Last month I noted how the Queen's Speech had failed to include any plans to implement the Kelly recommendation that MPs should not be allowed to hold a dual mandate and sit concurrently in a devolved legislature.
I also pointed out that the major beneficiaries of the current arrangements which allow so called "double-jobbing" were the DUP's nine MPs and Sinn Fein's five MPs - all of whom also sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and get an additional chunk of salary and allowances for their trouble, of course.
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and shadow Northern Ireland minister in the Lords, Lord Glentoran, have taken the view for some time that double-jobbing by Ulster's MPs should be brought to an end - and anyone elected under the Conservative and Unionist banner at the general election in Northern Ireland will be expected to be a full-time MP.
But now Lord Glentoran has tabled amendments to the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill, which would, if passed, prevent an MLA being paid, receiving allowances and taking a pension if he or she is also an MP or MEP. The amendments would also remove the Assembly's right to make decisions on MLAs' salaries, allowances and pensions.
Owen Paterson, explained the move thus:
"The Conservatives were the first party in Northern Ireland to call for an end to double-jobbing in Northern Ireland. Voters want full-time MLAs, MPs and MEPs and rightly believe they currently get a raw deal when some of their elected politicians split their time between Stormont and Westminster.
"We have introduced amendments to legislation that are aimed at ending double-jobbing by Northern Ireland politicians at Stormont and Westminster. They are also intended to ensure that all decisions on MLAs' salaries, allowances and pensions are made by a third party, as at Westminster. We believe the current situation is wrong and should end."
Having indicated that they want to see the Kelly recommendations implemented, it will be interesting to see if the Government back these amendments which would attempt to put some of them into law. If Labour fail to back them, it will only heighten speculation that some kind of deal has been done with the DUP and Sinn Fein on the issue.
Last Thursday the House of Lords held a debate on the funding of sport, secured by Lord Glentoran. A Conservative peer, he won a gold medal at the 1964 Winter Olympics in bobsledding. He is now a shadow minister for both Northern Ireland and the Olympics.
The Government has sought to bask in the success of British athletes, but as Lord Glentoran made clear, it was Sir John Major who started the Lottery (which Labour opposed) and this Government does not have the proud record it claims:
"In 1994 the National Lottery was started by John Major and the last Conservative Government. Four funding bodies were set up: the Millennium Commission, and bodies for sport, for charities and for arts. Let us look at what Her Majesty’s Government have done with this legacy and how it has affected the funding of sport over their 10 years in office.
Looking first at the recent Olympic successes, I point out that grass-roots and elite cycling has received £49.8 million in lottery funds and £18.6 million from the Exchequer since 1997; that is 73 per cent lottery. Since 1997, swimming has received £332.8 million in lottery funds and £14.2 million from the Exchequer; that is 96 per cent lottery. For the Paralympics, lottery funding of disabled sports, NGBs and competitors has been more than six times the Exchequer funding since 1997—£72.7 million versus £11.6 million.
Funding of sport is down since 1997. Raids on the lottery for government pet projects have seen total spending on sport decline by £135 million—that is 25 per cent since 1997. More than 80 per cent of grass-roots and elite sports grants have come from the National Lottery. Poor budgeting is costing us our sporting legacy. The Government’s budget miscalculations and further lottery raids will cost sports distributors £70 million. Fifty-eight per cent of UK Sport grants and 83 per cent of Sport England grants come from lottery funds.
Eighty-three per cent of grants going into grass-roots sport have come from the lottery this year. The total going into grass-roots sport now is £135 million less than it was in 1997. As a direct result of Gordon Brown’s raid on lottery cash, lottery funding going into grass-roots sport has fallen by nearly 50 per cent, from £397 million in 1997 to £209 million in 2006. Due to the Olympic raids, sport now gets only 13.5 per cent of lottery funding. About £70 million has been diverted from grass-roots sport to pay for the Olympic overspend."
There's nothing like cold hard facts when you want to make a point.
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