HL Deb 06 November 2000 vol 618 cc1321-2

(" . No person may be a member of the House of Commons who holds an office of profit under a Commonwealth or foreign government which, if it were an office of profit under the Crown, would disqualify him from membership of the House of Commons.").

The noble Lord said: The new clause is self-explanatory. We have been anomaly spotting on the Bill and here is another one. Those who hold an office of profit under the Crown are not permitted to be Members of the House of Commons. A Member of Parliament who acquires an office of profit is immediately and automatically disbarred. Even such minor offices as steward of the Chiltern Hundreds or the Manor of Northstead disqualify a Member, as is well known. As my noble friend Lady Park pointed out earlier, some people holding valuable and respectable positions under the Crown are also disbarred.

However, it turns out that someone who holds an office of profit under a foreign government is not disbarred. That is clearly an anomaly and the amendment would rectify it. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Certain persons holding an office of profit under the Crown may not sit as Members of the House of Commons. The offices concerned are listed in the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975—an Act that I am sure is well known to the noble Lord. That Act specifically states that an office of profit is not a cause of disqualification unless listed in the Act. The amendment is in direct conflict with that. The office holders that it lists are disqualified from taking seats in the House of Commons because they are Crown appointees. Members of Parliament need to be sufficiently independent to perform their functions. It is not a matter of offices of profit, but of independence from the Crown.

Successive governments have believed that it is not right to depart from the principles set out in the 1975 Act. The Bill would extend to Members of the Irish legislature the same right to sit as Members of the House of Commons as is available to members of Commonwealth legislatures. That has been knocked about in the Committee all evening and we all understand it.

A citizen of Ireland or of a Commonwealth country may or may not sit as a member of that country's legislature, according to that country's law on disqualification. We do not believe that it would be right to impose a new restriction that could extend the scope of existing disqualifications of Commonwealth citizens. On that basis, I suggest that the amendment should be withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The purpose of the amendment has been achieved: it has shown how ridiculous the Bill is. The Minister's only defence, once again, is that the treatment of Members of the Irish legislature should he the same as that of Members of Commonwealth legislatures. We know perfectly well that no Member of a Commonwealth legislature has ever taken advantage of the provision or is likely to do so. The Minister's reason is empty.

I appreciate that the purpose of the office of profit rules for the House of Commons is that Members of Parliament should be independent of the Crown. They should be even more independent of foreign governments. We have heard once again that the so-called anomaly that the Bill is supposed to remove is by no means the only anomaly. On the contrary, the Bill is littered with them. That makes us all the more suspicious as to the reasons for picking out the particular anomaly that the Bill addresses. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick moved Amendment No. 9: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—