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7.15 am

We come now--it is the thrust of my argument--to new clause 3, which, if passed, would obviate that situation. The new clause would simply state, "You cannot do it." Superficially, that solution is very attractive, as it would get rid of the problem. The new clause would ensure that the type of situation that I have just described--in which a partisan person has simultaneously to be a non-partisan person, wearing only half a hat--could not develop.

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As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West said, if we go down that road, we shall immediately create two classes of hon. Member: one class of people who can be selected and elected by their peers to become the holders of what all hon. Members regard as one of the most dignified and prestigious offices of the land--the Speakership of the House; and another class of people who, although they sit on these same green Benches and are properly elected by an electorate who are allowed, under the Bill, to elect them, cannot hold that office. Are we seriously saying that we shall legislate to create a situation in which that is possible, even in theory? It cannot be right.

We cannot have two groups of hon. Member, so that Members in one group are able to become Speaker, whereas Members in the other are not. We cannot have more than one class of Member--one of which is able to hold office only in this place--or of Minister, one of which would have to resign if he or she became a Minister in another Parliament. In another group, those who hold an office that is not an office under the Crown, but who are appointed by the House of Commons, would be able not only to occupy the Chair, but, simultaneously, to sit as a partisan Minister in another Parliament.

The provision is absolute nonsense, and the House cannot let it pass. When we vote on clause 2 stand part, I shall have to vote against it on principle alone.

Mr. William Ross: I had not realised that we would run out of speakers to the amendment so quickly, but I have been thinking seriously about some of the comments made earlier by the Minister. Various questions remain unanswered.

I do not know how on earth we could go along with the idea that the office of Chair or Vice-Chair could be held by a person who is also a Minister. Currently, the legislation would make that possible. It would be quite wrong to have someone serve both as Chairman or Vice-Chairman of a Committee and as a Minister. I do not know how on earth that could be acceptable to anyone. The Minister gave his views on the matter, but he did not convince me that his views were reasonable.

The Minister is also refusing to accept a reasonable proposal preventing the Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer from serving as a Minister. I do not know how on earth we could allow them to serve as a Minister. Although those Members, as Presiding Officer and Deputy, would have their own particular role to play and very considerable centralising powers, we are being told that they should also be able to hold down a ministerial post. Allowing them to do both would, among other things, upset the balance.

The person serving both as the Chair or Vice-Chair and as a Minister would upset the balance under the d'Hondt system. If we were to allow it, it would cause grave problems. The Minister said that the matter is for the parties to decide for themselves. However, considerations of political advantage may play a role in a decision on making a Minister the Chair or Vice-Chair. The same would be true of the posts of Presiding Officer and Deputy. It would certainly reduce the number of posts. There is no need for 12 Ministers in Northern Ireland. I see no good reason to go down that road. The Minister will have to give much better reasons for refusing the amendment than he has done so far.

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Clause 2 provides that a Minister in the Irish Republic cannot take up a similar post in the Northern Ireland Assembly, although a junior Minister can. Such junior Ministers are not banned at all, unless the word "Minister" is a generic term covering all levels of ministries in Dublin. However, that cannot be the case, because the term "junior Minister" appears elsewhere in the Bill. If it appears in one place, there is no reason why it should not appear in another.

We must not allow junior Ministers in the Irish Republic to become Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The evils that would follow from that have been touched on in earlier debates. I can assure hon. Members who have just arrived and are no doubt amazed to see us that we are still here only because the Bill is so illogical that it could never be accepted by Northern Ireland Members, or by Conservative Members.

We must not allow the Minister to leave without telling us why the Government are not preventing junior Ministers in Dublin from being Ministers in Northern Ireland. That would lead to a form of joint rule, control and authority in Northern Ireland which would be anathema to the Unionist population there. If such a possibility were permitted even to appear on the face of the Bill it would have serious consequences for the process of establishing and maintaining a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. It could also upset the IRA surrender policy that the Government have pursued so assiduously, and have the most serious consequences for the lives and liberties of people in Northern Ireland.

The potential for joint control could also be used by the Government of the Irish Republic to damage the economy of Northern Ireland, and to impose their standards on matters such as abortion and divorce. It could be used by the Irish Government to impose the Irish language on us even more than at present. It could also cause mayhem in the cross-border bodies.

For example, a junior agriculture Minister in the Republic could become a Minister with similar responsibilities in the Northern Ireland Assembly. He could do a huge amount of mischief. The same possibility would open up if the junior Minister so elected had responsibility for finance and taxation and decided that it would be a good idea to change the tax on fuel oil in Northern Ireland to the same levels as applied in the Republic. That would cause a deliberately fomented clash between central Government in London and the Assembly in Northern Ireland. Moreover, the same individual might decide to bring the vehicle excise duty into line with that in the Irish Republic.

Those two latter points would, of course, have been widely welcomed by people in Northern Ireland since they think that tax, fuel and vehicle excise duty costs are far too high. They would ask themselves, "Why should we not reap the benefits of this?" In pursuing that populist course, the Minister would be driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Those items are a result of the Government's failure to deal adequately with the problem. I am curious as to why they decided not to accept the very sensible amendments in the name of my hon. Friends and myself, which were supported by the Conservative spokesmen. I cannot for the life of me work out why amendments Nos. 12 and 17, on junior Ministers, were not called. The wording is much the same in many of the amendments, and someone may

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have become confused and decided that the same issue was being described in two different ways. That is not so, as a quick look at the amendment paper will reveal. The amendment was very different; it was aimed directly at junior Ministers. One way or another it will be appreciated that I have a number of concerns that have not been dealt with adequately.

I had to leave the Chamber for a short time for a bite to eat. It is a very long time since I had my supper, and it is breakfast time now. So I went off and satisfied the inner man and, as a consequence, missed a valuable contribution that may well have addressed these matters. I deeply regret that, and am grateful to those who have been expressing concerns while I was absent from the Chamber. I am back now, and I hope that the Minister is prepared to take my remarks on board.

Mr. Swayne: Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, will he address the concern arising from new clause 3? While the objective of the new clause was agreed to, there was a belief, certainly on my part, that it would introduce the principle of two classes of Member in this Chamber, which is not acceptable.

Mr. Ross: That is perfectly correct; I indicated earlier that the element of having two classes might make the Bill hybrid, although I am not sure. Hybridity is difficult to define, but I understand that experts recognise it as soon as they see it. It is like seeing one's wife, mother or father a long distance away; we glance at them and know who they are but if we had to describe them we could not. Hybridity, while recognisable, is difficult for the layman--like me--to define.

Mr. Gale: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was briefly absent from the Chamber while we were discussing this. Is the Bill not already hybrid, in the sense that clause 2(2) creates a situation in which the Speaker of the House of Commons could be an office holder, and therefore partisan, in another House?

Mr. Ross: That is the difficulty. One of the Deputy Speakers concluded earlier that that was not the case. However, if he were to consider the points that have been raised since he made that decision, he might be in time to change his mind. I hope to have a chance, later in the day, to examine the issue more closely to see whether there is a danger of hybridity. The Bill would then have to go through the peculiar procedure necessary for that type of Bill. There would have to be a Joint Committee of both Houses. The matter raises an interesting question.

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