We ensure the smooth working of the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland.
Shailesh VaraSecretary of State for Northern Ireland
Oral Answers to Questions is a regularly scheduled appearance where the Secretary of State and junior minister will answer at the Dispatch Box questions from backbench MPsOther Commons Chamber appearances can be:
Westminster Hall debates are performed in response to backbench MPs or e-petitions asking for a Minister to address a detailed issue
Written Statements are made when a current event is not sufficiently significant to require an Oral Statement, but the House is required to be informed.
A Bill to address the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles and promote reconciliation by establishing an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, limiting criminal investigations, legal proceedings, inquests and police complaints, extending the prisoner release scheme in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, and providing for experiences to be recorded and preserved and for events to be studied and memorialised.
A Bill to make provision about Ministerial appointments, extraordinary Assembly elections, the Ministerial Code of Conduct and petitions of concern in Northern Ireland.
This Bill received Royal Assent on 8th February 2022 and was enacted into law.
e-Petitions are administered by Parliament and allow members of the public to express support for a particular issue.
If an e-petition reaches 10,000 signatures the Government will issue a written response.
If an e-petition reaches 100,000 signatures the petition becomes eligible for a Parliamentary debate (usually Monday 4.30pm in Westminster Hall).
Commons Select Committees are a formally established cross-party group of backbench MPs tasked with holding a Government department to account.
At any time there will be number of ongoing investigations into the work of the Department, or issues which fall within the oversight of the Department. Witnesses can be summoned from within the Government and outside to assist in these inquiries.
Select Committee findings are reported to the Commons, printed, and published on the Parliament website. The government then usually has 60 days to reply to the committee's recommendations.
The Government has taken decisive action to support people right across the UK, including support for the most vulnerable households across Northern Ireland who will receive up to £1,000, including a one-off £650 cost of living payment. The Government has provided significant resources to the NI Executive and it’s now vital a new Executive is formed to ensure all the funding available to Northern Ireland is used to maximum effect. In the absence of a fully functioning NI Executive, the Government continues to work with the relevant NI departments to ensure that people in NI benefit from UK support schemes.
As announced alongside the introduction of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill on 17 May 2022, the Government intends to commission an Official History relating to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
This will be conducted by independent historians with access to all relevant material in Government records, and with the purpose of providing an examination of the Government’s policy towards Northern Ireland during this time.
The project will be steered by experts, who will make recommendations on scope and other important details. Further details will be announced in due course.
The amount spent by the Department on air travel is:
(i) 2020 - £163,557
(ii) 2021 - £36,845
(iii) 2022 - £79,474
(i) 2020 - £350,749
(ii) 2021 - £24,981
(iii) 2022 - £198,316
Please note that the Officials totals include Special Adviser air travel costs and that the spend reported does also not distinguish between commercial and non-commercial air travel.
Ministers commercial air travel is captured in departmental transparency returns and published on gov.uk.
The Permanent Secretary for the Northern Ireland Office issued the following email to Northern Ireland Office staff on Thursday 7 July, at 12:39, informing them of a new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:
You will have seen the news that we have a new Secretary of State.
I am delighted to welcome back to the Department Shailesh Vara, MP for North West Cambridgeshire. He will be a familiar face to some, having served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department in early 2018, before taking up the post of Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office from July 2018 until November 2018.
He has held a number of other ministerial positions including at the MoJ, DWP and HMT.
I know you will all join me in welcoming our new Secretary of State to our offices later today and support him as he gets back up to speed with our work.
The Northern Ireland Office spent the following on consultancy fees:
(a) 2020: £745,278
(b) 2021: £787,452
(c) January-May 2022: £794,190
In relation to naming consultancies, in accordance with this Government’s transparency requirements, I have listed only those suppliers with payments of £25,000 or above, as to name others could potentially breach their data protection rights or have an adverse effect on their commercial activity:
Active Communities Network LTD
AV Browne Advertising LTD
Department of Finance
Epam Systems LTD
Government Estates Management
Groundwork Northern Ireland
Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Justice
North West Cultural Partnership
Passionist Peace & Reconciliation Office
Playhouse the NW Play Resource Centre
Youth Action NI
The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement contains safeguards to protect the rights of all sections of the community. The Agreement also requires domestic incorporation of the ECHR into Northern Ireland law which is enacted through the Human Rights Act 1998.
The UK Government remains committed to delivering abortion services in Northern Ireland following inaction from the Northern Ireland Executive and Department of Health. It is unacceptable that fully funded abortion services remain undelivered and women and girls in Northern Ireland cannot access the same level of abortion healthcare as the rest of the UK.
I am taking the necessary steps and am determined to see the delivery of these vital healthcare services in Northern Ireland without further unnecessary delays.
The Northern Ireland Office spent the following on advertising:
(a) 2020 - £72,110
(b) 2021 - £26,353
(c) January-May 2022 - £19,572
The Department does not hold the information in a form that can readily be interrogated to provide a response. The accompanying physical invoice for each recorded financial transaction related to legal expenditure would have to be examined to determine the nature of the expense and whether it relates to legal disputes.
Therefore, the information requested could only be provided at disproportionate cost.
Details of Government contracts from 2016 above £10,000, and £25,000 in the wider public sector, are published on Contracts Finder. As Contracts Finder was implemented in 2016, not all records before this time are held centrally.
With regards to contracts due to be agreed within the next 12 months, the information requested is not held centrally for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and could only be provided at disproportionate cost. Of the NIO’s agencies and non-departmental public bodies, the Crown Solicitor’s Office is due to agree two contracts with a value of between £1 million and £3 million in the next 12 months.
The NIO does not hold records on expenditure on monitoring each contract in each year since 2010, or on how many officials have been working on monitoring contracts in each year since 2010.
Our overriding priority is the restoration of fully functioning devolved government, as provided for in the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. While the Protocol was originally intended to protect the 1998 Agreement in both construct and implementation, it is now undermining it and threatening political stability in Northern Ireland. We cannot allow this to continue. While our preference remains to resolve issues around the Protocol through negotiation, this will require greater flexibility from the European Union than hitherto has been the case. Our legislation will enable us to deal with the problems created by the Protocol in ways that uphold the 1998 Agreement, avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the integrity of both the UK Internal Market and the EU Single Market.
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) makes use of collaborative contract frameworks where possible for its procurements. These contracts are held collaboratively with the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), with the NIO one of several parties.
The NIO was part of a NICS collaborative contract with G4S for security services until March 2022. The value held by the NIO was £317,619 in 2020, £284,047 in 2021, and £71,012 in 2022.
The NIO has not held contracts with Serco or Capita for this period.
As of 31 March 2022, there were 6 live Government Procurement Card accounts that could be used to make purchases against the Northern Ireland Office’s budget.
The Wilton Park conference provided an opportunity for participants to discuss and explore how to create a more confident and inclusive Northern Ireland.
Participants discussed a range of themes including education, skills, opportunities for young people and how community groups can support opportunity and integration.
The Northern Ireland Office can confirm no employees either directly or indirectly employed by the department are paid below the UK Real Living Wage outside of Greater London or within London.
The Wilton Park conference considered a broad range of issues, including skills, education, economic opportunity, and social integration, rather than schools or educational matters alone.
Wilton Park conferences are held under the Chatham House Rule and it would not be appropriate for the Government to disclose those who participated.
Policing in Northern Ireland, and therefore police funding and numbers, are devolved matters. The prioritisation of police resourcing is the responsibility of the Department of Justice, working with the wider Executive. How the PSNI allocate their funding is an operational matter for the Chief Constable, in consultation with the NI Policing Board.
Recognising the unique security situation in Northern Ireland, the UK Government makes additional contributions to PSNI through Additional Security Funding. The UK Government contribution this financial year 22/23 is £32 million; demonstrating the UK Government’s commitment to security in Northern Ireland.
The wage ratio between the highest paid member of staff and the lowest in the Northern Ireland Office was:
(a) 9.8:1 in 2020
(b) 8.0:1 in 2021; and
(c) 7.6:1 in 2022.
I refer the hon Member to the answer I gave on 27 June 2022 (UIN 23420) to the hon Member for North East Fife.
Since this answer was provided, we have published our 2021-22 Annual Report and Accounts. The amount spent on consultancy for 2021-22 was £304,400.
The amount spent on hospitality by the Northern Ireland Office is as follows:
2019-20 - £258,327
2020-21 - £33,458
2021-22 - £62,872
This Government is committed to promoting Northern Ireland as a global cyber security hub, and to helping achieve the New Decade, New Approach target of 5,000 cyber security professionals working in Northern Ireland by 2030. Cyber is a growing sector in Northern Ireland, home to 4% of the UK’s cyber security workforce despite representing 2.8% of the UK population.
To this end, the Government provided Invest NI with £8 million to expand their overseas presence, through the New Deal for Northern Ireland, to attract investment and further promote Northern Ireland’s cybersecurity excellence on a global stage.
The Government has also invested £15 million from the New Deal fund in the Skill Up initiative which includes courses focused on cyber security to develop a pipeline of cyber professionals. Cyber security is a sector we are also supporting through the City and Growth Deals programme, with projects such as the Global Innovation Institute forming part of the Belfast Regional City Deal.
Officials have been engaging with the Department of Communities, which is responsible for Northern Ireland’s Historic Environment, in order to ensure that our proposed programme of work with the War Memorial Trust complements the Department’s strategic approach, and does not undermine the existing policies on built heritage in Northern Ireland.
The Government is committed to supporting Northern Ireland businesses to trade. Through the New Deal we have invested £8 million to expand Invest NI’s presence overseas.
We are pleased that businesses in Northern Ireland are reaching out to access the specialist support offered by the DIT hub in Northern Ireland, which includes access to the Export Academy, to help businesses trade globally. This new hub will be responsible for driving forward much of these trade commitments, with support from my department. This will include development of a trade and investment plan, including scoping a Trade Accelerator proposal, working in conjunction with Northern Ireland Executive departments, Invest NI and the business community. Work is already underway to recruit DIT Export Champions for Northern Ireland, and DIT are promoting Northern Ireland products through their new “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” campaign.
We remain committed to ensuring that our veterans can access gold standard services irrespective of where they live in the UK - including in Northern Ireland where circumstances mean a slightly different approach is necessary.
Whilst skills is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, with further and higher education the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy, the Government has shown time and time again that it is committed to supporting Northern Ireland, levelling up across the UK and strengthening our Union.
We have invested £15m from the New Deal for Northern Ireland to enable the Department for the Economy to deliver the ‘Skill Up’ initiative, which will fully fund further education colleges and universities to provide approximately 15,000 training places to support key growth sectors.
The ongoing political situation in Northern Ireland is very disappointing. There is around £437m of additional funding, on top of the Block Grant, that the Government has made available but which has not been allocated to services as a result of the absence of an Executive. The setting of a budget is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive - that is why our priority is for the Northern Ireland Parties to restore fully functioning devolved institutions as soon as possible.
The amount spent on consultants for the last five years by the Northern Ireland Office is set out in the Department’s Annual Report and Accounts:
2017-18 - £79,600
2018-19 - £640,800
2019-20 - £845,600
2020-21 - £270,500
The amount for 2021-22 will be included in the Department’s forthcoming Annual Report and Accounts.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will establish a process that focuses on information recovery, delivering for victims and survivors, providing certainty for veterans and helping Northern Ireland to move forward.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will establish a process that focuses on information recovery, delivering for victims and survivors, providing certainty for veterans and helping Northern Ireland to move forward.
The Government has provided significant resources to the Executive to address these issues and I continue to urge the parties to form an Executive, so that the £435 million provided by the Government can be allocated to help people across Northern Ireland as a matter of urgency.
The unique circumstances in Northern Ireland mean delivery for veterans is approached in a different way from the rest of the UK. I can assure the hon. Member that I and my officials work closely with colleagues across Government, including the MOD and Office of Veterans Affairs, to ensure veterans can access gold standard care irrespective of where they live.
I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues about issues affecting Northern Ireland, including the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is lawful under international law. The legal basis on which we are acting is set out in the published statement of the Government’s legal position.
The Northern Ireland Office has contacted the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) who are the relevant body. NICTS stated that cases are not categorised on receipt and as such they are unable to provide figures on the number of civil claims filed relating to the Northern Ireland Troubles in the week ending 21 May.
I can however confirm that four Writs relating to the Northern Ireland Troubles and filed in the period in question have been served on the Northern Ireland Office to date.
The Northern Ireland Office does not hold information on the number of Writs served on others (including other Government departments).
No funding has been allocated by the Government to mark this year’s centenary of the formation of the RUC. Events in Northern Ireland have been arranged locally and by the RUCGC Foundation. Further information may be sought from the PSNI, the RUCGC Foundation or the Department of Justice.
The Government’s preference has always been to move forward on the basis of consensus. That is why we delayed the introduction of this legislation, and why it reflects a number of significant changes from the proposals contained within the Command Paper published last July.
However, it is clear that the people of Northern Ireland have waited too long to see the implementation of effective legacy mechanisms which is why we have brought forward the Northern Ireland (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. This legislation seeks to deliver effective outcomes for those most impacted by the Troubles and wider society.
We will, of course, continue to engage with key stakeholders as this legislation makes its way through Parliament.
Ministers and officials have not met with anyone in the last twelve months who has stated that they are attending in their capacity as a representative of the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC).
I attended a meeting on 16 December 2021 where an individual understood to be a member of the LCC was present, but in this instance it was made explicitly clear to all attendees in advance of the meeting that this individual was attending in a different capacity.
The Northern Ireland Office does not have a definitive list of representatives of the LCC, nor does it have set criteria for what constitutes being a representative of that organisation. Furthermore, individuals who Ministers and officials meet as part of routine engagement and outreach may not always be explicit about the capacity in which they are attending those meetings.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill contains provisions which will ensure that biometrics are available for use in future investigations by the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) into Troubles-related deaths or serious injuries.
These biometrics will only be retained for a finite period to allow the investigations to be completed, and must be destroyed by no later than the end of a reasonable period after the conclusion of the work of the ICRIR.
Discussions with FIG are being led by Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland. However, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has written to the FIG President to express his concern at the decision not to allow these gymnasts to participate. He has emphasised that this appears to frustrate their birthright to identify and be accepted as British or Irish, or both, and to hold both British and Irish citizenship.
It is the Government’s firm position that, given that these gymnasts were born in Northern Ireland they should be free to compete both for Ireland and the UK as set out in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.
I am also aware that colleagues at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are engaging on this issue.
Transport is a devolved matter within the competence of the Northern Ireland Executive. Specific questions on public transport and the bus fleet in Northern Ireland should be directed to the Department for Infrastructure.
Through the New Decade, New Approach agreement, the Government provided £50 million to support low carbon transport in Northern Ireland, enabling the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure to commit to ordering 100 low-carbon buses to be deployed in Belfast and Londonderry.
The Foreign Secretary leads on our negotiations with the EU and she has had extensive exchanges through both informal channels and the structures under the agreement.
We will continue to talk with the EU and our preference remains a negotiated outcome but while the EU discusses their position and their mandate, we will take steps to solve the problems created by the Protocol and restore the Executive. We are not scrapping the Protocol - we are protecting the elements that work and fixing those that don’t. We remain open to discuss any new proposals but we can no longer wait to address the issues we face now.
The Northern Ireland Office shares with the rest of the United Kingdom in celebrating the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen and in thanking Her Majesty for 70 years of selfless devotion to duty and leadership of our whole nation. The Northern Ireland Office worked closely to deliver and collaborate on a range of exciting projects and events to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee. We saw a range of events in Northern Ireland including the lighting of beacons, Jubilee Big Lunches as well as the return of the Northern Ireland annual Garden Party that acted as a moment of celebration in this Platinum Jubilee year for people in Northern Ireland.
We also worked with a range of local organisations to develop a Jubilee hamper which showcased the best of Northern Irish produce and was sent to the Royal Household. We ran an exciting competition for young people to design a rug for Her Majesty and we also worked to profile the many organisations and individuals across Northern Ireland who have been honoured by Her Majesty in her last 70 years. In addition, the commemorative Jubilee book was distributed to Primary Schools across Northern Ireland. We wanted to make sure that the Jubilee brought communities together, celebrating the best of Northern Ireland.
The test for immunity, as set out in the Bill, requires an individual to make an application to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) for immunity. The panel must then be satisfied that the individual has provided an account which is true to the best of their knowledge and belief, and which describes conduct which forms part of the Troubles.
In forming a view on whether an individual’s account is true to the best of their knowledge and belief, the ICRIR must take into account any relevant information that it holds or obtains as part of that investigation. That could include information that the ICRIR obtains from witnesses or from disclosure of information from statutory agencies during the course of its investigation.
Those who do not cooperate with the ICRIR will not be granted immunity, and will remain liable to prosecution should sufficient evidence exist, or come to light.
Only serious or connected Troubles-related offences that took place between 1 January 1966 and 10 April 1998 and are related to a death or serious injury will be eligible for immunity - conditional on cooperation with the Independent Commission as set out in legislation.
Troubles-related offences that are not linked to a death or serious injury will not be investigated by the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), and so will not be subject to immunity provisions.
Any offences from between 1 January 1966 and 10 April 1998 which are not Troubles-related could still be investigated by PSNI, or GB police forces.
Investigations are a crucial part of the work of the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR). The ICRIR will, in statute, have the necessary powers to secure information and conduct thorough and robust investigations, including the power to compel witnesses and test forensic evidence.
The legislation also places an obligation on authorities with information potentially relevant to an incident to provide full disclosure to the ICRIR.
The ICRIR will have a Commissioner for Investigations, and the scope of the ICRIR’s investigative process will be an operational matter for the ICRIR, and will depend on the specific circumstances of each case, including whether there is an outstanding ECHR obligation and the wishes of the family or individual.
The Northern Ireland Office held discussions on legacy with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on 14 April 2022. Discussions with the Commission, and other interested parties, will of course continue during passage of the Bill.
This legislation, which had its Second Reading on 24 May, deals with legacy issues in a way that complies with international human rights obligations, supports information recovery and reconciliation, and responds to the needs of individual victims and survivors, as well as society as a whole.
The legislation does not prohibit investigations into those Troubles-related incidents which might engage the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. We will establish the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery to conduct investigations into Troubles-related deaths and cases of very serious injury, for the purposes of information recovery.
We have included various measures to ensure the body is equipped with the necessary powers to secure information and conduct thorough, Article 2 compliant investigations.
We are confident that these measures fulfil our Article 2 obligations.
Since January, the Northern Ireland Office has held legacy discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, including but not limited to; the Irish Government, representatives of victims and survivors (including WAVE, South East Fermanagh Foundation, the Victims Commissioner, the Victims & Survivors Forum, Ulster Human Rights Watch, Ely Centre), representatives of veterans and former service personnel (including the NI Veterans Commissioner, the Independent Veterans Advisor, the NI Retired Police Officers Association, the Police Federation of NI, COBSEO, the NI Veterans Movement), operational partners and other relevant groups (including PPS NI, PSNI, Operation Kenova, OPONI, NI Human Rights Commission), and other civil and community organisations (including Healing Through Remembering, Corrymeela, Malone House Group, JIGSA, church representatives, the Truth Recovery Process Group).
The Government has also offered to engage with other groups, who have preferred not to engage with us on this issue.
The Northern Ireland Office held discussions on legacy with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on 14 April 2022. Discussions with the Commission, and other key stakeholders, will continue during passage of the Bill.
On 24 March, I made a commitment to return to Parliament after the Assembly election to make regulations on abortion, if no progress had been made by the Northern Ireland Department of Health towards the provision of services.
Regretfully, the Department of Health failed to make progress. That is why, on 19 May, I laid regulations to ensure abortion services are commissioned for women and girls in Northern Ireland. I have made a Written Statement in Parliament to set out the details of those regulations.
These regulations mean that the Department of Health will have no further barriers to commission and fund these services, and if it does not do so as directed, the Government will then move to intervene further.
The Government remains fully committed to supporting veterans living in Northern Ireland and continuing to build on the good progress in delivering the Armed Forces Covenant and Veterans Strategy. We are delivering on the Government’s commitments made in the New Decade, New Approach agreement, in particular, to ensure that Northern Ireland veterans are treated similarly to their counterparts across the UK.
My Department established and sponsors the Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioner’s Office, which advocates for and assists veterans as they navigate services such as health and social care.
Arrangements for service delivery in Northern Ireland are slightly different from those in other parts of the UK. Many of the service delivery aspects, including health provisions, are devolved.