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Both of those things are wrong and damaging. Ambiguity is extremely bad in judicial matters, and I would have expected the hon. Ladya distinguished professor of lawin any other context to go along with me on this matter. Difference is bad, because the Government are gratuitously introducing a distinction between the position in the rest of the UK and the position in Northern Ireland. I have rightly described that as an attempt by stealth to indicate that the status of Northern Ireland is different and an attempt by stealth to change it.
Mr. Davies: If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will not give way to her because of the lack of time. It is not my fault; it is the fault of the Government and the timetable in the House. Time is limited and she would not thank me were I to prevent her from speaking either in this debate or in debates on the many clauses that we ought to get through before we end our proceedings.
Rev. Ian Paisley: Does the hon. Gentleman think it strange that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) should quote from the Bill a passage that she wishes to change? She has tabled an amendment to change the very thing that she has argued for.
Mr. Davies: The hon. Lady feels unfairly embattled. To allow her to defend her honour and consistency, I shall give way to her, and, because I wish to be courteous to representatives of every Northern Ireland party, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) later.
The first part was directed at me, and I can only say that I do not believe that when the hon. Lady teaches law in more sober and considered circumstances at the distinguished Queen's university, Belfast, she tells her students that changing a statute from saying one thing to saying something else does not create ambiguity. Any counsel pleading a case will draw the court's attention to the fact that the wording has been changed by Parliament. He will certainly argue that if Parliament had not intended to change matters, Parliament would not have changed the wording. I know perfectly well that that is what the hon. Lady would teach me if I were in her class in Belfast. I am sorry that she thinks that lower standards of intellectual rigour are appropriate in the House of Commons.
Mr. Mallon: This is an interesting family squabble, but may I broaden the debate slightly? The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford says that his party is in favour of the Good Friday agreement. In the context of this and other amendments, does he fully agree that
Mr. Davies: Yes, I do, wholeheartedly, sincerely and without ambiguity. I do not believe that that principle is in conflict with a system in which we are all equal subjects of Her Majesty and equally subject to the justice of the realm. On the contrary, I believe that it would be strengthened by it. We should all be equally liable to be judged by judges who have taken the same oath of allegiance throughout the United Kingdom.
We have far too little time to debate these matters. The point before us is one of the most crucial and our amendment would restore the position in a way with which everyone in Northern Ireland can feel comfortable. Unless the House wishes to signal that the concessions being made to one side in Northern Ireland are to go even further, and if the balance is not to be even further destroyed and the sense of fairness further undermined, it is absolutely necessary that there should be nothing ambiguous about the source of justice in Northern Ireland or, unless the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise under the Belfast agreement, the status of Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom.
Given your earlier ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not deviate from the amendments. I had intended to comment on the fact that the consensual approach to Northern Ireland that was evident early in the debate had ended when the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) stood up, but I shall refrain from doing so.
It is a pity, and it is somewhat amazing, that the hon. Gentleman believes that his amendment is the best way to secure the trust of all the people of Northern Ireland. In spite of the history of Northern Ireland, he believes that retaining the royal oath in preference to the words in the Bill will somehow generate trust and security among all the people of Northern Ireland. That is incredible. It would be interesting to know what definition of republicanism the hon. Gentleman would offer. The oath contained in the Bill reads:
Mr. Quentin Davies: The hon. Gentleman quotes the passage quoted by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), and with exactly the same emphasis. Let me repeat what I said to the hon. Lady, since the hon. Gentleman obviously did not hear it. There are only two possibilities facing us. First, the Government intend to change something, in which case they are introducing an element of republicanism to the legal system in Northern Ireland. Alternatively, they do not intend to change anything but the wording, in which case they are creating uncertainty and ambiguity. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can get away from that analysis.
Mr. Harris: It ill serves the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman to talk in terms of introducing republicanism or caving in to republicanism when we are discussing such a sensitive and important Bill.
I was not a Member of the House when the legislation that set up the Northern Ireland Assembly was enacted. I do not know what the Conservative party's position was when the clauses concerning the oath to be taken by parliamentarians in Northern Ireland were debated. I understand that, unlike Members of this House, Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly do not have to swear the royal oath. That may provide the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford with a good example of how rules can be different for Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Governments of both shades have legislated over the years for different provision in Northern Ireland. It would be madness to say that because members of the judiciary in mainland Britain swear a royal oath, the same must apply throughout the United Kingdom. Surely the Conservative party has realised by now that Northern Ireland is different: that is why we are discussing the Bill. Circumstances and politics are different, and the oath should be different too. We must apply ourselves to the
In principle, the royal oath is right for judges in Great Britain, but it would be immature to say that we must extend that principle throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and that if we do not do so we are betraying the royal family and the Crown and giving in to republicanism. That is not the reality; it is not a mature attitude and the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford does Northern Ireland and his party grave disservice by conducting the debate in the terms that he has used tonight.