My Lords, I start by welcoming the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Reid. He was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for a few years and was held in high regard. He came to know Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland. I also see the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, in his place, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop. Those have been wise words. For far too long, sometimes in this Chamber and the other House, people have spoken about Northern Ireland who have never been to Northern Ireland. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that he should not get too upset about new money coming to Northern Ireland—to another part of this United Kingdom.
No one could have predicted the outcome of this general election, which of course has left the Democratic Unionist Party in a very influential position, working very much at the heart of government. It is a position of huge responsibility. It is a challenge to represent the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland in a positive and constructive manner. It is a tremendous opportunity, in working with the Government in the national interest, to strengthen the union and deliver the success and wealth that benefit all the nations of this United Kingdom.
I very much welcome what the gracious Speech says about implementing the Armed Forces covenant throughout the United Kingdom, particularly in Northern Ireland, where there have been problems implementing it. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our Armed Forces—our veterans and those serving today.
Brexit has dominated the Queen’s Speech. The country as a whole has voted for Brexit and we must deliver on it. Any attempt to undermine that decision made in the referendum would be totally and absolutely wrong. Of course, Brexit throws up some major problems for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has a land border with the Republic of Ireland. Her Majesty’s Government, along with the Irish Government and all the political parties, want the Common Travel Area to remain between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I know that is very much on the agenda of all the political parties in Northern Ireland and the two Governments. That is welcome. I know that it is also high on the agenda in Europe.
At a time of great change, it is important for Northern Ireland to have a working Assembly and for the Executive to address the needs of the people of Northern Ireland on health issues, education, the economy and the delivery of public services. Those are the people’s priorities and they should be the politicians’ priorities, too.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, I welcome the new money that is coming to Northern Ireland, which I make no apology for. If any other political party had been in the same position as we ended up in after the general election, it would have done exactly the same thing. We have seen that in the past, so we make no apology for the deal that we have struck with the Conservative Party, and it is important to continue to put that on the record. I welcome the new money, which is for the whole of Northern Ireland. The impression has been given that the money is for the Democratic Unionist Party, but it is for the whole of Northern Ireland and it will benefit every community there. There will be investment in schools, infrastructure, roads, housing and jobs. What other part of the United Kingdom would not welcome such investment?
The critical issue now—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who raised it—is getting the Assembly up and running so that it has a hand in spending the money. It would be a tragedy if direct rule Ministers had to spend the money that is coming to Northern Ireland. There is a huge challenge, and the agreement that the Conservative Party has reached will encourage the Executive and the Assembly to get up and running sooner rather than later. This is a good deal for Northern Ireland, for Government and for the people of Northern Ireland.