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Lady Hermon: I appreciate that intervention. It is helpful to know that it is not Stormont, but United Kingdom legislation. That makes matters more interesting because 1949 pre-dates our obligations under the European convention on human rights and the 1957 EEC treaty. I want to consider both measures because the Minister should tackle both if possible.
The first protocol and article 3 of the convention on human rights have been incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998, but would have been part of our legislation since we ratified the convention in 1953. Article 3 obliges the high contracting parties, including the United Kingdom,
My anxiety is underlined by the fact that under the 1957 EEC treaty, article 48 guarantees the free movement of workers from one member state to another. I am sure that the Minister knows that the High Court ruled in the landmark case of Van Duyn v. the Home Office several years ago that article 48, especially the second and third paragraphs, were directly effective in the United Kingdom. They give workers from member states, including the Republic of Ireland, the right to move freely from one member state to another.
After the treaty, the important Council regulation 1612 was introduced in 1968. It guarantees to workers who move from one member state to another the same social and tax advantages as the workers of the host member state. Given that the three-month residence requirement has existed since 1949, the Minister must deal with its compatibility with our obligations under the European convention on human rights and especially EU legislation.
Mr. Wilshire: Unlike the Liberal Democrat spokesman, who spoke as a contributor from the minor parties, I have no complaints about the Minister's opening speech. He was helpful, patient and did his best to answer a range of important and genuine queries that hon. Members from all parties raised.
Mr. Wilshire: It did not sound like that at the time; it sounded like a criticism, which prods me to say that I am not criticising. However, the spokesman for the minor parties is right that the debate tells us much about the
That said, it would be wrong of me to say other than that I, like everyone else, welcome a change of heart when it is on offer. Heaven only knows, it is rare enough for any Government, let alone this one, to change their mind. We ought all, therefore, to put on record that we appreciate that. Exactly what has led the Minister to this is private grief on which I do not wish to intrude. I just want to thank him.
I want to say one or two things about the Minister's comments at the beginning of the debate. Those comments are relevant, because we had an exchange of views about why the chief electoral officer had changed his mind. I accept that the Minister does not know those reasons; he was very honest about that, for which I am grateful. We ought to know the reasons, however, because if we are to make a fair, rational judgment about these matters, we need to know what the chief electoral officer has now concluded. I hope that he has not simply changed his mind because the Government told him to. That would never be a justification.
Mr. Wilshire: The Minister shakes his head, and I am glad, because that suggests that that is not what happened. If the Minister is certain that the chief electorial officer has not changed his mind because of Government pressure, he must have some reason for that certaintyhe must know what the reason was. If the Minister rules out one reason, he must have some evidence on which to shake his head and say no. I urge him to go back to the chief electoral officer after this debate to ask him the reason, and to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) with the answeror place a copy of the letter or statement in the Libraryso that we can see it.
Mr. Wilshire: The Minister is again shaking his head. If he would like to intervene to say why he is not prepared to do that, the House would be grateful. The Minister does not want to tell us why he is not prepared to get the answer to a question. That is typical of a Government who do not like to answer questions if it does not suit their purpose. That is entirely wrong.
Another comment that the Minister made, but did not pursue as much as I would have liked, was that all the parties in the House supported his change of heart. That is good as far as it goes, but he then went on to say that he was unable to tell us what Sinn Fein-IRA thought about
Mr. Browne: I am reluctant to take up any more time in this debate, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is inadvertently misrepresenting my position. Sinn Fein was, of course, consulted on these matters, as were all parties. The quotation that the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) referred to in the other place came from the early paragraphs of its response to the consultation process, which is available for anybody to read. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's other point, I merely pointed out that I had not had a response from Sinn Fein on the point that he raised. I did not say that I did not seek a response, but that I had not had one.
The Minister said earlier that it was right for the Government to take the necessary time to get the legislation into the form that it now takes. Of course it is necessary to take a degree of time, but on this occasion, the most enormous amount of time seems to have been taken. Suspicious people such as I cannot help but wonder what caused that. Could it possibly be that one of the things going through the Government's mind was that the last thing they wanted was to upset Sinn Fein-IRA ahead of a general election? After all, the Government have been busily giving in on one-sided deals throughout their term of office, and perhaps they did not want to minimise Sinn Fein's opportunity to win more seats.
I am of an equally suspicious mind when it comes to this Government's dealing with terrorists, and it may well be that, by taking the time that they say was necessary, they will have allowed Sinn Fein-IRA to win more votes in the Assembly election than they would have done if we had clamped down on fraud ahead of it. If that is not the case, I am sure that the Minister will put the matter right.