Northern Ireland Executive Formation - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:54 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 12:54 pm, 16th January 2020

My Lords, I welcome the supportive comments of both parties sitting opposite. I have stood here so many times, trying to find new ways of saying that not much has happened. Now, finally, there appears to be the very thing we have all so vehemently wished for, which is a restored Executive.

I will go straight into the questions to allow maximum time for discussion. The joint board itself is an innovation; that is absolutely correct. On the question of who will sit upon it, that will be the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Its purpose is to promote sustainable public services and to bring about transformation. There is a recognition that, after such a long period of time, a number of issues have become bogged down in the absence of decision-making by Ministers and a different momentum is needed to underpin that. The board should meet on a quarterly basis. Noble Lords will also be aware that the Stormont agreement anticipates a fiscal council, which will provide further details of ongoing developments in the budget and useful information to that joint board.

As to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, of how much of the £2 billion is fresh, rather than reheated, money, it is important to stress that the Barnett consequentials have for the first time been guaranteed at £1 billion, irrespective of whether they reach that amount. That is the first element. The second is that there remains £237 million outstanding from the supply and confidence arrangement with the DUP—a separate sum of money that is still, and will be, available to the Northern Ireland Executive. That means that the moneys which I iterated in my remarks are broadly fresh money in that regard. I see the noble Lord, Lord Hain, hovering, or perhaps not; his time will come. It is important to recognise that this is indeed new money, which will do a great deal of good. I am very pleased to announce that the strike by nurses has now been called off because of the acceptance of the settlement, which restores a parity between the different nursing operations across the Irish Sea. That is very important in itself.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, raised the question of waiting times. They are a scandal and, in Northern Ireland right now, a serious issue that needs to be addressed. That is why the incoming Health Minister has made this one of his priorities and why money has been put in place to recognise that this does need to be one of the first areas where serious action can happen.

Again, the graduate medical school is an important step forward. It begins to address one of the deficiency problems: that there are not enough health and medical practitioners coming through the system. This will be a small step in that direction.

The question of the integrated schools will now rest with the devolved Minister, so for once I can say it is really over to him to take this matter forward—do I mean him or do I mean her? There is a question, but hopefully Hansard will correct that if I have given the wrong gender. The point is that this is a devolved matter and will be taken forward in that context.

The coming of Brexit, which has been Banquo’s ghost throughout this entire period, now means that the Assembly will have an opportunity for serious discussion and the constitutional arrangements that have been put in place in relation to the legislative consent Motion and procedures around it will now be available and can be operated by the Assembly and the Members of that institution. These developments will go some way to moving this matter forward. I will stop there and let other questions be asked.