Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [ Lords]

Part of Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 11th March 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 3:10 pm, 11th March 2010

I entirely understand my hon. Friend's point, and I have thought about this issue at length. May I return to his question in a moment, however? First, let me say that when the Northern Ireland Assembly was originally set up, it was right for us not to outlaw dual mandates, because that would have meant that Assembly Members and Ministers could have been very inexperienced. Through having the dual mandate, people who have become Ministers are, by and large, quite experienced politicians, and not necessarily just in Northern Ireland, but here in Westminster as well. I therefore think there were good reasons for not outlawing dual mandates at the start, but we have moved on now.

Let me now directly answer my hon. Friend's question as best I can. This issue is not only about whether people are able to spend sufficient time both in the Assembly and here-and I have personally witnessed occasions when it has been impossible for hon. Members from Northern Ireland to serve on Committees here, which is not a good situation, as I do not think that allows them to do both jobs properly. There is a further point to make, about people's ability to serve two masters. Westminster MPs should be able to take a dispassionate judgment on the workings and performance of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but I do not think they are entirely able to do so if they also sit on that Assembly. Therefore, I do not think this is merely an issue of time; I think it is also about whether one person can serve two masters.