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I was not saying that for a moment. If those on the Opposition Front Bench insist on making such observations, we will necessarily have some difficulty in allowing this debate to continue.
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I was making it clear that there are always, in these processes, risks and difficulties. All that I am suggesting is that I cannot see why this particular decision is necessarily going to cause any undue difficulty for the people of Northern Ireland in the way in which we take these matters forward. That is something that we are all agreed upon. We all want to see peace in Northern Ireland, and that is why it is important that we take appropriate steps to assist in that process.
Mrs. May: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way again. He stands here leading the debate as Leader of the House and not as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I have listened carefully to his remarks, and so far they have nearly all been about the peace process in Northern Ireland and the relationships between the different political parties and the Government. Is he going to make an argument for the Government motions based on their relevance to Members of the House and the business of the House? That is his duty.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I am sure that the Leader of the House is totally sincere in wanting to take the House with him. The difficulty is the constant reiteration of the sort of faintly blackmailing suggestion that unless the motions go through, the House will be messing up the peace process. What we are talking about is much wider than that. We are actually talking about the way in which the United Kingdom pays for the duties and responsibilities of people who ought to be appearing in this Parliament before they are entitled to its full support.
Mr. Hoon: I do not disagree with that. That is why the eighth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission says that it is now an appropriate point at which to lift the suspension of Sinn Fein parliamentary allowances.
David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Does the Leader of the House not realise that it does not matter how much money the Government throw at Sinn Fein-IRA, because that will never ever quench the thirst for hatred that Sinn Fein-IRA have for the British establishment in Northern Ireland? Gerry Adams said:
Mr. Hoon: Again, I think it is important that we accept the views of independent organisations. I do not have the hon. Gentleman's experience of Northern Ireland. I have been a visitor there, but I am not pretending that I can substitute my judgment for his. All I say is that independent voices have reached a different conclusion from the one that he has reached, and it is important that we in the Government are guided by them.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP):
Is it not a fact that the Government announced the restoration of allowances to Sinn Fein before the IMC produced the report? They announced it in October and said that they
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would bring a motion to the House, at a time when the IMC had not made a recommendation. Indeed, the Government kept allowances for the Progressive Unionist party at the time that the IMC said that that party should not get the money. The Leader of the House is praying in aid independent reports, when the Government took this step in advance of any recommendation at all from the IMC.
Mr. Hoon: I have already made it clear to the House that it is not a matter for the Government to decide; it is a matter for the House. The timing of this debate was arranged after the report was available, so that we can discuss these issues properly.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Which independent body or independent individual has recommended that Sinn Fein receive Short money from the House? I am not aware of any such recommendation. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the background to the proposal and tell us why the Government have proposed it now?
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Some Labour Members take the view that it is fine to be elected on the platform that one will not take the seat. People are entitled to do that and electors can elect representatives who will do that. However, we are discussing people who are elected, who are paid to work for their constituents in their constituencies but who do not work in this place. If someone is elected to this place, surely it is right that they take their seat in the House before they receive any money. It is unfair to suggest that that is an argument against the peace process. We want peace as much as anyone else.
Mr. Hoon: Again, I will not quibble with the detail of my hon. Friend's observation. In fact, Members who do not take their seats do not receive a salary. In any event, the details were considered at great length in 2001, and what was decided last year was a suspension. It was not a vote to say that the allowances would never again be paid. Today's debate is therefore about whether it is now an appropriate time, in the light of the IMC's report, to end that suspension. The issues of principle that my hon. Friend rightly raises have been resolved.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD):
I have listened with great interest to the right hon. Gentleman and he will know that I am sympathetic to the Government's efforts to try to secure lasting peace in Northern Ireland. However, it is important for me and my hon. Friends to hear, first, the rationale for restoring the previously paid allowances to Sinn Fein on the basis of the IMC report and, secondly, to understand why, in principle, what we informally call Short money is to be paid. He must make sure that it does not sound like blackmail or some kind of a bribe. If he does, I fear that he will turn off those of us who are very sympathetic to what the Government want to do.
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Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): We all want a lasting peace process and, in taking part in the debate, I want to do my best to bind Sinn Fein further into the democratic process and to the House. I do not want it to be blackmailed; I want it to be bound into this place and its processes.
I have been associated with Northern Ireland since I was a child and I can tell the House that, when I was growing up, I heard the word "never" many times but I have seen it reversed so often. This is just another step along the way.
May I deal first with the question of suspension? I have made it clear that we are debating the restoration of allowances, having previously suspended them. May I make it clear to the House that I am confident that it will have no hesitation in suspending those allowances again should there be a need to do so?
It is perhaps helpful to reflect, however, on other developments, including the decommissioning of IRA weapons and the publication of independent reports verifying these events. This has continued a positive trend that is fundamental to the Northern Ireland peace process. The reports by the IMC in October and last week show that the IRA has taken significant steps and is making a transition that we all want to see. No one is suggesting that this is a picture of perfection. There are still reports of localised criminality involving individual members of the IRA, but it is a sea change from a year ago let alone five, 10, 20 or, indeed, 30 years ago.
The House has debated on countless occasions over the past three decades IRA terrorism and atrocities and the destabilising effect on Northern Ireland politics of its attachment to arms and terrorism.
The motion on financial assistance would make available to parties with Members who had not taken their seats an allowance for the purpose of a party's representative business. It is intended to recognise and further encourage the republican movement along the political path. The motion is a further recognition of the historic changes that the IRA and Sinn Fein have made. I hope that it will bolster the process of democratisation, stability and, more importantly, lasting peace in Northern Ireland.
I recognise that the Independent Monitoring Commission made no recommendation on the motionnor would that have been appropriate. I also recognise that some hon. Members will find it difficult to provide financial assistance for Sinn Fein. However, we
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have to make a judgment about what is best for Northern Ireland, the peace process and, more importantly, the people of Northern Ireland.
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