HC Deb 06 March 1978 vol 945 cc1107-35

10.0 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James A. Dunn)

I beg to move, That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 15th February, be approved. This order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974 and is the first this year of the annual cycle of orders which make available the funds required for the services of the Northern Ireland Departments.

The order serves to appropriate not only the published Spring and Further Spring Supplementary Estimates for 1977–78 but the sums required on account of 1978–79. These latter will keep Northern Ireland Departments in funds until after the 1978–79 Main Estimates are published, when Parliament will be asked to approve appropriation of the balance of the funds required.

I wish to deal first with the Spring and Further Spring Supplementary Estimates, by which total additional provision of £64.2 million is sought. This sum, together with the Main Estimates provision of £1,144.2 million approved by the House in July and Autumn Supplementary Estimates provision of £109.6 million approved in December, brings the total sought for 1977–78 to £1,318 million. This sum is within both the public expenditure allocations and the cash limits for Northern Ireland Departments. Total provision for 1976–77 amounted to £1,147.7 million.

The services for which these extra funds are required are set out in part 1 of the schedule to the order. More detailed information may be found in the two Supplementary Estimates volumes, copies of which are available in the Library. I wish, however, to draw attention to some of the outstanding items in the order.

A further £7 million is sought in view of the decision to cancel the three months' deferment on payment of capital grants to industry which was announced in July 1976 and to provide for an increase in the number of claims for grant. An additional provision of £10.6 million is sought for the roads service to cover price increases and £7.3 million—to fund the extension of the resurfacing programme for the main road network and minor road improvements. This provision should go some way towards increasing employment in the construction industry. An additional £5.5 million is required for the continuation of payments under the meat industry employment schemes. An additional provision of £12 million for schools and higher education is due mainly to increased costs of supplies and services and an increase in the value of awards. The £14.6 million required for health and personal social services takes account of increased costs, while the special payment of £10 to pensioners requires the allocation of a further £3.4 million.

Major savings offsetting these increases include £2 million in the Industrial Support and Regeneration Vote, mainly due to a reduction in claims for loans for industrial modernisation and reorganisation; £2.7 million in the housing services, where less than anticipated has been paid to housing associations; and £3.5 million in various areas of higher education.

I turn now to the sums required on account of 1978–79. These have been calculated on the same basis as that used for United Kingdom Departments—that is to say, they represent 45 per cent. of the total estimates for the current financial year, except where the anticipated expenditure for 1978–79 differs substantially. The total sum sought on account is £579.7 million. Details are provided in part HI of the schedule to the order.

Those are the main features of the order to which I wish to draw attention. I commend the order to the House. Within the limits imposed upon us, I shall, of course, attempt to answer any questions which hon. Members may raise in the debate, and if for any reason I am unable to do so I shall note the point and write to the hon. Member concerned.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

We agree with this order, but I must continue my references to education which I raised under Class VIII in the schedule to the order in the last debate on 8th December and about which the Undersecretary wrote to me on 11th January. In that debate, I called upon the Government to allay some of the controversy which they had arcused in Northern Ireland through their plans to reorganise secondary education. In particular, the Under-Secretary will remember that I asked for a full-scale debate. He had suggested this during the summer of last year.

The controversy has not been brought to an end by a display of tact and moderation by the Government. On the contrary, the storm which they unleashed seems to have continued unabated. The Minister referred to the official statement of 15th June last year, which made it clear that the Government accepted the view that change should take place through evolution, not revolution; through a development growing out of the existing educational system, not its destruction; through an advancement from the present schools, not their retardation. According to my sources, there still remains the conviction that the Government are prepared to override all opposition and impose a unified system throughout Northern Ireland.

We must be clear what is the situation, because it was not made clear in the debate on 8th December. The two groups that are most intimately concerned about the Government's policy are the teachers and the parents of children at the highly successful grammar schools which would have prospered. The teaching profession has continued to voice its fears and apprehensions. In the last few months the parents have joined in, and an Ulster parents' union has been formed which has collected much support throughout Northern Ireland. There can be no doubt about its opposition to the institution of the single comprehensive system as the Government are carrying it out.

It was also made clear on 15th June—this has got over to the people who communicate with me—that the Government have no one to blame but themselves for these difficulties. They appear to believe that consultation is not important. Is it not the case that the Government have at no time discussed the substance of their proposals with representatives of the governing bodies of the voluntary grammar schools?

I should like an answer so that we can be satisfied that proper consultation is taking place. If that body of opinion has been ignored, which is what is felt, that is serious. At no time has it been given an opportunity of hearing and commenting on the Government's policy under which grammar schools may well have their sixth forms taken from them.

In that connection, the hon. Gentleman wrote to me on 11th January as a result of my queries, saying: On the question of sixth-form colleges, I must also refer you to what was said in the statement of 15th June, i.e. that the Government has not determined on a single system of comprehensive schooling for the whole of Northern Ireland but on local planning by local people for local circumstances. I am not sure whether that policy is being carried out. The hon. Gentleman must give us a pretty firm answer to this today.

The new parents' union to which I have referred seems to have felt that it has been treated in the same way as the governing bodies. According to a local newspaper report of 3rd February, the union's secretary said: We were promised consultations by Lord Melchett but this has not happened. Letters to the area boards have been ignored. He went on to express anxiety that his organisation had been made the victim of a bureaucratic ruse to allay fears while comprehensive plans were being quietly prepared in the background. It seems that the parents' union now feels that it has no alternative other than to prepare a detailed policy document of its own in the hope that the noble Lord will at least read the views which he has refused to discuss directly.

The people of Northern Ireland are not necessarily opposed to comprehensive education as such. A number of interesting experiments along comprehensive lines have recently been carried out. What is necessary is to know whether the Government are carrying out their stated policy of consultation. At the moment, I am not satisfied that they are. I should like to hear a little more from the Minister about this. He will know that the Government have provoked the united opposition of Catholic, Protestant and non-denominational grammar schools to their education policy. The co-operation of these schools is absolutely essential if any new scheme is to succeed in Northern Ireland.

It is difficult to believe that the Government would find it easy to undo the damage which has now been done. If they do not act quickly to disarm their critics, they will set the seal on the failure of these plans. They cannot impose reorganisation of education on a community which is hostile to it.

I asked about the cost of reorganisation on the last occasion we debated the subject. I did not receive a very distinct answer. The issue has been dealt with in the most vague terms so far. In the statement of 15th June 1977—the statement that I complained about, which was made outside Parliament and subsequently in the Lords—Lord Melchett confessed that the original estimate of costs, put at £3¼ million, was open to criticism, which the Government accepted. We have not had a new overall figure since then as far as I know. Nor has it been said that the Government would publish clear accounts as reorganisation proceeded.

On a subject on which feeling runs high, the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to know the cost of the schemes about which so many feel so strongly. We are led to believe that it will be possible to commence a reorganisation of education within the limits of existing public expenditure survey figures. In view of the steep rise in planned expenditure on education in Northern Ireland, announced in the last White Paper on Government expenditure for the period 1978–79 to 1981–82, I hope that we shall hear more of this at the end of debate.

I turn briefly to Class I and the item dealing with agriculture. A recent report dated 23rd February by the Northern Ireland Economic Council on Agriculture interested me because it identified problems of common concern. It deserves careful study since it is an important document affecting the Northern Ireland economy, in particular agriculture. Its recommendations for the improvement of agriculture should be considered at length, perhaps on another occasion. The report establishes the overwhelming importance of removing the grave uncertainties afflicting the industry over recent years so as to produce increased investment, which in turn will lead to more jobs. It commends, for instance, the meat industry employment scheme.

I do not wish to take the matter further except to ask what the Government's reaction is to that report and its recommendations. It seems to be the firm belief that, with appropriate Government action, agriculture in Northern Ireland could play a highly significant part in helping to restore the economy of the Province to a prosperous condition.

On 8th December last—this is reported at column 1767—I referred to the Quigley Report and to Northern Ireland's need for new jobs. The Under-Secretary will recollect that the figure in that report was 60,000 new jobs. When the hon. Gentleman wrote to me on 11th January—I thank him for a very full letter, even if I have criticised some of the education references in it—he said that the most recent recalculation of the figure of 60,000 should be 54,400 new jobs by 1981, to allow for 5 per cent, unemployment in the Province, apparently. The hon. Gentleman also gave information about the youth opportunities programme, which, he said, would be fully operational by September 1978.

I expect that the Under-Secretary has read the article in today's Financial Times entitled "Improving Ulster's Industrial Base". It refers in particular to the Northern Ireland Development Agency. On the point about jobs, it says that, in spite of notable successes, the Agency is hard put to pinpoint the number of jobs that have resulted from the £13 million so far channelled into Northern Ireland industry. How is the job creation programme proceeding? We should like information on those three points.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

I want to pose only three questions to the Minister. I recognise that we have had a long and particularly gruelling debate on security, and it may be the intention of hon. Members not to prolong this debate unduly.

I understand that the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) will probably go into the question in more detail than I propose to do now, but on the question of appropriations under Class II mention is made of certain sums to be made available for employment services for the disabled. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will recognise that this is a matter which has been brought to the Government's attention on numerous occasions, and it is a matter which unites all sections of the community and political representatives in Northern Ireland. There is great dissatisfaction amongst all the political representatives about the extent of the services which are made available to the disabled in Northern Ireland.

I have had sent to me through the post in recent weeks a booklet entitled "Developing Employment and Training Services for Disabled People" issued by the Manpower Services Commission. I am not yet too sure whether the services detailed in the booklet apply to people in Northern Ireland. The Minister should make it clear whether they do. No doubt this matter can be debated at greater length at a more appropriate time.

I have another question arising under Class IV in relation to the Department of the Environment and its "associated services including lighting". I have for a number of years asked who is responsible for the lighting or roads or streets in Northern Ireland, particularly in the city of Belfast, part of which I represent. Is it the Secretary of State for the Environment, or is it the Army? Because of inadequate lighting, many of my constituents are completely unable to negotiate the highways and byways of the estates in which they live. I have made representations time and again to the Department of the Environment to try to have lights turned on, and I am told that this is a matter for the security forces. I should be the last to say that the security forces should not take adequate means of protection, but I sometimes feel that they overdo it, with the consequence that many old people have suffered injury because of inadequate lighting.

Next, under Class V, I hope that there will be a complete unanimity in the debate which is to take place in Committee on Thursday this week about the proposed changes in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I believe that unanimity will be found, and perhaps now is not the time to go into that in more detail.

10.21 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

In this much-reduced debate, my hon. Friends will be dealing with a number of substantive questions. I shall refer only to the more strictly financial aspects of the order.

On several previous occasions, until he must have got tired of it, I have raised with the United-Secretary of State the working of the annual financial cycle of our debates. This is the first of our three annual occasions for considering appropriation for Northern Ireland. I have suggested that the timetable is unfortunately so arranged that we do not have the latest information available on the occasion of each of our three debates. The Minister took this very seriously, as he always does, but came to the conclusion, in his reply to me of 11th January, that The only remaining variable which could be changed is the timing of the Public Accounts Committee's meetings. I have success to report, for which we are indebted to the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I quote from his letter of 17th January. With goodwill all round (which is not in short supply) and with a modicum of luck (which may or may not be) I think I can say that the PAC's report on Northern Ireland affairs could be available by the end of June or early July. I will certainly do my best to see that it is. Since the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has been so helpful, I hope that the Government will on their side be able to time the summer appropriation debate so that we are able to benefit from what is reported to us by the Public Accounts Committee.

I quite accept, of course, what the right hon. Member for Taunton said further in his letter—that he could not enter into an "inviolable commitment" to that effect—but my hon. Friends and I would be strongly in agreement with the concluding sentence of his letter I am strongly of the opinion that Northern Ireland should be treated, especially in accounting and audit matters, completely on all fours with the rest of the United Kingdom. Having reported that advance, I wish to refer to only three or four financial matters which are raised prominently by the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General on last year's expenditure, which has come to hand since our last appropriation debate in December.

First, under Class II, Vote 1, industrial support and regeneration, one cannot but remark with satisfaction upon the incredible turn-round in the situation of Harland and Wolff. It is very satisfactory to note the contrast between the affairs of that undertaking now and three years ago. One is bound to reflect—I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) is not here, for he laid special stress upon this—that it was a useful and salutary exercise to provide a final sum, with a terminal date and a maximum amount, against which it would be necessary to work. At any rate the result has been successful, and so far little more than half, up to the end of the last financial year, had been drawn against the total sum provided.

Rather in contrast with the experience at Harland and Wolff, some of the other ventures under Class II(1) continue to give anxiety. The Minister will remember that I raised this matter with him in the previous debate. He said in his letter: A high risk level has to be accepted in order to provide a prospect of employment, particularly in areas where unemployment is very high and investment difficult to secure. That is a two-edged statement, because it is where unemployment is very high and investment difficult to secure that it is important to avoid incurring risks so high that they are almost certain to rebound both upon employment and upon future investment. It is noteworthy that the Minister said in his next sentence: Strathearn Audio and Ulster Crystal are amongst the higher risk ventures. Certainly nothing has transpired in the last three months to alter that.

I move to Class V, housing services, where the Comptroller and Auditor-General reports in a very interesting manner upon provision of grants for repairs. I think that his conclusion should be taken into account by the Department in future policy. He analysed the grants which had actually been made and found a strange contrast between the absurdly low level of some of the small grants and the restrictive effect of the upper limit of the £600 valuation.

I think that this indicates that there is need for improvement at both ends of the scale. It is really waste of time and waste of administrative effort if we are still working on grants as low as, in some cases, £1 and in a number of cases in two figures only.

On the other hand, with the increase in costs, clearly the £600 valuation level is becoming increasingly out of date. Therefore, it is not too soon for the Government to review the conditions of the repairs grant scheme. It has already been in statutory force now for 15 or 16 months. Neither inflation nor the rise in building costs has slowed down, and the Government should be looking at the grant frm the point of view of efficiency and from the point of view of current costs.

Finally, I come to Class VIII, Vote 2, higher education, on which there are two matters to which attention should be drawn and on which the Comptroller and Auditor-General's account should be taken very seriously. The first was the confusion which arose over the plans for the provision of undergraduate medical training at the City Hospital or on the Central Hospital site. Quite clearly, delay and additional expenditure have been incurred because the University Grants Committee did not learn soon enough of the intentions and was not brought into consultation at a sufficiently early stage. The Government should put a marker for future hospital development and educational development against the lesson to be learned from the story of the undergraduate medical teaching provision at the City and Central Hospitals.

Finally, there is the emergent over-provision at the new University of Ulster. Clearly, something will soon have to be done here if we are to avoid foreseen and foreseeable waste.

I shall quote only one remarkable sentence from the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report: The review"— it is a review which is already some three years old— also showed that with 1,683 students there were…general teaching accommodation for 2,300, academic facilities for 2,475, library facilities for 2,875, administration and maintenance accommodation to handle 5,000, health facilities for 6,800 and outdoor sports grounds for 8,000. We should know whether anything has yet been done to bring the plans for provision at the new University of Ulster more into accord with the realities of the rate of development which that university is likely actually to experience, for it is no longer good enough to refer to the wholly unexpected decline in growth of student demand ". It is now a fact of which, if we are not to be guilty of the waste of public funds, account should be taken. I hope that the Minister will be able at any rate to intimate that a firm grasp is being taken upon the development plans at the new University of Ulster.

10.31 p.m.

Mr. Peter Milk (Devon, West)

I am grateful for this opportunity of saying a few words about agriculture and food production in Northern Ireland, under Class I. I do not think I need apologise to hon. Members from Northern Ireland for speaking in one of their debates, for I am sure that they know that I am a friend of Northern Ireland. I still have many friends over there, particularly in agriculture and the food processing industry. Agriculture is crucial to Northern Ireland, more so than to most other areas of the United Kingdom—and that is saying something when it comes from a Member from the South-West of England.

The small family farm reaches its best in Northern Ireland. On average, I have never seen better small farms and family farms than I have seen in Northern Ireland. In a sense, the way people farm over there on that small acreage is an object lesson of what can be done. Many other remoter areas within the European Economic Community could well look to Northern Ireland and its small farms and learn the lessons. I want the situation to continue, because I believe that the small farms in Northern Ireland and, indeed, the whole agricultural scene can and do play a role in the stability of Northern Ireland. Heaven help the Province if agriculture failed it and things went wrong.

The Government need to do much more in this area. This country's entry into the Community put a strain on remoter areas. It certainly put a strain on Northern Ireland. We and the Government must recognise that Northern Ireland has a remoteness problem. It is not easy for its imports, which are more costly than in other areas. It is not easy to export its final products, because of the extra cost of exporting. This distance problem should be taken into account in prices and further aid to the Province. In a sense, it is much cheaper in the long run to do this than to have problems mount in such a Province.

There are very difficult monetary problems between the South and the North because of our entry into the Community. The fact that considerable smuggling went on when I had the privilege of being a Minister over there—I think it has increased since—highlights those problems.

All this, I believe, must lead the Government to make greater effort to solve these monetary problems. Revaluation of the green pound by regular steps would help to stop the distortion of trade and help the meat plants which are so crucial and which should be able to have the raw material instead of seeing it walking over the border into the South.

Thirdly, it is important to see that the poorer areas of Northern Ireland—and they are poorer as one goes further west—should be allowed the same semi-social aids for remote areas as apply in the South. It is important that there should be parity in these matters, particularly so that the wetter, poorer, remoter areas can take advantage of the Community grants available—aids for improvements, subsidies on stock and so on.

Fourthly, I still hope that the Government will give every encouragement to the export of products from Northern Ireland—for example, I am thinking of Northern Ireland's world-renowned seed potatoes. Pigmeat and beef and dairy exports should, where possible, have further encouragement.

Northern Ireland has a well-organised marketing system—indeed, it is an object lesson to the rest of the United Kingdom—but it needs extra encouragement and extra facilities. The Minister and others concerned must watch carefully the deal which has been set up between France and Southern Ireland. The sheep agreement could cause problems not only to England but to Northern Ireland as well. We must work much harder to gain our share of the sheep market in France.

Finally, and very important, stability in the rural areas plays its part in solving the problem of Northern Ireland. I have no doubt that, if the problems had been greater in the rural areas, the whole problem of Northern Ireland would have been far worse. I pay tribute to both Catholic and Protestant fanners, who have carried on under extremely difficult conditions. That stability is really worth encouraging. A prosperous agriculture reflected back in a prosperous food processing industry must influence the position as a whole in Northern Ireland.

I give one example, from the town of Newry, which I know something about. If the meat plant at Newry was working flat out, if it had the raw material necessary and the cattle were not moving across the border because of the monetary problems, I believe that the work force would be more contented and there would be fewer problems in the town because it would be more prosperous Therefore, stability is tremendously important in the rural areas, and it is up to the Government to see that they provide the necessary funds to maintain that stability.

10.39 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

The Members from Northern Ireland find themselves in grave difficulty in this House in that two very important Departments, Health and Social Services and Education, have no direct spokesman in the House answerable to the elected representatives, because those Departments are looked after by a member of another place.

Following the last debate that we had in this House, the Under-Secretary impressed upon the noble Lord—and I am most grateful to the Under-Secretary for this—that he should condescend to meet the principals of the grammar schools. Through the good services of the Undersecretary, that meeting has at last taken place. But out of it came an amazing affirmation by the noble Lord. He said that he did not think that any legislation would be necessary in changing the whole school system in Northern Ireland. That means that this House will be bereft of a full-scale debate on the education system that we are to have in Northern Ireland. No representative in Northern Ireland could tolerate that state of affairs—to change the whole education system of Northern Ireland without legislation coming before this House, and to do it in an administrative manner.

Let us look at the way in which it is being done. Three working parties have been set up, and before they have ever reported the Minister has gone ahead with seeking to introduce a comprehensive system in secondary education. I wonder why the working parties were ever set up. What is the point of setting up working parties to make recommendations when, before they have an opportunity to report, the Minister goes ahead in this way? The boards in Northern Ireland, with a non-elected majority, have people who are answerable to nobody but the Minister who appoints them. These boards, irrespective of the working parties' recommendations or any financial or management consideration, are proceeding along the path that the Minister has outlined.

The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) put his finger on the nub of the matter in our last debate when he said that it was not a matter of the 11-plus. Selection is a red herring that has been drawn into the debate. There is now under way a plan prepared by the Minister, irrespective of the 11-plus and the selection procedure that is now being adopted, to change the whole education system of Northern Ireland. It may be Government policy, but surely the Government should consult Parliament. Surely the elected representatives should not have this matter thrust on them in a second hand manner and then, what is more, be told that it is an administrative matter and that it will not be a legislative matter in any manner whatsoever.

We are here tonight to discuss matters that concern every facet of life in Northern Ireland. While we welcome the intervention of the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), who used to look after agriculture—and who went to the remote island of Rathlin with me on one occasion—we find ourselves on this occasion with a one-and-a-half-hour debate. The Minister has to open and to answer the debate, and time has to be allowed to the Opposition Front Bench spokesman. In what time is left, we have to deal with all these matters which are relevant to the life of our Province. Then, to add insult to injury, the Secretary of State comes beaming on the "box", smoking his pipe, and telling us about the beneficial effect of direct rule. He tells us what a wonderful thing it is, and that the 12 Members have every opportunity to raise every facet of life and to debate these things in this House, the Mother of Parliaments.

But what do we discover? We discover that we cannot move an amendment to Orders in Council. We are tied to time when we deal with these matters of importance. I have not time in which to develop the education debate, but I say to the Under-Secretary of State that this is a matter which runs right down into the hearts of the people of Northern Ireland.

It is not a matter of Roman Catholic grammar schools versus Protestant grammer schools versus inter-denominational grammar schools. All the grammar schools are united. Sometimes we have unity in Northern Ireland. It may be that that is not known in this House. Surely the Under-Secretary of State must go to Lord Melchett and call a halt to the attempt to bypass Parliament. A halt must be called to going ahead with plans until the working committee's report is available. There must then be the opportunity for a public debate.

The Prime Minister said about education in the rest of Great Britain "Let there be a grand debate". Evidently there is to be no grand debate on education in Northern Ireland. What we are to have is a foregone conclusion.

The Minister has written to many hon. Members about the nominated boards. I received a letter following representations that were made in the House. The Minister told me that he is satisfied with those serving on the boards. Of course he is satisfied. It was the Minister who appointed them. No one would expect him to write that he is not satisfied with those serving on the boards.

One example that I give the House concerns a member of the Southern Board sitting at Armagh. Apparently the gentleman concerned flabbergasted the other board members by saying that he did not know why he had been appointed a member of the board. He explained that he had no education interest but that he was retired and had plenty of time, so he thought he would go along. The elected representatives nearly fell off their chairs when they heard that. No doubt the Minister is pleased with him as he will vote in the way that the Minister wants. These are serious matters, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary appreciates this. We appreciate that when this issue was raised previously the Undersecretary arranged for the principals to meet the Minister,

Mr. Dunn

In the main, those who are appointed to the boards are recommended by local authorities, district councils and other bodies within the education system. It is not always possible to know that someone has reservations about joining a board. I am surprised that the gentleman concerned accepted the appointment if he had reservations. If the hon. Gentleman will give us further details, we shall make it easy for the board member to withdraw.

Rev. Ian Paisley

What if the gentleman concerned does not want to withdraw, the appointment having been made for a certain period? I do not think that he can be removed. Let it be clear that district councillor board members are a minority. The elected representatives are always a minority.

I turn to a matter that I have raised before—namely, the hospitals in North Antrim. I have not yet had an answer from Lord Melchett about the hospital in the Antrim area. Tomorrow there will be a large lobby at the House concerning the future of the White Abbey Hospital. Is the Minister able to help us by telling the House what he intends to do with the hospitals in North Antrim? What is to happen to the Moyle Hos- pital? What is its future? A question mark is hanging over it. What is the future of the Route Hospital? There is a question mark over it. What is to happen to the Waveney Hospital? What about the hospital which featured in the letter I wrote to the Minister? What is to be the future of these hospitals? The matters cannot be allowed to be put in abeyance. We must know the future of the hospitals.

It seems that the noble Lord does not take these issues seriously when representations are made to him. There is strong feeling about the hospitals. I draw attention to the White Abbey Hospital, which is not in my constituency but in the constituency of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr Molyneaux). I mention it because it is visited by people from my area.

A similar situation exists at the Coleraine Hospital, and the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) will no doubt raise the matter if he catches the eye of the Chair. We went on a joint deputation, because our constituents attend that hospital, to put forward a case concerning the purchase of an instrument. It was only after a long haggle and argument that the instrument could be bought to be used for the saving of life.

There is also the matter of aged people being kept in hospitals. I had a minister of the Irish Presbyterian Church at my home the other morning. He was in a state of desperation because an old lady of 91 who was in hospital had been told that she would have to go to her own home on the coming Monday and there was no bed for her. She was to go back to her own home even though there was no one there to look after her. It was only after I contacted the Ministry's office and made strong representations that that matter was dealt with. I ask the Minister to think of the concern of that old lady when she was told by the almoner that she would have to go home. I am sure that the Minister, as a compassionate human being, has every sympathy with people who find themselves in that situation, and I trust that he will take these matters on board tonight and do something about them.

Under Class I there is a matter that I should like to call to the Minister's attention. I hope to have a meeting with him about it, but because that meeting will not be for some days I ask him now to realise the urgency of the issue and to do something about it. It relates to an order that was made about scallop fishing off the coast of North Antrim. The order has effectively closed down the fishing. There is a factory there that was paid for by a large grant of LEDW money, but because of the order to which I have referred the factory is out of operation. It is terrible that one Government Department builds a factory and another makes an order that puts it out of operation. I trust that the Minister will take that matter on board and make urgent inquiries about it.

One matter that bedevils us all is planning, and I trust that the Minister will look at the operation of planning applications. I have received representations from a man who wanted to change the use of his property. He wanted to change it from commercial to some other use. I shall not mention the man's name or his business for security reasons, but he received a letter from the Ministry as long ago as 1972 saying that he would not need planning permission for what he proposed. He made certain alterations to his property and then received another letter, dated 9th January 1974, repeating that he did not need planning permission.

On 9th March 1976 he received a letter in the following terms: With reference to your inquiry I would inform you that under planning Acts the change of use does not require an application for planning. However, the Minister's Department has now moved against that man and got an enforcement order to put him out because he needs planning permission for the alterations that he has made to the property. As a result, 17 people will lose their employment. The Department must deal with the matter urgently, because we cannot afford to have people put out of employment in this way.

Class VI relates to water, sewerage and other public health services. I call the Minister's attention to the rural districts of Northern Ireland and to the need to speed up the provision of sewerage and mains water supplies. On the outskirts of the prosperous town of Ballymoney in my constituency, there are cottages that have no electric supply, no sewerage facilities and no mains water supplies. The people have been told time and again that they will get those amenities, but so far they have not materialised. These are serious matters, and I would draw the Minister's attention to them.

I have been asked to raise another matter concerning the Northern Ireland Assembly. Under expenditure proposed for the year ending 1979 in Class XI, mention is made of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I understand that the Clerk of the Assembly is still in office. That is an important office. But the parliamentary doorkeepers have recently had their status changed. Although the Clerk—who is a most important person—keeps his office, salary and pension, those men who served in the old Parliament, the Convention and the Assembly have now been told "You no longer have any status. You are reduced to ordinary messengers". Why has that taken place, especially since there is still reference to the Northern Ireland Assembly?

I should like to have dealt with manpower services, the Fair Employment Agency and the report which received widespread publicity suggesting that employers in Northern Ireland were carrying out deliberate and systematic discrimination against their Roman Catholic fellow countrymen However, time does not permit me to do so. I would only say to the Minister that there are many matters which ought to be discussed and for which time should have been provided. All of them have to do with the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland of all shades of opinion. But tonight we are hampered and severely restricted by a discussion which must be narrowed to this particular timetable.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

As we have only a few minutes left, I shall be brief. I want to refer to the problems of agriculture in Northern Ireland. Whenever one finds an Appropriation Order in his postbox, there is the dazzling prospect of raising almost every constituency matter that the mind of man can conceive. However, my party leader informs me that I must speak about agriculture and bring to the notice of the Minister some of the underlying problems contained therein.

I should like to ask the Minister, first, whether there is any possibility of a longer-term policy being evolved for the meat industry employment scheme. That is a costly scheme, but it is absolutely necessary to maintain employment in the Northern Ireland meat industry. Since it is renewed for only relatively short periods of time, confidence does not exist to plan for the long-term future. Can the Minister give us any hope that this scheme will be continued until it is no longer necessary?

My second point concerns the problem of the Northern Ireland milk farmer. The Minister is aware that there is only one month to go until the money runs out under the old United Kingdom marketing scheme. Can the Minister tell us whether a policy to run from 1st April has as yet been decided upon in order to give some hope to the milk farmers? If such a scheme is not forthcoming, can he tell us what level of production he envisages for the future? I fear that there is little scope for expansion if such a scheme is not drawn up and announced at once.

A short-term meat industry employment scheme is not good enough in that regard. If the milk industry is to continue at anything like its present level, there must be a long-term scheme to give stability to the farmers involved in that costly undertaking.

Another problem which is basic to the whole farming industry in Northern Ireland is the difficulty facing the Northern Ireland grain trade which supplies the feed for the farmer. The plain truth is that over the years the high level of that specialised production was built up with North American grain. In other words, farmers in Northern Ireland, being restricted in acres on the grounds, bought acres by buying grain.

That was all very well until we entered the Common Market, but all at once those supplies of grain from North America were choked off. We have to import 80 per cent, of the grain we need because we cannot grow enough. We have to import from Eastern England and Southern Ireland, and, no matter what the level of production is in these areas, it is always a seller's market to Northern Ireland.

There are problems that did not become apparent until the wolf was at the door. In the year of the drought, grain was scarce and prices were high, but at least they were high for everyone and everybody started even. But this year there is a bumper crop and millers in Northern Ireland tell me that when they imported from the United States the economies of scale with 15,000 to 20,000 ton loads were apparent, but there are no such storage facilities in Eastern England and when the Northern Ireland buyers arrive on the scene the price of grain goes through the roof.

The hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), who knows about these things, is nodding in agreement. The largest loads that can be imported from Eastern England are 2,000 tons, and these are only buckets in the ocean. If the Northern Ireland industry is to survive, alternative sources of feed must be found. The present sources are causing great heart-searching among many undertakings and are causing rationalisation, which means the closing of mills. There is also considerable heart-searching in the poultry industry and the intensive pig industry in Northern Ireland.

I understand that under Article 42 of the Treaty of Rome it is possible to protect existing industries. I hope that the Government will explore this possibility in order to find a way round the problem.

What is the Government's view on the Economic Council's important report on farming? It is the Council's first report and it cannot be ignored. Even at this short notice, we need the Government's view. There is no reason for their not having formulated a view, at least in part, and I shall be obliged if the Minister will tell us what is to be done to protect the farming industry as the Council recommends.

The Minister knows about the problem of stray dogs and how it is affecting the sheep industry. The Secretary of State told the Ulster farmers' union in December that something would be done and that the Government were seeking the views of local councils. Have the councils replied? If so, what do the Government intend to do about the problem this year—not next year? The sooner a start is made, the sooner the problem will be overcome.

Agriculture in Northern Ireland is in a reasonable shape, but only because the enormous problems caused by our entry into the EEC are veiled. The problems are deep-rooted and they will not go away. If the Government want agriculture to succeed, they must pay attention to the underlying problems and to hon. Members and the Economic Council—which, goodness knows, has few farmers among its members—who are trying to give advice based on the best available information.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

As two hon. Members have already dealt at length with the important subject of agriculture, I do not intend to go over that ground again. However, I agree with what has been said. Healthy agriculture is vital to Northern Ireland. The prosperity of Northern Ireland depends on it. I shall return to that subject on a later occasion. Certainly farmers in Northern Ireland are efficient. They do not and cannot afford to waste money. But that does not apply to this Government.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to some examples of waste or misdirection of public funds by this Government. I understood that the Government took great pride in trying to reduce the flood tide of foreign cars and were doing their best in particular to reduce the number of Japanese motor cars coming into the United Kingdom. Of course the public are entitled to buy what makes of cars they wish, but if they are sensible they will choose with care.

The Government, who are using taxpayers' money to bolster up British Leyland, should do their best to boost the British car industry. Therefore, I was surprised—though one ought to cease to be surprised at anything that happens in Northern Ireland under this Government—when I received an advertisement, inserted in the Press by the Department of Manpower Services, stating that during the months of April to June this year the Department acquires not British cars but three Datsun cars 1976 to 1977, models 140J, with 1428cc engines, one Datsun, model 120 Sunny, with 1171cc engine, one Renault 6 or 16 with 1108cc engine and one Renault 12 or 12TL saloon with 1289cc engine.

Will the Minister explain why, on the one hand, we have the powerful figure of the Secretary of State for Industry trying to help the British car industry and, on the other hand, we have the Department of Manpower Services selecting these foreign cars for purchase? Why are these particuar cars, specified in such detail, required? How much will they cost? The Minister must give the House an answer tonight on this important subject.

I turn to another example. At colossal public expense, a burns unit was established at the Royal Victoria Hospital. We all know that, with the terrorism which is taking place and the incendiary devices which are being exploded in Northern Ireland, a burns unit is and has been essential for some time. But that burns unit, though set up at taxpayers' expense—I cannot remember what the sum was, but perhaps the Minister will tell us—and ready to be used, has not been used. It is empty. There is not a patient there. It is not operational. I do not know when it will be operational. But, because it has taken a year or two years to reach this stage and is still not operational, the extremely expensive equipment that was placed there is now out of date. For example, new types of low air loss beds at about £3,500 each have, had to be bought, and all the training and so on has gone by the board.

That is another example of how this Government handle taxpayers' money. The Government are always quick to criticise the Ulster people for the demands that they make upon national funds because of terrorism. Why, despite all the demands by the surgeons and others involved with the Royal Victoria Hospital, has that burns unit not been opened? Indeed, after the La Mon House massacre the burns unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital was not available to the victims, and some of the victims were brought to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald. Only then, at that late stage, were three low air loss beds provided. And yet these beds could have been provided earlier. When the hospital wanted them for paraplegics they were not available.

I turn to the provision of houses for English civil servants in the Northern Ireland Office, a subject which is dear to my heart. I find that the profligacy of the Government is boundless. Even during the public expenditure cuts in 1976 the Government were able to spend £1,600,000 on houses and flats for English civil servants at the Stormont Office and a further £250,000 on creating flats in the former Speaker's house.

Anyone who wants to know how taxpayers' money is misused should listen to the story of the purchase of a house called Jedna at Donaghadee. The house was put on the market by the owner, who was ready to accept £29,000 from an ordinary citizen. Most Stormont civil servants could not afford that price. Out of the blue came an offer from the Government of £30,000. In other words, they usurped a prospective buyer by £1,000 of taxpayers' money.

Over the next two years £3,000 was spent on renovation and repairs, after which it was sold for the same sum as the Government bought it for. During that period, house prices in Northern Ireland went up by 30 per cent. If that is the way this Government manage affairs, it is no wonder that the country is in such a sorry state. Now I learn that those English civil servants are not liable to tax in respect of the accommodation provided.

Although those English civil servants receive the same salaries as their counterparts in England or Scotland, they receive diplomatic rate of living allowances as if they were in Bangkok or Hong Kong. But Northern Ireland is neither of those places. It is within the United Kingdom and should be treated as a domestic area. I do not see why these civil servants should get these higher allowances.

Time is limited, so I shall restrict myself to one more topic—the Fair Employment Agency. Conceived in the belief that bureaucratic intervention, as distinct from the pursuit of individual rights through the courts, is a better protection against those who discriminate on grounds of religion or politics, this Agency has set up a pernicious system of investigation which falls somewhere between the Court of Star Chamber and McCarthyism in Washington.

The notorious case of the Education and Libraries Board is well known in Northern Ireland. It is vital that the House should know what is taking place. The Board advertised for staff. Applicants were short-listed and interviews were held in strict accordance with the correct code of procedure. One of the rejected applicants for one job was a member of the SDLP. He complained to the Fair Employment Agency that he had been rejected for political reasons. That was not so, but the machinery of the Agency was put into action.

Each member of the Board who was present at the interviews was grilled individually for two hours or more in a closed room. The observer from the Staff Commission, who is not expected to put questions to applicants and is there only to ensure that correct procedures are adhered to, was subjected to the same treatment and cross-examination. At one stage the Agency was refusing a request that the members of the Board should be accompanied by a solicitor, for their own protection. It later relented on this point, after pressure. Is it any wonder that it is getting more difficult to get people to serve on interview boards when this sort of high-handed action is taken? I have much more I could say, but I shall refrain from doing so because others want to speak. It is a disgrace that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies cannot debate an important topic such as appropriation at great length. This debate is a sorry charade.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Philip (Beckenham)

It is plain that there is massive alarm about the Government's plans for education. It is important that this matter should be debated in the near future in this House so that Northern Ireland Members may make plain their alarm about the Government's intentions.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. Dunn

I should like first to deal with the question of the length of time available. I was under the impression that the usual channels had reached agreement that there would be a security debate, which would not be protracted after eight o'clock. I can understand the choice of priorities, and I agree with the priorities. I do not thing it right to complain that time has been denied to the House when there was this gentleman's agreement.

Mr. Kilfedder

There was no gentleman's agreement with me.

Mr. Dunn

I do not want to be drawn by the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to be helpful.

Let me deal with the major issues of the debate. No doubt uppermost in the minds of most people is the Economic Planning Council. I am pleased to report that the new Economic Planning Council, under the chairmanship of Sir Charles Carter, has begun the development of its role as an independent source of advice to the Government on economic affairs.

The report on agricultural affairs is now being studied in detail and the Government will be consulting the council in the context of economic planning being the making of submissions related to the different aspects of the Northern Ireland economy on the one hand and the examining of forecasts and proposals emanating from the Government's economic planning unit on the other hand.

The staff of the Central Economic Service in the Department of Finance are currently being strengthened. Later this month the new director of the service, Dr. Van Slootan, will be taking up duties. Dr. Van Slootan is an economist who has been working in the Government's service for a number of years. He is being transferred from the Department of Health and Social Security in London to take up this new assignment. I am sure that the House would want me to wish him well in his new post.

Two issues were brought to my attention by the hon. Members for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). One of the points referred to the meat industry employment scheme. It is not possible to extend this scheme on an indefinite basis. The period has already been extended from three months to six months.

Mr. Peter Mills

The industry needs long-term help.

Mr. Dunn

It is all right for the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) to make those comments. I am tempted to ask whether he would do any better if he had the opportunity. It would be unfair to ask that.

It is not possible at present to fund that scheme on an indefinite basis. However, during the next few weeks we shall be considering the possibility of extending the time scale. It may be possible to extend the scheme for a year at a time. Although I appreciate the importance of enabling producers to plan ahead as far as possible, I still say that there are difficulties in the way, and the hon. Member for Devon, West will be well aware of some of the difficulties I face, because he faced the same difficulties.

Discussions are in progress on the problems of maintaining the milk return in Northern Ireland after 1st April. Everyone will appreciate that at this stage I cannot say when it will be possible to announce the decision other than to assure the House that a decision will be announced at the earliest possible moment because the future of the milk sector is greatly dependent upon it. We cannot ignore the fact that what we decide to do must be cleared through the normal channels with the European Commission. That is not always an easy task. We cannot just ignore this responsibility. We shall consult our partners in Europe.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) raised a fundamental issue which has been mentioned across the Floor of the House for the past 12 months—namely, the timing of appropriation debates. I express to the right hon. Gentleman my appreciation of the interest he has taken in this subject and of the guidance and advice he has given. I have noted with satisfaction the outcome of his correspondence with his right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. The right hon. Gentleman knows the problems and does not need me to refer to them in detail. He knows also that to some degree I share his views on this matter. However, there are difficulties that are not easily overcome. They can be overcome only by co-operation. The Comptroller and Auditor-General's report for 1976–77 on the appropriation accounts will be considered shortly by the PAC, and I hope that another stage in progress can be achieved then with his help and that of his right hon. Friend.

Mr. Powell

We might even, with luck, if the PAC gets it in hand early, have the Government's comments on the PAC's report before the next appropriation debate.

Mr. Dunn

I shall not tread too far along that path.

A number of right hon. and hon. Members have raised the question of education. I said in the previous debate, and I repeat, that my noble Friend, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and myself are all in the same position. At the end of the day, it is the Secretary of State who is responsible for policy in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State is a Member of the House. I assure any hon. Members who may have reservations or apprehensions about anything that may happen in education that it will come before the House and they will be able to make their comments. I cannot go further than say that it will be before the House in one way or another. Questions related to our having a debate on education should be directed to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

The hon. Member for Abingdon and other hon. Members will realise that there are such things as Supply Days. In the past, there were arrangements whereby the official Opposition allowed part of its Supply Day time to be shared by minority parties. I have no doubt that there is great potential there.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Gentleman's noble Friend has intimated to the principals of the grammar schools that the reorganisation of education will be proceeded with without legislation. In that case, the opportunities for elected representatives to discuss proposed legislation will not arise. We have no influence with the Leader of the Opposition. I did not know anything about the arrangements for this debate. We do not understand what is happening. I can make my contribution only as I get the opportunity.

Mr. Dunn

Again, I assure the hon. Gentleman that this matter will be brought before the House before changes are made. Those assurances have been given by my noble Friend. He has made clear that the consultative process has not been completed. When all the consultations are finished, there will, no doubt, be a report drawn up and submitted—

Mr. McCusker (Armagh)rose—

Mr. Dunn

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to continue? I know that he takes a great interest in this matter, although his views and mine do not always go well together. He will be aware that when the consultations are finished there will be a presentation to both Houses of any reorganisation consequent upon those consultations.

Until the consultations are finished, it is not possible to say what the total cost of any reorganisation will be. The estimate was given merely as a yardstick or measures to give some indication. The hon. Member for Abingdon is tying me down rather hard when he asks for the exact costings. He knows very well that, were our positions reversed, he would not be able to give the figures either until the consultations were completed.

On the question of a uniform system of comprehensive schools, I can only give the assurance, which the Government have repeatedly given, that it will be for area boards in consultation with individual schools to do the planning of any restructuring in their areas, and the Government will naturally accept that advice, taking into account that in different geographical areas there may be a desire to adopt not identical systems.

My noble Friend said to those whom he has met, including the Association of Governing Bodies of Grammar Schools at the meeting held on 28th November last, that he would be prepared to respond to any request reasonably made in the consultative process. He has made clear that any request for a meeting from association of parents would not be declined.

The problem is that there have not been many requests for such meetings with my noble Friend. On the last occasion when the desire of headmasters to have a meeting was brought to my attention, my noble Friend was not made aware of it until it was raised in the House. As soon as I notified my noble Friend, the meeting was arranged. The hon. Gentleman gave me credit which really I did not deserve. My noble Friend responded right away when he was aware that there was a wish to have a meeting.

There is much to be said about education, and there is no possibility of developing it properly tonight, so I leave the matter there. I shall try to deal with the fundamental and complex matters raised by hon. Members by writing to them at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Kilfedder

What about foreign cars?

Mr. Dunn

From a sedentary position the hon. Member makes his outburst about foreign cars, hoping thereby to have the last word, but I shall stop him. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman, giving him as detailed a reply as possible.

On the problem of time, I, too, should have liked to deal more fully with the many issues which have been raised with me, both now and in the past, but I regret that, due to circumstances beyond my control—and now, I learn, beyond others' control too—it is not possible to do so. I hope that the House will accept the order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 15th February, be approved.