With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 12, page 4, line 11, at end insert—
‘(2) A person who becomes a Member of the House of Lords is not disqualified under section 1(1)(za) at any time during the period of 8 days beginning with the day the person becomes a Member of the House of Lords.’.
Clause stand part.
Amendment 20, page 4, line 36, at end insert ‘or Seanad Éireann (Senate of Ireland).
(dc) is a member of the House of Lords.’.
Amendment 15, page 4, line 38, after ‘Éireann’, insert ‘or Seanad Éireann’.
Amendment 3, page 4, line 41, at end add—
‘(3) In section 1(1) of the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 (disqualification of holders of certain offices and places) before paragraph (a) insert—
“(za) is a member of the European Parliament;”.
(4) After section 1B of that Act (as inserted by section 4(2)) insert—
A person returned at an election as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly is not disqualified under section 1(1)(za) at any time in the period of 8 days beginning with the day the person is so returned.”.’.
Clause 4 stand part.
Amendment 16, in clause 5, page 6, line 13, leave out from ‘MPs’ to end and insert
‘, members of the House of Lords or members of the Oireachtas).’.
Amendment 17, page 6, line 28, leave out from ‘MPs’ to end and insert
‘, members of the House of Lords or members of the Oireachtas); and’.
I intend to keep my remarks on this group of amendments brief. I welcome the fact that the Government have acted on their promise to ensure that double-jobbing between MLAs and MPs will now be brought to an end. I also recognise that, as a result of discussions in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Government have moved to include within that provision Members of Dail Eireann so that TDs, too, will not be able to hold a seat in the Assembly. I think that it is right that they have done so and welcome that move. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Hollobone.
As I was saying, I welcome the fact that the Government are dealing with and resolving the issue of MP-MLA double-jobbing. That is a huge improvement. As a result of the Select Committee’s discussions, the Government have also moved to resolve the issue of TDs, who could also sit as MLAs, and to equalise the situation. That is also important and I welcome it at the outset.
The Government did this for good reason, which is the challenge of being in two legislatures at the same time—
On a point of order, Mr Hollobone. I am afraid that even from this position on the Treasury Bench I cannot hear a word that is going on, mostly because of conversations at the other end of the Chamber.
Thank you very much, Mr Hollobone. It is unfortunate that the noise blotted out all the praise that I was heaping on the Government, because I am just about to stop and start to highlight areas where they have not been quite so generous. However, I do appreciate that these issues are being addressed. I very much support that, as did the Select Committee.
These provisions are being proposed for a very good reason. Serving in two legislatures involves the physical challenge of being in two places at once. The conflict in sitting times between the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly means that Members who wished to be here today for this business would have to be absent from the Assembly, where they could be questioning Ministers and holding them to account. There is significant evidence that that creates a democratic deficit either there or here.
The problem is not restricted purely to Members who sit in the House of Commons. I recognise that the House of Lords is not structured in the same way as the Commons. Its Members do not have an electoral mandate and therefore do not have the same demands on their time with regard to constituency business. However, as a revising Chamber with a primary focus on legislation and scrutiny, it is hugely important that its Members are free to dedicate themselves to that task without the interference of a constituency burden and the other legislature that they would have to deal with when they are at the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I agree with the hon. Lady. Does she accept that, as I propose in amendment 3, this must apply even more to the European Parliament, which is even further away and has some kind of elected legitimacy, at least while we are in still in the European Union and it is relevant to us? I cannot see how someone can serve in Brussels and in Belfast at the same time.
I will come to the hon. Gentleman’s amendment shortly. I understand that European Parliament legislation precludes people from serving in the Assembly at the same time as in the European Parliament. Perhaps Mr Dodds would be able to advise whether that is the case. If not, I would welcome the issue being resolved in the Bill and would support the hon. Gentleman’s amendment if it achieved that.
It is not only about distance but about simply having the time to commit to doing the job that one is supposed to be doing. The House of Lords plays an important role in acting as a revising Chamber for this House. Someone who is a peer and also an MLA will not be able to commit themselves fully to either body, and that is unfortunate. The situation is exacerbated by the direct conflict between the sitting times of the Assembly and the House of Lords, particularly on Mondays and Tuesdays but also extending into the rest of the week, when people would be on committee business in the Assembly. The Assembly committees are extremely powerful instruments, and it is therefore important that Members play a full and active role in them.
I also recognise that remuneration for the work of a peer is different, which reflects the fact that many peers have careers outside Parliament that may on occasion conflict with the sittings of the House of Lords. I made it clear on Second Reading that I was content for this matter to be resolved in the context of wider reform of the House of Lords, and it was initially indicated that that would be the case when we discussed this during and after the Bill’s consultation period. However, given that House of Lords reform has not progressed and looks unlikely to do so in, let us say, the short term, it is important that the Government revisit the possibility of taking action in this Bill in order to ensure that Members of the House of the Lords and those who are elevated to it do not continue to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. If membership of this House disqualifies people from serving in the Assembly, I believe that the same should be true of membership of other Parliaments.
I do not believe it is acceptable that someone who sits in the Seanad, the upper House of the Dail at the Oireachtas, is technically allowed to hold a post—although no one does—in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I think that is wrong. I am glad that the Government have addressed the issue of the Dail, but I believe they should address the Oireachtas as a whole, so my amendments also seek to exclude Members of Seanad Eireann from being able to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I believe that that would be consistent with the approach to the House of Lords. Both deal with legislative matters, which the Government gave as their primary reason for excluding MPs and TDs.
I would suggest that all those arguments also apply to Members of the European Parliament. I have been unable to unravel—let us put it that way—precisely whether Members of the Assembly are specifically excluded from being MEPs, but history shows that any Assembly Member who has been elected to the European Parliament has stood down. I therefore support amendment 3, tabled by Nigel Mills, which would clarify the issue in domestic legislation and make it clear that it is not the will of this Parliament that people should be able to hold both posts.
The report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee acknowledges that those are important issues. We note in paragraph 66 that legislation on dual mandates
“should be applied consistently across both Houses of Parliament” and ask
“that the Government include a provision in the substantive Bill to this effect.”
Moreover, in paragraph 75 we say that it would be “illogical” to allow
“a position whereby a member of the UK Parliament was excluded from being an MLA but a member of another legislature was not.”
I think that that stands the test of scrutiny and hope that even at this stage the Minister will be able to offer us some comfort on these matters.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady and I agree with most of what she said. Indeed, when the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee considered the Bill we welcomed the Government’s decision to legislate to abolish double-jobbing between this place and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and we suggested that if the Government were going to go down the route of legislating on one lot of double-jobbing, they should do so for all manner of double-jobbing in order to be consistent. It is welcome that the Government listened to the Committee on the issue of Members of the Irish Parliament. If it is right to block Members of this Parliament from being Members of the Assembly, it would have been iniquitous to not also block Members of the Irish Parliament. That is a welcome change.
We accept the need to legislate to end double-jobbing between the Parliament in London and the Assembly in Belfast, but I find it difficult to understand why the Government think there is no need to end it in the context of the European Parliament in Brussels. I see from the Government response to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report that they see no need for that because no concern has been raised.
The Government consider that if that was done, it should apply across the United Kingdom and not just in Northern Ireland. However, the same argument would apply to ending double-jobbing between this place and the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, but the Government are proposing legislation only for Northern Ireland. I believe that legislation is planned for Wales, but I am not sure of the position on Scotland.
It is therefore hard to see the logic of legislating to stop Members of Parliament sitting in the Assembly, but not to stop Members of the European Parliament sitting there. Surely if we think that that is wrong, we should legislate on it as a matter of principle and say that people can choose whether they sit in the Assembly or another Parliament, but they cannot do both. That is the simple logic behind amendment 3.
I see no reason to detain the Committee. The hon. Member for Belfast East set out all the good reasons for banning double-jobbing. The people of Northern Ireland think that that should happen and all the parties over there have voluntarily agreed that it will happen from the next general election. In my view, that should also apply to the next European Parliament election, which is due to take place in just under a year. I therefore commend amendment 3 to the Committee.
The intention of amendment 20, which appears in my name and that of my hon. Friend Ms Ritchie, is to achieve exactly the same effect as that outlined by Naomi Long in respect of her amendments. The Clerks said that amendment 20 would be the best way to achieve the principle of one Member, one Chamber. However, I am open to supporting the other versions that would get us to the same point, namely the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast East. I also note the extension of that principle in the amendment tabled by Nigel Mills, which refers to the European Parliament.
Oddly, the provisions on Members of Oireachtas Eireann being Members of the Assembly date back to a situation involving a prominent and senior member of my party, Seamus Mallon, who was deputy leader of the SDLP. In the 1980s, his membership of the Northern Ireland Assembly was challenged on the basis that he was also a Member of Seanad Eireann. Of course, when my party stood in the election to the Assembly in 1982, we made it clear that we would not take our seats and would not sign on for salaries, allowances or anything else. It is therefore not comparable to Members of Sinn Fein not taking their seats here, but taking allowances. When Seamus Mallon was subsequently appointed to the Seanad, a member of the Ulster Unionist party saw fit to make a legal challenge to force a by-election so that a Unionist could take the seat in an Assembly that had no real powers.
On the back of that controversy, Sinn Fein made the case in the early years of the peace process for a gratuitous piece of legislation that was put through this House, which provided that Members of either House of the Oireachtas could be MPs and/or Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Sinn Fein was the only party that sought that piece of legislation. That was because, in building the party and selling itself to its supporters, it wanted to use its heavy hitters as abstentionist MPs and as candidates for the Dail. It was entirely a confection to support Sinn Fein’s ambitions and pretentions in building the party and the movement. This House was convinced to legislate on that basis. Of course, Sinn Fein has not activated the change it sought, and rightly so. Whenever its more prominent elected representatives in the north decided to seek election in the south, they did so on the basis of giving up their seats in the north. They too seemed to accept the standard of one Member, one Chamber. We should therefore ensure that when there is an opportunity to legislate, we should take it.
The Government were right to move on the dual mandate between Westminster and the Assembly, not least because they had served notice that if the parties did not move to rectify the situation, they would move to legislate. They have done that and I support them. As I indicated on Second Reading, I took my own decision on the dual mandate and it is right that legislation sets a clear, common standard.
That is permitted under the legislation. In my view, legislation should clearly not allow that; a party leader should not be under pressure to say that, because they are in one and can be in the other, they should sit in both because the law allows it. There is pressure on people because being able to sit in both helps to protect a second Assembly seat in the constituency, but such tactical considerations should not enter into it. The best way to spare everybody from those sorts of considerations is to have one clear, uniform standard in law.
Of course, the hon. Gentleman’s party has Members who sit in both the Assembly and this Chamber. Indeed, they have one Member who sits in Westminster and the Assembly while serving as a Minister in the Executive. I have always argued—when I was a Minister and subsequently —that any Minister should solely be a Member of one Chamber and be fully accountable to that Chamber. I have consistently argued that one should not be a Minister in one Chamber and a Member of another.
No, that is not a fact. When I was a Minister in Northern Ireland I was not an MP. I became a suspended Minister—I was a suspendee, not a suspender —in October 2002, and I was not elected to this House until 2005. I subsequently made appointments when I was a Member of this House; I was the leader of my party and had the power to appoint Ministers. I made it very clear well in advance that I could not appoint myself as a Minister, no matter how many seats we had won and how many Ministers we might have had to appoint in the Assembly. I was an MP and could not be a Minister. That was our party rule, and the party standard has been consistent. Similarly, when my hon. Friend the Member for South Down, who was a very able Minister for Social Development in the Executive, was elected to this House, she resigned as a Minister. That was consistent with that principle: we have consistency and form on this issue.
Regardless of what justification Members or parties might be able to give for having coped with the dual mandate in the past, circumstances are different now. We have an absolutely settled process. It is important to give the public the confidence that we believe it is a settled process by moving on dual mandates. That would indicate that we do not believe that there is any uncertainty surrounding the institutions which might give an excuse for having a foot in two Chambers.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking an intervention, but may I run one suggestion past him? I have never had a dual mandate and I do not particularly favour them. However, in the context of a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland that is sustainable and will continue, is there not an argument to be made for the Finance Minister in that devolved Administration to be present in this House, particularly for the Budget, financial statements and the comprehensive spending review, so that he or she can address the key issues across the Dispatch Box to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that day and on those issues?
No, having been Minister for Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland, I do not believe there is such a compelling reason. I would have regarded it as a distraction from my full-time day job if I had been operating in another Chamber as well. The limited opportunities we have here to ask questions on a statement or the Budget do not compare to the effective opportunities a Minister and his or her officials have via the other channels to the Treasury, such as joint ministerial committees that exist for engagement between Governments. Those are adequate for Scotland and Wales, so I do not think we should create an exception in Northern Ireland if someone happens to be the Minister for Finance and Personnel.
The hon. Gentleman has obviously missed my point. We want to legislate so that there are no special cases, no special pleading and no tactical pressure on anybody, be they a party leader or anybody else. That is why we should legislate to a standard, not on an ad hominem basis.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous with his time. He alluded earlier to a direction of travel and the destination we all want to reach: a single mandate for each Member. I think there is unanimity there, but would he agree that Scotland and Wales seem to have got there without the need for legislation?
Perhaps they did, but the fact is that notice was served to the parties in Northern Ireland that, if such a change did not happen, the Government would move to legislate, as they have now correctly done. It would have been wrong for the Government to give the signal, and then not to use the Bill to address the matter. We discussed this on previous Bills, because it came up whenever we considered the question of constituencies and voting systems, as well as House of Lords reform.
That would be a discrepancy as well. If the principle is one Member, one Chamber, it should apply all round. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that those of us who tabled amendments should have included the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, so that there was no question of somebody deciding to be in several Chambers.
That was discussed at length in Select Committee. One reason we did not do it was that, this being the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, there would have been no argument for including it. I think the Secretary of State for Wales is intending to introduce legislation creating that bar, although whether the Secretary of State for Scotland chooses to do the same is a matter that perhaps he could clarify better than me. Either way, this matter should be resolved.
I fully take the hon. Lady’s point; it was a helpful intervention, but the point that Paul Murphy made was also a good and valid one. If we were using the Bill, in the pedantic sense, to make it truly perfect and to cover all the options, we could have included the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, but we did not, for the sorts of reasons she mentioned.
If we are moving, rightly, towards precluding dual mandates in this Chamber and the Northern Ireland Assembly, the same should apply to the other place as well. If it is to be one Member, one Chamber, it would be wrong if somebody could be in another Chamber in this Parliament—a Chamber which, because of the strange rules, procedures and fixations that people have here, seems at times to have more impact on legislation, by way of amendments, than this one.
The argument then arises about why somebody should be allowed to sit in another Chamber simply because they are not elected and have no mandate. The fact that they are there on an unelected basis does not make their dual membership of two different legislative Chambers any more acceptable than it would be for somebody who had been elected to both Chambers. Indeed, we have heard the Democratic Unionist party make the argument that there is more legitimacy if someone is elected to two Chambers, because the public, in electing that person, know that they are in two Chambers and knowingly give them that mandate. In many ways, the least defensible position is to say that someone can be an elected Member of one Chamber and an unelected Member of another at the same time.
The same thing has to apply to the Oireachtas. If people have rightly been precluded from being a Teachta Dala at the same time as being a Member of the Assembly, they should also be precluded from being a Member of the Seanad Eireann at the same time, whether as a Taoiseach’s appointee or as someone elected through the panels by the electoral college system that exists in the south for the Seanad. Again, if people are sitting in one legislative Chamber, that should be their sole place. That is the point of amendment 20 and the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast East.
I fully take the point made by the hon. Member for Amber Valley, who wants to extend that position to the European Parliament. Some of us had thought that that was already provided for, but I understand that it applies more specifically to membership of this House—to national Parliaments, as opposed to regional or other territorial Assemblies. In practice, when the parties in Northern Ireland have run Members of the Assembly as candidates for the European Parliament in recent times, they have usually done so on the basis of a full declaration that, if elected to the European Parliament, that candidate’s membership of the Assembly would cease. However, in taking a belt-and-braces approach, the hon. Gentleman makes a good point with amendment 3.
I repeat the point that if we want to have one Member, one Chamber, we should apply that to the second Chamber of Parliament and the Oireachtas, as well as to the first Chambers of both.
We do not have an amendment in this group, but I want to speak to a number of the amendments that have been tabled.
I, along with others here, held a dual mandate for some time, being a Member of Parliament and subsequently being elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. At times I think it pushes the boundaries a little to suggest that there is huge public opposition to the concept of dual mandates. When I was elected for two terms in the Assembly, I was a Member of Parliament, but I was elected—I do not share this for any reason other than to illustrate my point—with the highest number of first preference votes of any candidate in the Assembly elections on both occasions. No one voted for me on the basis that they did not know that I was already a Member of Parliament, yet they deemed it appropriate to elect me to a second Chamber. The idea that the public were always entirely opposed to dual mandates is therefore spurious, because the facts do not support it.
Because of the development of the peace process in Northern Ireland, we needed people in the Assembly who had the experience of serving as Members of Parliament. That was important. I recognise that we have now moved on and, on the basis of voluntary undertakings given by parties in Northern Ireland, we now have very few Members who hold a dual mandate between this House and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and by the next election there will be none. To say that there is a need for these changes is therefore stretching the point, to say the least. Indeed, this issue would be way down my list of priorities for inclusion in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
Mark Durkan made the point that the Government said they would legislate on moving to a single-mandate position only if the parties did not move in that direction voluntarily. Is it not the case that the parties have so moved, yet the Government are still proceeding with the measure?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Government have already legislated—as, I think, the Assembly might have done—to ensure that a Member of this House who is also a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly receives no pay for holding the office of Assembly Member and has a much reduced office costs allowance. There is already provision to deal with the issue. The reality is, however, that the proposal is also incorporated into this Bill.
I would like to say on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party that we oppose the amendment that would exclude Members of the House of Lords from the opportunity of serving in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and we have valid reasons for doing so. The House of Lords is an appointed second Chamber in the United Kingdom Parliament. In making appointments to it, there is a desire to achieve a degree of regional representation. I happen to think that it is to the benefit of devolution to have a connection between this Parliament and the devolved legislatures. I accept that it is not preferable for that to involve Members of this House, because we are elected and there is the question of the dual mandate and because certain issues can arise at constituency level.
Those matters do not pertain to Members of the House of Lords, however. Even in a reformed House of Lords, there would be value in making provision for some Members of the devolved legislatures also to be represented, if they so chose, in the House of Lords. That would help to bind the United Kingdom together, and to recognise the special position of the House of Lords. As a body, it is not necessarily representative in geographical terms, but it is widely representative of society. Why should we not have in the House of Lords legislators from the devolved regions of the United Kingdom? We do not accept the need to amend the Bill to exclude Members of the House of Lords from having that dual representation—if not a dual mandate—in the separate Chambers.
The House of Lords is a key part of the legislature of the United Kingdom and, as someone who is very keen on devolution, I believe that the Assembly is an essential part of the Government in Northern Ireland. Can the right hon. Gentleman honestly say, with his hand on his heart, that a person—or multiple people—sitting in the Assembly and in the House of Lords can do justice to both roles and sit in both places simultaneously?
I can say, hand on heart, that I believe they can. When I was a Member of the Assembly and of the UK Parliament, my attendance record on Committees in the Assembly was far superior to those of single-mandate Members of the Assembly. When I chaired the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, I had a 100% attendance record—I was the best attendee on the Committee. We have to weigh these things up and strike a balance.
I certainly do not dispute the fact that the right hon. Gentleman’s Assembly Committee attendance record was good, but we should look at the disparity between the average voting records of those in this House who do not have a dual mandate and those who do. According to “The Public Whip”, the average voting record of those of us who do not hold a dual mandate is 413 to 414, compared with 259 to 260 for those who do have a dual mandate. The Assembly might not suffer, but the attendance of those Members in this House seems to do so. I am not suggesting that that is the only metric we should take into account, but it is an important one.
I come back again to the issue of mandate. If the people of East Londonderry decided that they wanted someone other than the current Member to be their MP, because the current Member also happens to be a Member of the Assembly, they will have made that choice. The reality is that the choice they made at the last election was to elect someone who was also a Member of the Assembly and who has, by the way, an excellent voting record in this Chamber and participates well in debates. In all those issues, we have to strike a balance. What we are recognising is that we accept the argument that in respect of Members of this House there is a greater weight of opinion that says that it is difficult to do both tasks. In respect of the House of Lords, however, I believe that having a small number of MLAs who also happen to be Members of the House of Lords is something of value to the Assembly and to the people of Northern Ireland.
I know it is probably academic, as I recognise that we are moving in the same direction. Naomi Long singled out voting records. That is one and only one element of performance. If we look at oral contributions, written questions and the tabling of motions, we see a very different picture. It is worth looking at theyworkforyou.com which can show us who is performing well and who is not.
I would also say that a constituent, whether it be in Limavady or Lisburn, is well able to make a judgment about whether the person they elected to a particular chamber better serves the interests of the people by being here to vote on the Mersey Tunnels Bill, which is of no relevance whatever to the people of Limavady or Lisburn, or by dealing with an issue in the Northern Ireland Assembly that is of relevance to them.
We have moved on from the question of dual mandates between the House of Commons and the House of Lords or the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly, but I do not believe that the same arguments apply in respect of being a Member of the House of Lords and being a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. As I have said, I think there is real value to the Assembly in having a small number of Members who are also Members of the United Kingdom Parliament by virtue of their membership of the House of Lords. Equally, I would hope, the House of Lords can see the value of having that sort of representation, albeit on a small scale.
We nevertheless support the amendment tabled by Nigel Mills because the European Parliament is an elected chamber, and we draw a distinction between an elected and an appointed chamber. If the argument is made that it is difficult to be in London and in Belfast, I would say that it is even more difficult to be in Brussels or Strasbourg and in Belfast. None of the Northern Ireland parties pursue the option of having their MPs as an MLA, but if the argument goes that we are legislating to prevent dual mandates for the House of Commons because we want to prevent it happening in the future, I suggest that the same principle should apply to Members of the European Parliament as well. It may not be the practice at the moment, just as I believe the practice of dual mandates in this House is coming to an end, but if preventive measures are called for, we have to be consistent and look at the position of the European Parliament.
We are minded to support amendment 3, tabled by the hon. Member for Amber Valley, but to oppose the amendments that include the House of Lords in the excluding provisions. We believe it is right to include the Irish Parliament within the exclusions, given that it is an elected body, and I think that Mark Durkan is seeking to extend that to include the Irish Senate.
The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Irish Senate is not actually elected in a public sense. Indeed, some of the seats are appointed by the Taoiseach. Those of us who are backing these amendments are being consistent: whether or not a chamber is elected is not what matters; what matters is whether it is a legislative chamber.
That is a fair point, but my party approaches the matter from a very different perspective. The Parliament of the Irish Republic is in a separate jurisdiction, outwith the United Kingdom, and we have always taken the principled view that a member of a Parliament that is outwith the United Kingdom’s jurisdiction should not be entitled to membership of a devolved legislature or of this Parliament.
My right hon. Friend is making a valid point. Surely it would be ludicrous for a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly also to be a member of Dail Eireann or of a Senate with a different constitution, a different aspiration, and a different way of looking at things from an Assembly that is in the United Kingdom.
Indeed. I do not know what affirmation new members of the Irish Senate make, but it is surely a contradiction for people to come to either of the Houses of Parliament here and affirm their allegiance to the United Kingdom, and then to go to the legislature of another country and affirm their allegiance to that country. That is why, on principle, we cannot accept the concept that a Member of the Parliament of another country could also be a member of either a devolved legislature in the United Kingdom or, indeed, of this Parliament.
Naomi Long, my hon. Friend Mark Durkan and I firmly believe in one Member, one Chamber. I declare an interest as a former Member of, and Minister in, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, and also as a former district councillor in Northern Ireland. As such, I know very well that Members must serve only one Chamber if they are to do the job properly and adequately.
The proposal to extend this legislation to the upper chambers, the House of Lords and the Seanad in the Irish Parliament, has my full support. I believe that there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in contending that dual mandates must end while ignoring the practice in respect of other legislative bodies. The current approach is inconsistent, and leaves us with an untidy arrangement.
There was a period during the early years of the Assembly—back in 1998—when dual mandates were an important part of the political system, but given the changes in our political system in Northern Ireland and its evolving maturity over the past 15 years, there is clearly a different political climate as well as a different expectation on the part of the body politic. While I am not convinced that this legislative route is the most appropriate, the direction of travel is clear, and my party supports it.
As we move towards the new system, however, we must ask why we are preserving the practice in some arenas but not in others. Why are we creating this imbalance? I accept that the House of Lords operates differently because it has no constituencies, but the important point—emphasised a few minutes ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle—is that it is a legislative Chamber. If we are legislating to prevent people from being members of two different legislatures, that is exactly what we should do.
Surely part of the rationale for the structure of the House of Lords is the fact that it can serve as a revising Chamber, and scrutinise legislation in a robust way, because its Members are not being lobbied by constituents as we in the House of Commons are when we are dealing with legislation. Could not an electoral mandate expose Members of the House of Lords to that kind of lobbying, and prevent them from acting as we expect a Lord to act?
That was a useful intervention, because it illustrated the role of Members of the House of Lords. While they have clear legislative responsibilities, they also do very in-depth work. We can cast our minds back to the work done in respect of the Welfare Reform Bill, and its ping-pong nature, with the Bill going back and forth between us. Lords come from many varied backgrounds, but they do their work. The Lords may not be elected, but they do have legislative responsibilities, which naturally would clash with the responsibilities of an elected Chamber such as the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is the very problem that this measure is meant to address. I would not hold my breath about this House finally taking on the much-needed reform of the House of Lords, but if, and hopefully when, it does, would it be desirable that people can run for election and hold office, namely by having a dual mandate between the Assembly and an elected House of Lords?
It is important that this issue is sorted out now within the terms of the current Bill. I note that that position is supported by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. In so doing, we come to this issue with the premise of one Member, one Chamber. Having had the experience of serving in other Chambers, and knowing the extent and breadth and depth of work and investigative intelligence that is required of Members in all those Chambers, particularly in terms of legislation, we not only support our own amendment—amendment 20—but we also support those of the hon. Member for Belfast East.
On clause 3 and the ending of the dual mandate between Members of this House and Members of the Assembly, our party made it clear some time ago that we would be bringing this matter to the point that by 2015, as was recommended, dual mandates would be ended. We are working towards that, and it needs to be made very clear in this Committee tonight that this Bill does not end dual mandates; the parties in Northern Ireland are ending dual mandates, and they are doing so for the reasons that have been advanced, which are that we have now moved forward to a position where politics is much more stable, and the Assembly and the Executive are up and running. We are therefore in a very different position from the one we were in only a short time ago, when dual mandates were not only preferable, but essential, for the reasons laid out very clearly by my right hon. Friend Mr Donaldson and because of the leading political figures in this House who were playing the important—the crucial—role of bringing about peace, stability and devolution in Northern Ireland. That would not have worked if there had not been that dual mandate at that time; that is absolutely the case.
There is a tendency sometimes to look at situations from the perspective of today, rather than looking at the context of the time. I want to pay tribute to all Members who held dual mandates at that time. I want to do so not because I was one of those Members who held a dual mandate, but because they put themselves and their families under enormous stress and strain in terms of the work load, but still carried out an immensely powerful job, as was recognised through the votes of the people, who consistently voted for them. Therefore it is only right and proper to pay tribute to those politicians who did that in very difficult circumstances, and who had their pay cut, we must remember—it was not as if they were doing it for two salaries. It was done for the reasons set out, and also because, to return to an earlier discussion, there were very real threats against politicians, and not too many people were prepared to come forward and put their head above the parapet. Every Member in our party, and Members of other parties as well, including the SDLP and the Alliance, suffered very severe threats at that time, and actual attacks on their person, their offices and on people close to them. That was the reality of the situation we lived in.
That point was also made by the right hon. Gentleman’s colleagues on Second Reading, and it is important to put on the record that nobody is suggesting that people who served during that period did not have a justification for doing so. Those who seek fast reform make the point that that period is now at an end.
Yes, that is the point that I was making and it is important to put it on the record. We are talking about the difficulties of having a double mandate, but I recall that back in the late 1970s and during most of the 1980s the original three MEPs from Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley, John Hume and John Taylor, had three mandates. Nobody is going to say to me that they did not do a very good job for Northern Ireland in Europe. I know that there was a different context and a different set-up then, but they worked very well together. I had some experience of that through working with Ian Paisley in the European Parliament, and I know that Mark Durkan will know about it from first-hand experience of working with John Hume. That arrangement was necessary and they did an immensely powerful job for Northern Ireland. Indeed, I recall one of those MEPs, not the one from my party, saying that on one occasion he managed to speak in Strasbourg in the morning, in the Belfast Assembly in the afternoon and in the House of Commons in the evening. I asked him whether he used the same speech, but it was not a single transferable speech. Those were different days and we accept that we have moved forward, but it is important to put on the record where we are coming from.
Let me deal with the issue of the House of Lords. The explanatory notes talk about “dual mandates” and people prevented from being a Member of both this House and the Assembly, as is right and proper. What mandate does a Member of the House of Lords have? They do not have any mandate. We have a mandate because we are elected, but a Member of the House of Lords has none because they are appointed. So this legislation does not apply to the House of Lords because it is in a different position. If the House of Lords were elected, there would be a strong argument for saying that we should be legislating to prevent dual membership there, but it is not elected and it is different. Indeed, that was one of the reasons why people opposed reforming the House of Lords, because to do so would put it on the same level as, or make it equivalent to, this House, and that would threaten the authority of this House. So this matter is summed up in the very phraseology used about ending “dual mandates”. It is right and proper to do that in respect of the House of Commons, but Members of the House of Lords do not have a mandate. They have a legislative role, but they do not have a mandate.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not trying to create a class of Members of the House of Lords who are Members of that House and sit there without a mandate, but who nevertheless have a mandate by virtue of sitting in another Assembly? He is trying to have it both ways; if he making a virtue of their having no mandate, leave them without a mandate.
I think that when the hon. Gentleman reads that over again in Hansard,he will perhaps want to reflect on that contribution.
It is clear that we are legislating to end dual mandates. As Members of the House of Lords do not have any mandate, it does not apply to them. In any case, for the other reasons that have been set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley, there is a difference. Interestingly, when the Secretary of State for Wales made his announcement in March, he did not include a bar on membership of the House of Lords and the Welsh Assembly; he confined it to the House of Commons. So for all those reasons, the Government are taking the right approach.
On the issue of membership of the Irish Parliament, we very much welcome the Government’s decision to follow the position of the Select Committee and to take on board the representations made on that matter. It is right and proper that that should be the case.
Finally, let me turn to the issue of non-representation—I raised this on Second Reading and return to it now—by people who have seats in this House but who do not take them and do not do the work of parliamentarians. The Minister will know that the issue has been raised and is being pursued. The Bill is not necessarily the vehicle or the means by which it should be pursued, but the Minister should rest assured that, as we talk about dual mandates and about representation and people being fit for jobs and about the jobs they are or are not doing, there remains the outstanding scandal of all—the Members of Parliament who are elected, who get money to run their parliamentary business and who get representative money for which they do not have to account in the way that we do as parliamentarians and that they can use for party political purposes. That is an issue that the House still must, and, I am sure, will, address.
It is a pleasure, Ms Clark, to work under your chairmanship for the first time this evening. Yet again, we have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate—some of it within the scope of the Northern Ireland Office’s remit and some outside it. Perhaps I can address straight away one of the areas of debate we have had this evening because, although I fully respect the view, it falls outside the scope of the Bill and of my portfolio. The question of whether an MLA can sit in the European Parliament is a matter for the Cabinet Office and the UK Government as a whole. My hon. Friend Nigel Mills can take it up with the Cabinet Office, if he wishes, but I have been strongly advised that it falls within its remit and not mine and that I therefore cannot accept the amendment.
If I may, I will make some progress. We have a lot to get through this evening and not a lot of time, even though it looks like we do. We have not made much progress down the list of amendments.
The Government listened to the Select Committee and changed our mind about whether someone could be an MLA and a Member of the lower House in the Republic. We listened carefully to the debate and accepted that suggestion.
I completely agree with Mr Dodds. My personal view, as well as that of the Government, is that there is a difference between a person elected to this House with a mandate—the words in the explanatory notes were put there for a reason—and a Member of the House of Lords. Members of the House of Lords do not have a mandate: they are not elected; they do not have a constituency; they do not have constituents. However, the Government’s view is not fixed and if, when the Bill passes to the other place, the House of Lords has a view on that, we will consider what comes back to us. At present, the reason behind the change is to do with mandates and not to do with whether Members are in another Chamber.
I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that the explanatory notes, so beautifully quoted—selectively—by Mr Dodds, go on to quote the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which reported in 2009 after the horrendous scandal of MPs’ expenses. It states that
“the Committee questions whether it is possible to sit in two national legislatures simultaneously and do justice to both roles”.
It does not use the word mandate at all and uses the word “legislatures”, so will the Minister revisit that?
It is very important that we consider what the electorate have decided to do. The electorate elect people to this House and to the Legislative Assembly. I pay tribute to those who had more than a dual mandate when there was a need for people to put their heads above the parapet and stand for office when things were enormously difficult in Northern Ireland. We have moved on. We accept that MLAs should not be able to stand for the lower House in the Republic, but we do think, at present, that they should be able to sit in the Lords. MEPs are a matter for another Department, on another day, and another Bill, in the Government’s opinion.
Exactly the same applies: that situation will be addressed, should the issue of the Lords be addressed. At present, the Government are not addressing the issue of the Lords; we will oppose the amendments on that subject. The Government oppose amendments 10 to 17, and recommend that clauses 3, 4 and 5 stand part of the Bill.
I think the argument regarding dual mandates in the House of Commons and the Assembly has been fought and, largely, won. People may well say that the public do not mind double-jobbing, but it was a live issue in the 2010 elections, which is why all parties made the commitment publicly in their manifestos, before those elections, that they would not maintain dual mandates. People were elected on the expectation that they would leave the Assembly during this term. Everyone has said that that is the point that we want to get to. I know why I feel the need for legislation, but I do not know why the Government do. Perhaps it is because every time we discuss the matter, even those who say that they are in favour of such legislation in principle continue to put up quite a spirited defence of double-jobbing—and are still here to do so, three years after the last Westminster election and two years after the last Assembly election. However, I would not want to speak for the Government on that point. It is important that the Government, having made a commitment to legislate on this subject, follow through on that.
On the other amendments that I have tabled, the issue for me is whether we are applying the rule consistently. Lady Hermon made a compelling point: the concern when the issue was raised was not simply about dual mandates, although that became a shorthand for it; it was about serving in two legislatures and the challenge that presents with regard to people being able to do both jobs properly. There is a further point, in that in the House of Lords, the expectation is that people are not fettered or influenced by constituency responsibility. However, if they have that responsibility because they have an elected mandate in another legislature, they are no longer free in that way. That distinguishes elected posts from other forms of employment outside the House of Lords in an important, fundamental way.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that in the context of Northern Ireland, there is a significant point to make about the House of Lords, in that no nationalist political representative takes a seat there? My party will not nominate to the House of Lords, precisely because its Members are not elected, and because of various other constitutional attributes it seems to have. Only Unionists or others who are not nationalists go to the House of Lords. If we make an exception for the House of Lords—an exception that I would not seek to make for Seanad Eireann—we end up with unequal legislation, because it ends up being only Unionist Members, and not nationalist Members, who are able to sit in two Chambers.
I respect the hon. Gentleman’s right to advance that case, but it is not my case, or a case that I would choose to make, because if people are elevated to the House of Lords, they have the option of taking up that post. They are not barred from doing so because they have a nationalist perspective, or an Irish Republican perspective, for that matter.
Let us be clear. In my remarks I referred to a nationalist representative. Somebody who was appointed as a working peer because of the competence and skill they have and the clear independence and service to the whole community that they demonstrated against much grudging from other quarters is entirely able to defend themselves as being there not as a representative of my party or even with the designation that my party confers on itself in the Assembly.
Order. I remind all hon. Members that this is a summing up at the end of a debate. We are not commencing the debate again and it is not a second speech, so I ask the hon. Lady to take that on board.
Indeed. I was on my last sentence when I took the intervention.
I believe that the exclusion of Members of the House of Lords, the Seanad and the European Parliament from sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly is an important point. Having listened to what the Minister said, I do not accept that there is a strong argument for maintaining the current position and I seek to press amendment 10.