Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fifth Report

Letter from the Secretary of State to the Chairman

Thank you for your letter of 18 December. Let me repeat at the outset the regret expressed in Peter Mandelson's letter of 6 December that my Department's earlier response to the Committee's Third Report had caused you some concerns.

On the substance, however, I do not believe that I can add much to what Peter has already said. I note the comments in your penultimate paragraph on the timing of advice to me on the Committee's recommendation. While I accept your general point that this could, strictly speaking, have come forward more quickly, Peter's letter of 6 December explained that during the period of suspension, he wished to avoid taking decisions which should properly be for the Northern Ireland Executive. This was the reason for the delay in preparing the advice provided to Peter by the Department of Finance and Personnel.

Turning to my statutory responsibility to secure Northern Ireland's share of public expenditure, this responsibility is exercised in line with HM Treasury's 'Statement of Funding Policy: Funding the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly' (March 1999). As that Statement makes clear, the Northern Ireland Executive is "fully accountable for the proper control and management of its public expenditure allocation and for securing economy, efficiency and value for money" through scrutiny by the Assembly.

As far as its future plans are concerned, you will be aware that the Executive published in draft in October both its Public Expenditure Plans for 2001/02 to 2003/04 and its Programme for Government. Finalised Public Expenditure Plans were published in December and I believe that the finalised Programme for Government will follow within the next few weeks. Accounts in the appropriate form covering this year's expenditure will, I understand, be laid before the Assembly in due course.

5 January 2001

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