Clause 1

Orders of the Day — Disqualifications Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:40 pm on 30th November 2000.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 12:40 pm, 30th November 2000

I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

The other place agreed in Committee that this clause should stand part of the Bill, but it then voted to remove the clause on Report. Hon. Members will not be surprised that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has tabled a motion to reject the Lords amendment. The original clause 1 is the central clause of the Bill to which all the other clauses relate. Without it, the Bill is meaningless. Indeed, its only effect would be to repeal section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which enables members of the Irish Senate to take seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. That was not the Government's intention and I do not believe it would have the support of hon Members. The intention of the Bill, quite simply, is to enable Members of the Irish Parliament to stand for, and to take up seats in, the United Kingdom legislatures. That is precisely what clause 1 in its original form would achieve.

The Government's reasons for pursuing the provision are simple. We believe that the Bill, with the original clause 1 included, shows the Government's recognition of the close and welcome ties between Britain and Ireland—ties that have been considerably strengthened in recent years with the coming into force of the British-Irish agreement and the changes to articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution. I understand that we and the Opposition are in accord on that. We want the Good Friday agreement to be taken forward.

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

Where in the Good Friday agreement is there any indication that the Bill would be introduced?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I will come to that very point in a moment, but I shall answer the specific question about the agreement now. I do not claim that the Good Friday agreement made provision for the Bill. My claim is that it is consistent with the Belfast agreement, not an integral part of it.

Britain's ties with Ireland set our relationship apart from those with other nations. Indeed, the relationship is stronger than that with most Commonwealth nations—a reality that is recognised by the fact that in all other substantial aspects of British electoral law, Ireland and the Commonwealth are treated the same. It is only in this one remaining area that that parity of treatment is absent, and the Bill is intended to rectify that.

We do not believe that there is any intrinsic objection to the principle of enabling Members of foreign legislatures to stand for, or be elected to, legislatures in the United Kingdom, so long as they are prepared to stand by the obligations implied by membership of each of those Parliaments.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

Can the Minister give a single instance in the past 100 years of a Commonwealth parliamentarian being elected to the House?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

No, and the hon. Gentleman knew the answer to the question before he asked it.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

So the hon. Gentleman will not be any more enlightened than he was before. The provision in this Bill is there not because anyone will necessarily take advantage of it, but because it recognises the special relationship between Ireland and ourselves.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

Given the fact that for more than 100 years no one has taken advantage of the law that means that Commonwealth parliamentarians are able to sit in this House, does that not suggest that the law itself is an anomaly and should be done away with?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

The point that I was making to the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) is that the law implies a set of relationships. It does not necessarily involve a right that will always be taken up. It recognises the warm relationships that exist between the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom. This Bill recognises the warm relationships that exist, particularly following the Good Friday agreement and the whole peace process, between ourselves and the Irish Government.

We accept that, in some cases, the holding of certain offices simultaneously may lead to conflicts of interest. That is why the Government significantly amended the Bill during its passage through the other place. Those amendments are in the second group that, I hope, we shall debate later this afternoon. They were tabled in response to the well-reasoned and legitimate concerns that were expressed in the House on Second Reading. They have made the Bill better and stronger.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I took part in those proceedings at very short notice, so will the Minister be good enough to tell me what would happen if a Member of the Dail, who had been a member of a proscribed organisation, wished to take up a place in this House? If he were elected, would he not be obliged, and should he not be expected, to eschew terrorism in all its forms as well as taking the oath of allegiance?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

The Good Friday agreement set in train arrangements between Ireland and ourselves and for the different legislatures in the United Kingdom. The principle behind them was to move beyond the phase in which terrorism sadly scarred relationships in Northern Ireland and, on many occasions, in England and elsewhere. We are concerned with moving beyond that phase into a set of relationships with which all people can feel comfortable. This provision is a logical development in that direction, but it does not necessarily mean that anyone will take up a place in this House. Although that possibility is provided for and people are entitled to stand for election, the measure is more a recognition of the special relationships that exist.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I wish to take that point to a definite conclusion. The Minister is not telling me what I had hoped to hear. If a member of a proscribed organisation came to this House in the circumstances that I have described, would it not be essential that, before taking his seat, he publicly repudiated terrorism so that everyone would know the basis on which he sat in this House?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

My point is that the purpose behind the Good Friday agreement with which, I think, we all agree, is that individuals in the parties that were associated in the past with terrorism should repudiate terrorism. We want to judge them by their actions. Quite honestly, as the hon. Gentleman knows only too well, if someone with a background in a terrorist organisation took up his seat, he would have to make certain assurances that would amount to what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.

Photo of Mr Stephen Day Mr Stephen Day Conservative, Cheadle

The Minister said that the Bill represented moving on from the terror that dominated Northern Ireland—and my word, we all welcome that—but surely terrorism still dominates society there. He appears to be refusing to acknowledge that such people are still armed to the teeth and still terrorise whole communities.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

It was not my intention to give that impression. There is a ceasefire, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has repeatedly made it clear that it is imperfect, and unacceptable activities happen from time to time. We have to consider the ceasefire in the round and judge its current state at any particular moment in time on advice from the security services and other agencies. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the situation is not perfect, but my right hon. Friend has to look at the situation in the round and judge whether the ceasefire is holding.

The amendments in the second group were tabled in response to the well-reasoned and legitimate concerns expressed in this House and the other place. Although we accepted that the safeguards were reasonable, at no point did we accept that representing two separate constituencies in two separate jurisdictions must result in a conflict of interest. In addition, we believed that the principle was firmly established in the precedent set by our relationships with Commonwealth countries and by section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which enabled Members of the Irish Senate to take up seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Photo of Mr Roy Beggs Mr Roy Beggs UUP, East Antrim

Can the Minister say whether, as part of the discussions that led up to the proposal, the Irish Government gave an undertaking to rejoin the Commonwealth?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

No such undertaking was given and I do not know whether it was requested. I am not trying to make the case that the Irish Government are part of the Commonwealth. The similarity is in the warmth of the relationships that exist between us and the Irish Government in light of the Good Friday agreement.

The Bill was produced in the spirit of greater co-operation that is enshrined in the Good Friday agreement, which the House will remember well. The agreement allowed for a referendum, and it was ratified by an overwhelming majority of the population who voted in the north and south of Ireland. There are arrangements for closer co-operation not only between north and south but between east and west, because that is also important.

Nationalists in Northern Ireland and their political representatives strongly supported the Belfast agreement, which included the principle of consent. The agreement did much more than recognise Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom. It also recognised the legitimate political aspirations of Irish nationalists for a united Ireland and provided for new institutions to develop better co-operation between the Irish Government and the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland.

Just as Unionists could not have accepted the new north-south arrangements without the principle of consent, nationalists could not have accepted the principle of consent without recognition of the very close and special relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland and between Northern Ireland and the south. That relationship is not static; it is dynamic. The Belfast agreement provides for co-operation to be developed, and that is what we are doing in the Disqualifications Bill.

The legislative basis for the arrangements was the Northern Ireland Act 1998, so the arrangements and institutions have been approved by Parliament. Consequently, the principle of closer co-operation with Ireland has already been debated and agreed. The Bill is welcomed by the Irish Government because they, too, recognise the great benefits that close co-operation can bring. The Irish have amended their constitution—a significant and permanent act that required a referendum—in order to renounce the long-standing territorial claim over the north. I know that that has been welcomed by some hon. Members who might not welcome the totality of the Good Friday agreement.

With the enactment of the British-Irish agreement and the Irish Government's part in the Good Friday agreement, the Irish Government have displayed their commitment to working with this Government to build a better future for Northern Ireland. That future will be firmly based on the principle of consent. Those steps are not insignificant. The actions taken have been central to the peace process and to the dawn of a new period of peace and reconciliation, for the benefit not only of the people of Northern Ireland but of everybody in the United Kingdom.

I am sure that most right hon. and hon. Members would agree that the contribution of the Irish Government deserves to be praised and recognised. For all those reasons, I ask the House to disagree with the Lords in their amendment.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

Let me make it clear straight away that I agree with the Minister when he says that clause 1 is fundamental to the Bill. It is the Bill. As we are totally opposed to this very long Bill, we shall be dividing the House on the Lords amendment. We also share the Minister's view that the other amendments are consequential, and we have no objections to them. Today's debate should be entirely on the Bill.

I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. It is so long ago that it will almost certainly have slipped your mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as it will the minds of most Members, but when we last debated the Bill way back in January, the poor old Home Office took the brunt. Its Ministers were not very well briefed because it was not really their subject. The debate was decidedly embarrassing for everybody concerned. So, the House will be grateful that the Northern Ireland Office has at last come clean and made it clear that this is really a Northern Ireland Office Bill. I am pleased, in addition, that we have not a Home Office but a distinguished Northern Ireland Office Parliamentary Private Secretary on the Bench. We are pleased to see the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) in his place.

Originally, there was a charade that the Bill was a modest piece of tidying-up legislation dreamt up by the Home Office, which suddenly felt that it would be right and proper for the Irish to sit in our Parliament and for us to sit in the Irish Parliament. That seemed completely untrue at the time—nobody believed the charade. Mercifully, the Government are now at least coming clean and claiming that the Bill is important to the peace process. At least we shall have transparency and honesty this time round.

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I shall briefly re-examine the history of the Bill, which was not in the Queen's Speech. As the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has pointed out, it was not, in any shape or form, in the Belfast agreement, which we support. It suddenly appeared in January and was rushed through the House in one sitting. I suspect that all its stages were rushed through on the Floor of the House because the Government rightly identified it as a constitutional measure. We were told that the Bill was urgent, but the urgency diminished when it left the House in January, went to the other place and disappeared into a sort of Bermuda triangle, only to reappear many months later. The timetable for this debate on the penultimate day of the Session is the result of the Government losing interest in it and introducing it for proper debate and discussion in the other place extremely late in the day.

We can therefore disregard the idea that the Bill is important and urgent, as it is neither important nor urgent in the peace process. If it were, the Government would have made sure that it progressed expeditiously to the other place and it would probably have returned to us nine months ago. Instead, the Bill has had one of the most leisurely passages through the House that any piece of legislation has ever had.

The Minister has been helpful today, as he always is, and has given us a few more reasons for introducing the Bill. I think that I am paraphrasing correctly—I know that he will jump up at the Dispatch Box if I mislead the House in any way and traduce him—in saying that he stated that we want Members of the Irish Senate to sit in both legislatures because we get on well with the Irish. He said that we have a good relationship with the country of Ireland and the Irish Government[Interruption.]

I never make a speech without the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) intervening, and people appreciate our great double act. However, before he gets excited, let me say that I endorse our close, happy and good relationship with the Republic of Ireland, our immediate neighbour and a fellow partner in the European Union.

We have much in common with the Republic, but we also have a special relationship—although the Minister did not use that phrase in response to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor)—with the United States of America, which has come to the aid of Britain and Europe in two world wars. The USA also spearheads NATO which, despite proposals for a separate European army, is still our principal defence umbrella. Like our Irish friends, the Americans speak the same language as us, and we have a close relationship with them. There is no reason why American politicians should not sit in our Parliament or the Northern Irish Assembly or why we should not have reciprocal access to Congress. Equally, as someone who believes that it is in the country's interests to be in the EU, we generally have a good, robust relationship with all our EU partners.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

I am glad that the Minister agrees. There is no reason whatever why we should not have French, German, Spanish and even Danish people—with whom we have the closest relationship of all—in our Parliament. Therefore, there is no good reason for singling out the Republic of Ireland, which is only one of the many countries with which we have a good, happy relationship, and saying that its people can sit in our legislatures and vice versa. That is not a happy state of affairs.

Let me move on to the Bill's constitutional aspects. The Bill is significant as it fundamentally changes rules on who can sit in this Parliament and who can sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We must consider carefully whether it is right and proper for people to sit in two Parliaments in two different countries, with two different allegiances. Any reasonable observer would say that such arrangements were anomalous and extremely unwise, and that there would have to be exceptional reasons for adopting them. Even the Minister would admit that no exceptional reasons whatever have been given.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Before the right hon. Gentleman gets carried away with that argument, is he aware that it is possible under European electoral law for people to stand for election in a European constituency in countries other than their own? Thus a British national could represent an Italian constituency in the European Parliament.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman thought that I was becoming carried away. I was only mildly warming up. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am fully aware of the arrangements to which he refers. However, he will confirm that, in the European Parliament, one cannot represent two constituencies in two separate countries at the same time. The point that the Opposition are making is that it is anomalous for a politician to be elected to two separate Parliaments in two separate jurisdictions. There is no good reason for such a practice.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP, Strangford

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) was correct, but his argument is inconsistent. He wants to apply the measure not to all members of the European Union, but only to the Republic of Ireland.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

It is up to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) to address that point when he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Lembit Öpik:

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that at least one member of the Conservative party sits in this House and in the European Parliament? [HON. MEMBERS: "Not any more."] I apologise—she does not do so any more. However, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is possible to do that and that other hon. Members have a dual mandate? Does he accept that, despite the potential conflict of interest between legislatures, those hon. Members have managed to pursue their activities responsibly and do both jobs reasonably well?

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

I was fascinated by that intervention. As usual, the Liberal Democrats are out of date. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) no longer represents an Essex constituency in the European Parliament. Secondly, it is perfectly acceptable to sit in two Parliaments if one represents one country. It is entirely up to electors and to individual political parties to decide whether it is wise or popular to allow that, but the Opposition have no fundamental objection. The hon. Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) sit in two Parliaments, but, both here and in the European Parliament, they represent parts of the United Kingdom. That is not equivalent to the matter under discussion.

I hope that we now have the Liberals' support. This week, they have continuously made U-turns on the Floor of the House on all Northern Ireland matters. They started on the Government's side in January and are still on their side in the Lords. However, we now have every right to assume—I welcome and accept the olive branch—that the Liberals will now move to our side of the argument. Of course, that will be significant when a vote occurs later in the other place. I welcome that support, for which I thank the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik).

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

May I put to my right hon. Friend a small example of the incompatibility of being a Member of two Parliaments? I have just come from a meeting with the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, at which we talked about sugar. It would be impossible if, for example, a person represented a constituency in one of the Commonwealth countries in the everything but arms regime which was demanding the inclusion of sugar in that regime, and also represented a constituency in Britain in which sugar was grown, because there is a direct contradiction between the interests of the two.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a valid point. He might seek to expand on that interesting example later.

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

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of U-turns. The House might like to be reminded that, on Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said: As we recognise that the aim of the Bill is to build on what has already been achieved in Northern Ireland, we will not oppose its Second Reading.—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 34.] That was proved by the Division on clause 1 stand part, when 221 voted for the clause with only 24 against. The right hon. Gentleman jibes at the Liberal Democrats for their view on the detailed principles of the Bill, but he might seriously consider whether that is appropriate given that he is on not-too-secure ground.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

The Minister has a short memory. Back in January, he sat on the Treasury Bench for a full 27 hours without any sleep, which has clearly affected his memory a little. That is understandable, so I do not unduly complain. However, he will recall that I said earlier today that the Government, for which he was an advocate on that day, were saying that the measure was urgent and vital if the peace process was to move forward. That was what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) accepted. It has now been proved that that was a false premise; it was not urgent, as I said earlier, because it was not taken through the other place for another 10 months.

Secondly, much has intervened. It was clear in January, and in yesterday's debate, in which the Minister took part, that he does not have a full grasp of what is going on in Northern Ireland. To be charitable, that is no doubt because of his other duties as a Home Office Minister. But the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does have a full grasp of the situation. He is a distinguished Minister in the Northern Ireland Office and he will confirm that what I am about to say is correct.

Life has moved on since January. This is a point that I wanted to make in my speech, so it is convenient to do so now on the back of the Minister's intervention. If there was to be a further concession to republicans, there had to be other things in return. Despite the promise of the legislation, it has been all take by the paramilitaries and no give. Has one gun or one ounce of Semtex been handed in since January? Has there been an end to violence, racketeering, beatings, kneecappings, or the so-called punishment attacks and exclusions? The answer, sadly and tragically for many people in Northern Ireland, is no.

Let us forget about all that we have spoken of earlier. The Minister knows, and more or less admitted, that there is only one reason for introducing this bizarre constitutional Bill—this is my central and fundamental point—and that is as an additional confidence-building measure for Sinn Fein-IRA. Certain members of Sinn Fein might like to sit in this House, definitely want to or are sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly and also wish to sit in the Dail. They wish to do so for a variety of reasons, one of which is to claim a united Ireland when they speak in both. The second is to sit in the Dail and say that they are speaking for people in Northern Ireland. That could, just possibly, be a price worth paying if there had been full and complete decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives—they were obliged to do that by last May under the Belfast agreement—and if there had been a total end to violence. However, none of that has happened.

1.15 pm

The people concerned cannot even bring themselves, after the passing of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, to encourage Catholics to join the new force. It would be wrong to go down this dangerous constitutional route, which is hugely flawed, without getting anything in return. The process, which we all want to move forward, has been damaged by the fact that, although there has been concession after concession, precious little has been received in return. That fundamentally undermines the law-abiding majority in both communities in Northern Ireland and, equally important, those Members who represent them.

We may allow the Bill to pass today, but I do not believe that we will. Although we will be defeated in the House in a few hours' time by the Government's majority, the other place will again reject this wretched Bill, which will not reach the statute book. It will be very good if it does not, as it is a further concession to, and appeasement of, the men of violence, from whom we have received nothing in return.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Before the right hon. Gentleman concludes—he may still have some way to go—will he explain why he always talks down, minimises and denigrates the achievements of the peace process? We have had three years of ceasefire. I accept that it has been breached by some organisations—there has, for sure, been violence from loyalist and dissident republican groups. Does he accept that many in Northern Ireland are very disappointed by the way in which the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 ended up? It is important to enact the Bill because it builds on an agreement that has already been made. If we are serious about achieving peace in Northern Ireland, we must go the whole way with it.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

I translate that to mean the whole way to total appeasement, which, fortunately, is not what the majority of Members of the House want.

I reiterate that we started the process under my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), when he was Prime Minister, and my predecessor Lord Mayhew of Twysden. We support the Belfast agreement. Our continuous complaint, which the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland regularly hears, is that the agreement has not been implemented in full. The fact that it has been implemented only in part makes it badly flawed with respect to the peace process. In my view, the peace process will work effectively only if the agreement is implemented in full.

That part of the agreement that so worries us involves the fact that there has been no decommissioning whatever—not one gun nor one ounce of Semtex—by any of the people, so-called loyalist or republican, who signed up to the Belfast agreement. On the other hand, every single terrorist prisoner has been released back on to the streets. Republican paramilitaries have been elected to the Assembly, as have so-called loyalist paramilitaries. In the case of Sinn Fein, two of them have become Ministers. However, violence has not been fully renounced. Yes, there is a ceasefire, which I have welcomed; it is good news. There is goods news; of course there is.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Then why does the right hon. Gentleman not say so?

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

I do, regularly. The hon. Gentleman, who I willingly grant takes considerable interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland, will have read regularly in the newspapers there, in Hansard and elsewhere that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I admit that there is some improvement, in that there is a ceasefire at the moment. However, no ceasefire looks permanent while, first, there is no decommissioning whatever—the Province is awash with illegally held arms and explosives—and, secondly, there is still racketeering, drug dealing and violence from the paramilitaries.

I am being tempted into areas that are beyond the amendment, so it would probably be wise for me to return to the subject.

Photo of Mr Stephen Day Mr Stephen Day Conservative, Cheadle

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) gave the impression that he has not spoken to any of the parents of the victims of terror during the so-called ceasefire. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that those victims, and especially their parents, have a different view of the situation and may doubt that there is peace, given the terrible loss that they have suffered at the hands of the men of violence?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. This is not a general debate about the situation in Northern Ireland. We have a Lords amendment before us relating to the Bill.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

In that case, I had better not respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day). Instead, I shall return to the point that I was about to make on the fundamental reason why we think this is a dangerous, bad, little Bill that should be rejected in total, which it will be if the motion to disagree is rejected in this House.

The Bill is a constitutional outrage and wrong. We are told that it will go ahead only if there are exceptional circumstances. The exceptional circumstances are an appeasement and a sop to Sinn Fein, are not warranted and will be hugely damaging to the process. The Bill will undermine the law-abiding majority and those who represent them. They feel that it is another concession to the men of violence, whereas they have received precious few concessions themselves.

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

Given the savage but accurate complaints that the right hon. Gentleman is making about the Bill, can we safely assume that a future Conservative Government would repeal it?

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

Yes.

Other hon. Members want to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and we are painfully aware that we are on a tight timetable, which is regrettable. As I said yesterday, that is due to the Government's incompetence in taking so long to get the Bill back to this place.

I urge the House to reject the motion, because in doing so we shall kill off the Bill, which will be in the interests of the peace process, the peace-loving majority in both communities in Northern Ireland and constitutional justice.

Mr. Lembit Öpik:

The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) is a charming fellow, and I always enjoy listening to his contributions to the debate. He postulated whether, given that our position on various aspects of Northern Ireland policy has evolved, we would do a volte-face on the Bill. It may come as a surprise to him and others to learn that we have decided to maintain the position that we have held for most of this year. I shall explain our reasons for doing so in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has spoken on the Bill—I think he was our spokesman in January. My noble Friend Lord Smith of Clifton spoke on the subject in the other place. I agree with the right hon. Member for Bracknell that the Government seem to have been rather schizophrenic about the Bill. In January, it was an urgent requirement that we get this legislation through, and no effort was too great to get it on to the statute book. However, it ended up gathering dust on the shelf for 10 months. Although I may have a difference of view on some aspects of the official Opposition's position, I agree with them that it has been difficult to ascertain why such pressure was placed on us to get the Bill through at the beginning of the year, but it has been left until now, 48 hours before the end of the Session, to be finished off.

On the up side, I concur with the right hon. Member for Bracknell that the Minister did a better job of explaining the importance of the Bill than anyone who has previously spoken on the subject on behalf of the Government.

We have been treated to an almost gasping effort to post-rationalise what has at times seemed a rather obscure Bill, but I give the Minister credit for at least presenting a plausible and, I think, fairly practical explanation of the Government's disagreement with the amendment. I must add, however, that had the Government acted a few months earlier, we might not be spending Commons time on the issue now. We might be doing something of more immediate importance, such as liberalising new year's eve licensing hours—but I shall not pursue that now.

The justification for the proposal is, in part, unquestionably symbolic. The right hon. Member for Bracknell questioned whether that and, indeed, the confidence-building element constituted sufficient justification.

Photo of Mr Roy Beggs Mr Roy Beggs UUP, East Antrim

Is it not about time that Unionists in Northern Ireland had some confidence-building? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as this recommendation has absolutely nothing to do with the Belfast agreement, it merely heightens suspicion that only the Lord Himself knows what secret deals have been made between the Government—through the Prime Minister—and Sinn Fein? What lies before us next? If a proposal that is so unrelated to the Belfast agreement is being introduced at this stage, what can we expect in future?

Mr. Öpik:

Although I may vote differently from the hon. Gentleman on this, I think he makes a fair point. The Unionist community has had to put up with a lot during the peace process—as, indeed, have nationalists and republicans. One of the unintended consequences of the faltering fashion in which the Government have handled the Bill may be the creation of an unnecessary nervousness in that community. Nevertheless, I do not consider that to be sufficient justification for rejecting the tenets of the Bill. I realise that certain Conservative Members are concerned about the balance in my argument, but that is to be expected.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP, Strangford

The hon. Gentleman mentions balance. Can he identify any reciprocity? What is to be given in return for this largesse? Will the hon. Gentleman, for example, be entitled to sit in the Dail?

Mr. Öpik:

I am too busy to sit in the Dail. I am not even a councillor at this stage.

The Minister may wish to correct me, but I understand that the Bill provides for no direct reciprocity—although the vision of the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell standing for seats in the Dail almost makes it worth lobbying Dublin to think again. Who knows? Perhaps one day, if the world evolves, the right hon. Member for Bracknell will be in a position to stand as a potential Taoiseach. If he achieves that high office, I shall certainly expect an invitation to tea.

Let me return to the question asked by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor). There is, in fact, an element of reciprocity. We may not get seats in the Dail, but, having spoken directly to Irish embassy representatives, I have no doubt that this represents a helpful evolution in the relationship between the House of Commons and Dublin. We should recall the dark days not long ago, in terms of relations between Dublin and Westminster—relations that were so strained that the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body was established with the specific intention of rebuilding a fractured relationship. When we remember those days, only 10 or 15 years ago, we see how far we have progressed.

We should bear in mind that the present strong relationship with Dublin was not just discovered; it was earned. It was built up through various testing actions and legislative decisions—made, I must point out, by the Conservatives as well as the current Government.

Therefore, considering the overall context, the measure is another opportunity for us to strengthen the relationship between ourselves and Dublin. However, Conservative Members are entirely entitled to make a judgment call and to ask whether the development itself is a sufficiently powerful element of the peace process and relationship-building process to be justified.

1.30 pm

Earlier, I intervened on the right hon. Member for Bracknell to ask whether he felt that it was unreasonable for hon. Members also to be Members of the European Parliament. I had forgotten that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) had ceased to be a Member of the European Parliament—which she undoubtedly did just in time to avoid the possibility of defecting to the Liberal Democrats, as other Conservative MEPs have seemed prone to doing lately.

Mr. Öpik:

I make it clear that I am not talking about MPs—although no reasonable offer would be refused if the right hon. Gentleman is looking for a new home.

One will unquestionably occasionally have conflicts of interest if one is both an hon. Member and a Member of the European Parliament. Unquestionably, there are two jobs to be done. Although I certainly would not choose to take on those two roles, I would judge that those who have attempted to do so have been reasonably effective. That situation fairly closely parallels the one that we are discussing.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

Am I not right in recalling that the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, who is now the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, stood on an Italian Liberal ticket for the European Parliament? Although he was not elected, he might well have been.

Mr. Öpik:

Lord Steel did exactly that. He stood abroad, as the hon. Gentleman said, and he did so to make a point. Technically, he could have been an MEP—for Italy, I think—while being an hon. Member.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP, Strangford

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Öpik:

I will do so only briefly, as I do not want to detain the House for too long.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP, Strangford

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I must point out to him that the European Parliament is not a sovereign Parliament, and that we are talking about people who can sit in different sovereign Parliaments. The hon. Gentleman should not be dishonest with the House by trying to give the impression that the European Parliament is equivalent to a sovereign national Parliament.

Mr. Öpik:

The last thing that I would want to do is to mislead the House. I remind the House that what I actually said was that there are surprisingly close parallels between the matter that we are discussing and the situation of those who work simultaneously as an elected, professional MEP and a Member of Parliament. Hon. Members are perfectly entitled to take a different view on the matter. However, one of the facts persuading me that combining jobs is at least theoretically possible is that similar jobs have been combined before.

The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) alluded to the important issue of sovereignty. It is unusual that a non-Commonwealth country should be given the status that we are considering. However, for geographical and political reasons, we have a special relationship with the Republic of Ireland. If anything, Unionists should be pleased that, in some way, the link between Dublin and Westminster is getting closer. Much of the difficulty in Northern Ireland politics has been caused by the fact that that relationship has been strained.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

The hon. Gentleman talks about close links between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. If I am not wholly mistaken in my understanding of history, did not the Republic of Ireland spend the best part of a century and a half trying to get rid of us?

Mr. Öpik:

Surely that would be a very good reason for a Unionist official Opposition Member to welcome current developments—which are a certain convergence of thinking between Dublin and Westminster and, more to the point, the normalisation of a relationship that has been strained for a very long time.

Mr. Öpik:

I shall give way one last time, but then I shall conclude my remarks.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

The hon. Gentleman talks about wanting a close relationship between the British Parliament and the Dail, which I endorse. Is he not forgetting that we have the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, of whose steering committee I was a founder member? That body works well and effectively in improving relationships between the two Parliaments, but it is not a constitutional matter. That is where it should rest, and it is slightly insulting to that body to suggest that there is not already a good relationship.

Mr. Öpik:

That is not a very nice thing to say; intellectually, I am upset. There is no conflict in having the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, which has done tremendous work in building links between parliamentarians, and the constitutional modification that we are talking about today. This is a matter of evolution and of building links between Governments. Crucially, we must show the general public in Northern Ireland—particularly the nationalist and republican communities—that they are being thought about in this House and that actions are being taken to ensure not that Dublin overruns Northern Ireland or grabs control of the Mace in this Chamber, but that those communities have a legitimate aspiration that is recognised and that they can get representation.

Let me get back to the point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] I am virtually having a conversation with Conservative Front Benchers. Once again, it is an honour to be mentoring the right hon. Member for Bracknell, although this perhaps is not the right place to pursue that.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell regards the measure as a form of appeasement towards the men of violence. He welcomed the ceasefire, but said that nothing had been given by the paramilitaries in exchange for the concessions that we see here. I disagree. The ceasefire, by and large, has been an effective and important step forward. Northern Ireland is closer to a normalised political and military environment now than for many decades and that is encouraging.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

The hon. Gentleman speaks about the peace process. Does he recall that since the ceasefire started, the IRA has murdered three people?

Mr. Öpik:

The hon. Gentleman is right, but fewer people have been injured and killed in Northern Ireland than before. It is not acceptable for anyone to suffer as a result of paramilitary violence. However, we are dealing with real-world politics and real lives. I would like to think that the moderate majority in Northern Ireland would agree that the situation is far improved on five or 10 years ago. If hon. Members choose to disagree, they are perfectly entitled to do so, but that flies in the face of the facts.

The Government have handled the matter in an unusual and slightly clumsy way this year. I hope that the official Opposition, Unionists and Liberal Democrats could agree on that. We hope that there will be a degree of contrite acceptance of that when the Minister replies to the debate. [Interruption.] It is a hope, at least. However, this is a confidence-building measure for the Northern Ireland community and for Dublin, and an overdue strengthening of links. It is always a risk to do something differently, but time will tell if it works.

I hope that the Conservatives in the Chamber will feel edified and assisted by the insights that I have provided. I hope that, as a direct consequence of what we have said, we will get a positive response from the Dublin Government. Importantly, I hope that there is a positive response from the SDLP and Sinn Fein, on which there is now great pressure to support the creation of a truly cross-community police service. I hope that they will see that this is another reason why it is unreasonable for them to hold out against encouraging Catholics to apply in significant numbers to the police force in Northern Ireland.

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

We have listened to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) expressing yet again the pious hope that making further concessions to thugs and murderers will elicit a favourable response from them. The history of humanity's dealings with such people shows that making concessions to them does not bring a favourable response from the point of view of the civilised but, rather, encourages them in their evildoing. Given what has happened during the past few weeks in relation to the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill and to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, which we discussed yesterday, one can also see that such concessions do not work with the IRA. The IRA simply asks for more and more and gives nothing—and that is what it will keep on doing.

As the Under-Secretary pointed out when he opened the debate, we are dealing with a Bill that was beheaded in the House of Lords. In its present form, it is nothing but a dead carcase. In my view, it would be best to leave it that way, but the House is trying to resurrect it and give it back the life that was removed in the other place.

The Bill appeared nearly a year ago. It had its First Reading on 21 December last year, within a day or two of the House rising for the Christmas recess and when no one was paying much attention to what was being produced. I have not had time to check when the House rose for Christmas last year, but it could have been as late as 22 or 23 December—certainly no later. That recess, therefore, came only a day or two after the Bill was introduced. It was a time of year when people did not have time to assess the Bill. No one was paying much attention to such things, and First Readings do not matter all that much, as we all know—they are a purely formal procedure—so no one took much notice.

Second Reading took place on 24 January. It was followed by the events that kept us up for a long and pleasant evening in the House—one of the longest sittings in the Chamber for some time. I look back on that night with pleasure, because it illustrated once more that if one talks and talks in this place, one will eventually start to get through to those who, up to that point, have taken no interest in an issue. Eventually, people will start to say, "Some people think this is serious. Some people believe this should be discussed and that it is worth a second look to see whether we have got it right." That is why the Chamber is so important to the legislative process of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Stephen Day Mr Stephen Day Conservative, Cheadle

The hon. Gentleman is quite right, but if he wants to exercise that right again, he had better do it tonight. From next week the Government will have successfully neutered this place with their so-called modernisation programme.

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

I regret that the hon. Gentleman said that, because he may well have alerted Mr. Deputy Speaker to the fact that I was beginning to stray beyond the confines of the debate. However, the point that I was making was that the neutering of the House does grave damage to the legislative process and to democracy in the United Kingdom. That should be explained, because this Chamber is where each Minister has to justify every proposal put forward, and the decisions on modernisation will prevent them from doing so in future. I hope that that is another measure that the Conservatives will reverse whenever they get the chance. [Interruption.] That is the trouble—Governments pass legislation diminishing the power of this House which, when their turn comes to sit on the Opposition Benches, they regret doing. I hope that for the first time in a very long time the Conservative party will reverse the mistakes that have been made in this respect by the Government.

1.45 pm

The Bill subsequently disappeared, and reappeared on 28 July—again, just before the House went up for the summer recess. Why was the Bill away for so long? Had the Government all at once realised that something was seriously wrong, that no benefit was to be derived from the Bill and that they might as well bury it and forget about it? The fact that it came back gives rise yet again to two questions: who wants this Bill and why do they want it? There are many objections to the Bill, as we all know.

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman acknowledged earlier that he was straying rather wide of the amendment, and he is now going down another byway. I should be grateful if he would come back to the amendment before the House.

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

It is clear that people in the other place had very serious objections to the clause, which is why they decided to remove it. They said to themselves that one cannot serve two masters. As the good book tells us, we either hate the one and love the other, or despise the one and cleave to the other. If the first of those two elements holds true, as I believe it does, we will tell people that they can sit in two separate sovereign legislatures with two totally different views of what should happen constitutionally to the Province of Northern Ireland. This is a constitutional Bill, which is why I, and others like me, object to it.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP, Strangford

The hon. Gentleman left a very interesting question up in the air a moment ago when he asked who wanted the Bill. With his experience and knowledge of Northern Ireland affairs, can he identify even one political party with any enthusiasm for the Bill?

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

There is one political party with enthusiasm for it—Sinn Fein, which is inextricably linked to terrorism. I will come back to that central question. I was merely putting down a marker so that people could have time to consider it; I was going to come back to it later. We have some time yet—about another two hours. No one should be in any hurry in discussing these matters; we have the time and should examine them in detail.

I do not think that the conflict of interests enters into Sinn Fein-IRA's view of the Bill. So far as they are concerned, there is no conflict of interests. They are united Irelanders pure and simple; they treat the Bill as a means to an end, particularly this element of it.

Everyone knows that it is impossible to be in two places at the same time, but a person can, as we know from earlier exchanges, serve on a council, in Parliament and on a European body. As that person is always representing the same national interest and the people of a particular area—be it of this kingdom or of another—in national assemblies, local assemblies or the supranational assembly, however, there is no conflict of interest at that level. But the possibility of such a conflict is precisely why we have a rule regarding membership of this House which says that no person can represent two constituencies at the same time.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

Will the hon. Gentleman consider that people who wish to sit in any of those institutions, whether local authorities or Parliament, have to swear an oath of allegiance to this country, making it plain that they are acting on behalf of and in the interests of this country and not on behalf of a foreign Government?

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

The hon. Gentleman pre-empts me. I was coming to that matter. A person cannot represent two constituencies here because it would diminish the level of representation overall for the nation and the House and because there would be a conflict of interest. One can stand for election and be elected to two constituencies, but one must give one of them up immediately. One cannot represent both in this place and everyone knows that. I do not know when that happened last, but I assume that it has happened at some time in our long history.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP, Strangford

I can answer that question. The last time that anyone was returned to two seats in this place—of course, he would have had to relinquish one—was in 1910, when a Mr. O'Brien was returned for Cork and West Cork.

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

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is not intending to follow his namesake's attitude and seek two seats at the same time. That is beyond even his vaulting ambition.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The hon. Gentleman is slightly over-egging the pudding. One can be elected to a devolved Parliament in Scotland or the Assembly in Northern Ireland or Wales and represent an entirely different constituency to the one that one represents in Westminster. Someone could represent an English constituency but also sit in the Scottish Parliament. Such a person would have two constituencies.

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

Yes, but that does not relate to my argument.

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

An objection is being raised. Even if the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is correct, as I said, such a person would still be representing the same nation and national interest.

I was turned off my course by the recent exchanges. I was pointing out that one cannot represent two constituencies because there may be a conflict of interest. The conflict becomes even stronger if one is representing two different constituencies in two sovereign nations' Parliaments. That is a totally different ball game. The plain truth is—

Mr. Öpik:

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's flow again. Presumably, he will confirm that, following his logic, he would want the regulation that permits people from other member states of the Commonwealth to stand for election to this House to be repealed for the same reasons.

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

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who is no longer in his place, mentioned that matter. He made a powerful case for following the course of action that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) puts before the House. I cannot see any good reason for permitting a citizen of a nation that does not share our interests—our needs—to sit in this House. There is bound to be a conflict of interests. The process that allows them to do so is based on an archaic law. That law should be swept away. It serves no useful purpose since no one has taken up that opportunity. In the past, it would have been physically impossible for a Member of the Canadian or the Australian Parliament also to serve in this place. Today, with Concorde, it is theoretically possible but still not practicable.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his position and that of his party? If he opposes Commonwealth Members standing for election to the British Parliament, is he also opposed to Commonwealth citizens being elected to this Parliament or Commonwealth nationals voting in British elections?

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

That is a totally different issue; it is a red herring. If a Commonwealth citizen lives in this nation, is a taxpayer here and is on the electoral register, I have no objection. I recall that Australian and New Zealand citizens—the most recent was Mr. Gould—sat in this place; there may be Canadian or Australian Members at present. If they live in this country and give it their allegiance—

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP, Strangford

If they take the oath.

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

Indeed. If they fulfil the normal obligations, that is all right with me; no one could seriously object to that.

No reciprocal arrangement has been made with the Dail; it would need to amend its constitution. This type of cross-over sitting would be available only to Northern Ireland Members of Parliament, not to Members of Parliament from Great Britain—in that sense, it is strictly a one-way street.

When I objected that the matter was not in the agreement, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gave an extremely weak answer; he said that it was consistent with the agreement. In other words, the agreement is a take-your-pick. There is a row of hooks on the wall, with the agreement hanging on one of them. We can hang anything on that hook, as long as we tell the House that it is consistent with the agreement—that it falls within the general theory of the agreement. That is no way to take decisions; something must be in or out. There is no good reason to accept this provision just because someone's strictly subjective view is that it is consistent with the agreement.

Photo of Mr Stephen Day Mr Stephen Day Conservative, Cheadle

The hon. Gentleman is correct to point out that some parties have managed to hang whatever they want on the agreement. However, his experience will show him that parties such as his, which possess no weapons and condemn those who hold weapons, and which do not threaten the Government with weapons, do not benefit from any attachments to the agreement. Those who threaten receive all the benefits.

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

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman; he correctly expresses my view of the matter.

There is no consensus for this constitutional reform. No one in Britain asked for it. Apart from Sinn Fein, no one asked for it in Ireland. Indeed, in the other place, Lord Fitt said that none of the major parties in the Irish Republic were in favour of the reform. He had asked them; they were not in favour, because if there were reciprocal arrangements, a whole can of worms would be opened. They would have to change their constitution. They would have to hold a referendum and they were not prepared to go down that road.

I return to my question. Who asked for the reform? Who wants it? Who is pushing the Government? Who is demanding this legislation? The only people who seem to want it are Sinn Fein-IRA—that inextricably linked terrorist organisation cum political party. This attempt to reinstate in the Bill a deleted provision is on all fours with what happened during yesterday's proceedings on the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill—only Sinn Fein-IRA benefited from an exemption clause on financial matters in that long and complex measure.

Of course, the Under-Secretary will tell us that the matter is merely one of perception. However, as he is well aware, in politics, perception—if not all—plays a large part in people's understanding of the law. The perception in Northern Ireland, and of any sensible person who has examined this matter in detail, is that the Bill was produced at the behest of Sinn Fein-IRA and for no other reason.

Why do Sinn Fein-IRA want this provision? Because they want to sit in the Dail and in the Assembly, and to be non-attending Members of this House. They can then claim that they represent their electorate on an all-Ireland basis in an all-Ireland body. That is fully in keeping with the changes to articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Republic's constitution, in which it shifted its claim from territory to people, saying that it hoped to draw together all the people of Ireland who can claim its citizenship. What the 44 million people in north America think of that is a matter of conjecture, but we need not go down that road today.

2 pm

Let us consider what might happen in future, given the current political shifts in Northern Ireland. We cannot pass a Bill without considering the consequences, for those who will the means also will the consequences. We cannot simply say, "Oh, we passed the Bill, but we don't worry about the consequences." Everything that we do in the House has a consequence for citizens—whether a few or many—given Sinn Fein's rampaging electoral success in Northern Ireland.

It is clear to those of us who live there—perhaps it is obscured as yet from those who live elsewhere in the United Kingdom—that there is a strong possibility that Sinn Fein-IRA will replace the SDLP and some of its Members in the House. If that happens and IRA members are elected to the Dail, the whole concept of the Union and the consent principle embodied in the agreement will be undermined, hollowed out and destroyed. That is what the IRA is about.

The IRA is perhaps rather cleverer than some hon. Members seem to think. I have never thought that there was such a thing as mindless violence in the IRA's lexicon. Its violence is always for an end and it is always carefully thought through, and the Bill is part and parcel of its attack on the integrity, territory and constitution of the United Kingdom. In all truth, unless the Minister sees it in that light and understands it, he does not know what he is trying to push through the House today.

Why have the Government given the IRA those consequences? What threats were made or implied—bombs in London, Manchester and Birmingham? The capability exists; the IRA has the weapons, explosives and people. It has spent the past two or three years recruiting, and shifting weapons and explosives. We are facing an even more sophisticated and dangerous organisation than that which existed several years ago. Its troops are on the street. Far worse, its sleepers are on the street, and they are over here.

Is that body of people—Sinn Fein-IRA—worthy of the concession? The Minister has told us that they must meet the obligations involved in sitting here—they do not; they will not. They do not want to sit here. They have a totally different agenda. They are simply using the House as the excuse to claim that they are the representatives of a people in an all-Ireland republic. No doubt, there are warm relationships with Dublin, but at what price have they been bought? What is the warmth of the relationship between Sinn Fein-IRA and the Government of this country?

The Government maintain that the ceasefire is intact so long as the terrorist leaders do not say that it is over or do not take part in active attacks—but that means active attacks on the security forces. Murders of civilians, especially of those of the same denomination and religious community, are dismissed as mere housekeeping. Neither I nor the victims and their families think that that is housekeeping: it is murder, but some folk in the House sanitise it using the phrase "killings in Northern Ireland." Killings? They are cold-blooded, ruthless murders in furtherance of Sinn Fein-IRA's political and constitutional objectives and of undermining normal, decent society in Northern Ireland, which in many parts of the Province such as the inner cities, has been replaced by mafia rule.

Numerous concessions were made on the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. The Dublin Government, the SDLP and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church pocketed them, but they were not considered to be enough. The concessions made yesterday were not enough. Further changes will be demanded of the police, and the special branch will have to be broken up. Local policing boards will have to be put in place and that will give greater power to Sinn Fein-IRA. It is all part and parcel of the Government's capitulation to terror, murder and violence. The people of Northern Ireland pay the primary price now, but the lessons for the rest of the United Kingdom are real and dreadful.

Honour in this place demands integrity over democratic structures. Our national interests have to be protected and we should reject the Government's attempt to reinstate the Bill. We have got to forget about sordid little deals with thugs and murderers for political gain. We should stop being afraid of what the IRA might do to us and concentrate on what we can do to the IRA to destroy it as a terrorist, military and political force. Only when that evil organisation is destroyed—it can be destroyed only by being exposed—will we achieve real peace. That is why the Bill is wrong: it helps, rather than diminishes, the IRA's influence.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). Not only do I agree with virtually everything that he said, but I had the great pleasure of being with him all night on 25 and 26 January when he was able to give us the benefit of his very sound advice. I know that Ministers particularly appreciated that.

I place on record my apologies to the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for not being present when he opened the debate. Unfortunately, one cannot be in two places at once, and I was doing a press conference with Baroness Young in the other place on the age of consent, another measure that the Government have sought to railroad through Parliament. The Under-Secretary and I shared the night together on 25 and 26 January—if I can use that expression without it being misunderstood.

The House should remind itself of what happened on that occasion. The Minister rightly reminded us that not many Members voted against the Bill on Second Reading, which took place the day before the Committee stage. I was one of them, because some of us had the suspicion that the Government were trying to smuggle through a measure that they described as modest. They suggested that there was nothing of great moment in the Bill and that we could all be perfectly comfortable with it.

I, along with some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, thought that there was something odd about the Bill. It was clearly designed to extend to Members of the Irish Parliament the same rights enjoyed by Members of Commonwealth legislatures. It is a bizarre idea that, given all the struggles of the 19th century, citizens of the Irish Republic should want once more to be part of our Commonwealth, or empire as it formerly was.

Given the Prime Minister's obsession with the word "modernisation", it occurred to me that, instead of repealing the legislation that to this day allows Members of Commonwealth legislatures, such as those in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, to sit in this place, he wanted to extend the right to sit in the House. However, that right was being extended not to another Commonwealth country or to one, such as South Africa, that had been a member and was then readmitted, but to a country that had emphatically renounced any idea of wishing to be part of the Commonwealth of which Her Majesty the Queen is the head. It struck me as astonishing that, far from seeking to repeal the measure in the name of his pet obsession of modernisation, the Prime Minister actually wanted to use it. I tried to discover why. The reason is that the Government found a purpose for the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. We began to wonder whether that purpose was legitimate or whether there was something more sinister behind it.

There is no doubt that when we discussed the Bill in a Committee of the whole House, some of us were concerned about concessions being made to Sinn Fein. We tried to press the point. In my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I pointed out that the Minister said on Second Reading: The Bill is not part of the Good Friday agreement, but it is consistent with it. Separate development of direct interparliamentary links between the various legislatures was envisaged at the time of the Good Friday agreement. The hon. Gentleman sought to give us the impression that the Bill is not part of the Good Friday agreement, no part of a wider deal and no part of a side agreement, but that it merely reflects the overall feeling of good will between the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic of Ireland and others. He suggested that we were wide of the mark to think that the measure was being introduced at the behest of Sinn Fein.

We pressed on through the evening to try to discover whether that was the case and I referred to something else that the Minister said on Second Reading. He sought to allay our fears by saying: It is time to build a sounder basis to our institutional relationships and to provide a basis on which we can proceed, as two islands just off the mainland of Europe, with many common links, historical and otherwise, between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic—a basis for ensuring that those closer links are given some institutional background. I believe that that explains this fairly modest Bill. Any fears that we had about the involvement of Sinn Fein were smoothed away by an extremely suave Minister, but we were having none of it and kept pressing the Government. It was not my intention or, I venture to suggest, that of other hon. Members to keep the House up all night. We wanted to drive at the truth and get an answer to the question posed by the hon. Member for East Londonderry—what was the purpose of the Bill? We wanted to know why it was so urgent that we had to have Second Reading one day and remaining stages the following day. The Minister said that it was not urgent, but the Government's actions spoke louder than words, and we were not satisfied that we were getting truthful answers.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP, Strangford 2:15 pm, 30th November 2000

Is not the claim to urgency the most bogus claim of all? We have had since 1949 to put the matter right, if we had wanted to.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

My hon. Friend makes a telling point and is entirely right—we could have acted earlier.

There was a great discrepancy between the Minister saying that the Bill was not urgent and the business managers pressing it through two days on the trot. The Government's actions were at variance with the Minister's assurances, and assurances about the origins and purposes of the Bill were at variance with what we were beginning to understand about it. We were pleased that we pressed the Government through the night because eventually, at about 2.40 am, the Minister told us what the Bill was about. He said: I dealt with the question of whom we discussed the matter with on Second Reading, but let me make it clear that representations have been received from, and discussions held with, the leader of the Ulster Unionist party and the Irish Government. I understand that representations have been received by the Government from Sinn Fein. However, let me make it clear that the Government are not trading on issues. As always, representations are judged on their merits, and I believe that the measures in the Bill are justified on their own merits. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone will be aware also of the issue in relation to clause 2 and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I am not quite sure what the last few words mean.

In the early hours of the morning—one good reason why we should not suspend our proceedings at 10 o'clock—we finally extracted an admission from the Minister, who I believe is an honourable man, that representations had been received from Sinn Fein, although the measure is not part of the Belfast agreement. His admission led us to the justifiable conclusion that there was more to the Bill than simply trying to create a more formal institutional relationship between this Parliament and the Parliament of the Irish Republic. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) said, we began to believe that the Bill was a further appeasement of the men of violence.

The Bill is not on its own: it is part of a raft of measures, one of which—on the financing of political parties—was debated yesterday. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) made a powerful point when he said that the Scottish National party will be committing a criminal offence if it raises money from expatriate Scots to fund its campaigns in Scotland, but that Sinn Fein will not be committing a criminal offence if it raises money for its party political purposes from Noraid and the United States. Special treatment will be given to Sinn Fein and, indeed, to other parties in Northern Ireland.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I suspect that you may rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the exclusion in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill for parties in Northern Ireland is not at the request of Sinn Fein. It arose from discussions that we had with all political parties in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

I am grateful to the Minister for providing the House with that information. He made that point yesterday, and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) disputed it. I understand that the Minister had discussions with other members of his party, who said that they would not make the issue one on which they would oppose.

Nevertheless, the principal beneficiaries are unlikely to be ex-patriot Unionists. Given funding as it is generally understood in this country and the massive fundraising operations in the United States, the real beneficiary is much more likely to be Sinn Fein. I make the point only in passing in order to make my overall point about the Bill. It is one of a number of measures that form a clear pattern of advantage to those who were men of violence and to their political supporters.

As the Member of Parliament for Aldershot, formerly the home of the Parachute Regiment, I am bound to say that my constituents are in trepidation of being called before the wretched Saville inquiry in Londonderry to answer for what happened nearly 30 years ago. That inquiry was set up entirely at the behest of the Prime Minister for one purpose only: to appease republican sentiment. We therefore begin to see this Bill not as a nice, warm and cuddly measure to forge closer links between the Irish Parliament and the United Kingdom Parliament, but as part of a raft of measures and actions that add up to give Unionists cause for anxiety and republicans cause for celebration.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

The hon. Gentleman talks about "that wretched inquiry". May I point out that many of us believe that its object is to get to the truth of what happened on that terrible day?

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

I do not disbelieve the hon. Gentleman in his desire. Nor do I disbelieve the families of those who died in their desire, as they see it, to get to the truth. I merely say to the hon. Gentleman that from that inquiry can come no winners whatever. There will be no victors; there will merely be grief, the opening up of old and deep wounds and a postponement of reconciliation. It is scandalous that so much British public money is being expended on an inquiry that has held itself in a thoroughly biased—and I would say disreputable—fashion.

The inquiry refused the repeated requests of my constituents—men who had served their country and put their lives on the line and who are now civilians and have no protection—to claim anonymity when giving evidence. They do not have their network of paramilitaries and others to support them. I do not want to labour the point or drift away from the subject of the Bill; I was responding to the hon. Gentleman and making it clear that I do not doubt his sincerity on the issue. However, I am bound to put on record my reservations, and the fact that I see all these matters forming a pattern.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry mentioned reciprocity. It was also dealt with in Committee, and what was said was interesting. In answer to a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, the Minister said: We ban Members of the Irish Parliament from being Members of this House. There is no provision in Irish law similar to section 1(1)(e) of the House of Commons Disqualifications Act 1975. Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords—and, indeed, Members of the legislatures of other countries—are not disqualified on that account from membership of the Irish Parliament. To that extent, the reciprocity sought by the amendment already exists. Members of the Irish Parliament are, however, required to be Irish nationals.—[Official Report, 25 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 199-225, 305-09.] Therefore, there is clearly not reciprocity. Unless they are an Irish national, somebody sitting in this House will not qualify to be a Member of the Dail, so it is a one-way street, as the hon. Member for East Londonderry said.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to conflict of interest. Again, it is perfectly clear that one cannot on the one hand swear allegiance to the United Kingdom Crown and advance the causes and interests of this country, while at the same time being a Member of a Parliament of another sovereign country, advancing its causes and interests. There will be cases of clear conflict of interest. They are two different countries.

Mr. Öpik:

I ask the hon. Gentleman the question that I have already asked: is it his party's policy to repeal the ruling that allows members of other state legislatures in the Commonwealth to stand for this House?

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

That is a different matter altogether. As the hon. Gentleman will observe, I am not on the Front Bench. I am a bit more of a free agent. However, I understand that, had I been on the Front Bench, I would have been able to answer in the affirmative. I hope that that helps him. The ability of members of legislatures on the African continent or, indeed, of Australia and New Zealand, to be Members of this House at the same time appears to be an anachronism—but that is another issue.

As I said earlier, the Minister said that this was a modest Bill. I disagree fundamentally; it is not a modest Bill. It reinforces the justifiable fears of Unionists. Even if it is not specifically a squalid act of appeasement of Sinn Fein, its effect is to confer a unique, unreciprocated benefit on those who resent the Union between Ulster and Great Britain and refuse to swear allegiance to the Crown, who may even have personally been involved in taking the lives of those who served the Crown in Her Majesty's forces.

I see in the ten-minute Bill of the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), to which he spoke on 14 November and which I successfully opposed, part of the pattern. Once the oath of allegiance is removed, it is much easier for people who do not owe allegiance to this country to sit as cuckoos in the nest in this Parliament but serve another country and its interests.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The endearing quality of the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) is their obsession with a byzantine world of conspiracy theories. They imagine that the world is some massive conspiracy designed to achieve I am not sure what.

Both hon. Members today completely lacked any vision of the future that they want for Northern Ireland. They did not at any stage say that they endorse the peace process. Neither said that he endorsed the Good Friday agreement, and neither paid any compliment for three years of ceasefire, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 or the setting up of a devolved Assembly—or for the fact that there is no longer the same level of death, mayhem and destruction in Northern Ireland. I accept that all is not perfect, but there must be some idea of where we go from here. The hon. Gentlemen's proposal appears to be to stick their head in the sand, put the clock back and ignore the massive political steps that Unionists, republicans and nationalist movements in Northern Ireland have taken, and to return to what—another 20 years of 20,000 British troops in Northern Ireland and prisons such as the Maze? That is the alternative. If the hon. Member for Aldershot is serious about getting peace in Northern Ireland, he should look at the achievements of the Good Friday agreement and the enormous political moves of leaders of both communities in Northern Ireland to endorse that process.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot 2:30 pm, 30th November 2000

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I am entirely happy to put on record my support for the brave decision made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) who initiated the whole business. At the time, I thought that that decision was both brave and right. However, it is a different matter to suggest that the Bill is, intrinsically, a key component in continuing the peace process. It is not in the interests of the peace process, but I am in favour of the ceasefire continuing and the Belfast agreement lasting.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I am relieved to hear those comments. This is not the only issue—or even the most central one—in the Good Friday agreement or other discussions. The hon. Gentleman must concede that it is a building block which, we hope, will contribute to a future in Northern Ireland that is free from violence and full of political engagement by all parties.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

Is it not a threat to say that, if things do not go that the way they ought to, or if they do not go the way the Government or Sinn Fein think they should go, there will be a return to violence? Is that not political blackmail?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I am not in a position to threaten anybody with anything. However, unless one builds on the progress that has been made and acknowledges the enormous political jumps made by the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists to get to the present situation—where there are people with whom to talk and negotiate—the mayhem of loyalist violence that we have seen in the past six months and breakaway republican organisations will prevail. One cannot negotiate with those organisations because there is no one with whom to negotiate, so there will be a downward spiral to a very nasty future indeed.

That is not meant to be a threat, as I want to see peace in Northern Ireland and understand that the principles behind the original Hume-Adams accord and decisions by the Government led by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and the current Government led to a recognition of the traditions of both communities in Northern Ireland. Surely, that is the only way forward. The hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) shakes his head. He is free to do that and, doubtless, he will address us later on the subject. Surely, we should have a vision of the future rather than looking back endlessly at how we can unpick what has happened in the past three years. That is the only point that I want to make on that score, as I am in danger of being ruled out of order.

If one looks carefully at the way in which disqualification legislation applies in the House and at the history of Ireland, one can see that the Bill is logical as it puts Ireland on the same footing as Commonwealth citizens. That equivalence has always been in evidence in many different ways. For example, Irish citizens can vote in British elections, as can Commonwealth citizens, and are afforded the same political rights. I recall a time in the early 1980s when the Government led by Margaret Thatcher seemed to be moving in the direction of removing the vote from Irish citizens living in Britain. Fortunately, however, they backed off from that after a big campaign by the Irish community. However, the Bill is a logical extension of the provision that already applies to Commonwealth countries, which gives non-British nationals the right to vote in British elections and also extends to Irish nationals.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP, North Down

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Republic of Ireland deliberately removed itself from the Commonwealth and is an independent sovereign state. But for an accident of proximity, it would be entirely different from any other Commonwealth country.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The words "accident" and "proximity" are a rather unusual description of Britain's involvement in Northern Ireland and Ireland over the past 800 years. Other countries, such as South Africa and Pakistan, have been removed or have removed themselves from the Commonwealth, but, despite that, their nationals kept the right to vote in British elections. When those countries later returned to the Commonwealth, their nationals still had that right. The logic for the Bill is therefore plain.

The hon. and learned Member for North Down knows perfectly well that there is a free movement of people between Britain and Ireland and that passports are not necessarily required for travel to the Republic from Britain. He also knows that Irish people have civic rights in this country, as enshrined in the Ireland Act 1949 and subsequent legislation.

Earlier, we discussed the European parallel. As Opposition Members see it, the idea of sovereignty in parliamentary elections is clearly at variance with European law. It is possible to be a candidate or a Member of the European Parliament representing a constituency in any member state. I would not recommend this but, as I said earlier, someone could be in the unusual position of representing an English constituency in the Westminster Parliament, be resident in Scotland—and therefore eligible to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament—and, as a European resident, stand in Finland for election to the European Parliament. That could mean a lot of travelling and lead to a complicated life, but it is legally possible. The idea that the Bill is an enormous step in the dark is nonsense, because it embodies the logic of what already goes on.

Opposition Members say that if we pass the Bill, we will be seen to have thrown another bone to Sinn Fein and the republican movement. Some people see the Northern Ireland peace process as a matter of bones and carrots in which one gives a carrot to one party and throws a bone to the next. I am not sure what it is like to digest bones and carrots at the same time but I suppose it is possible, although very dangerous if one is a vegetarian animal.

The disappointments that have recently been rewarded with the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 have been noted throughout Northern Ireland. Many of us strongly supported the Patten proposals and hoped that they would be accepted in their entirety, but they were not. Likewise, the Army board's perverse decision to reinstate Guardsmen Fisher and Wright and not suspend them, despite their conviction for a dreadful killing, does not play well. Such things make it more difficult to persuade people that the peace process and the process of reconciliation are genuine, but it is important that we try to do that.

The Good Friday agreement is the best hope around, and the Bill is part of that process. I hope that the House will reject Lords amendment No. 1, which would effectively eliminate the whole Bill. I agree with the Opposition spokesman that deleting clause 1 would destroy the Bill. We should recognise that the Bill is putting right an anomaly in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the process by which the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was removed from office in 1982, following the loss of a case in which he was deemed to be a Member of Assemblies in two different countries.

We are putting right a legal wrong and demonstrating that the peace process is working. We are demonstrating the value of the Good Friday agreement and recognising that the traditions of both communities in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland are alive and well. I hope that the House rejects the Lords amendment and reinserts clause 1 into the Bill.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

I am happy to speak in support of the Lords amendment, as I believe that clause 1 should be removed. When the Bill went to the other place, I am sure that their lordships were as surprised as us, and that they, too, asked, "What on earth is this Bill about?" The Bill is called the Disqualifications Bill, but that is a misnomer. It would have been better to call it a qualification Bill, as it seems to qualify members of Sinn Fein to be Members of the Dail, Members of Parliament and Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. We, of course, were asking ourselves what it was all about. We then discovered that it was possible for members of a Parliament that belonged to the Commonwealth to be Members of the United Kingdom Parliament. I suspect that few Members of the House knew that that was possible. We were told that no one has ever taken advantage of that legislation, which must exist somewhere, although I have not yet discovered where. We were then presented with the idea that the right should be extended to citizens of the Republic of Ireland, so that they, too, could sit in this Parliament.

I think that the Government have not been too happy about the Bill. First Reading occurred on 21 December 1999, the day on which the House rose for Christmas. That did not suggest that the Government were too keen to make the Bill known to anybody at that time. After long debate in Committee and on Third Reading, we all thought that the Bill had been buried and that we would never see it again. Every time the Government introduce a Bill on Northern Ireland, they always speak about the necessity for speed, say that everything must be done as quickly as possible and present the situation as an emergency. That argument was also used for this Bill. When it came to its passage, however, it took the Government 10 months to introduce the Bill in the House of Lords. We all thought that it had been buried and forgotten, but, lo and behold, it has re-emerged.

Thankfully, the other place, in its wisdom, saw through the dangers and difficulties of the Bill and recommended the removal of clause 1. I support that proposal entirely, as it would kill the Bill. We all hope that it will be killed and buried, and that we will never see it again.

When the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), introduced the Bill, it was clear that he was not too sure what it was about. Perhaps he does not fully understand its significance even now. I am not too sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is currently present, is happy with it either. The uneasiness of his demeanour certainly seems to suggest that that is the case.

When a Bill is put before the House, we must ask what evil it will remedy, what disadvantage it will remove and what fault it will correct. No one has suffered from any fault or disadvantage because the measures in the Bill were not in place.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Before the hon. Gentleman exhausts himself and his arguments against the Bill, I have a question. Does he realise that if it is enacted, he will have the opportunity to stand for election as a Member of the Dail?

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no desire to sit in the Parliament of the Irish Republic. I am proud and happy to sit in this Parliament, and I have no desire to sit in the Parliament of a foreign country.

When the Bill was presented to the House of Lords, their lordships immediately asked what it was about. They then asked who had asked for its introduction. It is absolutely clear that Sinn Fein is asking for the Bill, as it will benefit most from it. As we all know, Sinn Fein is to fight the next Dail election and hopes to secure Members in the Dail. It currently has one such Member, but more prominent party members might hope to win seats in the Dail at the next election, so that Sinn Fein will be able to say "We are now an all-Ireland party that represents both parts of Ireland." That is why the Bill has been introduced—to satisfy Sinn Fein and it alone.

Photo of Mr Roy Beggs Mr Roy Beggs UUP, East Antrim 2:45 pm, 30th November 2000

Does my hon. Friend agree that there could be a further motive? By gaining even a few seats in the Dail, does not that small party hope to be the tail that wags the dog of whichever major party is in government?

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course, that is one of the aims of Sinn Fein. The proportional representation system of the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland means that there is always a close contest in which the small parties often control which party gets into government. Then, when they are in government with the party that takes power, they have a large say in what goes on. Sinn Fein therefore hopes that it will win enough seats at the next election for the Dail to enable it to decide which party goes into power and to be part of that Government. In such circumstances, it might even be possible for a Sinn Fein Minister to be included in the Government of the Republic of Ireland. That would build Sinn Fein up and help to give it an all-Ireland image, enabling it to boast that it is the only republican party that can have that role. Of course, that would be to its advantage.

We must ask not only who wants the Bill—it is obviously Sinn Fein—but the next question, which has also been asked by their lordships. Who made the concession on the Bill? We have been trying to get the Government to tell us who asked for it and who conceded it. It has become fairly obvious that the Prime Minister conceded to Sinn Fein and gave it the Bill. It seems to be his baby, although I am not sure whether his view is reflected throughout the Government. It does not seem to be reflected among Labour Back Benchers, as very few of them turn up to defend the Bill. Indeed, I think that only one Back Bencher has so far been prepared to defend it. Perhaps the others will come to aid the Government in their difficulties.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is currently on the Front Bench, might not be all that happy with the Bill, but they must listen to their master's voice and do what he says. That is why the measure has been brought back to the House and why the Government are attempting to redress the difficulties that they encountered in the House of Lords.

Another aspect of the Bill has never been satisfactorily tackled. We were told that the Bill was intended to bring us into parity with the rest of the United Kingdom. When the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department introduced the Bill, he said: The Bill ends the prohibition against members of the Irish legislature—that is, of both the Dail and the Senate—being a member of any legislature in the United Kingdom. They will therefore be permitted to be Members of this House, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly.—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 25.]

As I understand it, the Bill allows members of the Dail and the Senate to sit in this House and in the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, I do not think that it enables Members of the Dail and the Senate to sit in the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. When the Minister introduced the Bill, he said that that was the case, but I think that I am right in saying that the Bill does not produce that result. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will clarify that when he replies.

The Bill was introduced more than a year ago, and even if we were to accept that it was relevant then and it was given as a sop to Sinn Fein and the IRA, during the past year events have shown that they should have no concessions at all. During the Bill's passage, the IRA has committed three murders, it has refused to fulfil its obligations under the Belfast agreement, and, more important, it has just said that it will not support the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 or sit on the policing board and that it will actively encourage young nationalists not to support the new force.

It is clear that Sinn Fein and the IRA demand concession after concession, but when they are given a concession they do not reciprocate. They simply forget their obligations and continue to ask for more concessions from the Government. Because of the nature of Sinn Fein-IRA, with their massive army, a massive number of weapons and their capability to wreak havoc not only in Northern Ireland but on the mainland, there is always the temptation for the Government to concede more and more to them in order to keep them quiet and prevent them from using their arms. That is always to the disadvantage of those of us who are democrats and who wish to move forward in a democratic fashion, rather than through the use of illegal weapons.

I come now to how the Bill relates to the Commonwealth, the EU and America. We are told that the Bill was introduced because of our unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland. I am not sure that it has always been that good. We often have rows with the Irish Government and relations are frequently anything but good. At times they are cold and frosty. No one could say that the present relationship between the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Mr. Cowen, is all that warm. We are told by the press that it is most frosty. We do not always have an excellent relationship with the Republic of Ireland. But that is the reason given for the introduction of the Bill.

If that were the case, surely we should extend the Bill to America, because the United Kingdom has a special relationship with America. We speak the same language. Many Americans originally came from the mainland and from Northern Ireland. If the republican movement was sincere, it would be asking for America to be included, because it has many friends in America. The American President has visited Northern Ireland twice during his eight-year term and he is coming back again, showing what a close relationship he has not only with Northern Ireland but with the rest of the United Kingdom. Surely if a special relationship exists between the Republic of Ireland and this Parliament, it would be logical, sensible and desirable to extend the measure to our friends in America, or those who were our citizens and friends years ago.

We are all members now of the EU and we are told that there is a new relationship between the countries of Europe. If the extension is to be made to the people of the Republic of Ireland, why not to the other 13 members of the EU? Why cannot they sit in this Parliament as well? Is this not a case of discrimination? Of all the people of the EU, only one country has this tremendous privilege. Under human rights and the new relationship which is growing and which many wish eventually to emerge into a union of one state, surely we should be extending the advantage to other EU members.

The truth of the matter is that the Bill is designed only to placate Sinn Fein and to enable its members to sit in the Dail and the Northern Ireland Assembly so that they can claim to be an all-Ireland party. Therefore, it is a sop to them. That is one very good reason for this Parliament to rejoice at the House of Lords rejection of the clause and to reject the Government's motion to disagree with their amendment.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) because he has the unique ability to convince me that my Government are right. Sometimes in the past I have wondered about the course of action being taken by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, but on this occasion the hon. Gentleman has succeeded in convincing me that they are right.

I, too, welcome the fact that the President of the United States will visit these islands again next month. We should all welcome that, not only because of the closeness of our ties with the United States and its support for the creation of the European rapid reaction force, but because of its special and significant role under President Clinton in helping the peace process in Northern Ireland. We should acknowledge the President's role in his appointment of Senator Mitchell, and his continuing interest in the peace process in Northern Ireland, which at times could not have proceeded without his stalwart support.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) admitted that the loss of clause 1 would destroy the Bill, and that is true. But there was a certain lack of logic in what he said. In the Northern Ireland Act 1998 he agreed to allow members of the Irish Senate to be members of the Assembly. It seems that it is all right for people in the north to be members of the Irish Senate but not for people in the Republic to be members elsewhere. There is a certain lack of logic in the cause that he has advocated today.

If the Bill were not enacted, section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 would not be repealed. We would still be left with the right of the Irish Government to appoint people to the Irish Senate, and for those people to be Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, without any of the restrictions currently in clause 2.

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The original alteration under the 1998 Act was made specifically to facilitate an improvement of relations and to rectify a glaring wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was appointed to the Irish Senate to give the people of the north a voice in the Oireachtas, but he then lost his seat in the then Assembly after a challenge by the Unionists. That bit of petty-mindedness was rectified by the 1998 Act. Had eminent people such as Senator Wilson of Enniskillen and John Robb, the distinguished surgeon, stood for election, such petty-mindedness would have prevented them from operating positively. John Robb was a great worker for reconciliation among the communities, as was Senator Wilson, who overcame a tremendous blight on his life as a result of the dreadful bombing in Enniskillen.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

With respect, no. I gave an undertaking to try to be brief because I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and the Government and Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen want to speak.

The Bill is proper and right, and the Opposition appear to be standing on their heads in respect of previous legislation that they agreed to and passed and their approach to the Bill.

Every speaker across the way on the Conservative Benches, in particular the right hon. Member for Bracknell, argued that the measure is somehow or other a concession to Sinn Fein. The largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, which collects the most votes and has the most seats, is the Social Democratic and Labour party. It supports the provision up to the hilt. We often find that those Conservative Members disguise their reluctance to support a policy with which they once agreed—the implementation of the Good Friday agreement—by saying that the Bill is another sop to terrorists and Sinn Fein. The largest political party in the nationalist community agrees with the measure and at no time and in no circumstances has it in any way advocated violence. Indeed, it has suffered for that, having been attacked by both sides over its strong, persistent refusal to espouse or to have anything to do with violence. On the role of the SDLP, we should welcome the fact that the Government introduced the Bill.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

No, I will not, for reasons that I gave to the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney).

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

No. I extend those reasons to the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson). I resisted the temptation to intervene in his speech, so I can say with honesty that I did not make any interventions.

It has been suggested that the Bill is a plot to make Sinn Fein an all-Ireland party. I hold no brief for Sinn Fein, but it is already an all-Ireland party. It already has representation in the Oireachtas and on the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. It will remain in those institutions, whether we pass the Bill or not. That will not affect its status or willingness to stand as a party in both parts of Ireland, which we know is its determination. Indeed, we know that the present coalition Government currently depend greatly for support on the four independent Members in Dail Eireann. Nothing new is being said.

The proposal involves not a great extension or a sub-revolutionary issue, but a recognition of the unique relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. It also denotes the Government's willingness to recognise the particular situation in which nationalists in the north find themselves and recognises that they have an aspiration and that they would cease to be able to express that aspiration if the Lords amendments were added to the Bill.

When we have thrown out the Lords amendments, I hope that the other place will think very carefully about whether it is using its position down the Corridor to savage and undermine the Good Friday agreement and the peace process for its own petty political ambitions.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP, North Down

Listening to the contributions of the hon. Members for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) made me wonder whether I live on a different planet.

I have lived in Northern Ireland my entire life. I have worked intimately with both communities, and I have a reputation, which may seem strange to some, for being an entirely non-sectarian politician. That position has been endorsed publicly by at least two Taoisigh of the Irish Government.

What is the purpose of the Bill and this particular timing? A fundamental of attacking the democratic process has been to use the institutions of democracy to destroy it. Friedrich Engels, the political associate of Marx, was a particular advocate of that approach—he said that people who wanted to bring down and subvert an institution or a Government should make use of the very provisions that endorse the democratic process. Sinn Fein has been a master of that art. It has been inextricably linked with one of the most deadly, brutal and callous terrorist organisations in Europe. That position has been endorsed by the Prime Minister and successive Secretaries of State. Those two groups are inextricably linked, which means that they can never be separated.

When I consider the direction of, and progress in, the peace process, what do I see? I see the threat of physical violence, particularly to the mainland and the complex civilisation that great metropolitan areas offer. I see the targets that those areas offer. I see successive British Governments faced with the question of what to do in the face of a terrorist threat, which can be made good against our major cities.

There are two approaches to that problem. The first is to follow the advice of Lord Palmerston and say that England—he thought of the United Kingdom as England—has no long-term friends and no long-term enemies, merely interests. At present, the interests of the British Government are best served by appeasing the IRA. Such a policy does not work in the face of terror. It did not work between 1936 and 1940, when exactly the same methodology and surrender to terrorism were employed.

Another view—another tradition in British politics—was expressed by Lord Salisbury when he described surrender to the barbarians as a fatal vice that destroyed society and, indeed, turned an organised society into a mob of competing interests. That is exactly what that policy has done to Northern Ireland. It has turned what was an organised society into a mob of competing interests. The whole policy has encapsulated Salisbury's fatal vice.

Have no doubt: by any criteria, members of the IRA, with which Sinn Fein is inextricably linked, are barbarians. One of their barbarous acts was referred to by the hon. Member for Hull, North when he talked about Enniskillen. He tried to invert the argument by saying that Gordon Wilson, whose daughter was killed in that atrocity, nevertheless accepted an Irish Taoiseach's offer to become a member of the Irish Senate. That is true, but who committed the barbarity of Enniskillen? The IRA, which the Prime Minister tells us is inextricably linked with the one political party likely to benefit most from these provisions.

It could be logically argued—the hon. Member for Islington, North developed such an argument—that MEPs from Finland, Members of the Dail Eireann and Members of the Scottish Parliament could bifurcate, do many things and be in different places at once. Logically, that is possible, but in practice it is impossible. That is shown by the fact that membership of this House is available to people in Commonwealth countries, but no one has taken advantage of that process, which is perhaps nothing more than an historical anomaly.

The situation in Northern Ireland is very different because of what I described as the accident of proximity. Ireland is proximate to the United Kingdom mainland, and has a physically contiguous border with part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland. The influx of citizens of the Republic is such that their numbers must be recognised. Indeed, that is one of the factors that people do not understand. Since the Republic of Ireland became an independent sovereign country outside the Commonwealth, more than 1 million of its citizens have thought it advisable to live, work and enjoy the benefits of the land of the Anglo-Saxon oppressor—the United Kingdom.

3.15 pm

The truth is that both the content and the timing of the Bill are entirely dictated by a process of appeasement and of encouraging Sinn Fein to live up to promises that it never fulfils. It shows the vacillating and cowardly nature of successive British Governments, who have decided to succumb to the fatal vice and appease the barbarians.

We started off in 1993 with the Downing street declaration—the joint Government declaration—paragraph 10 of which was absolutely specific that any party that wished to participate in the democratic process of negotiations towards a settlement would first have to eschew violence permanently, and would have to demonstrate its total commitment to solely democratic means. Most democrats would say, "Fair do's. That's a basic principle of democracy," especially as there is no evidence from the democratic world of an Executive who claim to be democratic but who contain Ministers who are inextricably linked to an armed terrorist organisation. The reason why there is no example of that elsewhere in the world is that it goes to the very heart of the democratic process—it is the antithesis of the democratic process.

What have British Governments done? They have moved from the position in paragraph 10 to a midway position. Under the so-called Washington 3 principle, they permitted Sinn Fein-IRA to take part in the negotiations if they showed an earnest of their good faith by handing over a tranche of their weaponry and bombs. In August 1995, the Northern Ireland Office issued a statement to the effect that to do otherwise would be undemocratic and unconstitutional. That was the first of a number of positions from which successive British Governments resiled, and they gave in to the fatal vice of appeasing the barbarians.

The next step was to get Sinn Fein-IRA into the negotiations. Under the Government, they were allowed into the negotiations in July 1997 on the basis of a six-week ceasefire and the resumption of a ceasefire that had proved to be tactical, short-lived, totally cynical and broken at will with the Canary Wharf bomb.

That was not the end of it, because after Sinn Fein-IRA were admitted into the negotiations, successive Secretaries of State told the people of Northern Ireland that the negotiations were on a twin track: one track would deliver a political settlement, and the other would deliver decommissioning. We were told that, in the end, we would have a political settlement on a democratic basis, with the fundamental and overriding requirement of democracy that all the parties to that democratic political settlement would be dedicated entirely to peaceful means, having abandoned their weaponry.

Well, 10 April 1998 arrived and the parties signed the agreement, but the decommissioning train never even left the station. Not a single ounce of Semtex or a single bullet has yet been handed over. There again, democracy was to make a final contribution to appeasing the terrorists and exhibit the fatal vice.

The agreement was a total fudge. People talk about the Belfast agreement or the Good Friday agreement as if it was some miracle of peace. In fact, it encapsulated the basic fiction of trading Sinn Fein and the IRA as two distinct and separate entities, which was always what Sinn Fein wanted. Why? Because it wanted to carry on Friedrich Engels's principle of using the institutions of democracy to destroy it, and it could do that only by giving Sinn Fein the image of a totally independent party that has nothing to do with the IRA, who were armed.

The Bill is a further instalment of the fatal vice. In both its content and its timing, its purpose is to placate Sinn Fein-IRA, because they can deliver one thing that no one else can: destruction and death to the major cities of the United Kingdom, just as Hitler was able to do. In those days, Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Halifax followed the line of appeasement and gave in to the fatal vice. Only when a man appeared and adopted a policy that said, "We will pay no more ransom and we will stand up for what is right, democratic and honourable" were the United Kingdom and Europe saved from fascism.

The IRA will not go away. It will continue to extract further and further ransoms.

The House should consider this. In 1939, bombs were kept out of London because the Czechs were sacrificed. In this House the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, asked "What do we know of this faraway country?" He spoke of "this middle European country of which we know little." When it comes to the sacrifice of a foreign interest such as the Czechs, or the sacrifice of the loyal British subjects—the pro-Union subjects—of Northern Ireland, we perhaps find that both are expendable.

One does not like to make it too evident. One does not do it in one fell swoop. One employs the gradualist principle. We are talking about slices of salami, and this is another slice: another derogation from the principle of democracy which states that terrorists and their political frontmen should never be placated. We should never, ever surrender to the fatal vice of appeasing the barbarians.

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

In view of the lateness of the hour, and because I know others wish to speak, I shall be brief. I shall confine myself to four points—no, five.

I strongly support what was said by the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney). He asked, rhetorically, what was the purpose of the Bill, and why it had been presented at this stage. I hope the Under-Secretary of State will forgive me if I say that I do not think that he advanced a good reason for the Bill's existence. He spoke—I listened to him carefully—of the warm relations between us and the Government of Ireland. There are such warm relations, and I am glad that there are; but that is in no sense a sufficient justification for what we are doing. We have warm relations with the Governments of all European Union countries, but we are not considering giving those countries the rights that we are minded to give the citizens of Ireland.

I agree with the hon. and learned Member for North Down and others that this is part of a deal that has been struck with Sinn Fein. I find that a great obstacle to giving the Bill any further consideration, because I am extremely cautious about giving any concessions to Sinn Fein. I ask myself "Why should I?", and I cannot reach a sensible conclusion. Sinn Fein has been an apologist for murder for many years.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

It is a question of time.

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

I am well aware of that, but, if my right hon. Friend will forgive me for a moment, I intend to make my points.

I am not in favour of making any concessions to Sinn Fein, and I regard that as a serious objection to what we are doing. Sinn Fein has not made concessions to democracy, and I am not in favour of making concessions to Sinn Fein.

That was my first point. My second is that there will be an inherent clash of loyalties. There is bound to be a division of loyalties between those who sit in the Dail and those who sit in this House. We need only look at the terms of the oath—they are in "Erskine May"; Members may wish to remind themselves of them—to see that they are incompatible with sitting in another legislature. [Interruption.]

I wish my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) would stop interrupting. He spoke at considerable length himself. [Interruption.]

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

Order. I called the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), and he must be able to make his speech without interruption.

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

I am merely making my points, but I am being barracked by my own Front Bench, and I do not approve of it.

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

My right hon. Friend may not like being barracked from behind, and I do not like being barracked from in front. It is discourteous, apart from anything else.

I was talking about the clash of loyalties that will be inherent if a member of another legislature is allowed to sit in this House.

Let me now make my third point, which relates to the Commonwealth. It is true that citizens of Commonwealth countries have long enjoyed the right that we are now minded to extend to citizens of Ireland, but, as the Under-Secretary of State rightly pointed out in an intervention, it has not been exercised within the last 100 years. I am bound to say that, if I had to consider giving such a right to a Commonwealth citizen, I would not do so. That is not to say that we should use parliamentary time to take the right away, but the precedent is not satisfactory, and I would not base an argument on it.

My fourth point is this. If we are to grant the right to citizens of the Republic, I see no distinction between that and granting it to a citizen of any European Union country. I would rather take the route of reciprocity by giving the right to all citizens of all European Union countries than give a distinctive right to citizens of the Republic.

That brings me to my last point—which I would have reached even sooner had I been given time by my right hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield.

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

I mean my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell.

My last point relates to the lack of reciprocity. A franchise generally implies the existence of reciprocal rights, but there are no effective reciprocal rights in the case of Ireland, because membership of the Dail is confined to citizens of Ireland. I think that a perfectly sensible requirement, but I do not see why we should give rights to the citizens of Ireland unless there is proper reciprocity between its citizens and the legislature here in Westminster.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP, Strangford

First, as the Minister said at the outset, without clause 1, the Bill is meaningless; secondly, the whole discussion has nothing to do with the Good Friday agreement; and, thirdly, it was bogus from the outset to claim that the need for the Bill was ever urgent. We have had since 1949 to do something; moreover, the issue unaccountably disappeared for 10 months.

The parallels with the Commonwealth are no longer of any relevance, because no one has come here from a Commonwealth Parliament in the past 100 years. Moreover, no discernible party has any beneficial interest except Sinn Fein, whose interest is destabilising as far as Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole are concerned.

In another place, Lord Cope summarised the arguments with the greatest possible cogency and coherence. Had I been given a little longer, I might have quoted some extracts from what he had to say; but as I have not, I simply commend his remarks to the House.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) reminded us that, once upon a time—for that matter, it is still technically the case—Members here could be elected for more than one constituency. Of course, they always had to disclaim one. The hon. Gentleman also asked a question, which I also ask: what reciprocation will there be for the Government's largesse? The answer is none. Could we sit in the Dail? No.

I can bring personal experience to the arguments about the European Parliament. I had a dual mandate for 12 months between 1983 and 1984, but in both places my loyalty was to the United Kingdom and in particular to the English midlands, and in only one Parliament did I swear an oath.

I thought the speech of the hon. Member for East Londonderry was splendid, in that he agreed with me, not least about who the two beneficiaries were.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Is that why it was a splendid speech?

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor UUP, Strangford

I was not deliberately paying myself a compliment. I lack the vanity for that.

I enjoyed the entertaining speech of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik), who, I am led to believe, recently appeared even more entertainingly on television. He described his assessment of the Bill as "a judgment call". I think that that is a type of Liberal Democrat post-modernism, to be contrasted with the stern reminder about consequences from the hon. Member for East Londonderry.

3.30 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) gave us a very valuable, if disturbing insight into the Committee's consideration of the Bill. He also drew on yesterday's speech by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond).

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot also unburdened himself powerfully on the subject of the Saville inquiry. I shall not follow him down that road.

An article of good faith and a convention of the House is that, if an hon. Member inadvertently misleads another Member or other Members, he or she will put it right at the first opportunity. In his admirable speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot was asked by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire if a "Conservative Government would repeal". Thinking that the hon. Gentleman was referring to this Bill, I nodded. However, when he completed his question, I realised that he was referring to Commonwealth entitlement. Had I known that, I would not have nodded.

Although the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) was predictable, he was—to give him his due—consistent.

The hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) felt that the Bill would be better described as a qualifications Bill. He also spoke of the missing 10 months in the life of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) claimed that he was reassured if he found himself at odds with the hon. Member for West Tyrone. I can reciprocate that sentiment in favour of him.

The hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney), by contrast, gave us an authentic Northern Ireland view, as well as a quote from Palmerston. For good measure, he also gave us a quote from Salisbury.

I have personally done my best, in rather difficult circumstances, to repair the winding-up speech convention between Front Benchers. I hope that the Minister will take that as a gesture of good faith on my part, which I do not extend to the legislation.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

The good faith and generosity of the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) is always taken as read by Labour Members, and certainly by me. I would not in any way malign him for his speech.

I shall try to address some of the issues that have been raised in this quite good and interesting debate. When people have had legitimate concerns, they have expressed them.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), among other hon. Members, asked who wants the Bill. The Government want the Bill, or we would not have proposed it. However, that is not the whole story, because the Bill is worth while in its own terms. I have already given the reasons why I believe that, and I do not want to detain the House by repeating them, but there are compelling and persuasive reasons why the Bill should be passed.

Not only is the Bill supported by Sinn Fein, but it has been welcomed by people in the nationalist community in Northern Ireland—including members of the nationalist public who want the democratic principle to be widened and improved, and members of other political parties, notably the Social Democratic and Labour party. I admit that—for whatever reasons, although I am sure that they are good ones—SDLP Members are not here to express that support in person. However, I have had discussions with the Deputy First Minister, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), and with the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), and they have continuously reassured me that they very much support the Bill.

Two other parties represented in the Assembly—the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition and the Alliance party—have expressed their support for the Bill. Although I do not pretend that their support for the Bill has always been ringing, they understand some of the precedents and compelling reasons behind it.

Last but not least, the Bill has been welcomed by the Irish Government. Because we are on such warm terms with the Irish Government, I believe that it is important that we continue that understanding. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) doubts those warm terms. I do not know what relationship he has with the Irish Government, but he should not confuse his feelings for them with the Government's relations with them.

The issue of reciprocity has been raised. An equivalent to the Disqualifications Bill does not exist in Irish law, which does not prevent someone from sitting in both the Irish and British legislatures. However, as has rightly been said, nationality is one criterion determining eligibility to stand for the Dail Eireann. Anyone with Irish nationality can stand for the Dail.

Although I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) would not want to take Irish nationality, it is available to him. For all I know, he may have taken it—although I suspect not.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

Nevertheless, it is open to any member of the community in Northern Ireland to take Irish nationality. Indeed, as the House has expressed such enthusiasm for the principle of reciprocity, through the channels available to us, I shall make it clear to the Irish Government that there seems to be enthusiastic support for a different approach to nationality.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

No; I do not have time. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but he himself spoke at great length, and I have very little time.

I should like to make one other point on the SDLP, the wider nationalist community and other supporters of the Bill, and to make it directly to the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay). I do not think that he intended to be in any way discourteous to any of those parties. I know that, as a supporter of the Good Friday agreement—although he has some reservations about some aspects of it—he has respect for the parties that support the agreement. However, in saying that the Bill exists only to appease Sinn Fein and the IRA, the right hon. Gentleman could—I am sure inadvertently—give offence to the other parties in Northern Ireland that support the Bill.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to give offence to the SDLP, which supports the Bill, or to the Alliance party. Although the Alliance party has some reservations about the principles involved, it supports the Bill. I am sure that the right hon Gentleman would not wish to give offence to the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, which in very specific terms has supported the Bill. Of course he would also not wish to give offence to the Irish Government, who have welcomed the Bill. Therefore, to say that the Bill is purely about appeasing Sinn Fein and the IRA is to be unfair to the other parties that have supported it.

I believe that what we are trying to do is to further the warm and close relationships that we have with the Republic of Ireland. I hope that the House will recognise that, and that hon. Members will support us in rejecting the Lords amendment. I also hope that the House of Lords will recognise that another large majority in this place in favour of clause 1 is a very heavy hint about our precise feelings about it.

Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 338, Noes 129.

Division No. 366][3.40 pm
AYES
Ainger, NickBenton, Joe
Alexander, DouglasBerry, Roger
Allan, RichardBest, Harold
Allen, GrahamBetts, Clive
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Blackman, Liz
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Blears, Ms Hazel
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryBlizzard, Bob
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyBorrow, David
Atherton, Ms CandyBradley, Keith (Withington)
Atkins, CharlotteBradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Austin, JohnBradshaw, Ben
Bailey, AdrianBrake, Tom
Banks, TonyBreed, Colin
Barnes, HarryBrinton, Mrs Helen
Barron, KevinBrown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Battle, JohnBrown, Russell (Dumfries)
Bayley, HughBrowne, Desmond
Beard, NigelBuck, Ms Karen
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretButler, Mrs Christine
Begg, Miss AnneByers, Rt Hon Stephen
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Campbell, Mrs Anne (C?bridge)
Bennett, Andrew FCampbell-Savours, Dale
Caplin, IvorGrocott, Bruce
Casale, RogerGrogan, John
Caton, MartinHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Cawsey, IanHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Chaytor, DavidHanson, David
Chidgey, DavidHealey, John
Clapham, MichaelHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Hendrick, Mark
Clark, Dr LyndaHepburn, Stephen
(Edinburgh Pentlands)Heppell, John
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Hill, Keith
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Hodge, Ms Margaret
Clelland, DavidHood, Jimmy
Clwyd, AnnHoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Coaker, VernonHope, Phil
Coffey, Ms AnnHopkins, Kelvin
Coleman, IainHowarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Colman, TonyHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Connarty, MichaelHoyle, Lindsay
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cooper, YvetteHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Corbyn, JeremyHughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Corston, JeanHumble, Mrs Joan
Cotter, BrianHurst, Alan
Cousins, JimHutton, John
Cox, TomIddon, Dr Brian
Cranston, RossIllsley, Eric
Crausby, DavidJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Jamieson, David
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireJenkins, Brian
Dalyell, TamJohnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairJohnson, Miss Melanie
Darvill, Keith(Welwyn Hatfield)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Davidson, IanJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Jones, Ms Jenny
Dean, Mrs Janet(Wolverh'ton SW)
Denham, JohnJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dismore, AndrewJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dobbin, JimJowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Donohoe, Brian HKeeble, Ms Sally
Dowd, JimKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Drown, Ms JuliaKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Kelly, Ms Ruth
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Kemp, Fraser
Edwards, HuwKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Efford, CliveKhabra, Piara S
Ellman, Mrs LouiseKidney, David
Ennis, JeffKilfoyle, Peter
Fitzpatrick, JimKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Flint, CarolineKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Flynn, PaulKumar, Dr Ashok
Foster, Rt Hon DerekLammy, David
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Laxton, Bob
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Lepper, David
Galloway, GeorgeLevitt, Tom
Gapes, MikeLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Gardiner, BarryLewis, Terry (Worsley)
George, Andrew (St Ives)Linton, Martin
George, Bruce (Walsall S)Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gerrard, NeilLove, Andrew
Gibson, Dr IanMcAvoy, Thomas
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMcCabe, Steve
Godman, Dr Norman AMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Godsiff, RogerMcDonagh, Siobhain
Goggins, Paul Macdonald, Calum
Golding, Mrs LlinMcDonnell, John
Gordon, Mrs EileenMcFall, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)McIsaac, Shona
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, TonySarwar, Mohammad
Mactaggart, FionaSavidge, Malcolm
McWalter, TonySawford, Phil
McWilliam, JohnSedgemore, Brian
Mahon, Mrs AliceShaw, Jonathan
Mallaber, JudySheerman, Barry
Mandelson, Rt Hon PeterSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Shipley, Ms Debra
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Short, Rt Hon Clare
Martlew, EricSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Maxton, JohnSingh, Marsha
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelSkinner, Dennis
Merron, GillianSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Michael, Rt Hon AlunSmith, Angela (Basildon)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Miller, AndrewSmith, Miss Geraldine
Mitchell, Austin(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Moffatt, LauraSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Moonie, Dr LewisSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Moran, Ms MargaretSnape, Peter
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)Soley, Clive
Morley, ElliotSouthworth, Ms Helen
Morris, Rt Hon Sir JohnSpellar, John
(Aberavon)Squire, Ms Rachel
Mountford, KaliStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Mullin, ChrisSteinberg, Gerry
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Stevenson, George
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Naysmith, Dr DougStoate, Dr Howard
Norris, DanStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Stringer, Graham
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Hara, EddieStunell, Andrew
Olner, BillTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
O'Neill, Martin(Dewsbury)
Öpik, LembitTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Organ, Mrs DianaTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Osborne, Ms SandraTemple-Morris, Peter
Palmer, Dr NickThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pearson, IanThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Perham, Ms LindaTimms, Stephen
Pickthall, ColinTipping, Paddy
Pike, Peter LTodd, Mark
Plaskitt, JamesTouhig, Don
Pollard, KerryTrickett, Jon
Pond, ChrisTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pope, GregTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Pound, StephenTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, GwynTyler paul
Purchase, KenTynan, Bill
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceVis Dr Rudi
Quinn, LawrieWalley, Ms Joan
Radice, Rt Hon GilesWard, Ms Claire
Rapson, SydWareing, Robert N
Raynsford, NickWatts, David
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Webb, Steve
Rendel, DavidWhite, Brian
Robertson, JohnWhitehead, Dr Alan
(Glasgow Anniesland)Wicks, Malcolm
Roche, Mrs BarbaraWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Rogers, AllanWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffWinnick, David
Rooney, TerryWoolas, Phil
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Worthington, Tony
Rowlands, TedWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Roy, FrankWright, Tony (Cannock)
Ruddock, JoanWyatt, Derek
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Tellers for the Ayes:
Ryan, Ms JoanMr. Robert Ainsworth and
Salter, MartinMrs. Anne McGuire.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Amess, DavidLeigh, Edward
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesLetwin, Oliver
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Baldry, TonyLidington, David
Beggs, RoyLuff, Peter
Beresford, Sir PaulLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Body, Sir RichardMcCartney, Robert (N Down)
Boswell, TimMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)McIntosh, Miss Anne
Brady, GrahamMacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Brazier, JulianMaclean, Rt Hon David
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterMcLoughlin, Patrick
Browning, Mrs AngelaMadel, Sir David
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Maples, John
Burns, SimonMay, Mrs Theresa
Butterfill, JohnMoss, Malcolm
Cash, WilliamNorman, Archie
Chapman, Sir SydneyO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
(Chipping Barnet)Ottaway, Richard
Chope, ChristopherPage, Richard
Clappison, JamesPaice, James
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Pickles, Eric
Clarke, Rt Hon KennethPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
(Rushcliffe)Prior, David
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyRedwood, Rt Hon John
Collins, TimRobathan, Andrew
Cormack, Sir PatrickRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Cran, JamesRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Curry, Rt Hon DavidRoss, William (E Lond'y)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Ruffley, David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)St Aubyn, Nick
Day, StephenShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterShepherd, Richard
Evans, NigelSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Faber, DavidSoames, Nicholas
Fabricant, MichaelSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Fallon, MichaelSpicer, Sir Michael
Flight, HowardSpring, Richard
Forth, Rt Hon EricStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanSteen, Anthony
Fox, Dr LiamStreeter, Gary
Fraser, ChristopherSwayne, Desmond
Gale, RogerSyms, Robert
Garnier, EdwardTapsell, Sir Peter
Gibb, NickTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Gillan, Mrs CherylTaylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Gray, JamesTaylor, Sir Teddy
Green, DamianThompson, William
Grieve, DominicTownend, John
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnTredinnick, David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieTrend, Michael
Hammond, PhilipTyrie, Andrew
Hawkins, NickWalter, Robert
Heald, OliverWaterson, Nigel
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Wells, Bowen
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidWhittingdale, John
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Horam, JohnWilkinson, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Willetts, David
Hunter, AndrewWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Key, RobertTellers for the Noes:
Kirkbride, Miss JulieMr. John Randall and
Laing, Mrs EleanorMr. Peter Atkinson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

It being more than three hours after commencement of proceedings, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the remaining Questions required to be put at that hour, pursuant to Order [29 November].

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 9 agreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment No. 1: Mr. James Cran, Mr. Jim Dowd, Mr. George Howarth, Mr. Tom Levitt and Mr. John M. Taylor to be members of the Committee; Mr. George Howarth to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Dowd.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to Lords amendment No. 1 reported and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.