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Devolved Government

Volume 658: debated on Wednesday 10 April 2019

9. What discussions she has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) representatives of political parties in Northern Ireland on restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland. (910254)

As I set out previously, the statutory instrument that I laid before Parliament on 26 March extends the period for Executive formation until 25 August. I have proposed a short, focused set of five-party talks aimed at restoring devolution at the earliest opportunity.

Given that the Secretary of State has previously stated that she wishes to ensure the best chance of restoring devolution, is she concerned that no opportunity to successfully bring the parties together has yet presented itself?

We have tried on a number of occasions to bring the parties together. My hon. Friend will know that we had an intensive period of talks last year that were very close to a successful outcome, but it has just not been possible to do that. I would not wish to say to the people of Northern Ireland that we were able to do something if I did not genuinely believe that we could. I therefore need to ensure that the conditions are right to have the best chance of success, because that is what the people of Northern Ireland deserve.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing £350 million for the Belfast city deal, but does she agree that it is vital that we do similar for Londonderry?

I was delighted to co-sign the heads of terms for the Belfast region city deal with partners last month. It is a significant milestone, which will ultimately deliver the first city deal in Northern Ireland. Let me be clear that there is no room for complacency. I have committed to delivering a comprehensive and ambitious set of city deals right across Northern Ireland, and I am now working hard with local partners and colleagues across the Government to make progress on the Derry and Strabane city deal. Negotiations are progressing well, and I am hopeful that Cabinet colleagues will be in a position to agree a deal following the conclusions of local council elections in May.

As the Secretary of State outlined, the statutory instrument that extends the period for Executive formation in Northern Ireland runs out on 25 August. What steps will she take if we get closer to that deadline and do not see any devolved government being restored?

We are looking at all options, but clearly the only sustainable way forward for Northern Ireland lies in getting the institutions back up and running. The restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland is my absolute priority, and the willingness to restore the Executive is there among the political parties. I will do everything in my power to get the Executive back up and running as soon as possible.

Given that Northern Ireland has now reached the world record for the longest period ever without a Government, would the Minister consider forming an Assembly of the willing to return devolved government to Northern Ireland?

We remain steadfast in our commitment to the Belfast agreement and its successors, including the provisions setting out an inclusive, power-sharing Government. An approach that excludes representatives of either part of the community is not a sustainable way forward for Northern Ireland.

In the absence of Ministers at Stormont, how has my right hon. Friend engaged with public authorities and local authorities in Northern Ireland to ensure political stability and good governance?

As I have said, I have already laid the SI to extend the period during which an Executive can be formed. We need to ensure that we are doing everything we can to get the politicians back into Stormont, running devolved government for the people of Northern Ireland, but of course I work closely with local councils and others—including on city deals, as I set out earlier.

Will the Secretary of State outline for the House what fresh thinking or fresh ideas she has to try to break the impasse we have had for well over two years now?

As I said earlier, I rule nothing out. I am looking at all the options that are available in terms of getting the conditions right and getting those successful talks. If the hon. Gentleman has any suggestions, I would be very grateful to receive them. I rule nothing out. I will of course let this House know at the earliest opportunity when I do have developments in that area.

There is always a DUP contest between seniority and youth. On this occasion, I call Mr David Simpson.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

With all the discussions that the Secretary of State has had with the various parties, I am sure she has come to the conclusion that the only party that is holding progress back is Sinn Féin. We in this part of the House would form a Government in the morning.

You are probably not aware, Mr Speaker, that I managed to offend the hon. Gentleman in the Tea Room earlier, so I will point out that you allowed youth to win on this occasion.

Of course I have met all the party leaders and all the main parties in Northern Ireland. I do believe that there is a willingness to see devolution restored, and I want to see that at the earliest opportunity.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker—I will always defer to my junior colleagues. The Secretary of State knows that four of the five parties in Northern Ireland would restore the Executive tomorrow, without preconditions. Sinn Féin is the only party that has allowed its political prejudice to get in the way of progress in Northern Ireland. Will she commit, at the end of the time-bound period of discussions, to call the Assembly and put the parties to the test?

As I say, I want to see devolution restored at the earliest opportunity. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the willingness of his party. I am convinced that the other four parties are determined to see devolution restored, and we need to get the conditions right to allow that to happen.

14. What recent assessment has the Secretary of State made of the extra-budgetary payment to Northern Ireland agreed between her Government and the DUP on the devolution settlement? Does she realise that Scotland and its people have been denied a total of £3.4 billion as a direct result of this dodgy deal, which may have broken the Barnett formula? (910259)

I do not think it is right for the hon. Lady to make that assertion. There are unique circumstances and pressures in Northern Ireland. The Government respect that and want to make sure that it is reflected in the financial settlement.

In the absence of devolved government, the direct decisions being made by Westminster for Northern Ireland are increasing every day, whether on the Offensive Weapons Bill, the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, the two-child policy, or even what will happen with the Open golf tournament. The Secretary of State tells us that she respects devolution, but these decisions are being made behind closed doors with civil servants and without the involvement of the people or representatives of Northern Ireland. If she thinks that is acceptable, will she publish in full a list of all the policy decisions she has made under this new legislation, including the legislative consent motions and who has signed them off, so that we know who is really running Northern Ireland?

The hon. Lady did very well to get through the question and still have some voice left.

The decisions that are taken by the civil servants in Northern Ireland—the permanent secretaries—are published. That is part of the conditions of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018. But to be clear, that Act does not allow new major policy decisions to be made; it allows for policy decisions taken when the Executive was still in place to be continued. As I say, no new policy decisions are being taken under that Act.

Devolution and peace in Northern Ireland are precious and hard won. That is brilliantly captured with great humour and poignancy in the latest series of “Derry Girls”, which I know the Secretary of State is a fan of. Will she join me in congratulating Lisa McGee and the entire production team on another brilliant series?

I am absolutely delighted to congratulate everybody involved in “Derry Girls”. I have not yet seen the final episode, so I do not want any spoilers.