Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Wilshire : I am sure that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should bear in mind that there is no need whatever for either of the motions if we are arguing that we should all be treated as equals. All that Sinn Fein-IRA Members need do is turn up, and they will be treated like the rest of us. The motions are superfluous, and they make it easier for those Members to behave as they do.

I know that others wish to speak, so I shall not continue at length. Those who have heard me speak before will know that I have always opposed the payment of allowances, so there is no need for me to rehearse the arguments; I shall merely vote against it again. Now, however, we are being asked to do something else: to approve what I suspect will come to be known as Hoon money. This new allowance plumbs new depths of appeasement of terror. I never believed when I came to the House 18 years ago that I would live to see the day when the House would be asked to put psychopathic murderers on its payroll.

4.49 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I shall be brief because I recognise that other Members wish to speak; most of them are from the Democratic Unionist party, and I would not wish them to be silenced.

We are discussing two issues here today. One is democracy; the other is the progress of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Members are elected to this House because they have stood for election and a majority of
8 Feb 2006 : Column 950
those who voted sent them here to be Members of Parliament. As was mentioned in an intervention by the hon. Member for—wherever—

Sir Patrick Cormack: South Staffordshire.

Jeremy Corbyn: South Staffordshire—how could I forget, as I used to live near there? I do apologise.

In a discussion with the hon. Gentleman earlier, we raised the issue of Members being elected, having made it clear during the election process that they had no intention of taking their seats because they were not prepared to take the Oath. However, those Members still have a responsibility to represent their constituents—whether they voted for them or not—as we all do. It therefore seems entirely logical that one should give them sufficient resources and allowances to carry on the representative process. Furthermore, they are all from one party, and that party has political responsibilities in relation to the Government and to the agencies of the Government here and in Northern Ireland. Those Members should therefore be entitled to exactly the same resources—it is called Short money, but I understand that it might be renamed Hoon money—as Members from any other party, so that they can carry out their representative work.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am not familiar with the situation in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but if someone were elected to be a Member of the Assembly and failed to turn up, would they be entitled to their allowances? Under regulations introduced by the Secretary of State for Wales, if someone were elected to the Welsh Assembly and did not turn up, they would have to vacate their seat and would not be eligible for any allowances. Similarly, if I did not turn up to meetings of my local borough council, I would have to vacate my seat and I would not be entitled to any allowances.

Jeremy Corbyn: What we are discussing is a matter for this Parliament. It is a national Parliament and a sovereign Parliament. It is an autonomous body, not a golf club. Once people have been elected as Members, if they do not turn up, that is a matter for them and for their constituents. It is a matter that can be addressed by the electorate at another time. We do not have the ability to force people to attend the House after they have been elected. That surely is a product of history.

Mr. Gregory Campbell: The hon. Gentleman has alluded, not for the first time, to the perfect right of people to vote for a member of Sinn Fein or anyone else standing on an abstentionist ticket. People have a perfect right to do that, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that they should do so in the knowledge that if they elect an abstentionist, there will be no allowances for that person? If a Member wishes to carry out their representative duty in those conditions, that is their right, but we should not change the rules after they have been elected.

Jeremy Corbyn: Sinn Fein Members who have been elected to this House do not receive any payment because they do not take their seats. Until recently, they did not receive any allowances either. Agreement was
8 Feb 2006 : Column 951
then reached, following a debate in the House, that they should receive allowances in order to carry out their representative work in Parliament. Electors may vote for someone who has already announced that they will not take their seat in the House, but that does not mean that the Member is not going to represent those people. The Member has merely said that they will not take their seat. Historically, this goes back to 1918 when Connie Markiewicz was elected—ironically, from my constituency; I think I am right in saying that she was in Holloway prison at the time—to represent Dublin, Central. She could not, and did not, take her seat. Nor did the other Sinn Fein MPs of the time. That was the tradition. Nevertheless, such MPs have a duty to represent people—as does every other Member—which involves dealing with correspondence, agencies, the Government and all the rest of it.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Of course they do, and of course they can, but we are not obliged to give them the kind of allowances that the hon. Gentleman qualifies for only when he properly takes his seat.

Jeremy Corbyn: The House has already voted on the issue of allowances—some time ago, in fact. They were suspended last year and we are now reinstating them. We have already established and agreed the principle that elected representatives do not get paid if they do not take the Oath, but that they do get the resources needed to represent all their constituents. Today we are reaffirming that principle, but we are also saying that a political party has a right to resources in order to represent its cause to the Government or to anybody else.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) and others have expressed the view that such resources should be used only for parliamentary purposes. I do not doubt that the accounts showing the expenditure of Short money by all the Opposition parties are very carefully scrutinised, but when a researcher writes a speech for a leading Opposition Member and it is delivered in the House, that same information is often then used in a public meeting, in a meeting with Ministers or in negotiations with agencies. We cannot distinguish between material prepared for use in the Chamber and material used in furtherance of parliamentary representation. We should therefore support the motions before us tonight.

I have been in this House for just about as long as anybody present in the Chamber—one or two may have been Members for slightly longer, but I have been one for some time—and I recall a time during the 1980s when this House decided that a broadcasting ban and a travel ban on Sinn Fein and a number of other such measures would somehow further the cause of peace in Northern Ireland. To the credit of John Major and others, a ceasefire was agreed and a peace process developed. That process was built on through the establishment of the Good Friday agreement and all that has happened since.

Of course the situation in Northern Ireland is not perfect, but it is an awful lot better than it was, because there is something approaching a political process. The Secretary of State said that he wanted the Assembly and the Executive to be re-established and I support him in that, but it is up to the Democratic Unionist party and
8 Feb 2006 : Column 952
other parties to ensure that they are re-established. At some point, if it is serious about the restoration of devolved power to Northern Ireland, the DUP will have to treat with other parties, whether or not it likes them or agrees with them. It knows that, and we know that.

We also know that what we are being asked to do today is part of a wider process. We are saying to those who have elected Sinn Fein MPs, "We recognise your vote, your right to representation and your support for that party, so resources will be allowed for you to be represented, but salaries will not be allowed to those MPs because they do not take their seats." So there is a great deal of logic behind this process.

Agreeing to the motions today might just help toward restoring the Assembly and the Executive in Northern Ireland. A political process, however difficult, and political conflict, however deep, is surely far better than people being killed on the streets, however much hatred existed, and perhaps still exists, between people. We should look to the future and to some form of hope for the people of Northern Ireland. Today could be a very small step in that direction.

4.58 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I shall be brief, as I know that other right hon. and hon. Members want to speak. I find myself in agreement with some of what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) has said. I make a distinction between the motion dealing with Short money—"Hoon" money—and that dealing with allowances. I will not support the former—indeed, I will oppose it—for the reason pointed out by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and others. There is a distinction, as it is currently presented to the House, between the benefits paid to the traditional Opposition parties and to Sinn Fein. I listened carefully to what the Leader of the House said, but I am also conscious of the wording of the 1975 resolution.

The truth is that Short money should be paid only in connection with parliamentary business. I am perfectly willing to accept that there is an overlap between parliamentary and representative business. However, we are emphasising the gap—inevitably, I think—by using different language. Where language is different, it normally attracts different interpretations. The risk of accepting the Short money-Hoon money motion is that there will be a real disadvantage to the traditional Opposition parties, and a real and unfair benefit to Sinn Fein.

For reasons that I shall set out in a moment, I am perfectly prepared to contemplate Short money-Hoon money going to Sinn Fein, provided that the same money is payable to the traditional Opposition parties, including my own. Therefore my suggestion to the Government—it is similar to the points made by the hon. Members for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) and for Foyle—is that the motion should be withdrawn and replaced by one that covers the entirety of such allowances payable to all Opposition parties. In that way, we can be sure that there is no differentiation of language and no risk of a different interpretation.

I shall say no more about Short money-Hoon money, as I realise that time is short. I turn now to the question of allowances for Sinn Fein, about which I shall say
8 Feb 2006 : Column 953
something a little more controversial. I regret that, as he knows full well, I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) about this matter.

I approach this debate as a monarchist, and that is important in the light of what I have to say about the Oath. I approach it also as a deeply committed Unionist, as I hope that members of the Unionist parties will accept. I am also a traditionalist and a Conservative—but above all, I am a parliamentarian.

By what authority is any of us in this place? Our only legitimacy stems from the fact that we have been chosen—perhaps imperfectly—by our electorates. That is as true of Sinn Fein Members as it is of any other hon. Member. The general proposition is that a person who is chosen as a Member of this House has obligations, but also the rights and benefits that flow from that choice. I say that it is a general proposition, because those entitlements fall away on disqualification, or perhaps suspension. Why are we seeking to deny Sinn Fein Members the benefits that attach to the rest of us?

I acknowledge that they refuse to take the Oath, but I do not think that the Oath should be a precondition of sitting in the House. I am a monarchist—that is why I am making this point—and have no difficulty with taking the Oath, but I accept that republicanism is a perfectly proper political position. I suspect that many hon. Members, in the course of our history and perhaps today, have had to strain their consciences to take the Oath. I do not believe that we should ask people to do that.

We should reformulate the Oath so that any honourable person can take it. It should not be attached to the monarchy, but should be expressed in some different way that we could discuss. Therefore I do not accept that a failure to take the Oath disqualifies Sinn Fein Members from receiving the allowances and benefits.

A different question has been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire and others. Given that Sinn Fein Members do not participate, are they entitled to the allowances? However, the hon. Member for Islington, North got the matter wholly right, and all of us know that our parliamentary duties go far beyond what we do in this place.

I have not been in the House as long as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire, but I came here in 1979. I know that some hon. Members are very assiduous in the House, and that some hardly play any part at all. Some prefer to concentrate on their national or constituency duties: some of the most assiduous in this place make contributions of the least value, while some who come only occasionally make contributions of the greatest value.

We have to recognise that important contributions are made outside the House. I would be prepared to accept that Sinn Fein Members do that in their constituency functions. They probably do write to Ministers, raise cases with the Inland Revenue and do all the other such things that you and I do, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is a discharge of their duties, and they should be entitled to allowances for that reason.

Next Section IndexHome Page