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7.2 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): The Government have sought the authority of the House for what has proved to be a controversial Bill. I cannot remember when a Secretary of State has not taken a constitutional measure at least through Second Reading. The absence of the Secretary of State characterises this Government's insolent disregard for the proprieties of proper constitutional consultation, which call for consent across the House for a constitutional measure.

I bless the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who first brought the problem into my consciousness. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former Home Secretary, and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I am grateful, too, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for his monumental work in examining the propositions contained in the Bill.

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The House's only purpose is to give consent--to raising money and to legislation. The Government are indifferent to the propriety that requires a Secretary of State to come to the House to advance this remarkable piece of legislation.

In a curious way, I am grateful to the Government. They have exposed what was unknown before Monday's Second Reading debate to the House, to my constituents and, I regret to admit, to me. The Government propose that Members of another sovereign nation's legislature could become Members of this legislature. Some people have asked who the master is, and others have wondered to whom we owe our responsibility and allegiance.

The Bill is not a shallow or trivial matter. It touches on the most profound questions of citizenship, which involve who we are, to whom we have duties and responsibilities, and why we demand obedience to the law from everyone in this country. As elected representatives, we are responsible to British citizens and accountable to them at elections. We make laws on their authority, but the Government are introducing--through the back door and in a quiet and surreptitious way--a Bill that they say amounts to nothing other than a couple of substantive clauses.

The Minister suggested that the Bill was merely making good an anomaly. I am grateful for that, because it allowed me to discover an anomaly. I was unaware--as, I think, are most people in this country--that, theoretically, Members of other legislatures across the Commonwealth can stand and represent this country through this Parliament. That is the anomaly--a post-colonial anomaly. It should be dealt with, yet this supposed reforming Government of spin doctors try to maintain that the anomaly should extend, dilute and reduce the function of an elected Chamber and its responsibilities and accountabilities. I share the pleasure expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham that we shall be voting against Third Reading. This must resonate further than the Chamber.

I noticed on the news on the wireless that no one is giving the reason for people's agitation that Members of a foreign power--a good and dignified friend of ours, honourable and proud in their associations and nationality--can represent this country, even though they do not claim to seek membership of the House. No one has adduced that Members of the Irish Dail or the Irish Government are asking to become Members of this House, yet we--off on a trip, this new Government of ours--ask why should they not, because it merely tidies up an anomaly.

I am grateful to the Government for telling us that they are trying to impose this diluted measure for the benefit of the constituents of places such as Walsall, North and Aldridge-Brownhills. I shall joyously vote against Third Reading. I hope that the House of Lords takes note and rejects the Bill as well.

7.6 pm

Mr. MacKay: I think it important, as we conclude the Third Reading debate, that I make it clear from the Dispatch Box why we are voting against Third Reading and why we have taken some twenty-five and a half hours

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to see through the Bill's Committee stage and Third Reading. It is, quite simply, because the Government have behaved very shabbily.

It is normal practice to have a Second Reading debate on a Bill and, after a weekend has elapsed, to consider the Bill in Committee.

Mr. Winnick rose--

Mr. MacKay: No, I am not giving way. There are two perfectly good reasons for this. First, it is an opportunity for the Minister and other Members to reflect on what has been said on Second Reading. Secondly, it gives ample opportunity to table amendments for us to consider and take soundings on before reaching a final decision. There is, and should be, only one exception to this practice--when the Government believe it necessary to bring urgent emergency legislation before the House. I asked and asked whether the Bill was either urgent or emergency legislation. Finally, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department admitted that it was neither urgent nor emergency legislation. Therefore, there was no excuse for bouncing the Bill through so quickly.

As a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House said, legislation that is rushed through is bad and incomplete, particularly when it is rushed through for no good reason in a very small and narrow Bill. I regret that that is all too typical of the Government, who behave in an arrogant and cavalier way towards the House. The Government have had a bloody nose because of their actions. I hope that, in future, the Deputy Chief Whip will think twice before behaving in this way again. Had he behaved correctly, he would not have lost his business.

7.9 pm

Mr. George Howarth: First, let me say a brief word about the speech of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). I think that he knows from previous encounters that I hold him in high regard. On this occasion, however, there was an element of hyperbole in his comments. He described certain things that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and I said. I hope that he will read our words in Hansard and reflect on some of the points that he made. I do not take issue with him, but hope that he may feel that he misrepresented some of the positions that we took. I accept that, if he did so, it would have been inadvertent.

The Ulster Unionists have contributed throughout the proceedings. I have been in the Chamber for the whole time--25 hours or whatever it is--I was away only briefly, as was everyone who took part in the Committee proceedings. Ulster Unionist Members have genuine concerns about the measure; they have repeated them throughout our consideration of the clauses and amendments.

Since he became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) has bent over backwards to accommodate the Ulster Unionists, whenever he could--[Interruption.] Hon. Members say that I am off-message. It is not a question of being off-message--it was rather a ticklish moment.

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On this occasion, I realise, as does my right hon. Friend, that Ulster Unionist Members disagree with him; they do not accept the motives behind the Bill. However, I ask them to accept--as I think the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) has accepted--that between us we have put the record straight. Although the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), was consulted on the measure, we did not imply that he agreed with it. However, as a result of the consultations, clause 2 was added to the Bill. That was the result of direct representations made by the right hon. Gentleman.

Many contributions have been made by Opposition Back-Bench Members. Not for one moment would I suggest that any of the Back-Bench Members who contributed were out of order in any way. Mr. Deputy Speaker would be quick to correct me if I made such a suggestion. Nothing that is on the record, apart from those remarks for which the hon. Members were pulled up by the Chair, was not appropriate for them to say. As individual Members of the House--as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) agreed--they have a right to say what they feel is appropriate. I do not criticise them for that.

However, Opposition Front-Bench Members must answer a slightly different point. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), the shadow Home Secretary, opened the debate on Second Reading for the Opposition. She made it plain that they would not oppose the Bill's Second Reading, and they did not. She said that they were not opposed to the principle behind the Bill and that they hoped to be able to support it through its remaining stages. I paraphrase the right hon. Lady's remarks, but not, I think, inaccurately. The right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), Opposition Members and the Opposition Chief Whip knew last week what this week's business would be. They had every opportunity to make representations through the usual channels, if they felt that the business was being handled inappropriately. That is why the usual channels exist. They made no such representations.

Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that there is no co-ordination between what takes place on the Opposition Front Benches and what has been happening on their Back Benches. To make that point absolutely clear, let Conservative Members hear what their leader had to say. The Leader of the Opposition wrote to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today, saying that the Government should have used our huge majority in the House to push this legislation through. Seemingly, he attaches much greater urgency to the measure than do those on the Opposition Front Bench or Back Benches. That shows not only that Opposition Front-Bench Members have lost touch with Back Benchers, but that they have lost touch with the Leader of the Opposition.

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