|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Desai: The noble Lord, Lord Cope, somewhat spoilt the first half of his speech by speaking to his amendment. Unlike the constraint proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, the amendment is a mild constraint on what the Bill attempts to do. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, proposes that a person cannot sit in the Dail and the House of Commons at the same time. However, all that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, seems to be asking is that if he or she does so, that person would have to submit to a by-election. That sounds absolutely fine; it is an exemplary measure. Perhaps the Government should think of accepting the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. It would be a nice discipline.
The noble Lord referred to the qualification of citizens of other countries which are members of the European Union to contest election to the House of Commons. At present they are not allowed to do so. However, that may be a violation of a statute or acquis communautaire in the European Union. One should not be able to prevent a citizen of another European country standing for election to the House of Commons. I should like to know whether or not that is the case. I know that it is possible to stand for the European Parliament from any country within the European Union. I do not know whether there is any legal provision not in violation of the European--
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. The position is that one cannot stand to be a member of a European Union legislature and the House of Commons. The question raised is interesting. The front of the Bill contains the declaration that its provisions are compatible with the Human Rights Act and the European convention. However, on the face of it, one would have thought the provision discriminatory.
Lord Desai: I thank the noble Lord. He has made my point for me. It cannot be the case that we can prevent citizens of France, Belgium or anywhere else standing for election to the House of Commons and being a member of another parliament and this Parliament. It may be illegal to represent two constituencies within the United Kingdom in the House of Commons. However, there cannot be a rule against someone representing two different constituencies in two different countries in two different parliaments, so long as the electorate agrees. It has nothing to do with anyone else.
I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe, as my noble friend Lord Lamont stated, that it is not possible for a Member of this sovereign Parliament to sit also as a member of another sovereign parliament of a country which is a member of the European Union. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, proved when he stood for an Italian Euro-constituency, it is possible for a citizen of this country to stand for election to the European Parliament for a constituency in another country which is a member of the European Union. As I understand it, the rationale--though it is questionable--is that the European Parliament is not a sovereign parliament and that this Parliament, perhaps by the skin of its teeth, still is.
I return to Queen Elizabeth I and the nub of my noble friend's amendment. For those of us who believe in the central position of Parliament in our national life--a position which is increasingly under threat for all sorts of reasons which need not detain us here--it becomes difficult to accept that dogs can wear two collars. Whatever the difference of opinion may be about the Oath (even a cursory reading of the extensive debates in another place on this Bill show this) and whatever the doubts about its present wording, nevertheless it constrains all those who swear it--Members of both Houses--under severe implied threat to devote themselves to the national interests of this country.
It is difficult to believe that the present law fulfils what I consider to be an overriding consideration. After all, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, pointed out at Second Reading, Members of Commonwealth legislatures are allowed to sit in this Parliament. It is that fact which allowed the noble and learned Lord at Second Reading to make clear that he regarded this Bill as merely a tidying-up operation, setting right an anomaly which does not apply to the Republic of Ireland when it applies to the Commonwealth. I regard the provision which allows the Commonwealth dual mandate--to put it in shorthand--to be an anomaly in itself.
I was brought up in what might be thought of as an imperial household. I well remember, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, arguments as to whether it was right that colonial assumptions should persist in the modern world. With the increasing growth of independence among the countries of the former empire and the development of a Commonwealth which included many republics, particularly the
It is only right and proper--I am perhaps trespassing into the territory of a later amendment but it is germane to the argument raised by the noble and learned Lord at Second Reading and which my noble friend is endeavouring to address in this amendment--to say that, just because the Commonwealth membership applies, therefore it should apply to everybody else. It seems to me, particularly now, that it is right for Commonwealth countries to be regarded as the equal of this Parliament; indeed, it is the essence of their status of independence that that should be so. Therefore, it is a relic of imperial days that this extraordinary anomaly should persist and the sooner it is put right, the better. I fail to see how the noble and learned Lord can use the argument he did at Second Reading and it is all the more sensible therefore for my noble friend to put forward his argument against the dual mandate.
We know that, even in this global world, which has become such a cliche in every political speech, nations still have different interests. Those nations which are fortunate enough to be governed by genuine parliamentary systems must be sure that their members have a clear interest in promoting the interests of their nation. If there is a dual mandate in those sovereign parliaments, there must be a question among members who are members of another Parliament as to where their true interests lie. It is entirely wrong, as a matter of principle, that this Bill should be put forward in this way.
I have already tried to draw a distinction between this Parliament and the European Parliament. It is right and proper that my noble friend should draw a distinction between this Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Northern Ireland Assembly was created, at least in part, in a genuine effort to try to ensure that a settlement applied in Northern Ireland which enabled both the nationalist and the unionist traditions to co-exist and prosper together. That cannot be so here. At the risk of being invidious, we do not have to look far back--sub specie aeternitatis--in the history of the 20th century to see just how often other countries find themselves at odds with the interests of this country. A case in point is the Republic of Ireland.
I speak with huge affection for the Republic; my mother's family come from County Limerick so it would be surprising if I did not. But we have to remember that His Majesty King George VI's Ambassador to the Third Reich conveyed the sympathies of the Irish Government to the Third
It is only sensible, at the beginning of this Committee stage, for me to support my noble friends Lord Cope and Lord Lamont, in their inquiries, in the gentlest of terms, as to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the introduction of this Bill. I worked my way, with a sense of mounting tedium, through the extensive Official Report records of the debates in another place. At Second Reading the noble and learned Lord--who always tries to help the House--had constraints put upon him. During the course of proceedings in another place, just as here, no information whatsoever was given about who had asked for this Bill, under what circumstances and why. The only hint that your Lordships' House was given was by the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms who said that he had been told that this Bill was part of the choreography of the Belfast agreement. It was not part of the Bill but part of its choreography.
That hint demands an explanation from the Government. What is it all about? Our suspicions must be hugely increased by the extraordinary timetable of the progress, if that is the word, of this Bill through Parliament. There was the extraordinary passage of a Bill, which allegedly was not urgent, as confirmed by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State's remarks during its course in another place. He actually said that this Bill was not urgent. Nevertheless, it was subjected to urgent procedures in another place. There was no week's delay between Second Reading and the remaining stages.
Despite the evident hurry back in January this year, there was then an extraordinary and pregnant pause between the Bill finishing in another place and appearing for Second Reading here. We did not see it until the end of the summer term at the end of July. It was explained to us by the Government Chief Whip that it would be helpful to produce it for Second Reading at the same time as he knew that Members of your Lordships' House who live in Northern Ireland would be here. I am sure that the Government Chief Whip thought that that was a good and sufficient reason. It is typical of him to want to be so helpful to your Lordships, particularly those who travel far to come here. None the less, it is perfectly extraordinary that other members of the Government asked the Chief Whip to make those kinds of excuses without giving us a straight answer. Given that in principle this Bill is doing utterly the wrong thing and is encapsulating a division of interest, it must be right--
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page