Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hain: I am not suggesting that.

Andrew Mackinlay: I do not mean this unkindly, but that was certainly the implication and the tenor of what my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon, said. I wholly endorse the motion on the restoration of moneys and hope that hon. Members will support it because it arguably relates to the IMC report, but the extraordinary new allowance is not justified.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will my hon. Friend look to the horizon a little? Does he not think that if we approve the motions we will help a confidence-building process that will develop the democratic involvement of a lot of people in Northern Ireland, rather than encourage them to go in the other direction? Does he not see the motions as part of the wider process that he already correctly supports?

Andrew Mackinlay: The answer is no in relation to motion 3. The motion does not advance the process at all. It is an affront to the SDLP and other political parties, and it will blur the situation. It has all the chemistry to produce confusion and false accusations against a party's stewardship. It will create a feeling of discrimination and the thinking that different rules apply from one party to another. Motion 3 should be
 
8 Feb 2006 : Column 940
 
rejected, and the Secretary of State and Leader of the House can come back on another occasion with new ground rules for Short money, if necessary, following consultation with all the authorities. It is our duty to reject motion 3 so that it can be reflected on and rethought.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Many hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye. Perhaps they could make their comments brief so that more will be able to contribute to the debate.

4.9 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I shall do my best to obey your injunction, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to live up to what I said when I expressed the view that the debate would benefit from short, succinct contributions.

The first thing we have to recognise is that we are not debating the peace process. It is wrong and, indeed, unworthy of Ministers or anyone else to suggest that those who have misgivings about the two motions are opposed to peace and normality being brought to the lovely Province. That is what every honest and honourable Member of the House wishes to see. We are not debating that.

I should like to say briefly in parenthesis that if we were debating the peace process, I would have to point out that things are not as rosy as they look. Chairing the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee's current inquiry into organised crime, I am aware, from the evidence received up to now, of the considerable involvement in organised crime by paramilitaries on both sides. The peace process has a long way to go. I wish the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland well. He knows that. I would do anything that I legitimately could to help him to bring proper honourable and true peace to Northern Ireland, but we are some way off that, and we are some way off the restoration of the Assembly, which I also wish to see.

What we are talking about is how we treat those who are elected to this place and who choose not to come here. I met Mr. Conor Murphy and some of his Sinn Fein colleagues on my first familiarisation visit as Chairman of the Committee in September last year. I said, "You and your colleagues have five seats in the Westminster Parliament. You are entitled to a seat on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. You tell us you are embracing democracy and renouncing terrorism. You tell us that you wish to be treated on all fours with other politicians. Well, then, why don't you take your seats, argue your case, sit on the Committee, and behave like those hon. Members representing the SDLP and the two Unionist parties, and play a proper part in Westminster." There is not an hon. Member who would not welcome that. There would be vigorous debate and strong argument, but we would welcome the fact that they performed that constitutional duty. But no, they still wish to behave as did the first woman elected to the House, Countess Markiewicz, and not to take their seats.
 
8 Feb 2006 : Column 941
 

That is the right of Sinn Fein's Members. If that is they way they want to behave, it is up to them.

Jeremy Corbyn rose—

Sir Patrick Cormack: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who is looking increasingly like a combination of George V and Mellors the gamekeeper.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am usually accused of looking like George Bernard Shaw.

Those people who were elected as Sinn Fein Members were elected on the basis that they would not take the Oath and would not take their seats in the House. Constance Markiewicz was elected on the same basis. Therefore, the logic of the hon. Gentleman's position is that they should not be allowed to take any representative function because they have not taken an Oath of Allegiance because they do not believe in that Oath.

Sir Patrick Cormack: The hon. Gentleman is trying to have it both ways. Like Countess Constance Markiewicz, the Members that we are talking about were elected. That is fine. Their electorates knew that their stated position was not to take their places in the House. That is fine. If the majority of the electorate wished in that way to emasculate themselves and to deny themselves representation, that is part of democracy. However, there is no duty incumbent upon the House to vote allowances to Members who are not fulfilling their constitutional duty within and around the House.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Does not my hon. Friend feel that the real losers in the constituencies concerned are those who do not vote for Sinn Fein yet end up with no representation in the House because of the decision of Sinn Fein?

Sir Patrick Cormack: Of course. We have our system of democracy and I believe in it. Like all systems, it is imperfect and sometimes one has to accept the rough with the rough. The fact is that these Members decided not to take their seats. I deeply regret that. I believe that they would demonstrate proper democratic credentials if they did take their seats, but they do not. We are discussing whether they, having decided deliberately to absent themselves, should be given allowances such as we are able to have.

Misguidedly—to me, it is a matter of principle—the House decided in its wisdom, or otherwise, to support the Government when these people were given allowances. I was completely in support of Madam Speaker Boothroyd's judgment. It seemed to me that there could not be associate and second-class Members. I do not believe that anything changed between her decision and the House coming to its decision, but there we are. Then we had the spectacle of the Secretary of State withdrawing the allowances because of the involvement in the Northern bank robbery. I thought that that was a wise decision, and obviously supported it. Now the right hon. Gentleman comes to us—not really on the strength of the IMC report—and says, "I want you not just to reinstate the allowances but to backdate them to November."
 
8 Feb 2006 : Column 942
 

If the right hon. Gentleman truly believes that he or his colleagues have made a commitment that obliges him to do that, he would cover himself with more honour if he came to the Dispatch Box and said, "I am formally moving the motions. There are no Whips on; it is totally free vote territory. It is up to the House of Commons to debate and to decide." That would be keeping faith with the promise that in my view was ill-advisedly but honourably given, and it would be behaving in an entirely sensible manner, and the House would decide.

As it is, the Government are seeking to manipulate the use of House of Commons money by giving these people allowances. Then, piling Pelion upon Ossa, it is said, "That is not enough. We will give you some other money as well."

As we have debated, this is not Short money as we currently know and understand it. This is a separate pot of money. A couple of weeks ago, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said that it was Hain money. However, this afternoon, Members have said that it is Hoon money. Whether it is Hoon money or Hain money, I know that it is taxpayers' money. If the House is misguided enough to pass the motion, taxpayers' money will be given to a group of people who have amassed more ill-gotten gains than almost any political party in the history of western Europe.

This seems to be both unnecessary and wrong. If Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuiness had walked into the city hall in Belfast and deposited £26 million and said, "Here, you can have it back. We have no further use for it. We have washed our hands of dreadful methods." I think that I would put up my hands and say, "Yes, all right, you can have a bit of Short money". However, I would still not want them to have the other money because they do not come to the Chamber.

Does the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is a serious, honourable and sensible man, expect the House to believe that there is a need for that money? Of course, there is not. I implore him, even if he persists in pressing the other motion, to heed the good sense eloquently advanced by the hon. Member for Thurrock and not to push the Short motion until the Government have redefined it and returned to the House to prove that they are not inadvertently arguing for preferential treatment for the only party that does not take its seats in the House. That is a matter of logic and common sense. I have got that off my chest in 11 minutes, with two interventions, and I hope that that will allow other colleagues to be called.

4.20 pm


Next Section IndexHome Page