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Mr. Mike O'Brien: Let me see if I have understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. He does not believe that the Commonwealth should have the rights that it had throughout 18 years of Conservative Government, including the period during which he was responsible for these constitutional issues as Home Secretary and did nothing about them. He believes that this is a fundamental matter of principle, but he cannot be bothered to be here this evening to vote against it.

Mr. Howard: The Minister may yet be disappointed in his expectation--it rather depends when the vote takes place. Perhaps he should not take too much comfort from what I said.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I appreciate the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. I also believe that no one can serve two masters. Is it possible to be elected to this Parliament from any part of the United Kingdom, or from anywhere else, without being on the electoral register within the UK?

Mr. Howard: That question raises different points and considerations. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him down that path.

If we in the House are careless of principle, we will forfeit our right to the confidence of our constituents. The Bill is wrong in principle, it is not justified by any worthwhile practical consideration and it should be rejected by the House.

4.45 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Most of us can unite on one thing: it is bewildering that people could even contemplate having two mandates, but there are plenty of precedents for that. I notice that no one has advanced the view that, as a general principle, the right to two mandates should not exist. Indeed, two hon. Members whom I greatly respect--they are almost universally

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respected in the House--the hon. Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), have three mandates each. They are supermen. They have seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the House of Commons and the European Parliament.

Why do I refer to that? It comes back to my intervention. It is for the electorate to decide whether having more than one mandate is appropriate; it is not a matter for us.

Mr. Hogg rose--

Mr. Mates rose--

Mr. Mackinlay: I give way to Grantham and then Hampshire.

Mr. Hogg: It is Sleaford and North Hykeham, but no matter.

On disqualification, there are two points. One is time: whether a person has the time to be in two or three places. I agree that that depends on the constituency in question. The other is conflict of interest, which is a matter not for the association or constituency, but for the House.

Mr. Mackinlay: I promise to come to that point because it is important. I am just into my speech and I do not want to detain the House, but I will come to that.

Mr. Mates: I defer to the hon. Gentleman when he says that it is all right for a Member to serve in any number of Assemblies so long as it is all right with the constituents, provided that national conflict of interest does not arise. That is the point that the Minister did not deal with. To be a Member of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly is fine as it is part of the UK. To be a Member also of the European Parliament is fine, too: that is just a supranational assembly. It is when we come to this sovereign Parliament and the one in Dublin that a conflict arises. That is what the Bill allows for, which is wrong in principle.

Mr. Mackinlay: It might surprise the two Members who have intervened on me, but I listen to colleagues' speeches. That was precisely the point that was raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). I intend to come to that, if they could be patient for a moment. I am speaking without notes, which I know many hon. Members do, as I want to develop a certain thought process.

Having made the point that it is for the people to decide who their Members of Parliament, MEPs, Deputies and Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly should be, I want to move to another point--

Mr. Forth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mackinlay: I will for the last time.

Mr. Forth: Will the hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to when his Government, his party and, I guess, he himself supported the closed-list approach to the

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European elections? In what sense does he think the electorate had a choice in who represented them in those elections?

Mr. Mackinlay: I am surprised by the right hon. Gentleman. I should have thought that he would have known that, as a democrat, I very much opposed the closed-list system.

Mr. Forth: How did the hon. Gentleman vote?

Mr. Mackinlay: I will have to look it up in Hansard, but, for the record, I think that the system is wrong. It is a big digression from the Bill, but I say unashamedly that the electoral system chosen for the European Parliament was perverse. It was not democratic in the way that I would have liked it to have been when it reached the statute book. I hope that we shall revisit the issue before the next European elections.

The second point that I want to make has not been touched on yet in the debate, but is an underlying theme. It is time that the Irish Republic came back into the Commonwealth. If one paused to think about it, one would realise that, in 1948-49, one reason why the Costello Government left the Commonwealth was that the Commonwealth had not yet accepted, as a general principle, the idea of accepting republics as members.

The irony was that, as the Irish Republic formally left the Commonwealth, almost simultaneously, the first departure from the principle that the United Kingdom monarch should automatically be the head of state of a Commonwealth country occurred with the entry of India, as a republic, to the Commonwealth. As I have already said, an overwhelming majority of Commonwealth countries are republics. Had that been the case in the 1940s, I am sure that the Irish Republic would not have left the Commonwealth.

Legislation in the late 1940s was intended to recognise that there was something very special about Ireland--our close cultural bonds with it, the fact that many citizens of the Irish Republic fought on behalf of the United Kingdom in the second world war and that, in the first world war, many gave gallant service on the western front. In the late 1940s, people were very much alive to those issues, and Parliament's intention was demonstrably to recognise our special historical, cultural and geographical ties with the Republic. Consequently, special provisions were made to give citizens of the Republic voting rights and the right to stand for the United Kingdom Parliament.

I think and hope that, at some stage, the Republic will think about rejoining the Commonwealth. Although I appreciate that it is probably not best for this place to prompt it, I hope that countries such as South Africa, Canada and New Zealand will take the initiative of inviting the Irish Republic back into the Commonwealth. We should also bear in mind--I hope that our debate might be read elsewhere--that it is no longer the British Commonwealth, but the Commonwealth. It is a mutual and shared organisation.

The Irish Republic has a very great tradition and proud record of peacekeeping and humanitarian work, and it would be a natural leading member of the Commonwealth. I hope that, in the coming months, the issue of rejoining will be considered by the Dail and the Government of the Irish Republic.

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In earlier interventions, hon. Members raised the issue of members of a legislature who are not loyal to the state in which the legislature of which they are members is located. I ask them to pause and think about the troubled parts of Europe and the representatives of national minorities and communities who are not happy about serving in the geographical jurisdiction of the country in which they are located, but who are none the less prepared to serve in those countries' legislatures. They are not terrorists. Those representatives will also have to accept the terms of their legislatures' oath of office, although it is unlikely that such an oath would be offensive to them.

Surely all hon. Members would encourage those representatives to serve in those legislatures. It is odd that we do not encourage people to serve in our legislatures, even if those people might find unpalatable the constitutional arrangements in which the legislatures operate. If the arguments propounded by the right hon. and learned Members for Folkestone and Hythe and for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) were adopted elsewhere in Europe, it would intensify the unhappy situation in so many European countries.

Mr. Hogg: I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument, and there is some substance to it. However, does he agree that, in many of the countries of Europe, the difficulty of concentrating on loyalty has been recognised and that, very often, the result is much greater devolution and federal constitutions that are designed to deal with the concept of divided loyalty?

Mr. Mackinlay: Yes. However, the situation in the United Kingdom is dynamic, and--although the British isles are not a federation--there have been many recent developments. We should not consider the provisions in isolation. We now have, for example, the Council of the Isles.

In many parts of Europe, there are not adequate federal arrangements. In their speeches, the right hon. and learned Members for Sleaford and North Hykeham and for Folkestone and Hythe and the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst made the point that people might serve in a legislature although all their beliefs run counter to the principle of doing so. I regret that the people who wrote the Minister's brief were not astute on Irish history. Otherwise, Eamon de Valera would have been mentioned, as he was elected to the House of Commons in Northern Ireland after the constitution of the Irish Free State, and was also elected to the Dail. He could have been elected to the British House of Commons until the Costello Government declared the Republic in the late 1940s.

When the Irish Free State was set up in 1922, the Irish Senate had Members of the British Parliament sitting in it. They were Unionists who did not like the creation of the Irish Free State. Admittedly, they were not elected Members of the House of Commons, but they were Members of the House of Lords. They carried on their mandate to sit in the House of Lords in the British Parliament until they died. The Irish peerage carried on until they expired, so there was a dual mandate in reverse. Those people were there because they had resisted the creation of the Irish Free State and because, quite rightly, it was a way of representing Unionist interests in the 26 counties. They did that very well.


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