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9.30 pm

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) who is acknowledged by colleagues on both sides of the House as a Member of high principle.

This is a sad day for the House of Commons. The case presented by the Leader of the House was uncharacteristically poor; he did not produce a convincing argument to support a motion that has clearly exposed the Government's willingness further to appease Sinn Fein-IRA.

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What makes this place so special is its history—as the mother of Parliaments and of democracy. Since the awful events of 11 September, we have seen countless ceremonies in the United States at which American patriotism was to the fore. Millions of grieving citizens found enormous comfort in a shared love of their great nation and its illustrious history. I admire them for that.

I am always struck by the sense of envy exhibited by American citizens who are in awe of our British history. For more than 700 years our parliamentary democracy has stood against those who sought to undermine it. When our forefathers in the House of Commons were challenged, they fought back.

I fully support Mr. Speaker's ruling and, indeed, that of his predecessor, now Baroness Boothroyd. They sought to uphold and defend the rights of each and all of us. Today, however, we are being asked to roll over and accommodate Sinn Fein-IRA. If we accept the motion, it will afford privileges to four individuals who have no respect for this House, for the proud history of our nation, for our Queen or indeed for anything that can be regarded as British—apart, of course, from British banknotes.

Those individuals have spent their whole adult lives trying to undermine our nation. Three of them have done so through acts of murder and violence and, indeed, all three remain key figures on the IRA's army council. Despite that, Her Majesty's Government want us to accept those people into this building with open arms and to hand them several hundred thousand pounds of taxpayers' money. For what? To do good? To benefit this nation? To enhance our democracy? Not a bit of it. We all know that that access and money will be used by those people—and their henchmen—to further seek to undermine our nation. Who knows for what purpose some of the finance might be used?

Mr. Hawkins: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Beggs: I am sorry I cannot do so—I have only a few minutes for my speech.

I am well aware that my party and representatives of other Unionist parties sit with Sinn Fein representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am also fully aware that we sit with them in district councils throughout the Province. However, the difference is that Sinn Fein members entered those forums under the same rules as everyone else—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Today, however, the Government are proposing to allow Sinn Fein MPs and their staff access to this place and to their allowances on a different basis from the rest of us. That is what I find most objectionable.

Why are the Government asking us to do that? The answer is, of course, so that they can continue their policy of appeasement towards Sinn Fein-IRA. The Government are determined to feed the hungry republican tiger, no matter what the consequences are for anyone else.

Last night, we discussed a five-year extension to the deadlines for decommissioning, despite the fact that, as we all know, that process should have been completed more than 18 months ago. Before that, there had been a conveyor belt of concessions to the terrorists with which we are all familiar—prisoner releases, reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, promised amnesty for terrorists on the run from the law of the land and a review of criminal justice. The list goes on. Why? To keep terrorists happy.

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Have the Government not a prior duty to keep their law-abiding citizens and law-abiding Members of Parliament happy? The Government fail to understand that Sinn Fein-IRA will never be satisfied. No matter what they get, they will simply ask for more, and the Government, to date, have always been keen to oblige. The motion is yet further evidence of that. Christmas is almost upon us, but, when it comes to Sinn Fein-IRA, the Government are happy to play Santa Claus 12 months of the year.

Like many other right hon. and hon. Members, I have lost friends at the hands of Irish republican terrorists. We in the House remember Robert Bradford, Tony Berry, Ian Gow, Airey Neave and many others. Those distinguished Members of this House were murdered by Irish republican terrorists—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Including McGuinness and the other fellow, Adams.

Mr. Beggs: Indeed, and they are still unrepentant. Let us imagine what the great men who have been murdered would think if they knew what we were being asked to do today—or, to be more precise, what the Government intend to do to us today. The Government are forcing through the motion; there is no free vote. Those on the payroll vote have been leaning on others, and those who vote for the motion, if it is carried, will bring shame and embarrassment on themselves.

I shall conclude as I began. This is a sad day for the House of Commons. Parliament should not be abused in this way. Gerry Adams has said openly that what the House is likely to agree to today has come about as a result of an agreement with the Prime Minister. A secret, dirty little deal has been done, disregarding long- established custom and practice in the House. I find it insulting to the House that the Prime Minister is seeking to sell out centuries of democratic history by introducing this motion, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will oppose it.

9.38 pm

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): I have only a few minutes in which to speak in the debate—I had hoped to be called earlier—so I shall not rehearse the speech that I wanted to make. Having listened to the debate, I have to tell the Government that they must answer some serious outstanding questions before they can have my vote tonight. I had intended to vote for the motion, but much has been said about two-tier membership—a concept with which I do not agree.

A two-tier membership is possible if Members can have their office costs and allowances in this place—we may argue about that—but do not have to register in the Register of Members' Interests. It was clear from the opening speech made by the Leader of the House that Members have to register their interests within three months of taking their seats. If Members do not take their seats, they do not enter their interests on the register. All Members should have the right to carry out advocacy work on behalf of their constituents, regardless of whether they have taken the Oath. If they cannot represent their constituents and are not treated the same way as all other Members, we shall create a two-tier membership. I could not vote for a proposition that allowed that to happen

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given the fact that, correctly, we are all under the most intense scrutiny. When we deal with public funds, the public want us to be subject to even more scrutiny and they want to be aware of our interests when we speak in the House or carry out business on behalf of our constituents.

If the motion is carried, it will present a great dilemma for Sinn Fein. It will take the Queen's shilling and it will cross the great divide between its open advocacy of republicanism and using the assets of, and taking a place in, what it sees as this foreign Parliament. That dilemma for Sinn Fein is just as great as the one before those on the Unionist Benches who do not believe that Sinn Fein Members should be allowed to come here under any circumstances.

I shall not make the speech that I had hoped to make, but I hope that the Government will answer those questions because I am seriously in doubt as to whether I can give them my support.

9.40 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) has well illustrated the difficulty that the Government have brought upon themselves in this debate and with this issue. He is not the only Government Back Bencher to have voiced unease and disquiet about the motion. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and even—if I can put it that way—the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson), who started her speech by saying that she had considerable reservations about the motion, have seen the difficulties that this ill considered motion will cause.

In the brief time available to me, I want to touch on two or three salient issues that have arisen in the debate. The first and very obvious one is the matter of timing and the matter of concessions. Opposition Members have repeatedly asked—my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) and my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) illustrated this point as well as or better than most—what point there is to premature concession. What on earth is the point in what is called a peace process of making such an important concession to people with whom one is supposed to be in dialogue and whom one is supposed to be persuading further to disarm and to move towards peace? We see no sense at all in making such a concession and it is perfectly obvious that many right hon. and hon. Members on the Government side do not see the sense of it either.

We have yet to receive a proper explanation from the Government as to why Ministers have felt the necessity to come to the House at this stage and offer this highly contentious concession to Sinn Fein-IRA when the Government have apparently—unless we are told otherwise by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—received no undertaking of any kind that it will give rise to further progress.

Another issue has risen time and again in the debate, and I shall categorise it as the two classes of MP. The phrase has been used by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell, my hon.

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Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and by many others. The issue is simple and it highlights starkly what the debate has turned out to be about. It is the unease and unhappiness that Members feel when a measure, such as the one before us, effectively creates two different categories of Member of Parliament.

The Members present have chosen to take their seats and to do their job in the fullest sense of the word. They do not just represent their constituents and help them with problems but exercise their judgment in the House on issues such as those that affect Northern Ireland. However, we are now being asked to accept into the House—along with families and staff—those Members who have chosen of their own accord not to take their seats in the House. We must assume that their electorate elected them on that basis, so we cannot be told that those voters are somehow deprived by the fact that their Members of Parliament have chosen not to take their seat. The voters knew about that at the time.

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