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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I fully support what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Is there not a long-standing principle that all Members of the House are equal? If that is the case, why should the members of one particular party be treated differently from Members who are here under the banner of different parties?
That was exactly the point that I was going to make, Mr. Speaker. It would be quite wrong to go into the content of the resolutions. My point is simply
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that the Government have, for reasons of their own, tabled a business motion that truncates our business and requires it to be completed before the time at which it would normally have to finish. They must have a reason for doing so, but they have not produced it in evidence to the House. I really cannot believe that it is something as silly as a photograph.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman tell us, if it is not a secret, whether any discussions have been held between the Government and the Liberal Democrats on whether this could be a consensus moment? That is an important aspect to the matter. Have there been any such discussions?
Mr. Heath: I am not aware that there has been any debate with my party on the terms of the resolutions before us, and I imagine that that is also the case for Members on the Conservative Front Bench, although I obviously cannot speak for them.
It is important that we have sufficient time to elucidate these matters. This is not a silly issue; it is a very serious one for many Members of the House. I ask the Leader of the House not to allow the opportunity to respond to this debate to pass by. If he can satisfy us on this matter, it could help our understanding of the Government's position later. He cannot just ignore the very important differences that I have highlighted; we need an explanation.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I rise to support what has been said by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). I approach this business motion with a great deal of hostility. We start with the proposition that this is a matter for the House. It raises important questions relating to the status, rights, benefits and privileges of Members of Parliament, and hon. Members should be entitled to debate them for as long as they wish, consistent with the proprieties of the House.
A number of other fundamental questions will be raised in our debate today. Why does not Sinn Fein participate? Should taking the Oath be a precondition to participation? My view is that it should not. Should failure to participate be a disqualification? Again, my view is that it should not, because Members who are elected as Sinn Fein Members are elected by their electorate. If we believe in parliamentary democracy, we must recognise that Sinn Fein Members are as equally Members of the House as any one of us. If we deny that proposition, we are playing into the hands of over-mighty Government.
We ought to be able to debate those questions at length, because they are a matter for the House of Commons. I agree that there are divided opinions on them, and that is all the more reason why we need time to discuss them. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), most of all, disapproves of what I am saying on this point
Indeed, he has said so on many occasions, and he may be right. However, that makes my point that
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we need to have extended time for debate. These motions are not about whether Sinn Fein has renounced violence in the Province, but about whether Members of the House of Commons should be treated differently because they have chosen not to participate in our proceedings. That is a quite different matter, and we need to debate it at length.
Mr. Gummer: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the fact that there are considerable differences of opinion within parties as well as across the Floor of the House makes it even more important that, on a matter for the House, full time should be given to the debate, not least because my experience of the views of a number of Conservative Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), is that they have quite a lot to say on these matters, and they ought to be given plenty of time in which to say it?
Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend is quite right. There is a diversity of opinion within the parties on both sides of the House. Furthermore, opinions change. I have long opposed the Oath, but I have previously voted for taking away the allowances from Sinn Fein Members. I now think that that was a mistake, and I should like the time to explain my reasons.
Sir Patrick Cormack: While I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend on the narrow issue of this timetable motion, it is possible to make a convincing case against giving allowances to those Members in a very short compass, and he could do that.
Mr. Hogg: That might be true, but a lot of people want to participate in the debate. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend can wrap up his arguments extremely succinctly, but he is of course a very concise speaker. There are quite a few hon. Members of whom that cannot be said, and quite a lot of people wish to participate in the debate.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend, in that I am surprised that the Government are dragging this idea of giving Sinn Fein allowances through the House yet again, when international courts and courts in Northern Ireland have repeatedly stated that, under our democratic processes, Sinn Fein should not be given any allowances.
Mr. Hogg: I suspect, Mr. Speaker, that if I were to respond to my hon. Friend's point in detail, you would tell me that it was a matter for the substantive debate that is to come. He makes a perfectly legitimate point, but I would prefer to debate it in the substantive debate rather than during this debate on the timetable motion.
This is a matter for the House, and we should therefore be very slow to impose a timetable. This contrasts ill with the position adopted by the late Mr. Robin Cook when we debated these matters in 2001. He made it plain at the time that the debate would be open-ended and that there would be a free vote. That is what we ought to be doing today, and I very much regret the fact that we are not. I suspect that the reason is related to the Labour party's internal jollifications, and that is pretty discreditable.
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Our country is in a very sad state, as right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Front Bench well know. They know that for every man, woman and child in Ulster, £80 from the economy is stolen by paramilitaries. Some £140 million a year goes into the pockets of the paramilitaries, and £245 million is lost each year as a result of fuel-laundering rackets. The latter problem is so great that one of the leading fuel companies, Shell, has pulled out of Northern Ireland. Moreover, 6 per cent. of all cigarettes sold in Northern Ireland are illegal; that 6 per cent. consists of imported and counterfeit cigarettes. Such illegal activity takes 12 billion cigarettes out of the economy every year.
Those responsible for that drain on our economy are now going to get more money, not less, because the amount being paid to them is to be increased. We need time thoroughly to discuss this issue and to see where we are going. One hour is to be cut off the debate. Why can we not have the full time and conduct the debate in a reasonable way? [Interruption.] I do not care whether the Leader of the House wants his photo taken or not. He learned, along with me, that in Europe it is important to have one's photograph taken, but he is not in Europe now andthank Godnor am I; I am in the British House of Commons. We need time and that time should be given to us.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): My intervention will be brief. On this specific issue, I support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), and I also endorse the comments of the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who leads the Democratic Unionist party. Are the Government and the Leader of the House not treating this House with contempt? This important issue is not only a House matter but a constitutional matter, yet they are reducing the time for debate for purely party convenience. In my view, there should be no time limit at all. We should suspend the 7 o'clock rule today in order to debate this issue fully.
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