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Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:08 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 8:08 pm, 8th January 2020

The hon. Member is absolutely right in his demand. The DeSouza case shames us as a society. We ought to resolve the issue not only for that particular couple—I have met them, of course—but more generally. This matters to those who consider themselves to be Irish. It is part of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, and it is something to which every party in this House is committed. We ought to make sure that our obligations are translated into something of practical value to the DeSouza campaign. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.

Health service pay in Northern Ireland has now reached crisis proportions. A hospital porter or cleaner in Northern Ireland, for example, is paid a wage of some £16,943, whereas their comparator in England and Wales is on £17,650, some £700 more—the pay is better again in Scotland. I could go through the situation for healthcare assistants and administrative workers, and it is the same for nurses and paramedics.

The Minister used senior nurses as a reference point. A senior nurse in Scotland, England and Wales is paid £30,401 a year, whereas a senior nurse in Northern Ireland is paid significantly less, £27,772, which cannot be acceptable. I know of nobody who accepts that there is justification for that position. None of the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly accepts that position, and the Opposition do not accept that position. This has to be resolved.

The Minister began by saying that the Secretary of State is in Belfast to try to make sure that the all-party talks come to fruition so that we see the Assembly restored, which is the conclusion we all want to see. If it happens, the Minister can say that the issue will be translated over to the Assembly, as is right and proper. However, I warn him that if the Assembly is not back up and running in a short time, and if we face the possibility of prolonged delay for an election, it will be incumbent upon the Westminster Government to look at the situation. Those nurses, administrative workers, hospital porters and cleaners should not have to wait for an indefinite amount of time in the future, particularly given that, almost uniquely, nurses have gone on strike because of the length of time they have faced this disparity of income and unfairness. It is always convenient for Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office to say, “This really ought to be a devolved issue”, but this is not necessarily a devolved issue. Clearly, if the Assembly is back up and running, there is a strong argument that it should be resolved by the Assembly, as long as the resource base is there for it to make those pay increases. If the Assembly is not up and running, the legal basis exists for this to be delivered by Whitehall and the Westminster Government. I am happy to go through that with the Minister and the Secretary of State in due course. It is important that the signal is given now to people in the health service in Northern Ireland that their long struggle for fairness will shortly come to a conclusion.

I will conclude with one further remark. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Wales became a grandmother this morning. Her grandchild Jesse Kearney has an Irish father and a Welsh mother—a mother from Great Britain. I would like to believe that the Jesse Kearney generation will grow up in a world very different from the one we have at the moment. I hope they will grow up in one where we have a robust Stormont Assembly and system of governance in Northern Ireland, one that allows us to put the history we are talking about tonight, be it the history of violence or the legacy of abuse, so far in the past that a generation can grow up in hope, in a transformed society. That is what this House has to be about, and it is why we cannot have excuses from those on the Treasury Bench or from the parties in Stormont. We now have to see the Secretary of State’s genuine efforts, which I applaud, brought to a conclusion so that Northern Ireland can begin to move forward again with a properly working Assembly, which can begin to deliver the transformation it needs not simply for hospital workers, but for the people of Northern Ireland.