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Mr. Mike O'Brien: Perhaps I can deal with those questions if I catch your eye later in the debate, Sir Alan.

Mr. Maginnis: I was briefly lifted up, Sir Alan, only to be dropped again by the Minister's reluctance. However, if his promise is realised later, it is possible that some progress might be made.

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I remind the Minister that the Irish constitution contains an obligation to cherish the children of the nation. I like to be cherished. I should like to believe that any cherishing done was real and had some depth. However, when Austin Currie--to whom the Minister alluded earlier--tried to make a point in Dail Eireann, using his usual blunt Northern Ireland manner, a southern Irish Member of the Dail told him to go back to the north where he came from. All the children of the nation were not being cherished quite equally on that occasion.

The Bill diminishes the long and honourable tradition of this House whereby hon. Members have always had a clear idea of their obligations and loyalties. However, I wonder whether the Bill means that all Irish can be British, even when they do not want to be, but that no British can be Irish, however much they might wish to be. The reality is that most of us have enough to do representing the interests of one nation.

The Bill asks us to divide our loyalties. Reciprocity would require both nations to try that impossible exercise.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I shall seek to heed your direction that the issue is narrow, Sir Alan, and speak only to the amendment. It would prevent the Bill's coming into force unless and until membership of either House of the Irish Parliament was fully open to Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) sought reciprocity. We ban Members of the Irish Parliament from being Members of this House. There is no provision in Irish law similar to section 1(1)(e) of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords--and, indeed, Members of the legislatures of other countries--are not disqualified on that account from membership of the Irish Parliament. To that extent, the reciprocity sought by the amendment already exists. Members of the Irish Parliament are, however, required to be Irish nationals. Of course, most Members of the United Kingdom Parliament do not satisfy that condition and are therefore not eligible for membership or election to the Dail. Others may be qualified, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) said in his intervention, by reason of their birth or other status. As the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) said, under particular laws in the Irish Republic, certain people who were born on the island of Ireland can stand.

Dual nationality is open to certain persons who have British national rights, holding Irish nationality at the same time, and who hold both passports. I understand that many people in England and Wales hold British and Irish passports.

The Bill--the clause depends on this point--raises no new principle in the sense that Commonwealth legislators can be Members of this House. We do not impose reciprocity of legal frameworks on Commonwealth legislators. I have heard no justification as yet for imposing a condition that we do not believe is desirable

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in respect of Commonwealth countries on Members of the Irish Parliament.

Mr. Maginnis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I should like to finish my point first. Some hon. Members have said that they do not believe that even Commonwealth legislators should be able to be Members in this House. Hon. Members may wish, at some stage, in another context, to consider all these issues, but this very short Bill, which deals with a specific matter, is not the place to do it.

Mr. Maginnis: The Minister has made the mistake of not comparing like with like. Whatever the reciprocity, or lack of it, is for Commonwealth countries, it is common to all Members of this House. That is not the case with the Irish Dail.

Mr. O'Brien: I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The reciprocity to which he refers is the issue of whether, under the nationality laws, membership of a particular Parliament is open to persons who are not of that nationality. I do not know the terms and restrictions imposed by all the Commonwealth countries, but I suspect that some have a condition under which the only people who can stand for their Parliament are nationals of that country. In that case, I am comparing like with like. Given the sort of reciprocity with the Commonwealth that we are discussing, I have heard no real justification for treating the Irish Republic differently.

2.30 am

During the debate, the hon. Gentleman and others asked who might want to take up the right to be a Member of two Parliaments. Comment has been made--although it is not on all fours with that matter--about the circumstances of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who was, at one time, a Member of the Irish Senate. The hon. Gentleman is a well-respected Member of this House, and he did not lose that respect as a consequence of his membership of the Irish Senate. Sometimes hon. Members refer to that matter in a rather joky fashion; they should be careful about doing so, because they are talking about an hon. Gentleman whom we all respect--whether or not we always agree with him.

Mr. Robathan: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I want to deal with some of the points that were raised by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), and then I shall give way to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I shall also deal with the point that he made.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry asked several questions. Do the Irish need a referendum to allow British Members of Parliament to join the Dail? Of course, they do not because they do not ban our MPs from joining the Dail. They do not need to change their law. As I understand it, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh was at least able to be a Member of the Senate.

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The hon. Member for East Londonderry referred to the conflict of interests that would arise if someone was a member of two legislatures in different countries. We know that individuals have held such membership, although not necessarily simultaneously.

Mr. Clappison: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I shall not give way at the moment, as I want to deal with the points made by the hon. Member for East Londonderry before giving way to several other hon. Members.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of conflict of interests. If a person were elected to two constituencies, the issue of representing them both would certainly arise--as the hon. Member for Blaby suggested in an intervention. However, that would be a matter for the constituents in the two countries. They might well have a view, but it would be a matter for them.

At present, our constitutional arrangements allow the potential for that choice in voting to be made by citizens of Commonwealth countries and by UK electors. It would be difficult to argue that we should have different rules on the matter for the Irish Republic, although there might be questions about someone who was appointed to the Senate, but elected to a British constituency.

It would be arguable whether that was desirable, but the conflict between the two roles would be somewhat less because there would be constituents in only one country, although there might be questions as to where a person's loyalty lies. That point returns us to some of the issues raised on Second Reading, which I shall not rehearse, about people representing other countries--perhaps in the European Parliament and the British Parliament. There are precedents for those matters.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry asked what view the UK electorate would take on this matter. I can only reply that it is a matter for them. The voters would have to make their judgment in the circumstances that applied on each occasion.

Mr. William Ross: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I promised to give way to the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, but I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for East Londonderry.

Mr. Ross: The Minister is well aware that, if someone were elected to two constituencies in this country, he would immediately be asked which of them he planned to represent. He would be excluded from one House in respect of the other. Why does that proviso not also apply across the borders of our nation?

Mr. O'Brien: The issue of where a Member of Parliament's loyalty lies is one for that Member's constituents. They will have to deal with that. We know that some individuals have been Members of the Irish

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Senate and are now Members of the House. They do a good job--at least, the one individual that I am aware of does a good job here.

Mr. Bercow rose--

Mr. O'Brien: I have promised to give way to the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). I just want to deal with another issue and then I shall give way to him.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) raised in an intervention the issue of whether the wording of the amendment was unclear, especially in respect of the word "qualified". However, the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) suggested that such an issue was all a matter of fact. There is room for doubt, and there is an issue about whether the wording of the amendment is clear enough for us ever to accept.

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