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In Grand Committee, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, made the pertinent remark that far too little new political talent comes out of Northern Ireland because the seats are already occupied. I made the point in Committee that the demands of the parliamentary timetable mean that it is unlikely that an MLA can be an MP at the same time effectively. Regardless of how dedicated they might be, the positions simply demand too much to be combined in one person.
These are not new arguments and the parties here and in Stormont are all familiar with them. All parties agree that the practice should come to an end. The Kelly report, which the Government have committed themselves to implementing, strongly recommends an end to the practice of double-jobbing. We on these Benches, along with our partners in the UUP, took the view that there was no good reason to put it off until 2015. We had an opportunity in this Bill to do something about double-jobbing, so we tabled our amendments in Grand Committee. Those amendments are still on the Marshalled List today.
I thank the noble Baroness for having the courage to concede the point by bringing forward her own amendments. That is not to say that I think the Government's proposals are perfect. My brief says that the amendments are silent on allowances. I think that is wrong and that the noble Baroness explained where allowances fitted in. However, a little clarity when she sums up would be helpful. The noble Baroness explained that if an MLA is also an MP, he still has constituents to serve, even if he is not getting both salaries, and therefore needs his allowance to be continued. Noble Lords will be aware of the view that the public take of politicians' allowances and expenses. I wonder if the new dispensation under the Government's proposals will escape the public's notice or meet with a little warmth. My brief also says that the Government's amendments do not mention pensions. However, the noble Baroness did mention pensions and I am quite clear where the Government stand on pensions. I thank her for that clarification.
Having looked at what the Government's amendments do not deal with, I will now turn to what they do. Amendment 1 deals with MLAs who are also MPs and who are eligible to receive a Westminster salary. If a person falls into that category-and not all MPs from Northern Ireland are eligible to take a Westminster salary-his MLA salary will drop to zero, although a separate salary is still payable if he is a Minister in the Assembly. Therefore, he will receive his full Back-Bench MP's salary, expenses and allowances for Westminster, Stormont administrative allowances, and possibly a ministerial salary. The noble Baroness expects that the disincentive of losing the Stormont MLA salary will be enough to encourage a double-jobber to step down from one legislature or the other. That, at least, is her hope. It is the intention of our amendments to make it clear that future Governments will not tolerate double-jobbing in Northern Ireland.
Our Amendment 2, which I moved in Committee, would go further. It would withhold all salary and expenses from an MLA until he stepped down as an MP. It was not-and I wish to make this clear in the light of some criticism of the amendment in Grand Committee-ever designed to dictate to the electorate who they could and could not vote for. Our amendment, like the Government's, is an incentive. It is a firmer incentive than the Government are offering, but we are both looking to reach the same ends.
Our approach has never been to single out one party for favour or discrimination, but has been one of principle. We wish to see the constituents of Northern Ireland properly and fully represented in all the forums in which they are entitled to be. We wish to see a fair and wise use of public funds to remunerate the elected representatives. It is because we have held fast to those principles that I tabled the amendments in Grand Committee, retabled them on Report and was prepared to test the will of the House on them. I believe that the mood of the House was behind those principles. However, the Government have tabled their amendments and we must give them due consideration. I have already said that they are not perfect, and explained why; but I recognise that the noble Baroness and the Government have made an effort to meet us. She and her colleagues, here and in another place, are genuine in seeking the same ends as we do, which will benefit Northern Ireland.
I told the noble Baroness in Grand Committee that I would not relish the prospect of defeating the Government on a Northern Ireland issue. We on these Benches have at all times sought to be helpful to the Government when dealing with Northern Ireland. We have engaged with them constructively and in a spirit of bipartisanship; and over the years that I have been doing this job, I have made many friends on the government Benches, as I hope the noble Baroness will agree. I wish to continue to do so, and because I recognise the work that the noble Baroness and her officials have done, I will support her amendments and will not press those in my name. However, I will make one final short comment. I will remind the Minister's noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, of his time in Northern Ireland, when he was one of
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Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I did not follow the gnomic utterances of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in his last sentence or two. I thank the Leader of the House for her introduction. She mentioned the contemporary political context of the Hillsborough negotiations. The Bill may be of only academic interest if there is no agreement at those talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It is also ironic that we are discussing double-jobbing when the MLAs are performing so badly at single-jobbing and are not getting on with settling their outstanding differences.
According to today's Irish Times, Peter Robinson is finding extreme difficulty in getting enough support from within his own party. These intra-party differences are a microcosm of the wider splits in the ranks of unionism, and all seriously obstruct the proper workings of the devolutionary settlement, which is now in extreme jeopardy. I hope that I am proved wrong about that. When the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, suspended Stormont some years ago and everybody thought it was for a short time, I said that it would be for a very long time. It was for five years. I hope that my prognostications now will not prove as accurate as they were then.
The Government have attempted to address the problem of double-jobbing. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, they have not gone as far as we would like, or as the Kelly report advised when it said that two or more mandates were not advisable. We have seen that starkly today. So many MLAs are also MPs and they cannot concentrate their minds on the real business at hand, but one must accept it. If an electorate wants to have a representative in more than one forum, that should be its right; but it should not be encouraged.
We went along with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, at Second Reading and in Committee, and I added my name to his amendment. We demonstrated to the Leader of the House how strongly we felt on that issue. I am extremely grateful that the Minister has gone as far as she has in proposing her amendment. I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and would not seek to divide the House; we will accept the government amendment.
Lord Carswell: My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by the Leader of the House for two reasons. First, as I have seen close-up, it accords strongly with the mood of the people in Northern Ireland. The parties have recognised that-some more readily than others-by their acceptance of the principle. Secondly, and perhaps even more fundamentally, it has become very clear over time and underlined by the present crisis, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has said, that there is a need in Northern Ireland political life for wise heads and minds focused on the affairs of the Province. If these provisions succeed in encouraging such a focus, it will redound to the strength of the political process, which needs all the strength it can get, and the durability of the institutions.
Many have criticised the Assembly structure as being seriously and fundamentally flawed. I understand those criticisms very clearly and share many of them myself. However, I quote the old saying that the best is the enemy of the good. I have no doubt that stability in Northern Ireland is assisted by the existence of a functioning and durable Assembly with all its flaws. Even a poor Assembly is better than no Assembly. If this Bill achieves that, it will be for the public benefit.
It is right that the provision should be put into effect without delay. There has been some foot-dragging in the process and those who would like to have deferred it coming into effect for quite a long time-indeed, a number of years-should be resisted. Those who dragged their feet are perhaps like St Augustine, who in his famous prayer said:
Lord Bew: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for listening to the mood of the House, as expressed at Second Reading and in Grand Committee. In effect, she has moved, in substance, to deal with the issues which were raised-there could be a quarrel about some detail but very little. It is a substantial shift and we are very grateful indeed.
I want to say why this government amendment is so necessary. On Monday this week in the other place, there was a debate on Afghanistan. In that debate, you could hear the accents of every region of the United Kingdom-Scottish, Welsh, Midlands, south of England and north of England-but no Northern Irish voice. That is not the fault of the Members of Parliament, most of whom, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has said, are also Members of the Assembly. That is why the issue of double-jobbing is so crucial. We in this House all accept that they had important business in Belfast and at Hillsborough which required their attention. Indeed, the double-jobbing situation is an accident of a complicated peace process and no reflection on any individual, but it is now time to move away from that system.
None the less, it reveals a fundamental point, because the people of Northern Ireland contribute to the war in Afghanistan, as do all the other regions of the United Kingdom. Young men from Northern Ireland fall in that conflict, as do young men from Scotland, Wales and England. It is a fundamental issue that the opinions and the tones of their Members of Parliament are heard when these issues come up.
This problem relates not only to defence issues, but to broader United Kingdom policy issues-economic, social and national security-on which in recent times, because of the domestic pressures that exist in Northern Ireland, we have not heard Northern Irish voices at Westminster. We need to make a break from that-we need to make a break quickly-and the provisions that the noble Baroness is advancing today are part of that work.
For the health of democracy throughout the United Kingdom, we need to create a condition in which the voices of all the regions are heard in our Parliament on matters that affect all the regions of the United
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Lord Morrow: My Lords, I did not intend to speak. However, I declare at the outset that I am a Member of that much-maligned Northern Ireland Assembly which, in the opinion of some, is not doing its single job very well. That criticism is ill founded. This House should just stop and take stock.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has delivered much good for Northern Ireland, despite the criticism that easily falls from the lips of some today. Those who stand in this House today and criticise have very little knowledge of the past 35 years that Northern Ireland has come through. I emphasise that we needed the experience of parliamentarians from the House of Commons to give guidance in the early years of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I hope and pray that the Northern Ireland Assembly will continue to exist.
There is no doubt that there are difficulties, but I believe that with good will those difficulties can and will be overcome, despite the scepticism of some here today. I suspect, unfortunately, that there are those who would like to see the demise of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I do not have a lot of problems with what the Minister has said today. They are all noble targets and my party has already put forward very constructive ways of taking this issue forward. We will not be making any issue that the Government are trying to, for instance, short-change the people of Northern Ireland.
Let us not forget that those who are double-mandated went to the people and were elected. I do not accept for a moment that there are seats in Northern Ireland that are continually filled. Those seats, at any election, are declared vacant for each and every person who wishes to put their names forward. The people declare, they make their decision and return whom they will on the ballot paper. I ask noble Lords to take that into consideration. Having said that, I understand the comments from around this House today; I understand where the Minister is coming from and I do not have a lot of problems with anything that has been proposed here.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, it seems to me that the amendments are very sensible indeed. If a Member has two positions, he should only get the salary for one. It is an indication that we should move on and allow other people to take the reins. The only way that they will get experience is if they are elected, make mistakes and move on.
I rose to my feet, however, to say that it was beneficial to the other place to have those who were Members of both the House of Commons and the
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Sometimes in Scotland and Wales, at a general election an Assembly Member is elected to the Westminster Parliament. Those who are in opposition to that Member's party might then say, "We want a by-election". Sometimes, a by-election can cost the taxpayers a great deal. Also, all sorts of people can come out of the woodwork and say that they have a great affiliation to a certain community when they do not, but are just trying to win a by-election. Therefore, if an Assembly Member wins a seat at a general election, there is a case for keeping both posts but not necessarily both salaries. I would certainly support the amendment.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions today and for their warm welcome for the Government's amendments. Before I turn to the amendments tabled by other noble Lords, perhaps I might answer some of the points that have been made in this short but interesting and useful debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was absolutely right when he outlined the situation on allowances and ministerial pay. Allowances will continue to be paid because we believe that while double-jobbing continues-and some people may still wish to represent two constituencies-people should be able to serve both of their constituencies while they are the Member for them, and should therefore receive the requisite allowances. However, as the noble Lord said, we hope that ensuring that politicians are not able to benefit financially, purely as a result of being elected to two legislatures, will act as a sort of a catalyst for them ultimately to choose which constituency they wish to serve. As the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton and Lord Morrow, said, the electorate clearly have a role to play in whether they wish people to serve in two constituencies.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, mentioned party politics and asked me to take a message to my noble friend. I believe that we must remain non-partisan on issues pertaining to Northern Ireland, as do all of my honourable and noble friends. We believe that it should continue as it always has continued.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Excellent, my Lords. I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton; we hope that progress continues to be made in the talks at Hillsborough. I also hope that his earlier prognostications do not come to pass now because, like the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, I am sure we would all agree that we want the talks to continue and succeed. Yes, we want to finish the job of devolution, but we also believe that the Assembly itself is doing a good job and want it to continue for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carswell, for pointing out that the amendments accord with the mood of politics and the parties in Northern Ireland, and I am glad that he believes that the
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The noble Lord, Lord Bew, as ever, makes a very persuasive case for getting rid of double-jobbing. He is right to say that the voice of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland must be heard in both Chambers of our Parliament on matters that affect all regions and nations of the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, was right to point out why we have double-jobbing and why it was necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, who has great experience, explained how we have benefited from it in the past.
The effect of the amendments tabled in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Smith of Clifton, would be that any new provision on salaries and allowances made by the independent body must ensure that MLAs who were paid allowances or a salary as an MP or MEP would be unable to claim their MLA salary or allowances. The Assembly would also be under a duty to amend its existing determinations dealing with salary and allowances to make such provision. I believe that the intention would be to prevent people performing both roles. Without the office costs allowance, which pays for constituency offices, MLAs would not be able to represent their constituents effectively. Therefore, the Government are concerned about the amendments because, as I said in Committee, it is our view that the best way forward is for the political parties in Northern Ireland to come to an agreement about how to bring dual mandates to a close.
The Government also have practical concerns about how these amendments would work. They are drafted in such a way as to be somewhat ambiguous as to their effect. Furthermore, there is a prospect of MLAs with a dual mandate being returned to the Assembly at the next election, which is scheduled for 2011, but finding early in the new mandate that they are unable to represent their constituents properly because they may become unable to claim the office costs allowance. We believe that there is an inherent risk in these amendments. As our compromise solution indicates, we have a large degree of sympathy with the principle behind the opposition amendments, but the manner in which they attempt to achieve their objective is unacceptable. However, I am delighted that both noble Lords have signalled their intention to agree with the Government's amendments.
3: Clause 1, page 2, line 30, at end insert "; and if the determination does not make the provision required by section 47(4) (as substituted by this section) it has effect as if it made that provision."
Lord Howard of Rising: This is a probing amendment that is designed to highlight the concern that these words might open up the registry to a high level of liability. Remedying a serious failure by means of financial compensation could lead to claims for millions of pounds. Is this the Government's intention? If not, what sort of steps does the Minister consider might be appropriate for remedying the consequences of a failure that could have had an impact on the availability of the service to companies throughout the United Kingdom? I beg to move.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, I start on a positive note by bringing noble Lords good news. I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord has said and I sympathise with his reason for tabling the amendment. The Government will consider this further, perhaps with a view to coming back with a proposal on Report. I hope, in the light of this, that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Howard of Rising: I thank the Minister for his reply. I look forward to hearing from him, and I hope that he will say the same sort of thing on many occasions this afternoon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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