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Mr. Forth: Does my colleague the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) believe that if this dreadful Bill were passed--which, with the Government's majority, it may well be--there would be any stomach in Ireland for offering a reciprocal arrangement so that hon. Members could offer themselves for election to its legislature?

Mr. Maginnis: The right hon. Gentleman knows that--although it is not, and will not be my choice--as a British citizen living in Northern Ireland I am eligible to sit in the Dail.

Mr. Forth: I am not.

Mr. Maginnis: Certainly, the right hon. Gentleman is not so entitled. Also, there certainly would be no stomach for permitting him to sit in the Dail. He misses my point if he does not recognise that, even if the opportunity to stand for election to the Irish legislature were available, there would be no possibility of him or me being elected to it. The Irish know one thing--and I admire them for it--and that is national interest.

The House of Commons is considering the Terrorism Bill in Committee. I shall not digress and deal with that Bill, except to say that it is a hotch-potch. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) knows all about that Bill. It has been designed not in the national interest, but to serve as a catch-all. It does not define "terrorist" in terms of our constitution and government, as it should do. That Bill is all over the place, which is exactly what is happening in the Disqualifications Bill. Someone has examined the situation in Northern Ireland and noticed that Sinn Fein is still dissatisfied with and reluctant to accept the accommodation and opportunity that many hon. Members--who are subject to great criticism from some their supporters--have provided for its members, which would allow them to move from violence to a democratic mode. Dublin knows very little or nothing about the Disqualifications Bill. It is surprised by it. As I said, Ministers cannot tell me whom they consulted on the Bill.

I am pleased that some hon. Members, other than Ulster Unionists, are alert to the problem that may arise with the Oath. They are wise to be alert to the issue--not that the Oath seems to matter a great deal. The Oath, which is supposed to be taken by every elected Member, was not taken by two Members who represent Sinn Fein. What did the Government decide to do about that? They decided to turn tradition on its head. Rather than saying, "If you take the Oath and become Members of Parliament, you will be entitled to the privileges of the House", Ministers accepted the Sinn Fein argument that one has a mandate if one is elected to the House.

On being elected to the House, most hon. Members do not say that they have a mandate. After our election to this place, we say that we have not a mandate, but a massive responsibility, which we meet from the moment we enter the House by taking the Oath or affirming. Thereafter, the privileges of this place are accorded to us. It was quite scandalous that the Government considered usurping the traditional right of Madam Speaker to protect the interests

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of all hon. Members, and using their 170 majority to do so. I am only pleased that the weight of private opinion reverberating through this place caused the Government to delay a decision on whether to table such a motion.

Today, the House again has the opportunity to make the Government realise that the interests of those whom we represent must dominate--not the interests of those who have no time for, loyalty to, or sense of responsibility towards whatever part of the United Kingdom they represent.

6.37 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): We have had a very interesting, serious and thoughtful debate. I hope that the Minister will have taken very firmly on board the remarks of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) on the Oath and the granting of facilities to those who have not taken the Oath. I make it absolutely plain, beyond any equivocation or doubt, that the Opposition could not support such a move unless and until the peace process had been totally honoured--and I mean that totally honoured--by those who are rather holding us to ransom.

I tell the Under-Secretary of State--who, like me, has heard every speech in the debate--that it is a pity--and this is meant in no critical sense of the two Ministers--that today's debate on the Disqualifications Bill was not introduced by the Home Secretary and defended in reply by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Bill proposes taking extremely serious action. Although, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made clear, our intention is not to vote against the Government in the Lobby today, it is certainly our intention to seek to have the Bill suitably amended before it is enacted.

I also hope that the Minister--who has heard not a single enthusiastic speech in favour of the Bill from either side of the House--

Mr. Mike O'Brien: What about the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay)?

Sir Patrick Cormack: That speech was tempered by the statement of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) that he thought that Ireland should again become a member of the Commonwealth. His speech was not an unthinking endorsement of the Government's Bill; indeed, there has been no such speech by any hon. Member on either side of the House.

Even at this late stage, I hope that the Minister will think carefully about coming back to the House tomorrow with this Bill. It would be better if we had a little longer to reflect, to table amendments and to deal with the remaining stages a few days later than tomorrow. The Minister may say that agreements have been entered into, but the debate has been listened to by Opposition Members who have made extremely thoughtful and serious speeches.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I want to endorse the hon. Gentleman's view. Others, as well as his colleagues, have made representations that, given the controversial nature of the Bill, it would be quite wrong to have its Second Reading on one day, followed by the remaining stages the next day. We associate ourselves strongly with that view.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who made a thoughtful and constructive

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speech. What has come out of the debate, from all speakers, is that this is not the easy issue that the Minister claimed it to be when he opened the debate.

We accept that there are anomalies within any constitution. We accept, for instance, that in the British Nationality Act 1981 we specifically reiterated the right of members of Commonwealth legislatures to sit here as well. All of my hon. Friends who have spoken and were in the House at the time will have done as I am certain I did, and voted in support of that Act. Today's debate has shown the deep unease--voiced briefly, but most eloquently, by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)--about conflicting loyalties and how one can be a member of two Assemblies.

The other message that has come across clearly and forcefully has been that if we are to move as proposed, reciprocity ought to be a requirement. If we have a little longer before the remaining stages, amendments could be tabled to underline that point, so that our friends in the Republic of Ireland--and they are our friends--would understand that that is the feeling of the House. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) said that constitutional amendments might be needed, and perhaps that should be seriously contemplated.

The other point that has come out of almost every speech is why now? The Bill is premature. Although the Minister will doubtless repudiate what I am about to say, many Opposition Members feel that there is a great deal in what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) and the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. They said that it would appear that this place is acting at the behest of two people who have been elected to it, but have never been prepared to act responsibly as Members of Parliament. They have never been prepared to take the Oath or to affirm. They have never urged their friends, allies and colleagues in the IRA to begin the decommissioning process.

It perturbs many Opposition Members to see people being released from jail who are guilty of the most heinous crimes. It made me feel a little uneasy--to put it extremely mildly--to see Mr. Adams delivering the eulogy and carrying the coffin at an IRA funeral this weekend. All of those things are very much taken to heart by Opposition Members--and, I am sure, by the Minister and many Labour Members.

We are not happy that to move the Bill quickly towards the statute book before decommissioning has begun and before we have had the first report from General de Chastelain to tell us that it is properly under way. However, the Opposition are so committed to the peace process and to the work done by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), by my noble Friend Lord Mayhew and by the Prime Minister and other Labour Ministers, that we will not oppose Second Reading.

It would be in the interests of everyone who truly wants a peaceful Northern Ireland and proper constitutional arrangements to be developed between the Republic of Ireland and this country if the Bill were to be put on the back burner for a little while. There is no reason why that

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should not happen. There is no reason why we should not have more time to table amendments. There is no reason why there should not be some detailed consultation.

I was somewhat concerned to learn from the speeches of Ulster Unionist Members that there had not been a great deal of consultation with them before the Bill was introduced. There should have been. There has not been the cross-party accord that should lie behind the Bill if it is to have the cross-party support that the Government, understandably, want it to have and which we really want to give it because of our commitment to a peace process that has been developed on an all-party basis.

I know that the Under-Secretary is anxious to answer all the questions raised in the debate. I promised to cut short my remarks so that he would have longer to reply. I hope that he will deal with every question and that he will face them all fairly and squarely. Above all, I hope that he will give two undertakings to this House. The first was given equivocally by the Minister--that is, that we believe in the paramount importance of the Oath and we are not prepared to connive at any arrangement that would circumvent it. The other is that Ministers will go away, talk to the Government's business managers and consider putting off the remaining stages beyond tomorrow.

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