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Last week members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee were in the United States of America, where we saw for ourselves how the Americans are beginning to view the situation in Northern Ireland. They think that the whole issue of Northern Ireland is sorted and is no longer a problem, but we all know because we see it in our national press and our national media that there will always remain a residue of real concern about making sure that there is peace in Northern Ireland. We learned how hard the Northern Ireland Bureau is working to encourage inward investment into Northern Ireland. That is incredibly good news. That is another example to show how Northern Ireland is moving forward to a more natural form of politics.

Measures to make political donations transparent, to stop double-jobbing, to introduce a real opposition and to create an accurate electoral register are all positive moves. The US was somewhat surprised at the recent flags protest and feared that might discourage future investment. The recent civil disturbances and what may potentially happen during the marching season should make us feel concerned about how members of society are coming forward and how it is that some young people feel disfranchised from the peace process.

Naomi Long: I caution the hon. Gentleman. In all the discussion about people feeling disconnected and disillusioned with the political process, it is important that we do not talk about them being disfranchised. People have a franchise—the right to a vote. They may not avail themselves of that vote, but they have a franchise. We need to reconnect them and re-energise them about politics, and it is important to make the distinction.

Oliver Colvile: I thank the hon. Lady for correcting me. I am sorry that I ended up making a mistake. This time last year when we were in Northern Ireland seeing the marches take place, I switched on the television to watch a documentary about the battle of the Boyne and how James II sought to re-establish his throne there. I thank the hon. Lady for reminding me about that.

It is excellent news that the Northern Ireland Executive will be given extra funds if progress is made on bringing down the peace walls. Our priorities surely should be to create community cohesion and rebalance the Northern Ireland economy. Key to that is a skilled work force. As I understand it, 60% of people who work in Northern Ireland still work in the public sector. We must try to do something about that. Northern Ireland has a vibrant university sector, which has the potential to create a vibrant economy, and Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has a common land border with another EU country.

We need to encourage investment into Northern Ireland. That is why I support, as did the Select Committee, a reduction in corporation tax. Key to creating a vibrant economy are not only high skills, but better transport links. As in my Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituency, we need to ensure that there are better transport links from Northern Ireland to England and to London. The House may be interested to know that today I wrote to the Chancellor asking for some studies into dualling the A303, which feeds into my constituency, and improving our train network. The Province needs good links not only to the UK and to southern Ireland, but to the US.

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Last week’s G8 meeting in Londonderry was another good opportunity to demonstrate how Northern Ireland is moving forward. It is vital that we do not take our eye off the ball and that we continue to be as supportive as we can be to Northern Ireland and all the communities within it.

6.39 pm

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): Like other Members who have spoken, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on Second Reading, because the Bill deals with a number of important issues that relate to improving democracy and accountability in Northern Ireland.

I welcome at the outset, as other Members have done, the fact that the Bill, unlike so many of its predecessors, is not the result of a crisis or emergency and is not intended to resolve a point of instability in the Assembly. Instead, it is part of the normal democratic process. Not only does that demonstrate the significant progress that has been made at a political level in recent years, notwithstanding the many serious issues still to be addressed, and indeed the occasional setback, but it afforded the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee the opportunity to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny and the Northern Ireland parties and general public the opportunity to express a view on the proposals the Government brought forward during the public consultation. That is a hugely important part of the democratic process that has helped shape the Bill, and I hope it will set the tone for future engagement on legislation relating to Northern Ireland.

I will focus on a few aspects of the Bill: donor transparency, the rules affecting dual mandates and reform of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Bill contains other important provisions that I support, such as those relating to the working of the Electoral Commission, but I do not have time to go into them in detail today.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way on that important point. It is essential that people are on the electoral register. I recently held an event in my constituency at which we were able to get people registered and get their photo ID, but there were a great many other places where we were unable to do that because the Electoral Commission told us it did not have the funds. Does the hon. Lady therefore welcome the fact that clause 18 refers to taking all steps necessary for the purpose of complying with the duty to maintain the registers so that every step will be taken, including releasing funds and making more funding available to ensure that people are registered?

Naomi Long: I certainly agree that the resources available to the Electoral Commission need to be used wisely. As in every other public body, the commission’s resources will be constrained by the limitations of what is available, but I note that the Secretary of State said earlier that additional funding would be made available specifically to deal with registration.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mike Penning): Perhaps I can clarify the situation. The full door-to-door canvass was not due to take place this year, but I have now made the funding available, along with the necessary administration process, so that it can do so. It is for the political process in Northern Ireland,

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as well as the Electoral Commission, to push that forward so that we get more people on the electoral register, because if they are not on the register they cannot vote and no one can campaign for their vote.

Naomi Long: I thank the Minister for that clarification, which hopefully will have answered some of the specific questions Members have on electoral registration.

The first issue I want to address is transparency on political party donations and loans, which I have raised in the House on a number of occasions over the past few years. Whatever the historical arguments regarding the need to protect the identity of donors, I firmly believe that the time to lift that veil of secrecy has passed. The Northern Ireland public have a right to know the identity of significant donors to political parties, as voters do in the rest of the UK, and then to judge for themselves whether such donations influence the decisions, policies and actions of parties. As long as mystery surrounds that, parties will be open to the charge that they are influenced in that way, but they will be largely unable to defend themselves against such suspicion. Although that is disclosed to the Electoral Commission, it is not made public, and that is key.

The security situation in Northern Ireland, although far from perfect, has improved significantly since donor anonymity was introduced. It is not consistent or sustainable to argue that Northern Ireland is a safe and welcoming destination for tourism and inward investment while at the same time arguing that the security situation is so grave that normal democratic scrutiny cannot be introduced.

Three primary concerns regarding the impact of transparency have been raised. I will briefly address each in turn. First, there is the fear of a threat of violence against a person, their family or property as a result of their association with a particular party becoming known. Despite the genuine concerns expressed in that regard, there appears to be little tangible evidence of specific targeting of donors as part of campaigns. However, nowhere can that be entirely ruled out. Therefore, donors should carefully consider the risk when deciding whether to donate; it is not compulsory. Knowing that their donations will be published will help to inform them as to which decision to make.

I am certainly not oblivious to, or cavalier about, the risk that being politically aligned or identified in Northern Ireland can still carry. My party leader, David Ford MLA, who is the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, is likewise cognisant of the continued risks. However, that does not insulate Northern Ireland politics from the wider public perception that politics is organised for the benefit of the few rather than the many. Notwithstanding any security concerns, if we are to increase trust and confidence in the political system, we need to maximise openness and transparency. As a result, and despite ongoing security concerns, the Alliance party voluntarily publishes our returns to the Electoral Commission on our website and has done so over the past few years, and to no disadvantage. I call again on other parties to do likewise in order to help grow confidence in the commitment to public scrutiny, regardless of a legislative requirement to do so.

Secondly, concerns have been expressed that opponents of a particular party might boycott a business if its owner or company are seen to support a particular party political view. However, in theory the same could

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happen in any part of the UK. Again, it is a matter that donors should consider carefully before donating, rather than a reason to deny the public their right of scrutiny. In my view, and incidentally that of Sir Christopher Kelly, as expressed in his evidence to the Select Committee, neither risk should automatically be given primacy over the principles that guide public life: openness, transparency and accountability.

Thirdly, as parties are not publicly funded and therefore rely on donations to survive, one could argue that any action that could deter donors could restrict party political activity or even the range of choice available to the electorate. I challenge that on two grounds. In order to stand for election to a council, candidates need the signatures and addresses of residents in the council area on their nomination papers, and those are published. I am not aware of parties being unable to field candidates, even in the worst days of the troubles, owing to people being unwilling to have that information published, despite it being a more direct link to elected politics. People clearly weigh up those risk but still opt to be involved, whether as candidates, canvassers, supporters, nominees or otherwise, and there is evidence that since 1998 the public’s willingness to do so has increased.

Furthermore, most parties have said, including in evidence to the Select Committee, that they receive very few donations that reach the £7,500 threshold for donor names to be declared and instead are heavily reliant on small donations from members and supporters. Even if all of those large donations were to cease, according to their evidence that would not have a disproportionate effect on party finances or activity and would not jeopardise the continued functioning of our democracy.

It is worth noting, as a measure of just how opaque donor information is in Northern Ireland, that it is against the law for the Electoral Commission even to confirm or dispute a party’s claim that it receives few donations of that magnitude. Such anonymised data pose no risk to anyone and would provide considerable insight for the public into how parties are funded and how reliant they are on a small number of donors. I think that the move towards publishing anonymised data in the interim, between now and October 2014, would be good preparation for change.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I thank the hon. and very brave Lady for allowing me to intervene. I understand her argument, but is she asking for that provision on publishing the identity of political donors to be backdated, because that would worry me?

Naomi Long: I thank the right hon. Gentleman—

Bob Stewart: Sadly not.

Naomi Long: Well, given the timing of his intervention, which led perfectly to what I was about to say, perhaps that will be reviewed in due course. I thank him for making that point, because it is an important one.

With respect to the retrospective publication of donor information, I think that it is reasonable that where people had an expectation, even though the letter of the law suggests otherwise, that donations they made during the prescribed period would remain confidential even

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after the prescribed period ended, that should be honoured. Such historical information should be published only with their express consent, as to do otherwise would be a fundamental breach of trust.

However, I support the Electoral Commission’s proposal that the expectation of anonymity should be removed from the date the Bill receives Royal Assent, making it clear that all donations made after that date will be subject to future publication. Whether the Secretary of State decides that such publication should happen routinely from October 2014, the expiry of the current prescribed period, or chooses again to extend that period, they should be published at a subsequent juncture. I think that that ought to be pursued in Committee, as it adds clarity for donors in the interim and increases public confidence without limiting the options available to the Secretary of State.

With regard to the prescribed period and its continuation, I remain disappointed that a firm commitment has not been given to remove anonymity at the first possible opportunity. The Bill gives the Secretary of State maximum flexibility specifically to increase transparency, and I welcome the presumption in favour of publication, but both fall short of a commitment to end the inequality that exists between Northern Ireland residents and their counterparts in Great Britain. I hope that the Secretary of State or the Minister of State will be able to give some reassurance in that regard.

Finally, with regard to donations, I believe that there might be merit in considering further whether the threshold for publication of donations to Northern Ireland political parties should be reduced from £7,500 to a lower figure, given the smaller income of most local parties and the likely lower threshold at which donations may be considered large enough to influence a party’s decision. Clearly, that requires the striking of a very delicate balance between the administrative burden that it would create for what are, in the main, small organisations, and increasing transparency for the public. Such matters are not unique to Northern Ireland, so the Bill may not be the ideal vehicle for advancing them, but it would be helpful to consider them at Government level in future.

On multiple mandates, I welcome the clauses that will disqualify a Member of Parliament from also being a Member of the Assembly. I do not believe that MPs should be permitted to continue as Members of the Assembly. The primary argument that they should is that the fledging Assembly structures were unstable and senior political figures who left Westminster for the Assembly could find themselves with no mandate in the event of a collapse. Those points no longer hold true, as the Assembly is in its second successive, uninterrupted term, which represents positive progress.

A further argument advanced in favour of allowing such a dual mandate is that, for key people in party leadership roles or holding key ministerial positions in the devolved Assembly, the direct linkage with Parliament can prove valuable in keeping them fully informed of developments in both places. I do not think that that argument carries much weight in the current situation.

As deputy leader of the Alliance party and MP for East Belfast, it is incumbent on me to keep abreast of developments in the devolved institutions and keep in close contact with Assembly colleagues about the implications of matters discussed in this Chamber and the Assembly. I do not need to sit in both places for

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that. There are also mechanisms for the Ministers in the Executive who are not MPs to meet their counterparts in Westminster and address issues with them and vice-versa, and the majority fall into that category.

Having fulfilled the roles of MP and MLA, I strongly believe that both jobs are at least full time and require a focus that could not be achieved effectively with a dual mandate and consequently competing demands on time. It is a crucial part of the role of an MLA to be in Stormont to vote on legislation passing through the Assembly, to question Ministers and to hold the Executive to account. Equally, an MP’s work demands that they be in Westminster for a significant and conflicting proportion of the week to scrutinise and vote on legislation and policy, question Ministers and provide a voice for their constituents. Although there is a considerable overlap in the constituency casework element of both jobs, the locations and timings make them incompatible with each other, regardless of the talent, energy or ability of individual Members. Put simply, no person can be in two places at once.

A further benefit of ending dual mandates would be the creation of an opportunity not only for parties to bring forward new talent, but for the electorate to see the electoral cohort refreshed, reinvigorated and made more reflective of society as a whole. Again, Alliance as a party has voluntarily and speedily acted in respect of dual mandates, following through on our pre-election pledges and manifesto commitments to do so, within weeks of election to Westminster.

Three years on, there has been significant time and space for parties to implement fully their pre-election commitments to end dual mandates, yet many have failed to make other than glacial progress in that regard. It is important that the legislation comes forward to ensure that the wishes of the public are taken into account.

Although I recognise that the House of Lords is not structured in the same way as the Commons—its Members have no electoral mandate and no constituency responsibilities—the same conflict exists for Members of the Lords. I am disappointed that currently the Bill does not disqualify Members of the Lords from belonging to the Assembly. Given the important role of the House of Lords as a revising Chamber and the burden of undertaking detailed scrutiny of Government Bills, it would be challenging for a peer who was also an MLA, with the legislative, constituency and Committee responsibilities attendant on that position, to commit fully to the discharge of either role.

The situation is exacerbated because the Assembly and the Lords also sit at the same times on Mondays and Tuesdays, further limiting a person’s ability to participate fully in the work of both institutions. I recognise that remuneration for the work of a peer is different and reflects the fact that many peers have careers outside Parliament, some of which may also conflict with the sittings of the House of Lords, so I would have been content for the measures to end dual representation to be considered in the context of wider Lords reform, which would have addressed remuneration and allowances at the same time. However, as that has not been advanced and is unlikely to be in this Parliament, the Government should revisit the possibility of action in this Bill.

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If membership of this Parliament is a disqualification for serving in the Assembly, it follows logically that membership of other Parliaments should also be. I welcome the fact that the Government are including membership of Dail Eireann as a disqualification, but just as I believe that membership of the House of Lords should be a disqualification when it comes to membership of the Assembly, membership of the Seanad should also be, regardless of any Irish Government plans for the reform or abolition of that body.

I move on to the structures of the Assembly. We believe that the Assembly and parliamentary elections should be decoupled. The roles and responsibilities of each legislature are separate and distinct, and it is important that the issues pertinent to each receive full and detailed public consideration in advance of the vote. That will be difficult if both elections are running on the same day or without adequate separation, with the risk that one set of elections would overshadow the other.

For example, national coverage of Westminster elections could eclipse Northern Ireland issues and regional focus on the Assembly could lead to inadequate coverage of national issues. Alternatively, the two could become unhelpfully conflated. I am strongly of the opinion that elections should be held separately, preferably a year apart, and that the electorate should be given a full opportunity to engage in issues affecting each legislature. On that, perhaps, the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and I, the Member for Belfast East, find common ground.

I acknowledge that the Northern Ireland electorate are sophisticated and able to deal with the complexity of having not only two different elections but two different voting systems on the same day, but such circumstances are not desirable, although they might be practically manageable. I therefore support the extension of the current term and the change to five-year terms for the Assembly, as ad hoc changes to avoid future conflicts will no longer have to be made. What I propose would regularise the situation just as the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament will, and that is welcome.

Oliver Colvile: Does the hon. Lady agree that such a change would stop any confusion because the United Kingdom general election will take place in 2015 as well and people could be confused?

Naomi Long: I am not entirely clear about the hon. Gentleman’s point, but separating the general election from the Assembly election is important. Ensuring that that separation is maintained in the long term, without ad hoc changes to the length of the Assembly term, is important.

The Assembly term was generally the one that had to be adjusted to move away from Westminster’s and that made the Assembly seem somewhat less important. That is not a particularly good message to give the electorate —that we will hold the election as long as nothing more important is happening. Resolving the issue once and for all is a much better way to move forward.

I move on to the structures of the Assembly. I turn to the arrangements for the appointment and replacement of the Justice Minister. I am pleased that the issues that my own party and others have raised in this regard are now being addressed in a manner fairer and more

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appropriate than the current arrangements. There are twin anomalies. First, whichever party holds the Justice Ministry will end up with an additional Ministry over its d’Hondt entitlement. Secondly, there is a lack of security of tenure for the Justice Minister, who can be removed from post by an Assembly vote, unlike any other Minister, potentially leading to under-representation in comparison to the d’Hondt entitlement were the power to be exercised.

The current arrangement is not sustainable, and although my own party has benefited from the first anomaly in this term, while remaining vulnerable to the second, we wish the issue to be addressed. The proposals before us are, in essence, the same as those that my party and others discussed in trying to come to a resolution, so we welcome their inclusion in the Bill. They will create a fairer arrangement for all the parties in the Executive, and, crucially for those who voted for them, ensure that the Justice Minister counts towards the d’Hondt allocation but, once appointed, can be removed only by resignation or through the party nominating officer, as with other Ministers.

Finally, I am disappointed that provision could not have been made in the Bill to allow the wider structures and size of the Assembly to be reformed, as seemed to be very much part of the Bill when the previous Secretary of State talked about it initially. The issue’s initial prominence seems to have disappeared.

It has long been the view of the Alliance party, throughout the talks that led to the Good Friday agreement and subsequent negotiations and reforms, that democracy in Northern Ireland would be best served by a properly funded, properly structured formal Opposition. Having, as a party, spent a considerable time as the only effective Opposition within the Assembly and been the only one of the five major parties to have been outside the Executive for much of the Assembly’s existence, we recognise the importance of that role. However, unlike other legislatures, there is no formal role, status or support for such an Opposition, inhibiting effectiveness.

We also recognise, however, that the current system was endorsed as part of the Good Friday agreement referendum and that any such change would therefore require the consent of the Assembly and should not be externally imposed. The Assembly and Executive Review Committee in the Northern Ireland Assembly is considering proposals to move in that direction, although as yet consensus has not been achieved. That is regrettable. It is also regrettable that enabling legislation that would have permitted the formation of an opposition could not have been included in the Bill so that we could at least have put down a marker that it was possible, although the Assembly would be required to ask for it to be implemented. Such reform would also have allowed for much of the architecture around consociationalism, which, while managing division, has tended to copper-fasten rather than diminish it over time, without removing or undermining the protections for minorities.

Linked to such reform is the size of the Assembly. In my party’s view, the current number of MLAs is too large when compared with other levels of representation across the UK, and we would like the number of seats to be reduced. We recognise the vital importance of ensuring that proportionality is fully protected as any reform goes forward. That is the key aspect to maintaining

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the confidence of Northern Ireland voters. We propose that the number of elected representatives to be returned by each constituency should, as a starting point, be five rather than six. Should the number be reduced to fewer than five, there would be a risk of imbalances in terms of how reflective of the population those returned at the election would be. That has been shown in elections to Dail Eireann on the basis of three, four and five-seat constituencies. Proportionality is crucial in a deeply divided society such as ours.

We would also support a reduction in the number of constituencies. We are disappointed that that was unable to be effected as part of the proposals that went before this House, which would have resulted in 16 constituencies with five Members each. That would have taken us to around the 80 mark, which would have been extremely helpful in reducing the Assembly to a more manageable size. There is no evidence to suggest that an 80-Member Assembly would be insufficient to ensure the effectiveness of its operations, particularly if streamlining of the Executive happened concurrently.

Our proposals for a reduction to eight departments are a matter of record as part of the discussions of the AER Committee at Stormont. We believe that that, coupled with an allied reduction in Government Departments, would lead to a reduction in the number of statutory committees, thus not significantly increasing the burden on a smaller number of MLAs. We would also argue that such reform would lead to no discernible drop in the level of governance, as evidenced by the Scottish Parliament, which has similar powers and functions to those of the Assembly but fewer MSPs per head of population.

This is a second lost opportunity to right-size the Assembly after the abandonment of the boundary changes and other measures. I am pleased that such changes proposed by the Assembly in future will not require primary legislation in order to right-size it, but it is disappointing that there is not more in the Bill to drive that forward.

I very much welcome the Bill and the more positive context in which it has been introduced, although I express some disappointment about how far-reaching it is. I hope that in Committee issues such as donor transparency and the recommendations of the Electoral Commission will be addressed and taken forward.

7.2 pm

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): It is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long).

I will touch on two very significant issues, the first of which is the increased transparency of donations. I commend the hon. Lady and the Alliance party, who have been very open about this issue for a number of years. I am glad that we are sticking to the timetable of October 2014. I urge the Secretary of State, when we get there, to implement the measure post-haste, because we have reached a point in Northern Ireland at which it is very important to normalise donations and their transparency. Like everyone in the Chamber, I fully understand that Northern Ireland is in a different situation, and has certainly come from a very different place, but I am firmly of the view that it is time that donations there are completely normalised and that they become as transparent as they are in the rest of the country.

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The second issue is the proposal to change the process of appointment and dismissal for Northern Ireland Justice Ministers. That is clearly a very sensitive post. I appreciate the thought and consultation that have gone into the Bill in this context as it will provide greater security of tenure. The complexity around d’Hondt should provide a discipline to the whole process that means, one hopes, that it will never need to be implemented. It is a very practical and sensible addition to the Bill.

As a number of colleagues have said, this is the first Northern Ireland Bill since 1998—the first in 15 years—to be introduced at Westminster under normal circumstances; all the others have been dealt with under emergency procedures. That demonstrates the enormous progress that has been made over the past few years, despite some of the challenges over the past 24 months. It is a very positive sign that demonstrates that even if it is sometimes inch by inch, the society of Northern Ireland is going in the right direction.

The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) flagged up the issue of 2016 and all the historical issues and challenges that we will have to move through. He rightly pointed out that in 1916 many people from the Ulster regiments served and died on the Somme. My grandfather served and was wounded on the Somme. He originally hailed from County Mayo and that fact demonstrates the complexity of the whole issue. When we get to the point of discussing it, I am sure that all Members of the House will deal with it as sensitively as we must.

I commend the Secretary of State for the Bill. It has taken 15 years, but it is good to have another Northern Ireland Bill debated on the Floor of the House.

7.6 pm

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I concur with much of what has been said in this Second Reading debate. The Secretary of State said that this was a Bill for more normal times. On an earlier occasion, it was described as a “normalisation” Bill.

I want to allude to a small number of issues, the first of which has been dealt with by several Members—party political donations. I welcome the fact that we are making progress towards full and open disclosure, although we are not yet where we need to be, for a number of reasons. We cannot yet fully arrive at the concluding point, but I hope that we are making significant strides towards it.

Another issue is the creation of an opposition in the Assembly, which is concentrating the minds of the Assembly and the Executive Review Committee at Stormont. For my sins, I am a member of that Committee and have an attendance rate of over 70%. The dual mandate has not restricted me from maintaining my representation role either there or here. I hope that we are making significant progress towards the creation of an opposition, although we have not reached the final stage.

We are also discussing a reduction in the size of the Assembly. Other Members have made their position clear on that. My view, and that of my party, is that we should be considering a much more significant reduction—for cost purposes, if for no other reason. The over-representation in the Assembly means that we have the almost ludicrous situation of a population of 1.8 million being represented by 108 MLAs. We should remember

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that the salary of an MLA is £48,000, plus an office costs expenditure allowance of £71,378—a total of £120,000 for each MLA. It should be possible to get to the point where we have four MLAs per constituency, making a total of 72. That would be a significant reduction of 36, from 108 to 72.

If we do not agree to such a reduction in the Northern Ireland Assembly and we make dual mandates illegal, the cost to the taxpayer will be in the region of £100,000 per year per MLA. If a dozen MLAs were also MPs and they stood down—thankfully we have moved beyond that—it would cost £1 million a year every year, unless there were a reduction in the number of MLAs at Stormont. Each of the parties has handled the issue of dual mandates voluntarily. I made representations to Sir Christopher Kelly about my party’s position, which is that we will phase out dual mandates.

Given that the Government introduced a non-salaried role for those of us who were in both legislatures, I would have thought that most people would say to those who want to do a second job and not get paid for it, but who are as diligent there as they are here, “If you want to do it, get on and do it.” However, we are moving towards a point where that will no longer be required.

Members have made fleeting reference to the normality of life in Northern Ireland and to the way in which the Bill reflects that. Over the last few months, Londonderry has celebrated being the first ever UK city of culture. The many celebrations over the past week have indicated the normality that is returning not just to Londonderry, but to Northern Ireland as a whole. We hope to demonstrate that normality more and more in the coming months, not just through the UK city of culture, but across Northern Ireland.

The other issue that I want to allude to is very important to citizens everywhere. I hold in my hand a badge that is important to people in every nation on Earth: a passport. It is a badge of citizenship. It declares that one can call on the services of the nation when in difficulty in another land. In Northern Ireland we have a problem that I have raised with the Secretary of State and her predecessors. Some people wish to have an Irish identity, as the hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) indicated when he was not describing others as bigots. In my other hand, I hold an Irish passport.

Naomi Long: Is it yours, Gregory?

Mr Campbell: No, it is not mine.

People in Northern Ireland are entitled to have either passport or even both passports if they so wish. The anomaly relates to the thousands of people who were born in the Irish Republic after 1949, when it left the Commonwealth, but who have lived for decades in Northern Ireland. Those people are British. They are British by courtesy of their tax-paying and their voting arrangements. They are British voters and British residents, but they cannot hold a British passport. That anomaly has to be addressed.

I hope that the matter will be raised at the appropriate point in the progress of the Bill. If people in Northern Ireland have the right to claim an Irish identity, even if they have never been to the Irish Republic, why can people who were born in the Irish Republic, but who have been British and have lived in the United Kingdom for decades not have British citizenship? They demand

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the right to have British citizenship, but they are currently denied that right. I hope we will be able to debate amendments to deal with that during the Bill’s passage.

As I said earlier, we are very pleased with elements of the Bill. We wish that it would go further, particularly in respect of Members who do not turn up here, but who still have their allowances paid. That will have to be dealt with quickly, if not in this Bill, then through another means. I hope that progress will be made on the measures that are in the Bill and on other issues that, although outside the remit of the Bill, will, I hope, be introduced before we get much further.

7.15 pm

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to take part in this important debate for Northern Ireland. I also want to express my appreciation to the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State for the tone in which they introduced the debate on this Bill.

The Secretary of State acknowledged that we are in more normal times. Although that is true, I cannot forget the awful murder of David Black near the town where I went to school. I want to express my appreciation to the security services and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which provide daily protection for the people of Northern Ireland. They have thwarted many of the attempts by terrorists and allowed us to live in peace. Although it is true that we are in more normal times, there is still a dissident threat in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State acknowledged that devolved government in Northern Ireland is well established. The House must accept that the formula for government in Northern Ireland, with a mandatory coalition at its heart, cannot continue indefinitely. Although the Bill reforms other parts of political life in Northern Ireland, that fundamental part is left untouched. I believe that it will have to be addressed at a later date.

I acknowledge, as did both Front Benchers, the tremendous boost that the G8 leaders brought to Northern Ireland, County Fermanagh and the beautiful countryside of Lough Erne and the Fermanagh lakes, which is next to my constituency of South Antrim. We should again show our appreciation to the Prime Minister for bringing the most powerful leaders in the world to Northern Ireland. I trust that we will build on that. The Prime Minister’s promise that he will return to Northern Ireland for an investment conference later in the year is to be welcomed.

We must build jobs and rebalance the economy, as Members have said, but we can only do that with further growth in the economy. I would like prosperity to be enjoyed by all. I looked today at the unemployment statistics and claimant figures for the United Kingdom. I was delighted to see that my constituency again has the highest employment in the Province and has seen a decrease in claimants. That should be welcomed by all Members, because those figures refer to individual people and we should be glad that they are in a job in these difficult days.

I welcome the tone that has been used by the majority of Members. I will not go in depth into what I believe was a slur on my colleagues and me by the leader of the SDLP, but I believe that his remark says more about him than about us. I suggest to him quietly and respectfully

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that it would be better for his constituents and his party if he took the battle to Sinn Fein, rather than to the Unionists who turn up to this House. I trust he will reflect on that, because it is an honourable thing to apologise when a person makes a mistake.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State power to make transparent the declaration of donations and non-commercial loans to political parties in Northern Ireland from September 2014. The Democratic Unionist party supports transparency in principle, but it must be acknowledged that there were good reasons for Northern Ireland being afforded a special status in this matter. This House must never forget the bravery displayed by many individuals and businesses in stepping forward in dangerous and perilous times to make donations to political parties that stood up for justice and democracy against the forces of intimidation and terror. Many did so at great personal and corporate risk, and their sacrifice and courage must not be forgotten. The DUP is doing its part to move Northern Ireland forward to a more normalised society. We acknowledge that the normalisation of political donations must be tackled, and that the Bill takes a step in that direction. Transparency should be a part of such a process, but I ask the Secretary of State and the Minister who will reply to the debate to reflect on the timetable.

Naomi Long: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I take cognisance of what he says about the difficult situation and the reasons for anonymity. His party has said that very few of its donations exceed the £7,500 threshold requiring the names of donors to be published, so what tangible difference would it make if only a small number of donations had the potential to be affected by transparency rules?

Dr McCrea: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but I have to acknowledge that I am an hon. Member, not a right hon. Member, of this House.

Putting the life of any individual at risk is very serious. There is a level of donation at which a name would have to be given, and that could put people, and the profitability of the businesses they represent, at risk. We have acknowledged that the measure is right in principle. The Bill will take things forward in a careful manner, but I question the current timetable of 2014.

Jim Shannon: The spirit of the proposals is not to scare off people who wish to contribute to a political party, but the fact is that a great many people in Northern Ireland will feel under pressure because of their political allegiance. That is a key issue for individuals, families and businesses.

Dr McCrea: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Any change must be made in conjunction with an appropriate security assessment by the PSNI. There still exists—the Secretary of State acknowledged this in her opening remarks—a significant threat in Northern Ireland, and we have to be careful because we are dealing with people’s lives. I know the dangers that people face day by day in the constituency in which I live in the west of the Province. We need to move at a proper pace that takes into account the uncertainty involved for businesses that make public donations. Moving too quickly to a fully open and transparent system could be detrimental to the democratic process and political stability.

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As my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) acknowledged, one aspect of the Bill needs greater consideration and reflection. Individuals and bodies in the Irish Republic can donate to parties in Northern Ireland, in contravention of the law in that country. Indeed, it is much worse than that, because individuals and bodies in the Republic of Ireland could be used as a front for donations from other foreign countries. The Government must address this matter in the Bill to ensure the integrity of donations to political parties in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) reflects on this, she will understand that it is a greater danger to the coffers of political parties than anything else that the Secretary of State has been asked to do in this House.

Naomi Long: I assure the hon. Gentleman that this was discussed in Committee. I supported the Committee’s recommendation for the loophole to be closed. It is important for transparency and openness, so that people are fully accountable.

Dr McCrea: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention.

Many Members highlighted the major issue of dual mandates, and it is a hot political potato. I can speak with some experience, as I entered public life 40 years ago last month when, after a local government reorganisation in 1973, I was elected to the district council for the area in which I live. I represented my area on the council for thirty-seven-and-a-half years. In 1982, I was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly and in 1983—30 years ago last month—I was elected to this Parliament. I have 40 years’ experience of elected office right across the spectrum—district council, first and second Assemblies, the forum in between, and Westminster. I noticed what the hon. Member for Belfast East said earlier about “what the public want”. What did the public want? The people decided that I would be elected: they decided; they made the choice. In Assembly elections they had six possibilities, but they chose me as number one. When it came to district council elections there were five other candidates and I was elected first, top of the poll. When it came to Westminster elections, I was elected top of the poll. People talk about what the public want and we have to be careful about that, but I speak with all those years of experience in public life.

We must remember that during those years Northern Ireland was plunged into one of the most bloody and terrifying IRA campaigns. Many of my friends and constituents were butchered by the provisionals. Some of those who carried out or engineered those acts are now strutting around the corridors of power. At that time, the law-abiding people wanted a voice against terror to be heard, but not their voice—they were too afraid. People were very reluctant to put their heads above the parapet. They did not want to come forward to stand for election for fear of the risk—the very real risk— to their own personal security and that of their families.

When I held dual mandates, that risk was very real. Putting my head above the parapet meant receiving a real bomb on my 40(th) birthday from the Provisional IRA. Coming to this House and speaking up for the people I represent meant that 50 bullets riddled my house when my family—my wife and my children—were just going into the house. Every window in our house was a bullet-proof window. For 25 years, I had to drive

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around in a police car for protection. That is what it cost to be an elected representative in this House, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the district council. Why was I doing it? It was because others put their trust in me and asked me to do it. They were too afraid. They had to have a voice, however, and they were looking for one, and I was honoured and privileged to be it. Thankfully, we have moved on, and in fact after 37 years, although it was a wrench, I voluntarily stood down from the council. I did not need legislation to tell me I had to stand down from the council if I was to be in the House, and I did not need it to tell me to stand down from the Assembly. I voluntarily stood down from the Assembly, too, and others are now taking my place.

It is right that we bring others to this House or the other Chambers to be the voice of the people, but never let us forget that those who had those mandates before held them at great personal risk to their lives and their families. When fathers left in the morning, their families did not know whether they would be back again in the evening, so let us be careful when we talk about those dual mandates. In 1973, when I joined the council, what we got financially did not cover the stamps, so we certainly were not in it for the money. I can assure hon. Members that there were not many others offering to take our places, and what we got certainly did not cover the petrol. We did it because we loved our country, we loved our people, and we wanted to be their voice. It is without apology, therefore, that I look back over those years and I thank God that I had the privilege and that I am still standing here, at the will of the people, to be the voice of my constituents. I trust that I will have the opportunity for some years yet.

Bob Stewart: I am sure the whole House agrees with the hon. Gentleman’s comments. His bravery and that of many other people who stood for elected office in Northern Ireland was reflected by their families, who must have gone through hell and been worried sick. The bravery of those wives, husbands and children should be put on the record, too.

Dr McCrea: I thank the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that. I certainly pay tribute to the wives, husbands and children of those elected representatives who put their heads above the parapet and were willing to stand. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North was visiting his child in hospital when they tried to murder him. That is what families endured.

If dual mandates are wrong, this policy of ending them must be implemented evenly throughout the United Kingdom. It would be anomalous to afford the people of Wales and Scotland the right to dual mandates, but deny the people of Northern Ireland the same. We are saying that there must be common ground across the United Kingdom. Not only should Wales follow this lead, but Scotland should put its money where its mouth is and stand behind this proposal, if people believe that it is the right thing to do.

Non-representation also needs to be ended. I lost my seat in 1997. I had been in for fourteen-and-a- half years, but a boundary change—I believe it was gerrymandering, but that is for another day—sliced the constituency of Mid Ulster in two, creating the constituencies of Mid Ulster and West Tyrone. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness became Member of Parliament for

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Mid Ulster, so from 1997 until a few months ago, when he stepped down, that constituency had no voice in the House, where decisions were being taken on behalf of his constituents. Despite not coming to represent their people in the House, however, Sinn Fein Members are happy to take the expenses and office costs.

It is time, then, for people elected to the House of Commons from Northern Ireland to make a decision. If they want their expenses and office costs, they need to demonstrate that they are doing the work, and that means taking their seats. MPs are perfectly at liberty not to take their seats, if they so wish, but the situation where people do not take their seats but are allowed to claim expenses must end. In many ways, non-representation in the Commons is a much greater affront to democracy than dual mandates, and the House must shortly take a decision on this issue. I am happy to welcome many of the provisions in the Bill, but this remains a work in progress.

7.35 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Like others, I am glad of the opportunity to address several matters relating to Northern Ireland. As other hon. Members have said, the many positive recent developments have confirmed the benign trajectory on which Northern Ireland is headed, thanks to the peace process and a well-embedded agreement that gives us a broadly settled process. It has made the difference because it allows us all to give allegiance to shared institutions for the first time, to work through our differences and, I hope, increasingly to work through common challenges and to do so more productively and ambitiously than in the past.

This is a tapas Bill: there are slivers of meat in it, but there is not very much of it. Some of it might be to some people’s taste, but less so to others, and perhaps we are not quite sure exactly what some of it is and must accept other people’s assurances and technical descriptions of it. On the broad issue of political donations, like others I recognise that historically there have been serious difficulties and challenges for people engaged in politics, whether by virtue of donating, canvassing or being a party member. The hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) rightly pointed to the many risks that people have taken in elected politics, and I pay tribute to all of them, particularly those who were threatened and victimised in very real and vicious ways.

I extend that tribute, however, to the many people in political parties more generally who faced such threats, challenges and various levels of intimidation, whether in their neighbourhood or in their working lives. A forthcoming book on the Glenanne gang will point out that some of its targets were picked precisely because of their membership of, or association with, the Social Democratic and Labour party. Of course, that was a loyalist gang, but members of my party were also targeted by republican paramilitaries for their own twisted reasons. I know that many other people in many other parties have suffered the same.

All that was true, but things are changing, including the public’s expectations and understanding. When I was leader of my party, I said that the then extension of the anonymity arrangements should be the last one and that we could not keep kicking that can down the road,

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but we now appear to be granting another extension and leaving the way open to another one after that. Hon. Members are right that the anonymity promises on donations made in recent years should be kept, unless people expressly say that they want their donation declared, and I agree that there should be no retrospective revelations to which people have not agreed. But if the public are to accept that sort of protection for historical donations, they will want to know that there will be a definite end to anonymity for future donations. The one should go with the other, on a fair’s fair, everything square basis.

The question of donations also gives rise to a situation in which people might think that parties have more to hide than they actually have. When I was leader of my party, I said that the change should happen because there was nothing for us to hide. In a small place such as Northern Ireland, people sometimes get suspicious about donations, not only to individual parties but to several parties. They can create suspicion in the mind of the public that decisions are being influenced at various levels and in various policy areas. If the threshold for publication were significantly lowered, some people might worry that complications could arise because they had given to a number of parties on different occasions, or even at the same time. Those issues are going to have to be addressed by the people and the parties concerned, however, and people cannot be protected against that potential for embarrassment under the guise of security sensitivities.

In respect of sensitivity about donations, I know that my party colleague Alex Attwood who is currently the Minister of the Environment in Northern Ireland, imposed a rule on himself and his Department that if a planning application came in from anyone whom he was aware of being a donor to our political party, he would declare that fact to his officials. His officials said, “There is no official need to do that. No one has ever thought of doing it before.” But he has made a point of saying that it should be done because, in some people’s eyes, the donation could be a material consideration that may influence him and he must therefore inform his officials. The officials can then bear the information in mind when carrying out their work on the planning application.

There is an issue beyond the provisions in the Bill on donations and political life in Northern Ireland. Many significant public appointments are made by Ministers in Northern Ireland and perhaps we need to address whether such people who are known donors to parties should be duly registered at departmental level and open to scrutiny. These things should be looked at beyond the level of electoral donations.

On the question of donations from people based in the Irish Republic, I believe that the current provision is right and equal. We have parties in Northern Ireland that have a Unionist outlook, and those with a nationalist outlook. We also have parties that do not frame themselves specifically in relation to Unionism or nationalism. Within that broad base, if people are able to collect donations and win the support and approval of the members of the body politic throughout the United Kingdom who regard themselves as British, I do not see why those who regard themselves as Irish should not be able to collect donations from the democratic body politic to which they see themselves as belonging—that is, people living on the island of Ireland.

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Naomi Long: I broadly agree with the hon. Gentleman, but a more significant issue are the donations that come into Northern Ireland through the Republic of Ireland from international sources—that is, donations that would not be able to come in through the UK but can come in through the Republic. Such donations probably benefit only one party, and it is not here to debate the issue.

Mark Durkan: I thank the hon. Lady for making that point, but I do not believe that the answer is to have a general ban on donations from people living in the Irish Republic. If we were to say that anyone living there who wanted to make a donation had to be registered on the list of electors there, that would go some way towards strengthening the provisions. If there are loopholes that allow moneys that would otherwise be unacceptable to arrive in the north, and if those loopholes are being used to “wash through” money, mechanisms will have to be put in place to stop that happening. Declarations would have to be made in relation to any such money. I would have no problem with a requirement for such declarations, not only from those giving the money to say that it was truly coming from them and not from someone else, but from those receiving it. That would fix minds quite clearly. That is where the responsibility should rest, and that is where the law should be targeted.

I represent a border constituency. Many of the people who make significant investments in businesses there and make a significant contribution to the economy, not only in Foyle but in the whole of the north-west, live in the south. Some live just a few miles across the border, others live further away. Many of them originate in Derry. There are many families in Derry whose cousinage is in Donegal and in many other parts of the south—

Stephen Pound: Including Mayo.

Mark Durkan: Including Mayo, as the shadow Minister says. I was also glad to hear earlier from the Liberal spokesperson, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd). Perhaps we have a gathering of the Mayo association here today. I speak as a grandson of Mayo myself, rather than a son.

The point needs to be recognised that there are many people in the south whose roots are in the north. Many of them have business and professional links with the north, and many of them undertake public appointments there. Thankfully, they are appointed not only by nationalist Ministers. Those people from the south can have a legitimate input into the democratic governance and well-being of the north, and I see no reason to preclude them from doing that through duly registered political donations if they wish to do so.

We have heard the arguments for and against the dual mandate. I made my own decision on that a number of years ago when I took the personal step of saying that if I was elected as an MP again, I would give up my seat in the Assembly. I did not believe that the dual mandate could be sustained any longer. On that basis, I also resigned the leadership of my party, because I did not think that anyone could seriously try to lead a political party in Northern Ireland without being in the devolved Assembly.

I took that step after we had been frustrated in our attempts to change the rules. During various negotiations and initiatives, some of us had made the point that we

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needed to draw a line under the dual mandate. We said that the parties needed to agree on a date or a point in the electoral cycle when dual mandates would stop, but it was impossible to reach agreement on that. I recall debates in the Assembly in which the Democratic Unionist party voted against any such move against dual mandates. It praised them, saying that they were the best thing since sliced bread and that they were saving us money. Then, in the wake of the pressures resulting from the expenses scandal, the DUP suddenly started playing leapfrog over the rest of us. It suddenly wanted to get rid of dual mandates, too. In many ways it hid behind the Kelly recommendations, saying that if an outlying date of 2015 were set, that would be the target date towards which it would work.

Historically, the dual mandate could be justified by the uncertain circumstances that existed in Northern Ireland. Indeed, it is arguable that many people were able to do great work carrying dual mandates, not least John Hume and Ian Paisley when they were in this House and in the European Parliament. Along with their Ulster Unionist colleague, they were able to do productive and effective work in Europe and to bring home significant benefits. As with the question of openness over donations, however, public expectations have moved on. People can see that circumstances and standards have changed. Change changes things. That is probably the most underestimated fact in politics and democratic life. We need to move on.

If a limit is, rightly, set on dual mandates in this House, the Bill should also make provision for that in respect of any possible membership of Dail Eireann. Any such provision should apply not only to MPs but to Teachtai Dala. It would be right to extend that to Members of the House of Lords and to Members of Seanad Eireann as well. If the rule specifies membership of one legislative chamber and one only, it should apply regardless. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) that that should apply whether or not the proposed abolition of Seanad Eireann goes ahead. I hope it does not; I would much prefer to see reform of that good constitutional tool. The fact is that people should be members of one legislative chamber and one only.

As to the size of the Assembly, I made the point in an intervention that the position on which parties were negotiating at the stage when we negotiated the agreement was broadly based on a 90-member Assembly, with five Members for each of the parliamentary constituencies. It was not the case that it was a matter of principle that we wanted the Assembly elected from the existing parliamentary constituencies. The point was that if we were going to get an Assembly established on the back of an agreement, it had to be on the basis of some existing constituencies, and the parliamentary constituencies were obviously the available and relevant ones.

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 creates five-year parliamentary boundary reviews, but I think that will cause problems, not just in respect of the potential impact of boundary reviews in parliamentary terms, but in Assembly terms, too. What might appear to be a small change in a constituency in parliamentary terms could be very significant for Assembly members. Somebody’s well-established Assembly bailiwick could be directly split in a way that might appear marginal to the parliamentary constituency, so I think there are difficulties there. I know that there has been

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some discussion in the Assembly and Executive Review Committee about whether the Assembly still needs to rely on or stick to absolute coterminocity of Assembly and parliamentary constituencies for the long term. If we end up having a difficult experience from five-year boundary reviews—I hope this will be revised in the future so that we can move to something more sensible than having reviews for every single Parliament—the Assembly might well be advised to consider something different.

The position on the number of Members was, as I said, five for each constituency. If, under the boundary reviews, the number of constituencies is reduced, that will obviously reduce the number of Members in the Assembly in turn. In the context of previous negotiations, including those in Leeds castle and elsewhere where there were reviews and half reviews of the agreement, the SDLP put forward its views, but there were no takers for the changes, just as when we offered proposals to improve the transparency of the Assembly and to make it a bit more robust as a chamber of accountability.

Some of those who talk most about transparency and accountability resisted. I remember Peter Robinson saying at Leeds castle, “Well, we do not want that much accountability.” The proposals did not even go as far as saying that there should be a formal opposition in the Assembly, but sought to ensure that there were ways of holding Ministers to account to the Assembly. One way of doing that was that after budgets, all Ministers would make statements on what they were planning to do with the moneys allocated to them rather than hide behind one statement by the Minister of Finance.

As other hon. Members have said, the question of opposition is important. When we negotiated the agreement, just as we were clear that the Government would be inclusive for those parties that wished to exercise the right to take their mandate into ministerial office, so, too, the scrutiny and accountability role of the Assembly had to be inclusive. Some of us, perhaps naively, envisaged that members of the Ministers’ own parties would challenge them and put questions to them; unfortunately, that is not what we have. Anyone looking at the Parliament channel, for example, is likely to see question time and debates, and there are more plants than at a garden centre! It is not what we wanted—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) mentions vegetables in particular, and I am sure his party colleagues will be delighted by that proud reference and strong endorsement.

The discussion that many people are having is important. What it reflects is not necessarily the absolute need for an opposition that some have seized on; it is more a feeling that there is not enough challenge, scrutiny or debate. Some people think that real debate ends up falling to “The Nolan Show” or other talk-back radio programmes, but questioning and challenging decisions should be taking place in the committees of the Assembly and on its floor. We should have other types of committee —more cross-cutting committees, for example, with the sort of teeth that the Public Accounts Committee has. They might be rated more highly not just by Ministers but by civil servants than they are under the current committee model. As other hon. Members have said, there are a number of things that we can look at.

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On the appointment of the Justice Minister, we recognise that there are a number of anomalies. The proposed changes seem neatly to answer the problem of the d’Hondt excess enjoyed by one party, which goes against the proportionality provisions and the inclusion promise of the agreement. I fear that in resolving the anomaly in the proposed way, however, we will end up creating a predicament for the system and potentially for a party that could find itself typecast, particularly through the role of the Justice Minister, in ways that might well prove frustrating in the future. Other parties might find that frustrating or might abuse their sense of frustration. We need to be careful that in fixing one problem, we do not create another problem for the long term or build a permanent abnormality that imposes an obligation or a limitation on any particular party.

Naomi Long: As my party provides the Justice Minister in the current arrangements, I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. The arrangements being put in place here would apply equally to any party, and the anomaly would apply regardless of which party provided the Justice Minister. The fix, as it were, would apply regardless, too. I do not think that anybody is typecast in that sense. I would also take issue with him about what counts as normal. I happen not to think that using d’Hondt to appoint Ministers is normal; it is actually a mechanism to deal with division, which is abnormal. I would not want to move in that direction; I would prefer the other Ministry to move towards cross-community support.

Mark Durkan: I note the hon. Lady’s point of view, but it is not the one from which I come to this debate. I was involved in the negotiation and drafting of parts of the agreement, not least in respect of strand 1. I would certainly defend the understanding and agreement that we secured then, but I would never pretend that we are stuck with it or that we can never adjust or change it. I certainly recognise that when it comes to the institutions and the fundamental architecture we have to see differences between fixtures and fittings. That is why review mechanisms were built into the agreement and why my own party has proposed changes and developments in a number of reviews—and we would certainly envisage more in the future. They should all be based, however, on the firm and clear foundations of inclusion that are guaranteed in the agreement.

On the issue of the Justice Ministry, I was not saying that it is a given and that it will always go to the Alliance party; I was simply stating a caution, in case things end up being that way. We know all the reasons why the Ministry ended up with an Alliance party member on the first and second occasions. What I am saying is simply a point of caution in that regard.

When it comes to electing other Ministers by cross-community support, I am disappointed that the Bill does not take the opportunity to restore something that was in the Good Friday agreement—that the First and Deputy First Minister should be elected jointly by cross-community support. That was in the Good Friday agreement, and it was important that the administration of the Executive would be headed and chaired by people who had a mandate from the Assembly and were accountable to it. Instead, what we have is a system whereby those two positions are simply appointed from their respective parties by a letter, which goes to the Speaker. That is not the right and proper way to do this.

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The change in how the First and Deputy First Minister were appointed—no longer elected by the Assembly but simply appointed by their own parties—was a result of a so-called comprehensive agreement in December 2004 between Sinn Fein, the DUP and the British and Irish Governments to create a new rule whereby parties could only appoint Ministers if those parties voted for the First and Deputy First Minister. The agreement was published, but because there were not photographs in relation to decommissioning, and people were using language about sackcloth and ashes, it did not stick. However, it remained the desired outcome of Sinn Fein, the DUP and the British and Irish Governments until the very day of the St Andrews talks that parties could only be included in government if they voted for the First and Deputy First Minister. That was a complete violation of the basic principle in the Good Friday agreement—the promise of democratic inclusion. The DUP was able to appoint Ministers without having voted for Seamus Mallon or David Trimble; they were able to vote against David Trimble and me, but it did not preclude their holding ministerial office, and rightly so, because that was the promise in the agreement. Similarly, Sinn Fein was able to abstain on the election of the First and Deputy First Minister and still hold ministerial office. The DUP and Sinn Fein, however, were prepared to say that the SDLP, the UUP and, if it qualified, the Alliance party, could only take Ministries if we voted for the First and Deputy First Minister. We would have to submit our mandate to them; we would not even be allowed the right of abstention.

The first people who would be excluded from office under the agreement, under a Labour Government, were those in the SDLP, not for having committed any crimes or transgression, whether in office, in terms of standards in public life or breaching commitments to peace and non-violence, but simply because we were prepared to exercise our democratic right to abstain on the election of those from other parties. Only because the DUP got the message from us clearly in a meeting upstairs in a Committee Room, on the morning we were all flying to St Andrews, that we would not be voting for them, and we understood that the UUP would not be voting for them, so the DUP would be in the Lobby voting on their own with Sinn Fein—the very thing they wanted to prevent—to elect Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, and only because we stuck to our threat did the DUP scramble to get a different basis whereby people would be appointed to ministerial office by a letter to the Speaker.

Why are we not returning to the agreement in the Bill? Things seem to be bedded down quite well now between Sinn Fein and the DUP—they seem quite happy to go through the Lobby together on lots of things, whether it is to force through future local government boundaries that suit them, or anything else. If they can use their muscle or mandate together in those respects, why should they not be able to do it in relation to electing the First and Deputy First Minister as originally provided for in the agreement?

In relation to local government boundaries, Sinn Fein and the DUP put through a Bill a couple of years ago for the appointment of a boundary commissioner, but the Bill actually fixed the boundaries, and all the boundary commissioner could do was pick the names of the councils and make recommendations around some of the wards. The Bill contains other welcome measures,

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on the face of it, to transfer further powers in relation to electoral matters, to change their reserved status, and to give more latitude, potentially, to the Assembly, but we need to register some caution. Decisions that can be taken at Assembly level can essentially be taken by Sinn Fein and the DUP themselves, so we need to be careful about a significant reduction in the size of the Assembly that would mean fewer than five Members per constituency, which will affect proportionality, democratic opportunity and fairness, and about other changes in relation to electoral matters.

Northern Ireland began with a Parliament set up after partition, and there was proportional representation. One of the first decisions taken was to remove proportional representation in local government, and then to remove proportional representation for the Parliament itself. The rot set in, and the difficulties came from there. If we get to a situation where everybody else’s democratic opportunity is dependent on the decisions of Sinn Fein and the DUP, to borrow from the late, great Paddy O’Hanlon, that is a bit like asking Attila the Hun to mind your horse. We are asking for trouble if we just say, “It will be up to them.” We ought perhaps to consider ensuring that the Electoral Commission has a bigger, stronger and more defined role in relation to such matters, rather than leaving them to the Executive level and to some parties in particular.

There are other aspects of the Bill, including in relation to court and other matters. Will the Minister clarify the intention in paragraph 5 of the schedule on court rules, in relation to inquests, and the reference to the

“relevant authority must allow or disallow rules submitted to it”?

Is the phrase “relevant authority” intended to allow for both the devolved and the Westminster authority in respect of different issues? In the past, we have seen attempts in the House to change the rules on inquest to provide for secret inquests, and to provide for inquests in which coroners could be sacked and others appointed, the implications of which are very sensitive in Northern Ireland, not least in relation to many cases, even some of the outstanding inquest cases, from the troubles, or some cases in which new inquests are being requested.

Other Members have raised the issue about the National Crime Agency, which I do not want to leave unaddressed. My party colleagues have been working with others to get as many of the issues resolved as possible. Our concerns are genuine and do not relate to trying to prevent asset recovery or other powers being fully exercised in Northern Ireland. Nobody has demanded and defended strong powers of asset recovery and wanted them robustly used more than the SDLP, which is why our initial concerns were about the establishment of SOCA potentially undoing the good work of the Assets Recovery Agency. However, we do have concerns, with which hon. Members should be familiar, in relation to the primacy of the Patten policing model and the primacy of the Chief Constable accountable to the Policing Board.

First, we are concerned that that was significantly breached in relation to the St Andrews agreement by the rerouting in relation to national security so that even MI5 liaising with the PSNI would be beyond the purview of the Policing Board or the Police Ombudsman, and we do not want the National Crime Agency compounding that. The Secretary of State is aware, as

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I have informed her, of our concerns about how SOCA’s pursuit of some people is being abused by MI5 putting those same people under untoward pressure to work for it, putting them in a position of real and likely threat. We want those issues resolved. I cannot look in the eye those people who come to me with genuine concerns and stress and say, “Yes, I believe in your concerns. I am trying to give representation to them,” and then blandly go along with other changes without getting the necessary safeguards. The problems are real, but I believe we can come up with real answers to them. I commend those in my party and others who have been working to get those answers.

8.9 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I welcome the opportunity to debate the principles of a Bill that will have a significant impact on the way in which our relatively immature democracy in Northern Ireland may develop in the years ahead. I fully acknowledge that we have travelled a considerable distance, and—as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan)—in a very positive direction, but much work remains to be done.

We want to work with the Government to bring about the economic renewal of our local economy, and for that purpose we must consider a number of ways of rebalancing the economy. We are also concerned about the unfairness of many of the welfare reform proposals. We do not oppose the principle of welfare reform, but we do oppose a number of its probable consequences. Many people who are already disadvantaged will become even more disadvantaged, and many who are currently in work will find themselves out of work and, possibly, in a grave financial position.

Those are the challenges that face any Administration or Executive, and they also face the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland. We want to work with the Government to meet those challenges. We also want to work with the Government, and with the Irish Government—they being the co-guarantors of the Good Friday agreement—on proposals for a comprehensive reconciliation process, because that is one of the aspects of a divided society that has not yet been fully addressed.

I recall that several years ago, when I was a Minister in the Department for Social Development, there were proposals for shared housing and shared neighbourhoods. Some of us had already done a great deal of work on that—work that began a considerable time ago, not just a few weeks ago—when others had not bought into the process. I am glad to say that they have done so now, and I hope that our aims will be fulfilled. However, there is still much to be done to help victims, to produce a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, and to ensure that everyone fully embraces the concepts of equality and human rights.

There are undoubtedly some good things in the Bill. Progress has been made towards greater transparency in relation to political donations, and most of the political double-jobbing is to be terminated. The Bill also covers issues connected with electoral registration. I was glad to hear from the Minister that he intended to ensure that there would be a door-to-door canvass, and

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that money had been provided for the purpose. All of us, including the Government, should take a proactive approach to ensure that everyone has proper access to a franchise, and should encourage people—irrespective of the party for which they vote—to exercise their franchise. That is the only way of enabling them to have a say in the shaping of their local democracy and the democratic process.

There is one great mystery at the heart of the Bill, and I should like to get to the bottom of it. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide the answer to my question—in conjunction, obviously, with the Secretary of State. I refer to the proposal to extend the term of the Northern Ireland Assembly by a further year and to hold elections not in May 2015, the date presented to our electorate, but in May 2016. The Government appear to have performed a U-turn. Why the change? It is fundamental that such action should not be taken without the permission of the people, who gave the parties a mandate to govern for four years rather than five. Indeed, the Secretary of State’s consultation paper acknowledged that

“There are serious constitutional implications in extending the term of any elected body after it has been elected”,

and since then the Government have generally poured cold water on the extension proposition.

We have heard arguments about the need to bring Northern Ireland into line with the other devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales, but they do not stack up. The Secretary of State’s consultation paper states:

“The Government does not believe that there needs to be uniformity across the…UK”.

More important is the fact that electors in Scotland and Wales knew before they voted that they would be electing Governments for an extended five-year term. In Northern Ireland, this is being imposed on people. The “conformity with Scotland and Wales” argument does not solve our mystery.

Mr Gregory Campbell: The hon. Lady is elaborating on the fact that the term of the Assembly is being extended by a year, and that that is being done without asking people for their permission. Is she suggesting that there should be a referendum to ask people if they want to vote again before they have decided that they want to vote again? In what way should people be asked other than through their representatives here in Parliament?

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Member for East Derry for his intervention. [Interruption.] He knows perfectly well that we had a mandate, and that those of us who were elected to the Assembly—some of us are no longer there—had a contract with the population of Northern Ireland for four years, and not five years. I believe that we should not delude the public, but should conform to what was in our contract with them.

Dr McCrea: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Lady has suggested that we should conform to the wishes of the general public. My hon. Friend was elected to a constituency in the House of Commons which is termed East Londonderry. Has any Member a right to change the name of my hon. Friend’s constituency? Is it in order?

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): That is not a point of order, but is a point for debate in the Chamber. Members are responsible for what they say in the Chamber. It is not a matter for the Chair unless it constitutes disorderly conduct, and it is not disorderly at the moment.

Dr McCrea: Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is the name of a constituency in the House of Commons a point for debate, or is it a point of fact? According to the Register, my hon. Friend was elected to represent East Londonderry.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With respect, the names of constituencies are set by legislation, not by what any one Member may say in the House. I repeat what I said a moment ago. This is a matter for debate, because it does not change the name of the constituency as laid down by Parliament.

Ms Ritchie: I accept the essence of the point of order. I acknowledge that the constituency is probably classified as Londonderry East, but my shorthand for it happens to be “East Derry”. I do not think that there is any particular difference of opinion. [Interruption.] May I continue?

There was the equally weak explanation that although doing so would save money, it would be unmanageable to hold two or three different elections on the same day. Wrong again! The Secretary of State’s consultation paper acknowledged that, if it was required—I quote for the purpose of accuracy and veracity—

“both the Chief Electoral Officer and Electoral Commission are confident that three polls can be delivered”.

So “administrative difficulty” does not solve the mystery.

Could it be that, while the Government’s consultation paper questioned the idea of extending the term of the Assembly, citing grounds of democratic legitimacy as well as questioning any practical need at all, the Government changed their mind as a result of the responses that they had received during the consultation exercise? Was the Secretary of State overwhelmed by consultees pressing for the extension of the life of the current Northern Ireland Assembly? No; that is not the answer either. Several political parties, including my own—the SDLP—and the Ulster Unionists, as well as the Green party, Conservatives and others, were emphatically against this anti-democratic proposal. The DUP and the Alliance were in favour of it, and Sinn Fein did not participate in the formal consultation exercise. Overall, of those consultees who responded directly on this question, 85% were against extending the Assembly term.

At this point the Secretary of State might say that a combination of the DUP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance can command a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which represents broad support for the extension, but the Secretary of State has already acknowledged that she had a letter from those parties as far back as June 2012, some three months before she embarked on her consultation; she knew then that the leaders of those three parties all wanted to extend the life of the Assembly. Indeed, elsewhere in this Bill there are provisions aimed at correcting the anti-democratic nature of the Minister of Justice’s current position, which has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) and my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle.

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The Secretary of State already knew the views of these parties when she set the height of the bar that had to be cleared if the proposal to extend the term of the Assembly was to go anywhere.

In full knowledge of the views of the parties of the OFMDFM—the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister—the Secretary of State summarised the issue in February this year by saying:

“The Government has consistently made clear that any move to extend the length of the current term could only be made if there was a clearly demonstrable public benefit, and a very large measure of agreement in Northern Ireland.”

The Secretary of State further concluded that the responses to the consultation

“tend to suggest that there does not exist, as yet, significant agreement to this proposal.”

I am sure the Secretary of State would not disagree with what she said then.

That does not help us much with the solving of our mystery, however. The Secretary of State set a clear test of a

“very large measure of agreement”

and concluded that the agreement demonstrated so far had not been “significant”. So in February of this year, in full knowledge of the various political parties’ views on extension, the Secretary of State was against it. What changed?

The Secretary of State also set the test of a “demonstrable public benefit”, but there clearly is not one. OFMDFM Ministers can argue that five years might give the Executive more time to demonstrate its worth, but in fact the opposite is the case. The Secretary of State’s paper of February of this year commented on the “opinion frequently voiced” about

“the perceived inertia of the Assembly”

and concluded that

“extending the term would only add to this.”

In addition, the CBI expressed concern in its consultation response that, at the end of a four-year programme for government, an additional year could just be a year of unproductive drift. Indeed, the proposal to extend the term takes little account of the very significant public disbenefits of moving to 2016, such as having the election so close to the 100th anniversary of the Easter rising, when certain political extremists will try to raise, and then exploit, community tensions on the nationalist side. There are also sinister elements in loyalism that will try to do the same around the important world war one centenaries. That is not a great time to have an election for a fixed five-year term in a fragile democracy.

So, with no “large measure” of agreement and no “public benefit”, what could have made the Secretary of State change her mind? Could it have been the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee? After all, the views of the Committee on Standards in Public Life were given considerable weight in the Bill’s provisions on double-jobbing. No, however, it is not the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, because, as its Chairman, the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), said earlier, it did not support the proposal to extend the term either. Indeed, when the Secretary of State met the Committee in March this year, she stated:

“But it is quite an unusual thing to do, and we would have to be clear about the benefits it would bring, the additional achievements

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that could be made by the Executive in that extra year, and also have a very clear case made publicly to that effect by the Northern Ireland political establishment.”

So even as late as March this year, the Secretary of State seemed to have no appetite for extending the term of the Northern Ireland Assembly, yet by 9 May, when this Bill was published with the explanatory document, all that had changed. All the consultation responses and the Secretary of State’s own decision criteria had been cast aside in just a few short weeks. What changed the mind of the Secretary of State remains a mystery, and it is a mystery that she must unlock; indeed, the Minister must unlock it here tonight, and it will need to be explored further in Committee.

I believe the decision to extend the Assembly term is an atrocious anti-democratic, and potentially dangerous, development, and flies in the face of most of what the Secretary of State has ever said on the issue. I can find no rational explanation for the change of heart in the Command Paper that was a response to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report. The Government do not provide much enlightenment in unlocking the mystery, except that they wish to be consistent with Scotland and Wales in extending the terms of the existing mandates. The Government and Secretary of State have ignored a vital point, however: that the people of Wales and Scotland were aware of the change to the fixed-term mandate before casting their votes in May 2011. The position in Northern Ireland was totally different. The people of Northern Ireland were not involved in this, and they voted for a four-year mandate. The only person who could do something to overrule the Secretary of State is the Prime Minister himself. Is a prime ministerial intervention the answer to our mystery?

So I put it to the Minister, who will be responding to the debate: how often, and when, did he and the Secretary of State discuss this matter with the Prime Minister? Did the Prime Minister direct the Secretary of State to concede the Assembly’s term extension to those who lobbied him for it? And we know who lobbied him for it: the DUP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance party. If he did, what explanation did he give? Can the Secretary of State, or the Minister of State, as it will be in this instance, tell me what impact this sordid U-turn had on the credibility of the Northern Ireland Office and will have on any future NIO consultations? What faith will the people of Northern Ireland have in such consultations? The NIO and the Secretary of State must never forget that she and her equivalent in the Irish Government are the custodians of the Good Friday agreement. [Interruption.] This is no laughing matter, because when we went to vote in the Assembly elections in 2011 we voted for a four-year mandate, so the people will feel duped. Given the weight of evidence against the extension of the Assembly’s term, surely there is some way in which the Government will be prepared to reconsider this fundamentally anti-democratic measure. Obviously we look forward to discussing the issue further in Committee—or perhaps we should start lobbying the Prime Minister.

Jim Shannon: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Ritchie: I wish to make a little more progress and then I would be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he can provide the answer to this mystery, as it

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is important that we find a solution to it. We need to work closely together, in partnership, and we need to ensure that we are able to sustain and maintain our democratic integrity. That is done in the best interests of the wider population of Northern Ireland: not only do the people demand it, but they deserve it, because for many years we lived and worked in that divided society, which in many ways still exists. We were living in the cauldron of violence and terrorism, and that was wrong. I am glad to say that that is largely diminished and we must now move forward into a new scenario.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Lady for Down South for giving way. She has discussed great concerns about the issue relating to the Assembly elections, but had she the same concerns about the change of time scale for the council elections? Did her party express concern when the time scale was changed?

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Obviously, we have been dealing with the review of public administration in the period of various Ministers, including at least three from the DUP when the RPA was being discussed.

Mr Donaldson: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Ritchie: I have not finished this point and I wish to do so, if the right hon. Gentleman will let me. Obviously, there would be concerns, but I also know that it was the DUP and Sinn Fein that insisted that these arrangements for new councils be pushed ahead with—I know that from my colleague the Minister of the Environment.

Mr Donaldson: Of course, this is not without precedent because the Northern Ireland Assembly was elected in 1998 on a four-year mandate by the people but that was extended to 2003 with the full support and connivance of the very party that now protests against the very thing that it and the UUP supported back in 1998 to 2003. So it may be that the answer to the mystery is a bit closer to home.

Ms Ritchie: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I think that there have been some memory losses here. [Hon. Members: “Oh no.”] Oh yes, because I can well recall, as can my hon. Friends the Members for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) and for Foyle—the latter was Minister for Finance and Personnel and subsequently Deputy First Minister—the considerable periods of suspension, when the people of Northern Ireland suffered dreadfully as the DUP sat outside the Executive and did not participate.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The entire Chamber is debating this Bill, not just the hecklers in one corner of the Chamber. I would appreciate it if we could listen to each speaker courteously. Perhaps we will be able to stop the heckling now and continue with the point being made, bearing in mind that another debate is also scheduled for this evening.

Ms Ritchie: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am mindful of your advice on this matter, so I will move towards a conclusion. We have had an interesting debate this evening on the issue.

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Although I would like to see that mystery unlocked this evening, there is also a need for a wider conversation that addresses the next phase of devolution. There is a need to devolve telecommunications and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to Northern Ireland, and we must also consider the character of constitutional discussion and the requirements to secure and advance policing. I will never forget that the SDLP, along with the Ulster Unionists, brought about that change in policing. My party, many times, single-handedly worked to bring about that new dispensation in policing.

Justice must be discussed, as well as the rights and equality achievements of recent years, and we need a deeper recognition from London of the nature of the Northern Ireland economy. We require further debate about those issues—not reserved to certain individuals, but in this Chamber and with these Ministers—and about our welfare profile and the impact of welfare changes on the economy of Northern Ireland and on the general health and well-being of our local population, the potential for the bedroom tax and the geopolitical considerations of housing and social housing location in Northern Ireland. Above all, the unfinished work of reconciliation and healing must take place within the north, on the island and between Britain and Ireland, and we must consider how London can move away and move with the Irish Government to help us to address issues to do with the past.

It is important that we discuss all those issues within the emerging politics that are Northern Ireland and that are the island of Ireland. We all look forward to such a participative democracy on these issues and to getting answers about how the decisions were made about moving from four to five year mandates. The people did not elect Members to the Assembly for five years, but for four. As that is the kernel of the Bill, I feel that the people I represent deserve an answer.

8.36 pm

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I am warming to this idea of using shorthand for parliamentary constituencies. Perhaps in future I will refer to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) as the Member for a river in Londonderry, and perhaps the SDLP will think again—

Mark Durkan: That’s not shorthand—it’s longer.

Mr Donaldson: It might be longer, but, considering the length of the hon. Gentleman’s speech—[Interruption.] Length seems to be very important indeed.

I want to deal with the issue raised by the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) about extending the term of the Assembly. This year is the year of culture in Londonderry and I think the SDLP should consider entering some of the competitions, particularly storytelling. The hon. Lady would tell a very good mystery story indeed.

Let us deal with political history and reality. The principle that the hon. Lady seeks to express is that when the public vote for an elected body for a fixed term, if we seek to alter that term we should go back to the people before we do so. In the stakes of political U-turns, political changes of mind and the irony of taking up a position one day and then advocating the opposite, the SDLP must take first prize.

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The Assembly elected in 1998, after the Belfast agreement, was elected for a four-year term. I accept that there were periods when the Executive did not function, but Assembly Members continued to be paid and to hold office throughout that period. There was no election until November 2003, I believe. Mathematics was not my strongest subject at school, but I know enough to say that November 2003 back to May or June 1998 is a lot more than four years. Did we hear the SDLP— the largest nationalist party at that time—say, “This is dreadful! We must go back to the people. We must have an election”?

Mark Durkan: I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I, as leader of the SDLP at the time, advocated that the election, if it was to take place, should take place at the due time, on the due date. The British Government of the day said, “No. We have negotiations going on with the Ulster Unionist party and Sinn Fein. They need the summer to work at this and to move things on. They need more time.” I opposed moving the election day, and I imagine that John Reid, who was misquoted earlier, could confirm that that was the position I stated to him as Secretary of State.

Mr Donaldson: Just as, no doubt, the SDLP opposed the extension of local government terms that occurred in Northern Ireland. Let us not hear this drivel about how it is somehow undemocratic in principle to move the date of an election. When it suited the SDLP’s political purposes to have the term of the Assembly extended, the term of the Assembly was extended by fiat of the Northern Ireland Office—not even by coming to this House.

Mr Dodds: Given that these points were made so strongly by the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), it is right that we get the facts right. As for local government, this is not ancient history. Only in the last mandate, the term of local government was extended from elections in 2009 to elections in 2011, so that instead of serving four years, councillors had six years. The SDLP did not object—[Interruption.] It did not object. In fact, it supported the move.

Mr Donaldson: I thank my right hon. Friend for making precisely the point that I have been making: when it is politically advantageous for members of the SDLP to do something, principle does not come into it, but when they consider themselves potentially disadvantaged—I am not sure why they feel they in particular would be disadvantaged by this provision of the Bill—all of a sudden, they find a principle on which to take a stand. Well, we are not into revisionism. Madam Deputy Speaker, if you study the psychology of Northern Ireland, you will find that there are two different approaches to history: there is the revisionist approach, where you rewrite the facts to suit your argument, depending on where you are standing at the time; and then there is the approach that says that what is fact is fact, and it should be recorded as fact. On this issue—

Mark Durkan: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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Mr Donaldson: I think I have given way enough. The SDLP is backpedalling furiously on this issue. SDLP Members know the reality: they have decided to make a point on the Bill tonight, but it is a bogus point—one on which their own record, when it is subjected to scrutiny, does not stand up for a moment.

Today, we have heard from the leader of the SDLP about the need to make progress towards reconciliation. On this point, we are agreed: we do need to make progress towards reconciliation; we do need to address the issues of the past. I too was struck by the comments made by young Hannah Nelson last week at the Waterfront hall. She said, yes, we have a past and we most certainly cannot forget what happened in the past. We must acknowledge the hurt and the pain suffered during those dark, dark years of the troubles, and the victims need to be acknowledged and recognised. But we also want to help to move Northern Ireland forward. I really do not think it is helpful when during efforts to move Northern Ireland forward and to get a discourse, a dialogue, going about how to deal with those matters, people resort to old insults such as, “All you lot are bigots.” That really does not engender the sort of political climate we need to make progress on reconciliation. What must the young people of south Belfast be thinking this evening, when their Member of Parliament stands up in the House and describes the leading party of one side of the community in Northern Ireland as a bunch of bigots? Is that conducive to the kind of reconciliation that the hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) claims he wants to achieve?

What does not help reconciliation is having political parties that posture as being the moderate voice and, at the same time, take actions that can have only one effect, which is to cause hurt and pain on the other side of the political divide in Northern Ireland. That is why I challenged the hon. Gentleman on the point about reconciliation. It does not help when, in Newry and Mourne district council, councillors from his party support the renaming of a children’s play park in Newry after a dead IRA terrorist—and not just any dead IRA terrorist but a terrorist who was convicted of a number of offences, including possession of a weapon, which was used in the murder of 10 Protestants in Kingsmill in south Armagh.

One might think that a progressive party that claims to be a moderating voice and which wants to promote reconciliation might reflect for a moment on the fact that supporting the naming of a children’s play park after someone with such a record might be offensive to a section of our community, and might cause hurt to the families of those killed in the Kingsmill massacre. It might be a retrograde step for our wish to move Northern Ireland beyond the dark days that we witnessed in the past.

Mark Durkan: The right hon. Gentleman rightly speaks passionately about the feelings in this instance of the relatives of those who were murdered in such a vicious, sectarian way at Kingsmill. I have been on the record, as have party colleagues, both publicly and privately, saying that we thought what our councillors did at that time was a mistake. I have subsequently been advised by those councillors that this was not the first naming of the park—it was named 10 years ago, and the vote was simply to confirm the original decision. When the decision was first made, no objections were

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made by any Unionist councillor present, and the vote that my party colleagues supported was also a vote for a procedure that would ensure that it could not happen in future—nothing could be named in such a way again. I fully accept his criticism, but I urge him to look at the wider facts, and in saying so, I do not detract in any way from the important point that he has made in relation to the relatives of the Kingsmill massacre.

Mr Donaldson rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. We have gone a little wide of the Bill in the exchanges that have just occurred, but I think that this matter has been well aired on the Floor of the House. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman returned to the specific provisions in the Bill.

Mr Donaldson: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We welcome most of the Bill’s provisions. However, we will want to table a number of amendments in Committee. The past few years have been difficult and challenging. As the Secretary of State said—and she was echoed by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker)—the Bill, and the manner of the Bill, represents a mark of progress. We are beginning to deal with issues that one might describe as reasonably normal. Nevertheless, there is a legacy that we still need to address. I am not sure that the Bill is the right vehicle for taking the initiative, but there is a need to address elements of the legacy.

Like many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have not always regarded elements of the peace process as something we could fully embrace. It has been difficult—I accept that it has been difficult for both sides in Northern Ireland—and challenging. Elements of the peace process have caused people a lot of pain and hurt, not least the early release of prisoners, and so on.

However, there is one aspect that goes to the heart of the sense of injustice felt by many victims in Northern Ireland on both sides of the community. I am disappointed that the Bill has not yet provided us with an opportunity to address this and I think it ought to do so. That relates to the definition of a victim. In Northern Ireland at present—this is hard to believe, but it is true—a victim of the conflict, if I may use that term, is defined as anyone, no matter who or what they were, who lost their life in the course of the troubles.

Let us consider that for a moment. It includes, in effect, the people who pulled the trigger, who wore the balaclavas, who were members of illegal organisations, who planted the bombs and who skulked in the shadows if they lost their lives, sometimes through their own actions—killed by their own bomb, as in the case, for example, of Thomas Begley in the Shankill bombing in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). Thomas Begley blew himself up with his own bomb and murdered nine—I think it was—innocent people that day on the Shankill. Thomas Begley, under the definition of a victim, is as much a victim as the innocent men, women and children whom he killed that day on the Shankill road.

Equally, the definition covers the attack that occurred in Loughinisland in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Down, where six people were killed in a public bar while watching a World cup football game.

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They were killed by loyalist paramilitaries. The irony is that every one of those six victims is equated with the people who committed the murders. If, for example, one of the loyalist group that killed those six men subsequently lost his or her life, they would be regarded as a victim.

I cannot come to terms with that. I cannot believe that in dealing with the past—and we must address the legacy issues—we can continue to go forward with a definition that says, “If you were a child walking down the street or going into a fish shop on the Shankill road with your mother on a Saturday afternoon and your life was cruelly cut down, you are the same as the person who, that morning, planned the attack, primed and transported the bomb to the scene and then detonated the bomb.” I cannot accept ever that it is right to equate the bomber with the innocent civilian, no matter who or what side the victims came from.

Naomi Long: The current definition of a victim is a very sensitive issue and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is something that we need to discuss, but I take issue with what he suggests. The definition of a victim ensures that the needs of everyone who is a victim—for example, the mother of the bomber, who may have suffered real pain and grief, in the same way as the husband of an innocent person who was blown up—are addressed in the same way. What it does not do and what it should not do is create moral equivalence between the two people. We have to be careful how we treat individuals who have suffered, but accept that the definition does not create a moral equivalence, because it should not and it does not.

Mr Donaldson: The problem is that it creates a legal equivalence. That is the difficulty we have. When it comes to administering victims services—I was the victims Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive for a time—it creates a problem. When I was a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly I introduced a private Member’s Bill to change the definition of a victim, and I hear the point that the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) is making but, for me, the person who was engaged in a terrorist act when he or she lost their life ought not to be legally equated, even if in our minds they are not morally equated, with their innocent victims. I believe that is a matter for Parliament to address, which is why in considering the Bill we will want to explore it further with the Government. I am not convinced that there will be the circumstances in which we can get a political consensus in Northern Ireland on the definition of a victim, simply because of the nature of the parties we are dealing with.

The hon. Member for Belfast East talked about moral equivalence. I believe that Parliament has a moral responsibility to examine this issue, for the victims back home in Northern Ireland and indeed the victims here. I have talked with victims of bombings in Belfast and met victims’ groups here in London. I have met people who lost loved ones or were badly injured, for example in the Canary Wharf bomb, and they feel the same way. They do not believe that there should be this legal equivalence.

In conclusion, although we welcome many elements of the Bill, we believe that there are things that need to be addressed, and we look forward to raising those further in the course of our consideration of the Bill.

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8.55 pm

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): When my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) sat down to plan how best to celebrate her birthday, which is today, she probably had in mind some clubbing in Coatbridge, rather than sitting here for the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. However, I like to think that the evening she has spent in our company has been rewarding. I have no doubt that the whole House will join me in wishing her the happiest of birthdays and hope that this occasion has been something of a present for her.

I think that those who gently denigrated the Bill as some sort of sweeping-up Bill, portmanteau Bill or bits-and-pieces Bill missed the fact that crucially important business has been discussed here tonight. As we heard in the last speech, some of the most important issues we ever discuss in the House have been heard on the Floor tonight. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for the calm, sensible, serious and, above all, positive way in which she introduced the debate, and she was optimistic where optimism could be justified. I think that it was a first-class presentation that set the tone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), whom we must now call the senior shadow Secretary of State, as we have new categories, spoke marvellously. Listening to him speak about his adventures, and from the number of times he appears in Northern Ireland, one might wonder whether there are not dozens of doppelgangers, or Coaker clones, because how else could he be in so many places at the same time? I think that we are simply fortunate that there is just one of him, but one with an enormous amount of energy. His comments about the Theatre of Witness production of “From the Rubble” at St Ethelburga’s church were extremely well made, and we should all listen to that and perhaps see it ourselves. He also mentioned the National Crime Agency, as a number of Members did later, which I think is one of the many aspects that will be discussed in Committee, for there is much business to be done there.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), who chairs the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, showing his usual great respect for the House by flying in from Belfast, and probably missing his lunch, rightly paid credit to the role of the Committee—[Interruption.] He is nodding rather painfully, which implies that he did miss his lunch, so I hope that he has a decent supper tonight. Certainly, his work on pre-legislative scrutiny has been greatly appreciated.

The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) used an expression that we kept returning to in different forms. He talked about the stability that we take for granted. I will add that we must never take it for granted. He also introduced the role of Tony Blair. I was as delighted as the next person to hear the great former leader of our nation mentioned on the Floor of the House—[Interruption.] No, we need to hear about him more often. John Major was also mentioned, and for all I know Martin Mansergh and Albert Reynolds might have been mentioned, but I must have missed them. It was, as ever, a wise, serious and sagacious contribution from the right hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) tested the tolerance of the House. He claims to have spent many a year scoffing Ulster fries.

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The evidence before us—this slim youth in a well cut, well fitting suit and hardly a spare microgram of avoir-du-poids about his person—rather indicates that the closest he has ever come to an Ulster fry has been through the window of a café. However, he has time to make up for his past transgressions.

The hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell), I am glad to say, referred to a comment made by the shadow Secretary of State in our previous debate—that devolution does not mean disengagement. That is one of the most crucial statements we have heard and we must never, ever forget it.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) took us on a marvellous, magnificent tour d’horizon through the rolling mists of history. I knew that as soon as Lough Erne was mentioned, the “dreary steeples of Fermanagh” would come in somewhere; it had to happen. The hon. Gentleman spoke with that mixture of erudition, elegance and grace for which he is so well known.

On the subject of erudition and grace, I turn to the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), who again showed that, when it comes to understanding the basis of what we are talking about and cutting through the persiflage, very few can match her. She drew the House’s attention to the fact that this is only the second uninterrupted full term of the Assembly. We must never forget that; we are that close to how things used to be.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) referred to his grandfather from County Mayo and his experience on the Somme; I think the hon. Gentleman was immediately signed up to the Mayo Association on the basis of that. It was a good contribution that reminded us of how close the links are between our islands and how the bloodlines flow in both directions.

Rather worryingly, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) started to go into a cost-benefit analysis of representatives. A few Members looked a little anxious as he went down the various costs, values and benefits. When he then whipped from his pocket a series of multiple passports, we wondered whether he was supplementing his income with a bit of printing on the side. However, we all know that the hon. Gentleman is above that sort of thing. If, however, he happens to have a spare passport, I am sure that he will let us know.

I do not think I have ever heard the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) speak more movingly than he did tonight. We have heard some superb speeches from the hon. Gentleman and tonight’s was absolutely magnificent. He talked about moving at a proper pace, which is very important. We must realise that we cannot achieve everything overnight. He also talked about the increase in employment, particularly high-skilled employment, in his constituency. He then mentioned his proud history of topping the poll over 40 years in multi-Member constituencies. I am a great admirer of the hon. Gentleman’s music, of which I have quite a collection. One of my favourites of his songs is entitled “Still Blessed”. May I say that his constituents are still blessed?

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) once again revealed to us the sophisticated, cosmopolitan ambiance of Derry in referring to the “tapas Bill”.

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I have sat in Sandinos wondering what on earth “tapas” were—I thought they were something water came out of.


The Minister of State wants to know what “tapas” are; if somebody does know, perhaps they will tell him. The hon. Member for Foyle made the point that the “tapas Bill” had only slim strips of meat in it. I would say that there is a lot of meat and that even more will be discovered in Committee. It is very important that we pick up on these points.

Extremely important points were raised about donations from the Republic of Ireland. We cannot forget or stop talking about this issue. There are people who feel strongly where their homeland is and cannot accept talk of not receiving donations from somewhere just over the border.

The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) talked about the positive direction of travel. She also rather went off on an Agatha Christie track about the mysteries of South Down. Personally, I prefer Colin Bateman to Agatha Christie. If Colin Bateman were to venture a little south of Belfast, perhaps South Down, there is a mystery there for him to work on.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), with his marvellous analysis of revisionism, proved yet again that in certain parts of these islands only the future is certain and the past is always changing. He finished on an extremely serious point when he talked about the legacy, which is an issue that we cannot forget.

After all the speakers we have heard today, I have but one regret. There was one voice missing. I am a great admirer of the crystalline clarity—the pellucid prose—of the Strangford Seannachie. Sadly, that proud voice was silent tonight, but I suspect that we will hear it again, and again, and again.

Very important business has been discussed on the Floor of the House and will be discussed in Committee. There are clearly huge issues regarding representation, donations, transparency and the role of the Justice Minister that have not gone away and still need to be considered. We have had a good Second Reading debate; I do not think anyone can deny that. On occasion we have ranged rather further and wider than many of us thought we would, but it has been to a good end. We now have a basis for a proper discussion in Committee.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions and close with my initial comment: the Secretary of State spoke very wisely, sensibly and warmly when she introduced the Bill, and I thank and pay credit to her for that.

9.7 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mike Penning): It is a privilege and an honour to wind up this debate, which so many people have taken part in. I think that I counted 16 hon. Members who participated, and that will now include me, with some 20 interventions, so there has been a lot of generosity.

At the outset, let me reiterate the points made about the G8 and say how proud I was as Minister of State to be at Aldergrove with the Lord Lieutenant for the arrival of the Heads of State and Prime Ministers and to be the greeter on the tarmac. It was an honour and a privilege to be able to welcome the eight biggest leaders of the world to Northern Ireland, and then to receive the sort of comments that I have been getting back,

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particularly in the past couple of days from the Japanese, who were here early, stayed in the centre of Belfast, and were simply thrilled. Many people had concerns before they came—I think that is understandable—but Northern Ireland has shown them the way forward.

I pay tribute to the work of the Northern Ireland police force and the other agencies, particularly the 3,800-plus police from Great Britain who volunteered to come over to be part of the G8 and make it such a safe event. We now look ahead to the world police and fire games and the marching season. Perhaps I am being slightly naive, but I am very positive and believe that even though we may have some difficulties throughout the summer, Northern Ireland wants to go forward, as we have been saying.

I was a little concerned when the drafting of the Bill took place. Putting the word “miscellaneous” in the title of a Bill means that we will have a very wide-ranging debate on lots of different things. We can have that wide-ranging debate in Committee, which will be on the Floor of the House for clauses 1 to 9. It is right and proper that the debate has the time that it needs not only here, but up on the Committee Corridor.

I will not go through every hon. Member who has spoken, which the shadow Minister did brilliantly. I thank him for his kind comments about the Secretary of State. Hopefully he will say nice things about me in the future, but I very much doubt it. We have had a wide-ranging debate, as is right. Many hon. Members do not agree with each other on certain issues to do with the Bill and with how Northern Ireland is progressing, but this is where such issues should be debated and thrashed out.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) said that this Bill might not be the right place to talk about victims. I tend to agree with him on that. We need to find a way in which that debate can take place, but this miscellaneous Bill might not be the right place. However, I will consider the amendments that are tabled.

The Government considered carefully what could be in the Bill as normalisation progresses. I agree with the many hon. Members who have said that we need to be careful. We do not want to lose what we have got by going too fast, but we do not want the situation to stagnate.

I am sorry if the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) feels that there has been some kind of conspiracy. I will not go as far as the shadow Minister. I assure her that not just the Secretary of State but the Government have looked carefully at extending the term. Having said that, I have had no conversations with the Prime Minister about it and I do not think that the Secretary of State has either, and she has sat through nearly the whole debate. The decision was made by us in the Northern Ireland Office and by the Government. I believe that extending the term to 2016 is right and proper. I hope and expect that the other devolved Assemblies will take that forward. A consultation did take place, but one large party did not take part in it. However, it did give its views to me and the Secretary of State.

Ms Ritchie rose—

Mike Penning: I will not give way, because I have to sit down in the next few minutes, but there will be plenty of time to debate that matter in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading.

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The Government are adamant that we want to move towards openness about donations to political parties. I think that everybody agrees that it would be wrong to bring that in retrospectively. We will not expose people who have already given donations in good faith to that.

The hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) said that there is no longer such a risk. I hope that I am summarising her comments correctly. All I can say is that every day, I consider appeals against refusals for close protection weapons and home protection, where the system has ruled that somebody does not need those things.

Naomi Long rose—

Mike Penning: No, I will not give way.

I have to consider such decisions every day because the situation is not normalised. If one person is put at risk, that is not right. We consider such cases individually and the security agencies and the police are there to help us with that.

It is wrong in a democracy to say that if a person is not willing to put themselves at risk, they should not be able to donate. In a democracy, we want people to participate. We want people to stand for office. We have heard about the bravery of people who have stood for office, whether in a council, at the Assembly or in Parliament, over many years. However, there are other ways to be brave in the democratic process. There are people and families who want to support politicians and participate in local democracy. It is important that people and companies want to put their hard-earned money into a political party. It helps the party and it helps to promote democracy within their society. We will look closely at that matter.

There is nothing personal in stopping dual mandates. I assure the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) of that. We are just following the trend of the political parties in Northern Ireland and putting into statute what was started many years ago.

There are matters that we can discuss at length in Committee and there will be amendments that we can consider. However, we must realise what the Bill is about. It is about process and the normalisation of Northern Ireland. It is about ensuring that Northern Ireland can get as close as possible to the democracy and institutions that the rest of the United Kingdom has, which is what we all want. I have not had time to go through every comment and detail. We will address some of them in correspondence before the Committee stage, so that hon. Members know the Government’s view. This has been the sort of good and wide-ranging debate that the House is renowned for, and is exactly the sort of debate that we should be having. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.