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Devolution and Growth Across Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:01 pm on 3rd June 2015.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education) 6:01 pm, 3rd June 2015

It is jeopardised by some actions of the coalition partners, and I want to get a commitment from the Government on that issue.

In my experience over the past five years, when a case has been made for additional powers for devolved government, the Government have responded. We have seen the limited devolution of air passenger duty to the Northern Ireland Executive; the promised devolution of corporation tax, which my hon. Friend says is now being put in jeopardy; the exemption from the carbon price floor because of the structure of our energy market; flexibility over budget spending; and carry-forward powers. All those things have been good, positive ways in which the Government have responded in the past. I look forward to working with them, given the commitment shown in the Queen’s Speech.

During the election, we presented our Northern Ireland economic plan. It includes a range of measures, some of which require additional spending, changes in legislation and co-operation between central Government and the devolved Government, but they are all designed to help Northern Ireland reduce its dependency on the public sector, grow the local economy and increase the private sector. I look forward to working with the Government in implementing those plans and testing their commitment to using devolution to promote uniform growth across the United Kingdom.

Although some central Government policies might make sense in the wider UK context, they have a disproportionate impact on parts of the economy that, because of our structural differences, the historical difficulties we have experienced and our geographical disadvantage, are not robust or that are different and therefore require different treatment.

I am interested in the promise in the Gracious Speech to introduce legislation to give effect to the Stormont House agreement in Northern Ireland. It is a very important agreement because it is about not just implementing welfare reform, but devolving corporation tax and giving the Northern Ireland Executive the power to borrow in order to effect structural changes in the public sector. It is also about getting additional funding for infrastructure developments and the ability to pay off previous loans by having flexibility in our spending arrangements.

A lot is at stake with the Stormont House agreement, and yet it has been put in jeopardy by the refusal of the Social Democratic and Labour party and Sinn Féin to implement one important aspect of it, namely welfare reform. Despite the fact that, in an Assembly vote, the vast majority of Members voted to put through the agreement and welfare reform part of it, because of our constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland and the requirement for a cross-community vote, it has been blocked. As a result, not only have many of the important things that would have been available to the devolved Government been stopped, but we have a hole in this year’s budget of more than £600 million—or 6% of the budget—which is fiscally impossible to repair at this time.

If the situation persists, there is one power that the Government must bring back to this House. It will disadvantage the people of Northern Ireland because the concessions will be lost, but we cannot afford for welfare reform to be a blockage to all the other changes. Although we are talking about devolving more powers, if parties persistently refuse to implement the welfare reform package—which I suspect most Members of this House would be jealous of because of the concessions Northern Ireland has been given—I appeal to the Government to take that power back.