Clause 67 - Reorganisation of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:45 pm ar 30 Mehefin 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Paymaster General 4:45, 30 Mehefin 2005

We now switch subjects completely. As I understand it, the state effectively still runs the water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland. Water rates are not levied separately but included in local taxation, which in Northern Ireland is still a variant of the old rating system, rather than the council tax that operates in England. In future, water rates are to be run and levied by a newly established company under the auspices of the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland.

The clause permits the relevant assets to be transferred to the company on a tax-neutral basis, with details of the transfer to be confirmed in subsequent regulations. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) had something to say about that on Second Reading, but I shall not repeat it, not least because I cannot do the accent. The subject is obviously a matter of some concern to people in the Province.

The Paymaster General wrote to Committee members on 24 June to provide detail about what the regulations will cover, and we thank her for that courtesy. The Opposition are not opposed to the creation of the company or to the separating out of the water rates charge in line with the situation in much of the rest of the UK. However, as there are no Northern Ireland Members assigned to the Committee, I shall briefly press the Paymaster General on a few points.

The Paymaster General's letter mentioned that subsequent legislation would give effect to the reorganisation. It said:  

''The regulations required to deal with the tax consequences of the reorganisation of the Water Service will be determined by how the reorganisation is structured and the nature of the property, rights and liabilities transferred from the Water Service. The tax regulations will be made after the detail of the legislation dealing with the reorganisation is known.''

That seems the logical sequence of events. I appreciate that the legislation required is unlikely to be a Treasury Bill, but does the Paymaster General have any idea of when it will be forthcoming and when the tax regulations can be expected to follow? Finally—this is an important question, if only to exclude some of the possibilities—how, if at all, will the process be affected if a compromise is reached in Northern Ireland and some form of devolved Government restored?