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Northern Ireland Block Grant

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): There is not yet any change to the Answer I gave to the noble Lord on 7 November 2002 (WA166) as it is still too early to determine underspend at 31 March 2003.

Newtownstewart By-pass

Lord Kilclooney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: This is a matter for the chief executive for the Northern Ireland Road Service, who has written to the noble Lord. A copy of the letter will be placed in the Library.

Northern Ireland Railways: Funding forNew Trains

Lord Kilclooney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The former Minister for Regional Development did not request an allocation of £48 million for "the purchase of new trains in the present financial year".

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Additional resources were provided by the Assembly to the Department for Regional Development (DRD) in December 2000 following the report of the Railways Task Force. The larger part of these resources involved the provision of grant support to Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) for the purchase of new trains. The amounts earmarked for this purpose in 2001–02 and 2002–03 amounted to some £49 million.

A contract for the new rolling stock was let by NIR in spring 2002 involving staged payments to the contractor throughout the period 2001–02 to 2004–05. The department has made and will continue to make the appropriate grant payments to NIR to achieve this, although some rephasing or expenditure has been necessary in line with the contract details. The draft budget for 2003–04 to 2005–06 includes the required provision and I can report that the delivery of the trains in 2004 is on schedule.

The change in government accounting policy following the introduction of resource accounting and budgeting in April 2001 gave rise to a question in respect of the interpretation and application of the new rules on resource budgeting. Clarification of the nature of the stage payments confirmed that they did not create an asset, and hence those payments were not a charge on the department's departmental expenditure limit (DEL).

Although DRD made substantial grant payments to NIR in 2001–02 and 2002–03 in respect of trains, none of this scores in the budget under the resource budgeting rules that apply for those two financial years. As soon as this technicality was clarified, in August 2002, £49 million was made available for re-allocation under the normal rules that apply to all departments. This funding, together with other funds, making a total of £141 million, has been allocated to good effect across departments and is profiled to be spent in the current financial year The details of this expenditure were announced by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ian Pearson MP, on 13 November, reflecting the proposals put forward in October by the former Finance Minister, Dr Sean Farren.

Irish Human Rights Commission

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Privy Seal on 7 November (WA174), how many representatives of the Ulster Protestant, Ulster Scots, and Ulster Unionist communities in the Irish Republic are members of the Irish Human Rights Commission. [HL140]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: No person from the groups mentioned above applied to be considered for appointment to the Irish Human Rights Commission.

Members of the Irish Human Rights Commission represent Irish society as a whole, rather than reflecting particular parts of the community.

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Northern Ireland: Digital Hearing Aids

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to make digital hearing aids available in Northern Ireland on the National Health Service.[HL142]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government are committed to providing digital hearing aids (DHAs) as soon as funding permits. The necessary additional funding is not available at this time.

Carry-over of Bills

Lord Norton of Louth asked the Leader of the House:

    What progress has been made to ensure that Bills carried over from one Session to another are subject to a specified time limit. [HL340]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: In the last parliamentary Session both Houses agreed a process whereby Bills

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could be carried over from one Session to the next in order to provide greater time for legislative scrutiny and create a smoother flow of legislation throughout the year.

This House agreed on 24 July that if a Bill that has been carried over does not reach the statute book by the end of the Session following carry-over, it will fall. The House of Commons has also agreed that no Bill should be carried over for more than one Session (House of Commons temporary Standing Order on carry-over of Bills, para 4, agreed 29 October 2002. See also para 39, 2nd Report of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, Session 2001–02). Therefore any Bill that is carried over will be subject to a time limit of no more than one Session following the Session from which it has been carried over.

The House of Commons has also agreed that, if a Bill carried over in the Commons is not completed within 12 months after its First Reading in the House of Commons, then it should not be further proceeded with without a fresh Motion (House of Commons temporary Standing Order on carry-over of Bills, para 10, agreed 20 October 2002).

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