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Mr. Simon Thomas: Most of the public think that the eccentrics have already been elected to this place.

Surely the hon. Gentleman is arguing for no oath. Should not the election of a Member to the House—by whatever system we decide—determine whether they take their seat?

Mr. Savidge: I shall leave the hon. Member in suspense as to precisely what I shall recommend, but he may not be far wrong.

I respect the fact that for some elected Members the monarchy is a symbol of the nation, and that for them the Oath of Allegiance is deeply meaningful. However, I also respect the fact that for other Members the monarchy may seem to be a symbol of wealth, power and privilege. They may feel that the greatest responsibility of the House is to look after those who are weak, poor and powerless. We should respect both views. We should also respect the feelings of—I suspect—a considerable number of Members who feel that the current wording of the Oath is meaningless and that what it asks them to do when they first arrive here is not completely honest. That needs to be considered.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Is not the purpose of the Oath that Members should undertake to owe allegiance to their country, and that Her Majesty the Queen happens to be the sovereign of this country? Other countries have presidents and perhaps we, too, are going down that road—I hope not. However, that is the purpose of the Oath. Mr. Doherty made it clear on the radio this morning that he does not owe allegiance to this country because he believes ours to be a foreign Parliament.

Mr. Savidge: The point that I have been making, based on the history outlined in the Library research document, is that the Oath had nothing to do with constitutional democracy—as suggested by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann—or with general loyalty to the country. The Oath derived simply and solely from issues relating to the Protestant succession to the throne—that is all.

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Should we adopt alternative forms of oath and attestation, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley)? Should we have no oath or attestation, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and others? Should membership be by right of election, as it is in the European Parliament and as I would favour?

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) pointed out that when we set up the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, we created a further inconsistency by demanding the Oath of Allegiance in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Some of the charades that went on during the establishment of the Scottish Parliament brought both that Parliament and the monarchy into disrepute. I hope that we can reconsider some of those matters.

I take the point that—as the right hon. Member for Upper Bann pointed out—the European Court of Human Rights did not rule against our Oath, but I still believe that the Oath goes against modern democratic principles. The matter is not merely one of abstract theory; it has practical consequences—and not only for Sinn Fein Members who do not want to sit in the Chamber at present in any case.

There was a disgraceful example when my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—the Father of the House—suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon. Despite that, he gallantly came to the House for the election of the Speaker, but was then incapacitated and warned that he should not attend the House as the injury might become permanent. The 1997 ruling made allowance for that, so he was still allowed to enjoy the facilities, but because he had been unable to take the Oath, he was not allowed to support early-day motions or to take part in other activities. If a Member happens to be hospitalised immediately after an election, it is wrong that his or her electors should be effectively disfranchised unnecessarily.

I repeat that I am not saying this in response to those in Sinn Fein who do not want to take their seats at present, although I hope, with the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, that they will gradually do so. I am saying that, in voting for the motion tonight, I will be asking the Leader of the House and the Modernisation Committee to consider oaths of allegiance and attestations of allegiance in general. I hope that, as many hon. Members have said, it will be made absolutely clear that the Register of Members' Interests should apply to all elected Members, irrespective of whether they have taken the Oath or their seats. I hope not only that the paramilitaries will make progress towards peaceful, democratic politics, but that Parliament will make progress towards modern, democratic politics.

Mr. Trimble: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will recall that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intervened on me earlier and read out part of a letter that I had written. My recollection is that he stopped immediately after the phrase

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That recollection is correct, and it is particularly unfortunate that the Secretary of State did not quote the next sentence, which refers to the need for

or the point towards the end of the letter where it states:

It was unfortunate that the Secretary of State did not read the entire letter, especially as hon. Members were asking him to do so, so that people could assess it in the round.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman is experienced enough to know that that is a matter of debate, not a point of order. I understand that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has, as I suggested, made the letter available to hon. Members by placing a copy in the Library. As I said before, it is for the benefit of the House that a document that has been extensively relied on should be made available, and I express the hope that the Secretary of State will ensure that it is now laid upon the Table.

Dr. John Reid: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have no hesitation in acceding to the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes, which relates, in particular, to the reference to

In fact, I did read out that section, although he is correct to say that I did not read out the second paragraph. My point was not to try to pretend that he had agreed to something in Stormont—[Interruption.] As I said, I did read it out, as Hansard will show. I read out the words "continuing process" as well. I was contesting the implication that we had acted dishonestly by never asking people for their views on this matter, but I am more than happy to accept fully that the words that I read out give the implication which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to give to them, which is that it was not just the first act of decommissioning, but the continuing process of decommissioning that he, no doubt, would wish to examine and make his judgment on. That is precisely why I said that he was perfectly consistent in taking a different view now from the one expressed in the first section, and Hansard will show that as well.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That contribution is also more a point of debate than a point of order, but I am grateful to the Secretary of State for making the letter available. It is now up to right hon. and hon. Members to judge the issues for themselves, as the document is now available to the House, and it would be better if it were laid on the Table officially.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The letter refers to other correspondence. The better to enable hon. Members to make a judgment, could you ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to place all the correspondence in the Library?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The ruling that I gave relates to a document that, in itself, was relied on to a substantial extent in debate by the Secretary of State. Other documents that flow from that must be pursued by hon. Members in the other ways available to them.

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8.5 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The House is grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your indication that the document should be placed in the Library. As one of those hon. Members who heard the whole exchange, I am bound to say that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did a serious injustice to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), and I am glad to think that that injustice will be put right.

This has been a distinguished debate, although I do not think that the House was holding its breath when the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) was explaining how he was likely to vote—I and all other hon. Members knew in advance.

The motion has undoubtedly aroused a great deal of emotion on both sides of the House because many of us feel intensely about it. We are being asked to make concessions to those to whom we owe nothing at all—indeed, in respect of whom we have a deep sense of contempt and, dare I say it, loathing. Many of us knew the three hon. Members who were murdered. Ian Gow and Tony Berry are two who come to mind, and they are but a tiny number of those who have been murdered in the Province and elsewhere by those for whom the Sinn Fein Members are apologists. It is in no sense surprising that this debate has engendered the emotion and disgust that has been manifest on both sides of the House.

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