Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fifth Report


33. Our principal conclusions and recommendations are summarised below:

(a)Although the technical minimum formal requirement for the laying before the House of the audited resource accounts for 1999-2000 was met by 31 March 2001, we do not consider that the Northern Ireland Office, like a number of other departments, complied in practice with the spirit of the requirement to lay these accounts by 31 March. We regard it as unfortunate that the material difficulties with these accounts were not identified earlier, with the result that their completion was significantly delayed. As a result, we were deprived of any opportunity to look at the accounts before the Vote on Account for 2001-02 had to be agreed by the House. We also regret that, given the prior interest we had displayed in the development of resource accounting, the Department was not pro-active in informing us of the difficulties it encountered subsequent to the evidence session, but left us to take the initiative in this matter. If a similar situation arises in future, we hope the Department will take the initiative and explain the problem and its proposed solution. (Paragraphs 12 and 13).
(b)Decisions on expenditure from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund are properly a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly and Northern Ireland Ministers and we have no desire to involve ourselves in these. However, on the information presently available to us, it is not possible for us to make a meaningful assessment of the overall success of the Secretary of State in securing the public expenditure resources which Northern Ireland needs. Neither do we have sufficient information on which to form a soundly based judgement on the proposed level of Supply to be granted to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. Either the amount of available information needs to increase, or our responsibilities in relation to examination of Northern Ireland expenditure need to be modified to reflect the current realities. We shall be giving further consideration to this matter. (Paragraph 19).
(c)While we are concerned that Mr Mark Durkan, MLA, Northern Ireland Minister of Finance and Personnel, considers that a review of the Barnett formula is overdue on the grounds that it fails to reflect the needs of the population of Northern Ireland, we recognise that any revision is likely to be a complex exercise. In view of Mr Durkan's concerns, we shall continue to keep this area under review. In the event that the Government decides to review the arrangements for the funding of the devolved administrations, it might be appropriate for this Committee, the Welsh Affairs Committee, the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Treasury Committee (or any successor Committees) to look jointly at the matter, on the model of the approach adopted in this Parliament by the relevant departmental committees to the Government's annual reports on strategic export controls. (Paragraph 25).
(d)It would have been helpful if the Spring Supplementary Estimate for Class XV, Vote 2 for 2000-01 had drawn attention to the restructuring element, and the reasons for this change. More generally, as far as we can see, the House has been given no substantive information on the reasons for this Spring Supplementary Estimate. The corresponding Scottish Estimate, on the other hand, provided a useful summary of its purpose. We commend this model to the Northern Ireland Office for the future. (Paragraph 28).
(e)We recognise that the situation in which we made our recommendation [that a public expenditure report, similar in scope to the material previously included in Northern Ireland Office Departmental Reports, covering the Northern Ireland Departments, should be presented to the House in adequate time for its contents to be studied before the relevant Estimate was voted in the summer of 2000] was exceptional but, should it recur, we expect to be in a position to consider all matters falling within the responsibilities of the Secretary of State, however temporarily. In that event, we recommend that the Northern Ireland Office issues appropriate guidance to the Northern Ireland Departments and, in particular, draws their attention to the conventions relating to the period within which Select Committees expect replies to their reports. (Paragraph 32).

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 29 June 2001