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Lord Laird: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal on his suggestions for ways of scrutinising these rather cumbersome and complicated pieces of legislation, particularly as the workload from the Assembly will begin to trail off in terms of scrutiny. I very much welcome what the noble and learned Lord said.

For a variety of reasons, the environment in Northern Ireland did not receive the amount of attention it deserved during some of the years of direct rule. However, devolution offered the Province's politicians the chance to make up for lost ground, and it was an opportunity that they grabbed with both hands. Evidence of this is provided by the fact that this order combines the provisions of no fewer than three Assembly Bills dedicated to improving the environment.

There are three main themes in the order on which I wish to comment briefly. First, the legislation is necessary to ensure compliance with the EU's IPPC directive. This is something that I welcome as an advance in ensuring a high level of protection for the environment through the prevention or reduction of emissions to air, water and land as a result of industrial activities. A less polluted environment for future generations and ourselves is a goal towards which every politician and political party in the Province and beyond should be working. It is certainly something that the Ulster Unionist Party is seeking to achieve.

The second principal area dealt with in the order concerns air quality. Again, these provisions are necessary to ensure compliance with an EU directive. The order will also satisfy the Executive's PFG commitment to have in place by May next year a policy and legislative framework to deliver Northern Ireland's contribution to targets in the UK air quality strategy. The people of Northern Ireland have a right to clean air and the order will help to deliver that.

Adequate resources are, of course, vital, and I particularly welcome the 1 million per annum grant package for district councils to assist them in assessing local air quality, identifying problems and providing necessary remedies. I would be grateful if, when he comes to reply, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal could give an assurance that this figure will be kept under review and that more cash will be made available when required.

The third and final part of the order to which I wish to refer incorporates measures to allow for the better protection and management of areas of special scientific interest (ASSIs). These locations represent the finest examples of semi-natural and species sites to be found in Northern Ireland because of their fauna, flora or geographic features. My colleagues and I fully support the protection of these areas as assets which should be enjoyed by future generations.

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We also recognise, however, that a degree of sensitivity needs to be exercised with regard to ASSIs and, in particular, how they affect the farming community. The Province's farmers are not opposed to the designation of natural habitat sites, provided that they are managed in a practical way. However, given that the local farming community has suffered so much in recent years because of BSE and foot and mouth disease, leading to a consequential dramatic drop in incomes, I believe that it is vital that it is not made to face additional financial burdens.

The obvious solution is for the Government to provide good management and to work in partnership with farmers, rather than to increase the perception that ASSIs will simply add to levels of bureaucracy. However, I am confident that the desirable spirit of partnership can be created which, in turn, will be of benefit to everyone involved. I support the order.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I associate myself with those Members of the House who feel that the present procedures are not adequate for scrutinising such complicated legislation. I very much welcome the offer made by my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench to arrange, if requested by noble Lords, for briefings by officials. The point that he made earlier this afternoon, that we might consider discussing measures of this kind in a Grand Committee, could be a useful way of enabling us to engage more fully in some of the issues.

We could spend several weeks on this particular measure. However, I shall not succumb to the temptation of going into too many details, much as I would like to because some of the issues are familiar to me from my days when I was a Minister in Northern Ireland. I shall resist that because I do not have the background, nor do I have knowledge of what the Assembly did or did not discuss.

I support the suggestion that we should look hard at the way in which we deal with such measures. They are crucially important to the people of Northern Ireland and we owe it to them to do so as thoroughly as possible.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord replies, we on these Benches also support much better provision for scrutinising Northern Ireland orders. Could the usual channels consult among themselves in order that some mechanism can be agreed and be up and running in the new year?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for a very constructive review of the general matters. My noble friend Lord Dubs said that if we changed things we could spend several weeks discussing the issue, so I immediately withdraw my offer.

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The noble Lord, Lord Laird, asked whether matters would be kept under review in the context of funding—yes. He then, thinking me to be an innocent in these matters, asked me to assure him that there would be more cash forthcoming—no.

As to the specific points of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, the ASSI Bill was scrutinised by the Environment Committee in the Assembly and amendments were added in response to the Committee's comments; and Sue Doughty's questions have been responded to in writing by my honourable friend the Minister, Angela Smith.

The idea of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, is better than mine in terms of attempting to offer solutions. I believe that we should differentiate between orders in order of magnitude and importance first. I am more than happy to reiterate my offer for officials' briefings. They are extremely competent and efficient and well equipped to deal with these matters, as all noble Lords who have dealt with the Northern Ireland Office will know.

In the Working Practices Leader's Group Report, which met such triumphant acclamation, we agreed to consider appointing a committee on statutory instruments. That may be one way of improving scrutiny. But I recognise that that may be some way down the road and not ready for what your Lordships want. I am more than willing to be as flexible as I possibly can. I think that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, that the usual channels should look at this matter with a degree of urgency, is a good one.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 2002

7.18 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th November be approved.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the order would introduce provisions broadly in line with those already in force in the rest of the United Kingdom by the enactment of the Insolvency Act. The legislation had passed Committee stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The main purpose of the order is to assist small companies in financial difficulties. The Assembly Committee considering the original Bill expressed some concern about rights given to claim in respect of dwelling houses owned under joint tenancies in deceased insolvencies but it had been decided that the wording in the order should stand. It is essential that it should if creditors in deceased insolvencies in Northern Ireland are to have the same rights as their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom.

There was consultation. The replies received were favourable. I commend the order to the House.

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Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th November be approved.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Laird: My Lords, the order will ensure that small companies in Northern Ireland can use the same company rescue procedures as their counterparts in Great Britain. The benefit of so doing is to remove the

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potential disadvantages that local businesses in Northern Ireland could have in competing with their counterparts in Great Britain. Again, therefore, I am happy to commend the order to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty minutes past seven o'clock.

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