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Sir Brian Mawhinney: No, I will not give way.

Mr. Fabricant rose--

Sir Brian Mawhinney: Of course I will happily give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Fabricant: Would it be helpful to remind my right hon. Friend that on both occasions that the Minister intervened, Mr. Martin said that the Minister was out of the loop and out of order?

Sir Brian Mawhinney: My hon. Friend's point will be recorded in Tuesday's Hansard and the record will speak for itself.

Mr. O'Brien: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way now?

Sir Brian Mawhinney: Of course.

Mr. O'Brien: The right hon. Gentleman is being uncharacteristically personal. If he listened carefully to my attempted point of order, it related not to the comments of the right hon. Gentleman but to a point made by one of his right hon. Friends.

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman responds, clause 3 does fit with clause 1, which has already been dealt with at some length. Clause 3 renders one section of the 1998 Act obsolete. It is purely and simply a tidying-up measure and should be dealt with in that way.

Mr. Bercow: On a point of order, Mr. Lord. A fog of confusion has descended on the Committee in the last few minutes as a result of the interplay of interventions and your ruling, which was intended to be helpful. Can we be clear that it is perfectly legitimate for the Committee to approve the Bill with clause 1 but to judge that it wishes to exclude clause 3? If that is not the case, what is the purpose of a clause 3 stand part debate?

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that we deal with one clause at a time. The Committee has dealt with clause 1 and is now considering clause 3. I have

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explained the relationship between them and how tightly drawn is clause 3. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will heed my words.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Lord. You and Mr. Martin before you, have made it clear that clause 3 is tightly drawn. You added the observation that the clause is consequential. That is the Government's contention. We are debating, I hope while remaining in order, whether the Government's contention persuades the Committee to allow clause 3 to remain part of the Bill.

I am grateful for the Minister's intervention. I am sorry that he thinks that I was uncharacteristically brusque. I was seeking to encourage him to remain within the spirit that has pervaded the debates on this Bill since about 5.30 pm on calendar Tuesday. I take his remarks in that spirit and thank him for what I judge to be a new Labour apology.

My first point is that the clause has substance because the debate arose not from a theoretical discussion about constitutional history or propriety, but in the person of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). That is a real issue, and I add my appreciation of the hon. Gentleman--with whom I have a personal friendship--to those already expressed. My second point, which has been commonly accepted on both sides of the Committee and which I believe to be in order, is that the clause refers to the 1998 Act, which, at the relevant point, refers to the 1975 Acts. Through that, we have traced to the Bill a divergence between the Irish Senate, on which it focuses, and the other House, which is elected, and the difference between the Senate and this House, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) so helpfully brought to the Committee's attention.

I return to my third point, which concerns whether the repeal of the clause is, as the Government would have us believe, a minor, technical measure consequential on clause 1, which we have already debated and voted on--it is part of the Bill, so I shall not stray into that territory--or whether other significance is attached to it that might persuade the Committee that it is worth retaining.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) said that he could see the Government's argument that the repeal is purely consequential, but asked whether it is necessary to keep the clause to maintain what the Government claim is the integrity of the Bill. I am not convinced that it is, so let us consider what would happen in the unlikely event--I grant the Minister that it would be unlikely--of their losing the vote on clause stand part. I assume that my right hon. and hon. Friends will ensure that a vote takes place.

If the clause is deleted, will the integrity of what the Government are trying to achieve be damaged? My judgment is that it will not. Clause 1--which we have debated and voted on and therefore cannot revisit--deals with the qualifications pertaining to membership of the House, but the Government have seen fit in clause 3 to draw special attention to the Irish Senate. I continue to ask myself why. Is it simply because the repeal is consequential or ought we to consider something further?

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Mr. Fabricant: The Government's explanatory notes are brief and simply say:

implying redundancy. To reply to my right hon. Friend's point, it may be safely assumed that if it is redundant, it does not matter whether the clause is repealed.

12 noon

Sir Brian Mawhinney: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he puts beautifully the idea that I have been struggling to convey to the Committee.

Our experience with this Government is that they say one thing and do another. Our experience of this Government in the context of clause 3 is that within 12 months they have changed their mind on a significant constitutional issue.

Despite our best efforts in always seeking to stay on the right side of you and your colleagues in the Chair, Mr. Lord, the Government have flatly refused to explain to us why we are now where we are. We cannot open that debate again; that is your ruling, and I accept it, so I will not try to reopen it. But this leaves my right hon. and hon. Friends with a difficulty.

In an earlier debate the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) encouraged the Minister to be open and explain what lay behind the Government's apparent volte-face in 12 months with respect to the Irish legislature, among other things. He has refused to do that. His refusal in this debate was, though clearly within order, edging towards contempt of the Committee.

Therefore, I hope, Mr. Lord, that you will understand that we might be persuaded when the Minister winds up that this is but a consequential amendment. All of us wish to make progress and get on to the meatier debates on clause 4 stand part and on the new clauses, not to mention Third Reading. So if the Minister took the advice of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, came clean with the Committee and gave us an explanation, we might accept his argument that this was a consequential repeal.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: I am listening to my right hon. Friend with great care. He is certainly reflecting the unhappiness that I feel, because is it not right that members of Her Majesty's Opposition should seek whatever opportunity offers itself to try to find out what lies behind the Bill, its purpose? If the Government are not prepared to come clean with the Committee, despite the strictures of the Chair, has not the Committee a duty to seek every opportunity to ascertain precisely the objective and purpose of the Bill? The Government to date have not come clean with us.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: Mr. Lord, you would want me to respond to my hon. Friend by not going down the constitutional path that he has opened up, save perhaps to say that his point is valid and important, and that the matter that he raises is, frankly, impeding the Committee's understanding of clause 3 and consequently holding up our progress.

I reiterate that when the Minister winds up, he will find that I at least am willing to be persuaded that the clause is merely consequential. If he were to treat the Committee

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with contempt and not seek to respond to the serious points raised since his brief and unsatisfactory earlier intervention, we shall face a dilemma.

We suspect that, given the change in fundamental Government thinking between their Act of only 12 months ago and this Bill, there is more to this than meets the eye. Unless the Minister tackles that head on, I for one will want to listen to the other speeches made by my right hon. and hon. Friends and draw my own conclusion about how to vote when the matter is put to the vote.

Mr. Maclean: When I first looked at the Disqualifications Bill--an oddly named Bill, but perhaps we shall deal with that in the next clause stand part debate--and at clause 3, I looked, as one perhaps inevitably does, at the note in the margin, relating in this case to "Consequential repeal". It was tempting to assume that the clause was a tidying-up measure, consequent on some other aspect of the Bill; so I read the Bill more thoroughly. After I had read clause 1, clause 3 still did not make much sense unless I looked at precisely what it said. What it says is that it repeals section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

I acquired a copy of the 1998 Act, and turned to section 36. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) said, that also refers to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. The Act is relevant, but I do not need or wish to refer to it for the purpose of my remarks about whether we should retain clause 3.

Having skipped the clauses dealing with Lord Lieutenants and membership of the House of Commons, I came to subsection (5), which clause 3 of the Bill proposes to delete. It states:

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