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Earl Russell: My Lords, the world is not quite as simple as has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Laird. His argument that people should not be able to

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hold office in two separate sovereign states has a certain apparent persuasiveness. However, let me ask him to consider the case of King William III, a name not without honour in Northern Irish Protestant circles. That king was the King of England and the King of Scotland when they were two independent, sovereign states. He was also the Stadtholder of the Province of Holland. I believe that benefit accrued to all three from that relationship.

Lord Laird: My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that it is better to look forward to the future than it is to look back to the past?

Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Lord has stated an absolute principle. I merely stated that there are exceptions to that principle, from which his Province has benefited.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl. I enter into this discussion with the greatest diffidence, knowing that the noble Earl is an enormous authority on 17th century and other history. However, would he not draw a distinction between a sovereign and one of his or her Ministers? After all, we seem to have in place a perfectly satisfactory arrangement as regards the Commonwealth. Our present monarch is the head of state of a number of Commonwealth countries, but also head of a supranational organisation which includes a number of republics. Is that not a qualitative difference from that of the position of a Minister?

Earl Russell: My Lords, when we try to draw distinctions, we move in an area which may become interesting. However, it appears to be a point that should rightly be debated in Committee. Regrettably, we have now passed that stage.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that one consequence of unity of monarchs, namely, one throne for two countries, has often been that of political unification? That is precisely the point being made from the Benches opposite.

Earl Russell: My Lords, that was subsequently the consequence; namely, with the full consent of both countries, in which circumstances and in which circumstances only one might regard it as proper. It does not appear immediately to be on the table here, but my understanding of the Good Friday agreement suggests that that is the only way in which that could come about. That I regard as one of the good elements of the agreement.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has taken us back to the 17th century; perhaps I may move forward two centuries. Noble Lords will recall that Mr Gladstone's Home Rule Bill came before your Lordships' House and was defeated. It attempted to create a united Ireland within a United Kingdom. If that Bill had passed through all its stages, perhaps many of the tragedies of the 20th century might have been avoided.

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I believe that at the end of the First World War, Mr Churchill observed that although much else had changed in Europe, what remained were the "dreary steeples" of Ulster. What this Bill has been trying to do is to put in place a more creative set of circumstances in which people living on the island of Ireland, as well as those living on this island, can learn to coexist in far more interesting ways which do not require us constantly to name call or to abuse.

If the noble Lord considers the matter, even his own party has moved in that direction and I commend it for that. We should recall that the Ulster Unionist Party in the European Parliament had their former Member of the European Parliament sitting in the same group in the European People's Party with members of Fine Gael. It would have been impossible to achieve that in this House or in another place. The former leader of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, Mr John Cushnahan, a British citizen, now sits as a Fine Gael member representing the Limerick area in the European Parliament. There are other examples of former Northern Ireland politicians who sit in the Dail. Already a more creative and fluid relationship is being built.

We need to think rather more imaginatively than perhaps we have done over the past 70 years. However, what is certain is that if we merely turn around the bloodbath and hide behind slogans like, "a united Ireland" or, for that matter, even the phrase, "a united kingdom", that will not take us anywhere.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, I was not going to speak in the debate but I have been brought into it by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, who has quoted me repeatedly from a previous debate.

At this stage it is right that we should sympathise with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. It has been reported that he is a friend of the Prime Minister. In recognition of this, the Prime Minister has given him responsibility for the Dome, the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill and the Disqualifications Bill. If that is what he does for his friends, I should not like to be one of his enemies.

Perhaps I, too, may mention a little bit of history. It was not the 1998 Act which brought about the term "Republic of Ireland and the island of Ireland". It was brought in by the Conservative government who initiated the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. I remember very well having the British text and the Irish text of the agreement delivered to my office in this building. The British text stated that it was an agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Irish Republic. The Irish text stated that it was an agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom. So there, from the word go, was the reason for the conflict.

Prior to that, when for many years I was a member of the parliament in Northern Ireland, no one had ever heard of Articles 2 and 3. It was the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 which first brought that term into

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the political arena of Northern Ireland. That was the first time it was seen and heard. Since then, there has been a natural progression.

I shall repeat very shortly what I asked in the previous debate: who asked for this Bill, with all its ramifications? I have spoken to many members of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Democratic Left and other minor parties in the Republic. I asked them whether they had asked for the Bill. The answer I received was no; they do not want it. They will find the Bill an embarrassment. Given the residence qualification in this country, it is highly unlikely that any member of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will come to England and take up residence in Hackney or anywhere else to qualify for a vote and to sit here. That will not happen--it is not feasible--but it could have an effect on Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein now claims to be an all-Ireland party. It has been rumoured--no one can say whether or not it is true--that Sinn Fein intends to have a Member in this House. Given the probable timing of the election next year, Sinn Fein could have a candidate elected to this House in May, in addition to the two people who are currently elected.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord is referring to the other place rather than to this House.

Lord Fitt: Yes, my Lords; I am. Sinn Fein could have someone elected to the other place, in addition to the two who are currently there. Given the emotion that would surround such an event, Sinn Fein could then fight a seat in the Republic. It could go to the electorate in the Republic of Ireland and say, "We are the only all-Ireland party, unlike Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Democratic Left and the SDLP".

I followed very carefully the progress of the Bill through another place. No SDLP Members spoke to the Bill or voted on it. I believe that they were highly embarrassed by the Bill. Whatever we envisage will happen, it will not be to the benefit of the SDLP. I have heard only today that, at this late stage of the proceedings, the SDLP supports the Bill. It is very late in the day for it to take this attitude. One wonders what has happened between the Committee stage and now to compel the SDLP to support the Bill. I shall be glad to hear from the SDLP that it does support the Bill.

I have said already that all major political parties in the island of Ireland are opposed to the Bill. Until I am convinced that there is a genuine need for the Bill to improve relations in Northern Ireland, I shall have to express my serious misgivings about it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, as this is Report stage, I shall defer to another occasion asking the noble Earl, Lord Russell, why he omitted the original sovereign title of William III, "the Prince of Orange", from his list.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for my error, which I realised I had made only a few moments ago.

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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. I shall defer also my comments on the general arguments which have been aired to the debate on the next amendment, which covers them more fully.

As to this amendment, the Government claim--inaccurately, in my view--that the purpose of the Bill is to correct an anomaly. The amendment draws attention to the fact that, unless the amendment is accepted, the Bill will create a new anomaly. The amendment is valuable from that point of view.

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