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Mr. Clappison: The Minister told the Committee that there would not have to be a change in Irish law to enable Members of the House to take a place in the Irish Parliament, because Members of the House are not disqualified from the Irish Parliament by virtue of being Members of the House. But they are, are they not, disqualified from being Members of the Irish Parliament if they are not Irish citizens. Therefore the Minister must accept that there would have to be a change in the law in that regard.

Mr. O'Brien: Had the hon. Gentleman listened with care to what I said, he would have been aware that I have made the point that he just made, so there is no great dispute between us about that. Obviously, it would be a matter for the Irish Government. The way that I dealt with that was to say that we do not impose on Commonwealth countries to whom we apply these rules the obligation to change their laws to enable Members of the House to stand in their Parliaments. I suspect that some of those Commonwealth countries would have rules about the nationality of persons who could stand in elections to their Parliaments.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) asked whether the Bill contravened European legislation. Our advice is that there is no breach of the European convention on human rights, or any other European legislation that we are aware of.

Mr. Robathan: This is a very important point. I fear that, by trying to pass the Bill without an amendment for reciprocity, the Minister and his colleagues may have opened a can of worms. I am not as sanguine as the Home Secretary about this. Article 14 of the European convention on human rights is about the prohibition of discrimination. A very small part of it says that the enjoyment of

inter alia

    "on grounds of national origin".

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    That lovely can of worms is now being opened up by the Bill, whereby people with dual citizenship or Irish citizens in this Parliament will be able to sit in the Dail, whereas, without reciprocity, English citizens such as myself will not. That seems to be contrary to article 14.

Mr. O'Brien: The Home Secretary is a lawyer, as I am. We have received legal advice that there is no contravention of the ECHR, and that article 14 must be read in the context of the other articles with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar, and the Human Rights Act 1998.

Mr. Bercow: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I do not propose to give way again. I have been quite generous.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone asked me two more questions. I am being cautious and watching your eye, Sir Alan. He asked me about the issue of reciprocity in terms of the law. The Scotland Act 1998 provides that Ministers in the United Kingdom Government cannot be Ministers in the Scottish Executive. That provision extends no further, so there is no ban on the election of an individual to both bodies. Moreover, there is no reference in relation to the Welsh Assembly Executive and the UK Executive in the Government of Wales Act 1998.

I dealt with the question of whom we discussed the matter with on Second Reading, but let me make it clear that representations have been received from, and discussions held with, the leader of the Ulster Unionist party and the Irish Government. I understand that representations have been received by the Government from Sinn Fein. However, let me make it clear that the Government are not trading on issues. As always, representations are judged on their merits, and I believe that the measures in the Bill are justified on their own merits. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone will be aware also of the issue in relation to clause 2 and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).

Mr. Maginnis: Although the Minister of State Northern Ireland Office has clarified this point, will the Under-Secretary also clarify that what he calls consultation with the leader of the Ulster Unionist party was not, in fact, consultation before the event, but rather was informing my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) after the Bill had been decided upon? Would the Under-Secretary clarify that my right hon. Friend indicated his antipathy towards the Bill, and that he mentioned the flaw in terms of conflict of interest--

The Chairman: Order. I do not see how that relates to the amendment.

Mr. O'Brien: I was not party to the discussions, but the Committee will have heard what the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said.

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Mr. Maginnis: On a point of order, Sir Alan. Can the Minister come to the Dispatch Box and say that there was consultation with the leader of the Ulster Unionist--

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of this House, and he knows that the Chair has absolutely no control over what Ministers, or anyone else, say in the House. That is not a point of order.

Mr. O'Brien: With your indulgence, Sir Alan, I would be happy to answer that question when I am in order. Hopefully, in due course, I shall be provided with the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: No, I will not.

The Conservatives have argued that there is an issue of principle here. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 contains a provision for a Member of the Irish Senate to be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I understand that the Conservatives did not vote against this matter--indeed, it did not seem to be worth significant comment by them.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst did not vote against the measure, and did not seem concerned enough to comment. We are merely building on a principle that was established without demur by the Conservatives, and ending the anomaly whereby the measure applied only to Northern Ireland. We are ensuring that Northern Ireland is treated in the same way as the UK as a whole. All of a sudden, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst is suggesting that there is a matter of principle where, previously, there was none.

Mr. Simon Hughes: My colleagues and I have made no contribution to this debate so far, but I wish to put our position on the record.

We think that the Government are right to argue their case, and we would encourage the amendment's supporters not to proceed with it. Whatever we think about the background to the debate, our view is that we cannot have proposals considered by this House on the basis of linkage with other activities involving other sovereign Governments over whom we have no control. It might be a wonderful idea if the Irish Parliament decided to extend rights not just to citizens of Ireland in Northern Ireland, but to the whole of the UK. However, we have no knowledge that it is about to do that. It is not a matter that we can control. Therefore, to make the Bill conditional on what might happen to our rights to sit in the Dail is unreasonable.

2.45 am

I wish to make a technical and drafting point. I suggest to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that, surprisingly, two interpretations can be placed on the amendment. As the Minister said, the first is satisfied by the position of Members of the Lords. Some Members of the House of Lords and of the House of Commons are qualified for membership of either House of the legislature in the Republic of Ireland. It is fair to say that only those Members from Northern Ireland who are eligible for Irish citizenship qualify under that

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interpretation. If that is what the amendment suggests, it is redundant. If the amendment is intended to apply to all Members, that is a separate matter, but that is not what it says.

We shall come to later groups of amendments that it is perfectly appropriate to debate. They deal with who should not qualify to become Members of the two legislatures, because, for example, they hold ministerial office. That is a perfectly proper matter for us to debate and Liberal Democrats will vote in favour of some of those amendments if they are moved and put to a vote. However, that is different from the issue under consideration in this debate.

We have tried to give balanced consideration to all the issues. We have not changed our view about the concern that we have not been told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about why we are debating the Bill--let alone why we have to debate it at a quarter to 3 in the morning as a matter of urgent House of Commons business when it came on the agenda only late in December.

The Bill seeks to deal with a mischief and to put Ireland in a similar or better position than Commonwealth countries. Given that Ireland was once part of this country and is, therefore, closer to us than any Commonwealth country, that is fair and reasonable. If it is possible to be a Member of a Commonwealth legislature and of this legislature, it is reasonable and fair--whether one thinks it sensible or not--to provide the same right to our friends from Ireland. Our links with them are as strong, if not stronger, so there is a logic to that view.

As I said on Second Reading, we should have a debate about whether it is logical to have dual eligibility for two legislatures. It would have been better to have that constitutional debate first, even though we touched on it on Second Reading. However, that is not the approach that the Government have chosen.

On the specific issue, the logic of the argument is with the Minister and not with those who support the amendment. That is not because we do not think it right to seek to amend the Bill in the right places. We shall support later groups of amendments that have been tabled by Conservative and Ulster Unionist Members, but we shall not support this one. If it is put to the vote, we shall vote against it.

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