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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: It would be almost invidious for me to pick. For example, if I said, "the NCH", then others might say, "Why them?". We shall seek someone who has the breadth of knowledge that covers the subject matter with which we must deal. Especially in the field of family law, one can think of

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several who have to deal with all aspects of family law relating to children—public and private sector intermingled. So we must carefully consider during the recruitment process whether we have the balance of experience that we need on the committee, so that when it scrutinises it has all the skills that we want it to have to make the rules robust and sound.

10 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: That was even more helpful. The Minister has not only reassured me, as I confirm that she has about the membership and its nature, but put on record a snapshot—that belittles it, but that it is what it is—of the kind of expertise for which the Government are looking. That may well be used to persuade organisations that might otherwise not have done that they should consider giving the Government ideas about who should be members of those committees. I am especially interested in the Minister's comments about breadth of experience across the public/private partnership—that is a valuable approach. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 104 to 106 not moved.]

Clause 72 agreed to.

Clause 73 [Power to change certain requirements relating to Committee]:

[Amendment No. 107 not moved.]

Clause 73 agreed to.

Clause 74 [Process for making Family Procedure Rules]:

[Amendments Nos. 108 to 112 not moved.]

Clause 74 agreed to.

Clause 75 [Power to amend legislation in connection with the rules]:

[Amendment No. 113 not moved.]

Clause 75 agreed to.

Clauses 76 and 77 agreed to.

Clause 78 [Civil Procedure Rule Committee]:

[Amendment No. 114 not moved.]

Clause 78 agreed to.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

        House adjourned at three minutes past ten o'clock.

11 Feb 2003 : Column GC15

Official Report of the Northern Ireland Orders Grand Committee

Tuesday, 11th February 2003.

The Committee met at eleven of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gould of Potternewton) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gould of Potternewton): Before the Minister moves that the first order be considered, it may be helpful to say a word about the procedure for today's Grand Committee, particularly for those who were not here yesterday to hear this short guide. Our proceedings are essentially the same as those of the House. Noble Lords will speak standing; all noble Lords are free to attend and participate; and the proceedings will be reported in Hansard.

As we are in Committee, Members may speak more than once on any Motion.

Since this is a new procedure, I should perhaps make it clear to noble Lords that this Committee is charged only to consider orders, not to approve or not approve them. The Motion to approve will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way.

The main difference between our proceedings and the proceedings on the Floor of the House is that the House has agreed that there shall be no Divisions in a Grand Committee. Any Motion on which agreement cannot be reached should be withdrawn.

Energy (Northern Ireland) Order 2003

11.1 a.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): I beg to move that the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Energy (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.

This takes forward the Energy (Northern Ireland) Bill. It had begun its Committee stage in the Assembly in Belfast when suspension occurred. Members of the Committee will have seen a number of important changes in the energy sector in Northern Ireland. These follow a number of extensive consultation exercises. The existing regulatory and consumer representation arrangements will be reformed in order to put in place structures to address better the needs of Northern Ireland energy consumers.

Articles 3 to 7 establish a new Northern Ireland authority for energy regulation and articles 41 to 51 give that authority powers modelled on equivalent provisions in the Utilities Act 2000. The new authority is also given power in article 8 to co-operate on energy issues with other European member states. That will ensure continued co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on energy issues.

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The new consumer arrangements in articles 9, 10 and 16 to 27 will bring responsibility for all energy consumer issues within the remit of the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland. The council will be given increased powers in respect of its electricity and gas functions. Those correspond generally to those given to Energywatch in Great Britain by the Utilities Act 2000. Both the council, under article 16, and the authority, under articles 12 and 14, are required to have particular regard to the needs of vulnerable consumers, such as the disabled, the elderly and those on low incomes. I am sure that Members of the Committee will particularly welcome those provisions.

The order will help to stimulate the generation and consumption of renewable electricity by enabling the creation of a renewables obligation that is similar to that in Great Britain. The relevant provisions are articles 52 to 58.

Articles 28 to 40 alter the current licensing system for electricity and gas to enable restructuring of energy business activities to enable full market opening in electricity or, if necessary, for the efficient operation of the electricity and gas markets. Under articles 59 and 60, the order ensures that a major extension of the gas industry can proceed by means of a system of "postalised" gas conveyance charges. Those provisions have been amended during the Bill's conversion to an Order in Council to reflect consultations with the gas companies. Other changes include: an alteration to the definition of electricity transmission, which will enable interconnectors to be licensed—I refer to paragraph 1 of Schedule 3; under article 56, a provision is introduced that will enable the operation of a "guarantee of origin" arrangement to promote renewable energy across Europe through mutual recognition of certificates by member states; and, under article 64, the inclusion of a provision to enable existing and future electricity and gas wayleaves to be made assignable, which remedies a defect in the existing legislation.

This legislation will benefit the Northern Ireland energy consumer and it will position Northern Ireland to adapt to the changing energy environment in a way that is relevant to the energy industry there. It also aligns more closely energy policy throughout the United Kingdom. I commend the order to the Committee.

Moved, that the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Energy (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble and learned Lord for briefing us clearly and positively on the order. It is a wide-ranging and very technical order and applies as much to the industry and the trade as to those of us living in Northern Ireland. I also thank the officials for the thorough briefing that they gave me last night and for their attempts to explain some of the technicalities.

On the positive side, I believe that the Northern Ireland Assembly fully supports the legislation, which has now become an Order in Council. When discussing anything to do with energy in Northern Ireland, we

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should never forget that we have the most expensive energy in Europe. Nothing in the order as it stands will improve that.

I am a little concerned about one or two other matters in the order. Postalisation could lead us into a situation in which we are subsidising energy in the Republic of Ireland from parts of the north-east and east of the country. In other words, if it was not for postalisation, the cost of energy from the east coast—Ballylumford and so on—would be considerably less. However, investments to take gas to Londonderry to allow another power station to be built and operate there, which would sell its electricity to the Republic, distort the situation somewhat for the local consumer in Belfast. In these days of an integrated Europe, perhaps I should not complain about such matters, although I believe that they are relevant. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will reply that this is all in the best interests of those of us living in Northern Ireland.

I could raise several further points in this context but I shall not. I am delighted that the obligation for renewables is in the order. I am slightly confused because the Explanatory Notes state that in relation to the supply of electricity generated from renewable resources, an obligation will be based on the requirement that a proportion of the total supply of electricity to consumers in Northern Ireland "must be renewable energy". Excellent. The provision also introduces the concept of green certificates. That, too, is excellent; we did not have that a year or two ago. However, there appears to be a slight contradiction. The last line states:

    "This part also abolishes the department's current powers in relation to non-fossil fuel obligations".

I am not sure that I understand the relationship between those two issues. However, the order's references to renewables and non-fossil fuel obligations are excellent.

I had a briefing from British Gas yesterday and was requested—I believe that I am allowed to do this—to ask the Minister a question; that is, can the Minister confirm that it is his department's intention that the gas pipeline companies that are affected by the legislation will be notified of the period for which they will be included in the postalised system and that there will be no discrimination between different pipeline companies involved in gas transportation for Northern Ireland?

I return to the question of engineering lower-cost energy for Northern Ireland—reducing the cost of energy to the consumer. At the end of a briefing note that I was given, I was told that in discussion in the Assembly, some amendments were asked for but one in particular was not included. The intention was that the mechanism would be used to refinance various energy assets and contracts, many of which are currently financed by high-interest bonds with consequent savings for consumers. The department spent considerable time working on developing a legislative provision but unfortunately it was not possible to complete the work without threatening the

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timetable for the order. I do not suggest that we should threaten the timetable for the order in any way but I should like an undertaking from the noble and learned Lord that the work will continue and I hope that we will arrive at a satisfactory solution in due course. In principle I support the order.

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