Northern Ireland Questions

31st October 2018

Shailesh Vara answers MPs’ questions to the Northern Ireland Office.

MLA Pay

1. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the allocation of the savings accrued from the reduction in the pay of Members of the Legislative Assembly. [907318]

My Department has no role in the allocation of any savings resulting from the reduction in MLA pay. The budget for the payment of salaries to MLAs is held by the Assembly Commission. Any savings would be returned to the central Consolidated Fund for redistribution within the Northern Ireland civil service, and their reallocation would be for that civil service to determine. I can also advise that the Secretary of State has today written to the Assembly Commission to bring the pay reduction into effect.

In their LGBT action plan, the Government allocated £4.5 million for an implementation fund that will be available to voluntary sector groups in England, but when I was in Northern Ireland recently, I met people in similar groups facing even greater challenges who have never received Government support from Stormont or Westminster. I have already asked the Secretary of State about that and I wrote to her on 7 September, and I have not had a reply. Will the Secretary of State consider supporting funding for these groups—if not from MLA pay, from another source?

I assume that the hon. Gentleman means from the allocation of the savings accrued, which renders it relevant to the question on the Order Paper?

indicated assent.

Very good. Well done.

Thank you for clarifying that, Mr Speaker; it is much appreciated. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will receive a response from the Secretary of State very soon.

Any unspent money or savings would be returned to the central Consolidated Fund, for redistribution within the Northern Ireland civil service, and it is for civil servants to allocate as they feel appropriate.

Does the Minister agree that the pay reduction seems a bit unfair, because the vast majority of MLAs actually want to do their job; it is only a small percentage that are stopping the Assembly being reassembled?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the vast majority want to get on with doing their job; but we have to recognise that some of their duties have lessened, so we are making a reduction but recognising that they still have constituents to look after and are still voices within their communities.

I would be fascinated to know how much it has cost to pay the MLAs their full salary since the collapse of the Assembly and the Executive in January 2017. Is it £12 million, £13 million, £14 million? Does the Minister honestly believe that was money well spent, when our education budgets and our health budget in Northern Ireland are so overstretched?

I do not know what the precise sum is, but I fully appreciate and am happy to put on record the hon. Lady’s commitment to this issue, on which she has spoken regularly. When the talks collapsed, there was an element of good will and we hoped that the parties would return and form the Executive again. There has to be an element of good will, rather than instantly saying, “Right: we are making reductions.” We had that element of good will; we had to introduce legislation for the cuts, and we also had to have the review conducted by Trevor Reaney.

Last week, the Secretary of State said she wanted to see action on victims’ and survivors’ pensions. May I press the Minister, because legacy is a Northern Ireland Office responsibility? Will the Government pledge the considerable savings from MLA pay to those pensions and make good on the UK Government’s promise to the victims and survivors of the troubles?

As I said earlier, as far as any savings are concerned, the unspent money will be redistributed to the central Consolidated Fund for redistribution to the civil service, who can then reallocate. As far as legacy issues are concerned, the pension issue is actually a devolved matter.

Stormont.

 

Political Parties: Loans and Donations

7. If she will make it her policy to publish information on loans and donations given to Northern Ireland political parties since 2014. [907324]

The publication by the Electoral Commission of donations and loans data for the Northern Ireland parties from 1 July 2017 is a positive step that should be welcomed by the whole House. The decision to publish data from July 2017 was taken on the basis of consultation and broad support from the majority of political parties in Northern Ireland.

How can it be right that the very party that would come under investigation if donations dating back to 2014 were published essentially gets a veto? We know that the leave campaign is now under investigation for donations during the referendum. Surely Northern Ireland deserves that kind of transparency, too. Why are this Government ignoring the recommendations of the Electoral Commission?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady seeks to make political capital out of this. The then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), wrote to all the political parties in January 2017 regarding transparency and a date. With the exception of one party, they all agreed on the way forward. As for any other issues, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) cannot accept the broad view of the majority of parties in Northern Ireland.