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Mr. Hogg: Is not my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) right, and am I not right in my suggestion to those on the Government Front Bench, that one of the chief criticisms of the Government's approach to the motion is that they failed to address the question of the Oath first? For many of us, the problem of the Oath should be addressed before there is any ad hominem disapplication of rules in the case of Sinn Fein.
Sir Brian Mawhinney: As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, I hold both him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) in high regard and I have frequently benefited from their wisdom. I shall not get into that debate tonight, because whatever the Government should or should not have done, we are faced with the Oath in its present form, and it will not change between now and 10 o'clock. If it does, that will be the story for the "Today" programme.
It has already been said that that constitutes a major problem for Sinn Fein. To it, this is a foreign Parliament. Given that it is a foreign Parliament, I am not entirely clear why Sinn Fein wants to be a part of it, but it alleges that it does. The Leader of the HouseI think it was the Leader of the Housedrew attention to its focus on abstention and absenteeism. Sinn Fein did not wish to be part of anything. When it said "ourselves alone", boy, did it mean it! Now, Sinn Fein is involved in the Dail, it is involved in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and it would like to be involved in the Westminster Parliament. The difference is that it wants to change the rules to be involved here, as compared with the rules in the Dail and the Northern Ireland Assembly. I hold the Leader of the House in much higher regard than to believe for one moment that he does not understand that. I hope, therefore, that he will take in a spirit of generosity the suggestion that that is one of a number of points in his speech on which he was, at best, disingenuous. However, we ought not to be disingenuous; we should face up to the reality, which is that that is the issue.
Why, then, is so much heat generated by the motion? It seems of no little significance that the thread of violence has run through this debate from its inception and will continue until its conclusion. For what we are talking about is welcoming into this Chamber or Palace people whose hands are dirty with the blood of others. Three Members of this House were killed by the IRA. Some of us have been the focus of personalised and determined assassination attempts. I still recall the evening when I sat in Londonderry and, to my surprise, saw my photograph on the evening news while the newsreader said that the IRA had announced a few minutes before that it had decided not to assassinate the Education Minister during his visit to Londonderry, on the grounds that innocent passers-by would be injured. This debate cannot be separated from that thread of violence.
David Winnick: The record of the IRA is known to all of us and to their numerous victims, of whom there are hundreds, if not thousands; but if the yardstick is the record of murderous violence, surely the issue would be the same if the Members in question were to take the
Sir Brian Mawhinney: I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, whom I hold in regard on Northern Ireland matters, in the middle of making my point. Perhaps it might have been more helpful if I had waited until I had finished doing so. I wanted to establish that when we debate these matters, the issue of violence is not far from the surface, but I was about to say that if that issue were the only criterion, there would not be a Northern Ireland Assembly today. It is not the only criterion, and it is not a sufficient criterion, given the progress that has been made in the past few years. I think that he will also accept, however, that human beings find it very difficult to switch off from issues of violence.
Before I entered the Chamber this afternoon, I was approachedit was completely unsoughtby a number of secretaries who had been working in this Palace when the bomb went off. Their message was, "We don't know, Brian, whether you intend to speak, but if you do, would you tell your colleagues that a number of us who work here are extremely nervous, concerned and unhappy about the prospect of the motion being agreed to this evening, because we have had contact with these people in the past?" I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) that violence is not of itself a sufficient criterionso what is sufficient?
What this debate should be about is whether this House is willing to countenance a two-tier Member system. In my time on the Government Front Bench, I had the privilege of being a Minister of State in the Department of Health. I see some Labour Members who used to upbraid me because Conservative health policy, as they saw it, led to a two-tier health serviceof course, they were quite wrongwhich was anathema to them. I find it difficult to understand why two-tier representation in this Chamber is not even more of an anathema than an allegedly two-tier health service.
Northern Ireland is the background to this debate, but the issue is simple: should all Members be equal in terms of their responsibility, the facilities that they enjoy and the influence that they can exert, or should some be more equal than others?
Let me refer to what the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush said; this is a parliamentary debate, so I am responding to the last speech made before mine. I think that I wrote down his comments correctly. He said that the issue tonight was not big enough to endanger the peace process and that we should therefore vote with the Government so as not to put the process at risk. Where have I heard that before? I want to tell the House that this issue is not big enough to put the peace process at risk and Sinn Fein will not put it at risk if it does not get this motion. It is for that reason and on that analysis, and on
Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): I am very pleased to follow the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney). Indeed, I am also pleased to be unmuzzled, as this is the first time that I have spoken on Northern Ireland since Labour was in opposition, because of my duties as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the last Parliament.
Helen Jackson: Yesfreedom to speak in a debate that has been thoughtful and interesting, and significant in the context of the many debates in the House to which I listened during the last Parliament.
I have considerable reservations and questions about the issue with which the motion deals, but I am determined to look at it, as I am a good constitutionalist who believes in the democracy that we enjoy here in this House and in its value to all of us here. I do so primarily from two points of view. First, I am not terribly interested in the people who represent the people of Northern Ireland, but I am very interested in the responsibility that we all have as Members of the House of Commons for the life, peace, political process and economic well-being of the people who live in that part of the United Kingdom, so I think that it is their interests that we have to consider first. My second guiding principle in addressing the matter is that of whether voting for the motion will ensure political progress and a continuation of the unsatisfactory but relative peace and ceasefires that that part of the United Kingdom has now enjoyed for some time.
It angers me that the media have characterised the debate on the motion as, "Shall we offer these four Members the benefits of the House of Commons?" They ask whether the four Members should enjoy the "benefits" of having a cup of tea in the Tea Room or entering the Palace. I have great sympathy for the views of hon. Members who have bucked against that interpretation of our debate. They have explained that we are being asked to say to Sinn Fein Members, "If you are legitimately elected by the constituents of West Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Mid-Ulster and Belfast, West, you have a place in this House." I believe that. They were democratically elected to represent 250,000 people.
If we accept that premise, those Members should take up their responsibilities, step by step. It is therefore important to make it clear that being a Member of Parliament does not simply mean enjoying some sort of benefit. We use our office allowances for our constituents. Being a Member of Parliament requires responsibility and public accountability. I agree with the stress that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) placed on the four Sinn Fein Members being as accountable to the public as any other Member of Parliament.