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Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker Order. We cannot have a debate on procedure this afternoon. I have told the hon. Gentleman that he should take it to the Procedure Committee.
Mr. Tony Banks : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to tax your patience but, going back to the question of the central London rail study, during business questions the Leader of the House said that he did not feel that it was appropriate at this stage for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on the study.
I realise that the sort of subjects that we discuss are not your responsibility, but it makes a nonsense of what we are doing here today, for example, for the Secretary of State to have put into the Library a written reply that begins :
"I am today publishing a booklet entitled Transport in London', setting out the Government's policy aims for transport in London and the steps being taken to achieve them".
That is a wholly approporiate subject for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on in the House today. It is a matter of major concern, not only to those who live in London but to others throughout the country. But instead of discussing in the place where we should have discussed it something which will be in the newspapers tomorrow we had a statement on yuppie car phones.
Column 1205I know that you are not responsible for business, Mr. Speaker, but it is about time that the Government started treating this place seriously.
Mr. Simon Hughes rose
I am about to draw the ballot for motions on 13 February. The point raised by the hon. Gentleman would be an admirable subject, it seems to me, for the hon. Member who is successful in the ballot to choose.
Mr. John Ward
Sir Hal Miller
Mr. Nicholas Baker
Mr. Tim Smith, supported by Mr. Sidney Bidwell, Mr. Matthew Carrington, Mr. Hugh Dykes, Sir Anthony Grant, Mr. Jeremy Hanley, Mr. Robert McCrindle, Mr. Anthony Nelson, Mr. Dafydd Wigley, Mr. Mark Wolfson and Mr. Dudley Fishburn, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to public companies and the contents of the directors' reports ; to make provision concerning the appointment of audit committees of the directors of certain public companies ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 3 February and to be printed. [Bill 52.]
Mr. Simon Hughes : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In your answer to my further point of order, you said that you had been informed that the document would be tabled in the Library, quite properly, by 4 o'clock. Would you consider ruling--not necessarily today--on whether, if documents are to be made public in that way or another, it should be done in due time for the publication of answers to written questions, 3.30 pm, and that wherever the publication is to take place, be it in the Library, be it to hon. Members on the letter board or be it to the press, there be one time and not a diversity of times, to the detriment of hon. Members? Would you feel able to rule on that?
Mr. Speaker : Answers to written questions are available at 3.30 pm. It may take a little while for them to get to the Library. What I told the House was that I had received information at 4 o'clock. They may have been there before that.
Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Where a person has made a declaration for the purpose of section 3, 4 and 5 of this Act and has acted in breach of the terms of that declaration he shall be guilty of an offence, punishable on summary conviction to a fine or to imprisonment.'-- [Mr. Clifford Forsythe.] Brought up, and read the First time. 4.55 pm
No. 23, in schedule 2, page 11, line 11 at end insert
"and I understand that breach of this declaration is a criminal offence.".
No. 24, in schedule 2, page 11, line 22, at end insert
and I understand that breach of this declaration is a criminal offence.'.
Mr. Forsythe : This new clause and the two amendments should be generally regarded as coming under the heading of making a breach of the declaration a criminal offence. From the very beginning, we felt that we could support the Bill if it proved to be effective, and so in Committee we suggested certain amendments to try to make it effective. There are two main way,s of doing this. One is that we should have a strong declaration and the other is that there should be a strong penalty--a very effective penalty--for breach of the declaration. We feel that the Bill must be strengthened in this way, otherwise we will be unable to support it even though we supported the Second Reading.
It is pointless our passing legislation through the House if, after the Bill becomes law, it is completely ineffective. Unfortunately, even though hon. Members on the Opposition Benches and elsewhere in the House have impressed upon the Minister that we must change the Bill to make it more effective, our proposals have been ignored. There may be objections to our making a breach of the declaration a criminal offence. Amendments 23 and 24 mean that that little bit would be attached to the declaration, pointing out that if anyone signed the declaration and then breached it he would be committing a criminal offence, and that would cover the matter.
It is only fair that if the Government introduce legislation, they should enforce it. They should enforce it so that it will be effective, and accepted as effective, so that when candidates sign the declaration they know what they are taking on. Surely it is reasonable that in a democratic state those seeking democratic office should be willing to sign a declaration and, in all honour, suffer the penalty if they break it. True democrats would sign such a declaration under those terms.
Comments have been made about the fact that if the declaration is enforced and it comes before a council which has a majority party, that council, through its majority
Column 1207party, could try to enforce the declaration against the minority party's wishes. I am sure that such risks exist. That being so, surely it would be better and fairer for it to be a criminal offence to break the declaration. That would mean that other people would make the decision--if necessary the Director of Public Prosecutions--as to whether the declaration had been breached. That would mean that throughout the Province there would be consistency in applying the law. That would be fair to every council, regardless of which party holds the majority.
No one would argue that murder, bombing, extortion and kangaroo courts are not criminal offences. It seems strange that there is great resistance to making it a criminal offence to break a declaration which will be signed by people who are supposed to be against such acts. It is reasonable to expect that if such acts are against the law, the breach of the declaration should also be against the law and should be treated as a criminal offence.
The voters in Northern Ireland, regardless of their views, would wish those standing for election to local councils to be totally opposed to terrorism, murder and everything that the declaration is against. If that is so, we must draft the legislation so that it is effective in that way. It must be signed by all candidates, regardless of their views, and regardless of against whom it is directed. We should expect those who wish to run as democratic candidates for a democratic election to agree with that.
In Committee, I said that for most of the time I was ploughing a lone furrow. The Committee accepted that because it was obvious when we voted that it was true. I am pleased that today I have a few extra players on my team and because of that, and because I spoke for some time in Committee, I shall pass the ball to the rest of the team.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : I welcome the opportunity to be allowed to comment upon the clause and to speak to the amendments. Under the procedures of the House, my party had no say in Committee. I have been a Member of this House for 20 years and I have sat on Committees when I was the sole representative of my party. I was disheartened when the Minister said that the Bill was an exercise in democracy in Northern Ireland and that we would no longer be governed by an Order in Council but by a Bill, with everyone having an opportunity to move amendments and to consider the matters involved. I suggested to the powers in the House that the Bill did not concern anyone in England, Wales or Scotland but concerned only the people of Northern Ireland. I said that it seemed strange that the House should see fit to exclude representatives from my party--which has more votes in Northern Ireland than the Social Democratic and Labour party--and the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder). This is the only opportunity that I have on behalf of my people to say anything about individual clauses. How will legislation such as this stick in Northern Ireland when the representatives of Northern Ireland are not given a chance to debate the matter? As we heard, the Official Unionist party Member ploughed a lonely furrow in Committee and gave the impression that he was the only person in Northern Ireland with grave reservations about the Bill.
I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe). If the Government want to proceed with this
Column 1208flawed and meaningless Bill and a law that cannot meet the intended objectives, on their heads be it. Those in Northern Ireland who know about local government know that the Bill, as drafted, will not tackle head on--as the Government said it would--the members of local councils who publicly advocate the killing and maiming of people in Northern Ireland, and want to be considered as properly elected and democratic representatives.
Many councillors who represent Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland have terrorist records. For example, one councillor who sits on the City of Derry council was convicted in 1970 for blowing up the Guildhall. Now he sits in the Guildhall and administers the city. Another councillor, on the Belfast city council, has had an exclusion order served on him preventing him from coming to Great Britain. So here we have a councillor who is eligible to sit and is going to continue to sit under the terms of this Bill, because the Bill fails to achieve the objective which the Government said that they wanted to achieve, but who cannot enter Great Britain.
It is ludicrous that such people are permitted, under the law, openly to canvass support for violence and murder and to hide behind a veneer of democracy as they seek further to promote the aims of the murderous IRA. Until the Government take this matter in hand and face up to the situation- -not simply undertaking this cosmetic exercise in the House today through this Bill--this situation will continue. Of course, the amazing thing is the Government's double standards. Ministers refuse to meet representatives of Sinn Fein when they, and particularly those elected chairmen of their councils, lead a deputation from their councils. When they come to Stormont they are put into a room and a deputation goes in and sees the Minister, because the Minister refuses to meet them. But those people elected to councils in Northern Ireland whose loved ones have been murdered, maimed and slaughtered by those very same men, when there have been instances in which a council has wanted to pass a vote of condolence after a person has been murdered and Sinn Fein representatives have refused even to get to their feet and take part in that act of condolence, have had to tolerate those representatives. And they are lectured by the Government and told that they should sit down and do business with the Sinn Fein representatives.
The chief of the Royal Ulster Constabulary--and I am not a fan of the chief constable, even though he did marry a distant relative of mine recently--is the white-haired boy of the Northern Ireland Office. He is the man whom they all quote and support, refusing to listen to any legitimate protest against him. He said that Sinn Fein was the murder executive of the IRA. The Government want us to sit down with the murder executive of the IRA. That is an intolerable situation. It is very clear that to all intents and purposes Sinn Fein and the IRA are identical, and the key figures in the two organisations overlap considerably.
The Sinn Fein representatives' purpose in being on local councils is not to advance the welfare of the people they represent but to seek further to undermine and abuse democracy and to further support for the Irish Republican Army. They ought not to be allowed the platform of the council chamber to defend, encourage, condone and incite the murder of members of the security forces. We heard the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell- Savours), before you took the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, express his concern about certain Members who were
Column 1209named in the House as security risks. But what about those members of certain councils who have information concerning council employees who are perhaps members of the security forces? That information is available to representatives of Sinn Fein simply because they are members of the local council. So a list is being opened up from which these people can set up a series of murders. Furthermore, the House may know that council members have been murdered through information that certainly could have come from the possession of information in council offices. The IRA will have no hesitation in setting up such employees to be murdered.
We had a ludicrous situation recently concerning Smithfield market, which is owned by the Belfast city council and was blown up by the IRA. The representatives of Sinn Fein on the Belfast city council are members of the markets committee and when the plans for the reconstruction, renovation and rebuilding of the market were prepared each of these councillors received a copy. We talk about Guy Fawkes having the run of the cellars of this House ; certainly those men have the run of the cellars of Smithfield market and will know from the plans precisely the best way to blow it up again.
The intolerable situation for Unionist councillors and all those who have any respect for democracy, be they Unionist or Nationalist, has been made much worse because the Government announced what they were going to do and then, sadly, retraced their steps. I regret that the Government had not the guts to go forward on the first statements that were made by the Minister at the Dispatch Box. No doubt some of my hon. Friends on the other side of the House will have remarks to make about that, because in their comments on the situation they drew attention to it. These sad matters that we are considering tonight surely merit an effort by the House to find a way whereby this problem can be dealt with properly. In my opinion, there is only one way to do this and that is by proscribing Sinn Fein, for it is part of the IRA. Unfortunately for us, the Government have dragged their feet and have now produced what is going to be weak and insipid legislation. Long before the council elections--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman was paving the way for his judgment on the merits of the new clause and the associated amendments. He is taking a long time to do that, and I have a duty to safeguard the rules of the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address his remarks more directly to the new clause.
Rev. Ian Paisley : I said at the beginning of this debate that this was the only-- [Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker is in the Chair and is quite able to defend himself. I have never known a Speaker who has not been able to rule the House and I have been here for over 20 years. Mr. Deputy Speaker is quite capable of doing his own job without assistance from those on the Labour Front Bench.
I am tracing the background of this new clause and why it is necessary. I am trying to put it into context. I know that what I am saying may upset those on the Labour Front Bench, but they are not sitting in council with people who have murdered their brothers and sisters. They do not have to do it : it is my people who have to do it and that is why I am speaking in this way.
Column 1210Recently there was a terrible crime in England when a man ran amok and shot some people. Let us suppose that a political party was brought into existence which supported that murderer and that its members were elected to councils. Would Opposition Members say that members of such a party should be allowed to sit on councils and advocate murder and mayhem in England? Not likely. I was in the House after the Birmingham bombing and I remember the type of speeches made then by Opposition Members. They were just as strong as the speeches that Unionist Members make in similar circumstances when our people are being murdered.
I shall now trace the background to the Bill and show why I think that this new clause is relevant. Six and a half years have passed since the Government mooted that they intended to do something about this. The Bill was produced and those who had made representations were alarmed to discover that the Government intended to ease themselves out of their responsibilities. It is the responsibility of the Government to govern and they should not say to civilians, councillors, or to a council as a whole, "Do the dirty work for us." That is the objection strongly lodged in Northern Ireland against the Bill.
If a councillor advocates murder, violence or the shooting of members of the security forces--as some councillors have done--will the Government or the Law Officers of the Crown move in? No, because Pilate-like, the Government will wash their hands of any responsibility and an ordinary councillor or a council will have to take action and be responsible for it. The Minister argued that a whole council could take action, but in areas where that could happen the problem does not exist. Thank God, some councils in Northern Ireland do not have Sinn Fein members. Long may that continue. Those councils are in strong Unionist areas or are Nationalist councils with members other than members of Sinn Fein. We are dealing here with areas where councils cannot take such action.
Let us suppose that someone brings a successful prosecution and, under the terms of the Bill, has a Sinn Fein member removed from office. In such a case, what would Sinn Fein do? It would simply murder the person who took the action because, of course, gun law is the order of the day in Northern Ireland and, unfortunately, we have it on both sides of the divide. I was in a home last night from which a husband, a young man of 26, went out one morning, having kissed his wife and his child of nine months, little Emma, goodbye. Last night I saw him return to that home in a box. That exemplifies the situation in Northern Ireland. The Government must govern. It is not for individuals to take on such responsibility.
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : The hon. Gentleman spoke about the possibility of a council as a body bringing forward a prosecution. Even in the event of such a prosecution being successful, does he have any degree of assurance that the Alliance party in Northern Ireland would not specialise in its usual dirty-dog activity of penalising jointly and severally councillors who take action to uphold the law that the Government are not prepared to uphold?
Rev. Ian Paisley : I am sure from the actions of the Alliance party in the past that it would be prepared to do such dirty work as it did for Sinn Fein. The leader of the Liberal Democrats--if that is the name of his party-- [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr.
Column 1211Ashdown) smiles. He comes to Northern Ireland for a few hours and then disappears but we live in Northern Ireland and saw what happened in Belfast city council about the furtherance of the aims of Sinn Fein by the Alliance party. Sinn Fein did not need to go to court or do any legal work because the Alliance party did it for Sinn Fein.
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : I want to put a matter on the record. Everybody will have his own opinion of the Alliance party. I know it and respect it, and the work that its members have done in Northern Ireland towards the kind of reconciliation that the hon. Gentleman has done so much to damage is widely respected. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view, but I should like to put the record straight as far as I am concerned. I do not go to Northern Ireland for a few minutes and then return. I am a northern Irishman and I am proud to say that. I was brought up there, my parents are northern Irish and I have returned to fight the terrorists on the streets of Belfast. The hon. Gentleman's comments about me are inaccurate and unjustifiable.
Rev. Ian Paisley : I am delighted to know and I am sure that the people of Northern Ireland will be delighted to know that the right hon. Gentleman is a Northern Ireland man because nobody knew that. I am glad that this will get wide publicity. People in Northern Ireland will be amazed to discover that the right hon. Gentleman is a Northern Ireland man.
Rev. Ian Paisley : I have already permitted the right hon. Gentleman to intervene. He need not wave his finger at me and say, "Ah ha." I say to the right hon. Gentleman that people come to the House by votes. The Alliance party does not come here because it does not get votes. The right hon. Gentleman may seek to pass judgment on any Northern Ireland Member, but we are here because people have voted for us. In elections in which I have taken part the Alliance party forfeited its deposit. The right hon. Gentleman can continue to praise the Alliance party as much as he likes, but if he thinks that his great weight and standing will help it I invite him to the European election
Rev. Ian Paisley : Liberal Democrats lead people astray and I confess that I was led astray. I shall now turn to a far more important matter, the background to the situation in Northern Ireland and what will happen if the Bill becomes law.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe), in his new clause, emphasises--and it needs to be emphasised--that the breaching of an oath would be an offence punishable on summary conviction by a fine or imprisonment. That would completely lift this matter from the civil law to the criminal law and that is what needs to be achieved. It is the duty of the Law Officers of the Crown
Column 1212to proceed against offenders. It is not the duty of the ordinary citizen to take such proceedings because by doing so he would put himself at risk. The Government should uphold the law of the land and it is intolerable to ask any ordinary citizen in the Northern Ireland situation to take such a responsibility.
The House may not be aware that the security services themselves cannot defend the populace. Recently, I visited a home three miles from Antrim town where a burning took place at 8 o'clock in the evening. The police were summoned, but as they were unable to attend because of the fear of booby traps or bombs in their way, they arrived the next day at 11 am. The occupants concerned were placed at risk, and their farm buildings were put to the flame.
When the people of a country cannot be guaranteed security by the state, how can one ask them to take upon themselves the responsibilities of the Law Officers of the Crown? That is what the Bill proposes. If such a thing were suggested in England, Scotland or Wales, it would be thrown out. Perhaps it will help the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Democrats to know that the Alliance parties in Northern Ireland support my view. It is not just one part of the community that objects to the Government's proposals, but many factions who otherwise hold opposite views on many political issues affecting Northern Ireland. That is because they know the reality of the situation. They are calling for the Government, too, to face reality.
It is not too late for the Government to alter the Bill. It is not too late for them to weigh up the arguments, rather than put the Bill through the House tonight. Those who will suffer if they do that will be the patient people of Northern Ireland. It is they who will reap the sad results of the seeds that the Government have sown.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill bears no resemblance to the substance of the representations made by Northern Ireland councillors to the Minister three years ago? We consider those representations to have been a complete waste of time. That feeling is being echoed because of the way in which the matter is being dealt with in the House. The majority of elected hon. Members affected by the legislation have played a minimal part in it.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It would have been more appropriate if many of the remarks that we have heard today had been made on Second Reading rather than when considering new clause 2. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will confine their remarks to new clause 2 and its associated amendments.
Rev. Ian Paisley : I take on board the hon. Gentleman's comment, because he has wide experience of local government and speaks with that degree of authority. One council after another told the Government that any new law must be exercised not by councillors, councils or individuals, but by the Law Officers of the Crown. What was the use of those representations being made if the Government respond only by saying no? The Minister must answer that question tonight.
I wonder how the House would feel if a right hon. or hon. Member said, "We are very glad that a police officer was shot dead today. He got his deserts." I know what would be the reaction. The right hon. Member for Yeovil
Column 1213may shake his head, but certain Northern Ireland councillors have said worse than that in open council in Belfast. The interesting point about the Bill is the line of demarcation that it draws between those who serve as representatives in this House and the representatives serving on a council, or an assembly that does not exist in Northern Ireland. The Bill apparently aims at producing two laws, so that there will be two different standards. One does not need to sign anything if one wishes to be a Member of Parliament, but if one wishes to serve on a Northern Ireland council, one must play charades.
The Bill is seriously flawed. Unless the Minister has second thoughts, is prepared to reconsider the representations that were made to him by Northern Ireland councils and by the individuals concerned, and to meet the needs of those who serve on local councils who must face up to the problems involved, then I will be in absolute agreement with the hon. Member for Antrim, South. We cannot bring ourselves to vote for this legislation, for the very heart of it has been torn out. The promises that were made and the objectives that were meant to be achieved have not been observed, and that is the sad situation in which we find ourselves tonight.
The background to the legislation is that in 1985, a considerable number of people who openly advocated violence were elected to Northern Ireland local district councils. They were successful not just because they appealed to a certain section of the community but because they were able to finance their election campaign to the tune of well over £100,000 with money provided by certain north African sources. One contrasts Sinn Fein campaigning with funds of more than £100,000 with my own party--the major one in Northern Ireland--entering the same campaign with finance of well below £20,000.
The problem of Sinn Fein advocating violence in the council chamber was recognised by the Minister in his consultative paper published in October 1987. However, it was not just 15 months ago that the Government had the opportunity to consider the matter, but more than four years ago. Nevertheless, the Minister's discussion paper stated :
"A serious threat to stable local democracy in Northern Ireland has come from Sinn Fein, whose candidates make no secret of their support for the armed struggle'--a euphemism for the terrorist crimes, including murder, carried out by the Provisional IRA."
In Omagh district council, for example, a Sinn Fein councillor stated that, under certain circumstances, it would be acceptable to him and his party to have members of that council's staff murdered at work. That point is recognised in paragraph 4 of the discussion paper, which states :
"In the case of Sinn Fein, their councillors support their party's military wing' which has been responsible for a number of assassinations of elected representatives, in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain ; and prominent Sinn Fein councillors have sought to justify the IRA's terrorist campaign".
Not only did the Government identify the problem at that stage, but they recognised that those of us who believe that our democratic institutions should be protected had endeavoured to do something about the fact that the promoters of violence sat in the council chambers with us.
Column 1214They recognised how we, in our efforts to prevent Sinn Fein from undermining the democratic process, had ourselves been brought to court. The law of the land proved inadequate, as it does in many circumstances, to deal with terrorism.
The discussion paper says :
"the judgements drew attention to the close relationship between the political activities of Sinn Fein and the murders and other violent crimes committed by the IRA to overthrow democratic government in Northern Ireland."
That is the crux of the matter. We are dealing not with individual sensitivities but with a co-ordinated, well-financed attempt by people who support terror for political reasons to undermine the very democratic structures on which we depend.
When the Government brought out their discussion paper we were not altogether happy with some of the measures that it suggested, but we decided as a political party that we would respond positively. Not only did we respond positively, but we did so in as mild a way as we believed possible, because we did not wish to make it difficult for the Government to bring forward the kind of legislation that would be necessary to deal with those who used violence for political ends. When we submitted our comments, we nevertheless warned the Government that they should not wrongly assume that our submission would be a basis for debate and negotiation. We suggested that it was the least that we could accept in terms of legislation. One point that we made very strongly was that we did not want the Government to be seen to rely, or be suspected of relying, on Unionist elected representatives to do the job of excluding men of violence from the council chamber. We knew that that would be to the disadvantage of both the Government and those of us who were councillors. We also saw a great difficulty if prosecutions for breach of declaration were brought by Unionists, because such prosecutions would be misinterpreted as Unionists being petty and trying to deny a franchise to a certain section of the community. On the other hand, we recognised that if Unionists did not bring forward prosecutions, the men of violence would deem them to be afraid to face a by-election.
Our real fear, however, is that anyone--a councillor or a Member--who is obliged to bring a prosecution against a Sinn Fein councillor for advocating violence will himself become a victim of the IRA. Not only those in the council chambers but those outside wait for instructions with their guns at the ready.
We were not the only people to recognise the difficulties that would arise if it were left to individuals to bring prosecutions. The Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights said in an advisory paper to the Government :
"the Government should mark the seriousness with which it views certain statements and actions of councillors and others by placing them more clearly in the context of criminal law".
That committee was set up by the Government to advise them, and I wonder how the Minister can reject such professional advice. Let me add that I do not always agree with what the committee says. In this instance, however, I believe that, like the majority of people in Northern Ireland, it recognises that the purpose of the legislation is to deal not
Column 1215with individual problems, but with the whole problem of whether democracy is to be given a chance in the district councils after May 1989.
The committee also recognised that the sort of legislation that is before us could be to the advantage of the IRA. After signing the declaration, members of Sinn Fein may well behave properly for a considerable length of time and then, at an opportune moment, choose to infringe the declaration and so create a crisis that would benefit the Provisional IRA. The committee says :
"it provides the elected extremist with the opportunity at a time of his own choosing, probably when party fortunes are at a low ebb, to boost electoral support by claiming that the declaration is a symbol of oppression".
The standing advisory committee was considering a situation in which I or a fellow councillor was forced to bring a member of Sinn Fein to court for a breach of the declaration when it suited Sinn Fein to be brought to court so that the Sinn Fein member could point a finger at me and state, "Look, there is a Unionist who is denying the minority community its elected right."
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : As the hon. Gentleman knows, SACHR is againsany form of declaration. Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that he is against any form of declaration, however that may be proposed? Mr. Maginnis : I am certainly not. If the Minister had been listening to me, he would have heard me say that I do not always agree with SACHR. However, I said that, on this point, it has put forward a cogent and reasonable argument.
Now that the Minister has raised the issue of the declaration, it is incumbent on me to sidetrack my comments for a moment and reply to him. The Minister must surely recognise that the declaration is a weakness. A declaration that does not prevent an advocate of violence being elected to a council, but which places the onus on councillors or others to have him disqualified after he is elected, is nonsense. My party said that there should be a repudiation, not of violence as such, but of paramilitary organisations proscribed under the emergency provisions legislation. That would have created a dilemma, if not a total obstruction, for men of violence who want to be elected. It would have been very difficult for someone prior to election to repudiate Provisional Sinn Fein and then hope to go forward on a platform supporting Provisional Sinn Fein. That kind of approach would have made more sense than the Minister's proposal.
Rev. Ian Paisley : Is not the great weakness of the declaration the time that it comes into effect? During the election someone can say anything. Someone can say, "Shoot every policeman." I received some literature, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) must have received a copy as well, from Sinn Fein yesterday in which Gerry Adams wished his opponents a bloody new year. That kind of language can be used during the election, but the declaration only has power over someone making such statements after that person has been elected.