Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Rev. Martin Smyth: The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to three Members, but there were four, and I look forward to the day when the House will remember them properly and place their coats of arms alongside that of Airey Neave. I am here today because Robert Bradford was murdered, and we have already seen Sinn Fein, through An Phoblacht, glorying in that, yet it is said that it is going down the road of peace.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is wholly right. What I meant to say, and I apologise to him, is that I knew three Members. I did not know Mr. Airey Neave, but I did know the three other Members. I made the observation in that context, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

We start, therefore, with a proposition on which most hon. Members can agree: there is deep revulsion at making concessions to those who, in a democratic state, have chosen a career of terrorism, intimidation and murder. That is extraordinarily difficult for us to accept.

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) mentioned the coat of arms of Airey Neave, whom I knew, although not as a fellow hon. Member. I knew Ian Gow, and I knew Tony Berry slightly. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that any hon. Member who wishes to vote for the motion tabled by the Leader of the House should take a moment to look up at the coat of arms that commemorates Airey Neave and consider whether it would be right, in the light of that appalling murder within the precincts of the House, to support the motion tonight?

Mr. Hogg: Yes, that would be a perfectly proper thing for right hon. and hon. Members to do, and they should reflect on the names of the other three hon. Members who have died and perhaps, even more importantly, on the

18 Dec 2001 : Column 218

thousands of people who have died in the Province and elsewhere. Those are very important issues, but revulsion, which I share, is not conclusive of the issues before the House.

The first question that we should address is simple: whether it is right, and in what circumstances it could be right, for us as a House to substitute our own judgment as to who should or should not be representative of any constituency. My opinion is that it must be a general proposition, to which I admit of almost no exception, that it can never be right to deny to the constituency that may have elected a person, however unworthy that person may be, the right to be represented in the House by that person. I have three reasons for that.

First, as a general proposition, it is for the electorate in a democracy to choose its Members even if they are bad and wicked people. That is an essential part of democracy. Secondly and rather differently, I come to a point mentioned by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and by others. If one excludes a person who is chosen by the electorate, one deprives all the electors in that constituency of representation. That is an extremely undesirable state of affairs.

The third reason was provided by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) and I agree with him on this point. If one encourages people, such as Sinn Fein Members, to be present in the House, one draws them out of the political ghetto in which they have existed for many years and exposes them to contrary views that are held strongly and vigorously by other people. That is part of the process whereby one may procure change on the part of those drawn into the House.

Mr. Garnier: As my right hon. and learned Friend will know from personal experience in relation to his late father and to Mr. Tony Benn, this House used to exclude peers who stood for election and those who were already Members of this House but who succeeded to peerages. That exclusion was acceptable because it applied across the board. My problem with the motion has been mentioned many times. The Government are attempting to create a different kind of membership of the House. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will come to that point with vigour, but I hope that he will undertake to express to the Government our concerns about a two-tier system of membership.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. In fact, I shall vote against the motion for the very reason that he has identified. However, I want to establish the groundwork, because I believe that we shall have to make some important changes.

As a general proposition, to which I admit of very few—in fact, no—exceptions, I argue that, when a constituency chooses a Member, that Member should be admitted to the House. We may thereafter disqualify that person if, for example, he or she becomes a felon or convicted criminal and thus incapable of performing his or her function. The general point is that any Member elected should be admitted to the House.

Another issue follows from that. Are there exceptions to that general proposition if, for example, a Member is a terrorist or refuses to take the Oath? I shall deal with both those points. If a Member is a terrorist, it is perfectly respectable to argue—I have heard this point in the past—

18 Dec 2001 : Column 219

that one should never deal with terrorists. They have chosen a career of murder, intimidation and terrorism and should be outwith the law. I have some sympathy with that perfectly respectable view, but it is not what we have been doing for the past 10 years.

For the past 10 years—in the House and elsewhere—we have been trying to reach an accommodation with Sinn Fein-IRA and, although I do not suggest that there is a total parallel, we have been urging dialogue and accommodation on countries such as South Africa, the Lebanon and other countries in the middle east. Although the examples are not the same, there are some parallels on which one can usefully draw.

In Northern Ireland, we have admitted into the Executive Mr. McGuinness, whom I understand to be very close to policies of murder. Therefore, it seems to be late in the day to draw back and say that, as a matter of principle, we cannot have such people in the House. Their presence here is the inevitable consequence of the processes that most of us have supported—I honourably except the Ulster Unionists—for the past 10 years or so.

We are entitled to say that Sinn Fein and its associates have not fully performed all that was asked of them and that we should exclude them on those grounds. However, that is not a matter of principle, but of detail and not a firm foundation on which to stand. Therefore, odd though it may be—and I have every cause to abominate terrorism—I wish to see Sinn Fein Members in the House and exposed to the democratic debate that is the ordinary currency of our life in this place.

That brings me to a different question that must be confronted. Are we right to stand on the Oath as a reason for excluding such people? We must return to first principles. If it is wholly wrong to exclude from the House those who have been elected, it must surely be wrong to erect an oath as an obstacle to their presence here, because that is to negate the purpose of the election.

I am not, in any sense, a republican; I am a constitutional monarchist and I value the Crown and the person of the sovereign. They are an important part of our constitutional settlement. However, if I ask myself whether I define my obligations and duties as a Member of Parliament with reference to the Crown, the answer is no. My duty as a Member of Parliament is to the constitution as it is settled, changed only in accordance with the law. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann read the interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights and he was right. My other duty as a Member of Parliament is to speak and vote in accordance with my opinion and my settled judgment, and not otherwise.

Mr. Gummer: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the other problem with which he has to deal is that the nature of the Oath can mean that there is one belief that a person may not hold if he wishes to become a Member of the House of Commons? In today's world, it is difficult to suggest that there is one thing that one must not believe if one wants to be a Member of Parliament. I find that very hard to accept.

Mr. Hogg: I think that I agree with my right hon. Friend and that we come at the issue from the same direction.

18 Dec 2001 : Column 220

Mrs. Dunwoody rose

Mr. Hogg: Does the hon. Lady wish to intervene?

Mrs. Dunwoody: Yes, because I might not come at the issue from the same direction. The problem is not that people are excluded because we decide that they must take the Oath, but that they have decided to exclude themselves because they do not wish to take the Oath. What then is the burden of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument?

Mr. Hogg: I am going to come to that; it is a fair question. Although this point does not apply directly to the hon. Lady's argument, it is pertinent to it. Let us consider the position of Mr. Tony Benn, a distinguished former Member of the House, or even of the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). They are republicans and I suspect that they have great difficulty in honestly taking the Oath as couched in its present language. I seem to remember that the hon. Gentleman took the Oath with his fingers crossed, and I do not wish to create a situation in which honest and honourable republicans—and people are perfectly entitled in this state to be republicans—have to strain their consciences in the way that I have described.

Next Section

IndexHome Page