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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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