Further Disqualification for Membership of Assembly

Part of Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 29th June 1982.

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Photo of Viscount  Cranborne Viscount Cranborne , South Dorset 8:45 pm, 29th June 1982

I support part of the spirit of new clauses 11 and 20. Paragraph (c) of new clause 11 reads: if he has accepted nomination for, or is a member of a legislature or local authority outside the United Kingdom". That would be a disqualification for membership of the Assembly. I am certain that my hon. Friend will argue that the wording of clauses 11 and 20 is defective. However, I earnestly ask him to look at the spirit behind new clause 11 and to accept, at least in part, the motives behind the framing of it.

It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I enter a sphere over which my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has already demonstrated his considerable mastery. Section 1(1)(c) of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1957 provides that membership of the legislature of any country or territory outside the Commonwealth is a disqualification for membership of the House of Commons. I understand that would disqualify for membership of the Assembly anyone who is a member of such a legislature.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will also help me on the two other proposals put forward under paragraph (c) of new clause 11. If that is already covered by the 1957 Act, I shall be content. I have not found such a provision in the 1957 Act, but it is possible that I may have missed it.

If I am right that those two disqualifications are not in the 1957 Act, will my hon. Friend accept them as disqualifications for membership of the Assembly? If a prospective or existing Member of the Assembly accepts nomination for a legislature outside the United Kingdom, that presupposes that he would happy to be a member of an Assembly that is part of the United Kingdom and of a legislature that is not, thereby putting himself in an impossible position of divided loyalty.

I know that later we are to debate the form of oath or affirmation that Members of the Assembly should take. Members of this House go through an impressive and unforgettable swearing-in ceremony when they first arrive. Therefore, some such affirmation of loyalty should be considered by my hon. Friend before Members of the Assembly can take their seats. That would be an expression of loyalty to the Crown and all that flows from it.

For the sake of argument, the prospective member of the Assembly may be about to stand for membership of the Irish Parliament. I can easily understand—there have been several examples over the past few weeks—members of the Irish Parliament finding themselves in direct opposition to the interests of this country. During the Falklands crisis Ireland and Italy were not willing to renew sanctions imposed by the rest of the European Economic Community. Accepting nomination to another Assembly is as good as accepting membership of that Assembly. The intention is clear. Therefore, it becomes incompatible with membership of an Assembly which, however much we may dislike it, is nevertheless membership of an Assembly within the United Kingdom. Even if the drafting of that part of the new clause is defective, perhaps the Minister will consider introducing an amendment along the lines that I have outlined, if not here, at a later stage in another place.

As to membership of a local authority, again I must seek guidance from my hon. Friend and others who know more about the subject than I do. Is it now possible for a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament to be a member of a local authority outside the United Kingdom? If so, it is arguably less undesirable than prospective or actual membership of a legislature. I can envisage circumstances in which it might be desirable.

Nevertheless, the same arguments apply, at least in part, as those against membership of a legislature. In the case of Northern Ireland, do not those arguments apply even more, particularly in view of the proximity of the Republic and the difficulties of loyalty that from time to time may arise?

Much has already been made about whether or not ministers of religion have the cure of souls. Again, I enter this argument with a considerable amount of trepidation, particularly in view of my history as one of the sponsors of a Ten-Minute Bill which, in some quarters of the Church of England, was considered to be a direct attack on the autonomy of that organisation.