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Lord Smith of Clifton: I have tabled an amendment to the order, which we shall consider when we debate the order in the Chamber tomorrow. I have two difficulties with the order, one of which was alluded to by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal. The order has had a bumpy passage in the Assembly. It was presented on two occasions and was pulled on both because the two main parties would not have been able to muster a majority in favour of it. One can put an emphasis on the wishes of the Executive, but looking at the wishes of the Assembly, which are sovereign in this matter, the order would not have been passed.

Therefore, we have the problem that we know the attitudes of a majority of the Assembly Members and every party, apart from the SDLP and the UUP, has raised objections to this. That is a broad, rainbow coalition. We must ask ourselves whether in its present form the order should go through, bearing in mind that it would not have received majority support in the Assembly.

My other problem relates to the composition of the strategic investment board. That is referred to in my amendment which we shall discuss tomorrow. It is a wide-ranging agency; it has a broad remit. The noble and learned Lord said that it would discuss and seek as broad a consensus as possible as to its mode of operation on various policies and projects it undertook. I grant that being that wide ranging has the advantage of flexibility, but the flipside is that it is ill-defined. Matters are therefore made worse by the fact that a number of key stakeholders, particularly those from the business community and the voluntary sector, are excluded.

That is unfortunate, bearing in mind the fact that the PPP working group in Northern Ireland forcefully suggested that business and voluntary groups should be involved in strategic policy planning. If the strategic investment board is not concerned with strategic policy planning, I would like to know what is.

I therefore have two problems. In relation to the first, it is up to the House to decide whether we should be pushing forward an order which would not have received majority support in the Assembly. The second is more important and deals with the composition of

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the strategic investment board. I give notice that I will be pursuing my amendment in the Chamber tomorrow.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble and learned Lord, first, for helping us to set up the Grand Committee so that we can debate the serious Bills that now come to us as statutory instruments in a two-stage manner. That will be helpful. Your Lordships would want and should have an opportunity to scrutinise the orders seriously. More importantly, the key question that we should ask in the Committee and in the Chamber, when the orders come before it to be passed, is whether we are sufficiently content that the Northern Ireland Assembly would have passed the Bills, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, said. We should be sure that the orders represent what the people of Northern Ireland want.

We should be wary of imposing laws on the devolved administration in Northern Ireland. Power may not be devolved at the moment, but I hope that we all work with a devolved legislature in mind. That is important.

I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, had to say, and I intend to explore it a little further. It seems to me that there is a dispute within the Assembly between the DUP and the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. As far as I can understand from the politicians from Northern Ireland to whom I have spoken, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party are content with the order and believe that it is the right thing to do and that this is the right way in which to manage it. Again, the emphasis is on management.

It is a good thing for Northern Ireland to have ownership of the sites transferred from the British Government to the Northern Ireland Government. I understand it to be an extremely good deal. Per se, it is a good thing for Northern Ireland, and it creates an opportunity for the proper development of the assets. However, I have had some happy and less happy experiences in government quasi-companies in Northern Ireland—one or two officials may remember things such as Positively Belfast and the Tall Ships—in which government funding got mixed up with private-sector funding and the business was run by a non-parliamentary board. I counsel caution to those responsible for setting up the structures within which the development board and the development corporations that are envisaged will manage the assets. I am nervous that there is dissent in the Assembly and, perhaps, in the Executive, although I am not sure whether that is so. I would like to be comfortable in my mind that the dissent in the Assembly was not such as to make it difficult for whatever organisation, investment board or development corporation to operate.

Northern Ireland is a small country. I have gained and suffered from the fact that, if two or three key people wind up a few journalists and others, a huge amount of damage can be done, casting doubt on the

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efficacy of what is being done. On one occasion, BBC news cast doubt on the accounts of a company of which I was chairman. It was a company similar to this and had 500,000 of government money—not a lot nowadays, but a lot then. I did not know that this was coming. It was out of context and did a huge amount of damage to what we were trying to achieve. That can happen only too easily, so it is important that we do not impose on the Northern Ireland Assembly legislation that it does not want. Secondly, if we believe that it is the right thing to do—and I believe that these projects should come under the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, covering the spectrum of the SDLP and the unionists—the overseeing Minister must be certain that there can be no criticism that is not answerable in the way that the directors of these companies work, report and oversee, the input from the NAO, and so on.

Lord Rogan: Before I speak on this, the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, prompt me to say that many of us in Northern Ireland thought that scurrilous accusations were made against him. Most of us in the business community and civic society in Northern Ireland felt, and still do, that he is a most honourable man. He behaved most honourably in what he did with regard to the Tall Ships, and I would have a clear conscience if I were him.

I am pleased to welcome this order. My only regret is that it must be considered here as an Order in Council, rather than in the Northern Ireland Assembly as a Bill. Your Lordships are, however, all too aware of the reasoning behind the suspension of devolution—namely, the persistent, deceitful and undemocratic activities of Sinn Fein/IRA, culminating in the discovery of a spy ring operating in Stormont. Until such activities are brought to a definitive end, the responsibility for scrutinising Northern Ireland legislation will continue to lie with this Parliament.

This order is the result of the reinvestment and reform initiative launched last year. This initiative was born out of a realisation that Northern Ireland has suffered from a serious and severe lack of public investment in its basic infrastructure over the past 30 years. Quite rightly, the necessary diversion of public moneys for peacekeeping and security meant that progress on our roads, schools and hospitals could not keep up with investment levels in other regions of the United Kingdom.

The new Northern Ireland Executive estimated that some 14 billion worth of investment was required over the next 10 years. The expected growth rate in capital expenditure within the Northern Ireland budgets is just over 7 billion, leaving a shortfall of 7 billion. From the 14 billion, 70 per cent needs to be spent over the next five to six years, particularly on our ageing water service. Furthermore, significant sums must be spent in the next two years if we are to avoid significant and expensive infraction proceedings emanating from Europe.

Regrettably, the Northern Ireland Executive was unable to secure significant additional resources from the UK Treasury to meet this shortfall. So, in

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November 2001, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, along with the Prime Minister and Chancellor, established a task force—the reinvestment and reform initiative—to make substantial investment in public assets.

The initiative bestowed a borrowing power on the Northern Ireland Executive to enable it to add significant spending power to departments, ensure the better utilisation of existing and new assets and ensure improvements in the delivery of public services. It also required the granting of significant and strategic redundant military and security installations to the Executive. Indeed, this forms the basis for the regeneration of sites element in the order.

Unfortunately, there has been some reluctance among the departments in Northern Ireland to replicate the beneficial use of public/private partnerships or private finance initiatives to solve investment problems. There is also a tendency for departments to hold on to assets that are no longer central to their principal activities and functions. This has led to stagnation and a lack of projects or investments from public or private sources. For instance, the Department for Regional Development still operates and manages car parks throughout Northern Ireland. Yet that same department has not brought forward a single proposal for the investment, restructuring and refinancing of our water service, despite nearly two and a half years of accountable local government. Such department-based approaches are costly, inefficient and have led to a very poor level of deal flow.

To combat such examples, the strategic investment board was created to develop, implement and drive an integrated strategy on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive, working from the Programme for Government and adopted by the Assembly as a whole. I hope and trust that this will overcome the shortcomings associated with the existing department-based approach.

I welcome the granting of powers to develop, where appropriate, regeneration companies that will take forward the development of sites of strategic importance. The future development of the Maze prison, the Long Kesh army base and other sites provides the opportunity for alliances to be formed between the community and the voluntary sector, government and the private sector. It will transform areas normally associated with trouble and terror into areas of productivity, economic regeneration and social enhancement.

This order is one of the most important pieces of legislation to come out of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It will significantly improve our infrastructure and bring investment to Northern Ireland on a scale not previously thought possible. I commend the order to the House.


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