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“Mr Robinson, Mr Nesbitt and Mr Elliott all argued that security and commercial risk to donors were intrinsically intertwined”.

The responsibility for setting the timetable for removing anonymity must, in our view, remain with the Secretary of State, as is the current position under the Bill. We would urge caution as to when the decision is considered, as we noted on Second Reading, when the Secretary of State gave us an undertaking that there would be consultation not just with the Electoral Commission but with the security forces and political parties. That is absolutely right and proper.

For those reasons, we support the consensus behind the Bill and urge colleagues to consider carefully the importance and significance of our amendment 6.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): It has been a pleasure to listen to the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), and the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long). They made very thoughtful contributions, and I appreciate being able to listen to them.

I entirely appreciate, from my own family experience, the challenges as to why there had to be anonymity in Northern Ireland for so many years. I entirely support that, for the reasons that others have mentioned. I have a great deal of sympathy for amendment 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley and the hon. Member for Belfast East, which refers to a £7,500

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threshold and has a provision giving people 18 months or so to make whatever substantial donations they make. A lot of thought has gone into the amendment, and in many respects I instinctively understand and appreciate it. The right hon. Member for Belfast North argued for allowing the Secretary of State to have flexibility up until October, because, sadly, the reality in Northern Ireland is that even though there have been enormous advances, things can change on a sixpence. The arguments are therefore very finely tuned.

A key part of normalisation is to make everything as equitable as possible between Northern Ireland and the UK. I fully understand the reasons for the length of time that the process has been given. I think that we are being very sensible in drawing to a close on this. If the Government cannot accept amendment 2, will the Minister categorically assure me that come October 2014 they would be absolutely cognisant of the fact that if another inappropriate excuse for a delay were implemented, it would be a very sad day for this House and for Northern Ireland? I suppose that some eagle-eyed observers will recognise that I am struggling slightly with this and reading between the lines. I would welcome our having equalisation come October 2014. That transparency is vital, and it is the next and final stage. I urge the Minister to make it very clear that while we retain the discretion up until 2014, our default position is to move towards normalisation expeditiously.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): On amendments 7 and 8, tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), I sympathise with the argument that if we stick unquestioningly to the date of October 2014 there is a danger that the same excuse will be given that the security situation does not permit us to move to more transparent arrangements. It is as if the date has been picked almost as a gesture to pseudo-transparency and the hon. Lady is testing that by proposing that it be brought forward. I sympathise with that, but January 2014 would be cutting it a bit fine, given that I assume the Bill will only get to the Lords this autumn.

I believe, however, that there is a case for bringing the date forward from October 2014. Bills are often enacted at the beginning of the financial year and I see no reason why that should not also be the case with this Bill. Members might point out that there are elections due next year, but I would have thought that a starting date of the beginning of the financial year would adequately and competently address the problem. I certainly do not think that the starting date should be after next year’s two intended elections, because that would make it look as though we were legislating with them in mind and almost allowing last orders for donations.

If January were the only date available before October, I would support amendments 7 and 8. I ask the Minister to consider bringing the date forward, because it looks as though the date of October has been set with next year’s elections in mind. Many people are also concerned that, come October, the can will be kicked down the road yet again.

Amendment 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) and the hon. Member for Belfast East, seeks to ensure that the real commencement date for transparency is made absolutely clear and unambiguous. We heard on Second Reading, and the Minister has told us in an intervention today, that there is no intention

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retrospectively to reveal donations, even those made in recent years. A signal has to be sent, however, that there will be a date from which a record of all donations can be revealed when the circumstances allow it. That needs to be made clear and explicit. That is what amendment 2 calls for and I support it, because I do not think the public believe political parties when we tell them that transparency, definition and certainty are not possible and that we cannot give them an unambiguous commencement date for transparency. Amendment 2 goes someway to addressing that deficit in public credence.

As I indicated on Second Reading, I am sensitive to the many risks and threats that people may have experienced because of their involvement in Northern Ireland politics, whether as a candidate, the family member of a candidate, an activist, a member or a donor. However, there comes a point when the public feel that the arguments about security are overdone and are an excuse for secrecy. They are not sure whether secrecy is in the interests of the parties or whether it truly ensures the safety of the donors.

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There is even blurring as to what the donor sensitivity is. There might be commercial or customer sensitivity if somebody is seen to be giving to a particular party. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) pointed out in evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, when people are known to have given to one party, it makes them susceptible to approaches from other parties. I am not sure that that fully answers the question, if the point is that we will know that somebody gave £1,000 to X party one week and £2,000 to us the next. A lot of that information seems to circulate and get out in Northern Ireland anyway. Many people have impressions, reliable or not, of who are the significant donors to various parties.

People often attend party dinners or events at constituency level and are not particularly sensitive about appearing at such events in various publications. There are people who attend events that are attached to several parties. They have their own reasons, justifications and rationales for doing so. It is therefore not the case that everybody is paralysed about doing anything that shows support for or engagement in political parties. We must weigh carefully how far the genuine arguments about commercial sensitivity and security can be deemed to override the compelling requirements for transparency.

I also said on Second Reading that transparency is not needed just so that people can see who is supporting the election costs of particular parties and might therefore have influence on them; it really matters when parties are in a position to take or influence key decisions. The case for transparency has become more compelling in the context of devolution, because many parties take many different decisions. Indeed, parties not only take decisions, but have the ability to prevent Ministers of other parties from taking decisions. Those powers of veto can be exercised on behalf of vested interests as much as they can in the interests of Ministers’ Executive powers or people’s powers at Assembly or local council level. Of course, the councils will be taking on more powers, including over planning. That makes these matters more sensitive.

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Other hon. Members have referred to the recent television programme and the issues that have arisen from it. On Second Reading, I put it on the record that my party colleague, Alex Attwood, took the initiative when he became the Environment Minister for Northern Ireland of saying that he would tell officials if he was aware that the person behind a planning application or the person who made a significant objection to a planning application was a donor to his party, so that the information could be recorded and the officials could handle the matter at a sufficient distance from the Minister. The officials made the point that that had not happened before and that it was not necessarily required, but in his view it was required. When we now hear stories, impressions and accusations ricocheting around in relation to companies and political parties and who may be on donor lists, the public concern is palpable. We cannot in this House ignore that. The parties in Northern Ireland, even those who have defended extending security cover and security sensitivity, cannot ignore that. When there are so many questions, people cannot take as the answer, “Well, there is still a compelling need for secrecy and we cannot afford transparency at any level.”

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. On his point about the Environment Minister for Northern Ireland notifying officials when a potential SDLP donor is involved in a planning application, does he know whether that information, when lodged with officials, is subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and is it available to a member of the public?

Mark Durkan: As I understand it, it is not, not least because it is not a compelling point. He informs his officials and the matter is handled in a particular way, but that does not put anybody at any risk. I do not believe that Alex Attwood is inadvertently trying to find a way around the provisions and the whole question of protecting things on a retrospective basis; it is about him as a Minister being honest with his officials and with the responsibility entrusted to him to exercise good, clear, honest and independent judgment. It is also about allowing his officials to do that as well, because many of the issues that have arisen in recent days involve concerns that Ministers are intruding into what officials are doing—that Ministers are being overactive in their Departments in relation to matters being handled at an official level. Questions arise about who meets Ministers and whether they record and declare those meetings fully, and whether they account for those meetings in response to questions in Committees. When those questions are being asked, we need to address transparency requirements.

It will not fall to this House and the Bill to provide all the answers to remedy the situation: the Executive and the Assembly will have to address tightening the ministerial code on ministerial meetings and donations. On Second Reading, I made the point that this issue does not just relate to planning decisions, and recent events relate to significant public contracts and public appointments. There have been a lot of questions on whether public appointments in Northern Ireland always follow the standard they are meant to follow. Many people would anecdotally suggest that there is too much coincidence and pattern in some public appointments.

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Those are all reasons why we need more transparency. The fact that Northern Ireland is a small place is often used as a reason why we cannot have too much transparency. When I was a Minister, I would have made it known to a civil servant if a relative of mine was appointed to something. I would not have made the appointment, but it would have been for me to take official note of it. I wanted to disclose that, rather than have somebody else find out later on. Where relatives might have had a perceived interest in a particular project, or even a rival project, I would again have made a point of always declaring it. Of course, I was often told by civil servants, “Look, you can’t do that every time. Northern Ireland is too small a place. You can hardly walk down a street without bumping into people. You couldn’t throw a stone without hitting somebody that you know or are related to.” [Laughter.] That is not particularly good advice and is not the way I would usually want to make contact with people—even I might tweet first before doing that. The smallness of Northern Ireland can become an excuse for not having proper standards of transparency. That smallness is one of the reasons why it is necessary. The danger is that slippage in one area becomes an excuse for slipperiness in another. We should not allow that to happen. I have been definite about my support for making stronger moves on transparency, which is why I support amendment 2.

Vernon Coaker: On increasing transparency, does my hon. Friend think that the confidence of people in Northern Ireland would be increased if there was a statutory duty in the Bill to consult with the PSNI before arrangements were changed?

Mark Durkan: That could well be a pertinent point; the shadow Secretary of State makes a very good point. When it comes to security concerns, in many other instances, we treat the Chief Constable almost as an oracle. No doubt, the Minister will tell us that in any decision that he and the Secretary of State take, they reference information from the Chief Constable and other intelligence assessments, but it would be useful if that was in the Bill. Similarly, there is the role of the Electoral Commission; we know of its support for the amendments.

Amendment 6 would remove the right of anybody resident in the south of Ireland to make a donation to a party operating in the north of Ireland. I addressed this issue on Second Reading. I represent a border constituency in a regional city that serves both sides of the border in the north-west and which has strong links with neighbouring towns and areas. As such, the economic interest of the north-west is of cross-border economic interest. The same goes for the social fabric of the north-west: most families have a strong cross-border dimension, with many people living and working on a cross-border basis. Many people who work in the north live in the south, and vice versa, which is reflected in complicated—more so than they should be—arrangements for cross-border workers in respect of tax credits and other things.

When such cross-border life is part of the come-and-go flow of life, it extends to politics as well, because people have a strong interest in what happens in the region and want to offer political support, particularly if they are living temporarily in the south, but are from the north

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originally and might live there again or if they live in the south and have strong business interests in the north. It is natural. They do not regard themselves as being abroad when working or living in Donegal or Derry. They do not regard themselves as engaging in daily international travel.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The Member is coming very, very close to asking Donegal to return to the United Kingdom.

Mark Durkan: No, I’m not. Donegal is well placed where it is, so close to Derry, and Derry is well placed and well favoured where it is, so close to the bounteous beauty of County Donegal.

At a wider level, there are parties in Northern Ireland that see us as being part of the body politic of the island as a whole—it is our natural body politic, just as the population of the UK as a whole is the natural body politic for those of a Unionist identity in Northern Ireland. The idea, therefore, that when it come to our politics—our political agenda, our political offer, our appeal for support—our natural broader political hinterland, our natural political family, should be precluded from giving political donations to us would be wrong and unequal. It would be absolutely wrong if Unionist parties were able to receive donations the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, including the whole of the island of Great Britain, to which they have such affinity, but nationalist parties in Northern Ireland could not receive contributions from people throughout the island of Ireland who want to support them.

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There are some parties, such as Sinn Fein currently, that are organised on an all-Ireland basis. They should not be precluded by any new arrangement from being supported in that way. The option is available for other parties as well. My party operates support groups in the south, and always has done. The ability to operate support groups in the south was one of the things that gave many people in the south of Ireland a responsible and effective channel through which to back constitutional nationalism and support the sorts of things that we now have in the Good Friday agreement during the dark years of violence from physical-force republicans and intransigence from “No! Never!” Unionism. It is important that the wider contribution—the literal contribution—of people throughout the island should be respected.

However, I note the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee’s concerns that, in allowing continued donations from the Republic, care must be taken to ensure that only legitimate donations pass muster and that donations cannot be used as any sort of cover for getting round the wider provisions on truly international donations. That can be addressed not just by clearly requiring that donations can come only from those on the register in the Republic, but by adding clearly that anybody making a donation must make a formal declaration, for which they will be liable, that it is their money and has not been given to them by anybody else from anywhere else. Similarly, that declaration should have to be made by those receiving the money.

The system has to be made compelling in that way, because we have had enough of all the pseudo-transparency, where parties say, “Oh, our money comes this way and

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that way, and we publish things on the website.” However, as the hon. Member for Amber Valley said, when we go looking for the things that are supposedly published on the website, they are not there. I therefore totally oppose amendment 6.

Naomi Long: Just to clarify, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is not referring to my party’s website, where such information is easily found? I understand who he is alluding to, but it is not us.

Mark Durkan: I assure the hon. Lady and her party colleagues that I certainly did not want any stray fire to land on their reputation in that regard, so I am glad to affirm that point.

However, our opposition to amendment 6 is about putting things on a level playing field for all the parties in Northern Ireland, whether nationalist, Unionist or neither. As political realignment hopefully takes shape over the years to come, there will be all sorts of shifts in how parties present themselves, on either an all-Ireland or a wider-UK basis, and how far their nationalism or Unionism is emphasised. That is why donations should be available for parties from throughout the UK and from throughout the island of Ireland. That seems to me to be fair.

Mr Dodds: I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying about both the donor and the recipient making a declaration. Currently, the rules mean that individuals or companies in the Irish Republic can provide funding to Northern Ireland parties, but that is not permissible when it comes to funding for parties in the Irish Republic, so the position is even worse. How does he think his suggestion can combat that problem?

Mark Durkan: The right hon. Gentleman raises a point that throws up the conundrum that, although we are trying to legislate for Northern Ireland in broad conformity with UK legislation as it is applied for parties here, because of the circumstances in Northern Ireland, the exception is to allow donations from the south. Then there is the discrepancy in the donations rules for people in the south, whereby they can donate under one set of rules to parties in the south and under another set to parties in the north. Perhaps there is a case for saying that we should try to arrive at some conformity on donations across the island of Ireland, or that donations from the south of Ireland should conform to the southern Irish rules as well. I do not have a problem with trying to finesse some of these issues so that we are not left with too many obvious conundrums. However, the answer to the question that the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) has asked is not provided by amendment 6. It is not the answer to his very valid, pertinent and relevant question about the different standards for people from the south contributing donations.

I made the point on Second Reading that there were many people in the south who were originally from the north, or perhaps from this island, who had a valid and benevolent interest in the affairs of the north and who continued to make a contribution there, often through membership of public bodies. I also made the point that not all of them had been appointed to such bodies by nationalist Ministers. If such people are seen to have a

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valid role and to make a credible input in the best interests of Northern Ireland by way of a public appointment, I do not see why they should be precluded from doing so by way of donations to political parties.

Mr Laurence Robertson: It is a pleasure to follow all the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken so far. I intend to make only a brief contribution to the debate, as many of the points have already been raised. I note that amendment 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), uses the word “may”, rather than “shall”, which is in keeping with the rest of the clause that he is seeking to amend. The Select Committee feels that we should move forward in this respect, and that we should try to normalise politics in Northern Ireland. I know that that was the ambition of the previous Secretary of State and the previous Minister, and it is fair to say that it is also the ambition of the current holders of those positions. It has been our guiding principle. Each and every political party that the Committee spoke to during the course of the inquiry approved of moving towards greater transparency.

Everyone on the Committee, myself included, recognises that there is a different security situation in Northern Ireland. The Committee has had a sufficient number of meetings, and paid a sufficient number of visits to Northern Ireland, to understand that fact. Further to my earlier intervention on the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), a question that has frequently been asked is: why should the arrangements be different for donors and for those who participate in the elections? The right hon. Gentleman gave an explanation for why people might want to be donors but not candidates, and I understand that, but I am still not clear why a donor should be at greater risk or under a greater threat than someone who is standing for office for a political party. I would have thought that it was the other way round. People who support a candidate, largely by signing nomination papers, would surely expose themselves to the same risk.

It has been pointed out that if a business makes a donation, it could put them at a commercial disadvantage, but it is up to the business to make that decision. There is a Co-operative store close to my office in Tewkesbury. The Co-op has supported the Labour party for many years, and I have to make the decision whether to go and buy a carton of milk and a newspaper from that shop. It happens to be close to my office and very convenient, so I do that. I do not think that businesses should be able to hide behind the argument of a security risk in order to protect their business interests. If they make a donation to a particular party in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in Great Britain, they should take that commercial risk. That should be part of the normal run of politics.

I am somewhat intrigued by the substantive clause inasmuch as it allows the Secretary of State to increase transparency, but does not allow her to reduce it. Having looked very closely at the provisions, I am still slightly confused on this point. If the Secretary of State increases transparency, can she reduce it at some later date? In other words, she cannot reduce transparency from where it stands now, but can she reduce it if she has increased it in the future?

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I make that point because if she cannot reduce it, where have we got to? What would be the difference from what my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley proposes? Let us say that the Secretary of State increases transparency, but in the year after that, the security situation—heaven forbid—got worse, so that she had to come back to introduce primary legislation to change that position. In those circumstances, I do not really see what would be any different from my hon. Friend’s proposal.

The Select Committee and I would certainly be against the publication of any information retrospectively when donors have made donations in the belief that that would not be the case. I am slightly concerned about the wording in clause 1, however, which it states:

“Such information may be disclosed if the Commission believe, on reasonable grounds, that…the relevant person has consented”.

We tried to strengthen that provision, saying that there had to be evidence that the person had consented. The Government response was that if they adopted our proposal, it would create an absolute offence and a mistake could be made. I am not completely persuaded by that argument. I think that the clause does need strengthening to ensure that a mistake cannot be made in this respect and that there has to be a clear indication from the person or organisation that made the donation that permission has been given for any such disclosure. I thus seek clarification from the Minister on those points.


Jim Shannon: I would like to say a few quick words on amendment 2, as proposed by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), and to put a different perspective on it. First, however, I wish to say that I have had a number of discussions with the hon. Gentleman and that we have served in the Finance Bill Committee together, as we have on Delegated Legislation Committees. I know that his interest is sincerely held and it is one that I respect. I was nevertheless struck as I read the briefing for this debate by its tone, and I would suggest that there is a reason for caution—anything further being an exaggeration.

My party, the Democratic Unionist party, is very much in favour of openness and transparency. We are also well aware of the security situation in Northern Ireland and of the fact that the dissidents are still very much on operations, which means that we cannot have one-size-fits-all legislation. It cannot happen; it is not like for like. Those who say that the people should stand up to intimidation show only the fact that they do not care or perhaps do not understand that people in Northern Ireland still live a life that carries a degree of anxiety—not just in historical cases, but in issues that are still ongoing today for communities across the whole of Northern Ireland. I accept that it is not to the same extent as in the past, but none the less there are still threats in my constituency and in others across Northern Ireland.

As someone who, like others, works within the community, I understand the real fear that people experience and I do not believe that it can be so easily dismissed as some people have suggested. Our security situation cannot be regulated to a date, as dissidents certainly do not respond to deadlines. Although I fully understand and agree with the necessity for transparency that has been put forward, this cannot be put before the security concerns of people and businesses, which are real and

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justified. To suggest otherwise would be to hope naively for the best, which is a good thing in principle, but not when people’s lives are at stake.

I have to say—I hate to say it, as well—that extortion of a sectarian nature is not a thing of the past when it comes to Northern Ireland. It still happens today; incidents are taking place. There is a very real possibility that if a business is seen to be donating to political parties, it might come under pressure to donate to other groups, perhaps those of an unsavoury nature. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) said to the Committee, businesses can feel that they have been boycotted by customers whom they have had for years. There is a real issue for those people; it is not an exaggeration or a remote ideal. Is this what is intended by the legislation before us tonight? I do not believe so. I do not believe that the Bill is intended to scare off people who wish to contribute to a party. However, that will be a side-effect of it. People will fear that their homes, their businesses or, indeed, their families will be at risk, and that cannot be ignored by any Member in any part of the House.

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I do not believe that we have reached a stage at which people can freely publicise their political ideals in any circumstances without fear of reprisal. As I have said before, in this debate and in others, security concerns are paramount for me, and they should be paramount for the House when it legislates. Can I, in all conscience, legislate in a way that would put people at risk because they support a political party, as is their right? I do not believe that I can, and I sincerely ask all other Members whether they can do likewise.

We must be open, but we must also be wise. I believe that wisdom dictates that the status quo should be extended for a further two years, as proposed by the Minister and by earlier speakers, and that it should be judged again at that stage. I do not believe that we will never reach a stage at which publication becomes safe, and I firmly believe that that is the direction in which we should be heading, but the fact that we see a signpost to a destination does not mean that we have arrived, and in this instance “better safe than sorry” definitely applies.

I cannot support amendment 2, but I commend amendment 6, which was tabled by members of my party and presented very eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North. I believe that it presents us with a way forward in the Province.

Ms Ritchie rose—

The Temporary Chairman (Mr Philip Hollobone): The hon. Lady has been very patient, and now her moment has arrived.

Ms Ritchie: Thank you, Mr Hollobone. I wish to speak to amendments 7 and 8 and amendment 6.

Given that we are living in a more normal society in Northern Ireland—although the degree of that normality varies, and we have seen it ebb and flow over the last few months—I believe that the anonymity relating to donations could now be lifted, not necessarily next October but perhaps at an earlier date, as suggested by the hon. Members for Belfast East (Naomi Long) and for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills).

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I cannot disagree with what I understand to be the intended purpose of the amendments. It is important that, in trying to achieve a greater level of political maturity and in the practice of politics generally, we strive to achieve the highest standards of public life, whether we are serving our constituents or executing our parliamentary duties here at Westminster and in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The public ask us to serve them, and the duty to serve them is in our contract with them when we are elected as members of political parties. The electorate rightly demand from us the highest standards in public office in the execution of that contract, and it is important for the guiding principles of transparency, openness and accountability to constitute not just the pillars on which our fledgling democracy is built, but the rules that govern donations to political parties serving us in public life and wider civic society.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), I acknowledge that there may be concern about security issues—concern that was expressed by the leader of our party when he gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. There is a need to protect donors, because some of them—and some parties —fear that they may might be at risk from a terrorist or other threat. However, if we have learned anything over the last few months—and over the last few days, when television programmes have contained revelations about alleged political interference in certain bodies—it is the importance of giving some form of resilience and confidence to the public.

In that respect, I do not have any problem in supporting the amendments of the hon. Member for Belfast East, although it will not come as a surprise to learn that I do not support the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) because like my party colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), I believe we live in the island of Ireland. I believe that fervently as a democratic Irish nationalist, but notwithstanding that, I represent a border constituency, and many people at the southern end of it daily travel to places of employment in County Louth. They pay taxes sometimes in both the north of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. They also have their children educated in the north, and they buy goods and services in the south and the north. There is that exchange of ideas and people. They view people in County Louth, albeit it is in the south of Ireland—in the Republic of Ireland, a different jurisdiction—as their neighbours and friends. In those circumstances, with that exchange of people and ideas, I cannot support this amendment. I am sure DUP Members will perfectly understand where the parliamentary party of the SDLP is coming from in that respect.

I also believe that we need to see progress on a whole range of matters, however. Mr Haass has been appointed today to chair the all-party talks on flags and emblems and reconciliation. It is important that we move towards that in the next phase of devolution so we can see the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement, including support from the British Government for a Bill of Rights that is dedicated to the needs and requirements of Northern Ireland.

Lady Hermon: May we clarify one little point of conflict between the hon. Lady and her colleague, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan)? He supported

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the thrust of the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), but he suggested that January was a bit too soon and perhaps the tax year would be better. However, the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) has just said she supports the amendments of the hon. Member for Belfast East, so is it January, or is it March and the tax year, or has the hon. Member for South Down got further ideas?

Ms Ritchie: It was my very clear understanding that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle said that if the hon. Member for Belfast East were to press her amendment to a Division, he, like me, would support her—although I think I might be a Teller in such a Division. We in the SDLP believe that there is a need to move towards greater transparency and accountability. That can be balanced against the political progress we are making in the interests of the public good and, above all, the wider needs of society in Northern Ireland, because the experience of the last few weeks tells us that the public want politics to move in that direction. They want us, while serving them, to exercise our job in the right and proper and accountable manner.

Stephen Pound: We have heard a great deal this evening about the threats and dangers that could possibly be attracted to party political donors. It is perhaps salutary to mention that if such threats exist to those who donate to political parties, credit should be given to those who have the courage to participate fully in the democratic process as candidates and elected representatives, and perhaps we in this House do not give enough credit to those who sit with us in this Chamber and who take the most extraordinary risks in conditions that are frequently beyond the imagining of us on this side of the water. Many right hon. and hon. Members sitting here tonight have had very close personal experiences in that regard, so when we talk about the threat to donors let us also salute the courage of those who participate fully in the democratic process.

May I, in these brief remarks, say that I thought that the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) showed his fine—I was going to say almost Jesuitical subtlety but he probably would not thank me for that—analysis of the situation when he referred to the need to advance incrementally and organically? It is one thing to legislate, but we cannot legislate for human behaviour; we cannot demand that people’s behaviour and instincts change, and that society and culture change, because a piece of law has been approved in this House. A cultural change, an organic change, has to take place, and that is, of necessity, a slow process; it is an incremental process. None of us disagrees with the desirability of the destination; we all want to be in that place. It is the road map and the route we are talking about today. In the particular circumstances of politics in Northern Ireland, proceeding festina lente—I hope hon. Members will forgive me a spot of Latin—should be our watchword on this occasion. In recognition of that, the proceeding slowly and cautiously option is by far the best one. I look forward to hearing from the Minister, possibly also on the subject of transparency of the Conservative party in Northern Ireland.

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Mike Penning: It is a pleasure to serve on this Committee of the whole House under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As usual, we have had a wide-ranging debate on the provisions. I wish to make two personal comments. First, may I apologise on behalf of the Secretary of State, who would have been here but for the fact that, as Opposition Members know, it is right and proper that she is in the Province this evening as there are important matters to be dealt with there? It is right and proper that I acknowledge that she would have been here and she particularly wanted to deal with clauses 1 and 2. May I also say a personal thank you to right hon. and hon. friends in the House who have sent me notes and stopped me in the corridors following the tragic loss that my family have had in the past couple of days? The comradeship of this House has helped me through, especially as I was giving evidence to the Select Committee when my father-in-law passed away.

This debate has taken place with the perfect tone, and people watching this debate, particularly if they are doing so in Northern Ireland—I hope they are and I hope the BBC covers it properly—will be impressed. We probably all disagree about many of the issues; one of my colleagues came up to me saying, “Who agrees on what here?” We all agree that Northern Ireland has come a huge distance in the past 15 years but still has quite a long way to go. I would love to be able to stand here and say that I can agree with amendments 7, 8 and 2, but I cannot.

The office I hold means that I see things that I had hoped I would never see, and there are things I cannot repeat on the Floor of this House. May I pay tribute, as the shadow Minister did, to those who stand for office in Northern Ireland, whether in this House or any other elected body, because they stick their head about the parapet? As so many in this House, in the Assembly and in local government know, that very often puts them and their families under threat. We heard on Second Reading about the terrible atrocities of the past. Sadly, some of those threats remain today. Of course I add the caveat that we have come an awful long way but, as I said on Second Reading, I have to look daily at protection for people—close protection weapons, home protection and so on. Some of these people are elected but the vast majority are just going about their normal work to protect us. Sometimes they are not even in the public sector. I know we will never be in a perfect situation in which there is no threat to anybody, but while there is a threat I must be very careful to ensure that those who wish to donate and their loved ones are not put at risk by revealing their identities. Clauses 1 and 2 move us forward, slowly but surely, as we have for the past 15 years, and I thank the shadow Minister for supporting me in that regard. As I said, we would all love to be in a completely different position. I know that some hon. Members do not agree with me, and I completely respect them and their view, but the Bill moves us forward, although perhaps not at the speed that some would like.

7.15 pm

Naomi Long: I acknowledge that the Bill moves us forward. That is welcome and I welcomed it on Second Reading. Will the Minister clarify exactly how my amendments 7 and 8 would pose any threat to security, given that all they would provide is that from January any donations made would be subject to publication once the Secretary of State deemed it was safe to publish?

9 July 2013 : Column 291

Mike Penning: I completely understand where the hon. Lady is coming from. The whole Bill went through pre-legislative scrutiny, and we are not discussing semantics —it is much more serious than that. We are saying that the Secretary of State will take the powers and that, if we are in a secure position, we will move forward. As mentioned earlier—I think the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), asked about this—the Secretary of State also has the statutory power to revoke.

Lady Hermon: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for taking a second intervention so soon after the first. I was very concerned when the Minister wound up on Second Reading and used an expression that struck me—and, I am sure, other right hon. and hon. Members —at the time:

“If one person is put at risk, that is not right.”—[Official Report, 24 June 2013; Vol. 565, c. 118.]

Although I cannot speak for others, I inferred that if one donor felt he or she was at risk the transparency measures would not be lifted by the Northern Ireland Office. Will the Minister take this opportunity to clarify when it will ever be the right time—when we have no risk at all?

Mike Penning: That is a good intervention. I read what I said the following day, as all good Ministers should—as all good Members should, to be honest—and I was speaking metaphorically. I was not speaking about an actual physical individual, because of course that would be a crazy situation. We would never, as hon. Members have said, get into a position where there was no threat to anybody. Let me clarify: I was speaking in general terms, rather than individually.

Let me touch on the threat. My job is not only to ensure, along with the Electoral Commission, that the electoral system in Northern Ireland runs properly but to ensure the national security of Northern Ireland. There might be concerns about individual businesses, and I think that this applies to businesses that give donations to any political party in the UK—we have talked about the Co-op—and they suffer any consequences, but that is completely separate from the intimidation and personal threats I see daily.

The shadow Secretary of State asked whether it should be on the face of the Bill that the PSNI should be a consultant. This subject is much more wide ranging than the PSNI; we could do that, but we do not need to. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, it is more wide ranging and involves the other security services that are helping us and that helped us so brilliantly during the G8.

Amendment 6 stands in the name of the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). I am told that I should not say this, but I have some sympathy with the argument, in that we need to move forward. I will not accept the amendment—he probably understands that—but if we are talking about normalisation, I accept that there need to be discussions between the Government in the south, us, and all the political parties on how we can get to a slightly better position. I very much take on board the point that the Good Friday agreement set out that there is a different situation in Northern Ireland when it comes to donations and political parties. Of course, there is a cross-Ireland political party that has had Members elected to this House, but it is not represented in the Chamber today.

9 July 2013 : Column 292

I am committed to ongoing discussions, and to seeing how we can move the issue forward. I cannot accept amendment 6, but as that commitment is, I think, roughly what the right hon. Gentleman asked me to give, hopefully he is happy with that. I ask hon. Members to withdraw amendments 7, 8, 2 and 6, and commend clauses 1 and 2 to the Committee.

Naomi Long: I thank hon. Members for their contributions. When we discuss this issue, it is natural that we focus heavily on the threat to donors from terrorism. I do not dismiss that, and I do not dismiss the point that the threat level is severe. However, no compelling evidence was presented to the Select Committee during our inquiry to show that the threat specifically targeted donors. People remain willing to sign councillors’ nomination papers—people who do not want to lift their head above the parapet and be elected representatives, but who are willing to have that information published.

The Chairman of the Select Committee highlighted clearly that a boycott could happen in any part of the United Kingdom, and that that is not a compelling reason for the current arrangements, so we need to be cautious about conflating those two things. However, although we naturally focus heavily on the security threat, we must also focus heavily on the wider threat to the political process that the lack of transparency is becoming in Northern Ireland. The suspicion that politics operates for the benefit of those with the means to buy influence is utterly corrosive to the democratic process. It taints all of us as politicians, and it puts the institutions under threat, as the public disengage from politics as a result of that perception.

Confidence in Northern Ireland politics is at a low ebb, and only through increased transparency, and increased speed of delivery of transparency, can we meaningfully address that. I have listened carefully to what the Minister said, and while I understand and accept many of his points, I cannot accept that a coherent argument has been made to say that amendments 7 and 8 would pose any threat to the security of any individual.

Mike Penning: I know that the Select Committee took evidence, but a lot of the evidence that could perhaps have convinced the hon. Lady could not be given to the Select Committee. She cannot see the evidence that we see daily. Nobody in this House is more determined that there should be democracy than I am, but to push something forward without that knowledge is dangerous.

Naomi Long: The evidence that I am seeking is not evidence of the security threat. The evidence that I am referring to is evidence that amendments 7 and 8 would in any way compromise anyone’s security. The amendments leave it to the Secretary of State to decide when that information should be made public—she currently has that power—but make it clear that anyone making a donation after January 2014 will eventually have that fact made public when the Secretary of State and the Minister of State are confident that it is safe to do so, in the light of all the information that they see and we ordinary Members of Parliament do not. There is no compelling argument against amendments 7 and 8; they are supported by the Electoral Commission, and I would like to press them to a vote.

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Mark Durkan: Does the hon. Lady recognise that the events of recent days mean that the concerns that lie behind her amendments are clear and present concerns of the public, and are felt profoundly? It is a bit much for the Minister or anybody else to conduct this debate as though those concerns were not there.

Naomi Long: I agree entirely. There is a serious risk if people no longer trust their politicians and no longer trust their institutions to act in the public interest. The only way we can overcome that is by clearing the matter up. No party can easily defend itself while this information remains secret. I am willing to accept the Secretary of State maintaining the discretion as to when the information will be published, but I see no risk to anyone from a decision being made now that makes donors and parties aware that anything donated after January will be made public, when the Minister of State and the Secretary of State are convinced that it is safe to do so.

Mr Dodds: To be absolutely clear, what the hon. Lady is talking about is bringing forward the date from October to January. That would not have any effect on any donations up to now or any donations before January next year, so in relation to the wider issues and the context in which we are speaking about this, the measure would take effect only from next year. Is that right?

Naomi Long: That is absolutely correct. I made it clear on Second Reading that I would be in favour of any measure that retrospectively exposed donors to publication. I believe that would be unjust while there is a legal question about whether they had the expectation that donations made in the prescribed period would not be made public. At a very personal level, they understood that to be the case. If we are to have honour and integrity in politics, that should extend to people’s understanding of agreements that have been made, so I would not favour retrospective exposure. Only donations made after January would be affected and that would come about only after the Secretary of State had ruled that it was safe to do so. I therefore wish to press the matter to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 16, Noes 294.

Division No. 52]

[

7.26 pm

AYES

Anderson, Mr David

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Connarty, Michael

Cryer, John

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Durkan, Mark

Engel, Natascha

Henderson, Gordon

Hermon, Lady

Long, Naomi

McCrea, Dr William

Nuttall, Mr David

Shannon, Jim

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Tellers for the Ayes:

Ms Margaret Ritchie

and

Nigel Mills

NOES

Abrahams, Debbie

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Ali, Rushanara

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Begg, Dame Anne

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blackwood, Nicola

Blomfield, Paul

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Brown, Lyn

Bruce, Fiona

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Champion, Sarah

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coaker, Vernon

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cooper, Rosie

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doyle, Gemma

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Dugher, Michael

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Eustice, George

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fovargue, Yvonne

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Gardiner, Barry

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Gilmore, Sheila

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Greatrex, Tom

Green, rh Damian

Greenwood, Lilian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hamilton, Fabian

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Harris, Mr Tom

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heald, Oliver

Healey, rh John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hilling, Julie

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Diana

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Lavery, Ian

Laws, rh Mr David

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lucas, Ian

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Mactaggart, Fiona

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCabe, Steve

McCartney, Karl

McGovern, Jim

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McVey, Esther

Mearns, Ian

Metcalfe, Stephen

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morden, Jessica

Morgan, Nicky

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Mosley, Stephen

Munt, Tessa

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murray, Ian

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Nash, Pamela

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

O'Donnell, Fiona

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pound, Stephen

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Russell, Sir Bob

Sarwar, Anas

Scott, Mr Lee

Shapps, rh Grant

Shelbrooke, Alec

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spellar, rh Mr John

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Woodcock, John

Wright, Mr Iain

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Desmond Swayne

and

Anne Milton

Question accordingly negatived.

9 July 2013 : Column 294

9 July 2013 : Column 295

9 July 2013 : Column 296

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

MPs to be disqualified for membership of Assembly

Naomi Long: I beg to move amendment 10, page 4, line 5, after ‘Commons’, insert ‘or House of Lords’.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Philip Hollobone): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 11, page 4, line 7, after ‘Commons’, insert ‘or House of Lords’.

Amendment 12, page 4, line 11, at end insert—

‘(2) A person who becomes a Member of the House of Lords is not disqualified under section 1(1)(za) at any time during the period of 8 days beginning with the day the person becomes a Member of the House of Lords.’.

Amendment 13, page 4, line 30, leave out from ‘members)’ to end of line 31 and insert ‘leave out “either House of Parliament.”.’.

Clause stand part.

Amendment 14, page 4, line 36, after ‘Ireland)’, insert ‘or Seanad Éireann (the Senate of Ireland).’.

Amendment 20, page 4, line 36, at end insert ‘or Seanad Éireann (Senate of Ireland).

(dc) is a member of the House of Lords.’.

Amendment 15, page 4, line 38, after ‘Éireann’, insert ‘or Seanad Éireann’.

Amendment 3, page 4, line 41, at end add—

‘(3) In section 1(1) of the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 (disqualification of holders of certain offices and places) before paragraph (a) insert—

“(za) is a member of the European Parliament;”.

(4) After section 1B of that Act (as inserted by section 4(2)) insert—

“1C Members of the European Parliament

A person returned at an election as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly is not disqualified under section 1(1)(za) at any time in the period of 8 days beginning with the day the person is so returned.”.’.

Clause 4 stand part.

Amendment 16, in clause 5, page 6, line 13, leave out from ‘MPs’ to end and insert

‘, members of the House of Lords or members of the Oireachtas).’.

Amendment 17,  page 6, line 28, leave out from ‘MPs’ to end and insert

‘, members of the House of Lords or members of the Oireachtas); and’.

Naomi Long: I intend to keep my remarks on this group of amendments brief. I welcome the fact that the Government have acted on their promise to ensure that double-jobbing between MLAs and MPs will now be brought to an end. I also recognise that, as a result of discussions in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Government have moved to include within that provision Members of Dail Eireann so that TDs, too, will not be able to hold a seat in the Assembly. I think that it is right that they have done so and welcome that move. [Interruption.]

9 July 2013 : Column 297

The Temporary Chair (Mr Philip Hollobone): Order. I am trying to enjoy what the hon. Lady is saying, but unfortunately there is a lot of chatter coming from behind the Speaker’s Chair. I am sure that hon. Members would like to hear more clearly the very important points she is making.

Naomi Long: Thank you, Mr Hollobone.

As I was saying, I welcome the fact that the Government are dealing with and resolving the issue of MP-MLA double-jobbing. That is a huge improvement. As a result of the Select Committee’s discussions, the Government have also moved to resolve the issue of TDs, who could also sit as MLAs, and to equalise the situation. That is also important and I welcome it at the outset.

The Government did this for good reason, which is the challenge of being in two legislatures at the same time—

Mike Penning: On a point of order, Mr Hollobone. I am afraid that even from this position on the Treasury Bench I cannot hear a word that is going on, mostly because of conversations at the other end of the Chamber.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr Philip Hollobone): That is indeed a point of order, for a change. May I ask hon. Members who are not staying to listen to the debate to leave or to remain quietly?

Naomi Long: Thank you very much, Mr Hollobone. It is unfortunate that the noise blotted out all the praise that I was heaping on the Government, because I am just about to stop and start to highlight areas where they have not been quite so generous. However, I do appreciate that these issues are being addressed. I very much support that, as did the Select Committee.

These provisions are being proposed for a very good reason. Serving in two legislatures involves the physical challenge of being in two places at once. The conflict in sitting times between the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly means that Members who wished to be here today for this business would have to be absent from the Assembly, where they could be questioning Ministers and holding them to account. There is significant evidence that that creates a democratic deficit either there or here.

The problem is not restricted purely to Members who sit in the House of Commons. I recognise that the House of Lords is not structured in the same way as the Commons. Its Members do not have an electoral mandate and therefore do not have the same demands on their time with regard to constituency business. However, as a revising Chamber with a primary focus on legislation and scrutiny, it is hugely important that its Members are free to dedicate themselves to that task without the interference of a constituency burden and the other legislature that they would have to deal with when they are at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Nigel Mills: I agree with the hon. Lady. Does she accept that, as I propose in amendment 3, this must apply even more to the European Parliament, which is even further away and has some kind of elected legitimacy, at least while we are in still in the European Union and it is relevant to us? I cannot see how someone can serve in Brussels and in Belfast at the same time.

9 July 2013 : Column 298

Naomi Long: I will come to the hon. Gentleman’s amendment shortly. I understand that European Parliament legislation precludes people from serving in the Assembly at the same time as in the European Parliament. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) would be able to advise whether that is the case. If not, I would welcome the issue being resolved in the Bill and would support the hon. Gentleman’s amendment if it achieved that.

It is not only about distance but about simply having the time to commit to doing the job that one is supposed to be doing. The House of Lords plays an important role in acting as a revising Chamber for this House. Someone who is a peer and also an MLA will not be able to commit themselves fully to either body, and that is unfortunate. The situation is exacerbated by the direct conflict between the sitting times of the Assembly and the House of Lords, particularly on Mondays and Tuesdays but also extending into the rest of the week, when people would be on committee business in the Assembly. The Assembly committees are extremely powerful instruments, and it is therefore important that Members play a full and active role in them.

I also recognise that remuneration for the work of a peer is different, which reflects the fact that many peers have careers outside Parliament that may on occasion conflict with the sittings of the House of Lords. I made it clear on Second Reading that I was content for this matter to be resolved in the context of wider reform of the House of Lords, and it was initially indicated that that would be the case when we discussed this during and after the Bill’s consultation period. However, given that House of Lords reform has not progressed and looks unlikely to do so in, let us say, the short term, it is important that the Government revisit the possibility of taking action in this Bill in order to ensure that Members of the House of the Lords and those who are elevated to it do not continue to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. If membership of this House disqualifies people from serving in the Assembly, I believe that the same should be true of membership of other Parliaments.

7.45 pm

I do not believe it is acceptable that someone who sits in the Seanad, the upper House of the Dail at the Oireachtas, is technically allowed to hold a post—although no one does—in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I think that is wrong. I am glad that the Government have addressed the issue of the Dail, but I believe they should address the Oireachtas as a whole, so my amendments also seek to exclude Members of Seanad Eireann from being able to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I believe that that would be consistent with the approach to the House of Lords. Both deal with legislative matters, which the Government gave as their primary reason for excluding MPs and TDs.

I would suggest that all those arguments also apply to Members of the European Parliament. I have been unable to unravel—let us put it that way—precisely whether Members of the Assembly are specifically excluded from being MEPs, but history shows that any Assembly Member who has been elected to the European Parliament has stood down. I therefore support amendment 3, tabled by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), which would clarify the issue in domestic legislation and make it clear that it is not the will of this Parliament that people should be able to hold both posts.

9 July 2013 : Column 299

The report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee acknowledges that those are important issues. We note in paragraph 66 that legislation on dual mandates

“should be applied consistently across both Houses of Parliament”

and ask

“that the Government include a provision in the substantive Bill to this effect.”

Moreover, in paragraph 75 we say that it would be “illogical” to allow

“a position whereby a member of the UK Parliament was excluded from being an MLA but a member of another legislature was not.”

I think that that stands the test of scrutiny and hope that even at this stage the Minister will be able to offer us some comfort on these matters.

Nigel Mills: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady and I agree with most of what she said. Indeed, when the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee considered the Bill we welcomed the Government’s decision to legislate to abolish double-jobbing between this place and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and we suggested that if the Government were going to go down the route of legislating on one lot of double-jobbing, they should do so for all manner of double-jobbing in order to be consistent. It is welcome that the Government listened to the Committee on the issue of Members of the Irish Parliament. If it is right to block Members of this Parliament from being Members of the Assembly, it would have been iniquitous to not also block Members of the Irish Parliament. That is a welcome change.

We accept the need to legislate to end double-jobbing between the Parliament in London and the Assembly in Belfast, but I find it difficult to understand why the Government think there is no need to end it in the context of the European Parliament in Brussels. I see from the Government response to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report that they see no need for that because no concern has been raised.

The Government consider that if that was done, it should apply across the United Kingdom and not just in Northern Ireland. However, the same argument would apply to ending double-jobbing between this place and the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, but the Government are proposing legislation only for Northern Ireland. I believe that legislation is planned for Wales, but I am not sure of the position on Scotland.

It is therefore hard to see the logic of legislating to stop Members of Parliament sitting in the Assembly, but not to stop Members of the European Parliament sitting there. Surely if we think that that is wrong, we should legislate on it as a matter of principle and say that people can choose whether they sit in the Assembly or another Parliament, but they cannot do both. That is the simple logic behind amendment 3.

I see no reason to detain the Committee. The hon. Member for Belfast East set out all the good reasons for banning double-jobbing. The people of Northern Ireland think that that should happen and all the parties over there have voluntarily agreed that it will happen from the next general election. In my view, that should also apply to the next European Parliament election, which is due to take place in just under a year. I therefore commend amendment 3 to the Committee.

9 July 2013 : Column 300

Mark Durkan: The intention of amendment 20, which appears in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), is to achieve exactly the same effect as that outlined by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) in respect of her amendments. The Clerks said that amendment 20 would be the best way to achieve the principle of one Member, one Chamber. However, I am open to supporting the other versions that would get us to the same point, namely the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast East. I also note the extension of that principle in the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), which refers to the European Parliament.

Oddly, the provisions on Members of Oireachtas Eireann being Members of the Assembly date back to a situation involving a prominent and senior member of my party, Seamus Mallon, who was deputy leader of the SDLP. In the 1980s, his membership of the Northern Ireland Assembly was challenged on the basis that he was also a Member of Seanad Eireann. Of course, when my party stood in the election to the Assembly in 1982, we made it clear that we would not take our seats and would not sign on for salaries, allowances or anything else. It is therefore not comparable to Members of Sinn Fein not taking their seats here, but taking allowances. When Seamus Mallon was subsequently appointed to the Seanad, a member of the Ulster Unionist party saw fit to make a legal challenge to force a by-election so that a Unionist could take the seat in an Assembly that had no real powers.

On the back of that controversy, Sinn Fein made the case in the early years of the peace process for a gratuitous piece of legislation that was put through this House, which provided that Members of either House of the Oireachtas could be MPs and/or Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Sinn Fein was the only party that sought that piece of legislation. That was because, in building the party and selling itself to its supporters, it wanted to use its heavy hitters as abstentionist MPs and as candidates for the Dail. It was entirely a confection to support Sinn Fein’s ambitions and pretentions in building the party and the movement. This House was convinced to legislate on that basis. Of course, Sinn Fein has not activated the change it sought, and rightly so. Whenever its more prominent elected representatives in the north decided to seek election in the south, they did so on the basis of giving up their seats in the north. They too seemed to accept the standard of one Member, one Chamber. We should therefore ensure that when there is an opportunity to legislate, we should take it.

The Government were right to move on the dual mandate between Westminster and the Assembly, not least because they had served notice that if the parties did not move to rectify the situation, they would move to legislate. They have done that and I support them. As I indicated on Second Reading, I took my own decision on the dual mandate and it is right that legislation sets a clear, common standard.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify how that view sits with his party leader, the hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell), who sits both here and in the Assembly?

Mark Durkan: That is permitted under the legislation. In my view, legislation should clearly not allow that; a party leader should not be under pressure to say that,

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because they are in one and can be in the other, they should sit in both because the law allows it. There is pressure on people because being able to sit in both helps to protect a second Assembly seat in the constituency, but such tactical considerations should not enter into it. The best way to spare everybody from those sorts of considerations is to have one clear, uniform standard in law.

Of course, the hon. Gentleman’s party has Members who sit in both the Assembly and this Chamber. Indeed, they have one Member who sits in Westminster and the Assembly while serving as a Minister in the Executive. I have always argued—when I was a Minister and subsequently —that any Minister should solely be a Member of one Chamber and be fully accountable to that Chamber. I have consistently argued that one should not be a Minister in one Chamber and a Member of another.

Dr McCrea: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He talks about consistency. Is it not a fact that when he was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly he was also a Member at Westminster?

Mark Durkan: No, that is not a fact. When I was a Minister in Northern Ireland I was not an MP. I became a suspended Minister—I was a suspendee, not a suspender —in October 2002, and I was not elected to this House until 2005. I subsequently made appointments when I was a Member of this House; I was the leader of my party and had the power to appoint Ministers. I made it very clear well in advance that I could not appoint myself as a Minister, no matter how many seats we had won and how many Ministers we might have had to appoint in the Assembly. I was an MP and could not be a Minister. That was our party rule, and the party standard has been consistent. Similarly, when my hon. Friend the Member for South Down, who was a very able Minister for Social Development in the Executive, was elected to this House, she resigned as a Minister. That was consistent with that principle: we have consistency and form on this issue.

Regardless of what justification Members or parties might be able to give for having coped with the dual mandate in the past, circumstances are different now. We have an absolutely settled process. It is important to give the public the confidence that we believe it is a settled process by moving on dual mandates. That would indicate that we do not believe that there is any uncertainty surrounding the institutions which might give an excuse for having a foot in two Chambers.

Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking an intervention, but may I run one suggestion past him? I have never had a dual mandate and I do not particularly favour them. However, in the context of a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland that is sustainable and will continue, is there not an argument to be made for the Finance Minister in that devolved Administration to be present in this House, particularly for the Budget, financial statements and the comprehensive spending review, so that he or she can address the key issues across the Dispatch Box to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that day and on those issues?

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8 pm

Mark Durkan: No, having been Minister for Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland, I do not believe there is such a compelling reason. I would have regarded it as a distraction from my full-time day job if I had been operating in another Chamber as well. The limited opportunities we have here to ask questions on a statement or the Budget do not compare to the effective opportunities a Minister and his or her officials have via the other channels to the Treasury, such as joint ministerial committees that exist for engagement between Governments. Those are adequate for Scotland and Wales, so I do not think we should create an exception in Northern Ireland if someone happens to be the Minister for Finance and Personnel.

Jim Shannon: What about your party leader?

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman has obviously missed my point. We want to legislate so that there are no special cases, no special pleading and no tactical pressure on anybody, be they a party leader or anybody else. That is why we should legislate to a standard, not on an ad hominem basis.

Mr Gregory Campbell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous with his time. He alluded earlier to a direction of travel and the destination we all want to reach: a single mandate for each Member. I think there is unanimity there, but would he agree that Scotland and Wales seem to have got there without the need for legislation?

Mark Durkan: Perhaps they did, but the fact is that notice was served to the parties in Northern Ireland that, if such a change did not happen, the Government would move to legislate, as they have now correctly done. It would have been wrong for the Government to give the signal, and then not to use the Bill to address the matter. We discussed this on previous Bills, because it came up whenever we considered the question of constituencies and voting systems, as well as House of Lords reform.

Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): Further to the last intervention, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Bill, if passed, will apply to Northern Ireland. Similar legislation will be passed for Wales, but none will be passed for Scotland.

Mark Durkan: That would be a discrepancy as well. If the principle is one Member, one Chamber, it should apply all round. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that those of us who tabled amendments should have included the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, so that there was no question of somebody deciding to be in several Chambers.

Naomi Long: That was discussed at length in Select Committee. One reason we did not do it was that, this being the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, there would have been no argument for including it. I think the Secretary of State for Wales is intending to introduce legislation creating that bar, although whether the Secretary of State for Scotland chooses to do the same is a matter that perhaps he could clarify better than me. Either way, this matter should be resolved.

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Mark Durkan: I fully take the hon. Lady’s point; it was a helpful intervention, but the point that the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) made was also a good and valid one. If we were using the Bill, in the pedantic sense, to make it truly perfect and to cover all the options, we could have included the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, but we did not, for the sorts of reasons she mentioned.

If we are moving, rightly, towards precluding dual mandates in this Chamber and the Northern Ireland Assembly, the same should apply to the other place as well. If it is to be one Member, one Chamber, it would be wrong if somebody could be in another Chamber in this Parliament—a Chamber which, because of the strange rules, procedures and fixations that people have here, seems at times to have more impact on legislation, by way of amendments, than this one.

The argument then arises about why somebody should be allowed to sit in another Chamber simply because they are not elected and have no mandate. The fact that they are there on an unelected basis does not make their dual membership of two different legislative Chambers any more acceptable than it would be for somebody who had been elected to both Chambers. Indeed, we have heard the Democratic Unionist party make the argument that there is more legitimacy if someone is elected to two Chambers, because the public, in electing that person, know that they are in two Chambers and knowingly give them that mandate. In many ways, the least defensible position is to say that someone can be an elected Member of one Chamber and an unelected Member of another at the same time.

The same thing has to apply to the Oireachtas. If people have rightly been precluded from being a Teachta Dala at the same time as being a Member of the Assembly, they should also be precluded from being a Member of the Seanad Eireann at the same time, whether as a Taoiseach’s appointee or as someone elected through the panels by the electoral college system that exists in the south for the Seanad. Again, if people are sitting in one legislative Chamber, that should be their sole place. That is the point of amendment 20 and the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast East.

I fully take the point made by the hon. Member for Amber Valley, who wants to extend that position to the European Parliament. Some of us had thought that that was already provided for, but I understand that it applies more specifically to membership of this House—to national Parliaments, as opposed to regional or other territorial Assemblies. In practice, when the parties in Northern Ireland have run Members of the Assembly as candidates for the European Parliament in recent times, they have usually done so on the basis of a full declaration that, if elected to the European Parliament, that candidate’s membership of the Assembly would cease. However, in taking a belt-and-braces approach, the hon. Gentleman makes a good point with amendment 3.

I repeat the point that if we want to have one Member, one Chamber, we should apply that to the second Chamber of Parliament and the Oireachtas, as well as to the first Chambers of both.

Mr Donaldson: We do not have an amendment in this group, but I want to speak to a number of the amendments that have been tabled.

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I, along with others here, held a dual mandate for some time, being a Member of Parliament and subsequently being elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. At times I think it pushes the boundaries a little to suggest that there is huge public opposition to the concept of dual mandates. When I was elected for two terms in the Assembly, I was a Member of Parliament, but I was elected—I do not share this for any reason other than to illustrate my point—with the highest number of first preference votes of any candidate in the Assembly elections on both occasions. No one voted for me on the basis that they did not know that I was already a Member of Parliament, yet they deemed it appropriate to elect me to a second Chamber. The idea that the public were always entirely opposed to dual mandates is therefore spurious, because the facts do not support it.

Because of the development of the peace process in Northern Ireland, we needed people in the Assembly who had the experience of serving as Members of Parliament. That was important. I recognise that we have now moved on and, on the basis of voluntary undertakings given by parties in Northern Ireland, we now have very few Members who hold a dual mandate between this House and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and by the next election there will be none. To say that there is a need for these changes is therefore stretching the point, to say the least. Indeed, this issue would be way down my list of priorities for inclusion in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Mr Gregory Campbell: The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) made the point that the Government said they would legislate on moving to a single-mandate position only if the parties did not move in that direction voluntarily. Is it not the case that the parties have so moved, yet the Government are still proceeding with the measure?

Mr Donaldson: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Government have already legislated—as, I think, the Assembly might have done—to ensure that a Member of this House who is also a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly receives no pay for holding the office of Assembly Member and has a much reduced office costs allowance. There is already provision to deal with the issue. The reality is, however, that the proposal is also incorporated into this Bill.

I would like to say on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party that we oppose the amendment that would exclude Members of the House of Lords from the opportunity of serving in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and we have valid reasons for doing so. The House of Lords is an appointed second Chamber in the United Kingdom Parliament. In making appointments to it, there is a desire to achieve a degree of regional representation. I happen to think that it is to the benefit of devolution to have a connection between this Parliament and the devolved legislatures. I accept that it is not preferable for that to involve Members of this House, because we are elected and there is the question of the dual mandate and because certain issues can arise at constituency level.

Those matters do not pertain to Members of the House of Lords, however. Even in a reformed House of Lords, there would be value in making provision for some Members of the devolved legislatures also to be

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represented, if they so chose, in the House of Lords. That would help to bind the United Kingdom together, and to recognise the special position of the House of Lords. As a body, it is not necessarily representative in geographical terms, but it is widely representative of society. Why should we not have in the House of Lords legislators from the devolved regions of the United Kingdom? We do not accept the need to amend the Bill to exclude Members of the House of Lords from having that dual representation—if not a dual mandate—in the separate Chambers.

Lady Hermon: The House of Lords is a key part of the legislature of the United Kingdom and, as someone who is very keen on devolution, I believe that the Assembly is an essential part of the Government in Northern Ireland. Can the right hon. Gentleman honestly say, with his hand on his heart, that a person—or multiple people—sitting in the Assembly and in the House of Lords can do justice to both roles and sit in both places simultaneously?

Mr Donaldson: I can say, hand on heart, that I believe they can. When I was a Member of the Assembly and of the UK Parliament, my attendance record on Committees in the Assembly was far superior to those of single-mandate Members of the Assembly. When I chaired the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, I had a 100% attendance record—I was the best attendee on the Committee. We have to weigh these things up and strike a balance.

Naomi Long: I certainly do not dispute the fact that the right hon. Gentleman’s Assembly Committee attendance record was good, but we should look at the disparity between the average voting records of those in this House who do not have a dual mandate and those who do. According to “The Public Whip”, the average voting record of those of us who do not hold a dual mandate is 413 to 414, compared with 259 to 260 for those who do have a dual mandate. The Assembly might not suffer, but the attendance of those Members in this House seems to do so. I am not suggesting that that is the only metric we should take into account, but it is an important one.

8.15 pm

Mr Donaldson: I come back again to the issue of mandate. If the people of East Londonderry decided that they wanted someone other than the current Member to be their MP, because the current Member also happens to be a Member of the Assembly, they will have made that choice. The reality is that the choice they made at the last election was to elect someone who was also a Member of the Assembly and who has, by the way, an excellent voting record in this Chamber and participates well in debates. In all those issues, we have to strike a balance. What we are recognising is that we accept the argument that in respect of Members of this House there is a greater weight of opinion that says that it is difficult to do both tasks. In respect of the House of Lords, however, I believe that having a small number of MLAs who also happen to be Members of the House of Lords is something of value to the Assembly and to the people of Northern Ireland.

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Mr Gregory Campbell: I know this is probably academic, as I recognise that we are moving in the same direction. The hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) singled out voting records. That is one and only one element of performance. If we look at oral contributions, written questions and the tabling of motions, we see a very different picture. It is worth looking at theyworkforyou.com which can show us who is performing well and who is not.

Mr Donaldson: I would also say that a constituent, whether it be in Limavady or Lisburn, is well able to make a judgment about whether the person they elected to a particular chamber better serves the interests of the people by being here to vote on the Mersey Tunnels Bill, which is of no relevance whatever to the people of Limavady or Lisburn, or by dealing with an issue in the Northern Ireland Assembly that is of relevance to them.

We have moved on from the question of dual mandates between the House of Commons and the House of Lords or the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly, but I do not believe that the same arguments apply in respect of being a Member of the House of Lords and being a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. As I have said, I think there is real value to the Assembly in having a small number of Members who are also Members of the United Kingdom Parliament by virtue of their membership of the House of Lords. Equally, I would hope, the House of Lords can see the value of having that sort of representation, albeit on a small scale.

We nevertheless support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) because the European Parliament is an elected chamber, and we draw a distinction between an elected and an appointed chamber. If the argument is made that it is difficult to be in London and in Belfast, I would say that it is even more difficult to be in Brussels or Strasbourg and in Belfast. None of the Northern Ireland parties pursue the option of having their MPs as an MLA, but if the argument goes that we are legislating to prevent dual mandates for the House of Commons because we want to prevent it happening in the future, I suggest that the same principle should apply to Members of the European Parliament as well. It may not be the practice at the moment, just as I believe the practice of dual mandates in this House is coming to an end, but if preventive measures are called for, we have to be consistent and look at the position of the European Parliament.

We are minded to support amendment 3, tabled by the hon. Member for Amber Valley, but to oppose the amendments that include the House of Lords in the excluding provisions. We believe it is right to include the Irish Parliament within the exclusions, given that it is an elected body, and I think that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) is seeking to extend that to include the Irish Senate.

Mark Durkan: The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Irish Senate is not actually elected in a public sense. Indeed, some of the seats are appointed by the Taoiseach. Those of us who are backing these amendments are being consistent: whether or not a chamber is elected is not what matters; what matters is whether it is a legislative chamber.

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Mr Donaldson: That is a fair point, but my party approaches the matter from a very different perspective. The Parliament of the Irish Republic is in a separate jurisdiction, outwith the United Kingdom, and we have always taken the principled view that a member of a Parliament that is outwith the United Kingdom’s jurisdiction should not be entitled to membership of a devolved legislature or of this Parliament.

Jim Shannon: My right hon. Friend is making a valid point. Surely it would be ludicrous for a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly also to be a member of Dail Eireann or of a Senate with a different constitution, a different aspiration, and a different way of looking at things from an Assembly that is in the United Kingdom.

Mr Donaldson: Indeed. I do not know what affirmation new members of the Irish Senate make, but it is surely a contradiction for people to come to either of the Houses of Parliament here and affirm their allegiance to the United Kingdom, and then to go to the legislature of another country and affirm their allegiance to that country. That is why, on principle, we cannot accept the concept that a Member of the Parliament of another country could also be a member of either a devolved legislature in the United Kingdom or, indeed, of this Parliament.

Ms Ritchie: The hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and I firmly believe in one Member, one Chamber. I declare an interest as a former Member of, and Minister in, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, and also as a former district councillor in Northern Ireland. As such, I know very well that Members must serve only one Chamber if they are to do the job properly and adequately.

The proposal to extend this legislation to the upper chambers, the House of Lords and the Seanad in the Irish Parliament, has my full support. I believe that there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in contending that dual mandates must end while ignoring the practice in respect of other legislative bodies. The current approach is inconsistent, and leaves us with an untidy arrangement.

There was a period during the early years of the Assembly—back in 1998—when dual mandates were an important part of the political system, but given the changes in our political system in Northern Ireland and its evolving maturity over the past 15 years, there is clearly a different political climate as well as a different expectation on the part of the body politic. While I am not convinced that this legislative route is the most appropriate, the direction of travel is clear, and my party supports it.

As we move towards the new system, however, we must ask why we are preserving the practice in some arenas but not in others. Why are we creating this imbalance? I accept that the House of Lords operates differently because it has no constituencies, but the important point—emphasised a few minutes ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle—is that it is a legislative Chamber. If we are legislating to prevent people from being members of two different legislatures, that is exactly what we should do.

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Naomi Long: Surely part of the rationale for the structure of the House of Lords is the fact that it can serve as a revising Chamber, and scrutinise legislation in a robust way, because its Members are not being lobbied by constituents as we in the House of Commons are when we are dealing with legislation. Could not an electoral mandate expose Members of the House of Lords to that kind of lobbying, and prevent them from acting as we expect a Lord to act?

Ms Ritchie: That was a useful intervention, because it illustrated the role of Members of the House of Lords. While they have clear legislative responsibilities, they also do very in-depth work. We can cast our minds back to the work done in respect of the Welfare Reform Bill, and its ping-pong nature, with the Bill going back and forth between us. Lords come from many varied backgrounds, but they do their work. The Lords may not be elected, but they do have legislative responsibilities, which naturally would clash with the responsibilities of an elected Chamber such as the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is the very problem that this measure is meant to address. I would not hold my breath about this House finally taking on the much-needed reform of the House of Lords, but if, and hopefully when, it does, would it be desirable that people can run for election and hold office, namely by having a dual mandate between the Assembly and an elected House of Lords?

It is important that this issue is sorted out now within the terms of the current Bill. I note that that position is supported by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. In so doing, we come to this issue with the premise of one Member, one Chamber. Having had the experience of serving in other Chambers, and knowing the extent and breadth and depth of work and investigative intelligence that is required of Members in all those Chambers, particularly in terms of legislation, we not only support our own amendment—amendment 20—but we also support those of the hon. Member for Belfast East.

Mr Dodds: On clause 3 and the ending of the dual mandate between Members of this House and Members of the Assembly, our party made it clear some time ago that we would be bringing this matter to the point that by 2015, as was recommended, dual mandates would be ended. We are working towards that, and it needs to be made very clear in this Committee tonight that this Bill does not end dual mandates; the parties in Northern Ireland are ending dual mandates, and they are doing so for the reasons that have been advanced, which are that we have now moved forward to a position where politics is much more stable, and the Assembly and the Executive are up and running. We are therefore in a very different position from the one we were in only a short time ago, when dual mandates were not only preferable, but essential, for the reasons laid out very clearly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) and because of the leading political figures in this House who were playing the important—the crucial—role of bringing about peace, stability and devolution in Northern Ireland. That would not have worked if there had not been that dual mandate at that time; that is absolutely the case.

There is a tendency sometimes to look at situations from the perspective of today, rather than looking at the context of the time. I want to pay tribute to all Members who held dual mandates at that time. I want

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to do so not because I was one of those Members who held a dual mandate, but because they put themselves and their families under enormous stress and strain in terms of the work load, but still carried out an immensely powerful job, as was recognised through the votes of the people, who consistently voted for them. Therefore it is only right and proper to pay tribute to those politicians who did that in very difficult circumstances, and who had their pay cut, we must remember—it was not as if they were doing it for two salaries. It was done for the reasons set out, and also because, to return to an earlier discussion, there were very real threats against politicians, and not too many people were prepared to come forward and put their head above the parapet. Every Member in our party, and Members of other parties as well, including the SDLP and the Alliance, suffered very severe threats at that time, and actual attacks on their person, their offices and on people close to them. That was the reality of the situation we lived in.

Naomi Long: That point was also made by the right hon. Gentleman’s colleagues on Second Reading, and it is important to put on the record that nobody is suggesting that people who served during that period did not have a justification for doing so. Those who seek fast reform make the point that that period is now at an end.

8.30 pm

Mr Dodds: Yes, that is the point that I was making and it is important to put it on the record. We are talking about the difficulties of having a double mandate, but I recall that back in the late 1970s and during most of the 1980s the original three MEPs from Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley, John Hume and John Taylor, had three mandates. Nobody is going to say to me that they did not do a very good job for Northern Ireland in Europe. I know that there was a different context and a different set-up then, but they worked very well together. I had some experience of that through working with Ian Paisley in the European Parliament, and I know that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) will know about it from first-hand experience of working with John Hume. That arrangement was necessary and they did an immensely powerful job for Northern Ireland. Indeed, I recall one of those MEPs, not the one from my party, saying that on one occasion he managed to speak in Strasbourg in the morning, in the Belfast Assembly in the afternoon and in the House of Commons in the evening. I asked him whether he used the same speech, but it was not a single transferable speech. Those were different days and we accept that we have moved forward, but it is important to put on the record where we are coming from.

Let me deal with the issue of the House of Lords. The explanatory notes talk about “dual mandates” and people prevented from being a Member of both this House and the Assembly, as is right and proper. What mandate does a Member of the House of Lords have? They do not have any mandate. We have a mandate because we are elected, but a Member of the House of Lords has none because they are appointed. So this legislation does not apply to the House of Lords because it is in a different position. If the House of Lords were elected, there would be a strong argument for saying

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that we should be legislating to prevent dual membership there, but it is not elected and it is different. Indeed, that was one of the reasons why people opposed reforming the House of Lords, because to do so would put it on the same level as, or make it equivalent to, this House, and that would threaten the authority of this House. So this matter is summed up in the very phraseology used about ending “dual mandates”. It is right and proper to do that in respect of the House of Commons, but Members of the House of Lords do not have a mandate. They have a legislative role, but they do not have a mandate.

Mark Durkan: Is the right hon. Gentleman not trying to create a class of Members of the House of Lords who are Members of that House and sit there without a mandate, but who nevertheless have a mandate by virtue of sitting in another Assembly? He is trying to have it both ways; if he is making a virtue of their having no mandate, leave them without a mandate.

Mr Dodds: I think that when the hon. Gentleman reads that over again in Hansard,he will perhaps want to reflect on that contribution.

It is clear that we are legislating to end dual mandates. As Members of the House of Lords do not have any mandate, it does not apply to them. In any case, for the other reasons that have been set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley, there is a difference. Interestingly, when the Secretary of State for Wales made his announcement in March, he did not include a bar on membership of the House of Lords and the Welsh Assembly; he confined it to the House of Commons. So for all those reasons, the Government are taking the right approach.

On the issue of membership of the Irish Parliament, we very much welcome the Government’s decision to follow the position of the Select Committee and to take on board the representations made on that matter. It is right and proper that that should be the case.

Finally, let me turn to the issue of non-representation—I raised this on Second Reading and return to it now—by people who have seats in this House but who do not take them and do not do the work of parliamentarians. The Minister will know that the issue has been raised and is being pursued. The Bill is not necessarily the vehicle or the means by which it should be pursued, but the Minister should rest assured that, as we talk about dual mandates and about representation and people being fit for jobs and about the jobs they are or are not doing, there remains the outstanding scandal of all—the Members of Parliament who are elected, who get money to run their parliamentary business and who get representative money for which they do not have to account in the way that we do as parliamentarians and that they can use for party political purposes. That is an issue that the House still must, and, I am sure, will, address.

Mike Penning: It is a pleasure, Ms Clark, to work under your chairmanship for the first time this evening. Yet again, we have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate—some of it within the scope of the Northern Ireland Office’s remit and some outside it. Perhaps I can address straight away one of the areas of debate we have had this evening because, although I fully respect the view, it falls outside the scope of the Bill and of my

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portfolio. The question of whether an MLA can sit in the European Parliament is a matter for the Cabinet Office and the UK Government as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) can take it up with the Cabinet Office, if he wishes, but I have been strongly advised that it falls within its remit and not mine and that I therefore cannot accept the amendment.

Nigel Mills: Will the Minister give way on that point?

Mike Penning: If I may, I will make some progress. We have a lot to get through this evening and not a lot of time, even though it looks like we do. We have not made much progress down the list of amendments.

The Government listened to the Select Committee and changed our mind about whether someone could be an MLA and a Member of the lower House in the Republic. We listened carefully to the debate and accepted that suggestion.

I completely agree with the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). My personal view, as well as that of the Government, is that there is a difference between a person elected to this House with a mandate—the words in the explanatory notes were put there for a reason—and a Member of the House of Lords. Members of the House of Lords do not have a mandate: they are not elected; they do not have a constituency; they do not have constituents. However, the Government’s view is not fixed and if, when the Bill passes to the other place, the House of Lords has a view on that, we will consider what comes back to us. At present, the reason behind the change is to do with mandates and not to do with whether Members are in another Chamber.

Lady Hermon: I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that the explanatory notes, so beautifully quoted—selectively—by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), go on to quote the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which reported in 2009 after the horrendous scandal of MPs’ expenses. It states that

“the Committee questions whether it is possible to sit in two national legislatures simultaneously and do justice to both roles”.

It does not use the word mandate at all and uses the word “legislatures”, so will the Minister revisit that?

Mike Penning: It is very important that we consider what the electorate have decided to do. The electorate elect people to this House and to the Legislative Assembly. I pay tribute to those who had more than a dual mandate when there was a need for people to put their heads above the parapet and stand for office when things were enormously difficult in Northern Ireland. We have moved on. We accept that MLAs should not be able to stand for the lower House in the Republic, but we do think, at present, that they should be able to sit in the Lords. MEPs are a matter for another Department, on another day, and another Bill, in the Government’s opinion.

Mark Durkan: Will the Minister address the issue of membership of Seanad Eireann?

Mike Penning: Exactly the same applies: that situation will be addressed, should the issue of the Lords be addressed. At present, the Government are not addressing

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the issue of the Lords; we will oppose the amendments on that subject. The Government oppose amendments 10 to 17, and recommend that clauses 3, 4 and 5 stand part of the Bill.

Naomi Long: I think the argument regarding dual mandates in the House of Commons and the Assembly has been fought and, largely, won. People may well say that the public do not mind double-jobbing, but it was a live issue in the 2010 elections, which is why all parties made the commitment publicly in their manifestos, before those elections, that they would not maintain dual mandates. People were elected on the expectation that they would leave the Assembly during this term. Everyone has said that that is the point that we want to get to. I know why I feel the need for legislation, but I do not know why the Government do. Perhaps it is because every time we discuss the matter, even those who say that they are in favour of such legislation in principle continue to put up quite a spirited defence of double-jobbing—and are still here to do so, three years after the last Westminster election and two years after the last Assembly election. However, I would not want to speak for the Government on that point. It is important that the Government, having made a commitment to legislate on this subject, follow through on that.

On the other amendments that I have tabled, the issue for me is whether we are applying the rule consistently. The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) made a compelling point: the concern when the issue was raised was not simply about dual mandates, although that became a shorthand for it; it was about serving in two legislatures and the challenge that presents with regard to people being able to do both jobs properly. There is a further point, in that in the House of Lords, the expectation is that people are not fettered or influenced by constituency responsibility. However, if they have that responsibility because they have an elected mandate in another legislature, they are no longer free in that way. That distinguishes elected posts from other forms of employment outside the House of Lords in an important, fundamental way.

Mark Durkan: Does the hon. Lady recognise that in the context of Northern Ireland, there is a significant point to make about the House of Lords, in that no nationalist political representative takes a seat there? My party will not nominate to the House of Lords, precisely because its Members are not elected, and because of various other constitutional attributes it seems to have. Only Unionists or others who are not nationalists go to the House of Lords. If we make an exception for the House of Lords—an exception that I would not seek to make for Seanad Eireann—we end up with unequal legislation, because it ends up being only Unionist Members, and not nationalist Members, who are able to sit in two Chambers.

Naomi Long: I respect the hon. Gentleman’s right to advance that case, but it is not my case, or a case that I would choose to make, because if people are elevated to the House of Lords, they have the option of taking up that post. They are not barred from doing so because they have a nationalist perspective, or an Irish Republican perspective, for that matter.

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Mr Donaldson: Will the hon. Lady accept from me that there is at least one Member of the House of Lords who would claim to come from a nationalist background and whose spouse, I believe, happens to be a member of the same party as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan)?

Naomi Long: I understand the point that is being made. However, it is not my job as a member of the Alliance party to pigeonhole Members of the House of Lords and to count Unionists and nationalists, given that I do not want elections to be conducted by such distinctions.

8.45 pm

Mark Durkan: Let us be clear. In my remarks I referred to a nationalist representative. Somebody who was appointed as a working peer because of the competence and skill they have and the clear independence and service to the whole community that they demonstrated against much grudging from other quarters is entirely able to defend themselves as being there not as a representative of my party or even with the designation that my party confers on itself in the Assembly.

Naomi Long: I think—

The Temporary Chair (Katy Clark): Order. I remind all hon. Members that this is a summing up at the end of a debate. We are not commencing the debate again and it is not a second speech, so I ask the hon. Lady to take that on board.

Naomi Long: Indeed. I was on my last sentence when I took the intervention.

I believe that the exclusion of Members of the House of Lords, the Seanad and the European Parliament from sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly is an important point. Having listened to what the Minister said, I do not accept that there is a strong argument for maintaining the current position and I seek to press amendment 10.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 4, Noes 213.

Division No. 53]

[

8.46 pm

AYES

Durkan, Mark

Hermon, Lady

Mills, Nigel

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Tellers for the Ayes:

Naomi Long

and

Ms Margaret Ritchie

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barker, rh Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brokenshire, James

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crockart, Mike

Davies, David T. C.

(Monmouth)

Davies, Philip

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Graham, Richard

Grayling, rh Chris

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jones, Andrew

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lancaster, Mark

Leadsom, Andrea

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Karl

McCrea, Dr William

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, David

Simpson, Mr Keith

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Robin

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Greg Hands

and

Stephen Crabb

Question accordingly negatived.

9 July 2013 : Column 314

9 July 2013 : Column 315

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Reduction in size of Assembly to be reserved matter

Mr Dodds: I beg to move amendment 4, page 6, line 37, at end add—

‘7B The alteration of the number of members of the Assembly required to express

their concern about a matter which is to be voted on by the Assembly, such

concern requiring that the vote on that matter shall require cross-community

support.

This paragraph does not include the alteration of that number to a number

exceeding 30.’.

The Temporary Chair (Katy Clark): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 5, page 6, line 37, at end insert—

7B The subject matter of Sections 16, 17, and 18 of this Act.

‘(2) In Schedule 2, paragraph (b) after “sections” insert “16, 17 and 18”.’.

Clause stand part.

Mr Dodds: The purpose of clause 6 is to move the decision on the reduction in the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly from the category of excepted matter to that of reserved matters, which I think has received reasonable assent in Northern Ireland. The purpose of amendments 4 and 5, which stand in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, is simply to move into the category of reserved matters, as opposed to excepted matters, decisions relating to the appointment of the Executive and the way it is formed. Given that the number of MLAs will be reduced, we propose that

9 July 2013 : Column 316

all matters pertaining to the appointment of the Executive, its composition and make-up and the way the First and Deputy First Ministers are elected, and matters pertaining to opposition in the Assembly, should also be reserved matters. We believe that this would allow any political agreement negotiated by parties in Northern Ireland to be legislated for in the Assembly. It would give the Assembly the tools not only to discuss these matters, which do need to be discussed by the parties in Northern Ireland, but to agree them, of course by cross-community vote and by the normal mechanisms that require that to happen in the Northern Ireland Assembly. That would act as a bit of an incentive to allow and promote greater debate in relation to these matters.

9 pm

The other amendment is consequential. If the number of Assembly Members is reduced, we have to take account of the numbers required for a petition of concern. Again, that matter would be decided by the Assembly. We are not saying that this should be decided here and now, in this Bill, but simply that we should move these issues into the category of reserved matters so that they could be decided by the Assembly under the cross-community procedure. If we are going to allow the Assembly to decide on its size, we should allow it that further responsibility in relation to wider aspects of the political process in Northern Ireland.

Paul Murphy: I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words in Committee about this very important, if small, Bill. I feel a little in fear of being in splendid isolation on these Benches, although I am also surrounded by a phalanx of Northern Ireland politicians—something that I am not entirely unused to.

This has been an interesting debate. Perhaps, in referring to clause stand part, I could reminisce a little about why the Assembly has a membership that many believe is rather large, at 108. We could compare that with, for example, the Welsh Assembly. Wales has a population roughly double that of Northern Ireland but its Assembly has roughly half the number of Members of the Assembly in Belfast. There is a reason for that. It came about, as it so happened, on Maundy Thursday 1998 at 3 o’clock in the morning or thereabouts, when we struck an agreement with the parties—although of course at that stage the DUP was not involved; I think they were getting rather cold marching to Stormont in the snow.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) will recall, the initial belief was that there should be a membership of 95, but in fact it went up to 108. The final figure was reached quite quickly by the then Prime Minister, and we as Ministers, on the basis that although the idea of having five Members per constituency, making a total of 95, had some merit, increasing it to six would give smaller parties that had been involved in the talks on the peace process the opportunity to be represented in the Assembly—the Women’s Coalition, the Progressive Unionist Party and others. That was sensible. It related to the fact that we already had ready-made constituencies in Northern Ireland that could be used as the basis of the boundaries for the new Northern Ireland Assembly.

In the previous debate we heard interesting reference to how things have moved on. I believe that if we had not had people in the Northern Ireland peace process

9 July 2013 : Column 317

and political process who did not have a dual mandate, those processes would not have happened, because those people brought an invaluable wisdom and a richness of experience to the talks. Incidentally, I am not persuaded that we should be legislating about who should or should not be allowed to stand for the House of Commons or for the Assembly, but that is another issue, and we have just dealt with it. The point is that those decisions were made at the time to ensure that the process went on. I think that the 108 figure was right for the time, because it did what it had to do. Now that times have moved on, however, it seems to me that we should ask whether that figure is an encumbrance. Is it too big? Is it too expensive? Does it work? I think that this is a matter for the political parties in Northern Ireland to decide, as opposed to this place. It should be the Northern Ireland Assembly that decides whether it should be smaller.

Incidentally, when the Government tried a year or so ago to change the boundaries of our parliamentary constituencies they completely forgot about the knock-on effect it would have on Northern Ireland. Happily, that measure has disappeared, but it would have had a profound effect on the balance in Northern Ireland. The Government had not thought about that when they considered the parliamentary boundary review, but that is another issue.

It is for the parties in Northern Ireland to decide on the size of their Assembly and that is why I support clause 6, but I issue one caveat. I understand—had I read the Bill more thoroughly I would know whether this is the case—that the Secretary of State will have to endorse such an agreement. I think that is right, because the Good Friday agreement, the St Andrews agreements and the entire peace process were guaranteed by the Irish and British Governments and the Irish and British Parliaments, so that is another important factor. I will only be convinced, however, when the Secretary of State or the Minister, in response to this or any future debate, make it absolutely clear that no such changes should be made unless they achieve the consensus of all the parties in Northern Ireland as to what the figure should be.

I understand that the Assembly has a mechanism—the Assembly Commission, which is representative of all parties—that could initially consider any representations. Whatever happens, the decision should be reached by consensus, discussion, negotiation and agreement, and only then should the Secretary of State give her approval. Nevertheless, the principle is a wise one and I support it and hope it will be carried if it is put to the vote.

Mark Durkan: It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy), who chaired the strand 1 negotiations leading to the Good Friday agreement. The very important and patient role that he played throughout the negotiations is not often acknowledged.

Clause 6 deals with possible changes to the size of the Assembly and the right hon. Gentleman has explained why it ended up at its current size. He has corroborated many of the points that I made on Second Reading about how the figure of 108 was arrived at. The decision was made ultimately by the British Government. Some of us favoured a top-up scheme, but I remember the right hon. Gentleman and the then Prime Minister telling us during the night and early morning that the

9 July 2013 : Column 318

reason why they saw the option of six Members per constituency as offering the best chance of accommodating smaller parties was that if they went with the option of a top-up of 10 it would be too complicated for them to work out all the different permutations of top-ups. That was significant at that stage of the negotiations. We need to understand why that decision was taken. The right hon. Gentleman has rightly said that it can be revised and reviewed; indeed, the review mechanism of the agreement itself allows for that.

I do not think that there is any disagreement between the parties that the size of the Assembly needs to be addressed. The Assembly and Executive Review Committee has previously kicked it about, but we have still not seen any substantive moves. There are sensitivities involved in decisions about the size of the Assembly. A reduction to five seats per constituency would probably be broadly supported. A reduction to four seats per constituency would be much more sensitive, because it would make a serious difference to the capacity for proportional representation.

There is a question over the degree of gerrymandering that will be possible when the Assembly or the key parties therein have the power to settle the number of seats per constituency. The parties could abuse that power. That is why it is right that there should be a reserved power for the Secretary of State. However, some of us are not reassured that the Secretary of State would use that reserved power in an alert or effective way, because when Sinn Fein and the DUP come along, the attitude of the Northern Ireland Office seems to be, “Whatever you’re having yourselves.” That seems to account for sufficient consensus on such matters.

Naomi Long: In fairness to the current Secretary of State and the NIO as currently constituted, will the hon. Gentleman reflect the fact that what he describes has always been the case, even when his party and another party were in the position in which the DUP and Sinn Fein now find themselves?

Mark Durkan: I am not aware that we tried any such thing. I certainly never agreed to any such moves, not least when I was Deputy First Minister. When my fellow leader suggested that there were things that we could do to ensure better political patronage, I made it very clear that I was not for doing any such thing, regardless of what the NIO wanted to do. I used to spend much time in disagreement with NIO Ministers who had wheezes that they were working out with the First Minister. I did not go along with any of the Jonathan Powell, John Reid, David Trimble, Tony Blair wheezes on further ensconcing the position of the then leader of the Ulster Unionist party. It seemed to me that messing about with the institutions and playing those sorts of games was not the way to do things, either for that party or for the process and institutions that we had.

Mr Donaldson: It is just a minor point, but I am interested in how the hon. Gentleman regarded the wheeze that was introduced in the Assembly to unresign the former Deputy First Minister, who was then the deputy leader of the SDLP.

Mark Durkan: I think that privately I was the first to make the comparison with Bobby Ewing in the shower. I know that others said it publicly, but I think that the

9 July 2013 : Column 319

memoirs will show that I made that observation first because it was an obvious one to make. I did not agree with such wheezes. When it came to my election as Deputy First Minister alongside David Trimble as First Minister in the autumn of 2001, I did not agree with some of what the then Secretary of State said about the circumstances in which that election would take place. I made it very clear that, as far as I was concerned, if the Assembly fell and there was an election, that should be that.

Similarly, to correct a misrepresentation that was made on Second Reading, we did not agree to the wheeze of moving the date of the Assembly election. Under the agreement, the date of the second Assembly election was meant to be May 2003, because the first Assembly was to sit for five years to allow for bedding in. We did not agree with the date being postponed from May 2003. The right hon. Member for Torfaen, who was Secretary of State at the time, will remember that we said we were opposed to moving that election date. We have not agreed with any of the wheezes. When things are said, they should remain.

Mr Donaldson: Lest we rewrite the Second Reading debate, I wish to place it on the record that the point I made was merely that there is a precedent for extending the Assembly to five years. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman now accepts that the 1998 Assembly was extended to five years to, as he describes it, bed in. The point that I made on Second Reading and that I reiterate now is that there is a precedent for extending the life of the Assembly to five years.

The Temporary Chair (Katy Clark): Order. I ask Mark Durkan to address the amendment that we are debating.

Mark Durkan: I will do that, Ms Clark.

On the number of Members in the Assembly, the parties seem to be agreed in principle that that can and should change. The agreement provided for a review, just as the agreement provided that the first Assembly would last for five years. The first Assembly was not extended. There was provision in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and in the agreement, for the first Assembly to be five years, and four years thereafter. We did not agree with the date being changed.

9.15 pm

We must ensure that making membership of the Assembly a reserved matter does not create a situation where the dominant parties can start to have undue influence on the electoral architecture of Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein and the DUP already abused that position on local government boundaries, when a Bill to appoint a boundary commissioner actually fixed the boundaries. It was a complete misrepresentation to say it was a Bill to appoint a local government boundary commissioner when the parties themselves fixed the boundaries. There was no vigilance on that from the NIO or anywhere else: no concerns from the British or Irish Governments. The salient point made by the right hon. Member for Torfaen was that the British and Irish Governments are meant to be protectors and guarantors.