Belfast Telegraph

Government shelves plan to fast-track law cutting RHI payments through the Lords

Lord Empey
Lord Empey

By Nick Lester

The Government has backed down over fast-tracking controversial Northern Ireland legislation that makes huge cuts to Renewable Heat Incentive subsidies.

It had originally planned to force the Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) (No 2) Bill through the House of Lords in a single day as it needed to be on the statute book by the end of the month.

But in the face of concerns raised over scrutiny, more time is to be made available for "further discussion and reflection".

Labour's shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd had described it as "an abuse of the process of this House".

Lord Empey had argued there had been "a pattern developing" where almost every piece of Northern Ireland legislation was subject to a process which meant it being fast-tracked.

He also referred to objections raised by MPs "that no scrutiny of any significance was being provided".

Peers heard ahead of the second reading of the Bill today that a number of amendments had been put forward which will now be considered next Tuesday.

Changes to the controversial RHI scheme would mean annual returns for the most common boilers being reduced from £13,000 to £2,000 from April 1.

Speaking in the Lords on earlier this week, DUP peers lined up to criticise the RHI scheme, which was the responsibility of DUP ministers, including party leader Arlene Foster.

Lord Browne of Belmont said: "I do not know anyone that can say this scheme has in any way been a success. In fact, the way in which it was set up and ultimately abused by some was disgraceful."

He pointed out many people had "genuinely entered into the scheme in good faith".

Fellow DUP peer Lord Hay of Ballyore said the scheme was "flawed from day one". He added: "It is a tragedy. Unfortunately, there will be a number of people out of pocket in all of this."

The scheme was closed to new entrants in 2016 after claims the tariffs were overly generous, and the controversy around how it was handled at Stormont led in part to the collapse of the Assembly.

The Government has argued the subsidies need to be cut to comply with state aid rules.

Failure to do so would mean the RHI scheme having to close completely because it would be in breach of EU law.

Government chief whip in the Lords Lord Taylor of Holbeach said on Tuesday that although the Bill was urgent, "we will ensure that proper time is made available for consideration."

Opening the second reading debate, Northern Ireland Minister Lord Duncan of Springbank said: "Without legislation there would be no legal basis to maintain the payments to participants in this scheme."

Acknowledging the rates were "significantly lower" than previous tariffs, he added: "The European Commission is clear. The tariff rate cannot deliver a return higher than 12% per annum.

"These tariffs, and indeed this scheme, are not without controversy."

Belfast Telegraph

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