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Another modest courtesy would be for the Minister to say why the Bill has been brought forward. I need not repeat--the hour is getting on--the extraordinary timetable that has been followed, both in the other place and in this House. Why was it brought forward? Why has this timetable applied? We are told that the Bill is not part of the Good Friday agreement; it is consistent with it. The Good Friday agreement was argued over for an enormously long time, and represents, I say again, a great achievement for all those who participated in it. But it is extraordinary that this Bill, which is a substantial constitutional measure, should be brought forward in circumstances when it was not contemplated apparently by those who participated in the Good Friday agreement. I very much hope that there will be answers now to these questions.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: In effect this has been another Second Reading debate in relation to the Bill. Two questions have run through the whole short debate. First, why are we having this Bill? Secondly, who asked for the Bill? As to why are we having the Bill, without going into the matter at any length--speakers in the debate have revealed an understanding of the legal position--it is the case that at the moment, before the Bill is enacted, members of all other foreign parliaments are disqualified from membership of the House of Commons and of the Northern Irish Assembly unless the foreign parliament is a Commonwealth parliament. Equally, in relation to voting in parliamentary elections, one cannot vote in a British parliamentary election unless one is a UK, Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland citizen. Equally, one is qualified to take one's seat in the UK Parliament only if one is a UK, Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland citizen.
Therefore, with regard to voting and the right to sit in Parliament, Commonwealth, Ireland and UK citizens are treated as one. As to disqualification from membership of the UK Parliament, where one is also
Viscount Cranborne: I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord. He has given the technical position which all Members of the Committee accept. This may be an unusual question. Does the Minister think that it is right that the Commonwealth position should be as it is?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: That is the position as it is. There is no proposal to change the position, either in relation to the dual mandate issue, so far as concerns Commonwealth parliaments, nor in the right of the Republic of Ireland's citizens either to vote or become Members in the United Kingdom. So that is what the position is. That being the--
Lord Cope of Berkeley: Before the noble and learned Lord moves on, I do not think he answered the question from my noble friend Lord Cranborne. But in any case does he know of any example when the ability of members of Commonwealth parliaments to sit in the House of Commons has ever been exercised? I have gone to some trouble to find out. I put down a Parliamentary Question. The Home Office did not know. I asked the House of Lords Library. It has been through such information as is available to it. It has no record of the right ever having been used. It consulted the House of Commons Library, which consulted bodies outside. This great ability of members of Commonwealth parliaments that the Minister talks about, with which we have somehow to bring ourselves together, is completely empty. It has never ever been used in history. What is more, it is never likely to be used.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I have posed the question and no one has been able to tell me of any occasion on which a member of a Commonwealth parliament has also sought to sit in the House of Commons. Therefore, I am not in a position to gainsay what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, says in that respect. But it should be remembered that there are two aspects to this issue. It is not just the dual mandate issue. There is also the right of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland to vote in UK parliamentary elections and their right to take seats separately from the dual mandate issue.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I think that is right. But a resident's right to vote would not apply to people except in the categories I have indicated; namely, Republic of Ireland, Commonwealth and British citizens. So, yes, I think there is a residency requirement. I shall check, but I think that there is. That does not give one a right either to vote or stand in the UK Parliament elections unless one is also a member of one of the three groups I have indicated
Lord Elton: We are in Committee, so I do not apologise too much for interrupting yet again. As I understand the matter, the noble and learned Lord is seeking a kind of geometrical or symmetrical argument in saying that what applies to electors should apply to representatives. If one has a vote, one should be able to sit in Parliament. Surely, the responsibilities of being an elector and of being a representative are entirely different here. Therefore the analogy fails to carry any force.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: With respect, no, because I am seeking to draw attention to the fact that, in relation to who can vote and who can sit in the UK Parliament, the Republic of Ireland, the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom are treated as one. Should not the position be the same when it comes to the issue of dual mandate? That is the basis on which, as a matter of form and substance, we approach the issue.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked whether it is right that citizens of the UK, the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland should all be allowed to vote and sit. No one suggests that there is anything wrong with that approach. In relation to the dual mandate issue, which is separate, the noble Viscount put forward an elegant historical argument based in part on dinner time discussions in the Cecil family. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, put forward arguments in that respect. But the position is as it is; and there is very much to be said for the position being consistent.
That is particularly so when the position is, as I believe that it is, that our relations with the Republic of Ireland are good. Following the Belfast agreement, they have been strengthened by four new British/Irish treaties; and they have been strengthened by the changes in the Irish constitution to reflect agreement on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, and by new institutions to develop further British/Irish co-operation. So, in the context of a good relationship with the Republic of Ireland--a relationship that has never been better--it is appropriate that these changes be made to provide consistency in the position. That is why we think it appropriate to introduce changes.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Surely it is for the promoter of legislation--that is usually the Government, but it could equally be a private Member--to say, "We think that this is appropriate legislation to promote"; and it is then for Parliament to decide whether it agrees or disagrees with the promoter of the legislation.
Viscount Cranborne: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. With the greatest respect to him, I really do think that his last answer is beyond caricature and so I shall not dignify it by saying anything else. But his argument about good relations between the Republic and the United Kingdom is a little curious. If good relations is a criterion for dual mandates, should we not also be negotiating with the United States on similar terms?
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