing a cause that should be struck down in every instance.
The proposal to amend the local government franchise will be welcomed, for the most part. It is quite extraordinary that British citizens--service men's wives and families over the age of 18 and others who have gone to live in Northern Ireland--cannot participate in local government democratic processes in the same way that someone from Northern Ireland coming to live, for example, in Chelmsford, can register and vote in our local elections. The correction of that anomaly is long overdue.
I find it rather odd that some of the 10,500 people who will be enfranchised will be citizens of the Irish Republic. Indeed, I have always found it odd that they can vote in British elections, whether in Liverpool, Glasgow or, indeed, Northern Ireland after the Bill is passed. The Republic of Ireland spent many bloody years trying to cut its ties with the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland. It is odd that citizens of the Irish Republic can come to this country and vote in our elections, but a French citizen who might come to live, for example, in Chelmsford could not --quite rightly--vote in either local or general elections, and nor could an American citizen or any citizen not of British nationality. Why, then, are we perpetuating that anomaly in the Bill?
Mr. Mallon : I am rather loth to believe that I am hearing what I am hearing. In effect, is the hon. Gentleman saying that people who live in this country, are domiciled in this country and fulfil the residential qualifications of the electoral legislation should not be allowed to vote because they originated from the Republic of Ireland? That seems to be exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The only qualification for voting here or in the Republic of Ireland is that one is resident in the relevant country on the qualifying date. The hon. Gentleman's remarks smack of racism.
Mr. Burns : I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks that, because my remarks were in no way meant to imply it. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. If one wants to vote in local or national elections in England, it is not a matter of residency; it is a matter of citizenship. One must be a British citizen to vote in British or Irish elections. The Irish are the only exceptions. That is the point I was making.
Mr. Mallon : The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. The only qualification is that of residence on 15 September of the year involved. British people living in the Republic of Ireland are automatically included on the electoral register if they are resident on the same date. There is a clear distinction between the residential qualification and citizenship.
Mr. Burns : The hon. Gentleman is wrong on that point. If we exclude British and Irish people, any person who does not have British or Irish nationality cannot vote in British mainland local elections or general elections. It is sad that that Bill should extend that anomaly so that, when the Bill is on the statute book, citizens of the Republic of Ireland can vote in local government elections in Northern Ireland, just as they can vote in local government and general elections on mainland Britain, and they have done so for many years. That is wrong. It is only in recent years that the Republic of Ireland has changed its law so that British citizens can go to southern Ireland and vote in elections there. That anomaly has only just been rectified by the southern Irish Government.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on wisely seeking to enforce the main thrust of the Bill--the declaration--through civil procedures rather than through criminal procedures. It will avoid making martyrs of those who seek martyrdom for a cause, and it will effectively prevent terrorists or terrorist sympathisers having yet another platform on which to propagate their ugly and evil propaganda. It is another measure that ends a loophole that gave succour to terrorists and, once again, shows the Government's determination, with every possible measure in their armoury, to stamp out terrorism and terrorist sympathisers. I warmly applaud the Secretary of State for bringing such a measure before the House.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I understand that the Front Benches will seek to catch my eye at about 20 minutes past nine. That is 56 minutes from now. I see five hon. Members, all of whom have sat conscientiously throughout the debate, seeking to catch my eye. I hope that they will all have a chance to speak. We can achieve that by using a little simple arithmetic.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Perhaps the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) does not realise that, during the last war, thousands of Irish people came to this country, joined our forces, and fought alongside people such as myself, and did so in various parts of the world. I am aware of that. Therefore, I have never had an argument about Irish citizens living in this country and having the right to vote in our elections.
Column 88The leader of the Liberal party--or whatever it is called nowadays ; I cannot be sure--said that we who raise historical issues are living in the past. I have frequently heard that remark made also by some of my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. If we do not understand or seek to understand the past, we cannot possibly understand the present or have a view for the future. We cannot understand the discussion we are having tonight and will have tomorrow on Northern Irish matters unless we understand what has happened in Ireland.
Many hon. Members have good arguments. No one will deny that. There is a measure of justice on both sides of the House. But history proves one thing, and that is that we in this country dominated Ireland and subjected Ireland to our rule, and the six counties were then created. That is the basis of the trouble in Ireland. As long as the border remains, no matter what is done, what arguments are put, or what efforts are made, there will always be periods of trouble. The trouble will die down, and it will go away for a period, but it will come back again. That is the logic of the situation in Ireland. It does not make me happy ; it makes me very unhappy.
I sit on Opposition Benches with, believe it or not, Northern Ireland Members who are Ulster Unionists. I find them pleasant people. We can get on well together--I like them--but they do not agree with me on every political point. I find people in front of me who are in the SDLP. I like them also, but it does not solve the political problem. It is not a matter of liking or disliking. We in this country must begin to think seriously-- we have not done so until now--how we can solve the problem of Northern Ireland to the satisfaction of the peoples of the whole of Ireland.
The first woman elected to the House of Commons was a Sinn Feiner. Her name was Countess Markievicz. She did not come to the House, but she was elected. She could come here, but she probably would not have taken the oath. That is why she did not come. She would not accept what we accept.
The Bill is a strange document. Schedule 2, part I, refers to "acts of terrorism (that is to say, violence for political ends) connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland."
Imagine that nobody has ever conducted any violence in relation to the problems of Northern Ireland. Do hon. Members know that, until the uprising in 1916, when the leaders were shot and killed, there had not been a great deal of sympathy? Afterwards, there was massive sympathy. At the next election, the Sinn Feiners won a majority and then declared their independence. What were they faced with then? A revolt from the Ulstermen of Northern Ireland, the Protestants who for their own reasons under Carson said, "We shall fight." There was violence for political ends on both sides. Therefore, let us be honest about this and not run away from the realities of what happened in Ireland.
I do not understand why we must have a declaration. If every hon. Member were told that they had to sign a declaration that we had at no time believed in violence to achieve political ends or else we could not stand for election to this House or local government, some of my hon. Friends would laugh. What about the Maquis and those sent to assist them bomb and terrorise the Germans when they were in occupation? Many innocent people,
Column 89French and others, who were not involved were killed. What were they? Terrorists? Hitler and company said that they were terrorists and had them put down as terrorists.
We have only to look at the House, for God's sake. We sit in a House which exists today with its democratic rights because the British people took up arms to ensure that Parliament was created. Hon. Members talk nonsense. The Tory party arose from the struggles from 1640 onwards, so let us not pretend that it has always repudiated violence for political ends. That is absolute utter nonsense.
We should not pass easily a Bill which introduces a declaration or what I would call, an oath. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) was absolutely right. What about the Dissenters? Where would they have stood? I am an Anglican so I would have been on the right side. My lot were the ones telling the Roman Catholics and Dissenters, "You do what we tell you or you will not get the rights you expect."
That is what happened. I would have been all right because my family has been Anglican for hundreds of years, but what about all those who were not? What about the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Quakers and all those who were told that they must accept this or they would not get the rights they expected?
Mr. Wilshire rose --
Mr. Heffer : The hon. Gentleman had better start to learn something about history. The Methodists came later and broke away from the Anglican Church. They were not involved in the 1640 uprising because they did not exist at that time.
We must get this into perspective. Hon. Members may have seen in The Independent today an interesting letter from a John A. Oliver who wrote :
"In the 1940s local fire brigades in Ulster and their full-time auxiliaries were being converted into a type of national fire service. As the firemen and women were thus becoming servants of the Crown they had to swear an oath of allegiance
Only a handful objected (about six out of a thousand, as I recall). They had to be sacked and I was sorry to see them go.
Just as I was beginning to preen myself a little on getting through this delicate affair with fewer objectors than my seniors had expected, many men and women gently deflated me by openly saying (in the informal "crack" after the formal business which is one of the attractive aspects of public life in Ulster) that they had sworn the oath with varying degrees of mental reservation. "
Surely that puts the whole matter into perspective. Those standing for a council can happily swear the oath or accept the declaration. Many will not mean a word of it, so why do we have to have it?
Column 90The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) talked marvellously at his party's conference, attacking the Prime Minister for attacking our civil liberties, but when a Bill is introduced that attacks civil liberties in part of the United Kingdom, he and his so-called party run away. That is my objection to them. They say that they are not concerned and they believe in the Bill. They are politically dishonest and are not serious about civil liberties. If they were, they would join us and vote against the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North was wrongly attacked. His case was a good one and because of that we believe that we should not only support the reasoned amendment but vote against the Bill. That is precisely what some of us intend to do tonight. This Bill concerns our civil liberties. Once we allow civil liberties to be attacked in Northern Ireland, if only in a minor way, it will come over here. We have seen that already. I do not trust this Government. Sooner or later people who dissent politically will also be faced with a declaration.
For that if for no other reason I ask my hon. Friends to vote against the Bill and to defend basic civil liberties.
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle) : One observation I have of this debate--I have missed only one speech--is the loss of the so-called bi-partisan approach which was valuable in our discussions on Northern Ireland. Where has it gone? Irrespective of our political difficulties, terrorism in a free society threatens everyone, whatever our political beliefs. We have a greater interest in unity of purpose against terrorism than in minor details, and it is certainly minor details to which the Opposition have objected today. It is far more important that we have a unity of purpose against terrorism. That unity prevailed under the Labour Government, who were supported by the then official Opposition.
Evidence of a breakdown in our bipartisan approach came from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who said that we were driving people out of the political process. Where in the Bill are we doing that? No one is being proscribed or stopped from standing for election. That is absolute nonsense and a complete misinterpretation of the Bill. He said that Sinn Fein could take comfort from this measure. It will take far more comfort from some of the comments from the Opposition Benches than from anything in the Bill.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) called it a dangerous little Bill. I do not see him here now, but I cannot understand why he feels that the Bill is more dangerous than the people with whom it is designed to deal. Surely they are the greater threat to our democratic institutions.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that we should define terrorism. It is quite clear to me what terrorism is. It is those who take up arms against their state although legitimate democratic means exist for them to express their views freely. He quoted examples such as the French Resistance. There were few human rights in France at the time when the Maquis took up arms
Column 91against the German forces. How can the right hon. Gentleman equate that with the situation in Northern Ireland? Northern Ireland is a democratic state within the United Kingdom and people can express their views freely. The Bill is designed to ensure that those views can be expressed.
Why do Labour Members seem to imply this evening--I am sure it is not their intention--that they are seeking to paint the Government as the bad guys while making little reference to the real bad guys, the terrorists on either side of the political divide? That is the real issue and I am sorry that the Opposition have not been able to address it. I am sure that it was not their intention, but the viewpoint expressed by the Opposition might lead members of the IRA to surmise that the election of a Labour Government would assist them in their aim of uniting Ireland by force. We need a united front against terrorism in Northern Ireland and I appeal to the Opposition on that.
As for the signing of declarations, the Government have no intention of introducing such a measure in the rest of the United Kingdom but if I were asked to sign a declaration stating that I renounced terrorism and violence to promote my views, I should happily sign it. I cannot understand any member of a democratic institution having any difficulty about signing such a declaration. I hope that the Opposition's position on this will be explained by Opposition Members who have not yet spoken.
I know that other hon. Members want to speak in this debate, so I shall curtail my remarks with one final comment. The declaration is not a declaration against republicanism, which is an honourable political belief, provided that people do not seek to promote it through violence. The declaration is not against unionism or any other political position in Northern Ireland, but it is a limitation on fear, intimidation, violence and, even more importantly, on those who excuse violence. No democrat should ever, by implication or directly, seek to give succour or support to the terrorists and those who want to promote their views through violence.
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : Normally, I have to stand here and condemn the fact that Northern Ireland legislation is being put through by order. It is a rare pleasure to be able to stand here and say that I welcome the procedure, as I can this evening. The legislation is being introduced through a Bill that we can amend--or at least try to--and through which we can explore the Government's intentions and discuss whether the measures will be effective in achieving those intentions. It will be possible for us to educate Ministers about the reality of life in the council chambers of Northern Ireland.
The House will be told--the Minister should already know--that some of my friends and colleagues who are members of councils in Northern Ireland have noticed that Sinn Fein members take careful notes of what is said when people are critical of the murders committed by the IRA and the actions of Sinn Fein and they wonder whether those people are taking careful notes to help the welfare of the Unionist who has made his views clear.
Hon. Members will be told in Committee of the remarks that are sometimes made against Unionist council
Column 92members by Sinn Fein members in quiet corners of car parks. The knowledge of the House will be greatly increased by this educational process. I hope that the Bill will be considered by a Committee of the whole House, so that all Northern Ireland Members can take part in the debate and the Northern Ireland voice will be well represented.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) pointed out that Sinn Fein acts under the direction of the IRA. The House must be aware that in established states, military forces act under the direction of politicians. The IRA, like all terrorist organisations, has turned that democratic position on its head because it directs what its political mouthpieces shall say and do. It is my long-held view that those political mouthpieces can be trusted only when they themselves are members of the IRA.
The Opposition have not mentioned their amendment very frequently this evening. The amendment says that it
"declines to give a Second Reading".
We have been told earlier that the Opposition decline so much that they will not vote for the Bill. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) will follow his voice with his feet through the Lobby and what the consequences will be if he dares to do that.
The amendment also says that the Bill is unnecessary because of existing legislation to deal with incitement to violence. I assume that if the Bill were unnecessary, it would not have been introduced. The fact that it has been implies that the present legislation is not sufficient to deal with the situation. The amendment is therefore factually incorrect.
The amendment then says that the Bill will
"increase sectarian conflict in Local Government".
I should have thought that the main reason for sectarian conflict--which is really terrorist conflict--
The IRA mouthpieces make sectarian conflict deeper by their mere presence and attitude. The amendment also says that the Bill will "place the judiciary in an invidious position".
Has anyone in the House forgotten the dead judges? Did they die because the IRA loved them? They became targets because they were applying the laws of the realm. That is the reality. Their position is as dangerous as it can be and the Bill will not make it worse. The amendment says that the Bill will not heal the divisions in Northern Irish society.
Mr. Ross : No, because other hon. Members wish to speak. The reality is that the divisions in this society are made deeper by the misery that is caused by the activities of the IRA and by the failure of their spokesmen to condemn the murder--pure and brutal murder--of many people in the province of Ulster. That has gone on for many years.
Column 93The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) told us that one cannot defeat nationalist movements by such means, but he did not tell the House how nationalist movements are to be defeated if we do not try to stamp out violence. Nationalist movements that have free access to the electoral process and the right freely to express their point of view should not then resort to violence.
Mr. Patchett rose--
The reality is also that there is a British population in Northern Ireland and they have not been defeated by IRA violence in 20 years. Surely those people will not start being defeated by the IRA now or in the future.
The Bill is essentially a timid step in the right direction. When I was considering what I would say if I were lucky enough to be called this evening--which, of course, I have been--I thought back to the time when the D-day landings were being planned, when there was a lot of courage, resolution and long-term planning. The soldiers, sailors and airmen were the cutting edge of Government policy on that day and thereafter until the final victory was won in Europe. Theirs was not to reason why, but to accept that there was a general need to win the war and to dispose of the Nazi influence on the world.
However, here the Government are making local government councillors--who support the British connection--the cutting edge in the fight to get the IRA out of the council chambers. Frankly, on some occasions the Government will be inviting them to commit suicide. That is the reality and that is why the Government should take on the job themselves in the ways that have already been suggested.
We are here to reason why--that is the duty of Members of this House. However, we are also here to reason why the Government will not accept that duty, which I believe is one that they should gladly shoulder. We will go into this later in our proceedings on the Bill because it is something that we must thrash out and something on which we should make the Government change their mind.
My concern is how effective the Bill will be as presently constituted. Certain things in the Bill do little and there are certain things that should have been included in it because the IRA's present electoral success and terrorist experience did not just happen--