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25 Jan 2000 : Column 289

25 Jan 2000 : Column 291

Mr. Brady: I shall be brief, given the lateness of the hour.

I have some comments to make on points that have been touched on, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), who has briefly left the Chamber. My hon. Friends have discussed whether

is the most appropriate form of words. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) suggested that "eligible" might be a more appropriate word than "qualified". I do not consider that that achieves the desired effect. Nor am I entirely happy with the form of words that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) suggests, because I am not certain that the Secretary of State could be satisfied that Members of the House or of the other place were qualified for membership of either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland. However, one could expect him to satisfy himself that they were not disqualified.

There is an important difference because, in removing the disqualification that applies to Members of the Irish Parliament in terms of a right to sit in our Parliament in the United Kingdom, we should be seeking something that is equivalent to that in the spirit of the reciprocity of which my right hon. Friend has spoken. For the Secretary of State to satisfy himself that Members are not disqualified would achieve that purpose.

I also wish to pursue the use of the word "either" in

Does that presuppose that Members would be qualified for, or not disqualified from, membership of only one or the other, or must that wording imply that they would be eligible to sit in both Houses of the Irish Parliament?

Earlier in the debate on amendment No. 2 there was much talk about rights--of this Parliament and its Members, and those that we in the United Kingdom should be able to expect--and the theme of reciprocity was developed. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield focused on trust and whether the Irish Parliament might make an important gesture of good faith and good will to encourage good will in the peace process, in the way that the Government are seeking to do by introducing this measure.

I should like to approach the issue from another angle, taking a much longer view. What good reason might there be for a Member of the House to seek to be a Member of the Dail? It seems to me that, perversely, there is a better case for a Member of the House to seek membership of the Dail than the converse. It arises from the membership of this country and of the Irish Republic of the European Union, and, more particularly, from the fact that this country is a net contributor to European Union funds and the Irish Republic a net beneficiary of them.

Where we and the British taxpayer are expected to contribute money from which the Irish Republic can benefit, there is a good case for British politicians to take an interest in how British taxpayers' money is spent in the Irish Republic: a better case than there is, as the Bill stands, for Members of the Dail to sit in this Parliament and seek to have an input into the process--

Mr. William Ross: The hon. Gentleman should consider the good use to which the Republic of Ireland

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has put that money in terms of infrastructure. There are other lessons that we could learn, perhaps with regard to membership of the euro.

Mr. Brady: I do not wish to be drawn on to the question of the euro. [Hon. Members: "Go on!"] Perhaps I should. Clearly, if the UK were to join the euro, it would further underline the interdependency of the economies of the two countries. However, that would be equally true of the British and German economies, and that is outwith the scope of the amendment.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going far too wide of the amendment.

Mr. Brady: But that was exactly the point I was making, and that was why I was saying--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman need not say "But." He should get on to the amendment.

Mr. Brady: I am sure that you are right to make that point, Mr. Martin. I hoped that I was making the point that it would be wrong to go too far down the euro road, which the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) sought to take me down. On infrastructure, Members of this House may have a legitimate input into the question of how British taxpayers' money is spent in other EU countries, particularly the Republic of Ireland. As he knows, there are infrastructure projects that can benefit the north of Ireland as well as the south, and there are some that benefit one or the other. It is a valid point.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is right--consistent with your strictures, Mr. Martin--not to seek to refer to extraneous matters. However, on the strength of all that we have learned so far, is not reciprocity from the Republic of Ireland no more likely than the arrival of Billy Bunter's postal order or satisfaction of the convergence criteria for joining the euro?

Mr. Brady: Whether the postal order is in euros or sterling, I should not follow my hon. Friend in that direction. We are debating not whether reciprocity is about to be offered by the Republic of Ireland but whether we, as a sovereign Parliament, should insist upon reciprocity if we are to allow the Government to pursue the novel concept in the Bill.

I am arguing that we ought to require reciprocity from the Republic of Ireland--not that we should expect it to be volunteered, but that we ought to make it clear, as a sovereign Parliament, that we are not prepared to offer one side of the equation without seeing the other side brought in. That is what the amendment would achieve, and that is why Members on both sides of the Committee ought to support it.

Mr. William Ross: Before the hon. Gentleman gets too far away from the use made of the money on infrastructure, will he consider the tremendous advantage

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that the Irish Republic has gained in its work across the Irish sea between the Dublin area and north Wales as opposed to between Larne and Stranraer, which has had a bad effect on both Scotland and Northern Ireland--all with EC money?

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. That has nothing to do with the amendment.

Mr. Brady: I agree, Mr. Martin.

Far from dealing purely with the question of rights, what we are owed, what ought to be given to us and what we ought to expect in return for something that we have given away, the behaviour of the British Government, and the nature of the Bill, are not appropriate in the modern age. The Bill has the whiff of coming from an imperial Parliament behaving in a rather high-handed way--not as it would in dealing with an equal sovereign Parliament, but as it would in dealing with a junior, subsidiary Parliament. We might be saying, "This is something that we are prepared to give away to Members of this small overseas subsidiary Parliament because we do not treat it as an equal sovereign Parliament." Ministers should consider the implications of pursuing such a policy. Surely, in 2000, we must treat the Irish Parliament as an equal sovereign Parliament and not as one that depends on the Westminster Parliament for favours and scraps thrown from the table. We should treat it on an equal footing. In the spirit of generosity that Ministers appear to have in wishing to extend the right to membership of this Parliament, the Irish Parliament could offer similar rights to Members of this House.

1.30 am

Mr. Forth: I find my hon. Friend's argument fascinating, but it assumes that we know what the relationship between the two Parliaments was during the process. We know either that the Irish asked for the Bill or that they did not and that we are offering it to them for nothing. Reciprocity arises in that context. I challenge him directly. Does he know how the Bill arose and the role of the Irish Parliament in it?

Mr. Brady: I shall come to that. I wish that I could promise my right hon. Friend real enlightenment. Sadly, Ministers have been opaque or reluctant to comment on the background to the Bill, but certain private comments outside the Chamber have suggested that some kind of deal may have led to the Bill being introduced at this time. Ministers have not told us whether there has been an approach from the Government of the Republic or whether they made an approach to that Government to request reciprocity. There has been no suggestion of whether there has been any contact--diplomatic or otherwise--on that matter. I am afraid that, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have been left in the dark.

Mr. William Ross: If we knew why the Bill had been introduced, we would have a clear idea of what was going on and knowledge--

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The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. We have heard that point again and again. It has no place on this amendment.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to you, Sir Alan, because I feel a little tired. I am keen to conclude as quickly as I can.

One final aspect has not been dealt with, and Ministers, possibly with some inspiration, may be able to set my mind at rest about it. What are the implications of the Bill if amendment No. 2 is not accepted? Will it stand under the European treaties or will it constitute discrimination? I shall not stray into a discussion of tuition fees, but we have seen the relevance of the discrimination provisions of the treaties whereby it is not possible to discriminate against the citizens of one member state as opposed to those of another.

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