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Column 1262if that is the way that it has to be. We are willing to do that to prevent councillors from being placed in such a position themselves. The second group is comprised of Northern Ireland members of the European Assembly. Again, the majority of those members would be willing to do that job. Because of the way in which they are elected, they represent the whole of Northern Ireland. Each member claims that he represents the people of Northern Ireland and they would have a right to intervene in any of the council areas.
The third name in the amendments is that of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Just as I am sure that hon. Members and members of the European Assembly from Northern Ireland would be willing to do the job, I am sure that the Secretary of State would be willing too. He may even depute some of his junior Ministers to do the job. I do not think that any of those concerned, particularly the Secretary of State, would draw back from doing the job. I am sure that they would have the backbone, courage and everything else that would be required to do the job. We are not seeking to change the clause but simply to add a few names. We only need the Minister to nod his head and say yes, even at this late stage. I may yet be able to score a goal, if the Minister will allow me.
If the people mentioned in amendments Nos. 18 and 19 were to do that job, I am sure that they would do it regardless of who breached the declaration or where he came from, and that they would do the job well.
We are making this final plea to the Minister to listen to hon. Members who are closest to the problems in Northern Ireland. We are there every day that we are not here. We ask him to include those additional names so that even at this late stage we may strengthen the Bill just a little.
If we are unable to vote on amendments Nos. 18 and 19, we shall support amendment No. 8, which provides that the Attorney-General should take action against those who breached the declaration because we believe that the Government who brought in the legislation should enforce it. We have said that continually and the Minister knows my views. The amendment would give us at least a little improvement to the Bill.
Mr. Ashdown : As the Government know, I have broadly supported their line on this difficult piece of legislation. I shall not make a Third Reading speech now, as I shall do so in a few moments. On Second Reading, I expressed some reservations about two matters. The first was whether the declaration should apply during the election period. Having thought about it, listened to the Government's arguments, done a little reading and talked to other people, I believe that the Government have the balance just about right, although it is a difficult subject. That is why we supported them in the previous Division.
However, I remain far from convinced on this matter. I said to the Minister on Second Reading, and say again now, that to rely solely on individuals or councillors to bring cases to law will seriously undermine the effectiveness of the legislation, which stands or falls on its practical application. The Government's proposal will seriously undermine that practiical application. In that sense, I share the analysis of the hon. Member for
Column 1263Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and that of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) who made a sweet and beguiling speech. I have some difficulty with the Labour amendment. If it were pressed to a Division, we would support it because it contains the right principles. I have some doubts about whether it is right to place this matter in the hands of the Attorney-General rather than the Director of Public Prosecutions and, if I understand the amendment correctly, even more doubts about the fact that it removes all the other parties which could have brought the legislation into effect. That can now be done by the DPP. There is safety in having as broad a range of people as possible. There is also a small drafting error. The amendment refers to "crimes of violence", but that phrase does not crop up in the declaration.
I have much more sympathy with the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, South. It is useful to follow the principle of allowing the broadest range of people with a legitimate interest in this matter to bring the issue before the courts. If that can be extended to Members in this House and in the European Parliament, that would be useful. The Minister should remember that the hon. Members who tabled the amendment have put themselves in the firing line. That is a testimony to their sincerity. I hope that the Minister will concede at least that point and recognise the strong feeling, even among those who support the legislation in general, that its practicality will be seriously undermined if we do not amend it.
My amendment No. 32 is fairly limited and is designed as a back-up. We may argue whether we are right to propose that the issue should be dealt with by the DPP, but the point of my amendment is that it can be dealt with by the DPP when he is convinced that there would otherwise be, or already exists, a genuine threat to any individual who might wish to initiate such action. In the final analysis, that is for the judgment of the DPP and no doubt he is able to make that objective judgment. It is a backstop which will at least strengthen the legislation and make it more practically applicable. I hope that the Bill which, by and large, is a difficult and finely balanced one, will succeed. However, it is more likely to be undermined by deficiencies in this section than by anything else. I hope that the Minister will strengthen the arm of those who wish to apply the legislation so that it can have a better chance of success. 10.15 pm
Mr. William Ross : I have an intense interest in local government. As the debate has proceeded today, it must have built up in the minds of those who have been listening to it a picture of what the position is, even if they did not fully understand it. I believe that many hon. Members can easily conceive a situation where fear of retaliation by the Sinn Fein-IRA element is so great that no councillor in the immediate district or anyone closely connected with the district where the offence occurred would be prepared to stick his neck out. Some people may dismiss that as being of no consequence. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) did not do so. He accepted that there is a grave risk to the lives of those who stick out their necks by publicly opposing Sinn Fein.
Column 1264Under the proportional representation system, the loss or gain of a single seat could alter the political control of a number of councils in Northern Ireland. If as the result of the dismissal of a councillor who had given loud verbal support to violence, political control of a council changed, the danger to the individual who initiated the proceedings should be apparent to all. There could be but one conclusion. If the person who initiated the proceedings was a councillor, there would be another vacancy on the council. I recall saying on Second Reading that by laying the onus on the shoulders of councillors the Government were inviting them to commit suicide. I have seen and heard nothing since I uttered those words to make me alter my opinion. There are in society people who have the courage to stand up to men of violence. However, intimidation would not be levelled solely at the individual who made the accusation by the Sinn Fein councillor or representative of another paramilitary organisation. The threat would be wider ; it would be against wives and children, family and friends, and business. The threat is real. Action would be taken to teach a lesson that would not be forgotton to anyone who might be prepared to enforce the law against Sinn Fein.
While we support the view put forward by the Labour party and would go further than the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), we thought that the Government, if they were not prepared to let the Attorney-General or the Director of Public Prosecutions act in the matter, might at least be prepared to put their necks on the block, as we are prepared to do, and as they are inviting councillors to do. I do not believe that a member of a Government or a politician should send others where he dare not go himself.
If the Government are sincere in their efforts to get rid of Sinn Fein, they should not just put into the hands of ordinary men and women who sit on councils the power to initiate proceedings against Sinn Fein councillors. They, who are better protected than any councillor could ever be, should be prepared to stand in the same place as the councillor.
That brings me back, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the point where, earlier, I was sailing close to the lines of order in the opinion of Madam Deputy Speaker. I am always careful to stay in order. The question of proof has not been addressed so far in the debates on the Bill.
Our proposals mean that tape recordings of all council business must be kept. As we are prepared to use video evidence for the protection of children and to video police interviews, why should we not be prepared to tape record the proceedings of councils to identify those violent and wicked individuals who condone murder and sometimes, I believe, order the murder of those who oppose them? We are in a difficult position when we come to the point where we or a councillor must stand up and accuse someone who supports the murder gangs. We are putting our lives on the line. We are prepared to do it and we are inviting Ministers to join us in that endeavour. This has been a useful day and an important debate, and we are not yet done, but of course regardless of what we say the Government will carry their measure into legislation ; they will turn the Bill into an Act.
I hope that, 12 months from 17 May coming, that is on 17 May 1990, the Minister who spoke for the Government tonight and the Whip who was with him on the Bench, and
Column 1265the Prime Minister, will come back and read the words that were uttered from these Benches today, in the light of the experience that that further year will earn them.
Rev. William McCrea : Having listened to the debate and to those who are interested in the tragedy of the situation in Northern Ireland and the danger to life, it must be admitted by all that life is very dangerous in Northern Ireland. It is dangerous for the ordinary citizen, for Members of the House of Commons, and for elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. It is dangerous for the members of the security forces.
Therefore, we must appreciate that there is a problem in ensuring that the Bill is enacted, and that action is taken against those who the Government have admitted they desire to remove from the elected councils of our Province. Bearing in mind how dangerous life is, it is natural that in many hearts there is fear.
It is very easy for hon. Members who care enough about the dangerous situation in the United Kingdom to be here for the debate. But it is also very easy to be brave and to make brave statements when one is many miles from the problem. So long as Members say that the sea is between us, and we can keep the killings going among the poor souls in Ulster and keep it from the rest of the mainland, that is unfortunately what people in Ulster are tempted to believe at times. [Interruption.] I hear mutterings, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from someone who, in the position that he holds, should have better manners than to carry on in this way. However, one must forgive him when one realises the rump of a party that he leads. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) is far from the trouble, and far from the threat and fear that many people living along the border areas of my constituency understand. I ask the right hon. Member to have the decency to bear in mind the genuine fear. We are not talking about a picnic. We are not talking about something that can easily be dismissed. We are talking about human life.
If the right hon. Member wants to comment, I shall happily give way to allow him to do so, but I ask him to have the good manners to listen whenever a speech is being made, no matter how distasteful he may find some of the comments. Of course, there is nothing to prevent him from coming to live in that part of the United Kingdom and standing for election if he so desires and if he feels brave enough to do so.
Parts of Ulster, like parts of the United Kingdom, are quite safe. Some areas in our Province--there is one not far from my home--are remote from much of the trouble in certain parts of my own constituency of Mid-Ulster. But the Government are asking elected representatives, who live in areas that are predominantly Republican and support the IRA, to take action against Sinn Fein while the Government sit back and watch the outcome.
There are some very dangerous areas in which to live. Take the area of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) has described how dangerous life is for people in his constituency. Members of my own party in the Strabane district council, the chairman of which is a Sinn Feiner, live along the border. Can anyone imagine what it is like to live along the border and to be expected by the Government, with no protection, to stand up in court and
Column 1266be the person who has brought the Sinn Fein mouthpiece for terrorists into the court room in an endeavour to remove him from a council chamber?
Although few hon. Members are in the Chamber listening to our arguments, no doubt they will come out at voting time into the Lobbies without having listened to the heart's cry of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland, and the legislation will be passed, as the Minister desires. That is the way of it. But should, God forbid, this legislation cause the death of any councillor colleague of mine or of any hon. Member, whether Nationalist or Unionist, let the hon. Members who pushed it through remember that they must bear the guilt.
I make an earnest and genuine appeal to the Minister to listen to the elected representatives of Northern Ireland and to accept the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe). If they are not accepted, I will join my colleagues in the Lobby to support the official Opposition and the amendments.
Mr. Needham : We have had a full debate on this series of amendments. I am surprised by the Opposition's suggestion that the Attorney -General should be involved. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) mentioned that some councils are working well together and he is right. However, if anything would prevent those councils or councillors from bringing actions and would make matters worse, it would be the introduction of the Attorney-General. 10.30 pm
The one lecture that the Opposition have constantly given the Government and other hon. Members concerns the danger of creating political martyrs in Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Leicester, South knows, involving the Attorney-General would make it appear that the British Government were imposing their political views in the council chambers of Northern Ireland. The hon. Member said that the amendment had the support of all Opposition Members. At that time, the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) was not in the Chamber. He is now in his seat and I would be surprised if he were prepared to join the hon. Member for Leicester, South and his Unionist friends in the Lobby. That is a fundamentally important political point which Opposition Members cannot duck and which is in total contradistinction to everything they have said about the Bill up to now.
The Attorney-General has no capacity to monitor expressions of support for proscribed organisations. He has to depend entirely on the information given to him by others. It is those others who, in our judgment, should bring the action, not least for the reason given by the hon. Member for Mid -Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). It is they who may feel that they may be intimidated. If the Attorney-General or the Director of Public Prosecutions is given the job, they would have to give evidence.
We have to apply our minds to an important question which underlies the reason why Unionist Members are concerned about this part of the legislation. That is the question of intimidation. Intimidation must inevitably arise, whoever brings the action. Those who are called to give evidence are the people who will be intimidated. I accept the point about tape recording made by the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) and we shall look at that. However, that alone would not be sufficient. Witnesses would still be required.
Column 1267We know that intimidation of witnesses is a problem in criminal cases in Northern Ireland. It is well established that such intimidation is almost always within communities. There is little evidence that intimidation in civil cases or between communities is widespread in Northern Ireland. I can understand hon. Members' fears when they say, "That is all very well. That may have been the history up to now but it may not happen like that in the future." If there is intimidation, it has to be a matter for the police. They have to take control and ensure that witnesses are properly looked after and protected. If those fears exist, we must discuss the matter with the police and ensure that intimidation is not allowed to exist in Northern Ireland. Intimidation undermines everything. If hon. Members are saying that no case can be brought because witnesses and applicants would be intimidated, what justification is there for believing that any cases in Northern Ireland have any hope of success? That cannot be the case and I do not believe that it is. Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) rose --
Mr. Clifford Forsythe rose --
Mr. Needham : That will happen whoever brings the case. If the council brings the case and witnesses are called, those witnesses will have to appear and are likely to be intimidated. The witnesses will be at risk because they will have to give the evidence to the court on which the judges will make the decisions.
I understand the point that the hon. Member for Antrim, South is making. He wants to broaden the scope and bring in Members of Parliament. The Government say that this is a matter to be resolved by those who have an interest in council or assembly affairs and it is for councillors and assemblymen, in the conduct of their business, that the legislation is proposed. I understand that hon. Gentlemen who are also councillors clearly have an interest, but I do not see that Members of Parliament, as such, have interests that would give them the right to bring cases of this sort. There may be some hon. Members who, having listened to the fears of their colleagues, are grateful for that.
Nor can I look with much enthusiasm on the idea of Mr. Gerry Adams acting as a policeman for the Belfast city council. I do not believe that Members of the European Parliament have a locus. Finally, I do not accept that the inclusion of the Secretary of State, whatever his personal qualities or those of his Ministers, would do anything other than bring an even greater outcry from those who felt that the British political machine was bringing cases in Northern Ireland. The arguments to which I have alluded with regard to the Attorney-General would be even greater if the Secretary of State was bringing such cases.
17The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) tried to get round this problem of intimidation in a neat and ingenious way. I listened to and understood the points that he made, but I hope that I have given some of the basic reasons why the Government feel that the question of
Column 1268intimidation is much broader than the question of who brings cases of this sort. I do not believe that the right hon. Member's proposed changes would be workable. Not only that, but the functions of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which are set out under the 1972 order, make it clear that the director can deal only with criminal cases, and these cases will not be criminal ones. I accept that we could change that, but it would need a major rethinking of the philosophy underlying the 1972 order and the role of the director in Northern Ireland would be one with which I am far from convinced he would be terribly happy.
The amendments do not propose straightforward inclusion of the DPP ; there is a caveat attached that the DPP should be allowed to bring actions only where there is a possibility of personal intimidation or threat. What constitutes intimidation for these purposes? Who would decide whether it was likely? Would applicants decide? If so, the director would be involved in every case that was ever brought. Would the DPP decide? If so, what criteria would he use? It is not possible just to draw up criteria for the DPP in this way.
When considering all these amendments it should be borne in mind that the application for breach of the declaration can be brought by a group of people--councillors, the council, the electors. This, we believe, is sufficient to protect applicants against intimidation. We agree that it does not cover the intimidation of witnesses, which is the key element in the fears among councillors and hon. Members. That is a matter for the police and it is crucial that it is resolved with the police when such cases are brought. I cannot ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to accept these amendments.
Mr. Jim Marshall : By leave of the House, I should like to reply briefly to the debate. As we have the support of the DUP, the Official Unionists and the Social Democrats, perhaps we should take our amendment away and have a further look at it. If, as the hon. Members from those parties have said, they intend to vote with us, we shall be pleased to have their company.
Mr. Clifford Forsythe : My hon. Friends and, I presume, hon. Members of the Unionist fraternity on the other Benches are quite capable of being convinced by a correct argument. It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that he cannot be persuaded by argument.
Mr. Marshall : I am pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman concede that if an argument is rational and convincing enough he is prepared to be convinced by it. I regret that on previous occasions when I am sure that my arguments were equally or perhaps more cogent, rational and convincing I failed to carry the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends with me. Perhaps I should not say much more about that in case I lose the potential support of the Official Unionists.
I have a point to make to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and it is one that the Minister tangentially approached. We deliberately chose the Attorney-General because we wished to emphasise that we want the offence to remain a civil one. We had a long debate in Committee when we considered whether to choose the Attorney-General or the Director of Public Prosecutions. We made it clear then that we were opposed to criminalisation, and the very mention in the north of Ireland of the initials DPP implies criminalisation.
Mr. Ashdown : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that elucidation. Does he share my view that the Minister, who has been very eloquent and is a powerful speaker who presents his case well, has been remarkably unsound on his ground in the debate? Of all the Minister's arguments I found most sinister the one that Members of Parliament were somehow not involved in these affairs and that only councillors or electors could bring charges. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would comment on that. It seems odd that the Government's argument is based on the idea that an elector can initiate the law but an elected representative cannot.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) again spoke about the genuine fears of people in Northern Ireland in general and in specific areas of the Province. I think that I speak for all my hon. Friends when I say that we fully understand that. Time and again I and my hon. Friends seek to curb what we are tempted to say so that we do not exacerbate those fears or be seen to be inciting people to commit acts of violence. We understand and share the grief and sympathy that undoubtedly abounds in the north of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman belittles himself when he says that because we live hundreds of miles from what is going on day-by-day in the north of Ireland we fail to understand and appreciate the dimension of agony in another part of the United Kingdom. I ask him to accept that there is a shared feeling about that.
The Minister made great play of the need for councillors, electors or councils to be the Government's front-line soldiers. He is saying, "You are the people directly involved. You are the people whom we expect to carry out the Government's will--whether you be an ordinary elector, councillor, or even a Member of Parliament who happens to have been elected to a specific district council."
It is wrong of the Minister to hide behind those innocent people. He is asking them to do something that he will not have to do--put the finger on an individual or on individuals. That person may appreciate that the act of fingering and speaking out against another party might spell his own death. But that is what the Minister asks people to do on his Government's behalf.
Our argument, and the essence of the amendment, is that such a requirement is wrong. We deeply disapprove of the legislation, but if the Government wish to impose it, then they must have the courage and guts to accept that, as it is their legislation, it is their responsibility to implement it. The best way of doing that is through the office of the Attorney-General.
Mr. Needham : If the hon. Gentleman were right, then his argument would be true of any civil case brought in Northern Ireland. We are here dealing with a civil case involving electors in a given district, councils, and councillors. In those circumstances, it is right that they should be the parties bringing the action.
Column 1270respect of this legislation, been playing with words for weeks and months. However, he cannot escape from the fact that the legislation is political in both concept and character. It seeks to impose political conditions on Northern Ireland's local councils. The Government are responsible for that concept, and for the kind of political views that they wish to outlaw in councils. If political decisions must be taken, the Government must realise that the Attorney-General should take the responsibility for implementing them.
Question put, That the amendment be made :--
The House divided : Ayes 31, Noes 104.
Division No. 56] [10.47 pm
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Golding, Mrs Llin
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
McCrea, Rev William
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Paisley, Rev Ian
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Steel, Rt Hon David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Frank Haynes and
Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie.
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Currie, Mrs Edwina
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Fishburn, John Dudley
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Meyer, Sir Anthony
Morrison, Sir Charles
Porter, David (Waveney)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Sackville, Hon Tom
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)