CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DISQUALIFICATION BILL [ALL-NIGHT SITTING] – 25 January 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: Does my right hon. Friend [Eric Forth] agree that one problem with the Bill is the lack of trust on both sides? Is not inclusion of the principle of reciprocity essential if trust in both halves of the deal being delivered is to be built up? That affects every element in the Bill, including the narrow point under discussion.

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Dr Lewis: Surely it is not just a question of the time demands on the hon. Members concerned, but the fact that the interests of the two different constituencies [in the UK and in Ireland] represented by the same Member of the two legislatures could well be in conflict with one another. How can that be resolved?

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Dr Lewis: Can my hon. Friend [Michael Fabricant] suggest the reason for Sinn Fein's failure to decommission in January or February if it intends to do so totally by May? Does that not suggest a lack of trust?

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Dr Lewis: Will my hon. Friend give way?

[Mr Gerald Howarth: Of course. I will take all interventions from New Forest.]

Dr Lewis: That is precisely the point. It is the first time that I have ever disagreed with an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr Swayne). Surely the point is that, rather than multiplying the wrongs, insistence on reciprocity creates the possibility of retaliation. If someone who is going to abuse his status in the House of Commons when he sits for the Dail is made aware of the fact that retaliation can occur, he may be less inclined to commit that abuse in the first place.

[Mr Howarth: That is a forceful argument from my hon. Friend, who is the embodiment of the thermo-nuclear deterrent. I do not think that any of us would wish to cross him, but there are arguments for the amendment. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), will make a speech at some point and will have to answer a number of questions. The amendment gives us the opportunity to probe further how it came to pass that the Bill was brought before the House in this form and why it is being rushed through with such expedition.]

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Dr Lewis: My question is straightforward. Can the Minister [George Howarth] envisage an occasion on which a constituency interest in the south might conflict with one in the north, if an individual were elected to serve two constituencies?

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Dr Lewis: I wish to support my right hon. Friend's [Eric Forth's] argument. Is he aware of the report that was produced at the beginning of the year that showed the voting record of the past two Secretaries of State for Wales, both of whom hold offices in the Welsh Assembly and remain Members of this House? In 73 Divisions in the House, one of them voted only once and the other did not vote at all. Does that not illustrate my right hon. Friend's point?

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Dr Lewis: Is not the Minister's [George Howarth's] reliance on the abstract concept of democracy rather fatuous when we consider that if we are talking about a proportional list system in at least one of the parliaments or assemblies, the position on the list may be such that the people have no effective say about whether they can punish an individual for a conflict of interest that he has not satisfactorily resolved? Does not the same apply even in a first-past-the-post system, if he happens to stand successfully for a very safe seat on behalf of his party? The people cannot resolve these conflicts of interest by a process of abstract democracy.

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Dr Lewis: Can the hon. Gentleman [Jeffrey Donaldson] speculate about why Sinn Fein is so keen on the concessions? We have tended to assume that, for some reason, Sinn Fein members want to sit in the United Kingdom Parliament. However, I suspect that they may want that concession so that they can sit in the Dail and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Am I right, or do they want to sit here as well as in the Dail?

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Dr Lewis: Assuming that the Minister from Zimbabwe was sitting on the Government Benches, it would at least create some lively discussions in the Government Lobby on the subject of section 28.

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Dr Lewis: Is not the hon. Gentleman making the simple mistake of assuming that the Government will show some consistency?

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Dr Lewis: Is not another possibility that the Government genuinely believe in what they are doing? It is possible to believe in two contradictory views simultaneously. It is called doublethink, which was invented by George Orwell, the 50th anniversary of whose death we are marking. Does that explain why the Government can accept the principle in some amendments and reject the same principle in others?

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Dr Lewis: I am sorry that the 15 hours appear to be taking their toll on my right hon. Friend's [Eric Forth's] memory because I thought that I had dealt with that point thoroughly in an earlier intervention. I pointed out that, if people are elected to those multiple positions on proportional representation list systems, there is no way that the electorate can punish them because, if they are placed high enough on the list, it is the people lower down the list who will take the punishment. For all their abuses, those high enough on the list will continue to be elected.

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Dr Lewis: I agree with every criticism that my hon. Friend [Desmond Swayne] has made of what would happen if the amendments were not accepted. In an intervention on the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Ross), my hon. Friend accused him of moving a wrecking amendment. However, if the amendments were accepted, as I hope they will be, would they not be wrecking amendments? What be would left of the Bill if the absurdity is rectified?

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Dr Lewis: Further to that point of order, Mr Martin. Is not it part of the rules and procedures of the House that a Minister should at least be intelligible to other Members? Unlike him, I have been here all night. Nevertheless, my faculties are still sharp enough to enable me to distinguish one word from another, if they are distinguishable. His were not.

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Dr Lewis: The difficulty for the hon. Gentleman [William Ross] is that he is used to giving straight answers to straight questions, unlike the right hon. Gentleman [Tony Blair] who normally answers questions on a Wednesday.

[Prime Minister's Questions, which would normally have been taking place at this time, had been lost because of the continuous all-night sitting.]