Debates between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain

There have been 23 exchanges between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain

1 Tue 15th September 2020 Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Cabinet Office
2 interactions (397 words)
2 Wed 17th June 2020 Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill [HL]
Ministry of Justice
5 interactions (1,006 words)
3 Thu 16th January 2020 Northern Ireland Executive Formation
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
3 interactions (506 words)
4 Tue 14th January 2020 European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
4 interactions (954 words)
5 Thu 31st October 2019 Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
6 interactions (541 words)
6 Thu 31st October 2019 Northern Ireland Budget Bill
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
9 interactions (1,353 words)
7 Mon 28th October 2019 Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
3 interactions (953 words)
8 Tue 1st October 2019 Irish Border: Checks and Customs Arrangements
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
3 interactions (350 words)
9 Mon 9th September 2019 Report Pursuant to Sections 3(1), 3(6), 3(7), 3(8), 3(9) and 3(10) the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
2 interactions (3,408 words)
10 Mon 9th September 2019 Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointment Functions) (No. 2) Regulations 2019
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
2 interactions (971 words)
11 Wed 17th July 2019 Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill
Northern Ireland Office
2 interactions (361 words)
12 Mon 15th July 2019 Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill
Northern Ireland Office
2 interactions (214 words)
13 Mon 15th July 2019 Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill
Northern Ireland Office
3 interactions (318 words)
14 Thu 27th June 2019 Northern Ireland: Trauma Victims
Northern Ireland Office
4 interactions (371 words)
15 Thu 20th June 2019 Northern Ireland: Inter-party Talks
Northern Ireland Office
3 interactions (196 words)
16 Wed 22nd May 2019 Devolved Administrations: 20th Anniversary
Northern Ireland Office
3 interactions (340 words)
17 Thu 14th February 2019 Northern Ireland: Devolution
Northern Ireland Office
3 interactions (439 words)
18 Tue 30th October 2018 Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill
Northern Ireland Office
2 interactions (517 words)
19 Thu 6th September 2018 Northern Ireland Executive: Update
Northern Ireland Office
3 interactions (692 words)
20 Wed 23rd May 2018 Northern Ireland: Devolved Institutions
Northern Ireland Office
3 interactions (224 words)
21 Tue 27th March 2018 Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Bill
Northern Ireland Office
6 interactions (5,738 words)
22 Wed 14th March 2018 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Department for Exiting the European Union
2 interactions (457 words)
23 Thu 22nd February 2018 Northern Ireland: Devolved Government
Northern Ireland Office
3 interactions (619 words)

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Tuesday 15th September 2020

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee

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Cabinet Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Hain.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his moderate and reasoned response. However, I appeal to him again to look at Amendment 22. By the way, I have never favoured multi-member PR seats; I have always been in favour of the single member alternative vote system, which is fairer. I urge him to listen and read again the excellent contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and her point about fuelling separatist nationalism. We had a Secretary of State for Wales in the 1990s called John Redwood; he was a perfectly nice man personally but he behaved in an arrogant fashion. A lot of people in Wales, despite the moderation the Minister showed in his response, will see this as a punitive measure because Wales has been hit harder than anybody else.

We are not asking for the moon in Amendment 22. It is a moderate, constructive amendment. I and those who have backed it are not seeking to overturn this legislation, whatever our feelings about it or the motivation for it. We are asking the Government to give this to the Boundary Commission for Wales because of the unique circumstances of Wales which have historically always been recognised by Parliament. This is making a break with tradition and history, and the Minister should explain why the universal principle of equalisation, which has applied over the changes in boundary reviews for a long time, has been put on a rigid, straitjacketed altar that affects Wales so uniquely and badly.

There should be a 15% variation for Wales as opposed to 5%. Yes, there will be knock-on implications for England, but it has hundreds of seats—more than 500—whereas Wales has 40, so it will be a bit of impact for everybody as opposed to a massive impact for a few in Wales. I urge the Minister to reconsider this. Otherwise, his Government will reap a bitter harvest in Wales, as happened in 1997 when they lost every single MP because they were perceived as behaving in an arrogant way towards Wales. I do not accuse him of that personally, but I appeal to him to look again before Report at this moderate, constructive amendment proposing a 15% variation as opposed to a much more rigid 5% and see whether he can support it.

Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill [HL]

(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Wednesday 17th June 2020

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Ministry of Justice
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker
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I remind noble Lords that Members, other than the mover and the Minister, may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 11, I shall also speak to Amendment 12. I am, of course, aware that the position on consultation is different for Northern Ireland and Scotland, which have separate and therefore fully developed legal systems, where Wales does not; therefore, private international law and the implementation of these agreements is devolved in their cases.

At Second Reading, I asked for copper-bottomed assurances from the Minister with regard to devolution—namely that, should the Government identify issues within devolved competence, which would be impacted by existing or future private international law agreements, they would consult the Welsh Government—I emphasise the word “consult”. I was arguing not that the Welsh Government or Senedd should be able to veto or prevent the UK Government concluding such international agreements but simply that, in doing so, they should first make sure they understood the perspective of the devolved institutions, which, in many cases, are obliged to implement such agreements, and preferably secure their consent.

Frankly, I was astonished by the cavalier—some might say high-handed or arrogant—dismissal by the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, of my request. We may be getting used to the way that this Government are determined to sideline and ignore Parliament, but I had not expected this response, because I was advised that the Welsh Government had been given specific verbal assurances on this point. Welsh Ministers were so concerned at his dismissive reply that their Counsel General, a Minister, wrote to the Lord Chancellor protesting about it.

This is not just a debating point. As I made clear at Second Reading, the UK Government have already signed international agreements which directly impact on the rights of the Senedd to determine the franchise—a pretty fundamental point, you may well agree—and a competence that was devolved only in 2017. The truth is that the Government did not consult any of the devolved Governments properly over a series of European Union withdrawal and Brexit-related Bills. Instead, UK Ministers tried to indulge in a series of power grabs, as previously devolved functions were returned from Brussels back to the UK. There were a series of stand-offs with the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland. There were also refusals to grant legislative consent Motions in Wales and Scotland until satisfactory outcomes were belatedly conceded by Her Majesty’s Government. I am sure that something similar would have arisen in Northern Ireland had Stormont not been so damagingly self-suspended for three years during this Brexit-dominated period.

I therefore repeat my request for the Minister to give an assurance at the Dispatch Box now on the necessity for full and early consultation, for my amendments are designed to ensure that the devolved institutions are not blindsided by finding out after the event that the UK Government have signed up to obligations on their behalf, without any forewarning.

Break in Debate

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Hain.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain [V]
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I thank my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick for the telling point that she made about Northern Ireland and the confused picture of consultation there. I also thank my noble friend Lord McConnell for the interesting points that he made, including on the long-overdue formal structure for mandates for treaties. It was an interesting point that the Government might want to consider. Whether it is over Europe or international treaties, I have always found the process for forming the mandate for the negotiations in respect of the devolved Administrations, as my noble friend Lord McConnell put it—as a former First Minister of Scotland, he is an authority on these matters—to be a sort of retrospective rather than prior consultation. I thank, too, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for his important point about getting agreement, if possible, with the devolved Administrations on all the Bills that are descending on us in a great shower as we move to leave the European Union.

The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, made important points about family law and proper consultation over the complexities of children’s rights. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer made what I thought was the very telling observation that the way that these amendments have been handled and, indeed, the response to my points at Second Reading are all of a piece, to use his phrase, with the way in which the Bill has been conducted.

I thank the Minister for his response. However, I am afraid that I do not accept his interpretation of the way that I approached this matter at Second Reading, and I think that revisiting Hansard will confirm that. My points concerned Wales. I asked for a copper-bottomed guarantee on consultation over Wales. I did not get it then and I have only sort of got it, grudgingly, now. I simply say to him that I always found in my role as a Minister that it was better to own up and admit to mistakes if and when you made them. If I may say so as a former Secretary of State for Wales and for Northern Ireland, I think that it is also better to be open and embracing about devolution and the statutory requirements for consultation and agreement on these matters, rather than to be a bit grudging and chippy about them.

I have no idea what the Welsh Government will make of the Minister’s reply. He seems to have given a commitment to consult and reach agreement, but we will need to see. Maybe this matter will have to be revisited on Report, especially if the Welsh Government react with a letter to the Lord Chancellor in the way that they did after his response to me last week. Perhaps that will not be necessary—I certainly hope not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Northern Ireland Executive Formation

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Thursday 16th January 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I put on record my thanks to my noble friend Lord Caine. I know how much he has done in the Northern Ireland Office to bring about what has been achieved today. The success is owed not to any one individual but to a number of individuals over a very long period of time who have put their shoulder to the wheel. Again, I agree that this should allow us to move from that political paralysis. The key thing here is the sustainability of the institutions, which we must now ensure goes forward. We do not wish to be in anything like this situation again—ever, let alone any time soon.

As to the joint board and the notion of “devolve and forget”, the joint board, I hope, will provide that momentum and push to ensure that, where there are issues that require early engagement on a ministerial level, this will take place and will allow filtering down into the Civil Service on both sides of the water to ensure that we are able to get Northern Ireland back to where it belongs, which is what the people of Northern Ireland richly deserve.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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I echo the congratulations that I made fulsomely in my speech during the withdrawal Bill on Tuesday evening. Is this executive joint board a form of conditional devolution? I do not necessarily ask that critically, because the Northern Ireland Executive have had a record of not making tough decisions. Being in government involves choices and, sometimes, tough decisions. I speak from 12 years of my own experience in government. For example, I introduced water charges before we got the settlement of 2007. They were very unpopular and acted as a spur to the agreement we got. They were immediately abolished by the new Executive, which deprived the water industry of the capital investment and finance it needed to modernise, and the consequences are to be seen. Also, combined water charges and household taxes in Northern Ireland are half the average across England, Scotland and Wales. They need to raise more of their own revenue.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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The noble Lord is right to bring this matter before us. Restoring the Executive might end up looking like the easy bit of the operation when we start to see what serious challenges over revenue the incoming Executive are confronted by. Very difficult decisions will need to be taken, and I hope that the joint board will be able to operate in a spirit of consensus in that regard. It is the job of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland not to instruct this process but to support it as it goes forward. There will be difficult decisions in health and on the wider education question, and each will require Ministers to step up to the plate, which is how it should be. They must then face the electorate in due course to see whether they have done what they wanted done; they will be judged not by us sitting in this place but by the elections yet to come.

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords)
(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Tuesday 14th January 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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Having been a Member of the European Parliament, I know that one of the challenges is that Commission officials can sometimes be too expansive in the way that they express themselves, for purposes that are not always clear. I am afraid that I do not know exactly why Monsieur Barnier said what he did but he may well fit into that category. I am also conscious that I did not answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. If he will forgive me, I will write to him, and on that point, I conclude my remarks.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on a beautiful response to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I must say that the skill with which he did it was admirable. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, made a truly excellent speech, the key message of which was that this is not a partisan issue. This point was reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord McCrea—he has not often praised me, especially when I was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, even though his leader did from time to time—so when the Minister consults with the Secretary of State and No. 10, can he make that point? We are not trying to re-fight a battle that dates from before the election; we are trying to resolve a problem that uniquely affects Northern Ireland. The point was reinforced by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Bruce, who put it very succinctly when he said that all we are asking is to put into law what the Prime Minister has promised. That is what it is.

My noble friend Lady Smith urged the Government to compromise, like the parties in Northern Ireland have compromised. Perhaps we can urge No. 10 to compromise. Your Lordships’ House has been put in a difficult predicament in this situation; it is like a sword of Damocles hanging over us. Unlike with other Bills, where we can make a logical and reasonable case, as we have done on Northern Ireland in recent times—I acknowledge that the Minister has been good enough to respond creatively, with the Government behind him—and there is then a bit of give and take, this does not even seem to be in the arena. It is as if we might as well not have this debate because the Government are not going to consider it anyway. I therefore urge the Minister to transmit in crystal clear terms what has been said right across the House in this debate. It is actually a question of trust, as a number of noble Lords said. I have tried to go into the detail in a reasonably forensic way, but it does not seem that what has been said in public by the Prime Minister—I am not taking a party-political pop at him because that is not what we are about this evening—actually reconciles with the facts on the ground.

I come to the Minister’s admirable summing up. To be perfectly frank, what he is really saying is, “Trust us because we are going to talk to the Assembly. It is going to be in business and that is a good thing. The Members can have their say and it will all work out on the day.” Well, there are certain brick walls here, and hard places and collisions between the two, so I am not convinced by that. I am not convinced that a process of sweet dialogue between the Government and the Assembly will necessarily solve these problems. The purpose of the amendment is to solve them, so that there will not be any costs on businesses and no impediments to trade between Northern Ireland and its brothers and sisters in the rest of the UK. That is what it is about. Therefore, I think that there is bound to be a sense of distrust if the Government are not willing to accept the amendment. As my noble friend Lady Smith said, if the Minister comes back and says that the Government would like to rejig the amendment to achieve what we want to achieve by using the expert help of his officials in the Box, of course we will look at that, because we want the same objective. Otherwise, we will be put into the position of having to consider a Division—which we do not want to do.

Can I just ask specifically: will there be direct Northern Ireland representation on the Joint Committee, to actually deal with this issue? Will there be direct input for the Executive and, sitting behind it, the Assembly, reflecting businesses? Will that be possible? Will the Minister clarify that point?

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I do not know the answer right now, but when I come back I will know the answer and I will set that out next week.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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I am grateful. As always, the Minister is very helpful.

We have a dilemma here. At the moment, we are intending to retable the amendments and we will have to decide what we want to do, and what the feeling of the House is. We all saw that the feeling in the Committee tonight, including on the Conservative Benches, was pretty unanimous that these amendments and the principles behind them are ones that the House wants to see.

Unless the Minister wants to add anything before I sit down—no? He is being diplomatic and possibly prudent in not doing so. But on that basis I will withdraw Amendment 13 in the hope that we will get something practical that is actually in statute on Monday or Tuesday before we consider this matter again.

Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

(3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
(3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Thursday 31st October 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister kindly offered to report to the House—I see that the Chief Whip is sitting next to him—on likely progress in the House of Commons following this Bill going through.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Northern Ireland Office (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for this opportunity to do so. I agreed to come back on certain specific points. The first was the question of whether the Bill could be included in a wash-up. From speaking with parliamentary lawyers, I understand that the wash-up exists only between Sessions, not between Parliaments, so it would not be possible for the Bill to fit into that category. I understand that there are ongoing discussions at the other end about whether there will be opportunities to take this matter forward there. Unfortunately, I cannot give a commitment here on behalf of the other place but, as I said, I understand that those discussions are ongoing.

It is clear that there has been a very strong consensus—not just one based on the natural rhythm of the House but one that has been adapted to make that point crystal clear. We send that message to the other House with a degree of unanimity, which is perhaps rare in a number of areas, not least in the area of Northern Ireland. On that basis, I hope that it will be received in the same manner in which it has been received here and that the usual channels will reach what I believe to be the right conclusion. However, I cannot commit to that on their behalf, although I wish that I could.

Break in Debate

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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My Lords, I echo what has been said but simply add one point. If this historical institutional abuse of the most horrible kind had taken place in Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Yorkshire, or any one of the regions of England or in the nations of Scotland or Wales, do we seriously imagine that this Bill would not be speeding through the House of Commons immediately it followed its passage here? The answer is surely self-evident: it would have been dealt with. I would not like this Parliament to be in the position where it has failed the people of Northern Ireland, where it would not have failed anybody in Great Britain, because the MPs in Great Britain would make sure that the ruling party was held to account, as I know the Minister wants it to be.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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My Lords, in my time in the Northern Ireland Office, I can say that this is the most important Bill, and one which, I think, we can take forward. It will leave here in rapid order, having been discussed for a needful time, but remarkably quickly. I thank all noble Lords for their work on this, which I know has been challenging and sometimes very difficult. The Government are very much of the view that this is an important Bill. That is why it was in the Queen’s Speech and first off the blocks to come into our House, so that we could move it forward. I hope that it will leave here with the momentum to carry it to where it needs to be. I hope that all those who have a role in this will fulfil that role.

Northern Ireland Budget Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
(3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
(3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Thursday 31st October 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Northern Ireland Office (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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My Lords, sadly, this Bill is necessary. Although cross-party talks continue, the United Kingdom Government must take forward certain essential legislation to maintain the provision of public services. The legislation before the House today places the budget published in February 2019 on a legal footing and enables the Northern Ireland Civil Service to access the full funding for this financial year. Royal Assent is necessary to avoid the use of emergency powers under Section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

I shall now briefly turn to the Bill’s contents, which largely rehearse what the former Secretary of State set out to the House in a Written Ministerial Statement earlier this year. The Bill authorises Northern Ireland departments and certain other bodies to incur expenditure and use resources for the financial year ending on 31 March 2020.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, I apologise—for the second time this week—for interrupting the Minister so early in his speech. However, I would be very grateful if he could give the House any information in respect of the costs presumably incurred under this Bill as a result of the compensation paid under the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill. Will that legislation go through the Commons as it will do through this House later today—speedily and without amendment, as I understand it? Does the Minister, or the Chief Whip, have any information on that, please?

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I do not mind being interrupted by the noble Lord. The sum total of the expected costs under the historical institutional abuse Bill—this is an early estimate—is around £237 million, which will come from the Northern Ireland block grant. Money has been set aside and it will be met in full; of course, it may be higher than that depending upon circumstances. I believe that the historical institutional abuse Bill will pass through this House swiftly and, I sincerely hope, without amendment, today. I would like to believe that it could pass through the House of Commons in exactly the same fashion, but while I would like to make that so, I cannot guarantee it. But I hope to be able to report back with more information during the discussions we will have on the HIA Bill. That should help the House be aware of what we are facing.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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I thank the Minister very much for that response. I know, and the whole House knows, that he has been fully supportive of the Bill, and I am grateful for that. But in any intervening discussions that might be had with the Chief Whip here or the Chief Whip down there, can it be made clear that there is no reason at all why the Commons cannot do the same? The victims of historical institutional abuse will not understand if that does not happen.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I believe that the victims of historical abuse are watching us right now, not just in this House but in the other place. The noble Lord is correct in assessing what their view would be if that Bill fails to pass through both Houses. I will return to this during discussions in Committee on the historical institutional abuse Bill, to bring further matters to his and the House’s attention. If I may return now to the Bill before us, I shall talk briefly on its contents.

The Bill authorises Northern Ireland departments and certain other bodies to incur expenditure and use resources for the financial year ending 31 March 2020. Clause 1 authorises the Northern Ireland Department of Finance to issue £5.3 billion out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. The sums of money granted to Northern Ireland departments and other bodies are set out in Schedule 1, which also sets out the purposes for which the funds may be used. The allocations in this budget reflect where the key pressures lie in Northern Ireland, building on discussions we have had with the Northern Ireland Civil Service, the main parties in Northern Ireland and other stakeholders. Where possible, they reflect the previous Executive’s priorities.

Clause 2 authorises the temporary borrowing by the Northern Ireland Department of Finance of around £2.6 billion, to safeguard against the possibility of a temporary deficiency in the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. If used, this money will be repaid by 31 March 2020. Clause 3 authorises Northern Ireland departments and other specified public bodies to use resources amounting to some £6 billion in the year ending 31 March 2020 for the purposes specified in Schedule 2. Clause 4 sets limits on the accruing resources, including both operating and non-operating accruing resources, which may be used in the current financial year. Since this Bill would normally be taken through the Assembly, Clause 5 includes a series of adaptations that ensure that, once approved by both Houses, it will be treated as though it were an Assembly budget Act.

Alongside the Bill, the Government have laid a Command Paper; a set of main estimates for the Northern Ireland departments and bodies covered by the budget Bill. These estimates, which have been prepared by the Northern Ireland Department of Finance, set out the breakdown of resource allocation in much greater detail. I commend the Bill to the House.

Break in Debate

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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My noble friend has reminded me of something that I could not find in my written notes. I cannot give an exact date, but he will be aware that we published our own report on that. I shall use the word loosely, but I hope that its publication is imminent. I think it has reached the stage where it can be published and that now, it is just a question of when. The moment I am aware of the publication date, I will ensure that noble Lords are given it so that they are aware of it. I do not want to keep it a secret; it is just that I do not have the information.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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Perhaps the noble Lord would follow up on our previous exchange, and I apologise to noble Lords for briefly pursuing this. It is my understanding, based on recent discussions I have had at the Bar of the House with Members of Parliament, including MPs from Northern Ireland, that business managers in the Commons are telling them that there is no time to take the remaining stages of the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill. If that is the case, perhaps I may put two things on the record. First, that is not right. To use the excuse of electing the Speaker on Monday as a reason not to take through the Bill is unacceptable. If it means MPs sitting for a few hours more on Monday, they must do so in order in to protect the victims of historical institutional abuse because they have suffered horrendously.

The other procedural option—I have checked this, and I am a former Leader of the Commons—is that a First Reading in the Commons could take place. It could then go into the wash-up period. I have been told for a fact by Members of the Labour Opposition that they will support it, as will the DUP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, the Liberal Democrats and, I am sure, the SNP, so it could receive Royal Assent. The information that MPs have been given that there is no time for Royal Assent is nonsense. Royal Assent could be given at any time before Dissolution formally takes place. I am sorry to burden the House with this, but it is important to put it on the record.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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The noble Lord brings information to the House that I am not privy to. I have not had a chance to speak with business managers in the other place. I will be disappointed if his recitation of the details is correct, but I can say only that I do not know the answer because I have not had an opportunity to find out. We will return to that Bill later on this afternoon, when I will have more information. At that point, time having allowed me to have the necessary discussions with the other place, I will be in a better position, I hope, to answer the very questions that he raised.

Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Monday 28th October 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Northern Ireland Office (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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My Lords, this month the people of Northern Ireland saw the political impasse breach 1,000 days—1,000 days without a functioning Executive, and 1,000 days without progress in education, health, infrastructure and many other areas of devolved competence.

The impact of this impasse has been acutely felt—perhaps most of all by the victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive established an independent inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland in 2012. The inquiry’s report was published the same month as the collapse of the Executive. As a consequence, the Northern Ireland Executive never considered the report and it was not laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The victims have been left hanging for seven long years. This wait must now come to an end. That is why the Government committed in July to introduce legislation in Westminster by the end of this year, and why today we have made a fresh commitment to implementing the legislation and ensuring that victims and survivors receive an initial “acknowledgement payment” as soon as possible following the Bill’s passage.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene so early in his speech. I very much welcome this Bill and his urgency over it. Can he give the House any guidance as to how quickly this will get through? Many of us would support an accelerated programme, especially in view of the possible general election. It would be tragic for the victims of abuse if it were somehow to stall in a parliamentary logjam.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I welcome the noble Lord’s intervention so early in my speech, and I ask all those speaking today to speak in similar terms. With that assurance, I believe that I can move this forward very swiftly indeed. I believe that the usual channels will be consulted to that end, to ensure that we are not caught in the limbo of difficulty that might follow the announcement of a general election. I have no desire to see this carried over; I would much rather that it was done as quickly as possible.

I return now to the Bill. This legislation sets out the necessary legal framework to deliver two of the key recommendations from the historical institutional abuse report. The first is for a historical institutional abuse redress board to administer a publicly funded compensation scheme for victims in Northern Ireland. This will be a panel composed of a judicial member and two health and social care professionals. Appointments to the board will be made by the Lord Chief Justice and the Executive Office of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The second is for the creation of a statutory commissioner for survivors of institutional childhood abuse for Northern Ireland, who will act as an advocate for victims and survivors and support them in applying to the redress board.

As noble Lords will know, providing redress for the victims and survivors of such abuse in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter. The Government are acting on behalf of the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Northern Ireland parties to enact the legislation here at Westminster. Crucially, the Bill has been drafted by the Northern Ireland Civil Service at the request of, and based on a consensus reached by, all of the main Northern Ireland parties. Sadly, Westminster is simply the only available vehicle for the delivery of the Bill at this time.

I have spoken to colleagues across the House and, in reference to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I believe that the message has been received loud and clear, both in this House and in the other place. If noble Lords can give the assurances that I seek, I will be in a strong position to ensure that we are able to make very rapid progress indeed on the Bill.

In relation to the payments themselves and the speed with which they can be made, Clause 14 of the Bill contains provisions to allow the redress board to make an initial acknowledgement payment of £10,000 to eligible claimants before the full consideration of their claim. Clause 7 also allows the redress board to take a flexible case-management approach to claims, to ensure that those who are elderly or in severe ill-health are considered as a priority. That means those who are in the greatest need of redress will get their payments more quickly. Clause 6 allows claims to be made on behalf of a deceased person by their spouse or children. Crucially, the Secretary of State has tasked officials and the Northern Ireland Civil Service to look at options for implementing this legislation as soon as it becomes law. We cannot lose a single day on this matter.

Regarding the ability for applicants to request an oral hearing—an issue that I know certain noble Lords have raised—the Bill includes provisions for oral hearings, at the discretion of the redress board, where it is necessary in the interests of justice. The provision ensures that oral hearings are available when required but will not act as an unnecessary delay to those cases in which oral evidence is not required.

On the criteria that the redress board will consider, it will consider a number of factors—including, importantly, the duration of an applicant’s stay in the institution—when reaching a final compensation decision. Each application will be decided on its merits on a case- by-case basis. Finally, on the role of the commissioner, Clause 25 enables the commissioner to make representations to any person about matters concerning the interests of victims and survivors, including the redress board.

In conclusion, the victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse have waited too long. Let us get this done. I commend the Bill to the House.

Irish Border: Checks and Customs Arrangements

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Tuesday 1st October 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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My Lords, I had the pleasure this morning of waking up to the dulcet tones of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the “Today” programme. When he was asked about proposing a customs border five to 10 miles back from the border, he was very clear, saying: “That’s not what we are proposing at all”. I reiterate the point that there will be ample opportunity to discuss this very clearly. It is very difficult to discuss a non-paper when the non-paper is not available to discuss.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, given that the Government have formally and legally agreed with the EU on no border, no hard-border-related checks or controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland, preserving an all-Ireland economy and the single market, and protecting North/South co-operation as part of the new Good Friday/Belfast agreement, can the Minister explain why they appear ready to present proposals in Brussels that achieve precisely none of those objectives—including by suggesting customs checks away from the border, as I heard the Prime Minister indicate today that they would do? Surely the Government are proposing to break the law again by contravening Section 10(2)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which specifically bans,

“border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after exit day which feature physical infrastructure, including border posts, or checks and controls, that did not exist before exit day and are not in accordance with an agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU”?

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
- Hansard - -

The noble Lord raises a point that we must be very clear in answering. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has been very clear: there will be no infrastructure, no checks and no controls at the border, and we will be in full conformity with our obligations under the law. With regard to the comments that have been floating around today regarding the dialogue with the EU, it will be easier to have a proper discussion on this issue when those documents are in the public domain, as they will be, to facilitate that very discussion and the interrogation by the Members of this House.

Report Pursuant to Sections 3(1), 3(6), 3(7), 3(8), 3(9) and 3(10) the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Monday 9th September 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Northern Ireland Office (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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My Lords, on 4 September my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland laid a number of reports before Parliament in line with his obligations under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. These reports underscore what colleagues across this House have known for some time—that the restoration of the Executive and Assembly is vital to the people of Northern Ireland. This is our top priority as we continue to work with the Northern Ireland parties to meet that objective. Without an Executive, the people of Northern Ireland have seen the quality of their public services decline, and decisions that affect their day-to-day lives kicked into the long grass. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better.

Since his appointment in July, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has met public servants from a range of sectors who are doing an incredible job in the absence of support from their political leaders. But they cannot, of course, take the decisions that are needed on public services or the economy. If we cannot secure the restoration of an Executive in good time, we will pursue the decision-making powers that are needed at the earliest opportunity.

In addition to the reporting requirements, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 requires the UK Parliament to introduce laws on same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnerships, abortion and victims’ payments. I recognise that these are sensitive, devolved issues and this Government’s preference is that they are taken forward by a restored Executive and functioning Assembly. However, this House has spoken and the duty to legislate will come into effect if the Executive is not back up and running in the next six weeks.

With the permission of the House, I would like to speak to each report topic separately. In the other place each report is being debated separately but we are being slightly more expeditious and debating them all as a single whole. Let me just run through what they are and then I will go through each of them in turn: Executive formation; transparency of political donations; higher education and a Derry university; presumption on non-prosecution; Troubles prosecution guidance; abortion law review; historical institutional abuse; victims’ payments; human trafficking; and gambling.

I will begin at the beginning, with Executive formation. I am conscious now that essentially the same issues have been discussed in cross-party talks for over two years. There are some aspects of these talks that are close to resolution. I believe the parties could agree a programme for government, measures to increase transparency and on the sustainability of the institutions. But gaps remain between the two main parties on rights, culture and identity. Both the UK and the Irish Governments share the view that these issues are resolvable. So, the Government, working closely with the Irish Government in accordance with the three-stranded approach, will now intensify efforts to put forward compromise solutions to the parties. If that does not succeed, the Secretary of State’s next update will set out next steps to ensure adequate governance in Northern Ireland and the protection of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.

As regards transparency of political donations, we are proud that we were able to secure the agreement of Northern Ireland parties and bring forward legislation to open up all donations from July 2017 to full public scrutiny. I am aware that many would like to see that transparency go further and apply retrospectively to 2014. This remains a sensitive issue. When the donations regime was extended to the Northern Ireland parties in 2006, they were placed under the same obligation to report donations to the Electoral Commission as elsewhere in the UK. The difference before 2017 was that the commission could not publish the details. It was feared that to do so would risk intimidation of donors. The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act provides that greater transparency could be introduced from 2014 at some point in the future.

I would like to have been able to report more progress on this issue. However, as I mentioned to the House on the previous occasion, it should be instructive to see how donating patterns change in the run-up to an election. The Electoral Commission has yet to publish details for the period immediately in advance of the local and European elections. In addition, I would caution that opening up the historic record is not a straightforward matter. It is not a case simply of passing legislation. The reality is that this issue remains a sensitive one, particularly at this time, and we must be careful to take the time to properly consider the implications of retrospectively applying transparency. Donors must not face intimidation. As the Electoral Commission made clear to the parties in 2013, the point at which donations from 2014 will be made public is subject to an assessment of the security situation. We will look at this issue carefully, but that must be in the context of wider discussion and consultation between the Northern Ireland parties and the Government. However, our focus, rightly, must be on getting Stormont up and running.

On higher education and a Derry university, students from Northern Ireland benefit from two outstanding universities: Queen’s and Ulster University. We also recognise that many of those who come from Ulster choose to study in other parts of the UK or indeed internationally. While the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy has policy responsibility for higher education in Northern Ireland, universities are independent of government. As such, it is for a university, whether prospective or existing, to decide where to base any new campus. It should be noted that no application has been made from any organisation to establish a university in Derry/Londonderry.

The Government are aware that Ulster University has been for some time considering the development of a graduate medical school, to be located in Derry/Londonderry. This project proposal features heavily in the Derry City & Strabane District Council’s economic regeneration plans for the region. We hope that progress may be made via this route.

On the presumption of non-prosecution, the current system for dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past is not working well. This needs to change. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said recently, it is common ground across all Benches that it is simply not right that former soldiers should face unfair and repeated investigations, with no new evidence, many years after the events in question.

Although we want to find a better way to address these issues, to do so through the presumption of non-prosecution would pose a range of challenges and might not provide a complete solution to the issues at hand. A presumption of non-prosecution in the absence of compelling new evidence, whether in the form of a qualified statute of limitations or by some other legal mechanism, would likely need to be applied to everyone. This would essentially mean that an amnesty or statute of limitations would potentially apply to all those involved in Troubles-related incidents, including former terrorists.

Crucially, implementing these provisions would not remove the obligations under domestic criminal law to investigate serious allegations. Equally, it would also not end the UK’s need to comply with its international obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires an independent body to carry out Article 2-compliant investigations. To imply that this requirement would not continue would mislead veterans.

Therefore, the Government continue to drive forward a range of proposals on how best to address the legacy of the past. As part of this, we recently carried out a consultation on a framework of proposals flowing from the Stormont House agreement on how improvements could be made. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will continue to work with partners on all sides to reflect on this feedback and develop an improved system that is fair, balanced and proportionate. This work continues, alongside the Ministry of Defence’s public consultation seeking views on proposed legal protection measures for Armed Forces personnel and veterans serving in operations outside the United Kingdom.

On Troubles prosecution guidance, the UK Government recognise that historic investigations are a complex area and the subject of a range of strongly held views. We have made it clear that the way investigations into the past are carried out needs to be reformed. However, the required reforms are about not how and by whom criminal justice decisions are taken, but rather how we can have a more effective and fairer system.

Noble Lords will of course also be aware that criminal investigations, including legacy cases of Troubles-related incidents, are carried out independently of government. As set out in the update report, the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter, as are prosecutorial decisions and the guidance that underpins them. In Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, those prosecutorial decisions are made independent of government, just as they are in England and Wales, by the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland under the auspices of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.

Centrally, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland is not under the superintendence of the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland. This means that, under existing legislation, the Director of Public Prosecutions has a consultative relationship with the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland. The former cannot be compelled by the latter. This particular feature of the relationship between these key figures is an important component of the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland and it is not within the Government’s powers to direct the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland or Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.

What is central in these legacy cases is not how an individual came to have a weapon but what they did with it, and it is of course for the courts and not the Government to determine innocence and guilt. The Government are committed to reforming the current system, but this needs a new, wider approach, with practical, sustainable and workable solutions. The Government remain committed to finding those solutions.

On the abortion law review, without the formation of a restored Executive we will implement the relevant sections of the recent Act. However, we recognise that a majority of MPs want to ensure that reform happens if we continue to see an absence of devolved government, hence placing the Section 9 Executive formation Act duty on government to regulate if an Executive is not restored by 21 October 2019. That duty requires the Government to implement the recommendations contained in paragraphs 85 and 86 of the 2018 report of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women—CEDAW—specific to Northern Ireland’s legal framework for abortion, together with non-legislative measures around education and access to counselling services.

As set out in the update report, to meet this commitment we have been undertaking work to analyse and carefully consider the range of materials, both international and domestic, that have considered related reform issues and the sensitive policy questions that have to be worked through to deliver what is required. This process is ongoing, and I will be happy to update your Lordships on further progress in the second report to Parliament on this issue in the coming weeks.

On historical institutional abuse, the Government have made plain our commitment to introducing legislation in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive by the end of the year. Much progress has been made by officials in the Northern Ireland Office working in concert with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to prepare all the necessary materials to do just that. The Executive Office is to be commended for the progress it has made in the absence of Northern Ireland Ministers. It prepared draft HIA legislation in 2018 and a consultation exercise was concluded in March 2019. It is with the benefit of this progress that the Northern Ireland political parties were able to discuss in detail the implementation proposals for the commissioner for survivors of institutional child abuse and a redress scheme. The discussions between the Northern Ireland parties on the historical institutional abuse legislation and the policy decisions required to finalise it have demonstrated that there is a genuine will to reach agreement and deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.

The resultant HIA Bill was provided to the NIO by the Executive Office on 18 July and has been the focus of work in my department to make ready everything necessary to introduce the Bill at Westminster. It is a complex Bill and those documents have required significant input from legal advisers and policy officials. The UK Government’s commitment to introduce this legislation by the end of the year in the absence of a restored Executive remains resolute. Following the policy and legal work carried out in August by officials, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State wrote to colleagues to seek to secure a legislate slot for introduction. On Friday 23 August, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland held very positive meetings with representatives from victims and survivor groups, and on 30 August he met the interim advocate, Brendan McAllister. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will continue to engage with these key Northern Ireland stakeholders to update them on progress as we seek to deliver redress for victims and survivors of this dreadful abuse.

I move on to victims’ payments. We will introduce payments to victims not injured by their own hand. We have now committed under the Executive formation Act that if there is no Executive in place by 21 October the UK Government will bring forward regulations before the end of January to ensure that a victims’ payments scheme can come into force in Northern Ireland by the end of May next year. As set out in the update report, to meet this commitment we have been undertaking work to develop the detailed arrangements for the scheme with factual input from the Northern Ireland Civil Service. This has included consideration of other relevant schemes, detailed design work, discussion with certain key stakeholders and making plans for future engagement, and preparing detailed advice on the proposed architecture of the scheme—its purpose and principles, levels and methods of payment, eligibility and other technical considerations, the assessment process, and wider support arrangements for scheme applicants.

We are as well placed as possible to deliver against our obligations in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, and we propose to engage widely on the details of the scheme ahead of the date by which the regulations must be made. The views received on our proposed approach will help inform final decisions on how the scheme will be implemented.

On human trafficking, the report contains information on a number of occasions the department has considered it necessary to provide assistance and support for victims of human trafficking for whom there has been a conclusive determination that the person is a victim of human trafficking. It also outlines the reasons for provision of this support.

Clearly, it is the will of Parliament that the Secretary of State should report on this issue, but I would also wish to add a caveat about the limitations on the Secretary of State’s capacity to report comprehensively on matters of devolved competence. Consequently, I add that the report does not provide the immigration status of those victims who have been supported. The Northern Ireland Department of Justice does not hold that information and, while it might be possible for another competent authority to advise on immigration status, given the small number of victims involved—16 individuals over a three-year period—information on the immigration status of those individuals could make it possible to determine their identities. I trust that Members will agree that that would not be a welcome outcome. I acknowledge and commend the Northern Ireland Civil Service on its progress in these matters during the difficult circumstances that currently exist, and look forward to a time when these issues are properly considered by a returned Northern Ireland Executive.

Finally, I come to gambling. As many noble Lords will be aware, gambling legislation in Northern Ireland differs from that in Great Britain. This report recognises the challenges associated with the likes of online gambling and fixed-odds betting terminals, and notes that existing legislation has not kept pace with industry and technological changes. In addition, the report highlights the lack of specific services commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board to help those suffering from gambling addiction. A high-level strategic review of gambling policy, practice and law is currently being carried out by the Department for Communities. I would encourage the gambling operators to work alongside the Health and Social Care Board to ensure that all that can be done is being done.

I beg to move.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I welcome the report on the,

“progress made towards preparing legislation implementing a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents”,

and I commend the officials who have been working on it. Your Lordships will recall that, in my original amendment to the legislation, I specifically and repeatedly used the words,

“severely injured through no fault of their own”.

On advice from parliamentary counsel, those words did not appear in the Bill that we passed, and I accepted that on the assurances given in this House by the Minister and in the other place that the legislation to implement the pension would be absolutely true to the spirit and intent of,

“through no fault of their own”.

When the commitment to implement a special pension for people who were severely physically or psychologically damaged through no fault of their own during the Troubles was enshrined in statute in July, it was warmly welcomed by those who had been campaigning for many years for the proper recognition and acknowledgement of the great harm done to them. But there were those in Northern Ireland who regrettably spread alarm and confusion among victims and survivors by claiming that the pension could go to those injured by their own hand because the legislation was “weak”. That was their term. They have either misunderstood or misrepresented what is being taken forward. The detailed legislation to implement the pension cannot be described as “weak”, for the very good reason that it does not yet exist in the form of the regulations due to come into effect by the end of January 2020. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that. Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise these regulations, including in your Lordships’ House. Therefore, I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to again give a cast-iron commitment that only those injured through no fault of their own will qualify for the pension.

There is also a report before us on the definition of a victim, which is currently set out in the 2006 Order, which was passed when I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I will make two brief points about it. First, the report says:

“In the absence of consensus on this sensitive and emotive issue, the position of the UK Government is that in order to make meaningful progress, this work would be best taken forward by a newly restored Executive”.

All I can say is, “Good luck with that!”. It is precisely because it is a “sensitive and emotive issue” that there is little prospect of agreement being reached, even if the Executive were to return. I would remind the House that those campaigning for the pension dragged themselves in their wheelchairs to Stormont year after year for tea and sympathy but little else. The local political parties failed them shamefully, instead wrangling in sectarian fashion over the definition of victims, while the terrible injustice they were suffering festered on.

Secondly, the 2006 Order facilitated the setting up of the Commission for Victims and Survivors, but it also gives access to those services provided by the Victims and Survivors Service and, when it comes into operation, the mental trauma service. It is well documented that the impact of conflict can be transgenerational. Are we to say to a child— or even a grandchild—that, because of events that took place years before they were born, they will not now get access to the support services that they need because they are no longer eligible? That cannot be right. Whichever way this is taken forward, we should proceed with caution. I welcome the cool analysis that the Minister has provided. We know that his heart is in the right place on these matters and we wish him well in the progress to come.

Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointment Functions) (No. 2) Regulations 2019

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Monday 9th September 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Northern Ireland Office (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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My Lords, this Government are committed to the Belfast agreement. As I have said on many occasions, restoring a power-sharing Executive remains our key priority in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland needs the fully functioning political institutions of the Belfast agreement and its successors. That being said, in the absence of devolved government, the UK Government continue to have a responsibility to ensure good governance in Northern Ireland and that public confidence is maintained.

In November last year, legislation was brought forward, which among other measures addressed the need for urgent appointments to be made to a number of public bodies. At the time, the Secretary of State gave a commitment to make further appointments that may arise in the absence of an Executive. A statutory instrument was subsequently approved by the House in February 2019 which added six further offices to the 2018 Act. This new instrument specifies further critical offices to be added.

In preparing this instrument, my officials have worked closely with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to identify those appointments that will arise between now and the end of the year. This instrument would add to the list in Section 5 of the Act, thereby enabling the Secretary of State—as the relevant UK Minister—to exercise Northern Ireland Ministers’ appointment functions in relation to the following offices: the board of the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, the board of the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, the board of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company or Translink, the Drainage Council for Northern Ireland, the Agricultural Wages Board for Northern Ireland, the board of National Museums Northern Ireland, the Historic Buildings Council for Northern Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The instrument would also enable the Lord Chancellor to make Queen’s Counsel appointments. These are necessary and time-critical and, on that basis, I beg to move.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, all our debates, such as this one on the Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointment Functions) (No. 2) Regulations, are in the context of the continuing absence, as the Minister acknowledged at the start, of an Assembly and the Executive. Although he has repeated his determination to get it up and running and we support him in that object, the increasing and alarming prospect is, instead, of a calamitous no-deal Brexit. In my view, that will lead inevitably to direct rule, not least to provide the necessary civil contingency and security powers which the civil servants currently administering Northern Ireland simply do not possess. That is shown by this regulation. They do not have the power, without us passing this secondary legislation, to make these appointments; they are certainly not going to have the power to deal with problems around the border of the security and civil contingency kind. Indeed, I heard the former Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington say recently on the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme that there would have to be direct rule in advance of 31 October in order for Northern Ireland to function properly. In their own small way, these regulations are a dress rehearsal.

I believe that direct rule would be little short of disastrous for Northern Ireland and the progress that has been made since the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. One of the great achievements of that agreement was to dilute, if not completely remove, the toxicity of identity politics in Northern Ireland. It also helped cement relations between the UK and Ireland. Citizens of Northern Ireland could be Irish or British or increasingly Northern Irish as they chose and the invisible nature of the border was central to that, particularly for nationalists and, above all, for republicans. That is changing and a DUP-backed right-wing British Government exercising direct rule may not take us back to the violence of the past—I certainly hope not—but it will immeasurably damage the prospects for long-term stability and reconciliation. The notion that this can be a cosy domestic arrangement between the DUP and the Government is in itself absurd.

Effectively, you have one party out of all the parties in Northern Ireland, that does not command a majority percentage of the votes, wagging the tail of the Government in a direct rule context. If direct rule has to happen—and that is a terrible calamity in itself—then under the Good Friday agreement the Irish Government must be constantly consulted on all major policy decisions and be seen to be consulted. Perhaps the Minister can confirm whether the appointments made under these regulations will be done with full consultation with the Irish Government. The alternative with the DUP in alliance with the Government would be to undermine the Good Friday/Belfast agreement and all the progress that has been made since. After painstakingly moving to a place where both communities felt more equal, this alliance suggests that one community—or perhaps one part of one community—again has the advantage over the other.

The Good Friday agreement is an international treaty and under it the Irish Government must be consulted through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference or BIIGC. A formal institution of the agreement, just like the others, it must meet regularly and our Government must no longer convey the reticence and nervousness they showed around their few meetings since the summer of 2018. I hope the Minister will take that point back. They must not pander to one party in Northern Ireland which does not like this institution. Instead, they must display the “rigorous impartiality” the agreement requires. I say that not just as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who had to be an “honest broker” to get Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness—bitter old enemies—into power together to govern Northern Ireland jointly. The former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major said the British Government had to be an honest broker to take the peace process forward and bring everybody together. They no longer are.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Wednesday 17th July 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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My Lords, I am very happy to speak on this and I will get right to the point. I am very happy to confirm for the record that the intent and purpose of,

“through no fault of their own”,

is the principal criterion by which we will ensure that victims secure their pension. We will also ensure that all eligibility criteria procedures abide by the “no fault of their own” principle. I hope that these words will stand alongside any interpretation of the Bill as it passes from our House to the other place. I recognise the “blameless” comment as well: we need to recognise that concept that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, put into the discussion. This is to ensure that those who have suffered through no fault of their own, not by their own hand, and who are survivors of a difficult and troubled time, are able to secure a pension now. That pension will be backdated to December 2014, so I hope that for some there will be a serious lump sum. I hope that that money can do some good.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for bringing this before us, for pushing it and for keeping us on track all the way through. I think noble Lords who have been part of those discussions will agree that it is through his leadership that we are where we are today. I would not normally do this, but it is also important that I praise one of my officials, Chris Atkinson. He has been instrumental in helping move this matter forward: without him, we would not be where we are today, and I put on record, from all of us who have been involved, how critical he was to securing success. On that basis, I am very happy to accept the amendment.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In thanking the Minister, I also thank his official, Chris Atkinson. I also place on record what is, I am sure, the view of the whole House that the WAVE Trauma Centre, which has campaigned for this for 10 years, deserves to be acknowledged for what has been magnificent persistence: I think we should pay tribute to it.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords)
(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Monday 15th July 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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My Lords, I believe I can give that positive response. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, has given a great deal of leadership. A number of Members of your Lordships’ House have worked very hard on this matter, as have members of my team in the Northern Ireland Office. The noble Lord and I discussed earlier some technical improvements that need to be made, which I believe we can make tomorrow. The noble Lord has also raised the question of a money resolution and a consolidated fund. I believe we can address that.

I was privileged to meet a number of the survivors from the WAVE Trauma group. I recognise what they have been through. I thank the noble Lords here who have given that commitment to ensure that their voices have not been lost or forgotten. Every day we lose from here on in is one day too many. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hain, will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very positive response and all those who have contributed to the debate, including the noble Lord, Lord McCrea. I am happy to withdraw this amendment and table a revised version tomorrow, which I hope will be acceptable to the whole House, including the Government.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Monday 15th July 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I am fully aware of that, but I am also aware of how long there has been no government in Northern Ireland, and that that cannot continue. It cannot continue because there are things that need to be done: not the issues being dealt with inside those rooms, but issues such as health, education, schools and agriculture—the list recited by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, during our last discussion on the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, said the same thing. We cannot allow this to continue. What we need now is good governance in Northern Ireland. This is an opportunity for those parties, within the extension foreseen in the Bill, to deliver on that. If they cannot do so in that time there will be consequences, and we must address those sooner rather than later.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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I very much sympathise with the Minister’s sentiments and the logic of his arguments but, on the subject of focusing minds, may I ask him to consider that the Government have already docked Assembly Members’ salaries a bit? To be honest, I think that was water off a duck’s back. He should be willing to consider the funding that goes to parties in Stormont for their Assembly operations, together with their staffing allowances, which amounts to millions of pounds, and to say that if this continues, their staff will need to be given proper notice of the end of their service—and that that will be the consequence of failing to agree. That was something I did in 2006-07, and it did focus minds.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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The noble Lord again brings his experience to the debate. We cannot keep funding futility, however that manages to manifest itself. There will be consequences if we cannot move these matters forward, and they need to be felt by those who are affected directly inside those rooms. I will take away the noble Lord’s point and think it over.

Northern Ireland: Trauma Victims

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Thursday 27th June 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have to grant a pension to the severely injured victims of the Northern Ireland conflict represented by the WAVE Trauma Centre.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office and Scotland Office (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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This is an important issue, which the UK Government take very seriously. That is why the Secretary of State requested updated and comprehensive advice from the victims’ commissioner, which we have recently received. The completion of that advice represents an important step in taking forward a pension for victims of the Troubles. The Northern Ireland Office is undertaking detailed work on the next steps, with factual input and support from the NICS.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his personal commitment to the several hundred people who, through absolutely no fault of their own, were so catastrophically damaged by Northern Ireland terrorist attacks and who, for a modest outlay, will have their lives transformed by being granted a weekly pension of £150. As he knows, there is cross-party support for an enabling Bill to go through this House in one day, like other Northern Ireland legislation. Will the Government promise to find time for this before the recess? After all, we are not exactly snowed under with Bills at the moment. He has met the severely injured—some, double amputees. For nearly 10 years they have dragged themselves to Stormont, when it was functioning, to argue their case but to no avail. Will the Government now act quickly to legislate to remedy this appalling injustice?

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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The noble Lord has been a passionate advocate on behalf of those who have suffered in the Troubles. I had an extraordinary experience in meeting some of the victims. The victims’ commissioner has given his advice; it raises a number of issues that we must work our way through as quickly and expeditiously as we can to make sure the legislation produced is right for the time. We are going through this now. The noble Lord knows that we are exploring every possible way to make sure we get this right. I cannot at this point give the commitment he would like, but I can assure him that there is no doubt in my mind that the Government remain utterly committed to delivering on this important issue.

Northern Ireland: Inter-party Talks

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Thursday 20th June 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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The noble Lord is absolutely right: it must be balanced, fair and, importantly, sustainable.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that it will be a shameful betrayal of the fine memory of Lyra McKee if the parties—both the DUP and Sinn Féin—do not bear in mind what she stood for and reach an agreement? In facilitating that, does he agree that the personal involvement of the next Prime Minister, whoever that is, is critical, as my noble friend Lord Murphy, the Labour Leader and I have repeatedly urged? He must get directly involved and convene a summit, because that is sometimes the only way to crack these problems.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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The noble Lord is right to raise the sad death of Lyra McKee. I think that has added momentum and impetus to the current talks and it would be a betrayal of all she stood for if we do not finally secure a restored Executive. I can assure the noble Lord that the Prime Minister has taken an active interest and even last night was in direct contact with the Taoiseach to discuss these matters and give, as best we can, a favourable momentum to the ongoing talks.

Devolved Administrations: 20th Anniversary

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Wednesday 22nd May 2019

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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The noble Lord is right to raise the point, but I am probably not the right person to answer it. That is a parliamentary issue, which I imagine can be taken forward if the noble Lord is minded to write to the parliamentary authorities. That might be an approach. I know that noble Lords will be very pleased to hear that I am drawing my remarks to a close—or at least I was drawing my remarks to a close.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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I will make a brief point, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for accepting my intervention. It strikes me on Northern Ireland that half of the community is not represented in Parliament. It is not represented in your Lordships’ House and it is not represented in the House of Commons. That is partly because Sinn Féin will not take its seats—we understand that. But can the Government—and whoever is the Prime Minister when the next set of appointments is made—think about this? I would certainly be willing to talk privately. It is really important for balanced debate that this is redressed.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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The noble Lord makes a very valid point. Now more than ever, if Sinn Féin were to have taken its seats, the difference it could have made in the other place would have been palpable. There is no question about that. The point he raises needs careful consideration. We are, I hope, a diverse Parliament in terms of representing that—particularly this House, which has history behind it. I am not saying that noble Lords are all historical, but they certainly have pedigree on the issues, and there are opportunities here that do not exist in the other place. I will reflect on that and bring it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

On that point, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me. We have had a very good discussion—but, again, it is a journey and not a destination. I am sure we will revisit this on a number of occasions in the future.

Northern Ireland: Devolution

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Thursday 14th February 2019

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I thank the noble Lord for his thoughtful contributions. There is a lot on in that week of 26 March and I am fully aware of how important it will be that we make progress before 22 March on the key aspect of delivering a functioning Executive. He is of course correct that after that point, if we have made progress and are moving through the Brexit process, the world will look quite different, and that is something that I hope will be to the positive endeavour of all the parties in Northern Ireland. He will be aware that the local government elections in May will represent the first test of public opinion, outside of polling, and may give some indication of exactly what we can expect in Northern Ireland.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, will the Minister accept that what I am about to say is not a criticism of him? I think we all agree, across the House, that he does an outstanding job. However, I have recently had discussions with leading members of the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party, who told me in terms that the Secretary of State does not put creative ideas on the table for solving the impasse; that it is, in a sense, a dialogue of the deaf. I report to the House only what I have been told sincerely and out of frustration by those leading figures. Is there not a case—I say this with sympathy, having done the job—for the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to be more proactive in cracking this problem? There is always a solution to impasses such as this through negotiations, as we showed over the years. There should be a very high-level summit and people should not be allowed to leave that summit until they have agreed a way forward.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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The noble Lord brings valuable experience to the discussion: I have welcomed many contributions from him in the past. I assure him that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been active. One of the challenges will often be that the activity is not seen: sometimes, like a swan on a lake, it is the feet under the water that are doing the flapping, rather than the bit above. That is probably not the best analogy I could have come up with—I am sorry about that. The point remains, none the less, that she is remarkably active in this area and we do have an opportunity up until 26 March. We must not lose that opportunity: she will be judged, as I will be judged, if we fail to deliver.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Tuesday 30th October 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I am in a slightly invidious position because I cannot give a date—but I know that six months would be very far away and would be unacceptable to us. I cannot say that specifically, if my noble friend will forgive me, but we will make progress as quickly as we can because we recognise that this is not a matter that can be left to languish. The individuals are living through their own fate and we will not allow that to be the case. I hope that noble Lords will accept these words for what they mean and what they can deliver.

My word—I have been given a sheet of paper. We will guarantee within six months. So, yes, we will be able to do it within six months and I hope that that will therefore give some comfort to noble Lords that we take this matter with the utmost seriousness and we will move it forward.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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My Lords, I am grateful for the support from the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Bruce, from the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Loan and Lady Altmann, from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, with his passion, and from my noble friend Lady Smith, because of course she worked with many victims, both when I was Secretary of State and before and did a fantastic job. She, perhaps more than anybody, knows about the issues at stake here, from a ministerial point of view at least. I am grateful to the Minister for the discussions we have had and for the efforts he has made both to understand and respond to the issue. He has showed more conviction to do something about this than I have detected from the Government so far. I do not want to put him in an invidious position, and I certainly do not want to injure his future career by praising him, but he has shown real compassion as well as some determination to resolve this.

I think that six months, with due respect, is a long way away, as the Minister said. The Victims Commissioner has had this instruction since May. That is a while ago and I hope that this can be weeks rather than months. Maybe some of his officials listening to this debate might ring the Victims Commissioner and suggest that she at least read the debate and make her own mind up.

This has to happen—and it has to happen within a specified time. I am not asking the Minister to do that specifically tonight, but I do not want to be in the position of facing some future legislation in six months’ time and then being told, “Well, maybe next year”. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that there will be a date from which it will be applied, even if the actual decision to do something about it comes in the future. I think that that will be a reassurance to the severely injured victims. I look forward to receiving the letter which may give us some clarity. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Northern Ireland Executive: Update

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Thursday 6th September 2018

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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We cannot ignore the frustration that must be felt by all those in Northern Ireland whose concerns are for the everyday well-being of the people of Northern Ireland, whether it be for a better education service or improvements in public health, whether it be those in rural communities who want farming to be supported or the fishing industry assisted. Each of these is an integral part of the well-being of the nation. Without them, when politicians become so divorced that they believe that their issues, their politics, matter more than the day-to-day well-being of the individuals who live and die, work and play in the Province—when those politicians place those issues before all others—we indeed reach that point of darkness.

In order for us to see some light, the noble and right reverend Lord is correct: we must draw not just on the political parties but, rather, all those in civic society who have something to say, whether that be the trade unions or the Churches, because each represents in a different fashion the people of Northern Ireland. They often represent them without the partisan components which others may have drawn on and sometimes exploited.

We need now to think afresh, and those voices must be drawn into the chorus calling for change now, to get back to a time when in Northern Ireland we are focused on the things that matter to the people of Northern Ireland. It must be the elected representatives there who deliver that. I should like to think that in any future election, those who have failed to hear those voices will be held to account—that is how elections should work—but we are not at that stage yet. We have for a moment a window during which we must put every resource we can into bringing about the restoration of a sustainable Executive, drawing on the wealth of knowledge in an Assembly democratically elected. All voices must be part of that just now, because it is fair to say that political voices alone have not been adequate.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister accept that for those such as my noble friend Lord Murphy, who negotiated the detail of the Good Friday agreement, and me, involved in negotiating the establishment of self-governance in 2007, which operated as successfully as could have been expected for 10 years, it is especially painful and frustrating to see all that progress blown away? I put it to your Lordships’ House that there is a lack of understanding of how dangerous and serious this impasse is. Does the Minister agree that we effectively have direct rule by proxy? That is the reality as a result of his Statement. I fear an endless drift into avoiding tough decisions, such as resolving the serious health crisis in Northern Ireland and dealing with the problem of victims.

I express one note of dissent to the general consensus: I do not think that cutting MLAs’ salaries by the amount suggested will have much effect. Will the Minister look at withdrawing public funding for the political parties in Stormont, which is millions of pounds and would really bite? I would also give their staff three months’ notice, according to employment law, so that people realise that this is for real. If not, especially with no elections in sight, they have jobs for life to carry on as they wish without any real sense of a deadline.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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The noble Lord puts it on the line. The reality is that there must be consequences for those who fail to deliver a restored Executive. There cannot be jobs for life; it cannot be business as usual; it cannot be continuity with what we have experienced so far. I appreciate the point which he raises: those who are in the room or not in the room seem not to be committed to the outcome which the people themselves are crying out for and, whenever asked, have endorsed. I take on board the points made and will reflect on them, but stress again the key aspect that we have but a short time to deliver this outcome, and those who fail in that will be remembered.

Northern Ireland: Devolved Institutions

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Wednesday 23rd May 2018

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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There is a wealth of experience in this House, on which I hope we can continue to draw. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland flies above and below the radar.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, I respect the work that the Minister is doing, as I think does the whole House, but does he agree that the longer the Assembly and the Executive are down, the harder it is to get it back up? That is the lesson of the past, even after Good Friday. Will he look at what was done in the past, when there were stalemates of this kind? Then, a summit was convened, involving the Prime Minister—not on a fly-in, fly-out basis, and not seeing the parties for an hour here and an hour there—and the Taoiseach, and the parties were kept at that summit, as was done at St Andrews, Hillsborough and other places, until there was an agreement? I believe strongly that that is the only solution in sight.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has engaged directly with the Taoiseach and others, but we need to think afresh and, as we progress in the next few months, we will need to visit a number of past experiences and try our best to navigate a much more challenging way forward. Nothing is off the table.

Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
(3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Tuesday 27th March 2018

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office and Scotland Office (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall speak to all three Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The UK Government take seriously our responsibility to uphold our commitment to govern in the interests of all parts of the community in Northern Ireland. To that end, there are three Bills before the House that represent a series of necessary steps now required to protect and preserve public services, ensure good governance and increase public confidence in Northern Ireland’s political institutions. We have deferred action on these measures for as long as possible in the hope that a restored Executive could take this legislation forward. That is now not possible. So, with the greatest reluctance, it is important that we proceed with the Bills.

With the leave of the House, I will discuss each Bill in turn, starting with the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill. Members of the House will recall that, last November, Parliament approved the Northern Ireland Budget Act 2017. This was a step we took reluctantly. This Act gave the Northern Ireland Civil Service the clear legal basis required to manage resources and perform the important work it continues to do in the absence of an Executive. The Northern Ireland Civil Service has continued since then to assess where pressures lie across the system, taking decisions to reallocate resources as required. It has also requested since then to draw down £20 million in 2017-18—of the £50 million of support arising from the financial annexe to the confidence and supply agreement—which the Government committed to releasing for 2017-18 to help address immediate health and education pressures. The remainder of that £50 million will form part of the resource totals available in 2018-19.

Noble Lords will want to be reassured that the additional funding for 2017-18 was confirmed in the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2018, which received Royal Assent on 15 March. These changes to the financial position approved in the Northern Ireland Budget Act 2017 in November must now be placed on a legal footing for the Northern Ireland Administration as we approach the end of the financial year, and that is what this Bill does.

In addition, the Bill will provide for a vote on account in the early months of next year to give legal authority for managing day-to-day spending in the run-up to the estimates process. This will avoid the unorthodox need for the Northern Ireland Civil Service to rely on emergency powers set out in Section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act and Section 7 of the Government Resources and Accounts Act (Northern Ireland) 2001 to issue cash and resources. For 2018-19, we do not consider it would be appropriate if we did not provide the usual vote on account facility to the Northern Ireland Civil Service—a facility provided to the UK Government departments through our own spring supplementary estimates process.

To be very clear, this is not a forward-looking budget for the year ahead. The Bill does not seek to set out in legislation the departmental allocations of the Secretary of State’s Budget Statement on 8 March, nor does it seek to vote any new moneys for Northern Ireland. The totals to which it is related are either locally raised or have been subject to previous votes in Parliament, most recently in the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill.

Instead, the Bill looks back to confirm spending totals for 2017-18 to ensure that the Northern Ireland Civil Service has a secure legal basis for its spending in the past year. As such, it formally allocates the £20 million of confidence and supply funding already committed for 2017-18; it is not concerned with any of the £410 million set out in the 2018-19 Budget Statement, which will be a matter for the UK estimates in the summer and for a Northern Ireland budget Bill thereafter.

I will turn briefly to the content of the Bill, as it largely rehearses what I set out to your Lordships in November when bringing forward the Northern Ireland Budget Act 2017. In short, it authorises Northern Ireland departments and certain other bodies to incur expenditure and use resources for the financial year ending 31 March 2018.

Clause 1 of the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill authorises the issue of £16.1 billion out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland. The allocation levels for each Northern Ireland department and the other bodies in receipt of these funds are set out in Schedule 1, which also states the purposes for which these funds are to be used.

Clause 2 authorises the use of resources amounting to £18 billion in the year ending 31 March 2018 by the Northern Ireland departments and other bodies listed in Clause 2(2).

Clause 3 sets revised limits on the accruing resources, including both operating and non-operating accruing resources in the current financial year. These are all largely as they appeared in the Northern Ireland Budget Act 2017, and the revised totals for departments appear in Schedules 1 and 2 to the Bill.

Clause 4 does not have a parallel in that Act. It sets out the power for the Northern Ireland Civil Service to issue out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund some £7.35 billion in cash for the forthcoming financial year. This is the vote on account provision that I have already outlined. It is linked to Clause 6, which does the same in terms of resources. The value is set, as is standard, at around 45% of the sums available in both regards in the previous financial year. Schedules 3 and 4 operate on the same basis, with each departmental allocation simply set at 45% of the previous year.

Clause 5 permits some temporary borrowing powers for cash management purposes. As I have already noted, there is no new money contained within the Bill; there is simply the explicit authority to spend in full the moneys that have already been allocated and locally raised.

This Bill would ordinarily have been taken through the Assembly. As such, at Clause 7, there are a series of adaptations that ensure that, once approved by Parliament, the Bill will be treated as though it were an Assembly Budget Act, enabling Northern Ireland public finances to continue to function notwithstanding the absence of an Executive.

Noble Lords may already be aware from the Library that, alongside the Bill, a set of supplementary estimates for the departments and bodies covered by the budget Bill have also been laid as a Command Paper. These estimates, which have been prepared by the Northern Ireland Department of Finance, set out the breakdown of their resource allocation in greater detail. This is a different process from that which we might ordinarily see for estimates at Westminster, where the estimates document precedes the formal budget legislation and is separately approved. That would also be the case at the Assembly, but as was the case in November, the Bill provides that the laying of the Command Paper takes the place of an estimates document laid and approved before the Assembly, again to enable public finances to flow smoothly.

This Bill is very much a technical step as we approach the end of the financial year to provide a secure legal footing for the Northern Ireland Civil Service. It looks backwards rather than forward, although it avoids the use of emergency powers for the forthcoming financial year. It is on that platform that the Secretary of State’s 2018-19 Budget Statement of 8 March builds. It is worth making it clear that the 2018-19 Budget Statement will need to be the subject of formal legislation later in year. I am sure that noble Lords will share the hope that this will be taken forward by a restored Executive. However, I should highlight to your Lordships that this is something that the UK Government would be prepared to progress if required as we uphold our responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland.

Before we reach such a point and in addition to the technical steps of this Bill there are some further pressing steps proposed in the Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Bill that need to be taken now to build on the Government’s efforts to safeguard public services and finances in Northern Ireland. I ask the House also to give a Second Reading to the Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Bill.

Clause 1 of the Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Bill addresses the collection of the regional rate, which represents more than 5% of the total revenue available to the Northern Ireland Executive. With a devolved Government in place, this would be set via an affirmative rates order in the Assembly, enabling bills to be issued in 10 instalments, providing certainty to ratepayers and allowing various payment reliefs to be applied. It would not be acceptable to allow uncertainty to linger in the absence of an Executive to set its own rates and begin collection from ratepayers. So while we are clear that this is a devolved matter, we are also clear that only the UK Government and Parliament can take this action to secure the interests of individuals and businesses in Northern Ireland.

This Bill therefore sets out rates, in pence per pound terms, for both domestic and non-domestic properties. For non-domestic properties, this reflects a 1.5% inflationary increase. For domestic properties, the rate will be raised by inflation plus 3%, as set out in the Secretary of State’s 2018-19 Budget Statement on 8 March. In deciding on these levels we have reflected on conversations with the parties and stakeholders more broadly; considered the budget consultation launched by the Northern Ireland Civil Service in December, which discusses rises in regional rates of as much as 10% above inflation; considered the pressures on key services and the need to balance any increase to rates at the right level.

We have concluded that it is fair that we ask households to pay a little more—less than £1 per week for the average household—to help address pressures in health, education and elsewhere. In order to keep a focus on the growth that Northern Ireland needs to see, holding business rates in line with inflation is the right approach. This rates income, along with the flexibilities set out in the Secretary of State’s Statement, will represent an important contribution to delivering a sustainable budget picture for 2018-19, upholding the UK Government’s responsibilities to uphold good governance in Northern Ireland. Yet the Bill also makes clear that nothing we do cuts across the continuing right of a restored Executive to set a rate by order in the usual way.

The second element of the Bill concerns the administration of Northern Ireland’s renewable heat incentive scheme. The scheme was established in 2012 to support efforts to increase the uptake in the use of renewable energy. However, errors in the administration of the scheme led to substantial excess payments. Over the 20-year lifespan of the scheme, the projected overspends were well over £500 million, with £27 million of overspend in the 2016-17 year alone, putting the sustainable finances of the Northern Ireland Executive at significant risk. The administration of the scheme and the circumstances which led to the errors in its administration are subject to an ongoing public inquiry.

One of the last acts of the previous Executive was to make regulations in January 2017 that put robust cost controls in place. These made sure that the costs were sustainable, but they were put in place for one year only, to allow for a longer-term consideration of the scheme as a whole. They are now due to expire. If they are allowed to expire, there will be no legal basis not only for maintaining the current cost cap but also for paying all those who receive payments under the scheme and whose installations were accredited before November 2015. Neither of these would be acceptable outcomes. Nor would it be suitable for the Northern Ireland Civil Service to administer payments on an extra-statutory basis, which would create unnecessary legal uncertainty for all concerned. That is why Clause 2 will ensure that the present cost controls and the legal basis for payments can continue for the 2018-19 financial year. These are sunsetted for a year, as it is right that the longer-term approach is one for a restored Executive to decide. In the meantime, I am assured that the Northern Ireland Civil Service will undertake the detailed analysis to enable a new Executive to consider the right course for the future.

I hope noble Lords will agree that this is a modest Bill, doing two very discrete but necessary things in the interests of safeguarding public finances: setting a regional rate and extending the cost controls of the RHI scheme.

The third and final Bill before the House today is the Northern Ireland Assembly Members (Pay) Bill. Where the other Bills focus on increasing clarity and confidence in Northern Ireland’s finances, this Bill looks to increase public confidence in Northern Ireland’s political institutions. The continued payment of full salaries for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, when the Assembly has not met for over a year and there has been no Executive for 14 months, is a matter of considerable public concern in Northern Ireland and there is a broad desire for action. The Bill will grant the Secretary of State the power to vary pay and allowances for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the MLAs.

MLAs’ salaries and allowances are rightly a devolved matter. In 2011, the Assembly appointed an independent body, the Independent Financial Review Panel, to set MLA pay and allowances by means of determinations. Its last determination was made in March 2016, before the election in May that year. As no members have been appointed since the first panel’s term of office ended in 2016, however, there is presently nobody with the power to change MLA pay to reflect the current extraordinary circumstances. The Bill would allow the Secretary of State to do that; that is, to vary the pay and allowances of MLAs by means of a determination. One important difference from the panel’s powers is that, while the panel also makes determinations on pensions, the Bill includes an explicit protection for MLAs’ pensions so that they are not affected by any changes to pay under this Bill.

Under the panel’s most recent determination, an automatic £500 per year inflationary increase in MLAs’ salaries is due on 1 April. It is simply not appropriate for this increase to apply in the present circumstances, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State intends—if granted the power by this Bill—to stop that increase from being applied. Support for this action comes in the advice on MLA pay and allowances that Trevor Reaney, a former Clerk to the Northern Ireland Assembly, gave to the then Secretary of State in December 2017. It also comes from the Assembly Commission, whose chair, the Speaker of the Assembly, wrote to the Secretary of State earlier this month. There was also widespread support for it in the other place when this Bill was debated there last week. I hope that noble Lords across the House will agree that this is a suitable step to take in the current circumstances.

More broadly, Mr Reaney’s advice provided an independent assessment of what action should be taken on MLA pay and allowances in the current circumstances, taking account of all of the important work that many Members continue to do in the absence of an Assembly. These recommendations included a 27.5% reduction in MLAs’ salaries. The Secretary of State has been clear that she is minded to follow Mr Reaney’s recommendations, with the exception of the proposed cut to the staff costs allowance. As the Secretary of State has said,

“The position of”,

MLAs’ staff,

“should not be prejudiced by what is happening with their political masters”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/3/18; col. 339.]

Before making her final decision, however, she has asked for final representations from the political parties. This is a sensible approach that I hope noble Lords will support.

This Bill would not itself alter MLAs’ pay or allowances. It simply creates the power to make a determination during the current period without an Executive. Once an Executive is formed, the power to make a determination would return to being entirely a devolved matter. A future panel would, of course, be free to make a new determination as it sees fit, including to cover periods without an Executive. This determination would supersede any made by the Secretary of State under this Bill. To ensure that we do not again find ourselves in the situation where MLAs remain on full pay when there is no Executive and no panel determination covering the situation, the Bill allows a determination made by the Secretary of State in the current period to apply again should that situation arise. To be clear, it is the determination that would apply again: the power to make a new determination would in that situation remain devolved.

Overall, the focus of this Bill is narrow, and I consider that taking the power to set MLA pay is a necessary step to uphold public confidence in Northern Ireland in the absence of an Executive and sitting Assembly.

I recognise the extent of the ask of the House in considering all three Bills in one day. As I conclude, I would like to reaffirm that the Government have considered very carefully the necessity of and timing required for this legislation. We are doing this reluctantly in order to put Northern Ireland finances on a legal footing for the financial year 2017-18; to provide more certainty and a sustainable footing for the financial year 2018-19, in the interests of protecting public services; and to ensure good governance and uphold public confidence in Northern Ireland. I believe that these Bills reflect our approach of intervening only as necessary, and only at a point when it is critical that the measures are taken forward. I hope noble Lords will agree that it is important we now make progress to see the measures of each Bill passed into law. I beg to move.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, I, along with other noble Lords, was proud to be a member of a Government who devoted so much time and effort over a decade to help Northern Ireland move from the horror of its violent past towards a better future. The devolved institutions set up in 2007, after a settlement that I helped negotiate, have not functioned for the past 15 months, and there appears to be little prospect of a change in that position. I have heard nothing from the Government to suggest that they have a clue what to do. Former serving Ministers in Northern Ireland such as myself and my noble friends Lord Murphy of Torfaen, Lord Reid, Lord Mandelson, Lady Smith of Basildon, Lord Browne, Lord Rooker and Lord Dubs, feel passionately about the way that the enormous peace progress made has gone so badly into reverse.

It gives me absolutely no satisfaction to say that I really do not think this Government get Northern Ireland. I make no criticism of the Minister or the arguments he has made, or of the Secretary of State—they are both new Ministers and I wish them all the best. But I observe—as I have said before, as has my noble friend Lord Murphy—that the Prime Minister’s approach, which is a kind of fly-in, fly-out diplomacy of insufficient in-depth detailed negotiation and relationship-building with all the parties and their leaders in Northern Ireland, was never going to work. You cannot achieve success in an impasse such as the one we face with this kind of approach. I urge the Government—No. 10 in particular—to reconsider this.

The measures in these Bills should never have had to come to us in the first place. They represent direct rule in all but name. But I do not think we can simply nod them through as a matter of process without addressing some of the implications of the current political impasse. The people of Northern Ireland are left in limbo, facing, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has pointed out so graphically, a serious crisis in the National Health Service, probably worse than in any other part of the UK. Last week I had the privilege to meet a group of remarkable people for whom that limbo is particularly cruel. They were members of the WAVE Trauma Centre’s injured group, and I will briefly recount two of their stories.

Jennifer was 21 in 1972 when she and her sister, who was shopping for a wedding dress, went into a Belfast city centre cafe for a coffee. A no-warning IRA bomb tore both Jennifer’s legs off. Her sister lost both legs and an arm. Noble Lords from Northern Ireland will recall the horror of the Abercorn bomb. Peter was 26 when he was shot by a loyalist gang in 1979 in a case of mistaken identity. Because of the configuration of the flat where Peter lived, the ambulance crew could not manoeuvre a stretcher around the stairs. They brought Peter down in a body bag. His father Herbert arrived at the scene and thought that his son was dead. “Oh my poor Peter” were his last words. He had a heart attack and died as Peter was carried to the ambulance. Peter is paralysed and confined to a wheelchair.

There are many more similarly harrowing stories. It is estimated that around 500 people in Northern Ireland are classified as severely physically injured as a direct result of the Troubles, with injuries that are at the very top of the scale: bilateral amputees, paraplegic, those blinded. All the injuries are life-changing and permanent. Because of their injuries most have been unable to work to build up occupational pensions and today have to survive on benefits. The levels of compensation paid through the adversarial criminal injuries compensation scheme were wholly inadequate and there was no disability discrimination legislation in the early days to protect them. Frankly, these people were not expected to live beyond a few years. But they have and the passage of time has compounded their problems as many suffer increasing physical distress as a result of deteriorating health and chronic pain.

They are campaigning for a special pension of the type that is in place in most other countries that have suffered from conflicts similar to that in Northern Ireland. All they want is some semblance of financial security and independence as they grow into old age in the most difficult circumstances. I find their argument compelling. The pension has been costed by independent consultants at around only £3 million to £5 million per annum—a figure which will reduce year on year as the majority of the severely injured are moving into old age. I appeal to the Government to provide this money now. It is a small amount to rectify a big injustice.

All the Northern Ireland parties are on record as saying that they support the idea of a pension for severely injured people such as those who come to see them and argue their case. But saying they support it is about as far as it has gone because their support for the severely injured is not unconditional. Of the 500 severely injured, there are 10 or so who were injured by their own hand; for example, planting a bomb that exploded prematurely. Of the 10, six are loyalist and four republican. It is no surprise that the DUP and Sinn Féin are split. The DUP says there can be no pension for those injured by their own hand. Sinn Féin insists that they cannot support a pension that excludes them as this would be tantamount to accepting a hierarchy of victims.

The injured group, who are unfairly drawn into this toxic debate, argue that it is not for them to say who should or should not qualify. What they do insist is that it is unjust, unfair and immoral for politicians to say that because they cannot agree about 10 people the other 490 must get nothing. I totally agree with them, and I hope the Minister will respond positively. The injured group, all of whom have been injured through no fault of their own, regard their plight as being as much a part of the legacy of Northern Ireland’s violent past as anything else, and the legacy issues are not devolved entirely. But the Government refuse to accept that they are part of the legacy for which they have responsibility. If the devolved institutions are, for whatever reason, unable to deliver on this—and of course, suspended, they are unable to deliver on this; and tragically, we are unlikely to see those institutions in place for some considerable time—the Government at Westminster surely must step in now, because it would be shameful if the people who have suffered so much through no fault of their own were told that nothing can be done because of political buck-passing.

On 20 February, in the other place, the Secretary of State said that she recognised the Government’s responsibilities to,

“provide better outcomes for victims and survivors—the people who suffered most during the troubles”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/2/18; col. 33.]

I agree, and I appeal to her and to the Minister to act now. They have the power to do so. It is a very small amount; it would not be noticed on the overall allocation for Northern Ireland or, indeed, the Whitehall budget. It would not be noticed at all. I have met men and women in the WAVE trauma group who by any definition have “suffered most”, in the Secretary of State’s phrase. Unless both this Parliament and the Government accept that responsibility and act immediately to provide pensions for these 490 people, it will be to our eternal shame.

Break in Debate

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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That was a question I did not anticipate. I thought you might ask when it would begin, but not how long it would be. On that basis, I will write to the noble Baroness with the specific duration, as I do not have that information to hand.

If I may turn my attention to the harrowing remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who opened the debate today. There are complex issues. A number of noble Lords have touched upon this. I have in front of me a very clear statement of the Government’s position, which I will read out. We will work to seek an acceptable way forward on the proposal for a pension for severely physically injured victims for a restored Executive to take forward. I hope a new Executive might bring forward a pension proposal that has the support of and meets the need of victims and survivors in Northern Ireland. I know that does not respond adequately to the points he raised in his remarks. If he will forgive me, might I suggest we meet after this point to discuss this further? That would be useful and important.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
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I am grateful to the Minister for his positive response. May I ask him to reflect before we meet—and I am grateful for that invitation—on the fact that we do not know how long it will take to restore the Executive? This Government and this Parliament have responsibility ultimately for legacy matters. There is no reason why the small cost could not be proceeded to at least rectify one injustice while the wider question of the legacy issues is addressed.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I thank the noble Lord for that point. Yes, I will reflect before we meet, and I hope we can meet soon.

If I may touch upon some of the wider issues raised, a number of noble Lords made the point about the question of particular meetings taking place without minutes being taken and so on. I thought I had better seek guidance from the wise people in the Box. They have come back simply saying it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the actions of the Northern Ireland Civil Service nor the ongoing public inquiry. What I can say in my own personal capacity is that minutes matter and should be taken.

I am conscious that a number of points were raised about the RHI question. There is an inquiry exploring how the scheme itself was constructed and put together, and I invite all noble Lords who contributed today to take the opportunity to make their points very clearly to that inquiry. I am aware, however, that the Bill before us today has a very specific purpose, which is to allow an extension of one year only to the current arrangements with a sunset clause. I am conscious that a number of individuals will be concerned about this initiative, and we need to find a way to bring some comfort to them as they contemplate what that will mean. I hope there will be a welcome outcome. I have specific notes here saying that there will be a 12-week consultation period—helpfully, this time I have the exact duration—between April and June, when these views can be put. We are working against the deadline of 31 March for the longer-term solution. There is a recognition that there needs to be a longer-term solution to address these aspects.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, described himself as blunt. I think we can all endorse that view. The points that he made are none the less important. Specifically, he questioned how the Northern Ireland scheme compares to the scheme in the rest of the UK. If he will forgive me, I will write to him on that point so that we can set out in greater detail how the two schemes measure against each other. There are a number of technical aspects that I hope will be able to be addressed in that letter.

I emphasise again that the purpose of moving this forward for one year is not to enshrine this approach for ever but rather to provide an opportunity for the incoming Executive to focus quickly and carefully on what I believe are a number of the well-established flaws in this approach and to address them head-on. We have, I hope, time in which we can do that, and the notion that we are creating primary legislation in this instance should be no impediment to that because of the manner in which the Bills themselves are drafted. I hope that will help the noble Lord to address this.

I am aware that on more than one occasion the noble Lord has raised the point about the wisdom that is contained within this House. I too am grateful for that, even during today’s debate. I believe that, as the talks and discussions are ongoing, that wisdom should be drawn upon. I welcome again the meeting that took place between my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and some of your Lordships earlier today. I would like to see that happen with greater frequency so that we can ensure that, as the ideas begin to coalesce and crystallise, the views in this House are taken forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, raised the issue of how we can understand the breakdown of the data. After the last time when we spoke on this matter, I am aware that I promised to give him that breakdown of the data but I fear that I may not have done so as yet. The noble Lord is right: it is important that we not only understand what we are doing at the moment but see it as part of a longer trend so that we understand exactly what is happening in Northern Ireland and interrogate the data where there appear to be things that on the surface do not look as if they are comparable with anywhere else. I would much rather see the five-year rolling cycle of data that can be fully interrogated. I commit again to breaking down the data with regard to the educational question, and I hope to be able to give some greater clarification in that regard.

As to the notion of the Commonwealth games, I am happy to give a personal commitment on that matter. I would like to think that the Government would join me in that commitment; that is an initiative that would be well worth taking forward.

I am conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, raised an interesting point regarding the continuity of the business rate support scheme. Helpfully, the little note that I got back from the Box simply contained the word “Yes”, so I believe that that particular scheme will indeed be continuing. If the noble Lord requires further details, I can provide them as well.

I shall touch on some of the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Empey. I am aware that we have squeezed this debate into a very short time, and for that I apologise. I would much prefer a Northern Ireland Executive to take as long as they felt they needed to interrogate all this. I would much prefer that Executive to be dealing with it because they are living it, rather than sitting on burgundy Benches, but we are not quite there yet. I hope I have addressed the issues about the minutes to the noble Lord’s satisfaction—or as best I can. I am aware of the concern he raised about the heating initiative and I hope we can make some progress to give certainty there.

As for the wider questions of legacy, support for victims and so on, the noble Lord is absolutely correct: this needs to be above politics. It is humanitarian; it is not and should not be a matter for partisan division, and I hope we can take it forward on that basis. Progress will need to be made on that sooner rather than later.

My noble friend Lord Lexden raised an important issue about mental health. I can confirm that there will be £10 million in the budgetary cycle of 2018-19 to address those specific and serious issues, which I believe will be necessary.

Commenting on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, we too, on this side, regret the departure of Owen Smith. He was an asset to the ongoing discussion and leaves behind a void. I am sorry to see that.

In conclusion, the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, pointed out that he was not the right person to take forward direct rule in Northern Ireland. Nor am I. I am no better equipped—frankly, far less equipped—than he is.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Wednesday 14th March 2018

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Exiting the European Union
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I thank the noble Lord for his final comments and I am sorry if I appeared to lack politeness in not allowing them earlier.

There are negotiations that are yet to come. I do not believe it is useful in negotiations to place all your cards face up. In concluding, if I may, I will cite the words of the great country and western singer Kenny Rogers. In negotiations,

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,

Know when to walk away, know when to run”.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, to his post as a Minister and commend the empathy he has shown in responding to the debate, which I think the whole House welcomes.

I will not respond to the whole debate—the hour is too late—except to commend the marvellous, passionate eloquence of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. He would be able to get me to follow him on any theological journey, which is asking a lot of me. However, I regret that the Minister has not really responded to the questions put to him. For example, the Brexit Secretary said recently that there would be no problem monitoring imports and exports between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit and there would be no need for a hard border because we already do this for VAT purposes. But we can do it for VAT purposes now only because we are in the European Union’s VAT Information Exchange System—VIES. Outside the EU, we are out of that tracking system. Then, on Sunday, the Chancellor admitted that there was not an example in the world of the kind of technological open border alluded to by the Minister. Who believes for a minute that it can be done, apart from the Foreign Secretary—who thinks that South Armagh and Louth are the same as Camden and Westminster, except with more Guinness?

The Prime Minister insists that Brexit means the UK leaving the single market and the customs union, which I do not accept for a moment. We can Brexit and stay in the single market and the customs union; other countries are outside the European Union but are in either the customs union or the single market. But if she were right, the UK Government in turn would be obliged by WTO rules to enforce hard border arrangements on the island of Ireland because of the change in their relationship with the EU. Therefore, to keep the border open as it is today, there is no alternative to Northern Ireland—and, by implication, the UK—remaining in both the single market and the customs union. I regret that the Minister, despite his empathy, has not really answered that point. I will not press my amendment.

Northern Ireland: Devolved Government

Debate between Lord Duncan of Springbank and Lord Hain
Thursday 22nd February 2018

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for his question. There were a number of elements within the discussions, not least the question of culture and language. Progress was made; there is no question about that. Indeed, it appeared at one point that we were within a hair’s breadth of reaching the promised land of an agreement, but we did not secure that agreement. It is important to stress again that the UK Government are a facilitator of a dialogue between the two principal parties. Those two parties themselves must be able to find that extra energy to create the right circumstances to deliver that agreement. That is what the people of Northern Ireland want, that is what the people of Northern Ireland need and that is what the people of Northern Ireland deserve. As to whether this House should bring forward legislation on the same-sex marriage question, I believe that this is a matter best taken forward by a newly established Executive in Belfast who are best able to reflect upon each of the elements of the communities to ensure that they are able to contribute to that important, serious and necessary piece of legislation.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, it is no criticism of the Minister, but is it not the case that his predecessors have told this House repeatedly over the past 15 months or so that an agreement is about to be achieved and that anybody who knows the situation in detail has doubted that? I and my Labour predecessors as Secretary of State are deeply concerned that this whole thing is unravelling. We have a Conservative former Secretary of State attacking the Good Friday agreement—I am pleased that the Government have rebutted that—and a political view coming from the Government that does not seem to understand that the whole Good Friday process before Tony Blair became Prime Minister, under John Major and even before that, took years to achieve, and it is all unravelling in front of us. That is what concerns us.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for his comments. The Good Friday agreement is the cornerstone of the UK Government’s position. I am very happy to reiterate that plainly and clearly and to distance ourselves from those comments made by others. It is very easy to knit a jersey and it is very easy to unravel it at the other end—far too quickly can we lose that which we have spent so long trying to put together. I am aware that on more than one occasion I have come before this House to say that we are hopeful that there will be an agreement, and I do not doubt that noble Lords in this Chamber today will share the frustration. In truth, this agreement must be delivered by the parties at the table. We believe that they were within a hair’s breadth of achieving that just the other day. We do not believe that we are at the end of this process; we cannot be at the end of this process; we need to have an Executive. The alternatives are not satisfactory, particularly against the issues which will face the people of Northern Ireland in coming months. We believe that the parties need to get together once again. I appreciate that noble Lords may be experiencing an element of déjà vu. That is not my intention, but the same ambition and the same need are there. They have not changed. Those two main parties and the other parties in Northern Ireland need to be part of an agreement which is sustainable and can command confidence. If we can achieve that, we will have done an extraordinary thing, but we are not there yet.