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The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is rehearsing issues that were dealt with under earlier clauses. He should refer specifically to the clause before us.

Mr. Ross: May I say to you, Mr. Lord, that I thought that I was following the course that the Government have taken with the Bill? Many people outside the Committee are not fully aware of the background in the concise, clear manner that I am trying to put it on the record. It is important that people who examine the Bill, read the debates and are curious about our concerns should understand the background to why we are suspicious about the way in which the Government have behaved. The reason that I was rehearsing some of the history, as quickly and concisely as I could, is that people outwith the House should know the reasons for our attitude. In those circumstances, Mr. Lord, I beg your indulgence while I continue.

It was only 13 months after the passage of the 1998 Act that we began the process of amending it--but at whose behest? We were told in earlier debates that the process began after the Government consulted, but we have not yet been told--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. I am sorry, but I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to continue to stray so wide of the clause. I should be grateful if he would return to the matter in hand.

Mr. Ross: Thank you, Mr. Lord. I shall try to come back inside the elastic fence that I always use in debates such as this. Sometimes a little push here and there at the fence that surrounds us reveals to the general public what they have a right to know. Along with Ministers and hon. Members, we are trying to inform the general public through our debates. We have a duty to tell them what the position is.

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he is addressing not the general public, but a Committee of the whole House.

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Mr. Ross: Are these proceedings not being televised and recorded in Hansard? Is not Hansard available on the internet and for sale? Is it not available to the 659 Members of Parliament--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. If the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to listen to my rulings and address his remarks to clause 3, I shall have to ask him to terminate his speech. Perhaps he will now get to the point.

Mr. Ross: Indeed, Mr. Lord, I am progressing toward the point. However, I have to confess that it remains some distance away, even within the narrow confines in which you want me to remain. However, bearing in mind your remarks, I shall try to make progress.

I do not believe that the clause should be consequential. It should be at the heart of the Bill and all other provisions should be hung from it, so to speak, like a tree with pegs.

Mr. Beggs: Does my hon. Friend agree that our suspicions are no less than those expressed by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)? Ministers could relieve our suspicions by answering the questions put to them, so will my hon. Friend continue to press them to do so?

Mr. Ross: I am always happy to take good advice from my hon. Friend--after all, he was a teacher in a previous incarnation, so he is well qualified to attempt to gain and impart knowledge. I shall press both the Ministers who have been involved in our debates so far, in the hope that they will take account of our remarks and answer our questions.

To recap, the original legislative change was made to assist the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and for no other reason. However, other people have been appointed, including Dr. Robb, Brian Wilson, who tragically lost his daughter in the Enniskillen bombing, Sam McCaughtry and others. The Government of the day regarded the Mallon case as a hard case, but, as we know, hard cases generally make bad law.

It is not necessary to repeal the provision in the 1998 Act. It might be necessary to rephrase certain other parts of the legislation, but the 30-odd words in section 36(5) could usefully remain where they are. We would do better to leave them there. Those who are interested will have no difficulty finding that short provision and will know that it refers only to the Irish Senate.

Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend agree with the point that I made to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) that the implication to be drawn from the explanatory notes is that the clause is redundant? However, if it is redundant it can be kept in the Bill without conflicting with the other clauses.

Mr. Ross: It can only be redundant because of the extraordinarily bad drafting of the Bill. If it had been drafted following the same rules and procedures that applied to the Representation of the People Bill, which was considered last week, it would not have appeared

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before us in its present form. The provision that the Government are attempting to repeal through clause 3 would have remained.

Mr. Hayes: I am interested to hear those remarks. There seems to be a parallel with the debate that took place on the Government of Ireland Act 1920, when precisely these matters were dealt with. I shall be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman feels that this debate, in comparison with the debate in 1920, is redundant.

Mr. Ross: The only part of the last part of the 1920 Act to be repealed was the preface, as it were, stating that Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty's dominions and so forth. As there was nothing in particular to bite on, it was reckoned to be redundant. I always thought that it should have remained as a simple declaration of principle. For that reason I was opposed to that repeal. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it was done purely as a sop to Irish republicanism.

Perhaps I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hayes: I was referring specifically to qualification and disqualification in terms of the 1920 Act. The view was taken that the new constitution had implications for them. We should at least consider the clause consistently in respect of what was intended when that state was established.

Mr. Ross: I understand now exactly where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. He knows that because of the limited time that was available to research all the implications of the Bill and the various roots from which it springs, it was not possible to go into those details. I hope that he will address the Committee when I resume my place, or at least at some stage before these debates come to an end. The 10 o'clock rule still applies and there is no real rush. We still have lots of time. We can easily address these matters today, tomorrow or whenever without any difficulty.

It seems that the Bill is as confused as Government policy. I think that the words that offend the Government in the 1998 Act could remain. That might mean the Minister having to do a little redrafting elsewhere in the Bill, but that is all that would be necessary. We would then have legislation that would be on all fours with the rest of the body of relevant United Kingdom legislation.

It has already been said that some Members of the Senate of the Irish Republic were appointed while some were elected by means of the university franchise, which we have long abandoned. Some regret that because they were a valuable group of Members. However, a new body is being created in Northern Ireland that has direct relevance to this measure: the civic forum. Its members will not be elected. Therefore it will be possible for people to be appointed to it from the Republic. I am wondering whether that is part and parcel of the Government's thinking. Is that part of the unspoken element--

1 pm

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. Those matters do not arise under the clause. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman returned to considering the clause.

Mr. Ross: I thought that the purpose of the debate was to explore whether those matters arose under the clause.

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I believe that they do because the clause removes a section that refers to the Irish Senate. The civic forum is the nearest analogous body, under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, to that which I described earlier.

Mr. Nicholls: My hon. Friend seeks an explanation for the allegedly consequential clause. The most unsatisfactory aspect of the debate is that the Under-Secretary's speech contains an explanation, but the only people who know its contents so far are Hansard reporters, who will have written it up from the draft that the Under-Secretary sent hours ago.

Mr. Ross: Hope springs eternal in the human breast and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will repeat his words. He is not here, but I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will pass on the message that, if the Under- Secretary of State for the Home Department speaks slowly, we will understand exactly what he is trying to say.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's comments. He knows that I have been an associate member of the Anglo-Irish parliamentary body for several years. Those of us who have played any part in existing cross-border parliamentary bodies are interested in hearing a true explanation for the clause and its peculiar drafting. Unless the Government can provide that, the hon. Gentleman is right to continue to press them.

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