I beg to move
That, in accordance with Standing Order 33(4), the period referred to in Standing Order 33(2) be extended to 19 January 2010, in relation to the Committee Stage of the Water and Sewerage Services (Amendment) Bill (NIA Bill 03/09).
The Committee Stage of the Water and Sewerage Services (Amendment) Bill began on 30 September 2009. Members will be aware that the Bill aims to ensure the continued provision of customer subsidy for Northern Ireland Water in the absence of funding through payments by customers. Under article 213(3) of the Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, the Department for Regional Development (DRD) is required to make grants to Northern Ireland Water equal to the amount of discount provided to customers in the initial period.
The Order defines the initial period as three years from the coming into operation of the Order. The initial three-year period is the period during which the direct rule Administration intended to phase in charges for water and sewerage services, and it runs out on 31 March 2010. DRD states that it has no means to make grants to Northern Ireland Water after that date.
The Committee for Regional Development has taken evidence from the Consumer Council and Northern Ireland Water, both of which stated that they are content with the Bill. On 21 October 2009, the Minister for Regional Development and supporting officials gave evidence to the Committee on the principle of the Bill and the financial aspects of the deferral of water and sewerage charges. Although there is a fair degree of uncertainty about the cost of further deferring water charges, the Minister estimated that it would be about £1 billion over the next three years, should the Executive decide to defer charges for that period. Therefore, significant financial implications for Northern Ireland arise from the deferral of water and sewerage charges, and the Bill creates the mechanism to implement any decision by the Executive to continue to defer such charges.
To date, DRD officials have been unable to provide further clarity on the cost of continual deferral, including the costs associated with the reclassification of Northern Ireland Water for public expenditure purposes, the basis for evaluating Northern Ireland Water’s assets and the ongoing ability of Northern Ireland Water to reclaim its input VAT. The Committee was informed by DRD that the Department of Finance and Personnel had responsibility for negotiating with the Treasury on those issues, and DFP officials are to give evidence to the Committee on 11 November 2009. At that meeting, the Committee will seek clarity on what potential financial impacts ongoing deferral may have on the Northern Ireland block as a whole, DRD’s budget and the budgets of other Departments.
I have stated before that, in approaching any Bill, the Committee is mindful of the need to progress business efficiently and effectively, while discharging its scrutiny responsibilities to the Assembly in a thorough and conscientious manner. As is common practice, the Committee published a public notice inviting written submissions on the Bill’s clauses, and the Committee agreed to a two-week deadline for submissions to ensure that the Bill could pass through the Assembly and be in place by April 2010. The deadline for submissions was 23 October 2009, and one submission was received from NIPSA. The Committee will meet again this Wednesday, 4 November 2009, to consider NIPSA’s submission on the way forward.
At the Committee meeting on 7 October 2009, members signed a motion seeking an extension to the Committee Stage until 19 January 2010. The Committee has stated its support for the principles of the Bill and will endeavour to report to the Assembly on the Bill as soon as possible. In the interim, I commend the motion to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That, in accordance with Standing Order 33(4), the period referred to in Standing Order 33(2) be extended to 19 January 2010, in relation to the Committee Stage of the Water and Sewerage Services (Amendment) Bill [NIA Bill 03/09].