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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, at every opportunity in this House I have asked the question: who has asked for the Bill? Your Lordships' House has yet to hear an answer. It was not unreasonable to ask that because it is only when one knows who has asked for a Bill that one can have a reliable idea of how it will be used if it is passed.

I noticed a significant distinction between the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on the Dome and on this Bill. Yesterday he was at great pains to point out that it was the Conservative Party which had asked for the Dome. The noble and learned Lord was perfectly entitled to do that. He did that on a number of occasions. Indeed, he did little else. No one can complain that the matter was irrelevant. It was highly relevant. It may not have carried the noble and learned Lord very far, but it was relevant.

But when it comes to answering the same question about the Bill we do not get an answer. The nearest he came to giving an answer was to say to me that it is an inappropriate question. When that answer was first given there was such a guffaw from all sides of the House that one might have been back in the House of Commons.

I do not easily make difficulties for the Government in their Northern Ireland policies. I have tried hard to be supportive of them. They have been right to try to build confidence. But where they have gone wrong here, if I may suggest it respectfully, is that they have failed to recognise how fragile unionist confidence now is. If the Bill is forced through without an answer to the question, "Who has asked for it?", it will be very bad for unionist confidence. That is a very serious matter.

The only other explanation for the Bill was given by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, at Second Reading when he said that,

I should like to suggest that it is now high time that a modest courtesy was extended to our own Parliament by giving an appropriate answer to the question I have put.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, as I listened to the "Today" programme this morning, the lady who reads the news--presumably she had a script in front of her--said that today in the House of Lords the

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Disqualifications Bill would be discussed, a Bill which would ensure that Sinn Fein would be able to sit both in the Irish Parliament and in the British Parliament. There you have it. The BBC knows what the Bill is about. I know what it is about. But there we had a national broadcast telling us what the Bill is all about. No one else in the political arena of the island of Ireland, North or South, has asked for the Bill.

As I came into your Lordships' House, I heard that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, had made reference to me, saying that I was out of step with the SDLP. He is quite right. I left the SDLP five years before I became a Member of your Lordships' House. I left the SDLP because, as I said then, it was getting too close to extreme republicanism. That is why I left the SDLP. Had I agreed with the SDLP, I would have been expressing the same sentiments as it is expressing today.

Throughout our debates on the Bill I have repeatedly posed the question, as have other noble Lords--the question was being asked in the other place today--"Who has asked for the Bill?" None of the major political parties in the Republic has asked for it. Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or the workers' party have not asked for it. Before I came into the House today I watched the proceedings in another place on television. I was hoping to see a member of the SDLP saying, "We want the Bill. We have asked for the Bill". Why is it that every time the Bill is discussed in the House of Commons, no SDLP Members are there? Is it because they are frightened of the Bill? Even more seriously, is it because they are frightened to say that they are frightened, as Sinn Fein is at the moment a very direct threat to the SDLP?

The SDLP knows very well that none of its members will fight for a seat in the Dail. It knows very well that no one from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or the other major parties will fight for a seat over here. Indeed, they could not fight for a seat over here because they would have to have a residence qualification. There is no reciprocation whatever. An Englishman sitting in the other place could not fight for a seat in the Republic because he has to be an Irish citizen to sit in the Dail. It seems that the traffic is all one way.

As I watched on the monitor what was happening in the other place, it all became clear to me. On the previous occasion we discussed the Bill I was watching the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. He read every word of what he was telling the House. I watched George Howarth today. He read every word. My mind went back to the House of Commons, where I was an MP for many years. One of my close and dear friends, a man whom I revered, was Michael Foot. When Michael Foot stood at the Dispatch Box and read every word, we all knew that he did not believe in a word he was saying. I would say that to him later in the Corridors, and he would confirm it. The same thing is happening here.

We have heard the argument about the Commonwealth. I do not believe that it is valid.

Perhaps I may interject against myself and say that if there was not a single unionist or Protestant Member from Northern Ireland sitting in the House, I would

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say exactly the same things. I am not persuaded by any unionist or Protestant argument; I am persuaded by my conscience.

Last week or the week before, I read the Irish newspapers after I had spoken in the House. An old friend of mine--an old-time journalist--commented on this House and referred to the unionists and the House taking an anti-Irish stance, as the House has reputedly done over many centuries, particularly in 1993. I am sorry that my former friend had to question my motives in speaking as I do in this House on this Bill. I am expressing honestly the concerns of many people in Northern Ireland, who see the traffic all going one way.

I have a press report of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said in the House two or three weeks ago. It states:

    "He told Peers in the House of Lords last night that 2,804 people had been murdered in the province between 1969 and last month ...But charges had only been brought in respect of 958 murders ... There had been 1,860 civilians murdered (688 charges), 441 soldiers (106 charges), 300 members of the RUC (111 charges)".

Those kinds of figures activate the minds of the people of Northern Ireland. It may only be a press report or a quote from Hansard, but that is not the way it affects people in Northern Ireland. I have often said that you could walk from the Belfast Telegraph office through Belfast's main street, Royal Avenue, at any time of the day, and you would be certain to walk past some of the people who have carried out those atrocious murders. That is what makes the people of Northern Ireland think as they do.

As to the question of the Commonwealth, I heard again today that we must treat Ireland as we would any other part of the Commonwealth. As I have said, Ireland left the Commonwealth of its own volition in 1949. If we must treat Ireland as we would any other part of the Commonwealth, does that mean that we will allow a representative from Ireland to attend the next Commonwealth conference? That would be one way of treating Ireland as any other part of the Commonwealth. We all know that no one from the Commonwealth has ever attempted to take up what they have been permitted to do. If that had been the case, we could have Idi Amin or Robert Mugabe sitting here, or some of the other so-called parliamentarians of Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth argument does not hold water.

I am opposing this Bill because of my total and absolute abhorrence of the men of violence in Northern Ireland. I have lived through the violence for many years. The IRA succeeded in burning my house and everything in it, including every memento that I had acquired throughout my married life. It did so because it could not intimidate me into agreeing with what it was doing, and it could not intimidate me into keeping quiet about what it was doing. I have no hesitation in saying what is my motivation: I deplore and detest every action of the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries, although it was the IRA who caused the damage to myself.

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Sinn Fein is, to use the jargon, inextricably linked with the IRA. If Sinn Fein were not tied to the IRA and acting as its political wing, I should have no hesitation in supporting the Bill. Sinn Fein could have within its ranks people who would make good public representatives and, indeed, good Ministers. It is because of its link to the men of violence that I oppose this measure.

There is no doubt that something has happened behind the scenes. No one knows what is the motivation behind this obnoxious little Bill. Perhaps we shall know in 30 years' time when the papers are made available. The promulgation of this measure is an attack on democracy--not because of the wording, but because of the motivation behind it; because it has been demanded by Sinn Fein/IRA, which will be the only political party in Northern Ireland to gain from the Bill.

I repeat: why did not the SDLP issue a public statement? Why did its members not stand up yesterday, or when the Bill received its Second Reading, and say that they supported it? That is difficult to understand. I heard the Minister say today that the Irish Government support the Bill. Why did no one in the Irish Government stand up in the Irish Parliament and say, "We are quite happy with the content of the little Bill that is going through Westminster. We find no objection to it"? No one has expressed support for it.

I repeat my statement that the Bill has been demanded by Sinn Fein. It is inextricably linked to the men of violence who have carried out so many murders and wrecked so many lives in Northern Ireland. I cannot support anything that Sinn Fein demands.

5.15 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and again I salute his courage. No one in this House speaks with greater authority on Northern Irish matters. I am sorry that I did not hear his intervention, but I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was "rolled out" once again yesterday as the "big gun" to give an obiter dictum on the propriety or otherwise of your Lordships rejecting the Government's NATS proposals yet again. The noble spoke of the importance of exercising our judgment rather than our full powers in that case. When he was challenged by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, he went on to make the distinction to which my noble friend Lord Cope alluded a moment ago.

In that instance, I agreed wholeheartedly with the judgment of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. Like him, I believe that the full exercise of our powers should be a "nuclear" option, used sparingly and if possible not at all. The noble Lord was right when he said (at col. 1329) that further resistance by your Lordships would be justified only,

    "if a major constitutional issue were at stake".

The noble Lord knows, and has even been kind enough to acknowledge on the Floor of the House, that he and I have agreed on matters affecting your Lordships more often than some people outside the

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House might expect. I only hope that that agreement has not caused him too much embarrassment in his own party. Knowing the noble Lord, I am sure that it has not.

In spite of the fact that I would go further than the noble Lord in wanting to see the powers of this House as a constitutional long-stop increased and even become enshrined in convention and possibly in statute, I am interested to find that the noble Lord has not yet been rolled out on this particular issue. Perhaps he is holding his fire. However, I understand why the noble Lord was rolled out: it was due to the respect and affection with which he is regarded on all sides of the Chamber, as a former leader of his party in this House and, indeed, as a former Leader of the House. It is absolutely right that he should talk about noble Lords exercising their judgment. I suspect that the noble Lord and I will find ourselves in separate Lobbies yet again this evening. I am sorry about that, because it seems to me that this is a case where noble Lords ought really to think seriously about exercising their judgment.

We have heard this Bill variously described by members of the Government Front Bench in this House as either, "a mere piece of tidying up--rectifying an anomaly", or, by the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, as "a part of the choreography of the Good Friday agreement". If it is the former, it is a matter of minor importance to the Government. In that case, I have to ask: why are they so keen to promote it, and why have they agonised so much about the tactics used as it has been pushed through Parliament? But if it is the latter, as my noble friend Lord Cope and other speakers have said, it is a matter of major importance. If that is the case, why have not the Government come clean with Parliament in their explanations as regards what lies behind this Bill?

Like other noble Lords who have spoken, this seems to me to be a thoroughly pernicious and dangerous piece of legislation. It endows Members of another place with a divided loyalty. I venture to remind your Lordships of a phrase of Queen Elizabeth I, which was used in another context; namely, that she did not like her dogs to wear foreign collars. I believe that that encapsulates why that is unwise for people who will be elected to what is still, at least in some instances, the sovereign Parliament of our country.

This Bill panders to Sinn Fein/IRA's desire to be able to claim to represent parts of Northern Ireland in the Dail before the people of the Province have expressed a wish to leave the United Kingdom. In doing so, I fear that it will make the unification of Ireland more likely rather than less likely, because it will make it seem even more inevitable than many of the Government's activities thus far have made it seem.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to allude to my following point when he concludes the debate on behalf of the Government. If my information is correct, this Bill was demanded by Sinn Fein/IRA with Mr Ahern, the Taoiseach, acting as an

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intermediary between them and our Prime Minister. As I understand it, it was demanded as a price for Mr Adams' silence in the wake of the five famous hand-written promises issued by our Prime Minister before the referendum on the Good Friday agreement took place--promises which, I should remind your Lordships, were not kept in the event.

The question before us is both big and important. As your Lordships have pointed out, it is embodied in a nasty little Bill. We have always supported the bi-partisan policy on our side and, indeed, when in government, we were extremely grateful when the party opposite supported us in turn. However, I hope that noble Lords will agree that we have always made it plain that, should things go too far, we would withdraw our support. Indeed, it seems as though the bi-partisan policy is supporting something that, in particular, appeases terrorists more than appears to be remotely sensible.

Even in its own terms, it seems to me that the Government's policy is not working. Indeed, within minutes of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill being passed by your Lordships' House, it was being flouted by Sinn-Fein/IRA. It is as if its members are laughing in the face of the Government by encouraging Roman Catholics in the Province not to join the police force, which was, of course, one of the principal reasons that the Government initially gave for introducing that legislation. In my opinion, this Bill is even worse. It appeases the terrorists; it will not persuade them any more than the police legislation did to throw away the Armalite in favour of the ballot box. I am in no doubt whatever that not only should noble Lords throw out the Bill again on its merits, but also, in view of the constitutional and radical nature of what is proposed, I suggest that they would be well within their rights to do so.

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