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I am very unhappy about the situation that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire raises. I agree that Sinn Fein Members tell their electorate that they will not take their seats, and the people who vote for Sinn Fein might accept that. However, people who vote for the Social Democratic and Labour party-or the Democratic Unionist party or the Ulster Unionist party-have a right to be represented in this House, so I do not think that is acceptable for those who are elected not to take their seats. I would much rather that Sinn Fein Members take their seats in this House. I do not know whether I have fully satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire, but I have given the reasons why our party's Front-Bench
spokesmen oppose the practice of holding a dual mandate. The Bill was too narrow in scope to include an amendment that would have corrected that situation and we should have liked to amend it to outlaw the practice. But we are where we are, and in the Lords the Government tabled a compromise amendment that we were happy to agree to.
A Conservative Government would revisit the issue, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said. We recognise that most Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland are engaged in two jobs, but many of them agree that things have moved on and they have to change. If elected to Government, before introducing legislation we would try to come to a voluntary agreement-a negotiated settlement whereby the practice does not continue; but my right hon. Friend has said that if necessary, we would consider introducing legislation to bring it to an end. We feel that is what the public require. They also want a separate body to set allowances and salaries in Northern Ireland, rather than the Members who receive them. For those reasons, I am happy to support the Bill.
The Bill is welcome because it will help to discharge the agreed wish of all the parties in the Assembly-to make sure that we move beyond the strict provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which obliges the Assembly to be responsible for setting its pay and pension arrangements, to appoint an independent body. Because the Assembly is bound by the 1998 Act, legislation is needed in this Parliament to enable the Assembly to do that. As the Minister indicated, that is the clear wish and intent. The Speaker of the Assembly and relevant officials have committed themselves to providing a Bill. We know that Bills are often promised and we commit ourselves to all sorts of reforms and schemes of legislation in Northern Ireland that are often delayed. I hope that that Bill will not be one of them, because it is important.
I recall the 1998 Act and the issues that determined the drawing up of the rules. Northern Ireland Office Ministers at the time felt that that was the way to do it. They did not want to open up other issues. They thought that setting up other bodies might be more complicated and could give rise to other questions. That was then. We are all in a different place now and are looking at the issues in the light of different considerations and different public attitudes.
This Bill has been given welcome amendments to make further moves on the question of the dual mandate. I stated my personal position in the Assembly as far back as February 2009, in a debate on dual mandates: if I was re-elected to this House it would be on the basis that I would stand down from the Assembly. I did not believe that the dual mandate was sustainable, particularly if we achieved the devolution of justice and policy and had a more complete and settled Assembly, freer from some of the duplication of business that goes through this place and also plays out in the Assembly. Such things gave rise to parties needing people to perform a dual mandate, with particular obligations on those in
leadership positions to be in both the Assembly and the House at Westminster. The more the business in both Chambers becomes distinct, and the more complete and settled the process, the more the case for such transition juggling disappears. I set out clearly in personal terms that that was the case.
My party made those points in submissions to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee as far back as late 2007. We said that all parties needed to agree and commit to either a fixed date or a point in the electoral cycle when dual mandates should end. Unless we get a fixed position on that from all the parties, one party will use what another party is doing as its excuse for having to continue the dual mandate, particularly when leadership figures in one party have dual mandate and make that claim on the basis that there is some justification for it, by way of advantage or influence. Other parties would also feel compelled to do or justified in doing the same, so it needs to be set.
There have been motions and debates in the Assembly on this issue-not just the one in February that I have mentioned but another last November when the Ulster Unionist party tabled a motion that highlighted the Kelly committee recommendation that 2011 would be a desirable end-date for the dual mandate. My party supported that motion and opposed the Democratic Unionist party's amendment that 2015 should be the backstop, so we were saying that the dual mandate should be terminated sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, the DUP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance party combined to go for the later date-the Alliance completely confounding the position that had been taken up on its behalf, based on its previous position, by the Liberal Democrats, including by Members of another place and this House who had raised that issue in early-day motions. So, the Alliance party confounded its position-all, as we know, in pursuit of other gains, offices and privileges. [ Interruption. ] It changed its position on that. We, at least, have been consistent on that issue and others, and we have not embarrassed our friends or ourselves in anything that we have done in that regard. I say that to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) who is making remarks from a sedentary position.
The amendment tabled in another place to end the practice by which someone who has a dual mandate receives a third of the salary of an MLA if they are also an MP is welcome and we agree with it. Indeed, that is one of the things that we suggested as far as back as the submissions that we made to the AERC in November 2007. However, the steps to reduce the dual pay, or the fraction of dual pay, should not, of themselves, be seen to deal with or discharge the question mark over dual mandates per se. For reasons that other hon. Members have touched on, I believe that the issue still needs to be clearly and cleanly resolved in its own terms.
The amendment perhaps does not go far enough, because although the Bill allows people to be Members of the Assembly and not be paid as MLAs, it still allows them to be Ministers or other office holders in the Assembly and to be paid as such. I believe that a Minister in an Assembly should be full time, accountable and available to that Assembly and should not also be in another place. That is my position and that is why I
did not take up an appointment as a Minister in the current Executive when I could have done so when devolution came in 2007. Having been a Minister before, when I was not an MP, I knew the pressures, issues and difficulties of the work, so I made that choice. I still think that that is an issue to consider and I would welcome a further amendment to the Bill on that. If there were such an amendment, I would accept an exception, if Members wanted one, for the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which should of course be elected by the Assembly, although they currently are not in what is a departure from the Good Friday Agreement, under the St. Andrews agreement. If we were to revert to having the Assembly elect the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, then I would say, in the same spirit as the comments of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), that the Assembly should have the choice to elect whomsoever it chooses as a Member. Otherwise, there should be that restriction on the role of Ministers as a matter of principle.
People have been able to justify the dual mandate until now because of all the circumstances, transition and change. Some of us, including the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), have been able to use our different roles in a complementary way-in changing credit union regulation, for example. We both used our positions on a Committee in the Assembly to address the issue there, and we are also using our positions here to take forward the other side of that issue. There are other examples about which we can say that we have been able to use the roles in a sensible and complementary way, but I do not believe that those good examples can be stretched any longer into a general rule of justification for dual mandates.
I believe that the business that will confront this House in the next term will be big enough and that it will touch on the lives of many people in Northern Ireland. It will interface quite heavily with devolution. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) that there is such a neat and total separation between all the public business that is conducted in this House and the strict confines of devolution, given the budgets and laws that are set here. In many ways, they have consequential implications and direct impacts on the discretion and choices available to the Assembly and the Executive. However, I believe that we need to move into a situation where the people of Northern Ireland know clearly that their MLAs are full time, committed and active in the Assembly and its channels. The same must be true of MPs here.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) referred to this House's status as a sovereign Parliament. However, I must point out that legislation has been passed in this Parliament-not in this term, but during the peace process-to amend the previous restrictions that meant that a Member of this House could not also be a member of the Oireachtas, either as a TD or as a member of Seanad Eireann. The restrictions also meant that a person could not be a member of the Assembly in Northern Ireland and a member of the Oireachtas. They have been lifted, but the Bill does not deal with the question of what happens when a person is a member of the Assembly and of the Oireachtas. People are now legally entitled to belong to both, so what happens now? If we are going to look at things in their totality, that should be borne in mind as well.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May I join others in expressing my pleasure at taking part in a debate on what is, for once, a fairly non-contentious piece of legislation? We have come through yet another period in Northern Ireland politics when the debate has been occasionally fraught and sometimes even febrile, so dealing with a Bill that is essentially the subject of consensus-among the parties, if not necessarily always within them, apparently-is indeed a pleasant change.
When he introduced the Bill, the Minister said that it was short and that he could be short in speaking about it too. I think that perhaps I can be even shorter. Along with others, I think that the Bill was framed and conceived to be permissive rather than directive, and that giving the power to delegate allowances from the Northern Ireland Assembly to a free-standing body is a sensible way to proceed.
That approach understands the nature of devolution. It would be entirely wrong for this House to start telling the Assembly what it ought to be doing. In any event, and for all intents and purposes, it is pretty clear that that is the intention of those who currently sit in the Chamber in Belfast, so it appears to me that we will all end up at the same destination, whichever route we take.
The only element worthy of some debate today is the question of dual mandates. I have long taken the view that the continuation of dual mandates is unsustainable; perhaps I am informed particularly by the fact that I represent a Scottish constituency. If the situation is unsustainable for a Member of the Legislative Assembly in Belfast, it must surely be unsustainable for a Member of the Scottish Parliament. Only one person holds such a dual mandate and I hope that after the general election there will be no others. As the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) eloquently explained, it is simply not sustainable for people to seek to represent constituents in two separate Chambers at once.
There is a different issue in respect of somebody who is a Minister in Belfast and also represents constituents here-that much is understood. However, there is a distinction to be drawn. Being a Minister gives extra responsibilities to a person while they are in London, but being a Member in Belfast and London, or Edinburgh and London, requires people to be in three places at once, rather than just two-we have to add in the constituency at the same time.
As others have said, the situation arose for good and understandable reasons. It is a mark of the progress that we have made that we should now regard the Northern Ireland Assembly as sufficiently mature for the question of dual mandates to be able to be consigned to the history books rather than being a feature of contemporary politics. I agree with the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) that we should eventually look to an abolition de plano rather than merely the removal of the salary. However, the provisions represent a helpful and necessary first step; at the very least, there should not be a material advantage to those who seek to use the system to acquire a second or third job by being a Member here as well as in one of the devolved institutions.
There is very little with which we would take issue in the Bill. Perhaps some further teasing out of these
issues will be allowed in Committee, but this is a sensible measure that commands a broad consensus. We are pleased to be part of that consensus.
David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I should like to start by making reference to the Minister's welcome for the decision taken by the Assembly in the vote on policing and justice. I have to put it on the record that there is a lot of disappointment in Northern Ireland today at the stance of the Ulster Unionist party, now a sister party of the Conservative party. It did not support policing and justice. That seems very hypocritical and it is very sad that the party should have taken that decision. But we are where we are.
On the face of it, the Bill is short and fairly technical. It amends section 47 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly, if it so wishes, to delegate responsibility for the salaries and allowances of its Members. I think, and my party believes, that that is a wise move that will be widely welcomed. Politicians should not be responsible for setting the level of their salaries or allowances.
The Bill makes another important amendment to section 47. Clause 1(5) will amend section 47 to ensure that a Member of the Legislative Assembly who is also a Member of either House of this Parliament or of the European Parliament will not receive a salary from the Assembly. That is already my party's position; it has made that very clear. Even before that proposal, the Democratic Unionist party had, of its own volition, stated that any Member of this House who would be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly after this election would not take any salary whatever from the Assembly. I therefore warmly welcome the proposed change, which will put into legislation what we had already said we would do voluntarily. Other parties had not set out their position as clearly. If a Member of this House is also a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, he or she should not be paid for the latter. For my part, since being elected to this House I have donated my Assembly salary to many causes and youth organisations in my constituency. That is on the record in the Assembly and in the press, and I am glad to say that this year alone my elected friends and my donations have contributed well over £20,000 to Upper Bann.
The reputation of this Parliament, of the United Kingdom's Assemblies and of politics in general has been seriously damaged by the recent controversy and the heated debate throughout the nation about politicians' expenses and so on.
Christopher Fraser: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with Sir Christopher Kelly, who told the Assembly's Standards and Privileges Committee that any new body appointed to regulate salaries and allowances should also have the power to investigate any alleged wrongdoing without a formal complaint being made? That will add to the transparency and accountability to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
Every political party has had cause to be embarrassed by the events of last year. Sometimes that embarrassment has been the result of guilt, and on other occasions it
has been the result of wrongdoing, but none the less politicians need to understand that the world has changed. Expectations have changed. Politics and politicians need to change, too, and some time ago my party set out a series of proposals that were aimed at reform. Our suggestions incorporated salaries, allowances, accommodation, the employment of staff, MPs' outside employment and the operation and oversight of the Fees Office. We were attacked by our political opponents even as we did so, yet many of those who attacked us were content to take little or no action themselves. We made a full submission to the Kelly inquiry, and we are totally committed to supporting the implementation of its recommendations in full.
The DUP remains fully committed to ending dual mandates, and we have taken the lead on that matter. Unfortunately, other parties in Northern Ireland have not committed themselves. Ours is a growing and thriving party, and many in the ranks of the DUP have the potential to play a significant part in politics in Northern Ireland. We want to nurture and develop that rich and diverse pool of talent, and that is what we are doing.
It is clear that we have already embraced the spirit of the Bill. We are already moving towards implementing one of its core provisions-and going beyond it. The same cannot be said for other political parties in Northern Ireland. While they snipe at the Democratic Unionist party, they are, it seems, quite prepared to maintain a double-jobbing mentality. The Ulster Unionist party contains in its ranks several representatives who have more than one job. Some are farmers, some are antique dealers and their party leader is a councillor and an MLA. Indeed, in the past we had double-jobbers, such as my predecessor, Lord Trimble, who was an MP, an MLA and the First Minister. Not a single person ever raised a single criticism of him on that matter from these Benches-not one. There are, however, many people back at home in my constituency of Upper Bann who are very critical of the fact that despite holding so many offices and having access to many allowances, he decided that a single part-time constituency office on double yellow lines at the busiest set of traffic lights in the town of Lurgan in my constituency was sufficient constituency provision. As can be seen from that, there are serious issues about in how many Chambers politicians represent their constituents. However, there are also very important issues about the level of provision and the kind of representation politicians give to their constituents.
In conclusion, as I said at the start of my speech, the Bill is a step in the right direction. More steps will be needed, whether we make them through legislation in this House or through some other mechanism for another day, but I and my party are on record as welcoming this step forward and I am more than happy to support the Bill.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con):
Everybody who has spoken up to now supports the Bill, and so do I. May I begin, as others have, by congratulating those who voted as they did in Stormont, including the party of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) and that of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), on Tuesday night? I deeply regret the fact
that the Ulster Unionist party did not feel able, at the very least, to abstain. I warmly commend my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for the efforts that they made to persuade the Ulster Unionist party to support the provision. No criticism can be levelled at them, but I believe that the UUP took a regrettable decision and I want to put that on the record.
I also want to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury, who approaches his tasks with a wonderfully genial approach, that I do not disagree with him on the subject of dual mandates any more than I disagree with any other colleague. It is just a question of how one comes to the solution. I believe that the dual mandate has played a real part over the past few years in getting us to where we are today. I think that we would all say that the presence of Northern Ireland politicians in this Chamber who have been struggling to create and then to recreate an Assembly in Belfast has enriched our deliberations and continues to do so.
I do not think that the dual mandate is the ideal solution in perpetuity. I personally think that it is entirely commendable that the parties are seeking to outlaw within the party rules the dual mandate and so I have no disagreement with my hon. Friend on that, nor with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. It is just a question of how we arrive at the solution, because at the end of the day the electorate must be in a position to elect people whom they wish to send here in the knowledge of all the shortcomings.
I cited the example of Sinn Fein and I deeply regret the fact that its Members do not take their seats here. I deeply regret that there is no Sinn Fein Member on my Select Committee. I have pleaded with them to alter that state of affairs. I have not succeeded and I do not think that there will be any chance of success in the foreseeable future, but am I the one to say that they should not be eligible to stand? They have made their position plain to the electorate. There will be many people in each of their electorates who deeply regret that and vote for other parties, but unless we have proportional representation, which I do not personally favour, I am afraid that those who support the DUP, the UUP and the SDLP and who live in Sinn Fein constituencies will be, to a degree, disfranchised. We have to face up to these facts of politics in Northern Ireland.
I hope that we can move to a situation where all the individual parties have a common line on the dual mandate. I do not have terribly strong views on whether that happens this year, next year or the year after that, but we need to move towards it.
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