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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the debate. I also express my thanks to officials for the comprehensive report that has been published. Since the previous reports were published, we have marked 1,000 days since the Executive at Stormont collapsed—1,000 days in which Northern Ireland has been without a government. This is shameful. During that time, we have seen the already often fractious relationship between the two biggest parties in Northern Ireland become even more damaged, due to a lack of respect and a seeming unwillingness to resolve the issues on the table. However, we on these Benches do not believe that the problems preventing the restoration of devolution are insurmountable. Indeed, the parties in Northern Ireland have come together in the past to resolve challenges far greater than those detailed on page 2 of the report. Perhaps the news today from the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, could point the way forward.
In the meantime, we have seen a worrying increase in levels of violence in Northern Ireland. In recent days we have seen a UDA mural unveiled in Bangor, with masked members of that paramilitary organisation openly posing beside it. A man was shot in a paramilitary-style gun attack in Newtownards. There have been around a dozen paramilitary gun attacks in Derry/Londonderry alone in the past 12 months, six of which occurred during August, September and October. A further security alert occurred on Monday night. There is absolutely no place for this kind of violence in a democratic society. The vast majority of people in the community in Northern Ireland want to make the transition away from paramilitaries and the associated intimidation and violence. We on these Benches remain committed to restoring devolved government as soon as possible.
The Secretary of State said earlier in the week that the parties would meet this week for further talks. Can the Minister confirm that such talks will include all the political parties in Northern Ireland, and give us a sense of how any discussions with or between the parties have gone since the previous report was debated in September? Having looked at the important policy issues of health, education, Northern Ireland’s economy and the need for political stability there, we urge the Government to ensure that there is real impetus to the discussions in Belfast to restore the Executive.
The section of the report relating to transparency of political donations states:
“There is a broader longstanding convention that changes to legislation directly affecting political parties are not made without wider discussion and consultation between parties and the Government”.
Can the Minister tell us whether any discussions have taken place with the political parties about changing the current law on the transparency of political donations to backdate it to January 2014? We continue to believe that the issue of consensus on this matter misses the point. If the political parties want secrecy around how they are funded, does that make it right or fair to the public? I want also to reiterate the point that parties were told by the Electoral Commission to inform every large donor after January 2014 that their details would eventually be published, so donors would have known this when they chose to donate.
I thank the Minister and his officials for the details included in the section of the report regarding abortion law reform. Clearly, a huge amount of work is being done to ensure that, if the Executive have not been restored by next week, there is guidance in place for healthcare professions.
Finally, I welcome the commitment in the report to updating the House in the next month.