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Mr. Worthington: On the question of where the provision comes from, the situation has been evolving since Nolan, so I cannot say that it is a straight copy from any specific legislation relating to the House. We are making proposals that seem appropriate to the new post-Nolan position. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the matter is not covered in the agreement, but we could not, in those miraculous few days, expect the agreement to cover all such issues.

However, I am sure that it is obvious to everyone that there should be a provision in the Northern Ireland Bill that sets up the Assembly covering the matter of Members' interests. We have simply put forward the proposition that, in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, there should be a discretionary power for the Standing Orders of the Assembly to allow a ruling to be made as to whether, in some circumstances, the body needs to go beyond what exists in other respects. I am told that the provisions in the Scotland Bill are the same, almost word for word, and give flexibility to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Winnick: I do not want to be controversial at this time of the afternoon. I am not suggesting that my hon. Friend agrees with me, but it would not be a bad idea if we introduced the same Standing Orders in the House of Commons.

Mr. Worthington: It is interesting to hear what is in my hon. Friend's mind at this time on a Friday afternoon.

The provision is sensible and it will be up to the good sense of the Assembly to decide how to use it, if it wishes to do so.

Mr. Moss: Obviously, there must be adequate safeguards in the Assembly to deal with Members'

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interests. No one is suggesting that that should not be the case, but this may be a safeguard too far. We are in danger of over-legislating, and there are plenty of other adequate provisions in clause 35 to deal with Members with registrable interests.

It is interesting to hear the Minister admit that it is all right to add to the agreement, but not to detract from it. The Bill makes many additions to the agreement, which was presumably cast in tablets of stone on Mount Sinai.

As this point may be revisited in another place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 36 to 44 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 45

Payments into the Fund: taxes


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Paul Murphy: I have received representations about clause 45, including representations from the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), that there needs to be consistency between Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on these matters. Although I recommend that the Committee supports the clause, we may return to this matter on Report.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 46

Payments into the Fund: Secretary of State

Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 26, in clause 46, page 23, line 20, at end add--


'( ) Subject to subsection ( ) below, the Secretary of State shall make such a payment at least once every financial year.
( ) 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 in relation to the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole.'.

I welcome the Minister of State's remarks about clause 45. Clauses 45 and 46 are as important as many others in the Bill. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom to have its own Consolidated Fund, although clause 61 of the Scotland Bill will set up such a fund for Scotland. The Province has always been subject to the same taxes as the rest of the country, which are collected by UK Departments. Its share of those taxes and any other revenue collected in Northern Ireland is paid into its Consolidated Fund. Parliament then adds a further amount--the so-called subvention--to that fund each year. That consists, first, of an automatic increase, calculated under the Barnett formula and, secondly, of an additional payment negotiated in each year's spending round.

Under the Barnett formula, any change in spending in Great Britain is also applied to Northern Ireland, but scaled down to reflect the Province's smaller population. That means that if spending on relevant Great Britain

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programmes is raised or cut by £100 million, funding for Northern Ireland increases or decreases by about £2.91 million.

That figure is now adjusted annually to take account of population changes. I believe that the figure for last year was £2.87 million. The Minister, who is responsible for finance, will no doubt confirm that. The Barnett formula determines only the annual change in funding for Northern Ireland, not the baseline figure. Moreover, as the change is based on levels of expenditure in Great Britain, it does not even work to maintain higher per capita spending in the Province. Indeed, if an increasing amount of the Province's funding is based on the lower level of spending in Great Britain, the gap narrows.

1.15 pm

That has not happened in practice because, for some time, every Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has always secured an additional payment for the Province. However, it may be more difficult for Secretaries of State to do so after devolution, because the Bill says only that


Amendment No. 26 would add the following:


    "Subject to subsection ( ) below, the Secretary of State shall make such a payment at least once every financial year."

The Scotland Bill and the Government of Wales Bill say "shall"--not "may", the word used in the Bill before us. The second part of our amendment reads:


    "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 in relation to the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole."

In short, we believe that the amendment guarantees that the Province will continue to get the funding that it needs, based on an accurate assessment of those needs in relation to spending in the United Kingdom as a whole.

No Minister in Northern Ireland, and I expect no Ministers of the Assembly, as and when it starts to do its work, would want a situation to arise where the Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland are left waiting for the crumbs from the Treasury table, unable to question whether the money paid into that Consolidated Fund, plus any extra moneys, is related specifically to the unique needs of Northern Ireland, which have been recognised by every Government and Secretary of State since direct rule.

Mr. Paul Murphy: The amendment suggests that money to supplement the Consolidated Fund in Northern Ireland may be given without proper consideration to the balance of public expenditure throughout the United Kingdom. That is not the case; it is given on the same basis as money in any other part of the country. It is unusual only in being identified in statute. In Scotland, by comparison, there is no division into attributable and non-attributable payments. The Northern Ireland subvention is properly authorised annually by Parliament in the United Kingdom, in a process which, of course, takes account of the financial requirements of all parts of the United Kingdom.

The changes proposed are unnecessary. The existing funding mechanism enables the comparison to be made--which the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) mentioned--between the needs of Northern

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Ireland and those of the United Kingdom as a whole. I believe that it reflects population and needs, as in the case of the other regions and countries of the UK, and I do not believe that we should single out Northern Ireland in the way that the amendment proposes.

As I said earlier, there is force in the argument that the arrangements in clause 45 for attributing a share of taxation to Northern Ireland are wrong. That is why I spoke briefly a moment ago. It is only right that we should be concerned about the way in which Northern Ireland is funded--the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about that--and that the needs of the entire United Kingdom are taken into account. I think that the allocation is fair; it has been with us a long time and the arrangements will be similar under devolution. The measure has operated for many years, including when the hon. Gentleman was a Northern Ireland Minister. I do not think that it would be right to go further than that, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Moss: I thank the Minister for that response. However, two questions remain unanswered. First, why does the clause say that the Secretary of State "may" when the word "shall" is used in the Scotland Bill and the Government of Wales Bill? Can the Minister explain why Northern Ireland is different? We should certainly firm up the wording to incorporate the word "shall" instead of the word "may". That would give a little more comfort to future Members of the Assembly and to Ministers who will take over in Northern Ireland.

I am reassured by the Minister's comments that he believes that the future distribution of moneys to Northern Ireland will be fair and will take account of Northern Ireland's unique needs. Nowhere else in the United Kingdom has the pressure of law and order and terrorism on its budget. I hope that that is a thing of the past, but nothing on the horizon suggests that expenditure in that area will diminish in the short term.

Perhaps the issue will be revisited in another place, but I think that we should give Assembly Members and the ministerial team further assurances that Northern Ireland's unique needs will not be left to the whim of a Secretary of State but be set down in statute. That would give them the firm reassurance that I am sure that they seek. On the basis of the Minister's response, I shall seek leave to withdraw the amendment.


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