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3.51 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Madam Speaker, I thank you for affording me the opportunity to oppose the motion proposed by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). He was the first Member of the House to make representations to me in person when I became a Minister, and he has always been assiduous in pursuit of his constituents' interests, but he is perhaps even more widely known in the Chamber for his attention to Northern Ireland affairs, and to Irish issues in general.

By seeking leave to bring in the Bill, the hon. Gentleman will no doubt enlarge that reputation. His Bill addresses a larger constitutional issue at the strategic level, but alludes to a particular Irish dimension at the tactical level. The larger issue is whether the oath of allegiance, which has passed through many vicissitudes and variations, not least in the oaths that have sometimes replaced it and sometimes accompanied it, since the eras of Henry IV and Henry VI, should be changed again.

In 1964, an article in the Table--the journal of the Society of Clerks-at-the-Table in Commonwealth Parliaments-- said:


This has always been essentially a matter for the House. The legal cases ring down the ages: Burdett v. Abbot; Stockdale v. Hansard; and Bradlaugh v. Gossett--Gossett being the predecessor in 1883 of our present much- respected Serjeant-at-Arms. Blackstone says:


    "The whole of the law and custom of Parliament has its original from this one maxim, that whatever matter arises concerning either House of Parliament ought to be examined, discussed and adjudged in that House to which it relates, and not elsewhere."

29 Jul 1998 : Column 380

As Lord Chief Justice Coleridge, in the judgment on Bradlaugh v. Gossett, said:


    "the jurisdiction of the House over their own Members, their right to impose discipline within their walls, is absolute and exclusive."

He went on to quote the words of Lord Ellenborough:


    "they would sink into utter contempt and inefficiency without it."

I am not a lawyer, but it was on that rock of Parliament's exclusive jurisdiction within our own walls that the application for judicial review of your decisions, Madam Speaker, of 14 May last year with regard to the hon. Members for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) and for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness), fell in the High Court in Belfast last October, although I read in the press that, after the two hon. Members visited you in December last year, they were intending to challenge you at the European Court of Justice. I have no further intelligence on the progress of that case.

Her Majesty's Government made it clear last summer that they were not minded to take action in these matters. In answer to a question from a Government Back Bencher about the oath of allegiance, the then Leader of the House said:


That does not mean that the idea has not been visited in recent years--most notably, as the hon. Member for Hull, North said, by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He would pale at any suggestion on my part of verisimilitude to an archdeacon, but he is a venerable Member, and his views, though sometimes idiosyncratic, are venerated throughout the House.

Rather in the manner of an elderly gentleman in Hampstead in my youth, who used, at regular intervals, to walk through private gardens in order to preserve an ancient right of way, so the right hon. Member for Chesterfield ventilates his views at intervals of a decade in Bills entitled, in 1988, Democratic Oaths, and, in 1998, Parliamentary Declaration, which are presented, printed and published, but then lie on the Table as written statements without further oral advocacy.

The oaths have been changed in the past. It was a predecessor in my constituency who was the first professing Jew to serve in the House as a result of just such a change. But if and when we come to make the change, it should be a considered judgment and not to solve a local difficulty.

In so far as there is a current local difficulty, we are accused by commentators outside of hiding behind the oath as a way of either excluding those we do not like or punishing those who voted for them. As I got into some trouble myself during the first ceasefire for saying that I thought that the hon. Member for Belfast, West, as he then was not, had been courageous in helping to create the ceasefire, I hope that I stand personally acquitted of that charge.

The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster himself has accused some British politicians of not adequately understanding Irish history; but it is not unreasonable for us to ask those who pride themselves on their Irishness and their Irish history to pay some attention to our own history.

The oath of allegiance cannot be regarded as a recent instrument of Parliament. In one form or another, it has been part of our constitutional procedures for centuries.

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Anyone standing for Parliament knows the obligation that the oath involves. It may not have concerned those who wish to be abstentionist Members, but they cannot accuse us of having invented it to exclude them. Even Bradlaugh was not initially excluded because he would not swear the oath: it was Parliament which would not let him swear it. No such prohibition is present today.

Moreover, the Belfast agreement, to which the hon. Member for Hull, North alluded, which I acknowledge follows on from last year's events and upon the threat to take Madam Speaker to the European Court, underlines, underpins and copper-bottoms the principle of consent within the United Kingdom. If a man or woman seeks to sit in the House, the oath of allegiance is essentially the password to entry. Once the password has been uttered, it does not prevent an hon. Member from seeking to change the arrangements of our constitution, as the hon. Gentleman is seeking to do today, having himself sworn the present oath a year ago.

I call on the House to reject the motion moved by the hon. Gentleman:


Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):--

The House divided: Ayes 137, Noes 151.

Division No. 350
[3.58 pm


AYES


Atherton, Ms Candy
Austin, John
Baker, Norman
Ballard, Jackie
Barron, Kevin
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Brand, Dr Peter
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Mrs Christine
Cable, Dr Vincent
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Canavan, Dennis
Cann, Jamie
Caton, Martin
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbett, Robin
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Etherington, Bill
Fearn, Ronnie
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Fyfe, Maria
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gorrie, Donald
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Harris, Dr Evan
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Hepburn, Stephen
Hinchliffe, David
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Iddon, Dr Brian
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kemp, Fraser
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kingham, Ms Tess
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Laxton, Bob
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Linton, Martin
Love, Andrew
McAllion, John
McDonnell, John
McNamara, Kevin
McWalter, Tony
Mallaber, Judy
Marek, Dr John
Maxton, John
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Olner, Bill
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Rapson, Syd
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Salmond, Alex
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Shaw, Jonathan
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Todd, Mark
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Vis, Dr Rudi
Webb, Steve
White, Brian
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Willis, Phil
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. Gerald Bermingham and
Mr. Alan Johnson.


NOES


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Allan, Richard
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Beard, Nigel
Beggs, Roy
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Burnett, John
Burns, Simon
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Colvin, Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Grieve, Dominic
Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Dr Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Horam, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Keetch, Paul
Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Major, Rt Hon John
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Mates, Michael
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Moss, Malcolm
Öpik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prior, David
Randall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sayeed, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Steen, Anthony
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Streeter, Gary
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thompson, William
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. Stephen Day and
Mr. Nigel Waterson.

Question accordingly negatived.

29 Jul 1998 : Column 383

29 Jul 1998 : Column 384

Opposition Day

[19th Allotted Day]


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