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Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend knows that I do not have the great depth of knowledge of constitutional matters that he does. Is he saying that we can have Greeks in the Chamber as a consequence of the Bill?

Mr. Brady: I would not pretend to have huge constitutional knowledge. Colleagues on--

The Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pretend to go down the road along which he was invited.

Mr. Brady: No, indeed, Sir Alan. However, it is important that Ministers answer the point of law as to whether the possibility has been fully investigated that under European treaties discrimination may be held to arise if we extend to the citizens of one of our EU partner countries the right to sit in Parliament and to hold office in this country in a salary or fee-paying post, but deny that same right and freedom to the citizens of another EU partner country.

Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend speaks of rights and freedoms, but the amendment referred specifically to qualification and eligibility. That brings us to the critical issue at the heart of the amendment: whether that means legal qualification or something broader. If we stray into the field of rights and freedoms, that qualification might be interpreted more broadly. However, I do not see it that way, and I should be grateful if he would comment on that highly pertinent matter.

Mr. Brady: I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend's contribution to the debate. I am sure that he can develop that argument far better than I can. He says, rightly, that we might be dealing with rights and freedoms; however, given the constraints of the amendment and its reference to someone being "qualified" and the Secretary of State being "satisfied" as to that person's qualification, we have to interpret that as implying some legal form of qualification. I do not believe that it can be interpreted to encompass those broader issues. However, my hon. Friend might be able to persuade us that it can.

Mr. Forth: While my hon. Friend is exploring the EU aspects of the amendment, may I draw his attention to the fact that the Bill contains no reference to its being

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compatible with the European convention on human rights? I thought that Ministers were under an obligation to assess the degree to which Bills comply with that convention. Following his incisive analysis of the European dimension, it strikes me that the Bill might breach the convention in that it does not extend full reciprocity to members of legislatures in countries that are signatories to that convention.

Mr. Brady: My right hon. Friend is too kind, but I fear that, for once, I must differ from his analysis. I suspect that, in scrutinising the Bill as closely as he has done, he did the obvious thing and folded it back on itself, for, on the covering page, there is such a statement. It makes it clear that the Home Secretary considers the Bill to be within the terms of the European convention on human rights; however, it makes no reference to and offers no analysis of wider issues of European law and treaties.

I draw the Minister back to a key question. At a time when the Government--contrary to the wishes of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself--are taking this country further into an integrated Europe in which national boundaries are diminished, we are tonight enshrining a new sort of discrimination, under which Members of the Irish Parliament can sit in the UK Parliament, but Members of the French, German and other European Parliaments cannot. Unless Ministers can give an assurance that they have examined the legal implications and that the Bill has a clean bill of health in that respect, we must at least contemplate making amendment No. 2, which would lessen the discrimination. Perhaps Ministers would prefer to table their own amendment on Report.

Mr. Hayes: If my hon. Friend refuses to deal with the question of qualification--I respect his right to do so, even after all I have done for him--will he at least deal with the issue of discretion? The amendment states that there would be a degree of ministerial discretion. If, as he suggests, there are legal constraints on the powers of the House and other alien bodies, that discretion would appear to be minimal. Will he comment on that matter?

Mr. Brady: I think that Sir Alan might wish to guide me that discretion would be the better part of valour. I shall leave my hon. Friend to elucidate his point. I am sure that it is valid and that he will advance a cogent argument.

I ask the Minister to make a simple, clear and unequivocal statement to the effect that advice has been taken and that there is absolute certainty within the Home Department and the Northern Ireland Office that the Bill will not lead to contravention of the European treaties.

Mr. Robathan: The amendment, which relates to reciprocity, goes to the heart of the Bill. Why should we be qualifying some people to come to this Parliament if we are not qualified to go to another Parliament?

I could not attempt to emulate some of the excellent speeches that have been delivered. I found my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) extremely persuasive. My hon. Friend the

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Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) was equally persuasive, but in another way. I find myself in a quandary. I cannot attempt to emulate either my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) in terms of entertainment value, on which I congratulate him warmly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) has stolen one or two of my arguments--

Mr. Brady: I apologise.

Mr. Robathan: That is all right. I shall try to advance them in my own way.

I wish to raise one or two points that have not been taken up so far in the debate on the amendment, and they go to the heart of reciprocity. The day before yesterday--I look at the clock--I attended more than half of the debate on Second Reading. I thought that I heard the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department say that the Irish Government were considering some form of reciprocal arrangements for Members of the United Kingdom Parliament. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would confirm that, either now or when he responds to the debate. That is important. Considering is insufficient but at least we would have some understanding of where the Government stand.

As I understood the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he responded to the previous debate, I should not expect him to make his entire position clear at this stage, but that must be done before the end of the debate.

If the Irish Government are considering reciprocity, there is no reason why the British Government should not accept the amendment outright. Surely we would not wish to be seen pre-empting the Irish Government, or moving with undue haste, when that Government have yet to come to their firm conclusion and make their own plans clear for British parliamentarians in the Irish Parliament. I hope that the Minister will clarify the position when he responds to the debate.

The amendment does not affect me because I do not wish to be a Member of the Dail. I suspect that not many Members of this Parliament do. It is quite a long way away and I am quite busy enough being a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. Indeed, I am very busy, it now being about 1.45 am. It seems that there must be a trade off if we believe that we should have the Bill in the first place, which I do not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West mentioned the legal position, which is important. On the European convention on human rights, the front of the Bill states that "Mr. Secretary Straw" believes:

I am not a lawyer, but, without reciprocity, my human rights and those of all hon. Members may be infringed because we would be giving away something for nothing, and our granting of a right would not be reciprocated. The matter might be open to judicial review at the European Court of Human Rights.

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The European Court of Human Rights has overstepped the mark recently and has trespassed on matters it was not envisaged that it would consider when it was established at the end of the second world war to prevent those horrors from recurring.

Mr. Clappison: I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend's argument. He should not rely too much on the statement of compatibility on the face of the Bill, because such statements come up with the rations. To prove a breach of the convention on human rights, one of the rights has to be breached. I have considered the point carefully, and I do not know which right the Bill breaches. Perhaps my hon. Friend can explore that.

Mr. Robathan: My hon. Friend is an eminent lawyer and knows far more about the law and the convention on human rights than I do. However, many cases of extraordinary depth are taken to the European Court of Human Rights and I am worried that the British Government may be in trouble because of the Bill. I agree that the statement of compatibility comes up with the rations, but let us consider the European Court of Justice, where there might be more scope for challenging the legislation than in the European Court of Human Rights if there is no reciprocity. Perhaps my hon. Friend can advise me about that.

We are members of the great European Union, and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If a Member of the Dail can sit in this Chamber, I should be able to sit in the Dail. To revert to the point about the European Court of Human Rights, a lack of justice or fairness that the Bill creates might be challenged under judicial review.

Let us consider trust. There is no reason to distrust the Irish Government if they are considering reciprocity, although Charles Haughey was convicted of being a gun runner and Albert Reynolds jumped the gun and shook hands with Gerry Adams on the steps of the Dail on the first day of the first ceasefire that the IRA declared. Nevertheless, there is no reason to mistrust the Irish Government

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