Stormont Agreement

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State and all the party leaders on reaching an agreement, not least in view of the Prime Minister’s astonishingly premature exit from the previous summit, and his lack of engagement, which has been greater than that of any Prime Minister for more than 20 years. How can the Secretary of State be sure that this process will not long-grass the key flashpoint issues of parade and flags? On corporation tax, is she aware of Sir David Varney’s 2007 report to the Treasury, which showed that 95% of businesses in Northern Ireland do not pay corporation tax? That is not a silver bullet; it will leave a £300 million hole, or 3%, in the block grant, if there is equalisation with the Republic of Ireland.

Mrs Villiers: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister has been closely engaged with this process, and the visit he made along with the Taoiseach was significant in moving things forward. The financial package that he was able to agree with the Treasury was a crucial part of our progress. This Government have delivered significant achievements on some of the most difficult issues that Northern Ireland faces, and that is in large part due to work done by the Prime Minister.

I have acknowledged that there is more work to be done on the difficult issues of parades and flags, and no one would say for a moment that this agreement is the last word. I will be working, as will my officials and colleagues in government, to find a way forward on those matters, and ensure that they are not long-grassed and that we make real progress. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, those issues can cause huge disruption in Northern Ireland and poison the political relationships that are crucial to making the Executive work effectively. He says that corporation tax devolution is not a silver bullet. I agree that on its own it will not transform the Northern Ireland economy, but combined with other economic reform, a focus on skills and competitiveness, and economic reform across the board, it can have a significant and transformative effect. That is why I am disappointed that Labour is not supporting it.

All Party Talks Northern Ireland

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I offer a critical observation, not for some partisan motive, but out of experience of negotiating at such summits alongside Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister? I was both troubled and astonished that the current Prime Minister left the summit prematurely in the way that he did. My experience is that any Prime Minister has to coax and progress the discussions and negotiations, and there is a chemistry about those and a momentum that it is possible to develop. Walking away as he did leaves a kind of political paralysis which I suspect and fear may continue. That is extremely damaging and I am extremely worried about the situation.

Mrs Villiers: I can provide the right hon. Gentleman with reassurance that the Prime Minister has not walked away; he continues to follow these matters with the greatest of attention, because he cares about Northern Ireland and wishes to see a successful conclusion to this process. The reality is that both he and the Taoiseach made a realistic assessment on Friday morning that the parties were still far apart on a number of issues, and there was an indication that on some key issues some parties were simply not prepared to move. In particular, it was very difficult to see that Sinn Fein was prepared to move on matters relating to welfare reform.

PM Accused over Northern Ireland

David Cameron is not engaging “closely or energetically enough” with the political parties in Ulster, a former Northern Ireland secretary claimed today.

Labour’s Peter Hain, who held the post from 2005 to 2007, said the situation needed “constant care and attention” from Downing Street.

He asked current Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers during questions in the Commons: ” Do you agree the current political paralysis in Northern Ireland is undermining already shaky local faith in their elected politicians?

“I do not believe that the Prime Minister has been engaging closely or energetically enough with the parties to ensure that the 2007 settlement remains in good faith.

“I make no party point on this. From experience, I know that Northern Ireland needs constant care and attention from No 10 and I hope it will now get that.”

Ms Villiers said she could assure him that Northern Ireland did get constant care and attention from Mr Cameron.

She said: “Not just with his decision to bring the G8 to Northern Ireland, but every day in focusing on the security situation and on repairing the Northern Ireland economy and, of course, closely following these talks.

“I agree it is vital we don’t let disputes about parades, painful though they are, get in the way of the need to reach resolution on important issues like the budget, like flags and like a reform of parading decisions in the future.”

Published in the Belfast Telegraph on October 29th 2014,

You can read it here 

Northern Ireland Needs Constant Care And Attention From No. 10

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): On parading, does the Secretary of State agree that the current political paralysis in Northern Ireland is undermining already shaky local faith in its elected politicians? Although I wish the Secretary of State well, I do not believe that the Prime Minister has been engaging closely or energetically enough with the parties to ensure that the 2007 settlement remains in good faith. I make no party point on this: from experience, I know that Northern Ireland needs constant care and attention from No. 10 and I hope it will now get that.

Mrs Villiers: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that Northern Ireland does get constant care and attention from the Prime Minister, not just with his decision to bring the G8 to Northern Ireland, but everyday in focusing on the security situation and repairing the Northern Ireland economy and, of course, by closely following these talks. I agree that it is vital that we do not let disputes about parades, painful though they are, get in the way of the need to reach resolution on important issues such as the budget, flags and reform of parading decisions.

No to English Parliament, yes to English devolution in a federal UK

Progress

Former Welsh secretary and Labour MP for Neath Peter Hain had this to say in a statement on the result:

The energy in the Scots votes, No and Yes, shows time is up for the old politics of the Westminster elite. People are fed up with a Westminster that does not listen and in the case of policies like the bedroom tax does not care.

All the Parties must now move quickly not only to deliver the promised new powers for Scotland, but to do so also for Wales, Northern Ireland and devolution to England. English regions like Cornwall and the North East, and city regions like Manchester and Leeds, also want more powers and should get these.

Peter added in a phone call with Prospect’s Josh Lowe: “If Scotland is going to get the same deal under the Barnett formula Wales has got to get a better deal [than it currently has]… You can’t keep giving all the goodies to Scotland simply because they shout the loudest.”

‘There is a strong case for the Committee Stage of English-only Bills to be scrutinised and amendments debated by English MPs only. But it would be fatal to balkanise Westminster by creating first and second class MPs for votes on the floor of the Commons. Otherwise only London MPs should decide on laws for London and so on, and crucially the Prime Minister would in practice be elected by English MPs alone since the PM would have to command a majority in the “England section’ of Westminster. The solution is devolution in England coupled with a federal UK Parliament in which English MPs would as they do now dominate, comprising 80 per cent of all MPs.”

The UK should move to a federal structure with nations, regions and communities empowered to build a new politics. This should include a democratic Second Parliamentary Chamber elected at the same time as general elections to replace the anachronistic House of Lords, representing all the nations and English regions.