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Mr. Hogg: And the duty.

Mr. Forth: And the duty, as my right hon. and learned Friend says. I admire and respect that, but let no one tell me that there would not be serious conflicts of loyalty and interest were those Irish politicians ever to be allowed to come to this legislature. It is in the nature of things that different countries and nations have, from time to time, different interests that give rise to conflicting loyalties. That is the way the world has developed.

Mrs. Dunwoody: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be careful when drawing distinctions such as this. I had an honoured father-in-law who served in the British Army in the first world war, who was trained by British citizens as a doctor, and who lived in London throughout his career as an Irish citizen. There was no doubt about his loyalty to the people whom he served, or about the idea that he would give up any understanding of his Irish status. There is a strong distinction to be drawn; however, it should be drawn not between Irish citizenship and the commitment of Irish citizens to the places where they live and work, but between Irish citizenship and being elected to this place.

Mr. Forth: The hon. Lady is of course right.

I speak as I find, and I deliberately said at the outset that these were the results of my own experience, over the past 20 years or so, of working in close proximity with Irish politicians in very different political contexts. My experience leads me to conclude that it is extremely unlikely that such people would find it difficult to

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reconcile their natural and, in many ways, admirable loyalty to their Irish connections with any connections that they might have in the United Kingdom, were the Bill--wrongly, in my view--to be become law.

Let me add in passing that the same might well be said to apply to many, if not most, Commonwealth countries. When I had the honour to visit Australia recently, I was able to hear some of its debate about the possibility of a republic there. It is obvious, and very natural, that Commonwealth countries, in their maturity, see the world in a very different way from how they might have seen it when the Commonwealth was at its strongest, 50 or more years ago.

The other matter that has been mentioned--although not as often as might have been expected in a debate such as this--is reciprocity. As I have said, I oppose the Bill in principle, but it could just possibly be argued that the case might be advanced if various nations--sovereign states--agreed that there should be a reciprocal arrangement whereby people elected to one Parliament could simultaneously be elected to another. Some people might well accept that, although I would not. Yet again, however--as has emerged during the debate--our Irish friends have had the good sense not to offer reciprocity.

This is a one-way process. What we are expected to do--expected by the Government to do--is agree to make an enormous concession, in allowing the possibility that people from another country, with very different interests, will be able to serve in our legislature, while no reciprocal arrangement exists for us to serve in the Irish legislature. I think that on this occasion the Irish have got it right, and the Government have got it completely wrong. We find ourselves in a bizarre position: it appears that another Government--the Government of another country--see this legislature much more clearly than do our own Government. I consider that unacceptable.

Mr. Bercow: Would it not have been considerate and, arguably, helpful to our deliberations if the Government had given some indication this afternoon that they had vigorously and consistently, over a period, pressed the Irish Government to offer reciprocity? Should we not take it that, as the Government have given no such indication, there has been no such pressure?

Mr. Forth: I think that the murkiest aspect of today's debate has been the Government's motivation. Time and again, Members have pressed Ministers on why they have presented the Bill to us now; but, having sat through the entire debate, I have heard no satisfactory answer. It is most peculiar that a Government should present such a controversial measure--a measure that will alter our constitutional arrangements--and fail to offer not just a convincing argument, but any argument at all.

Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend's argument is reinforced by the fact that we are debating Second Reading today and will complete the Committee stage tomorrow. The Government are trekking through the Bill with remarkable speed.

Mr. Forth: I deprecate that, and I think that it leads us to feel yet more suspicion about what on earth is going on. I suspect, sadly, that this is part of the recent

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development in which we as a nation, and the Government, are being taken for a ride and being made to look like mugs.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): I apologise for arriving late.

Given the history of the Irish question, is it not perverse that Parliament should now be invited to enable politicians from the Irish Republic to regain the opportunity to take seats here? Irish republicans fought hard to break away from Great Britain, thus severing their relationship with it in this context, and depriving themselves of that opportunity and that right. It could be said, of course, that at that time many parliamentarians were quite pleased that Irish representation had ended.

Mr. Forth: It has been pointed out today that it was the Irish who opted no longer to be members of the Commonwealth. It could be said that, if the Irish decided to reapply for membership of the Commonwealth, they would automatically be given this privilege as long as we continued to extend it to Commonwealth members. I have my doubts about that, but at the very least, such a gesture on the part of the Irish would be important. I suspect, however, that it will not be forthcoming.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I proposed a return to the United Kingdom in Dublin in the early 1970s, because I believed that there was a federation and a relationship. The right hon. Gentleman, however, may be unfair to Ministers in saying that they have not said what lies behind the Bill. Last week, there was an exchange between Lord Mayhew and Lord Molyneaux in the other place. We talk of mountain climbers; it seems that some folk have been negotiating behind the Government's back.

Mr. Forth: That is always a distinct possibility. In normal circumstances, we are told about transparency, accountability and open government, but it appears that the opposite phenomenon is operating in this case. We are being told nothing of what is going on, which, regrettably, means that we shall become even more suspicious about the motivation.

As has been said, so far we have seen the release of a large number of extraordinarily unpleasant and violent prisoners into the community, all in the name of the peace process. We have seen supporters of terrorism being invited into our institutions of government in part of the United Kingdom. We have seen no moves whatever towards decommissioning. It would appear that now, as part of the further process, we are being asked to see a subversion of our legislature. I wonder where this process will end.

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): Is not the Bill just the latest obscene landmark in a process that ostensibly began as a peace process, but long ago became, in reality, a sordid, shabby process of appeasement that should therefore be rejected?

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend gives his own powerful description of the process. I am saying that, to date, it appears that all the concessions have been made on one side. As far as I am aware, the terrorists and their friends have done nothing to reciprocate.

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This is another example of something that is not being held back--something that could not be used as a bargaining counter, if that is the nature of the process--but is being given freely, unless we are told otherwise by the Government. Perhaps the Minister will put our minds at rest. Perhaps, in the interests of open government, he will be able to reassure us that none of this is the case. However, I can only speak as I have been able to find so far.

Having sat through the debate and listened carefully to every word, I have not yet heard why the Government are trying to push through a controversial Bill with such indecent haste--trying to push it through the House of Commons in two days--despite the many flaws that have been identified today. Most Members would normally consider that unacceptable, but on this occasion it seems to be happening with very little protest.

At every level, therefore, the Bill is unacceptable. It is unacceptable in principle. Its provisions are unacceptable and the way it is being pushed through the House of Commons is unacceptable. I hope that, when we come to the end of the debate, we will have a chance to vote on it because I am keen to be able to express my vote in the Lobby.

6.20 pm

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): I hope that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) will not think me patronising if I say that her contribution should be read by every Member before deciding how to vote on Second Reading and throughout the Bill's passage through the House. Having heard the sound argument that has been advanced again and again against the Bill, with all its flaws, I cannot for the life of me understand why everyone who feels like that is not prepared to vote on Second Reading to halt what is an obscenity. It has been helpful that hon. Members have spoken out, because, when I share their views, it will not be seen as xenophobia on the part of Ulster Unionists.

I have spent my political life seeking reconciliation and accommodation between the major traditions in Northern Ireland and hoping against hope that we could have the sort of respect between the two political entities on the island of Ireland--Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic--that would allow us to co-operate at every level: social, economic and political. However, it is utter and complete nonsense to create difficulty and conflict by expecting people to have primary loyalty to two separate sovereign Parliaments

Even after listening to the Minister, we do not know what the Bill is about. Everything that he has stated has been in generic terms. We have been told nothing specific that will help us to decide what the Government are getting at. Therefore, it is right that we should put our own interpretation on the Bill. We had no answers from the Minister; I certainly had no answer when I asked him about the discussions that he mentioned, when they took place, and who they involved. One might have thought that as the Bill deals with the relationship between the devolved Parliament in Stormont and the sovereign Parliament in Dublin my party would have been consulted and alerted to the Government's thinking, yet no mention was made of it until the decision was complete, the water was over the dam and the Bill was ready for debate.

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In fact, it is worse than that. For years, there has been a feeling that the major parties in Great Britain--the Labour party, for example--should consider organising and fighting elections in Northern Ireland. The opportunity has been there all that time, but what has the Labour party done? It has eschewed the concept of being a party of the United Kingdom, putting responsibility--directly, in Northern Ireland's case--into the hands of a republican party, the Social Democratic and Labour party. Having eschewed the right to stand in Northern Ireland, where is the logic in the Labour party seeking, through its huge majority in this place, to impose a situation in which republican parties can sit in our devolved Assembly at Stormont?

Of course, we have to ask--again, without much hope of a response--whether there has been any indication that Fianna Fail, the largest party in the republic, Fine Gael, the Democratic Left or the Irish Labour party want to field candidates in Northern Ireland or here? I have no doubt about the matter. On Thursday and Friday last week, I was in Dublin and I discussed the Bill with journalists, with business and professional people of considerable repute, with senior Back-Bench politicians--including those who have the task of looking at constitutional issues--and with the most senior members of political parties there. Not one of them was familiar with the implications of what is being visited on us today. There was surprise.

I put my case to those people. Right hon. and hon. Members know that I am not a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but I said to those people, "If I were a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Minister for Economic Development, but also the Teachda Dala for, say, County Meath and sat in the Dail, and an overseas company was coming to Ireland with 500 high-tech jobs, as Minister I would obviously have a responsibility to seek to site that development in a Northern Ireland constituency--but as TD for County Meath, would I not have a responsibility to ensure that the development was sited in that constituency, if that was the alternative site looked at by the investors?"

Each and every one of the people to whom I put that scenario agreed that it was nonsense and that there was a huge conflict of interest that should be considered not only in constitutional terms--constitutional issues are important--but in practical terms. They agreed that there were issues that could not be reconciled within the Bill.

It appears that the vast majority of hon. Members have no stomach for the Bill. It also appears from my 48 hours in Dublin last week that people there have neither interest in nor stomach for it--so why are the Government introducing it? That has been defined clearly tonight--it is being done, and in haste, because the Government do not properly recognise the view of those who came to an agreement more than a year ago and who had that agreement endorsed north and south, or the attitude of those who voted for our view.

Two people in particular--members of a minority party, Messrs Adams and McGuinness--are holding the Government and the Northern Ireland Office to ransom. The task that is being undertaken in this place is to find a way to placate them within a time scale that will not allow anyone to say, "The poor Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is responsible for the fact that guns and bombs have not been decommissioned." That is the terror that is being visited upon the Secretary of State. Am I

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right to fear that the Prime Minister has not only created this Bill, but visited on us other aberrations that have no basis in common sense or national interest?

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