Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Dr. Godman: Whatever system is chosen, loose ends will be left untied. There is no perfect system anywhere. I am simply saying that I believe that, in principle, whatever the system, vacancies should be filled by way of by-elections.

Mr. Ross: In general terms, I have no problem with that philosophy. I am saying only that it should be "fair do's" all round--that we should compare like with like, in the by-election as in the general election.

Mr. Mallon: I have a certain attachment to by-elections; had it not been for one, in rather unique circumstances, I should not be here. However, in the last forum election, in the constituency of Newry and Armagh, the Ulster Unionist party won one seat. That was a distortion, because the electoral system was a distorted

22 Apr 1998 : Column 909

one, but it was still under proportional representation. Let us assume that--as, thankfully, did not happen--that person had become the President of the Republic of Ireland, which would have been very unlikely. It would have meant that the constituency of Newry and Armagh had no Unionist representative. In the event of a by-election, we would win the seat and the Ulster Unionist party would be totally disfranchised in that constituency.

Mr. Ross: It would be more accurate to say that the Ulster Unionist electorate rather than the Ulster Unionist party would be disfranchised. The Minister will understand by now that there are concerns about this issue that are not tied to this assembly alone. I believe that our problems in this area go beyond the assembly to the entire range of bodies elected by proportional representation. For that reason, I hope that the Government will take on board the points raised in this discussion, and perhaps return on Report or in another place with proposals that might meet with more general approval. I do not deny the arguments made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who raised concerns that are different from those represented by other hon. Members who have participated in the discussion.

Mr. Robert McCartney: The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) appeared to argue that the Secretary of State could, by a series of orders, select a variety of means of filling vacancies. I understood the Minister to say that an order would be made stating the general principle upon which each consecutive vacancy would be dealt with thereafter. Is there any reason why the present Bill should not contain words to the effect that the Secretary of State will make an order setting out the consistent principle upon which all vacancies will be filled? That would preserve the Secretary of State's right to fill the vacancy according to a principle that would apply to each and every vacancy. It would also permit the Bill to pass, leaving the detail of the particular method to be selected later, and it would lay to rest fears that there may be a degree of unjust variety in the modes of filling possible vacancies.

Mr. Paul Murphy: This has been a very interesting discussion. It stems from the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who referred to the fact that this is unfinished business so far as the talks were concerned. I chaired the meeting when we dealt with the matter. We did not reach a conclusion, and because of that and because it is a particularly important issue--I acknowledge that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has raised it before--it is a concern.

There are strong feelings on both sides of the argument. The traditional way of filling parliamentary vacancies in this country is through by-elections. However, in the light of the nature of the electoral system in Northern Ireland and the system that already operates for European parliamentary elections in the Republic of Ireland--it will be introduced in this country as well--we know that we must consider the method of alternates by substitute in order to preserve proportionality.

The Government wish to consult on the matter. The Secretary of State will, by order--it will be a statutory instrument resulting from the Bill--put before the House

22 Apr 1998 : Column 910

of Commons the general principles, to which the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) referred, of how we shall fill assembly vacancies. Those principles will be before us very soon. In the meantime, I urge hon. Members--as I urged them regarding the other matter--to write or talk to me or the Secretary of State about their concerns. Parliament will then have the opportunity to address the matter in the context of dealing with orders.

Mr. Beggs: Does the Minister agree that to avoid all the confusion that might arise and to ensure that the balances and adequate distribution of positions are maintained, right from the beginning, the parties or the independents who are elected should make known the substitute to be appointed in the event of a vacancy arising?

Mr. Murphy: There are complications, even in a system of alternates. An alternate at the beginning of a Session of a Parliament or an assembly might, in the course of the Session, not want to serve any more. What happens then? There are practical difficulties.

There are practical difficulties in the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), with the reference to "party". That implies the definition of party. We would have to examine that further because of the complications surrounding those matters.

The debate has been a good one and all the points have been made. The debate that will accompany the order to be laid before the House will benefit from the arguments that we have heard this evening. I urge hon. Members not to press their amendments, as we shall deal with the matter in the not too distant future.

Mr. Mackinlay: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. I hope that that meets the mood of the Committee. We still stand a sporting chance.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Disqualification

Mr. Peter Robinson: I beg to move a manuscript amendment, No. 26, in page 2, line 27, at end insert--


'(1A) A person is disqualified for membership of the Assembly if he belongs to a party which--
(a) is attached to a proscribed organisation which is listed in Schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996, and which--
(i) has not declared, and is not presently honouring, a permanent and total cessation of violence; and
(ii) has not surrendered its illegal weaponry; and
(iii) has not dismantled its paramilitary structure, and
(b) has not made an unequivocal decision of its acceptance of the six principles contained in the Report of the International Commission on Decommissioning, which establish a commitment to--
(i)exclusively peaceful means; and
(ii) abide by the democratic process.'.

22 Apr 1998 : Column 911

The Second Deputy Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to discuss manuscript amendment No. 29, in schedule, page 4, line 13, at end insert--


'3A. No person shall hold any office in the Assembly if he belongs to a party which--
(a) is attached to a proscribed organisation which is listed ion Schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996, and which--
(i) has not declared, and is not presently honouring, a permanent and total cessation of violence; and
(ii) has not surrendered its illegal weaponry; and
(iii) has not dismantled its paramilitary structure, and
(b) has not made an unequivocal declaration of its acceptance of the six principles contained in the Report of the International Commission on Decommissioning, which establish a commitment to--
(i) exclusively peaceful means; and
(ii) abide by the democratic process.'.

Mr. Robinson: I have often moved amendments, with little expectation that they would be accepted by the Government or supported by the House. On no occasion could I be more certain that an amendment would not succeed than on this one. The certainty comes from the fact, which seems to have been missed by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, that the agreement is a multi-party agreement, and a single party cannot change a multi-party agreement. That is the core of the agreement that has been reached.

The essential element of the agreement is that there is to be a buy-off of terrorists. The agreement was set up in order to buy the silence of the IRA's gunners. For that purpose, they were brought into the talks process, throwing aside the rules that were set up. The rules that decommissioning would be required disappeared. The rules that exclusively democratic and peaceful means must be adopted by the parties were tossed aside. The purpose was to engage the Provisional IRA in negotiations and to find out what price it would be willing to accept in return for the silence of its guns and bombs. No price that would entail the IRA being excluded from government would buy the silence of its guns and bombs.

The essential element of the assembly is membership for the Provisional IRA and other terrorist organisations at the very highest level, including Government. The Bill ensures places for Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in the Government of Northern Ireland. Have hon. Members stopped for a moment to think how repulsive that is to the people of Northern Ireland?

I entered politics because a friend of mine was killed in a bomb explosion in the Northern Ireland Electricity headquarters. The person who was in charge of the Provisional IRA who sent the bombers out who killed my friend was Gerald Adams.

I am an alderman in the borough of Castlereagh, where a dozen people were butchered by the Provisional IRA. The man who sent out those responsible for the bombing was Gerald Adams. I could go through atrocity after atrocity in Northern Ireland while Gerald Adams was the commander of the Provisional IRA in Belfast. Now he climbs over the bodies of victims to get into the Government of Northern Ireland. He is supported, sadly, not only by the Government but by the Tory Opposition. He is even supported by some Unionists.

22 Apr 1998 : Column 912


Next Section

IndexHome Page