Northern Ireland Debate

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Department: Northern Ireland Office

Northern Ireland

John Bercow Excerpts
Thursday 31st October 2019

(11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Northern Ireland Office
Mr Speaker Hansard
31 Oct 2019, 4:01 p.m.

We now come to motion No. 4 on Northern Ireland. It says in the dossier “Minister to move”, but we have an upgrade, as the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, observes from a sedentary position. I call not merely any Minister, but the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, no less.

Julian Smith Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Julian Smith) - Hansard

I beg to move,

That the Northern Ireland (Extension of Period for Executive Formation) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 1364), which were laid before this House on 21 October, be approved.

I just wanted to add to my tribute yesterday to your speakership by saying something about the Education Centre, Mr Speaker. During my comments, I did not mention all the amazing feedback that I have had from my constituents on the centre, which you were so key to developing. Listening to the tributes that have been paid to you, it seems to me that you will have limitless invites to the Kennington Tandoori, should you so wish, over the coming years.

Having sought the House’s approval for the Northern Ireland Budget Bill yesterday, I now seek the House’s approval for this equally vital statutory instrument. I announced on 21 October an extension of the period for Executive formation to 13 January 2020. That is the only extension permitted under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, and I have no discretion as to the length of the extension.

I took the decision because, despite relentless engagement over the summer with the political parties and the Irish Government, the political parties have not been able to reach the accommodation that we know they need to reach to form the Assembly and the Executive. I was disappointed to have to take this approach and extend the period, but failing to extend the period and leaving it to expire at the end of 21 October would have severely constrained the ability of the Northern Ireland civil service to make decisions in the absence of Ministers. It would also have precipitated an Assembly election. That would not have been the right approach for Northern Ireland at this time.

I am pleased that, in the last week, the Northern Ireland political parties have indicated a willingness both within and outside this place to restore the institutions. There will be a short window after the general election, and before the 13 January deadline, when talks should be convened. I hope that both parties will engage seriously. As I have said in this House many times, the remaining issues are soluble if the will is there. These regulations ensure it is possible to undertake that swift work once a new Administration is formed in December. I will remain in close contact with all political parties in Northern Ireland throughout the election period, and I am sure the whole House will join me in urging the parties, particularly Sinn Féin and the DUP, to show leadership and to be ready to restore the institutions. I commend these regulations to the House.