HC Deb 02 May 1996 vol 276 cc1287-8
6. Mr. Steen

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to promote further deregulation measures in the Province. [126380]

Sir John Wheeler

I shall do so through the draft Deregulation and Contracting Out (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, which the House debated yesterday, and six specific deregulatory amendments will be made to Northern Ireland legislation.

Mr. Steen

As deregulation has not, unfortunately, been a great success in Great Britain—given that 7, 839 statutory instruments have been passed in the past two years and only a few hundred have been repealed, although we have a £1.3 million task force of 43 staff in the Deputy Prime Minister's office, and that only 24 orders have come out of the Select Committee on Deregulation—why does the Minister think that we should impose the same disadvantages that Great Britain has had on Northern Ireland?

Sir John Wheeler

My hon. Friend took a distinguished part in the debate late last night on the draft Deregulation and Contracting Out (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 which, as the House knows, was passed shortly before midnight. He expressed himself in similar terms during that debate and I shall ensure that my right hon. and hon. Friends in Great Britain are made aware of his interest and concerns. I can assure him that in Northern Ireland we shall proceed with all due dispatch to ensure that our contracting-out and deregulatory arrangements work as efficiently and effectively as they can.

Sir James Molyneaux

As one who is more optimistic than the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), may I make a point to the Minister? Given the success and the ability demonstrated by the district councils in Northern Ireland in promoting in-house tendering, will the Minister make use of last night's Order in Council and enable councils to compete with private suppliers from the private sector?

Sir John Wheeler

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, last night's order will not compel, but will enable councils and other bodies to contract out and to compete for tendering. I hope that they will do so, because the evidence is that millions of pounds have been saved in Northern Ireland—money that can be better used for the services that people want. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's support will be made widely known in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Dowd

I am not sure whether the Minister found the contribution by the hon. Member for South Hams in last night's debate quite as positive as he now claims. Still, how does he intend to implement the considerable powers given to him and, more particularly, given to his civil servants under articles 9 and 10 of the order, to ensure that full consultation with all affected by any changes occurs before decisions are taken? Furthermore, how will he ensure that the powers are not abused for purely administrative convenience?

Sir John Wheeler

The powers agreed last night will in part be exercised by senior civil servants under the general policy guidance of Ministers responsible for Northern Ireland Departments. It will be inherent in the process of discharging those powers that those with a necessary and relevant interest in any subject will be properly consulted.