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Lord Dubs: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him two questions so that I fully understand the thrust of his amendment. First, he referred to the House of Commons. Does his amendment imply that membership of this place would also be barred?
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I am trying to remember what happened some time ago. I believe that Seamus Mallon, Leader of the SDLP, Deputy First Minister and Member of Parliament, was at one point offered a seat in the Senate in Dublin but had to decline because he was barred from doing so. If I am right in my somewhat hazy recollection of events from the past, does the noble Lord believe that it would be inappropriate for Seamus Mallon to be a member of the Senate in Dublin?
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord for raising his second point. With regard to his first point, I should of course know but I believe that I am right in saying that my amendments do not include the House of Lords. Later I shall table an amendment which touches on the House of Lords. However, the principle behind the amendment is to retain the House of Commons disqualification, thus removing the part of the Bill that applies to disqualification for membership of the House of Commons if one is a member of another Parliament.
With regard to the point raised by the noble Lord in relation to Seamus Mallon, as I understand it the law was altered in 1998 to allow him to take his seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am not sure whether he ever sat simultaneously in the Senate and in the House of Commons. I believe that he probably did not, but I hope that I may be enlightened on that matter while the debate proceeds.
I am also unsure as to whether Seamus Mallon was an elected or an appointed member of the Senate. I believe that he was probably the latter, and that makes a considerable difference to the argument. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the point and I hope that the matter may be made crystal clear because it is germane to everything in the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I understand that Seamus Mallon was, indeed, appointed as a member of the Senate in 1982. However, he was not elected to the House of Commons until some years after he had left the Senate. During his time in the Senate some controversy arose as to whether he could be a member of the then Assembly in Northern Ireland. The matter went to the courts, but in the end the answer was that he could not.
However, that is irrelevant to this Bill except by allusion because, as my noble friend said, the Bill does two things. It permits a member of the Irish House of Commons to sit for a United Kingdom constituency in Westminster at the same time and it also makes it legal for an Irish MP to sit at the same time in the Northern Ireland Assembly as well as in the Dail. My noble friend's amendment draws our attention specifically to the question of dual membership of the two Houses of Commons--that is, another place and the Dail.
My noble friend also pointed out that this Bill was sold to your Lordships at Second Reading as the correction of a legal anomaly that had somehow entered our law because of the position of Commonwealth countries. Ireland was a member of the Commonwealth until 1949 but left voluntarily. Discussion is taking place as to whether it might return at some point, but I do not believe that at present that is seriously on the table. But, in any event, that would alter the position in a whole series of very important respects.
I do not believe that the Commonwealth analogy stands up to any form of examination. I shall return to that on a later amendment, which is more directly related to it. For the moment, I merely assert that the idea that this Bill somehow corrects an anomaly by bringing Ireland into line with the Commonwealth in that respect is rubbish.
My noble friend also drew attention to the fact that we have not had answers to the two most important questions: first, who wants this change; and secondly, why are the Government prepared to expend scarce parliamentary time in trying to achieve it?
As regards representing two constituencies in two parliaments at the same time, the first matter that I should point out is that nobody in this country can represent two different constituencies at the same time in the House of Commons. It is not allowed; it is illegal. It is legally possible to stand in a general election for two or more different constituencies, and in days gone by, that was regularly done. But then, as now, if someone happened to be elected for two separate constituencies, he would have to choose one or the other before taking his seat in another place. So you cannot sit as a Member for two separate constituencies in the House of Commons; yet this proposition is that people should sit for two separate constituencies in two different parliaments in different jurisdictions.
I looked up the last person to achieve that feat of winning two constituencies in the same Westminster general election and it was Mr O'Brien. That is not, I hasten to add, Mr Mike O'Brien, the Home Office
Nobody, to my knowledge, in recent years has even tried to repeat that success by standing for two constituencies at once. But if a candidate were successful in doing so, he, like Mr O'Brien, would have to choose which one he wished to represent.
In passing, I should draw the Home Office's attention to what I believe to be the real anomaly in this particular situation, which occurred to me while pondering the Bill. I should not be surprised to find that some supporter of a specialist minority cause--proportional representation springs to mind, but there are others--stands at a general election in a large number of constituencies so that although he could not, in any circumstances, expect to be elected for any one of those constituencies, he might assemble enough votes over a large number of constituencies to claim that, in aggregate, he should have been elected. That would be quite an argument. But, of course, the correction of that anomaly, which is genuine, is not possible under this Bill. Other legislation would be needed for that.
I return to the main argument. It may be said that the so-called "dual management" is allowed in that a person can serve in both Westminster and the European Parliament. I understand that the Labour Party dislikes people serving in both Westminster and the European Parliament and puts its own Members under great pressure in that respect. So that is not an argument which Ministers are likely to advance but in any case, that is a wholly different matter.
However, it is significant that neither Ministers nor anyone else is suggesting that people from any other member state of the European Union except Ireland should be able to stand in the two different member states' parliaments. This proposal is special to Ireland alone.
So who wants it? I have no evidence--and the Minister has produced none--that any English, Welsh or Scottish MP wants to sit at the same time for an Irish constituency in the Irish Parliament. Ulster Unionist MPs are unlikely to want to sit in the Dail and even if they wished to do so, they would be unlikely to be elected because, as we know, Protestants have been substantially eased out of the country since the Republic was formed.
On the other hand it is exactly what members of Sinn Fein want. One of the very few people to welcome this legislation when it was first proposed was Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, who said it was a "significant move" and "a breakthrough" and things like that. Of course, members of Sinn Fein would love to stand for a constituency in the Republic and for another in Northern Ireland. They would not, of course, take their seats in Westminster. They do not do so. They refuse to take their seats because it would mean that they must recognise the legitimacy of the United Kingdom. In those circumstances, they would sit in the Dail and then claim to represent part of the United Kingdom there, as well as the constituency for which they were elected within the Republic. That claim would be made easier by the fact that because of Ireland's proportional representation system, under which four or five Members represent each of the constituencies, they would share the representation of a large constituency in the Dail but be the sole representative of the constituency in the United Kingdom for which they were elected.
I am told by Northern Ireland sources that that is exactly the point of the Bill. I am further told that Mr Pat Doherty is suggested as the first candidate; that he wants to stand in West Tyrone in the United Kingdom and, subsequently, in Donegal in the Republic for a seat in the Dail. In that way, he hopes to be able to claim to represent West Tyrone in the Dail and that, I think, would be a very grave matter indeed.
But I do not doubt that if we were to agree to this Bill, it would not be long before Mr Adams and, for that matter, Mr Martin McGuinness and others no doubt, were looking for seats in the Republic so that they could claim to represent West Belfast and Mid Ulster, and wherever else, in the Dail.
At present it is said in Sinn Fein propaganda, although not by Mr Adams himself, as far as I know, that its members do not wish to do that. But I do not think that it would be long before they would see the advantages to them and their propaganda of so doing. That prospect appals me as a negation of democracy and of national sovereignty. It was no part of the Good Friday agreement, which is otherwise regarded by the Government as virtually Holy Writ. But in this case, it seems to me that it runs flat counter to the recognition of the rights of the majority in Northern Ireland to decide in which country they wish to live and it cuts right across the new all-Ireland institutions which were set up by the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. They are flourishing at present or, at least, are in action at present and doing their best to flourish as much as they can.
What about the second question: why are the Government proposing this measure to Parliament? The Prime Minister sometimes displays a naivety about Irish matters which can seem appealing from time to time, if you are sufficiently distant from them. On the other hand, the Taoiseach is a shrewd politician and negotiator. The Secretary of State, Mr Mandelson, is renowned for very careful thought and calculation in all that he does. I cannot believe that he has not realised the effect of passing this measure.
Perhaps there is a secret plan to ease Northern Ireland gradually into the Republic through this form of back door. If so, are the British Government a party to it or are they just being naive? I do not know the answer to that question. I suspect that the noble and learned Lord who is to respond to the debate does not know the answer either, at least at present. I do not blame him. As I understand it, he has picked up the brief comparatively recently and is obviously relying on his instructions. I do not suppose that he was involved in the decisions on the Bill last December. In some respects, it would be surprising if he had been able to give it much thought in the past week or two. If I were in his shoes I would be thinking a little more about the Dome. If this was a defence case that he had been asked to put forward in court, I suspect that he would have suggested to his client that he plead guilty and have done with it.
As I said, I do not know the answer to the question. However, throughout the proceedings today and at later stages, we shall do our best to tease it out. I do not see why the Government should want to permit what seems to me to be a constitutional outrage. Even if the Government wish, I do not see why Parliament should agree to it. Apart from anything else, if we were to do so it would betray the Good Friday agreement and would set a bomb under our democracy.
Amendment No. 33 tabled in my name in this grouping is a rather different, specialist amendment. It suggests that if somebody who sits for a United Kingdom seat should later find himself elected also to the Dail, he should submit himself to a by-election in his United Kingdom constituency to confirm his membership of the United Kingdom Parliament with his constituents before taking up his seat in the Dail.
It is sometimes said that anything is possible in this country, provided it has been done before. It is also said that there is a precedent for everything and that therefore everything is possible. There is a sort of precedent here. I refer to the 19th century practice under which a Member of Parliament who was appointed a Minister had to return to his constituency on appointment and have his membership confirmed by a by-election. The constitutional theory behind that was that appointment as a Minister would affect his ability to represent his constituents. They therefore had a right to confirm or withhold his right to be their representative. That is an excellent constitutional doctrine. However, it fell foul of the fact that it narrowed the ability of the Prime Minister to appoint the best possible Ministers to the government. For that reason, it was dropped. I do not propose its resuscitation. However, I believe that for this Bill it would be a highly relevant procedure to put in place.
The individuals concerned, who would represent two different constituencies in two different sovereign parliaments, would have two completely separate sets of loyalties, both to two lots of constituents and, indeed, to two sovereign states. In those circumstances, it is only reasonable that the constituents of the individual as a United Kingdom Member of Parliament should have the opportunity to
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