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On the proposed amendment, I confirm that the presiding officer is a member of the Assembly Commission by virtue of Section 40(2)(a) of the 1998 Act. Clause 2(2) of this Bill prevents persons appointed as members of the commission from also holding the offices listed in that clause. This clause does not cover the presiding officer since he is not appointed but is a member of the commission by virtue of the 1998 Act.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord would be good enough to answer my question, which concerns me greatly. How is it possible for us now to debate an amendment to a clause which is no longer in the Bill?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, the clause which is being amended is new Clause 1 of the present Bill. Therefore, there is a clause which can be amended. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, comes to my aid by nodding vigorously. Procedurally, there is no question but that the debate on the amendment can go forward. I believe that that view is confirmed by the Table Office and the learned Clerk. In terms of procedure it is perfectly possible to debate the amendment. As a matter of substance, it is right that the issue should be debated, it having been made clear by me on behalf of the Government that we shall argue in another place for the reintroduction of Clause 1.
The amendment of the noble Lord seeks to prevent holders of disqualifying offices--those are the various offices mentioned in the present Clause 1--from being able to take up positions as chairmen or deputy chairmen of the Assembly ad hoc committee, as he said, to avoid conflicts of interest. We do not believe that those safeguards will be necessary in the selection of those offices. First, unlike statutory committees, ad hoc committees do not have the same role in the development of policy and legislation. Secondly, and more importantly, unlike the restricted offices included in the present Clause 1 of the Bill, ad hoc committee chairmen and deputy chairmen are not selected by the d'Hondt procedure and so are not automatically appointed. There is, therefore, room for discretion in making appointments. Candidates with existing offices in the Irish Parliament could be passed over if it were thought that they were unsuitable to be a chairperson or a deputy chairperson of the ad hoc
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, typically for this Bill, this is the last Third Reading of this Session. The Bill has been at the bottom of the legislative pile throughout its passage in this place. It was introduced into another place just before Christmas last year. Its Second Reading here was as late in July as it was possible to be. Committee and Report stages were both delayed; and Third Reading now comes at the end of the Session. That is amazing for a Bill which was presented to the Commons as so urgent that it had to be passed in two days--and that was in January.
The Bill as it stands is meaningless. I doubt whether this House has ever sent such complete rubbish to another place. It is the sweepings of a Bill. It contains only consequential clauses but no operative clause. As it stands, its only effect would be to prevent Irish senators from sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which no one wishes to do.
The Government's cover story about bringing Ireland into line with the Commonwealth, which it left voluntarily 50 years ago, was completely blown away in the course of our debates, revealing in stark clarity the central proposal of the Bill. That was itself demolished in this House, leaving these sweepings.
No Member of Parliament from a Commonwealth country has ever sat in Westminster at the same time and no one is going to do so. No Member of Parliament from any other European Union country can sit in Westminster at the same time as being a member of his own parliament; and no one proposes that he should be able to do so. Sinn Fein/IRA want this Bill. It is not that they want to sit in two parliaments at once. We know that they do not accept the validity of the Westminster Parliament with respect to Northern Ireland. It is expressed sometimes as not wishing to take the Oath but it goes much deeper. It is a hostility to all our proceedings here. They do not want to sit in the Westminster Parliament and the Dail at the same time. They want to be able to claim to represent Northern Ireland constituencies in the Dail. That reason for wanting this Bill is not simply a contention from this side of the House. It is fully stated and documented Sinn Fein policy, as has been made clear in our debates.
On Report, the noble and learned Lord gave us at some length details of the changes to the Irish constitution about which we all know. But he could not tell us that the Irish constitution would be changed to allow British citizens to sit in the Dail.
In any event, the Bill as it originally stood was wrong in principle. No one can legally represent two United Kingdom constituencies at the same time in the House of Commons and, more to the point, they should not be able to represent two constituencies in different sovereign Parliaments at the same time.
There have been suggestions that the Bill is part of a secret deal between the Government and Sinn Fein. Perhaps that is what the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms meant when he referred to it as part of the "choreography" of Northern Ireland. Further, it has been suggested that it resulted from the deal when the Prime Minister wrote his hand-written appeal to Northern Ireland electors to support the agreement at the time of the referendum. If that was so, in my view the Government need feel no compunction about it. The promises made at that time have been dishonoured root and branch by Sinn Fein, particularly in respect of decommissioning.
In the course of our debates in this House we have shown the true nature of this Bill and its consequences. The House decided clearly that the Bill's central proposition was highly objectionable. Therefore, we are sending a husk of the original Bill to another place. They must confront the issues, which they were not able to do in January.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we have consistently maintained that this Bill is worth while, that it is positive and that it is symbolic of a new era in the history of the United Kingdom and Ireland. We are seeking to allow Members of the Irish Parliament the opportunity to campaign and to take up seats in the United Kingdom legislatures in recognition of the extremely close and positive ties which exist between Britain and Ireland. Nevertheless, as the vote to drop the former Clause 1 demonstrated, it appears that many here do not agree that this new relationship is sufficiently important to warrant this Bill.
That relationship was proved in the negotiations which resulted in the Belfast agreement. It was the British and Irish Governments working together with the parties that made it possible to reach agreement. Throughout the crucial and difficult process which led to the Belfast agreement, and again subsequently when we experienced setbacks in the full implementation of the agreement, the Irish Government were key players in bringing the political process back on track, sometimes at potential cost and in the face of personal tragedy.
The historic agreement is a pact not only between the Northern Ireland parties and the British Government, but also between the Irish and British Governments and with the people of Northern Ireland. Quite simply, it would not have been possible to get this far without the contribution of the Irish Government or, indeed, the support of the Irish people, as shown in the referendum on the Belfast agreement.
Our relationship with Ireland has been strengthened not only by the Good Friday agreement, but by the British-Irish agreement, which replaced the Anglo-Irish agreement. Under this new agreement, the Irish Government fulfilled their commitment to amend Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution. With the endorsement of over 94 per cent of the Irish voting public, the Irish Government removed the territorial claim over Northern Ireland which had existed as a central principle of the Irish constitution for 80 years.
The Irish Government and the Irish people showed that they accepted and supported the principle of consent that Northern Ireland would remain a part of the United Kingdom for as long as the majority within Northern Ireland wished it to be so; and, crucially, they recognised the separateness of Northern Ireland from Ireland.
We must not forget that these developments have accompanied huge progress in Northern Ireland. For the first time in 30 years the main paramilitary groups are on ceasefire. Violence, death and destruction are no longer a part of everyday life for the majority of people living in Northern Ireland. The strong economic growth there is higher than in most other regions of the United Kingdom, and there is rising employment, inward investment and an increase in living standards across the community.
We have returned power to a devolved Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland, placing responsibility back where it belongs, in the hands of local representatives. They are rising to the challenge with enthusiasm, imagination and energy.
All that has happened and is happening. The achievements are a matter of fact, not of interpretation. They came about only because the United Kingdom and Ireland were prepared to work together to bring peace and to lay a solid foundation for Northern Ireland's future. Of course, I am not saying that the current situation is perfect; we still have
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