Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [ Lords]

Part of Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 11th March 2010.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 3:46 pm, 11th March 2010

Everybody who has spoken up to now supports the Bill, and so do I. May I begin, as others have, by congratulating those who voted as they did in Stormont, including the party of David Simpson and that of Mark Durkan, on Tuesday night? I deeply regret the fact that the Ulster Unionist party did not feel able, at the very least, to abstain. I warmly commend my hon. Friend Mr. Robertson and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for the efforts that they made to persuade the Ulster Unionist party to support the provision. No criticism can be levelled at them, but I believe that the UUP took a regrettable decision and I want to put that on the record.

I also want to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury, who approaches his tasks with a wonderfully genial approach, that I do not disagree with him on the subject of dual mandates any more than I disagree with any other colleague. It is just a question of how one comes to the solution; that is all. I believe that the dual mandate has played a real part over the past few years in getting us to where we are today. I think that we would all say that the presence of Northern Ireland politicians in this Chamber who have been struggling to create and then to recreate an Assembly in Belfast has enriched our deliberations and continues to do so.

I do not think that the dual mandate is the ideal solution in perpetuity. I personally think that it is entirely commendable that the parties are seeking to outlaw within the party rules the dual mandate and so I have no disagreement with my hon. Friend on that, nor with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. It is just a question of how we arrive at the solution, because at the end of the day the electorate must be in a position to elect people whom they wish to send here in the knowledge of all the shortcomings.

I cited the example of Sinn Fein and I deeply regret the fact that its Members do not take their seats here. I deeply regret that there is no Sinn Fein Member on my Select Committee. I have pleaded with them to alter that state of affairs. I have not succeeded and I do not think that there will be any chance of success in the foreseeable future, but am I the one to say that they should not be eligible to stand? They have made their position plain to the electorate. There will be many people in each of their electorates who deeply regret that and vote for other parties, but unless we have proportional representation, which I do not personally favour, I am afraid that those who support the DUP, the UUP and the SDLP and who live in Sinn Fein constituencies will be, to a degree, disfranchised. We have to face up to these facts of politics in Northern Ireland.

I hope that we can move to a situation where all the individual parties have a common line on the dual mandate. I do not have terribly strong views on whether that happens this year, next year or the year after that, but we need to move towards it.

What is much more important is that we need to ensure that the fragile institutions of the Assembly and the Executive are sustained: that is crucial now that they are about to take on the extra responsibility of policing and justice powers. They need good and firm friends in this House, and in the new Parliament, to ensure that they succeed. I entered the House when all the Ulster Unionists, who were virtually the entire representation of Northern Ireland, sat on the Conservative Benches and took the Conservative Whip. We have moved a very long way from there. We have had some extremely difficult and troubled times that I do not wish to go back to-none of us does. We have to ensure that what has now been established is reinforced, built on and supported.

The most heartening feature over the past troubled decades in Northern Ireland has been the bipartisan nature of politics. As I have said before in Select Committee sittings and elsewhere, the Minister of State is an exemplary Minister who is highly regarded throughout the Province, and rightly so.