Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for drawing the attention of the House to the fact that we are at Report stage. Repetition is not helpful to your Lordships, despite the charms and historical perspective of the noble Earl.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, a number of points have been made--in particular by the noble Lords, Lord Laird and Lord Fitt--which deal with the principle of the Bill. I have also been asked about who supports the Bill and the position of the SDLP in relation to the Bill. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, perhaps I may deal with those questions when we get to the next group of amendments, which raises the question of whether or not Clause 1 should remain in the Bill. That would appear to be the appropriate point at which to deal with those issues and I would thus avoid the necessity of having to repeat myself.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, seeks, in effect, to prevent a Minister of any Commonwealth country or of Ireland being a Member of the legislature here. The Bill is not intended to remove a qualification which already exists for members of the Commonwealth, which would be the effect of accepting the amendment. It is already the case that office holders in any Commonwealth country are able to stand for election to any UK legislature and are not barred from accepting any post within that legislature.

The Government are seeking to extend the qualification to stand for election to UK legislatures to include Members of the Irish Parliament, while at the same time ensuring that measures are in place to prevent situations where conflicts of interests may occur and the selection procedure for certain kinds of posts does not allow for the use of discretion, as is the case with ministerial positions in the Assembly, which are selected by d'Hondt. The amendment does not do this--that is, it does not deal with the case where there is no discretion--and the Government therefore ask the House not to accept the amendment.

Lord Laird: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his response. I shall have to consider it. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to the amendment. I very much respect the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the role he has played over the years. However, I am a little confused as to his exact point; it was not very clear. Perhaps he and I might discuss the matter further.

20 Nov 2000 : Column 536

I make the point that, as an Ulster Unionist, I am seeking to work the Belfast agreement. Those of us who do so split our community and everything else and put ourselves at personal risk. Yet, what happens? As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, says, legislation is pushed through this House which only makes our discomfort that much worse. It does nothing in Northern Ireland to further the Good Friday agreement.

The amendment that I propose seeks to exclude members of the Dublin Government from being Members of the Westminster Parliament. Perhaps this House could spend a bit more time examining the failures of the Dublin Government to implement the Belfast agreement in terms of human rights. Nearly three years after the signing of the agreement, the Dublin Government have not moved in any shape, sense or form on human rights, which lag considerably behind those of the United Kingdom. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 2:

    Leave out Clause 1.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to leave out Clause 1. This clause is the heart of the Bill. If we pull it out of the Bill, the Bill will not live. It does not deserve to live, because it is a dangerous Bill.

I shall pose two questions to the Minister at the start in order to give him and those who advise him the maximum opportunity to reply in full. They are not new questions; they have already been hinted at this afternoon. They are entirely straightforward, but we have not received answers.

First, does the Minister accept that the Bill will mean that Sinn Fein members could be elected both to the Dail and to Westminster, and could claim to speak in the Dublin Parliament for United Kingdom constituencies? Secondly, why do the Government want that? Those questions are directed to the Minister, but they are also for other noble Lords to consider--for the Liberal Democrats and anyone else.

The first question addresses the practical effect of the Bill. As we have set out previously, we simply do not believe the Minister's explanation of the Bill's purpose. It has been said that it is a Home Office-inspired Bill, thought up entirely by our own Government to bring the Republic of Ireland into line with the Commonwealth and to allow people to hold seats in the two sovereign Parliaments at the same time.

As I reflected on this, it conjured up to me a picture of civil servants sitting in the Home Office and spotting this so-called "anomaly". One assumes that, once they realised it existed, they sat down and wrote an internal minute: "Sir Humphrey, we have just realised that when Ireland left the Commonwealth in 1949 we did not provide for Members of its Parliament to sit as Westminster MPs at the same time as being Members of the Dail, which they were able to do up until then.

20 Nov 2000 : Column 537

We have identified three courses of action available to deal with this anomaly now that we realise it exists. Course A: we could simply keep quiet. No one complained about this at the time and, over the 50 years since, no one has mentioned it, so we do not need to mention it now. Course B: we could propose a Bill to Parliament that Commonwealth MPs should not in future be able to sit simultaneously at Westminster and in their own Parliament. That would bring Ireland and the Commonwealth into line and remove the anomaly. No one in history has ever sat in a Commonwealth Parliament and been a Member of the Westminster Parliament at the same time, and no one is ever likely to do so; so the Commonwealth should not be too concerned. Or, of course, we could take Course C: we could extend this peculiar privilege to the Republic of Ireland as well. Which course would you like us to recommend to the Home Secretary, Sir Humphrey?"

Presumably, Sir Humphrey then said something to this effect: "Having discovered this dreadful anomaly, in these days of open government we have to expect that its existence will leak, so Course A is not available. The Foreign Secretary would not want to take away a privilege from the Commonwealth--even one that it does not use--so Course B won't do either". That brings us to the Bill. "That means that we must legislate along the lines of Course C and extend the privilege to the Irish".

"But Sir Humphrey, how are we going to get that through the Parliament". "Oh, tell them it's urgent". "Urgent, Sir Humphrey--after 50 years?". "Do as you are told. Waste Parliament's time, not mine". "But we've already got 12 Home Office Bills this Session". "Well, then, this is No. 13"--and it is the 13th Home Office Bill in this parliamentary Session.

We find that scenario ridiculous. It is just as ridiculous as the government explanation of the purpose of the Bill, whether expressed by the Home Secretary in another place or by the noble and learned Lord in earlier debates. It must be the feeblest reason ever for any Bill to be presented to Parliament.

Of course, that is not the actual reason for the Bill; it is a cover story. The real reason is not ludicrous, but sinister. All the indications are that the Bill is wanted by Sinn Fein/IRA. They want to be able to have members elected for both Westminster and Dail constituencies--not to sit in both Parliaments; they do not recognise the validity of the Westminster Parliament, they do not take their seats and never have done--they want to claim to represent United Kingdom constituencies in the Dail. That would be a huge step towards a United Ireland by stealth.

So far, I cannot make out from our debates whether the Government agree that Sinn Fein will use the Bill in the way that I have set out. That is why my first question was whether they accept the likelihood, or even the possibility, of that outcome. I cannot believe that they are naive enough not to realise such a possibility; nor can we think of anyone else who is likely to want this Bill. But if they accept that possibility, why do the Government want the Bill?

20 Nov 2000 : Column 538

Which part of the Government wants the Bill? It is supposed to be a Home Office Bill; Home Office Ministers introduced it into another place. But I do not believe that the Home Office thought of this all by itself. So perhaps it is the Northern Ireland Office that wants it. But I have to say that the indications we have received are that the Northern Ireland Secretary wants nothing to do with the Bill--in spite of the fact that it was described to this House by the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms as part of the "choreography" of Northern Ireland. That makes me think that my noble friend Lord Cranborne was right to suggest the other day that this measure springs from a deal done by No. 10. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, remarked, it is an interesting fact that the noble and learned Lord is taking the Bill through this House.

However, looking to different parts of the Government is fruitless speculation. We all know that we shall be told that the Government are all good friends; that they agree on everything; and that what we read to the contrary in the newspapers is rubbish. I can see why Sinn Fein/IRA would want the Bill, but not why the United Kingdom Government or any other Member of this House would want it. I think it can only be because they, too, secretly want to advance the cause of a united Ireland by stealth, or because they have done a deal and think that they will get something in return. The Government got nothing from Sinn Fein/IRA in return for the release of prisoners, so I am not sure why they should expect to get anything from this measure, significant as it is.

Perhaps the Irish Government believe that this would be one way to appease Sinn Fein, which still has its old agenda at the back of its mind. This device might serve its purposes and help to destabilise Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. But, if so, what has it offered that is remotely comparable in return? As far as we know, the answer to that question is nothing. Indeed, its own constitution, the Irish constitution, would restrict this curious dual mandate to Irish citizens, because only they can stand for election in Ireland. That makes it all the more curious that the British Government should want to grant this special privilege of sitting in the two sovereign parliaments at once, not to British citizens but only to Irish citizens, or those with dual nationality. If Her Majesty's Government want it for some unexplained reason, why should this United Kingdom Parliament want it? That is the question for us to consider.

We have been told of no deal; indeed, we are told that it is solely the policy of the United Kingdom Government. We in this Parliament should stand by the Belfast/Good Friday agreement that Northern Ireland will remain fully part of the United Kingdom, as the majority of its people want for as long as they want it. We remember that part of the agreement, even if the Government want us to forget it. In our previous debates, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said that he did not understand the Government over this Bill: what is more, he thought that he was not meant to understand. I feel exactly the same. Anyone who accepts this clause and the Bill today will, I believe, have cause to regret it

20 Nov 2000 : Column 539

when it is used against our constitution. However, they cannot say that they were not told what the effect would be.

We shall not acquiesce in the weakening of our Parliament by stealth, and we shall not accept the undermining of our United Kingdom by stealth. That is why we should defeat this clause. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page