Northern Ireland Budget (No. 2) Bill

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 9th July 2018.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 6:15 pm, 9th July 2018

I am grateful to the Secretary of State, but there is a difficult question about the capacity of the Northern Ireland civil service to make decisions. The Court ruled in the case of a controversial planning decision that is no longer deemed to be legitimate unless there is a further appeal by whomsoever, but this goes way beyond that case, as Northern Ireland Members have said. We need certainty about how money can be spent, what budgetary headings in the Bill can be transformed into practical decisions and whether the civil service has the capacity to make those decisions.

This is not an abstract, theoretical game. It will be a day-to-day game with the possibility of judicial review taking place on any and every occasion. We need certainty. In the mini-budget in March, the Secretary of State talked about seeking legal advice on how the money can be spent, but we need early certainty on the public record so that civil servants know what their capacity is. Beyond civil servants, we need certainty so that the people of Northern Ireland know how their money can be spent, because difficult and time-sensitive issues are looming.

Jim Shannon has mentioned the north-south connector on many occasions. The decision in principle has already been taken, so in one sense that ought to be a relatively easy decision, but providing the moneys to make the connector work requires decision making by individuals or a structure that cannot subsequently be challenged in the courts. That is enormously important.

I join the hon. Members for North Down (Lady Hermon) and for North Antrim and Nigel Dodds in their challenge to the Secretary of State on the role of the PSNI. All other things being equal, our country will leave the European Union on 29 March. In her statement earlier, the Prime Minister said that a range of possibilities were being considered, including a no deal outcome. The PSNI Chief Constable has made it clear that that no deal outcome would require further staffing—a serious increase in numbers. I can assure the Secretary of State that that is time-sensitive because it is not possible, even between now and the end of March, to recruit and train 300 new members of the PSNI. It is important to recognise that. It is time-sensitive and, actually, the time is already long overdue.