Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) (No. 2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:55 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 4:55 pm, 5th March 2019

I welcome the Secretary of State’s hard work over the past several months in trying to resolve the impasse at Stormont. She has worked tirelessly. If I may be ever so slightly critical of Tony Lloyd, I think he is being a little harsh—uncharacteristically —about the efforts of the Government to restart this process and about the Prime Minister’s efforts. I do not particularly appreciate shuttle diplomacy of the sort we have seen in the past—there are other more effective ways of achieving the same end—but he has to accept the extraordinary difficulty that currently pertains in Northern Ireland and the intransigence of some of the actors therein.

Like the Secretary of State, I hope that we restore the Executive in the near future—more in hope than expectation—and I understand why she is behaving as she is in trying to keep the ship on an even keel while trying not to interfere in matters that are properly devolved. It is a dilemma she faces on a daily basis. She well knows that the longer this goes on, the more the people of Northern Ireland suffer and the more their lived experience deteriorates. In that context, I congratulate once again the Northern Ireland civil service and David Sterling. It is important to do that. This is unprecedented, and Northern Ireland should be very proud of its civil service. I also thank and commend the work of the Northern Ireland Office under the strong leadership of Sir Jonathan Stephens. It is often forgotten in this mix, but it has done an excellent job in trying to keep things going.

Clearly, I welcome the Bill, which is largely of a technical nature, but I share the concerns expressed about scrutiny. I am not entirely clear that this measure should be dealt with as an urgent matter, as referred to in paragraph 27 of the guidance notes. It could have been far more elective than that. Scrutiny is important. I accept that the Secretary of State is avoiding at all costs making decisions on important matters relating to Northern Ireland that are properly devolved, but this place has to assume some responsibility for scrutiny of these important matters, and I am not sure we are doing justice to that process.