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7 am

Mr. Robathan: Can my hon. Friend enlighten us on the tradition in the Irish Parliament for the behaviour of the Speaker or Deputy Speaker, so that we may understand what sort of behaviour to expect from a Speaker or Deputy Speaker who is also a Member of the Irish Parliament?

Mr. Chope: Not only have I not visited the Irish Parliament; I have never visited southern Ireland, so it would be difficult for me to speculate about the behaviour of individual Members of Parliament within the Irish legislature, let alone the Speaker.

I should like to develop my argument. I think that you, Mr. Martin, commented on this matter when I intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). We now have a situation in which the Prime Minister has more patronage than he has ever enjoyed before. It has been a traditional right of the House of Commons to elect its Speaker on the basis that each Member of Parliament makes a private, individual choice, irrespective of the wishes of the Government or Opposition Whips. But rumours are rife, particularly speculation that Madam Speaker may be thinking about retiring and that, for example, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) may be put up and supported by the Prime Minister as part of a deal.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot stray into that matter. It has nothing to do with the amendment, and he should not speak about it. I will rule him out of order if he continues.

Mr. Chope: Perhaps I may explain that I am not seeking to widen the debate too far. What I am seeking to do is to point out that there is the perception at the moment that the Executive has a role, and seeks to have a role, in the election of the Speaker.

The First Deputy Chairman: That has nothing to do with the amendment. The hon. Gentleman knows that, and he will not discuss that matter.

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Mr. Chope: The reason why there is some relevance in my submission is that the Minister says that the House should have the freedom to choose. In supporting new clause 3, I am arguing that there should be a legislative bar on any member of a foreign Parliament standing as a candidate for Speaker of the House of Commons. The Minister asks us to trust the House, but it is relevant to point out that it is hard to accept that the Executive does not seek to participate in the process for election of the Speaker.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. That has nothing to do with new clause 3, which says:

It has nothing to do with the process of electing a Speaker, and the hon. Gentleman should not stray into that matter. I told him that I will rule him out of order if he does so. If he wishes to continue, he will make no mention of the matter that he has already discussed.

Mr. Clappison: On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I seek your guidance on a matter that is troubling me, in view of the turn that events seem to be taking. It is now five minutes past 7. I am very interested in this debate, and may wish to take part in it later this morning. However, under the new dispensation, a debate in Westminster Hall will start at 9.30, and I hope to take part in that as well. Obviously, I shall have difficulty in being in two places at the same time. There is an additional difficulty: as I understand it, as far as this debate is concerned, we are still in Tuesday, whereas the debate in Westminster Hall is taking place on Wednesday, and I shall have difficulty in taking part in a debate on Tuesday and Wednesday. May I have your guidance, Mr. Martin, as I do not think that such a situation has arisen before?

The First Deputy Chairman: The Chairman of Ways and Means made the position clear in regard to Westminster Hall. There are precedents.

Mr. Chope: New clause 3 would prevent the Executive of the United Kingdom from being in a position to do a deal with the Government of Ireland that would involve the election of a Member of the Irish Parliament to the post of Speaker of this House of Commons. I want to guard against that hypothetical situation, which is why I support so enthusiastically new clause 3, which I think goes to the very root of our constitution.

Mr. Swayne: The assurances given by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would have been more believable had he arranged our affairs so that we might have a Report stage. In that event, they might have been given some credulity, but the vague offer the Minister gave us about another place I found unsustainable.

I support entirely the practical objectives enunciated by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), but I differ in my estimate of the impact of the amendments. I am profoundly at odds with my hon. Friend the Member

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for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) in my estimate of the impact of new clause 3. I believe that the new clause is a wrecking amendment in every sense of the term. It wrecks the principle of the Bill, and it wrecks this Chamber. Wrecking the principle of the Bill might have a certain attraction, but the principle of the Bill is that Members of another Parliament might serve in this sovereign Parliament.

I believe that new clause 3 offends against that, because in effect it says that those Members of this Parliament are not real Members of this Parliament. It introduces into this Parliament a concept that all Members are not equal--that they do not all have the same rights. They do not all at least aspire to the possibility of being elected Speaker.

I remember, in the last Session, having a debate that introduced precisely such a concept. There was a suggestion on these Benches--I mention this only in passing--that Members with Scottish seats should not vote on certain issues. Many Members reacted to that with horror and there was unease on the part of some of my hon. Friends. We did not like the prospect of introducing the concept of Members who had different rights. We are all equal Members of Parliament.

I therefore caution Members who are enthusiastic about new clause 3 that they are introducing a novel and unwelcome concept. I entirely understand their motive. The motive of protecting the office of Speaker from being held by a member of a foreign Parliament is an entirely worthy objective, although I see no practical possibility of that happening. I therefore do not think that we should pollute our constitutional theory in an obscure attempt to prevent it.

I am sure that the principle that I have enunciated applies, at least in some respects, to the other amendments. Chairmanships of subject committees in the Northern Ireland Assembly would probably benefit from the same principle. I am sure that any Member of such an Assembly should be able, by virtue of being a Back Bencher, to hold the office of Chairman of a subject committee. Therefore, to reintroduce a distinction between Members of Parliament is entirely invidious. We have before us an offensive Bill with an offensive principle, but we should not pollute our Parliament and arrangements in trying to work around that principle.

Mr. Robathan: I am interested in what my hon. Friend has said. He is arguing strongly against the new clause. I point out further that the new clause is defective because, although it will not allow a Member of the Irish Parliament to be elected as Speaker or Deputy Speaker, it will perversely--it is a great defect--allow the Speaker or Deputy Speaker, having been elected here, to become a member of the Irish legislature.

Mr. Swayne: I am not sure that it would. My hon. Friend is harking back to amendments on reciprocity, which would have been necessary to satisfy that condition. I will not be led down that road because I am sure that it would not be conducive.

Mr. Robathan: No, it has nothing to do with reciprocity. It is entirely within the new clause, which says:

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    "No person who is a member of the legislature of Ireland . . . may be elected as Speaker or Deputy Speaker",

but it does not say that the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons might not then become a member of Ireland's legislature.

Mr. Swayne: That is true, but, as it is not possible for a member of the UK legislature to become a member of the legislature in Ireland, the possibility does not arise. Therefore, that is not a legitimate concern.

I have exhausted what I wanted to say. I simply offer a word of caution. I support the practical intent of the new clause, but the theory is abominable.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): I know, Mr. Martin, that in your other capacity as Deputy Speaker in the House, you take the independence of the Speakership and Deputy Speakerships seriously. It will not surprise you to know that those of us who, in a minor capacity, have the duty and privilege to chair some of the House's proceedings regard the independence and impartiality of the role of Chairman equally seriously.

I wish to be brief, but I want to raise an important point. To some extent, it reinforces the point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne).

As new clause 2 stands, a Minister or junior Minister ceases to hold office on becoming a Minister of the Government of Ireland, but the Speaker of the House does not, as I understand it, hold an office under the Crown. The Speaker is appointed by the House of Commons. Therefore, as things stand--I ask the Minister to address the issue seriously--clause 2 will require a Minister to resign if he or she becomes a Minister in the Government of Ireland, but it cannot require a Speaker of the House who happens to be an Irish Member to resign as Speaker, if he or she also becomes a Minister in the Government of Ireland.

Ministers in the Government of Ireland are, properly, partisan. They are appointed by political parties. It is very unlikely, but not inconceivable, that the Speaker of the House of Commons, who is non-partisan, as tradition properly has it, could become a partisan Minister in another Government. Conversely, a partisan Minister, properly appointed, of another Government could be elected, gerrymandered in or appointed as Speaker of the House of Commons. That cannot be right. You in your role, Mr. Martin, and I occasionally in mine, surely cannot accept the concept that we have someone who has one foot in a partisan camp, but another in a non-partisan camp.

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