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Lord Laird: My Lords, perhaps I may briefly express my support for this amendment. In view of my earlier remarks today, will the Minister indicate clearly in his response whether he thinks that this Bill is a plus or a minus for the Belfast agreement?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I think it is a plus. The Government support the Belfast agreement. The British/Irish agreement in 1998, which followed the conclusion of the Belfast agreement, put on a formal basis the arrangements--
Lord Laird: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Can he explain to us how it is that they can support the Belfast agreement? It is not in the Belfast agreement; indeed, it is nothing to do with the that agreement. No one who is a signatory to the Belfast agreement, except Sinn Fein/IRA, seems to be in favour of it. The point is that it causes considerable confusion in Northern Ireland. So how can they be in support of the Belfast agreement?
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord replying to the debate or intervening in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Laird? If he is replying to the debate, does he wish to speak early or to close the debate now?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, after the noble Lord, Lord Laird, sat down, my understanding was that he had concluded his speech. No one rose to speak at that point, so I decided to do so. I profoundly apologise to any noble Lords who wished to speak. I looked around the Chamber and no was standing up.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord mistook my natural diffidence. I heard a question addressed to the noble and learned Lord from the noble Lord, Lord Laird. I thought that the noble and learned Lord, with his customary courtesy, would want immediately to explain why he could not answer it.
With no disrespect whatever to the present distinguished occupant on the Woolsack, I, for my part, regret the fact that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not present today. I believe that the Lord Chancellor is chairman of the legislation committee of the Cabinet. I should have liked to give the noble and learned Lord the opportunity to tell us a little, in these days of transparent government, about
Perhaps I may follow the scenario suggested by my noble friend Lord Cope. It would be diverting to know how the Home Office Minister charged with bringing forward this proposal would have put the matter to the legislation committee of the Cabinet, especially to the Lord Chancellor. There would have had to be a very good reason given as to why precious government time in legislation was taken up in this way. Unfortunately, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not in a position to respond today, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is. He has had plenty of time to think about this, because several noble Lords addressed the question in Committee.
A substantial constitutional change is being proposed. It is a very significant one. Any change to the disqualification rules that Parliament has previously approved for itself, and for the House of Commons in particular, is also important constitutionally. The Minister has said, "No, we don't anticipate that any member of the Commonwealth legislatures will avail themselves of this privilege; indeed, they have never done so in the past and we see no reason to suppose that they will do so in the future. Yet we think it is important that members of the Irish legislature should be able to avail themselves of it. No, we don't say that anyone we know will do so. It is just that we don't like these funny old anomalies".
Noble Lords do not need to have particularly sensitive noses to smell a rat here. All that the noble and learned Lord would say when I asked him this question in Committee was that it was not an appropriate question to ask. I have considered that curious doctrine and I am afraid that I still consider it to be an appropriate question. I hope that it will receive an appropriate answer today.
Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, has both complained of anomalies. I do not think that there is any question that we have an anomaly in front of us today. However, I happen recently to have read the book of Mr David Willetts on civic conservatism. Mr Willetts quotes Voltaire, with strong approval, about the contribution of anomalies to the preservation of liberty. On this matter, I happen to agree with Mr Willetts rather than the noble and learned Lord or the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley.
It is a fact, as well as an anomaly, that throughout history those who live within the same physical border have not always had the same identification of their nationality. If that is not compatible with peace, then all the perfumes of Arabia will not cleanse their ethnicity. So some way of living with the situation is, I believe, desirable. Perhaps I may recommend the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, to another anomaly; namely, the state of Andorra, where some people believe that they are Spanish, some
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for moving this amendment, which I strongly support. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was slightly on the wrong tack. It is not a question of creating anomalies; indeed, the unnecessary rectification of an anomaly without good reason is at the root of our objections.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the phenomenon of dual passports. He also made the observation, with which no one could disagree, that it ought to be possible for someone to love his own country without hating another country. Of course one accepts that. There are, of course, those who disagree with the principle of dual passports. I am not one of them. It is not a question of loving one's own country and not hating another; it is a question of whether one can perform one's duties which contradict each other in two countries simultaneously. It is the essence of the argument on this side that it is difficult to imagine someone being able to do that in two sovereign parliaments simultaneously. That is perhaps possible in a sovereign parliament and a devolved assembly in another country, but is it possible in two sovereign parliaments where one has to swear two oaths of allegiance? It might be difficult but not impossible to represent two different sets of constituents. However, where one's function as a Member of Parliament is both to sustain and occasionally to bring down governments, that could lead to enormous conflicts of loyalty.
I am in no doubt that the principle of this Bill is highly objectionable. But what I think is much more serious is the way in which this measure has been justified. It has been put forward and justified on a basis which is utterly implausible. Initially the noble and learned Lord presented the measure as simply bringing Ireland into line with the Commonwealth as though that were a statement which had any justification because Ireland is not a member of the Commonwealth, even though there is some talk of it becoming one. However, it quickly emerged that there has been no example in history of a Member of Parliament of a Commonwealth legislature sitting simultaneously in the House of Commons. Therefore the whole basis on which the measure was justified simply did not stand up.
Then there is the extraordinary timetable of the Bill. I think I am right in saying that the Bill was first presented to the House of Commons on 22nd December, just before Christmas, when no one could pay it any attention. It was reintroduced when Parliament came back after the Christmas break. Then we had the turn for the worse in the negotiations in
Mention has been made of the close relationship between this country and Northern Ireland. That is--because it is, typically for the noble and learned Lord, a narrow basis on which to stand--rather more convincing. However, it does not tell us much simply to say that we need the measure because we have a close relationship with Northern Ireland. The measure is being put forward as if the Sinn Fein submission to the all-party committee of the Irish Parliament on the constitution had never been published. The document refers to the changes that were made to Article 2 of the Irish constitution. The claim to Northern Ireland has been dropped. Article 2 now reads:
It has been said that this proposal was not mentioned in the Belfast agreement. That is an important point. This Bill is a significant measure in two ways. First, I submit that it constitutes a constitutional outrage. Secondly, it constitutes a significant addition to the Belfast agreement, if its purpose is as the Sinn Fein document states. I say with great respect to the Minister that I strongly object to the lack of candour and frankness with which the measure has been put forward. Ministers have
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