Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:12 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Belmont Lord Browne of Belmont DUP 5:12 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s commitments to work with all the parties in Northern Ireland to support the return of devolved government and to strengthen the bonds between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which are clearly set out in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech.

Since the former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland resigned from the power-sharing Executive on 10 January 2017, Northern Ireland has been without a functioning Government. This has caused considerable disruption to the day-to-day functioning of the local administration and has placed some additional burden on the legislative process in this House. Noble Lords may remember the fast-tracked legislation that was required to enable the setting and collection of regional rates in Northern Ireland. Clearly, this administrative and legislative vacuum cannot be permitted to continue much longer.

The Democratic Unionist Party has consistently played a positive role in the ongoing negotiations to achieve an agreement on the restoration of devolved government. We wish to work together with all elected Assembly Members to arrive at a consensus solution—and, unlike other parties, we have set no preconditions. I am convinced that the main concerns of the Northern Ireland electorate are very similar to those of the people of England, Scotland and Wales: namely, the delivery of high-quality health, education and other public services. Petty sectarian wrangling during the current negotiations must not be allowed to frustrate the achievement of these objectives, which requires the re-establishment of stable government in Northern Ireland.

I believe that the Government’s commitment to strengthening the bonds between the constituent nations of the United Kingdom is at least as important as their promise to support the return of devolved government. The decision to leave the European Union has led some to question the present constitutional relationships within the United Kingdom, and in particular it has been suggested that Northern Ireland should be granted “special status” within the EU. Clearly, it is essential that any agreement on resolving the problems surrounding the Irish border, which may form part of the first stage of the Brexit negotiations, is fully discussed with all the relevant parties. In particular, the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland must be consulted during this process. In my view, any solution that requires the erection of tariff barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom would be unacceptable. The economic and cultural unity of the United Kingdom must be preserved.

Both the negotiations among the Northern Ireland parties on devolution and the first stage of the European Union talks involve issues of vital importance for the people of Northern Ireland. We must hope that all the parties involved adopt a constructive approach that will result in an agreement beneficial to all concerned.

In conclusion, I welcome the agreement reached yesterday between the Government and the Democratic Unionist Party to provide additional funding for infrastructure and public services in Northern Ireland. I hope that this agreement will provide an additional incentive for the participants to work towards a speedy and successful conclusion to the devolved negotiations currently taking place. Indeed, I feel fairly optimistic that this will happen. I know that the Democratic Unionist Party looks forward to working with the Government to benefit all in the United Kingdom—and I omitted to declare my interest as a fully paid-up member of the Democratic Unionist Party.