Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The hon. Gentleman has just said that the Oath of Allegiance is not germane to the debate. However, amendment (t)which is in his name and which you have selected, Mr. Speakermakes specific reference to the "oath of allegiance". If therefore the hon. Gentleman is speaking for the Conservative party, he has the duty to answer the question of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg).
Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The present rules, which the Government are trying to change, deal with elected Members taking or not taking their seats. The suggestion is that there should be one regime for Members taking their seats and another for Members who do not. The extent to which taking their seat is conditional or should no longer be conditional on taking an oath is a separate matter. I shall not be drawn any further down that road.
I have dealt with two entirely gratuitous distortions that the Government have made this afternoon. The first is the suggestion that there is an analogy with Stormont. There is no such analogy. In Stormont, Sinn Fein-IRA accept the same rules as everyone else and they are welcome here on the basis that they accept the same rules as everyone else.
The second distortion is the suggestion that we are trying to bar Sinn Fein-IRA Members from taking the seats here to which they have been elected. I have explained that that is not at all the case. They themselves have precluded themselvesmost recently in a statement
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I heard Pat Doherty on the "Today" programme this morning as, I am sure, did other hon. Members. He described this place as a foreign Parliament. The problem is not the Oath of Allegiance, but his complete contempt for this place. Why should we allow someone who holds this place in such contempt, and who does not play a part in it and has no wish to, any access to public money in this country?
Mr. Davies: I share my hon. Friend's immediate response. There are two issues to consider. The first is whether we should create a distorted regime with a two-tier categorisation of Members of Parliament. The second is that if we create a specially privileged category of Members of Parliament who can access facilities, money and so forth without taking their seats, we must consider whether it is bizarre
We have to consider whether it is perverse and bizarre to allow the beneficiaries of such a special regime to be people to whom we owe so little by way of favoursI am trying to make my point as mildly as I canas we do to Sinn Fein-IRA.
Why have the Government made this proposal? We all knowthey have not attempted to deny thisthat they would not have attempted to create a special regime for special types of MPs in any other context. If any one of us had formed up to the right hon. Gentleman in his role as Leader of the House and said, "Look, it would rather suit us after the next election, if we get elected, not actually to take up our seats, but to have the offices, money and travel allowances. Would that be all right? Would the Government like to use their vast majoritytheir pay-roll voteto help us get that through?", we would have got a dusty answer. We all know that the Government are providing a specific and direct privilege that is to be handed over to one category of Members of Parliament who have been elected on a Sinn Fein-IRA ticket.
The great question that the Leader of the House has to answer is: why are we doing this? What are we getting in return? We know that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland discussed the matter with Sinn Fein-IRA, because he told us so last night. As that has been the subject of negotiation, what is the other side offering? The Government have promised to changeindeed, I repeat, to distortour rules in the House of Commons, but what are they receiving in return?
I shall be delighted to give way to the Leader of the House if he wants to answer my question, but he shakes his head and does not intend to respond. That goes to the heart of the trouble that we have with supporting the Government on Northern Ireland. They introduce such one-sided measures without consulting the Opposition or giving a public response in the House of Commons to our questions,
Mr. Davies: I give way to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) because he has a long- standing interest in Irish matters and has played a distinguished role in those in the House. After that, I do not intend to give way for a while because I must make progress.
David Winnick: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those words. Does he remember that, at the height of IRA terror, his Government constantly denied that there was any contact between them and the IRA, yet on 29 November 1993 the Secretary of State admitted to the House that there had been a means of contact between the IRA and the British Government over many years? The Opposition could have made great play of that. We could have said that the Government were hypocritical and the rest, but we did not. That was not out of sympathy for the IRAwe loathed its crimes and atrocitiesbut because we believed that if the Conservative Government were having contact with the IRA, they were doing so for the national interest.
Mr. Davies: If that is an invitation to launch into a seminar on Irish history, now is not the time or the place, much as I would find it fascinating to do so. If, on the other hand, it is an attempt to throw me off my stride or to help the Leader of the House by protecting him from some of my strictures, I have to tell him that it simply will not work, because I do not intend to be thrown off my stride.
Mr. Davies: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman told the truth in his own inimitable way. I am sorry that I was not here at that time to hear what he said or to witness the reaction; it sounds as though it was rather traumatic.
We have established that this measure, which was brought forward as a change to the rules of the House of Commons, has nothing to do with the interests of the House. In no sense at all is the Leader of the House making this proposal as part of his responsibility to improve and modernise our procedures. It is simply part of the Government's policy of endless concessions to,
I spoke about this last night. It is a deplorable situation for two reasons. First, these endless concessions are unreciprocated. They are being given away in exchange for precisely nothing. Let no one say that they are being made in exchange for decommissioning. Decommissioning was part of the Belfast agreement and should have been completed two years after the agreement was made. Against that, various things had to be done by the other parties concerned, including the British and Irish Governments. The British Government made a major concession to paramilitaries by releasing all terrorist prisoners. They released those prisoners unaccountably and extraordinarily, even though it was not necessary to do so within the terms of the agreement, and without any progress having been made on the other side or any decommissioning having taken place. That was a catastrophic mistake. It meant that decommissioning did not happen within two years; nor did it happen within three years.
The Government then completely panicked and decided that they had better make more concessions, which were not even in the Belfast agreement. In other words, they proposed to increase the price but were still receiving nothing at all. They went to Weston Park and made a whole new raft of concessions, but what happened? They did not get decommissioning. A week or so later, Sinn Fein-IRA withdrew from the agreement on the methodology of decommissioning which they had negotiated with General de Chastelain at the time of the Weston Park meeting. As I said last night, that was a real blow to the Government and indeed to the peace process.
The tragic events of 11 September and the public exposure of the IRA's involvement with FARC in Colombia meant that we had a new international situation, which could not possibly have been predicted by the Government or anyone else. It was not until then that new pressures could be exerted on Sinn Fein-IRA and we had the first act of decommissioning in October, and very welcome it was. However, it was simply the first act in what ought to be a process, and one in which the Government should be doing everything possible to make rapid progress. It is vital for the stability of Northern Ireland and for everyone's confidence in its new institutions that decommissioning be completed at the earliest possible opportunity.
Against that background, I am sorry to say that the Government have fallen back, with a vengeance, into their bad habit of throwing out concession after concession without receiving anything in return. We have had dramatic evidence of that today. We all know that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is not slow to intervene in the House. He loves to jump up when he thinks that he can gain a point. The Government have brought this measure forward as a concession to Sinn Fein-IRA. That has been established beyond any doubt in the debate this afternoon. I asked the Secretary of State a simple question: what was received in return? I said that I would give way to him and am prepared to do so now if he will answer that simple question. No answer. Shall I