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Stormont House Agreement

Volume 602: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2015

The fresh start agreement reached last Tuesday opens the way for implementation of a range of provisions in the Stormont House agreement on welfare and sustainable public finances, flags, parades and reform of the devolved institutions, including establishing an official Opposition, reducing the size of the Assembly and cutting the number of Executive Ministers.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the progress that she has made on implementing the agreement. However, there are many other aspects still to be implemented. Will she update the House on what action she is taking to ensure that the entire agreement is implemented forthwith?

I think that the fresh start agreement is a good deal for Northern Ireland. It is vital that we put the implementation of the Stormont House agreement back on track. It is, of course, a matter of regret that we were unable to agree on enough points on the legacy of the past to introduce legislation, as we had hoped to do, but we will be working hard on this matter, and I shall be meeting the victims commissioner and the Justice Minister next week to consider a way forward.

Will the Secretary of State work with members of my party to ensure that we continue to address the issues relating to the legacy of our troubled past? It is crucial that we do our best to provide support and care for the innocent victims, and that we find a way of enabling them to have access to truth and justice.

I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance, and I look forward to continuing to work with him on these important matters. I believe it is very important for the institutions envisaged under the Stormont House agreement to be set up, because the current institutions are not providing good enough outcomes for victims and survivors. We need to do something about the current situation, and that is why we need to make progress.

13. As we all know, politics is not an easy business, but what lessons can be learnt from the recent events, so that we can do everything possible to ensure that they do not happen again?

(902255)

That is a very good question, but I think we have already learnt from the problems relating to the Stormont House agreement, whose implementation was stalled a few months after it was established. Both the Northern Ireland Executive and United Kingdom Government have moved swiftly on the fresh start agreement. The Assembly has passed a legislative consent motion agreeing to a balanced budget in the Executive, and we in the House of Commons have pressed ahead with legislation on welfare reform.

Despite the best efforts of the parties and the Irish Government, and despite the welcome deal that was done last week, the victims, survivors and their families will be both frustrated and disheartened by the fact that measures dealing with the past could not be agreed. However, I am told that progress was made on the issue. Will the Secretary of State tell us exactly what the problem was, who disagreed, and whether any of the documents that were discussed can be published?

We will certainly reflect on whether it might be appropriate, in the coming months, to publish a draft Bill for consideration, but we would take no such steps without engaging in extensive discussions with the First and Deputy First Minister and with victims.

We made considerable progress on the issues of how the Historical Investigations Unit would work in practice and what sort of reflection in statute would be needed for the Implementation and Reconciliation Group. A number of issues were more or less resolved, although a key problem was establishing a mutually agreeable arrangement when it came to matters relating to national security. The Government made it very clear that we would provide the fullest possible disclosure for the HIU, but we have to ensure that documents that go from the HIU into the public domain do not jeopardise national security.

I thank the Secretary of State for what I thought was a helpful answer. As I have said, the planned Stormont House agreement Bill was supposed to include new mechanisms to deal with the past so that victims and their families could find out more about what happened during the conflict, to ensure that justice was done, and to provide better help and support for those who were affected. Is it not critical that that work is not lost or forgotten, and that we take it forward? How do the Government propose to do that, and will the families be included in the process?

As I have said, I think it important for discussions to take place with victims’ groups on charting a way forward. I also think it important for the issue not to be parked by the Northern Ireland parties pending the Assembly elections. We cannot let it rest for another year without taking action. We need to find a way to make progress, and we should try to retain the progress made in the Stormont House talks, which, as I have said, involved broad agreement on a number of important issues.