Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:13 pm on 24th October 2018.

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Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade) 4:13 pm, 24th October 2018

I will try to be relatively brief, because my hon. Friend Gavin Robinson has made a fantastic speech in which he articulated many of the issues that I wanted to touch on. I am also conscious that my hon. Friend Jim Shannon, who is sitting behind me, is keen to speak and to have sufficient time to articulate his issues, and I do not want to disappoint him in that regard.

I want to talk about the specifics of this legislation. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East in thanking the team at the Northern Ireland Office and the ministerial team for all their work and for the help they have given to me and the Democratic Unionist party team to enable us to understand better the issues in the Bill. They also gave us the space to raise our concerns and issues, some of which I will touch on today.

As already articulated, this Bill is not a perfect solution. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is far from a perfect solution, because it is so limited in what it can actually do and in the powers that it gives to senior civil servants. The context of course is that that is also difficult and troubling, because giving such powers has at its heart a democratic deficit that goes to the centre of British constitutional democracy. I will touch on that again later, not least because it is almost unprecedented in decision making in any part of our United Kingdom.

Throughout the process, from the first suggestion of this approach, the ministerial team in the Northern Ireland Office will be aware that DUP Members have expressed disappointment over the ambition of the proposals. That disappointment arose not because the Secretary of State was keen to ensure that some decisions can happen in Northern Ireland, but because putting Northern Ireland back into a pre-Buick but post-collapse position is insufficient. The legislation gives only limited scope for decision making by senior civil servants, about which the Secretary of State was frank and clear, but I am grateful that there are some exceptions, although they are small, covering planning and big investment decisions when they are non-controversial and enjoy a broad consensus and when decisions are clearly in the public interest. I put it on the record again that I welcome the Secretary of State’s clarity that a decision like that on the transport hub, which is of regional significance and critical to Northern Ireland’s economy, can be made under the terms in the legislation.

However, I share the sentiments of Vicky Ford that it is extremely disappointing that we are where we are. This is not where any of us want to be. I do not want to go into great detail, but it is worth reminding ourselves of how we have reached this point. My DUP colleagues have already articulated our frustration, because we want to get back into government to work and to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. My colleagues who are Members of the Legislative Assembly were elected to do that job, but they cannot. They, like Members of every other party, are frustrated from entering the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive by one party, but one of the frustrating things about the process thus far has been the tendency by many to look at all the parties in Northern Ireland and say, “You’re all as bad as each other. You’re all holding back progress. Why don’t you just get on with it and get back into government?”