Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) (No. 2) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:42 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat 7:42 pm, 12th March 2019

The noble Lord must have brought them with him himself, because certainly nobody over here would even have known what they were, never mind be displaying them. The truth is that the interests of the people on this side of the water have moved on for a whole series of reasons, and we have to take this extremely seriously, because when people are frustrated, disadvantaged and do not have the opportunity of making a difference—and many people over here feel they have no chance of making a difference to the difficulties in Northern Ireland—then they move on in their minds and in their feelings. This is a very real danger in Northern Ireland.

We have no devolution and we understand the reasons for that. It would be perfectly possible, however—as the noble Lords, Lord Trimble and Lord Empey, and I have pointed out repeatedly in this place—for the Government to permit the Assembly to sit and debate these issues, and that would inform the conversations that we have on this side of the water in two ways. First, it would mean that there was some holding to public account, if not to legal account, of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. When I was growing up, I had a relatively implicit trust in both the competence and the integrity of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. That has been shattered and blown apart repeatedly over the last number of years, as a combination of incompetence and a lack of integrity has been demonstrated over and over again. If there were Northern Ireland politicians from right across the parties demonstrating in debate their concern for these issues, that would hold Northern Ireland civil servants to account in a way that has not been the case for a long time.

Secondly, if Northern Ireland representatives in Belfast were having to hold the discussion and the arguments in public, even if they were not able to make decisions, people from Northern Ireland would start holding them to account for the fact that many of these adverse decisions were made by those very representatives. When they are not meeting and there is no debate, it is far too easy to pass it across the water to somebody else. I do not, for the life of me, see why the Government are not prepared to allow that degree of accountability, even though it does not have legal force. It would also say to many people in Northern Ireland that those who are being paid to be Members of the Legislative Assembly should be doing not just constituency business in their offices but constituents’ business on the Hill.