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.

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

Yes, they do take their expenses.

I am very unhappy about the situation that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire raises. I agree that Sinn Fein Members tell their electorate that they will not take their seats, and the people who vote for Sinn Fein might accept that. However, people who vote for the Social Democratic and Labour party-or the Democratic Unionist party or the Ulster Unionist party-have a right to be represented in this House, so I do not think that is acceptable for those who are elected not to take their seats. I would much rather that Sinn Fein Members take their seats in this House. I do not know whether I have fully satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire, but I have given the reasons why our party's Front Bench spokesmen oppose the practice of holding a dual mandate. The Bill was too narrow in scope to include an amendment that would have corrected that situation and we should have liked to amend it to outlaw the practice. But we are where we are, and in the Lords the Government tabled a compromise amendment that we were happy to agree to.

A Conservative Government would revisit the issue, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said. We recognise that most Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland are engaged in two jobs, but many of them agree that things have moved on and they have to change. If elected to Government, before introducing legislation, we would try to come to a voluntary agreement-a negotiated settlement whereby the practice does not continue; but my right hon. Friend has said that if necessary, we would consider introducing legislation to bring it to an end. We feel that is what the public require. They also want a separate body to set allowances and salaries in Northern Ireland, rather than the Members who receive them. For those reasons, I am happy to support the Bill.