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Stability

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 26 January 2022

A stable Northern Ireland needs sustainable devolved institutions. We have progressed the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill to that end. Prosperity is another foundation stone of stability. We have been working with the Executive to deliver the city and growth deals, which my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), is taking forward, and to invest in priority areas such as skills through the new deal for Northern Ireland. We will continue to support stability and co-operation in Northern Ireland throughout this important election year.

We are absolutely right to recall David Cameron’s apology in 2010, and I send my best wishes to the families and the people of Derry/Londonderry. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the measures in New Decade, New Approach to protect sustainability and to keep Stormont running will be put on the statute book at the earliest opportunity?

Yes, absolutely. That is our focus, and we have been taking this through the House. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said a short while ago, and no doubt he will be back here talking about it soon, taking this through is important for Northern Ireland and its people, who want a functioning Northern Ireland Executive.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) brought forward New Decade, New Approach with commitments within it that would guarantee and protect the stability of our institutions. The Secretary of State knows that the commitment to protect the UK’s internal market has not been delivered. He knows that some of the balanced commitments in that document are now being tinkered with, be they on legacy or on language. What steps will he take in the very short term to sincerely protect the institutions?

On the cultural package, what we agreed to take forward is exactly what was agreed between the parties in New Decade, New Approach itself, and we will continue to look at that. It is important that we deliver on all of New Decade, New Approach. We have the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, which is doing that work and has ensured that trade between GB and NI from the NI side is working in an unfettered way. We said we would bring forward further work to develop and deliver that, which we will do, but it is also important—this is why the work on the Northern Ireland protocol is so important—to ensure the same sort of effect in GB to NI as in NI to GB and that it is working for everyone in Northern Ireland.

My right hon. Friend knows that the thuggery and criminality of the self-styled paramilitaries add nothing to stability anywhere in Northern Ireland. What further steps can his Department take to disrupt their activity, in particular through unexplained wealth orders?

We have been making progress in this area. We work in partnership with and support the Northern Ireland Department of Justice in the devolved areas, as well as with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other partners, who are doing phenomenal work. We have seen real success this year, and in the crackdown over the past 12 to 18 months on criminal gangs. My hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee is right: these groups are criminal gangs and should be treated as such. They are nothing more than thugs who threaten people and try to destroy life in Northern Ireland. I support the PSNI and partners in their work to disrupt their activity and bring the people involved to justice.

I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s important words regarding Bloody Sunday. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) for skilfully negotiating the New Decade, New Approach in the first place. Part of that was legislation on identity, language and culture. When will that package of legislation be introduced?

We are committed to bringing that forward within the mandate of the period for Stormont, as we said at the time, and that remains our commitment.

The statement to the House last June was that we would have it by October last year. There is a theme: we did not get that by October last year; legacy was promised by autumn, then by Christmas, and it is still nowhere to be seen; and then the Secretary of State introduced double-jobbing to Parliament and, within the same week, withdrew it. A question constantly put to me by people in Northern Ireland is, “What’s the point of Brandon Lewis?” Perhaps he can tell us.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has been over to Northern Ireland once and so is basing his comments on some odd conversation. I find what he just said a bit rich, bearing in mind that he is part of a Labour Front-Bench team who over the past six to nine months have called for us to bring forward dual mandates, then argued against them when we did what we said we would do. They called for us to engage widely on legacy and to take into account what people say; then they complain when we do exactly that. Labour argues that it is a party of the Union, but does not get involved in Northern Ireland and then cannot get its Front Benchers to confirm that it supports the Union for Northern Ireland on live TV. Until Labour decides that it is a party for the Union in Northern Ireland, I will not take any lessons.

The Northern Ireland protocol is clearly causing political instability. Will the Secretary of State agree that it needs replacing, not just a few amendments?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The protocol is not working—that is clear. The feedback we get from businesses across Northern Ireland is that it is not sustainable in its current format. It needs to be dealt with. It needs to be fixed. That is what the Foreign Secretary and I are working on together to ensure we can do that and do well for the people of Northern Ireland.