Previous SectionIndexHome Page

8.30 am

Mr. Gale: My right hon. Friend's memory really is failing him. Although I do not wish to quarrel with him this early in the morning, it was only a relatively few moments ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) made the point on Westminster Great Hall and the House and my right hon. Friend agreed with him, saying that it proved the point that we are having difficulty in being in two places at once.

At 9.30 tomorrow morning--in today's terms, given the insane way in which we are required to operate--I should like to be in Westminster Great Hall, where a debate on education is being held that directly affects the future of grammar schools in Kent. At the same time, however, I should like to be in the Chamber, quite properly continuing and participating in this debate. If I and my hon. Friends cannot be in two places at the same time today, I fail to see how we shall be able to be in Strasbourg, Dublin, Scotland and Lord knows where else at the same time. I also do not understand how amendments Nos. 3 and 4 remotely deal with the problem.

Mr. Forth: They do not, because they were not designed to. However, all those points are perfectly valid and strengthen the general thrust of my remarks. However, I am saved all that embarrassment, because I have made my own personal decision that I shall not honour Westminster Hall with my presence at all. I do not want to give it any encouragement or support, because I do not want the so-called experiment to be declared a success at some time in the future and be made permanent. However, we can address that issue later and separately.

I have done my best to make a modest pitch for my modest but important amendments. I hope that the Committee will be able to agree with me, as I really believe that the provision, if it were included in the Bill, would strengthen it and make it more credible, and would move the Bill some way from being totally inadequate to being just about acceptable.

Mr. Maginnis: On a point of order, Mr. Lord; I wonder whether you could help me. I spent all of yesterday--which is still today--first, considering the Terrorism Bill in Committee, and, secondly, in this Committee. In the debate on clause 3, I had hoped to be able to deal with the Bill's financial aspects.

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. We have already dealt with clause 3.

Mr. Maginnis: Further to that point of order, Mr. Lord. My difficulty is that, after waiting all night to speak to

25 Jan 2000 : Column 391

the clause, I now find it impossible to address the issue of the Bill's financial aspects in relation to added costs to the House.

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. Will the hon. Gentleman repeat the precise clause or matter that he is dealing with?

Mr. Maginnis: The issue pertains to the demands that would be made by Members of the Dail who come to the House and insist that we use the Irish language.

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. I repeat my request to the hon. Gentleman. Will he tell the Committee which amendment or new clause he is speaking to?

Mr. Maginnis: Mr. Lord, I am sorry if I do not make myself clear. My difficulty is that there is no provision in the Bill to address a finance issue that needs to be addressed.

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. I am sorry to stop the hon. Gentleman from speaking, but unless he is dealing with a matter that is immediately before the Committee, I cannot allow him to continue. I shall now put the amendment.

Mr. William Ross rose--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Is it a point of order?

Mr. Ross: No; I was hoping to speak to the amendments. However, before I do so, I should say that I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) said that he was speaking to clause 3.

Mr. Maginnis: Yes.

Mr. Ross: I also believe that you, Sir, mistakenly mentioned clause 3--which we have not reached yet. This group of amendments--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. That was my mistake. I assumed that the hon. Gentleman was referring to new clause 3, and we have dealt with that already.

Mr. Ross: Clause 3 is a repeal clause, so is not really relevant to what my hon. Friend said about new clause 3.

There are four amendments in the group. Amendment No. 33 is in my name and the names of my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone and the hon. Member for Macclesfield. The other amendments were tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, and are supported by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). They would prevent people from holding multiple seats in various legislatures, and are worthy of careful consideration for that reason.

The amendments to which I have put my name seek to implement our opinion that a conflict of interests would exist if a Member of a foreign legislature were allowed to take decisions that impinged on the social and economic issues in Northern Ireland and its constitutional future,

25 Jan 2000 : Column 392

and on the long-term prospects of its citizens. I have already spoken about the effect that that would have on social matters such as divorce, and on all social legislation. The question of constitutional objectives would become deeper and more bitter if Members of a foreign legislature were involved. Would the Queen's law run in such circumstances, or would Irish opinion prevail?

Those questions are all covered by the amendments, and they cannot be avoided. The amendments are at the heart of our contention that the Bill implies a measure of joint authority. They are therefore essential in order to prevent that coming about.

Yesterday, the Minister agreed that a conflict of interest existed when Ministers were involved. The Dublin Government, like this Government, have a system of collective responsibility, but the system in Northern Ireland is far from the concept of a normal Executive as it is understood here or in Dublin. The Northern Ireland Executive has 10 Members, each of whom has the capacity for independent action, as I shall illustrate later. Of course, a party system also operates, with the same slight differences of opinion that occur anywhere else.

Because the 10 Members of the Executive are effectively free agents, the Northern Ireland Executive does not follow a Cabinet system. Members who are not Ministers have to go along with party policy, much as we have seen here in the past few hours.

Let us suppose that the Cabinet in Dublin decides on a course of action and tells those of its Members who happen to be with the Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly that they will be expected to follow the policies laid down by the party. The first loyalty--even of those elected under the single transferable vote system--would have to be to the party. The party Whips would make their lives a misery, as hon. Members here will recognise.

The Members about whom I am speaking will be required to implement the decisions taken by the party in Dublin, over which the electorate in Northern Ireland have no control at all. The amendments seek to prevent that from happening. Those people will be loyal party members. It matters not whether they are members of Sinn Fein-IRA, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael--they are all bound by their party's decisions and by the policy of the Executive in Dublin. There is no question in the wide world but that they and their colleagues in the STV constituency support the party line because of the real electoral dangers to themselves if they do not.

An interesting aspect is that Sinn Fein-IRA is the only political party to operate in both jurisdictions. Its members always take an all-Ireland view, so they have a certain advantage in the collection of money, for example. They do not have to account for it to this place under the legislation covering the funding of political parties. There is a real difficulty here for everyone concerned, and that alone should be sufficient to convince any reasonable man. Sadly, the Minister and his colleagues are proving themselves to be most unreasonable men in this respect. Any reasonable man would recognise the glaring conflict of interest and the conflict that would arise for citizens. Any reasonable man would also recognise the dangers inherent in igniting, in even fiercer form, all the problems that we have had because of Northern Ireland's constitutional position in the recent past. I think that that

25 Jan 2000 : Column 393

has been snowed under only temporarily by the spin doctors and do-gooders, and that it will come back to the surface again.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) told us of his difficulties when he served in this sovereign Parliament and in the European Parliament at the same time. I can appreciate the difficulties that the right hon. Gentleman experienced in those circumstances. He had to fly hundreds of miles to and from the European Parliament, he had to get to his constituency of Birmingham North and he had to get to his parliamentary constituency. He was in quite a different position from the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who were mentioned earlier. They represent all of Northern Ireland, so all Northern Ireland is their constituency. Their parliamentary constituency lies within it, and so does their European constituency. In contrast, the constituencies of the right hon. Gentleman did not coincide, so he had a great deal of travelling to do.

When I first came to the House, I was an elected member of my local council.

Next Section

IndexHome Page