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Baroness Park of Monmouth: When the noble and learned Lord replies, perhaps he will comment on another dimension to this matter. It was said in the other place that we had consulted the Irish Government and hoped that that consultation would reflect also the views of the parties. But how do the interests of the Dail in all this square with the position which the Taoiseach has taken since January--and perhaps it is a new development--when he said,
If that is what he thinks, I find it surprising that he should wish to see anything done which would promote and advance the strength of Sinn Fein/IRA. When the Minister replies, I should like to know whether any further consultations have taken place since January with the Irish Government to take cognisance of that. That seems to me to be a reasonable concern on their part and equally on ours. If we have a government in the south which is heavily penetrated by Sinn Fein/IRA, we are all in trouble, not least the Taoiseach.
Perhaps I may comment briefly on Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 which go to the substance of the debate. Obviously, everybody wants decommissioning to happen. However, it is not helpful or sensible to link this Bill to decommissioning. It seems to me that that would be going off on a tangent which is neither helpful to the cause of the Bill--I appreciate that the amendment is not intended to be--or to the cause of decommissioning. In this place we have found on a number of occasions that decommissioning has been linked to other issues. That is not helpful.
I have some sympathy for Amendment No. 35. I remember from my time in the other place the discussions on reciprocity as regards the right to vote of British people living in the Republic. It took some time for the equivalent right to the right of Irish citizens to vote in elections in this country to be granted.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he realise that he has put his finger on an important point? The argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for allowing Members of the Dail to stand for election in the UK was, to some extent, based on the fact that Irish people living in this country could vote. He tried to argue that if they could vote, they should be able to stand for the House of Commons. By that argument, if, thanks partly to the efforts of the noble Lord, British people are now able to vote in the Irish Republic, by the argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, they should also be able to stand for election to the Dail.
Lord Dubs: I understand the point but I think that my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench got it right. Reciprocity may be desirable. However, I believe that the way to achieve that is to pass this Bill and then to enter into negotiations with the Irish Government. Noble Lords laugh. However, that is precisely what happened on the right to vote. We had the right to vote for Irish citizens living in this country for many years. Then, I believe in the 1980s, we sought to engage with the Irish Government for a similar right. That is the way it happened then. It is no good noble Lords laughing. To my mind, that is the most sensible way for things to happen here.
However, I am bound to say that whatever protestations have been made from the other side about the fact that, "We are against the principle but if we fail to stop the principle, let us do it this way", the debate has rather weakened the argument in principle to which I listened before the Statement. It seems to me that if the case in principle is as strong as has been maintained, it is somewhat weakened by compromising in this way. Noble Lords opposite sold the pass on their own arguments before the Statement.
There was discussion earlier about the fact that members of the Commonwealth and citizens of the Irish Republic could vote in UK elections and that therefore it must follow that people could stand in UK elections. The point is that the people who are categorised to vote have a residency qualification. They live in the United Kingdom. It seems slightly unlikely that a Member of the Irish Parliament would be resident in the United Kingdom. So the argument is difficult to sustain.
I would ask the Committee to consider the effect of this type of legislation in Northern Ireland. As Members on this side of the Chamber have said, according to the Belfast agreement, there seems to be parity but some people appear to get more than others. We come back to the point where Sinn Fein/IRA and sections of the Dublin government are not fully implementing the Belfast agreement.
I listened with considerable interest when the Minister referred to the good relationships with the Government of the Irish Republic since the Belfast agreement. I am sure they were good even before the Belfast agreement, and I do not see why they should change now. However, while we are implementing the Belfast agreement, there are elements of the Dublin government which are not. I shall return to that subject later when we debate another amendment. It is not a case of rewarding them or giving them sweeties because they are doing the right thing. It is not even a case of giving sweeties to Sinn Fein/IRA because it is doing the right thing; it is not. It is not decommissioning. The only people I can see who are implementing the Belfast agreement in full are those in the party to which I belong; that is, the Ulster Unionist Party, and the people around us. It does not come naturally to us to be part of cross-border implementation bodies, but we are prepared to do that as part of the Good Friday agreement.
However, when we ask for understanding, help or support that might keep our community satisfied with what is going on, we are assured that the Belfast agreement is for them as well as for the nationalist community. We do not seem to make headway in the debate on the police Bill, nor in any other debate, or we make limited headway. I do not wish to take away from the help given to me personally by the Minister. I recognise that he has been extremely helpful on issues. However, government as a whole have not been helpful in playing their part in implementing the Belfast agreement and allowing us in the unionist community to bring along our community, which is an important element. As stated in this place only two weeks ago, if we do not have the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, we do not have a peace process.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The substance of these four amendments makes the commencement of the Bill conditional upon three things: first, substantial progress on decommissioning; secondly, agreement by all parties to the Belfast agreement that all aspects of it have been implemented; and, thirdly, Irish legislation removing the disqualification for membership of the Irish legislature which applies to Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The first two amendments in particular do not relate to the subject matter of the Bill, but rather seek to delay the Bill coming into force until actions not related to the Bill have been taken by others.
As I indicated, this Bill is about promoting better relations in these islands--north and south but also east and west because the provisions affect the assemblies and the Scottish Parliament as well. To make these desirable and modest changes dependent upon action to be taken by paramilitary organisations would be inconsistent with the principles we are trying to advance. Similarly, to make commencement dependent upon a decision by all the parties that all aspects of the Belfast agreement have been implemented would delay the Bill for reasons which have no relation to the development of British-Irish relations.
I deal with the proposed amendment to the laws of the Republic of Ireland. There is no disqualification, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, explicitly acknowledged, in Irish legislation on the basis that one is a Member of the House of Commons or the House of Lords in this country. However, one must be an Irish citizen to vote or stand in an election to the Dail in the Republic of Ireland. But we are not talking about that aspect of electoral law; we are talking of disqualification from membership.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, would have no effect because there is no sort of disqualification along the lines of his amendment. To say that we remove the disqualification that exists under the law of the Republic of Ireland to be a Member of the Dail if one is a Member of the House of Commons would not mean anything because there is no such disqualification. In those circumstances, there is reciprocity in relation to grounds for disqualification of members of the respective legislatures; what there is not is reciprocity in relation to the right to vote in elections to the Dail as opposed to the right to vote in United Kingdom parliamentary elections.
But this Bill does not deal with that; it deals with disqualification from the legislature. For that reason, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, the third condition sought to be imposed is wholly inappropriate. In those circumstances I ask the noble Lord, Lord Cope, to withdraw his amendment.
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