Northern Ireland Budget Bill - Second Reading (and remaining stages)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:05 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP 12:05 pm, 31st October 2019

My Lords, there is no question that this process is any substitute for proper scrutiny. In normal circumstances, this budget would have gone to departmental committees of Stormont, it would have been scrutinised, and Assembly Members would have made decisions based on their priorities and what they felt was in the best interests of their constituents. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has just said, there is no alternative to dealing with it in this way today. However, a number of things need to be highlighted.

First, on the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, both today and yesterday, I can say to him that, after the proceedings here I took myself down to the other place. It was clear, during a Statement made by the Leader of the other place to the Commons, that Members were getting information from the Front Bench that was out of date; it had been superseded by the proceedings in here that had not been transmitted to the Members there. There was overwhelming support in the other place for dealing with the Bill. I got the impression that the Leader of the House had listened to Members there and that perhaps something could be done. If it is not done, it will be the greatest kick in the teeth that this Parliament could possibly deliver to a group of victims. I sincerely hope that we will be able to dispatch the Bill later today and get it down to the other place for its deliberations.

My noble friend Lord Lexden raised a number of issues in his contribution. It goes back to the debate earlier this year when we were looking at the question of the RHI and the scheme that was to be in place. The Minister will be aware that I moved amendments, which I withdrew only on the basis of the undertakings that he gave to the House at that stage. That centred around the report and the scheme that was to be put in place to provide compensation for those who had in good faith availed themselves of the scheme but found themselves penalised effectively at the end of the process by having made economic decisions based on an anticipated income. They had sought loans from banks to do other things on the basis of that, and then discovered that their whole economic and business plans were completely frustrated when the scheme was arbitrarily changed part-way through.

The Minister will also have to be aware that similar schemes have now been introduced in the Republic of Ireland, and the scheme has gone on here in Britain unabated.