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It grew over the years--and it grew as a result of the Government's policy. If we are to cut down the IRA's strength and its electoral support, we should try to undermine the IRA politically as well as defeating it militarily. No doubt military solutions will be discussed tomorrow but today we are dealing with the political solutions. If we are ever to start understanding what must be done against the IRA, we must understand that, for the IRA, political victory would be a united Ireland.
It is only when hope of a united Ireland recedes as a practical possibility that those who seek it will be prepared to consider their future in the United Kingdom and play a constructive part in a Northern Ireland that is securely within that structure. If we are to weaken the IRA politically, it is absolutely essential that we cut the number
Column 94of votes that it receives and the number of seats that it wins. Seeing its hope of ultimate victory recede will undermine the IRA quite a bit. However, that will have to be followed by action rather than words on the part of the Government.
There is another measure that has not been mentioned in the Bill, but which should have been. One of the best ways of getting a minority elected is to use the proportional voting system. That helps all minorities, including vicious minorities who can use pressure. The major parties in this House know that; that is why it is not used in any elections in this part of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North drew attention to the by- election results in Belfast, West. The reality is that if there were a simple majority system in Northern Ireland, operated on a ward-by-ward basis, there would be few places in which Sinn Fein would have any real hope of getting elected. Until this House faces up to that and takes the steps which flow naturally from that knowledge, Sinn Fein will always get quite a lot of its people elected in hard-line areas. Those who deny that are simply displaying their ignorance of the voting patterns in Northern Ireland. We must get rid of the system of proportional representation and the sooner the better. It will pay rich dividends in reducing the number of votes given to Sinn Fein and the number of Sinn Fein representatives who are elected. Nobody need tell me that Sinn Fein has only one elected Member here, because although that it is true I believe that he will eventually lose his seat if the SDLP pulls its socks up.
I welcome also the standing list being the same for all elections. I have been asking questions about that since as long ago as 1981, and possibly before. Absent voters should always be on the same list for all elections. There should be the same standing list for those who are permanently incapacitated and who cannot get out. I welcome that provision.
Many legislative changes are listed in the Bill. I wish that all the relevant legislation had been printed because that would have made the Bill more intelligible to all of us. We would not have had to search back--as we always do--through a dozen other Bills to find out exactly what is going on.
I am surprised to see that the Government have finally been forced to the point where they have to define what terrorism is. Time and time again I have sat in the House and heard hon. Members declaim against "mindless terrorist violence" and have winced every time that I have heard that. Quite honestly, there is no such thing as a "mindless" terrorist act. Sometimes terrorists do it wrong, but their actions are always planned and thought out. The terrorists always intend to have some advantage from it. Therefore, I am glad that the Government have now been converted to my point of view and believe that all terrorist acts have a political objective. Everyone in Northern Ireland will welcome that.
I have a serious objection to the extension of voting rights to foreigners. Quite a lot has been said about that this evening. The number does not matter to me. Some are Unionists--at least I hope that they are Unionists-- because my rector and his wife will now get the vote and I hope that I can persuade the reverend gentleman and his good lady to cast their votes for me in the next election if
Column 95I am fortunate enough to be the candidate for Londonderry, East. Although not all who will gain by this measure are Nationalists, naturally some are.
My objection is to the principle of foreigners voting in this country. When we go to the United States we do not expect to be given the vote there. We would have to become citizens of that country first. That is what the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) did not understand. In most countries--in fact, in practically all--the right to vote and the right to elect a Government is tied to citizenship in that nation. That is a sound principle and one that we should accept right across the board.
I cannot understand why that principle has been consistently ignored in so far as voting rights are granted to Irish citizens in the United Kingdom generally. That is wrong. Many hundreds--perhaps millions--of citizens of the Irish Republic who are in this country vote here. Those people have deserted their nation in droves--tens of thousands have left the country over the years. That desertion reflects the lack of success of Irish republicanism in creating the viable entity of the island of Ireland.
Those people who have fled the Communist states of eastern Europe have been praised for getting out and have been held up as proof of a failed system of government in those nations. Irish Nationalists do not apply the same principle to the Republic--nor do supporters of the Republic-- but it is valid. If it is valid for those who get out of East Germany and move to West Germany, it is valid for those who leave the Irish Republic, where there are no barriers, and come to the United Kingdom, where at least they can earn a decent living and send it back to their families. I am glad that the United Kingdom has done so well. I regret that the Irish Republic is not more successful because it must mean the end of many dreams for those who proclaimed that that nation would be heaven on earth.
I welcome these first timid steps, but I hope that they will go much further because more steps must be taken.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : I want to make it absolutely clear that I totally support the principles underlined in the Bill and I believe that that support is shared by the overwhelming majority of the British people. It is an utter disgrace that the Labour party lacks the guts to defend local democracy and to support the Government today.
It is blindingly obvious to me that all elected representatives in a democracy, whether in Ulster, elsewhere in the United Kingdom or anywhere in the world, must defend that democracy and must denounce terrorism ; otherwise they, as leaders of their communities, are party to attempts to overthrow their society and to undermine the democracy that they have been elected to support.
If I had any doubts about that, they were swept away earlier when the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) spoke. I did not catch his words verbatim, but I believe that I heard him say that he knew of no one who believed in death and destruction as a way forward. The British people and I know of such people--the IRA--and I know nothing about them which supports the view of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. Death and destruction
Column 96appear to be the way in which the IRA seeks to move forward and change society. I have no hesitation in denouncing that approach to the future of our country and no one in the United Kingdom should have any such hesitation.
Many people have suggested that the Bill undermines democratic rights and that it seeks to restrict freedom of speech. That is absurd. The right to stand in elections in Ulster is not affected by the Bill. Even if it were, the principle of disqualification is already established in British law. It does not weaken democracy if one says that the insane cannot stand for election, nor does it weaken democracy if one says that a bankrupt should not be allowed to stand in an election.
The freedom to say or do what one likes is an essential of local government, but councillors are limited in what they can say or do. Councillors in the United Kingdom cannot libel one another, nor can they improperly spend public money, so the principle of limiting what councillors can say or do is already established. Sad though it is, the action being proposed today in principle is necessary and it has my support. I am pleased that the Government have said in the Bill that they believe that it is proper to require councillors to undertake to do or not to do certain things if elected. At some stage in the future, in another Bill, I hope that the Government will say it once again. I hope that they will also make it compulsory for councillors to undergo training and to agree to do so as a condition of election.
The Bill has my support in principle, but I am worried about some of its contents. First, the Bill limits itself to Ulster and by so doing makes Northern Ireland yet again more different from the rest of the United Kingdom. I am convinced that Ulster is an integral part of the United Kingdom and that the great majority of its citizens are as proud as I am to say that we are British. Every new law which singles out Northern Ireland makes it harder to achieve that unity of nations that is so important and to give Northern Ireland what it has every right to expect--the same system of local government as the rest of us enjoy.
Because I support the principles of the Bill, I urge the Government to consider extending it to the entire United Kingdom. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day), I would have no hesitation in signing such a declaration, and no one anywhere in the country should be in the least bit worried about it.
My second worry has also been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and by the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross). An error has been repeated in clause 1(1)(b)(ii) by continuing to allow some foreigners to vote in our elections. It does not just repeat a mistake--it goes further and allows more Irish citizens to vote, for among the 10,000 who have been mentioned must be a preponderance of Irish citizens. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford thought that it was odd ; I believe that it is absolutely wrong and should be stopped. I have always believed that it is wrong to give certain foreigners special privileges here. After all, in almost no other country are we given special privileges--nor should we expect them.
The events of the past few days have reinforced my belief. It is utter hypocrisy to refuse to hand over one of our most wanted terrorists while being only too willing to hop across the border and buy cheap petrol, claim our
Column 97welfare benefits, set up home here and demand the right to vote. It is as though the Dublin policy has become to take with one hand and to punch us in the teeth with the other.
My third point relates to something that the Bill does not say. Nowhere in the Bill is there an attempt to repeal that part of our legislation which says that if a councillor does not turn up for six months his seat should be declared vacant. I am delighted that that is not to be changed. It should apply in Westminster, too. The electors of Belfast, West have no voice here, and more than 70 per cent. of those electors did not vote for the terrorist who could be here if he wished--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make such references to that person, whether he is sitting here or not. The hon. Gentleman is also going beyond the bounds of the Bill. I hope that he will return to it.
Mr. Wilshire : My argument is that the Bill should extend to all elections in Northern Ireland and to the rest of the United Kingdom the provision that if councillors do not occupy their seats for six months their seats are declared vacant.
I welcome the fact that the Government have acted, and I am happy to support the principles of the Bill, but I regret that such action has been necessary in our democracy. I am convinced that the Bill does not go far enough in some respects, and that it tackles some issues in a less than ideal way. I pledge my support for the Government's efforts to end the tragedy in Northern Ireland, and I commend them for deciding to act on these principles. When the Bill goes to Committee, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will produce amendments to meet the reservations that I have expressed today.
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead) : We have heard today the authentic voice of the Tory party in England, in the speech of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and in several others, towards the people of Ireland. Tomorrow the Irish media will reflect some of the bile that is clearly felt by some Conservative Members against the people of Ireland, and I have no doubt that they will weigh that in the balance when next considering the requests that the Government make of them from time to time.
Before coming to the main burden of my remarks, may I refer to the outrageous speech by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who I understand still considers himself to be a Liberal. He launched a shocking, gratuitous, illiberal attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) when he was not in his place. I presume that the hon. Gentleman did not give notice that he would do so. Not only did it fly in the face of everything that the Liberal party previously stood for on the Irish question, but I suspect that it went more to the need to make a pitch for the constituency of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) than for any consideration of the questions that are before us. I oppose the measure, and I shall vote against it.
Mr. Ashdown : The hon. Gentleman will know that in the heat of debate one cannot always be certain that hon. Members mentioned will be present. The hon. Gentleman is very good on insults about my speech. Would he care to pick up any of the points made by his hon. Friend the
Column 98Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and debate them as I did instead of confining himself to insults of the sort that he has been making?
Mr. Galloway : It appears that my remarks stung home. I can now understand why 60 Liberals found it necessary to found a new--or is it an old?--Liberal party at the weekend. The departures from Liberalism by the leader of the once Liberal party make the reason clear. I shall deal with some of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, although I have less time than he and I hope he will bear that in mind.
I intend to vote against Second Reading but not because I support terrorism, which is the indiscriminate use of violence against innocent people for political purposes. I certainly do not support terrorism. I make no bones about it : the time has come for Britain to go from Ireland. But that is not the reason for my intention to vote against Second Reading. The Bill strikes against the democratic theory and practice of our country and is yet another palliative being applied to the critical malaise which is a central problem in British life. Not only will the Bill not have the effect that its authors claim for it, but its application is part of a process that is diminishing all of us.
Like many hon. Members who have spoken, I am a little uneasy about oaths or declarations. There is something slightly medieval about them and their use in a modern democracy. It is utterly wrong in principle to require men and women to swear something that is not in their hearts. That is what we shall do if we press on with this measure. With the assistance of the excellent Library, I have been studying the 18th century struggle against the so- called 39 articles. That struggle was led by the great parliamentarian that I have quoted before in the House, Charles James Fox, a true Liberal in the finest traditions.
Those 39 articles were oaths required from dissenters from the established Church that they fully supported the established Church in all its works, liturgy and relationship to the state. They had to swear such oaths before they could be given jobs or permission to speak from pulpits or fulfil public duties in this country. Fox declared himself to be
"a friend to universal toleration".
He argued that insistence upon these oaths when the state knew full well that the dissenters had no alternative to signing them and did not believe a word of what they were swearing meant that those being diminished most were the Crown, on whom the oath was taken, and the state, which required men to swear that which they did not believe. This measure is also wrong in theory because, as has been teased out in the debate, very few hon. Members could say that they have an unequivocal attitude to all violence in pursuit of political objectives. Only a true pacifist in the House--there are few, if any, of them--could say that he has an unequivocal attitude to that. As with hon. Members, if I had been around in the 1930s and old enough to do so, I would have gone to Spain to fight for political objectives, to defend the Spanish republic. I would have fought in the last war to help defeat Hitler's Fascism.
Many Conservative Members support the use of violence for political objectives. In Afghanistan they support the Mujaheddin. They support such violence in Angola by their support for UNITA, and they support it in Nicaragua by their unequivocal support for the Contras. A Contra leader was touted around the
Column 99Conservative party conference a few months ago. It is hypocrisy to require oaths, imposed by the majority in this House on Northern Ireland, that are based on ideas that are commonplace about other countries and other times.
This proposal is wrong in democratic practice, for if we know that those taking the oath do not mean what they are saying, what does it profit us to make them say it? What is gained by making men and women lie before they can seek elected office? Does any hon. Member believe that the electoral fortunes of these councillors will be affected by this? Sinn Fein regularly polls between 85,000 and 110,000 votes in the six counties. How many of the voters are going to the polls blissfully unaware of the relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA? It cannot be gainsaid that these councillors are elected in the first place because enough electors in Northern Ireland are voting for them and for no other reason.
We may not like the message that is thus delivered to us by those 100,000 citizens, but we shall gain nothing by trying to bar the door to the messenger by prescribing oaths designed to wish him away. We cannot sweep this critical Irish problem under the carpet of oaths, nor are we doing it justice by the succession of cosmetic stunts that have issued forth from the Government since the Prime Minister's edict in the summer.
That brings me to the last reason why I shall vote against Second Reading. The Bill is part of a process whose core is Britain's Irish problem, which is steadily diminishing civil liberties and the democratic process in this country as a whole. These proposals--the broadcasting ban that we discussed a few weeks ago, the abolition of the centuries old right to silence, the Prevention of Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Act, the burgeoning of the secret state, and the polishing of the secret state's machinery in Northern Ireland--are all in their own way leading us down the dismal route towards what we are becoming, the poor man's third-rate democracy in Europe.
Britain is paying a high price for its presence in Ireland through the lives of our young service men, many of them only teenagers, and through the treasure--billions of pounds of it--being expended from the Exchequer to maintain British rule. I believe that when history comes to be written it will be seen that perhaps the highest price that we have paid for maintaining our rule in Ireland is the extent to which our democracy has been steadily eroded.
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : I do not think that anyone can complain on this occasion that there has not been sufficient time for a full and comprehensive debate on Northern Ireland. It is often alleged that we debate Northern Ireland business at an inappropriate time of day and that insufficient time is allowed. The temper of the House today shows that if sufficient time is available we can discuss these highly charged and contentious issues in a manner more appropriate to this Parliament.
I appreciate that the Secretary of State tempted the bounds of order in his long opening speech. I shall try not to do the same myself. He gave us a broad-brush picture of the Government's approach to the problems of Northern Ireland and placed this legislation in the context of the overall Government approach to Northern Ireland. If I recall what he said properly, he referred to the need for
Column 100fairness and justice, to the need for an effective response to terrorism and to the need to protect the rights of the community. I think that I speak for all my parliamentary colleagues when I say that those are shared aspirations. They are not aspirations associated simply with one part of this House--they are shared by all right hon. and hon. Members no matter where in the House they sit--but the essence of the Labour party view and that of the SDLP is that the legislation does nothing to advance those aspirations. On the contrary, we believe that it fails to address the essential problems and in many ways will make those shared aspirations more difficult to fulfil. That is our basic charge against the Government.
No comments from the Opposition Front Bench are designed to offer succour to the advocates of terrorism or to the terrorists in the north of Ireland, but we must be absolutely clear when discussing issues in this House that we get the approach right. That approach must be designed to attack the root causes of the problems of terrorism and the reasons for the substantial electoral support for the supporters of violence. Unfortunately, this Bill and other hasty proposals introduced by the Government a few weeks ago have done nothing to address those essential points.
It is also not without significance that, with the exception of a few Government loyalists who obviously have an earnest desire to be members of the Committee and to ensure that the Government have a majority on it, there was a lukewarm response to the efficacy of the proposals. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) described the legislation as a limp, lukewarm, lifeless measure. While I do not agree with his conclusion on the need to strengthen the legislation, the way that he describes the Bill is apt and many hon. Members share his view.
Not only is the Bill limp, lukewarm and lifeless, but as the hon. Member for Belfast, East said, it will be ineffective. People who have carried out acts of terrorism and those who support terrorism will not be put off signing the declaration by the necessity to lie. They will wilfully and willingly sign it and ignore any consequences that may arise. I have great sympathy with the Government's dubiety in leaving the initiative to initiate prosecutions to the individual rather than the state taking responsibility for initiating prosecutions. There is cant and hyprocrisy in that part of the Government's argument which seeks to explain why the responsibility should be the individual's and not the state's.
The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats--or whatever they call themselves at the moment--spent a great deal of time criticising my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), but very little time outlining the reasons why his party, which was noted for standing out against such measures in the past, is giving the Government full-blooded support for this legislation. I found it difficult to take the hon. Member for Yeovil's allegations of bias in favour of one section of the community in Northern Ireland on the part of the parliamentary Labour party and in particular its principal spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North.
Labour party policy, the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North and my own position are quite clear. We do not seek to differentiate
Column 101between one section of the community and another in Northern Ireland. We seek to ensure an even-handed approach with no discrimination against any part of the community in Northern Ireland. The policies that we support and the policies that we advance are designed to ensure that all members in the North of Ireland are treated equally in social and economic terms. We are certainly not biased in favour of one particular sector of the community.
Mr. Ashdown : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read my speech tomorrow, because I did not accuse the Labour party of bias. I said that the Labour party should have a care because many people are hearing the speeches of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and others who I recognise have to put their own views and those of the Labour party.
Mr. Ashdown : The hon. Gentleman, like others, can read the record tomorrow. I say that they should have a care because it now appears to many that it will be seen as biased, always in favour of the Nationalists. We frequently hear that the Labour party is opposed to the Government on this, but we do not hear what they are in favour of and that gives such an impression. The hon. Gentleman's views will certainly be read, and they are reassuring to me.
Mr. Marshall : If I misunderstood what the hon. Gentleman said, I apologise for the remarks that I made, but it is my clear recollection that he accused my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North of bias in favour of the Nationalist community in the North of Ireland. I wrote it down at the time, although I may have misheard or misunderstood him. I wrote down, "Bias to the Nationalists in the North of Ireland."
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) also displayed a lukewarm attitude towards the legislation. He used a different form of words, calling it "a timid step in the right direction." Knowing the hon. Gentleman, I dread to think what would be vigorous steps in the right direction. Nevertheless, he said that there was a need to defeat the supporters of violence--Sinn Fein, I presume--politically. My understanding of defeating someone politically is that one enters into a debate, and if one lives in a democracy eventually the argument will be decided by the ballot box; but that is not what the hon. Gentleman suggested. He suggested that, as Sinn Fein was winning seats under the existing electoral system, one should alter the rules of the electoral game in order to defeat them politically--in other words, to defeat them not by democratic means but by gerrymandering. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the pursuit of such policies and initiatives led to the roots of the present trouble in the north of Ireland. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that the root causes of the present troubles are removed so that the basis for the views of terrorists and supporters of terrorism are eliminated once and for all.
Mr. William Ross : I may be wrong, but it was always my view that gerrymandering meant that electoral boundaries were deliberately drawn so as to give an electoral advantage to one party as against another. If the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), the spokesman for the Labour party, is now saying that the
Column 102first-past-the-post system is of itself in principle gerrymandering, may I take it that the Labour party is now totally committed to STV--the single transferable vote--in the United Kingdom elections?
In a democracy, political change must come as a consequence of discussion and through the ballot box. It is in our interests to ensure that violence and its perpetrators do not succeed. We have a right to expect, and a duty to ensure, that those involved in violence for political ends are caught and sentenced with the fullest vigour of the criminal law. It is essential, however, that the perpetrators of violence are regarded as criminals. Many of them are pretty nasty individuals, but they are criminals nevertheless. The Government Chief Whip nods in agreement with that--I hope that he will nod with the same vigour when I make my next point. We must ensure that the action that we take does not bestow on terrorists and the groups who support them implicit recognition that their acts are different from those of any other criminals. If we fall into that trap, the consequences will be counter-productive, provide succour to the terrorists and enhance their claims to legitimacy in the eyes of some international opinion.
Unfortunately--I hope to have the Government Chief Whip's consent for this- -the Government have fallen into that trap in recent months. Following the despicable acts of violence earlier this year, the Government, and especially the Prime Minister, decided that they had to be seen to be taking some action, no matter how ill conceived or badly put together it was. As a consequence of that hasty over-reaction, censorship of television broadcasting was introduced. The non-incriminating right of silence in a police station or a court has been removed, and we now have the third part of the trilogy--the declaration on violence.
Mr. Tom King : The hon. Gentleman says that the Bill is a hasty and ill-conceived reaction. It is the outcome of a consultation document that was published a year ago, but matters were under consideration well before that. The hon. Gentleman cannot associate the Bill with a reaction to the events of the past couple of months.
Mr. Marshall : The Secretary of State knows that I always regard him as a reasonable man, and I hesitate to cast doubt on his statement. It is not without significance that, after the Prime Minister became involved, the Bill was pushed to the top of the political agenda.
It is no wonder that terrorists and their supporters are jubilant. The introduction of censorship and the further curtailment of civil liberties is, in their eyes, vindication for their appalling actions. In propaganda terms, the Government hand them what they could never hope to obtain militarily--a scent and sense of victory.
I understand the feeling of revulsion that many ordinary, decent people in the North of Ireland and the remainder of the United Kingdom feel when they see the supporters of violence in positions of elected responsibility. We should never forget--this was the essential point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)--that they were elected. Many ordinary, decent people living in the North of Ireland--the people
Column 103for whom the legislation is supposed to be drawn--voted for them, not by coercion, because there is no coercion in the secrecy of the ballot booth, but willingly. No declaration or proscription will remove that electoral support. It can be undermined only by an acknowledgment of the Nationalist aspirations and a vigorous pursuit of polices designed to remove social and economic discrimination against the minority community.
I have recognised previously, and willingly recognise again, the Government's determination to pursue policies towards this end. I again emphasise that only in that way can the root causes of the present troubles be eliminated and the basis of the electoral support for the advocates of violence be removed. In this context, the declaration is an irrelevance. It is a sop which will not contribute one jot to the progress of peace or reconciliation. [Interruption.] I am always amazed that the silent members of the Government deem it necessary on occasions to be involved in idle chatter. Perhaps the silent servers of the House could be reminded of the need for silence.
I note with interest, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has done, that in an article on 25 November in The Daily Telegraph the Under- Secretary of State set out his views--and, I presume, the Government's--on the need for the Bill. I promise not to repeat the points and sentences uttered by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, but the Under-Secretary of State concluded his article by stating : "We cannot tolerate the exploitation of elective office by those who proclaim their support for terrorism without giving law-abiding councillors the right to challenge that".
I believe that we would all say amen to that. One does not resolve the problem by having the declaration. It must be done through normal democratic methods--through discussion and, eventually, the ballot box. To repeat a point which I made, one does not remove the basis of support for the terrorists and their supporters by having the declaration.
In the same article, the Under-Secretary of State set out two reasons why the state will not initiate prosecutions. First--this is a gem--the hon. Gentleman argued that, if it were left to the DPP or the Attorney-General, it would call into question the political impartiality of the Law Officers. What does he think will happen to the political impartiality of the judges once they begin to consider these cases? Does he believe that both communities will accept that judges are impartial if they have to deal with these cases? That is nonsense. Inevitably, this will further damage the role of the courts in the eyes of both communities.
Secondly, the Minister's comment on the ability of witnesses to withstand intimidation was a cop-out. If that will apply if the state brings a prosecution, it will apply even more if a lone individual brings one. This again illustrates the cant and hypocrisy of the Government's position and implies tacit admission by the Government that the declaration will not work.
The Under-Secretary of State used expressions that seem to reveal surprise that his declaration was opposed. My final quotation from the Minister's statement is this :
"But surprisingly, it"--
that is, the declaration--
"has vociferous opponents, including the Labour Party and John Hume's SDLP".
Column 104I am sure that members of that party will be delighted to know that they belong to John Hume's SDLP. The next phrase should win a prize for someone :
"and much fashionable liberal' opinion".
That is one for the record books. My understanding is that the use of the word "fashionable" is supposed to indicate a majority view of the word "liberal" but in case that point is lost the word "liberal" is put in inverted commas, so the meaning is doubly pejorative. Perhaps it is some new kind of grammar invented by the
The idea that the Government have advanced any substantive arguments in support of the Bill is fallacious. The Government's argument for the Bill, like the Minister's grammar, is flawed. The Bill will not work, it will not advance peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland; I urge the House to support the Opposition's reasoned amendment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : May I begin in a not too partisan way by praising the speeches of many of my hon. Friends, particularly those of my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), for Cheadle (Mr. Day), for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), and that of the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown).
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne felt that he was perhaps a little hard done by by my right hon. Friend who was a little concerned about our hon. Friend asking him a trick question. I had suggested to my right hon. Friend that he should be careful in replying because, in a way, there is a trick as this measure introduces residence qualifications in Northern Ireland which require people to have lived there for three months before they are entitled to vote, in contrast with the position here, where they have to be present on the specified date. That is because Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom with a land barrier, so we do not want people nipping across from another jurisdiction.
I must say to my hon. Friends the Members for Chelmsford and for Spelthorne that, although I accept and understand their concerns about the problems of voting in the United Kingdom and the measures that we are introducing to bring the two parts of the United Kingdom into line, I hardly think that stopping Irish people voting in the United Kingdom would be a way of improving Anglo-Irish relations. It is important that we bring the jurisdictions together.
In this decade, three councillors and two council employees have been killed by terrorists and one councillor has been shot and injured. Of Sinn Fein's 58 councillors, 11 have been convicted of terrorist-type offences and a further three have faced or are facing charges. Six other councillors have also received convictions for scheduled offences.
Almost everyone accepts that there is a major problem caused by those in the district councils of Northern Ireland who openly support violence. Most, although not all, of those are members of Sinn Fein. As the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) said :
"those who pursue the so-called joint strategy of the ballot and the bullet are guilty of both hypocrisy and complete incompatability with a democracy."--[ Official Report, 10 November 1987 ; Vol. 122, c. 157.]
Column 105In this debate the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) and others have stated the nature of the problem as they have found it in blunt terms, born of their experience in local government in Northern Ireland. The hon. Members for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and for South Down (Mr. McGrady)--who are on the other side of the political divide--would, with their experience of district councils, concede that there is a problem. Indeed, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh said so during a recent debate.
Most people in Northern Ireland and many outside it agree that the problem exists. Few, however, agree upon the steps that we should take to deal with it. Some--the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) is one--argue for proscription. Almost everyone, at some stage, argues for something to be proscribed. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has the UDA on his shopping list, but I do not know whether he intends to add Sinn Fein to it. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and his colleagues have repeatedly called for the proscription of Sinn Fein, but they have specifically excluded Loyalist organisations.
Whether Sinn Fein or the UDA is proscribed, a declaration will still be necessary for those who stand under different guises. Indeed, they have often stood under all sorts of guises. Selective proscription of individual organisations would be a nonsensical approach to the problem. It could not be made retrospective and councillors could claim that they were no longer members of the proscribed party. They could stand at elections under different party names. Therefore, even if proscription were ever to come about, there would still be a need for a declaration.
The very fact that the Government are accused by some hon. Members of going too far and by others of not going far enough shows the difficulty in achieving a correct balance between what is practicable and achievable and what is not. The measure is designed to deal with those who advocate violence once they are elected, but no more than that. It does not ban candidates because it is at elections that views can be canvassed. I know that the hon. Member for Yeovil has some doubts about that. However abhorrent to hon. Members, we believe that it is legitimate that candidates standing on a platform of violence should have some way of putting their views forward. Once the election is over, councillors must then abide by the political rules of a plural democracy ; they must abide by the club. The greatest concern of many hon. Members is that enforcement should be either by criminal prosecution brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions or by civil action brought by the
Attorney-General. Most electoral law is enforced by civil means, and rightly so. If the witnesses are to be the main constituent of a case and the accused's peers--