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The First Deputy Chairman: That is not a point of order.

Mr. MacKay: Further to that point of order, Mr. Martin.

The First Deputy Chairman: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman missed what I said. It was not a point of order.

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Several hon. Members rose--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I call Mr. Ross.

Mr. William Ross: The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. Does the hon. Gentleman want to contribute to the debate?

Mr. Ross: I want to raise a point of order, Mr. Martin.

The First Deputy Chairman: The hon. Gentleman may continue.

Mr. Ross: The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said that it was a Tory-organised filibuster. This Bench is occupied not by Tories or Conservatives, but Ulster Unionists.

The First Deputy Chairman: I have just stated that it was not a point of order.

Mr. Thompson: I welcome the debate on clause 3. However, it is unfortunate that it is the third clause in the Bill. It would have been better if it had been the first and that the Bill contained no other clauses. If that had happened, this Bill would have been a proper Disqualifications Bill.

11 am

The clause would repeal section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, the fact that, two years after passage of that legislation, the Government are seeking to repeal section 36(5) is a reflection on their planning. The provision was included in the 1998 Act to deal with an anomaly.

Mr. William Ross: My hon. Friend, like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), is saying that two years have elapsed since passage of the 1998 Act, but that is incorrect. The Act received Royal Assent on 19 November 1998. Therefore, within 13 months Ministers had already started the process of amending the Act.

Mr. Thompson: I thank my hon. Friend for his very useful intervention. The time elapsed has, therefore, been only one and a half years.

The provision was intended to deal with an anomaly. One might therefore ask what abuse it was supposed to deal with and what was happening that required its introduction. It was introduced because the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) had been appointed to the Senate, but subsequently discovered that he would have to resign from it to become a Northern Ireland Assembly Member. The provision was therefore included in the 1998 Bill to facilitate the minority in Northern Ireland and to ensure that, in future, other hon. Members could be so appointed.

The issue arises because the Republic of Ireland still claims that Northern Ireland is part of its jurisdiction. Therefore, the Republic exercised what it considered to

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be its right to appoint people from Northern Ireland to its Senate--to give the impression, of course, that it is an all-Ireland Government.

Mr. Fabricant: We all realise that the Republic of Ireland's constitution has been changed and that it now makes no claim on the territory of Northern Ireland. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is still claiming jurisdiction, but not territory?

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is really going well beyond the scope of clause 3. I also remind the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson)--he was in the Chamber when I made the initial ruling--that we cannot get into the detail of the Senate, how it is elected and why the legislation was introduced. Not only was the substance of clause 3 debated in clause 1, but it is a consequential repeal. The clause's substance is therefore very narrow indeed.

Mr. Thompson: I listened to your ruling on the matter, Mr. Martin, and I am conscious that I have to walk a very narrow and straight path. Many of us, however, have found it difficult to keep to the straight and narrow.

The Government, by introducing this Bill and including in it more than one clause, are increasing the anomalies and creating one even greater anomaly. I therefore believe that, in passing the Bill, rather than making the situation better, we shall be making it worse.

The provision's inclusion in the 1998 Act was an act of appeasement by Ministers. This Bill, however, is an even greater act of appeasement.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I do not like to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he cannot talk about the Bill in its entirety. Has he now finished?

Mr. Thompson: I have, Mr. Martin.

Mr. MacKay: I rise to say a few brief words about clause 3. You have ruled, Mr. Martin--and rightly--that the clause is closely related to clause 1. Some would say that it is consequential to what we have decided in that clause. However, the clause would repeal section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, so it is worth pausing this morning--unless this morning turns out to be this evening, Mr. Martin, according to your ruling--to look at what that section did.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is a politician for whom I have the highest regard. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I have, rightly, commended the First Minister on a number of occasions in our deliberations, and it would be wrong of me not to take this opportunity to state that we hold the Deputy First Minister in equally high regard. I see that the Under-Secretary is nodding his agreement with that. Together, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are taking the Executive forward. We hope and pray that a real start will be made to decommissioning in the few days left of this month, and that they can continue their work.

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However, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh sat in the Senate of the Irish Republic. After being elected to an earlier Northern Ireland Assembly, he was subsequently debarred. At the time, hon. Members of all parties considered that to be a great pity. It would have been a great shame if his excellent work in the current Assembly and the Executive had not continued.

We have nothing but the highest regard for the hon. Gentleman, but we should judge not an individual, but the rights and wrongs of whether a Member of the Irish Senate should also sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I seem to recall that you, Mr. Martin, were involved, as was I, in the progress through the House of the 1998 Act. The circumstances then were not dissimilar to those that obtain now. We were rushing the legislation through, and we were right to do so. That piece of emergency legislation was an essential part of the Belfast agreement process. It has worked most satisfactorily, and only last month spawned the Executive. We all hope that that will remain in being, although that depends on the paramilitaries fulfilling their part of the bargain and starting decommissioning.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is going wide of what I have already stated is a very narrow clause.

Mr. MacKay: As always, I am obliged to you, Mr. Martin. I was making a passing reference to the establishment of the Assembly as a means of making the point that section 36(5) was ill-thought-out by the House. I make no special complaint about that, as I know that the legislation was being rushed through at the time.

If I may say so, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) succinctly made the point that it is anomalous to allow someone from the Irish Senate to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly but not in the other part of the Dail which, as he rightly said, is the fully elected part of the Dail. Either everyone should be allowed to sit, or no one.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and I have clashed in the nicest possible way about speedy legislation. That illustrates that even with the best will in the world, when it is necessary to have speedy legislation--[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) questions, from a sedentary position, whether this is speedy legislation. Without trespassing on your ruling, Mr. Martin, I feel that I must respond to the hon. Gentleman, who is now shaking his head as well. Yes, it is speedy--it is not normal to have a Second Reading followed the next day by the Committee stage, Report and possibly even Third Reading. It is normal to leave at least a week in between those stages of a Bill so that we can consider the amendments that have been tabled and the contributions made on Second Reading. That, if I may say so to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, who has not been in his place for most of the debate--

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Nor have Conservative Members.

Mr. MacKay: The hon. Gentleman says that nor have most of my hon. Friends, but they are not intervening from a sedentary position. If they did, I would make the

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same point to them, because I believe that my criticism should always be even-handed, and I know that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston would want nothing less.

I apologise, Mr. Martin, because the hon. Gentleman distracted me, and I fear that I am moving wide of the amendment.

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