Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:12 pm on 24th October 2018.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 1:12 pm, 24th October 2018

I was just about to say that I have published a draft copy of the guidance and placed it in the Library of the House so that hon. and right hon. Members can have a clear sense of what it seeks to do. The important point is that throughout my period as Secretary of State—I put on record how supportive the hon. Gentleman was when he was my opposite number of the need to make legislative changes on limited occasions in this House for the essential running of public services—when we in this House have taken decisions and passed legislation, we have been very clear that what we are not doing is changing policy. Policy and legislation cannot be changed by anything in this Bill. It is about allowing civil servants to make decisions that have been part of a policy that has previously been agreed. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks at the draft guidance in the Library, and says if he has any suggestions for how the guidance could be strengthened or improved to help civil servants.

I want to be clear: civil servants in Northern Ireland Departments have acted in an exemplary fashion. They have behaved without political cover and without an Executive or Ministers in a way that we should all commend. They have enabled public services in Northern Ireland to continue to be run, and the people of Northern Ireland are continuing to receive their public services. Significant reform is needed in many public services, but this is not about policy decisions on reform. It is about enabling those public services to continue, because the best way to change policy and law in Northern Ireland is for Ministers to be in Stormont making those decisions on behalf of the people who elected them.