Clause 1 — Salaries and allowances

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 3:02 pm on 7 April 2010.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 3:07, 7 April 2010

There are only three clauses to this small Bill, and clause 1 contains the key provisions. Subsection (3) amends section 47 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to enable the Northern Ireland Assembly to delegate the determination of salaries and allowances to an outside body. That is expressly forbidden by the current legislation. The Speaker of the Assembly has confirmed that, after Royal Assent, legislation will be introduced in the Assembly and a new system put in place for setting allowances and salaries after the next Assembly elections in May 2011.

Subsection (5) reflects amendments made in another place and ensures that, if a Member of the Assembly receives a salary as a Member of Parliament or as a Member of the European Parliament, they will not receive any salary as a Member of the Assembly. This is seen as a step along the road to ending dual mandates in Northern Ireland. The other subsections in clause 1 are largely technical and consequential, and I hope that the whole House will continue to give the Bill the support that it gave on Second Reading.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

We welcome the Bill. We have had various discussions on clause 1, which, as the Minister says, contains most of the meat of the Bill. We welcome the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly is to gain the competence to set up a body for the independent setting of salaries and allowances. This will bring it more into line with what happens in Scotland and Wales.

We are also pleased that the Government met us halfway on the second part of the Bill, which deals with preventing anyone who is a parliamentarian elsewhere from receiving a full salary in the Assembly. It is important to move towards the end of double-jobbing, and we feel that it would be better to achieve that through consensus.

We have three basic objections. The money side of the matter, which the Bill addresses, is perhaps the least important, but it is none the less an important matter. There is also the question of whether people who are elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly can spend sufficient time in this place, as the work here becomes more onerous by the day. I am sure that it does in the Assembly as well, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to be in two places at once.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does my hon. Friend concede that in the context of devolution in the United Kingdom, it is inevitable and necessary to have people who are representative of both the devolved Assembly, particularly with its enhanced powers and responsibilities, and of this House? Does he accept that it would not be inconsistent-in principle, at any rate, and I am not speaking for anybody else-to say that if people are doing two jobs, which is always more onerous, and doing them efficiently, there is something odd about not giving them the status of being paid for both jobs, even if it is something less than they might have expected?

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I understand my hon. Friend's point. As I say, the money side is probably not the issue that concerns us most of all. Over the last few years, the Minister and I have worked together on many Committees, not only on primary legislation but on Statutory Instrument Committees upstairs, and sometimes they have clashed with meetings of the Assembly. I think that 15 of the 17 Northern Ireland Members of Parliament also sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has meant that they have not always been able to be present in Committee. I found that particularly difficult. The people with experience of and real expertise about life in Northern Ireland are the people who live there, but if they are in the Assembly and cannot physically get to Westminster, it creates a difficulty, about which we are concerned.

There is a further point about what has come to be called double-jobbing. There is potential for a conflict of interest. Is it right for people to sit in this House and make rules and regulations for the running of the Northern Ireland Assembly if they actually sit in that Assembly?

We support the Bill as far as it goes, but we would have preferred it to go a little further in certain respects. We recognise that parliamentary time has become extremely short and that the Government see this as a small, but important, Bill. As such, we are happy to support it.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I do not intend to detain the House for long. As far as the provisions on the regulation of expenses for the Assembly are concerned, there has never been any contention among the parties. In that respect, clause 1 is wholly unremarkable.

In common with Mr. Robertson, I would have preferred the provisions on double-jobbing to have gone a little further. It is a mark of the maturity of devolution in Northern Ireland, as well as in Wales and Scotland, that we can now countenance that. It is an issue that we should approach with rather greater confidence than we have apparently done. That said, the compromise we have achieved-compromise in the sense that everybody gets what nobody wants-is a workable staging post that should accelerate the withering on the vine of double-jobbing

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

On what the hon. Gentleman described rather pejoratively as double-jobbing, and in the context of the constitutional arrangements between ourselves and the Assemblies he mentioned, I am sure that he recognises that if we are to have anything other than complete independence, some functions will overlap-foreign policy, defence and so forth. It is all part of a continuous process and integrated involvement, so it is not double-jobbing: it is one job, which is to represent people in each of those places. Does he agree that that is not double-jobbing, but doing the job properly?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I fear that the hon. Gentleman has perhaps never quite come to terms with the full implications of the devolutionary settlement. It is double-jobbing because there are two jobs. There is overlap between statutory functions, and speaking as a Scottish Member here since 2001, I am intimately acquainted with those areas. Energy policy provides a good example of where there is a substantial overlap. The way to address those areas is through meaningful and effective co-operation between MPs, MEPs, MLAs, MSPs and so forth. We should not and cannot address the overlap by having people in more than one place at the same time. When important business is to be considered here, but equally important, albeit different, business is to be considered in Belfast, Cardiff or Edinburgh, that overlap simply cannot be addressed, irrespective of the amount of good will or effective joint working. In setting up a devolved Assembly, as this House has done, we have to accept that, although the work previously done by one person is now being done by two, it is no longer one job, but two jobs.

In that regard, I entirely endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury, whose analysis is to be commended. At risk of breaking the consensus that has been the hallmark of these proceedings, I merely observe in passing that I wish that his analysis was shared by his colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, two of whom, for reasons unknown to me, appear to be determined to continue double-jobbing if they are successful in being re-elected to this House. Occasionally, with double-jobbing, there come double standards.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East 3:15, 7 April 2010

I want to touch on the two points referred to by the Minister. Setting up a body to determine Assembly Members' pay and expenses would not have required the Sewel convention, because the Assembly has been crying out for permission to have a body carry out that work. It will have the support of all the parties in the Assembly as it moves forward. Indeed, they are waiting for this legislation to enable them to proceed with their own legislation. I believe that this will be widely supported not just in the Assembly, but in Northern Ireland as a whole.

I wish we were dealing with a Bill that took on the issue of double-jobbing. There is a lot of double-speak on this issue when it is suggested that if we have a job outside the House of Commons, whether it be at the Bar, a directorship or whatever, it amounts to great experience. I recall Mr. Hague speaking to the Ulster Unionist conference and railing against double-jobbing. I decided to go on the internet to check what double-jobbing he might have been involved in. My computer printer ran out of paper before I could get to the end of the list, yet he was lecturing the people of Northern Ireland on why they should end double-jobbing. This is not double-jobbing, but simply attempting to stop dual mandates.

The House needs some understanding of why there was such a significant occurrence of dual mandates in respect of Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was the view of all parties in Northern Ireland-at least those who could get Members elected to this House-that the experience of Members who had been in the House of Commons was worthwhile in order to ensure that the Assembly had the very best chance of succeeding. They wanted such experience to train-I do not use the term pejoratively-Members coming in to that level of elected service for the first time. It necessarily arose because people wanted to use such experience to ensure that the Assembly's life would not be a short one and that its business could be carried out in the best of fashions.

Secondly, some who might have had the Assembly as their first option-there were a number of them-had some doubt about the length of the Assembly's life. It was a bold move to set up the Assembly under those circumstances, when there was no certainty as to whether it would continue. Many Members thus wanted to hold on to their two positions until there was greater certainty. Those were the two reasons for the introduction of dual mandates, which was done with the best of motives.

As is made clear in the Library's research paper on the Bill, we intended to phase out dual mandates by the end of the next Parliament, but to do so gradually and progressively. The first step would be to remove Members of Parliament with chairmanships and ministerial roles-with only two exceptions-so that they would be able to attend Committees and participate in other House of Commons work, as Mr. Robertson suggested that they should. We always intended-before this became a public issue-to reduce the number of candidates standing for both positions as soon as the Westminster and Assembly elections came around. We have done that, and we wait for other parties to follow our lead. I believe in a system of "one man"-or woman-"one job", so that people can concentrate on every aspect of the work to be done either in this place or in the Assembly.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea Shadow DUP Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Before this became an election issue, or an issue in general, did not a number of my right hon. Friend's colleagues indicate their desire to remain in the House of Commons if re-elected, doing one job?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

Yes. A number of my colleagues made it clear to me that they did not intend to stand for the Assembly again. There are others whose constituency associations have persuaded them to stand for election to Westminster, and who will stand down from the Assembly. They would choose otherwise, but they are responding to the calls of their associations rather than their own desires.

Clause 1 takes us closer to "one person, one job", and I think that that is right. As for the finances, I do not believe that any of the Members of Parliament who attended the Assembly did so for any financial reason. They always received a considerably reduced amount in any case: I think it was a third of the salary that they would otherwise have received, and after tax deductions and donations to the party, there was nothing left for anyone else. It was never a matter of finance. I cannot see what else it is a matter of in the Bill.

Although the Bill does not tackle the actual issue of dual mandates, any sensible politician is bound to decide in due course that single mandates are best. My colleagues and I support the Bill without difficulty and without reluctance.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I listened with interest to the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, Mr. Robinson.

I am concerned about a constitutional question that I have raised before. We will reach a certain point in the devolution process, one that is coming closer in Scotland. We know what the leader of the Scottish National party is saying about independence, and we know that elements of the Welsh Assembly may feel the same. What the right hon. Gentleman said crystallised the process that is evolving. If the dual mandate is removed, which would lead to what he correctly described as "one person for one job", we must start thinking about the concept of one Assembly for one nation.

That is at the heart of this question. Although there are functions that are reserved, in Scotland and, in this instance, in Northern Ireland, it is becoming difficult to avoid a movement towards complete devolution, which many people would find disagreeable and others would encourage. Movement in that direction is pretty momentous, particularly in the context of Northern Ireland. I have no real knowledge of what the people of Ireland-and those of Northern Ireland in particular-think about it. However, there was a time when we heard the expression "full-hearted consent". Then came the Anglo-Irish agreement, followed by other movements towards greater devolution. A momentous and historic decision has just been made on the devolution of criminal justice, security and the police.

I sense that at the heart of this debate-

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I sense that we are moving away from the heart of this debate. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are debating whether clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Indeed, Sir Alan. I understand exactly what you have said, and I will do as you will suggest.

We are moving into a constitutional dimension that needs to be watched with great care. It is possible that at some point in the reasonably near future it will become clear that the issue of what is described as double-jobbing on one hand and as a dual mandate on the other will not go away, and that it has profound implications for the direction in which the devolution process continues to evolve.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

Let me record my party's support for the Bill, which, as has been said, addresses problems that need to be remedied for the future.

I think that people appreciate that, given the uncertainties involved in the process on which we embarked with the Good Friday agreement, it was justifiable and appropriate for members of parties to hold mandates in respect of both the Assembly and the House of Commons. Key issues of process were being played out in both places, and there is still some way to go. However, now that the process has become more settled and the institutions of the Good Friday agreement have become well and truly embedded, the public increasingly want their elected representatives to concentrate, in a committed way, on clear mandates and clear roles.

The Bill takes a step towards reducing the allegation of double-jobbing that attaches to people who hold dual mandates, but it does not fully resolve the issue. It would be a mistake for anyone to believe that the progress represented by the Bill, as a result of amendments made in another place, is in itself an answer to the question of dual mandates. That question remains to be addressed, and parties must make more progress on it. I have taken my own stand and approach, and other parties have taken theirs. The signals have been different, conflicting and confusing at times, which does no credit to the political process, whether it be represented by this Chamber or by the Assembly.

The Bill's original purpose was to allow the Assembly to establish an independent mechanism for settling the pay and pensions of Assembly Members. That is a matter of consensus and has the agreement of all the Assembly parties. It is not contentious at that level, but it is not unimportant. When the Northern Ireland Act 1998 was passed, it was felt appropriate to give the Assembly control over its own pay and pensions. The Assembly's having control over its own affairs was deemed to be a significant statement of its status, but public attitudes and perceptions of those things have moved on. People now want the Assembly's pay to be settled by truly independent means, and this Bill takes us forward in that.

I do not wish to detain the Committee any further, Sir Alan, given that the House has many other matters to attend to today. I know that you warned Mr. Cash when he was on his journey covering the trajectory of history, but it is always good to have him here participating. His family seem to have something of a Forrest Gump gene that means that they were present at all sorts of interesting and important occasions in British and Irish history, and he is here, yet again, for this debate on the modest but welcome development represented by this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.