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Mr. Murphy: I certainly agree that United Kingdom does not mean England: there are other places as well.

The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked about the Irish version of the agreement. I have checked. The Irish version is exactly the same. It refers to the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and, of course, that is a key change because in previous practice all agreements had two versions--one Irish and one British. The Irish version certainly refers to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The point has been well made in the debate that we must take great care.

My main concern in this matter is that we do not alter clause 1 because it is part of the agreement. We are conscious of the nature of the comments made by hon. Members and the sensitivities surrounding the issue. However, I believe that we have sufficient safeguards in the Interpretation Act and other measures and I ask the House to reject the amendment.

10.30 pm

Mr. Trimble: I am sorry to disagree with the Minister again, but he misinterpreted what I said about the Ireland Act 1949. I did not say that its terms were permissive; I was merely anticipating that he would say that. I was pointing out to him that it was intended to fix, for United Kingdom use, the term that would be used to describe what hitherto had been known as the Irish Free State. From then until now, it has been consistent practice to use the term "Republic of Ireland".

If a change is to be made, it should be made properly through the legislation. There is a strong argument that the Minister is currently acting contrary to the 1949 Act and is not really putting the matter on a proper footing.

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Some of the points of concern expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) about subsection (2) stem from its rather convoluted--perhaps the word is "curious"--language. It states:

I wonder why the phrase, "in the United Kingdom" was used. There was no need for it--it could simply have said, "between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of". Perhaps the Minister would explain the thinking behind that.

We have made the point that the Government have made a mistake in the agreement into which they have entered--

Mr. Peter Robinson: You signed it.

Mr. Trimble: I am referring to the treaty between the two Governments. I have not signed anything; the hon. Gentleman knows better than that.

The Government have made a mistake that will lead to confusion. However, so that we can move on and discuss some other amendments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The First Deputy Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon, had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 68 (Debate on clause standing part), That the clause stand part of the Bill:--

Question agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1

Polls for the purposes of section 1

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): I beg to move amendment No. 37, in page 39, line 18, leave out 'including' and insert 'except'.

The First Deputy Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 19, in clause 26, page 13, line 42, at end insert

', except that he shall not by order create criminal offences'.

No. 36, in clause 72, page 33, line 34, after 'franchise', insert

'nor the creation of criminal offences'.

Mr. Moss: In the interests of getting through a little more business this evening, I shall be brief. The amendments deal with the creation of criminal offences by Order in Council. Amendment No. 37 refers to schedule 1; No. 36 to clause 72; and No. 19 to clause 26.

The powers conferred on the Secretary of State in schedule 1 refer to the poll on the future of Northern Ireland, and the powers in clause 26 relate to elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, whereas the Government's powers in clause 72 refer to elections to district councils. In each case, the Bill gives the Government, either directly or through the Secretary of State, the power, by Order

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in Council, to create criminal offences relating to the elections. That is specifically referred to in schedule 1, and implicity referred to in clauses 26 and 72, as the power is not excluded.

Amendment No. 37 would change the word "including" in line 18 to "except", to make it clear that the Secretary of State does not have the power to create new categories of criminal offence by Order in Council.

Amendment No. 36 would insert in line 34 the words

after "franchise", making it crystal clear that creating such offences is not one of the Government's powers.

Amendment No. 19 would add the words

to section 26(4).

We believe that an Order in Council is quite the wrong vehicle for such measures, which are best and most properly dealt with in primary legislation.

Mr. Paul Murphy: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity, even at a very late stage, to speak to that group of amendments. However--I fear that I shall have to disappoint him--the Government oppose the amendments. We believe that we have the power under those sections of the Bill to create criminal offences by orders.

Although there is nothing new about creatingoffences through subordinate legislation, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that creating offences is an important decision. However, the ability is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which gives Parliament an opportunity fully to debate a draft order. I should draw the Committee's attention to the Northern Ireland Negotiations (Referendum) Order 1998 and the New Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order 1998--with which I know the hon. Gentleman was involved. Those measures were debated by the House only a couple of months ago, and included provisions to combat electoral fraud, which I know is a particular concern of Northern Ireland Members.

We believe that it is very important for the opportunities and flexibility offered by the Bill to be maintained. I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman. We resist the amendments.

Mr. Moss: The Minister did not say that legislation for England, Wales or Scotland, for example, contains provision for such a procedure. Is he simply saying that the procedure should apply only to Northern Ireland? If so, why is it necessary that important measures--providing the ability to create new criminal offences in elections, for example--should pertain only to Northern Ireland? Should not the House have an opportunity to discuss such provisions in primary legislation on the Floor of the House and in Committee rather than by affirmative resolution of an Order in Council?

Mr. Murphy: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The Opposition expressed similar doubts when we were considering the legislation on Scotland. However, I believe that there are special circumstances, and that--in some of the points we are dealing with on electoral

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offences--there is a need for speed of legislation. I would be the last person to delay any change in law designed to stamp out electoral fraud, wherever it might exist.

Mr. Moss: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 2

Previous enactments

Mr. William Ross: I beg to move amendment No. 134, in page 1, line 16, at beginning insert '(1)'.

The First Deputy Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 107, in page 1, line 17, at end add--

'(2) This section is to come into force on the day appointed under section 3.'.

No. 135, in page 1, line 17, at end add--

'(2) If the Assembly has passed with cross community support a resolution praying that this provision should come into force the Secretary of State may lay a draft of an Order before Parliament to bring this provision into force.
(3) The Assembly shall not consider any resolution under (2) above until more than 12 months after the appointed day.'

Mr. Ross: You will see, Mr. Martin--it is quite evident--that amendment No. 134 is consequential on amendment No. 135, although, in some respects, the latter amendment is consequential on the former one. My right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has tabled amendment No. 107, which generally tries to achieve the same objective--equity of treatment between the constitution of the Irish Republic and the constitution of the United Kingdom.

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 was, of course, intent on preserving the unity of the Kingdom. The agreement's position on the matter is quite clear--throughout this debate we have heard quite a lot about the agreement, and about how sacrosanct it is. Paragraph 7(5), on page 4--under "Annex B: Irish Government Draft Legislation to Amend the Constitution"--states:

The Government of the Irish Republic are changing their constitution and publishing the changes. Then, if things do not work out as they envisage, they will go back to the status quo. The United Kingdom Government, however, are removing the last vestiges of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 from the statute book with no possibility of bringing them back. Therefore, there could be circumstances in which the United Kingdom will have changed the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, but the constitution of the Irish Republic will not have changed at all. Indeed, it may revert to the present position and restore its territorial claim.

The Irish Government's position is "Heads I win; tails I win" and that is not acceptable. If, under certain circumstances, it is possible for the Irish Republic to

22 Jul 1998 : Column 1226

restore the status quo, the United Kingdom should be in exactly the same position. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and the Government should make it perfectly plain that they intend to retain the status quo for Northern Ireland in British constitutional law should things not work out as envisaged.

In a characteristically modest mood, my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann has tabled an amendment that states:

I would go a little further. My amendment was born out of long experience in the practical marketplace and dealing with folk, when giving away one's position before being dead certain of getting one's price frequently led to giving something away without getting anything in return. My right hon. Friend's amendment promises to do something on the appointed day. The Dublin Government are saying, "Regardless of that, we intend to have our pound of flesh". It is only sensible that the United Kingdom Government should retain their freedom of action and not wipe out the Government of Ireland Act 1920 completely.

The Dublin changes are not giving up claim to sovereignty, but shifting it from territory to people in a very explicit way, and the United Kingdom Government accept that. Under the new statement that the Irish are adopting, all those born in the island of Ireland are entitled to Irish citizenship. That is the present position. It does not matter whether or not they are born in the United Kingdom, they still have that freedom of choice of nationality.

As the Minister will know, dual citizenship is an interesting concept which is not universally recognised and respected. Different countries take very different views. Some interpret it loosely and casually. The Irish Republic allow one's grandparents to give one Irish citizenship, even if two generations have been born overseas. In other countries, only those who are born within the country--regardless of who their parents are--can claim citizenship.

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