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Kate Hoey: Many people outside the Palace of Westminster are very cynical about politics and politicians from all parties, and that will be precisely what they will take from the motion tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) made a good intervention about Members of Parliament being here to serve their constituents in Parliament as well representing Parliament in their constituencies. It was suggested that those who voted for IRA-Sinn Fein Members knew that they would not take their seats, but what about all the people who did not vote for them and now have no representative? They will now see public funds being made available for members of IRA-Sinn Fein to come here and use all the facilities without representing the voters in any way. That is undemocratic and wrong. Every Member of this House should be equal and, if the House supports the motion, it will be saying that we can break the rules when it suits us. It will not ruin the peace process if we reject the motion and I urge all decent, ordinary Members to vote against it tonight and give a vote for democracy.

7.29 pm

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). The House listened so attentively to all that she had to say because she has immense practical experience of Northern Ireland, and I agreed with every single word that she said.

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Many hon. Members want to contribute, so I shall be brief in explaining to the Government why Conservative Members feel such anger and annoyance at this motion. The same sentiments were clear in the remarks made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall, and by the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle).

The Government have acted in a shabby manner. The timing is disgraceful. The exercise reminds me of Jo Moore. The Government have sought a way to slip out something embarrassing, nasty and expensive in terms of votes, and they have decided to do it just before Christmas. They hope that the press and the public are thinking of other things, and that hon. Members will not be around. The process has been very shabby, quick and short.

The official Opposition first heard of the Government's intention last Thursday, and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said that his party first heard about it on the same day. There has been very little time to table amendments or to consider the motion. This is an absolutely classic bounce.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that doing something to help the peace process just before Christmas is a very good thing?

Mr. MacKay: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall explain why I think that the Government's action is counterproductive to the peace process, and why it will not help the peace process one iota.

The second shabby element is the role of the payroll vote tonight. This is not a free vote for Labour Members. The Leader of the House made it clear when he was extensively cross-examined last Thursday during business questions that he expected Ministers, Parliamentary Private Secretaries and others on the payroll to be here tonight to vote. Therefore, any suggestion in Northern Ireland or elsewhere that this debate shows the House of Commons at its best, and that Labour Members will have a free and independent vote, is entirely wrong.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who confirmed that Liberal Democrat Members will have a free vote. The same is true of Conservative Members, but not of Labour Members.

Mr. Gummer: Is my right hon. Friend surprised at the Government's actions? After all, the motion would admit to the House of Commons the ideal Member of Parliament as far as Labour party is concerned—someone who can be in the House but who can never either vote or speak against the Government.

Mr. MacKay: That is a probably a perfect illustration of the sort of hon. Member that the Prime Minister would like on the Labour Benches. However, the more serious point is that the Government fear that they will not get the motion through if they do not whip the payroll. That is why Ministers have been brought back from abroad. There will be a full payroll vote tonight to force the motion through.

Lembit Öpik: If a vote that requires Conservative Front Benchers to withdraw from the bipartisan agreement

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is considered to be free, will the right hon. Gentleman say what does not constitute a free vote for the Conservative party these days?

Mr. MacKay: I assure the hon. Gentleman that Conservative Members have been whipped to be here because this is important business, but we have been given a completely free vote. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), the Opposition deputy Chief Whip, is in his place. I am sure that he would confirm that if he cared to come to the Dispatch Box.

The second reason for anger is that there is an easy solution to the problem. If Sinn Fein Members were to take their seats after taking the Oath, we would not need this motion. If those hon. Members are serious about representing their constituents, playing a full role in our parliamentary democracy and even influencing events here, that is the logical way for them to proceed. It is deeply regrettable that we have not insisted on that course of action.

Instead, we are going to have a two-tier system of MPs, as the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich and for Vauxhall, and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), pointed out. That is reprehensible and unacceptable. No good reason has been given from the Dispatch Box as to why that is being allowed to happen.

Equally, the motion is an insult to constitutional nationalists in the House. I refer to those hon. Members who belong to Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National party and the Social Democratic and Labour party. All those hon. Members have deeply held views about being part of an independent Wales or Scotland, or of a united Ireland. However, they can take the Oath because they do not feel that it undermines their positions in any way.

If those hon. Members can all take the Oath, I see no reason why Sinn Fein Members cannot—apart from the fact that they have secured a wonderful publicity coup in being given a different tier of membership of the House. I am afraid that the Government have fallen into the trap completely, and that they have given Sinn Fein that publicity coup, at the expense of the SDLP, the constitutional nationalists and other democratic parties represented in this House. That is another example of shabbiness.

The third reason for our anger was well illustrated by what Baroness Boothroyd said on the BBC's "Today" programme this morning. I shall not repeat what she said about why the motion was wrong, or about why she believes that circumstances have not changed since she made her original ruling. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann has already explained all that very fully and correctly. However, I remind Ministers that Baroness Boothroyd went on to say that she could not understand why, in the four intervening years, the Government had not consulted members of other parties in the House to see whether the Oath could be amended, or whether there was a way to allow Sinn Fein Members to take their seats. There has been no consultation at all. I find that strange and unfortunate, and it makes me very cross.

Several hon. Members have posed a perfectly legitimate question and asked why the Government have tabled the motion now. The hon. Member for Vauxhall was right to point out that, if the Government are responding to

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decommissioning, the original decommissioning verified by General de Chastelain took place some months ago. The hon. Lady asked why it has taken so long to bring the motion forward.

So far, only initial decommissioning has taken place. Most hon. Members were appalled when the Secretary of State said earlier today that there "has been decommissioning", as if that meant that all arms had been decommissioned. I remind the House once more that the Belfast agreement—which the Opposition strongly support—requires the so-called loyalist and republican paramilitaries who are signatories to decommission all illegally held arms and explosives over a two-year period. We all know that they have singularly failed to do so. Only now, very belatedly and after much pressure from the First Minister and others, has there been some limited decommissioning.

I hope that all hon. Members want further decommissioning to take place. However, in the wake of 11 September and the unfortunate incident with the FARC terrorists in Colombia, further pressure must be brought to bear on Sinn Fein-IRA and the so-called loyalist paramilitaries who have not decommissioned a single weapon. We have had more than enough carrots and we now want a little more stick.

Mr. Hopkins: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Does not he agree that the process has undergone a quantum leap that should be welcomed in the interests of peace throughout Ireland?

Mr. MacKay: I think that there has been a modest move, belatedly, in the right direction—I do not define it as a quantum leap. We do not know how many illegally held arms and explosives have been decommissioned. I suspect that not many have been yet; I do not quibble with that, provided that there is more to come. However, there is no sign of more decommissioning. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that this sop to Sinn Fein-IRA—this further carrot, this further undermining of democratic politicians in the Province—makes it less rather than more likely that further decommissioning will take place, and will therefore be counterproductive to the peace process. That is another reason why the motion is mistaken.

Recently, the process has been virtually all take by Sinn Fein-IRA and very little give. That puts great pressure on the Ulster Unionist community as well as on the constitutional nationalists and others in the Province. Whereas the Ulster Unionist community and the constitutional nationalists have stuck rigidly to the Belfast agreement and fulfilled all their obligations under it, the paramilitaries have not fulfilled their commitments, particularly on decommissioning. The suggestion that Sinn Fein Members could take up facilities and use taxpayers' money for office allowances in this House was no part of the Belfast agreement. That has been accepted in this House after debate, albeit with reluctance from the Government Dispatch Box.

Does the Under–Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is on duty at the Dispatch Box, understand how undermining it is if one side fulfils all its obligations under the Belfast agreement, which underpins the peace process, and the other side cherry picks and is then given even more cherries to chew, which is the effect of the motion before us? It is counterproductive, demoralising and wrong.

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I hope that when we come to the vote there will be enough Labour and Liberal Democrat Members to ensure that it is a free vote, to take the motion on its merit and throw it out where it belongs.

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