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Stephen Pound: I apologise: not only is the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) known to have one of the best legal brains in the House, she is also unfailingly courteous and charming, and I understand the motivation behind her amendment. However, I have no such inhibition about amendment No. 22, in the name of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson).
With her amendment No. 31, the hon. Member for North Down has moved the debate on from the minutiae of who did what to whom, in what guise and wearing what colours on a Good Friday late in the last century. Instead, the amendment focuses on the core question of what we are trying to achieve today.
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This is the second day of debate on this Bill. Yesterday, we heard one of the most extraordinary statements ever uttered in this House, when the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) said
We have gone from the depths of that comment to the heights of the points made by the hon. Members for North Down and for Tewkesbury, and various others. The key question is: can a democracy flourish or even function if some of the people in the democratic process have pasts that might be bloody and bitter, and whose lives have been lived in opposition to the principle of democracy?
It would be otiose for me to make the obvious point that, if the sort of filter or block that is proposed in the amendment had been imposed in the past, people such as George Washington, Jan Smuts, Menachem Begin and Nelson Mandela would never have held office. As it happens, all four held the highest office in their respective nations, and did so with distinction.
Some may say that there is a difference between a declared war and the sort of activity that we are talking about. That would be true in the case of three of the people whom I mentioned, but in one case it would not.
Stephen Pound: I will give way in a moment, but before I do I want to emphasise that I have chosen my words very carefully. I understand how difficult this matter is. We are talking about actions as bitter as wormwood and gall to many hon. Members, and I understand that their communities have suffered for many years in ways that are inconceivable to people who live in comparative safety and comfort in Great Britain. However, people in my borough of Ealing have been affected physicallyand lethallyby the conflict. Therefore, I feel that I have the right to speak about these matters in this House, and to say that it is vital that we thaw the permafrost, escape from the past and move forward.
Sammy Wilson: The hon. Gentleman is trying to divert attention away from the essence of the amendment. This is not only about people who have a past; it is about people with a present and particular attitude to the police. The second part of the amendment requires such people to make a declaration of support for the very service that, as Ministers, they are supposed to be in charge of.
I am very gratefulrather more often than I expected to befor the hon. Gentleman's interventions, but I disagree profoundly with the point that he makes. If that were the case, we could understand the need for the amendment. If we say, as one of the amendments specifies, that everybody holding office has to swear to uphold the rule of law, that implies that we can pick and choose our obedience to the rule of law. Every single one of us is subject to the rule
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of law, so it is otiose and unnecessary to say that we will respect it. It is like saying that one gets wet when it rainsthese are facts of life.
The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) referred earlier to the past and the present, and he is absolutely and precisely right. Although the past is in some ways uncertain because it is constantly reinterpreted, at least we know what happened in the past, and we can examine it. What we cannot do is to legislate for attitude. How in heaven's name can attitude be analysed, delineated, listed and then legislated for? I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman's comments should not commend themselves to the House, because of the simple fact that it is impossible to analyse attitude.
Mr. Gregory Campbell: The issue has been raised of past miscreants who engaged in criminal activity perhaps becoming, for example, Justice Ministers in Northern Ireland. Such people may currently support illegality and criminality; indeed, some would say that they do. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that we need a clear definition from these people that they have departed from their pastif it is indeed their pastand that they must demonstrate credible support for law and order if they are ever to become Ministers?
Stephen Pound: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Few statements are less equivocal than the statement that was made to the effect that the war is over. The hon. Gentleman will probably say that although statements can be made and words uttered, they may be blown hither and thither on the wind, but what on earth would it take to prove this commitment? One could say, "Here is a form of words that constitutes a continual raising of the bar, which has to be jumped over before such people are acceptable." However, although it would be presumptuous of me to attempt to speak for the GovernmentI have no doubt that I will never be called upon to do soI would suggest that the participation of individuals in the democratic process is in itself a statement of intent. The hon. Member for Tewkesbury referred, somewhat exotically, to someone choosing to be a legislator by day and a terrorist by night, but that simply does not happen: it is not practical and there is no historical precedent for it.
Lady Hermon: The hon. Gentleman referred to a phrase used by the leader of Sinn Feinthe statement that the war is over. If the war is indeed over, why do Sinn Fein refuse to take their places on the Policing Board, refuse to call upon young republicans to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland and refuse to give any hint of support for the police service? That is the issue that he must address.
Stephen Pound: I carry many a heavy load on my journey through this vale of tears that we call life, but one thing that I do not, cannot and shall never do is answer for Sinn Fein on the Floor of this House. That is not my job and in all frankness, it is not one that I would choose to apply for. I cannot speak for them; they can, and do, speak for themselves, albeit not here.
Mr. Laurence Robertson:
The hon. Gentleman needs to make a better attempt at answering the very reasonable question asked by the hon. Member for
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North Down (Lady Hermon). He said that the IRA stated that the war was over, but he knows as well as the rest of us that the elected Sinn Fein Members do not take their seats in this House because they do not recognise the legitimacy of this Parliament. Similarly, they do not recognise the legitimacy of the police in Northern Ireland. Surely it is reasonable to expect someone who takes office and takes charge of the police to recognise their legitimacy. That is what my amendment seeks to ensure.
Stephen Pound: Recognising the police's legitimacy is one thing; having to swear a secondary or tertiary oath is entirely another matter. All Members of this House swear an Oath of Allegiance and we accept that. We have never been asked to swear a second or third oath, and frankly, introducing an additional filter of oath-taking would be provocative.
As I said earlier, I do not speak for Sinn Fein in this House, nor will I, but based on my tiny amount of knowledge of the subject, the consistent political position of Sinn Fein, who believe in an all-Ireland party and who do not wish to sit in the legislature of what they consider another country, is understandable and legitimate, even if it is not endorsed by manyabout four, I should imagineMembers of this House. It would be easy for them to turn up, collect their pay and rations and keep their fingers crossed when they swear the Oath of Allegiance. They do not do so and I almost admire them for that, even if they do not have my personal sympathy.
Mr. Gregory Campbell: Does the hon. Gentleman not concede that Sinn Fein have said repeatedly that they do not accept the legitimacy of the army of the Irish Republicthe "Oglaigh Na hEireann", as they call itlet alone this House or this jurisdiction? Given that attitude, can we accept the bona fides of such a person if they aspire to be a Justice Minister in Northern Ireland?
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