Clause 67 - Reorganisation of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 30 June 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Paymaster General

We now switch subjects completely. As I understand it, the state effectively still runs the water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland. Water rates are not levied separately but included in local taxation, which in Northern Ireland is still a variant of the old rating system, rather than the council tax that operates in England. In future, water rates are to be run and levied by a newly established company under the auspices of the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland.

The clause permits the relevant assets to be transferred to the company on a tax-neutral basis, with details of the transfer to be confirmed in subsequent regulations. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) had something to say about that on Second Reading, but I shall not repeat it, not least because I cannot do the accent. The subject is obviously a matter of some concern to people in the Province.

The Paymaster General wrote to Committee members on 24 June to provide detail about what the regulations will cover, and we thank her for that courtesy. The Opposition are not opposed to the creation of the company or to the separating out of the water rates charge in line with the situation in much of the rest of the UK. However, as there are no Northern Ireland Members assigned to the Committee, I shall briefly press the Paymaster General on a few points.

The Paymaster General's letter mentioned that subsequent legislation would give effect to the reorganisation. It said:  

''The regulations required to deal with the tax consequences of the reorganisation of the Water Service will be determined by how the reorganisation is structured and the nature of the property, rights and liabilities transferred from the Water Service. The tax regulations will be made after the detail of the legislation dealing with the reorganisation is known.''

That seems the logical sequence of events. I appreciate that the legislation required is unlikely to be a Treasury Bill, but does the Paymaster General have any idea of when it will be forthcoming and when the tax regulations can be expected to follow? Finally—this is an important question, if only to exclude some of the possibilities—how, if at all, will the process be affected if a compromise is reached in Northern Ireland and some form of devolved Government restored?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

None of the hon. Gentleman's questions are relevant to the clause. It simply provides that if, following consultation in Northern Ireland, the decision is taken to transfer to a wholly owned Government company, the transfer of the assets will be dealt with in the same way as transfers to new companies that are wholly owned by a Department. The legislation, the consultation and therefore the change is a matter for the Northern Ireland Office. The legislation, as requested by that Department, makes sure that if a wholly owned Department company is created, there are no tax consequences, which is normal practice.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Paymaster General

I thank the Paymaster General for that explanation. As we have no Northern Ireland Ministers or Members in this Committee, it was an important point of principle that the clause should not be allowed to go by without some comment. I am sorry if she does not agree; we will have to agree to differ.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.