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I concede that the motion would reduce the extent to which there is a distinction between Sinn Fein Members and other hon. Members. It is not my motion, but amendment (m), tabled by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), that would perpetuate two classes of MPsthose of us who are entitled to support in our work for constituents, and those who are denied it.
Some amendments have been tabled that would introduce a new version of the two classes of MPs. They would divide us into those who would get constituency allowances under the same rules as everyone else, and those who would get them under special rules invented specifically for the four Sinn Fein MPs. If the motion is approved and constituency allowances are to be extended
Mr. Hogg: Will the Leader of the House say how we are to police the allowances? One of the House's sanctions is that it can prevent hon. Members from sitting in the House if they have acted improperly. The Sinn Fein Members will not be sitting in the House, as they decline to do so. In those circumstances, how will the expenditure and allocation of the allowances be properly policed when no sanctions can be exercised against Sinn Fein Members?
Mr. Cook: I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that suspension from the House also involves being barred from the precincts of the premises. Any motion carried in the House to suspend any of the four Sinn Fein MPs would reverse the position set out in the motion today, and those MPs would lose access to the House and its facilities.
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) asked how the allowances would be policed, as he put it. The Sinn Fein MPs could claim the allowances only on the same basis as any other hon. Member cannamely, that they are spent "wholly, exclusively and necessarily" on constituency duties. The four Sinn Fein MPs would have to observe the same rules as everyone else. If Conservative Members do not believe that the rules are properly policed, they should, by all means, come forward with proposals to tighten the rules for every hon. Member.
If any of the Sinn Fein MPs' staff apply for a pass to the House's precincts, they will be required to satisfy the same security test as the staff of any other hon. Member. Those rules are common to all hon. Members. If they are unsatisfactory, they should be amended for all hon. Members, not just for four hon. Members.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): The members of staff employed by hon. Members in furtherance of their parliamentary duties have to satisfy the office of the Serjeant-at-Arms that they are not a security risk. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to lay in the Library of the House the advice that he has been given by the Serjeant-at-Arms' office in connection with the changes that he proposes?
Mr. Cook: I have discussed the matter with the Serjeant-at-Arms. The advice that I have given to the Serjeant-at-Arms is that we cannot change the rules, the process of vetting or the tests for Sinn Fein Members' staff. They must be subject to the same test as the staff of any other hon. Member. I assure my right hon. Friend that no separate advice to the contrary has been tendered to me. I hope that that gives him the reassurance that he was seeking: the security tests will be the same for Sinn Fein Members' staff as for the staff of any other hon. Member.
Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): The Register of Members' Interests was published recently. If the facilities of the House are being extended to these four elected Members, should not those hon. Members be expected to register their interests?
Mr. Cook: The motion will enable the four Sinn Fein Members to make an entry in the register. They are not required to do so under the rules, which provide that Members shall be obliged to make an entry only within three months of taking their seat. If that disappoints Opposition Members, I can give them the assurance that the motion will bring the four Sinn Fein Members within the scope of the remit of Mrs. Filkin, who will be able to apply the code of conduct. [Laughter.]
This place is an expression of the electoral process. Whatever our individual views of the politics of Sinn Fein, each of us must accept that the Sinn Fein MPs were elected to this House and were elected by their constituents.
Our constituents approach us with a wide range of issues, from their tax liability to their pension entitlement. It is because of that demand from our constituents that the House has approved allowances for all Members to provide a professional service to their constituents. We should not deny the same service to 250,000 United Kingdom citizens in Northern Ireland by refusing their MPs the same constituency allowances.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that Conservative Members see a very real difference between constituency MPs who are prepared to take the Oath and represent their constituents in this Chamber and those who are prepared to take the money but not take the Oath and cannot properly represent their constituents in this Chamber?
Mr. Cook: The Sinn Fein MPs will continue not to get any salary until such time as they take the Oath. The hon. Gentleman must ask himself whether he really regards his constituency allowances as money for himself. Does he not rather regard them as money to enable him to provide a service for his constituents? Most of those who voted in those four constituencies did not vote for the Sinn Fein candidate. Why should they be denied the same constituency services that we demand for ourselves and our constituents?
I began my speech by referring to the momentous developments that we have seen in Northern Ireland: I shall also end with them. The peace process has made it possible to contemplate the changes proposed in the motion, but it also makes it necessary to adopt these changes. The aim of many years of dialogue with republicans has been to persuade them to give up violence and engage instead in the political process.
In Belfast, republicans have engaged in the political process on everything from child welfare to care of the elderly. We cannot demand that process of engagement in Northern Ireland if we at Westminster keep the door firmly barred in case Sinn Fein MPs even put their foot across it.
Mr. Cook: I know that for some Members this is a difficult step. I respect the sincerity of those who feel that they cannot take it. However, I ask them to respect the sincerity of those of us who believe that the time has come to take this step to help the peace process.
We allboth sides of the House, I presumewelcome the ceasefire, which, for four years, has stopped IRA bombs and attacks on the security services. Most of us welcome the development of an elected Assembly in place of direct rule. If we want the ceasefire to become permanent and if we want the new democratic institutions of Northern Ireland to grow in strength, the House should also be prepared to contribute to the process of political engagement. The motion before us is one small contribution that the House can make, and I invite the House to support it.
During the earlier part of the speech of the Leader of the House, I was being given the clear impressionand I was not alonethat he was arguing that all that was happening was that the Government were restoring the status quo ante. The most charitable construction that one could have put upon that was that the right hon. Gentleman had not taken the trouble to read his own motion, which states: