Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Gummer: Is this not wrong ab initio? Let us leave aside the rigour. The whole allowance will be available to people who will be doing only part of the job, which will suggest to those who come here on those terms that the rest of the job is not important—but it is, in fact, the real reason why we are all here.

Mr. Trimble: That is a valuable point, with which I agree. If my comments seemed to point in a different direction, I misled the right hon. Gentleman. When I spoke of sticking to the rules, I included Madam Speaker's ruling in 1997, which I think is right and should be adhered to.

If we are to proceed along the Government's desired path, the question of the Oath of Allegiance becomes the relevant one, and I understand why the right hon. Gentleman raised it earlier. It too has entered the debate as, in some respects, a bit of a red herring, in that it has been discussed in connection with the monarch. Although that aspect is important, there is more to the Oath.

18 Dec 2001 : Column 202

The best context in which to view the Oath is perhaps to be found in a judgment delivered recently by the European Court of Human Rights on the application by one of the gentlemen concerned. I refer to the gentleman who was returned to serve as Member of Parliament for Mid-Ulster, but has not yet done so. The court said that the requirement for elected representatives to take an Oath of Allegiance to the monarch

I think that that view of the Oath is right. It refers to the person of Her Majesty, but it goes beyond that: it is an acceptance of the established constitutional order, our democratic principles, and the idea that things must be done in accordance with those principles. There is no difficulty here for a republican—an honest republican.

Mr. Hogg: I well understand that a reasonable person could arrive at that interpretation, but given that interpretation there is no argument, in principle, for not reformulating the Oath to make it say more precisely what the court described as a reasonable interpretation.

Mr. Trimble: Indeed. It would be perfectly reasonable for the Government, if they wished, to reformulate the Oath so that it spelt out all the things implicit in it. It should not present an obstacle to any honest republican, because at its heart is a statement that the person concerned accepts the existing legal order and democratic process and that, if he or she seeks change, it must be done peacefully, democratically and legitimately.

That, of course, is precisely what we want the republican movement to do. We want it to make plain, not just implicitly but in all its actions, that it will pursue its objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Here again the Government have made a mistake. Rather than maintaining a position that would nudge the republicans towards acting coherently and honestly, they are conniving at a dishonest fudge that will carry serious long-term dangers in encouraging among republicans the belief that they can bend the law and get away with it. Who knows where that might take them?

Let me repeat what I said earlier. If we want the political process in Northern Ireland to proceed, we should certainly support the Belfast agreement and seek its full implementation; but we should stick to that agreement. Let us not have little add-ons that suddenly come out of nowhere. It is not the first time that that has happened. It happened with the legislation to allow people to sit in this House and simultaneously to sit and hold office elsewhere. That was never part of the agreement. That was never part of a negotiation.

We believe that that earlier provision came from—I am sorry that the Leader of the House is unable to be here; he dropped me a note apologising for his unavoidable absence—a series of moves by Sinn Fein in the last moments of the negotiation, when it saw that an

18 Dec 2001 : Column 203

agreement was emerging that was uncomfortable for Sinn Fein. It sought desperately to try to get some added advantage and made approaches to the Irish Government. The Irish Government were open about that because they published a letter, but it is reasonable to believe that Sinn Fein may have made approaches at the same time to the British Government.

Sinn Fein raised a number of issues. Among them was that of dual membership: of being simultaneously in the Dail and elsewhere. Alternatively, it also asked the Irish Government whether Sinn Fein Members elected to serve for constituencies in Northern Ireland could have facilities available to them at the Dail in Dublin. I have no doubt that they would have liked to sit and to debate in the Dail but they were willing simply to be in the place—the position that will be produced by the Government's motion.

To my knowledge—correct me if I am wrong—the Irish Government have resisted and refused that. That quest for a novel status within Parliament has been turned down by the Irish Government, who have been more rigorous and honest than our own Government on this issue. It shames me to have to say that.

Dr. John Reid: I have been listening very carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. I take it that his reference to dishonesty was a group reference and not a reference to me individually. In all fairness, before I make my winding-up speech, I should ask him if he expressed a view when my predecessor consulted him on the extension of facilities to Sinn Fein.

Mr. Trimble: I find the question curious because I have no recollection of saying anything other than that I opposed that. If there is anything to the contrary, I would be willing to say so. I am sorry to say that I have stood here before and heard Governments misrepresent my position. I hope that that will not happen this evening as well.

Dr. Reid: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would not suggest that I am misrepresenting his position. I am talking about a consultation that took place in January 2000. I may have misinterpreted his position in that, but I ask him to reflect before making the imputation that we gave no consideration to it.

Mr. Trimble: It would be much better if the Secretary of State, instead of playing with the House, gave us the detail.

Dr. Reid: I quote:

that is, the right hon. Gentleman's party—

18 Dec 2001 : Column 204

I do not say that the right hon. Gentleman should not now be able to reach a different decision. He may have his own views on the process and the pace of that, but I think that there was an imputation throughout what he said that we had disregarded and acted without considering the positions that would be taken by his own party and the various other parties in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Before the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) replies, as there has been a full quotation from that document, it would be helpful to the House if the Secretary of State agreed that it should be placed in the Library.

Dr. John Reid indicated assent.

Mr. Trimble: I would have appreciated it more if the Secretary of State had, prior to tabling the motion, consulted us about that motion. Had he done so, I would have expressed a view, which would have been precisely the view that I have expressed this evening. If there is a development in thought and greater clarity in what I am saying tonight compared with the contents of the letter then, I ascribe it to further reflection and perhaps the diplomatic nature of the letter on that date, but what I am saying now is what I think this Government should do. Had they consulted, they would have received that advice.

Next Section

IndexHome Page