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Mr. Fallon: Do not drag the Lord Chancellor into it.

Mr. Swayne: I would if it were in order, but time is pressing and the Minister wishes to reply.

I would have accepted a measure that simply made things easier for Mr. Cairns in Greenock and Inverclyde, but what we have is a wider constitutional measure with which I profoundly disagree.

1 Mar 2001 : Column 1135

6.54 pm

Mr. Forth: What we have learned during the debate on this Bill, small though it may seem and mild though it may appear, is that it contains a number of substantial issues. There is, for example, the issue of history and tradition, which was covered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) in his usual elegant and knowledgeable way. We need only glance at schedule 2 to see that the repeals go back as far as 1801--as has been mentioned a number of times--and involve six Acts. There is therefore no doubt at all that what is being dealt with in this seemingly small Bill is a substantial part of our history and tradition. From that point of view, it has an importance that perhaps goes beyond its apparent scope.

The matter at the heart of the Bill is whether it is right and proper for the law of this land to seek to determine which members--outside those who have offices of profit under the Crown, as has been mentioned in the debate--of which faith or Church should or should not be able to come to this place. As I have said, I am happy to be in the camp that says that there should be no such restrictions. I have made that very clear and I have no problem with it at all. On that basis, I would be happy for the Bill to proceed. I also think that we all understand why, although it seems paradoxical, the Bill has to provide that Lords Spiritual should continue to be disqualified from membership of this place--obviously because of their position in another place.

Despite the arguments that have been made most eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), my difficulty with the Bill remains its provenance. It has been said a number of times and in a number of different ways that surely the mere fact that the Bill would happen to help one individual should not stand in the way of the principle. I do not see it that way at all. If that were the case, the Bill should have been introduced earlier and handled in a different manner, and we should not be under the time pressure in which we now find ourselves. I also regret that the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) and me could not be dealt with fully and properly.

The Bill, if passed, would take effect on Royal Assent and thereby enable an individual whom the law would previously have debarred to be elected to this place. I believe that that in itself is sufficient reason for the House not to support the Bill in the circumstances in which we are being offered it. That is why, although I favour the principles of the Bill, I shall oppose it if, as I hope, we divide on it. I think that it is the right Bill, but at the wrong time.

6.57 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I ask the House to support the Bill. The Government believe that it is a very important Bill which does have constitutional implications. That is why, in Committee, it was debated on the Floor of the House. It raises issues about the proper role of the state and about the role of the state in relation to the Church.

The Government's view is that we should not tell the Catholic Church or other Churches--I appreciate that there are specific arguments about the established Church--how to run their internal affairs. That should be a matter for them. Today, we are deciding what should be

1 Mar 2001 : Column 1136

the law of this land. In my view, the law of this land is discriminatory. It provides that a person such as David Cairns--who was a priest, practised as a priest and remains a priest, although he is no longer practising as such--should not be able to stand for Parliament. The Bill will ensure that he can.

There has been much discussion about priests being defrocked and laicised and other such issues. The fact is that David Cairns does not wish to be defrocked. That is really not a course of action that is open to him. Additionally, the Pope takes a particular view on laicisation, which makes it very unlikely that David Cairns could be laicised. At least in religious terms, therefore, he remains a priest although he does not practice as one. In such circumstances, it is wrong that he should be prevented from standing for Parliament.

As the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) has said so eloquently, David Cairn's case is in many ways within a tradition in which the House can have some pride. When faced with the Bradlaugh case, after a while--perhaps it needed convincing--the House changed the law. In the early 1960s, when faced with the circumstances of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), the House again took the decision to change things.

This Bill is right and I commend it to the House. It is a small Bill and a good Bill. I hope that the House will support it.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:--

The House divided: Ayes 196, Noes 15.

Division No. 140
[6.59 pm


Ainger, Nick
Atkins, Charlotte
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benton, Joe
Bercow, John
Bermingham, Gerald
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Browne, Desmond
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cotter, Brian
Cox, Tom
Crausby, David
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Denham, Rt Hon John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drown, Ms Julia
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Ennis, Jeff
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Gapes, Mike
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith
Hood, Jimmy
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Joyce, Eric
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kemp, Fraser
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Laxton, Bob
Leigh, Edward
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Meale, Alan
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Morley, Elliot
Mullin, Chris
Naysmith, Dr Doug
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie
O'Neill, Martin
Öpik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Rt Hon Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, Nick
Robertson, John
(Glasgow Anniesland)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Ruddock, Joan
Ryan, Ms Joan
Sarwar, Mohammad
Sedgemore, Brian
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Tynan, Bill
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Winnick, David
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Tony McNulty and
Mr. Graham Allen.


Amess, David
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Fallon, Michael
Gale, Roger
Jenkin, Bernard
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Paterson, Owen
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. Gerald Howarth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

1 Mar 2001 : Column 1138

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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