§ Order for Second Reading read.4.12 pm
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of this short Bill is clear and well known. It is to disqualify for standing for election to this House and for membership of this House those convicted persons detained in prison in the United Kingdom in pursuance of a sentence of more than 12 months.
The background to the Bill is that under section 2 of the Forfeiture Act 1870 a person convicted of felony and sentenced to a term exceeding 12 months was automatically subject to various civic penalties. The most important of these were disqualification for sitting or voting in Parliament and disqualification for voting at all elections. That legislation applied in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not in Scotland.
In 1965, the Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended that the division of offences into felonies and misdemeanours should be abolished. At the same time, the committee recommended that there was no need to preserve any of the automatic disqualifications, especially as no similar consequences followed from conviction in Scotland. The Government of the day agreed and the Criminal Law Revision Committee's proposals were implemented by the Criminal Law Act 1967 and the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. This feature received little substantive comment or debate.
Very shortly afterwards, the same Government restored one of the most important disqualifications. Under section 4 of the Representation of the People Act 1969, they restored the disqualification of prisoners for voting. The 1969 Act provides that convicted persons detained in a penal institution are legally incapable of voting in parliamentary elections throughout the United Kingdom and at local government elections in England, Wales and Scotland. Except in Northern Ireland, those so detained on the qualifying date for registration are also not eligible for inclusion in the electoral register in respect of either their prison address or their home address.
It will also be of interest to the House to recall that under the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 prisoners are not only disqualified for voting but also for being elected as members of a local authority. A person is disqualified if within five years before the date of the election he has been convicted and has been sentenced to imprisonment for at least three months without the option of a fine. There is, therefore, already an extremely rigorous disqualification for convicted prisoners at local elections.
The net effect of this legislative activity was that prisoners were once again disqualified for voting and for being elected to local authorities. But they had retained the right to be nominated for, and to sit in, the House of Commons.
I do not, however, present the Bill as a merely technical measure to correct an anomaly. I realise that any further limitation on the freedom of citizens to choose their 29 representative in Parliament is an important change to our electoral procedures and deserves proper reflection and argument. But it is essential for the House to bear in mind that this Bill does not raise the question of principle as to whether it is right that any citizen should be disqualified for membership of this House. It has long been accepted that certain of our citizens should not enjoy that privilege. Right hon. and hon. Members will be familiar with the list of those disqualified. It includes aliens, bankrupts, those under the age of 21, civil servants, members of the Armed Forces, policemen, judges, holders of various offices which Parliament has held to be incompatible with membership of this House, and clergymen and peers who are members of, or represented in, another place. This Bill simply adds another group to that long list. To be strictly accurate, it replaces on that list a group which until 1967 had long been on it—those convicted of offences so serious that they have been sentenced to more than 12 months in prison and are in prison at the time of the election serving that sentence.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
Was not the position before 1967 that a person serving a sentence for a misdemeanour was incapable of being elected to Parliament?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Yes, I believe that that is correct.
Unlike other groups on the list of those disqualified for membership of this House, prisoners, if they were elected, could not fully participate in the affairs of this House. It has never been suggested that the prison authorities should release a prisoner elected to Parliament. No-one thinks that it is right that the result of an election should overturn the result of a judicial process. Moreover, while continuous attendance at this House has never been obligatory on any Member, permanent absence, especially in confinement where correspondence and visits are controlled for security reasons, is clearly incompatible with the duties of a Member representing the interests of his constituents.
We should therefore ask ourselves about the motives of a prisoner who stands for election to Parliament with no hope of being able to fulfil the duties which every Member owes to his constituents, whether or not they voted for him. In my view. it is clear what the motives of a prisoner candidate would be, and what the motives of the supporters of the late Mr. Sands in fact were. They were to achieve publicity, and to use the parliamentary election process not in order to secure its object—election to this House—but to whip up feeling and public emotion in a political atmosphere. This is my second reason for favouring the disqualification of prisoners convicted of serious offences, that it is a perversion of the electoral process, and an affront to democracy, that they should be permitted to stand.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
Would the Government have introduced the Bill if Sands had not been successful in the election?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I think that we should have introduced the Bill whether or not he had been successful, but the fact of his standing and being successful clearly alters the position. I think that that is a fair point which the hon. Gentleman would accept.
Persons to whom the Bill applies are not merely cranks or jokers adding colour to our election proceedings. They are people manifestly unfit for public office who, in the 30 Northern Ireland context, have exploited a loophole in our electoral law to play on secretarian fear and undermine our democracy.
All this is not only at the expense of the integrity of our parliamentary system, but at substantial cost to the taxpayer. Aside from administrative expenses, parliamentary election candidates are entitled to a free postal distribution to all electors. That alone is worth over £12,000 in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency. An election campaign is also entitled to the free use of public rooms for election meetings and, of course, inevitably acquires considerable extra broadcasting time and free publicity.
I know that some people would argue that all this is necessary in the cause of democratic choice. There are those who believe that the paraphernalia of the election of a convicted prisoner—who is then unable to take his seat—is not wasted. It will be said that it is an expression of democracy. In any case, if the result is impractical or offensive to the House, then the House can resolve to expel a Member. There are recent precedents for this.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
With regard to the important point about expelling a Member who, subsequent to his election, finds himself convicted of an offence, as I understand the Bill, that power will be taken away from the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am coming to that point. Under the Bill, any such person who was nominated for election would not be entitled to nomination, so to that extent that would be true.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman and I shall look into the point. But, as I understand it, if the Member is not allowed to be nominated for election to this House, he cannot then be either nominated or elected. He cannot even stand. That, surely, is the point of the Bill. If that does not answer the hon. Gentleman's point, perhaps someone will put it to me. [Interruption.] Is not that the point? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am sorry if I misunderstood it.
§ Mr. Dunn
Perhaps I am not making myself clear. The proposal under clause 2 to which the Home Secretary has referred is that the House has a right to expel. The House is now being asked to give up that right by virtue of the fact that it would be an automatic disqualification if any sitting Member were tp be convicted subsequently of an offence, although he was a Member of the House.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
That is right, but I understand that the position will be exactly the same as it was before 1967. [Interruption.] That is what I am advised. If that is not so, I shall investigate it and have the matter answered later. But I understand that that is the position.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
Would the Home Secretary agree that there is no precedent whatever for the provision in the Bill to make it illegal for anyone to be 31 nominated in certain circumstances? In the past, there has been a prohibition at times against election, but never against nomination. That applies to nomination to this House and to nomination to a local authority.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
That is perfectly true in regard to this House. There are examples in other parts of the world, and particularly in other parts of the Commonwealth, but it is certainly unprecedented in this country. [Interruption.] There is no precedent for it in this country.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Would the Home Secretary agree that the Bill is taking other steps too? For example, it will be within the recollection of the Home Secretary, as it is of mine, that there was a distinguished Member of this House who was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment, who then appealed and was fond to be innocent, and remained here for many years. It is not a fact that clause 1 will mean that the House will have no rights in the matter at all, and that such a Member, even though he was innocent, would be automatically suspended?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I shall be moving to the matter of disqualifying by statute. What the hon. Gentleman says is perfectly true. I understand that that is what he and other hon. Members have objected to, but that is the purpose of the Bill.
I come back to the matter of the election. All this is not only at the expense of the integrity of our parliamentary system but at substantial cost to the taxpayer. Aside from administrative expenses, parliamentary election candidates are entitled to a free postal distribution to all electors. That alone is worth over £12,000 in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency. An election campaign is also entitled to the free use of public rooms for election meetings and, of course, inevitably acquires considerable extra broadcasting time and free publicity. [Interruption.] I realise that I have repeated that passage. I repeated it because I thought it was important.
Clearly, the House must retain ultimate control of its own membership. But where the case is of a general rather than a specific nature, I think it is far preferable that the disqualification should be in statute laws. That deals with the point that was raised by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). It has been the trend ever since the eighteenth century, when matters of expulsion were decided on a party basis, to control questions of eligibility in statute rather than by resolution. I believe that, as the Bill shows, the matter is sufficiently clear cut to enable us to proceed by legislation.
It may now assist the House if I describe more fully the provisions of the Bill.
Clause 1 provides that a person detained while serving a sentence of more than 12 months in the United Kingdom is disqualified for membership of the House of Commons. Broadly speaking, this is a return to the pre-1967 position. It should be noted that in practice only the higher courts, not the magistrates' courts, will be able to impose sentences leading to disqualification.
Clause 2 provides that if such a person is elected to the House his election will be void, and if a Member of the House becomes so disqualified, his seat will be vacated. In addition, a convicted prisoner's nomination is also to be declared invalid.
This latter point, the disqualification of nominations, is important. Among the very many representations which 32 the Government have received on this topic there was a widespread sense of outrage, not merely at the election of a convicted terrorist but at the fact that his nomination should have been allowed to stand and that he should reap all the benefits of an election campaign.
At the moment, a parliamentary returning officer may reject nominations on the grounds that they are not in proper form or are not subscribed in the manner required by law. He is not entitled to reject nominations on other grounds. Under the Bill, however, a person who is known to be in prison serving a sentence of more than 12 months can have his nomination rejected by the returning officer.
All of us who contest parliamentary elections appreciate the sense of dedication to the electoral process shown by returning officers at parliamentary elections. I do not wish to impose unfair or unnecessary fresh obligations on them. I would certainly not have introduced this disqualification of nominations procedure if I felt that it would undermine the returning officer's political neutrality. I accept the overriding importance of this, especially in Northern Ireland, with its particular difficulties. But in the cases with which we are concerned, the circumstances of a man being convicted and held in prison are as much a matter of fact as the genuineness of a signature on a nomination paper, so I do not think it unreasonable to impose this new obligation.
To assist the returning officer, clause 3 and the schedule to the Bill make certain changes to the parliamentary election rules. Candidates will be required to give their dates of birth in consenting to nomination so as to make checking of records easier; the statement of persons nominated will be published in draft if necessary to enable objections and representations to be made. While making these changes we have also removed the anomaly whereby Saturday can be considered as a working day for the purposes of parliamentary elections. The net effect is slightly to lengthen the overall timetable of parliamentary elections.
The Bill is, therefore, a short and simple one. It puts right an omission in our electoral law. I have not underestimated its seriousness. The question of the disqualification of any group of citizens, or of any individual, is of the highest importance—
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am sorry, but I shall not give way. However, the dignity of our electoral system, the dignity of Parliament itself and of our constitution is also of the highest importance. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I am opposed to the Bill and I shall vote against its Second Reading, because I fundamentally disagree with the principle on which the Bill is based. In addition, I shall vote against it because I have the deepest forebodings about the consequences of applying that principle—the principle of parliamentary disqualification—in the impending by-election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
We all know that whatever the general theory that has been advanced to give the Bill the appearance of intellectual respectability, and whatever precedents may have been quoted from 1870 and 1967, it remains the case that the Bill has been introduced with a single specific purpose. It seeks to prevent a recurrence of the events that 33 led up to the election of the late Mr. Bobby Sands. However, to avoid a repetition of those events in the way that the Bill provides, is to help rather than to hinder the IRA. I propose to justify that assertion as best I can.
Before I turn to the specific reasons why the Bill was suddenly invented, inadequately drafted, and brought to the House for completion in a single week, I must say something about the general application of the principle that it embodies. It is always dangerous suddenly to invent a general theory in order to deal with an individual difficulty. That is particularly true when the general theory concerns the civic rights and democratic liberties of the individual. I am in no doubt as to what principle is at stake in the Bill. The principle at stake is the right not of IRA gunmen to sit in the House, but of a constituency to elect the Member of Parliament of its choosing. Indeed, the Home Secretary was fair enough to describe the principle as the freedom of citizens to choose their representative in Parliament. The Bill considerably diminishes that right.
I am unimpressed by the argument that the Bill's provisions simply add to a list of disqualifications that already exist. Present disqualifications are far too numerous. It is absurd that a clergyman of the established Church is prevented from standing for Parliament. If a civil servant stands and is elected, he should cease not to be a Member of Parliament, but a civil servant. I am deeply opposed to all unreasonable disqualifications. I say "unreasonable", because I do not envisage the absurd situation of children aged 7 or Members of the House of Lords, standing for election. Unreasonable disqualifications are wrong. Indeed, they are more than wrong, they are a matter of major constitutional significance. Therefore, I recommend to my colleagues that this was an appropriate Bill for a free vote to be offered to the official Opposition.
I shall turn later to the details of the parliamentary disqualifications set out in the Bill that have led me to oppose it and to strengthen my objections to it, but I shall deal first with my objection to the general principle. The general principle is that the Bill provides that a man or woman who is sentenced, or ordered to be detained indefinitely or for more than one year, shall while serving that sentence, or while being unlawfully at large, be disqualified from both membership of and candidature for this House.
Two justifications have been advanced for that disqualification. First, it is said that such a person cannot adequately perform the necessary parliamentary duties. Secondly, it is argued that such a person is unworthy to sit among us. The Home Secretary advanced those two arguments. In neither case is it for the House of Commons to judge. Such matters are the business of the electors of each constituency and nobody else. If a constituency chooses an imprisoned Member of Parliament that is exactly what it should get. I do not call for the release of an elected person or for specific and special facilities to be provided so that he or she can carry on day-to-day parliamentary duties. If a Member of Parliament is elected on the basis of his or her imprisonment it is not for us to override the will, judgment and opinion of those electors.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
What would the right hon. Gentleman say to those who voted for the unsuccessful candidate and who found themselves deprived of a Member of Parliament?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I was about to point out that anyone who said that the imprisoned candidate was not a genuine candidate, or could not be a Member of Parliament, was mistaken. It is wrong to say that if people elect an imprisoned candidate it the same as not having any election or any Member of Parliament. An imprisoned Member of Parliament can influence events. Indeed he may be able to do so because of his imprisonment. The constituency may prefer to elect a Member of Parliament who is a token of their opinion—and who, as such, can influence events—rather than a Member of Parliament who asks written questions and who goes to local constituency meetings. We may disapprove of that choice. Indeed, I cannot imagine voting for a man or woman who had been convicted of the type of offence embodied in the Bill and who was in prison and unable to perform what we regard as his natural duties. Although we may disapprove of it, it is not for us to overrride the choice made by a constituency.
I shall give two examples that show why overriding such choices has proved a mistake and that also show why we should understand that an imprisoned Member of Parliament—I speak in general rather than in the particular—can fulfil some of the crucial and fundamental duties that are required of an hon. Member. By coincidence, this is the centenary year of two events that should make us think hard about the propriety and wisdom of exclusion. One hundred years ago, in the autumn of 1881, a Bill was defeated in which Mr. Gladstone attempted to remove the disqualification of Charles Bradlaugh from the House. My second example—which I hope is more relevant to the intervention made by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg)—is that this is the one-hundreth anniversary of the imprisonment of Charles Stewart Parnell under the Coercion Act. I do not for a moment compare those two men with the canditates that the Bill specifically seeks to prohibit from membership. Indeed, one of my supplementary objections to the IRA is that it constantly attempts to compare squalid terrorists with great men who have died for noble causes. However, the examples of Bradlaugh and Parnell demonstrate two important points.
In the Killmainham gaol, Parnell proved that an imprisoned Member of Parliament can play a substantial part in the decisions taken in the House. I have no doubt that the electors who sent him to Parliament believed that the acts that led to his imprisonment and his behaviour while he was in prison would have a crucial effect on their lives and on the things that they elected him to do. The Bradlaugh case demonstrates the inherent danger of hon. Members behaving as if they had the right to overrule the decisions of a constituency.
Once we set out on that road and once we say that our judgment of our dignity is more important than a constituency's judgment, we are at the top of a desperately slippery slope. If we are to stick to the principle, it is a principle which must be upheld, however repulsive we find the individual candidates and their candidature. The Bill is wrong in principle, irrespective of the techniques that the Home Secretary has chosen to implement his wish to disqualify. However, I want to ask the Home Secretary some questions about those techniques.
I accept that, had the Home Secretary chosen alternative options, he would not have made the Bill any more attractive to me as I object to the the idea of disqualification. But there is a need to know a little more 35 about the Home Secretary's detailed thinking. Why has he chosen one year's imprisonment rather than any other criterion as the rule which disqualifies? Surely not simply because it was the rule that applied before 1967. There has been much criticism of that decision and the many alternatives suggested. One alternative was the disqualification of those convicted of crimes of violence. Why has the one-year rule been chosen?
Secondly, how does he answer the question asked by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin)? What happens to a candidate who has been convicted and sentenced and the sentence is subject to appeal? Is that candidate disqualified from taking part in the election while the appeal is pending? Perhaps more important, what about a man or a women who is elected to the House, then convicted and sentenced and appeals against conviction and sentence or either of those unfortunate occurrences? Is that person required to remove himself from the House while an appeal is heard?
§ Mr. Hattersley
My hon. Friend is correct. My question contained rhetorical qualities. While I am sure that my hon. Friend is correct, I should like to hear that confirmed by the Home Secretary or the Minister who winds up. I want more than confirmation. I want to see it justified because it is easier to descreibe than to explain why it has been offered to the House as an option on which to vote.
Thirdly, I am astonished that the Home Secretary did not attempt to answer the idea that has been put about in every serious newspaper. I understand that it is the direct product of the usual Lobby briefing on the announcement of the Bill last week or the week before. The suggestion is that a man sentenced for terrorism but not serving his sentence in the United Kingdom would remain eligible to stand for Parliament and take his seat if he were elected. That was said in The Guardian this morning and in other papers last week. A man or woman convicted, sentenced and imprisoned in Portlaoise is still elegible to stand and take his or her seat. I am astonished that the Home Secretary did not tell us whether that suggestion—canvassed in the most reputable quarters—is true or false. If it is true, it can only result in the Government being ridiculed and humiliated when the Bill is passed. If it is not true, I wish that the Home Secretary or the Minister would tell the House now rather than have the debate proceed for several hours on a false premise. If it is true the Government should tell us.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The Home Secretary says that it is true. I shall therefore ask him a second question, to add to my astonishment. Does he propose that the Bill should remain in this form or does he propose to amend it to remove that loophole?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I have read the various comments in the press. I thought it best to consider the views of the House and, if it was thought that the Bill should be changed or amended, we shall sympathetically consider that.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The Home Secretary must do better than that. We are discussing the major application of the Bill—a Bill that the Home Secreatary says is intended to prohibit undesirables from standing for or taking their place in the House. After pressure, we discover that the Bill will not have that effect in one significant particular. The Home Secretary did not advance that information gratuitously. We have had to force it out of him. When we ask him how he proposes to react to the difficulty he says that he will listen to what the House has to say during the afternoon. That is extraordinary.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, quite apart from the criticisms that my right hon. Friend has made of the Home Secretary, the fact that the Home Secretary has placed this provision in the Bill and does not know whether he will remove it, quite destroys both the morality and unavailability arguments which were the basis of his case?
§ Mr. Hattersley
It does and it makes us ask questions about the competence of those who introduce such Bills.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
It is only sensible to listen to the debate. I have said that if these matters are brought into the debate, they will be sympathetically considered before the Committee stage. If I were not prepared to say that, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) would bitterly criticise me for not saying it.
§ Mr. Hattersley
As the Home Secretary wants to make an issue of this—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I certainly want to make an issue of it. There is no doubt about that. It is the Home Secretary's duty to tell the House whether he wishes to amend the Bill and whether it is necessary for it to be amended for that purpose. No one in the House can doubt that it is the right hon. Gentleman's duty to describe the problem that exists. He did not tell us about it in his speech describing and introducing the Bill. That is not the first time that we have had that problem.
The Home Secretary introduced the British Nationality Bill a few months ago. That was subject to two major amendments within days of Second Reading. To get one Bill wrong may be regarded as a misfortune. To do so twice in a year looks like sheer carelessness. The Home Secretary must tell us before we reach nine o'clock whether it is his intention to move an amendment. The timetable laid down by the Government for the Bill gives us three days only before that amendment will be moved.
I want to ask the Home Secretary some questions and make some comments about how the Bill will be applied in the circumstances for which it is intended. If it is any consolation to the Home Secretary, I do not share the criticisms of those who say that he should have reverted to the position which obtained before 1967, allowing what he would regard as undesirable candidates to be nominated but disqualifying them if they were elected. It is especially bizarre to allow a man or a woman to contest an election in the knowledge that he or she will be disqualified immediately on securing a victory in that election. The same principle applies as in the Bill and in both cases the principle is objectionable. As well as opposing the Bill because of the objectionable nature of the principle on which it is based, I oppose it because of the effect that I fear it will have on the impending by-election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
The Government seem to be labouring under the illusion that the passage of the Bill will somehow reduce 37 the embarrassment that they will suffer and the publicity that the IRA will enjoy as a result of that by-election. By publicity, I mean publicity in the United Kingdom. I do not mean publicity outside Britain or the international consequences. I put them aside, not least because I despair of our friends and allies abroad ever being able to understand the truth about Northern Ireland. I do not mean what will happen in Boston or in the EEC, but what will happen in Northern Ireland as a result of the Bill.
I fear, and it is the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), that, far from assisting in the campaign against terrorism and violence, the Bill will have the opposite effect. By the publication of the Bill, the Government have fallen into an error which has prejudiced Conservative policy in Northern Ireland for over 100 years. They are determined not to act strongly but to look tough. The two things are not always the same. Often, Governments striving to look tough in Northern Ireland have played into the hands of their enemies.
The strongest policy is not always the policy for which partisans call the most stridently. I fear that by wishing to appear strong in the eyes of their supporters the Government have contributed to an IRA publicity campaign that can do nothing but good for the IRA and bad for the cause that is supported by both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
As the right hon. Gentleman has, quite reasonably, prayed in aid his right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), I should perhaps say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who apologises for not being here this afternoon, takes exactly the opposite view, and feels very strongly that the purpose of the Bill is right for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I accept that. I understood it, and never for a moment believed that such a Bill would be introduced without, not simply the acquiescence, but the strong support of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. That goes without saying.
I merely want it to be understood that on the Opposition Benches as well as on the Government Benches those who have spent a great deal of their time and taken enormous risks in their pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland believe that the Bill is wrong from that position as well—the practicalities of the battle against terrorism and violence. We should consider what in reality will happen if the Bill is passed. It is already being argued in Northern Ireland that the Bill justifies the worst excesses of the IRA. That is vile nonsense, which, although I am a critic of the Bill, I repudiate at once and I shall join the right hon. Gentleman in repudiating it if the Bill is passed. But the fact that it is wrong does not mean that it will not be said. Innocent people will believe, as a result of it being said, that it is somehow justification for all the practices that we deplore and want to stamp out.
Secondly, and more specifically, let us imagine what will happen when the by-election comes, as come it will. First, unless the Bill is amended, there may be a candidate who is imprisoned in Portlaoise, and a train of events, deliberately destructive, may be set in motion as a result. On the other hand, an ineligible candidate may be nominated. I have no doubt that if that happens he or she will not be nominated by mistake. It will come as no surprise to the candidate's sponsors when he or she is disqualified by the returning officer. The candidate will be nominated with the specific intention of having the 38 candidature disqualified by what will be descrbed as the imperial Parliament, and we shall be told that that man or woman, who may well be the candidate chosen by the constituency, is not allowed by us to contest the election. The candidate will be disqualified.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "chosen by the constituency"?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I understand the hon. Gentleman's drift. I am saying that a candidate who is subject to disqualification will be nominated with the specific intention of being disqualified, and the electors of that constituency will then be told "That man would have been elected had it not been for his disqualification. His election has been prevented by edict of the Westminster Parliament." After the disqualification—
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
Is not my right hon. Friend falling into the mistake of assuming that those who sign nomination forms do so of their own free will? There are circumstances in which free will does not apply.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Of course I know and understand that. I accept and believe that all sorts of vileness—that is a word that I have used already—can operate in these circumstances. My object in criticising the Bill is to prevent the people who perpetrate such acts being given additional publicity weapons. I simply describe that I believe they will say and what I am advised they will do.
That candidate, however nominated, having been disqualified, it is almost certain that a second candidate already nominated in preparation for the disqualification will stand as a nominee of, as a surrogate for, the disqualified candidate. He will carry the colours of the disqualified candidate and announce his support for what the disqualified candidate stood for, and will compaign in his name—obtaining, I fear, more votes than if there had been no disqualification in the first place.
The series of events can go on. The disqualified candidate having gone, the surrogate candidate having been elected, it does not require much imagination to think of the surrogate candidate saying "I do not want to take my seat, because I am not the real nominee. The real nominee is the person that they would not let stand, so I am applying for the Chiltern Hundreds." Then we go through the whole desperate and dangerous business once more in six or 10 weeks' time. Another election, more candidates, another round of publicity for the IRA. those are all the things that we should avoid if we genuinely want to beat the terrorists, rather than strike postures against them.
I fear that the Bill will assist the terrorists. I devoutly believe that it should never have been placed before the House. The Home Secretary has been kind enough to agree that I can tell the House that several converations took place between him and me before the Bill was published. During those conversations I urged that the Government should not proceed with the Bill. Had the Home Secretary agreed, I should have rejoiced at his decision in absolute silence. As it is, I shall vote against Second Reading on grounds of principle and practice. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will do likewise.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
I do not know whether today I should declare an interest in the extirpation of terrorism, having joined the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) in the same club, as I, too, have had a letter bomb. It is surprising how on these occasions one is described by sections of the media as an opponent of the IRA, when in this House we are all opponents of the IRA or any other band of terrorists, Republican or otherwise, including some that brandish and besmirch the Union flag.
War is an extension of politics. Terrorism is an extension of political propaganda. The grisly farce of misguided young men sentenced to death by starvation by the godfathers of the Republican Mafia and then put up for election to a Parliament that they hate, in constituencies that they cannot serve, is part of a campaign of propaganda that has had some success at home, but even more abroad. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's argument that what the Bill intends to do will aid rather than counter that propaganda campaign. This is a matter of judgment. We shall see the result when the Bill reaches the statute book, as I believe it will.
The House should not lend itself to that campaign and be used by the authors of what I have described as a grisly farce. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the Bill was not intended merely to correct an anomaly, but an anomaly there undoubtedly is. It should not have been allowed to occur. It occurred when Mr. Jenkins held the seats of office now held by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
It is not correct to say, as has been said, that no one foresaw that there was danger in the anomaly that the Bill is intended to cure. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) foresaw the difficulty, when he said in the debate on Second Reading of the Criminal Law Bill, on 8 March 1967:it is a little unfortunate that at this stage of this week the Government should put forward a Measure in which it will be quite all right for criminals of seven to ten years standing to enter Parliament. Indeed, any criminal, even though he has served a sentence of imprisonment, will hereafter be allowed to hold any office of profit under the Crown, or in the Army or the Navy. That is because the Bill abolishes Section 2 of the Forfeiture Act, 1870. That is the Section which prevents felons from entering either House of Parliament or from holding any office or from receiving any public pension"—[Offical Report, Second Reading Committee, 8 March 1967; c. 32.]So at least one hon. and learned Member foresaw a problem when the distinction between felony and misdemeanour was done away with.
This is a Representation of the People Bill. It re-establishes a principle that has been fortuitously lost, that a convict is in no moral or practical position to represent any constituency. If the principle is denied—I accept that there are arguments for saying that someone who has been convicted for a serious offence may be misjudged or may be worthier than the court found him to be—in relation to representation in the House, it must surely be rejected in local government.
I understand that, anyone sentenced in the previous five years to more than three months imprisonment—not more than one year, as in this Bill—is debarred from being a councillor. I do not hear anyone objecting to that. No one has said that that should be changed, or that it is not fair to limit the choice of the electorate in choosing who shall represent them on the local authority. Therefore, it is 40 absurd—this is a further argument—that a man or woman not allowed to vote should be eligible to be voted for, or that a law breaker still being punished should be entitled to be a law maker. Parliament should not make itself ridiculous.
I support the Bill. However, I have one reservation. Clause 1 contains the wordsdetained anywhere in the United Kingdom",which should readdetained anywhere in the British Isles",for the reason that was put by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider sympathetically an amendment to that provision, because there should be one. Nor should such an amendment give offence in the country with which we have a unique relationship. The terrorist campaign ignores the border and is directed against the Republic as well as against the United Kingdom. In my opinion, an amendment would be highly proper. If the Government will not table it, I believe that there are those who will.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
The Bill is a sad creature. Conceived in panic, it is misbegotten, misnamed and misshaped. It will go through its, I hope, short life handicapped and ineffective.
I go straight to the fundamentals. The Home Secretary may utter soothing words about it, and I know that he would make a fine soothsayer. However, the Bill is not to cure an unconsidered trifle, resulting from the abolition of felonies. That consequence of the 1967 Act was considered, as the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) said, and was considered by many more than the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies). Parliament took its decision fully aware of the results that affect membership of this House.
Nor is the Bill introduced to cure some defect in our system. We survived before 1967 without the penalty of disqualification for misdemeanours, however long the sentence might have been. If we were today concerned with the moral character of our Members or our prospective Members, the Bill could not disqualify them merely for their period in prison and no longer than that. The moral taint would not end when they emerged from the prison gates. The Home Secretary's justification—of, as he said, "manifest unfitness"—is wholly beside the point.
Moreover, why, in that case, should we be fixing an arbitrary period of more than 12 months, irrespective of the character of the offence, if morality were a justification for the Bill? Would we not want to make some distinction between one type of offence and another? I recall, for example, the case of Dr. Bourne, who encouraged prosecution because of his strong feelings on the abortion laws and was a founder of the movement which resulted in the relaxation in those laws. Would we not wish to take into account the incidence of parole and the new Home Office proposals which are likely to reduce a 12-month sentence to one of four months inside? Would we not wish to take into account whether the person concerned whose nomination will be disqualified may have perhaps only a few days to remain inside so that when the election comes he will not be inside and will be perfectly able to stand for election? Will we really leave it to the unfortunate judge 41 to decide whether a person, whether a Member or a prospective Member, is fit to be so? That would be the result of this arbitrary period of imprisonment.
The Bill should have been entitled "The Disqualification of Hunger Strikers Bill". It has been brought forward—or, rather, propelled forward head over heels—because of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election and the Government's panic created by it.
What created that panic? It was not the fact that Mr. Sands stood. The Government could have borne that if Mr. Sands had been defeated. The Government took no panic legislative action to stop him standing. What created the panic was that Mr. Sands won the election. It is the Government's fear that a second Bobby Sands will win that has led to the Bill. That is what has turned their stomachs queasy.
Let us look with clear eyes at what the Government are doing to avoid that possibility—a possibility which would be as distasteful to me as it is to the Home Secretary. Till now the IRA has had access to the ballot box and to parliamentary candidature—the normal processes of democracy—to persuade and put its point of view. Our approach has been "The IRA may wish to destroy democracy, but we shall not erode the processes of democracy to stop it." Instead the IRA has sought to win support by the bullet and the bomb, by maiming and by murder. But the IRA could never say "We are excluded from putting our case to the elected representatives of the people at a parliamentary election, and therefore we have to resort to violence".
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
There is nothing in the Bill, nor is there any intention, to prevent the Provisional Sinn Fein or the Official Sinn Fein from putting up candidates for the House of Commons. There is nothing to prevent that.
§ Mr. Silkin
I shall come to that matter when I deal with the question of effectiveness. At the moment, I am discussing what the IRA will say, and if the Bill becomes law, it is precisely what I have stated that it will be able to say and will say. The IRA will say it in Northern Ireland, in the Republic, in the United States, and in the centres of its support here. The IRA will justify any intensification of the violence and any appeal for funds and for arms by saying "We used the ballot box and we won the election, so the British Parliament barred its entrance to us. The British people changed the rules of democracy to keep us out."
§ Mr. Mates
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman really saying that it is a use of the democratic process and a use of the ballot box to order a hunger striker close to death to stand for the purposes of those godfathers outside to make a political point about the hunger strike itself and about the political status of the H-block prisoners? Surely that has nothing to do with the democratic process, which is to argue and to persuade and not to intimidate.
§ Mr. Silkin
I shall be coming to that later in my remarks. I can assure the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) that I shall not overlook his point.
I ask the Home Secretary whether he has considered seriously the effect of that sort of propaganda when the platter is passed around in New York. Has he set it against the, of course, distasteful consequences of a series of electoral wins by successive IRA hunger strikers, if that 42 were to happen—a consequence which assumes that the Fermanagh and South Tyrone electors will continue to prefer not to be represented here, which is their right?
Above all, has the Home Secretary asked himself whether this kind of restriction really helps to produce an informed democracy which is able to assess, to take account of and to weigh in the overall balance what the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone themselves desire? Surely it is of the essence of democracy that we should at least know what people think, making every allowance, I agree, for the sentiment engendered by candidates who are on hunger strike and near to death. The Bill deprives us of any possibility of that knowledge. It is an erosion of democracy which only panic can justify.
But the Bill will not even be effective for its purpose. If the IRA cannot put forward a hunger striker near to death who is serving a sentence of more than a year, it will use its formidable powers of discipline to engineer one serving less than a year, or it will use someone who is serving a sentence in a prison in the Republic, or it will produce some new Bobby Sands to represent the hunger strikers and to act as a surrogate for them. Perhaps the IRA will even rename him Bobby Sands for the purpose, just as it is rumoured that we are to have a second Roy Jenkins as a candidate in the Warrington by-election.
Once the Government have embarked on their present course, the IRA will make every propaganda use of it possible, even if that means a series of elections, a series of resignations and a series of further elections in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Even at this late stage, I appeal to the Government understand the very grave danger of tampering with our electoral system for short-term political ends. It is a danger not only for long-term constitutional reasons but in the opportunities which it presents for the enemies of democracy to deride democracy and to contend that democracy is selective and that they are the ones selected out. If, despite this appeal, the Govenment insist on going forward with this panic-stricken measure—
§ Mr. Silkin
The hon. Gentleman denies that it is, but the very details referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) show how panic-stricken it must have been and how hastily constructed it was.
If the Government insist on going forward with this panic-stricken measure, and if in consequence it receives a Second Reading, which it is likely to do, I appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends to say that the Bill is irretrievably bad in principle, that its defects are incurable in Committee, and that therefore we should not try to better it. Let this Government, who in their panic have cooked the juice, stew in it. When the Bill comes before the House next Thursday, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will follow the example of another name famous in Irish history and boycott it. I intend to do so.
§ 5.7 pm
§ Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has left the Chamber. I listened to his speech with some interest. If it had been his first contribution in this Parliament, I would have been impressed because he was taking the line strongly that the House ought not to 43 interfere in the expressed wishes and rights of constituents and constituencies. His own contribution over the past two years has been very much to try to force the House on many occasions to act simply because his constituents wanted such action taken.
I found it surprising that the right hon. Gentleman could oppose the Bill without making any reference to the sense of public outrage which occurred, represented not only in the media but in the correspondence which most, if not all, right hon. and hon. Members had at the time of the Fermanagh by-election asking how, in a civilised society, run under the rule of law and based on democratic principles, men who were dedicated to overthrowing the rule of law and to demolishing and destroying those democratic principles were allowed to take part. There was no reference to that public outrage. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the right of constituents to determine who should represent them. However, I maintain that in the Bill the Government are responding in defence of that right and in doing so to the outrage felt that people of this kind should be allowed to undermine the democratic process.
The right hon. Gentleman argued that the Bill would be used—and he deplored such use—to justify IRA excesses. That is to suppose that the IRA had ever sought to set up a logical defence of its position, or of its attitudes or actions. That is not the case, and never has been. Although the right hon. Gentleman may be right, he did not put the other point of view, which is that the participation of men such as Bobby Sands in the electoral process has itself caused arguments to be deployed for IRA excesses.
The right hon. Gentleman argued that the Bill would give additional publicity weapons to the IRA. I find it hard to conceive that the IRA could engineer a situation in which it was given more publicity weapons than the one which has fallen into its hands over the past few weeks.
I reject the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, just as I reject one of the arguments put forward by the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin). To suggest that as a consequence of the Bill the IRA is excluded from putting its point of view within the democratic process is to turn truth on its head. There is no exclusion of those who support the IRA point of view. They can still contest elections, be nominated, be elected and serve in the House. This Bill is not an exclusion of an IRA viewpoint, which most right hon. and hon. Members would not support, as I would not support it.
The Bill excludes certain members of the IRA who by their action, have denigrated and denied everything which the right hon. Gentleman, the House and the principles on which the country is run stand for. It is wrong to argue that the Bill is unacceptable because it cuts out a particular view.
The argument has revolved round whether people who wish to be Members of this House should, in circumstances envisaged by the Bill, be restricted at the time of nomination or at the time of taking their seat in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) was right to say that in all the unhappiness expressed by the Opposition there has been no call to remove the restrictions on local government candidates. No call has been made for my constituents, 44 who might be deprived under the Bill, to be deprived of sending an elected representative to the Peterborough city council. The House will take note of the double standard.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that all the disqualifications related to standing for local elections should relate to membership of the House of Commons? Surely that is the logical conclusion to his argument.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
I am not saying that.
The argument is whether it is more damaging of the democratic process that people should be told before the start of an election that their membership of the House is unacceptable, or whether it is more damaging in publicity terms that the House of Commons should have the right to exclude certain persons after they have been elected. I have no doubt that it is much less acceptable within the democratic framework for the House to act after an election than to make it clear to the people of the country, in response to their expressed wishes, that certain people will not be permitted to participate from the beginning.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
Is there not a further reason why it is important to disqualify pre-nomination? If a person is nominated, stands and is disqualified, a successful appeal in the election court, will result in the court ordering that the unsuccessful candidate should become the Member for the constituency. Therefore in the case of Fermanagh, the Ulster Protestant, the unsuccessful candidate, would become the representative of that constituency. Does my hon. Friend think that that is desirable?
§ Dr. Mawhinney
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for dealing with a matter which I am about to discuss. I agree with him. Whatever system we adopt, the person who is elected must represent the constituency. The representative must not be the person who failed to be elected.
I support the Bill and I shall vote for it. However, I have several reservations. Reservations have already been expressed about clause 1, which deals with people who aredetained anywhere in the United Kingdom".Why are those words used? I wish that such restrictive words were not in the clause. If my right hon. Friend is not able sympathetically to consider broadening the clause to include detention within the Republic of Ireland, I shall move an amendment in Committee.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
What happens if someone is imprisoned in the United States for smuggling arms to the Six Counties? Would the provision then be extended to the United States, Canada and the rest of the world?
§ Dr. Mawhinney
The hon. Member will be able to table his own amendments and discuss the rights and wrongs of them when we reach the Committee stage on Thursday.
It seems a nonsense to some of us that men can be detained on one side of the border and be prevented from standing but be able to stand if they happen to be in Port Paoise rather than the Maze. Such a discrepancy is not guaranteed to improve the unique relationship between the North of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. It would cause considerable embarrassment if a Northern Irish man, detained in Portlaoise wanted to stand for election to the United Kingdom Parliament. That would cause difficulties between the South of Ireland 45 Government and the Westminster Government. I hope that my right hon. Friend will examine the matter sympathetically with a view to broadening the clause.
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
Will my hon. Friend say something about the constitutional principle raised by giving to a foreign jurisdiction the power to disqualify someone from standing for this House? That seems odd to me.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
My hon. Friend will probably expound on that view later. I do not see the difficulty which he expresses.
I draw to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's attention an exclusion which he might wish to consider. It is common knowledge in Northern Ireland, and among those who take an interest in the affairs of the Province, that a number of people have been convicted of membership of a proscribed organisation because it has not been possible to try them for other more serious terrorist crimes for which they are believed to be responsible but on which there is no forensic or eye-witness evidence. Will the Home Secretary consider the position and sentences of people who have been convicted of membership of a proscribed organisation?
I have asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for a summary of sentences imposed on people convicted of membership of a proscribed organisation. I have no doubt that the reply will soon be forthcoming. If it shows, as I believe that it might, that the average sentence is less than a year, people convicted of crimes associated with terrorist activities will not be covered by the Bill. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give some thought to that.
The public and our constituents want the Bill. Unlike some hon. Members, our constituents understand the Bill because they are more concerned with the reality of life than with the niceties which tend to take up the time and energy of some of our legal colleagues. The time has come for the Bill. Its contribution to the democratic process will make sense. I hope that the House will support my right hon. Friend in the Lobby this evening.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
In recent weeks I have had some fundamental differences of opinion with a substantial number of my right hon. and hon. Friends about matters relating to the Bill. I say frankly to the House that I find it most difficult not to support any measure that disqualifies a person from candidature at a parliamentary or local government election who has been convicted of a capital criminal offence. I thought that the Government intended to bring forward a measure to deal with that issue, and that alone.
Since those differences of opinion—and some were rather frank—I have read the Bill carefully. I have listened to what has been said by both those in favour of the Bill and those opposing it. On balance, those opposing it have won. I am gravely concerned that what is sought is an extension of power that not only recaptures what was lost prior to 1967, but asks for more power than existed prior to that date.
I could not accept the proposal that a sitting Member of Parliament should automatically be disqualified because he had been convicted of an offence for which a sentence of 12 months' imprisonment had been imposed. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. 46 Silkin) clearly pointed out an incident in recent history when an hon. Member was convicted, but his subsequent appeal against conviction granted. His membership of the House was considerably enhanced because of the difficulties that he had undergone—I accept that the word "difficulties" is probably inadequate.
If the Bill goes through all its stages and receives Royal Assent, one of its provisions will automatically disqualify a sitting Member of Parliament who is convicted of an offence, and a vacancy will be declared. The House would not have the right to make a valid judgment based upon the circumstances. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich said, that puts a power in the hands of the judges which should not be there. They can decide the length of sentence and, if so inclined, impose a sentence of 11 months three weeks and four days. That would be without the provisions of the Bill. They could impose some other sentence that would avoid automatic disqualification. I took note of what was said about allowing other nations and Governments to determine who should be a candidate. I find that proposition wholly unacceptable.
I came to the House today intending to support the Government, but now find that their explanation of the Bill is unacceptable. I am, therefore, placed in a dilemma. I cannot vote against the Bill because of its basic principle, which should be accepted by the House—that a person convicted of a criminal offence should not be allowed to stand as a candidate at elections. I hold that belief very firmly. If that principle is translated into the Northern Ireland context, I hold it even more fervently. Much nonsence can be spoken about democracy, but democracy must work evenly and open-handedly. At no point in the scale should there be an opportunity for any unfair pressure or intimidation to be brought either before or after a candidature is sought.
In Northern Ireland if someone decides that in a certain district a candidature will be proposed and the nomination form circulated, those who refuse to sign will immediately be at grave risk—and not only them but their families and homes. I hope that no one speaks to me about Northern Ireland and democracy. Democracy does not exist in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and will never exist if we do not deal with the problem, because there is a repetition of such activities in various forms. The one point in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that I found difficult to accept was in relation to that issue. However, to be fair, he did not go too far and I might have misunderstood him.
The Bill is appalling in its defective draftsmanship. I might have misunderstood the media, but I gain the impression that the Home Secretary is presenting a Bill that he does not necessarily embrace fully, and which might have been introduced at the dictate of others—for example, the First Lord of the Treasury. I could understand if, under such pressure, the Home Secretary felt that he had to introduce the Bill on behalf of his right hon. and hon. Friends. But I say to him, in abject honesty, that he has made a calculated mistake in bringing it forward in the way that it has been drafted.
Does the right hon. Gentleman really expect me, or any other hon. Member, to support a Bill that differentiates between prison sentences in the United Kingdom but does nothing about the Republic? A candidature proposed by a person in prison in the Republic would be accepted by the 47 returning officer. However, I accept that the residential qualification may not be met and the candidature might be forfeited. I shall not go into those complexities.
Does the Home Secretary expect me to support this measure? He knew full well, because it was stated in the press, that I supported the principle in his original intention. If he expects me to support the Bill tonight I shall disappoint him. If he returns to the House with an amended Bill to deal with the point of a disqualification from candidature on the basis of a criminal offence of a certain category, adding to the list of those already disqualified, and dealing specifically with the problem of Northern Ireland, he will have my support. If he does not, he will not have it.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
I do not suppose that anybody who goes through the Lobby tonight in support of the Bill will do so other than reluctantly. That will be the state of mind in which I shall go through the Lobby tonight in support of the Bill. Before I turn to the reasons why I support the Bill, I wish to ask two questions of the Minister of State, who is to reply to the debate.
I have been in the House too long to suggest drafting amendments, or to make suggestions in anything other than the broadest terms. But why do we need clauses 1 and 2? Why do we effect the mischief of disqualifying those who get into trouble after they have been elected? Why do we not simply disqualify from nomination those who have transgressed before they are nominated? As was said by Opposition Members, that leaves the House, with its right to remove from these Benches, if it so seeks and thinks fit, somebody who has got into serious trouble after his election to the House. There is no necessity to interfere with that position.
I have heard it mentioned that this matter could have been dealt with merely by saying "If you are not entitled to vote, you are not entitled to stand." Of course, those with whom we are dealing would not be so entitled. They are excluded by the 1969 Act. I appreciate that there would be some difficulties. For example, if someone failed to get on the register, he would be precluded wrongly. However, that seems to be a small matter compared with the difficulties that we shall clearly run into when we proceed with the Bill. In any event, there would be those outside the jurisdiction—for example, in the Republic—who would not be entitled to vote because they would not be on any register. They would be caught by the formula if it were applied.
There may be good and adequate reasons for taking the course set out in the Bill. Perhaps those who advised the Home Office felt that it would be best to go back as nearly as possible to the 1967 position as that would be the easiest course to justify before the House. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will explain the Government's position. Many hon. Members have said that it will lead to obvious troubles in future.
It has been said that the IRA or the nationalists will get publicity from the election of candidates of the persuasion of Bobby Sands in the constituency of Fermanagh and Tyrone. If there is only one candidate, those of exactly the same persuasion of Bobby Sands—perhaps they will not be such violent people—will be elected. That has 48 happened throughout my political life. They will continue to be elected regardless of what happens. Nothing will change in the near future in that constituency. Indeed, it is not necessary to have an election or to count the votes. The moment nominations close it is possible to say who will win and, within 1,000 or 2,000 votes, the size of the winning margin.
Of course there will be publicity for the IRA. There was an amusing moment when the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), who is no longer in his place, suggested that the IRA would continue to put up candidates in the name of Bobby Sands. It may well help one's electoral prospects to stand in that name in that constituency. I am not so sure whether running in the name of Roy Jenkins at Warrington will have the same result. However, publicity will be achieved and it can be achieved regularly.
When I had the honour to be a member of the Speaker's Conference that considered the prospects for Northern Ireland and whether the Province should be given extra seats—it was grossly under-represented from the point of view of electoral fairness—one of the factors that persuaded me that it was right to change the representation of Northern Ireland was that once the boundaries were drawn more tightly and there were more seats, there would be a greater opportunity for those who hold a minority view west of the Bann, and possibly even in Belfast, to be represented in this place. It is right that they should be represented at Westminster. They have a voice and they are entitled to be heard. Those who take the view of the minority in Northern Ireland should be represented adequately. That seems an honourable position to adopt.
At the time of the Speaker's Conference I hoped that those who came to this place would accept our democratic processes. It is possible that that will not happen. However, the IRA and the Provisional IRA are entitled to put up at Fermanagh and Tyrone and at West Belfast if they think that they can succeed. Indeed, they will be entitled so to do in the constituencies west of the Bann if they come about. It will be their right to put up candidates who represent their way of thinking and who wish to promote their views.
The problem of Northern Ireland can be solved only by some form of agreement between the two communities. That is why the House should pause before it takes too hifalutin' a constitutional position. There must be acquiescence between the two communities and we are far from that at present. Whether it is acquiescence to direct rule or any other solution, there must be an agreement by both communities to abide by the constitutional position that is then existing. Until that happens there will be no peace in Northern Ireland.
I accept that the form of acquiescence that I have postulated is asking a great deal. One has to consider only some of the facile remarks made about the North of Ireland to recognise how much is being asked. It is often said "If the North chooses by a majority of one to go into the South, we can leave in those circumstances." That would solve nothing. It would lead to an even larger and more angry Protestant minority in the South. That minority would be equally destructive. Indeed, it would be more destructive to the southern State than the comparatively small Catholic minority in Northern Ireland is to the much larger United Kingdom. There is no solution unless there is acquiescence.
49 It seems to fly in the face of reality to say that we are introducing a constitutional affront in making the change that is set out in the Bill. We have done it continuously over the past decade in Northern Ireland. For example, for certain offences a person cannot have a jury trial in Northern Ireland. Those who say that they will take the troops out of Northern Ireland are proposing a constitutional affront to British citizens that is far greater than anything that the House is now contemplating. In effect, we are saying "We will not defend you in your hour of need." That is where the real depth of constitutional affront lies. I have no doubt that that view will be held passionately by some on the Opposition Benches who will oppose the Bill's Second Reading.
The House must understand that in Northern Ireland there are two views. The majority view is by far the preponderant view. There is a two-to-one majority. If the House allows those who have been convicted and who are serving sentences of imprisonment to stand time and time again, that will be regarded as an affront. It will damage the good will and co-operation that is necessary from the Protestant majority. That is a factor that will far outweigh any constitutional change that we are making by introducing the Bill. I shall support the Bill.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
Anyone speaking from the Liberal Benches will be expected to begin his contribution by making it clear that it is his party's opinion that if the Government had extended the existing system of voting by proportional representation for local authority elections and for elections to the ill-fated Northern Ireland Executive, we would probably not be discussing this measure. I put that argument to the Prime Minister about a month ago and was disappointed when she dismissed my suggestion as a matter of no consequence.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if there were a system of proportional representation there would be no such thing as a by-election?
§ Mr. Ross
There were for the recent elections to the Dail. Let us take that for a start. The IRA, for example, would be entitled to win an election under the single transferable vote system. I recognise that STV and multi-Member constituencies are not possible given the boundaries of the existing Northern Ireland constituencies. However, the alternative vote system could be used. It would be better than the present first-past-the-post system. John Hume argued that clearly in a recent article that appeared in the The Times.
Several of my Liberal colleagues consider the Bill to be an illiberal measure. I readily accept that there are grounds for taking that view. Some of my hon. Friends think, even if it is reasonable to disqualify convicted prisoners, it is wrong to introduce a Bill to achieve that given the present situation in the Province. They say that it might heighten tension in Northern Ireland—that was one of the arguments of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)—to take such a step while 50 hunger strikes are still taking place. Their view is that such a change should be part of a general review of electoral law at a time when the issue is less controversial.
I do not share that view or the view that is held by some that there should be no limitation to the right to stand for Parliament. It is interesting that the hon. Members for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) and Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) and the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) who were either brought up in Northern Ireland or have had experience of office in Northern Ireland take that view. The House should take note of that.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North, that we are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I am particularly worried about the role of the returning officer and how he will interpret his instructions. We had a helpful brief from the Library, as we often do, on that point. It states:The Bill goes beyond the minimum necessary to restore the former position"—that was in 1967. It goes on to state:It not only disqualifies convicted prisoners serving a sentence of more than one year, but also empowers the returning officer to reject the nomination of anyone who appears to him disqualified under the Bill and avoids the nomination of such a person.That could lead to a lot of trouble. The brief further states:It is the first piece of legislation to disqualify prospective candidates from nomination for election. As such, it brings together for the first time both strands of the story—the law on disqualification and electoral law proper. It is thus open to the objection that it is a piecemeal approach to this area of law and as such unsatisfactory … There would certainly be much to be said for a properly laid out statement of the law of disqualification at least. It could be argued that any such comprehensive review would be a better time for innovations.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
That is a serious point. The Library brief may have misled the hon. Member, as it misled me. If one falls within the categories of existing disqualifications, the returning officer will not accept one's nomination. I believe that the Library brief intended to convey that, but failed to do so.
§ Mr. Ross
I take that point. I believe that that will lead to much trouble.
I intend to support the Government tonight, because they must take action over the present situation in Northern Ireland despite the fact that, I believe that they are largely responsible for creating that situation by failing to bring the voting system into line for elections to Westminster as for local government. Therefore, I share the view of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
I suspect that my colleagues will wish to make. amendments to the Bill in Committee, because a number of serious issues have been raised in the debate which affect the clauses and the schedule. Those issues are and must be disturbing to every, hon. Member. Therefore, I shall look with interest to see what the amendments are and what the Government's reaction is to the points which have been raised about how we feel the Bill should be amended. It must deal with the situation in a much clearer way than it does now.
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
Having listened to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and discussed the Bill with my hon. Friends, I realise that it is seen as a measure which is bound up with security. I 51 realise that on matters of security, the Government must take a lead and that it is important to have a team effort. For that reason and for reasons of obedience, I shall support the Bill in the Lobby. Having made that small display of obedience, I hope that my right hon. Friend will hear my few worries about the Bill.
I have some doubts about the Bill's constitutional implications, about how it will be seen in the outside world and about whether it will work. I shall start with the constitutional implications. It is not right that the measure returns us to the position obtaining before 1967. An important difference is that before 1967 it was possible for a constituency to take a different view from the House about what sort of man should be a Member of Parliament and for that view to be displayed publicly by the man being returned but not allowed to sit in the House of Commons. That may or may not be acceptable. Some people may see an advantage in that being possible and others may see a disadvantage. There is a significant difference between the position pre-1967 and that being put forward now, which is worth mentioning.
My right hon. Friend is right in saying that there is nothing new in the idea of certain people being disqualified for standing for Parliament. However, I believe that movement in the direction of disqualifying more people is more worrying than movement in the direction of disqualifying fewer people, because in the latter case there is always the important final hurdle of the election. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Parris
I shall refer also to the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), who suggested to my right hon. Friend that the Government might like to consider including those who are convicted for belonging to proscribed organisations on the list of those who would be disqualified. That is exactly the example of the slippery slope on which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that we might find ourselves perched. I know my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough to be a reasonable and moderate man and if, in the short time which has elapsed between the Bill being published and today, he has already started thinking about extending the scope to members of proscribed organisations and to people who are not detained or goaled for more than a year, it will not be long before other hon. Members think along similar lines.
In the past, I have argued with people who have said, for example, that National Front candidates should not be allowed to stand for Parliament on the grounds that they could not possibly represent the interests of those of their constituents who are coloured, who might be in the majority. That is a bad argument, but it is the same sort of argument which my right hon. Friend has been implying in suggesting that the people to whom the Bill refers should not be allowed to stand. I always feel uncomfortable about that argument. I do not like to hear hon. Members talking about who should or should not be qualified to stand for Parliament. That is a dangerous discussion and one in which we should not involve ourselves.
52 I make my final point with hesitation and in the earnest hope that my hon. Friends will understand what I am trying to say. It has been said that the election of the late Mr. Bobby Sands was an absolute farce—it was in many ways—that it served no useful purpose—in one sense, it did not—and that it was damaging and dangerous—which in many senses it was. I am not convinced that it was entirely purposeless. Before that bye-election, I, for one—and perhaps I am alone in my innocence or ignorance—believed some of the propaganda which was put around. That was that the IRA is a small, unrepresentative group amongst the Catholics in Northern Ireland and that it is hated and feared by the vast majority of the Catholics there, who are all peace-loving people who look to their links with this country in much the same way as the Protestants. I believed that line of argument before the election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, but I am not sure that I believe it after the election, damaging, futile and dangerous though it was in many ways. I am not sure whether that election did not serve a purpose. I am a little doubtful about us passing laws which would entirely prevent us ever from learning such a thing again.
I am doubtful about the Bill on three grounds. I doubt whether it can prevent the abuse of parliamentary elections by electorates who wish to abuse them. I am wary of any argument which invites hon. Members to consider the suitability of candidates and I am worried that, whatever we think we are doing, people may think that we are trying to close our eyes or block our ears to the fact that there are two points of view in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
The contribution by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) displayed a diffidence which I shall not follow, as one would expect, perhaps because of a difference of temperament. The reasons for his diffidence have considerable weight and should drive him to vote against the Bill.
When one looks back at the tragedy of Vietnam and what happened to our allies—the United States—at that time, we see that not only was there an appalling loss of young life by the Americans and a squandering of huge resources, but a coarsening of values, which perhaps was no less distressing, and which led eventually to the Presidential crisis. In my judgment, we are following a not dissimilar course. The Vietnam analogy is not extravagant. As a result of the continued and, I believe, arrogant refusal of the leaders of the majority group in Northern Ireland to participate in power sharing, we now find ourselves continually eroding our democratic values.
We are taking action today which follows the action that we have been taking for some years as a result of our involvement in Northern Ireland. We have already been arraigned before international tribunals, however unfairly, for torture. As a consequence of our involvement in Northern Ireland, we have breached some of our most ancient libertarian traditions. By our legislation we have made a mockery of habeas corpus. We have wiped out jury trial in criminal cases. We have eroded preciously and nicely built-up rules of evidence which protect our liberties. For over six years, police records in Britain have been absorbing a steady trickle of extensive personal information on more than 4,000 people who have not been, and probably never will be, charged with any criminal offence. The temporary provisions legislation is becoming a permanent feature of our landscape.
53 All that, as this Bill, is because we are allowing the IRA to defeat us—thanks to our condoning the veto of the majority in Northern Ireland to power sharing. Today, no one but the IRA can take delight or pleasure in this Bill. The House is seeking in unprecedented fashion to deprive constituents of their right to choose whoever they wish—however noble or ignoble, however good or evil—to be their elected representatives.
When I first came to the House 23 years ago I was, as one would expect of a Jew, deeply conscious that I was entering the House almost exactly upon the centenary of Jews being permitted to sit and vote here. Lionel Rothschild was elected in 1847. Unable to take his oath, he resigned. He was re-elected, but still Parliament refused to alter the law. For seven years, he occupied a seat below the Bar, but had no right to vote. When Sir David Salomons was elected the Member for Greenwich in 1851 and took his seat and voted, he was heavily fined for his offence. It was not until 1859, after his loyal constituents again re-elected him, that he was able, with the passage of the relevant legislation, to sit and vote here, as I am able to sit and vote.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West was recalling other times and was indicating how important it was for constituents, not this House, to choose who is to stand for election. He was recalling a great deal of the important constitutional history of this country. The same circumstances applied to Catholics as to Jews. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) will certainly not forget that when O'Connell was returned to this House from Ireland, he was not permitted to take his seat, which led to another election. He was re-elected. It was the voice of constituents that brought about the legislation that enabled a Catholic to take his seat here.
We have heard about Bradlaugh. He was elected in 1880 and was barred by the House—
§ Mr. Abse
He was re-elected in 1881 and was unseated by the House. He was re-elected in 1882 and was once more exluded. He was re-elected in 1884. Finally, in 1885, after his loyal constituents again returned him, he was received in the Chamber. If people ask how we can compare the blackguards of the IRA with people like Bradlaugh, they should remember that Bradlaugh's religious unorthodoxy may well have been for some at that time as blasphemous as are the suicides of the IRA men for most, if not all, of us here.
What of Wilkes? He was declared an outlaw, but he was elected for Middlesex in 1768. For his pains, he was immediately imprisoned. Do we forget the spirited address to his constituents which he issued from his cell? Do we forget his expulsion from this House on the grounds of his being a condemned criminal? Does the Home Secretary forget how Middlesex re-elected Wilkes three times before he took his seat? Outlaw and convict Wilkes may have been, but the cry comes to this House over the centuries to those parliamentarians who are not deaf to the call of their duties. "Wilkes and liberty" is as meaningful in this House today as it was then.
The truth is that we cannot stifle the fact that large sections of the population in Northern Ireland, as it is at present constituted, where power sharing is being denied, do not wish to give allegiance to the British State. We do not blot out that uncomfortable fact by refusing to allow 54 it to be recorded in an election. Preventing its being expressed through the ballot box makes it more, not less, likely that it will be expressed by way of the bomb.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that the presence of over 3,000 spoilt ballot papers showed that a substantial number of people in that election did not accept what was happening?
§ Mr. Abse
But the brutal fact, as much as the hon. Gentleman and I both dislike it, must be faced. Those people elected Bobby Sands, and that was their will. Whatever may by said about intimidation, they did it in secret in a ballot box. It is no use trying to explain it away. There once were constituents who were insistent that Sews and Catholics should be elected to this House. Electors were once insistent that people regarded as blasphemers, like Bradlaugh, and that people like Wilkes, outrageous a character as most may have felt him to be, should be elected here. So it is dangerous to suggest that we, not the people, should decide who should come here, however ignoble and appalling we may regard their choice.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that Sands was elected because the electorate wanted him to represent them in this House, or was he elected purely as a political gesture?
§ Mr. Abse
I regard my being elected as the Labour Member for Pontypool as a political gesture by the people of Pontypool. One cannot use arguments of that nature to avoid painful facts—as painful to me as they are to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow).
The response should not be further to dismantle our democratic values—which is what we are doing today. We should face reality. The process will go on. We shall get deeper and deeper into the morass as we demonstrably are this afternoon. Within half an hour of the Home Secretary's presentation, the press of this country and of the world will mock a Bill that has shown itself to be not only hopelessly defective but ineffective. We shall have to respond.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and other Ulster Unionists who are not here are responsible for our being in the morass. They are adamant in their view that there can be no power sharing.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
My hon. Friends and I accept all that sharing of political power that prevails and is required in the rest of the United Kingdom. We submit ourselves wholly in that respect to all the laws in the United Kingdom that apply throughout it.
§ Mr. Abse
The situation in Northern Ireland requires a different type of accommodation—an accommodation that has been attempted by successive Governments. It requires power sharing. Hon. Members representing seats in Northern Ireland may ignore my voice. They may believe that mine is a minority view, but the time will come when Northern Ireland, will have to be told that, unless there is power sharing, there will be an end to economic subventions and the presence of the troops. In my parliamentary life, I have become accustomed to being involved in minority matters, but I am well aware from my post bag and from my other antennae that the country is increasingly aware of the situation in Northern Ireland..
55 We are again today eroding democratic values by refusing to end the veto on power sharing imposed by the Unionists.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
It is a happy chance that I should catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, after the speech of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). He caught your predecessor's eye after my maiden speech, which is always a most daunting event, as all hon. Members will agree. He said some nice things about my speech, and I am happy to return the compliment and say how impressive and passionate his contribution was.
However, I thought that the hon. Gentleman would discuss the Bill and some of the merits of the detail. He is a lawyer, and I should have been interested to hear his views. Instead, he satisfied himself with talking about the evolution of our democracy. I agree that, precious, tolerant and lackadaisical as the system is, it is important that it should continue to evolve. He eloquently described the rights of our predecessors. It is important that those rights—brought about great changes in this place should continue to do so. I argue only with the hon. Gentleman's conclusion about the measure, which I firmly believe is again part of the evolution of our democracy, caused by changed circumstances, attitudes and actions, which those who came before us and planned for our democratic processes could not foresee.
I shall continue always to champion the cause of those who put a minority view, who seek to change the position by argument or to use the electorate to assist them, but I do not believe that what happened in Fermanagh and South Tyrone two months ago comes into any of those categories.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Wilkes, and the first Jewish and Catholic hon. Members. He might have mentioned the first lady Member, who had to fight to get her place in the House. He did not mention the equally spirited campaign fought by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who stood for this place while disqualified for so doing, got his electorate behind him and had a major change in the constitution effected through the democratic process, which may not have happened had he not taken the cause right through the parliamentary procedures and, to an extent, in defiance of them, with the support of his electorate. I do not believe that any hon. Member, least of all myself, wishes to deny anyone access to our democratic procedures, and I do not believe that the Bill does that.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that there was a difference in the Bobby Sands case which necessitated the Bill, but since 1870 there have been seven similar cases where the Sinn Fein or its predecessor was involved. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the first woman Member of Parliament. She was a Sinn Feiner. This case is not novel. The measure seeks wrongly to change a situation that has existed before.
§ Mr. Mates
The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech. I believe that the Sands case is different, and I hope that I can persuade him that it is. I do not argue that the principle is different, but the circumstances have so 56 changed the concept that it is no longer democratically valid, and that is why we should be doing something about it.
§ Mr. Mates
I mentioned the first woman Member of Parliament only in passing as a continuation of the case that the hon. Member for Pontypool argued. It was an example of someone bucking the system with the assistance of the electorate, and having it changed. No one would quarrel with that principle.
However, I quarrel with one thing that the hon. Gentleman says. He says that we have no right to decide who shall or shall not come here. That cannot be right. In the end, we must decide the laws by which people stand for election. We, and only we, can decide who shall come here. The hon. Gentleman's point was not a valid argument for saying that we are doing something that we should not do. As our electoral law has evolved over the years, this place has always decided such issues as whether women can vote and can come here and all the other stages in our democratic evolution. It is not sound to argue that the House cannot decide who shall or shall not come here.
I also listened with care to what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said from the Opposition Front Bench. In isolation, it was a sound, sensible recitation of democratic principles. Had one not appreciated the facts around which he was seeking to develop his argument, he could have been given 10 out of 10 for a lecture on democracy in isolation. His speech contained phrases about evolution, civic rights, democratic liberties, freedom to choose and the dignities of democracy that none of us would quarrel with, unless and until a person or organisation sought to undermine every one of those values. Because the right hon. Gentleman did not connect any of those values with the facts of life as they have been seen, particularly in Northern Ireland, in the past few years, once again it was just a meaningless piece of rhetoric, admirable though it was, in his exposition of what the situation should be.
I believe that we must consider what the situation is. Once again, the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) gave us a legalistic, almost ethereal view of what we should be doing and what the situation should be. I believe that we must sweep aside most of these high-sounding words and principles and do what at the end of the day I believe that most of us are sent here to do, that is, to act with common sense.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
Will the hon. Gentleman feel that he has been very commonsensical when the IRA puts up a candidate from Portlaoise?
§ Mr. Mates
The hon. Gentleman has raised another point that I shall come to. Perhaps I may take things in what I see as the logical order. Certainly I have reservations about that and I shall be addressing myself to my right hon. Friend about that in due course.
Given that we ought to be looking at the whole situation in terms of what is the best thing to do from the common sense point of view, let us look one by one at all these fundamental principles which in theory we feel should be inviolable.
First, it should be the fundamental right of any person to stand for Parliament. As a fundamental statement, one 57 cannot quarrel with that. But then one realises that, both in national and in local government, common sense tells one that there must be exceptions to that right, and thus the law evolves.
There was then the hiccough—I do not think that anyone would deny that it was a mistake which we very much regret—of what happened in 1967. We took away a fundamental right. A man who was a convicted felon had the fundamental right to offer himself for membership of this House taken away from him by law. That came unstuck, and fair enough. That is why we are doing something about it today. I do not believe that anybody wants to be in that position, but it is the position in which we find ourselves. This is something that we must continue to look at.
Local government has been mentioned, and the fundamental right of a man to stand for election to the local council if he has been in gaol for three months. I think that those of us who have seen or may know about certain corrupt practices that have been discovered within local government circles feel that that is a perfectly proper restriction and that it is a protection of local democracy itself in the case of somebody who has been involved perhaps in a planning scandal, perhaps in the payment of bribes or perhaps in all of these things which, alas, local government is subject from time to time. There should be that protection not to the people but to local government institutions themselves that someone who has permitted offences of that kind or any offences given a three month sentence should not be able to stand for five years.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
Does the hon. Gentleman understand that if one had wanted to prevent Sands from doing what he did, if the law had remained what it was before 1967 we would have had to change it? We would still have needed some parts of the Bill.
§ Mr. Mates
Yes, I do. That is why I am very happy that the law is being changed. While as part of our libertarian democracy we have in the past allowed people to stand who were not electable—that is how, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East stood, as Viscount Stansgate, and not qualified to come here—we have always been able to cope with that within the system. Screaming Lord Sutch stood at an election. In Bexley in 1974 somebody changed his name to Edward Heath by deed poll and stood in an election. All of that, looked at in isolation, is rubbish, but we have tolerated it because it was a nine-day wonder and it did not really do any harm to democracy. People may have said that it debased democracy to have a ballot paper with two names, both E. R. G. Heath, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) managed to survive that. It was just considered a hiccough in the system which, because we are such a tolerant democracy, we tolerated and did not do anything about.
What happened in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, however, was more than a hiccough of the system. It was more than just someone taking a pot shot at our democratic principles in order to make a point. It turned out to be an almost total denial of the democratic process to the electors of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Let me say why I allege that it was almost total.
First, there was no other candidate. Here we must consider the realities of Northern Irish politics. There was no other candidate available for the minority community 58 in Fermanagh and South Tyrone to cast their votes for with any assurance that it would be someone with whom they could get have sympathy and from whom they could help. The precedessor, Frank Maguire, who died and caused the by-election, stood on a very strange platform from the point of view of most of us. He rarely attended the House. The occasion on which he did was a fairly earth-shattering occasion for the Labour Government, but we shall draw a veil over that. Aside from that, I do not think that he could have been called excessively attentive to his duties in this place. But he was there. He was in his pub in Lisnaskea. People could go and see him, they could go and talk to him, they could write to him, and, from accounts that one has heard, he did what he could for them in his way, and if they had not liked it they could have changed it next time round.
One can in the broadest sense say that the people were being represented. How well or how badly is not a judgment for anyone in this place to make, because we all represent our people in different ways, and I am grateful that that should be so. That is something for which we answer to our own electorate next time around and every time around.
In this case, however, first, there was no candidate such as Frank Maguire who was against the system, who was against the Crown and who was a Republican, for that body of opinion living within that constituency to place their cross against. That was denied to them. They were given the stark choice between two men. One had been put there for a specific political purpose, and an undemocratic purpose. His name was put on the ballot paper not because he was a convicted criminal, not because he was a member of the IRA, but because he was a hunger striker and the closest one to death.
By no stretch even of our libertarian principles can that be called an extension of the democratic process. The effect was that there were only the two candidates, one a hunger striker close to death and the other a member of the Unionist Party who to many there must have represented all that they had been worried, concerned and fearful about in the past decades. I do not say that as any insult to the man concerned. I am talking about the system. There is no question as to what Mr. Harry West represented in the minds of those people. So what choice did they have? They were between the devil and the deep blue sea. That is not an extension of the democratic process; it is a denial of it.
The result of the election, known by the circumstances of Sands' confinement, was that nobody was to be represented from that constituency. I almost took up the point raised by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) about PR because this is not the same situation as that which has arisen in the Republic of Ireland through the election of two more hunger strikers in the past weeks. They have been elected in multi-Member constituencies. The fact that they are absent from their duties because they are prisoners in the Maze does not mean that the rest of the constituents are not represented. They are represented by the other three or four Members, as the case may be, according to the size of the constituency. So it is not true to say that the election of the hunger strikers in the Republic of Ireland has left anybody unrepresented. But the result of the election left the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone totally unrepresented in this place.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said that that was their choice. But that is not 59 true either. What about the minority? What about the 30,000 Unionists—not enough to get their candidate elected—who sought representation in this place by the only method open to them?
§ Mr. Mates
The hon. Gentleman has a point. What about the Conservative constituents of Grimsby? Does he represent them in this place? Of course he does. It is something on which we all pride ourselves—that when constituents come to us with their problems we do not ask thir party affiliation but do our best for them. Therefore, it is not enough merely to say that they lost. The Conservative voters of Grimsby lost, but they are represented in this House. I cannot comment on or judge whether they are happy about that, but at least they have someone here to speak for them.
The people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone do not have that precious democratic privilege. Far from there being an extension of democracy there, there has been a denial of it.
§ Mr. Parris
My hon. Friend knows the situation better than I do. However, is it not possible that the Protestant minority in Fermanagh and South Tyrone would prefer to be unrepresented than to be represented by a Catholic?
§ Mr. Mates
I do not believe that we should put that question to them. They have the right to be represented. However, I believe that the answer to such a question would be "Some would, some would not." The fact that that right is taken away from them is a total denial of democratic principles, which is another reason why we should consider a Bill such as this to put the situation right.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
Does the hon. Gentleman also accept that, within an hour of the closing of nominations, another candidate said in a television interview that he was standing? However, it is reported that he was forced at gunpoint to withdraw his nomination paper. Can we tolerate that?
§ Mr. Mates
No. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he has made another point with which I was about to deal.
This brings me back to a previous remark in my speech. We must ensure that democracy keeps pace with what is happening on the ground. We cannot talk about democracy in such ethereal terms or look at it from the point of view of legalistic terms or principles. Of course, there was a lot of intimidation, but that is nothing new because a certain amount of intimidation takes place in every Northern Ireland election.
That may be sad, but it is a sign of the times. That is how life is in Northern Ireland. However, most people in Northern Ireland who have sought election to whatever forum have been able to come to terms with that. I am certain that discrepancies have occurred there at which we in mainland Britain would look aghast. However, that is no reason not to try to draw the line so that the democratic processes for the beleaguered people who live there are made easier. I say that even though it may not accord with the highest constitutional ethics.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight was right when he said that there was no other candidate in that election. The third candidate was intimidated. From the confused stories 60 that emerged, I gather that some deception was practiced on Frank Maguire's brother, who was one of the first to declare himself a candidate.
We must also consider what will happen if we allow this procedure to continue without changing it. How we change it is a matter of argument. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook expressed some views about that. I was concerned when he said that his right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) thought that the situation would be made worse rather than better.
Of all Labour Members, I would take more notice of what the right hon. Member for Mansfield said on such a subject than anyone else because his experience is far-ranging over the troubled period of the past seven or eight years. I only wish that the right hon. Gentleman would speak to us tonight and tell us why he thinks as he does. I come to a different conclusion. I do not believe that the situation will be made worse. I am not saying that it will be made better, but I do not believe that it will be made worse.
We are justified in taking some measures for three fundamental reasons. First, given what has happened and how it has happened, it is intolerable that we should let it happen again, especially if we want to preserve our democracy. By letting it happen, more people will die. People died during the last election in Northern Ireland. In addition, there will be more intimidation, more conversations at gunpoint, more emotion and further difficulty for the security forces and all those involved in conducting elections in Northern Ireland.
If we did nothing, I believe that the situation would be very much worse. Not only would the same thing happen, but it would be better organised. The one thing of which we can be quite sure is that those people in the IRA who conducted the campaign will have learnt from their mistakes. As a result, they will become more ruthless and efficient and will do a better job next time. We must not allow that to happen.
The second reason for not allowing it to happen again is public reaction. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, rightly and validly, separated the two aspects of public reaction and referred to the election's effect internationally and its effect within the United Kingdom. For absolute clarity, I should like to talk about the difference between reaction in mainland Britain and reaction in Northern Ireland. The international effect should concern us least, although it is worrying. At the end of the day, any Government must do their best as they see it. It would be quite wrong to be deflected from a proper course of action because we thought that reaction in Boston or New York would be adverse. Although we should take note of international reaction, it should not be a governing influence in our decision-taking process.
That cannot be said about reaction in the United Kingdom. I agree totally with what my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) said about reaction in mainland Britain. There was outrage that a convicted criminal could be elected to the House of Commons. I received many letters from constituents and many other people. I was asked by the media to comment on the election, and I received many letters from all parts of the country, not one of which said that it was not an outrage. They said it was urgent that we should do something about it. Therefore, I am in no doubt whatever about public reaction in mainland Britain.
61 It is easy to understand why a decent citizen who knows nothing about the intimidation and strange electoral processes in Northern Ireland should say "We are electing a gaoled criminal to the House of Commons. We must be mad". That is the common sense reaction of 99 per cent. of the public. We must listen to that view and try to do something about it.
In a sense, reaction in Northern Ireland was different. The outrage existed and was perhaps more intense, but there was a deeper anger that once again we in this House had let down the majority of the Northern Ireland people who support the United Kingdom political system. In no circumstances do I want to see a repetition of that. Goodness knows, enough things happen which Government cannot control that make life impossible and difficult for the people of Northern Ireland. We should not add to those difficulties, especially when it is a matter over which we have control. For those reasons, concerning the public and general reaction to Sands' election, I believe that we have every justification for acting firmly and quickly.
With regard to the Bill, there has been predictable comment from my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir Biggs-Davison), from my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough—and, indeed from the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook—over what I would call the Republican loophole. I must tell my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that this aspect gives me cause for deep concern.
If all that I have been saying represents an acceptable basis on which to proceed, there is one fundamental issue from which we cannot escape. We do not want straightaway to be put into another potentially embarrassing position in which there could be the nomination of a prisoner in Portlaoise, followed by a campaign and possibly by his election. I do not believe that he would be elected, because I do not believe that the IRA would be able to whip up the same sort of sympathy as they were able to whip up for Sands, who at the time in question was on the point of death. In the current likely sequence of events, I do riot believe that even the IRA could produce a prisoner at the point of death in about a month's time. There would not be that same element of desperate sympathy as there would he for a man who was dying, for whatever strange and wrong reasons.
Nevertheless, it is a potential temptation, and if if did not happen this time, it could happen next time. I believe that there would be a next time, and another time, and a time after that, for once that bandwagon was rolling and the IRA was able continually—not through the democratic process but through a process of democratic deviation—to get somebody elected through a loophole in our law, the position would become worse for us as time went on.
I do not believe that anyone—particularly the people who live in Northern Ireland—should be subjected to that sort of tension time and time again. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that it would be right to extend the Bill so that a prisoner serving a sentence in the Republic of Ireland would be denied the chance either to stand for election to this House or to be elected to this House. Both his nomination and his election should be made invalid.
That could be done very simply by adding in line 10 of clause 1, after the words "United Kingdom", the words "or the Republic of Ireland". In an interjection, someone mentioned the United States, Canada, Belgium or any 62 other country. If the clause were to be further widened in that way, there would be very grave difficulties, and I am not sure that, in the circumstances that we face, it is necessary. But if it were to become necessary in a year or two, and we had to make such a provision, I would regard that as being just another part of the evolution of our democracy that I was talking about at the beginning of my speech.
I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will not extend the provision further than the Republic of Ireland, but I hope that he will include the Republic of Ireland because of the unique relationship, the common citizenship, and the fact that it would be relatively easy to provide someone serving a sentence in a gaol in the Republic of Ireland with the necessary credentials required for his nomination. It would be far harder to do that for someone who was in the United States or anywhere else in the world. But, as I have mentioned, we have a unique relationship with the Republic. There is the total intertwining that we talked about during the proceedings on the British Nationality Bill, with the dual citizenship and common voting rights. Many citizens of the Irish Republic are on our electoral rolls. They are a special case, and I believe that that justifies us in including the Republic of Ireland within the provisions of the Bill.
I hope that the Minister of State, in reply to the debate, will say that he will look at this question. I hope that offence would not be taken if I were to table an amendment for the Committee stage on Thursday so that we can discuss the question fully at that time.
Having tried to pick up various strands of the debate, I hope that I have been able to show that those who genuinely believe that we are denying democratic rights to people have got it wrong. If we can get the Bill right and operate it correctly, I believe that it will properly adjust our democratic principles that we have evolved over the centuries to the position that we now find, particularly in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, in the summer of 1981. The circumstances which led to the election of Sands benefited no one but the IRA. It benefited no one in any political party who believes in the ballot box and in democratic principles. There is no doubt whatever that it benefited the IRA, and any single measure that will not benefit the IRA will have my wholehearted support.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I regret the reference by the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) to the late Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Frank Maguire, and in particular his reference to the attentiveness of Frank to his duties. It is not the first time that hon. Members—
§ Mr. Duffy
The hon. Member will have an opportunity to check in the Official Report the text of his remarks. He will know that he made the customary sneering reference to Frank that has come from other Right-wing colleagues of the hon. Gentleman in the Press Gallery. Anyone who visited Frank in his constituency will know, as I did, that he was very attentive to his duties and that it was appreciated by people on both sides of the community. 63 Moreover, anyone who visited Frank will know that one could not possibly visit in his constituency a more hospitable Member. I am putting that point very moderately. While he was a Member of this House, it was impossible to encounter a more courteous, more charming or more friendly Member.
§ Mr. Duffy
Finally, Labour Members will know that during the period of office of the Labour Government on many a night we could not have managed without Frank. I pay tribute to him, therefore, in all sincerity.
I am sorry that the Home Secretary has left his place, because I want to refer to him now.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. Hon. Members know that, if an hon. Member is on his feet and does not give way, they must resume their seats.
§ Mr. Stewart
I want to try to be an impartial referee, if that is possible. I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). He went out of his way to say something that we all know—that, although the late Frank Maguire was a poor attender here, he was a very attentive constituency Member. That is the gist of what I heard the hon. Gentleman say.
§ Mr. Duffy
I have invited the hon. Member for Petersfield to look at the Official Report.
I was hoping that the Home Secretary would stay in his place, because I wanted to tell him that, during the time that I have been a Member of the House, I cannot recall a poorer presentation of a Bill. The right hon. Gentleman is normally ebullient, but I have never seen him mote unconvincing or miserable than he was today.
§ Mr. Duffy
The right hon. Gentleman was distinctly uncomfortable when he attempted to field at least five interventions from Opposition Members. Indeed, he was unable to deal with the first three interventions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) told the Home Secretary that he had come to the Chamber in the hope of supporting a Bill that would disqualify candidates on capital criminal grounds. However, after he had listened to the Home Secretary he felt that he could not support the Bill. I am sure that those of my hon. Friends who heard the Home Secretary will take the same view. Therefore, I do not expect any Opposition Member who heard the Home Secretary to vote for the Bill. Given the publicity that the Bill has received, I still find it incredible—even two hours after the Home Secretary spoke—that the right hon. Gentleman should 64 have introduced it without any reference to the Portlaoise loophole. Is it true, as reported in the press, that the Prime Minister opposed any such amendment to the Bill?
Had the Home Secretary been in the Chamber, I would also have asked him, as he is a member of the Cabinet, whether it is true—as reported in the press and suggested in other places—that the Prime Minister also opposed the pre-Christmas settlement of the hunger strike. If not, why were civilian clothes taken into Long Kesh before Christmas?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on his masterful speech in which he demonstrated a better grasp and understanding of the subject than the right hon. Gentleman. In addition, he explored the Bill's implications to a far greater extent than the Home Secretary and, in doing so, assisted both sides of the House.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) also explored the Bill and was of service to hon. Members. He described it as a panic-stricken measure and believes that it is irretrievably bad. He advised his right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Bill and to let the Government stew in it. He advised us not to get involved in the details of the Bill. He said that we should leave the Bill with the Government and that they deserved nothing less. That is the right approach for the Opposition to take.
We can now begin to move away from the bipartisan policy that has marked our relationship with the Government for many years. In the past year or so it has led the Government to disaster. I am as guilty as anyone. In the early 1970s I often spoke on the Irish problem, but felt subsequently that the best service that I could perform was to say nothing and to keep quiet. However, for some weeks I have been convinced that the Opposition, by doing that, share part of the responsibility for the state of affairs in Northern Ireland. We did not perform our constitutional duty or undertake the task that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have now taken up in today's debate. Historians may see this debate as a watershed.
We have allowed the Government to embark on policies that they must regret. I refer, in particular, to the issue of the hunger strikers. It is plain that the Government should not have been allowed to box themselves in. That they have done so is partly our responsibility. Instead of inquiring, exploring and probing and then, if necessary, criticising, we have kept silent and have allowed them to get into the position that many of us saw coming. Some Opposition Members have all their lives had first-hand knowledge of the position in Northern Ireland. We know who the Government are dealing with. Some of us have properly, as hon. Members, met the men whom they are dealing with. I suspect that no Conservative Member has met any of those men. They would not meet Conservative Members. That is no criticism of Conservative Members. They would barely receive us, but they did so because we were Labour Members. I know who we are dealing with. I have no doubt about those men, or their unscrupulousness, ruthlessness, imagination and determination.
The Bill is all of a piece with the Government's general handling of the hunger strike. It characterises the Government's incompetence. The Home Secretary bears a heavy and continuing responsibility. After all, he introduced special category status. Many of us may have overlooked that fact. We knew that that measure was a 65 mistake. Some of us told him so. We knew that he would not be able to give way and that a fearful precedent was being set. At that time the Prime Minister was a member of the Cabinet. I wonder what her attitude was.
The deaths of four hunger strikers in recent weeks must have brought home, quite painfully even to the right hon. Lady, the political cost that she has paid for her intransigence and unfeeling handling of the crisis. By allowing the situation at Long Kesh to reach such a deadly impasse, she has surrendered the political initiative to the IRA. Recently, I have often said privately that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) and for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who served in Northern Ireland, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) would not have allowed such a situation to arise.
It is interesting to note that the Prime Minister has not been assisted in recent weeks by the one man who we thought would tug the reins if things got too bad. We thought that if the Prime Minister pushed her policies too far we would be able to rely on the Foreign Secretary. Yet it was he, of all people, who said a few days before the death of Bobby Sands that the hunger strikers had no popular support. Since then three hunger strikers have been elected to Parliament. It is incredible that the Foreign Secretary shall have been allowed to make such a public remark. The hunger strikers have illuminated the Government's colossal incompetence. In addition, Britain's international reputation has been badly damaged.
The Sunday Times carried out a survey of 64 newspapers in 25 countries. It found that the hunger strikers' campaign had rekindled flagging interest in Northern Ireland and its problems. The associate editor of Time magazine, Mr. George Russell, said:The hunger strikers took the momentum away from the authorities…The IRA did that rather brilliantly, aided and abetted by a Prime Minister who doesn't seem to know the difference between 'No' and 'Get lost'.Many Members on both sides may have been reluctant to take that view about the Prime Minister in recent weeks. Surely they must know now, since The Sunday Times survey, that that view is taken by most people outside the country who interest themselves in our affairs and, more than they suspect, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) suggested, by people outside the House. The Sunday Times reported:editor after editor said the death of the hunger strikers has improved the image of the IRA.Plainly, a growing number of people who would not, and could not, countenance violence are now seeing the IRA in a new light. We are all familiar with reports of Prince Charles' visit last week to New York. I have been at pains to discover the amount of television coverage of it. I am told that at peak viewing time there was three times as much coverage for the IRA demonstrators as there was for Prince Charles. What future is in a policy that cam lead to that sort of hopelessly one-sided overseas public presentation? It will continue.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the policies of any Government should be determined by the proportion of publicity given by foreign Governments overseas to those policies?
§ Mr. Duffy
Any Government who have no regard—I suspect that now they would have more regard—for presentation would soon find themselves in trouble. 66 Presentation is important. No Minister, no matter how junior, is not aware of the import of that view. That will continue, as more than one Opposition Member has said.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich said that the Bill will generate further bad publicity for Britain overseas. It will be turned back on the Government in multifarious ways, all sure lead to the varying advantage of the IRA. The least of the many taunts to which the Government may be exposed through the Bill is that they are treating 30,000 electors in Fermanagh and South Tyrone with contempt. A graver charge is that that attitude will harden the preference of growing numbers of young people in that constituency for the bullet rather than the ballot box.
I shall address my final words to those of my colleagues to whom I addressed earlier remarks—those who are reluctant, not merely to speak on the Irish problem, as I was for many years, but to get remotely involved in it and certainly not to go into the Lobby in support of or in opposition to any measure that might suggest, however remotely, alignment or identification with men of violence. I remind my hon. Friends of a basic truth with which they are familiar. Basic truths should be uttered again and again. The Prime Minister has affirmed in the House more than once—the last occasion was on 7 May—that as long as the majority in Northern Ireland wishes to remain in the United Kingdom it shall do so. As the majority has always proclaimed that it will not yield an inch and has always acted accordingly, the Government are acquiescing in the continuance of violence in the Province for an indefinite future, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool.
I can only judge the Government on the results. They are the results that some of us predicted which have become all too painfully obvious in recent weeks. As the Government choose, whether rightly or wrongly, to treat changeable details of prison regulation as matters of the highest principle, they deprive themselves of the power to affect the hunger striking. That is fraught with the greatest danger to all of us. Some of us, speaking in the early 1970s, nearly 10 years ago, said that one of the surest consequences of the festering problems in Northern Ireland was that it will corrupt not only society there but society in this country. Just how far that corruption has gone, we must all be aware. Some of my hon. Friends will still not be disposed to going into the Lobby against the Bill—acting therefore in obedience to the plea of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook. I remind them that what the British public want more than anything else is for us to get out of Northern Ireland. That is true of the Government now as it was true of the Labour Government. I know how difficult it is—no one more than I—to find that way out.
As more than one hon. Member has said, we are dealing with the hunger strikers, with Farmanagh and South Tyrone and Bobby Sands. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich said, we could have called the Bill not the Representation of the People Bill but the Bobby Sands hunger striking Bill. Although even the Conservative Government want us to get out of Northern Ireland, they are having to go on riding a tiger that they have bred. They will not get out of the predicament without the constitutional help of the Opposition. Therefore, the Opposition can take the first steps towards helping the Government out of their difficulties by voting against the Bill tonight.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me briefly to express my reservations about the Bill and to explain to my right hon. and hon. Friends why I cannot support it.
There are many measures relating to the preservation of the rule of law in Northern Ireland that I would support. Some Opposition Members might disagree with some of those, but effectively to disenfranchise a part of the Province is not one of them.
I have deeper reservations about the constitutional aspects of the measure. There is an unhappy mixture between political and constitutional considerations, and the House should be extremely wary when a constitutional measure is put before it that has overtly political motivation. I align myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and, I admit to some extent, with those made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). Effectively, we are telling a constituency of the United Kingdom who it may or may not choose to represent it in this place.
Every hon. Member owes his position to the corporate wisdom—variegated and diffuse though it may be—of a variety of those entities, with their different characteristics, allegiances and viewpoints, that are scattered throughout the United Kingdom. It is wholly improper and an abuse of our position to isolate one of those units and tell it who it may or may not send to this place.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and some of my hon. Friends in particular have made the point that the previous person elected to the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency could not possibly represent it here, and that that experience might be repeated, so that again the electors would find themselves with someone who could not represent them here. To that, the electorate might properly answer "So what? We are well aware when we go into the ballot booth that we cannot have someone representing us in Westminster if we make a certain decision, and we are consciously making that choice."
My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) asked in an intervention whether it was not obvious that the electors were making a political gesture, suggesting that that made it more disreputable or easier to discount. Certainly it was a political gesture. It was a conscious decision by the majority of the electorate in one of the constituencies of the United Kingdom to reject the normal attributes that they look for in a Member of Parliament—that he represents them here and can carry out certain functions and duties. They made a conscious decision to make a political gesture, to exercise their democratic right. We heard a great deal from my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) about democracy, but it seems to me that they have exercised a fundamental democratic right.
§ Mr. Clark
They are a minority. As the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said in an intervention, they lost the election. Under our present electoral arrangements—long may they endure—the majority, those first past the post, those who win, have under the constitution decided the fate of their division. I shall move on to that matter in a minute.
§ Mr. Clark
That is a question that my hon. Friend also put to the hon. Member for Grimsby. The answer is that both of us do represent such voters, but it seems to me that the considerations affecting the electorate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone—the majority of the electorate at any rate—are of such import that they consciously decided to exclude the possibility of their being represented in the conventional sense and made a political gesture.
This has happened in our history. Examples have been cited. At the time it may have seemed shocking and dreadful to the House, or to a majority of hon. Members. It may have been presented as something undesirable, something shocking that should be rejected; but I must agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) that when we look back with the perspective of history such matters can look very different.
As regards representation here, I can say only that Fermangh and South Tyrone is a part of the United Kingdom. Are we to deny its electorate the right to send here whom it chooses?
§ Mr. Clark
I shall not give way. I said that I would speak for only a few minutes.
If we deny that right, we effectively remove the constituency from the United Kingdom. We are encouraging all those who argue the case that it should no longer be part of the United Kingdom. It could well be argued that a majority brought about that decision, that election result. If we then say "You cannot do this. We shall change the rules so that you cannot fix it like this", the time during which that constituency will be part of the United Kingdom and can send Members here to join us in a proper constitutional manner is certainly finite.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. How does he explain our having already stopped the electorate of the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone sending to this place civil servants, bankrupts, clergymen, peers, those under the age of 21 and several other categories of people who by his standards should be sent here?
§ Mr. Clark
I had in fact finished my speech, but I shall answer my hon. and learned Friend's question. It is easy to answer.
I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend is right about every category that he mentioned. They may or may not be excluded from the right to sit in the House, and that may or may not be a good thing. I think that it is a bad thing. I believe that anybody—even a Member of the other place—should be capable of standing for election to the House.
The significant point is that there would be no question of any of those people being returned by the electorate, any more than there would be a question of a burglar or a Church of England clergyman—
§ Mr. Clark
Not under these circumstances. The electorate in its wisdom might judge that there were other reasons for sending him here, but it would not be because he was a clergyman. It would not be because someone was 69 a civil servant or under the age of 21. The reason for the election of Sands had nothing to do with being in a disqualified category of persons. Like it or not here, he was elected because he represented something to a majority of electors in Fermanagh and South Tyrone that they judged to be politically significant.
To try to get out of the difficulty by saying that there are many other categories of people that cannot come here, and that we are only splitting hairs if we do not add one more category, ignores the fact that there is a fundamental distinction between certain persons who are disqualified for reasons that may have seemed convenient or constitutionally proper in the past and a new category that is being added for purely short-term political considerations.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) argued that we should discount principled objections to the Bill and decide the issue on the basis of common sense. I hope that none of us takes leave of common sense in making judgments about anything, but I have heard that argument many times before when we have put through rushed legislation to deal with an emergency and have then found ourselves left with a mess of potage. It usually means that we have a subjective prejudice that we want to articulate, and we call it common sense because we know that we cannot justify it on grounds of principle.
I prefer the speeches of the hon. Members for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), who raised the fundamental objections to the Bill. It may offend us that Bobby Sands was elected, but that was the democratic decision of the majority of the constituency he was elected to represent. The electorate knew who he wa4 and knew his inadequacy as a Member of Parliament, but they elected him.
It cannot be argued, as the hon. Member for Petersfield argued, that the electors had no alternative, because they did not wish to vote for the Unionist candidate. They could have abstained. If they believed that not to vote was to put them under threat, they could have gone into the booth and put a blank piece of paper in the ballot box. They did not do so in great numbers. That really meant what the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West said. It showed hon. Members here that the attitude of Bobby Sands and of the IRA was broadly supported by the majority of people in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
The people outside this country saw that that was what it meant. That is why it has such massive repercussions in publicity throughout the world, and particularly the United States. It could no longer be said that the IRA's activities were supported by only a minuscule number of people in Northern Ireland and that it was unrepresentative of the Catholic minority. What it should have shown us was that this was the time to reconsider our Irish policy in order to assay whether it was right that we should not pay attention to that expression of opinion by a large section of the community.
I do not say that that is the end of the argument about Northern Ireland. If the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) had been in prison and starving himself to death in order to influence policy, we should equally have had the majority of his constituency returning him. It is not the end of the matter, but it was a most significant potential development in the arguments about Northern 70 Ireland. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West is right when he says that the election of Bobby Sands was not a useless exercise. It was a appeal to us to reconsider the views that we have traditionally held about the veto of the majority. I personally accept it in that spirit, and I hope that we can re-evaluate the arguments.
It was, therefore, not only a matter of principle that people were allowed to elect whom they liked, but it was a valuable aid to the democratic discussion of the issues underlying Northern Ireland. We cannot get away from it by trying to fix the law halfway through the dispute about who should represent this constituency. When there is another by-election, and if the Bill is passed, perhaps the next hunger striker cannot be put up, but instead someone who by deed of poll takes the name of the next hunger striker may stand in his stead. There is nothing to stop that. That person can, if he wishes, come here and represent the hunger strikers, the Maze and the IRA. He can articulate their point of view. I wonder what offence the hon. Member for Petersfield would find for that. Also, having got in, he could simply apply for the Chiltern Hundreds, and the whole process and the propaganda would start again.
§ Mr. Lyon
The hon. Member for Petersfield spoke for about 35 minutes, and he has interrupted so many speeches that I have no intention of giving him any more time.
We cannot escape from what is a reality. Yet that is what we are seeking to do. The result may be repercussions outside our immediate purview. We are concerned—indeed, obsessed—by the Northern Ireland illustration. Yet, had the Bill been in operation, we should have had the Wilkes situation. People could be sent to prison in the future for unlawful picketing under Conservative industrial relations policy, while supported by the whole of the Labour movement. They could seek nomination in an election while in prison suffering for what a considerable slice of the country's electorate felt to be a desirable objective. We are saying that, because we do not want the Bobby Sands situation to be repeated, we shall not allow that due expression of democratic opinion. That would not be thought right by Labour Members. I am sure that I could think of examples that would appeal to Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Lyon
What about the public schools? Let us suppose that the next Labour Government made private education illegal and someone went to prison because he objected to the court's ruling under the law and went to prison for more than 12 months. What about that? If that person stood for Eton and Slough—
§ Mr. Lyon
I suspect that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton would soon tell us that the law was inequitable because it failed to accept the democratic view of the people.
We have not thought through all the possible consequences. We have recognised the Portlaoise loophole, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) argued that we should close that loophole if we were to pass the Bill. However, it is clear that, if it were closed generally so that anyone anywhere who was in prison for 12 months could 71 not be a Member of the House, we would have difficulties with people who got into trouble in places like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where they might be sent to prison for something that we did not regard as an offence.
§ Mr. Lyon
We could not go that far in such circumstances, and I notice that the hon. Member for Petersfield was careful not to go that far. He wants the Bill to be limited to the Republic of Ireland. I do not know enough about the legislation of the Republic to give an unqualified illustration, but I suppose that there might be something about birth control or divorce that might get a person into prison there with which we did not agree. A person who was a Member of this House would then be disqualified, and disqualification would mean a by-election.
I accept that the kind of illustrations that I am giving may never arise. However, I suspect that something may arise that we have not forseen, and we may bitterly resent the fact that we have passed this legislation.
We must come back to first principles, and on that basis we shall be able to proceed safely. The principle that was put forward by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton is correct: it is for the electorate to decide, and not for us to decide. We are not arguing about the right of Bobby Sands to stand. We are arguing about the right of the electorate of Fermanagh and South Tyrone to elect him. If the electorate wants to elect him, it has nothing whatsoever to do with us. I take my stand on that.
If it is argued that there are plenty of cases of disqualification which do not involve people in prison where there may be difficulty, we should examine those cases. The one about the Civil Service is easily answered: one simply resigns from the Civil Service. It is perfectly possible in some of the other cases. There are few disqualifications that I would seek to justify. However, if that matter were seriously raised as an objection, we could consider it.
What the Government should not do is to hide behind the argument that this arose only because some Ministers in 1967 failed to understand the full implications of the Criminal Law Act 1967. That is not true. The matter was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) on Second Reading of that measure, and the Minister replied:Lastly, may I reassure hon. Members who have expressed anxiety about felons joining the House of Commons? In fact, the change of law is not very important, because the felon was formerly disqualified only while he was serving his sentence, and disqualification ceased to operate after that"—[Official Report, Second Reading Committee, 8 March 1967; c. 40.]So the matter had been considered by Ministers and it was decided not to change the Bill in order to accommodate the point. It was not considered sufficiently important. They did not consider that they were in breach of any principle in changing the law as they did.
Therefore, it is a bit much, only 13 or 14 years later to say "We misunderstood. We now want to change the law and pretend that we did not understand what was happening in 1967". We fully understood the matter. In fact, the Bill is not putting the situation back to 1967; it is going much further. It now includes offences which were not included then. In those days, it was impossible for a person to sit who was a convicted felon, but not if 72 the person was convicted of a misdemeanour, and it is possible to be convicted of a misdemeanor and serve quite a long sentence. For instance, gross indecency was a misdemeanour, as was assault upon a young female child. So before 1967 a person could be guilty of a revolting offence of assaulting a young girl and be sentenced to five years' imprisonment, yet still not be disqualified from sitting in this place.
It cannot be argued that when one considers what was a felony—shoplifting would have been a felony—that to get 12 months for shoplifting is a more serious offence than five years for indecent assault on a young girl. Yet in those days that disparity existed. Now the Bill will take it back so that it does not matter whether it is a misdemeanour or a felony.
By seeking to make the disqualification only on the basis of periods of imprisonment, there is no possible flexibility within which to deal with the seriousness of the offence. Some offences punishable by 12 months' imprisonment would not be regarded by the House as being so objectionable as others. Not all offences receiving 12 months' imprisonment will be offences of terrorism. A dangerous driving offence could be punishable by 12 months. The truth is that 12 months has been seized upon only because that exhausts the power of the magistrates' court. Therefore, it follows that no offence which would exclude anyone from sitting as a Member of Parliament can be determined by a magistrates' court in which the political representation may be present. It can be done only by a higher court.
That seems to be a phoney way of distinguishing between what is serious and what is not. It is that kind of difficulty that will arise in the future if we pass this Bill.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
I am sure that my hon. Friend will remember that the House expelled two people in 1891 and 1892, one for procuring and the other for indecency.
§ Mr. Lyon
Yes, I remember only too well. I do not think that we would do it any more. I remember that we expelled Wilkes, and that we expelled Bradlaugh. I am sure that at the time there were high-minded people on the Conservative Benches who made much the same kind of speech as the hon. Member for Petersfield has made today, talking about common sense and not principle. We look back upon those incidents as great mistakes in our history. We say that to have treated people in that way was despicable. We laud the electors of Northampton for electing Bradlaugh. We would not necessarily say the same about the present hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), but we do about that era of Northampton's representation in the House.
That, surely, is the point. If there is a united Ireland with people learning that to live within the island will not be to live in the circumstances that they envisage, and if the Protestants come to terms with it, it may be that in 100 years our descendants will look back and ask "Why did they ever want to change the law about Bobby Sands? That was the opening which led to this peaceful time."
I do not know whether that is what will happen, but I know that I shall not make a decision about this major issue of principle simply upon the expedient of the publicity that was given to a Bobby Sands election. To do that would be to undermine all that I believe about civil liberty. Therefore, I shall vote against the Bill.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) is no longer in his place. He is a very fair-minded man, and I feel that he misunderstood totally what my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) said.
I took a careful note of what my hon. Friend said about Mr. Maguire. He said "Mr. Maguire had a strange platform. He rarely attended, but he could talk to his constituents and help them, and therefore the people of his constituency were represented." That, I fear, was not understood by the hon. Member for Attercliffe, but that is what my hon. Friend said.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
I look at the Bill both from a purely practical point of view and from that of what the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) would describe as a matter of first principle—the principle of no taxation without representation.
It must look almost unbelievably silly to the man in the street that a person who is locked up and cannot possibly fulfil his duties here can stand for Parliament and be elected, in effect denying his constituents the services to which they are entitled in a way that recently elected Members to the Eirean Dail do not deprive their constituents for the reason given by my hon. Friend—that they represent multi-Member constituencies.
I suggest that criminals are in a completely different category from all other excluded people. For example, a Church of England clergyman may wish to stand to draw attention to the anomaly of his exclusion in the hope of getting the law changed. But a convicted terrorist cannot possibly get the law changed in such a way as to permit him to sit in the House.
I respect the views of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), but I take issue with him when he says that we have wiped out jury trial in criminal cases in Northern Ireland. We have not wiped it out. It is the terrorists who have done so because of the threat which they pose to jurors in the Province.
If we are to look at the Bill from a practical viewpoint and to seek to remove the present nonsensical state of affairs, I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that it is absurd to include more nonsense in the Bill. It is clearly nonsense to introduce a Bill which prevents someone in a British goal standing but not a person in a Southern Ireland goal. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look again at clause 1, line 10, and alter it in the way proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield, thereby obviating the difficulties referred to by the hon. Member for York.
My last point is perhaps a minor one. Most other countries already forbid criminals to stand. I do not suggest that we should always follow the example of other countries—in many cases we should lead—but in this instance it seems to me that the logic of the Bill is inescapable, provided that it is changed in the way that I suggest.
Earlier in the debate, we heard it suggested that the Bill represented a propaganda victory for the IRA, as was evinced by the various press comments in 64 newspapers throughout the world. However, I suggest that media coverage is not the right criterion for legislation in the House. Recently, we had a debate on this very matter in 74 the European Parliament. We debated a motion which originally was pro-Sands. However, when the matter had been clearly, calmly and coolly explained to the representatives of the other nine countries, they rejected the motion completely and passed one sympathising with the victims of terrorism.
I suggest that that is the proper attitude for the House to adopt and, provided that the Bill is altered in the way that I suggest, I am wholeheartedly in favour of it.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
In ordinary, normal circumstances, there might be a case for what the Government are proposing. A properly thought-out Bill might be worthy of consideration. But I am strongly opposed to the panic manner in which the Bill has been introduced. We all know that the only reason for the Bill is the outstanding by-election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Cases have been referred to in the debate where it could be argued—and no doubt it was at the time—that the candidate was wasting the time of the electorate because he would not have been in a position to take his seat in the House of Commons. He need not necessarily have been a prisoner. I remind the House of the events some years ago affecting my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). Would the law have been changed as quickly as it was, within a period of two years, by a Conservative Government who, in the beginning, were so reluctant to see a peer giving up his title to sit in the House of Commons? Would such a change have occurred in such a short time if my right hon. Friend had not waged his campaign in the manner that he did? I remind the House that one of the most effective ways employed by my right hon. Friend to get the law changed was to stand and win in a by-election in his former constituency.
It is interesting to note about what came to be described as the Benn case that, during one of a number of debates on the subject, a senior Conservative Back Bencher who was formerly Attorney-General said:I said there, and I say again today, that that election was turned by the action of Mr. Benn—acting with his eves open—into a bogus by-election. He knew before he started that he was disqualified. He knew the law. He knew the whole position, and he went into the election with his eyes open … Mr. Wedgwood Benn deliberately went into that election knowing that even if he were elected he could not take his seat in the House, as a matter of law."—[Official Report, 8 May 1961; Vol. 640, c. 102–3.]Those words were expressed by a Conservative Back Bencher.
Because it was so clear that the law was unacceptable the law was changed. The same applies to the Charles Bradlaugh case. In time there would have been a change so that a Member could affirm instead of taking the oath. However the change would not have come about so quickly if Charles Bradlaugh had not stood for Northampton four times and four times been disqualified from taking his seat. On one or two occasions he was physically thrown out of the building. Only on the fifth occasion did the Speaker, disregarding what had happened before, allow him to take his seat in the House of Commons.
For 11 years after Lionel Rothschild was first elected in 1847 he was not able to take the oath because his conscience would not permit him. He was a practising Jew. He was re-elected on a sufficient number of occasions and the regulation was changed more quickly.
75 I accept, as I must, that the Bill deals with a different matter. It deals with people who are imprisoned or detained for more than one year and who, even if they were able to stand, as they are now, would be unable to sit in the House of Commons. That is an important distinction. The right of the electorate is all important—at least, I believe it to be so.
There were a number of debates on the Benn case. In a debate in August 1963 the then Leader of the House, Mr. lain Macleod, speaking about the report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform argued against the recommendation that no nomination for the Commons should be valid unless the person concerned had shown the returning officer a copy of the instrument of surrendered peerage. Mr. lain Macleod said that it introduced a new element into the function of the returning officer. If we were to make the returning officer responsible for checking who was eligible to sit in the House of Commons, he argued that it was hard to see why it should not be done to check whether the man concerned was a bankrupt, a minor or an alien or to check whether the profession described on the nomination form was correct.
The Bill introduces a new element into electoral law. It does not simply revert to the 1967 position. It gives the returning officer the right to decide whether a person is qualified to sit in the House of Commons. That has never happened before. It is a new element which the Home Secretary minimised. Listening to his argument one would imagine that we were just going back to what happened before 1967.
The by-election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and the one which is due are responsible for the Bill. Even though Mr. Sands was in no position to sit in the House of Commons, and probably would not have wished to do so because that is the general wish of Irish Republicans, the by-election had an impact and significance which we should not underestimate.
Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien has argued in articles in The Observer and elsewhere, speaking with all the authority of a Minister in the Republic, that we should not change the situation in Northern Ireland. He had argued earlier that the first aim should be the elimination of terrorism and that there should be no change in the boundaries. It is interesting that, as a result of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien has changed his views over Northern Ireland. He has written two articles for The Observer explaining why he has changed his views.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) was right to say that it would be wrong to underestimate the importance of the Fermanagh by-election. That by-election resulted I would think directly in two hunger strikers being elected in the Irish Republic general election. Had it not been for that by-election it is possible that the two hunger strikers would not have been elected to the Irish Parliament.
It might be argued that our electoral law is open to abuse, but surely the electorate must decide. If the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone say "We know that the candidate for whom we shall vote is in prison and that he will not sit in the House of Commons, and has no right to do so, but we still wish to vote for him" why should they not be able to do that?
76 It is no use pretending that such support does not exist. I do not believe that the result of the by-election reflected support for the IRA, but I believe that it was a strong anti-Unionist vote. It showed clearly that the minority community have different views about the future of Northern Ireland from many hon. Members.
When the late Mr. Sands was elected I was the first person, I believe, to say publicly that I was against his expulsion from the House of Commons. However, I was equally opposed to any move for Mr. Sands to be released—not that that was suggested. The people of Fermanagh decided to vote for Mr. Sands. So be it. That was not an argument for releasing him. I would not have dreamt of arguing that Mr. Sands should be allowed out of prison.
I agree with some of my hon. Friends who argue that the Home Secretary is giving a propaganda victory to the Provisional IRA. Two types of campaign are being waged in Northern Ireland, and have been for the last 12 years. First, there is a terrorist campaign. I should be the last person to condone the callous brutality of the terrorism of the Provisional IRA, or of any other paramilitary unit or army in Northern Ireland. I loathe terrorism. I say that here, as I have on numerous occasions outside the House.
A propaganda campaign is also being waged. The Government might convince people in Britain that what they are doing is right. However, they are unlikely to convince foreign opinion. Members of the IRA will say "Look, we were told to use the democratic process and to put up for election. When we succeed the Brits change the law." That is a dishonest argument, but it is part of the propaganda war which the Provisional IRA wage. It will have an effect in the Irish Republic, the United States and other parts of the world.
If the Home Secretary believes that the Bill will end the embarrassment of what happened last time, he is wrong. If the Provisional IRA decides to cause embarrassment to the British Government and is not permitted to put a hunger striker up for election, does anyone suggest that other ways will not be found to cause the maximum embarrassment to the United Kingdom? Even if the loophole is closed in relation to prisoners in the Irish Republic, other ways will be found of embarrassing the British Government and of trying to show that the IRA has electoral support.
My advice to the Home Secretary—although I know that it is not his view—is that it would have been far better to have allowed matters to continue as they were and to hold another by-election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone without any change in the law. If, as a result, another Bobby Sands were elected, so be it. The elecorate would make up its mind, and the person concerned would remain in prison. I may be wrong, but I have a suspicion that the next person elected in that by-election, whether qualified or otherwise, will probably not take his seat in the House. To a large extent, the Bill is an incentive to the IRA to find the most embarrassing ways to conduct the next by-election campaign.
There is no doubt in my mind that it is a bad Bill. It does not help to overcome the problems of terrorism. It does not help the fundamental rethink that is necessary about the future of Northern Ireland. It has been brought forward in a great panic. It may receive the support of Conservative Members, but I believe that, in time, the majority of them, if not the Home Secretary, will come to the same view as 77 that now held by the Opposition—that is, that the Bill should not have been introduced and that its introduction has given a major propanganda victory to the terrorists.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
This has been an interesting debate with some deeply felt and well reasoned speeches. It is a difficult matter to decide what is best. I ask myself three questions. First, is this legislation necessary? Secondly, if so, is it so contrary to precedent and principle that, however necessary, it should not be passed? Thirdly, is more harm than good likely to be done by the passing of the Bill?
My first question leads me to ask myself what 1 think would be the IRA's response to the Bill. Would it support it because, as the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, it encourages its propaganda campaign or would it oppose it? The commonsense answer must be that, if there were any IRA representatives in the House—and thank goodness there are not—the IRA would oppose the legislation because it interferes with its freedom to propose for candidature as many serving criminals as it wishes in order to make a mockery of our democratic system. The Bill interferes with that aim because it makes it more difficult for the IRA to obtain the publicity that it needs to help it to mock and undermine our system.
As we fight our way through the morass of arguments that have been advanced tonight, we must realise that we owe it to our constituents to maintain a level of respect and dignity for this Parliament. How on earth can we do that if we make it possible not only for convicted terrorists, but for those convicted of non-violent crimes, to serve as lawmakers in this place? The reason for the original inhibition and restriction on those who could sit in the House was that those who broke the law could not command the respect of those who have to obey the law. Laws should not be made by law-breakers.
I understand the feelings of those who say that there should be some way to reflect the view held by the electors in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. But that can be done by means other than sending a convicted criminal to Parliament. It could be done through public opinion polls, which would test the strength of opinion in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in favour of the law-breakers. But that does not mean that we should demean Parliament or encourage the making of a mockery of this place in order to allow publicity, propaganda and even the expression of the opinion of Fermanagh and South Tyrone to be the preeminent issues. The ordinary public in Britain will think that we have taken leave of our senses if we say that we should give the IRA such freedom as it wants to publicise its evil cause. The Bill is necessary to stop that.
Is it contrary to principle and precedent? The worst arguments that I have heard advanced this evening have been that the Bill is a terrible infringement of principle and precedent. Whatever else may be said about the constitutional and historical arguments about Parliament, the Forfeiture Act 1870 did stop a person convicted of felony and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment or more from sitting in Parliament. There are plenty of other examples of our interfering with the right of people to vote or to be elected. The Representation of the People Act 1969 stopped convicts from voting in parliamentary or local government elections in England, Wales and Scotland. The Local Government Act 1972 stopped those 78 who had been convicted and sentenced to two or three months' imprisonment within the previous five years from being elected to local authorities. That is a strong precedent for interfering with the democratic right to vote for whom one likes.
We already stop the people in Fermanagh and South Tyrone from sending to Parliament the person that they want if that person is a bankrupt, a civil servant, is under the age of 21, a serving soldier, a policeman, a judge, a clergyman or a peer. We already interfere with their freedom to send whom they want. Furthermore, if somebody were sent here and then convicted, under the old law prior to 1967 we disqualified him. Even now, if an hon. Member becomes bankrupt, a civil servant, a serving soldier, a policeman, a judge, a clergyman or a peer. after election to Parliament we take away his right to sit in the House. We disqualify him even after the event. That is a precedent which answers the fear that was expressed about clause 2(1).
When one hon. Member who represented a Norfolk constituency was convicted of fraud in 1954 and sent to prison for seven years, he was subsequently disqualified from sitting in the House, even though he had been properly elected.
It cannot be said that there is no precedent for interfering with the basic human right to send to Parliament those whom the electorate choose. One important reason, among others, is that a person in prison is incapable of representing his constituents adequately.
I wish to expand on what the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) referred to when he spoke about speeches during the passing of the 1967 Bill. It shows that the matter was not fully thought through with any great seriousness when it was debated. Mr. Dick Taverne, who was then the Labour Minister of State, Home Office, and now, I suppose, is a member of the Social Democratic Party, said:it would be impossible for someone now to be in the Smoking Room while he was serving a sentence, because, presumably, he could not be in the Smoking Room while serving his sentence."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 4 May 1976; c. 16.]That shows the practical obstacle to having somebody representing the interests of his constituents in the House while serving a prison sentence. That is the common sense of so many of our rules. Therefore, there is ample precedent.
That leads me to my third and final question. Will we do more harm than good by passing the legislation? Of course, the Bill does not solve all the problems of terrorism. That is self-evident. It may be that it will not be completely or even remotely effective in closing all the opportunities that are open to the IRA to gain publicity. It does not close the Portlaoise loophole. There may be many examples that indicate that the Bill will be ineffective. However, the relative ineffectiveness of a Bill of this sort is not an argument for doing nothing. It may be that that ineffectiveness can be and perhaps will be changed during the Bill's passage. The Portlaoise problem does not seem to be insoluble, especially with the agreement of the Irish Republic. For section 51(2)(a) of its Electoral Act 1923 provides that a prisoner serving a sentence of more than six months, or any term of penal servitude, is disqualified for election as a Member of Parliament.
79 I cannot see that any real harm will be done by enacting the Bill. But we shall do real harm if we give in to what we believe are the wishes of the IRA. I feel sure that it does not want the Bill to go on the statute book. The real harm would be done by showing weakness when it has never been more important for us to show strength. The real harm would be done if we sat back and were seen to be helpless while the IRA chose to abuse and make a mockery of our dignified system of parliamentary representation. The real harm would be done if we allowed the taxpayer to meet the cost of IRA advertising. It has been estimated that £12,000 or more of taxpayers' money would go to provide propaganda for the IRA in an election campaign. That in turn could be used to raise funds, in America or elsewhere, which would be used to create more terrorism. The real harm would be done if we did nothing to stop that happening. The real harm would be done to the respect that ordinary people have for Parliament if we continued to allow taxpayers' money and abuse of the system to advance the IRA's campaign.
It is not the enactment of the Bill that would be a constitutional and commonsense outrage, but our failure to enact it. I shall certainly support the Government when the Question is put.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I apologise to the Home Secretary for my unavoidable absence when he introduced the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) referred to the right hon. Gentleman's speech in unflattering terms. He said that any Labour Member who heard his presentation of the Bill would be unable to support it. If we judged the merits of a Bill by the eloquence and clarity of the person who presented it, many other Labour Members and myself would have been unable to support many of the measures that were presented by the previous Labour Government. I do not take my hon. Friend's strictures seriously.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) referred to the breadth of the Bill. He said that if anyone were elected to this place and took his seat and were subsequently convicted of an offence carrying a sentence of more than 12 months' imprisonment, he would be debarred automatically from continuing membership of this place. That is a serious but Committee point. The argument against that provision is not an argument of principle against the Bill.
It will be possible to introduce an amendment in Committee that will exclude the possibility of a Member of this place being debarred until the process of appeal has been exhausted in the courts. If the conviction is confirmed following appeal, surely it is not the intention of the House to say that in all circumstances hon. Members should be in a more privileged position than anyone else when convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than 12 months in prison. The important issue that was raised by my hon. Friend can be dealt with adequately by an amendment that ensures that the appeal procedure against conviction must be exhausted before any action is taken to expel an individual from this place.
Many hon. Members have said that the Bill does not cover those in prison in the Republic. The Government must give serious consideration to that aspect. The Bill 80 leaves a large loophole for exploitation. However, that is not an insurmountable difficulty. That can be overcome by means of an amendment.
We can do nothing to influence the minds of the madmen, terrorists and lunatics who murder and maim and who have been responsible for outrages in Northern Ireland over the past decade or more. No constitutional nicety or lawyer's argument will influence those madmen. I wish that they would listen to the reasoned voices of my hon. Friends and draw back from the madness and murder upon which they are embarked. However, nothing will steer them away from the course on which they have embarked bar victory for their cause.
I am not prepared to make my judgment on the Bill in the vain hope that an addiction to a great libertarian and constitutional principle might lessen the intensity of the actions of a minority in Northern Ireland. I know that to be a forlorn hope. Nor will I take into account the impact on the minds of those in the United States and elsewhere who through a reading of history find it possible to contribute financial support for the supply of arms to those in Northern Ireland who have sought to substitute the bomb and the bullet for the ballot box.
My judgment will be based on one simple criterion. It will be based on the policy that the House has pursued while successive Governments have been in office—that Northern Ireland remains part of the realm. The Home Secretary will recall that when he was a distinguished member of a previous Conservative Government I voted against one of his most important constitutional measures that dealt with Northern Ireland. I have not altered my view since those days. However, despite the views expressed by people such as myself, the House has followed steadfastly one principle. As a result, it has sent British Servicemen to Northern Ireland to uphold the policies of successive Governments. I do not intend to dishonour the Servicemen who have given their lives in upholding the policy of which we are all part by making it easier for their murderers to stand for election to this place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe said that we must return to basic truths. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) said that we must return to first principles. I shall do so. Surely the first principle is that it is wrong and indefensible for the House to do other than support the Bill. It is a measure that will make it more difficult, and perhaps even impossible, for those who have been party to the murder of British Servicemen to stand in an election for membership of this place.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
I shall not pursue the argument of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) because I believe that the Bill is unconnected with terrorism. Nor do I want to refer to other speakers who cited bad laws in order to justify support of or opposition to this bad Bill.
The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) totally misunderstood the intention of the electorate of Fermanagh and South Tyrone; it was registering a protest in the only way open to it to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has spoken in the debate. I respect his argument as I am sure he will respect my right to argue against it. We share 81 a common purpose in advocating proportional representation as one solution to the ill which befell Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
I wish to refer to a fundamental principle, which is that who should and who should not stand for Parliament must be decided by the electorate and not by Parliament. The excuse of "Had I been allowed to stand"… must not be allowed to be given substance by legislation.
In a caring speech the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) said that he has learnt much from the election of Bobby Sands. He had thought before that there was fractional support for the IRA and he realised, after the people had voted, that it was much more than that.
This Bill will not make the situation any better. I believe that it will do no more than increase the number of categories of people who cannot stand for Parliament. The exception is that most other categories are those from which people can dissociate themselves.
The Bill is designed with hindsight to save Government embarrassment, instead of looking forward and asking: how can we make things better? Proportional representation and multi-Member constituencies would be an answer but the Bill looks back and incompetently and unimaginatively tries to stop the same thing which happened before from happening again.
§ Mr. Freud
I said that I would not give way. The House felt that the Home Secretary's heart was not in his speech to the extent to which his heart in often in his speeches. He read a speech which was loosely in favour of the Bill; I am opposed to adding the category to which the Bill refers to legislation.
I do not understand, nor has anyone explained to me, what the one year in prison criterion is, though I would have understood if imprisonment for terrorism had been a category. The danger of specifying the location of the prison is strange: whereas people have talked about adding prisons on the other side of the border, the field will still be left free for prisoners in China, Japan, America and anywhere else. This Bill will not change that and it will not make things better. We shall create another unacceptable sub-category. People have talked about the sub-category applying for the Chiltern Hundreds; I hope that Her Majesty will not accept anyone as unacceptable who is an applicant for that office.
If one believes in a man's right to vote, one must also believe in a man's right to vote irresponsibly. The Bill does no more than take away one irresponsible choice. That is why I shall oppose it.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)
I am grateful for the opportunity to follow in the debate the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who adduced a careful argument.
The debate presents a problem for the House as there is a conflict of principles which are dear to us all. There is the principle that a constituency should be entitled to vote for whomever it wishes and to nominate for Parliament whomever it wishes. A principle which, if 82 possible in a world of fundamental principles, is more fundamental to democracy is that we seek to be ruled by the ballot box rather than by the gun. We seek to be ruled by the democratic institutions which we have set up rather than by the coercion of terrorism, whether it be the coercion of taking other people's lives by murder, as the candidate in the previous election was involved in doing, although he was not convicted for that charge, or whether it be the coercion of taking one's own life. We are seeking to resolve that conflict of principles in the debate leading up to the vote on the measure.
I listened with care to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), to which the hon. Member for Isle of Ely referred, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), both of whom had strong reservations about supporting the Bill. Although I respect greatly the argument that one should allow people to register a protest, on balance I believe that the Government are right at this time and for the foreseeable future to remove the opportunity for publicity and self-advancement which our present system gives to those who are prepared to use murder and suicide to seek to impose on others their political views.
I do not believe that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely is right when he says that voting for a hunger striker who is starving himself to death, and who has been put forward as the sole nominee in circumstances in which we know that other would-be nominees were coerced and even coerced at gunpoint, is the only way for those constituents to register a protest. That is not correct. If they wish to register a protest, there are many other ways for them to do so. I believe that those ways would attract enormous publicity world-wide, particularly in our democracy. I hope that they will not do so, but it would have a remarkable effect on world opinion if every disenchanted voter in Fermanagh and South Tyrone were to choose to go into the polling booth arid destroy his or her ballot paper. I sincerely hope that they will not take that course. I hope that they will go into the voting booth and elect someone who will express their view in the House. However, if they want a demonstration or a protest, and if they are sufficiently single-minded in a majority to carry out such a protest, that protest, which would be remarkable in our constitution and democracy and would show much less coercion and much more co-ordination and commonality of feeling, could be carried out by that method.
§ Mr. Freud
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that, if a man has a deep personal anger at what goes on here, he has the right to vote against the establishment of Westminster and if he spoils his ballot paper he will have won himself the right to be represented by no one, which the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone did, and which was their intention?
§ Mr. Lyell
I agree that people have the right to protest. That is an important and fundamental right. However, the hon. Gentleman was making the point that there was only one way in which people could make a protest. If I misquote him on that I apologise. I believe that there are many ways to make such a protest. But it is unacceptable to have a system that is persistently abused by coercion, by threat of death and by terrorism.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) put a number of points more eloquently than 83 I can about the way in which our soldiers are posted to Northern Ireland to keep the peace and about how the Government are constantly striving to solve the Irish problem—the most intractable of all the problems we face. It is far more intractable even than our economic problems with which we continually—and rightly—occupy the time of the House. But it is unacceptable that we, a democratic institution, should so order our affairs that we constantly expose ourselves, in the newspapers both of this country and the rest of the world and in the rest of the media, to the publicity that is associated not with the expression of a political point of view but with the morbid attention which inevitably surrounds the calculated move towards death of someone who has no desire to participate actively in the democratic process.
That is the balance that we have to weigh in deciding whether to modify the rules. Of course, we are doing that for political reasons in one sense. Every change in the law is in one sense political. It may not be party political. I do not believe that this modification is party political because there is no fundamental disagreement about it between any of the parties in the House. We are all trying to balance conflicting principles. But, given the practicalities and those who seek to win not by supporting our democracy but by forcing their point of view on us in a thoroughly undemocratic way, we are on balance right to take this small measure to change the rules so that a particular abuse cannot be inflicted upon the system in the coming weeks, months and years.
That is right, regardless of whether the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone would on the next occasion—and this is a matter of doubt—support another Bobby Sands who was starving himself to death. That is a matter of calculated political risk. There would have been an argument for saying that they might not have supported him, and that that would therefore have been a political rebuff for the IRA. However, we are not in this matter on principle to see whether we or they will suffer a political rebuff. We are here to balance conflicting principles, and the overwhelming one is that we are a democratic body and that this Bill is seeking to rule out thoroughly anti-democratic processes.
I wish to echo the sentiments of many hon. Members about what can now be termed in shorthand the Portlaoise loophole. I have every sympathy with the draftsmen and the Government in this respect. I do not want unduly to labour a Committee point at this stage. There are great difficulties in getting the drafting right so that the Bill will not be open to some other clever method of undermining what the Government are seeking to do in finding a sensible democratic solution. For example, we could include the words "or elsewhere" in the appropriate clause so that it applied to anyone in prison in this country or elsewhere. Under the present drafting the Bill applies not to anyone in prison but to anyone who is sentenced to serve a sentence of imprisonment. But if we did that I could foresee that a certain colonel with a country which is on the northern shores of the African continent might well arrange to sentence members of this Government to a period of imprisonment simply to embarrass the British Government. That may seem far-fetched, but that colonel's views and his support for the IRA are known. Such an action would, I believe, have more political effect and be less difficult to achieve than the gun-running that 84 we suspect him of indulging in. Therefore, while I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to seek a solution to the Portlaoise loophole, I sympathise with him in his difficulty in finding a suitable formula.
We are here to balance important principles. The overwhelming principle is that we are a democratic institution which exists to enable people to be represented. It is true that circumstances arise—they have arisen throughout history—in which people would rather protest than produce a representative in Westminster. That should certainly continue to be their right. By making the changes to be invoked by the Bill we should in no sense deprive them of that right. We should merely deprive them of one method of exercising it—a wholly undemocratic method—and as a democratic institution we have the right, if not the duty, to do so.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
I have listened to most, though not all, of the debate, and I apologise to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) for having missed his contribution. I wish to speak briefly on a subject which must cause deep concern to many people. I began with the gravest suspicions about the Bill, basically on constitutional grounds. The more I have listened to the debate, however, the more I have become persuaded to support it. I should like to explain why.
Many hon. Members have painted a scenario to show how the Bill, whether by its enactment or simply by its discussion, will be an additional and useful propaganda weapon for the IRA. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) eloquently did just that. However, if we do nothing, the propaganda potential will be just as great as it was in the recent Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election.
It is necessary for the House to respond to abuse of our electoral law when it is patently obvious that that is happening. Not do so is almost a dereliction of the function of the House. Here I take up a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell). The Bill seeks to modify—it is an important modification—the rules governing how we conduct our elections.
From what I have said, it is obvious that I am not a lawyer—and certainly not a constitutional lawyer—but I understand my role in the House. I believe that the House and the law of the land have always been ready and capable of adapting to changing circumstances and responding to new situations. I earnestly believe that what happened in Fermanagh and South Tyrone shows the need for the Bill. We can argue whether there could be a Representation of the People Bill in the next Session, but I accept that this short measure is being rushed through because of the recent by-election.
I do not believe that this has yet been said but we are dealing not only with the nomination of a convicted criminal who has chosen to condemn himself to death, but with people who have been intimidated into not standing for Parliament. I ask those who are against the Bill to consider that important factor.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
I followed the hon. Gentleman's point carefully. I have sympathy with the way that he expresses it, but he is not talking about the Bill. If the Bill 85 is to provide only for the situation that he mentions, the other provisions are superfluous. That was the very point that I made.
§ Mr. Chapman
The hon. Gentleman did, indeed, make that point. I listened carefully to his speech, and had much sympathy with it. I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's point, perhaps too briefly. If we wish to change the law and plug the loophole that has given rise to the abuse of our democratic system, we might as well try to stop all propaganda that can emanate from such situations. If we go beyond the position that existed until 1967, where a convicted felon serving a term of imprisonment of more than 12 months was disbarred, logically, we may as well go the whole hog and stop him even being nominated. I see nothing wrong in that. It appears to be a sensible consequence.
Like other hon. Members, I suspect, I have had a great number of letters from constituents making more than conventional comments. They are deeply angered and upset that a convicted terrorist should be able to stand for Parliament. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), who happens to be one of my constituents. Many of my constituents believe that we should try to do something about the situation.
Everyone has his pennyworth. Perhaps no hon. Member finds any Bill absolutely perfect. However, I believe that two amendments should be considered. The first was put ably and eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). He suggested that the Bill should read notdetained anywhere in the United Kingdom",but "in the British Isles". I believe that the provision should cover anywhere. It may be regrettable if an innocent person is imprisoned in the USSR or Saudi Arabia—I give a political spread to show that I am not making a party-political point—but he could not take his seat in the House if he were in prison. If it were unfair in a particular case, we could change the law relatively quickly, as I hope we shall with the Bill.
Secondly, although I confess that I did not understand the point when I first read the Bill, I believe that the House should continue to have the right to decide whether an hon. Member should be expelled if he is convicted of an offence and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than 12 months.
On balance, I believe that the Bill is necessary because of recent events. 'There is nothing wrong in saying that. It will not necessarily take away the propaganda potential of our enemies, but our constituents are entitled to expect us to make a considered response. I believe that the Bill does just that.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) has unfortunately just left the Chamber. He made a point about proportional representation. If he reads the debate, perhaps he will reflect that the citizens of the Republic of Ireland are in a ghastly mess as a result of the same PR, which he seems to believe will solve the problems of the North better than the Bill.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on bringing forward this eminently sensible, short and simple Bill. It is a wise measure from a wise man. The House should welcome it wholeheartedly.
86 It is absurd that a violent arid vicious convicted criminal should be able to stand for election to the House. It has been seen as such for many years, and considered so absurd as to be unlikely. Sadly, events have proved otherwise. The IRA, using Bobby Sands in prison and dying, showed that it is not only not absurd but downright dangerous, which lends urgency to our proceedings.
The measure is not concerned purely with Northern Ireland. It has other implications, many of which may be difficult to foresee at present. However, foremost in our minds tonight is Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does his job well, with great patience and perception, under great difficulties. I think that we owe it to him tonight to pass this measure which will make his difficult job less difficult than it would otherwise be. Even more important, we owe it to the people of both communities in Northern Ireland who have been manipulated, terrorised and driven apart by the men of violence.
Before the Bill came into being, this was one activity which those men of violence could use further to polarise the community in Northern Ireland. We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland in their difficult and dangerous circumstances. Our good will goes out to them for the way in which they cope with the problems that they face. We should make it easier for them by not allowing these evil men to abuse our electoral procedures in the way that they have in the past.
We should ask the question: why should anybody wish to stand for this House if he has no prospect of sitting here? If a person is in prison, he is prevented from doing the job that he is elected to do. Why, then, would he stand? Members of the House are elected to participate in the debates which affect their constituents, their country and the future of the nation. How can a person do that when he is behind prison doors? Members of the House are elected so that they may protect the interests of their constituents and bring the problems of their constituents personally before Ministers in debate in the Chamber. How can they do that if they are behind prison bars? Members of the House obviously wish from time to time to meet their constituents and to discuss their problems, to have interviews, surgeries and advice bureaux. How can they do that on a regular basis if they are serving a term of imprisonment? It is also part of the activities and the duties of Members of Parliament to scrutinise, to prod and to question the Government. How can anybody do that if he is locked up in gaol?
A person who is imprisoned will not be released just because he has been elected to the House. Such people manifestly cannot perform their duties. What, then, is their motive? Why do they seek to become elected representatives when they cannot even represent? I think that we have to look for something else.
Last week, with some colleagues, I was in Northern Ireland. Among the ubiquitous graffiti, all over the place was the sign "Bobby Sands MP". Why? Why did he become a Member of Parliament? Why was he used in this way? Was it for the benefit of the IRA? Of course it was. The IRA wanted to sanctify the hunger strikers. But to sanctify a hunger striker who is also a Member of Parliament, is not that a great bonus? Does not that help these people even further in their evil tasks? Also, they wish to drum up support in the United States. We all know the great work that is done by the Foreign Office in trying to inform the people of the United States of the true 87 position in Northern Ireland, but we also know of the great difficulties. How much easier it is for the IRA to misrepresent the situation in Northern Ireland and to misrepresent the hunger strike if Bobby Sands is a Member of Parliament.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)
The hon. Gentleman makes some excellent points about the IRA, but is he not missing the central point in the particular case to which he refers, namely, that the reason why Bobby Sands was a Member of Parliament was that he was elected by his constituents?
§ Mr. Marlow
I do not perceive that point at all. Bobby Sands was indeed elected. If the hon. Gentleman had been in the Chamber for some period, he would be aware of some of the other arguments put forward about intimidation, about people being prevented at gunpoint from standing. He knows the situation and the difficulties in Northern Ireland.
I am saying that the abuse of the system of election to this Chamber is used by the IRA to its own benefit and to the damage of the interests of the community as a whole in Northern Ireland. I believe that it is incumbent upon the House to do what it can to put that situation right.
Opposition Members have made several good points. They are quite rightly concerned with the interests of the minority. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) himself is concerned with the people who voted for Bobby Sands. I put it to those hon. Members that there are various minorities. Let us take it away from Northern Ireland. Let us consider some of the other things which may happen.
We remember that some years ago a Mr. Robert Relf, in defiance of the Race Relations Act, decided to advertise his house for sale to whites only. He was quite properly sent to prison. Sadly, the problems in Northern Ireland have a parallel here in the way in which the division between the ethnic groups in this country is polarising. With good sense and good fortune, we can overcome those problems, but we must bear in mind the possibility that we shall not be successful.
Is it not possible for a member of the National Front to lead a demonstration, break the law, be sent to prison and wish to stand in a parliamentary election, as a result of which there would be parades, demonstrations and violence on the streets? Is that what Labour Members wish? Do they wish to protect that minority as well? Surely they must see the sense of the Bill.
Two things concern me about the Bill. First, it would prevent anyone imprisoned for more than a year within the United Kingdom from standing for Parliament. Second, it would not stop anyone imprisoned outside the United Kingdom from standing for election to this House. There must be exceptions on either side. I am sure that other hon. Members can think of better cases than I can.
We have already heard about the man from the IRA who commits an offence in the North of Ireland, is discovered in the South, tried there and sent to prison for the offence that he has committed in the North. Is there any more sense in such a person, being a British citizen, standing for election to this House than someone imprisoned in the North? Obviously, there is not. What about someone involved in gun-running in the United States, such as an IRA supporter, who is imprisoned in the 88 United States? That would be a great cause célèbre. Does it make sense that he can stand for membership of this House?
Only recently, an assassination attempt was made on one of our Commissioners in Brussels. Had that been successful, had the man been apprehended and sent to prison in Belgium, would it have made sense for him to stand for election to this House? We do not want to give every rapist in Rome the opportunity to stand for membership of this House, nor should we permit every forger in the Phillipines to stand.
On the other hand, there may well be a Zionist in an Arab goal whom, some constituency might want to put forward. Alternatively, there might well be an Arabist in a goal on the West Bank whom some other constituency might want to put forward. We have no arguments with the principles involved in those cases, and would not wish to prevent those men or women from standing for election to this House.
However, it could well be that in this country someone going for a walk late at night could be beset by an attacker. If that person were bigger than the attacker and got the better of him, he could wound or even kill the attacker. Such a person could well be found guilty in a court of law of using excessive force and sent to prison, but he might have a lot of support within the community. Should we say that he should not be entitled to stand for election to this House?
A lot of those examples may seem absurd and out of place, and other hon. Members may be able to cite more logical and effective cases. But I ask my right hon. Friend to consider amendments to allow exceptions within the United Kingdom and to prevent people imprisoned outside the United Kingdom from standing for election to this House.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
I have listened to most of the debate, and for a number of reasons I was in two minds about whether to participate. First, I doubted whether this was the sort of debate in which I wished to be engaged, even though I appreciate that we are debating a Bill which must be discussed.
It seemed to me that this was yet another debate about integration rather than about the political alternatives that exist. It is about how to impose further differences in electoral law on the Six Counties of North-East Ireland, whereas we could have had a much more constructive debate on the political alternatives and initiatives that might well be taken to avoid all the circumstances surrounding that unfortunate part of Ireland.
I have listened to several speeches by Conservative Members who had have said that they uphold democracy but that the Bill is needed. I am reminded of the Conservative candidate who, at his selection conference, said after a long speech "Well, those are my principles, Mr. Chairman. If you do not like them, I will change them."
§ Mr. Stallard
Those hon. Members were saying, in effect, we are all in favour of democracy, but not for that part of Ireland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) said, this is a debate about the gradual erosion of civil liberties and democratic rights, not 89 just in Ireland hut in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is the aspect that brings me into the debate. I do not believe that the Bill is just about Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) tried to give some outlandish examples. He would have been nearer the truth had he gone down the road taken by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) who outlined a number of examples to which I could have added. It would have been possible for a trade union leader not long ago to be in contempt or in danger of being sent to goal for an offence against the Industrial Relations Act. That offence could have been serious enough to merit the kind of sentence which would have disqualified him in terms of the Bill. It would also be possible for a number of engineers to feel that that trade union leader ought to be nominated as a candidate in a parly election, even though they knew that he would be disqualified. They might feel that such a nomination would be the only way in which they could voice their protest against a bad piece of legislation They might feel that that was their democratic right.
Some of the people who have recently been demonstrating about high rate increases have made all sorts of threats about not paying their rates. It would be possible for them to be sent to prison. If the amounts were big enough and their contempt was great enough, no doubt they would attract the kind of sentence that would debar them from nomination. But there might be thousands or even millions of ratepayers who might be in agreement with those people and wish to nominate them for election.
That sort of practice is not unknown in Irish politics and it is a practice that may well catch on here. There are many other examples that I could give apart from those that I have mentioned. There are certain local councillors who have been threatened by the Government with huge surcharges, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds each. If they are unable to pay, they may be charged with contempt. On conviction, they could attract sentences that would put them into the position for which the Bill seeks to cater. Nevertheless, the electors in their area might well wish to show their support by nominating them.
§ Mr. Chapman
Surely the Bill provides only that such people cannot stand or sit in this Parliament while they are so detained in prison. That is a perfectly reasonable provision to make. It is not a great erosion of liberty for them not to be able to stand or to take their seats while they are detained.
§ Mr. Stallard
It is the right of the electors to nominate someone and, if they wish, to elect him. The Bill seeks to stop that. It is taking away the rights of people, whether they are ratepayers or engineers, local tenants or members of a residents' association. If they feel sufficiently strongly about something. they may feel that nomination and election of a particular person may be the only way in which they can make their protest. They may know perfectly well that the man they elect may not be able to come to this place to represent them. Nevertheless they may say "He is our choice and he is the man we want." In my view, they are entitled to do that.
Some of us have read the history of Wilkes and Bradlaugh and other such people over a long period of years. There are some people who welcome those examples from history in support of their argument. We applauded the fellows who stood up and we applauded the 90 electors who sent them back time after time—despite opposition from the Chamber—until they won. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool spoke about those who were not allowed to take the oath because they were Jewish. Baron Rothschild was one of the most notable examples, but there were others. We applaud those who have fought to retain the democratic principles on which the House stands.
We have begun to erode and whittle away at democracy for reasons of expediency. The Bill is a panic measure. I asked the Home Secretary whether he would have introduced such a Bill if the late Mr. Sands had lost the election. I knew that he could not say that, of course, he would not have done so. Nevertheless, we all know that he would not have introduced such a Bill. The Bill was introduced not because Mr. Sands stood, but because he won. If the sentiments expressed by Conservative Members are true, why did not the Government rush through the Bill the day after Mr. Sands' nomination? Why did they not say that they could not allow such a nomination to stand? Have they only realised the dangers and problems? Of course not. They did not think that Mr. Sands would win, and so they did not do anything about the situation at the time.
Mr. Sands attracted more votes than most, hon. Members, attract. When he attracted 30,000 votes, the Government knew that there was a problem. As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) said, for the first time, he faced the realisation that there was more support for Mr. Sands and his views than he had thought. Despite what the hon. Member for Northampton, North said, there is no intimidation when voters are in the privacy of the booth. If they had wanted to, voters could have spoilt their papers. There were only 3,000 spoilt papers, but there were 30,000 positive votes for Mr. Sands.
§ Mr. Stallard
The hon. Gentleman implied that 30,000 people had been intimidated into voting for Bobby Sands. That is rubbish and nonsense. From start to finish, the hon. Gentleman's remarks betrayed a gross misunderstanding of the background to the Anglo-Irish problem. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should study the history of the issue, the traditions and so on. It is useful to do so. The hon. Gentleman might then put forward different arguments.
The argument essentially involves how Britain got into such a position. It concerns the way in which we have eroded civil liberties and rights in Northern Ireland. For example, we have witnessed the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, the Compton inquiry, the Bennett inquiry and the Shackleton inquiry. Gradually, we are eroding the democratic rights and principles that we have enjoyed for many years. We have allowed ourselves to be forced into doing that. The Bill represents yet another step in that direction. We have failed to face the problem and to accept that only one solution has never been tried. From month to month, we tinker with the symptoms. We always debate the symptoms, but we never get down to the root of the problem. The root of the problem is partition. Until we discuss what to do about partition, we shall not begin to consider a positive solution to the Anglo-Irish problem.
I should have preferred to debate the future policy of a British Government—the next one will be a Labour 91 Government—towards the root of the problem. Our debates on the symptoms are really arguments about how much more we can integrate the Six Counties of North-East Ireland into the United Kingdom and about how much more we can impose British solutions on them. They are really arguments about how much more British "democracy" we can impose on that part of the United Kingdom. Debates on the symptoms do not work. In the process we are losing our own democracy. As we try to impose this alleged democracy on the Six Counties, we are losing what we have fought for and hope to retain for many years to come. By concentrating purely on Northern Ireland, hon. Members have taken the debate in the wrong direction. The Bill concerns not only Northern Ireland, but democracy in Britain.
I hope that those Members who recognise that and have spoken along those lines will join the rest of us in the Lobby and vote against the Bill. I hope that they will take the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), who suggested that the best thing to do was to boycott the Bill and not to tinker with it. No improvement can be made by amendment. It is a bad Bill. It is more panic legislation. It cannot work. It will be made to look foolish, and will be used against this place and against the democratic principles for which we stand. I hope that every hon. Member will vote against it tonight.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I hope that the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) will forgive me if I say that I did not find his speech helpful in what has been for me a troubled decision about how to vote on the Bill. Nor did I find the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) especially helpful. It is not helpful to say that I disagree with the Government's policy on Northern Ireland and therefore I am opposed to the Bill or to say that I agree with my hon. Friend, that I warmly support the Government's policy on Northern Ireland, that I hate the murderous IRA—it is an embarrassment to the Government and to the House of Commons—and therefore I shall vote for the Bill.
By inclination, I tend to support the proposition put forward with such vigour and individualistic eloquence by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark). Those of us who believe that a position on the Back Benches in the House of Commons is useful and worth while have a duty to look carefully at any legislation that is introduced as a matter of urgency. Our fellow citizens—no matter how much they may be in a minority or considered despicable by many—have a right to have their minority point of view put forward in the House. I am especially disturbed when I hear speeches, such as that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, which seem to be on the basis that anyone who seriously embarrasses the House or the Government should be excluded from this gentlemen's, or principally gentlemen's, club.
The way that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell) put the democratic process was far too narrow. He and I and like debate. We were brought up in a tradition of argument and discussion. But the democratic process is wider than that. The democratic process is also to be found in processions and 92 rallies, and in those marches that the Home Secretary so often and widely bans. I do not believe that cultured, articulate debate in the House is the sole way for us to express our views in a democracy which has no written form but is a constantly changing process.
I was sceptical of supporting the Bill when I heard of its introduction, and especialy sceptical when I heard of the need to prevent embarrassment to the House and to the Government. I think that it is infinitely better that the House or the Government should be embarrassed than that one person should be shot at or, even worse, killed in Northern Ireland. Surely we exist here to accept and diffuse embarrassment. Indeed, embarrassment, time-wasting and sometimes abuse are all part of the democratic process as it has evolved here.
Perhaps after that attack on those who would appear to be my Friends, I can explain why I shall vote in favour of the Bill. I shall do so because it seems to me that, whoever one may be as an elector in the United Kingdom, on has a right to obseve that there are two main roles of a Member of Parliament. The first is the party political roles, which may be discharged in many different ways. It may be discharged as, for instance, in the last Parliament Mr. Maguire discharged it by not coming here in general. On the crucial vote of confidence, he showed his interest in the matter by coming here "to abstain in person". That seems to me proper conduct by one who disapproved of this institution but who wishes to express his disapproval by using the democratic process.
But there is a second role, the entirely non-political role, which has grown enormously in the past hundred years. When the electors elected, for example, John Wilkes, he did not have to spend a good deal of time getting concil houses for those who were homeless. It was not to be expected that he would be writing to the Home Secretary on behalf of many people who wanted to come here from the New Commonwealth or Pakistan. There are a host of jobs that we, as Members of Parliament, now undertake on behalf of our constituents without any reference to their political views.
In no situation can one go to the extreme liberal lengths to which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton goes. In any society one is entitled to say "I wish to exercise my right to protest, to embarrass or annoy the Government, but if it is possible to reconcile that right with another right, the right of the other citizen to be represented in these non-political roles, I should turn my desire to protest into reality by electing a protesting Member of Parliament within these constraints." That is the rationale for the exclusion of serving soldiers, lunatics and bankrupts, for example. Those classes of persons could not do the non-political constituency work that is now an inevitable and important part of the role of a Member of Parliament.
As the work of the House evolves—after all, again because we do not have a written constitution, it is constantly evolving—it is reasonable to tell the IRA supporter in Fermanagh and South Tyrone "All right, embarrass the Government. All right, send somebody who will be a frightful nuisance to Mr. Speaker, who will put down a hundred questions a day, who may wish to act in the way in which the Irish acted in the last century. But it must be somebody who is physically capable of carrying out those non-political activities that are part of the role of a Member of Parliament." A man who is imprisoned for a year or more cannot do that. It is no use saying that the 93 present regime is now more liberal than it was. If he did that non-political job, he would need to be given special treatment in prison, and I think that we are all adamant in saying that he should not receive that special treatment.
Although all my Back-Bench and libertarian instincts are aroused by the sort of proposals that are being pushed through tonight, with the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, who says that he supports them because he wishes to avoid embarrassment to the House and to the Government, I believe that this second and important non-political role now exists in today's parliamentary scene. Anyone who is elected to the House should at least be capable of doing that job, if he wants to do it. If there is a physical impediment, such as being in prison for a long time, it is not unreasonable, in my view, to place him under a disability, although I emphasise that this is not a place where we should have squeamish feelings about embarrassment to any institution or Government.
§ 9.1 pm
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
Perhaps the House will forgive me if I begin with a slight digression, and point out that the Bill, which has been brought forward with —to be kind— some haste, has taken less time to come forward than the measures—or, at least the White Paper—that I hope the Government will eventually bring forard on the representation of the people legislation. It is vitally important that the House has an opportunity to consider the whole question of deposits, votes for British citizens living abroad, and many other questions that deserve our serious attention in connection with the representation of the people legislation.
I share many of the misgivings of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) about the Bill. I venture to suggest that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has also felt some unease about having to introduce a Bill which in some sense restricts the liberty of constituents to choose and the liberty of our fellow citizens to present themselves before the electorate. I hope to return to that matter later in my remarks.
First, I wish to raise a technical point inconnection with the Bill, which I gather has already been raised by many of my hon. Friends and also by some Labour Members. One of the purposes of the Bill must be to reduce the possibility of the IRA making propaganda coups at the expense of our democratic process. The Bill seems to contain a serious loophole, in that members of the IRA could still stand as candidates for Parliament from prisons in the Republic. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, in winding up, will give the House an assurance that the matter will be looked at and that the necessary correction will be made to the Bill.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) put to the House what I consider is a perfectly fair elucidation of what might happen if the bill were passed. He suggested that the IRA might then be able to use the measure for its propaganda purposes. His suggestion was that a person in prison should be nominated and that, when that nomination was rejected, a surrogate candidate should stand in his stead. That person, on being elected, would then resign saying "I am not qualified to represent the constituency. The real Member of Parliament is in prison", and then we should go through the whole process again.
94 I do not deny that that is a possibility, but I suggest that the alternative is even more grisly and even more ghastly. The alternative is that the IRA continues to put up one hunger striker after another. I suggest that that is a much more terrible option than the perfectly reasonable and plausible one put forward by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. It must be a matter of concern to every hon. Member that we are going down the path of saying that this or that person is not a suitable person to sit in the House and that, though elected, he is not the sort of person that we want here. There is also the danger of going down the road of depriving constituencies of electing those whom they see fit to represent them in the House. Hypothetical examples have been offered by a number of Opposition Members, and they are perfectly valid. It is not inconceivable that a trade union leader or demonstrator might in the future find himself in the same position, although naturally we hope not.
The danger that we face is that anyone who indulges in terrorism is using the freedoms given them by the democratic process to undermine that process. We have to find a balance.
The historical precedents are known to us all, and it must be sad to see the name of Sands coupled with those of Wilkes, Bradlaugh and others who fought for freedom and democracy. But we must remain aware that the cry which went up when Wilkes was imprisoned for 22 months and fined £1,000 and was re-elected on four separate occasions by the freemen of Middlesex was "Wilkes and freedom", and that cry was supported by high anti low throughout the country.
I hope that no one in the House who will be supporting the Bill, as I intend to do, will do so without a heavy heart, well aware of the dangers that the measure entails. My great regret is that the Bill has not been introduced, as was the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, as a temporary expedient and that the House is not being asked to approve it for a year, with the Government having to come back at the end of a year for further approval. In my view that would have been a sensible compromise. It would have given the Government the opportunity to react, quite rightly—
§ Mr. Budgen
Cannot the argument be put slightly differently? It would have been very much better, if it had been possible, for the Bill to have been introduced in a year so as to underline adherence to a general principle rather than, unhappily, having it confused with response to current conditions.
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
I am afraid that I disagree with my hon. Friend. I think that the Government are right to react to the conditions that we face in Northern Ireland. A more sensible approach would be for this to be not a permanent but a temporary and correct reaction to the very difficult circumstances in Northern Ireland at present.
I have been very much influenced by the judgment made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. At the end of the day, it is my right hon. Friend who is there on the firing line. If we are not prepared to back the man whom our Government ask to perform these difficult and dangerous tasks for us, we shall have reached a very sorry pass.
For the last two weeks I telephoned half a dozen constituents at random each evening. I asked them their 95 views on the issue. They were all strongly supportive of the Government's line. I share the views expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton, South-West and Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark). However, I must be influenced by the position taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I shall therefore support the Bill.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
This has been an extremely good debate. When both sides of the House decide on what is insultingly called a free vote, debates are usually better. This debate has been good because nearly every participant has acknowledged that he is troubled by aspects of the other side of the argument. In the light of the debate and the most recent reconsideration of the issue, the Government are probably rather more troubled than when they first drafted the Bill. They have come to realise that it is not as simple as it sounds, nor is it as discrete a problem which can be settled quickly and concretely as they at first thought.
The Bill changes the law and practice with regard to who can stand in a parliamentary election. It changes the law from what is has always been to something which it has never been. It is interesting to note that there are at least quite a number of other countries—and there is not time to give details—whose practice is the same as ours, before the Bill is passed.
Far be it from me to say that if something has never been done before it should not be done now. However, when a characteristic of our electoral system, despite being used and perhaps abused many times in the past, has never been tampered with and it comes to be changed because of the latest use to be made of it, it behoves every Member who for the moment holds the constitution in trust to be at least extremely cautious.
I say that as someone who felt, when the H-block campaigners decided to field a candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, that that was a profoundly undesirable thing—an abuse rather than the proper use of electoral law. I do not believe that they had or have a good cause. I do not believe that their chosen device is a desirable way to pursue that cause, whether good or bad.
Looking back at the history of the issue over the centuries, mention has been made of names such as Charles Bradlaugh and John Wilkes. They have both featured in the debate. There can be no comparison between the personal qualities of John Wilkes, that champion of freedom from Clerkenwell in my constituency, and those who use and advocate violence against soldiers, policemen and uninvolved civilians as a means of furthering their political cause.
The Bill is not being brought forward to close a loophole which no one had thought of exploiting before the Fermanagh and South Tyrone election. The putting up of a candidate serving a prison sentence has been done many, many times. Never in the past has it provoked this response.
The traditional position here is that anyone can stand for election provided only that his nomination paper is in good form, presented at the proper time, signed by the requisite number of voters and so on. The qualities or situation of the nominee have never been a ground for 96 invalidating a nomination. It is worth noting that after the Bill passes that will continue to be the case, with the one exception of a prisoner candidate.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
I intervened during the speech of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), and I told the House what I considered to be the right and proper answer to his point. I said that a returning officer could refuse to accept a nomination form. I have double checked that point, and find that I was incorrect. Therefore, I wish unreservedly to withdraw my comment.
§ Mr. Cunningham
As my hon. Friend said, the position before the Criminal Law Act 1967 was that a felon serving a sentence was not able to sit or vote in the House, but was capable of being nominated and therefore of standing in the election. There has been some confusion about that point. Even after the Bill is passed, that will continue to be the major principle affecting all candidates other than the prisoner candidate.
If someone nominates Idi Amin as a candidate, it will be a valid nomination and he will be a candidate in the election. If somebody nominates an infant, it will be a valid nomination and the infant will be a candidate in the election. If someone nominates Nelson Mandela in a parliamentary election, as he was nominated for the chancellorship of the University of London, it will be a valid nomination and his name will go forward on the ballot paper with the other nominees. He will be a valid candidate, but not able to take his seat.
The Government are not saying "There is no point in allowing people to stand if they will be unable to take their seats and perform their duties as Members of Parliament, whether by reason of law or of impracticality". They are not adopting that principle. They are adhering to the traditional principle that even a person who is disqualified from sitting as a Member, or a person whom everyone knows will not, in practice, be able to sit as a Member, can be a candidate in an election. The change that they are proposing touches only one case—that of the prisoner candidate who is serving more than 12 months in the United Kingdom. The Bill has not only arisen out of a specific case, but is designed to catch only the sort of case that gave rise to it. Remedies must be directed at known abuses, but it is also true that the principle should be applied consistently. The Bill does not do that.
Let us consider the use that has been made in the past of the device of putting up a candidate for election who will not be able to take his seat. When Charles Bradlaugh, in the 1880s, was insisting on the right to make an affirmation rather than taking the religious oath, the House declared his seat vacant on four occasions. Despite that repeated indication of the House's attitude, and Bradlaugh's refusal repeatedly to take the oath, he was able to stand for election at each of the ensuing by-elections and no change was made, and no move was made for a change in the law to stop him.
In the case of John Wilkes, the circumstances were closer to those that gave rise to the Bill. Wilkes had been found guilty of criminal offences and the House expelled him as a Middlesex Member in 1769. In the resulting by-election Wilkes stood and was elected. The House voided his seat again, and again he stood and was elected. Again, the House expelled him and again he stood and was elected. The House only broke the series by then declaring the runner-up elected so that Wilkes could not stand again. 97 During those proceedings Wilkes was in gaol. He was an outlaw. He had been found guilty of what was regarded as terribly heinous offences involving sedition and a degree of obscenity. But throughout that time no move was made to change the rules to invalidate his repeated recandidacy.
A more recent case is familiar to us all. Twenty years ago the then Lord Stansgate, an hereditary peer who had inherited his father's title, declined to accept that he should thereby be debarred from being a Member of the House. He was able to present himself to the electors of Bristol, who showed their view by electing him, although they knew that he could not sit.
A common thread runs through all those cases. The principle is that the electorate can, if it wishes, use a parliamentary election to express its views, either on the desirability of disqualification on this or that ground, or, as in the case of Wilkes, in support of the candidate or a cause in general.
Every important dispute and disagreement, of course, has something to be said on both sides. I acknowledge that there are arguments on the other side of this one, arguments that are found to be at least initially persuasive by the Government and by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Let us just examine them because we shall reach wiser decisions if we recognise the strength of the argument on the other side.
It can he said, first, that if people want to make a point about the H-block there are other ways of doing that besides holding an abortive parliamentary election. A parliamentary election is not a graffiti one. It can be said that there is really no point in allowing someone to stand if he will not be able to take his seat, and that it is right to correct this anomoly in the case of prisoner candidates even if we do not do so in other cases because the device is a greater attraction in the case of prisoner candidates. It can be said that to allow the IRA a constant stream of free propaganda from an endless series of elections like Fermanagh and South Tyrone is taking principle, if principle it is, beyond the bounds of common sense.
There is also a fundamental conscientious consideration. If no change is made and another hunger striker is put up for election, are we encouraging those prisoners to take their own lives and not to change their minds at some stage by allowing the spotlight to be more intensely focused on them as candidates in an election? That is one reason that justifies our free vote on this side of the House this evening, because life is involved.
Finally, it can be said that it is one thing to allow a Stansgate type candidacy, to allow the electors to tell us that they want to see such candidates legitimised by a change in the law, as happened in that case, but quite another thing to allow prisoners convicted of terrorist offences to stand, because no one should imagine that any result of the election would or should cause us to free those prisoners to take their seats. The idea that irrespective of the crime committed we should set free the prisoner just because he has got himself elected to Parliament is a totally irresponsible and foolish notion that no sensible person should entertain.
Those are weighty considerations, weighty enough to persuade some of my colleagues to support the Bill tonight. But the balance of the argument in the opinion of the Opposition is definitely and clearly against the change, and above all for this reason. We constantly tell the IRA "Stop your violence and killing. Use peaceful persuasion.
98 Use the ballot box." It cannot be denied that in Fermanagh the made use of, or if one likes abused, the ballot box. Does it make sense then to change the law? It is not as if the use of this device in the Irish context started with the recent Fermanagh case. Rossa, Davitt Dale), two Mitchells and Clarke—some of those cases in recent times—were cases of the same nature and all took place in the Irish context.
§ Mr. Mates
But if the hon. Gentleman's first premise was correct—"Stop the violence and killing and use the ballot box"—and had been carried out, I do not think that the Bill would be before the House tonight. Not only did they not stop the violence and killing all around, but Sands' protest, which he was forced to continue as the hon. Gentleman has intelligently acknowledged, was a continuation of that violence. Until they forswear the one for the other, he does not have the case of the argument that he is putting forward.
§ Mr. Cunningham
The fact is that in the election use was made of the ballot box, and therefore it should at least give reason for pause if we are saying "Look, we know that is not using a revolver or a bomb; it is using a ballot box. But we do not think that that is the right way to use the ballot box. Therefore, we are not going to allow that to happen again." It is at the very least a consideration, is it not, which should make us pause? And that should apply whatever conclusions people finally come to in the end.
The Opposition conclude that the Government have been too hasty, too specific and too unclear in their thinking in their response to this situation. The IRA is bound to welcome the Bill because it acquires something which can be presented as a grievance and which will be presented as a grievance. It loses nothing because it will put up a prisoner in the Republic, assuming for the moment that the Bill remains as it stands. Therefore, when challenged about putting up a prisoner who is in Portlaoise and about the oddity of that proceeding, the members of the IRA will say that they had to do something daft like that because the British had passed legislation which prevented them from doing the more natural thing. Therefore, the IRA acquires an advantage and loses no opportunity for making use of this device as a propaganda weapon.
If the Government move—as no doubt they now will, in the light of the discussion today—to close the Republic of Ireland loophole, other devices will be found. If we prohibit candidates from being put up who are imprisoned anywhere in the United Kingdom or in the Republic, the Sinn Fein leader in Boston will be found or one of the devices mentioned in the debate today will be used—for example, someone who changes his name by deed poll.
Referring to the business of the candidate having to be in prison in the United Kingdom prompts me to ask the Minister to tell us why the reference is to the United Kingdom, which excludes the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Is that just a slip? I think not. What is the reasoning behind that?
When we look at the Bill in detail, that practical consideration is proved. The only purpose of the Bill is to prevent a repetition of the recent Fermanagh and South Tyrone case and so to avoid the IRA securing further propaganda help. However, because of the Irish Republic loophole, the Bill will not do that. Therefore, all the IRA 99 has to do is to field a Republican prisoner, if the Bill stands as it is, or to find one of the other substitutes if it is changed.
If we change the Bill to debar candidates anywhere in the United Kingdom or the Republic, how will the returning officer, even with the extended timetable given to him by the Bill, be able to check on whether the person is in prison and, if he is, whether he has been sentenced to imprisonment; and, if he has been sentenced, how is the officer to check whether he has been sentenced to more than 12 months? If that practical difficulty cannot be easily overcome, the whole operation will be defeated, and the object of denying the IRA a propaganda weapon has been lost entirely.
Will the Minister address himself to this point? As votes cast for a prisoner candidate will normally be cast in the full knowledge that the candidate cannot sit, instead of bringing forward the Bill as it stands, why did not the Government simply revert to the pre-1967 position? That would entail a bar on the candidate sitting in the House, but not on standing for election, so that an election court would be able to unseat the winner and to seat the runner-up. That is not a device which I recommend, but I should have thought that it would be a device to which the Government would have been more attracted than the one which they have put forward.
The Minister must tell us what the position will be on appeals. Will the Government bring forward an amendment to deal with the situation in which a person has been sentenced but has lodged an appeal and may turn out to be entirely innocent or not to be sentenced to a custodial sentence at all? If they bring forward such an amendment, will it apply only to a person who is already a member of the House when he is sentenced or will it apply to others who have been sentenced before?
The fact is that the Government, in bringing forward the Bill, have ignored the advice which used to be plastered up all over the traffic signs in London when those yellow cross-hatchings in the middle of the roads were first adopted. It was good advice to all politicians and it said: "Do not enter the box unless your exit is clear." The Home Secretary, if I may mix the metaphor, is beginning to realise that he is up a gum tree and that there is no way of coming down without creating a situation that is at least as bad as the one with which he began, and which may be even worse.
As some of my hon. Friends have said, the faults in the Bill's approach are those which cannot be eradicated by Committee amendments, and that is why the Opposition will vote against the Bill tonight.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)
This is an unusually short Bill which in its wording is unusually clear. It is certainly a Bill which gives rise to unusually important issues. It is therefore no surprise that, as I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), it has given rise to a distinguished debate of unusual interest.
We should be deceiving ourselves if we supposed that we should be debating the Second reading of the Bill tonight were it not for recent events in Northern Ireland, were it not for a general feeling in the United Kingdom that those events constituted a dangerous and damaging abuse 100 of our electoral system, and were it not for the fact that in the near future they could be—and, if the law is left as it stands, almost undoubtedly would be—repeated in the same constituency and perhaps in other constituencies not once but repeatedly.
Therefore, we should acknowledge that it is those events which lead us tonight, rather than perhaps at some later stage, to be debating provisions such as those in the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in introducing the Bill reminded the House of the Criminal Law Act 1967 which removed a disqualification for membership of this House or the other place which had remained the law for nearly a hundred years. That disqualification was sustained by anyone who was serving a prison sentence of more than 12 months for a felony. The statute which contained that disqualification was the Forfeiture Act 1870. Although that statute was nearly a hundred years old when the distinction between felony and misdemeanour was abolished by Parliament, its provisions certainly were not a dead letter. We are therefore not discussing an innovation in our electoral law, and certainly not in our electoral law as it relates to membership of the House.
As recently as 1955 a person serving 10 years' imprisonment was elected for Mid-Ulster, and that election was declared void. In the lifetime of that statute six other elected persons had been held to be disqualified under its provisions. They were disqualified after they had been elected. There is a great deal to be said for the proposition that we have heard today that there is perhaps greater affront to the concept of majority rule that someone should be disqualified after an electorate has, by a majority, spoken than that it should be made clear by the law in advance that certain people may not be nominated.
The provisions were not unique to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. To this day in Australia, New Zealand and Canada the election of any person serving a sentence of imprisonment of more than 12 months would be void. What is more, such persons are not able to be nominated.
The key issue that has excercised so many right hon. and hon. Members in the debate is that we are going further than the provisions of the 1870 Act. We are not simply turning back the clock to 1967 when the Criminal Law Act abolished that distinction. It is right that the distinction of principle should have been noted and given rise to the anxiety expressed. However, at least we know that we are not unique among the Parliaments that have inherited our traditions and whose electorates are guided by the same considerations as have guided ours these many centuries. Exactly the same position will apply if the Bill is passed now as obtains and has obtained for years in the Parliaments of those three old Commonwealth countries.
That is not all. The position is the same in West Germany, Holland and Belgium for most prisoners serving 12 months. The same disqualification exists both as to membership of the legislature and nomination in France, Italy and, be it said, the Republic of Ireland. Therefore, it is interesting that we should have abolished the provision in 1967 and not altogether surprising that we did it almost by mistake.
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), reminded us of an intervention in Committee by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies). In addition, if I recall correctly, the first Bill fell with the ending of that Parliament, and, if we did not in the second Parliament carry the identical measure by mistake, at least 101 we carried it without great attention being paid to it. The hon. Gentleman will know that when the courts make a mistake, there is a kindly convention by which the event is described in Latin as happening per incuriam. The same description can, in practice, be applied to what occurred in 1967. In the fullness of time, therefore, it is probable that Parliament will in any event want to reverse the consequences of the 1967 Act so far as they remove disqualification for election to Parliament.
§ Mr. Winnick
I accept that in the fullness of time we may want to change the law, as I recognised earlier, but we believe that the measure is wrong because it is being introduced in a panic over one particular by—election, where the late Mr. Sands, the prisoner, actually won, so there can be no doubt about the result of that election.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I acknowledge that that factor is perhaps foremost among the causes of the anxiety from the Government as much as for the Opposition. However, we all know that what has precipitated the presentation of the Bill is the recent demonstration in practice of what that removal of disqualification can permit. That is why the debate has been about not only whether any change in our electoral arrangements is warranted and, if so what, but whether any such changes should be made here and now.
In addition, important questions have been raised concerning the practical application and effects of the Bill, not least in the context of the propaganda that the IRA has put about. In replying to the debate, therefore, I shall try to deal with those principal questions, which were the ones that in any event I wished to discuss.
First, is any change needed? I would guess that before the election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone very few people in the United Kingdom realised that the law permits to be a Member of Parliament a person who by reason of having committed at least a fairly serious criminal offence has been sentenced to at least a fairly substantial term of imprisonment and is still serving that sentence in custody. Certainly, many commentators in the press, radio and television appeared to have been taken entirely by surprise by that fact. [HON. MEMBERS: "They had not read their history."] It is all very well to say that they had not read their history. Very few Members of the House had read the history of the 1967 legislation. A great many of us were taken by surprise ourselves. It therefore ill-behoves us to criticise for such an oversight those who take no part in the making of the law of our country.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
The only difference in the case before and after 1967 is that after 1967 the person was prevented from taking his seat by the fact that he was in prison and the Home Office or the Northern Ireland Office was not prepared to let him come and take the oath. In practical terms, the position has been the same for 100 years. The person was able to get elected in the constituency in which he was able to stand. There had been at least seven of eight examples before 1967.
§ Mr. Mayhew
We are talking about disqualification for membership of this House. Before 1967, for nearly 100 years, to serve and to be still serving a sentence of 12 months in prison for felony was a disqualification for membership of the House. After that, the situation changed.
I believe that most people, on learning the truth, felt strongly that it represented an abuse of Parliament and of 102 our electoral process because it permitted the selection of someone who by reason of his own quite serious criminality was still in prison and therefore unable at that time to undertake any of the duties of a Member of Parliament. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) that we have tended to consider the issue in the debate, as have many commentators, solely in terms of coming here to take part in the affairs of the House. But that is not the sum total of the duties now expected of a Member of Parliament.
There are many duties in the constituencies arid elsewhere, way outside this Chamber, as we all know, that we now have to perform. I agree entirely with what was said on behalf of Mr. Maguire, that by all accounts he was a most diligent constituency Member in that regard. But a person in prison cannot fulfil those duties at all. He can fulfil none of the duties. That is why I believe that most of our fellow countrymen regard it as an abuse.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
Why does the Minister take the view that the electorate cannot be trusted to take those matters into consideration?
§ Mr. Mayhew
That is something that I was proposing to say in a moment, but I gladly say it here and now. The electorate, by a majority, for whatever reason, can decide that it—the majority—wishes to be represented by somebody who will take no part at all, can take no part at all and intends to take no part at all in the duties of a Member of Parliament. In my submission, what it may not do, by our constitutional process, is to condemn the rest of the electorate to having nobody to represent it and to undertake those duties. A Conservative voter, for example, does not need a Conservative Member of Parliament to represent his interests when his interests are in conflict with the State.
One does not need to have a Conservative Member of Parliament to have a sure and certain confidence that one's interests will be represented by whoever happens to fill the seat for the constituency. It is the Government's opinion that the position at present is an outrage. That was certainly the opinion of our predecessors more than 100 years ago, or so we may reasonably assume. The overwhelming majority of speeches during this debate have shown that that is the opinion of many right hon. and hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) put it in a nutshell when he said that the statute that we are seeking to amend is called the Representation of the People Act. That is what it is about—the representation of people. It is because people cannot be represented in any sense by someone who is, and will remain, in prison that we cannot say that such a person represents his electorate.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Of course it goes further, and I shall explain why.
My hon. Friend said that it was absurd that a person who was not able to vote by virtue of his own criminality should be able to be voted for. In other words, by reason of criminality one is not able to choose a Member of Parliament who will help to make the law, but criminality will not prevent someone from sitting in Parliament and making the law himself.
103 Some hon. Members may say "Ah, but such a candidate will have been chosen by his fellow citizens". My reply is that he has been chosen at the cost of disenfranchising the whole of his constituency. That is not acceptable.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
After the Bill passes into law, someone who is in prison for less than 12 months will not be able to vote but will be able to become a Member of Parliament.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I agree that that is a consequence of the Bill. But it is absolutely impossible to achieve in legislation the perfect serving of the interests of justice, pure democratic theory and practicality. We must draw the line. No doubt, that is what our predecessors in 1870 thought they were doing in a sensible and practical way by making disqualification turn on whether a sentence of more than 12 months was being served. We must draw the line.
Some may argue that wherever the line is drawn, difficult exceptions and justifications will arise. That is an excellent reason for doing absolutely nothing when one is confronted with an overriding need to do something to remedy a real abuse.
Some of my hon. Friends, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) and my hon. Friends the Members for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) and Lancaster (Mrs. KelletBowman) expressed the view that this amounts to an outrage. They also expressed the view of their constituents that people were affronted that such a thing should be permitted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough said there was no reference at all in the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) to the sense of outrage that was so widely felt. The right hon. Gentleman was critical of my right hon. Friend for not mentioning the fact that someone in prison in the Republic of Ireland would not be caught by the Bill. Surely it is more to the point to know whether the right hon. Gentleman recognises that a sense of outrage was felt by most people in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough was absolutely right about that.
I do not have to draw only on the speeches of my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends, because a most robust speech was made by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). Unfortunately, as happens on occasions, I was unable to be present to hear his speech. But I was told that it was in favour of the principle and practice of the Bill.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will forgive me, but I must get on.
I was rather surprised to find that in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) there was no acknowledgement of this recognition of a real abuse and of this sense of outrage. In his speech—as usual, a model of clarity and elegance—he concentrated on the fact that the electorate had the right to decide who should represent it, and he failed, if he will allow me to say so, 104 to deal with the point that the whole of the electorate is entitled to be represented, and that those who do not vote for the prisoner will be deprived of any representation.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
Suppose it were to happen—after all, it is not unknown, particularly in the Province—that someone were to be elected unopposed.
§ Mr. Mayhew
We are not dealing with somebody who is elected unopposed. There might be more of a case if nobody could be found to stand against a candidate who proclaimed that he would take no part because he was in prison, but there is none where such a person has been opposed, perhaps by somebody who has lost by only a narrow margin.
If it is right, therefore, that our present law permits an abuse of serious character, the question whether a change is needed is answered. It is needed and I come now to the nature of that change.
There has been a great deal of agreement that the change should at least reproduce the disqualification for which the Forfeiture Act 1870 is a precedent. That point was made in many of the speeches to which I have already referred. But we are not bound to go no further than our predecessors went 100 years ago. There was an Act in 1969 introduced by the Labour Government. We have gone further and imposed a stricter disqualification for voting at a parliamentary election than the 1870 Act. A convicted person in custody under any sentence of imprisonment may not bvote. That is an advance.
Three years later, we went further in defining disqualification for election to a local authority—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest. If someone is in prison serving a sentence of three months or more, and if he has within five years before the date of election had a sentence of not less than three months imprisonment passed upon him, he is disqualified for being elected to a council. Those are precedents for going further in this regard than our predecessors did.
On the great question of today's debate—whether we should go further or not—I would say that we have already gone further twice. We have already concluded that the 1870 Act was insufficiently strict and we have had no reason to suppose that we were mistaken on those occasions. Nor has anyone who has spoken today called for the repeal of those modern provisions. No one has said that we got it wrong when we went further in those instances. So there is no great issue of principle here.
Next, I must answer those who feel that to disqualify for nomination is an extension that is different in character. We are confronted by an abuse of our existing electoral arrangements, which is itself different in character from anything that we have known before. Our electoral arrangements are designed to be operated only in good faith. They are not designed to be proof against those with no real interest in the return of a Member to the House, but in manipulating the system for propaganda purposes.
We are confronted with this out of the blue, because there is no instance in modern times of the right to candidature being exploited by a terrorist organisation, so that a person unable to take his place in Parliament is seen to command the votes of numerous electors—if possible, the majority—and in this context "command" is the right word.
But now we find that, under the law as it stands, not only can someone with no ability or intent to take any part 105 in parliamentary or extra-parliamentary affairs be elected—which is bad enough—but such a person can enjoy all the benefits of candidature in furtherance of this propaganda. He will enjoy free postage for his election address and free coverage from the broadcasting authorities. He will enjoy free publicity generally. That would be bad enough. It is an absurdity and an outrage. It is the type of outrage that, if left uncorrected, may well bring elections into public contempt and cause people to resort to violence. That is why we believe that we cannot adopt the theoretically neat and attractive device of disqualifying people from membership of this House while continuing to permit the nomination of candidates from among those serving substantial prison sentences.
We are not dealing with a theoretical situation but with one that is already a painful and dangerous reality. It is that urgent sense of the practical that has led us to introduce the Bill. This is not the case of someone, such as the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) who stands in order to advance his campaign to change the electoral laws, so that his disability will be removed. No one is suggesting that a sentenced prisoner should be let out in order to take his place in Parliament.
We are entitled to appeal to common sense. One does not resort to common sense when one cannot think of a principle to justify what is being done. Common sense is a respect for reality. We are not conducting a seminar on the theory of elections in a democracy. Therefore, I turn to the practicalities and realities. It is impossible to serve, to the fullest extent, the needs of democratic theory, justice and practicality. There is a need to prevent abuse and that is what the Bill involves. There is also a need for speed, because the electoral process cannot be strung out unreasonably.
Many speeches have drawn attention to the gap represented by the absence of any provision for those in prison in the Republic of Ireland. A very strong case for including such prisoners has been made. In the light of the strong views expressed, my right hon. Friend will immediately consult with his colleagues and will wish to return to that point in Committee. It must be right to take the view of hon. Members and to consider their opinion. The remarks made by many hon. Members will be taken into consideration. I acknowledge that the gap represents a loophole.
106 I acknowledge that someone who has entered an appeal against sentence or conviction will, nevertheless, be caught. This is where the interests of speed arise, because in many cases we cannot await the long process of an appeal in order to determine such matters. An election cannot be spun out in that way. My right hon. Friend will certainly consider the case of an appeal after conviction, by a sitting hon. Member and the possibility of delaying the operation of the disqualification until any appeal has been resolved. Indeed, the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford raised that point. However, it must be remembered that people can apply for leave to appeal out of time. No matter how long a person may have been sentenced to prison for, everyone would wish to appeal if that loophole were generally written into the Bill.
With the leave of the House, I shall reply in writing to other hon. Members on the questions that I hake been unable to answer.
As regards propaganda, it has been said that the IRA will say that it was told to use the ballot, not the bullet. Those who are in prison are not there for anything remotely connected with the ballot. They are there for crimes that are intimately connected with the bullet. They are not in prison for their political aspirations, but for grave offences against the ordinary criminal code. They have committed such offences to further their political ends, which they know they cannot further through the ballot box. It can be no more acceptable to commit a criminal offence against innocent people for political motives than for motives of private greed or lust.
There is nothing in the law that prevents those who advocate a united Ireland, for example, from being nominated or elected. Nor is there anything in the law to prevent those who advocate a policy of "troops out" being nominated or elected. But they must use the ballot. We are concerned with those who refuse to use the ballot and are imprisoned as a result of that refusal. The Bill is introduced not with pleasure but with determination to remedy what is seen as a foul affronting outrage. That is the spirit in which I commend the Bill to my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 248, Noes 137.107
|Division No. 226]||[10.00 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Grieve, Percy|
|Alexander, Richard||Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)|
|Alison, Michael||Grist, Ian|
|Ancram, Michael||Grylls, Michael|
|Arnold, Tom||Hamilton, Hon A.|
|Atkins, Robert(Preston N)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Hannam, John|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Beith, A. J.||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Bendall, Vivian||Hawkins, Paul|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Benyon, Thomas (A'don)||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Heddle, John|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Best, Keith||Hicks, Robert|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hill, James|
|Blackburn, John||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Body, Richard||Holland, Philip (Carlton)|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Hooson, Tom|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Horam, John|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)|
|Bright, Graham||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Brinton, Tim||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Hurd, Hon Douglas|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Brotherton, Michael||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n)||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Buck, Antony||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Budgen, Nick||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Kitson, Sir Timothy|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Knight, Mrs Jill|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Lang, Ian|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Latham, Michael|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n )||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Chapman, Sydney||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Lee, John|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Cope, John||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Loveridge, John|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Luce, Richard|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)|
|Dean, Paul (North Somerset)||McCrindle, Robert|
|Dorrell, Stephen||McCusker, H.|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Dover, Denshore||MacGregor, John|
|Dunlop, John||Maclennan, Robert|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Durant, Tony||Madel, David|
|Dykes, Hugh||Major, John|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Marland, Paul|
|Elliott, Sir William||Marlow, Tony|
|Emery, Peter||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Marten, Neil (Banbury)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Mates, Michael|
|Faith, Mrs Sheila||Mather, Carol|
|Fell, Anthony||Mawby, Ray|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Fry, Peter||Mills, Peter (West Devon)|
|Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Moate, Roger|
|Goodhart, Philip||Molyneaux, James|
|Goodhew, Victor||Monro, Hector|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Gow, Ian||Moore, John|
|Gray, Hamish||Morgan, Geraint|
|Greenway, Harry||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Abse, Leo||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)|
|Allaun, Frank||Dempsey, James|
|Alton, David||Dixon, Donald|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Dobson, Frank|
|Ashton, Joe||Dormand, Jack|
|Atkinson, H.(H'gey,)||Douglas-Mann, Bruce|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N)||Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||English, Michael|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Ennals, Rt Hon David|
|Buchan, Norman||Evans, loan (Aberdare)|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J.||Evans, John (Newton)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)||Field, Frank|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Flannery, Martin|
|Canavan, Dennis||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Freud, Clement|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)||Garrett, John (Norwich S)|
|Coleman, Donald||Grant, John (Islington C)|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Cook, Robin F.||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Cowans, Harry||Haynes, Frank|
|Cryer, Bob||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Dalyell, Tam||Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Home Robertson, John|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Homewood, William|
|Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)||Hooley, Frank|
|Deakins, Eric||Howells, Geraint|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Mudd, David||Speed, Keith|
|Murphy, Christopher||Speller, Tony|
|Neale, Gerrard||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Needham, Richard||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Nelson, Anthony||Sproat, Iain|
|Newton, Tony||Squire, Robin|
|Normanton, Tom||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Onslow, Cranley||Stanley, John|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Page, John (Harrow, West)||Steen, Anthony|
|Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)||Stevens, Martin|
|Page, Richard (SW Herts)||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Parker, John||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Parris, Matthew||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Patten, John (Oxford)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Percival, Sir Ian||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)||Thompson, Donald|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Prior, Rt Hon James||Trippier, David|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Trotter, Neville|
|Pym, Rt Hon Francis||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Raison, Timothy||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Rathbone, Tim||Viggers, Peter|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Waddington, David|
|Renton, Tim||Wakeham, John|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.|
|Ridley, Hon Nicholas||Wall, Patrick|
|Rifkind, Malcolm||Warren, Kenneth|
|Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Watson, John|
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)||Wells, Bowen|
|Robinson, P. (Belfast E)||Wheeler, John|
|Rodgers, Rt Hon William||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Roper, John||Whitney, Raymond|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Wickenden, Keith|
|Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)||Wilkinson, John|
|Rossi, Hugh||Williams, D.(Montgomery)|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Winterton, Nicholas|
|St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.||Wolfson, Mark|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Shersby, Michael||Mr. Selwyn Gummer and|
|Sims, Roger||Mr. Robert Boscawen.|
|Huckfield, Les||Richardson, Jo|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Robertson, George|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Robinson, G, (Coventry NW)|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Ryman, John|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Kinnock, Neil||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Leighton, Ronald||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lestor, Miss Joan||Snaps, Peter|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Soley, Cllve|
|Litherland, Robert||Spearing, Nigel|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Stallard, A. W.|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Stoddart, David|
|McNally, Thomas||Stott, Roger|
|McNamara, Kevin||Strang, Gavin|
|McWilliam, John||Straw, Jack|
|Magee, Bryan||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Marks, Kenneth||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Tilley, John|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Tinn, James|
|Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Wainwright, R.(Colne V)|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)|
|Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)||Welsh, Michael|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||White, J. (G'gow Pollok)|
|Morton, George||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Moyle, Rt Hon Roland||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Newens, Stanley||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)|
|O'Neill, Martin||Wilson, William (C'try SE)|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Winnick, David|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Prescott, John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Race, Reg||Mr. Ken Eastham and|
|Radice, Giles||Mr. Alfred Dubs.|
|Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House. —[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]
§ Committee tomorrow.