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11.39 a.m.

Lord Browne-Wilkinson: My Lords, those who have spoken before me have managed splendidly to avoid the technicalities of what is a technical Bill. Unfortunately it is my area of technicality but, even so, I shall do my best not to get lost in it.

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Perhaps I may begin by welcoming the Bill personally. For the reasons that those who have spoken before me have given, we are at last going to get a little bit of common sense into the law affecting the matrimonial home, instead of leaving it to people like me to work out what ought to be the simplest thing in the world by reference to Acts designed to deal with the settled estates of the Duke of Omnium. That must be an enormous leap forward.

Secondly, perhaps I may echo the welcome for a complete redraft of the law in the sector, which is much overdue. Anything that gets rid of some of the matters that I have had to consider for the past 30 years cannot be anything but good. Finally, on that aspect, I shall miss my expertise in one way, but I have no doubt that for everyone, if the Bill goes through, it will make dealing with land and homes easier, better and, if I may say so, cheaper.

I hope to detain your Lordships for only a short while on the concerns which have been drawn to my attention by the Association of Pension Lawyers. It is an astonishing feature of our trust law that when people talk about trusts and trusts of land, they are inclined to think of matrimonial homes or the trust of half Essex. What they do not think about is pension funds. I do not know how many hundred billion pounds are currently invested in occupational pension schemes, but in terms of value it dwarfs any other trusts which are now subsisting. I do not blame anyone in regard to the drafting or presentation of the Bill, but it looks as though the interaction between those provisions and the running of pension funds has somehow been overlooked to date.

I am sure that the Government will be as aware as I am that it is of great importance that the provisions of the Bill are brought into line so that the regulation of pension schemes, which has recently been undertaken by Parliament in the Pensions Act 1995, does not come into conflict in any way with the provisions of the Bill. The definition of a trust of land in the Bill includes any land held in trust. Pension schemes have large holdings of land. It goes wider than that; many other large trust funds have holdings of land as investments. I am not quite sure of the extent to which the Bill has so far addressed the problem of people, pensioners or pending pensioners, being entitled to occupy number 22, Smithfield. That is an admirable provision when applied to the matrimonial home, but not entirely apposite when brought to bear on pension schemes and any other large trust fund which is invested in land.

Therefore, I hope that when we reach the Committee stage, or possibly before, the House will address how this admirable scheme is to be adjusted so as to ensure that the regulation under the Pensions Act is not frustrated, at the same time as preserving all the benefits that the Bill otherwise has.

I have a small number of technical points on which I shall not dwell because this is not the appropriate time. If I may, I shall provide to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate a note of matters which have been brought to my attention and which I endorse.

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I finish with one technical point of general importance. Various rights are conferred on beneficiaries, if they are ascertained and of full age. That theme recurs throughout the Bill. For myself--and I am not alone--I am not quite sure what the statutory formula means. Do beneficiaries have rights if all beneficiaries are ascertained and if all are of full age or do those who are ascertained and of full age have rights, even though there are many other unascertained parties? That is a technical point, but a real one because under the Bill great powers are being given to a class of beneficiaries. I hope that there can be no doubt at all, as a matter of drafting, which class is intended. Are the rights only conferred when all the beneficiaries are of full age and ascertained, or are they conferred on those beneficiaries who are ascertained, notwithstanding that there is a huge class of other beneficiaries to follow thereafter? I hope that, when we reach the Committee stage, careful attention will be given to the position of pension funds and, to my mind, the legitimate difficulties that they see arising in certain provisions in what otherwise is an admirable Bill.

11.45 a.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, as one whose practice of the law was rudely interrupted by the late Adolf Hitler 56 years ago, perhaps I may express my deep personal gratitude to those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and clarified my understanding of the Bill to a considerable extent. I wish particularly to thank my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for the clarification which they gave. At least I hope they know that one Member of the House understands the Bill a great deal better than he did before and is truly grateful for it.

11.46 a.m.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I am grateful for the support which the Bill has received from all sides of the House. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for the eloquent way in which he conveyed his warm support for the Bill. He obviously has an extensive knowledge and understanding of this field of law. It is reassuring to me and the Government that the Bill commands his support. I shall pass on to Parliamentary Counsel the appreciation which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, expressed--an appreciation which we all share.

I am happy to indicate at this stage, dealing with the specific points which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, raised, that they will all be looked at fully and sympathetically as soon as possible. The concerns which he raised are understood and I am optimistic that the Government will be able to address them in the course of the next few weeks, before the Bill returns to your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, reinforced with some recent examples how trust law has been developed in new fields in recent years. The examples illustrate the desirability of simplifying the law as much as possible, and again it is reassuring to have his support.

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Dealing with the specific point which he raised on behalf of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, it has already been discussed with officials of the Lord Chancellor's Department and I am in a position to say that the officials see no reason why an appropriate amendment cannot be ready in time to be brought forward by the Government for the Committee to consider. As my noble friend indicated, the Charities Commission has supported the point and I am advised that there is no problem under the European Convention in bringing forward an amendment to deal with the concern.

The final point which the noble Lord, Lord Meston, raised is the issue of commencement. It is accepted that the Bill could only come into effect some time after Royal Assent and ample notice will be given to all practitioners who might be affected, assuming that the Bill follows the normal passage. It is anticipated that it will be some date next year before commencement takes place. I hope by Committee stage to be in a position to give a more specific indication of when that might be.

Turning to the points which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, raised, it is extremely reassuring to have support from that quarter as well. He explained the concerns of the Association of Pension Lawyers about the possible overlap. The two matters have been discussed with the officials of the Lord Chancellor's Department: the anxieties are of importance and they will be addressed. I hope that amendments can be brought forward to deal with those suggestions which the Government accept, so that they can be properly considered at Committee stage.

As to the final point raised by the noble and learned Lord, I am advised that the intended meaning of the provisions of the Bill is that the beneficiaries must all be ascertained and be of full age and capacity. I hope that that provides an answer to the specific point raised.

Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for joining in and providing his support, on the basis of his long experience, for a Bill which, it is accepted, commands support on all sides. I commend the Bill to the House and invite noble Lords to give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1996

11.50 a.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 13th February be approved.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, which was laid before the House on 13th February, be approved.

This is one in a series of financial orders covering Northern Ireland departments which come before the House each year. The draft order before us today

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authorises expenditure of £96 million for Northern Ireland departments for the current financial year. This is in addition to the £6,142 million voted by the House last June. The order also authorises the vote-on-account of £2,821 million for 1996-97, to enable the services of Northern Ireland departments to continue until the 1996-97 main Estimates are brought before your Lordships later this year.

Before turning to the details of the Estimates, I should like to set them in the context of recent economic developments in Northern Ireland. Both official data and survey evidence show that there is a marked improvement in the recent performance of the local economy and that the prospects for the economic future of Northern Ireland are now brighter than for many years. This is also reflected in the figures for those in employment and those out of work. The number of employees in employment in Northern Ireland now stands at 570,290--an all-time high for the Province. Seasonally adjusted unemployment, at 11.4 per cent. of the workforce, is now at its lowest level for over 14 years.

This is encouraging, as is survey evidence from the local business community, which shows that confidence in the Northern Ireland economy remains strong across the board, with reported investment levels well above other regions in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the positive growth in exports is continuing, and consumer demand remains buoyant. The output of manufacturing and production industries continues to rise at a rate well above that achieved at national level. Over the past five years Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector has increased output by just over 13 per cent., compared with a 1.3 per cent. rise nationally. Government will continue to assist local industry to improve its competitiveness and to maximise the opportunities offered by the new economic climate.

All this, without doubt, is very welcome news for the people of Northern Ireland and I am confident that the prospects and performance of the economy will continue to improve. But, let there be no mistake, all this success could be put at risk if there were continuing violence.

With your Lordships' permission, I now turn to the main items in the Estimates, starting with the Department of Agriculture. In Vote 1, a net increase of £1.1 million is required. Some £1.5 million is for capital grant commitments, £1.3 million of which is required for additional uptake under the farm and conservation grant scheme. These increases are offset by savings in other areas.

In Vote 2, covering local support measures, a net increase of £1.1 million is sought. This includes £3.6 million which represents the carry-forward of capital and running costs from 1994-95 to 1995-96. These increases are partially offset by projected easements elsewhere within the Vote.

Turning to the Department of Economic Development, a token increase of £1,000 is sought in Vote 1. Some £3.5 million is for the Industrial Development Board for the provision of land and buildings. This is to meet additional expenditure on factories for recent inward investment projects. Some

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£6 million is for selective assistance to industry, mainly to meet claims made under existing offers to major inward investment projects. These increases reflect the continuing success of the board in attracting competitive companies to Northern Ireland. The increases are offset by increased receipts and reduced requirements elsewhere in the Vote.

In Vote 2, a token increase of £1,000 is also sought. This is mainly to cover residual expenditure in relation to the privatisation of the electricity supply in Northern Ireland. These costs are being met from dividend receipts and proceeds from the sale of shares.

In Vote 3, a net increase of some £1.6 million is sought by the Training and Employment Agency. The main requirement is £6 million to meet increasing capital under the company development programme. Partial offsetting of savings declared elsewhere in the vote has reduced the additional requirements to £1.6 million.

I now turn to the Department of the Environment. A net increase of some £6.5 million is sought in Vote 1, including some £3.4 million for roads and bridges maintenance and for capital works. Some £2.8 million is for compensation payments and capital grants to Northern Ireland railways. These increases again are partially offset by increased receipts.

In Vote 2, covering housing, a net increase of some £3 million is sought, mainly to provide assistance to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Some £6.8 million is to provide private sector housing renovation grants. This increase is partially offset by the re-allocation of some £2.8 million in housing grant and by additional receipts from housing associations. Gross housing expenditure in Northern Ireland this year is expected to be about £599 million, some £25 million more than in 1994-95.

In Vote 3, covering water and sewerage services, a net increase of some £2.1 million is sought. Additional expenditure of some £4 million, mainly required for operational, new construction and improvement work. This has been offset by a reduction of some £2 million on water and sewerage administration.

In Vote 4, covering environmental and other services, a net increase of some £0.2 million is sought. Environmental and urban regeneration programmes are included in this increased expenditure, which again is offset mainly by additional receipts.

In Vote 5, covering office and general accommodation, £8.2 million is for new public building works, alterations and purchases.

In Vote 6, covering the Fire Service, a net increase of £0.9 million is sought for turnout and attendance fees for retained firefighters and other miscellaneous increased costs.

I now turn to the Department of Education, where a net increase of some £8.3 million is sought in Vote 1. This includes some £7.1 million for grants to education and library boards, mainly for maintenance, minor works and frost damage, and for replacement buses. Some £1.4 million is for voluntary schools, mainly for health and safety works. These increases are offset by savings elsewhere in the Vote.

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In Vote 2, a net increase of £0.3 million is sought. Some £0.9 million is needed for an increase in the student support budget, £0.3 million for arts and museums, and a further £0.3 million for sport and community services. Increases are also required for departmental administration and youth services. These increases are offset by reduced requirements elsewhere in the Vote.

I now turn to the Department of Health and Social Services. Where a net increase of £17.6 million is sought in Vote 1. This includes £26.1 million for hospital, community health and personal social services and family health services revenue; and £1.9 million for capital expenditure. These increases are offset by increased receipts and a reduction of £7.1 million in the centrally financed services.

Moving to Vote 3, where additional net provision of £5.3 million is required, his is due to a decrease in receipts of £6.8 million, most of which relates to recoupments from the National Insurance Fund in respect of administration costs and an increase in funding for the centrally financed miscellaneous health and personal social services of £2.8 million. Those increases are offset by reductions of £4.3 million elsewhere in the vote.

In Vote 4, which covers social security, £29 million is sought. This is due mainly to a greater than anticipated demand for disability benefits, in particular attendance, invalid care and disability living allowances. This is offset by decreases in income support and family credit.

Finally, in Vote 5 £5.3 million is sought. This is due mainly to increased expenditure on rent allowance and rates rebates. Those increases are partially offset by reduced requirements elsewhere in the vote.

In addition to the aforementioned increases, provision has been included within individual votes under the European Union Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. European funding has been provided initially for a three-year period 1995-97, with further funding for two years up to 1999, subject to review. Northern Ireland has been allocated £200 million, which, together with 25 per cent. matching funding, brings the total value of the programme in Northern Ireland to some £266 million. Both the European funding and the matching funding will be fully additional.

I hope that your Lordships have found this summary of the main components of the order helpful, if detailed. I commend the order to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 13th February be approved.--(Baroness Denton of Wakefield.)

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