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Bill of Rights

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 18th May 2011.

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Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen 11:30 am, 18th May 2011

What progress has been made on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, progress on this issue has been difficult in the absence of any agreement within Northern Ireland on how best to proceed. We want to see the issue resolved and we will be taking the views of the new Executive, political parties and others in Northern Ireland on how best to move matters forward.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen

I am grateful for that answer. I want to pay my own tribute to the late David Cairns, who was a fine Minister and a fine man.

With a new Executive and new Assembly in Northern Ireland, and as this issue is a fundamental part of the Good Friday agreement and the political process over the years, will the Minister undertake to try to seek consensus among all the political parties in Northern Ireland as soon as he can?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Secretary of State and I have been very clear. We said we would return to this after the election of the new Assembly, which has now happened. The right hon. Gentleman might not be aware of the commission on a UK Bill of Rights, and the Lord Chancellor has written to the First Minister asking for two people from Northern Ireland to advise on the implications for Northern Ireland. The Executive need to initiate a parallel process to come to some consensus on what specific rights that recognise Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances might look like.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

When members of the United States Congress asked the same question, perhaps not as elegantly as it was phrased by my right hon. Friend Paul Murphy, the Prime Minister replied in a letter that he stood “ready to facilitate agreement”. Will the Minister tell me what steps he and the Secretary of State have taken in the past six months specifically to facilitate this agreement?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

We have talked to a number of people, not least the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, and we are currently advertising for replacements. The Secretary of State and I have been quite frank and have said that we want to return to the issue after the election and to move forward on it, which the hon. Gentleman’s party, I point out gently to him, did not do for 12 years.