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Mr. Dodds: I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. He is praying in aid the IMC report, as did the Leader of the House. Would he care to comment on the Government's decision following the previous IMC report, which explicitly stated that the Progressive Unionist party should not continue to receive money? The Government chose to ignore that recommendation by the IMC, yet now they and the hon. Gentleman are relying on its report in support of their argument.
Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman may want to expand on that point should he catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. It did strike me as somewhat curious that the Government were willing to accept some aspects of the IMC's report and ignore others. That makes it rather difficult for those of us who have been sympathetic and, in my view, constructive for nine years in trying to support the Government on Northern Ireland business.
I try to be consistent in following the guidance of, in this case, the Independent Monitoring Commission, but the Government do not seem to feel obliged to do the same. Will the Secretary of State clarify what is a perfectly reasonable question, which has caused some angst in various quarters, as it looks to some of us as if the IRA gets preferential treatment in comparison with other paramilitary organisations? Ironically, on this occasion, the PUP got preferential treatment in relation to the allowances paid. I shall leave it to the Secretary of State to respond to that.
Andrew Mackinlay: This is not a question of a distinction without a difference. Short money is not available to Sinn Fein because it is disqualified. We are discussing a new allowance, but people are going down the Government's route of conflating the two. It is new money, and it is exclusive to Sinn Fein.
I want to focus on that. The hon. Gentleman is correct. As all Members know, and as we have discussed, Short money is provided to Opposition
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parties to assist them in carrying out parliamentary business. I am keen for the Secretary of State to explain what kind of parliamentary business will be undertaken by Members who choose not to take their seats. In that regard, can he respond to four specific questions? First, how much money will it be? Secondly, for what purposes does he expect it to be used? Thirdly, how will the system be monitored to ensure that any expenditure will truly be for parliamentary business, not constituency matters, which are already accounted for? Fourthly, what will any organisation using such money be able to do that will not be permitted for those of us using Short money?
The Secretary of State might say that those points were covered by the Leader of the House. I am sorry to say, however, that the Leader of the House's responses were somewhat ambiguous. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and I sought clarification and confirmation that there was nothing that a recipient of the new Hoon money could do that recipients of Short money were banned or prevented from doing. The Leader of the House's response was rather confusing. Fortunately, he twice said specifically that nothing could be done with the new money that would not be permitted for those who receive Short money. The Secretary of State must pin the matter down, however, because the record will be analysed in detail when challenges are made, if, for example, in this case, Sinn Fein is suspected of abusing the money.
Mr. Hogg : Is not the most sensible approach that we should not extend to Sinn Fein Short money or Hoon money unless and until we see a full resolution that also tackles the payment of moneys to the traditional Opposition parties whose Members do take their seats? We can therefore be sure that there is no discrepancy between one set of Opposition parties and Sinn Fein.
Mr. Hain: I hope that I can help the hon. Gentleman and the House. As to how much money will be available, it is a little over £84,000. It is not, as it were, a case of the House taking a wheelbarrow to give the money to Sinn Fein[Interruption.] It will benefit the House if I can explain the matter. Sinn Fein can only claim such money against proper receipted applications, in line, as the motion says, with the rules set out in paragraphs (1) and (2), exclusively in terms of representation and the Short motion passed by the House on 26 May 1999. As to what the money will be for, it will be for research and that kind of activity. On how it will be monitored, it would be helpful if the chief accounting officer issued guidance in due course, which I would welcome, as is proper.
I am sorry that this intervention is a little long, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that in recent times there has been a lot of conflict, which has included a former Leader of the Opposition, about Short money. That is why the rules have had to be clarified. That is also why it is important that the House has proper guidance and proper rules properly enforced. Sinn Fein Members of Parliament
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will not be able to do anything that other Members of Parliament cannot do. It is helpful to clarify that to the House.
Lembit Öpik: I found that intervention quite helpful. I wish that the Leader of the House had been as clear as the Secretary of State is being. I found the Leader of the House's comments somewhat confusing, and they led to concern, which, to some extent, the Secretary of State is allaying, about the specific implementation of the new money.
Andrew Mackinlay: I find the hon. Gentleman extraordinarily naive. If he reads the Official Report tomorrow, he will see that the Secretary of State conflated a couple of things. The only relevance of the Short money, under paragraph (2) of the motion, is in relation to the formula for calculating the amount of money, in terms of numbers of Members of Parliament and numbers of votes. There is no cross-reference whatever in the motion to Short money. There cannot be; it is like trying to merge the rules of rugby with soccer.
Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that he has heard a lot of rot. I am not sure whether that is parliamentary language, but I know where he is coming from. I ask him to be patient with me, at least, because I am trying to help the Government as best I can.
Because I see what the Secretary of State and the Government are trying to do, I always ask the question: if I was in their position, what would I do? I would certainly entertain the prospect of creating some kind of fund that created parity between political parties. It was therefore valid to raise the specific concern about the mechanics. The Secretary of State has some way to go to define exactly how allocation of the Hoon money will be implemented. What makes people nervous is the concern that any assurance given here will not hold water out there, and that this debate will provide no recourse or insurance policy in relation to any legal challenge about the abuse in spirit of this money. The Secretary of State must reassure the Chamber that there is not a way around the intended spirit of the proposals.
Mr. George Howarth:
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that issuing guidance against which those allowances could be audited, not necessarily through an accounting officer but through the House authorities or the Secretary of State, would provide a benchmark?
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Lembit Öpik: I agree. If the Secretary of State wants the motion to be passed, he should give an assurance that if any further orders need to be passed to secure that, he is willing to bring those before the House. I will take him at his word on that, because he is honourable.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman is prepared to take assurances from the Secretary of State that the accounts will be properly audited. Would he care to look at the travel expense claim of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness), who has claimed sufficient to have attended the House every week during its sittings, as well as during periods when it was not sitting? Despite all the procedures, he was able to get away with that kind of claim without having attended the House once.
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