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Mr. Bercow: You, Mr. Martin, have already advised us that clause 3 is tightly drawn and that we should focus our debate exclusively on it. My right hon. Friend will recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)--when he, rather briefly, set the scene for the debate--explained that he had not yet decided whether to endorse the clause. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) first entered the House in 1977; he is a very experienced parliamentarian. I wonder whether he could explain the merits or otherwise--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. Mr. MacKay.

Mr. MacKay: If my hon. Friend is patient for just a moment, he will have the answer. My precise and straightforward reason for rising is to comment on the clause. I shall not be tempted to do so in detail, because I sense that you wish the Committee to proceed, Mr. Martin. I see the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) nodding, and I agree with him entirely. In an act of bipartisan conciliation, Whips and ex-Whips like to stick together.

I want to return to the point that I was making to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Our disagreement is over the speed of the Bill; the biggest disagreement is that we believe that rushing legislation by having a Committee stage straight after Second Reading results in bad legislation. Clause 3 repeals section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. I submit to the Under-Secretary that that measure was rushed, for understandable reasons, and we now have to repeal it. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey clearly said in his helpful contribution, it was an anomalous piece of legislation. I ask the Under-Secretary to reflect on that when he replies to the debate.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He has rightly said that the clause is a narrow and consequential one which merely removes section 36(5) from the 1998 Act. It has, essentially, the same effect as clause 1. We have had a prolonged debate on the clause, and we have spent about 18 hours, if not more, debating the Bill. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's claim that the Bill is being rushed through is increasingly untenable.

11.15 am

Mr. MacKay: I am not sure whether I can respond to much of the Minister's intervention; I suspect that I would be largely out of order if I did so. As you did not rule the Minister out of order, Mr. Martin, I am put in a difficult position, so perhaps I might trespass briefly in responding to him. Otherwise, his comments will be included in Hansard--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman. The Minister was out of

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order in straying from the clause--[Interruption.] The First Deputy Chairman has been working such long hours that he is a little slower than he was last night. My ruling is that the right hon. Gentleman does not need to respond to the Minister because the Minister was out of order.

Mr. MacKay: I am grateful, Mr. Martin. As someone who has also been involved throughout the Committee's proceedings, I am sympathetic. All of us are slowing up; it is taking me longer than I want to reach my conclusion.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a pity that the Minister is audible when he is out of order, but inaudible when he is in order?

Mr. MacKay: I like to think that I have a good relationship with the Minister, so it would be wrong for me to respond to my hon. Friend. It would be for the House and for you, Mr. Martin, to judge whether his observations are accurate. It would be wrong for me to comment.

Mr. William Ross: The right hon. Gentleman will have noted that the First Deputy Chairman said that he was a bit slow. That means that he is tired. At one time, there used to be only one Speaker, who had to sit in the Chair--without food--for hours. That was a cruel way to do business. I think that we are being cruel to the present occupants of the Chair. Would it not be a good idea if the business of the House were suspended for about an hour, to give them a rest?

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. That is not a matter for debate.

Mr. MacKay: You pre-empted me, Mr. Martin. I was about to say that I did not think it was a matter for me--it is a matter for you. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), who first entered the House in--

Mr. Ross: On a point of order, Mr. Martin. You ruled that my earlier remarks were not a matter for debate. However, I am concerned for your welfare. Perhaps you should reconsider my suggestion and suspend the sitting so that you can have a rest and a cup of tea.

The First Deputy Chairman: I am touched by the hon. Gentleman's concern for my welfare. However, it would best be served if the Committee remained within the narrow confines of clause 3.

Mr. MacKay: I am obliged to you, Mr. Martin. As you will have noted, I am desperately trying to conform to your ruling.

The crux of the point that I have been making is that section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the repeal of which I am minded to support, was part of rushed legislation. A genuine misunderstanding has arisen,

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because if you are somewhat tired, Mr. Martin, the Under-Secretary must also be tired. He has been sitting on the Treasury Bench for about 15 or 16 hours--

Mr. Mike O'Brien rose--

Mr. MacKay: May I complete my point? I want to give way to the Minister, but I have been interrupted so often--[Interruption.] May I have some protection in order to complete the point?

There is a misunderstanding. The rushing of a Bill does not refer to the number of hours allocated for its debate; it refers to the time for reflection that is allowed between Second Reading and Committee.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is definitely straying away from the confines of clause 3.

Mr. MacKay: I wholly accept your comments, Mr. Martin. There was a misunderstanding that I needed to rectify, but I shall now give way to the Minister.

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He has expressed his support for clause 3, which is consequential on clause 1. Does he also support clause 1?

Mr. MacKay rose--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman does not need to indicate any support for clause 1. We have passed clause 1; that is done and dusted. We are now on clause 3.

Mr. MacKay: I am obliged, Mr. Martin, because I thought that we were on clause 3 and I thought that we had voted on clause 1--which would have given the Under-Secretary an answer. I want to help the Under-Secretary. I suspect that, at this very late hour of Tuesday--I believe that it has been ruled that we are still on Tuesday; it would be an early hour of Wednesday if we were in Westminster Hall--the Minister is trying to tease out of me why I voted against clause 1 yet am minded to support clause 3. He is probably about to say that there is a lack of logic.

It is very important that I put the record straight, because I would not want the Under-Secretary to think that there is a lack of logic, and I certainly would not wish it to be recorded in Hansard. My right hon. and hon. Friends voted against clause 1 because each of the essential amendments to the clause was ignored, with uncharacteristic arrogance, by the Under-Secretary and his counterpart at the Northern Ireland Office. I hope that I have put the record straight. Unless the Under-Secretary wants to intervene, I shall move on.

Mr. Brady: I do not believe that this is truly a consequential clause. Because the two are not exclusive, it is perfectly possible for the relevant clause of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to sit alongside the new legislation that the Government are trying to put in place.

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You acquiesced in that point, Mr. Martin. Therefore, it is surely spurious to argue that we cannot take a different view on each measure.

Mr. MacKay: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I want to be fair to the Under-Secretary because it is a very late hour in the debate and I may have been slightly careless and unfair by inferring what he was about to say, not relating what he had said. My hon. Friend makes a particularly good point because we lost the vote and, sadly, clause 1 was ordered to stand part of the Bill. Therefore, as we have clause 1--unamended, which we believe to be a grave mistake--there seems to be some merit in having clause 3.

Mr. Maclean: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. MacKay: Just a moment. I owe it to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) to answer him fully. This clause is consequential. As we have clause 1, with all its warts--there are real warts because our amendments were not accepted--there is some merit in including clause 3 in the Bill as well, largely for the reasons that I have outlined.

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