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We have had some interesting debates. They have been a bit fragmented, which is natural. But now we can get our teeth into a clause with some real issues in it. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree that the clause requires particularly close attention. I suspect that many of my colleagues will want to have their say about it.
The clause is deceptively simple. At first reading, it looks like a straightforward matter that can be dispensed with readily, allowing us to move on. Of course, we want to move on; I cannot wait to get to Third Reading. There is a really big speech in me and I am desperate to make it. These matters are almost distractions, albeit important ones.
Clause 3—seductively inoffensive as it appears—contains some real issues. For the first time, we can concentrate our minds on the Irish Senate. I feel more comfortable with that nomenclature. I cannot be doing with all the funny wording in the Bill; if I tried to pronounce it, I should probably get it wrong. If you will indulge me, Mr. Martin, I think that "Irish Senate" will do.
Clause 3 refers to section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998—a copy of which I have before me.
If we are proposing to repeal that subsection of the Act, will my right hon. Friend tell us whether other parts of the section should be considered? Is subsection (5) the only one that could possibly be described as redundant because it is covered elsewhere?
That is an important question, which my hon. Friend put with typical incisiveness. Section 36 of the 1998 Act is headed "Disqualification". If I may briefly digress, that has a bearing on some of our previous debates. For the past 17 hours, Ministers have been at pains to tell us repeatedly that disqualification is a chimera because such matters should be left entirely to the electorate.
However, section 36 of the Labour Government's 1998 Act sets out disqualification provisions. When I referred earlier to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, I would have understood if Ministers had used as their excuse the fact that it was an old Act. However, their own 1998 Act covers disqualification.
I suspect that, if we were to pursue the matter—although I shall not do so—Ministers would claim that the 1975 Act was old Labour and that the 1998 Act is new Labour. We are considering new Labour disqualification.
In order to set the scene and to make a telling point to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, I note that section 36(3) states:
A person who is Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant or Lieutenant for a county or county borough in Northern Ireland is disqualified for membership of the Assembly for a constituency comprising the whole or part of the county or county borough.
That disposes of the specious argument, which we have heard again and again for the past 16 or 17 hours, that we must leave all those matters to the electorate. However,
the new Labour Government's own Act, bearing on Northern Ireland, contains a disqualification of Lord Lieutenants—
My right hon. Friend poses the Committee what seems to be a puzzling conundrum. Does he agree that, by and large, the ministerial offender who is most at fault on the subject of "leave it to the voters" is not the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is currently sitting on the Treasury Bench, but the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? During the passage of the 1998 Act, was not the present Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland a Home Office Minister? He has only recently been transferred—I think, without fee—to the Northern Ireland Office.
I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Martin. It leads me directly to section 36(5) of the 1998 Act, which is referred to in the clause. It states simply:
A person is not disqualified for membership of the Assembly by virtue of subsection (1) by reason only that he is a member of the … Senate of Ireland".
There "Senate" is in English, which helps me.
We are confronted with, on the face of it, a simple question: should Members of the Senate of Ireland be disqualified and, if so, from what? That is a new question for us to face, because I think that I am right in saying—although I have been in the Chamber for so long that I have not been able to do as much research as I should have liked—that the Irish Senate is not a directly elected body but almost entirely appointed. It is a sort of Irish Tony's cronies.
I am not sure that I would count that. I believe that my general point stands.
Here we have the opportunity to seek to draw a distinction, if such a distinction should exist in this case, between elected representatives in assemblies, and Senators, who are not necessarily elected. I want to develop that argument in the context of whether there should be a disqualification across a national boundary.
I was going to offer my right hon. Friend some comfort by reminding him that Gordon Wilson of Enniskillen, whose daughter was killed in the Enniskillen bomb and who, with great Christian grace, forgave those who caused her death, was appointed to the Irish Senate subsequently; so at least some Members of the Senate are appointed.
The appointment of that individual also illustrates two or three of the themes of our debates, as my right hon. Friend knows. First, it shows that someone who is born in Northern Ireland has a unique distinction and qualification south of the border. Secondly, that it is by dint of a decision of the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland that these things happen. I have no problem with that, and I have made no argument with the Irish over that decision. We are talking about what decisions we should take here, in this sovereign Parliament, about whether we believe that politicians of whatever kind should be able to cross our border into part of our United Kingdom and play a part in a representative body.
The interesting thing about clause 3 is that here, for the first time, we can focus—and I want to be very focused on this because if I was not, I would fall over—on the fact that we are talking now about the Senate, a non-elected body. The question that we must ask ourselves, in the context both of clause 3 and of the 1975 Act, is whether we believe that the fact that the Senate is not directly elected should lead us to treat it any differently from a political body composed of elected members.
That is a very real question, for many reasons. Earlier, we considered some of the conflicts that could arise as between elected members of one body and elected members of another. We did so in some detail, but not as much as I should have liked. In my opinion, we have skipped lightly over the Bill. We have done our best, but time has not been generous to us. However, we have dug up, discovered and examined several of the conflicts that could arise. There have been obvious conflicts of time and place. There have certainly been conflicts of loyalty. We have even occasionally touched on the subject of oaths and whether oaths of loyalty or their equivalent would create difficulties for elected members in two different bodies trying to square the circle and discharge their responsibilities in the fullest possible sense.
Of course, the question may be different—I pose it as a question because I still have not resolved the matter in my mind—for a Senate-type body or a body of the Irish Senate type, which is largely appointed or delegated and not elected. One could argue that, because the body is not elected, and because it has therefore a different role and different responsibilities—
I intervene at this point to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is indeed a very narrowly drawn clause. As he has pointed out, we have dealt with the points that arise from it because this is consequential upon clause 1, where the issues have already been discussed.
Thank you, Mr. Martin. I prefer your guidance to that of the Minister in these matters. I will overlook his impudence, as I am sure you will, since you are a generous chap.
If the Minister wants to skate over this point, that is a matter for him. However, that will simply reinforce the view that we have held increasingly during these proceedings—that Ministers are not prepared to look seriously at their own Bill.
Does not the clause show how the Government overlook things and get things badly wrong? We were told that the question of allowing members of the legislature in Ireland to sit in our Parliament was considered at the time of the Belfast agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Yet within 18 months of that Act becoming law, we are being asked to change it. Surely that shows how little faith we should have in Ministers who do not consider the details of their legislation.
What would happen if the Government were to change their mind again and repeal what will become the Act, and then reinstate section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998? If the Government have not considered that, we ought to get a policy statement. Perhaps the Minister should be consulting his advisers and finding out what his view ought to be, let alone what it actually is.
Order. I would point out to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that I have already stated that this is a narrow clause. The reason why it is a very narrow clause is that it is a consequential clause, because the Committee has already agreed to clause 1. In effect, this is a consequential amendment. Therefore, we cannot go over all the arguments put with regard to clause 1 again.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. If my intervention on the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst prompted that ruling, I apologise. I was hoping to ask what happens if the Bill becomes an Act and is later repealed. Were clause 3 not to stand part of the Bill, the qualification for a Member of the Senate to come in would still apply. If I trespassed over ground that has been covered before, I apologise.
Indeed, Mr. Martin. The distinction in my mind is that whereas clause 1 refers in a generic sense to the Northern Ireland Assembly disqualification, clause 3 focuses specifically on the Senate. There is an opportunity under clause 3 for us to consider whether the Senate should be treated differently from or the same as the Assembly. That is a crucial difference, especially given the fact that the Senate is of a different political nature.
I hesitate to explore that matter further. However, I suspect that the use of the term "elected" is rather loose, as I doubt whether they are directly elected. I do not want to get distracted in that way, as I wanted to take a succinct look at the matter. I wanted to set the stage for the debate, rather than hog the time. As you know, Mr. Martin, I try never to do that. I am trying to draw out the main themes of the debate in the context of section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
I was briefly considering the difference in treatment that the Committee might have to consider. A political body that is elected and which is therefore fully comparable to the House and to the Northern Ireland Assembly even though it is peculiarly elected by the gentleman called d'Hondt, about whom we keep hearing but none of us fully understand—
Well, the dead d'Hondt—or the late Professor d'Hondt, if one wants to be more gentlemanly about it.
Consequential or not, the Irish Senate is referred to separately in clause 3 because it was dealt with separately in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. That means that we must give it proper and separate consideration. It might have been treated separately because it is, in substance, different from the other bodies that we have considered. It is certainly separate in the context of the Bill.
I am a former graduate of Trinity college, but a much earlier graduate, Edmund Burke, gave us the guideline that Members should come to the House not as delegates but as representatives. Is there not a difference between those, such as Gordon Wilson, Dr. Robb and others, who were appointed to the Senate by the Taoiseach and those who were elected? Where does the loyalty of those appointed by an individual lie?
These are vital considerations. An interesting and respectable publication has fallen conveniently into my hands. It was produced by the constitutional unit of the UCL school of public policy, so I suppose that it can be trusted. I shall quote it briefly because I am sure that the Committee wants to understand the context:
The Irish Senate is a weak second chamber within a relatively weak Parliament.
That is not very complimentary. Are its Members the people with whom we are supposed to be playing transfer? It adds:
Its powers were weakened under the new constitution of 1937. It has only 90 days to consider any legislation that comes from the Dail, which in turn may overturn any amendments after a further 180 days. The Senate has no powers over financial legislation and no power to appoint or dismiss the Government.
That illustrates that we are dealing with a political body that is quite different from the elected Assembly in the Republic of Ireland and from the unicameral Assembly in
Northern Ireland. It is different again from the combination of the House of Commons and the new transitional House of Lords, whose final composition we do not yet know.
My right hon. Friend suggested that the Senate was not elected in the normal sense. The excellent constitution unit booklet shows that it is made up from five vocational groups, it is voted through by the out-going Members of the previous Senate, by some people in local councils and by Members of the lower House. It is very much an old boys' and old girls' network who put in their own placemen from their own vocational groups. He is right to suggest that it is not an elected Assembly.
Order. This is a convenient point to stop the right hon. Gentleman. Once again, I make it clear that such arguments could have been made on clause 1. If my memory serves me correctly, they were made on clause 1. [Interruption.] Order. I have as good a memory as any other hon Member. That is why am in this job.
Clause 1 refers to the "member of the legislature". That includes the Senate as well as the Dail. This is a technical and consequential clause, and we are narrowly constrained by it. We cannot talk about the make-up of the Senate in this debate.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. Your remarks are helpful, but will you confirm that clause 1 provides for the removal of a disqualification, whereas clause 3 provides for the removal of a qualification, and that there is, in some sense, a difference between the two, even though they appear to be the reverse of each other? Although the clauses are different, the arguments are not identical, and it is relevant to note the distinction between the two clauses.
It is not my obligation, but the Minister's, to explain the Bill to the Committee. If the Minister were to start to explain clause 1 in great detail, I would rule him out of order, because we moved on from clause 1 after having a lengthy debate on it. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) must speak only to clause 3. If he or any other hon. Member who intervenes during his speech strays from the confines of that narrow clause, I shall have to intervene. I do not like having to intervene, because it disrupts the flow of the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Martin. You have referred to matters that should have been debated and answered during the debate on clause 1, but what if it is the view of the Committee—at least, those on the Opposition Benches—that those matters were not properly dealt with at that time? Is it not the right of the Committee to probe such matters during debate on a later clause, even though that clause is rather tightly drawn, as you have rightly pointed out?
We have to keep within the narrow confines of clause 3. My remarks might be construed as implying that clause 1 offered greater opportunity and scope to debate the matters to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Therefore, in a sense, hon.
Members have missed the boat by waiting until clause 3 stand part to raise matters that they should have raised in connection with clause 1.
On a separate point of order, Mr. Martin. You have, rightly, drawn attention to the Bill's description of the clause as consequential. However, my reading of the two clauses reveals no inconsistency between the provision removed under clause 3 and that which is proposed under clause 1. Surely, clause 3 is not strictly consequential, given that there is no need to remove it from the other legislation?
I can concern myself only with clause 3. I used clause 1 as an example, but said that we had now moved on from that clause to clause 3, which is narrowly drawn. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has got my point.
I have indeed, Mr. Martin—indeed, how could I fail to do so? I am a simple man and can only tell these things as I see them. It complies with your guidance to say that it struck me that there had to be a clause 3 to determine the treatment of the Irish Senate within the overall framework of the Bill. If that determination had been unnecessary, clause 3 would have been unnecessary. My view is that clause 3 is necessary because of the provision in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which, in turn, singles out the Irish Senate, albeit for different reasons.
No, I am not upset; I just think that my right hon. Friend is wrong. If the Government had not proposed clause 3—we have yet to hear why they thought it essential to do so—the result would have been belt and braces, with all sorts of reasons given as to why a Member of the Senate should be able to be qualified. The question of whether Lords-Lieutenant should be able to do certain things is another matter. However, I do not believe that clause 3 is necessary—it is matter of choice. The question of why that choice was made is one that my right hon. Friend should ask. If I have misunderstood his remarks, I apologise.
My hon. Friend is, as ever, helpful, in that he has got to the point quicker than I would have done. That is, of course, a good thing, which we all want.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I wonder whether you can help the Committee. Westminster Hall has now started Wednesday's business. Before the commencement of the Westminster Hall experiment, Tuesday's business in this place continued until 2.30 pm, when Wednesday's business began. Can you help us by telling us whether we are now in Tuesday's business or Wednesday's business?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are in Tuesday's business. What goes on outside the Chamber has nothing to do—[Interruption.] Order. I would appreciate being able to answer the right hon. Gentleman. I shall then take other points of order. What goes on outside the Chamber is nothing to do with us. This is a Committee of the whole House.
That is a helpful ruling, Mr. Martin, but will you go one step further to remove a continuing confusion that I at least have? My understanding was that Westminster Hall was but an extension of the Chamber, and that the rules setting it up in effect moved Wednesday's business from the Chamber to Westminster Hall, but did not establish a separate entity. In that sense, it is but an extension of this place. Therefore, I remain confused because Westminster Hall is on Wednesday's business and we are on Tuesday's business, though it is but an extension of us.
Order. I cannot go into the business that is taking place in Westminster Hall. I have instructions to take the business of the Committee and to be its Chairman. That is what I must do. If the right hon. Gentleman has any concerns about what is going on in Westminster Hall and feels that perhaps it is a breach of the rules of the House, he can take up the matter with the Chairman of Ways and Means. He is entitled to do that.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. Your advice about taking up the matter with the Chairman of Ways and Means is useful. However, I wish to raise a different matter.
We have a dilemma that we share with other parts of the House. The words that are being said in Westminster Hall will be recorded in the Official Report. The question is which day they will be reported under. If, for example, this debate continues and we lose Wednesday's business, there will not be a Wednesday's Official Report. It may be that what is said in Westminster Hall on a Wednesday will be reported on a Tuesday in the Official Report; or it may be that it will have to be reported on a Thursday when the House comes back.
Obviously these are not matters for you, Mr. Martin, as Chairman of the Committee. However, it might be helpful if some of these matters could be considered. Whatever decisions have to be taken during the next day or two, or this day, should not be regarded as precedents if they involve matters that should be referred to another Committee or for deeper consideration. We should understand that what is happening now is provisional and that what is happening apparently at Westminster Hall on a Wednesday might be taking place on Tuesday, Thursday or Wednesday.
This is a Committee of the whole House. The best that I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that his voice and concerns have been heard. That is the best way I can put it.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I think that all hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber recognise the difficulties in which you find yourself as a result of the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney). However, I must support what he said. Westminster Hall is an extension of the Chamber.
May I press you a little further, Mr. Martin, because you are supposed to safeguard the rights of the House of Commons and the rights of Members? Could you, as Chairman of the Committee, seek to make inquiries as to whether it is in order for Westminster Hall to be sitting at this time?
I have no difficulties with that. I am here to chair a Committee of the whole House. As the hon. Gentleman said, hon. Members have rights, including a right to be heard in such a Committee. Westminster Hall has its own rules and it is not for me to concern myself with what is happening there. My current duty is to chair the Committee of the whole House. If many hon. Members make points of order about Westminster Hall, we shall be in danger of departing from the Committee's business. I can say no more about Westminster Hall.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I am sorry to trouble you, but it is important for the constitutional position to be clear, especially to new Members. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) said that Westminster Hall was not separate from, but was an extension of, the House. That point is underlined by a simple occurrence that we witness daily: the Official Report of the debates in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall are reproduced in the same volume. Does not that testify to the fact that they are one entity?
I am afraid that it is a related point. You rightly ruled that we should take up the matter with the Chairman of Ways and Means. However, it is difficult to do that while participating in the debate in Committee. Hon. Members in Westminster Hall may also want to participate in our debate—
Order. I am sorry to cut the right hon. Gentleman short, but when I told the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire to take up the matter with the Chairman of Ways and Means, I did not expect him to go to Westminster Hall, and take the Chairman from the Chair for a discussion. He and other hon. Members can arrange to meet the Chairman of Ways and Means to discuss the matter.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. My point is about the good standing of the House. I know that you and your colleagues—indeed, the Speaker herself—take seriously the standing of the House, which is the mother of Parliaments, and respected throughout the world. Do we not look ridiculous if we are sitting in two different places on different days, which are really the same day?
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. To my surprise, the Table Office says that today is Wednesday, whereas you have ruled that it is Tuesday, regardless of events in Westminster Hall. Surely the Table Office should remain closed until Wednesday's business begins.
Today is obviously Wednesday. [Interruption.] Order. I told the Committee that we were dealing with Tuesday's business because the sitting has been unbroken. We remain in Tuesday's sitting.
Order. I have made my ruling. We must return to the business of the Committee. Did the hon. Member for East Londonderry have a point of order?
We are in a Committee of the whole House in the sense that all hon. Members can be here if they wish. Attendance has nothing to do with the Chair. The important thing is that I am here, and so is the hon. Gentleman.
I will express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) in his absence, so that it can be reported to him and he can read it in Hansard. He unerringly put his finger on a point that I had not quite zeroed in on, when he pointed out the blindingly obvious. The Government are making a discretionary change that, if they had not made it, would have left the status quo ante. That simple matter leads us directly to consider a positive act by the Government in seeking to change the status in of the Irish Senate in the Bill.
You are right, Mr. Martin, to remind me that the debate is narrowly drawn. I will not explore the composition of the Irish Senate, however fascinating that may be, but I thought it legitimate to point out that the Senate's unelected composition might give it a different relationship with the Northern Ireland Assembly and House of Commons.
My right hon. Friend seems to be embarking on an exposition that focuses on an argument between form and substance. Heeding your exhortation, Mr. Martin, that my right hon. Friend and I should not discuss the make-up of the Irish Senate but could more profitably focus on the fact that it is not the means of getting into the Irish Senate that matters but the rights and powers that somebody, once there, can exercise—
Order. I will not even allow the right hon. Gentleman to answer. The right hon. Gentleman was a Minister and knows full well what I mean when I say that this is a narrow and consequential motion.
Of course I accept your guidance, Mr. Martin, but the provision does seek to change the status of the relationship of the Senate and its members. If clause 3 did not exist, that status would remain the same, as determined by the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Government, in a positive act, decided to introduce clause 3—which overturns the 1998 Act and alters the status of the Irish Senate. I submit that the Committee is obliged to focus on that issue and ask whether it is content.
If we vote against clause 3 stand part, that would leave the requirements of the 1998 Act intact—which would in turn allow members of the Irish Senate to be members also of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Having set the scene, and taking the hint that my mind is giving me, I will invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to debate the matter. I have not made up my mind. I have not come down on one side of the argument rather than the other.
Because of the points of order, I rather lost track of the central thrust of my right hon. Friend's argument. I was hoping that before he sits down, he will, within order and without repeating himself, give a brief synopsis that I can explore in more detail.
I was trying to do that and had just about got there when my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West—no doubt trying to be helpful—almost threw me off track. I will try and boil it down as simply as I can for my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border, because I know he likes it that way.
Our decision at its simplest—although it cannot be treated too simply—is whether to accept the change in the clause. I hope that that is simple enough for my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border, because I am unlikely to have another go at it. That is the way I see things. A lot of useful debates have led up to this focused discussion, which will allow us to consider the Senate and its relationship with other bodies. I look forward to the debate that will follow my brief introductory remarks.
The clause is narrow and consequential. It provides for the repeal of section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which allows a Member of the Irish Senate to be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Slow down."] Clause 1 has the same effect. As section 36(5) is no longer needed, we have in that sense already discussed those issues.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. We all have a problem: the Minister talked so fast that we do not know what he said. [Interruption.] I am not sure that Hansard will pick it up either, and civil servants will probably be sent to check his remarks. Even they might not know what he said. With great respect, I suggest that he repeats his speech.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Martin. Is not it part of the rules and procedures of the House that a Minister should at least be intelligible to other Members? Unlike him, I have been here all night. Nevertheless, my faculties are still sharp enough to enable me to distinguish one word from another, if they are distinguishable. His were not.
Order. Please sit down, Mr. Bercow. I hope that these points of order are not on the Minister's speech because we have had a series of them about that.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. As you have so rightly said on so many occasions, hon. Members have to take responsibility for what they say, but I did not hear what the Minister said and neither did my hon. Friends. You must have heard what he said, otherwise you would be as angry as we are. Can you tell us what he said, because clearly he cannot?
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. In response to an earlier point of order, when I sought your guidance, you invited me to take advice from the Chairman of Ways and Means about the fact that we are on Tuesday's business and the extension of the Chamber—Westminster Hall—is on Wednesday's business. I believe that I can accurately reflect the remarks of the Chairman of Ways and Means. He said that this situation is not covered in Standing Orders, that it would be in the spirit of the Westminster Hall experiment to continue, albeit on different days, and that no doubt the Modernisation Committee would wish to review the matter in the context of the overall experiment.
Having reported back on doing what you suggested I should do, Mr. Martin, I wish to raise the following point of order. Given that this matter is not covered by Standing Orders, is the Chair content that it has all the powers necessary for the proper conduct of this business, in view of the ambiguity that has arisen?
I am not responsible for Westminster Hall; I am responsible for this Committee of the whole House. If the right hon. Gentleman has any problem about Westminster Hall, this is not the time and place to raise it. I have devoted some 20 minutes to the question of Westminster Hall. I really cannot take any more points of order about it.
Mr. Martin, at last! Good morning. I imagine that even that early contribution may be controversial.
Points of order have been perfectly properly raised about the links between here and Westminster Hall. We are now into a debate that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) introduced on whether people in the Irish Senate could also be Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I have to reflect that the one question that still remains unanswered in all this is why these sorts of issues—in what is, by any definition, a relatively modest Bill—should have taken—
I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is a modest but important Bill, as I indeed said on Second Reading. We wonder why it should have detained the House on Monday and the Committee for a very large part of Tuesday and for another period, either Tuesday or Wednesday, which is a matter yet to be resolved.
This allegedly modest Bill has vast consequences. That is why we have been here since 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon. That is why we were here until 7 o'clock the night before. We have been on a very restricted timetable. Will the hon. Gentleman please remember that that which appears modest is in fact most immodest?
Order. I will not tolerate such behaviour. Perhaps I was distracted because I was speaking to another hon. Gentleman. I do not want to hear any comments about the Bill in its entirety. We are speaking about a very narrow matter.
Having also laboured through Monday and Tuesday, and whatever it is now, I certainly do not intend to go over what is already on the record, such as my contribution on Monday, when I said what sort of Bill it is.
We have a clear position—which we addressed on Monday—which relates specifically to the clause, namely, that it is right that Members of the Irish Senate should be able to be Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is one of the anomalies that we have inherited and has been the position for quite some time. As Ministers and colleagues have said, there have been Members of this House who have been Members of the Senate of the Irish Parliament. Indeed, the law was changed some 10 years ago to accommodate that fact.
The second point is that it was clearly illogical to have legislation—why it should come up to be debated now is a separate question—that said that if one was in the Irish Senate one could be in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but if one was in the other House of the Irish Parliament one could not. Therefore, it was perfectly proper that a Bill should come before us addressing both issues, and this Bill, in fairness to the Government, does address both. It retains the right of a Senate Member to be in the Northern Ireland Assembly and it adds the right of a Member of the Dail to be in that Assembly.
Whether correct or not, surely there is an argument that there is a distinction, in that a Member of the Senate does not have all of the constituency responsibilities that a Member of the Dail may have, and therefore the effect in terms of conflict of interest and conflict in the daily workload of a Member might be very different.
The hon. Gentleman is half right. As we learned from a mini-seminar earlier, certain Members of the Senate are elected—those who come from the university electorate in Ireland—and there are certain Members of this Parliament who are not elected, not at this end of the building but at the other end. In that sense, both Parliaments have unelected and elected Members; both Parliaments contain Members with constituents and Members without them. Therefore—if the hon. Gentleman is making a Westminster Parliament point in comparison to a Dublin Parliament point—there is no logical reason for there not to be a parallel view on whether people can be members of both legislatures. Clause 3, however, does not deal with that point. It deals only with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dail point, which is different.
Nevertheless, it is not anomalous, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, that the legislation as it stands should remain. Is he arguing that, merely because some members of the Irish Senate have been elected, they have a responsibility to represent their constituents as Members of this House have a responsibility, or is it simply that they are selected to be Members of the Assembly by virtue of an election, but then sit there without a responsibility to represent people?
I will no go far down that road, but I will say that before the hon. Gentleman was born—indeed, before I was born—the House contained people who had been elected to represent university seats, as the Irish Parliament still does. That was the last unusual way in which the franchise was altered for the purposes of this place. In this instance, however, I think that we should focus on the narrower question of whether it is right to have legislation that enables Members of the Senate also to be Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
By passing clause 1, we have already said that Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Members of the United Kingdom Parliament should not be disqualified from membership of the Irish Parliament. It follows from that that clause 3 is logical: without it, the same provision exists in two separate Acts, which is surely a nonsense.
I do not want to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman, at least on this occasion, but does he really feel that he is on safe ground in praying in aid the university example that used to exist in this country? Even in the case of those with a dual franchise, members of the legislature had sworn allegiance to the same head of state. Will the hon. Gentleman turn his mind to the unanswerable conflict that must permeate this and every other debate on the Bill? We are talking about people swearing allegiance to two different heads of state, and that is why the whole Bill fails.
Let me say gently to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) that, had he laboured as long on the Committee as some of us, he would know that we have already been around that course—as you rightly pointed out, Mr. Martin.
The hon. Gentleman says that it is anomalous for the same provision to be made in more than one statute. I suggest that that is not unreasonable, and I shall give just one example. The Protestant succession is enshrined in no fewer than six Acts of Parliament that would have to be repealed were a change to be made.
I did not know that, but I am willing to take it as read for the time being. Perhaps the Government will come up with another little constitutional four-clauser to deal with the Act of Succession, and that will be proposed as a modest amendment to the Bill. Once we have looked at it we may discover, as the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has suggested, that it is not such a modest amendment after all.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. This is one of the few occasions in this Parliament on which Her Majesty's Privy Councillorship has come in handy.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that clause 3 is redundant, in that it replicates a provision that already exists in clause 1? Does he wish it to be removed because it is redundant, or does he believe that it is incompatible with other provisions? I could accept the removal of clause 3 if it were inconsistent or contradictory. Why does he think it necessary to remove it if it is compatible, but merely redundant?
It was not a point of order, but I stand corrected. Section 36(5) is repealed by clause 3 and is not dealt with in clause 1, which deals only with the two disqualification Acts. Although it deals with the same Act—the 1998 Act—clause 2 does not deal with that provision. However, amending the disqualification Acts means that we do not need the Northern Ireland Act provision.
The three lines reveal that the Government have no coherent constitutional agenda.
It is absolutely not like the Liberal Democrats.
If the Government bring before Parliament a Bill to change the constitutional position of Members of the Senate and Northern Ireland Assembly, and have to come back to the House less than two years later to look at the legislation again, that suggests that it was not a thought-through, planned element of the constitutional jigsaw.
Not for the minute.
The complaint that I made on Second Reading applies specifically to the clause—namely, it is here because the Government self-evidently have come belatedly, and for no reason yet given, to get us to amend the constitution—which may be logical in itself, but would more logically have been done by looking at the same time at Northern Ireland and its relationship with the other four parts of the United Kingdom and with Ireland. We should do it all together. We are not doing so. It does not help constitutional logic and order to come back time after time, taking one bit of constitutional change at a time. I hope that the Government have more coherence in future.
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I have been here all night. My commiserations go to you and to your colleagues. I do not need any lectures from Opposition Members.
The point of order that I want to raise is simple. On a number of occasions, Madam Speaker has expressed concern about how the public view the House. I wonder how people will view the House when they see how the debate has been prolonged. It is an important Bill—I do not deny that for one moment—but it need not have gone all through the night and still continue now. It does the House no service for the public to see a Tory-organised filibuster, which brings discredit on the House.
I welcome the debate on clause 3. However, it is unfortunate that it is the third clause in the Bill. It would have been better if it had been the first and that the Bill contained no other clauses. If that had happened, this Bill would have been a proper Disqualifications Bill.
The clause would repeal section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, the fact that, two years after passage of that legislation, the Government are seeking to repeal section 36(5) is a reflection on their planning. The provision was included in the 1998 Act to deal with an anomaly.
My hon. Friend, like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), is saying that two years have elapsed since passage of the 1998 Act, but that is incorrect. The Act received Royal Assent on 19 November 1998. Therefore, within 13 months Ministers had already started the process of amending the Act.
I thank my hon. Friend for his very useful intervention. The time elapsed has, therefore, been only one and a half years.
The provision was intended to deal with an anomaly. One might therefore ask what abuse it was supposed to deal with and what was happening that required its introduction. It was introduced because the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) had been appointed to the Senate, but subsequently discovered that he would have to resign from it to become a Northern Ireland Assembly Member. The provision was therefore included in the 1998 Bill to facilitate the minority in Northern Ireland and to ensure that, in future, other hon. Members could be so appointed.
The issue arises because the Republic of Ireland still claims that Northern Ireland is part of its jurisdiction. Therefore, the Republic exercised what it considered to be its right to appoint people from Northern Ireland to its Senate—to give the impression, of course, that it is an all-Ireland Government.
We all realise that the Republic of Ireland's constitution has been changed and that it now makes no claim on the territory of Northern Ireland. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is still claiming jurisdiction, but not territory?
Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is really going well beyond the scope of clause 3. I also remind the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson)—he was in the Chamber when I made the initial ruling—that we cannot get into the detail of the Senate, how it is elected and why the legislation was introduced. Not only was the substance of clause 3 debated in clause 1, but it is a consequential repeal. The clause's substance is therefore very narrow indeed.
I listened to your ruling on the matter, Mr. Martin, and I am conscious that I have to walk a very narrow and straight path. Many of us, however, have found it difficult to keep to the straight and narrow.
The Government, by introducing this Bill and including in it more than one clause, are increasing the anomalies and creating one even greater anomaly. I therefore believe that, in passing the Bill, rather than making the situation better, we shall be making it worse.
The provision's inclusion in the 1998 Act was an act of appeasement by Ministers. This Bill, however, is an even greater act of appeasement.
I rise to say a few brief words about clause 3. You have ruled, Mr. Martin—and rightly—that the clause is closely related to clause 1. Some would say that it is consequential to what we have decided in that clause. However, the clause would repeal section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, so it is worth pausing this morning—unless this morning turns out to be this evening, Mr. Martin, according to your ruling—to look at what that section did.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is a politician for whom I have the highest regard. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I have, rightly, commended the First Minister on a number of occasions in our deliberations, and it would be wrong of me not to take this opportunity to state that we hold the Deputy First Minister in equally high regard. I see that the Under-Secretary is nodding his agreement with that. Together, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are taking the Executive forward. We hope and pray that a real start will be made to decommissioning in the few days left of this month, and that they can continue their work.
However, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh sat in the Senate of the Irish Republic. After being elected to an earlier Northern Ireland Assembly, he was subsequently debarred. At the time, hon. Members of all parties considered that to be a great pity. It would have been a great shame if his excellent work in the current Assembly and the Executive had not continued.
We have nothing but the highest regard for the hon. Gentleman, but we should judge not an individual, but the rights and wrongs of whether a Member of the Irish Senate should also sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I seem to recall that you, Mr. Martin, were involved, as was I, in the progress through the House of the 1998 Act. The circumstances then were not dissimilar to those that obtain now. We were rushing the legislation through, and we were right to do so. That piece of emergency legislation was an essential part of the Belfast agreement process. It has worked most satisfactorily, and only last month spawned the Executive. We all hope that that will remain in being, although that depends on the paramilitaries fulfilling their part of the bargain and starting decommissioning.
As always, I am obliged to you, Mr. Martin. I was making a passing reference to the establishment of the Assembly as a means of making the point that section 36(5) was ill-thought-out by the House. I make no special complaint about that, as I know that the legislation was being rushed through at the time.
If I may say so, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) succinctly made the point that it is anomalous to allow someone from the Irish Senate to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly but not in the other part of the Dail which, as he rightly said, is the fully elected part of the Dail. Either everyone should be allowed to sit, or no one.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and I have clashed in the nicest possible way about speedy legislation. That illustrates that even with the best will in the world, when it is necessary to have speedy legislation—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) questions, from a sedentary position, whether this is speedy legislation. Without trespassing on your ruling, Mr. Martin, I feel that I must respond to the hon. Gentleman, who is now shaking his head as well. Yes, it is speedy—it is not normal to have a Second Reading followed the next day by the Committee stage, Report and possibly even Third Reading. It is normal to leave at least a week in between those stages of a Bill so that we can consider the amendments that have been tabled and the contributions made on Second Reading. That, if I may say so to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, who has not been in his place for most of the debate—
The hon. Gentleman says that nor have most of my hon. Friends, but they are not intervening from a sedentary position. If they did, I would make the same point to them, because I believe that my criticism should always be even-handed, and I know that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston would want nothing less.
I apologise, Mr. Martin, because the hon. Gentleman distracted me, and I fear that I am moving wide of the amendment.
You, Mr. Martin, have already advised us that clause 3 is tightly drawn and that we should focus our debate exclusively on it. My right hon. Friend will recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)—when he, rather briefly, set the scene for the debate—explained that he had not yet decided whether to endorse the clause. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) first entered the House in 1977; he is a very experienced parliamentarian. I wonder whether he could explain the merits or otherwise—
If my hon. Friend is patient for just a moment, he will have the answer. My precise and straightforward reason for rising is to comment on the clause. I shall not be tempted to do so in detail, because I sense that you wish the Committee to proceed, Mr. Martin. I see the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) nodding, and I agree with him entirely. In an act of bipartisan conciliation, Whips and ex-Whips like to stick together.
I want to return to the point that I was making to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Our disagreement is over the speed of the Bill; the biggest disagreement is that we believe that rushing legislation by having a Committee stage straight after Second Reading results in bad legislation. Clause 3 repeals section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. I submit to the Under-Secretary that that measure was rushed, for understandable reasons, and we now have to repeal it. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey clearly said in his helpful contribution, it was an anomalous piece of legislation. I ask the Under-Secretary to reflect on that when he replies to the debate.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He has rightly said that the clause is a narrow and consequential one which merely removes section 36(5) from the 1998 Act. It has, essentially, the same effect as clause 1. We have had a prolonged debate on the clause, and we have spent about 18 hours, if not more, debating the Bill. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's claim that the Bill is being rushed through is increasingly untenable.
I am not sure whether I can respond to much of the Minister's intervention; I suspect that I would be largely out of order if I did so. As you did not rule the Minister out of order, Mr. Martin, I am put in a difficult position, so perhaps I might trespass briefly in responding to him. Otherwise, his comments will be included in Hansard—
Order. Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman. The Minister was out of order in straying from the clause—[Interruption.] The First Deputy Chairman has been working such long hours that he is a little slower than he was last night. My ruling is that the right hon. Gentleman does not need to respond to the Minister because the Minister was out of order.
I am grateful, Mr. Martin. As someone who has also been involved throughout the Committee's proceedings, I am sympathetic. All of us are slowing up; it is taking me longer than I want to reach my conclusion.
The right hon. Gentleman will have noted that the First Deputy Chairman said that he was a bit slow. That means that he is tired. At one time, there used to be only one Speaker, who had to sit in the Chair—without food—for hours. That was a cruel way to do business. I think that we are being cruel to the present occupants of the Chair. Would it not be a good idea if the business of the House were suspended for about an hour, to give them a rest?
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. You ruled that my earlier remarks were not a matter for debate. However, I am concerned for your welfare. Perhaps you should reconsider my suggestion and suspend the sitting so that you can have a rest and a cup of tea.
I am touched by the hon. Gentleman's concern for my welfare. However, it would best be served if the Committee remained within the narrow confines of clause 3.
I am obliged to you, Mr. Martin. As you will have noted, I am desperately trying to conform to your ruling.
The crux of the point that I have been making is that section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the repeal of which I am minded to support, was part of rushed legislation. A genuine misunderstanding has arisen, because if you are somewhat tired, Mr. Martin, the Under-Secretary must also be tired. He has been sitting on the Treasury Bench for about 15 or 16 hours—
There is a misunderstanding. The rushing of a Bill does not refer to the number of hours allocated for its debate; it refers to the time for reflection that is allowed between Second Reading and Committee.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He has expressed his support for clause 3, which is consequential on clause 1. Does he also support clause 1?
Order. The right hon. Gentleman does not need to indicate any support for clause 1. We have passed clause 1; that is done and dusted. We are now on clause 3.
I am obliged, Mr. Martin, because I thought that we were on clause 3 and I thought that we had voted on clause 1—which would have given the Under-Secretary an answer. I want to help the Under-Secretary. I suspect that, at this very late hour of Tuesday—I believe that it has been ruled that we are still on Tuesday; it would be an early hour of Wednesday if we were in Westminster Hall—the Minister is trying to tease out of me why I voted against clause 1 yet am minded to support clause 3. He is probably about to say that there is a lack of logic.
It is very important that I put the record straight, because I would not want the Under-Secretary to think that there is a lack of logic, and I certainly would not wish it to be recorded in Hansard. My right hon. and hon. Friends voted against clause 1 because each of the essential amendments to the clause was ignored, with uncharacteristic arrogance, by the Under-Secretary and his counterpart at the Northern Ireland Office. I hope that I have put the record straight. Unless the Under-Secretary wants to intervene, I shall move on.
I do not believe that this is truly a consequential clause. Because the two are not exclusive, it is perfectly possible for the relevant clause of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to sit alongside the new legislation that the Government are trying to put in place. You acquiesced in that point, Mr. Martin. Therefore, it is surely spurious to argue that we cannot take a different view on each measure.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I want to be fair to the Under-Secretary because it is a very late hour in the debate and I may have been slightly careless and unfair by inferring what he was about to say, not relating what he had said. My hon. Friend makes a particularly good point because we lost the vote and, sadly, clause 1 was ordered to stand part of the Bill. Therefore, as we have clause 1—unamended, which we believe to be a grave mistake—there seems to be some merit in having clause 3.
Just a moment. I owe it to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) to answer him fully. This clause is consequential. As we have clause 1, with all its warts—there are real warts because our amendments were not accepted—there is some merit in including clause 3 in the Bill as well, largely for the reasons that I have outlined.
I do not want to be drawn too far on that, because although I believe that the matter is in order I am not necessarily qualified to answer. I am not a parliamentary draftsman. However, if I was being asked my opinion—which I believe I was—I would say that the clause was probably unnecessary and that the Bill could have had at least one fewer clause, in which case we could have made more progress.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for offering an opinion as to whether the clause might be necessary, but will he concede that the person who is being paid to tell us whether it is necessary is the Under-Secretary, who, despite drawing a not inconsiderable salary, gabbled his way through what should have been a justification, so that we still have not heard the Government's justification in an audible way that is also in order?
I do not want to pursue my hon. Friend's point, as that is a matter for others to decide. However, he makes an important point when he says that some people are paid to know the answers while others are not. Members of the shadow Cabinet are unpaid and receive no more than Opposition Back Benchers. The Neill committee or the Senior Salaries Review Body might want to consider that matter. However, I will not trespass further on that point, although it is something about which I feel strongly.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I am insufficiently professionally qualified to answer that. Nor do I have the financial resources, with the limited amount of Short money, to be able to be advised in the way that Ministers are.
I would like to answer the point that has been raised, rather than be interrupted. Unlike some hon. Members, I have not had any sleep for at least 36 hours, and I would appreciate taking one point at a time.
I should say that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has been in the Committee throughout, and I do not wish to imply that he—unlike some hon. Members on both sides of the Committee—is a Johnny-come-lately to the Committee. My hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham, for Altrincham and Sale, West and for Blaby (Mr. Robathan)—along with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney)—have been stalwarts throughout the debate.
I suspect that if we voted the new clause down, the Bill would be unaffected and there would be no negative consequences.
I want to ensure that no hon. Members feel that they have been short-changed. Clause 3 provides for the repeal of section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which merely has the effect of allowing a Member of the Irish Senate to be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Clause 1 has the same effect, so section 36(5) is no longer needed. Therefore, it is merely tidy draftsmanship to ensure that the Bill is clear.
I am deeply grateful to the Minister for that intervention, which leads me to believe that it is safe to have the clause in the Bill. Equally, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham that we are equally safe if we wish to remove the clause. My hon. Friend may have a dilemma as to which way to vote, but that is a decision for him. I am agnostic and relaxed about this matter.
My right hon. Friend shows characteristic generosity. He will be aware that, with all the resources available to it, even the Home Office's explanatory notes state that the clause is "no longer needed". Section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which will be repealed by clause 3, is about the ability to allow a Member of the Senate only to become a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. What does my right hon. Friend believe was the original reason for that? Why were Senators allowed to become Members when Members of the lower House were not? We need to know that before we can make our decision on—
I shall not be tempted down that road, particularly as I commented on the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, who raised exactly the same point.
On balance, I am coming down in favour of supporting the retention of the clause. It was anomalous in the first place, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey rightly pointed out, to allow a Member of the Senate, and not a Member of the elected Dail, to become a Member of the Assembly.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. It is the second time this morning that being a member of the Privy Council has been of benefit to me.
I am worried that my right hon. Friend may have misguided himself. He has concluded that, because he lost his argument on clause 1, clause 3 is merely consequential and that it would be consistent to remove it. Does he think that it is essential to remove it, or does he think that it would be inconsistent with the purposes of clause 1 if it were to stay and that that would render the Bill unintelligible?
I am at least grateful to my right hon. Friend for thinking that I have misled only myself, and not the House or other hon. Members. After all my years in the House, I would be hurt to the quick to think that a Privy Council colleague thought that I had misled the House and other hon. Members. I suspect that I mislead myself a lot of the time—
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I am concerned that two references have been made to the fact that privilege was given to members of the Privy Council when interventions were accepted. Am I not right in thinking that the Modernisation Committee recently ruled that no precedence should be given to members of the Privy Council?
The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt), who has taken an interest in the Committee in a quasi-professional capacity—he is a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Home Office—almost suggested in a bipartisan spirit that misleading ourselves was the attribute of everyone in the House. However, I was saddened that he applied that attribute to Conservative Members only. I am sure that, on reflection, and in the spirit of the debate, he will wish to withdraw his remark.
I see no harm in the clause, but, equally, I see no harm in its removal from the Bill. I am agnostic. I started in that position and, after misleading myself several times during my speech, I remain in that position.
On the ground that it is better to be safe than sorry, I shall declare an interest. The clause is about the Irish Senate. If my understanding is correct, I qualify to be appointed to the Irish Senate by virtue of my Belfast birth. That is not an honour that I have sought or, much less, turned down. However, under the Irish legislation that was in force when I was born, I may have an interest to declare. I say "may" because I am not clear about whether Ireland's repudiation of articles 2 and 3 of its constitution, which arose from the Belfast agreement, affects my status and my eligibility to be appointed. However, on the grounds that it is better to be safe than sorry, I draw that point to the attention of the Committee.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) said, the issue we are debating arose out of the case of a real person, not a theoretical discussion. It was a matter of practical politics, because the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was a member of the previous Assembly and was appointed to the Irish Senate. That fact in itself lends a degree of credence to—
Order. I have said before that the substance of this matter has been debated in relation to clause 1. An argument such as that advanced by the right hon. Gentleman would have been perfectly acceptable in that context, but it is not in a debate on clause 3 stand part. Clause 3 is consequential on the Committee having approved clause 1.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Martin. Not only do I take full note of and accept your ruling, but I offer you my assurance that I was not deliberately attempting to stray outside rulings that you and your colleagues have generously, graciously and, indeed, patiently given the Committee during the past few hours. I was trying to reassure the Committee and you that there is a matter of substance to be discussed, arising out of a real case.
It is interesting that the 1998 Act distinguished between the lower House and the Irish Senate. As the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) pointed out, that matter was signed, sealed and settled 12 months ago and it has now been reopened. Were I to stray into the reasons for that reopening, you would rule me out of order, Mr. Martin, because we debated such matters—albeit unsatisfactorily—in relation to clause 1 and the amendments thereto.
Nevertheless, it is interesting that section 1(1)(e) of the 1975 Act—like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I happen to have a copy with me—makes no distinction between the two Houses. In the 1998 Act, which set up the Assembly, a distinction was made. It is that distinction that is addressed by clause 3, which repeals section 36(5) of the 1998 Act.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst helpfully directed the Committee's attention to the nature of the Irish Senate, and he compared it to the nature of the Dail and of the House of Commons. So as not to stray from your guidance, Mr. Martin, I shall rest my case on the erudite and convincing arguments that my right hon. Friend advanced at that time. The Committee is being invited to assume that it is acceptable for Members of the Irish Senate to have an involvement in our elected affairs, even though some of them may not have previous elected experience.
The clause refers to the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which in turn refers to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. I remind the Committee of section 1(1), which states:
Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person is disqualified for membership of the House of Commons who for the time being"—
I move on to paragraph (e)—
is a member of the legislature of any country or territory outside the"—
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but we debated the matter that he is raising under clause 1. As I have said, clause 3 is narrow. All these matters have been debated under clause 1 and we cannot go over them again.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman may not intend to debate it, but this is a matter of words. To make mention of the issue would bring him outwith the rules.
I apologise, Mr. Martin. I want to stay inside the loop. Outside it is not where I wish to be, not least because that is a place of less influence than inside it—that is, unless the loop is round one's neck.
Clause 3 refers specifically to section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act. The first part of the section refers to the Northern Ireland Disqualification Act 1975. That is how I reached that piece of legislation. It refers to countries outside the Commonwealth. Were I to suggest that by clause 3 the Government were signalling their antipathy to the burgeoning debate about whether Ireland should or should not rejoin the Commonwealth, you, Mr. Martin, would rule me out of order, so I shall not do so—except to make the point that the thought occurred to me. As we have had difficulty—nay, I say charitably that it has been an impossibility—trying to ascertain what the clause is all about and what the Government are seeking to achieve from it, you will understand, Mr. Martin, that various interpretations have occurred to the Committee, even if it has not been possible to pursue them because of the rules of order, which I welcome and entirely accept.
My right hon. Friend has pointed to the connection between the two Acts that are referred to in the Bill. He has correctly identified the change that took place in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which a year later we are repealing. What is it that necessitated the inclusion of the Irish Senate in the 1998 Act, which was not referred to previously and which we now see—
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) and with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who interjected from a sedentary position. We cannot debate the matter but we would like an answer. When the Minister replies, he might be tempted to respond to the concern that both my hon. Friends have expressed.
We come to the question of why the clause is necessary. There is a prima facie case. The Government have tried to direct us along their road by including, in small type, in the margins of the Bill, the words "Consequential repeal". It is not the first rule of Opposition to believe what the Government tell them to believe. If it were, there would be no Committee stage; we would simply nod legislation through on the inaudible say of the Under-Secretary.
The Government believe that clause 3 is simply consequential.
My right hon. Friend contradicts himself a little. First, he claimed that the Government said that the amendment was consequential. He now claims to know what the Government think. There is a major difference between what the Government think and what they say. Our debates have clearly revealed that they do not say what they think.
My hon. Friend's preamble almost upset me. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell, it would grieve me if my hon. Friends thought that I was misleading them or myself. However, I understand the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) made. Today of all days—no, today is still Tuesday—but when we reach Wednesday, my local paper will reflect my hon. Friend's point. The Government say one thing and do another.
Whatever the Government believe, they want us to believe that clause 3 is simply a consequential repeal.
My right hon. Friend's contention that the Government's description of clause 3 as consequential does not automatically mean that it is, is supported by clause 1. He will have noticed the wording in the margin, which states:
Amendment of section 1(1)(e) of the Disqualification Acts.
However, on closer inspection, the clause provides for qualification in some circumstances, not disqualification.
On a point of order, Mr. Lord. The First Deputy Chairman ruled that the clause was consequential on clause 1. I am sure that you can confirm that and thus show that that is not only the Government's contention but that of the Chair.
I am grateful for that ruling. I intervened earlier to try to reassure the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that our biting criticism of the Government's handling of the measure was not personal. However, given the intervention of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, I shall not necessarily want to be so generous to him. The Chair dealt with the substantive point but I have been speaking a short time and at no point did the Chair tell me to sit down because my remarks were unacceptable or inappropriate in terms of order. When Mr. Martin drew boundaries around interventions made by my hon. Friends, the Minister heard me tell me Mr. Martin that I would not be tempted to go outside Mr. Martin's loop—precisely because I was making a determined effort to stay within the ruling of the Chair. I was addressing my remarks, all of them pertinent thus far, to clause 3.
The right hon. Gentleman is being uncharacteristically personal. If he listened carefully to my attempted point of order, it related not to the comments of the right hon. Gentleman but to a point made by one of his right hon. Friends.
The Second Deputy Chairman:
Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman responds, clause 3 does fit with clause 1, which has already been dealt with at some length. Clause 3 renders one section of the 1998 Act obsolete. It is purely and simply a tidying-up measure and should be dealt with in that way.
On a point of order, Mr. Lord. A fog of confusion has descended on the Committee in the last few minutes as a result of the interplay of interventions and your ruling, which was intended to be helpful. Can we be clear that it is perfectly legitimate for the Committee to approve the Bill with clause 1 but to judge that it wishes to exclude clause 3? If that is not the case, what is the purpose of a clause 3 stand part debate?
The Second Deputy Chairman:
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that we deal with one clause at a time. The Committee has dealt with clause 1 and is now considering clause 3. I have explained the relationship between them and how tightly drawn is clause 3. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will heed my words.
I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Lord. You and Mr. Martin before you, have made it clear that clause 3 is tightly drawn. You added the observation that the clause is consequential. That is the Government's contention. We are debating, I hope while remaining in order, whether the Government's contention persuades the Committee to allow clause 3 to remain part of the Bill.
I am grateful for the Minister's intervention. I am sorry that he thinks that I was uncharacteristically brusque. I was seeking to encourage him to remain within the spirit that has pervaded the debates on this Bill since about 5.30 pm on calendar Tuesday. I take his remarks in that spirit and thank him for what I judge to be a new Labour apology.
My first point is that the clause has substance because the debate arose not from a theoretical discussion about constitutional history or propriety, but in the person of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). That is a real issue, and I add my appreciation of the hon. Gentleman—with whom I have a personal friendship—to those already expressed. My second point, which has been commonly accepted on both sides of the Committee and which I believe to be in order, is that the clause refers to the 1998 Act, which, at the relevant point, refers to the 1975 Acts. Through that, we have traced to the Bill a divergence between the Irish Senate, on which it focuses, and the other House, which is elected, and the difference between the Senate and this House, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) so helpfully brought to the Committee's attention.
I return to my third point, which concerns whether the repeal of the clause is, as the Government would have us believe, a minor, technical measure consequential on clause 1, which we have already debated and voted on—it is part of the Bill, so I shall not stray into that territory—or whether other significance is attached to it that might persuade the Committee that it is worth retaining.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) said that he could see the Government's argument that the repeal is purely consequential, but asked whether it is necessary to keep the clause to maintain what the Government claim is the integrity of the Bill. I am not convinced that it is, so let us consider what would happen in the unlikely event—I grant the Minister that it would be unlikely—of their losing the vote on clause stand part. I assume that my right hon. and hon. Friends will ensure that a vote takes place.
If the clause is deleted, will the integrity of what the Government are trying to achieve be damaged? My judgment is that it will not. Clause 1—which we have debated and voted on and therefore cannot revisit—deals with the qualifications pertaining to membership of the House, but the Government have seen fit in clause 3 to draw special attention to the Irish Senate. I continue to ask myself why. Is it simply because the repeal is consequential or ought we to consider something further?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he puts beautifully the idea that I have been struggling to convey to the Committee.
Our experience with this Government is that they say one thing and do another. Our experience of this Government in the context of clause 3 is that within 12 months they have changed their mind on a significant constitutional issue.
Despite our best efforts in always seeking to stay on the right side of you and your colleagues in the Chair, Mr. Lord, the Government have flatly refused to explain to us why we are now where we are. We cannot open that debate again; that is your ruling, and I accept it, so I will not try to reopen it. But this leaves my right hon. and hon. Friends with a difficulty.
In an earlier debate the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) encouraged the Minister to be open and explain what lay behind the Government's apparent volte-face in 12 months with respect to the Irish legislature, among other things. He has refused to do that. His refusal in this debate was, though clearly within order, edging towards contempt of the Committee.
Therefore, I hope, Mr. Lord, that you will understand that we might be persuaded when the Minister winds up that this is but a consequential amendment. All of us wish to make progress and get on to the meatier debates on clause 4 stand part and on the new clauses, not to mention Third Reading. So if the Minister took the advice of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, came clean with the Committee and gave us an explanation, we might accept his argument that this was a consequential repeal.
I am listening to my right hon. Friend with great care. He is certainly reflecting the unhappiness that I feel, because is it not right that members of Her Majesty's Opposition should seek whatever opportunity offers itself to try to find out what lies behind the Bill, its purpose? If the Government are not prepared to come clean with the Committee, despite the strictures of the Chair, has not the Committee a duty to seek every opportunity to ascertain precisely the objective and purpose of the Bill? The Government to date have not come clean with us.
Mr. Lord, you would want me to respond to my hon. Friend by not going down the constitutional path that he has opened up, save perhaps to say that his point is valid and important, and that the matter that he raises is, frankly, impeding the Committee's understanding of clause 3 and consequently holding up our progress.
I reiterate that when the Minister winds up, he will find that I at least am willing to be persuaded that the clause is merely consequential. If he were to treat the Committee with contempt and not seek to respond to the serious points raised since his brief and unsatisfactory earlier intervention, we shall face a dilemma.
We suspect that, given the change in fundamental Government thinking between their Act of only 12 months ago and this Bill, there is more to this than meets the eye. Unless the Minister tackles that head on, I for one will want to listen to the other speeches made by my right hon. and hon. Friends and draw my own conclusion about how to vote when the matter is put to the vote.
When I first looked at the Disqualifications Bill—an oddly named Bill, but perhaps we shall deal with that in the next clause stand part debate—and at clause 3, I looked, as one perhaps inevitably does, at the note in the margin, relating in this case to "Consequential repeal". It was tempting to assume that the clause was a tidying-up measure, consequent on some other aspect of the Bill; so I read the Bill more thoroughly. After I had read clause 1, clause 3 still did not make much sense unless I looked at precisely what it said. What it says is that it repeals section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
I acquired a copy of the 1998 Act, and turned to section 36. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) said, that also refers to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. The Act is relevant, but I do not need or wish to refer to it for the purpose of my remarks about whether we should retain clause 3.
Having skipped the clauses dealing with Lord Lieutenants and membership of the House of Commons, I came to subsection (5), which clause 3 of the Bill proposes to delete. It states:
A person is not disqualified for membership of the Assembly by virtue of subsection (1) by reason only that he is a member of the … Senate of Ireland".
Does not this narrow provision, entitled "Consequential repeal", illustrate very well the law of unforeseen consequences? The Government produced it only 15 months ago.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, but he has taken me 20 minutes ahead of my argument. I am grateful to the Government for allowing us to explore the issue, and for not forcing ruthless closures on such an important debate.
Clause 36(5) of the 1998 Act permitted a senator of Ireland to be a member of the Assembly. My hon. Friend asks whether this is indeed a consequential repeal, given that clause 1 of the Bill, which we have already amended, now permits members of the Irish legislature—members of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland—to be Assembly members. We must ask ourselves whether the provision is redundant because it says that members of the senate are no longer disqualified.
The Government say that the clause is merely consequential. They say that we no longer need legislation permitting members of the Irish senate to be members of the Assembly, because clause 1—which we dealt with earlier—covers all members of the legislature, which includes the lower House and the Senate. The Government may be saying, "We do not need clause 3, because it is already swept up in the more general terminology of the legislation." I am not sure. That is the key question with which I have been wrestling all morning while listening to the debate. I listened to my right hon. and erudite Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). It took a few minutes before he was able to encapsulate the essence of his concern. Towards the end of his excellent contribution, I thought that I was content with the Government's proposal that clause 3 should stay in the Bill and that it was merely consequential. Then I listened to the Minister, or I attempted to listen to him. He made the fatal mistake of taking a two-minute contribution and delivering it in about 20 seconds. None of us heard it. When we are dealing with an important clause, deleting legislation that the Government passed only last year and the Minister jumps to the Dispatch Box and does a 20-second gabble, I begin to smell some stinking fish.
I have, I think, on three occasions repeated exactly the same phrases about the clause. I repeated them rather quickly because many hon. Members seemed to be taking their time unnecessarily. I then repeated them, using the same words, in two interventions. If the right hon. Gentleman had been listening on each occasion—it is important that hon. Members should listen to the debates, particularly those who have not been up all night—I am sure that he would have understood precisely what I said.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that, during our relatively brief deliberations, the Minister has fallen into the trap of arguing by advocacy, not by evidence. Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the Minister, during the whirring, washing-machine gabble of a response earlier, did nothing more than assert that clause 3 was consequential on clause 1? What he failed to do, which I was earnestly hoping he would do, was explain how the exclusion of clause 3 would have any deleterious consequence whatever.
As usual, my hon. Friend is absolutely right in his customarily highly erudite intervention. He makes two valid points. The Minister did not explain why the clause was consequential. He merely asserted it. Well, that is the bit I heard—that it was merely consequential. He said that it followed on: if we enact clause 1, we will need clause 3. There we go. We must have it. It says so in the explanatory memorandum. In effect, he used exactly the same 20 words. He said it, so it must be the case, but there was no explanation from him as to—
May I make the point and then I will give way to my hon. Friend.
In my limited understanding of the legislation, it seems that, if clause 3 were removed, that would keep extant in legislation section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act, which allows Members of the Senate to be Members of the Assembly. We would have two pieces of legislation: the 1998 Act allowing Members of the Irish Senate to be Members of the Assembly; and, if it were passed, the Disqualifications Bill, which allows members of the legislature of Ireland to be Members of the Assembly.
I cannot see anything inconsistent in that. I cannot see a potential judicial review case where learned judges will say that Parliament has passed obscure, contradictory legislation. I cannot see any Home Office lawyers advising that the House had introduced a fatal legal flaw because the new, inappropriately named Disqualifications Bill referred to the Irish legislature whereas the 1998 Act referred to the Irish Senate and they were incompatible. There would be no questions as to what to do, or calls for an amendment.
That is the question with which I wish the Minister had dealt. That is the point that arose when I studied clause 3 in detail, referred back to clause 1, which refers to the legislature, and then section 36(5) of the 1998 Act, which was passed only 12 months ago and which we are being asked to repeal.
My right hon. Friend is now approaching the kernel of the issue. Does he agree that, if every piece of extant legislation that is compatible with and reinforces a new piece of legislation were consequentially to be repealed by new legislation, we should have to go through the entire statute book and repeal great acres of it?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, specifically in relation to clause 3—which is what we are debating, as I should not wish to stray wider than the clause by giving more general examples. Nevertheless, it would be extraordinary for Government lawyers to advise Ministers that we must find every other bit of consistent legislation and repeal it.
What is vital is to repeal inconsistent legislation. If clause 3 were attempting to repeal a part of the 1998 Act that, hypothetically, deliberately disqualified a Senator of the Irish Republic, and if Ministers were leaving that on the statute book, of course there would be an inconsistency. The 1998 Act would be saying, "In no circumstances could a Senator be a Member of the Assembly", whereas the Bill would be saying that Members of the legislature can serve in the Assembly. Clearly that would be inconsistent. However, that is not the situation that we are dealing with.
We are dealing with what seems, prima facie, to be consistent and harmonious legislation. We do not need to repeal section 36(5) of the 1998 Act. I can see absolutely no necessity of repealing it. Technically and legally, it is not inconsistent with clause 1 of the Bill. Moreover, unfortunately, the Minister did not advise us otherwise. However, there is a good chance that we may receive better advice from the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the way in which he handles the Committee and the patience that he has in sitting through lengthy debates—some of which he may find tedious, although they are nevertheless important. He responds with grace and courtesy and he tries help the House.
I am certain that we should not now be having this debate, and that—having heard my right hon. and erudite Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst—I would have been satisfied had we heard an explanation of the provision from the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Even if he had read the same words—but at a decent speed—written by the Home Office, I might have been satisfied by his explanation. Unfortunately, I am not satisfied, because my concerns have been increased by the words in clause 3, by the recently passed words in the 1998 Act, and by the way in which the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department handled the matter.
We must therefore ask ourselves why, if section 36(5) is not inconsistent with clause 3, the Government wish to repeal the section? Is there something deeper to the matter? What message do Ministers wish to send by repealing a non-inconsistent clause dealing with Irish Senators and replacing it with clause 3, which deals with Members of the legislature—who could, of course, be Members of either the upper or lower House? Are the Government trying to send a signal on the type of people whom they should like to be elected in future? Are they making an arm's-length judgment that they do not really want senators?
My right hon. Friend is developing an exceedingly powerful argument. May I draw his attention to the Minister's comments, on Second Reading, in which he refers to section 36(5) of the 1988 Act? Before explaining the need to repeal the section, he states that Members of both Houses of the Irish Parliament cannot become Members of this Parliament. However, he then states:
Section 36(5) of the 1998 Act was the unique exception: that provision can now be repealed by clause 3. The Bill does not single out Northern Ireland for special treatment".—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 27.]
My right hon. Friend has argued that a message of some description was being passed, and I believe that it was contained in the Minister's next phrase, when he said—
I think that my hon. Friend was coming to the nub of a very complex argument, although I accept that you, Mr. Lord, must keep the Committee in order.
I cannot accept the words in the margin of the Bill, nor the Government's garbled explanation that clause 3 is no more than a consequential repeal. We have not heard the Government's argument, but it might be that, if clause 1 deals with the legislature of the Irish Republic, specific reference to the Senate is not needed.
The Government could have chosen a different route. They could have retained a reference to the Senate and added the words "of the Dail" to the existing wording in section 3 of the 1998 Act. However, I cannot explore that fully without straying out of order.
I believe that the Government's decision to omit either reference must mean something. I doubt that the House will ever know what sort of cosy agreement they have reached with the Irish Government, but it seems that the people from the southern Irish legislature who they want to stand for election, or to serve in both Dail and Senate, or to come and serve here, are Members of the Dail. The Government must have spotted how awful it would be if Members of this House—elected, responsible to constituents, and who take an Oath of Allegiance to Queen and country—had to sit next to people appointed by the five old-boy networks that, with the university seats and some others, provide the membership of the Irish Senate.
The possibility exists that most of the members of the Irish legislature who come to this House could be Senators, and not come from the Dail. Members of the Dail might be too busy with their constituents to participate in the Parliament of another sovereign nation. On the other hand, the Senate is composed of the products of the five appointed, specific interest groups. Senators have a lot of time on their hands and may regard themselves as the ideal candidates to get a proper job here and work alongside elected Members.
Have the Government received any advice from the Government of the Republic of Ireland about permitting Members of either House of the Irish Parliament to stand for election to this House, or to the Northern Ireland Assembly? Senators are more likely than Members of the Dail to be interested in doing that. The Government may be trying to ensure that any Members of the Irish Parliament who end up on these green Benches making legislation for the United Kingdom are members of that lower House. They have greater respectability, because they at least have been elected to a Parliament. That is why the Government want to use clause 3 to repeal section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. They wish to delete the part of an Act that they passed only 12 months ago which refers to the Senate.
We do not know—we just do not know. I am sure that with the leave of the House, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, for whom I have the highest regard, will be able to stand up and, using the same notes—I know how the system works—read the Minister's speech again. We will not complain if the Minister reads the speech in his normal voice, at normal speed, or even if he speaks as quickly as I do. I appreciate that I may sometimes speak too quickly.
It would be better to hear the Government's view on this. I cannot accept that this is a straightforward attempt to tidy up the legislation using a consequential repeal. There is more to it than that. The legislation was initially rushed through at breakneck speed, yet throughout the night the Government have made no effort to advance the debate. Although I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the measure, it is not a solution. We need more time—another day, in fact—in which to deal with clause 3.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) made a helpful intervention a few moments ago. Would my right hon. Friend not agree that it is not merely a question of us tolerating hearing again what it is important for us to hear and understand—we are virtually in the position of kneeling and praying to hear it? The problem appears to be not merely that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has absented himself from the Chamber—so, apparently, has his speech.
I hope that my hon. Friend's point was in order, Mr. Lord. The Minister has prolonged the debate by the way in which he has treated the House. That was the Government's fault. The Minister has prolonged the debate by making me suspicious, and I am generally not a suspicious chap. The Government have an opportunity to allay my fears and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends that there is nothing more sinister in clause 3 than a simple repeal to tidy up the measure—something that lawyers might, in the normal course of events, advise Ministers to do. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be able to catch your eye, Mr. Lord and, in his customary courteous way, reassure us about my concern. I am concerned that there is more to clause 3 than meets the eye.
My right hon. Friend is making an extremely good point. He has highlighted the fact that it is the Government's fault that the Committee is not making faster progress on the Bill. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not simply that we expect the Government to present their reason for tabling the clause, but it is custom and tradition that Ministers reply to a debate and then respond to the many issues that are raised in their winding-up speech?
I am sure that the Minister, as an honourable gentleman for whom I have the highest regard, has heard our comments and that, even now, he is champing at the bit to set my fears at rest.
No doubt the Government will say that the Bill has been debated for many hours. That is not the point. There has been no gap between Second Reading and Committee, and between Committee and Report, for the Bill to be properly considered. That is my concern. Had there been sufficient time to consider the Bill, I might not have these fears about clause 3.
The Government must tell us whether, when section 36(5) of the 1998 Act is repealed, they would prefer to have more Members entering this House from the Irish lower House or from the Senate. Why remove a clause that makes specific reference to Senators, if the Government do not want Senators to enter the House? Why insert the new generic word "legislator", if they do not want Senators? If they simply want to ensure that there is a fair number of Senators—
I have followed the arguments of my right hon. Friend with considerable interest, especially his view that there is a Machiavellian plot—he may be right. However, because he was a Home Office Minister, running a Department with high standards, is he falling into the trap of ascribing the same high standards to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department? Might it not just be—
I hear your ruling, Mr. Lord. My hon. Friend made an interesting point, but I shall not take that route. I do not want to make comparisons between Ministers and myself. Under all Governments, civil service staff are generally excellent.
Will the Bill be rendered unworkable if clause 3 remains? That brings me to my next point, because, unless other points that are in order occur to me, I have finished exploring my concerns that the clause is slightly Machiavellian in that it implicitly excludes Senators of the Republic of Ireland, but not Members of the lower House, from sitting on the Benches in this place.
I shall certainly ignore it in this debate, Mr. Lord. Perhaps it will also be relevant on Third Reading.
Are the Government saying that the Bill will be unworkable if clause 3 remains in it? We should delete inconsistent provisions in previous legislation and insert new clauses in the Bill to make it workable. I disagree with parts of the Bill, but I do not simply want to disagree with the clause. After we lost the argument on the other clauses and on the principle of the Bill—
Indeed. Having lost the vote on other parts of the Bill, I do not want to delete clause 3 if it would make the Bill unworkable. However, I have heard nothing from the Government to suggests that the legal advice to Ministers is that, if the Bill is to work, it is vital to pass the clause and thus to delete section 36(5) of the 1998 Act.
I want to try to winkle out whether that would be so. If we do not do so during this relevant debate on clause 3, we can bet our bottom dollar that even the bowdlerised and purged other place will want to pay proper attention to whether the Bill is technically workable.
The Minister must give us the information. Let us suppose that he is minded to accept the argument of my right hon. and erudite Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that clause 3 should be deleted. I may be tempted to support my right hon. Friend on that.
If the Committee deleted clause 3 from the Bill, would the rest of the Bill be unworkable? Would anything in clause 1 be unenforceable or unworkable? The Minister's assertions that it would be untidy to delete clause 3, or that it is consequential and needs to stand part of the Bill, would not constitute an argument. However, if the Minister tells me that unless clause 3 is enacted, the Bill becomes unworkable, unenforceable or contradictory, or that he will again end up on judicial review before their Lordships, I shall accept his argument.
My right hon. Friend should be grateful that I am on my feet and compos mentis—at least, I think I am. Will he hazard an explanation as to why Ministers, having listened to his questions, which are so germane to their Bill, are apparently prepared to sit, glued to their seats, with a smug, self-satisfied grin on their faces, and are apparently unprepared to offer the Committee any explanation to answer the questions that my right hon. Friend has posed? If they cannot respond at all, where can the Committee look for guidance?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have no doubt that, in some quarters, in the next few hours or the next few days, Labour Members will complain that my speech was tedious. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never."] If either of the Under-Secretaries seek to catch your eye, Mr. Lord, to sum up the debate, and promise to take even five minutes explaining what is behind clause 3, reassuring my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself that there is nothing sinister, or simply giving us the legal advice that the removal of clause 3 would not render the rest of the Bill unworkable, I shall sit down immediately. I am talking merely to give the Ministers a chance to grab their notes and make that intervention.
The problem is that some of us have very great difficulty in understanding the Bill, and we need it repeated from various points of view to get things absolutely clear in our minds. I fear that we are more obtuse than the Ministers.
I had anticipated your intervention, Mr. Lord, because I said a few minutes ago that I would conclude on this point. I was certainly not buying time.
I have given the Ministers a few opportunities to reassure me and I was trying to winkle out answers. If there was repetition, it was to try to make the point to the Government in different ways, and to give them opportunity after opportunity to reassure me that there is nothing Machiavellian in this—that there is nothing incompatible with the rest of the Bill if we delete the clause—and to give me the reassurances that I seek.
Has my right hon. Friend noticed, throughout the deliberations over the past 20 hours or so, that Ministers have intervened several times, entirely properly, in the speeches of my right hon. and hon. Friends in order to clarify or rebut a point? Therefore, is it not entirely reasonable now to expect that they will intervene in my right hon. Friend's speech to give the commitment that we seek, or simply to nod the head?
I was concluding my remarks. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) has, indeed, intervened numerous times, usually to tell the Chair how to do its job. No Opposition Member would ever dream of doing so—especially not when you are in the Chair, Mr. Lord.
I am tempted to join my right hon. and erudite Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst in challenging clause 3 standing part of the Bill and in voting against it, because I am no longer convinced that it is a simple consequential repeal. There is more to it than meets the eye, and I have been trying to find what lies behind it. Why is the deletion of the term "Irish Senate" done in this way, when it is not incompatible with keeping section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and this clause in the Bill?
If the Minister can reassure me on that point, I may be persuaded to go into the Lobby with him. Otherwise, I shall have to conclude that my right hon. and hon. Friends have put their finger on the nub, that there is more to this than meets the eye and that we ought to reject clause 3.
I have been here constantly for nearly 21 hours—very rarely leaving the Chamber. I have followed the debate as closely as anyone, and I am as dissatisfied now as I was when I first came in to the debate. If we carry on tomorrow, tomorrow will see me still here. That is a part of the duties of a Member of this House: to attend this place, to argue the case for our constituents and to see that the laws that are passed are clear, simple and can be understood even by people such as myself—men of simple mind, and what used to be simple faith. That is no longer true after so long in this place.
The House will have heard the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), and I am sorry that there is so little interest among Government Members in this important Bill. Labour Members should have come to hear the criticism, and the impossibly poor defence that Ministers are making of the Bill. They describe new clause 3 as a consequential amendment.
I am conscious that we should not do a disservice to any hon. Member. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are not in a position to judge whether the Under-Secretary's utterance was an impossibly poor defence or otherwise, as we did not know what was in it?
That was the Under-Secretary's last but one defence. Earlier, he had been quite lucid. However, he has been up all night and has been under great strain, trying to think up excuses for what he is trying to ram down people's throats.
The Bill applies more to Northern Ireland than to elsewhere. When I see the words "consequential repeal" in a Bill, I wonder. The allegedly "consequential repeal" is the only existing piece of legislation that is valid on this issue. Therefore, rather than being consequential, it should be treated as the root for the changes that the Government are now making. In those circumstances, clause 3 should have been clause 1 of the Bill, and the rest could have been tagged on to it. That was one way of doing it and it would have been acceptable to the Committee.
Another aspect has been touched on several times in the debate, but it took me some time to realise the point that was being made. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) drew attention to the fact that the clause could be described as consequential—and it takes a fair stretch of the imagination to do that—only because of its strange construction. If the Bill had been written in another fashion, the clause, far from being consequential, would have been central to it.
Last week, we discussed the complex provisions of the Representation of the People Bill. At the end of the debates on that, I asked the Minister in charge of the Bill whether it was intended to consolidate all the legislation that that Bill affected. There is no sign of that consolidation in a far more complex Bill than this small one. The Representation of the People Bill runs to book after book on electoral and representation matters.
In those circumstances, why are the Government not consistent in the way that they deal with changes to legislation? For some reason, they want all the legislation governing the people from outwith the United Kingdom who are eligible to become legislators here to be governed by one small compass. That small, easily understood compass applies only to this Bill; it does not apply to the great mass of legislation by which we are governed. That makes me exceedingly suspicious. Who is the Bill intended to impress? Who is it for? That question has been asked time and again and we have not had an answer. Instead, we have had careful, slippery evasion all the way through.
I wish to refresh the memories of those present, of those who might be watching my words on the dedicated television channels and of those who might be moved to read or look them up them on the internet. We should remember that the Northern Ireland Act 1998 arose because our late colleague, Harold McCusker, took a case, when he was a Member of the House, against the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) on whether he could be a Member of the Senate and of the House. The courts at that time held that that was illegal, so the Government subsequently introduced the 1998 Act. It was discussed in the House on 18 November 1998 and it received Royal Assent on 19 November 1998. In December 1999—
May I say to you, Mr. Lord, that I thought that I was following the course that the Government have taken with the Bill? Many people outside the Committee are not fully aware of the background in the concise, clear manner that I am trying to put it on the record. It is important that people who examine the Bill, read the debates and are curious about our concerns should understand the background to why we are suspicious about the way in which the Government have behaved. The reason that I was rehearsing some of the history, as quickly and concisely as I could, is that people outwith the House should know the reasons for our attitude. In those circumstances, Mr. Lord, I beg your indulgence while I continue.
It was only 13 months after the passage of the 1998 Act that we began the process of amending it—but at whose behest? We were told in earlier debates that the process began after the Government consulted, but we have not yet been told—
Thank you, Mr. Lord. I shall try to come back inside the elastic fence that I always use in debates such as this. Sometimes a little push here and there at the fence that surrounds us reveals to the general public what they have a right to know. Along with Ministers and hon. Members, we are trying to inform the general public through our debates. We have a duty to tell them what the position is.
The Second Deputy Chairman:
Order. If the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to listen to my rulings and address his remarks to clause 3, I shall have to ask him to terminate his speech. Perhaps he will now get to the point.
Indeed, Mr. Lord, I am progressing toward the point. However, I have to confess that it remains some distance away, even within the narrow confines in which you want me to remain. However, bearing in mind your remarks, I shall try to make progress.
I do not believe that the clause should be consequential. It should be at the heart of the Bill and all other provisions should be hung from it, so to speak, like a tree with pegs.
Does my hon. Friend agree that our suspicions are no less than those expressed by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)? Ministers could relieve our suspicions by answering the questions put to them, so will my hon. Friend continue to press them to do so?
I am always happy to take good advice from my hon. Friend—after all, he was a teacher in a previous incarnation, so he is well qualified to attempt to gain and impart knowledge. I shall press both the Ministers who have been involved in our debates so far, in the hope that they will take account of our remarks and answer our questions.
To recap, the original legislative change was made to assist the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and for no other reason. However, other people have been appointed, including Dr. Robb, Brian Wilson, who tragically lost his daughter in the Enniskillen bombing, Sam McCaughtry and others. The Government of the day regarded the Mallon case as a hard case, but, as we know, hard cases generally make bad law.
It is not necessary to repeal the provision in the 1998 Act. It might be necessary to rephrase certain other parts of the legislation, but the 30-odd words in section 36(5) could usefully remain where they are. We would do better to leave them there. Those who are interested will have no difficulty finding that short provision and will know that it refers only to the Irish Senate.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the point that I made to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) that the implication to be drawn from the explanatory notes is that the clause is redundant? However, if it is redundant it can be kept in the Bill without conflicting with the other clauses.
It can only be redundant because of the extraordinarily bad drafting of the Bill. If it had been drafted following the same rules and procedures that applied to the Representation of the People Bill, which was considered last week, it would not have appeared before us in its present form. The provision that the Government are attempting to repeal through clause 3 would have remained.
I am interested to hear those remarks. There seems to be a parallel with the debate that took place on the Government of Ireland Act 1920, when precisely these matters were dealt with. I shall be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman feels that this debate, in comparison with the debate in 1920, is redundant.
The only part of the last part of the 1920 Act to be repealed was the preface, as it were, stating that Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty's dominions and so forth. As there was nothing in particular to bite on, it was reckoned to be redundant. I always thought that it should have remained as a simple declaration of principle. For that reason I was opposed to that repeal. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it was done purely as a sop to Irish republicanism.
Perhaps I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman.
I was referring specifically to qualification and disqualification in terms of the 1920 Act. The view was taken that the new constitution had implications for them. We should at least consider the clause consistently in respect of what was intended when that state was established.
I understand now exactly where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. He knows that because of the limited time that was available to research all the implications of the Bill and the various roots from which it springs, it was not possible to go into those details. I hope that he will address the Committee when I resume my place, or at least at some stage before these debates come to an end. The 10 o'clock rule still applies and there is no real rush. We still have lots of time. We can easily address these matters today, tomorrow or whenever without any difficulty.
It seems that the Bill is as confused as Government policy. I think that the words that offend the Government in the 1998 Act could remain. That might mean the Minister having to do a little redrafting elsewhere in the Bill, but that is all that would be necessary. We would then have legislation that would be on all fours with the rest of the body of relevant United Kingdom legislation.
It has already been said that some Members of the Senate of the Irish Republic were appointed while some were elected by means of the university franchise, which we have long abandoned. Some regret that because they were a valuable group of Members. However, a new body is being created in Northern Ireland that has direct relevance to this measure: the civic forum. Its members will not be elected. Therefore it will be possible for people to be appointed to it from the Republic. I am wondering whether that is part and parcel of the Government's thinking. Is that part of the unspoken element—
I thought that the purpose of the debate was to explore whether those matters arose under the clause. I believe that they do because the clause removes a section that refers to the Irish Senate. The civic forum is the nearest analogous body, under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, to that which I described earlier.
My hon. Friend seeks an explanation for the allegedly consequential clause. The most unsatisfactory aspect of the debate is that the Under-Secretary's speech contains an explanation, but the only people who know its contents so far are Hansard reporters, who will have written it up from the draft that the Under-Secretary sent hours ago.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will repeat his words. He is not here, but I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will pass on the message that, if the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department speaks slowly, we will understand exactly what he is trying to say.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's comments. He knows that I have been an associate member of the Anglo-Irish parliamentary body for several years. Those of us who have played any part in existing cross-border parliamentary bodies are interested in hearing a true explanation for the clause and its peculiar drafting. Unless the Government can provide that, the hon. Gentleman is right to continue to press them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the muddle, confusion and obfuscation could easily be cleared up by a series of simple categorical statements by the Government, which would enable us to hold Prime Minister's questions and the rest of Wednesday's business? However, we are witnessing the most inept handling of a measure in the 30 years that I have been a Member of Parliament.
Would that I could agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government's handling of the Bill is not all that inept. The apparent ineptitude conceals a clever, devious piece of Government work. We have asked questions, which have not been answered. That is why we are still here. We are asking the same questions in different ways on every aspect of the Bill. After 21 hours of debate in Committee, we have not received an answer.
My hon. Friend makes a good case for not repealing section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. I have studied the explanatory notes, which state that the section "is no longer needed", but provide no explanation for that. The Government have failed. Is not it therefore in order for him to make a case—
I admitted earlier that I need to have these complex matters explained to me time after time, so that I understand them. Unfortunately, I am getting no assistance from Ministers. All we get is confusion and attempts us blind us with smoke, to hide the reality. The Government could have spared themselves so much pain and difficulty if they had only listened to the reasonable points made yesterday and in more than 21 hours of debate today.
If the Government had been forthcoming, all these problems would have long since disappeared. If they had let us know exactly what deal they had reached with IRA-Sinn Fein to produce this legislation and what was in the Bill for Sinn Fein-IRA, we would have known where we were. I dare say that in those circumstances, rather more people might have been prepared to vote against.