Northern Ireland Assembly

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 19th January 2005.

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office

The cost of maintaining the Northern Ireland Assembly since suspension in October 2002 until 31 December 2004 has been £53.5 million. That comprises £23.2 million for costs relating to Members and political parties, £20.2 million for costs relating to Assembly staff, and £10.1 million for property, accommodation and business service costs.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Can the Minister explain the moral justification for continuing to squander £2 million per month on a phantom Assembly at Stormont?

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office

It is important to recognise that the Assembly machinery must be maintained for when devolution is restored. As a Government we carefully monitor the situation. The number of Assembly staff has been reduced from 403 to 292, and about 40 per cent. of those have been fully or partially redeployed. We have saved about £15 million during the present financial year by allowing staff to go to work for other departments. We will continue to keep these matters under review.

Photo of David Burnside David Burnside UUP, South Antrim

Rather than continuing the phantom, empty, inoperative Assembly, should not the Government move ahead and give us accountable government by speeding up local government reform, getting rid of the health and education quangos and giving us a tier of local administration on top of Government, similar to the way in which England and Wales are governed?

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office

I agree that it is important that we move forward with the review of public administration, which the people of Northern Ireland clearly want to see. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have been having discussions with a range of political parties during recent months, and I will continue to do so. We are just finishing some work on local identity, and I hope to have a firm proposals paper ready for consultation either at the end of February or early in March, which I hope will fully address the issues that he rightly raised.