James Brokenshire debates with Northern Ireland Office

There have been 12 exchanges between James Brokenshire and Northern Ireland Office

Thu 16th January 2020 Northern Ireland Executive Formation 3 interactions (139 words)
Wed 30th October 2019 Northern Ireland Budget Bill 3 interactions (100 words)
Thu 5th September 2019 Northern Ireland 3 interactions (66 words)
Tue 20th March 2018 Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill 5 interactions (92 words)
Tue 20th February 2018 Northern Ireland 3 interactions (208 words)
Tue 12th December 2017 Northern Ireland (Ministerial Corrections) 3 interactions (181 words)
Wed 15th November 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 37 interactions (1,068 words)
Mon 13th November 2017 Northern Ireland Budget Bill 58 interactions (6,027 words)
Thu 2nd November 2017 Northern Ireland Update 35 interactions (4,298 words)
Wed 13th September 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 52 interactions (1,479 words)
Mon 3rd July 2017 Northern Ireland: Political Situation 46 interactions (3,673 words)
Wed 28th June 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 55 interactions (1,645 words)

Northern Ireland Executive Formation

James Brokenshire Excerpts
Thursday 16th January 2020

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Northern Ireland Office
Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith - Hansard
16 Jan 2020, 11:46 a.m.

First, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work on the same-sex marriage regulations that came into force on 13 January, giving same-sex women and men in Northern Ireland the opportunity to marry by Valentine’s day this year.

On the concern about the level of finances, we all represent our own constituencies, and Northern Ireland has around 20% more funding than any other part of the UK. I have outlined the package and confirmed that there will be a UK Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I look forward to working with the Finance Minister, as does the Treasury, as he develops well-costed plans based on good value for money for UK taxpayers.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con) - Hansard
16 Jan 2020, 11:47 a.m.

I warmly welcome the restoration of the Executive and devolved government in Northern Ireland, in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland. I join others in commending my right hon. Friend and his team and, indeed, the work of the Tánaiste, Simon Coveney. We know just how challenging this has been, but it is a very positive development to see all five parties now within the Executive.

May I touch on the issue of sustainability? Now that the Executive have been re-established, it is important that they remain there—that they continue to serve the people of Northern Ireland and that we have that local decision making. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the steps that are being taken and will be taken to ensure that the devolved Government in Northern Ireland remain, and remain serving its people?

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith - Hansard
16 Jan 2020, 11:48 a.m.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that he personally did on the talks process before he had a spell of very bad illness, for his continued commitment to Northern Ireland and for his assistance, advice and counsel to me since I took on this job.

On sustainability, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the chapter on sustainability that was developed, as were all parts of the party-led agreement, by working groups earlier last year, there are many initiatives on supporting and funding Opposition parties and on looking at how things would work should the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister resign.

Northern Ireland Budget Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
James Brokenshire Excerpts
Wednesday 30th October 2019

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Northern Ireland Office
Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith - Hansard

It is indeed. There is so much more that they could do if they were in the Assembly, and we need to hang on to that over the coming weeks.

If Royal Assent is not granted by the end of October or as soon as possible thereafter, there is a risk that the Northern Ireland civil service will assess that the only way to continue to deliver public services in Northern Ireland is by exercising emergency powers under section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Using those emergency powers would constrain the Northern Ireland civil service to spending 95% of the previous year’s budget, effectively delivering a significant real-terms cut to the funding of public services. Northern Ireland Departments would have to consider their current budget allocation against their identified priorities and their available cash, which could put at risk essential services such as those within the health service.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con) - Hansard
30 Oct 2019, 4:34 p.m.

I know that my right hon. Friend will be taking these steps very reluctantly, as I remember doing when I was in his post. He has highlighted the deals and the investment in various parts of Northern Ireland. I am conscious of investment in the north-west and promoting economic activity and opportunity in that part of Northern Ireland. Can he comment on the plans for a graduate medical school at the Ulster University Magee campus in Derry/Londonderry, which could promote a sense of skill and opportunity and secure the positive outcome that we would like to see for the north-west?

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith - Hansard
30 Oct 2019, 4:34 p.m.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. He has worked hard to promote the merits of the Magee campus, as have others. I visited it only two weeks ago. I am extremely committed to making that work, as I know he is. I think that we are close to a position where we can move that forward. It is a devolved matter, but there are things we can do, and we will continue to do them.

The Bill upholds our commitment to good governance in Northern Ireland by preventing the Northern Ireland civil service from having to rely on emergency section 59 powers. It is a budget set by the UK Government, but one that the Northern Ireland civil service must plan and implement. If Stormont gets back up and running within the financial year, the new Executive will be able to adjust the budget as they see fit and amend the legislation at the end of the financial year. The Bill does not authorise any new money. In the absence of a functioning Executive and Assembly, it simply authorises spending money that has already been allocated by this Parliament in the UK estimates process, together with locally generated revenue.

Northern Ireland

James Brokenshire Excerpts
Thursday 5th September 2019

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Northern Ireland Office
Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 11:35 a.m.

My apologies to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). If I had seen him earlier, I would have called him earlier, but it is a pleasure to call him now.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 11:35 a.m.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. It is a privilege to serve in office and I wish him all success with his role. He highlighted in his written statement yesterday the need to intensify negotiations with the parties. That is the way to avoid legislation being needed. Perhaps he could set out what form he expects that to take.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2019, 11:36 a.m.

As I mentioned earlier, we have been having good discussions over the summer. I met the Irish Foreign Minister last Friday and we will be meeting again this Friday. I hope to push forward, with him, on working with the parties to get into a position where we have the best possible opportunity to get Stormont up and running.

Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(3rd reading: House of Commons)
James Brokenshire Excerpts
Tuesday 20th March 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Northern Ireland Office
Dr Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison - Hansard
20 Mar 2018, 3:09 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman is, as ever, absolutely correct.

I will finish my remarks on the Hart inquiry, which Members are right to mention in connection with the business before us. The programme for government offers a helpful pointer to Ministers, who may otherwise not feel on particularly safe ground in relation to making decisions. The Secretary of State and other Ministers have said that it provides some basis on which they can take note of the last expressed democratic view on a number of issues. However, on 12 March—at column 653, on the Hart inquiry—the Secretary of State suggested that it is not the business of UK Ministers or this place to consider recommendations of bodies set up by the Executive, let alone implement them, and she repeated those sentiments today.

It would be helpful to have a bit of clarification, because I fear that we cannot have it both ways. We either observe what democratically elected bodies determined before they crumbled, and that extends to any bodies that they may have established, or we do not. It is an important principle because it seems to me that it is legitimate to take note of decisions that have previously been made and of the clear will of those bodies, particularly if there was no great controversy about them. It would be useful if the Secretary of State clarified this point, so that we are a bit clearer about what we can rely on and, indeed, what she will rely on in making any decisions or issuing any guidance on which she may wish to reflect.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con) - Hansard
20 Mar 2018, 3:10 p.m.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison - Hansard
20 Mar 2018, 3:10 p.m.

I was just about to sit down, but I will of course give way.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
20 Mar 2018, 3:11 p.m.

I commend my hon. Friend for his work and that of his Committee. Does he acknowledge that one of the challenges is that no recommendations were agreed by the outgoing Executive? That obviously makes the job of the Secretary of State in determining the right way forward on the hugely sensitive issue of the recommendations that the Hart inquiry sought to bring forward extremely difficult, and that is why she has to think carefully about how best—cross-community, and with the parties—to assess the right way forward.

Dr Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison - Hansard

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right but I am sure that, if he re-reads Hansard from last week, he will see that the argument extended not just to decisions made by the Executive or passed by the Assembly, but to things done by organisations set up by the Executive, which of course includes the Hart inquiry. The issue is whether we are guided by the recommendations made by those organisations or not, particularly if there appears to the Secretary of State and her Ministers to be genuine cross-party and cross-community acceptance of those recommendations and findings. To what the extent is that the best we have to work on? The question is really whether we are guided by what happened before the collapse of the Executive or not. I do not think that we can easily be selective.

Northern Ireland

James Brokenshire Excerpts
Tuesday 20th February 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Northern Ireland Office
Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 Feb 2018, 4:20 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and for the tone of them. It is important that we in this House show unity and a unified front when it comes to resolving these issues and re-establishing devolved government in Northern Ireland. If both sides of the House work together with that purpose in mind, we will have all the more reason to hope that that can be achieved. He asked about a number of matters, and I will try to address as many of them as I can.

On the topic of legacy, to which I made reference in my statement, we have been working with the parties and the Victims’ Commissioner on a consultation programme. As I have said, I would very much prefer to do that in the context of devolved government in Stormont, but we clearly have a responsibility to the victims of the troubles, and it is absolutely right that we should deal with that. We will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the matter of legacy is dealt with, but as I say, we would much rather that it was done in the context of having devolved government in Stormont. We are committed to the institutions as set out in the Stormont House agreement, and we will be consulting on that.

We are also committed to the Belfast agreement, as I said in my statement, and to all successor agreements. The position in the Conservative party manifesto at the last election, and the position of this Government, is that the Belfast agreement is the right approach. It has led to great success for Northern Ireland, and more success can come. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Brexit. The joint report that was signed before Christmas makes specific reference to a commitment to the Belfast agreement and to respecting the institutions in the agreement.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the talks, and about what the British Government would publish. I want to make it clear that the talks that we have facilitated—we did not impose them—have been between the parties, particularly the two main parties. Therefore, any documentation or anything that has been written down is a matter for the parties; it is not a matter for the British Government. He also asked about an election. I have a statutory duty as Secretary of State to call an election, but I want to ensure that we have exhausted every avenue and every viable option to re-establish devolved government at Stormont. That is what the Government want to see, and that is what we are working towards. We will do all we can to achieve that, and I thank him for his support in that regard.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 Feb 2018, 4:23 p.m.

It is good to be back, and I thank colleagues on both sides of the House for their kind, generous and supportive comments over the past few weeks. What is not so welcome, however, is the continuing lack of devolved government in Northern Ireland, which it desperately needs. I commend the Secretary of State for all her work and for her efforts in seeking to bring the parties together. I also commend the Irish Government for their work.

I commend what the Secretary of State said about the Government’s commitment the Belfast agreement. That is our cornerstone; it is the bedrock of what we do. I also commend what she said about the troubles and the legacy of the past, and about making progress on the consultation. I hope that she will agree, however, that we need to remain firmly focused on restoring devolved government. Rather than talking up direct rule, we should continue to focus on talking out the remaining issues that lie between the two parties, and I hope that she will agree that we need to retain that focus in all we do if we are to restore devolved government and give Northern Ireland the bright, positive future that I know its people want to see.

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley - Parliament Live - Hansard
20 Feb 2018, 4:24 p.m.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and questions, and for his approach. He was an outstanding Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and he is very much missed in Northern Ireland. I do not think I have been to a single event since being appointed Secretary of State where he has not been mentioned in the warmest and most generous terms. I am fully aware that his are big shoes for me to fill.

I agree with all that my right hon. Friend says about the importance of restoring devolved government for the people of Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland elected the Members of the Legislative Assembly, and those MLAs need to be in Stormont. That fabulous, wonderful Parliament building is empty and bereft, and it needs to be filled with the people who were elected to fill it, taking decisions on behalf of their constituents for all the people in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland

James Brokenshire Excerpts
Tuesday 12th December 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Ministerial Corrections
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Northern Ireland Office
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab)

Has the Northern Ireland Office produced an analysis of the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, or contributed to the rumoured “58 articles”—the sectoral analyses that we know have been produced? Will the Secretary of State commit himself to publishing all such material, as his colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union have already so nobly done?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the sectoral work relating to 58 areas of activity, which deals with how trade is currently conducted with the EU and what the alternatives might be. I can say that Northern Ireland has contributed to the cross-Government work at an official level, and the hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the commitments that DExEU has made in relation to the publication of that ongoing work. [Official Report, 15 November 2017, Vol. 631, c. 346.]

Letter of correction from James Brokenshire.

An error has been identified in the response I gave to the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound).

The correct response should have been:

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the sectoral work relating to 58 areas of activity, which deals with how trade is currently conducted with the EU and what the alternatives might be. The NIO contributes to a wide range of analysis on the impact of EU Exit, although the specific sectoral reports were produced by other Government Departments, co-ordinated by the Department for Exiting the EU.

Oral Answers to Questions

James Brokenshire Excerpts
Wednesday 15th November 2017

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Northern Ireland Office
Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD) - Hansard

1. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on the Northern Ireland peace process. [901692]

James Brokenshire Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (James Brokenshire) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:34 a.m.

Our clear intention is to avoid any physical infrastructure on the land border, and we welcome the European Commission’s commitment to that as an important step forward. The success of the land border comes from the fact that it is seamless and invisible, and we are resolute in ensuring that that remains the case.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:34 a.m.

Will the Government incorporate safeguards to protect the peace process and ensure compliance with the Good Friday agreement, including through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:35 a.m.

We are resolutely committed to upholding all parts of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and to finding a solution that works for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have had continued engagement with the Commission and have, in our judgment, made good progress in that regard. Various principles have been agreed that may well need to be incorporated in the final agreement.

Dr Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:35 a.m.

To what extent does my right hon. Friend think that the European Commission has considered articles 8 and 21 of the Lisbon treaty, which require the European Union to develop a special relationship with its neighbours, and to preserve peace and prevent conflict? To what extent will that be achieved by driving a border between Northern Ireland and its biggest trading partner by far—the United Kingdom of Great Britain?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:36 a.m.

Obviously we respect the European Union’s desire to protect the legal order of the single market and the customs union, but that cannot come about at the expense of the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. As we have said, we recognise the need for solutions that are specific to the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland, and we all have a responsibility to be thoughtful and creative, but that cannot amount to the appearance of a new border within the United Kingdom.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:36 a.m.

Has the Northern Ireland Office produced an analysis of the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, or contributed to the rumoured “58 articles”—the sectoral analyses that we know have been produced? Will the Secretary of State commit himself to publishing all such material, as his colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union have already so nobly done?[Official Report, 12 December 2017, Vol. 633, c. 2MC.]

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:37 a.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the sectoral work relating to 58 areas of activity, which deals with how trade is currently conducted with the EU and what the alternatives might be. I can say that Northern Ireland has contributed to the cross-Government work at an official level, and the hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the commitments that DExEU has made in relation to the publication of that ongoing work.

Mr Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:37 a.m.

Is it not the case that no one can decide what arrangements are needed on the Irish border—if, indeed, any will be needed—until such time as trade negotiations have been concluded, and is it not the case that the EU should get on with those negotiations now?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:38 a.m.

We firmly want to see progress on the second phase of the talks. I gave that message to Michel Barnier when I was in Brussels last week, and I also said that we believed significant progress had been made in relation to the first phase. We continue to focus on not only demonstrating our commitments in respect of those first three items, but getting on with the second phase, which is absolutely about the enduring relationship, and part of that is very much about solving the issues relating to Northern Ireland and Ireland, which we remain firmly committed to do.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP) - Hansard

I warmly welcome what the Secretary of State has said about there being no creation of new borders between parts of the United Kingdom. As he pointed out, it would of course be economically catastrophic and politically disastrous for Northern Ireland to be separated in any way from its biggest market, and his stance on that will have our full support.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:39 a.m.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. The solutions that we are determined to find will create no barriers, north-south or east-west, in relation to the trading and constitutional issues that he rightly highlights: that remains our firm intent. I believe that some of the commitments that the Commission has already made underline our position, but clearly we need to secure firm agreement in that regard.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Nigel Dodds - Hansard

In the context of the issues of the hard border, the EU and the Brexit negotiations, the Secretary of State will know that today members of Sinn Féin—instead of coming to the House; instead of taking their place in the Assembly; instead of being in the Executive—are down in Dublin pleading with their political opponents for relevance, and asking for more Dublin influence in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. Will he take this opportunity to reiterate the clear position of the UK and Irish Governments on the Belfast agreement, namely that the strand 1 internal issues of Northern Ireland are a matter for the UK Government and this House alone?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:39 a.m.

The right hon. Gentleman firmly sets out the constitutional framework for Northern Ireland: the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, the principle of consent, and, very firmly, the three-stranded approach. To be clear, it is ultimately for the UK Government to provide certainty over the delivery of public services and those strand 1 issues in relation to Northern Ireland.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:40 a.m.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that regardless of the border that is set up, which we hope will be invisible, the security services and police services of the north and the south must work together in the closest possible way—that is part of Brexit as well?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:40 a.m.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend about the strength of co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana, and at all levels, in relation to fighting the threat from terrorism and organised crime. We must remain resolute against this severe continuing threat, and we are strengthened by that co-operation, which needs to deepen and flourish further in the years ahead.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:41 a.m.

I welcome those words from the Secretary of State. Of course, crimes of dishonesty as well as violence marked the troubles. What provisions is the Secretary of State making to secure any possible future hard border against smuggling and organised crime, and what assessment has he made of how many more Border Force officers will be needed to secure any hard border?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:41 a.m.

On the last point, we are firmly working on the basis that a hard border will not happen, and support for the common travel area and the principles that have been worked through jointly as part of negotiations underpin that. I would point to positive joint work between revenue and customs agencies in Northern Ireland and the Republic to confront organised crime and smuggling, and the way in which work with the National Crime Agency is being strengthened even further.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind) Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:42 a.m.

The Secretary of State knows perfectly well that his Cabinet colleague the Brexit Secretary is preparing for a no-deal Brexit. If we have no deal, that will inevitably mean a hard border for Northern Ireland, which would be a catastrophe for Northern Ireland. Just for once, will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland set aside his diplomatic spiel and explain to the people of Northern Ireland how the Government will take back control of the Northern Ireland border if the UK crashes out of the EU?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

It is right that we focus on getting that deal. We support the common travel area—it is equally supported by the Irish Government—and principles have already been agreed as part of the progress on the first phase of the negotiations. That is where our focus rightly remains, and I believe that doing that remains firmly achievable—it is where all our attention lies.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con) - Hansard

2. What steps the Government are taking to attract foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland. [901693]

Break in Debate

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con) - Hansard

12. What plans he has to support the development of city deals in Northern Ireland. [901703]

James Brokenshire Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (James Brokenshire) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:49 a.m.

The Government have a clear manifesto commitment to work towards a comprehensive and ambitious set of city deals across Northern Ireland to boost investment and help to unlock Northern Ireland’s full potential. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and I have already had some early discussions with partners in the Belfast city region.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:50 a.m.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to developing city deals in Northern Ireland. Can he confirm that the city deals that have been developed by this Government have been a success across Great Britain and that Northern Ireland stands to benefit immensely from their development over there?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:50 a.m.

I can. The fact is that Northern Ireland has had no city deals, whereas England, Scotland and Wales have made 33 deals worth up to £4.9 billion. This is about the change that city deals bring and the other finance that city deals are able to unlock. That is why we strongly believe there is a firm place for city deals in Northern Ireland, and we are committed to advancing them.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:50 a.m.

Will my right hon. Friend assure us that, as in England, it is important that provincial towns benefit from city deals? Will he ensure that not just Belfast but the whole of Northern Ireland benefits from the growth that city deals can bring?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:51 a.m.

Absolutely. We want the benefit of city deals to be felt across Northern Ireland. Although, yes, the Belfast city region has been advancing its own proposals, it is right that we look across Northern Ireland—to the north-west and to all parts of Northern Ireland—to see that the benefit and the transformative effect of city deals is firmly felt.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:51 a.m.

The Secretary of State should be encouraged that discussions continue apace at a local level in the Belfast city region, as well as with officials at a regional and national level. But with no Assembly sitting and a democratic participative deficit in this arrangement, how will he encourage the involvement of representatives of the Belfast region—and indeed of representatives in this House—so that the project comes to fruition?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I had discussions with hon. and right hon. Members, as well as with Belfast City Council, during the initial phase. We are looking carefully at how that work can move forward practically through officials and by other means. I am determined to see city deals taking effect, with their benefit being felt. This engagement will continue to ensure that that happens.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con) - Hansard

6. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of the Northern Ireland economy. [901697]

Break in Debate

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP) - Hansard

7. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the operation of the Ireland Act 1949. [901698]

James Brokenshire Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (James Brokenshire) - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:56 a.m.

Maintaining our strong, historic ties with Ireland is an important priority, including the rights of Irish citizens in the UK as provided for in domestic legislation, including the Ireland Act 1949. These reciprocal arrangements reflect the long-standing social and economic ties between the UK and Ireland.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 11:57 a.m.

Along with the 1949 Act, the Good Friday agreement has been a pillar of progress, and it has also meant that the political funding rules in Northern Ireland were different from those in the rest of the United Kingdom. At the weekend, an openDemocracy investigation revealed that the Constitutional Research Council, an organisation with close ties to the Scottish Conservative party, has been given a record fine after failing to disclose the origin of a £425,000 donation to the DUP. Will the Secretary of State enlighten the House as to why the Constitutional Research Council was given that fine in the first place?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman in respect of the constitutional arrangements is that yes, of course we uphold the Belfast Good Friday agreement, and we are determined that that will be reflected in the final deal. I cannot offer him any greater insight in relation to the other matter he has brought to the House.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP) - Hansard

8. What discussions he has had with organisations in Northern Ireland on the implementation of the non-consensual sex exemption for child tax credits. [901699]

Northern Ireland Budget Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
James Brokenshire Excerpts
Monday 13th November 2017

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Northern Ireland Office
James Brokenshire Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (James Brokenshire) - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:26 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I explain the details of the Bill, let me make some brief comments about events that took place yesterday. People who are intent on killing and harming others left a small but lethal bomb in Omagh before the Remembrance Sunday commemorations. Their actions stand in stark contrast to those of the brave men and women whom the community were gathering to honour—the men and women from all backgrounds who made the ultimate sacrifice to allow us all to live in a democracy.

I pay tribute to the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and others who dealt with that incident. I think that it underlines the continuing level of threat that we face, but, equally, what a repugnant and appalling act this was, taking place on Remembrance Sunday when people were gathering to pay their respects in the traditional way. I am sure that all Members on both sides of the House will condemn it utterly. If anyone has any information about the incident, I strongly urge them to do what they can, and bring it to the attention of the PSNI so that it can be pursued with all rigour.

Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP) - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:28 p.m.

My colleagues and I echo the Secretary of State’s comments about the incident that took place in Omagh yesterday. In view of what happened at Enniskillen in similar circumstances, with tragic loss of life, perhaps the most effective action that can be taken at this time is the publication by the Secretary of State of the proposals to deal with the legacy of our troubled past, which would enable the victims to have a say in the process and enable us to get on with the business of seeking to bring to justice those responsible for that atrocity. I think that that is a very powerful message that the Secretary of State could send in the wake of what happened in Omagh yesterday.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:26 p.m.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point, and for drawing attention to the incident that took place in Enniskillen 30 years ago, when 12 people lost their lives in an appalling bombing. I was in Enniskillen yesterday, as I had been on Wednesday, to remember and to mark the 30th anniversary of that appalling incident. I know full well the pain, the hurt and the suffering that many people still feel. Yes, many look for justice still to this day, and it is a matter of great regret that no one has yet been brought to justice for that appalling incident. I also note the equally strong feelings among many for reconciliation and the need for us to continue to work to bring communities together.

The right hon. Gentleman highlights the issues around the Stormont House legacy institutions. I want to progress that through to a public consultation, as it is the most effective way in which we can seek real focus on how to move forward and see those legacy institutions come into effect. I am not able today to confirm the timing of the publication of that consultation, but I want to get on with it. I know that the victim groups want that, and I take the point that the right hon. Gentleman has made very clearly and firmly.

Turning to the Bill, as I set out for the House a fortnight ago, it is now nine months since there has been a properly functioning Executive and Assembly. Despite the tireless efforts over the past 11 weeks—the most recent phase of the talks—the parties have not yet reached an agreement that would enable a sustainable Executive to be formed. In bringing the parties together for this most recent phase of the political talks, I have sought to help both the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin to bridge the gap on a small number of outstanding matters, including language and culture, as well as on issues in relation to the continuing sustainability of the Executive. In doing so, I have worked closely with the Irish Government in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach. I remain prepared to bring forth legislation that would allow for an Executive to be formed should the parties reach an agreement.

My strong preference would be for a restored Executive in Northern Ireland to take forward its own budget, so I am introducing this measure today with the utmost reluctance and only because there is no other choice available. Let me be clear: the passage of legislation to set a budget should not be a barrier to negotiations continuing. However, the ongoing lack of agreement has had tangible consequences for people and public services in Northern Ireland, for, without an Executive, there has been no budget, and without a budget, civil servants have been without political direction to take decisions on spending and public services in Northern Ireland.

I want to pay particular tribute to all those who have been engaged in the civil service seeking to manage the current events. The Northern Ireland civil service has demonstrated the utmost professionalism in protecting and preserving public services throughout these difficult times, and I wish to put on record my recognition of the work it has been doing.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP) - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:33 p.m.

I echo the Secretary of State’s comments on the civil service and the role it plays. Will he make it clear from the Dispatch Box tonight who the head of the Northern Ireland civil service will be accountable to in political terms after this decision is taken?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:34 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the accountability gap we have at present. At this time, the Northern Ireland civil service is effectively having to act based on its assessment of the political priorities of the outgoing Executive. There is no direct accountability. I will come on to certain steps I intend to take to seek to surface some of the issues, such as how any reports from the Northern Ireland Audit Office could be brought to the attention of this House. Ultimately, what we want is an Executive in place able to provide that accountability, and we do not want a move to any other alternatives because of all the issues that will bring about. There is an issue here, therefore, as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley - Hansard

The Secretary of State is well known for being generous in giving way, and I thank him. He has highlighted the central issue: on taking this decision, there will be no political accountability in Northern Ireland either to a non-functioning Executive or, importantly, to him and his ministerial team in Northern Ireland. That is not sustainable for any period of time. There must be political accountability, and he must move urgently to appoint Ministers and take political control.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:35 p.m.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is not a step that I intend to take while there is an opportunity for an Executive to be formed. Discussions have been ongoing—as they were even last week—between his party and Sinn Féin to try to find a resolution to the outstanding issues between the parties that can form such an Executive. I think it is right that we continue to pursue that, but he is right to say that this situation is not sustainable into the long term. It is absolutely in the best interests of Northern Ireland and more generally that we continue to do all we can to restore an Executive and to ensure that the parties are able to resolve the outstanding issues and get devolved government back up and running at the earliest opportunity.

David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab) Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:35 p.m.

Following on from the point made by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), I would like the Secretary of State to clarify something for me. If parliamentary questions were tabled in this House later this week about the details of this budget, if Adjournment debates on the subject were to take place later this week, or if early-day motions or other parliamentary accountability mechanisms were deployed on the subject, would he see it as his role to answer such questions? Or is there a mechanism whereby Members elected in Northern Ireland could also table and answer similar questions?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:36 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman has made this point on a previous occasion. I understand the question of accountability, and I feel this issue very keenly at this point. At this stage, these issues remain devolved. We are seeking to set a headline, outline budget of top-line numbers for each of the different Departments of the Northern Ireland civil service, but we are not seeking to provide a higher level of specificity or detail. Of course I will continue to raise issues with David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland civil service, but ultimately he remains accountable under the emergency provisions in the Northern Ireland legislation. He remains subject to the duties outlined in that mechanism. That is the unsatisfactory situation that we remain in. I say to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) that this might be sustainable for a time, but it cannot continue for an extended period.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP) - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:37 p.m.

The Secretary of State has expressed some optimism and does not wish to appoint direct rule Ministers at present, because he thinks that there is some hope, but does he accept that we are debating this budget Bill today because Sinn Féin refused to introduce a budget this time last year and refused to take any hard decisions when they had ministerial positions in the Assembly? Really, they have no interest in devolution when it requires them to make tough decisions. They would rather those decisions were made here, so that they can point the finger of blame at the Secretary of State and the Government in Westminster, than do the job they were elected to do in Northern Ireland, leaving the Secretary of State no alternative but to appoint direct rule Ministers.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:38 p.m.

Yes, we are in the position that we are in today because it has not been possible to form an Executive and because we do not have functioning devolved government. That is why, regrettably, I am having to introduce this Bill today: to put a legal framework in place to enable the Northern Ireland civil service to continue to spend in the way that it has done, to ensure that public services are able to operate. I believe that a solution remains possible, and that we must use all efforts and endeavours to restore devolved government. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s party and Sinn Féin have indicated firmly that they want to see an Executive restored and up and running, serving the people of Northern Ireland. That is where all our efforts and endeavours must firmly remain.

Mr Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD) - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:39 p.m.

The Secretary of State is right to say that it is necessary to pass this Bill in order for the machinery of government to continue operating, and for that reason, the Liberal Democrats will support him this evening, but surely more has to be said about how the machinery of government operates. For example, higher education in Northern Ireland is looking at a reduction in student places in excess of 2,200 by 2018-19 on the basis of this budget. Surely that illustrates better than anything else the need for this budget to be the subject of proper political accountability.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:39 p.m.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on accountability. The difficult job that the Northern Ireland civil service has had to do is effectively make its best assessment of the outgoing priorities of the outgoing Executive. It is worth noting that a lot of work was obviously done in the relation to the budget before the Executive collapsed at the start of the year—work that the parties had been engaged in closely with the Northern Ireland civil service. None the less, there are challenges and pressures in respect of how the civil service is having to operate under the emergency provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and issues about accountability and political decision making are felt keenly. There is a lack of accountability at the moment, which is why we want to see the Executive back up and running. Indeed, if an Assembly were restored quickly, the Assembly would be able to do that job. It would be able to look back at the budgeting arrangements and to carry out the normal level of scrutiny. I agree, however, that the situation is unsatisfactory, and we need to see progress and get the devolved Government back up and running at the earliest opportunity.

The powers that the Northern Ireland civil service has been exercising have their limits. Under section 59 of the 1998 Act and section 7 of the Government Resources and Accounts (Northern Ireland) Act 2001, the civil service may only issue cash and resources equal to 95% of the totals authorised in the previous financial year. The powers do not allow Departments to use accruing resources, meaning that the resources available to them are in reality significantly less than 95% of the previous year’s provision. Right hon. and hon. Members will recall that I set out in written statements in April and July an indicative budget position and set of departmental allocations based on the advice of the Northern Ireland civil service. In my written statement on 19 July, I said:

“The exercise of s59 powers cannot be sustained indefinitely”—[Official Report, 19 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 56WS.]

Although we had not then reached it, I also warned that that critical point was approaching. The resource limits in the absence of a budget are now fast approaching. Without further action, there are manifest risks that the civil service would simply begin to run out of resources by the end of November. That would mean no funding available for public services, with all of the negative impacts that would accompany such a cliff edge. No Government could simply stand by and allow that to happen, which is why we need to take forward this Bill today.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP) Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:43 p.m.

The Secretary of State says that only 95% of the budget was allocated. My understanding is that that 5% equates to some £600 million that has been delayed in coming to Northern Ireland. Will he put it on the record today that the party to blame for that is Sinn Féin for not bringing the budget when it should have brought it?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:44 p.m.

I understand the political point that the hon. Gentleman is making, and he highlights the challenges and pressures. The indicative budget arrangement has in effect meant that the Northern Ireland civil service has largely been able to operate on the basis of a full budget, which was one of the reasons why we set out the indicative arrangements with the affirmation that, should it come to it, we would bring forward a budget Bill. We are taking steps today to follow through on that, because of the need to have finances in place. We obviously have not had an Executive, which is why we are in this situation.

Efforts have been undertaken to find an agreement, and I commend the DUP for its work and the ongoing discussions with Sinn Féin to find that agreement. We want to see an enduring power-sharing Executive who are able to get on with the job and to make the high-level budget decisions that we are being forced to take in this Bill. I recognise, however, the frustrations that are felt right across Northern Ireland about not having an Executive in place that are able to make such decisions.

Emma Little Pengelly (Belfast South) (DUP) Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:44 p.m.

rose—

Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:44 p.m.

rose—

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I will give way to the hon. Lady, because I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Emma Little Pengelly Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:44 p.m.

The Secretary of State references the fact that there is no budget because there is no Executive in place. This time last year I was chairperson of the Finance Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and this time last year the Finance Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, was due to bring forward a draft budget. He refused to do so, and he refused to come to the Committee to explain why—this was months before Sinn Féin pulled down the institutions. He did not produce the draft budget in October, November or December. We got into January, and I was writing to him week after week to ask for the budget to be brought forward. The reason why there is no budget in Northern Ireland today is that Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, the Sinn Féin Finance Minister, failed in his primary duty to bring forward that budget.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:45 p.m.

I welcome the insight and experience that the hon. Lady brings to this House from her time in the Assembly and from her contribution to politics in Northern Ireland. She and I had discussions on a range of issues during that time.

The point is that we do not have a budget in place, which is why we are having to take these steps today to ensure that the necessary financial stability is provided to the Northern Ireland civil service in the absence of an Executive, an Assembly and functioning devolved government. I am sure that various different political points can be made, but my focus is on seeing that we get the Executive back in place, and I encourage all parties, with renewed focus, to see that discussions continue and that we actually get the resolution that I believe Northern Ireland would like to see.

Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:47 p.m.

The Secretary of State speaks of frustrations. The difficulty is that this is not just a matter of budgets for Government Departments. Earlier today he met some victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. They are waiting still for the implementation of the inquiry’s report, which makes a number of recommendations, including on the payment of compensation to support those victims. The problem is that we have no one to give political direction on the Hart report. Will he commit to intervening to deal with the issue? The victims deserve that intervention.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:48 p.m.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for highlighting the real life impacts of historical institutional abuse. It is not some sterile debate on numbers. A whole range of decisions have not been taken. Impacts are being felt across Northern Ireland by public services, by the voluntary and community sector and by victims and survivors of incidents of the past.

I acknowledge the strength of feeling on the issue of historical institutional abuse—the inquiry reported earlier this year—and not just the frustration but the pain and hurt felt by those who want a response to the Hart inquiry’s recommendations. The lack of an Executive has meant that there has been no formal response. Obviously, it was the Executive who commissioned the report, and it was intended that the inquiry would report back to the Executive for their response.

I have met SAVIA, which advocates for survivors and victims, and I met it again in July 2017. I firmly recognise the points it raises. However, this remains a matter for devolved government in Northern Ireland. I understand the huge frustration, which is another significant reason why we need to see devolved government restored. This issue remains a firm priority.

Conor McGinn Portrait Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab) - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:49 p.m.

I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson), because my understanding is that there is cross-party agreement in Northern Ireland on this issue. I understand the Secretary of State’s reluctance to commit to legislating or to taking the competencies to deal with it, but surely he could look at making some sort of interim payment by using a specific provision in this budget. So many survivors of institutional abuse have died since the report’s recommendations were made.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:49 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful and important point about the impact on victims, but nothing in this Bill gives that authorisation to me; nothing changes in the day-to-day operations of decision making in Northern Ireland. This Bill is firmly not direct rule; we are seeking to give the headline approvals for Departments to operate within their usual flexibilities. The Northern Ireland civil service has published separate estimates, and we have published separate estimates on its behalf, but this is in that space that exists. I have met the victims and survivors groups on two occasions, and there has not been a response to the recommendations as yet. It is right that an Executive, having asked for that report, should be the one that responds to it. I know that this is something of great hurt and great pain, which is why I hope earnestly that we are able to see a resolution of it quickly. I believe the families want that sense of progress against the recommendations.

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab) Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:51 p.m.

I hesitate to intervene, as I am about to make a speech, but I seek further clarity on this point. We have all met the SAVIA people today. Notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s support for devolution and his desire not to start direct rule, is there anything stopping him legislating, as he is going to in respect of the extra moneys provided as a result of the Democratic Unionist party deal, for an interim payment in order to heal, to some extent, the wounds suffered by people who have been subject to historical abuse?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:51 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but it presupposes that there is broad agreement on the recommendations from the Hart report—

Owen Smith Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:51 p.m.

There is.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:52 p.m.

I am talking about all the recommendations contained in it. My understanding is that we do not have that formal response back, because we have not had the Executive in place. Therefore, this Bill is not about specifying how the Northern Ireland civil service should operate and take certain actions—that takes us down the pathway on day-to-day decision making and what the Northern Ireland civil service should do. That is why I say firmly and clearly that what needs to happen is that we have that Executive back in place to receive that report. I know, from what the head of the Northern Ireland civil service David Sterling has said to me, that it had been preparing advice and a response that an incoming Executive can take up very quickly. That is the right way to respond, but of course I recognise keenly the frustrations that victims and survivors have felt. I know that from the direct exchanges I have had with them.

Owen Smith Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:53 p.m.

It is clear that there is cross-party support for the Hart report recommendations—certainly for the compensation and for the notion of an interim payment. I believe all the party leaders sent a letter to that effect in the summer, and we have heard again here today support from representatives of the DUP. Only today I have seen an email from David Sterling to SAVIA saying that he wants to act quickly, so may I ask the Secretary of State to do all he can, including potentially legislating, so that he does indeed act quickly?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I am sure David Sterling will hear keenly what is being said across the House today on the points that SAVIA has been making to all of us in its meetings and on the desire to see the Hart recommendations advanced, responded to and, where they have been accepted, taken forward. I am sure this House has given that message to David Sterling in relation to what has been said. As I say, and as the hon. Gentleman will know, David Sterling has equally been receiving representations from political parties in Northern Ireland and from SAVIA directly. We have heard about the response he has given and the situation we are currently in—not having an Executive or other means by which to provide direct political instruction. None the less, I know that the Northern Ireland civil service takes its responsibilities and its duties within the law—within the framework in which it is operating—keenly to heart. I am sure it will act appropriately, recognising the points that parties in Northern Ireland have made on this issue, and will do what it can to advance this issue in the difficult and frustrating circumstances we find ourselves in.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:55 p.m.

I am going to make some progress if I may. I have been generous in taking interventions, as I hope Members will recognise.

To be clear, this Bill is a measure we have deferred for as long as was possible. We wanted to see the parties reach an agreement and take a budget through themselves. In the absence of agreement, this Bill is necessary to keep public services running in Northern Ireland. Although it is a Government Bill, it is not a UK Government Budget; it does not reflect the priorities or spending decisions of me or any other Minister. Rather, it sets out the departmental allocations and ambits that have been recommended by the Northern Ireland civil service. In turn, it has sought as far as is possible to reflect the priorities of the previous Executive—albeit updated to reflect the changed circumstances as far as has been required. In short, this is the budget that a returning Executive—had one been formed—would have been presented with. Taken as a whole, the Bill represents a necessary measure, taken at the latest possible point, to secure public finances in Northern Ireland.

We should be absolutely clear: passing this budget in Westminster does not mean a move to direct rule, any more than did this Parliament legislating to set a regional rate in April. Once the budget is passed, the detailed decisions on how it is spent will be made by the Northern Ireland civil service. If, as I hope will be the case, the parties come together to form an Executive in the weeks ahead, those decisions would fall to them, so nothing we are doing today precludes talks from continuing and an agreement being reached.

I propose to turn briefly to the contents of this rather technical Bill. In short, it authorises Northern Ireland Departments and certain other bodies to incur expenditure and use resources for the financial year ending on 31 March 2018. Clause 1 authorises the issue of £16.17 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 permits some temporary borrowing powers for cash management purposes. Clause 3 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 3(2). These figures and those in clause 1 supersede the allocations of cash and resources made by the permanent secretary of the Department of Finance up to the end of this month, under the powers I have already mentioned.

Similarly to clause 1, the breakdown between these Departments and bodies, and the purposes for the authorised use of resources under clause 3, is set out in the Bill—in the first two columns of schedule 2. Clause 4 sets limits on the accruing resources, including both operating and non-operating accruing resources in the current financial year. These sums relate to those which have already been voted by Parliament via the main estimates, together with revenue generated locally within Northern Ireland. There is no new money contained within this Bill: there is simply the explicit authority to spend in full the moneys that have already been allocated.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab) Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 5:58 p.m.

I just seek to understand the figures that the Secretary of State has given out, and this relates to the question raised by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson). Our understanding is that we can be talking only about 95%. Does that amount to a £600 million reduction in spending ability for the Departments in Northern Ireland? Who will decide which Departments face the reductions to make that £600 million reduction?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:03 p.m.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that what we are actually dealing with here is the full utilisation of the resources set out by this House through the block grant. Although there are emergency powers operating that can only cover 95% of the previous year’s budget, by passing this Bill we are authorising the full amount—in effect, allowing a spend to 100%. In practice, the Northern Ireland civil service has effectively been operating to that level by virtue of the assurance that we provided by saying that if a budget was not set, we would set a budget. We are therefore now following through on the commitment that we gave to the Northern Ireland civil service.

I refer the hon. Gentleman back to the statements I made earlier in the year in respect of the indicative budget figures, and therefore the resources that were available to the Northern Ireland civil service and, effectively, the main estimates position. In essence, the difference between the 2016-17 budget position and the main estimates position for this year, once certain figures that relate to a voluntary exit scheme are stripped out to make it more comparable, is a 3.2% increase in the non-ring-fenced resource departmental expenditure limits. That is effectively what we are doing through the measures we are taking through the House today.

I appreciate that there is a sense of, “Well, what is the 95%? What is the 100%?”. The 95% is effectively the restriction that has been placed on the Northern Ireland civil service in its operations to date. We have received advice from the Northern Ireland civil service, and it has been confirmed by the Treasury as well, that that threshold—those limitations—would risk being exceeded at the end of this month, because that 95% does not deal with certain accruals and certain other numbers, which means that the 95% number is actually less than one would imagine it to be. I appreciate that there is a lot of technicality and that a lot of accounting issues are obviously engaged here, but that is what we are seeking to do. In other words, there is no new money beyond what Parliament has already authorised through the main estimates and through votes in this House. I hope that, as best as I can do, I have made that point clear for right hon. and hon. Members.

Vernon Coaker Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:02 p.m.

rose—

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:02 p.m.

I am happy to try again with the hon. Gentleman.

Vernon Coaker Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:02 p.m.

I think there is probably only one person in the House who properly understood all of that, and I will not say who it was. I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. What the people of Northern Ireland and Members of this House want to know is, if we strip out all the technicalities the Secretary of State has outlined, what is he actually saying? Is there a cash freeze? Is there a real-terms reduction? We read in the press that health spending is to rise and education spending is flat. We heard the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) mention the £600 million figure, which has been raised on several occasions. If we strip away all the technicalities, what is the Secretary of State actually saying about the spending power for each Department up until 31 March next year?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:04 p.m.

As I indicated to the hon. Gentleman, we are effectively talking about a sum of £10.6 billion for the departmental expenditure limits. For that figure, he will be able to refer back to previous statements I have made. The Northern Ireland civil service has made a further adjustment of £54 million, within that envelope, and it has allocated that money primarily to health and education: an additional £40 million to health and an additional £10 million to education. As I indicated to him earlier, if we look at the distinction between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 resource departmental expenditure limits, we see that it shows a movement from around £10.2 billion to £10.6 billion, which is where the 3.2% figure I quoted to him comes from—that year-on-year comparison. That means that, for example, on the budget lines of health there is a 5.4% increase, and for education there is a 1.5% increase. The Northern Ireland civil service and the Department of Finance have published full numbers in relation to the estimates and a further budget briefing. That briefing has been provided to all the political parties in Northern Ireland, in recognition that this is ultimately about a devolved budget, not a budget that is being set here in Westminster.

Dr Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con) - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:04 p.m.

May I take this opportunity to chide my right hon. Friend ever so gently? Had right hon. and hon. Members received a copy of the Bill in a more timely manner, they might have been able to refer to schedules 1 and 2, in which the departmental allocations are clearly laid out.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:05 p.m.

I understand the point that the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee makes. Equally, though, we brought the Bill before the House in such a way as to allow as much flexibility as possible for potential alternative legislation to be debated in the House today. Nevertheless, we are taking this budget Bill through the House, so the detailed information that the Northern Ireland civil service has provided—and, obviously, the allocations—is provided in the Bill.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:06 p.m.

Does the Secretary of State accept that, even taking into account the information in those schedules, the answer to the question that has been asked is not available in the information that has been presented to the House today, because it gives the figure for this year but does not contain information on the figures for last year, and nor indeed is there briefing material on that? It really is impossible to compare departmental allocation with departmental allocation, or the overall allocation available to Northern Ireland.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:06 p.m.

The details were published in the main estimates document that has been published as a Command Paper. We have sought to provide information on the detailed breakdown to right hon. and hon. Members, but I can nevertheless assure the hon. Gentleman about the nature of the work that has been undertaken. We have relied on the advice from and input of the Northern Ireland civil service in respect of these matters. As I have already indicated, the numbers and figures effectively point back to the indicative statements that I published for the House earlier in the year, with the addition of the adjustments in relation to the £54 million that I have sought to explain to the House today.

The Bill would ordinarily have been taken through the Assembly. I recognise that there are imperfections and that we are having to do this in this House in a way that does not reflect how the Assembly itself would have considered the legislation and taken it through. That is why, for example, there are in clause 5 a series of adaptations that ensure that, once approved by both Houses in Westminster, the Bill will effectively be treated as if it had been taken through the Assembly, thereby enabling Northern Ireland’s public finances to continue to function, notwithstanding the absence of an Executive. Clause 6 repeals previous Assembly budget Acts relating to the financial years 2013-14 and 2014-15, which are no longer operative. Such repeals are regularly included in Assembly budget Bills.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP) - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:08 p.m.

The Secretary of State and I had a discussion on this point earlier, but can he confirm that the clauses he has outlined contain nothing that would enable the accounting officers in Northern Ireland to advance the already agreed and already resourced national pay awards for our public sector workers? Earlier, he referred to the Police Service of Northern Ireland; nationally agreed pay awards, which should be under the control of accounting officers, cannot be advanced while we wait in limbo.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:09 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman and I did have a conversation outside the House before we entered the Chamber, and I understand the point he makes about pay awards—particularly with respect to the PSNI, although it is not simply limited to the PSNI—and the issues with being able to advance where there has not been a previous political policy or agreement on those awards. I recognise the point that he makes very firmly. I will have further discussions with David Sterling about whether there is any way to resolve that issue in the absence of an Executive. I know that this issue has been and continues to be a particular concern among a number of public sector employees. It is a result of the gap that we are currently in, so we need to get this resolved quickly.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:09 p.m.

I accept the Secretary of State’s explanation. Of course this is not the ideal way to deal with the issue. That is not his fault, but the fault of Sinn Féin, which has blocked the proper scrutiny of the Assembly. Can he explain this: one figure that hits me when I look at these estimates is that the Executive Office, which is not functioning at the moment, has had a 32% increase in its budget? I do not know how much detail he went into with civil servants when he was looking at this, but has he had any explanation as to why a non-functioning office should have the biggest increase of all the Departments?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:11 p.m.

Although there is not a functioning Executive—in other words, we do not have the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in place—work is still going on. The civil service has to manage the process in the absence of that political decision-making. I will certainly take the hon. Gentleman’s point to the head of the Northern Ireland civil service and commit to write to him with a more detailed response, a justification for the increases and an explanation of why, on that particular budget line, there was a need for such a decision. Certainly, the civil service has stated very clearly that it has acted on the basis of the outgoing priorities of the outgoing Executive.

As the debate this evening has demonstrated, this is clearly an unusual Bill to be taken through the House, marking as it does an approval by Parliament of spending in the devolved sphere. While being proportionate, I want to ensure that, in the absence of an Assembly, there can be appropriate scrutiny by Parliament of how the money it has voted is subsequently spent.

In addition to the provisions in the Bill for scrutiny by the Northern Ireland Audit Office of the Northern Ireland Departments, I will be writing to the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland asking him to send me a copy of all the NIAO audits and value-for-money reports that he produces after the Bill gains Royal Assent, which will contain his view on any shortcomings and his recommendations for improvement. I will be asking the Northern Ireland civil service to make its responses to those reports available to me. Copies of those reports and correspondence will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses to allow scrutiny by all interested Members and Committees.

I have also laid before the House as a Command Paper a set of estimates for the Departments and bodies covered by the budget Bill. Those estimates, which have been prepared by the Northern Ireland Department of Finance, set out the breakdown of its resource allocation in greater detail. As hon. and right hon. Members may note, 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 approved separately.

That would also be the case at the Assembly, but in these unusual circumstances, 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. To aid the understanding of these main estimates and the spending impacts they will have, the Northern Ireland civil service has produced a budget briefing paper, which was published on the Department of Finance website earlier today. It is also important to note that the Northern Ireland political parties have been briefed on this budget in detail. That is everything in the Bill, dealing with moneys already voted for by Parliament or raised within Northern Ireland. Those figures do not deal with any other items.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind) Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:14 p.m.

The Secretary of State will know that, for family reasons, we have had a very difficult weekend. I apologise most sincerely to the House for coming into the debate late; it is a tale of delayed flights and tubes.

Will the Secretary of State enlighten the House and the people of Northern Ireland as to why no reference is made to the reduction in MLAs’ salaries? That is what the people at home want to see. We have not had a functioning Assembly for almost 11 months now, but MLAs continue to take their full salary and full staffing allowance. People at home hoped that there would be a signal today in this budget Bill of a reduction in salaries. Will there be such a reduction?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:14 p.m.

If the hon. Lady will bear with me, I intend to say something about that issue later in my comments.

Before I do so, I will comment on issues outside the Bill. The figures contained in the Bill do not secure the financial position for the long term, because real challenges remain: there is a health service in significant need of transformation; there are further steps to take to build the truly connected infrastructure that can boost growth and prosperity throughout Northern Ireland; and there are other steps, too. It was in recognition of those unique circumstances that the UK Government were prepared to make available additional financial support earlier this year, following the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative party and the Democratic Unionist party. That agreement made it clear that we wanted to see that money made available to a restored Executive, which would decide on a cross-community basis how best to use the funding for the benefit of all in Northern Ireland. However, Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances cannot simply be ignored in the meantime, especially given the pressures that we have seen in the continued absence of an Executive.

Therefore, in addition to the Bill, this Government will make available the £50 million for addressing immediate health and education pressures in the agreement in this financial year. Those sums are not contained in this Bill, because they have not yet been voted on by Parliament. If the Northern Ireland Administration confirm that they wish to access them, they will be subject to the full authorisation of this House, as with all sums discharged from the UK Consolidated Fund, via the estimates process in the new year. From there they will be transferred, along with other sums forming part of the Northern Ireland block grant, into the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP) - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:17 p.m.

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way and for announcing today the first instalment of the extra money coming to Northern Ireland as a result of the confidence and supply agreement. Some people said that it depended on the Executive, but, clearly, that was not the case. The people of Northern Ireland—Unionists and nationalists—will welcome the fact that extra money is going into the health service and into education, and indeed will eventually go into infrastructure and all the rest of it as a result of the deal that the DUP did with the Government. I warmly welcome what he has said. This is a very significant moment in the history of this Parliament and in terms of our relationship as it goes forward.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:17 p.m.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we recognise the particular case that has been made by Northern Ireland about the pressures in the health service that stem from the need for reform. The sums are still subject to a formal vote in the House, but that cannot be dealt with today. It can be dealt with only through the subsequent estimates process. In the absence of an Executive, it would be for the Northern Ireland civil service, bound by a range of equality and propriety duties, to make the decisions as to whether and how to take account of this funding for the benefit of the whole community. I say to the House that we want to see a restored Executive back in place and deciding on how the additional financial support can best be used for the benefit of the whole community. That remains the case now as much as ever. As a party, we believe in devolution. We want to see locally elected politicians taking the strategic decisions about the future direction of their local areas.

Let me come back to the point made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). In this context, I understand the disappointment that so many feel that, despite the election more than eight months ago, there remains no functioning Assembly in which all those elected may serve. I also know that, in turn, many in Northern Ireland are concerned that full salaries continue to be paid to Assembly Members despite the impasse. I understand that concern, but recognise, too, that many of those elected have been desperate to serve since March, and have continued to provide valuable constituency functions in the meantime. That is why I have been keen to seek independent advice on the subject in determining what actions may be appropriate. I can tell the House that Mr Trevor Reaney, a former Clerk of the Northern Ireland Assembly, has agreed to take on that task. He will provide an independent assessment of the case for action and the steps he would consider appropriate, and will report back to me by 15 December. This will not prejudge any particular course of action, not least as further steps would require primary legislation, but his advice will help to inform the best way to proceed.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Nigel Dodds - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 2:30 p.m.

The Secretary of State has previously indicated—quite rightly—that this matter should be addressed, and we agree. But as far as we on these Benches are concerned, the matter of those who get paid and who do not come to Westminster to fulfil their obligations here also needs to be addressed. It is clear that, in announcing this look at Assembly Members, which is quite right, all hon. Members should focus on those who deliberately abstain, refuse to do their job in Parliament and get paid hundreds of thousands every year in back-up and parliamentary resources to spend on propaganda and political purposes. That, too, must be looked at and must end in tandem with what the Secretary of State is doing in relation to the Assembly.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 2:30 p.m.

This point has been raised on the Floor of the House before. The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful presentation of his point. Equally, although I note his firm point, he has sought to advance this case in the past and knows that the matter is one for the House to determine.

I very much hope that the work I outlined—the recommendations or review that I will receive regarding MLA pay—will not be needed. That is because I still believe and hope that the parties can resolve their differences and an Executive can be formed that will come together and take the strategic decisions needed on health transformation, education reform and building a world-class infrastructure to deliver a better future in Northern Ireland. That is what the people of Northern Ireland voted for and want to see. We will continue to work with the parties and support them in their efforts to reach a resolution.

Conor McGinn Portrait Conor McGinn - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 2:30 p.m.

Will the Secretary of State give way?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:21 p.m.

I will give way later, but I am just going to finish my comments.

Together with the Irish Government, we remain steadfast in our commitment to the 1998 Belfast agreement and its successors, and to the institutions they established. It remains firmly in the interests of Northern Ireland to see devolved government restored, with locally-elected politicians making decisions for the people of Northern Ireland on key local matters. Northern Ireland and its people need a properly functioning and inclusive devolved Government, along with effective structures for co-operation, north-south and east-west. But at the same time, the Government are ultimately responsible for good governance in Northern Ireland and will do whatever is necessary to provide that. The Bill is a reminder of that underlying obligation, which we will continue to uphold. I commend it to the House.

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab) Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 2:30 p.m.

I join the Secretary of State in condemning the actions of the people who left a viable pipe bomb in Omagh on Remembrance Sunday—on a day and in a place designed to cause maximum harm and shock. It is truly contemptible of those people. I equally condemn the actions of the men who conducted what can only be described as a knee-capping last night in Londonderry-Derry—a city where, even as we speak, there is apparently another incident involving what the police believe to be a viable pipe bomb.

All these awful events are a timely and salutary reminder of Northern Ireland’s past—a past that we all hoped that we had long since left behind, but which I fear we have not always left behind. These events are also a reminder of the propensity of violence in Northern Ireland to fill a vacuum when politics fails, and I am afraid that we are here today because politics has failed. This Bill is, unfortunately, a testament to political failure. It is a failure by the majority parties that were in government together, power sharing in Northern Ireland, and that have fallen out and been unable to come back together. I am afraid that it is also a failure of the Secretary of State’s Government to bring about the restitution of trust and the reconstitution of the Assembly and its institutions.

The Secretary of State has been at pains to say that this is not direct rule. I understand why he wants to emphasise that point—technically, of course, he is right—but that is not what nationalists in Northern Ireland will see in today’s events. That is not how they will characterise it, and that needs to be reflected as they unfortunately now lack a voice in this place for the first time in a long time. The reality is that we are living in something of a twilight zone between devolution and direct rule, with real problems for accountability and transparency, as so many Democratic Unionist party Members described earlier in the debate.

Today’s budget is only a quick fix until the end of March, so there will be a further one. It is difficult to credit the Secretary of State saying that this is the budget that the Northern Ireland Executive would have brought forward in the event of devolution and that this is effectively a continuation of the trajectory set in the budget in December last year. Twelve months have now passed, and it is quite hard to see a direct line of accountability between that indicative budget and the sums before us now.

Let me be clear that we will support the Bill tonight. We absolutely believe that the Secretary of State has no choice but to bring forward this budget, and we accept all the arguments he has made in that regard. Northern Ireland’s public services need to be supported. The roads budget is running out of the money to fill the potholes, and there are significant problems in housing, health and education, all of which need to be addressed with extra resources in Northern Ireland. However, this budget does raise questions about the transparency, accountability and sustainability of this approach. DUP colleagues who raise such questions are right to do so, and other hon. Members across the House will also raise these points.

Break in Debate

Owen Smith Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:53 p.m.

I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point—indeed, I mentioned the political disagreement. Equally, however, many victims on all sides of the troubles find it difficult to accept that the actions of a few people who injured themselves by their own hand should hold up the process for all victims—including the many hundreds who are innocent—and preclude them from getting the pensions that they need to support themselves, especially as they get older and more infirm. I understand his point, but a moral argument needs to be made. Perhaps it will take a period of direct rule to introduce that argument.

Thirdly, may I raise something else that I suspect will prompt some interventions: the so-called moral issues in Northern Ireland, particularly equal marriage and abortion rights? Those two areas are incredibly divisive, complex and politically parlous, but I urge the Secretary of State to think hard about them, not least in the light of the referendum that is being held in the Republic. He needs to think about how he might consult in Northern Ireland so that progress is made on those important issues.

One of the greatest tragedies of the recent period of impasse in Northern Ireland is that Northern Ireland does not have a voice on the thorny issue of Brexit and the border. Northern Ireland is likely to be strongly affected by Brexit economically, socially and politically, and perhaps even in terms of the peace process. It is tragic that Northern Ireland has remained voiceless throughout the process. I fear that the Government have engaged in reckless gunboat diplomacy on Brexit, and although the Northern Ireland Secretary voices platitudes about not wanting a hard border on the island of Ireland—we all support that view—he has unfortunately not proposed any substantive ways of preventing that from happening—[Interruption.] He says that that is nonsense. If he wants to stand up and tell us exactly how he will prevent the introduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland, I will be pleased to take that intervention, because I have heard nothing substantive from the Government.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:54 p.m.

I point the hon. Gentleman firmly towards our proposals on customs and agriculture, as well as on issues such as the common transit convention. On a whole raft of issues, we have set out our determination to achieve that aim and how we believe it will be achieved. We are engaging in the first phase and into the second phase to make sure that that happens.

Owen Smith Hansard
13 Nov 2017, 6:56 p.m.

None of those proposals has been taken remotely seriously by our interlocutors in Brussels. None of them answers the question of how we avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. None of them is currently thought to be a serious runner—[Interruption.] Well, I wait to see the Brexit negotiations reaching the conclusion that the Secretary of State is right and we do not need to consider some sort of special arrangement for Northern Ireland. At the moment, the country can see that no progress is being made on the matter, that the Government are employing gunboat diplomacy and that, unfortunately, we are not in a position to tell the people of Northern Ireland that they can remain safe and secure in the knowledge that a hard border will not replace the current porous border.

Northern Ireland Update

James Brokenshire Excerpts
Thursday 2nd November 2017

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Northern Ireland Office
James Brokenshire Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (James Brokenshire) - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, noon

With permission, I would like to make a statement about the current political situation in Northern Ireland.

As the House is aware, Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning devolved Executive and Assembly for nine months. During this time, the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin, as the two largest parties in the Assembly, have been engaged in a series of discussions to restore inclusive, power-sharing government at Stormont. The latest phase of the discussions began in August and has run for the past nine weeks.

It is the responsibility of the parties to reach an agreement, and the Government have been working tirelessly to support this process. In addition, I have kept in regular contact with the Ulster Unionists, Social Democratic and Labour party and Alliance, as well as with representatives of business and civil society. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has also remained closely involved throughout the process and has held a number of discussions with the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin, as well as keeping in contact with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. In addition, the Irish Government have been involved in the process, in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach to Northern Ireland affairs. I would like, in particular, to acknowledge the contribution of the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney.

Our efforts have been focused mainly on bridging a small number of differences between the two largest parties—particularly around language and culture—that have prevented a sustainable Executive from being formed. While important progress has been made, the parties have not yet reached an agreement. Therefore, I am not in a position to bring before the House the legislation necessary for an Executive to be formed this week.

The consequence of this is that it is now highly unlikely that an Executive could be in place within a timetable to be assured of passing a budget by the end of November, which is the point at which we and the Northern Ireland civil service assess that Northern Ireland will begin to run out of resources. No Government could simply stand by and allow that to happen, and we would be shirking our responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland were we to do so. That is why the Government will take forward the necessary steps that would enable a budget Bill to be introduced in the House to protect the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.

This budget Bill would deal only with the current financial year. It would incorporate figures provided by the Northern Ireland civil service, reflecting its assessment of the outgoing priorities of the previous Executive. It would not set out any spending decisions by me or the Government. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has indicated, I would expect the budget Bill to be considered in this House shortly after the November recess.

Subject to parliamentary approval, this Bill would give the Northern Ireland civil service certainty to plan for the rest of this financial year, by giving the necessary legal authority to spend to existing plans. I would like to take this opportunity to put on the record my deep appreciation for the professionalism of the Northern Ireland civil service in maintaining public services during this very difficult time.

The Government’s strong desire would be for a restored Executive in Northern Ireland to take forward their own budget, so I am taking this step with the utmost reluctance and only in the absence of any other option. I want to make it clear to the House that passing a budget in Westminster does not mark a move to direct rule any more than the passing of legislation by this House to set a regional rate did in April. Furthermore, it is important to emphasise that this is not an obstacle to continued political negotiations and that the Government will continue to work with the parties with that clear intent.

Even now, however unlikely it may be, should the parties demonstrate that an Executive can be formed in the immediate future, I would clearly wish to proceed with legislation to allow that to happen, on the condition that a means could be created to provide an expedited procedure on an exceptional basis to enable the budget to be passed by the end of November.

In addition to preparations for budget legislation and in recognition of the strength of public concern, I will reflect carefully on the issue of salaries for Assembly Members. This is a devolved matter and I cannot intervene without primary legislation in Westminster. As I recently told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, in the continued absence of a functioning Assembly, the status quo is not tenable. I will therefore be seeking independent advice on MLA pay and on what steps may be taken to reflect the current circumstances.

I still hope that the parties can resolve their differences and that an Executive can be formed. We will continue to work with them and support them in their efforts. Together with the Irish Government, we remain steadfast in our commitment to the 1998 Belfast agreement and its successors and to the institutions they established. It remains firmly in the interests of Northern Ireland to see devolved government restored—to see locally elected politicians making decisions for the people of Northern Ireland on key local matters, such as health, education, transport and economic development.

We are clear that Northern Ireland needs a properly functioning and inclusive devolved Government, along with effective structures for co-operation north-south and east-west, but ultimately the Government are responsible for good governance in Northern Ireland and will do whatever is necessary to provide that. I commend this statement to the House.

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:07 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement and for his great efforts in keeping me briefed at all crucial points during the talks. I know he agrees that it is profoundly disappointing that 10 months after the breakdown of Stormont, and following two elections and countless and—I hate to say it—increasingly meaningless deadlines, the larger parties remain deadlocked, unable to agree with one another on the agenda for change and unwilling to show trust in one another.

I also put on the record my support for the work of the Northern Ireland civil service in keeping services going and for the work of the Irish Government, particularly Simon Coveney, the Foreign Minister, alongside the Secretary of State, in trying to bring about a resolution. We agree on all of that, but we disagree, I suspect, over what more could have been done during those 10 months—and could still be done—to bring about a resolution.

First and most importantly, we believe that the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland could get stuck into this problem and try to bring about a resolution of the impasse. It is inexcusable and completely inexplicable that she has only visited Northern Ireland once during her 15 months in office—and that for a 15-minute photo call at an agricultural show during the election campaign. She has not attended a single substantive session of the talks in Belfast or made a single substantive intervention to try to move things along. I know that things have been difficult recently, but the odd phone call to the Taoiseach is just not good enough. The days of Prime Ministers—or Presidents—flying to Northern Ireland to fix things might be past and overstated, but they could at least give it a go. Our Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, has not done that. The Opposition want her to make a greater effort.

Secondly, the time must have come to consider drafting in some outside help for both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. The Labour party has a proud record of bringing about progress in the Northern Ireland peace process, and independent chairs and observers have proved useful in the past. At this juncture of the impasse, will he consider doing likewise and bringing in a fresh pair of eyes?

Thirdly, will the Secretary of State tell us any more about his intentions now that this round of talks has failed? We will support him wholeheartedly, of course, in bringing forward a budget. Public services in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, need investment, not cuts. He will have to tell the House how he intends to consult with the parties on priorities and ensure that funds are spent equitably.

There are reports in the press that the Secretary of State has been discussing with the parties other ways to sustain and find a role for the Assembly, even under direct rule. Can he tell us what that might mean? Let me be clear: direct rule will be a profoundly damaging, retrograde step in the peace process. A shadow Assembly of some sort, perhaps scrutinising or even advising direct rule Ministers, would be a way to sustain vital north-south and east-west relations and institutions—things that are crucial to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That might provide some mitigation. It is certainly an idea that Labour Members will be willing to explore as a means of sustaining the talks, and perhaps as a bridge back to devolution.

Given that ultimate objective that we share, may I urge the Secretary of State to resist, given what he has said today, short-term pressure to cut MLAs’ pay? Cutting politicians’ pay is always a popular thing to argue for, but we need this generation of Northern Irish politicians to work and talk together to try to bring about power-sharing. While he is right that patience is wearing thin in Northern Ireland, he should resist steps that would undermine the ability of the parties, particularly the smaller ones, to negotiate and engage.

Finally, may I give the Secretary of State a foretaste of what life will mean for him under direct rule and ask him to agree that this morning’s report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies makes shameful reading for his Government, particularly in respect of Northern Ireland? It shows that more children will be driven into absolute poverty in Northern Ireland by the universal credit changes and the pernicious two-child policy than in any other nation of the UK. Will he therefore commit to using his forthcoming budget to undo that harm to the children of Northern Ireland?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:11 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments in support of the proposals to bring forward a budget Bill and about the necessity of having the financial stability that will help the Northern Ireland civil service to continue with the work that it has already been doing in ensuring that public services are delivered and that there is that focus on the people of Northern Ireland. I acknowledge the rightful support that he has given to all those in the Northern Ireland civil service engaged and involved in this important work.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the profound disappointment at not finding a resolution to date. Northern Ireland needs devolved government. I profoundly believe in devolution and the sense of locally elected politicians making decisions locally and being held accountable by an elected Assembly locally. That is profoundly in the best interests of Northern Ireland. He talks about other options. My focus remains very firmly on how we see devolution restored; I think that anything else is a backward step. There are, yes, concerns about the delivery of public services while we are taking the step that we have outlined today. Ultimately, this simply cannot carry on for ever. We need to ensure that political decision making is taking place.

The hon. Gentleman highlights issues around the process and the steps to follow on from it. I stress that bringing forward the budget Bill should not mark an end to the talks. Indeed, the parties themselves have indicated that they remain committed to finding a way forward in seeing how discussions between the DUP and Sinn Féin can continue in order to find resolution on, yes, a small number of issues where difference firmly remains between the two parties. While there has been positive progress on a number of fronts during certain weeks, we are not, as I have indicated to the House, at the point of reaching agreement.

The hon. Gentleman highlights the potential role of the Prime Minister. She has been actively involved in talking to the parties. She has had meetings with the parties at No. 10, bringing them together. She does remain actively involved, including through continued discussions with the Taoiseach, in finding the right way that we can work together as two Governments to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach that is respectful to how these issues in respect of Northern Ireland are undertaken.

The hon. Gentleman makes points about interventions and suchlike. Clearly, we do keep these issues under careful review, and I do not rule anything out in respect of the way forward. We want the engagement between the two parties that has been undertaken in earnest, in a concerted way, to continue. They have shown that they can make progress in that format, and we want to support them in continuing with that. I earnestly want to see the restoration of the devolved settlement—of the institutions that are at the heart of the Belfast or Good Friday agreement and underpin the framework that we have in Northern Ireland. I want that to be restored at the earliest opportunity, and we are doing all that we can as a Government to see that it is brought about.

The hon. Gentleman makes certain points in relation to the economy and various other things. Universal credit is about making work pay. It is about how we get people back into work, seeing those pathways, and seeing that things are supported. We are looking very carefully at how it is implemented in Northern Ireland. In response to his comments about the position of Northern Ireland, I would point to the picture of prosperity, of jobs, and of an economy that is growing—and to tourism, with more people coming to Northern Ireland. That is a positive picture of what Northern Ireland is and what it can be. I encourage him to underline that in the messages that he gives.

Dr Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:16 p.m.

With a due sense of disappointment and weariness that I know my right hon. Friend shares, I welcome today’s statement. I commend him for his patience and fortitude during this process.

Last week, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which I chair, visited Newry and spoke to businessmen. Nowhere in the United Kingdom are the effects of Brexit going to be felt more acutely than in Northern Ireland, yet that region stands to suffer in the negotiations because its voice will not be heard clearly enough alongside the voices of other home nations. Given that the Executive are likely to be in abeyance for the balance—or a large part—of the negotiating period, what measures will be put in place to ensure that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:18 p.m.

I commend my hon. Friend for the work of his Committee, which has had a clear focus on and interest in the issues around Brexit and Northern Ireland. I am sure that it will continue to do so. The evidence that it has been producing has been very helpful and informative. This Government want to see the most positive outcome for the United Kingdom as a whole, very firmly including Northern Ireland. That is why we published the paper during the course of the summer highlighting how we can deal with this effectively to see the positive outcome that I know can be achieved for Northern Ireland as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. We will certainly continue, as we have done throughout the first phase of the negotiations, to underline the specific factors and elements in Northern Ireland to ensure that they are addressed effectively and that the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland are recognised. We will continue to work with the Northern Ireland civil service, and the parties in Northern Ireland too, to ensure that those unique factors are addressed. I am determined that that is what the outcome will be.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:10 p.m.

The people of Northern Ireland have every right to be disappointed with the politicians who should have been negotiating and achieving a return to a functioning Executive. It will now fall to this place, which lacks the detailed knowledge that Stormont politicians have, to set a budget for Northern Ireland, when it should be a matter for Stormont.

It is essential that control is passed back to Belfast as soon as is politically possible. What exactly are the insurmountable barriers that the Stormont politicians face, and how does the Secretary of State intend to break them down? Reimposing direct rule would be a foolish thing to do in any event, but, as has been referenced, Brexit and the coming border issues make it ridiculous. How, exactly, will he avoid that and ensure that Northern Ireland moves forward? Is he considering changing the legislation governing power sharing to ensure that future elections cannot result in stalemate negotiations that harm the people Stormont should be helping? What timescale will he put on getting an Executive up and running before calling new elections?

Unfortunately, I must express my disappointment at the fact that, highly unusually, I received the Secretary of State’s statement by email with only 50 seconds to spare, and the written statement six minutes after he began to speak. I would be very grateful for an understanding of how that occurred so that it does not occur in future.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 10:58 a.m.

I will follow up with the hon. Lady on that point after the statement. It is certainly not my intention to prevent her from being properly briefed in advance of statements; that is not how I operate. I will make inquires after the statement and revert to her to ensure that she is kept properly informed, in the usual way. I take seriously the point that she has raised, and I will pursue it to ensure that there is no repetition of the situation.

The hon. Lady made several points about the outstanding issues. As I have indicated, I think we are talking primarily about sustainability in respect of the Assembly and the Executive, and about issues of language, culture, identity and respect. Those have been underlying elements in our discussions, over many weeks, and it is important to get them right to provide a sense of sustainability and allow the Executive to get on with the job of serving Northern Ireland. I think that politicians on all sides seek earnestly to get those things right.

It is, ultimately, for the parties to reach agreement. Yes, we have worked with them and encouraged them, and we recognise our responsibilities as a Government under the various agreements that we hold, but the parties need to be accommodating and reach agreement. No agreement has yet been reached, so we are having to take the next step that I have set out in the statement today. The budget is necessary to put Northern Ireland’s public services and finances on a sound footing. We will continue to support the parties to find agreement, in the knowledge that the situation cannot continue indefinitely.

The hon. Lady highlights the election duty that I continue to be under, in legislation. I have to keep the matter under review, knowing that that is the only power that I have in law. I want resolution and agreement, because that would be the best possible outcome.

Mr Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con) - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:22 p.m.

My constituents in Kettering find it absolutely abhorrent that threats of prosecution should hang over armed forces veterans for events that happened 40 or 50 years ago, while known terrorists have effectively been told that they will never be prosecuted for their known crimes. If the Secretary of State is bringing legislation to the House, will he ensure that it contains clauses designed to stop this witch hunt?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:23 p.m.

I pay clear tribute to the incredible service, bravery, dedication and sacrifice of all who served to uphold the rule of law and secure the political freedoms in Northern Ireland that we enjoy today. I hear the point that my hon. Friend makes about the concern about witch hunts and the operation of the system. I want to move forward with a consultation around the Stormont House agreement that sets out new institutions and bodies that are firmly intended to be balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable, thereby ensuring that soldiers are not unfairly treated. That, I believe, is the right way forward, and it will give everyone the opportunity to contribute and express their point of view. Ultimately, it will allow us to move forward with those institutions, which I firmly believe represent the best way forward.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP) - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:24 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, for the advance notice of it and for the consultations that he has had with us here, and with our party, as the process has developed. The contact and interaction with him, his office and the Government more generally have been very good.

It is worth reminding the House how we have got to this point. As recently as December, the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin had an agreed programme for government. None of the issues that Sinn Féin is now citing as critical preconditions were raised by the party in December. Sinn Féin pulled the Government down and walked out, and it is now setting new preconditions for the formation of a Government. The DUP, the Ulster Unionists, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party—the other parties eligible for Government—would set the Government up tomorrow, but Sinn Féin is blocking it. The Secretary of State is perfectly right to come to the House, as we have urged him to do, and get the budget set.

We cannot allow the drift to continue. At some point in the very near future, we will need to have Ministers. If they are not Northern Ireland Executive Ministers—we and other parties want them to be, but Sinn Féin is blocking that—they will have to be Ministers from here. They will have to take decisions, because we cannot allow the economy or Northern Ireland to drift. We will work with them in this place to ensure that the good governance of Northern Ireland continues, alongside Northern Ireland politicians in a consultative role back home at Stormont.

Let us get on with the job of removing the new preconditions and demands that Sinn Féin has set out since December. Let us get on with the job of governing Northern Ireland from Stormont. If that is not possible, we must get on with the job from here, in consultation with our politicians back home.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:26 p.m.

I support the right hon. Gentleman’s message about the need for Northern Ireland to get on with the job and the need to restore devolved Government. He makes several points about how that can be done. His party is closely involved in the negotiations with Sinn Féin, and in the work that has been done and the efforts that have been made to restore devolution. I say again that that has to be the focus. The optimum outcome is to have a functioning locally elected Assembly and Executive serving the people of Northern Ireland.

I encourage the right hon. Gentleman and his party to continue the efforts that they have made over an extended period to find the way forward, look for a space of agreement and provide a sense of stability for Northern Ireland. We all want agreement to be reached to make it possible to deal with public services, deal with the economy and encourage jobs and growth. The public in Northern Ireland want that service and positive movement. I underline the fact that we must all have that resolute focus in our minds in the weeks ahead and work to achieve that outcome, so that decision making can progress in Northern Ireland.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:28 p.m.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his pragmatic, diplomatic and calm approach to the negotiations, and I commend the Prime Minister for placing trust in him and getting involved when required to assist in getting the process under way. Will he confirm that he will cease this legislation immediately the parties agree to form an Assembly and a proper devolved Government in Northern Ireland; and that while he has the powers in the legislation, he will take input from the Northern Ireland parties to ensure that spending decisions are made in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:29 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the point that he has made. As I indicated in my statement, should an agreement be reached that enables an Executive to be put in place quickly—however unlikely that is—I would obviously not want to introduce the budget Bill. There are important steps that we have to take, however. The civil service has underlined to us that the end of November is a crucial time, by which they need the budget to be in place. That is why I am taking the steps that I have outlined today. This is not about the UK Government setting the spending priorities; that remains firmly with the Northern Ireland civil service, which will continue to get on with that job, as it has done over recent months. That is why I have made the point that this is not about direct rule or UK Government Ministers setting the individual priorities. It is important to resolve the issue quickly for all the reasons we have heard today, and that is where our earnest focus must lie.

David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard

As one of the last direct rule Ministers, may I tell the Secretary of State that however engaging it is for those involved, direct rule is not a good form of government? I wish him well in re-establishing the Assembly in Northern Ireland. Will he indicate how the extra money agreed between the DUP and the Government is involved, and whether it is part of the budget settlement? If I were to table parliamentary questions about the details of the budget after it has been agreed, would he answer those questions, or will he find another mechanism of accountability?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:30 p.m.

I acknowledge the presentation that the right hon. Gentleman, with the experience of his role in Northern Ireland, makes about the challenges and the fact that this is not the outcome we want. As we have made clear throughout the process, the budget Bill speaks to the main estimates that were put in place earlier this year. We are operating within that framework. It is open to the House to vote, through supplementary estimates, for further moneys to be made available to Northern Ireland during the course of the financial year; and votes in this House obviously matter. As a Government, we stand by our commitments, and as a party, we stand by the agreement reached with the Democratic Unionist party, and nothing I have said today changes that.

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:31 p.m.

I want to place on the record my thanks to the Secretary of State and his team for coming to the House to set out the current position, and for being so helpful in his answers. For the benefit of my residents in Aldridge-Brownhills and I am sure those elsewhere, will he set out the extent to which he and his team, as well as civil servants and the Prime Minister, have undertaken work and made commitments to try to find a way through what is clearly a very difficult situation?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:32 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining the work—the hours and days that have gone into supporting the parties—that so many people have done. We as a Government have made an absolute commitment to a positive outcome and a resolution. That has involved working closely with all the parties in seeking to reach a solution, by providing ways in which they can consider how to bridge the gaps between them. We will continue to do so because this matters so much. As I have said, we have made the utmost commitment to restoring the devolved Government and seeing them get on with the job at hand, and we will certainly continue with that work.

Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:32 p.m.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. We are of course disappointed that we do not have a devolved Government in Northern Ireland, because that has an impact on my constituents every day. I say to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who represents the Scottish National party, that we are quite capable of reflecting what happens in Northern Ireland. I have been a Member of Parliament for 20 years, and I think I have acquired a little knowledge of how Northern Ireland works, which I would bring to the House if we had direct rule.

May I tell the Secretary of State that the armed forces covenant is very important to us? It is part of the negotiations, and our agreement with the Government includes its full implementation in Northern Ireland. There will be no outcome that does not see the armed forces covenant provide for the servicemen and women, the veterans and families from Northern Ireland who have served this country. We look to the Government to support us in securing such an outcome.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I pay tribute to the armed forces for the incredible work they do for us every day. As a Government, we have underlined our commitment to the military covenant, and we want it to cover all parts of the United Kingdom. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that that has involved, for example, my attendance last week at a cross-departmental group—Ministers from across Whitehall coming together—to assess progress. We want the important benefits of the military covenant to be felt in all parts of the United Kingdom. Yes, we must recognise the differences across the UK in how the covenant is delivered, but we none the less accept its significance.

Mr Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD) - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:32 p.m.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement. Notice of a full minute might have been helpful, but the 50 seconds we got was useful. I quite understand if the usual channels were slightly preoccupied with other matters within the Government this morning.

I remember the last time we had direct rule from this place, and it was a thoroughly unsatisfactory way of doing business both for the people of Northern Ireland and for the procedures of this House. The Secretary of State is right to do anything he can to avoid that. Has he considered the proposal from my noble Friend Lord Alderdice that, notwithstanding the absence of an Executive, the Assembly might be reconvened as a body to which matters could be referred and which Ministers here could consult as they go about the business of the administering they will have to do?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:35 p.m.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about what the outcome needs to be. I know that he earnestly wishes to see, as I do, the restoration of an inclusive, functioning devolved Government. He points to other scenarios and solutions, but I would say to him that our focus must be on how to get an agreement. That must be the priority. I know other points have been made about different structural or constitutional ways in which Northern Ireland could operate, but it is important to focus on supporting the parties at this time. I will obviously continue to reflect on a range of points that have been made to me, but it is important to keep the focus on that at this time. However, I note the points that he and others have made in recent weeks.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab) - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 11:04 a.m.

Does the Secretary of State understand the frustration—indeed, the cynicism—felt by people in Northern Ireland about the word “deadline”? As a result of the changing deadlines, the word really does not mean anything. Is it not time that when Governments set deadlines, they should actually mean something? We have had nine months of parties having discussions and there has been no change, so what magic wand does he think will make any difference in the next few weeks, given that one party is quite happy to go back into the Assembly right away, and another is making ridiculous demands that it was not making when the Assembly fell?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
2 Nov 2017, 12:37 p.m.

Do you know what, Mr Deputy Speaker? I certainly do hear the frustration and cynicism among the public in Northern Ireland that the hon. Lady will have heard. They want to see a Government just getting on with the job of serving them. I do hear that, and I know there is huge frustration—I sense there is frustration on both sides of the House—at being in this position.

We could take steps towards saying, in essence, “Okay, we will move straight to direct rule,” or something similar, but I profoundly think that that is not the right way to approach this issue. Ultimately, this is about seeking space within which the parties can reach an accommodation and an agreement. Yes, this is difficult. For all the time that all those involved have spent on this, it has been hugely challenging to bridge the gaps. Doing so still remains possible, but it is certainly difficult.

We will continue to keep available to us a range of options for supporting the process and galvanising the parties to achieve the positive outcome that we all earnestly want. Equally, the hon. Lady rightly makes the point that this cannot just continue—I hear that message from the House very clearly—and there is a need for Northern Ireland to be able to make decisions. It is worth all of us putting in all our efforts to see whether we can get a positive solution so that the parties are able to find a space in which to work together and get on with the job. I encourage everyone with any influence to get behind that work.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) -