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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up. I call the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds).

7.52 pm

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): First, I congratulate and pay tribute to all hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I hope that I can live up to the high standard that they have set.

It is a great honour for me to participate in this debate and to represent the people of Belfast, North in the House. They have done me the honour of electing me to Belfast city council and to the Northern Ireland Assembly, but it is a particular privilege and honour to be here as a Member of this House, the mother of Parliaments. I thank them for returning me with one of the largest swings recorded in Northern Ireland political history--reversing a 13,000 Ulster Unionist majority and turning it into a 6,300 majority for the Democratic Unionists.

I pledge to my constituents--all my constituents--that I will work hard on their behalf and I assure them and the House that I will raise issues of concern to them and to the wider community in Northern Ireland, both in my representations to Ministers and on the Floor of the House.

My predecessor, Cecil Walker, was a Member of this House for 18 years, serving from 1983. For any Member, it was a difficult task to represent a constituency in Northern Ireland through some of the worst years of violence, the troubles and civil unrest. It was even more so for a Member representing Belfast, North, which has borne a disproportionately high level of violence and deaths owing to terrorism throughout the troubles. I put

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on record my appreciation of Cecil Walker's service and the sacrifice that he and his family made throughout those years. I wish him well in retirement.

I have had the honour and privilege not only to know Cecil but to know other former Members who represented my constituency in this House. I can think of the late Johnny McQuade, who served here as a Democratic Unionist party member between 1979 and 1983--he was Cecil Walker's predecessor. I have fond memories of Johnny McQuade, who was an ex-Chindit, who served in Her Majesty's forces and was a Shankhill road man born and bred. I now have the honour to represent that area in the House. Johnny was a man of few words but of great integrity and dedication and I am honoured to follow in his footsteps and in those of other distinguished Members for Belfast, North.

One such Member was Montgomery Hyde, who was the Unionist Member of Parliament for the constituency between 1950 and 1959. One of his great claims to fame was that he was the author of a book on the life of Sir Edward Carson, the founding father of Unionism. Sir Edward served in this House with great distinction and held high office--he was eventually elevated to the other place as Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and took the title of Lord Carson of Duncairn, which is part of my constituency. He represented the area with great distinction between 1918 and 1921.

I am honoured to follow in the footsteps of the founding father of Unionism. At the time when Carson represented Belfast, North, Belfast in general and the constituency in particular were at the forefront of forging strong manufacturing and trading links with other parts of the United Kingdom and the world. The constituency has a rich and diverse historical, cultural, architectural and industrial heritage. It runs from Belfast city centre to the beautiful Cave Hill country park and the famous Cave Hill itself, which is synonymous with Belfast. Any visitor to the city cannot overlook that hill, which is part of my constituency.

The constituency also takes in part of Newtownabbey borough council, which includes one of the largest housing estates in Europe--the Rathcoole estate. Some of the best known landmarks are contained within the constituency, such as Belfast cathedral, Belfast castle and other places of some notoriety, such as Crumlin Road jail. Some distinguished colleagues of mine have spent some time in that jail, but it is no longer a place that receives inmates.

The area is known far and wide for its artistic creativity. I am glad at the way in which the local Departments at home and the council have worked to turn the cathedral quarter into an area where cultural and artistic activities are to be encouraged and promoted. Most of all, it is an area in which there are people who care passionately and deeply about their communities and who want to build a better future. I intend to give whatever assistance I can as long as they do me the honour of sending me to this House.

Belfast, North is also known for many of the worst reasons. Hon. Members will be aware that, while there are the famous landmarks that I mentioned, there are many others that scar the area. It has the highest number of so-called peace walls of any constituency in Northern Ireland--walls that divide communities for security purposes. We have lost more than 600 people in the

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constituency as a result of terrorist violence. The area has seen widespread movement of populations and communities. It contains some of the worst areas of economic and social deprivation in Northern Ireland, and I dare say in the entire kingdom.

My job, in partnership with other people, is to try to put things right--that was our manifesto pledge to the people of Belfast, North--and that means not only the political and constitutional issues but the economic and social issues that affect our constituents so deeply.

I come to the House with a clear mandate not only as a Unionist--which I am and I am proud to be--but as a campaigning Member of the House, to work for the social and economic betterment of all my constituents.

Of the 20 most deprived wards in Northern Ireland, six are in north Belfast. In Crumlin ward, which is predominantly Protestant, 25.9 per cent. of people are short-term unemployed and 11.6 per cent. are long-term unemployed, compared with an average in Northern Ireland of 9.3 and 4.2 per cent. respectively. In the New Lodge ward, which is predominantly and overwhelmingly nationalist and Roman Catholic, 62 per cent. of households are in receipt of housing benefit, compared with a Northern Ireland average of 24 per cent. Those figures highlight the levels of deprivation and social need--problems which have been exacerbated by and have undoubtedly been a contributory factor in the high levels of violence and terrorism that the constituency has witnessed over the past 30 years.

I sought election to the House because I believe in the need to bring regeneration and renewal in place of decline and deprivation, in the form of more jobs, better training and skills provision, better housing, provision for our young people, better education, better health provision, and a better and cleaner environment. That is what people, whether they are Protestant or Roman Catholic, whatever their background, are demanding; it is what they deserve.

Progress is being made, but Members will be aware of the current problems in my constituency. Members will be aware that in recent days we have again seen street confrontation, violence, the police out having to defend communities--even the Army having to be called in to give back-up to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Yesterday I had the sad task of having to stand in a local Presbyterian church in my constituency that has been the target of arsonists, as has a Roman Catholic chapel in a neighbouring constituency.

All those attacks are deplorable, and I hope that the talks that are going on between communities to try to resolve these issues will be successful. However, people I meet in my constituency repeatedly ask me why, when in other parts of the United Kingdom there is a demand for more policing--more policemen and women on the beat--in Northern Ireland the police service is being demoralised and decimated and its numbers reduced as a result of the implementation of the Patten proposals, under the terms of the Belfast agreement.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) mentioned the yob culture. Other Members have spoken about increasing crime. In north Belfast and other parts of the Province, we have a continuing terrorist threat. We have so-called dissidents perpetrating violence. We have all the problems of antisocial behaviour and crime that

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other constituencies have, made even worse because of paramilitary influence. And yet, uniquely, our police service has been cut. The numbers have been cut from 13,000 to 7,000. We have large-scale demoralisation and high levels of sickness.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his time allocation.

8.2 pm

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) on that very considered speech, in which he reminded us not only of the magnificence of the city in which he has his constituency, but of its many areas of deprivation--which I understand well, as I come from a very deprived community myself--and the need to address all these problems, and to do so regardless of the allegiances of the people of those areas. I thank him very much for that speech. I hope that he will enjoy his time in this place; that he will make a contribution, as he has done tonight, to our debates; and that he will take up the many opportunities that he will be offered. I thank him for the generous tributes that he paid to his predecessors.

I welcome my right hon. Friends to their new positions and congratulate the Home Secretary on a very considered speech. The subject of today's debate is home affairs and constitution, and I hope that, after many excellent speeches on law and order, the House will give me its indulgence when I raise an issue that I consider to be of extreme constitutional importance: the democratic deficit that we have in the House as a result of the selection processes of our political parties.

This first Parliament of the 21st century is more than 82 per cent. male. The shadow Chancellor was right when he said this week:

I welcome the commitment made in the Queen's Speech to give parties the right to take positive action to increase women's representation in the House. Last year, I introduced a ten-minute Bill to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, in an effort to free political parties from the tribunal decision in the Jepson case, which found that the employment section of the Sex Discrimination Act applied to Members of Parliament. Since that time, an in-depth analysis has been carried out by Meg Russell of the constitution unit based at University College London, and a timely paper on international comparisons has been produced, which I recommend to my right hon. Friends.

In this country, we are lagging far behind our European partners in increasing women's representation and in legislating to enable political parties to take appropriate action. Those who opposed my amendment to the SDA frequently argued that even if United Kingdom equality law were amended, positive action in selection, such as all-women shortlists, would fall foul of European Union equal treatment law or the European convention on human rights. I believe that a study of other positive action measures in other European countries gives the lie to these criticisms.

Sweden, with a Parliament 43 per cent. composed of women Members, heads the list of European democracies in terms of women's representation. The UK has slipped

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to No. 33 in that list. In Sweden, being a candidate is not regarded--as I believe it cannot be here, either--as a contract of employment. It is a position of trust. In the early 1990s, women in Sweden threatened to start an all-woman party. Nothing could be more of a spur to the political parties to put their own houses in order. As a consequence, the Social Democratic party adopted positive action in candidate selection. Other parties followed, with the result that 44 per cent. of Members of Parliament elected in 1994 were women. At no time has there been any challenge in domestic, EU or human rights legislation to the positive action adopted by the majority of political parties in Sweden.

Norway has a similar record. Positive action to increase women's representation has been used for the past 10 years. The majority of parties adopted a rule of at least 40 per cent. women to be selected, and currently, 36 per cent. of the Parliament is made up of women. Again, there has been no legal challenge.

Germany and France present equally useful case histories. In Germany, quotas have been adopted ranging from 30 per cent. in the Conservative CDU to 50 per cent. in the German Socialist party. As a consequence of those measures, women constitute 31 per cent. of the German Parliament. Again, there has been no legal challenge in Europe or under human rights law. But France presents the most striking case of radical action. All attempts to legislate for positive action for women failed in France over many years as a result of the objections of France's Constitutional Council, leaving the French Parliament with a mere 10 per cent. women. However, three years ago the French constitution had to be amended to take account of the new equality clauses of the Amsterdam treaty. As a consequence, positive action became enshrined in law, opening the way for a new electoral law requiring equality in selection.

In local elections carried out since the election law was passed last year, the proportion of women rose from 22 per cent. to 48 per cent. Parties can be debarred from election, and lose state funding, if they do not comply with the strict 50:50 equality law. Because there is so much ground to make up in France, the French Socialist party has proposed that in places where women were candidates in 1997, only women will be selected, and that in all seats where MPs are retiring, only women will be eligible to be candidates.

I give these examples to demonstrate how very modest is the Government's proposal to legislate to allow, but not require, political parties to take positive action in selection to redress gender imbalance.

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