Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Does my hon. Friend agree that even the simplest soul in Northern Ireland realises that this unnecessary and unjustifiable number has been decided on to minimise Ulster Unionist influence?

Mr. Ross: I agree with my hon. Friend as far as he went, but he should have gone on to point out that the real reason for it was to ensure that the maximum number of Sinn Fein and Protestant paramilitary representatives would be elected. That is the reason for six Members per constituency. Many of those people simply could not get elected on the basis of five per constituency.

Of course, we all know that the weird and wonderful electoral system for the Northern Ireland forum that we are going to bring to an end later this evening was not designed to ensure proper or equitable representation. It was designed, created and used to ensure that all the paramilitaries would manage to get people elected. Once elected, they were able to bring in the same number of people as the major parties in Northern Ireland, so each and every one was on the same footing, although, in fact, there was unequal support for them across the community. That is the only reason for the large number of representatives in Northern Ireland.

The number is even more amazing when we find that the very small number of Northern Ireland Ministers claim that they are doing a very good job at present--they must have a very low opinion of the capacities of the people of Northern Ireland if it takes 108 of them to do what five Ministers are doing at the moment.

22 Apr 1998 : Column 866

We know that the Secretary of State and her Ministers have appointed many quangos to do their job for them. They have expended huge sums of public money without any reference to the democratic principle. In any event, there are now going to be 108 representatives, which is absolutely crazy. It becomes even crazier when one remembers that we now have a civic forum comprising the great and good and those appointed from the voluntary sector. We do not know who is appointing them, or on what criteria, how many of them there are or how they will be funded or staffed, but there is no question but that they will be staffed. It will be the super-quango to end all super-quangos, and it will be the new factory of grievances within Northern Ireland to act as a counterbalance to the assembly when it is set up.

Given all the voting systems in the assembly, it is peculiar that it is only on the issue of leaving the United Kingdom that a simple majority--50 per cent. plus 1--is required. On nearly every other issue, a weighted majority is required. I know the agreement says that within the assembly most votes will require a simple majority, but that depends on whether a decision is considered to be a key decision. The truth is that as it takes only 30 members of that assembly to demand a vote on the basis of a decision being a key decision, nearly everything other than the most minor will be treated as a key decision demanding a weighted cross-community vote to carry it.

Rev. Martin Smyth: Would it be accurate to say, as was said to me at the weekend, that for cross-community issues one has to identify oneself as either "Unionist" or "Alliance"? That would mean, for example, that the Alliance party and any other party of such a nature would not have a status equal to that of other parties.

Mr. Ross: My hon. Friend is correct. One will have to wear a little tab saying, "I'm a Unionist, or "I'm a Nationalist", and the Alliance party tab would have to say something like, "I'm in the middle so I don't really count". I do not know how on earth the Alliance people are going to be weighed in the balance. There will have to be two of them on each side to show that the issue in question has cross-community support. Perhaps instead of declaring ourselves as Unionists or nationalists, we will have to say, "I'm a Roman Catholic" or "I'm a Prod", whatever that may mean, or something else. This matter has not been dealt with so far, and it is remarkable that no one has raised it before.

Mr. Peter Robinson: Is not it outrageous that the agreement asks that people tell us who they represent once the election is over? It is only after the election that they have to determine whether they are Unionists or nationalists. In some cases, people will no doubt determine that on the basis of what suits the voting in the assembly that will then be elected.

Mr. Ross: No doubt the hon. Gentleman will want to pursue that point and I certainly hope that he does. He has raised a number of interesting issues that have not yet been resolved.

Let me turn to the method of dismissing the representatives of murder from the Northern Ireland Executive. There is no way in which we can keep them out. After the election there will be a cross-community

22 Apr 1998 : Column 867

election to decide on the Presiding Officer and the deputy presiding officer. There will then be another to elect the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. After that, the d'Hondt system of proportional representation will come into play when Members of the Assembly Committees elect Chairmen on the basis of party strength.

The d'Hondt system is automatic and one can predict the result using the numbers in the forum that will come to an end within a few days. There will probably be two SDLP Ministers and almost certainly two Sinn Fein Ministers in the Northern Ireland Government. In other words, terrorist representatives will sit on the Executive at the very heart of the Government of Northern Ireland with full Executive powers to run a Department within the broad-brush principles that have been set out.

Once the terrorists are in place, it will be almost impossible to remove them because that would require a cross-community vote. I cannot envisage the two SDLP representatives in the assembly voting to remove Mr. Adams, regardless of what the IRA is doing outside.

It seems to me from my reading of the document that the party or group to which a political representative belongs is not relevant; it is whether the individual in post has misbehaved or not. Unless the Minister is found wearing a balaclava, holding a smoking gun, with a corpse in front of him and nobody else within 100 yd, he will be safe. It will be impossible to get rid of him and he will be allowed to continue running the schools, the Department of the Environment or deciding where money will go for industrial development in Northern Ireland. It is a crazy system and is a consequence of having an Executive for Northern Ireland. It is a long way from where my party started in the process.

Although the Prime Minister's letter is very well written and carefully crafted, it does not mean as much as a puff of smoke. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) pointed out, he needs the agreement of all parties to the talks before he can make any change--otherwise the whole system will fall.

I listened with care to what has been said and I have set out the position in terms of the expulsion of the spokesmen for murder--not only from the IRA, but perhaps from the Ulster Democratic party or the Progressive Unionist party. The same system applies. The terrorists--along with their colleagues in the SDLP, as the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) made perfectly clear--are intent on destroying the Union and they will be put in where they can exert the maximum influence to bring that about. It does not seems to be a sensible way to proceed if one is a Unionist. If the Government wanted to retain the unity of the United Kingdom, they should have tried to do something sensible about it.

There is another little problem that we shall come to later, but I hope that, to some extent at least, it will be addressed in the Secretary of State's reply to the debate. I am sure that the Secretary of State and the Ministers will have read the reports of the Select Committee and the Northern Ireland forum on electoral fraud and seen the evidence. The most powerful evidence in that respect did not come from the Democratic Unionist party, the UK Unionist party or the Ulster Unionist party; it came from Mr. Attwood who represents the SDLP on Belfast city council. It was perfectly plain that massive fraud was being committed by Sinn Fein-IRA in creating votes especially in Belfast, mid-Ulster and Armagh.

22 Apr 1998 : Column 868

What are the Secretary of State and the chief electoral officer doing or what have they done to prevent electoral fraud in the referendum? What steps have they taken to identify people? The Secretary of State knows that one organisation in Northern Ireland has the photographs of more than 900,000 citizens and information about them and could print proper identity cards within a week if it were given the go ahead. I shall return to that at a later stage. The right hon. Lady should know to which organisation I refer, as I hope that only one organisation has that many photographs and is perfectly legal, although the Army and the police may also have the same information. That organisation is perfectly capable of doing the job and a few years ago set up a team to look into producing identity cards for the entire United Kingdom. It has the photographs and they could produce the cards within a week or so. Has the Secretary of State taken any steps towards producing proper identification for electoral matters and other matters in Northern Ireland? I am certain that she has not.

Rev. Martin Smyth: Does my hon. Friend accept that the excuse that there is not time to change the current legislation is given the lie by the fact that today's legislation will go through in a matter of hours? In other words, legislation dealing with identity can be changed if there is the will to do so.


Next Section

IndexHome Page