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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful for the kind words of support for the government amendment. I have not been overly convinced by the points that have been made to advance the other amendments. I shall run through some of the issues to which they advert.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, referred to Amendments Nos. 19 and 25A. We hold to the point that the argument that he advanced puts forward a cause that does not need to be supported. As I believe I said at the outset, the existing reference to a "Minister" of the Government of Ireland is sufficient to cover any junior Minister in that government. Furthermore, as is widely understood, the term "Junior Minister" is not used in the Irish Government. Therefore, the two amendments would not have any impact or relevance. They do not work in the context of this Bill and they achieve no effect.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, posed a question in relation to preventing Dail Members becoming Ministers in Northern Ireland. He said that he believed that to go too far. We do not believe that being a Member of the Irish legislature or a Northern Ireland Minister creates the conflict of interest that the noble Lord envisages. We believe that that occurs only in respect of ministerial office or in relation to the chairman and deputy chairman posts set out in the government amendment. Therefore, we do not view that matter in the same way as does the noble Lord.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: Will the noble Lord explain why he believes that? As we know, a Minister must make decisions. The noble Lord considers that a Minister might be subject to undue influence or undue pressure because he is a southern Ireland Minister. However, if it is only a question of voting, why are the considerations different? A person may vote subject to influences similar to those which influence a Minister. What is the distinction?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is a difficult question to answer. The noble Lord makes a point. I personally believe that there is no conflict. The noble Lord takes a different view. We must agree to differ on that point.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: That really is not an answer. If a Minister is influenced because he is a member of parliament in southern Ireland, why would a member of both parliaments not be equally influenced? They are both likely to be influenced by the same pressures. There is no reason for saying one is influenced and one is not.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Ministers are in a different position because they are much more involved in the day-to-day formulating, and giving executive action to policy. Members are different because they are not involved in that. The similarity is, of course, that they are all involved in making decisions.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: Before the noble Lord leaves that point, it is my recollection, from having been a Member of another place, that there are a number of Members at any given time who would like to be Ministers but have not yet been appointed. Some never are, quite properly. Nevertheless, they are more prepared to agree with the government than their independent judgment might suggest was wise from time to time. There are other considerations too which bear on the behaviour of individual Members of Parliament. I speak as a former Whip.
In those circumstances, one cannot so easily dismiss this matter by saying that ordinary Members of Parliament are not subject to pressure from their fellows, including Ministers and Whips in their own government. They are. If the Minister is suggesting that only Ministers make important decisions, that is extremely demeaning for Parliament. I realise that Parliament has suffered a lot of difficulties in the past few years and this is another one.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Ministers are in a different position and for that reason we have moved to prevent that possibility. A Minister in two different parliaments clearly could give rise to conflicts of interest caused by collective responsibility but there is not quite the same degree of conflict if one is a member in one and a Minister in the other. I believe that Members of the Committee will accept that that is a fair and reasonable point to make.
Perhaps I may complete my explanation to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, in relation to membership of the police board. The police Bill envisages that the political members of the police board will be appointed in proportion, depending on the strength of seats held by the Northern Ireland parties in the Assembly. The strength of that will be unaffected by dual membership and will depend very much on the Assembly elections.
The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, asked whether Members of the European Parliament can be Ministers in Northern Ireland. European rules prevent that. It is not UK law. It is something which exists within the rules of the European Parliament. That applies to all EU countries.
Lord Laird: Perhaps I may clarify the noble Lord's answer to my noble friend Lord Rogan. Is the Minister confirming that it is possible to be a Minister in the southern Irish Government and to be a member of the police board?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Yes, that is right. I am confirming that possibility. I believe that that answers the various points which Members of the Committee raised during the course of the debate. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
We have been presented with the theoretical possibility, all day, that members of Commonwealth legislatures might start coming into the House of Commons. That particular charade of the Government's has already been exposed as being extremely threadbare. So far as one can detect, there have been no examples in history of anybody from a Commonwealth legislature being a Member of the House of Commons. Nobody has been able to find an example of that. All the amendment does is to expose that charade a little more. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I suppose that we all have to repeat ourselves during the course of debate. However, the noble Lord is being entirely consistent with his earlier amendments. He will appreciate that the Government's argument for rejecting the amendment is the same as for any of our amendments. They go much further than we believe is necessary to prevent a conflict of interest arising. As such they are contrary to the purpose of the Bill, which, as the noble
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