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Clause 4

Short Title

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

2.15 pm

Sir Brian Mawhinney: The clause is short, but it causes me confusion. In my 20 years in the House--

The Chairman: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but there must be order in Committee so that he can be heard.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: Thank you, Sir Alan.

I have spent more than 20 years in the House, and I have been confused on several occasions. When confusion afflicts me, it is best to share it with the House in the hope that colleagues can clarify matters.

The Bill is riddled with the word "disqualification". The clause states that the measure can be called the Disqualifications Bill. That is consistent with the title on the front page. The Home Secretary's contribution on the European convention on human rights states that

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    The Government acknowledge in the Bill's title that the measure is about disqualification.

Mr. Leigh: The Bill is mistitled because it is not a Disqualifications Bill. It removes disqualifications and should be called the Qualification of Irish Members Bill.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which he presented with characteristic clarity. If he is so minded, he may take an opportunity to catch your eye, Sir Alan, to explore that matter further. However, I do not want to focus on that.

The long title of the Bill contains the word "disqualification" once and "disqualify" once. As we have noted in earlier debates--though I shall not return to those matters, as you would not wish me to do that, Sir Alan, and it would be wrong to try--

The Chairman: I do not want extraneous advice of that kind from the right hon. Gentleman. He must stick to the point of the clause, which is very narrow.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: I accept your ruling without reservation, Sir Alan. I am establishing the point that the word "disqualification" in clause 4--[Interruption.]

Mr. Ian Bruce: On a point of order, Sir Alan. Most of us who have been listening to debate on the Bill for the whole night are trying to hear my right hon. Friend's speech. We cannot hear either your rulings, Sir Alan, or the speech because of the noise coming from Government Members--who should have been here all night making speeches themselves.

The Chairman: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is quite the best person to make that comment. I most certainly have been here all night--and as I have listened with great care to the proceedings so far, so I wish to listen with great care to the completion of those proceedings.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: Clause 4 states that the Bill can be referred to as the Disqualifications Bill, which is consistent with the Government's approach throughout. I am not reopening any of the issues, but pointing out that the word "disqualification" or "disqualified" regularly appears throughout the Bill.

The Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has already committed one repetition. I do not want to hear any more.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: "Disqualification" characterises the Government's attitude to this and previous legislation--all of which is referred to in the Bill.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) suggested that a more accurate

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title would be the Qualification of Irish Members Bill. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a more accurate title would actually be the Removal of Disqualifications Bill?

The Chairman: Order. Again, that repeats a point already made. I will not have constant repetition on a clause this narrow.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: I will not pursue my hon. Friend's interesting suggestion.

I was making the broader point that the Bill's title sits comfortably with the general attitude of Government legislation on Northern Ireland. The 1998 Act, which is central to our considerations, also talks about disqualification. The Bill refers to the 1975 Act from a Labour Government, which similarly refers to disqualification.

The Government talk about social inclusion. They have a social inclusion unit at 10 Downing street and have spent two and a half years--right to this 1,000th day of the present Government, when they lost control of the House of Commons--lecturing us about social inclusion and not excluding or disqualifying people.

The Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is departing far from the topic before the Committee, which is a simple matter of determining the title of the Bill. He has great experience of the House and must direct his remarks precisely to that point.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: As always, I am grateful for your advice, Sir Alan, but my purpose is not to widen the debate beyond the clause. As you remarked, we are deciding whether it should stand part of the Bill.

When the Minister replies to what I suspect will be a brief debate, will he explain why a Government who are focused on inclusion--so they tell us--have introduced a Bill that they discuss in terms of disqualification or exclusion?

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the title Disqualifications Bill is insensitive, especially on the day on which we have been told that students from the south of Ireland will not have to pay fees at Scottish universities, although those from the north of Ireland will?

The Chairman: Order. That is absolutely nothing to do with the matter before us.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: I would not have dreamed of following my hon. Friend down that line, even before you, Sir Alan, had ruled that I should not do so.

I am trying to put a serious point to the Government. They could have chosen a number of titles. The clause, on which we are focusing, did not have to refer to disqualification and could have used inclusive rather than exclusive terms. We see again that they say one thing but do another. As we continue Tuesday's business and Wednesday's is lost, and as we show that the Prime Minister has no control--

The Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of abusing his position, as those are not matters to

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which he may refer. I must tell the Committee that if he repeats his remarks, and if I believe under Standing Order No. 42 that a Member

    "persists in irrelevance, or tedious repetition",

I may require him to resume his seat. I am sure that he would not want me to invoke that provision against him.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: I certainly would not, Sir Alan. I want the Minister to explain why the clause uses such terms, given Government policy.

Mr. Maclean rose--

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): On a point of order, Sir Alan. Can you help me and the Committee with the wording of the clause? Is it incorrect? It says:

Surely it should be--

The Chairman: Order. That is common parlance in all Bills that come before the House. That is not a point of order. I call Mr. Maclean.

Mr. Wells: May I seek your advice, Sir Alan?

The Chairman: Order. I have ruled on the matter. Is this a fresh point of order?

Mr. Wells: It is fresh, as I see it, and I hope that you will see it in the same light. A Bill cannot become an Act--

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman should remember his position. He is seeking to dispute my ruling. He should consider that he is not the most appropriate person to challenge the Chair in that way.

Mr. Wells rose--

The Chairman: Order. I advise the hon. Gentleman not to persist.

Mr. Wells: I am very sorry, Sir Alan, but I am not trying to challenge your ruling in any way--I do not understand it. Did you say that using such words is common practice?

The Chairman: Absolutely. That is perfectly clear, as the hon. Gentleman, who has been in the House for many years, well knows. That is the end of the matter. I again call Mr. Maclean.

2.30 pm

Mr. Maclean: I want to raise a small point on clause 4, on which I hope the Minister can advise us. The clause provides that the Act may be cited as the Disqualifications Act 2000. [Interruption.] I hope and believe that I am right in saying that it is usual for the parliamentary draftsmen--[Interruption.]--

The Chairman: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. I must have order in the Committee. If hon. Members are present to listen to the debate, they must do precisely that.

Mr. Maclean: Thank you for your protection, Sir Alan.

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I understand that it is usual for parliamentary draftsmen to select a short title to an Act that is entirely consistent with the long title. My concern is about a technical point, which I hope is in order. The long title of the Bill, soon to become an Act, includes the words

However, the thrust of the Bill is about enabling people in another Parliament to sit in this Parliament, so it is about giving people a qualification.

The long title refers to removing the disqualification, whereas the short title is the Disqualifications Act. Did the Government decide on the short title and overrule the parliamentary draftsmen? Will the Minister tell the Committee whether the short title was proposed by the legal advisers and parliamentary draftsmen, or whether, as it is inconsistent with the proper long title, it was a political decision taken by the Government to make a word mean what it does not mean?

I think that I have made my point. I hope that it is clear. I have no wish to repeat it, but I urge the Minister to comment on it.

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