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The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) must not pass in front of the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the Chair.

Mr. Ross: Instead of being tied up in Parliament and in Europe, I was tied up in Parliament and my local council, which had a narrow majority. I therefore gave my party and council friends an undertaking that I would be present at every critical time. I was in that position for about 18 months until the council elections took place. I always believed that it was impossible for me to give up my council seat, and I could not very well give up my parliamentary seat. Therefore, it was essential that I attended both bodies as and when the necessity arose. It caused me a great deal of difficulty. I can sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman because of my own minor problems. The whole idea of a dual or a triple mandate is nonsense; it is not physically possible to hold such a mandate.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and others referred to the problems that we encounter when procedures change. Sometimes, I think that our procedures change whenever Back Benchers catch up and make use of them. Governments decide that it is not good for Back Benchers to be doing as well as the Whips and that they can snarl this place up. Indeed, we shall be lucky to escape some change in procedures as a result of the past few hours. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that the Procedure Committee jealously guards of the rights of Back Benchers and that he will ensure that none of those changes are made. The Committee should try to reimpose on the Executive the authority of the House--

8.45 am

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. The amendment does not deal with the procedures of the House of Commons. Furthermore, we have heard

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sufficient examples of people who serve in different legislatures. I shall be grateful if the hon. Gentleman will direct his remarks precisely to the amendment.

Mr. Ross: I appreciate the point that you make, Mr. Lord. We have largely thrashed that horse; we have reached a clear understanding of the matter.

The Bill is nonsense in the eyes of everyone in Northern Ireland, with the sole exception of Sinn Fein-IRA, who clearly want it--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is veering towards a Second Reading speech. Will he please come back directly to the amendments before the Committee?

Mr. Forth: Keep it for Third Reading.

Mr. Ross: As the right hon. Gentleman observes, we can raise those issues on Third Reading.

The IRA welcomes the Bill because its members can see its possibilities. The amendments would diminish those possibilities. For that reason alone, I support the amendments and hope that the Minister will accept them. The IRA would be very much put out if the amendments were accepted; they would cause the organisation problems. That is a good reason to accept them.

The debate illustrates the problems for a Member of the Dail and of the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Executive. Hon. Members should not forget that, often, because of problems in the Dail, majorities are narrow. Governments exist on a knife edge and can change, without an election, as a result of a few people crossing the Floor.

The same problem is imminent in the Northern Ireland Assembly. In some ways, the Assembly is worse off because of its structures--Committees, Ministers and so on. I suppose that Ministers are supreme, but an interesting series of events has taken place during the past few days, which show the necessity for the amendments. The Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee has taken certain decisions in relation to the location of maternity services in Belfast. My impression is that the Committee is trying to bounce the Minister, but the Minister, who is a Sinn Fein Member, is saying, "I shall make the decision." There is already the possibility of a clash between the Minister and the Committee.

How much worse will that be if we take the route mapped out by the Bill? It is because I fear those dangers that I ask the Government to prevent them by accepting these sensible amendments.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Sometimes it is a good idea to come to the House early because one finds that interesting things have been going on, which deserve a wider audience. I saw that the House was still sitting, and I thought that there might be a filibuster; I cannot imagine why I would think that. However, a few moments ago I picked up the amendment paper.

We may hear in a few moments whether the Minister will oppose amendment No. 3, which is just about as sane and sensible an amendment as one could want. It is all about who one owes one's loyalty to. It is about whether

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one can serve two masters. It is about whether one can serve two legislatures. Ultimately, it is also a question of how many salaries one seeks to draw.

I do not see how one can draw a distinction between being a member of a legislature and being a Minister of that legislature. Different countries have their different traditions, but it is common to most legislatures, and it is certainly common to the legislatures of Northern Ireland, of Great Britain and Eire, that the Ministers are drawn out of the Parliament. That is what it is all about under our democratic system: it is about drawing Ministers out from the legislatures in which they sit.

I do not understand how one is to have a system that properly distinguishes between being able to be a member of a legislature and a Minister in it on one hand or saying that that would not be appropriate, and then at the same time not extending that to cover a Minister of either House as well. It seems to me that those things stand or fall together. I find it remarkable if we are about to hear that the Minister could possibly be resisting that. The two things hang together. For the reasons that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has given, the clause presents irreconcilable conflicts of interest.

If the Minister, in good faith, expects the Bill to proceed--as I expect he did expect it to proceed--in a fairly straightforward manner, he will have to address the issue of those conflicts of interest. There is no tenable argument against the amendment. I can see the Minister thinking about that now. He has had long enough to think about it. Amendment No. 3 should be accepted.

Mr. Gale: I shall speak very succinctly to amendment No. 3 only. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls). I cannot see how the Minister, if he pursues any sense and logic through this peculiar piece of legislation, can possibly reject amendment No. 3. We have heard earlier this morning that it is possible for a Speaker of the House of Commons to be a Minister in southern Ireland. We have, as far as I can see, created a situation where, under clause 2, we are preventing a Minister in the Irish Republic from being a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, while it is perfectly possible for a Secretary of State or a Minister of State for Northern Ireland in this Parliament to be a Minister in the Irish Republic. There does not seem to be any logic there. The Minister should think that one through.

Yet again, under clause 2, we are creating two tiers. We are creating a tier of people who, if they are Ministers in the Irish Republic, cannot be Ministers in Northern Ireland, and a tier of people who are Ministers in the House of Commons, who are Ministers in Northern Ireland and could be Ministers in the Irish Republic. Where is the logic in that?

If there is any logic in this at all, surely it must be the case not only that anyone who is a Minister in the Irish Republic cannot hold ministerial office in Northern Ireland, but that any member of either House in the Irish Republic cannot hold office in Northern Ireland. That is precisely what amendment No. 3 says. I should be very interested to know on what basis of logic--if there is any at all in these arguments--the Minister can possibly reject that amendment.

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Mr. Simon Hughes: On Second Reading, I said that we were bound to come to this issue because it is, as it were, halfway between whether one can be in two legislatures at once--the Government's proposition--and whether one can be in two Governments at once, which no one has argued should be the case. Therefore, this is probably the one area of the Bill that is not approached as a question of principle.

My party's position is that there is not the same conflict of interest if one is a member of both legislatures and becomes part of the Administration of one, as clearly there would be if one were in both Administrations. The Bill does not argue that there should be no dual mandate. We could debate dual mandates within the UK, and within the UK and the European Parliament, or between two legislatures--including two Commonwealth legislatures, as, under existing legislation, one can be a member of two Commonwealth legislatures at the same time.

We have accepted that the Bill does not seek to address that wider issue. There should be a debate about that matter, but I accept the point made by the Under-Secretary earlier that if we were to debate a change to the dual mandate rule in the Commonwealth, we ought to do that after consultation, and not suddenly put it on the agenda here without having raised it with Commonwealth partners.

Mr. Clappison: I note the hon. Gentleman's point about the distinction between being a Minister in both countries and being a member of a legislature in one and a Minister in another. However, is it possible to draw a neat and tidy line between being a member of a legislature and being a Minister? What about those who fall somewhere in between--those who may have the expectation of becoming a Minister, and do not wish to do anything to prejudice that ambition? What about those who may hold some office in between being a member of a legislature and being a Minister? We are familiar with that scenario in this House. Surely, somebody in that situation would have a conflict of interest--even though it was not immediately apparent to people on the outside.

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