HC Deb 14 July 1975 vol 895 cc1202-30

10.35 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Ronald Moyle)

I beg to move, That the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, a draft of which was laid before this House on 27th June, be approved. This order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The main purpose is to authorize the issue and appropriation out of the Northern Ireland Consolidation Fund of the balance of Main Estimates provision for 1975–6. The House will recall that a portion of sums needed for 1975–6, known as the Vote on Account, has already been appropriated in advance of the Estimates by the first Appropriation Order for 1975.

The other purpose of the order is to provide for the issue and appopriation of sums arising out of Excess Votes for the financial year 1973–4. I shall comment on these later. The 1975–76 Estimates total is almost £827 million. This is an increase of almost £102 million on the 1974–75 total, including Supplementary Estimates.

In the main, these increases are accounted for in one of the following ways: first, because Great Britain increases in social spending are applied in Northern Ireland on the parity principle; secondly, because of pay and price increases—a situation with which we are all too familiar; and, thirdly, because of an announced Northern Ireland policy decision, such as the financial rescue of Harland and Wolff, and similar operations.

These cash Estimates are all within the control framework of the Public Expenditure Survey. The cuts in 1976–77, announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget last April, have been applied in Northern Ireland through the public expenditure survey system, and I believe it is generally accepted in Northern Ireland that the Province must expect to play its part in solving the national economic crisis.

The ground covered by the order is extensive, and, with permission, I shall reply to the debate, when I hope to be able to deal with any questions raised by hon. Members.

I shall now turn to that part of the order which deals with the two Excess Votes for the financial year 1973–74, and I would refer honourable Members to the Statement of Excesses which has been placed in the Library along with the Main Estimates volume and the annual Financial Statement prepared by the Department of Finance.

The first Excess Vote occurred on Class VIII No. 1, Department of the Environment, and amounted to £136,369, The second arose on Class VIII No. 3, Roads Services, and amounted to £1,511,347, giving a total for the two of £1,647,716. The circumstances in which these excesses have occurred are set out in the statement to which I have referred. They have also been examined by the Public Accounts Committee, which, in its report, has indicated that it sees no objection to the sums required being provided and appropriated. I assure the House that careful attention will be paid to the Committee's observations on the excesses. A formal reply to the Committee's observations will be published in the autumn, and at that stage the House will have the opportunity of debating the matter in detail if it so wishes.

We have proposed to the Public Accounts and Expenditure Committees that with effect from 1976–77, the Estimates for Northern Ireland central Government expenditure should be presented and published on a basis similar to that currently in use for the United Kingdom Civil Estimates. The principal change involved would be that expenditure would be categorised on the basis of various programmes as defined and analysed in the Public Expenditure Survey rather than of presentation of expenditure by spending Departments.

I have drawn hon. Members' attention to what I consider to be the most signifi- cant features of the order, and I shall do my best to answer any questions raised in the debate.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

We do not oppose the order. We heard with interest what the Minister of State said at the end of his speech about a change in the method of presentation, and we shall study his words.

I shall not tonight express the dissatisfaction which is widely shared at the summary manner in which large Northern Ireland expenditure has been debated and dealt with since the imposition of direct rule. I should weary myself and the House were I to attempt to reiterate my lament of 29th July 1974, 12th December 1974 and 17th March this year.

Inadequacy of parliamentary scrutiny is one reason why we eagerly await the report of the Constitutional Convention. The Convention is now in recess, but we hope that useful work will be continued in the committees. The size of Northern Ireland expenditure has aroused criticism in some other parts of the kingdom and in a number of parts of the House. We hear much less comment on the disparity of public expenditure in Scotland, Wales and the English Regions.

The report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution in Table 15.1, paragraph 589, takes England as a whole as 100. Kilbrandon found it impracticable to obtain a reliable analysis of the English regions. But the comparison for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland shows that public expenditure per head was higher both in Wales—116 for 1969–70—and Scotland—131 in the same period—than in Northern Ireland, where the figure is 118.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Northern Ireland Committee, brought these statistics more up to date by quoting from the Secretary of State's discussion document. He made the point that only in the period 1972–73 did public expenditure in Northern Ireland exceed that in Scotland. He resented the fact that Northern Ireland had been treated as a Cinderella, and he emphasised that it was part of the United Kingdom family. That is a sentiment with which the Conservative Party would profoundly agree.

I do not want to speak for too long and stand in the way of right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Irish constituencies who may wish to take part in the debate. I want a little later to refer to the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints, who are included in Class I. I wish first to ask one or two questions on Class II, Finance; Class III, Health and Social Security; and Class IV, Education.

I raised my eyebrows when I saw that the item "Salary and expenses of the Department of Finance" exceeded by more than three times the sum granted for 1974–75. I understand that the cuts of some 10 per cent. announced by the Government recently in the building programme for 1976–77 do not affect the order. I wish to ask the Minister of State whether the replacement buildings for the rather unsightly huddle of Nissen huts being built besides Stormont Castle will be completed next year.

On Class III, Health and Social Services, I simply wish to ask the Government whether they remain firmly committed—I think they do—to the principle of parity for Northern Ireland. Parity is a good principle, and we on the whole favour as much uniformity as reasonable between different parts of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, it is possible for different parts of the United Kingdom to learn from each other. When the appropriate Bill for Northern Ireland is being prepared, will the Government consider the Conservative point of view that in social security pensions disabled widows should not be excluded as under the Act apply to this side of the water? Conservatives argued on Report on 11th June that the new non-contributory invalidity pension should go to disabled housewives, who are more needy than the other categories who will benefit. For example, a single disabled woman would lose her benefit immediately on marriage, while her husband would not.

To proceed to Class IV, Education, there was a public outcry by a number of educational bodies in Northern Ireland because of the Government's cut of £22 million. Conservatives urged the need for economy, but perhaps it would be helpful to the House if the Minister of State could explain which aspects of the education programme of the educa- tion and library board are likely to be affected by this necessary reduction in planned expenditure. Will the reduction be made at tertiary, secondary or primary level? Will it affect new buildings or the renovation of old buildings? Will it mean a reduction in the planned expansion in the number of teachers. If the Minister of State would care to comment on the financial difficulties recently announced by Queen's University, I am sure that his reply would be of interest. If on some of these points the Minister of State would prefer to wait and to correspond, I am sure that that would be perfectly agreeable.

Finally, I turn to the annual reports for 1974. The latest reports of the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Complaints cannot be put before the dissolved Assembly, and I am doubtful whether the Government will find time for a special debate on the reports. I think that they are of importance, and I shall refer to them briefly. As the House knows, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Northern Ireland has his counterpart over here, but the Commissioner for Complaints, dealing mainly with local government, was an innovation in the good old days, or bad old days, of Stormont.

In his annual report for 1970 the first Parliamentary Commissioner, Sir Edmund Compton, said something which is well known in Northern Ireland but which is less well known on this side of the water and which bears quotation. Sir Edmund expressed the view that the quality of administrative performance in Northern Ireland compares well with…experience of Government Departments in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the individual citizen frequently gets a better service from a Northern Ireland Ministry than he would get from a United Kingdom Department in similar circumstances, owing to the easier access to central Government that is both feasible and customary in a territory the size of Northern Ireland. That is another reason for us awaiting with eagerness the report of the Constitutional Convention.

Two years later Dr. John Benn, who had taken over the responsibilities as for Complaints when Sir Edmund retired Ombudsman as well as Commissioned in his annual report stated: during a period of wholly exceptional stress and strain, the standard of service to the public, to which Sir Edmund paid tribute two years ago, has been remarkably well maintained. It is not, I think, sufficiently appreciated that public servants in Northern Ireland have had to cope in these last few years not only with the effects of widespread terrorist violence but with civil disobedience on a large scale and, at the same time, with the most far-reaching and radical changes in the administration as a whole. One reason for my venturing to quote those remarks is that it enables me to draw attention to the service of those devoted officials. Of a total—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he has provided me with an opportunity to indicate to the rest of the House that defence and the maintenance of law and order are, of course, outside the scope of this order.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I am deeply obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints are within the scope of the order, I think.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

My advice is that defence and the maintenance of law and order are outside the scope of the order, and that a general debate on the expenditure and work of the Northern Ireland Executive and its departments would seem to be in order.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I refer you to Class I, the fifth item of which is for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and the sixth item, which is for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints? Surely both those offices and the departments with which they deal may be discussed. We are dealing with them specifically under the order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am afraid that this is another occasion on which I prove that I am human and not divine.

Rev. Ian Paisley

No one ever thought that you were divine.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is right.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Of a total of 98 complaints investigated by the Parlia- mentary Commissioner in the last five years, there have been only 15 findings of maladministration. That again is a matter which should be better known on this side of the water. What is more, in none of those 15 has there been a finding of religious or political discrimination.

But, of course, it is in local government that the shoe often pinches tightest. The Commissioner for Complaints, dealing largely with local government, has perhaps fulfilled an even more important rôle in Northern Ireland during the last five years. He has quite extensive sanctions. Complaints may be made directly to him rather than through local councillors, as here, and the Commissioner for Complaints frequently takes the initiative in trying to secure the settlement of grievances.

There were some who feared that when the office was set up, it would merely add to the burdens on public officials. Others expected there to be a flood of findings of discrimination. Neither expectation proved justified. During the past five years, 3,327 complaints have been received by the Commissioner. Maladministration was found in 54 cases—less than 2 per cent. Discrimination alleged in 160 cases was 5 per cent., and findings of discrimination were made in only two cases.

The House knows that Dr. Benn has since been succeeded by Mr. Stephen McGonagle, a trade unionist from Londonderry. In the absence of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire)—

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

As usual.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I confess to the House that I am a regular reader of the Impartial Reporter and Farmers' Journal. There, I find that there has been an allegation of religious discrimination which Mr. McGonagle has found to be justified. This was in connection with the appointment of a clerical officer at the Erne Hospital, Enniskillen. In this case, the offending body was the Western Health and Social Services Board and not a local authority. But Mr. McGonagle rejected five other claims of religious discrimination and four of political discrimination.

I said earlier that parity was a good principle and that, on the whole, we sought uniformity within the United Kingdom. But it is also a sound principle for the different regions of the United Kingdom to learn from each other. Perhaps England and Wales with the local government commissioners that we have, can learn from Northern Ireland. Our local commissioners have fewer sanctions. They can receive complaints only through local councillors, and refer them back to local councillors after investigation.

In view of these reports, and the success, as I see it, of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Commissioner for Complaints in Northern Ireland, the Government should proceed with due regard for the principle of as much uniformity as is reasonable, and, therefore, proceed with caution, if they are minded to implement the suggestion in the Gardiner Report that there should be a Bill of Rights not for the United Kingdom but for Northern Ireland alone, and also proceed with caution with the Fair Employment Bill.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

The Minister of State was certainly right in introducing the debate—a debate which has been rendered memorable by your startling revelation of your humanity, Mr. Deputy Speaker—to give a careful analysis of the total sums of which the House is tonight authorising the appropriation by approving the order.

I think that the House will have been glad to learn—certainly it is welcomed on this bench—that the presentation of these Estimates will in future be further harmonised with the presentation in the rest of the United Kingdom. There is nothing unique to Northern Ireland in the fact that there is an almost unlimited field of debate theoretically available to the House when it grants Supply. Here, as when dealing with the Consolidated Fund Bill of the United Kingdom, to which this in a sense, under our arrangements, corresponds, we must work out arrangements rather more efficient than we yet have for ensuring that we concentrate upon certain subjects, and that the right hon. or hon. Member who is to reply can, therefore be adequately briefed.

The Minister of State was very courteous at the end of last week—but it was very short notice—in intimating to hon. Members that he would be interested to know what subjects they intended to raise. But I hope that if we are still using this procedure when the year comes round again we shall go through that drill at an earlier stage, and maybe we may find means, by consultation, of rendering this debate more concentrated.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) drew a contrast between the opportunities which we have for raising points on Supply under the Northern Ireland arrangements and those for the United Kingdom. But the Consolidated Fund Bill procedure, unless it had been regularised and compartmentalised by Mr. Speaker, would be equally unsatisfactory. So I hope that we may, through the usual and unusual channels, see whether orders of this kind may be rendered more useful. If we can do that, perhaps we may quite exceptionally, should there be a press of subjects to be considered, obtain the agreement of the Leader of the House to an extension of the normal time of an hour and a half which applies to these proceedings, as it applies to other orders.

Mr. Fitt

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, although Northern Ireland Members might like subjects like this discussed in the House, it might be appropriate in certain circumstances to have them discussed in the Northern Ireland Committee, where we can go into all the facts and figures and circumstances?

Mr. Powell

I am obliged to the hon. Member. Indeed, it had occurred to me that the appropriation accounts for Northern Ireland might form a subject—again with a deliberate limitation to specific points—for consideration in that Committee.

Mr. Fitt

There would be more than one and a half hours for debate.

Mr. Powell

Indeed, and we could probably combine that with the sort of Consolidated Fund procedure in the House to which I have referred.

After that preamble, I wish to come to the two subjects to which I gave the Minister of State notice that I would refer. Both fall within the Vote of the Ministry of Agriculture. They are both subjects which in their United Kingdom context have been ventilated in this Chamber recently, the first earlier today in the agriculture debate. I refer to the subject of the green pound, but only in the context of its impact upon Northern Ireland specifically.

In our debate in the Northern Ireland Committee last week, the other Minister of State was very forthcoming on this subject: The differential between the green pound of the United Kingdom and that of the Republic of Ireland creates problems for the agricultural processing industries, and I did not try to hide that in my opening remarks."—[Official Report, Northern Ireland Committee; Wednesday 9th July 1975, c. 53.] He went on to say that measures had already been taken and more were contemplated to neutralise this unfavourable effect.

But it remains unfair that the United Kingdom taxpayer should have to bear the brunt of counteracting the mischief which has been created by the different points at which the green pound is fixed for the United Kingdom and for the Republic of Ireland. Without going into the general issue, which was frequently referred to earlier today, of the green pound and its justification within the common agricultural policy as a whole, I want to say that it is totally illogical that there should be a difference between the green pound of the United Kingdom and that of the Irish Republic.

After all, the basic reason for this whole contraption is to offset the consequences of variations in the rate of exchange. One thing is certain. That is that the rates of exchange of the Irish pound and the pound sterling move together, since the Irish pound, by the decision of the Irish authorities, is tied firmly to the pound sterling. So, whatever may be the argument for the particular rate at which the United Kingdom green pound is fixed in relation to the other currencies of the European Economic Community, there can be no logical justification for this variation between the green pound of the United Kingdom and that of the Irish Republic.

I hope that the Secretary of State will bring particular pressure to bear upon the Minister of Agriculture when he next attends the Council of Ministers—I understand that this matter will be discussed there in the foreseeable future—to ensure that, whatever else they do there as to these arrangements for compensatory payments, this indefensible anomaly which causes so much strain and expenditure, and, I imagine, a little law-breaking as between Ulster and the Irish Republic, can be eliminated.

The second topic to which I wish to refer is rather more extensive and relates to fisheries, a subject which again has been debated in the last week or two in the House, in a United Kingdom context. But the matters which I wish to mention are specifically of great interest to Northern Ireland. I mention first the Isle of Man fishery, which, despite its name, is very much the fishing ground of boats from my own constituency and from the constituency of my colleague the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder).

In dealing with the fishermen and the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, I have been struck by the intense and genuine pre-occupation of those people with conservation. There is no doubt about their genuineness and their willingness to accept whatever restrictions they are persuaded are necessary and salutary in the interests of conservation. Their complaints relate not to those restrictions in themselves but to the unfairness which results between themselves and fishermen from other countries.

Reverting to the Isle of Man fishery, I have received a helpful answer today from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to a Written Question in which the Minister informed me that officials of the Fisheries Departments, representatives of the Isle of Man Government and representatives of the industry had examined: the industry's proposals for a voluntary catch quota system and a conservation area during 1975 for the herring stocks around the isle of Man and in adjacent waters. I was rather surprised that the Minister restricted his expression to "an examination of proposals", for I had understood that the proposals had been accepted and that the fishermen had voluntarily imposed them on themselves and the industry of Northern Ireland. However, he then went on to admit the points where the real difficulty arises. He said: Since the fishery is not yet regulated by international agreement…Irish vessels"— that is, vessels from the Republic— have the right to fish…between the 6 and 12 mile limits off the western coast of the island"— that is, the Isle of Man, but are not parties to this voluntary arrangement which has the blessing of our own Fisheries Ministry.

Finally, the Minister said that although foreign vessels cannot fish within the 12-mile limit, they are entirely unconstrained by any such arrangements and, subject to that limit, can fish just as they please.

I have to tell the Minister of State that there is great resentment on the coast of Northern Ireland that although, in the interests of conservation, the Ulster fishermen are limiting themselves to a quota within a period for the preservation of these important stocks around the Isle of Man, no similar limitation has been accepted on behalf of the fishermen from the Republic and that there is no question yet of any international agreement. This means that the Ulster fishermen have the chagrin of watching their competitors from other countries taking catches from areas where they have already exhausted their quotas.

In the interests of future co-operation, I hope that this will be taken very seriously by the Department in conjunction with the United Kingdom Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I have dealt with the relatively narrow question of the preservation of the Isle of Man fishery. I move to the broader question of fishing limits, again in the context of conservation. When this matter is debated, it is more often the experiences and the anxieties of fishermen from England and from Scotland that are heard, but those anxieties are just as lively in Ulster and there is just as great a fear that the fishing grounds to which the Ulster fishermen resort will very shortly be subjected—indeed, they are already—to the same forms of fishery and to the same unrestricted fishing as are wreaking such havoc elsewhere.

Of course, I am aware that there is an international agreement which purports to regulate the total herring catch in the waters around Northern Ireland as well as around the rest of the British Isles. But the difficulty arises in a very simple way. That is that it is much easier in the case of our own fishermen for the catch and the proceedings to be policed than it is in the case of the fishing vessels which resort to these waters from elsewhere. After all, in the Irish Sea the fisherman from Kilkeel or Portavogie goes out, makes his catch and returns entirely under the surveillance both of his colleagues and of the authorities in Northern Ireland. But what surveillance is exercised over the catch of the foreign boats which, within sight, are also fishing in the same waters, and what knowledge there is, when they eventually land their catch, of the waters from which it was taken, remains highly speculative.

The fact is—and I say this without criticism of fishermen of other nationalities—that these international quota arrangements contain a very considerable element of make-believe. The element of make-believe, in the nature of the case, is larger for many of the Continental fishing fleets than it is for our own. I am not vaunting the natural honesty of our own fishermen. I am simply saying that in the circumstances it will be our own fishing fleets whose operations will be more closely policed than those of the fleets which come from the Continent and further afield.

The big debate here—it is, of course, not a debate the dimensions of which are limited to Northern Ireland—is how long we can go on in this country without securing adequate exclusive fishing grounds for our own fishermen, whatever that limit is to be. We cannot go on for ever simply saying that this is something which must be worked out by international agreement and that until that agreement is forthcoming there is nothing we can do.

I think no hon. Member argues for unilateral action for its own sake. There is a strong prejudice—particularly for an international trading nation like ourselves—against unilateral action being taken by us. But I have to say to the Government that the time is coming when it will be absurd for us to continue much longer to refrain from securing the exclusive fishing fields which we need for conservation and for the preservation of our own industry.

After all, we are here the people who are on a hiding to nothing—to use the common phrase. It is not as though, as a result of international agreement, we would be getting any concession the other way. Agreement or no agreement, we shall be excluded from the exclusive areas on the other man's coasts as we shall gain the exclusive areas around our own coasts. So, since the principal undamaged fishing areas—perhaps "undamaged" is too strong a statement; the principal fishing areas which have not been devastated—are those around the United Kingdom, our restraint and our continued expectation of international agreement for these mutually exclusive areas put us at a disadvantage which is not being suffered at the same time by those who would be the parties to this agreement.

I have to tell the Government that in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, there is a sense of indignation which is growing, and a feeling that the Government are deliberately tying their hands when they ought at last to be taking the action which is within their power to preserve what is essential for our own fishing industry. I ask the Secretary of State in this more general matter to consider how far he can influence his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and warn him that there is a point at which the argument will have worn so impossibly thin that we cannot but proceed to unilateral action to protect our own vital interests.

11.16 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I am sure that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies will find themselves in full agreement with the preface of the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) concerning the way that these matters are discussed in this House or in the Northern Ireland Committee. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and I were members of the old Stormont and remember the days when we had two weeks in which we considered the Estimates and were able to probe the various departments of the Northern Ireland Government and to roam over the land from Dan to Beersheba—

Mr. Powell

Are they in Northern Ireland?

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Member for Belfast, West will be able to tell you because he is a British Israelite.

I want to refer to two constituency matters which come rigidly within this order, you will be glad to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The items I wish to raise fall within Class VII, dealing with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning and Number III, which refers to the Consolidated Fund contributions to local revenue.

The Secretary of State may be aware that the towns of Antrim and Ballymena had a special Antrim and Ballymena Commission in the same way as the city of Londonderry had a commission. Eventually this commission, which was a development commission, was wound up and its powers were distributed to various departments of the Northern Ireland Government. When the commission was in operation in the town of Ballymena the showgrounds in that town came up for sale. The lease of those showgrounds to the local football club was coming to an end, and representations were made to the commission to purchase the Ballymena showgrounds. These showgrounds are strategically situated and provide a good recreational complex in the centre of the town.

The commission wound up before it was able to complete its negotiations for the purchase of the grounds. This matter then came into the bailiwick of the local borough council. The lease for the football club having run out, the Ballymena Football Club found itself without a ground. The council is anxious to make an immediate purchase. I understand that the purchase price is £126,000. I understand that the council has an application before the Department asking for permission to purchase the ground and asking for whatever grant is available.

This is a matter of the utmost urgency. The football club will be put out of existence. It had some important fixtures for August. I spoke to the Mayor of Ballymena, Mr. George Sloan, by telephone today. He impressed on me the urgency of the Department's making an immediate decision on this matter. The council is prepared to go ahead with the purchase even though the grant may be delayed until the coming year. I trust that the Minister of State will have some good news for the people of Ballymena when he replies to the debate.

In the same section of the order we have the housing services and a grant-in-aid of £13 million. Will the Minister tell us what number of houses in both the private and the public sectors will be completed in 1975, how those figures compare with 1974, and the plans and goals for 1976?

I turn to another constituency matter under Class VIII, para 2, relating to water and environmental services. In the northern part of my constituency, the beautiful Glens of Antrim, there is an acute water shortage. There is almost a calamity because of the water shortage in that area. Tourists have had to leave and return to Belfast because drinking water has not been available.

There is a new reservoir. I understand that water from that reservoir was put into pipes which were not used to the force of that supply. In consequence, there have been many burst pipes in the neighbourhood. The piped water supply is in a serious situation. I know that the Moyle Council has made representations to the Department of the Environment for speedy action to help in this matter. What action has been, or will be, taken to counteract this serious situation? As this part of North Antrim is a tourist attraction and each year, through its tourist industry, contributes greatly to the economic prosperity of that area, I trust that the Minister will ensure that this matter is dealt with speedily in some way.

Water schemes for Northern Ireland are important. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the need for piped water not only in North Antrim but throughout many of the remote areas of Northern Ireland. What cuts will be made in these schemes? We understand that certain cuts are to take place. Will these cuts apply only to schemes which have not already been approved in the various regions of Northern Ireland, or to schemes which have been approved and commenced? Will schemes which have been commenced be completed or held up because of the cut-back in Government expenditure?

I turn now to Class I. I ask the Minister to tell us something about the salaries and pension fund for both the old Stormont Parliament and the Assembly. No firm statement seems to be forthcoming about the pension fund that was paid into by the former Members of Stormont. Can the Minister of State say how many former Members of Parliament, how many Ministers and how many Prime Ministers at Stormont are receiving pensions from the fund? How many people will be eligible for pension when they reach retiring age, and what is the value of such pensions? Some of us who have paid into the fund have heard nothing about it since the prorogation and eventual abolition of the Stormont Parliament.

Under Class I of the order the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration are shown as being £7,500, but the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints are shown as £58,500. There is a great difference between the two figures. Does the office staff of the Parliamentary Commissioner do the work of the Commissioner for Complaints? Do the two departments run together, and is £7,500 the salary of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration?

I should like the Minister of State to help us on Class III, in which the selective butter subsidy is mixed in with the salaries and certain expenses of the Department of Health and Social Services. I wonder why the salaries and expenses of the Department are mixed in with the selective butter subsidy. It seems a curious mixture. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will break down the figures.

We have to ask these questions because we are at a great disadvantage since the expenditure of the Government of Northern Ireland has never come under the scrutiny of a Public Accounts Committee such as that which existed at Stormont. Since the prorogation of the Stormont Parliament, no public representative from Northern Ireland has had an opportunity to question the expenditure of the Northern Ireland Government.

With regard to the Department of Education, I register great dissatisfaction about the announcement of the cut-back in the number of students going to teacher training colleges. Other Members will no doubt want to expand on this ques- tion. It needs to be ventilated tonight. Will the Minister of State help us by saying what percentage of university grants has gone to students at the new university, what percentage has gone to students at Queen's University and what percentage has gone to students from Northern Ireland studying at universities outside Northern Ireland?

With regard to agriculture, when will the Main River drainage scheme come into operation? A matter which is causing great concern in my constituency is the flooding of the Sunk Road in Dunloy, where children going to school have to use the railway line because of the continual flooding of the road. One agriculture officer suggested that a sluice-gate could be put there and that the water could be turned on to the other side of the watershed during flooding. Why cannot that suggestion be implemented so that the children at least can use the road and not risk the hazards of a railway line when they go to school?

When I raised in this House some time ago the question of cattle-smuggling over the border, it was treated with some scepticism. There was considerable laughter. What I said has been confirmed in the third report of the Committee on Public Accounts, which said that the Ministry of Agriculture lost £1¼ million paid out in calf subsidies. Is the Minister aware that 1,500 to 2,000 head of cattle are crossing the border each week and that that is affecting the meat processing firms in Northern Ireland? Why has the Ministry of Agriculture cancelled the meat processing licence in the O'Kane factory in Ballymena? What steps does the Minister propose to take to stop the taking of cattle across the border? The cattle are needed to keep the meat processing firms in Northern Ireland in business. There have been redundancies and short-time working in these factories. Some may have to be closed. Will the Minister make representations in Brussels to counteract this serious matter?

We are dealing with a vast subject and with Government Departments in Northern Ireland. We are dealing with the future of Northern Ireland. I trust that with the return of peace and prosperity to our land we shall see Ulster rising from the ruins, reconstructed and happy, going forward to better days.

11.33 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

Inflation has so completed distorted the fiscal system of our country that it is impossible to picture what the sum of £510 million mentioned in the order means.

If there were more details in the draft order perhaps we could see more clearly what we are being asked to approve. I have read the order very closely, together with the Estimates for 1975 to 1976 and the financial statement of revenue and expenditure. I have also examined the accounts of the National Insurance Fund and of the Examination Council. Even with those aids it is difficult to get a true picture.

For example, under Class III over £28 million has already been granted for non-contributory benefits and a further £1,082,010 is needed. These are very large amounts. We are not told how these figures compare with those for last year or what allowance should be made for inflation or how much is the increase in real terms.

Some idea of the wages and prices explosion can be gained from the £7½ million granted for salaries and expenses of the staff of the Department of Finance and the £90 million for the salaries of certain teachers. These are huge sums, yet since the Civil Service last pay increase in April and the Houghton Report on teachers' salaries increased prices for food, clothing, heating, rates and mortgages have almost wiped out the advantages which the increases afforded at that time.

We hear a great deal about the old Stormont Government. But that Government in a fit of madness destroyed democratic local government by implementing the Macrory Report. The Stormont Government condemned themselves by engaging in a gimmick which took away the democratic rights of the people, and made local government less efficient. Before that foolish decision was made and before inflation, an excess Vote of £1½million would have caused a minor scandal, and would have called for the closest investigation. It means that £1½ million has been spent in excess of the money authorised by Parliament, and it seems as though it has become the accepted thing to have excess Votes.

In this case the excess was caused by basic difficulties in estimating expenditure following the reorganisation of local government. We have been given no details. Perhaps the Government think that we should be spared the details. It is left to us to imagine what might have happened. As we know, excess Votes are common for the United Kingdom, but they certainly were not common in Stormont, particularly excesses of this magnitude.

I want to refer to one subject to which the Government have not paid proper attention—the question of rates. I want to refer only to Northern Ireland rates. They are high this year, almost 30 per cent. higher than last year. This is a disgraceful figure, and with the rate of inflation of costs they are likely to be half as much again next year. Perhaps the Minister will be able to give some guidance on this point. Thousands of people who bought their own homes in the last 10 years are having to make heavy monthly mortgage repayments, which have increased since they took out their mortgages.

These people are now facing the additional burden of rates, which are so high that some of them are having to put up their homes for sale. They could not have contemplated such an increase in mortgage repayments and rates when they began purchasing their homes. They have also to bear the burden of increased charges for electricity and other forms of fuel. Not only the young people are finding this an intolerable burden. For instance, elderly people on fixed incomes, many of them occupying highly-rated houses which have been in their possession for years, are badly hit.

The existing rating system will have to be radically changed. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about that and will not merely say that a committee is examining the matter. That would not be good enough. In this inflationary climate some other system must be devised to take the place of the present one, without further procrastination from the Government. People cannot go on shouldering the enormous burden of the rates.

Nobody knows how the rates are assessed. It used to be set out clearly on the back of the demand note, but it no longer is. The Department of Finance takes some area of England which is supposed to be comparable to Northern Ireland. It simply takes the rate which has been struck in that area and applies it to Northern Ireland. To me the system is quite inequitable. People may be paying too much in rates in Northern Ireland. It may be that the central Government should bear a greater part of the total burden. We do not know, because no Northern Ireland rate is struck.

I want to refer to planning and related services, for which the sum granted is £4.4 million. There are aspects of planning which I find very disturbing. The practice, which seems to be common, of appointing architects in private practice to hear planning appeals is open to abuse. It can and does happen that an architect who is adjudicating as inspector in one planning appeal will have before him an architect who could subsequently act as an inspector himself on an appeal, and in the subsequent case their rôles would be reversed. This system must create deep suspicion that all is not well. There have been some peculiar decisions in planning appeals over the years, and people are concerned. There would be clear advantages in having Government officials acting as inspectors. Perhaps the Minister will examine the possibility.

There is urgent need for an overall water authority for Northern Ireland with responsibility for providing domestic and industrial supplies. Donaghadee in my constituency is a good example of a town whose water supply has been neglected for many years. Now that the people who sat on councils and did nothing are out of office, they are only too ready to complain about what is or is not being done. The water in Donaghadee is undrinkable. It has an objectionable odour. Clothes washed in the water come out dirtier than when they went in. That is disgraceful. A contract has already been put out, but I want to hear from the Minister that the work will begin immediately. These people have suffered for far too long.

In other parts of Northern Ireland people complain that dirty water comes unexpectedly from the taps and ruins their washing. A careful study will have to be made of the water supply position in Northern Ireland, and plans will have to be drawn up. It is deplorable in a country with such heavy rainfull as Northern Ireland that severe water restrictions should be imposed every year. It is unbelievable and ironic that, although we get plenty of rain normally, we are short of water.

The National Insurance Reserve Fund holds securities of over £20 million, but the estimated market value of those securities at March 1974 was only £13 million, and presumably they are now worth only about half of the money invested. Will the Minister give me some guidance on whether my calculations are correct? There may be a legal requirement for the fund to be invested in Government securities. If there is, that requirement should be reconsidered. I see no reason why that fund cannot be invested in Northern Ireland industry. That would go a long way to help firms like Welrex in Bangor which has been closed, throwing conscientious employees out of work with little opportunity for all of them nowadays of getting other employment. I sometimes think that the fund could be better used, particularly where unemployment benefit is concerned. Could not the fund be used for industrial investment to create jobs and save jobs as well as for paying unemployment benefit? If they had the choice most people would rather be at work than in the dole queue.

Irrecoverable overpayments out of the fund amounting to £113,000 occurred up to March 1974. Those are only the overpayments that have been discovered. Many frauds under the National Insurance Scheme remain undetected, especially in areas where the IRA prevents officials from investigating cases and making checks, for example, on whether people who are claiming unemployment benefit are in fact working. Perhaps the Minister will say whether officials are going into Republican areas to make checks and how many prosecutions have occurred in those areas.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to fishing. Large deep-freezing fishing boats come from Hull to the herring fishing grounds round the Isle of Man. One of those boats can take far more fish out of the sea than the smaller boats which come from Portavogie. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. This makes nonsense of the herring quota, because local fishermen are facing unfair competition.

11.43 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

At a time when the United Kingdom faces severe economic difficulties it is right that representatives of the public should query and scrutinise public expenditure. Severe frustration is felt by many hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies that our debates are restricted to 90 minutes.

We are considering expenditure of £510 million and such a limited debate is unfair to Northern Ireland representatives and constituencies and to the United Kingdom, in that we are unable adequately to question how the expenditure arose, whether it is justified and whether it should be spent in other directions. I do not believe that the Northern Ireland Committee would be the place to discuss the justification for the expenditure of this vast sum. It should be done on the Floor of the House, where other hon. Members, representing English, Scottish and Welsh constituencies, would be entitled to express their opinions.

Class II includes valuations. Valuation in Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast, is in a state of chaos. No one knows whether it is an exact science. Two valuers can put completely different valuations on the same house. I have had cases where people have had to leave their homes. A valuer from the Valuation Office has put a certain figure on a house, while a colleague from the same office has put a different figure on it. I have known people trying to get compensation for having to leave their homes sitting for hours with different personnel of the Valuation Office and, through dint of personality or persuasion, getting an officer to increase his assessment. But a question of such importance should not be left to the discretion or personality of an individual valuation officer. There should be proper regulation. That is a facet of all-importance to people afflicted by the sheer incompetency of certain valuation officers in Northern Ireland

Are we to have any indication of the Government's intentions and programme for public works during the ensuing year, particularly in view of the cuts in public expenditure and the unemployment in Northern Ireland, which is always greater than it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

Class VI deals with the Department of Commerce. What are the prospects for new industrial development in Northern Ireland? How many firms have made inquiries or applications during the last 12 months to find out whether it is possible to get grant or other assistance to set up in Northern Ireland? The Ulster Workers' Council strike last year brought the Assembly to an end, but I am told that it has also prevented industrialists from expanding or opening new businesses or industries in the Province. Is that a fact? Indeed, how many businesses and industries have actually closed down during this period? How many jobs are involved in the closures and how many potential jobs will there be in the prospective industries?

Again, on the question of local government and housing, we have made our points in the Convention. Indeed, we had a three-day debate on the overall situation in Northern Ireland. That debate was not restricted, as is the present debate, to a period of an hour and a half.

I regard it as unfair that we, as Northern Irish representatives, cannot be given the answers to the questions we put to the Minister. We know, for example, that the Minister cannot give an answer on the subject of valuation. He will probably say that he will look at the matter or will write to me, but I would rather he replied from his own knowledge of the facts. My constituents would then be aware that concern was felt by the Minister of State in charge of affairs in Northern Ireland.

I hope that this may be the last occasion on which a debate of this magnitude—a matter which concerns the whole fiscal arrangement between the United Kingdom Parliament and Northern Ireland—is compressed into a discussion of such short duration.

11.52 p.m.

Mr. Moyle

I have left myself 15 minutes in which to reply to a wide-ranging debate because I wanted to give the maximum amount of time to hon. Members to raise questions on the order. At the same time, if I am to cover the course in the time available to me, I shall have to move as rapidly as possible and perforce some of the questions will receive a fairly brief reply. However, I would point out that if I had been put on notice that the subject of valuation was to be raised, an answer possibly could have been provided.

Despite the fact that time is short, let me say a few words about the arrangements for this debate—a matter mentioned by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). On this occasion I tried to solve the problem by writing a letter to the effect that if I were given notice of subjects to be raised, I should do my best to reply. One or two hon. Members responded and I hope that they will receive rather more satisfaction than the others.

I was slightly foxed by the fact that today is a public holiday in Northern Ireland and a great number of civil servants are having a well-earned rest. Therefore, events did not move as smoothly as I had hoped, although I have received answers to a number of questions that were prepared.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) made a useful suggestion—namely, that in future we should take appropriation orders such as this in the Northern Ireland Committee. It might also be a good idea if we were to try to concentrate, say, two or three subjects in a morning sitting of the Committee at the most half a dozen specific subjects. Perhaps we can have some discussions on this matter in case this situation arises again.

Let me make a rapid canter over the course in the 10 minutes now available to me. Some of the Nissen huts will be replaced this year and the final phase of building operations should be completed by 1980.

We apply parity for social security supplementary benefit payments in Northern Ireland, but I am afraid that our attempts to obtain parity on other aspects of the social services will be put off to a more distant point in the future than we had hoped.

On the educational point raised by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), I cannot remember the precise figure but in the first year in which area education and library boards were created they spent about £12 million on capital expenditure. In the current year they estimated that they would spend £36 million on capital expenditure. It was decided to produce a figure for capital expenditure which would be nearer the competence of the boards to effect. Many ephemeral or notional building schemes which might have been completed will now not be tackled. They would not have been tackled in any event because of a shortage of building resources.

I am not satisfied with the techniques which we have developed on the educational side of life in Northern Ireland for controlling capital expenditure. For example, past performance militates against areas such as west of the Bann, where there was not a high degree of educational expenditure before the education and library boards were set up. Should the boards in that area be penalised by the local authorities' activity or lack of activity? What balance should there be between the various areas in future?

The hon. Member for Epping Forest raised many points about the Parliamentary Commissioner. All the nice things he said about him will be echoed by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

The right hon. Member for Down, South raised the problem of the green pound. We realise that this is a serious problem. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev, Ian Paisley) also raised the matter. Both referred—the hon. Member for Antrim, North used rather more strident terms—to the possibility that there might be law-breaking on the border. I am afraid that there has been such law-breaking. That is one of the reasons for our wanting to solve the problem which has been created by the differing values of the green pound. My right hon. Friend is discussing the matter with the Minister of Agriculture, Fishires and Food and we have the problem very much in hand.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North asked about the termination of the meat industry employment scheme in respect of cattle. The scheme ended at the end of last week. Broadly speaking, the green pound problem becomes at its worst when there is a shortage of cattle or of meat generally in Ireland. Then the problem of smuggling arises. Broadly speaking, pigs are still in short supply. Therefore, I believe that the scheme still applies to them. However, in the judgment of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, cattle are not in short supply. The meat factories in Northern Ireland will be able to get their supplies of beef now without the necessity of the meat industry employment scheme payments being implemented.

The right hon. Member for Down, South and the hon. Member for Antrim, North made a compelling case in respect of the herring fisheries in and around the Isle of Man. All of us would wish to congratulate the Ulster fishermen on their keen sense of conservation by limiting themselves to a quota in the face of what must be a difficult situation. I think that the right hon. Gentleman aroused the sympathy of the whole House in the case he stated so eloquently for our consideration.

My right hon. Friend is in close touch with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and he is also getting in touch with the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. He will be in touch with the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman. The case is under consideration at the moment. The case for unilateral action was argued with some force. The reservations as regards unilateral action to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded are considered by my right hon. Friend to be of compelling importance. We shall do our best to proceed by agreement, but more vigorously in future than in the past.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

When the right hon. Gentleman is making representations to foreign fishermen, will he make representations to Dublin regarding the severe salmon poaching problem which arises in the Foyle, where the bailiffs had been fired on this year?

Mr. Moyle

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North asked about the Ballymena showgrounds and about a number of other matters. I hope he will not mind if I whistle through them at great speed. On the grants to the Ballymena showgrounds, the Ballymena District Council has been in touch with the Department of Education. The difficulty is that we need more information before we can reach a decision on this. We have asked the district council for it. As soon as we have it, we shall reach a decision.

The hon. Gentleman then asked about the number of houses built in the area in 1974. There were 10,073 completed, 5,761 by the Housing Executive and 4,312 in the private sector. In 1975 completions are likely to be similar, with the Housing Executive building about 6,000 and private industry 4,000. For 1976 the public sector programme is not finalised as yet, but it may be as many as 8,000 houses. Certainly house building in Northern Ireland has a high priority. The private sector programme depends on a number of factors, including the general economic situation and the availability of mortgages.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about shortages of water in the highly attractive tourist areas of Cushendall and Cushendun in the Glens of Antrim. These areas depend on water supplies which have dried up recently. An emergency supply from the Dungonell reservoir was attached to the supply system of those areas. Unfortunately, there have been difficulties because the increased water pressure has broken some of the pipes, and these are having to be renewed. The work is in hand.

The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) said that he thought it a classical Irish situation to have a water shortage in Ireland. I have the impression that over the past six months it has been somewhat drier there than in London, with the result that the Emerald Isle looks slightly khaki as I fly over it. The water schemes have not been cut back as yet, although water schemes and all capital expenditure are being examined closely with a view to seeing what savings can be made.

I am afraid that information is not available about how many Prime Ministers, Ministers and Members of the Stormont Parliament are receiving pensions. I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman who raised that matter.

As for the selective butter subsidies, I am afraid that I cannot break down the figure. They are in the Health and Social Service Vote because they were administered through supplementary benefits. I do not know why they were put under the salaries figure as such.

Northern Ireland Estimates are subject to scrutiny by the Public Expenditure Committee, and civil servants in both my departments have been before the Committee and have been examined thoroughly on what they have been up to. Control in this respect is not totally absent, and the importance of control is a matter which Northern Ireland civil servants appreciate. They keep a sharp eye on expenditure as a result.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Why are not Northern Ireland Members represented on the Committee?

Mr. Moyle

That is a matter for consideration through the usual channels, but not by me.

As for the percentage of student grants going to students at the NUU as opposed to other universities, research will have to be done and a letter will be sent to the hon. Gentleman about it.

The hon. Member for Down, North spoke about the rates. I am aware that, in common with most other parts of the country, people in Northern Ireland are not happy with the level of rates. They are now collected centrally rather than by the district councils. A general survey that we have conducted shows that rates are still lower in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is our information. This may possibly have implications for future policy. I would not like to take it any further than that.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, a draft of which was laid before this House on 27th June, be approved.

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