|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Joyce: As I understand it, a minority of voters in those constituencies90,000 out of 250,000voted for Sinn Fein, so the right hon. Gentleman's thoughts should surely be with those who did not vote Sinn Fein in those constituencies.
Mr. Forth: I am an old-fashioned believer in the first past the post system and acknowledge its results in constituencies both in Northern Ireland and throughout the land. I was referring to the relationship between the majority who voted for the Sinn Fein Members and sent them here knowing that they would not take their seats.
My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne touched on the security issue. There is a distinct feeling of unease among hon. Members and, in particular, officers and staff in these buildings and precincts about who we may be inviting into our midst. In that context, the green form that we expect all staff to complete is of great relevance. It starts by saying:
The question arisesit will ultimately perhaps be for you, Mr. Speaker, and certainly for the Serjeant-at-Arms, to determineas to how we can be satisfied that sufficient measures will be taken to guarantee that anyone who fills
My final point relates to what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough said. Others also touched on the issue, and it will require some thought. What relationship will the Members who have chosen not to take their seats, whose families and staff will be able to roam the premises, have with our code of conduct and Register of Members' Interests? Will they be obliged to fill out the Register, like the rest of us? It would appear not. If they do not, will there be sanctions against them? It would appear not. We are creating another class of Member who will not be subject to the same rules and codes of conduct that rightly cover other hon. Members.
The measure is unnecessary. The Government have given no cogent reason why we are being asked to support it now. It is dangerous because it introduces the concept of two completely different types of Members of Parliament, something that I am sure that all of us in any other circumstances would resist stoutly and definitely. In addition, the proposal raises serious security issues. I hope that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will tell us, at the very least, how the Government will liaise with the House authorities to give every guarantee that security checks and measures will be applied to the families and staff of the Members concerned if they are allowed in under the terms of the motion. We need a guarantee that they have not, and will not have, any connection with any organisation that seeks to undermine our constitutional arrangements.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. John Reid): I shall start by giving a direct answer to a direct question. The staff of any Member who uses the facilities will be vetted in the normal fashion.
Not surprisingly, there has been a great deal of heat in tonight's debate. There has also been a great deal of light, not least in the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) and for Walsall, North (David Winnick), both of whom are consistent contributors to debates on Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) also displayed a broad and deep knowledge of the peace process, highlighting in particular the risks taken by the previous Tory Government. I fully accord them the accolade that they deserve for the role that they played in getting the peace process under way. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that although there was a great deal of controversy about those measures at the time, they were undoubtedly the building blocks for the peace that we have now. Despite all its imperfections, that peace is light years ahead of any situation that previously held in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman, like the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), asked whether Sinn Fein Members will be subject to the same scrutiny as other Members. As I said, the answer is yes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) said that it is important to remember that we have a process by which paramilitaries, both loyalist and republican, are hesitantly and reluctantly movingbut nevertheless movingaway from violence. Part of that process was the Conservatives' efforts to engage, at one stage even in secret, in talks with the Provisional IRA. That was another risk taken by a Conservative Government, and one of which we are now all the beneficiaries.
A number of standard objections were made that I want to address very briefly. One is that the motion will create two classes of Member. Let me make it absolutely plain that the two classes of MP were created by the 1997 decision. In response to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), I shall read from the 1989 edition of "Erskine May". I realise that I have been in trouble for reading from documents tonight, but this one might be more enlightening. It says that
It galls me tremendously to hear Conservative Front Benchers, who have spent the past four years demanding that we create two, three or four classes of MP in the House by limiting the voting rights of Scottish and Welsh MPs and possibly those of London MPs, suddenly
We heard the argument that Sinn Fein Members stood on an abstentionist ticket, and that constituents knew what they were getting before they voted for them. That overlooks two things[Interruption.] I am trying to respond to the debate.