HC Deb 24 July 1998 vol 316 cc1387-406

Again considered in Committee.

Amendment proposed: No. 93, in clause 28, page 14, leave out lines 32 to 34.—[Rev. Ian Paisley.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

12.3 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

When we were interrupted by the important announcement that has just been made, I was dealing with this matter as it relates to the views of many people in Northern Ireland.

Hon. Members who do not know the constitution of the Irish Republic might like to know that there is a two-chamber system, made up of the Dail Eireann and the Senate. The Senate is a strange body, in that it is not purely elected. Many of its Members are nominated, and it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic to fill many of its seats.

It has always been the custom and political strategy of the various Governments—especially when Fianna Fail has been in power—to put prominent people from Northern Ireland into the Senate. Some Members of Parliament, including nationalist Members of Parliament and various other prominent republicans, have been put into the Senate. The Deputy First Minister designate of Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), was nominated to the Irish Senate, but he was then elected to an Assembly in Northern Ireland and was removed from the Assembly because he had disqualified himself by accepting the nomination to the Irish Senate.

We had a very short debate on that subject when we debated the first Assembly Bill that came before the House. In fact, shortage of time prevented the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh from explaining the position in which he found himself and the resultant expense that he was put to. He has said that he is grateful that, if a similar thing happened again, he would not have that problem. Perhaps, therefore, the Deputy First Minister designate has his eye on sitting in the Senate as well. That would not help the situation in Northern Ireland. Ministers and others must choose whether they want to sit in the Assembly or in the House of Commons as part of the United Kingdom, or whether they want to be a Member of a Parliament of another state.

That leads me to the question, who will be eligible to stand for election to the Assembly? I notice that the Bill deals with that matter in such a way that those from the Irish Republic can stand for election to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I believe that those matters should not be in the Bill. It should be made plain to those who wish to take part in the Assembly that they should not be permitted to be Members of a Parliament of another state.

It would also be wrong for a Minister of the Assembly to sit in the Senate of another state. The two roles are incompatible; such a thing should not happen. The House should realise that. I do not believe that the House would tolerate it if a Minister of the House were a Member of another Parliament, even of another European Union country.

I wonder why the Bill allows such a thing to happen. I am sure that the Prime Minister—whoever it may be—in Dublin is just waiting for the opportunity to make use of the freedom that the Bill allows, because a Senate seat would be in the prerogative of the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic. The House should make it clear that people should give their loyalty to one place, not to two states.

Mr. McNamara

This might be called the Seamus Mallon clause—and perhaps it should be in honour of my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). The important thing about the agreement and the feature that helps it to gel is the recognition of the legitimacy of both traditions within Northern Ireland. On constitutional issues, the agreement says that the parties will recognise the birthright of all people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland. One wonders why the limitation applies only to the Senate of Northern Ireland and not also to its lower House. Any Irish citizen should be free to be elected to represent any area.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara

May I finish my little story, and then I shall give way?

I am reminded of a similar situation when an Irish peer with a second subsidiary title came to Britain during the recent troubles and was stopped at the point of entry because he was holding an Irish passport. When asked what he was coming to this country to do, he replied, "To legislate for the likes of you". That may not have been the most polite reply, but it illustrates the free flow that has occurred between the various institutions and the elasticity of rules that apply everywhere in these islands except in the north of Ireland.

An Irish citizen may be elected to this place and to the Dail Eireann—there is no problem with that. Therefore, why should we not recognise and welcome the lifting of the partial ban because it embodies the spirit of the agreement? It also recognises the fact that, in the past, Irish and British men and women from both communities have been members of the Senate of the Irish Republic. For example, I refer hon. Members to the late Senator Gordon Wilson and Senator John Robb—people do not have to come from the nationalist community to serve in the Senate. We should welcome the fact that that generosity has existed and resent the tardiness that resulted in the problems faced by my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh. We should welcome the clause overwhelmingly.

Mr. Temple-Morris

I welcome very much the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), and I agree with every word he said. Although the entire Committee may not agree with him, I think that the vast majority of hon. Members do.

Clause 28(5) is a good provision and I hope that the Government will not give way on this point. As my hon. Friend said, it is a very useful clause. It also suits the philosophy of what we are endeavouring to achieve: a cross-community, co-operative view that recognises that there is another side to the argument. It is in line also with the aims of the cross-border bodies to which I wish all health and strength.

Any loss of sovereignty is surely a matter for the Republic of Ireland. In response to the claim that its acceptance of people who are not technically its own is some sort of political strategy, all I can say is that people in the Republic of Ireland have been greatly reassured by that policy. My hon. Friend mentioned the late Senator Gordon Wilson, who was a great encouragement to the people of the Republic of Ireland in terms of their attitudes to Protestants in the north of Ireland. The policy was a triumph in encouraging everyone—including many hon. Members—who had anything to do with Ireland, north and south, to continue their efforts for peace when they were discouraged for various reasons. The measure is good for the Senate and for the Assembly.

We have an interesting example of the policy in action within this building. Ever since Irish independence, the House of Lords has contained a healthy number of Irish peers. There are a number of peers of Irish extraction, although of course they sit as United Kingdom peers. That is an excellent thing, and I am sure that members of the other place would agree. The old ones who remained after 1921 have all gone, but there are members of the House of Lords and those who aspire to membership of it who are resident in the Republic of Ireland now. The Earl of Mount Charles, whom some of us know, nearly ended up as Member of the Dail, when he could easily have been in the House of Lords were it not for his father's deserved longevity.

We are dealing with the understanding between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

12.15 pm
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)

I shall speak to amendment No. 21, which is a probing amendment. It would delete subsection (7), which deals with the grounds for disqualifying a person from becoming a Member of the Assembly. The purpose of the amendment is to restrict membership of the Assembly to citizens of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and the Commonwealth.

Given the importance of the concept of devolution to Northern Ireland, as well as to Scotland and Wales, and the need to transfer the democratic deficit to local political input, it seems strange that, under those devolution powers, we should not restrict membership of such an Assembly to people who belong to that community, thereby giving it maximum input.

Subsection (7) qualifies the disqualification rules set out in section 3 of the Act of Settlement by inserting a condition that that would be negated if a person were a citizen of the European Union. Can the Minister tell us whether the proposed measure is unique to Northern Ireland? It does not seem to be contained in the original House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 or the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975. It may have been added at a later date, subsequent to the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, following the Maastricht treaty.

It would be helpful if the Minister gave the Committee some clarification of the matter, and also justified the notion of citizenship of the European Union in relation to the laws of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Öpik

I am concerned that amendment No. 93 would tie Northern Irish politics too closely to the Irish Parliament. It raises the status of a political position in the Republic of Ireland to rather more than just a job.

When we look at Northern Ireland politics under the current circumstances and in the foreseeable future, we should not ascribe more than the status of a job such as engineer to the simple act of being a Member of the Senate. Although it can be assumed that a Senator has important responsibilities in the Republic of Ireland, those responsibilities do not extend to Northern Ireland. We would give unnecessary status to the position of Irish Senator if we decided that that was grounds for exclusion from membership of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) made some good points. It is up to Dublin to decide whether to have as Senators people who actively participate in Northern Ireland politics. It is up to us to decide whether we are happy with the individual's qualifications, but we should not go as far as deciding whether he is entitled to be a Member of the Assembly on the basis of what he does, if that is not directly related to the work of the United Kingdom Parliament or Northern Ireland politics. In that context, I think that the simplest approach is to regard eligibility to be a Member of the Dublin Parliament as unrelated to eligibility to be in the Northern Ireland Parliament. On that simple basis, I would be inclined not to agree to amendment No. 93. As for amendment No. 21, I, too, will be interested to hear the Minister's clarification of the issues that have been laid out.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tony Worthington)

The amendments seek to remove the exemption from disqualification, first, of Members of the Irish Senate and, secondly, of citizens of other European Union states. I associate myself closely with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris). He referred to the late Senator Gordon Wilson, and I remember going to the late Senator's funeral. I found it a moving experience to be there with representatives from both north and south. Those present were, I suppose, expressing their appreciation of what Senator Wilson's life had meant. They were saying that what happened at Eniskillen was totally unacceptable both north and south of the border. The invitation to him to be a Member of the Irish Senate was a powerful expression of such sentiments.

The House of Commons has considered these matters recently. It had the opportunity to discuss the issues during the passage of the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998, which included identical provisions. It would be very much in conflict with that Act if we were to accept the amendment, which we shall not.

There have been many distinguished people from Northern Ireland who have sat in the Senate in the past. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred on several occasions to what he saw as a conflict of interest between a Minister being in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in the Senate as well. However, the amendment is not about Ministers but about disqualification from membership of the Assembly.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Minister saying that if someone got into the Assembly who was a Member of the Senate he would be blocked, if he became a Minister, from continuing in the Senate? Surely the way into the Government is by election to the Assembly. If that gets someone into the Assembly and he becomes a Minister, there is no blockage set out in the Bill to keep him from being a Member of the Senate.

Mr. Worthington

I am simply addressing the amendment. The part of the clause that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to remove is one which permits someone who is a Member of the Irish Senate being also a Member of the Assembly. I was addressing the hon. Gentleman's debating point. He was referring to Ministers, rather than people wishing to be candidates for the Assembly.

Amendment No. 21 stands in the name of the official Opposition. The part of the clause to which it relates is about its being all right for citizens of other European states to be candidates. Subsection (7) is identical to the provisions that were accepted by the House of Commons in agreeing to the passage of the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998. As it happens, that is in line with the law in Scotland as well. I think that that is the answer to the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss).

It is for the citizens of Northern Ireland to decide whether a particular citizen of another European Union state should represent them. We see no reason to exclude them. Accordingly, we would resist amendment No. 21 as well. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire asked specifically about provisions elsewhere. The provisions in the Bill are the same in this respect as those of the Scotland Bill.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The way into office in the Northern Ireland Assembly is to get elected to the Assembly. A person can get elected to the Assembly and also be a Member of the Senate of the south of Ireland. There is nothing in the Bill to say that a Minister cannot be a Member of the Senate. Let us be clear. If he is a Member of the Assembly and is not disqualified, there is nothing in the Bill to say that he cannot continue to be a Member of the Senate, if that is his position. A Minister could, under the terms of the Bill, be a Member of the Senate.

On the subject of Dail Eireann, the person would have to be elected, and people in the south of Ireland do not look in too friendly a way on candidates from the north. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) is popular in his constituency, but if he went across the border to Carlingford and stood for election to the Dail Eireann, I do not think that he would do well—even with all his great powers of oratory and influence.

Mr. McNamara

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Gentleman did not give way to me, but I will be decent and give way to him in a minute, if he just holds on.

The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) came out with the outrageous remark that Irish peers still sit in the other place. They do not sit there as Irish peers—they sit there because they possess an English peerage.

Mr. Temple-Morris

I said that.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Gentleman said that they were making a contribution to that House. That is the strangest thing—because someone originally had an Irish peerage, they can remain in that House. They are in that House because they are British peers. There are no Irish peers in the House of Lords. Talk about making bricks without straw—that is what the hon. Gentleman tried to do.

Mention was made of Gordon Wilson. He was not reached out to in the north to come down to the south. He was a southern man—he was brought up in the south. Let us get identities right. The Committee must get its facts right.

The Prime Minister of the south of Ireland can appoint various people to seats in the Senate. Under the Bill, he could now appoint the Deputy First Minister to a seat in the Senate. The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) told us that this is probably the Mallon clause. I do not think that it should be in the Bill.

The Minister said that we have had time to discuss the matter. I refer him to Hansard, where he will see how much time we had. The debate came to an abrupt end when a vote was called.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful for the graciousness and charm of the hon. Gentleman, and I am sorry that I did not reflect those virtues when he tried to intervene during my speech. First, the Irish peers sitting in the Lords with English titles were bribed with those English titles to get rid of the Irish Parliament in 1800 at the time of the Act of Union. That cost £24 million—a fair sum of money at the time. Secondly, I wish to make a more relevant point about people from the north being elected in the south. The President of the Republic of Ireland came from the north.

Rev. Ian Paisley

That might well be, but the President of the Republic is not a Member of Dail Eireann. I challenge members of the SDLP to fight seats in the south and see how they get on.

Mr. McNamara


Rev. Ian Paisley

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again. I never asked how those peers got into the House of Lords or what money they paid for their English titles. If that was the way in which they got into the other place, shame on them. The hon. Member for Leominster said that they made a great contribution. What contribution could they make if they got in by paying £300 for their title?

12.30 pm
The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Does the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) want to withdraw his amendment?

Rev. Ian Paisley

No; we wish to shout no. [Laughter.]

The First Deputy Chairman

The hon. Gentleman wishes to shout no; I shall put the Question, then.

Rev. Ian Paisley

We wish to shout yes to the amendment, Mr. Martin.

The First Deputy Chairman

The Question is, That the amendment be made. As many as are of that opinion say, "Aye".

Rev. Ian Paisley


The First Deputy Chairman

To the contrary, "No".

Hon. Members


The First Deputy Chairman

I think the Noes have it.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

  1. Clause 29
    1. cc1393-6
  2. Clause 32
    1. cc1396-8
    2. COMMISSION 1,000 words
  3. Clause 35
    1. cc1398-402
    2. MEMBERS' INTERESTS 2,070 words
  4. Clause 45
    1. c1402
  5. Clause 46
    1. cc1402-4
  6. Clause 50
    1. cc1405-6
  7. ADJOURNMENT (SUMMER) 34 words
  8. c1406
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