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Mr. Robathan: Does not this narrow provision, entitled "Consequential repeal", illustrate very well the law of unforeseen consequences? The Government produced it only 15 months ago.

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, but he has taken me 20 minutes ahead of my argument. I am grateful to the Government for allowing us to explore the issue, and for not forcing ruthless closures on such an important debate.

Clause 36(5) of the 1998 Act permitted a senator of Ireland to be a member of the Assembly. My hon. Friend asks whether this is indeed a consequential repeal, given that clause 1 of the Bill, which we have already amended, now permits members of the Irish legislature--members of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland--to be Assembly members. We must ask ourselves whether the provision is redundant because it says that members of the senate are no longer disqualified.

The Government say that the clause is merely consequential. They say that we no longer need legislation permitting members of the Irish senate to be members of the Assembly, because clause 1--which we dealt with earlier--covers all members of the legislature, which includes the lower House and the Senate. The Government may be saying, "We do not need clause 3,

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because it is already swept up in the more general terminology of the legislation." I am not sure. That is the key question with which I have been wrestling all morning while listening to the debate. I listened to my right hon. and erudite Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). It took a few minutes before he was able to encapsulate the essence of his concern. Towards the end of his excellent contribution, I thought that I was content with the Government's proposal that clause 3 should stay in the Bill and that it was merely consequential. Then I listened to the Minister, or I attempted to listen to him. He made the fatal mistake of taking a two-minute contribution and delivering it in about 20 seconds. None of us heard it. When we are dealing with an important clause, deleting legislation that the Government passed only last year and the Minister jumps to the Dispatch Box and does a 20-second gabble, I begin to smell some stinking fish.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I have, I think, on three occasions repeated exactly the same phrases about the clause. I repeated them rather quickly because many hon. Members seemed to be taking their time unnecessarily. I then repeated them, using the same words, in two interventions. If the right hon. Gentleman had been listening on each occasion--it is important that hon. Members should listen to the debates, particularly those who have not been up all night--I am sure that he would have understood precisely what I said.

Mr. Maclean: I am sure that you, Mr. Lord, understood it precisely.

Mr. Bercow: I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that, during our relatively brief deliberations, the Minister has fallen into the trap of arguing by advocacy, not by evidence. Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the Minister, during the whirring, washing-machine gabble of a response earlier, did nothing more than assert that clause 3 was consequential on clause 1? What he failed to do, which I was earnestly hoping he would do, was explain how the exclusion of clause 3 would have any deleterious consequence whatever.

Mr. Maclean: As usual, my hon. Friend is absolutely right in his customarily highly erudite intervention. He makes two valid points. The Minister did not explain why the clause was consequential. He merely asserted it. Well, that is the bit I heard--that it was merely consequential. He said that it followed on: if we enact clause 1, we will need clause 3. There we go. We must have it. It says so in the explanatory memorandum. In effect, he used exactly the same 20 words. He said it, so it must be the case, but there was no explanation from him as to--

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Maclean: May I make the point and then I will give way to my hon. Friend.

In my limited understanding of the legislation, it seems that, if clause 3 were removed, that would keep extant in legislation section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act, which allows Members of the Senate to be Members of

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the Assembly. We would have two pieces of legislation: the 1998 Act allowing Members of the Irish Senate to be Members of the Assembly; and, if it were passed, the Disqualifications Bill, which allows members of the legislature of Ireland to be Members of the Assembly.

I cannot see anything inconsistent in that. I cannot see a potential judicial review case where learned judges will say that Parliament has passed obscure, contradictory legislation. I cannot see any Home Office lawyers advising that the House had introduced a fatal legal flaw because the new, inappropriately named Disqualifications Bill referred to the Irish legislature whereas the 1998 Act referred to the Irish Senate and they were incompatible. There would be no questions as to what to do, or calls for an amendment.

That is the question with which I wish the Minister had dealt. That is the point that arose when I studied clause 3 in detail, referred back to clause 1, which refers to the legislature, and then section 36(5) of the 1998 Act, which was passed only 12 months ago and which we are being asked to repeal.

12.15 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): My right hon. Friend is now approaching the kernel of the issue. Does he agree that, if every piece of extant legislation that is compatible with and reinforces a new piece of legislation were consequentially to be repealed by new legislation, we should have to go through the entire statute book and repeal great acres of it?

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, specifically in relation to clause 3--which is what we are debating, as I should not wish to stray wider than the clause by giving more general examples. Nevertheless, it would be extraordinary for Government lawyers to advise Ministers that we must find every other bit of consistent legislation and repeal it.

What is vital is to repeal inconsistent legislation. If clause 3 were attempting to repeal a part of the 1998 Act that, hypothetically, deliberately disqualified a Senator of the Irish Republic, and if Ministers were leaving that on the statute book, of course there would be an inconsistency. The 1998 Act would be saying, "In no circumstances could a Senator be a Member of the Assembly", whereas the Bill would be saying that Members of the legislature can serve in the Assembly. Clearly that would be inconsistent. However, that is not the situation that we are dealing with.

We are dealing with what seems, prima facie, to be consistent and harmonious legislation. We do not need to repeal section 36(5) of the 1998 Act. I can see absolutely no necessity of repealing it. Technically and legally, it is not inconsistent with clause 1 of the Bill. Moreover, unfortunately, the Minister did not advise us otherwise. However, there is a good chance that we may receive better advice from the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the way in which he handles the Committee and the patience that he has in sitting through lengthy debates--some of which he may find tedious, although they are nevertheless important. He responds with grace and courtesy and he tries help the House.

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I am certain that we should not now be having this debate, and that--having heard my right hon. and erudite Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst--I would have been satisfied had we heard an explanation of the provision from the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Even if he had read the same words--but at a decent speed--written by the Home Office, I might have been satisfied by his explanation. Unfortunately, I am not satisfied, because my concerns have been increased by the words in clause 3, by the recently passed words in the 1998 Act, and by the way in which the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department handled the matter.

We must therefore ask ourselves why, if section 36(5) is not inconsistent with clause 3, the Government wish to repeal the section? Is there something deeper to the matter? What message do Ministers wish to send by repealing a non-inconsistent clause dealing with Irish Senators and replacing it with clause 3, which deals with Members of the legislature--who could, of course, be Members of either the upper or lower House? Are the Government trying to send a signal on the type of people whom they should like to be elected in future? Are they making an arm's-length judgment that they do not really want senators?

Mr. Ruffley: My right hon. Friend is developing an exceedingly powerful argument. May I draw his attention to the Minister's comments, on Second Reading, in which he refers to section 36(5) of the 1988 Act? Before explaining the need to repeal the section, he states that Members of both Houses of the Irish Parliament cannot become Members of this Parliament. However, he then states:

My right hon. Friend has argued that a message of some description was being passed, and I believe that it was contained in the Minister's next phrase, when he said--

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