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 welcome the Secretary of State’s words. Bringing this to a resolution is important, but as with all things, another round of consultation cannot be an excuse for inaction. It must be a driver so that we see justice in this difficult situation. Of course there are difficult decisions to be taken—I am aware of the different feelings that exist—but as often in such cases, grasping the nettle and saying that there is a way forward gives hope to the overwhelming majority of people who find themselves in that position. It is important that the House gives a clear signal that that can take place outwith Northern Ireland budgetary considerations.

In the same light, the Lord Chief Justice has made a request for a relatively short amount of money for the legacy inquest. Frankly, he has made it clear to me and to others that he would be able to deliver the outcome of the legacy inquests over the next five years if he is given the £5 million he has requested. If he is not given that money, it will take 30 years. Frankly, in 30 years’ time, consideration of the legacy inquest will be nearly irrelevant. Again, this issue is time-sensitive and it is within the Secretary of State’s capacity to begin to deliver on it.

As I said, we are beginning to move towards logjam. It may not yet be a crisis, but a crisis is beginning to emerge, even if only for individuals. We know that any major planning decisions will be scrutinised at the most sensitive level, but that anything controversial will be challenged in the courts. There are many other issues that need to be dealt with. The hon. Member for North Antrim referred to the inability to deliver permanent contracts for senior police officers in the PNSI. The same goes for the prisons ombudsman and many other similar positions.

In normal circumstances, health reform would apply to every constituency in every part of the United Kingdom. Bengoa reported some time ago now. Northern Ireland has the longest waiting lists in the UK, so it is important that we have action on health reform to begin to deliver the healthcare the people of Northern Ireland want and need. This is a wake-up call to everyone to make sure that MLAs get back to work to deliver on that.

On school reform—Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson referred to the situation in schools—we know things that need to be done in the education system are being blocked because of the present constitutional impasse. One issue that is important to individuals is the mitigation of welfare payments. This was negotiated as a result of the Stormont House and Fresh Start processes and is slowly beginning to lapse. It will lapse completely, I think, in 2020, or perhaps a little later. Individuals are already beginning to fall foul of the fact that this has not been renewed. For individuals, this is now a crisis. Members of this House have made it clear that they would prefer issues such as equal marriage and the termination of pregnancies to be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly, but in the end the pressure for action begins to grow on all sides.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, any budget, even by inertia, contains de facto political decisions. I think that the nods of agreement from the Minister and the Secretary of State indicate that they accept this cannot be a signal towards direct rule. Warm words and aspirations are no longer enough. We need action.