May I begin—I think the whole House will be united on this at least—by condemning the sectarian violence over the weekend in Derry/Londonderry? This has no place in Northern Ireland today. We thought that we had turned our back on that kind of activity.
Let me make it clear from the outset that, although the process of delivering this budget legislation is perhaps an extraordinary one, we certainly do not intend to stand in its way, but we have to raise questions about the nature of the legislation. There is no doubt that bringing forward this budget is a political decision, and it needs to be made crystal clear—I hope both the Secretary of State and the Minister in replying will do so—that this is not part of creeping direct rule. It is important that we establish the point that this is not part of creeping direct rule.
This is a truncated debate and scrutiny is, by its nature, limited. Were we to do the budgetary process for the United Kingdom in this way, the House would quite rightly be incensed. I accept the Secretary of State’s comment that this almost the last possible time such a budget can be delivered and that it is time-sensitive. However, in that context, the Secretary of State has already referred to consulting the various parties, and Ian Paisley has raised a decision that the Secretary of State has made. It is important to record how that consultation took place. In particular, at what point did she consult all the five major political parties—the Assembly parties—because that is an important test of the legitimacy of the decisions within the budget?