The House of Lords appears set to pass further massive retrospective cuts to RHI subsidies – but a final decision will not be taken until next week after an intervention from Lord Empey.
The government had initially planned to ram two bills – one relating to about £20 billion of Stormont spending and another on rates and RHI – through the Lords in the space of a few hours.
However, after an amendment by Lord Empey to delay subsidies being slashed by up to 96%, the government agreed to delay the final stages of the bill until next week.
Speaking in the Lords on Tuesday night, the UUP peer said that to deal with such an “exceptionally complicated” matter in a couple of hours was unacceptable.
Unlike Secretary of State Karen Bradley, who defended the NIO’s approach, NIO minister Lord Duncan accepted that “I think we deserve some criticism in this area and I will take that on board”.
Liberal Democrat Lord Bruce said that the way in which peers were being asked to consider two major bills in a couple of hours “goes way beyond what I would regard as any acceptable level of scrutiny”.
He said there was “real concern about who indeed is checking what is going on with the money allocated to Northern Ireland” and highlighted what he described as Arlene Foster’s “comfort letter” promising the subsidy would never be altered.
He said that it may be necessary to consider “distress help for genuine cases” of those affected.
DUP peer Lord Browne said bluntly of the scheme Arlene Foster set up: “I do not honestly know of anyone who can say in any way that this scheme has been a success.” He said that “the way in which it was set up and ultimately abused by some was in fact disgraceful”. However, he concluded his remarks by saying that he would vote for the changes.
Fellow DUP peer Lord Hay said that RHI claimants “rightly” felt aggrieved at how they were being treated, adding: “I’m not going to stand here and defend this scheme. The scheme was flawed from day one. We need to be honest and say that.”
Veteran Tory peer Lord Cormack said he had received “pleas” from claimants who felt they had been “misled”. Lord Murphy for Labour said that they would support the bill, which passed unanimously at second reading.