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Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling): Do not patronise me.

Mr. MacKay: I think that I will patronise the hon. Lady a little, because she obviously thought it was very funny that an important constitutional Bill should be bulldozed through in two days. A Bill usually has a Second Reading and then, the following week or thereafter, passes into Committee. Only when a Bill is urgent or an emergency Bill do Second Reading and Committee take place on consecutive days; and early in

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the Committee the Under-Secretary at the Home Office admitted, from a sedentary position, that the Bill was neither urgent nor an emergency Bill.

I return to the welcome concession that it appears that the Government intend to make when we reach clause 2, by accepting amendment No. 7. It seems that the Minister is accepting that someone cannot simultaneously be a Minister in the Republic and the Presiding Officer or Deputy Presiding Officer in the Assembly. So yet again we have the acceptance of an anomaly and a conflict of interest.

In moving amendment No. 6, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) was absolutely right to say that it is vital that, if a person is a Minister in the Republic, they lose their rights to be a Member of either the Northern Ireland Assembly or this Parliament. There is a total conflict of interest.

I said that I was agnostic. I am quite prepared to acknowledge that there might or might not be a conflict of interest in being simultaneously a Member of the Dail and a Member of this Parliament, but I have absolutely no doubt that once one becomes a Minister and is a servant of the country, there is a conflict of interest if one is in another legislature. Therefore I am even more convinced than when I added my name to the amendment originally tabled by the First Minister that I was right to do so.

Mr. Ian Bruce: I am disappointed that the Minister would not respond. Surely, under the Government rules that we work to, a Minister cannot draw a salary in another House or anywhere else, so we are disallowed from benefiting from the provision, and only people sitting as Ministers in the Irish Republic would be able to draw the two salaries.

Mr. MacKay: Correct me if I am wrong, Sir Alan, but I believe that new clauses 4 and 5, which appear much later in the selection list, cover that point. I suspect that I would be out of order if I responded in detail, except to say that I have sympathy with my hon. Friend's point.

I return to amendment No. 6. Before I was interrupted, I was making the--I thought--important point that almost every Member who has contributed to the debate has asked why the Minister is insisting that someone can be a Minister in the Republic and still remain a Member of this place or of the Assembly.

It is absolutely clear to any of us who know the Republic well and travel there regularly that in the mainstream political parties in the Republic, the people who have, from time to time, held ministerial office have absolutely no wish, desire or expectation to be Members either of the House or of the Assembly. There is only one reason for the provision. Mr. Gerry Adams and other members of Sinn Fein are not only Members of the Assembly, duly and correctly elected. They are not only Members of this House--in the case of Mr. Adams, who has not taken his seat for Belfast, West, and of Mr. McGuinness, who has not taken his seat for Mid-Ulster. We believe that some of those members of Sinn Fein who have been elected to our House and/or the Assembly would like to stand for the Dail. They have the deeply misconceived idea that, if they stand for the Dail and get elected in some numbers--which is entirely a matter for the Irish electorate, not for me, so I shall not comment on the merits of their getting elected--they will

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hold the balance of power, due to the bizarre proportional representation voting system for the Dail. They then believe that one or other of the parties will invite them into coalition, and they will be Ministers. I do not believe that my friends in Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats and the Irish Labour party in the Dail would ever do that, but that is the reason why the Minister is resisting the amendment. It is a pretty shabby reason.

If that is not the reason, I would like to know why the Minister is resisting an amendment that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann--someone whom the Minister and I have rightly praised, and will continue to praise in the difficult weeks and months ahead--has tabled with considerable thought, and which was moved eloquently by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). I can think of no conceivable reason why the Minister cannot accept it. It is strange that he can accept the position that Lord Alderdice holds, and it appears that amendment No. 7 may be acceptable. However, that is acceptable only if Mr. Adams and Sinn Fein do not want to hold the positions.

Mr. George Howarth: The right hon. Gentleman should not put words in my mouth. I did not say any of the things that he has just attributed to me.

Mr. MacKay: With respect, it is difficult to know what the Minister is or is not saying as he is refusing to wind up the debate. If he declines to give his views, I have to interpret them as best I can. I apologise if I have misinterpreted the Minister. There seems to be a simple solution--that when I sit down, he should wind up the debate.

The Minister told the Committee earlier that there were private discussions between the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann which resulted in some changes to the Bill before it was published, one of which was clause 2. That is to be welcomed, as is the fact that the Minister plans to make further concessions in clause 2.

Having made those concessions, there is no logical reason why the Minister cannot accept this amendment as well, as it is part of the same package and deals with the same point--a conflict of interest that we are trying to avoid. The only conclusion that we can reach is that this is at Sinn Fein's request because Sinn Fein members have a misguided view that they can be elected to seats in the Dail, hold the balance of power and become Ministers. That is a deeply shabby state of affairs, and I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. If he does not, the Committee will accept that I have found the reason.

Mr. George Howarth: The right hon. Gentleman knows that I said everything that I considered to be necessary when I spoke earlier. Frankly, it would be superfluous for me to make yet another speech, repeating all the points that I made earlier. It seems to me that there has been far too much repetition already in the debate tonight.

Mr. MacKay: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth indicated dissent.

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The Chairman: Order. I think that the Minister has finished his remarks.

5.15 am

Mr. William Ross: I moved the amendment and there has been a small amount of debate on it. Many questions have been put to the Minister but, sadly, he has declined to answer them.

The Minister suggested that clause 2 was inserted at the insistence of the Ulster Unionist party leader, the First Minister. Was the entire clause inserted at his insistence? It would have been a remarkably short Bill without it. What did the Government intend when the Bill was restricted to the provisions in clauses 1 and 3, which merely repeals a section of an existing Act?

The Minister told us that he had grave objections to the amendment. He said that if the Government accepted it, the Commonwealth element would be excluded. That is correct, but some people said yesterday for reasons that have again been advanced in detail today that we should reconsider the involvement of Commonwealth countries in this context. If that is all that worries him about the amendment, will he accept it table one himself on Report that would take care of that objection?

Mr. MacKay: Surely, the hon. Gentleman realises that the Bill will not have a Report stage. It is being bulldozed through, so we shall have no chance to debate it on Report. I am afraid that he will be unlucky.

Mr. Ross: On the face of it, that is correct. However, we have been told that, under certain circumstances, manuscript amendments would be accepted. If the Minister tabled a manuscript amendment, no doubt the Table Office would accept it and you, Sir Alan, could select it so that we could discuss and rapidly agree to it. It is just a matter of the Minister scribbling it out, perhaps with a little help. It could preserve the heart of this amendment by excluding foreigners, but include those whom I consider our cousins from Commonwealth countries.

The Minister said that a number of people and parties, including the Government of the Irish Republic, were consulted but that there was no consultation with Commonwealth countries. We understand that because of the short time scale involved. However, we have not been given--and we should be interested to see it--a full list of the individuals who have been consulted about the Bill and the amendments.

Mr. George Howarth: The Bill was published before Christmas and it was wide open to everybody, whatever their interest in these matters, to consider it and make the necessary representations. As I said earlier, I do not have to hand a list of the representations that we have received, but we have not been inundated with them from the

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Opposition or from any other part of the House. It would be superfluous to go over that argument with the hon. Gentleman.

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