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Disqualifications Bill

8.40 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 8:


(" . No person may be a member of the House of Commons who holds an office of profit under a Commonwealth or foreign government which, if it were an office of profit under the Crown, would disqualify him from membership of the House of Commons.").

The noble Lord said: The new clause is self-explanatory. We have been anomaly spotting on the Bill and here is another one. Those who hold an office of profit under the Crown are not permitted to be Members of the House of Commons. A Member of Parliament who acquires an office of profit is immediately and automatically disbarred. Even such minor offices as steward of the Chiltern Hundreds or the Manor of Northstead disqualify a Member, as is well known. As my noble friend Lady Park pointed out earlier, some people holding valuable and respectable positions under the Crown are also disbarred.

However, it turns out that someone who holds an office of profit under a foreign government is not disbarred. That is clearly an anomaly and the amendment would rectify it. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Certain persons holding an office of profit under the Crown may not sit as Members of the House of Commons. The offices concerned are listed in the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975--an Act that I am sure is well known to the noble Lord. That Act specifically states that an office of profit is not a cause of disqualification unless listed in the Act. The amendment is in direct conflict with that. The office holders that it lists are disqualified from taking seats in the House of Commons because they are Crown appointees. Members of Parliament need to be

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sufficiently independent to perform their functions. It is not a matter of offices of profit, but of independence from the Crown.

Successive governments have believed that it is not right to depart from the principles set out in the 1975 Act. The Bill would extend to Members of the Irish legislature the same right to sit as Members of the House of Commons as is available to members of Commonwealth legislatures. That has been knocked about in the Committee all evening and we all understand it.

A citizen of Ireland or of a Commonwealth country may or may not sit as a member of that country's legislature, according to that country's law on disqualification. We do not believe that it would be right to impose a new restriction that could extend the scope of existing disqualifications of Commonwealth citizens. On that basis, I suggest that the amendment should be withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: The purpose of the amendment has been achieved: it has shown how ridiculous the Bill is. The Minister's only defence, once again, is that the treatment of Members of the Irish legislature should be the same as that of Members of Commonwealth legislatures. We know perfectly well that no Member of a Commonwealth legislature has ever taken advantage of the provision or is likely to do so. The Minister's reason is empty.

I appreciate that the purpose of the office of profit rules for the House of Commons is that Members of Parliament should be independent of the Crown. They should be even more independent of foreign governments. We have heard once again that the so-called anomaly that the Bill is supposed to remove is by no means the only anomaly. On the contrary, the Bill is littered with them. That makes us all the more suspicious as to the reasons for picking out the particular anomaly that the Bill addresses. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick moved Amendment No. 9:

    After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--


(". Any person who is elected as a member of both the Northern Ireland Assembly and the legislature of Ireland shall receive no more than 50 per cent. of the office costs allowance payable to a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are self-explanatory. They may be regarded as frivolous or light-hearted. They provide that any dual members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the legislature of Ireland should have no more than 50 per cent of the salary and the office costs allowance of a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I would not have spoken to the amendments if we had heard a satisfactory explanation of the Bill. The Minister may well tell me that we do not reduce the salary of a Member of the Scottish Parliament who is

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also a Member of the House of Commons, or a Member of the European Parliament who is also a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly or of the House of Commons, let alone of those who are Members of three assemblies. I am well aware that there are several such examples.

However, the Government have made a threadbare case for the Bill. We have simply been told that they judge it to be right. They are not prepared to say why and think that it is no business of Parliament, although the Minister insists that we are scrutinising the Bill. I do not know how we can scrutinise anything if we do not receive any answers. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, told us that the Bill had been scrutinised with enormous care in the House of Commons in an all-night sitting. The fact is that there was so much outrage in the other place that they went on all night but they did not have adequate time to consider the Bill or to have a Report stage. The Government have made an inadequate case for the Bill, so an inadequate salary ought to be paid. I beg to move.

Viscount Cranborne: It may come as a surprise to my noble friend Lord Lamont, but I feel constrained to disagree with him on the amendment for two reasons. First, were this absurd Bill to become law--I sincerely hope that it will not--any Member of both the Dail and the British House of Commons would be taking on a heavy burden if they were to carry out their duties satisfactorily. I suspect that, for purely practical reasons, the job may be impossible without adequate support.

If this absurd Bill were to pass, the eventuality set out so clearly by my noble friend Lord Cope would follow as night follows day. Various members of Sinn Fein/IRA would attempt to represent their Northern Ireland constituencies in the Dail and would sit in the Dail by virtue of their 26 constituencies. If they were to do that, we should certainly find that they would be highly stretched if they were not able to finance adequate administrative support to sustain both offices. I suspect that, rather than needing only 50 per cent of the allowances from each Parliament, they would need rather more than 100 per cent in order to sustain not only their travel arrangements but also the substantial staffs that they would require.

Therefore, I advocate the reverse of my noble friend. I advocate that perhaps 150 per cent of the allowances should be available to such people. I do so secure in the knowledge that that would draw attention to the manifest absurdities of the provisions of this Bill in such a way as to ensure that the peoples of both the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom would laugh this measure to the scorn it deserves instead of giving it the lack of attention which so far they have done.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I rise briefly to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick. With his vast Treasury experience, I am sure that he will have sounded out the Exchequers in both capitals and that they will be only too willing to finance this added expenditure. They

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may even be able to take on board the suggestion made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. It may involve a modest increase in income tax in both jurisdictions, but I am sure that this is such a precious Bill that no one would balk at that additional expenditure and imposition of taxation.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: While deferring to the noble Viscount, I should like to recall the words of the previous Speaker in order to support this discussion. When, as Speaker, she made her decision to refuse facilities to the two Sinn Fein Members who would not take their oath, she said:

    "I declined to allow those Members passes to the Palace of Westminster, because that would provide automatic access to many of the facilities not open to them. I told them that they were in effect asking for associate membership of this House. Such a status does not exist".

It seems to me that anything that condones the idea that they might simultaneously fight an issue in the Dail and speak to an issue in the House of Commons is so absurd that it needs to be highlighted. That is why I see the point of the intervention of my noble friend Lord Cranborne. However, I still believe that we have had a clear indication that it is not proper that they should receive such allowances. I assume that they could receive them only if they were carrying out the necessary duties, which they cannot do.

Viscount Cranborne: Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask her a question. She suggested rightly that it might be difficult for a Member with a dual mandate to be in two different places at once. Does my noble friend believe that it would be possible to introduce a form of electronic voting so that, if there were a three-line whip, someone with a dual mandate could vote electronically in Westminster if they happened to be in Dublin?

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