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Lord Cope of Berkeley: As I said in connection with the previous amendment, I accept Amendment No. 18 and those that are associated with it as a small but important concession on the Government's part. However, I wonder how it fits in with the choreography of Northern Ireland that we heard about earlier from the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms. Nevertheless, it is welcome.
However, as the Minister pointed out, Amendment No. 20 and those that are associated with it attempt to go further. I see no reason why Members of the Dail should be acceptable as Northern Ireland Ministers. I think that that would constitute a terrible conflict of interest. Given the d'Hondt procedure, it is not in
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell): I hope that it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I apologise. When the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, moved his amendment, I should have advised the Committee that, if Amendment No. 18 were agreed to, I should not be able to call Amendments Nos. 19 to 21. I apologise for that slip.
Lord Rogan: I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 25A and 26. All four of these amendments are concerned with which positions within the government of Ireland should be excluded from the listed places in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
If it is deemed improper for a junior Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly to become a Minister in the Republic of Ireland's Government, why is that not reciprocated? Why will it be possible for a junior Minister in the Irish Government to be a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly? Do members of Sinn Fein only, initially at least, wish to be junior Ministers in the Republic of Ireland's Government?
These two amendments provide for the situation where one person is a junior Minister in the Government of Ireland and then becomes a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly; the order of appointment is reversed. I note that government Amendments Nos. 18, 25 and 30 attempt to rectify the problem a little.
The problem does not appear to have been given sufficient attention in another place by the Government, even though they had adequate opportunity during what I believe were some 27 hours of debate. However, the issue of junior Ministers has still not been favourably resolved, as with some other office holders in both assemblies. Therefore, I believe that the most sensible solution is to accept Amendments Nos. 20 and 26. That must be preferable to attempting to draw impossible boundaries, grouping together permissible office holders and excluding others. We do not need to concern ourselves with particular posts in the Irish Government or Parliament if we simply exclude all members of that legislature from holding the listed positions in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The reasons why we should exclude all members of the Irish legislature is founded not only on necessary clarity but also on the inevitable conflict of interest which has been much debated already today. The means of determining Northern Ireland's constitutional position is clearly found in the Belfast Agreement--unlike this Bill which is clearly not in the agreement.
Enabling a person to hold office in Northern Ireland and yet sit in the legislature of the Republic of Ireland is a means of clouding the clarity with which Northern Ireland's constitutional status was stated in the Belfast Agreement. That agreement cannot and should not be
I support Amendments Nos. 20 and 26. I urge the Committee to support Amendments Nos. 19 and 25A only as a second preference to the complete exclusion of all members of the Irish legislature from holding the listed offices in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
We have debated the issue at great length and time moves on. If what I shall say is out of order perhaps noble Lords will tell me. However, in a few days' time we shall debate the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill. As the Disqualification Bill is drafted, a Minister in the Government of Ireland can be in the Northern Ireland Assembly. By virtue of Schedule 3 to the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, a member of the Assembly can then sit on the police board. Schedule 3 to that Bill excludes Ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembly from being on the police board. However, by removing disqualification, the Disqualifications Bill permits Ministers of the Irish Government who are also members of the Assembly to be on that police board.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: I welcome government Amendments Nos. 18 and 25, which ensure that Irish Ministers and committee chairmen of the Irish Parliament cannot be Northern Ireland Ministers. Amendment No. 30 provides that Irish Ministers and committee chairmen of the Irish Parliament cannot be Northern Ireland committee chairmen. The Minister has recognised the fact--I welcome it--that committee chairmen are part of the process of policy development. The point was raised in another place but I welcome the fact that this modest concession has been made.
My Amendments Nos. 22 and 28 would provide that Irish Members of Parliament could not be Northern Ireland Ministers. The Minister said that he did not think that that was a sufficient conflict of interest, although he has given no reasons for his judgment and has made a different judgment for committee chairmen. As my noble friend Lord Cope said from the Front Bench, there could be a serious conflict of interest.
I have one question for the Minister on which he may need to take advice. This may be inaccurate, but I have read that Members of the European Parliament cannot be Northern Ireland Ministers and that that is why Ian Paisley and John Hume are not part of the Executive, but have left it to their deputy leaders. Perhaps the Minister can tell me whether that is right.
Viscount Cranborne: The amendments are of considerable interest. We are grateful to the Government for the concessions that they have made, but I hope that the Committee will reflect on the extraordinary situation that we are contemplating as though it were an everyday matter. Not only are we debating the possibility of Members of another sovereign Parliament becoming Ministers in a devolved administration of the United Kingdom, but we have to make it explicit that Ministers in another sovereign state should not have executive power in a devolved assembly that forms part of the United Kingdom. If we replaced the word "Irish" with the word "French", the absurdity of the debate would become immediately apparent. As the Minister has often said that the Bill tidies up an anomaly relating to provisions for Commonwealth countries, I might add that the same would apply to substituting the words "Indian", "Australian" or "South African".
Either we are a sovereign nation or we are not. If the Government do not believe in the future of the nation state, they should say so. If they do, they have no business introducing the Bill. I am grateful for small mercies, but it remains entirely logical that an elected Member of a foreign Parliament should not have even a remote possibility of becoming a member of the executive of a devolved government in the United Kingdom. That makes no sense, even when contemplating matters Irish. One finds one's suspicions entirely confirmed about what the effects of the legislation will be when the Government temporise on matters of this kind.
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