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 knows that I agree entirely with him. I simply cannot see that there is any sound reason at all for the Government to hold back on this. My noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie has insisted, quite rightly, that there is now deep concern that large amounts of money are being allocated and spent in Northern Ireland without proper accountability and with increasing concerns that they are not being properly dealt with, spent and accounted for. It is not possible for us in this place, in the absence of direct rule, to hold to account, and even if we had direct rule, it would not be a satisfactory holding to account. Why? It is because neither in this place nor in the other place is there a representation of the nationalist community.

Now, one might well say that some of that is the nationalist community’s own choice; that is not the point. The point is that there is not satisfactory representation and therefore the degree of accountability is not one that is going to be acceptable to large proportions of the population. Many of the arguments will not be satisfactorily adverted and adduced. I do not want to see direct rule, but I also do not want to see a continued drift and I have to say that, not just on this issue but on the issue that has just been debated and voted down at the other end of this building, the Government have shown an absolutely clear habit of kicking the can down the road and not making the decisions, even when it is manifestly clear that it is long past the time when the decisions should be made.

So we come to these Bills. Why do they go through some kind of emergency procedure? Was it some great shock or surprise that these Bills were going to have to be brought forward? Of course it was not, but it looks like every piece of Northern Ireland legislation is now going through an emergency process, even when it is known six months in advance that the matter must be dealt with in this place. This is not an acceptable way of going about things. Why do we have democratic processes? We have them because it is the way that we find to disagree with each other, as much as to agree, but to do so democratically and without violence. If people are left with no way of affecting process inside the democratic process then they will be encouraged to look beyond it, and that is not something that we should preside over.

It is not enough for Governments to suggest that strand 1 of the Good Friday agreement is the key strand and is not being implemented because of political disagreements in Northern Ireland. Strand 3 of the Good Friday agreement, the British-Irish Inter- governmental Conference, did not meet at a top level for 10 years and neither of the Governments asked the other, or insisted on having it. So when people talk about the Good Friday agreement not being implemented, it is not being implemented by the two Governments who are still in operation, in some fashion or other, and that has led to a deterioration in their relationship and in the whole process that we were supposed to be trying to make work. I say it not to the noble Lord, because I suspect he has some sympathy, coming as he does from north of the border himself, but it is really important to be clear to the Government: they are not governing in a satisfactory way, neither in this place, nor in terms of insisting on devolution, nor in the relationship between the British and Irish Governments.

I ask the Minister one specific thing in respect of RHI: I ask not that we have a debate next week and put material through, but will we have a serious debate in this place when the report of the RHI inquiry comes out, when we will have a serious piece of business to address which will make public, in this place and elsewise, the kind of exceptional inefficiency and perhaps even corruption that has gone on in Northern Ireland? Will he undertake that we will have that debate and that we will not be told that it is a devolved matter and not something that we should be debating in this place?