Northern Ireland Budget Bill

Part of Miscellaneous – in the House of Commons at 8:57 pm on 13th November 2017.

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Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 8:57 pm, 13th November 2017

Time is short tonight, Madam Deputy Speaker. There are things that I could say, and there are things that I would be happy to say, but the tugging on the back of my coat from my hon. Friend Owen Smith cannot be denied.

Deidre Brock put her finger on it when she talked about hospitals and schools—and I hardly even need to mention the parlous state of the A5. There are things that need to be done, and we should get on with dealing with them. I think everybody accepts that. Nigel Mills rather succinctly described what we are doing this evening as the “least worst option”. Not for the first time, he has discovered les mots justes, and I congratulate him on that.

In a typical contribution, Sammy Wilson stunned the Chamber, as he always does. He seemed to imply that we had lingered too long before introducing any legislation. We have already used section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 twice: once to passport 75% of the budget and then, in July, to passport 95% of it, so things have happened. He also implied—in a way that was untypically provocative for the gentle hon. Gentleman—that somehow the Labour party was not in favour of increased public spending. We are in favour of increased public spending across the board. We want it in Wales, we want it in Scotland, we want it in England, we want it in Ealing and we want it in Northern Ireland. We are in favour of increased public spending; we are just not in favour of bespoke public spending.

If I may say so, Alan Mak spoke powerfully against the idea of direct rule, and he spoke with cogency and brevity. I would like to say the same about Jim Shannon—I really would—but, not for the first time, the emotion, the power and the strength of his commitment to his constituency and his part of the United Kingdom forced him to expand further and extrapolate more than he probably wanted to do initially. However, his exegesis on this theme was welcomed by us all. I have never spent a few hours listening to him and regretted them.

The hon. Gentleman said that, after all, what we have is not “what the people want”, and I think that is so important. Not for the first time, my friend quite rightly put his finger on it by saying that this is not what the people want. Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson also cogently said that we cannot continue with this impasse, and how right he was.

I must say that the final speech, from the hon. Member for North Antrim, was statesmanlike and powerful. I hope he will not resent my saying so. He used the metaphor of a train leaving the station, which for many of us had echoes of Michael Collins and Lloyd George, but the trouble is that the train is not moving: it is stuck in the sidings and is not going anywhere at present. I would like to see the train moving, with all of us aboard that freedom train, but in the meantime, we have to inject the financial lubrication necessary to keep the wheels turning, and that is what we are doing tonight.

The Opposition will not oppose the Bill. Reluctantly, we will support this sensible measure, which keeps the show on the road, but we look forward to a devolved Assembly and a reconstituted Executive. I think that is something that every right hon. and hon. Member in this Chamber wants to see as soon as possible.