HC Deb 25 January 2000 vol 343 cc184-355 5.43 pm
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 1, line 5, at beginning insert— 'Subject to section (Commencement of Act to be conditional on progress in implementing decommissioning),'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 32, in page 1, line 9, after `Ireland)', add— ' provided that, in respect of Ireland, a person who is or has been a member of a proscribed organisation within the meaning of the Terrorism Act 2000 and who has not disavowed terrorism within the meaning given to that expression by that Act before taking his or her seat in the said House or Assembly shall be disqualified from membership of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly'. No. 1, in page 1, line 9, at end add— '(2A) This section shall come into force on a day to be appointed by an order made by the Secretary of State; and the Secretary of State shall not make such an order unless he has previously laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement in relation to the Belfast Agreement (Cm 3883), stating that in his opinion and in the opinion of all parties to that Agreement all aspects of the Agreement have been implemented. (2B) No order shall be made under subsection (2A) unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'. New clause 1—Commencement of Act to be conditional on progress in implementing decommissioning'This Act shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint; but no such order shall be made until the Commission referred to in section 7 of the Norther Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 is satisfied that there has been substantial progress in implementing the commitments made in the Decommissioning section of the Belfast Agreement (Command Paper 3883).'.

Mr. MacKay

I have to say, Sir Alan, that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I deeply regret that the Committee of the whole House is to discuss the Bill this afternoon. You will recall that, only yesterday, there was a robust debate on Second Reading. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had to respond to many interventions from hon. Members on both sides of the House and many hon. Members that expressed concern or asked questions about certain aspects of the Bill. With his usual courtesy, he was good enough to say that he would reflect on the observations made. I have to say, with the greatest respect to the Under-Secretary, that I believe that he and hon. Members have had insufficient time to do that.

The only occasions in my recollection—and, perhaps, yours, Sir Alan—on which we have had Second Reading followed immediately by Committee, Report and Third Reading on the Floor of the House have been when there is urgent, emergency legislation to be passed. With the best will in the world, it is not possible to describe the Bill as urgent, or even as important. It is a deeply irrelevant little Bill, for which few people asked. The Under-Secretary failed to tell us yesterday who had asked for it; and while spending four days in Northern Ireland last week, I failed to find anyone who is the slightest bit interested in the Bill or wants it to be passed. Despite that, the Government, in a ham-fisted manner that shows great contempt for you, Sir, and for the House, have set the Committee stage for today.

You, Sir Alan, will have noticed that the amendment paper contains amendments that were tabled only yesterday. We have not had time to reflect on those amendments, let alone on the many points raised on Second Reading. I ask the Under-Secretary even at this late hour to withdraw the Committee stage until we have had adequate time to reflect, which is what normally happens. At the very least, he should explain why the Bill is an urgent, emergency measure that must be passed quickly. Perhaps he will intervene on me, but if he is not prepared to do so, we will have to assume that the Bill is not urgent, emergency legislation and that the procedures of the House are being abused.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. George Howarth)

rose

Mr. MacKay

I give way to the Minister.

Mr. Howarth

I am sorry—I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had finished his speech.

Mr. MacKay

rose

The Chairman

Order. The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) is entitled to make some prefatory remarks before speaking to the amendment, but I advise him to move directly to the subject of the amendment. The fact that we are having Committee stage now is not a matter for me. I believe that Madam Speaker ruled earlier today that it is a matter for the usual channels.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On a point of order, Sir Alan. Can you guide members of the Committee on how to proceed with considering the outcome of Committee stage and therefore the possibility of tabling of amendments on Report, before the House proceeds to Third Reading? Will you give us reassurance—so far as it lies within your powers to do so—that the Bill will not proceed beyond Committee stage today? Members of the Committee will want to reflect in the usual way and decide on what action to take as a result of Committee proceedings before we move to Report.

The Chairman

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I am inclined to take a tolerant attitude toward manuscript amendments, if they are tabled. However, I ask the right hon. Gentleman and other members of the Committee to recognise that we are considering a three-clause Bill that is fairly tightly drawn. My discretion in the matter of amendments being in order might be somewhat constricted. Within the constraints of the difficult and tight time scale with which I have been presented, I have done my best to be as generous as possible about when amendments are tabled and as flexible as I can be in the selection of amendments. We should now proceed to consider the substance of the Bill.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)

Further to that point of order, Sir Alan. Will you give the Committee a little more information? If amendments are to be tabled for consideration on Report—you have generously indicated that that possibility is open to us—are we to take them in the normal way to the Table Office, leaving it to the Table Office to draw them to your attention; or are we to bring such amendments directly to you, in which case, how will we be told whether they are in order and have been selected for debate?

The Chairman

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I should state, for the benefit of Committee, that it is usual to have a Report stage only if amendments have been made in Committee. We have not yet made any amendments, so the matter we are discussing is a contingency on a contingency.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

Further to that point of order, Sir Alan. I hope that the Committee does not assume that the Bill is not amendable—

The Chairman

Order. I said no such thing. I merely said that what was being discussed was a contingency on a contingency. We cannot be aware in advance whether the Committee may choose in its wisdom to amend or not amend the Bill.

Mr. Fallon

I understand that, Sir Alan. Perhaps I did not express myself clearly. I wonder whether you could advise the Committee on the difficulty of tabling manuscript amendments if the Bill is amended in Committee and we do not have a print of it. In those circumstances, I do not see how manuscript amendments could even be brought to the Table. If we do not have a print of the Bill, on what basis can we construct amendments?

The Chairman

Should that matter arise, I think that it is possible for manuscript amendments to be brought to the Table.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)

rose

Mr. Forth

Further to that point of order, Sir Alan—

The Chairman

Order. I think that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) was trying to make a point of order.

Mr. Ross

Further to the point that has already been raised, Sir Alan. I apologise for being a few minutes late but I was trying to check one or two things in the Public Bill Office before I came into the Chamber. If you are having some difficulty in deciding which amendments should be taken, you will appreciate—given the expertise on which you have to draw and the help that you receive—the tremendous difficulty that Back-Bench Members face in trying to table amendments. Although the Bill is narrow in content, it has wide consequences, which began to become apparent to hon. Members only yesterday, on Second Reading. We need rather more time than we have so far had to consider the possibility of tabling amendments.

The Chairman

That is going back over a past argument which I do not think we can now repeat. I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman and the Committee that I have not had any difficulty in my selection of amendments, which is made in accordance with the normal considerations on these occasions.

I said earlier that I had tried to be flexible so as to give hon. Members the maximum time in which to submit their amendments, and to ensure that my deliberations encompassed the widest range of amendments that hon. Members wished to table.

Mr. Forth

On a point of order, Sir Alan, may I ask for further guidance? If the Bill were to be amended in Committee, it might be proper, even if at that stage the Government were proposing indecent haste in pressing on immediately with further stages, to suspend the House of Commons for a period to give reasonable and proper time for hon. Members to consider those proceedings before being forced by the Government to go forward with indecent haste on to Report. Might that be in your mind, Sir Alan?

The Chairman

All politicians fight shy of hypothetical situations, and I regard the one that the right hon. Gentleman has described as hypothetical. We shall deal with matters as they arise. The Committee might now move on to the substance of the matter.

Mr. William Ross

On a point of order, Sir Alan. You will appreciate that in considering amendments we sometimes approach the same issue from slightly different points of view, and apply different standards. Would it be possible to have a vote on each amendment in a group if that were thought necessary by Back-Bench Members?

The Chairman

I think the hon. Gentleman knows that the occupant of the Chair will judge that according to the content of the debate. I shall listen carefully to all that is said. I call Mr. MacKay.

Mr. MacKay

I hope that you will appreciate, Sir Alan, that I would not wish to abuse the Chair. However, there are important points that I—and other hon. Members—wish to make. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has refused to accept my offer that he should confirm that the Bill is urgent or in any way important emergency legislation.

Mr. George Howarth

rose

Mr. MacKay

It seems that the hon. Gentleman has changed his mind; clearly he has been briefed.

Mr. Howarth

I intervene for the purpose of the record, Sir Alan. As you rightly said, this is a short three-clause Bill. It was published before Christmas. There were consultations—and certainly with the leadership of the Ulster Unionist party. I cannot understand what the present concern is all about. There has been plenty of opportunity to debate these matters. Members were able to read the Bill and introduce any amendments that they thought suitable. Indeed, some right hon. and hon. Members have done so. I fail to see what all the fuss is about.

Mr. MacKay

I do not want to be distracted unduly, but I must respond to the Minister, who has given no reason why the Bill must proceed with such haste. The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House for some years—it is some time since he won his by-election—but I shall give him a brief tutorial none the less. The normal circumstance is that a Bill has its Second Reading. If that is agreed to, the Bill goes into Committee the following week at the earliest. Only urgent or emergency legislation goes into Committee the following day. I would suggest in the strongest possible terms that the Bill is neither urgent nor emergency legislation. I am asking the Minister to tell me why it is urgent.

Mr. Howarth

As I understand it, these matters were sorted out through the usual channels. I do not believe that any concerns were raised by the official Opposition about timing. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman has chosen today to raise them.

Mr. MacKay

Let me make it absolutely clear—I have checked with the Opposition Chief Whip—that there has been no consultation through the usual channels. We were merely informed. We were not asked for our views and we were not given an opportunity to consider an alternative timetable.

I shall finish my tutorial. It seems that the Minister does not fully understand the procedure. In normal circumstances, a Second Reading debate takes place one week and, at the earliest, the Bill is considered in Committee the following week. In my recollection, the only exception—I have served in the House of Commons for more than 20 years—is when we deal with emergency legislation. I do not believe that the Bill is emergency legislation. Perhaps the Minister might care to tell me why it is.

Mr. Howarth

The right hon. Gentleman said a few moments ago, I think somewhat disingenuously, that the Opposition were consulted through the usual channels, and said—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, not consulted."] Well, he said that they were told through the usual channels. He said that that is not quite the same as being consulted. But if the Opposition were not happy with that, they should have raised their concerns at that stage. They did not do so, and we were entitled to believe that the official Opposition were content with the timetable. We proceeded on that basis, and I see no reason for the Committee to be detained any further on this matter.

Mr. MacKay

rose

The Chairman

Order. I said to the right hon. Gentleman that I would allow him some prefatory remarks before he moved into the substance of his speech on the amendment. Almost a quarter of an hour has passed, during which points of order have been raised, and I think that it would be in better order for the Committee to proceed to the substance of the amendment.

Mr. MacKay

Let me say, Sir Alan, how much I agree that it would be in better order if we moved to the substance of the important amendment that I am moving. I would not have discussed other matters for so long if I had received some sort of answer from the Minister. I place it on the record that the Minister has signally failed to tell the Committee why the Bill is emergency or urgent legislation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

It is not.

Mr. MacKay

Oh, it is not. I thank the hon. Gentleman. We have an answer. I appreciate that. From a sedentary position, the Home Office Minister has said clearly that this is not emergency or urgent legislation. That being so, I fail to understand why it is being pushed through the House of Commons at such speed. As the hon. Gentleman seems to know more about the Bill than the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, perhaps he will explain to me why the Bill is being dealt with at such speed. It seems that he is not prepared to do so.

It is now clear, Sir Alan, that we are not dealing with urgent or emergency legislation. That being so, we are faced with total abuse of the House of Commons. You have been placed in an extremely difficult position. As you rightly said earlier, you have had a tight timetable, as has the rest of the House of Commons, to consider amendments. We know now of the Government's arrogance. We know also that they could not care less for the House of Commons. They wish to push through non-urgent legislation at an extremely fast pace. We now see clearly what the new Labour Government are all about, and it stinks. The Under-Secretaries of State should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

I shall now proceed because I do not wish to drag you into these matters, Sir Alan. My quarrel is not with you because you are being put in an equally difficult position. Having said that the Ministers should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, and its having been made clear that this is not emergency legislation, I repeat that the Government are bulldozing the Bill through the House of Commons in a most unsatisfactory way. I shall now discuss my amendment in some detail.

Mr. Fallon

On a point of order, Sir Alan. If no explanation is forthcoming from the Government Front Bench as to why Second Reading and Committee are being taken so close together, can you tell the Committee whether any explanation has been given to Madam Speaker?

The Chairman

That is not a matter for the Chair.

6 pm

Mr. MacKay

Let us consider amendment No. 10, which is grouped with new clause 1. The latter was tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends and Ulster Unionist Members. A month ago, the courageous First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), made the decision to enter into an Executive with members of Sinn Fein. We considered the matter long and hard, and concluded that he was right and that, yet again, we would walk the extra mile with him to try to ensure that the process moved forward. We have always supported that process, from the Belfast agreement onwards. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will willingly confirm that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) started the process, and was ably abetted by Lord Mayhew and my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). I am pleased that my right hon. Friend is in his place.

There were signs before Christmas that Sinn Fein-IRA would at last fulfil its obligations under the Belfast agreement. I use the phrase "Sinn Fein-IRA" correctly because successive Prime Ministers and Taoiseachs have stated that Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA are inextricably linked and one and the same; they are two sides of the same coin. There were signs that Sinn Fein-IRA would decommission its illegally held arms and explosives by May 2000. That hope was shared, perhaps naively, by me and others. The majority of Members of Parliament supported the Government and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann as First Minister of the Executive that was being set up.

All hon. Members in every party in the House are democrats. We all believe that it is unsatisfactory for Ministers to run part of the United Kingdom when they remain inextricably linked with men of violence who have failed to end their violence for good or fulfil their obligations under the Belfast agreement to decommission any of their illegally held arms and explosives. Not one gun or one ounce of Semtex has been handed in by any of the paramilitaries—republican and so-called loyalist—whose political associates signed the Belfast agreement.

It would not be right in our free society for the two Sinn Fein Members of the Assembly who are Ministers respectively for Education and for Health to retain those Executive positions without substantial decommissioning. I therefore support what the Secretary of State and the First Minister have said repeatedly: early decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives must take place. Most reasonable people believe that that must happen this month, which ends next Monday, or shortly thereafter.

Sadly, having met a wide variety of people in the Province during a four-day visit, which concluded on Sunday, I can report that few people believe that Sinn Fein-IRA will fulfil its obligations and decommission. I hope and pray that they are wrong, because it is in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland that decommissioning occurs, and that the Executive is able to continue to run much of Northern Ireland. The politicians whom the people of Northern Ireland elected should be responsible for much of the running of their Province. That is healthy and helpful, and we wish to encourage it. The people of Northern Ireland would dearly like to continue with that process.

Amendment No. 10 and new clause 1 show that we have absolute faith in General de Chastelain and the commission. It is for him, not—with the greatest respect—for you, Sir Alan, or me or the Under-Secretary to decide whether decommissioning has taken place. If the general, when he reports on Friday or Monday, reports that there has been no decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives by the Provisional IRA, the Secretary of State has no choice but to do that which he has promised the House and the people of Northern Ireland: he must suspend the Executive until progress has been made.

Conservative Members believe passionately that, in such dire and sad circumstances, it is up to the Secretary of State to suspend the Executive. It should not be left to the First Minister and his Unionist colleagues to resign and thus close down the Executive.

Mr. William Ross

The right hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that Conservative Members relied totally on General de Chastelain. It may well be possible to rely on the general's words, but how can we rely on any construction that the Government's spin doctors might put on them?

Mr. MacKay

The general is obliged to report by the end of the month. When he does that, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and other hon. Members will study his words carefully, and we shall take no notice of whatever spin is put on them by those who wish to influence events. I know the general, and I believe that his report will be clear and succinct and not open to various interpretations.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I do not know the general, but I am sure that he is an excellent man. Everything that I have heard about him is good. However, there is currently an idea that, instead of being destroyed or surrendered, weapons will be kept in bunkers in which terrorist organisations place them, where they will be permanently out of their reach. How can any intact weapons, in bunkers whose location is known to terrorist organisations, be permanently out of their reach? Perhaps my right hon. Friend can enlighten me.

Mr. MacKay

If I answered that point in too much detail, I would be trespassing on your good nature, Sir Alan. However, I shall respond briefly to my hon. Friend, who takes a deep interest in such matters. He is joint vice-chair of the Conservative Northern Ireland Committee.

Successive Governments have used the word "decommissioning" rather than destroying or surrendering. I am not too fussed about the way in which weapons and explosives are decommissioned as long as it happens. It does not matter whether they are destroyed, handed in or left in sealed containers, provided that General de Chastelain and his staff can police them at all times.

Mr. Fallon

rose

Mr. MacKay

I will certainly give way but first I want to clarify our position for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). Where I have great criticism of the paramilitaries, republican and so-called loyalists, is that not one gun or ounce of Semtex has been handed in. I want substantial progress towards the decommissioning of all illegally held arms and explosives by the appointed day in May this year. So far, we have seen no progress whatsoever. That is what really counts.

Mr. Fallon

The word "decommissioning" is used in my hon. Friend's amendment, so I am sure that he is right to explain at length what is meant by it. Is my right hon. Friend saying that putting weapons in a sealed container is decommissioning? If so, can he say the purpose for which those weapons could possibly be needed?

Mr. MacKay

The word "decommissioning" is not only used in the amendments but was used in the Belfast agreement and all the legislation that came from it. I am sure that successive Governments have been right to define that process as decommissioning. I am anxious to ensure that weapons are decommissioned—taken out of commission. Whether they are taken out of commission by being destroyed or are retained in a sealed container that is properly policed is secondary to ensuring that they are all decommissioned. We want them all decommissioned by the said date in May. That is essential.

Mr. Forth

My right hon. Friend knows well that the Bill is about a proposed change to an aspect of our constitutional arrangements that many of us believe is of fundamental importance—allowing aliens to enter the House. Given that he believes that such a change could properly be brought about provided the words in the amendment are fulfilled, does he not think it reasonable to be more than fully satisfied that the meaning of the words "decommissioning" and "substantial progress" are positive, reassuring and provide a guarantee such as we would require before allowing aliens into the House?

Mr. MacKay

My right hon. Friend makes an important point, which is why I have discussed decommissioning at some length and am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Blaby and for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) for pressing me to define "decommissioning" more fully.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

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Mr. MacKay

I have not completely answered my right hon. Friend and know that he will want me so to do. It is vital, as decommissioning goes to the heart of the amendment and new clause, not only to debate the merits of decommissioning but to take a look at where we are on decommissioning and how it relates to the Executive. Vital, crucial days lie ahead for the Province. Every law-abiding person in both communities is hoping and praying that there will be substantial decommissioning so that the process and the Executive can proceed. That is the crucial test.

Mr. Thompson

Is it not a fact that under the legislation by which General de Chastelain is operating, the arms have to be destroyed? Hiding them in bunkers will not satisfy that law.

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman and I were both sitting in the House when that legislation was passed in July 1998. I would need to double check the detail of that legislation before answering. I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby whether I would be satisfied with decommissioning if it turned out to be, as he would put it, merely sealing the weapons in bunkers. I said it was vitally important that we had decommissioning in full and, provided that it is properly policed by the general and his staff, I could live with that. If my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks is asking whether I would prefer the weapons just to be sealed, of course the answer has to be no. My preferred option is obviously to have them destroyed in front of General de Chastelain's staff.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby was trying to tease out of me whether I could live with the weapons being sealed. The answer is yes. What is vitally important is that decommissioning takes place, so that the process can move forward and the Executive can continue to function. That is absolutely what the overwhelming majority of both communities in Northern Ireland want and I believe the majority of right hon. and hon. Members want that.

6.15 pm
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

Is not the essential point that the so-called paramilitaries hold weapons illegally? There are no circumstances in which they can hold those weapons legally. The ceasing of all holding of those weapons is decommissioning. I beg my right hon. Friend not to allow a grey area into the debate at this stage. We cannot accept anything other than paramilitaries no longer having illegal weapons in their physical possession—even if policed for the time being by General de Chastelain's officers.

The Chairman

Order. Perhaps I may be of assistance. I begin to see in my mind some limitation on the extent to which one can define the word "decommissioning". As I read the amendments and new clause, it is a matter of the belief of the Secretary of State in one case and, in the other, of the belief of the commission. Those are the matters being debated and it would be out of order if the Committee attempts to make fresh definitions. The definitions required are explicit in the amendments.

Mr. William Ross

On a point of order, Sir Alan. Surely the term "decommissioning" is only defined, so far as the law of the United Kingdom is concerned, in the Act that creates the decommissioning process. The definition in that Act should matter, not anything that people might wish to introduce by any side wind during this debate. We are dealing with decommissioning as already legally defined—as being the destruction of the weaponry.

The Chairman

Order. Nothing I have said implies any detraction from what is said in the original Act. I merely repeat my advice to the Committee that the amendments deal with the opinions of certain other stated persons or bodies, as to whether or not decommissioning as defined is being fulfilled.

Mr. MacKay

I naturally accept your advice, Sir Alan, and will proceed accordingly. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) has immense experience in this field and is joint vice-chairman with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby of the Conservative Back-Bench Committee and has taken great interest in these matters.

The Chairman

Order. Notwithstanding the experience of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), which I acknowledge, that does not altogether debar him from sometimes stepping aside from the amendment being discussed.

Mr. MacKay

Therefore, Sir Alan, it is worth reminding my hon. Friend that I have stressed to you the phrase, "illegally held arms and explosives" every time that I have discussed the matter. I think you will confirm, Sir Alan, that I have used the word "illegal" every time. There is no question that persons could retain the weapons in bunkers themselves; those bunkers would not be under their control but would be overseen by the commission. As you rightly say, Sir Alan, that moves us away from the amendment, although I might add that that movement is not of my own making, but has been caused by interventions.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

I hesitate to intervene on that cue, but will my right hon. Friend elucidate for my benefit? Does the earlier legislation define "substantial progress"? If not, surely it is necessary to debate what constitutes substantial progress towards decommissioning for these purposes.

The Chairman

Order. If the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) is, by his own admission, having difficulty in determining whether he is straying out of order as a result of interventions rather than anything he has said himself, I might help him by saying that he would be unwise to answer.

Mr. MacKay

May I answer briefly? No, and wisely so. New clause 1 quite rightly refers to "substantial" decommissioning and, although we had little time due to the speed at which the Bill was foisted on the Committee, we took some trouble to draft it carefully. We believe that General de Chastelain can say in his report whether substantial decommissioning has taken place. In other words, token decommissioning will not satisfy the House. Substantial decommissioning, heading towards full decommissioning by the appointed day in May, appears to us to be quite reasonable and it is well within the scope of the amendment, and within the House's understanding of decommissioning, to allow him to define whether that has taken place. We need substantial decommissioning and substantial decommissioning we must have.

I return to the Bill in general and why we have tabled the amendment and new clause 1, which, with respect, are the most important and substantial of those before the Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) will disagree, although you, Sir Alan, may consider them to be the most important. The Bill does not in any way flow from the Belfast agreement. It is not urgent, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have more or less confirmed from the Dispatch Box and in sedentary interventions, and, so far as I can see, not many people have asked for such a measure.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) deeply believes the Bill to be to be a constitutional outrage—as do my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and the hon. Member for East Londonderry, who is much respected—but we on the Conservative Front Bench are fairly agnostic. We think that it is not anywhere near the constitutional outrage that they suggest, although we would be happy to give it fair wind if only we felt confident that it would be enacted only as and when General de Chastelain made it clear that there had been substantial decommissioning. I shall tell the Committee why, because that is the key issue.

The process has been all take by the paramilitaries, and absolutely no give. The British and Irish Governments and the peace-loving constitutional parties—Unionist, Alliance or nationalist—have jumped every hurdle that they have been asked to jump. The Assembly elections have taken place. The Executive has been set up—with two Sinn Fein Ministers—as was correct under the legislation. Terrorist prisoners have been released early from jail and are back on the streets—more than 300 hundred already.

North-south bodies have been set up. The Patten report on policing in the Province has been completed and the Government are shortly to introduce legislation to make changes. That is all give by the Government and all take by the paramilitaries, republicans and so-called loyalists. Some of us might say that we have had precious little in return so far.

I fundamentally disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. Although I do not believe that the Bill is important, why should we pass unimportant legislation and give a bit more when we are getting nothing in return? Is not it time for the House and the Government to draw a line in the sand and say, "This far and no further. We will agree to the Bill going through only if there is substantial decommissioning as defined by General de Chastelain."? That is why I commend the amendment and the consequent new clause to the Committee.

Mr. Forth

Following directly from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) has said, it is interesting that in yesterday's debate the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said: In particular, the establishment of the new institutions provided for in the Good Friday agreement makes the measure timely."—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 28.] That clearly establishes a link in his mind between the Good Friday agreement and the measure before us. It can do none other. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that the arrangements between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and this House—and the Government—are unique and different. Our response to the agreement must reflect that. The argument is about context rather than precise linkage."—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 73.] Two Ministers said in the debate on Second Reading that there is a connection—a link—between the Good Friday agreement and the Bill. I do not see how they can deny that, because their own words, which appear in Hansard, illustrate the point all too directly. We have an answer to the question that we all struggled with yesterday. Given the benefit of reflection—how valuable it is during parliamentary proceedings—we are beginning to detect a link in the minds of Ministers. That is helpful and puts the amendment in context.

Mr. Fallon

Does that suggest to my right hon. Friend and the Committee that some understanding between the two Governments on that precise point—secret, perhaps, or covert—has not been revealed?

Mr. Forth

I would like to think that we shall learn more today than we did yesterday and my hon. Friend is correct to raise that point. Our suspicion yesterday was not that there was an arrangement between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland, but, much more sinister, that there was a deal or undertaking between the Government and Sinn Fein-IRA. That is even more worrying and we suspect that it, rather than the connections between the Good Friday agreement and the Bill—which Ministers had dragged out of them, as Hansard has verified—may be the genesis of this ill-begotten and untimely measure.

Mr. William Ross

The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that we have not yet had a comprehensive list of all whom the Government consulted in regard to the Bill. We have dragged out of the Government only that they consulted the leader of the Unionist party and, presumably, the usual channels.

The Chairman

Order. That is a matter for Second Reading, which has passed.

6.30 pm
Mr. Forth

A perusal of yesterday's Hansard might show that Ministers said that they would consider those matters and report back, but perhaps this is not the moment for that to happen.

In speaking to the amendment in my name, amendment No. 1, so far I have not been persuaded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell, in his elegant moving of his amendment and new clause, for a reason that began to become rather too obvious—for him to seek to link the mechanism contained in the Bill with the decommissioning process may well be unsatisfactory. I regret the fact that I do not believe that the words of my right hon. Friend's new clause, which rely on the words "Decommissioning" and "substantial progress", give sufficient guarantees or reassurance when it comes to altering an arrangement as fundamental as that relating to who is or is not qualified to sit in the House of Commons. I simply cannot see that.

I shall argue in the context of my own amendment that nor was I entirely satisfied with the provisions in the new clause that the Act should come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint". That is a pretty slender basis on which to base such a measure, as we all realise. My amendment, by contrast, seeks to both broaden and sharpen the requirement by providing that the section would come into force on a day to be appointed by an order made by the Secretary of State who shall not make such an order unless he has previously laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement in relation to the Belfast Agreement …, stating that in his opinion and", crucially, in the opinion of all parties to that Agreement all aspects of the Agreement have been implemented. What the amendment seeks to do is make much more certain the basis on which we might proceed to the measures contained within the Bill.

I made it clear on Second Reading—I hope that I shall make it clear again on Third Reading—that I am against the Bill in principle. I want that to be absolutely clear. I took part in a vote against the Bill last night, but what we are doing now is different: the House having given the Bill a Second Reading, we are now seeking ways in which to improve and strengthen it. It is in that regard that I put my amendment to the Committee this evening.

Before we can progress with the Bill, a number of closely interrelated things must happen. The first is that the Secretary of State will make an order only if he has laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement that, in his opinion, all of the requirements of the Belfast agreement have been met, but also, crucially, that all parties to the agreement state that all aspects of it have been implemented. This will give the whole matter a much more solid and reliable foundation, because we are now not only relying on the Secretary of State, who is always a key element in these matters, but—in my view rightly—asking all parties to the agreement to say "We are sufficiently satisfied that the agreement has been met in all respects and we are now prepared to accept that we move on to the next crucial stage of allowing foreigners into the House of Commons."

Mr. Robathan

Given what my right hon. Friend is saying, which makes great sense, and given that we all accept—on this side of the House, even if the Government might deny it—that the whole purpose of the Bill is yet another bribe to Sinn Fein, can he imagine why the Government would not accept his amendment? Surely the bribe to Sinn Fein is designed to get Sinn Fein to give up its weapons. Therefore, is he surprised that the Government appear to be likely to oppose the amendment?

Mr. Forth

That remains to be seen. What my hon. Friend illustrates yet again is that we are all still guessing. Is it not a disgrace that, at this stage in the Bill's proceedings, the House of Commons is still not clear as to the motivation behind the Bill, the reasons why the Government have introduced it and why they are bringing it in with such undue haste? There is widespread suspicion, certainly on this side of the House, that it is part of an extremely grubby deal, where the Government are prepared to give away another key element of our constitutional arrangements for nothing at all. That is how it looks, and it is the only assumption on which we can operate unless Ministers tell us otherwise.

If my hon. Friend accepts the quotations of Ministers that I gave from yesterday's Hansard, he will agree that, in the minds of Ministers on the Treasury Bench, there is a link between the Belfast agreement or the Good Friday agreement and the Bill. Amendment No. 1 seeks formally to embed that in the Bill. I simply seek—perhaps fortuitously, because I tabled the amendments before I had even heard what the Ministers said, but everybody has to have a little bit of good luck in their time—to give Ministers a formalisation of the link that they themselves were making, as reported in yesterday's Hansard. To the extent to which that is the case, I have enormous confidence that Ministers will want to accept my amendment.

Ministers might even prefer my amendment to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell because, for the reasons that we saw just a moment ago in the debate, my right hon. Friend, with all his skill and experience, was not quite able to persuade some of us that his amendment was sufficiently airtight and watertight to give us the reassurances that we would naturally want to have. I believe that my amendment does the job even better, because it involves the judgment of the Secretary of State on the one hand and the judgment of all the parties to the agreement on the other. It then goes even further, because in subsection (2B) it says, crucially: No order shall be made under subsection (2A)"— that is, the Secretary of State's order with the agreement of all the parties built into it— unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. What we are saying is that it would require both Houses to agree that the composition of the House of Commons could be changed as envisaged in the Bill. That would mean, in this case, the ability of aliens—non-United Kingdom citizens from the Republic of Ireland, a different and separate country, with many different and separate interests, as we explored briefly on Second Reading yesterday—to enter the House of Commons.

It distresses me that I must disagree with my right hon. Friend: he thinks that this is a small measure, whereas I think that it is a profoundly important measure. What could be more important than who is or is not entitled to come to this House and represent the people of the United Kingdom, from all parts of the United Kingdom? What could be more important, as a matter of definition of our nationality and as a matter of a statement of our relations with other countries? That is why I believe that we would have to be doubly, triply—or even more than that—satisfied before we allowed any significant alteration to the arrangements that have hitherto applied on these matters. We are talking about citizens of the Republic of Ireland—legislators in the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland—being qualified to sit in this House. Given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, an explicit linkage to the Belfast agreement must surely be appropriate.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Since the right hon. Gentleman puts so much emphasis on a connection between the Bill and the Belfast agreement—it is his wish to make such a connection—may the House know whether he is in favour of the agreement? When I look at the Opposition Benches, I note that all the Unionist Members present are against the agreement. The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), who takes a close interest in Northern Ireland and has done so for many years, is against it. What is the right hon. Gentleman's view?

Mr. Forth

My view is that an agreement that has facilitated the release of some very disgusting people from prison into the community, is facilitating terrorists' friends being invited into United Kingdom institutions, and may now be being used as the vehicle whereby a change such as that encompassed in the Bill is to be made to our constitutional arrangements, is of increasingly doubtful validity.

Mr. Winnick

The right hon. Gentleman has given the answer to my question, but was he against the agreement when it was signed? The hon. Members I mentioned, who have every right to their opinion, as I have to mine, made it clear at the time that they were against the agreement. Was the right hon. Gentleman against it?

Mr. Forth

I may have had my doubts at the time, but I was prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to all parties to the agreement, on the assumption that, if they were all operating in a spirit of genuine goodwill, it provided an opportunity to resolve the problems that have bedevilled part of the United Kingdom for so long. Time has passed, however. Changes have occurred, and the factors that I have mentioned have led me to doubt increasingly whether we were right to feel so optimistic.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the terms of the Bill are outside those of the Belfast agreement in any event?

Mr. Forth

That is an important point. It is all very well for Ministers to sit grinning and nodding, but it is they who made the connection between the agreement and their own Bill. Unless they retract, clarify or change the meaning of what they said yesterday, that remains the case. I quoted those words only a few minutes ago—not my words, but those of one of the Ministers. I hope that one, or both, will take the opportunity—

Mr. George Howarth

rose

Mr. Forth

Of course I shall give way to the Minister.

Mr. Howarth

The right hon. Gentleman did, indeed, read out the relevant words from Hansard, but they do not mean what he suggested. In the part of my speech that he quoted, I specifically used the word "context". The right hon. Gentleman should realise that using the word "context" is different from saying that the Bill is in some way related to the Good Friday agreement, and he should not misrepresent what was said by me or by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Mr. Forth

That is all very well, but I quoted the words of the Under-Secretary of State first, and I think that they were even more relevant. Having been asked to quote them again, I will—with your indulgence, Mr. Martin. The Under-Secretary of State said: The Bill is just one example of that closer relationship … it is built on the firm foundation of the principle of consent that is central to the Good Friday agreement, and which was enshrined in law … The Bill is not part of the Good Friday agreement, but it is consistent with it. All the words that the hon. Gentleman used yesterday—there were many more, but I shall not weary the Committee with them now—sought to establish a causal link between the agreement and the Bill.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

My right hon. Friend omitted a key part of what was said by the Under-Secretary of State. He said: The Bill is not part of the Good Friday agreement, but it is consistent with it. Separate development of direct interparliamentary links between the various legislatures was envisaged at the time of the Good Friday agreement."—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 28.] Does that not suggest that there were discussions at the time of the agreement, and that they were part and parcel of the Bill?

Mr. Forth

It is beginning to sound very much like that, is it not? I wish that, rather than sitting there giggling, Ministers would do the Committee the courtesy of giving us a proper, full and open explanation of the genesis of what increasingly seems to be the grubby little measure that we are considering. They should let us know what gave rise to it, why they are presenting it now, why it is so urgent, and what they expect to gain from it.

I hope that, if the Ministers did not understand what they were told, they may understand it better as a result of the help that they are being given. I also hope that, when they reply to the series of important debates in which we shall continue to engage during the next few hours, we shall discover from them what on earth is going on.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

We have two options. The first is to believe that the Bill emerged from behind-the-scenes discussion with Sinn Fein in an attempt to hand Sinn Fein another sop in terms of the agreement, arising from it. The second is to believe that—all of a sudden, out of a clear blue sky, with no prior discussion, with no public interest and with no newspaper commentators raising the subject—a Government with a huge agenda manufactured the Bill. Which option does my right hon. Friend prefer?

Mr. Forth

rose

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

Order. The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) is talking about the Bill. Interventions should relate to the amendments and new clause that we are discussing.

6.45 pm
Mr. Forth

I am grateful to you, Mr. Martin. You have possibly saved me from having to make the difficult choice presented to me by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney). I may return to the matter later, when I gauge that you might allow me more leeway, but I dare not do so now.

Mr. Robathan

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Forth

I am approaching the conclusion of my speech, and I hope that my colleagues will bear that in mind; but I will give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Robathan

Earlier, my right hon. Friend responded to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who asked whether he supported the Belfast agreement. We supported it—with some reservations—because it appeared to be supported by the great majority of people in Northern Ireland. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable misgivings felt by large sections of the community in Northern Ireland, especially the Unionist community, who voted in favour of the agreement but now believe that they were hoodwinked in certain ways, not least by the Prime Minister?

Mr. Forth

I cannot answer the question that my hon. Friend poses, but others in the Chamber can, and I hope that they will seek an opportunity to do so. It is important for us to know as much as possible about the views of the people of Northern Ireland before we proceed much further. This is a valid aspect of our considerations. I cannot give the views of those people, but there are those sitting very close to me who could.

What I am trying to say is very simple. In my view, the key measure in the Bill—I am against the Bill in principle, but the House gave it its blessing by agreeing to Second Reading—cannot be allowed to proceed without conditionality. It cannot be allowed to proceed without reassurance and guarantees. The guarantees that I suggest—I hope that I shall be able to test the Committee's view at an appropriate time—would explicitly link activation of the Bill with completion of all aspects of the Belfast agreement, as established by all parties to that agreement. I consider that to be proper, reasonable, straightforward and comprehensible, and I think that it should therefore form a key part of the Bill.

Several hon. Members

rose

The First Deputy Chairman

I call Mrs. Dunwoody.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Thank you, Mr. Martin. I realise that one of my advantages is being so tiny and insignificant that I am rarely noticed.

It will greatly please Ministers to learn that I do not intend to speak at length. The amendments, however, strike me as important, in as much as they relate to the Bill and to the qualifications of those who will have the right to sit in the House of Commons.

The title of the Bill is a bit of a misnomer. It is not so much a disqualifications Bill as a qualifications Bill. One of the hazards presented by the new clause and, from a different angle, the amendments is the confusion in Members' minds about whether the particular measure being introduced relates to a particular group of persons who have not been identified. If that is the case, and if it had been put to us that we are now confronted by an entirely different political situation that requires us to make fundamental changes to the qualifications of those who wish to enter the House of Commons because we need much wider representation, people would be better able to judge the amendments.

Before my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) asks, I am in favour of the Belfast agreement. If I have objections to the Bill and to the amendments, they arise from my belief that, if constitutional change is made without detailed examination, once the legislation is on the statute book—especially if debate has been, what shall I say? somewhat foreshortened—we often end up with wording, even with basic changes, that may not constitute exactly what we foresaw. That is why I feel impelled to say that I am worried not just about the amendments, but the qualifications that would apply in future to people who wanted to be candidates.

I do not have a great wish to be a Member of the Dail, not least because one of my best friends had to sit through eight recounts before knowing whether he had been elected. I pointed out to him that, after the second recount, I would put my coat on, go home and suggest that someone tell me when a conclusion had been reached. However, I would not want the Minister to think that my views on proportional representation were influencing any of my comments tonight.

The amendments and the new clause can be dealt with simply. If we were told whether some political decision or political change necessitated the passage of the Bill in this form, without qualifications or restrictions on the people who can be candidates for the House of Commons, and if we were told that the changes had to be made now, the matter would possibly be dealt with quickly. I do not think that we have been told those things. Those who propose restrictions in the amendments do so from a genuine desire to ensure that we do not allow constitutional change to put us in a position that we might regret, if not in the near future, certainly before many months have passed.

So I make one suggestion to Ministers: speak clearly to us, explain fully to us what is implied and, above all, remember that constitutional change applies to every Member of the House of Commons, wherever they come from, whatever their background, sex, religion or general approach to life. It therefore behoves those of us who believe in democracy to ensure that the one thing that they have in common is a commitment to a democratic form of government.

Mr. Cash

Last night, I voted against the Bill on principle, for several reasons. I saw no reciprocity between the arrangements that are being provided for the House and the arrangements in the Dail and in Eire as a whole. That in itself is unfair and unreasonable in all circumstances, but the issue goes much deeper than that. The question that is before us has not been answered by the Government. We have continually put to them issues relating to why the Bill should be brought before us at this stage. We have had no answer whatever. That is an outrage and it is why I tabled the amendment.

My amendment No. 32 states: in respect of Ireland, a person who is or has been a member of a proscribed organisation within the meaning of the Terrorism Act 2000 and who has not disavowed terrorism within the meaning given to that expression by that Act before taking his or her seat in the said House or Assembly shall be disqualified from membership of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly". I challenge the Government to answer the point. Is it conceivable that anyone who did not disavow terrorism as a matter of principle would take their place in a democratic society and democratic Government under a constitutional arrangement, whether in respect of the House of Commons, or the Northern Ireland Assembly?

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester)

The hon. Gentleman speaks of Members coming into a democratic society. Is it not for a democratic election to decide the merit of those individuals and which House they enter? The electorate would ultimately make that judgment in a democratic society.

Mr. Cash

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. It is not inconceivable that there are people in Ireland who would want to stand for election and who had not disavowed terrorism. If they stood and were successful, it would be inherent in the Standing Orders of the House and in the duty to protect the people of this country to ensure that anyone who did not disavow terrorism should not take their seat in the House—just as, without going into the merits of the process, they would not be able to take their seat in the House without declaring their Oath of Allegiance to the Queen. The question of terrorism is thus of fundamental importance in the context of the Bill.

We face a strange situation. After all, in the 19th century, during debate on the home rule Bill in 1886, Mr. Parnell, who took a strong position with respect to home rule, supported by Mr. Gladstone, made it clear in a memorandum that was put forward, effectively, in his name that he would not stand out on the question whether the Irish Members should reman in the imperial Parliament or be excluded from it. We have come full circle. It is clear that, at that time, Mr. Parnell was not against the idea of members of the Irish nation, as he would have put it, being excluded from the so-called imperial Parliament. We are posing for ourselves the West Lothian question in relation to Ireland as a whole. If members of the Irish nation, as they would put it, are to stand and to be elected in this country, it follows that we will face exactly the same issues as those raised by the West Lothian question. As a colleague of mine said to me earlier today, instead of the West Lothian question, we might just as well raise the East Connemara question.

The Bill is directly relevant to a devolution question. I believe strongly that we should also look at a much deeper question that faces the Committee: what really lies behind the Government's objectives.

As I have often said, the best way to keep a secret is to make a speech in the House of Commons. It is becoming clear that the best way to keep a secret is to promote a Bill without giving any reasons for it. We have not had a single reason from the Government. I look to the Minister, who is now shaking his head—he was nodding earlier; he does not know which way to go—to say why the Bill has been introduced at all.

Some of us look at the Irish issue not as a means of dividing ourselves from our colleagues or friends in Ireland, but to discover whether what is being done is inimical to the interests of this country, or indeed of Eire as a whole. We have no reciprocal arrangements in respect of the Bill. I demand that the Minister explain before the debate on the amendment is concluded, or on Third Reading, why the Bill has been introduced.

On Second Reading, many people raised the legitimate question of the conflict of loyalty and interest—that Members cannot serve two nations—but there is another question at the heart of what is behind the Government's thinking. There is a proposal, albeit embryonic, for arrangements within the—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is speaking about the Bill in its entirety. He must confine himself to the amendments, one of which is his own.

Mr. Cash

I will indeed. Anyone who promoted terrorism and was not prepared to renounce it would invade the sovereignty of the country in which they proposed to stand and be elected, or be disqualified under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Anyone who proposed to stand for this Parliament but was not prepared to renounce terrorism would invade the sovereignty of the citizenship and the right of the electors.

7 pm

I therefore ask the Minister to answer this question: is it inconceivable that the real reason why the Bill has been introduced is that Ministers are proposing an arrangement whereby there is no conflict, and people are able to stand for election and to be elected to the House, because we shall be subject to a European Union arrangement under which Ireland and the United Kingdom are part of the same province? That would be a very convenient way of dealing with the problem that Ministers face with Sinn Fein and its aspirations in relation to Ireland as a whole.

Has the Minister had any direct discussions with Sinn Fein on the Bill? We know that there were secret discussions last year. I should like to know whether the Minister is prepared to deny that the arrangements for this Bill and for the future of Northern Ireland were discussed with Sinn Fein-IRA, within a constitutional—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman mentioned the amendments and not the Bill in its entirety. He could have raised those issues in yesterday's debate on Second Reading.

Mr. Cash

I am speaking to an amendment that raises the issue of whether a person who stands for election to this place or to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and who is elected, should be prepared to disavow terrorism. That is the key issue. Anyone who is prepared to stand for and to achieve election to this place, but not to disavow violence and terrorism, should be prevented from becoming a Member of this place. That is the key element of amendment No. 32.

I should be interested to know whether Opposition Front Benchers are prepared to support amendment No. 32, requiring a disavowal of terrorism. I do not know the answer to that, as I have had no indication from Front Benchers whether they would be prepared to go down that road. However, a requirement to disavow terrorism must be equivalent to one requiring us to take the Oath of Allegiance.

Mr. MacKay

My hon. Friend will be aware that, very wisely, legislation on the Northern Ireland Assembly that he and I helped to pass includes a provision requiring Assembly Members to disavow violence before taking their seats in the Assembly, let alone on the Executive. It is an interesting issue, and we should give it further consideration. Nevertheless, I am sure that the whole Committee is grateful to my hon. Friend for speaking to his amendment, enabling us to discuss the matter in greater detail.

Mr. Cash

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that point. However, although that provision may apply to the Northern Ireland Assembly, it does not seem to apply to the House of Commons.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

In view of the comments of the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), does it not seem to be a contradiction that we have Assembly Members who are supposed to have repudiated violence saying publicly that, if they do not get their way, they will go back to doing the things that they do best—blowing up schools, hospitals and industry, and killing people? How can anyone say that a person who says such things has given up violence? We know perfectly well that some of those who have been released on to the streets have gone back to violence and attacking police.

Mr. Cash

That was one of the reasons why, last year, when we were considering other legislation, I was deeply concerned. I objected to releasing terrorists into the community simply on the basis of a very sordid deal with Sinn Fein-IRA.

Does the Minister agree that the Government should clearly state that, in principle, no one who fails to conform with the requirements of a provision such as amendment No. 32—which is consistent with the provisions of the Terrorism Bill—should be allowed to take a seat in the House of Commons?

We are debating a matter of principle and legislation that Ministers say is urgently needed, and I should like to know whether the Government are prepared to support my amendment. If they are not, they are effectively saying that, as far as they are concerned, anyone who does not renounce terrorism should be qualified to be a Member and to speak in the House of Commons.

I see the Minister shuffling around. He almost came to the Dispatch Box, but has not quite made it. Will he be good enough to tell me whether the Government agree with my amendment? If he is not prepared to say whether the Government agree with it, the Committee would be entitled to draw the conclusion that Ministers do not agree with it. The Committee would also be entitled to conclude that Ministers are prepared to allow those who do not renounce terrorism—in the context specified in the Bill—to join the House of Commons. I give him another opportunity to answer that question.

Mr. George Howarth

If the hon. Gentleman will contain his impatience, I shall speak later in the debate and deal with the points that have been raised.

Mr. Cash

Will the Minister answer my specific question? Does he countenance on behalf of the Government the attendance in this place of those who are elected to the House but who are not prepared to renounce terrorism, although their track record clearly shows that they were interested in pursuing terrorism as a means of achieving change? Will he, please, answer that question? He has indicated a quarter of the answer, but will he now answer it?

Mr. Howarth

I shall answer it in my own time and in my own way.

Mr. Cash

I shall leave it at that. We shall have to wait until we hear the Minister's reply. However, the fact is that the Government are not prepared to state quite clearly that anyone who is elected to the House but not prepared to renounce terrorism will not be able to take his or her seat.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

My hon. Friend will know that the Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), has clearly said that he believes that the House should have the same level of security as the Northern Ireland Assembly—where, at least supposedly, those who sit have said that they have forsaken any type of violence and believe in democracy. Does my hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members are right to insist that the Government should include in the Bill at least that safeguard, if not any other?

Mr. Cash

Yes. I am also very grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, which were absolutely to the very point of the debate.

The Opposition spokesman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), has raised the decommissioning issue. However I say this to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) with great respect—at the heart of the issue is not merely a technical matter about bunkers or about whether we will make sufficient or substantial progress on decommissioning. Although that is a part of the issue, the real question is whether people should be in the Northern Ireland Executive or elected to the House if they are not prepared, given their track record, to renounce terrorism. In this Bill, that is the fundamental issue facing the Committee.

Mr. MacKay

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, but I want to press him a little further on this point. It is my understanding that the Belfast agreement's requirement that violence be renounced for good means that there must be no association with a paramilitary organisation that has failed to decommission its illegally held arms and explosives. As I said earlier, every Prime Minister and Taoiseach has said that Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA are inextricably linked. It follows that people cannot renounce violence simply by swearing that they have renounced it if the paramilitaries with whom they are associated have failed to decommission, or have not even begun to do so. Would my hon. Friend accept that proposition?

Mr. Cash

I would certainly accept—as I have said repeatedly—that there is an absolute requirement for decommissioning in respect of the whole process, including the Belfast agreement. However, for any people with a track record of terrorism who stand for election to the Northern Ireland Assembly or this House, it would have to be clear, not only that they were associated with the process of decommissioning, but that, on behalf of their constituents, they would disavow terrorism. That is the gravamen of the amendment. It is a fundamental constitutional question about democracy.

I need not elaborate any further. I am deeply disappointed that more hon. Members are not present for this important debate, which is fundamental to the workings of our democracy. Given the history involved, and the practical realities of the present, it is disappointing that more attention is not being devoted to the matter.

I am strongly of the opinion that the Opposition should have voted against the Bill as a matter of principle yesterday. However, having said that, I look to the Government to support amendment No. 32. If they do not, they will stand condemned by their unwillingness to go along with the clear principle that people who want to become members of a legislature—whether it be the Northern Ireland Assembly or the House of Commons—cannot stand for election without disavowing terrorism.

Mr. William Ross

As yesterday, the debate is more wide ranging and interesting than the Government would have wished. The questions raised by all contributors go to the heart of our democracy, and the Government have not yet given us any real answers.

We are still considering the first group of amendments selected for debate, and I am grateful for the fact that it will be possible to go beyond 10 pm tonight. I hope that we will not be confronted with a motion to guillotine discussion on this important Bill. However, I should be somewhat surprised if we were not, as I suspect that Opposition Members are prepared to carry on the debate beyond the next two and three quarter hours so that the Government will be able to hear their views as we explore the detail of the Bill.

Amendment No. 10 and new clause 1 tie implementation of the Bill to decommissioning. I shall return later in my remarks to decommissioning and what it means to any reasonable citizen in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Amendment No. 32 would exclude unreconstructed terrorists from membership of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The degree to which some terrorists remain unreconstructed was made plain at the weekend, when we saw Mr. Adams—who should be regarded as a Member of this House—carrying the coffin of Tom McWilliams.

McWilliams was hanged in 1942 for the murder of a Roman Catholic police officer in Northern Ireland. Such murders were carried out whenever the IRA planned outbursts of violence in Northern Ireland to disrupt this country's war effort. An uncle of mine who died last year aged more than 90 was involved in work against the IRA at that time, so I know something about the period.

McWilliams belonged to the original IRA, the predecessor organisation to the Provisional IRA. The appearance at the weekend of Mr. Adams, given his role in Sinn Fein, illustrates the seamless spiritual line of violence in Irish politics that extends from long before 1942 right up to the present day. It is an unbroken line—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Joined-up terrorism.

7.15 pm
Mr. Ross

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) for that phrase. The truth is that such people have not deserted violence. As I said yesterday, a mental reservation exists in them. They have proclaimed several times that the wording of the oaths and undertakings that they have been asked to accept was such that they were able to accept them.

That is why the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) may have been somewhat amiss in his remarks. Wording that is tight enough to tie down the IRA and their fellow travellers will be refused. Those people will not utter any words that do not allow them to justify, to themselves and their followers, what they have done. They will accept only words that allow them to continue with their violence, as and when they consider it necessary.

Amendment No. 1 would achieve two things: first, the full implementation of the Belfast agreement, and secondly, that implementation was by order of both Houses of Parliament. Those are reasonable points that need to be accepted. All the tests set out in this group of amendments are reasonable tests of commitment to democracy.

How can armed terrorists be allowed into government? That is what has happened in Northern Ireland. The people involved are still armed. Anyone who thinks that they have deserted violence and are no longer tied to the IRA should have been disabused by the funeral at the weekend.

Those people's grip on their weapons is a public declaration that they believe in the power of weapons. They are wedded to the belief that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. It is not so much that they distrust the path of peace and democracy, but that they despise it. As de Valera once said, the majority have no right to be wrong—the corollary, of course, being that anyone who disagrees with the majority is wrong. De Valera changed his path eventually, but I suspect that he never changed his mind.

Mr. Cash

The hon. Gentleman suggested that I might have been remiss in respect of aspects of my amendment No. 32. However, the question of mental reservation would not arise if it were accepted, as it specifies explicitly that people would have to disavow terrorism, as defined by the Terrorism Bill currently being considered in Committee, so people would not be able to engage in a mental reservation. Is not that suggestion reasonable?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman's proposal uses language that is much stronger than that of any of the undertakings or commitments that the people about whom I speak have had to give to enter the Northern Ireland Assembly, so to that extent I agree with him. He is asking that a complete disavowal of terrorism be a requirement of any person seeking election, but the phrasing of that disavowal must be a great deal stronger than what has so far been used in Northern Ireland.

The amendments under consideration vary somewhat in their approach. Amendment No. 10 and new clause 1 tie the application of the Bill to weapons, while amendment No. 32, rightly, demands visible and verbal conversion to democracy.

However, in some ways amendment No. 1 is more comprehensive, as it sets the whole of the Belfast agreement as the standard with which those who benefit from it must comply. In other words, it would require people to accept the agreement as a whole and not cherry-pick, as the term that is often used has it.

Messrs. Adams and McGuinness say that we should stick to the agreement. They mean, of course, that we should stick to their construction of the agreement, and not to that of any reasonable man. Those are two very different things. The reasonable man put his construction on the agreement at the start, so many of them voted for it and soon regretted it.

Amendment No. 1 makes the implementation of the agreement subject to the opinion of the Secretary of State and the judgment of Parliament. It says that the Secretary of State can accept that weapons are being decommissioned, and that the people who used them have been converted and are now decent, law-abiding and snow-white citizens. But, having made that judgment, the Secretary of State would, under the amendment, have to come before Parliament with an order. It would be debatable and could be considered and explored so that its spin doctoring aspects might, to some extent, disintegrate. We could consider what the agreement and the decision reached actually meant, and whether these people had changed their minds. Such an examination should be welcomed by every hon. Member. If such a detailed examination were undertaken, we would know whether there was compliance with the requirements of the Good Friday agreement.

If the amendment were accepted, the agreement should be lauded by the Government. If a genuine conversion took place, the Government, every hon. Member and everyone in Northern Ireland would rejoice. But unless such an examination, or something like it, can be carried out, I think that people in Northern Ireland and many hon. Members will be extremely suspicious.

Conservative Members should also welcome the amendment. It avoids the dangers of cherry-picking, whether that is done by the Government, by the IRA or by parties prepared to be satisfied with less than the ideal. This is a holistic approach to the problem, and I think that the Government should welcome it. They tell us that we must not cherry-pick by taking out bits and pieces of the agreement but accept it as a whole. That is what we should be applying as the real test and standard of behaviour to be observed by folk who benefit from these things. There should be no mental reservations.

Let me turn now to decommissioning. There seem to be different views about the meaning of the word. I believe that under the agreement, the weapons must be destroyed. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) told the Unionist party that decommissioning meant what we saw happen to the Loyalist Volunteer Force weapons. That was nearly 14 months ago. The LVF brought in some home-made weapons—they had some ancient rifles that looked like the stuff brought in by Lord Carson for the old Ulster Volunteer Force in the early years of the last century. Some of the weapons could still be fired, and ammunition could be obtained for them but they were not modern weapons. If the LVF was relying on that armoury, I suspect that it is not in very good military shape.

No more have been produced, but the principle was clear. The weapons were brought in and cut up in front of television cameras. It was shown on television nationwide. That is what the leader of the Unionist party has told his party members that decommissioning means to him.

There have been reports in the press that the IRA could blow up the weapons. Let us be clear what that means. We cannot blow up guns. Suppose we built a stack of them and put a lot of explosive in the middle of it—we would simply distribute them to all and sundry for half a mile in every direction. Many of them would, I suspect, still be usable after that. Guns cannot be destroyed by that method. They have to be cut up or melted down—there is no other way. Rockets and mortars can be blown up, but that is a different kettle of fish.

Furthermore, what explosive would be surrendered? We could not be satisfied with a bang in a bog, as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has said. A bang in a bog could be created by a home mix—something that the IRA is expert at producing. So that is not acceptable. Such material must go to people who are professionally qualified to say whether an explosive is Semtex or another explosive. It can then be blown up, burned, or whatever.

Bullets are a particular problem. They cannot safely be crushed, for they might explode, and they cannot be burned or exploded. They must be destroyed in some other way.

Ministers have made it plain that there must be substantial decommissioning and that it must be verifiable. Nobody has yet spelt out what substantial means; I have spelt out what verifiable means to me and, I believe, to the leader of my party, to every reasonable man and woman in the House and to the people of Northern Ireland. Given that we only have until May, the first tranche is unlikely to consist of half a dozen rusty revolvers or weapons that have been used to commit murder or other acts of violence. "Substantial" will mean many hundreds of weapons—large quantities of them—and hundredweights, possibly tonnes, of Semtex and other explosive.

The question has been posed time and again: who asked for the Bill, and why the rush? Who did the Government discuss it with? Is it related to the request or suggestion of members of Sinn Fein that Northern Ireland Members be allowed to sit in the Dail? We know that such a suggestion has been made—there is reference to it in the excellent documentation on the Bill produced by the Library. What would that mean? Is it not an effort by Sinn Fein-IRA to get a measure of condominium or joint authority in a more visible form over Northern Ireland? Is that what underlies the Bill? We deserve to be told; the longer these discussions continue, the more suspicious I become.

I can see no real reason for the Bill. There is certainly no urgency about it, yet it is being rushed through before we have time to ask the questions that need to be asked.

7.30 pm
Sir Brian Mawhinney

I want to focus my remarks on amendment No. 10 and new clause 1. Before I do so, I should like to commend the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) on her speech. It is a pleasure, in a serious debate such as this, to be able to say to someone on the other side of the Committee that I agree with virtually every word that she said. I agreed not only with what she said but with the significance that she attached to clause 1, the qualification for serving in the House and the amendments that might affect that. I hope that she will not mind my saying that I also greatly admired the fineness and sharpness of her stiletto. In fact, it was so fine that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland still does not realise that he is bleeding.

The fact that amendment No. 10 and new clause 1 are on the amendment paper tells us something of significance about the Bill. Earlier, Mr. Martin reproached me for a question that I put to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). I asked why the amendments to this clause had been put to the Committee today in such a rush after yesterday's Second Reading. I offered him a choice of answer: either that this was complete happenstance—the business managers had nothing better to do so they dreamed up a Bill that had no relation to anything and thought they would take up a couple of days of our time with it—or that the measure related to the Belfast agreement.

It is significant that all the amendments, which have been tabled and accepted as legitimate, relate to the agreement. They all relate to the process. It is clear—not only from Hansard, as my right hon. Friend pointed out—that the House authorities have no view on the merits of amendments, they rule only on the acceptability of amendments in the context of the Bill. That is what we are discussing.

In that light, the speech of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich becomes even more important. She rightly pointed out that the debate is about qualification for serving in the House. That is an issue of fundamental importance, which goes far beyond whether a couple of Sinn Fein politicians—or even a couple of IRA or loyalist paramilitary politicians—are eligible to serve in this place, or whether that is desirable. Clause 1 carries far wider ramifications than that.

The first point that I make to the Government is that the amendments all set the context for the debate as to qualification for service in the House. The Minister would do the Committee a considerable service, and would lessen the contempt that the people of Northern Ireland will feel about the way in which the Government are proceeding, if—as his hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich said—he was a little more open with us as to the background to clause 1 and the amendments.

Mr. Oaten

Is it not because the Bill has wider implications, which go beyond Sinn Fein and Ireland, that it is somewhat unwise to link it to decommissioning issues? The Bill should stand alone.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman is right in so far as clause 1 deals with a non-specific issue; it adds Ireland to several countries that are affected by the disqualification provisions—Commonwealth countries and so on. In that narrow sense, he has a point. However, I hope that he will not take it amiss when I point out that those of us who are operating in the real world understand what clause 1 and the amendments are about.

Clause 1 and the amendments that have already been accepted put the Bill in the context of the agreement—in the context of decommissioning and of terrorism, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who has temporarily left the Committee, and the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) pointed out. Although the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) is technically correct, the rest of us are debating the real issue that lies behind the amendments.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Reference has been made to other countries. The Americans do not allow people in, even on a visitor's visa, if they have a murder conviction. Can we possibly imagine that we should allow people—even those from Commonwealth countries—to stand for Parliament if they had such a record? The intervention of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) was not relevant.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

I suspect that I should get on the wrong side of Mr. Lord were I to develop the hon. Gentleman's point, although it is a good one, which the whole Committee will understand.

I want to draw the Committee's attention to two aspects of amendment No. 10 and new clause 1: conditionality and progress on decommissioning. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone is no longer in the Chamber, because it was not clear to me that there was as much difference between his view and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) as he thought. In the context of the agreement, decommissioning is the outward and visible sign of an inner grace. It is a demonstration of the fact that a renunciation of terrorism has taken place—or that there is a willingness to move away from it over time.

I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell as expressed in the phrasing of amendment No. 10 and new clause 1. I suspect that, had the roles been reversed and the Conservatives were in government, we might or might not have introduced the Bill. However, we are not debating the principle of the Bill; we are debating its substance, line by line. It has received its Second Reading. Given the Government's majority, it will become law. We are considering whether we can improve it.

That was the approach, with which I agree, taken by my right hon. Friend in his introductory remarks. He put his finger on two issues in the amendments that would make the Bill better. The first is progress on decommissioning. All of us—especially those who have been Members of Parliament for some time and, in particular, those of us who have had the privilege of serving in Northern Ireland—understand that the Belfast agreement was a deal. It was a deal endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland and that gave legitimacy to those right hon. and hon. Members who bought into it, despite our reservations about one or other aspect of the agreement. However, the legitimacy derived from the referendum told us that we had to buy into the deal.

As is shown in relation to amendment No. 10 and new clause 1, part of that deal related to decommissioning. If we consider the other issues in the deal, we find that progress has been made on all of them, with the one exception of decommissioning. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell said that the Unionist community had given and given, but that no one else had given anything in their direction. I do not want to pursue that line of thought, although I share his perception.

Progress, which would have been inconceivable to many people a few years ago, has been made on the whole agreement, except on that one issue. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I have had the pleasure of exchanging views on other matters, but he is not helping the Committee or—far more important—the people of Northern Ireland by maintaining that the Bill has no significance to the deal that was done in Belfast.

It is not helpful for the Committee to get into a debate tonight about the definition of decommissioning. However, I tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell that, like him, I was recently in Belfast, and I was deeply worried to hear the latest Sinn Fein lie on decommissioning, which runs something like this: "We are not using the weapons. That is decommissioning". It is not, and to make substantial progress against a background of Sinn Fein saying, "We will not use them any more and that is substantial progress on decommissioning" is to treat people with contempt.

Mr. MacKay

indicated assent.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's assurance that he would not countenance that definition of decommissioning. Were he to countenance it, he would lose the support of all Conservative Back Benchers in the process.

Mr. MacKay

I confirm that I share my right hon. Friend's disgust that Sinn Fein-IRA representatives are now simply saying that the fact that they are not killing or maiming many people with their guns is a form of decommissioning. That is not decommissioning as defined in legislation. More important, that is not decommissioning as defined by any reasonable, civilised person, and it certainly would not be acceptable to us or, I trust, to the Government.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

I am not in the least surprised, but I am reassured by what my right hon. Friend says. I know that Conservative Back Benchers will share that perception, but we need to hear that the Government also share it. The amendments concern substantial progress in decommissioning. Their importance, in the context of the clause, is that they affect the qualification for serving in the House.

My second point concerns conditionality. I have at least the virtue of being consistent. From day one—as the Minister, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich and my right hon. and hon. Friends know—whatever reservations I might have had, I gave my support to the agreement. I have not wavered from that view. I have made it clear from time to time that I felt as much anger and distaste as did others, when I saw flocks of people being let out of jail, but I always gave the agreement my support, because it was a deal.

The Minister's problem, and the reason why these two amendments would introduce conditionality, is that there is a growing view in this country and in Northern Ireland—I hope that the Minister will not take it unkindly if I put it this way—that the political judgment of Ministers is now itself starting to undermine the agreement. There are those who simply do not understand why a more cautious approach was not taken to the release of prisoners, with conditionality built in, requiring response before the next step was taken. Any expert on conflict resolution or negotiation anywhere in the world could have told Ministers that the way that they are proceeding is precisely the wrong way to deliver the deal at the end.

As recently as last Wednesday, I was the first—perhaps the only—Member to raise conditionality with the Secretary of State in the context of his statement about reforms to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I said that reforms were manifestly necessary but I invited him to make the name change conditional. I was not greatly encouraged by his response, but he did not flatly say no, and I shall hang on to that, bearing it in mind that even he is not planning to implement the measures until the end of next year. A lot can happen between now and the end of next year.

7.45 pm

The conditionality of the amendments is not a new concept. Many of us have adhered to it from the beginning of this process, and it is precisely because tonight the prospects of progress on decommissioning do not look good, as the Minister knows, that conditionality becomes even more important.

Those of us who have taken an interest in Northern Ireland know—we do not suspect, we know—that in conjunction with the Bill, the Government planned this week to move orders to permit Sinn Fein elected representatives to make use of these facilities. We also know that the Government have shelved that plan indefinitely. Given that there is neither urgency nor emergency in respect of the Bill, the Government would have been wise to have taken a similar line, as advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell, but two helpings of embarrassment on the same subject in the same week were probably too much. Having been a Minister, I understand that. Given that that followed a week in which the wheels kept coming off the Government's wagon, I can understand why they are forcing the Bill through tonight. However, that does not mean that the Bill cannot be improved and make some recognition of the realities of what is happening out there, and of what I learned in Belfast yesterday.

The Minister will not be inclined to accept conditionality—that was the message from the Secretary of State last week—and I understand that, but he would be well advised to do so. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell will press amendment No. 10 to a Division. If he does, I will vote with him. I tell the Minister that that vote will not be a cooling on the agreement by those who vote against him. It will be saying on the record that unless the Government look to their political judgment in these matters, we shall all find ourselves in extreme difficulty very shortly. It is right, and the role of the Opposition, seriously and carefully to warn the Government that there is a way to avoid that stigma. One way to avoid it would be to accept amendment No. 10 and new clause 1.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I appreciate the opportunity to speak. I shall follow the right hon. Gentleman.

I understand the aims of those who supported the agreement, and I am not arguing about the agreement, but I believe that a dangerous situation has developed. Last week, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made it clear that those of us who had misgivings about the agreement had no right to make any comments in the House on recent developments. That was a shameful exhibition, and I hope that that theme does not re-emerge tonight. Time and again, we hear Labour Members who, rightly, are still fighting the battle of the coal mines, and it seems to me that any of us are right to keep arguing the case that we believe to be right. The average Ulsterman will not buy a pig in a poke, and wants to know what the bargain is. Some of us recognised the difficulties from the beginning.

There are those who keep arguing about decommissioning. I cannot understand how anyone in this House can be against proper decommissioning when this House legislated to decommission legally held sporting firearms throughout the nation. If we were concerned about that, we ought to be concerned about the decommissioning of illegal weapons in the hands of terrorists.

My sense of humour has not left me completely, and I was amused to be told by certain sources that it was being considered that the weapons would be put in concrete bunkers and sealed. Some of us thought that if those people could tunnel out of the Maze, they could tunnel into those bunkers. I understand that someone with connections to Sinn Fein-IRA has said that there will be no announcement on decommissioning because there would need to be a convention of the IRA called to announce that, and no convention has been called.

The Bill contains a statement by the Home Secretary that the Bill conforms to European legislation. We believe that the Bill must conform to the Belfast agreement. I know that our Sinn Fein opponents, in political terms, do not believe that decommissioning was in the agreement. However, even a blind man on a galloping horse could see that it was in the agreement that decommissioning must take place.

The Government would be standing by and consolidating the agreement if they came forth now and said that they were prepared to accept the amendment and that there will be no further move on this issue unless the Belfast agreement has been ratified completely. That would save a lot of hassle, and would prevent a Division. However, I can assure the House that if the amendment is divided on, those of us voting for it will be putting on record the fact that if the Government are not prepared to stand by the agreement in all its parts, we are.

Mr. Hunter

In his exchange with the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) was characteristically over-generous. One need only look at the five lines of the Bill's title to see how narrow and limited it is in its objectives. There are deeper implications, but the Bill itself is restricted.

So far, our attention has been focused on three amendments and one new clause. However, that has been sufficient to bring to light some of the many baffling and puzzling features of the Bill.

First, why is the Bill being pushed through so rapidly? Still, no answer has come to that question. Secondly, what is the need for the Bill in the first place? We have speculated on that matter during our deliberations on the amendments.

The third baffling and puzzling point—there are many more to come—came when my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) invited the Minister to state unequivocally and unambiguously that it is totally intolerable that those who have not disavowed terrorism should be in this House. There were baffling moments when the Minister declined to answer. I thought that that was an extraordinary episode—that a Minister of the Crown should hesitate and remain silent on that issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone made a strong argument on amendment No. 32, which amounted to this: why should the Government not accept the proposition in the amendment? That proposition is that there is no place in a democratic Parliament for people who are terrorists. That is consistent with the spirit of the Belfast agreement, of which, I acknowledge, I am not a supporter—although I accept that others are. The proposition is consistent with the spirit of the agreement, and with the letter and spirit of Government policy. The Government therefore have no reason to reject the amendment.

We started our deliberations on the amendments with something of an academic argument about what we understood by decommissioning—a concept that is central to new clause 1 and the amendments. We may have started from different points, but we have finished very much on common ground. We understand that illegally held arms are precisely that: they are illegal and they should not be held. Decommissioning means the irretrievable and irreversible physical separation of paramilitaries from those weapons. Most of us can see no alternative to the physical destruction of those weapons. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) came to that position by the end of the exchange.

I strongly support the underlying proposition in new clause 1—that there should be linkage between the decommissioning of illegally held arms and the implementation of the Bill. To be honest, I would rather not have the Bill at all. I voted against it yesterday, and I oppose it in principle. Nothing that I heard last night—and, I suspect, nothing that I will hear tonight—has led me to change my mind.

Nevertheless, the composition of the House is such that the Bill is proceeding. On pragmatic grounds, one must try to be as positive as possible about it and to argue that its damage should be limited. In that respect, the linkage between decommissioning and the implementation of the Bill is a significant step in the right direction.

The arguments have been well rehearsed, and I can summarise them briefly. So far, there has been concession after concession to the republicans—concessions that have come in return for virtually nothing. Their prisoners have been released, and the north-south body—the embryonic structure for an all-Ireland Government—has been created. They have places on the Executive, and they have achieved their long-held objective of the effective destruction of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Now, it is their turn to deliver on decommissioning. I strongly support the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell that they should do that.

8 pm

I have one slight reservation about the new clause. The emphasis on implementing the Belfast agreement is not enough. The agreement is woefully inadequate on decommissioning. All that it demands is co-operation with the Decommissioning Commission, and that the political parties use their best endeavours to persuade the paramilitaries to decommission by May 2000. My right hon. Friend argued that the wording of new clause 1 goes further than the Belfast agreement, and I hope that that is so. We want the verifiable, on-going decommissioning of all illegally held paramilitary weapons.

Amendment No. 1 was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and it is supported by my hon. Friends the Members for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). There is much to commend the amendment. It would offer a belt-and-braces process and it seeks more cast-iron reassurances than new clause 1 that verifiable commissioning will become a reality. I confess that I have a reservation about the proposed new subsection (2B) because the composition and arithmetic of the House is such that one wonders whether all Labour Members would approach a draft order with independent judgment and thought.

However, the key point is found in proposed new subsection (2A), which would require all parties to the Belfast agreement to accept that decommissioning should be a reality. That is vital. It would give a status to the constitutional and democratic parties of Northern Ireland that they rightly deserve. If we can use the old cliché, it would provide a Unionist veto, but that is absolutely right. It has been one of the sadly missing ingredients in the process to date.

Amendment No. 32, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, is self-evidently justified and it is a matter of deep regret that the Government did not instantly respond to the reasonable challenge that he presented. New clause 1 is a significant step in the right direction in that it would establish linkage. However, we come to the heart of the matter in amendment No. 1. It would give a positive role to the parties of Northern Ireland in establishing whether verifiable, genuine decommissioning is on-going.

Mr. Thompson

Together, the new clause and the amendments would link decommissioning with the enactment of the Bill. That is right and I support that principle.

We must consider why the Bill has been before the House for the past two days. When I read remarks that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made about the Bill yesterday, I was amazed that the Government were suddenly worried about some right that we have in Northern Ireland that the people in the rest of the United Kingdom do not have. That is extraordinary. I would rather that there was more concern about the rights that the rest of the United Kingdom has and that Northern Ireland does not have. The Government should be keen expeditiously to amend those and not introduce the one in this Bill, which they say is so necessary.

The Minister said that the Bill would bring into parity not only the House, but the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. However, there seems to be nothing in the Bill that applies to the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament. That suggests that the Bill was introduced quickly and that it is not well thought out. Judging from yesterday evening's discussions, it is clear that the Government have not considered many aspects of the Bill or its repercussions.

Those of us who live in Northern Ireland were very surprised when we heard about the Bill. We had to ask ourselves what on earth it was about. I suspect that very few Members of the House were aware that the Members of legislatures in the Commonwealth could become Members of the House. We have learned something that we did not know. However, we were not at all conscious that there was any pressure from anywhere that Members of the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland were desirous of sitting here or that Members of this House were desirous of sitting in the Irish Parliament. Therefore, we had to ask a second question: who would benefit from the Bill?

The only people who are likely to benefit from the Bill are Sinn Fein. Of course, the Members for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) and for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness) are elected to the House, but I suspect that, in future, they may wish to sit in the Dail: they need the Bill so that they do not lose their membership here. In other words, the Bill is another act of appeasement to Sinn Fein.

The Minister has refused to say why the Bill was introduced at this time. I suspect that he dare not say why it was introduced now because it was simply introduced to appease Sinn Fein. We all want Sinn Fein to decommission its arms as quickly as possible, and preferably before the end of this month. Therefore, it has sought concession after concession. It has sought the removal of army posts, the drawing of soldiers away from Northern Ireland and more and more. No doubt, the Bill was one of the concessions for which it asked.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

My hon. Friend has just implied that he believes that the Government, and perhaps the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, have discussed the contents of the Bill with a certain party that was elected to the House, but has not chosen to take up its seats. Does he believe that the Government have discussed the Bill's contents with Sinn Fein-IRA and, if they have, why have they not had the courtesy to discuss a constitutional measure with the leaders of other parties representing Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom?

Mr. Thompson

I certainly believe that the Government have discussed the Bill with Sinn Fein. I ask the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and deny that such discussions have taken place.

Why is the Bill being rushed? It is being rushed so that Sinn Fein can be assured that it will be on the statute book before decommissioning starts—if, indeed, it ever does. There can be no other reason why the Government should give up valuable time to spend two days debating the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will come to the Dispatch Box and deny that, too. We in Northern Ireland believe that the position is as I have described it and that the Government are acting in the hope—probably fruitless—that if Sinn Fein are given concession after concession, they will deliver on decommissioning. In fact, concessions will be made and appeasement will continue, but, at the end of the day, there will be no decommissioning. It appears that the Government never learn.

That is why I believe that it is essential that the linkage set out in the amendments should be made. The Bill should not be brought into force unless there is complete decommissioning and we have seen that Sinn Fein-IRA have had a change of heart and have decided to turn away from violence for good. They must show that they are prepared to give up their arms and decommission them to prove that, in future, they are willing to tread the democratic path. Only in that way should they be able to achieve their ambitions. I shall fully support the amendments.

Mr. Fallon

I share the revulsion expressed by the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) at the haste with which the Bill is being taken. We have had stages of Bills concertinaed before, but I cannot recall such a thing being done without a proper explanation being given to the House. The Bill is bad, and the only merit of the first group of amendments is that, if accepted, each of them would, in its own way, delay implementation of the measure.

I do not find all the amendments in the group equally attractive. Of them, I prefer amendment No. 32 on the ground of its clarity. It is self-evident that what is good enough for the Northern Ireland Assembly ought to be good enough for the House of Commons. I hope that the Minister will explain why a protection he thinks it necessary for the House to put in place for the Northern Ireland Assembly should not be applied to the House. We have not yet heard Conservative Front Benchers' views on the amendment, so I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) express full support for it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) spoke to amendment No. 1. I note that, yesterday, he announced that he, too, is opposed to the Bill "in principle". However, he is apparently prepared to accept the Bill passing into law when a number of things happen. When those things have happened and he is satisfied that they have happened, he is—reluctantly, I assume—prepared to move to what he called "the next crucial stage". That puzzles me. If we are opposed to the Bill in principle, why do we have to accept that, when a number of completely unrelated events happen, the principle must be dispensed with and there has to be a next crucial stage? I look to my right hon. Friend to reassure me on that.

8.15 pm
Mr. Forth

I was trying to say—obviously, with insufficient clarity—that, despite my having opposed and continuing to oppose the principle of the Bill, I, as a good parliamentarian, have to accept that, because the House has given the Bill its Second Reading and thereby agreed it in principle, it is now our job collectively to improve the Bill as best we can. There can legitimately be a process whereby one opposes a Bill's Second Reading but acknowledges the will of the House and plays one's part in improving the Bill.

Mr. Fallon

I fully understand and accept that. My point was a slightly different one—perhaps my right hon. Friend did not quite catch it. When speaking to amendment No. 1, he said that, if a number of other matters fell into place and events happened in the order and to the extent that he wanted them to happen, we could then move to "the next crucial stage". I do not accept that. If the Bill is bad in principle, how would the amendment enable us to sweep away its unacceptable features and move on?

New clause 1, which stands in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Conservative Front Bench, is in many ways the weakest of the amendments in the group. For wholly understandable reasons, it links the constitutional change, to which we have strong principled objections that were ably expressed yesterday by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, to the pace of decommissioning. If I were uncharitable, I might criticise the acceptance of the concept of the pace of or "progress" towards decommissioning, because it perpetuates the wholly false assumption that decommissioning is some sort of process. To my mind, decommissioning is not a process, but an act.

The moment we concede that decommissioning is not an act, we are inevitably drawn into agreeing that it is a process, which may be long drawn out or difficult to define. I reject that and I am disappointed that the new clause implies that such "progress" is tradeable and that its definition is a matter of argument. All we are asking Sinn Fein-IRA to do is decommission. We are not asking them to commit themselves to decommissioning, or to make some sort of progress towards it. We are asking them to do what they agreed to do—decommission.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

My hon. Friend says he regards decommissioning as an act. Will he concede that it might consist of a number of acts?

Mr. Fallon

Of course I concede that it might consist of a number of acts, because it involves a number of people. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend, whose speech was easily the most compelling of the speeches so far on the group of amendments, agrees that, if we concede that decommissioning may be a process, we are in danger of being drawn into ill-fitting definitions of pace and progress and what does or does not constitute substantial progress.

Mr. William Ross

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, although there might be a number of acts of decommissioning, decommissioning is supposed to be complete by May this year.

Mr. Fallon

I am well aware that the timetable has been set out and that it now presses. That timetable could easily have been complied with. Although decommissioning is a complicated act that involves a certain amount of good faith and a leap being made by several parties in Northern Ireland, it does not have to be drawn out over a couple of years.

I have reservations about the Bill, which were set out yesterday far more eloquently than I could have done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). the shadow Home Secretary, and by the former Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). The Bill does not exclude Ministers in the Irish Government from being Members of the House of Commons, and does not guarantee the continuance of the Oath that we have all sworn or affirmed.

If we are to concede that the Bill might somehow become acceptable if there is some progress towards decommissioning, I fear that we are falling into that classic Northern Ireland trap of compromising our principles in return for what at best are promises. I look to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench to reassure me.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

My name is associated with new clause 1. Last night I voted with colleagues against the Bill in principle because I believe that it is unnecessary legislation. There is no demand for the Bill among the wider population in Northern Ireland. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) that the Bill has only one purpose—to provide a further concession to Sinn Fein-IRA. It is to facilitate that party. Incidentally, that party has returned to the House of Commons two Members, who refuse to take their seats in the Chamber. Yet we are taking up the valuable time of this place to facilitate those two same Members to take seats in a foreign Parliament. It makes a mockery of our constitution that we should do such a thing and that the Government propose it.

With other hon. Members, I look to the Government to explain why we need the proposed legislation that is before us. At present, the provision within it is available only to members of legislatures within the Commonwealth. I accept that that is a general point, but it relates to the amendment. The Irish Republic has not rejoined the Commonwealth, so why do we need to provide legislation specifically to facilitate the Irish Republic? I am not aware that the Irish Government have been calling for the Bill, so it must be Sinn Fein-IRA that is involved.

There has been reference to the Good Friday agreement. Perhaps I am unique in this debate because I was involved in the negotiations in that agreement until the end. That being so, I have some knowledge of the agreement. I know that the provisions that are contained in the Bill were never discussed during the negotiations. We are told by my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the leader of my party, that they were not part of the recent review that was carried our under the chairmanship of Senator Mitchell. Therefore, we must conclude that the Bill is coming forward because the Government have done a back-door deal with Sinn Fein-IRA. That is why it is important to provide linkage between the proposed legislation—

Mr. Gerald Howarth

The House of Commons will acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman was deeply involved in the Belfast agreement negotiations. Perhaps he will try to enlighten us by explaining why in yesterday's proceedings the Minister said: Separate development of direct interparliamentary links between the various legislatures was envisaged at the time of the Good Friday agreement"?—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 28.] That suggests that there were discussions of some sort taking place, otherwise the Bill and the links to which we have referred would not have been envisaged. Can the hon. Gentleman help us?

Mr. Donaldson

There are linkages proposed within the Belfast Agreement, not least with the British-Irish Council, which brings together not only the Westminster Parliament but various legislatures and assemblies throughout the United Kingdom, together with the legislature within the Irish Republic. There were discussions about linkages at that level. I think that the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary group was discussed also. However, as far as I am aware, there was no mention and discussion of the specific legislation that is before us, and it is not part of the agreement. Therefore, we must consider where it fits into the political process in Northern Ireland, and the timing. Why, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone asked, are the Government in such haste to bring forward the Bill and to get it through Parliament? The Committee is entitled to an answer to these reasonable questions.

I appreciate the comments that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) has made about decommissioning, but I refer him to the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997, which includes provisions about a process of decommissioning and defines decommissioning in those terms. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that decommissioning is in itself an act. Unfortunately, under the Belfast agreement it became a process, which is set out in the Arms Decommissioning Act. We are told that the process begins with the appointment of an interlocutor by the various terrorist organisations. It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that that step was taken as recently as December 1999, a year and a half after the Belfast agreement was signed. So it is a process, whether we like it or not. I would much rather it were more narrowly defined in terms of an act.

The linkage between the Bill and its enactment and progress on decommissioning is important. Irrespective of whether the Government care to admit it, the Bill is linked to the political process in Northern Ireland. The problem with that process, if I may call it that, is that in terms of the so-called confidence-building measures that are an integral part of the agreement, it has been a one-way street of concession after concession to the republican movement without requiring something in return.

It has been said that it is time to draw the line. It is right for the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen to press the amendment and to create a linkage between disarmament and the enactment of the Bill, even though I do not like the measure and do not accept the need for it.

Given the Government's majority in this place, I accept that the Bill's passage in inevitable. That being so, we must build in safeguards. Why is that? Is that just to be stubborn? No. We must protect the people of Northern Ireland by providing some leverage in the process so that we might achieve the disarmament that we have been seeking. The Government have been far too weak in pursuing the republican movement, and it is time that they started to get tough with the leaders of republicanism.

The people of Northern Ireland are dejected, depressed and demoralised, not least because of what the Government proposed last week for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. They feel that it is time that instead of pandering to the whim of the abstentionists in this place, they should listen to the voice of the democratic majority. We are saying that people need safeguards, and we believe that the new clause provides a reasonable one. We seek to extract from the republican movement something in return for a constitutional concession specifically for it. We are talking about a party that represents 18 per cent. of a small region of the United Kingdom.

I urge the Government to consider accepting the amendment, not because it is designed to destroy the agreement or the process but because it is an act that is designed to bring about progress on the one issue that is capable of destroying the entire process, which is that of disarmament.

8.30 pm
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on tabling new clause 1, which cuts to the heart of the Bill. The measure is being rushed through in an extraordinary manner for one reason: because Sinn Fein wants it. The new clause is important because it acknowledges that, and declares that, if Sinn Fein wants the Bill, it must pay a price—that of decommissioning. Without the new clause and the price it demands, the Bill will become what my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) describes as another step on the shameful road of appeasement. The new clause is important because it names the price.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Like several of my hon. Friends, I voted against the Bill last night. There were 19 of us, and I suspect that more hon. Members would have done that, had they realised the precise implications and potential consequences of the Bill.

I was joined in the Lobby by the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), who also voted against the measure on principle. I was interested in his assertion that there was no public demand for the Bill. Not only is there no public demand for it, there is no demand for it among Labour Members. No Labour Member has spoken to support the measure. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made an extremely valuable contribution, but not in support of the Bill. She acknowledges the effect of the amendments on a measure about which she feels unhappy. In such circumstances, it is astonishing that the Government attempt to drive the Bill through. One or two Labour Members have come to listen to the debate, but no Labour Member has sought to attract your attention, Mr. Lord, to speak in support of the Government.

I hope that, when the witching hour of 10 o'clock approaches, the Government will not try to move the 10 o'clock motion to enable further consideration of the Bill tonight. That would be inappropriate because the measure is not urgent. As we progress, more and more deficiencies are revealed. Yet the Government provide no adequate, convincing explanation of why the Bill should be passed, let alone why it should be rushed through.

If the Bill remains unamended, there will be suspicions throughout the country that the Government are involved in some sort of squalid deal. The hon. Member for Lagan Valley and others suggested that the Government have made a squalid deal to support some arrangement with Sinn Fein. In the light of the Minister's explanations, one can be driven to no other conclusion. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) hit the nail on the head when he said that there were only two explanations for the Government's behaviour: that the Government chanced on the measure to fill a bit of spare time; or that the Bill was part of a deal, which had to be made. Ministers deny that the Bill is part of a deal, but they are singularly ineffective at explaining why it has been brought before the House. They have failed to convince us and, I suspect, the only Labour Member who intervened in the debate.

The amendments give the Government an opportunity to say that they understand the fears about the legislation and how it will be viewed in the country, and that the amendments are reasonable. If the Government accept them, they will at least make some effort to reassure the country that the measure is not part of a squalid deal and that they have not traded entitlement to membership of the House for decommissioning. The Government should accept the amendments.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

If the Bill was supposed to be a carrot to encourage decommissioning, and decommissioning does not occur but the Bill is enacted, the measure will remain an Act.

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is right. There are no conditions attached to the Bill. If it is part of a deal, the law-abiding people, as always, will deliver first, while the holders of illegal weapons deliver nothing. In the so-called process, not one ounce of Semtex, and not one bullet or weapon has been handed in. The Minister should understand the strength of feeling on this side of the Committee: we, who have seen our friends cut down by murderers, are asked to go along with the process when there is no evidence that Sinn Fein is prepared to abide by the agreement that it signed.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

The hon. Gentleman insists on talking about that side of the Committee. It is important to emphasise that the anxiety that he expresses is shared generally in the country and on this side of the Committee.

Mr. Howarth

That intervention does not surprise me. The right hon. Gentleman has appeared in the Chamber only recently and I warmly welcome his words, which will be widely welcomed in the country. I do not suggest that there are no reservoirs of anxiety on the other side. I pointed out only that there was no evidence of such anxiety, apart from the contribution of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has shown that there is cross-party concern about the matter. The Minister should take note of that.

Symbolism is important when discussing Northern Ireland. We must tread carefully; not allowing the Bill to pass unamended will convey a clear message and an important signal. Even if we do not support the Bill, we must accept that it has been voted on, but we should not allow it to continue unamended. If we did that, we would send the wrong signals to those who have the power to decommission but have shown no signs of exercising it. The amendment is an opportunity for Ministers to make the position clear, and I hope that they will take it.

It is an enormous privilege to serve in the House. All of us have struggled to get to the House—perhaps not all of us, as some of us arrived here unexpectedly, as I did in 1983. However, most hon. Members take membership of the House seriously and regard it as a great privilege to serve in the oldest Parliament in the world, which dates back to 1265. It may be unrealistic to imagine that any member of the Irish Parliament would be prepared to swear an Oath of Allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. Nevertheless, the Government are seeking with this Bill to give away the right to sit in this hallowed place without getting a single thing in return. That cheapens membership of the House and shows yet again how much contempt and how little respect the Government have for the House of Commons.

Many references have been made to yesterday's debate. Most of the amendments were available only today and it is discourteous to the Committee that important amendments were not made available for consideration by right hon. and hon. Members in advance. We should have more time to consider them.

I am genuinely mystified as to why the Government are pursuing this Bill. I do not think that they are being totally dishonourable. I certainly do not think that my namesake, the Minister, is a dishonourable man. However, we cannot see where the Government are coming from. I am struggling. I searched yesterday's Hansard and saw that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) said: It is time to build a sounder basis to our institutional relationships and to provide a basis on which we can proceed, as two islands just off the mainland of Europe, with many common links, historical and otherwise, between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic—a basis for ensuring that those closer links are given some institutional background. I believe that that explains this fairly modest Bill."—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 29.] If the Bill is not part of the discussions that took place in Belfast, of which the hon. Member for Lagan Valley had no knowledge—we were told that parliamentary links between the various legislatures were discussed at that time—we are told that it is to provide some linkage between the institutions.

The Irish institutions have not been particularly helpful to this country. Time and gain, we have seen attempts to extradite people wanted for serious crimes in this country. Whatever the actions of the Government of Ireland, their institutions have been singularly unhelpful in enabling us to bring those persons to justice before our courts.

Mr. Brady

Nor, it seems, does the Dail see any merit in the Minister's argument. Otherwise, we might see some reciprocity.

Mr. Howarth

I believe that we shall deal with reciprocity in a later amendment.

Amendment No. 1 is rather more comprehensive than the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay). It is unquestionably linked specifically to the terminology of the Belfast agreement. Amendment No. 10 nevertheless makes the point that I sought to make and sends a clear signal that we want some measure of decommissioning. I prefer amendment No. 1, but am happy to go along with amendment No. 10 and new clause 1.

Amendment No. 32, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), is also worthy of consideration and I support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). If it is good enough for the Northern Ireland Assembly to have protection against terrorism, it is certainly good enough for this House. I say this to the Minister: if you will just turn to your right—

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must use the correct parliamentary language.

Mr. Howarth

I apologise, Mr. Lord.

If the Minister were to turn to his right, he would see at the entrance to this Chamber the coat of arms of Airey Neave—a Member of this House who was blown up by terrorists in pursuit of objectives in Northern Ireland. It is an affront to suggest that we should allow membership of the House to people who, if they have not committed the same crimes, hold similar aspirations. We owe it to the memory of Airey Neave to state in the Bill that nobody engaged in terrorism should be entitled to membership of the House of Commons in the way that it is phrased in amendment No. 32. If it comes to a vote, I shall certainly support that amendment.

8.45 pm
Mr. Oaten

The propositions are that there would be a link through the Bill to decommissioning and to a denouncement of terrorism. Both propositions come from the same perspective. Liberal Democrat Members are as frustrated as any party at the delay in making progress with decommissioning and wish to see it proceed as speedily as possible.

Tempting arguments were made by the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), who suggested that the Bill should have some link with decommissioning, to speed the process. In negotiations, the Government have held a few cards that they could play at various points, but they appear to be running out of cards. The Bill might be another card to be played. Tonight's debate has not cleared up when it should be played.

Would coupling decommissioning with the Bill help the peace process? I am disappointed that we have yet to receive clear guidance from the Minister. It is unhelpful that the Government have not been open about the process. There is a nervousness on all sides that some kind of deal has been done. If one has been done, we would judge it on its merits. We accept that the whole process has been risky. If the deal is that the Bill has to pass before decommissioning, I may accept that that is another risk on a difficult path. Being unclear whether that is the case and where the process is going is not helpful. Although it may be tempting to link the Bill and accept some of the amendments, I and others on the Opposition Benches are left to take on trust that the Government know what they are doing—[Laughter.]—and that they are doing this in the interests of peace.

Mr. Forth

I am slightly surprised at what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Is it not at least possible that his party would know a lot more about the Government's motivations through one of the rather sinister Committees on which the hon. Gentleman's colleagues sit cheek-by-jowl—indeed, in bed—with Government Members. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman knows more than he cares to reveal at this stage and is just bluffing.

Mr. Oaten

I assure the Committee that the pillow talk does not go anywhere near Northern Ireland. The issue is whether or not linking decommissioning with the Bill would help the process. Although the Government are not being open and clear, some discussions have taken place. We must take it at face value that, broadly speaking, it would not be helpful at this stage to link decommissioning with the Bill.

Mr. Brady

The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that the process will be harmed if the Government have done a deal with Sinn Fein on linking the Bill with decommissioning and that link is written into the Bill. I cannot understand that. If we accept the amendment, surely the link will be set in stone. If they have come to an arrangement, it will not be damaged if it is included in the Bill.

Mr. Oaten

That is a chicken-and-egg situation. It would be helpful if the Minister explained, but I sense that the Bill may need to be passed before decommissioning can take place. The amendment proposes an alternative that is the other way round. That is the difference.

Mr. Brady

rose

Mr. Oaten

I shall not give way. I want to make progress on amendment No. 32.

On terrorism, the proposition is that the Bill should be linked with a statement from Members moving into the House making it clear that they disown terrorism. That is another tempting proposition, but I return to the point that I made in an intervention: an important principle would be broken because those individuals would have stood for election and been democratically elected. We would be saying that democratically elected individuals could not take their seats.

Mr. MacKay

Were we wrong to pass such legislation on the Northern Ireland Assembly where, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, no one can take his seat unless he swears that he has given up violence for good? Is there to be one law for Northern Ireland and another for the rest of the United Kingdom? I think not.

Mr. Oaten

The issue could be considered in terms of the ability of individuals to stand for election in the first place and what they say in their statement before they stand. I am uneasy about the principle of a person being elected and conditions being attached to his election. We may impose the condition of renouncement of terrorism, but what other conditions and aspects could be imposed? The principle is dangerous.

Mr. Robathan

The hon. Gentleman seems to be making a predictable Liberal "on the one hand, on the other hand" effort. Does he not understand the difference between democratic elections and trying to destroy a society or a Government by force and by terrorism? The whole point is that those who take part in a democratic election say, "I will foreswear the Armalite; I will go for the ballot box." People cannot use the ballot box and the Armalite. Surely he must understand that.

Mr. Oaten

I understand that point, but the process of standing on a platform and being democratically elected would be overturned by amendment No. 32 because it concerns a person who has already been elected. I would have had more sympathy for it if it related to whether a person was able to stand for election in the first place.

Mr. Donaldson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Oaten

I want to conclude my remarks.

Mr. Donaldson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Oaten

No, I want to conclude my remarks.

We are uneasy about being unable to back the amendment. The Government could have been more open with us on those issues, but, in the interests of making the peace process work, we are prepared to back them and reject the amendment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) because, although I am not sure that he has given the Committee any true knowledge of where the Liberal Democrats stand on the Bill, he has at least suggested that they are not particularly happy with it and we are grateful for that.

The Bill is an important constitutional measure and some truly valuable contributions have been made. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney)—sadly, he is not in his place—drew attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who is also not in her place, although she has been present for most of the debate. Her contribution was a rapier thrust at the chest of the Government because it concentrated the minds of hon. Members on the purpose of the Bill.

I remind the Committee that the hon. Lady has been a Member of the House for many years, is one of the most senior Labour Members and is highly regarded across the House. She asked Ministers to be honest, open and transparent about the purpose of the Bill. I make a plea to the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: I hope that he will be open, honourable and transparent with the Committee and will tell us precisely the purpose of the Bill, why the Government have introduced it now and why they have rushed it through in such a hurry, allowing inadequate time for the consideration of amendments. Clearly the Opposition are in a sizeable minority. We therefore have to accept last night's decision to give the Bill a Second Reading.

I am opposed to the Bill in principle and on principle, and there is a difference. It is fundamentally flawed, it is unnecessary and it leads members of the Committee to hold strong suspicions about its objective. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire made an outstanding contribution. He naturally advised the Committee that he had served as a Northern Ireland Minister and of course he has a pedigree that connects him directly to Northern Ireland. I very much value, respect and appreciate his views and he touched on all the important issues relating to the amendments.

I also commend the speeches made by official Ulster Unionist party Members, whom I describe as my hon. Friends. In my view they always have been. I have taken a strong interest in Northern Ireland affairs ever since I was elected to the House 29 years ago and am happy to advise the Committee that the first time I voted against my party was on the prorogation of Stormont in 1972. I believe that that was the most insidious form of surrender to terrorism, the enunciation of which I heard from the mouth of the then Conservative Prime Minister. From that moment, we have never stopped making concessions to terrorism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) referred to the coat of arms that we see over one of the entrances to this Chamber of the House of Commons, the coat of arms erected on the instruction and at the wish not only of the House, but of the then Speaker: the coat of arms of Airey Neave. I feel very emotional about my hon. Friend's reference to Airey Neave, because I was the last Member of Parliament to speak to Airey Neave before he went off to his tailor that Friday morning and before I went up to my constituency by car. It would be an insult to his memory if we allowed anyone to enter this place as a Member of the House of Commons who had not renounced terrorism and a wish to achieve their objectives through armed conflict or terrorism, whether by the bomb or by the bullet. So I am speaking strongly in favour of amendment No. 32, tabled by my very good hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I believe he is absolutely right to have this matter placed on the face of the Bill.

9 pm

I repeat that I do not like the Bill. I do not believe that it is necessary. But now that it has had a Second Reading, I believe that amendment No. 10, with which other amendments and new clause 1 are linked, is absolutely correct. It would be improper, it would be immoral, it would be dangerous and it would be wrong for this measure to take effect before decommissioning had taken place.

In this debate we have had discussions about the action of decommissioning. The excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) highlighted that. Then the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) drew attention to another piece of legislation in which the phrase "the process of decommissioning" formed a part.

I am sure it is not necessary to remind the Committee that decommissioning was really the essence of the package put forward, I think, three years ago by Senator George Mitchell. Of course, we know that at that time no progress was going to be made towards a peace settlement at least until decommissioning had started. We know now that Sinn Fein has achieved a considerable amount since then. Not only has not a single weapon been decommissioned by Sinn Fein—or a round of ammunition or a pound of Semtex—but the party is now in the Northern Ireland Executive; it is in part of an institution of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Robathan

Does my hon. Friend also recall that one of the Mitchell principles was that all parties to talks, let alone any further stage, would have renounced violence for good? Does he not think it might be helpful to remind the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), of that? I know that he was not in the House then, but I am sure he understands that it is a pretty good principle, which has been established for some time.

Mr. Winterton

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, but I believe I would be straining your patience and tolerance, Mr. Lord, if I went back to everything that has occurred since Senator George Mitchell came on the scene and decommissioning became such an important part, supposedly, of making any progress whatsoever. I do not need to mention again matters referred to by the hon. Members for Lagan Valley and, I believe, for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson)—not only that Sinn Fein has achieved what I have already indicated, but that the RUC is being decimated; I used the phrase in a supplementary question to the Secretary for State for Northern Ireland, and I believe that the RUC's death warrant has been announced by the Government. Certainly the morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been devastated by what I see as the insult that has been delivered to it, only a few weeks after it was rightly awarded—because I believe it is the finest, most courageous and most professional police force in the world—the George Cross. Just a few weeks after that it learned that in due course it is to be deprived of its name, its oath is to be changed and the whole composition of the force is to be dramatically altered and its numbers reduced again. That was one of the purposes of Sinn Fein-IRA.

So what we in the Opposition are seeking to do—I believe that some of what I am saying is shared by Liberal Democrat Members—is to see some safeguards put into the Bill, however undesirable it is in principle to us. The House, in its wisdom or otherwise, because of the Government's very sizeable majority, gave the Bill a Second Reading. I believe that it is absolutely right that if the suspicions of the Government's acts and intentions are not to grow, these amendments need to be included in the Bill in one form or another.

I nevertheless make a plea to Ministers. Not one hon. Member has spoken in favour of the Bill. I hope that, if democracy is to mean anything—and to me it is very important—Ministers will heed what I consider to be the properly founded, well considered arguments of Opposition Members, and will make a gesture of some kind. What, otherwise, is the House of Commons about? Why have this debate? People are asking why the time should be expended if the Government are not prepared to listen to the—I think—well argued cases advanced by Opposition Members.

I still believe in this place, and to me it is valuable that people out there still believe that this place is valuable. Are the Government going to reduce its credibility by forcing the Bill through without any proper, detailed, open response, or are they going to respond to the genuine concern that has been expressed, reply positively and accept, if not the wording of all the amendments, at least the intention behind some of them? It is not often that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire comes to the Chamber, as an ex-Minister, to make speeches such as the one that he made tonight. His knowledge is considerable; his commitment to Northern Ireland and to the peace process is also considerable, respected and well known. On his behalf, and on behalf of all Opposition Members who have spoken, I make this plea to the Government: please be honest with us. Please do right by the people of this country who believe in justice, democracy and law and order. Do not forget the overwhelming majority of peace-loving, law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland, for whom we seek to secure the best deal—and the Bill, as it stands, is not the best deal.

Mr. Robathan

I apologise for my absence for an hour earlier.

I shall be brief: I do not want to repeat all the excellent arguments that have been presented by my friends and colleagues. But I think the debate has shown that the Government, if they do not already know it, should study the old adage: "Act in haste, repent at leisure". The Bill, ridiculously, is being rushed through in two days, allowing hon. Members no chance to table amendments or even to think about what the Government are trying to say. My hon. Friends have been poking holes in the failings of the Government's argument throughout today's debate.

I was delighted to hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) that if the amendment was not accepted, the Opposition would not give the Bill a fair wind. I did not oppose Second Reading yesterday, because I felt that we should at least have a chance to amend the Bill. Perhaps the Government will accept amendments, and perhaps the Bill will then be passed—although, frankly, I think that it is pretty much of a dog's breakfast. It strikes at the heart of much of our constitution; it is ill conceived and badly thought out.

Let me say a little about the constitutional change that the Bill proposes. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) drew attention to the terrible mistake of introducing constitutional changes in this manner, but I think we can all see from what has been said today that the Bill is purely a sop to the IRA. It has been put together with Sinn Fein. No one else wants it; no Labour Member is prepared to stand up and talk about it, because none of them wants it—if they even know what it is about.

The Government are giving away yet another card. As the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) pointed out, they have laid their cards on the table, but what are they getting in return? What cards do they have up their sleeve to use against IRA-Sinn Fein, who are inextricably linked and who still maintain huge arsenals of weapons?

One has to question—I do not like to do so—the Government's motives. Why do they want that constitutional change? What is it for? Is it just that they hate the United Kingdom Parliament? Do they hold the UK Parliament in contempt? They do not treat it well; we all know that. Even the most loyal Labour Back Bencher knows that. What is the Bill about? What are the Government about this afternoon? I hope that we will be able to ask that question for a long time after today; we shall have to discuss the matter on some other occasion, too.

I turn to decommissioning, which is the point of most of the amendments. I much prefer amendment No. 1, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), to amendment No. 10, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), because amendment No. 1 is absolutely clear. It says that the Belfast agreement has to be put into force completely before we can proceed. In other words, all decommissioning would have to take place.

Those of us who were unhappy in some part with the compromises that have had to be made for peace in the past three or four years would be much happier if amendment No. 1 were accepted. We need an absolutely clear-cut guarantee that those to whom concessions have been made—Sinn Fein and the IRA—will make some concessions in return. I would like all weapons to be destroyed, not sealed in some bunker that might yet be under the control of terrorists, or indeed of some dissident terrorist group. I should like weapons to be destroyed before we give any more concessions to the IRA.

In the last fortnight, we have had several concessions. We have had the destruction, or emasculation of the RUC, the name change and everything that goes with that. We have had the Bill. Hon. Members may not even be aware that, in another Bill, we have a clause to exempt Sinn Fein from the rule to stop political parties receiving donations from foreign countries. It should be called the Noraid clause, but I will not stray further down that road because I know that it would be out of order.

I said that I would be brief and I have been, but I just wish to add my voice to those of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches who have all made such good points, saying that the Bill should not proceed unless it is fundamentally amended.

Mr. Brady

I have been in the Chamber throughout the debate. It is probably one of the shabbiest episodes that I have witnessed as a Member of Parliament, and not only because of how the Government introduced the Bill, which is of questionable worth. They introduced it in a hurry, on two consecutive days. The whole thing has been handled in a way that is utterly unacceptable in a civilised Parliament, especially when Ministers are prepared to say that there is no emergency. There is no reason why it should be done in such haste.

The debate has also been shabby in that, with the honourable exceptions of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who have indicated at least some capacity for sentient thought, not a word has been uttered by Labour Members to justify what they are doing. Not a word has been uttered in criticism of the sensible and moderate amendments tabled by Opposition Members, whether from the official Opposition or the official Unionists.

I can only come to the conclusion that no plausible and honest argument can be advanced by those Members who oppose the amendments. I was confirmed in that view when I heard the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten). He at least had the decency to say something, but he did not advance a plausible argument against the amendments. As I said when I intervened during his speech, I cannot see the logic of the argument that, if the Government have done a deal to link the Bill with decommissioning of terrorist weapons, it must not be put on to the face of the Bill because it would cause difficulties.

Including the deal in the Bill would accomplish precisely the opposite effect. It would not prevent the Bill's passage, but simply create certain safeguards involving the legislation's commencement date or the behaviour of Members who might be affected by its provisions.

Mr. Oaten

The problem is that we cannot make a judgment because we have not been told about the deal, if there was one.

9.15 pm
Mr. Brady

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, and agree that there is a problem. However, when Ministers demonstrate a total lack of openness and candour, it is not incumbent on hon. Members to accept what they say. Indeed, it is precisely then, when Ministers will not tell us what they are doing and show no respect for the House, that hon. Members—whether Labour, Ulster Unionist, Liberal Democrat or Conservative—should do what we have been sent here by our constituents to do. We must think, be cautious and use some common sense in legislating, particularly on the most sensitive matters in relation to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Evans

Does my hon. Friend agree that the deal that everyone is talking about is the Good Friday agreement; that no other deal should be necessary to achieve decommissioning; that decommissioning should start without the Bill; and that that is why we need to pass the amendments?

Mr. Brady

My hon. Friend has put his finger on it. I do not believe that Ministers are rejecting the amendments—they seem to be rejecting them but perhaps they are playing us along for a few hours to keep us in suspense—because they have done a deal or secured something in return for what they propose to give away. They are simply locked into a process of giving things away, of letting things go by default and of expecting nothing in return from those who, sadly, to date, have given no sign of wishing to move forward to genuine peace and disarmament.

Mr. Robathan

Does my hon. Friend remember from his history lessons the danegeld and how one just had to keep on paying it, but received nothing in return?

Mr. Brady

I remember it well. However, I do not intend to be diverted down that historical road, pertinent as it may be. There are many examples of appeasement in history, whether it be the danegeld or more recently, and we know that appeasement does not work.

The Government, in proceeding with the process over almost two years, have shown that appeasement does not work. Ministers have never insisted on delivery of something in return from Sinn Fein, but consistently conceded more. They have never stood up or said what they should have said—that the people of Northern Ireland, and people across the United Kingdom, wish to achieve objectives and a very important prize. The Government do not have the courage or backbone to insist on moving towards achieving those goals.

In his excellent speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) dealt with the importance of conditionality and of including that vital principle in the Bill.

I do not intend to speak at length to the amendments in this group, but should like to deal briefly with the three key subgroups of amendments in the group.

Amendment No. 10 and new clause 1 deal with the importance of the principle of negotiation and of conditionality, and of ensuring that we receive something in return for what we give away.

Amendment No. 1 insists that there should be full implementation of the Good Friday agreement, and not some fudge, half-baked deal or failure to implement the agreement. It is also vital because it would ensure that implementation could not proceed without the agreement of both Houses of Parliament. That brings us back to the crucial point that the Bill must enjoy proper democratic assent. The Government cannot get away with sitting mute and not attempting to defend their proposals.

Finally, amendment No. 32 is absolutely vital. The other amendments deal with the commencement of the measures, and the point at which it will be permissible for Members of the Dail also to sit in the House of Commons. However, they do not provide permanent security for this House—[Interruption.] A rather frightened mouse has run across the Floor, Mr. Lord, just as I was expounding the argument that I smell a rat with the legislation.

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. There are some things in this Chamber that the occupant of the Chair cannot control. I suggest that we carry on with the debate in the usual way.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

On a point of order, Mr. Lord. Is not the mouse an indication to the Government that we should not let vermin into the House?

Mr. Robathan

Further to that point of order, Mr. Lord. Do not Standing Orders state that no animals other than guide dogs will be allowed into the House?

The Second Deputy Chairman

I suggest that we continue with the debate.

Mr. Brady

That intervention by the frightened mouse can be likened to the behaviour of Ministers, who have failed to stand up for what they should be fighting for. They have shown neither fibre nor substance in handling the negotiations entrusted to them.

Finally, it is crucial that future hon. Members whom the Bill will allow to join the House should disavow terrorism. Amendment No. 32 is the only proposal that would guarantee permanent security. I hope that decommissioning of weapons begins or that there is substantial progress to that end. However, it will remain possible that those who resorted to violence in the past could return to it.

In those circumstances, the conditionality that would be introduced by new clause 1 or amendment No. 10 would not give that vital protection. However, amendment No. 32 would give some permanent guarantee, in the event of a wholesale return to violence and terrorism affecting the whole of the United Kingdom and not just Northern Ireland, that those who refused to disavow violent intervention would not be allowed to sit in this House. It would mean that we would accept only those who believed in democracy and wished to participate in our democratic process.

Mr. George Howarth

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) has just criticised me for not taking part in the debate at some earlier juncture. However, he will accept that the whole point is that Ministers responding to a debate listen to what hon. Members have to say. That is why I have sat here patiently noting all the points that have been raised. I intend to respond to them as fully as possible.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has asked me to be candid, and that is my intention. I believe that it is inappropriate for me to be on the receiving end of criticism for having shown disrespect to the House in some way. At least three right hon. and hon. Members who have been present for all or most of the debate will attest to the fact that on every occasion on which I address the House and respond to issues raised by Opposition Front-Bench Members, I take the House very seriously. I am sure that the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) would accept that. I see that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) accepts that. The criticism that has been levelled at me is slightly unfair.

Mr. Brady

I have always found the hon. Gentleman to be a courteous man and a courteous Minister. What I believe to be wrong is the disrespect that the Government have shown for the House in the way in which they have handled this piece of legislation.

Mr. Howarth

I will demonstrate in a moment why I do not believe that that criticism can be sustained. Certainly, some of the criticism, including that made by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West was directed at me, and I think it appropriate and relevant for me to respond.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

I, for one, would not have wished the hon. Gentleman to take the comments personally. He is at the Dispatch Box, representing the Government, and the criticism was of the Government. I made it, as did others, and I do not resile from it.

The hon. Gentleman said that he has listened carefully to the debate. Does he now have any sense of the anger and unhappiness that those interventions sought to convey to him about the taking of business today?

Mr. Howarth

I will address, as far as I can, all the concerns that have been expressed during the course of the debate. 1 am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that I will do that in due course. Of course, I have listened very carefully to what everyone has said. In no way would I make the criticism that any of the speakers who have taken part in these Committee proceedings have done so with anything less than seriousness. People felt that they had to make their points and, even if I do not agree with them, I recognise that they were made with all seriousness and proper concern.

I want to begin by dealing with some of the general points made in the debate; then I will turn to more specific points that arise directly from the amendments. The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) and the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) both said in different ways that the process so far had been all take and no give. Well, that is hardly the case. For the first time in 25 years, a devolved Government have been returned to Northern Ireland. That is an achievement. For the first time in 60 or so years, there is now agreement on the constitutional issues, and articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution have been amended. Those amendments will stand, regardless of what happens to the institutions. Of course, the 1985 agreement, about which many Ulster Unionists of different kinds had grave reservations—to put it mildly—has finally been replaced. So it is simply not true to say that there have been no achievements. That is not to say that there is not more to be achieved.

Mr. MacKay

I am obliged to the Under-Secretary for giving way. Let me remind him of the context of my remark that there has been all take and no give by the paramilitaries. I said that the two Governments, British and Irish, had fulfilled all their obligations, including many of those that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I went on to say that the constitutional parties—Unionist, nationalist, alliance—had fulfilled all their obligations, including many of the those that the hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned, which I agree are important achievements.

In return, the paramilitaries—whether republican or loyalist—who signed up to the Belfast agreement have failed to fulfil their obligations. They had two particular obligations: the first was to decommission all their illegally held arms and explosives by May; the second was to end violence for good. That is what the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and I mean by all take and no give. That is the point that needs to be addressed.

9.30 pm
Mr. Howarth

I was not trying to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Member for Lagan Valley. I accept entirely the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of their remarks. I was about to draw attention to the matters on which there are still large reasons for concern and I shall talk about them in due course.

I stand by the fact that there is no direct link between the Bill and the agreement—it is a matter of context, as I tried to make clear in an earlier intervention. The agreement was negotiated with most—although not all—the parties in Northern Ireland; it was subsequently endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland and, indeed, by the people of southern Ireland.

There has been progress on all three longstanding, fundamental Unionist objectives—rightly held by Unionists to be of deep importance. That has been achieved through the courageous leadership of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). In his speech, the right hon. Member for Bracknell referred to all the people who played a major role in bringing us to where we are today. I concur with, and add to, the list that he gave.

I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) is in his place, as he was on the list read out by the right hon. Member for Bracknell, whom I join in paying tribute to the role played by the former Prime Minister in beginning the process. I have referred to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who played an important role in the matter when she was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and to the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Everyone has put their hands to the pump; we have all tried to do the best possible for the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. William Ross

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth

I will give way in a moment.

I acknowledge that other elements are less welcome. However, we should not close our eyes to the substantial progress that has taken place as a result of the Good Friday agreement.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell and others, including the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire and the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) referred to the modalities of decommissioning—the how, where and when. That is central to the Opposition's main amendment, which has been the subject of much of the Committee's debate. The whole Committee would probably agree that the point of decommissioning is that arms are decommissioned to the satisfaction of the Independent Commission on Decommissioning.

The Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 makes it clear that the commission has to supervise decommissioning according to schemes that have been made. The Act requires that such schemes may include a range of methods of destruction, defined under section 10 as making permanently inaccessible or permanently unusable". Let me simply point out what is stated in the legislation. We must wait and see what the commission reports; I shall comment further on that in a moment.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is not in the Chamber. At the risk of incurring some hon. Members' wrath, I wondered why the hon. Gentleman had been stirred to take part in the debate, as he was not in the Chamber—

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman often takes part in such debates.

Mr. Howarth

He is quite entitled to do so, although he was not here on Second Reading yesterday. On listening to and then reading the speech that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department made yesterday, I realised that he had made the fatal mistake—at least so far as the hon. Member for Stone is concerned, of mentioning the word "Europe". I suspect that that may have played some part in tempting the hon. Gentleman into the Chamber.

The hon. Gentleman tabled amendment No. 32. If it were passed, someone elected to the House of Commons who was also a Member of the Irish Parliament, had also been a paramilitary and had not disavowed terrorism would be disqualified. The difficulty is that it would not apply to someone elected to the House of Commons who was not a Member of the Irish Parliament, so it would set a different standard for different people.

The other difficulty that arises from amendment No. 32 is that there would have to be some means of deciding who had or had not been a paramilitary. In some cases, by virtue of the fact that the person had been convicted of something, that might be obvious, but we do not have an exhaustive list of everyone who may have been a paramilitary at some time in the past.

Mr. MacKay

I thank the Under-Secretary, who, with characteristic courtesy, has given way whenever requested. He and I strongly support the setting up of the Assembly. He and I know that we both supported in the House the legislation that set up the Assembly. He may correct me if I am wrong, but my memory of that legislation was that everyone elected to the Assembly had to swear an oath that they had given up violence for good—not just members of Sinn Fein but members of the SDLP, the Alliance party and the Ulster Unionist party. That seems an interesting precedent. Whereas, as currently drafted, amendment No. 32 may not be acceptable, it has interesting implications and possibilities for the House.

Mr. Howarth

The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, and if the precedent that he referred to existed, he might have a stronger case. Unfortunately, he is wrong. The pledge that he referred to is required only of Northern Ireland Ministers. No such oath or declaration is required on the part of Assembly Members, so I rather think that his—

Mr. MacKay

Will the Under-Secretary give way?

Mr. Howarth

If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish dealing with the intervention that he has already made, I will allow him the opportunity to come back. It is an interesting point, but he is simply referring to a precedent that does not exist. However—

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

rose

Mr. Duncan Smith

Give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Howarth

It is very kind of the hon. Gentleman, from a sedentary position, to instruct me.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that every hon. Member who takes the Oath by implication denounces terrorism?

Mr. Howarth

So why—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who came into the debate rather belatedly and contributed to it briefly from the Back Benches, would bear with me, I was dealing specifically with the arguments made by the hon. Member for Stone. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber when the hon. Member for Stone was speaking, so he will forgive me if I do not take any more sedentary interventions from him.

The group of amendments before us effectively seeks to put on the face of the Bill a direct linkage between the lifting of disqualification and decommissioning. I can see why the Opposition might want to make that linkage but, as I argued on Second Reading, it would be wrong to make that direct linkage between the Bill and that issue. I shall explain why.

The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) supported the Government's position on that matter; and, from a slightly different angle, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst made a similar point.

Let me make the Government's position as clear as I can. We entirely share the view of the Opposition, and of the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire, that decommissioning is an essential part of the process—not an option; a part of the process. The process of decommissioning is being overseen by General de Chastelain's commission.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell paid proper tribute to General de Chastelain and the other distinguished members of the commission for their independence and professionalism. I hope that the whole House would accept also that the commission brings good faith to its work. For those reasons, a great deal of trust is put in the hands of the commission. For that reason, when the commission makes its report on progress—as it will by the end of the month—it will be a document of authority. The hon. Members for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) seem to believe that some other kind of process is involved. However, that is the process.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made it clear that decommissioning is an essential part of the process. If it is clear from General de Chastelain's report that the paramilitaries are in default on decommissioning, there will be serious consequences. My right hon. Friend has made it clear that in circumstances where the commission has reported that there has not been proper progress, the operation of the various political institutions—the Assembly, the Executive, the north-south bodies and the British-Irish Council—will cease immediately. I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend, who is sitting alongside me, stands entirely by what he has said on this issue, and that he takes the matter seriously indeed.

Mr. Field

Is not it true that when the Good Friday accord was debated here, it was generally accepted with considerable enthusiasm and many of us did not look carefully enough at the details? We thought that as concessions were made, there would be clear concessions on decommissioning. Although there was a timetable for decommissioning, it was not linked specifically to some of the concessions that some in this House have found so difficult to accept. Therefore, my hon. Friend the Minister was right to emphasise what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said from the Dispatch Box about those actions that will follow if the decommissioning report is given to the House and the progress that we expect has not been not made. Surely it is at that point that the House should make its view felt about what next should happen, and we should not try retrospectively—

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

Order. I am sorry to have to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but his intervention is far too long.

Mr. George Howarth

I thank my right hon. Friend for what I think was intended to be a helpful intervention. I hope that we can all agree on the fundamental importance of decommissioning.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

I hope that the Minister understands the importance of what he has said—especially in Northern Ireland. If the Government are saying that if the IRA is in default on decommissioning by the end of the month when General de Chastelain reports, the Government will suspend the institutions, that is a significant statement. The Minister says that the general must report that there has been proper progress. Would he care to define proper progress in terms of decommissioning, as that is important?

Mr. Howarth

Let me make it absolutely clear what I said. I stand entirely by that. In the case of clear default, that which I have described will be the case. The hon. Gentleman knows full well—I made the point earlier—that the Decommissioning Commission under General de Chastelain has that responsibility. We recognise its independence, its skill and experience and we also recognise its good faith. We shall have to judge on the basis of what it says not only about what has happened, but about what the intentions for the future are. In those circumstances, I think that it is entirely appropriate that that should be the case.

9.45 pm
Mr. William Ross

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

Let me make a little more progress and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has already been at pains to make clear. In the event of clear default, Unionists will not find that they are on their own.

Mr. Ross

Does the Minister realise that the people of Northern Ireland will judge the outcome of the commission's report not on what it says but on the weapons that they see surrendered and destroyed?

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman, I know, makes a serious point. Everybody, in the end, will judge the success of the process not only on the establishment of institutions, the Executive and the Assembly, but on the extent to which it genuinely leads to decommissioning. There is no difference between us on that point. The hon. Gentleman needs to understand just how seriously my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my colleagues take the matter.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

I will indulge the right hon. Gentleman for a second time, but I then will need to make some progress.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

I am extremely grateful, but the debate can move backwards and forwards in Committee.

First, may I pay tribute to the Secretary of State, who has consistently in recent weeks—in virtually every speech that I can find—stressed the importance of decommissioning, so there can be no doubt in the minds of the people of Northern Ireland or anybody else that the Government attach huge significance to decommissioning? It seemed to me that the Minister did not say quite the same thing in answer to the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) as he said previously. Therefore, I would be grateful if he would address the matter again.

Earlier, the Minister said that, if de Chastelain's report indicated that there had been no decommissioning, the Secretary of State would intervene and intervene quickly. However, in reply to the hon. Member for Lagan Valley, he added the extra condition that the Government would then have to make a judgment about intentions. Bearing in mind that this issue will be the front-page story in all tomorrow's newspapers in Ireland, if not in this country, will the Minister take his time and say precisely what is the Government's position so that we can all understand what we may have to look forward to?

Mr. Howarth

The right hon. Gentleman will accept entirely that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to make decisions on the basis of what is reported to him. What he has to decide—and will decide—on the basis of that report is that there has to be clear progress towards a timetable that was set out in the Good Friday agreement. I do not think that it would be sensible—strictly speaking, I do think it would be what the House wants—for me to enter into a discussion about what progress should be made at this point. However, we need to know clearly what the intentions are. I shall not speculate on what might be in the report, because I simply do not know what will be in it at this point.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I think that there is a bit of confusion here. What the Minister has just said is not what we were made to believe by the Secretary of State. That had to do with real decommissioning and not with intention or with whether we could see any progress. It was about whether real decommissioning was going to take place. Tonight, the Minister has not said that and he needs to make the matter clear not only for the people of Northern Ireland who want to see decommissioning, but especially for those who do not want to do it. They need to have a clear message from the House.

Mr. Howarth

Let me make the position clear. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to be satisfied that there is the intention to make progress and that there will be a programme that will lead—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"]—and that there will be progress toward the commitment that exists within the Good Friday agreement. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) understands that that was the position all along. I have not changed that position tonight, nor has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

I should now like to address aspects of the Bill. So far, we have dealt with matters that are not contained in any of the clauses. Perhaps we should now move on.

Mr. William Ross

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. After the Minister's remarks, do you not catch the strong stench of sugar and butter simmering on a stove?

The First Deputy Chairman

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Howarth

I shall not go into the hon. Gentleman's culinary allusions.

The Bill might potentially benefit Members of the Dail. Throughout the debate, many of those who have taken part have expressed the—false—assumption that it is being brought into force exclusively for the benefit of Sinn Fein. That is not the case. There have been numerous individuals who have taken up a political career both north and south of the border, including members of the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party of Northern Ireland, who have gone on from positions in Northern Ireland to be elected to the Dail.

Mr. Thompson

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Cash

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

I shall give way to the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson), but not to the hon. Member for Stone, because he did not bother to come in to listen to what I had to say about his speech.

Mr. Thompson

Although certain persons may have served both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, is not the point they did not serve in both places at the same time?

Mr. Howarth

I did not assert that any did. I was merely pointing out that the only people who had been mentioned during the debate were members of Sinn Fein. However, certain members of the parties I mentioned have, in the past, served both in Northern Ireland and in the Dail.

Mr. Robathan

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

Yes, because the hon. Gentleman has sat here throughout the debate. However, I shall then attempt to conclude my speech.

Mr. Robathan

I am grateful to the Minister. May I take him away from the generalities of the Bill and back to the amendments, which deal with the decommissioning of illegally held weapons by paramilitary organisations? Will he now answer clearly the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), who asked him to explain precisely how we would know whether weapons were being decommissioned? After the Minister's answer, I am extremely confused, as is the rest of the Committee.

Mr. Howarth

I cannot be held responsible for the hon. Gentleman's confusion, for it is a regular occurrence.

There is potentially a broad group of individuals, not only members of Sinn Fein, who might want to take advantage of the Bill's provisions. Of all the potential beneficiaries in the Dail, only one is a member of Sinn Fein.

The Bill stands on its own merits as a sensible and modest measure to reflect the close and co-operative relationship that we now enjoy with the Government and people of Ireland. If there is a linkage to be made between the Bill and the new constitutional arrangements, it should be with the significant amendments to articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution, which came into effect only last December. Those changes put consent at the heart of the Irish constitution. They remain in force regardless of other developments, and rightly so.

Now that those arrangements have come into force, the time is right to extend the further courtesy set out in the Bill to Ireland and treat that country on the same basis in electoral law as most other favoured nations are treated.

I cannot recommend that the Committee accepts any of the amendments. In the light of what I have said, I hope that some of the right hon. and hon. Members who have tabled or supported the amendments will feel it appropriate to withdraw them.

Mr. Forth

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I seek your guidance. Would it be possible when we come to vote for you to be prepared to put separately to the vote amendments Nos.10 and 32 and new clause 1? They have all approached the matter in a different way and have all received some support during the debate. It would be important for the Committee to indicate which it supports.

The First Deputy Chairman

I will consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I say no more than that.

Mr. Cash

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. May I support the proposition of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. It is not a point of order. I have answered the point raised by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the Committee is not pursuing it. I have said clearly that I will consider the matter. I do not want hon. Members to bring a case to me because the case has been put.

Mr. MacKay

I think that the Committee was concerned and confused about one aspect of the Minister's response. I would have forgiven him if it had not been for the fact that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was sitting next to him and appeared to be aiding and abetting him. In those circumstances, it is important that we have clarification. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) rightly observed, our deliberations will almost certainly be splashed on the front pages of the Northern Ireland newspapers. That being so, we owe it to the people of Northern Ireland that the Minister's remarks be clarified.

The Under-Secretary of State said—he will correct me if I am misquoting him, but I do not think that I am—that the Secretary of State would intervene only to suspend the Executive, and in consequence the cross-border bodies and other organisations, if General de Chastelain reported that no progress was being made. He added that if the general said that there was an intention to make progress in future, that would be all right.

I hope that I have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State might want to intervene to clarify the matter. I said earlier, when I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman was understandably detained in the Province, that I much welcomed the indications that he had given publicly that if—we all hope and pray that this will not happen—decommissioning does not take place in the next week or so and the general reports that progress has not been made, he would then suspend the Executive. I added that it was vital that it was the Secretary of State who suspended the Executive and not the First Minister, who by no action of the Secretary of State was forced to resign and therefore collapse the Executive. I would appreciate confirmation of that from the Under Secretary of State or the Secretary of State tonight. I think that that would helpfully clarify the situation.

If the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen do not wish to clarify the position, I fear that we must stick to what Hansard will presumably have reported. If the general reported that there is an intention to make progress, I would accept that, if it took only a few days. However, we cannot continue for many days without progress taking place. We are hoping and expecting that the Secretary of State will stick to what he has always indicated and promised us. That is—I am glad to say that he is nodding—that he will suspend the Executive if decommissioning has not properly commenced to the satisfaction of the general. I think that I can take the right hon. Gentleman's nod as a sign that I have interpreted the position, but it is difficult to know as he is now winking at me and not prepared to rise to say one thing or the other. I suspect that he is watching the clock and hoping that the sitting will be suspended at 10 o'clock.

It is essential that I put on the record on behalf of the Opposition that we are four square behind the Secretary of State in suspending the Executive if he feels that he must do so if there has been no proper decommissioning. It is—[Interruption.] the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin) says from his place on the Bench as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, "What has this to do with the Bill?" If he has not been in his place throughout the debate, I shall explain exactly what it has to do with the Bill. Decommissioning is the key to the amendment. Therefore it is important that the matter has been raised first by the Under-Secretary and that it has been responded to by me. Perhaps that will put the hon. Gentleman right.

I was intensely disappointed in the Under-Secretary's reply to hon. Members' complaints about the necessity for Committee stage—

It being Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report progress.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business), That, at this day's sitting, the Electronic Communications Bill and the Disqualifications Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Sutcliffe.]:—

The House divided: Ayes 299, Noes 156.

Division No. 38] [10 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms Diane Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Bennett, Andrew F
Alexander, Douglas Benton, Joe appendix>
Allen, Graham Bermingham, Gerald
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Berry, Roger
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Best, Harold
Ashton, Joe Betts, Clive
Atkins, Charlotte Blears, Ms Hazel
Austin, John Blizzard, Bob
Banks, Tony Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Barnes, Harry Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Battle, John Borrow, David
Bayley, Hugh Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Beard, Nigel Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Bradshaw, Ben
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E) Hain, Peter
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Browne, Desmond Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Burgon, Colin Healey, John
Butler, Mrs Christine Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Hepburn, Stephen
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Heppell, John
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hesford, Stephen
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Cann, Jamie Hill, Keith
Caplin, Ivor Hinchliffe, David
Cawsey, Ian Hodge, Ms Margaret
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hood, Jimmy
Chaytor, David Hope, Phil
Clapham, Michael Hopkins, Kelvin
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hoyle, Lindsay
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hughes, Ms Bevertey (Stretford)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hurst, Alan
Clelland, David Hutton, John
Clwyd, Ann Iddon, Dr Brian
Coaker, Vernon Illsley, Eric
Cohen, Harry Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Coleman, Iain Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Colman, Tony Jamieson, David
Connarty, Michael Jenkins, Brian
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Corston, Jean Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Cousins, Jim Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Cranston, Ross Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Crausby, David Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Cummings, John Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Keeble, Ms Sally
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Dalyell, Tam Kemp, Fraser
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Davidson, Ian Kidney, David
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kilfoyle, Peter
Dawson, Hilton Kumar, Dr Ashok
Dean, Mrs Janet Laxton, Bob
Denham, John Lepper, David
Dismore, Andrew Leslie, Christopher
Dobbin, Jim Levitt, Tom
Donohoe, Brian H Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Doran, Frank Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Dowd, Jim Linton, Martin
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Lock, David
Efford, Clive Love, Andrew
Ellman, Mrs Louise McAvoy, Thomas
Ennis, Jeff McCabe, Steve
Field, Rt Hon Frank McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim McDonagh, Siobhain
Flint, Caroline Macdonald, Calum
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McDonnell, John
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McFall, John
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Foulkes, George McIsaac, Shona
Gapes, Mike McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Gardiner, Barry Mackinlay, Andrew
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Mactaggart, Fiona
Gerrard, Neil McWalter, Tony
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McWilliam, John
Goggins, Paul Mahon, Mrs Alice
Golding, Mrs Llin Mallaber, Judy
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Grocott, Bruce Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Grogan, John Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Gunnell, John Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Singh, Marsha
Meale, Alan Skinner, Dennis
Merron, Gillian Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Miller, Andrew Snape, Peter
Mitchell, Austin Soley, Clive
Moffatt, Laura Southworth, Ms Helen
Moonie, Dr Lewis Spellar, John
Moran, Ms Margaret Squire, Ms Rachel
Morley, Elliot Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Mountford, Kali Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Mudie, George Stinchcombe, Paul
Mullin, Chris Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stringer, Graham
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Neill, Martin
Osborne, Ms Sandra Taylor, Ms Dan (Stockton S)
Palmer, Dr Nick Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Pearson, Ian Temple-Morris, Peter
Pendry, Tom Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Perham, Ms Linda Tipping, Paddy
Pickthall, Colin Todd, Mark
Pike, Peter L Touhig, Don
Plaskitt, James Trickett, Jon
Pollard, Kerry Truswell, Paul
Pope, Greg Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pound, Stephen Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Powell, Sir Raymond Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Prescott, Rt Hon John Tynan, Bill
Primarolo, Dawn Walley, Ms Joan
Prosser, Gwyn Ward, Ms Claire
Purchase, Ken Wareing, Robert N
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Watts, David
Quinn, Lawrie Whitehead, Dr Alan
Radice, Rt Hon Giles Wicks, Malcolm
Rammell, Bill Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Rooney, Terry Wills, Michael
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Wilson, Brian
Roy, Frank Winnick, David
Ruane, Chris Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Ruddock, Joan Wise, Audrey
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Wood, Mike
Ryan, Ms Joan Woodward, Shaun
Sarwar, Mohammad Woolas, Phil
Savidge, Malcolm Worthington, Tony
Sawford, Phil Wray, James
Sedgemore, Brian Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Shaw, Jonathan Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
Shipley, Ms Debra Mr. Mike Hall and
Short, Rt Hon Clare Mr. Kevin Hughes.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Body, Sir Richard
Amess, David Boswell, Tim
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Brady, Graham
Baker, Norman Brazier, Julian
Baldry, Tony Breed, Colin
Beggs, Roy Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Berth, Rt Hon A J Browning, Mrs Angela
Bercow, John Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Beresford, Sir Paul Burns, Simon
Blunt, Crispin Burstow, Paul
Butterfill, John McIntosh, Miss Anne
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Cash, William McLoughlin, Patrick
Clappison, James Madel, Sir David
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Maginnis, Ken
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Major, Rt Hon John
Collins, Tim Malins, Humfrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick Mates, Michael
Cotter, Brian Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Cran, James Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Curry, Rt Hon David May, Mrs Theresa
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Moss, Malcolm
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Nicholls, Patrick
Donaldson, Jeffrey Oaten, Mark
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Duncan, Alan Ottaway, Richard
Duncan Smith, Iain Page, Richard
Evans, Nigel Paisley, Rev Ian
Faber, David Pickles, Eric
Fabricant, Michael Prior, David
Fallon, Michael Randall, John
Flight Howard Rendel, David
Forsythe, Clifford Robathan, Andrew
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Robertson, Laurence
Foster, Don (Bath) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Fox, Dr Liam Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Fraser, Christopher Ruffley, David
Gale, Roger Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Garnier, Edward St Aubyn, Nick
George, Andrew (St Ives) Sanders, Adrian
Gill, Christopher Sayeed, Jonathan
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Shepherd, Richard
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gray, James Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Green, Damian Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Greenway, John Soames, Nicholas
Grieve, Dominic Spicer, Sir Michael
Hague, Rt Hon William Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Steen, Anthony
Hammond, Philip Streeter, Gary
Hawkins, Nick Stunell, Andrew
Hayes, John Swayne, Desmond
Heald, Oliver Syms, Robert
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Horam, John Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Thompson, William
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Tredinnick, David
Hunter, Andrew Trend, Michael
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Tyler, Paul
Key, Robert Tyrie, Andrew
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Viggers, Peter
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Walter, Robert
Kirkwood, Archy Wardle, Charles
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Waterson, Nigel
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Wells, Bowen
Lansley, Andrew Whitney, Sir Raymond
Leigh, Edward Whittingdale, John
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Willis, Phil
Lidington, David Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Livsey, Richard Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lougnton, Tim
Luff, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Mr. Stephen Day and
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Mr. Peter Atkinson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As a result of the vote, we have to deduce that it is the Government's intention that we carry on with the Bill, which is the second part of an accelerated process in two days. We had the Second Reading yesterday; we had a curtailed procedure before Committee stage and a curtailed procedure for the rest of the Bill. May I ask whether there is anything the House can do to get the Government to tell us why we have to move so quickly? I sat throughout the whole of the Second Reading. There was no explanation. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester, (Mr. Oaten) sat throughout the whole of the proceedings today. There has been no explanation

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat when I stand. He should know that.

What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is this: the House has decided to continue with the Committee of the whole House. Therefore, that is what I intend to do.

Again considered in Committee.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

10.15 pm
Mr. MacKay

When the 10 o'clock motion was sort of moved, I thought that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) first of all was pulling stumps when he was tweaked and changed his mind. I was complaining that the Under-Secretary of State in his summing up had not once told us why it was necessary for this legislation to be rushed through so quickly. Let me explain why my colleagues and I voted against the 10 o'clock motion. Quite simply, it is normal practice in the House to have a Second Reading debate—

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

Order. The House decided on the 10 o'clock motion. The one thing I do not want to do is repeat myself, because I usually advise hon. Members not to do so. The right hon. Gentleman must come back to the amendment that he was so kindly winding up.

Mr. MacKay

When you called me to order originally, Mr. Martin, because it was 10 o'clock, I was remarking to you and the Committee that in listening to the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland summing up the debate, at some length, and rightly so—I make no quibble about that—it was concerning to hon. Members on this side, from all parties, that he had not addressed at all in his winding up the fact that nearly every hon. and right hon. Member who had spoken had asked why it was necessary to have a Committee stage of a Bill the day after Second Reading. You, Mr. Martin, will understand, as the Secretary of State, who is returning to his place, will understand, because he is an experienced parliamentarian, that the normal practice is that a Second Reading takes place, a vote is taken, and if the Bill receives its Second Reading the House, either on the Floor or upstairs, moves into Committee the following week. There is a very good reason why this happens. It is so that the House and Ministers can reflect—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. What is done is done. I have no control over these matters. The House has decided that I must return the Committee to the debate on the amendments, so the right hon. Gentleman must speak to them rather than discuss the history of how we arrived at this position.

Mr. MacKay

I have no wish to question the vote on the Ten o'clock motion. I have moved from that, I hope—as you rightly requested me to, Mr. Martin—to where I was at 9.59 pm, after which you—again, rightly—called me to order because the clock had struck ten. At 9.59 pm, I was saying the same to the Under-Secretary of State as had been said by every other Member who had spoken; I assume that they were in order. Like them, I was asking why we needed to rush the legislation through.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department confirmed to me, from a sedentary position, that the Bill did not constitute either urgent or emergency legislation—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I cannot allow the right hon. Gentleman to continue. The other hon. Members who have spoken may have mentioned the Second Reading in passing, but it is not permissible to concentrate on Second Reading in a debate on amendments. The right hon. Gentleman has made his point; I now ask him to speak to the amendments, which are indeed very narrow.

Mr. MacKay

At no point was I discussing Second Reading. I was discussing something much more important than Second Reading, which, as you rightly say, was past, done for and gone yesterday. I was asking why the Committee stage of a Bill that is not urgent or an emergency Bill need take place this week, and my question was not answered.

The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) rightly asked what was the special reason. We have been given no special reason, and that makes it very difficult for many Members—especially the Liberal Democrats, who, not uncharacteristically, have not yet made up their minds—to decide which way to vote. I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Winchester, who is not capable of making up his mind until he knows why we need to rush the legislation through. I ask the Under-Secretary of State to tell us why it is being rushed through, why it is emergency legislation, and why—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I am sorry to keep interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but let me say this to him. I would not allow the Under-Secretary of State to discuss these matters, because what we are discussing is not the legislation in its entirety or the way in which it is being rushed through, but the amendment and those grouped with it. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that that is what he must discuss.

Mr. MacKay

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland failed to respond to any of the points made by hon. Members speaking to my amendment and new clause, and the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). It is interesting, and needs to be pointed out, that not one Labour Member supported the Front Bench. We heard a good speech from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and a very good intervention from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), but not one Labour Member saw fit to support Ministers. I consider that deeply significant. Having been in the Chair for some time on more than one occasion during this Committee stage, Mr. Martin, you will have noted that for almost all the sitting—nearly five hours so far—hardly any Labour Members have been present until the vote. That is disgraceful.

The Under-Secretary of State—rightly, I believe—made much of what had been achieved under the Belfast agreement. But he must accept that his Government—rightly—the Irish Government—rightly—and the democratic non-violent parties, Unionist, nationalist and Alliance—rightly—have jumped every hurdle. Only one group have not fulfilled their obligations under the Belfast agreement: the paramilitaries, whether they are republican or so-called loyalist. They have not fulfilled their obligations on two counts. First, they do not appear to have renounced violence for good because beatings, mutilations and tortures are still going on. Secondly, even more significant, they have failed to decommission any of their illegally held arms and explosives.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland singularly failed to address the point that I made earlier and that others have endorsed: many believe, I included, that the process to date has been all take by the paramilitaries and no give. The Bill—I have already begged to differ with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst—is relatively small beer and relatively unimportant. Therefore, it is not right that it be passed, unless my amendment is incorporated. It says that, unless substantial decommissioning is confirmed by General de Chastelain, the Bill should not become law. That is why I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends, many Labour Members who have expressed reservations publicly or privately, the Liberal Democrats, who have expressed reservations through the hon. Member for Winchester, and Unionist Members who also oppose it, to vote against it.

It is a sad day for the House of Commons when legislation, for no good reason, is pushed through without any chance for us to consider it properly. Much as I genuinely like and respect the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I believe that he has, under orders, behaved disreputably by pushing the Bill through without proper debate. It is shameful and wrong. He and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will live to regret it.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I thank you, Mr. Martin, for calling me. I apologise to those who will have noted that I have not been in the Chamber all day. I have been participating in the Committee stage of the Terrorism Bill. None the less, I have heard much of what has been discussed.

I feel somewhat sorry for the two Ministers who have had to carry the burden of a Bill that was contrived by—I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has just left; I understand his sensitivity to what I have to say—the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. Yesterday, on Second Reading, we discussed why the Bill had been introduced in the first place, and we have discussed for whom the Bill is drafted.

I have some sympathy for the two Ministers in that respect, but I still cannot understand why, in responding to the Committee stage, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland repeated inadequately what he said on Second Reading yesterday. He did not elaborate at all on those points, but referred to them in the most general terms. He did not elaborate, for example, on the consultation. He indicated that the consultation involved many others, yet I know that he was inaccurate—unavoidably inaccurate, I hope—when he suggested that others besides Sinn Fein had an interest—[Interruption.]

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

Order. The Committee must come to order. The hon. Gentleman is addressing the Committee.

10.30 pm
Mr. Maginnis

Thank you, Mr. Martin; that was helpful, given the current state of my voice.

Although the Minister mentioned those other matters, we know—I have pointed it out to him—that Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Democratic Left and the Irish Labour party are not interested in participating as Members either of this place or of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In conversation, that was made obvious to me. To try to justify himself, the Minister pointed out that Austin Curry and John Cushnahan, among others, stood for seats in the Dail. However, they did so not simply because, as Irish citizens, they were entitled to do so, but rather because there was no opportunity to pursue their political careers in Northern Ireland, which was in the direct-rule process.

Rev. Martin Smyth

The situation was even more serious than that. Like other politicians in Northern Ireland, they had played a part, but, as there was no elected Chamber, they had difficulty even in finding secondary jobs to keep themselves occupied.

Mr. Maginnis

Indeed that was the case. Consequently, they moved, and one served in a European assembly and the other in the Dail.

The Government are making an effort to enamel on to the edge of the agreement provisions that are specifically designed to facilitate the position of Sinn Fein. However, he, I and every other hon. Member want Sinn Fein to exercise what, so far, it has claimed to be a voluntary obligation to disarm.

What is happening to that voluntary obligation after all this time? Today, I saw the Under-Secretary of State struggling, and failing, to try to explain what the Government's reaction will be if the de Chastelain report were couched in negative terms. Part of the Minister's difficulty is that he is afraid of offending Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein would use that offence as an excuse—that is the reality—for not presenting before General de Chastelain reports at the end of this month.

I shall relieve the Under-Secretary of the obligation and tell him what will have to happen. If I am wrong, he will be able to clarify the position for the rest of the Committee and contradict me. If there is a positive response, it will mean that there has been a first significant disarmament phase and that the general will be able to say in an agenda how events should proceed until 22 May.

If there is not a first round of disarmament, General de Chastelain will have to report that. Immediately, there will be an obligation on the Government to suspend the Assembly and return Northern Ireland to a direct rule system in the interim. That will be supported by the Government in Dublin, even though they have no direct say in the matter. If I am wrong, I hope that the Under-Secretary will contradict me now. If he does not, we will know the process that we must expect.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 10 are in line with what is necessary if Northern Ireland is to be governed in the same way as other regions of the United Kingdom. The Under-Secretary has stated that the Bill is not the direct result of the Belfast agreement. I do not know whether that is so, or not. I do know, however—because I was fairly close to the heart of events—that the Bill was never mooted during the negotiations on that agreement, nor during the Mitchell review.

No Bill relating to Northern Ireland and the affairs of elected representatives there can stand apart from what is contained in the Belfast agreement. Even if the Government fall down on their obligations, Opposition Members must ensure that disarmament is an element of this Bill. I see no justification at all for the Bill, and many agree with me. However, no Bill such as this can be at variance with the conditions laid down for devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Disarmament is not a simple political issue in Northern Ireland. It is not a question of two opposing views. Disarmament is an inherent part of democracy. It is vital if those who have relied on violence or the threat of violence for more than 100 years are to be moved to recognise the primacy of democracy.

The importance of this Committee stage is immense, in the context of the House's procedures, traditions and protocol. It is important in terms of the way in which people in Northern Ireland see themselves as being treated as fellow citizens in the United Kingdom. If they find that the interests of 657 Members of this House are secondary to the interests of two Members who do not take their places here, their faith in the institutions of government, which we are trying to achieve under the most difficult circumstances, will be less than that needed to sustain what we are trying to do.

The Minister must speak frankly. He must tell us about the others who have been party to this. He must stop giving the impression that the leader of the party to which I belong was privy to the Bill when it was mooted. The leader of my party was made privy to the Bill when the Prime Minister informed him that it was to be introduced. He made known his antipathy to the proposals, and made it very clear that there would be a conflict of interest if the Bill was introduced in the form that was shown to him. That did not mean approval.

Mr. George Howarth

The hon. Gentleman will, I think, accept that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) was consulted about the intention to introduce the Bill and the principles contained therein. As a result of those consultations, clause 2 was added to the Bill.

Mr. Maginnis

That is the clause to which you would not wish me to allude in any depth, Sir Alan. Clause 2 prevents a Minister in one legislature from being a Minister in the other. In fact, discussion of what my right hon. Friend has suggested is not yet complete, but we shall come to the relevant amendments later.

I suggest that the Minister intervene once again—I know that he will find this difficult, if not impossible—and tell us which of the Irish nationalist parties will take advantage of that provision, or wants to take advantage of it, or suggests that it should have the right to be a Member of another legislature in the United Kingdom as well as the Dail.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. This may be of interest, but it is straying too far outside the scope of the amendments. I remind the hon. Gentleman that many arguments have been deployed over the past five hours, and he must not stray from order by repeating them too much or by not keeping within the scope of the specific amendments. I hope that he will govern his remarks accordingly.

Mr. Maginnis

You can be assured that I will do my best, Sir Alan, while, at the same time, trying to encourage Her Majesty's Ministers to be frank with the Committee. What is the purpose of the Bill and who will it benefit beyond those who have, as yet, failed to show any inclination that they are about to disarm and, hence, to meet the requirements of us all under the Belfast agreement?

10.45 pm
Mr. Forth

The Committee has laboured mightily to try to elicit from the Government the rationale that lay behind the Bill—the amendments sought in part to do that and, in that context, to improve the Bill. However, we have failed, as the speech by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) showed all too well. Those of us who have sat through the debate in its entirety are little wiser than when the proceedings started as to why the Bill was introduced and why the Committee had to sit so hard on the heels of Second Reading.

The Minister urged the Committee to reject all the amendments. In doing so, he tried—interestingly—to have the argument both ways. He tantalised us with much talk about the importance and ramifications of the Belfast agreement, while trying to distance the Government from any connection between the agreement and the Bill. The Government seem to be trying to have it both ways. They hint at, or tantalise us with, the prospect that the Bill would add significantly to the goodies—the benefits—that have flowed from the Belfast agreement thus far. That has been challenged frequently during this brief debate. However, I do not want to linger on that matter, as we may have an opportunity to return to it in our further proceedings.

Not only are we no clearer as to the Government's motive in introducing the measure, but we are even less clear as to whether there is a connection in the Government's mind between the agreement, with all its ramifications, and the provisions of the Bill. In relation to the amendments, we are no further forward in understanding why the Minister has urged us to reject all of them, given that amendment No. 10, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), would strengthen the measure by an explicit reference to the decommissioning process, linked to the trust that we all put in the de Chastelain part of that process.

Mr. Fallon

My right hon. Friend says that we are no further forward. Has he reflected on the fact that perhaps we might have moved slightly backwards? In his summing up, the Under-Secretary used one phrase that we have not heard before: he said that there was "no direct linkage" between the Bill and the Belfast agreement. Does my right hon. Friend consider that there is some indirect linkage?

Mr. Forth

I congratulate my hon. Friend. He has identified more from the Minister's remarks than I was able to do. He has suggested an intriguing possibility. While my hon. Friend was speaking, I watched the Minister carefully—as ever I do—and I saw him shake his head. The Minister, from a sedentary position, by subtle use of body language, sought to refute the suggestion made by my hon. Friend. From that, I conclude not only that is there no direct link, but that it would appear from what the Minister is not telling us verbally, but is telling us bodily, there is no indirect link either.

Mr. Fallon

May I press my right hon. Friend? Does he agree that the matter is important? I made a criticism of his new clause because he was introducing to the Bill precisely the linkage that the Government were attempting to deny. If it is now suggested that there is some linkage between the Bill and the Belfast agreement, that would surely strengthen the case for my right hon. Friend's new clause.

Mr. Forth

Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend that that must be so. However, we are still left with the problem that the Minister has not yet formally conceded that point, even though I, in my modest contribution earlier, and other hon. Friends have tried to show, by quoting from yesterday's Hansard, that the Minister's very words—even more, those of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien)—clearly suggested that, in their minds, there was a distinct link between the Belfast agreement and the Bill. In all those respects, we are no further forward.

I was referring to the amendments and the new clause, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell and other right hon. and hon. Friends. I was trying to establish that they did not run counter to the agreement, but were intended to reinforce what was in the Belfast agreement in the context of the Bill. The Minister rejected the new clause, for reasons that he failed to make clear.

My own modest amendment, No. 1, tried to go even further. It tried to say that we could strengthen the Bill by amending it to give explicit recognition to the fact that, before the alleged benefits of the Bill came into effect, the parties to the agreement would all have to sign up to a statement saying that the agreement had been fully implemented. The Minister seems to have rejected even that.

What mystifies me is that we have tried genuinely, I believe, to co-operate, to take the spirit of the Bill on board and to strengthen it by means of our new clause and amendments, by making references to the decommissioning process, to the parties to the agreement and so on; yet the Minister has still seen fit to tell us that he wants the Committee to reject all those amendments.

I have not yet mentioned the excellent amendment No. 32, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), which brings yet another imaginative approach to the Bill. It would give the Government another option that they could use to strengthen the Bill. These are not attempts to undermine the Bill. They are all patently attempts to reinforce and strengthen the Bill by making cross-references to the decommissioning process and to the agreement process; and amendment No. 32 makes an explicit reference to the rejection of terrorism.

None of that, surely, can be regarded as remotely controversial. None of it seeks to undermine the Bill. Even those of us who voted against Second Reading have accepted the verdict of the House yesterday, and we are now seeking to look at the Bill in a positive light and to strengthen it with our amendments. I would contend that those separate approaches are not necessarily contradictory and may well be complementary.

Therefore the Committee may—guided by you, Sir Alan—wish to express its view separately on the different approaches taken by myself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone. I hope that you will consider that carefully, having, as ever, closely followed the Committee's deliberations, in which support has been expressed by different people for the different amendments at different stages of our deliberations.

Even though the Minister has said that he wants all the amendments rejected out of hand, without giving sufficient reason, the Committee is entitled to take a different view. I hope that you, Sir Alan, will give the Committee an opportunity to do so in the fullest possible sense.

Mr. Cash

I was out of the Chamber for a fairly short time because I wanted to have some discussions with other Members and ask them the reason for the Bill. I shall not betray any confidence, but I will say that I had a word with a very senior member of the Government, and when I pressed him as to the reason for the Bill, he said that it was all part of an understanding. That is as near as we have got, so far, to an explanation. There has been no explanation whatever, and I entirely—

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Would my hon. Friend be good enough to tell the Committee with whom the understanding was made?

Mr. Cash

I wish that I were in a position to be able to disclose that, but I can say that, quite clearly, the implicit suggestion was that there was an understanding with Sinn Fein-IRA. We know that discussions were going on, which have not been disclosed to the House or in any other way—secret discussions. Baffled as many people may be by this bizarre Bill, it does not alter the fact that, in some way, there is perceived to be some advantage to Sinn Fein-IRA in the arrangements proposed in the Bill.

Some might believe that these proposals do not relate to a member of Sinn Fein-IRA, or to any other person who may be entitled to stand for the House of Commons. However, persons who have known terrorist views could stand without any difficulty for the Assembly in Northern Ireland. It follows that we are entitled to an answer to the questions posed in my amendment. We are talking about qualification and disqualification, about membership of the Assembly and about membership of this House. The Minister has not replied to my question.

Mr. George Howarth

I replied to the points that the hon. Gentleman raised in the debate. It is just that he was not here when I did so.

Mr. Cash

I know exactly what the Minister said, and he has not replied to my points at all. I asked him this—if a person with a track record of espousing terrorism were to take his seat, after election, in either the Assembly or this House, should he not be required to disavow terrorism before taking his seat? There has been no answer to that question, and relating it to questions of allegiance is not the entire answer. We are entitled to assume that no person who continued to espouse terrorism should be allowed to take his seat in this House or in the Assembly.

Mr. Fallon

Does my hon. Friend recall that the only answer that he did receive from the Minister was the technical point that the provision in the Northern Ireland Assembly applied only to members of the Administration, rather than to the membership of the Assembly itself? The Minister did not answer my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Cash

Indeed, and there is an enormous difference between a member of the Administration and a person seeking election. I ask the Minister again to answer my question. Clearly, he is not intending to do so because he will not come to the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Howarth

I have answered the question.

Mr. Cash

The Minister has not answered it.

We have had no answer on the reason for the rush, either. I suspect that it is because the Bill is part of a secret understanding, of the kind indicated to me when I was outside the precincts of the Chamber. Furthermore, there is no reciprocation in the arrangements being proposed here. I have seen the Minister shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders, giving the impression that this was a spontaneous proposal from the Government—as if they had invented the proposal out of thin air.

The Chairman

Order. The points that the hon. Gentleman is deploying now were for Second Reading, and they are not directly addressing the amendment. I must insist that he address his remarks to the amendment. I understood that the hon. Gentleman was winding up on his own amendment. That is what he must do—not go back into the whole Second Reading debate and the reasons for the Bill.

Mr. Cash

Indeed, but the points that I have been making are directly relevant to the question of whether or not terrorists who have not disavowed terrorism should be allowed to stand for election, as well as to take their seat in the House. It is by no means impossible that people who are terrorists and have not disavowed their terrorism will seek election in the knowledge that they will not be able to take their seats.

Respectfully, Sir Alan, I suggest that there ought to be separate votes for the amendments which fall within the group. I am not prepared to withdraw my amendment. Furthermore, I respectfully ask you, Sir Alan, to allow a separate vote on each of the other amendments.

11 pm

Sir Richard Body (Boston and Skegness)

The Under-Secretary of State has been very patient, as he always is. However, on this occasion, his powers of persuasion have been mislaid. His comments on decommissioning and his arguments against the amendments carried no weight at all. Over several hours, he has been pressed on these issues, but he has failed to respond.

We have been asked to rush through the Bill. It received a truncated debate yesterday on Second Reading, the whole of its Committee stage is being considered tonight and it will have its Third Reading before the end of the week. It is an important constitutional Bill, but were the Government of Ireland consulted? Presumably, they were; and that might explain why the Under-Secretary is unable to persuade us about decommissioning. I hope that every Labour Member is eager for decommissioning to take place. The amendment does little more than reaffirm that point and insist that decommissioning take place before we make yet another concession to those who are given to terrorism.

Have the Government of Ireland been asked to intervene? Is that why we have had to give this concession, so that they might intercede on decommissioning? If that is not the reason, there is a very ugly reason for the Bill. It is that the Government are slipping away from their requirements on decommissioning. There can be no third explanation for the Bill.

I make this plea to the Under-Secretary. Will he speak again and tell us the answers to the points that we have put? They have been put repeatedly and with almost tedious repetition, but there has been no response from him. I ask him again: what is the reason for the Bill?

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 133, Noes 271.

Division No. 39] [11.3 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Amess, David Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Brady, Graham
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Brazier, Julian
Baldry, Tony Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Beggs, Roy Browning, Mrs Angela
Bercow, John Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Beresford, Sir Paul Burns, Simon
Blunt, Crispin Butterfill, John
Body, Sir Richard Cash, William
Boswell, Tim Clappison, James
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Maginnis, Ken
Collins, Tim Malins, Humfrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick Maples, John
Cran, James Mates, Michael
Curry, Rt Hon David Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Donaldson, Jeffrey May, Mrs Theresa
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Moss, Malcolm
Duncan, Alan Nicholls, Patrick
Duncan Smith, Iain Norman, Archie
Evans, Nigel O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Faber, David Ottaway, Richard
Fabricant, Michael Page, Richard
Fallon, Michael Paisley, Rev Ian
Flight, Howard Pickles, Eric
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Prior, David
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Randall, John
Fox, Dr Liam Redwood, Rt Hon John
Fraser, Christopher Robathan, Andrew
Gale, Roger Robertson, Laurence
Garnier, Edward Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gibb, Nick Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Ruffley, David
Gorman, Mrs Teresa St Aubyn, Nick
Gray, James Sayeed, Jonathan
Green, Damian Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Greenway, John Shepherd, Richard
Grieve, Dominic Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Hammond, Philip Soames, Nicholas
Hawkins, Nick Spicer, Sir Michael
Hayes, John Spring, Richard
Heald, Oliver Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Steen, Anthony
Horam, John Streeter, Gary
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Swayne, Desmond
Hunter, Andrew Syms, Robert
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Tapsell, Sir Peter
Key, Robert Taylor, John M (Solihull)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Thompson, William
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Tredinnick, David
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Trend, Michael
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Lansley, Andrew Walter, Robert
Leigh, Edward Wardle, Charles
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Waterson, Nigel
Lidington, David Wells, Bowen
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Whitney, Sir Raymond
Loughton, Tim Whittingdale, John
Luff, Peter Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Yeo, Tim
McIntosh, Miss Anne Young, Rt Hon Sir George
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David Tellers for the Ayes:
McLoughlin, Patrick Mr. Peter Atkinson and
Madel, Sir David Mr. Stephen Day.
NOES
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Alexander, Douglas Bennett, Andrew F
Allen, Graham Benton, Joe
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Bermingham, Gerald
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Berry, Roger
Atkins, Charlotte Best, Harold
Austin, John Betts, Clive
Banks, Tony Blears, Ms Hazel
Barnes, Harry Blizzard, Bob
Battle, John Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Bayley, Hugh Borrow, David
Beard, Nigel Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Bradshaw, Ben
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Brinton, Mrs Helen
Browne, Desmond Heppell, John
Burgon, Colin Hesford, Stephen
Butler, Mrs Christine Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Hill, Keith
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Hinchliffe, David
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hodge, Ms Margaret
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hope, Phil
Cann, Jamie Hopkins, Kelvin
Caplin, Ivor Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cawsey, Ian Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Howells, Dr Kim
Chaytor, David Hoyle, Lindsay
Clapham, Michael Hughes, Ms Bevertey (Stretford)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Iddon, Dr Brian
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Illsley, Eric
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Clelland, David Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Clwyd, Ann Jamieson, David
Coaker, Vernon Jenkins, Brian
Cohen, Harry Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Coleman, Iain Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Colman, Tony Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Connarty, Michael Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Corston, Jean Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Cousins, Jim Keeble, Ms Sally
Cranston, Ross Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Crausby, David Kemp, Fraser
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Cummings, John Kidney, David
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Kilfoyle, Peter
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Kumar, Dr Ashok
Dalyell, Tam Laxton, Bob
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Lepper, David
Davidson, Ian Leslie, Christopher
Dawson, Hilton Levitt, Tom
Dean, Mrs Janet Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Denham, John Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Dismore, Andrew Linton, Martin
Donohoe, Brian H Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Doran, Frank Lock, David
Dowd, Jim Love, Andrew
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) McAvoy, Thomas
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) McCabe, Steve
Efford, Clive McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff McDonagh, Siobhain
Field, Rt Hon Frank Macdonald, Calum
Fisher, Mark McDonnell, John
Fitzpatrick, Jim McFall, John
Flint, Caroline McIsaac, Shona
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Mackinlay, Andrew
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Mactaggart, Fiona
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McWalter, Tony
Foulkes, George Mahon, Mrs Alice
Gapes, Mike Mallaber, Judy
Gardiner, Barry Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Gerard, Neil Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Goggins, Paul Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Golding, Mrs Llin Martlew, Eric
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Maxton, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Meale, Alan
Grogan, John Merron, Gillian
Hain, Peter Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Miller, Andrew
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Mitchell, Austin
Healey, John Moffatt, Laura
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hepburn, Stephen Moran, Ms Margaret
Morley, Elliot Southworth, Ms Helen
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Mountford, Kali Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mudie, George Steinberg, Gerry
Mullin, Chris Stevenson, George
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stinchcombe, Paul
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stringer, Graham
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Osborne, Ms Sandra Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Perham, Ms Linda Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Pickthall, Colin Temple-Morris, Peter
Pike, Peter L Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Plaskitt, James Tipping, Paddy
Pollard, Kerry Todd, Mark
Pope, Greg Touhig, Don
Pound, Stephen Trickett, Jon
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Truswell, Paul
Prescott, Rt Hon John Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Primarolo, Dawn Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Prosser, Gwyn Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Purchase, Ken Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Quinn, Lawrie Tynan, Bill
Radice, Rt Hon Giles Walley, Ms Joan
Rammell, Bill Ward, Ms Claire
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Wareing, Robert N
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Watts, David
Rooney, Terry Whitehead, Dr Alan
Ruane, Chris Wicks, Malcolm
Ruddock, Joan Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Sarwar, Mohammad Wills, Michael
Sawford, Phil Wilson, Brian
Sedgemore, Brian Winnick, David
Shaw, Jonathan Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sheerman, Barry Wise, Audrey
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wood, Mike
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Woodward, Shaun
Singh, Marsha Woolas, Phil
Skinner, Dennis Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Tellers for the Noes:
Snape, Peter Mr. Mike Hall and
Soley, Clive Mrs. Anne McGuire.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 32, in page 1, line 9, after "Ireland)", add— provided that, in respect of Ireland, a person who is or has been a member of a proscribed organisation within the meaning of the Terrorism Act 2000 and who has not disavowed terrorism within the meaning given to that expression by that Act before taking his or her seat in the said House or Assembly shall be disqualified from membership of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly".—[Mr. Cash.] Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 19, Noes 280.

Division No. 40] [11.17 pm
AYES
Beggs, Roy Page, Richard
Body, Sir Richard Paisley, Rev Ian
Cash, William Robathan, Andrew
Donaldson, Jeffrey Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Fallon, Michael Sayeed, Jonathan
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Shepherd, Richard
Hunter, Andrew Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Maginnis, Ken Spicer, Sir Michael
Thompson, William Tellers for the Ayes:
Wardle, Charles Mr. Douglas Hogg and
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield) Mr. Eric Forth.
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Davidson, Ian
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Dawson, Hilton
Alexander, Douglas Dean, Mrs Janet
Allen, Graham Denham, John
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Dismore, Andrew
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Dobbin, Jim
Atkins, Charlotte Donohoe, Brian H
Austin, John Doran, Frank
Banks, Tony Dowd, Jim
Barnes, Harry Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Battle, John Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Bayley, Hugh Efford, Clive
Beard, Nigel Ellman, Mrs Louise
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Ennis, Jeff
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Field, Rt Hon Frank
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Fisher, Mark
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Bennett, Andrew F Flint, Caroline
Benton, Joe Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bermingham, Gerald Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Berry, Roger Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Best, Harold Foulkes, George
Betts, Clive Gapes, Mike
Blears, Ms Hazel George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Blizzard, Bob Gerrard, Neil
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Borrow, David Goggins, Paul
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Golding, Mrs Llin
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Bradshaw, Ben Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Browne, Desmond Grogan, John
Burgon, Colin Hain, Peter
Butler, Mrs Christine Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Healey, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cann, Jamie Hepburn, Stephen
Caplin, Ivor Heppell, John
Cawsey, Ian Hesford, Stephen
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Chaytor, David Hill, Keith
Clapham, Michael Hinchliffe, David
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hodge, Ms Margaret
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Howells, Dr Kim
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hoyle, Lindsay
Clelland, David Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Clwyd, Ann Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Coaker, Vernon Hurst, Alan
Cohen, Harry Hutton, John
Coleman, Iain Iddon, Dr Brian
Colman, Tony Illsley, Eric
Connarty, Michael Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Corbyn, Jeremy Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Corston, Jean Jamieson, David
Cousins, Jim Jenkins, Brian
Cranston, Ross Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Crausby, David Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Cummings, John Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Dalyell, Tam Keeble, Ms Sally
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Kemp, Fraser Rammell, Bill
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kidney, David Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rooney, Terry
Laxton, Bob Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lepper, David Ruane, Chris
Leslie, Christopher Ruddock, Joan
Levitt, Tom Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Sarwar, Mohammad
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Savidge, Malcolm
Linton, Martin Sawford, Phil
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Sedgemore, Brian
Lock, David Shaw, Jonathan
Love, Andrew Sheerman, Barry
McAvoy, Thomas Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McCabe, Steve Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Singh, Marsha
McDonagh, Siobhain Skinner, Dennis
Macdonald, Calum Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McDonnell, John Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McFall, John Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McIsaac, Shona Snape, Peter
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Soley, Clive
Mackinlay, Andrew Southworth, Ms Helen
McNulty, Tony Spellar, John
Mactaggart, Fiona Squire, Ms Rachel
McWalter, Tony Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mahon, Mrs Alice Steinberg, Gerry
Mallaber, Judy Stevenson, George
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Stinchcombe, Paul
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Stringer, Graham
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Sutcliffe, Gerry
Martlew, Eric Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Meale, Alan Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Merron, Gillian Temple-Morris, Peter
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Tipping, Paddy
Miller, Andrew Todd, Mark
Mitchell, Austin Touhig, Don
Moffatt, Laura Trickett, Jon
Moonie, Dr Lewis Truswell, Paul
Moran, Ms Margaret Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Morley, Elliot Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Mountford, Kali Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Mudie, George Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Mullin, Chris Tynan, Bill
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Walley, Ms Joan
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Ward, Ms Claire
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Wareing, Robert N
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Watts, David
Osborne, Ms Sandra Whitehead, Dr Alan
Palmer, Dr Nick Wicks, Malcolm
Pearson, Ian Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin Wills, Michael
Pike, Peter L Wilson, Brian
Plaskitt, James Winnick, David
Pollard, Kerry Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Pope, Greg Wise, Audrey
Pound, Stephen Wood, Mike
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Woodward, Shaun
Prescott, Rt Hon John Woolas, Phil
Primarolo, Dawn Worthington, Tony
Prosser, Gwyn Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Purchase, Ken Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Tellers for the Noes:
Quinn, Lawrie Mr. Mike Hall and
Radice. Rt Hon Giles Mrs. Anne McGuire.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 1, in page 1, line 9, at end add— (2A) This section shall come into force on a day to be appointed by an order made by the Secretary of State; and the Secretary of State shall not make such an order unless he has previously laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement in relation to the Belfast Agreement (Cm 3883), stating that in his opinion and in the opinion of all parties to that Agreement all aspects of the Agreement have been implemented. (2B) No order shall be made under subsection (2A) unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.".—[Mr. Forth.] Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 118, Noes 282.

Division No. 41] [11.29 pm
AYES
Amess, David Horam, John
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Baldry, Tony Hunter, Andrew
Beggs, Roy Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Bercow, John Key, Robert
Beresford, Sir Paul King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Blunt, Crispin Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Body, Sir Richard Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Boswell, Tim Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Leigh, Edward
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Brady, Graham Lidington, David
Brazier, Julian Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Loughton, Tim
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Luff, Peter
Burns, Simon Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Butterfill, John MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Cash, William McIntosh, Miss Anne
Chope, Christopher MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Clappison, James Maclean, Rt Hon David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey McLoughlin, Patrick
Collins, Tim Madel, Sir David
Cormack, Sir Patrick Maginnis, Ken
Cran, James Malins, Humfrey
Curry, Rt Hon David Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Moss, Malcolm
Day, Stephen Norman, Archie
Donaldson, Jeffrey O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Ottaway, Richard
Duncan, Alan Page, Richard
Duncan Smith, Iain Paisley, Rev Ian
Evans, Nigel Prior, David
Faber, David Robathan, Andrew
Fabricant, Michael Robertson, Laurence
Fallon, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Flight Howard Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Ruffley, David
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman St Aubyn, Nick
Fraser, Christopher Sayeed, Jonathan
Gale, Roger Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gibb, Nick Shepherd, Richard
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Gray, James Soames, Nicholas
Green, Damian Spicer, Sir Michael
Greenway, John Spring, Richard
Grieve, Dominic Steen, Anthony
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Swayne, Desmond
Hammond, Philip Syms, Robert
Hawkins, Nick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hayes, John Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Heald, Oliver Thompson, William
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael Whittingdale, John
Tyrie, Andrew Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Viggers, Peter Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Walter, Robert Yeo, Tim
Wardle, Charles
Waterson, Nigel Tellers for the Ayes:
Wells, Bowen Mr. John Randall and
Whitney, Sir Raymond Mr. Peter Atkinson.
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Dalyell, Tam
Alexander, Douglas Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Davidson, Ian
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Dawson, Hilton
Atkins, Charlotte Dean, Mrs Janet
Austin, John Denham, John
Banks, Tony Dismore, Andrew
Barnes, Harry Dobbin, Jim
Battle, John Donohoe, Brian H
Bayley, Hugh Doran, Frank
Beard, Nigel Dowd, Jim
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Efford, Clive
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bennett, Andrew F Ennis, Jeff
Benton, Joe Field, Rt Hon Frank
Bermingham, Gerald Fisher, Mark
Berry, Roger Fitzpatrick, Jim
Best, Harold Flint, Caroline
Betts, Clive Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Blears, Ms Hazel Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Blizzard, Bob Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Foulkes, George
Borrow, David Gapes, Mike
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Gardiner, Barry
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Bradshaw, Ben Gerrard, Neil
Brinton, Mrs Helen Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Goggins, Paul
Browne, Desmond Golding, Mrs Llin
Burgon, Colin Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Butler, Mrs Christine Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Grogan, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hain, Peter
Cann, Jamie Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Caplin, Ivor Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cawsey, Ian Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Chaytor, David Healey, John
Clapham, Michael Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hepburn, Stephen
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hill, Keith
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hodge, Ms Margaret
Clelland, David Hood, Jimmy
Clwyd, Ann Hope, Phil
Coaker, Vernon Hopkins, Kelvin
Cohen, Harry Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Coleman, Iain Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Colman, Tony Howells, Dr Kim
Connarty, Michael Hoyle, Lindsay
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Corston, Jean Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cousins, Jim Hurst, Alan
Cranston, Ross Hutton, John
Crausby, David Iddon, Dr Brian
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Illsley, Eric
Cummings, John Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian Pound, Stephen
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Prosser, Gwyn
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Purchase, Ken
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Keeble, Ms Sally Quinn, Lawrie
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Kemp, Fraser Rammell, Bill
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kidney, David Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rooney, Terry
Laxton, Bob Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lepper, David Ruane, Chris
Leslie, Christopher Ruddock, Joan
Levitt, Tom Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Sarwar, Mohammad
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Savidge, Malcolm
Linton, Martin Sawford, Phil
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Sedgemore, Brian
Lock, David Shaw, Jonathan
Love, Andrew Sheerman, Barry
McAvoy, Thomas Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McCabe, Steve Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
McDonagh, Siobhain Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Macdonald, Calum Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McDonnell, John Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McFall, John Snape, Peter
McGuire, Mrs Anne Soley, Clive
McIsaac, Shona Southworth, Ms Helen
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Spellar, John
Mackinlay, Andrew Squire, Ms Rachel
McNulty, Tony Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mactaggart, Fiona Steinberg, Gerry
McWalter, Tony Stevenson, George
Mahon, Mrs Alice Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Mallaber, Judy Stinchcombe, Paul
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Stringer, Graham
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Maxton, John Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Temple-Morris, Peter
Meale, Alan Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Merron, Gillian Tipping, Paddy
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Todd, Mark
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Touhig, Don
Miller, Andrew Trickett, Jon
Mitchell, Austin Truswell, Paul
Moffatt, Laura Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Moran, Ms Margaret Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Morley, Elliot Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tynan, Bill
Mountford, Kali Walley, Ms Joan
Mudie, George Ward, Ms Claire
Mullin, Chris Wareing, Robert N
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Watts, David
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Whitehead, Dr Alan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Wicks, Malcolm
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick Wills, Michael
Pearson, Ian Wilson, Brian
Perham, Ms Linda Winntek, David
Pickthall, Colin Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Pike, Peter L Wise, Audrey
Plaskitt, James Wood, Mike
Pollard, Kerry Woodward, Shaun
Pope, Greg Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony Tellers for the Noes:
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth) Mr. Robert Ainsworth and
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock) Mr. Graham Allen.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Forth

I beg to move amendment No. 2, page 1, line 9, at end add— '(2A) This section shall come into force on a day to be appointed by an order made by the Secretary of State; and the Secretary of State shall not make such an order unless he is satisfied that Members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons are qualified for membership of either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland'. This is the point in our proceedings where the debate can be broadened considerably. So far, we have concentrated on some narrowly drawn amendments, but amendment No. 2 covers a much broader matter of principle. None the less, it is important. The point that underlies it is, in one sense, simple, but it properly opens a debate on a principle that I will characterise as reciprocity, for want of a better word. It does not appear in the amendment, but I hope that you agree, Sir Alan, that it admirably sums up the essence of the amendment.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

I have listened to my right hon. Friend and read the amendment, but it strikes me that he asks for reciprocity because he does not trust the people with whom the arrangement is being made. Surely that is not the case.

Mr. Forth

I will perhaps come to the matter of who trusts whom in a slightly different context shortly. The point that I wanted to make in laying the ground for the amendment is this: should the change be unilateral or should it be made only if there is an equal and reciprocal change by the legislature that is most involved—that of the Republic of Ireland?

We have to confront two separate issues immediately. First, I make no apology for coming back, however briefly, to the motivation behind the Bill and whether it is designed to react to the Irish Government or, indeed, to any other body. More important, we have to consider as a free-standing issue whether the Bill can and should proceed, regardless of what happens at the other end of the process. Put at its simplest, the question is whether we should accept into this legislative body Members of the Irish Republic's legislature when Members here are not allowed into that body.

Mr. Swayne

Will my right hon. Friend enlighten me as to how the introduction of reciprocity makes an offensive Bill less offensive? Can he describe the conditions in which any right-minded hon. Member, having the interests of the UK at heart—as he would, having taken the Oath—would wish to serve in the Dail?

11.45 pm
Mr. Forth

We can perhaps deal with such matters shortly. I am not sure whether it is for me to explore the motivation of Members of the Irish legislature or that of any of us who might wish to go there—although the point may become relevant as I develop my argument—but my hon. Friend's useful intervention reminds me that the principle of the Bill is something on which we can agree or disagree.

I voted against Second Reading but accept that, as the House has taken the view that the Bill is acceptable in principle, the Committee's task is to determine whether and to what extent we can improve it. In that context, I should like my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) to be absolutely clear that, although I do not agree with the Bill's principle, I have to accept the verdict of the House. Accordingly, the spirit in which I move my amendment—which seeks to strengthen the Bill and its purpose—is very positive.

We must therefore ask whether it is right, sensible and acceptable, within the sense and principle of the Bill, which was accepted on Second Reading, now to contemplate the possibility of Members of a legislature of another sovereign state—the Republic of Ireland—coming to this place when no such right exists for Members of the House of Commons to go there.

As you know, Sir Alan, Irish law currently states that only Irish citizens may be Members of the Irish legislature. I should say immediately that I agree with that. I believe that we should adopt the Irish approach to the matter, rather than any other, because I think that they have it right. They obviously have a proper sense of their nationhood, of the sovereignty of their country and of the important symbolic value of their legislature as an expression of that sovereignty.

It is Members of this place who, if the Bill were to proceed through all its stages, would compromise our concept of nationhood and sovereignty by admitting the principle that Members of the legislature of another country may be admitted to the House of Commons. It is a very important principle.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

As someone who was born and bred in the Republic, I say that the right hon. Gentleman's comments are an insult to millions of people in this land. He has no right to insult as he does millions of us who have given our allegiance in life and in death to this land. What does he seek to do—to erect the walls of yesteryear?

The Chairman

Order. That was a Second Reading intervention on a Second Reading passage of a speech that should be dealing with amendment No. 2. I am not prepared to listen again to arguments of principle related to Second Reading. Although I allowed such arguments to be deployed in moderation in the previous debate, which was on a wide amendment, I must correct the impression of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth): he may think that this is a widely drawn amendment, but I do not, and I shall rule accordingly.

Mr. Forth

Sir Alan, I not only accept, but welcome your guidance in these matters. In seeking to make proper progress, we should have due regard to an amendment' s breadth or otherwise. I had mistakenly thought that, in my amendment, I was seeking to import into the Bill a matter of broad principle. You have said otherwise and I accept that ruling without question.

Let us concentrate, therefore, on my amendment's very narrow point on reciprocity, which must be a relatively simple matter for the Committee to resolve. Are we prepared to contemplate the Bill proceeding without a reciprocal arrangement or not? At the other end of this deal are the Irish, whom, I tell the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), I was praising to the skies. I wish that we could have taken a similar approach to theirs in the matter. The Irish have within their law a provision that I should rather that we had. Regrettably, however, that is not the direction in which the Bill seeks to take us.

I suggest that the amendment would reassure the Committee, the House and the people of the United Kingdom that, at the very least, an equal and opposite arrangement could be established that would allow for the mutual exchange of members of the legislatures.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one problem with the Bill is the lack of trust on both sides? Is not inclusion of the principle of reciprocity essential if trust in both halves of the deal being delivered is to be built up? That affects every element in the Bill, including the narrow point under discussion.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I do not trust the Government's intentions with the Bill, as they have not explained the motivation behind it. Trusting the legislators of the Irish Republic is another matter, but their law makes their view clear. The risk is that, unamended, the Bill sends out an opposite and very dangerous signal.

Mr. Fabricant

Is not my right hon. Friend being a little unfair to the Dail, which has conceded that it no longer has territorial rights over Northern Ireland? Is not that a concession, and does it not suggest at least an element of reciprocity?

Mr. Forth

No, I am not sure that that is so. The gesture was important in terms of the Belfast agreement, but the problem of whether that agreement is relevant to the Bill remains. Many of us think that it is, but Ministers sometimes say that it may be, and at other times that it is not. Therefore, I am not sure that the radical changes that have taken place in the Republic of Ireland's constitutional arrangements are germane to this debate. Sir Alan has placed a very narrow construct on this amendment, so I am not sure that what my hon. Friend suggests is relevant.

The amendment speaks for itself. It states that the Secretary of State will not make an order to bring the provision into force unless he is satisfied that Members of the House of Lords and House of Commons are qualified for membership of either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland. We are talking about full reciprocity between two bicameral legislatures. That does not exist at present. The Bill would—

The Chairman

Order. I hope that I can assist the right hon. Gentleman. I know that it is not easy, when one is advancing an argument, to be aware of the words that one is using. However, I can assure him that I have listened extremely carefully. He has now repeated six times the wording of the amendment in one form or another. That is getting to the point of excess.

Mr. Forth

Thank you, Sir Alan.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Forth

Of course.

Mr. Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend consider it possible that some conflict might arise if Members of the Dail sought to become Members of the House of Commons, given the need to take the Oath or to affirm? Similarly, might there not be problems for Members of this Parliament when it came to taking the relevant oath—or whatever is required—required by the legislature of the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend makes an important point but I am not sure that it bears upon the substance of my amendment. It is one thing to enable Members to qualify for membership of a legislature; whether individuals think that they can do what is necessary to become Members is quite another. In other words, I may be qualified to become a Member of the Irish legislature, but if I did not feel able to take whatever oath was required there, I might not want to put myself forward. There is a real difference. I am involved only in stage one of the process, if I may put it like that, not stage two.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of any other country that allows its citizens to sit in another country's Parliament?

The Chairman

Order. That was covered fully on Second Reading, and is not permissible in the context of the debate on this amendment.

Mr. Forth

Thank you, Sir Alan.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

As one who seeks always to be a moderating influence on the deliberations of the Chamber, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether the real problem is not the fact that thus far reciprocity has not been formally offered or confirmed in law, but that the Republic of Ireland, having long pontificated on this matter, has yet to offer us the product of its lucubrations? Does he think that the problem is rather like that of Billy Bunter and the postal order that does not arrive?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend has the advantage of me in that he follows in detail the proceedings of the Irish legislature which, I confess, I do not. We are, in any case, sticking to the amendment, and I was about to say, partly in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), that I recognise that there could be an obstacle in the way of the amendment. I warn hon. Members that they may have to give some thought as to how serious that obstacle is. I refer to the different basis on which the political process works in terms of membership, election to this House and the Irish legislature.

Ireland has a proportional system of election that carries with it implications not only for the selection of candidates but for their election to the legislature. We, on the other hand, have our time-honoured and excellent single-member constituency system, whereby each constituency has the power—at least in our party—freely to select its candidates. I confess that that difference may be an obstacle to the full operation or fulfilment of the terms of my amendment. It need not be insuperable, because I still think that the fulfilment of its intention would rest with the individuals involved and their determination to exercise the right that it would give them to seek election to the Irish legislature from here or the right of Members of that legislature to seek election here.

I mention that in passing, because it may be a consideration in the minds of hon. Members. I leave them to decide. I believe that the obstacle can be overcome, but I would understand if colleagues felt that it presents great difficulty.

I do not want to test your patience any further, Sir Alan. You have been very kind in guiding me through the amendment. I characterised it with one word at the beginning, which was perhaps rather foolish of me, because it might have restricted my own approach to the amendment. I hope that I have said enough to persuade the Committee that this is a vital principle. It is completely absent from the Bill and is essential for the purpose of carrying it further. I hope that the Committee will give it serious thought and support it overwhelmingly.

Mr. William Ross

This has been an interesting debate so far, Sir Alan, and we are always glad of your guidance to keep us in order. Reciprocation and equality of esteem are buzz words in Northern Ireland, especially in Government circles. Parity of esteem is a phrase that we hear day after day—although not everyone believes that it exists, especially in the Government's attitude to the Unionist population of Northern Ireland.

12 midnight

In view of that, I confess to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that I shall treat the amendment as a probing amendment. I want to try to find out what the Government think about those matters, and what representations they have made, on behalf of Members of this and the other place, to ensure that they have absolute clarity as to the intentions of the Government of the Irish Republic. Do they realise that the people of the Irish Republic might have to hold a referendum on the issue if a change were required to their constitution?

Members of this place are not too clear about written constitutions; they are not clear as to their legality and the possibility of legal action, nor about the need to hold a referendum of the whole population before a change can be made to a written constitution. People in the Irish Republic could go to the High Court—as some members of our party did some years' ago—and obtain a decision declaring that any effort to set up reciprocal arrangements in this matter was completely illegal.

In those circumstances, even if the Government of the Irish Republic wanted to allow Members of this and the other place to stand for election to the Dail, that would not be allowed under the constitution. That would mean that if the Government of the Irish Republic wanted to make such a change, they would have to hold a referendum—at considerable cost to them. I do not know how many millions of punts it would cost, but it would cost a lot of money to undertake such a venture.

If the proposition were accepted, the way would be clear for Members of this place to stand for Dail Eireann as well as being able to sit in the Senate—as they can at present. In the Irish Republic, the Senate is partly elected and partly appointed by the Prime Minister—the way in which we seem to be moving in relation to the House of Lords. However, I shall leave that point, Sir Alan, as I see that you are becoming uneasy. I may be reaching the limits of your patience—stretching the elastic a little—and I should not want to do that.

Real issues are inherent in the measure. We have already discussed the possibility of conflict of interest as it might affect the Executive in Northern Ireland and people from the Dail or elsewhere who might sit here. Earlier, the Government made it clear that they accept that there would be a conflict of interest at ministerial level.

The amendment, in effect, turns the slate over—to consider what would happen if Members of this place should find themselves sitting in the Dail. In those circumstances, there would be a grave conflict of interest—perhaps one that would not be helpful to Dublin. Sitting in their midst might be an individual whose primary loyalty might not be to the Irish Republic and the whole concept of that nation.

Since yesterday, I have discovered that one does not have to take an Oath to sit in the Dail, although one does have to do so to be a Minister or to be the President. Indeed, at present, a citizen of the United Kingdom is President of the Irish Republic. However, as she is an Irish nationalist, and well known as such, she had no difficulty in taking the Oath, thereby deserting the whole concept of being a United Kingdom citizen. However, that is a side issue.

Mr. Maginnis

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on that point. Although he says that no Oath is required for one's entry to the Dail, does he agree that everyone subscribing to the Irish nation is bound by the Irish constitution? I illustrate that by asking whether he recalls the court case in which five judges ruled that there was a "constitutional imperative" on all Irish people to achieve a united Ireland. They did not say how that would be achieved. Articles 2 and 3—the territorial claim—have been got rid of, but there is still a "constitutional imperative" on every person participating within the Irish nation to pursue the Irish interest.

Mr. Ross

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. I had hoped that that court decision had been overthrown by events, but he is much more expert on that issue than I am, so I am prepared to go along with his word unless the Minister can clear up the matter. He is bound to have explored that possibility in depth, and to be in a position to give us a clear answer to the point made by my hon. Friend.

Let us imagine that a Member of this place arrives in the Dail. In those circumstances, the Government of Ireland, the people of Ireland and the Dail would be faced with a very able man—a man from this side of the water would need to be very able to get elected to the Dail. He would probably have to stand as an independent. I could not see him being a member of Fianna Fail. He might join the Democratic Left. He would be a powerful voice, whose first duty, if he was a Member of Parliament, would be to this House, as a member of this nation. That powerful voice would be in the Dail, pushing a social and economic interest that might be at variance with that which at present—

The First Deputy Chairman

The hon. Gentleman is putting a very interesting case, but the amendment talks about the Secretary of State being satisfied, so we are talking about a narrower case than that which the hon. Gentleman is putting at the moment.

Mr. Ross

I am trying to clarify to the Secretary of State the issues that he would have to consider before he reached that decision. I am also trying to help the right hon. Gentleman to have a clear understanding of all the implications of the question that would then be before him. As his behaviour in Northern Ireland has not been such as to convince many of us that he really understands the Irish question or the Irish people, never mind the Ulster people, he needs all the help that he can get.

The First Deputy Chairman

Yes, but all that the Secretary of State needs to know is about the confines of the amendment before us; and, knowing the Secretary of State, he is more than capable of doing that.

Mr. Ross

But the amendment must be set in the context—

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman is convinced that the current Secretary of State is very capable of being satisfied, but he might not be in post for very long. Who knows? Someone less capable could succeed him.

Mr. Ross

Of course, and it would be possible to find someone less capable and with less understanding of the Irish situation, who could therefore become a bone of contention between this nation and Dublin. We really would not want that to happen. As I was saying when I was hauled back within order, Mr. Martin, I believe that that would be a problem.

People from other foreign legislatures might want to sit in the Dail. As you will appreciate, Mr. Martin, I would not be one of them. If there is one legislature on the face of this earth that I do not want to be a part of, it is Dail Eireann, so there will be no problem in dissuading me from moving in that direction. I am very happy where I am, and I hope to stay here for many years to come.

Another problem that arises is that Northern Ireland citizens are treated as Irish citizens by Dublin. For instance, if I wanted an Irish passport, all that I would have to do would be to drive down to Dublin with my photographs and get it. Whenever passport offices here have queues stretching around the block, many people have gone to Dublin. They have done so unwillingly, and because they could not afford to lose their holidays. They could always get a British passport later. In passing, it is sad that UK passport applicants have to pay for the Government's misdemeanours in that area, but that matter clearly falls outside the limits of the amendment.

An all-party commission in the Dail is examining the possibility of allowing the Northern Ireland Assembly some sort of representation in the Dail. I have referred to the efforts made by Sinn Fein-IRA to allow Northern Ireland Members of Parliament to sit in the Dail. That is a dangerous road to go down, and we would need to know the underlying theory behind the IRA's demand. When the Dail talks about representation, it might not mean voting representation, so that would not be much use to anyone wanting to go there.

There is an excellent Library research paper concerning how a Member of Parliament—or any elected representative—can carry out duties in two disparate, different legislatures. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who has left the Chamber, seems to manage fairly well in three—this sovereign Parliament, the European Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, he is a man of enormous energy, and he can possibly manage better than the rest of us.

How could anyone carry out their duties in this House—as a Minister of the Crown, perhaps—and then hop on a plane and get over for a vote in Dublin, or vice versa? I can make it door-to-door in four and half hours from my home to here, but I cannot imagine people doing that every day of the week. There is also the question of who would pay the travel costs. Would the travel costs from here to Dublin be paid by Dublin, and vice versa? What are the ramifications of this proposal?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Once again, the hon. Gentleman is going wide of the amendment, and I think that he is aware of that. Perhaps he can get back to the confines of the amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I do not need to explain why. I am telling the hon. Gentleman that he is moving wide of the amendment.

Mr. Ross

I am always grateful for your guidance, Mr. Martin, and the guidance from the Chair is always sound—it is never wrong. However, I am trying to ensure that the Secretary of State, in reaching a decision, stays within the confines of reason and those elements to which he must give consideration.

Mr. Robathan

Is not it a qualification of membership of both legislatures that one must do one's job properly for constituents? If one has constituents in Leicestershire, for instance, one must look after them. However, if one has constituents in Connemara or Donegal, one must look after them. Surely those are two competing claims on the qualification for membership of both legislatures.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point which, down the years, has bedevilled those in the House who have looked at what should disqualify a Member of the House. One of the issues considered in terms of disqualification is the time available for a Member to carry out his duties in this place to his constituents.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Surely it is not just a question of the time demands on the hon. Members concerned, but the fact that the interests of the two different constituencies represented by the same Member of the two legislatures could well be in conflict with one another. How can that be resolved?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I am sorry to have to keep interrupting proceedings. However, I am reading the same amendment as the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross)—it is about the Secretary of State being satisfied, and not about whether a person is capable of doing the job.

Mr. Ross

I just want to say one sentence in reply to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) raised that very point yesterday, and it was definitely not answered. My hon. Friend made the point succinctly and it is well worth while reading his speech because it clearly illustrates the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

12.15 am
Mr. Swayne

It may be the lateness of the hour or the result of a momentary lapse of attention on my part, but the hon. Gentleman seems to be developing a powerful argument for voting against the amendments. Am I mistaken in thinking that he said that he was in favour of the amendment?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. To some extent, I am treating this is a probing amendment. However, if I am not satisfied with the answers that I receive from Ministers, I shall certainly vote for it. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has been a powerful supporter of the Unionist position and he has greater experience of these matters than I do. Therefore, I will, on this occasion, bow to his judgment. It will not take very much to persuade me to vote for the amendment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I wish to refer specifically to the words in the amendment. Will my hon. Friend interpret for me what he understands by the words that refer to the Secretary of State—and I hope to the House of Commons as well? It uses the phrase unless he is satisfied that Members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons are qualified for membership of either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland". What does my hon. Friend understand by the phrase "qualified for membership"? It could mean a whole range of things—their intellectual capacities, their educational qualifications or the fact that they are just Members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. How does he interpret those words?

Mr. Ross

That is one reason why I treat this as a probing amendment. Someone who goes to either part of the legislature of the Irish Republic must be an Irish citizen. However, as I pointed out yesterday, those in the Irish football team might not always be considered as members of the Irish nation. Some of them qualify to play for it because they have an Irish grandfather. I have heard the team described as the English second string, but it has done very well—and good luck to it.

I am curious about the provision and that is why I want my questions answered. Is the fact that a person is—or can claim to be—an Irish citizen sufficient to qualify him? What about Members of the House of Lords? I am not sure about the current position but, until recently, peers could not vote. Some well known peers have large properties in Ireland and live there part of the year. Are they qualified?

The Secretary of State has to make an order. Does that order have to be passed by both Houses of Parliament or will it be possible for it to appear in a preliminary form with white or green edges so that we could consider it and make representations about its amendment to the Secretary of State? What will the legislative procedure be to resolve the problems that are outlined in the amendment?

Mr. Fabricant

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument. He asked whether the Secretary of State alone or the House should make the decision. Surely the judgment would not be a qualitative, but a quantitative one. It would not be a question of opinion, but of fact. It would relate to whether Members of this House or the other place are entitled to sit at that time in the Dail.

Mr. Ross

That is a matter which could be resolved only by reference to the rules of the Dail and by reference to the Government of the Irish Republic. Perhaps, we could set up a committee between this House and the Dail to discuss and explore all the problems that might arise if we made a mistake. For example, we would not want to say that the hon. Gentleman could go to the Dail and then find at the last minute that the party that was depending on him or the independents that wanted him would not be able to choose him. That would not be right at all. We have to be dead certain that all the implications have been thoroughly thought through, the lines are clear and we know exactly where we stand. Enough has been said to illustrate that there are several difficulties that must be explored.

I draw the Committee's attention to the fact that the Government of Ireland Act 1920 disqualified members of the Northern Ireland Executive from sitting in the House of Commons. The Secretary of State should bear that in mind. I note in passing that, at present, Members of the European Parliament cannot be members of the Northern Ireland Executive. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) is not a member of the Executive, but the deputy leader of his party is. The same is true of the SDLP: the deputy leader is a member of the Executive, but the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) is not. The two members of those parties who are members of the Executive are, of course, Members of the House of Commons, but the leaders of those two parties are debarred by the rules of the European Parliament, of which they are Members, from taking up posts in the Northern Ireland Executive. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), nods.

That example demonstrates that reciprocity is not easy to achieve. There are all sorts of rules, regulations and problems that the Government have not fully thought through. It is the Committee's duty to explore such matters and to seek explanations in the hope that, this evening, we might receive an answer to one of our questions. If we did, it would make such a pleasant change that we would hardly believe our luck. I do not expect an answer to any of my questions, but I do ask for one. If we do not get any answers, I am sure that we shall return to these matters on Report.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) has complained about remarks made by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. If he were to stand, the hon. Gentleman might be elected to the Dail—[Laughter.] It is possible—he would certainly have a better chance than I would. One has to think through the steps one must take to get elected to the Dail. The Secretary of State should listen carefully, because both he and his Under-Secretary are familiar with the single transferable vote system of election.

I believe that there are one or two Dail constituencies in Dublin that send five, six, seven or eight Members to the Dail. Let us take a four-Member constituency—the mathematics are easier to work out at this time of night. Only 20 per cent. of the votes plus one vote are needed to secure election: that is the quota the candidate needs to be home and dry. As one moves down the list, fewer and fewer votes are needed to secure election. Even if the hon. Member for St. Helens, South received a relatively small number of votes—the absolutely derisory vote that results from a by-election in a safe Labour seat or a council election, both of which attract extremely low turnout—he could in such a constituency be home and dry, a Member of the Dail. Other Members of the UK Parliament might be able to do the same. However, if the hon. Gentleman stood in a place like Donegal, where the number of seats is carefully controlled so as to ensure that it is far more difficult to get elected—Donegal is where the pro-Union population lives—he would find it impossible to get elected.

I shall not weary the House with a chapter and verse description of the STV system of election—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] No, I shall not do so, if only because you, Mr. Martin, might consider such a description of the workings of the STV system and of the way in which the count is done to be out of order. I know that hon. Members would find it interesting, but, if not quite out of order, I would be stretching the First Deputy Chairman's patience.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

It would be breakfast time before we finished.

Mr. Ross

On many occasions, it has been breakfast time on the second day before the result is announced.

Mr. Brady

It may be out of order to go into detail about the single transferable vote, but I think that the hon. Gentleman has answered one of his earlier questions. With a multi-Member constituency, clearly a Member could come to this place and serve here while the other Members in the constituency worked for the constituents. That is one of the great failings of the multi-Member system.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman draws attention to a failing. However, he will understand that the Member who was carrying out his duties in this place would be throwing an extra burden on the other Members of the Dail elected. It would be possible for him to be only a representative of his party. The boundaries are often drawn as they are by the governing party because it knows how people vote. That Member could find himself getting into trouble with the Whips in the Dail, and we would not want that, would we?

An enormous number of points must be answered by the Minister when he responds to the debate. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State has left us again. That is sad because he is not taking enough interest in the ramifications of the matter. It seems that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will respond.

Mr. Brady

To the single transferable vote point?

Mr. Ross

The STV was wished upon us in Northern Ireland by the House of Commons. I note that the Government have cold feet and do not want to wish it upon themselves. Long may that happy situation persist because it is the most abominable system. Having had experience of other forms of proportional representation in this place, there is a certain coolness among those on the Government Benches towards the concept.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

With respect, I fear that the hon. Gentleman is straying a little far from the narrow confines of the amendment. I say that with respect, Mr. Martin. I draw him back to the specific point that is contained in the amendment about reciprocal arrangements and qualification. The hon. Gentleman has abbreviated his remarks generally, to the great loss of the Committee, and especially when he answered my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) about qualification. Was he speaking about legal qualification, and will he elaborate upon that in respect of the reciprocal arrangements? Or was he speaking about qualification in terms of political legitimacy? Will he elaborate on the issue and go into some detail in answering the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, which in my estimation he failed to answer?

Mr. Ross

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) arose because of his intervention. That being so, I did not have time to explore the point that he was raising. I wish that that time had been available to me because it might have been possible to have considered the issue in more depth. I shall keep in mind what he said and I hope that we can return to it on Report. It can be taken up in the House of Lords or perhaps when it returns to this place, having been properly amended. It is clear that the Bill needs many and various amendments that will be of great importance.

Mr. Fabricant

We all know that in this place we have role models. We have heroes whom we worship. It is fairly well known in the House of Commons that my right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is my hero. For that reason, I speak in favour of the amendment.

I was trying to get my head round the amendment, as we say in the broadcasting profession. I was trying to understand my right hon. Friend's motivation in tabling it. I think that the motivation was summed up admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), when he said, "Mr. Martin, it is all down to trust." Before I entered the House of Commons, in 1992, when some would say I did a real job, although they would be unfair in saying that, I was involved in setting up radio stations in about 48 countries throughout the world. In some of those countries one could easily come to a bargain; one simply shook a hand and the deal was done—for example, with the BBC in the United Kingdom, or in Holland. I would make an offer, it would be accepted and the deal would be done. In other circumstances, one could not always trust such a handshake, and reciprocity was required. If one wanted to enter into a contract, not only offer and acceptance but consideration were required.

12.30 am

Why do we feel that trust does not exist between us and certain elements with whom we have entered into negotiations in the past year? I do not wish to stray from the narrow terms of the amendment, but the answer is clear: trust does not exist because of decommissioning. When we entered into a contract with representatives of Sinn Fein-IRA, the terms made it clear that decommissioning would be undertaken. Yet, as we speak, at 31 minutes past the hour on 26 January, not one weapon or bullet has been handed over. Time ticks on.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Can my hon. Friend suggest the reason for Sinn Fein's failure to decommission in January or February if it intends to do so totally by May? Does that not suggest a lack of trust?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. There is no scope for discussing decommissioning on amendment No. 2.

Mr. Fabricant

I always take your advice, Mr. Martin, but my hon. Friend's point is well made. If an action is to be completed by May, it could be taken in January, February or March. Failure to decommission creates doubt and lack of trust. I have now got my head around the problem, and I realise why my hero and right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst tabled the amendment: there is doubt about whether trust can exist between the parties involved. I believe that shady dealing might well occur. That is worrying.

Mr. Hayes

It is all very well to talk about slap and tickle while shaking hands with heroes and others around the world—I am sure my hon. Friend enjoyed that. However, although my hon. Friend argues that we are considering a matter of trust, we are in fact discussing qualification. As I suggested to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), qualification is either a legal matter or a broader issue. It may well be broader, and cover some of the subjects that we debated earlier, such as the ability to serve a constituency, conflict of interest and so on. Rather than entertaining us with stories of Holland and other exotic climes, my hon. Friend should concentrate on qualification, which is at the heart of the amendment.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend's incisive mind has cut to the point like a scalpel. He repeated a point that I made to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) when I said that the ability of a Member of Parliament to sit in another legislature was a qualitative, not a quantitative matter.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst wants to put down a marker to the effect that trust cannot exist as long as decommissioning, and other factors involved in the agreements that have been reached, have not been fulfilled equally by both sides of the bargain. When concessions are made continually by one side and not the other—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making what might be considered a Second Reading speech. It might have assisted him to read the amendment before rising.

Mr. Fabricant

Thank you, Mr. Martin. I am reading the amendment now and I read it earlier too. It states that the Secretary of State shall not make such an order unless he is satisfied that Members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons are qualified for membership of either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland"— the Dail. I repeat that this is a quantitative matter, not a qualitative matter. It is not an analogue issue but a digital issue. It is either 1 or 0; yes or no. There is no rainbow. There is no spectrum. Either it is so or it is not so.

The reason for amendment No. 2 is a lack of trust. 1 thought that the Bill was fairly straightforward. The hon. Member for East Londonderry referred to an Act of 1920. I did not catch all the details and it is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman has left the Chamber. If any hon. Gentleman could assist by explaining the 1920 Act, I shall be most grateful.

Mr. Beggs

rose

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. It is not for any hon. Member to give details of a different piece of legislation. This is a narrow amendment, and the hon. Gentleman should speak to it.

Mr. Beggs

Does the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) agree that, despite the wording of the amendment, the reality is that it is simply a device to enable members of Sinn Fein-IRA to sit in both the Dail and the House of Commons? Let us face up to that.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman's intervention refers to, but the Committee is debating amendment No. 2. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Bill may be a device to allow something to happen, it is one thing—but the Committee is debating not the Bill as a whole but a narrow amendment to it moved by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

Mr. Fabricant

You are of course absolutely right, Mr. Martin. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that Members of the Dail will only be allowed to sit in this House if we are allowed to sit in their place.

Mr. Bercow

Some members have focused on the word "qualified"—rather as bees focus on a honeypot. Does my hon. Friend think that the critics of amendment No. 2 would have their concerns allayed if the word "eligible" were substituted for the word "qualified"?

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend, as ever, not only plays with words but uses them to the advantage of the Committee. It is not for me to speculate on what members of the Front Bench might wish to do.

Mr. Hayes

rose

Mr. Swayne

rose

Mr. Fabricant

I will give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who tried to attract my attention earlier.

Mr. Swayne

The thrust of my hon. Friend's argument is that there is a lack of trust, which requires us to build reciprocity into the Bill because we cannot wait upon the expectation that reciprocity will be provided if we do not. What I cannot follow is whether that reciprocity is desirable or desired.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend asks a perceptive question. Is the amendment desired or desirable? Surprisingly enough, the amendment is not the question.

Mr. Hayes

rose

Mr. Fabricant

I will not give way immediately to my hon. Friend, who was so rude about my previous career, but I will give way to him in a moment. Surely the point is that we are putting down a marker.

Mr. Hayes

I meant no discourtesy when I referred to my hon. Friend's previous career. I bear him no grudges, as he well knows.

The intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) seemed to be deeply confused, although my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield claims that he is a master of the language. He talked about eligibility and qualification as though they were significantly different in specific regard to the amendment. I suggest that if he looks carefully at the 1920 Act, he will understand that there is no significant difference and that eligibility for membership of either the House or the Irish Parliament lies at the heart of the amendment. Rather than entertaining us lavishly with stories about dancing over rainbows and all sorts of other interesting things, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield should draw attention to that specific point. I hope that he will do so with rather more speed than he has shown so far.

Mr. Fabricant

I am shocked, Mr. Martin. My hon. Friend is applying for your job. He may at least be trying to ingratiate himself and clearly wants to move on quickly, but he has missed the point and has not been following the arguments at all. As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West said, this is a question of trust. Why should we not trust those with whom we enter into a contract? That has everything to do with experience. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) that experiences, whether in business or negotiations over politics, colour one's mind as to whether one should enter into a contract with total trust. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst tabled the amendment simply because he has no grounds for trusting the other parties. Would it be right for the House of Commons to accept Members of the Dail to serve in it if there was no reciprocal agreement for Members of the House to serve in the Dail? The whole House would say that that would be wrong.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I am listening to my hon. Friend's argument with great care and ask for his interpretation of my view. It is possible that the amendment has been tabled to show that reciprocity is completely inoperable. If it is inoperable, the purpose of the Bill is unacceptable. Without reciprocity, it would be quite wrong for the House to grant to Members from another country and another Parliament the right and opportunity to sit in the House, and we have heard that reciprocity is out of the question and inoperable.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend raises a powerful point. He says that reciprocity does not exist, which is unacceptable to the House. Where has there been reciprocity so far? There has been concession after concession after concession, and they have all been one sided. I do not want to stray from the amendment, but I must say that although I was cautious at first about saying anything that I felt might damage the peace process, I see unfortunate parallels when I look back over the past few months and cast my mind back in history to what happened between 1936 and 1938. We have learned that if there is not reciprocity there will be defeat, cruelty and injustice.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings that it was perfectly valid to talk about my own experiences of negotiating in countries overseas. I believe that we have strong grounds to doubt the judgment and honesty of the other people in the negotiation and every reason to table and support amendments that ask for reassurance.

Mr. Hayes

I should like to make it quite clear that my attempt was only to bring my hon. Friend back to the confines of the amendment in respect of eligibility. I think he has moved with some speed on to that, and his final remarks clearly dealt with much of what I wanted him to cover. I did not mean any offence either to the Chair or to my hon. Friend, but that does not apply to the remarks I made about my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow).

Mr. Fabricant

On those very warm notes, and with a feeling of touchy-feely, huggy-kissy reciprocity—as far as my hon. Friend the hon. Member for South Holland and the Deepings is concerned at least—I will rest my case.

12.45 am
Mr. Fallon

It is a peculiar feature of this amendment that both its proposers, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), not only supported it but introduced arguments opposing it. Perhaps they were saving themselves the trouble of winding up their own debate. Who knows?

I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that I have exactly the same doubts about amendment No. 2 as I had about amendment No. 1. If one is opposed to the principle of the Bill, which my right hon. Friend signally is—he spoke against it with great distinction and voted against it not 24 hours ago—it is impossible to suggest to the Committee that it can somehow be improved by his amendment. If one is opposed to the principle that one cannot be subject to two sovereign states, that one cannot bear allegiance to two sovereign Parliaments, it is odd to suggest that that can simply be cured by reciprocity.

There is no logical limit to the point that my right hon. Friend makes. Let us suppose that the People's Republic of China offered us reciprocity. We could suggest one Member of this House who might well volunteer to be a member of the National Congress of China. But clearly that would be nonsense.

This leads me to wonder what motivated my right hon. Friend to propose this peculiar concept of reciprocity. I wonder whether there is some secret understanding that my right hon. Friend has negotiated with the Republic of Ireland, whether he has been given undertakings that the Republic of Ireland would welcome the candidacy of certain Members of this House. In tabling the amendment and advocating reciprocity, my right hon. Friend ought to come clean with the Committee and reveal any understandings that he has come to or that have been put to him about possible joint membership of the two legislatures.

I come, finally, to the crux of the amendment, which you, Mr. Martin, identified and about which there has already been some discussion: the whole question of qualification for membership. I would suggest to the Committee a further point, which lies not so much in the words "qualified for membership", although those words, as my hon. Friends have already pointed out, are fraught with ambiguity. There is also a problem with who is to be satisfied and the fact that it is the Secretary of State. In our system, the question of whether somebody is eligible to stand for Parliament is a matter of law, not a matter for the subjective judgment of a Secretary of State. It is a matter clearly set out in statute.

My right hon. Friend may have good and novel arguments for the reciprocity that he is putting forward, but I would ask him to address that specific point. Are we really right to leave to the subjective judgment of the Secretary of State—who is, whether we like it or not, a member of one political party—the decision as to whether candidates from other political parties are qualified to stand for membership of another legislature? That is a dangerous suggestion. The Chair has already indicated that it would be prepared to look kindly on manuscript amendments. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that, even at this late stage, he could table an amendment making it clear that the definition of qualification for membership should be set down in statute, and not left to the judgment of a Secretary of State.

Mr. Brady

Surely the Secretary of State would be bound by the normal principles. He would have to exercise his discretion with a degree of reasonableness, and would be open to judicial review if he did not do so.

Mr. Fallon

That is precisely the sort of eventuality that we should guard against. It should not be for the courts to decide who is eligible, after appeals, reviews, seats being declared void and so on. That is the whole point. We should set down in statute who is eligible to be a Member of this House. I do not want that to be left to the subjective judgment of the Secretary of State, to judicial review, or to an appeal process.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) and I are overcome with curiosity about who wanted to be a member of the Congress of the People's Republic of China. We think that it could only be the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath).

Mr. Fallon

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to deal with the south China question, but I will not allow myself to be tempted.

I think that my right hon. Friend needs to do a little more work on the amendment. I am not persuaded that simply proposing, negotiating or agreeing reciprocity will cure the faults that lie at the centre of the Bill. It is not possible to be a subject of two sovereign states, or to bear allegiance to two sovereign Parliaments. No amount of reciprocity with any assembly or Parliament in the European Union, the western world, China or anywhere else can deal with those fundamental faults.

Mr. Bercow

My hon. Friend has argued powerfully that two, three or four wrongs do not make a right. Does he agree, however, that it is particularly important in the context of amendment No. 2 to ensure clarity, and that discretion—fettered or otherwise—for the current incumbent of the post of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is especially dangerous, given that that right hon. Gentleman, whatever his talents, is a notoriously tricky customer?

Mr. Fallon

That is exactly the sort of suggestion that is bound to be made. Once the House decides to give discretion to any kind of Secretary of State, all kinds of questions are bound to be raised about that Secretary of State's party allegiance, his partiality, his own place in the peace process in Northern Ireland, and so forth.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will improve his amendment by removing the subjective test, and defining eligibility for membership in statute. Even if he is prepared to do that, however, I shall have deep reservations about the possibility of dealing with the whole question of dual loyalty simply by reciprocity. I do not think that that is enough, and, even if my right hon. Friend improves his amendment in the way that I suggest, unless he presents me with a much more compelling argument in favour of it, I shall not be prepared to vote for it.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I am sure that the Committee appreciated the forceful arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). We missed him here yesterday. Like him, I am totally opposed to the Bill. Unlike him, I voted against it; but I know—because he assured me in the Lobby—that, had he been here yesterday, he would have voted against it too. He would also have heard what was said yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), a former Northern Ireland Minister. He made some of the points that my right hon. Friend has made.

It is true that the amendment, which was moved so ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), contradicts the argument of my hon. Friends the Members for East Hampshire and for Sevenoaks that it is not seriously conceivable to have dual allegiance to two sovereign legislatures. It undoubtedly creates conflicts of allegiance, but the difficulty is that we have the Bill before us. The question is simple: having lost the Second Reading vote, do we turn our backs on the discussion, say that there is nothing we can do with the Bill and just let it go; or do we seek to amend it in some way to improve it, however miserable the improvement?

Mr. Swayne

Our contention is that, by multiplying the potential for wrongs, the amendment would make the Bill worse. [Interruption.]

Mr. Howarth

Did the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound), my fellow prison officer from Dartmoor, wish to intervene? I am sorry. I thought that he wanted to intervene.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howarth

Of course. I will take all interventions from New Forest.

Dr. Lewis

That is precisely the point. It is the first time that I have ever disagreed with an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). Surely the point is that, rather than multiplying the wrongs, insistence on reciprocity creates the possibility of retaliation. If someone who is going to abuse his status in the House of Commons when he sits for the Dail is made aware of the fact that retaliation can occur, he may be less inclined to commit that abuse in the first place.

Mr. Howarth

That is a forceful argument from my hon. Friend, who is the embodiment of the thermo-nuclear deterrent. I do not think that any of us would wish to cross him, but there are arguments for the amendment. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will make a speech at some point and will have to answer a number of questions. The amendment gives us the opportunity to probe further how it came to pass that the Bill was brought before the House in this form and why it is being rushed through with such expedition.

The amendment is of a dual nature. It seeks to provide that Members of the House of Commons and the other place should be either qualified or eligible, depending on the word we want to use, for membership of either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland. That is the key issue. It is at the heart of the reciprocity argument. If, as is provided for in the Bill, Members of the Irish legislature are to be permitted to have the honour to be Members of this legislature, there should be reciprocity.

The question of how the conditions for that reciprocity are determined—whether the Secretary of State has to be satisfied, or whether another mechanism is provided—is a separate matter. However, the amendment provides us with the opportunity to test the good faith of those who are behind the promotion of the Bill. I do not believe that the Ministers are behind the promotion of the Bill. They are merely the agents. We are trying to find out not who the monkeys are, but who the organ grinder is.

1 am

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Before my hon. Friend moves on to his next point, which I apprehend he will come to shortly, will he reflect a little further on the matter of reciprocity? Is it not a fact that reciprocity characterises many of the special arrangements between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom, not least in matters such as the common travel area? Would it not be a shame to depart in this Bill from the principle that underlies those arrangements? Might not such a departure bring to an end the undoubted good will that exists between the citizens of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic?

Mr. Howarth

If my hon. Friend is suggesting that there are already substantial spheres of reciprocity and that the Bill would mark a substantial departure from that precedent, he owes it to the Committee to give us a rather more detailed exposition of the point. I, for one, feel that he has only touched on the point and that we need a very much more comprehensive explanation of the extent to which arrangements between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom are subject to reciprocity.

Mr. Clappison

rose

Mr. Howarth

I shall give way to my hon. Friend, but I hope that he will be able to enlighten me more substantially.

Mr. Clappison

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I have been provoked to intervene also by the Minister, who I know enjoys my interventions on this type of subject.

The amendment would remedy a defect that would otherwise be present in the Bill, by ensuring continuation of the reciprocity that is a characteristic of so many arrangements between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. By contrast with what has been suggested by at least one Labour Member, the amendment is all about promoting good will between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic.

Mr. Howarth

Although I listened very carefully to my hon. Friend's argument, I still share some of the reservations expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon)—that the amendment would strike at aspects of the Bill's principle. Nevertheless, I support amendment No. 2 because I believe that the debate on it will provide a mechanism by which we shall be able to get to some of the truth of the matter, which we have not yet heard.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) asked the key question that has run throughout our debates today: why have the Government introduced the Bill? Is it part of a deal with Sinn Fein?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a case that should have been made on Second Reading. We are debating not why the Government introduced the Bill, but amendment No. 2.

Mr. Howarth

Mr. Martin, you are absolutely right, and I apologise for transgressing. It is just that I thought that the question was part of the theme running through our debates.

Mr. Bercow

I should like to clarify my hon. Friend's assessment of amendment No. 2. Does he agree that the amendment, whatever imperfections it may contain, is at least a variant on the theme of a multilateralist approach to the issue, whereas the Government's opposition to the amendment is emblematic of their preference, once again, for unilateralism?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is a charge that the Minister will have to answer. I am sure that the Minister is making careful notes—actually he is not, but he should be—so that he is prepared to answer the serious questions that I am asking him. He will have to answer them.

Mr. Robathan

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. Is it in order for hon. Members to read books, novels or newspapers in Committee?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Newspapers should not be read in Committee, but I do not see any hon. Member reading one.

Mr. Howarth

I will try not to give you a reason to rise to your feet again, Mr. Martin, so that you can enjoy sitting in that comfortable Chair.

As I was saying before my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) interrupted with his point of order, I believe that the amendment would provide us with an opportunity to test the good faith of those who are behind the Bill. Adopting the amendment's implicit reciprocity provisions would go some way towards sending out a signal that the Government are not trying to give a sop to Sinn Fein.

I cannot understand why the Government are adopting what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) called a unilateralist approach. Why is the Bill a one-way proposition? Why can Members of the Dail become Members of this Parliament, but we cannot go there?

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) spoke extremely interestingly earlier. I am only sorry that he could not enlighten us further. He asked what representations Ministers made to their Irish counterparts about reciprocity. Yesterday the Minister said: Separate development of direct interparliamentary links between the various legislatures was envisaged at the time of the Good Friday agreement."—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 28.] The concept of interparliamentary links implies links in both directions, but the Bill offers only a one-way link.

I hope that the Minister will tell the Committee with whom the discussions were held. From what he said yesterday one is entitled to assume that such discussions took place. Which Ministers were involved? Did they propose to their counterparts in the Irish Republic that this House would be likely to demand reciprocity if the Bill were introduced here? If so, what was the response of Irish Ministers? Did they say that people in the Republic could not permit people who had taken the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen to become Members of the Dail?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my hon. Friend accept that, were the Government to come clean about the purpose of the Bill, this amendment and others would be rendered unnecessary? Would not the Government then be able to know where they stand much earlier than would otherwise be the case?

Mr. Howarth

I am not sure that that would render this amendment unnecessary. However, it would at least to some extent curtail a debate characterised by the total lack of confidence among Conservative—and Liberal Democrat—Members about the Government's motivation in introducing the Bill.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I say again that the hon. Gentleman should not worry himself about the Bill but should consider the amendment before us.

Mr. Howarth

I apologise, Mr. Martin, for making you get to your feet again.

Mr. Hayes

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howarth

If my hon. Friend is not going to be abusive to me, I shall be delighted to give way to him.

Mr. Hayes

Abuse is my stock in trade, Mr. Martin. In an effort to concentrate his remarks on the specific issue in the amendment, will my hon. Friend give us his views on qualification or eligibility, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) tautologically—and thus rather uncharacteristically—describes it? What effect does that have on ministerial discretion?

The amendment deals with qualification and the Secretary of State's judgment about it. My hon. Friend has not elaborated on this so far, and the whole Committee is waiting, with great anticipation, to hear his views.

Mr. Howarth

I am touched that my hon. Friend should think that the Committee is waiting for my views on qualification. I said that I thought that the amendment was in two parts and that the satisfaction of the Secretary of State, or some other mechanism, was one aspect of it. I shall not be able to satisfy my hon. Friend in giving a great discourse on my views, because I regard the other aspect of the amendment as the more important.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that simply to repose confidence in the Secretary of State's ability to be satisfied or otherwise as to the eligibility of members of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland to be Members of this House is unsatisfactory. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, like all of us, had very little time in which to draft the amendment. In deference to him, I think that he has done a damn good job for the Committee in the short time available to him.

I wish to draw my remarks to a close, because I do not wish to detain the Committee too long. I have put fundamental points to the Minister. Were there discussions with his counterparts in the Republic of Ireland? What did they entail? Why was a clause providing for reciprocity not included in the Bill?

Membership of the House is a privilege and an honour. Unless the Government are prepared to accept the amendment, they are saying that we do not value such membership to the same extent as do other people in the House, because we are prepared to trade it away in return for nothing. I think that that is unacceptable.

Mr. Thompson

I am happy to speak in support of the amendment. The Bill lacks a provision of this kind. We have to ask why such a provision was not incorporated in the Bill from the start. It seems extraordinary that any Government of this United Kingdom would be willing to give a concession to the Republic of Ireland without, at the same time, requiring that a similar concession be given to us. Not to do so shows a severe lack of confidence in the United Kingdom and, indeed, a dereliction of duty to the United Kingdom.

1.15 am

Furthermore, we need to ask whether reciprocity was asked for when the Government were talking to Sinn Fein-IRA about the Bill. When they were talking to the Government of the Republic of Ireland about the Bill, did they ask whether there would be a quid pro quo from the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Swayne

In what way does the inclusion of the amendment respect the integument of the United Kingdom? Can the hon. Gentleman honestly say that he would have looked more favourably on the Bill if it had included the amendment in support of which he speaks?

Mr. Thompson

Of course, we do not like the Bill. We would like to have nothing to do with it. However, the reality is that the Government have introduced the Bill—whether we like it or not. Furthermore, they will pass the Bill whether we like it or not. As the Bill will be passed in any case, it is surely in our interests to try to amend it to the benefit of this place. We should point out its difficulties and weaknesses, and try to make some improvement.

It is incomprehensible that we are prepared to make such a concession to a foreign country without reciprocal action from that country. It is right that provisions such as amendment No. 2 should be tabled, and debated in Committee, in the hope that the Government might see the error of their ways, undergo a conversion and accept the amendment.

Did the Government ask for a quid pro quo, and, if they did so, was it refused? In the light of the answer to those questions, we will be able to consider the Government's status.

The amendment might have been better worded. All we want to know is whether, if Members of the Dail can sit in this House, Members of this House can sit in the Dail. The only way for that to be achieved is for a similar Bill to be introduced and passed in the Dail.

When the Secretary of State was appointing days for the consideration of this Bill, the only question he should have asked himself was whether a Bill would be put through the Dail giving the same rights to Members of this Parliament as we are prepared to give to Members of the Dail.

That would be a natural question for any sovereign Parliament to ask when dealing with matters that relate to a foreign country. The amendment is necessary and should command the full support of the whole Committee.

Mr. Brady

I shall be brief, given the lateness of the hour.

I have some comments to make on points that have been touched on, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), who has briefly left the Chamber. My hon. Friends have discussed whether qualified for membership of either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland is the most appropriate form of words. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) suggested that "eligible" might be a more appropriate word than "qualified". I do not consider that that achieves the desired effect. Nor am I entirely happy with the form of words that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) suggests, because I am not certain that the Secretary of State could be satisfied that Members of the House or of the other place were qualified for membership of either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland. However, one could expect him to satisfy himself that they were not disqualified.

There is an important difference because, in removing the disqualification that applies to Members of the Irish Parliament in terms of a right to sit in our Parliament in the United Kingdom, we should be seeking something that is equivalent to that in the spirit of the reciprocity of which my right hon. Friend has spoken. For the Secretary of State to satisfy himself that Members are not disqualified would achieve that purpose.

I also wish to pursue the use of the word "either" in qualified for membership of either House of the legislature". Does that presuppose that Members would be qualified for, or not disqualified from, membership of only one or the other, or must that wording imply that they would be eligible to sit in both Houses of the Irish Parliament?

Earlier in the debate on amendment No. 2 there was much talk about rights—of this Parliament and its Members, and those that we in the United Kingdom should be able to expect—and the theme of reciprocity was developed. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield focused on trust and whether the Irish Parliament might make an important gesture of good faith and good will to encourage good will in the peace process, in the way that the Government are seeking to do by introducing this measure.

I should like to approach the issue from another angle, taking a much longer view. What good reason might there be for a Member of the House to seek to be a Member of the Dail? It seems to me that, perversely, there is a better case for a Member of the House to seek membership of the Dail than the converse. It arises from the membership of this country and of the Irish Republic of the European Union, and, more particularly, from the fact that this country is a net contributor to European Union funds and the Irish Republic a net beneficiary of them.

Where we and the British taxpayer are expected to contribute money from which the Irish Republic can benefit, there is a good case for British politicians to take an interest in how British taxpayers' money is spent in the Irish Republic: a better case than there is, as the Bill stands, for Members of the Dail to sit in this Parliament and seek to have an input into the process—

Mr. William Ross

The hon. Gentleman should consider the good use to which the Republic of Ireland has put that money in terms of infrastructure. There are other lessons that we could learn, perhaps with regard to membership of the euro.

Mr. Brady

I do not wish to be drawn on to the question of the euro.[HON MEMBERS: "Go on!"] Perhaps I should. Clearly, if the UK were to join the euro, it would further underline the interdependency of the economies of the two countries. However, that would be equally true of the British and German economies, and that is outwith the scope of the amendment.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going far too wide of the amendment.

Mr. Brady

But that was exactly the point I was making, and that was why I was saying—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman need not say "But." He should get on to the amendment.

Mr. Brady

I am sure that you are right to make that point, Mr. Martin. I hoped that I was making the point that it would be wrong to go too far down the euro road, which the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) sought to take me down. On infrastructure, Members of this House may have a legitimate input into the question of how British taxpayers' money is spent in other EU countries, particularly the Republic of Ireland. As he knows, there are infrastructure projects that can benefit the north of Ireland as well as the south, and there are some that benefit one or the other. It is a valid point.

Mr. Bercow

My hon. Friend is right—consistent with your strictures, Mr. Martin—not to seek to refer to extraneous matters. However, on the strength of all that we have learned so far, is not reciprocity from the Republic of Ireland no more likely than the arrival of Billy Bunter's postal order or satisfaction of the convergence criteria for joining the euro?

Mr. Brady

Whether the postal order is in euros or sterling, I should not follow my hon. Friend in that direction. We are debating not whether reciprocity is about to be offered by the Republic of Ireland but whether we, as a sovereign Parliament, should insist upon reciprocity if we are to allow the Government to pursue the novel concept in the Bill.

I am arguing that we ought to require reciprocity from the Republic of Ireland—not that we should expect it to be volunteered, but that we ought to make it clear, as a sovereign Parliament, that we are not prepared to offer one side of the equation without seeing the other side brought in. That is what the amendment would achieve, and that is why Members on both sides of the Committee ought to support it.

Mr. William Ross

Before the hon. Gentleman gets too far away from the use made of the money on infrastructure, will he consider the tremendous advantage that the Irish Republic has gained in its work across the Irish sea between the Dublin area and north Wales as opposed to between Larne and Stranraer, which has had a bad effect on both Scotland and Northern Ireland—all with EC money?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. That has nothing to do with the amendment.

Mr. Brady

I agree, Mr. Martin.

Far from dealing purely with the question of rights, what we are owed, what ought to be given to us and what we ought to expect in return for something that we have given away, the behaviour of the British Government, and the nature of the Bill, are not appropriate in the modern age. The Bill has the whiff of coming from an imperial Parliament behaving in a rather high-handed way—not as it would in dealing with an equal sovereign Parliament, but as it would in dealing with a junior, subsidiary Parliament. We might be saying, "This is something that we are prepared to give away to Members of this small overseas subsidiary Parliament because we do not treat it as an equal sovereign Parliament." Ministers should consider the implications of pursuing such a policy. Surely, in 2000, we must treat the Irish Parliament as an equal sovereign Parliament and not as one that depends on the Westminster Parliament for favours and scraps thrown from the table. We should treat it on an equal footing. In the spirit of generosity that Ministers appear to have in wishing to extend the right to membership of this Parliament, the Irish Parliament could offer similar rights to Members of this House.

1.30 am
Mr. Forth

I find my hon. Friend's argument fascinating, but it assumes that we know what the relationship between the two Parliaments was during the process. We know either that the Irish asked for the Bill or that they did not and that we are offering it to them for nothing. Reciprocity arises in that context. I challenge him directly. Does he know how the Bill arose and the role of the Irish Parliament in it?

Mr. Brady

I shall come to that. I wish that I could promise my right hon. Friend real enlightenment. Sadly, Ministers have been opaque or reluctant to comment on the background to the Bill, but certain private comments outside the Chamber have suggested that some kind of deal may have led to the Bill being introduced at this time. Ministers have not told us whether there has been an approach from the Government of the Republic or whether they made an approach to that Government to request reciprocity. There has been no suggestion of whether there has been any contact—diplomatic or otherwise—on that matter. I am afraid that, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have been left in the dark.

Mr. William Ross

If we knew why the Bill had been introduced, we would have a clear idea of what was going on and knowledge—

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. We have heard that point again and again. It has no place on this amendment.

Mr. Brady

I am grateful to you, Sir Alan, because I feel a little tired. I am keen to conclude as quickly as I can.

One final aspect has not been dealt with, and Ministers, possibly with some inspiration, may be able to set my mind at rest about it. What are the implications of the Bill if amendment No. 2 is not accepted? Will it stand under the European treaties or will it constitute discrimination? I shall not stray into a discussion of tuition fees, but we have seen the relevance of the discrimination provisions of the treaties whereby it is not possible to discriminate against the citizens of one member state as opposed to those of another.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend knows that I do not have the great depth of knowledge of constitutional matters that he does. Is he saying that we can have Greeks in the Chamber as a consequence of the Bill?

Mr. Brady

I would not pretend to have huge constitutional knowledge. Colleagues on—

The Chairman

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pretend to go down the road along which he was invited.

Mr. Brady

No, indeed, Sir Alan. However, it is important that Ministers answer the point of law as to whether the possibility has been fully investigated that under European treaties discrimination may be held to arise if we extend to the citizens of one of our EU partner countries the right to sit in Parliament and to hold office in this country in a salary or fee-paying post, but deny that same right and freedom to the citizens of another EU partner country.

Mr. Hayes

My hon. Friend speaks of rights and freedoms, but the amendment referred specifically to qualification and eligibility. That brings us to the critical issue at the heart of the amendment: whether that means legal qualification or something broader. If we stray into the field of rights and freedoms, that qualification might be interpreted more broadly. However, I do not see it that way, and I should be grateful if he would comment on that highly pertinent matter.

Mr. Brady

I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend's contribution to the debate. I am sure that he can develop that argument far better than I can. He says, rightly, that we might be dealing with rights and freedoms; however, given the constraints of the amendment and its reference to someone being "qualified" and the Secretary of State being "satisfied" as to that person's qualification, we have to interpret that as implying some legal form of qualification. I do not believe that it can be interpreted to encompass those broader issues. However, my hon. Friend might be able to persuade us that it can.

Mr. Forth

While my hon. Friend is exploring the EU aspects of the amendment, may I draw his attention to the fact that the Bill contains no reference to its being compatible with the European convention on human rights? I thought that Ministers were under an obligation to assess the degree to which Bills comply with that convention. Following his incisive analysis of the European dimension, it strikes me that the Bill might breach the convention in that it does not extend full reciprocity to members of legislatures in countries that are signatories to that convention.

Mr. Brady

My right hon. Friend is too kind, but I fear that, for once, I must differ from his analysis. I suspect that, in scrutinising the Bill as closely as he has done, he did the obvious thing and folded it back on itself, for, on the covering page, there is such a statement. It makes it clear that the Home Secretary considers the Bill to be within the terms of the European convention on human rights; however, it makes no reference to and offers no analysis of wider issues of European law and treaties.

I draw the Minister back to a key question. At a time when the Government—contrary to the wishes of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself—are taking this country further into an integrated Europe in which national boundaries are diminished, we are tonight enshrining a new sort of discrimination, under which Members of the Irish Parliament can sit in the UK Parliament, but Members of the French, German and other European Parliaments cannot. Unless Ministers can give an assurance that they have examined the legal implications and that the Bill has a clean bill of health in that respect, we must at least contemplate making amendment No. 2, which would lessen the discrimination. Perhaps Ministers would prefer to table their own amendment on Report.

Mr. Hayes

If my hon. Friend refuses to deal with the question of qualification—I respect his right to do so, even after all I have done for him—will he at least deal with the issue of discretion? The amendment states that there would be a degree of ministerial discretion. If, as he suggests, there are legal constraints on the powers of the House and other alien bodies, that discretion would appear to be minimal. Will he comment on that matter?

Mr. Brady

I think that Sir Alan might wish to guide me that discretion would be the better part of valour. I shall leave my hon. Friend to elucidate his point. I am sure that it is valid and that he will advance a cogent argument.

I ask the Minister to make a simple, clear and unequivocal statement to the effect that advice has been taken and that there is absolute certainty within the Home Department and the Northern Ireland Office that the Bill will not lead to contravention of the European treaties.

Mr. Robathan

The amendment, which relates to reciprocity, goes to the heart of the Bill. Why should we be qualifying some people to come to this Parliament if we are not qualified to go to another Parliament?

I could not attempt to emulate some of the excellent speeches that have been delivered. I found my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) extremely persuasive. My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) was equally persuasive, but in another way. I find myself in a quandary. I cannot attempt to emulate either my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) in terms of entertainment value, on which I congratulate him warmly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) has stolen one or two of my arguments—

Mr. Brady

I apologise.

Mr. Robathan

That is all right. I shall try to advance them in my own way.

I wish to raise one or two points that have not been taken up so far in the debate on the amendment, and they go to the heart of reciprocity. The day before yesterday—I look at the clock—I attended more than half of the debate on Second Reading. I thought that I heard the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department say that the Irish Government were considering some form of reciprocal arrangements for Members of the United Kingdom Parliament. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would confirm that, either now or when he responds to the debate. That is important. Considering is insufficient but at least we would have some understanding of where the Government stand.

As I understood the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he responded to the previous debate, I should not expect him to make his entire position clear at this stage, but that must be done before the end of the debate.

If the Irish Government are considering reciprocity, there is no reason why the British Government should not accept the amendment outright. Surely we would not wish to be seen pre-empting the Irish Government, or moving with undue haste, when that Government have yet to come to their firm conclusion and make their own plans clear for British parliamentarians in the Irish Parliament. I hope that the Minister will clarify the position when he responds to the debate.

The amendment does not affect me because I do not wish to be a Member of the Dail. I suspect that not many Members of this Parliament do. It is quite a long way away and I am quite busy enough being a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. Indeed, I am very busy, it now being about 1.45 am. It seems that there must be a trade off if we believe that we should have the Bill in the first place, which I do not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West mentioned the legal position, which is important. On the European convention on human rights, the front of the Bill states that "Mr. Secretary Straw" believes: In my view the provisions … are compatible with the Convention". I am not a lawyer, but, without reciprocity, my human rights and those of all hon. Members may be infringed because we would be giving away something for nothing, and our granting of a right would not be reciprocated. The matter might be open to judicial review at the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Court of Human Rights has overstepped the mark recently and has trespassed on matters it was not envisaged that it would consider when it was established at the end of the second world war to prevent those horrors from recurring.

Mr. Clappison

I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend's argument. He should not rely too much on the statement of compatibility on the face of the Bill, because such statements come up with the rations. To prove a breach of the convention on human rights, one of the rights has to be breached. I have considered the point carefully, and I do not know which right the Bill breaches. Perhaps my hon. Friend can explore that.

Mr. Robathan

My hon. Friend is an eminent lawyer and knows far more about the law and the convention on human rights than I do. However, many cases of extraordinary depth are taken to the European Court of Human Rights and I am worried that the British Government may be in trouble because of the Bill. I agree that the statement of compatibility comes up with the rations, but let us consider the European Court of Justice, where there might be more scope for challenging the legislation than in the European Court of Human Rights if there is no reciprocity. Perhaps my hon. Friend can advise me about that.

We are members of the great European Union, and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If a Member of the Dail can sit in this Chamber, I should be able to sit in the Dail. To revert to the point about the European Court of Human Rights, a lack of justice or fairness that the Bill creates might be challenged under judicial review.

Let us consider trust. There is no reason to distrust the Irish Government if they are considering reciprocity, although Charles Haughey was convicted of being a gun runner and Albert Reynolds jumped the gun and shook hands with Gerry Adams on the steps of the Dail on the first day of the first ceasefire that the IRA declared. Nevertheless, there is no reason to mistrust the Irish Government

1.45 am
The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying far from the amendment. I stress to the Committee that if the same argument is played over and over, Standing Order No. 42 will be invoked.

Mr. Robathan

I bow to your judgment, Sir Alan, but could you briefly tell me what Standing Order No. 42 is?

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman will find out if he continues on his present course.

Mr. Robathan

I shall report to your study afterwards, Sir.

In the bounds of the amendment and reciprocity, I was trying to develop the argument that trust must exist between the two parties. We are told that the Irish Government are considering reciprocity. We are expected to take that on trust. However, in Irish politics, trust has been singularly lacking. We must also rely on the Secretary of State to make an order with which we are satisfied. I am happy to trust the Secretary of State but I know that a large number of Government Members do not.

Mr. Hayes

Inasmuch as trust is relevant to the amendment, if we are to trust the Secretary of State to interpret who is qualified, we need to understand what is meant by qualification. If it is a matter of rights—as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady)—there may be a call on some other body that has responsibility for rights. If it is a more narrow definition, that discretion will not be so wide ranging.

The Chairman

Order. Tedious repetition can arise in interventions as well. I have heard that point enough times.

Mr. Robathan

I shall not therefore respond to my hon. Friend, although he makes a good point.

The qualification for this House is election by one's constituents to come to this place. We do not know what will be the qualification for the House of Lords in the near future. We await a response to the Wakeham report and are in a state of flux. We have to trust the Government to produce stage 2 but they have not said when.

What qualifications must Members of the Dail fulfil in reciprocity before being allowed to become Members of the House of Lords? We know that the Prime Minister intends to achieve parity between the number of Labour and Conservative Members in the House of Lords. How will an Irish Member of the Irish legislature—Senate or Dail—satisfy the qualifications? Few will be able to satisfy the qualifications we have seen recently, such as sharing a flat with the Prime Minister when first living in London—as did Lord Falconer.

In drawing my remarks to a close—[HoN. MEMBERS] "No".—I have nearly finished my remarks but I hope that the Minister will address these points when he winds up.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), who is not in his place, raised interesting points about achieving reciprocity using two Oaths of Allegiance. That is a very old concept. If I may quote badly from the Bible, a man cannot serve two masters. It would be difficult for Members of this House, having sworn the Oath of Allegiance, to accept reciprocity in the Irish Parliament—for all the reasons that people understand.

I am conscience of your remarks, Sir Alan, about Standing Order No. 42—which I shall go away and read—so I shall draw my comments to a close.

Mr. Simon Hughes

On a point of order, Sir Alan. May I, through you, invite a member of the Government Front Bench to say how they propose to proceed? We started this debate more than eight hours ago, at 5.43pm. We have completed one whole debate and 11 debates are scheduled. We have completed four amendments or new clauses and there are 23 amendments or new clauses to debate. My grade in A-level maths was rather poor, but I have worked out that at this rate, we will not complete the business this side of 2.30pm.

It is obvious that the Government want us to lose tomorrow's business. If that is an intelligent way of treating the public, international development questions, Prime Minister's Question Time, the Financial Services and Markets Bill and a ten-minute Bill, let it be on the Government's head.

It would be more sensible for the Government to agree—if they can do so—that, with co-operation between the parties, time could be found to complete consideration of the Bill. Perhaps a full day could be given to that, should there be a gap between the debate and the end of the deliberation. I wonder whether you, Sir Alan—through your good offices—could allow a Minister to say whether a more sensible way of proceeding might be available to us, rather than going on, as we are all quite able to do, for another 13 hours without completing our consideration. The Government have implicitly referred to the great sense of urgency in respect of dealing with the Bill, but we may have to consider it on another day.

The Chairman

That was a very long point of order. The House has passed a motion saying that the business can proceed until any hour and I have not received any intimation that it is to be invited to depart from its decision. Unless someone intervenes, there is nothing more I can add and we must proceed.

Mr. Maginnis

Reciprocity goes to the heart of the Bill. It should be drawn to Members' attention that Sinn Fein, for which the Bill has been drafted, boycotted the Irish Parliament for more than the first 70 years of its existence, although amazing progress has been made. It boycotted the Dail in 1921 and did not lift that boycott until the 1990s. We have all been puzzled about why we should have a unilateral accommodation, but I shall not repeat that question; you, Sir Alan, know very clearly why it puzzles me, as it has puzzled those who have articulated it again and again during our proceedings.

Mr. Cash

The hon. Gentleman referred to the 70-year boycott, but does he accept that we could consider the home rule incident of 1886, in which it was clearly stated that Mr. Parnell would certainly have preferred the exclusion of the Irish Members from the House? The irony is that, far from a policy along the lines of Mr. Parnell's being adopted, the exact opposite—including rather than excluding the Irish Members from the House—is being implemented.

Mr. Maginnis

I bow to the hon. Gentleman's erudition. I am afraid that my academic knowledge is not as great as his. I am particularly concerned about what little I have heard from those on the Treasury Bench. I should perhaps dwell on the special relationship, which was emphasised early and repeatedly by the Minister on Second Reading. I hope that a special and honourable relationship based on trust and reciprocal confidence is developing, although such a special relationship was not terribly obvious to me in the years when my friends—members of the security services—were fighting the IRA and finding that every impediment was put in the way of the extradition of terrorists.

2 am

I concede the point, in latter-day terms, of a special relationship, however. If that latter-day relationship is to develop, I wonder why this House proposes to adopt a different attitude to Sinn Fein from that currently being adopted by the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, who has clearly stated—I think during his recent visit to South Africa—that he would not countenance having members of Sinn Fein in a coalition Government which he led in the Dail. He has indicated that such co-operation with an organisation which retains a terrorist army, with its weapons and explosives, would not be something that a self-respecting Irish Taoiseach could contemplate.

How do we come to a situation in which—as is now quite apparent—we make a provision exclusively to allow members of Sinn Fein to be members of the legislature in Dublin or of any other legislature, whether it be this sovereign Parliament or one of the devolved assemblies?

Mr. William Ross

My hon. Friend has said that the position between ourselves and the Irish Republic is improving, and he mentioned extradition. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the case of Mr. Fusco has been resolved, and that he is being extradited?

The Chairman

Order. That is quite outside the scope of the amendment, and I think the hon. Member knows it. May I also say to the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) that we cannot have another debate on Second Reading? The House has given a Second Reading to the Bill and has therefore agreed its principle. I cannot listen to arguments now about that principle; I can listen only to arguments about the particular amendment we have in front of us.

Mr. Maginnis

Sir Alan, you will have noted that I have been particularly careful not to stray into the old Second Reading debate. I particularly emphasized—

The Chairman

Order. I have ruled that in my opinion the hon. Member most certainly strayed in his remarks immediately before the intervention. That is precisely where he strayed, and I do not wish to hear him stray there again.

Mr. Maginnis

I deeply regret it, Sir Alan, if I strayed. I have been endeavouring to stick with the basis on which reciprocity might be achieved, and I intend to discover whether in fact reciprocity is possible, given the constitutional position that currently exists within the Irish Republic. I hope that it is possible for me to try to discover that.

One thing that some hon. Members seem not to understand is that I, as a member of the region called Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, am accorded by the Irish constitution a special privilege, in that I am to be cherished equally as one of the children of the Irish nation. The same applies to my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). If that is the case, I have no doubt that if I sought to stand, as Austin Currie and John Cushnahan have done, for a seat in an Irish Republic constituency, I would be permitted to do so.

The inequality—in terms of this Bill being brought forward by this Parliament—is that someone living in Scotland, England or Wales would not be cherished as a child of the nation; nor could that person be. Hence some Members of this House claim that such reciprocity is not possible within the terms of the Irish constitution.

A question then arises that has been touched on, although not in any depth, by other speakers. Does a Bill that facilitates matters for Northern Ireland Members such as myself, but excludes Members from Scotland and England and Wales, discriminate? If this Bill discriminates, I believe that it infringes the European convention on human rights. Therein lies a major problem, in terms of what is in the Bill and deemed to be effective on the authority of the Home Secretary.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the European Court of Human Rights. Did he listen to the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), who said that there might be a breach of European Court of Justice rules whereby it would be wrong to discriminate against some European Union countries while allowing others to take part in representations in the Dail or, indeed, in this Parliament?

The Chairman

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to get into the bad habit of repeating himself, or repeating what has been said by other Members, because neither is permissible. I also hope that he is not going to get into the habit of turning his back on the Chair.

Mr. Maginnis

Thank you, Sir Alan.

I do not pretend to be an expert on European law, but I know about the emphasis that Government place, again and again, when they introduce Bills in the House of Commons applying to Northern Ireland. When we debated the Patten report—I do not want to alarm you, Sir Alan; I simply want to illustrate a point—the human rights element was repeatedly emphasised. This Bill, however, contravenes the human rights of Members of Parliament from Scotland, England—

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman has just made a statement about a Bill to which the House has already given a Second Reading. It is not permissible for him to start to argue about a Bill to which the House has given a Second Reading—

Mr. Cash

rose

The Chairman

Order. I am on my feet.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) must confine his remarks to the amendment. He is straying outside it, and I must ask him not to return to matters relating to Second Reading.

Mr. Cash

On a point of order, Sir Alan. An interesting point has occurred to me following remarks that I have just heard about the class of persons affected by the Bill, and the manner in which different persons within that class are treated. I should like a ruling on this, Sir Alan. Is it possible that—if we take the House of Commons as a class—the Bill is hybrid? Clearly, on the basis of the arguments that I have just heard, there are distinctions to be drawn within that class which, on adjudication, could cause it to be construed as such.

The Chairman

That is not a point on which the occupant Chair is entitled to rule. It is a matter of public policy.

Mr. Cash

Further to that point of order, Sir Alan.

The Chairman

Order. I have ruled on that point of order. Unless he has an entirely fresh one—

Mr. Cash

rose

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot be on his feet if I am on mine. I have said that I can accept only a different point of order, as I have just ruled on his previous one. If the hon. Gentleman has a fresh point of order, I will listen to it.

Mr. Cash

With the greatest respect, Sir Alan, the question whether this is a matter of public policy is not exclusively one that deals with hybridity. I asked whether there was hybridity, on which an adjudication may be required from the Speaker.

The Chairman

I am satisfied that there is no question of hybridity in relation to the Bill.

Mr. Maginnis

rose

Mr. Robathan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maginnis

I will.

Mr. Robathan

I should like to raise specifically the question that the hon. Gentleman was addressing—whether the failure to ensure the reciprocity mentioned in the amendment would be open to judicial review. We have mentioned that before, but did not explore all the avenues. I am particularly concerned about that. The Home Secretary has said that he does not believe that the measure could be open to judicial review; but does the hon. Gentleman have any faith in the Home Secretary's recent judgments on various cases in the public domain, be it Tyson, Pinochet or whoever?

Mr. Maginnis

I will not be tempted to make an adjudication on either Pinochet or Tyson, but I believe that, on this issue, the Secretary of State is in error. The Minister has an obligation to persuade me otherwise. He can do so by indicating how, while the negotiations were being conducted—

Mr. Hayes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maginnis

I will, but I should like to develop that point.

Mr. Hayes

I want to be absolutely clear about the hon. Gentleman is saying. Is he saying that the amendment invalidates the Bill on the ground that it introduces measures that depend on equivalence between the two Parliaments? Where that equivalence does not exist because of constitutional bars, surely the amendment would damage the Bill; indeed, it would make it impossible to implement.

Mr. Maginnis

That is not exactly what I am saying. Again, I am always self-conscious about the guidance that I receive, but I will try to clarify the point, with your indulgence, Sir Alan. I am saying that, within the scope of my knowledge of the Irish constitution, reciprocity is not possible at this stage, but that it should be sought if we are not to find ourselves with a Bill that discriminates, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) suggested, against a class—that class being hon. Members.

Mr. Hayes

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If he is saying that there is a constitutional bar, surely it would not be a matter that ever came before any external alien court, Parliament or body; it would relate to existing arrangements in respect of the Irish constitution. On the one hand, the hon. Gentleman is saying that something is not possible and, on the other, he is saying that it would contravene European law.

2.15 am
Mr. Maginnis

The hon. Gentleman must not attempt to blind me with science.

I was saying that the House is entitled to insist on a caveat that, unless there is reciprocity embracing all hon. Members, so that they are eligible to be Members of the Dail, the Bill's provisions should not be implemented. I cannot stop the Bill becoming law, but it should contain the caveat that its provisions cannot be implemented until the inequity within it has been dealt with.

Mr. Cash

I am extremely interested in the point that the hon. Gentleman has just made. With great respect to you, Sir Alan—with whom I am not prepared to disagree at this juncture—I simply say that the point about equity is the essence of the notion of hybridity. There are special procedures in the House to deal with those matters, which can be adjudicated only through proceedings provided in Standing Orders.

Mr. Maginnis

The hon. Gentleman has again made his point, and I cannot enlarge upon it.

Mr. William Ross

I have been trying to intervene on my hon. Friend for some time, but such was the interest in his remarks that other hon. Members wanted to have them clarified.

My hon. Friend's knowledge on these matters is greater than mine, and I, too, seek clarification. He has drawn attention to the potential inequity and discrimination suffered by hon. Members, and he related that to the fact that people in Northern Ireland were treated as children of the Irish nation. However, as he will know, it was not only people in Northern Ireland who were so defined by the Irish constitution; so were all those whom Ireland considers to be Irish citizens, including many persons who might enjoy dual citizenship with the United Kingdom. In such circumstances, my hon. Friend would surely be wrong to confine membership of that group to those who live in Northern Ireland. The group embodies a much larger number of people, who live not only in the United Kingdom but elsewhere in the world.

Mr. Maginnis

My hon. Friend makes a point that was developed Mary Robinson during her presidency, when she talked about the Irish diaspora. But I do not think that that point impacts on the specific point that I was making concerning the reciprocal rights of Members of this House.

Mr. Robathan

The point about how the law affects people in the United Kingdom is extremely important. If there is no reciprocity between Dail Members and Members of this place, and if—as the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has just suggested—members of the Irish diaspora who are Members of the House of Commons are allowed to sit in the Dail, it seems that there will be immediate discrimination between an English-born Member like me and southern Irish-born Members, of whom there are many in the House—

Mr. Ross

And their descendants.

Mr. Robathan

Yes. Although I am not a lawyer, I suspect that, without the reciprocity clause, the consequent discrimination would constitute a prima facie offence against the European convention on human rights—and, almost certainly, against English law.

Mr. Maginnis

The hon. Gentleman hits the nail on the head. I hope that that is the point I have succeeded in making to Ministers, because it is the nub of my argument.

I move on in trepidation. Once again on reciprocity, I press the Minister to tell us whom he consulted. He could clarify the point by telling us whether he talked to each individual major party in the Irish Republic. He could achieve reciprocity by agreement with those parties. The strange thing is that the members of the Dail's all-party constitutional committee were neither in favour of nor against reciprocity. They were totally ignorant of the matter, which had not been put to them for consideration. They were worried about conflict of interest, as has been noted. Who had the authority, on behalf of the Irish Government, to offer reciprocity?

I am not as clear as the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) that the Minister did in fact suggest that such an offer was made. I hope that the Minister will enable me to move forward by saying whether an offer on that issue—vague or otherwise—had been made by the major parties in the Irish Republic. I hope that he will accept that challenge, but I see that he is keeping his head down. I recognise the Minister's reluctance to inform the House on the question of reciprocity and the basis on which certain assumptions are being made.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

Perhaps I can deal with those questions if I catch your eye later in the debate, Sir Alan.

Mr. Maginnis

I was briefly lifted up, Sir Alan, only to be dropped again by the Minister's reluctance. However, if his promise is realised later, it is possible that some progress might be made.

I remind the Minister that the Irish constitution contains an obligation to cherish the children of the nation. I like to be cherished. I should like to believe that any cherishing done was real and had some depth. However, when Austin Currie—to whom the Minister alluded earlier—tried to make a point in Dail Eireann, using his usual blunt Northern Ireland manner, a southern Irish Member of the Dail told him to go back to the north where he came from. All the children of the nation were not being cherished quite equally on that occasion.

The Bill diminishes the long and honourable tradition of this House whereby hon. Members have always had a clear idea of their obligations and loyalties. However, I wonder whether the Bill means that all Irish can be British, even when they do not want to be, but that no British can be Irish, however much they might wish to be. The reality is that most of us have enough to do representing the interests of one nation.

The Bill asks us to divide our loyalties. Reciprocity would require both nations to try that impossible exercise.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

I shall seek to heed your direction that the issue is narrow, Sir Alan, and speak only to the amendment. It would prevent the Bill's coming into force unless and until membership of either House of the Irish Parliament was fully open to Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) sought reciprocity. We ban Members of the Irish Parliament from being Members of this House. There is no provision in Irish law similar to section 1(1)(e) of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords—and, indeed, Members of the legislatures of other countries—are not disqualified on that account from membership of the Irish Parliament. To that extent, the reciprocity sought by the amendment already exists. Members of the Irish Parliament are, however, required to be Irish nationals. Of course, most Members of the United Kingdom Parliament do not satisfy that condition and are therefore not eligible for membership or election to the Dail. Others may be qualified, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) said in his intervention, by reason of their birth or other status. As the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) said, under particular laws in the Irish Republic, certain people who were born on the island of Ireland can stand.

Dual nationality is open to certain persons who have British national rights, holding Irish nationality at the same time, and who hold both passports. I understand that many people in England and Wales hold British and Irish passports.

The Bill—the clause depends on this point—raises no new principle in the sense that Commonwealth legislators can be Members of this House. We do not impose reciprocity of legal frameworks on Commonwealth legislators. I have heard no justification as yet for imposing a condition that we do not believe is desirable in respect of Commonwealth countries on Members of the Irish Parliament.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. O'Brien

I should like to finish my point first. Some hon. Members have said that they do not believe that even Commonwealth legislators should be able to be Members in this House. Hon. Members may wish, at some stage, in another context, to consider all these issues, but this very short Bill, which deals with a specific matter, is not the place to do it.

Mr. Maginnis

The Minister has made the mistake of not comparing like with like. Whatever the reciprocity, or lack of it, is for Commonwealth countries, it is common to all Members of this House. That is not the case with the Irish Dail.

Mr. O'Brien

I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The reciprocity to which he refers is the issue of whether, under the nationality laws, membership of a particular Parliament is open to persons who are not of that nationality. I do not know the terms and restrictions imposed by all the Commonwealth countries, but I suspect that some have a condition under which the only people who can stand for their Parliament are nationals of that country. In that case, I am comparing like with like. Given the sort of reciprocity with the Commonwealth that we are discussing, I have heard no real justification for treating the Irish Republic differently.

2.30 am

During the debate, the hon. Gentleman and others asked who might want to take up the right to be a Member of two Parliaments. Comment has been made—although it is not on all fours with that matter—about the circumstances of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who was, at one time, a Member of the Irish Senate. The hon. Gentleman is a well-respected Member of this House, and he did not lose that respect as a consequence of his membership of the Irish Senate. Sometimes hon. Members refer to that matter in a rather joky fashion; they should be careful about doing so, because they are talking about an hon. Gentleman whom we all respect—whether or not we always agree with him.

Mr. Robathan

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien

I want to deal with some of the points that were raised by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), and then I shall give way to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I shall also deal with the point that he made.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry asked several questions. Do the Irish need a referendum to allow British Members of Parliament to join the Dail? Of course, they do not because they do not ban our MPs from joining the Dail. They do not need to change their law. As I understand it, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh was at least able to be a Member of the Senate.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry referred to the conflict of interests that would arise if someone was a member of two legislatures in different countries. We know that individuals have held such membership, although not necessarily simultaneously.

Mr. Clappison

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien

I shall not give way at the moment, as I want to deal with the points made by the hon. Member for East Londonderry before giving way to several other hon. Members.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of conflict of interests. If a person were elected to two constituencies, the issue of representing them both would certainly arise—as the hon. Member for Blaby suggested in an intervention. However, that would be a matter for the constituents in the two countries. They might well have a view, but it would be a matter for them.

At present, our constitutional arrangements allow the potential for that choice in voting to be made by citizens of Commonwealth countries and by UK electors. It would be difficult to argue that we should have different rules on the matter for the Irish Republic, although there might be questions about someone who was appointed to the Senate, but elected to a British constituency.

It would be arguable whether that was desirable, but the conflict between the two roles would be somewhat less because there would be constituents in only one country, although there might be questions as to where a person's loyalty lies. That point returns us to some of the issues raised on Second Reading, which I shall not rehearse, about people representing other countries—perhaps in the European Parliament and the British Parliament. There are precedents for those matters.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry asked what view the UK electorate would take on this matter. I can only reply that it is a matter for them. The voters would have to make their judgment in the circumstances that applied on each occasion.

Mr. William Ross

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien

I promised to give way to the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, but I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for East Londonderry.

Mr. Ross

The Minister is well aware that, if someone were elected to two constituencies in this country, he would immediately be asked which of them he planned to represent. He would be excluded from one House in respect of the other. Why does that proviso not also apply across the borders of our nation?

Mr. O'Brien

The issue of where a Member of Parliament's loyalty lies is one for that Member's constituents. They will have to deal with that. We know that some individuals have been Members of the Irish Senate and are now Members of the House. They do a good job—at least, the one individual that I am aware of does a good job here.

Mr. Bercow

rose

Mr. O'Brien

I have promised to give way to the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). I just want to deal with another issue and then I shall give way to him.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) raised in an intervention the issue of whether the wording of the amendment was unclear, especially in respect of the word "qualified". However, the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) suggested that such an issue was all a matter of fact. There is room for doubt, and there is an issue about whether the wording of the amendment is clear enough for us ever to accept.

Mr. Clappison

The Minister told the Committee that there would not have to be a change in Irish law to enable Members of the House to take a place in the Irish Parliament, because Members of the House are not disqualified from the Irish Parliament by virtue of being Members of the House. But they are, are they not, disqualified from being Members of the Irish Parliament if they are not Irish citizens. Therefore the Minister must accept that there would have to be a change in the law in that regard.

Mr. O'Brien

Had the hon. Gentleman listened with care to what I said, he would have been aware that I have made the point that he just made, so there is no great dispute between us about that. Obviously, it would be a matter for the Irish Government. The way that I dealt with that was to say that we do not impose on Commonwealth countries to whom we apply these rules the obligation to change their laws to enable Members of the House to stand in their Parliaments. I suspect that some of those Commonwealth countries would have rules about the nationality of persons who could stand in elections to their Parliaments.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) asked whether the Bill contravened European legislation. Our advice is that there is no breach of the European convention on human rights, or any other European legislation that we are aware of.

Mr. Robathan

This is a very important point. I fear that, by trying to pass the Bill without an amendment for reciprocity, the Minister and his colleagues may have opened a can of worms. I am not as sanguine as the Home Secretary about this. Article 14 of the European convention on human rights is about the prohibition of discrimination. A very small part of it says that the enjoyment of rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination inter alia on grounds of national origin". That lovely can of worms is now being opened up by the Bill, whereby people with dual citizenship or Irish citizens in this Parliament will be able to sit in the Dail, whereas, without reciprocity, English citizens such as myself will not. That seems to be contrary to article 14.

Mr. O'Brien

The Home Secretary is a lawyer, as I am. We have received legal advice that there is no contravention of the ECHR, and that article 14 must be read in the context of the other articles with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar, and the Human Rights Act 1998.

Mr. Bercow

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien

I do not propose to give way again. I have been quite generous.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone asked me two more questions. I am being cautious and watching your eye, Sir Alan. He asked me about the issue of reciprocity in terms of the law. The Scotland Act 1998 provides that Ministers in the United Kingdom Government cannot be Ministers in the Scottish Executive. That provision extends no further, so there is no ban on the election of an individual to both bodies. Moreover, there is no reference in relation to the Welsh Assembly Executive and the UK Executive in the Government of Wales Act 1998.

I dealt with the question of whom we discussed the matter with on Second Reading, but let me make it clear that representations have been received from, and discussions held with, the leader of the Ulster Unionist party and the Irish Government. I understand that representations have been received by the Government from Sinn Fein. However, let me make it clear that the Government are not trading on issues. As always, representations are judged on their merits, and I believe that the measures in the Bill are justified on their own merits. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone will be aware also of the issue in relation to clause 2 and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).

Mr. Maginnis

Although the Minister of State Northern Ireland Office has clarified this point, will the Under-Secretary also clarify that what he calls consultation with the leader of the Ulster Unionist party was not, in fact, consultation before the event, but rather was informing my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) after the Bill had been decided upon? Would the Under-Secretary clarify that my right hon. Friend indicated his antipathy towards the Bill, and that he mentioned the flaw in terms of conflict of interest—

The Chairman

Order. I do not see how that relates to the amendment.

Mr. O'Brien

I was not party to the discussions, but the Committee will have heard what the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said.

Mr. Maginnis

On a point of order, Sir Alan. Can the Minister come to the Dispatch Box and say that there was consultation with the leader of the Ulster Unionist—

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of this House, and he knows that the Chair has absolutely no control over what Ministers, or anyone else, say in the House. That is not a point of order.

Mr. O'Brien

With your indulgence, Sir Alan, I would be happy to answer that question when I am in order. Hopefully, in due course, I shall be provided with the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien

No, I will not.

The Conservatives have argued that there is an issue of principle here. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 contains a provision for a Member of the Irish Senate to be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I understand that the Conservatives did not vote against this matter—indeed, it did not seem to be worth significant comment by them.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst did not vote against the measure, and did not seem concerned enough to comment. We are merely building on a principle that was established without demur by the Conservatives, and ending the anomaly whereby the measure applied only to Northern Ireland. We are ensuring that Northern Ireland is treated in the same way as the UK as a whole. All of a sudden, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst is suggesting that there is a matter of principle where, previously, there was none.

Mr. Simon Hughes

My colleagues and I have made no contribution to this debate so far, but I wish to put our position on the record.

We think that the Government are right to argue their case, and we would encourage the amendment's supporters not to proceed with it. Whatever we think about the background to the debate, our view is that we cannot have proposals considered by this House on the basis of linkage with other activities involving other sovereign Governments over whom we have no control. It might be a wonderful idea if the Irish Parliament decided to extend rights not just to citizens of Ireland in Northern Ireland, but to the whole of the UK. However, we have no knowledge that it is about to do that. It is not a matter that we can control. Therefore, to make the Bill conditional on what might happen to our rights to sit in the Dail is unreasonable.

2.45 am

I wish to make a technical and drafting point. I suggest to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that, surprisingly, two interpretations can be placed on the amendment. As the Minister said, the first is satisfied by the position of Members of the Lords. Some Members of the House of Lords and of the House of Commons are qualified for membership of either House of the legislature in the Republic of Ireland. It is fair to say that only those Members from Northern Ireland who are eligible for Irish citizenship qualify under that interpretation. If that is what the amendment suggests, it is redundant. If the amendment is intended to apply to all Members, that is a separate matter, but that is not what it says.

We shall come to later groups of amendments that it is perfectly appropriate to debate. They deal with who should not qualify to become Members of the two legislatures, because, for example, they hold ministerial office. That is a perfectly proper matter for us to debate and Liberal Democrats will vote in favour of some of those amendments if they are moved and put to a vote. However, that is different from the issue under consideration in this debate.

We have tried to give balanced consideration to all the issues. We have not changed our view about the concern that we have not been told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about why we are debating the Bill—let alone why we have to debate it at a quarter to 3 in the morning as a matter of urgent House of Commons business when it came on the agenda only late in December.

The Bill seeks to deal with a mischief and to put Ireland in a similar or better position than Commonwealth countries. Given that Ireland was once part of this country and is, therefore, closer to us than any Commonwealth country, that is fair and reasonable. If it is possible to be a Member of a Commonwealth legislature and of this legislature, it is reasonable and fair—whether one thinks it sensible or not—to provide the same right to our friends from Ireland. Our links with them are as strong, if not stronger, so there is a logic to that view.

As I said on Second Reading, we should have a debate about whether it is logical to have dual eligibility for two legislatures. It would have been better to have that constitutional debate first, even though we touched on it on Second Reading. However, that is not the approach that the Government have chosen.

On the specific issue, the logic of the argument is with the Minister and not with those who support the amendment. That is not because we do not think it right to seek to amend the Bill in the right places. We shall support later groups of amendments that have been tabled by Conservative and Ulster Unionist Members, but we shall not support this one. If it is put to the vote, we shall vote against it.

Mr. Forth

It is disappointing that the Minister has tried to deal with the matter in such a superficial way. I come immediately to his spurious point about me. I am able to distinguish between a national Parliament of a sovereign nation, such as this is, despite the depredations and subversions of European institutions, and the role played by the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Minister suggested that I was somehow in dereliction of my duty or inconsistent in opposing Members from an alien country coming to one body but not to the other. However, I see the two issues as completely different.

I freely concede that the Minister has listened to most of the debate, but it is worrying that he does not understand the distinction between the roles of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Houses of Parliament. That is a sad reflection on the Government's fundamental failure to understand the dangerous game that they are playing.

The point of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was a red herring. I happen not to agree with Members of Commonwealth Parliaments being eligible for election to this House. If there is an anomaly in the treatment of Commonwealth countries and Ireland, I would sort it out by going the other way and abolishing that now redundant provision.

The hon. Gentleman says that Ireland and Commonwealth countries are in the same category, but they are not. The Irish chose to leave the Commonwealth. They made their statement and I respect that, but they must not expect the privileges of Commonwealth membership when they have opted not to be a member of the Commonwealth. That is a false argument.

We have had an interesting and useful debate, from which a matter that is relevant to the amendment has emerged. The Minister has now said what he previously said but half denied: that there were discussions with the Irish Government and, he now adds, with Sinn Fein. That is the first time during the debates in Committee that the Minister has said, in terms and on the record, that the measure arose largely from discussions between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland and Sinn Fein. We are now, for the first time, beginning to get a sense of the origin of the measure and the thrust behind it.

Mr. William Ross

The right hon. Gentleman will recall the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) in respect of alleged consultations with the leader of the Ulster Unionist party. He was apparently not so much consulted as told what the Government intended to do, and he objected to what they intended to do. It has slowly been dragged out of Ministers that the only people who were consulted are the Government of the Republic of Ireland and Sinn Fein.

The Chairman

Order. I have already explained that that point is outside the scope of the amendment, so I do not want it to be pursued.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful, Sir Alan. I shall not explore at this stage nuances in the definitions of discussion and consultation, or who pushed whom. However, I give the Minister fair notice that we shall return to the matter. In the meantime, the debate has proved extremely useful in that we have dragged out of the Government something that they had hitherto failed to state.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

The right hon. Gentleman says that he has dragged something out of the Government. I refer his attention to column 26 of the Hansard of 24 January.

Mr. Forth

You, Sir Alan, would not want me to become distracted by embarking on reading a column of Hansard at this stage. I do not know what it says, or the significance of the Minister's intervention. However, if he is implying that we have already been told that discussions took place between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland on the one hand and Sinn Fein on the other, I can say only that I am glad that he has now told us it twice.

Mr. Bercow

My right hon. Friend is generous to a fault, but on this occasion he is crediting the Minister with a clarity that was not present in his remarks yesterday. For the avoidance of doubt, will my right hon. Friend accept that the reference the Minister has cited mentions discussions with the Irish Government and others"—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 34 3, c. 26.]? Is that opaque, or what?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I do not want to linger on the point, but, having sat through almost every minute of debate that has so far taken place on this measure, I was fairly certain that Sinn Fein had not hitherto been mentioned in terms. Now, for the first time, we have it on the record. That is a step forward. We are now beginning to get to the bottom of the matter. We shall have to return to the matter on Third Reading and in another place.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

The issue of what was said to Sinn Fein is extremely important, because no one can understand why anyone would want to sit as a Member of two Parliaments. However, we know that members of Sinn Fein want expenses for sitting as Members of the UK Parliament—

The Chairman

Order. That was not a helpful intervention and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not pursue it.

Mr. Forth

I shall press on, Sir Alan.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Before my right hon. Friend does so, will he press the Minister to respond to a point made earlier? In the discussions that took place, was the question addressed by the amendment, namely reciprocity, raised with the Irish Government? In the discussions about the Bill generally, did the Minister and other Ministers discuss with the representatives of the Irish Government whether it would be a one-way Bill or whether an amendment of the sort that is before us could be incorporated in it?

Mr. Forth

I would hope that that is the sort of matter that we might be able to explore further by means of manuscript amendments, for example, which we discussed early in our proceedings. Perhaps that is worth bearing in mind. However, I detect—I am something of a student of body language and facial expressions, and particularly those of the occupants of the Chair during these proceedings—that if I were to follow my hon. Friend's intervention, which I know was intended to be helpful, I might incur Sir Alan's displeasure, which I do not want to do.

I want to move on to cover some of the main points that have been made in this useful debate. I confess to a feeling of disappointment and hurt that so many of my hon. Friends attacked my amendment with such vigour. I thought that I would get support from them, and all I have had during most of this part of our little debate are attacks and misunderstandings. It is incumbent upon me to try to clarify some of the points that my hon. Friends have made.

My hon. Friends seemed to be occupied inordinately and disproportionately—they struggled over this—with my use of "qualified". The amendment was drafted, as ever, with the help and expertise of the Clerks. I suspect that it is beyond suspicion and beyond doubt. To try to put it further beyond doubt, I had it in mind only to make the simple point that it is up to each legislature to lay down qualifications for membership of itself. I am seeking to say that such qualifications should be reciprocal. That is putting the matter in layman's language and returning to the word that I used when introducing the amendment only two or three hours ago. It is inappropriate for my hon. Friends to make heavy weather of the meaning of "qualified" in this context. I would have said "unfair", but I would not use that word when describing the approach of my hon. Friends in any circumstances. The amendment is straightforward and my hon. Friends need not look for difficulties. What they see is essentially what they will get.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) asked me a peculiar question. He wanted to know whether I had been in negotiations with the Irish Republic about my amendment. The answer is no. I am not in the habit of negotiating with the Irish Republic. I used to do so when I was a member of the Council of Ministers. I was involved then in negotiations with the Republic, and I still have the bruises and the scars. I did not find much co-operation, friendliness and helpfulness from Irish Ministers. Quite the opposite. I shall not dwell on that because it is a painful memory. However, I can say categorically that I did not negotiate the terms of my amendment with any representatives of the Irish Republic. I bear sole responsibility for it and for its many weaknesses, which my hon. Friends have been at such pains to point out.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) raised an important matter. He said that he believed that for reciprocity to be achieved in its fullest sense, it may be not entirely a matter for the Irish Government themselves or for the Irish legislature, given the constitutional arrangements in the Republic. He raised the fair point of the need for referendum approval of amendments to that constitution.

That raises the prospect that we are not here, as in so many other areas, on the same footing on the two sides of the Irish sea. We have different electoral systems, and we have the requirement in the Republic of Ireland of a referendum on any change, which would not apply in the United Kingdom. So there is a question mark over whether full reciprocity in the purest sense of the word could ever be achieved.

3 am

I ask the Committee to put those considerations aside and treat the matter in a more straightforward manner. The Irish Government could deliver reciprocity if they wished. They have shown that in recent referendums on similar matters. We know that the United Kingdom Government can deliver because of their huge majority in the House and their part-reform of another place. We need not dwell excessively on nuances and differences; although they may seem important, they do not undermine the essential thrust of the amendment.

The hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) asked a question that the Minister failed to answer. He asked whether the Government had requested any quid pro quo from those with whom they had held discussions, namely, the Irish Government and, as we now know, Sinn Fein. I suspect that the answer is no. The Government have offered an enormous concession, which is a breach of our nationhood, sovereignty and legislative arrangements, in return for nothing. I have been unable to detect any quid pro quo. From the Minister's complacent demeanour, I suspect that I am right. He is trying not to look ashamed, but he should be ashamed.

Mr. William Ross

Despite the existence of many parties in Ireland, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, the only party—apart from the Irish Government—that the Government have consulted appears to be Sinn Fein. Why have the Government consulted them alone?

Mr. Forth

We all know the answer to that question. The Government have persuaded themselves that the only way to make the peace arrangements work is to grant concession after concession to Sinn Fein-IRA. That pattern is consistent; there is nothing new or surprising about it—it goes on and on. We are forced to take the view that the measure is yet another example of that process, which includes the release of prisoners, and the ability of terrorist sympathisers to participate in our constitutional arrangements. The Bill is another step in that direction.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) made pertinent points about the potential role of European law, the European Court of Justice, the European convention on human rights and, consequently, the European Court of Human Rights in the matter that we are considering. He persuaded me of the possibility, if not the likelihood, of running foul of one of those bodies of law or one of the institutions that are charged with interpreting that law.

It has been pointed out that the Home Secretary—surprise, surprise—has given an assurance that the Bill is fully in line with the European convention on human rights. The Home Secretary is unlikely to say, "I've got a neat little Bill that I've negotiated with Sinn Fein and I want to slip it through quietly because it may not comply with the European convention on human rights." It is much more likely that, in his anxiety to please Sinn Fein, he has decided to slip the Bill through quickly, complete with nods and winks, and hope that it will not fall foul of the convention on human rights.

Some of my hon. Friends, whose knowledge is far superior to mine—that is not difficult—suspect that we could be in severe trouble with the convention and the European Court of Human Rights, and European law and the European Court of Justice. It would be worse to fall foul of the latter, because its decisions are more binding. It would be supremely ironic if the Government, with their slavish adherence to all matters European, suddenly found that a measure designed to please Sinn Fein-IRA ran foul of their friends in the European institutions. We can only speculate at this stage, but there is sufficient evidence and a feeling in the Committee that such may be the case. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West for bringing that matter to the attention of the Committee.

My hon. Friend also questioned whether the fact that the UK is a considerable net contributor to the European Union, whereas the Republic of Ireland is a considerable net beneficiary, would impinge on the evenhandedness or reciprocity that my amendment seeks. Having listened to my hon. Friend, I am not yet able to make that connection, but it may arise in a form that I have not foreseen. I ask my hon. Friends not to be excessively anxious at this stage about that detail but to support my amendment, because it says something important about evenhandedness and reciprocity.

I accept that the amendment may have drafting faults. I am not persuaded, but many people seem to see such difficulties. The role of an amendment debate in Committee is to identify ways of improving a Bill and impress them on the Government, in the hope that Ministers here or in the other place will be prepared to re-examine the Bill in light of debate and the vote that may now be imminent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) asked whether the Irish Government are considering making reciprocal arrangements. We have not spent much time on that interesting matter and may want to return to it. The excellent Library brief makes tantalising allusions to some sort of consideration being given in Dublin: "Don't worry too much that something may happen", and so on. I doubt whether that can be interpreted as the Irish Government considering making anything that could be remotely described as reciprocal arrangements. The Library brief was much more vague and much less encouraging, so I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby, "Don't hold your breath. Don't expect that if we agree to this, we will get a corresponding concession." It must surely be the opposite. If the Irish Government and Sinn Fein-IRA think that they can get this concession for nothing, there is no incentive for them to do anything. This whole thing is the wrong way around. It should be them saying to us, "We're prepared to make this change. What are you prepared to do in return?"

Mr. Swayne

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not sit down without dealing with the substantive point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) and me in various interventions. If my right hon. Friend's amendment is successful and achieves the reciprocity that he desires, he multiplies at a stroke the opportunities for implementing the Bill's offensive principle—to serve two sovereign Parliaments at one time.

Mr. Forth

I was hoping that my hon. Friend would not notice that I had failed to deal with that point. Sharp as ever, even at this hour, he has pulled me up and is right to do so. Anyone in my position has to make a difficult judgment. It is a matter of record that I voted against Second Reading and, generally speaking, I remain of that view. I am now in the business of seeking to improve the Bill. That is the whole point of Committee stage and my amendment. The House has expressed its view—which I reluctantly accept—and our role is to find ways of improving the Bill.

At first blush, my amendment may seem at odds with my voting against Second Reading on principle. Some right hon. and hon. Friends do not want to concern themselves with amendments in Committee. They are anxious, as I am, to get on to Third Reading and vote against the Bill in principle again. And if my amendment is brushed aside by the Government, in cavalier fashion—

Mr. Swayne

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Forth

I shall finish my point. I may be forced to reconsider, but right now I am in a very positive mood. I am looking to improve the Bill and trying to make it work better, and I hope that my hon. Friend accepts that. I give way to him once more.

Mr. Swayne

I understand and entirely accept what my right hon. Friend says, but he must accept that the amendment should be greeted with equanimity, if not alacrity, by Labour rather than Conservative Members.

Mr. Forth

That may be, but I have to gather support where I can. When I embarked on this venture, I thought that I might receive more support from my hon. Friends, although some have kindly said that they are still prepared to support my amendment, in spite of everything. We shall put that to the test shortly.

Mr. Bercow

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Forth

Yes, but then I really must conclude.

Mr. Bercow

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a reference by the Minister to the likelihood of early Irish reciprocity would have been necessary, though not sufficient, to reassure Conservative Members? Despite trawling through the genuinely riveting 32-minute oration that he delivered yesterday, I cannot find such a reference, though I feel sure that if there was such he would speedily point to it.

Mr. Forth

I am sure that the Minister would bound to his feet, wave Hansard in the air with an air of triumph, mutter a column number and sit down thinking that he had done the job. Along with my hon. Friend, I suspect that that will not happen, although encouragingly he is leafing through a document even now. I shall stay on my feet just long enough to get a feeling of whether he will oblige.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Forth

Yes, but this must be the last time, as I am very anxious to press on.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way because the Minister did not deal with this point. In most Parliaments, those who stand have also to be voters. Citizens of the Irish Republic automatically receive the right to vote in this country, which is beyond what European Union citizens receive. Is there the same reciprocity in their voting system, which would allow us to stand for the Parliament of the Republic?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend has anticipated the last point that I want to make. We are in the odd position of having multi-layered provision. I am not unhappy about that; I merely point it out. Our friends, colleagues and fellow citizens in Northern Ireland are uniquely privileged because they have rights in the Republic of Ireland that we mainlanders do not have. I am sure that that is a matter of great joy and satisfaction to a lot of them.

Mr. William Ross

If we have rights in the Irish Republic, we cannot recall ever asking for them. We do not see any need of them and would be quite content if they disappeared.

Mr. Forth

That may be, but I am simply stating the facts. We are faced with a bewildering complexity of rights, lack of rights and no reciprocity, but a small and important group has rights over and above even that. The Government should have picked their way very carefully indeed through that bewildering array by consulting fully, thinking of all the implications and considering the timing, but they have done none of that. They have not thought things through and have not told us why they are introducing the Bill. My amendment surely would go some small way to putting right aspects of it that are wrong. It would offer reassurance where there is none and straighten out a serious anomaly. I hope, for those reasons, that I shall enjoy widespread support in the Lobby.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 13, Noes 243.

Division No. 42] [3.14 am
AYES
Beggs, Roy Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Sayeed, Jonathan
Chope, Christopher Thompson, William
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Donaldson, Jeffrey Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Hunter, Andrew Tellers for the Ayes:
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Mr. Desmond Swayne and
Maginnis, Ken Mr. Michael Fabricant.
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Chaytor, David
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clapham, Michael
Alexander, Douglas Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Allen, Graham Clark, Dr Lynda(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Barnes, Harry Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Battle, John, Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Bayley, Hugh Clelland, David
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Coaker, Vernon
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cohen, Harry
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Coleman, Iain
Bennett, Andrew F Colman, Tony
Benton, Joe Connarty, Michael
Berry, Roger, Corbyn, Jeremy
Best, Harold Corston, Jean
Blears, Ms Hazel Cousins, Jim
Blizzard, Bob Cranston, Ross
Borrow, David Crausby, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cummings, John
Bradshaw, Ben Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Browne, Desmond Dalyell, Tarn
Burgon, Colin Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Butler, Mrs Christine Davidson, Ian
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Dawson, Hilton
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Dean, Mrs Janet
Caplin, Ivor Denham, John
Cawsey, Ian Dobbin, Jim
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Doran, Frank
Efford, Clive McGuire, Mrs Anne
Ellman, Mrs Louise McIsaac, Shona
Ennis, Jeff Mackinlay, Andrew
Field, Rt Hon Frank McNulty, Tony
Fisher, Mark Mactaggart, Fiona
Fitzpatrick, Jim McWalter, Tony
Flint, Caroline Mahon, Mrs Alice
Foster, Ftt Hon Derek Mallaber, Judy
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Foulkes, George Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Galloway, George Martlew, Eric
Gapes, Mike Merron, Gillian
Gardiner, Barry Miller, Andrew
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Mitchell, Austin
Gerrard, Neil Moffatt, Laura
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Moonie, Dr Lewis
Goggins, Paul Moran, Ms Margaret
Golding, Mrs Llin Morley, Elliot
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mountford, Kali
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mudie, George
Grogan, John Mullin, Chris
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Oaten, Mark
Heal, Mrs Sylvia O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Healey, John O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Hepburn, Stephen Palmer, Dr Nick
Heppell, John Pearson, Ian
Hesford, Stephen Perham, Ms Linda
Hill, Keith Pickthall, Colin
Hinchliffe, David Pike, Peter L
Hope, Phil Plaskitt, James
Hopkins, Kelvin Pollard, Kerry
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Pope, Greg
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Pound, Stephen
Howells, Dr Kim Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hoyle, Lindsay Primarolo, Dawn
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Prosser, Gwyn
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Purchase, Ken
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Quinn, Lawrie
Iddon, Dr Brian Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Illsley, Eric Rammell, Bill
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Jamieson, David Rooney, Terry
Jenkins, Brian Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Ruddock, Joan
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Savidge, Malcolm
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Sawford, Phil
Keeble, Ms Sally Shaw, Jonathan
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Sheerman, Barry
Kemp, Fraser Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Singh, Marsha
Kidney, David Skinner, Dennis
Kilfoyle, Peter Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Laxton, Bob Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Lepper, David Soley, Clive
Leslie, Christopher Southworth, Ms Helen
Levitt, Tom Squire, Ms Rachel
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Steinberg, Gerry
Linton, Martin Stevenson, George
Lock, David Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Love, Andrew Stinchcombe, Paul
McAvoy, Thomas Stringer, Graham
McCabe, Steve Stuart, Ms Gisela
Macdonald, Calum Stunell, Andrew
McDonnell, John Sutcliffe, Gerry
McFall, John Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Watts, David
Temple-Morris, Peter Whitehead, Dr Alan
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Wicks, Malcolm
Tipping, Paddy Wills, Michael
Todd, Mark Wilson, Brian
Touhig, Don Winnick, David
Trickett, Jon Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Truswell, Paul Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Woodward, Shaun
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Woolas Phil
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Worthincrton Tony
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Wray, James
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Tynan, Bill
Walley, Ms Joan Tellers for the Noes:
Ward, Ms Claire Mr. Clive Betts and
Wareing, Robert N Mr. Jim Dowd.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Simon Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. Only because the matter comes up in every debate, through you, I ask whether Ministers are willing to table for the Committee, or to put in the Library of the House, copies of all the representations that they have received so far on the Bill.

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

That is not a matter for the Chair, but I have no doubt that Ministers will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. William Ross

I beg to move amendment No. 6, page 1, line 9, at end add— '(3) At the end insert "is a Minister in the government of any country or territory outside the United Kingdom; or"'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 8, in title, line 4, after 'Oireachtas', insert— 'to extend that disqualification to Ministers in the government of any country or territory outside the United Kingdom'.

Mr. Ross

This is a fairly simple and straightforward little amendment. As I am sure you will have noticed, Mr. Martin, today's selection list—[Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The Committee must come to order. There is far too much noise and conversation.

Mr. Ross

Mr. Martin, you will have noticed that the selection list contained a curious little addendum. I cannot recall ever having seen such an addendum before. I should be grateful for your guidance on how often they have had to be included.

It caused me some concern. I tried to find out what words had not appeared in the printing of amendment No. 6. I discovered that it was purely a technical mistake in that the words "At the end insert" had been left out in the printed list of amendments. If something like that happens, it should be made clearer to hon. Members what the mistake is. It was not immediately clear. We had to read it several times before it became apparent that it was only a clerical or technical error.

This is a modest and simple little amendment. It would exclude from the Executive of Northern Ireland any person outside the United Kingdom who is a Government Minister elsewhere in the world. Amendment No. 8 is consequential on it, in that it inserts the same disqualification into the long title of the Bill. It is not often that we try to amend the long titles of Bills, but this is one such case. The two amendments hang together.

It seems to my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), to me and to the Opposition that the amendment is modest and reasonable. In fact, it is so reasonable that only the most malign could reject the principle embodied within it. Many of the elements of the Bill have been addressed in earlier debates, but I make no excuse for raising them again. Time and again, we have to examine those matters carefully, so that we can reach sensible conclusions about them.

3.30 am

In any country, Ministers are very busy people who are weighed down with responsibility and the cares of office. They have to deal with demands from their constituents, from fellow members of the legislature, from the Government and from pressure groups. It would be quite wrong to burden them with any more work. Indeed, it would be quite unfair to leave in their way the temptation of further office—or, in some countries, the spoils of further office. We should guard them against such temptation.

The danger is that some of those people might be moved to take on the burden, but find themselves so weighed down with responsibility that they will do neither job well. They may well have a multiplicity of jobs. It would be quite wrong to burden any man or woman with such a multiplicity, as it could lead to his or her disillusionment, and to his or her constituents' anger and frustration that their representative was not available or able to do the necessary work. In the long run, therefore, it is not a good idea for people to have so many responsibilities. No one should not be placed in such a situation.

There are also issues of conflict of interest and clash of demands. They were partly explored in earlier debates and place the most immense burdens on the individuals concerned. There is conflict between different states about job creation measures and social legislation—such as welfare to work, child benefit, divorce, abortion and tax, not to mention international trade and defence issues involving the states concerned. All those considerations are bound to lead to the most intolerable pressures on individuals and generate enormous friction.

Such individuals will have personal financial considerations. In the United Kingdom, there has been a dependence on the Crown for patronage, and on the Crown and Parliament for salaries and allowances. There has been dependence on the Prime Minister for his patronage, which enables one to advance within the Government of the United Kingdom.

I foresee problems even in the position, in the House and in the government of London, of Ministers of the various devolved bodies of the United Kingdom. As the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said in the previous debate, presumably because of a potential clash of interests, Ministers in the Scottish Executive cannot hold office in the United Kingdom Government. If a possible clash is recognised at that level, should we not recognise the far greater potential of pressures being generated in the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country?

I should think that the Scottish Executive have good reason for wanting a representative who speaks for them, rather than through the Secretary of State for Scotland within the House and the United Kingdom Executive. In those circumstances, I should have thought that it would be only reasonable for us to examine Scotland's relationship to the House, rather than the relationship that exists between us, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dail.

Welsh Members can be members of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom, thereby having an impact on the powers of the two bodies concerned.

I am not too clear about whether there can be dual membership of the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That must be clarified. Such problems will only get worse when countries outside the United Kingdom are taken into account.

The Minister gave the impression yesterday that he would try to clear up such problems. He tried to persuade us that he had given a clear indication of all the people with whom he had discussed such matters. In fact, he had not been entirely candid. Today, it was wrung out of him that he had also talked to Sinn Fein. Yesterday, he told my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) that the Bill would cover this House, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. A little later, I asked him to confirm why the Bill did not bar Members of Parliament from becoming Ministers in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. He said that the matter would be discussed in Committee.

We are in Committee now. The Minister also said: Following representations of which the hon. Gentleman is, no doubt, aware,"— I was not— it was argued that, because it might give rise to concern in Northern Ireland, that issue should be specifically addressed in legislation. It has been addressed in clause 2."—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 34.] I do not think that it has.

The Minister went on to say that he hoped that I would be satisfied that the Government were listening to representations from all parties. I suggest that they are doing so some months too late. The necessary representations and discussions in connection with the Bill should have taken place long before it was published.

Why should we allow foreigners to rule over us? That is the bottom line. Why should we even leave that door open? It will be exploited sooner or later. This country's experience of getting into bed with foreigners in the past has cost us more dearly than it has cost them.

We should not go down that road. We should stick to representing our constituents in the United Kingdom. Anyone who wants to represent people in another country should live in that country. People who live in this nation should give their loyalty to this nation. That is why we have tabled the amendment.

Mr. George Howarth

Yesterday, on Second Reading, I said that the Government were aware that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) had tabled some amendments. Although I had not seen their exact terms, and could make no commitment as to the outcome of our consideration, I made it clear that we would, naturally, study them very carefully and reflect on them overnight. I want to emphasise the importance that the Government attach to his views. His distinguished and courageous role in seeking peace has been rightly praised in our earlier debates, but he is also the First Minister of the new, devolved Executive.

I know that I speak for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when I tell the Committee that one of his concerns since taking up his current responsibilities has been to ensure that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann and his party have felt that the Government have taken the fullest possible account of their interests. I hope that he and his colleagues recognise the serious efforts that have been made by my right hon. Friend in that respect. It is no secret that the final decisions of various discussions have not always been what they wanted. Given the divisions that still exist in Northern Ireland, no one would expect that. However, I hope that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and his colleagues will recognise the honest and determined efforts that my right hon. Friend has made in this respect.

Although the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues may have wished that consultations on the Bill had started earlier, they took place before the Bill was introduced. The form of the Bill was amended to take account of some, though not all, of the concerns expressed in those representations. In particular, clause 2 was incorporated in direct response to concerns raised by him. I say all this simply to demonstrate the effort that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made to take into account the views of the right hon. Gentleman, alongside the proper concerns of other parties.

I know that this is not precisely the subject of the debate, Mr. Martin, but it may be helpful to say that the Government are minded to accept the principle of amendment No. 7 in the name of the right hon. Gentleman. We accept, uniquely, that statutory committees in the Assembly have more than a scrutiny role. Under the Good Friday agreement, they have a role in policy development, so there is a good case for treating their chairs and deputy chairs as akin to Ministers.

I will not dwell further on those arguments because they are properly the subject of another debate. However, this demonstrates that we listened very carefully to the concerns expressed on Second Reading. We took full account of the right hon. Gentleman's amendment and reflected on the issue overnight, as I said that we would. However, having reflected on amendment No. 6 very carefully, we cannot advise the Committee to accept it. Under the amendment, any Minister of a country outside the United Kingdom would be disqualified from being a Back-Bench Member of this House or of devolved legislatures. The Bill, as it was introduced, was concerned purely with the small extension of existing provisions from Commonwealth countries to include Ireland. The amendment would take away the existing right under law—however theoretical that right may be—of Ministers in any Commonwealth country to be Members of this House and the devolved legislatures.

On Second Reading, some Opposition Members thought that all such Commonwealth rights should be swept away. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was one of them. That is certainly not a position that the Government advocate. We warmly support the Commonwealth and the special links that exist with all the countries in it. If we wanted to change the nature of those links—and we have no such plans—we would want to do so in consultation with the countries and Governments concerned. We have had no opportunity to do so, and it was not the purpose of the Bill to affect existing rights that apply to Commonwealth countries. On those grounds alone, I am bound to oppose the amendment.

Mr. Oaten

Is the Minister saying that in future the Government will make such representations to the Commonwealth so that the logic of the Bill is carried through in that area as well?

Mr. Howarth

There is no intention to do so at this time. We have no reason to believe that that would be helpful in our continuing relations with the Commonwealth. I see no reason for such a debate on what are effectively theoretical rights which have never, to my knowledge, been taken up.

I recognise that the real concern behind the amendment, which the hon. Member for East Londonderry expressed, is to disqualify Irish Ministers from serving as Back-Bench Members in this House or the Assembly.

3.45 am

We have been consistent in the view that conflicts of interest might arise if individuals were allowed to be Ministers in both jurisdictions. That is why clause 2 is in the Bill. Any Minister's duty extends far beyond the constituents who elected him or her. Ministers must properly have regard to the interests of all the people for whom they govern.

However, we do not take the view that a conflict of interest arises between being a Minister in one jurisdiction and a Back Bencher in another. Indeed, it is conceivable that a constituency electorate in Northern Ireland might feel that its interests were likely to be advanced better if its Member were also a Minister in the Irish Government. Other constituency electorates would obviously take a different view. Our view, reflected in the point made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, is that, in a democracy, it is up to the electorate to decide.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

Yes I will, although I was drawing my remarks to a close.

Dr. Lewis

My question is straightforward. Can the Minister envisage an occasion on which a constituency interest in the south might conflict with one in the north, if an individual were elected to serve two constituencies?

Mr. Howarth

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman attended the earlier debate when that matter was raised. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department made it clear that, in such circumstances, it would be for the two sets of constituents to sort out what was right and proper. It is not proper for the House to set such qualifications in regard to Members. We do accept that there is a distinction, which has some force, between being a Minister in one Government and a Back Bencher in another.

Mr. Simon Hughes

That point is clear. The Ulster Unionists have commented on the representations made on that point and there have been references to the representations made by Sinn Fein. Have there been any representations on that specific point from the SDLP, including from its leader? I ask because there has been discussion not only about a member of the SDLP who held office as a Senator in Ireland and was a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, but about a role in Ireland for the current leader of the party, who is also a Member of the UK Parliament.

Mr. Howarth

If I am mistaken in my response to the hon. Gentleman, I shall correct it later—I am not aware of any such representations.

I regret that we do not advise acceptance of the amendment, although, as I have pointed out, we have looked sympathetically on amendment No. 7, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, who is also the First Minister of the Northern Irish Assembly. In view of that and given my explanations, I hope that—not for reasons of time but of principle—the hon. Member for East Londonderry will not feel it necessary to proceed with the amendment.

Sir Patrick Cormack

When the Minister rose to respond, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) and I said to one another, "Ah, the Minister is going to accept the amendment." For a moment, it sounded as though the reflection that the Minister promised us yesterday, and that he told us had taken place overnight—I am not sure which night—had resulted in the Government acknowledging the validity of the case put with quiet eloquence by my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). We thought that the Minister was going to accept the amendment, but he has not done so.

The Minister tried to fob us off by saying that the Government would accept a later amendment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell and I support the amendment because we realise that the First Minister—who, sadly, cannot be with us at the moment; he is a wise man not to be in this place at this time of the day—and his colleagues have a real point. The Minister's reply dramatically illustrates the absurdity of taking a Bill of this nature in this manner. I do not question the Minister's good faith when he says that reflection has taken place, but I believe that, if there had been the usual timetable, with proper opportunities to discuss the amendments and for Report, it would have been possible to reach a solution acceptable to everyone.

In moving the amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry made a very good case. I find it extremely difficult to accept the logic of what the Minister is saying. The Bill is riddled with anomalies, and it seems to me that we shall have an absolute absurdity if we reject the amendment and allow people to be Back Benchers in one Assembly and Ministers in another. I do not think that it will very often happen. Many of the things in the Bill are wholly theoretical—one can hardly ever conceive of some of these people being elected—but we are legislating. We are saying what is permissible.

The case that my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry advanced as he moved the amendment, which was tabled by the First Minister of Northern Ireland, was cogent and sensible. I pay the Under-Secretary the compliment of saying that I believe that if he had had proper time to discuss this, in a cross-party way, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell and others, he would probably have been persuaded.

Mr. George Howarth

Am I to take it that it is the position of the official Opposition that they would like to deprive Commonwealth members of the rights that they already enjoy?

Sir Patrick Cormack

We believe that there is an anomaly. We are not seeking to rewrite the whole set-up whereby such members can be Members of the House, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) advanced a powerful case for considering the entire position. However, we are saying that to be a Minister in one country and a Back-Bench Member in another inevitably creates a potential conflict of loyalties that is in the interests of neither party, neither state and neither Government, nor in the interests of the electorate.

Mr. Howarth

I believe that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the amendment that he is speaking to. Perhaps he should read it again. If it is pressed and the Opposition vote for it and are successful, the effect would be to disqualify Ministers of Commonwealth countries from being Members of the House. I made that absolutely clear in my speech. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) takes that position. Is that the position of the official Opposition?

Sir Patrick Cormack

In a word, yes—but I would like the hon. Gentleman to tell the Committee of any Minister in any Commonwealth country who has ever sat in the House while he has been a Minister in a Commonwealth country. It is purely theoretical.

Mr. Howarth

That is not the point.

Sir Patrick Cormack

With great respect, it is the point; because when the House passes legislation that is so theoretically absurd as never to be practically possible, it is making an ass of itself.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

What is the point of passing it?

Sir Patrick Cormack

As my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position—although he should not—what is the point of passing it? The House is being made to look fatuous and absurd by taking the line that the Minister is taking; and yes, yes, yes: the official Opposition believe that the amendment is entirely logical and sensible, and we will most certainly vote for it.

Mr. Forth

It might help the Committee if I read from the excellent Library research paper on the Bill, which sets the context in which this important debate is taking place. The main purpose of disqualification is to ensure that Members are fit and proper to sit in the House, and are able to carry out their duties and responsibilities free from undue pressures from other sources. These considerations may be called 'House-based' and are the basis not only of disqualifications under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 but of the whole range of earlier disqualifications for the Commons. However, there is also another consideration, which may be called 'office based'. This is the wish to ensure that an office held by an individual is not adversely affected by his membership of Parliament. This is of more recent origin. Under the heading "Practicalities", the paper goes on to list a large number of public office-holders who are disqualified under the 1975 Act. The list includes judicial officers, civil servants, members of the armed forces, police officers and so on.

I wish to dispute the Minister's point that we should leave it to the voters to decide whom they shall elect. I suspect that Ministers do not really believe that because, after a moment's thought, they might realise that there might be some people who they would want to prevent from standing for elections. [HON. MEMBERS: "You!"] I thought that I might get that response from some Government Front Benchers.

It is a well-established principle that we have seen fit over many years—including in the 1975 Act—to assist the electorate by disqualifying certain groups and classes of people from the right to stand for election to this legislature. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that we are interfering in the rights of electors, and that they should be allowed to decide on absolutely anyone that they want. They are not and they have not been, and it is well established in our law that disqualification is a proper principle. However good the Minister's idea may sound theoretically, it will not wash.

I ask the Government—do they intend to repeal the 1975 Act? I gather not, so the Government accept the principle that it is valid and legitimate, in certain circumstances, to disqualify certain groups and classes of people from standing for a legislature.

Mr. Fabricant

Would my right hon. Friend speculate on what grounds he thinks that some of those classes of individuals should be disqualified—some, perhaps, because they have a conflict of interest?

Mr. Forth

That is an obvious one. The judiciary has a special lack of relationship with the legislature, if I can put it that way. The military and the police are in another position. It is a matter of great pride to us that our civil service is non-political, and therefore—above certain relatively low levels—civil servants are not able to stand for the House of Commons. They are disqualified. These reasons are well understood and well founded, so we can lay to rest the Minister's spurious argument, which he has used two or three times now.

I have identified some characteristics that Ministers have, as distinct from legislatures, which I believe must disqualify them—in the context of the 1975 Act—from the ability to stand for a legislature. I would broadly categorise the characteristics as Ministers' responsibilities, commitments and access to information. In a sense, their responsibilities are fairly obvious. Anyone who has had the honour of holding ministerial office readily understands the implications of that, as should the Minister himself. It is obvious that anyone with ministerial responsibilities in any political system that is familiar to us would not be able to discharge the responsibilities of a representative or a legislator in a legislature in another country.

4 am

That point must be so self-evident that it is hardly worth making. Yet, it appears that we have to make it because the Minister said that there need be no necessary conflict between being a Minister in one jurisdiction and being a Back Bencher—I think that that was the word he used—in another. That is patently absurd. It is absurd at the level of practicality and at the level of the everyday discharge of a Minister's responsibilities.

Dr. Julian Lewis

I wish to support my right hon. Friend's argument. Is he aware of the report that was produced at the beginning of the year that showed the voting record of the past two Secretaries of State for Wales, both of whom hold offices in the Welsh Assembly and remain Members of this House? In 73 Divisions in the House, one of them voted only once and the other did not vote at all. Does that not illustrate my right hon. Friend's point?

Mr. Forth

What a typically perceptive and helpful remark from my hon. Friend. I could also cite the example of the Prime Minister. How often in the discharge of his high responsibilities does he find time to come to this legislature, of which he is a Member, to vote? The reason that we are given—if we are ever given one—for the Prime Minister's signal failure to attend the House, which he holds in such contempt, is the weight of his ministerial responsibilities. He is busy spinning, making ridiculous visits for photo-opportunities or doing other things, but he does not come here. My hon. Friend makes the effective point that it is difficult to square fully the responsibilities of ministerial office with the full discharge of legislative responsibilities.

I do not want to be particularly offensive or personal, but the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is not here now. He is probably in his office, signing his letters, going through his red boxes and discharging his ministerial responsibilities. He is not participating in a debate in the House on a matter that relates to his Department. It goes almost without saying that the nature of ministerial responsibilities preclude someone from carrying out a full role in a legislature in his own country, never mind another.

I have referred to the narrow departmental commitments of Ministers. However, they have many others that they rightly have to discharge. They attend meetings with interest groups and travel around the country so that they are aware of the circumstances with which they have to deal. That is right and appropriate, but it is a serious obstacle to their even contemplating a proper role in a legislature elsewhere.

Then there is the issue of the loyalty to Government expressed through the collective responsibility doctrine with which we are familiar. Again, that is proper and it is expressed in the meetings of Cabinet, Cabinet sub-committees and similar bodies. One does not have to think for very long to realise that the proper exercise of collective responsibility, binding as it does Ministers closely together in the unified discharge of their responsibilities, must be at odds with the suggestion that they could, at one and the same time, be Members of a legislature in another country. The demands and loyalties of collective responsibility must almost constantly conflict with the proper demands of the other legislature. We begin to see emerge a clear pattern of problems and conflicts that provide insurmountable obstacles to someone being a Minister in one jurisdiction and a legislator in another.

I have not yet mentioned the EU dimension, which brings such problems into sharp focus. There, Ministers have to discharge a different responsibility, one that is unusual and provides greater challenges. When a Minister from a country that has the misfortune to be a member of the EU has to deal with the representatives of other EU member states, he finds himself operating in a new political dimension, in which new tensions arise and new loyalties are suggested. He is removed from his own legislature and his own country, never mind that of another. The status of the United Kingdom and the Republic Ireland as EU member states would give rise to conflicts of interest, even in the voting procedures in the Council of Ministers. Such conflicts would provide the ultimate expression of the lack of harmony that one might imagine exists.

At every conceivable level, we can see that the job of a political Minister in an Administration, in the governmental context, carries with it a range of demands, requirements and responsibilities that effectively preclude that Minister from discharging any sort of responsibility in another country's legislature.

The other heading I have jotted down is "Information". Ministers, by definition, are in possession of large amounts of confidential information. Many Ministers are in possession of highly confidential security information that is vital to their country's national interests. It is possible that, were someone in that position to gain a place in a legislature in another country, that person's position might be significantly compromised by his being both in possession of security information from one country and a member of a legislature in another.

I have given a few examples to illustrate the fact that there is a real principle at stake and practical considerations at work. That brings me back to my first argument—that a purist or an innocent like the Minister might argue that such matters can be left to the electorate. However, that is not true.

Mr. George Howarth

Democracy.

Mr. Forth

The Minister mutters, from a sedentary position, the word "democracy". Democracy is a process whereby voters are enabled to choose their representatives. However, the Minister has not yet responded to the question I asked: whether he wants the 1975 Act to be repealed.

Mr. Hayes

The point is not one of democracy, but one of democratic legitimacy. The legitimacy of the House is derived partly from those who can sit as Members and the means by which they come to do so, and partly from the restrictions on those who cannot, for good constitutional reasons, sit as Members of Parliament. My right hon. Friend gave the excellent example of civil servants and in this sense the democratic legitimacy of Parliament is partly dependent on ineligibility.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. I doubt whether it will elicit a helpful response from the Minister. I believe that I have posed a perfectly proper question. Either the Minister will have to say that he intends to repeal the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, because it cuts across his apparent concept of democracy, or he will have to accept that his concept of democracy can encompass a disqualification process properly passed by Parliament in the past.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Is not the Minister's reliance on the abstract concept of democracy rather fatuous when we consider that if we are talking about a proportional list system in at least one of the parliaments or assemblies, the position on the list may be such that the people have no effective say about whether they can punish an individual for a conflict of interest that he has not satisfactorily resolved? Does not the same apply even in a first-past-the-post system, if he happens to stand successfully for a very safe seat on behalf of his party? The people cannot resolve these conflicts of interest by a process of abstract democracy.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend is again correct. Regrettably, we have had a redefinition of the practicalities of democracy by the Government, principally through their introduction of the wicked and pernicious closed-list system for the European elections. The Minister will have to think more carefully before he parades this new and ill-formed definition of democracy before us, which seems to encompass closed lists and the electorate running amok and electing anyone it wants because the Minister will presumably have to repeal the 1975 Act. He cannot have it all ways round and it will have to be one or the other.

Mr. Bercow

The sheer fatuousness of the Minister's position has been adequately exposed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is particularly unfortunate that a Minister should be clinging to a feeble theoretical model of abstract and total democracy, when last week he was seeking to impress us with his knowledge of Popperian theory?

Mr. Forth

Yes. I was present when my hon. Friend and the Minister had a rather frustratingly unsatisfactory exchange about Karl Popper and his works. We may be able to return to that subsequently, but I suspect not on this occasion. Let us put down a marker that we shall have to examine the Minister on his full understanding of Popper to ascertain whether he measures up on that. If his knowledge of that is as good as his understanding of democracy, I am not optimistic. However, we live in hope.

We are discussing an important amendment. The Minister made some play of the idea that there is something shocking that we should be saying to our partners in the Commonwealth, given the way that a mature Commonwealth has developed, with so many Commonwealth countries having become republics and with the Australians having a proper debate about their relationship with this country and with the Commonwealth as a whole, "You will forgive us, won't you, if we assert the principle that only United Kingdom citizens should be able to be elected to the UK Parliament?" I cannot imagine that any of our Commonwealth friends would be shocked if we said that to them to correct what has now emerged as an anomaly.

I have not yet taken the trouble, although I could attempt to do so and return to help the Committee further with the information, to go through the list of Commonwealth members to see how many of them offer reciprocal arrangements. I shall not do so unless pushed. I would make my own judgment about how shocked or not they might be if we were to end the arrangement. I have no problem with that and no fear of it. I am prepared to have amicable discussions with my friends in the Commonwealth and to say, "You do understand this development, don't you?"

Mr. Oaten

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the Government had not been rushing the Bill through the House of Commons and had adopted a more normal pace, the discussions of which he talks could have taken place, and we could have had the Commonwealth issue resolved as part of the Bill?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman is right. This indicates yet again the indecent haste with which the Government are trying to smuggle, force or ram the Bill through its parliamentary procedure. If there had been proper time between its stages of consideration, as there usually is, we would all, including the Government, have had time properly to consider the matter. We are where we are; we have to deal with current circumstances. The Government want to invite alien nationals from a country that is not even in the Commonwealth to sit in Parliament. Part of their argument is that they want to correct an anomaly and bring a country that voluntarily left the Commonwealth into line with countries that are in the Commonwealth. The logic escapes me, and would have done so even in normal working hours.

The amendment is proper and essential. I hope that the Government will reconsider it before we proceed much further. Failing that, I hope that it will receive wide support from the Committee That will show how seriously we take such matters.

4.15 am
Mr. Donaldson

Earlier, the Minister pressed the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) about the official Opposition's position on the Commonwealth. The problem would not arise if the Government had not created a precedent by affording rights to nationals of a country that is not a member of the Commonwealth. The Government have caused a problem, by extending to the Irish Republic a privilege that previously applied only to Commonwealth countries. As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) pointed out, that country left the Commonwealth some years ago. The Government have not provided an adequate reason for extending the privilege. On this side of the Committee, we suspect that the decision is to do with the republican movement rather than with the Government's desire to correct an anomaly.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Can the hon. Gentleman speculate about why Sinn Fein is so keen on the concessions? We have tended to assume that, for some reason, Sinn Fein members want to sit in the United Kingdom Parliament. However, I suspect that they may want that concession so that they can sit in the Dail and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Am I right, or do they want to sit here as well as in the Dail?

Mr. Donaldson

The hon. Gentleman is right. The motivation of Republicans who belong to Sinn Fein-IRA is not taking seats in this House as well as the Irish Parliament, but blocking seats here. The constituents of Mid-Ulster and Belfast, West are not properly represented at Westminster. Members of Sinn Fein-IRA want to hold such seats and be eligible to stand for election to the Irish Parliament, and perhaps hold ministerial office there. Sinn Fein-IRA aspires to be part of a coalition Government after the next election in the Irish Republic, perhaps with as few as four or five seats.

Let us consider circumstances in which a Minister in the Irish Government was also theoretically a Member of Parliament here, but, in practice, did not take his seat. That could cause a conflict of interest. I shall give the Minister an example of a potential conflict of interest for a Minister in the Irish Government who was also a Back-Bench Member of this House. The Irish Republic might declare itself neutral when this country was at war. We might have a Back-Bench Member who was a member of a Government who adopted a neutral stance, which perhaps leaned towards the country with which we were at war. I shall not rehearse the events of 1939 to 1945, when the Irish Republic was neutral. We all know how De Valera, who was then Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, leaned towards the Germans and assisted the German Government in many ways to thwart this country's efforts in defence of freedom. There would be a conflict of interest for a Member of Parliament in a country that was at war, who was also a Minister in a country that was neutral, and in some ways assisted the country with which the first country was at war. That is not an illogical point. Such circumstances could arise in future.

Why is the privilege being extended only to the Irish Republic? Are we suddenly setting the Republic apart from other nations within the European Union? Do we have a special relationship only with the Republic, and not with other partners in the EU? I do not argue for the moment that the privilege should be extended to them—far from it. I cannot understand the Government's logic in wanting to step beyond the confines of the Commonwealth to extend such a privilege to the Irish Republic.

It is churlish of the Minister to launch an attack against the official Opposition on the question of the Commonwealth when the Government are taking the privilege beyond the confines of the Commonwealth and creating a situation that has given rise to the need for the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).

Mr. William Ross

My hon. Friend is well aware, as I am, that we are talking not only about the fact that the Irish Republic is being treated in a unique way but about the fact that only one party in the whole British Isles is being treated uniquely in regard to the funding of political parties. It claims to be a cross-border body and because of that—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I cannot allow that subject to be debated under this set of amendments.

Mr. Donaldson

The hon. Gentleman makes a relevant point that goes to the heart of the debate. Why is this legislation before the House? Despite the Government's failure to provide a proper reason, we have no doubt that it is part of a deal that has been done with the Republican movement. There may be other aspects. We are demeaning the role of a Member of Parliament by encouraging a Member representing a constituency in the United Kingdom to be a Minister in the Government of another country.

Mr. Hayes

Ministers take on authority and power on the basis that they can do certain things but not others. The example was given earlier of confidential information. Certain privileges that are unique to a Minister and not shared by Back Benchers make it entirely inappropriate for someone to serve simultaneously as a Back Bencher and Minister. Is that not right?

Mr. Donaldson

It is. The point was ably made by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that there is a conflict of interest, in terms even of the time that a Minister in the Government of another country can devote to his duties in this House. If we say that it is perfectly okay for a Member of this House who has legislative responsibilities to be a Minister in the Government of a foreign country—and so to be unable to devote the time that we expect of our legislators—that demeans and diminishes the role of a Member of Parliament.

It is not sufficient to leave it to constituents to sort the matter out. Are the constituents of Belfast, West likely to remove the Member for that constituency because he is an abstentionist Member of Parliament? We shall see. It is unlikely because those constituents have voted for that Member for reasons other than that he ought to be their proper legislative representative in this House. We cannot rely on the safeguard that the Minister says is available and leave it to constituents to attend to the problem.

Parliament has a wider responsibility to safeguard the constitution of this nation. That is why we are elected to this place. If it is for the people to decide on every occasion, why have Parliament in the first place? On this important constitutional issue, Parliament ought to have the right to legislate to safeguard the role of Members of Parliament in participating properly in the life of this body.

It is wrong for Parliament to create that potential conflict of interest. It is also wrong to move beyond the confines of the Commonwealth and extend to the Irish Republic a privilege not extended to any other nation outside the Commonwealth.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I am following the arguments carefully, but I understand that a Minister of the Crown is prevented under legislation from taking a salary from somebody else. I cannot understand how the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can possibly suggest that a Minister could take a separate salary completely outside Government and Parliament.

Mr. Donaldson

We look to the Under-Secretary for a response.

In normal circumstances, no one on this side of the Committee would have raised the issue of ending the current situation in respect of the Commonwealth, because it would not have been significant. The Government have created these circumstances, so they cannot blame the Opposition if we unfortunately have to penalise our friends in Commonwealth countries as we try to safeguard Parliament. The Government are seeking to extend that privilege beyond the Commonwealth without good reason.

Mr. Bercow

Given that a Minister cannot also operate as a Back Bencher in the House and all Ministers readily accept that limitation, is it not peculiar and absurd of the Under-Secretary to argue that a Minister could be a Back Bencher in another House?

Mr. Donaldson

Ministers are denied the role of Back Bencher because of their responsibilities, but they could sit alongside Back Benchers who are Ministers in the Government of another country. That shows the absurdity of asking Parliament to pass this Bill. Again we ask Ministers why. We conclude that it is to assist the representatives of a party that commands 18 per cent. of the vote in Northern Ireland, whose population is 1.7 million of the 56 million or 57 million people in the United Kingdom. That is nonsense, but why is that party so important to the Government? Why are they going through this process? Precisely because that party has something that other parties in the House do not have—an arsenal of illegal weaponry at its disposal. Its mandate comes not merely from the ballot box, but, to quote one of its representatives, from the Armalite.

That party believes that power resides not only in the right of the people to vote in elections, which the Under-Secretary has espoused, but in the barrel of a gun. That is what we are dealing with. Parliament is being asked to change a constitutional aspect of our law to assist that particular party and in that sense the Bill is absurd, in parliamentary and constitutional terms. We are extending to a country that is not in the Commonwealth a privilege that was exclusive to member nations of the Commonwealth. What does that say to those nations, which work alongside us?

The answer to that question concerns our close relationship with the Irish Republic. I am not against good, neighbourly relationships, but surely we ought to ask whether the Irish Republic should rejoin the Commonwealth if there is a desire for its citizens or Members of its legislature also to be Members of this House.

It appears that that option is not available—that the Irish Government for some reason are not prepared, in spite of the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, to rejoin the Commonwealth. It appears that the special relationship is not quite as special as some people would make it out to be. Indeed, when it comes to extraditing people who have been responsible for some of the most serious crimes in the United Kingdom, the special relationship does not count for very much, as we are seeing at the moment in Northern Ireland.

4.30 am
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), who has given us some important insights into the Government's motives in bringing forward this legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) made an important contribution to the debate, not least because he announced an important new plank of Conservative party policy: this is all part of the commonsense revolution. Indeed if ever there was common sense it is that we should not allow Ministers in Governments in other countries and members of other legislatures to be Members of the House of Commons. It must have been an anomaly that was never intended in any legislation that evolved at the same time as the colonies were developing into the Commonwealth, and it resulted in a power enabling the Commonwealth countries to have Ministers serving as Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. The fact that that privilege has never been exercised by any Commonwealth country, and the fact that it is a privilege that is not reciprocated by any other Commonwealth country, suggests to me that the whole thing was anomalous in the first place and that those Commonwealth countries realised that it would be in breach of common sense to allow their Ministers to be Members of our legislature.

For the Minister to suggest that the only reason he is not prepared to accept the amendment is that it would be an affront to Commonwealth countries is disingenuous in the extreme. It is also wrong of the Minister to suggest that this problem can be overcome by leaving it to the electorate, because the issue is about timing. What happens if somebody who is a Member of Parliament in both a foreign country—a Commonwealth country or the Irish Republic—and in the House then becomes a Minister? What say do the electorate have in that situation? They cannot intervene until the next general election.

The Minister's response that it is for the electorate to deal with the matter does not wash, because the whole essence of the Disqualification Acts is to prevent that from happening in the first place. That is why they take effect before somebody stands for election. For example, before joining the House after the last general election, I was a member of the Health and Safety Commission, and I had to be sure that I had resigned properly from that commission, because it was an office of profit under the Crown, before standing as a candidate in the general election. At that stage, I could not be sure of the outcome, but I still had to give up my office of profit under the Crown. The Minister is saying that the electorate can intervene, when clearly they cannot.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I wonder whether in the future people will not apply for the Chiltern Hundreds; they will apply to become Ministers in the Irish Republic and therefore disallow themselves from carrying on.

Mr. Chope

That is a very interesting idea. Some hon. Members are highly principled. The former Member for Ceredigion decided that it would be wrong to hold two mandates at the same time, which is why he resigned his position and why a by-election is pending in Ceredigion.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the Government are embarrassed about accepting the amendment is that they have a large number of MPs whom we never see in the House, who hold office in Scotland and Wales as Members of Parliament and of the Assembly, and as Ministers. Effectively, they are wearing three hats and being paid three salaries. Perhaps that is why the Minister does not find it possible to support the amendment: he knows that it attacks the principle of wearing three hats and having three salaries, which I think most members of the public would find offensive. I certainly do.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Three salaries?

Mr. Chope

Until the present Government took office, Ministers took reduced parliamentary salaries. Now, because of the fat cats who are in control, the Government think it necessary for them to have a full parliamentary salary and a full ministerial salary, and for Members of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers to have those two salaries as well. People find that utterly offensive.

This is an issue of common sense. It is not a case of causing affront to the Commonwealth; it is a question of asking whether we are to extend privileges that do not extend currently in circumstances in which they make no sense to ordinary people.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

It is just as well for the Government that the amendment is being debated at 4.36 am. If it were being debated at a more reasonable hour, when the press were present—who knows who is watching on the parliamentary channel; perhaps some insomniacs in the Press Gallery are watching—people would see the absurdity of the Government's proposal, and of driving it through the Committee and the House at this ridiculous hour.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), I was greatly encouraged by what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). He nearly always says sensible things, and he says them with passion, especially when it comes to matters regarding the House. I was delighted when he announced a shift in Conservative policy on this matter, because it is clear that the 1975 Act is an anachronism. The Government are tinkering with the Act, rather than addressing the fundamental irrelevance of the legislation to our present circumstances.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire said, it is fatuous to suggest that people who represent constituencies in other legislatures should be entitled to sit in this House or, indeed, the other place.

Mr. Hayes

The Minister is, in fact, challenging the whole principle of disqualification. He said that the arbiter should be the electorate—that the electorate should judge who was eligible or ineligible.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Perhaps I can help. I do not regard the whole question of disqualification as relevant to the discussion of this amendment.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I note your strictures, Mr. Martin. I think that the Minister would like to intervene. I give way.

Mr. George Howarth

I caution the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that they should not misrepresent anything that I have said.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Of course we do not intend to misrepresent anything that the Minister has said. He has been perfectly clear and I think that my hon. Friend made the right assessment of the line the Minister took.

I ask the Minister to contemplate: are we seriously suggesting that a Minister in a Commonwealth country who has the right of residence in this country will apply for membership of the House? Is he seriously telling the public that, in 2000, we believe that that is a serious possibility?

Mr. MacKay

It is preposterous.

Mr. Howarth

Absolutely.

If the Minister is advancing that argument, he should start to consider its logical corollary. If he is not prepared to support the amendment, which would rule out Ministers in other Commonwealth countries becoming members of the UK legislature, we could face some bizarre situations.

My hon. Friends have drawn attention to the idea of people representing other Governments and being fifth columnists here. What would happen, for example, if a Minister from the Government of Zimbabwe took advantage of the legislation, sought election to the House and, by some bizarre circumstance, got elected here? We could then find ourselves in the ludicrous position of a man coming here, taking advantage of being in the Lobby with the Foreign Secretary and saying, "Come on. Give us a few more Hawk spares." He would not say that on behalf of a constituency—well, I suppose that he could be acting on behalf of both constituencies; he could represent a British Aerospace factory in the north-west. Then he would square the circle—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) wish to intervene?

Mr. Purchase

indicated dissent.

Mr. Howarth

We are always looking for interventions by Labour Members, who have been remarkably silent.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Assuming that the Minister from Zimbabwe was sitting on the Government Benches, it would at least create some lively discussions in the Government Lobby on the subject of section 28.

Mr. Howarth

rose

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) will not be tempted down that road.

Mr. Howarth

I could be, but, looking at your disposition, Sir Alan, I think that I will resist the temptation to follow my hon. Friend's suggestion. However, there is a serious point here. We are seeking to rule out a circumstance that can prevail at the moment. However bizarre it may sound, legislation currently permits some extraordinary things to happen.

The point that Opposition Members seek to make to the Government is that, instead of dealing properly with disqualification, or qualification for membership of the House, they have gone for one tiny element of it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and others have suggested, it is because there is some squalid deal with Sinn Fein, or republicans of some description or other.

The amendment takes a much more fundamental look at the legislation and suggests that if the Government are not prepared to deal comprehensively with the anomalies that arise out of the legislation as it relates to Commonwealth countries, they should accept the amendment, thereby making it explicit that at least we will rule out the possibility of a Minister in another Commonwealth country having the right to sit in the House.

I suppose that one could say that there might be advantages. If a Minister in Barbados sought membership of the House, many of us could find arguments for reciprocity, which would become hugely attractive. Conversations in the Lobby would be wholly different from the one that I have outlined in connection with Zimbabwe.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Twinning would take on another form.

Mr. Howarth

Indeed. There could be all sorts of corruption possibilities as people competed for twinning with Barbados.

4.45 am
Mr. Bercow

My hon. Friend is describing pithily what will obviously be a conflict of interest if we are not successful in securing the amendment's passage. Does he agree that allowing a Minister in another Parliament to serve as a Back Bencher in this Parliament would enable that individual to use the latter capacity to advance his interests in the former? Could we not have a situation in which such a Minister, using his Back-Bench role in this Parliament, would be able not only to make representations to the Foreign Secretary, but, for example, to lobby the Secretary of State for International Development for an improvement in the aid and trade provision to the country in which he was a Minister?

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

Pie in the sky.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) has just said that that is a load of rubbish, but, as you will attest, Sir Alan, he has not been in the Chamber or listened to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is entirely right.

We have to consider other matters. Membership of the House carries certain other benefits, such as provision of research assistants; access to the Library and to information; and the ability to table questions and early-day motions. All those benefits would be afforded to people who might have a conflict of allegiance, which is a serious matter.

The situation was wholly different in 1955, when Commonwealth countries were essentially governed from this place. Although those who represented people in those various countries sat in their own legislatures, they were British citizens and probably had a house also in the United Kingdom. Therefore, at the time, it made perfect sense not to rule out their entitlement to sit in this place. However, that was 1955.

In 1975, the opportunity was not sought to change the legislation to reflect the fact that Britain had gradually given up its colonial inheritance.

Today, 43 years on from the first colony's independence—in the Gold Coast, which became Ghana in 1957—we are in a wholly different position. What is our Government's motto? What was the watchword that appeared in the Queen's Speech time after time? It was modernisation. We have a Government who are committed to modernisation, but they have had the audacity to introduce this miserable little Bill, the true motive for which they will not—

The Chairman

Order. In previous speeches, the hon. Gentleman has tried to extend his comments to deal with the Bill's general principle, but that is not permitted. He must concentrate his remarks on amendment No. 6, and I do not want to hear arguments that I have already heard repeated. He must stay within the bounds of the amendment and in order.

Mr. Howarth

I apologise and take your strictures, Sir Alan.

The Bill presented the Government with an opportunity for modernisation. Amendment No. 6 offers a microcosm of such modernisation. It would provide an opportunity for the Government to say, "We recognise that, although the Disqualification Act 1975 is still valid, we wish to make some wholesale changes to it. We'll deal properly with it." Although the Opposition cannot persuade the Government to make other changes, amendment No. 6—which has been tabled not only by official Opposition Members, but by Ulster Unionist Members—would go at least some way towards dealing with one outrageous and glaring anomaly in the current legislation. Ministers have made it perfectly clear that they are not prepared to accept even that, but that does not sit at one with the Government's much-vaunted claim to be in the van of modernisation. They are making a big mistake.

Mr. Hayes

The Minister defended his position with regard to the amendment by saying that the electorate would be the arbiters of whether people's actions were influenced by a conflict of interest. However, we know from experience that politicians in those circumstances typically do not go before their electors. People who rat on their friends and deceive their party— [Interruption.]

The Chairman

Order. First, that intervention is far too long. Secondly, I do not wish to hear sedentary comments from the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell).

Mr. Howarth

I agree—[Interruption.]

The Chairman

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman for Blyth Valley is not seeking to defy the Chair.

Mr. Howarth

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), but I think that I have made the point that I wanted to make.

Mr. William Ross

Earlier, the hon. Gentleman reflected on the mischief that a Minister of a foreign Government could cause if elected to the House. However, he did not mention that any such individual could set up pressure groups to create an atmosphere of pressure on the Government.

Mr. Howarth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has drawn the Committee's attention to the further mischief that could be pursued if Ministers in a foreign—albeit Commonwealth—Government were allowed to participate in our proceedings.

I hope that a wider audience will learn that, in the middle of the night, the Government were unwilling to address an issue drawn to their attention by Conservative Members and by members of the Ulster Unionist party. In rejecting the amendment, the Government have shown that they are not prepared to deal comprehensively with an anachronistic piece of legislation.

Mr. Fabricant

I shall not rehearse what has been said about the amendment, but some other points occur to me. We have had 1,000 days of this Labour Government. Concession and appeasement have been evident in our relations with Ireland, and now there is a general erosion of the powers of this House.

I telephoned a friend in Seattle to discuss the amendment. He could not believe what the Bill proposes. He likened it to a member of a foreign Government being in the House of Representatives at the US Congress and arguing his country's case in the Government of the United States of America. He asked whether that was what we—he called us "you guys"—intended to do.

My American accent may not be very convincing, but that is an extraordinary proposition. The Bill would extend—

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a Second Reading point. I remind him that Second Reading is over. He must speak to the amendment. I do not want to hear such general comments; the time for them has passed.

Mr. Fabricant

The Bill would allow an Irish Government Minister to serve here as a Back Bencher. The Minister says that there is nothing wrong with that. After all, we are not saying that a Minister in the Irish Government would become a Minister of the British Crown. He said that it was perfectly normal and satisfactory for a Minister in the Irish Government to become a British Back Bencher. But it is extraordinary.

We know that smuggling goes on between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] There may be instances in which an equalisation of excise duties is in the interests of the Republic of Ireland. What is to stop an Irish Government Minister, on these green Benches, wearing his British Back Bencher's hat, arguing the case for equalising excise duties? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) is making sedentary interventions. He has come into the Chamber— staggered into the Chamber, I might say—and then makes interventions from a sedentary position. Would the hon. Gentleman now like to make a sensible point?

The Chairman

Order. I think that if the hon. Gentleman reads those words in Hansard, he will regret them. I hope that he will not pursue that particular line.

Mr. Fabricant

My point is that there would occasionally be conflicts of interest between someone who represented the Irish Government and was also a British Back Bencher. It is quite extraordinary that the clause is being debated, particularly at four minutes to 5 in the morning—in the hope, I suspect, that it will be covered on today's radio and television. Nevertheless I hope that it will.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks would get no coverage, at whatever time of day he made them.

Mr. Fabricant

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman treats so lightly the British constitution. The hon. Gentleman, who has just wandered into the Chamber and is chuckling away, may or may not have been watching our proceedings on the screen. Is he aware that we are discussing the sovereignty of this Parliament?

The Chairman

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the amendment? His general point about possible inconsistency has been worked extremely hard for many hours, and I do not think that it can continue to be repeated if the hon. Gentleman wishes to remain in order.

Mr. Fabricant

I am discussing the amendment, Sir Alan. The whole point about the amendment is to prevent a Minister in the Irish Government from appearing in this Chamber. My point, which has not been made before, is that there are questions to do, for example, with excise duties between the two countries. There are other questions, such as security, which have been raised before. They may cause a conflict of interest between the House and the Dail. It is important that these issues be fully discussed. I have been on my feet for only six minutes, and I do not think it unreasonable to rehearse those issues.

The Chairman

Order. I am trying to assist the hon. Gentleman. He knows that he is going over ground that has been gone over already. Perhaps I should remind him about Standing Order No. 42. I am not prepared to hear the same arguments made over and over again, particularly if they are more nearly related to the general principle of the Bill, which was decided by the House on Second Reading, than to this specific amendment.

Mr. Fabricant

Thank you, Sir Alan. The amendment specifies that no Minister in the government of any country or territory outside the United Kingdom can be a Minister in the United Kingdom Government. That is absolutely right. No other contribution today has referred to cross-border issues such as smuggling, excise duties and other problems in transferring goods across the border.

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman has now repeated himself on those very points. It may be in order to produce an example, but not to develop it to excess, as I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to do.

Mr. Fabricant

I am only repeating myself because I am not being allowed to make my point without some interruption from the Chair. [Interruption.] However, I take your point, Sir Alan. The amendment relates to an important constitutional issue, and should be supported by Members on both sides of the Committee who have any interest in the welfare of the House and of the constituents who elected them to it.

5 am

Mr. MacKay

I hesitated before rising to speak, because I assumed that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would be winding up the debate. There have been several significant contributions—not least that of the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), who has considerable experience in the matters that we have been discussing. Perhaps I was premature in rising. Will the Minister confirm that he is not going to wind up? I do not want to jump in ahead of him.

Mr. George Howarth

It is strange, Sir Alan. A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I intended to speak again; I made it perfectly clear that I had said everything that I wanted to say in my previous contribution. I do not know why he should assume that I had changed my mind.

Mr. MacKay

I assumed that I had misheard the Minister. When there has been significant debate on a significant amendment—especially an amendment signed by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the First Minister in Northern Ireland, and co-signed by other right hon. and hon. Members—and the debate has lasted for more than an hour, with five or six contributions, it is normally courteous to the Committee for the Minister to wind up. However, neither you, Sir Alan, nor I can force the Minister to wind up, so I shall proceed with my winding-up remarks. It is regrettable that the Minister has not paid the Committee the courtesy of winding up the debate. Perhaps, on mature reflection, he might want to do so when I sit down.

It is worth observing, in what has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate, that we have heard no contributions in support of the Minister from Labour Members. We must draw our conclusions on that point.

I am broadly agnostic about the Bill, but there seem to be two aspects of considerable concern. Those concerns have been expressed not only by Conservative Members, but by Unionist Members and by at least one right hon. and one hon. Member on the Government Benches—the only two Labour Members who have made any significant contribution during the Committee's proceedings.

The first concern is that there has been constant take, take, take by the paramilitaries—republican and so-called loyalist—with no give whatever. I made that point earlier, so if I pursue it now, I suspect that I shall be out of order.

The second valid concern is that there will be conflicts of interest and of loyalty. I welcome the fact that, to some extent, those conflicts have been acknowledged by the Government in clause 2. The clause refers to the disqualification from ministerial office in Northern Ireland of anyone who holds ministerial office in the Republic. No doubt, the Minister will want to refer to that matter when we reach clause 2—as will many right hon. and hon. Members.

There seems to be an absolute acknowledgement that there could be a conflict of interest. Once that has been accepted, we can go a stage further. I welcome the fact that, when we come to clause 2, the Minister has agreed to accept amendment No. 7, although I am not sure whether it was in order for him to mention it during this debate. That provision also acknowledges a conflict of interest, if I have read the amendment correctly. As you will recall, Sir Alan, we have had little time to prepare the amendments, because, for some strange reason, the Government are bulldozing the Bill through Parliament in two parliamentary days; something that never happens normally.

The Government Whip, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) laughs. Let me explain to her, because she is probably still quite a new Member of the House, although she is a Minister in the Whips Office—

Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling)

Do not patronise me.

Mr. MacKay

I think that I will patronise the hon. Lady a little, because she obviously thought it was very funny that an important constitutional Bill should be bulldozed through in two days. A Bill usually has a Second Reading and then, the following week or thereafter, passes into Committee. Only when a Bill is urgent or an emergency Bill do Second Reading and Committee take place on consecutive days; and early in the Committee the Under-Secretary at the Home Office admitted, from a sedentary position, that the Bill was neither urgent nor an emergency Bill.

I return to the welcome concession that it appears that the Government intend to make when we reach clause 2, by accepting amendment No. 7. It seems that the Minister is accepting that someone cannot simultaneously be a Minister in the Republic and the Presiding Officer or Deputy Presiding Officer in the Assembly. So yet again we have the acceptance of an anomaly and a conflict of interest.

In moving amendment No. 6, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) was absolutely right to say that it is vital that, if a person is a Minister in the Republic, they lose their rights to be a Member of either the Northern Ireland Assembly or this Parliament. There is a total conflict of interest.

I said that I was agnostic. I am quite prepared to acknowledge that there might or might not be a conflict of interest in being simultaneously a Member of the Dail and a Member of this Parliament, but I have absolutely no doubt that once one becomes a Minister and is a servant of the country, there is a conflict of interest if one is in another legislature. Therefore I am even more convinced than when I added my name to the amendment originally tabled by the First Minister that I was right to do so.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I am disappointed that the Minister would not respond. Surely, under the Government rules that we work to, a Minister cannot draw a salary in another House or anywhere else, so we are disallowed from benefiting from the provision, and only people sitting as Ministers in the Irish Republic would be able to draw the two salaries.

Mr. MacKay

Correct me if I am wrong, Sir Alan, but I believe that new clauses 4 and 5, which appear much later in the selection list, cover that point. I suspect that I would be out of order if I responded in detail, except to say that I have sympathy with my hon. Friend's point.

I return to amendment No. 6. Before I was interrupted, I was making the—I thought—important point that almost every Member who has contributed to the debate has asked why the Minister is insisting that someone can be a Minister in the Republic and still remain a Member of this place or of the Assembly.

It is absolutely clear to any of us who know the Republic well and travel there regularly that in the mainstream political parties in the Republic, the people who have, from time to time, held ministerial office have absolutely no wish, desire or expectation to be Members either of the House or of the Assembly. There is only one reason for the provision. Mr. Gerry Adams and other members of Sinn Fein are not only Members of the Assembly, duly and correctly elected. They are not only Members of this House—in the case of Mr. Adams, who has not taken his seat for Belfast, West, and of Mr. McGuinness, who has not taken his seat for Mid-Ulster. We believe that some of those members of Sinn Fein who have been elected to our House and/or the Assembly would like to stand for the Dail. They have the deeply misconceived idea that, if they stand for the Dail and get elected in some numbers—which is entirely a matter for the Irish electorate, not for me, so I shall not comment on the merits of their getting elected—they will hold the balance of power, due to the bizarre proportional representation voting system for the Dail. They then believe that one or other of the parties will invite them into coalition, and they will be Ministers. I do not believe that my friends in Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats and the Irish Labour party in the Dail would ever do that, but that is the reason why the Minister is resisting the amendment. It is a pretty shabby reason.

If that is not the reason, I would like to know why the Minister is resisting an amendment that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann—someone whom the Minister and I have rightly praised, and will continue to praise in the difficult weeks and months ahead—has tabled with considerable thought, and which was moved eloquently by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). I can think of no conceivable reason why the Minister cannot accept it. It is strange that he can accept the position that Lord Alderdice holds, and it appears that amendment No. 7 may be acceptable. However, that is acceptable only if Mr. Adams and Sinn Fein do not want to hold the positions.

Mr. George Howarth

The right hon. Gentleman should not put words in my mouth. I did not say any of the things that he has just attributed to me.

Mr. MacKay