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The Bill takes a step towards reducing the allegation of double-jobbing that attaches to people who hold dual mandates, but it does not fully resolve the issue. It would be a mistake for anyone to believe that the progress represented by the Bill, as a result of amendments made in another place, is in itself an answer to the
question of dual mandates. That question remains to be addressed, and parties must make more progress on it. I have taken my own stand and approach, and other parties have taken theirs. The signals have been different, conflicting and confusing at times, which does no credit to the political process, whether it be represented by this Chamber or by the Assembly.
The Bill's original purpose was to allow the Assembly to establish an independent mechanism for settling the pay and pensions of Assembly Members. That is a matter of consensus and has the agreement of all the Assembly parties. It is not contentious at that level, but it is not unimportant. When the Northern Ireland Act 1998 was passed, it was felt appropriate to give the Assembly control over its own pay and pensions. The Assembly's having control over its own affairs was deemed to be a significant statement of its status, but public attitudes and perceptions of those things have moved on. People now want the Assembly's pay to be settled by truly independent means, and this Bill takes us forward in that.
I do not wish to detain the Committee any further, Sir Alan, given that the House has many other matters to attend to today. I know that you warned the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) when he was on his journey covering the trajectory of history, but it is always good to have him here participating. His family seem to have something of a Forrest Gump gene that means that they were present at all sorts of interesting and important occasions in British and Irish history, and he is here, yet again, for this debate on the modest but welcome development represented by this Bill.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Paul Goggins: Clause 2 makes consequential amendments to section 48 of the 1998 Act and covers the payment of pensions and allowances to anyone who has ceased to be a Member of the Assembly or an Assembly office holder. Again, I ask the House to support it.
Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Paul Goggins: Clause 3 provides the short title for the Act, once the Bill has been enacted, and sets out the arrangements for commencement. Again, I ask the House to support it.
Clause 3 accordingly orde red to stand part of the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment.
Paul Goggins: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill will allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to delegate powers on the setting of salaries and expenses for its Members. The Assembly is currently explicitly prevented from doing so under section 47(7) of the 1998 Act, which states that it "may not delegate" such functions. The Bill removes that restriction, thereby enabling the Assembly to confer the functions of setting salaries and allowances for its Members on an independent body. It is expected that the new system will be in place following the Assembly elections in May 2011. The Bill also ensures that if a Member of the Assembly receives a salary as an MP or an MEP, they will not receive any salary as a Member of the Assembly. That is seen by some as a step along the road to ending dual mandates in Northern Ireland, and indeed we took a further step last week when the law in relation to the standing down of district councillors was changed; they will now be replaced by way of a nomination of the party, rather than by way of co-option or by-election.
Although this is a short Bill containing only three clauses, I wish to thank all Members for the positive contributions that they have made and for the support that the Bill has received from Members from across the House. In conclusion, the Government are introducing this Bill at the request of the Assembly. We do not believe that it would be right to stand in the way of independent control of salaries and allowances in the Assembly, so I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: Conservative Members welcome the Bill, as I said during the clause 1 stand part debate. I thank the Minister and his officials for the open way in which they have approached this Bill. Over the past few years we have dealt with many pieces of legislation in this House, both in the Chamber and upstairs in Committee, and so I also wish to thank him for the way in which he has conducted Northern Ireland business. He has always been very approachable, and he has given us a great deal of help by allowing us access to his officials. I wish also to place on the record my thanks to them.
As the Minister has said, this brief Bill allows the Northern Ireland Assembly to set up a body to set salaries and allowances, and Conservative Members welcome that move. We also welcome the modest move towards what we see as the beginning of the end of dual mandates. In response to comments made by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) a few moments ago, may I say that I recognise that in the very early stages of setting up the Assembly, it was important to use the experience of Members of this House by allowing them to sit in the Assembly in order to give it the experience that it needed? I recognise that that was the case then, but things have moved on now. As I have said, if a Conservative Government were to be elected, we would revisit the issue and consider the situation of dual mandates then, for the reasons that I have given.
The question is not principally about money-it is also about the time that any one person can spend sitting in a very active and important Assembly in Northern Ireland while also sitting in this House and
dealing with the very important issues that we have here. We want to avoid any possible conflict of interest between the two jobs.
As the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has mentioned, we recently passed some important legislation on Northern Ireland, which means that the policing and criminal justice competence has been handed over to the Assembly. I wish the Assembly well in that respect and in every other aspect that it has to deal with.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I call Mr. Ian Carmichael.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): That is my Ealing comedy alter ego, Sir Alan- [ Interruption. ] Sir Michael, I beg your pardon. I have been called an awful lot worse-worry not.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Sadly, Ian Carmichael's dead.
Mr. Carmichael: Do not take me down that road.
May I also place on record my support, and that of my party, for this Bill, as well as our appreciation of the manner in which it has been handled by the Minister, his officials and the other Front Benchers? As we are now in the tail end of this Parliament, may I also place on record our appreciation for the good working relationship that we Front Benchers from the United Kingdom parties, if I can style us as that, have always been able to have with representatives from the Northern Ireland parties.
I look back, having been involved on and off with Northern Ireland business in this House since about 2003, at some of the difficult times that we have gone through. It has not always been easy and the reasons for that are often historical, but I think that the fact that we have been able to get to where we are today is a significant achievement, in which we should all derive a measure of pride and satisfaction. We have collectively been able to bring Northern Ireland to a place that is much healthier today than it has ever been before.
The Bill is largely uncontentious. Those parts that deal with pay and rations for the Assembly are eminently sensible and little can be added to them. The question of dual mandates-at the risk of using the more pejorative term of double-jobbing-is still a work in progress. It is well known that the early involvement of people who had experience of business in this place was an important stabilising factor but, as I said in the clause stand part debate, we now have sufficient security, stability and confidence to move on from that. I hope that, if we are involved in a more organic process with gradual withering on the vine, this is one step that will accelerate that process.
Mr. Peter Robinson: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is one issue that flows from what the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman said about what might happen in the next Parliament? There is the ability to distort electoral performance. Clearly, a higher profile Member of Parliament will gain more votes for a party in the Assembly election. If we therefore allow them to stand for both Westminster and the Assembly-particularly those who do not actually come to Westminster-we distort electoral outcomes.
Mr. Carmichael: Yes. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I have seen that operating in all three jurisdictions that have devolved Assemblies. Inevitably, as power is handed down-that is, of course, the process of devolution, as power is handed down from Westminster to other Assemblies and Parliaments-there will be developments that will keep going. We should be open-minded enough to learn from experience. That sort of use-let us not go so far as to call it a misuse or an abuse-of the facilities of one Assembly or Parliament to get one's foot in the door to become a Member of another is something that we will probably need to address and that Members of the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments will want to be addressed. If we, here, are part of a process that is about building stability and growing maturity, it should be in the interests of those Assemblies and Parliaments to get themselves to a point at which being a Member of that Assembly or Parliament is sufficiently significant to satisfy people and is not seen as a stepping stone towards this place or any other.
Mr. Cash: I am slightly troubled by this line of argument, because the budgets for the respective Parliaments are paid for by the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. It seems somewhat incongruous to focus on what the hon. Gentleman describes as double-jobbing, but what others might regard as an important dual mandate, given that the money is not being provided by the people for whom he would want exclusively to legislate, but only insofar as devolved functions are concerned. There is a serious constitutional issue here that he is completely avoiding.
Mr. Carmichael: No, I am not avoiding it. Indeed, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have devoted a lot of my life in the past three years to addressing exactly that point-particularly in relation to the powers of the Scottish Parliament in determining its own budget-through the work of the Calman commission and by working with the Conservative party. That is another aspect of the evolving nature of devolution, and it is something that will come with time, maturity and stability.
On pejorative references, the hon. Gentleman was absent from the Chamber earlier when I talked about the appropriate use of dual mandates. Unfortunately, when I turned to acknowledge him, he was not in his place, having nipped out briefly.
Mark Durkan: Opposition Front Benchers have rightly paid tribute to the Minister and his officials for their work on this necessary Bill, and I want to associate myself with those remarks. It is also appropriate to acknowledge the work of the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay-a constituent of mine who will not be voting for me, of course, in the election. The Speaker and the senior officials of the Assembly have worked on the need to provide independent determination in relation to Assembly salaries and pensions. They have engaged cross-party discussions to that end, which is why the Bill has the consensus across the parties in Northern Ireland that it has. I am sure that that was a very welcome point of persuasion for the Minister in taking this Bill forward. It is right for the record here and elsewhere to pay tribute to the Speaker and to officials in that regard.
The Bill does not resolve the issue of dual mandates-or double-jobbing or whatever anyone might call it-but it does at least reduce some of the contention and misrepresentation around that issue for those who continue to hold dual mandates for as long as they do. However, that issue needs to be dealt with. I have made my own decision. This Chamber is not where I want to be, as an Irish nationalist and someone who was personally and deeply involved in the negotiation, establishment and implementation of the Good Friday agreement. I really want to pursue my involvement in democratic politics elsewhere, but I have decided that for the next term, because of issues affecting my constituents and because of wider concerns, this is where I need to be, and that is the offer that the electorate will have to make a decision on. However, I believe that we need to get to the point where all elected representatives in Northern Ireland are able to make and offer a clear choice with regard to the mandate that they will pursue.
In the main, we stand on party tickets. We will not be divorced from parties, so the issues on which there is some overlap between the business of this House and the Assembly-they will sometimes compete with each other and at other times complement each other-can be properly and competently discharged. People can be confident that we now have a settled process in Northern Ireland, with north-south institutions.
There is one issue that the Minister did not address when we looked at this Bill on previous occasions, which is the question of people getting salaries for sitting in the Assembly and in another chamber. We have dealt with that in respect of this place, but the outstanding issue has to do with the legislation allowing a person to sit in both the Assembly and the Oireachtas. There does not seem to be any bar on that person receiving salaries from both institutions so, for reasons of parity of esteem, equity of treatment and so on, some further adjustment may need to be made.
Dr. McCrea: On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, I would like to thank the Minister and his departmental officials for the courtesy that they have shown in taking this legislation through this House.
I concur with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) in respect of the Speaker and staff of the Assembly. I think that Members of the Assembly will be greatly relieved that there is to be an independent determination of salaries and so on, as they never had any desire to bear that responsibility in the first place. They will be very happy with this outcome.
I listened carefully to hon. Member for Foyle, and I have to tell him that I am very proud to be in this House. I am very honoured to be part of the UK Parliament and, as a good British Ulsterman, I am certainly proud to be able to represent the good people of South Antrim in this place.
I listened carefully to the other remarks that the hon. Gentleman made. I do not think that there is anything to stop him going to another place, if that is what he wishes. He appears to feel that being in Her Majesty's Chamber here is a burden, but I know that he will feel very much at home in this United Kingdom Parliament.
Finally, a certain political party in Northern Ireland became very sensitive about the issue of double-jobbing, but only when it had lost practically all its representation
in this House. It got down to one Member, and now it has none at all. Even so, we are delighted that that party has acquired a sensitivity that it certainly did not have in the past, when it represented 12 Northern Ireland seats. It is something that members of that party got sensitive about when the electorate gave the responsibility to the Ulster Democratic Unionist party.
My party leader has made it clear that we are sensitive to the needs of the people of Northern Ireland. We want them to have the best possible representation, and I hope that my hon. Friends and I will have the opportunity to come back to this great House to represent the good people of Northern Ireland in years to come.
Mr. Cash: I shall be very brief. I am much encouraged by the speeches made by the hon. Members for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan). I know that the latter understands what is at stake, but I got the slight impression-which the hon. Member for South Antrim also picked up-that he might come back through the back door, courtesy of the most extraordinary amendment that was passed some years ago that meant that Members of this House could also be in the Dublin Parliament-the Oireachtas, as I think that we now have to call it.
That raises one curious anomaly with the dual mandate, but there is another that I want to describe very briefly. It has to do with whether legislative power lies with the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland. That is still developing and evolving: we are moving towards much greater devolution and even independence, but we are doing so without having regard to where the money comes from. That is another factor that we shall need to consider, as we had to do post-1997 in relation to Scotland.
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