It is deeply frustrating that there has been no functioning Assembly for so long. MLAs’ pay is deeply controversial, but they are doing important constituency work. I have said that I will review MLA pay, and I am currently doing that.
I echo the sentiments about colleagues who are leaving, in particular my fellow Northern Ireland Affairs Committee member, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who has stood up for Northern Ireland.
At the Select Committee last week it was revealed that the cost of MLA salaries has reached over £15 million since the Assembly was dissolved. MLAs do good constituency work, but is it not time to use that mechanism as a tool to get the Assembly back up and running?
My hon. Friend is right that this is a challenge. It is a controversial amount of money, but in my view we have to do everything we can to encourage the political parties in Northern Ireland to come together. We need to review pay, but we also need to encourage the Assembly to get up and running.
There is a lot of talk about reducing the salaries of MLAs, but I am sure the Secretary of State will agree with me that many, many MLAs work hard in their constituencies to provide constituency services through their offices. That is an important factor.
I should like the Secretary of State to explain to the people of Northern Ireland why he is still dithering about cutting the salaries of MLAs. He cannot possibly justify continuing to pay MLAs almost £36,000 a year each during the next five years, and the general election campaign will bring no expectation of the Assembly being restored. For goodness’ sake, give the people of Northern Ireland some good news. Cut their salaries and do not dither.