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Mr. O'Brien: I accept that the hon. Gentleman is saying that in theory that could happen, but in practice it will not. We know it will not. Will he set out the circumstances that he can envisage in reality where such an aberration occurs? I very much doubt that a British Prime Minister of whatever party would be happy with such a situation, and accordingly would not appoint. I very much doubt also whether the electorate, who watch these proceedings, would tolerate it.

Mr. Hughes: Although it would be unlikely that a British Prime Minister would choose somebody to go into his Government who was also in the Irish Government, or vice versa, it is less unlikely that in future in a coalition Government in Northern Ireland, the chief Minister, who in the present circumstances might not be a Unionist, might see it as perfectly possible to have someone in his Government who might also be able to be, and appointed to be, in the Government in Dublin. A member of the Social Democratic and Labour party could quite reasonably be in both Administrations.

The Minister asked me whether what I described would be likely in the real world. The entire Bill is in large measure about things that do not happen in that world. The Bill is about whether Members of Commonwealth Parliaments will be Members of the Westminster Parliament. The Minister said that there are not any such Members in that position and that there never have been. I understand that no one has previously served in a Parliament in this country while simultaneously being a Member of a Commonwealth country Parliament, but I stand to be corrected.

Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman is right. I made the point when I was contributing to the debate. I am not aware of such a situation. However, the hon. Gentleman said that that is what the Bill is about. That is not right. The Bill is about issues in relation to Ireland.

Mr. Hughes: The Bill is principally about Irish issues, but one of the reasons that would be deployed for doing what the Government are asking us to agree to is that it would put the Irish Parliament and its Members in a similar relationship to that which exists between Members of the United Kingdom Parliament and Commonwealth parliamentarians.

Many contributions have been made by Northern Ireland Members, Conservative Members and Liberal Democrat Members on the basis that there could be Commonwealth Members in Commonwealth Parliaments and the Westminster Parliament, but that has never happened. That is as much an unreality and an unlikelihood as the issue that we are debating.

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I want to be brief because I always have been. Additionally, I promised the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) that I would be. The Minister was helpful in his response. I deduce that he was helpful both to the hon. Member for East Londonderry and to me. He said that Ministers in the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office would ascertain whether it was possible, without an undertaking, to accommodate our concern. I think that the Bill would be more acceptable within the limited remit of what it is intended to do if although it allowed dual legislature membership, whatever we think of that, and legislative membership in one parliament and Executive membership in the other, it did not allow ministerial positions in both. That would make this a much more logical and defensible Bill.

The Minister knows that there is a dispute between us as to why we are having the Bill now and why we are having to have it so quickly. If that is to happen, I assume that the Bill will be going speedily to the House of Lords and that it will return to us speedily. If not, there is no logic in it being before us on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so as to get it through the House, with the loss of Prime Minister's questions and a day's business. I hope that the circumstances will not preclude serious consideration of the new clause and those that are similar to it, so that if necessary we can amend the Bill and not suffer from one that was rushed through and therefore was a less good measure than it might have been.

Mr. O'Brien: I will consider the issues that the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) have raised. I bear in mind what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has said about time scales. I have given no undertaking to do anything in the Bill. I have said that if we find that there are issues, a further opportunity might become available to consider them.

We have had lengthy discussions on the Bill for difficult and not entirely constructive reasons. However, given the length of time that we have spent on the measure, it is difficult to argue that it is being rushed. As I said earlier, I will examine the issues that the hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and for East Londonderry raised.

Mr. Hughes: I am grateful for that. The postscript to my remarks is that, for reasons that I outlined earlier, Liberal Democrat Members cannot support new clause 8. It would rule out a constitutionally compatible provision, which would not create the same conflict of interest as dual ministerial office.

Mr. Cash: It is highly appropriate that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned new clause 8, although he said that he could not support it. If he will be good enough to listen to my arguments, he may change his mind.

New clause 8 simply proposes that:

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    We have had many debates about who may qualify for or be disqualified from membership of the House under the Bill. However, new clause 8 tackles the case of someone who has a dual mandate for the Dail and the House of Commons. Such a person could not be a Minister of the Crown if the new clause was accepted.

Why have we tabled the new clause? We have established that the main purpose of disqualification apart from ensuring that hon. Members are fit and proper to sit in the House--there is no reason to suppose that Members of the Dail would not fall into that category--is to ensure that Members can carry out their duties and responsibilities free from undue pressures from other sources. A Member of another legislature--the Dail in the case of the Bill--would, through party arrangements, whipping systems, and the policies and underlying constitutional arrangements to which he would subscribe, be subjected to pressures from other sources. In many instances, there would be undue pressures.

It is a clear principle that a Member of the House--a Minister of the Crown would be such a Member--should be free from possible conflicts of interest, which might distort his behaviour as an independent member of the legislature and his freedom to represent the best interests of his constituents. A Minister of the Crown could easily fall into difficulties. He would also invariably be a Privy Councillor and would have to take the Privy Council oath. That binds him to secrecy, a range of confidential matters, and various commitments, which I do not need to set out in detail.

Mr. Bermingham: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but, although the Conservative party currently has no Scottish or Welsh Members of Parliament, does he agree that there is a problem when people are both Members of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly and Members of this House? Why should there be a distinction between the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dail?

Mr. Cash: There is a simple answer: the United Kingdom and Ireland are different sovereign nations. It would be surprising if a Member of the Dail disputed that he was a Member of the legislature of a sovereign nation. Devolution confuses people, even the hon. Gentleman, with his forensic skills. People confuse constitutional principles and the basis on which the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly were established, and the Dail, which is the Parliament of a sovereign nation.

3.45 pm

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): Does my hon. Friend agree that his new clause sends a powerful message to those Ministers of the Crown from Scottish constituencies who litter the Treasury Bench? If Scotland became independent they, too, would be excluded from taking part in the operation and running of the remainder of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Cash: My hon. Friend is right. In the middle of last night, I referred to what Charles Stewart Parnell himself thought about the relationship between the Irish Members and this legislature. It is perfectly clear from a

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memorandum and other statements that when the home rule Bill was being drawn up in 1886 he concluded that it was in the interests of the Irish nation that the Irish Members be excluded from the House. It is extraordinary to have come full circle--for reasons as yet completely undisclosed--whereby we are encouraging the Irish Members to become Members of the House, without a full constitutional settlement of the kind arrived at in 1801.

We are also taking the whole process in completely the opposite direction from the points and principles suggested by Charles Stewart Parnell, who had to go through every nut and bolt and every crevice and crack of the procedures of the House during the home rule saga to achieve his objective. Anybody who has visited the magnificent monument to Parnell in Dublin knows that the inscription specifically refers to national sovereignty. To paraphrase, no person should stand in the way of the march of a nation. If one recognises retrospectively that that was a legitimate aspiration for the Irish people, it is extraordinary, to say the least, that we have gone full circle and are contradicting the very principles on which his battle for home rule was established. That is a historical question.

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