Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has drawn the Committee's attention to the further mischief that could be pursued if Ministers in a foreign--albeit Commonwealth--Government were allowed to participate in our proceedings.

I hope that a wider audience will learn that, in the middle of the night, the Government were unwilling to address an issue drawn to their attention by Conservative Members and by members of the Ulster Unionist party. In rejecting the amendment, the Government have shown that they are not prepared to deal comprehensively with an anachronistic piece of legislation.

Mr. Fabricant: I shall not rehearse what has been said about the amendment, but some other points occur to me. We have had 1,000 days of this Labour Government. Concession and appeasement have been evident in our relations with Ireland, and now there is a general erosion of the powers of this House.

I telephoned a friend in Seattle to discuss the amendment. He could not believe what the Bill proposes. He likened it to a member of a foreign Government being in the House of Representatives at the US Congress and arguing his country's case in the Government of the United States of America. He asked whether that was what we--he called us "you guys"--intended to do.

25 Jan 2000 : Column 341

My American accent may not be very convincing, but that is an extraordinary proposition. The Bill would extend--

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a Second Reading point. I remind him that Second Reading is over. He must speak to the amendment. I do not want to hear such general comments; the time for them has passed.

Mr. Fabricant: The Bill would allow an Irish Government Minister to serve here as a Back Bencher. The Minister says that there is nothing wrong with that. After all, we are not saying that a Minister in the Irish Government would become a Minister of the British Crown. He said that it was perfectly normal and satisfactory for a Minister in the Irish Government to become a British Back Bencher. But it is extraordinary.

We know that smuggling goes on between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] There may be instances in which an equalisation of excise duties is in the interests of the Republic of Ireland. What is to stop an Irish Government Minister, on these green Benches, wearing his British Back Bencher's hat, arguing the case for equalising excise duties? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) is making sedentary interventions. He has come into the Chamber--staggered into the Chamber, I might say--and then makes interventions from a sedentary position. Would the hon. Gentleman now like to make a sensible point?

The Chairman: Order. I think that if the hon. Gentleman reads those words in Hansard, he will regret them. I hope that he will not pursue that particular line.

Mr. Fabricant: My point is that there would occasionally be conflicts of interest between someone who represented the Irish Government and was also a British Back Bencher. It is quite extraordinary that the clause is being debated, particularly at four minutes to 5 in the morning--in the hope, I suspect, that it will be covered on today's radio and television. Nevertheless I hope that it will.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks would get no coverage, at whatever time of day he made them.

Mr. Fabricant: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman treats so lightly the British constitution. The hon. Gentleman, who has just wandered into the Chamber and is chuckling away, may or may not have been watching our proceedings on the screen. Is he aware that we are discussing the sovereignty of this Parliament?

The Chairman: Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the amendment? His general point about possible inconsistency has been worked extremely hard for many hours, and I do not think that it can continue to be repeated if the hon. Gentleman wishes to remain in order.

Mr. Fabricant: I am discussing the amendment, Sir Alan. The whole point about the amendment is to prevent a Minister in the Irish Government from appearing in this Chamber. My point, which has not been

25 Jan 2000 : Column 342

made before, is that there are questions to do, for example, with excise duties between the two countries. There are other questions, such as security, which have been raised before. They may cause a conflict of interest between the House and the Dail. It is important that these issues be fully discussed. I have been on my feet for only six minutes, and I do not think it unreasonable to rehearse those issues.

The Chairman: Order. I am trying to assist the hon. Gentleman. He knows that he is going over ground that has been gone over already. Perhaps I should remind him about Standing Order No. 42. I am not prepared to hear the same arguments made over and over again, particularly if they are more nearly related to the general principle of the Bill, which was decided by the House on Second Reading, than to this specific amendment.

Mr. Fabricant: Thank you, Sir Alan. The amendment specifies that no Minister

can be a Minister in the United Kingdom Government. That is absolutely right. No other contribution today has referred to cross-border issues such as smuggling, excise duties and other problems in transferring goods across the border.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman has now repeated himself on those very points. It may be in order to produce an example, but not to develop it to excess, as I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to do.

Mr. Fabricant: I am only repeating myself because I am not being allowed to make my point without some interruption from the Chair. [Interruption.] However, I take your point, Sir Alan. The amendment relates to an important constitutional issue, and should be supported by Members on both sides of the Committee who have any interest in the welfare of the House and of the constituents who elected them to it.

5 am

Mr. MacKay: I hesitated before rising to speak, because I assumed that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would be winding up the debate. There have been several significant contributions--not least that of the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), who has considerable experience in the matters that we have been discussing. Perhaps I was premature in rising. Will the Minister confirm that he is not going to wind up? I do not want to jump in ahead of him.

Mr. George Howarth: It is strange, Sir Alan. A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I intended to speak again; I made it perfectly clear that I had said everything that I wanted to say in my previous contribution. I do not know why he should assume that I had changed my mind.

Mr. MacKay: I assumed that I had misheard the Minister. When there has been significant debate on a significant amendment--especially an amendment signed by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the First Minister in Northern Ireland, and co-signed by

25 Jan 2000 : Column 343

other right hon. and hon. Members--and the debate has lasted for more than an hour, with five or six contributions, it is normally courteous to the Committee for the Minister to wind up. However, neither you, Sir Alan, nor I can force the Minister to wind up, so I shall proceed with my winding-up remarks. It is regrettable that the Minister has not paid the Committee the courtesy of winding up the debate. Perhaps, on mature reflection, he might want to do so when I sit down.

It is worth observing, in what has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate, that we have heard no contributions in support of the Minister from Labour Members. We must draw our conclusions on that point.

I am broadly agnostic about the Bill, but there seem to be two aspects of considerable concern. Those concerns have been expressed not only by Conservative Members, but by Unionist Members and by at least one right hon. and one hon. Member on the Government Benches--the only two Labour Members who have made any significant contribution during the Committee's proceedings.

The first concern is that there has been constant take, take, take by the paramilitaries--republican and so-called loyalist--with no give whatever. I made that point earlier, so if I pursue it now, I suspect that I shall be out of order.

The second valid concern is that there will be conflicts of interest and of loyalty. I welcome the fact that, to some extent, those conflicts have been acknowledged by the Government in clause 2. The clause refers to the disqualification from ministerial office in Northern Ireland of anyone who holds ministerial office in the Republic. No doubt, the Minister will want to refer to that matter when we reach clause 2--as will many right hon. and hon. Members.

There seems to be an absolute acknowledgement that there could be a conflict of interest. Once that has been accepted, we can go a stage further. I welcome the fact that, when we come to clause 2, the Minister has agreed to accept amendment No. 7, although I am not sure whether it was in order for him to mention it during this debate. That provision also acknowledges a conflict of interest, if I have read the amendment correctly. As you will recall, Sir Alan, we have had little time to prepare the amendments, because, for some strange reason, the Government are bulldozing the Bill through Parliament in two parliamentary days; something that never happens normally.

The Government Whip, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) laughs. Let me explain to her, because she is probably still quite a new Member of the House, although she is a Minister in the Whips Office--

Next Section

IndexHome Page