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5.53 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): If the House be divided, I shall vote against the Bill because it is wrong in principle. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and others have identified the inevitability of there being a conflict of interest. The Bill entrenches that dilemma in legislation and is flawed on that basis alone.

When hon. Members come to this House they take an Oath. I, unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), would be willing to see the Oath changed because it does not accurately express our duties. The duties of a Member of Parliament include a duty to one's conscience, to God if one be Christian, and to one's country. It may be that to focus on the person of the monarch is a way of expressing that to some hon. Members, and I am content with that. But I recognise that for many hon. Members the Oath does not accurately reflect their sense of obligation, and that strains the language. If one has an Oath which inevitably strains the language, one tends to deprive it of its meaning. I should therefore like to see the Oath changed.

Whatever the form of the Oath, the substance is the same--namely, that our obligation is to our country, our conscience, God and our constituents. The plain fact is that if one represents a constituency in another country as well as a constituency in this country, one has a divided loyalty and cannot properly fulfil one's obligations to both. That is a conclusive argument.

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I am well aware--the Minister made the point fairly--that there is a precedent: the legislatures of the Commonwealth. I suspect that the reasons for that exemption are entirely historical. Were we to start again, we would not give such an exemption. In truth, those countries frequently have interests which are diverse from our own. One merely has to think of the agriculture of Australia and New Zealand to see that, or their differing defence concepts, or, in the case of the Caribbean countries, trade, debt and aid. If one wants to be more precise, one thinks in terms of the Indian subcontinent and Kashmir, where there is a clear difference between, for example, the attitudes of the peoples of India and our own. So it is difficult, even within the Commonwealth, for people to serve two masters if they are members of a legislature.

That can be tested in another way. What if we were to propose that members of the EU legislatures were to be Members of the House. I would not be described as a Europhobe, but it would be bizarre if a member of the French, German or Spanish Parliaments was also a member of this Parliament. In the case of Spain, there is the disagreement over Gibraltar. In the case of Germany and France there are serious differences of opinion on agriculture, enlargement, monetary union and the concept of the EU. In the case of Italy, there is the difference of opinion on structural funds. It would be impossible for a member of one of those Parliaments faithfully and properly to discharge his or her obligations to the domestic legislature and to this one.

Mr. Mackinlay: I have listened carefully to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but the difference between members of EU parliamentary legislatures being elected to this House and members of Dail Eireann also being Members of the House if Commons is that the first scenario just will not happen because it is inconceivable that anyone could be so elected, while the second is highly probable. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been very fair and he has said some sensible things about the Oath, but if constituents desire to sit in both places, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman might consider perverse, that is nevertheless their desire, and that should be paramount.

Mr. Hogg: I agree in part with the hon. Gentleman, but not entirely. A number of objections can be raised in the context of a conflict of interest, which are properly left to the constituency or to the association--for example, whether an individual Member of Parliament will have sufficient time fully to perform the functions of a Member in this House and somewhere else as well. But a different point arises when one comes to matters of principle, because that is something on which this House should decide.

The hon. Gentleman made the perfectly fair point that, while it may be likely that persons from Ireland would wish to be Members of this House, it is unlikely that people from countries far away would wish to be so, for practical reasons--

Mr. Mackinlay: Or to be elected.

Mr. Hogg: Or to be elected. But we run the risk of creating a precedent. In the course of this debate we have referred to precedent. The Minister will forgive me,

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but the only argument that he has really advanced is one of precedent--the Commonwealth countries. But if we pass the Bill, we shall create a new precedent, and it is one that EU countries will be able to assert against us. If we say of Irish citizens that they are entitled to be a Member of both Houses, how can we in conscience deny that to members of the French Parliament, or wherever? There is no distinction of principle. We are creating a precedent that is capable of further extension.

Mr. Bercow: Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that there is any difference in principle between representing two constituencies in different Parliaments and representing two constituencies in the same Parliament?

Mr. Hogg: That thought had not occurred to me: my hon. Friend is ingenious. It is difficult to draw a distinction, but I should like to reflect on the point further before being asked to give a conclusive view.

Mr. Simon Hughes: The right hon. and learned Gentleman was asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) about someone representing two constituencies. The practical and most immediate issue is someone standing in the same place for the legislatures of two countries, so as to represent a part of Northern Ireland in this Parliament and in the Irish Parliament. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give his views on that, because it is the central issue addressed by the Bill?

Mr. Hogg: I shall decline that invitation, but I will go back to my hon. Friend's question. There is a difference between the scenarios that he outlined. It would be offensive for a Member of Parliament to represent two constituencies in one country.

Sir Patrick Cormack: That is not allowed.

Mr. Hogg: I know that it is not allowed, but it would be offensive. We are talking about principle, not law. It would be difficult to do, but I wonder how offensive it would be, because there would not be a conflict of loyalty to the state. There would be a conflict of loyalty as between constituents, but the obligation to the state would be the same. If that MP represented two constituencies in different countries, he would have a conflict of loyalty as between the states.

With Ireland--as with every other country, whether in the Commonwealth, the European Union or elsewhere--we have major differences of policy objective. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe reminded us, serious constitutional and defence issues have separated us and Ireland in the past. Let us hope that they do not occur again in the future, but we cannot exclude that possibility. However, there are still differences: Ireland has special interests on agriculture and fishery policy, and it is committed to the single currency.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should not turn away from the Chair.

Mr. Hogg: I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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All those differences of interest are on matters of some importance. There is a difference of attitude between the Government, the Parliament and the people of Ireland and ourselves, and we should keep that in mind.

I listened carefully to the Minister's speech. I asked myself--and, indeed, him--what the motive behind the Bill was, and I could not identify it. I am sure that it has to do with the wishes of Sinn Fein. I suspect that it has to do with the wishes of Sinn Fein to build up a representation both in the Dail and in Westminster.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), I do not think the time is right--it may never be right--for us to accommodate the wishes of Sinn Fein. If it were fully involved in decommissioning, and if we could be certain of a settled peace in Northern Ireland, one might be willing to consider the matter further, but now is not the time. I have heard no arguments from the Minister as to why we should consider this matter today and urgently again tomorrow.

In the end, we are dealing with a matter of principle, and I think the principle is conclusive. I hope that the House will divide on this matter, and I shall vote against the Bill.

6.4 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I am more than usually pleased to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) because, as in so many areas, I agree with him completely. I shall join him in the Lobby if I have the opportunity to vote against the Bill.

The Bill has already been described as offensive and dangerous. I agree with both descriptions. I want to follow the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), but in a slightly different way, and expand it.

To my mind, the Bill is, as much as anything, about the concept of nationhood, which many people feel is old-fashioned and even redundant, and to which the Government pay increasingly scant regard. However, the Bill, small and limited in scope though it may be, makes an important statement about nationhood and its irrelevance, and we would be irresponsible to ignore that.

In a democratic political system, surely the legislature, the process of election to that legislature and the people who have the honour to serve in it are as much a statement of nationhood, national identity and loyalty as anything else. Hon. Members need not believe me about that: they merely have to ask the Irish. The Irish have the good sense to have written into their law the requirement that to be a Member of their legislature one has to be an Irish citizen. That strikes me as admirable, sensible, correct and reasonable.

We are saying--it has been said many times in the debate and is partly a result of history--that membership of this national legislature should be open to different people, many of whom have no loyalty to or identity with this country of ours. That is a serious decision for us to make, and it is one of the decisions that we are being asked to make in the Bill. That is why I oppose it.

I agree with the Irish. They are right and entitled to say that, as a matter of national identity, only their citizens should serve in their legislature. I believe that the same

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should apply to our legislature, because I value our national identity and nationhood and believe that it is of great importance. We are talking here about no less than an absolute principle.

Then we have the matter of the conflict of loyalty. Many right hon. and hon. Members have raised the issue of whether it is likely or possible that someone could serve at one and the same time in the legislatures of two separate sovereign nations, such as the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. That is a matter of belief, experience and observation. I want to say a few words about my own observations.

I am in the slightly unusual position of having had the honour to serve in the European Parliament, when I had the opportunity to work alongside Irish MEPs. I was also for many years a member of the Council of Ministers of the European Union, when I was able to observe members of the Irish Government and their attitude to matters European and to the United Kingdom. I was also able to observe at fairly close quarters--closer than I would have liked--Irish Commissioners discharging their duties in the European Union, particularly with regard to the United Kingdom. I rarely saw much identity of interest or loyalty on the part of Irish citizens--be they MEPs, members of the Council of Ministers, or Irish Commissioners--with regard to the United Kingdom. I venture to say that I consistently saw the opposite.

I have no complaint about that. Irish politicians, be they elected to the European Parliament, Ministers in the Council of Ministers or Commissioners for the time being, have the right to represent the loyalties that are important to them.

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