Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Cranborne: There is a very powerful temptation, which I shall endeavour to resist, yet again to conduct a Second Reading debate on clause stand part at Committee stage of the Bill. Indeed, it is also a temptation to try to reiterate all the arguments that have been expressed by the doubters on all sides of the Committee during today's proceedings. Members of the Committee will no doubt be relieved to hear that I have no intention of so doing.

I wish to set on record my disgust at the Bill and what the guts of it in Clause 1 contain and at the way the Government have brought the Bill forward and the extraordinary way in which they have proceeded to manage its passage through both Houses of Parliament.

There is one explanation for the Bill which my noble friend Lord Lamont has given and which has been explained with great clarity by my noble friend Lord Cope; namely, a secret deal has been done with Sinn Fein/IRA. It was alluded to by the delightful phrase used by the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms on 27th July when he said that this was all part of the "choreography" of the negotiations surrounding the agreement.

That is one explanation. But perhaps lingering in the background to the Bill, and adding to a fear that has lingered for a long time in the minds of the majority of the inhabitants of the Province of Northern Ireland--I speak as someone who has been interested in Northern Irish matters for over 20 years--is the thought that somewhere in Whitehall and among certain politicians there is only one solution which appeals to them to the so-called "Northern Ireland problem". That solution is that at the very least the Province should be pushed

6 Nov 2000 : Column 1302

into a situation where there is joint authority over it by the Republic of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom.

I hope and believe that was not the intention of the government of whom I was a member. We have assurances from the present Government that that is not their intention. This piece of legislation will revive those suspicions in their most extreme form in the Province. Even if we thought that in principle Clause 1 was desirable for the reasons given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer--I have already made it clear, I hope beyond peradventure, that I do not think that they are desirable--that purely in terms--I use the word advisedly--of the choreography of the politics of Northern Ireland, this is ill advised. In a province where confidence is lacking, the Bill will undermine what little confidence there is left among the Unionists that they can trust the Government of the country of which they are still a part.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I trust that the noble and learned Lord the Minister will be able to give the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, assurances with regard to the policies and the intentions of Her Majesty's Government. It is important that that should be done at this juncture.

I get the distinct impression that there are grave reservations in the Committee over the clause with which we are dealing. I know that some Members of the Committee, for obvious reasons, cannot give voice to their concerns. For my part, I fear that a Bill containing the clause that we are debating will remain a very large blot on the statute book of the United Kingdom.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I do not, of course, wish to make a Second Reading speech and so I shall confine myself to the provisions of the clause. We are debating whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill. Perhaps I may take the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, back to the question that I asked him some time ago. Who has asked for the Bill? When the noble and learned Lord replied that it was not appropriate to ask that question, noble Lords on all sides of the Committee greeted that response with the levity it deserved. In my short time in the House I have not heard anything approaching the guffaw that that response elicited.

The noble and learned Lord has said that it is the duty of a government to set out the case for any proposal--to set out their stall, as it were. No doubt it is. It is also the duty of any government to explain whether a need is being met which has been voiced by any political party, government, advocate or supplicant of any substance or significance. Will the noble and learned Lord answer this question? Are the Government still wedded to the concept of transparency? If they are not, his response to my question was at least consistent with that change of position. If, on the other hand, they are, how can he conceivably justify his claim that it is inappropriate to ask as much who is for the Bill and who has asked for it as it is to ask who is against it and who has expressed

6 Nov 2000 : Column 1303

those views? In the interests of parliamentary government, without being too solemn about this, I do hope that the noble and learned Lord will answer those questions.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Some shrewd and important questions have been asked of the noble and learned Lord and I look forward to hearing his answers to them. I rise only in case the noble Lords, Lord Dubs or Lord Desai, should take silence as consent to Clause 1 standing part of the Bill. It is far from it. Clause 1 embodies the nub of the Bill. I believe that it is a dangerous measure and offensive to democracy.

My noble friend Lord Cranborne referred to the possibility, to which I had alluded earlier, that the Bill reflects a secret deal with Sinn Fein or others. That is one possibility. The other possibility is that the Government are walking blind into this trap; that is what it is if they are getting nothing for it and it is not the result of any deal. I have sufficient respect for the intelligence of the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland not to think that they are walking unseeing into the trap. I believe that he would have seen through it. That is what makes me think that something else is going on.

Throughout the proceedings, as has been made clear by speakers in the past few minutes, the noble and learned Lord the Minister has been attempting to present the Bill as if it is some kind of sealed package that is to be seen in total isolation from the surrounding political and security circumstances and in total disregard, for that matter, of those consequences. Only a lawyer could think that that is a relevant and sensible proposition. Most lawyers would not advance it because, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew has made clear, they see further than that. It is an offensive clause in an offensive Bill.

Lord Dubs: Perhaps I may speak for a few moments. I appreciate that we are debating whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill. As has already been said, it is not a Second Reading debate. But there is surely one key issue. Our relationship with Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland's relationship with us and Northern Ireland's relationship with the rest of Ireland are quite unique. Because Northern Ireland is in such a unique position there are times when unusual measures need to be brought forward. That is the nub of this debate. Northern Ireland has a relationship with the Republic of Ireland that is different from that which any part of the UK has with any other foreign country. That is reflected in many aspects of the Belfast agreement--the North/South bodies, the Council of the Isles and many other measures. The position is surely not so anomalous as to say that it is inappropriate that Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: That may be so. But it is not the argument used by the noble and learned Lord the Minister. As a matter of fact, it is an argument with which I do not agree in this case.

6 Nov 2000 : Column 1304

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Perhaps I may deal, first, with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. He is right. I did not deal with the point of whether the Bill is discriminatory vis-a-vis either the European Convention on Human Rights or our EU obligations. As he rightly said, the matter has been carefully considered. It is not contrary to any of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights or in relation to our obligations under the EU treaties. Every country has the right to determine its own constitution, including membership of its legislature. It is for each individual member state, whether a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights or a member of the EU, to determine the provisions in relation to that. The Disqualifications Bill determines conditions pursuant to which someone may or may not become a Member of the United Kingdom legislature. That is something which we as a Parliament are entitled to decide. We are quite satisfied that the Bill does not offend against any of our obligations under either of those legal regimes.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, sought assurances that there is no parity between the Dublin government and the Westminster Government in relation to the governance of Northern Ireland. Of course I give that assurance. The noble and learned Lord knows that we have made it clear. It is enshrined in the Belfast agreement and it is enshrined in legislation that Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom subject to the exercise of the principle of consent by the people of Northern Ireland. That does not change.

In reply to the other points that were made, they come back four-square to the debates we have had on all the other amendments. The Government believe that they are entitled to have the Bill judged on its merits by the legislature. The legislature must decide whether it thinks it is an appropriate Bill. I have said why we think it is appropriate. In relation to the question, "Who asked for it?", I have said that that is not an appropriate question. I say that it is for the government of the day to decide whether it is appropriate to promote legislation and then to let the legislature decide. That remains my position. I therefore commend Clause 1 to the Committee.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page