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

Mr. Hughes: I will on this occasion, but I do not want to do so too often. I have not forgotten my promise to give way to the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne).

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he made a highly pertinent point. Does he agree that, despite the Government's disavowal of a linkage between the Bill and the process of decommissioning, it is not outwith the bounds of possibility that they are fervently hoping that the passage of the Bill--to which some Members object--will itself facilitate the decommissioning for which we all hope?

Mr. Hughes: I am sure that there is a hope that the Bill will act as a bit of an encouragement to--let us be direct--Sinn Fein to be more co-operative. That is a perfectly reasonable interpretation. However, we should not legislate to change constitutional arrangements by considering only the foreground, without thinking about the hinterland. The Bill has a hinterland--of Irish and United Kingdom constitutional change and of UK constitutional reform--and our criticism is that both should have been considered before we reached this stage.

I have no inside information, but I take it as read that the Bill would not have been presented, had the Irish Parliament not changed the Irish constitution to remove Ireland's claim to the six counties.

Mr. Mackinlay: That was in the 1948 legislation.

Mr. Hughes: Indeed. The legislation dated from the 1940s. The Government would not have been able to

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sustain the proposition in the measure if the right remained for people in the Irish Senate and the Dail to make a claim for the six counties. I assume that that change was a precondition. The matter shows the link between the constitutional settlements in each country, which is why we think that the wider issues should have been considered.

I have some further constitutional points to make. The first is that the measure raises an issue that is relevant to all constitutional debate, and was referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Whatever we think about the dual mandate--a live issue on which we should hold a debate, because although electors can choose, we may want to reconsider the matter in the light of the number of opportunities that there are to do so--the Bill raises a separate issue, which has rightly been described as the conflict of interests.

For example, if a citizen of Ireland represents Northern Ireland in the Northern Ireland Assembly or, more important, in the UK Parliament, but also represents in the Irish Parliament another place in Ireland from which he or she comes, there may be times when there is a conflict of interest. The two parties, the groupings or the two legislatures to which that person would belong would be institutions of different sovereign countries and they could take different positions. That cannot be avoided. To say that there will not be a conflict of interests seems to be a naive denial of reality. Of course, people would have views on which they stood for election and would take those views into each Parliament, but there is bound to be--between each forum--some conflict of interest.

In the light of that point, it is right that the Bill includes a provision that one cannot serve as a Minister in both Irish and Northern Ireland Governments--that goes at least half way. The logic is that people would probably realise that they also should not serve as any sort of Minister in either country's national Government--in any of its Assemblies or Parliaments--but that point should also be provided for in the measure.

The second issue is whether--

Mr. William Ross: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, which has not escaped the notice of Ulster Unionist Members. During the Falklands war, there were very different opinions in the House and the Dail. What would happen to a Member who was sitting in both places in such circumstances?

Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the question. Logically, the same person would express the same view in both places--

Mr. Bercow: Not if he is a Liberal.

Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is sometimes astute, but that remark is neither astute nor helpful in a debate such as this. I am always willing to defend the Liberal Democrats, but this is a debate about serious matters, and party political sniping is not appropriate.

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Logically, the same person would adopt the same position in both legislatures, but it is true that a person cannot possibly serve in two Administrations with differing views where, by definition, that person will be one among many.

Mr. Mates: The logic of that is that the Bill should be amended now, so that, if one takes office in either sovereign Parliament, one is disqualified even from membership of the other one.

Mr. Hughes: I would go along with the hon. Gentleman that far: we should have been given a proposition that holding office in government, in either Ireland or the United Kingdom, disqualifies a person from holding office in the other Government at the same time. We could debate whether it is proper to be in both legislatures and a member of the Administration in one. I believe that it could be justified, because the conflict of interests is less. I have just flagged that up. I have gone a long way with the hon. Gentleman. By definition, different interests are served by the Parliament of Ireland and the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Let us not be dishonest when we legislate in this way.

That leads me to my last constitutional points. It would have been better if we had approached the issue by considering whether, in 1999, when the Bill was introduced, or 2000, when it is being debated by Parliament, it is still sensible to argue that someone who is a member of one sovereign country's legislature should be allowed to be a member of another sovereign country's legislature. I am the most ardent fan of the Commonwealth, but it seems to me that it is perfectly proper for Commonwealth heads of government to hold a debate at their conference on whether it is reasonable for people to be entitled to be in two legislatures at once. I do not believe that it is. It is no longer logical, even if it was; I know that it dates back several decades.

Another question that cries out for ministerial consideration--which is why I raised the question with the Minister--is whether it is logical for there to be no residence requirements to stand for election to a legislature, even though there are such requirements to vote. Under the Bill, as under existing law, a Commonwealth legislative member and a Member of the Senate of Ireland can stand for election, in the first case to the United Kingdom Parliament and in the second case to the Northern Ireland Assembly, without having a residential qualification in the United Kingdom. We should address that question. I believe that most of us, and most of the electorate, would say that, whatever one's citizenship and nationality, residency should be a precondition for standing for the Parliament of a sovereign country.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: When we consider the issue of people representing electorates in different sovereign countries, presumably the key question is, would there be a conflict of loyalty between supporting the rights of one set of electors and supporting those of another set of electors? To take an example, although not on all fours with this, a former right hon. Member of the House, Sir David Steel, sought to represent a French constituency--[Interruption.]--an Italian constituency, in

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a different sovereign country, representing electors in that country, yet also sought to represent persons in Scotland. How does the hon. Gentleman resolve that issue?

Mr. Hughes: I shall give the Minister the answer, but it raises another constitutional question. Elections to the European Parliament are fought by parties that operate across the European Union. I remember the debates, and Lord Steel wanted to show that he was standing not for an Italian party, but for a European-wide party that represented the Liberal view across Europe. The Minister may or may not agree with the decision, but that was the reason. The question of whether and in what circumstances citizens of one country should be able to stand for the sovereign legislature of another should be considered. I exempt the European Parliament from that consideration, because it is not a sovereign legislature in the same sense as the Dail or the United Kingdom Parliament.

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

Mr. Hughes: No, because the hon. Gentleman has been rude. Therefore, he does not deserve an intervention.

It is right for the Bill to correct the anomaly of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which gave Members of the Irish Senate, but not Members of the Dail, the right to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Although I know that each group is elected differently and has a different role and composition, it is proper for the Bill to remove that anomaly.

Whatever the merit of its two individual proposals, the Bill is sadly the latest example of the Government not thinking constitutional reform through wholesale, but coming at it piecemeal. They legislated for a Scottish Parliament and we welcomed that. However, that was done separately from the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Government then legislated for London government, and they may or may not legislate for regional government in England. They think about electoral reform for the House of Commons, but they do not think at the same time about what they will do for the Lords, and when they think about what to do with the Lords, they do not consider how it relates to the House of Commons. The whole thing is a muddle. Although people sometimes criticise Liberal Democrats for having an over-excessive interest in constitutional reform, we can never be criticised for not having at least thought through a coherent package.


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