Richard Thomson debates involving the Northern Ireland Office during the 2019 Parliament

Northern Ireland

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Monday 26th February 2024

(1 week, 1 day ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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I have almost lost count of the number of times I have taken to my feet in this Chamber to say that Northern Ireland is governed best when it is governed locally. At last, we can now say that will be the case. No doubt, in terms of the agreement—the settlement that has been reached—there will be imperfections, compromises and asymmetries, and elements that are not for the self-appointed purists. However, there is certainly enough there for the pragmatists to allow for the progress that needs to be made.

Over the course of my time speaking for the Scottish National party on Northern Irish issues, I have had the great pleasure of serving as a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Understandably, much bandwidth in that organisation has been taken up with Brexit and its aftermath, the resulting fallout—and indeed many of the occasional fallings out that have resulted. However, when my committee met in Edinburgh last week, there was a definite change in the tone of conversations outside the formal business. I hope I am not putting words in any Members’ mouths by saying that there was a pleasure, a realism, certainly an optimism, and definitely a realism about recent developments, but the key thing was that nobody was any longer asking about when might Stormont return; rather, it was what would now be done by Stormont to improve the lot of people in Northern Ireland now that it had returned.

Within the agreement, one of the areas that leaps out—I hope that, in time, Ministers will expand on their vision for it—is the East-West Council to deal with matters of business, education and culture across that east-west axis. Even from the perspective of a hard-bitten Scottish nationalist much like myself, that opens up a great deal of useful space potentially to share and develop all that we have in common, all that we continue to have in common, and all that we will have in common and which will endure regardless of wherever our respective constitutional journeys happen to conclude in future.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Part of the engagement that the hon. Gentleman and I have had together was on his visit to my constituency of Strangford, where he had the opportunity to look at joint matters that we could agree on, such as fishing issues including visas for fishermen, and cultural issues. We took him to meet many community groups and other organisations as well. Does he agree that one of the important things for him and I was that, although we have different opinions on the constitution, we can agree on many things?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Yes, when we put the constitution to one side, there are indeed many issues that can be agreed on or worked on together. That is why I find that the space that that council might offer quite compelling. It is certainly something of great interest. Now that politics in Northern Ireland has indeed moved on, it is perhaps time for me to hop once again on the Loganair flight from Aberdeen and perhaps renew some acquaintances.

In the many words we heard throughout the Brexit debate on where Northern Ireland found itself snagged, we often heard a rather boilerplate expression about a “precious Union”. That struck my ears. Those words were easy—perhaps too easy at times—for many in this place to pay lip service to without actually following through on them in practice. Sometimes it is easy to say things, but it is much harder to reflect. It seemed to us that the desire for a particular form of Brexit—favoured only by a small minority hiding behind a small majority in one part of the Union—was given primacy and priority, and was allowed to prevail over the clear wishes of other constituent parts of the Union. For many, however they voted in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, that reopened that debate and encouraged them to reappraise the position that they might have taken at that time.

I can certainly understand why the Humble Address before us is worded in this manner. The key word that the Minister has, in effect, conceded was implied but left unspoken was consent, where it applies to the executive power being vested in His Majesty. That is interesting to me for a number of reasons. Union by consent is how many of us in Scotland understand our position in the Union to work. But unlike Northern Ireland, we have nothing similar in statute to the wording of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, explaining what happens if a majority of those voting in Scotland were to express a wish to cease to be part of the UK. I would contend that in all parts of the Union there should be a way to demonstrate how consent has been withdrawn by the people, if it is being withdrawn. Following the events of the last few days, just like this Parliament, maintaining that consent will be judged by how the institution of the Union treats its minorities and is seen to act with integrity in all that it does.

In conclusion, we on the SNP Benches wish the people of Northern Ireland and their institutions well. We look forward to seeing their politicians and those institutions playing a full role in those bodies, be they north, south, east or west, and to seeing the Good Friday agreement move forward in all its strands, as we always hoped it would, to allow a peaceful, prosperous Northern Ireland to continue to come to terms with its past and be at ease in building its shared future, whatever its people decide that future ought to look like.

United Kingdom Internal Market

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Thursday 1st February 2024

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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We on the SNP Benches start from the principle that the fewer impediments there are to trade between all parts of the UK, and between the UK and the EU, the better. That is something that clearly took a step backwards with Brexit, so we very much welcome the fact that the Northern Ireland situation at least has been largely addressed by the regulations before us, which we will support. With that dual market access, Northern Ireland will clearly now enjoy a highly advantageous situation relative to other parts of the UK, and although we very much support this SI, my hope is that in time the people of England, Wales and Scotland will wish to rediscover that advantageous situation for themselves, and ultimately render the content of this SI obsolete.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to miss the opportunity to tweak the Minister’s tail slightly, given that he says he is an enthusiast for democratic self-determination—so am I, and I look forward to a similar stout defence from the Minister of that right to democratic self-determination in other parts of the Union in the future.

Northern Ireland

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Thursday 1st February 2024

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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My party and I have never made any secret of our disagreement with Brexit and the manner in which it was delivered. That has certainly caused issues for us in Scotland. However, we broadly welcome the point that matters have reached today. It has been a long road. Having clarity about Northern Ireland’s constitutional status is, I believe, helpful, as indeed is the reaffirmation of the principle of consent, which is the basis on which many of us in Scotland, not just in Northern Ireland, understand the Union of which we are, willingly or otherwise, a part.

The manner in which Brexit has come about has, as I say, caused issues in Scotland. It has placed our own constitutional question back at the forefront and under renewed scrutiny, but despite the tensions that that has released, or brought about, politically, I hope that my party and I have been able to understand and empathise with some of the concerns of people in Northern Ireland, and not just over the way in which Brexit, as originally constituted, threatened to undermine the basis on which peace and progress had been secured over the previous quarter century.

I hope that my party and I have also been able to understand and reflect on the fact that aspects of the protocol have left Unionists in Northern Ireland in particular feeling that they have been in some way separated, or set on a course of being separated, from the UK. In that regard, as I have said on a number of occasions, we never considered it unreasonable in and of itself, in the light of experience, that the UK Government should seek to renegotiate, or to rework, aspects of the deal that had been put in place.

Although there were certainly opportunities to recast a deal which, I would argue, could have worked better in the interests of all parts of the UK—I would highlight sanitary and phytosanitary alignments as being essential to that—and while I regret that those options have not been pursued today, I do not begrudge Northern Ireland a single aspect of what has been agreed in recent days or what appears in the statutory instruments.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell
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The hon. Gentleman says that he does not begrudge us the achievement of some of the objectives that we set out to achieve. Does he agree that one of the advantages that we have and Scotland does not have is a 300-mile unclosable land border that makes virtual accommodation with access to the Irish Republic and onwards into the wider EU market almost impossible to prevent?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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The border is certainly a complex one to try to police, and that has been at the forefront of many of the discussions. By contrast, we have what would be a very straightforward border between Scotland and England were it ever to take on international significance.

There appears to be something of a contradiction, in that Northern Ireland cannot conform to the requirements of the single market to maintain access there, and also the UK internal market, in the event of a future divergence. That brings to mind paragraph 146 of the Command Paper, which provides that

“the Government will legislate to require that a Minister in charge…must assess whether or not”

something

“has an impact on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland”

and make statements.

That contrasts with new section 38A (1) of the SI, which states:

“His Majesty’s Government must not ratify a Northern Ireland-related agreement with the European Union that would create a new regulatory border”.

A Minister might lay a statement before Parliament to that effect, but that does not mean that the Minister’s opinion will necessarily be shared, or make the statement any less subjective. Ministers might be capable of thinking six impossible things before breakfast, and indeed at times during the Brexit debate it seemed that that was a necessary qualification for office. Nevertheless, I would be grateful if the Secretary of State, in summing up the debate, could clarify how any such dispute might ultimately be determined and resolved.

With these publications, we appear to have reached something of a conclusion. It has been a thoroughly exhausting process, which has occupied talents and energies—not just in the Government and Parliament here, but across swathes of public life in Northern Ireland and beyond—that could, I believe, have been directed more productively. Much work has built up in the absence of an Assembly, but hopefully these provisions will allow for all the political mechanisms to bring the Assembly back. It is important for that to happen because a peaceful, prosperous Northern Ireland, at ease with itself, in control of its future and able to be respectful of all shades of opinion, is manifestly in the interests of all people in all these islands. To the extent that the statutory instruments pave a way towards restoring that state of affairs, we support them.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Northern Ireland Executive Formation

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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Can I just say on behalf of my party that we very much welcome the progress that has been made? We are firmly of the view that Northern Ireland is governed best when it is governed locally, and we welcome the publication of the Command Paper.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the distance that has been travelled by all parties in getting to this point, but we were brought to this point by a failure of politics around the manner in which the UK chose to leave the European Union. Now that the politics has moved on, it is time for the politicians in Northern Ireland to step up, and we wish the MLAs well in that endeavour and look forward to seeing the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister taking office in what will be a very significant moment in history for all in these islands.

The Secretary of State describes his party as being the party of the Union, and I say to him that it has not gone unnoticed in other parts of the Union that Northern Ireland has for some time had the offer of a status, in its access to the UK market and to the European market, that other parts of the Union are now deprived of. I am sure that voters will draw their own conclusions from that.

I want to ask two questions. When might the details of any new fiscal framework emerge? While I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the new east-west economic council, can the Secretary of State clarify what role there might be for the other devolved institutions in these islands to make that new council as successful as it possibly can be?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions, his welcome and his help in the past few weeks and months, which has been much appreciated. Again, it has helped us to get to this place. He is right to recognise that Northern Ireland is a special place, and has a special place as the only part of the United Kingdom with a land border with the EU. In the past, that has created disadvantage, but we hope it will create advantage for it in the future. Everyone recognises that; it was recognised in the Windsor framework and, as he will see, in various choices we are making in the Command Paper.

On the fiscal framework, I very much hope that the incoming Northern Ireland Executive and Ministers responsible will work with His Majesty’s Treasury in great detail to make sure that we get that absolutely right. I have never conducted a negotiation with His Majesty’s Treasury in that sort of way, but I imagine that it has quite tight pockets, is very difficult to get hold of and probably would not want ongoing commentary. However, I am sure that it will make the matter as public as it can, when it can. Finally, on the east-west body, it is important that it works with all parts of Great Britain.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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I will begin, as is sadly becoming customary, by saying how much it is a matter of regret that we are back here discussing a postponement to elections. I am very firmly of the view that Northern Ireland is governed best when it is governed locally, and that for the sake of all the people of Northern Ireland we wish to see the Assembly return in early course. Having said all that, however, we see no utility in or prospect of progress being made by holding an election at this point.

There were opportunities last year to reflect on the 25 years of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I remember with great pleasure the special meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Belfast. There were meetings across Stormont itself, and also at Belfast castle, at which those charged with the care of affairs and relationships between our islands and jurisdictions had the opportunity to benefit from the breadth of experience of those who were involved in the peace process, the Good Friday agreement and establishing devolution. As a temporary custodian of that role, I certainly found it incredibly valuable to have that transfusion of knowledge and experience. It was also a tremendous opportunity to reflect on how far all parts of the UK that have experienced devolution over that quarter of a century, particularly Northern Ireland, have advanced and progressed. It also brought into sharp focus how much is missed by Stormont sitting empty at present. I very much share the sentiment of the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) when he speaks about hope being tempered by expectation.

I always very much enjoy the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland, whether in a private capacity or in my role as the SNP spokesperson and, when I can, to engage with businesses, community groups and representatives of wider civic society. I have had much cause to be grateful to elected Members across various parties in Northern Ireland for the opportunities they have given me to do that, for the doors they have opened and for the insights I have gained. What I have observed from many of those visits is the sense of frustration at how politics is presently failing in Northern Ireland. I say politics rather than politicians deliberately, because it is a failure of politics across many strands that has brought us to this point.

We saw that bubble up most obviously with the recent strikes. In the debates we had in this place on the Northern Ireland budget, I highlighted the problems caused, and the potential solutions deferred, by civil servants having to cheesepare budgets within the confines of the ghosts of ministerial decisions past. I remember from my time in local government the frustration of council officers if we were unable to provide any clear political direction about what we wanted to happen. While it was always possible under different circumstances to set balanced budgets, how much better it was to be able to set them in the context of clear political leadership on the choices we wished to make within the resources at our disposal. That is certainly a consideration, because it is impossible to set the strategic budget directions that are needed in Northern Ireland right now in the absence of a working institution at Stormont.

When it comes to public sector pay, the Secretary of State says that using part of the £3.3 billion cash allocation to settle claims ahead of Stormont being reconstituted is a political decision, and therefore not one that he is willing to make. I would just say as gently as I can that deciding not to act is taking a political decision in its own way: the decision not to act is also political. I would join the voices in previous debates—I am sure we will hear them later—urging the Secretary of State to reconsider his stance on that. Public sector workers in Northern Ireland, on whom the brunt of the pressures caused are falling, really do deserve the pay settlements that their counterparts elsewhere in these islands have been able to get.

I mention in passing that it was said that the absence of a functioning Stormont was the reason why the UK Government were unwilling to make progress on providing funding for levelling up. I had a wry chuckle about that given the UK Government’s disinclination to work with the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales. There seems to be a certain amount of cherry-picking in the excuses offered. Punishing the people of Northern Ireland to try to bring to bear some additional political leverage on politicians has not been a conspicuous success so far. Neither do I believe it is an appropriate lever to use where public sector pay is concerned.

As I say, this has been a failure of politics. The fundamental problem that has led us to where we are stems from Brexit and the manner in which successive Governments chose to take that forward—against the express wishes, lest we forget, of clear majorities both in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. Again, I allow myself a wry smile, because during debates about the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 we were told that we would apparently be creating a trade border with the rest of the UK. Yet only two years later we saw the UK Government themselves going hell for leather towards creating a trade border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I remember very much enjoying causing consternation on the Government Benches by pointing out in a Backbench Business debate about the Northern Ireland protocol, perhaps a little indelicately, that if Scotland were once again independent and in the European Union, we would be able to enjoy free trade with Northern Ireland. Neither can currently enjoy that as part of the Union, based on the deals that have been put in place.

In closing, I am very clear what my preferences are for the constitutional future of these islands, but short of that, bringing the UK back into the single market and the customs union would make this problem go away. Accepting that that is not politically realistic, given the stance of the current Government and the aspiring Government, closer alignment, on sanitary and phytosanitary matters especially, would be of enormous benefit, not just to people in Northern Ireland but right across these islands, particularly my constituents—speaking selfishly—and for those involved in agriculture and the food trade. That closer alignment would be much better, because the closer we align, the less significant these issues become, and that would be manifestly in the interests of all of these islands, whatever constitutional future we choose in future.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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I call the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks on the anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings? Our thoughts continue to be with all who are affected by that tragedy to this day.

The UK Government, as we have just heard, are holding back levelling-up funding for Northern Ireland, ostensibly because of the lack of a functioning Executive. However, the UK Government are seemingly content to bypass the views of the Governments in place in Edinburgh and Cardiff in allocating levelling-up funding. Is the point of consistency not about a desire to level up, but just that there is a shortage of Conservative MPs in Northern Ireland who need to shore up their re-election prospects with public cash?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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It is easy to throw out a cheap political line like that, but as the hon. Member has heard me say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) and the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), the reality is that that levelling up money will be spent in Northern Ireland. I can certainly assure him that none of that money has appeared in my marginal seat of Wycombe—even though the whole House will know it is undoubtedly the most deserving and most beautiful constituency in the nation.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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I am well aware that time is limited; you will be pleased to hear, Mr Speaker, that so too is my capacity for repeating arguments that I have made many times previously. My party believes that this Bill is wrong in principle and that in practice it will not achieve the aims that the Secretary of State believes, no doubt with great sincerity, that it will. We will therefore be joining the official Opposition in voting to support the Lords amendments.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
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I am grateful for the contributions made by Opposition Members thus far. A number of comments have been made this afternoon that relate more to Second Reading than to the stage we are at. It should come as no surprise to those in the Chamber to hear that to us this is an irredeemable piece of legislation. Even though we were highlighting in this Chamber on Second Reading and so on the areas where significant flaws were ultimately going to prove fatal to support for this Bill, the Government entrenched themselves. On a number of discrete issues, they committed in this democratically elected Chamber, where they ignored our requests, that they would proceed with such amendments in the Lords. I find that unsatisfactory, although I recognise that my colleagues in the Lords continue to push on those issues. With Lords Dodds principally among them, they have ensured that some of the commitments given have been honoured. However, that does not change the fact that this is a fundamental assault on justice, with the erosion of hope for victims and of the opportunity to get the answers they seek and the outcome they desire. Those things have been snuffed out by a Government who have entrenched themselves, and I greatly regret that.

This afternoon we have an opportunity, with discrete and sensible amendments before us, as the shadow Secretary of State has said. They were tabled by the Labour party in the House of Lords, and were advocated and supported by Members across the other place yesterday afternoon. This is an opportunity for the Government to salvage at least some appropriate involvement for victims, whereby they can have their say and a sense of the outcome that they seek.

A contribution was made yesterday by Lord Eames, and it is worth repeating. He said:

“Yes, there have been attempts to bring the concept of victimhood into the legislation that is proposed, and yes, the Government can claim that they have made efforts, but, in God’s name, I ask your Lordships to consider the overall impetus of what changes have been made to try to recognise the needs of victims and their families, and of those who, in years to come, when they read what has been said, attempted and failed to be produced, will find it incredulous to understand that the Mother of Parliaments has ignored their crying.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 September 2023; Vol. 832, c. 343.]

Those words were worth repeating this afternoon because Lord Eames is somebody who has led the Church of Ireland but is in this Parliament as a peacemaker, and who went through an ill-fated attempt to reconcile issues of legacy in the past, in a consultative report with Denis Bradley in 2009. Within this Parliament and within our society, he is somebody who probably buried more people in Northern Ireland during the troubles than anyone else. When he exhorts in such clear terms that there is an opportunity finally for the Government, at this last gasp, to show some recognition of the pain, trauma, harm and pursuit of justice that victims show, the fact that this Government would not accept it is a great shame.

The list of organisations has been given—it was given by a former Secretary of State, Lord Murphy, yesterday in the House of Lords and by the shadow Secretary of State here today—showing the lack of support for the legislation. We will go through the Lobby this afternoon to register yet again our disappointment at a failed opportunity by this Government, who are more focused on what they can get out of this Bill as they campaign for the forthcoming election than on solving the intractable issues that have plagued our society for so long.

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 6th September 2023

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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The cost of living crisis is clearly continuing to bite hard in Northern Ireland, with footfall at stores across Northern Ireland falling by 5% throughout August. What steps is the Department taking to enable people to take full advantage of the highly privileged economic status and market access that Northern Ireland now has, which this Government have deprived to the rest of the UK?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s use of the term “deprived”, but I am happy to tell him that next week we have the Northern Ireland investment summit. We are determined to attract private sector investment into Northern Ireland and to promote inclusion in that growth. Northern Ireland has a fantastically vibrant economy, and I very much hope that the least well-off will have opportunities through our investment in skills to develop themselves and to secure more better paying jobs in Northern Ireland, so that they can move on.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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I, too, welcome the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) to his new position, and I look forward to working alongside him as we discharge our respective roles in opposition to the Government.

I will begin with the now customary bromide that we all wish we were not here to discuss this, and that all the relevant decisions should be made in Stormont, which should be up and running again, scrutinising a functioning Executive—but the fact is that we are back here, and, as I said on Second Reading and as other Members have also said, this is not a budget in any meaningful sense. It is about the allocation of money and what it can be spent on, but it is devoid of any political steer for the emerging priorities and challenges facing communities in Northern Ireland. It is a hospital pass given to the civil servants who have been left to administer, effectively, a salami-slicing exercise with little more than the guidance that they

“must control and manage expenditure within the limits of the appropriations set out in Budget Acts”.

Even within that total, however, the budget has reduced the overall amount available to departmental budgets in Northern Ireland, which means that funding is heading in the opposite direction not only to the pressures of inflation, but to demand for public services and the pressing need—in a cost of living crisis—to negotiate a fair set of settlements across the public sector. Overall, even with the spending decisions that can lawfully be taken at the moment, Northern Ireland is heading for a budget overspend of about £500 million. Expressed like that, it just sounds like a big number, but it is a big number with enormous consequences, and, as ever, those who will be affected are the most vulnerable groups in society, the least well off, and those who are most dependent on public services.

It is not my intention to go through every line of the budget and all the programmes that will be cut, the services that will be reduced and the areas in which people will simply have to do with less in the absence of decision making. However, it is plain that ministerial decisions are urgently needed for the setting of a budget with the necessary strategic direction, which can provide the clarity that will enable the civil service to work with it and deliver not just sustainable public finances, but sustainable public services.

Let me suggest to Ministers, as gently as I can, that standing back and watching Northern Ireland’s public services suffer with less money, and observing the consequences in communities, is a tactic that will have limited effect if the intention is to drive people back to negotiations. The solution to a non-functioning and non-sitting Stormont clearly lies elsewhere. I do not underestimate the challenge that will eventually face an Executive when one can return, but nevertheless this is not the way to bring about the set of circumstances that we all wish to see. The solution that will enable Stormont to sit once again, and enable an Executive to be formed and to function, self-evidently lies elsewhere, and I urge Ministers to continue to do all that they can—to do more, in fact—to help to bring that about.

Police Service of Northern Ireland: Security and Data Protection Breach

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Monday 4th September 2023

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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I join the Secretary of State in offering my thanks to Simon Byrne for his service. I believe his decision today, however, is the right one. This represented a shocking breach of confidentiality not just in relation to people’s personal data, but a shocking breach in the confidence that PSNI officers and staff can have in the organisation. I pay tribute to the dedicated PSNI officers and staff who daily protect and serve the people of Northern Ireland.

The PSNI, as has been alluded to, is already suffering a crisis of funding and therefore resourcing. The officer complement is lower than it has been in the police service serving Northern Ireland than at any point since 1979. The UK Government pay £30 million a year in additional funding to meet the security challenge, but that funding was inadequate even before the breach and is surely even more inadequate now. Will the Secretary of State be a little clearer on exactly how he will give funding guarantees to the PSNI going forward, because I do not believe this is something where the buck can be passed entirely to those who are currently charged with administering devolved budgets?

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He talks about the additional security funding that the Government put in. The UK Government’s contribution to the financial year 2022-23 is £32 million in this space. The cost implications of the PSNI response are rightly being discussed with the Department of Justice. Any additional asks for funding would come through an established process. While it would not be right for me to pre-empt that, the Government are clear that security is paramount. Our focus remains currently on the asks that have been made of us, which are to provide specialist support and expertise in response to the latest assessment.