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Mark Durkan criticises British Government over fast-tracking of welfare reforms

Foyle MLA Mark Durkan 
PA Reporter

The British government has been accused of adopting a “kangaroo parliamentary procedure” to stifle debate and “fast track” changes to Northern Ireland’s benefits system through Parliament.

MPs were yesterday asked to expedite the passage of the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill through Parliament in just one day using emergency legislative procedures.

But Mark Durkan, pictured, SDLP MP for Foyle, attacked the government for the apparent lack of time and scrutiny being allocated to the bill.

“We would have liked to have more time just as our colleagues in the Assembly when the debate arose there last week wanted to take more time – not just members of the SDLP, but members of other parties,” he said.

Mr Durkan criticised the way forward which meant opposition amendments could not be voted on, labelling it a “kangaroo parliamentary procedure”.

“Members of this house should not be under the illusion that they have to adopt a procedure with a timetable motion in relation to this bill that they wouldn’t adopt for anybody else but that it is safe and okay to do so because it is in the name of taking forward the peace process or the Fresh Start agreement,” he said.

He added: “It is wrong that we are circumscribed on time. It is wrong that we are being muzzled.”

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers admitted asking MPs to take all stages of a bill through the House in a single day is “exceptional” and “not ideal”.

“The Government is only embarking on this procedure because we view it to be absolutely necessary in this specific case,” she said.

Ms Villiers said it is necessary to “fast track” the legislation so that “welfare reform is no longer an issue which is undermining the political process in Northern Ireland as it has done over the last four years”.

She also stressed the need for welfare reform in Northern Ireland.

She told the house: “The difference between the level of benefits in Great Britain and the level of benefits currently being paid out in Northern Ireland amounts to some £2 million a week.

“That is a drain on the resources of the executive which it can ill afford.”

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