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Northern Ireland Executive Formation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:25 am on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 11:25 am, 16th January 2020

I thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of his statement. I also want to thank him for the work that he has personally put in to ensure that we now have the restoration of Stormont. His place in the history books will be assured on that basis. I join him in acknowledging the role of the many others that he has name-checked this morning, and on behalf of the Opposition I thank all those involved. We now have an opportunity to examine what the deal offers. Undoubtedly, the major gain is that we now have a functioning Executive and Assembly once again in Northern Ireland. That matters enormously to the people of Northern Ireland, the people of the United Kingdom and the whole of the island of Ireland. I should also place on record our acknowledgement of the important role played by the Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, the Irish Foreign Minister.

I shall turn now to the details of the Secretary of State’s statement and more generally to the restoration of the Executive and the work he has in front of him. Will he give us absolute clarity on the case of Emma De Souza and her husband Jake de Souza, who have campaigned hard for the right to be able to live together in this country of ours? She is an Irish citizen living in Northern Ireland. I think that the words in the documents are clear, but it would be unremittingly good news if the Secretary of State could clarify that that situation will be resolved. I think that that is what he said, but it would be helpful if he could place on record the names of those two individuals and how this will affect them.

The document rightly makes reference to the Stormont House agreement. The Secretary of State will know that, 21 years on from the Good Friday agreement, many of the victims and their families are still looking for justice and knowledge of what happened to their loved ones, whether they were murdered by terrorists or even, in some cases, by the forces of the Crown, because that possibility does exist. The Stormont House agreement ensured that there would be a historical investigations unit, and that was an important commitment, but will the Secretary of State put it beyond doubt that he has confidence in the capacity of our police to investigate this, and in the independence of our prosecution services and our judiciary, to ensure that the Stormont House process can be completed in a way that will give satisfaction, as far as we ever can do, to the families and victims of the tragedy that took place in Northern Ireland all those years ago?

I shall now turn to the contentious issue of finance. I applaud the Secretary of State and the Tánaiste for standing in front of Stormont with this document. As the Secretary of State has told us this morning, the two of them tabled a draft text to all parties. There is no doubt that the document is now owned by the Executive and the Assembly, but it is also owned by the UK Government, and the Secretary of State and this Government—the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in particular—must accept the important but challenging programme of work within it. The Prime Minister, who rightly went to Belfast to celebrate the return of the Executive, is party to the ambitions of the document, but he is also party to the need to make proper finances available.

My first question for the Secretary of State relates to the hopefully soon-to-be-concluded nurses’ pay parity dispute. While he said that £200 million will be made available—a lot of money in a health context—the reality is that the cost of providing pay parity and the cost for equivalent awards for other professions in the Northern Ireland health and social care sector is likely to be £200 million on an annual basis, not as a one-off. The package must be properly funded if we are to ensure that we can begin to see a narrowing of the disparity in pay in healthcare between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

More generally, there is a real issue about the funding of the whole package. The moneys that the Government have made available so far will simply not be adequate for this ambitious document which, I repeat, is owned by the United Kingdom Government just as much as it is by the Northern Ireland Executive. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have written a joint letter to the Prime Minister making the point that the money is not adequate. Finance Minister Conor Murphy also told me that he is working things through to discover the real financial consequences of the document, and they will be significantly more than the moneys the Government have made available.

This is a really important moment in the history of our two islands. The Secretary of State deserves enormous credit for the restoration of the Executive, but the process cannot now be frustrated by a penny-pinching attitude from a Chancellor and a Prime Minister who will not accept the consequences. I say directly to the Secretary of State that he has to do better. He must go back to other Ministers and say, “We now need to see the resources made available.”