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Our belief that this is an extraordinary measure has been underlined by the interventions of the Minister. If we are to make an extraordinary concession, surely it should be linked to something. My noble friend on
It seems to me to be a reasonable demand to make that this far-reaching, extraordinary measure should at least be attached to visible progress. It has been felt that the Government have been sliding and that we are entering an unreal world. I consider that the most unreal moment occurred a few weeks ago when the noble Baroness who spoke from the Dispatch Box told us that we had no idea who had fired a mortar at the headquarters of MI6; I believe that there is hardly a Member of this House who is not pretty sure who fired it.
We are living in an unreal world in which standards are being abandoned and we are making fatal compromises that ultimately may contaminate our own standards. Therefore, I strongly support my noble friend's amendment and, as an alternative, plead in aid with it my own amendment which relates specifically to the Belfast agreement.
Attached to this group of amendments is my Amendment No. 35, which is of an entirely different nature. I am slightly surprised that it has been grouped in this way. Amendment No. 35 seeks to insert a new clause, which states that:
As I said in my earlier remarks, I believe that the bar on membership of the Dail is not the same. No Irish legislation exists which is comparable to the disqualification legislation in this country. However, I believe that I am right in saying that one can stand for the Dail only if one is an Irish citizen. Of course, a situation may arise in which an Irish citizen who is resident in this country, or an Irish national in Northern Ireland, succeeds in being elected to the House of Commons and then manages to be elected to the Dail.
However, we are extending to all Irish citizens the right to stand for election to the House of Commons. I believe that a reciprocal arrangement should be made before this legislation is passed. After all, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, sought to make his (if he will forgive my saying) slender justification for the Bill on grounds of symmetry. Let us have symmetry all round. Let membership of the Dail be available to Members of the House of Commons, which effectively at present it is not.
However, as we have heard again and again, that is all theoretical. No Members of the Indian, Australian, Canadian or Seychelles Parliaments have ever stood for election to the House of Commons. There is no prospect of Members of Commonwealth parliaments becoming Members of the House of Commons. However, there is a very real prospect of someone in an Ulster constituency in Northern Ireland contriving through this Bill to be elected also to the Dail. The prospect of people being Members of the House of Commons and of the Dail is real. If such a situation is to occur, let us have treatment on all fours. Let us have some of the Minister's symmetry.
Of course, I do not believe that enabling Members of the House of Commons to stand for election to the Dail would justify the breach of the principle. It should not be possible for someone simultaneously to be a Member of two sovereign parliaments. Even if reciprocal arrangements were to exist, I should still find the principle offensive and wrong. However, if the Government, who have their Second Reading, are to proceed with this legislation, I believe that in order to make unsatisfactory legislation a little more equitable it would be reasonable to expect Members of the House of Commons, or people standing for election to the House of Commons, even if they were not Irish citizens, to be treated on the same basis. That is the thrust of my second amendment.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I rise briefly to support the amendment and what has been said by the two noble Lords. I do so because 15 members of my family are Australian citizens residing in Australia. Some of them are closely associated with the political machinery, both of the federal parliament and of the state legislatures. Never in any of my conversations with them have I heard a serious suggestion that any of my 15 Molyneaux connections should come here to stand for election to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, even though some of them could claim a certain qualification of residence.
Viscount Cranborne: It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who, if I may say so, has a wonderful propensity for taking sideways looks at subjects. I do not know what that does for other noble Lords, but it certainly cheers me up.
Rather like my noble friend Lord Lamont, very reluctantly I support my noble friends' Amendments Nos. 2 and 34. As my noble friend pointed out, the objection to the Bill has nothing to do with decommissioning. It is an absolute objection in principle. As I said in my remarks during the previous debate, the objection is that a Member of two sovereign parliaments will have a divided loyalty.
However, if the Government were to get their way--I very much fear that they will, in spite of our best efforts to prevent that--I suppose that it is incumbent on us to do what we can to make a bad situation a little better. Therefore, with some reluctance I support the amendment. However, I feel that I have no alternative but to do so.
Given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, the link to decommissioning which my noble friends made in Amendments Nos. 2 and 34 has a certain logic to it. For those of us who are disappointed at the progress of the peace process so far, I am afraid that it has become a matter of constant repetition to point out that one set of parties to the peace process has signally failed to perform the undertakings which it gave as part of the agreement.
Political parties closely linked with active terrorists on both sides of the sectarian divide--both the republican and the so-called unionist side--have failed to surrender one single ounce of Semtex or one single weapon. As government Ministers have repeatedly pointed out--and it was pointed out again in the debates on this Bill in another place back in January--that forms an integral part of the agreement. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office said so himself and it is recorded in the Official Report.
It is perfectly sensible for the Good Friday agreement to make the decommissioning of weapons an integral part of any peace agreement. After all, it is surely part of the deal of parliamentary government--and I hope it does not sound patronising because it is common cause between every single Member of this House but perhaps worth repeating--that we do what governments of the day tell us to do, very often extremely reluctantly, because we know that everybody engaged in the parliamentary process will play by the basic rule of the game, which is that, if we are outvoted, we shall go along with it. It is when people who go into administrations without having thrown away the Armalite but still using the ballot box come into play that we begin to wonder whether the game is not being played with a weapon which the rest of us not only do not possess but do not wish to possess.
It is for that reason that my noble friends have been extremely sensible in linking their amendments with progress to decommissioning. I am astonished at their moderation because they refer only to "progress to decommissioning" rather than the completion of decommissioning. That shows how low our expectations have sunk, as my noble friend intimated. Therefore, if we are to do what seems to me to be this outrageous and very silly thing, at least we might get some benefit from it if it is linked to a dedication to a purely parliamentary means of pursuing politics rather than using parliamentary means only so long as they work for whatever faction one happens to belong to. If it does not work, then the implied threat is there that, "They haven't gone away, you know".
I turn briefly to Amendment No. 35 tabled by my noble friend Lord Lamont. All I would say about this amendment is that I feel rather the same way about it as I do about Amendment No. 34, as I believe my noble friend does as well. There is nothing to remove the principled objection which many of us have to this legislation but at least this encourages him a little further down that virtuous path of his addiction, which is rather sudden, to legislative tidiness.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, mentioned the federal parliament in Australia. Let us take that as an example. How does the noble and learned Lord think that those friends and relations, with their federal parliamentary connections, would feel if the Government of Australia suddenly presented this Bill, changing what has to be changed for Australian circumstances, to the Parliament of Australia, saying that it would be possible to be a Member of both Parliaments if one were a United Kingdom citizen? We know that if you are an Australian national you can, at the moment, be a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. I have already made clear that I deplore that matter as a relic of imperial times which needs correcting. But let us say that the Australian Parliament were presented with this Bill, suggesting that one could be a member of the Australian Parliament and a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament.
I spent an extremely happy year in Australia when I was 17 and 18 years-old, in the south west of Queensland. I am sorry to say that I have never been back to that wonderful country since, much to my dismay. But when I was there I learnt that Australians, even back in 1963-64, were beginning to have a very powerful feeling of their own nationality and the pride that goes with it. Even then, they were beginning to object to what I think became known as the cultural cringe.
In the wake of the Olympics, Australia has become increasingly self-confident and proud, and rightly proud, of its status as an independent nation. The idea that a mirror image of this Bill would be acceptable to the people of Australia seems to me to be so absurd as not really to require any further discussion.
So if it is right that the people of Australia or the people of other Commonwealth nations feel that way--and I am sure they would if presented with a Bill like this--and if, as my noble friend implied, a non-Commonwealth parliament, the Dail, might feel the same way, and there is no evidence to show that it feels any differently, if presented with a similar piece of legislation, why is it right that we should accept it?
It is purely speculation, but my only suggestion is that perhaps this is a hangover from imperial times when it seemed as though this Parliament were somehow greater and more important than other national parliaments and, therefore, we could afford to take a broader view and everybody would become privileged to become part of what would be a sort of
One only needs to ask oneself that kind of question to realise that what has become manifestly and increasingly obviously an absurd position for the Government to take is absurd even if one accepts the principle of the Bill, which I do not, unless Amendment No. 35 is accepted. I should prefer that our first amendment had been accepted but since that was not possible, I suppose we must try to make do with something which is at least a minor improvement on what is already an outrage.
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