HC Deb 22 April 1996 vol 276 cc147-60
Mr. Peter Robinson

I beg to move amendment No. 141, in page 2, line 39, leave out from 'person' to end of line 41 and insert 'whom that party in Northern Ireland itself determines to be its leader.'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following amendments: No. 92, in page 2, line 39, leave out from 'who' to end of line 41 and insert 'is nominated as such by that party'. No. 82, in page 2, line 39, at end insert 'chairman or'.

No. 9, in page 2, line 40, after 'party', insert 'in Northern Ireland'.

No. 80, in page 2, line 40, after 'party', insert 'in Northern Ireland or in an individual Northern Ireland parliamentary constituency'.

No. 123, in page 2, line 40, after 'party', insert 'in Northern Ireland in cases where the party has its Headquarters elsewhere in the United Kingdom'.

No. 33, in page 2, line 40, leave out from 'party' to end of line 41.

No. 81, in page 2, line 40, after 'person', insert 'in Northern Ireland or in an individual Northern Ireland parliamentary constituency. '.

Mr. Robinson

Two of the amendments in the group stand in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and myself. The intention of amendment No. 141 is clear. The Secretary of State, for some reason so far unknown to us, believes that he has a better knowledge and capacity to determine the leadership of political parties in Northern Ireland, and no doubt beyond, than the membership of the parties themselves.

I can think of nothing more absurd than the Secretary of State in the full exercise of the powers that he seeks for himself in the clause, determining that the leader of a political party should be someone other than the leader that the party itself has chosen. Yet under the clause the Secretary of State will be able so to determine.

Can anybody imagine the difficulties that would be presented if the right hon. and learned Gentleman were to exercise that power? I think that the temptation should be taken from him, and that instead we should have within the clause the sensible provision that the party itself should be able to determine who its leader should be at any given time.

Also in connection with the amendment, we should recall the fact that some of the parties that contest the elections in Northern Ireland may not be parties exclusive to Northern Ireland. Some of them may be parties that range over the whole of the United Kingdom, and some may be parties that range over the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State therefore determine who should be designated the leader of parties whose main leadership lies in the Republic of Ireland? If so, should not their leader in Northern Ireland be determined for the purposes of the Bill to be the person properly to exercise the functions of the leader, or "nominating representative"?

I do not want to tread on the Secretary of State's toes, but the provision is there for a specific purpose; it has to do with some local difficulties in the Conservative party. Clearly the Secretary of State is concerned that a "native view" of the Conservative party could be represented by the people who would be elected in Northern Ireland by one means or another—by the constituency lists or through the rigged regional lists—and that those people might present themselves to the negotiating process and put a view that was not in line with the view of Ministers. Indeed, theirs might be a view contrary to that of Ministers—and that might be no bad thing.

Clearly the Secretary of State wants to be able to step in at that stage and say, "Look, you boys can't come. The person I am designating as the 'nominating representative' of the Tory participants in the talks will be the chairman of the Tory party. Although you have been elected to take part in the process, he may determine not to nominate any of you."

Indeed, outside the Chamber the threat has already been made that, although people may win a place in the election in Northern Ireland, they will be barred by the chairman of the Tory party from taking their places in the negotiating process.

That would lead to the absurdity of the Conservative party being represented at the talks by people who had not been elected by the people of Northern Ireland—indeed, I suggest, by people who could not get elected by the people of Northern Ireland—while those who had been so elected were kept outside the door. I am sure that the House would not want to do something so undemocratic.

By this route, the Secretary of State is attempting to overcome problems in his party; but in doing so, he is creating several other problems. Will Proinsias de Rossa, as the leader of one of the other parties, be a nominating representative? Will a Dublin Minister make nominations for parties that would be elected in Northern Ireland and decide whether they come to the negotiating process? Are they to have double representation in the negotiating process? Both the Government and one of the partners in Government in the Irish Republic could be represented twice—locally in Northern Ireland, and through their Government as part of the large team that they wish to bring to the negotiating process.

The basic principle for democrats is that they should accept the democratic decision of political parties as to who their leaders should be. If the Secretary of State interferes with that, it will cause great anger in Northern Ireland, and not only in the party that would be affected by it. I therefore trust that he will, on reflection, recognise that the problems that would be caused by this provision, which is designed to overcome some of his own difficulties, mean that it would be better left out. He has accepted amendments from almost every body of opinion except my party, and this may be an opportunity for him to accept one of ours.

Mr. Trimble

I agree with the principle that underlies the amendment of the hon. Member for Belfast, East because it also underlies amendment No. 33, which I have tabled. I disagree with him about the detail, but the important thing is the principle. Both amendments attack the attempt in clause 5(1) to reserve to the Secretary of State a power to disregard the leader of any of the political parties in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East is right about the origin of the provision. It has been put in because of the structural difficulties that the Secretary of State's party has in Northern Ireland. His local difficulties with the Conservative party cannot justify giving him a discretionary power to select, in effect, who will be the leader of other parties. Other parties have their own procedures for electing leaders, and there is an obligation on the Secretary of State to accept the people who they have elected as their leaders. It is improper for him to give himself a discretionary power to disregard the leadership of a party and select someone else as the nominating representative. He must accept one of the amendments to remove that discretion.

The only question is about the manner in which it should be done. Amendment No. 33 would oblige the Secretary of State to accept as the nominating representative the leader of the party concerned. That means that the Conservatives in Northern Ireland would have to rest content with their party's method of identifying their party leader, who would, of course, be the Prime Minister. I see no reason why he, as the leader of the Conservative party, should not act in the same way as other party leaders.

That is a detail. The detail is one thing; the principle is a matter of considerable importance. It is improper for the Secretary of State to take unto himself a sweeping power that is potentially disruptive of the internal order of all political parties in Northern Ireland. It must be withdrawn.

Mr. Wilshire

I was touched by the concern for my party's welfare shown by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson)—so much so that he might care to consider joining my party: his moderating influence within it would be useful to us.

12.45 am

In the past hour, it has become deeply fashionable for my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench to leap up and say, "We'll accept it." I have three amendments in this group, and I have carefully drafted a two-hour speech. To get to bed early, I will willingly give way if a Minister wants to leap to his feet and say that he will accept them. Perhaps he will not, so I shall explain that amendment No. 80 defines the word "party" in the Bill as meaning that part of the party that is in Northern Ireland or one of the individual constituencies. Amendment No. 81 defines "leader" in this context as the leader of the party in Northern Ireland or in one of its individual constituencies. Amendment No. 82 clarifies the fact that "leader" does not necessarily mean what the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said. Here it has a small "1", and it could be the chairman or the leader, rather than a specific office holder.

Amendment No. 80 is the key, as far as I am concerned. It makes it clear that it is the party—whichever party—in Northern Ireland that does the nominating. I need to explain why I consider the amendment necessary.

As I read the suggestion, my party is once again having a little local difficulty with the way in which it goes about its affairs in Northern Ireland. There has been a continuing disagreement between the party hierarchy and the grass roots. The party is finding it difficult to decide whether we should fight the elections and, if we should, to sort out who should select the candidates.

Of course we should fight those elections. A political party exists in a country to fight elections. Northern Ireland is part of my country, and we exist to fight elections in that part of it as well as everywhere else. The fact that people might not vote for us is another matter, but it is up to the people to decide, not the party hierarchy.

The justification is that, as a Conservative party, we have decided, for better or worse, to organise in Northern Ireland. It is our right and privilege, and if other people choose not to do so, that is their privilege. On the back of that decision, we have agreed to accept subscriptions from individual citizens living in Northern Ireland to join our party. When I first came into the Conservative party, I was always taught that we owed it to our members to allow them to stand up and be counted if that was what they wanted to do.

We owe it to the people where we organise to give them the privilege of voting for us or rejecting us, once we are an organised party in that area. If that is so—I believe it to be—as I have always maintained, one of the things that we hold particularly dear within the party is that it is a cardinal principle that each constituency association selects its own candidates. I cannot speak for any other party, but all of us on the Conservative Benches owe it to our constituency to decide that it is us and not another Conservative whose name appears on the ballot paper. That principle should be followed in this case.

The Government have chosen to say that the elections will be run in individual constituencies. For me, that shows where the final responsibility for the decision to put forward candidates lies, and who those candidates shall be.

My amendment No. 81 takes that argument one step further. Another difficulty which has been touched on is that, even if local people can decide to fight the elections and are able to select their own candidates, the Bill still says that the leader nominates the negotiating team. The hon. Member for Upper Bann put his finger on the problem exactly. The Bill says that someone on the mainland, not in Northern Ireland, will be the person who puts forward Conservative names for the negotiations. In my judgment, that loophole has to be closed.

Amendment No. 81 says that the person who puts forward the names is the chairman or the leader of the Conservative party in Northern Ireland, if there is such a person, or, if there is not, the leader or chairman in the individual Conservative associations.

There is another loophole, which was touched on a moment ago. It is possible to put forward names from people living on the mainland, not in Northern Ireland. Although it is not in this group, I have tabled another amendment which says that a person cannot be nominated to take part in the negotiations if he or she lives on the mainland. That, I hope, will deal with that loophole.

Amendment No. 82 is technical: it says that a chairman or a leader can do the nominating. My own party prefers to have chairmen within local parties rather than leaders.

Amendment No. 141 says that Northern Ireland elects its own local leader. I agree. I would happily support that amendment instead of my own, if it was necessary. Amendment No. 92 says that the party shall decide who puts forward names, not the Secretary of State. If I have watched events clearly over time, I have noticed that the Secretary of State gets himself into all sorts of difficulties, tangles and troubles with matters with which he properly has to deal. So why should he be so keen to take on something which is guaranteed to cause even more aggravation—determining who is the leader of a party, when by far the safest way is to spare himself that aggravation by leaving it to the party itself to decide who its leader or chairman is?

The way in which we can put the matters that I have raised to rest is for my right hon. and learned Friend to answer three questions. All he needs to do is to say yes to each one. Can he confirm that the Conservative party will be fighting the elections in Northern Ireland? Can he confirm that the Conservative parties in Northern Ireland will choose their candidates? Can he confirm that the Conservatives in Northern Ireland will nominate their own negotiators for the talks that will follow? All that my right hon. and learned Friend has to do is say yes, and we can all go home.

Mr. Canavan

Unity is breaking out all round. I agreed with almost everything that was said by the hon. Member for Belfast, East when he moved amendment No. 141, and with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Upper Bann. My amendment No. 92 would make clause 5(1) read: In this Act 'nominating representative' in relation to a party means the person who is nominated as such by that party. My understanding of the Bill is that the nominating representative does not have to be an elected delegate. The Secretary of State would have discretionary power over who was to be the nominating representative.

The nominating representative has the important function of, in effect, choosing the party's team of negotiators. In the interests of democracy and decentralised democracy, the parties in Northern Ireland should decide who their nominating representatives and their negotiators are. In this instance, the amendment of the hon. Member for Belfast, East is better worded than mine. Therefore, I am prepared to withdraw my amendment in the interests of his amendment.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The most reassuring and succinct way in which I can begin my reply to this short debate is to say that there is absolutely no funny business involved in the wording of the provision under discussion. I think that the amendments stem from a misunderstanding of what the provision says and what it intends to achieve.

The Bill does not allow the Secretary of State to decide the leader of a party. Under the Bill, he has to make a sensible judgment—which he will do in consultation with the party concerned, because that is the whole point—as to who is the leader; that is, who has been chosen by the party through its procedures, or, because some parties do not like to have leaders and make a point of not having leaders, who is the most appropriate person to act for the party.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I shall expand on my point and then give way to the hon. Member.

Because we foresaw in the circumstances of Northern Ireland that we might be confronted by assertions that this was to discriminate against a party that did not have a leader, and made a point of not having a leader, which might lead to all sorts of unnecessary complications, in drafting the Bill we sought to approach this point in what I believe to be a sensible way that would enable the Secretary of State to make a choice that is no more than a means to an end.

The Secretary of State will get lists, which can be validated, of negotiating teams from the delegates. There may be perfectly good reasons why a party might want to say, for example, "In making your choice, Secretary of State, please take account of the fact that we want our general secretary to be our nominated representative." We have consulted in this regard, and some parties suggested names that were not their leaders. Some parties may take exception to the concept that they should have a leader. This Bill does not force them to do so, but the amendment would. That is what it is all about.

Mr. Corbyn

The Secretary of State seems to me to be making heavy weather of a ridiculous power that he has taken on himself. Why does he want to get involved in who should be the leader or the representative of a political party? Obviously, if they choose one person and he decides to choose someone else, the person he chooses will have no credibility either within his own party or within any other party. Why does the Secretary of State want to get involved in all of this?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I do not wish to get involved in who is the leader of a political party—I want to get involved in who shall be a validating nominator for the purposes of the Bill. I want to be able to select someone, to invite someone, who will be able to do the job with credibility. I am very happy when a party says, "We have a chairman or a leader, and we wish them to undertake these functions." Naturally, I am very happy to say, "Of course, that is the person I shall invite."

As I sought to explain, it is where a party has no leader that I wish to be able, within the wording of the Bill, to choose someone who would be the appropriate person to act on behalf of the party for purposes of its own. If it is of any reassurance, I am happy to repeat that that is the sole purpose of the provision.

Mr. Wilshire

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Secretary of State give way again?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I think my hon. Friend got in first.

Mr. Wilshire

I hear what my right hon. and learned Friend said. He has advanced an argument to say why one should not specify "leader", and certainly why one should not accept my amendment to specify "chairman". He has advanced no argument to say why one should not invite a party to specify someone. Will he therefore tell us that he is prepared to table an amendment on Report or in another place that simply says that a person in the party shall put forward the names, and leave it to the party to describe who that person is? Surely that clears up his worry and does not land him with the difficulties of trying to make choices for independent parties.

1 am

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I doubt that that is necessary, because we are dealing with a party and, under the scheme of the Bill, we wish the party to identify to the Secretary of State someone who shall be invited as its nominating representative to perform the functions for which the Bill provides. It is for the party to be consulted on these matters, and I give an undertaking that in every instance I shall consult the party. That is the sole purpose of the wording.

I understand why these points are being taken, but I very much hope that, in the light of that explanation and of my undertaking, hon. Members will be reassured.

Mr. Corbyn


Mr. William Ross


Sir Patrick Mayhew

I give way to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn).

Mr. Corbyn

I am sorry to tell the Secretary of State that I am not in the least bit reassured. He is taking unto himself the sort of powers that Stalin had to decide who was regional secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union in whatever republic he happened to remember it was. There are plenty of similar examples throughout the world.

It is nonsense. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and me says that the party shall nominate a representative. It does not say leader; it says representative. If the amendment is all to do with the Conservative party, why does not the Secretary of State table his own amendment, saying that he shall nominate the leader of the Conservative party, but all other parties may nominate their own leader?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Tremendous speculation and a great deal of amusement derive from references to the Conservative party in this. I do not want, at this hour of the night, to delay the Committee by repeating what lies behind the wording.

If I may take up the points—

Mr. William Ross

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

No; I am just about to deal with what my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne said.

Amendment No. 82, which my hon. Friend tabled, would define "nominating representative" for the purpose of the Bill as the person who appeared to the Secretary of State to be the chairman or leader of the party or otherwise"— to be the most appropriate person". I believe that that is an attempt to provide a basis in the Bill for the designation of a specific person in connection with the Conservative party. That is not germane to the reasoning behind the wording.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne asked for three questions to be answered. I shall not recite them. I say only that, under the wording of the Bill, the Conservative party is entitled to stand in these elections. The answers to those questions are the responsibility of those other than myself, and I cannot take the answers to those questions any further.

Mr. Wilshire

I understand my right hon. and learned Friend's reluctance, but, as we know that the Conservative party in Northern Ireland wants to fight, to choose its own candidates and to put forward its own names, surely my right hon. and learned Friend can tell us whether that will happen. Surely there are lines of communication with others in the Government who can answer this; I gave notice some days ago that I intended to ask these questions.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

My hon. Friend has lines of communication with everyone in our party—that is one of the great strengths of our party—and I advise him to use them. I am unable to take the answers to those questions further.

Mr. Wilshire

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

No; I wish to get on.

Mr. Wilshire

I was asked to raise these questions with my right hon. and learned Friend.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I shall respond to the points arising from my hon. Friend's amendments before I give way again.

Mr. Corbyn

He is only trying to communicate with you.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

He is managing it extremely well, and very frequently.

I think that the intended purpose of amendments Nos. 80 and 81 is to ensure that someone recognised as the party leader or other appropriate person in Northern Ireland shall be the nominating representative. However, mention of an individual parliamentary constituency involved is an added complication, which would make the election and subsequent naming of teams for negotiations unworkable within the scheme of the legislation.

In light of my comments, and realising the limitations that—poor vessel that I am—I labour under when dealing with his questions, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw his amendments. I end as I began, by saying that there is no funny business involved: the Bill is worded as it is in order to avoid a quite unnecessary complication.

Mr. Wilshire

My right hon. and learned Friend protests again that I am causing him unnecessary grief. I did as he urged, and put my questions to far more appropriate people. Interestingly, they advised me to speak to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I have done that, and I have been pointed in a different direction. If my right hon. and learned Friend cannot or will not answer my simple questions, would he care to have a stab at telling me whom I should ask?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I did not realise that I had given way, but evidently I did. The matters do not lie within my field of responsibility. I am always ready and willing to take on new responsibilities in addition to my own, but no one has vested them in me at present.

Mr. William Ross

We have heard some very interesting exchanges while debating this group of amendments. I have tabled a small amendment, No. 123, and I had concluded that the drafting is pretty sloppy, as it is clearly incomplete. I am now convinced of that as one of my manuscript amendments which I suspect would have completed the process has gone astray. Therefore, my amendment must be treated as a probing amendment as it is only part of a whole. In light of the Secretary of State's comments, I think that we are entitled to probe a little further.

For instance, during the to-ing and fro-ing with his hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), the Secretary of State said that he had consulted the parties in Northern Ireland. However, in relation to the Conservatives, he did not make clear whether he had consulted the Northern Ireland branch of the Conservative party, its headquarters in Smith square, the Prime Minister or the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney). The people of Northern Ireland are very interested in that issue and I feel sure that the Secretary of State will want to make clear whom he consulted in relation to the Conservative party in Northern Ireland. Perhaps he consulted his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Northern Ireland Office. We would like to clear up that point.

Although it pains me to do so, I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann who said that the leader of the Conservative party—in other words, the Prime Minister—should deal with the problems of that party in Northern Ireland. Earlier this evening when responding to my other amendments, the Secretary of State gave good reasons why the local franchise should apply. If the local franchise applies, the local branches of the party, rather than the national headquarters, should be consulted when necessary. It is plain from the remarks made by members of the Conservative party in Northern Ireland that they are at variance with party headquarters as to the party's Northern Ireland policy.

I am sure that since the Secretary of State is in favour of free speech and the rights of people to put forward an alternative policy, and since the alternative policy on Northern Ireland in the Conservative party is based largely with the members of the party in Northern Ireland, it is but fair and right that those members should be allowed to run on their version of Conservative policy rather than Smith square's version. That is only fair and reasonable, and there is no good reason why the Secretary of State should not say that those members are free, not only to stand for election but to put forward the solution that they, as residents and citizens of Northern Ireland, believe to be right for the Province and the people living there. Since that is so, I cannot understand why the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) involves himself in the matter at all.

The Tory party is, of course, a very broad church and it is nearly as broad as the Unionist party. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) may laugh, but the Labour party is becoming quite broad as well. If I may say so, the hon. Member for Spelthorne has tabled some neat amendments and he made a powerful and clear speech. His arguments were very clear, and the Government should follow the excellent advice contained in his remarks, which flowed naturally from the amendments. That would allow the people in the Conservative party in Northern Ireland to pass judgment on whether the policy pursued by the party should be that which emanates from the Secretary of State, Smith square and the Prime Minister or that which is set forth by the party in Northern Ireland. That could make the difference whether the Conservative party is represented through being elected in Northern Ireland. If the party went forward with the policies of Smith square, it is unlikely that it would be elected. We do not have that much against the Conservatives and we wish them well, especially in the United Kingdom as a whole at times, but perhaps they should expand into Northern Ireland by adopting policies that are acceptable to the people who live there.

The general thrust of the amendments is fairly clear. I hope that the Secretary of State will accept the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Spelthorne, because that would be a reasonable course of action.

Mr. Peter Robinson

When a Cabinet Minister comes to the Dispatch Box and attempts to assure the House that no funny business is going on, the alarm bells start ringing. The Secretary of State doth protest too much, methinks". When one considers the wording of clause 5, it is impossible to conceive that any competent draftsman, when tasked with the apologia that the Secretary of State offered to the House, would have produced this result.

It is clear that if the Secretary of State simply wanted to take care of the situation in which a political party may not want its nominating representative to be its leader, he could have worded the clause so that the political party itself would determine its nominating representative. Instead of doing that, he will give himself the power to determine who is the leader or other appropriate person. That does not seem to be the route that any draftsman would have used to secure the end result that the Secretary of State has now told us he wants. I believe that the Secretary of State has plucked a fig leaf to try to cover his nakedness in relation to his problems with the local Conservatives. Nothing that he has said has convinced me that clause 5 should not be amended in the way that has been suggested.

I am willing to give way if the Secretary of State will give an undertaking to reconsider the matter, take into account the views that have been expressed from both sides of the House and deal with the matter on Report. In the absence of such an undertaking, we will take the opportunity to divide the House.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. William Ross

I beg to move amendment No. 121, in clause 5, page 2, line 43, after 'Gazette', insert 'and the Northern Ireland regional press'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 120, in clause 5, page 2, line 44, leave out 'an initial' and insert 'a'.

No. 119, in clause 5, page 3, leave out lines 1 and 2.

Mr. Ross

The amendments are simple and straightforward, and I have no doubt that the Minister will feel able to accept them.

Here we have the word "shall" again. Clause 5(2) provides that the Secretary of State "shall", not "may", cause the information to be published.

Although it is an admirable publication, I do not think that The Belfast Gazette is widely read in Northern Ireland.

1.15 am
Mr. John D. Taylor

The Ulster Gazette and Armagh Standard is more widely read.

Mr. Ross

My right hon. Friend is plugging another paper, but I have no interest in it. I have never seen the blooming thing: it is in the wrong part of the country. As for The Belfast Gazette, it does not appear on as many tables as the Belfast Telegraph, the Irish News or the Belfast News Letter.

I am merely asking the Secretary of State to make the information available to the widest possible circle of people in Northern Ireland. Perhaps he would be kind enough to tell us the circulation of The Belfast Gazette, its print run and how many people read it. If he does that, and then gives us the sale figures for the Irish News, the Belfast Telegraph and the Belfast News Letter, we shall have some idea of the number of households that receive those papers, and it will be clear that the information should be published far more widely. Those who might well object to the nomination of a spokesman for their party would then be able to read what is proposed in the press, and make their objections known.

As for amendment No 120, I feel that the concept of an initial list means saying to the parties, "You can present a name, but we shall not necessarily stick to it. We could go for someone else next week, who might want a different list." Surely, if there are to be no hiccups on the way to the elections, it would be better to accept the amendment and have a fixed list of nominating representatives. If the Government cannot get a simple matter like that right at this stage, they have little chance of getting anything else right as we develop the talks process through the forum and negotiations. Surely, if the Government really want speedy progress, they will accept the amendment.

My third point relates to the two lines at the top of page 3, which refer to notice of any change in the nominating representative of any of those parties.

If the Minister accepts the second amendment, amendment No. 119 will follow naturally because there would be no need for the power. I have done a much neater job on these amendments than I did on the last lot. The Secretary of State should accept these, simple, straightforward tidying-up amendments and hasten the process leading to the election and negotiations.

Mr. Ancram

My right hon. and learned Friend has delegated me to respond to the amendments. I am a little surprised at their tenor because the hon. Member for East Londonderry has been chastising us for some time for undemocratic methods in the electoral process that we have proposed. We have successfully refuted those charges, but the hon. Gentleman suggests a process that is at least questionable because his amendment would require us to force our will on a free press. We would obviously resist that. He would require us to publish in newspapers that have to decide whether to publish advertisements or material, and they are not at the command of the Government. The amendment suggests that they are.

The hon. Gentleman fears that no one reads the Belfast Gazette. I am fairly certain, as I suspect is the hon. Gentleman, that the regional press in Northern Ireland will get copies and will reproduce the lists because they will have considerable news value. But that would be their choice: we could not make them publish anything.

Mr. William Ross

The Minister can cause them to be published in the Northern Ireland regional press if he takes advertisements. None of the newspapers will refuse an advertisement.

Mr. Ancram

The right hon. Member for Strangford is nodding sagely at that. A free press is entitled to make its own decisions, but the hon. Gentleman suggests that the Government should require newspapers to act irrespective of their views. It would create a risk of challenge to the whole process if someone thought that we had got it wrong. We intend to put all the necessary information in the public domain. In practical terms, the amendment is unnecessary.

In the light of our last debate, I do not think that the hon. Member for East Londonderry realises the effect of his subsidiary amendment. The point of referring to an initial list for publication of changes is to allow the Secretary of State to respond to a party's democratic wishes. For example, it would be ridiculous to have a nominating representative who no longer enjoyed the confidence of his or her party or who might have been voted out of office but could not be changed by the Act because of the amendment.

The amendment would place an undesirable block in the Bill. I am certain that the block is not intentional, given what the hon. Gentleman said about the other amendments. I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.

Mr. William Ross

Somewhat unwillingly, because the Minister has only to write to the parties and ask them who their nominating representatives should be, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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