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Mr. Hogg: The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) is absolutely right when he talks about the duty of this Committee to ensure that legislation is in as good a state as we can get it. That is a Committee's duty. Our purpose is to send the Bill to another place in as good a form as we can contrive.

The Committee must address whether it is right in principle that a Minister of the Republic of Ireland should be capable of being a Minister in any of the Parliaments or Assemblies of the United Kingdom. To that question, one has no difficulty in giving the answer. It has to be no, it is not right in principle. The arguments have been well articulated by my hon. Friends the Members for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and for Stone (Mr. Cash), and I need not expand upon them.

There is a conflict of loyalty and duty that goes to the root of the argument and is conclusive. If one is fair to the Government--I seldom am, as they do not deserve it--one will find that they have accepted what I say, as clause 2 of the Bill makes a prohibition in respect of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Government say that that is more likely to happen in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK. If the Government are honest, they will accept that that is the only argument that they have advanced.

The Government do not say that there are drafting difficulties. There is one slight difficulty with new clause 2 with regard to the identity of the party Whip, but that is a minor problem. Subject to that, new clause 2 is in a proper form. We are being asked to say that new clause 2 should be rejected not because it is wrong in form or principle, but because it addresses a situation that will never arise. That is the only argument being put to the Committee, and it is manifestly a bad argument.

It may be true that this situation is more likely to arise in Northern Ireland than elsewhere. We are told that it is unlikely to arise--I accept that--but the point is that it can arise both in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK. If the Bill is likely to serve as a precedent, and if there is pressure from France, Germany, Italy, Spain or wherever to enable the members of the Governments of those countries to sit in the Parliaments or Governments of this country, we have a right to make sure that bad precedents are not established.

4.45 pm

There is one way that Governments sometimes address the problem of what to do about eventualities that are unlikely to occur but are thoroughly undesirable: historically, Governments send a Minister to the Dispatch Box to undertake not to do this or that. However, that does not serve our purpose because, as the Minister said so fairly on Second Reading, on which I helped to divide the House, he cannot provide an undertaking that will bind future Governments. I have referred to precedents because I am concerned about future Governments.

The principle is with those of us who support the new clauses. The Minister does not argue to the contrary; he cannot do so because of clause 2. He merely urges us not to press the proposal, because our fears are unlikely to

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arise. We all know that that is a thoroughly bad argument. I very much hope that the Committee divides on the issue. I shall certainly support new clause 2 if we do.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I do not want to be discourteous to the Committee, but I have already covered most of the arguments. I know that some hon. Members will not agree with that, but that is as may be. How I decide to make my case is a matter for me.

Clause 2 provides a special provision for Northern Ireland because of the d'Hondt principle. That is legitimate. However, there are already constitutional safeguards because of the political circumstances under which the Prime Minister or the First Minister of one of the Assemblies or the Scottish Parliament would appoint Members to an Executive. That would cover the eventualities that have been raised.

Mr. Cash: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: No, because the hon. Gentleman will return to the arguments that we have rehearsed before.

The Government believe that such circumstances are covered. I know that hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), do not accept that, but we shall just have to agree to differ. I set out my arguments at greater length earlier in our proceedings and I stand by them.

I have given some comfort to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross)--although perhaps not as much as he would like--and to the Liberal Democrats, and said that I shall consider the issues. I have made it clear that I cannot give undertakings. I am conscious of the Bill's time frame. However, if we conclude that issues have arisen, the opportunity to deal with them may present itself at a later stage.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I appreciate the way that the Minister has dealt with this group of amendments. It has been in refreshing contrast to the way in which others have been dealt with in our long proceedings. He has not been able to give an undertaking, but he has been honest about that, and we accept that. I had hoped that he would have said that he would meet the parties involved with a view to tabling amendments in another place if they still felt unhappy. Had he done that, I would have advised my hon. Friends that we need not press the new clause to a Division. If the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) wishes to divide the House, we shall support him.

Mr. Cash: I am gravely disappointed by the Minister's curmudgeonly attitude. He is always courteous, but he has not always attempted to answer our questions. He and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland remind me of people who have been trussed and bound by commitments that were made in advance of the Bill by other Ministers. They are so deeply committed that they dare not and cannot move. They are prepared to sit in a state of paralysis, parroting the view that the proposition is merely theoretical.

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Let me give an example from the 17th century of a possibility that people regarded as merely theoretical. At that time, the idea that we would end up with a Hanoverian monarch would have been thought quite extraordinary--it was a possibility on which people had only theorised. However, in practice, it happened. Our history provides us with thousands of cases of people who, on a question of principle--[Interruption.] The Minister laughs. It is extraordinary that he is incapable of taking the matter seriously.

Given that Opposition Members have advanced some extremely cogent arguments, the responsibility and onus lie on the Government to respond by tabling amendments to the Bill. That is what amendments are all about. How many amendments that have been passed could have been dismissed on the grounds that they dealt with theoretical propositions?

When we pass legislation, we make law. When contingencies have been properly argued and it has been demonstrated that failure to address them will result in law that is defective, the Minister, by refusing to deal with those matters, is in effect presenting the House with a defective Bill that will be defective in law.

Mr. Mike O'Brien indicated dissent.

Mr. Cash: It is no good the Minister shaking his head. He knows perfectly well that such issues arise again and again in legislation and in constitutional practice and history. Because the Bill is a constitutional measure, he should accept the constitutional consequences arising from it and deal with the issues that have been raised.

Two of the new clauses cover similar ground. I, for my part, have no special need to press new clause 8 to a Division: as far as I am concerned, new clause 2, which takes precedence on the amendment paper, is capable of addressing the principle just as well. Therefore, although I am perfectly happy not to vote on the new clause that I tabled, I shall certainly vote in support of new clause 2.

Mr. William Ross: This has been an interesting debate. I have listened to a fair bit of it, just as I have listened to a fair bit of all the debates that have occurred in the past 24 hours.

At first, the Minister encouraged me. It is always fatal to be given encourage by a Minister in the early stages of a debate, because he will always say in the end that he cannot help. That said, he recognised the conflict of interest, even though he appears to think the risk is so small that it is not worth bothering about.

The Minister fails to understand the consequences of STV elections in Northern Ireland, wherein lies the danger that an individual such as I described can and, I believe, will eventually be elected, because he will require only one seventh of the votes cast to be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. D'Hondt is not a personal selection by the voter, but a party selection. We in Northern Ireland deal not with normal political parties, but with a criminal terrorist conspiracy. That is what distances the circumstances there from those elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It is the reason we have tabled amendments and asked questions over the past day or two.

I am sorry that the Government have refused to listen to the careful and detailed case presented by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), my hon. Friend the

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Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and others. In the light of that refusal, I regret that I am unable to ask the Committee's leave to withdraw new clause 2 and instead ask that it be put to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second Time:--

The Committee divided: Ayes 173, Noes 309.

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