Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [ Lords]

Part of Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:56 pm on 11th March 2010.

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Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 3:56 pm, 11th March 2010

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to respond briefly to what has been a thoughtful, if short debate.

I am grateful again for the support of Mr. Robertson for devolution in general and for this particular Bill. He is right that we have discussions outside the Chamber, and I would encourage any Minister and Opposition Front Bencher to do that whenever possible. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, on a number of occasions when there is common ground between us, we should seek out that ground and occupy it together. I was pleased that his noble Friend Lord Glentoran was able to join us for some of our discussions, because he had fair, legitimate questions to ask about the Bill and other matters. The hon. Gentleman is right that there was initially a sense that the Assembly should perhaps be forced to take the action set out in the Bill, but the reassurances that we received from the Assembly's Speaker and the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission helped persuade his noble Friend and others that the Assembly was serious about the matter and could be allowed to get on with exercising its legitimate choice.

The hon. Gentleman, and every other Member who spoke, referred to the dual mandate. There were a range of opinions on that, and through discussions the Government brought forward a change that I believe satisfied everybody, at least to some extent, by reducing to zero the salary of a Member of the Assembly in the given circumstances. We are all clear that we are in a period of transition in relation to dual mandates, and we have had a good airing of the discussion about that this afternoon. Importantly, we remembered that the core purpose behind the Bill was not to end dual mandates but to facilitate a choice for the Assembly.

My hon. Friend Mark Durkan referred to the fact that often Bills are promised and then delays occur, but I cannot envisage Members of the Assembly seeking re-election or fresh election without the matter having been resolved beforehand. I am confident that it will have been dealt with before the next Assembly elections. He also made the important point that whichever legislature an individual is elected to, they should focus strongly and entirely on the matters before that particular legislature. As he said, it is perfectly legitimate for a Member of Parliament elected by constituents in Northern Ireland to come to this House and focus entirely on the matters that come before it. He himself takes a great interest in a range of issues, and there are matters from fiscal policy to foreign policy in which MPs from Northern Ireland should participate fully.

Mr. Carmichael rightly made the point that the Bill does not tell the Assembly what it has to do but gives it a choice. I endorse his comments on dual mandates, about which he feels very strongly, and I am pleased that he had the chance to express his views. I entirely agree with him: the fact that dual mandates are beginning to come to an end in Northern Ireland is a sign of political maturity and we should all welcome it.

David Simpson clearly set out his party's view on the Bill and on dual mandates generally. He made a number of party political points, on which, as I am sure he will understand, I do not particularly want to comment. However, I recall one important phrase that he used on the need to nurture the pool of political talent. That is something that every political party in the United Kingdom needs to do, but it is particularly important in Northern Ireland. We want a new generation of politicians to come along and build on the tremendous achievements of this generation of Northern Ireland politicians. He is entirely right to say that that should focus the minds of all political parties.