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Page 23, line 42, after ("section") insert--
(""Act" means an Act of the Assembly or, in relation to any time before the appointed day, an Order in Council under Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

21 Oct 1998 : Column 1495

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 123:

Page 23, line 44, at end insert--
("(4) Subject to subsection (5) below, the Secretary of State shall make such a payment at least once every financial year.
(5) No such payment shall be made unless the Secretary of State has laid before the House of Commons a statement certifying that the payment recognises the needs of Northern Ireland relative to the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 123 and it has been suggested that it would be convenient to discuss Amendment No. 124 at the same time. Both these amendments address the question of how much money is going to go from the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland to enable the Assembly and the Executive to carry out their tasks. There is an expectation that if this whole process works as we hope and a more peaceful time comes to Northern Ireland, public expenditure can be reduced considerably within Northern Ireland.

Of course I go along with that to a certain degree. But it does concern me that the Treasury--whose ways we all know well--might take this as an excuse to advance too early on the Northern Ireland budget and try to save money that way. I shall not go into the difficulties which the Treasury faces at the moment as a result of the Government's economic policy, although one could go on for some time about that. We know that all governments at all times--and certainly the Treasury at all times--look, quite rightly, for savings in public expenditure, so they might look at Northern Ireland a bit sharply.

It therefore seemed to me that we should try to place some safeguards into the Bill to ensure that Northern Ireland got its fair share, even though that might be less than has been required in recent years when the security situation has been so difficult. Amendments Nos. 123 and 124 suggest two ways in which we might achieve this desirable end. I am reinforced in making the case for this by the fact that I have read, and heard about, reports that the Treasury was doing its best the other day to reduce the amount of money that was likely to be provided for redundancy for prison officers.

There may be nothing in this, and I am not necessarily asking the Minister to comment specifically on this case, but if the Treasury were trying to cut down the amount of money being made available to prison officers who have been made redundant, I think that would be a false economy. It should certainly not be regarded as part of the peace dividend. In the course of the past few years, prison officers have been among those, alongside the Royal Ulster Constabulary and others, in the front line of fighting terrorism. If we have now got to the position, partly as a result of the releases under the Belfast agreement, where in future we shall require fewer prison officers, it is my belief that those who no longer have a job in this capacity should be most generously treated.

That view is reinforced by what seems to me, and to many people, to be the generous treatment apparently being lined up for those prisoners being released. The comparison has already been drawn, and I need not emphasise it. At any rate, it is my view that Northern Ireland will continue to require a considerable amount of finance even if the, so-called, "peace process" goes

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ahead as smoothly, as easily and as fully as we would all wish. There will be a lot of winding down to do. There will be a lot of unemployment at the end of the peace process and there will be many deserving cases, as it were, who have been part of the security effort.

The economic situation within Northern Ireland is not such as to allow anybody to relax. The level of unemployment, and so on, is high and will get higher rather than lower initially if peace comes fully. For all these reasons, I have a great deal of sympathy with Northern Ireland continuing to receive a disproportionate share, by comparison with its population, of the funds available from United Kingdom taxpayers as a whole. Without any safeguards, I think the situation will be so much more difficult to resolve and will leave a lot of bitterness behind. It is with all those thoughts in mind that I advance these two propositions, which are intended to secure the funding of the Northern Ireland government in future upon a sound and, I believe, a generous basis.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am not a lawyer nor an accountant and I hesitate to go into too much detail in relation to the admirable case made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. However, when one lives in Northern Ireland--in that I include the Minister, who does so for a great part of his time--one is aware of the hardships and difficulties which will, strangely enough, arise from the establishment of peace. Looking at this long-range from the Treasury point of view, one would imagine that the opposite might be the case. But I hope that the hand of Northern Ireland Ministers will be strengthened as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, as a former Treasury Minister has proposed. I recognise that generosity is not a speciality of the Treasury, but in this case it ought to look carefully, through the eyes of the natives, at the situation which will develop in Northern Ireland, not just for the remainder of this financial year, but, in particular, for the year beyond that.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: Now that I fully understand the purpose of these amendments, which I confess I did not originally, I wholeheartedly support them. They are worded in such a way that it was not immediately apparent to me. I had the opportunity of speaking with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, beforehand and now understand that they are meant to keep the Treasury at bay. That is absolutely essential.

The economy of Northern Ireland has many assets but it is still precarious. There will need to be generous and enlightened support from mainland Britain and consistent support from the Treasury for some years to come. If the amendments do nothing else, I hope that they will allow the Minister, when he replies to this discussion, to make it clear that there will not be an early pre-emptive strike by the Treasury to try to claw back the peace dividend to Whitehall rather than leaving it in Northern Ireland where it can fructify.

Lord Dubs: There is no need to stipulate that the Secretary of State shall pay money into the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund every year. The Secretary of

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State is merely the vehicle through which the money for the fund is conveyed. It is the House of Commons which votes the money as part of the annual allocations.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, proposes that there should be a special provision so that money will not go to Northern Ireland unless the Secretary of State certifies that it recognises the needs of Northern Ireland in relation to the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole. That is unnecessary. The money which goes to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund is allocated according to a formula which takes account of the financial requirements of all regions within the United Kingdom. It acts by applying Northern Ireland's broad population share (currently 2.9 per cent.) to changes in comparable Great Britain programmes.

This formula has produced fair settlements for Northern Ireland and enabled the Secretary of State to determine spending decisions in accordance with Northern Ireland needs and priorities. The Government are committed to maintaining this formula for the foreseeable future. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will feel it unnecessary to press his amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale: If the Secretary of State is a vehicle for paying money voted by Parliament across to the Assembly, why do we need Clause 45? Clause 45 states,

    "The Secretary of State shall from time to time make payments into the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland out of money provided by Parliament of such amounts as he may determine".

Lord Dubs: That is formal procedure through which consolidated money is paid and therefore it appears on the face of the Bill, as it should.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: In the light of the discussion, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 46, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 47 and 48 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 124 not moved.]

Clause 49 [Financial acts of the Assembly]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 125:

Page 24, line 35, after ("Personnel") insert ("or such other Minister appointed under section 15 as shall be nominated by the Treasury").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 125 is directed to subsection (1)(a) of Clause 49 which provides for the Minister of Finance and Personnel to approve any vote of money. It was said earlier in our discussions that we cannot prejudge whether there will be a Minister of Finance and Personnel; he may be called something else. It was said that it is not for this Chamber under the legislation as proposed to designate the Ministers; it is up to the new machinery being set up, particularly the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, who have some difficult hoops to go through in that process.

It may be that at some crucial point there is a vacancy in the post as a result of the mechanics not being applied. That is not desirable. The amendment enters a kind of threat to the Assembly; I am using the Treasury

21 Oct 1998 : Column 1498

as a blunderbuss, or perhaps as a Sword of Damocles, to be held over the machinery to make sure that they appoint someone as Minister of Finance and Personnel. It is desirable that there should be somebody in that position. That is the purpose of the amendment. It raises the question as to what happens if there is a vacancy at DFP at the relevant time. I suggest one answer, but there may be others. I beg to move.

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