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8 Feb 2006 : Column 897

Opposition Parties (Financial Assistance)

1.33 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I beg to move,

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss the motion on support for Members who have chosen not to take their seats:

Mr. Hoon: The motions are designed to achieve two purposes: to recognise how far IRA and Sinn Fein have moved, and to encourage further progress from them.

Significant changes have been made by the IRA, including and since its statement on 28 July 2005 that it had

and on 26 September 2005 that

This debate is in recognition and further encouragement of the republican movement's adoption of the political path. The first motion would, therefore, lift the suspension on Sinn Fein's entitlement to Westminster allowances imposed by the House on 10 March last year.

I turn to the detail. The motion to restore Westminster allowances would have the effect of ending, from 1 November 2005, the suspension of parliamentary allowances for Sinn Fein. The House will recall that the principle of those allowances was debated at great length on 18 December 2001. The suspension, approved on 10 March last year, was a measure of the disapproval the House felt over the IRA's role in the Northern bank robbery in December 2004 and the murder of Robert McCartney a month later.

In considering the motion, the House will note that the Independent Monitoring Commission recommended ending financial sanctions against Sinn Fein in the light of
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the closing down of paramilitary activity and an end to IRA bank robberies and murders—the significant changes that the commission's report records. The parliamentary allowances for Sinn Fein were suspended because the process of democratic development by the republican movement had slipped backwards. It is clear from the Independent Monitoring Commission and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reports last week that the republican movement is moving to a reliance on exclusively peaceful and democratic means. That process is more advanced than when the allowances were first granted to Sinn Fein Members of Parliament in 2001.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): How much of the millions of pounds taken in the bank robbery has been handed back by Sinn Fein-IRA, or are they still enjoying the proceeds of that crime? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House about how the McCartney family has had to move from Short Strand since the murder, and about the continuing intimidation of the family by the Provisional IRA?

Mr. Hoon: I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's first question. The police investigations continue and it is important that the police can pursue their investigations without the type of political observation that I might be tempted to make. On the hon. Gentleman's second question, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has recently met the McCartney family. He is in a better position than I am to deal with those issues, and I am sure that he will give way to the hon. Gentleman later in the debate if further detail is required.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): The right hon. Gentleman referred to decommissioning. MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland have passed on intelligence to the IMC and the IICD indicating that IRA is still holding on to weapons. The IRA says that it is not. Who does the Leader of the House believe?

Mr. Hoon: I have spent many years reading and dealing with intelligence and I learned never to comment on such matters, so I shall not break the habits of a previous career today.

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman says that he cannot comment on the McCartney case and the bank robbery, and although I understand the difficulties of doing so, does he not accept that they are highly relevant to the nature of the Provisional IRA? Does he accept that the IMC stated that members of the IRA are still

Given the intrinsic links between Sinn Fein and IRA—if they are not indeed one body—he must recognise that Sinn Fein is not a party that it is appropriate to reward as he proposes.

Mr. Hoon: I realise that the hon. Gentleman sincerely holds a view that is different from mine and that of other Members. However, the difficulty with his question is that the report recommends something that he opposes, somehow by reference to the report. He cannot make selective quotations from the report without taking the
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document as a whole. The report recommends precisely that suspension should be lifted, and if he had mentioned that in his question, I might have been able to have a more interesting debate with him. He really cannot select particular quotations to support his particular point of view unless he deals with the report as a whole.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): It would be helpful if the Leader of the House could clear up a small but significant matter. Was it not the Prime Minister who agreed with Sinn Fein the restoration of its allowances and/or the new development of the introduction of Short money, before the IRA statement of 28 July?

Mr. Hoon: The reason why the House is holding this debate is because these matters are rightly and properly for the House. No one, even my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, is in a position to take such decisions on behalf of the House. That is why we are holding debates and discussions. It is important that the House should do so, and that it should reach a conclusion.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman refers to the IMC report in response to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke). Does he not accept that, certainly when the IMC recommended the suspension of allowances, it was referring specifically and only to allowances relating to the Stormont Assembly, not to the Westminster Parliament? Therefore, the implication in recommending that those allowances be reinstated is that it is also referring only to allowances in Stormont, not here in Westminister.

Mr. Hoon: That is not an unfair observation—I recognise that that is a matter for discussion and debate—but I draw the right hon. Lady's attention to page 32 of the IMC report, where she will find her answer. This is a matter for the House; it is an issue that the House must decide.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give way?

Mr. Hoon: If the hon. Gentleman will just keep calm, I will give way in a moment, but I cannot give way to him until I have tried to deal with the previous question, and I am trying to do so. What is important is that we look at the evidence available from independent reports and reach a proper conclusion. That is the subject of the debate, and we must continue the debate to consider these important issues.

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