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Sir Brian Mawhinney: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He rightly reminded the House that, when the Conservatives were in government, the Labour Opposition from time to time did not support measures that we introduced. The bipartisan approach never implied total agreement or accord, but it was the pillar on which the Belfast process was built and moved forward, and it was also of great succour to our fighting men and women who were putting their lives on the line for this nation. Can I say to him that, while he is right to criticise individual aspects of Government policy, especially tonight, many of us are still wedded to the concept of the importance, both historically and in the future, of a bipartisan approach?
Mr. Davies: I am one of those people. I am very much committed to the idea of bipartisanship in this field, as I have said. I agree entirely that we have jointly supported the Belfast agreement. Indeed, I continue to hopeperhaps against hopethat we can get back to a bipartisan approach, but we will not do so on the basis of the tactics adopted by the Government. Neither will we do so, I must tell the Leader of the House, on the basis of the Government's attitude to the House of Commons as he represents it. He cannot get away with neither answering questions to the House nor consulting us in private and still expecting us to support his policies. That does not make any sense.
Mr. Davies: I am very sorry; I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I had to make an exception in favour of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), who has great experience of Northern Ireland.
The Opposition's view, which I have reiterated several timesI can see that I shall have to return to it on future occasions, as I do not think that the Government have taken it on boardis that it is very important, if we are going to maximise pressure on Sinn Fein-IRA to decommission and get decommissioning from other paramilitaries, that a slightly more robust stance be taken. I have proposed that the Government should at least attempt to negotiate a full packageI have called it a programmed processleading to full decommissioning, so that all parties concerned, including the British Government, know what needs to be done by whom, when and in what order, and so that we have a clear, linked and co-ordinated agreement leading to the completion of decommissioning. Until and unless such a package is negotiated, there should be no further unilateral concessions, least of all if they involve throwing away the integrity of this House. That is what we are deeply concerned about.
As Leader of the House, the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that he has an absolute responsibility before the House and before history to ensure that we do not lightly treat our rules and procedures, lightly create different rules for different people, or play ducks and drakes with the constitution of the House of Commons. Above all, he must recognise that we do not sell our rules and procedures, least of all if we receive nothing in return.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I hope that all hon. Members recognise that I have a record of strenuous opposition to Sinn Fein and that I would never wish us to be soft on it. However, I support the motion so that we can engage with Sinn Fein and express views that its members would find uncomfortable but would have to try to tackle.
My assistant chairs a group called New Dialogue, which has often disputed Sinn Fein's ideas. I have supplied access to the House to people such as Sean O'Callaghan, who was the southern organiser of the Provisional IRA, but changed his position and became an informer on that organisation. There would therefore be some difficulties for me, and people who work for me, or are associated with me, if Sinn Fein had access to the House. Nevertheless, the motion could lead to substantial gains, and it should be supported.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley): Does the hon. Gentleman know that Mr. O'Callaghan's successor as southern commander of the Provisional IRA is now Member of Parliament for West Tyrone? The motion would give him full access to the House's facilities.
Mr. Barnes: That already happens in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and there are no problems there. Indeed, the Opposition have said that they would not worry if Sinn Fein Members took their seats as long as they took the Oath and thus became full Members. However, there is a difficulty about rubbing shoulders, which must also exist in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I believe that we should bear it and try to deal with it. We should be aware of it but respond to it strongly.
Mr. Goodman: Does the hon. Gentleman know that as recently as 20 November, Republican News, the Sinn Fein newspaper, republished an article entitled "IRA Strike Hard"? It referred to a hard-hitting IRA operation, which succeeded in "executing" someone whom it described as the "loyalist extremist Robert Bradford", a former Member of Parliament. Given the contempt of Sinn Fein and the IRA for democracy as represented by the House and its Members, is it the right time to admit the four people whom we are considering to the facilities of this place?
Mr. Barnes: It is the right time. I do not doubt what the hon. Gentleman says about the positions that Sinn Fein adopts in Republican News. I have been attacked on its front pages for lines that I have taken. However, changes are happening. A sea change is beginning that allows us to start to draw Sinn Fein into the political
We cannot get rid of Sinn Fein's political viewpoint by trying to distance ourselves from it. At one time, we tried to deny Sinn Fein the oxygen of publicity. Sinn Fein Members were seen on television, but their voices were not heard, because their words were spoken by actors. We were told that if that system were changed, the news media might engage in proper discussions with Sinn Fein. Unfortunately, when the change occurred, that full and fearless discussion did not take place. Sinn Fein gets away with murder on television, and perhaps elsewhere, in terms of their position. We should be capable of taking on Sinn Fein and we should have sufficient strength in our position to be prepared fearlessly to argue those points.
The fact that Sinn Fein Members would be around and about within the Palace of Westminster has advantages for the rest of us in taking on board their position. I would sooner that means were foundperhaps getting rid of the Oathto allow them to sit on these Benches. It would then be easier to take on their arguments, because they are not unanswerable.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): If there were to be an opportunity to debate the abhorrent policies of Sinn Fein-IRA as a result of those Members taking their seats, the hon. Gentleman's argument would stand up. However, we know that the Sinn Fein Members said in their election addressesand repeated it on the "Today" programme this morningthat they were not prepared to take part in any democratic debates in this Chamber. It is not a matter of the Oath, important though that is. They abhor democracy and have referred to this place as a foreign Parliament. How can we allow these terrorists into this democratic debate? They are not democrats.
Mr. Barnes: Abhorring democracy and seeing this place as foreign are not tied together. The loyalty of those Members may be seen to be more towards the Republic of Ireland than the UK, but the Republic has a democratic system. Those Members have some problems in dealing with the argument within the institutions of the Republic. I would like to see the day when they are taken fully on board within the Republic of Ireland.
Jeremy Corbyn: May I take my hon. Friend back to the Oath? The general understanding of the Sinn Fein position is that its Members do not wish to take their seats in the British Parliament because they want a united Ireland and a Parliament there in which they could take part. The argument on this motion is fundamentally a democratic one about the rights of those Members to represent their constituents in the best way that they can. By denying them access to this building, we deny their constituents access to democratic representation.
Mr. Barnes: They should be here, but not just because of the rights that that would give them and those on whose behalf they speak. It is about the rights that we are given to deal with their positiona position that we should be capable of responding to.