Welfare reform bill for Northern Ireland passes through Commons

Parliament Buildings in London
Parliament Buildings in London

Welfare reform legislation for Northern Ireland - which was agreed as part of last week’s political deal at Stormont - has been approved at Westminster.

The Bill cleared the Commons at third reading unopposed and is expected to be similarly fast-tracked through the Lords shortly before becoming law.

A SDLP bid to insert a new clause into the Bill, calling on the Secretary of State to report after 12 months on the impact of any orders made under the new Act, was lost five votes to 171 - a majority of 166.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker said: “In the end, the failure to agree in Northern Ireland could have resulted in a collapse of devolution or the return of direct rule - a situation which is not acceptable to any of us.

“So, because a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly have consented, we are legislating here on welfare reform - legislating in a way which will enable Northern Ireland to move forward and make the continued progress we all want.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the flexibility given to the Northern Ireland Assembly as part of the agreement ensured it is a “good deal”, adding he will be pleased to support the Bill.

Danny Kinahan, UUP MP for South Antrim, said the legislation was “most extraordinary”, adding: “It’s so sad that it’s become necessary, not because of what it does - although we welcome much of what is in it and the fact that it can now happen, and it moves us out of the quagmire of inactivity...

“But we’ve got it because our legislators in Northern Ireland are unable to do it themselves and are happy to pass the buck to Westminster.”

He also said it shows the UK Government is happy to listen to just the two main parties in Northern Ireland, a claim denied by Ms Villiers.

DUP MP for North Antrim Ian Paisley later praised “tough Theresa” for standing up to Sinn Fein.

However, Mark Durkan of the SDLP accused the Government of adopting a “kangaroo parliamentary procedure” to stifle debate and “fast track” changes to the benefit system through Parliament.