This cannot simply be an academic debate, or one about bureaucracy. We cannot ignore the background of a society that has been at war with itself for the past 40 years. In most debates it is possible to say to others, "I understand where you're coming from." We all know that that is impossible in this situation. A community divided by centuries of hate, bigotry and discrimination has no parallels for most of us. A world in which it is still normal to build physical barriers even higher between communities is alien to most of us. And an attitude to life and death that has resulted in horrific acts being committed in the name of God and country—from every possible angle—is incomprehensible to most of us.
That incomprehension led the vast majority of people in Great Britain to turn their backs on the issues of Northern Ireland; they became just another problem in just another remote part of the world. They were shrugged off with the question, "What else can you expect?" They were easy to ignore; for most people, that simply meant turning the telly off or turning it over. But we in Great Britain were wrong to ignore the problem, and we were wrong to pretend that it was just some local issue. We should always remember that if the killings in Northern Ireland had been repeated on a proportional basis across Great Britain, more than 100,000 people would have been killed. I do not believe that anyone would have ignored that situation.
It is a matter of some note that we have moved on from the sad, bad days of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when some of us believed that we would never see a resolution. Even worse, many people did not seem to care whether we did or not. Thankfully, owing in no small measure to the courage of many people in the House and beyond, things have changed. The situation has improved, and if we do not falter, things can get better.
That did not happen by chance. It happened because people were prepared to take risks for peace. John Major took risks for peace by meeting terrorists while they were publicly banned. Mo Mowlam took risks for peace by going into the Maze prison to face those who had been at the forefront of the terror campaign. Our Prime Minister took risks for peace by refusing to take no for an answer from anyone. Politicians from all sides have taken risks in an attempt to move forward, when stepping back into their comfort zone would have been much easier.
Beneath all that high-level risk taking, thousands of ordinary people were also saying, "We've had enough." The convenor of Unison in Northern Ireland, despite his misgivings and those of his community, stood up and led the call to vote yes to the Belfast agreement. The people working in the accident and emergency unit of the Mater hospital in Belfast refused to be intimidated by gun-wielding thugs trying out a novel way to beat the NHS waiting lists. People right across the community have accepted changes to their way of life that no one would have believed possible. From the changes to the police service to the changes to the Irish constitution, people have taken risks for peace.
People have done just about all that they have been asked to do, and now we are being asked again to take a hard decision. It is clear from the debate today that some people will never agree to recognise the reason for paying public money to any party that refuses to sit in this Chamber. I concede that others will question whether real progress has been made in the past year to justify the reinstatement of the allowances. I also accept that some will question the validity of the IMC recommendations. I know that many people not only question the logic of reinstating the allowance but have reservations about the Short money, and, like many other hon. Members, I look forward to hearing what the Secretary of State has to say about that.
There is a logic to these proposals, however. Last year, the IMC recommended that the allowances be withdrawn, and the House agreed to do that. Now it is recommending that they should be reinstated, and we should listen to that argument carefully.
For the hon. Gentleman's assistance, I should like to correct a little detail. The IMC recommended last year that Sinn Fein's allowance be withdrawn for a year. Why in heaven's name is the hon. Gentleman trying to encourage people to vote for the motion to backdate the allowances to Sinn Fein to
I am doing so because this is the only motion before us today. There is not a motion on the principles behind these issues, although many hon. Members have spoken today as though there were. However, this is the motion before us, and I believe that it represents the best way forward. This is a big ask, and I understand why some hon. Members believe that it is too big. However, we still need to reach the goal of real peace, which we have not yet achieved. So many people have reached out before us to do this, and we should not stop that endeavour.
I said earlier that we cannot pretend to understand the reality of Northern Ireland if we have not been a direct part of it. The closest I have ever been to a community at war with itself was in the aftermath of the miners strike, when communities were divided and respect for law and order had broken down; sometimes, members of the same family still do not speak to each other. However, falling out with each other, blaming each other and fighting with each other did not bring back a single job or prevent a single pit from closing. Nor did it save a single family from breaking up because of the intolerable pressures that ordinary men and women had to face.
I respect the fact that the issues that we faced in the coalfields up and down Britain were a quantum leap away from what happened in Northern Ireland, but the link was the men and women facing enormous challenges, usually way beyond their control. Ultimately, we have to accept that all the hate, pent-up resentment and deep-rooted sorrow in the world will not bring back one lost soul or help one child to make up for the loss of a parent. Neither will it help any community to rebuild its broken heart.
This is a big ask, but we have a big chance. We have a chance to leave behind the gun and the bomb for ever, a chance to give our kids the sort of life that our generation lost, and a chance to show the world the real, warm face that the people of Ireland genuinely possess. We have to accept that if the restoration of the allowances can help us to do that, we should vote for the motion.
Many of the matters before us have already been covered by the various hon. Members who have spoken today, and I shall not make a long speech, because many others want to make a contribution to the debate. It is only right that they should have the opportunity to do so.
The people of Northern Ireland deeply resent any suggestion that those who are motivated to keep this motion from going through are motivated by hatred of the people involved and by a refusal to face facts. All of us have had to face facts, but the suggestion has been made by the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House that if we do not pass the motion and there is retaliation, we should be responsible for what happens. We should not. Every Member of the House has the right to state their view. If people want to impute principles to their opponents, they can do so, but the fact is that the people of Northern Ireland do want peace. The greatest sacrifices for peace have been made by the population whom my colleagues and I represent in this House.
Who gave their sons to be murdered by the terrorists? Who supplied the police officers and the police force? Who supplied the Army volunteers? The vast majority came from the Protestant and Unionist community. I know that some very famous families came from the Roman Catholic community, and that they too suffered. The IRA refused to allow the body of a constituent of mine whom they had blown up to be buried in his own church graveyard. His body had to be carried to a graveyard six miles away, because the IRA said, "If you bury him in his own graveyard, we'll dig him up. We will not allow him to be buried there." These are things that people have suffered.
Let the House get this point in its mind today. There is the inkling—the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House seemed to suggest as much—that if we do not take this step, there will be a dread result. However, the dread result of taking this step will be this: there will be another concession, and the same argument will be used. After that a further concession will be made and the same argument will be used again, until the cause is surrendered and the people of Northern Ireland have lost their way completely—not through their own fault, but because they were misled. The Secretary of State needs to think very carefully about what he is doing.
The suggestion that those who oppose such moves are hindering peace is the suggestion of someone who is not facing facts. We do not oppose peace. Every one of my Members has been attacked. Every one of them has been subjected to an attempted killing, and some of them have been beaten up. My own wife, who was a member of Belfast council, was beaten up and stoned in the street. I know what they have been through. We in this House need to ask ourselves, "What about the people who are the real carriers of the peace banner? What do they think about this?" I certainly know from my constituency experience what the victims feel. They feel that this is a bribe to IRA—pay money, blood money.
In this regard, I think in particular of what happened to my hon. Friend Dr. McCrea. I confronted one of the leaders of the IRA in the Assembly when he was speaking about the support of children—about how we should all love our children—and I said, "What did you do when you were the IRA commander in Londonderry? You sent your gunmen to my friend's home on a Sunday night, after he had finished his service, and when his five children were in bed you ordered that bullets be put through the bedroom." Forty-six bullets were put through that bedroom in my hon. Friend's home, and it is a miracle that no one was killed.
We need to face up to those who think that way. There should be no bribes and no giving in. All of us who want to take part in these talks are told that we have to be democrats. All the parties have said that they will keep to that—except one, which says, "No. We are going to hold on to our weapons. We are going to continue our campaign."
The right hon. Gentleman is obviously very experienced in these matters and has lots of meetings with the Prime Minister. I am genuinely interested to know whether he feels that this initiative came about long before the IMC report. Does he think that some kind of agreement was stitched up between the Prime Minister and the leader of IRA-Sinn Fein?
Yes, my conviction is that certain things were done at a certain time, which my party had no connection with at all. In fact, I never had the opportunity even to speak to the Prime Minister, because I was banned from Downing street for almost two years; I do not have the Prime Minister's ear. I draw the conclusion that other things will emerge from the cupboard. Heaven knows what they will be, but this is one of them. Tonight, this House has a duty.
My right hon. Friend may want to respond to Kate Hoey on the assumption that she has not received the Labour party's briefing note for the debate. It contains a bullet point that states that the lifting of financial sanctions formed part of the negotiations with Sinn Fein that ultimately led to the
I accept that. Although my deputy seems to get papers that I do not, I confess that I get papers that he does not.
Even so, it is clear that things remain in the cupboard. I want the cupboard doors to be opened, and the Government to say what they have agreed with the IRA. There can be no future in talks between the parties until everyone knows what has been agreed and what tacit arrangements have been made.
I am in entire agreement with the leader of the Democratic Unionist party. I admire him immensely for his courage and for the leadership that he has given in Northern Ireland, which has made his party the largest in that part of the UK— [Interruption.] I admire him immensely, and will continue to do so. However, does he intend to refer to paragraphs 3.23 and 3.27 in the IMC report, which suggest that both PIRA and RIRA retain their weapons and ammunition? Paragraph 3.27 states that the Real IRA
"continues to develop its equipment and to seek both to recruit members and acquire munitions. Some parts of the organisation are working on a long term strategy and are focusing on the training—"
I was about to come to some quotations that need to be repeated in this House. We have heard a lot about what has been said in favour of the proposal, but we also need to hear what has been said against it by the various commissions.
How have we got to this point? We have had the Makro robbery, the Bobby Tohill abduction, and the robbery of goods from the Strabane branch of Iceland. Cigarettes with a market value of approximately £2 million were stolen from a bonded vehicle in Belfast, and there was also the Northern bank robbery. Those incidents form the background that shows why the money ceased to be paid.
None of the assets from those crimes have ever been recovered. The proceeds of the crimes are in the possession of the IRA, which has more money than it will ever be able to spend or launder. The Government are asking us to dip into our finances and give the IRA taxpayer's money, and something extra.
The people of Northern Ireland—Roman Catholics, Protestants and those with no religion—think that the situation is desperate. They gather around public representatives and ask what is going on. They almost blame us, because they think that the proposal stems from individual MPs. The Government have to face up to that.
About intelligence gathering, the IMC said:
"We believe that the organisation"— that is, PIRA—
"continues to engage in it and has no present intention of doing otherwise. This is an activity which we believe is authorised by the leadership".
We heard from a Labour Member that the leaders were against that, but the IMC said that
"it is organised by the leadership and involves some very senior members."
Whom should we believe?
I opposed the setting up of the IMC. Indeed, the first time that we met it, we had a humdinger of a row. However, the IMC did its best to try to be fair to all. I do not agree with all of its report, and it would not agree with all my comments, but the fact remains that its report states:
"PIRA continues to raise funds and we also believe that it looks to the long term exploitation of the proceeds of earlier crimes, for example through the purchase of property or legitimate businesses."
So those people will use those proceeds to buy property and set up business, and we are expected to give them some more money. The report continues:
"Some senior members are involved in money laundering and other crime."
It also states:
"We have . . . received reports that not all PIRA's weapons and ammunition were handed over for decommissioning in September."
After reading that report, one would ask why we should give any more money to the IRA.
There is a distinct difference between Short money and the money proposed in the motion, which is entirely separate new money. We do not know how the arrangement will be organised or run. We just know that we have to give those people new money. All of us who receive Short money know how meticulous the auditors are about the use of that money, and rightly so. It should be spent only on what this House voted for it to be spent on. But the money today is new money, and we do not yet know—the Secretary of State cannot tell us—how the use of that money will be supervised.
Last month, the Leader of the House said:
"If organisations are not committed to a peaceful process and to democratic work, they should not be entitled to those allowances."—[Hansard, 26 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 1528.]
I can tell him today that those organisations have not committed themselves to a peaceful process, and they have not become fully democratic. Therefore, they should not be given any money. I would like the Government to state clearly that those organisations cannot get on the train with a subsidised ticket until they are democratic. If we had all the democrats together round the table, one would hope to achieve a solution. Many people who do not take part in active politics would also beg for that to happen.
Perhaps the House should bear in mind the fact that I am resident in a constituency that has a Member of Parliament who has never attended this House and never once made representations on behalf of his constituents since he was elected in 1997. There is more money for a representative role, but 60 per cent. of people in the Mid Ulster constituency did not vote for that Member. They are being denied representation. When will this House stand up for those who have no voice here at present, and say that a representative should speak here for his people?
My hon. Friend makes a vital point, and the time has come for the Government to say that if people do not abide by the rules of the club, they cannot be in the club. At the moment, the IRA is holding a gun to all our heads.
I cannot recall how many times I have received absolute assurances from the Prime Minister that as long as there are crimes there will be nothing for those people. Well, they are still committing crimes, yet we are making another move. What will be the next thing—and the next, and the next?
We should be careful about giving money to those people. They do not need it anyway; they have more money than they can ever launder. There are many important things in Northern Ireland that need time for thorough discussion—hospitals, education and water rates—yet we are debating whether we should pass money to the IRA. I say no: taxpayers' money only for those who are democrats.
I apologise for speaking for so long, Madam Deputy Speaker; there were a lot of interruptions, so I hope that you will forgive me.
Not during my speech, which I have patiently waited a long time to deliver. I want to address some of the comments made by Mr. Hogg and my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn).
I respectfully remind Members that we are debating not one motion but two, and that there is a major difference between them. I invite the House to oppose motion 3 but not motion 4. I can live with motion 4; it broadly restores what the House had granted Sinn Fein and removed as a sanction. I take the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. I am a socialist and when I take the Oath I always preface it by telling the Clerk—who often gives me an old-fashioned look—that my mandate comes from the people of Thurrock, not from either a monarch or a prelate. I then proceed to take the Oath, which I am pleased to do.
I take on board the point made by Dr. McCrea about the frustration experienced by constituents who are not represented in this place, but we have accepted the Westminster, first-past-the-post system and the electors of Belfast, West, Thurrock or south-east London have to live with whoever won. The next general election will determine the remedy. If Members choose to abstain from our proceedings, that is a matter between them and their electors.
Although I can live with motion 4, I cannot support motion 3. I invite my hon. Friends to address the fact that it would introduce a new, exclusive allowance for only one political party, which cannot be justified as it has been presented to us. I remind my hon. Friends that although the debate was not fully advertised as a House of Commons matter we have the unique opportunity of a free vote, which I shall be pleased to exercise in opposing motion 3, and I invite Members to join me in the Lobby.
It is difficult to ascertain when the decision to create the new allowance was taken, or when it was announced to the House. I became aware of it just before business questions last week, when a Whip phoned me about it, and I am grateful to her for her kindness in drawing it to my attention. I realised subsequently that the debate involved not only the restoration of moneys that had been removed as a sanction but the new allowance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North and I may disagree in many of our views about Northern Ireland, but given his intervention we may agree on one narrow point—that there could be a case for state funding for political parties. We have all debated that and we hold various views. However, the allowance in motion 3 creates state funding for one political party to the exclusion of all others—that is what I find unacceptable—and it does so because the rules are written exclusively for that political party.
My hon. Friend is slightly missing the point. The money is for representational purposes. Representation is not just what we say in the Chamber; it is also involves representations directly to Ministers, meetings, briefings and all the other things that go with it, as he well knows.
I do not think that my hon. Friend and I disagree about that. However, the rules that will apply if motion 3 is passed have been announced, but they relate only to Sinn Fein. The Conservative party, the Liberal party, the SDLP, the DUP and the SNP must adhere to different, much narrower criteria.
My hon. Friend Mr. Kemp pressed the Leader of the House—if I could have the right hon. Gentleman's attention for a moment—to define the parameters of Short money, because he criticised the Conservatives' stewardship of it. The Conservatives said that it was inappropriate and quite wrong to accuse them of abusing Short money. My hon. Friend has asked the Leader of the House to clarify the parameters, and they have been clearly defined and relate to exclusively to parliamentary business. The provision did not extend to representative business. That shows the difference that is being made for Sinn Fein.
We must understand the nature of Sinn Fein, which believes that its writ runs like a seamless robe throughout Ireland. Let us take the position of the Leader of the House, who said that Sinn Fein might have a spokesperson on a certain matter. It is not possible, either for Sinn Fein or an accounting officer, to distinguish whether that spokesperson is, for example, talking about transportation in Northern Ireland, or in Monaghan or Cavan or elsewhere. Such things cannot be allocated and put into watertight compartments. That is the nature of Sinn Fein. I am not laying that down; it is part of the party's own rules and ethos that it believes that there is no such thing as Northern Ireland and that its spokespeople are entitled to talk about all 32 counties.
My hon. Friend is in danger of burying himself in the detail of his own argument. Surely, the issue is that if Short money is paid to a party, it is used to prepare briefings and other information for meetings with Ministers and so on. Is he saying that the other parties that receive Short money do not use any of that information other than in the Chamber of the House of Commons or in its Committees? Do they not use it in meetings with Ministers and in respect of all the other issues? Why is he so obsessed with the detail?
The detail is crucial. We have detailed ground rules and strict parameters are laid down. I did not lay them down. The ground rules were laid down after a challenge by my hon. Friend Mr. Kemp, who criticised the Conservatives in particular by suggesting that they were using the money for the purposes referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North.
The hon. Gentleman, with whom I very much agree, might wish to point out to Jeremy Corbyn that paragraph 6 of the 1975 resolution requires the parties to certify
"that the expenses in respect of which assistance is claimed have been incurred exclusively in relation to that party's Parliamentary business."
There is, therefore, the real possibility that we are creating a major gap between the traditional Opposition parties and Sinn Fein.
I want to move on, because, as I have indicated, there might be a case for the state funding of political parties, but that is a matter for debate on another occasion. That should be taken seriously and considered across the United Kingdom; or if hon. Members were persuaded that there are exceptional circumstances in Northern Ireland, we could debate it in the context of Northern Ireland. I am conscious of the fact that the UUP—Lady Hermon is now its sole representative—does not attract Short money, and neither she nor I would suggest that it should do so. However, there is a paradox, is there not? She comes and plays a full part in the House and contributes to the debate and so on, but the party that does not attend will get the new allowance.
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. Will he consider a point that is at the heart of the distinction between parliamentary and representative activities, about which he is quite properly concerned? Is it permissible for the Leader of the Opposition, for example, to make a speech outside Parliament—he has been doing that quite properly in recent weeks—that was written and drafted by a researcher who was funded by Short money? [Interruption.] Of course it is permissible. Conservative Members have just confirmed that. However, the speech must be made as part of the job of Leader of the Opposition. My hon. Friend therefore needs to be a little careful in making such a distinction when the Short money itself is quite carefully prescribed.
I would not be starting from here. The ground rules for Short money are still insufficient.
I have been invited to respond to my right hon. Friend's example, and I cite the case of the Prime Minister delivering speeches that were prepared wholly or in part by someone who was funded wholly or in part by Short money. The difficulty is identifying that. However, the Prime Minister does turn up here and he utters the same mantra in Sedgefield as here. I have never had the benefit of being a Minister—yet—but I imagine that each speech made by Ministers is not custom built. Much of the material for a speech delivered here is used for a speech made in Neath, Sedgefield or anywhere else.
It strikes me that we are trying to define something that we do not need to worry about today. The principle surely is that Short money cannot be spent on anything for which there are restrictions. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, as long as the Hoon money is very clearly defined, that will resolve that issue? Does the hon. Gentleman also accept that one of the problems with the contribution of the Leader of the House was that he was incredibly focused on Sinn Fein? As the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, the proposal sets a precedent. Will he be looking, as I am, for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to confirm that he really grasps that this about a principle and not specifically about Sinn Fein?
The hon. Gentleman needs to join me in the Division Lobby to defeat motion 3. We could send the homework back and the Government could return with strict ground rules that had been discussed and on which all the political parties and House authorities had been consulted.
I want to deal with the question of consultation. Who has the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland consulted, and where and when? Has he consulted the House authorities and elected officials such as Mr. Speaker and members of the Administration Committee, who run our finances? Which political parties have been consulted? It is a matter of courtesy, common sense and right that there should be full consultation, as that might enable us to set the ground rules for what the Conservative party and other parties can spend the money on? If there is a facility for Sinn Fein, ground rules would also make clear what it can spend the money on.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland invited me to consider the example of the Leader of the Opposition. Some of his speeches would be delivered here and others elsewhere. The point is that Sinn Fein cannot even remotely do that; there is no fig leaf to suggest that it could. In fairness—I use the word "fairness" for want of a better term—to Sinn Fein, it will not be able to demonstrate in its accounts how the money is identified as Westminster money. That cannot be done. Its policies form a seamless robe because its mandate is pan-Ireland. It simply does not carve things up into Northern Ireland matters.
May we return to what will happen as a result of the Government's largesse? There are three Members on the SDLP Bench behind the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] There are now three. The proposal will not affect my colleagues and I because there is a very small swing vote between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist party, but the funds for those three Members will be tied to their work for the Committees of the House and in the Chamber. Sinn Fein's target, on the other hand, will be to take the seats of those three hon. Gentlemen.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. In the past, on the margins, I have been critical of our colleagues from the SDLP. However, we do not often acknowledge the way in which the Social Democratic and Labour parliamentary party plays a full and proud part in the work of the House. I acknowledge that unreservedly, as well as the fact that SDLP Members have bravely borne the problems of many years, along with other elected representatives. They follow a tradition in the House of being not only proud nationalists, but good parliamentarians. If you glance up at the back of our Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will see a red crest. I salute it every day because it represents Willie Redmond, a proud nationalist Member of Parliament. He was the oldest officer killed on the western front and a Member of the House of Commons who attended the House of Commons. The hon. Members for South Down (Mr. McGrady), for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) keep up that tradition today.
A suggestion made by the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House might have influenced my hon. Friend Mr. Anderson, although I hope to get him to pause and reflect. My right hon. Friends said that the peace process must go on and that it has been a great success. Enormous advances have been made and I am proud of the changes that have come about in Northern Ireland. I have a selfish interest in Northern Ireland because my wife and I intend to retire there—a long time from now, I must add, and after many more elections. The place has transformed, and we need to talk it up because, in many respects, it is one of the safest places in western Europe, as well as one of the most beautiful. It has a lot going for it and I am proud of what has been achieved. However, the suggestion that the peace process is predicated on the new allowance for Sinn Fein stretches credulity to the limit. One can just imagine the president of Sinn Fein lying awake in bed at night thinking, "If I can get money in lieu of Short money, the peace process will advance."
I do not mean this unkindly, but that was certainly the implication and the tenor of what my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon, said. I wholly endorse the motion on the restoration of moneys and hope that hon. Members will support it because it arguably relates to the IMC report, but the extraordinary new allowance is not justified.
Will my hon. Friend look to the horizon a little? Does he not think that if we approve the motions we will help a confidence-building process that will develop the democratic involvement of a lot of people in Northern Ireland, rather than encourage them to go in the other direction? Does he not see the motions as part of the wider process that he already correctly supports?
The answer is no in relation to motion 3. The motion does not advance the process at all. It is an affront to the SDLP and other political parties, and it will blur the situation. It has all the chemistry to produce confusion and false accusations against a party's stewardship. It will create a feeling of discrimination and the thinking that different rules apply from one party to another. Motion 3 should be rejected, and the Secretary of State and Leader of the House can come back on another occasion with new ground rules for Short money, if necessary, following consultation with all the authorities. It is our duty to reject motion 3 so that it can be reflected on and rethought.
I shall do my best to obey your injunction, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to live up to what I said when I expressed the view that the debate would benefit from short, succinct contributions.
The first thing we have to recognise is that we are not debating the peace process. It is wrong and, indeed, unworthy of Ministers or anyone else to suggest that those who have misgivings about the two motions are opposed to peace and normality being brought to the lovely Province. That is what every honest and honourable Member of the House wishes to see. We are not debating that.
I should like to say briefly in parenthesis that if we were debating the peace process, I would have to point out that things are not as rosy as they look. Chairing the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee's current inquiry into organised crime, I am aware, from the evidence received up to now, of the considerable involvement in organised crime by paramilitaries on both sides. The peace process has a long way to go. I wish the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland well. He knows that. I would do anything that I legitimately could to help him to bring proper honourable and true peace to Northern Ireland, but we are some way off that, and we are some way off the restoration of the Assembly, which I also wish to see.
What we are talking about is how we treat those who are elected to this place and who choose not to come here. I met Mr. Conor Murphy and some of his Sinn Fein colleagues on my first familiarisation visit as Chairman of the Committee in September last year. I said, "You and your colleagues have five seats in the Westminster Parliament. You are entitled to a seat on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. You tell us you are embracing democracy and renouncing terrorism. You tell us that you wish to be treated on all fours with other politicians. Well, then, why don't you take your seats, argue your case, sit on the Committee, and behave like those hon. Members representing the SDLP and the two Unionist parties, and play a proper part in Westminster." There is not an hon. Member who would not welcome that. There would be vigorous debate and strong argument, but we would welcome the fact that they performed that constitutional duty. But no, they still wish to behave as did the first woman elected to the House, Countess Markiewicz, and not to take their seats.
That is the right of Sinn Fein's Members. If that is they way they want to behave, it is up to them.
I am usually accused of looking like George Bernard Shaw.
Those people who were elected as Sinn Fein Members were elected on the basis that they would not take the Oath and would not take their seats in the House. Constance Markiewicz was elected on the same basis. Therefore, the logic of the hon. Gentleman's position is that they should not be allowed to take any representative function because they have not taken an Oath of Allegiance because they do not believe in that Oath.
The hon. Gentleman is trying to have it both ways. Like Countess Constance Markiewicz, the Members that we are talking about were elected. That is fine. Their electorates knew that their stated position was not to take their places in the House. That is fine. If the majority of the electorate wished in that way to emasculate themselves and to deny themselves representation, that is part of democracy. However, there is no duty incumbent upon the House to vote allowances to Members who are not fulfilling their constitutional duty within and around the House.
Does not my hon. Friend feel that the real losers in the constituencies concerned are those who do not vote for Sinn Fein yet end up with no representation in the House because of the decision of Sinn Fein?
Of course. We have our system of democracy and I believe in it. Like all systems, it is imperfect and sometimes one has to accept the rough with the rough. The fact is that these Members decided not to take their seats. I deeply regret that. I believe that they would demonstrate proper democratic credentials if they did take their seats, but they do not. We are discussing whether they, having decided deliberately to absent themselves, should be given allowances such as we are able to have.
Misguidedly—to me, it is a matter of principle—the House decided in its wisdom, or otherwise, to support the Government when these people were given allowances. I was completely in support of Madam Speaker Boothroyd's judgment. It seemed to me that there could not be associate and second-class Members. I do not believe that anything changed between her decision and the House coming to its decision, but there we are. Then we had the spectacle of the Secretary of State withdrawing the allowances because of the involvement in the Northern bank robbery. I thought that that was a wise decision, and obviously supported it. Now the right hon. Gentleman comes to us—not really on the strength of the IMC report—and says, "I want you not just to reinstate the allowances but to backdate them to November."
If the right hon. Gentleman truly believes that he or his colleagues have made a commitment that obliges him to do that, he would cover himself with more honour if he came to the Dispatch Box and said, "I am formally moving the motions. There are no Whips on; it is totally free vote territory. It is up to the House of Commons to debate and to decide." That would be keeping faith with the promise that in my view was ill-advisedly but honourably given, and it would be behaving in an entirely sensible manner, and the House would decide.
As it is, the Government are seeking to manipulate the use of House of Commons money by giving these people allowances. Then, piling Pelion upon Ossa, it is said, "That is not enough. We will give you some other money as well."
As we have debated, this is not Short money as we currently know and understand it. This is a separate pot of money. A couple of weeks ago, Andrew Mackinlay said that it was Hain money. However, this afternoon, Members have said that it is Hoon money. Whether it is Hoon money or Hain money, I know that it is taxpayers' money. If the House is misguided enough to pass the motion, taxpayers' money will be given to a group of people who have amassed more ill-gotten gains than almost any political party in the history of western Europe.
This seems to be both unnecessary and wrong. If Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuiness had walked into the city hall in Belfast and deposited £26 million and said, "Here, you can have it back. We have no further use for it. We have washed our hands of dreadful methods." I think that I would put up my hands and say, "Yes, all right, you can have a bit of Short money". However, I would still not want them to have the other money because they do not come to the Chamber.
Does the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is a serious, honourable and sensible man, expect the House to believe that there is a need for that money? Of course, there is not. I implore him, even if he persists in pressing the other motion, to heed the good sense eloquently advanced by the hon. Member for Thurrock and not to push the Short motion until the Government have redefined it and returned to the House to prove that they are not inadvertently arguing for preferential treatment for the only party that does not take its seats in the House. That is a matter of logic and common sense. I have got that off my chest in 11 minutes, with two interventions, and I hope that that will allow other colleagues to be called.
We need to remember that we are considering two motions. They are very different, and in debating them, there is cross-reference between them and things are confused and conflated. However, we need to remember that those motions are distinct.
Motion 4 is the more straightforward of the two, as it deals with the question of restoring allowances removed in a motion on sanctions introduced in the House last March. That motion was tabled after a report by the Independent Monitoring Commission, and it extended the sanctions recommended by the IMC following the withdrawal of Assembly allowances and the Northern bank robbery. The Social Democratic and Labour party has never agreed that the IMC should have a role, power or function in drawing up or recommending sanctions against particular parties. We agreed with the concept of a monitoring commission that would examine any issue of concern raised by any party or anyone else about paramilitary activities or about parties failing to honour their political commitments under the Good Friday agreement to work with the institutions in a proper way. We therefore agreed that a monitoring commission should have such a role.
In 2003, we argued at Hillsborough that the two Governments should not include sanctions in the role of the monitoring commission. We suggested that it take a solution-based approach, not a sanction-based one in which parties would sue one another and cite one another's activities in an effort to achieve sanctions. In a solution-based approach, by contrast, all parties would have a collective responsibility to face up to problems, propose solutions and take shared responsibility for them. That position, however, was not accepted, so legislation was introduced in the House to establish the commission and give it the power of sanction. We did not support that legislation, because we believed that, yet again, the Governments were making a mistake in the management of the process.
Whenever motions were introduced in the House to impose sanctions on Sinn Fein, SDLP Members abstained from voting. Similarly, we will abstain from the vote to lift those sanctions, not because we oppose the return of allowances to Sinn Fein so that its Members can work on behalf of their constituents but because that is consistent with our position that we are not in the business of sanctions. Our position has been misrepresented by Sinn Fein, who keep saying that we supported a power of sanction for the IMC. We did not do so, and that is why we will abstain from the vote on motion 4. I will not do anything to discourage hon. Members on both sides of the House from going into the Lobby to support that motion, because it aims to ensure that Sinn Fein Members can conduct their representative business on behalf of their constituents. Jeremy Corbyn spoke about the way in which hon. Members conduct their business, and said that the allowances that we are paid do not all relate to what we do in the Chamber but to the meetings, correspondence and activities in which we engage. That will be covered by motion 4 on an equal basis with all other hon. Members in the House. The hon. Gentleman made a good argument for motion 4, but in his intervention he was not making a relevant argument in respect of motion 3.
As someone who believes in equality and in the quality of democratic representation, I have no issue with people who live in Sinn Fein-held constituencies knowing that their MPs have the same allowance as any other MP, which allows them to engage in day-to-day representative business. I do not want anyone to be denied representation. I will make my arguments against Sinn Fein's manifesto and their representative quality at elections, but once the electorate has decided, we should all have the allowance available to us for our representative business.
Motion 3 is different. We knew from what the Secretary of State had said in response to a previous IMC report that a motion would be tabled to restore allowances at Westminster. We all knew that. What we did not know was that there was a bonus ball in the draw—that Sinn Fein Members would get the Short money too. That emerged only last week, yet from briefings to colleagues, it seems that it goes back to an earlier deal or understanding between the Government and Sinn Fein.
For weeks the Secretary of State and his Ministers have been assuring us that the odyssey of side deals is over—that we are no longer on that pub crawl of preconditions, demands and side deals that get in the way of progress and debase the very name of the peace process. We are told that that is no longer happening, but lo and behold—what do we get? More of the same.
On Short money, the Leader of the House gave us a farrago of confusion. He told us that this was new money. He used the phrase "new money"—new funds. He told us that it was not Short money. In reply to hon. Members on the Conservative Benches, he contradicted them and said it was not Short money. Then he said it was the same as Short money; it would be like Short money. Later he said no, it would not be like Short money.
Lembit Öpik, who unfortunately is not with us, said that he wanted Ministers to reassure the House. So far Ministers have not done so. They have just made me even more concerned than I was. It is up to the House to reassure itself on these matters. If any of us have any doubts as a result of the confusion, we should vote against motion 3 and ask the House authorities or the Government to table something better.
There is confusion, as matters stand, even about Short money. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said that different parties had tested the line on it. When, as a new Member of the House and the leader of a party in the House, I inquired about the guidelines for Short money, I was told by Officers of the House that there is very little. They said that they would send me what there is, and not much came to me in the post. There is a genuine need for the House to re-examine funding for Opposition parties. That could take in representative work, as well as parliamentary work, so that all of us could look equally at the distinction between parliamentary work and representative work. Perhaps then all parties, on an equal basis, could have the benefit of an allowance that they could use for either or both purposes.
I advocate that we sort the issue out, taking in the position of Sinn Fein as well as other parties. That is the right and proper way of doing things. It would give equal treatment to all parties.
May I clarify an issue arising from the hon. Gentleman's speech? In the early part of his contribution, he made it clear that he does not approve of sanctions if Sinn Fein overstep the mark. If the accounting officer every nine months is unable to give Sinn Fein a clean bill of health about how they have spent their so-called allowance for representative purposes, would the hon. Gentleman support sanctions in those circumstances?
The hon. Lady has made a separate point about sanctions. The misuse of funds voted for by this House is clearly a proper matter for this House to pursue, because if anyone misuses funds, appropriate measures must be taken.
I have been discussing political difficulties in the peace process. When the Government introduced the IMC, they went for a sanctions-based approach. We had an issue with that approach, but it was not because we were afraid of imposing sanctions on Sinn Fein or of doing things separately from Sinn Fein—our position on policing shows that we have no problem with doing things differently from Sinn Fein. Our honourable position on the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, which has been vindicated, also shows that we have no problem doing things differently from and standing up to Sinn Fein—for example, we pointed out the sleazy deals struck between Sinn Fein and the Government.
We could not accept that sanctions were the long-term answer to the problems in the peace process. We did not like the Government's idea of a menu of sanctions, because, as Seamus Mallon said in this House on a previous occasion, when the sanctions were set against the scale of criminality and the potential profit from racketeering, we were discussing a small licence fee for criminality, which was not much of a windfall tax given all the robberies for which the IRA has been indicted. We never got into that territory, because we thought it wrong and misguided.
On Short money, the Government are now seeking to get the House to give Sinn Fein a gratuitous bonus. We should consider how Short money can be used to extend some benefits to Sinn Fein on an equal basis to other political parties, and I ask hon. Members to vote against motion 3 on the Order Paper to allow that to happen.
The Northern Ireland Bill will be published next week. Among other things, it will make provisions on donations and fundraising in respect of party political funding. Although the Government's proposal is out of turn, I want the Government to allow us to go through the Bill and examine the implications for all parties on funding. We should also examine the fairness of introducing a bespoke fund for Sinn Fein in that light. All hon. Members should be wary of bespoke, ad hoc funding for one party in any circumstances.
Some hon. Members have said that the peace process rests on that issue, but they used the same verbal formula on the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, when they suggested that the sky would fall in if the values, spirit and concerns of victims were upheld. The Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill has fallen by the wayside, but is the peace process in crisis? No; the political landscape is a lot better and the situation is more encouraging.
A number of hon. Members have cited the IMC report and the Decommissioning Commission report, which are relevant to not only this debate, but, hopefully, political developments in the coming months. The IMC report is positive, and I wish that DUP Members would face up to the progress that it identifies on the IRA's desisting from a range of activities. Equally, Sinn Fein and the Government must face up to the ongoing problems that that report underlines. For their own purposes, both Sinn Fein and the DUP exaggerated their reactions to the IMC report, which gave people the impression that it is far more negative than it actually is.
Hon. Members should have no particular concern about voting for motion 4 on the Order Paper, but they should think long and hard about motion 3, because we can better address Short money, Sinn Fein and equality of funding for Northern Ireland political parties.
I am conscious that in any overall review of Short money we need to consider the invidious position that is created for the Ulster Unionist party, which, with the same number of Assembly Members as Sinn Fein and a vote share slightly larger than ours, finds itself without Short money, policy money, and so on. That puts it in a difficult position. It has to carry out all sorts of representative activities and duties without the benefit of the parliamentary allowances that Sinn Fein has.
If we are to consider this on the basis of equity, fair play, justice and diversity, we need to take a position that is more than just a fix-up for Sinn Fein alone. Too much of this process has been based on the Government fixing things for Sinn Fein. Mr. Howarth recalled sitting on the Government Benches for 26 hours defending the Disqualifications Bill, which was introduced for the purposes of Sinn Fein alone and to suit its particular party political designs. Time and again, in key negotiations Sinn Fein negotiates not for a variety of people, nor for the community at large in Northern Ireland, nor even for the nationalist and republican community in Northern Ireland, but for itself. That is why we get key demands centring on funding for Sinn Fein, offices for Sinn Fein and the on-the-runs legislation.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that given what he is saying every Northern Ireland Member attending this House should vote against motion 3 and the Government should pay very close attention to that unanimous opposition?
In the spirit of its being a free vote, I cannot speak for every Northern Ireland Member who is here, but I hope that the point is not lost on the Government.
He will, too, although whether in the same Lobby as me is another matter. He will be with me after the vote, if nothing else.
We have had evidence of all the different fix-ups suiting Sinn Fein and its purposes. Even the Taoiseach indicated that the deal-breaker for Sinn Fein in one of the key deals did not concern institutions, inclusion or equality, but securing the release of certain prisoners in a jail in the Irish Republic—those who had killed Garda McCabe. We see time and again that Sinn Fein negotiates for itself and for its own. At some point the Government should tell Sinn Fein where to get off. If this is being done in the name of a wider democratic peaceful process—something that is going to give us all a greater good that we should participate in—it is on those terms and those alone that the party should come forward with its demands and preconditions. The Government are sending a very dangerous signal in continuing this approach.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North tries to defend this on the grounds that we have to do questionable things that people may not like in the name of confidence-building. The Democratic Unionist party came into talks on Monday with six demands, all couched in the name of confidence-building, saying that unless they were granted, the talks could not start. In terms of confidence-building, one has to throw a six to start before one gets anything. I would advise my hon. Friend to be very careful about where the confidence-building ticket may lead. What goes around comes around in this process, unfortunately.
If the Government are telling us that new factors have created this need for new money, they should inform the House that we need to consider them in the context of a review of Short money; I am sure, on the basis of the debate so far, that the House would be able to do that. They should not give the House the bum's rush and say that we have to pay Short money for short arms as a form of Haingeld, as Members will no doubt end up calling it. This is a bad way for the House to conduct itself as regards the key issue of moneys that it votes to its own Members. The House should be more judicious about its own procedures, and is certainly entitled to ask the Government to be more circumspect in their dealings with Sinn Fein in the name of the peace process.
I apologise to the House for not being present for the whole of the debate. I had a medical appointment that I did not want to break. I would not recommend anyone to have their blood pressure checked during one of these debates.
For those Members who have not been in the House as long as others, there is always some sort of curiosity when an English MP weighs into a Northern Ireland debate.
This is not essentially a Northern Ireland debate; it is a debate about the rights and privileges of Members of Parliament. That is a matter of Parliament, not of Northern Ireland.
I understand entirely my right hon. and learned Friend's point. I am going to talk about Northern Ireland, however, even if the matter is a general one. I speak and always have done so because I am an absolutely unapologetic Unionist, and I see a Unionist argument in this general matter. Members who have been in the House for as long as I have will know that I have had a long, 10-year, detailed involvement in these matters, and that I have been on the receiving end of interest from Sinn Fein-IRA as to my whereabouts. I have been around this course before, and make no apologies for going round it once more.
My purpose is to do my level best to persuade the House to reject both the motions. I hear the arguments about one, and about the other. My argument, however, is in favour of rejecting both. I am not about to make an attack on the current Government in this matter. I have attacked successive Governments for what I see as the appeasement of Sinn Fein-IRA. Mine is not a party political contribution. Nor is it an attack on those who want a united Ireland. I count among my friends members of the SDLP, and it is totally honourable to want a united Ireland by peaceful and democratic means. I disagree with that end, but I respect it, so I am not about to go down that route either.
My opposition is simply born of the fact that I have witnessed, in my time as a Member of Parliament, successive Governments treating murderous thugs such as Adams and McGuinness as though they are respectable politicians. That is what I cannot stomach. I am opposed generally, on behalf of the whole House, I hope, to the House giving special benefits to terrorists. I am against the House trying to bribe armed people into making more pretty well meaningless gestures. I am against the House paying those terrorists for publicity stunts such as so-called decommissioning.
Whenever I hear a Minister trying to persuade the House to vote for things such as those for which we are being asked to vote tonight, I always hear a case based on special pleading. Recently, I heard that it is ever so sensible to release from prison Irish terrorists. At the same time, I heard the argument that is sensible to hunt down and lock up Muslim terrorists. I am blowed if I can see the difference. As I think about the issues before us tonight, I keep remembering that I have heard the argument advanced that it is a good idea to allow armed terrorists into the Northern Ireland Assembly, because, by some magical process, it will turn them into democrats. At the same time, I hear the argument advanced that it is awful that Hamas armed terrorists have won an election in Palestine, and that they cannot possibly become the Government until such time as they disarm.
Whenever I join in debates about Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein-IRA, I am deeply conscious of the hurt caused to the victims of terrorism, not only by these debates but by the matters that give rise to them. I am at a loss to understand why Governments in this country consider it acceptable to cause hurt to victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland in the name of progress. I imagine that the same Government would not for a moment consider giving money to the masterminds behind the bombings in the tubes in London last year. I simply do not understand why on the one hand we are asked to do things that, on the other, we are told are wrong.
I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of my constituents will be appalled at the concept of British taxpayers' money—their money, not the Government's—being used to fund terrorists, and to fund criminals. I think that it is an offence to my constituents to be asked to provide allowances and offices in this Parliament for people who have tried to blow up this Parliament—people who have actually killed Members of Parliament within these precincts. My constituents will find that offensive.
I think that my constituents will also find it offensive that we are now being asked to give even more money to those people so that they can continue their terrorism and their crime. We shall be able to read the opening speech by the Leader of the House in Hansard, but I think I heard it suggested that this constituted something of a reward for decommissioning. If that is the argument, I can only guess that it represents an attempt to give those people money so that they can buy replacements following the stunt in which they became involved; but if that is the justification being offered for what we are being asked to do, it is a disgrace. I hope the whole House understands that.
What we are being asked to do, when we vote tonight, is make yet another one-sided concession to terrorism and to crime masquerading as Sinn Fein-IRA. I think that both motions are deeply offensive. They are deeply offensive to the victims of Sinn Fein-IRA violence. According to my reading of them—although perhaps the SDLP will tell me different—they are deeply offensive to democratic nationalists in Northern Ireland. Most certainly, the motions and the proposals are deeply offensive to the British taxpayer.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent and powerful speech. Does he agree that if the Government advanced a proposal that discriminated in favour of one party in the House other than Sinn Fein, there would be uproar and it would be rejected?
I am sure that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should bear in mind that there is no need whatever for either of the motions if we are arguing that we should all be treated as equals. All that Sinn Fein-IRA Members need do is turn up, and they will be treated like the rest of us. The motions are superfluous, and they make it easier for those Members to behave as they do.
I know that others wish to speak, so I shall not continue at length. Those who have heard me speak before will know that I have always opposed the payment of allowances, so there is no need for me to rehearse the arguments; I shall merely vote against it again. Now, however, we are being asked to do something else: to approve what I suspect will come to be known as Hoon money. This new allowance plumbs new depths of appeasement of terror. I never believed when I came to the House 18 years ago that I would live to see the day when the House would be asked to put psychopathic murderers on its payroll.
I shall be brief because I recognise that other Members wish to speak; most of them are from the Democratic Unionist party, and I would not wish them to be silenced.
We are discussing two issues here today. One is democracy; the other is the progress of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Members are elected to this House because they have stood for election and a majority of those who voted sent them here to be Members of Parliament. As was mentioned in an intervention by the hon. Member for—wherever—
South Staffordshire—how could I forget, as I used to live near there? I do apologise.
In a discussion with the hon. Gentleman earlier, we raised the issue of Members being elected, having made it clear during the election process that they had no intention of taking their seats because they were not prepared to take the Oath. However, those Members still have a responsibility to represent their constituents—whether they voted for them or not—as we all do. It therefore seems entirely logical that one should give them sufficient resources and allowances to carry on the representative process. Furthermore, they are all from one party, and that party has political responsibilities in relation to the Government and to the agencies of the Government here and in Northern Ireland. Those Members should therefore be entitled to exactly the same resources—it is called Short money, but I understand that it might be renamed Hoon money—as Members from any other party, so that they can carry out their representative work.
I am not familiar with the situation in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but if someone were elected to be a Member of the Assembly and failed to turn up, would they be entitled to their allowances? Under regulations introduced by the Secretary of State for Wales, if someone were elected to the Welsh Assembly and did not turn up, they would have to vacate their seat and would not be eligible for any allowances. Similarly, if I did not turn up to meetings of my local borough council, I would have to vacate my seat and I would not be entitled to any allowances.
What we are discussing is a matter for this Parliament. It is a national Parliament and a sovereign Parliament. It is an autonomous body, not a golf club. Once people have been elected as Members, if they do not turn up, that is a matter for them and for their constituents. It is a matter that can be addressed by the electorate at another time. We do not have the ability to force people to attend the House after they have been elected. That surely is a product of history.
The hon. Gentleman has alluded, not for the first time, to the perfect right of people to vote for a member of Sinn Fein or anyone else standing on an abstentionist ticket. People have a perfect right to do that, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that they should do so in the knowledge that if they elect an abstentionist, there will be no allowances for that person? If a Member wishes to carry out their representative duty in those conditions, that is their right, but we should not change the rules after they have been elected.
Sinn Fein Members who have been elected to this House do not receive any payment because they do not take their seats. Until recently, they did not receive any allowances either. Agreement was then reached, following a debate in the House, that they should receive allowances in order to carry out their representative work in Parliament. Electors may vote for someone who has already announced that they will not take their seat in the House, but that does not mean that the Member is not going to represent those people. The Member has merely said that they will not take their seat. Historically, this goes back to 1918 when Connie Markiewicz was elected—ironically, from my constituency; I think I am right in saying that she was in Holloway prison at the time—to represent Dublin, Central. She could not, and did not, take her seat. Nor did the other Sinn Fein MPs of the time. That was the tradition. Nevertheless, such MPs have a duty to represent people—as does every other Member—which involves dealing with correspondence, agencies, the Government and all the rest of it.
Of course they do, and of course they can, but we are not obliged to give them the kind of allowances that the hon. Gentleman qualifies for only when he properly takes his seat.
The House has already voted on the issue of allowances—some time ago, in fact. They were suspended last year and we are now reinstating them. We have already established and agreed the principle that elected representatives do not get paid if they do not take the Oath, but that they do get the resources needed to represent all their constituents. Today we are reaffirming that principle, but we are also saying that a political party has a right to resources in order to represent its cause to the Government or to anybody else.
My hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay and others have expressed the view that such resources should be used only for parliamentary purposes. I do not doubt that the accounts showing the expenditure of Short money by all the Opposition parties are very carefully scrutinised, but when a researcher writes a speech for a leading Opposition Member and it is delivered in the House, that same information is often then used in a public meeting, in a meeting with Ministers or in negotiations with agencies. We cannot distinguish between material prepared for use in the Chamber and material used in furtherance of parliamentary representation. We should therefore support the motions before us tonight.
I have been in this House for just about as long as anybody present in the Chamber—one or two may have been Members for slightly longer, but I have been one for some time—and I recall a time during the 1980s when this House decided that a broadcasting ban and a travel ban on Sinn Fein and a number of other such measures would somehow further the cause of peace in Northern Ireland. To the credit of John Major and others, a ceasefire was agreed and a peace process developed. That process was built on through the establishment of the Good Friday agreement and all that has happened since.
Of course the situation in Northern Ireland is not perfect, but it is an awful lot better than it was, because there is something approaching a political process. The Secretary of State said that he wanted the Assembly and the Executive to be re-established and I support him in that, but it is up to the Democratic Unionist party and other parties to ensure that they are re-established. At some point, if it is serious about the restoration of devolved power to Northern Ireland, the DUP will have to treat with other parties, whether or not it likes them or agrees with them. It knows that, and we know that.
We also know that what we are being asked to do today is part of a wider process. We are saying to those who have elected Sinn Fein MPs, "We recognise your vote, your right to representation and your support for that party, so resources will be allowed for you to be represented, but salaries will not be allowed to those MPs because they do not take their seats." So there is a great deal of logic behind this process.
Agreeing to the motions today might just help toward restoring the Assembly and the Executive in Northern Ireland. A political process, however difficult, and political conflict, however deep, is surely far better than people being killed on the streets, however much hatred existed, and perhaps still exists, between people. We should look to the future and to some form of hope for the people of Northern Ireland. Today could be a very small step in that direction.
I shall be brief, as I know that other right hon. and hon. Members want to speak. I find myself in agreement with some of what Jeremy Corbyn has said. I make a distinction between the motion dealing with Short money—"Hoon" money—and that dealing with allowances. I will not support the former—indeed, I will oppose it—for the reason pointed out by Mark Durkan and others. There is a distinction, as it is currently presented to the House, between the benefits paid to the traditional Opposition parties and to Sinn Fein. I listened carefully to what the Leader of the House said, but I am also conscious of the wording of the 1975 resolution.
The truth is that Short money should be paid only in connection with parliamentary business. I am perfectly willing to accept that there is an overlap between parliamentary and representative business. However, we are emphasising the gap—inevitably, I think—by using different language. Where language is different, it normally attracts different interpretations. The risk of accepting the Short money-Hoon money motion is that there will be a real disadvantage to the traditional Opposition parties, and a real and unfair benefit to Sinn Fein.
For reasons that I shall set out in a moment, I am perfectly prepared to contemplate Short money-Hoon money going to Sinn Fein, provided that the same money is payable to the traditional Opposition parties, including my own. Therefore my suggestion to the Government—it is similar to the points made by the hon. Members for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) and for Foyle—is that the motion should be withdrawn and replaced by one that covers the entirety of such allowances payable to all Opposition parties. In that way, we can be sure that there is no differentiation of language and no risk of a different interpretation.
I shall say no more about Short money-Hoon money, as I realise that time is short. I turn now to the question of allowances for Sinn Fein, about which I shall say something a little more controversial. I regret that, as he knows full well, I do not agree with my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack about this matter.
I approach this debate as a monarchist, and that is important in the light of what I have to say about the Oath. I approach it also as a deeply committed Unionist, as I hope that members of the Unionist parties will accept. I am also a traditionalist and a Conservative—but above all, I am a parliamentarian.
By what authority is any of us in this place? Our only legitimacy stems from the fact that we have been chosen—perhaps imperfectly—by our electorates. That is as true of Sinn Fein Members as it is of any other hon. Member. The general proposition is that a person who is chosen as a Member of this House has obligations, but also the rights and benefits that flow from that choice. I say that it is a general proposition, because those entitlements fall away on disqualification, or perhaps suspension. Why are we seeking to deny Sinn Fein Members the benefits that attach to the rest of us?
I acknowledge that they refuse to take the Oath, but I do not think that the Oath should be a precondition of sitting in the House. I am a monarchist—that is why I am making this point—and have no difficulty with taking the Oath, but I accept that republicanism is a perfectly proper political position. I suspect that many hon. Members, in the course of our history and perhaps today, have had to strain their consciences to take the Oath. I do not believe that we should ask people to do that.
We should reformulate the Oath so that any honourable person can take it. It should not be attached to the monarchy, but should be expressed in some different way that we could discuss. Therefore I do not accept that a failure to take the Oath disqualifies Sinn Fein Members from receiving the allowances and benefits.
A different question has been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire and others. Given that Sinn Fein Members do not participate, are they entitled to the allowances? However, the hon. Member for Islington, North got the matter wholly right, and all of us know that our parliamentary duties go far beyond what we do in this place.
I have not been in the House as long as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire, but I came here in 1979. I know that some hon. Members are very assiduous in the House, and that some hardly play any part at all. Some prefer to concentrate on their national or constituency duties: some of the most assiduous in this place make contributions of the least value, while some who come only occasionally make contributions of the greatest value.
We have to recognise that important contributions are made outside the House. I would be prepared to accept that Sinn Fein Members do that in their constituency functions. They probably do write to Ministers, raise cases with the Inland Revenue and do all the other such things that you and I do, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is a discharge of their duties, and they should be entitled to allowances for that reason.
Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain the situation to my father, who is 89 years old and—despite his age—a very active farmer in County Tyrone in the Mid-Ulster constituency? In the absence of the Assembly, the only legislation that could affect my father will be passed in this House. How does Martin McGuinness, my father's MP, do anything to represent, either in parliamentary or representative terms, pensioners and farmers such as my father?
I start from the fact that we do not have a perfect system. The position of the hon. Lady's father is not very different from the position of a committed Conservative in a constituency represented by a Labour Member. With the whipping system as it is, and given the practices and conventions to which we adhere, the majority of Labour Members would not table amendments that a Conservative voter would prefer. Sinn Fein Members may write to Ministers and make representations, but it is true that they do not articulate them on the Floor of the House. However, to the extent that I have outlined, their constituents are not in a position different from that of Conservative voters represented by Labour Members.
It is true that he is a hereditary peer and, following recent changes, entitled to sit in this House. He is also very learned. However, he is not really doing justice to the role of Member of Parliament. Were the father of Lady Hermon to be represented by somebody who took their seat in this place, they would be able to raise his concerns in Adjournment debates and in other ways. Very few of us take any notice of the political affiliations of those who come to see us. If they are our constituents, we seek to help them regardless of whether they voted for us. I am sure that my right hon., learned and noble Friend is no different in that respect.
I hope that my hon. Friend is right when he is so complimentary, and I believe that he is, for these purposes. But the truth is that Members of Parliament can articulate their constituents' anxieties in a variety of ways other than on the Floor of the House. The Floor of the House is one way of doing it, but it is not the only way. Although I am a fairly active parliamentarian, I suspect that it is not even the most important way.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not realise the difficulty? A Conservative voter may differ with their Labour Member of Parliament on certain issues, but that MP is not a terrorist. It would be very difficult for the hon. Lady's father to go to Martin McGuinness, who has been a member of the Army Council of the IRA, which has murdered people in that constituency.
That may well be true, but it is true whether or not those Members take their seats. The fact that they do not take their seats does not address that particular difficulty.
I accept that the principle that I have enunciated is capable of exceptions. The exception should be that when Members of Parliament have committed criminal offences so that they are disqualified, we are entitled to remove their allowances. When Members are suspended, because the House finds them guilty of misconduct, we are also entitled to take away the allowances. However, that happens after due process, when the allegations have been carefully examined. What we are doing now is using the giving and taking of allowances to further policy, and that undermines the status of Members of Parliament.
I recognise that there is a diversity of opinion in the House, and that is healthy. However, I approach the matter as a parliamentarian who will assert that my only legitimacy in this place comes from the electorate. I find it difficult to make a distinction in principle between the process by which I was elected and the process that elected Sinn Fein Members. If that is true, Sinn Fein Members are entitled to the same rights and benefits as I am. That flows from the fact that they have been chosen by an electorate that knew full well that they would not sit in this place.
It has been said:
"All human errors are impatience, the premature breaking off of what is methodical."
The Government's approach to the political process, specifically their confidence in the democratisation of Sinn Fein, has been characterised over the years by premature actions and excessive expectations. No action illustrates that over-eagerness more clearly than their seeking to restore allowances to republicans only days after a devastating IMC report.
I say to Mark Durkan: DUP Members do not ignore the fact that the IMC noted that in some small areas there had been recognised improvements in terms of the republican movement, although there is nothing in the report indicating that such improvements will be permanent. In many areas, however, the report indicates that there is no improvement and that the leadership is heavily involved.
Last year, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said:
"In 1998, everyone thought that there would be a transitional period in which there would be a withering away . . . of criminality and all the other activities that paramilitaries get up to. However, the reality is that the robbery of the Northern bank and other activities show that it has not gone away."
Announcing his intention to withdraw allowances from Sinn Fein, the right hon. Gentleman said that
"the measures that we are proposing are designed to express the disapproval of all those who are committed to purely democratic politics at the actions of the Provisional IRA."—[Hansard, 22 February 2005; Vol. 431, c. 171–79.]
That was a logical position, but, given the damning report of the IMC last week, the people of Northern Ireland will wonder whether the Government no longer disapprove of IRA activities—for why else would republicans be rewarded by the House?
At a time when the Provisional IRA is in the dog house, exposed on the international stage for its ongoing criminal activities, what message are the Government sending? Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is willing to issue threats to Assembly Members in Northern Ireland and those who staff their offices that he will remove their allowances. They are democrats—people to whom the IMC reports make no reference—serving their communities through a network of offices, yet they are expected to live with ongoing uncertainty about their employment.
It is not as though the IMC report was lukewarm or vague about the Provisional IRA's involvement in criminality. Many observers were taken by surprise at the frankness of the report's description of the "new phase" of the IRA's activity. The report stated:
"Members of the Provisional IRA continue to be heavily involved in serious organised crime, including counterfeiting and the smuggling of fuel and tobacco . . . Senior members"— senior members, not somebody carrying out ad hoc activity for their own pocket—
"are involved in money laundering and other crime . . . Not all PIRA's weapons and ammunition were handed over for decommissioning in September. The material goes beyond a limited number of handguns kept for personal protection."
The Secretary of State might like to explain the following. The IICD report makes it clear that the commission had received evidence from UK intelligence sources—MI5 and the PSNI—that the IRA had held on to weaponry. The IICD, having been caught out committing itself publicly to saying that all decommissioning had been completed, tried to find someone to support that belief. It went to the Provisional IRA. Of course, those in the Provisional IRA said, "We have decommissioned all our weapons." It went to the Garda Siochana, who said that they had no such evidence in their jurisdiction, but that if the PSNI did it was clearly because it was in the United Kingdom jurisdiction.
What did the IICD do? It had the choice to believe, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does, either MI5 and the PSNI or the IRA. The IICD chose to believe the Provisional IRA, and I am glad to say that the IMC did not. I was glad to hear Lord Alderdice, the former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, very clearly indicate that he could not agree with the IICD's judgment.
The IMC report says that the Provisional IRA
"continues to engage in intelligence gathering, and has no present intention of doing otherwise. This is an activity we believe is authorised by the leadership and which involves some very senior members."
The report continues:
"It involves efforts to penetrate public and other institutions with the intention of illegally obtaining or handling sensitive information. The organisation continues to accumulate information about individuals and groups, including members of the security forces."
Is it the Government's clear view that the allowances contained in the two motions should be returned to an organisation with a CV that has been outlined by the IMC report?
The notion that ongoing IRA criminality is down to a handful of individuals, far removed from the republican leadership, has been dispelled. The illegality comes not from one or two on the fringes; it goes right to the very top of the republican movement. The information that I have quoted about intelligence gathering is probably the most directly relevant to the House.
Hon. Members should not forget that a republican spy ring at Stormont brought down the old Assembly in Northern Ireland three and a half years ago. Furthermore, within the last week, Ministers in the Irish Republic, including the Minister for Defence, and elected representatives in the Dáil were ordered by their parties to check out of and not return to a popular Dublin hotel on account of evidence of IRA surveillance activities at the hotel. While the IRA is brazenly continuing to gather intelligence targeted at public institutions, surely it would be ridiculous for the House to vote to restore allowances to those republicans, some of whom are the leaders who control those very activities.
The Government's fascination with applying the allowances raises the question of whether anything could have appeared in the eighth IMC report about IRA activity that would have dissuaded the Government from following such a foolish course of action. Is it only when the IRA is found to have been behind a £26.5 million robbery that it is deemed appropriate that allowances should be withheld? Yet, under the motions, the Government are reducing the sanction that they set for that offence and setting no sanction for all the crimes that have been committed since.
The proceeds of the Northern bank raid—the largest ever in the British isles—have still not been recovered. They are retained by the republican movement, and the IRA has done nothing to assist in the recovery of that cash—in fact, it has done the opposite. Holding and using the proceeds of a bank robbery is a continuing crime.
Order. I am happy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks so far, but he will be aware that that case is now sub judice. As long as his remarks are of a general nature, I am happy to allow them, but I would not want him to go into too much detail about that case.
I am happy to comply, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I am all the more happy, because I have only one more sentence to deliver in relation to the case: rather than punish republicans for that continuing crime, the Government want to reward them.
It has now been revealed that, over several years, senior IRA figures have accumulated massive wealth. Its finance director, Des Mackin, now owns property worth more than £1.75 million. He has a conviction for IRA membership in the mid-1980s and served as Sinn Fein's treasurer. He, along with the Belfast tycoon, Peter Curistan, are the two co-directors of numerous companies, seven of which were prosecuted in the district court in Dublin recently for failing to keep proper accounts.
Instead of rewarding republicans for criminality, the Government should address the involvement of such men in government initiatives. Curistan is the key private sector investor behind Belfast's flagship £100 million Odyssey centre in my East Belfast constituency. Many of us have been aware of Mr. Curistan and his business activities and, until recently, I believe that most people believed that they were legitimate. Given recent reports, I believe that they will consider that that is not the case. His Sheridan Group was awarded a massive development contract in June 2005 by the Laganside Corporation, which is a public body, for residential provision, offices, a hotel, niche retail outlets, waterfront cafés and other leisure facilities, together with parking. When he winds up, will the Secretary of State ensure that the activities of the Sheridan Group and its association with the IRA's dirty money are fully investigated? Will he guarantee that no further public money is channelled in its direction until, if ever, it gets a clean bill of health?
I have already referred to the security concerns in Dublin over a popular city centre hotel, which is thought to be run by the Provisional IRA It is used by Irish Government Ministers and others during their working week. A senior republican who is originally from Armagh is the main owner of that hotel. He had his home and businesses raided last week by the Irish police, and files searched in the offices of his solicitors and accountants. This particular individual has a collective property portfolio valued in excess of £70 million. The Garda are investigating a money trail that is likely to trace his multi-million pound fortune back to an IRA slot machine scam in London in the 1980s.
In recent years, the IRA purchased businesses in Dublin and further afield. These were usually high-turnover cash businesses, such as public houses and gaming halls, that allowed the terrorists to launder dirty money, stolen cash and counterfeit notes. It is estimated that the provos own more than 20 pubs in Dublin alone, but their interests extend very much further. The IRA sought to use the proceeds of the Northern bank robbery to infiltrate the banking system in Bulgaria to provide the ultimate vehicle for laundering cash. The IRA's chief of staff, Slab Murphy, is the owner of a property portfolio that stretches to eastern Europe. He has made a personal fortune of £40 million on the back of a smuggling empire based at his farm that straddles the border with south Armagh. I have referred to these individuals in order to highlight to hon. Members just how deeply embedded criminality is within the IRA, including its upper echelons.
I am sure that the House will be greatly alarmed at some of the facts and figures that my hon. Friend is giving. Will he ask the Secretary of State to look into the suggestion that one of the leading members of the IRA and the army council, Martin McGuinness, has been a paid British agent for a long time?
I am not quite sure how much he might be getting for such a position, but I do know that there is considerable discomfort in the ranks of the republican movement as they each look over their shoulders to see where the next paid agent is going to come from. I am sure that the Secretary of State has heard what my hon. Friend has said and will want to scribble down a note and respond to it when he winds up.
It is calculated that the IRA benefits to the tune of more than £100 million per annum from its criminal activities, yet what is the Government's response? The response clearly is to give it more funds. I believe that this type of misguided and untimely action by the Government dents community confidence and releases some of the pressure on republicans to desist from criminality. Although the sums associated with the allowances would be considerable for other political parties in Northern Ireland, they pale into insignificance when compared with the multi-million-pound coffers of the republican movement. However, the reinstatement of the allowance and the additional new allowance will encourage republicans to believe that the present level of criminality can be tolerated. With the proposals, the Government are sending the IRA the message that it has reached an acceptable level of criminality.
The proposal to invent a new allowance for Sinn Fein alone is intolerable. Other parties receive Short money for the work that they do in the House, but I do not believe that Sinn Fein has any intention of using the funds that it will receive for that purpose. It will use them as part of its project of capturing the whole of the nationalist vote in Northern Ireland. The Government are effectively making a donation solely to republicans, while the IRA retains the proceeds of its ongoing crime. The motions stand alongside the Government's discredited on-the-runs Bill as the most bizarre and crazy proposals ever to be introduced in the House, and I hope that they meet the same end.
I realise that we have little time, so I will try hard to limit my speech to the time available.
I want to bring a slightly different perspective to the debate: the situation as seen through the eyes of most of the people whom I represent in Northampton. The House must have a connection with them, but I have heard little about that connection during the debate. I shall explain the point that I am trying to make by referring to one of my predecessors, Charles Bradlaugh. He stood for election three times in Northampton before he was successful, and when he was elected, he refused to take the Oath. He did that on four occasions and was expelled each time, but the people of Northampton returned him again and again until the Speaker agreed to allow him to make an affirmation and become a Member.
Charles Bradlaugh acted honourably, suffered for his principles and was willing to pay the price. A comparison of his behaviour and that of Sinn Fein is unfavourable to the party. Bradlaugh stood by his principles, but Sinn Fein has lied about its activities. It continues to live off the proceeds of crime, yet expects to take the British taxpayers' money into the bargain. The majority of people in Northampton, South find that totally unacceptable and will not understand the Government's actions, especially with regard to Short money. The truth of the matter is that Sinn Fein says that it will not take part in this Parliament with a sovereign at its head, but is prepared to take the sovereign's money with her face printed all over it. Do not tell me that that is honourable, or that the people whom we represent will accept that point of view.
We all know the job of a parliamentarian because it has been well laid out by the Senior Salaries Review Board. We are paid our salaries to represent in the House the people who elect us, and I believe that we also get our allowances to represent them, primarily in the House. People call the allowances expenses. They do not think that if they do not do a job, they should be able to claim expenses for it. Equally, they think that it is unbelievable that we are considering allowing individuals who do not do the job to which they were elected—primarily in the House—to be able to claim expenses. I cannot explain or excuse that to the people of Northampton, South.
I was not a Member when Short money was first debated, so I do not need to abide by the ruling of the time and can argue as I want. However, I am a Member when the new money is being debated. I find the proposal reprehensible, as will the people whom I represent. They will think that the Government are giving a bribe for an underhand deal and I do not know how I can explain to them that that is not the case. The debate and the motions are abhorrent, so I will vote against both motions and tell the people of Northamptonshire exactly why I have done so.
We have had a vigorous debate in which a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House participated. What came through in particular was the widespread concern expressed from all quarters about the Government's proposed innovation of a new bespoke parliamentary allowance, as Mark Durkan described it, designed to fit Sinn Fein, which would parallel Short money. I noted the comments made at different stages by the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), and Mr. Field, who, along with hon. Members from various Opposition parties, questioned the appropriateness of the measure. It was ironic that the Government's chief support came from an unlikely alliance of Jeremy Corbyn, in his new found vocation as a cheerleader for the Treasury Bench, and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg, in that fine English tradition of the radical aristocrat who has appeared in our politics from time to time through the centuries.
The Government's case rests on two assertions, each primarily concerned with Northern Ireland rather than with the notion of the duties and rights of membership of the House. The first limb of their argument is that the restoration of allowances was a recommendation of the most recent report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, but that argument can be used to defend only motion 4, relating to the restoration of suspended allowances. Before rushing to approve that motion, the House will want to weigh up the positive comments that the IMC made about the republican movement alongside the ugly realities that it also reported—the continuing involvement of senior members of the republican movement in serious organised crime, the persistence of spying and intelligence gathering, the scandal that people are still exiled from Northern Ireland and afraid to return home because of paramilitary threats, and the use by republicans of community restorative justice as an instrument to ensure paramilitary control over nationalist and republican communities.
Even if we were persuaded that the positive recommendations outweighed those definite negatives, the IMC's report still cannot justify either the Government's decision to backdate the ending of suspension or the creation of the bespoke allowance to parallel Short money.
The hon. Lady is right. My memory of the IMC's terms of reference is that its remit on recommending sanctions relates only to Northern Ireland institutions, not to institutions at Westminster. If my memory is correct, the IMC explicitly pointed out in the original report, in which it recommended the suspension of Stormont allowances about a year ago, that its remit did not extend to Westminster and declined to make recommendations in that respect.
Perhaps it would be helpful to the hon. Gentleman if I read out the terms of reference. It reads:
"The Commission may also recommend what measures, if any, it considers might appropriately be taken by the Northern Ireland Assembly, such measures being limited to those which the . . . Assembly has power to take under relevant United Kingdom law."
The IMC has no jurisdiction over how we vote on the motions.
The hon. Lady makes a telling point.
The second and perhaps central argument that the Government advanced this afternoon was that the two motions are in some way an important contribution to the overall peace process. My right hon. Friend Mrs. May and other hon. Members, including Lembit Öpik, said that there is pretty well unanimous support on both sides of the House for the Government objective of seeing devolution restored in Northern Ireland on the basis of an end to paramilitary and criminal activity.
The trouble with the Government's line in defending their motions is that we have not had from Ministers an explanation of exactly how the two motions are supposed to contribute to the fulfilment of a shared political goal. We had no description from the Leader of the House about the way in which the Government hope or expect Sinn Fein will change either its ideology or its actions as a result of votes this evening. Will it start supporting the police if we pass the motions? Will it recognise the legitimacy of the courts?
I agree with the implication behind the hon. Lady's question. I will dwell on the issue at greater length in a short time.
The irony is that Sinn Fein, of all parties, is not short of cash. As Rev. Ian Paisley said, the amounts that we are debating today are small change in the context of the profits that have been made from a succession of robberies and other crimes over the years. The Government defend these motions on the ground that they will help to sustain the political process, but I fear that they will have the opposite effect. Suspicion about the Government's motives will breed along with deals that may have been done behind closed doors. As the hon. Member for Foyle said, there has been too much about the political process that has been about fixing things to suit Sinn Fein. It is time that we had less ambiguity and greater transparency if we are to have a chance of building trust and confidence, which presently is at a low level.
The debate has focused largely on motion 3 concerning the new allowance. There was widespread concern in the House about the ambiguity over what the money is supposed to be used for. There would have been some logic to the Government's position had Ministers come forward with a motion to say that from now on allowances paid to all parties would be to support them in their representative functions. I think that the hon. Member for Thurrock made that point.
If motion 3 is passed, we shall be in a position where a party with elected Members has a choice. Those Members can take up their seats and claim Short money but accept the limitation that those payments must be limited to support for parliamentary activities, or they can decline to take up their seats and obtain money from the new allowance to support all representative activities. It seems that a difference in the type of activity that would qualify for funding is inherent in the difference in the language that is used to describe Short money and that used to set out the terms of the motion.
My quarrel with the Government's supporters, particularly my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, concerns the rights and duties of a Member of Parliament. I accept completely my right hon. and learned Friend's assertion that the privilege of election confers certain rights on us, but those rights are accompanied by responsibilities. The very fact that rules exist in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament making payment and allowances conditional on Members taking their seats reflects the fact that to take a seat and participate is seen as the central function and duty of an elected Member in any legislature. We should not forget that until a mere five years ago that was the tradition or belief on which we acted in the House.
Far be it for me to try to represent Mr. Hogg, but the burden of his argument is not that those Members are elected and refuse to take up those duties but that they are elected on the conviction that they will not take their seats in the House. There is a difference.
The hon. Gentleman and I differ on this point, but I simply do not believe that one can remove from the duty of membership of a legislature the notion of taking one's seat and participating. It is integral to the role of an elected representative, and it is an abdication of responsibility to avoid taking that course of action. We delude ourselves about the nature of the responsibility of elected representatives if we try to create two classes of MPs as the motions propose.
It is not just a matter of the Oath, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham would agree. If it were a matter of the exact words that we were asked to swear or affirm at the beginning of a Parliament, he would have a stronger case. I note, however, that the Oath was not in the end an obstacle for De Valera and his Fianna Fail colleagues, and did not prevent them from taking their seats in the Dail in the late 1920s. I believe that Sinn Fein Members should take their seats. Although I loathe their politics, I would welcome their presence in the Chamber, where they could take part in debate and hold Ministers to account. Like my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack, I have urged them to do so. As a number of Members have said, it is important that the House should remember that all of us, once elected, have a duty to represent the interests of constituents who did not vote for us or who did not vote at all, just as we represent people who voted for us or for our political party. The two thirds of the electorate in the five Sinn Fein-held parliamentary constituencies deserve to have their interests represented, just as much as the third who voted for Sinn Fein candidates. The House of Commons deals with legislation on infrastructure for Newry; with environmental regulations affecting farmers in Fermanagh and Tyrone; and with education and training opportunities in west Belfast. It is an abdication of duty for those Members not to represent the interests of their constituents in the House.
Five years ago, I voted against the introduction of allowances for Members who declined to take their seats, and I will continue to vote in accordance with my belief, and vote against motion 4. Motion 3, which would create a parallel to Short money, amounts to little more than a corruption of the system of allowances, so it deserves forthright opposition in every quarter of the House. This is a free vote for my party, but I hope that as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends as possible will join me in voting against both motions.
We can probably all agree that this afternoon's debate was one of the occasions that shows the House at its best, not only speaking with passion—I recognise that arguments have been made against the position that I am about to put, and I understand and respect those arguments—but speaking about the values and integrity of the House. There is an issue to wrestle with. I understand that, and I recognise the points made by Sir Patrick Cormack, among others.
Whatever our arguments, we can agree that Sinn Fein contested and won elections to the House. As Mr. Hogg and others mentioned, Sinn Fein Members were elected on a mandate not to take their seats. They are therefore not entitled to the salaries which follow from taking the Oath, and they do not get salaries. Nevertheless, they are Members of the House and their electorate have rights. Their constituents— perhaps especially those who did not vote for them—have rights, and the House has a responsibility to respect those rights.
That is why the House has already determined—I stress has already determined—the principle that Sinn Fein MPs should receive MPs' allowances. That decision was made in December 2001. Some right hon. and hon. Members are trying to rerun that decision, but we should respect the will of the House, as determined in 2001. I note that the shadow Leader of the House—it has just been repeated by the shadow Northern Ireland spokesman—is opposed in principle to that. I understand that. It is not to do with what was or was not in the IMC report. It is not to do with the level of paramilitary activity, criminality or violence. They are in principle opposed to the granting of MPs' allowances to Sinn Fein Members who have refused to take the Oath.
That is a perfectly defensible position, although I note that when I pressed her on the matter, Mrs. May was not rock solidly committed to it. She was not willing to say that if a Conservative Government were elected after the next election and she were Leader of the House, she would sweep those allowances away. So she is not that committed to the principle.
I am grateful. The point I wanted to make is that no Parliament can bind its successors. The decision that was taken in 2001 was taken by a previous Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman is therefore misplacing his criticism when he says that we should accept the will of the House. The will of that House is not necessarily the will of the present House.
Even though the hon. Gentleman is such an experienced parliamentarian, I do not think that that is correct. When the House makes a decision, that stays in force until the House changes that decision, in respect of a number of issues. I shall return to the point.
Whatever views there may be of Sinn Fein and the IRA, the context of this debate is another report of the IMC. In its eighth report published last week, the IMC advised that the financial measures taken against Sinn Fein were no longer justified. The IMC reached its view after a detailed and considered review of all the available information, including intelligence information. The report states clearly that the Provisional IRA
"uniquely among paramilitary organisations, has taken the strategic decision to eschew terrorism and pursue a political path", and it concludes that
"there are a number of signs that the organisation is moving in the way it indicated in its statement of
On that basis, the report clearly and unambiguously recommends that the financial measures against Sinn Fein should be discontinued:
"We do not believe that financial measures against Sinn Fein of the kind referred to in our Fourth Report should continue."
I strongly believe that such a clear recommendation from the IMC deserves an equally clear response from this House, and the Government's tabling of the motions before the House this evening is such a response. The restoration of allowances and the motion to grant financial assistance for representative business is intended further to encourage the republican movement along the path of democratic politics.
Mr. Lidington has reaffirmed his party's opposition to the principle of granting allowances to hon. Members who have not taken the Oath. Interestingly, on BBC Ulster this morning, he said that the Oath of loyalty to the Queen should be re-examined if it would mean Sinn Fein MPs taking their seats in the House of Commons. That is an interesting proposition, although I note that he has not advocated it this evening.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Howarth raised an important question—the definition of "representative"—that goes to the heart of the matter. The proposal has been modelled on the Short money model. Parliamentary business is not defined in the Short money resolution, either, but the guidance to the auditor on Short money makes it clear that Short money cannot be used for political campaigning and similar partisan activities, political fundraising, membership campaigns and personal or private business. That guidance would apply to representative pursuits by Sinn Fein Members.
Motion 3 on the Order Paper makes it clear that the money must go on expenses exclusively incurred by the support of
"spokesmen in relation to the party's representative business."
Hon. Members should note that the Short money resolution passed in 1999 does not define "parliamentary business" any more than this motion defines "representative business". Both phrases must be interpreted by the accounting officer and the auditor, and the rules are strict.
Lembit Öpik asked whether the House's accounting officer can issue guidance. As I have said, the accounting officer provides a note for the auditor giving some guidance on Short money. If motion 3 is passed, the issue would be a matter for the accounting officer, who may want to consider whether and how to issue guidance, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would be happy to discuss that matter with him. It is also possible that the Members Estimate Committee or the House of Commons Commission would want to look at the guidance, too. The situation must be policed carefully and the rules must be rigorously enforced. It is not a question of simply handing over £85,000, because, as Mark Durkan has said, a properly audited application is required.
Can the House take that as a commitment of parliamentary time, if it is necessary following advice from the people whom the Secretary of State has described?
That matter is for the Leader of the House. I not sure whether parliamentary time will be required, but if it is, representations can be made to the Leader of the House. However, the Members Estimate Committee and the House of Commons Commissions can make their own decisions and report them to the House.
Rev. Ian Paisley has suggested that I might have questioned his commitment to peace, but I have never done so. In the nine months in which I have been in this job, we have worked together to achieve peace, and I would not challenge his absolute commitment to peace in Northern Ireland. We have had an honest debate about how to bolt down peace and make sure that it becomes permanent.
The Government deserve some credit for the enormous transformation in Northern Ireland. I am not in any way suggesting that if motion 3 were not passed and the £84,000 were not granted to Sinn Fein, it would go back to terrorism or violence. I have never suggested that—nor, contrary to criticisms made during the debate, has the Leader of the House. It would be absurd to do so. The question is how we can, through today's decision, encourage the republican movement and others to take the process forwards, not backwards.
My hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay asked several important questions. I welcome his support for motion 4 on ending the suspension of allowances to Sinn Fein Members. He is troubled by motion 3, and I understand that. He said that its only direct reference to the Short money resolution, and therefore implicitly to the scope of that resolution, is in paragraph (2), but that in fact deals with the method of calculation. Technically speaking, he is right. However, it is clear from the way in which the motion is drafted, and from today's debate, that if it is passed, the intention of the House will be that the Short money model is applied as closely as possible; although of course it is not Short money as such. I am sure that we can expect the House to implement it in that way.
It is important to recognise that all Opposition Front Benchers travel throughout the country making speeches as part of their parliamentary functions. Part of Sinn Fein's representative functions in future could be making speeches that arise from their position as Members of Parliament. I did not think that it would be sensible for the Commons to get into the question whether a Short money-funded researcher was only drafting speeches delivered in this House or was also helping to draft speeches delivered as part of an MP's or Front-Bench spokesman's responsibilities outside the House. Precisely those issues arise in the motion and precisely those issues of policing will be applied by the auditor and by the House authorities.
Mr. Robinson asked several questions about allegations that he has made. I will look at Hansard before I consider my response.
I want to make a very simple point. Short money was granted by the House of Commons because Front Benchers were known not to have the money to support researchers. The research that they needed was in direct connection with their parliamentary duties. There has never been any doubt about that, and it does not need to be spelled out—the House of Commons knew that that was what the money was for. This proposal is not only a negation, but a positive distortion, of that idea.
As I said, this applies the Short money principle and model, with all its policing arrangements, to representative functions on behalf of Sinn Fein MPs.
The IMC report indicates that considerable organisational change is happening within the Provisional IRA to close down criminal operations. It states that there have been no IRA robberies or murders—instances which occasioned the suspension of the allowances by the House in March last year. Yet—I agree with the right hon. Member for North Antrim and the hon. Member for Belfast, East—some members and former members are engaged in localised criminality, and we have to shut that down and demand that they cease it.
The report further points out the very difficult distinction to be drawn between organised and sanctioned criminality and that undertaken by individuals for personal gain. The distinction is difficult but the principle is not. Criminality is wrong, and the motions should in no way be taken as an indication of Government tolerance on that front.
Amid the emotions engendered in this debate, it is easy, when viewing the situation through the prism of a highly selective reading of the report, to lose sight of how far we have come. I do not for one moment dismiss the genuine and serious concerns that many people have over these issues, but I ask the House to look at the whole picture and not to view progress through that restrictive prism.
That brings me, in conclusion, to a point that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made in his opening comments—this is, at heart, an issue of democracy. Do we want Sinn Fein representing its constituents and developing as a democratic party? Do we want Sinn Fein playing the fullest role that it can in the Palace of Westminster?
The question before the House is whether we want to recognise that progress and encourage the republican movement further down the path of democracy. The transition from conflict to peace was always going to be tortuous—international experience demonstrates that such transitions always are. The House has the opportunity tonight to vote for normalisation of politics—[Interruption.] On behalf of all parties in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein included, the House, by supporting the motions, is voting for a Northern Ireland of democracy, hope, peace and stability.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That, in the opinion of the House,—
(1) Financial assistance should be provided, with effect from 1st November 2005, to any opposition party represented by Members who have chosen not to take their seats and thus do not qualify to participate in the proceedings in Parliament, towards expenses wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the employment of staff and related support to Members designated as that party's spokesmen in relation to the party's representative business.
(2) The amount of financial assistance payable to a party under this Resolution shall be calculated and paid by analogy with sub-paragraphs 1(1) to (6) and (8) and 2(1) to (5) of the Resolution of the House of 26th May 1999.
(3) As soon as practicable, but no later than nine months after 31st March each year, a party claiming financial assistance under this resolution shall furnish the Accounting Officer of the House with the certificate of an independent professional auditor, in a form determined by the Accounting Officer, to the effect that all expenses in respect of which the party received financial assistance during the period ending with that day were incurred exclusively in accordance with paragraph (1) of this resolution.
(4) If an audit certificate under paragraph (3) above has not been furnished within the time specified no further financial assistance under this resolution shall be paid until such a certificate is so furnished.