Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [ Lords]

Part of Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:54 pm on 11th March 2010.

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Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 2:54 pm, 11th March 2010

We have just over three hours for this debate, and in that time, it would not be possible for me to give a full list of all Labour's achievements in government. However, I am happy to accept the comments of the hon. Gentleman, who played a considerable part when he spoke from his Front Bench on Northern Ireland matters.

The Bill before the House today will enable the Northern Ireland Assembly to delegate control of its salaries and allowances to an independent body. At present, the Assembly is explicitly prevented from delegating such functions under section 47(7) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Bill will remove that restriction and enable the Assembly to confer the functions of setting salaries and allowances for Assembly Members on an independent body. In keeping with the spirit of devolution, the Bill does not place a duty on the Assembly to change its system of determining salaries and allowances; rather, it leaves it up to the Assembly to decide what type of system to adopt. Presenting the Assembly with the power of delegation is not as straightforward as merely removing section 47(7) of the 1998 Act. The Bill therefore expressly provides that the Assembly may delegate control of its salaries and allowances, and also makes a number of important technical consequential amendments.

The Bill, however, is short. It consists of only three clauses and no schedules. Clause 1 amends section 47 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to enable the Assembly to delegate the power of determination in relation to the setting of salaries and allowances. The clause introduces two new subsections to the 1998 Act. Proposed new subsection (2A) will make it possible either for the Assembly to determine salaries or allowances payable to Members or for those salaries and allowances to be determined by a person other than the Assembly. Proposed new subsection (2B) makes it clear that different salaries may be set for different jobs, such as those of Ministers or Whips.

Clause 2 makes consequential amendments to section 48 of the 1998 Act. That clause deals with pensions, allowances and gratuities for persons who cease to be Members of the Assembly or who cease to hold certain offices but continue as Assembly Members. Clause 3 deals solely with the short title and commencement, with sections 1 and 2 of the Bill coming into force by commencement order. It will, of course, be a matter for the Assembly to take this matter forward following the passage of the Bill, and I understand that a Bill will be brought to the Assembly that will establish an independent body to set salaries and allowances. I am also told that the intention is to have the Assembly legislation in place prior to the next Assembly election, which is scheduled for 2011.