Bill of Rights

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 10th July 2013.

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Photo of David Anderson David Anderson Labour, Blaydon 11:30 am, 10th July 2013

What her policy is on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Government would like to see the issue resolved on the basis of consensus among the parties in Northern Ireland, and we remain open to taking whatever action might be required should there be such a consensus.

Photo of David Anderson David Anderson Labour, Blaydon

The Minister is aware, as is everybody in the House, that a Bill of Rights was an integral part of the 1998 Belfast agreement. We have waited 15 years for it. How much longer must we wait while people cannot make their minds up? Surely the Government have a responsibility to ensure that this moves forward and should not just pass the buck on to people in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I do not think anybody in Northern Ireland or in the House would say that the matter has not had an awful lot of attention in the past 15 years. The previous Government were unable to find a solution. I understand the problems that they had, and people have to understand the problems that we have. We need a consensus, and then we can move on. Until we get consensus, we cannot do that.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

At a time when newts and bats can stop a multi-million-pound planning application, will the Minister explain to me and the House how pursuing a Bill of Rights that does not address the basic right of an unborn child can possibly be value for money, and why it should be high on anybody’s priority list?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I respect the hon. Gentleman’s views, but he has just explained exactly why the Bill of Rights has taken 15 years and there is a lot of work still to come on it.

Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Given that an Ipsos MORI poll showed that 80% of the supporters of the main political parties in Northern Ireland were in favour of the introduction of the Bill of Rights, will the Minister outline how the Government will use that level of consensus to bring forward a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland to reflect all the protections that are needed and the need for the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Eighty per cent. is not a consensus, and it leaves 20% of the population of Northern Ireland that are not yet in agreement. If they can get together and form an agreement, we can move on.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

The Minister will be well aware that under the terms of the Belfast agreement, any future Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is supposed to deal with issues particular to Northern Ireland. Since parading is particular to Northern Ireland, what steps are the Northern Ireland Office, the Secretary of State and the Minister taking to ensure that the right to parade is guaranteed in any future Bill of Rights?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Secretary of State and I have had a lot of discussions on the matter, but the Parades Commission is an independent body and we have to accept its legal decisions. We may not all agree with a decision, but it must be adhered to.