HC Deb 26 January 1989 vol 145 cc1246-59
Mr. Needham

I beg to move amendment No. 25, in page 3, line 5, after 'Act', insert 'in connection with a local election, an election to the Northern Ireland Assembly or the filling of a casual vacancy in a district council'.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 26 and 27 and amendment No. 22, in schedule 2, page 11, line 5, leave out `, if elected,' and insert 'after nomination until the declaration of the count and, if elected, during the life of the elected authority'.

Mr. Needham

Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 seek to tidy an ambiguity in the Bill.

The declaration in schedule 2 makes it clear that it will apply only if the declarer is elected. Clause 7(1) refers to breaches of declaration committed by someone while a member of a district council or of the Northern Ireland assembly. It is not immediately evident to the reader of clause 7 that the councillor or assembly member concerned must have been elected at an election in respect of which the declaration against terrorism was made. The purpose of the amendment is to make it explicit that the position is such. The obligations imposed by the declaration relate only to the period of office following the election at which the declaration was made.

The amendments are important because they clarify the position of sitting councillors who will be candidates at the district council elections in May 1989 by ensuring that sitting councillors are not bound in 1989. They reflect the principle that the declaration binds only in respect of the period of office for which it was made. At the 1993 and subsequent local elections, some councillors will be sitting councillors. All will be bound by declarations entered into before they were elected or co-opted to councils. The declaration will continue to bind sitting councillors during the election campaign—unless of course they resign before the election campaign starts—as is right and proper when councillors are exercising the responsibility of elected office, which under the Bill includes an obligation not to express support for or approval of proscribed organisations or acts of terrorism.

Amendment No. 26 makes it clear that the declaration binds from the moment that a councillor or assembly member is declared to have been elected.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

I am relieved to note that Government amendment No. 26 is similar to amendment No. 22. Without wishing to cast any reflection on the civil servants in the Box, I believe that amendment No. 22 is better drafted. The difference between amendment No. 26 and amendment No. 22 is that amendment No. 26 does not cover the election period, whereas in amendment No. 22 we suggest that it should be covered.

At present, certain organisations are not allowed to appear on the media. In the forthcoming elections in Northern Ireland in May, representatives of those organisations will have access to the media and will be able to express all the views that are currently banned. During election campaigns in my constituency, posters were pasted across motorways, roads and pedestrian walkways. I received a number of complaints because they caused offence to local residents. In future, I will have to tell my constituents that because they are electoral posters they cannot be removed until the election campaign is over.

Regardless of their views, candidates will be able to send whatever they like by post at the taxpayers' expense. Those who are trying to bring down democracy will be entitled to send seditious leaflets by post. Indeed, they will be encouraged to do so by the Bill.

There are certain areas in most constituencies in which election workers and canvassers will be entitled and encouraged by the Bill to canvass. I can imagine the complaints that the police will receive when large crowds of party supporters enter estates, bearing various coloured flags and banners.

During election campaigns, cavalcades enter every district and estate. Music is played and the candidate addresses voters through a loudspeaker. I can imagine certain areas where that would be most unwelcome. Those who support terrorists, murder and bombing will be entitled to enter those areas.

Leaflets are put through ratepayers' doors during election campaigns. One can imagine the enormous offence, aggravation and anger they cause simply by being dropped on to the mat. Let us think about polling day, polling stations and the cars that are used to take people to vote. People are faced with certain emblems at polling stations. I can well imagine that they insult and anger various people. There are personation agents inside polling stations. I can imagine the anger that they cause. All those matters are banned during non-election periods. That does not seem sensible.

We are disappointed with the Bill, and if the amendment is not accepted, we will not support it. I must make it clear to the Minister that Unionist Members had high hopes of a Bill that would improve matters. I am sad that we have not yet managed to achieve such a Bill. We will push the amendment to a Division.

Mr. William Ross

Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 are interesting, because they are the only ones that the Government have chosen to move. They will weaken the Bill. For that reason, my party opposes them. The Government's amendments are defective in that they are designed to allow all candidates to say whatever they like during an election campaign.

The Government believe that if folk are allowed to advocate violence during an election campaign, they will diminish their support. That is completely wrong. IRA members are doing what their supporters want. The Government believe that IRA members can establish themselves as the folk who support the armed struggle, that that will carry on even after an election, and that they will always be known to their own supporters—after all, there are 100,000 of them—as the people who support the boys behind the wire, or the fellows in the black masks supporting the murderers. If the Secretary of State and his Ministers are acting on that assumption, they have been sold a small pig in a poke. They should have looked at it more carefully before they bought it.

IRA supporters glory in the murders and the successful acts of violence by the IRA. They glory in the fact that people are prepared to stand up publicly to defend such acts. They will vote for those who support the people who commit murders, bombings, intimidations and kneecappings. Anyone who lives in Northern Ireland and knows the IRA cannot doubt that that is so.

Having made their statements during the election campaign, if they wish to remain members of the council, and if they wish to remain beyond the reach of the law, Sinn Fein councillors will be extremely careful about what they say. Third parties will make the statements that they might otherwise make. Therefore, the Bill has a great big barn door right in the middle of it.

8.45 pm

The Unionist amendment is a practical way of dealing with the matter. It is a highly accurate targeting exercise. Perhaps I should not say "targeting exercise", in deference to what it could mean in Northern Ireland. The amendment would be accepted by any Government who were serious about making life difficult for murderers in Northern Ireland.

There have been differing approaches by the Government and Unionist parties. That illustrates the Government's feeble effort. The only reason we oppose the Bill is that we believe that it is so feeble that it is ineffective. As the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) said, it will bring the law into disrepute. The IRA's Sinn Fein element will sign the worthless declaration that the Government have drawn up. The Government refuse to consider our point in relation to "repudiation" and "repudiate". The Minister dealt with that point, but he failed to give way to me. I hope that we will have a chance to deal with it again on Third Reading to show how wrongly he has assessed the matter. The Government are making it clear that they are prepared to allow an easy way out for the IRA. I say "IRA" advisedly, rather than "Sinn Fein". There are matters of credibility and of selling itself if the IRA signs a repudiation and then breaks its word.

A proper appreciation of the need for a properly effective Bill is absent from the Government's thinking and from the advice that they have taken. Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe the Government have been given advice from other sources and they have ignored it also. I am simply pointing out the effect of ignoring that advice. The result will be more disillusion in Northern Ireland whenever the Bill fails to deliver. There will be more despair in Great Britain when another addition to the legal armoury is seen to be ineffective. Once again, the Government have added another feature to the long catalogue of failure which has characterised their approach to Northern Ireland in the past 20 years.

What will happen whenever a fellow goes outside the law? The IRA will not go outside the law hotheadedly. It will do so cold bloodedly, deliberately, and for a carefully thought out reason. IRA members may perform acts en masse or as individuals at different times and in different places. If they decide to do something, they will be careful. They will do it wisely and well from their point of view. They are not stupid. Our amendment would ensure that council proceedings are taped. The amendment arises from an incident in a council in my constituency, about which the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) will be aware, where words spoken were apparently noted by a reporter but were not available next day. Councils do not keep records such as the one that is being kept of my words this evening. They record only decisions, and perhaps votes.

How is any accusation to stand up in court if there is no accurate record of the words spoken? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that, and also that he will be prepared to say from where the funds will come—something that he has so far ignored—if the individual councillor or citzen is supposed to meet the cost. So far, we have not had a satisfactory reply. The Bill is useless, but it is even more useless if the funds are not available from some source or another.

Rev. William McCrea

I support amendment No. 22 which seeks to insert the words after nomination until the declaration of the court and, if elected, during the life of the elected authority. rather than the Government amendments. Ministers have once again allowed a clear flaw in the Bill.

The Sinn Fein representatives of the terrorists will be fully aware that they can say whatever they like during an election campaign. They can pass every insult against the security forces that have defended democracy through trying years in our Province; security forces who deserve the fullhearted support of every hon. Member. They can gloat over every atrocity. They can mock at the murders that they have already committed. They can vocally support the IRA during an election campaign. They can drum up support for the men of terror during that campaign. Yet nothing will be done against them. Nothing that they say will be used against them, because it will be said under cover of an election campaign.

We all know that the IRA and its spokespersons will be fully aware of that fact. They know that under this legislation there will be a curb on their vocal outbursts in the council chambers if some member of the general public is courageous enough to use it and to put his life on the line. If such a person takes a stand against a spokesperson for the terrorists in defence of freedom of speech and democracy, he may pay for it with his life.

The IRA knows that it can say whatever it likes. It can gloat over every atrocity in the United Kingdom. It laughed at the eight soldiers who were blown to bits on the Ballygawley road in my constituency. That was the forerunner of this legislation. In the light of that, the Government said that something would be done. The IRA can gloat over UDR members and the sorrow and grief of RUC members. During the election campaign it can call upon young people to join its ranks and proclaim that the IRA deserves the population's fullhearted support.

It is a fact that to be elected at the next election the IRA will do all that because there is a hard core Republican vote. As my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) said, there are around 100,000 Sinn Fein voters in Northern Ireland elections. Their support will be drummed up during speeches by spokesmen for the terrorists. There is no doubt that the IRA will be delighted to parade through the streets of Ulster clasping the Armalite in one hand and the ballot in the other.

The Minister finds nothing wrong with that; that is all right. Those people are doing it to be elected. If they can use the lack of legislation before the election, they will certainly use the legislation after the election. Those who think that the members of Sinn Fein are all fools, that they are illiterate and do not know how to exploit Britain's neglect of democracy in Northern Ireland, are fair mistaken. I am convinced that during an election campaign we shall be faced with continuous gloating over the destruction and murder of the good people of Ulster, whether they be soldiers, UDR personnel, members of the RUC or the innocent citizens throughout the community.

Why should Sinn Fein get off? It will be interesting to hear the Minister tell the House why he thinks that those who are vocal in their support and calling for support of the Armalite and the ballot box should get off during the election campaign. The people of Ulster have suffered for too long. I am convinced that if Sinn Fein members stood on the mainland during an election campaign and gloated over the murder of the eight British soldiers in my constituency a few months ago, a Minister would soon be. rushing to the Dispatch Box to close any loophole because there would be such a volume of objection from the community.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, especially at election times, from nomination day onwards, measures should be in place to ensure that no one exhorts others to violence for political gain, and that it is most important that every candidate should guard his words to ensure that he is elected on the basis of good common sense and reason to deal with the practicalities and needs of the constituents whom he desires to serve?

Rev. William McCrea

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and wholeheartedly agree with him.

I am convinced that the vast majority of those who stand in an election will say nothing to the detriment of democracy in Northern Ireland, but, alas, there is a group of people in our Province, which is part of the United Kingdom, who have no thought for democracy. They do not care how hurtful their words will be or how vicious their actions. There will be support for acts of terrorism in our Province.

When an election is called, we should ensure that candidates who are elected to local councils in Northern Ireland have an interest in the people and in democracy and are not out to destroy the basis of democracy in the United Kingdom.

9 pm

Mr. Maginnis

I need scarcely add to what my hon. Friends have said about amendment No. 22 which states: after nomination until the declaration of the count and, if elected, during the life of the elected authority members should be prevented from promoting violence, or at least commit themselves not to promote violence.

I wish to seek clarification from the Government about their amendments Nos. 25 to 27. I want to paint for the Minister a picture which I hope he will either refute or confirm. If the Bill is enacted, I, as a presently elected member of a district council, could not, during the lifetime of the next council and coming up to the council election in 1993, promote violence of any sort. However, a new candidate who has not previously been elected would be quite free, during the run-up to an election, to do so.

Mr. Needham

indicated assent.

Mr. Maginnis

I see the Minister nodding, so he is obviously telling me that there is an anomaly in the Bill.

Mr. Needham


Mr. Maginnis

I cannot promote violence during an election campaign, but a new member can do so. What the Government have done about that anomaly is astounding. Instead of saying that we must ensure that no one is able to promote violence during an election campaign, because we believe in democracy and not in the use of violence for political ends, and saying that we must bring the new candidate under the same rules as someone who is already a sitting member, the Secretary of State has decided that it is not a good thing that I, as a sitting member, cannot promote violence for political ends. He is, in effect, asking the House to ensure that I have the same opportunity as a new candidate to promote violence for political ends during an election campaign. That is utter nonsense. It is a shameful proposal from those who are responsible for trying to ensure that the democratic process is maintained in the difficult circumstances that pertain in Northern Ireland at present.

Are right hon. and hon. Members prepared to support Government amendments that promote the very thing that the Bill is intended to prevent? From the first moment that I saw the discussion paper that the Minister produced in October 1987 I had grave reservations about whether there was any possibility of dealing properly with people who have a ballot paper in one hand and an Armalite in the other, determined to undermine what the vast majority in Northern Ireland hold dear. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined that a member of Her Majesty's Cabinet—the amendments are in the name of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—would bring to the House amendments which permit the promotion of violence.

Let us imagine the use that presently elected members of Sinn Fein will make of the legislation. For three weeks after nomination for council elections they will parade the highways and byways, the housing estates and meeting places throughout Northern Ireland telling the community, "We support the IRA. It is right that the armed struggle"—that is what they call it—"should continue. You must understand that we support the IRA. We give the IRA wholehearted support in violence not just against members of the security forces but against the civilian population." In my constituency the violence is very much against the civilian Protestant population.

The Sinn Fein councillors will say, "We support violence and will continue to support it for the next four years while sitting on Fermanagh, Dungannon or Magherafelt district councils. Do not fear; we will not weaken in our support for the campaign of murder. Of course, we will not be able to say so. We will probably not choose to say so unless it suits us to test the faulty legislation, but we are without doubt behind the IRA the whole way." That can happen for three weeks. The House should remember that it is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who is making it possible. I am amazed. I hope that no honourable person in the House will vote for the Government amendments.

Mr. Needham

As the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) pointed out, the amendments apply only to sitting councillors who are nominated at the next election. The reason is that it cannot be right in the constitutional process to pass a law which would affect existing councillors but which they could not conceivably have known about when they stood and were elected four years ago. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to grasp that the amendments are not designed to deal with what happens during election campaigns. It was never designed to deal with that. From the first instance it was to deal with problems in councils and within the assembly once an election has taken place and how elected members behaved within the councils or the assembly.

An important question needed to be considered about what happens post-candidature during an election campaign. The Government concluded that, however abhorrent it is to all of us in this House who support democracy, there is a time when those who advocate violence as a means of gaining their political ends should be allowed to put their political views before the electorate.

I can assure the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), who is not in his place, that we did not do that on the basis that by allowing such candidates to parade themselves they might lose votes, nor do we believe necessarily that they will win votes. But the principle that we have adopted, which we believe to be right, is that during the election campaign those candidates who believe in what are to us obnoxious views should be able to put them before the electorate. What we have always been concerned to do in the Bill is to deal with the effectiveness of a declaration once the election has taken place and councillors or assembly men have taken their places.

The amendment proposes that the declaration should bite during the candidature and the election campaign. There is, of course, no remedy. The only remedy under the Bill—and this has always been clear—is disqualification.

We believe that that is the correct remedy for a breach of the declaration in a council or the assembly. But there is no remedy or sanction against those candidates who fail to get elected. Nothing makes bad law worse more effectively than law without sanction.

Therefore, the amendment can have virtually no effect, because nothing will happen to those candidates who stand in an election and breach their declaration and are not elected. The amendment would have the very effect that the hon. Gentleman suggested, of encouraging people to put up their names for election, to sign a declaration and then breach it. But as there is no sanction to it, the amendment would be totally ineffective.

Mr. Beggs

Is the Minister saying that from now on during election campaigns there will be open season for incitement to violence on all sides and that no action will be taken?

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman knows full well the existing laws on incitement to hatred. I do not need to set out for him the panoply of existing law. We are talking here of what happens during and after an election campaign, when the rules of the democratic process must be observed. Such considerations were the subject of my discussions with councillors over several months, especially concerning what happens in council chambers. We were discussing not what happens during election campaigns, but what happens in councils and what might happen in the assembly. The amendment has no sanction and will achieve nothing. It will not make the slightest difference to what goes on during an election campaign.

Mr. Maginnis

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is unintentionally misleading us. He is saying that there is no sanction. He may be partially right, in that there is no sanction against a candidate who advocates violence and is not elected. But that is not the person that we are concerned with. We are concerned with the person who advocates violence and who is elected and with whom I have to share a council chamber for four years. There is a sanction against that person as soon as he becomes elected if he has promoted violence during the election campaign. I will not have to be a total hypocrite. It is not the fact of having someone in the same chamber who is not at this moment promoting violence that worries me but rather having someone in the chamber who is pretending to be a democrat like me yet who, before coming into the chamber, quite openly advocated violence. That is the problem that the Minister should address.

9.15 pm
Mr. Needham

I have addressed the problem, as I told the hon. Member, by saying that the Government believe that, however much we disagree with and abhor those who promote violence, from whatever side of the community, the right way to stop them is not to introduce a declaration when they become candidates. That would be going too far. It would be an abuse of somebody's right to stand for election. We believe that the problem exists in the council chambers, in the assembly, amongst those people who are elected, once they have been elected. That is when the declaration bites.

Rev. William McCrea


Mr. Needham

The hon. Member asks me what happens in the three weeks leading up to the election.

People can stand as candidates and continue to advocate violence during the whole election campaign, the hon. Member says, and then they will use it for their own ends: once they are elected, they will say nothing. They will be quiet for four years. I would be surprised, knowing the political astuteness of the hon. Gentleman, if it were possible for such people cynically to sign a declaration, then go through an election campaign, saying one thing, then become elected and spend four years in the council chamber without opening their mouths or giving some indication of their views. That is hardly likely. The declaration should apply to those people once they are elected.

Mr. Ashdown

I recognise that there is a very delicate balance to be struck here and it may be that the Government have the balance right. I recognise the complexities of the problem. But surely there is a potential sanction. The Minister will recognise that if an elected candidate should breach his declaration he is banned for five years. If the Government were to extend that ban to seven years and apply it to candidates as well, they woulid not only suffer in that election for having broken the declaration as candidates but they would be unable to stand for the following election as well. So there is a potential sanction available to the Government that falls short of the sanction proposed earlier, which he knows I oppose, the sanction of the criminal law. Would the Minister indicate the Government's reasoning against a course of that sort?

Mr. Needham

We are straying from the amendment. The Government's view is that disqualification for five years, which covers one whole election period, is sufficient penalty for a breach of the declaration. It must be remembered that we are looking at this matter against the background of the rest of the existing criminal law, including incitement to hatred, and that we are talking about what goes on in a council chamber or an assembly.

I do not want to repeat myself. I think that I have made the Government's position clear.

Rev. William McCrea


Mr. Needham

We have considered the case long and hard and we felt on balance that it was right that during an election candidates should be entitled to put their views. We find those views obnoxious. We do not believe that it is any way to conduct an election campaign or a basis for any sort of policy for a politically pluralist society. It is not right that, at this stage, we should stop candidates from putting their views during elections. For that reason, I ask the House to reject amendment No. 22.

Rev. William McCrea

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you assist hon. Members standing behind the Minister? I hope that I was elected to the House in the same way as everyone else. Although he has his back to me, will the Minister accept that I have a right to make contributions to the debate which may be helpful? It seems that, whenever requests are made for him to give way, he always gives preference to hon. Members facing him.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has exactly the same standing as every other hon. Member. I imagine that the Minister had not seen that he was on his feet.

Question put, That the amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 11.

Division No. 54] [9.20 pm
Alexander, Richard Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Amess, David Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Amos, Alan Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Arbuthnot, James Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Hunter, Andrew
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Irvine, Michael
Ashby, David Jack, Michael
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Janman, Tim
Atkinson, David Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Batiste, Spencer King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Knapman, Roger
Boswell, Tim Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Bowis, John Knowles, Michael
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Lang, Ian
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Lightbown, David
Bright, Graham Livsey, Richard
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Lord, Michael
Burt, Alistair Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Butler, Chris McCrindle, Robert
Butterfill, John MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Maclean, David
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Mai ins, Humfrey
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Mans, Keith
Carrington, Matthew Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Carttiss, Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Cartwright, John Meyer, Sir Anthony
Chapman, Sydney Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Conway, Derek Morrison, Sir Charles
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Moynihan, Hon Colin
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Needham, Richard
Cope, Rt Hon John Porter, David (Waveney)
Cran, James Raffan, Keith
Currie, Mrs Edwina Roe, Mrs Marion
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Rowe, Andrew
Davis, David (Boothferry) Sackville, Hon Tom
Day, Stephen Sayeed, Jonathan
Devlin, Tim Shaw, David (Dover)
Dorrell, Stephen Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Dover, Den Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Durant, Tony Skeet, Sir Trevor
Dykes, Hugh Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Emery, Sir Peter Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Fallon, Michael Stern, Michael
Fearn, Ronald Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Fenner, Dame Peggy Summerson, Hugo
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Fishburn, John Dudley Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Fookes, Dame Janet Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Franks, Cecil Thorne, Neil
Gale, Roger Thurnham, Peter
Garel-Jones, Tristan Tracey, Richard
Gill, Christopher Twinn, Dr Ian
Good lad, Alastair Viggers, Peter
Gower, Sir Raymond Waddington, Rt Hon David
Greenway, Harry (Eating N) Wallace, James
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Waller, Gary
Gregory, Conal Warren, Kenneth
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Watts, John
Ground, Patrick Wells, Bowen
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Widdecombe, Ann
Hanley, Jeremy Wood, Timothy
Harris, David
Hay hoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Tellers for the Ayes:
Holt, Richard Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) and Mr. John M. Taylor.
Beggs, Roy McCusker, Harold
Cryer, Bob Maginnis, Ken
Kilfedder, James Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Paisley, Rev Ian
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Tellers for the Noes:
Skinner, Dennis Mr. William Ross and
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Rev. William McCrea.
Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)

Question accordingly agreed to

Amendment made: No 26, in page 3, line 6, after 'if', insert

'at any time after he is declared to be elected at that election or is chosen to fill that vacancy and while he remains a member of the district council or of the Assembly'.—[Mr. Needham.] 9.30 pm
Mr. McNamara

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 3, leave out lines 26 to 28.

Mr. Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

  1. No. 6, in clause 7, page 4, leave out lines 11 to 15.
  2. No. 7, in clause 8, page 5, line 1, leave out subsection (2).

Mr. McNamara

I shall be brief. This is an important issue, and that is why we prefer to have it debated on the Floor of the House rather than in Committee. It concerns Parliament and parliamentary privileges and the powers to be held by the Northern Ireland assembly, if it should meet again, as the Opposition hope it will.

The purpose of the amendment is to protect the privileges of the Northern Ireland assembly. If effective devolved institutions are to be set up in Northern Ireland, real powers will have to be transferred to the subordinate assembly. This was recognised in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 whereby the effective powers of Stormont with regard to the proceedings of the assembly and the manner in which they should be treated were transferred to the subordinate assembly in Northern Ireland.

It would be impossible for a new assembly to operate correctly if its rights and privileges were to differ greatly from those of this House, especially in terms of the right of freedom of expression. In the House and below the Gangway we have the ability freely to express our opinions. We do it under the convention that the most favourable construction is placed upon our words and thoughts. In that way, we are best able to carry out our duties as citizens and Members of Parliament.

If an assembly in Northern Ireland is to work, it will have to be able to demonstrate the kind of leadership that will render the Bill superfluous. What we cannot do is create artificial stability by passing legislation that removes the right of most favourable construction from the Northern Ireland assembly.

Administrative measures of that kind will not make the assembly more stable, acceptable or responsible in the duties that it must undertake. For those reasons, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I ask the House to support the amendment to remove lines 26 to 28. That will be a small but important improvement in terms of parliamentary privilege, and we shall divide the House.

Mr. Needham

It remains our policy to seek progress towards devolution in Northern Ireland. The assembly would have an important part to play in that process, as I am sure the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) agrees. We would be looking for inter-party agreement on the way forward within the assembly. and fresh elections to it would be easy and straightforward.

It is more than probable that any future assembly will give rise to problems similar to those currently existing in local government. Therefore, it seems sensible to give to assembly electors and members the same remedies that district councillors, councils and their electors enjoy.

We do not want to give Sinn Fein or anyone else a political weapon with which to frustrate Northern Ireland's future political development. As has been mentioned many times tonight, Sinn Fein has the dual strategem of the Armalite and the ballot box, and there is no need to arm it with the new political weapon that removing the assembly from the Bill would present. Amendment No. 8 opens a major loophole in the Bill, making the declaration unenforceable against assembly members who were not councillors. More important, even those assembly members who were councillors might be free to say what they like in the assembly under the protection of its privilege.

It would be ridiculous if an assembly member who is also a councillor were bound by the declaration in his council chamber, but was able to move a few miles up the road and say in the assembly whatever he liked under the protection of its privilege. We see no sense in the Opposition amendment. It offers no likely way forward to a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. If anything, it places a further obstacle in its path. I urge the House to reject the amendment.

Mr. Ashdown

I was interested to know why the Labour party tabled the amendment, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for explaining so clearly. I am bound to disagree with him. The arguments advanced by the Minister make cogent sense. I thought that the Labour party, like us, wished to move towards a devolved Northern Ireland assembly as quickly as possible. Surely Labour Members recognise that a devolved assembly might be established before the provisions in the Bill could reasonably be lifted. Although I understand the amendment's sense, and agree to some extent with the argument for it, it would delay the process until circumstances existed that would make the legislation no longer necessary. That time must be further away rather than closer to us.

The conclusion to be drawn from the amendment is puzzling, to say the least. If Labour Members divide the House, I shall advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote with the Government. The amendment would remove a development that all parties who are keen on peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland wish to advance, sooner rather than later

Rev. Martin Smyth

I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) moved the amendment. However, in the light of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who leads the Democrats, I am puzzled at the suggestion that a move towards a Northern Ireland assembly may be further down the road.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North talked about favourable interpretation. I have sat here and heard hon. Members on occasion evince a marked degree of unfavourable interpretation. Allegations have been made, usually from a sedentary position, about other hon. Members. I wonder what would happen if a certain political party came here with its leader, who has been recognised by a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as the IRA's chief of staff—a view echoed in the Chamber on various occasions. I am sure that the Government are aware that that man's brother has recently been promoted again to the leadership of the Provisional command structure. How can a favourable interpretation be placed on the words of such people when we know what they are doing day by day and night by night?

Does this not highlight the real problem of the legislation: that there is an honourable way of dealing with terrorists and the parties that represent them? The House has done it in the past. It has even suspended hon. Members who were involved with such bodies.

Mr. McNamara

The Minister spoke about the nonsense of a person not being able to say something in a council chamber, but being able to go a few yards down the street to an assembly and there to be given full protection. Of course, Northern Ireland council members could come across the water to this place and also be given full protection. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) spoke of the ridiculous position of the IRA chief of staff. I accept his point, but equally we have sitting in the House people who have been at the formation of paramilitary organisations—who have, indeed, set them up and promised to give them full political control and to spread their political mantle over them. We are allowing those people to sit here and make speeches supporting paramilitary organisations.

That is the nonsense of the Government's legislation. That is why we are saying that if people are entitled to such protection here, they should be able to have it in the assembly in Northern Ireland.

Question put, That the amendment be made:— The House divided: Ayes 21, Noes 131.

Division No. 55] [9.42 pm
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Martlew, Eric
Boateng, Paul Michael, Alun
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Morley, Elliott
Flannery, Martin Mullin, Chris
Golding, Mrs Llin Pike, Peter L.
Haynes, Frank Skinner, Dennis
Hood, Jimmy Wall, Pat
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Wray, Jimmy
McGrady, Eddie
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Tellers for the Ayes:
McNamara, Kevin Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie and
Mallon, Seamus Mr. Bob Cryer.
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Alexander, Richard Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Amess, David Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Amos, Alan Bright, Graham
Arbuthnot, James Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't'a)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Burt, Alistair
Ashby, David Butler, Chris
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Butterfill, John
Atkinson, David Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Batiste, Spencer Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Beggs, Roy Carrington, Matthew
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Carttiss, Michael
Boswell, Tim Cartwright, John
Bowis, John Chapman, Sydney
Conway, Derek Lord, Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) McCrea, Rev William
Cran, James McCrindle, Robert
Critchley, Julian MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Mans, Keith
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Day, Stephen Meyer, Sir Anthony
Devlin, Tim Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Dorrell, Stephen Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Dover, Den Morrison, Sir Charles
Durant, Tony Moynihan, Hon Colin
Dykes, Hugh Needham, Richard
Emery, Sir Peter Paisley, Rev Ian
Fearn, Ronald Porter, David (Waveney)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Raffan, Keith
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Fishburn, John Dudley Roe, Mrs Marion
Fookes, Dame Janet Sackville, Hon Tom
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Sayeed, Jonathan
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Shaw, David (Dover)
Franks, Cecil Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Gale, Roger Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Gill, Christopher Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Gower, Sir Raymond Stern, Michael
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Stevens, Lewis
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Gregory, Conal Summerson, Hugo
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Ground, Patrick Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Hampson, Dr Keith Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Hanley, Jeremy Thorne, Neil
Heathcoat-Amory, David Thurnham, Peter
Holt, Richard Tracey, Richard
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Twinn, Dr Ian
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Viggers, Peter
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Hunter, Andrew Wallace, James
Irvine, Michael Waller, Gary
Jack, Michael Warren, Kenneth
Janman, Tim Watts, John
Kilfedder, James Wells, Bowen
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Wheeler, John
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Widdecombe, Ann
Knapman, Roger Wood, Timothy
Knowles, Michael
Lang, Ian Tellers for the Noes:
Lightbown, David Mr. David Maclean and
Livsey, Richard Mr. Michael Fallon.
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)

Question accordingly negatived.

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