During a debate in the House of Lords this evening, the government offered concessions to Ulster Unionist peers, Lord Rogan and me, on the RHI Bill.
It was clear that there was widespread concern in the House about the government’s handling of the issue so far, with peers from all sides expressing their dissatisfaction at the joining together of the setting of the regional rate with the setting of new tariffs for RHI users.
Northern Ireland minister, Lord Duncan of Springbank, offered an upgraded package of measures to compensate boiler users other than that previously announced.
He said that a special unit will be set up in the Department of the Economy, under an independent chair.
The chair will not come from the civil service. All matters pertaining to the individual case will be taken into consideration, including what funds were borrowed by boiler users based on the guarantees they were given by a former minister.
I welcome the fact that Lord Duncan said he would put all this in writing and make a report to the House.
This will set out the terms of reference for this group and he will further report on progress made in due course.
The outcome of the inquiry by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will also be taken into account.
In circumstances where the £4 million already set aside in each of the next three financial years proves insufficient, the government will make appropriate adjustments.
The amendments put forward by Lord Rogan and me were supported by Labour, Liberal Democrats and many Conservatives and others, but there was a general agreement that the concessions by the minister were the best way forward to achieve fairness, equity and justice for the boiler operators.
It was widely recognised in the House that RHI was a calamity, but there was determination that those who had taken up the scheme should not be left high and dry by the authorities who introduced the scheme in the first place.
I warned the minister, at the close of the debate, that given the views from a well attended House and a unanimous House, any failure to deliver on his promises to the boiler users would be very badly received and would have consequences.
• Lord Empey is a former UUP leader