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Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I associate these Benches with the remarks by the noble Lords, Lord Maginnis and Lord Glentoran. We are the guardians of Stormont during its suspension. We must not let these orders go through on the nod; we must

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contrive some way to debate these orders properly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, says, there are many more coming along.

We welcome the rationalisation of the grant provisions and finances to local authorities, in particular, the extension in local government powers with regard to economic development. This is the first time in my living memory that a government have extended the powers of local government instead of taking them away. We support the orders.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I first acknowledge and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for her response to the earlier order.

Anyone who wears a local government hat, as I first did over 21 years ago and continue so to do, will welcome this order. But I regret that it has to be dealt with here instead of in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I hope that it will not be long before that forum is up and running again.

Local government has, particularly since the mid to late 1980s, been a stabilising influence in Northern Ireland. Extending the responsibilities of local government has increasingly benefited our communities.

The power devolved to councils in relation to economic development, which is dealt with at Article 8, has been a successful innovation during the past decade. I welcome the extension of that provision at Article (8)(2)(b) to allow councils to acquire, hold and develop land for that purpose.

A careful and considered approach will have to be adopted in implementing this function so that small local government bodies are not overstretched financially, or in respect of their ability to cope with a very specialised discipline, and I would hope that the department and Invest Northern Ireland would be sympathetic and co-operative in this area.

The Assembly when it resumes its functions will have to grapple with how 27 local government bodies can be reduced to a smaller number of more economically viable units if this example of devolved responsibility is to work effectively.

I welcome the way in which the general grant element has been dealt with and the process modified to more equitably facilitate less well-off councils. The new three-year provision is certainly welcome in so far as it better allows forward planning to take place.

I hope that, as has happened this year and in previous years, when the general grant element was dealt with on an annual basis and not quantified until the last minute, the new three-year assessment will permit earlier notification to councils of their entitlement.

Finally, Article 9(2) states:

    "The Department may by order confer or impose on district councils other functions . . . "

I say no more than that I sincerely hope that the powers of district councils in relation to community safety councils will be handled sensitively and that

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district councils will be given time to build up trust on this front before the department "imposes" anything on them.

I implore direct rule ministers to recognise that to irritate political sensitivities in this area could create the opposite effect to what is intended. I believe that consultation, rather than imposition should—indeed must—be the methodology employed in this initiative. I support the order.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, the noble Baroness was kind enough to reassure me that this order did not concern the DPPs. For that I thank her. I therefore have nothing further to say, except that I strongly support the views of my noble friend Lord Glentoran and the noble Lord, Lord Smith, that while we are in direct rule, we need to devote more time than this to these issues.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I, too, share the background of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis; I was in local government for a period of 24 years until 1997. I note the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Of course we all hope that the need for Westminster to make decisions will last for a short time only.

I note noble Lords' welcome for the ability for future planning. At the moment there is no intention and there are no plans to impose on Northern Ireland the functions about which the noble Lord expressed concern. I, too, welcome the fact that this is an extension of powers to local government. If there are any points raised which I have failed to answer, I shall of course write to noble Lords.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Housing Support Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2002

1.48 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th November be approved.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I move this Motion on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn.

The purpose of the draft Housing Support Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 is to confer on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive the function of securing the provision of housing support services to individuals with particular needs, and to empower the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to pay grants to eligible persons towards expenditure incurred by them in providing certain housing support services.

The order amends Section 129 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits (Northern Ireland) Act 1992 to exclude payments in respect of such services when determining entitlement to housing benefit. The provisions mirror the measures contained in the Local

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Government Act 2000—Section 2 and Sections 92 to 96—and the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001—Section 91.

If any noble Lords have detailed questions, I shall of course be delighted to answer them. The proposals broadly mirror arrangements proposed for Great Britain, which were subjected to widespread documentation through the document, Towards Supporting People. They were also debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly and scrutinised by the Social Development Committee. Of course, they include the full provisions relating to the disclosure and unauthorised disclosure of information of information necessary to comply with data protection legislation. There is also provision to amend Section 129 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits (Northern Ireland) Act 1992 to exclude payments in respect of housing support services when determining entitlement to housing benefit. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th November be approved.—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, the order seems to be common sense. I support the Motion. It is worth saying that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has done a fantastic job from many years. It should be complimented. I hope that the order will help it to continue.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the order.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, I shall be brief. I begin by echoing the sentiments of other noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in asking for more time to be debate Northern Ireland issues. It is a matter of deep regret that we are today discussing these three Northern Ireland orders; they should be dealt with back home in Belfast. Speaking as an Ulster Unionist, I can only underline once again how keen is my party that we return to normal business in Northern Ireland. However, let me repeat that that can and will happen only when the republican movement has moved to carry out the necessary act of completion so desired by the vast majority of people in the Province.

The Housing Support Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 has been introduced to replace the Housing Support Services Bill, which was welcomed by all parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. As such, I am more than happy to welcome the legislation in its new form. The one area of concern raised during the Bill's passage through the Assembly was funding—especially whether sufficient money had been set aside to provide for the potential growth of needs. Can the Minister give an assurance that the order before us includes sufficient far-sightedness to ensure that the Government, or the Northern Ireland Executive, if it is to be restored, avoids a funding crisis further down the line?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and other noble

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Lords in their congratulations. I can only stress to noble Lords that when the Order Paper was printed, every expectation was that the first order on the agenda would take a quarter of an hour and Northern Ireland would have its appropriate time. We have certainly not in any way sought to curtail debate.

I hope that it reassures the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, if I tell him that officials from the Department for Social Development are in contact with their counterparts in the Department of Finance and Personnel and have been involved in discussions with the Treasury to ensure that the supporting people budget is adequately funded. If noble Lords want on reflection to ask further questions, I hope that they will write to me.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I beg to move that the remaining order and regulations be postponed until after Starred Questions. They will be followed by my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton repeating a Statement on the local government financial settlement 2003–04.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

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