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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment No. 7, page 1, line 15, at end insert—
'(d) be nominated as a chairman or a deputy chairman of a statutory committee'.
Amendment No. 14, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
'or is Chair or Vice Chair of a Subject Committee in the legislature of Ireland'.
Amendment No. 18, page 1, line 18, at end add—
'or on becoming a Chair or Vice Chair of a subject Committee'.
New clause 3—Disqualification from election as Speaker or Deputy Speaker—
'No person who is a member of the legislature of Ireland (the Oireachtas) may be elected as Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons'.
Amendment No. 9, in title, line 5, leave out 'Ministerial office' and insert 'certain offices'.
I had hoped that we would have time to range back over the previous debates. A number of things need to be explored, especially as the Minister saw fit not to reply to the short debate on the previous group of amendments, but, in your wisdom, Sir Alan, you have chosen otherwise, so we have come somewhat sooner than we had expected to the group of amendments relating to clause 2.
As you have said, Sir Alan, there are five amendments and a new clause in the new group. They are all much of a muchness. The same general thesis runs through them all. One Minister—he seems to have departed; no, he is there—said earlier that he was minded perhaps to accept amendment No. 7.
As you will see, Sir Alan, the amendments were tabled by me, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and by the right hon. Members for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) and for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). The amendments in the group all have a certain sameness about them, and are all related in the sense that they are aimed at preventing the same evil. Therefore, if the Government really want to make some progress on the Bill, the Minister should stop me now and say that the Government will happily accept the whole group of amendments. That would immediately resolve the difficulty.
The Minister seems to be unwilling to do that, although he has already said that he is accepting the principle in one amendment. As the principle is the same in all the amendments, what on earth is he worrying about? If the principle in amendments Nos. 7 and 21 is acceptable, why should it not be acceptable in new clause 3?
What troubles me is that, although the Government are sometimes consistent, the driving force behind their consistency is so carefully concealed behind a smokescreen of words and misdemeanours. One is never able to catch up with what they are doing until the evil consequences of their actions appear one year or five years later.
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is being fair when he says that the same principle underlines all the amendments. The chairmen are most definitely Back Benchers and are not at all comparable to members of the Executive. I think that the hon. Gentleman may have tabled and moved essentially a wrecking amendment.
The hon. Gentleman may justifiably accuse me of many things, but, on this occasion, not of tabling a wrecking amendment. I am anxious to improve the Bill, which needs so much improvement that it needs to be rebuilt. However, that is a totally different matter from wrecking it completely.
The Government must see some good in the proposals, or they have been grievously misled by the IRA. Perhaps Ministers have been so threatened or blackmailed by the IRA's weapons or other means that they feel they have to do as they are told. However, I assure the Committee that amendment No. 21 is certainly not a wrecking amendment.
For the sake of clarity, will my hon. Friend tell me why he has resorted to that ghastly "chair and vice chair" formulation? Conservative Members still talk about chairman and vice chairman, and we are proud and happy to do so. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends from Northern Ireland have not slipped into political correctness.
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that our proposals had to be tabled in great haste, before we were able to think them through entirely. So many people are now so anxious to apply the strictures of political correctness that they might ask, "What if it is a lady?", forgetting that, in United Kingdom legislation, the legal definition of the male embraces the female—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentleman should not get too carried away with that information; it is much too late, or much too early, for that.
I am talking about a legal definition, which Ministers will understand perfectly well. In British law, the term "he" encompasses "she".
It is time to leave these highways and byways and proceed to the amendments, although a few minutes on preliminaries are always well spent.
I regret the usages that so offend my hon. Friend—the Tories feel like hon. Friends again after 20 years or so. It is clear, from its long title, that the Bill is somewhat restrictive. Amendment No. 9 has been tabled to correct a drafting point by replacing the phrase "Ministerial office" with "certain offices". It is necessary because of the wide range of offices addressed by various other amendments. Not all such offices are affected, but a fair number are.
Preceding debates have made it clear that the Bill to some extent is intended to avoid the conflict of interests that has so exercised the minds of many hon. Members over the past few hours. We fear that the Bill does not achieve its aim. It is very badly drafted, and has clearly been cobbled together in a hurry. The amendments are an attempt to make it more precise and tighten the wording. We want to make certain that the Government's intention is fulfilled.
Clearly, clause 2 does not meet the intention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann, the leader of our party and the First Minister in Northern Ireland. That is despite the fact that it was inserted into the Bill at his request, as we were told earlier. The Bill does not meet the needs of the Ulster Unionist party or the Conservative party. It is kneejerk, ill-thought-out legislation designed to please the IRA.
The proverb "act in haste and repent at leisure" is well known. If we were to ask the IRA, "Would this Bill please you?", the real answer would be yes. The Secretary of State, the Government spokesman or whoever the present contacts are—
Order. As I have told the hon. Gentleman before this morning, he must confine himself to the amendments. They are, after all, his amendments.
Yes, he is not speaking at the moment—although he is listening.
The Government would say to the IRA, "Of course, whatever you want, right away." They are acting in haste and will repent at leisure. I note that although the amendments tabled by the Conservative party and ourselves are not exactly the same, we were aiming at the same targets for the same reason. The amendments are precise enough to meet the case.
It is not possible to serve two masters; it is not physically possible to be in two places at once. We must make up our mind what job to do and then do it. [Interruption.] I hear it said, from a sedentary position, that it is possible to collect two salaries. I have tabled amendments to deal with that and the concept of collecting two lots of office allowance, claiming double for plane flights and car journeys and heaven knows what other dangers.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the claiming of two salaries is dealt with later, when his remarks will be helpful. Perhaps he can keep his powder dry until we reach that stage.
I was responding to a sedentary remark, and I realise that I should not have done so. I was aware that this point would arise—after all, these are my amendments. I thought about the dangers to the public purse. It is a question not only of extra salaries but of the possibility of fraud, whether inadvertent or not. We will come back to that issue later.
The amendments would clean up the Bill, making it precise and tight. They would make it clear that certain people should not be permitted to do certain jobs. The Government have already admitted that there could be a clash of interests if people held ministerial positions in two legislatures.
It is impossible to imagine that a foreign legislator could do some of the jobs that I refer to in the amendments. That said, I think that we should not allow the doors to open.
Many things are happening in Northern Ireland today that I would at one time have thought impossible. They have been tried and, even though they have not yet been very successful, some people are still hopeful. We shall see how matters develop over the next week or two. My right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has written his resignation. The same holds true of the president of the party and the other Ministers in the Executive. If the weapons are not given up, we will be in a difficult position relatively soon.
I am more used to pronouncing Irish place names than Irish institutions such as the Oireachtas. I fear they are beyond me and I have no particular urge to learn how to utter these words. Bearing that in mind, let me quote new clause 3, which states:
No person who is a member of the legislature of Ireland (the Oireachtas) may be elected as Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons".
Under no circumstances, Mr. Martin, would I like to see a good Glasgow man like yourself replaced by a Dubliner. I prefer to be sitting under your control, Mr. Martin, or under the control of Madam Speaker, of Sir Alan and all the other hon. Members who preside over this House at one time or another. Every Member of the House would want a United Kingdom citizen to occupy that position. That is why I have tabled this extremely sensible amendment.
However, the Minister had the temerity to say that the Government could not accept the amendment. If we do not include this provision, sooner or later, some clown will tell us what we must do, because the European Commission of Human Rights says that it is not fair to allow one lot in without the other. That would raise the issue of hybridity; we do not want to go down that road. That is why I tabled the new clause.
Although I accept the hon. Gentleman's argument that the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker should not be Members of a foreign Parliament, is he not introducing a new concept—that there would be Members of Parliament who have differential rights to be elected to particular offices? That is why I suggested that the hon. Gentleman might be proposing a wrecking amendment. In essence, he is saying that those people could not be real Members of the Parliament.
That is my sentiment. They would have divided loyalty, so they could not be full Members of the House; they would not be part and parcel of the whole ethos of this place. In no circumstances, would I want to see the First Commoner of England a Member of Dail Eireann, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate what I am trying to do.
Although I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, nor a mind reader, I have a fair idea of what the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) was about to say. My response is that if an earlier amendment had been accepted—despite the doubts of some hon. Members—our view on this amendment might have changed. In those circumstances, we might have found it expedient not to move amendment No. 21. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that I am at least trying to be consistent in my efforts to improve this miserable Bill. I am trying to make it a little better by tightening it up.
From the days of King Charles and before—in trying circumstances—the Speaker has always been the protector of the rights and privileges of this place and of its Members. I should prefer to be protected by Madam Speaker than by Mr. Charlie Haughey, for example. At least, I should not have to watch my wallet if I was ill.
However, under the Bill, there would be nothing to prevent my fears from coming about. I have deep concerns; we should protect the position of the Chair. It should be reserved for a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament and for a citizen of the United Kingdom. I do not want it to go to somebody else.
The Minister has sat in lonely silence for a long time. We hope that, on this occasion, he will be tempted to get to his feet and explain why he is prepared to accept the principle of the provision, as he has already told us. It is surprising for a Minister to tell us long in advance that the Government will not accept an amendment under discussion, but that they will accept one that will be debated much later—two or three miles down the road. I always believe that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush any day of the week. The Minister is not a shooting man; he does not understand, but he will appreciate that it is always better to get what one can, when one can, from the Government and not give oneself up as a hostage to fortune.
Amendment No. 21 applies the same rule to the Northern Ireland Assembly. A Presiding Officer or Deputy Presiding Officer should not be a member of a foreign legislature. I should have thought that that was a very sensible amendment to table—unless the matter is covered elsewhere the Bill. We have not had much time to study the Bill to decide what was needed, because one never really knows what a Bill is all about until one has heard the Ministers speak at Second Reading and the detail has been teased out to some extent. Afterwards one decides what amendments to table. This time we did not have time, and it had to be done in a rush.
What I said with regard to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker applies with equal force to those who are the senior officers in the Assembly. The Minister tells us that the principle of amendment No. 7 is acceptable, but that amendment No. 14 is not acceptable. I have only a vague idea about the procedures in the Dail, but I am sure that it must have a Committee system, so the same principle should apply to the Dail.
That is the theory that underlies our amendments in the group. They are drafted fairly simply and straightforwardly. The Minister has not given us any reason, good or bad, why he will not accept them. We expect a bad reason if he is not accepting them The Minister admitted previously that Ministers in the Dail would have a serious conflict of interests if they also served simultaneously in the Assembly or the United Kingdom Parliament. Only the surface of that iceberg has been explored. The same must be true of all the officers mentioned in our amendments. It is pointless to say "Leave it to the Assembly; leave it to the electorate" when we have seen the wheeling and dealing by Government to avoid the IRA bombing some place or shooting someone or breaking their ceasefire. Mind you, whenever people are shot—a gentleman was shot at Portadown not so long ago—we are told that the people who shot them have not broken their ceasefire. People were murdered by the IRA; we are told that the IRA has not broken its ceasefire. I presume that that is looked upon as house-keeping. That is fairly bloody house-keeping, and a murderous house-keeping. It costs people their lives and causes a great deal of misery, but the IRA is still on ceasefire.
In those circumstances, I have great difficulty in accepting what the Government say. I believe that they are wheeling and dealing and doing everything that they can to buy the IRA off, and I believe that the Bill is part of that buying off. We shall see the Royal Ulster Constabulary wrecked. We have seen the prisoners let out. We have seen the proposal to let Sinn Fein-IRA in to make use of the facilities of the House and to collect, not only their salaries but 100,000 quid to run their propaganda machine back home. We have heard all the talk about the border observation posts going. We have seen gun running and smuggling—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is definitely straying from the amendment. Even allowing for the long hours that we have worked, I cannot allow him to stray so far.
I am sorry that you take that view, Mr. Martin. I was trying to explain to the House why the Government are not accepting the amendments. There must be something in the amendments that is offensive to the IRA; otherwise, they would be accepted.
Is not another possibility that the Government genuinely believe in what they are doing? It is possible to believe in two contradictory views simultaneously. It is called doublethink, which was invented by George Orwell, the 50th anniversary of whose death we are marking. Does that explain why the Government can accept the principle in some amendments and reject the same principle in others?
I read Orwell as a young man and found it interesting. Ministers should go back and read his books again, as that might give them an understanding of themselves and the problems with their own thinking. I do not want to trespass on your goodwill, Mr. Martin, so I had better move on.
The Government have swallowed all of those things that I mentioned earlier, at a cost of several hundreds of millions of pounds of oil revenue alone. That has been swallowed in an effort to keep the IRA on board. We should not pay the price that the IRA are evidently demanding. The IRA should accept the standards that normal, civilised folk accept. They should leave their thuggery, violence and threats behind. They should produce their weapons, dismantle their terrorist infrastructure, accept the rule of the Queen's law and pinpoint the bodies of the disappeared. The last point is another matter that is coming up again, although not in the Bill. However, it is relevant, as many people in Northern Ireland are concerned about it.
If the IRA left behind their embittered past and their hatred of all things British, perhaps my party might begin to treat them as a normal political party. As it is, we have to try to keep those in the IRA at arm's length to ensure that they do not get into a position where they can inflict more damage on the constitution of this country and its institutions. That is why the amendments have been tabled.
I am tempted to be drawn into the discussion about the works of George Orwell—simply to say that a text that the hon. Member for East Londonderry might have read sums up a little of what has taken place in the Chamber these last hours. It is "Homage to Catalonia" in which Orwell, who fought in the Spanish civil war, described the experience of trying to fight alongside the anarchists when nobody seemed to be in control. The anarchists had taken over the war and were not making a great deal of progress. I wonder whether Opposition Front Benchers might care to reflect on "Homage to Catalonia" and the lessons that they could learn from it.
The Minister will notice that I am temporarily in charge of our affairs, and it seems to me that we may be belated in our historical references. Was it not the white rabbit in "Alice in Wonderland" who had learned to believe six impossible things before breakfast? That seems to be exactly relevant to the situation in which the Committee finds itself at this hour.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is occupying the Front Bench or has stepped through the looking glass. In any event, he should consider looking at his own reflection rather than try to cast doubt on what we are doing.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry is capable of finding his own reading material without my help.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and to his colleagues for drawing attention in the amendments to the fundamental difference between the Statutory Committees of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Committees in the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales. They will be aware that the Statutory Committees in the Northern Ireland Assembly are entirely different. In addition to the scrutiny role that the Committees of this House and other legislatures have, they have an important role in developing policy. They do that in partnership with Ministers, and that point is set out clearly in the Good Friday agreement and in section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
It would be right to accept in principle amendments Nos. 7 and 9 and to include within the offices of the Assembly which may not be held by the Irish Government the positions of Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Statutory Committees of the Northern Ireland Assembly. As drafted, the amendments apply only to the proposed new section 19A(1), covering the position in which a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly is nominated to serve as the Chairman or Deputy Chairman. To have the desired effect, the proposed section 19A(2), will also require amendment to cover the situation in which a serving Chairman or Deputy Chairman becomes a Minister in the Irish Government. The Government will therefore wish to table the necessary amendment when the Bill proceeds to another place, to cover the issues raised by the two amendments before us.
I do not think that it would be right to extend the Bill to add further to the list of offices that may not be held, hypothetically, by Irish Ministers. There is, however, a fundamental difference between holding ministerial office in the Northern Ireland Executive or serving as the Chairman or Deputy Chairman of an Assembly Committee and serving as the Presiding Officer or Deputy Presiding Officer of the Assembly. While Northern Ireland Ministers and Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen of Committees are appointed under the d'Hondt system, the Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer are elected by the Northern Ireland Assembly, which can therefore judge for itself whether any individual proposed for such an office is likely to be affected by a conflict of interest.
It is appropriate that the Assembly should have the freedom to make up its own mind, and amendment No. 21 would prevent that. Similarly, this House should have the freedom to select its own Speaker. Therefore, new clause 3 should be rejected. Amendments Nos. 14 and 18 should also be rejected. As I have said, Statutory Committees in the Northern Ireland Assembly are fundamentally different from those in other legislatures which do not have the same statutory role in the development of Government policy. It is not therefore necessary to prevent the Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen of Committees in the legislature of Ireland from serving as Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive.
I am sure that we are all grateful to the Minister for taking the trouble in his courteous way to guide us in the debate at this relatively early stage. Having cleared the ground in our deliberations as a Committee, we are now starting to reach the meat of things. It is a relief to have got the preliminaries out of the way. I am delighted that we can now get down to the nitty-gritty—I have been waiting for this moment for some time.
The Minister was, in fact, less helpful than he might think he was. He helpfully indicated that the Government were prepared to accept at least the principle of two or three of the amendments, for which I suppose we should all be grovellingly grateful.
That is certainly a different way of looking at things. Typically, my hon. Friend is far more charitable than I feel inclined to be at this stage in the proceedings.
It is sad that the Minister resorted to the sort of argument that he has employed throughout our debates—one that is almost entirely false. I shall return to that matter later. First, I shall go carefully through the amendments and examine the different meaning and relevance of each one. The Minister acknowledged that they are all different by stating that he was sympathetic to some of them, but that he would reject others. That proved that, although the amendments are grouped, each contains principles and suggests approaches of which we should be separately aware.
The essence of clause 2 is that it makes an important distinction between those who hold political office, either elective or appointed, in the Republic of Ireland, and those who are, in their different ways, to participate in the new Northern Ireland Assembly. It is important that we have clear in our minds the lines of distinction that we wish to draw, and that we decide whether we are willing to contemplate those lines being blurred.
The thrust of much of our argument is that it is not only legitimate but essential that we maintain a clear distinction in our minds, in practice and in the Bill, between different nations, different sovereign states and different countries. It is of no consequence that those countries might share interests in the EU—that has no direct bearing on the Bill.
I do not believe that the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly and its various posts should be sufficient to persuade us that there should be a crossing of the boundaries that we have hitherto held to be important in distinguishing nations and their identity, and politicians and their responsibilities. We have touched on that issue in previous debates, albeit from a different angle. Now, we clearly see that the issue is whether someone who holds office in the Republic of Ireland should ever have the opportunity to hold further office, in a different capacity, in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Minister has correctly pointed out that some of the descriptions are slightly strange to us—for example, the posts of Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer. He helpfully told us that the roles of the Committees is different: Statutory Committees have both a scrutiny role and a policy development role—in partnership with Ministers, he added. Ministers of the current Government do not like to let too many sentences pass before slipping in the word "partnership". It gives them a feeling a security—it is a device to make Ministers feel that they are doing good things, that they are on-message and that everything will work out well. Partnership is a word they like to use as often as possible.
I suppose that it was innocent of the Minister on this occasion to tell us that the Statutory Committees in the Northern Ireland Assembly had not only the scrutiny role but the policy development role, in partnership with Ministers. He was at pains to say that. I have no objection to the word, but I think that it is usually fairly meaningless. The real test is whether the Committees work effectively and produce results.
Surely the important point is that the role of the Statutory Committees in combining scrutiny and policy development makes them particularly vulnerable to infiltration by politicians from an altogether different country. We must be aware of that as we pick our way through the complexities of the amendments. Time and again, we must ask ourselves how far, or whether, we believe that it is or is not compatible for politicians from the Republic of Ireland—a separate, independent country—to have the opportunity to play any role in the new arrangements that are emerging and developing in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
We have the Presiding Officer and his Deputy and the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Statutory Committees, who must be the subject of our considerations. On the other side of the coin, we must consider whether different sorts of people from the Republic of Ireland are, in their different ways, able to insert themselves into the political process in part of the United Kingdom. Amendment No. 14 refers—I must use the words because they are used in the amendment—to the
Chair or Vice Chair of a Subject Committee in the legislature of Ireland.
Amendment No. 18 refers to
a Chair or Vice Chair of a subject Committee.
I find those words difficult and distasteful, but I want to remain faithful to the amendments. I shall have a quiet word with those who wrote them later about using such ghastly forms of words. However, I suppose that we know more or less what we are talking about.
The issue is whether the Committee believes that it is reasonable to expect politicians holding either legislative or executive office to be doing so simultaneously in the Republic of Ireland and in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is a fairly straightforward question and I cannot understand why the Minister is unable to face it and accept the thrust of the argument.
If we want to see the Northern Ireland Assembly as a new and valid body to which people in Northern Ireland will look to reflect their new identity in the sort of world that we all want to see developing there, I have serious doubts about whether it will help the process if we allow, encourage or permit participation by political figures from a different country altogether. My argument is that it will distinctly hinder the process. In blurring these hitherto well-understood political distinctions between one country and another and their respective institutions, we are getting ourselves into some considerable dangers. The amendments are entitled to somewhat closer consideration than it would appear the Minister has been prepared to give them.
New clause 3 takes us again into different territory. It makes an explicit reference to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, and a different argument arises. The Minister touched on a part of it, and that was a reflection of an earlier debate. He said that surely the Members of a body—the Assembly or the House of Commons—should be free to choose or to elect anyone they saw fit to hold an office such as the Presiding Officer or the Speaker, for example. That is something on which we should reflect. It is a seductive argument and it plays to our vanity that we in this place should feel secure in being able to choose anyone for those offices.
I exposed the Under-Secretary's fallacious argument earlier when he claimed that the electorate should be free to elect anyone they want to a body, completely ignoring the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. I won that argument and the Under-Secretary lost it comprehensively. He has not yet come to terms with that. We could take the argument forward and claim that it would be legitimate, especially in the formative stages of the new Northern Ireland Assembly, for the House, as the Assembly's creator, to protect Assembly Members, even from themselves and their potential early misjudgments, for example, in selecting a Presiding Officer. Although it is tempting to say, "Off you go, new democratic body. Do your own thing and take your own responsibility," I tentatively suggest that the Assembly is not ready for that in its initial stages. It may be incumbent on us to consider that and decide whether we have an obligation to examine those matters carefully.
It is not always a bad thing. Perhaps members of the Committee, with their combined sagacity, should protect our colleagues who have not seen fit to participate in the debate as fully as some of us. We have taken the trouble to examine the Bill and digest its contents. It may surprise my hon. Friend to realise that we took the new clause more seriously than he thought at first blush.
The new clause develops a theme introduced in other amendments. It would ensure that
No person who is a member of the legislature of Ireland ֵ may be elected as Speaker or Deputy Speaker
here. That makes the large assumption that such a person would be elected here in the first place. Unfortunately, so far, we must take that as read.
Certainly not, Mr. Martin. It is tempting to try to protect ourselves from the Prime Minister, but he is here so rarely that I do not worry about his influence on the selection of the Speaker or any other matter to do with the House of Commons. That is one of the benefits of the Prime Minister's almost complete absence from the Chamber. My hon. Friend can rest assured on that point.
We have to make a judgment about how far it is proper and profitable in the context of the Bill and the amendments to try to protect perhaps even ourselves, and whether we should provide some assurance or protection to Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is still very new. Its existence is, regrettably, a matter for doubt and speculation.
Given the uncertainties that I have outlined, there is a strong argument for saying that we are obliged to provide as much of a framework, and as much assurance and proper protection as we can to the Assembly. That applies especially as the role of the new Committees, Presiding Officers, Chairmen and Vice Chairmen has yet to develop, as the Under-Secretary helpfully told us. We do not have a full idea of them at this stage because the Assembly is new. I include even ghastly mechanisms such as d'Hondt, which roll off ministerial lips so readily. The Government are ever so familiar and comfortable with our old friend d'Hondt—even though the Home Secretary can barely mention the name without giggling. On that, I am more with the Home Secretary than with some other Ministers. The Under-Secretary of State is obviously a sophisticated and urbane man who is used to moving in European circles. He uses words such as "d'Hondt" with great aplomb. I would not be surprised if he even knew how d'Hondt works. That is one reason why the amendments are so important.
Given the novelty of all the processes, procedures and institutions, it is incumbent on us to do everything possible to provide proper protection. I am much in favour of all the proposed measures. The Minister helpfully intervened early in the debate to give his view, but he has yet to hear the full panoply of our arguments. I am just providing a taster of the arguments that my right hon. Friends might want to deploy.
I hope that the Minister will think again in the light of our arguments. I was disappointed that he only went so far as saying, "We might accept the principle of one or two amendments and give the usual undertaking about returning to the question at another time, in another place." The Committee must decide whether it is satisfied with that response.
Although we may trust the Minister totally, it cannot be guaranteed that he will be in full control when the proposals go to the other place. Given the turmoil at the other end of this building, nothing can be guaranteed. A ministerial undertaking that something will be sorted in another place, given recent encouraging events there, is no guarantee. It may be that Governments could make such a guarantee in the good old days, but they cannot any more. I am happy to report that, under the allegedly temporary dispensation, the Government, it appears, cannot rely on delivering anything in another place. That makes us feel doubly nervous and suspicious of what the Minister has said, rather than reassured.
I am looking for something very different from the Minister at the conclusion of this debate. I want him explicitly to accept at least two of the amendments—and preferably to accept them all, for the reasons I have outlined.
I follow my right hon. Friend in discussing new clause 3, which is the most important of the new clauses and amendments in this group. The independence of our Speaker and the Speaker's role under our unwritten constitution are fundamental to our understanding of the importance of the proposed new clause.
In the first constituency that I represented—Southampton, Itchen—I was fortunate to follow in the footsteps of a distinguished former Speaker, Horace Maybray-King. He was originally a Labour Member of Parliament for Southampton, Itchen, but, as soon as he became Speaker, he stood as an independent. The prospective Conservative candidate was not permitted to stand against Horace Maybray-King because the convention is that a Speaker should be allowed to stand as an independent and be elected.
Maybray-King was still alive when I was elected in 1983. I remember him impressing upon a group of my Young Conservatives the important role of the Speaker in defending our rights under the constitution. He had been a Labour man originally, but was then an independent because he had assumed a new role. To reinforce his independence, we even passed a special Act of Parliament to provide a pension, not only for his first wife, but for his last wife—he certainly enjoyed the company of women. When he visited my Young Conservatives he was given a lift by the lady president and his first question to her was whether her husband was still alive. His reputation was such, but he commanded tremendous respect as an independent upholder of the traditions of the House.
Absolutely, Mr. Martin. In deploying my argument in support of the significance of our unwritten constitution and the office of Speaker, I refer to a lesson I was taught by another distinguished former Member of the House, the late Enoch Powell. I had the privilege of serving with him on the Procedure Committee in 1983–84. The first thing that he impressed on me was that, in the absence of a written constitution, the procedures of the House are our constitution. They are the ultimate bulwark that defends our liberties and protects us from oppression. The constitutional position is very different from that of a Speaker of a Parliament in a country with a written constitution. In the present circumstances, Madam Speaker is the ultimate arbiter on procedure, so it is of paramount importance that she is independent and seen to be independent.
Is not great force added to my hon. Friend's argument about the importance of the Speaker by the fact that the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill is currently going through the House and will give the Speaker enormous new powers to control the referendum process. Would not it be extraordinary if those powers were given to some foreigner?
I must be careful about using the word "foreigner", because it might be misinterpreted, but it would be unconscionable if those powers were given to a member of the legislature of another country. That is what the amendment is about and we must face up to that problem. We expect our Speaker to be independent and to give up all party-political positions in our legislature, but if the Speaker was also a member of a foreign legislature, he or she would fulfil a party-political role in it. Even if such a person's role was not party political, a conflict of interest would be seen to be involved.
The great European debate has already been referred to, as has the fact that Ireland is a net recipient of aid from taxpayers while this country is a gross donor of aid to other European countries, including Ireland. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is frequently debated in the House. How could we be assured of the impartiality of the Speaker if that person fulfilled a representative role in a country that was not a member of NATO, while purportedly being an independent defender of our liberties in this country? It would be intolerable. Why will the Minister not accept the new clause? The only reason he gives is that he believes that Members of the House of Commons should have the freedom to choose.
Not only have I not visited the Irish Parliament; I have never visited southern Ireland, so it would be difficult for me to speculate about the behaviour of individual Members of Parliament within the Irish legislature, let alone the Speaker.
I should like to develop my argument. I think that you, Mr. Martin, commented on this matter when I intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). We now have a situation in which the Prime Minister has more patronage than he has ever enjoyed before. It has been a traditional right of the House of Commons to elect its Speaker on the basis that each Member of Parliament makes a private, individual choice, irrespective of the wishes of the Government or Opposition Whips. But rumours are rife, particularly speculation that Madam Speaker may be thinking about retiring and that, for example, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) may be put up and supported by the Prime Minister as part of a deal.
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot stray into that matter. It has nothing to do with the amendment, and he should not speak about it. I will rule him out of order if he continues.
The reason why there is some relevance in my submission is that the Minister says that the House should have the freedom to choose. In supporting new clause 3, I am arguing that there should be a legislative bar on any member of a foreign Parliament standing as a candidate for Speaker of the House of Commons. The Minister asks us to trust the House, but it is relevant to point out that it is hard to accept that the Executive does not seek to participate in the process for election of the Speaker.
Order. That has nothing to do with new clause 3, which says:
No person who is a member of the legislature of Ireland…may be elected as Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons".
It has nothing to do with the process of electing a Speaker, and the hon. Gentleman should not stray into that matter. I told him that I will rule him out of order if he does so. If he wishes to continue, he will make no mention of the matter that he has already discussed.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I seek your guidance on a matter that is troubling me, in view of the turn that events seem to be taking. It is now five minutes past 7. I am very interested in this debate, and may wish to take part in it later this morning. However, under the new dispensation, a debate in Westminster Hall will start at 9.30, and I hope to take part in that as well. Obviously, I shall have difficulty in being in two places at the same time. There is an additional difficulty: as I understand it, as far as this debate is concerned, we are still in Tuesday, whereas the debate in Westminster Hall is taking place on Wednesday, and I shall have difficulty in taking part in a debate on Tuesday and Wednesday. May I have your guidance, Mr. Martin, as I do not think that such a situation has arisen before?
New clause 3 would prevent the Executive of the United Kingdom from being in a position to do a deal with the Government of Ireland that would involve the election of a Member of the Irish Parliament to the post of Speaker of this House of Commons. I want to guard against that hypothetical situation, which is why I support so enthusiastically new clause 3, which I think goes to the very root of our constitution.
The assurances given by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would have been more believable had he arranged our affairs so that we might have a Report stage. In that event, they might have been given some credulity, but the vague offer the Minister gave us about another place I found unsustainable.
I support entirely the practical objectives enunciated by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), but I differ in my estimate of the impact of the amendments. I am profoundly at odds with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) in my estimate of the impact of new clause 3. I believe that the new clause is a wrecking amendment in every sense of the term. It wrecks the principle of the Bill, and it wrecks this Chamber. Wrecking the principle of the Bill might have a certain attraction, but the principle of the Bill is that Members of another Parliament might serve in this sovereign Parliament.
I believe that new clause 3 offends against that, because in effect it says that those Members of this Parliament are not real Members of this Parliament. It introduces into this Parliament a concept that all Members are not equal—that they do not all have the same rights. They do not all at least aspire to the possibility of being elected Speaker.
I remember, in the last Session, having a debate that introduced precisely such a concept. There was a suggestion on these Benches—I mention this only in passing—that Members with Scottish seats should not vote on certain issues. Many Members reacted to that with horror and there was unease on the part of some of my hon. Friends. We did not like the prospect of introducing the concept of Members who had different rights. We are all equal Members of Parliament.
I therefore caution Members who are enthusiastic about new clause 3 that they are introducing a novel and unwelcome concept. I entirely understand their motive. The motive of protecting the office of Speaker from being held by a member of a foreign Parliament is an entirely worthy objective, although I see no practical possibility of that happening. I therefore do not think that we should pollute our constitutional theory in an obscure attempt to prevent it.
I am sure that the principle that I have enunciated applies, at least in some respects, to the other amendments. Chairmanships of subject committees in the Northern Ireland Assembly would probably benefit from the same principle. I am sure that any Member of such an Assembly should be able, by virtue of being a Back Bencher, to hold the office of Chairman of a subject committee. Therefore, to reintroduce a distinction between Members of Parliament is entirely invidious. We have before us an offensive Bill with an offensive principle, but we should not pollute our Parliament and arrangements in trying to work around that principle.
I am interested in what my hon. Friend has said. He is arguing strongly against the new clause. I point out further that the new clause is defective because, although it will not allow a Member of the Irish Parliament to be elected as Speaker or Deputy Speaker, it will perversely—it is a great defect—allow the Speaker or Deputy Speaker, having been elected here, to become a member of the Irish legislature.
I am not sure that it would. My hon. Friend is harking back to amendments on reciprocity, which would have been necessary to satisfy that condition. I will not be led down that road because I am sure that it would not be conducive.
No, it has nothing to do with reciprocity. It is entirely within the new clause, which says:
No person who is a member of the legislature of Ireland…may be elected as Speaker or Deputy Speaker",
but it does not say that the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons might not then become a member of Ireland's legislature.
That is true, but, as it is not possible for a member of the UK legislature to become a member of the legislature in Ireland, the possibility does not arise. Therefore, that is not a legitimate concern.
I have exhausted what I wanted to say. I simply offer a word of caution. I support the practical intent of the new clause, but the theory is abominable.
I know, Mr. Martin, that in your other capacity as Deputy Speaker in the House, you take the independence of the Speakership and Deputy Speakerships seriously. It will not surprise you to know that those of us who, in a minor capacity, have the duty and privilege to chair some of the House's proceedings regard the independence and impartiality of the role of Chairman equally seriously.
I wish to be brief, but I want to raise an important point. To some extent, it reinforces the point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne).
As new clause 2 stands, a Minister or junior Minister ceases to hold office on becoming a Minister of the Government of Ireland, but the Speaker of the House does not, as I understand it, hold an office under the Crown. The Speaker is appointed by the House of Commons. Therefore, as things stand—I ask the Minister to address the issue seriously—clause 2 will require a Minister to resign if he or she becomes a Minister in the Government of Ireland, but it cannot require a Speaker of the House who happens to be an Irish Member to resign as Speaker, if he or she also becomes a Minister in the Government of Ireland.
Ministers in the Government of Ireland are, properly, partisan. They are appointed by political parties. It is very unlikely, but not inconceivable, that the Speaker of the House of Commons, who is non-partisan, as tradition properly has it, could become a partisan Minister in another Government. Conversely, a partisan Minister, properly appointed, of another Government could be elected, gerrymandered in or appointed as Speaker of the House of Commons. That cannot be right. You in your role, Mr. Martin, and I occasionally in mine, surely cannot accept the concept that we have someone who has one foot in a partisan camp, but another in a non-partisan camp.
We come now—it is the thrust of my argument—to new clause 3, which, if passed, would obviate that situation. The new clause would simply state, "You cannot do it." Superficially, that solution is very attractive, as it would get rid of the problem. The new clause would ensure that the type of situation that I have just described—in which a partisan person has simultaneously to be a non-partisan person, wearing only half a hat—could not develop.
As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West said, if we go down that road, we shall immediately create two classes of hon. Member: one class of people who can be selected and elected by their peers to become the holders of what all hon. Members regard as one of the most dignified and prestigious offices of the land—the Speakership of the House; and another class of people who, although they sit on these same green Benches and are properly elected by an electorate who are allowed, under the Bill, to elect them, cannot hold that office. Are we seriously saying that we shall legislate to create a situation in which that is possible, even in theory? It cannot be right.
We cannot have two groups of hon. Member, so that Members in one group are able to become Speaker, whereas Members in the other are not. We cannot have more than one class of Member—one of which is able to hold office only in this place—or of Minister, one of which would have to resign if he or she became a Minister in another Parliament. In another group, those who hold an office that is not an office under the Crown, but who are appointed by the House of Commons, would be able not only to occupy the Chair, but, simultaneously, to sit as a partisan Minister in another Parliament.
The provision is absolute nonsense, and the House cannot let it pass. When we vote on clause 2 stand part, I shall have to vote against it on principle alone.
I had not realised that we would run out of speakers to the amendment so quickly, but I have been thinking seriously about some of the comments made earlier by the Minister. Various questions remain unanswered.
I do not know how on earth we could go along with the idea that the office of Chair or Vice-Chair could be held by a person who is also a Minister. Currently, the legislation would make that possible. It would be quite wrong to have someone serve both as Chairman or Vice-Chairman of a Committee and as a Minister. I do not know how on earth that could be acceptable to anyone. The Minister gave his views on the matter, but he did not convince me that his views were reasonable.
The Minister is also refusing to accept a reasonable proposal preventing the Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer from serving as a Minister. I do not know how on earth we could allow them to serve as a Minister. Although those Members, as Presiding Officer and Deputy, would have their own particular role to play and very considerable centralising powers, we are being told that they should also be able to hold down a ministerial post. Allowing them to do both would, among other things, upset the balance.
The person serving both as the Chair or Vice-Chair and as a Minister would upset the balance under the d'Hondt system. If we were to allow it, it would cause grave problems. The Minister said that the matter is for the parties to decide for themselves. However, considerations of political advantage may play a role in a decision on making a Minister the Chair or Vice-Chair. The same would be true of the posts of Presiding Officer and Deputy. It would certainly reduce the number of posts. There is no need for 12 Ministers in Northern Ireland. I see no good reason to go down that road. The Minister will have to give much better reasons for refusing the amendment than he has done so far.
Clause 2 provides that a Minister in the Irish Republic cannot take up a similar post in the Northern Ireland Assembly, although a junior Minister can. Such junior Ministers are not banned at all, unless the word "Minister" is a generic term covering all levels of ministries in Dublin. However, that cannot be the case, because the term "junior Minister" appears elsewhere in the Bill. If it appears in one place, there is no reason why it should not appear in another.
We must not allow junior Ministers in the Irish Republic to become Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The evils that would follow from that have been touched on in earlier debates. I can assure hon. Members who have just arrived and are no doubt amazed to see us that we are still here only because the Bill is so illogical that it could never be accepted by Northern Ireland Members, or by Conservative Members.
We must not allow the Minister to leave without telling us why the Government are not preventing junior Ministers in Dublin from being Ministers in Northern Ireland. That would lead to a form of joint rule, control and authority in Northern Ireland which would be anathema to the Unionist population there. If such a possibility were permitted even to appear on the face of the Bill it would have serious consequences for the process of establishing and maintaining a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. It could also upset the IRA surrender policy that the Government have pursued so assiduously, and have the most serious consequences for the lives and liberties of people in Northern Ireland.
The potential for joint control could also be used by the Government of the Irish Republic to damage the economy of Northern Ireland, and to impose their standards on matters such as abortion and divorce. It could be used by the Irish Government to impose the Irish language on us even more than at present. It could also cause mayhem in the cross-border bodies.
For example, a junior agriculture Minister in the Republic could become a Minister with similar responsibilities in the Northern Ireland Assembly. He could do a huge amount of mischief. The same possibility would open up if the junior Minister so elected had responsibility for finance and taxation and decided that it would be a good idea to change the tax on fuel oil in Northern Ireland to the same levels as applied in the Republic. That would cause a deliberately fomented clash between central Government in London and the Assembly in Northern Ireland. Moreover, the same individual might decide to bring the vehicle excise duty into line with that in the Irish Republic.
Those two latter points would, of course, have been widely welcomed by people in Northern Ireland since they think that tax, fuel and vehicle excise duty costs are far too high. They would ask themselves, "Why should we not reap the benefits of this?" In pursuing that populist course, the Minister would be driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Those items are a result of the Government's failure to deal adequately with the problem. I am curious as to why they decided not to accept the very sensible amendments in the name of my hon. Friends and myself, which were supported by the Conservative spokesmen. I cannot for the life of me work out why amendments Nos. 12 and 17, on junior Ministers, were not called. The wording is much the same in many of the amendments, and someone may have become confused and decided that the same issue was being described in two different ways. That is not so, as a quick look at the amendment paper will reveal. The amendment was very different; it was aimed directly at junior Ministers. One way or another it will be appreciated that I have a number of concerns that have not been dealt with adequately.
I had to leave the Chamber for a short time for a bite to eat. It is a very long time since I had my supper, and it is breakfast time now. So I went off and satisfied the inner man and, as a consequence, missed a valuable contribution that may well have addressed these matters. I deeply regret that, and am grateful to those who have been expressing concerns while I was absent from the Chamber. I am back now, and I hope that the Minister is prepared to take my remarks on board.
Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, will he address the concern arising from new clause 3? While the objective of the new clause was agreed to, there was a belief, certainly on my part, that it would introduce the principle of two classes of Member in this Chamber, which is not acceptable.
That is perfectly correct; I indicated earlier that the element of having two classes might make the Bill hybrid, although I am not sure. Hybridity is difficult to define, but I understand that experts recognise it as soon as they see it. It is like seeing one's wife, mother or father a long distance away; we glance at them and know who they are but if we had to describe them we could not. Hybridity, while recognisable, is difficult for the layman—like me—to define.
That is the difficulty. One of the Deputy Speakers concluded earlier that that was not the case. However, if he were to consider the points that have been raised since he made that decision, he might be in time to change his mind. I hope to have a chance, later in the day, to examine the issue more closely to see whether there is a danger of hybridity. The Bill would then have to go through the peculiar procedure necessary for that type of Bill. There would have to be a Joint Committee of both Houses. The matter raises an interesting question.
However, the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) was more concerned that there would be two classes of person in the House. One group would be eligible for the office of Speaker or Deputy Speaker, but the other would not. There would be two different classes in any case, as some individuals would also be members of another legislature. They would have duties, concerns and responsibilities in that regard which would inhibit their capacity fully to perform their duties in this place.
That would give rise to a grave difficulty. Indeed, that difficulty springs from the intention of the Bill to allow outsiders to become Members of the House while they are members of another legislature. That is a basic flaw in the Bill and we should acknowledge it.
The Bill has great flaws. The Minister has not satisfied hon. Members—he certainly has not satisfied me—by what he said earlier. He has not adequately explained why it is possible for the Government to accept amendments Nos. 7 and 9, but not to accept other amendments, even though they are similar. He has given an extremely inadequate explanation as to why he refuses to accept amendments Nos. 14 and 18.
I thought that the Bill was absurd, that it fell far short in the expertise of its drafting, and that it fell below the philosophical standards to which we are accustomed. However, I realise that the Government have a huge majority. In Northern Ireland, we have the word "thrawn"; it means being awkward for the sake of it. That describes the attitude of the Government. They have a huge majority; their followers expect to be able to sweep every measure through the House, so the Government have become careless.
The Bill is careless and badly drafted; it fulfils no useful purpose. As it is wrong and the Government are intent on putting it through, we should try to improve it.
Fond as my memories are of the two gentlemen in question when they were Members of the House, I will not follow up the question put by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), other than to point out that if Mr. Harrison were still a Whip, there would not be so few Labour Members in the Committee—they would all be here. They would all have to answer to him—heaven help them if they were missing.
I am sure, Mr. Lord, that you recall Mr. Harrison as well as I do. He was a most remarkable man. I found him most congenial, but of course he was not my Whip. I got on well with him. He was a man of high moral and religious standards, having—
Of course, Mr. Lord. However, I hate to leave the subject of Mr. Harrison because I had such high regard for him. We all like to remember our departed friends—departed only from the House, not in any other sense.
The Bill is a bad one. We have endeavoured to improve it with these amendments and others. The Government know that all the amendments are perfectly acceptable, but they cannot admit that they got it so wrong. It is only because they are forced by logic—a rare matter in government—to admit that the principle behind two of the amendments would improve the Bill that they are prepared to accept them. They therefore want to accept them, but they are not prepared to accept the same principle in regard to the other amendments. We heard the very weak argument that the Minister made against these sensible amendments.
I believe that the Minister should reconsider and I should be grateful, Mr. Lord, if you would advise me, because I need some advice. As you say, I have been in the House for a long time. However, as I have not been a member of one of the main parties, it has not been my responsibility to ask questions of the Chair and to discover how these different amendments will be dealt with. As has been said, the Government accept the principle underlying amendments Nos. 7 and 9. Will they accept those two amendments as they stand? If they accept those, does it mean that we must have a series of Divisions on them? What is the position regarding amendments Nos. 21, 14 and 18 and new clause 3? May we have separate Divisions on those amendments? I should be grateful if you would let me know how it is proposed to deal with this matter.
The Second Deputy Chairman:
As the hon. Gentleman has said, he has been a Member of the House for a long time. He therefore knows exactly how we deal with these amendments. He should address his amendments, not the procedures of the House.
The problem is, Mr. Lord, that the procedures of the House will determine whether we can have a separate Division on each amendment, so I am just serving notice that we want separate Divisions on them.
There is also the question of amendments Nos. 7 and 9. I want to know whether the Minister is prepared to accept the wording of those two amendments, or whether he will go away, think about them and come back with a different wording at a later stage—either by tabling a manuscript amendment on Report, or by taking care of the matter in another place.
There is much more that one could say on these matters, but I think that, in these few minutes, I have addressed the thing as best I can. I would leave it there, and I should be grateful if the Minister replied.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, as I always do, and he has not asked me to cover any ground that I have not covered already or that, as in the case of hybridity, has not been ruled on by the Chair. Fascinating though some of the points that the hon. Gentleman raises are, I would be in danger of tedious repetition if I discussed them and, mindful as I am of the previous strictures from the Chair, I do not intend to do so. With the assurances that I have given on amendments Nos. 7 and 9, which the hon Gentleman is well aware of, I would recommend the the Committee oppose these amendments.
I am sorry, Mr. Lord; I was hoping to catch the Minister before he sat down. I should like to ask him two absolutely straight questions, to which there are yes and no answers. One: is the Speaker of the House of Commons the holder of an office under the Crown—yes or no? Two: if not, is it, under the Bill, technically possible for the Speaker of the House of Commons to be a Minister in another Parliament—yes or no? If so, we could not possibly support clause 2.
The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the answers to his questions. He has checked the matter out. I will not be involved in any games that he might be playing. The Speaker of the House, as the hon. Gentleman well knows—I recall that he is a member of the Chairmen's Panel—is elected by the House and the House alone. When the Bill comes into force, technically speaking, the Speaker of the House could serve in another legislature and could, technically, hold office in that legislature, but I think that any Speaker who contemplated taking such action might find it difficult to gain the support of the House.
Forgive me, Mr. Lord, but I do not know of any procedure—you will correct me if I am wrong—for removing a Speaker from office during their holding of that office, and if, as we have now agreed, the Speaker is not a Minister under the Crown, the Speakership is not covered by clause 2(2). That must be nonsense, because it means that the Speaker could hold a non-partisan office and a partisan office simultaneously.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
|Division No. 45]||[7:40 am|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Beggs, Roy||Loughton, Tim|
|Bercow, John||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Boswell, Tim||Maginnis, Ken|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Oaten, Mark|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Randall, John|
|Chope, Christopher||Ross, William (E Lond'y)|
|Clappison, James||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Collins, Tim||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Donaldson, Jeffrey||Swayne, Desmond|
|Gale, Roger||Syms, Robert|
|Heald, Oliver||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Tredinnick, David|
|Hunter, Andrew||Wardle, Charles|
|Key, Robert||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Mr. Eric Forth and|
|Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)||Mr. William Thompson|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisle N)||Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)|
|Alexander, Douglas||Bennett, Andrew F|
|Allen, Graham||Benton, Joe|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Berry, Roger|
|Barnes, Harry||Best, Harold|
|Battle, John||Blears, Ms Hazel|
|Blizzard, Bob||Jamieson, David|
|Borrow, David||Jenkins, Brian|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Jones, Helen (Warrington N)|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)|
|Browne, Desmond||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)|
|Burgon, Colin||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Kemp, Fraser|
|Campbell—Savours, Dale||Kidney, David|
|Caplin, Ivor||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Cawsey, Ian||Laxton, Bob|
|Chapman, Ben (WirralS)||Lepper, David|
|Clapham, Michael||Leslie, Christopher|
|Clark, Dr Lynda||Levitt, Tom|
|(Edinburgh Pentlands)||Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Linton, Martin|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Lock, David|
|Clelland, David||Love, Andrew|
|Coaker, Vernon||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Cohen, Harry||McCabe, Steve|
|Coleman, Iain||Macdonald, Calum|
|Colman, Tony||McDonnell, John|
|Connarty, Michael||McFall, John|
|Corston, Jean||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Cousins, Jim||McIsaac, Shona|
|Cranston, Ross||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Crausby, David||McNulty, Tony|
|Cryer, John (Hornchurch)||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Cummings, John||McWalter, Tony|
|Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire||Mallaber, Judy|
|Dalyell, Tam||Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)|
|Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)||Marshall, David (Shetteston)|
|Davidson, Ian||Martlew, Eric|
|Dawson, Hilton||Merron, Gillian|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Miller, Andrew|
|Dobbin, Jim||Moffatt, Laura|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Doran, Frank||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Dowd, Jim||Morley, Elliot|
|Efford, Clive||Mountford, Kali|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Ennis, Jeff||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Fisher, Mark||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Fitzpatrick, Jim||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Flint, Caroline||Osborne, Ms Sandra|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||Pearson, Ian|
|Foster, Michael J (Worcester)||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Gapes, Mike||Pickthall, Colin|
|Gardiner, Barry||Pike, Peter L|
|Gerard, Neil||Plaskitt, James|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Pollard, Kerry|
|Goggins, Paul||Pope, Greg|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Pound, Stephen|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Grogan, John||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||Purchase, Ken|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Rammell, Bill|
|Healey, John||Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Rooney, Terry|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Hinchliffe, David||Ruddock, Joan|
|Hope, Phil||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Sawford, Phil|
|Howarth, Alan (Newport E)||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Hughes, Ms Beveriey (Stretford)||Singh, Marsha|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Ingram, Rt Hon Adam||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Soley, Clive|
|Southworth, Ms Helen||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Spellar, John||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Squire, Ms Rachel||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Starkey, Dr Phyllis||Tynan, Bill|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Stevenson, George||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Stewart, David (Inverness E)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Stinchcombe, Paul||Watts, David|
|Stringer, Graham||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)||Wills, Michael|
|Taylor, David (NWLeics)||Winnick, David|
|Temple—Morris, Peter||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)||Wood, Mike|
|Tipping, Paddy||Woolas, Phil|
|Todd, Mark||Worthington, Tony|
|Touhig, Don||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Trickett, Jon||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Truswell, Paul||Mr. Mike Hall and|
|Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)||Mr. Clive Betts.|
Mr. Lord, I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendments Nos. 7, 14, 18 and 9, but to move new clause 3 separately as it deals with an entirely different matter. The new clause deals with the Speaker, you and your colleagues in this House, and you are of far more importance than any of the subjects covered by the other amendments.
The Second Deputy Chairman:
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 4, in page 1, line 18, at end add—
'or a member of either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland'.
No. 33, in title line 7, after 'Government', insert—
'or members of the legislature'.
No. 5, in title line 7, at end insert—
'or members of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland'.
The amendment takes us into a completely new subject. We can put behind us the debates of the past few hours and march boldly into new territory, which is both deliberate and proper. Until now, we have been considering in some, although not excessive, detail the relationship between the Executive of other Parliaments and the institutions of the United Kingdom, especially those of Northern Ireland. However, I want to extend the logic of that argument to encompass Members of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland.
On a point of order, Mr. Lord. I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for not having raised this matter before he started to speak.
Mr. Lord, I do not believe that you were in the Chair about an hour ago, when I raised the issue of this morning's sitting in Westminster Hall. My question about the fate of that sitting was satisfactorily resolved at that time. The guidance that I was given—that the Westminster Hall sitting would proceed, even though the Committee of the whole House continued to sit—was helpful to me as one who is interested in this morning's proceedings in both Westminster Hall and the Chamber. However, a further issue has since occurred to me, Mr. Lord, on which I seek your guidance. What will the position be if a Division is called in the Chamber and the sitting at Westminster Hall is proceeding? Will the Westminster Hall sitting be suspended?
I am advancing an argument that is exactly parallel to the argument about whether it was legitimate, valuable and acceptable for members of the executive branch of government in another country to be able to participate either in the House of Commons or in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The parallel argument must now be raised in relation to Members of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland and their eligibility for this place or the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I concede that, in some ways, the arguments are rather different because there is a difference in kind between the Executive and the legislature, but I want to advance the case that arguments about conflicts of interest are equally legitimate, as are the arguments about the demands of time and of place. As we know, it is impossible for a person to be in two places at once. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) illustrated that in his point of order. The fact that he cannot be in Westminster Hall and in the Chamber simultaneously neatly illustrates in a timely way how much more difficult it would be for any hon. Member to serve in the legislature of the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Assembly or the House of Commons at the same time.
My hon. Friend may not believe this, but we have had rulings that there is no problem with that. We have a bifurcation of time in this legislature. It appears that the occupants of the Chair are comfortable with the fact that it is one day in the Chamber and a completely different day in Westminster Hall, which is a few hundred yards away. I have an intellectual difficulty with that concept. My hon. Friend, who is much more intellectually gymnastic than I am, may be comfortable with the concept of two separate time zones in one building.
Indeed, Mr. Lord. You will have to forgive my disorientation, which is obviously natural following that short exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor). I shall do my best to gather my thoughts quickly.
The argument is essentially about whether our debates about the executive branch and the legislature in different countries can be comfortably and credibly carried forward to a similar argument involving different legislatures. That is the thrust of the amendment.
It is patently the case that there is a real difficulty in terms of Members doing justice to their duties in the legislature as well as doing justice to those whom they represent in an elected sense. However, how much more is there a problem with a potential conflict of interest? Knowing as we do the wide variety of matters that are dealt with in the natural course of events in legislative bodies—I include the Northern Ireland Assembly in a broad definition of a legislative body, and I hope that the Committee and the Minister will accept that for the sake of the argument—how much more is it possible that there will be almost daily contradictions and conflicts between matters being dealt with in the legislature of the Republic on the one hand and by the Northern Ireland Assembly on the other? That would certainly apply to the House of Commons.
It is a matter not simply of legislatures, but of different constituencies. Let us suppose that my right hon. Friend was Member of Parliament for an English constituency and an Irish constituency, and both constituencies were bidding for investment from the same company. He would have to speak for both constituencies. That would be absurd.
My hon. Friend has anticipated my line of argument, but I am grateful to him because he has brought into sharp focus the point that I wanted to make. He illustrated the inherent conflict of interest that must exist when the same person tries to be a representative in two different legislative or deliberative bodies.
That problem would arise not only in the particular circumstances that my hon. Friend outlined, but in a range of others, especially if the legislative bodies considered international conflicts or, if both legislatures were members of the European Union, ways of dealing with European law. Genuine difficulties emerge when we consider the concept of elected Members simultaneously serving in two legislative or deliberative bodies in two separate sovereign states.
The Government have a problem in getting to grips with the difficulties. We have already found it difficult to persuade the Under-Secretary that it is legitimate for a law-making body such as the House to try to identify people who may be disqualified from standing for elective office. I have had a running debate about that with Ministers throughout our proceedings. Ministers have claimed time and again that we must allow the voters to decide. I replied time and again that the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 identifies groups of people who may not serve in the House of Commons for legitimate reasons. Those groups include civil servants, members of the judiciary and the armed forces. The principle that it is our duty properly to restrict the sort of people who may be eligible to stand for election to a legislative or deliberative body is therefore long established.
Even if I cannot persuade Ministers of the existence of that well-entrenched body of law, or persuade the Under-Secretary to tell me whether he intends to repeal it, we have established the argument that it is the Committee's proper responsibility to consider whether one person can properly make decisions in more than one legislative body. My answer to that is no. The reason was shown by the specific example that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) gave.
I do not want to weary the Committee with a long list of examples, although it would be easy to do that. However, we can all imagine cases in which those who served in the legislative assembly of the Republic of Ireland and in the House of Commons would quickly find themselves in an impossible position—physically, temperamentally, in terms of policy and, above all, loyalty. Hon. Members who wanted to take their seats in the House of Commons would have to swear the Oath of Allegiance. I am told that there is no parallel oath in the legislature of the Republic of Ireland, but there is something with similar force. Any Member who sought to represent voters in two different legislative bodies—
The right hon. Gentleman has omitted two important elements. The procedures and rules of the two establishments would be totally different. In the short debate on the last group of amendments, we discussed whether there could be a series of votes or only one vote. I have been in the House a long time, but I am not totally clear about that the present rules. The rules change and someone who is absent for a month or two could return to the House and be caught flat footed—as I was this morning.
My hon. Friend is more right than even he knows. When I was in the European Parliament many years ago, I served on the rules and procedure committee. That body's rules were in developmental mode at the time, but it had a slim body of rules that served as our bible and worked well. By coincidence, I was recently appointed to the Procedure Committee so I am aware of the problem. It is made worse by the Government changing the rules of almost everything in the name of modernisation. I have not quite got to grips with how that benefits the House, but there is a fetish among most Government Members for doing almost anything that wrecks our traditions and long-standing practices in the name of modernisation.
I am sure that that phase will pass, but it is particularly tiresome because familiarity with the rules and environment is important to the effectiveness of the House collectively and of individual Members. As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, my effectiveness as a Member of the House depends to a large extent on my familiarity with the way the House works, its written rules, ambience, customs and traditions. It would be difficult to shuffle between two completely different legislative bodies that would almost certainly take a different approach to most things. One example is the seating arrangement in this Chamber compared with the ghastly hemicycles that are adopted more and more in a pseudo-continental sense. Something as simple as that can be very disorientating to legislators who want to concentrate on the subject matter rather than worry about the seating configuration. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that example.
It is difficult enough for right hon. and hon. Members fully to discharge all their responsibilities to their electorates in terms of balancing constituency work with work in the House and so on. How much worse would it be to contemplate serving two different bodies in two different sovereign national countries.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Chamber. It is good to see a smiling face. I hope that he will participate fully in these debates. I promise him that there is lots of meaty stuff still to come. We have a long way to go even before Third Reading—and I promise that that will be a corker. We have lots and lots to say on that. We are not there yet, but we are making good progress.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about the period of overlap between the time that I had the honour to be an MEP and receiving the even greater honour of being elected to this House. There was a year in which I was a Member of both Houses.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman as it had not occurred to me that I have direct personal experience of the dual mandate. That is unusual but not unique, as the dual mandate has been held by a number of other colleagues. I almost certainly did not do justice to either job and the guilt is with me even now. I had to carry all those extra expenses back and forward to the bank and also had to carry extra salary—a third extra—on my slender shoulders for that whole year. Worst of all, I did not know where I was or what I was doing. When I was supposed to be here people thought that I was in Strasbourg and when I was supposed to be in Strasbourg people thought that I was here. Who knows where I was in the meantime?
The hon. Gentleman has allowed me to illustrate the point from my direct personal experience. A humble, simple politician cannot possibly do justice to two demanding jobs and that, better than anything else, shows the force of my amendment. Surely we have to face up to the problem and cut through it.
My right hon. Friend has been addressing the problem of serving in two legislatures at the same time and his rather lucid argument has rather taken me away from the point of his amendment. It would prevent somebody who serves in the Irish legislature from becoming a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. He referred to the problem of expenses and salaries. When people become Ministers here or in Northern Ireland they have to give up their outside interests and outside remuneration. Members of the Irish legislature receive remuneration as such. Can he turn his mind to that? Can somebody who is being paid as Member of the Irish legislature serve as a Minister in Northern Ireland? Would that be right?
My hon. Friend rightly raises another dimension to the problem. We shall touch on pay and provisions somewhat later in our proceedings, and I am sure that a lot of us cannot wait to get there because they will raise some really interesting problems, but he has given us a taster. We know how difficult it is to deal with the anomalies, conflicts and overlaps that can arise when a Member of the House becomes a Minister or has a dual mandate for the House and another representative body, whether it be the European Parliament or one of the new Assemblies. That would all be bad enough, and we have to devise rules to work our way through it, but how much more difficult would it be when a conflict arose because someone could sit in one legislature and be a member of the Executive in another? There would be a conflict of duty and responsibility and also simple pay and provisions difficulties—how would one be reimbursed for making a journey between the two, for example?
That is a fair and legitimate question. Reimbursement for travel between the House and a constituency is fairly straightforward as is reimbursement for travel between London and Strasbourg, as those of us who have served in the European Parliament know. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull, who is sitting beside me, has also served there. That can be dealt with, but we may add yet another dimension to the difficulty and I am pretty sure that Ministers have not given those matters a single thought.
The lack of thought on the Bill has become more and more obvious as the proceedings have unwound and we still cannot understand the motivation behind it. Hints are coming through, however, and it apparently relates to pressure being put on Her Majesty's Government by the Irish Government and Sinn Fein. Our Government, regrettably, have seen the need to accede to those requests without getting anything in return. There is a problem there and we have to get to the bottom of it.
That would be bad enough, but, as our proceedings continue, the evidence grows that the Government have not properly considered the details of the Bill. A moment ago, the Minister had to concede to my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) that they will have to make changes. He has not told us quite what, but said, "Trust me, I'll do it." That is all we have, but the mere fact that he has said it shows that there has been a lack of thought on the Bill.
I was shaking my head because I do not think I ever used the words "Trust me". What I said was that there was a commitment to introduce amendments in another place covering amendments Nos. 7 and 9.
That is what worries me, because these days when a Minister says "I will deliver these amendments in another place" I am not sure how certain the Minister can be of his capability to deliver them in another place. That is an issue which we may have to come to—not now, I accept, although it is somewhat relevant. The Committee of which I am now a member, the Procedure Committee, might have to look at this. Until now, we have been lulled into a false sense of security when a Minister says,"I can't do it here for procedural reasons, but I undertake to bring the amendment forward in another place, so it's all right." But, given what happened very recently in another place, I am not sure that the Government can guarantee to deliver on that.
I had spotted that, and I suspect the Minister had as well. The Government are trying to duck the Report stage of this Bill. They are trying yet again to pull the wool over our eyes. They tried it by rushing through Second Reading, allowing no time for amendments between Second Reading and this Committee stage. There would be no time between Committee and Report stage, although we have had an indication—I will not call it a helpful indication—from one of your colleagues, Mr. Lord, that manuscript amendments might well have been accepted in these circumstances. This is no way to legislate.
We are talking about a very serious matter, bearing on some very serious constitutional issues, and we are having to stumble along, being given half-hearted assurances by the Minister, who does not seem quite sure whether he has given them or not. Now he is telling us that, if we hold our breath, shut our eyes and pray, the amendments might bob up in the other place and the Government might get them through. That is no way to make the law, no way to change fundamentals of our constitution, which is what is involved here. We are talking about potential eligibility for membership of the House of Commons, yet we are expected to do it on a wing and a prayer.
The right hon. Gentleman is doing very well. There is quite a lot that he could address yet.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the possibility of manuscript amendments. How on earth can anyone put down an amendment until we know the form in which the Bill ends this part of its passage? Only when we reach the end of the Committee stage shall we know whether any amendments have been made. We then need time to look at the shape of the Bill and decide what, if any, amendments we need. Already some amendments have been promised, which would colour our thinking. How on earth could we put down manuscript amendments?
We have been told the way in which it will be, Mr. Lord, and I will not pursue the matter, following your guidance.
I think we have said enough to illustrate that we are potentially in very real difficulty here, unless we are prepared to face squarely the sort of difficulties that I have been describing and have the determination to do something about them.
In his distinguished career as a Minister my right hon. Friend had to hold very private discussions within his Department where policy and a negotiating stance were decided upon. Ministers in the Irish Parliament obviously have to do the same. If he were a Minister there how would he be able to come to a different Parliament with which negotiations and discussions might have to take place and be able to keep his tongue still?
I freely concede that the difficulty my hon. Friend suggests is a real one. It arises from the confidentiality of so much of what Ministers have to do. We of course operate in a very open environment; most of the time we are open to scrutiny and under the public gaze. But Ministers are in a different category altogether. The mixing of the two environments could create real problems.
That is something we have all missed: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having raised it, and I feel humbled by the fact that he has. I had not spotted it myself. Perhaps the Minister should think about whether membership of the Privy Council would have a bearing on eligibility for membership of a body outside the Commons; and about whether the equivalent obtains in any other legislature. The Oath that we take is a sacred one, and I shudder to think that anything might compromise it. So my hon. Friend is definitely on to something which we must attempt to clarify, even within the ridiculously short amount of time allotted to us.
I should like to take my right hon. Friend back to the amendments under debate. I am conscious that he has been slightly distracted from the purposes of amendments Nos. 3 and 4, but I have been studying them carefully, and I cannot understand how they deal with the problem my right hon. Friend referred to earlier concerning multiple seats and mandates.
I think I am right in saying that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) is currently a Member of the European Parliament, of this House, and of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Under this legislation, it would be perfectly possible for the reverend doctor to go on to become a Member also of the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland—and probably of the Scottish Parliament, too. I cannot see how either amendment even begins to deal with that difficulty.
A number of points were wrapped up in my hon. Friend's succinct presentation. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), because he was born in Northern Ireland, is eligible for the Republic's legislature; but only by dint of the fact that he was born in Northern Ireland. That bestows on him a privilege that those of us who were born on the mainland do not have.
I want to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale). Our main concern has focused on a clash of loyalties in sovereign Parliaments, of which ours is still, I hope, one. The other bodies that my hon. Friend mentioned are not: the Assembly in Northern Ireland is a subsidiary body, and the European Parliament is mercifully not a sovereign body, and I hope it never will be. Therefore, it is possible and perhaps even proper for an energetic individual of the type that my hon. Friend mentions to serve with distinction in an Assembly such as that in Northern Ireland, in a Parliament such as that in Strasbourg and in the House of Commons. We may not see much of the individual in any one of those places, but that is okay.
It is possible, but only because the Irish allow it, for that same individual, by dint of having been born in Northern Ireland, to be both a citizen of the United Kingdom and eligible for election to the legislature of the Republic of Ireland. It is a complicated set of circumstances, but I think that I have it right. In mentioning that example, unusual though it is, my hon. Friend may have neatly wrapped up most of the arguments. I do not at this stage want to argue about whether one can have dual or triple mandates in the House of Commons, the European Parliament and the Assembly. That may be for another day. I do want to advance the argument that it is wrong for anyone to seek to serve in the legislature or Executive of both this country and a sovereign country with different interests at one and the same time.
That is the essence of my argument. I hope that the Committee will accept it.
On multiple representation, the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned single, double and treble mandates, but the quadruple element still remains for the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and, indeed, for the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). For different reasons, both are likely to get elected to both Scotland and Dublin. One is likely to be elected to Dublin because of his Irish nationalism, the other because of the fact that people might want a totally honest face down there. In Scotland, both would enjoy quite large support from disparate elements of the population.
I concede that those are all possibilities. It simply illustrates the nonsense of a multiplicity—a plethora even—of representative bodies, which seem to be sprouting before our disbelieving eyes weekly, if not monthly. I hope that my party will have the courage to say to the electorate at the appropriate time that we do not regard that as irreversible and that we believe that the number of representative bodies at any one time should be discussed, debated and considered. That would be my devout hope.
I hope that I have said enough.
My right hon. Friend's generosity is boundless. Does he agree that dual, triple or indeed quadruple mandates are problematic on either score? If the Member concerned is sufficiently energetic to be able to participate in the deliberations of all the legislatures of which he is a member, he is almost certainly repeating daily the conflict of interest that many of us find so repugnant. If he is not doing so because he lacks energy or the flights do not permit him to be in the relevant place at the right time, he is thoroughly ineffectual. Either way, it simply does not work.
My hon. Friend is forcing me unwittingly to agree with the Minister, which pains me at this stage of the proceedings. By my reckoning, I have spent the best part of 15 hours disagreeing with the Minister and feeling comfortable about it. Now, at this advanced hour in the Committee stage, I am about to agree with him. I hope that it does not put his career at risk. Here, his point about leaving it to the people has validity. If those who have elected the individual with the multiple representation are prepared to put up with that and to accept, as must be inevitable, that the individual cannot possibly give as much time, dedication and involvement to each of the bodies in which he is serving, that must be a matter for them. Our role is to satisfy ourselves on the qualification point. We must then leave it to the electorate to make their judgment on the representational point.
I am sorry that the 15 hours appear to be taking their toll on my right hon. Friend's memory because I thought that I had dealt with that point thoroughly in an earlier intervention. I pointed out that, if people are elected to those multiple positions on proportional representation list systems, there is no way that the electorate can punish them because, if they are placed high enough on the list, it is the people lower down the list who will take the punishment. For all their abuses, those high enough on the list will continue to be elected.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In the good old days, if memory serves—it is failing a bit because I am old man and I have been on my feet for quite a long time—we were able to be elected to single Member constituencies in the European Parliament, single Member constituencies in the House of Commons and, in the really good old days, single Member constituencies in Northern Ireland. Now, of course, the Government are undermining all that, and that is where my hon. Friend's point comes in. Shall we call it a draw, and perhaps give it some further thought?
My right hon. Friend's memory really is failing him. Although I do not wish to quarrel with him this early in the morning, it was only a relatively few moments ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) made the point on Westminster Great Hall and the House and my right hon. Friend agreed with him, saying that it proved the point that we are having difficulty in being in two places at once.
At 9.30 tomorrow morning—in today's terms, given the insane way in which we are required to operate—I should like to be in Westminster Great Hall, where a debate on education is being held that directly affects the future of grammar schools in Kent. At the same time, however, I should like to be in the Chamber, quite properly continuing and participating in this debate. If I and my hon. Friends cannot be in two places at the same time today, I fail to see how we shall be able to be in Strasbourg, Dublin, Scotland and Lord knows where else at the same time. I also do not understand how amendments Nos. 3 and 4 remotely deal with the problem.
They do not, because they were not designed to. However, all those points are perfectly valid and strengthen the general thrust of my remarks. However, I am saved all that embarrassment, because I have made my own personal decision that I shall not honour Westminster Hall with my presence at all. I do not want to give it any encouragement or support, because I do not want the so-called experiment to be declared a success at some time in the future and be made permanent. However, we can address that issue later and separately.
I have done my best to make a modest pitch for my modest but important amendments. I hope that the Committee will be able to agree with me, as I really believe that the provision, if it were included in the Bill, would strengthen it and make it more credible, and would move the Bill some way from being totally inadequate to being just about acceptable.
On a point of order, Mr. Lord; I wonder whether you could help me. I spent all of yesterday—which is still today—first, considering the Terrorism Bill in Committee, and, secondly, in this Committee. In the debate on clause 3, I had hoped to be able to deal with the Bill's financial aspects.
Mr. Lord, I am sorry if I do not make myself clear. My difficulty is that there is no provision in the Bill to address a finance issue that needs to be addressed.
Clause 3 is a repeal clause, so is not really relevant to what my hon. Friend said about new clause 3.
There are four amendments in the group. Amendment No. 33 is in my name and the names of my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone and the hon. Member for Macclesfield. The other amendments were tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, and are supported by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). They would prevent people from holding multiple seats in various legislatures, and are worthy of careful consideration for that reason.
The amendments to which I have put my name seek to implement our opinion that a conflict of interests would exist if a Member of a foreign legislature were allowed to take decisions that impinged on the social and economic issues in Northern Ireland and its constitutional future, and on the long-term prospects of its citizens. I have already spoken about the effect that that would have on social matters such as divorce, and on all social legislation. The question of constitutional objectives would become deeper and more bitter if Members of a foreign legislature were involved. Would the Queen's law run in such circumstances, or would Irish opinion prevail?
Those questions are all covered by the amendments, and they cannot be avoided. The amendments are at the heart of our contention that the Bill implies a measure of joint authority. They are therefore essential in order to prevent that coming about.
Yesterday, the Minister agreed that a conflict of interest existed when Ministers were involved. The Dublin Government, like this Government, have a system of collective responsibility, but the system in Northern Ireland is far from the concept of a normal Executive as it is understood here or in Dublin. The Northern Ireland Executive has 10 Members, each of whom has the capacity for independent action, as I shall illustrate later. Of course, a party system also operates, with the same slight differences of opinion that occur anywhere else.
Because the 10 Members of the Executive are effectively free agents, the Northern Ireland Executive does not follow a Cabinet system. Members who are not Ministers have to go along with party policy, much as we have seen here in the past few hours.
Let us suppose that the Cabinet in Dublin decides on a course of action and tells those of its Members who happen to be with the Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly that they will be expected to follow the policies laid down by the party. The first loyalty—even of those elected under the single transferable vote system—would have to be to the party. The party Whips would make their lives a misery, as hon. Members here will recognise.
The Members about whom I am speaking will be required to implement the decisions taken by the party in Dublin, over which the electorate in Northern Ireland have no control at all. The amendments seek to prevent that from happening. Those people will be loyal party members. It matters not whether they are members of Sinn Fein-IRA, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael—they are all bound by their party's decisions and by the policy of the Executive in Dublin. There is no question in the wide world but that they and their colleagues in the STV constituency support the party line because of the real electoral dangers to themselves if they do not.
An interesting aspect is that Sinn Fein-IRA is the only political party to operate in both jurisdictions. Its members always take an all-Ireland view, so they have a certain advantage in the collection of money, for example. They do not have to account for it to this place under the legislation covering the funding of political parties. There is a real difficulty here for everyone concerned, and that alone should be sufficient to convince any reasonable man. Sadly, the Minister and his colleagues are proving themselves to be most unreasonable men in this respect. Any reasonable man would recognise the glaring conflict of interest and the conflict that would arise for citizens. Any reasonable man would also recognise the dangers inherent in igniting, in even fiercer form, all the problems that we have had because of Northern Ireland's constitutional position in the recent past. I think that that has been snowed under only temporarily by the spin doctors and do-gooders, and that it will come back to the surface again.
The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) told us of his difficulties when he served in this sovereign Parliament and in the European Parliament at the same time. I can appreciate the difficulties that the right hon. Gentleman experienced in those circumstances. He had to fly hundreds of miles to and from the European Parliament, he had to get to his constituency of Birmingham North and he had to get to his parliamentary constituency. He was in quite a different position from the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who were mentioned earlier. They represent all of Northern Ireland, so all Northern Ireland is their constituency. Their parliamentary constituency lies within it, and so does their European constituency. In contrast, the constituencies of the right hon. Gentleman did not coincide, so he had a great deal of travelling to do.
When I first came to the House, I was an elected member of my local council.
Instead of being tied up in Parliament and in Europe, I was tied up in Parliament and my local council, which had a narrow majority. I therefore gave my party and council friends an undertaking that I would be present at every critical time. I was in that position for about 18 months until the council elections took place. I always believed that it was impossible for me to give up my council seat, and I could not very well give up my parliamentary seat. Therefore, it was essential that I attended both bodies as and when the necessity arose. It caused me a great deal of difficulty. I can sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman because of my own minor problems. The whole idea of a dual or a triple mandate is nonsense; it is not physically possible to hold such a mandate.
The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and others referred to the problems that we encounter when procedures change. Sometimes, I think that our procedures change whenever Back Benchers catch up and make use of them. Governments decide that it is not good for Back Benchers to be doing as well as the Whips and that they can snarl this place up. Indeed, we shall be lucky to escape some change in procedures as a result of the past few hours. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that the Procedure Committee jealously guards of the rights of Back Benchers and that he will ensure that none of those changes are made. The Committee should try to reimpose on the Executive the authority of the House—
I appreciate the point that you make, Mr. Lord. We have largely thrashed that horse; we have reached a clear understanding of the matter.
The Bill is nonsense in the eyes of everyone in Northern Ireland, with the sole exception of Sinn Fein-IRA, who clearly want it—
As the right hon. Gentleman observes, we can raise those issues on Third Reading.
The IRA welcomes the Bill because its members can see its possibilities. The amendments would diminish those possibilities. For that reason alone, I support the amendments and hope that the Minister will accept them. The IRA would be very much put out if the amendments were accepted; they would cause the organisation problems. That is a good reason to accept them.
The debate illustrates the problems for a Member of the Dail and of the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Executive. Hon. Members should not forget that, often, because of problems in the Dail, majorities are narrow. Governments exist on a knife edge and can change, without an election, as a result of a few people crossing the Floor.
The same problem is imminent in the Northern Ireland Assembly. In some ways, the Assembly is worse off because of its structures—Committees, Ministers and so on. I suppose that Ministers are supreme, but an interesting series of events has taken place during the past few days, which show the necessity for the amendments. The Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee has taken certain decisions in relation to the location of maternity services in Belfast. My impression is that the Committee is trying to bounce the Minister, but the Minister, who is a Sinn Fein Member, is saying, "I shall make the decision." There is already the possibility of a clash between the Minister and the Committee.
How much worse will that be if we take the route mapped out by the Bill? It is because I fear those dangers that I ask the Government to prevent them by accepting these sensible amendments.
Sometimes it is a good idea to come to the House early because one finds that interesting things have been going on, which deserve a wider audience. I saw that the House was still sitting, and I thought that there might be a filibuster; I cannot imagine why I would think that. However, a few moments ago I picked up the amendment paper.
We may hear in a few moments whether the Minister will oppose amendment No. 3, which is just about as sane and sensible an amendment as one could want. It is all about who one owes one's loyalty to. It is about whether one can serve two masters. It is about whether one can serve two legislatures. Ultimately, it is also a question of how many salaries one seeks to draw.
I do not see how one can draw a distinction between being a member of a legislature and being a Minister of that legislature. Different countries have their different traditions, but it is common to most legislatures, and it is certainly common to the legislatures of Northern Ireland, of Great Britain and Eire, that the Ministers are drawn out of the Parliament. That is what it is all about under our democratic system: it is about drawing Ministers out from the legislatures in which they sit.
I do not understand how one is to have a system that properly distinguishes between being able to be a member of a legislature and a Minister in it on one hand or saying that that would not be appropriate, and then at the same time not extending that to cover a Minister of either House as well. It seems to me that those things stand or fall together. I find it remarkable if we are about to hear that the Minister could possibly be resisting that. The two things hang together. For the reasons that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has given, the clause presents irreconcilable conflicts of interest.
If the Minister, in good faith, expects the Bill to proceed—as I expect he did expect it to proceed—in a fairly straightforward manner, he will have to address the issue of those conflicts of interest. There is no tenable argument against the amendment. I can see the Minister thinking about that now. He has had long enough to think about it. Amendment No. 3 should be accepted.
I shall speak very succinctly to amendment No. 3 only. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls). I cannot see how the Minister, if he pursues any sense and logic through this peculiar piece of legislation, can possibly reject amendment No. 3. We have heard earlier this morning that it is possible for a Speaker of the House of Commons to be a Minister in southern Ireland. We have, as far as I can see, created a situation where, under clause 2, we are preventing a Minister in the Irish Republic from being a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, while it is perfectly possible for a Secretary of State or a Minister of State for Northern Ireland in this Parliament to be a Minister in the Irish Republic. There does not seem to be any logic there. The Minister should think that one through.
Yet again, under clause 2, we are creating two tiers. We are creating a tier of people who, if they are Ministers in the Irish Republic, cannot be Ministers in Northern Ireland, and a tier of people who are Ministers in the House of Commons, who are Ministers in Northern Ireland and could be Ministers in the Irish Republic. Where is the logic in that?
If there is any logic in this at all, surely it must be the case not only that anyone who is a Minister in the Irish Republic cannot hold ministerial office in Northern Ireland, but that any member of either House in the Irish Republic cannot hold office in Northern Ireland. That is precisely what amendment No. 3 says. I should be very interested to know on what basis of logic—if there is any at all in these arguments—the Minister can possibly reject that amendment.
On Second Reading, I said that we were bound to come to this issue because it is, as it were, halfway between whether one can be in two legislatures at once—the Government's proposition—and whether one can be in two Governments at once, which no one has argued should be the case. Therefore, this is probably the one area of the Bill that is not approached as a question of principle.
My party's position is that there is not the same conflict of interest if one is a member of both legislatures and becomes part of the Administration of one, as clearly there would be if one were in both Administrations. The Bill does not argue that there should be no dual mandate. We could debate dual mandates within the UK, and within the UK and the European Parliament, or between two legislatures—including two Commonwealth legislatures, as, under existing legislation, one can be a member of two Commonwealth legislatures at the same time.
We have accepted that the Bill does not seek to address that wider issue. There should be a debate about that matter, but I accept the point made by the Under—Secretary earlier that if we were to debate a change to the dual mandate rule in the Commonwealth, we ought to do that after consultation, and not suddenly put it on the agenda here without having raised it with Commonwealth partners.
I note the hon. Gentleman's point about the distinction between being a Minister in both countries and being a member of a legislature in one and a Minister in another. However, is it possible to draw a neat and tidy line between being a member of a legislature and being a Minister? What about those who fall somewhere in between—those who may have the expectation of becoming a Minister, and do not wish to do anything to prejudice that ambition? What about those who may hold some office in between being a member of a legislature and being a Minister? We are familiar with that scenario in this House. Surely, somebody in that situation would have a conflict of interest—even though it was not immediately apparent to people on the outside.
I understand that point. This debate concerns the most finely balanced issues. Clearly, someone who serves in the Dail and in either the Northern Ireland Assembly or the UK Parliament might well aspire to be in government. That might not be made public because they might be waiting to see which legislature offers the best opportunity first, so there is a potential hidden conflict of interest.
There is also a conflict of interest, of a type, if one is in the Government in one place—be it the Northern Ireland Assembly or the UK Government—and only in the legislature of the other because, by definition, one has a prior duty in the Administration which is in addition to one's duty as a legislator. It cannot be argued that it would be constitutionally justifiable for somebody to represent the UK Government—or the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly—while seeking to speak for the Government of Ireland. Clearly, that must be precluded.
So far, the Minister has agreed that the points that I have raised in relation to the Speakership are right. However, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has not taken on board my earlier point. This clause bars Ministers from the Irish Republic from holding office in Northern Ireland; it does not appear to bar Ministers from the UK House of Commons from holding office in Ireland. It does only half the job, if it does the job at all.
The hon. Gentleman is correct, and our subsequent debates will address that point. I support the implication of his intervention, which is that it should not be possible to be a Minister in both legislatures, and my party has tabled a new clause to that effect. I hope that it will be accepted when we reach that debate. If the hon. Gentleman bears with our proceedings, he will be able to argue his case. I hope that he will support the new clauses then.
Our view is that, on the more limited point, the hon. Gentleman is right. The amendment is simply about whether one can be in the legislature of Ireland and a Minister—the First Minister, Deputy First Minister, a junior Minister or nominated to hold ministerial office—in the Northern Ireland Assembly. That does not raise the same constitutional objection as the point that the hon. Gentleman properly raised. We shall not support the amendments, but we shall support the later new clauses and amendment that will prevent coterminous ministerial office in both sovereign Governments or in the Government of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I do not wish to rehearse the arguments that have been well rehearsed in the past hour. Instead, I wish to focus the Minister's mind so that he can deal with the principal question when he replies.
We have dealt with the physical practicalities of dual mandates and with the principle of the desirability of holding such mandates. Much of the complaint that was made by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) was conceded on Second Reading. The amendments give us the opportunity to correct one of the more glaring problems that remain—the possibility that a Minister of the Crown serving in the Assembly in Northern Ireland can, at the same time, be a Member of either House in the Irish legislature. That absurdity would be closed off by the amendments.
It is absurd because if someone discharges his responsibilities to the Crown and pursues, protects and defends the interests of Her Majesty and the people of Northern Ireland, how can he discharge his responsibilities to the legislature of the Republic of Ireland and to his constituents there? That problem spans almost every sphere of Government activity. For example, it covers the differences in agriculture and the differential interests between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland when they negotiate in Brussels.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) told us of his experience as a Minister in the councils of Europe and of the difficulty that he had in squaring the interests of the United Kingdom with what he scathingly described, in some cases, as the activities of Irish Ministers. One must not be so scathing, because, after all, they were only defending the interests of the Republic.
I agree with every criticism that my hon. Friend has made of what would happen if the amendments were not accepted. In an intervention on the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), my hon. Friend accused him of moving a wrecking amendment. However, if the amendments were accepted, as I hope they will be, would they not be wrecking amendments? What be would left of the Bill if the absurdity is rectified?
My hon. Friend is mistaken. I was honest in describing it as a wrecking amendment because it would undermine the principle of the Bill that had been conceded on Second Reading. However, this amendment would remedy a problem that we had with conceding the principle on Second Reading. It tightens up the Bill and thereby improves the Bill's quality by removing a dishonest possibility. I use that phrase because I do not believe that Ministers of the Crown can discharge their responsibilities to the Crown while simultaneously serving the interests of the Republic of Ireland responsibly, as a Member of its Parliament.
I have already mentioned agriculture, which spans every sphere of Government activity. It is highly pertinent to consider the implications of the Bill in the context of economic activity. The Republic of Ireland is now part of the eurozone, whereas the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, is not. That creates divergent interests between the spheres in which such a Minister would operate. It would be truly impossible for him responsibly and honourably to discharge his responsibilities to both sets of constituents.
Another sphere in which that would be impossible is defence. The United Kingdom—and, by implication, Northern Ireland—is part of NATO, whereas the Republic of Ireland has always been neutral. It is monstrous to suggest that, given those stances in international affairs and defence capabilities, one could expect a Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive—a Minister discharging responsibilities to the Crown in defence matters—honestly to represent the interests of the Republic of Ireland.
That problem would be remedied by the amendments. I hope that the Minister can explain why he will not accept the amendments, but I would prefer him to explain why he will.
It has become clear during this debate that there are a series of anomalies within the Bill as originally drafted, that there are contradictions inherent within the Bill, and that absurdities may occur because of the Bill. My question to the Minister is simple: when he was going through the Bill with his civil servants and other Ministers, did they spot those absurdities and notice those contradictions? If so, how did they answer them at that time, to themselves, and will the Minister tell the Committee what those answers were?
Before I deal with the amendment, I should like to comment on remarks made by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who readily conceded that, late in the day, he had walked in, picked up a copy of the Bill, looked at the amendments and framed his remarks accordingly. He based his remarks on the principle he enunciated at the start of his brief contribution: that one cannot serve two masters.
I wondered how the Government could so mishandle their legislation that it was necessary for my right hon. and hon. Friends still to be probing matters so late into the night. When I looked at the amendment the Committee was debating, I could see what the Minister was up to. That is why I came to the Chamber and made my speech.
I am grateful for that further clarification, but I note that the hon. Gentleman does not deny that he based his remarks on a principle he holds important: that one cannot serve two masters. The Committee might be interested to learn that, in the most recent edition of the Register of Members' Interests, under the heading "Remunerated employment, office, profession, etc.", the hon. Gentleman lists no fewer than eight such interests. He is quite within his rights to have such interests and he has quite properly registered them. However, we are bound to ask, how many masters does he serve? We addressed the principle behind the amendment—
Much as I have always liked the Minister, I have never given great credit to his intellect. Perhaps he cannot understand the difference between having different sources of remuneration and owing allegiance to two different heads of state. Even by his standards, that was a ludicrous contribution.
I am none the wiser as to how the hon. Gentleman sorts out the different principles in different contexts. I shall leave it to the Committee to judge why and how he chose to advance the argument about two masters.
We addressed the principle behind this amendment in the context of an earlier amendment, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). Amendment No. 3 is not entirely new territory, as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) tried to argue. We covered some of the same ground earlier. In saying that we could not accept the earlier amendment, I set out the Government's position on potential conflicts of interest. We recognise that a potential conflict of interest might arise, were an individual to be a Minister in the Irish Government and in the Northern Ireland Executive. Any Minister must have regard not only to his own constituents, but to the interests of all those in the jurisdiction for which he has responsibility. As a result, it may well be that genuine conflicts of interest arise in those circumstances.
In the rest of the United Kingdom, we can look to the Prime Minister or, for that matter, to the First Minister, whichever may be appropriate, to resolve conflicts of interest. By using his discretion in appointing and dismissing, he has the power to control the situation. No leader of a Government will want in his Government a Minister who is not committed to the interests of all the people he is charged to serve. Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, Ministers serve at the discretion of the leader of the Administration.
Uniquely in Northern Ireland, the First and Deputy First Minister do not have discretion to appoint or dismiss all the members of the Executive. Those members are selected under an automatic proportionate system, as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, which is the d'Hondt formula. That is why the Government believe that it is right that the clause makes special provision to ensure that an individual may not be a Minister in the Irish Government and in the Northern Ireland Executive.
I thank the Minister for his courtesy. Does he understand that it is not necessary to be a Minister to have a conflict of interest? All that is necessary is to have two sets of different constituents. As I suggested to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), someone may have two constituencies, one in Ireland and one in England, and be trying to bid for the same contract. In that position, it is not possible to serve two masters effectively.
The hon. Gentleman was perhaps a little precipitate in intervening, because that is the next point in my speech.
I explained in the earlier debate that we do not accept that conflicts of interest necessarily arise where an individual is simply a Back-Bench Member in one jurisdiction but a Minister in the other. Our position, which I have repeated—the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and I will have to differ on this point—is that, in such cases, it is a matter for the relevant electorate to decide at whatever point the person concerned submits himself either for election or re-election. They have to decide whether they consider that it is an appropriate thing to.
These amendments turn on the same general issue. The effect would be to prevent an individual from becoming a Member in Northern Ireland, not only if he were a Minister in the Irish Government but if he were a Back-Bench Member in either the Dail or the Irish Senate.
It will therefore be no surprise that we oppose the amendments for almost exactly the same reasons as we gave in an earlier debate. I will not repeat those arguments in detail because we have heard them time and again.
I draw the Committee's attention to a further issue to which the amendments give rise. The amendments would disqualify even a Member of the Irish Senate from being a Minister in Northern Ireland, even though that is possible under the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The official Opposition, including the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, did not oppose that measure. Yet the right hon. Gentleman would now reverse that legislation. Section 36(5) of the Act removes the provision for disqualification from the Assembly of Members of the Irish Senate. Parliament made no provision to prevent Members of the Irish Senate from taking up ministerial positions in Northern Ireland. Of course, none of the Northern Ireland Ministers are currently Members of the Irish Senate. None the less, the amendment would remove an existing right, and not merely constrain the extension of a right.
The Government believe that the House made the right decision last year on the Northern Ireland Act 1998. We oppose the amendment for that reason, and because of the general issues to which I referred.
The Under-Secretary's response was perhaps predictable, but it is nevertheless disappointing. He suggests that we must agree to differ. However, it is sad that we have been unable to persuade him of our case over hours of debate in the Chamber on many different amendments.
The Under-Secretary refused to tackle the arguments. He claimed that he had done that in earlier debates. We failed to convey to him the difference in the nature of this debate, which covers Ministers and legislators, rather than mere legislators, which earlier debates tackled. The Under-Secretary did not even address the arguments. That is why his response was so disappointing.
I agree with my hon. Friend, but I suspect that the Under-Secretary does not perceive the force of the argument. He does not want, cannot or is not allowed to acknowledge the difficulties that will inevitably arise when tensions occur. At worst, that could undermine the effectiveness of the Northern Ireland Assembly and sour relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, entirely foreseeably.
However, there is an underlying principle, which bothers me. There is an increasing erosion of nationhood, identity, borders and institutions because of the European Union, and we are now considering another influence, which erodes those institutions in a similar way. That is an inherent part of the debate and the anxiety, which many of us share.
On a point of order, Mr. Lord. I apologise to my right hon. Friend and to you for raising this point of order now. I would ordinarily have done my right hon. Friend the courtesy of waiting until he had finished speaking, but I suspect that we are heading for a Division. I do not know of any procedure for raising a point of order during a Division in Committee, although such procedure exists for the Floor of the House.
I was not present when the Chairman of Ways of Means made his ruling, but I understand that he ruled that it was entirely proper for sittings to take place in Westminster Hall when the House was sitting. The order that the House made on 24 May 1999 allows for Westminster Hall to sit on Thursdays from 2.30 pm for up to three hours while proceedings take place on the Floor. A precedent exists, and I understand the reason for the ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means.
The motion passed on 24 May states that on days that the House shall sit, there shall be a sitting in Westminster Hall on Tuesdays between 10 am and 1 pm and on Wednesdays between 9.30 am and 2 pm. You may think that this is esoteric, Mr. Lord, but I have consulted "Erskine May" and the precedent is clear. While the day's sitting continues, the House of Commons is sitting, in this case, on Tuesday.
While this House is sitting on Tuesday, I fail to see how a sitting deemed by order of the House on 24 May to start at 10 o'clock on Tuesday—because it is still Tuesday—can or should be allowed to proceed at 9.30am in Westminster Hall. I am certain that when the Chairman of Ways and Means made his ruling, he did not take that into account. I understand why. The fact is that we are sitting on Tuesday, not Wednesday, and Westminster Hall cannot—
There is a nugget of information to treasure. It will be interesting, when Hansard finally appears, to see what information was imparted during that lengthy ministerial speech. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps we should run an eye over the proceedings, to see where the balance lies.
We have tried hard, and happily there is much more to be considered in Committee. We are only part way through the proceedings. To date, we have not been able to persuade the Minister to accept any of the important and fundamental points made in a series of debates.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the points of order, which were properly ruled upon, show that even in this House there can be extremely difficult conflicts of interest over where one should be debating? In a few moments my right hon. Friend, who I believe is a great devotee of Westminster Hall—
My hon. Friend's point and my personal circumstances of some years ago illustrate that such conflicts arise more often than might be anticipated. We should have been able to draw the Minister's attention to that in persuading him that something should be done.
It is increasingly likely that the Bill will have no Report stage. It will have been shoved all the way through Committee without amendment. I regret that that is how things look, although there is still hope. The Bill will pass through this House unamended—hardly touching the sides in parliamentary terms—and go to the other place—over which, I am happy to say, the Government do not have any control. There is a real risk that this important and controversial Bill will end up unsatisfactory, unsound and unsafe. If it does, the Committee will have failed to do its job.
Unusually, the right hon. Gentleman has missed a trick because the Home Secretary was in the Chamber and I had hoped that he would catch him. Over the past 12 hours, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who are in charge of the Bill, have been here. Had the right hon. Gentleman been really quick he could have asked the Home Secretary whether he at least could explain why we are considering the Bill so urgently. Sadly, he may have to wait until the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland reappears to ask that question.
I have not left the Chamber for 16 hours so the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who understands these matters, will perhaps forgive me if I miss the occasional opportunity. I am still doing my best and if he looks at the amendment paper he will find that there are many exciting opportunities still to come.
I give you, Mr. Lord, a little advance notice. I hope that you agree that a brief debate on clause 3 stand part is appropriate, for example, because we have not yet touched on that subject. There is something for us all to look forward to and there are many more goodies to come. The highlight of the debate—the bonanza—will of course be Third Reading, when we shall all have an opportunity to review where we have arrived at—in order and with your guidance. We could perhaps exchange ideas about how the Bill could be dealt with, even at that late stage, but I am anticipating myself and the proceedings.
Certainly, but I make a plea. The Committee should give the Government yet another chance to improve the Bill by supporting the amendment. I hope that it will do so, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) said, this will not be the last chance to make improvements.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
|Division No. 46]||[9.28 am|
|Beggs, Roy||Ross, William (E Lond'y)|
|Chope, Christopher||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Forsythe, Clifford||Swayne, Desmond|
|Gale, Roger||Thompson, William|
|Hunter, Andrew||Wardle, Charles|
|Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian||Mr. Eric Forth and|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Mr. David Maclean.|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Burgon, Colin|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Caborn, Rt Hon Richard|
|Alexander, Douglas||Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)|
|Allan, Richard||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Allen, Graham||Canavan, Dennis|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Caplin, Ivor|
|Ashton, Joe||Cawsey, Ian|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)|
|Barnes, Harry||Chaytor, David|
|Battle, John||Clapham, Michael|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Benton, Joe||Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)|
|Berry, Roger||Clelland, David|
|Best, Harold||Coaker, Vernon|
|Betts, Clive||Cohen, Harry|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Coleman, Iain|
|Blizzard, Bob||Colman, Tony|
|Borrow, David||Connarty, Michael|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Cooper, Yvette|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Corston, Jean|
|Breed, Colin||Cousins, Jim|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Cranston, Ross|
|Browne, Desmond||Crausby, David|
|Burden, Richard||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Cummmings, John||McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)|
|Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire|
|Dalyell, Tam||Macdonald, Calum|
|Darling, Rt Hon Alistair||McDonnell, John|
|Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)||McFall, John|
|Davidson, Ian||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Dawson, Hilton||McIsaac, Shona|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Denham, John||McNulty Tony|
|Dobbin, Jim||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Donohoe, Brian H||McWalter, Tony|
|Doran, Frank||Mallaber, Judy|
|Dowd, Jim||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Efford, Clive||Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Ennis, Jeff||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Fisher, Mark||Martlew, Eric|
|Fitzpatrick, Jim||Maxton, John|
|Flint, Caroline||Meale, Alan|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Merron, Gillian|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||Miller, Andrew|
|Foster, Michael J (Worcester)||Moffatt, Laura|
|Gapes, Mike||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Gardiner, Barry||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Gerrard, Neil||Morley, Elliot|
|Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Mountford, Kali|
|Goggins, Paul||Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Mudie, George|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Grocott, Bruce||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Grogan, John||Olner, Bill|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||Osborne, Ms Sandra|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Pearson, Ian|
|Healey, John||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Pike, Peter L|
|Heppell, John||Plaskitt, James|
|Hood, Jimmy||Pollard, Kerry|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Pope, Greg|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Pound, Stephen|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Purchase, Ken|
|Hutton, John||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Rammell, Bill|
|Illsley, Eric||Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff|
|Ingram, Rt Hon Adam||Rooney, Terry|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Jamieson, David||Ruddock, Joan|
|Jenkins, Brian||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)||Sanders, Adrian|
|Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)||Savidge, Malcolm|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Sawford, Phil|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Sheerman, Barry|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Keetch, Paul||Simpson, Alan (Nottinoham S)|
|Kemp, Fraser||Singh, Marsha|
|Kidney, David||Skinner, Dennis|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Laxton, Bob||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Leslie, Christopher||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)||Soley, Clive|
|Linton, Martin||Spellar, John|
|Lock, David||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Love, Andrew||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Steinberg, Gerry|
|McCabe, Steve||Stevenson, George|
|Stewart, David (Inverness E)||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Stinchcombe, Paul||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Straw, Rt Hon Jack||Wareing, Robert N|
|Stringer, Graham||Watts, David|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Taylor, David (NW Leics)||Willis, Phil|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Wilson, Brian|
|Tipping, Paddy||Winnick, David|
|Todd, Mark||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Touhig, Don||Wood, Mike|
|Trickett, Jon||Woolas, Phil|
|Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)||Worthington, Tony|
|Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Twigg, Derek (Halton)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Tyler, Paul||Mr. Mike Hall and|
|Tynan, Bill||Mr. Kevin Hughes.|
Question accordingly negatived, nil
THE CHAIRMAN, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 68, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
The Committee proceeded to a Division.
|Division No. 47]||[9.42 am|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Alexander, Douglas||Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Clelland, David|
|Ashton, Joe||Coaker, Vernon|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Cohen, Harry|
|Barnes, Harry||Coleman, Iain|
|Battle, John||Colman, Tony|
|Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)||Connarty, Michael|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Cooper, Yvette|
|Benton, Joe||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Berry, Roger||Corston, Jean|
|Best, Harold||Cousins, Jim|
|Betts, Clive||Cranston, Ross|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Crausby, David|
|Blizzard, Bob||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Cummings, John|
|Borrow, David||Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Dalyell, Tam|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Davidson, Ian|
|Browne, Desmond||Dawson, Hilton|
|Burden, Richard||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Burgon, Colin||Denham, John|
|Caborn, Rt Hon Richard||Dismore, Andrew|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Dobbin, Jim|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Canavan, Dennis||Doran, Frank|
|Caplin, Ivor||Dowd, Jim|
|Cawsey, Ian||Efford, Clive|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Chaytor, David||Ennis, Jeff|
|Clapham, Michael||Field, Rt Hon Frank|
|Fisher, Mark||Martlew, Eric|
|Fitzpatrick, Jim||Maxton, John|
|Flint, Caroline||Meale, Alan|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Merron, Gillian|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||Miller, Andrew|
|Foster, Michael J (Worcester)||Moffatt, Laura|
|Gapes, Mike||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Gardiner, Barry||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Gerrard, Neil||Morley, Elliot|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||Mountford, Kali|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie|
|Goggins, Paul||Mudie, George|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Olner, Bill|
|Grogan, John||Osborne, Ms Sandra|
|Hain, Peter||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||Pearson, Ian|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Pike, Peter L|
|Healey, John||Plaskitt, James|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Pollard, Kerry|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Pope, Greg|
|Heppell, John||Pound, Stephen|
|Hood, Jimmy||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Hope, Phil||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Purchase, Ken|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Rammell, Bill|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)||Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Rooney, Terry|
|Hutton, John||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Ruddock, Joan|
|Illsley, Eric||Savidge, Malcolm|
|Ingram, Rt Hon Adam||Sawford, Phil|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Jamieson, David||Sheerman, Barry|
|Jenkins, Brian||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)||Singh, Marsha|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Soley, Clive|
|Kemp, Fraser||Spellar, John|
|Kidney, David||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Laxton, Bob||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Lepper, David||Stevenson, George|
|Leslie, Christopher||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Linton, Martin||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Lock, David||Stringer, Graham|
|Love, Andrew||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|McCabe, Steve||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)||Tipping, Paddy|
|Macdonald, Calum||Touhig, Don|
|McDonnell, John||Trickett, Jon|
|McFall,John||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|McGuire, Mrs Anne||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|McIsaac, Shona||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|McNulty, Tony||Tynan, Bill|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Walley, Ms Joan|
|McWalter, Tony||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Mallaber, Judy||Wareing, Robert N|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Watts, David|
|Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)||Worthington, Tony|
|Wilson, Brian||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wood, Mike||Mr. Graham Allen and|
|Woolas, Phil||Mr. Gerry Sutdiffe.|
|Allan, Richard||Keetch, Paul|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Beggs, Roy||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Brake, Tom||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Breed, Colin||Ross, William (E Lond'y)|
|Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)||Sanders, Adrian|
|Cotter, Brian||Tyler, Paul|
|Forsythe, Clifford||Willis, Phil|
|Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Gale, Roger||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Mr. Eric Forth and|
|Hunter, Andrew||Mr. David Maclean.|
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I wonder whether you can help us. I am aware that sometimes the Chairman of a Committee knows what the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker might know. Have any amendments been tabled yet for Report? Could they have been? Is it in the mind of the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker to allow a Report stage? I ask that for the convenience of all hon. Members, so that we know what lies ahead.
Secondly, has there been any indication of when this matter is expected to be considered in the other place? That, too, may govern how we want to organise ourselves today, especially with regard to whether we sit beyond 2.30 pm.
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by saying that there will be a Report stage only if the Bill is amended. It has not so far been amended. The question of the other place is nothing to do with these Committee proceedings.
There is no problem before us. I am going to put the Question that clause stand part. There is absolutely no problem in this Committee.