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Sir Patrick Cormack: They are generally wrong.

Mr. Hughes: Whatever colleagues think about our conclusions, we at least have a coherent view of the whole. For example, we have long argued that the existence of a Scottish Parliament means that there should be fewer Members from Scotland in the House. That view is taken by my Scottish colleagues, as well as by the others. However, the Government have not thought things through and that is why they are in difficulty today.

The Oath was mentioned. Although this Bill is not about the Oath, it is wrong to think that an oath issue does not exist. However, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald should recognise that some Members of the House, who are not from Northern Ireland, take the

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view--it is not a party view--that reform of the constitution should involve a reconsideration of the Oath. For example, we might change the Oath so that it is one of allegiance to the country, the constitution and the rights of our citizens and not to the person of the monarch, however much we respect her or her successors.

Mr. Mackinlay: The Bradlaugh point.

Mr. Hughes: This is, indeed, the Bradlaugh point. No matter what part of the United Kingdom they come from, republicans may stand for and be elected to Parliament. If the electors want them here, they should be able to attend and should not be precluded from taking their places because they cannot take an oath.

We shall vote for the Bill's Second Reading because it is clearly right to correct the anomalies on two narrow points. We must resolve the discrepancy between Members of the Senate and the Dail and properly consider the issue of the United Kingdom's special relationship with Ireland. We have reciprocal voting rights and, by tradition, Members from Ireland and the Commonwealth have had certain rights in some of our legislatures. This correction must be taken forward. However, we regret that the Bill was not introduced more in parallel with the proposals of the Government of Ireland and with greater constitutional thought about disqualification, the arrangements for the United Kingdom Parliament and its subsidiary Parliaments and Assemblies and the better governance of all the Parliaments in the United Kingdom and in Ireland.

5.25 pm

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry): I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), for he made a very interesting speech. Indeed, he made a number of interesting points last week on the Representation of the People Bill. However, if he gets round to writing anything into the Oath about the constitution, he will find that not only Irish nationalists but Scottish and Welsh nationalists will not sign up to it. He better get that through his head before he goes down that dangerous road.

The Minister was asked to whom the Government talked, but we did not get many sensible words out of him or any hard information in reply. He cannot rely on the matter being forgotten on Report. Given what has been said so far on both sides of the House, it is foolish and quite wrong to go ahead with the Bill's remaining stages tomorrow. Comments have already shown how much is hidden in this tiny Bill. People need more time to consider it, what has been said and what amendments should be tabled. The more that folk in this House look at the Bill, the more questions will be actively raised in their heads.

The Minister said that, as a result of the Bill, persons could be elected to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Be that as it may, there is nothing, so far as I can see--he was not able to answer the point when I put it to him--that will bar persons from the Irish Republic who are elected to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly from assuming ministerial posts in such bodies. I do not think that the Scots and the Welsh would be very happy about that. Perhaps he has made a mistake and it is not possible for such people to stand for those institutions. I have no doubt that that issue will be explored tomorrow.

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It has become perfectly clear to me as the debate has developed that the Bill is not the product of long and careful thought. It is nothing more than a hasty cobbling together--a product more or less out of the blue. We are therefore entitled to ask serious questions about why it has been introduced at this stage and in such a form. Its implications have not been thought through.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made an excellent speech, raising the sort of questions that the late Enoch Powell used to raise. We shall hear much more of that because such questions underlie an awful lot of what this nation is and how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who has left the Chamber, talked about the interim arrangements that were made for Unionist representation in the Dail Eireann. He did not seem to be aware that it was possible at that time for a Unionist to get elected in a number of areas in the border counties, and even in Dublin--not under the Unionist name, although everybody in the Irish Republic knew who such candidates were. Through border changes and the redrawing of boundaries, Unionists or anyone of that political complexion were very soon prevented from being elected. I think that the last place to fall was Donegal. In fact, the last Protestant councillor in Donegal had his electorate cut in half by the last boundary change. So, if the hon. Gentleman expects good will just because of pious hopes expressed in this House, he had better think again.

The hon. Gentleman also drew attention to the fact that people could be elected to the Dail, yet that is plainly an empty symbol. There are enough people of nationalist Irish descent, or who were born in the Irish Republic but live on this side of the Irish sea, to elect a member of Dail Eireann to this House, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, there is not a snowball's chance of any Member of Parliament, other than a well-known Irish nationalist or Irish republican, ever being elected to the Dail.

Mr. Hogg: Is there not a legal impediment as well? My understanding is that it is a condition of being elected to the Dail that the person in question is an Irish citizen.

Mr. Ross: There is that legal impediment, but one need only look at its football team to see how widely the definition of a citizen of the Republic of Ireland can be spread.

Mr. Hogg: Does that not include me?

Mr. Ross: No, it would not include the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He is a generation--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) must not make his arguments from a sedentary position.

Mr. Ross: I repent in sackcloth and ashes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having been carried away by an interesting side issue.

In many ways, this House of representatives of the people of the United Kingdom is the very heart and soul of the nation. As such, its duty is to preserve the national interest and to provide for the welfare of all its citizens.

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That welfare is not merely economic; it extends both to the freedoms that all want to enjoy and to the responsibilities that many do not want to acknowledge but that we as citizens accept and enjoy. All nations have a unique perception of themselves and of the values that are commonly accepted by the citizens of the state as underpinning our entire attitude to life.

Although we can understand the desires and hopes of the people of other nations, we in this House are in no way bound to accept or promote their vision of the world, especially when it impinges on our economic and constitutional interests. In other words, our objective must be to ensure that the Queen's writ runs, that the Queen's law is observed and that the Queen's peace is kept throughout the United Kingdom. That is a large part of what it means to be a citizen of the United Kingdom.

That means that, at the end of the day, Members of Parliament have to decide whether they serve the people and interests of the United Kingdom or whether they have another vision that serves the people and interests of another state. Attempting to serve both will result in the exclusion of at least some constituents, not in all being served comprehensively and wholeheartedly.

Mr. Simon Hughes: In the spirit of inquiry, may I ask whether I am right in assuming that one who enters the Dail has to take an oath--that there is some declaration or requirement that means that election in Ireland carries certain obligations, just as the Oath taken by representatives in this country entails some obligation?

Mr. Ross: I shall address that point later in another context. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that any Minister in the Dail and the President of the Republic of Ireland must take an oath to uphold the constitution of that state. That is their first duty. If a person who had taken that oath were to be asked to serve in another legislature, there would be an immediate and deep conflict of interest. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) said, it is not possible for a man to serve two masters, for, as the good book puts it, either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will cleave to the one and despise the other. That was true 2000 years ago, when the words were first uttered, and it is true today in terms of national loyalties.

We have recognised that some nations and their nationals have, as it were, a family relationship with us in a shared history and a shared view of some or all of our constitutional standards and of our legal framework, which we gave to countries that were outwith the old British or Anglo-European context. That relationship still subsists via the Commonwealth, so Commonwealth citizens can be elected to this place. That privilege has been extended to citizens of the Irish Republic despite the fact that it decided of its own volition to part from this nation and follow another course.

It is clear beyond any doubt that when committed Irish nationalists decided to take their place in a United Kingdom legislature, they did not do so on the same basis as I did. One of them, whose name has already been mentioned, has reached a position of some prominence in the Irish Republic. When asked about taking the Oath when he was a member of the Stormont Parliament, he

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replied that he had taken the Oath with a mental reservation. That reservation was not spelled out but his response could mean only that he had uttered the words of the Oath without the slightest intention of abiding by their plain meaning. He was prepared to work to a different agenda from that implied by the commitment that the Oath contained.

Hitherto, the Sinn Fein-IRA organisation has flatly refused even to follow that course of action in regard to United Kingdom institutions, with the exception of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Its members will not take the Oath or make the affirmation in this place. They stand outside but still claim, perhaps for financial reasons or to rub the House's nose in it, the benefits that flow from being elected here, without accepting any of the responsibilities that attach to the position that they occupy.

These people have entered the Northern Ireland Assembly. They have said that they can abide by the wording of that Oath and that they can justify their position. I believe that they do that as a means to an end. Hence their insistence that the Belfast agreement is not the final settlement but only a means to their final objective. I assume that they are even more comfortable with the undertaking that is required in the Dail, given that they now sit in that legislature as well.

It is against that background that the Bill must be viewed. In it, we are opening the way to those who sit in the governing legislature of an avowedly foreign and different state also to sit in our legislature and to legislate for the people of the United Kingdom. The Minister's position is very different. However, what applies to the Minister applies to the newest Back-Bench Member as well. Back Benchers also legislate by their support for or opposition to a legislature. Therefore, the conflict of interest, which is real and deep, remains. It cannot be avoided.

Until recently, the Irish Republic claimed the territory of Northern Ireland, a part of this kingdom. Its High Court said that that objective was a constitutional imperative. I am referring to the outcome of the McGimpsey case. I cannot say what the recent changes have done to that court's ruling in that instance. However, it is plain to me that the territorial claim has been superseded by a claim to rule over people.

As I have already said, in addition the Bill will allow Members of the Dail, if elected, to rule over the citizens of Northern Ireland. Does anyone think that in such circumstances they will do anything other than pursue their objective of a united Ireland? One of the parties whose members will be able to take advantage of a dual mandate will be Sinn Fein-IRA. It is plain that these people have not the slightest intention of becoming a normal political party. They cling to their weapons and to their military wing like a clam to a rock. There is no display of good faith. The Government are introducing the Bill because they see it as another inducement to the IRA to become democrats and abandon violence. That is the real reason for it. Anything else that has been said amounts to a thin smokescreen.

The idea of changing the rules relating to the facilities of the House for the two Sinn Fein persons elected falls into the same category. The change in regard to the Irish Senate and Members of it was made purely and simply for the benefit of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon).

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I am not clear about whether a candidate for the House of Commons has to be on the electoral register here. We are told that one can sit in the legislature of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and heaven knows where and be a Member of Parliament here. However, when we find how far a legislator from one of those countries would have to travel home for the weekend, the physical obstacles render it impossible.


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