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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. George Howarth): The hon. Gentleman expressed anxiety in both an intervention and his speech about a residential qualification for standing for the House. There is no residential qualification, but hon. Members must be United Kingdom, Commonwealth or Irish citizens, or have been born here.

Mr. Ross: Members do not even have to be electors here. That point was made earlier. I am not sure whether their sponsors have to be electors--

Mr. Howarth indicated assent.

Mr. Ross: The Minister indicates that the sponsors have to be electors, but not the candidates, who can come from anywhere. That is somewhat daft.

A litany of similar great and small concessions have been made to the IRA in recent weeks, to try to persuade it to divest itself of its weaponry and become a normal political party. Such actions are to no avail, because the IRA's overriding imperative is to dismember the United Kingdom.

Mr. Maginnis: The Government provide a disincentive.

Mr. Ross: My hon. Friend is right. The Government's actions convince us that no matter what the IRA says or does, its demands will be met and it will have to pay nothing in return.

The Belfast agreement was supposed to bury old arguments about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. I never believed that that would happen. However, those who believed that will find that the Bill will reignite the flames. No Government have been behind in their willingness to listen to and act upon the opinions of the IRA and its fellow travellers, but the current Government, more than most, have been willing to listen to those whose views are congenial to them. I have been a Member of Parliament since February 1974, and have witnessed a consistent refusal to listen to voices that proclaim a different message. Given that the consequences have so often proved those voices correct, why do the Government refuse to learn?

When hard questions were asked last week--including one by the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney), who is not a member of my party--they were not answered. Instead of a reasoned reply, he received an attempt at abuse. That is not good enough. What will happen when the current raft of concessions to Sinn Fein-IRA have been pocketed? What will be the next step? It will not be giving up weapons or acceptance of United Kingdom institutions, but further demands, which will be backed by the unspoken threat of violence. Having paid danegeld for so many years, and having strengthened the IRA's power and influence by their previous actions,

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the Government are perceived as the softest of soft touches. One cannot get rid of violence by encouraging it. It is time that not only the Government but all parties in the House learned that.

The Bill is a foolish little measure, from which evil consequences will flow. It should be rejected, and I shall vote against it this evening.

5.44 pm

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire): My remarks will be much shorter than intended because, in a thoughtful contribution, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), made many of the points that I wanted to make, as did my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). I shall not repeat them, or dance any longer on the head of the constitutional pin around which we have been revolving. However, when I intervened in the Minister's speech, he did not answer my question about acknowledging the difference between a sovereign and a subordinate Parliament.

I have no difficulty with the concept that one can sit in the Irish Senate and the Northern Ireland Assembly. If one can do that, one should also be allowed to sit in the Dail and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The inability to do so is an obvious anomaly, which should be put right. That is a different proposition from having a seat in a sovereign Parliament with one set of allegiances, one set of priorities and one constitution and having a seat in another that has demonstrably different ones. That is the point.

The Minister said that all the United Kingdom Parliaments and Assemblies were to be treated the same. With respect, they are not the same. There is one sovereign Parliament in the United Kingdom, and it is not in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast--it is here. That is a fundamental difference and a fundamental change that the Government are seeking to make in the Bill. In a Second Reading debate one has to ask oneself, "Why this Bill now?" Have there been demands for it from the House? None that I have heard. Have there been demands from Dublin? Not that I have heard. Have there been demands from our Unionist friends? Not that we have heard. The demands have come from one source, and one source only: Sinn Fein. It has asked that that change be made and been granted the concession. It was not in the Good Friday agreement and not offered, but asked for.

Why has Sinn Fein done this? It has had all the concessions that were in the Good Friday agreement. We have already acted not only to the letter of that agreement, but in the spirit of it. We have given way again and again and again, but still Sinn Fein asks for more because it has a card that it steadfastly refuses to play--the decommissioning card. I would not want the Bill to be linked to decommissioning because that would not make any sense. It is either right or not right to make the change. My view is that it is not right and that it should not be a condition, but that is another matter and no doubt I shall find myself in a minority. The concession should not have been offered until Sinn Fein had shown itself ready to sit in either Parliament, never mind both. That is what has gone wrong.

I acknowledge that current Home Office and Northern Ireland Office Ministers were not in their jobs when the process started; they leapt on to a moving train. Two years

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ago the view was, "Let's get on with it. Let's give them everything they want so that if it goes wrong we cannot be held to blame." I can understand that, although I do not agree with it, but there should have come a time at which someone said, "Hang on. We have taken part in what they call demilitarisation and we call reduction, taken three battalions of troops out of the place and cut patrolling by two thirds, all within the letter and the spirit of the Good Friday agreement. We have done more. We have closed down Castlereagh and demolished the security institutions, but not one response has come from them--just more demands." Surely we in the House, above all places, have learned that meeting demands from such people simply feeds their desire to increase those demands.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman's argument is based on the premise that those who will benefit from the change are exclusively members of Sinn Fein. I made it clear in my opening speech that others--perhaps some in the nationalist community and others, and I identified some--who are not members of Sinn Fein have already said that they might want to have a standing in the Irish Republic and perhaps also in Northern Ireland. He has not dealt with that point.

Mr. Mates: I thought that I had dealt with that at the beginning of my speech by saying that I have no objection whatever to any interrelationship between the Northern Ireland Assembly and any part of the Irish Government--be it the Oireachtas, local government or anything else--but I have a principled objection to a person sitting in two sovereign Parliaments.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to allow people from the Irish Republic to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly, is he equally prepared to allow them to sit in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Mates: That is an interesting point, which involves the lesson about legislating in haste. I imagine that the Home Office is beavering away hard to try to put that right before tomorrow, when the Bill is in Committee. It appears that that is not allowed. If so, that goes against what the Under-Secretary says. However, I do not want to follow that point.

The point that I want to make, which is why it is offensive for the Government to have brought forward the Bill at this time, regardless of its principles, is that it is there at the demand of two individuals who have been elected to the House--the hon. Members for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness) and for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams)--but who clearly have no allegiance to this place or its institutions, the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom, or Her Majesty the Queen to whom they refuse to swear an Oath. They have said all along, so I am not libelling them by saying this, that they wanted this part of the United Kingdom destroyed; they wanted themselves taken out of it--aspirations, yes, but aspirations backed by force, no. They are the people who still decline to remove the one obstacle to a proper democratic process--the decommissioning of arms. They are now trying to wash their hands of it. They say that they do not belong

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to the IRA. What I want to know is when they left. They never told us that. I have tried to persuade journalists to ask them the question, but they seem reluctant to do so because they want to obtain more interviews.

We are talking about two leaders of a political party in Northern Ireland who have been elected to the House who owe loyalty to neither the House nor the country, and who now want to retain their membership of the House and to have membership of another sovereign Parliament to which they would owe some form of allegiance, although I imagine that the Irish Government are not entirely happy about having Sinn Fein infiltration from wherever it comes. The Government are doing this, and this is the perverse part, not because a majority of the people in Northern Ireland want this to happen, not even because the minority want it to happen--Sinn Fein represents a minority of the minority community, 15 per cent., yet all their demands are being met--so that the killing stops.

When the Minister replies will he say why--I ask with tongue slightly in cheek--he has not put 1p on income tax and devoted that to education? That is what a minority of 15 per cent. in Britain voted for at the last election. The Liberal Democrat's policy was to put 1p on tax for education. Have the Government done that? Of course not. A minority asked for it and that is not the way in which one governs in a democracy. But everything that this minority has asked for has been given to it on the basis that perhaps it will stop the killing, and it has it in its power to do so. I would only say, as I have said to the Government before, that the more they appease these people the greater will be their demands. At some stage the Government will have to stop the appeasement.


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