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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions) Order 2001

Second Standing Committee

on Delegated Legislation

Monday 29 October 2001

[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair]

Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions) Order 2001

4.30 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions) Order 2001.

May I say, Mr. Olner, what a privilege and pleasure it is to be back at Westminster. Since the general election, I have spent what seems a relatively long sojourn in the Province of Northern Ireland as prisons Minister, and I can now legitimately call myself one of the old lags. It is good to see some new faces in Committee today.

I hope to clarify the purpose of the order and our reasons for making it. A draft of the order was laid before the House on 16 October. The Minister for Work, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), when he was Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, decided that it would be more efficient to amalgamate the offices of MAFF dealing with the payment of subsidies with the those of the intervention board carrying out a similar task. The process of creating a new paying agency will culminate in the abolition of the board on 15 November 2001, when the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce (Abolition) Regulations 2001 take effect—subject, of course, to the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

The intervention board was established under the European Communities Act 1972. It makes payments in accordance with schemes that apply throughout the United Kingdom. In doing so, it exercises powers delegated to it in 1972 by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Abolition of the intervention board will return those powers to the Minister and the three Secretaries of State. However, responsibility for agriculture has now been devolved and it is no longer appropriate for the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to exercise those powers.

As regards Northern Ireland, it is necessary to transfer those functions from the Secretary of State to the Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development, who will then delegate such functions as she wishes to the new paying agency. Brid Rodgers, the Minister in the devolved Administration responsible for those matters, has already agreed to proceed in line with the other jurisdictions. She welcomes the improved service that the reorganisation will bring to Northern Ireland farmers and to the UK as a whole.

I hope that the order finds favour with the Committee.

4.33 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): It is a pleasure, Mr. Olner, to appear leading Her Majesty's Opposition for the first time under your chairmanship. You and I are old lags of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs in the last Parliament, and it is nice to see you chairing the Committee.

I have no difficulty with the order; I merely want to ask the Minister about one or two practicalities. She described how the functions to be taken from the Northern Ireland Office will flow directly to the Minister in the devolved Government and then to the agency. What is the size of the Departments involved? How many civil servants' functions will move from the Northern Ireland Office to the agency through the devolved Administration, and what is the likely work load? What will be the annual turnover, and how many civil servants will be needed to check the payment of intervention and other agricultural subsidies to farmers in Northern Ireland? How much work will be involved? What will be the decrease in the number of civil servants who work for the Northern Ireland Office and the increase in those who work directly for the devolved Administration?

Today, I received a document from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland. I know that the Minister is not directly responsible for that Department, but we are transferring functions to it. Will she answer this conundrum from the document: what is a

    ``four-footed beast which is not a mammal''

and not a reptile? If I knew the answer, I would know why it appeared on a document from the Department to which we are giving the functions.

Jane Kennedy: Perhaps I could phone a friend on the last question.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) on his appointment to his new position, and I look forward to exploring the complications of Northern Ireland and various regulations with him in weeks and months to come.

The hon. Gentleman asked a straightforward question about how many civil servants would transfer from the Northern Ireland Office due to the change in function. The straight answer is none. The devolved Administration already have civil servants in place, so there will be no transfers. He asked some detailed questions in his few comments. I shall study them in Hansard and if I have got anything wrong or can give him any further information that might assist him with his questions, I shall write to him. However, I am sure that there are no immediate changes to staffing as a result of the order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions) Order 2001.

        Committee rose at twenty-four minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Olner, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Blunt, Mr.
Borrow, Mr.
Davies, Mr. Denzil
Djanogly, Mr.
Field, Mr. Mark
Griffiths, Jane
Hayes, Mr.
Kennedy, Jane
Kidney, Mr.
McIsaac, Shona
Merron, Gillian
Rapson, Mr. Syd
Stringer, Mr.
Turner, Dr. Desmond

 
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Prepared 29 October 2001