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The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a case that should have been made on Second Reading. We are debating not why the Government introduced the Bill, but amendment No. 2.

Mr. Howarth: Mr. Martin, you are absolutely right, and I apologise for transgressing. It is just that I thought that the question was part of the theme running through our debates.

Mr. Bercow: I should like to clarify my hon. Friend's assessment of amendment No. 2. Does he agree that the amendment, whatever imperfections it may contain, is at least a variant on the theme of a multilateralist approach to the issue, whereas the Government's opposition to the amendment is emblematic of their preference, once again, for unilateralism?

Mr. Howarth: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is a charge that the Minister will have to answer. I am sure that the Minister is making careful notes--actually he is not, but he should be--so that he is prepared to answer the serious questions that I am asking him. He will have to answer them.

Mr. Robathan: On a point of order, Mr. Martin. Is it in order for hon. Members to read books, novels or newspapers in Committee?

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. Newspapers should not be read in Committee, but I do not see any hon. Member reading one.

Mr. Howarth: I will try not to give you a reason to rise to your feet again, Mr. Martin, so that you can enjoy sitting in that comfortable Chair.

As I was saying before my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) interrupted with his point of order, I believe that the amendment would provide us with an opportunity to test the good faith of those who are behind the Bill. Adopting the amendment's implicit reciprocity provisions would go some way towards sending out a signal that the Government are not trying to give a sop to Sinn Fein.

I cannot understand why the Government are adopting what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) called a unilateralist approach. Why is the Bill a one-way proposition? Why can Members of the Dail become Members of this Parliament, but we cannot go there?

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) spoke extremely interestingly earlier. I am only sorry that he could not enlighten us further. He asked what representations Ministers made to their Irish counterparts about reciprocity. Yesterday the Minister said:

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    The concept of interparliamentary links implies links in both directions, but the Bill offers only a one-way link.

I hope that the Minister will tell the Committee with whom the discussions were held. From what he said yesterday one is entitled to assume that such discussions took place. Which Ministers were involved? Did they propose to their counterparts in the Irish Republic that this House would be likely to demand reciprocity if the Bill were introduced here? If so, what was the response of Irish Ministers? Did they say that people in the Republic could not permit people who had taken the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen to become Members of the Dail?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Does my hon. Friend accept that, were the Government to come clean about the purpose of the Bill, this amendment and others would be rendered unnecessary? Would not the Government then be able to know where they stand much earlier than would otherwise be the case?

Mr. Howarth: I am not sure that that would render this amendment unnecessary. However, it would at least to some extent curtail a debate characterised by the total lack of confidence among Conservative--and Liberal Democrat--Members about the Government's motivation in introducing the Bill.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I say again that the hon. Gentleman should not worry himself about the Bill but should consider the amendment before us.

Mr. Howarth: I apologise, Mr. Martin, for making you get to your feet again.

Mr. Hayes: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howarth: If my hon. Friend is not going to be abusive to me, I shall be delighted to give way to him.

Mr. Hayes: Abuse is my stock in trade, Mr. Martin. In an effort to concentrate his remarks on the specific issue in the amendment, will my hon. Friend give us his views on qualification or eligibility, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) tautologically--and thus rather uncharacteristically--describes it? What effect does that have on ministerial discretion?

The amendment deals with qualification and the Secretary of State's judgment about it. My hon. Friend has not elaborated on this so far, and the whole Committee is waiting, with great anticipation, to hear his views.

Mr. Howarth: I am touched that my hon. Friend should think that the Committee is waiting for my views on qualification. I said that I thought that the amendment was in two parts and that the satisfaction of the Secretary of State, or some other mechanism, was one aspect of it. I shall not be able to satisfy my hon. Friend in giving a great discourse on my views, because I regard the other aspect of the amendment as the more important.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that simply to repose confidence in the Secretary of State's ability to be satisfied or otherwise as to the eligibility of members of the legislature of the Republic

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of Ireland to be Members of this House is unsatisfactory. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, like all of us, had very little time in which to draft the amendment. In deference to him, I think that he has done a damn good job for the Committee in the short time available to him.

I wish to draw my remarks to a close, because I do not wish to detain the Committee too long. I have put fundamental points to the Minister. Were there discussions with his counterparts in the Republic of Ireland? What did they entail? Why was a clause providing for reciprocity not included in the Bill?

Membership of the House is a privilege and an honour. Unless the Government are prepared to accept the amendment, they are saying that we do not value such membership to the same extent as do other people in the House, because we are prepared to trade it away in return for nothing. I think that that is unacceptable.

Mr. Thompson: I am happy to speak in support of the amendment. The Bill lacks a provision of this kind. We have to ask why such a provision was not incorporated in the Bill from the start. It seems extraordinary that any Government of this United Kingdom would be willing to give a concession to the Republic of Ireland without, at the same time, requiring that a similar concession be given to us. Not to do so shows a severe lack of confidence in the United Kingdom and, indeed, a dereliction of duty to the United Kingdom.

1.15 am

Furthermore, we need to ask whether reciprocity was asked for when the Government were talking to Sinn Fein-IRA about the Bill. When they were talking to the Government of the Republic of Ireland about the Bill, did they ask whether there would be a quid pro quo from the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Swayne: In what way does the inclusion of the amendment respect the integument of the United Kingdom? Can the hon. Gentleman honestly say that he would have looked more favourably on the Bill if it had included the amendment in support of which he speaks?

Mr. Thompson: Of course, we do not like the Bill. We would like to have nothing to do with it. However, the reality is that the Government have introduced the Bill--whether we like it or not. Furthermore, they will pass the Bill whether we like it or not. As the Bill will be passed in any case, it is surely in our interests to try to amend it to the benefit of this place. We should point out its difficulties and weaknesses, and try to make some improvement.

It is incomprehensible that we are prepared to make such a concession to a foreign country without reciprocal action from that country. It is right that provisions such as amendment No. 2 should be tabled, and debated in Committee, in the hope that the Government might see the error of their ways, undergo a conversion and accept the amendment.

Did the Government ask for a quid pro quo, and, if they did so, was it refused? In the light of the answer to those questions, we will be able to consider the Government's status.

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The amendment might have been better worded. All we want to know is whether, if Members of the Dail can sit in this House, Members of this House can sit in the Dail. The only way for that to be achieved is for a similar Bill to be introduced and passed in the Dail.

When the Secretary of State was appointing days for the consideration of this Bill, the only question he should have asked himself was whether a Bill would be put

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through the Dail giving the same rights to Members of this Parliament as we are prepared to give to Members of the Dail.

That would be a natural question for any sovereign Parliament to ask when dealing with matters that relate to a foreign country. The amendment is necessary and should command the full support of the whole Committee.

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