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I welcome the Minister to what I believe is one of his first outings on the Front Bench. I understand that he has other territorial responsibilities. We are not unfamiliar with double-jobbing in Northern Ireland, but I think that if anyone can do it, he can, and he is very welcome.
It is not usually the convention for the Opposition to speak last, but on this occasion I felt it was appropriate. I thought that we should hear the Northern Irish voices first, and I thank Lady Hermon, Jim Shannon, Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson and Gavin Robinson—but how much better would it be if those Northern Irish voices were resonating in the halls of Stormont rather than in this building. This is a bittersweet occasion. On the one hand, thank heavens, we have finally got round to making these appointments, particularly the Queen’s Counsel appointments, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Belfast East. On the other hand, I feel shame for our politics in this United Kingdom that we in this House are having to consider matters that are so utterly and totally the business of Northern Ireland.
We heard about many of the positions that have finally been filled, but others were not mentioned, including the
“Member of the Drainage Council for Northern Ireland”.
Why are we here, in this Chamber, discussing an appointment to the Drainage Council of Northern Ireland? No doubt it is an important position—unbelievably important—and I am sure that they have been flooded with applications for the post—[Interruption.] I am sorry. I understand that there was a leak earlier on; I do apologise. In all honesty, why on earth are we discussing these matters in the House? I think that it is so inappropriate and so wrong, in so many ways, but it has to be done.
I want to ask a couple of small questions. We were provided with a rather interesting explanatory note, and the impact assessment contains something rather unusual:
“There is no, or no significant, impact on the public sector.”
I am not sure what that means. Is there an impact on the public sector, or is there not an impact on the public sector? If there is no impact, there is no need to mention it. If there is an impact, why say that there is no impact?
I do not want to become involved in dancing on the head of a pin, but I think that we should look at the issue of consultation. The explanatory memorandum tells us that the Northern Ireland Office and the Minister have consulted with political parties in Northern Ireland, but there is no mention of civil society. I think that civil society should have been involved in the consultation, because that would have addressed the impact on the public sector. I should be very interested to know whether it was the case.
However, the main point—the most significant point—of all this is quite simple. While the Opposition support the statutory instrument, as we have supported all previous ministerial appointments legislation, we need to know from the Government what they are doing about the pace and intensity of talks to restore devolution. We would like to hear from the Minister what is happening. Will he outline the ongoing talks process, and will the Secretary of State, at some stage, make a statement?
We should not be undertaking this business here. It is Northern Irish business, which should be settled in Northern Ireland. I do not want to get into the blame game. “The Blame Game” is, as I am sure the House will agree, an excellent television programme on BBC One Northern Ireland, featuring Tim McGarry, Neil Delamere, Colin Murphy and Jake O’Kane; but in this context, the issue is not whose fault it is. The fact remains that we in this House are having to deal with this business tonight, which we should not be doing. It is not fair on the House, but, above all, it is to the shame of our politics, and it is not fair on the people of Northern Ireland. However, let me repeat that we support the statutory instrument.