Stormont House Agreement: Update

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 27th April 2015.

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Photo of Brenda Hale Brenda Hale DUP 2:30 pm, 27th April 2015

T3. Mrs Hale asked the First Minister and the deputy First Minister for an update on the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement. (AQT 2403/11-15)

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

On a weekly basis, the leaders of the parties have been meeting together with officials, including the head of the Civil Service, to take forward the issues that some, if not all, agreed at Stormont House and Stormont Castle. Progress has been made on a number of those matters. Indeed, at a recent meeting the Executive dealt with some of the issues relating to the number of Departments, which was part of the Stormont House Agreement. Decisions have been taken on other parts, but it is agreed that they will not be actioned until welfare has been dealt with. I think that it is probably fruitless for us to attempt to resolve that before or on foot of a general election, but I hope that there will be concentration immediately the election is out of the way to get that matter resolved because it is stopping the flow of the overall issues of Stormont House.

Photo of Brenda Hale Brenda Hale DUP

I thank the First Minister for his answer. He talked about the election. Do you, First Minister, believe that the outcome of the general election will have any implications for the resolution of welfare reform?

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

If I knew the outcome of the election, there will be issues, I suspect, that will be not substantial in terms of the Labour Party, which might change some aspects of it. The Labour Party is on record as indicating that it would do away with the bedroom tax. I think that everybody in the House knows, although some try to say otherwise, that the deputy First Minister and I agreed that the bedroom tax would not apply in Northern Ireland. So, it is part of our proposals already to do away with the bedroom tax. Therefore, if the rest of the United Kingdom came up to scratch, as we have, on that, it would mean that we would get the Barnett consequentials, which would probably give us an extra £20 million or £23 million a year that could be used otherwise.

I do not think that anybody is quite clear on the Conservative Party's full intentions, or, at least, the detail of its intentions, on further welfare changes. I think that it is reluctant to give details, at least before 7 May, on what those may be. It could well be that they will have further implications for Northern Ireland. Where the present set of proposals is concerned, the only change that I can see is if the new House of Commons was to vote against having a bedroom tax. That would save us some money that could be applied elsewhere.