HC Deb 06 December 1973 vol 865 cc1599-623

10.52 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Mills)

I beg to move, That the Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 15th November, be approved. We now turn to something entirely different. This order, which appropriates the Autumn Supplementary Estimates, is the third Northern Ireland appropriation order to be considered by the House this year. In March last the House approved the first appropriation order, which voted £204 million on account for the present financial year, and in July the House approved the second appropriation order, which voted the balance, £358 million, of the main Estimates. An additional £31 million is now required for the Autumn Supplementary Estimates, bringing total Estimates provision in the current financial year to £593 million.

Broadly speaking, about half of the additional provision sought arises from the reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland, and as such does not constitute an actual increase in public expenditure. Of the balance, £9 million approximately is required to provide for new policies or to meet increased expenditure on existing policies and just over £6 million is needed for pay increases.

I propose to deal in some detail with the more important items in turn.

In Class II, No. 7, on page 3 of the order, hon. Members will see that £15 million is required to clear the debit balances on the revenue accounts of the former local authorities. These balances were transferred to the Ministry of Finance on 1st October 1973 under local government reorganisation. I should emphasise, however, that this figure is inflated to some extent because grants and other debts which were due to the former local authorities were not, in fact, in all cases received by them before 30th September.

Some consequential savings in the expenditure of various Ministries may therefore be expected when the appropriation accounts are prepared. I should also emphasise again that this is purely a transfer of expenditure from one part of the public sector to another and does not rank as an increase in public expenditure.

In Class III, on page 3, an additional £5.2 million is required for law and order. The sum of £2.6 million is for the police service, largely for police overtime which was particularly high early in the year as a result of duties connected with the border poll, local government and Assembly elections, and for increased rates of pay and allowances. The sum of £1.2 million is needed for prisons and borstal institutions, partly to cater for increases in the number of prison staff and partly because of increased rates of pay. The increase in the number of staff reflects the increases in the prison population, which in turn reflects the increasing successes of the security forces. That must not be overlooked.

An additional £1 million is also required to pay for compensation for criminal injuries. I need hardly point out to hon. Members that it is very difficult to forecast expenditure under this head.

In Class IV, on page 4, an additional £2.2 million is required—for supplementary benefits, old persons' pensions, attendance allowances and family income supplements. The greater part of the extra money is needed for higher rates of benefits. The balance reflects increases in the number of beneficiaries.

Those are the main points to which I should wish to draw attention, but I shall endeavour to answer any points which hon. Members may have. On such a complicated and long appropriation order, I hope the House will forgive me if I do not know all the answers, but I shall see that hon. Members receive proper answers.

I think, however, that all hon. Members will agree that the making available of these additional funds yet again testifies more eloquently than any words of mine can our absolute commitment on this side of the Irish Sea to a peaceful, prosperous and just Northern Ireland. These are large sums of money.

For the reasons I have given on three of the more important matters, I believe that I can commend the order to the House.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

This is an extremely wide-ranging order. We could have a full day's debate on what is virtually a supplementary budget for Northern Ireland. There have been three such supplements this year, dealing with a total of about £630 million. It is a considerable sum, and we have a very short time in which to debate it.

If, as we hope, the Executive gets off the ground and the new constitution in Northern Ireland works, this order will be the last legislation in this form to come before the House of Commons. Looking at the Northern Ireland Constitution Act and the White Paper, we see that entirely new provisions for financing the Government in Northern Ireland, through both the Assembly and the Executive, will have to come into force.

The sum granted to the police force is £2,607,000, but in the appropriations-in-aid there is a decrease of £3,000. What does that mean?

Under phase 2 and phase 3 the police in Northern Ireland have been penalised. They have asked for special payments, but these have been refused because they would put the police there out of line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is extraordinary, because the police and fire services in Northern Ireland are doing an exceptional job under exceptional circumstances. To use phase 3 against such provisions is idiotic, particularly when there is a need for recruitment and improvement in the service. We have all welcomed the new attitude and outlook in the RUC, which we hope will develop during the coming months and years. I may be wrong about this appropriation-in-aid, and the figure of £2,607,000 could be an appreciable increase because of overtime.

On page 4 we read of an increase of £572,900. For the salaries and certain expenses of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, a grant in aid and for the selective butter subsidy'. I hesitate to raise the point during such a debate, but has that anything to do with the Common Market? What does the increase entail? There is also an increase for the payment of non-contributory benefits. Because of the special pressures on the social services in Northern Ireland, there is need for an increase. The Minister might care to give some details about the terminology "Sums Granted" and "Appropriations in Aid". We should like an explanation of exactly where the moneys have gone.

Assuming that the figures I have given are correct, and there is a quite considerable increase in expenditure over the three mini-budgets, I feel that we should have an explanation. We are not criticising that increase in the sense that we do not think it has been applied correctly, but the Minister should give an outline. He might say how much of the increase has been borne by Whitehall and whether the increase is in line with Government policy on controlling public expenditure. We on the Opposition side who are opposed to phase 3 anyway would hate to see that policy used so as not to improve conditions in Northern Ireland.

In winding up the debate on Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill on 24th May, the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. David Howell) dealt with the new financial arrangements which will come into effect when the new Executive and the new constitutional arrangements come into full operation. They had been outlined in the White Paper. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) asked the hon. Gentleman : Does the Minister recall that the Government issued advice about these Northern Ireland financial arrangements which has been invaluable in the past year? Would they consider issuing the new arrangements in some such form? It will save a great deal of time. The Minister replied : We will certainly agree to do that. It sounds a very good idea."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May 1973 ; Vol. 857, c. 795.] He added that we could expect to learn from the Government how the new proposals would work.

We are to deal with a new form of financing for the whole of Northern Ireland. Under a block grant system, the Treasury will hand over to the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly a sum to be negotiated, which will then be used in an overall grant system of allocation to the different Ministries for the different expenditures. The negotiation that will take place between the Executive and the Treasury will be of crucial importance because, of course, it will depend on the budget which will be used by the Executive and the Assembly.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

I want to clarify something. The hon. Gentleman talks about negotiation between the Executive and the Treasury. I understand that the negotiation will be between the Secretary of State and the Treasury. The old system was negotiation between the Government of Northern Ireland and the Treasury, with an Exchequer board. The system is to be changed since the Secretary of State will allocate the money.

Mr. Orme

That is a valid point, and it is one we want to clear up. But, of course, the Secretary of State will not hold the negotiation without consulting the Executive. We should have it spelt out. The House is to discuss devolution next Thursday, and that will include expenditure in relation to the Council of Ireland. It is about time we knew what the financial provisions are to be. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is probably right in his speculation from what was said on 24th May and in the White Paper. All we have to go on, however, is two paragraphs of the White Paper and what was said on 24th May. As yet we have nothing in concrete form.

Again, what about finance for the reserve powers expenditure of the Home Office and so on? This is another sector which will come into a very complicated picture. We are looking tonight beyond the order. We do not expect the Under-Secretary of State to answer in detail off the cuff tonight, but we want him to convey our concern to the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South and I have discussed this, and we feel that there is urgent need to bring forward these financial provisions.

We welcome these proposals, but it is unsatisfactory that we should have to debate them in an hour and a half. We accept the criticisms made by Conservative Members in that regard. Possibly this is the last time such matters will be discussed in this setting, but this House of Commons should look at the other proposals which are to be considered in the new Assembly and the new Eecutive of Northern Ireland.

11.9 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

What the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) has said has been most helpful to the House. I wish to speak briefly on the rather surprising decrease of £3,000 under the heading of, "Police Services". I should like an assurance that it does not represent any slackening in the Government's determination to recruit to bring the RUC and the RUC reserve up to full strength. I am not sure what the recruiting position is now, but I am particularly disturbed by the fall in the Catholic component, which is now, I believe, below 10 per cent.

I also hope that there is no lessening in the Government's determination to see that both the RUC and the RUC reserve are fully equipped with the most modern weapons, transport, R/T and so on. A year or so ago I accompanied a special patrol group of the RUC. It was said then that its equipment was not of the same standard as that used by the UDR. I believe that there has been a great improvement since then. However, that rather odd figure of a decrease of £3,000 raises questions in my mind and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will reassure me.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)

I should like first to endorse the point made by the hon. Member for Sal-ford, West (Mr. Orme) asking what future arrangements will be made for the provision of money for services in Northern Ireland.

The order provides for £31 million to be issued out of the Consolidated Fund and gives further power to the Minister for Finance to borrow about £16 million. Those are substantial sums and I shall therefore consider in some detail the items set out in the schedule.

Will my hon. Friend first deal with Class I? It is provided there that the salaries of the Central Ministerial Secretariats and other expenses, including expenses of the Information Service, shall amount to £35,000. Just how is that money to be spent? What proportion of it is to be spent abroad? My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware from the debate we have just concluded of the effort of the IRA to raise money abroad to support its campaign in Northern Ireland. I have seen evidence of its activity in the United States. I want to know what the Information Service is doing to counter that propaganda campaign and the efforts of subversive organisations in Northern Ireland to raise money abroad and to spread propaganda to the detriment of the people in Northern Ireland and this country.

What support do the services get from British embassies and consular services? Are they in any way covered by this grant and what additional moneys are made available? Are persons appointed to the embassies to deal with this campaign which is so damaging to the reputation of this country?

I move on to Class II. Various items are there set out and I note that £15,900 is allocated to public works. I note, too, that there is no increase in the appropriations in aid for the current year. We all know how the prices of building and land have increased in the last year. May we be told why there is no increase in this amount in view of those rising prices? What has been the effect of inflation? Does the absence of an increase mean that there has been a fall in the amount of work done under this head?

I move on to Class III under which my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) referred to the decrease in expenditure on the police services of £3,000. My remarks about public works apply equally here. With the increase in salaries one would expect there to be an increase under this head. Why has there not been one? I should like to delve a little deeper into the police services, which is probably one of the most important services to be covered by the order. I should like to be told about the effect of the moneys provided for police recruitment. We all know that the police in Northern Ireland are facing the most difficult task of any police force in the United Kingdom, indeed in the world. They have had to put up with heavy casualties over the past four years. Many have been killed carrying out their duties, some while on leave. Others have been seriously injured. If recruitment is to be increased so that the terrorist campaign can be adequately contained we must increase the inducement offered to men to join the force.

It is particularly necessary to obtain a balanced police force. One of the criticisms which led to the appointment of the Hunt Committee was that the force was not properly balanced when the disturbances started in 1969. What success have the Government had, as a result of the implementation of the Hunt Committee's recommendations, in restoring the balance? If members of the minority community in Northern Ireland are to be persuaded to join the police, and we understand the pressures against them, then surely we must be prepared to offer some inducement to these men to take on the tremendous risk to themselves, their families and relations. Great risk is involved in their public-spirited action in offering themselves as recruits for the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Can the Minister say a word about the control of the police? This is a matter of considerable concern in Northern Ireland. Both the SDLP—and I am sorry that we do not have a representative of that party here tonight—and the Dublin Government have suggested that control of the police should be vested in the new Council of Ireland. This is something which would be strongly resisted by the majority of people living in Northern Ireland. What are the Government's intentions about this vital matter?

I want to deal with one matter reported to me, and of which my hon. Friend is aware, namely that senior officers in the RUC will not at the moment, under a Government directive, be eligible for promotion unless they have served abroad for two years. We know the pressures under which the police are operating in Northern Ireland. We know how scarce senior and experienced officers are. What is the Minister doing about this? If he insists that all senior men must have two years' experience abroad then many of the top men in the RUC will not be eligible for further promotion. Can these men be spared? If they can be, are there positions abroad in which they can obtain the necessary experience? Is the police service in Northern Ireland to be deprived of these senior men, and what will be the effect on recruitment if this is so?

Much has been made of complaints against the police. What is the true history? How many complaints are received about the conduct of police officers in Northern Ireland as compared with complaints against police officers in other parts of the United Kingdom? Is the number of complaints rising or has it fallen? What is the true record about complaints against members of the RUC?

I should like to ask by hon. Friend what are the Government's plans for restructuring the police force. A great deal of anxiety has been expressed to me on this topic.

I asked my hon. Friend recently in the House whether the Government had any plans for restructuring the police force and he gave me a most equivocal reply, saying that we had an excellent police force which could be praised in any way, but he did not answer my question. I hope that he will meet the question square on and will tell the House whether any plans are afoot, and if so, what they are, to restructure and reorganise the police force.

Perhaps he will add a word on the standard of morale. I had the opportunity recently to speak to the new Chief Constable, Mr. Flanagan—my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell was with me—and I was pleased at the confidence which Mr. Flanagan expressed in the morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I should like to know what my hon. Friend thinks on this point.

I do not want to go through each provision of this order because my hon. Friends have points to make on Classes IV, V, and VI, but I should like to ask about one detailed accounting point about Class VI, 3, in respect of improvement of livestock, diseases of animals, and so on, for which there is an allocation of £353,100. This represents an increase of £602,000 over the previous year. Does this mean that there was a negative sum of £300,000, or is there a misprint in the order? These two sums do not tally. I cannot understand how his figure is arrived at. Perhaps my hon. Friend will look into the point.

With respect to Class VII, for expenses of the Ministry of Commerce in respect of industrial development services, I have a particular interest because part of the money will probably be allocated to my constituency. Some of my constituency's problems have been mentioned. Many hon. Members know that East Belfast is a heavy industry area and I wonder whether my hon. Friend will say whether any of the allocation of money for the expenses of the Ministry of Commerce on industrial development is to be allocated to Harland and Wolff which I believe needs further assistance to complete the modernisation of its yards—or is the money to come from an additional fund?

On the same topic, perhaps my hon. Friend will say something about the other great industry in my constituency, Short Brothers, which employs many people from my constituency and others. What progress is being made by that firm? Is it seeking further Government assistance or is it a viable concern? My hon. Friend has taken a great interest, and Ministers have visited the factory. Perhaps my hon. Friend will say something about it because those employed in the aircraft industry show anxiety because of the cloud over the industry with the present crisis of oil and fuel and the likely effect this might have on employment in Queen's Island, Belfast.

What plans have the Government for dealing with the oil crisis? We in Northern Ireland are 90 per cent. reliant on oil for the production of electricity. That is much higher than the national average. A new power station is being built and others are planned. These new power stations should be capable of burning either oil or solid fuel. Have the Government carried out research into the cost of making the power stations dual purpose, so that Northern Ireland will not suffer if the current shortage of oil continues for many years? Oil is vital to the economy of Northern Ireland.

On Class VIII I wish to refer to the repercussions on housing services of the shortage of oil. Many hon. Members have visited Northern Ireland and seen the imaginative slum clearance that is taking place. The old slum houses are being replaced by modern blocks of flats. Many of these are to be centrally heated by oil-fired boilers. If oil is not available, what will be the effect on the persons who are rehoused in these blocks? Will my hon. Friend deal with the heating arrangements—

Mr. Peter Mills

I do not quite understand how I can be concerned with the heating arrangements in the flats. I cannot do anything about the plumbing. Does my hon. Friend mean the fuel supplies?

Mr. McMaster

What I am saying relates not only to blocks of flats but to individual flats and council houses without chimneys. That is a matter of concern. If these houses are to be adequately heated the Government's policy needs to be reviewed in the light of the current oil shortage. Provision should be made for the burning of coal if that is the cheapest and most economical fuel available.

There are two aspects. There is the heating of individual houses and the provision of a chimney and fireplace, and there is the central provision of warm water and heat from central boilers. Can those central boilers be dual purpose?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton) Order, this is very interesting but we are getting a little wide of the point at issue. It is a question of the funds rather than of the structure of the houses.

Mr. McMaster

I should like to see some additional money provided under Class VIII, 2, because of the needs of my constituents. I hope that I shall not be prevented from addressing the House on that matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We must debate what is in the order and not what is not in the order.

Mr. McMaster

I bow to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know how the money set out in the order will be spent. Perhaps some will be allocated in the way I suggest. Will my hon. Friend tell me whether that is the case—and, if not, why not? Those are the main points of concern for my constituents. With those remarks, I welcome the order.

11.31 p.m.

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

After hearing the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster), I can understand you feeling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is little left to be said. For an Englishman trying to interest himself in Irish affairs, I can understand that sometimes it is pretty hard going. It does not get any easier when we have to listen to the hon. Member for Belfast, East making the same speech time after time.

Class III, 3 and 4, relate to expenses of criminal prosecutions and other law charges, including the expenses of civil litigation, and salaries and allowances. Is any of that money available to British Servicemen and their counsel when they go to Northern Ireland to obtain compensation.

When the hon. Member for Belfast, East talks about people in Northern Ireland being murdered, killed, wounded and disfigured, he must remember that there are few English hon. Members whose constituents have not similarly suffered. It concerns many English hon. Members that soldiers must go back to Northern Ireland to present their cases in the Northern Ireland courts.

In that way Northern Ireland seems to be treated as a separate entity, yet we hear talk that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. Has the Department considered the position of British troops who have been terribly injured and maimed who have to go back to Northern Ireland to present their cases? There must be some way of getting their cases heard and dealt with in England.

I try to advise my constituents when they come to me with their problems. I think of Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. I suddenly find that it has separate laws or rules. Last weekend one of my constituents told me that he wanted to go to live in Northern Ireland. He has never been there. I do not know why he wants to go there. He has a flat to go to. I told him that it is an integral part of the United Kingdom. He has now discovered that he must find himself a job, but he has not obtained a work permit.

We know that the traffic from Northern Ireland to England is uninterrupted, yet when my constituent wants to go to Northern Ireland to live and to work he finds that he must have a work permit. As an Englishman, I try my best to understand Northern Ireland affairs. It would help me to know in which ways Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. We should consider its affairs carefully and try to bring them into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not want to say anything else ; it has all been said and covered. Obviously I do not expect an answer on these two points tonight, but I hope that somebody, somewhere, is looking into them.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

I welcome the support that the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) has given to the plea which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and I and some of my colleagues have made time and time again for complete integration into the United Kingdom. We look forward to having the hon. Member's support in the Lobby next time we bring forward an amendment with that end in view.

On Class III, item 2 "For police services", I gladly support what has been said on both sides tonight about the need to encourage recruitment to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and to the RUC Reserve. Like other hon. Members, I wonder whether the Government have finally set their face against any special allowances in view of the hazardous duties undertaken by the police in Northern Ireland. When we last pressed this point we were told that there were difficulties caused by phase 2 and the rest. Now that we are entering phase 3, could not the Police Authority at least be encouraged to examine ways and means of helping these gallant officers and the men who do their bidding?

If I might mention the problem of police accommodation, I have in my constituency in South Antrim two important RUC stations, one at Antrim and one at Lisburn. Both are now divisional headquarters. Because of the age of the buildings, both are now unsuitable and very inadequate for their present purpose—or, indeed, for any purpose. I would like the Ministry of Home Affairs to be asked to speed up the replacement of both buildings by stations which would provide much more civilised and efficient conditions.

In Class IV, item 7 relates to health and personal social services. As a former vice-chairman of the hospital management committee who was demobbed on 30th September as a result of the reorganisation, I have refrained from criticising the new structure which came into being on 1st October. I was prepared to give it a long honeymoon, and I still am, but I want to be assured that everything possible will be done to allay the fears of those with a special interest in mental health and special care and to see that every effort will be made concerning these two vulnerable categories of patients to ensure that they do not in any way suffer from the restructuring.

Under Class V, item 2—grants to education and library services—one has evidence to suggest that the performance of the new boards is somewhat patchy. For example, in the area of the Western Board one suspects that there is some delay in reaching staff establishments. This may be why, for example, the primary school in Limavady, County Londonderry, which under the old county education committee was provided with a very efficient library service, has now had that facility withdrawn.

I think also that the new board offices suffer from being rather short of equipment, particularly telephone equipment. Efficiency would be improved if this point could be looked into.

I turn to the subject of agriculture which is dealt with in Class VI. I wonder whether anything can be done to mitigate the still increasing costs of animal feeding stuffs. Earlier in the autumn hope was expressed that there might be a downward trend in prices, but while some prices have dropped others have risen. The net picture is that there has been no overall reduction. Only today there are alarming indications that prices are likely to start to rise again. Maize is already up in price and the price of protein has risen considerably. If grant assistance cannot be afforded under this heading, then it is essential that in today's price review calculations should not be based, as formerly, solely on differences in returns but should take account of the substantial increases in food costs which have affected Northern Ireland farmers far more than farmers in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I hope that account will be taken of the effects of the monopoly situation which affects the supply of raw materials for fertilizers. The situation led to an increase in cost to Ulster farmers amounting to over £1 million in the current year. I hope that this point will not be lost sight of during the review.

Under the heading of animal diseases, the most worrying problem is that of the serious outbreak of fowl pest which is currently affecting the eastern part of the Province. I want to pay a sincere tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture for their speedy and efficient handling of this emergency situation. The measures necessary have thrown a great strain on the veterinary staff, and we have admired the degree of flexibility which has permitted the recruitment of people with a knowledge of the poultry industry to assist in the formidable task of slaughtering, vaccination and prevention.

On the problem of compensation, I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) queried the increase, because I was hoping to press my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for sympathetic consideration to be given to compensation claims during the emergency. There is a serious problem for egg producers whose flocks have been in production for some time but which are still earning the first profit those owners have made for years. In many cases the farmer is relying on these final months of production to pull his undertaking out of the red. But if he is compensated only at the market value of the bird, the carcase price, he could find himself making a substantial net loss on the whole undertaking. I hope that sympathetic consideration will be given to such cases.

Turkey producers are also seriously affected. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, this is very much a seasonal venture, and if things go wrong in the next vital three weeks the loss to farmers could be staggering. With the increase in the cost of feeding stuffs since mid-summer, they could be greatly at risk as a result of the outbreak. Therefore, I trust that the greatly increased cost of feeding stuffs which have gone into producing birds to near market readiness will be taken into consideration when compensation is assessed.

I trust that in the matter of licensing birds—I am still mainly on turkeys—within vaccination areas, care will be taken to avoid placing producers at the mercy of large monopolies. In the case of small producers whose markets consist of individual orders for delivery within their own locality, I hope it will be possible to devise a simple system involving the provision of a list of those orders which have been placed during the year so that it will not be necessary to obtain a licence for every transaction.

There are many other matters of vital concern to a considerable number of people in Northern Ireland in this order. When the Parliament of Northern Ireland was in being, these matters could have been raised with all the responsible Ministers present. My hon. Friend, as always, has carried the whole burden with ability and courtesy but, in the very nature of things, our scrutiny must necessarily be rather limited. But I hope that I shall not be thought presumptuous if I conclude by saying that we express our gratitude to hon. Members on both sides of the House for their part in this limited operation, and I trust that our combined efforts will be of some benefit to the people of Northern Ireland.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)

I shall not detain the House for more than two minutes. I wish to ask my hon. Friend only three questions.

Clearly the decrease of £3,000 in respect of police services seems incredible at the time when the RUC is so hard pressed. I want especially to underline the remarks about police barracks, because such of them as I have seen would have done rather well to have had the £3,000 spent on them.

My second question, also about the police, arises from what the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) said. It concerns the block grant. Does this mean that the police will be paid by the Ulster Executive, or will they be paid in some other way? Is it a case of he who pays the piper calling the tune, or does someone pay the piper, with someone else calling the tune?

My final question relates to the Agent for Northern Ireland in Great Britain. It is only a small sum of £35,000. But I feel that he may be a left-over of the former political structure in Northern Ireland. Can my hon. Friend say what is the task of the Agent for Northern Ireland in Great Britain? What does the Berkeley Street office now fulfil as an office for Northern Ireland? I hate to suggest putting anyone out of a job, but is there any need for him to have that job in the future? Is there any parallel with what he once did for Northern Ireland or with anything which may be given to Scotland or Wales?

11.47 p.m.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

I join in the tributes which have been paid to the Minister. I am sorry for him, having at this late hour to deal with such an enormous range of subjects, and I shall not add to his burden by further detailed comment about the various heads of expenditure in the order.

I rise only to reinforce the question asked by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) about the financial arrangements which will be with the new Executive and about how this kind of operation will be handled in the future.

I have referred to HANSARD of 24th May, and in many ways it adds to the confusion. I do not imagine that my hon. Friend will be able to answer the question tonight, but perhaps he will be good enough once again to draw the attention of the Government to it and to say that between now and next Thursday we shall require considerable clarification of the position.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

May we again reinforce this point? On the detail of it, we do not expect a reply tonight. But, given the discussions which are taking place this weekend, if next Thursday we are to discuss sensibly the devolution order we must have more information. It may be that this can be done in some detail by means of a Written Answer, but we must be clear about what the financial arrangements are before we can discuss devolution. We were promised that these matters would be spelled out. For some reason, they have not been. But this is a most important point, and we support what the hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying.

Captain Orr

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) for that intervention. I would add little to reinforce it, except to draw attention to what was said by the Minister on 24th May : Under Clause 16, the Secretary of State will take power to make a general grant-in-aid of Northern Ireland's revenue resources. This is a continuation of the system introduced in the Northern Ireland (Financial Provisions) Act 1972. Under the Bill, the grant-in-aid will be capable of comprising the separate special payments which are to come to an end, as I described earlier. Although Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future will undoubtedly require a large grant-in-aid to supplement its revenue, the assumption of the cost of excepted and reserved matters in London, dealing with law and order, and compensation for the time being, coupled with plausible alterations in tax yields and other feasible changes, like the growth of payments from European sources, suggest that the new financial arrangements should include provision for a possible—I emphasise, only possible—deduction from Northern Ireland's proper share of tax proceeds."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May 1973 ; Vol 857, c. 795.] If my hon. Friend could tell me what that means it would be of great assistance. But I am satisfied that not even he, with all his acumen and skill, could tell me what it means.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Despite the incomprehensibility of what my hon. and gallant Friend has read to the House, is it his understanding that the grant-in-aid mentioned in that passage is the same as the annual sum mentioned in paragraph 83(b) on page 21 of the White Paper?

Captain Orr

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That was the very question that I was about to ask : is this the same? We want to know whether there will be an analogy between the Northern Ireland Executive and the local authorities in this country. I understand that at present there is an annual grant, or whatever it is called—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is straying a little wide of the order. I am sure that he does not mean to do so. Perhaps he will give a little attention to the point.

Captain Orr

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point is that if next Thursday we are to have the devolution order this will be the last of these appropriation orders. I am grateful for the latitude that has been shown, but I thought that you might allow us to ask what is to replace this procedure when the time comes. I do not want to labour the point. Perhaps my hon. Friend will add to what I have said on this matter. When my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) asked what the formula would be, he said that there was no reason why there should not be consultation. We want to know whether the Secretary of State, in negotiation in the normal process in the Cabinet, will get the money and will then allocate it or whether there is to be a system of consultation with the Executive as there is with local authorities in this country in the same position. That is all I wish to add to reinforce what was said by the hon. Member for Leeds, South, so that we may know the position before next Thursday.

11.54 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills

I have some task before me to answer all the points that have been made, so I will speak fairly fast to try to cover them. I understand that the hour and a half will be up in about 25 minutes, but I will do my best.

The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr Orme) welcomed the order. He was quite right that if devolution takes place this will be the last budget, as it were. Once we get the Executive under way, this can be dealt with. My hon. Friends are right to say that there is not enough time to debate these points, and that time is needed in the Assembly. This is what we are working for and why we are asking for their support. This is what they want and they are right to say that proper debate should take place.

The decrease of £3,000 which has been referred to is a reduction in the total income for the police vote for the year. It arises from a slight adjustment in the estimate for pensions contributions by policemen, and is not significant in itself. In the "sums granted" column there is a supplementary estimate for the police of £2,670,000. This is an increase in expenditure. It is just that the police vote did not get as much as had been expected from contributions.

I should be out of order to go into the question of the Common Market, but 100,000 people in Northern Ireland have benefited from the cheaper butter scheme. The increase borne by the British grant-in-aid is £169 million. It would be best if I wrote to the hon. Member on this point. Expenditure in Northern Ireland is £644 million, income £383 million and the deficiency of £258 million is met partly by the grant-in-aid.

I can understand hon. Members being concerned about future financial arrangements. The Government are committed to bringing forward a White Paper setting out the financial arrangements. At the moment and until devolution, we are operating under the system set out in Cmnd. 4498 published in June 1972, entitled "Northern Ireland—Financial Arrangements and Legislation". The White Paper makes it clear that the Government will discuss these arrangements with the new institutions and authorities in Northern Ireland before they are finalised—particularly the proposals for the control of public expenditure. These discussions are not yet concluded, and it follows that the White Paper will not be published until devolution. I will get this situation clarified before Thursday, although I cannot promise the House that it will be included in the speech. I hope that that clears up the point. The hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) talked about the decrease of £3,000. I hope that I have made the position clear. There will be no slackening in recruiting or in providing equipment, and to improve these will be our main aim. A lot of time and energy are being spent in seeking the necessary recruits, and there will be advertising.

I now want to turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster), who raised over 14 points. I will try desperately to answer some of them, but I assure him that they will all be covered by a letter. There was a point made about Class I, "Sums Granted £35,000". This represents increased rates of pay for existing staff. Under Class II, item 4, "Sums Granted £15,900", this represents loan charges on buildings taken over from local authorities. I can assure my hon. Friend that expenditure is not going down. There will also be a spring supplementary in which the amount will be fairly considerable.

While I am on this subject, it is important to explain the various columns in this order. In all cases, the sums granted—that is, the first column—are increases in expenditure. Any increases in appropriations in aid are increases in income, and are taken into account before asking for the extra sums granted. Any decreases in appropriations in aid mean that the sums granted are increased by that amount. I hope that that clears up that point.

As regards control of the police, we have given the assurance that the RUC will remain under our control. On the question of senior officers having to come over to this country for a certain time, if my hon. Friend will excuse me I will see that he has a letter setting out the position very clearly. I will look into what my hon. Friend said about complaints, but, from my own knowledge, there are very few complaints about the police. Certainly, there will be changes and improvements in the organisation of the police. These are going on all the time, and I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome that fact. The organisation of the police is not something that is stationary. Morale is very good, and I find it improving as I go around the various police stations. I am afraid that I have forgotten the point about agriculture.

Mr. McMaster

It was a misreading of the increase in the appropriations in aid which has already been covered.

Mr. Mills

That is very helpful. Short Brothers, are doing an excellent job and I am sure that we have every confidence in them. They seem to be highly competitive with their Skyvans. Harland and Wolff have a certain amount of problems due to the shortage of steel and other factors, but there is a great programme of modernisation going on and, again, I have confidence there.

Turning to the oil position in Northern Ireland, which caused my hon. Friend considerable concern, I spoke to my hon. Friend the Minister of State a few days ago, and I can assure him that he has these matters well in hand and I am sure he will note my hon. Friend's concern about this matter. I understand that the position is reasonable. As regards the flats and houses, and provision for coal instead of reliance on oil, I hope that the authorities and the builders will note my hon. Friend's remarks, because this is obviously an important point. I, for one, still use the old-fashioned wood and logs and I do not rely on oil or on coal. But I am sure that the point will be taken note of by the authorities.

I now come to the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) whom we welcome to this debate. After the many orders that I have had the privilege of moving, it is nice to see a new face. Whether he is whipping, sitting down or speaking, he is very welcome. He made three important points, especially the one about whether soldiers need to go back to Northern Ireland. I will try to find out something about that aspect, because there is something in the point he made about a man who has been severely wounded and shocked having to go back to give evidence. I should like to look into that point.

Regarding the work permit and the future, that point will also be noted. One of the first things that happened when I arrived in Northern Ireland was that one person there—not one of my hon. Friends here tonight—had the sauce to ask whether I had a work permit. I had not got one, though I was able to do some fairly hard work over there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) raised the question of the special allowances for the RUC. Pay for the RUC is a matter for negotiation in the Police Council for the United Kingdom. The Police Council has made it clear that it would wish to make some monetary recognition of the special circumstances in which the RUC operates at present. The pay code for stage 3 provides for a new pay limit and, in addition, a flexibility margin and premiums for unsocial hours. While the Government have great sympathy for the long hours and strain under which the RUC operates and had the problem very much in mind when drafting the stage 3 code, it finally proved impossible to write in any extra provision beyond the improved flexibility without seriously breaking the integrity of the code.

However, before there are too many moans from the Opposition, I want to point out that stage 3 provides some scope for worthwhile increases for the police forces generally, and the flexibility margin is available for those engaged in pay negotiations. That covers the point, but obviously it will not satisfy everyone.

Mr. Orme

I have discussed this matter with Mr. Stanage of the Police Federation, after he had attended a recent meeting of the Joint Police Federation of England and Wales on being invited over from Northern Ireland. The Police Federation is highly dissatisfied with this arrangement. We think that it is wrong for the Government to play about with phase 3 in the United Kingdom, but doing it in Northern Ireland and trying to square the circle is not working. I urge the Minister to tell his right hon. Friends that this is not good enough. It is a barrier to the improvement of conditions within the RUC and the fire service.

Mr. Mills

My right hon. Friend and those concerned will note what the hon. Gentleman has said. But this is some progress in that there is flexibility and the matter of unsocial hours.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will my hon. Friend accept from me the view, which I hope is shared by all who have had experience of police activities in Northern Ireland, that every hour on duty could be classed as an unsocial hour?

Mr. Mills

That is a worthwhile point, which again will be considered ; but I cannot go any further than I have on the matter.

Regarding the future of mental health work in Northern Ireland, every effort will be made to continue the good work that is being done. On a personal level, my wife has visited many of the establishments concerned and has always returned with the view that they are of a very high standard and that a tremendous amount of work is being done for the people involved. All concerned are to be congratulated. That work will continue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South opened the whole subject of agriculture and animal feeding stuffs. I could talk for about five hours on that subject, but I cannot do that tonight. I have looked into the matter very carefully. There are difficulties because of Northern Ireland's remoteness but Northern Ireland is still receiving considerable extra aid. There is still the differential because of the distance, the sea and so on. But we are looking into the matter. If my hon. Friends will help with devolution and getting the Executive under way, probably a new Minister of Agriculture will carry on where I have left off. [Interruption.] For all that, I am sure he will do a first-class job.

My hon. Friend is wrong about protein. The price of soya meal has come down from a peak of nearly £300 a ton to about £100 a ton. The problem is that that fall is not being reflected in the compound feeding prices because merchants have bought forward, but it will be reflected in time.

I thank my hon. Friend for the tribute he paid to my Ministry with regard to fowl pest. We shall consider the whole problem of compensation carefully and sympathetically. Fowl pest is a major problem over there. Although great efforts are being made to contain it, obviously quite a number of people will suffer. Every farmer must take the greatest care that the disease does not spread, by seeing that there are no intruders and that precautions are taken.

We welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) to these debates. He asked who would pay the police after devolution. They will be paid by the Northern Ireland Office. It is not a matter with which the Executive or the Northern Ireland people will be concerned.

I hope that the Northern Ireland Agent in Great Britain will continue. I cannot pay a high enough tribute to him. I have worked closely with him in promoting seed potatoes, milk products and all sorts of other things for sale outside Northern Ireland. He does a worthwhile job in London to further the exports of Northern Ireland.

I think that I have covered most of the points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr).

This has been a long debate. I have probably not covered everything that I should, but I shall look closely at HANSARD and try to deal with what has been omitted.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Appropriation (No. 3) Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 15th November, be approved.