Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Bermingham: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cash: I am more than happy to take another intervention from the hon. Gentleman, but will he pause for a moment? I want to take another look at the Privy Council.

The Minister--and, indeed, other Ministers right up to the Prime Minister--may envisage a person elected to the Republic of Ireland legislature becoming a Minister as well, but it would be perfectly obvious to any such person who intended to stand that he would have to swear the Oath of Allegiance, as membership of the House involves swearing allegiance to the Crown. In addition, the special and extremely tight Privy Council oath and the requirements of confidentiality would, I suggest, cause considerable difficulties for a person elected to another legislature--in this case, that of the Republic of Ireland.

A substantial book, "The Irish Constitution" by Mr. J. M. Kelly, which has run to its third edition, provides ample scope for a filibuster should hon. Members want to engage in one, which I am sure they would not. It clearly states that there is no requirement to swear an oath of allegiance to the Dail because it operates under a different constitutional arrangement. We must remember that Ireland has a written constitution, and there are requirements inherent in the Irish position.

Many of us love Ireland and want it to succeed--it is doing extremely well now. It is second in the table of economic success in the European Union, and many congratulations to them on that. The fact remains that incredibly important obstacles arise from the proposition that a person elected to either House of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland and to the Parliament of the United Kingdom should be allowed to become a Minister of the Crown.

As we have had a Privy Council for Northern Ireland since the separation of Ireland as a whole, the question is whether there should be an equivalent position if anyone were to seek to become a member of both legislatures and a Minister of the Crown. It is difficult to imagine how the Minister could answer such questions. Leaving aside the

25 Jan 2000 : Column 498

interrelationship between the membership of the two legislatures, if we were to focus on the qualities and constitutional position of a Minister of the Crown, we would see that many other problems would arise in respect of a member of any legislature, especially a Member of the legislature of Ireland.

I shall quote from the constitutional volume of "Halsbury's Laws of England", much of which will be obvious to Labour Members. It states:

That is the basis on which they have to operate. These are constitutional duties.

It would be difficult for the requirements of accountability to be fulfilled if a member of, for example, the legislature of the Republic of Ireland was properly conducting his duties to fulfil the requirements of his election to that legislature. For heaven's sake, it is our first responsibility, as it is in Ireland, to have regard to the manner in which we handle questions on behalf of our constituents. If a person was a Minister of the Crown in the United Kingdom and a member of the legislature in Ireland, it would be impossible for him to fulfil his obligations to the persons who had elected him in Ireland.

I am sure that the Minister will recognise that this is a substantial point. It is a practical question. Issues also arise with regard to timetabling.

Mr. Bermingham: On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I have listened with care to the hon. Gentleman, who did not give me the courtesy of giving way at the appropriate time, but these things happen. Must we listen to rubbish and criticism of Scottish Ministers and Welsh Assembly Ministers? They are being told that they cannot exercise their functions properly if they are also a Member of this House. Surely that has nothing to do with the Bill or with the new clause that I think stands in the hon. Gentleman's name.

The First Deputy Chairman: I have listened to the hon. Gentleman carefully, and he has kept in good order. I have absolutely no complaint about the way in which he has conducted himself.

Mr. Cash: I am grateful, Mr. Martin. I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for the point that he has just made, but this is an important question. The Bill has not been invented by us. It has been introduced in circumstances of great secrecy, or at any rate it arises out of meetings that we think were secret. We have not received answers. I am trying to point out some of the anomalies that inevitably arise. I am emphatically not engaging in a filibuster of any description.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's dissertation, and a learned dissertation it is. The point that I made in my speech was that, although many things can happen in theory, especially in unwritten constitutions--I do not want to debate the extent of our unwritten constitution now--in practice, they do not happen. There may be all sorts of theoretical issues that he could engender, as he has been trying to do in the past

25 Jan 2000 : Column 499

16 minutes, but they will probably not arise because Prime Ministers in the various countries will be aware of the consequences of having someone in their Government who is a member of a legislature in a foreign country.

Mr. Cash: I am grateful to the Minister, but what it clearly does--

Mr. Bermingham: On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I ask the Minister to withdraw the word "foreign". We are all part of Europe.

The First Deputy Chairman: That is not a point of order. It is a matter for debate.

Mr. Cash: Excuse me for laughing for a moment, Mr. Martin. Where is Europe?

The Minister raises an interesting point. The points that I am making could be regarded as theoretical, but if they are, what is the purpose of the Bill? Over and over again, we have heard that the Bill raises situations that are thought to be unlikely to occur. Yet there must have been a reason behind it.

Mr. O'Brien: What the hon. Gentleman is trying to put together is not really the argument. He is putting the theoretical case that someone could be a member of a Government in one country and a member of a legislature in another. I accept the issue about the European Union, and I hope that we do not need to go into that. The point here is that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) sat at one stage in the Irish Senate when he already had a seat in this House. We are not necessarily talking about plain theories. We are dealing with something that may well happen and we in the House may not wish to discourage it in his case. He is an extremely well respected Member. While in respect of the Commonwealth, the matter may be theoretical, in the context of Ireland and the United Kingdom, they may not necessarily be so.

Mr. Cash: In that case, the argument that I am advancing becomes even more substantial. The Minister is helping to make my case. I need not pursue that point any further.

The second point relating to the attributes of Ministers of the Crown is collective responsibility, the elements of which are unanimity, confidentiality and confidence. It would become apparent very quickly if someone came in from another country--with respect to this amendment, from the Irish legislature--that collective responsibility could be affected by the fact that the person who was a Minister of the Crown would not necessarily be present at any time and could not answer on behalf of the Crown as and when required, for example, to private notice questions? It does not take much imagination and I do not need to go through all the permutations to show the practical as well as constitutional difficulties that would inevitably arise if we created the situation that the Bill is in danger of creating.

Mr. Hogg: Most important is the duty of confidentiality. If a Member of the Irish Parliament who happened to be a Minister in the Irish Government learned

25 Jan 2000 : Column 500

some information, and, at the same time, he learned information in his capacity as a Minister of a Parliament or Assembly somewhere else in the United Kingdom, his duties of confidentiality would be torn and he could not perform the two roles.

Mr. Cash: The only way in which that could be resolved, and the potentiality of conflict of a kind that we discussed earlier reduced, would be if there was one country, along the lines described by Norman Davies in "History of the Isles", to bring back one province within the EU which would then absorb and subsume all the constitutional difficulties which arose from the histories of the individual isles, but then to create a new province and reduce the conflict. Why these arrangements are being entered into remains a significant puzzle to many of us. No explanation has been given, and the principle on which they appear to be presented is in direct contradiction to the objectives of Parnell and the others when they sought home rule and said that they did not want to be members of this legislature. That I find difficult.

I should be grateful if the Minister could answer that question. There must have been discussions. Did it not occur to anyone to ask about the origins of home rule and Eire? I have no problem with the idea of separate nations--quite the opposite--but where they exist it is incongruous to have Ministers directing policy in this Parliament while having potentially been elected in another country. I do not think for a minute that there are not vast numbers of people from Ireland, by origin, birth and so on, who are Members of this House. We know that, and what a good thing it is. The Minister's own name can perhaps be traced to an Irish connection. The Kings of Ireland were O'Briens.

Next Section

IndexHome Page