Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Bercow rose--

Mr. Brady rose--

Mr. Maclean rose--

Mr. MacKay: I give way again to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West.

Mr. Brady: I may be prepared to concede, as my right hon. Friend argues so cogently, that this clause is consequential in the technical sense, but will he at least confirm that it is not necessary and that we could easily pass the Bill into United Kingdom law without it?

Mr. MacKay: I do not want to be drawn too far on that, because although I believe that the matter is in order I am not necessarily qualified to answer. I am not a parliamentary draftsman. However, if I was being asked my opinion--which I believe I was--I would say that the clause was probably unnecessary and that the Bill could have had at least one fewer clause, in which case we could have made more progress.

Mr. Nicholls: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for offering an opinion as to whether the clause might be necessary, but will he concede that the person who is being paid to tell us whether it is necessary is the Under-Secretary, who, despite drawing a not inconsiderable salary, gabbled his way through what should have been a justification, so that we still have not heard the Government's justification in an audible way that is also in order?

Mr. MacKay: I do not want to pursue my hon. Friend's point, as that is a matter for others to decide. However, he makes an important point when he says that some people are paid to know the answers while others are not. Members of the shadow Cabinet are unpaid and receive no more than Opposition Back Benchers. The Neill committee or the Senior Salaries Review Body might

25 Jan 2000 : Column 433

want to consider that matter. However, I will not trespass further on that point, although it is something about which I feel strongly.

Mr. Bercow: For the avoidance of doubt--and given the Opposition's commitment to legislation being as short as possible--will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in his judgment, no negative consequences would flow from a decision by the Committee to exclude clause 3 from the Bill?

Mr. MacKay: I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I am insufficiently professionally qualified to answer that. Nor do I have the financial resources, with the limited amount of Short money, to be able to be advised in the way that Ministers are.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. MacKay: I would like to answer the point that has been raised, rather than be interrupted. Unlike some hon. Members, I have not had any sleep for at least 36 hours, and I would appreciate taking one point at a time.

I should say that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has been in the Committee throughout, and I do not wish to imply that he--unlike some hon. Members on both sides of the Committee--is a Johnny-come-lately to the Committee. My hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham, for Altrincham and Sale, West and for Blaby (Mr. Robathan)--along with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney)--have been stalwarts throughout the debate.

I suspect that if we voted the new clause down, the Bill would be unaffected and there would be no negative consequences.

Mr. Mike O'Brien rose--

Mr. MacKay: The Minister, with the benefit of all his advisers and his considerable salary, wants to give us an answer.

Mr. O'Brien: I want to ensure that no hon. Members feel that they have been short-changed. Clause 3 provides for the repeal of section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which merely has the effect of allowing a Member of the Irish Senate to be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Clause 1 has the same effect, so section 36(5) is no longer needed. Therefore, it is merely tidy draftsmanship to ensure that the Bill is clear.

Mr. MacKay: I am deeply grateful to the Minister for that intervention, which leads me to believe that it is safe to have the clause in the Bill. Equally, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham that we are equally safe if we wish to remove the clause. My hon. Friend may

25 Jan 2000 : Column 434

have a dilemma as to which way to vote, but that is a decision for him. I am agnostic and relaxed about this matter.

Mr. Fabricant rose--

Mr. MacKay: My hon. Friend has been present throughout the Committee, so I am happy to give way to him.

Mr. Fabricant: My right hon. Friend shows characteristic generosity. He will be aware that, with all the resources available to it, even the Home Office's explanatory notes state that the clause is "no longer needed". Section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which will be repealed by clause 3, is about the ability to allow a Member of the Senate only to become a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. What does my right hon. Friend believe was the original reason for that? Why were Senators allowed to become Members when Members of the lower House were not? We need to know that before we can make our decision on--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman does not need to know that.

11.30 am

Mr. MacKay: I shall not be tempted down that road, particularly as I commented on the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, who raised exactly the same point.

On balance, I am coming down in favour of supporting the retention of the clause. It was anomalous in the first place, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey rightly pointed out, to allow a Member of the Senate, and not a Member of the elected Dail, to become a Member of the Assembly.

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

Mr. MacKay: Certainly. I always like to give way to fellow Privy Councillors.

Mr. Maclean: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. It is the second time this morning that being a member of the Privy Council has been of benefit to me.

I am worried that my right hon. Friend may have misguided himself. He has concluded that, because he lost his argument on clause 1, clause 3 is merely consequential and that it would be consistent to remove it. Does he think that it is essential to remove it, or does he think that it would be inconsistent with the purposes of clause 1 if it were to stay and that that would render the Bill unintelligible?

Mr. MacKay: I am at least grateful to my right hon. Friend for thinking that I have misled only myself, and not the House or other hon. Members. After all my years in the House, I would be hurt to the quick to think that a

25 Jan 2000 : Column 435

Privy Council colleague thought that I had misled the House and other hon. Members. I suspect that I mislead myself a lot of the time--

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): That is a qualification for the right hon. Gentleman's job.

Mr. MacKay: As the hon. Gentleman says, it is almost a qualification. I am happy to agree with him.

Mr. Gray: On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I am concerned that two references have been made to the fact that privilege was given to members of the Privy Council when interventions were accepted. Am I not right in thinking that the Modernisation Committee recently ruled that no precedence should be given to members of the Privy Council?

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I call the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay).

Mr. MacKay: The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt), who has taken an interest in the Committee in a quasi-professional capacity--he is a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Home Office--almost suggested in a bipartisan spirit that misleading ourselves was the attribute of everyone in the House. However, I was saddened that he applied that attribute to Conservative Members only. I am sure that, on reflection, and in the spirit of the debate, he will wish to withdraw his remark.

I see no harm in the clause, but, equally, I see no harm in its removal from the Bill. I am agnostic. I started in that position and, after misleading myself several times during my speech, I remain in that position.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: On the ground that it is better to be safe than sorry, I shall declare an interest. The clause is about the Irish Senate. If my understanding is correct, I qualify to be appointed to the Irish Senate by virtue of my Belfast birth. That is not an honour that I have sought or, much less, turned down. However, under the Irish legislation that was in force when I was born, I may have an interest to declare. I say "may" because I am not clear about whether Ireland's repudiation of articles 2 and 3 of its constitution, which arose from the Belfast agreement, affects my status and my eligibility to be appointed. However, on the grounds that it is better to be safe than sorry, I draw that point to the attention of the Committee.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) said, the issue we are debating arose out of the case of a real person, not a theoretical discussion. It was a matter of practical politics, because the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was a member of the previous Assembly and was appointed to the Irish Senate. That fact in itself lends a degree of credence to--

Next Section

IndexHome Page