HC Deb 14 May 1973 vol 856 cc1147-77

10.14 p.m.

The Minister of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. David Howell)

I beg to move, That the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th April, be approved. During the review which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland undertook of the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Acts (Northern Ireland) resulting in the publication of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill which is now at its Committee stage in this House, he gave careful consideration to the concept of proscribing organisations.

I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to enter in detail into the argument for or against proscribing organisations when moving these regulations as these arguments are more appropriate to consideration of provisions in the Bill. Perhaps I should just say at this stage that the Government came to the conclusion that it was necessary during the period of the emergency to make membership of certain organisations unlawful.

Having reached this decision, it was necessary to decide which organisations should be made unlawful. Again, I doubt whether it would be appropriate for me to discuss this matter at length, or in detail, except to say that after the most careful consideration my right hon. Friend decided that there was a case for relaxing the proscription of Republican Clubs and, accordingly, they are not included in Schedule 2 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill now in Committee.

When my right hon. Friend made known his decision, by publication of the Bill, hon. Members on both sides of the House suggested to him that if the Government had decided that Republican Clubs should no longer be unlawful, it would make sense to see that this decision was given effect in time for the forthcoming elections to the local authority district councils. My right hon. Friend readily agreed to this proposition, the elections being on 30th May. It has always been the policy of Her Majesty's Government to encourage the free expression of political views—and I emphasise political views—in Northern Ireland, but with this has always gone the proviso, which is clearly stated in the White Paper, that any person in Northern Ireland, whatever his political beliefs, may advance them peacefully without fear. But no person or organisation can expect to be allowed to claim to be acting politically at one moment and then, given what appears a favourable opportunity, to turn to violence and subversion ". When it came to carrying out the decision on Republican clubs there was clearly no possibility of using the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill if the timetable were to be achieved with the local elections on 30th May. The Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill is a major Bill and one which the Government accept justifies detailed scrutiny and consideration by both Houses of Parliament. It is not their intention that the normal processes on this should or ought to be curtailed in any way.

However, the Northern Ireland Special Powers Act does contain a wide enabling provision for regulations to be made by the Minister of Home Affairs—whose functions in this respect are now vested in the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by virtue of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972. So it is regulations under that Act that are before the House today to carry out our decision to de-proscribe Republican clubs.

I know that hon. Members are always uneasy when the Government take advantage of the urgent procedure provided for in the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, but on this occasion I do not think I need defend its use. There was general agreement in this House, as far as one could judge, that Republican Clubs should be removed from the list of unlawful associations in time for members to accept nomination for the elections. For the local elections nomination day was 2nd May. It was only by the use of the emergency procedure that the Government could guarantee to have the necessary legislation made without the risk of seriously inconveniencing Parliament.

The regulations do no more and no less than remove Republican clubs from the list of unlawful associations from Regulation 24A of the Special Powers Regulations to the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922.

Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)

Before my hon. Friend sits down——

Mr. Howell

I have sat down.

Mr. McMaster

—I should like him to give a little more explanation of the reasons for the regulations. Does my hon. Friend accept that Republican Clubs are the political wing of the official IRA which has recently claimed to have killed seven soldiers in the last two months in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Howell

That is a matter for debate. I shall try at the end to answer points that are made during the debate. The proposition this evening is that Republican Clubs should be allowed to advance candidates at the election without any threat of prosecution. That is what the regulations before the House seek do.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

Before my hon. Friend sits down, perhaps it would help if he could say something about the reason for the removal of the Republican Clubs from the proscribed list. We have not had that yet.

Mr. Howell

I do not know whether I am continuing with my initial speech. My right hon. Friend has made it clear that he is anxious to see all genuine political activity encouraged in Northern Ireland. He has said that he welcomes the expression of political views, however unreasonable and unacceptable they may be to one side or the other.

The Republican Clubs are putting forward candidates, they are advancing views to do with their beliefs in the 32 counties and so on. This he regards as wholly acceptable. Obviously, if people come forward who are wanted for criminal activities, if people advance views which are seditious and themselves criminal or distribute those views, then that becomes a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. That is not what is raised now.

10.21 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

We welcome these regulations because we have pressed for the ending of all bans in Northern Ireland. Our only complaint is that this does not go far enough. The interventions of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) and the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and the Minister's reply to them underline my point. If the Government see a justifiable reason for removing the Republican Clubs from proscription, why cannot all proscriptions be removed?

Many of us are aware, as the hon. Member for Belfast, East said, of the recent claims of the official IRA about military action against the British Army. This came shortly after the announcement of the proposal to remove the ban on Republican Clubs and the refusal to do the same for the Provisionals. We do not desire to support either of these wings other than to allow them to stand in a political context in Northern Ireland. At the moment, the Provisionals are urging people to boycott the elections.

The list of candidates already nominated includes supporters of that organisation. It makes a nonsense of the whole thing. We return to our original point. If someone stands as a candidate and is wanted by the security forces, then the law still applies. It would apply in this country in the same way. To give a propaganda weapon of this sort to a party which polled 1.4 per cent. in the recent Irish Republic elections is a misguided judgment.

Mr. Frank McManus (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)


Mr. Orme

My hon. Friend interrupted me on this point previously. If people were to stand and obtain a substantial number of votes that would show what the position was. It would strengthen the political argument of people who are using force, to which we are deeply opposed. That is the crux of the situation. The ban is being lifted on but one of seven proscribed organisations in Northern Ireland. In our opinion it would not add up to a row of beans if the ban were removed from all seven. If people want to do so, we should allow them to use a banner at the elections.

We realise the emotive terms, but it is interesting to see how we have progressed in our debates to talking quite rationally about certain organisations and about what they stand for which would have been anathema in the House only a short while ago. What is the difference between removing the ban on the Republican Clubs and removing the ban on the political wing of the IRA? There are subtle differences, and there are two wings—but the bans do not exist on the political side within the Republic. It would be to the advantage of everyone that people stand in their true colours, be they the colours of the tricolour or of the Union Jack. Some organisations were possibly looking for an excuse to boycott the elections or saying that they wanted to boycott the elections to bring pressure to bear while running candidates who were obviously their supporters. It would be much better in local government and particularly in the Assembly elections to lift the ban.

When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn-Rees) pressed this matter most strongly, the Secretary of State said that the matter was still under discussion. He gave the impression that it was still a matter for Cabinet decision. It would have been much better if the Government had conceded the point immediately, rather than when the Provisional appear to be boycotting the elections.

What is the Government's objection and when will they give an answer to the point that we have been pressing? The whole issue of the elections for which we are removing the ban comes under the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972. The Minister will be aware that the Army and its actions have come under close scrutiny and are likely to be an issue. The emergency powers are being used in the forthcoming elections. In the interests of the Army, we urge upon the Minister that a low profile be adopted during the period of these elections. We have heard the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) of the interrogation by the Army. We have heard of the case of Ranger Hammond and this double-agent business, and what is called MRF.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman relate his argument more closely to the regulations? I am unable to follow it at present.

Mr. Orme

I was saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the regulations deal with a section of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act. I was saying that the Army will still be responsible because the emergency will still exist until the new Bill, which is in committee, has been passed.

We are concerned about the elections. The removal of the ban from the Republican Clubs is important because it will allow much more open and forthright expression of political opinion in Northern Ireland. Irrespective of whether we agree with them, it is on the political side that we want expressions of opinion. We want to see the support that exists for these organisations in Northern Ireland. No one knows what that support is, not even the Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party or the Nationalists.

Therefore, in supporting the regulations, I ask the Minister to say how many candidates have put themselves forward at present for election as a result of this relaxation and whether this will have any effect from that point of view.

I know I have the support of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South in my sentiments about our having to deal with the regulations in a 90-minute debate. I shall not weary the house about the number of such orders that we have had, but many of us noted the speech by Lord Windlesham, the Minister of State in another place, in which he referred to a lecture he recently gave at the new university in Ulster about how legislation is dealt with in this House. We look forward to the new Assembly being able to take from the Floor of this House much of the legislation with which we now deal.

10.31 p.m.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) knows that I do not always agree with him about everything, but I agree with the implication of what he said at the conclusion of his remarks. I also agree with him upon the general point he put forward that it is, to say the least, surprising that we have not had justification of the regulations by the Minister of State. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Mc-Master) interrupted him because we were astonished that he was preparing to finish without telling us why the regulations were being produced and why the Republican Clubs had been singled out from the long list of proscribed organisations. We have not had that justification yet and it will be difficult for me to make up my mind what to do about the regulations until I have heard why this organisation has been singled out.

The regulations do not confer upon members of Republican Clubs the right to be nominated or to take part in any way in the elections. That right already exists in electoral law. It merely removes proscription from them, not simply for the time of the election but for the foreseeable future until the regulations are revoked. It goes further. It confers upon that organisation considerable benefits. It permits a candidate to use the name of the organisation when it comes before the electorate. It permits him to use the advantages that a candidate gets for the free and widest possible distribution of his literature and his views at public expense. It gives the organisation a vital propaganda weapon. Why should that benefit be conferred upon the members of Republican Clubs and not upon the members of some of the other bodies contained in the proscribed list? I find it difficult to make up my mind on the matter until I hear from my hon. Friend why the organisation was selected, so that in that respect I am at one with the hon. Member for Salford, West.

Mr. Orme

We seem to agree on this point, but is it not better that people should be firing paper missiles through people's doors, even at public expense, rather than bullets?

Captain Orr

I have much sympathy with those who argue that we should try to remove any barriers which might prevent someone from standing as a candidate in the election and from putting his views before the electorate. But in a sense the regulations go further than that. They are not removing a barrier. They are conferring a privilege on someone to use the name of an organisation to get considerable benefits by way of free distribution of electoral literature. It seems strange that it should be conferred upon one of the organisations and not on the others.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

If under the electoral laws, as we have been assured by the Minister many times, a candidate can stand and put after his name, say, Sinn Fein, surely if his nomination is valid he is entitled to those privileges.

Captain Orr

Yes, but he would find himself in great difficulty if he chose to exercise the privilege by using the name of a proscribed organisation. In that sense the regulations make the situation easier.

Under the special powers provisions, No periodicals or publications are proscribed but under Regulation 8 it is an offence to print, publish, circulate, distribute, sell or offer or expose for sale or to have in one's possession for purposes of publication … any document advocating:

  1. '(a) the procuring by force, violence or other unlawful means, of an alteration of the constitution or laws of Northern Ireland, or
  2. (b) the unlawful raising or maintaining of a military or armed force, or
  3. (c) the obstruction of or interference with the administration of justice or the enforcement of the law, or
  4. (d) support for any organisation whatsoever which carries on any of the activities specified in sub-paragraphs (a) to (c) above '." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1973; Vol. 855, c. 56.]
Will that regulation be in force during the coming elections? I suppose that it depends on the timetable of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill in Committee. However, we need a guarantee that, whether it be under the special powers legislation or under the Bill now going through the House, no election address could be used in the sense set out in the regulation—in other words, that it could not be used for subversive reasons. If my hon. Friend the Minister of State would deal with that point, it would greatly help us.

I return to my main point. Some greater justification must be given for the withdrawal of the proscription of Republican Clubs before we can conceivably support the regulations.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

I was a member of the Stormont Parliament when the regulation which imposed a ban on Republican Clubs was introduced. We in the Opposition fought strenuously against this further infliction of oppressive legislation on those opposed to Unionism. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has asked the Minister what justification there is for lifting the ban on Republican Clubs. I reverse the question: what justification was there for the imposition of the ban in the first place?

I remember, during our debates in Stormont on this contentious issue, asking the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. William Craig, now of world renown, about this matter. This was his first appointment as the guardian of law and order in Northern Ireland, and we were considering one of the first special powers measures that he put on the Statute Book. The Minister and the Government were able to give no justification for the imposition of the ban on Republican Clubs. They were then, and they are now, a legitimate political movement. There are many points on which I disagree with the Republican Clubs movement. When the local government elections take place in Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast, my colleagues and I will be contesting certain areas and among our opponents will be representatives of Republican Clubs. However, I abide by what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme). If there proves to be a majority of people living in those areas who are prepared to give electoral support to the Republican Clubs, that is the wish of the people and it is their verdict. I am prepared to abide by that verdict.

But why restrict the lifting of the ban solely on the Republican Clubs? The ban should have been lifted from Sinn Fein. If Sinn Fein is a political organisation and can get electoral support in Northern Ireland, the Minister should have been much more generous and should have given the opportunity to every political interest in Northern Ireland to put its policies and programmes before the electors——

Mr. John E. Magginis (Armagh)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Republican Clubs are now the official Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Fitt

I am not a member of the Republican Clubs, nor am I a member of Sinn Fein. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is a member. He seems to know a lot more about it than I do. Perhaps he is telling the House something of which I am not aware. If the Republican Clubs are related to the official Sinn Fein, that in itself is not a condemnation of them. That only highlights the inconsistency when the proscription is lifted on the official Sinn Fein and placed on the provisional Sinn Fein. If there are a substantial number of people in Northern Ireland who wish to give support to Sinn Fein, they should not be hindered from doing so.

The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South, quoted from a section of the Northern Ireland (Special Powers) Act relating to the lifting of the proscription on publications which could be considered as advocating violence. For a number of years the United Irishman was banned in Northern Ireland. That ban remained in force until the Stormont Parliament was terminated. However, there are many fringe publications in Northern Ireland. For example, the Woodvale Defence Association and the UDA have one. There are hundreds circulating every weekend. Are those publications to be termed seditious or advocating violence. Indeed, the Protestant Telegraph has in the past made some rather questionable statements. I remember in this House having occasion to draw the attention of Mr. Speaker to the Protestant Telegraph for an attack which it made on an hon. Member.

If the Minister is to have a look at these publications in the run-up to the elections he should pay attention to all the fringe publications or political publications and not exclude those on the other side of the fence.

The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South, should have known that if an election address is being delivered free by the postal authorities the Postmaster-General has the right to vet the address. If there is anything offensive in the address he can refuse to accept it. That is a responsibility which the postmasters in Northern Ireland are operating quite successfully at the moment. Of course, it depends on what is offensive——

Captain Orr

The hon. Gentleman is making a fair point, but would not the postmaster be guided as to what was or was not considered to be unlawful?

Mr. Fitt

Perhaps it would all depend on the postmasters. There may be more postmasters of my political persuasion than there are of the persuasion of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is it not a serious matter that the responsibility should rest on the postmaster to decide whether political literature is legitimate?

Mr. Fitt

I am not responsible for the legislation, but I spoke to the Post Office a few days ago about my own election address and was advised that it would be vetted by the Post Office before it would be accepted for free delivery.

Mr. Maginnis

The hon. Gentleman is confusing the issue. All a postmaster has to decide is whether the address is of the right size. He applies the electoral law in this respect. It has nothing to do with whether an address is seditious.

Mr. Fitt

My postmaster must be No. 27 or No. 29, because he told me that he would have to look at the contents of the address before it could be accepted. Perhaps the Minister of State can clear that up.

The ban on the Republican Clubs should never have been imposed in the first place. It was an unwarranted intrusion into the legitimate activities of a political organisation. The Minister does not have to make any excuses tonight for lifting the ban. It should have been lifted when direct rule was imposed. We should not have had to wait all this time.

I reinforce the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West, that all proscriptions and bans be lifted from all organisations, be they of Republican origin or extreme Unionist origin. These people should be permitted to put their policies and programmes before the electorate, and I, as a democrat in Northern Ireland, am prepared to abide by the decision of the people.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

I have the greatest sympathy with the postmaster who has the responsibility for the election literature of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I would have the greatest distaste for reading the hon. Gentleman's literature.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. We have already strayed rather wide of the regulations. Will the hon. Gentleman return to them?

Mr. Kilfedder

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have only just started. I suggest that it is pertinent——

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely it is in order for an hon. Member to comment on the remarks of another hon. Member in the debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not think there is any general rule to that effect. It may be that one hon. Member has been allowed to go further than he should have been, but that is no reason for another hon. Member to follow him.

Mr. Kilfedder

I suggest that it is pertinent in the sense that obviously the hon. Member for Belfast, West is not aware of the true situation with regard to election communications and whether a postmaster has the power to censor—which he has not.

This is why I agree that it was unfortunate that my hon. Friend the Minister of State failed to adduce evidence why the House should accept the regulations. There seemed to be looks of amazement on the faces of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I think that, when promoting such a radical change in the law in Northern Ireland, the Minister should not present the matter to the House in such a perfunctory way and ask it to accept the regulations. It is a radical change and we should have had from him a full justification for it.

My hon. Friend said that there was general agreement that the Republican Clubs should be removed from the list of proscribed organisations. On what he bases that statement, I do not know. Perhaps there is agreement in this country, which has not seen the terrorist campaign, but I have not heard in Northern Ireland general agreement for lifting the proscription on the Republican Clubs.

My hon. Friend said that the Government wish all genuine political activity to be encouraged in Northern Ireland. Is he suggesting—I assume that he must be—that Republican Clubs conduct genuine political activity? It is worth remembering that the Republican Clubs represent a branch of the official IRA, which has closely identified itself with the campaign of terror being waged against the law-abiding people in Northern Ireland, and which is responsible for the death of members of the security forces and of civilians.

The official IRA, to which the Republican Clubs are affiliated, is not slow to claim credit for appalling torture and murder. We do not have to go back far in our memories. Only a year and a half ago, there was the torture and murder of Captain McCauseland, who had had to resign his commission in the Ulster Defence Regiment because of threats. After the official IRA men had tortured him, they killed him; and I understand that his wife and children had to flee the country.

The official IRA, with which the Republican Clubs are closely linked, is proud to own up to these crimes. It was responsible for the torture and murder of another Roman Catholic, Ranger Best, a soldier in the British Army, whose crime was that he returned to his home in the Bogside to visit his mother. Before being shot, we remember, he was refused the comfort of the presence of a priest, which he had requested, to administer the last rites. Yet this is the organisation which the House is told, in cursory fashion, should have its proscription lifted.

Only recently, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) reminded us, the official IRA claimed the deaths of seven British soldiers allegedly as a reprisal. The official IRA constantly says that it has declared a truce, and it seeks to defend these callous murders by calling them reprisal killings. It is a distinction without a difference to the Ulster citizens, though perhaps the Government can comprehend it otherwise in the safety of the House of Commons in this country.

What is the effect of the regulations? Here, I take up what was said by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme). As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said, they mean free election addresses. Republican Clubs will be able to distribute propaganda right, left and centre, throughout the Province. Moreover, if they put forward enough candidates, they will be allotted television time. They will be able to engage in political demonstrations. Ultimately, we may see British soldiers, comrades of others callously murdered by the official IRA, having to defend the Republican Clubs, the membership of which may be identical with the membership of the official IRA, many of them—or at least some of them—responsible for murder and explosions in Northern Ireland.

What is the difference—the hon. Member for Salford, West asked the same question—between the political wings of the official and the Provisional IRA, between the Republican Clubs and the Provisional Sinn Fein? I have not heard an answer yet. Perhaps we shall hear one at somewhat greater length from the Minister.

By removing the proscription from one of the many militant organisations in Ulster previously banned, we run the risk of bringing the law into disrepute. I do not see how one can distinguish between Republican Clubs and the Provisional Sinn Fein.

I am all in favour of every peaceful political organisation putting up candidates to test their acceptability by the community in the coming elections. We look forward to that in the election to the Assembly, though I am not as hopeful as is the hon. Member for Salford, West when he talks about the Assembly discussing legislation soon. I fear that it will be a long time before they will be discussing legislation in the new Assembly. I hope that it comes quickly, but I am afraid that the prospect is not too good.

By removing from the list of pros-scribed organisations at this time a body such as the Republican Clubs, the Government will be widely interpreted as clothing with respectability a body which has organised violence. What has activated the Government in making this extraordinary distinction between Republican Clubs, on the one hand, and the Provisional Sinn Fein, on the other? Both accept violence as an essential ingredient of political activity. Moreover, dual membership is common. It has often been said by people who have covered the situation in Northern Ireland that there can be and is dual membership. I am speaking as one who has visited relatives who have had dear ones murdered, sometimes mutilated, and I would permit neither organisation to put forward candidates till there is clear evidence that they have forsaken the gun and torture as means of gaining their political objectives. A policy of making concessions to men of violence at the expense of the victims of violence has a devastating psychological effect on the community at large.

I refer to a book written by John J. Horgan, who is well known in Irish affairs. He wrote a book called "The Complete Grammar of Anarchy". It was published in Dublin in 1918. In the foreword he wrote: Ireland has relearnt the old lesson, that English politicians—one cannot call them statesmen—will yield to violence and threats when they will not even listen to the voice of justice and right. Those are true words today. We have seen them come true in Northern Ireland.

I plead with this House to reject a proposal which I as an Irishman instinctively regard as prejudicial to the democratic proceeding at a time when it is essential that the elections to the Assembly should be devoid of intimidation and in which only democratic parties which abhor violence should put forward candidates. Both wings of the IRA and their political organisations have a vested interest in the continuation of violence to achieve their aim of a united Ireland. To change their existing status by means of a legalistic formula will not alter by one iota their traditional adherence to terror.

I cannot accept the regulations recommended so briefly and, in my opinion, so inadequately by my hon. Friend. Perhaps when winding up the debate he will give for the regulations the justification which he failed to give in his opening speech.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Frank McManus (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I agree with the remark of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) when he said that this ban should not have been imposed in the first place. I cannot think of a reason why it was ever imposed—except, perhaps, that at the time of the imposition of the ban I happened to be vice-chairman of the particular organisation. I know not whether that may or may not have been considered sufficient cause for the ban. I also agreed with the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) in welcoming this amendment through the regulations as far as it gees, but I regret that it does not go nearly far enough.

The only explanation the Government have given for this ban being lifted and other bans not having been lifted is that people cannot be expected to engage in political activities today and then if given a favourable opportunity resort to violence. If that is how the Government determine whether an organisation should be proscribed or whether it has a right to put forward candidates in elections, then what is the difference between the organisations which are proscribed and an organisation such as, say, the UDA which is part of an umbrella organisation, in which the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is involved and in which for a brief period the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) was intimately involved.

That umbrella organisation states its position clearly by saying, "We will wreck this Assembly. We will use the democratic process, so-called, for as long as it is possible to use it, but if the British Government after that do not do what we want them to do we will fight". The UDA has already on a few occasions —albeit briefly—declared war on the British Army. Many of its members have openly confessed to carrying out acts of sabotage in South Ireland and elsewhere. The organisation is part of the loyalist coalition which is contesting the local government elections and intends to put up a massive number of candidates. I am not saying that it should not do so. It certainly should. But if that organisation can do so, will the Government explain the difference between it and the organisations which are proscribed?

Mr. Maginnis

Regulation 2 provides: In Regulation 24A (unlawful associations) of the Special Powers Regulations, the words 'The organisations at the date of this regulation or at any time thereafter describing themselves as 'Republican Clubs' or any like organisation howsoever described shall cease to have effect … If the hon. Gentleman will look at this closely, he will see that any organisation affiliated to the Republicans will be affected by the regulations.

Mr. McManus

That is not connected with the point I am making.

Mrs. Bernadette McAliskey (Mid-Ulster)

Is the hon. Member aware that the Republican Clubs are the Official Sinn Fein Clubs in the north, and the Provisional Sinn Fein, Kevin Street, calls its Northern organisations Sinn Fein Cumainn, which translated into English means Republican Club? Perhaps that legalises it.

Mr. McManus

I do not know whether the Minister will go that far, but he can take it from my hon. Friend that that is a literal translation.

This raises the question whether these elections are free or are meant to be free. There is growing cynicism, and I am forced to the conclusion——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The debate is not about elections in general but about the regulations.

Mr. McManus

Surely, on the removal or otherwise of a prohibition depends the ability of the organisation to engage in a free election. For some time it has been public knowledge that the ban on Republican Clubs has been lifted although they are illegal organisations.

If this is the case, what conceivable explanation can there be for the extraordinary incident at Easter when the chairman of a Republican Club in the North of Ireland arrived at London Airport—which is still part of the United Kingdom—and was deported back to Bel- fast because he was considered to be undesirable or a threat to the security of the country? Further to confuse the issue, the Home Office said, "We have made a mistake—he should have been deported to Dublin." That confused everybody and certainly gave a clear indication that not many people in the Home Office have a clear idea of what is going on in the Northern Ireland Office.

This brings me to the cynicism of the situation. What the Government are anxious to do in lifting the ban is not to promote political activity but to ensure in some way the result they most want to achieve. The ban should be lifted in a spirit of free elections or in an effort to promote the freest possible elections, not as a device or attempt to restrict or ban the participation of Republican Clubs. They should not be afforded the opportunity to take part in elections and yet when they attempt to take part be told that they are undesirable. Now, before the Assembly elections, let us lift the restrictions on the Provisional Sinn Fein, and then the most desirable political parties will have gained a mandate in Northern Ireland and contain reasonable people with whom we can deal.

A well-known Republican who stood in my constituency was recently arrested and is now in gaol. He was arrested for not paying a fine that was imposed because he did not complete a census form. How does it arise that the authorities suddenly choose this moment of time to take action? They have had two years in which to arrest that man for nonpayment of that fine.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Can the hon. Gentleman explain the connection between what he is now saying and these regulations?

Mr. McManus

It relates to lifting the ban on Sinn Fein and attempting to promote conditions in which free elections can conceivably take place in the North of Ireland. Free elections cannot possibly take place in an atmosphere in which people are being deported from one part of the United Kingdom to another.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must keep to the regulations or must resume his seat.

Mr. McManus

I have finished anyway, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

11.9 p.m.

Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)

Some hon. Members in this debate have said that they are opposed or partially opposed to the regulations although the subsidiary reason is that they are opposed to the republican idea. I equally am opposed to the idea, but I do not believe one can defeat that idea at the election by banning it. In a rather curious way the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus) does not seem to be overjoyed that the ban is to be lifted, although it would not be profitable for me to speculate on the reasons.

Mr. McManus

The hon. Gentleman— I am sure not maliciously—is doing me an injustice. Of course I am delighted at the removal of any restrictions. I am curious to hear the hon. Gentleman's reasons for speculating why I should not be overjoyed.

Mr. Mills

I am glad to have on record the hon. Gentleman's delight that the ban has been lifted. I hope he will use his influence in the Assembly elections to see that as wide a range of candidates as possible go forward.

I confess that in considering these regulations I start with a bias towards wanting to see as wide a range of candidates as possible going forward at the election, and that is a bias which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) as expressed recently in this House.

One should endeavour, as far as one can, to direct people holding these ideals into legitimate political channels. I do not pretend, in coming to a decision on these regulations, that this is a particularly easy subject. Many of the irreconcilables have been brought out tonight, but some doubt has been expressed about the specific political label under which people should stand. These regulations remove the ban on one label, that of Republican Clubs, but is it not apparent that whatever label is used those men would, if they wished, be able under the law to stand under some other hat?

That being so, would it not be better to bring that matter into the open and be honest about it? Let us call a spade a spade. If someone wants to stand as a Republican Club member, fair enough. Let him put that label to his name, and let us see where he stands, rather than have him stand under some bogus name.

Captain Orr

Would my hon. Friend be prepared to extend that to saying that we should remove the ban on the Provisional Sinn Fein?

Mr. Mills

I think that what I said was related to the general principle. That was the view expressed by several hon. Members on this side of the House. In general terms, we want to see as wide a range of candidates as possible standing at the election. That is what I said.

My hon. and gallant Friend talked about giving Republican Clubs a privilege with regard to postage, and someone else referred to the use of television time as a privilege. Are those privileges, or are they the right of every candidate? My hon. and gallant Friend and I are both opposed to the political aims of Republican Club members, but the point I am making is that these facilities are not in themselves privileges. They are the right of any candidate who is duly put forward at election time.

Captain Orr

They are rights which are shared by all candidates. They become privileges when one section is selected and another is not. In other words, it becomes a privilege for the Republican Clubs if it is not shared by the Provisional Sinn Fein and other proscribed organisations.

Mr. Mills

I understand that, and I think that my hon. and gallant Friend has raised a point on which the Minister might have something more to say. It will be interesting to hear why the Minister has specified Republican Clubs.

It will be equally interesting to hear a more detailed explanation of the effect of the ban under the Special Powers Act on such a proscribed organisation. A number of organisations are banned under that Act, and that brings us to the other matter raised by my hon. and gallant Friend.

I end as I began, by saying that one starts with a bias towards wanting to see as wide a range as possible of organisations putting forward candidates so that we can see how much support they receive.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I apologise to the Minister for missing the first part of his speech. I was absent from the Chamber on other business concerning Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), who spoke for the Alliance Party, was absolutely right when he said that we should have candidates representative of as many points of view as possible. It is, therefore, a terrible pity that we are discussing at present the removal of a limitation on one particular group, the Republican Clubs, and not the lifting of the ban on all proscribed organisations.

I say that because I have always felt that the proscription of an organisation per se is self-defeating. One gives to it an aura of mystery, danger and romance and a cloak-and-dagger character—the sort of mixed feelings with which the Mafia is regarded. One gives to it an aura of false respectability by the fact that one bans it, making people think that the Government are afraid of it. It is very wrong.

It is wrong because, whenever the matter has been raised in the House, the Government have argued that there is nothing in electoral law to stop these people standing for election and using a particular description if they wish. That may or may not be so. It is a question of opinion, because it is the returning officer's discretion as to what description he will accept in the six words which a candidate may use to describe his party label. But there are many regulations about standing as a member of a proscribed organisation under the criminal law, the Special Powers Act, that defeat the object of the exercise.

Another equally important point is that people are saying, "Of course they are not standing as Provisional Sinn Fein or official Sinn Fein but under some other label. Everyone knows that that is occurring". This is the way the argument runs. Two consequences follow from that. Either the law is being made an ass or we are still giving people an opportunity to claim ultimately that they were not allowed to stand for election and to put their political ideas to the test of how people see the future of their community.

This has nothing to do with the fact that a person may be wanted for a particular crime. Obviously, if a person with a criminal record or suspected of a criminal offence, on positive powerful evidence—not the sort of evidence which we shall be discussing in Committee on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill—were to stand as a candidate, that person should be arrested. But the ideas for which that person stands should not be arrested. Therefore, people holding those ideas, but not subject to the accusations to which that person is subject, should be allowed to stand and to use their particular label.

I am sure that many hon. Members, of whatever party, will have people with criminal records voting for them, but we would all agree that a person charged as a felon should not stand for election. But we would not stop another person standing for election merely because he held the same political views and wanted to use them. That is the importance of the argument.

There is another point which is the nub of the argument in relation to the lifting of the ban on this group of clubs. I am not one who goes along with the type of argument used half facetiously by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mrs. McAliskey) when she said that the Provisional Sinn Fein could claim to be Republican Clubs. The point is that what we want from the Government is not a statement that people can, perhaps, wriggle in by the back way, or that it is a question of electoral law and not criminal law. We want a positive encouragement from the Government, who should say, "There are ideas about the way that Ireland should be governed in the future which members of the Government might find reprehensible, but people can announce those ideas and fight for them, and do so under the name tag of the Provisional Sinn Fein.

When we look at official policy we find that two policies are being operated. There seems to be the official policy of the Secretary of State, which is to encourage Sinn Fein, and there seems to be the military policy, which is to harass members of the official Sinn Fein, the members of the Republican Clubs, to raid premises and to prevent members from conducting a political campaign and putting forward their ideas.

The Government must make up their mind. They must say to the military, "We are seeking a political solution to the problem. We must adopt a low profile. Lifting the ban on Sinn Fein means nothing if known Republicans are harassed." Surely the Government cannot be happy about the revelations we have had over the past week, the revelations of the attempted blackmail of the porter at the Europa——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Can this be in any way inside these regulations?

Mr. McNamara

With the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think so. What I seek to argue is that the revelations by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), the revelations about Mr. Hammond and Mr. Sweeney, about the role of the double agents and the rôle of the Army—all these can be counter-productive to the declared intention of the Government, embodied in these regulations, to create an atmosphere in which all legitimate parties feel they can advance their point of view in safety and security, without harassment. There seems to be a dual policy involving the political and military sides.

If there is a fear of double agents and betrayal, with people having constantly to look over their shoulder, then the objectives which the Government seek, the fielding of as many candidates as possible, building up security and confidence, will not be gained. I urge the Government to look carefully at the suggestion to lift the ban on the Provisional Sinn Fein. At the same time they should ensure that the sensible policies of moderation and conciliation which have come forward from the Secretary of State should be reflected throughout military and civil activities in Northern Ireland. This will ensure that the people there feel confident that they will not suffer from informers but will be able to go about their legitimate political activities so that we can get the peace in Northern Ireland that we all want so much.

11.24 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Once again we find that the method by which the Government choose to deal with these important matters means that we are left with a limited amount of action. I suggest that these regulations could have done with radical amendment. Probably with contributions from Labour Members there could have been some measure of agreement, even between those holding diverse views. Now we find ourselves bound by regulations which are already in operation. These Republican Clubs are already legalised.

Here we are with a brief few minutes which do not permit Northern Ireland Members to make the contributions they would like to make. They would like as many Members to take part as is possible. This has happened because the Government insist upon what I believe is an iniquitous way of dealing with Northern Ireland business. This House took certain responsibilities upon itself. It was warned about what it was doing. Those who supported the Government filed into the Lobby with smiles from ear to ear. Many of those who are not here tonight carry responsibility. This is a serious matter.

Before you call me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to say that there is a principle here. I believe that I was the first hon. Member on the Government benches to enunciate it. I stick by it. In the elections I want to see people who wish to test their views at the ballot box having the freedom to go forward and present those views.

I have always made it clear that in my opinion, if these people are wanted for crimes against the State—whether they be Unionist or Republican, Alliance or Liberal—the State must move in and deal with them like any other criminal. But we, through the Government's pronouncements, are in a state of absolute confusion. I wonder whether the Government know what they are doing. The Minister tells us that a person can come forward and put "Sinn Fein", or "IRA" on his nomination paper, and if the nomination paper is accepted and there are enough nominations under the same name—and they will have the privilege or right of postage, whether we pass the order or not—they will be validly nominated and will have the right to go forward and use every medium that other candidates have.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). No postmaster has any right to censor an election address. The Post Office regulations deal with the size of the address and the printing that must appear on it, but not what is in it. That is for another authority. I protest at the idea of any individual in the Post Office censoring the election address of any candidate, Republican or otherwise.

I am opposed to the regulations and I propose to vote against them, because they are completely inconsistent. They are telling the political arm of the IRA— and we know that the Republican Clubs constitute the official Sinn Fein of Northern Ireland—"You can go forward", but at the same time they are telling the political wing of the Provisional IRA—the Provisional Sinn Fein—"You cannot go forward".

The Ulster Volunteer Force is proscribed, and there are other organisations whose names I cannot even read, because I am not an expert, as is the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus). We have a complete inconsistency in the regulations. If the Government accept the principle that people should test themselves at the ballot box, everybody should be allowed to test himself. Instead, we have one movement singled out for special privileges. That is quite unfair, and quite inconsistent.

I do not feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) was attacking the ideal of the Republicans. He was attacking an organisation that he feels is attached to a movement that, while it has declared a truce, admits that it has committed various atrocities. It has even claimed to do so since 7th April, when the regulations came into force. That is a legitimate point of view, and I agree with it. If people are wanted for crimes they must be caught, whether they are nominated or not.

We should have had the opportunity to amend the regulations, but we cannot do so. Therefore, I propose to vote against them.

11.29 p.m.

Mrs. Bernadette McAliskey (Mid-Ulster)

To some extent I share the concern that has been expressed in most of the remarks made about the elections. I should be a little worried if I thought that the ban on Republican clubs was being lifted purely for electoral purposes. Then the members of the Republican Clubs might do well to go to ground until 30th May, when the district council elections are over, and reappear only when it is time for nominations to the Assembly. I do not think that it is justification for the legal existence of a political organisation to say that it exists solely for electoral purposes. Either the holding of particular political viewpoints is legitimate or it is not. They cannot be legitimate in elections but not for the rest of the year.

I share the opinion of most Northern Ireland Members that there is an inconsistency in the regulations. I accept the criticism from my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) when I was being facetious about Sinn Fein Cumainn and Republican Clubs being exactly the same thing. The wording of the proposed regulations refers to "like" organisations. What is a like organisation to a Republican Club? Is it one which holds Socialist views, or Republican views, or is it one which is Marxist, in which case it would have much in common with many other organisations? Is it an organisation which espouses the cause of unity or is it one which may or may not have dual membership with para-military organisations?

The regulations say, Any like organisation howsoever described and therefore there is a reasonable suggestion that unless we are told what a like organisation is, Sinn Fein Cumainn might be described as a like organisation. I am sure that the Minister of State is aware of the history of Republican Clubs. The title was coined and used by the official Sinn Fein at a time when there was only one Sinn Fein because it was a proscribed organisation and that was the only way it could work openly. Mr. William Craig, in his wisdom or otherwise, decided to close that particular gate and banned the name "Republican Club" and like organisations. The Minister of State tonight is simply reincarnating the folly of the former Minister of Home Affairs.

While the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that the regulations are particularly relevant for all organisations of Republicans, it is not of much use to them. Malachy McGurran. who has already been mentioned, is chairman of the clubs. He has been arrested three times, questioned three times and harassed and deported from this country. No one knows to which country he should have been sent. This man is afraid for his life to appear on the streets to canvass in an election campaign. The homes of Republican Club candidates are continually raided. There are organisers on the street who have been continually harassed.

Therefore I should like clarification whether the ban on Republican Clubs is being lifted slightly to allow further leeway of harassment of Republican Club members. Is it the Government's intention to goad the IRA into further military activity, or is this merely a stunt on the part of the Government to highlight the election and further to divide the Republican population?

11.34 p.m.

Mr. David Howell

I am sorry that the House feels that I should have taken more time out of the 1½ hours allotted to us at the beginning. The trouble is that this conflicts directly with the desire of the House to allow the fullest opportunity for views to be heard and therefore I sought to be brief, particularly as the House will have an opportunity to discuss the issue of the proscribed organisations on the various stages of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill.

Naturally it is my aim to meet the convenience of the House as far as is possible and I shall try to cover in the few minutes remaining some of the points that have been made. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) remarked at the beginning that Northern Ireland Ministers were being pressed from both sides, and this is a situation and a sensation to which Northern Ireland Ministers are not unaccustomed. We have heard this evening diametrically opposite views. We have heard those who say we should go further, asking when the Secretary of State is to announce his decisions about Sinn Fein. We have also heard those who say that the regulations go much too far. It is a matter of judgment on which there is sharp disagreement on both sides of the House.

My right hon. Friend's view—and in line with it he has proposed that Republican Clubs be removed from the list of proscribed organisations—is that Republican Clubs are not generally committed to violent ends as organisations. Hon. Members may be able to give instances of people who claim simultaneously to be members of Republican Clubs and to be promoting, advocating and practising violence. If such people are identified and charged they are heard in the courts and convicted for crimes which they have committed.

The question why Republican Clubs should be deleted from the list of proscribed organisations must be a matter of judgment by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. His judgment is that there are members of Republican Clubs who seek to promote views to do with the 32 counties by non-violent means and who in fact condemn violent means. That is why he has proposed that there should be the de-proscription of Republican Clubs. It is a difficult judgment with which not every hon. Member will agree.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

Was my right hon. Friend's judgment based on the view that the Officials have been relatively less violent than the Provisionals?

Mr. Howell

The view of my right hon. Friend and of the Government must be based on a general assessment of the various organisations. My right hon. Friend has not made a final decision on the question whether Sinn Fein should be a proscribed organisation. He has said that he will take all considerations into account, and he will do so, but in making that decision he will take into account, as he has said at this Box, that the Sinn Fein, as an organisation, advocates violence as a means of achieving its ends and does not simply advocate ends with which people disagree. That cannot be precisely said to be so in the case of the Republican Clubs. It cannot be generally said that Republican Clubs, as an organisation, advocate violence. Many of its members do not advocate it.

We accept that this is a fine, difficult and balanced judgment on which there are sharp differences of view.

Mr. Kilfedder

My hon. Friend talks about the Republican Clubs, on the one hand, and Sinn Fein, on the other. I understand that the Republican Clubs are also Sinn Fein and that there is a branch of Sinn Fein which supports the Provisional IRA. Is it not correct that there is only a paper wall between the Republican Clubs and the official IRA, which engages in shooting British troops and civilians? Some members of the official IRA were arrested across the border recently.

Mr. Howell

That may be the generalisation which my hon. Friend wants to put forward. It is not a generalisation with which all would agree. Many exceptions can be found to it which support the general judgment that the Republican Clubs form an organisation which wishes to put forward political views and, on the whole, does not pursue them by violent ends. That is the reasoning behind the regulations.

I wish to deal with the questions of a number of hon. Members about the dissemination of literature. Any literature which may constitute an offence may be a cause for prosecution. That applies to election literature as well as to any other. The position for proscribed organisations is governed by the Special Powers Act. At such time as the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill receives the approval of the House and receives the Royal Assent and becomes the law, the situation will then be governed by Clause

18. A heavy penalty would then be imposed upon a person who— belongs or professes to belong to a proscribed organisation; or (b) solicits or invites financial or other support for a proscribed organisation". That will be the position if there are offences under that law in future or offences under the existing law. Such offences will then become matters for the police or my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

That is what would govern the dissemination of literature promoting violence and promoting things which constitute an offence. That is the position now and that would continue to be the position under any new legislation which was approved and given the Royal Assent following the approval by the House of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill.

I have no more time. I think, Mr. Speaker, you are just about to rise to call me to my seat. I cannot answer any more of the points that have been raised. I have dealt with the central points and I have given the reasons that make my right hon. Friend consider it right that the regulations be approved by the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 87, Noes 5.

Division No. 134.] AYES [11.43 p.m.
Astor, John Jopling, Michael Orme, Stanley
Benyon, W. Judd, Frank Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Biffen, John Kerr, Russell Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)
Boscawen, Hn. Robert King, Tom (Bridgwater) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Bray, Ronald Kinsey, J. R. Redmond, Robert
Brinton, Sir Tatton Knox, David Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Carlisle, Mark Lane, David Rees, Peter (Dover)
Chapman, Sydney Langford-Holt, Sir John Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Cockeram, Eric Le Merchant, Spencer Shelton, William (Clapham)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Lomas, Kenneth Shersby, Michael
Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas Longden, Sir Gilbert Sinclair, Sir George
Dykes, Hugh McAliskey, Mrs. Bernadette Skeet, T. H. H.
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) MacArthur, Ian Speed, Keith
Eyre, Reginald McCrindle, R. A. Stallard, A. W.
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy McElhone, Frank Stanbrook, Ivor
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.) McLaren, Martin Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Fortescue, Tim McManus, Frank Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Fowler, Norman McNair-Wilson, Michael Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Garrett, W. E. MeNamara, J. Kevin Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Gilbert, Dr. John Mather, Carol Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Gower, Raymond Mawby, Ray Trew, Peter
Gray, Hamish Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Waddington, David
Green, Alan Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Ward, Dame Irene
Gummer, J. Selwyn Moate, Roger Weatherill, Bernard
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Money, Ernle Winterton, Nicholas
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Worsley, Marcus
Haselhurst, Alan Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Havers, Sir Michael Morrison, Charles TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hawkins Paul Murton, Oscar Mr. Marcus Fox and
Hornsby-Smith. Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Normanton, Tom Mr. Kenneth Clarke.
Howell, David (Guildford)
Biggs-Davison, John Paisley, Rev. Ian TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Maginnis, John E. Pounder, Rafton Mr. James Kilfedder and
Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Mr. James Molyneaux.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th April, be approved.