As part of the world’s sixth largest economy, Northern Ireland benefits from sharing resources to fund public spending on defence, education and health, and from access to the UK’s unique international networks. It also benefits from the Government’s UK-wide policies, including recent increases in the national living wage and the personal allowance. As Conservatives and Unionists, we should always support the Union and Northern Ireland’s place within it.
In an interview on Radio Ulster this morning, I reiterated our unwavering commitment to Ulster from the Tory Back Benches. I trust that the Minister agrees that, despite the DUP’s initial reservations about the withdrawal agreement, they will hopefully realise that it is in all our interests for it to be passed as soon as possible.
I do agree with my hon. Friend. I think it is clear that this deal safeguards Northern Ireland’s place in the customs territory of the UK, safeguards the principle of consent, and safeguards the right of the Northern Ireland Assembly to opt out of future arrangements if it chooses. It absolutely safeguards Northern Ireland’s constitutional position as part of the United Kingdom.
One of the hallmarks of this United Kingdom is fairness and justice for people who have been victims, wherever they have suffered abuse, but today the victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland feel very frustrated and angry about the fact that because an election has been called, the Bill that was designed to address that issue and provide compensation will not now proceed. Can the Minister please indicate, even at this late stage, that it will be allowed to proceed?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to this issue. Time is of the essence when it comes to the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill, and we will do all we can to ensure that it is passed before the general election: my Secretary of State has made that clear. No decision has yet been made about the Bill prior to the dissolution of Parliament, but we will do everything possible to take it forward.
I must press the Minister on this issue. We have literally only a few days and hours left. Surely the Minister can give a more definitive explanation. Surely he can give a definitive commitment that, on this issue, he will step forward. There is cross-party support here in the House, and there is cross-community support in Northern Ireland. Please, please get on with it.
I absolutely recognise the urgency of the matter. Earlier this week, the Secretary of State stated publicly that in order to speed up the delivery of redress mechanisms, he had tasked officials in the Department to work at pace with the Executive Office, and to begin preparations for the scheme once it becomes law. Those preparations will continue, and we will also provide whatever support is needed to assist the Northern Ireland civil service to ensure that victims are paid as rapidly as possible. However, I recognise that this is a question for the House, and we will work with the usual channels to see what we can do on that front as well.
It would be remiss of me not to recognise the ending of the place on the Front Bench of the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Mr Hurd, as well as that of my hon. Friend Stephen Pound, who will be sadly missed on our side of the Chamber and, I believe, on the other side as well.
As Nigel Dodds has said, it is absolutely intolerable that victims of institutional abuse, who had been led to believe that legislation would pass through this House imminently, now face the prospect of the Leader of the House and the business managers frustrating their simple call for justice, even though the Secretary of State, the Opposition and the Democratic Unionist party want that legislation. Will the Minister ensure that he talks to the Leader of the House and demands that that Bill be brought forward before Parliament is prorogued?
It is clear that we have agreement across the House on how important this issue is, and we are doing everything we can to move forward on it. I will certainly have those conversations, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also have those conversations with the usual channels on his side of the House.