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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: No, because the United States is not in the same position as the Republic of Ireland. The moment the noble Viscount begins to identify countries that are not among the countries that are treated differently--Commonwealth countries and the Republic of Ireland--different questions arise which could not possibly be resolved by a Bill of this kind. No basis is established by previous legislation that would justify such an approach.

Those are my answers to the two questions that have flowed through the debate. I accept that these are very, very serious issues which require important consideration. Between Committee and Report I am more than happy to meet noble Lords--in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux--to discuss them.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: Is the noble and learned Lord really saying that one fine day the Prime Minister woke up and thought what an interesting idea this would be and then failed to consult anyone but the Taoiseach and Sinn Fein? It sounds a very curious way of initiating legislation.

Lord Hylton: I invite the noble and learned Lord to explain the extraordinary stop-and-start nature of the progress of the legislation through both Houses.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Perhaps I may deal, first, with the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Park. I have sought to set out the justification for the Bill: why we are proceeding with the Bill and what its merits are. It is a matter for both Houses of Parliament to decide whether they agree or disagree with the merits of the Bill, just as it is for them to decide in relation to any Bill placed before them whether by a private Member, the Opposition or the Government. The points being made along the lines of "We do not know

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who asked for it" should not distract one from identifying whether a particular House of Parliament agrees or disagrees with the Bill; and, with the greatest respect, in Committee we discuss the detail of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about the progress of the legislation. The Bill went through the House of Commons in January. The Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in February, until May. No steps were taken to further the Bill at that time because of the suspension of the Assembly. The Bill was then placed in the timetable of your Lordships' House on a date which the Chief Whip--I know noble Lords will accept this--thought would be convenient for Members of your Lordships' House who come from Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, looks surprised by that, but I can tell him that that was the reason why the date was chosen. It was known that another Bill concerning Northern Ireland was due to be debated on the same date and it was thought that it would be convenient and helpful for Northern Ireland Members of your Lordships' House if this Bill also was dealt with on that date. That is why the present timetable has been followed. I understood the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, to accept that that was why 27th July was chosen.

Viscount Cranborne: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Even though this is Committee stage, perhaps I may say that he has been very generous in giving way. I always accept what the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms says, and anyone who knows him will also accept it. Therefore, as we must accept that, I wonder how the noble and learned Lord would interpret the words of the Government Chief Whip on 27th July that the Bill was part of the "choreography"--I think that I quote him reasonably exactly--of the negotiations. Will the noble and learned Lord consider that point in the light of the intervention a few moments ago of my noble friend Lady Park?

Lord Elton: Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will also explain why the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly should suddenly have made the Bill inoperable? Would it not be just as effective with the Assembly suspended unless the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly had in some way affected the choreography of the Good Friday agreement and relations with the government of the Irish Republic?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: In answer to the noble Viscount's question, the choreography point is, as I hope that I have indicated in the course of my remarks, part of the reason for bring the three groups into line--the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland; it is because of the deepening and improving relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, in part as a result of the Belfast agreement. It is something that arises out of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked why, the Assembly having been suspended, the Bill did not then go through its normal parliamentary stages. Plainly,

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with the Assembly suspended, it would have been insensitive--there were particular sensitivities applying at the time--for the Bill to be pursued at that particular time.

Those are the answers to the question "Why?" and those are the answers to the question "Who wants it?". In relation to--

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. He is moving on from the questions that he was asked. He indicated that he was not sure whether it was appropriate to ask the question: who has asked for the Bill? Before the noble and learned Lord moves on, I wonder whether I may help him to resolve that question. When considering legislation, is it not generally rather wise to know whether certain people will be pleased and certain people displeased by it? The noble and learned Lord knows well enough those who will be displeased by it. Surely it is relevant to ask the question: who will be pleased by it and, therefore, who--if anyone--has asked for it? It is this point which, I venture to suggest, makes my question appropriate.

5 p.m.

Lord Fitt: Before my noble and learned friend replies, perhaps I may say to him that I, too, have been thinking along these lines. My noble and learned friend has not answered the question of whether any of the major political parties in the Republic have asked for this measure. I should like to ask my noble and learned friend the other side of that question: did he ask any of the major political parties in the Republic what they thought of the Bill, or did he not ask for their opinions because he might not have been happy with the answers he would have received?

Baroness Strange: I hope that I will be forgiven for speaking out of turn. Perhaps I may quote a short poem which I believe might be helpful to the noble and learned Lord:

    "As I was going up the stair,

    I met a man who wasn't there.

    He wasn't there the other day,

    I wish that man would go away".

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I believe that I have already given my answer to the question of who might have asked for the Bill. It is for the Government to decide, in the light of their consultations, whether a Bill is appropriate. We should remember, too, that this Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons in January of this year. We have now reached November and therefore 11 months have been allowed for views to be sought. I do not think that any doubt exists as regards the majority of people's views in relation to the Bill. Plenty of scope has been given for proper parliamentary scrutiny. Ultimately, however, surely it must be for the two Houses of Parliament to decide what they think of the Bill. They must form their views not on the matters that surround the Bill, but on the merits of the Bill itself.

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Perhaps I may turn to a number of other matters. First, as regards the specific question put to me on the position of Mr Seamus Mallon. Mr Mallon did not sit as a Member of the Irish Senate and the House of Commons at the same time. He had resigned from the Senate before his election to the House of Commons. Currently, it is not possible to sit in both the Senate and the House of Commons. However, under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, it is possible to be a Member of the Irish Senate and a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Secondly, perhaps I may deal with the specific amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. The effect of his amendment would be that in the circumstances of a dual mandate with the House of Commons and either the Dail or a Commonwealth legislature, it would be necessary to resign one's seat and to be re-elected. Requiring a Member of the House of Commons to resign and submit to re-election if that Member sought to be elected to the Irish or a Commonwealth legislature would, in effect, impose a new restriction on Commonwealth citizens that we do not feel would be sensible.

It has been suggested during the course of the debate that one individual cannot properly carry out his duties in more than one legislature; namely, that this would be to the detriment of all his constituents. That proposition goes much further than is considered appropriate in respect of dual membership of the House of Commons, the European Parliament and the devolved administrations, where there are no such restrictions. As Members of the Committee know, individuals can and do hold seats in two or even--under certain circumstances--three of these legislatures.

Under all the circumstances, I would ask noble Lords to consider carefully the arguments in favour of the clause. I earnestly ask noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.

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