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David Winnick: As someone who is very far removed from the Christian tradition, I look upon Jean McConville—whether I should do so is another matter, because, as I said, I am not of that faith—as one of the finest Christians whom I could imagine. She was a true Christian. I believe—possibly unlike the hon. Gentleman—that if it had been an IRA man who was dying, she would have done the same.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I quite agree. As I have always said, there is no difference between the tears of a Roman Catholic mother and the tears of a Protestant mother. They are both mothers, and they both have the same feeling and the same love.

Every hon. Member knows that we are dealing with ruthless men. They are interested not in peace, but in getting their way. As Martin McGuinness said:

He has not changed. Now we are asked by the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House to allow those people to be brought into the House and given a special privilege. That is wrong. No matter who they are, there should be no special privileges in the House. There are hon. Members who have legitimate views about the Oath and about the Protestant ascendancy and other matters. However, when we enter the Chamber, we all stand on a common platform.

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One of my friends from Belfast, the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), recalled his maiden speech. I was present on that occasion. He said that he had not expected things to happen the way they did. Neither did I. I did not think that I would be leading five Members of Parliament in the House, just one less than the official Unionists. That, my friend, is perhaps the biggest miracle that has happened in Northern Ireland during these sad days.

I trust that hon. Members will think hard. Reference was made to the Rev. Robert Bradford, who was shot dead by the IRA. That Saturday morning, I was to have been shot dead, too. The police found in the house adjacent to my home everything ready to assassinate me that day. Fortunately for me, I had an early morning prayer meeting, which is common in the Church to which I belong. I was out of bed at six o'clock and away to prayer. The gunmen did not get me, but when I looked upon the body of Robert, I said to myself, "The bullet could have been for me." Sometimes politicians in Northern Ireland are severely criticised, but they can always answer—an Ulsterman can always answer and fight his corner—but the House should remember that there is a cost to be paid in trying to serve the people of Northern Ireland. Some of us are trying to do that as best we can, but this proposal does not help us in our efforts.

8.45 pm

David Winnick (Walsall, North): I hope that, in expressing my support for the motion, there is no need for me to emphasise how I loathe the murders and violence of the IRA. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), whose viewpoint is very different from mine on the Good Friday agreement and other matters in Northern Ireland, read out a list of some victims. I completely agree with his sentiments. As we have been in the House for many years and have been involved in many Northern Ireland debates—obviously, he has been much more involved than I could be—I hope that he is aware that I demonstrated time and again during the years of violence that I was completely opposed to the IRA and to the loyalist murder gangs on the other side. Indeed, during the early 1980s, I opposed the current Mayor of London when he argued as leader of the Greater London council that there should be negotiations with the IRA. I could see no reason for such negotiations, as the only item on the table for that organisation would be Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom.

During the years of violence, it was made clear that it was legitimate to argue for a united Ireland. Ministers in the previous Government made it perfectly clear that it was legitimate to have the unification of Ireland as one's political objective, but illegitimate to try to bring about that aim with violence and terror. As I said in an intervention—this returns to the point made by the hon. Member for North Antrim—if the yardstick in respect of Commons office facilities is to be the background of all or some of the four Sinn Fein Members, the same would apply if they were willing to come into the House and take the Oath. I assume from the remarks that he made when he listed the victims that he would be as opposed to such Members coming into the Chamber as he would be to their having office facilities.

As I understand it, however, that is not the view of the Opposition, who say that if the four Members, who were elected in the same way as we all were—there is no doubt

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that they are elected Members of Parliament—were willing to come into the Chamber and take the Oath, they would have no objections at all. Indeed, I would not expect them to have any objections.

The argument and division is about whether there should be what has been described in this debate as a sort of two-tier membership. I would not describe it in those terms, but I am willing to concede the point. I am also willing to concede that it is a messy arrangement. It is not one that I particularly like—of course not; why should I? I would prefer all those who are elected as Members of Parliament, be they on the mainland or in Northern Ireland, to take the Oath, so this is not the sort of compromise that I particularly like and neither do I believe that the Government like it. Obviously, they would take the same view as the rest of us—or at least most of us, with the exception of the Democratic Unionist party—in saying that these Members should take their seats. In the interests of the peace process, however, I am willing for such a compromise, however messy, to be reached.

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman says that he is willing for a compromise to be reached. If he had stated in his election address that he would vote for giving £500,000 of taxpayers' money to four Sinn Fein Members of Parliament, is he confident that he would have been re-elected?

David Winnick: I shall defend my viewpoint in my constituency, as the hon. Gentleman will defend his view in his. I believe that my constituents know of my loathing of IRA violence. If the issue is raised at the next general election, it is my responsibility as the candidate to defend my position. People can then make up their minds in the usual democratic way.

Sinn Fein Members' attitude to taking their seats in what they describe as a foreign Parliament is not unique. For a time, Sinn Fein refused to participate in a Northern Ireland Parliament; being part of a partitioned Northern Ireland was out of the question. It argued time and again that it would never be involved, yet now some of its members are Members of the Legislative Assembly. Some are Ministers and are therefore involved in the Executive. Sinn Fein has obviously changed its mind.

We should also not forget that Sinn Fein refused to recognise the Republic of Ireland. It was recognised throughout the world, and I therefore do not expect that it was unduly worried about Sinn Fein recognition. However, Sinn Fein recognised the Irish Republic only in 1986 after much internal debate, which led to a split at the time. Now it has one member in the Dail and hopes to have a few more; we shall see after the Irish general election.

As I said in an intervention, I do not believe that the IRA has secured victory. It was not defeated militarily; it can take whatever pride it likes from that. If we had been in a position over 30 years to defeat the IRA militarily, we would have done that. We were not involved in a game; enough British soldiers died in the process. It was obvious that the IRA could not be defeated militarily. However, it has been defeated politically for the reasons that I explained earlier. It came into existence in 1970

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with one aim in mind: to bring about the unification of Ireland through terror and violence regardless of the wishes of the majority of people in Northern Ireland. That has not happened, and it is not likely to happen until a majority in Northern Ireland supports unification.

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Gentleman said that one member of Sinn Fein had been elected to the Dail. Does that member take part in the Dail's proceedings under different terms from other Members of the Dail?

David Winnick: The hon. and learned Gentleman knows the answer. There is no oath in the Dail such as the one that is taken here. Since 1986, Sinn Fein has recognised the Irish Republic and it must therefore recognise its Parliament. Sinn Fein currently chooses to describe the UK Parliament as a foreign Parliament. However, if we agree to the motion and the Sinn Fein Members take the office facilities, is not it possible that they will change their minds in due course? I would welcome that.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made clear his views about the Oath. He believes that it could be changed. I made the same point during business questions on 2 December 1999. With the possibility that Sinn Fein Members might wish to take their seats in mind, I asked the then Leader of the House:

It appears that Sinn Fein Members are not willing to take their seats, regardless of the Oath. However, if they were, like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I should be prepared to reconsider it. I believe that those who are elected should have every opportunity to take their seats.

In previous times, this House was involved in a great deal of controversy about Members who wanted to take their seats but could not do so. It was not until 1829 that Catholics were allowed to come here. It was a long time from the Reformation until 1829, and it was likely—although I have not read the debates of the time—that there was a great deal of controversy and discussion about that. It was not until 1860 that orthodox Jews—who could not take the Christian oath—were allowed to come here. Prior to 1860, such a measure was debated but defeated in the Lords. It took some 15 or 20 years before it was finally agreed to, when Baron Rothschild could take his seat as an orthodox Jew.

The position of Charles Bradlaugh was even more controversial. Despite being a non-believer, he was willing to come here and take the Oath but the House came to the conclusion that it would be hypocrisy to do so. He was refused admission four times. I agree that these were Members who wanted to take their seats; obviously, Charles Bradlaugh, the Member for Northampton, wanted to do so. But we must look at the controversy that occurred and the number of Members at the time who said that it would be quite wrong for a Christian country to allow a professed atheist into this House. At the end of the day, the law was changed. Indeed, Charles Bradlaugh lived long enough for an apology to be given to him. While we are debating a different matter—those Members who do not want to take their seats—I would say that the controversies of the past have some relationship to what we are discussing at the moment.

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The hon. Member for North Antrim is not in favour of the Good Friday agreement; he believes it to be wrong, inappropriate and a betrayal of the people of Northern Ireland, but that is not the position of the Conservative Opposition. This proposal may help the peace process—perhaps it will not—or consolidate what was agreed at the time; a new Government for Northern Ireland and fairness in governing on behalf of both communities. If it helps the process, I see no reason why I should not vote for the motion, and I shall do so at the appropriate time tonight.

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