Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Lembit Öpik: Perhaps he feels guilty. Perhaps he sits here in the dark when we are not here. Who knows? The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, however. Everyone wants to verify the expenditure, because few of us think that it is being handled in an entirely honourable way.

Several hon. Members rose—

Lembit Öpik: I give way to the Secretary of State, because he has something to which to respond.

Mr. Hain: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am trying to help him, and I am trying to help the House. What we seek to do is apply the Short money model, to the letter, to Members who have not taken their seats.

Sir Nicholas Winterton : Why?

Mr. Hain: I shall leave that to the argument about the principle. I am seeking to deal with the detail. The application of the Short money model to Members who have not taken their seats is for representative purposes. The Short money resolution—this is an important point, and the House should take a bit of care over it—does not define parliamentary business any more than the motion defines representative business. Both phrases must be interpreted by the House authorities.

Mr. Dodds : It is a very wide definition.

Mr. Hain: Indeed, and we need to be careful. If a speech were made by a Front-Bench spokesman outside the House with the use of Short money-sponsored parliamentary research, I do not think there would be any objection. We are applying exactly the same model to those using the money for representative rather than parliamentary purposes.

Lembit Öpik: That is a valid point. There will always be difficulties with the interpretation of Short money. Every party tests the line. Let us not be too sanctimonious.

Mr. Hogg: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Lembit Öpik: I think that I should bring my remarks to a close.
8 Feb 2006 : Column 927

Will the Secretary of State assure us that if, as a result of reflection following the debate, it turns out that specific arrangements are necessary that may require us to return to the House, he will act following consultation with, for instance, Members who have taken part in this debate, along with Opposition parties including those from Northern Ireland? I think everyone wants to ensure that the system is not abused.

Let me deal briefly with the principle of what we are doing, and explain why I may have seemed naively supportive in the eyes of the hon. Member for West Thurrock.

Andrew Mackinlay: The whole of Thurrock. Every bit of it.

Lembit Öpik: I am sorry. I mean the hon. Member for the whole of Thurrock.

I am keen to normalise the circumstances in Northern Ireland. I think that we all are. There is, however, a principle at stake. It is a question whether we can have—if I may employ a phrase used by Betty Boothroyd and invoked by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May)—associate Members of Parliament. Betty Boothroyd was very clear that we should not, but I think the Government have said that they are willing to allow it, for the purposes of brokering a peace in Northern Ireland. I feel uncomfortable about it for reasons that have already been given, but if we do allow such an arrangement, it cannot be framed simply around the interests of one particular party at one particular stage of one negotiation.

The Leader of the House spoke about Sinn Fein in such specific terms that it was, I think, lost on him that we are setting principles that could lead to unintended consequences. I suspect that that is one of the reasons why he got himself into trouble over this. I am also concerned about the attitude of the Conservatives. They cannot say at one moment that it is a question of principle, and at the next moment be unable to say what they would do in government. I ask the right hon. Member for Maidenhead to accept that she has a responsibility to illustrate the principles in action if she wants her party to be taken seriously as a potential Government, because principles do not change on the basis of whether a party is in government.

What would I have said if I had been Leader of the House, and had insisted on getting this measure through? First, I would have used a different term from
8 Feb 2006 : Column 928
"Short money". Perhaps "Hoon money" is a good way of describing it. Certainly I do not want my name to be associated with it for evermore.

I would have defined Hoon money according to three conditions. First, it would have to be paid—subject to approval by the House—to individuals and not to parties. Anyone who was duly elected to the House but chose not to take his place, perhaps for reasons of conscience, could apply for the money and ask for his application to be considered. I would disconnect the money from Sinn Fein specifically, and connect it to individual Members of the House. I would then require the House to debate any specific application. Secondly, I would demand an annual review to establish whether there had been infractions or abuses, and whether the House had changed its view. Thirdly, I would ensure that if at any stage the conditions had been violated, the rights of the individual to receive the Short money would end.

I know that the Secretary of State cannot rewrite the legislation now, but he really must assure us that the Government recognise that—as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead said—we are talking about setting a principle, not about putting yet another plaster on the Northern Ireland peace process. He must also make it absolutely clear that he understands why so many of us are sceptical about the Government's ability to see the difference between a bribe and a principle. I hope that he can give us those assurances. I know that this move may not be popular with some Members, but I think that if the Secretary of State can demonstrate a strategic understanding of what he is doing, there may be a case for doing something of the kind.

My party, like others, has been given a free vote, but the onus is nevertheless on the Secretary of State to clarify the position. I shall listen carefully to what he says in order to decide whether he has convinced me, and I expect that others will take the same approach.


Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I have now to announce the result of the Division deferred from a previous day.

On the motion on Intellectual Property, the Ayes were 332, the Noes 159, so the motion was agreed to.

[The Division List is published at the end of today's debates.]
8 Feb 2006 : Column 927

8 Feb 2006 : Column 929

Opposition Parties (Financial Assistance)

Question again proposed, That the motion be made.

3.26 pm

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): This cannot simply be an academic debate, or one about bureaucracy. We cannot ignore the background of a society that has been at war with itself for the past 40 years. In most debates it is possible to say to others, "I understand where you're coming from." We all know that that is impossible in this situation. A community divided by centuries of hate, bigotry and discrimination has no parallels for most of us. A world in which it is still normal to build physical barriers even higher between communities is alien to most of us. And an attitude to life and death that has resulted in horrific acts being committed in the name of God and country—from every possible angle—is incomprehensible to most of us.

That incomprehension led the vast majority of people in Great Britain to turn their backs on the issues of Northern Ireland; they became just another problem in just another remote part of the world. They were shrugged off with the question, "What else can you expect?" They were easy to ignore; for most people, that simply meant turning the telly off or turning it over. But we in Great Britain were wrong to ignore the problem, and we were wrong to pretend that it was just some local issue. We should always remember that if the killings in Northern Ireland had been repeated on a proportional basis across Great Britain, more than 100,000 people would have been killed. I do not believe that anyone would have ignored that situation.

It is a matter of some note that we have moved on from the sad, bad days of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when some of us believed that we would never see a resolution. Even worse, many people did not seem to care whether we did or not. Thankfully, owing in no small measure to the courage of many people in the House and beyond, things have changed. The situation has improved, and if we do not falter, things can get better.

That did not happen by chance. It happened because people were prepared to take risks for peace. John Major took risks for peace by meeting terrorists while they were publicly banned. Mo Mowlam took risks for peace by going into the Maze prison to face those who had been at the forefront of the terror campaign. Our Prime Minister took risks for peace by refusing to take no for an answer from anyone. Politicians from all sides have taken risks in an attempt to move forward, when stepping back into their comfort zone would have been much easier.

Beneath all that high-level risk taking, thousands of ordinary people were also saying, "We've had enough." The convenor of Unison in Northern Ireland, despite his misgivings and those of his community, stood up and led the call to vote yes to the Belfast agreement. The people working in the accident and emergency unit of the Mater hospital in Belfast refused to be intimidated by gun-wielding thugs trying out a novel way to beat the NHS waiting lists. People right across the community have accepted changes to their way of life that no one would have believed possible. From the changes to the police service to the changes to the Irish constitution, people have taken risks for peace.
8 Feb 2006 : Column 930

People have done just about all that they have been asked to do, and now we are being asked again to take a hard decision. It is clear from the debate today that some people will never agree to recognise the reason for paying public money to any party that refuses to sit in this Chamber. I concede that others will question whether real progress has been made in the past year to justify the reinstatement of the allowances. I also accept that some will question the validity of the IMC recommendations. I know that many people not only question the logic of reinstating the allowance but have reservations about the Short money, and, like many other hon. Members, I look forward to hearing what the Secretary of State has to say about that.

There is a logic to these proposals, however. Last year, the IMC recommended that the allowances be withdrawn, and the House agreed to do that. Now it is recommending that they should be reinstated, and we should listen to that argument carefully.

Next Section IndexHome Page