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The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the draft Energy Efficiency (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 is to provide a statutory basis for the promotion of energy efficiency in Northern Ireland. I believe it will be helpful to the House if I fill in the background to the preparation and drafting of the order.
Although departments in Northern Ireland have been actively promoting energy efficiency for quite some time, there has to date been only limited statutory authority for the expenditure involved. Consequently, parliamentary approval for this expenditure has been sought annually by way of the appropriation orders.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office indicated in a letter to the Department of Economic Development that this procedure should not be used in the long-term and that authority to incur expenditure should be defined by specific statute. An assurance was therefore given to the Northern Ireland Audit Office that the appropriate legislative cover would be obtained. This order seeks to fulfil that commitment.
The promotion of energy efficiency is an important government priority in Northern Ireland and I should like to explain how this policy is delivered. Until October 1997 energy efficiency was a matter exclusively for the Department of Economic Development. However, it was then decided--mainly due to the introduction of the Home Energy Conservation Act--that the responsibility for energy efficiency in residential accommodation should be transferred to the Department of the Environment. At the same time the opportunity was taken to transfer responsibility for promoting energy efficiency in government buildings, and in the public sector generally, to the DoE. The current arrangements for promoting energy efficiency are reflected in the terms of the draft order laid before the House.
The Department of Economic Development, through the Industrial Research and Technology Unit, promotes energy efficiency in industry and commerce; that is in Article 3. The department also promotes energy efficiency among voluntary organisations and community groups; that is in Article 4.
The Department of the Environment, through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, is responsible for energy efficiency in residential accommodation; that is in Article 5. The DoE also has responsibility for promoting energy efficiency in the government estate and in other public bodies; and that is in Article 6.
The main provisions of the order are contained in four short and broadly similar articles dealing with the promotion of the efficient use of energy by industry, and voluntary organisations, in residential accommodation and by public bodies.
Each of these articles enables the relevant department to take such action as it considers appropriate to promote the efficient use of energy. The means by which that may be done include: the payment of grants or loans; the giving of advice; the dissemination of information; and the carrying out of research. The order does not place any new duties or requirements on businesses or individuals, nor will it give rise to increased public expenditure.
The promotion of energy efficiency in residential accommodation will also allow the Department of the Environment to focus on helping vulnerable groups in Northern Ireland such as the fuel poor. That will provide the department with the opportunity to promote fuel poverty schemes to improve the thermal efficiency of dwellings.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I note that Articles 3 and 4 of the order refer to the Department of Economic Development and that that title also appears in the Explanatory Notes. During debate on 8th February (at col. 84 of Hansard) it was declared that the Department of Economic Development would become the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
I am not nit-picking, but in a previous incarnation I had the uncomfortable experience of being present on several occasions when Orders in Council were being considered and when, on the highest authority, an order was held to be invalid because one word had been wrongly inserted. Orders in Council cannot be amended. Are we therefore running into any difficulty by using the old name of the department when in the previous order its new name was used?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his positive support. I agree that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has made an important contribution in the whole area of energy efficiency. This House has had the benefit of the noble Lord's experience for many years.
The order provides coverage that is not required in Great Britain, because Northern Ireland has a more extensive promotional campaign in the domestic sector. So matters are not exactly the same as in Great Britain; in some respects we may have progressed further.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, was concerned about the use of a particular departmental name within the order. We are using the name of the department as it exists today. The order is therefore drafted in pre-devolution terms, so we have to use the term Department of Economic Development at the present time. However, the transfer of functions order will apply and will therefore take care of the change of name in the post-devolution situation from the old name to the new one. That is the proper way of doing it. We very much hope that devolution will take place over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we have to use the existing names of departments.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this order is to amend the law in Northern Ireland on trade union subscription deduction arrangements--a system known as "check off"--and to place it on the same footing as the law in Great Britain. The change to the law in Great Britain was effected by the Deregulation (Deduction from Pay of Union Subscriptions) Order 1998 which came into force on 23rd June 1998.
The relevant provisions are located in Articles 35 and 36 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. These have been unpopular both with employers and trade unions because they impose unnecessary burdens and costs on them.
These burdens are eased by the order's provisions in two ways. First, the requirement on employers to obtain repeat authorisations from individual workers at least every three years, confirming their wish to continue paying their trade union subscriptions by "check off", is removed. Secondly, employers need not notify workers one month in advance if the amount to be deducted by "check off" is to increase.
These changes do not affect those aspects of the legislation on "check off" which provide necessary protection for workers. Written authorisations are still required from workers before deductions through "check off" can begin, and workers are free at any time to withdraw their authorisation if they so wish. Itemised pay statements under Article 40 of the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 showing the amount of any deduction are still required to be provided by employers. These arrangements are considered by government to provide a sufficient safeguard to ensure that employees are informed about and in control of deductions from their pay.
While the order removes the burdensome aspects of the law on "check off" which are universally unpopular, it retains the necessary protections and freedoms for individuals to opt in and opt out of the "check off" arrangements on pay.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I, too, do not oppose the principle of the draft order, which fulfils a manifesto commitment made by the party now in government. It was endorsed by the electorate of England, Scotland and Wales. The party in government did not field candidates in Northern Ireland; therefore,
I wonder what the reason was for the intention originally to embody this clear-cut formula in what was called a composite order or, as the late Eric Heffer said, a composite Order in Council. Why was it intended to do that, rather than to repeat the same formula that was used in the rest of the United Kingdom, fulfilling as it did the clear-cut manifesto commitment? It may be difficult for the Minister to answer that, as he was not responsible, but it seems to be something of an anomaly. Maybe there is a message in that for the Assembly when it comes to do the work and tries to avoid the vital commitment in a composite order which, among other things, has no relationship to this particular item.
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