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Disqualification from Ministerial Office in United Kingdom

Orders of the Day — Disqualifications Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 25th January 2000.

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"No person who is a member of the legislature of Ireland (the Oireachtas) may hold any Ministerial position, or be a Party Whip, or be a member of the Government of the United Kingdom.".—[Mr. William Ross.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman:

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 8—Minister of the Crown— No person elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom and also to the legislature of the Republic of Ireland may become a Minister of the Crown.". New clause 9—Disqualification from ministerial office in the United Kingdom— .—(1) No person may be appointed to ministerial office in the government of the United Kingdom if he is a member of the government of Ireland.(2) A minister in the government of the United Kingdom ceases to hold office on becoming a minister of the government of Ireland.". Amendment No. 34, in title, line 4, after "Ireland", insert "or the United Kingdom".

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

We are coming to the end of the Bill. We have heard it described as a modest little measure, but those who over the past 23 hours have examined it continuously, line by line—each crossed "t" and dotted "i"—know that, although the Bill seems modest, it has vast implications. We have looked at it carefully. Sadly, the only bluster has been from Ministers, because we have had no answers out of them. That remains the case.

New clause 2 stands in my name and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). New clause 8 is in the name of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has tabled other amendments. They all try to accomplish the same end. They try to ensure that no person who is a member of the legislature of Ireland may hold any ministerial position—be it as a Whip, or any other position—in the UK Government. That is in broad terms the gist of my new clause, but the hon. Members who have tabled amendments will no doubt speak to them and explain their thinking.

Yesterday, the Minister largely admitted the validity of the point at issue in the amendments, so the Government are in no position to resist the principle in the amendments. [Interruption.] I thought that I saw a faint smile starting to spread over the Minister's face and a half nod. I was beginning to hope that he was going to bounce to his feet and to explain that he was about to accept the amendments. Sadly, he is waiting to be convinced to the last fibre of his being that the principle that he supports is correctly set forth in the amendments.

I am fairly easy about which amendment the Minister accepts. Naturally, I hope that he will accept the one that is in my name. The Minister may, however, decide to opt for new clause 8—which was tabled by the hon. Member for Stone, who has been quite active in our debates.

Liberal Democrat Members have expressed clear concerns in new clause 9—which is perhaps only a probing amendment, although I hope it is not. I hope that they will press their new clause to a Division. We should have a Division on all three of the new clauses in this group, to determine which one the Committee favours. We have plenty of time to do so; the 10 o'clock motion still stands, and we could go right through the night again.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

New clause 2, which was tabled by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), differs from the other new clauses and the amendment in this group in proposing to exclude members of the legislature of Ireland from serving as a party Whip in the United Kingdom. Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten the Committee as to why he has included that office as an exclusion in new clause 2? Does he extend the exclusion to the position of Opposition Whip, or does it apply only to the position of Government Whip?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

As you will know from your own experience in the House, Sir Alan, there is barely an hon. Member who does not bear on his or her back the deep and vivid marks of the Whips. The same is true in every legislature in the world. Time and again, Whips drive unwilling Members into the Lobby. The Government must have their business, but the duty of Opposition parties must be to oppose the Government and to explore what Ministers are trying to do, so that Opposition Members are able—for the benefit of our constituents and of citizens of the United Kingdom generally—to gain a clearer understanding of Government policy. So often, however, although we labour long and hard, ultimately, we have very little to show for it.

The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) should therefore know why I want to include Whips in the new clause. People who have gained experience and learned their trade in a Whips office in a foreign state should in no circumstances be given a position of responsibility in, or be allowed anywhere near, the United Kingdom legislature. God knows we have so many problems with our home-grown variety of Whip that we do not want to import any.

I see the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) shaking in his shoes, and I appreciate the bad experiences that he must have had with Whips.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

My Whip is sitting right next to me.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

My Whip is sitting beside me too. Although I have served as a Whip, I have always believed that, if one wants to achieve good results and full co-operation, it is better to use kindness and purr like a cat than to use a cat-o'-nine-tails. I believe that a reasoned approach and careful explanation of the merits of the Government's and the party's position will always produce a far greater harvest of benefits than the thuggery in which, sadly, the major party's Whips occasionally indulge.

In the years since I was first elected to the House and walked through the doors of the Chamber, I have known many Whips. To my cost, I have learned that they are people not to be trifled with in any circumstances.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Mr. Martin, may I say how nice it is to see you in the Chamber, in your Chair?

Does the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) agree that, earlier today, the Government conceded that there is an argument that there should not be a conflict of interest between those who are in positions of power in the Government and those who are Members of the Dail? Ministers also said that they were minded to accept amendment No. 7. Should not Ministers therefore think that there would be more continuity in their position if they also accepted new clause 2?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

That is the very point that I was making at the beginning of my speech. The plain truth is that the Government are duty bound—they are forced by their own admission, made earlier in our debates at about 4 am—to do so. That admission was made at about the same time as Ministers admitted that the Bill is a result of discussions that they had with Sinn Fein-IRA. These things are emblazoned on my mind. I am conscious that getting admissions from the Government was like squeezing blood from a rather dry stone.

Photo of Mr Martin Bell Mr Martin Bell Independent, Tatton

Will the hon. Gentleman explain to one who has no Whips' marks on his back what purpose is served by these extended and lamentable proceedings?

3 pm

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

The reason for the lengthy proceedings is to try and get answers from the Government. The hon. Gentleman bears on his body the marks of his previous occupation, in which he made assiduous efforts to get at the truth. We are merely carrying on the hon. Gentleman's assiduity in that respect.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

Some of us are entering the 22nd hour scrutinising the Bill—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I will not tolerate any discussion of the length of our proceedings. I know as well as anyone else how lengthy they have been. Hon. Members must confine their remarks to the new clause and amendments.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

I accept your strictures, Mr. Martin, but I hope that you can tell me whether it is in order for me to respond to an unjustified attack?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to the amendments and the new clause.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

In that case, I shall certainly try and stay in order.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

The difficulty for the hon. Gentleman is that he is used to giving straight answers to straight questions, unlike the right hon. Gentleman who normally answers questions on a Wednesday.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

I agree that the hon. Gentleman was slightly wide of the mark with that remark. However, I understand his frustration that, because of the Government's delaying tactics, he has no opportunity to question the Prime Minister.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not talk about the Prime Minister. The House is in Committee, and hon. Members must confine themselves to consideration of the amendments.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

On a point of order, Mr. Martin.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

I believe that it is, Mr. Martin. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) was trying to explain why he has moved his new clause. The intervention from the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) was out of order, not the remarks of the hon. Member for East Londonderry.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

As you say, Mr. Martin, we must get on. The Minister must be tired and may have work to attend to. I do not want to keep him from that.

The Government earlier conceded the principle behind these important amendments. They should merely accept the amendments. New clause 8 states: No person elected to the parliament of the United Kingdom and also to the legislature of the Republic of Ireland may become a Minister of the Crown. It is clear that the new clause recognises that a United Kingdom Cabinet Minister would be in a peculiar and impossible position. His duty would be to the people, the Crown and Parliament.

Such a Minister would normally be a Privy Councillor, and certain information would be given to him in strict confidence. That was alluded to some 20 hours ago. It would be difficult enough to keep such information from his friends and colleagues, but if he made the occasional slip it would be understood and the matter treated with due respect and confidence by his colleagues in the House. That would not necessarily be true if he made a mistake when dealing with a Minister who was a citizen of a foreign country with responsibilities to that nation, its constitution and its people. Such a person might use any information gleaned in that way to the benefit of that nation rather than that of the United Kingdom. I think that we should guard against that happening by making dead certain that the folk who make up the Government of the United Kingdom are citizens of this nation and no other.

I have already explained why the party Whips are included in this proposal. In addition, new clause 2 refers to a member of the Government of the United Kingdom.". As has been said time and again, the plain truth is that people find it difficult to get the right words on to the amendment paper. I put down this wording, not because I was confident that it was right but to try and ensure that I caught all those not covered who could be considered as Members of the Government.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I do not know whether you noticed, but the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), entered the Chamber a few minutes ago, took one look around and left in disgust. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not true."] Is it permissible to inquire of the Father of the House whether he has ever seen such blatant filibustering in all the 50-odd years he has been a Member of the House?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Hon. Members, including the Father of the House, can come and go as they please. That is not a point of order.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

That is not the recollection that I had of the Father of the House, whom I have known for a long time.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I do not need any more references to the Father of the House. He does not deserve to be treated in this manner. We must get to the amendments before us—that is the duty of hon. Members.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

Perhaps the Father of the House was so enthralled with the strong defence that has been made—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I understand that the Chairman of Ways and Means has commented on the Standing Orders. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House longer than I, and he knows that he must keep to the narrow amendments before us.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. You told my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) that his point was not a point of order. If it is not, according to your ruling, that is the end of the matter—I would not dream of challenging your ruling. The speeches of Opposition Members are more or less in order—although I notice that you and your predecessors, Mr. Martin, have had to intervene to ensure that they are, certainly in the past few hours—but would you not agree that the proceedings are being unnecessarily prolonged? [HON. MEMBERS: "By bogus points of order."] Although that may be in order, surely it is obvious that Conservative and Unionist Members are deliberately prolonging the proceedings as much as possible.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. It is for the Chair to give guidance to hon. Members if they stray from an amendment or a new clause. That sometimes happens to hon. Members, so I am giving the Committee guidance. No one, as far as I am concerned, has been involved in causing any undue delay. If they did, I would give a ruling. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), however, is straying from the amendments, and I appeal to him to return to them.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

The problem is that although I try to stick to the amendments, I am constantly interrupted and I have to respond.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

Does the hon. Gentleman want to—

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

I thought that the correct word was "intervene". I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In discussing new clause 2, he mentioned the power of the Whip—[Interruption.] Mr. Martin, I ask for your protection to allow me to continue.

Does the hon. Member for East Londonderry think that the power of the Whips was exemplified by their marked interventions in points of order earlier? [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The amendment and the new clauses do not refer to the power of the Whips; they refer to the positions held by hon. Members. We should be talking about the positions of Ministers, not about their power. I call Mr. Ross.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot intervene before the hon. Member for East Londonderry has even risen from his seat.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

We are concerned about the influence of the Whips, should they be appointed to positions of power. In those circumstances, we should bear my points in mind although, after all these hours in Committee, I am not putting them as concisely—

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

Perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman. Will he give way?

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

You are entirely correct, Mr. Martin. The point relates to the position of the Whips, not to their influence. My hon. Friend has begun to see sinister conspiracies and influences where there are none. Whatever the position of the Whips may have been, they have manifestly been unable to save Labour's 1,000th day.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We are going far too wide. I plead with the hon. Member for East Londonderry, who is a long-serving Member, to remain within the scope of the amendments.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

Thank you, Mr. Martin. I want to draw my remarks to a close, because several other Members want to speak.

The intent of the new clauses is clear and the wording is reasonably good. In the light of that and of your strictures, Mr. Martin, and bearing in mind the fact that I am continually interrupted, I commend the new clauses to the Committee. I hope for support from Conservative Members and from my colleagues and for a happy and sensible response—for once—from the Minister.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

It falls to me to respond to this part of the debate. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) referred to the lamentable proceedings of the Committee. I do not want to distract attention from the debate, but we have arrived at new clause 2 after a sitting of the Committee that began yesterday. Although you keep good order, according to the House rules, Mr. Martin, I think that the public will judge that last night showed the House at its worst.

The new clauses have been included because there is concern as to a conflict of interest—

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

On a point of order, Mr. Martin.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. When I stand, the hon. Gentleman must be seated. I hope that his is a genuine point of order. There have been so many points of order that the flow of the Committee's proceedings has been somewhat delayed.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

New clause 8 is tabled in my name. Will you assure me, Mr. Martin, that it will be called? I have heard references to other provisions that are not in the group that we are discussing. I want to be sure that my new clause will be called.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

It is quite clear from the selection list that new clause 8 is grouped with new clause 2. It is up to the hon. Gentleman to catch my eye if he wants to take part in the proceedings.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) will no doubt find that his point of order—like many others that were made during the night—does not amount to much. It is merely another attempt to delay proceedings. However, let us continue with the substance of what we are supposed to be here to deal with.

3.15 pm

A conflict of interests may arise where a Member of the Irish Parliament becomes a Minister in the House of Commons. I should like to set out why I believe that in some instances that may well be the case, but in other instances it may not. There are already ways in which that problem can be guarded against without necessitating some of the amendments before us.

Some hon. Members in the Chamber may feel that the amendments are in line with clause 2, which prevents Members of the Irish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly from being Ministers in both places. However, I shall explain why that is not the case.

When we began these debates on Monday, I set out at length why we felt that a conflict of interests did not necessarily arise from an individual being a member of one legislature and being a Minister in another legislature. That may well be a matter for the electorate of the various constituencies concerned to decide, in which case we can leave it to the people to decide. If a person becomes a Minister and decides that they have a particular responsibility to the electorate in the area, it will be up to the electorate in the other area to decide whether the ministerial role is appropriate for their representative.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I will not. I shall make progress and then, towards the end of my speech, I may give way to the hon. Gentleman and one or two others.

However, hon. Members might hold views about the propriety of dual mandates in principle. This is not the right Bill to give rise to a discussion of whether current disqualification provisions need to be reviewed. The provisions as they stand enable members from distinct legislatures to take up seats in more than one legislature. For example, we know from previous debates on the Bill that members of the Commonwealth are at least permitted in principle, if not in practice—there are none—to be Members also of the House.

The Bill fits with the established principles in our constitution at the moment. If hon. Members wish to change that part of our constitution, that is a matter for them. This is not the place to do it. They may find some suitable vehicle to do it. Some hon. Members who are present may well feel that they wish gratuitously to impose a ban on Commonwealth legislators, but I do not propose to go into the reasons for or against that.

I can see how the holding of ministerial positions in more than one legislature, especially if they are in two different countries, could lead to complications and conflicts of interest. In that sense, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and I are not too far apart. We are far apart on the detail of these amendments, but on some of the principles, at least in terms of ministerial conflict, we are not too far apart. That is why clause 2 was included in the Bill. Indeed, the Scotland Act 1998 makes similar provision at section 44(3). That section prevents Members of the Scottish Executive from also being Ministers in the United Kingdom Government. A Scottish Minister would be required to relinquish their position in the Scottish Executive before becoming a Minister at Westminster.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman later. I have already said that I will, and I shall not give way to him now.

Some may say that the provision in section 44(3) of the Scotland Act 1998 is similar to what is proposed by new clause 9. However, there are differences, which I shall explain. Clause 2 was included in the Bill because the procedures followed to select Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly differ from the procedures followed in other UK legislatures. That is an important distinction. In the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Westminster Parliament, the Prime Minister or First Minister has a discretion in choosing their Cabinet.

Any Prime Minister or First Minister would seriously consider matters such as conflict of interest before choosing any person to serve in their Government—even more so if they were contemplating selecting a Cabinet Member who was already a Minister, or even a member of another legislature. It is difficult to envisage that that would happen for any prolonged period. Likewise, should a situation arise where the Prime Minister or First Minister felt that a member of the Cabinet was not able to fulfil their role adequately for whatever reason, he or she would see to it that that person was no longer a Minister.

There is already a de facto protection against the sorts of problems that the hon. Member for East Londonderry has put before the House, and we discussed some of the principles behind those issues on Second Reading.

That is not the case with the Northern Ireland Assembly. Here, Ministers are selected automatically by the d'Hondt mechanism, as set out in the Good Friday agreement. The First Minister does not have that sort of discretion in choosing the Cabinet and the Executive, and cannot therefore have the same sort of discretion in dismissing Ministers who may give rise to conflicts of interests.

Under these circumstances, clause 2 was thought to be necessary to provide a legislative safeguard. I am not without sympathy for some of the points raised by the hon. Member for East Londonderry, but we have dealt with them in terms of the de facto practice within our constitutional arrangements. Methods are there to deal with such matters. We recognised that, in Northern Ireland, the situation is different and we needed special provision.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

At an early hour of this morning, when the Minister was not on the Front Bench—I do not chide him for that—we discussed this issue. It was conceded that while clause 2 was, as the Minister said, relevant to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, it had no bearing on the matters under discussion in these clauses.

Those clauses—as was conceded by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the small hours of the morning—relate to the right of a Minister to be a Minister of State or Secretary of State, even for Northern Ireland, and to be a Minister in a Government of the Irish republic. Patently, that would mean that a Minister of the Crown would be a Minister of another sovereign Government, and there could be a direct conflict of interest. That is a matter of record and, with great respect, I do not think that praying clause 2 in aid counts a fig in this matter.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman will know that these matters have been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. However, in cases where it is possible for there to be a decision by Prime Ministers or First Ministers—at least in legislatures in Scotland, Britain and Wales—the Executive has the ability to determine the issues. From what the hon. Gentleman says, I think that he accepts the constitutional situation.

However, the hon. Gentleman is putting an entirely different matter to me—the issue of whether a Northern Irish Executive member who was also appointed to become a member of the Dublin Executive would be in a different position. We are seeking to work our way through the constitutional arrangements to ensure that we get those things right.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am sure that that is precisely the issue that the hon. Member wants to raise with me.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

I do want to ask about that. I am curious as to whether the term "Minister" always includes the term "junior Minister", as that is not in the Bill. Will the Minister take on board the fact that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, once elected, then become Ministers of the Government of Ireland. I am not sure if he is aware that if one has to resign, they both go.

The problem that I see is that clause 2(2) does not mention the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister who are different from all the other Ministers and junior Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive. Will the Minister recognise that and carefully reconsider the position?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I was not entirely able to pick up the essence of the hon. Gentleman's point. Will he encapsulate it for me again, so that I can deal with it?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are as one. If one falls, they both fall. Are the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister looked upon as Ministers within the Northern Ireland Executive? That does not appear to be the case according to clause 2(2).

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am advised that they are, but the hon. Gentleman raises an important matter. I shall talk to those who advise me on the legal issues and perhaps I can then provide the hon. Gentleman with a definitive written answer.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister explained perfectly reasonably the difference between the way in which Ministers are chosen in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the way in which they are chosen in the UK Parliament. Does he not accept, however, that in one respect there is a similarity between them? One does not have to offer one's services to be a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly just as one does not have to offer one's services in the UK Parliament. Although the First Minister does not control which parties receive the nominations and who comes forward, we could legislate to ensure that no one who is a Minister in the Government of Ireland shall allow himself to be nominated or appointed as a Minister in Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom. We could legislate for that and wrap up the different Northern Ireland and UK Parliaments in one amendment.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I should like to consider the hon. Gentleman's point. On the face of it, it is reasonable. I shall think about the issues and, again, I might write to him.

Let me make it clear that the word "Minister" includes the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister under section 7(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1988 and that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister follow the normal procedures for filling a vacancy. I make it clear, however, that I give no undertakings to accept the new clauses, but I shall consider in a reasonable way the points that have been made.

It is not right for the legislature here, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament to seek to circumscribe the freedom of Prime Ministers and First Ministers in their choice of Government. To some extent, that would interfere with the way in which Governments operate. We took a view about how we set up devolution in Scotland and Wales and if those two resulting bodies attempted to create restrictions, I would prefer that the initiative came at least with consultation initiated by the devolved bodies.

The proper way for the British, Scottish and Welsh legislatures to deal with these issues is for the First Ministers or the Prime Minister to deal with potential conflicts of interest. Consequently, I am not prepared to accept the new clauses, but I shall consider the issues and write to hon. Members in due course. We have not got entirely closed minds on the issues of conflicts of interest. In due course, some further opportunity might well present itself. If a conflict of interest were obvious, we might at that stage be able to take on board some of the points raised.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:30 pm, 25th January 2000

When we began Committee stage at 5.30 pm on Tuesday, little did I think that the sole new clause tabled by the Liberal Democrats would not be reached until 3.30 pm on Wednesday. I was advised that it would all be over by midnight, but that was not to be.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will see that all of my speeches and those of other Liberal Democrat members have been short. We have been constructive and concise on each issue and we shall be so on this one.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman but once.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

But once I ask. Having set his own good example, the hon. Gentleman should follow it, ensure that the rest of his party does so as well, and say nothing.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am sorry to interrupt, but I should like to assist the hon. Gentleman. I absolve him, unlike other Opposition Members, of prevarication, delay and discursion.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

If benediction from a junior Home Office Minister helps me, I am grateful for it. To those who came this afternoon thinking that they were to watch play on centre court but who have instead ended up watching matches on courts Nos. 1 or 14, we apologise, even though the problem was not of our making. I hope that they feel that, to a certain extent, they got their money's worth.

New clause 9 is similar to, but different from, new clause 2. It deals with an issue that has come up in several contexts, but is most properly addressed in this group of amendments. In our view, no one should be able to hold simultaneously ministerial office in the Irish Government and ministerial office in the British Government or in the Northern Ireland Government.

I concur with the Minister's first point. We have always argued that there is no necessary incompatibility with being a member of two legislatures. We share that view with the Government. We have also accepted that someone might manage to be a Minister in one and a Back Bencher in another. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has argued, on behalf of his right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and other colleagues, that no one should be able to be a Minister in both. We agree.

There is a strong conflict of interests. Someone who is a member of the Government in one country cannot simultaneously and without conflicts of interest arising be a member of the Government of another sovereign country—

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman has not been here much during our debate, so he might not realise that there is a difference. A Member of a legislature represents his or her constituents and expresses his or her views, but does not determine the policy of the Executive. Such influence is clearly wielded by any member of the Government. If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will see that there is broad agreement on the fact that there is a difference of substance.

The Minister suggested that there is a difference between Northern Ireland ministerial positions, which is why clause 2 contains specific provision in that respect, and other ministerial appointments. He said that there is, to some extent, less absolute control in the hands of the Prime Minister or of the First Minister of Northern Ireland, simply because people are nominated and must then be accepted into the Cabinet. That is true, but I repeat, there are easy ways by which one could perfectly reasonably formulate the bar that applies when someone considers the invitation or puts him or herself forward. If a person is a member of the Government of Northern Ireland in the Assembly and a member of the Government of Ireland, there is a conflict. There is also conflict in respect of a Minister in the Westminster Government and in the Dublin Government.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I accept that the hon. Gentleman is saying that in theory that could happen, but in practice it will not. We know it will not. Will he set out the circumstances that he can envisage in reality where such an aberration occurs? I very much doubt that a British Prime Minister of whatever party would be happy with such a situation, and accordingly would not appoint. I very much doubt also whether the electorate, who watch these proceedings, would tolerate it.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Although it would be unlikely that a British Prime Minister would choose somebody to go into his Government who was also in the Irish Government, or vice versa, it is less unlikely that in future in a coalition Government in Northern Ireland, the chief Minister, who in the present circumstances might not be a Unionist, might see it as perfectly possible to have someone in his Government who might also be able to be, and appointed to be, in the Government in Dublin. A member of the Social Democratic and Labour party could quite reasonably be in both Administrations.

The Minister asked me whether what I described would be likely in the real world. The entire Bill is in large measure about things that do not happen in that world. The Bill is about whether Members of Commonwealth Parliaments will be Members of the Westminster Parliament. The Minister said that there are not any such Members in that position and that there never have been. I understand that no one has previously served in a Parliament in this country while simultaneously being a Member of a Commonwealth country Parliament, but I stand to be corrected.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman is right. I made the point when I was contributing to the debate. I am not aware of such a situation. However, the hon. Gentleman said that that is what the Bill is about. That is not right. The Bill is about issues in relation to Ireland.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Bill is principally about Irish issues, but one of the reasons that would be deployed for doing what the Government are asking us to agree to is that it would put the Irish Parliament and its Members in a similar relationship to that which exists between Members of the United Kingdom Parliament and Commonwealth parliamentarians.

Many contributions have been made by Northern Ireland Members, Conservative Members and Liberal Democrat Members on the basis that there could be Commonwealth Members in Commonwealth Parliaments and the Westminster Parliament, but that has never happened. That is as much an unreality and an unlikelihood as the issue that we are debating.

I want to be brief because I always have been. Additionally, I promised the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) that I would be. The Minister was helpful in his response. I deduce that he was helpful both to the hon. Member for East Londonderry and to me. He said that Ministers in the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office would ascertain whether it was possible, without an undertaking, to accommodate our concern. I think that the Bill would be more acceptable within the limited remit of what it is intended to do if although it allowed dual legislature membership, whatever we think of that, and legislative membership in one parliament and Executive membership in the other, it did not allow ministerial positions in both. That would make this a much more logical and defensible Bill.

The Minister knows that there is a dispute between us as to why we are having the Bill now and why we are having to have it so quickly. If that is to happen, I assume that the Bill will be going speedily to the House of Lords and that it will return to us speedily. If not, there is no logic in it being before us on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so as to get it through the House, with the loss of Prime Minister's questions and a day's business. I hope that the circumstances will not preclude serious consideration of the new clause and those that are similar to it, so that if necessary we can amend the Bill and not suffer from one that was rushed through and therefore was a less good measure than it might have been.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I will consider the issues that the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) have raised. I bear in mind what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has said about time scales. I have given no undertaking to do anything in the Bill. I have said that if we find that there are issues, a further opportunity might become available to consider them.

We have had lengthy discussions on the Bill for difficult and not entirely constructive reasons. However, given the length of time that we have spent on the measure, it is difficult to argue that it is being rushed. As I said earlier, I will examine the issues that the hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and for East Londonderry raised.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful for that. The postscript to my remarks is that, for reasons that I outlined earlier, Liberal Democrat Members cannot support new clause 8. It would rule out a constitutionally compatible provision, which would not create the same conflict of interest as dual ministerial office.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

It is highly appropriate that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned new clause 8, although he said that he could not support it. If he will be good enough to listen to my arguments, he may change his mind.

New clause 8 simply proposes that: No person elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom and also to the legislature of the Republic of Ireland may become a Minister of the Crown. We have had many debates about who may qualify for or be disqualified from membership of the House under the Bill. However, new clause 8 tackles the case of someone who has a dual mandate for the Dail and the House of Commons. Such a person could not be a Minister of the Crown if the new clause was accepted.

Why have we tabled the new clause? We have established that the main purpose of disqualification apart from ensuring that hon. Members are fit and proper to sit in the House—there is no reason to suppose that Members of the Dail would not fall into that category—is to ensure that Members can carry out their duties and responsibilities free from undue pressures from other sources. A Member of another legislature—the Dail in the case of the Bill—would, through party arrangements, whipping systems, and the policies and underlying constitutional arrangements to which he would subscribe, be subjected to pressures from other sources. In many instances, there would be undue pressures.

It is a clear principle that a Member of the House—a Minister of the Crown would be such a Member—should be free from possible conflicts of interest, which might distort his behaviour as an independent member of the legislature and his freedom to represent the best interests of his constituents. A Minister of the Crown could easily fall into difficulties. He would also invariably be a Privy Councillor and would have to take the Privy Council oath. That binds him to secrecy, a range of confidential matters, and various commitments, which I do not need to set out in detail.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but, although the Conservative party currently has no Scottish or Welsh Members of Parliament, does he agree that there is a problem when people are both Members of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly and Members of this House? Why should there be a distinction between the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dail?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

There is a simple answer: the United Kingdom and Ireland are different sovereign nations. It would be surprising if a Member of the Dail disputed that he was a Member of the legislature of a sovereign nation. Devolution confuses people, even the hon. Gentleman, with his forensic skills. People confuse constitutional principles and the basis on which the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly were established, and the Dail, which is the Parliament of a sovereign nation.

Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford 3:45 pm, 25th January 2000

Does my hon. Friend agree that his new clause sends a powerful message to those Ministers of the Crown from Scottish constituencies who litter the Treasury Bench? If Scotland became independent they, too, would be excluded from taking part in the operation and running of the remainder of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

My hon. Friend is right. In the middle of last night, I referred to what Charles Stewart Parnell himself thought about the relationship between the Irish Members and this legislature. It is perfectly clear from a memorandum and other statements that when the home rule Bill was being drawn up in 1886 he concluded that it was in the interests of the Irish nation that the Irish Members be excluded from the House. It is extraordinary to have come full circle—for reasons as yet completely undisclosed—whereby we are encouraging the Irish Members to become Members of the House, without a full constitutional settlement of the kind arrived at in 1801.

We are also taking the whole process in completely the opposite direction from the points and principles suggested by Charles Stewart Parnell, who had to go through every nut and bolt and every crevice and crack of the procedures of the House during the home rule saga to achieve his objective. Anybody who has visited the magnificent monument to Parnell in Dublin knows that the inscription specifically refers to national sovereignty. To paraphrase, no person should stand in the way of the march of a nation. If one recognises retrospectively that that was a legitimate aspiration for the Irish people, it is extraordinary, to say the least, that we have gone full circle and are contradicting the very principles on which his battle for home rule was established. That is a historical question.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I am more than happy to take another intervention from the hon. Gentleman, but will he pause for a moment? I want to take another look at the Privy Council.

The Minister—and, indeed, other Ministers right up to the Prime Minister—may envisage a person elected to the Republic of Ireland legislature becoming a Minister as well, but it would be perfectly obvious to any such person who intended to stand that he would have to swear the Oath of Allegiance, as membership of the House involves swearing allegiance to the Crown. In addition, the special and extremely tight Privy Council oath and the requirements of confidentiality would, I suggest, cause considerable difficulties for a person elected to another legislature—in this case, that of the Republic of Ireland.

A substantial book, "The Irish Constitution" by Mr. J. M. Kelly, which has run to its third edition, provides ample scope for a filibuster should hon. Members want to engage in one, which I am sure they would not. It clearly states that there is no requirement to swear an oath of allegiance to the Dail because it operates under a different constitutional arrangement. We must remember that Ireland has a written constitution, and there are requirements inherent in the Irish position.

Many of us love Ireland and want it to succeed—it is doing extremely well now. It is second in the table of economic success in the European Union, and many congratulations to them on that. The fact remains that incredibly important obstacles arise from the proposition that a person elected to either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland and to the Parliament of the United Kingdom should be allowed to become a Minister of the Crown.

As we have had a Privy Council for Northern Ireland since the separation of Ireland as a whole, the question is whether there should be an equivalent position if anyone were to seek to become a member of both legislatures and a Minister of the Crown. It is difficult to imagine how the Minister could answer such questions. Leaving aside the interrelationship between the membership of the two legislatures, if we were to focus on the qualities and constitutional position of a Minister of the Crown, we would see that many other problems would arise in respect of a member of any legislature, especially a Member of the legislature of Ireland.

I shall quote from the constitutional volume of "Halsbury's Laws of England", much of which will be obvious to Labour Members. It states: Each Minister is responsible and must answer to Parliament for his or her own acts and policies and for all that is done in his or her department…In giving an account to Parliament a minister must not knowingly mislead Parliament…ministers are expected to give an account of their departments and answer questions in Parliament, they may refuse to answer questions. That is the basis on which they have to operate. These are constitutional duties.

It would be difficult for the requirements of accountability to be fulfilled if a member of, for example, the legislature of the Republic of Ireland was properly conducting his duties to fulfil the requirements of his election to that legislature. For heaven's sake, it is our first responsibility, as it is in Ireland, to have regard to the manner in which we handle questions on behalf of our constituents. If a person was a Minister of the Crown in the United Kingdom and a member of the legislature in Ireland, it would be impossible for him to fulfil his obligations to the persons who had elected him in Ireland.

I am sure that the Minister will recognise that this is a substantial point. It is a practical question. Issues also arise with regard to timetabling.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I have listened with care to the hon. Gentleman, who did not give me the courtesy of giving way at the appropriate time, but these things happen. Must we listen to rubbish and criticism of Scottish Ministers and Welsh Assembly Ministers? They are being told that they cannot exercise their functions properly if they are also a Member of this House. Surely that has nothing to do with the Bill or with the new clause that I think stands in the hon. Gentleman's name.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman carefully, and he has kept in good order. I have absolutely no complaint about the way in which he has conducted himself.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I am grateful, Mr. Martin. I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for the point that he has just made, but this is an important question. The Bill has not been invented by us. It has been introduced in circumstances of great secrecy, or at any rate it arises out of meetings that we think were secret. We have not received answers. I am trying to point out some of the anomalies that inevitably arise. I am emphatically not engaging in a filibuster of any description.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's dissertation, and a learned dissertation it is. The point that I made in my speech was that, although many things can happen in theory, especially in unwritten constitutions—I do not want to debate the extent of our unwritten constitution now—in practice, they do not happen. There may be all sorts of theoretical issues that he could engender, as he has been trying to do in the past 16 minutes, but they will probably not arise because Prime Ministers in the various countries will be aware of the consequences of having someone in their Government who is a member of a legislature in a foreign country.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I am grateful to the Minister, but what it clearly does—

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I ask the Minister to withdraw the word "foreign". We are all part of Europe.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

That is not a point of order. It is a matter for debate.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Excuse me for laughing for a moment, Mr. Martin. Where is Europe?

The Minister raises an interesting point. The points that I am making could be regarded as theoretical, but if they are, what is the purpose of the Bill? Over and over again, we have heard that the Bill raises situations that are thought to be unlikely to occur. Yet there must have been a reason behind it.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

What the hon. Gentleman is trying to put together is not really the argument. He is putting the theoretical case that someone could be a member of a Government in one country and a member of a legislature in another. I accept the issue about the European Union, and I hope that we do not need to go into that. The point here is that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) sat at one stage in the Irish Senate when he already had a seat in this House. We are not necessarily talking about plain theories. We are dealing with something that may well happen and we in the House may not wish to discourage it in his case. He is an extremely well respected Member. While in respect of the Commonwealth, the matter may be theoretical, in the context of Ireland and the United Kingdom, they may not necessarily be so.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

In that case, the argument that I am advancing becomes even more substantial. The Minister is helping to make my case. I need not pursue that point any further.

The second point relating to the attributes of Ministers of the Crown is collective responsibility, the elements of which are unanimity, confidentiality and confidence. It would become apparent very quickly if someone came in from another country—with respect to this amendment, from the Irish legislature—that collective responsibility could be affected by the fact that the person who was a Minister of the Crown would not necessarily be present at any time and could not answer on behalf of the Crown as and when required, for example, to private notice questions? It does not take much imagination and I do not need to go through all the permutations to show the practical as well as constitutional difficulties that would inevitably arise if we created the situation that the Bill is in danger of creating.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Most important is the duty of confidentiality. If a Member of the Irish Parliament who happened to be a Minister in the Irish Government learned some information, and, at the same time, he learned information in his capacity as a Minister of a Parliament or Assembly somewhere else in the United Kingdom, his duties of confidentiality would be torn and he could not perform the two roles.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The only way in which that could be resolved, and the potentiality of conflict of a kind that we discussed earlier reduced, would be if there was one country, along the lines described by Norman Davies in "History of the Isles", to bring back one province within the EU which would then absorb and subsume all the constitutional difficulties which arose from the histories of the individual isles, but then to create a new province and reduce the conflict. Why these arrangements are being entered into remains a significant puzzle to many of us. No explanation has been given, and the principle on which they appear to be presented is in direct contradiction to the objectives of Parnell and the others when they sought home rule and said that they did not want to be members of this legislature. That I find difficult.

I should be grateful if the Minister could answer that question. There must have been discussions. Did it not occur to anyone to ask about the origins of home rule and Eire? I have no problem with the idea of separate nations—quite the opposite—but where they exist it is incongruous to have Ministers directing policy in this Parliament while having potentially been elected in another country. I do not think for a minute that there are not vast numbers of people from Ireland, by origin, birth and so on, who are Members of this House. We know that, and what a good thing it is. The Minister's own name can perhaps be traced to an Irish connection. The Kings of Ireland were O'Briens.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I will not go into my family history but deal with the constitution and the law. I do not intend to reply at length in rebuttal because I have dealt with most of the issues in my speech and in interventions.

I have been trying to follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument about the nation. I take it that he would not argue that the concept of the Irish nation put forward by Parnell is the same as that put forward by the Ulster Unionists today.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am interested in the history of Ireland, but not at the moment. We must keep within the confines of the new clause.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I accept that, Mr. Martin.

I come now to the question of legal accountability. All Ministers and servants of the Crown are accountable to the courts for the legality of their actions and can be held civilly and criminally liable. That raises a number of interesting questions about immunities, whether membership of another legislature would give privileges which would prevent a person from being accountable in the way that I have described, and whether people would be able, or would be required to, appear. Similar situations could arise with regard to membership of the Select Committees, the evidence that they give to such Committees as Ministers of the Crown, and so on.

It is abundantly clear that there are a huge number of practical and constitutional reasons why these arrangements should not be entered into.

4 pm

This is not merely an analysis of theoretical possibilities. The Bill has led us into a situation that requires us, as Members of Parliament, to ask the questions, to examine the evidence, to insist on answers, and to quantify the practicalities of the proposals. We have heard no answers from the Minister to any of those questions, although he has risen several times and claimed to be answering them. I could raise many other questions, but I do not want to engage in an unreasonable amount of discussion just for the sake of it.

You will have noticed, Mr. Martin—I can tell things from the expression on your face occasionally—that I have here some substantial works of reference, to which I could refer at length without departing for a minute from your requirements and those of the Committee. I would not filibuster; I would not be repetitious; I would break no rules. But in deference to you, Mr. Martin, and to the Committee, I will eschew the attractions and temptations presented by one of the longest filibusters in history, and will confine myself to what I have already said.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I do not intend to detain the Committee for long.

This is a one-page Bill, but it is not the modest little measure that some have termed it. It is, in fact, a very bad Bill, and constitutionally dangerous. The new clauses go a small way towards mitigating some of the constitutional damage that would be done if the Bill were passed unamended. I hope that it will be thrown out in its entirety on Third Reading, but I want to concentrate on the new clauses that we are discussing.

I am sorry that the Minister found it necessary to criticise Conservative Members for engaging in a prolonged debate. I am grateful to you, Mr. Martin, and to your fellow Chairmen—you have sat here throughout the night, and today—for confirming that, by and large, our deliberations have been in order.

In the early hours of this morning, when we debated clause 2, we engaged in a discussion which, we were told, related more properly to the new clauses that we are debating now. The Minister dismissed my intervention then; let me rehearse the arguments yet again.

In promoting clause 2, the Minister's colleague prayed in aid the necessity to draw a distinction between the Assembly of Northern Ireland and the Parliament of the Irish Republic, and explained—not in great detail, but fairly clearly—why it was appropriate for clause 2 to be enacted. He said, in a nutshell, that it was not proper for a Member to be a Minister both in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic.

I believe that Members of Parliament have a duty to scrutinise not just faulty street lights and cracked paving stones, but legislation. I believe that Ministers have a duty to explain to the House the legislation that they are presenting to it, and to justify that legislation. If they cannot do that, they deserve to be defeated.

The Minister has repeatedly said at the Dispatch Box that he has already explained; but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said many hours ago, what we have heard is a series of protestations and assertions, but no evidence whatever.

Let me now deal directly with the new clauses.

Again, in the small hours of the morning, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and I—I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has had to leave the Chamber, although I am sure that it is for good reasons—reached an agreement, incredibly, that his new clause No. 9 dealt with the other bit of the issue that is missing from clause 2. The bit that is missing relates to Members of the House of Commons and, indeed, to potential Members of the Parliament of the Irish Republic.

If it is wrong for a Member of the Parliament of the Irish Republic to be a Minister also in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and for a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly to be a Minister also in the Parliament of the Irish Republic, I cannot for the life of me see the logic in saying that it is not wrong for a Minister of the Crown in the UK Parliament to be a Minister in either of the other places. The Bill as drafted—the Minister is aware of it—means that it will be in order for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, while sitting in the UK Parliament, also to be a Minister in the Parliament of the Irish Republic.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Is there not a different way to put the same question: why should that be right? The Bill as drafted makes it possible for that situation to arise, so those who drafted it have to persuade the Committee that it is right that that consequence should be able to occur.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. He will probably be astonished to know that, in the small hours of the morning, we confirmed that, as the Bill stands, it is in order—I am not saying that it is necessarily likely—for the Speaker of the House of Commons, an independent body by virtue of his or her office—to be a partisan Minister in the Parliament of the Irish Republic. That is possible. Nothing in the Bill stops it. However, that is not what is before the Committee.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I have been listening with care, trying to discount some of the tone and listen to the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument. Many bizarre things may in theory happen but are not in practice likely to happen, with the result that we do not legislate against them. Why does he think that the bizarre points that he is putting to us should be part of the legislation?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Forgive me. The Minister rises at the Dispatch Box and says that what I am suggesting is bizarre. I agree. It would be bizarre for the Speaker to be a Minister in another Parliament, but there is nothing to prevent it. However, that is not what I am seeking to discuss.

The Minister intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. It is late.

In that intervention, the Minister virtually made the argument for us. He said that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility. He cited an hon. Member who had been a Member of both legislatures. Either we are legislating for reality or we are not. He said himself that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility. If it is not beyond the bounds of possibility for an hon. Member to be a Member also of the Parliament of the Irish Republic, it is not, as things stand, beyond the bounds of possibility for the same Member to be a Minister in both legislatures.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

We are talking about two different propositions. One involves the situation where a person may be a Member of one House and also a member of another legislature. That is feasible. The position of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is a potential case in point. I do not think that it has happened on all fours, but we can see that the potential is there. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) asks us to believe that a Prime Minister would go a step further and make a person in that position a Minister. That is a bizarre proposition. If the hon. Gentleman can show me that there is a realistic prospect of that, I might not think it so bizarre: I might believe that his argument has some validity. He must be careful not to suggest that the House should legislate against all sorts of theoretical possibilities which, in practice, will never occur.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I shall give way to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), and then respond both to his point and to that of the Minister.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The Committee is being asked to uphold that my hon. Friend's suggestion is far-fetched and bizarre, but the suggestion has already been dealt with in clause 1, which provides that Ministers in the Government of Ireland shall not hold office as certain types of Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Such a situation is being contemplated as a real possibility; hence the need for legislation on the point. It is no more bizarre to address the issue in relation to the United Kingdom's other Parliament and Assemblies than it is to address it in relation to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Ministers are making provision to deal with the latter occurrence.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

My right hon. and learned Friend is right, except that I think he meant to refer to the provisions of clause 2, not of clause 1. Otherwise, he is absolutely right.

In the early hours, in his absence, we referred—in no way disparagingly, as Mr. Martin would not have permitted it—to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who is a Member of the European Parliament, of this House and of the Northern Ireland Assembly. There is nothing improper in his holding those positions. However, the point was made that only one of those three legislatures—this one—is a sovereign Parliament. The Northern Ireland Assembly is not sovereign, and the European Parliament is most certainly not sovereign. The Parliament of the Irish Republic is sovereign, as is the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The Minister cannot have it both ways. He might admit, "I got clause 2 wrong. There is no prospect of a Member being a Minister both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic"—although if he did, one might ask why clause 2 was included in the Bill. Clause 2, which the Committee has passed, deals precisely with a situation in which a Member serves as a Minister in both legislatures.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in allowing interventions, and I do not want to abuse his generosity, but I thought I had dealt with that point. The situation in Northern Ireland is different because of the d'Hondt principle on selection of the Executive. The d'Hondt principle does not apply in the British Parliament, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. Therefore, the Prime Minister, First Minister or First Secretary in those Executives have a choice about who is appointed as a Minister, and, in practice, would not choose someone who was a Member of the Executive of another country.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

What matters is not whether the principle belongs to Professor d'Hondt deceased, or to anyone else, but the principle itself. The Bill's principle maintains—entirely correctly, if we are to have the Bill at all—that it is wrong for a Member to be a Minister in both the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Parliament of the Irish Republic. The Minister agrees with that—it is his Bill—and, to the extent that I agree with the Bill at all, I agree with that. All the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is saying in new clause 9, and all my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is saying in new clause 8, is that, if that is so, it is also wrong for a Member to be a Minister in this House and in the Parliament of the Irish Republic. Let us, therefore, state that clearly in the Bill.

The Minister has spoken many times in our debates, and he has said that he is prepared to consider the issue. However, he is not prepared to give any undertakings. If he is not prepared to do that, I hope that either my hon. Friend the Member for Stone or the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will press his new clause to the vote. Patently, if clause 2 is correct, one of the new clauses also must be right. We have to deal with that.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the past year, Ministers have created a problem by raising the issue of whether formulations and amendments arising from Bills may be thought to be purely theoretical?

Secondly, the history of British constitutional development over the past 600 years contains many examples of people saying that something would never happen because it was merely a theoretical possibility. An example of that is the prediction that Britain would not lose the veto. Is it not unwise to rely on the Minister's protestations that what appears theoretical could not happen eventually, or even soon?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and I went to see the Minister in 1997 and were told that there would not be a problem with economic migrants. He was proved wrong about that, and I fear that he will be proved wrong again. The Minister pulls a face, but if he does not answer satisfactorily the points that have been raised, he must expect us to vote against the Bill.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Conservative, Eddisbury

The Minister has said in his defence that our objections are theoretical, but do not all the precedents show that laws made in haste tend to be bad laws? The Government have introduced the Bill in haste, and it is our duty to try to improve it, as the new clause proposes.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

If we are not here to legislate, I do not know what we are here for.

Photo of Mr Ken Maginnis Mr Ken Maginnis UUP, Fermanagh and South Tyrone

The Minister claims that it is not possible to legislate for every eventuality, but the Government are promoting legislation in favour of creating an anomaly—that Ministers in this House theoretically could be also be Ministers in the Dail. Therein lies the difficulty with the Bill.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

The hon. Gentleman is right, but the argument is becoming circular and I am getting bored with the sound of my own voice.

In conclusion, if clause 2 is right, at least one of the new clauses must be right. The Minister has not convinced the Committee that if one is right, the other is not. If he cannot produce a convincing argument, he should produce an amendment encapsulating the single exclusion that we want. Failing that, he has to accept one of our proposals now or face a vote on one.

I agree that legislation for its own sake is bad. The Bill cannot be described as that, but it is very bad and we are genuinely trying to mitigate it.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

On a point of order, Mr. Lord. How many times must I rise to catch your eye before I am called to speak?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I arrived in the Chair only a few moments ago, and was not aware that the hon. Gentleman was rising to catch my eye. Had I been so aware, I should have called him, in the correct order, as I always do.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

I am grateful, Mr. Lord. I want to be brief. I have sought to intervene several times—sometimes I was allowed to, sometimes I was not. I recognise that I am an alien species in the Committee. According to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), I am an alien because I was born and bred in Ireland. I have been called an alien and a foreigner. I have listened to the debate and I am appalled. The question of sovereignty arises, but the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) forgets, of course, that in 1984 his Government put through the House the Single European Act, which made this country subject to European law. That is a transfer of sovereignty.

The Irish Republic, where I was born—and whose passport I held even after I came to the House because I was not an English citizen, but that is perfectly permissible—is also a member of the European Union and subject to European sovereignty. We have commonality of sovereignty, but that is ignored by those who seek to insult and denigrate those of us who were born abroad. That is sad. It is also why I appeared a little annoyed earlier, for which I apologise, Mr. Lord.

I have sat here for a day and a bit being consistently insulted, as have 5 million people with the same heritage. We do not have to take it: our forefathers and relatives fought and died for this land in two world wars. Some of my family fought against this country in various rebellions and wars; that is a part of history. But I thought that we had grown up—I thought that the Good Friday agreement would mean that we could bury the past and not carry the prejudices and hatred forward. We should not be carrying into the future that which had created the tragedies of Northern Ireland. Yet what have I seen for a day and a half; what have I heard? Hon. Members have sought to carry the tragedies of Northern Ireland into the future.

I accept that I was rude to the Minister earlier, and I apologise unreservedly to him. He was right when he said that we should not play with theoretical issues that might not happen but should look at the realities of life. Why not? I know that one can be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the European Parliament and the House of Commons. Of course that happens and nobody criticises it. I think that three hon. Members currently combine those roles. When I first came to this place, many people were Members of both the European Parliament and the House. Now, many people are Members of the Scottish Parliament and of the Welsh Assembly. The Scottish Parliament is sovereign—at least, I think it is; I hope it is.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many of us have Irish ancestry in various degrees? Far from insulting anybody who comes from Ireland, the reverse is true—many of us have enormous affection for the Irish people and wish them well. However, there is a simple point that I should like to put to the hon. Gentleman in response to his question. Why does the Bill provide for members of the Irish legislature to become Members of this House and the Northern Ireland Assembly but not vice versa?

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

That is quite simple—we are dealing with the situation that we find today. Should the situation arise, I am sure that the necessary amendments could be passed. It is as simple as that. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that he has much sympathy and love for Ireland. Perhaps he might transfer that sympathy and love to certain of his right hon. and hon. Friends—including the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border—who are mentioned in early-day motion 315. That makes it clear that certain Conservative Members have no sympathy or love for the Irish; instead, they have an ingrained hatred, and it shows from time to time.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

May I bring the hon. Gentleman back to the new clause before the Committee? I, too, have very strong Irish connections—my mother was born in County Galway—but we are not talking about that. Instead, we are asking whether it is right that a Minister of the Irish Government, with all the duties that such a Minister owes to Ireland and to the Government of Ireland, should be able to be a member of a Government of any part of this country. The answer to that must surely be no, because of the conflicting arguments. It has nothing to do with antipathy between the countries.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

That intervention takes us back to a very simple point: how many legislatures we belong to is a matter for us. I should have thought that in a multicultural, multipolitical Europe, being a member of more than one legislature, if we can find the time to do it—[Interruption.] I gave way to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and I shall answer his question step by step, if I may, because he, like me, is a logical man. If one wants to be a member of many legislatures and one's constituency will accept that, so be it. However, once one becomes a member of a Government—let us get real, in a real world—it matters not in which legislature one is a member of a Government, one acquires and retains certain responsibilities to that Government. There is no way in which a person can be a member of two Governments at the same time. That is wholly illogical. It will not, does not, and cannot happen.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 4:30 pm, 25th January 2000

In that case, why cannot that provision be included in the Bill?

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

I would have thought that common sense would tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman, when he read the Bill, that that could not happen in any event. Do we need to legislate on every word when—bearing in mind Pepper v. Hart, with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is fully familiar—anyone reading the debates on the Bill would realise that it was never the intention of Parliament that anyone should be a Minister in two Governments? That is obvious.

I return to my primary point—what on earth have we been doing for the past couple of hours? We have been going excitedly around in circles dealing with a theoretical situation that will never arise, simply because certain Opposition Members cannot get it through their thick heads that the time has come to settle the Irish question once and for all. This is yet another step on the road to the settlement of issues that have dogged and bedevilled our societies for the past 100 years.

I have tried to be as brief as possible. I asked the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to be brief; he took 10 minutes. I shall take six or seven minutes. Is it not time to move on to what we are really in this place to do? That is to bring peace to Ireland.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

Thank you for allowing me to speak for a second time, Mr. Lord. Earlier, I thought that the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) had risen only to make a point of order. When you called me to speak, Mr. Lord, I, too, could have raised a point of order.

I regret that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have respect because we have worked in varying degrees of friendship, has revealed an underlying current that keeps coming up. If I wanted to follow his example—although I do not—I could make the same complaint because I happen to be from Northern Ireland, which was historically the old Ulidia and I am proud to be an Ulsterman. In this place, I am regularly called an Irishman, even though I have British citizenship, which I believe includes Scotland, Wales, Ireland historically, and certainly that north-east part that we call Ulster.

In the light of the comments of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), I must make it abundantly plain that even Europe has its regulations. Unless I have been misled, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) would have been happy to be a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but European legislation would not allow one to be a Minister even in a subsidiary Parliament—never mind in the main Government—and serve in the European Parliament.

My party has discouraged dual membership. If a person stands for a position in the Assembly or in Parliament, at the next election we would expect him to choose the body for which he plans to stand. We believe that such jobs are full-time, although I realise that people have different abilities and capacities for work. However, the Ulster Unionist party has maintained that principle for some time.

In relation to the comments about Whips, my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) seemed to regret that I might have had to call him into line. I thought that I had done so graciously and courteously—

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

We can sometimes be misunderstood. The purpose of any Whip is to try to ensure that the party's business, or the Government's business, is carried through, by fair means and sometimes foul—although I confess to my party that I have never held a little black book, never mind a red book.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I wanted to clarify one point in new clause 2, with regard to the party Whip. I notice that "a party Whip" is referred to in the second line of the new clause. That applies to the Whip of any party, including opposition parties, but I assume that the hon. Gentleman is restricting new clause 2 to a Whip of the Government party. Perhaps he would clarify that point.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

It would, on the face of it, be a Whip of a Government party, but one does recognise that a Whip, even of an opposition party, has particular responsibilities to ensure that his party's position carries through. The new clause could be read either way but, in light of the phrasing, I believe that it refers to a Government party.

I return to the d'Hondt aspect. I happen to be one of those who was never terribly happy that an Executive could be formed by d'Hondt. I understand that it is an excellent way to deal with Committees where one wants to have a cross-section of opinion and balanced views, but it is important that we bear in mind that an Executive has a task to do: to give leadership and to see business through. Sooner or later, we shall have difficulties at that level within Northern Ireland or any other Assembly whose Executive is formed on a d'Hondt principle, whereby, if the Minister in the Executive is arguing for a party position, and stands by it, and faces a vote of no confidence in that Assembly or Parliament, he has to resign, and the party whose policy the Minister was seeking to follow through has the right to fill that vacant position.

Therefore, the Minister may be mistaken when he says that it would or could never happen. As the hon. Member for St. Helens, South was speaking, I reflected that we are living in another world—a changing world, for good or ill. We now have an Irish in Britain Movement, and it is possible that sometimes its members may be dissatisfied with either of the main parties in this place and may seek to advance their own position. They may even seek to get a well-known personality from Ireland to represent them and to be elected to the House.

Speaking of theory, it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility, as we are all working together within Europe, for a Government of a particular hue in the United Kingdom to share with a Government in the Republic of Ireland—or, for that matter, any other Government—a Minister who may be elected by a constituency in both countries because he is capable of work and the people want him. It is possible that such a person may be asked to take part in another Government. Having said that, I still believe that it should be in the Bill that it should not be done. If Europe can do it, which is an Assembly view—

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

I have listened with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but would he consider this point? A company, owned and managed by English people, invests in Northern Ireland. The managing director becomes a resident and seeks to stand for the Assembly because he wants to represent the interests of his work force and so on. That is perfectly acceptable. The same happens in southern Ireland, and it is perfectly acceptable. What is wrong with that? Is that not us all becoming part of the family of Europe, and should that be criticised in any way? I hark back to the hon. Gentleman's comment about the Irish in England.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

Anyone has a right to put himself forward and to be selected. I remember during the campaign of the late Enoch Powell in South Down, a member of the SDLP, Patrick O'Hanlon, said that South Down would never let in foreigners. I saw him the next day and asked him, "What was that nonsense about, Paddy? What about that Spanish-AmericanDe Valera?" He said, "Martin, I am glad that no one else recognised that one." When we talk about using language and so on, we have to face reality. Sometimes there is a degree of pejorativism, but usually people are described as being part of our nation or of another nation. Those who espouse Ireland as a nation once again would never think that they were part of the English connection, and they find it difficult to recognise that British means more than English. It was an Episcopalian dean of St. Patrick's in Dublin who said, in a moment of anger, Burn everything English except English coal. I happen to have a greater love for the coal miners of England than he had.

The new clause would tighten up the legislation. The one thing that has come through the debate, and throughout the previous two years, has been a tendency to have shoddy parliamentary draftsmanship. That has gone on for far too long, with far too many amendments tabled on Report or coming from the other place. It is time that we got legislation clear in this House before we send it elsewhere.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) is absolutely right when he talks about the duty of this Committee to ensure that legislation is in as good a state as we can get it. That is a Committee's duty. Our purpose is to send the Bill to another place in as good a form as we can contrive.

The Committee must address whether it is right in principle that a Minister of the Republic of Ireland should be capable of being a Minister in any of the Parliaments or Assemblies of the United Kingdom. To that question, one has no difficulty in giving the answer. It has to be no, it is not right in principle. The arguments have been well articulated by my hon. Friends the Members for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and for Stone (Mr. Cash), and I need not expand upon them.

There is a conflict of loyalty and duty that goes to the root of the argument and is conclusive. If one is fair to the Government—I seldom am, as they do not deserve it—one will find that they have accepted what I say, as clause 2 of the Bill makes a prohibition in respect of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Government say that that is more likely to happen in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK. If the Government are honest, they will accept that that is the only argument that they have advanced.

The Government do not say that there are drafting difficulties. There is one slight difficulty with new clause 2 with regard to the identity of the party Whip, but that is a minor problem. Subject to that, new clause 2 is in a proper form. We are being asked to say that new clause 2 should be rejected not because it is wrong in form or principle, but because it addresses a situation that will never arise. That is the only argument being put to the Committee, and it is manifestly a bad argument.

It may be true that this situation is more likely to arise in Northern Ireland than elsewhere. We are told that it is unlikely to arise—I accept that—but the point is that it can arise both in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK. If the Bill is likely to serve as a precedent, and if there is pressure from France, Germany, Italy, Spain or wherever to enable the members of the Governments of those countries to sit in the Parliaments or Governments of this country, we have a right to make sure that bad precedents are not established.

4.45 pm

There is one way that Governments sometimes address the problem of what to do about eventualities that are unlikely to occur but are thoroughly undesirable: historically, Governments send a Minister to the Dispatch Box to undertake not to do this or that. However, that does not serve our purpose because, as the Minister said so fairly on Second Reading, on which I helped to divide the House, he cannot provide an undertaking that will bind future Governments. I have referred to precedents because I am concerned about future Governments.

The principle is with those of us who support the new clauses. The Minister does not argue to the contrary; he cannot do so because of clause 2. He merely urges us not to press the proposal, because our fears are unlikely to arise. We all know that that is a thoroughly bad argument. I very much hope that the Committee divides on the issue. I shall certainly support new clause 2 if we do.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I do not want to be discourteous to the Committee, but I have already covered most of the arguments. I know that some hon. Members will not agree with that, but that is as may be. How I decide to make my case is a matter for me.

Clause 2 provides a special provision for Northern Ireland because of the d'Hondt principle. That is legitimate. However, there are already constitutional safeguards because of the political circumstances under which the Prime Minister or the First Minister of one of the Assemblies or the Scottish Parliament would appoint Members to an Executive. That would cover the eventualities that have been raised.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Conservative, Eddisbury

No, because the hon. Gentleman will return to the arguments that we have rehearsed before.

The Government believe that such circumstances are covered. I know that hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), do not accept that, but we shall just have to agree to differ. I set out my arguments at greater length earlier in our proceedings and I stand by them.

I have given some comfort to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross)—although perhaps not as much as he would like—and to the Liberal Democrats, and said that I shall consider the issues. I have made it clear that I cannot give undertakings. I am conscious of the Bill's time frame. However, if we conclude that issues have arisen, the opportunity to deal with them may present itself at a later stage.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

I appreciate the way that the Minister has dealt with this group of amendments. It has been in refreshing contrast to the way in which others have been dealt with in our long proceedings. He has not been able to give an undertaking, but he has been honest about that, and we accept that. I had hoped that he would have said that he would meet the parties involved with a view to tabling amendments in another place if they still felt unhappy. Had he done that, I would have advised my hon. Friends that we need not press the new clause to a Division. If the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) wishes to divide the House, we shall support him.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I am gravely disappointed by the Minister's curmudgeonly attitude. He is always courteous, but he has not always attempted to answer our questions. He and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland remind me of people who have been trussed and bound by commitments that were made in advance of the Bill by other Ministers. They are so deeply committed that they dare not and cannot move. They are prepared to sit in a state of paralysis, parroting the view that the proposition is merely theoretical.

Let me give an example from the 17th century of a possibility that people regarded as merely theoretical. At that time, the idea that we would end up with a Hanoverian monarch would have been thought quite extraordinary—it was a possibility on which people had only theorised. However, in practice, it happened. Our history provides us with thousands of cases of people who, on a question of principle—[Interruption.] The Minister laughs. It is extraordinary that he is incapable of taking the matter seriously.

Given that Opposition Members have advanced some extremely cogent arguments, the responsibility and onus lie on the Government to respond by tabling amendments to the Bill. That is what amendments are all about. How many amendments that have been passed could have been dismissed on the grounds that they dealt with theoretical propositions?

When we pass legislation, we make law. When contingencies have been properly argued and it has been demonstrated that failure to address them will result in law that is defective, the Minister, by refusing to deal with those matters, is in effect presenting the House with a defective Bill that will be defective in law.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

It is no good the Minister shaking his head. He knows perfectly well that such issues arise again and again in legislation and in constitutional practice and history. Because the Bill is a constitutional measure, he should accept the constitutional consequences arising from it and deal with the issues that have been raised.

Two of the new clauses cover similar ground. I, for my part, have no special need to press new clause 8 to a Division: as far as I am concerned, new clause 2, which takes precedence on the amendment paper, is capable of addressing the principle just as well. Therefore, although I am perfectly happy not to vote on the new clause that I tabled, I shall certainly vote in support of new clause 2.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

This has been an interesting debate. I have listened to a fair bit of it, just as I have listened to a fair bit of all the debates that have occurred in the past 24 hours.

At first, the Minister encouraged me. It is always fatal to be given encourage by a Minister in the early stages of a debate, because he will always say in the end that he cannot help. That said, he recognised the conflict of interest, even though he appears to think the risk is so small that it is not worth bothering about.

The Minister fails to understand the consequences of STV elections in Northern Ireland, wherein lies the danger that an individual such as I described can and, I believe, will eventually be elected, because he will require only one seventh of the votes cast to be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. D'Hondt is not a personal selection by the voter, but a party selection. We in Northern Ireland deal not with normal political parties, but with a criminal terrorist conspiracy. That is what distances the circumstances there from those elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It is the reason we have tabled amendments and asked questions over the past day or two.

I am sorry that the Government have refused to listen to the careful and detailed case presented by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and others. In the light of that refusal, I regret that I am unable to ask the Committee's leave to withdraw new clause 2 and instead ask that it be put to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second Time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 173, Noes 309.

Division No. 49][4.54 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Greenway, John
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelGrieve, Dominic
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesHague, Rt Hon William
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Hammond, Philip
Baldry, TonyHawkins, Nick
Ballard, JackieHayes, John
Beggs, RoyHeald, Oliver
Beith, Rt Hon A JHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Bercow, JohnHogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Beresford, Sir PaulHoram, John
Blunt, CrispinHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Body, Sir RichardHughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Boswell, TimJack, Rt Hon Michael
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Jenkin, Bernard
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaJohnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Brady, Graham
Brake, TomJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Brazier, JulianKeetch, Paul
Breed, ColinKey, Robert
Browning, Mrs AngelaKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Burnett, JohnLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Burns, SimonLait, Mrs Jacqui
Burstow, PaulLansley, Andrew
Butterfill, JohnLetwin, Oliver
Cable, Dr VincentLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)Lidington, David
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Cash, WilliamLlwyd, Elfyn
Chope, ChristopherLoughton, Tim
Cormack, Sir PatrickLuff, Peter
Cotter, BrianLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Cran, JamesMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Curry, Rt Hon DavidMcIntosh, Miss Anne
Davey, Edward (Kingston)MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Maclean, Rt Hon David
Day, StephenMcLoughlin, Patrick
Donaldson, JeffreyMadel, Sir David
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenMaginnis, Ken
Duncan, AlanMajor, Rt Hon John
Duncan Smith, IainMaples, John
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterMates, Michael
Evans, NigelMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Faber, DavidMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Fabricant, MichaelMay, Mrs Theresa
Fallon, MichaelMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Fearn, RonnieMoore, Michael
Flight, HowardMoss, Malcolm
Forsythe, CliffordNicholls, Patrick
Forth, Rt Hon EricNorman, Archie
Foster, Don (Bath)O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanOttaway, Richard
Fox, Dr LiamPage, Richard
Fraser, ChristopherPaice, James
Gale, RogerPaterson, Owen
George, Andrew (St Ives)Pickles, Eric
Gibb, NickPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Gill, ChristopherPrior, David
Gillan, Mrs CherylRandall, John
Gorman, Mrs TeresaRedwood, Rt Hon John
Gray, JamesRendel, David
Green, DamianRobathan, Andrew
Robertson, LaurenceTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume)Taylor, Sir Teddy
Ross, William (E Lond'y)Thompson, William
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)Tonge, Dr Jenny
Ruffley, DavidTrend, Michael
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Tyler, Paul
St Aubyn, NickTyrie, Andrew
Sanders, AdrianViggers, Peter
Sayeed, JonathanWalter, Robert
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs GillianWaterson, Nigel
Shepherd, RichardWebb, Steve
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)Wells, Bowen
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)Whitney, Sir Raymond
Soames, NicholasWhittingdale, John
Spelman, Mrs CarolineWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Spicer, Sir MichaelWilletts, David
Spring, RichardWillis, Phil
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Steen, AnthonyWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Streeter, GaryYeo, Tim
Stunell, AndrewYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, RobertTellers for the Ayes:
Tapsell, Sir PeterRev. Martin Smyth and
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Brown.
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeCasale, Roger
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Cawsey, Ian
Ainger, NickChaytor, David
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Clapham, Michael
Alexander, DouglasClark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Ashton, JoeClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Atkins, CharlotteClarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Austin, JohnClelland, David
Banks, TonyClwyd, Ann
Barnes, HarryCoaker, Vernon
Battle, JohnCoffey, Ms Ann
Beard, NigelColeman, Iain
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretColman, Tony
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Connarty, Michael
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)Cooper, Yvette
Bennett, Andrew FCorbett, Robin
Benton, JoeCorbyn, Jeremy
Bermingham, GeraldCorston, Jean
Berry, RogerCousins, Jim
Best, HaroldCranston, Ross
Betts, CliveCrausby, David
Blears, Ms HazelCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Blizzard, BobCummings, John
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Borrow, DavidCurtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Dalyell, Tam
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Bradshaw, BenDarvill, Keith
Brinton, Mrs HelenDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E)Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Browne, DesmondDawson, Hilton
Burden, RichardDean, Mrs Janet
Burgon, ColinDenham, John
Butler, Mrs ChristineDismore, Andrew
Byers, Rt Hon StephenDobbin, Jim
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Donohoe, Brian H
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Doran, Frank
Campbell-Savours, DaleDowd, Jim
Canavan, DennisEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Cann, JamieEagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Caplin, IvorEdwards, Huw
Efford, CliveLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Ellman, Mrs LouiseLock, David
Ennis, JeffLove, Andrew
Field, Rt Hon FrankMcAvoy, Thomas
Fisher, MarkMcCabe, Steve
Fitzsimons, LomaMcCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMcDonagh, Siobhain
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Macdonald, Calum
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)McDonnell, John
Galloway, GeorgeMcFall, John
Gapes, MikeMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Gardiner, BarryMcIsaac, Shona
Gerrard, NeilMackinlay, Andrew
Gibson, Dr IanMcNulty, Tony
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMacShane, Denis
Godsiff, RogerMactaggart, Fiona
Goggins, PaulMcWalter, Tony
Golding, Mrs LlinMcWilliam, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Mahon, Mrs Alice
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Mallaber, Judy
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Grocott, BruceMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hain, PeterMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Martlew, Eric
Hanson, DavidMaxton, John
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMeale, Alan
Heal, Mrs SylviaMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Healey, JohnMilburn, Rt Hon Alan
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Miller, Andrew
Hepburn, StephenMitchell, Austin
Heppell, JohnMoffatt, Laura
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMoonie, Dr Lewis
Hill, KeithMoran, Ms Margaret
Hodge, Ms MargaretMorley, Elliot
Hood, JimmyMorris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, KelvinMorris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Mountford, Kali
Hoyle, LindsayMudie, George
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hurst, AlanMurphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Iddon, Dr BrianNorris, Dan
Illsley, EricO'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jamieson, DavidOlner, Bill
Jenkins, BrianO'Neill, Martin
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Pearson, Ian
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Pendry, Tom
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Perham, Ms Linda
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Pickthall, Colin
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms TessaPike, Peter L
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPlaskitt, James
Keeble, Ms SallyPond, Chris
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Powell, Sir Raymond
Kelly, Ms RuthPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kemp, FraserPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Prescott, Rt Hon John
Kidney, DavidPrimarolo, Dawn
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)Prosser, Gwyn
Kumar, Dr AshokPurchase, Ken
Ladyman, Dr StephenQuinn, Lawrie
Laxton, BobRadice, Rt Hon Giles
Lepper, DavidRammell, Bill
Leslie, ChristopherReed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Levitt, TomReid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Rogers, Allan
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs HelenRooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Linton, MartinRooney, Terry

Question accordingly negatived.