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17 Mar 2003 : Column 675—continued

6.21 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): I shall not speak for as long as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson)—I am sure that some will be happy about that—but I would like to mention the matter of people getting their identity cards. I understand that the Minister received a letter from my office that I had not signed. I would like to see that letter, because I understand that there were was no signature, but merely a "pp" against my name. Usually, when a letter goes out from the office, there will be a signature on it as well.

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I do not want to make it a feature of every Northern Ireland debate in the House that a Minister produces a letter from his pocket. Nevertheless, I have a letter that states:

which I assume is the address of the hon. Gentleman's office. The letter is on House of Commons notepaper, addressed to me and signed "I. Paisley". Although the letters "pp" appear underneath the signature next to "Ian Paisley MP MEP MLA", it is signed "I. Paisley". I do not know who has access to the hon. Gentleman's notepaper or who he authorises to use it, but I naively assumed that that letter came from him or was at least dictated on his behalf. I am sure that he accepts that.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I should like the Minister to give me a copy of that letter. I shall be very happy to look into the matter.

Mr. Peter Robinson: At any rate, the letter would have been sent before anyone in the office was aware of the statistics provided by the Minister, which indicated that 200,000 people had not replied to the applications that were sent out.

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Rev. Ian Paisley: All I can say about that is something very simple: this House has given an opportunity to the people of Northern Ireland to vote using a certain route. They should be encouraged to take that route and there should be no hold-up. I have constituents who have been told that so many people want their photographs to be taken that they have to wait in a long queue. Asking people to wait in a queue to get an identity card so that they can vote will cause great difficulties. That is what I am worried about and I do not feel that we will deal with all the people who say that they need the identity card. I cannot see us catching up on that. As my hon. Friend said, there will be trouble at the polling station.

I am glad that the Secretary of State has just entered the Chamber and I am sure that he will take note of what I say. I am not saying that the Government do not want these people to vote; I am saying that they have specified the way in which they must vote and we must see that that route is kept open and made available. That is the point that I wish to make at this time.

On 27 November, I asked the Prime Minister the following question in the House:

This was the Prime Minister's reply:

I can say a hearty amen to that, if we are to get what the Prime Minister described. I read after the meetings in Hillsborough comments saying that a statement would first be made and accepted in good faith, but no statement measures up to what the Prime Minister said in this House. I say to this House that the Prime Minister has to deliver on that statement, and that if he does not do so, he will have fallen down on his own definition. He came to Belfast and no politician was invited to the meeting. He made a statement and would not allow the press to question him. He returned to the House, I questioned him and that was his answer. I hold the Government and the Prime Minister to that statement.

We want to see the disbanding of IRA-Sinn Fein and all terrorist organisations, whether they are Protestant, Roman Catholic or whatever they want to call themselves. I have suffered from them all. I have had bullets put through my bedroom window by those who call themselves loyalists. I have had a church bombed by those who would say that they are republican. I have suffered from both, and when I read what they say about me, I see that they think that I am Mr. Baddie No. 1. I congratulate myself, as that is what I want to be in the eyes of such people, for they are the scum of the earth, no matter what they profess to be. Deliverance is needed. I would like to hear the Minister stand up and say "Yes, we dot every i and stroke every t of the Prime Minister's statement and there will be no going back—

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there must be a complete cessation of violence, the abandonment of paramilitarism and a goodbye to the gun in politics." Let us hear that.

When there were acts of decommissioning, there was rollicking laughter on the Labour Benches when I said in the House that I did not accept the reality of what had taken place. I spoke to General de Chastelain, who was supposed to be in charge, and asked "Could you tell me, general, where this happened?" He said, "No, I couldn't tell you." I asked "Do you think it happened in Ireland?" He said "I don't know." I said "Who were these men?" He replied that the men who had met him were all disguised. He said, "They told me that they were the IRA and that they were going to deal with the weapons." I said, "How did they deal with the weapons?" He said, "I cannot tell you." I asked, "How many weapons did they deal with?" He answered, "I cannot tell you." I said, "Were you out in a boat?" He said, "We may have had a boat journey."

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There has been a great deal of speculation in the media this evening about a possible change to business in the House tomorrow, and I wonder whether you can confirm that. In doing so, can you let the House know if and when the text of any Government motion for debate tomorrow might be available to all hon. Members from the Vote Office?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I can say to the hon. Gentleman that his words will have been heard across the House. If a change in business for tomorrow is to be made, no doubt the Minister will inform the House as soon as it is practicable and Members will have a chance to ask questions at that time. I cannot add to that statement at the moment. I have had no notice of the details, but the hon. Gentleman and the House as a whole can expect that events are marching upon us.

Rev. Ian Paisley: The general was unable to give any information. I notice that people who laughed at those of us who did not believe that it was proper decommissioning are now saying that previous acts of decommissioning were not really decommissioning. They are coming over to our point of view after laughing at us and mocking us. The bombings, the killings and the beatings went on, and now on-the-run terrorists—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman has very strong and deep-rooted views on these matters, but he is straying wide of the Second Reading debate on a Bill that, whatever he may see as its implications, is quite narrow in its terms.

Rev. Ian Paisley: Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but other hon. Members dealt with matters relating to why we are here tonight. Why are we here? What is the House meeting for? What are we discussing? We are discussing the date of an election. Why has that election been called? Because the Assembly has had to be suspended. Why was it suspended? Because those who were in government were found to be guilty of a whole series of acts that could not suggest that they were concerned only with peace and stability in Northern Ireland. The root cause of the matter before us is that IRA-Sinn Fein

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refused to accept what it told us it had accepted. I, for one, cannot believe a word of what any IRA man says, and neither do the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

Certain aspects of the Bill alarm me. Will the Government honour the result of the election? That is a question that has to be put. We must remember that this House governs the election. It will not be organised by the Assembly, by any Minister of the Assembly or by any elected Member from Northern Ireland. The Government here are responsible for everything that happens in managing the election—for getting the bolts into the boxes and getting them cut. It is a free country. We do not like the views of many of the people standing for election—we wish that they were not there, but they are. We are democrats, so if the democratic vote goes the way in which I personally believe it will—I have talked to many Government officials, and to people even closer than Government officials, and they agree—there will then have to come an honouring of democracy. It is all right to say that you are a democrat when things are going your way, but I have been in politics for a long time, and I have sat in this House for a long time, and I have seen the swings that take place—some days you are up, some days you are down and some days you do not know if you are up or down.

The day has come when the people of Northern Ireland are no longer going to be fooled by Government promises or allow Adams and his colleagues to deceive them. The day of the election is coming, and I am glad of that. I trust that the Government will make it clear that they will honour that election and that those who are elected will be consulted. The majority of Unionists have a right to be consulted, irrespective of whether the Government like their views, and I trust that that is what will happen. Then, perhaps, democracy will be seen to work as everybody puts their case.

Matters in Northern Ireland are very serious, and tonight matters in this old world of ours are very serious. It is interesting that we meet on St. Patrick's night. Someone said that St. Patrick was a Catholic. Of course, I am a Catholic, too. I am not a Roman Catholic, as everybody knows—I do not need to tell the Secretary of State that. There is unity in the message that Patrick brought to Ireland. I could say amen to every one of the doctrines that he taught, one of which was that no Christian man should take the life of another. He was harder on the terrorists of his day than any other preacher ever was. We need to return to that basic teaching of Patrick and to see that a man's life is a very important thing and that no one has the right to put out his hand to take that life, except under the constitution of the state where power is given to the magistrate to use the sword as an ordinance of God. It is important that we remember that tonight.

My deputy has given a fair history of the saga of this agreement. Hon. Members should realise that the time has come for the election, but that the time has also come when the Government must honour what the Prime Minister said to us in this House and accept the verdict of the people. The sooner we are around the table, when every man will have the opportunity to put his case, the sooner we will get this settled. I will not sit

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for my party at any table where there are gunmen and terrorists who continue to hold to that and to do their misdeeds. Those are not the people with whom I, as a democrat, have anything to do, but I will sit with those who are constitutionalists and believe that the way out is through the ballot box and democracy. I hope that at long last the Government will come out strongly on the side of democracy, and I look forward to that day.

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