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Rev. Ian Paisley: I was simply commenting on what has been said by others about perceptions. I was trying to say that the law and order situation in Northern Ireland is a reality. However, rather than disturbing the quiet of the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will come to the question before the House.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) talked about why we should introduce the change, but this is not an introduction; it is taking away something that has always been there. The judiciary in Northern Ireland have always taken the oath of allegiance. People who were promoted, on both sides of the religious and political divide, took the oath of allegiance.
The oath of allegiance is to the Queen in Parliament, because the Queen as an individual is not the source of justice; the Queen in Parliament as a constitutional monarch is the source of justice. When someone takes the oath of allegiance they are taking it to what the state is and what it stands for. Because we have a constitutional monarchy, we take the oath to the Queen in Parliament. When people take an oath of allegiance they are acknowledging the state and their allegiance to it, and their loyalty to the laws of the state.
It is a very big thing to proposeas is proposed in the Bill, although we may not reach that part of it tonightthat changes should be made to the coat of arms outside or inside the law courts, which is displayed in connection with the judiciary. I know that you will be getting a bit restless with me now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am simply using that as an illustration. The changed oath of allegiance that we are now discussing is an attempt to do away with the reality that the law that rules Northern Ireland is not Northern Ireland law, but United Kingdom law.
It is interesting that when someone comes from Northern Ireland to this House, they have to take the oath of allegiance. People in Northern Ireland saw that when many people who violently opposed taking an oath of allegiance in Northern Ireland were elected to this House, they still took the oath when they came here.
Mr. Tom Harris: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case for democratic accountability in this House, and points out that the legislation for the Northern Ireland Assembly was voted on by the whole Houseagainst the wishes, on some occasions, of the majority of Northern Ireland Members. Does he not agree that that is simply a case of the writ of the United Kingdom Parliament running in Northern Ireland? Is that not what he stands for in the first place?
Rev. Ian Paisley: I have no objection to that, but I do object to the statement that Northern Ireland should not have United Kingdom laws. There is a proposal to alter part of the coat of arms in courthouses
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of the House and he knows that he is treading outside the terms of the amendment. As time is limited, I appeal to him to keep within the bounds of the amendment.
Rev. Ian Paisley: In that case, I cannot answer the question of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart. Perhaps I will see him, although not in the bar, and discuss the matter with him then. The point needs to be made that not only is there a proposal to delete from the oath any reference to the Queen but the real oath of allegiance would be destroyed. The people from Northern Ireland who represent the majority Unionist view are told that we should not come to the House and express our concern because these matters are so sensitive, but I believe that the Assembly and this House are the place to talk about these matters. We are democratic representatives. I know that people do not like what other people say, but as we say in Northern Ireland, they have to thole it. We have to thole one another.
This is the place where these matters need to be debated, but when people in Northern Ireland look at this House, they say, "You hardly have time to enter into a proper debate." Today, we are having the complete Report stage and Third Reading of the Bill. We will not get to some of the matters that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have told me I dare not mention, yet those matters go to the heart of the conviction of the majority people in Northern Ireland. It is unfair to those people that their representatives cannot fully discuss matters in this Parliament, where they are being settled and voted on.
The oath of allegiance sworn by the judiciary of Northern Ireland is a very serious issue because the Queen in Parliament is the source of justice. We feel that we should be like every other part of the United Kingdom,
Lady Hermon: As the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) was not generous enough to allow me to intervene on him again, I should take this opportunity to correct the suggestion that I regularly return to teaching as a law professor. I have one job and one job only, and that is as a Member of the House. I took early retirement from the law faculty at Queen's in 1988. It is always worth stating the facts correctly.
Mr. Quentin Davies: I stand corrected if the hon. Lady is no longer a professor, but I hope that she does not think that I have to apologise for insulting her. It does not seem to me to be insulting to refer to someone as a professor of law at a very distinguished university.
Lady Hermon: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's remark, but that is not the point that I was correcting. In his earlier remarks he said that he hoped that I would teach my students with more clarity than was contained in the points that I was making, which I thought was unfair and worth correcting.
I want to respond to the curious point made by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). He quoted the Belfast agreement and asked Unionist parties whether there was respect for principles such as parity of esteem and for the sensitivity of those who do not feel themselves to be British. I can speak only for the Ulster Unionist party and not for all those on the Unionist BenchesI would not attempt to do that. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that parity of esteem and the other terms that he mentioned appear in the agreement.
The question of whether those principles are compatible with the agreement when one recognises the constitutional position of Northern Ireland has already been tested in court. The judgment of the High Court in Belfast in the Conor Murphy case was handed down on 4 October 2001. In that case the judge had to interpret the regulations on flag flying and test whether they were consistent with the agreement. He made the valid observation that the Government are duty bound to strike the right balance between the constitutional guarantee in the agreement and elements such as parity of esteem and recognition of the identity of communities other than those who feel themselves to be British.
The question is one of balance, and in clause 20 Northern Ireland's constitutional position is recognised in the words "of this realm". That is clearly a reference to the United Kingdom and a recognition of Northern Ireland's status as being within the United Kingdom, and is therefore compatible with the agreement. I would not like the Opposition to press amendment No. 45 to a vote because, if passed, it would remove the words "of this realm".
Turning again to the comments of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, I draw his attention to the judgment in the case of two young members of the legal profession who had been called to become Queen's Counsel. In that judgment and in their arguments the point was made that they felt discriminated against on grounds of religion, which was an infringement of their human rights.
The Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European convention on human rights and stands outside the agreement, provides a very strong argument. It makes it clear that everyone within the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland is entitled to manifest their religion. Article 14 of the convention makes it clear that everyone should be able to manifest their religion without any discrimination on grounds of, among other things, political belief or opinion. The two barristers raised valid arguments, and serious issues had to be taken into account. Regrettably, the decision turned on a technicality so we did not get to the core of their arguments, but those points have to be taken into account when people are required to swear an oath of allegiance.