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Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that the IMC can recommend or comment only on sanctions that are attached to the Assembly allowance? Although it likes the jurisdiction that it has, it does not run to allowances in the House at all.

Mr. Lidington: The hon. Lady is right. My memory of the IMC's terms of reference is that its remit on recommending sanctions relates only to Northern Ireland institutions, not to institutions at Westminster. If my memory is correct, the IMC explicitly pointed out in the original report, in which it recommended the suspension of Stormont allowances about a year ago, that its remit did not extend to Westminster and declined to make recommendations in that respect.

Lady Hermon: Perhaps it would be helpful to the hon. Gentleman if I read out the terms of reference. It reads:

The IMC has no jurisdiction over how we vote on the motions.

Mr. Lidington: The hon. Lady makes a telling point.

The second and perhaps central argument that the Government advanced this afternoon was that the two motions are in some way an important contribution to the overall peace process. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), said that there is pretty well unanimous support on both sides of the House for the Government objective of seeing devolution restored in Northern Ireland on the basis of an end to paramilitary and criminal activity.

The trouble with the Government's line in defending their motions is that we have not had from Ministers an explanation of exactly how the two motions are supposed to contribute to the fulfilment of a shared political goal. We had no description from the Leader of the House about the way in which the Government hope or expect Sinn Fein will change either its ideology or its actions as a result of votes this evening. Will it start supporting the police if we pass the motions? Will it recognise the legitimacy of the courts?

Mrs. Dunwoody: Is there not an even simpler answer? Will Sinn Fein use the money to get support for the work that could be done by coming to the House of Commons?

Mr. Lidington: I agree with the implication behind the hon. Lady's question. I will dwell on the issue at greater length in a short time.
 
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The irony is that Sinn Fein, of all parties, is not short of cash. As the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) said, the amounts that we are debating today are small change in the context of the profits that have been made from a succession of robberies and other crimes over the years. The Government defend these motions on the ground that they will help to sustain the political process, but I fear that they will have the opposite effect. Suspicion about the Government's motives will breed along with deals that may have been done behind closed doors. As the hon. Member for Foyle said, there has been too much about the political process that has been about fixing things to suit Sinn Fein. It is time that we had less ambiguity and greater transparency if we are to have a chance of building trust and confidence, which presently is at a low level.

The debate has focused largely on motion 3 concerning the new allowance. There was widespread concern in the House about the ambiguity over what the money is supposed to be used for. There would have been some logic to the Government's position had Ministers come forward with a motion to say that from now on allowances paid to all parties would be to support them in their representative functions. I think that the hon. Member for Thurrock made that point.

If motion 3 is passed, we shall be in a position where a party with elected Members has a choice. Those Members can take up their seats and claim Short money but accept the limitation that those payments must be limited to support for parliamentary activities, or they can decline to take up their seats and obtain money from the new allowance to support all representative activities. It seems that a difference in the type of activity that would qualify for funding is inherent in the difference in the language that is used to describe Short money and that used to set out the terms of the motion.

My quarrel with the Government's supporters, particularly my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, concerns the rights and duties of a Member of Parliament. I accept completely my right hon. and learned Friend's assertion that the privilege of election confers certain rights on us, but those rights are accompanied by responsibilities. The very fact that rules exist in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament making payment and allowances conditional on Members taking their seats reflects the fact that to take a seat and participate is seen as the central function and duty of an elected Member in any legislature. We should not forget that until a mere five years ago that was the tradition or belief on which we acted in the House.

Mr. George Howarth: Far be it for me to try to represent the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), but the burden of his argument is not that those Members are elected and refuse to take up those duties but that they are elected on the conviction that they will not take their seats in the House. There is a difference.

Mr. Lidington: The hon. Gentleman and I differ on this point, but I simply do not believe that one can remove from the duty of membership of a legislature the notion of taking one's seat and participating. It is integral to the role of an elected representative, and it is
 
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an abdication of responsibility to avoid taking that course of action. We delude ourselves about the nature of the responsibility of elected representatives if we try to create two classes of MPs as the motions propose.

It is not just a matter of the Oath, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham would agree. If it were a matter of the exact words that we were asked to swear or affirm at the beginning of a Parliament, he would have a stronger case. I note, however, that the Oath was not in the end an obstacle for De Valera and his Fianna Fail colleagues, and did not prevent them from taking their seats in the Dail in the late 1920s. I believe that Sinn Fein Members should take their seats. Although I loathe their politics, I would welcome their presence in the Chamber, where they could take part in debate and hold Ministers to account. Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), I have urged them to do so. As a number of Members have said, it is important that the House should remember that all of us, once elected, have a duty to represent the interests of constituents who did not vote for us or who did not vote at all, just as we represent people who voted for us or for our political party. The two thirds of the electorate in the five Sinn Fein-held parliamentary constituencies deserve to have their interests represented, just as much as the third who voted for Sinn   Fein candidates. The House of Commons deals with legislation on infrastructure for Newry; with environmental regulations affecting farmers in Fermanagh and Tyrone; and with education and training opportunities in west Belfast. It is an abdication of duty for those Members not to represent the interests of their constituents in the House.

Five years ago, I voted against the introduction of allowances for Members who declined to take their seats, and I will continue to vote in accordance with my belief, and vote against motion 4. Motion 3, which would create a parallel to Short money, amounts to little more than a corruption of the system of allowances, so it deserves forthright opposition in every quarter of the House. This is a free vote for my party, but I hope that as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends as possible will join me in voting against both motions.

5.44 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): We can probably all agree that this afternoon's debate was one of the occasions that shows the House at its best, not only speaking with passion—I recognise that arguments have been made against the position that I am about to put, and I understand and respect those arguments—but speaking about the values and integrity of the House. There is an issue to wrestle with. I understand that, and I recognise the points made by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), among others.

Whatever our arguments, we can agree that Sinn Fein contested and won elections to the House. As the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and others mentioned, Sinn Fein Members were elected on a mandate not to take their seats. They are therefore not entitled to the salaries which follow from taking the Oath, and they do not get salaries. Nevertheless, they are Members of the House and their electorate have rights. Their constituents—
 
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perhaps especially those who did not vote for them—have rights, and the House has a responsibility to respect those rights.

That is why the House has already determined—I stress has already determined—the principle that Sinn Fein MPs should receive MPs' allowances. That decision was made in December 2001. Some right hon. and hon. Members are trying to rerun that decision, but we should respect the will of the House, as determined in 2001. I note that the shadow Leader of the House—it has just been repeated by the shadow Northern Ireland spokesman—is opposed in principle to that. I understand that. It is not to do with what was or was not in the IMC report. It is not to do with the level of paramilitary activity, criminality or violence. They are in principle opposed to the granting of MPs' allowances to Sinn Fein Members who have refused to take the Oath.

That is a perfectly defensible position, although I note that when I pressed her on the matter, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was not rock solidly committed to it. She was not willing to say that if a Conservative Government were elected after the next election and she were Leader of the House, she would sweep those allowances away. So she is not that committed to the principle.


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