HL Deb 06 November 2000 vol 618 cc1281-305

6.3 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 2: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at beginning insert ("Subject to section (Commencement conditional on progress to decommissioning),").

The noble Lord said: The new clause contained in Amendment No. 34 would make it clear that the legislation should not come into force until there had been progress on decommissioning. In view of the suggestion made on the previous amendment that it might dilute my opposition to the Bill, I should make it clear that I oppose the Bill as a whole and do not want it to be passed into law or to come into force at any point. However, one has to proceed on the basis that it might be enacted.

We have already discussed the puzzle of why the Government want the Bill and who else wants it. The Minister said that nobody had asked for it and the Government had thought of it by themselves. When we asked why, he said that it simply corrected an anomaly to bring the situation into line with an unused provision. I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, got it right when he said that he found it difficult to understand the Bill and that he felt that we were meant not to understand the reasons for it. If it is to be enacted, the least that we can do is to try to ensure that the Government get something in exchange for making this concession.

It became clear during the debate on Amendment No. 1, if it was not clear before, that Sinn Fein is the only serious group that wants the Bill, apart from the Government. Are the Government getting anything in exchange? Everyone who is looking for a solution to the Northern Ireland problem wants things from Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. In particular, we all want them to renounce violence and the threat of violence as the means to a political objective. Decommissioning is the test of that.

The Good Friday agreement set out a two-year timetable for decommissioning. Well over two years later, nothing effective has happened, apart from two inspections of PIRA arms dumps. The loyalist terrorists have done nothing effective. If the Government want to achieve something through the Bill, it should be decommissioning. Now is the moment to do that and the aim of the amendments is to provide a vehicle for it.

The Government should not agree to anything else—certainly not anything as far-reaching as this Bill—without getting something in return. I was one of many who told the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that she would be unwise to allow the two-year timetables for prisoner releases and decommissioning to be separated. Allowing that separation in the agreement and subsequently has been the Government's key error on Northern Ireland. However, the prisoners are out and decommissioning has not effectively started, so the message to the Government now is that they should not make the same mistake again.

The Prime Minister sometimes proceeds as if it was necessary only to be nice to terrorists and they will be nice to us. If we let their prisoners out first they will soon give up their arms, and for that matter their aims. In fact, the terrorists have seen that and other developments as a sign of weakness and have kept asking for more and more, including the Bill, which was never in the agreement.

Sinn Fein wants the Bill, but nobody else in Northern Ireland does, as far as we can tell—apart from the Government. The message of the amendment is that if the Government must pass the Bill, they should at least get something for it, and preferably decommissioning, because that would be a symbol that the terrorists had begun to look to democracy and not to the bomb and bullet, which have destroyed the lives of so many people in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

I support the amendment. My Amendment No. 7 has the same aim: that the implementation of the Bill should be conditional.

Our belief that this is an extraordinary measure has been underlined by the interventions of the Minister. If we are to make an extraordinary concession, surely it should be linked to something. My noble friend on the Front Bench linked the concession to decommissioning and disavowing terrorism. My Amendment No. 7 is similar, but seeks that this part of the Bill will come into force only after the Secretary of State has made a statement that the Belfast agreement has been implemented in all respects by all parties.

It seems to me to be a reasonable demand to make that this far-reaching, extraordinary measure should at least be attached to visible progress. It has been felt that the Government have been sliding and that we are entering an unreal world. I consider that the most unreal moment occurred a few weeks ago when the noble Baroness who spoke from the Dispatch Box told us that we had no idea who had fired a mortar at the headquarters of MI6; I believe that there is hardly a Member of this House who is not pretty sure who fired it.

We are living in an unreal world in which standards are being abandoned and we are making fatal compromises that ultimately may contaminate our own standards. Therefore, I strongly support my noble friend's amendment and, as an alternative, plead in aid with it my own amendment which relates specifically to the Belfast agreement.

Attached to this group of amendments is my Amendment No. 35, which is of an entirely different nature. I am slightly surprised that it has been grouped in this way. Amendment No. 35 seeks to insert a new clause, which states that: This Act shall not come into force until legislation is passed by the [Irish Parliament] removing the disqualification on members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords becoming members of the legislature of Ireland". In other words, I believe that an argument exists for saying that we should have reciprocity before this measure is implemented. The concession that we are extending to those who are elected to the Dail should be extended by the Dail to Members of the House of Commons.

As I said in my earlier remarks, I believe that the bar on membership of the Dail is not the same. No Irish legislation exists which is comparable to the disqualification legislation in this country. However, I believe that I am right in saying that one can stand for the Dail only if one is an Irish citizen. Of course, a situation may arise in which an Irish citizen who is resident in this country, or an Irish national in Northern Ireland, succeeds in being elected to the House of Commons and then manages to be elected to the Dail.

However, we are extending to all Irish citizens the right to stand for election to the House of Commons. I believe that a reciprocal arrangement should be made before this legislation is passed. After all, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, sought to make his (if he will forgive my saying) slender justification for the Bill on grounds of symmetry. Let us have symmetry all round. Let membership of the Dail be available to Members of the House of Commons, which effectively at present it is not.

I know that an objection mentioned in the Minister's brief is that that would require the amending of legislation which would affect other members of the Commonwealth. We do not require Commonwealth legislatures to allow Members of the House of Commons to stand for the Seychelles Parliament before Members of the Seychelles Parliament are allowed to stand for election to the House of Commons.

However, as we have heard again and again, that is all theoretical. No Members of the Indian, Australian, Canadian or Seychelles Parliaments have ever stood for election to the House of Commons. There is no prospect of Members of Commonwealth parliaments becoming Members of the House of Commons. However, there is a very real prospect of someone in an Ulster constituency in Northern Ireland contriving through this Bill to be elected also to the Dail. The prospect of people being Members of the House of Commons and of the Dail is real. If such a situation is to occur, let us have treatment on all fours. Let us have some of the Minister's symmetry.

Of course, I do not believe that enabling Members of the House of Commons to stand for election to the Dail would justify the breach of the principle. It should not be possible for someone simultaneously to be a Member of two sovereign parliaments. Even if reciprocal arrangements were to exist, I should still find the principle offensive and wrong. However, if the Government, who have their Second Reading, are to proceed with this legislation, I believe that in order to make unsatisfactory legislation a little more equitable it would be reasonable to expect Members of the House of Commons, or people standing for election to the House of Commons, even if they were not Irish citizens, to be treated on the same basis. That is the thrust of my second amendment.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I rise briefly to support the amendment and what has been said by the two noble Lords. I do so because 15 members of my family are Australian citizens residing in Australia. Some of them are closely associated with the political machinery, both of the federal parliament and of the state legislatures. Never in any of my conversations with them have I heard a serious suggestion that any of my 15 Molyneaux connections should come here to stand for election to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, even though some of them could claim a certain qualification of residence.

Viscount Cranborne

It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who, if I may say so, has a wonderful propensity for taking sideways looks at subjects. I do not know what that does for other noble Lords, but it certainly cheers me up.

Rather like my noble friend Lord Lamont, very reluctantly I support my noble friends' Amendments Nos. 2 and 34. As my noble friend pointed out, the objection to the Bill has nothing to do with decommissioning. It is an absolute objection in principle. As I said in my remarks during the previous debate, the objection is that a Member of two sovereign parliaments will have a divided loyalty.

Neither Amendment No. 34 nor, with the greatest respect to my noble friend, Amendment No. 35 does anything to put right that outrage.

However, if the Government were to get their way—I very much fear that they will, in spite of our best efforts to prevent that—I suppose that it is incumbent on us to do what we can to make a bad situation a little better. Therefore, with some reluctance I support the amendment. However, I feel that I have no alternative but to do so.

Given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, the link to decommissioning which my noble friends made in Amendments Nos. 2 and 34 has a certain logic to it. For those of us who are disappointed at the progress of the peace process so far, I am afraid that it has become a matter of constant repetition to point out that one set of parties to the peace process has signally failed to perform the undertakings which it gave as part of the agreement.

Political parties closely linked with active terrorists on both sides of the sectarian divide—both the republican and the so-called unionist side—have failed to surrender one single ounce of Semtex or one single weapon. As government Ministers have repeatedly pointed out—and it was pointed out again in the debates on this Bill in another place back in January—that forms an integral part of the agreement. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office said so himself and it is recorded in the Official Report.

It is perfectly sensible for the Good Friday agreement to make the decommissioning of weapons an integral part of any peace agreement. After all, it is surely part of the deal of parliamentary government—and I hope it does not sound patronising because it is common cause between every single Member of this House but perhaps worth repeating—that we do what governments of the day tell us to do, very often extremely reluctantly, because we know that everybody engaged in the parliamentary process will play by the basic rule of the game, which is that, if we are outvoted, we shall go along with it. It is when people who go into administrations without having thrown away the Armalite but still using the ballot box come into play that we begin to wonder whether the game is not being played with a weapon which the rest of us not only do not possess but do not wish to possess.

It is for that reason that my noble friends have been extremely sensible in linking their amendments with progress to decommissioning. I am astonished at their moderation because they refer only to "progress to decommissioning" rather than the completion of decommissioning. That shows how low our expectations have sunk, as my noble friend intimated. Therefore, if we are to do what seems to me to be this outrageous and very silly thing, at least we might get some benefit from it if it is linked to a dedication to a purely parliamentary means of pursuing politics rather than using parliamentary means only so long as they work for whatever faction one happens to belong to. If it does not work, then the implied threat is there that, "They haven't gone away, you know".

For that reason, as I say, reluctantly, I must support that amendment, although it seems to me to have nothing to do with the principal objection to the Bill.

I turn briefly to Amendment No. 35 tabled by my noble friend Lord Lamont. All I would say about this amendment is that I feel rather the same way about it as I do about Amendment No. 34, as I believe my noble friend does as well. There is nothing to remove the principled objection which many of us have to this legislation but at least this encourages him a little further down that virtuous path of his addiction, which is rather sudden, to legislative tidiness.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, mentioned the federal parliament in Australia. Let us take that as an example. How does the noble and learned Lord think that those friends and relations, with their federal parliamentary connections, would feel if the Government of Australia suddenly presented this Bill, changing what has to be changed for Australian circumstances, to the Parliament of Australia, saying that it would be possible to be a Member of both Parliaments if one were a United Kingdom citizen? We know that if you are an Australian national you can, at the moment, be a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. I have already made clear that I deplore that matter as a relic of imperial times which needs correcting. But let us say that the Australian Parliament were presented with this Bill, suggesting that one could be a member of the Australian Parliament and a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament.

I spent an extremely happy year in Australia when I was 17 and 18 years-old, in the south west of Queensland. I am sorry to say that I have never been back to that wonderful country since, much to my dismay. But when I was there I learnt that Australians, even back in 1963–64, were beginning to have a very powerful feeling of their own nationality and the pride that goes with it. Even then, they were beginning to object to what I think became known as the cultural cringe.

In the wake of the Olympics, Australia has become increasingly self-confident and proud, and rightly proud, of its status as an independent nation. The idea that a mirror image of this Bill would be acceptable to the people of Australia seems to me to be so absurd as not really to require any further discussion.

So if it is right that the people of Australia or the people of other Commonwealth nations feel that way—and I am sure they would if presented with a Bill like this—and if, as my noble friend implied, a non-Commonwealth parliament, the Dail, might feel the same way, and there is no evidence to show that it feels any differently, if presented with a similar piece of legislation, why is it right that we should accept it?

It is purely speculation, but my only suggestion is that perhaps this is a hangover from imperial times when it seemed as though this Parliament were somehow greater and more important than other national parliaments and, therefore, we could afford to take a broader view and everybody would become privileged to become part of what would be a sort of imperial parliament. Indeed, if that is so, we go back to the days of Joseph Chamberlain, since we are clearly in the business of historical reconstructions today.

One only needs to ask oneself that kind of question to realise that what has become manifestly and increasingly obviously an absurd position for the Government to take is absurd even if one accepts the principle of the Bill, which I do not, unless Amendment No. 35 is accepted. I should prefer that our first amendment had been accepted but since that was not possible, I suppose we must try to make do with something which is at least a minor improvement on what is already an outrage.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

When the noble and learned Lord replies, perhaps he will comment on another dimension to this matter. It was said in the other place that we had consulted the Irish Government and hoped that that consultation would reflect also the views of the parties. But how do the interests of the Dail in all this square with the position which the Taoiseach has taken since January—and perhaps it is a new development—when he said, for Sinn Fein to take part in a government with Fianna Fail", which is, after all, what the Dail is frightened of because, although Sinn Fein has only 1 per cent of the vote in the south, that is likely to change, it would need to resolve its relationship with the IRA, as Fianna Fail did in the past, at the time of its formation". He added that., any government formed here would have to be in conformity with Article 15.6 of the Constitution which requires that there be only one Army raised", by the state.

If that is what he thinks, I find it surprising that he should wish to see anything done which would promote and advance the strength of Sinn Fein/IRA. When the Minister replies, I should like to know whether any further consultations have taken place since January with the Irish Government to take cognisance of that. That seems to me to be a reasonable concern on their part and equally on ours. If we have a government in the south which is heavily penetrated by Sinn Fein/IRA, we are all in trouble, not least the Taoiseach.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Dubs

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for the fact that I did not hear the whole of his opening speech, although I think I can guess what his arguments were.

Perhaps I may comment briefly on Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 which go to the substance of the debate. Obviously, everybody wants decommissioning to happen. However, it is not helpful or sensible to link this Bill to decommissioning. It seems to me that that would be going off on a tangent which is neither helpful to the cause of the Bill—I appreciate that the amendment is not intended to be—or to the cause of decommissioning. In this place we have found on a number of occasions that decommissioning has been linked to other issues. That is not helpful.

Decommissioning must happen because it is right in principle and not because we seek to link it to other issues that are before this place.

I have some sympathy for Amendment No. 35. I remember from my time in the other place the discussions on reciprocity as regards the right to vote of British people living in the Republic. It took some time for the equivalent right to the right of Irish citizens to vote in elections in this country to be granted.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he realise that he has put his finger on an important point? The argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for allowing Members of the Dail to stand for election in the UK was, to some extent, based on the fact that Irish people living in this country could vote. He tried to argue that if they could vote, they should be able to stand for the House of Commons. By that argument, if, thanks partly to the efforts of the noble Lord, British people are now able to vote in the Irish Republic, by the argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, they should also be able to stand for election to the Dail.

Lord Dubs

I understand the point but I think that my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench got it right. Reciprocity may be desirable. However, I believe that the way to achieve that is to pass this Bill and then to enter into negotiations with the Irish Government. Noble Lords laugh. However, that is precisely what happened on the right to vote. We had the right to vote for Irish citizens living in this country for many years. Then, I believe in the 1980s, we sought to engage with the Irish Government for a similar right. That is the way it happened then. It is no good noble Lords laughing. To my mind, that is the most sensible way for things to happen here.

However, I am bound to say that whatever protestations have been made from the other side about the fact that, "We are against the principle but if we fail to stop the principle, let us do it this way", the debate has rather weakened the argument in principle to which I listened before the Statement. It seems to me that if the case in principle is as strong as has been maintained, it is somewhat weakened by compromising in this way. Noble Lords opposite sold the pass on their own arguments before the Statement.

Lord Laird

As a Member of this place who resides in Northern Ireland, perhaps I may take the opportunity to raise a number of issues.

There was discussion earlier about the fact that members of the Commonwealth and citizens of the Irish Republic could vote in UK elections and that therefore it must follow that people could stand in UK elections. The point is that the people who are categorised to vote have a residency qualification. They live in the United Kingdom. It seems slightly unlikely that a Member of the Irish Parliament would he resident in the United Kingdom. So the argument is difficult to sustain.

I would ask the Committee to consider the effect of this type of legislation in Northern Ireland. As Members on this side of the Chamber have said, according to the Belfast agreement, there seems to be parity but some people appear to get more than others. We come back to the point where Sinn Fein/IRA and sections of the Dublin government are not fully implementing the Belfast agreement.

I listened with considerable interest when the Minister referred to the good relationships with the Government of the Irish Republic since the Belfast agreement. I am sure they were good even before the Belfast agreement, and I do not see why they should change now. However, while we are implementing the Belfast agreement, there are elements of the Dublin government which are not. I shall return to that subject later when we debate another amendment. It is not a case of rewarding them or giving them sweeties because they are doing the right thing. It is not even a case of giving sweeties to Sinn Fein/IRA because it is doing the right thing; it is not. It is not decommissioning. The only people I can see who are implementing the Belfast agreement in full are those in the party to which I belong; that is, the Ulster Unionist Party, and the people around us. It does not come naturally to us to be part of cross-border implementation bodies, but we are prepared to do that as part of the Good Friday agreement.

However, when we ask for understanding, help or support that might keep our community satisfied with what is going on, we are assured that the Belfast agreement is for them as well as for the nationalist community. We do not seem to make headway in the debate on the police Bill, nor in any other debate, or we make limited headway. I do not wish to take away from the help given to me personally by the Minister. I recognise that he has been extremely helpful on issues. However, government as a whole have not been helpful in playing their part in implementing the Belfast agreement and allowing us in the unionist community to bring along our community, which is an important element. As stated in this place only two weeks ago, if we do not have the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, we do not have a peace process.

Perhaps noble Lords could ask themselves what this kind of legislation is doing to the base support; the people who rally round the leader of the Unionist Party.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The substance of these four amendments makes the commencement of the Bill conditional upon three things: first, substantial progress on decommissioning; secondly, agreement by all parties to the Belfast agreement that all aspects of it have been implemented; and, thirdly, Irish legislation removing the disqualification for membership of the Irish legislature which applies to Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

As I made clear in the debate before the Statement on the floods, the position is that we put the Bill forward on the basis and in the light of the improving relations between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. For all the reasons I have indicated before, it is appropriate that the anomaly be removed. I do not put it forward, nor has it ever been put forward, as being a part of the Belfast agreement.

The first two amendments in particular do not relate to the subject matter of the Bill, but rather seek to delay the Bill coming into force until actions not related to the Bill have been taken by others.

As I indicated, this Bill is about promoting better relations in these islands—north and south but also east and west because the provisions affect the assemblies and the Scottish Parliament as well. To make these desirable and modest changes dependent upon action to be taken by paramilitary organisations would be inconsistent with the principles we are trying to advance. Similarly, to make commencement dependent upon a decision by all the parties that all aspects of the Belfast agreement have been implemented would delay the Bill for reasons which have no relation to the development of British-Irish relations.

I deal with the proposed amendment to the laws of the Republic of Ireland. There is no disqualification, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, explicitly acknowledged, in Irish legislation on the basis that one is a Member of the House of Commons or the House of Lords in this country. However, one must be an Irish citizen to vote or stand in an election to the Dail in the Republic of Ireland. But we are not talking about that aspect of electoral law; we are talking of disqualification from membership.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, would have no effect because there is no sort of disqualification along the lines of his amendment. To say that we remove the disqualification that exists under the law of the Republic of Ireland to be a Member of the Dail if one is a Member of the House of Commons would not mean anything because there is no such disqualification. In those circumstances, there is reciprocity in relation to grounds for disqualification of members of the respective legislatures; what there is not is reciprocity in relation to the right to vote in elections to the Dail as opposed to the right to vote in United Kingdom parliamentary elections.

But this Bill does not deal with that; it deals with disqualification from the legislature. For that reason, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, the third condition sought to be imposed is wholly inappropriate. In those circumstances I ask the noble Lord, Lord Cope, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

I shall not be pressing Amendment No. 35 to a Division, though I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for recognising that it has a certain logic.

I recognise, as the Minister said, that the amendment is perhaps not correctly worded because there is no specific disqualification on a Member of the House of Commons being a member of the Dail. But in Irish law there is an effective means of stopping most Members of the House of Commons from standing for the Irish Dail; that is, that one must be an Irish citizen. One cannot be a British citizen and stand for the Dail, though one could have dual nationality and stand, which may be a means by which some people will stand in the north and also stand for the Dail. My amendment is not illogical. It may be imperfect in its wording. But it is entirely logical, as was recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

As regards the noble Lord's points in relation to Amendments Nos. 7 and 2, I understand the argument that it is not appropriate because it links a different matter. But it is not entirely inappropriate to link a different matter when no reason of any kind has been advanced for this mysterious legislation that none of us understands. That is the unanimous view of everyone who has spoken, with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who did not speak on the first amendment. No explanation has been advanced for this Bill, other than the flimsy one of "tidying-up". Nonetheless, I shall not press Amendment No. 7 to a Division.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, apologised for missing my first few words and I entirely exonerate him from any blame in that respect. But he did thereby deprive himself of the opportunity of hearing me say very fiercely that I object to the whole Bill. But the fact that I object to the whole Bill does not disbar me, if I may say so to both the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Lord, Lord Desai, from discussing the details of the Bill.

Lord Dubs

I did not suggest that it would disbar the noble Lord. I suggested that it weakened the cutting edge of the point of principle made in the earlier debate.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

If the noble Lord regards it in that fashion, then no Committee stage would ever take place. It is an absolutely absurd construction of parliamentary debate that cannot survive. If the fact that one objects to a Bill means that one is not allowed to discuss the details without being accused of weakness, then we can pack up the whole Committee stage of everything. Perhaps that is part of the Chief Whip's plan. Maybe others are trying to install that idea. I know that some wish to downgrade the Committee stage but that would destroy it completely.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs

I thank the noble Lord for giving way again. I appreciate how Committee stages work. I understand his argument. But I have seldom heard on the first amendment in a Committee stage of any Bill such protestations about fundamental principles as I heard on the first amendment we discussed today. It is for that reason I made the point; not because of the general proposition that I am against both detailed and principled objections.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I shall not pursue the point except to express the view that I am glad that our fundamental objections got over to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in the first debate; they did not seem to get over to the Minister.

However, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also suggested that it was not helpful to the cause of decommissioning to link the amendment to anything else. That drew me back to the debates we had at the time of the Belfast agreement and shortly afterwards when we attempted to make a close linkage between the release of prisoners and decommissioning I still believe, as I said a few moments ago, that the failure to do that was a key error on the part of the Government in dealing with Northern Ireland matters.

I will not add to what my noble friend Lord Lamont said in relation to Amendment No. 35. However, if a Bill were presented to the Dail removing the limitation that only citizens of Ireland can stand for the Dail and, when the Minister in the Dail was asked who wanted it he was told that the British Government asked for it, that would not be very satisfactory.

I turn to the amendments. This is a matter of fundamental importance. For that reason the Government should not give this Bill away, which is what they intend to do, for nothing in return. The suggestion is that there should be decommissioning. There are two versions on offer. I admit to my noble friend Lord Cranborne that my version is more moderate than that of my noble friend Lord Lamont. I thought it might help to attract the Government to this course of action. Clearly, I was mistaken. They see it as a sign of weakness. And if I may say so, that is exactly how the members of Sinn Fein see the Bill. That is exactly how they see the release of prisoners—as a sign of weakness. That is why it is no good continually giving away things—this is one more example—and expecting the terrorists to say, "Oh, they are nice people after all. We will drop our aims". They will not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Lord Lamont of Lerwick moved Amendment No. 4: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert ("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").

The noble Lord said: No doubt I shall be told by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, that I am linking something that should not be linked. I am doing something which is absolutely outrageous: I am asking that before someone takes their seat in the House of Commons, as a Member of the Dail, they should disavow terrorism. What a terrible thing to ask! I am linking the most outrageous demands with this most outrageous Bill.

But the noble and learned Lord cannot say that I am interfering with a process. What I propose should be perfectly consistent with the peace process. Indeed, I believed that the original provisions of the Belfast agreement were that those participating should disavow terrorism. I understand that to be a Minister in the Executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly it is necessary to disavow terrorism. If it is so in order to be a Minister in the Executive, it seems a very reasonable requirement that one should also disavow terrorism before taking one's seat either in the House of Commons or in the Northern Ireland Assembly. If that provision can apply to Ministers in the Executive, why should it not apply to Members of the Assembly as well?

There are many provisions in other countries to which one might refer. The United States of America does not admit a person with a visitor's visa if they have a murder or a terrorist conviction. Only a few days ago we heard a Foreign Office Minister say that she thought it totally inappropriate for people who had been connected with the Milosovic regime to play any part in Serbian politics. We were laying down the law as to who should participate in the democratic politics of Serbia regardless of the wishes of the new president and politicians in that country. My noble friend Lord Cranborne made a very pertinent intervention. He asked whether we were really going to pursue that policy even though it threatens the political stability of Serbia. How can we preach to other countries about who should be involved in their politics and not impose minimum requirements ourselves in disavowing violence? This amendment represents a very small linkage to make. It is a very reasonable request to ask that if we are to have this extraordinary measure for which no justification has been advanced, we should at least demand that those who will sit in the House of Commons or the Assembly as well as in the Dail should have explicitly rejected terrorism. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, will have made his calculations. He will be aware of the fact that currently there are two representatives claiming to be representative of so-called loyalist paramilitary organisations. I am not certain that the establishment—by that I mean the dreaded Northern Ireland Office—would particularly relish the expulsion of those two Members of the Assembly. If that were done, the majority would be lost and the whole house of cards would collapse.

Viscount Cranborne

I support these amendments. It may be uncharacteristic, but I wish to ask the Minister but one question. Can he tell the House what conditions the Dail itself imposes on its Members not only in regard to the rejection of terrorism, but also what oaths have to be taken and checks made on Members of the Dail before they can become Members? If we are to do this foolish thing, it would be very reassuring for us to know that certain good housekeeping measures had been taken by the Dail itself so that we may find exact reciprocity between the two parliaments.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

I should like to know whether we can rely on the Government to apply the Representation of the People Act, which disqualifies anyone who has been detained for more than a year for any offence or who is unlawfully at large at any time when he would otherwise be detained? Anyone in that situation is precluded from becoming a Member of Parliament. Are the Government meditating setting aside that ruling, because I cannot see any member of Sinn Fein—IRA who is at present in the frame for this not qualifying under that description as excludable? It would be very interesting to know whether legislation is now being thought about while the Prime Minister has his bath, which might remove that provision in order to make life easier for everybody.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I support Amendment No. 4 and speak also to my Amendment No. 5, which is of similar import. I shall not dance around the differences of detail in the wording of the amendments. We are trying to achieve the same thing. I do not believe that either my noble friend or I is concerned to push the precise wording on the Government.

This is a very important point. I referred earlier to the possibility of Mr Pat Docherty standing in the West Tyrone by-election and subsequently for Donegal. The activities of Mr Docherty are extremely well documented in the public record as a leading member of the Provisional IRA over a large number of years. He has been very active in, and a senior member of, that organisation. I am not saying anything new. I am not seeking parliamentary privilege to make some great accusation. It is perfectly well documented in all kinds of publications.

The possibility indicated by this amendment is not a theoretical proposition at all. It might be an immediate one. Terrorism and democracy are incompatible. If democracy is to survive, it should not admit terrorists into its ranks. There are plenty of examples throughout the world where former terrorists have come into government and have made good leaders of their countries, but only after they have firmly relinquished rule by the gun and the bomb. That is the purpose of these amendments. I agree with the opinion of the Taoiseach quoted to us earlier by my noble friend Lady Park. Terrorism and democracy are not compatible.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

These amendments would retain disqualification from membership of the House of Commons and the Assembly, which disqualification would otherwise be removed by the Bill in respect of any Member of the Irish legislature who has been a member of a proscribed organisation within the meaning of the Terrorism Act 2000 and has not disowned terrorism within the meaning of that Act. I do not believe that there is any need for me to go through the list of the organisations.

As regards the approach in the Bill, I return to what I said at the beginning. It is intended to make the position of the Republic of Ireland the same as that of Commonwealth countries. In that regard, there are provisions in the Bill setting up the Assembly and provisions in relation to the House of Commons relating to other disqualifications. They will continue to apply as before. It is not intended to differentiate between the position of Members of the Dail and that of Members of any Commonwealth legislature.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, rightly identified, these amendments try to link to this Bill the one thing the Bill is not about. The Bill reflects the good relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It deals with the anomaly identified in the first debate in Committee. It would be contrary to this purpose to impose a new disqualification in relation to Members of the Republic of Ireland legislature which did not apply to any other body to which the right of dual membership applied. On that basis, it is contrary to the principle which underlies the Bill.

As regards the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Committee will know that all its Members are members of parties which have indicated that they are committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic methods. Therefore, in relation to the Assembly, there is already in place a provision which meets many of the points made by Members of the Committee.

7 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

Am I not right in saying that there is a requirement for Ministers in the Executive to make a specific declaration about having disavowed terrorism?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

I believe that there is and I will check the precise details. Those in the Box are nodding that that is correct. However, I am going further than that because there is a requirement for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which goes beyond The Executive, to be members of parties which have indicated that they are committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic methods.

There are three further questions which I must answer. First, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked whether the Irish Dail imposes conditions in relation to terrorism. It imposes no disqualification provisions in relation to membership of a proscribed organisation. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, asked about the Representation of the People Act. I am not acquainted with the provisions to which she referred but I can make it clear that there is no intention to change the provisions of that Act.

In the light of what I have said, it always comes back to the same propositions coming into conflict in the course of the debate. We say that the move is sensible and modest, not related to the issues to which Members of the Committee seek to relate it. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

I agree with one thing which the noble and learned Lord said; that we always receive the same reply from him. We have just heard that it always comes back to the same thing; he tells us what the Bill does and then says that we should not link it with anything else. It may have occurred to him that that is what amendments to legislation do; they link legislation to other things. That is the whole purpose of amendments. They can sometimes achieve the precise objective, making it a little more easily, but sometimes they also introduce related issues. It is not an extraordinarily outré idea that an amendment should establish some linkage to something. The noble and learned Lord should not look so shocked and surprised and believe that I am the first person ever to propose an amendment which links something to something else.

The noble and learned Lord has not made much of a case. He conceded the point that Ministers in the Assembly make a specific disavowal of terrorism. If Ministers in the Assembly have to do that, why should not Members of the Assembly do that—or why at least should not Members of the House of Commons have to do that? It does not seem an unreasonable request. My noble friend Lady Park argued that that is how the law ought to be applied in any event; it is what we have come to expect.

It seems—if I may have the Minister's attention—to be a reasonable request. I see that I do not have his attention. Perhaps we are negotiating the dinner break, which according to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, we have already had. I wish only that we had! It is not outrageous to suggest that there should be a disavowal of violence.

I am afraid that this is all just part of the very shabby, contaminating compromises which are being made and which I believe will one day come back to haunt us. I do not believe that you can make compromises of this kind without there being undesirable consequences in the long run. However, the Minister is sitting there and Ministers have responsibility for this. After what he has said, I shall not press the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved]

Lord Lamont of Lerwick moved Amendment No. 6: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert— ("( ) At the end insert "is a Minister in the government of any country or territory outside the United Kingdom; or"").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 6 seeks to ensure that no one who is a Minister in another country should be a Member either of the House of Commons or the Northern Ireland Assembly. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will not give the same reply by saying that it attempts to link the Bill with an unrelated matter. It seems to me to be a closely and clearly related matter. It seeks not to go off at a tangent to an unrelated subject but to narrow down the number of people who would be able to sit both in the Dail and in the House of Commons or in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I am sure that the noble and learned Lord realises that the amendment was tabled in another place by the First Minister for Northern Ireland. He was unable to be present to press his amendment or to speak to it, but he thought that it was important. Some of us are concerned that his anxieties and interests are being ignored. I know for a fact that he does not relish nor is enthusiastic about the Bill. I believe that if I cannot persuade the Minister of the merits of an amendment he ought to take seriously something which has been proposed by someone to whom the Government are deeply indebted for what he has done to keep the whole show on the road. If he has given so much and has kept the show on the road, I believe that the amendment he tabled in the House of Commons should be taken seriously.

It does not seem to me that it would be a good idea for a Minister in another country to be a Back-Bencher in the Northern Ireland Assembly or in the House of Commons. It seems to me that that would lead to a conflict of loyalty, as does the whole Bill. The conflict of loyalties is that if you sit in a sovereign Parliament you represent your constituents but of course you have national interests in mind. In addition, often the function of a Back-Bench Member of Parliament is to sustain a government or to bring a government down. That is where there could be a clear conflict of loyalty.

Having read the account of the debates in another place, I know that the Minister went so far as to say that he thought that some people in Northern Ireland might be better represented if a Member of the Assembly were also a Minister in the Irish Government. I found most extraordinary the suggestion that someone would be better able to represent their constituents by being a Minister in one government and a Back Bencher in a parliament in another country.

It would be easy and consistent with the Bill to make the disqualification. The House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 disqualifies a number of public office holders. Disqualified from sitting in the House of Commons are holders of certain judicial offices; High Court and Court of Appeal judges; civil servants, whether or not established and whether or not full or part time; members of the regular Armed Forces; full-time police officers; and, as we have been reminded, members of the legislature of any country outside the Commonwealth. If all those people can be disqualified, why cannot we also have a disqualification for a Minister in another country? That seems to me a simple, clean amendment. It does not go off at a tangent nor relate to a matter which is unrelated to the purpose of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I rise briefly to support the amendment. We have heard that the Government have been anomaly spotting and have discovered one particular anomaly, which is the subject of this Bill. However, I believe that my noble friend has spotted another anomaly of potential importance. It is only of potential importance if the restriction on members of the legislature of any country or territory outside the Commonwealth, or permission for Members of the New Zealand Parliament and so on to sit in our Parliament, arises. It is quite likely that it will arise if the Government believe that it is real enough to extend it to Ireland. Therefore, the anomaly which has been spotted by my noble friend should be eliminated by means of his amendment.

Viscount Cranborne

I support this amendment. My noble friend has also done a service to the Committee by raising this matter. After all, if those who object to this Bill suggest that where one is a member of two sovereign parliaments there is a conflict of interest, how much greater is the conflict if the person concerned is a Minister in either a sovereign parliament or an assembly which is subsidiary to it? Therefore, the basic objections must apply in spades. Surely, if only as a matter of degree, the noble Lord will see that here there is an objection in principle, and I hope that he will acknowledge that in his reply.

As a spin-off to this particular amendment, perhaps the Minister can tell the Committee whether it is theoretically possible for a Minister in the Irish Government to be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

Perhaps the Minister can say whether he finds it even sensible to consider rejecting this amendment which prevents the possible entry of a Minister when the House of Commons Disqualification Act excludes, for example, members of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, the Staff Commission for Wales and the Child Support Appeals Tribunal for Northern Ireland. It is extraordinary that no one is worried about excluding those people but is anxious to include people who have no relevance whatever to the interests of the country.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Rogan

I should like to speak to Amendment No. 7A. In so doing I should like to make a few general remarks about this piece of legislation. I, too, am against the entire Bill. However, I hope that that does not preclude me from explaining my particular objections to parts of the Bill as it passes through Committee. I made clear my objections to the Bill during Second Reading in July, and my view has not changed. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, I again ask whether the Bill is still important for the so-called choreography in Northern Ireland.

I was pleased to hear earlier the assurances given by the Minister that it is not within the Belfast agreement. Just as one cannot cherry pick that agreement, one cannot add to it without the full agreement of all its signatories. As it stands, Clause 1 would amend the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 and the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 and permit members of the legislature and Ministers of the Government of Ireland to sit in another place and in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are all aware that potentially only a small group of individuals could ever benefit from this extension, and probably they would all be in the same party. Amendment No. 7A is designed to ensure that those who hold office in the Government of the Republic of Ireland as Ministers, junior Ministers or committee chairmen will remain disqualified from the Northern Ireland Assembly and the House of Commons.

Why do I wish to do so? One returns to the question of a potential conflict of interest. To sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the House of Commons and the European Parliament may be a demanding task; it may not allow one to devote as much time as one wants to each, but it does not give rise to a conflict of interest. Any person, however, who sits in a devolved, national and supranational assembly can do so knowing that the interests that he represents are the same. But the same cannot be true of a person who seeks election to two sovereign national parliaments, or to a sovereign national assembly and, simultaneously, to a devolved assembly of another sovereign nation.

I oppose the clause in its entirety. This amendment may be insufficient. However, like the noble and learned Lord's description of this measure on Second Reading as a modest Bill, this amendment is modest. It aims to remove the inevitable glaring conflict of interest which will arise and is completely consistent, at least with respect to the Northern Ireland Assembly. If the Minister will not listen to the views of those who oppose this clause in its entirety, I urge him to consider what I term my modest amendment.

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

These amendments would create a new disqualification from membership of the House of Commons and Northern Ireland Assembly. Amendments Nos. 6 and 39 would remove the existing right of some members of Commonwealth legislatures to stand for election and sit as Members of the House of Commons and the Assembly. Amendment No. 7A has a slightly different effect: it seeks to prevent Irish Ministers or committee chairmen from serving as Members of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Bill, with the amendments that we have tabled, will disqualify Irish Ministers and the chairmen and deputy chairman of Irish parliamentary committees from holding office as Northern Ireland Ministers or as chairmen or deputy chairmen of statutory committees. I hope that Members of the Committee will take that point carefully into account. We believe that our amendments are well directed and precise in their effect. The Bill is designed to prevent conflicts of interest that could otherwise occur if a Northern Ireland Minister or chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory committee of the Assembly also held office as a Minister in the Irish Government or chairman or deputy chairman of an Irish parliamentary committee.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

A minute ago the Minister said that the Bill as proposed would not allow a Minister in the Dail to be a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. He went on to talk about the chairmen and deputy chairmen of subject committees also being disqualified. However, is that not subject to the amendments that the noble Lord is yet to propose?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Obviously, that is the case. I am sure that the noble Lord is aware of the amendments.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

Surely, it is quite wrong to describe a Bill in certain terms before we have reached amendments which are found way down the Marshalled List. The Minister has given a completely incorrect description of the Bill.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Technically, the noble Lord is absolutely right. We have not yet reached those amendments, but they are before the Committee to consider. We are trying to make progress with this issue. I accept that the noble Lord has a particular view. We have tried to meet some of the earlier concerns with regard to the legislation. The amendments reflect those concerns. The same conflict of interest would not apply if a Minister of a government of another country were to sit as a Member of the House of Commons or the Northern Ireland Assembly. Existing legislation does not prevent that.

Members of the Committee have asked questions to which I shall try to provide a response. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked whether a Minister in the Irish Government could be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The answer is yes, but not as a member of the Executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I hope that that clarifies that point.

This group of amendments takes us no further. We have met most of the points with later amendments. Although I understand some of the concerns surrounding this part of the Bill, I can see no good reason for the amendment to be pursued.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

I have to say that I do not find the Minister's reply particularly persuasive. But we have been over this ground and he has returned to the core argument that has been deployed throughout the proceedings on the Bill. Obviously I am not making any progress with our point, which is shared by a number of Members of the Committee, about the conflict of loyalties and about undue influence in this most extraordinary Bill. In those circumstances, I shall not seek to press the amendment to a Division. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 7 and 7A not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

Perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, to reply to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. He made some reference to it, but I do not think that he replied very fully. The noble Lord asked about the contrast between the position of the European Union and the situation that we are now moving towards vis-à-vis the Republic of Ireland.

In the debate on Amendment No. 1, the solution of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, to the lack of symmetry that so offends the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is that we should open up membership of the House of Commons to Members of all the parliaments of the European Union. A Member should be allowed to be a member of the Bundestag or the Assemblée as well as of the House of Commons. That is restricted at the moment. The Disqualifications Act specifically disqualifies people from being Members of the House of Commons if they are Members of a European Union legislation.

However, that raises the question why that is not judged to be discriminatory legislation and how it is consistent, as is stated on the front of the Bill, with the Human Rights Act 1998 and with convention rights. I almost raised this point at the start of Committee stage, but I thought it would be rather disruptive before we even reached the first amendment. As it has been raised once already, but not fully answered by the noble and learned Lord, it would be a service to the Committee if he could give us a fuller explanation of how the clause is not discriminatory and how it complies with convention rights. Obviously this is a matter that has been fully considered.

Viscount Cranborne

There is a very powerful temptation, which I shall endeavour to resist, yet again to conduct a Second Reading debate on clause stand part at Committee stage of the Bill. Indeed, it is also a temptation to try to reiterate all the arguments that have been expressed by the doubters on all sides of the Committee during today's proceedings. Members of the Committee will no doubt be relieved to hear that I have no intention of so doing.

I wish to set on record my disgust at the Bill and what the guts of it in Clause 1 contain and at the way the Government have brought the Bill forward and the extraordinary way in which they have proceeded to manage its passage through both Houses of Parliament.

There is one explanation for the Bill which my noble friend Lord Lamont has given and which has been explained with great clarity by my noble friend Lord Cope; namely, a secret deal has been done with Sinn Fein/IRA. It was alluded to by the delightful phrase used by the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms on 27th July when he said that this was all part of the "choreography" of the negotiations surrounding the agreement.

That is one explanation. But perhaps lingering in the background to the Bill, and adding to a fear that has lingered for a long time in the minds of the majority of the inhabitants of the Province of Northern Ireland—I speak as someone who has been interested in Northern Irish matters for over 20 years—is the thought that somewhere in Whitehall and among certain politicians there is only one solution which appeals to them to the so-called "Northern Ireland problem". That solution is that at the very least the Province should be pushed into a situation where there is joint authority over it by the Republic of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom.

I hope and believe that was not the intention of the government of whom I was a member. We have assurances from the present Government that that is not their intention. This piece of legislation will revive those suspicions in their most extreme form in the Province. Even if we thought that in principle Clause 1 was desirable for the reasons given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer—I have already made it clear, I hope beyond peradventure, that I do not think that they are desirable—that purely in terms—I use the word advisedly—of the choreography of the politics of Northern Ireland, this is ill advised. In a province where confidence is lacking, the Bill will undermine what little confidence there is left among the Unionists that they can trust the Government of the country of which they are still a part.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I trust that the noble and learned Lord the Minister will be able to give the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, assurances with regard to the policies and the intentions of Her Majesty's Government. It is important that that should be done at this juncture.

I get the distinct impression that there are grave reservations in the Committee over the clause with which we are dealing. I know that some Members of the Committee, for obvious reasons, cannot give voice to their concerns. For my part, I fear that a Bill containing the clause that we are debating will remain a very large blot on the statute book of the United Kingdom.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

I do not, of course, wish to make a Second Reading speech and so I shall confine myself to the provisions of the clause. We are debating whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill. Perhaps I may take the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, back to the question that I asked him some time ago. Who has asked for the Bill? When the noble and learned Lord replied that it was not appropriate to ask that question, noble Lords on all sides of the Committee greeted that response with the levity it deserved. In my short time in the House I have not heard anything approaching the guffaw that that response elicited.

The noble and learned Lord has said that it is the duty of a government to set out the case for any proposal—to set out their stall, as it were. No doubt it is. It is also the duty of any government to explain whether a need is being met which has been voiced by any political party, government, advocate or supplicant of any substance or significance. Will the noble and learned Lord answer this question? Are the Government still wedded to the concept of transparency? If they are not, his response to my question was at least consistent with that change of position. If, on the other hand, they are, how can he conceivably justify his claim that it is inappropriate to ask as much who is for the Bill and who has asked for it as it is to ask who is against it and who has expressed those views? In the interests of parliamentary government, without being too solemn about this, I do hope that the noble and learned Lord will answer those questions.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

Some shrewd and important questions have been asked of the noble and learned Lord and I look forward to hearing his answers to them. I rise only in case the noble Lords, Lord Dubs or Lord Desai, should take silence as consent to Clause I standing part of the Bill. It is far from it. Clause 1 embodies the nub of the Bill. I believe that it is a dangerous measure and offensive to democracy.

My noble friend Lord Cranborne referred to the possibility, to which I had alluded earlier, that the Bill reflects a secret deal with Sinn Fein or others. That is one possibility. The other possibility is that the Government are walking blind into this trap; that is what it is if they are getting nothing for it and it is not the result of any deal. I have sufficient respect for the intelligence of the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland not to think that they are walking unseeing into the trap. I believe that he would have seen through it. That is what makes me think that something else is going on.

Throughout the proceedings, as has been made clear by speakers in the past few minutes, the noble and learned Lord the Minister has been attempting to present the Bill as if it is some kind of sealed package that is to be seen in total isolation from the surrounding political and security circumstances and in total disregard, for that matter, of those consequences Only a lawyer could think that that is a relevant and sensible proposition. Most lawyers would not advance it because, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew has made clear, they see further than that. It is an offensive clause in an offensive Bill.

Lord Dubs

Perhaps I may speak for a few moments. I appreciate that we are debating whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill. As has already been said, it is not a Second Reading debate. But there is surely one key issue. Our relationship with Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland's relationship with us and Northern Ireland's relationship with the rest of Ireland are quite unique. Because Northern Ireland is in such a unique position there are times when unusual measures need to be brought forward. That is the nub of this debate. Northern Ireland has a relationship with the Republic of Ireland that is different from that which any part of the UK has with any other foreign country. That is reflected in many aspects of the Belfast agreement—the North/South bodies, the Council of the Isles and many other measures. The position is surely not so anomalous as to say that it is inappropriate that Clause I should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

That may be so. But it is not the argument used by the noble and learned Lord the Minister. As a matter of fact, it is an argument with which I do not agree in this case.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Perhaps I may deal, first, with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. He is right. I did not deal with the point of whether the Bill is discriminatory vis-à-vis either the European Convention on Human Rights or our EU obligations. As he rightly said, the matter has been carefully considered. It is not contrary to any of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights or in relation to our obligations under the EU treaties. Every country has the right to determine its own constitution, including membership of its legislature. It is for each individual member state, whether a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights or a member of the EU, to determine the provisions in relation to that. The Disqualifications Bill determines conditions pursuant to which someone may or may not become a Member of the United Kingdom legislature. That is something which we as a Parliament are entitled to decide. We are quite satisfied that the Bill does not offend against any of our obligations under either of those legal regimes.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, sought assurances that there is no parity between the Dublin government and the Westminster Government in relation to the governance of Northern Ireland. Of course I give that assurance. The noble and learned Lord knows that we have made it clear. It is enshrined in the Belfast agreement and it is enshrined in legislation that Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom subject to the exercise of the principle of consent by the people of Northern Ireland. That does not change.

In reply to the other points that were made, they come back four-square to the debates we have had on all the other amendments. The Government believe that they are entitled to have the Bill judged on its merits by the legislature. The legislature must decide whether it thinks it is an appropriate Bill. I have said why we think it is appropriate. In relation to the question, "Who asked for it?", I have said that that is not an appropriate question. I say that it is for the government of the day to decide whether it is appropriate to promote legislation and then to let the legislature decide. That remains my position. I therefore commend Clause 1 to the Committee.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, he has been courteous enough to advert to my question, though he found it impossible, I fear, to answer it. But he has left unanswered one question that I asked him. In these circumstances, are the Government still able to claim that they are wedded to the concept of transparency?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Of course we remain wedded to the principle of transparency. It is for this House, in concert with the House of Commons, to decide the merits of the Bill.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.