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Mr. Fallon: Does that suggest to my right hon. Friend and the Committee that some understanding between the two Governments on that precise point--secret, perhaps, or covert--has not been revealed?

Mr. Forth: I would like to think that we shall learn more today than we did yesterday and my hon. Friend is

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correct to raise that point. Our suspicion yesterday was not that there was an arrangement between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland, but, much more sinister, that there was a deal or undertaking between the Government and Sinn Fein-IRA. That is even more worrying and we suspect that it, rather than the connections between the Good Friday agreement and the Bill--which Ministers had dragged out of them, as Hansard has verified--may be the genesis of this ill-begotten and untimely measure.

Mr. William Ross: The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that we have not yet had a comprehensive list of all whom the Government consulted in regard to the Bill. We have dragged out of the Government only that they consulted the leader of the Unionist party and, presumably, the usual channels.

The Chairman: Order. That is a matter for Second Reading, which has passed.

6.30 pm

Mr. Forth: A perusal of yesterday's Hansard might show that Ministers said that they would consider those matters and report back, but perhaps this is not the moment for that to happen.

In speaking to the amendment in my name, amendment No. 1, so far I have not been persuaded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell, in his elegant moving of his amendment and new clause, for a reason that began to become rather too obvious--for him to seek to link the mechanism contained in the Bill with the decommissioning process may well be unsatisfactory. I regret the fact that I do not believe that the words of my right hon. Friend's new clause, which rely on the words "Decommissioning" and "substantial progress", give sufficient guarantees or reassurance when it comes to altering an arrangement as fundamental as that relating to who is or is not qualified to sit in the House of Commons. I simply cannot see that.

I shall argue in the context of my own amendment that nor was I entirely satisfied with the provisions in the new clause that the Act should come into force

That is a pretty slender basis on which to base such a measure, as we all realise. My amendment, by contrast, seeks to both broaden and sharpen the requirement by providing that the section would

    "come into force on a day to be appointed by an order made by the Secretary of State"


    "shall not make such an order unless he has previously laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement in relation to the Belfast Agreement . . . , stating that in his opinion and",


    "in the opinion of all parties to that Agreement all aspects of the Agreement have been implemented."

What the amendment seeks to do is make much more certain the basis on which we might proceed to the measures contained within the Bill.

I made it clear on Second Reading--I hope that I shall make it clear again on Third Reading--that I am against the Bill in principle. I want that to be absolutely clear.

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I took part in a vote against the Bill last night, but what we are doing now is different: the House having given the Bill a Second Reading, we are now seeking ways in which to improve and strengthen it. It is in that regard that I put my amendment to the Committee this evening.

Before we can progress with the Bill, a number of closely interrelated things must happen. The first is that the Secretary of State will make an order only if he has laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement that, in his opinion, all of the requirements of the Belfast agreement have been met, but also, crucially, that all parties to the agreement state that all aspects of it have been implemented. This will give the whole matter a much more solid and reliable foundation, because we are now not only relying on the Secretary of State, who is always a key element in these matters, but--in my view rightly--asking all parties to the agreement to say "We are sufficiently satisfied that the agreement has been met in all respects and we are now prepared to accept that we move on to the next crucial stage of allowing foreigners into the House of Commons."

Mr. Robathan: Given what my right hon. Friend is saying, which makes great sense, and given that we all accept--on this side of the House, even if the Government might deny it--that the whole purpose of the Bill is yet another bribe to Sinn Fein, can he imagine why the Government would not accept his amendment? Surely the bribe to Sinn Fein is designed to get Sinn Fein to give up its weapons. Therefore, is he surprised that the Government appear to be likely to oppose the amendment?

Mr. Forth: That remains to be seen. What my hon. Friend illustrates yet again is that we are all still guessing. Is it not a disgrace that, at this stage in the Bill's proceedings, the House of Commons is still not clear as to the motivation behind the Bill, the reasons why the Government have introduced it and why they are bringing it in with such undue haste? There is widespread suspicion, certainly on this side of the House, that it is part of an extremely grubby deal, where the Government are prepared to give away another key element of our constitutional arrangements for nothing at all. That is how it looks, and it is the only assumption on which we can operate unless Ministers tell us otherwise.

If my hon. Friend accepts the quotations of Ministers that I gave from yesterday's Hansard, he will agree that, in the minds of Ministers on the Treasury Bench, there is a link between the Belfast agreement or the Good Friday agreement and the Bill. Amendment No. 1 seeks formally to embed that in the Bill. I simply seek--perhaps fortuitously, because I tabled the amendments before I had even heard what the Ministers said, but everybody has to have a little bit of good luck in their time--to give Ministers a formalisation of the link that they themselves were making, as reported in yesterday's Hansard. To the extent to which that is the case, I have enormous confidence that Ministers will want to accept my amendment.

Ministers might even prefer my amendment to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell because, for the reasons that we saw just a moment ago in the debate, my right hon. Friend, with all his skill and experience, was not quite able to persuade some of us that his amendment was sufficiently airtight and watertight to

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give us the reassurances that we would naturally want to have. I believe that my amendment does the job even better, because it involves the judgment of the Secretary of State on the one hand and the judgment of all the parties to the agreement on the other. It then goes even further, because in subsection (2B) it says, crucially:

    "No order shall be made under subsection (2A)"--

that is, the Secretary of State's order with the agreement of all the parties built into it--

    "unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament."

What we are saying is that it would require both Houses to agree that the composition of the House of Commons could be changed as envisaged in the Bill. That would mean, in this case, the ability of aliens--non-United Kingdom citizens from the Republic of Ireland, a different and separate country, with many different and separate interests, as we explored briefly on Second Reading yesterday--to enter the House of Commons.

It distresses me that I must disagree with my right hon. Friend: he thinks that this is a small measure, whereas I think that it is a profoundly important measure. What could be more important than who is or is not entitled to come to this House and represent the people of the United Kingdom, from all parts of the United Kingdom? What could be more important, as a matter of definition of our nationality and as a matter of a statement of our relations with other countries? That is why I believe that we would have to be doubly, triply--or even more than that--satisfied before we allowed any significant alteration to the arrangements that have hitherto applied on these matters. We are talking about citizens of the Republic of Ireland--legislators in the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland--being qualified to sit in this House. Given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, an explicit linkage to the Belfast agreement must surely be appropriate.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Since the right hon. Gentleman puts so much emphasis on a connection between the Bill and the Belfast agreement--it is his wish to make such a connection--may the House know whether he is in favour of the agreement? When I look at the Opposition Benches, I note that all the Unionist Members present are against the agreement. The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), who takes a close interest in Northern Ireland and has done so for many years, is against it. What is the right hon. Gentleman's view?

Mr. Forth: My view is that an agreement that has facilitated the release of some very disgusting people from prison into the community, is facilitating terrorists' friends being invited into United Kingdom institutions, and may now be being used as the vehicle whereby a change such as that encompassed in the Bill is to be made to our constitutional arrangements, is of increasingly doubtful validity.

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