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Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): If we are proposing to repeal that subsection of the Act, will my right hon. Friend tell us whether other parts of the section should be considered? Is subsection (5) the only one that could possibly be described as redundant because it is covered elsewhere?

Mr. Forth: That is an important question, which my hon. Friend put with typical incisiveness. Section 36 of the 1998 Act is headed "Disqualification". If I may briefly digress, that has a bearing on some of our previous debates. For the past 17 hours, Ministers have been at pains to tell us repeatedly that disqualification is a chimera because such matters should be left entirely to the electorate.

However, section 36 of the Labour Government's 1998 Act sets out disqualification provisions. When I referred earlier to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, I would have understood if Ministers had used as their excuse the fact that it was an old Act. However, their own 1998 Act covers disqualification.

Mr. Brady: I hope that my right hon. Friend will not let the Government off quite that lightly, because the 1975 Act was also passed by a Labour Government.

Mr. Forth: I suspect that, if we were to pursue the matter--although I shall not do so--Ministers would claim that the 1975 Act was old Labour and that the 1998 Act is new Labour. We are considering new Labour disqualification.

In order to set the scene and to make a telling point to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, I note that section 36(3) states:

That disposes of the specious argument, which we have heard again and again for the past 16 or 17 hours, that we must leave all those matters to the electorate. However,

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the new Labour Government's own Act, bearing on Northern Ireland, contains a disqualification of Lord Lieutenants--

Sir Patrick Cormack: Lords Lieutenant.

Mr. Forth: I stand corrected. I have been in the Chamber for a long time and my hon. Friend must forgive me.

Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend poses the Committee what seems to be a puzzling conundrum. Does he agree that, by and large, the ministerial offender who is most at fault on the subject of "leave it to the voters" is not the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is currently sitting on the Treasury Bench, but the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? During the passage of the 1998 Act, was not the present Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland a Home Office Minister? He has only recently been transferred--I think, without fee--to the Northern Ireland Office.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The clause is extremely narrow. I cannot allow those matters to be discussed.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Martin. It leads me directly to section 36(5) of the 1998 Act, which is referred to in the clause. It states simply:

There "Senate" is in English, which helps me.

We are confronted with, on the face of it, a simple question: should Members of the Senate of Ireland be disqualified and, if so, from what? That is a new question for us to face, because I think that I am right in saying--although I have been in the Chamber for so long that I have not been able to do as much research as I should have liked--that the Irish Senate is not a directly elected body but almost entirely appointed. It is a sort of Irish Tony's cronies.

Rev. Martin Smyth: That is not completely correct, because I believe that some of the Members are elected by the universities.

Mr. Forth: I am not sure that I would count that. I believe that my general point stands.

Here we have the opportunity to seek to draw a distinction, if such a distinction should exist in this case, between elected representatives in assemblies, and Senators, who are not necessarily elected. I want to develop that argument in the context of whether there should be a disqualification across a national boundary.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: I was going to offer my right hon. Friend some comfort by reminding him that Gordon Wilson of Enniskillen, whose daughter was killed in the Enniskillen bomb and who, with great Christian grace,

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forgave those who caused her death, was appointed to the Irish Senate subsequently; so at least some Members of the Senate are appointed.

Mr. Forth: The appointment of that individual also illustrates two or three of the themes of our debates, as my right hon. Friend knows. First, it shows that someone who is born in Northern Ireland has a unique distinction and qualification south of the border. Secondly, that it is by dint of a decision of the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland that these things happen. I have no problem with that, and I have made no argument with the Irish over that decision. We are talking about what decisions we should take here, in this sovereign Parliament, about whether we believe that politicians of whatever kind should be able to cross our border into part of our United Kingdom and play a part in a representative body.

The interesting thing about clause 3 is that here, for the first time, we can focus--and I want to be very focused on this because if I was not, I would fall over--on the fact that we are talking now about the Senate, a non-elected body. The question that we must ask ourselves, in the context both of clause 3 and of the 1975 Act, is whether we believe that the fact that the Senate is not directly elected should lead us to treat it any differently from a political body composed of elected members.

That is a very real question, for many reasons. Earlier, we considered some of the conflicts that could arise as between elected members of one body and elected members of another. We did so in some detail, but not as much as I should have liked. In my opinion, we have skipped lightly over the Bill. We have done our best, but time has not been generous to us. However, we have dug up, discovered and examined several of the conflicts that could arise. There have been obvious conflicts of time and place. There have certainly been conflicts of loyalty. We have even occasionally touched on the subject of oaths and whether oaths of loyalty or their equivalent would create difficulties for elected members in two different bodies trying to square the circle and discharge their responsibilities in the fullest possible sense.

Of course, the question may be different--I pose it as a question because I still have not resolved the matter in my mind--for a Senate-type body or a body of the Irish Senate type, which is largely appointed or delegated and not elected. One could argue that, because the body is not elected, and because it has therefore a different role and different responsibilities--

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I intervene at this point to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is indeed a very narrowly drawn clause. As he has pointed out, we have dealt with the points that arise from it because this is consequential upon clause 1, where the issues have already been discussed.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin): I call Mr. Forth.

Mr. Forth: Thank you, Mr. Martin. I prefer your guidance to that of the Minister in these matters. I will overlook his impudence, as I am sure you will, since you are a generous chap.

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If the Minister wants to skate over this point, that is a matter for him. However, that will simply reinforce the view that we have held increasingly during these proceedings--that Ministers are not prepared to look seriously at their own Bill.

Mr. Robathan: Does not the clause show how the Government overlook things and get things badly wrong? We were told that the question of allowing members of the legislature in Ireland to sit in our Parliament was considered at the time of the Belfast agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Yet within 18 months of that Act becoming law, we are being asked to change it. Surely that shows how little faith we should have in Ministers who do not consider the details of their legislation.

Mr. Forth: With his usual perspicacity, my hon. Friend has anticipated one of my next arguments. I am only in my preamble, and there is a lot more to come.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: What would happen if the Government were to change their mind again and repeal what will become the Act, and then reinstate section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998? If the Government have not considered that, we ought to get a policy statement. Perhaps the Minister should be consulting his advisers and finding out what his view ought to be, let alone what it actually is.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I would point out to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that I have already stated that this is a narrow clause. The reason why it is a very narrow clause is that it is a consequential clause, because the Committee has already agreed to clause 1. In effect, this is a consequential amendment. Therefore, we cannot go over all the arguments put with regard to clause 1 again.

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