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8.42 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): At the beginning of the debate, I raised with the Home Secretary the question whether the Bill was a serious constitutional Bill. Speeches for and against the Bill have underlined over and over again that it is. It touches the very heart of society and the very heart of the life of society. As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) put so well, it is strange that there is a one-way street when it comes to capital and labour. How can it be that I am not allowed to know the criminal background of my employer but he has the right to demand details of my criminal background if I have one? There is something very seriously wrong about that.

I deplore the attitude of the Home Secretary. I said that I did not want to hinder him in getting the Bill through the House, but that the matter must be thoroughly discussed. Undigested legislation is a curse. We find out later all the mistakes that we could have found out if we had had full discussion. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) said that there are other Bills to get through, but that is absolutely no argument. If we push through legislation on this important matter because other Bills are lining up to get through, we shall not have a good Bill.

My record is well known: I am a supporter of the police. I have stood alone in the European Parliament to defend the Royal Ulster Constabulary against everybody who was present. I believe that the police need to be supported. I believe that the hour is grave and that we should listen to what action the police feel should be taken. Legislators have a responsibility to discern what they can support absolutely and what they must question--searching to see whether other provisions can be made. We cannot give policemen a blank cheque. They also must be subject to the law. When the police force or individual members of it are not subject to the law, they bring contempt on the whole power and moral authority of the police.

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I regret the attitude of the Home Secretary. I also regret the attitude of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who argued that the Bill was not a constitutional Bill. I believe that it is and that this House should not kick it upstairs after tonight's debate. I am convinced about that because those of us who support the principle of supporting the police are being asked to give a blank cheque in return for being shown amendments later. We want to see the thrust of the amendments now so that we can have a proper debate on Second Reading.

The amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats should not just be dismissed as it was from the Labour Front Bench. By tabling an amendment, the Liberal Democrats are at least putting on a brake and saying that on some things we need to be absolutely sure. Any of us who have been long in the House have learned that, when both Front-Bench teams make an agreement, one's voice is a cry in the wilderness. Everybody knows that it is very hard to make the crooked path straight and the rough places smooth when the two Front-Bench teams have made an agreement. Yet due to the Bill's constitutional nature, both Front-Bench teams have a responsibility not to start rushing on but to listen.

The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley), who is for the Bill, made some very trenchant criticisms and raised some questions that needed to be listened to. One of them was that we should dismiss any suggestion that records could be wrong, yet the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) have brought proof that the records have been wrong. I have had experience of it in my constituency. It took me months to get the records set straight, but all the damage was done and the individual suffered from it. It is not easy to repair such damage.

Let us consider the multitude of certificates that will be floating about. I have a criminal record--I am quite proud of it. I was sent to this House because the people of North Antrim said that I did right to go to gaol and make my protest--

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): A constitutional record.

Rev. Ian Paisley: A constitutional record, yes, but I do not mind. The Lord Jesus Christ was crucified for having a criminal record and we know that he was the sinless son of God who died for sins of poor sinners like the people who sit in this House, including myself. There is repentance, forgiveness and conversion. If we do not believe in that, there is no hope. Why should a person be held to ransom for ever because of something he has done? Christ taught that there can be no forgiveness without repentance, and if a man repents and shows that he has left his old path, he should be helped, not hindered, by society.

I was amazed by the Home Secretary's attitude to the fee for certificates. He said that everybody can pay £5 or £6. Can they? If people are unemployed for a long time, £5 is very precious to them. I had the biggest lobby that I have ever had on one subject from the voluntary organisations on this issue. People with time on their hands go to voluntary organisations to volunteer. Should the organisations tell people that they must pay £6 or £10 for a certificate before they can work? How many people will volunteer then? My constituency has a large

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farming community and, like the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge, I was lobbied by young farmers' clubs. I hope that the Home Secretary will listen to their voices. Serious damage could be done to voluntary bodies, which form the cement of society, if we do not heed what they are saying. I plead with the Home Secretary to change his mind on this issue.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : The hon. Gentleman has advanced an interesting and relevant argument. Why should we assume that those who are responsible for granting the licences have a better record or pedigree than those to whom they are granting the licences?

Rev. Ian Paisley: We have no assurance of that. We do not know whether those people have produced a certificate to get the job of issuing certificates. If the hon. Gentleman started to make inquiries into their pedigrees, a wall of steel would be erected to stop him finding out who they are.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster): Does my hon. Friend agree that, because support for this issue crosses party boundaries, we should be able to vote on it and ensure that those iniquitous provisions are removed from the Bill? That would show that hon. Members are listening to their constituents. I hope that the Opposition will strongly support that proposition, because they should stand up for the voluntary organisations and those who have little money but a lot to contribute to society.

Rev. Ian Paisley: My hon. Friend has not been in the House as long as I have. He will learn that those who sit on the two Front Benches cannot be stopped, once they make up their mind. If their minds are made up to go to hell, to hell they will go, and no amount of preaching from me or anybody else will convert them.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton indicated assent.

Rev. Ian Paisley: My hon. Friend knows what hardened sinners they are, but even the most hardened sinner can repent. There is hope and forgiveness for all.

We are here tonight because alarm bells were sounded in another place. I am not in favour of the House of Lords or the hereditary principle. Nominees are even worse, because we do not know where fellows on the honours list have come from or what they have done. We cannot look at their pedigrees. Those in the other place who sounded the alarm bells the loudest were former Members of this place, who knew what was happening in the constituencies.

It is amazing that, in a country that has an established Church and had the benefit of the reformation--and where the Roman Catholic Church has not formed the doctrine of the state--the Home Secretary and the leader of the Labour party can approve the seal of the confessional. What is the seal of the confessional? If a Roman Catholic goes to his priest for forgiveness and repeats all his sins, the priest must not tell anyone what he says, even if he confesses that he intends to murder his next door neighbour or that he has already committed an atrocious crime.

What will it mean if some places may not be bugged? Anybody who has read Irish republican history will know that republican priests were used in all the rebellions.

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One active IRA priest was able to use his priestly authority to commit criminal acts that led to people being killed. I do not ask for any special privilege as the pastor of a large congregation. I know the secrets of many of my parishioners, but I believe that only God can forgive sins and I do not want to listen to their confessions.

A parishioner came to me once and confessed that he had committed a terrible crime. I got out my car and took him to the police station. I told the police that the man had committed a terrible crime and that the only way to clear his conscience was to make a clean breast of it. He did, he paid the price and he went to prison. He is out now and he often tells me that that was the best day's work I ever did, because his burden has been lifted and he no longer has to look over his shoulder and wonder what will happen to him.

I do not take it well when certain people say, "You cannot touch this," and, "You cannot touch that." I believe that the most private place of all is not any church building, but is in the recesses of a person's home when he sits with his family. That is a castle which should not be breached by this legislation. I do not think that any society should move lightly--as we seem to be doing in this Bill--to permit acts of burglary to install certain gadgets.

I do not believe that these gadgets will do what the Government expect. My office was, at one time, under surveillance. In reading the Bill, I had to smile when I read that I had been guilty of conducting myself with a large number of persons in pursuit of a "common purpose"--the "common purpose" being to do away with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I thought that beams were being sent into my office, and I asked a technician--a member of my church--if he could tell me whether this was the case. He came down with a suitcase and produced all these gadgets, which he turned on. He then said he could see where the beams were coming from, and added that he could do something about it by pressing a button which would let the people sending the beam know that I was aware of it. He put the machine on, and the beam was gone. They got the message that I was breaking the beam and that I knew what they were doing. It would be nice to know from the Secretary of State whether he has the power to deal with that type of surveillance, because it could be the worst sort with which we have to deal.

These are the matters that affect me, and I think that the Bill should go to a Committee of the whole House where everybody from all parts of the United Kingdom could have a full say. I hope and trust that that will happen.

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