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The First Deputy Chairman: Order. Perhaps I can help. I do not regard the whole question of disqualification as relevant to the discussion of this amendment.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I note your strictures, Mr. Martin. I think that the Minister would like to intervene. I give way.

Mr. George Howarth: I caution the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that they should not misrepresent anything that I have said.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Of course we do not intend to misrepresent anything that the Minister has said. He has been perfectly clear and I think that my hon. Friend made the right assessment of the line the Minister took.

I ask the Minister to contemplate: are we seriously suggesting that a Minister in a Commonwealth country who has the right of residence in this country will apply for membership of the House? Is he seriously telling the public that, in 2000, we believe that that is a serious possibility?

Mr. MacKay: It is preposterous.

Mr. Howarth: Absolutely.

If the Minister is advancing that argument, he should start to consider its logical corollary. If he is not prepared to support the amendment, which would rule out Ministers in other Commonwealth countries becoming members of the UK legislature, we could face some bizarre situations.

My hon. Friends have drawn attention to the idea of people representing other Governments and being fifth columnists here. What would happen, for example, if a Minister from the Government of Zimbabwe took advantage of the legislation, sought election to the House and, by some bizarre circumstance, got elected here? We could then find ourselves in the ludicrous position of a man coming here, taking advantage of being in the Lobby with the Foreign Secretary and saying, "Come on. Give us a few more Hawk spares." He would not say that on behalf of a constituency--well, I suppose that he could be acting on behalf of both constituencies; he could represent a British Aerospace factory in the north-west. Then he would square the circle--[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) wish to intervene?

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Mr. Purchase indicated dissent.

Mr. Howarth: We are always looking for interventions by Labour Members, who have been remarkably silent.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Assuming that the Minister from Zimbabwe was sitting on the Government Benches, it would at least create some lively discussions in the Government Lobby on the subject of section 28.

Mr. Howarth rose--

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) will not be tempted down that road.

Mr. Howarth: I could be, but, looking at your disposition, Sir Alan, I think that I will resist the temptation to follow my hon. Friend's suggestion. However, there is a serious point here. We are seeking to rule out a circumstance that can prevail at the moment. However bizarre it may sound, legislation currently permits some extraordinary things to happen.

The point that Opposition Members seek to make to the Government is that, instead of dealing properly with disqualification, or qualification for membership of the House, they have gone for one tiny element of it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and others have suggested, it is because there is some squalid deal with Sinn Fein, or republicans of some description or other.

The amendment takes a much more fundamental look at the legislation and suggests that if the Government are not prepared to deal comprehensively with the anomalies that arise out of the legislation as it relates to Commonwealth countries, they should accept the amendment, thereby making it explicit that at least we will rule out the possibility of a Minister in another Commonwealth country having the right to sit in the House.

I suppose that one could say that there might be advantages. If a Minister in Barbados sought membership of the House, many of us could find arguments for reciprocity, which would become hugely attractive. Conversations in the Lobby would be wholly different from the one that I have outlined in connection with Zimbabwe.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Twinning would take on another form.

Mr. Howarth: Indeed. There could be all sorts of corruption possibilities as people competed for twinning with Barbados.

4.45 am

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is describing pithily what will obviously be a conflict of interest if we are not successful in securing the amendment's passage. Does he agree that allowing a Minister in another Parliament to serve as a Back Bencher in this Parliament would enable that individual to use the latter capacity to advance his interests in the former? Could we not have a situation in which such a Minister, using his Back-Bench role in this

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Parliament, would be able not only to make representations to the Foreign Secretary, but, for example, to lobby the Secretary of State for International Development for an improvement in the aid and trade provision to the country in which he was a Minister?

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): Pie in the sky.

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) has just said that that is a load of rubbish, but, as you will attest, Sir Alan, he has not been in the Chamber or listened to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is entirely right.

We have to consider other matters. Membership of the House carries certain other benefits, such as provision of research assistants; access to the Library and to information; and the ability to table questions and early-day motions. All those benefits would be afforded to people who might have a conflict of allegiance, which is a serious matter.

The situation was wholly different in 1955, when Commonwealth countries were essentially governed from this place. Although those who represented people in those various countries sat in their own legislatures, they were British citizens and probably had a house also in the United Kingdom. Therefore, at the time, it made perfect sense not to rule out their entitlement to sit in this place. However, that was 1955.

In 1975, the opportunity was not sought to change the legislation to reflect the fact that Britain had gradually given up its colonial inheritance.

Today, 43 years on from the first colony's independence--in the Gold Coast, which became Ghana in 1957--we are in a wholly different position. What is our Government's motto? What was the watchword that appeared in the Queen's Speech time after time? It was modernisation. We have a Government who are committed to modernisation, but they have had the audacity to introduce this miserable little Bill, the true motive for which they will not--

The Chairman: Order. In previous speeches, the hon. Gentleman has tried to extend his comments to deal with the Bill's general principle, but that is not permitted. He must concentrate his remarks on amendment No. 6, and I do not want to hear arguments that I have already heard repeated. He must stay within the bounds of the amendment and in order.

Mr. Howarth: I apologise and take your strictures, Sir Alan.

The Bill presented the Government with an opportunity for modernisation. Amendment No. 6 offers a microcosm of such modernisation. It would provide an opportunity for the Government to say, "We recognise that, although the Disqualification Act 1975 is still valid, we wish to make some wholesale changes to it. We'll deal properly with it."

Although the Opposition cannot persuade the Government to make other changes, amendment No. 6--which has been tabled not only by official Opposition Members, but by Ulster Unionist Members--would go at least some way towards dealing with one outrageous and

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glaring anomaly in the current legislation. Ministers have made it perfectly clear that they are not prepared to accept even that, but that does not sit at one with the Government's much-vaunted claim to be in the van of modernisation. They are making a big mistake.

Mr. Hayes: The Minister defended his position with regard to the amendment by saying that the electorate would be the arbiters of whether people's actions were influenced by a conflict of interest. However, we know from experience that politicians in those circumstances typically do not go before their electors. People who rat on their friends and deceive their party--[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. First, that intervention is far too long. Secondly, I do not wish to hear sedentary comments from the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell).

Mr. Howarth: I agree--[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman for Blyth Valley is not seeking to defy the Chair.

Mr. Howarth: I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), but I think that I have made the point that I wanted to make.

Mr. William Ross: Earlier, the hon. Gentleman reflected on the mischief that a Minister of a foreign Government could cause if elected to the House. However, he did not mention that any such individual could set up pressure groups to create an atmosphere of pressure on the Government.

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