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Mr. Purchase : I hope that, like every Member, and more widely, my hon. Friend accepts that it is quite possible not to share someone else's religious beliefs and to argue that vigorously from a sense of commitment, without insulting them or their religion. Will my hon. Friend take that point on board?
Mr. Barnes: My hon. Friend has set out the position that I wanted to express much better than I could. It should be possible to have the strongest dialectical debate and sometimes heated argument, because if people feel strongly they will get into that position, but arguments should be carried on in a way that does not attack individuals and their most fundamental and sacred feelings. People's ideas are important to them, whatever their religion and whether their views are humanist or perhaps even anti-religion, but debate should take place.
At Hull university, I studied philosophyincluding the philosophy of religionethics and politics. It is precisely on those topics that there should be full and fearless debate. In the Chamber, we can have full and fearless debate on political and moral issues. We are kept in order by the Speaker and Deputy Speakers and there are rules so that we do not go beyond what is reasonable. Such debate is to be encouraged and we need to be careful about the extent of legislation.
Some people say that religion and politics should never be discussed. Well, in that case I would have to shut up, because I think that they are the only two things worth arguing aboutapart perhaps from football, opera and various other things. In terms of where we stand on particular issues and how our views change and shift over time, politics and religion are key matters. I hope that care will be taken when measures relating to religion are brought before us.
I want to say something about identity cards. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) said that there were certain points in favour of identity cards, but he did not think that they would do much to tackle terrorism and that other things, such as social provisions, could be important in that regard. I feel that if we could switch the agenda somewhat, there is a lot in what he said.
The problem of electoral registration in this country has interested me for a considerable period. I became interested in it when the Conservatives introduced the poll tax, as I knew that it would squeeze certain people off electoral registers and stop new voters registering. When I looked into it a little more, I discovered that the problem did not just relate to the poll taxit certainly didbut that it went wider. We have a mobile societypeople move from bedsitter land to different areasso there were problems with registration, particularly in black communities and deprived areas. About 2 million people were missing from electoral registers. That was tackled to some extent by the current Government in the Representation of the People Act 2000, which introduced a version of rolling registers, but that still has not tackled the problem properly. I would recommend my own attempt at a private Member's Bill. When I was lucky in the ballot in 1993, I proposed a host of arrangements that tied in with making rolling registration effective, and we still need to move in that direction.
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Would not identity cards be of great value in securing electoral registration? If we gave votes to people at the age of 16 and ensured, through the schools system, that registration for identity cards started as people were reaching that age, that could be used to track them for electoral registration purposes, wherever they move in the United Kingdom, to achieve their rights. A democracy should have as its first building blocks the vote and the ballot. I argued earlier that voting was not enough in Iraq, but it is the starter and it must be universal. We should do all that we can to establish universal provision, so I shall try to persuade the Home Secretary to switch more to that agenda. He says that he is sympathetic, but we must ensure that that agenda is delivered.
I introduced a further private Member's Bill on civil rights for disabled people when I drew lucky in the ballot a couple of years later. Alf Morris, now Lord Morris, had introduced a similar measure in 1992, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) had introduced a dramatic version on the Floor of the House in 1994. In 1995, the then Conservative Government opposed my Bill because they had introduced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in conflict with it. At that time, the views on how far we should go with civil rights for disabled people were solidly divided into two camps.
This Government have extended the interpretation of the 1995 Act and introduced legislation to establish the Disability Rights Commission. In fact, that was done with the support of those on the Conservative Front Bench. Things have moved considerably in that period. The next stage is that we now need to get nearer to achieving civil rights for disabled people, and we need to stop the people who discriminate. Like the arguments of race, gender and age, people should not be able to use the argument of disability to discriminate against other individuals. No one should be able to discriminate by perceived, actual, past and possible future disability. The notion that people should discriminate on the ground of disability is very peculiar because we could all be disabled in the futureI am much more disabled than I used to beso it is like people discriminating against themselves or their possible future selves. That could not happen with other forms of discrimination. We can understand, without agreeing, why people discriminate in other areas.
Finally, I want to deal with the points about the European Union made in the Queen's Speech. Ever since the days of Harold Wilson when the vote was lost and we argued "No", pointing to the undemocratic, bureaucratic and essentially capitalist nature of the EU, my position on the EU has not changed, but there is no use arguing against a two thirds vote against us in the hope that things will alter very considerably. We must get in and seek to change things.
Seeking change has always involved my arguing for a federal, democratic and social Europefederal in the proper sense, not in the sense that is often used to pretend that the creeping centralisation and bureaucracy that often take place represent federalism, as though federalism involves centralised control. We need federalism in which there are divisions of power and power is pushed much more to the states. The
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bodies that make the decisions should not be Councils of Ministers or Commissions; the lead should be taken by Parliaments. Those Parliaments will be operated and run by leaderships, but they will be open and people will be able to check everything that is going on. To that extent, I have a similar agenda to that of the Liberal Democrats on that matter, but not on many others, although I do not know how far they go on the social provisions and changing the EU's economic arrangements.
I might get a chance to push some of those things a bit further during this Session of Parliament, but if not, I have put out a few markers in the hope that people pick up issues, such as electoral registration, run with them and pass on the baton.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the House for not being present for most of the debate through no fault of my own, for I was enclosed in the talks that are going on about Northern Ireland between the Government and some of our parties. I came from those talks directly to the House, and I appreciate you calling me to speak in the debate.
Of course, that is why the talks have taken place and why my party has taken part in those talks. The Prime Minister made it clear what the basis and aims of the talks are. I refer the House to a statement that he made in the city of Belfast on 17 October 2002, in which he said:
"Another inch by inch negotiation won't work. Symbolic gestures, important in their time, no longer build trust. It is time for acts of completion. Republicans to make the commitment to exclusively peaceful means, real, total and permanent. For all of us, an end to tolerance of paramilitary activity in any form. A decision that from here on in, a criminal act is a criminal act. One law for all, applied equally to all."
"aware that in the past two days my party has met the Minister with responsibility for security in Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We put one question to both: what is an act of completion? Does it consist of IRA-Sinn Fein repudiating and ceasing violence and being disbanded, or does it simply mean that they make a statement that they will give up violence? Can the Prime Minister tell us what he believes it means?"
"I can. It is not merely a statement, a declaration or words. It means giving up violence completely in a way that satisfies everyone and gives them confidence that the IRA has ceased its campaign, and enables us to move the democratic process forward, with every party that wants to be in government abiding by the same democratic rules."[Official Report, 27 November 2002; Vol. 395, c. 309.]
Those statements are crystal clear and on that basis my party joined the talks. It has spent considerable time and energy in them because we hoped that at very long last we were coming to a time when democracy would
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conquer and intolerance, paramilitary activities, murders and terrorism would come to a complete and total end.
Running with that is that we need not only full decommissioning but an end to the criminal activities of IRA-Sinn Fein. The Prime Minister made it clear that he also believed that they must cease. Then I read in a newspaper this week that a leading member of Sinn Fein in the south of Ireland is spying on senior Fianna Fail and Fine Gael politicians, and there is a hue and a cry from IRA-Sinn Fein that the Dublin courts do not provide justice and that that man should not be condemned. So the IRA is busily engaged in those activities.
Some people say to me, "But Ian, is it not a fact that things are now different?" People should not be deceived. We do not have a normal situation in Northern Ireland. I have the last report made to the Northern Ireland Policing Board by the Chief Constable. He gave the figures for what happened last year, and this year as far as they go. The number of persons charged with terrorist offences was 56 in April to September 2003, and 41 in April to September 2004. That is not a big reduction or normalisation. The number of deaths occurring as a result of the security situation was four in April to September 2003, and three in April to September 2004. The number of shooting incidents was 103 in April to September 2003, and 103 in April to September 2004. The number of bombing incidents was 26 in April to September 2003, and 37 in April to September 2004. The number of casualties arising from paramilitary-style attacks was 149 in April to September 2003, and 116 in April to September 2004.
The situation is not normal. It is essential not only that IRA-Sinn Fein put away all their guns and that those are seen to be put out of use for ever, but that we see what happens to their massive criminal activity. Something like £500,000 of cigarettes were recently stolen from the Gallaher's factory. All those things are piling up, as well as the bombings, killings, targeting, recruiting and so on. The Government have to face up to the problem. Yet in the midst of that we are told that, because of normalisation, certain things are to take place and the Royal Irish Regiment is to be cut. In fact, steps have been taken eventually to disband that regiment altogether.
We need to keep those things in mind when great pressure is put on Northern Ireland's politicians to make a settlement. If there is to be real peace in Northern Ireland, IRA-Sinn Fein must give up all their weapons in such a way that the ordinary man in the street knows that it has been done. It must be clear and open, and there must be a ceasing of their criminal activities and those activities that continually put a black spot on our Province. The soldiers of the RIR deserve honest treatment. They need honesty, clarity and certainty about what is happening to their regiment.
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