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Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 19:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

In the Schedule [Names and registered offices]:

Lord Phillips of Sudbury moved Amendment No. 20:

    Page 10, line 13, at end insert--

("( ) When the name of the limited liability partnership ends with the abbreviation "llp" or "LLP" any notepaper, invoice, circular or other communication in whatever medium shall legibly state thereon that it is "a limited liability partnership".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should apologise at once for chickening out of an attempt to table an amendment to incorporate the Welsh version as well. However, I hope that if the Government accept this amendment, they will bring in the necessary linguistic means to complete its effect. Before I go any further, I add my thanks to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for the assistance given by the Government to myself and colleagues on these Benches in arriving today with as much help as they have been able to give.

This amendment is simple but important. I believe that it is necessary on grounds of public protection. The word "limited" in relation to a limited liability company and the requirement for any but a public company to have the word "limited" or the letters "Ltd" after its title are, I believe, now generally understood by the public. However, it takes an awfully long time--not merely decades--for the man and woman in the street to latch on to even the simplicities of company law. I believe, too, that the word "partnership" is broadly understood, as is the difference between "partnership" and "company".

We have two particular problems: first, the limited liability partnership is a brand new corporate animal; and secondly, it has a kind of hybrid feel to it. One of the drawbacks in terms of public understanding of what is going on is that the word "partnership" remains in the Bill's title and the letters "LLP" contain, obviously, the word "partnership". Indeed, it is predictable that members of LLPs will refer to themselves as partners. They will talk about "the partnership". They will say, "My partner did this" or "My partner did that".

I believe that, at least for a period--perhaps 10 years, but perhaps permanently--if LLPs do not set out in full the words, "limited liability partnership", after their name, they should be required to put the words in full at the bottom of their notepaper, etc, in much the same way as they are required to do for their registered company, the place of incorporation, their registered number, and so on. Without it, I believe that there will be serious confusion. By means of this Bill we are bestowing a tremendous privilege upon firms which translate from partnerships into LLPs. Therefore, in order to protect the public,

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I believe that the least requirement on those firms should be the provision set out in the amendment.

I wish to make one other point. Today, the talk has been largely about the large professional partnerships. I have absolutely no doubt that they will not be a problem in terms of this amendment. Indeed, most of the firms that I am aware of which are likely to use this route are already so well off that the chances of them going bust and leaving Mrs Smith and Mr Jones short of a penny or two is fanciful. I am concerned about the many, many companies that will in future be formed as LLPs rather than limited companies. The very fact that, constitutionally speaking, they are a light structure--that is, that the requirements for registration and the formalities of running an LLP are so much lighter than for a limited company--is in my view likely to make them a favourite resource for companies in the future. I refer to the small companies which give trouble and which in large numbers lead men and women to lose money that they can ill afford.

For a long time, I have been in the lucky position of giving advice to the public through BBC2. It is a very good vantage point from which to see the real problems that afflict so-called ordinary people. Should anyone have any doubt, believe me, a very serious problem of cynicism exists towards the law in relation to the effectiveness of the wrongful trading provisions. Quite simply, it does not work. The complexity and cost of pursuing directors to make them personally liable for debts for which, patently, they should be personally liable is such that it is rarely done. In that respect, prevention is a good deal better than cure. I believe that this small amendment, which, I suggest, will cause no problem to a bona fide LLP, will go some way towards addressing the problem that I have tried to describe. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am aware of the concern expressed by the noble Lord; that is, that some people will be unfamiliar with the concept of LLPs. I share that concern. We have always intended to apply Sections 351A and 351B of the Companies Act 1985, which require LLPs to mention on all business letters and order forms the place of registration, the registration number and the address of the registered office. However, I can say to the noble Lord that we shall amend that by inserting a new subsection (c) to require firms which use the abbreviation "LLP" after their names to mention on their business letters and order forms that they are limited liability partnerships. Therefore, those who do business with an LLP will be given notice that they are dealing with an entity of that kind. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Lord.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for agreeing to that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 2000

7.27 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th February be approved [11th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 2000 laid before the House on 28th February be approved. Details of the sums sought are given in the Spring Supplementary Estimates booklet and the Statement of Sums required on Account, which have been placed in the Library of the House and are available from the Printed Paper Office.

I regret that this legislation is before the House today instead of being considered by locally elected representatives within the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, while we await the restoration of the Assembly, it is our responsibility to see that good government is maintained. Once again, we must ask Parliament to deal with issues such as appropriation. Of course, that should be one of the most important tasks for the Assembly, which was about to embark upon it when the suspension began. I am sure your Lordships will agree with me when I say that we all hope that it will not be too long before the Assembly is restored on a permanent basis and the benefits of a devolved administration will be fully realised by the people of Northern Ireland and beyond.

If I am unable to provide detailed answers to points raised at the end of the debate, I shall, of course, respond in writing. However, I must advise your Lordships that the Government cannot account for the policy decisions which were taken by the Executive Committee and its members during the period of devolution. I would remind your Lordships that the draft order does not cover expenditure by the Northern Ireland Office on law and order services.

Unfortunately, the Assembly was still in the process of scrutinising budget proposals for the coming financial year when it was suspended. Consideration of the annual Budget, which the Assembly has the right to modify, is one of its key tasks. By approving the Vote on Account today, this House would not necessarily be pre-empting the decision of the Assembly about the final allocations for 2000-01, since less than half the total proposed budget is being sought in the draft order. However, budget holders in the health service, in schools and all other key public services in Northern Ireland have to plan and commit resources now if they are to be able to discharge their responsibilities properly. They are presently working with the executive budget proposals which were presented to the Assembly in December on a provisional basis, and this will continue to be the case. The longer restoration is delayed, therefore, the less opportunity there will be for the Assembly to modify spending plans, since the resources will effectively have been allocated.

The draft order has two purposes. The first is to authorise expenditure of £193 million in the 1999-2000 Spring Supplementary Estimates. To a large extent

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this reflects recent decisions taken by the Northern Ireland Executive Committee and will bring total estimates provision for Northern Ireland departmental services to £7,595 million for this financial year. The second purpose is to authorise the Vote on Account of £3,539 million for 2000-01. In general, this has been calculated as 45 per cent of the anticipated net 2000-01 Main Estimates provision contained within the Budget proposals. This will enable the services of Northern Ireland departments to continue until the 2000-01 Main Estimates are approved--it is hoped--by the Assembly later this year.

With your Lordships' permission, I now turn to the main areas where supplementary provision is sought. Some of the votes seek token increases only because new pressures have been offset by reduced requirements elsewhere within the same votes.

In Vote 1, which provides for Northern Ireland expenditure on national agriculture support measures, a net addition of £10.5 million is sought. That includes £8.5 million in respect of the Special Aid Package payable under the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances and £2 million is to cover higher than anticipated demand for the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme. A further £4.1 million is in respect of agri-monetary compensation for the beef sector and £3.5 million is for Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances. Agri-monetary compensation is designed to offset the effects of currency appreciation on agricultural support prices and compensation payments which are set in euros.

In Vote 2 covering local agriculture support measures, a net increase of £5.4 million is sought. That includes £10.2 million in respect of controlling outbreaks of animal diseases, including tuberculosis and brucellosis. The additions are partially offset by reduced requirements elsewhere within the vote.

Token increases of £1,000 are sought in Votes 3, 4 and 5, covering economic development and training. In Vote 3, some £13.3 million is sought by the Industrial Development Board to meet pressures on industrial development grants from increased claims from client companies. A further £1 million is sought for industrial development promotion, to allow the Industrial Development Board to build on the success of its overseas marketing campaign and to maintain the momentum in promoting Northern Ireland as a good and competitive investment location. Those increases are offset by reduced requirements and additional receipts elsewhere within the vote.

A token £1,000 is also sought in Vote 4. Within the vote, which covers other economic support measures, administration, energy and miscellaneous services,, increased requirements are offset by savings elsewhere. Additions sought include £0.5 million to assist with the setting up costs associated with the new Equality Commission and to meet pressures within the Office of the Industrial and Fair Employment Tribunals.

In Vote 5, covering the Training and Employment Agency, a token increase of £1,000 is sought. That, as in Vote 4, involves increases sought being offset by reduced requirements and additional receipts. The

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adjustments include a redistribution of resources within the New Deal to meet changing demands and pressures.

I turn to Vote 7. A net increase of some £1 million is sought. The main increases are some £6 million for roads maintenance and £2 million for capital expenditure on the Vehicle Information System of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. There is also increased provision for Northern Ireland Railways and for works at St Angelo Airport in Fermanagh, as well as additional running costs for roads service. Those increases are largely offset by reduced requirements and increased receipts elsewhere within the vote.

In Vote 10, a net increase of some £8 million is sought for increased expenditure on urban regeneration, assistance to Omagh District Council for costs incurred following from the tragic bombing, as well as additional running costs brought forward from 1998-99 under end year flexibility arrangements. Those increases are partially offset by additional receipts.

I now turn to Vote 12, covering expenditure on education and related services, where a net increase of some £53 million is sought. That is mainly due to a reduction of £70 million in receipts previously forecast as a result of the third UK sale of student loan debt not proceeding. I should add that the Treasury has made good the resulting deficit from the Reserve so there is no loss to public services in Northern Ireland. In addition, there are increases of £3.9 million for school and library books; £3.5 million for school and further education maintenance; £2.8 million for tuition fees and grants to students; and £2.6 million for the Odyssey Millennium Landmark Project. Those increases are partially offset by a reduced requirement of £11 million on student loans; and a reduced requirement of £4.5 million on the European Union Peace and Reconciliation Programme.

In Vote 14, a net increase of £58.6 million is sought for expenditure on hospital, community health and personal social services, health and social services trusts, family health services and certain other services. That includes £23.9 million carried forward from 1998-99 under end year flexibility arrangements, £20.3 million towards winter and other pressures, £9.4 million for capital expenditure and £5 million for the meningitis vaccine programme.

In Vote 16, additional net provision of £9.1 million is sought for expenditure on certain miscellaneous health and personal social services costs. That includes £8.5 million for the European Union Peace and Reconciliation Programme and £0.4 million for grants to community groups funded by the ERDF.

Additional net provision of £10.5 million is sought in Vote 17 to meet administration and other miscellaneous costs. That includes £12.3 million to fund running costs, capital and other administration pressures in the department. The increases are offset by an increase of receipts of £1.8 million, mainly from the Department of Social Security for administering certain services on its behalf.

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In Vote 19, which covers social security that is centrally administered, £12.9 million is sought mainly to meet higher than anticipated expenditure on housing benefit and increased payments into the Northern Ireland National Insurance Fund in respect of the statutory sick and statutory maternity payments. Those increased requirements are offset by reduced requirements elsewhere within the vote.

Finally, there is also additional provision of £4.4 million for the Northern Ireland Assembly. That increase is to allow the Assembly to begin to implement the recommendations of the Assembly Commission, which examined the resources the Assembly will require in order to discharge its functions fully. However, I must advise your Lordships that, during suspension, the Northern Ireland Act 2000 requires the cost of the Assembly to be met directly from a Northern Ireland Office vote. That is put before Parliament as part of the approval process for UK supply estimates, a completely separate procedure from today's business. That arrangement will continue until the suspension is lifted, at which time the Assembly will revert to taking its funding from the provision sought under this order. We have, of course, had to provide for the Assembly in the draft order in order to facilitate a speedy return to devolution.

I should point out to your Lordships that both the supplementary estimates and the vote on account are based on proposals made by the devolved administration in Northern Ireland before suspension. Those proposals have not been modified or extended. I hope that that short summary of the main components of the estimates is helpful. I commend the order to your Lordships.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, we are at some small disadvantage as a result of delays in terms of both availability of documents and of short notice. I do not attach any blame to Ministers or to the Department of Finance and Personnel. Your Lordships will be aware of certain little difficulties elsewhere.

It seems appropriate that we should calmly examine government expenditure in Northern Ireland against a more settled background than would have been the case, say, a year ago. In Northern Ireland there is a sense of relief and a degree of normality resulting from an absence of media bombardment which, for the past three years, had the effect of "setting the children's teeth on edge". People are now concentrating on those matters which they judge to be important in everyday life. They are not going to thank any party which endeavours to hoist them and their Province back on to yet another high profile, high wire act. Politicians north and south would do well to heed Clem Attlee's directive:

    "A period of silence would be welcome".

The debate provides an opportunity to focus attention on the financial realities that are block allocations from the Treasury and products of the

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annual public expenditure survey by the major Whitehall departments. It follows that the most any devolved assembly can do is to plead a special case which may of course be valid in all three devolved regions. At present and for decades past, all three devolved regions benefited through the Barnett formula benefit per capita to a greater extent than the United Kingdom in general and England in particular. In their own local interest, I must say that those three devolved regions--and London's elections are coming up, which is an unknown quantity--must take great care to avoid upsetting that well tried formula.

The Secretary of State in all three regions occupies the key role because he has the discretion to allocate the block between services in response to local needs and priorities. Junior Ministers apply great pressure to the Secretary of State and the overall department. We have two representatives of that band present tonight: the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Patten, who have treated their responsibilities to the departments under their control and fought their corner with great sensitivity and determination. I want to pay tribute to them and to some of their predecessors.

However, to a great extent, one of the main Northern Ireland departments is not quite so closely bound by the restrictions of the block. That is the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which features in Votes 1 and 2 on both parts of the appropriation order. In the Barnett formula of 1978, agriculture was--and still is--in a kind of semi-detached position. I am grateful for the clarity with which the position is set out in the statement of sums, which tends to confirm that semi-detached status. But, since then, agriculture has been affected by membership of a far greater authority: the Common Market; now the European Union. I said that agriculture has been affected by that body, but I should have said "disastrously affected" by the European Union.

There is the need now for a genuine opportunity to reprioritise government support for Northern Ireland agriculture relative to its much greater importance to the Province's economy as compared with any part of Great Britain. Government assistance is imperative in the immediate and short term to secure the very survival of Northern Ireland agriculture. The ongoing Ulster Farmers Union campaign has secured widespread acceptance from both political representatives and the general public throughout Northern Ireland. It has convinced them that the agricultural crisis is extremely real and that urgent assistance needs to be provided. Nothing more can be done on what one might term a "Northern Ireland only" basis. We are now totally dependent on the Treasury and Downing Street for progress to provide the necessary short- and immediate-term assistance for the general UK-wide crisis in agriculture.

One must ask what short term assistance is necessary. It would appear to fall under two crucial areas identified by the Ulster Farmers Union and by many other bodies with farming interests. The first is urgent assistance for the pig sector--a situation made far worse by the closure of one of the major plants only

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this weekend. Secondly, there is the provision of all agri-monetary compensation available to UK agriculture in the year 2000: beef, £135 million; cereals, £169 million; dairy, £28 million; sheep, £67 million; and sugar, £3 million, making a total of £402 million.

What is the state of Northern Ireland's agriculture? The agri-food industry is still the largest single industry in Northern Ireland, accounting for 10 per cent of employment and 7 per cent of the gross domestic product. In Northern Ireland the agri-food industry is almost three times as important as at the UK level. The industry is still the main driving force in the rural economy of the whole of Northern Ireland. Over the past five years, some £756 million has been removed from the economy of the Province as a result of various crises in agriculture. The annual total farm income has plummeted by 79 per cent in real terms to £71 million in the same period.

A recently produced Eurostat report shows that in the period 1995-98 agricultural producer prices in the United Kingdom have fallen by much more than in any other member state of the European Union. Provisional figures for 1999-2000 indicate average net farm income to be minus £700. In 1999 Northern Ireland farm incomes fell by 23 per cent in real terms compared with 1 per cent in real terms in the UK as a whole. That is surely a shattering fact. Now farmers are in a situation of owing £520 million to banks alone and that sum continues to grow. A deadline of the end of April exists for the United Kingdom Government formally to request from the European Union its allocation of virtually all the available agri-monetary compensation for the livestock sectors.

The message from the Northern Ireland farming community is that there is urgent need for the provision of short-term assistance to secure the survival of Northern Ireland's agriculture industry.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Patten: My Lords, I rise with some temerity to support my right honourable friend--I use that phrase with care--the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead. He has told your Lordships that after recent months he felt that peace and quiet and above all silence from politicians on this side of the water was called for. I hope that he will allow me to break that Trappist silence to support him. I know that he feels that in the past 35 years one of the endemic problems in the politics of the Province has been that dreaded word "initiative", and that one initiative piled upon another by people of good intention has often not only failed to produce results but made matters worse.

My right honourable friend the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has given us one clear initiative tonight that the Minister and her colleagues could take to heart: to achieve by the end of April the aim that the noble Lord has pressed upon the House this evening. Uniquely--again I choose that word carefully--agriculture has an extraordinary place in the economy and society of Northern Ireland, more than in any other part of the United Kingdom.

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I do not know how hopeful I should be in making the request that a useful initiative would help the agriculture industry and agri-business in the Province. I come from the West Country of England, where recently we had a visit from someone who pressed a telescope with Nelsonian indifference to his eye, saw no crisis about him and went away again. I do not believe that anyone could visit the Province, look at the agri-business and see anything other than crisis. The terrible situation among pig farmers in the Province deserves urgent consideration for a host of reasons one of which is that those devotees of the Ulster fry in the morning--of which I am one--still want a supply available to fuel their plates.

I believe that there is an opportunity for something to be done which is not only right for the economy and the society of the Province, but may also help measured and careful future political development there. Where there is poverty there is trouble. There was trouble in the 18th century when a pike was hidden in every thatch and there is in the early 21st century when there are too many Armalites in too many attics. I believe that the Minister could do a lot to reassure the people of the Province and aid its careful, slow and measured political development by listening to what my right honourable friend the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, had to say tonight.

7.56 p.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I hope that we shall pass this appropriation order. However, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, referred to the Barnett formula. I believe an English backlash is growing not just in Northern Ireland, but also in other devolved areas. In a year's time when an order such as this comes before the House, it may not receive the reception that I want it to receive tonight. In voting for this order we urge the politicians of Northern Ireland to get their act together so that they can proceed in a peaceful manner and so that external investment will continue to flow in at the rate that it has, because unless there is a settlement that will come to a sudden and juddering halt.

7.57 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for so clearly presenting this order. It is sad on two counts. First, it is sad that we are debating it at all. Secondly, it is equally sad because it is a comprehensive order, the most important financial order for Northern Ireland in the year. We have not had adequate time in which to do it justice. It is well laid out, but there must be many questions that need to be asked.

On the positive side, I hope I understood right that the Minister has not committed the total Vote and that should the Assembly be resumed shortly, it will have an opportunity to re-run this debate and do with the block grant what it wants. That is very important. Northern Ireland has gone a long way down the road of deciding how it wishes to spend the money for its electorate. I sincerely hope that this situation will not recur.

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However, the Northern Ireland economy is in as balanced a situation as its politics and is probably as dependent upon success in the major political scene for its future as it is on what we talk about tonight. There are crises. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has outlined clearly the plight of the farmers, in which connection I must declare an interest. I understand that our fishermen have had their cod quotas reduced and that French fishermen are benefiting from their waters. If that is true, it cannot be right.

Our shipyard has been the leading company in international endeavour for probably 100 years and was once the largest shipyard in the world, but it is once again in serious danger of dying. However, the company has great opportunities and is currently negotiating, critically and vitally, to win orders to fill that yard again. Are the Government using all endeavours to afford the shipyard the best possible opportunity? I understand that funding of up to 9 per cent is allowable in assisting such a contract.

I hope that Ministers will act quickly and sensibly to attend to the vacuum created by the Executive and to any crises as they arise. Although in UK terms, little crises in the Northern Ireland economy may seem small, they can be of critical future importance to the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland.

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