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Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [Lords]

Volume 508: debated on Wednesday 7 April 2010

Considered in Committee

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Clause 1

Salaries and allowances

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

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 the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (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

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?

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.

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 the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (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 the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (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.

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?

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.

I listened with interest to the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (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—

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.

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.

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 the hon. Member for Stone (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.

Clause 2

Pensions etc.

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

Clause 2 makes consequential amendments to section 48 of the 1998 Act and covers the payment of pensions and allowances to anyone who has ceased to be a Member of the Assembly or an Assembly office holder. Again, I ask the House to support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Short title and commencement

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

Clause 3 provides the short title for the Act, once the Bill has been enacted, and sets out the arrangements for commencement. Again, I ask the House to support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill will allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to delegate powers on the setting of salaries and expenses for its Members. The Assembly is currently explicitly prevented from doing so under section 47(7) of the 1998 Act, which states that it “may not delegate” such functions. The Bill removes that restriction, thereby enabling the Assembly to confer the functions of setting salaries and allowances for its Members on an independent body. It is expected that the new system will be in place following the Assembly elections in May 2011. The Bill also ensures that if a Member of the Assembly receives a salary as an MP or an MEP, they will not receive any salary as a Member of the Assembly. That is seen by some as a step along the road to ending dual mandates in Northern Ireland, and indeed we took a further step last week when the law in relation to the standing down of district councillors was changed; they will now be replaced by way of a nomination of the party, rather than by way of co-option or by-election.

Although this is a short Bill containing only three clauses, I wish to thank all Members for the positive contributions that they have made and for the support that the Bill has received from Members from across the House. In conclusion, the Government are introducing this Bill at the request of the Assembly. We do not believe that it would be right to stand in the way of independent control of salaries and allowances in the Assembly, so I commend the Bill to the House.

Conservative Members welcome the Bill, as I said during the clause 1 stand part debate. I thank the Minister and his officials for the open way in which they have approached this Bill. Over the past few years we have dealt with many pieces of legislation in this House, both in the Chamber and upstairs in Committee, and so I also wish to thank him for the way in which he has conducted Northern Ireland business. He has always been very approachable, and he has given us a great deal of help by allowing us access to his officials. I wish also to place on the record my thanks to them.

As the Minister has said, this brief Bill allows the Northern Ireland Assembly to set up a body to set salaries and allowances, and Conservative Members welcome that move. We also welcome the modest move towards what we see as the beginning of the end of dual mandates. In response to comments made by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) a few moments ago, may I say that I recognise that in the very early stages of setting up the Assembly, it was important to use the experience of Members of this House by allowing them to sit in the Assembly in order to give it the experience that it needed? I recognise that that was the case then, but things have moved on now. As I have said, if a Conservative Government were to be elected, we would revisit the issue and consider the situation of dual mandates then, for the reasons that I have given.

The question is not principally about money—it is also about the time that any one person can spend sitting in a very active and important Assembly in Northern Ireland while also sitting in this House and dealing with the very important issues that we have here. We want to avoid any possible conflict of interest between the two jobs.

As the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has mentioned, we recently passed some important legislation on Northern Ireland, which means that the policing and criminal justice competence has been handed over to the Assembly. I wish the Assembly well in that respect and in every other aspect that it has to deal with.

That is my Ealing comedy alter ego, Sir Alan—[Interruption.] Sir Michael, I beg your pardon. I have been called an awful lot worse—worry not.

Do not take me down that road.

May I also place on record my support, and that of my party, for this Bill, as well as our appreciation of the manner in which it has been handled by the Minister, his officials and the other Front Benchers? As we are now in the tail end of this Parliament, may I also place on record our appreciation for the good working relationship that we Front Benchers from the United Kingdom parties, if I can style us as that, have always been able to have with representatives from the Northern Ireland parties.

I look back, having been involved on and off with Northern Ireland business in this House since about 2003, at some of the difficult times that we have gone through. It has not always been easy and the reasons for that are often historical, but I think that the fact that we have been able to get to where we are today is a significant achievement, in which we should all derive a measure of pride and satisfaction. We have collectively been able to bring Northern Ireland to a place that is much healthier today than it has ever been before.

The Bill is largely uncontentious. Those parts that deal with pay and rations for the Assembly are eminently sensible and little can be added to them. The question of dual mandates—at the risk of using the more pejorative term of double-jobbing—is still a work in progress. It is well known that the early involvement of people who had experience of business in this place was an important stabilising factor but, as I said in the clause stand part debate, we now have sufficient security, stability and confidence to move on from that. I hope that, if we are involved in a more organic process with gradual withering on the vine, this is one step that will accelerate that process.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is one issue that flows from what the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman said about what might happen in the next Parliament? There is the ability to distort electoral performance. Clearly, a higher profile Member of Parliament will gain more votes for a party in the Assembly election. If we therefore allow them to stand for both Westminster and the Assembly—particularly those who do not actually come to Westminster—we distort electoral outcomes.

Yes. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I have seen that operating in all three jurisdictions that have devolved Assemblies. Inevitably, as power is handed down—that is, of course, the process of devolution, as power is handed down from Westminster to other Assemblies and Parliaments—there will be developments that will keep going. We should be open-minded enough to learn from experience. That sort of use—let us not go so far as to call it a misuse or an abuse—of the facilities of one Assembly or Parliament to get one’s foot in the door to become a Member of another is something that we will probably need to address and that Members of the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments will want to be addressed. If we, here, are part of a process that is about building stability and growing maturity, it should be in the interests of those Assemblies and Parliaments to get themselves to a point at which being a Member of that Assembly or Parliament is sufficiently significant to satisfy people and is not seen as a stepping stone towards this place or any other.

I am slightly troubled by this line of argument, because the budgets for the respective Parliaments are paid for by the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. It seems somewhat incongruous to focus on what the hon. Gentleman describes as double-jobbing, but what others might regard as an important dual mandate, given that the money is not being provided by the people for whom he would want exclusively to legislate, but only insofar as devolved functions are concerned. There is a serious constitutional issue here that he is completely avoiding.

No, I am not avoiding it. Indeed, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have devoted a lot of my life in the past three years to addressing exactly that point—particularly in relation to the powers of the Scottish Parliament in determining its own budget—through the work of the Calman commission and by working with the Conservative party. That is another aspect of the evolving nature of devolution, and it is something that will come with time, maturity and stability.

On pejorative references, the hon. Gentleman was absent from the Chamber earlier when I talked about the appropriate use of dual mandates. Unfortunately, when I turned to acknowledge him, he was not in his place, having nipped out briefly.

Opposition Front Benchers have rightly paid tribute to the Minister and his officials for their work on this necessary Bill, and I want to associate myself with those remarks. It is also appropriate to acknowledge the work of the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay—a constituent of mine who will not be voting for me, of course, in the election. The Speaker and the senior officials of the Assembly have worked on the need to provide independent determination in relation to Assembly salaries and pensions. They have engaged cross-party discussions to that end, which is why the Bill has the consensus across the parties in Northern Ireland that it has. I am sure that that was a very welcome point of persuasion for the Minister in taking this Bill forward. It is right for the record here and elsewhere to pay tribute to the Speaker and to officials in that regard.

The Bill does not resolve the issue of dual mandates—or double-jobbing or whatever anyone might call it—but it does at least reduce some of the contention and misrepresentation around that issue for those who continue to hold dual mandates for as long as they do. However, that issue needs to be dealt with. I have made my own decision. This Chamber is not where I want to be, as an Irish nationalist and someone who was personally and deeply involved in the negotiation, establishment and implementation of the Good Friday agreement. I really want to pursue my involvement in democratic politics elsewhere, but I have decided that for the next term, because of issues affecting my constituents and because of wider concerns, this is where I need to be, and that is the offer that the electorate will have to make a decision on. However, I believe that we need to get to the point where all elected representatives in Northern Ireland are able to make and offer a clear choice with regard to the mandate that they will pursue.

In the main, we stand on party tickets. We will not be divorced from parties, so the issues on which there is some overlap between the business of this House and the Assembly—they will sometimes compete with each other and at other times complement each other—can be properly and competently discharged. People can be confident that we now have a settled process in Northern Ireland, with north-south institutions.

There is one issue that the Minister did not address when we looked at this Bill on previous occasions, which is the question of people getting salaries for sitting in the Assembly and in another chamber. We have dealt with that in respect of this place, but the outstanding issue has to do with the legislation allowing a person to sit in both the Assembly and the Oireachtas. There does not seem to be any bar on that person receiving salaries from both institutions so, for reasons of parity of esteem, equity of treatment and so on, some further adjustment may need to be made.

On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, I would like to thank the Minister and his departmental officials for the courtesy that they have shown in taking this legislation through this House.

I concur with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) in respect of the Speaker and staff of the Assembly. I think that Members of the Assembly will be greatly relieved that there is to be an independent determination of salaries and so on, as they never had any desire to bear that responsibility in the first place. They will be very happy with this outcome.

I listened carefully to hon. Member for Foyle, and I have to tell him that I am very proud to be in this House. I am very honoured to be part of the UK Parliament and, as a good British Ulsterman, I am certainly proud to be able to represent the good people of South Antrim in this place.

I listened carefully to the other remarks that the hon. Gentleman made. I do not think that there is anything to stop him going to another place, if that is what he wishes. He appears to feel that being in Her Majesty’s Chamber here is a burden, but I know that he will feel very much at home in this United Kingdom Parliament.

Finally, a certain political party in Northern Ireland became very sensitive about the issue of double-jobbing, but only when it had lost practically all its representation in this House. It got down to one Member, and now it has none at all. Even so, we are delighted that that party has acquired a sensitivity that it certainly did not have in the past, when it represented 12 Northern Ireland seats. It is something that members of that party got sensitive about when the electorate gave the responsibility to the Ulster Democratic Unionist party.

My party leader has made it clear that we are sensitive to the needs of the people of Northern Ireland. We want them to have the best possible representation, and I hope that my hon. Friends and I will have the opportunity to come back to this great House to represent the good people of Northern Ireland in years to come.

I shall be very brief. I am much encouraged by the speeches made by the hon. Members for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan). I know that the latter understands what is at stake, but I got the slight impression—which the hon. Member for South Antrim also picked up—that he might come back through the back door, courtesy of the most extraordinary amendment that was passed some years ago that meant that Members of this House could also be in the Dublin Parliament—the Oireachtas, as I think that we now have to call it.

That raises one curious anomaly with the dual mandate, but there is another that I want to describe very briefly. It has to do with whether legislative power lies with the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland. That is still developing and evolving: we are moving towards much greater devolution and even independence, but we are doing so without having regard to where the money comes from. That is another factor that we shall need to consider, as we had to do post-1997 in relation to Scotland.

The British taxpayer is also the source of money that spills into all parts of the island of Ireland—north or south—from our net contribution to the European Union. It would be remiss of me not to mention that subject, because it raises the question of the relationship between taxation, responsibility and democracy. If the moneys are provided through research, grant in aid, assisted area status and redevelopment grants, a question arises about what the United Kingdom is being expected to do. Members of this Parliament, who represent the taxpayers of the constituencies to which we are about to return, are in effect paying a lot of moneys for important functions that are being devolved in a modern world.

I leave the House with this thought. There is more and more movement towards greater and greater degrees of responsibility. It is called devolution, but the relationship between responsibility and taxation is important, so there is a constitutional issue at its heart. It is well known that I am great supporter of those in Northern Ireland, and I am conscious of the fact that our taxpayers have to bear the costs of whatever emerges from the EU and is then paid back to us. In that context, the Bill is important because it is obviously something of which Members of the Northern Ireland legislature approve, so I am concerned that we have a coherent structure. Nothing is perfect and nothing can be resolved simply by writing down words—it is a question of the manner in which people come to believe that they can exercise authority through the rule of law in the appropriate manner. I do not want to make too much of a meal of this: I simply believe that we are moving inexorably towards a greater degree not merely of devolution but of political responsibility.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.

I now have to announce the results of Divisions deferred from a previous day. On the Question relating to children and young persons, the Ayes were 259 and the Noes were 152, so the Question was agreed to.

On the Question relating to EU strategy on jobs and growth, the Ayes were 254 and the Noes were 158, so the Question was agreed to.