|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Benn : The Minister has made an important statement--that when elected one has to abide by the rules of the club. He interpreted that to mean that someone could advocate a policy and be elected on it, but that once elected he could not continue to support that policy. Is that the rule of the club that the hon. Gentleman thinks to be equivalent to representative democracy?
Mr. Needham : Once someone is elected, he cannot say that if he loses a vote he will shoot people on their way home. He cannot advocate violence for political ends. That is wholly unacceptable. The second point about whether the DPP or the Attorney-General brings the action--the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) picked me up on this point, and he is quite right--is that criminal cases and civil cases require different standards of proof. Only last week, there was the case of a rape victim who was awarded substantial civil damages, even though there had been no criminal prosecution. That is an example of the test in a civil action, which is the balance of probabilities succeeding, whereas the test of beyond reasonable doubt would not. I make no apology for that being the basis of civil actions being brought in such cases.
Thirdly, the Government are not in the business of lending terrorist supporters gratuitous propaganda points, as some Opposition Members seem to suggest. Whether an action is civil or criminal, if it is brought by the Attorney-General, it will be seen to have been instigated by the British Government. Furthermore, and most important, the Attorney-General has no capacity to monitor expressions of support for proscribed organisations or terrorism in Northern Ireland, and he would have to depend entirely on information given to him by others. Therefore, in our judgment, it is others who bring the actions.
I know that the argument is that those wishing to bring such actions may be deterred by cost or intimidation. As to intimidation, as I said, witnesses, rather than promoters, are most likely to be intimidated. Promoters can seek safety in numbers, or, no doubt in some instances, councils will bring actions.
Mr. McNamara : The hon. Gentleman said that the Attorney-General is in no position to monitor certain matters. How is the RUC in a position to monitor, for example, incitement, the wearing of uniforms and all the other matters in the kernel of the Bill?
Mr. Needham : I shall refer to the hon. Gentleman's points later. The key point is that the Attorney-General relies on the information given to him by those who will become witnesses in a case. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that they themselves should be the promoters of such cases. If the argument is that it will lead to intimidation--and that argument has been put forward--the intimidation of witnesses is the problem of Northern Ireland, not the intimidation of the promoters of a case.
To advocate that the declaration will fail because intimidation will make it impossible for witnesses to testify as applicants in cases is a counsel of total despair. I ask those who advance such an argument whether they have so little faith in the continuing operation of civil justice in Northern Ireland that they suppose that nobody will bring cases. As hon. Members from Northern Ireland know well, many actions have been brought in recent years, which show that such pessimism is ill-founded. I am sure that there are many brave and determined people in Northern Ireland who, if the advocates of violence breach their declarations, will bring such actions in future.
On costs, it is perfectly possible for applicants to claim legal aid against the usual criteria. Of course, if councils bring well-founded actions, it will be a charge on the rates.
Column 107The hon. Member for Yeovil asked me about parties and parties supporting councils. If parties support their councils in an action, that will no doubt be another way of getting around the cost problem.
Speaking at his annual conference last week, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said of Sinn Fein and the IRA :
"They are more Irish than the rest of us, they believe. They are the pure master race of Irish. They are the keepers of the holy grail of the nation. That deep seated attitude, married to their method, has all the hallmarks of undiluted fascism.
They have also the other hallmarks of the fascist--the scapegoat--the Brits are to blame for everything even their own atrocities." The hon. Member for Foyle is absolutely right--they are Fascists. I remind him, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) of what happened when democracy failed to stand up to Fascists. The arguments that we heard today from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and the hon. Member for Walton, who spoke about the 1640s or 1660s are no different in style from the arguments heard in the 1920s. But what were the arguments then? Bring Mussolini into the political process and he will change and become like us. Do not make martyrs of those who advocate violence. Treat them reasonably and they will behave reasonably. What happened? The leader of the Socialist party in Italy, Matteoti, was shot on the Parliament steps, in Rome. That was the way the Fascists behaved in Italy in the 1920s. If the hon. Gentleman is right about Fascism, these members should be treated as they are, as Fascists.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that the Bill was a farce and would worsen the sectarian bear pit of local government politics. Moreover, he said that Sinn Fein would welcome the Bill, although my quotation from Mr. Morrison went on to criticise the SDLP, claiming that the suggestion that the declaration would help Sinn Fein was nonsense. As to the hon. Gentleman's pejorative comments about a sectarian bear pit in the councils of Northern Ireland, he ignores those councils which are trying to run local services in a non-sectarian, bi- partisan efficient way, such as Derry, Dungannon, Fermanagh, and North Down councils. None is being run in a sectarian way.
What would the hon. Gentleman do? In a recent article in The Irish Times he said that he wishes to be the last Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and wants to see a united Ireland by consent. Yet what does he propose to do about the violence in Northern Ireland council chambers? He claims that the declaration is
"ill-thought out, hastily put together, pernicious and downright dangerous."
No doubt that is why he is abstaining tonight. He also said of the declaration :
"Surely instead of arguing for the exclusion of Sinn Fein from the democratic process, the Government should be seeking to draw its members into electoral politics and away from the politics of the gun. As the reaction to the Enniskillen tragedy has shown, accountability to the electorate has already led to demands from within Sinn Fein that the worst excesses of the Provisional IRA be curbed."
Column 108That is absolute nonsense. There is no conceivable example that Sinn Fein has changed its spots in any way.
As the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) said in a recent article in Newsweek when talking about Sinn Fein's relationship with the IRA :
"We come from the same family. We draw water from the same well. The IRA's rule is armed political action, ours is unarmed political action."
Yet the hon. Gentleman says that if we do anything we should rely on the criminal law. We are introducing this legislation because the criminal law does not do what we wish it to do. It does not stop people supporting the IRA. It does not meet the problems that we face in council chambers. Eighty -four per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland, including 20 per cent. of those claiming to support Sinn Fein, think that our proposals to introduce a declaration against violence are right.
Local government is the bedrock on which democracy depends. This measure, together with the series of proposals I announced last week to make local government more accountable, more efficient and more competitive, show that the Government will do what they can to create conditions in which councils can perform their duties in a non-sectarian, efficient and open way. As President Kennedy said in 1963 :
"The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened."
This Bill deserves the support of the whole House.
Question put, That the amendment be made :--
The House divided : Ayes 195, Noes 291.
Division No. 7] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Cunningham, Dr John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Duffy, A. E. P.
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy