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Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): The Leader of the House pointed out that we were reinstating the situation pre-1997. Notwithstanding the fact that none of those Members availed themselves of the facilities, immediately before 1997 they could have done so. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he objects to the principle, or merely to the fact that the increased value of the office costs allowance is available to them? That is not a matter of principle, but it casts aspersions on the ability of the Fees Office properly to police the spending of that money.
Mr. Davies: The hon. Lady invites me to give her a preview of my speech. I should be happy to summarise it in one minute so that she can leave the Chamber if she wants to do so. Although I shall demonstrateI hope, persuasivelythe validity of two points, the focus of my remarks will be limited to those points.
The first point is that the Conservatives object very much to the whole concept of the creation of two-tier membership of the House, with the distortions that would flow from that. The second point is that we object fundamentally to the idea of making more unreciprocated concessions to Sinn Fein-IRAespecially treating the rules of the House of Commons as the currency for such concessions.
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Opposition spokesman for giving way. Will he consider the democratic argument? Four constituencies elected Members of Parliament on the clear understanding that those Members would not partake in parliamentary proceedingsas they had made clear during the election campaign. What business is it of the hon. Gentleman or of the House to deny the constituents of those MPs facilities at Westminster that would enable the MPs better to represent individuals of all parties in their constituencies? Is that not a fundamental democratic argument that seems to have entirely escaped the Conservative party?
Mr. Davies: Is the hon. Gentleman advancing the extraordinary argument that anybody who stands for election in this countryon however absurd a programme as regards the parliamentary rules that he or she will or will not accept if electedshould, once elected, compel
Dr. Reid: I would be obliged if the hon. Gentleman answered the extremely important question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey); it is important that we know on what basis the Conservative party has decided to end its bipartisan approach of 30 years. Does he object to the principle relating to the facilities involved or does he object to the money? If he objects to the principle, will he explain why the Conservative Government found no objection to the principle of providing the facilities for nine years while the IRA were bombing and not on ceasefire? Can we have a very straight answer to that fundamental question, because a political position that has lasted 30 years seems to have been broken? I repeat: does the hon. Gentleman's objection relate to the principle, or to the money? If it relates to the principle, why have Conservative Members changed their minds since past decades of Conservative Government?
Mr. Davies: The right hon. Gentleman also asks me for a preview of much of my speech, but I do not need to give him another preview because he, by parliamentary convention, is rather compelledunlike the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey)to remain in the Chamber to hear my speech, so he will hear exactly what I have to say on this subject. I assume that the Government want to hear my speech, or indeed that of any Opposition Member on this subject, but perhaps they are too ashamed of themselves and do not want to hear anything that we may have to say.
Mr. Gummer: I wonder whether my hon. Friend will consider the fact that we are elected as Members of Parliament not just to deal with people's tax problems and the like; we are primarily elected to take decisions in this House about the future of this nation in the world in which we live, and we are given the allowances for that purpose as a whole. Does he agree, therefore, that at the very least there ought to be a different understanding for those who are not prepared to shoulder the main job of being a Member of Parliament?
I must, however, deal with two extraordinary distortionsI can only politely call them that because I am conscious of your strictures, Mr. Speaker, that I must keep to parliamentary languagethat emerged from the speech made by the Leader of the House, the first of which was the comparison of the anomaly that would be produced by agreeing to the motion with the situation in Stormont. There is in fact no comparison at all between the position in Stormont and that in the House, because Sinn Fein-IRA have agreed to take their seats in the Assembly at Stormont and in the Executive there; they are playing a full part in those two new devolved institutions. For my part, I am delighted that they are playing a full part in those institutions, and we would welcome it if they decided to take a full part in the proceedings of the House of Commons and took their seats here.
We have no illusions about Sinn Fein-IRA, unlike the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who, in last night's debate on Northern Ireland, compared the relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA to that between the Labour party and the trade union movement. We have no such illusions about them or their record, but we respect the rules of democracy. Those four persons have been democratically duly elected to their seats in this House and the doors here are open; they are welcome to take their seats. If they take their seats, they are, of course, welcome to all the facilities and allowances that go with that.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Although there are many differences between Members in the House and Sinn Feinand we disapprove of Sinn Feindoes the hon. Gentleman not recognise that there is one honourable difference? Many Members on both sides are republicans but not a single one of them was elected as a republican. Because of the Oath that the House sets, a Member who is a republican and who was elected as such needs to deny the platform that he was elected on before he can take his seat in the House. How does the hon. Gentleman defend that?
Mr. Davies: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman intended to make a helpful intervention, but he is simply misinformed about the facts. Sinn Fein-IRA have made statements recentlyone appeared in the Irish Times on 14 December and, although I did not hear it myself, colleagues heard Pat Doherty make a similar one on the radio this morningand they have made it clear that, even if the Oath were abolished, they would not take their seats in what Mr. Doherty apparently described as a foreign Parliament.
Mr. Davies: My right hon. and learned Friend is a very distinguished lawyer and he takes a considerable theoretical interest in all these matters. He raises enormously important subjects that are not at all germane to today's debate. If anyone in the House seriously wants to abolish the concept of the Loyal Oath, I suggest that he or she take the opportunity to table a separate motion so that the House can pronounce on the subject. I have a very clear view as to how the House would pronounce in such an eventuality. However, that is not the issue that has been raised today.
The issue before us is not a suggestion that we should change our rules for everyonethat would mean that everyone would still be subject to the same rules on the same termsbut the suggestion that we should distort our rules to produce two sets of rules: one for one type of Member of Parliament and one for another type of Member. Conservative Members will certainly decideand I hope that the whole House willthat that is a thoroughly unacceptable course to take.