My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)
The Bill will remove the disqualification from membership of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly for Members of either House of the Irish Parliament. It is a small but profoundly important and far-reaching Bill that has not been without controversy.
Amendments Nos. 1, 3 and 37 would remove from the Bill the repeal of the disqualification for the House of Commons. They would allow Members of the Irish Parliament to be Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly but not of the House of Commons.
The amendments allow us to debate the issues at the heart of some of the objections to the Bill. Many of us have grave doubts about the principle of being a member of two sovereign Parliaments simultaneously, although it might be possible to be a member of a sovereign Parliament and of a subsidiary Parliament in another country. One has to swear two different oaths. The Irish Parliament does not have an exactly analogous procedure to the taking of the oath in the House of Commons but there is something similar. One would have two different sets of loyalties in two different Parliaments.
The amendments would allow the Bill to go ahead, because Members of either House of the southern Ireland Parliament could still sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly but not in the House of Commons.
With the greatest possible respect, the Minister failed to tell us at Second Reading why the Bill has been introduced. That remains a great mystery. It was certainly a considerable mystery during the debates in the House of Commons. The timing of the Bill has been mysterious. The Government say that there has been plenty of time for consultation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said that the matter had been given considerable consideration in the House of Commons. I believe that that is a rather elegant way of describing an all-night sitting and a Second Reading, followed immediately by a Committee stage but no Report stage. I do not call that normal consideration of a Bill. The Bill was published on 22nd December last year and all proceedings on it took place in the House of Commons at the end of January.
With regard to the principle of two people sitting in two sovereign Parliaments, one wonders: who wants it and why is it necessary? When the noble and learned Lord last spoke on this matter, he presented it very much as a tidying-up measure to bring into line the provisions for the Parliament of Ireland with Commonwealth legislatures. Leaving aside the fact that Ireland has never been in the Commonwealth, I stand to be corrected by the Minister but I am not aware of an example of a person sitting simultaneously in a Commonwealth legislature and the House of Commons. Therefore, I was not convinced by this being presented as simply a tidying-up measure.
I have read that people in the Dail do not want this legislation. I have read editorials in Irish newspapers opposing this legislation. I know that the Ulster Unionists do not want it. I know that Mr Trimble does not want it. What is its purpose? When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, spoke on the matter before he made no reference to the Good Friday agreement or the Belfast agreement. Indeed, those agreements make no mention of this measure. One had one's suspicions, and I am bound to say that my suspicions were increased somewhat.
We debated this Bill on the penultimate sitting day before the Summer Recess. I believe that the Minister was of the opinion that I considered there to be a conspiracy behind the legislation. If I had held any such belief, it was confirmed somewhat when, shortly after this House rose, or perhaps shortly before, Sinn Fein published a policy document (which I did not see) recommending that all Westminster MPs from Northern Ireland should also be Members of the Dail. The words "Sinn Fein" never escaped the lips of the Minister when he justified this Bill; nor, so far as I can see, were those words mentioned in the debates in another place.
It is being proposed that a person should have simultaneous membership of both sovereign Parliaments. That proposal is not identical but bears a resemblance to what is being proposed in the Sinn Fein policy document. Today the Minister owes the House a convincing explanation as to why this legislation is necessary. It has had a curious profile throughout its parliamentary passage. It was rushed through the House of Commons and rushed through its Committee stage. It was then delayed until the latter days of July when it was suddenly reintroduced here.
So far as I can see, the legislation does not command wide support in Northern Ireland. Therefore, as it bears a close resemblance to proposals put forward by Sinn Fein, I believe that the Minister must convince us that it is not being enacted only to satisfy Sinn Fein.
If it is possible for one to be a member of two sovereign Parliaments, or if one can be elected, let us say, to a Northern Ireland seat and be a Member of the House of Commons and also a Member of the Dail, that is moving a long way down the road towards implying that Northern Ireland is equidistant from both the House of Commons and the Dail. It implies that both Parliaments have a similar entitlement to pronounce and intervene in the affairs of Northern Ireland, leaving the suspicion that this is part of the process of merging Northern and southern Ireland. The Minister may say that that is a strong allegation. However, he has given no convincing explanation as to why the measure is being brought forward. I can see no possible explanation, and I tabled my amendment in the way that I did in order to make that point.
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him two questions so that I fully understand the thrust of his amendment. First, he referred to the House of Commons. Does his amendment imply that membership of this place would also be barred?
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I am trying to remember what happened some time ago. I believe that Seamus Mallon, Leader of the SDLP, Deputy First Minister and Member of Parliament, was at one point offered a seat in the Senate in Dublin but had to decline because he was barred from doing so. If I am right in my somewhat hazy recollection of events from the past, does the noble Lord believe that it would be inappropriate for Seamus Mallon to be a member of the Senate in Dublin?
I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord for raising his second point. With regard to his first point, I should of course know but I believe that I am right in saying that my amendments do not include the House of Lords. Later I shall table an amendment which touches on the House of Lords. However, the principle behind the amendment is to retain the House of Commons disqualification, thus removing the part of the Bill that applies to disqualification for membership of the House of Commons if one is a member of another Parliament.
With regard to the point raised by the noble Lord in relation to Seamus Mallon, as I understand it the law was altered in 1998 to allow him to take his seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am not sure whether he ever sat simultaneously in the Senate and in the House of Commons. I believe that he probably did not, but I hope that I may be enlightened on that matter while the debate proceeds.
I am also unsure as to whether Seamus Mallon was an elected or an appointed member of the Senate. I believe that he was probably the latter, and that makes a considerable difference to the argument. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the point and I hope that the matter may be made crystal clear because it is germane to everything in the Bill. I beg to move.
I understand that Seamus Mallon was, indeed, appointed as a member of the Senate in 1982. However, he was not elected to the House of Commons until some years after he had left the Senate. During his time in the Senate some controversy arose as to whether he could be a member of the then Assembly in Northern Ireland. The matter went to the courts, but in the end the answer was that he could not.
However, that is irrelevant to this Bill except by allusion because, as my noble friend said, the Bill does two things. It permits a member of the Irish House of Commons to sit for a United Kingdom constituency in Westminster at the same time and it also makes it legal for an Irish MP to sit at the same time in the Northern Ireland Assembly as well as in the Dail. My noble friend's amendment draws our attention specifically to the question of dual membership of the two Houses of Commons--that is, another place and the Dail.
My noble friend also pointed out that this Bill was sold to your Lordships at Second Reading as the correction of a legal anomaly that had somehow entered our law because of the position of Commonwealth countries. Ireland was a member of the Commonwealth until 1949 but left voluntarily. Discussion is taking place as to whether it might return at some point, but I do not believe that at present that is seriously on the table. But, in any event, that would alter the position in a whole series of very important respects.
I do not believe that the Commonwealth analogy stands up to any form of examination. I shall return to that on a later amendment, which is more directly related to it. For the moment, I merely assert that the idea that this Bill somehow corrects an anomaly by bringing Ireland into line with the Commonwealth in that respect is rubbish.
My noble friend also drew attention to the fact that we have not had answers to the two most important questions: first, who wants this change; and secondly, why are the Government prepared to expend scarce parliamentary time in trying to achieve it?
As regards representing two constituencies in two parliaments at the same time, the first matter that I should point out is that nobody in this country can represent two different constituencies at the same time in the House of Commons. It is not allowed; it is illegal. It is legally possible to stand in a general election for two or more different constituencies, and in days gone by, that was regularly done. But then, as now, if someone happened to be elected for two separate constituencies, he would have to choose one or the other before taking his seat in another place. So you cannot sit as a Member for two separate constituencies in the House of Commons; yet this proposition is that people should sit for two separate constituencies in two different parliaments in different jurisdictions.
I looked up the last person to achieve that feat of winning two constituencies in the same Westminster general election and it was Mr O'Brien. That is not, I hasten to add, Mr Mike O'Brien, the Home Office Minister who helped to recommend this Bill to another place, but a Mr William O'Brien. Interestingly enough, it was in southern Ireland, before the creation of the Republic, when southern Ireland was represented in the House of Commons, along with the rest of the United Kingdom. That Mr William O'Brien was elected in the 1910 general election to serve in the House of Commons for both Cork City and the county constituency of Cork North East. The Committee may be interested to hear that he elected to serve for the city of Cork, and another Member was duty elected to serve the county constituency.
Nobody, to my knowledge, in recent years has even tried to repeat that success by standing for two constituencies at once. But if a candidate were successful in doing so, he, like Mr O'Brien, would have to choose which one he wished to represent.
In passing, I should draw the Home Office's attention to what I believe to be the real anomaly in this particular situation, which occurred to me while pondering the Bill. I should not be surprised to find that some supporter of a specialist minority cause--proportional representation springs to mind, but there are others--stands at a general election in a large number of constituencies so that although he could not, in any circumstances, expect to be elected for any one of those constituencies, he might assemble enough votes over a large number of constituencies to claim that, in aggregate, he should have been elected. That would be quite an argument. But, of course, the correction of that anomaly, which is genuine, is not possible under this Bill. Other legislation would be needed for that.
I return to the main argument. It may be said that the so-called "dual management" is allowed in that a person can serve in both Westminster and the European Parliament. I understand that the Labour Party dislikes people serving in both Westminster and the European Parliament and puts its own Members under great pressure in that respect. So that is not an argument which Ministers are likely to advance but in any case, that is a wholly different matter.
However, it is significant that neither Ministers nor anyone else is suggesting that people from any other member state of the European Union except Ireland should be able to stand in the two different member states' parliaments. This proposal is special to Ireland alone.
So who wants it? I have no evidence--and the Minister has produced none--that any English, Welsh or Scottish MP wants to sit at the same time for an Irish constituency in the Irish Parliament. Ulster Unionist MPs are unlikely to want to sit in the Dail and even if they wished to do so, they would be unlikely to be elected because, as we know, Protestants have been substantially eased out of the country since the Republic was formed.
The SDLP or even Alliance Members might conceivably be elected for two constituencies in the two countries but, frankly, I do not think that it is their style to try that kind of trick.
On the other hand it is exactly what members of Sinn Fein want. One of the very few people to welcome this legislation when it was first proposed was Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, who said it was a "significant move" and "a breakthrough" and things like that. Of course, members of Sinn Fein would love to stand for a constituency in the Republic and for another in Northern Ireland. They would not, of course, take their seats in Westminster. They do not do so. They refuse to take their seats because it would mean that they must recognise the legitimacy of the United Kingdom. In those circumstances, they would sit in the Dail and then claim to represent part of the United Kingdom there, as well as the constituency for which they were elected within the Republic. That claim would be made easier by the fact that because of Ireland's proportional representation system, under which four or five Members represent each of the constituencies, they would share the representation of a large constituency in the Dail but be the sole representative of the constituency in the United Kingdom for which they were elected.
I am told by Northern Ireland sources that that is exactly the point of the Bill. I am further told that Mr Pat Doherty is suggested as the first candidate; that he wants to stand in West Tyrone in the United Kingdom and, subsequently, in Donegal in the Republic for a seat in the Dail. In that way, he hopes to be able to claim to represent West Tyrone in the Dail and that, I think, would be a very grave matter indeed.
But I do not doubt that if we were to agree to this Bill, it would not be long before Mr Adams and, for that matter, Mr Martin McGuinness and others no doubt, were looking for seats in the Republic so that they could claim to represent West Belfast and Mid Ulster, and wherever else, in the Dail.
At present it is said in Sinn Fein propaganda, although not by Mr Adams himself, as far as I know, that its members do not wish to do that. But I do not think that it would be long before they would see the advantages to them and their propaganda of so doing. That prospect appals me as a negation of democracy and of national sovereignty. It was no part of the Good Friday agreement, which is otherwise regarded by the Government as virtually Holy Writ. But in this case, it seems to me that it runs flat counter to the recognition of the rights of the majority in Northern Ireland to decide in which country they wish to live and it cuts right across the new all-Ireland institutions which were set up by the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. They are flourishing at present or, at least, are in action at present and doing their best to flourish as much as they can.
What about the second question: why are the Government proposing this measure to Parliament? The Prime Minister sometimes displays a naivety about Irish matters which can seem appealing from time to time, if you are sufficiently distant from them. On the other hand, the Taoiseach is a shrewd politician and negotiator. The Secretary of State, Mr Mandelson, is renowned for very careful thought and calculation in all that he does. I cannot believe that he has not realised the effect of passing this measure.
Perhaps there is a secret plan to ease Northern Ireland gradually into the Republic through this form of back door. If so, are the British Government a party to it or are they just being naive? I do not know the answer to that question. I suspect that the noble and learned Lord who is to respond to the debate does not know the answer either, at least at present. I do not blame him. As I understand it, he has picked up the brief comparatively recently and is obviously relying on his instructions. I do not suppose that he was involved in the decisions on the Bill last December. In some respects, it would be surprising if he had been able to give it much thought in the past week or two. If I were in his shoes I would be thinking a little more about the Dome. If this was a defence case that he had been asked to put forward in court, I suspect that he would have suggested to his client that he plead guilty and have done with it.
As I said, I do not know the answer to the question. However, throughout the proceedings today and at later stages, we shall do our best to tease it out. I do not see why the Government should want to permit what seems to me to be a constitutional outrage. Even if the Government wish, I do not see why Parliament should agree to it. Apart from anything else, if we were to do so it would betray the Good Friday agreement and would set a bomb under our democracy.
Amendment No. 33 tabled in my name in this grouping is a rather different, specialist amendment. It suggests that if somebody who sits for a United Kingdom seat should later find himself elected also to the Dail, he should submit himself to a by-election in his United Kingdom constituency to confirm his membership of the United Kingdom Parliament with his constituents before taking up his seat in the Dail.
It is sometimes said that anything is possible in this country, provided it has been done before. It is also said that there is a precedent for everything and that therefore everything is possible. There is a sort of precedent here. I refer to the 19th century practice under which a Member of Parliament who was appointed a Minister had to return to his constituency on appointment and have his membership confirmed by a by-election. The constitutional theory behind that was that appointment as a Minister would affect his ability to represent his constituents. They therefore had a right to confirm or withhold his right to be their representative. That is an excellent constitutional doctrine. However, it fell foul of the fact that it narrowed the ability of the Prime Minister to appoint the best possible Ministers to the government. For that reason, it was dropped. I do not propose its resuscitation. However, I believe that for this Bill it would be a highly relevant procedure to put in place.
The individuals concerned, who would represent two different constituencies in two different sovereign parliaments, would have two completely separate sets of loyalties, both to two lots of constituents and, indeed, to two sovereign states. In those circumstances, it is only reasonable that the constituents of the individual as a United Kingdom Member of Parliament should have the opportunity to confirm his or her position in that respect before the individual takes up the other appointment. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, somewhat spoilt the first half of his speech by speaking to his amendment. Unlike the constraint proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, the amendment is a mild constraint on what the Bill attempts to do. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, proposes that a person cannot sit in the Dail and the House of Commons at the same time. However, all that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, seems to be asking is that if he or she does so, that person would have to submit to a by-election. That sounds absolutely fine; it is an exemplary measure. Perhaps the Government should think of accepting the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. It would be a nice discipline.
The noble Lord referred to the qualification of citizens of other countries which are members of the European Union to contest election to the House of Commons. At present they are not allowed to do so. However, that may be a violation of a statute or acquis communautaire in the European Union. One should not be able to prevent a citizen of another European country standing for election to the House of Commons. I should like to know whether or not that is the case. I know that it is possible to stand for the European Parliament from any country within the European Union. I do not know whether there is any legal provision not in violation of the European--
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. The position is that one cannot stand to be a member of a European Union legislature and the House of Commons. The question raised is interesting. The front of the Bill contains the declaration that its provisions are compatible with the Human Rights Act and the European convention. However, on the face of it, one would have thought the provision discriminatory.
I thank the noble Lord. He has made my point for me. It cannot be the case that we can prevent citizens of France, Belgium or anywhere else standing for election to the House of Commons and being a member of another parliament and this Parliament. It may be illegal to represent two constituencies within the United Kingdom in the House of Commons. However, there cannot be a rule against someone representing two different constituencies in two different countries in two different parliaments, so long as the electorate agrees. It has nothing to do with anyone else.
I believe that the right way to proceed on this matter is not to say that exception is made for Ireland but that exception is made for all members of the EU. The whole problem would then be resolved.
As always, I am most interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Desai. During my short time in this place I can think of no intervention that he has made to which I have not listened with both interest and amusement, let alone profit to my own knowledge. However, I find it difficult--it gives me great pain to say this--to follow his remarks. I simply cannot agree with him. The noble Lord may remember that when some of her courtiers wanted to wear foreign decorations which they had been given, Queen Elizabeth I was heard to observe that she did not like her dogs to wear foreign collars. That is precisely what this Bill is about, and, indeed, what my noble friend Lord Lamont talks about in his amendment, which I enthusiastically support.
I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe, as my noble friend Lord Lamont stated, that it is not possible for a Member of this sovereign Parliament to sit also as a member of another sovereign parliament of a country which is a member of the European Union. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, proved when he stood for an Italian Euro-constituency, it is possible for a citizen of this country to stand for election to the European Parliament for a constituency in another country which is a member of the European Union. As I understand it, the rationale--though it is questionable--is that the European Parliament is not a sovereign parliament and that this Parliament, perhaps by the skin of its teeth, still is.
I return to Queen Elizabeth I and the nub of my noble friend's amendment. For those of us who believe in the central position of Parliament in our national life--a position which is increasingly under threat for all sorts of reasons which need not detain us here--it becomes difficult to accept that dogs can wear two collars. Whatever the difference of opinion may be about the Oath (even a cursory reading of the extensive debates in another place on this Bill show this) and whatever the doubts about its present wording, nevertheless it constrains all those who swear it--Members of both Houses--under severe implied threat to devote themselves to the national interests of this country.
It is difficult to believe that the present law fulfils what I consider to be an overriding consideration. After all, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, pointed out at Second Reading, Members of Commonwealth legislatures are allowed to sit in this Parliament. It is that fact which allowed the noble and learned Lord at Second Reading to make clear that he regarded this Bill as merely a tidying-up operation, setting right an anomaly which does not apply to the Republic of Ireland when it applies to the Commonwealth. I regard the provision which allows the Commonwealth dual mandate--to put it in shorthand--to be an anomaly in itself.
I was brought up in what might be thought of as an imperial household. I well remember, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, arguments as to whether it was right that colonial assumptions should persist in the modern world. With the increasing growth of independence among the countries of the former empire and the development of a Commonwealth which included many republics, particularly the example of India in 1947, should this imperial Parliament assume such a high degree of supremacy that, by implication, any other parliament was inferior? It was thought that there was not an equal mandate in both Parliaments. It was perhaps that assumption more than anything else at the time, which enabled us, with a sense of effortless superiority which was easier then than now, to assume that so inferior were other Commonwealth parliaments, that no equal dual mandate would be implied if one were a Member of a Commonwealth parliament and of this Parliament. I utterly reject such a suggestion.
It is only right and proper--I am perhaps trespassing into the territory of a later amendment but it is germane to the argument raised by the noble and learned Lord at Second Reading and which my noble friend is endeavouring to address in this amendment--to say that, just because the Commonwealth membership applies, therefore it should apply to everybody else. It seems to me, particularly now, that it is right for Commonwealth countries to be regarded as the equal of this Parliament; indeed, it is the essence of their status of independence that that should be so. Therefore, it is a relic of imperial days that this extraordinary anomaly should persist and the sooner it is put right, the better. I fail to see how the noble and learned Lord can use the argument he did at Second Reading and it is all the more sensible therefore for my noble friend to put forward his argument against the dual mandate.
We know that, even in this global world, which has become such a cliche in every political speech, nations still have different interests. Those nations which are fortunate enough to be governed by genuine parliamentary systems must be sure that their members have a clear interest in promoting the interests of their nation. If there is a dual mandate in those sovereign parliaments, there must be a question among members who are members of another Parliament as to where their true interests lie. It is entirely wrong, as a matter of principle, that this Bill should be put forward in this way.
I have already tried to draw a distinction between this Parliament and the European Parliament. It is right and proper that my noble friend should draw a distinction between this Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Northern Ireland Assembly was created, at least in part, in a genuine effort to try to ensure that a settlement applied in Northern Ireland which enabled both the nationalist and the unionist traditions to co-exist and prosper together. That cannot be so here. At the risk of being invidious, we do not have to look far back--sub specie aeternitatis--in the history of the 20th century to see just how often other countries find themselves at odds with the interests of this country. A case in point is the Republic of Ireland.
I speak with huge affection for the Republic; my mother's family come from County Limerick so it would be surprising if I did not. But we have to remember that His Majesty King George VI's Ambassador to the Third Reich conveyed the sympathies of the Irish Government to the Third Reich on the death of the Fuihrer in 1945. I hope that the arguments of those days are now water under the bridge, that we can forget them and look to the future. But that is the most glaring example, not very long ago and when this country was at its greatest moment of peril, when we find that the Republic of Ireland had a different agenda from our own. It is therefore peculiar, to say the least, for the Government to reject my noble friend's amendment.
It is only sensible, at the beginning of this Committee stage, for me to support my noble friends Lord Cope and Lord Lamont, in their inquiries, in the gentlest of terms, as to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the introduction of this Bill. I worked my way, with a sense of mounting tedium, through the extensive Official Report records of the debates in another place. At Second Reading the noble and learned Lord--who always tries to help the House--had constraints put upon him. During the course of proceedings in another place, just as here, no information whatsoever was given about who had asked for this Bill, under what circumstances and why. The only hint that your Lordships' House was given was by the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms who said that he had been told that this Bill was part of the choreography of the Belfast agreement. It was not part of the Bill but part of its choreography.
That hint demands an explanation from the Government. What is it all about? Our suspicions must be hugely increased by the extraordinary timetable of the progress, if that is the word, of this Bill through Parliament. There was the extraordinary passage of a Bill, which allegedly was not urgent, as confirmed by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State's remarks during its course in another place. He actually said that this Bill was not urgent. Nevertheless, it was subjected to urgent procedures in another place. There was no week's delay between Second Reading and the remaining stages.
Despite the evident hurry back in January this year, there was then an extraordinary and pregnant pause between the Bill finishing in another place and appearing for Second Reading here. We did not see it until the end of the summer term at the end of July. It was explained to us by the Government Chief Whip that it would be helpful to produce it for Second Reading at the same time as he knew that Members of your Lordships' House who live in Northern Ireland would be here. I am sure that the Government Chief Whip thought that that was a good and sufficient reason. It is typical of him to want to be so helpful to your Lordships, particularly those who travel far to come here. None the less, it is perfectly extraordinary that other members of the Government asked the Chief Whip to make those kinds of excuses without giving us a straight answer. Given that in principle this Bill is doing utterly the wrong thing and is encapsulating a division of interest, it must be right--
Before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether he has seen the document entitled Sinn Fein Submission to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, headed "Six County Representation in the Oireachtas". It argues that the traditional demand by the Northern Ireland nationalists has been for representation in the Dail. It refers to the fact that historically they had representation in the first and second Dail. It continues by explaining a number of different ways in which they could sit in the Dail. They argue that one "solution"--their word--might be that all 18 Members in the House of Commons could also sit in the Dail at the same time. Is it not extraordinary that the Government's proposals, for which no convincing explanation has been given, dovetail so well with what is in this document?
I am extremely grateful to my noble friend. He anticipated precisely what I was about to say. My noble friend Lord Cope set the matter out so clearly that I did not believe that repetition was necessary. However, my noble friend Lord Lamont has set it out even more clearly. I am familiar with the document to which he referred.
As my noble friend Lord Cope said, this Bill is a constitutional outrage. It is even more outrageous given the hole-in-the-corner way in which the Government have introduced it and the extraordinary way in which they have marshalled its passage through Parliament. There are also the rumours which have surrounded the dates for the remaining stages of the Bill during this spill-over period. The rumours I have heard have continued. As I understand it, the dates have changed almost continuously over the past few weeks, no doubt in order to accord with the tortuous negotiations which are no doubt going on behind the scenes between the various parties to the Good Friday agreement. It is a bad Bill, and that has been compounded by the way in which it has been handled. This Committee should be extremely grateful to my noble friend for this amendment, which I enthusiastically support.
I have a good deal of sympathy for the Committee and particularly for the two Front Benches in not for the first time having to disentangle a constitutional and political monstrosity such as this. As a Ulsterman I feel ashamed of the way in which this House has been treated, not for the first time, by the present occupants of the Northern Ireland Office by producing legislation which is indefensible by any standards and which, let us face it, defies common sense. We had an example only a few weeks ago in another piece of Northern Ireland Office-inspired legislation. But for the wisdom of the present Front Bench, and if we had subscribed to it in full, we would have brought the whole system of British democracy into disrepute.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, one of the mysteries is who asked for this Bill. I have never been able to discover the source of the pressure. There has never been an explanation. That is compounded by the timetabling to which the noble Viscount referred. The Bill appeared suddenly in the other place at the very end of January. It then went into hibernation until, as the noble Viscount said, literally the last few hours of this House sitting before the Summer Recess. The Bill then disappeared yet again. No more was heard of it. Hints were dropped that no one was very enthusiastic about it. I do not blame them for that when one considers all the pitfalls. It was thought that the Bill might not be heard of again.
Now for no apparent reason it has been exhumed yet again and we are invited to give it a final polishing. The pressure which has been applied and the way in which Her Majesty's Government have been forced to surrender to it has meant that we are all in the ridiculous position of soiling our hands with something which is indefensible. I wonder whether it is correct that the Bill puts Irish representatives on the same footing as representatives of legislatures in the Commonwealth. The Bill is by no means clear. In fact contradiction is piled on contradiction in that field.
There is also contradiction in some of the phrases used such as "elected to" the House of Commons or to the Irish Parliament. There is another contradiction as regards taking seats in the other place. It is all very well to be elected but it is a different matter to take one's seat holding the views shared by Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness. Where is the explanation, the dividing line and the criteria between someone being elected, which is a comparatively simple operation in many ways? One can pick a constituency with a large majority in accordance with one's own views, which is very different from taking one's seat if the person elected knows very well that those who voted for him or her would certainly not approve of his actions. All these matters need to be sorted out if we are not to have yet another unworkable, indefensible piece of legislation on the statute book.
Finally, I wish to make a point which was made also by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. It was not made in any sense of antagonism. For as long as 30 years, I have had occasion to consult with our friends in the Irish Republic. However, we must face the fact that they are working to their own agenda simply because they are responsible to an entirely different electorate. It is not a British electorate. As perhaps an accidental election looms over the horizon, they will be more sensitive to a suggestion that they are co-operating with the "hated Brits". That is the kind of language to which they resort as polling day draws near.
With all due respect to them, and making allowances for their problems, it is a great mistake to fool ourselves into believing that they look on all such matters in a broad-minded way, as we in this House tend to do.
Before speaking to the amendment, I want to make a couple of points and ask one question. First, I understand that the Disqualifications Bill works as follows. Someone is elected, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux said, that is fine. The issue of qualification arises when, having been elected, the person wants to enter the House to take his seat. I cannot see how the Government could resist the amendment because one of the qualifications is that a Member should not support terrorism. The 1981 Act made it clear that it is a disqualification to do so. That would inevitably apply to the members of Sinn Fein who might want to enter. Therefore, it is a fairly empty procedure to get elected and then not be able to take one's seat.
Not only that, but after representations had been made that Gerry Adams should be allowed to take his seat in the House of Commons he was asked whether he could see himself doing so were the Oath to be changed--for instance, with reference to the Crown removed. He replied,
"No, because the issue for us is the claim of that Parliament to jurisdiction in Northern Ireland".
So even if they were not disqualified by their connections to terrorism, they would still not be prepared to take the Oath. Therefore, the procedure is empty.
The people who would be qualified would be Members from any other party in the Dail; but when asked whether the other parties had been consulted all that the Minister in the other place was able to say was that this Government had talked to the Irish Government and they supposed that that reflected the view of some of the political parties. That was hardly a detailed answer.
My second point is that there is an inherent impossibility as regards the human rights issue. When Martin McGuinness went to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that it was unjust that he had been excluded from sitting here because he would not take the Oath, the court clearly ruled that this Government were acting entirely within their rights. When he said that he was being refused entry because he refused to take the Oath, the court found that that need not prevent him entertaining his republican views, but that the rights also extended to the right of the state to protect effective democracy. The Oath requirement can be considered a reasonable condition attaching to elected office, having regard to the constitutional system of the respondent state. It also said that it must extend human rights to the protection of constitutional principles which underpin a democracy. The court also pointed out that the electors, in voting for him, full well knew that he would not take the Oath and therefore would not be able to take his seat. We are therefore looking at yet another travesty because it is manifest that members of Sinn Fein, if elected, would not take the Oath, and therefore would never take their seats, and that the others are not interested.
Finally, I do not believe that it is clearly enough understood that those who are electing such people would themselves have their rights taken away. I should like to know whether there is a single example of an existing Member of a Commonwealth legislature solemnly coming to the United Kingdom, putting himself up for election and being elected. I do not know of any such case and I shall be interested to be told whether there has been one.
If it has not happened, once more this Bill is perfectly ridiculous because it is wholly unlikely that someone is going to come all the way from Australia or Tonga, go to Lewisham and say, "I thought that I would like to enter the House of Commons". I cannot understand why the legislation still exists, but to use it and say solemnly that this wonderful right, which has so freely been exercised by members of the Commonwealth, should be now extended to those in Dublin because we are friends is absolute nonsense.
Of all the legislation I have seen pass through both Houses during my 35 years as a Member, this is the most confusing. I am pleased to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in his journey through history because I have a little history in relation to the Bill.
Unfortunately, I was called away when the Bill received its Second Reading in this House. I therefore had to depend on the reports of that debate and those in the other place. The more I read, the more alarmed I became. I believe that there is something happening which I do not understand and, what is more, which I am not meant to understand.
When both the week after Second Reading and last week I went to Ireland, I contacted all my friends in the Irish Parliament; in Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the two major parties, and in the Democratic Left. I asked whether any of them put forward the idea of serving in both parliaments. The members of Fianna Fail to whom I spoke were very cagey about it. Those of Fine Gael were very annoyed about it. Those of the Democratic Left laughed about it and I shall illustrate why in a moment.
I said to members of those three parties that when they read the Irish newspapers--particularly the Irish Times and the Belfast newspapers--they can see the government of the Republic of Ireland expressing opinions every day of the week, and sometimes every hour of the day, in relation to what is happening in Northern Ireland. I asked my Dublin contacts why it is that no member of the government or opposition there has seen it right to express an opinion on the legislation. I should be very happy to hear a member of the government of Fianna Fail, or even a Fianna Fail TD, or the leader of the opposition, Fine Gael, or one of their members, standing up in the Dail saying, "We made representations for this legislation and we fully support it". But why the silence? That is why I say that there seems to be something sinister about the legislation. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, who said that it seems to be particularly designed to please Sinn Fein, the political party in Northern Ireland. I read the debates in the House of Commons. No member of the SDLP was present to vote for this legislation. One would have thought that if its members had contemplated having a dual mandate they would have been there, but they were not. It is hard to understand why the Labour Government seek to push through this legislation.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, took us on a jaunt through history. I offer another which is very pertinent to a Labour government and my own socialist beliefs. In 1948 Ireland was a member of the Commonwealth. Under the then premiership of Mr Costello and the Minister of External Affairs, Sean MacBride, the Irish Republic, as it became known, was taken out of the Commonwealth. That withdrawal was followed by the Government of Ireland Act 1949 which had a disastrous effect on politics in Northern Ireland. I was there at the time that it happened and I witnessed it with a broken heart.
When Ireland was partitioned in 1920 both sides went into their trenches. The only people who did not do so were members of the trade union movement and the Labour Party. They saw it as their function to put aside the emerging border politics and represent workers, whether they be Catholic or Protestant or of no religion at all. Once the Labour government put the Government of Ireland Act on the statute book it created what James Connolly had predicted in 1910 when the first rumblings of partition began to be heard. He said that if Ireland was partitioned it would bring about a carnival of reaction among the working class, because pro-border and anti-border Protestant and Catholics would be set against one another. That was exactly what happened when Ireland withdrew from the Commonwealth, and the Government of Ireland Act 1949 was introduced. It wrecked the Labour movement in Northern Ireland at that time and caused great division among the trade union movement. The Labour and trade union movement had tried its best to avoid border politics but the Government of Ireland Act 1949 pitched it right into the middle of it.
I say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that I watched that happen. After 1949 there were two, if not three, Labour parties: the Northern Ireland Labour Party which was in favour of the present border; the Irish Labour Party which was against the border; and the Republican Labour Party which was opposed to the border. The whole Labour movement was torn asunder because of Ireland's withdrawal from the Commonwealth and the subsequent introduction of the Government of Ireland Act 1949. That is why there is today no Labour party as such in the six counties of Northern Ireland.
The Social Democratic and Labour Party has another agenda. That party, which freely admits that it is a constitutional nationalist party, was created by the antecedents of the Government of Ireland Act. One cannot join any Labour party in Northern Ireland today without having political division on the border as a result of Ireland's withdrawal from the Commonwealth. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, began by referring to Queen Elizabeth I and, half-way through, the Commonwealth. That was the most important lesson that I learnt because of Ireland's withdrawal from the Commonwealth.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, drew an imaginary picture of what would happen if one put one's name down for a number of constituencies. Is it possible for such a scenario to arise? That was what happened in Northern Ireland in the Assembly elections. Every candidate who put his name on a nomination paper for a seat in the Assembly hoped to get votes from all over the six county areas and the constituencies. It was the aggregation of votes for candidates representing different parties which enabled them to take seats. For that reason, there are two Sinn Fein Ministers. At the end of the election Sinn Fein was able to say that it had received so many thousand votes; the Alliance Party, which came behind it, said that it had received so many thousand votes and was entitled to two seats. That is a very bad way to run elections; and sometimes the results can be very disappointing.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that Sinn Fein has already decided to put forward a candidate who will be elected to a Northern Ireland constituency and will then fight a cross-border constituency--Donegal, Louth or Monaghan--in which case it will be able to say that its candidates represent areas North and South of the border. That would give it a good fillip. It would be very bad news for the SDLP, and even worse news for the government of the Republic. In that scenario, when candidates stand on that kind of ticket, backed up by this legislation, it is quite possible for them to win seats in the Republic. The emotional impact of one candidate standing for a dual mandate--a seat in the Republic and a seat here--could be tremendous. If it happened in three or four constituencies Sinn Fein could be part of a coalition government in the Republic after the next election. Therefore, Sinn Fein has an agenda. Speaking as a Labour man all my life, it is unfortunate that that agenda has been helped along by a Labour Government. They are pushing ahead according to a Sinn Fein agenda to the total exclusion of every other political party in the Republic of Ireland. None of them wants to see this legislation.
I read the replies of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. He did not appear to convince anybody, certainly not me, of the necessity for this legislation. People in Northern Ireland are convinced that this is another concession to Sinn Fein. We have seen what has happened in Northern Ireland over the past month. Murders by Sinn Fein and loyalists take place every day. Four so-called loyalists were murdered last week. Sinn Fein murdered a member of what is called the Real IRA. I find it hard to put that into words. Everyone in Northern Ireland knows that it is still associated with Sinn Fein. It is not right for any government to help that political party.
As in the case of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, opinions voiced on this Bill in this House will be analysed. Most of the people who speak against the Bill will be depicted in Northern Ireland as unionists or Protestants. I could be classified as associating myself with them and making anti-Irish comments. Let me make it clear, again and again if necessary: I am not a unionist. I have fought unionism all my political life in Northern Ireland. I am certainly not anti-Irish. But that is the way that some of these remarks will be taken when this debate is reported.
Can the noble and learned Lord get someone to ring up the Taoiseach--I understand he was in Leeds last night-- and say to him, "For God's sake, will you issue a statement saying that you support this legislation?"; or do the same thing with Fine Gael, and say, "Please, please, I am in difficulty here. Everyone is pounding hell out of me in the House of Lords. So will you say something that will justify our enacting this legislation?"? I would then be prepared to believe that there is some validity for the Bill. At the moment I do not believe that that is so.
At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that,
"surely is now the right time to extend this modest courtesy to the Irish Parliament".--[Official Report, 27/7/00; col. 721.]
Having listened to the debate today, I should like to invite the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who, I believe, will reply for the Government, to extend a modest courtesy to this Parliament and reply to the question that has repeatedly been asked, both in this House and in another place: who has asked for this Bill? It is a very important question because so far we have heard that there is only one political party whose programme would be furthered were the Bill to be enacted. That is Sinn Fein. It is essential to be told whether anyone else has asked for the Bill and, if they have, when and in what circumstances?
Another modest courtesy would be for the Minister to say why the Bill has been brought forward. I need not repeat--the hour is getting on--the extraordinary timetable that has been followed, both in the other place and in this House. Why was it brought forward? Why has this timetable applied? We are told that the Bill is not part of the Good Friday agreement; it is consistent with it. The Good Friday agreement was argued over for an enormously long time, and represents, I say again, a great achievement for all those who participated in it. But it is extraordinary that this Bill, which is a substantial constitutional measure, should be brought forward in circumstances when it was not contemplated apparently by those who participated in the Good Friday agreement. I very much hope that there will be answers now to these questions.
In effect this has been another Second Reading debate in relation to the Bill. Two questions have run through the whole short debate. First, why are we having this Bill? Secondly, who asked for the Bill? As to why are we having the Bill, without going into the matter at any length--speakers in the debate have revealed an understanding of the legal position--it is the case that at the moment, before the Bill is enacted, members of all other foreign parliaments are disqualified from membership of the House of Commons and of the Northern Irish Assembly unless the foreign parliament is a Commonwealth parliament. Equally, in relation to voting in parliamentary elections, one cannot vote in a British parliamentary election unless one is a UK, Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland citizen. Equally, one is qualified to take one's seat in the UK Parliament only if one is a UK, Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland citizen.
Therefore, with regard to voting and the right to sit in Parliament, Commonwealth, Ireland and UK citizens are treated as one. As to disqualification from membership of the UK Parliament, where one is also a member of another parliament, the UK Parliament and Commonwealth parliaments are treated as one but the Republic of Ireland parliament is treated separately. So at the moment there are two separate anomalies in our law. First, the Republic of Ireland parliament is not treated the same as Commonwealth parliaments for the purpose of dual membership. Yet the Republic is treated the same when it comes to voting in British general elections and when it comes to the right to take up one's seat in the UK Parliament. That is not talking about dual membership but the right to vote and the right to take your seat.
That is the position as it is. There is no proposal to change the position, either in relation to the dual mandate issue, so far as concerns Commonwealth parliaments, nor in the right of the Republic of Ireland's citizens either to vote or become Members in the United Kingdom. So that is what the position is. That being the--
Before the noble and learned Lord moves on, I do not think he answered the question from my noble friend Lord Cranborne. But in any case does he know of any example when the ability of members of Commonwealth parliaments to sit in the House of Commons has ever been exercised? I have gone to some trouble to find out. I put down a Parliamentary Question. The Home Office did not know. I asked the House of Lords Library. It has been through such information as is available to it. It has no record of the right ever having been used. It consulted the House of Commons Library, which consulted bodies outside. This great ability of members of Commonwealth parliaments that the Minister talks about, with which we have somehow to bring ourselves together, is completely empty. It has never ever been used in history. What is more, it is never likely to be used.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I have posed the question and no one has been able to tell me of any occasion on which a member of a Commonwealth parliament has also sought to sit in the House of Commons. Therefore, I am not in a position to gainsay what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, says in that respect. But it should be remembered that there are two aspects to this issue. It is not just the dual mandate issue. There is also the right of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland to vote in UK parliamentary elections and their right to take seats separately from the dual mandate issue.
I think that is right. But a resident's right to vote would not apply to people except in the categories I have indicated; namely, Republic of Ireland, Commonwealth and British citizens. So, yes, I think there is a residency requirement. I shall check, but I think that there is. That does not give one a right either to vote or stand in the UK Parliament elections unless one is also a member of one of the three groups I have indicated
We are in Committee, so I do not apologise too much for interrupting yet again. As I understand the matter, the noble and learned Lord is seeking a kind of geometrical or symmetrical argument in saying that what applies to electors should apply to representatives. If one has a vote, one should be able to sit in Parliament. Surely, the responsibilities of being an elector and of being a representative are entirely different here. Therefore the analogy fails to carry any force.
With respect, no, because I am seeking to draw attention to the fact that, in relation to who can vote and who can sit in the UK Parliament, the Republic of Ireland, the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom are treated as one. Should not the position be the same when it comes to the issue of dual mandate? That is the basis on which, as a matter of form and substance, we approach the issue.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked whether it is right that citizens of the UK, the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland should all be allowed to vote and sit. No one suggests that there is anything wrong with that approach. In relation to the dual mandate issue, which is separate, the noble Viscount put forward an elegant historical argument based in part on dinner time discussions in the Cecil family. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, put forward arguments in that respect. But the position is as it is; and there is very much to be said for the position being consistent.
That is particularly so when the position is, as I believe that it is, that our relations with the Republic of Ireland are good. Following the Belfast agreement, they have been strengthened by four new British/Irish treaties; and they have been strengthened by the changes in the Irish constitution to reflect agreement on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, and by new institutions to develop further British/Irish co-operation. So, in the context of a good relationship with the Republic of Ireland--a relationship that has never been better--it is appropriate that these changes be made to provide consistency in the position. That is why we think it appropriate to introduce changes.
Perhaps I may respond to the second point that was made: who asked for it? I am not sure that that is an appropriate question to ask in relation to legislation.
Surely it is for the promoter of legislation--that is usually the Government, but it could equally be a private Member--to say, "We think that this is appropriate legislation to promote"; and it is then for Parliament to decide whether it agrees or disagrees with the promoter of the legislation.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. With the greatest respect to him, I really do think that his last answer is beyond caricature and so I shall not dignify it by saying anything else. But his argument about good relations between the Republic and the United Kingdom is a little curious. If good relations is a criterion for dual mandates, should we not also be negotiating with the United States on similar terms?
No, because the United States is not in the same position as the Republic of Ireland. The moment the noble Viscount begins to identify countries that are not among the countries that are treated differently--Commonwealth countries and the Republic of Ireland--different questions arise which could not possibly be resolved by a Bill of this kind. No basis is established by previous legislation that would justify such an approach.
Those are my answers to the two questions that have flowed through the debate. I accept that these are very, very serious issues which require important consideration. Between Committee and Report I am more than happy to meet noble Lords--in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux--to discuss them.
Perhaps I may deal, first, with the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Park. I have sought to set out the justification for the Bill: why we are proceeding with the Bill and what its merits are. It is a matter for both Houses of Parliament to decide whether they agree or disagree with the merits of the Bill, just as it is for them to decide in relation to any Bill placed before them whether by a private Member, the Opposition or the Government. The points being made along the lines of "We do not know who asked for it" should not distract one from identifying whether a particular House of Parliament agrees or disagrees with the Bill; and, with the greatest respect, in Committee we discuss the detail of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about the progress of the legislation. The Bill went through the House of Commons in January. The Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in February, until May. No steps were taken to further the Bill at that time because of the suspension of the Assembly. The Bill was then placed in the timetable of your Lordships' House on a date which the Chief Whip--I know noble Lords will accept this--thought would be convenient for Members of your Lordships' House who come from Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, looks surprised by that, but I can tell him that that was the reason why the date was chosen. It was known that another Bill concerning Northern Ireland was due to be debated on the same date and it was thought that it would be convenient and helpful for Northern Ireland Members of your Lordships' House if this Bill also was dealt with on that date. That is why the present timetable has been followed. I understood the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, to accept that that was why 27th July was chosen.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Even though this is Committee stage, perhaps I may say that he has been very generous in giving way. I always accept what the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms says, and anyone who knows him will also accept it. Therefore, as we must accept that, I wonder how the noble and learned Lord would interpret the words of the Government Chief Whip on 27th July that the Bill was part of the "choreography"--I think that I quote him reasonably exactly--of the negotiations. Will the noble and learned Lord consider that point in the light of the intervention a few moments ago of my noble friend Lady Park?
Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will also explain why the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly should suddenly have made the Bill inoperable? Would it not be just as effective with the Assembly suspended unless the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly had in some way affected the choreography of the Good Friday agreement and relations with the government of the Irish Republic?
In answer to the noble Viscount's question, the choreography point is, as I hope that I have indicated in the course of my remarks, part of the reason for bring the three groups into line--the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland; it is because of the deepening and improving relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, in part as a result of the Belfast agreement. It is something that arises out of that.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked why, the Assembly having been suspended, the Bill did not then go through its normal parliamentary stages. Plainly, with the Assembly suspended, it would have been insensitive--there were particular sensitivities applying at the time--for the Bill to be pursued at that particular time.
Those are the answers to the question "Why?" and those are the answers to the question "Who wants it?". In relation to--
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. He is moving on from the questions that he was asked. He indicated that he was not sure whether it was appropriate to ask the question: who has asked for the Bill? Before the noble and learned Lord moves on, I wonder whether I may help him to resolve that question. When considering legislation, is it not generally rather wise to know whether certain people will be pleased and certain people displeased by it? The noble and learned Lord knows well enough those who will be displeased by it. Surely it is relevant to ask the question: who will be pleased by it and, therefore, who--if anyone--has asked for it? It is this point which, I venture to suggest, makes my question appropriate.
Before my noble and learned friend replies, perhaps I may say to him that I, too, have been thinking along these lines. My noble and learned friend has not answered the question of whether any of the major political parties in the Republic have asked for this measure. I should like to ask my noble and learned friend the other side of that question: did he ask any of the major political parties in the Republic what they thought of the Bill, or did he not ask for their opinions because he might not have been happy with the answers he would have received?
I hope that I will be forgiven for speaking out of turn. Perhaps I may quote a short poem which I believe might be helpful to the noble and learned Lord:
"As I was going up the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there the other day,
I wish that man would go away".
I believe that I have already given my answer to the question of who might have asked for the Bill. It is for the Government to decide, in the light of their consultations, whether a Bill is appropriate. We should remember, too, that this Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons in January of this year. We have now reached November and therefore 11 months have been allowed for views to be sought. I do not think that any doubt exists as regards the majority of people's views in relation to the Bill. Plenty of scope has been given for proper parliamentary scrutiny. Ultimately, however, surely it must be for the two Houses of Parliament to decide what they think of the Bill. They must form their views not on the matters that surround the Bill, but on the merits of the Bill itself.
Perhaps I may turn to a number of other matters. First, as regards the specific question put to me on the position of Mr Seamus Mallon. Mr Mallon did not sit as a Member of the Irish Senate and the House of Commons at the same time. He had resigned from the Senate before his election to the House of Commons. Currently, it is not possible to sit in both the Senate and the House of Commons. However, under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, it is possible to be a Member of the Irish Senate and a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Secondly, perhaps I may deal with the specific amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. The effect of his amendment would be that in the circumstances of a dual mandate with the House of Commons and either the Dail or a Commonwealth legislature, it would be necessary to resign one's seat and to be re-elected. Requiring a Member of the House of Commons to resign and submit to re-election if that Member sought to be elected to the Irish or a Commonwealth legislature would, in effect, impose a new restriction on Commonwealth citizens that we do not feel would be sensible.
It has been suggested during the course of the debate that one individual cannot properly carry out his duties in more than one legislature; namely, that this would be to the detriment of all his constituents. That proposition goes much further than is considered appropriate in respect of dual membership of the House of Commons, the European Parliament and the devolved administrations, where there are no such restrictions. As Members of the Committee know, individuals can and do hold seats in two or even--under certain circumstances--three of these legislatures.
Under all the circumstances, I would ask noble Lords to consider carefully the arguments in favour of the clause. I earnestly ask noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.
I should like, first, to thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate; namely, my noble friend Lord Cranborne, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, my noble friend on the Front Bench and, of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Park.
I have to say that I have not found the Minister's responses to be remotely convincing. He has been extremely economical with his answers. I do not imply the phrase, "economical with the truth", but rather that he has been, quite literally, economical. He has confined himself to certain very narrow technical points and has not offered a political explanation of the clause. He has not put it into any form of political context that makes sense.
I recall a famous story about Lloyd George. He was travelling in a car in Snowdonia and became lost. He pulled down his window and asked a passer-by where he was. The passer-by replied, "You are in Snowdonia". This incident was later often cited by Lloyd George as an example of a perfect parliamentary answer: it was short, brief, true and told no one anything of any use whatsoever. I am bound to say that I think that the noble and learned Lord is something of a master at that kind of response. In some of the debates which we have had on the Dome, the noble and learned Lord has given us responses that have been wholly accurate but not very helpful. On one occasion, I recall that I asked him directly whether he could tell us what has gone wrong with the Dome. The answer came back that, "There haven't been enough visitors". That, of course, was absolutely true. However, I am beginning to recognise a "Falconerism" when I hear one. All that we have had today are "Falconerisms": technical, factual and straight answers that do not explain anything. For that reason, I think that his speech was unconvincing.
The grounds on which he has chosen to defend the Bill are different from those on which he defended it previously, or at least his arguments have been put in a very different way. I do not think that the phrase "administrative tidying up" escaped his lips quite as frequently as it did during our previous debates. We were then led to believe that this was a matter only of tidying up. Nevertheless, it is true that we have heard a number of remarks along those lines today. Indeed, when my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew pressed the Minister on this, he confirmed that this Bill did seek to tidy up an anomaly. In a technical sense we may be tidying up a legislative anomaly, but there are hundreds, not to mention thousands, of legislative anomalies on which we could spend time in an exercise of tidying up. The question is: why has this anomaly been singled out? There must be a purpose and a political reason for the exercise. Indeed, surely it would not be sensible to tidy up an anomaly until that anomaly had proved to be a problem or until someone said, "The law here presents an obstacle to what I want to do".
The noble and learned Lord has relied on the precedent of the Commonwealth. However, he has not been able to come up with a single example of a Commonwealth Member of Parliament who has wanted to sit in the House of Commons. However, in order to provide for Ireland the same privilege--of which no one has ever availed themselves--we have to have the Bill. Moreover, we have not been told who in Ireland wants to avail themselves of this opportunity by tidying up the anomaly.
In our debate at Second Reading, I do not believe that the noble and learned Lord mentioned Sinn Fein. Perhaps it is rather vulgar to wave documents in the Chamber, but I did show the document in my possession in which Sinn Fein has advocated something that fits in well with this proposal. Sinn Fein wants Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies elected to the House of Commons also to be Members of the Dail in order, I submit, that the Parliaments of Westminster and Dublin may appear equally legitimate and equidistant from the problems of Northern Ireland.
We know who does not want the Bill. I know that the First Minister does not want it. He has told me that. I should have thought that that was quite a relevant consideration, given the delicate situation which pertains and the problems that he has to face. I know, too, from the document which I have just mentioned, that Sinn Fein does want it. The noble and learned Lord sought to justify what is being proposed on the ground that citizens of Ireland could vote in British parliamentary elections. He then sought to try to establish some symmetry between being able to vote in a parliamentary election and being able to stand for that parliament. However, I think that that argument was thoroughly demolished by my noble friend Lord Elton when he intervened to point out simply that the responsibilities of a voter are completely different from those of a representative.
Symmetry can be extended in many directions. If all we seek is symmetry, why has not the noble and learned Lord brought forward legislation to allow Members of the House of Commons to be elected to the Dail? That would further extend the symmetry being sought here. However, at present, a Member of the House of Commons cannot stand for election to the Dail unless he happens to be an Irish citizen. Only Irish citizens are eligible to stand for membership of the Dail.
Many of us object to this proposal because of the nonsense of someone being a representative in two sovereign parliaments. Of course Members of Parliament represent their constituents, but they are also there to further the interests of their country. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne pointed out, there may be times when the interests of the two countries conflict--not, I am sure, as dramatically as in the example given by my noble friend, but I can think of many examples in the field of taxation and cross-border matters where very different views probably would be taken by members of a British government and members of an Irish government. One would want a Member of Parliament to be free from undue and improper pressure, but certainly there would be a conflict of interest in some of those matters.
I have listened extremely carefully to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, but we have to follow the logic of our arguments. My judgment is that our arguments went unanswered. Despite the pleas of the noble and learned Lord, I propose to seek to divide the House. I do so consciously because it is an important matter and the arguments put against the amendment were profoundly unconvincing.