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Column 128512.4 am
Rev. Ian Paisley : Surely the Government should have second thoughts about this Bill. All hon. Members in the Chamber, with their diverse political opinions and platforms, are totally opposed to it. Surely the Government should think again when they see the opposition of elected representatives in this House to the Bill. Of course my views and opposition are different from those of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). Nevertheless, there is a consensus that the Bill is not the way to proceed.
I regret that the leader of the Liberals is not in the Chamber at the moment. He castigated me at the beginning of the debate and said that I had made misrepresentations about the views of the Alliance party. He accused me of being guilty of misleading Parliament and of putting forward falsehoods about that party.
I live in east Belfast. I know the leader of the Alliance party by repute and I have read what he has said. Tonight evidence was given that that gentleman said, in front of witnesses, that he was opposed to the Bill. The Alliance party is on record as stating that it did not want the onus to be placed on ordinary individuals. It stated that it should be placed on the Law Officers in keeping with an amendment moved tonight by the official Opposition with regard to the Attorney-General, or even in keeping with the view put forward by the leader of the Liberals. The Alliance party evidently speaks with two voices on this matter. It has told the leader of the Liberals one thing and the people of Northern Ireland something completely different.
The Alliance party does not have representatives in this House. The leader of the Liberals told us that there was a widely held view in Northern Ireland in favour of the Bill. Where is that support? It cannot be found among the elected representatives in this House. The Government should govern, and tonight they are not doing that. When there are deaths, murder, mayhem and bombing in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State comes to the Dispatch Box and pleads with the people of Northern Ireland to come together and stop the bombing and killings. However, the ordinary people of Northern Ireland can do nothing about that. As the Secretary of State spoke tonight, he put the onus back on the ordinary people. If the Bill does not work, the people of Northern Ireland will be blamed.
Yes, the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland came together tonight, but the Government did not listen to them. The Secretary of State had the opportunity tonight to stand in the front line and take action by accepting an amendment. However, the Minister said that it was not a matter for the Secretary of State. Others were prepared to go on the front line, but that was not acceptable to the Government. The first person to finger a member of Sinn Fein, the first person to succeed in bringing an action against Sinn Fein, will have written his own obituary. Time will tell. It is all right for the Secretary of State to comment, but that is the reality. Members of Sinn Fein will use the measure when it suits them and when they want to bring about a crisis in a council area. The person who is responsible, seeks to do what is right and to take his
responsibilities seriously will suffer, or his wife and family will suffer.
The Achilles' heel of every politician in Northern Ireland is not himself. Those in public life in Northern
Column 1286Ireland have made a decision and are prepared to carry the burden. But the weakness of every man is his wife and his children. That is the worry of politicians in Northern Ireland. I am not worried about myself ; I and my colleagues in the House who represent Northern Ireland are worried about our families. They are our Achilles' heel, because at any moment they can be shot down in the street. Gun law is the order of the day in Northern Ireland. Those are the facts and we need to face them.
As I told the House, last night I sat with a young woman and her little child. What can one say to a woman whose husband, aged 26, goes out in the morning and is brought back in a box in the evening? That is the situation we face in Northern Ireland. This legislation, instead of bringing us nearer to a solution is drawing us further away from it.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I shall try to be brief, although that is often more easily said than done. I believe that I shall be the last Back Bench Member to speak in the debate, and I wish to make a point that does not directly relate to the main arguments that have been raised during the debate. I wish to speak not so much for the hon. Members who are here, but for the record, for those who are not present tonight.
It is terribly disappointing for hon. Members representing Northern Ireland to speak to a House in which 190 hon. Members voted earlier this evening and now has more than 500 hon. Members absent. Whichever party they represent, they cannot all have had legitimate reasons not to be here.
We are considering a Bill to
"Amend the law relating to the franchise at elections to district councils in Northern Ireland, to make provision in relation to a declaration".
That is not a minor item about democracy. If hon. Members are not concerned enough to attend debates dealing with items of local government electoral systems, that seems to me to be disturbing, and it applies to both sides of the House. I realise that many will have legitimate reasons for not being here, but others, from both sides of the House, should realise that, as Parliamentarians they should be involved in these proceedings.
Surely, within a parliamentary democracy, the first thing that we should be concerned about is the electoral system. Democracy does not depend just on electoral systems, it depends on many other arrangements such as petitioning rights, civil liberties and how organisations are supposed to present their views through pressure group activities. All those factors seem to be under attack. The Government should reflect that the climate of the House produces the feeling that items will be steamrollered. Many hon. Members believe that it is useless to involve themselves in important and significant debates such as this. This should be a major parliamentary occasion in which we discuss democracy. Some hon. Members have carried the weight of the debate and should be congratulated on their contributions. Others, despite the line that the Whips have taken, have decided that they should not be involved.
Declarations are being introduced that are democratically dangerous. Northern Ireland needs not qualifications and restrictions on democracy but an extension of it, and improved social and economic conditions.
Column 128712.16 am
Mr. Needham : We have exhaustively and exhaustingly covered all aspects of the Bill. Having listened, I hope attentively, to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and his hon. Friends-- who are not present in significant numbers--I find their arguments as weak as at the end of the debate as I did at the beginning.
The Opposition have opposed all the recent measures that the Government have introduced to limit the hideous effects of terrorism with various degrees of antagonism or apathy and sometimes both. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North accused the Bill of being draconian, of limiting freedom of expression, of being a step to totalitarianism and of undermining democratic politics. Yet on Second Reading he abstained and said that there were two small clauses to which he could not object.
In Committee, the Opposition proposed a series of contradictory amendments. Some, such as substituting "crimes of violence" for acts of "violence for political ends", clearly broadened the scope of the Bill in a way that was completely unacceptable to the Government, and which could have been criticised as unjustifiable restrictions of freedom of expression.
Another amendment proposed--it was moved again tonight--that the Attorney- General should be introduced into the proceedings. That was an astonishing development from the Labour party, given its recent attacks on the Attorney -General. It was more astonishing in the light of its apparent desire to appeal to Nationalist sentiment ; no wonder the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) sat on his hands when that suggestion was put to the vote.
Has the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North forgotten the history of the Attorney-General in Irish affairs? In 1844, Daniel O'Connell was prosecuted for conspiracy. Who prosecuted him? The Attorney-General. In 1848, Smith O'Brien was sentenced to death, although he was later reprieved. Who prosecuted him? The Attorney-General. The role of the Attorney-General in the affairs of Northern Ireland has led to the creation of martyrs and greater divisions in the island of Ireland.
Other Opposition amendments have tried--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I must apply the rules equally. We cannot again go over the Committee stage of the Bill ; we must deal with the Bill's provisions.
I have found the views expressed by Opposition Members extraordinary. The remarks of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North reminded me of a few lines from Alice in Wonderland, which say :
" You are old, Father"
"the young man said,
And your hair has become very white ;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head--
Do you think at your age it is right?'
In my youth,' Father"
"replied to his son,
I feared it might injure the brain ;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why I do it again and again'."
Column 1288Unionist Members' arguments also appear to have been muddled. If they want Sinn Fein banned--I understand the arguments for that--they are entitled to ask for proscription, but even if they were to have proscription, we would still require the Bill. If, however, they want a Bill to stop terrorism being advocated or violence supported in councils, they must explain to the House and to the people of Northern Ireland how using the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions in making a breach of the declaration a crime will work more effectively than the Government's proposals. They have clearly failed to do that.
I do not wish to go back through the arguments about repudiation, but a court can consider evidence on whether a councillor is supporting violence, but it cannot consider establishing whether a person has repudiated his vow. Many Unionist Members' arguments would not have made the Bill more effective--they would have made it less effective. The hon. Member for Mid- Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) rightly mentioned intimidation. I agree that it must be tackled, but it would happen to witnesses and applicants, and it would have to be tackled whenever any action is brought in the court.
The point of the Bill is that we want candidates to sign the declaration and, when they are elected, to abide by it. It is not that we want an endless series of cases on the issue.
As has been mentioned, the Bill has been attacked by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. The commission believes, as others do, that there is a serious problem in local government, and I welcome that belief. The commission is concerned that the declaration that we are proposing will not work and that, in some way, it will be counterproductive. It believes that the problem should be tackled by creating a new offence of supporting or condoning the use of violence for political ends, which offence could be committed by anyone. In other words, the commission's proposals would limit the freedom of speech of those who have chosen not to accept elected office. The commission's drastic proposal to invoke the criminal law in respect not merely of councillors and assembly members but of any citizen is not justified. I am surprised that the SACHR should advocate the introduction of new criminal legislation which undermines freedom of expression in a way that the Government's proposal does not. I am surprised to note that the Opposition seem to agree with that line. This week, I was explaining the Bill to a Democratic state senator from Massachusetts. He expressed surprise that the Bill was being opposed. Hon. Members from Northern Ireland will accept that, in a recent poll, 84 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland supported the concepts behind the Bill, for all sorts of reasons, but the elected Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland have opposed it. That senator asked me, "How can any match be started unless the teams are made to leave their knives by the touchline?"
The Bill says to the advocate of violence, "Thus far and no further. Advocate your violent views, if you must, in your attempts to gain a vote, but we, the vast majority, respect honour and will uphold the rules of political democracy." The men of violence have a choice--shut up or get out. The Bill may be a small step for democracy, but it is a further step from the abyss, and I commend it to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time : The House divided : Ayes 98, Noes 21.
Column 1289Division No. 58] [12.23 am
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
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, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Morrison, Sir Charles
Porter, David (Waveney)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Twinn, Dr Ian