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Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:15 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party 5:15 pm, 16th January 2017

If I am including the Chair, do I include your three party colleagues who were also on the Committee and who did not do that? I think the fundamental point is that very little information came out of the Executive at the time. Clearly, the evidence trail will show — this is why we are not scared of a public inquiry — that the information was within the Executive, or the two main parties of the Executive, from February and that now it is all about throwing shapes.

Eight weeks ago today, the Fresh Start anniversary puff piece was published in the daily newspapers. It reads:

"We made promises to voters that we will keep — taking on the heavy responsibilities that come with elected office, governing in their best interests, tackling head-on the tough decisions."

There is a lot more to read in that, but I will leave that to Members if they need some light relief later. Either those parties were spinning the public a line eight weeks ago when they wrote that or they are doing it now, because both cannot be true. The party that designed this disastrous scheme has, we are led to believe, designed a good mitigation, but it looks like it is on the back of the envelope to everybody else. It leaves us with the choice between an £85,000 per day bleed indefinitely, if this place falls and we do not have another opportunity to fix it, and the potential cost of legal challenges, as well as all the cost of the very belated investigations.

In this scenario, I think you will understand that people are a bit reluctant to trust those who designed the flawed scheme to design the fix. People may put faith in the views of Dr David Capper, for example, in the School of Law at Queen's, who specialises in contract law and who expressed scepticism — that is putting it very mildly — at the view that the proposals can be implemented in a way that is zero cost. He also, you may be aware, expressed the opinion on Radio Ulster at the weekend, after studying the regulations, that regulation 33(p), which provides that subsidies should not be used to:

"generate heat for the predominant purpose of increasing ... periodic support payments" may be a route for tackling abuse of the scheme. I hope the Minister will comment on both aspects of Dr Capper's contribution in his winding-up speech.

I have a few more questions. Will the Minister clarify what impact, if any, the proposals have on the Treasury spend? When the scheme was being designed, it seemed to be, "Sure it's London's money; fill your boots". Is this just recouping block grant money, or does the Treasury expect to get any money back as well? It is all public money that somebody has earned and paid as tax. Will he further clarify if and when the names of those benefiting from the scheme will be published, and, if not, if and when he will publish the legal advice that he has received on that?

Members, we have a very difficult choice. It is more regrettable because it is being hothoused; we are being asked to make the choice very quickly without, as my colleague outlined, any of the normal transparency and scrutiny. It is up to Members to convince the public that this is more than a ploy to restore, in some way, any reputation that the DUP ever had for competence — that is a lost cause, but, hopefully, we can at least recoup some public money.