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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, before the Minister moves the next Motion, perhaps the House will allow me to intervene. I could move for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order 43, but I am reluctant to do so. As a substitute, perhaps I may make a gentle plea to the Government Chief Whip, who I know is the most reasonable of men.
We have had an extremely long day. It is very nearly 11 o'clock at night. We are about to consider a highly controversial piece of legislation. It is perhaps a small piece of legislation but it has important constitutional implications. I suggest that it was always odd that we should be asked to consider, rather suddenly, this particular piece of legislation on the penultimate day before rising for the Summer Recess. It is even more curious that the Government appear to be insisting that, at this late hour on this penultimate day, we should pursue this business.
Does the Chief Whip agree with me that there do not appear to be a large number of Members of the Dail queuing up to become Members of another place between now and 27th September? Would it not be much more reasonable to suggest through the usual channels that we consider the Second Reading of this piece of legislation after allowing other Members of this House, who have probably sensibly gone off on holiday by now, to look at it and consider it with more care? That would also enable us to get home a little earlier this evening.
What is the hurry for this Bill? I hope that the Chief Whip realises that I say this in a conciliatory frame of mind. I am sure that the House will forgive me for raising the matter now. If the Chief Whip saw the good sense of my argument, the time of the House that I have taken this evening would in fact save us time in the end.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, perhaps I may briefly support what the noble Viscount has said. It may be that the Chief Whip and the Government Front Bench are not aware of the fact that the Bill completed all of its stages in the other place on 26th January, so if they have not been in any hurry over the past six months, why are we rushing now when we shall have ample time to
Lord Carter: My Lords, I am in some difficulty. There was certainly no intention that the Bill should start at this hour. Your Lordships know what happened today. We spent one and a half hours on a debate which did not add to the dignity of this House. Anybody watching that debate would not feel that it added to the lustre of the House or to the dignity of our debates. I shall make sure that a number of noble Lords who took part in that debate are made aware of the very wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Eames, in relation to the contrast between filing cabinets and lives.
I have to choose my words with great care. I was asked within the past 10 days if I would ensure that this Bill received a Second Reading before the Summer Recess. I ask your Lordships not to press me on that. It involves the situation in Northern Ireland. Therefore I found space for it. It was agreed through the usual channels that it should be taken this evening.
The only thing I can do--this may not suit your Lordships because everyone is here to debate the Bill--is put it on tomorrow after the Finance Bill, if it is felt that that is better than starting it now. I was very concerned this afternoon when the earlier debate took place. I made arrangements through the Clerk of the Parliaments and Hansard to make sure that the House could handle the reporting and so forth of the Bill.
Everyone is here to debate the Bill. I am sorry about what has happened. It is not really my fault. There is no way that I could ever have anticipated--I doubt whether the noble Viscount as Leader of the House could have done so either--that a debate of one hour and 40 minutes would take place on the Offices Committee report. For all those reasons, I ask noble Lords not to press me.
I was asked last week by colleagues whether I could ensure, as part of the choreography of the situation in Northern Ireland, that this Bill received its Second Reading before the Summer Recess. I undertook to do that. The only offer I can make is to put it on tomorrow after the Finance Bill. But as your Lordships are all here and probably will not want to come back tomorrow, I feel that we should continue with the Bill this evening.
Lord Carter: My Lords, that is a convenience and a convention regarding the staff. This can be done, as long as arrangements are made; I was careful to do this through the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Editor of Hansard. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the House sat until 5.10 a.m. on Tuesday morning and resumed at 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon.
This Bill removes the last major inconsistency in the way in which UK electoral regulations apply to Commonwealth nations and to Ireland. It achieves this purpose in Clause 1 by amending the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998. These amendments will allow Members of both Houses of the Irish Parliament to serve as Members of the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, to which the disqualification provisions set out in the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 apply, and the Northern Ireland Assembly, where the relevant provisions are in the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975.
Clause 2 of the Bill will prohibit Ministers of the Irish Parliament from taking up ministerial positions in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Likewise, any Minister, junior Minister, First Minister and Deputy First Minister will be prohibited from a ministerial position in the Irish Government.
The Bill involves a limited extension of existing provisions under which Members of a number of legislatures outside the UK can already take seats in the House of Commons. It extends a provision in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 under which Members of the Irish Senate--the Upper House of the Irish Parliament--can take seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Bill does not establish any new principle or introduce major constitutional change, and it will not have any effect on the membership of this Chamber.
Perhaps I may explain the background in relation to the current provisions. For many years Irish citizens within the UK have enjoyed many of the same rights as Commonwealth citizens. Both Commonwealth citizens and Irish nationals have long been able to stand for and vote in elections for the House of Commons. But one significant difference in their treatment has remained. Under the current law, Members of Commonwealth legislatures, unlike Members of foreign legislatures, can take seats in the House of Commons. But Members of both Houses of the Irish Parliament cannot, even though all other Irish citizens can. I give way.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is explaining the asymmetry between provision for Commonwealth countries and Ireland. But what is the pressure for this measure? Who wants this? Indeed, why is this Bill necessary? It is a complete mystery. Who on earth wants this to happen?
The Bill will remove the inconsistency that I have just mentioned. It will enable Members of the Irish legislature to stand for election to the House of Commons and the UK devolved legislatures, thereby giving them equal treatment with the Members of Commonwealth legislatures and the same rights as other non-elected Irish citizens.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt but perhaps the Minister could answer this question. If Mr Gerry Adams were to be elected to the Dail, as I believe is extremely likely, would he then be able to take his seat in the House of Commons, despite the fact that he has always refused to take the Oath? Would this measure allow him to do so?
The Northern Ireland Act 1998 already went some way to address this situation. Section 36(5) provides that a Member of the Irish Senate--a body that is partly appointed and partly elected from sectoral constituencies--may take a seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Bill builds on that provision, which as a result can now be repealed by Clause 3. The Bill extends that provision, first, to the other place and to the UK devolved legislatures, so that Northern Ireland is not singled out for special treatment; and, secondly, to members of the Dail, the Irish Lower House.
By placing all Members of the Irish legislature on the same footing as Members of Commonwealth legislatures, the Bill rightly reflects the strength of the relationship that exists between our two nations. Furthermore, it is in line with the special position long recognised for Irish citizens in our electoral arrangements. It would now be out of step with the transformed political landscape in Northern Ireland and in relations between our two countries not to take the measures we are proposing. In particular, it is the establishment of the new institutions provided for in the Good Friday agreement which makes this measure timely now.