moved Amendment No. 8:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--
:TITLE3:OFFICES OF PROFIT UNDER COMMONWEALTH OR FOREIGN GOVERNMENT
(" . No person may be a member of the House of Commons who holds an office of profit under a Commonwealth or foreign government which, if it were an office of profit under the Crown, would disqualify him from membership of the House of Commons.").
The new clause is self-explanatory. We have been anomaly spotting on the Bill and here is another one. Those who hold an office of profit under the Crown are not permitted to be Members of the House of Commons. A Member of Parliament who acquires an office of profit is immediately and automatically disbarred. Even such minor offices as steward of the Chiltern Hundreds or the Manor of Northstead disqualify a Member, as is well known. As my noble friend Lady Park pointed out earlier, some people holding valuable and respectable positions under the Crown are also disbarred.
However, it turns out that someone who holds an office of profit under a foreign government is not disbarred. That is clearly an anomaly and the amendment would rectify it. I beg to move.
Certain persons holding an office of profit under the Crown may not sit as Members of the House of Commons. The offices concerned are listed in the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975--an Act that I am sure is well known to the noble Lord. That Act specifically states that an office of profit is not a cause of disqualification unless listed in the Act. The amendment is in direct conflict with that. The office holders that it lists are disqualified from taking seats in the House of Commons because they are Crown appointees. Members of Parliament need to be sufficiently independent to perform their functions. It is not a matter of offices of profit, but of independence from the Crown.
Successive governments have believed that it is not right to depart from the principles set out in the 1975 Act. The Bill would extend to Members of the Irish legislature the same right to sit as Members of the House of Commons as is available to members of Commonwealth legislatures. That has been knocked about in the Committee all evening and we all understand it.
A citizen of Ireland or of a Commonwealth country may or may not sit as a member of that country's legislature, according to that country's law on disqualification. We do not believe that it would be right to impose a new restriction that could extend the scope of existing disqualifications of Commonwealth citizens. On that basis, I suggest that the amendment should be withdrawn.
The purpose of the amendment has been achieved: it has shown how ridiculous the Bill is. The Minister's only defence, once again, is that the treatment of Members of the Irish legislature should be the same as that of Members of Commonwealth legislatures. We know perfectly well that no Member of a Commonwealth legislature has ever taken advantage of the provision or is likely to do so. The Minister's reason is empty.
I appreciate that the purpose of the office of profit rules for the House of Commons is that Members of Parliament should be independent of the Crown. They should be even more independent of foreign governments. We have heard once again that the so-called anomaly that the Bill is supposed to remove is by no means the only anomaly. On the contrary, the Bill is littered with them. That makes us all the more suspicious as to the reasons for picking out the particular anomaly that the Bill addresses. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 9:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--
(". Any person who is elected as a member of both the Northern Ireland Assembly and the legislature of Ireland shall receive no more than 50 per cent. of the office costs allowance payable to a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.").
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are self-explanatory. They may be regarded as frivolous or light-hearted. They provide that any dual members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the legislature of Ireland should have no more than 50 per cent of the salary and the office costs allowance of a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I would not have spoken to the amendments if we had heard a satisfactory explanation of the Bill. The Minister may well tell me that we do not reduce the salary of a Member of the Scottish Parliament who is also a Member of the House of Commons, or a Member of the European Parliament who is also a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly or of the House of Commons, let alone of those who are Members of three assemblies. I am well aware that there are several such examples.
However, the Government have made a threadbare case for the Bill. We have simply been told that they judge it to be right. They are not prepared to say why and think that it is no business of Parliament, although the Minister insists that we are scrutinising the Bill. I do not know how we can scrutinise anything if we do not receive any answers. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, told us that the Bill had been scrutinised with enormous care in the House of Commons in an all-night sitting. The fact is that there was so much outrage in the other place that they went on all night but they did not have adequate time to consider the Bill or to have a Report stage. The Government have made an inadequate case for the Bill, so an inadequate salary ought to be paid. I beg to move.
It may come as a surprise to my noble friend Lord Lamont, but I feel constrained to disagree with him on the amendment for two reasons. First, were this absurd Bill to become law--I sincerely hope that it will not--any Member of both the Dail and the British House of Commons would be taking on a heavy burden if they were to carry out their duties satisfactorily. I suspect that, for purely practical reasons, the job may be impossible without adequate support.
If this absurd Bill were to pass, the eventuality set out so clearly by my noble friend Lord Cope would follow as night follows day. Various members of Sinn Fein/IRA would attempt to represent their Northern Ireland constituencies in the Dail and would sit in the Dail by virtue of their 26 constituencies. If they were to do that, we should certainly find that they would be highly stretched if they were not able to finance adequate administrative support to sustain both offices. I suspect that, rather than needing only 50 per cent of the allowances from each Parliament, they would need rather more than 100 per cent in order to sustain not only their travel arrangements but also the substantial staffs that they would require.
Therefore, I advocate the reverse of my noble friend. I advocate that perhaps 150 per cent of the allowances should be available to such people. I do so secure in the knowledge that that would draw attention to the manifest absurdities of the provisions of this Bill in such a way as to ensure that the peoples of both the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom would laugh this measure to the scorn it deserves instead of giving it the lack of attention which so far they have done.
I rise briefly to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick. With his vast Treasury experience, I am sure that he will have sounded out the Exchequers in both capitals and that they will be only too willing to finance this added expenditure. They may even be able to take on board the suggestion made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. It may involve a modest increase in income tax in both jurisdictions, but I am sure that this is such a precious Bill that no one would balk at that additional expenditure and imposition of taxation.
While deferring to the noble Viscount, I should like to recall the words of the previous Speaker in order to support this discussion. When, as Speaker, she made her decision to refuse facilities to the two Sinn Fein Members who would not take their oath, she said:
"I declined to allow those Members passes to the Palace of Westminster, because that would provide automatic access to many of the facilities not open to them. I told them that they were in effect asking for associate membership of this House. Such a status does not exist".
It seems to me that anything that condones the idea that they might simultaneously fight an issue in the Dail and speak to an issue in the House of Commons is so absurd that it needs to be highlighted. That is why I see the point of the intervention of my noble friend Lord Cranborne. However, I still believe that we have had a clear indication that it is not proper that they should receive such allowances. I assume that they could receive them only if they were carrying out the necessary duties, which they cannot do.
Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask her a question. She suggested rightly that it might be difficult for a Member with a dual mandate to be in two different places at once. Does my noble friend believe that it would be possible to introduce a form of electronic voting so that, if there were a three-line whip, someone with a dual mandate could vote electronically in Westminster if they happened to be in Dublin?
Perhaps the Committee will allow me to reply to that. It rather reminds me of the recommendations of the Foreign Policy Centre that, instead of having embassies, we should have websites and virtual embassies. Therefore, if we are talking about virtual Members of the House of Commons and of the Dail, there is a great deal to be said for that idea.
I have a slight difficulty with this proposal. Over the past few seconds I have given considerable thought to this amendment and am rather torn between the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and that of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I understand the status of the two Sinn Fein Members in another place to be that of MPs elect. They are not currently taking their salaries. Therefore, there does not appear to be much pressure on the recipients of this piece of legislation to look for financial reward.
On the other hand, I was very taken by the argument of the noble Viscount regarding the amount of work that would be involved in being in at least two, and possibly three, places at one time. I was then persuaded by the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, with regard to the Exchequer--particularly in Dublin, which appears to be the recipient of a large amount of tax as a result of the Celtic Tiger.
I speak from my own experience as chairman of an Ulster Scots agency which is part of a cross-Border language implementation body. I have been to Dublin on a number of occasions to discuss matters with the authorities there. It is possible to do so without being a Member of the Irish Parliament. I have discussed with them issues that are of interest to the cross-Border body, such as the fact that every sign throughout the island of Ireland will have to be in Ulster Scots as well as in Irish. It is stated in the Belfast Agreement that parity must mean total equality in the North and South. Such a move will be very expensive as every sign must be changed.
Parity also means that when legislation such as this refers to the name of the Irish Parliament in Irish, it will also have to refer to it in Ulster Scots. The Ulster Scots word for Parliament is "Tolsel". Therefore, I would require future legislation of this type to refer to the Irish Parliament not only in Irish but in Ulster Scots as well. I repeat that it is stated in the Belfast Agreement that parity must mean total equality in the North and South.
As chairman of a cross-Border implementation body, I would not be prepared to cherry-pick the Belfast Agreement. I am sure that no one in this House would like me to do so and no one in Dublin wants me to do so. However, I recognise, and wish to place on the record in your Lordships' House, the generosity of taxpayers in the Irish Republic. In implementing the Belfast Agreement they will put up billions--not millions--of pounds in changing signs throughout the Irish Republic so that they appear in Ulster Scots as well as in Irish.
In addition there is the whole business of changing the curriculum. It will be necessary to ensure that in history as taught throughout the Irish Republic references to the British and the Ulster Scots are treated in a positive, not a negative, fashion. That may also prove to be expensive. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in relation to this matter. A large amount of money can be put into implementing the Belfast Agreement.
We would also need to ensure that, wherever people seek a job in public service in the island of Ireland--nowadays they require qualifications in Irish--parity--
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way because I am about to make another hostile comment. I cannot follow what the noble Lord's speech has to do with the amendments. I understand the point that he makes, but not in relation to the amendments.
In his time, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was one of the most popular Ministers to have come from this House. In the past I have regaled many stories about the noble Lord and, given the time, I am sure that I could do so again.
However, my point is that I am interested in the concept of expenses. As I understand it, this amendment concerns expenses. I am talking about the availability of funding in the Irish Republic to implement the Belfast Agreement. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that there is plenty of money available in the Irish Exchequer to implement the Belfast Agreement. I cited proof of that from my involvement as chairman of the language implementation body. It will cost the southern Irish taxpayers billions of pounds.
The television company in the south used to be called RTE but it will soon have another Ulster Scots name. It has recently introduced another version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Anybody who is lucky enough to be elected to three assemblies should, in future, be part of that process and perhaps we should suggest that they can phone a friend and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, might be that friend.
I am very taken with the arguments put forward by the noble Viscount. I have listened carefully to my distinguished colleague here, my noble friend Lord Molyneaux and the point which he made about the Exchequer. We should not be reducing expenses for anybody who falls into the category of being a multi-member of as many parliaments as he possibly can.
The noble Lord, Lord Laird, was looking forward to future amendments, perhaps to be tabled on Report, which we may have to consider. In no way do I want to equate myself with Solomon but, to a certain extent, I am in a similar dilemma to that in which he found himself on one occasion, in that my noble friend Lord Lamont supports the amendments and my noble friend Lord Cranborne opposes them.
I do not believe that anybody need worry about the Exchequer because, if my expectation is correct that it is the members of Sinn Fein who will take up those opportunities and they will not take up their seats at Westminster, then they will not receive the money for that half of their duties. No doubt they will earn whatever is paid to them by the Dail.
Of course, my noble friend is right about that and in his usual gentlemanly way did not point out directly that I had failed to observe that. Nevertheless, we are talking about tidiness here. I am sure that my noble friend will admit that it is at least theoretically possible that circumstances might change and in any piece of legislation we should anticipate that, if not a member of Sinn Fein, some other dual mandate person might find it possible to take the oath in both places.
The power to determine the salaries and expenses of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members, which is what these two amendments relate to, is in the Northern Ireland Assembly itself. It would therefore be for the Assembly to determine whether or not the salaries and allowances of its members should be reduced, as proposed in those amendments, or increased, as proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. No legislative provision is required to allow the Assembly to achieve this.
The Committee will know that Section 47(4) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 requires a reduction in the salaries where a member is not only a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly but also a Member of the House of Commons and/or the European Parliament. Members of the Committee will know that the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has a discretion in relation to what the deduction should be, reduced by two-thirds the salaries of Northern Ireland Assembly members who also had mandates elsewhere.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that explanation. I am grateful also to my noble friends who have spoken. When the noble and learned Lord said that salaries are in the hands of the Assembly, I began to get very alarmed because I thought that that could be a real licence to print money if the members there could determine their own salaries. But then I recalled that that, of course, is the situation in the House of Commons where Ministers, rather as the noble and learned Lord has reminded us regularly in this debate, remind the House of Commons and the House of Lords that that is a matter for them to decide. Of course, that is not so in Northern Ireland because, in fact, the Executive rules, so the dictum of the noble and learned Lord that the Assembly determines salaries may not be quite as alarming as it appears at first sight.
I am not entirely surprised that my noble friend Lord Cranborne took a different view. At one stage, I thought he was going to suggest a manuscript amendment. Indeed, while I am speaking, it is still possible for him to write out a manuscript amendment and I am sure that we should be able to have a further debate on the opposite proposition.
My noble friend Lady Park rightly referred to the ruling of the Speaker and the attempts that members of Sinn Fein have made to enjoy the benefits of the facilities of Westminster and the office costs allowance without taking their seats. We are all extremely grateful to the Speaker of the House of Commons for having taken such a robust line. That was one reason for tabling these amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Laird, spoke about cross-border institutions. That made me reflect that one of the points to which we object in this Bill is that the Government are seeking to make the Northern Ireland Assembly into a cross-border institution. That is the effect of this Bill: to make the status of Northern Ireland ambiguous; to make the Assembly into a cross-border institution. That is why we feel so strongly about this.
I do not propose to press these amendments to a Division, although if we ever reached the stage where the salaries or office costs allowances were being paid to Sinn Fein members, goodness knows where the money would end up. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 11:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--
In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 12 to 14. The amendments put forward a number of different propositions. The more we go into this Bill, the more complex the ramifications of it become and the more varied the number of situations which arise. The Bill is not at all what it first appears. It has multiple consequences. Thus, in these debates, we have been forced to table amendments which would have the effect of having no Ministers of other countries in either the House of Commons or the Northern Ireland Assembly; amendments, to which we shall come later, which ensure that Irish Ministers and chairmen of committees of the Irish parliament should not be Northern Ireland Ministers; that junior Irish Ministers should not be Northern Ireland Ministers; that Irish MPs should not be Northern Ireland Ministers; that Irish committee chairman should not be Northern Ireland Ministers, and that Irish Ministers and committee chairmen of the Irish Parliament should not be Northern Ireland committee chairmen. The combinations are infinite. However, in Amendments Nos. 11 to 14 we propose, only for dual Members of the House of Commons and the Dail, that it should not be possible to become a UK Minister. Amendment No. 12 proposes alternatively that it should not be possible for a Dail Member to be a UK Minister. This concerns the conflict of loyalties which we have continually emphasised in these debates.
Amendment No. 14 proposes that Irish MPs of either House should not be Speaker or Deputy Speaker in the House of Commons. I accept that it is for the House of Commons to determine, through an election, who should be Speaker. I was moved to table the amendment because it seemed rather bizarre that the Speaker of the House of Commons could in theory be an Irish Member of Parliament. However, I say in advance, even without hearing the Minister's reply, that that is not an amendment I wish to press.
Amendment No. 13 is important. It proposes that an Irish Minister should not be a UK Minister. I hope here that I might have some encouragement from the Liberal Democrat Benches. So far, the Liberal Democrats have not contributed to our debate in any way. However, I hope we may hear their views on this amendment. It was put forward by Simon Hughes in the House of Commons. It was presumably drafted by him or his office. Speaking for the Liberal Democrats from the Front Bench, he stated that he had gone along with the principles of the Bill, but that having done that, he drew a line. He stated
"In our view, no one should be able to hold simultaneously ministerial office in the Irish Government and ministerial office in the British Government or in the Northern Ireland Government ... We have always argued that there is no necessary incompatibility with being a member of two legislatures. We share that view with the Government".
But he went on to say:
"There is a strong conflict of interests. Someone who is a member of the Government in one country cannot simultaneously and without conflicts of interest arising be a member of the Government of another sovereign country."
He continued that, although it would be unlikely that a British Prime Minister would choose such a person to go into his government, nonetheless, as has been evident from everything we have discussed, the Bill was dealing with things which are theoretical and probably unlikely to occur. He stated:
"The Minister asked me whether what I described would be likely in the real world. The entire Bill is in large measure about things that do not happen in that world. The Bill is about whether Members of Commonwealth Parliaments would be Members of the Westminster Parliament. The Minister said that there are not any such Members in that position and there never have been. I understand that no one has previously served in a Parliament in this country while simultaneously being a Member of a Commonwealth country Parliament".--[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/00, cols. 493 and 494.]
Needless to say, he went on to state that he supported his own amendment and that he did not believe that someone should be able to hold ministerial office in the Irish Government and the British Government or the Northern Ireland Government at the same time. That was the view of the Liberal Democrats. I therefore hope that the Liberal Democrat spokesman will give Amendment No. 13 his warm support.
I understand the reason why my noble friend tabled the amendments. He is right to point out that if a conflict of loyalties exists for a Back Bench Member of both sovereign parliaments, an even greater conflict of interest and loyalty will exist for people who hold any form of office, not only in the sovereign parliament but also in the subsidiary parliaments and assemblies of the United Kingdom. I do not think I need to add to the points raised by the noble Lord. They are evidence enough of the difficulties of the Bill as brought before us and why we oppose it in principle.
However, there is another difficulty which the Government need to address. It is something which I suspect has worried Members of the Committee in relation to other pieces of legislation ever since the 1997 general election. The devolution legislation, particularly for Scotland, raised precisely this point. One of the glories of your Lordships' Chamber is that every Member of it is equal. Whatever we feel about each other, our experience and our capabilities, we are all equal and theoretically are able to perform jobs open to us, whether as members of Government, Opposition Front Bench or as members or chairmen of Select Committees. I believe I am right in saying that the same is true of another place.
One of the difficulties thrown up by the West Lothian question is how it is possible effectively to create two classes of Member in another place. We know that it is possible for a Member of Parliament from a Scottish constituency to vote on matters not devolved to English regions but devolved to the Scottish Parliament. And this Bill is providing a classic locus of conflict. My noble friend and I strongly believe that there is a conflict of interest which is insoluble for members of two sovereign parliaments. As he eloquently made clear, any office holder covered by Amendments Nos. 11 to 14, will have an even greater conflict of interest. It is therefore beyond peradventure undesirable that such office holders should be members of another sovereign parliament. But at the same time, as soon as we accept my noble friend's amendments, we immediately create two classes of Member in another place. That is inevitable when we get ourselves into the difficulties that the Government have got themselves into over Scottish devolution and, equally, over this Bill.
When confronted with what seemed to me two irreconcilable matters, one had to make a choice, just as the leader of my party made a choice with his slogan, "English votes for English laws". I can understand why he did that and I am sure that, like me, he felt that that was the least bad option open to us for the West Lothian question, even though it raises all sorts of difficulties of a kind of which my noble friend will be more than well aware.
My noble friend has done us a great service by tabling Amendments Nos. 11 to 14. He is right in saying that the conflict of loyalties for office holders of this kind is greater even than it would be for members of two sovereign parliaments. But he is introducing another difficulty which will need resolution if, as I hope, he succeeds in this amendment; that is, how is another place to deal with having two classes of Member? As I repeated ad nauseam in the debates on reform of your Lordships' House, that is profoundly undesirable. There is a distinct difference between taking different routes to membership of an Assembly and, once there, having different rights within it. That is a conflict I am sorry to find. I do not blame my noble friend; I am sure he is well aware of it. And he is right that, when one is forced to make a judgment in these matters, to try to resolve the question of inherent conflict of interest seems to be more important.
That shows that the Government are opening a can which will lead them into all sorts of difficulties, comparable to those they are beginning to face in the native heath of the noble and learned Lord.
As someone who sat through many debates in the other place as far back as the home rule and devolution for Scotland debates in the time of the Callaghan government, it is true that there has never been a clear resolution of the difficulty of what he rightly calls two classes of member. But at least in one way or another they are paying taxation to the same Treasury. But in this Bill, without giving much thought to it, we are creating a third-class member from another sovereign country who presumably will be permitted to vote on expenditure and taxation within the United Kingdom, although not himself contributing to taxation within it. I agree with the noble Viscount that that is not something we can lightly pass over. We are having problems with Scotland already. If the Northern Ireland Assembly reaches the point where it is given powers to increase taxation, then naturally we shall spotlight the anomaly contained in these provisions.
I assume that most of your Lordships will agree that these are relatively unlikely possibilities being provided for in this block of amendments. Both ministerial speakers in the debates today have based their recommendations for this Bill on the idea that the whole thing is an unlikely possibility. It is we who believe that the opportunities offered by the Bill may lead to very serious consequences. If we are to correct anomalies, those addressed by this block of amendments seem to be extremely interesting and should certainly be considered.
I am particularly attracted to Amendment No. 13. I believe that the extracts from the speech of Mr Simon Hughes in another place were particularly forceful, not least because of their origin and speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. It would be particularly damaging if that particular loophole was not closed and an attempt was made to use it.
We have had quite a lengthy discourse on this particular group of amendments. I am not quite sure that they were worth it, but obviously I have to respect the Members of the Committee and the way in which they address the amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, really gave the game away when he said that much of what they sought to deal with was theoretical. I felt that throughout much of the discussion. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, raised an interesting point about a conflict of interest if Irish Ministers were to hold ministerial office in the UK Government. One can accept that such a potential for conflict could exist in a particular circumstance, but I do not believe that it is necessary to legislate to prevent it because the existing protections, in our view, are more than sufficient.
These amendments seek to add additional protection against potential conflicts. All the offices to which the amendments refer, unlike those in the Northern Ireland Assembly to which the Bill applies, are offices filled by election or appointment by the Prime Minister or the House of Commons. They are free to choose not to elect or appoint to the office a member of the Irish legislature or the Irish Government.
As regards the Northern Ireland Ministers and the chairman and deputy chairman of the statutory committees of the Assembly, those posts are filled by the d'Hondt system which allocates posts according to the number of seats held by parties in the Assembly. We believe that the provisions in the Bill are necessary to prevent a possible conflict of interest where the same individual holds offices as specified in the Bill in both the Assembly and the Irish legislature. Clearly, the same situation does not apply to appointments made by the Prime Minister or the House of Commons. For those reasons, we believe that the proposed amendments--no doubt well intentioned in their strange way--are completely unnecessary.
I am sorry that the Minister thought that to spend 15 or 17 minutes after he had spoken was rather a long time for such amendments. No doubt he would take an even dimmer view of the length of time that the House of Commons took considering the Bill. It was forced to sit all night because of the way in which the Bill was presented. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, called that "scrutiny". To most of us it seemed farcical. It was put forward with such a timetable without an adequate reason being offered.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. In moving the amendment, he said--I paraphrase--that he thought they were dealing with somewhat of a theoretical situation. That was the context in which I made my observation.
I believe that they were dealing with a theoretical possibility, but, as Mr Simon Hughes said in another place, the whole Bill deals with a theoretical possibility. It is one which the noble Viscount, my honourable friends and I hope will never come about. Our objection to the Bill is that we do not know what is theoretical and what is real. We do not know what is around the corner because the Government will give no explanation of why this mysterious Bill which no one wants is being put forward. In constitutional terms, it is an outrage that the Bill is being put forward.
On a previous amendment, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, accused me of believing in conspiracies. I have every reason to do so when I see the policy document put forward by Sinn Fein and when the Bill was justified simply in terms of administrative tidying up. I could give Ministers thousands of anomalies in our taxation legislation, some of which I created, and I should be delighted if they would tidy them all up tomorrow. When an anomaly exists, it is not normal that Ministers rush forward and publish something almost on Christmas Eve so that political parties have no communication through official channels nor an opportunity to consult outside bodies. The Bill was introduced in January, just after the House of Commons returned--
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I think that he over-eggs the argument. Yes, the Bill was published in December and there was a full month for it to be commented on by other parties. I understand that the parties in Northern Ireland were made fully aware of the publication of the Bill and there was that period in which they could have passed extra comment on it.
The Minister says that there was a full month. The Bill was published three days before Christmas, on the day when Parliament rose and everyone went off on holiday. No one was going to be aware of press releases and publications between 22nd December and 2nd or 3rd January. The Bill then had its Second Reading and Committee stage--there was no Report stage--in the first week of Parliament's return. I do not believe that that is adequate consultation.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. He had enormous experience of introducing and promoting legislation when he was a Minister in another place. Did he ever introduce a Bill purely for administrative convenience and without explaining to another place whether there was a demand for it? Did he explain whether he had taken soundings on such a Bill and, if he had, during his explanation for introducing it, did he fail to say who was in favour of it and why?
I must confess that I introduced many measures for which there was no demand--indeed, there was positive opposition! However, I hope that I have always tried to the best of my ability to explain why I thought a measure was necessary even if the rest of the world did not. It seems to me that either you explain why something is necessary or you explain who wants it. We have received no explanation of the Bill and to hear it described as tidying up an anomaly, when the anomaly has been no obstacle to anything that has happened so far in the real world, merely fuels one's suspicions that other things are going on and that the Bill is designed only as part of the appeasement of Sinn Fein/IRA that has characterised what the Government have done.
We are moving into a world in which morality and common sense are suspended, in which Ministers say, "We don't know who fired a rocket at MI6", and in which we preach to other countries about what they should do about people who have abused human rights. What on earth is the meaning of incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into British law when we do nothing to arrest those who torture and knee-cap people? The European Convention on Human Rights and its prohibition on torture has no meaning when applied to governments. In this country, it has meaning only when applied to the action of people such as members of the IRA. It is a farce for people on the Benches opposite to preach the merits of human rights and of incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into British law when they do nothing about the right of people not to be tortured by the IRA. They set aside the judgments of courts and release prisoners, yet preach to the new democratically-elected President of Serbia how he should deal with so-called men of violence in his own country. However, I must not digress.
The Minister did not deal in any way with the question raised by my noble friend Lord Cranborne about reproduction of the Scottish question and the creation of two classes of members, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said, the creation of three classes of members.
"In our view, no one should be able to hold simultaneously ministerial office in the Irish Government and ministerial office in the British Government or in the Northern Ireland Government ... There is a strong conflict of interests. Someone who is a member of the Government in one country cannot simultaneously and without conflicts of interest arising be a member of the Government of another sovereign country".--[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/00; col. 493.]
It is Mr Hughes' amendment that I put forward. I propose to divide the Committee on that amendment, and I assume that in so doing I shall have the support of the Liberal Democrats.
Before the noble Lord sits down, he has endeavoured, quite successfully, to goad me into rising to speak. The reason I have not spoken to this matter is that earlier today the Conservative Front Bench protested about the length of Committee stages. This evening we have been subjected to filibuster on the part of the Conservative Benches. I am certain that my honourable friend in another place would not want his arguments to be prayed in aid in that filibuster, and that is the reason for my silence.
I am dismayed and astonished by the observations of the Liberal Democrats. I am surprised that they cannot support the amendment as drafted by their own spokesman. Like Mr Hughes, I regard this issue as of considerable importance. He agreed with some of the points aired in another place in Committee. It is utterly wrong to suggest that there has been filibustering. We have had relatively short debates on the individual amendments. The Minister complained that we had taken 15 minutes for one amendment. If a filibuster was going on several hours might be thought to be appropriate. I do not see how 15 minutes to deal with four amendments can be described as a filibuster. I do not wish to prolong this debate. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 11. I shall not move Amendment No. 12 but shall put Amendment No. 13--the Liberal Democrats' amendment--to a vote in the Division Lobby.
moved Amendment No. 13:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--
(2) A minister in the government of the United Kingdom ceases to hold office on becoming a minister in the Government of Ireland.").
In moving this amendment, I wish to discuss the other amendments in the grouping. All the amendments refer to qualifications required or disqualifications provided for the officers of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The previous group of amendments concerned disqualifications for UK Ministers. I was interested to note that, in the Division, the Liberal Democrats voted against their own amendment. I suppose that is life, but I hope that the Minister did not confuse them into going through the wrong Lobby.
This group of amendments concerns the disqualifications for the officers of the Northern Ireland Assembly; namely, the presiding officer, the deputy presiding officer, the chairman and deputy chairman of Assembly committees and so forth. Amendment No. 33A, tabled in the name of certain noble Lords opposite, concerns the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission.
Many of these bodies are appointed by a complex d'Hondt procedure, invented by Professor d'Hondt. That means that the choice of those who come to hold the various offices is not always in the gift of any one individual. In the previous amendment we discussed Ministers of the UK Government, the choice of which is clearly in the gift of the Prime Minister of the day. In that case, he or she can be expected to look after the national interest, which makes it slightly less likely that the eventualities foreseen in those amendments would occur. However, so far as concerns this group of amendments, it is quite likely that eventualities could turn out in the way we are seeking to protect against.
Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, made the point in the earlier amendment by referring ahead to government amendments which cover Northern Ireland Ministers. The basic proposition behind the amendments in my name in this grouping is that the presiding officer or his deputy, and, for that matter, the chairmen of the various Assembly committees--they will be important people working in the Assembly--should be in a similar position to the Northern Ireland Ministers themselves. I beg to move.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 17, 24, 33A and 45. Amendment No. 17 has a clear purpose; namely, that of placing the presiding officer, the deputy presiding officer, committee chairmen and deputy chairmen within the same restrictions as those which apply to the First and Deputy First Minister and those which apply to Ministers and junior Ministers.
Just as Ministers, whether they be First, Deputy or junior, should not be Ministers in the Government of Ireland, neither should the presiding officer be capable of being a Minister in the Government of the Republic of Ireland. The presiding officer or any Speaker of any House has an implicit duty to act even-handedly towards all members of that assembly, irrespective of their political outlook.
That duty will be difficult enough with the Speaker being an elected Member of the Assembly, never mind being a member of the government of another country. How, then, could a Minister of the Government of Ireland conceivably be effective as a presiding officer? This aspect of Amendment No. 17 is perfectly logical, and even more so in the case of committee chairmen.
The committee chairmen aspect of Amendment No. 17 is more important than that of the presiding officer. As the Bill stands, it will always remain a possibility that the presiding officer is a member of the Government of Ireland. However, according to the Bill, it is more a probability that, by virtue of d'Hondt, a committee chairman will, at some point in time, be a Member of the Government of Ireland.
With d'Hondt being used as the procedure for appointing committee chairs, parties with a minor level of support are, via d'Hondt, able to appoint a chairman or deputy chairman. Indeed, d'Hondt empowers minority parties to select a chairman. It is not, therefore, beyond the realms of possibility that Sinn Fein could appoint someone who was a member of the Assembly and a member of the Government of Ireland to a committee chair. Even if the vast majority of the Assembly members opposed the appointment, even if it was cross-community, it would have no effect on the appointment.
It must be remembered that, via d'Hondt, the Progressive Unionist Party, with two seats in the Assembly--which is not even 2 per cent of the seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly--was able to nominate the chairman of the Audit Committee. The Alliance Party, with just six seats--just under 6 per cent of the seats in the Assembly--was able to nominate a committee chairman for the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee.
I have not addressed the issue of conflict of interests. However, I believe that what I have said already is sufficient for one to conclude that the presiding officer and committee chairmen should be in the same category as Ministers and junior Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Turning briefly to Amendment No. 24, it will be clear that the amendment has the same raison d'etre as Amendment No. 17 but concerns a slightly different scenario. Amendment No. 17 would apply to a situation where a person is a member of the Government of Ireland and then attempts to hold office in the Executive. Amendment No. 24 applies to the situation where a person is an office holder in Northern Ireland and then becomes a Minister in the Government of the Republic of Ireland. These two amendments are sides of the same coin.
Similarly, Amendments Nos. 33A and 45, although not sides of the same coin, concern the same point. These two amendments seek to exclude Ministers in the Republic of Ireland who are sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly from becoming a commissioner in the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission. The function of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission, inter alia, is to provide the property, staff and services required for the Assembly to function.
However, I shall make two other points on roles that commissioners have undertaken. With respect to the issue of the flying of the flag, a member of the commission, acting as a commissioner, recently announced in the Assembly that the flag will be flown from parliament buildings on the stipulated 17 days until the Assembly can agree otherwise. How could we have a Minister of the Government of Ireland taking such a decision as a commissioner and yet retaining the confidence of the population of Northern Ireland?
A second point on the commission concerns the role of appointing staff. The commission makes appointments to positions such as the examiner of statutory rules for the Assembly. How can a Minister from the Government of Ireland judge such a key appointment within a legal system and legislative process which is alien to them, they having experience of a system based on a written constitution?
It is clear that the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission should not be ignored. It is an important body and the role of a commissioner is important. It is extremely unlikely that the commission could retain the confidence of the population of Northern Ireland if a Minister of the Government of Ireland were to be seen taking decisions such as those of a commissioner.
I hope that the Minister will consider these amendments and reflect on what has been said. We should try to improve draft legislation--even a piece of draft legislation as unnecessary and poorly justified as this.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. It is clear that this group of amendments concern not only preserving the neutrality of the presiding officer of the Assembly and other office holders, but making sure that it is seen to be preserved. We are yet again in the vexed area of conflict of interest that has dogged this Bill from the beginning.
It is surely in the nature of a Minister to be partisan. It is his or her business to support the actions of the government of whom he or she is a member. Is it not, therefore, self-evident, merely taking Amendment No. 15, that it would be wholly incompatible for an Irish Minister, or indeed a British Minister, to become presiding officer of the Assembly and for the Minister concerned to be able to pretend that he or she could swap hats depending on which chair he or she was sitting in at the time?
We know, if only from the identity of the present presiding officer of the Assembly and his party, that perceived neutrality is particularly important. I suspect that he was selected as the nearest thing to the middle of the spectrum in Northern Ireland that could be found. It seems to me that, however unlikely this eventuality might be, it would be deeply reassuring, at least, if even the unlikely eventuality of an Irish Minister occupying any of the offices listed in these amendments were legislated against and enshrined as an impossibility.
I join other noble Lords in supporting the amendments, particularly Amendment No. 33A, which refers to the Assembly Commission. It is not fully understood that the commission is a most important body within the Assembly, having overall control under Section 40 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 for,
"the property, staff and services required for the Assembly's purposes".
It is not widely appreciated, but the commission looks after the personnel and recruitment of staff for the Assembly, the Clerk of Bills, the Clerk of Committees, the Editor of Debates, the Keeper of the House and the research and library services, as well as having responsibility for the key issue of flags and whether or not they are flown over parliament buildings at Stormont. It is simply not possible that a Minister in the Irish Republic could be a member of the commission of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It would bring discredit to the whole system and would make a laughing-stock of the Belfast agreement.
Recruitment of staff is possibly one of the key points. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, pointed to the Assembly Examiner of Statutory Rules. Candidates for the post are required to have experience of, and specialisation in, the preparation and interpretation of legislation. The Irish Republic has a written constitution; the preparation and interpretation of legislation in the Republic is completely different from that in the United Kingdom, where there is no such written constitution. It is, therefore, wholly inappropriate that an Irish Minister should be a member of the Assembly Commission, which is responsible for appointments to such sensitive posts as Examiner of Statutory Bills. I support the amendment.
These amendments seek to include the post of presiding officer, deputy presiding officer and members of the Assembly Commission among posts that may not be held by an Irish Minister, or, as proposed in other amendments, even a Member of the Irish legislature. Amendment No. 16 and the second part of Amendment No. 17 propose that someone cannot be a Member of the Irish Government and also a chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory or an ad hoc committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
As to the second group of amendments dealing with chairmen and deputy chairmen of statutory committees, the Government are broadly of the same mind as those proposing the amendments. There are later amendments on the Marshalled List that would have that effect.
The area where there is a difference of view between us relates to ad hoc committees in the Northern Ireland Assembly, as opposed to statutory committees. The Government's view is that there should not be a prohibition in relation to ad hoc committees because, unlike statutory committees, they have no role to play in the development of policy and no power to initiate legislation. Therefore, the appropriate level to include in the provision is chairman and deputy chairman of statutory committees.
As far as concerns the position of presiding officer and deputy presiding officer, they have no role either in policy development or in relation to the initiation of policy. So, again, we do not believe that any conflict of interest would arise in that respect. As to the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission, I can tell the Committee that the commission is a body corporate and no commissioner has individual powers. Assembly commissioners are appointed in accordance with Assembly standing orders and the Assembly has power to determine this and to direct the commission. However, a powerful case was made in relation to Assembly commissioners. Therefore, although we stand by our position in relation to presiding officer and deputy presiding officer, perhaps I may take away the points made about the Assembly commissioners and consider them. In the light of my response, I respectfully ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
One must, of course, be grateful for small mercies. Since we tabled these amendments, I am grateful for the fact that the Government have tabled their own amendments, which, as the noble and learned Lord said, partially take the point. However, as he also made clear, they do not wholly take the point, especially as regards the presiding officer, the deputy presiding officer and the commission. I am sorry about that. But, nevertheless, we should be grateful for small mercies. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Noble Lords have been waiting for these amendments all evening; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, referred to them a long while ago. These amendments come with another group of amendments that have been tabled in order to debate the whole issue. Government Amendments Nos. 18, 25, 30, 40 and 43 recognise that parliamentary and statutory committees of the Assembly all have the power to initiate legislation and, hence, have a role in policy development--a critical distinction. As currently drafted, the Bill prevents Irish Ministers from holding ministerial office in Northern Ireland because of the potential conflict of interest that that would involve.
The same potential for a conflict of interest would exist if an Irish Minister were to be appointed as the chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory committee of the Assembly, or the chairman or deputy chairman of the Irish Parliament were to be appointed as a Northern Ireland Minister or as the chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory committee of the Assembly. It is, therefore, appropriate to extend the Bill, as provided in these amendments. I commend them to the Committee.
Amendments Nos. 23 and 29 are, I believe, covered by the government amendments already tabled, with the exception that we do not believe it necessary to include ad hoc committees, which, as I believe my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer observed earlier, have no statutory role in the development of policy. Hence they have no power to initiate legislation. Again, therefore, the conflict of interest that we are seeking to prevent will not arise when a person holds office as an Irish Minister, or as chairman or deputy chairman of an Irish parliamentary committee; and, indeed, as chairman of an ad hoc committee.
"Minister of the Government of Ireland".
Again, we believe this to be unnecessary, as the term "Junior Minister" is not used by the Irish Government. We consider that it is superfluous for that reason. As such, the reference to,
"Minister of the Government of Ireland", adequately covers Irish junior Ministers. Clause 2 refers explicitly to junior Ministers in Northern Ireland because the Northern Ireland Act 1998 provides for different methods of appointment for Northern Ireland Ministers and we consequently believe it necessary and right to refer to Northern Ireland junior Ministers explicitly to ensure that they are covered by the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 20, 22, 26, 28 and, I believe, 44 seek to extend the scope of Clause 2 to disqualify any Member of the Irish legislature from holding Northern Ireland ministerial office or serving as chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory committee of the Assembly. Amendment No. 44 is a consequential amendment to the Title.
These amendments go much further than we believe is necessary or required to prevent the conflict of interest that is of concern and, as such, are contrary to the purpose of the Bill which is, as we have explained on many occasions, to place Irish citizens in the same position as Commonwealth citizens in recognition of the close relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland which has been strengthened--as all in this Chamber have observed--since the coming into effect of the Belfast agreement and the resultant changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 19 which stands in my name and that of others states:
I listened carefully to what the Minister has just said. However, new Section 19A(c) refers, at line 15 of page 1, in a slightly different context to the words,
"be appointed as a junior Minister".
It seems logical to read line 15 in conjunction with line 16--the latter line as amended by our amendment--
"(c) be appointed as a junior Minister, if he is a Minister or Junior Minister of the Government of Ireland".
I think that that format would be tidier and less likely to be misunderstood. I do not believe that it would breach any great policy decision. I do not see how it could be resented by anyone as it constitutes a minor tidying up in so far as it makes one line consistent with the following.
As I said in connection with the previous amendment, I accept Amendment No. 18 and those that are associated with it as a small but important concession on the Government's part. However, I wonder how it fits in with the choreography of Northern Ireland that we heard about earlier from the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms. Nevertheless, it is welcome.
However, as the Minister pointed out, Amendment No. 20 and those that are associated with it attempt to go further. I see no reason why Members of the Dail should be acceptable as Northern Ireland Ministers. I think that that would constitute a terrible conflict of interest. Given the d'Hondt procedure, it is not in anyone's gift to stop it unless we stop it in the legislation. That is the purpose of the amendments I mentioned which go further than the Government's.
I hope that it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I apologise. When the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, moved his amendment, I should have advised the Committee that, if Amendment No. 18 were agreed to, I should not be able to call Amendments Nos. 19 to 21. I apologise for that slip.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 25A and 26. All four of these amendments are concerned with which positions within the government of Ireland should be excluded from the listed places in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
If it is deemed improper for a junior Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly to become a Minister in the Republic of Ireland's Government, why is that not reciprocated? Why will it be possible for a junior Minister in the Irish Government to be a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly? Do members of Sinn Fein only, initially at least, wish to be junior Ministers in the Republic of Ireland's Government?
These two amendments provide for the situation where one person is a junior Minister in the Government of Ireland and then becomes a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly; the order of appointment is reversed. I note that government Amendments Nos. 18, 25 and 30 attempt to rectify the problem a little.
The problem does not appear to have been given sufficient attention in another place by the Government, even though they had adequate opportunity during what I believe were some 27 hours of debate. However, the issue of junior Ministers has still not been favourably resolved, as with some other office holders in both assemblies. Therefore, I believe that the most sensible solution is to accept Amendments Nos. 20 and 26. That must be preferable to attempting to draw impossible boundaries, grouping together permissible office holders and excluding others. We do not need to concern ourselves with particular posts in the Irish Government or Parliament if we simply exclude all members of that legislature from holding the listed positions in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The reasons why we should exclude all members of the Irish legislature is founded not only on necessary clarity but also on the inevitable conflict of interest which has been much debated already today. The means of determining Northern Ireland's constitutional position is clearly found in the Belfast Agreement--unlike this Bill which is clearly not in the agreement.
Enabling a person to hold office in Northern Ireland and yet sit in the legislature of the Republic of Ireland is a means of clouding the clarity with which Northern Ireland's constitutional status was stated in the Belfast Agreement. That agreement cannot and should not be cherry picked. This piece of legislation should not be used as a means of renegotiating that agreement on behalf of the republicans.
I support Amendments Nos. 20 and 26. I urge the Committee to support Amendments Nos. 19 and 25A only as a second preference to the complete exclusion of all members of the Irish legislature from holding the listed offices in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
We have debated the issue at great length and time moves on. If what I shall say is out of order perhaps noble Lords will tell me. However, in a few days' time we shall debate the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill. As the Disqualification Bill is drafted, a Minister in the Government of Ireland can be in the Northern Ireland Assembly. By virtue of Schedule 3 to the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, a member of the Assembly can then sit on the police board. Schedule 3 to that Bill excludes Ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembly from being on the police board. However, by removing disqualification, the Disqualifications Bill permits Ministers of the Irish Government who are also members of the Assembly to be on that police board.
How will that encourage the population of Northern Ireland to have confidence in the new police board? Can the Minister remind me how well thought out the Disqualifications Bill is?
I welcome government Amendments Nos. 18 and 25, which ensure that Irish Ministers and committee chairmen of the Irish Parliament cannot be Northern Ireland Ministers. Amendment No. 30 provides that Irish Ministers and committee chairmen of the Irish Parliament cannot be Northern Ireland committee chairmen. The Minister has recognised the fact--I welcome it--that committee chairmen are part of the process of policy development. The point was raised in another place but I welcome the fact that this modest concession has been made.
My Amendments Nos. 22 and 28 would provide that Irish Members of Parliament could not be Northern Ireland Ministers. The Minister said that he did not think that that was a sufficient conflict of interest, although he has given no reasons for his judgment and has made a different judgment for committee chairmen. As my noble friend Lord Cope said from the Front Bench, there could be a serious conflict of interest.
I have one question for the Minister on which he may need to take advice. This may be inaccurate, but I have read that Members of the European Parliament cannot be Northern Ireland Ministers and that that is why Ian Paisley and John Hume are not part of the Executive, but have left it to their deputy leaders. Perhaps the Minister can tell me whether that is right.
It would be helpful if we could have advice now. I am grateful to the Minister for intervening, but if what I have said is right, it casts his rejection of the amendment in an odd light. I do not understand why he should reject the suggestion that Irish MPs should not be Northern Ireland Ministers if Members of the European Parliament cannot be members of the Executive. I beg the Minister's forgiveness for asking the question, but I have read of that provision. I know that the Liberals will accuse me of filibustering. I certainly cannot accuse them of filibustering as they sit there without saying a word in this very important debate. No accusation so inglorious as filibustering can be levelled against them. They do not seem to worry in slightest about this constitutional outrage. I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten me on my question.
The amendments are of considerable interest. We are grateful to the Government for the concessions that they have made, but I hope that the Committee will reflect on the extraordinary situation that we are contemplating as though it were an everyday matter. Not only are we debating the possibility of Members of another sovereign Parliament becoming Ministers in a devolved administration of the United Kingdom, but we have to make it explicit that Ministers in another sovereign state should not have executive power in a devolved assembly that forms part of the United Kingdom. If we replaced the word "Irish" with the word "French", the absurdity of the debate would become immediately apparent. As the Minister has often said that the Bill tidies up an anomaly relating to provisions for Commonwealth countries, I might add that the same would apply to substituting the words "Indian", "Australian" or "South African".
Either we are a sovereign nation or we are not. If the Government do not believe in the future of the nation state, they should say so. If they do, they have no business introducing the Bill. I am grateful for small mercies, but it remains entirely logical that an elected Member of a foreign Parliament should not have even a remote possibility of becoming a member of the executive of a devolved government in the United Kingdom. That makes no sense, even when contemplating matters Irish. One finds one's suspicions entirely confirmed about what the effects of the legislation will be when the Government temporise on matters of this kind.
I am concerned about the perception of this proposal in Northern Ireland. In the context of new Articles 2 and 3:
"It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage".
Article 3 states:
"It is the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities".
It then properly goes on:
"recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people".--[Official Report, Commons, 26/1/00; col. 349].
That sounds fine. However, I am concerned that we are enabling the introduction of Trojan horses. That is how it will be perceived by people in Northern Ireland. The North/South arrangements are already in place and there are plenty of opportunities--for example, through the Council of the Isles and a hundred other organisations--for a coming together of the two parts of the country, if one views Ireland as one island and not one nation. There are plenty of opportunities perhaps for an eventual change by a majority of the people. However, what is being proposed now goes way ahead of that. It introduces Trojan horses. I believe that that is something that we should identify and resist.
I am grateful for the kind words of support for the government amendment. I have not been overly convinced by the points that have been made to advance the other amendments. I shall run through some of the issues to which they advert.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, referred to Amendments Nos. 19 and 25A. We hold to the point that the argument that he advanced puts forward a cause that does not need to be supported. As I believe I said at the outset, the existing reference to a "Minister" of the Government of Ireland is sufficient to cover any junior Minister in that government. Furthermore, as is widely understood, the term "Junior Minister" is not used in the Irish Government. Therefore, the two amendments would not have any impact or relevance. They do not work in the context of this Bill and they achieve no effect.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, posed a question in relation to preventing Dail Members becoming Ministers in Northern Ireland. He said that he believed that to go too far. We do not believe that being a Member of the Irish legislature or a Northern Ireland Minister creates the conflict of interest that the noble Lord envisages. We believe that that occurs only in respect of ministerial office or in relation to the chairman and deputy chairman posts set out in the government amendment. Therefore, we do not view that matter in the same way as does the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, asked a specific question about membership of the police board. Although he anticipates that--
Will the noble Lord explain why he believes that? As we know, a Minister must make decisions. The noble Lord considers that a Minister might be subject to undue influence or undue pressure because he is a southern Ireland Minister. However, if it is only a question of voting, why are the considerations different? A person may vote subject to influences similar to those which influence a Minister. What is the distinction?
It is a difficult question to answer. The noble Lord makes a point. I personally believe that there is no conflict. The noble Lord takes a different view. We must agree to differ on that point.
That really is not an answer. If a Minister is influenced because he is a member of parliament in southern Ireland, why would a member of both parliaments not be equally influenced? They are both likely to be influenced by the same pressures. There is no reason for saying one is influenced and one is not.
Ministers are in a different position because they are much more involved in the day-to-day formulating, and giving executive action to policy. Members are different because they are not involved in that. The similarity is, of course, that they are all involved in making decisions.
Before the noble Lord leaves that point, it is my recollection, from having been a Member of another place, that there are a number of Members at any given time who would like to be Ministers but have not yet been appointed. Some never are, quite properly. Nevertheless, they are more prepared to agree with the government than their independent judgment might suggest was wise from time to time. There are other considerations too which bear on the behaviour of individual Members of Parliament. I speak as a former Whip.
In those circumstances, one cannot so easily dismiss this matter by saying that ordinary Members of Parliament are not subject to pressure from their fellows, including Ministers and Whips in their own government. They are. If the Minister is suggesting that only Ministers make important decisions, that is extremely demeaning for Parliament. I realise that Parliament has suffered a lot of difficulties in the past few years and this is another one.
Ministers are in a different position and for that reason we have moved to prevent that possibility. A Minister in two different parliaments clearly could give rise to conflicts of interest caused by collective responsibility but there is not quite the same degree of conflict if one is a member in one and a Minister in the other. I believe that Members of the Committee will accept that that is a fair and reasonable point to make.
The noble Baroness makes an observation in a sedentary position but she has not joined in the debate.
Perhaps I may complete my explanation to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, in relation to membership of the police board. The police Bill envisages that the political members of the police board will be appointed in proportion, depending on the strength of seats held by the Northern Ireland parties in the Assembly. The strength of that will be unaffected by dual membership and will depend very much on the Assembly elections.
The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, asked whether Members of the European Parliament can be Ministers in Northern Ireland. European rules prevent that. It is not UK law. It is something which exists within the rules of the European Parliament. That applies to all EU countries.
Yes, that is right. I am confirming that possibility. I believe that that answers the various points which Members of the Committee raised during the course of the debate. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
I shall be brief. This amendment relates to another anomaly which, as the Bill stands, is not being corrected. The amendment provides that Commonwealth Ministers should not be Northern Ireland Ministers. We have already discussed the prospect of southern Irish Ministers not being Northern Ireland Ministers and have agreed about that.
We have been presented with the theoretical possibility, all day, that members of Commonwealth legislatures might start coming into the House of Commons. That particular charade of the Government's has already been exposed as being extremely threadbare. So far as one can detect, there have been no examples in history of anybody from a Commonwealth legislature being a Member of the House of Commons. Nobody has been able to find an example of that. All the amendment does is to expose that charade a little more. I beg to move.
I suppose that we all have to repeat ourselves during the course of debate. However, the noble Lord is being entirely consistent with his earlier amendments. He will appreciate that the Government's argument for rejecting the amendment is the same as for any of our amendments. They go much further than we believe is necessary to prevent a conflict of interest arising. As such they are contrary to the purpose of the Bill, which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and I have said before, is to place Irish citizens in the same position as Commonwealth citizens in recognition of the very close relationship between the United Kingdom and Irish Governments and which, as has been recognised since the Belfast agreement, has brought about many welcome changes. On that basis, we cannot be entirely consistent and accept the noble Lord's amendment.
The whole point of the amendment is that, as the Bill stands, the position in respect of the Commonwealth and Ireland is not the same. This is a small point where it is simply not the same. It is no good saying that it is consistent. The Government have been saying all day that we should make the position in respect of Ireland the same as for the Commonwealth, despite the fact that that is not a sensible comparison. Now, when I seek to place Ireland in the same position as the Commonwealth in this respect, they say, "We do not want to be consistent in this respect because we think it is useless and pointless and will never apply". That drives home my point that the analogy with the Commonwealth, which was the foundation of the noble and learned Lord's speech at Second Reading, is rubbish. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 25:
( ) In this section "disqualifying office" means--
(a) Minister of the Government of Ireland; or
(b) chairman or deputy chairman of--
(i) a committee of the Dail ireann (House of Representatives of Ireland);
(ii) a committee of the Seanad ireann (Senate of Ireland); or
(iii) a joint committee of the Oireachtas (National Parliament of Ireland).").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 25A to 29 not moved.]
Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 30:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause--
(". In section 29(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (which requires standing orders of the Assembly to make certain provision with respect to statutory committees), after "committee;" in paragraph (a) insert--
(i) a committee of the Dail ireann (House of Representatives of Ireland),
(ii) a committee of the Seanad ireann (Senate of Ireland), or
(iii) a joint committee of the Oireachtas (National Parliament of Ireland), may not be the chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory committee;".").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 31 is exactly the same in substance as Amendment No. 13, tabled by the Liberal Democrats and discussed earlier. As we saw, they evidently changed their mind since consideration in another place and so there is no point in pursuing it at this hour. Amendment No. 32 is virtually the same as Amendment No. 12, which we have also already discussed. I beg to move.
had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 33A:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause--
:TITLE3:MEMBERSHIP OF NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY COMMISSION
(" . After section 10 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 there shall be inserted--