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Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hoon: I will give way in a moment.

The Government's aim today is to encourage Sinn Fein MPs to play the fullest role in democratically representing their constituents and to support the republican movement as a whole along a democratic path. The motion would provide Sinn Fein with a maximum of £84,000 a year, together with a small amount of about £2,000 a year for travelling expenses, from 1 November 2005. That will be subject to strict controls. Sinn Fein will have to furnish the House accounting officer with a certificate from an independent auditor to the effect that the expenses claimed are within the terms of the resolution—[Laughter.] I am sorry that hon. Members take that view because the same control system applies to Short money and the same maximum amount is payable as under that scheme.

Under the motion, financial assistance would be made available for activities related to those that would normally attract Short money. Short money, as the House will be aware, is payable for research associated with Front-Bench duties, developing and communicating alternative policies and shadowing the Government. Financial assistance would be available for related activities conducted by Sinn Fein, such as the employment of a researcher to assist the representative business of a spokesman, and the costs of relevant equipment and travel costs for spokesmen engaged in representative business.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hoon: In a second.

Crucially, certain activities will specifically not attract financial assistance. Those include political campaigning and fundraising, membership campaigns, advertising, personal or private business and constituency business.

Mr. Frank Field : The Leader of the House will realise that to some extent we heard this speech some years ago. When we extended our allowances to people who had not come to the House to be full Members, we were told that their behaviour would change, but nothing has changed in that respect. Has Sinn Fein given the Government any indication of how its behaviour will change as a result of being given Short money?

Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend addresses an issue that is central to the debate. The IRA has made an historic statement. Although right hon. and hon. Members might not accept it, it is a significant statement in the long and drawn-out tragedy for Northern Ireland and its people. There are now independent voices that have confirmed the statement and said it is verifiable that the IRA has abandoned terrorist activity. When those two facts are taken together, they provide hon. Members with a powerful argument that we should ignore at our peril.
 
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Mr. Field: I, for one, am grateful for the statements that Sinn Fein-IRA have made and hope that the changes are as profound as the Leader of the House suggests, because if that is so it will be for the good of all. However, saying that a party that does not appear in the House should receive Short money is totally different. We welcome the statement that Sinn Fein has made, but Short money is specifically paid to support functions carried out in the Chamber by members of parties when representing major policies. Surely there is a difference between that and giving commitments not to use violence.

Mr. Hoon: I accept that there is a distinction to be drawn, and we are not granting Short money precisely for the reasons that my right hon. Friend makes clear. The motion refers to the work of a political party in its representative capacity, which is what we are debating.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Hoon: I will try to give way to as many hon. Members as possible, but I will also try to answer their questions, which is what I am attempting to do.

It is important to realise that while there is a responsibility on the IRA, as part of the republican movement, to continue on the path it has set out, we can encourage it by taking such decisions. We can support the process by realising that there are circumstances in which political parties have representative functions over and above the individual functions of members of those parties who happen to have been elected to the House and other democratic bodies.

Mrs. May: I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to me a third time. He consistently refers back to the phrase "representative business" and differentiates Short money from the money that will be available for such business. He has indicated several activities for which that money could not be paid. Will he now give the House a definition of representative business?

Mr. Hoon: I indicated the kinds of things for which the money could be available. I said that it might be used to fund a researcher, or to purchase equipment to support the representative capacity of a political party. However, as the right hon. Lady will realise, this is not one of those issues that can be precisely defined—[Hon. Members: "Ah."] The rules of the House cover the way in which Short money is spent and the motion was drafted closely to reflect those arrangements. Of course, Short money is subject to rigorous financial accounting, and the arrangements under the motion will be subject to rigorous financial accounting by the House authorities in exactly the same way. It is not entirely fair or right for Opposition Members to find the matter a cause of great entertainment because when they spend Short money they are subject to precisely the same accounting rules that apply to the allowance.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Leader of the House will understand that we are talking about not accounting rules but the areas of activity for which the money could be used. For the avoidance of doubt, will he make it absolutely clear that Sinn Fein will not be able to use the money for any activities or
 
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classes of activities that the Conservative party or Liberal Democrats would not be permitted to undertake when in receipt of Short money?

Mr. Hoon: That is absolutely and precisely the case. It is important that that is well understood, which is why I make a precise analogy between the way in which Short money allowances are supervised and the way in which the new allowance will similarly be supervised.

Mr. Hogg : The House as a whole will welcome that assurance. Surely the money will not be confined to supporting parliamentary business. When we examine the motion, we must be careful to ensure that we do not find that Sinn Fein's receipt of representative money puts it in a better position than other parties that, on the face of it, have their money confined to supporting parliamentary business.

Mr. Hoon: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an extremely good point and I agree with him. It is important that the rules are properly supervised and that there are strict accounting standards, and I assure him that that will be the position.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Is the Leader of the House aware that several comments have been made in the past about various Sinn Fein returns to the Electoral Commission? Those excellent works of fiction have gone completely unchallenged despite the known facts about Sinn Fein's election expenditure, so it is hard to take seriously his assurances about scrutiny. Does he realise that he is talking in riddles by saying that the money is not Short money and then that it is—that it is the same and is not the same? Is it not the case that I will be unable to spend Short money on activities in my constituency, but that Sinn Fein will be able to spend its representation money on activities in my constituency against me?

Mr. Hoon: That is not the position. We must draw a clear distinction between the two motions. One deals with the restoration of parliamentary allowances, which clearly would allow right hon. and hon. Members to spend the allowances in their constituencies in support of their activities as individual Members of Parliament, as against money that would be, and is, available to political parties to support their representative activities. That is why the motion is drafted in the way it is.

Lembit Öpik: This is a key point, because we need clarity. We understand that Short money relates to activities conducted within the House. In the right hon. Gentleman's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), it sounded as though he was taking that money out of the House. Short money is named after a person. Is this money, which we might call Hoon money, connected in the same way to the House, or is it money that can be spent outside the House, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) suggested?


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