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Review into whether MLAs should get salaries in absence of Stormont assembly


James Brokenshire moved budget measures for Stormont with the "utmost reluctance"

James Brokenshire moved budget measures for Stormont with the "utmost reluctance"

James Brokenshire moved budget measures for Stormont with the "utmost reluctance"

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has commissioned an independent review into whether MLAs should still be paid their full salaries while there is no assembly at Stormont.

He also confirmed that £50 million would be made available to Northern Ireland from the DUP's £1 billion confidence and supply arrangement with the Government, despite the continued deadlock in powersharing

Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP, called the confirmation of funding "a very significant moment in the history of this Parliament".

Mr Brokenshire spoke as he moved budget measures for Stormont with the "utmost reluctance" via the Northern Ireland Budget Bill.

It cleared the Commons without amendment and aims to ensure funding for public services in Northern Ireland does not run out by the end of the month.

Mr Brokenshire said the Bill does " not mean a move to direct rule" although he w as urged by DUP MPs to appoint ministers to take control in Northern Ireland, with concerns over a lack of accountability and transparency.

The Bill will undergo further scrutiny in the Lords before it can become law.

Speaking as the measures were considered by MPs, Mr Brokenshire said he understood concerns over MLAs still being paid their full salary months after powersharing collapsed.

"I understand that concern, but I recognise too that in fact many of those elected have been desperate to serve since March and are continuing to provide valuable constituency functions in the meantime," he said.

"That is why I have been keen to seek independent advice on the subject, in determining what actions may be appropriate.

"I can say to the House this evening that Mr Trevor Reaney, a former clerk of the Northern Ireland Assembly, has agreed to take on that task.

"He will provide an independent assessment of the case for action and the steps he would consider to be appropriate, and will report back to me by December 15."

Mr Brokenshire added that while the £1 billion deal agreed with the DUP was intended for a restored executive in Northern Ireland, the circumstances there could not be ignored in the meantime.

"Separate from the Bill, this Government will make available the £50 million for addressing immediate health and education pressures in the agreement in this financial year," he said.

He said that should the Northern Ireland administration wish to access the money, the UK Parliament would vote on the allocation in the new year.

From there it would be transferred along with other sums in the Northern Ireland block grant, Mr Brokenshire said, when it would be u p to civil servants to make decisions on how to use the funding.

Mr Dodds said: "Some people said it depended on the executive. Clearly, that's not the case.

"And the people of Northern Ireland - all of them, as he has said, unionists, nationalists, everyone in Northern Ireland - will welcome the fact that extra money is going into the health service, into education, and indeed will eventually get into infrastructure and all the rest of it as a result of the deal that the Democratic Unionist Party did with the Government."

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith said of the Bill: "If this is not direct rule, it's getting perilously close to it."

Labour former minister Vernon Coaker, along with DUP MPs, questioned if there would be a "£600 million reduction in spending ability" for the departments in Northern Ireland as a result of the budget.

He added: "And whose decision will it be as to which departments face the reductions to make that £600 million reduction?"

Mr Brokenshire replied: "What we're actually dealing with here is effectively the full utilisation of the resources that were set out by this House through the block grant, in essence."