New Clause 1 - Report on implementation of The New Decade, New Approach Deal

Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 6th July 2021.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must lay a report before each House of Parliament and before the Northern Ireland Assembly no later than six months after the date on which this Act is passed.

(2) The report under subsection (1) must set out —

(a) whether, and how, each provision of this Act has been implemented, and

(b) what plans the Government has to bring forward further legislative proposals to implement the remainder of The New Decade, New Approach Deal.”. —

This new clause requires the Government to report on what parts of The New Decade, New Approach Deal have been achieved under this Act, and what plans the Government has to implement the remainder of the deal.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I thank you, Mr Stringer, for chairing us through the speedy but proper scrutiny of the Bill this morning.

On Second Reading and this morning, the importance of all political parties abiding by commitments that are made in forming the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive has been discussed at length. The Government have made that very clear on important elements of NDNA. If it is true for the Northern Ireland political parties, it must be true for the UK Government as well, as one of the co-signatories, just as it holds true for the Irish Government.

The provisions of annex A of NDNA outline a financial commitment that the Government were prepared to provide about 18 months ago. Much of that has still not been delivered, by the Government’s own admission—£1.5 billion of the funding set aside has yet to be delivered. I know the Minister will have figures on how much has been given for covid, but it still remains that much was promised to be delivered on public policy to support the mandate set out in NDNA.

The standstill budget for Northern Ireland when covid support is removed means the 7,500 police officers promised is little more than a pipe dream. Indeed, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has confirmed that it will cut numbers if that budget remains at a standstill this year. That also apples to the investment in transforming public services, such as the health service, which has been repeatedly mentioned because of the appalling waiting times in Northern Ireland, and infrastructure delivery.

The Prime Minster, who could not build a bridge when he was Mayor of London from one side of the Thames to the other, seems more concerned with one that will not be built from Scotland to Belfast, than delivering commitments the UK made just 18 months ago on urgent infrastructure requirements. The Stormont House agreement, recommitted to New Decade, New Approach, seems further way than ever, with the Government unilaterally rewriting it in briefings to newspapers.

The establishment of a Northern Ireland hub in London is nowhere to be seen, neither is the connected classroom initiative. Little wonder that the NDNA review panel has met just twice, as the Minster confirmed on Second reading, when it was supposed to meet quarterly. The Government would clearly rather not review their progress on their commitments.

The new clause is important because it requires the Government to report on which aspects of NDNA have yet to be delivered, especially when there is little time left of this mandate. It would provide an important parliamentary mechanism for Members across the House to keep to their side of the bargain, just as we ask all Northern Ireland political parties to keep to theirs.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Before I comment on the new clause, I want to correct an error I made in my closing speech on Second Reading on this issue, when I stated that the Government have released £556 million of £2 billion-worth of funding agreed in the NDNA deal. I want to put on record that to date, the Government have released over £700 million of the £2 billion funding agreed over a five-year period.

The Government made good progress on the delivery of commitments under the New Decade, New Approach deal. We provided support for the resolution of the nurses’ pay dispute by securing the advance drawdown of funding. The revision of immigration rules governing how people in Northern Ireland bring family members to the UK took effect from August 2020. The appointment of a Veterans Commissioner took effect in September 2020. The launch of the programme for the centenary of Northern Ireland in 2021, supported by £1 million from the shared history fund, and regulations to bring Union flag-flying days in line with guidance in the rest of the UK, came into force in December 2020.

I am grateful to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which has been scrutinising NDNA delivery closely, and we continue to welcome that. In “New Decade, New Approach Agreement: Government Response to the Committee’s Second Report of Session 2019-21”, the Government were supportive of the Committee’s recommendations to produce an annual report and offered to explore this further with the joint board. The Secretary of State also offered to attend a one-off oral evidence session before the Committee to discuss implementation of the New Decade, New Approach deal.

Given the commitments the Government have already made to bring forward reports and offer further discussions on implementation, as well as the existing scrutiny function in NIAC, we do not consider it necessary at this stage to lay a further report on the NDNA agreement. I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Will the Minister confirm that £1.3 billion has still yet to be made available to the Northern Ireland Executive to fulfil the Government’s NDNA commitments? Can he confirm when the annual report will be published?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

On the first point, those commitments were made over a period of years. Much of the financial commitment has been front-loaded, and is why £700 million has already been brought forward in the first year. It is certainly the case that the commitments from NDNA will continue over that period of years. On the second point, I cannot give the hon. Lady a specific date, but am happy to write to her when that has been agreed with NIAC.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.