Motion on Standing Orders
That, in the event of the Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) (No. 2) Bill and the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) (No. 2) Bill having been brought from the Commons, Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 12 March to allow the Bills to be taken through their remaining stages that day.
My Lords, the Legislation Office is already accepting amendments to the regional rates and energy Bill in advance of the Second Reading debate, as per paragraph 8.3 of the Companion. The anticipation and adjustments Bill is a money Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, a pattern has been developing over the last couple of years, whereby nearly every piece of Northern Ireland legislation is being done using the suspension of the Standing Orders to push through Bills in a single day. This morning it is proposed that two Bills go through all their stages in one day. Yesterday, in the other place, there were objections from all sides of the House that no scrutiny of any significance was being provided, certainly of one of the Bills—the renewable heating scheme Bill—even though it is significant to many businesses and individuals.
We know that from time to time it is necessary to use these procedures—I accept that—but we have here a pattern that every meaningful piece of Northern Ireland legislation is shoved through in one day on this basis without scrutiny, and there was a universal view of disquiet in the other place.
I appeal to my noble friend the Leader of the House to consult her colleagues in government to try to bring this process to an end, so that legislation is dealt with through a proper process. I know that they will argue that in this or that particular case, circumstances need quick resolution—but on this series of Bills, I disagree. One Bill deals with the regional rate. The regional rate has been set in February every year since 1973. That is part of the process. We knew a year ago that the rates for the renewable heating scheme had to be renewed because we passed a Bill that said that they would be renewed in one year. Similarly, budget matters come annually and there has been no prospect in the past few months of the Northern Ireland Assembly being re-established and an Executive being in place to deal with these matters. So I appeal to my noble friend the Leader to prevail on her colleagues that, if Northern Ireland legislation comes to this House, it is subject to the normal parliamentary processes, because we are almost at the point where these matters are an abuse of the parliamentary process.
My Lords, I will briefly add my strong support to the noble Lord, Lord Empey. He has made an extremely important point, which is all the more important because the Executive are not in being and the Assembly is not meeting. It is therefore incumbent on this House and the other place to look in some detail at matters which affect the lives of people throughout Northern Ireland. I add my plea to his: we should not indulge in this process again, especially during a time when Northern Ireland has no adequate devolved government.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Empey, makes an extremely strong case. Surely the presumption should always be against an extraordinary procedure. We have had this a number of times in respect of Northern Ireland legislation, and the case being made by Members of the House from Northern Ireland seems to me to merit very serious consideration by the Leader.
My Lords, I also support my noble friend Lord Empey, who I have known for a long time and who was a very distinguished Minister in Northern Ireland. He knows a lot about Northern Ireland legislation. It is not just that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting at the moment—which is a very strong argument. It is also about the business of this House. I know that my noble friend Lord Adonis will agree that for the past few weeks, and in the coming few weeks, our Order Paper has been full of hundreds of statutory instruments, most of which we hope will not be needed. We heard earlier from the Home Office Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in reply to one Question, that no deal was an unlikely outcome.
It is outrageous that Northern Ireland legislation, which is important and which we should be looking at in detail, is not looked at properly, whereas we are being flooded with all these statutory instruments, hundreds of which we hope will be totally unnecessary and void. I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and I hope we can say that support in this House is coming from all sides, just as it did in the House of Commons.
My Lords, I add my support to that argument. The people of Northern Ireland are being doubly short-changed: they do not have an Assembly, and what is being done in Parliament, in both Houses, is a wholly inadequate form of scrutiny. Would you not think that, when there is no functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland, this House and the other place would take more responsibility for effective scrutiny, not less? In those circumstances, the argument being put is extremely powerful.
My Lords, I recognise the concerns raised by noble Lords in this short debate. I assure them that I understand how unsatisfactory the present situation is. We as a Government do not want to be in this place. We are working very hard to restore an Executive in Northern Ireland, but I am afraid that it is important that these Bills make progress next week. As I said when I moved the Motion, the Legislation Office is accepting amendments to the rates and energy Bill ahead of Second Reading, and we will of course ensure that we have time to debate them. I very much appreciate the co-operation of the House on these matters. I have heard the concerns raised and will report them back. However, we need to make progress with these Bills.