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Baroness Park of Monmouth: Perhaps the Committee will allow me to reply to that. It rather reminds me of the recommendations of the Foreign Policy Centre that, instead of having embassies, we should have websites and virtual embassies. Therefore, if we are talking about virtual Members of the House of Commons and of the Dail, there is a great deal to be said for that idea.
Lord Laird: I have a slight difficulty with this proposal. Over the past few seconds I have given considerable thought to this amendment and am rather torn between the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and that of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I understand the status of the two Sinn Fein Members in another place to be that of MPs elect. They are not currently taking their salaries. Therefore, there does not appear to be much pressure on the recipients of this piece of legislation to look for financial reward.
On the other hand, I was very taken by the argument of the noble Viscount regarding the amount of work that would be involved in being in at least two, and possibly three, places at one time. I was then persuaded by the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux,
I speak from my own experience as chairman of an Ulster Scots agency which is part of a cross-Border language implementation body. I have been to Dublin on a number of occasions to discuss matters with the authorities there. It is possible to do so without being a Member of the Irish Parliament. I have discussed with them issues that are of interest to the cross-Border body, such as the fact that every sign throughout the island of Ireland will have to be in Ulster Scots as well as in Irish. It is stated in the Belfast Agreement that parity must mean total equality in the North and South. Such a move will be very expensive as every sign must be changed.
Parity also means that when legislation such as this refers to the name of the Irish Parliament in Irish, it will also have to refer to it in Ulster Scots. The Ulster Scots word for Parliament is "Tolsel". Therefore, I would require future legislation of this type to refer to the Irish Parliament not only in Irish but in Ulster Scots as well. I repeat that it is stated in the Belfast Agreement that parity must mean total equality in the North and South.
As chairman of a cross-Border implementation body, I would not be prepared to cherry-pick the Belfast Agreement. I am sure that no one in this House would like me to do so and no one in Dublin wants me to do so. However, I recognise, and wish to place on the record in your Lordships' House, the generosity of taxpayers in the Irish Republic. In implementing the Belfast Agreement they will put up billions--not millions--of pounds in changing signs throughout the Irish Republic so that they appear in Ulster Scots as well as in Irish.
In addition there is the whole business of changing the curriculum. It will be necessary to ensure that in history as taught throughout the Irish Republic references to the British and the Ulster Scots are treated in a positive, not a negative, fashion. That may also prove to be expensive. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in relation to this matter. A large amount of money can be put into implementing the Belfast Agreement.
Lord Dubs: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way because I am about to make another hostile comment. I cannot follow what the noble Lord's speech has to do with the amendments. I understand the point that he makes, but not in relation to the amendments.
Lord Laird: In his time, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was one of the most popular Ministers to have come from this House. In the past I have regaled many stories about the noble Lord and, given the time, I am sure that I could do so again.
However, my point is that I am interested in the concept of expenses. As I understand it, this amendment concerns expenses. I am talking about the availability of funding in the Irish Republic to implement the Belfast Agreement. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that there is plenty of money available in the Irish Exchequer to implement the Belfast Agreement. I cited proof of that from my involvement as chairman of the language implementation body. It will cost the southern Irish taxpayers billions of pounds.
The television company in the south used to be called RTE but it will soon have another Ulster Scots name. It has recently introduced another version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Anybody who is lucky enough to be elected to three assemblies should, in future, be part of that process and perhaps we should suggest that they can phone a friend and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, might be that friend.
I am very taken with the arguments put forward by the noble Viscount. I have listened carefully to my distinguished colleague here, my noble friend Lord Molyneaux and the point which he made about the Exchequer. We should not be reducing expenses for anybody who falls into the category of being a multi-member of as many parliaments as he possibly can.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: The noble Lord, Lord Laird, was looking forward to future amendments, perhaps to be tabled on Report, which we may have to consider. In no way do I want to equate myself with Solomon but, to a certain extent, I am in a similar dilemma to that in which he found himself on one occasion, in that my noble friend Lord Lamont supports the amendments and my noble friend Lord Cranborne opposes them.
I do not believe that anybody need worry about the Exchequer because, if my expectation is correct that it is the members of Sinn Fein who will take up those opportunities and they will not take up their seats at Westminster, then they will not receive the money for that half of their duties. No doubt they will earn whatever is paid to them by the Dail.
Viscount Cranborne: Of course, my noble friend is right about that and in his usual gentlemanly way did not point out directly that I had failed to observe that. Nevertheless, we are talking about tidiness here. I am sure that my noble friend will admit that it is at least theoretically possible that circumstances might change and in any piece of legislation we should anticipate that, if not a member of Sinn Fein, some other dual mandate person might find it possible to take the oath in both places.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The power to determine the salaries and expenses of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members, which is what these two amendments relate to, is in the Northern Ireland Assembly itself. It would therefore be for the Assembly to determine whether or not the salaries and allowances of its members should be reduced, as proposed in those amendments, or increased, as proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. No legislative provision is required to allow the Assembly to achieve this.
The Committee will know that Section 47(4) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 requires a reduction in the salaries where a member is not only a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly but also a Member of the House of Commons and/or the European Parliament. Members of the Committee will know that the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has a discretion in relation to what the deduction should be, reduced by two-thirds the salaries of Northern Ireland Assembly members who also had mandates elsewhere.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that explanation. I am grateful also to my noble friends who have spoken. When the noble and learned Lord said that salaries are in the hands of the Assembly, I began to get very alarmed because I thought that that could be a real licence to print money if the members there could determine their own salaries. But then I recalled that that, of course, is the situation in the House of Commons where Ministers, rather as the noble and learned Lord has reminded us regularly in this debate, remind the House of Commons and the House of Lords that that is a matter for them to decide. Of course, that is not so in Northern Ireland because, in fact, the Executive rules, so the dictum of the noble and learned Lord that the Assembly determines salaries may not be quite as alarming as it appears at first sight.
I am not entirely surprised that my noble friend Lord Cranborne took a different view. At one stage, I thought he was going to suggest a manuscript amendment. Indeed, while I am speaking, it is still possible for him to write out a manuscript amendment and I am sure that we should be able to have a further debate on the opposite proposition.
My noble friend Lady Park rightly referred to the ruling of the Speaker and the attempts that members of Sinn Fein have made to enjoy the benefits of the facilities of Westminster and the office costs allowance without taking their seats. We are all extremely grateful to the Speaker of the House of Commons for having taken such a robust line. That was one reason for tabling these amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Laird, spoke about cross-border institutions. That made me reflect that one of the points to which we object in this Bill is that the Government are seeking to make the Northern Ireland Assembly into a cross-border institution. That is the
I do not propose to press these amendments to a Division, although if we ever reached the stage where the salaries or office costs allowances were being paid to Sinn Fein members, goodness knows where the money would end up. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.