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Mr. Hain: I will allow the hon. Gentleman in, but it is important that I have time to reply to the debate.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I am grateful. The point I wanted to make is that no Parliament can bind its successors. The decision that was taken in 2001 was taken by a previous Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman is therefore misplacing his criticism when he says that we should accept the will of the House. The will of that House is not necessarily the will of the present House.
Mr. Hain: Even though the hon. Gentleman is such an experienced parliamentarian, I do not think that that is correct. When the House makes a decision, that stays in force until the House changes that decision, in respect of a number of issues. I shall return to the point.
On 10 March 2005 the House resolved to suspend the allowancesI moved the motionfollowing a report by the Independent Monitoring Commission on IRA culpability in the Northern bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney. But that was a suspension, not a rejection, of allowances for Sinn Fein. In the two motions today I am asking the House to acknowledge that since then, and perhaps even encouraged a little by that suspension, the situation has changed dramatically for the bettermuch better even than for the three years during which Sinn Fein Members were in receipt of House allowances. The House might want to bear that in mind.
Whatever views there may be of Sinn Fein and the IRA, the context of this debate is another report of the IMC. In its eighth report published last week, the IMC advised that the financial measures taken against Sinn Fein were no longer justified. The IMC reached its view
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after a detailed and considered review of all the available information, including intelligence information. The report states clearly that the Provisional IRA
"uniquely among paramilitary organisations, has taken the strategic decision to eschew terrorism and pursue a political path",
"there are a number of signs that the organisation is moving in the way it indicated in its statement of 28 July 2005."
On that basis, the report clearly and unambiguously recommends that the financial measures against Sinn Fein should be discontinued:
"We do not believe that financial measures against Sinn Fein of the kind referred to in our Fourth Report should continue."
I strongly believe that such a clear recommendation from the IMC deserves an equally clear response from this House, and the Government's tabling of the motions before the House this evening is such a response. The restoration of allowances and the motion to grant financial assistance for representative business is intended further to encourage the republican movement along the path of democratic politics.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) has reaffirmed his party's opposition to the principle of granting allowances to hon. Members who have not taken the Oath. Interestingly, on BBC Ulster this morning, he said that the Oath of loyalty to the Queen should be re-examined if it would mean Sinn Fein MPs taking their seats in the House of Commons. That is an interesting proposition, although I note that he has not advocated it this evening.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) raised an important questionthe definition of "representative"that goes to the heart of the matter. The proposal has been modelled on the Short money model. Parliamentary business is not defined in the Short money resolution, either, but the guidance to the auditor on Short money makes it clear that Short money cannot be used for political campaigning and similar partisan activities, political fundraising, membership campaigns and personal or private business. That guidance would apply to representative pursuits by Sinn Fein Members.
Motion 3 on the Order Paper makes it clear that the money must go on expenses exclusively incurred by the support of
Hon. Members should note that the Short money resolution passed in 1999 does not define "parliamentary business" any more than this motion defines "representative business". Both phrases must be interpreted by the accounting officer and the auditor, and the rules are strict.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) asked whether the House's accounting officer can issue guidance. As I have said, the accounting officer provides a note for the auditor giving some guidance on Short money. If motion 3 is passed, the issue would be a matter for the accounting officer, who may want to consider whether and how to issue guidance, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would be happy to discuss that matter with him. It is also possible that the Members Estimate Committee or
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the House of Commons Commission would want to look at the guidance, too. The situation must be policed carefully and the rules must be rigorously enforced. It is not a question of simply handing over £85,000, because, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has said, a properly audited application is required.
Lembit Öpik: Can the House take that as a commitment of parliamentary time, if it is necessary following advice from the people whom the Secretary of State has described?
Mr. Hain: That matter is for the Leader of the House. I not sure whether parliamentary time will be required, but if it is, representations can be made to the Leader of the House. However, the Members Estimate Committee and the House of Commons Commissions can make their own decisions and report them to the House.
The right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has suggested that I might have questioned his commitment to peace, but I have never done so. In the nine months in which I have been in this job, we have worked together to achieve peace, and I would not challenge his absolute commitment to peace in Northern Ireland. We have had an honest debate about how to bolt down peace and make sure that it becomes permanent.
The Government deserve some credit for the enormous transformation in Northern Ireland. I am not in any way suggesting that if motion 3 were not passed and the £84,000 were not granted to Sinn Fein, it would go back to terrorism or violence. I have never suggested thatnor, contrary to criticisms made during the debate, has the Leader of the House. It would be absurd to do so. The question is how we can, through today's decision, encourage the republican movement and others to take the process forwards, not backwards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) asked several important questions. I welcome his support for motion 4 on ending the suspension of allowances to Sinn Fein Members. He is troubled by motion 3, and I understand that. He said that its only direct reference to the Short money resolution, and therefore implicitly to the scope of that resolution, is in paragraph (2), but that in fact deals with the method of calculation. Technically speaking, he is right. However, it is clear from the way in which the motion is drafted, and from today's debate, that if it is passed, the intention of the House will be that the Short money model is applied as closely as possible; although of course it is not Short money as such. I am sure that we can expect the House to implement it in that way.
It is important to recognise that all Opposition Front Benchers travel throughout the country making speeches as part of their parliamentary functions. Part of Sinn Fein's representative functions in future could be making speeches that arise from their position as Members of Parliament. I did not think that it would be sensible for the Commons to get into the question whether a Short money-funded researcher was only drafting speeches delivered in this House or was also helping to draft speeches delivered as part of an MP's or Front-Bench spokesman's responsibilities outside the House. Precisely those issues arise in the motion and precisely those issues of policing will be applied by the auditor and by the House authorities.
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The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) asked several questions about allegations that he has made. I will look at Hansard before I consider my response.
Mrs. Dunwoody : I want to make a very simple point. Short money was granted by the House of Commons because Front Benchers were known not to have the money to support researchers. The research that they needed was in direct connection with their parliamentary duties. There has never been any doubt about that, and it does not need to be spelled outthe House of Commons knew that that was what the money was for. This proposal is not only a negation, but a positive distortion, of that idea.
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