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Mr. O'Brien: I will not go into my family history but deal with the constitution and the law. I do not intend to reply at length in rebuttal because I have dealt with most of the issues in my speech and in interventions.

I have been trying to follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument about the nation. I take it that he would not argue that the concept of the Irish nation put forward by Parnell is the same as that put forward by the Ulster Unionists today.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I am interested in the history of Ireland, but not at the moment. We must keep within the confines of the new clause.

Mr. Cash: I accept that, Mr. Martin.

I come now to the question of legal accountability. All Ministers and servants of the Crown are accountable to the courts for the legality of their actions and can be held civilly and criminally liable. That raises a number of interesting questions about immunities, whether membership of another legislature would give privileges which would prevent a person from being accountable in the way that I have described, and whether people would be able, or would be required to, appear. Similar situations could arise with regard to membership of the Select Committees, the evidence that they give to such Committees as Ministers of the Crown, and so on.

It is abundantly clear that there are a huge number of practical and constitutional reasons why these arrangements should not be entered into.

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4 pm

This is not merely an analysis of theoretical possibilities. The Bill has led us into a situation that requires us, as Members of Parliament, to ask the questions, to examine the evidence, to insist on answers, and to quantify the practicalities of the proposals. We have heard no answers from the Minister to any of those questions, although he has risen several times and claimed to be answering them. I could raise many other questions, but I do not want to engage in an unreasonable amount of discussion just for the sake of it.

You will have noticed, Mr. Martin--I can tell things from the expression on your face occasionally--that I have here some substantial works of reference, to which I could refer at length without departing for a minute from your requirements and those of the Committee. I would not filibuster; I would not be repetitious; I would break no rules. But in deference to you, Mr. Martin, and to the Committee, I will eschew the attractions and temptations presented by one of the longest filibusters in history, and will confine myself to what I have already said.

Mr. Gale: I do not intend to detain the Committee for long.

This is a one-page Bill, but it is not the modest little measure that some have termed it. It is, in fact, a very bad Bill, and constitutionally dangerous. The new clauses go a small way towards mitigating some of the constitutional damage that would be done if the Bill were passed unamended. I hope that it will be thrown out in its entirety on Third Reading, but I want to concentrate on the new clauses that we are discussing.

I am sorry that the Minister found it necessary to criticise Conservative Members for engaging in a prolonged debate. I am grateful to you, Mr. Martin, and to your fellow Chairmen--you have sat here throughout the night, and today--for confirming that, by and large, our deliberations have been in order.

In the early hours of this morning, when we debated clause 2, we engaged in a discussion which, we were told, related more properly to the new clauses that we are debating now. The Minister dismissed my intervention then; let me rehearse the arguments yet again.

In promoting clause 2, the Minister's colleague prayed in aid the necessity to draw a distinction between the Assembly of Northern Ireland and the Parliament of the Irish Republic, and explained--not in great detail, but fairly clearly--why it was appropriate for clause 2 to be enacted. He said, in a nutshell, that it was not proper for a Member to be a Minister both in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic.

I believe that Members of Parliament have a duty to scrutinise not just faulty street lights and cracked paving stones, but legislation. I believe that Ministers have a duty to explain to the House the legislation that they are presenting to it, and to justify that legislation. If they cannot do that, they deserve to be defeated.

The Minister has repeatedly said at the Dispatch Box that he has already explained; but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said many hours ago, what we have heard is a series of protestations and assertions, but no evidence whatever.

Let me now deal directly with the new clauses.

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Again, in the small hours of the morning, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and I--I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has had to leave the Chamber, although I am sure that it is for good reasons--reached an agreement, incredibly, that his new clause No. 9 dealt with the other bit of the issue that is missing from clause 2. The bit that is missing relates to Members of the House of Commons and, indeed, to potential Members of the Parliament of the Irish Republic.

If it is wrong for a Member of the Parliament of the Irish Republic to be a Minister also in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and for a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly to be a Minister also in the Parliament of the Irish Republic, I cannot for the life of me see the logic in saying that it is not wrong for a Minister of the Crown in the UK Parliament to be a Minister in either of the other places. The Bill as drafted--the Minister is aware of it--means that it will be in order for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, while sitting in the UK Parliament, also to be a Minister in the Parliament of the Irish Republic.

Mr. Hogg: Is there not a different way to put the same question: why should that be right? The Bill as drafted makes it possible for that situation to arise, so those who drafted it have to persuade the Committee that it is right that that consequence should be able to occur.

Mr. Gale: My right hon. and learned Friend is right. He will probably be astonished to know that, in the small hours of the morning, we confirmed that, as the Bill stands, it is in order--I am not saying that it is necessarily likely--for the Speaker of the House of Commons, an independent body by virtue of his or her office--to be a partisan Minister in the Parliament of the Irish Republic. That is possible. Nothing in the Bill stops it. However, that is not what is before the Committee.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I have been listening with care, trying to discount some of the tone and listen to the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument. Many bizarre things may in theory happen but are not in practice likely to happen, with the result that we do not legislate against them. Why does he think that the bizarre points that he is putting to us should be part of the legislation?

Mr. Gale: Forgive me. The Minister rises at the Dispatch Box and says that what I am suggesting is bizarre. I agree. It would be bizarre for the Speaker to be a Minister in another Parliament, but there is nothing to prevent it. However, that is not what I am seeking to discuss.

The Minister intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke.

Mr. Cash: Stone.

Mr. Gale: I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. It is late.

In that intervention, the Minister virtually made the argument for us. He said that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility. He cited an hon. Member who had been a Member of both legislatures. Either we are legislating for reality or we are not. He said himself that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility. If it is not

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beyond the bounds of possibility for an hon. Member to be a Member also of the Parliament of the Irish Republic, it is not, as things stand, beyond the bounds of possibility for the same Member to be a Minister in both legislatures.

Mr. O'Brien: We are talking about two different propositions. One involves the situation where a person may be a Member of one House and also a member of another legislature. That is feasible. The position of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is a potential case in point. I do not think that it has happened on all fours, but we can see that the potential is there. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) asks us to believe that a Prime Minister would go a step further and make a person in that position a Minister. That is a bizarre proposition. If the hon. Gentleman can show me that there is a realistic prospect of that, I might not think it so bizarre: I might believe that his argument has some validity. He must be careful not to suggest that the House should legislate against all sorts of theoretical possibilities which, in practice, will never occur.

4.15 pm

Mr. Hogg rose--

Mr. Gale: I shall give way to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), and then respond both to his point and to that of the Minister.

Mr. Hogg: The Committee is being asked to uphold that my hon. Friend's suggestion is far-fetched and bizarre, but the suggestion has already been dealt with in clause 1, which provides that Ministers in the Government of Ireland shall not hold office as certain types of Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Such a situation is being contemplated as a real possibility; hence the need for legislation on the point. It is no more bizarre to address the issue in relation to the United Kingdom's other Parliament and Assemblies than it is to address it in relation to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Ministers are making provision to deal with the latter occurrence.

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