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Devolution

Volume 653: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2019

Last year, I passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018, which creates a limited period in which an Executive can be formed at any time. I am actively encouraging the parties to use that opportunity to come together to make progress on restoring the Executive.

On 31 October, at the last Northern Ireland questions, the Secretary of State answered questions on restoring devolution and said:

“The point of the legislation is that it provides the space and the time for the parties to come together”—[Official Report, 31 October 2018; Vol. 648, c. 895.]

That language almost suggests that she does not have any role in it. Will she therefore outline what she has actually done to convene talks, or have we given up?

As Secretary of State, I clearly have a role in helping to facilitate those talks, but I cannot impose a solution on the parties in Northern Ireland. That must be something that they want to do for the good of the people in Northern Ireland. I am working to find that.

Environmental campaigners in Northern Ireland have raised concerns with me about the fact that the push towards ever-more intensive industrialised farming is continuing unchecked because of the power vacuum. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not seem to be interested. May I urge the Northern Ireland Office to take an interest in the environmental damage that is being caused by that trend?

The hon. Lady will know that DEFRA does not have jurisdiction over environmental policies in Northern Ireland; that is for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland. I am sure the permanent secretary has heard her comments.

In endeavouring to restore devolution, will the Secretary of State ensure that there is appropriate emphasis on those who caused devolution to fall in the first place and are refusing to enter in without preconditions being met?

It is important that we find a framework in which the parties can come together. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly that a devolved Government should be in place in Stormont delivering for his constituents. That is what I want to see.