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Helen Jackson: Yes, but the entries are nil in the sense that a member of the public who reads the register has no idea whether those Members receive any benefits from organisations. That is not right. Perhaps a change should be effected so that declaring interests is a requirement, not a request, on being elected rather than on taking one's seat. Let us ascertain whether we can do that. I do not say that it should be done today; I would be happy to do it next week or next year. The matter cannot be left as it is.
I shall go along with the motion, but if it is accepted, we must be sure that the use of the allowances is properly scrutinised. There were some stupid, jeering comments such as, "Money for guns" from Opposition Members. The office allowances of the four Sinn Fein Members should be subject to no less scrutiny than ours. That also applies to the use of their staff's time.
Mrs. Dunwoody: First, how will the allowances be scrutinised? Secondly, the motion creates a two-tier system of Members of Parliament. That may not be important to some hon. Members to whom Parliament appears increasingly to act as a rubber stamp, but we are dealing with a fundamental description of rights and responsibilities.
Helen Jackson: I had started to respond to that point by saying that the same scrutiny should be applied to the four Sinn Fein Members. We should begin by ensuring that we know what their interests are. The next step is to ask about their use of free telephones and headed notepaper in the House. We must ensure that they are used for constituency purposes.
Mr. Alan Duncan: The people whom we are considering have not taken their seats and are therefore not Members; because they are not Members, no sanctions can be applied against them. How can they be held to account if they cannot face the same scrutiny as Members who have taken their seats?
Helen Jackson: They have not taken their seats and their inability to sit in the Chamber cannot therefore be questioned. However, their ability to use facilities and office allowances can be questioned and sanctioned[Hon. Members: "How?"] If there is any evidence that the allowances are being used for party or other purposes, sanctions can be applied.
Mr. Field: Let us reflect on the times when hon. Members' conduct has been found unsuitable. The House debates the conduct and applies the sanction of suspension for a period of time. If people do not take their seats in
I believe that the whole approach should be slightly different. We must put ourselves in the position of residents of Mid-Ulster, Belfast, West, Fermanagh and South Tyrone or West Tyrone. If the motion is accepted, they will know that their elected representatives will come to the House of Commons and use the facilities. If I were such a constituent, I would ask, "What are they doing on our behalf in the House of Commons?" The democratic process would begin to take its course. When that happens, as the Conservative party found to its sorrow in the last two general elections, the result is the transfer of power to someone from another party, and perhaps the beginning of real politics in Northern Ireland.
Helen Jackson: I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) that we must not believe that the motion itself constitutes the overriding principle. We must reflect that we have come a long way down the road of promoting politics over violence in Northern Ireland. The motion may lead to strengthening the genuine democratic process in the areas of Northern Ireland that we are considering and other constituencies. If so, even though we do not like it, we must make a difficult decision, which will affect us as Members of Parliament. In the same way, many aspects of the Good Friday agreement have been extremely difficult for Unionists and members of Sinn Fein to stomach. However, this matter comes closer to our sensitivities in this Chamber than some other aspects of the agreement.
Helen Jackson: The hon. Gentleman describes this as one single issue and does not recognise that we have a responsibility to the wider public in Northern Ireland and to the peace process that has been negotiated satisfactorily over the past few years.
Helen Jackson: We have to decide whether we are taking it on trust that Sinn Fein signed up to the Good Friday agreement and has pursued a policyby no means on a united basis within the partyto move into the political system and the political process and away from achieving its goals by violence.
For me, that was what the bipartisan arrangement in this Parliament was about. I agree with others who have said that this is not an issue that is bigger than the importance of the bipartisan approach. It is clear that Sinn Fein is eager to participate in a major way in the general election in the Irish Republic next year. Its members will take their seats in the Dail and, as Members of Parliament, we should be asking what interests they will register and how the party is scrutinised there. I am sure that the other parties in the Dail will be watching that closely.
Trust is the key issue. Is there trust that we can move forward? Is there trust that the Unionists will share power? Is there trust that the republicans will continue to work within the political system? I listened to the debate yesterday and it was clear that we have a long way to go. Although some of the democratic and constitutional issues are on the way to being solved, there is still a culture of blame and bitterness.
I have felt for many months that the Opposition's insistence on decommissioning as the touchstone was the wrong issue. The touchstone that affects the people on the street is the obscene level of violence that still exists in both loyalist and republican communities, with acts of grievous bodily harm usually going undetected and unpunished. The key issue for me is the establishment of a civil police service in Northern Ireland. Decommissioning is an issue, but people can go and buy guns the next day. If one stands for Government within a constitutional situation, one goes along with the rule of law. If so, one accepts a police service.
David Burnside: The hon. Lady refers to accepting the rule of law and to a civil police service. I have referred to a printed statement from Sinn Fein on posters that are going up in my constituency in Glengormleya troubled area next to north Belfastthat tells people not to join the RUC or the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and attacks the police as "torturers". How can she say that Sinn Fein is now taking part in a process and recognises as a civil police force the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which has a policing board with representation from all the democratic political parties, but not Sinn Fein? She does not seem to be facing reality; she has left Northern Ireland.
Helen Jackson: The hon. Gentleman makes my point. My argument is that we need to agree the motion precisely because we need to bind Sinn Fein as tightly as we can into the political system and the political process in this House. This is our opportunity to do that.
This is a difficult issue for this Parliament, but one we should go along with tonight. The final reason for doing that is that the politics of Northern Ireland have become problematical when they have become polemical, and that people have started to find the answer when they looked at what works, what works best and what is the most pragmatic way forward. This is a pragmatic step that may take us one step further and may help in the future.