Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) (No. 2) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:36 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bew Lord Bew Crossbench 8:36 pm, 12th March 2019

My Lords, I support the two Bills and thank the Minister for arranging the briefing from his officials in the Northern Ireland Office yesterday. During that discussion, I was struck by a point already raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, this evening: the possibility of a University of Ulster medical school in Magee. The cost mentioned in yesterday’s meeting was £30 million. I asked officials about the cost of the current inquiry into the Scappaticci affair, which according to press reports has cleared £35 million, but no one knew the answer.

I am here making a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, which is that the expense of these legacy inquiries really mounts up. In principle, at least, obvious social goods for the future of Northern Ireland might be obtained if money was not going in that direction on the dramatic scale it has in the past. The Bloody Sunday inquiry, for which I was proud to be an historical adviser, has cost £200 million and is still going on. At the time of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, I did not believe that we would still be having these inquiries, and there are many more to come unless, somehow or other, we get a grip on this. Otherwise, there will not be a medical school in Magee or many other social benefits in Northern Ireland in future.

I have one more point to make to the noble Lord the Minister. I think he is perfectly aware that Northern Ireland housing associations are restricted in their operation by a definition from the Office for National Statistics. This issue was raised in the other place when the legislation was debated, and on 6 March the Secretary of State seemed to hold out the prospect of legislation, although the situation was not made completely clear. I am pressing the noble Lord on the issue of timing. Can we have action before the summer? I understand that he may need to write to me. This is a way to expand social housing, affordable housing, in Northern Ireland without putting any pressure on the block grant. It would therefore be very helpful if progress could be made in that area.