HC Deb 25 July 1974 vol 877 cc1799-801
10. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a further statement on the criteria which will permit persons or organisations to put forward candidates for the election to the proposed convention.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Candidates will be able to stand for election to the Constitutional Convention on the same basis as for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr. Latham

Will the Secretary of State give a firm assurance to the House that former terrorists will not be allowed to stand for election to the proposed Convention unless they have expressly renounced the use of violence?

Mr. Rees

I cannot give that assurance because, given the nature of Northern Ireland, I do not think that it would be forthcoming. People who engage in terrorism and who stand for the Assembly will still be able to be dealt with by the criminal law or in any other way, as is true of anybody else, but there are former terrorists who have served prison sentences or otherwise who are no longer involved in violence. I think that to try to get oaths or anything of that kind from people who have decided on political action would be the wrong approach.

Mr. Fitt

Is my right hon. Friend aware that among the internees now incarcerated in Long Kesh are many who would be prepared to put their names forward as candidates in any forthcoming election to the constituent assembly? As no evidence has been brought before a court of law—earlier my right hon. Friend the Minister of State referred to British justice—those people should be entitled to stand as candidates. They cannot be included in the category of terrorists, as no evidence has been brought before the courts to prove that they are terrorists.

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend knows that this is the case not only with detainees, but with convicted prisoners in Northern Ireland. The rules for Northern Ireland are different from those for the rest of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent their standing for election. In terms of the ICOs that I have signed, which have eventually gone through the commissioners, my hon. Friend is really saying that I know that some people on both sides of the divide—a number of cases come to mind straight away—have been involved in the most incredible killing. For a man to say, "I want to be a politician", so that he gets out of the Maze, would be wrong. A man cannot be a politician at one moment and a killer at another. It is important for people to decide whether they want to be politicians and, if they are not elected, to lump it and not return to violence.

Mr. Beith

Does the Secretary of State agree that those who have eventually renounced violence, after having been interned by the British Government, represent an honourable roll, of whom hon. President Makarios is one?

Mr. Rees

I am sure that we could find a wider variety. But, in terms of the internment of someone like Archbishop Makarios, who has eventually become a leading politician, the nature of detention in Northern Ireland has been rather different when I think of the people for whom I have signed ICOs.