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Viscount Cranborne: I am extremely grateful to my noble friend. He anticipated precisely what I was about to say. My noble friend Lord Cope set the matter out so clearly that I did not believe that repetition was necessary. However, my noble friend Lord Lamont has set it out even more clearly. I am familiar with the document to which he referred.
As my noble friend Lord Cope said, this Bill is a constitutional outrage. It is even more outrageous given the hole-in-the-corner way in which the Government have introduced it and the extraordinary way in which they have marshalled its passage through Parliament. There are also the rumours which have surrounded the dates for the remaining stages of the Bill during this spill-over period. The rumours I have heard have continued. As I understand it, the dates have changed almost continuously over the past few weeks, no doubt in order to accord with the tortuous negotiations which are no doubt going on behind the scenes between the various parties to the Good Friday agreement. It is a bad Bill, and that has been compounded by the way in which it has been handled. This Committee should be extremely grateful to my noble friend for this amendment, which I enthusiastically support.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I have a good deal of sympathy for the Committee and particularly for the two Front Benches in not for the first time having to disentangle a constitutional and political monstrosity such as this. As a Ulsterman I feel ashamed of the way in which this House has been treated, not for the first time, by the present occupants of the Northern Ireland Office by producing legislation which is indefensible by any standards and which, let us face it, defies common sense. We had an example only a few weeks ago in another piece of Northern Ireland Office-inspired legislation. But for the wisdom of the present Front Bench, and if we had subscribed to it in full, we would have brought the whole system of British democracy into disrepute.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, one of the mysteries is who asked for this Bill. I have never been able to discover the source of the pressure. There has never been an explanation. That is compounded by the timetabling to which the noble Viscount referred. The Bill appeared suddenly in the other place at the
Now for no apparent reason it has been exhumed yet again and we are invited to give it a final polishing. The pressure which has been applied and the way in which Her Majesty's Government have been forced to surrender to it has meant that we are all in the ridiculous position of soiling our hands with something which is indefensible. I wonder whether it is correct that the Bill puts Irish representatives on the same footing as representatives of legislatures in the Commonwealth. The Bill is by no means clear. In fact contradiction is piled on contradiction in that field.
There is also contradiction in some of the phrases used such as "elected to" the House of Commons or to the Irish Parliament. There is another contradiction as regards taking seats in the other place. It is all very well to be elected but it is a different matter to take one's seat holding the views shared by Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness. Where is the explanation, the dividing line and the criteria between someone being elected, which is a comparatively simple operation in many ways? One can pick a constituency with a large majority in accordance with one's own views, which is very different from taking one's seat if the person elected knows very well that those who voted for him or her would certainly not approve of his actions. All these matters need to be sorted out if we are not to have yet another unworkable, indefensible piece of legislation on the statute book.
Finally, I wish to make a point which was made also by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. It was not made in any sense of antagonism. For as long as 30 years, I have had occasion to consult with our friends in the Irish Republic. However, we must face the fact that they are working to their own agenda simply because they are responsible to an entirely different electorate. It is not a British electorate. As perhaps an accidental election looms over the horizon, they will be more sensitive to a suggestion that they are co-operating with the "hated Brits". That is the kind of language to which they resort as polling day draws near.
With all due respect to them, and making allowances for their problems, it is a great mistake to fool ourselves into believing that they look on all such matters in a broad-minded way, as we in this House tend to do.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: Before speaking to the amendment, I want to make a couple of points and ask one question. First, I understand that the Disqualifications Bill works as follows. Someone is elected, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux said, that is fine. The issue of qualification arises when, having been elected, the person wants to enter the House to take his seat. I cannot see how the Government could resist the amendment because one
Not only that, but after representations had been made that Gerry Adams should be allowed to take his seat in the House of Commons he was asked whether he could see himself doing so were the Oath to be changed--for instance, with reference to the Crown removed. He replied,
The people who would be qualified would be Members from any other party in the Dail; but when asked whether the other parties had been consulted all that the Minister in the other place was able to say was that this Government had talked to the Irish Government and they supposed that that reflected the view of some of the political parties. That was hardly a detailed answer.
My second point is that there is an inherent impossibility as regards the human rights issue. When Martin McGuinness went to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that it was unjust that he had been excluded from sitting here because he would not take the Oath, the court clearly ruled that this Government were acting entirely within their rights. When he said that he was being refused entry because he refused to take the Oath, the court found that that need not prevent him entertaining his republican views, but that the rights also extended to the right of the state to protect effective democracy. The Oath requirement can be considered a reasonable condition attaching to elected office, having regard to the constitutional system of the respondent state. It also said that it must extend human rights to the protection of constitutional principles which underpin a democracy. The court also pointed out that the electors, in voting for him, full well knew that he would not take the Oath and therefore would not be able to take his seat. We are therefore looking at yet another travesty because it is manifest that members of Sinn Fein, if elected, would not take the Oath, and therefore would never take their seats, and that the others are not interested.
Finally, I do not believe that it is clearly enough understood that those who are electing such people would themselves have their rights taken away. I should like to know whether there is a single example of an existing Member of a Commonwealth legislature solemnly coming to the United Kingdom, putting himself up for election and being elected. I do not know of any such case and I shall be interested to be told whether there has been one.
Lord Fitt: Of all the legislation I have seen pass through both Houses during my 35 years as a Member, this is the most confusing. I am pleased to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in his journey through history because I have a little history in relation to the Bill.
Unfortunately, I was called away when the Bill received its Second Reading in this House. I therefore had to depend on the reports of that debate and those in the other place. The more I read, the more alarmed I became. I believe that there is something happening which I do not understand and, what is more, which I am not meant to understand.
When both the week after Second Reading and last week I went to Ireland, I contacted all my friends in the Irish Parliament; in Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the two major parties, and in the Democratic Left. I asked whether any of them put forward the idea of serving in both parliaments. The members of Fianna Fail to whom I spoke were very cagey about it. Those of Fine Gael were very annoyed about it. Those of the Democratic Left laughed about it and I shall illustrate why in a moment.
I said to members of those three parties that when they read the Irish newspapers--particularly the Irish Times and the Belfast newspapers--they can see the government of the Republic of Ireland expressing opinions every day of the week, and sometimes every hour of the day, in relation to what is happening in Northern Ireland. I asked my Dublin contacts why it is that no member of the government or opposition there has seen it right to express an opinion on the legislation. I should be very happy to hear a member of the government of Fianna Fail, or even a Fianna Fail TD, or the leader of the opposition, Fine Gael, or one of their members, standing up in the Dail saying, "We made representations for this legislation and we fully support it". But why the silence? That is why I say that there seems to be something sinister about the legislation. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, who said that it seems to be particularly designed to please Sinn Fein, the political party in Northern Ireland. I read the debates in the House of Commons. No member of the SDLP was present to vote for this legislation. One would have thought that if its members had contemplated having a dual mandate they would have been there, but they were not. It is hard to understand why the Labour Government seek to push through this legislation.
When Ireland was partitioned in 1920 both sides went into their trenches. The only people who did not do so were members of the trade union movement and the Labour Party. They saw it as their function to put aside the emerging border politics and represent workers, whether they be Catholic or Protestant or of no religion at all. Once the Labour government put the Government of Ireland Act on the statute book it created what James Connolly had predicted in 1910 when the first rumblings of partition began to be heard. He said that if Ireland was partitioned it would bring about a carnival of reaction among the working class, because pro-border and anti-border Protestant and Catholics would be set against one another. That was exactly what happened when Ireland withdrew from the Commonwealth, and the Government of Ireland Act 1949 was introduced. It wrecked the Labour movement in Northern Ireland at that time and caused great division among the trade union movement. The Labour and trade union movement had tried its best to avoid border politics but the Government of Ireland Act 1949 pitched it right into the middle of it.
I say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that I watched that happen. After 1949 there were two, if not three, Labour parties: the Northern Ireland Labour Party which was in favour of the present border; the Irish Labour Party which was against the border; and the Republican Labour Party which was opposed to the border. The whole Labour movement was torn asunder because of Ireland's withdrawal from the Commonwealth and the subsequent introduction of the Government of Ireland Act 1949. That is why there is today no Labour party as such in the six counties of Northern Ireland.
The Social Democratic and Labour Party has another agenda. That party, which freely admits that it is a constitutional nationalist party, was created by the antecedents of the Government of Ireland Act. One cannot join any Labour party in Northern Ireland today without having political division on the border as a result of Ireland's withdrawal from the Commonwealth. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, began by referring to Queen Elizabeth I and, half-way through, the Commonwealth. That was the most important lesson that I learnt because of Ireland's withdrawal from the Commonwealth.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, drew an imaginary picture of what would happen if one put one's name down for a number of constituencies. Is it possible for such a scenario to arise? That was what happened in Northern Ireland in the Assembly elections. Every candidate who put his name on a nomination paper for a seat in the Assembly hoped to get votes from all over
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that Sinn Fein has already decided to put forward a candidate who will be elected to a Northern Ireland constituency and will then fight a cross-border constituency--Donegal, Louth or Monaghan--in which case it will be able to say that its candidates represent areas North and South of the border. That would give it a good fillip. It would be very bad news for the SDLP, and even worse news for the government of the Republic. In that scenario, when candidates stand on that kind of ticket, backed up by this legislation, it is quite possible for them to win seats in the Republic. The emotional impact of one candidate standing for a dual mandate--a seat in the Republic and a seat here--could be tremendous. If it happened in three or four constituencies Sinn Fein could be part of a coalition government in the Republic after the next election. Therefore, Sinn Fein has an agenda. Speaking as a Labour man all my life, it is unfortunate that that agenda has been helped along by a Labour Government. They are pushing ahead according to a Sinn Fein agenda to the total exclusion of every other political party in the Republic of Ireland. None of them wants to see this legislation.
I read the replies of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. He did not appear to convince anybody, certainly not me, of the necessity for this legislation. People in Northern Ireland are convinced that this is another concession to Sinn Fein. We have seen what has happened in Northern Ireland over the past month. Murders by Sinn Fein and loyalists take place every day. Four so-called loyalists were murdered last week. Sinn Fein murdered a member of what is called the Real IRA. I find it hard to put that into words. Everyone in Northern Ireland knows that it is still associated with Sinn Fein. It is not right for any government to help that political party.
As in the case of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, opinions voiced on this Bill in this House will be analysed. Most of the people who speak against the Bill will be depicted in Northern Ireland as unionists or Protestants. I could be classified as associating myself with them and making anti-Irish comments. Let me make it clear, again and again if necessary: I am not a unionist. I have fought unionism all my political life in Northern Ireland. I am certainly not anti-Irish. But that is the way that some of these remarks will be taken when this debate is reported.
Can the noble and learned Lord get someone to ring up the Taoiseach--I understand he was in Leeds last night-- and say to him, "For God's sake, will you issue a statement saying that you support this legislation?"; or do the same thing with Fine Gael, and say, "Please,
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