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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation of his amendments. Whether or not intended, the effect of the amendments would be that the Secretary of State would have power under Section 47 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to vary Assembly members' salaries; however, he would not have power to stop salaries altogether without making an order which would be subject to approval by Parliament. Furthermore, such an order would lapse after six months unless replaced by a further one.
The approach currently set out in the Bill is more appropriate. This transfers to my right honourable friend in another place the relevant functions currently exercised by the Assembly. He will have discretion to vary or stop salaries as appropriate. I am confident that he will discharge this responsibility carefully and with all due consideration. It would not significantly enhance the interests of either Assembly members, Members of this Parliament or your Lordships to introduce a further element into this process. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendments.
The noble Lord said: It is not my intention to inflict hardship on members or Ministers of the Assembly but to clarify beyond doubt the position in regard to subventions from public funds to opposition parties. As it stands, the position is very vague. This issue is relevant because I believe that within the framework of the Assembly a committee--perhaps a finance committee or a body of that kind--is studying how it might benefit from what is called "Short" money--a name derived from its introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, the Leader of the House of Commons in the Wilson government, and a very good friend of many of us on this side of the House.
As leader of a party at that time, I was involved in the discussions. I can certify that the grants were designed to assist opposition parties in Parliament to employ staff and to increase their efficiency in dealing with legislation and related matters. I have reason to believe that the committee at work--it may not, at the moment, be formally at work--in the Stormont
I am not seeking to deprive the back-benchers in any of those Assemblies of assistance if Parliament so decides, but the rules of the Short money scheme clearly define the fund as being available to assist opposition parties. Surely that means that a second party in coalition with another party could not benefit, even in an assembly. I do not see how it could be accepted in regard to the Northern Ireland Assembly because the parties are all in a compulsory coalition; there are no opposition parties.
I seek to issue a good-natured word of caution for them not to build up their expectations or, worse still, to make plans for lavish expenditure, in the belief that somehow or other the scheme will be applied to them. In those circumstances, it should be made clear that Short money can be paid only to opposition parties and not to a coalition of parties, some of which are in government. I beg to move.
The effect of Amendment No. 8 would be to allow the Secretary of State to determine allowances as well as salaries at zero. Paragraph 9(2) of the Schedule was included because the power transferred to the Secretary of State to determine salaries under Section 47 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 is such that the Secretary of State would be able only to vary salaries, not to withdraw them altogether. While no decisions have yet been taken on those matters, it is right that the Secretary of State should be given full discretion.
The scope for the Secretary of State to determine the allowances payable to Assembly members is much greater and he already has discretion to withdraw all allowances under the present statutory provision in Section 48 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1998. Consequently, the amendment is unnecessary and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it. I should point out that Sections 47 and 48 of the Act deal with the payment of salaries and allowances to individuals. They do not deal with the payment of moneys to parties, which is to what I believe the noble Lord was referring when he mentioned "Short" money. I am not sure that either Clause 9(2) or Section 47 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1998 touch the issue he raised.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I agree that the Short money would not be in the terms of the Bill as printed, but under the 1998 Act that did not stop the Finance Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly from exploring, I understand, in company with its Scottish and Welsh counterparts, the possibility of making an
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I apologise for the fact that inescapable duties prevented me from hearing the Second Reading debate. I realise that I must not now make a Second Reading speech, but I hope that a brief Third Reading speech may be permissible.
I have, of course, had the advantage of reading in Hansard yesterday's Second Reading debate here and that in another place. I do not see how the Secretary of State could possibly have avoided bringing forward the Bill in the light of such information as is in the public domain, any more than I see how, on the basis of such information, the Secretary of State can avoid bringing in the order implementing the suspension of the institutions forthwith.
It is clear from a reading of yesterday's debate in your Lordships' House that none of your Lordships appeared in any doubt that circumstances require the suspending of the institutions because the republicans have defaulted on decommissioning. I want to make it clear that I agree--lest anyone in any quarter should suppose that I was reluctant to be counted on that matter at this critical time--because of the collapse of confidence in the Executive and in other institutions that the default has caused, at least among the Unionists in Northern Ireland, and, I suspect, probably more widely.
That collapse of confidence is not irrational. It derives from the fact that trust has to be at the centre of the operation of the institutions of devolution. Furthermore, a crucial expectation which Sinn Fein colluded in creating has been dashed. There is also a further reason. Genuine deliberation and, more especially, genuine compromise, are inhibited if one party refuses to give up its arsenal. Either a compromise will have been extorted by threat of force, or it will have been withheld for fear of such an accusation. Yet surely in Northern Ireland, of all places, the art of judicious compromise needs to be encouraged.
There will be time in due course to review recent history and the Government's handling of those extremely difficult matters with the great benefit of hindsight. At this point, I do not feel disposed to criticise Her Majesty's Government for having travelled many painful extra miles--with one exception which I attacked at the time and to which it is not now necessary to allude. In my own time, I travelled some painful extra miles knowing full well the obloquy that they would attract. The consequence of the Government's extra miles at the very least has surely been this: that Sinn Fein/IRA defaulters are today in the unprecedented position of being universally seen for what they are, at least at present--that is, obstructers of the very process which they claim to support, and blackmailing obstructers at that.
Among their resulting multifarious critics are those who have been driven to denounce even John Hume for "inappropriate" remarks--by which they mean uncongenial remarks--calling for a start to decommissioning by them. The Secretary of State rightly described that in another place as "arrogant". I am afraid that he also described it as "lordly", which your Lordships would not recognise. For that action on the part of Sinn Fein to be noted by all the world is surely not a negligible development; nor is its significance likely to be lost on Sinn Fein/IRA. They are on their own, and, I suggest, for the first time.
I agree with the remarks made in the same vein yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Eames, and others about the need to keep doors open, not to slam them. I agree also with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, in this debate about the availability of other modes of discourse and discussion. There are ways of talking other than in the Executive and the Assembly. Those ways must continue to be taken. We should always travel in hope. But for the immediate future, the Bill must surely be
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