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Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend makes an important point but I am not sure that it bears upon the substance of my amendment. It is one thing to enable Members to qualify for membership of a legislature; whether individuals think that they can do what is necessary to become Members is quite another. In other words, I may be qualified to become a Member of the Irish legislature, but if I did not feel able to take whatever oath was required there, I might not want to put myself forward. There is a real difference. I am involved only in stage one of the process, if I may put it like that, not stage two.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Is my right hon. Friend aware of any other country that allows its citizens to sit in another country's Parliament?

The Chairman: Order. That was covered fully on Second Reading, and is not permissible in the context of the debate on this amendment.

Mr. Forth: Thank you, Sir Alan.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): As one who seeks always to be a moderating influence on the deliberations of the Chamber, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether the real problem is not the fact that thus far reciprocity has not been formally offered or confirmed in law, but that the Republic of Ireland, having long pontificated on this matter, has yet to offer us the product of its lucubrations? Does he think that the problem is rather like that of Billy Bunter and the postal order that does not arrive?

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend has the advantage of me in that he follows in detail the proceedings of the Irish legislature which, I confess, I do not. We are, in any case, sticking to the amendment, and I was about to say, partly in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), that I recognise that there could be an obstacle in the way of the amendment. I warn hon. Members that they may have to give some thought as to how serious that obstacle is. I refer to the different basis on which the political process works in terms of membership, election to this House and the Irish legislature.

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Ireland has a proportional system of election that carries with it implications not only for the selection of candidates but for their election to the legislature. We, on the other hand, have our time-honoured and excellent single-member constituency system, whereby each constituency has the power--at least in our party--freely to select its candidates. I confess that that difference may be an obstacle to the full operation or fulfilment of the terms of my amendment. It need not be insuperable, because I still think that the fulfilment of its intention would rest with the individuals involved and their determination to exercise the right that it would give them to seek election to the Irish legislature from here or the right of Members of that legislature to seek election here.

I mention that in passing, because it may be a consideration in the minds of hon. Members. I leave them to decide. I believe that the obstacle can be overcome, but I would understand if colleagues felt that it presents great difficulty.

I do not want to test your patience any further, Sir Alan. You have been very kind in guiding me through the amendment. I characterised it with one word at the beginning, which was perhaps rather foolish of me, because it might have restricted my own approach to the amendment. I hope that I have said enough to persuade the Committee that this is a vital principle. It is completely absent from the Bill and is essential for the purpose of carrying it further. I hope that the Committee will give it serious thought and support it overwhelmingly.

Mr. William Ross: This has been an interesting debate so far, Sir Alan, and we are always glad of your guidance to keep us in order. Reciprocation and equality of esteem are buzz words in Northern Ireland, especially in Government circles. Parity of esteem is a phrase that we hear day after day--although not everyone believes that it exists, especially in the Government's attitude to the Unionist population of Northern Ireland.

12 midnight

In view of that, I confess to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that I shall treat the amendment as a probing amendment. I want to try to find out what the Government think about those matters, and what representations they have made, on behalf of Members of this and the other place, to ensure that they have absolute clarity as to the intentions of the Government of the Irish Republic. Do they realise that the people of the Irish Republic might have to hold a referendum on the issue if a change were required to their constitution?

Members of this place are not too clear about written constitutions; they are not clear as to their legality and the possibility of legal action, nor about the need to hold a referendum of the whole population before a change can be made to a written constitution. People in the Irish Republic could go to the High Court--as some members of our party did some years' ago--and obtain a decision declaring that any effort to set up reciprocal arrangements in this matter was completely illegal.

In those circumstances, even if the Government of the Irish Republic wanted to allow Members of this and the other place to stand for election to the Dail, that would not be allowed under the constitution. That would mean

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that if the Government of the Irish Republic wanted to make such a change, they would have to hold a referendum--at considerable cost to them. I do not know how many millions of punts it would cost, but it would cost a lot of money to undertake such a venture.

If the proposition were accepted, the way would be clear for Members of this place to stand for Dail Eireann as well as being able to sit in the Senate--as they can at present. In the Irish Republic, the Senate is partly elected and partly appointed by the Prime Minister--the way in which we seem to be moving in relation to the House of Lords. However, I shall leave that point, Sir Alan, as I see that you are becoming uneasy. I may be reaching the limits of your patience--stretching the elastic a little--and I should not want to do that.

Real issues are inherent in the measure. We have already discussed the possibility of conflict of interest as it might affect the Executive in Northern Ireland and people from the Dail or elsewhere who might sit here. Earlier, the Government made it clear that they accept that there would be a conflict of interest at ministerial level.

The amendment, in effect, turns the slate over--to consider what would happen if Members of this place should find themselves sitting in the Dail. In those circumstances, there would be a grave conflict of interest--perhaps one that would not be helpful to Dublin. Sitting in their midst might be an individual whose primary loyalty might not be to the Irish Republic and the whole concept of that nation.

Since yesterday, I have discovered that one does not have to take an Oath to sit in the Dail, although one does have to do so to be a Minister or to be the President. Indeed, at present, a citizen of the United Kingdom is President of the Irish Republic. However, as she is an Irish nationalist, and well known as such, she had no difficulty in taking the Oath, thereby deserting the whole concept of being a United Kingdom citizen. However, that is a side issue.

Mr. Maginnis: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on that point. Although he says that no Oath is required for one's entry to the Dail, does he agree that everyone subscribing to the Irish nation is bound by the Irish constitution? I illustrate that by asking whether he recalls the court case in which five judges ruled that there was a "constitutional imperative" on all Irish people to achieve a united Ireland. They did not say how that would be achieved. Articles 2 and 3--the territorial claim--have been got rid of, but there is still a "constitutional imperative" on every person participating within the Irish nation to pursue the Irish interest.

Mr. Ross: I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. I had hoped that that court decision had been overthrown by events, but he is much more expert on that issue than I am, so I am prepared to go along with his word unless the Minister can clear up the matter. He is bound to have explored that possibility in depth, and to be in a position to give us a clear answer to the point made by my hon. Friend.

Let us imagine that a Member of this place arrives in the Dail. In those circumstances, the Government of Ireland, the people of Ireland and the Dail would be faced

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with a very able man--a man from this side of the water would need to be very able to get elected to the Dail. He would probably have to stand as an independent. I could not see him being a member of Fianna Fail. He might join the Democratic Left. He would be a powerful voice, whose first duty, if he was a Member of Parliament, would be to this House, as a member of this nation. That powerful voice would be in the Dail, pushing a social and economic interest that might be at variance with that which at present--

The First Deputy Chairman: The hon. Gentleman is putting a very interesting case, but the amendment talks about the Secretary of State being satisfied, so we are talking about a narrower case than that which the hon. Gentleman is putting at the moment.

Mr. Ross: I am trying to clarify to the Secretary of State the issues that he would have to consider before he reached that decision. I am also trying to help the right hon. Gentleman to have a clear understanding of all the implications of the question that would then be before him. As his behaviour in Northern Ireland has not been such as to convince many of us that he really understands the Irish question or the Irish people, never mind the Ulster people, he needs all the help that he can get.

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