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Power Sharing

Volume 626: debated on Wednesday 28 June 2017

The overriding priority for the UK Government in Northern Ireland remains the restoration of devolved power-sharing government in Stormont. The UK Government are working with the main Northern Ireland parties and, in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach, the Irish Government to restore a fully functioning inclusive Executive and Assembly. But time is short. I would urge all concerned to use the narrow window that remains to look beyond their differences and to see that an Executive is formed.

Like many Members, I have been assisting constituents who are former members of Her Majesty’s armed forces and who served in Northern Ireland with distinction during the troubles. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House the extent to which disagreement over reforming the unfair legacy case process is a sticking point in restoring power sharing?

I think that there is a growing consensus that the next stage needs to be the publication of a consultation around the Stormont House agreement bodies, which are founded on the principle of fairness and proportionality, and it is that that has come through from the discussions that we have had.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any return to direct rule in Northern Ireland would be a huge backward step and that devolution is really the only good way forward?

I do agree with the comments of my hon. Friend. An Executive—an inclusive Executive—acting in the best interests of Northern Ireland is profoundly what Northern Ireland needs and what the people voted for, and that is where our focus must lie.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the armed forces covenant has been the subject of talks in Northern Ireland because of the lack of full implementation. Does he agree that the party blocking that implementation talks a lot about rights and respect? It needs to do the right thing and stop being a barrier to the support that the veterans in Northern Ireland need.

May I welcome the hon. Lady to her position? I am sure that the experience she has—over legacy, and over so many parts of Northern Ireland—will enrich the debate in the House.

We obviously stand by our commitments in relation to the military covenant—wanting to see that felt in all parts of the UK—and we look forward to working with all parties and all communities across Northern Ireland and the UK to see that that happens.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the vast majority of the public in Northern Ireland are very interested to see who actually pays and funds the political parties in Northern Ireland? As part of his ongoing discussions, will he therefore have the courage of his convictions and make sure that there is an end to the anonymity of political donations in Northern Ireland?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point, which she has made on a number of occasions in the House. I think she will have seen the commitment in my party’s manifesto over the transparency of political donations. I look forward to moving ahead and seeing that that is actually implemented.

13. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the disgraceful treatment of my constituent, Major Dennis Hutchings, and other ex-service personnel will continue to be an important element of his discussions? (900014)

I recognise the way in which my hon. Friend has championed the cause of her constituent. I know she will appreciate that there are legal proceedings outstanding that mean that I cannot comment in detail, but I hope she appreciates the Government’s desire to see fair, balanced and proportionate mechanisms put in place for dealing with the issues of the past.

May I associate myself with the generous comments the Secretary of State made about Kris Hopkins, who is a good and decent man? I welcome the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), my seventh opponent, to the Government Dispatch Box. Unlike all her predecessors, she lacks a little close combat experience, except, of course, from her time in the Whips Office.

We all hope that there is a re-establishment of the Executive tomorrow, but should that not happen, Ministers must obviously be undertaking some contingency planning. What structures would they like to see in place to ensure impartiality in the disbursement of the additional money?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments about Kris Hopkins, who served in the House with distinction, including in the role that he played in the Northern Ireland Office.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that our focus is on seeing that an Executive is restored. I have been clear on not wanting to pre-empt what may happen should that not be the case. Obviously, there would be profound and serious implications in that context. I can assure him that we will work with all parties, and indeed have discussions with his party and others across the House, to see that these issues are considered very carefully, but our focus—