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Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [HL]

Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2009

Second Reading

Moved By

My Lords, noble Lords will be mindful of the move towards independence in the setting of salaries and allowances for elected representatives here at Westminster. At present, the Assembly is responsible for paying salaries and allowances to its Members and for setting the levels of salaries, but it is currently prevented from delegating control of the salaries and allowances of its Members to an independent body. Section 47(7) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 states explicitly that the Assembly may not delegate such functions. The Bill removes this restriction and enables the Northern Ireland Assembly, should it decide to do so, to confer the functions of setting salaries and allowances for Members of the Assembly on an independent body of its choosing. The Bill does not place a duty on the Assembly to change its system of determining salaries and allowances, and it leaves it to the Assembly to decide what type of system to adopt.

Presenting the Assembly with the power of delegation is not as straightforward as merely removing Section 47(7) of the 1998 Act. The Bill expressly provides that the Assembly may delegate the control of its salaries and allowances and makes a number of technical but important consequential amendments. None the less, the Bill is small, with only three clauses.

I now turn to the detail of the Bill. As I have said, it consists of only three clauses; it has no schedules. Clause 1 amends Section 47 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to enable the Assembly to delegate the power of determination in setting salaries and allowances. Subsection (3) introduces two new subsections to the 1998 Act. New subsection (2A) makes it possible either for the Assembly to determine salaries or allowances payable to Members or for those salaries and allowances to be determined by a person other than the Assembly. New subsection (2B) makes it clear that different salaries may be set for different jobs, such as those of Ministers or Whips.

Clause 2 makes consequential amendments to Section 48 of the 1998 Act. This clause deals with pensions, allowances and gratuities for persons who cease to be Members of the Assembly, or who cease to hold certain offices but continue as Members of the Assembly. Clause 3 deals solely with the Short Title and commencement; Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill come into force by commencement order.

Noble Lords may also find it helpful if I outline briefly what is likely to happen following the passage of the Bill. It will of course be for the Assembly to take this matter forward in the way in which it sees fit, but I understand that a Bill will be brought to the Assembly that will set up an independent body to set salaries and allowances. I am told that the intention is to have the Assembly legislation through before the next Assembly election, which is scheduled for 2011.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is the only devolved legislature that cannot delegate control when setting its salaries and allowances. The Welsh Assembly has an independent review panel on pay and allowances. Although salaries for Members of the Scottish Parliament are currently linked to Westminster salaries, the Scottish Parliament already has the power to delegate the control of allowances.

There has been considerable debate already on the setting of salaries and expenses here at Westminster. I am sure that noble Lords will resist any temptation to use this debate for a rerun of the discussions on expenses in this House or in another place. Noble Lords may well be aware that in recent days there has been some press coverage in Northern Ireland on Assembly Members’ pay. While I do not intend to provide a detailed commentary on this coverage, I should make one point clear. While there will rightly continue to be debate in Northern Ireland about salary levels, the Speaker of the Assembly has stated that there is clear consensus among the Northern Ireland Assembly parties in favour of independent control of salaries and allowances.

Some may ask why we are giving the Assembly discretion in this matter. The Assembly has the ability to choose between maintaining the existing arrangements and delegating control to an independent body. The Government believe that this discretion is appropriate. The principle that the level of salaries, allowances and pensions for Assembly Members is a matter for the devolved legislature is not in doubt. Therefore, I also consider that the decision on whether those salaries and allowances are set by the Assembly or an independent body should be a matter for the Assembly itself.

The devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales already have that discretion and I do not believe that Northern Ireland should be treated any differently. It is right that the Assembly is able to make such decisions, that we in this House should not restrict its choice and that in making such decisions Members of the Assembly are able to explain and justify such decisions to the people of Northern Ireland.

This Bill has the support of all political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly and is not in itself a matter of political controversy. The Bill’s subject matter is narrow and I do not believe therefore that this is the appropriate moment to have a detailed political debate on Northern Ireland. However, it is important to confirm that the Government continue to believe that locally elected politicians should take responsibility for policing and justice in Northern Ireland. To that end, engagement with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the Northern Ireland political parties is continuing. I will of course report back to the House on any significant developments. If, as we hope, there is further devolution to Northern Ireland, the House will have the opportunity for a full debate.

I also think that it is appropriate to mention briefly the security situation in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the whole House will join with me in sending a message of support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It does outstanding work in meeting the threat of dissident republicans and in continuing to provide an excellent community policing service to the people of Northern Ireland. Those criminals who wish to drag Northern Ireland back to the past must not be allowed to succeed.

In conclusion, the Government are bringing forward 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. I therefore commend this Bill to the House. I beg to move.

My Lords, first, we wish to be associated with the comments made by the noble Baroness on the PSNI and the security situation, which, as we all know, is far from ideal at the moment. We in the Conservative Party support this Bill so far as it goes. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has explained in her introduction that the Assembly is currently prevented from establishing an independent body to set its salaries and allowances, even if it wants to. This Bill will give the Assembly that power, which is available, as already stated by the Minister, to the devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales.

Given recent events in Westminster, it is easy to see why such a move is appropriate. The power to set up an independent body is clearly keenly wanted by the Assembly. The Government have been good enough to share with me and other noble Lords certain correspondence between the Speaker of the Assembly and the Minister of State, which has gone on because of other things that have been happening. That help and correspondence has continued throughout this afternoon and I was able to clarify one or two things with the Minister of State, Paul Goggins.

The Speaker confirms that there is,

“support across the parties represented in the Assembly for the establishment of an Independent Statutory Body",

which would be able to give effect to the recommendation in Section 4 of the recent Assembly Commission's report. That report was due to be debated yesterday in the Assembly, but was withdrawn at short notice and thus was the cause of the necessary correspondence this afternoon. I was informed by officials that the Assembly had decided to return to certain areas for reconsideration. As a result, we have not yet been able to see a copy. However, other noble Lords will be aware that details, which are unconfirmed, about the levels of remuneration for MLAs were leaked and excited a good deal of interest in the media in Northern Ireland. I read those details on the way in to your Lordships’ House yesterday.

The very fact that we have had this small hiccup is a good indication of how controversial the matter of politicians’ pay and expenses is with the public. We have already seen that at Westminster. The parties in Northern Ireland are not immune to public opinion either. Our colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party have been leading calls for an independent body to determine the salaries paid to MLAs. They and we endorse the principle of this Bill, although it would have been useful to have read the commission’s report before being asked by the noble Baroness to support the Bill today. We will support it and thank the Government for helping us understand what is and what is not in it. The noble Baroness has explained that the Bill does not require an independent body to be set up, it merely allows the option of doing so. But a copy of one of the letters sent by the Speaker of the Assembly to the Minister of State, Paul Goggins, states quite clearly that he Assembly will bring forward a Bill to establish “an independent statutory body”.

Given the widespread support for the move and the obvious eagerness of the parties in the Assembly for a body as expressed in the Speaker’s letter to the Minister of State, can the noble Baroness tell us why the Bill does not go further and set up the body itself? Can she also outline what plans have been discussed by the Government to help facilitate the establishment of an independent body once the Bill is on the statute book? If there are details in the pipeline, it is important for noble Lords to hear them. What plans are there for the appointment system to the independent body? How will its independence and accountability be guaranteed? How will it be paid, and within what sort of brackets? How will the chairman be selected? There are many thoughts of that kind which I suspect would have been debated in the Assembly or in the commission yesterday, but were not.

I said at the outset that we on these Benches support the Bill as far as it goes, but it does not go as far as it might. This would have been a timely opportunity also to look at the matter of “double jobbing”. That is how the problem is referred to in Northern Ireland and so it is the term that I will use, although the mischief really being described is that of double mandates. Some 16 of the 18 MPs that Northern Ireland sends to this Parliament are also MLAs in Stormont. My party and the Ulster Unionists are on record as opposing this state of affairs. At the very basic, practical level, the distance between London and Belfast makes it hard for us to see how Members who have been elected both to Westminster and to Stormont can give adequate time to the representation of their constituents in either.

On Monday 23 November in Stormont, the Ulster Unionists moved a Motion calling,

“on all political parties within the Assembly to commit to an end to ‘double jobbing’ by the next Assembly election in 2011, to protect the integrity of the Northern Ireland Assembly”,

a Motion that was substantially altered by an amendment moved by the Democratic Unionist Party and which it won by a vote of 34 to 23, that sought to extend the deadline until 2015.

The Kelly report, which we are committed to implementing, raises the question of double jobbing. It seems that the devolved national legislatures do not have the power to prohibit any of their Members also being Members of the Westminster Parliament. The power to implement the report’s recommendations therefore lies with Westminster. The committee’s view, which we share, is that double jobbing should be brought to an end as soon as possible. Why was no thought given to that by the Government when they had the Bill on their desk? The Long Title of the Bill is narrowly drawn but we will examine the possibilities of laying an amendment in Grand Committee which covers this issue. We await the publication of the commission’s report. We will scrutinise the Bill in its further stages with a rigour that your Lordships’ House would expect and we will continue to support the Government.

My Lords, I associate these Benches with the sentiments expressed by the Leader of the House in regard to support for the PSNI at this particularly difficult time in Northern Ireland. We urge the MLAs to earn whatever salary they are going to get by having police and justice incorporated in a full devolution so that, as I said last week, we can have a fully mature democracy in Northern Ireland.

I thank the noble Baroness for introducing the Bill, which we welcome with one or two reservations. It will allow the Assembly to devolve responsibility for setting salaries and allowances to an independent body if that is what it wishes. It is good to have the reassurance today of Mr William Hay, the Speaker of the Assembly, in his stop-press epistle to the Minister of State, that it intends to do so.

I have one doubt: why is it going to do this by 2011? When similar legislation was deemed necessary for the other place here in Westminster, the whole thing was done in a month. This kind of foot-dragging is not seemly. As I say, it is good to have the stop-press reassurance that it is to be done, but I urge the Assembly to spur its flanks and bring in the necessary legislation much sooner. It could certainly do it within the next year; it is absolutely absurd that it should drag on.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, raised the question of double-jobbing. I am reassured to know that this is an Ulster phrase. When I was in Northern Ireland, people would often speak more generally of “doing the double” with regard to unemployment fraud and working in the black economy. Some politicians in Northern Ireland have been adept at “doing the treble”. It is particularly noticeable that among past masters are members of the Democratic Unionist Party. The practice should come to an end, and we support the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on this issue. We may well join him in amending the Bill in Committee to ensure that it is outlawed much sooner than 2015. To wait until 2011 to get the salary body set up and to allow double-jobbing to go on until 2015 strains credulity.

With that proviso, we support the Bill. Being a good devolutionist party we want the Assembly to take full responsibility for this and for its own affairs. We support the Bill at this stage, subject to the possibility of an amendment in Committee.

My Lords, I support the Bill on its merits and because we are at a moment of crisis in Northern Ireland, as several noble Lords have already acknowledged. It is entirely right that this House should support an initiative which has the common support of all the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is an issue upon which they are agreed at a moment when some of the parties appear to be talking themselves over a cliff and initiating, possibly, a major political crisis in the institutions of Northern Ireland over the next few weeks, a crisis which I devoutly hope will be averted. So I think it is entirely right that we respond sympathetically to what is, in effect, a request from the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I was very glad to hear the words of the Speaker in that Assembly this afternoon.

However, we have to bear certain considerations in mind. In her opening remarks, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House referred to a discussion that took place in recent days in Northern Ireland about Assembly Members and salary issues, and about the widespread unease that was expressed when it was reported that Assembly Members were seeking a salary increase of 17 per cent. As the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Glentoran, said, there has been widespread unease about the delay in ending the double-jobbing system and the fact that it has been put off until 2015. These issues cause a great deal of tension, and therefore it is wise that the Assembly is taking action to move them into a more neutral sphere and create an impartial body which, it is hoped, will be able to deal with some of these questions.

However, in many respects, the most important and sensitive argument relating to the Northern Ireland Assembly concerns not so much the question of salaries, which after all are significantly below those of Members of the Scottish Parliament, but the size of the Assembly, which, in turn, is also a very sensitive point. An Assembly of 108 Members seems very large for a population as small as that of Northern Ireland. To have 108 Members seems generous, to put it mildly. On the other hand, there are serious political reasons why that number was reached. Two things come to my mind, and I have a question for the noble Baroness.

I believe, although I should like clarification, that the new independent body will deal just with salaries and conditions and not with the size of the Assembly. Whether it does so or not, the point is that all these issues in Northern Ireland, some of which seem quaint or unusual, are the product of a rather complicated political history. It is absolutely essential that any body formed to deal with this matter understands the pros and cons of the various arguments. I am not stating a view on whether, for example, 108 is the right or wrong number of Members of the Assembly; I am simply saying that there is a complicated political history which explains why that number was reached. Many other decisions connected with the Assembly have a complicated political back story. Therefore, it is vital that any new independent body dealing with this issue understands the back story so that it is able to reach the wisest possible decision.

My Lords, I support the Bill but I express a little disappointment that its contents were not enacted some considerable time ago. That is true both in respect of the matters that have been spoken about and in respect of one or two other issues that I wish to raise with your Lordships.

The failure of yesterday’s attempted debate emphasises the extreme sensitivity of Northern Ireland politicians, particularly Northern Ireland Assembly Members, with regard to public anxiety and concern—and, indeed, at times resentment—about Members’ payment, particularly in a context where full devolution has not been achieved and there is a degree of uncertainty and crisis, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said. In the light of recent discussions about matters in the other place—some people may find this surprising—I find myself struggling to persuade the Assembly that it really should accept the recommendations of the SSRB when they come through. The Assembly has repeatedly refused to accept any increase in Members’ pay.

The original proposition was that the payment of Assembly Members would stand somewhere between that of Members of the Scottish Parliament and that of Members of the Welsh Assembly. That was not unreasonable because that was pretty much where their various responsibilities lay. However, by a continued refusal to accept the recommendations of an independent body, Assembly Members’ salaries have now fallen to the point where they are the lowest, even though the Members’ responsibilities are—at least, in principle—greater than those of Members of the Welsh Assembly. That shows the extreme sensitivity of Members.

This matter could have been dealt with in other ways. For example, the Assembly Commission or the Assembly itself could have decided to peg Assembly Members’ salaries to a particular level in the senior Civil Service or some other professional group. There would then automatically be pay increases, changes in terms and conditions and so on in line with that. However, they did not do so, partly because of the failure to include the possibility of delegation of responsibility. I find it a little puzzling that, when the Northern Ireland Office was drawing up the legislation for the Northern Ireland Assembly in the first place, this and a number of other issues were not included in it.

However, I welcome this legislation now. The failure of yesterday’s debate simply shows how urgent it is. I associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton—we hope that the Assembly takes this legislation, once it is through Parliament, and acts on it promptly rather than postponing and waiting around. There is no good purpose in that.

I have another specific question, which, as a former Speaker of the Assembly, I am perhaps more likely to be aware of than other noble Lords. I am absolutely committed, as I think many observers are, to the non-partisan position of the Speaker of a parliamentary assembly. That seems to me extremely important. I am sure that we will return to the question of the Speakership in your Lordships’ House at some appropriate point, but the position is clear in, for example, the other place. In a place such as Northern Ireland, the non-partisan position of the Speaker is absolutely crucial. It would be hard to believe otherwise.

However, the legislation failed to address two important areas that sustain the possibility of a Speaker being impartial and having the confidence to be so: the re-election and the pension of the Speaker. There is a standing convention in the other place that, when a sitting Speaker puts himself forward for election, he will not be opposed in the first-past-the-post elections. Although it is a matter of convention, it is largely observed, certainly by the major parties.

Of course, such a thing would not work in the context of STV. So, in the Republic of Ireland, arrangements are made under the constitution for the unopposed re-election of the sitting Ceann Comhairle, who, for those noble Lords who are not Irish speakers, is the Speaker of the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish Parliament. This ensures that a Speaker is in a position to act in an entirely non-partisan way, with no need to use the Speaker’s position to campaign or put himself or herself forward for re-election. What constituency would feel it worthwhile to elect a Speaker who was not partisan and not able to represent the people’s view, to canvass in any public way or to use their elected position? It would be entirely rational for a constituency not to re-elect such a person, even though they might by performing an extremely worthwhile job for the assembly or parliament as a whole—and, indeed, the community. So in the other place and Dublin, special arrangements are made appropriate to the electoral system that applies—convention in the other place and a change to STV in Dublin—to ensure that the Speaker does not have to act in a campaigning or partisan way in order to be re-elected.

However, this has not been made possible in Northern Ireland. It is not that the issue was not raised. Once I was in a position in which I could no longer benefit from it, when I had made it clear in 2004, at the time of the Leeds Castle talks, that I was standing down and would not be re-elected, I put in writing to the then Secretary of State, the right honourable Paul Murphy, that this issue ought to be raised. One of the difficulties, of course, is that such things are easier for those outside the system than those inside it to agree.

This is a question not just of the Speaker’s re-election but also of their pension. In the other place and in the Scottish Parliament, arrangements are made for a Speaker to have a full non-contributory pension if they have been elected. Why is that? It is essentially for the same reason—namely, that a Speaker does not then have to think about whether they are going to be re-elected and whether they will be able to continue on long enough to construct a contributory pension that will sustain them and their family when they choose to retire. I can see no good reason why such a provision was not included in the legislation for Northern Ireland. It was included for the Scottish Parliament; it was included for the other place.

This issue has in no way been raised with me either by my successor, Mrs Eileen Bell, or the current Speaker, Mr William Hay. I am in a position where I can raise it, because I can gain no conceivable benefit from it, but I have the experience of knowing something about the situation.

I am a little surprised that there was never proper consideration of this issue by the Northern Ireland Office when it was putting legislation for the Assembly in place. The Leader of the House may not be in a position to offer any clarification this evening, which would be absolutely fine, but I should welcome it if she seriously picked this question up, because, in the Northern Ireland context, in or outside a crisis, we need someone who can move outside of party politics. I do not suggest that any of those who are there or could be in that position would seek to do otherwise, but it is important that they are given what is seen as necessary in the other place, the Scottish Parliament and Dublin, to enable them to fulfil a properly non-partisan role in what, it would not be overstating it to say, is a difficult role at various times.

With those caveats, I welcome the Bill. I hope that not only we but the Northern Ireland Assembly will be able to move properly upon it.

My Lords, this has been an interesting, if short, debate on the future determination of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s salaries, pensions and expenditure.

It was heartening to hear from the Leader of the House that there is cross-party support for an independent statutory body to advise on these matters. In view of the Bill before us today, the Assembly perhaps took the right decision to postpone the debate that was scheduled to take place yesterday on an Assembly Commission report on salaries. In the light of its determination to get it right and to appoint an independent body to look at the matter in its entirety, we do, as my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton said, support and welcome this Bill.

It must be right that a democratically elected Assembly determines how to deal with its own pay and allowances. I feel sure that the people of Northern Ireland will have much to say on the matter of their Assembly Members’ pay and allowances, as has happened in Westminster. I understand that some anger, or at least unhappiness, was expressed in some quarters that a proper consultation process on the Assembly Commission’s proposals had not taken place.

We have heard that those proposals were to give MLAs a substantial pay rise after the 2011 elections—the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Bew, both referred to that. This has now been deferred until further meetings take place to discuss these rather contentious issues.

As we know, there has been plenty of controversy in this Parliament about MPs’ and Peers’ expenses, which is why stringent new rules are to be put in place to encourage openness and accountability. The Northern Ireland Assembly will be able to do as we have done, should it so wish.

As we have heard, it is not possible at the moment to allow the Assembly to create a body similar to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority which will operate at Westminster, so the Bill will give it a right to determine its own members’ salaries and expenses and, if it so wishes, to devolve that responsibility to an independent body—that is quite right. The Assembly will be able to decide how it will operate and what its powers and responsibilities will be.

As my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton advised us, it took little time to establish the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—in fact, less than a month—so there should be no reason why, should the MLAs decide to go down that route, there need be a lengthy procedure to enact the legislation.

At this point, perhaps I should mention my noble friend Lord Alderdice’s comments; he reminded us that the Bill makes no reference to the role of Speaker of the Assembly and its non-partisan position. Perhaps the noble Baroness will address that.

There are, as we have heard, interesting suggestions around the possibility of different provisions being made for different cases, and that throws up a number of possible anomalies. However, the holding of elected office in two different parliaments—or even, as has happened, three different parliaments, including the Assembly—means that Members will continue to have their Assembly salaries reduced. That is right and proper. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and my noble friend Lord Smith also referred to this.

As we have heard, the Committee on Standards in Public Life was extremely unhappy about multiple mandates, and its report was unequivocal in its recommendation that they should end by 2011. That advice must be accepted. I am pleased to hear the noble Baroness say that legislation will be brought forward to enact this recommendation—

I express my delight and pleasure at what the noble Baroness has just said in supporting an early end to double-jobbing. I hope that it will send a clear message to the Alliance Party, with which the Liberal Democrat Party is sometimes regarded as having a relationship. Its members voted against an early end to double-jobbing, and I am glad that they have been reproved in this way.

I am sure that members of the Alliance Party, our sister party in Stormont, will take note of what the noble Lord has said.

I was also pleased to hear the strong support of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for the PSNI in the security problems that it faces. We can only hope that when it arrives, the devolution of policing, which is being held up at the moment, will be enormously helpful in resolving these difficult and dangerous issues. I hope that the Assembly will accept, as we have done, that it is not appropriate now for the setting of salaries and expenses to be undertaken by ourselves through committees, and that an open, accountable and transparent process is now being offered in order that the people of Northern Ireland can see what their political leaders earn for the work that they do on their behalf.

My Lords, as is always the case with Northern Ireland legislation, this has been an interesting and constructive debate. I am grateful for the support of all noble Lords on the devolution of policing and justice and in expressing support for the excellent work of the PSNI. I am also grateful for the broad support throughout the Chamber for the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and others mentioned the report that was due to be debated in the Assembly yesterday but was withdrawn. Following press coverage of the leak of the report, we can see that there is clearly much interest in the pay and rations of Members of the Assembly. That is why the Bill is particularly important. If, as the Speaker suggests in his letter, the Assembly decides to go down the road of an independent authority, that will assist it greatly in its relationship with the public and in engendering more trust, just as we do in our legislature here. The noble Lord is right that it probably would have been useful to have seen the report before having the Bill before us, but it is clear from the Speaker’s letter that there is a real will to establish an independent statutory body.

The noble Lord asked many questions about the establishment of this body. It is for the Northern Ireland Assembly itself to set up the body and determine the selection of the chairman, the pay and rations and so on. That is what devolution is and I am sure that the Assembly will do it correctly.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, have mentioned double-jobbing—rather a good phrase—or dual mandates, as we say here. I note that noble Lords may table an amendment to the Bill if that is within its scope. I have listened carefully to the points made on this issue, which is clearly sensitive in many ways. The Kelly report recommended that the practice of holding dual mandates in the House of Commons and the devolved legislatures should be brought to an end as soon as possible. Ideally, that would happen by the time of the scheduled elections to the three devolved legislatures in May 2011 or, failing that, by 2015 at the very latest. The Government have accepted the findings in the Kelly report and we are currently discussing with Sir Christopher Kelly and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority how best to take the report’s findings forward. That includes the issue of dual mandates.

It is worth noting that all Northern Ireland’s political parties represented here at Westminster have agreed that dual mandates should be brought to an end, as the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, told us. It may well be, therefore, that the issue is resolved in practice before long. For the time being, while we are still considering how to take forward Sir Christopher’s recommendations across the board, it would be difficult to take legislative steps in respect of Northern Ireland alone, because this affects the three legislatures.

No dual mandate operates with regard to the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament. It proved possible to achieve that objective quite some time ago informally by agreement between the parties. It has not been possible to achieve that agreement informally in Northern Ireland. Legislation, therefore, will be necessary. As we stand at the moment, legislation is not necessary with regard to Scotland and Wales, because it has been done by agreement. Of course, doing it by agreement means that things can be flexible, whereas legislation is not flexible. Unfortunately, there is no chance of being able to do this by agreement in Northern Ireland.

I note what the noble Lord says. He clearly has great experience in these matters. It is our hope at the moment that we will continue discussions with the parties in Northern Ireland. When we have considered further Sir Christopher’s recommendations, if legislation if necessary, we will bring forward the necessary provisions.

Does the opposition to double-jobbing apply to treble-jobbing as well? When Dr Paisley, Mr Hume and I were elected to the European Parliament, we were there, at Stormont and the House of Commons. Indeed, I spoke once in Strasbourg at eight o’clock in the morning, at Stormont at 2.30 in the afternoon and in the House of Commons at eight o’clock in the evening. I have still to write to the Guinness World Records about that one. Seriously, is the opposition to double-jobbing opposition to people having more than one salary or is it trying to tell people how to allocate their time?

My Lords, I have great admiration for the noble Lord. How he managed to fulfil three roles at once must be to do with his extraordinary agility, as my noble friend says from behind me. The issue of treble-jobbing is certainly out of the question in this day and age. In terms of double-jobbing, to be an elected representative in Westminster or the Northern Ireland Assembly is a full-time job in itself. This is to do with allocation of time, but it is also felt that, in this day and age, it is much better if one person has one job. That seems to be the issue. Treble-jobbing is now certainly out of the question and most people would query the need for double-jobbing.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, is right about the desire and the need to take issues relating to salaries into a more independent sphere. He is also right that the new independent body will deal only with salaries and allowances; it will not deal with size.

I understand the frustrations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, about the refusal to accept the past recommendations of the SSRB. We know where that leads us because we can see what has happened in this Parliament as well. Clearly, the noble Lord speaks with great authority on the Speakership in the Assembly. He is right to say that it is much easier to address these issues from the outside than it is from the inside. That is why I take great heed of what he says. I know that the noble Lord has long had an interest in these issues. I will certainly take these matters and the question of pensions back to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I will write to the noble Lord in due course and copy other noble Lords in to that correspondence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, is of course right to emphasise the point that cross-party support is invaluable and to emphasise the issue about strict new rules and how these will assist the representatives in Northern Ireland with their interface with the public. I am sure that if, as the Speaker of the Assembly has stated, the Assembly Commission brings forward a Bill to establish an independent statutory body, MLAs will benefit enormously from that in terms of trust.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and others have asked why it will take until 2011 to implement the Bill, especially as IPSA was done in a matter of months. The Assembly will need to legislate following the Bill and it may well wish to carry out a public consultation before doing so. That is, of course, entirely a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. There will inevitably be matters of detail to consider. I imagine that many in Northern Ireland, like noble Lords in this House, will be anxious to see legislation on the statute book as soon as possible, because that is probably what is best not only for the Members themselves but for the general public in Northern Ireland.

I believe that I have addressed all the points raised this evening. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions and, much more important, for their support. Enabling independent control of salaries and allowances is the right thing to do. I certainly look forward to our further debates in Committee and I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.

House adjourned at 6.37 pm.