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Mr. Hogg: It is an important principle. If people seeking election make it plain that they will not take their seats but are none the less chosen by the electorate, should we not respect the views of the electorate?

Mrs. May: We respect the view of the electorate that they have chosen particular individuals as their representatives. I suggest that when those electors took that decision to vote for those representatives, they did so fully in the knowledge that those representatives would not be taking their full part in the business of the House, and therefore would not be capable of representing them to the fullest extent, unlike other Members.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the arguments advanced by the Leader of the House were about as convincing as those put by O J Simpson's defence lawyer? No one I have spoken to about this matter can understand the concept that money can be given for people's parliamentary activities when they do not take their seats in Parliament. That is the simple point.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting the point so succinctly. I suggest that he might take care with his transatlantic references, given that I understand that O J Simpson's defence lawyer actually got him off and therefore won his arguments.

Daniel Kawczynski: Unfortunately, my office is next to that used by Sinn Fein-IRA, but I have never seen those Members since I became a Member of Parliament. They never turn up and go to their offices, let alone the Chamber.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations which, I am sure, will help Members when
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they choose how to vote. It is important to look at the background to the issue to understand where we are today. Many hon. Members will remember, as has been said, that the previous Speaker, the right hon. and noble Baroness Boothroyd, ruled initially that no MP should receive allowances without taking up their seat in Parliament. Her ruling was based on a clear principle that there should be no associate Members of Parliament. Indeed, after a meeting with the hon. Members for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness) and for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) in 1997, she said:

The ruling made by the previous Speaker was subsequently overturned by Government motion in the House. The Leader of the House suggested that the motions are not about a point of principle but simply about the timing of the reinstatement of allowances and the extension of funding. I believe that it is still a point of principle that we should be debating in the House.

It is a point of principle for my party that republican Members should not be treated any better, or any differently, from any other Member of Parliament. We reject Government attempts to produce a pick-and-mix Parliament with à la carte allowances for Members who refuse to take their seats in Westminster. We all know that the job of being a Member of Parliament has many facets, including dealing with constituency cases, providing advice and assistance to constituents, and taking up issues on their behalf with the Government and other agencies. Some of that work can be done without Members' attendance in the Chamber and participation in debates. However, Members who do not come to the House will not fulfil that role properly because a key way in which constituency cases can be raised with other Members is through written and oral parliamentary questions, points of order and participation in debates. The job of being an MP goes further, and includes contributing to debates in the House on issues of the day and debating, scrutinising and commenting on legislation. That includes the ability to try to amend legislation, not to mention the job of holding the Government to account for the impact of their policies on the country as a whole and on individual constituencies.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): Can the right hon. Lady confirm very clearly that she is against the whole principle of the allowances that the House decided in 2001 and which were endorsed last week in the report by the Independent Monitoring Commission, which said that they should be restored? We ought to know the right hon. Lady's position and whether she is against the decision that the House made in 2001.

Mrs. May: If the right hon. Gentleman cares to look at the record he will see that Conservative Members voted against the principle of extending allowances to Sinn Fein at that stage, precisely because—[Interruption.] He says, "Now we know." The Government knew our position then, and they have known ever since—it is hardly a revelation.
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Mr. Hain: Is it not the case that, despite the promises that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) made in Northern Ireland questions, when he said that the Opposition supported the Government's attempts to make political progress, and despite the fact that the Leader of the Opposition has declared total change in every other Conservative policy platform, the Opposition are stuck in the past on this issue, and do not support progress in Northern Ireland?

Mrs. May: I suggest that the Secretary of State consider very carefully what he has just said. He has repeated the implied threat of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to Members that if we look at this issue in relation to the business of the House and the nature of the parliamentarian's role we are stopping progress on the road to peace in Northern Ireland. I remind him that today's debate is about the business of the House and the role of Members of Parliament. Both he and the Leader of the House do themselves and their Government a disservice, given the terms in which they have addressed the House.

Kate Hoey: May I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to reflect on what he has said? He may recall that a substantial number of Labour Members opposed the measure initially because of its parliamentary nature, and many Labour Members abstained. Labour Members opposed on-the-runs legislation, as did the two Northern Ireland parties on opposing sides, and it was not long before he had to give way on the issue. Does the right hon. Lady agree that when parties in Northern Ireland agree on something, particularly the issue of Short money, the Leader of the House should listen?

Mrs. May: I entirely agree with the hon. Lady, who has made a valid point that this is not a party political issue in the House. There are grave concerns among Members on both sides about the Government's stance.

Lembit Öpik: The right hon. Lady said that this is not a party political matter, but will she confirm something? She said that her party opposed the allowances, and that remains their position. Is it fair to surmise that if the Conservative party were in government, they would remove the allowances from people who do not take up their seats in the House?

Mrs. May: Just as I am arguing that it is a matter for the House as to what happens on the allowances so, in due course, it will be a matter for the House as to what happens to them—

Mr. Hain rose—

Mrs. May: Will the Secretary of State contain himself and wait a little longer? I repeat that today's debate on allowances is about a matter of principle and the role of a Member of Parliament. It is on that basis that I oppose the Government motions.

Mr. Hain: I am grateful for the right hon. Lady's generosity in giving way. To pursue her earlier answer, if she became Leader of the House after the next election,
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would she table a motion to repeal the allowances for Members who have not taken their seats? We deserve an answer.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I hope that my right hon. Friend would repeal them.

Mrs. May: Whatever the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), I am not going to give any commitment about what will be done when we come to government after the next election. We are debating the Government's proposals and their impact on the House. [Interruption.] The Leader of the House is muttering from a sedentary position.

Mr. Hoon: I am perfectly prepared to speak from a standing position. If I understand her correctly, the shadow Leader of the House is quite happy to criticise what the Government are seeking to achieve in tabling the motion, but she is not prepared to tell the House what she would do in the unlikely event of her occupying my position.

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