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Mr. Ross: Does the hon. Gentleman want to--

Mr. Fabricant: Interrupt?

Mr. Ross: I thought that the correct word was "intervene". I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In discussing new clause 2, he mentioned the power of the Whip--[Interruption.] Mr. Martin, I ask for your protection to allow me to continue.

Does the hon. Member for East Londonderry think that the power of the Whips was exemplified by their marked interventions in points of order earlier? [Interruption.]

Mr. Ross rose--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The amendment and the new clauses do not refer to the power of the Whips; they refer to the positions held by hon. Members. We should be talking about the positions of Ministers, not about their power. I call Mr. Ross.

Mr. Swayne rose--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot intervene before the hon. Member for East Londonderry has even risen from his seat.

Mr. Ross: We are concerned about the influence of the Whips, should they be appointed to positions of power. In those circumstances, we should bear my points in mind although, after all these hours in Committee, I am not putting them as concisely--

Mr. Swayne: Perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman. Will he give way?

Mr. Ross: Of course.

Mr. Swayne: You are entirely correct, Mr. Martin. The point relates to the position of the Whips, not to their

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influence. My hon. Friend has begun to see sinister conspiracies and influences where there are none. Whatever the position of the Whips may have been, they have manifestly been unable to save Labour's 1,000th day.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. We are going far too wide. I plead with the hon. Member for East Londonderry, who is a long-serving Member, to remain within the scope of the amendments.

Mr. Ross: Thank you, Mr. Martin. I want to draw my remarks to a close, because several other Members want to speak.

The intent of the new clauses is clear and the wording is reasonably good. In the light of that and of your strictures, Mr. Martin, and bearing in mind the fact that I am continually interrupted, I commend the new clauses to the Committee. I hope for support from Conservative Members and from my colleagues and for a happy and sensible response--for once--from the Minister.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: It falls to me to respond to this part of the debate. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) referred to the lamentable proceedings of the Committee. I do not want to distract attention from the debate, but we have arrived at new clause 2 after a sitting of the Committee that began yesterday. Although you keep good order, according to the House rules, Mr. Martin, I think that the public will judge that last night showed the House at its worst.

The new clauses have been included because there is concern as to a conflict of interest--

Mr. Brady rose--

Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Mr. Martin.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I hope that it is a point of order.

Mr. Cash rose--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. When I stand, the hon. Gentleman must be seated. I hope that his is a genuine point of order. There have been so many points of order that the flow of the Committee's proceedings has been somewhat delayed.

Mr. Cash: New clause 8 is tabled in my name. Will you assure me, Mr. Martin, that it will be called? I have heard references to other provisions that are not in the group that we are discussing. I want to be sure that my new clause will be called.

The First Deputy Chairman: It is quite clear from the selection list that new clause 8 is grouped with new clause 2. It is up to the hon. Gentleman to catch my eye if he wants to take part in the proceedings.

Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) will no doubt find that his point of order--like many others that were made during the night--does not amount

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to much. It is merely another attempt to delay proceedings. However, let us continue with the substance of what we are supposed to be here to deal with.

3.15 pm

A conflict of interests may arise where a Member of the Irish Parliament becomes a Minister in the House of Commons. I should like to set out why I believe that in some instances that may well be the case, but in other instances it may not. There are already ways in which that problem can be guarded against without necessitating some of the amendments before us.

Some hon. Members in the Chamber may feel that the amendments are in line with clause 2, which prevents Members of the Irish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly from being Ministers in both places. However, I shall explain why that is not the case.

When we began these debates on Monday, I set out at length why we felt that a conflict of interests did not necessarily arise from an individual being a member of one legislature and being a Minister in another legislature. That may well be a matter for the electorate of the various constituencies concerned to decide, in which case we can leave it to the people to decide. If a person becomes a Minister and decides that they have a particular responsibility to the electorate in the area, it will be up to the electorate in the other area to decide whether the ministerial role is appropriate for their representative.

Mr. Gale: Will the Under-Secretary give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I will not. I shall make progress and then, towards the end of my speech, I may give way to the hon. Gentleman and one or two others.

However, hon. Members might hold views about the propriety of dual mandates in principle. This is not the right Bill to give rise to a discussion of whether current disqualification provisions need to be reviewed. The provisions as they stand enable members from distinct legislatures to take up seats in more than one legislature. For example, we know from previous debates on the Bill that members of the Commonwealth are at least permitted in principle, if not in practice--there are none--to be Members also of the House.

The Bill fits with the established principles in our constitution at the moment. If hon. Members wish to change that part of our constitution, that is a matter for them. This is not the place to do it. They may find some suitable vehicle to do it. Some hon. Members who are present may well feel that they wish gratuitously to impose a ban on Commonwealth legislators, but I do not propose to go into the reasons for or against that.

I can see how the holding of ministerial positions in more than one legislature, especially if they are in two different countries, could lead to complications and conflicts of interest. In that sense, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and I are not too far apart. We are far apart on the detail of these amendments, but on some of the principles, at least in terms of ministerial conflict, we are not too far apart. That is why clause 2 was included in the Bill. Indeed, the Scotland Act 1998 makes similar provision at section 44(3). That section prevents Members of the Scottish Executive from also being Ministers in the United Kingdom Government.

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A Scottish Minister would be required to relinquish their position in the Scottish Executive before becoming a Minister at Westminster.

Mr. Gale rose--

Mr. O'Brien: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman later. I have already said that I will, and I shall not give way to him now.

Some may say that the provision in section 44(3) of the Scotland Act 1998 is similar to what is proposed by new clause 9. However, there are differences, which I shall explain. Clause 2 was included in the Bill because the procedures followed to select Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly differ from the procedures followed in other UK legislatures. That is an important distinction. In the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Westminster Parliament, the Prime Minister or First Minister has a discretion in choosing their Cabinet.

Any Prime Minister or First Minister would seriously consider matters such as conflict of interest before choosing any person to serve in their Government--even more so if they were contemplating selecting a Cabinet Member who was already a Minister, or even a member of another legislature. It is difficult to envisage that that would happen for any prolonged period. Likewise, should a situation arise where the Prime Minister or First Minister felt that a member of the Cabinet was not able to fulfil their role adequately for whatever reason, he or she would see to it that that person was no longer a Minister.

There is already a de facto protection against the sorts of problems that the hon. Member for East Londonderry has put before the House, and we discussed some of the principles behind those issues on Second Reading.

That is not the case with the Northern Ireland Assembly. Here, Ministers are selected automatically by the d'Hondt mechanism, as set out in the Good Friday agreement. The First Minister does not have that sort of discretion in choosing the Cabinet and the Executive, and cannot therefore have the same sort of discretion in dismissing Ministers who may give rise to conflicts of interests.

Under these circumstances, clause 2 was thought to be necessary to provide a legislative safeguard. I am not without sympathy for some of the points raised by the hon. Member for East Londonderry, but we have dealt with them in terms of the de facto practice within our constitutional arrangements. Methods are there to deal with such matters. We recognised that, in Northern Ireland, the situation is different and we needed special provision.

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