Measures extending Stormont deadline and slashing MLA pay clear the Commons

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris. Credit: PA

A Bill that allows the Northern Ireland Secretary to slash Stormont politicians’ salaries has cleared all its stages in the House of Commons in one day.

Chris Heaton-Harris said it is “not acceptable” that Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) continue to draw full salaries during a cost-of-living crisis, as he opened a debate on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill.

The Bill also extends the deadline for forming an executive in Northern Ireland and enables civil servants to have limited decision-making powers to ensure public services can still be delivered.

As MPs considered the measures, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “At a time when taxpayers’ money, and indeed taxpayers themselves, are under enormous strain, it’s simply not acceptable that MLAs continue to draw a full salary whilst unable to conduct the full range of functions for which they were elected.”

“These clauses will therefore allow me to amend MLAs’ pay in this and any future periods of inactivity, drawing on sections 47 and 48 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998″, the Cabinet minister said.

Mr Heaton-Harris said the Bill would also address the “governance gap” which had emerged in Northern Ireland.

There has been no functioning government in Stormont since May’s elections, with the DUP refusing to restore powersharing unless the Northern Ireland Protocol is scrapped.

The Bill, which aims to buy further time for negotiations with the EU over the protocol, progressed through all its stages of consideration in the Commons unopposed.

While the DUP did not vote against the Bill, East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell argued the Government should introduce “something similar” in Westminster to ensure “Sinn Fein MPs or anyone else that doesn’t fulfil their duties also don’t receive remuneration from the public purse”.

Intervening, Mr Heaton-Harris asked him whether he was aware that Sinn Fein MPs do not actually receive their parliamentary salaries.

Mr Campbell replied: “I am well aware of that and the remuneration I was talking about did not include salaries but included all other expenses, including representation monies, all other expenses, and the total amount in the last 10 years was in excess of £10 million for not performing their public duties.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he was “not prepared to nominate ministers to an executive where a Unionist minister is required to implement a protocol that every day harms our place in the UK”.

He said: “The DUP wants to be back in a functioning executive, wants to be dealing with the issues that matter to our constituents.

“I made absolutely clear that we would not nominate ministers to an executive until decisive action had been taken to address the difficulties created by the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

The SDLP meanwhile warned that people are beginning to “look clearly up their options” for the future of governance in Northern Ireland.

Belfast South MP Claire Hanna said: “People in Northern Ireland know that our future is not fixed. They know that the experience we’re having right now does not have to be the experience we have forever, and people are beginning to look clearly up their options.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna.

“They see the Stormont dysfunction, they see the merry-go-round here, and they’re able to see a very clear contrast with the government in the rest of the island of Ireland that is stable, that is delivering a budgetary surplus, that can mean investment in public services.”

Shadow Northern Ireland minister Tonia Antoniazzi said Labour was prepared to “work constructively with the Government on how we approach Northern Ireland”.

But she pressed ministers to bring forward plans to resolve the Stormont deadlock, telling MPs: “”What we need to hear from the Government is how they are going to be using the extra time this Bill gives.”

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