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Mr. William Ross: Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene?

Mr. Forth: Yes.

Mr. Ross: The right hon. Gentleman has omitted two important elements. The procedures and rules of the two establishments would be totally different. In the short debate on the last group of amendments, we discussed whether there could be a series of votes or only one vote. I have been in the House a long time, but I am not totally clear about that the present rules. The rules change and someone who is absent for a month or two could return to the House and be caught flat footed--as I was this morning.

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is more right than even he knows. When I was in the European Parliament many years ago, I served on the rules and procedure committee. That body's rules were in developmental mode at the time, but it had a slim body of rules that served as our bible and worked well. By coincidence, I was recently appointed to the Procedure Committee so I am aware of

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the problem. It is made worse by the Government changing the rules of almost everything in the name of modernisation. I have not quite got to grips with how that benefits the House, but there is a fetish among most Government Members for doing almost anything that wrecks our traditions and long-standing practices in the name of modernisation.

I am sure that that phase will pass, but it is particularly tiresome because familiarity with the rules and environment is important to the effectiveness of the House collectively and of individual Members. As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, my effectiveness as a Member of the House depends to a large extent on my familiarity with the way the House works, its written rules, ambience, customs and traditions. It would be difficult to shuffle between two completely different legislative bodies that would almost certainly take a different approach to most things. One example is the seating arrangement in this Chamber compared with the ghastly hemicycles that are adopted more and more in a pseudo-continental sense. Something as simple as that can be very disorientating to legislators who want to concentrate on the subject matter rather than worry about the seating configuration. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that example.

It is difficult enough for right hon. and hon. Members fully to discharge all their responsibilities to their electorates in terms of balancing constituency work with work in the House and so on. How much worse would it be to contemplate serving two different bodies in two different sovereign national countries.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Did the right hon. Gentleman give up his seat for Birmingham, North in the European Parliament as soon as he was elected Member of Parliament for Mid-Worcestershire?

Mr. Forth: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Chamber. It is good to see a smiling face. I hope that he will participate fully in these debates. I promise him that there is lots of meaty stuff still to come. We have a long way to go even before Third Reading--and I promise that that will be a corker. We have lots and lots to say on that. We are not there yet, but we are making good progress.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the period of overlap between the time that I had the honour to be an MEP and receiving the even greater honour of being elected to this House. There was a year in which I was a Member of both Houses.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman as it had not occurred to me that I have direct personal experience of the dual mandate. That is unusual but not unique, as the dual mandate has been held by a number of other colleagues. I almost certainly did not do justice to either job and the guilt is with me even now. I had to carry all those extra expenses back and forward to the bank and also had to carry extra salary--a third extra--on my slender shoulders for that whole year. Worst of all, I did not know where I was or what I was doing. When I was supposed to be here people thought that I was in Strasbourg and when I was supposed to be in Strasbourg people thought that I was here. Who knows where I was in the meantime?

The hon. Gentleman has allowed me to illustrate the point from my direct personal experience. A humble, simple politician cannot possibly do justice to two

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demanding jobs and that, better than anything else, shows the force of my amendment. Surely we have to face up to the problem and cut through it.

Mr. Clappison: My right hon. Friend has been addressing the problem of serving in two legislatures at the same time and his rather lucid argument has rather taken me away from the point of his amendment. It would prevent somebody who serves in the Irish legislature from becoming a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. He referred to the problem of expenses and salaries. When people become Ministers here or in Northern Ireland they have to give up their outside interests and outside remuneration. Members of the Irish legislature receive remuneration as such. Can he turn his mind to that? Can somebody who is being paid as Member of the Irish legislature serve as a Minister in Northern Ireland? Would that be right?

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend rightly raises another dimension to the problem. We shall touch on pay and provisions somewhat later in our proceedings, and I am sure that a lot of us cannot wait to get there because they will raise some really interesting problems, but he has given us a taster. We know how difficult it is to deal with the anomalies, conflicts and overlaps that can arise when a Member of the House becomes a Minister or has a dual mandate for the House and another representative body, whether it be the European Parliament or one of the new Assemblies. That would all be bad enough, and we have to devise rules to work our way through it, but how much more difficult would it be when a conflict arose because someone could sit in one legislature and be a member of the Executive in another? There would be a conflict of duty and responsibility and also simple pay and provisions difficulties--how would one be reimbursed for making a journey between the two, for example?

That is a fair and legitimate question. Reimbursement for travel between the House and a constituency is fairly straightforward as is reimbursement for travel between London and Strasbourg, as those of us who have served in the European Parliament know. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull, who is sitting beside me, has also served there. That can be dealt with, but we may add yet another dimension to the difficulty and I am pretty sure that Ministers have not given those matters a single thought.

The lack of thought on the Bill has become more and more obvious as the proceedings have unwound and we still cannot understand the motivation behind it. Hints are coming through, however, and it apparently relates to pressure being put on Her Majesty's Government by the Irish Government and Sinn Fein. Our Government, regrettably, have seen the need to accede to those requests without getting anything in return. There is a problem there and we have to get to the bottom of it.

That would be bad enough, but, as our proceedings continue, the evidence grows that the Government have not properly considered the details of the Bill. A moment ago, the Minister had to concede to my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) that they will have to make changes. He has not told us quite what, but said, "Trust me, I'll do it." That is all we have, but the mere fact that he has said it shows that there has been a lack of thought on the Bill.

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8.15 am

Mr. William Ross: I thought from the way in which the Minister was shaking his head that he was already beginning to resile from the undertaking on the principle of amendment No.7 He is shaking his head again. Perhaps he cannot make up his mind. Maybe he would like to explain exactly what the position is.

Mr. George Howarth: I was shaking my head because I do not think I ever used the words "Trust me". What I said was that there was a commitment to introduce amendments in another place covering amendments Nos. 7 and 9.

Mr. Forth: That is what worries me, because these days when a Minister says "I will deliver these amendments in another place" I am not sure how certain the Minister can be of his capability to deliver them in another place. That is an issue which we may have to come to--not now, I accept, although it is somewhat relevant. The Committee of which I am now a member, the Procedure Committee, might have to look at this. Until now, we have been lulled into a false sense of security when a Minister says,"I can't do it here for procedural reasons, but I undertake to bring the amendment forward in another place, so it's all right." But, given what happened very recently in another place, I am not sure that the Government can guarantee to deliver on that.

Mr. Sayeed: As I understand it, the Minister was not saying that he would bring forward the amendment in another place, for procedural reasons. Is it not simply that if he has to bring it forward here we have to have a Report stage?

Mr. Forth: I had spotted that, and I suspect the Minister had as well. The Government are trying to duck the Report stage of this Bill. They are trying yet again to pull the wool over our eyes. They tried it by rushing through Second Reading, allowing no time for amendments between Second Reading and this Committee stage. There would be no time between Committee and Report stage, although we have had an indication--I will not call it a helpful indication--from one of your colleagues, Mr. Lord, that manuscript amendments might well have been accepted in these circumstances. This is no way to legislate.

We are talking about a very serious matter, bearing on some very serious constitutional issues, and we are having to stumble along, being given half-hearted assurances by the Minister, who does not seem quite sure whether he has given them or not. Now he is telling us that, if we hold our breath, shut our eyes and pray, the amendments might bob up in the other place and the Government might get them through. That is no way to make the law, no way to change fundamentals of our constitution, which is what is involved here. We are talking about potential eligibility for membership of the House of Commons, yet we are expected to do it on a wing and a prayer.

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