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Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates

Northern Ireland Grand Committee

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Sir Alan Haselhurst
Anderson, Mr. David (Blaydon) (Lab)
Bailey, Mr. Adrian (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op)
Battle, John (Leeds, West) (Lab)
Campbell, Mr. Gregory (East Londonderry) (DUP)
Cooper, Rosie (West Lancashire) (Lab)
Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab)
Davies, Mr. Quentin (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
Devine, Mr. Jim (Livingston) (Lab)
Dodds, Mr. Nigel (Belfast, North) (DUP)
Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M. (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
Durkan, Mark (Foyle) (SDLP)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
Harris, Mr. Tom (Glasgow, South)
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen (Jarrow) (Lab)
Hermon, Lady (North Down) (UUP)
Joyce, Mr. Eric (Falkirk) (Lab)
Lancaster, Mr. Mark (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con)
Lidington, Mr. David (Aylesbury) (Con)
McCrea, Dr. William (South Antrim) (DUP)
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair (Belfast, South) (SDLP)
McGrady, Mr. Eddie (South Down) (SDLP)
Mackay, Mr. Andrew (Bracknell) (Con)
Mulholland, Greg (Leeds, North-West) (LD)
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke) (Lab)
Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
Paisley, Rev. Ian (North Antrim) (DUP)
Pound, Stephen (Ealing, North) (Lab)
Reid, Mr. Alan (Argyll and Bute) (LD)
Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Robinson, Mrs. Iris (Strangford) (DUP)
Robinson, Mr. Peter (Belfast, East) (DUP)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
Ruane, Chris (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab)
Simpson, David (Upper Bann) (DUP)
Wallace, Mr. Ben (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con)
Walter, Mr. Robert (North Dorset) (Con)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wilson, Sammy (East Antrim) (DUP)
Alan Sandall, David Weir, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 109(4):
Eagle, Maria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)
Hanson, Mr. David (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)

Northern Ireland Grand Committee

Tuesday 12 December 2006

[The Chairman of Ways and Means in the Chair]

1 pm
The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Before I call the first question, I would like to place on record the appreciation of Mr. Speaker and myself to the Lord Mayor for allowing this historic meeting of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee to take place here in the City hall in Belfast in Northern Ireland. I would also like to express my appreciation on behalf of everyone to him and his colleagues for the arrangements that they have made and the hospitality that they have accorded.
For the convenience of members, the clock at the end, facing me, is the one that will be used. You will have noticed it is different from the others. I would also say for the convenience of the Committee that the form of address to me today is Sir Alan.

Northern Ireland Grand Committee

The Secretary of State was asked—

Northern Ireland Water Ltd

1. Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): When the (a) strategic business plan, (b) assets and estate management plan and (c) licence for Northern Ireland Water Ltd will be made publicly available. [105396]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Maria Eagle): The strategic business plan will not be made public as it is commercially sensitive. A three-year business plan for Northern Ireland Water Ltd will be published before April 2007 and a detailed five-year capital and operational expenditure requirement from 2010 will be produced within the 2009 periodic review. Northern Ireland Water Ltd will provide an estate management plan to the regulator for approval by 1 September 2007.
Mark Durkan: The Minister has said that the strategic business plan will not be published because of commercial confidentiality. That already shows that a key matter of public importance has been treated as though it is the private property of the GOCO—Government-owned, contractor-operated—that is to be established. Does she not appreciate that the figures that her colleagues have been given for water charges one, two and three years from now crucially depend on how credible and sustainable the strategic business plan is? In the absence of sight of that business plan and in the absence of an asset and estate management plan, people can place absolutely no reliance on the figures that the Government are offering.
Maria Eagle: The purpose of the strategic business plan is to enable the Department as a shareholder to manage its interests in the new water and sewerage undertaking and to enable the company to deliver its objectives. The plan must be developed in the context of the financial framework set by and already announced by Government in the 2005 financial review, so I do not accept that it is a completely secret document and that no reliance can therefore be placed on its contents.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): It is a pleasure to sit under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Alan. Can the Minister, without the use of any weasel words, rule out categorically any plan by the Government to privatise water or sewerage services in Northern Ireland?
Maria Eagle: I can rule that out without any weasel words if that satisfies the hon. Lady. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it absolutely clear that that is not what we are intending to do. What a devolved Administration would do thereafter would, of course, be a matter for them.
Maria Eagle: Yes, I can confirm the undertakings and assurances that my noble Friend gave in the other place yesterday.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): The Minister is aware that the consultation in respect of licensing of the water company closes on 9 February. As the water company comes into operation on 1 April, can she conceive that such a short time space of seven weeks will enable the consultation to be properly and adequately assessed and the terms of reference of the licence amended or suggested accordingly, or will the water company go into free fall without licence control on 1 April?
Maria Eagle: I have every confidence that the civil servants who are working speedily to deal with this issue can do the work necessary in the time that has been set aside. We have been consulting in respect of this matter since 2003, so there is a lot of background knowledge, experience and work that has already been done. I have every confidence that this can be dealt with properly.


2. Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): What progress has been made with the review of parading issues. [105397]
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): Ministers have held constructive meetings with key stakeholders, taking views on the possible terms of reference for the review. Having considered the points made in those meetings, the Government and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) will be planning to announce the terms of reference in the new year.
Mr. Dodds: I thank the Minister for that reply, but would he not accept that this is an absolutely crucial issue as far as stability in Northern Ireland is concerned? Does he accept that under the terms of reference, and when the appointments are made to the review, a new legislative framework for the parades issue is essential, if there is to be confidence, and that it should restore the balance between the rights of those who take part in parades and those who want to oppose them? Also, does he accept that the Parades Commission, which is part of the problem, should go, and should be replaced with something that can provide a new way forward?
Mr. Hanson: I share the hon. Gentleman’s view about the importance of the review taking place early in the new year. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be considering both the composition of the review panel and the appointment to the chair of the panel, but the review will not include a review of the fundamentals of the Parades Commission or the legislation relating to it. The commission serves a valuable function. The purpose of the review is to examine some of the issues and lessons to ensure that next year’s parading season and those of future years will be as successful as the one that took place this July.

Washington Bureau

3. Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): What plans there are for the development of the Northern Ireland bureau in Washington; and whether the next director will be appointed by open and public competition. [105398]
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): The bureau will continue to develop its strategy of promoting Northern Ireland as an internationally focused, successful region and develop relationships with targeted organisations and regions in the United States. Priority sectors will include economic development and science and technology. The bureau’s post of director will be filled from within the Northern Ireland civil service. If a suitable internal candidate cannot be identified, an external recruitment competition may be needed.
Dr. McDonnell: I am sure that the Minister will agree that the Northern Ireland bureau has over the years gone from strength to strength, doing a great job for Northern Ireland. I thank him for his answer, which certainly suggests that. Does he agree that it is essential that the director’s position should be filled by the best person available, whether in the public service or externally, through open competition?
Mr. Hanson: The Northern Ireland bureau plays a useful role in helping to promote Northern Ireland’s interests in the continent of North America. Last year, it hosted 26 receptions, with 2,500 participants. It liaises with the state capital, Senators and Congressmen and a range of business leaders in the community. It is important to get the best person for the job, but we have said that we shall initially undertake a recruitment exercise in the civil service. If the best person for the job is not found there, we retain the option of external recruitment in due course. I am confident that we can find a suitable person in the civil service, but the other option is available to the Government.

Climate Change

4. Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): What recent steps the Government has taken in Northern Ireland to tackle climate change. [105399]
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Prepared 13 December 2006