Northern Ireland Budget Bill - Second Reading (and remaining stages)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:09 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Labour 12:09 pm, 31st October 2019

My Lords, obviously, the Opposition will support the Bill, albeit reluctantly, because we know why it is in front of us and why it is being dealt with so swiftly. I regret that we have to do this—I think the whole House does—but without it, there would be no money and so we must pass it today, as the House of Commons did yesterday.

Members of your Lordships’ House raised a number of individual issues which I am sure the Minister will address in his wind-up speech. The mitigation of welfare reforms was raised extensively yesterday in the other place, as it has been by my noble friend Lady Lister in this House. We would be grateful for the Minister’s views on something that affects some 35,000 people in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lords, Lord Lexden and Lord Empey, both raised the issue of the RHI. We look forward to the Minister’s comment on that difficult issue. My noble friend Lord Hain raised the issue of progress on the historical institutional abuse Bill. We look forward to the Minister’s comments, and later this afternoon we will have a bit more detail on that.

One issue mentioned yesterday in the other place which has not been touched on today is that of Barnett consequentials. As the Minister knows, if, during the course of a year, the Government decide to spend money which they had not planned to spend, the devolved Administrations get a proportion of that and it is up to the Administrations themselves to decide how to distribute that money. As there are no Ministers, it cannot be distributed. What has happened to that money and what plans are there to deal with Barnett consequentials?

There is also the absence of proper scrutiny of billions of pounds worth of expenditure in Northern Ireland. We will have spent half an hour on it, and the other place spent about an hour. An hour and a half to deal with the expenditure of billions of pounds is not good enough. The reason for all this, as every Member who has spoken has said, is that there is no Assembly or Executive in Belfast. There were pleas of a sort today for direct rule. That would be an answer, but it would be an inadequate one because, as I have said many times in this Chamber, it is easy to get into direct rule but very difficult to get out of it.

What we have now is a halfway house: semi-direct rule via remote control from London, with no Ministers with direct control over the Northern Ireland Civil Service or decision-making, but a sort of control here in Westminster. That is not good enough and it cannot carry on. Northern Ireland is the only part of our country which is inadequately governed because of what has happened. In the next 10 or 15 minutes, we will consider the statutory instrument regarding further progress in the talks. We must accept the Bill: we have no option but to agree it, but, as I said in my introduction, we do so reluctantly.