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11 Mar 2010 : Column 492

The Bill, however, is short. It consists of only three clauses and no schedules. Clause 1 amends section 47 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to enable the Assembly to delegate the power of determination in relation to the setting of salaries and allowances. The clause introduces two new subsections to the 1998 Act. Proposed new subsection (2A) will make it possible either for the Assembly to determine salaries or allowances payable to Members or for those salaries and allowances to be determined by a person other than the Assembly. Proposed new subsection (2B) makes it clear that different salaries may be set for different jobs, such as those of Ministers or Whips.

Clause 2 makes consequential amendments to section 48 of the 1998 Act. That clause deals with pensions, allowances and gratuities for persons who cease to be Members of the Assembly or who cease to hold certain offices but continue as Assembly Members. Clause 3 deals solely with the short title and commencement, with sections 1 and 2 of the Bill coming into force by commencement order. It will, of course, be a matter for the Assembly to take this matter forward following the passage of the Bill, and I understand that a Bill will be brought to the Assembly that will establish an independent body to set salaries and allowances. I am also told that the intention is to have the Assembly legislation in place prior to the next Assembly election, which is scheduled for 2011.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Is it understood and accepted that when someone is in the position of having a dual mandate, a reasonable case exists for that person to receive both salaries on the grounds that they are doing the work? I know that there are constraints on public expenditure and some issues of principle as well, but it seems difficult to understand why a person doing work in two Assemblies should not be paid for both jobs.

Paul Goggins: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman had an advance copy of my speech, but I was at that very moment about to come to the question of dual mandates. When the Bill was first published, it dealt simply with whether the Assembly should set allowances and salaries or whether they should be delegated to an independent body. Certain amendments, however, including a Government amendment, were considered in the House of Lords, suggesting that the salary of the Assembly Members should reduce to zero if they received a salary as a Member of Parliament or indeed as a Member of the European Parliament.

If I understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, he argues that if someone is carrying out a dual mandate, they should receive a salary for carrying out both functions. The Government's view-I think that this was also the consensus view in the House of Lords-is that they should not receive the salary for the second job, but should continue to receive the allowances for both functions, because their constituents should not suffer from any loss of service. The consensus view in the other place-and I hope and expect in this place, too-is that when someone claims a salary as a Member of Parliament, they should receive no salary for being a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

Mr. Cash: The issue does not arise in my case and is never likely to. As it happens, I still do not understand the logic behind the position, although I do understand
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the dilemma. When the person receives an allowance, the Minister says that it is for the constituents, but the reality is that the work is still being done, so a salary is still relevant. The issue remains a real problem.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): That is the Cash question!

Paul Goggins: I do not think it is, given what the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said. Although it is true that two different institutions are involved when the Member of Parliament is also a Member of the Assembly and that secretarial and other support should be provided to serve constituents in both areas, there are only so many hours in the day and there are only so many constituents-thus the Member should be paid one salary.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): There are two jobs, but what about Ministers?

Paul Goggins: I feel a helpful intervention coming on from my hon. Friend.

Andrew Mackinlay: It will certainly not be helpful.

This business about there being only 24 hours in a day is absolutely right. It seems acceptable in the UK to have two castes of MPs and Members of the Legislative Assembly, while Ministers are on a very significant and disproportionate salary in comparison with that of the legislators. That is unhealthy and, human nature being what it is, it militates against principled resignations. At the time of the Wilson Government and before it, there were far more principled resignations. The disparity between the salaries of Ministers on the one hand and of MPs and MLAs on the other is unhealthy and it runs against principled resignations. I want to put that on the record.

Paul Goggins: I am glad that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity to put that on the record. While the hon. Member for Stone and I have had an exchange about whether one or two salaries should be paid, the key point is that everyone recognises that we are dealing with an interim period here. The Kelly report made clear the expectation that dual mandates would end by 2011 or by 2015 at the very latest, so in any event we are seeing the beginning of the end of dual mandates. The days of someone being both an MP and an MLA, as described by the hon. Member for Stone, are almost over.

Sir Patrick Cormack rose-

Andrew Mackinlay rose-

Paul Goggins: I give way first to my hon. Friend, who I suspect wants to follow up his earlier point, and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Andrew Mackinlay: I preface my remarks by saying genuinely that I mean no disrespect to any hon. Members from Northern Ireland or those who represent Scottish constituencies. The question of allowances, however, seems perverse. In the House of Commons, the same office cost allowance applies irrespective of whether a Member represents Scotland, England or Northern Ireland.
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Yet health, housing, transport and education are dealt with by the MLAs. How can it be right for a Member representing England to receive exactly the same office cost allowances as his colleague from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, while an MP who is also an MLA is given additional resources to do the same kind of work? Either English Members of Parliament are not being given enough resources, or those who represent Scottish, Welsh and Irish constituencies are being given too much.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The debate is in danger of widening beyond its remit.

Andrew Mackinlay: He started it-the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Let us not worry too much about who started it. I am more concerned with who ends it, and that is me.

Paul Goggins: Thank you for that clarification, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) has not only widened the debate, but taken me beyond my responsibilities. However, it may interest him and other Members to learn that the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission has said that from the beginning of the next Session of the Assembly, the office costs allowance of an Assembly Member who is also a Member of Parliament should be halved, which reflects the amount of additional work carried out.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I do not particularly want to pursue the "Cash question", but I wish to put down a marker for the Minister's consideration. I understand the logic employed by those who argue that the dual mandate is wrong, but ultimately it is not for us to prohibit but for the electorate to decide. If the electorate decide that they are best represented in this place by someone who also represents it in a regional Parliament, is it not a little odd for us to prohibit that?

Paul Goggins: As the hon. Gentleman says, it is ultimately for the electorate to decide who represents them in this place, in the Assembly, or anywhere else; and it is for political parties to determine whether it is appropriate for people to stand as candidates for different legislatures. I think that there is now a consensus on that.

We can understand why dual mandates arose in a part of the United Kingdom that was riven with conflict, and where people encountered difficulties in standing for political office. We respect those who did stand for election to councils, to the Assembly and, indeed, to this place, but we are moving on from those times, and with that maturity comes the opportunity to focus attention on the one legislature to which people are elected.

Mr. Cash rose-

Sir Patrick Cormack: Is it the Cash question again?

Mr. Cash: No, it is to do with the constitutional arrangements in the context of devolution. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), for as long as there is one United Kingdom and one sovereign Parliament with jurisdiction over the other UK countries, the issue
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of the dual mandate-even in the context of increased devolution-will continue to be an issue of constitutional importance and significance.

Paul Goggins: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is pleased to have had an opportunity to put his views on the record.

It will, of course, be for the Assembly to implement all these measures following the passage of the Bill. I understand that a Bill establishing an independent body to set salaries and allowances will be presented to the Assembly, and I am told that it is intended to be in place before the next Assembly election, in 2011.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is the only devolved legislature that is unable to delegate control in relation to the setting of salaries and allowances. The Welsh Assembly has an independent review panel to consider pay and allowances, and although the salaries of Members of the Scottish Parliament are linked to Westminster salaries, the Scottish Parliament also has power to delegate control of allowances. The Bill will create independent control of salaries and allowances for all the devolved legislatures. From the correspondence and discussions that I have had with the Speaker of the Assembly and with politicians of all parties, I know that there is a firm intention to take this matter forward once the Bill passes through the House.

It is important that we make these changes. It is a change to primary legislation-to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to facilitate the choice being available to Members of the Assembly. To conclude, the Government believe that it is right to move towards independent control of salaries and allowances in the Assembly.

3.10 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I join the Minister by saying how pleased Opposition Members were to see the Northern Ireland Assembly agree to the devolution of policing and justice measures, which we see as the final piece in the jigsaw of devolution. It will enable the parties in Northern Ireland now to concentrate on the everyday issues that affect people in the Province, education being one of the most important. We look forward to the orders coming before the house on 22 March and we will support them.

I also agree with the Minister that it is useful when we can work together on these issues. He and I have had a number of meetings on the Bill. It is a short Bill-only three clauses-but we have had at least that many meetings on it and probably more. But I think that that has been useful; I say that to inform the House, if I needed to, that there is bipartisan support for what is going on in Northern Ireland. The issues are too important to be discussed in a party political way; they are bigger than that and we try as far as we can to work together with the Government. We do not always agree but when we disagree, we do so in a civilised way, which is the way forward.

We welcome the Bill, which addresses two of the main issues of concern. The fact that politicians-not just in Northern Ireland-do at present set their own salaries and allowances is looked upon by the public with some incredulity. I am pleased that that is changing
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for the Westminster Parliament and it is right that we introduce the Bill to give the Northern Ireland Assembly the ability to change that arrangement as well. There were good reasons for the Bill being introduced originally as it dealt with double-jobbing, which I will come to in a moment. Things have moved on-the Minister is right-and it is only right that we look at the Bill again.

I entirely agree that an independent body should set the salaries and allowances of Assembly Members. That is a start towards trying to restore at least some trust and faith in the political process. That is the way we have gone here in Westminster-I believe rightly-and the principle is right. As the Minister said, the Assembly cannot delegate such responsibilities at the moment, but the Bill brings Northern Ireland into line with Wales and Scotland.

We felt-it was certainly the case in the other place-that the proposal was slightly weak in that it did not require the Assembly to move in the direction outlined but merely gave it the competence to do so. The noble Lord Glentoran tabled an amendment to require the Assembly to delegate the decision making to a separate body. The Government, and the Liberal Democrats for that matter, did not support the amendment, so we are where we are. But I am heartened that the Minister believes that a Bill will be brought before the Assembly to make that move before 2011 when the next Assembly elections will be held. That is a good thing; I will not make too much of that in the debate as we understand that progress will be made in that respect.

The second part of the Bill deals with the removal of the salary of Assembly Members if they also sit in one of the Houses of Parliament or the European Parliament. Again, we support that move and believe it is a step in the right direction. The Minister briefly referred to Sir Christopher Kelly's report on MPs' salaries and expenses. Its recommendation 40 states:

That is a very clear statement, and we entirely agree with it for a number of reasons, which I shall come to later.

In an article in the Belfast Telegraph in May 2009 my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out that being an MP is not a part-time job, and I think all Members of this House would agree. I fully understand the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), but it should be pointed out that if people are physically sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly, they cannot also be physically sitting here in this Chamber, and they cannot at the same time be attending Committees both here and in the Assembly. I think that the public-our constituents-have the right to see that at least we are available for parliamentary business on a regular basis, and that is simply not possible if people are required to serve in two places.

Sir Patrick Cormack: However, does my hon. Friend not agree with me-and, indeed, the Minister-that if there is to be a prohibition, it is okay for organised political parties to choose to adhere to it, but there should not be a provision in law? At the end of the day, it is up to the electorate to decide.

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Mr. Robertson: I entirely understand my hon. Friend's point, and I have thought about this issue at length. May I return to his question in a moment, however? First, let me say that when the Northern Ireland Assembly was originally set up, it was right for us not to outlaw dual mandates, because that would have meant that Assembly Members and Ministers could have been very inexperienced. Through having the dual mandate, people who have become Ministers are, by and large, quite experienced politicians, and not necessarily just in Northern Ireland, but here in Westminster as well. I therefore think there were good reasons for not outlawing dual mandates at the start, but we have moved on now.

Let me now directly answer my hon. Friend's question as best I can. This issue is not only about whether people are able to spend sufficient time both in the Assembly and here-and I have personally witnessed occasions when it has been impossible for hon. Members from Northern Ireland to serve on Committees here, which is not a good situation, as I do not think that allows them to do both jobs properly. There is a further point to make, about people's ability to serve two masters. Westminster MPs should be able to take a dispassionate judgment on the workings and performance of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but I do not think they are entirely able to do so if they also sit on that Assembly. Therefore, I do not think this is merely an issue of time; I think it is also about whether one person can serve two masters.

Sir Patrick Cormack: This is a very important issue in the Northern Ireland context, because, after all, five Members who have been elected to this House have never taken their seats. When they appealed to the electorate to elect them, their constituents knew they would not take their seats, but, nevertheless, they were returned. If we go down the road my hon. Friend suggests, the logical consequence is surely not to allow people who are not prepared to take their seats to stand for election.

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) takes me on to a slightly different issue. I understand that when Sinn Fein candidates stand before the electorate at a general election, they say to the electorate that they will not take their seats if they are elected.

Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): They do take their expenses, however.

Mr. Robertson: Yes, they do take their expenses.

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