Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:18 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Labour 6:18 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, I very much agree with the comments about Scotland that have just been made but I would like to turn the House’s attention again to Northern Ireland, and to Wales.

I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Reid and the noble Lords, Lord Hay and Lord Browne, with regard to the money needed in Northern Ireland. I do not begrudge the people of Northern Ireland the money that has come their way through this deal. I spent five years of my life, either as Finance Minister for Northern Ireland or as Secretary of State, trying to persuade successive Treasury Ministers and Chancellors of the Exchequer of the importance of extra spending in Northern Ireland. After all, the Troubles visited decades of misery and destruction on Northern Ireland. People lost their jobs, the economy was very slow, the infrastructure was destroyed in some parts and many people fled to come to work here in Great Britain, so the need for the money is unquestionable. Similarly, Brexit means that streams of funding for Northern Ireland, such as the peace money, are going to disappear completely, and if the border situation is not resolved, the economies of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could be adversely affected. Of that I have no doubt, so the money is needed, but there are implications. As my noble friend Lord Reid said, the implications for the negotiations that are going on across the Irish Sea for the next three days are hugely significant. We could be three days away from direct rule in Northern Ireland, and that would be calamitous.

The Government have to take into account the point my noble friend made about perception with regard to the chairmanship of the talks. There is no doubt that the British Government, like the Irish Government, are seen as co-guarantors of the Good Friday agreement and as impartial, neutral, honest brokers. If the very survival of the present Government in Westminster rests upon a deal with one of the parties in Northern Ireland then unquestionably there is a problem. That is exacerbated by the fact that there is no longer a single nationalist representative in either House of Parliament. All three SDLP Members lost their seats at the general election, tragically in my view, so only one point of view is heard here and in another place. I also agree that there is a case, if these talks are successful, and indeed if they are not, for an independent chair, like George Mitchell, coming to oversee any discussions in future.

The other implication is with regard to the funding arrangements for Scotland and Wales. They are based upon the Barnett formula. It is not an easy formula, and some people do not like it very much, but at least it is a formula that is used across all three countries and nations of the United Kingdom. Increasingly, Governments are now using other ways of giving money to those three countries, bypassing the Barnett system. That is not necessarily a good thing because it means that people can feel unfairly treated. There is now a case for the devolved Administrations and the Government to get together as soon as possible to try to ensure that the funding arrangements are regularised for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Of course, there is the issue of Wales. Had the same formula been used as in the deal with the DUP, Wales would have received something like £2 billion. It has not had it. Naturally it feels aggrieved. There is no question that so far as the people of Wales are concerned Brexit will be financially difficult, indeed disastrous. Seventy per cent of Welsh exports go to Europe, and there are streams of funding for agriculture, industry and economic development in Wales that will disappear overnight. Therefore Wales too needs money, and the sooner the Government get their act together on funding for the devolved Administrations, the better.

Finally, what of the Conservative Party’s promises in its manifesto with regard to Wales? It promised a growth deal for north Wales, new rail infrastructure for south Wales, the abolition of the Severn Bridge tolls and other things too. What happens now? Is the money going to be available for those promises to be made into reality or is the money gone because it has gone to Northern Ireland? Who knows? I look forward to the Minister replying later this evening.