RHI: Karen Bradley attempts to whisk huge subsidy cut through Commons in a day

Secretary of State Karen Bradley will tomorrow attempt to rush through the Commons in a single day legislation which retrospectively slashes the RHI subsidies which Arlene Foster promised would be unalterable for 20 years.

Monday, 4th March 2019, 7:23 pm
Updated Monday, 4th March 2019, 8:35 pm
Karen Bradley is giving MPs just a day to debate her legislation which slashes RHI subsidies

Despite the huge significance of the legislation, Mrs Bradley is not putting it in a stand-alone bill but is incorporating it with a bill which sets the regional rates payable by householders in Northern Ireland.

The inelegantly named Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) (No. 2) Bill will come before MPs tomorrow in what will be their first chance to debate the proposal to slash the potential payment for a 99kw biomass boiler by 96% – from about £56,000 a year to just over £2,000 a year.

However, rather that take weeks to pass through Parliamentary scrutiny, the NIO has used accelerated passage to ensure that every Commons stage of the bill will be debated in one day before it goes to the Lords. MPs can table amendments to the bill or to reject it entirely.

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It is also not going before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee for scrutiny – a process which would have allowed MPs to quiz the civil servants who drafted the legislation.

The NIO has known for a year about the need for the legislation. However, in an explanatory note to the bill the NIO said that due to the need to pass the bill “urgently” normal Parliamentary scrutiny was not possible.

It said that the legislation, which is Stormont civil servants’ proposed long-term fix to the ‘cash for ash’ scheme they initially set up while Arlene Foster was minister, is something which will “strike a fair balance between the general public interest of protecting public finances, and the rights of individuals”.

When asked it is rushing the bill through with limited scrutiny, the NIO said that it was “taking forward this legislation at the request of the NI Department for the Economy” and that there had been a public consultation. It added that rates and RHI were being dealt with in onee bill because they are “two essential measures that will deliver...good governance, protect public finances and safeguard public services”.

However, Tom Forgrave, a major poultry farmer from Ballymoney who has 10 RHI boilers, said: “The Department for the Economy has had two years to bring forward this legislation. To leave it to the 11th hour once again doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. To announce the preferred option and drive it through Parliament within a week beggars belief.

“This legislation is of such importance, considering the events of the last two years, that it should at least be given proper Parliamentary scrutiny. To do anything less is an insult to those who are participants in the scheme.”