Public Services

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at on 8 February 2023.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

What steps his Department is taking to help support public services in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Government are providing the largest funding settlement to the Northern Ireland Executive since devolution through the £15 billion block grant. In the absence of an Executive, we have stepped in to set a Budget. We are also providing millions of pounds for the much needed transformation of public services through the New Decade, New Approach package. Of course, what Northern Ireland needs is strong and effective devolved government.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

That may sound all very grand, but the Police Service of Northern Ireland has announced that it will cut police officer numbers by 309, thereby reducing the force to its smallest size since its formation. Does the Minister agree that that represents a failure to uphold the NDNA commitment to

“continue to ensure that PSNI and others are appropriately resourced to deal with terrorism and paramilitary activity”?

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

This is a most serious issue. Policing is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, and the PSNI main budget is allocated by the Department of Justice from the Northern Ireland block grant. The recent budget that the Secretary of State set for Northern Ireland provides the Northern Ireland Department of Justice with a 3.1% uplift on its 2021-22 budget, with a total allocation of £1.18 billion.

The UK Government also provide PSNI with the additional security funding that it needs to ensure that it has the resources to tackle the substantial threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism. That additional security funding ensures PSNI’s ability to tackle the terrorist threat, while ensuring day-to-day policing is not compromised. The contribution for the financial year 2022-23 is £32 million. The Secretary of State and I, the Northern Ireland Office and the whole of the Northern Ireland civil service take this matter extremely seriously, and will continue to do so.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The European convention on human rights has a unique role in the policing of Northern Ireland. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will do nothing to disrupt that relationship?

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there is a commitment to the convention in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and we remain steadfastly committed to that agreement.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I thank the Minister for his answer, but he knows full well that several of his Cabinet colleagues have pledged to withdraw from the convention on human rights. Will he tell the House once and for all that doing so would break the terms of the Good Friday agreement?

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Secretary of State and I are of course in touch with our right hon. and hon. Friends across Government, as appropriate, on this issue. We remain committed to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, but the hon. Gentleman will know that it is imperative that we deal with the humanitarian crisis of boats coming across the channel, with people putting their lives at risk. We are going to have to find a way through that problem. That is a particularly tricky issue on which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will lead.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

To date, the UK Government have failed to make any additional resources available to meet NHS pay negotiation demands, despite the fact they are the only tier of government on these islands with the ability to do so. What representations has the Minister made, or will he make, to colleagues to unlock that resource, so that pay settlements for the NHS might be reached sooner rather than later in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

We have set a budget for Northern Ireland and we have issued guidance to permanent secretaries to cover the governance gap. We are looking for the Northern Ireland Executive to return and rise to the challenge presented by a budget in which there is a £660 million funding gap. I will say once again that Northern Ireland is getting on average £15 billion a year through the block grant provided by the Government—a record settlement—in addition to the many other funding streams we provide.