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Lord Glentoran: My Lords, some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, ring some bells. However, in principle I do not agree with him. The situation has arisen because of internecine political battling within the parties at Stormont. It has been suggested that the Bill (as it then was) would not have passed through Stormont had it stayed there. I have done a little researchone does not have to count a lot of numbersand there is considerable doubt on that. The likelihood is that it would have passed. But, what is more important is that it is a very good Bill, it should pass, and is in the right handsthat is, in the office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. That is what the argument is about. Should it be there or in another department controlled by some other party? That is my first point.
SecondlyI am sorry if we have debated this previously but we have an amendment before us which we have to debatethe board is a very worthwhile asset for Northern Ireland. It gives considerable potential if managed and developed well by professional people. The strategic investment board has not yet been set up. It has not yet been selected. From where I sit, there is no reason to believe that those responsible for selecting and appointing the board will not propose a sound group of people well capable of making a success of it.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, mentioned matters such as De Loreanfrom 100 years ago. I think of Laganside Development Corporation which changed for the good the face of Belfast. Of course, it took some knocks on some projects because of dissatisfied parties and so on. But overall, anyone who visits Belfast now and knew it 20 or 25 years ago would hardly believe that he is in the same city. The citizens of Belfast and outside enjoy that.
Let us take the issue a stage further. I refer to the Belfast harbour board. It was set up a little before the time of my great grandfather. Its remit was to develop and work the port of Belfast in the interests of the citizens of Belfast. I believe that those developmentsthe redevelopment of the port, the selling off of the property portfolio and the developments on Queen's Island where Harland and Wolff has, sadly, been steadily running downare another exceptional example of developing the property assets of part of Northern Ireland. It has been achieved by a tough business board appointed by government and others.
My anxietyI have mentioned it to the Lord Privy Seal outside the Chamberis that there may be a dilution of authority. I should hate to think that separate little boards would be set up to develop bits handed to the north, the east and the west. That would be a serious waste. It would not be a successful route. To set up a strong strategic investment board is the right answer. If for political correctness it is necessary also to have an advisory commission, so be it. I support the order and do not support the amendment.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I have not suggested in any way that there would be mini boards set up all over the place. He tilts at the windmills of his own imagination.
Baroness Blood: My Lords, I am fully behind the order; and I support the amendment. I agree with the reference of my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, to the model of the Laganside Development Corporation. The Laganside board has, and must have, a proportion of representatives from the community. That has worked well. So the noble Lord's argument works against itself. However, when we were setting up the partnership boards in 199495, there had to be representation from business and different parts of the community. I sat on a Northern Ireland partnership board for five years and know how difficult it was to get that mix of people at the beginning. It worked well. We now have LSP boards, area partnership boardsin fact, boards coming out of our ears. You can rarely meet anyone in Northern Ireland who is not on some board. So the expertise is there.
We are discussing the bases that the Army had for years. Most of them are in local communities, not down in the docks like Laganside, which is a beautiful tribute to Belfast. Local communities had to put up with all the business that went with those bases for many years. I do not want to circumvent the system. I hope that the strategic investment body will include that knowledge, but if local communities were included, that would give people confidence and a feeling of pride in their area. Giving the local community a say could put to bed many future disagreements.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions made. If the House wishes to have my advice, I advise it to vote for the order and to endorse the approach so clearly set out by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.
The membership of the company's board will be controlled by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Ministerboth of them democratically elected. Accounts will be subject to scrutiny by independent audit. The affairs of the company will be subject to audit for value for money under Article 9 of the Audit (Northern Ireland) Order.
Lord Smith of Clifton: Aspirational, my Lords, describes the right sort of motive. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, said, that is common practice in Northern Ireland. The opposition of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was wide of the mark about what I suggested. It was in his imagination. The noble and learned Lord said that the board would be audited and subject to this, that and the other condition. I expect all that to happen.
The Government would save themselves a lot of trouble if they included two or three community representatives from business, the trade unions and the voluntary sector in decision-making. As I said earlier, the PPP process has not always gone smoothly and some commonsense views would be welcome. For that reason, I should like to press my amendment.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.