HL Deb 11 March 1982 vol 428 cc303-4

3.7 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name of the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make representations to the Government of the Republic of Ireland urging them to give to British subjects resident in the Republic the same rights and privileges, including that of voting in parliamentary elections, as those enjoyed by citizens of the Republic of Ireland resident in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, this is a matter for the Irish authorities. Both the last two Governments, however, affirmed their intention of introducing legislation to enable United Kingdom citizens to vote at elections to the Dail.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, can he say whether Her Majesty's Government consider that intention to be enough?—because this matter has been going on for 50 years, and surely reciprocity, at least between the two countries, should happen now. Is it not about time that Her Majesty's Government were a little firmer with the Government of the Republic of Ireland?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we consider the intention expressed by the last two Governments of the Republic to be enough.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is not this an intolerable situation? Is the Minister aware that only the other day we were informed in your Lordships' House that a British citizen going to the United States of America must be provided with a visa; whereas, Americans can come to this country without having a visa? Why should we have to suffer this humiliation? I do not object to Irish citizens coming to this country and voting in parliamentary elections. I do not object to it at all; it is democratic. Why should we not have the same privilege in the Republic of Ireland?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, Irish citizens have been able to vote here since the Republic left the Commonwealth. Our citizens can already vote in local government and European Parliament elections in the Republic. As I have said, the last two Irish Governments both undertook to enable our citizens to vote at Dail elections. It is true, of course, that there is some difference in the right to stand for the legislative assemblies in both countries. That would, of course, mean that the Republic would have to forfeit the delight of having the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, in the Seanad.

Lord Blease

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that the issues and the anomalies affecting British subjects resident in the Republic of Ireland were carefully examined and documented by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and, indeed, are contained in the second annual report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, which was published on 24th February 1977? I understand that it was formally presented to both Houses of this Parliament and that a copy is in our Library. Will the noble Lord draw his noble friend's attention to the fact that the issues are not simple, that they are quite involved and require some consideration, particularly from the point of view of the Irish Republic?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blease, both for what he said about the merits of the case and also for drawing attention to the fact that the Anglo-Irish joint study on citizenship rights, which was a joint study at official level between the two Governments, is a Command Paper which was published in November of last year. The conclusion to that study was that citizens of both countries enjoy virtually all the rights and privileges of citizens of the host country, reflecting the unique relationship between the two countries.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, can the Minister give us any timetable for the settlement of this problem, which has now been discussed for nearly half a century?

Lord Belstead

No, my Lords.