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Order for Second Reading read.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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Support For Members Who Have Chosen Not To Take Their Seats

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected amendments (a) and (b), and both can be referred to during the debate. Mr. Speaker has also imposed a 12-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

1.30 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): I beg to move,

The motion stands in my name and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It relates to the allowances paid to Members of this House who choose not to take up their seats and provides that payment of these should be suspended for 12 months. The Government propose this change in recognition of the concern felt on both sides of the House about the involvement of the Provisional IRA in the Northern bank robbery that took place just before Christmas.

I will not reiterate the points made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he reported to the House the conclusion reached by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland that the Provisional IRA had been behind the Northern bank robbery. Nor will I list the other crimes that the Independent Monitoring Commission concluded had been the work of that same organisation. The House is well aware of the issues. It is clear that this organisation continues to engage in serious criminality and that this criminality has grave implications for our attempts to restore sufficient trust to enable a power-sharing Government to be restored in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): The Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced this measure in the light of the Northern bank robbery. Does he think that the same rule should now apply given Sinn Fein's disgraceful behaviour this week in suggesting that it might shoot people who carried out murder in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hain: I agree with the hon. Gentleman in condemning outright that extraordinary and abhorrent statement, which is a dreadful stain on everybody concerned with Northern Ireland. That underlines the importance of this motion.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): In view of what the Leader of the House just said—I agree with every word of it—how can he possibly defend rules that would still allow, even after the passing of this motion, terrorist sympathisers and supporters to come to this House and to have facilities within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster?
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Mr. Hain: Let me remind the House that until 1997 there was no bar on Members who had not taken the Oath entering the precincts and having access to facilities and services. I can see no logic in the Conservatives' suggestion that we should bar Sinn Fein Members from the Palace of Westminster now, given that not once during their 18 years in government did they attempt to withdraw the right of access from Sinn Fein. Long before the IRA ceasefire and the Good Friday agreement, Gerry Adams, as an elected Member, was allowed the right to enter the precincts and to use the services of the House. We are now in a different situation, since the Good Friday agreement, whereby Sinn Fein has been signed up, in name at least, to a peaceful and democratic path. That is the difference.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Surely the Leader of the House will acknowledge that up until 1997 Sinn Fein Members stood on a clear platform of abstention and said that they would not come here. The problem arose when they changed their policy in 1997 and said that they wanted to come here but not to take their seats.

Mr. Hain: They have not changed their policy of refusing to take their seats in the House. In managing this difficult situation, which I hope the whole House will want to support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in doing, we have to bear in mind the duties of the House and my duties as Leader of the House, as well as the necessity to try to deal with criminality and the equal necessity to take every opportunity to lock in all the political forces in Northern Ireland on a democratic path.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): I appreciate that careful distinctions have to be drawn here, and it is sometimes difficult to do so, but I think that the Leader of the House was mistaken when he said that all that needed to be done was to remove the money to which the persons returned to serve in the House who had not taken the Oath had access. That is not entirely accurate. Yes, they could have come into the House, although they did not have offices assigned to them. However, they have access on those terms to offices and, indeed, to facilities that a member of the public would not have. The position for people who had not taken the Oath was that they could enter in the same way as a member of the public, but the resolution that has been mentioned gave them additional access and offices. The Leader of the House may not have appreciated those distinctions and may now want to revisit them.

Mr. Hain: I shall explain why the Government are adopting this position instead of seeking to bar access entirely. This a very serious motion. It will deprive Sinn Fein MPs of £439,542, on the last recorded figures. That is a considerable amount of money that was being claimed and used for staffing allowances, additional costs allowances, incidental expenses provision and travel by Members and staff. This is a very serious
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decision, and I should have hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would support the Government in taking it forward.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I support the motion. At a British-Irish parliamentary body meeting earlier this week, there was very strong condemnation of the IRA, not least from Irish Deputies, one after another of whom bitterly criticised the criminality in the organisation and its betrayal of the Good Friday agreement. In supporting the motion, is it not important to recognise that Sinn Fein was elected with the electorate voting for it in the knowledge that Sinn Fein MPs would not take their seats in the House of Commons? We must be very careful, now and in future, not to give Sinn Fein Members any idea of being martyrs and playing to their electorate along those lines.

Mr. Hain: If I may say so, those are wise words of advice for the House. There is a careful balance to be struck, and it is important that we do so, notwithstanding the individual points of view that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House may have. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is well respected in that role, has made the judgment—and I fully support him—that we should withdraw these privileges, but at the same time we should allow elected Members of Parliament to serve their own constituents. As I shall explain, that is precisely what our decision and motion are designed to do.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I listened with care to the reply that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick). Does he accept that the support allowances paid to Sinn Fein MPs are in order for them to represent the constituents who elected them? Are we not on the rather dangerous ground of denying facilities for those people to be represented in a parliamentary way by their MPs, whether they take their seats or not?

Mr. Hain: That is precisely the balance to be struck. My hon. Friend again asserts the primacy of elected Members of Parliament in being able to represent their constituents and the right of those constituents to have their views represented. That is why, under this decision, they will not be barred from access to the House. They and their staff will still be able to use the offices, free post, and telephone facilities, and have access to the Library and to catering, in order to carry out their responsibilities to their constituents, some of whom may have elected them and some of whom may have voted for other parties. I am trying to advance a parliamentary point here.

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