HC Deb 08 December 1983 vol 50 cc484-516 4.38 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)

I beg to move, That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 23rd November, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) wishes to raise a point of order.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for defending the rights of the Northern Ireland Members to have their say. We appreciate that.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you confirm for our guidance that if the first order is debated, say, until eight or nine o'clock the remainder of the time until half past eleven will be available for debating the second order, but that another hour and a half will not be added?

Mr. Speaker

I confirm what the hon. Member has said, that the debate on the first order may go until half past eleven. If it goes until half past eleven, the second order will have an hour and a half. If the first order finishes earlier than that, the second order may go until half past eleven.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You kindly indicated to me that certain matters in the first order are substantial and justify wide debate. By inference, the remainder must be considered not to justify wide debate. One of the items that apparently do not justify wide debate is the question of control. That has caused considerable concern and debate not only in the House but in Northern Ireland. I seek your guidance as to what can be debated on the first order and at what length.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Further to that point of order; I wish to make a submission, Mr. Speaker. Your were good enough to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) and you may have written to other hon. Members likely to take part in the debate, intimating what might or might not be regarded by the Chair as in order in the debate upon the Appropriation Order. This has been the subject of observations from the Chair at the commencement of similar debates in the past.

Might it be helpful both to the Chair and to hon. Members, since these orders are available a considerable time before the debates—I believe that this order was laid on 23 November—if art indication of the view of the Chair could be given at an earlier date? An indication is often given by hon. Members to the Government of subjects which they would hope to raise. If it was within their knowledge what would and would not be regarded as in order, it would be possible to give that indication to the Government with more accuracy and certainty. I hope, therefore, that it might become a practice, if only an informal practice, in future where the minor Appropriation Orders—I am referring not to the annual Appropriation Order, but to the other Appropriation Orders—are for debate for an indication to be given by the Chair generally of its views upon order in the compass of that Appropriation Order.

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and I will answer his point of order first. He will understand that it is my wish to be as helpful as possible to Back Benchers, and therefore I readily accede to his request to send the information earlier than it was sent today. In sending it today, I was seeking to be helpful to hon. Members in drawing their attention to what would be in order and what might be out of order, so saving time in the debate; if the Chair must constantly be interrupting hon. Members while they are speaking, that wastes time.

To clarify the matter, I will read from the letter: The scope of this order is relatively narrow and policy questions should be raised only in connection with three matters; agricultural support measures, assistance to the shipbuilding industry and the housing benefits scheme. Four of the seven Supplementary Estimates are for relatively modest sums and only the reasons for the increases sought should be raised. Is that clear?

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Further to that point of order. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for the announcement that you have made, and I listened to it with great care, as, indeed, I read with great care what you said in your letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross). I wonder whether in future consideration might be given to the distinction implied in the use of the words "issues of policy", as issues of policy may be involved in increases sought for a particular purpose under a particular sub-head. There is, therefore, still a difficulty that hon. Members might confront in deciding whether the increase under a particular sub-head did or did not open up the whole of that service or open up no more than a particular decision of policy taken within that service by the Government.

Mr. Speaker

To save the time of the debate today, the simplest answer would be for me to give further consideration to what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is my wish to be as helpful as possible in all these matters, and I shall certainly consider what he said so as to make the situation clearer in future.

Mr. William Ross

Further to the point of order that I raised earlier, Mr. Speaker. You said in your reply to me that some of the sums concerned were modest. May I draw your attention to the fact that, although an individual sum may be modest, it may nevertheless have a considerable impact on a matter of policy?

Mr. Speaker

I used the word "relatively"; and that is a relative word.

4.43 pm
Mr. Butler

The order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. In view of some of the points that have just been made, it might be helpful if I said that I shall be taking the House through the order and will be referring to some of the smaller issues. Whether that will encourage hon. Members to comment on those points when they make their contributions remains to be seen.

The purpose of the draft order is to authorise the issue of £107 million out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland in respect of the autumn Supplementary Estimates of Northern Ireland Departments and to appropriate this sum for the purposes shown in the schedule. Hon. Members will recall that sums on account were approved on 10 March and in respect of the autumn Supplementary Estimates of Northern Ireland that the balance of the 1983–84 main Estimates was approved by the House on 7 July; together these amounted to £2,622 million.

The present draft order will bring the total Estimates provision for the year to £2,729 million. Detailed information about the provision sought can be found in the autumn Supplementary Estimates volume, copies of which have been placed in the Vote Office.

The draft order covers only seven out of the 42 Votes of Northern Ireland Departments. Major provision is sought in respect of the housing benefits scheme, which is already in operation in Great Britain, and I hasten to say that this is not new money, since assistance with housing costs was formerly provided through supplementary benefit and rent and rate rebates. There are also significant additions to existing services, notably the special aid for agriculture announced to the House earlier in the year, and assistance for Harland and Wolff Ltd., for which only a token amount had been provided in the main Estimates. I shall revert to those matters shortly.

As I have said before on these occasions, we are endeavouring to keep Northern Ireland in the most favourable position to benefit, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, from the increase in world economic activity that is expected during the remainder of 1983 and 1984. When the United Kingdom experiences economic revival, there are spin-off benefits for Northern Ireland. The steady 3 per cent. growth rate in United Kingdom GDP and the expectations for controlled or declining inflation next year augur well for Northern Ireland industry. At the moment, some reports indicate that Northern Ireland manufacturing industry is now holding up in employment terms, and generally output and other trends are reported to have improved. However, it is absolutely essential that we continue to do as much as possible to encourage industrial investment in Northern Ireland and to reinforce the effects of the economic trend. The economic initiative announced earlier this year, with its additional support measures and incentives, such as corporation tax relief grants and 100 per cent. industrial derating, is promising to be of great help in our efforts.

The combination of economic recovery, particularly in America, and the efforts of the Industrial Development Board and many others, such as the all-party and partnership missions, have brought about a greatly heightened intensity of industrial development inquiries and activity, and a measurement of that is in the number of visits being entertained in Northern Ireland at present, running at a rate five times that of last year.

In the social field, with the introduction of housing benefits, we are maintaining the common system of social benefits that applies throughout the United Kingdom. The special aid for agriculture, the assistance to Harland and Wolff and other provisions for industrial support are evidence of our willingness to take account of the special needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland, even at a time when public expenditure as a whole is under constraint. Taken together, they demonstrate yet again the Government's continuing commitment to Northern Ireland.

When I introduced the order for the main Estimates on 7 July, I reminded the House of the extent of the additional special aid to the Northern Ireland agriculture industry that would be made available in the 1983–84 financial year. I also made it clear that the necessary provision for these special measures would be taken in Supplementary Estimates. The additional provision required is now sought in these Supplementary Estimates for Class I, Votes 1 and 2. This special aid from national funds is, of course, supplemented by special assistance from the EC.

An additional £0.8 million is sought for continued measures to develop beef cattle production. This includes about £0.5 million towards subsidies for the liming of grassland and £0.3 million for the beef development programme. This latter aid has allowed the charge for artificial insemination to be held below cost, the importance of that being that demand has been buoyant and there has been a consequential quality improvement in breeding cattle.

Further, £5.5 million is included to provide for the continuation of the milk consumer subsidy which enables a higher wholesale price to be fixed for milk going for liquid consumption, thereby ensuring that consumers in Northern Ireland do not have to pay more than consumers in Great Britain.

Approval to a total of nearly £2.5 million is sought for assistance to the intensive livestock sector; £2 million of this aid is to cover payments, linked to the level of employment, to operators of licensed pig and poultrymeat processing plants and egg packing stations, while continuation of the subsidy on transport costs of egg shipments to Great Britain accounts for about £0.4 million. A further £2.5 million is required to continue grants for the improvement of pasture under the grassland scheme. That was introduced specially last year to increase productivity in areas outside the less favoured areas.

The total additional provision sought for agriculture is partly offset by a decrease in expected compensation payments on the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication schemes resulting directly from the present favourable animal diseases position. It is worth reminding the House of the importance that is attached to the "disease-free" status of livestock in Northern Ireland. This provides a very important underpinning of the Province's ability to market its produce and requires a considerable input and continuing close vigilance by all concerned with the industry. Their success should not go unnoticed.

As for the future, I recognise that a great deal of anxiety has been raised in the agricultural community as a result of the first proposals for changes to the common agricultural policy put forward by the Commission following the Stuttgart summit. I recognise and understand that anxiety, but it is clear that we must get a satisfactory solution to the problem of the United Kingdom's budget contributions to the European Community. This includes positive steps being taken to deal with the structural surpluses in agriculture, as these have been the cause of so much heavy expenditure by the Community.

Some of the Commission's ideas have not been finally formulated, and in any case it is likely that many of its proposals will be amended considerably during the negotiations. It is just not possible at this stage to speculate on what changes might be made. However, hon. Members will be aware of the statement made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the progress, or lack of progress, of the negotiations. I assure the House that the Government will be careful to ensure that the agriculture industry in the United Kingdom in general, and in Northern Ireland in particular, is not unfairly disadvantaged compared to that in other member states. My noble Friend, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, will be examining all developments to assess their impact and to ensure that any special difficulties with Northern Ireland are taken into account.

I should like now to deal with the industrial support measures covered by Class II, Vote 3. At main Estimates stage a token provision only was taken under sub-head B2 in respect of Harland and Wolff. We are now taking a provision of £42.2 million for assistance to that shipyard. The yard presently employs about 5,300 workers. This sum is further evidence of the Government's recognition of that company's importance to the Northern Ireland economy. Hon. Members will note that the provision of £42.2 million is £5 million less than the total level of support required last year, and, as such, is a welcome if small improvement.

The Government recently authorised the company to take an order for four 10,000-tonne refrigerated cargo vessels for the Blue Star Line. This order was vital for the company's future. It is clear that Harland and Wolff continues to be heavily dependent on public support. The market for merchant ships is at its worst for several years and it is essential that the need for this support is reduced by every means at the yard's command. I am glad to say that, under its new chairman and chief executive strenuous and successful efforts are being made to cut costs and improve productivity. A more aggressive marketing policy has been adopted — the recently announced licensing agreement with the Japanese shipbuilders IHI is a particularly notable illustration of this—and I am glad to say that the yard has a good reputation among shipowners.

An increase of some £3.5 million at sub-head DI is sought to top up the existing provision of £37.2 million for standard capital grants to industry in Northern Ireland. A higher than anticipated level of demand is behind this increase, and there is some encouragement in the fact that industrial investment has exceeded our expectations in that area. We are also seeking an increase of £2.7 million in the budget of the Local Enterprise Development Unit, of which £300,000 relates to administrative costs, and £2.4 million to grants and loans paid to industry.

The reasons for these increased provisions lie quite simply in the dramatic increase which the past two years have seen in the success rate of the LEDU's promotion of small businesses. The figures speak for themselves. It resulted in record job promotions of 2,550 in 1982–83. For the current year the LEDU has kept up this momentum and is well on its way to exceeding its target of 3,100. The volume of interest in small business start-up and development in Northern Ireland, evident not only in the LEDU's performance but in the continuing high level of inquiries which the unit is attracting from those wishing to set up in business, sounds a real note of optimism against what is too often a gloomy picture on the jobs front in Northern Ireland.

At the LEDU's work load has increased, its board and management have been concerned to ensure that the quality of service offered to client companies should not deteriorate. During the year steps were taken to expand and improve the existing wide range of services available to small businesses, and new measures such as the technical inquiry service, the new enterprise workshop, and the design consultancy service, have been introduced.

One of the major new initiatives taken in the Province this year was the recently launched local enterprise programme, which is designed to maximise the efforts of local economic development groups.

The LEDU will co-ordinate that activity. I personally welcome this, because I believe that it is an example of self-help in local communities with local politicians and business men working together in nearly al cases for the common good of their areas.

I should like to take a brief look at the future of the LEDU. I anticipate some strengthening of the LEDU's staff and a further increase in its industrial development budget to match what I hope will be a further expansion in its activity.

I should like to mention the modest provision of £200,000 in the Estimates for the energy conservation scheme, which was announced in March 1983 as part of a package of additional measures introduced at that time. The scheme seeks to assist industry and commerce to reduce costs through the implementation of worthwhile energy conservation projects. It provides for grants of up to 30 per cent. towards the cost of approved projects, and up to 50 per cent. in relation to technical advice.

I have been encoraged by the response to the scheme to date. Since its inception on 1 June, more than 320 inquiries have been received by the Department of Economic Development, and 50 applications have already been submitted involving total project costs of £4.2 million over the next few years. It is estimated that energy saving arising from these projects will come to £1.3 million a year. The scheme is already having the desired effect of making Northern Ireland industry and commerce more competitive.

I should like to move now to the Votes of the Department of the Environment for which supplementary provision is being taken. An additional £3.8 million is required to finance increased expenditure for Class VI, Vote 3, which covers the Consolidated Fund contributions payable to local revenues.

The additional grant is needed for two reasons. First, about £1.5 million is necessary to meet the cost to district councils of increasing derating for industrial premises from 75 to 100 per cent., which was introduced as part of the incentive package to which I referred. The total benefit to industry of this derating is £7 million a year. This has been most helpful to companies' cash flow and it also represents a continuing advantage, rather than a one-off payment. It also allows us to promote Northern Ireland as a place with "no local taxes".

Secondly, £2.3 million is required to meet special circumstances arising this year in relation to the resources element of the general grant. The resources element is calculated by means of a statutory formula and population levels are a key element in the calculation. The population figures used for the original grant calculation for 1983–84 were based on preliminary estimates pending further investigation of the 1981 census figures. However, a subsequent statistical review of figures for the non-enumerated population produced significant increases in estimated population sizes in a number of council areas. In these circumstances it is considered right and proper to make additional provision for those councils whose populations — or, at least, whose population figures—have been adjusted upwards.

Turning now to Class VI, Vote 4, which covers expenditure on rating, records, registrations, surveys and administration matters, an increase of £1.4 million is sought mainly to cover expenditure on general administration. Last year a major reorganisation exercise was undertaken on the rate collection system, the central feature of which was the computerisation of rating records and collection systems. Only token provision for the necessary capital expenditure on computer equipment was made at main Estimates stage, since exact costs were not know then. The present Supplementary Estimates seek to include, inter alia, provision to cover the actual requirement of £0.8 million in the current year. Total expenditure is greater than that, but it is estimated that reorganisation and computerisation will save about £1 million a year.

Provision is being sought to meet increased expenditure in the social security field in Class X, Vote 2, noncontributory benefits, and in Class X, Vote 4, administration and miscellaneous services. The increased provision sought for non-contributory benefits is £41 million. Of this, £30.3 million, as I explained in my opening remarks, is attributable to the introduction of the housing benefits scheme in Northern Ireland from 21 November 1983. Prior to the introduction of the scheme assistance with housing costs was provided mainly through supplementary benefit and through rent and rates rebates or rent allowances provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive or Department of the Environment. This is therefore not new money, but we were able to provide more generous transitional protection against the inevitable small variations in individual circumstances and to introduce earlier than in Great Britain a higher needs allowance for families with dependent children.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Will the Minister of State indicate where the rebate, so to speak, appears, if it appears at all, in the Estimates? He has said that the £30.3 million is not new money, but in his concluding remarks he appeared to refer to some additions to what would otherwise have been paid. Presumably, therefore, there should be a decrease under other provisions, corresponding to the greater part of the £30 million. I wonder whether he can satisfy inquisitive seekers by saying where that might be hidden.

Mr. Butler

This is not entirely a straightforward matter. I do not seek to duck answering the right hon. Gentleman's question, but, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who will reply to the debate, happens to have direct responsibility for the Department concerned, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman will receive a fuller and better answer from him than from me. The right hon. Gentleman's question is a perfectly fair one, and essentially there is a transfer between Departments which involves the Housing Executive. I believe that he would like to have more detail than I am able to supply from the information that is now available to me. I know that my hon. Friend will seek to do his best to satisfy what the right hon. Gentleman has described as his inquisitiveness.

The estimate of benefit expenditure under Class X, Vote 2 includes a figure of £336,000 for improved transitional protection arrangements and an increased needs allowance for children from November. This represents transitional enhancement of the Northern Ireland scheme, the cost of which is contained within the existing total of Northern Ireland public expenditure. Some £1.6 million is due to a rise in the numbers receiving attendance allowance and the remaining £9 million falls in the supplementary benefit area and is required mainly because of an increase in the numbers of beneficiaries. Increased provision sought for administration is £1.8 million and reflects mainly what is required to meet initial and continuing costs incurred by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in the administration of housing benefits. It is now estimated that the cost of social security and housing benefits paid from moneys voted by Parliament or paid direct from the national insurance fund will amount to £1.1 billion in the current year.

I have followed the tradition of these debates in taking the House through the Estimates and indicating the Government's thinking that lies behind them. In some instances I have indicated how I see the future. My hon. Friend and I will be ready to listen to the contributions of those who are fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair.

5.6 pm

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

The House will be grateful to the Minister for his careful enunciation of the Government's reasoning behind the order. I appreciate the constraints upon what we can properly debate, but the Opposition welcome the opportunity to debate issues that they believe are of great importance to the people of Northern Ireland. We do not oppose the order. Indeed, our criticism is that we believe that it is inadequate to meet the problems. The somewhat self-congratulatory picture which the Minister painted at the outset of his speech was not readily recognisable to me as the Northern Ireland that I visited last week.

Northern Ireland is an area of real deprivation which fully merits its designation by the EC as an area of special priority. Unemployment stands at 21.5 per cent. The number of people in receipt of unemployment benefit in October was the highest for any October on record. In Strabane, unemployment is nearly 40 per cent. For those in work there is little more comfort. In April 1981, the latest month for which I have been able to trace figures, average weekly earnings for the whole of Britain were £140.50 for men and, sadly, £91.40 for women. The corresponding figures for Northern Ireland were £129.70 and £88.50. Last year 11 per cent. of the work force in Northern Ireland earned less than £75 a week. Yet we are speaking of an area in which retail prices are higher than those in any other part of Britain.

Fuel prices in particular represent a major burden. The Minister properly mentioned the energy conservation scheme, and it is welcome so far as it goes. But the subsidy arrangements for electricity prices, which were welcomed some time ago, have the effect only of holding prices in line with the highest prices elsewhere in Britain. Northern Ireland prices are still 8 per cent. above the national average.

For many families there will be little to celebrate this Christmas and precious little with which to celebrate it. The violence which desecrates and shames the politics of Northern Ireland must derive partly from a sense of grievance and from the despair and frustration that stem from the economic factors—[Interruption.] It seems that there is some dispute about that proposition on the Unionist Bench.

I am not suggesting that the wicked men who thrive on murder and whose plan is to escalate the troubles would change their ways if the economic problems were solved. But I believe that they are helped by support from some sections of the community, especially young people, who are not wicked, who are fundamentally decent, but who despair of seeing a solution to their problems through constitutional democratic politics. They feel that there is nothing for them in supporting law and order, and they turn in frustration to anyone who appears to offer a more dramatic solution.

Even leaving aside the legacy of blood and suffering, we are debating a total Estimate of £107 million. The cost of terrorism to the United Kingdom since 1969 has been assessed at £9 billion. That figure is disputed, but on any showing it is substantially in excess of the sums that we are debating today. If those sums had been available for investment, for the creation of jobs and to meet the urgent social needs of the Province, much of our debate would have been superfluous.

Whatever the value of political and constitutional discussions—and I believe they must go on, because if we stop discussing seeking areas of agreement, and exploring activities in which the various groups and interests may join together, however reluctantly, we destroy the hope of finding solutions within a constitutional framework — we have to remove the grievances not only because it is unjust and unjustifiable that people should suffer them, but because the despair that they generate may be the breeding ground for further violence.

It is pleasing to see in the order provision for a subvention to the Local Enterprise Development Unit. Since it was established in 1971, I understand that it has provided about 15,500 jobs. It is true that not all of them have been taken up. I understand that the total take-up of jobs provided by public subvention throughout Northern Ireland is about 60 per cent. When the Under-Secretary replies, perhaps he will tell us broadly the proportion of the take-up of jobs provided through the LEDU. But on any showing, it adds up to a substantial increase in human happiness.

But the most important factor in determining the prospects for small businesses is the economic climate. If assembly plants are not calling for components, the small firms making the components cannot prosper. When the market is falling, those companies which are too small to diversify are most at risk.

The Opposition put to the Secretary of State and to the Under-Secretary of State the argument which they put to the Government generally. That argument was spelt out in the document "The Trade Union Alternative", which was produced at the beginning of this year by the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions. The committee asked that the efforts of the LEDU and the industrial development board should be augmented by substantial injections of Government money into the public services. It argued that development should he planned over five-year periods and that the incentives and investment should encourage expansion not just where it happens to be suggested, but in those activities and areas that are likely to promote the objectives which we wish to achieve. It argued also that subsidies should be judged on their effect in creating jobs, in meeting demands that are known to exist, and in boosting the economy.

One obvious area for public investment is energy, to bring down the burden of high energy prices which industry has to bear. We are told that that would be inflationary.

Mr. Butler

We are interested to know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman would suggest to improve the position. I am sure that he is aware that at the moment about £60 million is spent on holding energy prices down to the highest level obtaining in Great Britain. Is he saying that his policy would be to reduce them further?

Mr. Archer

I am saying two things. First, a case could be made to reduce those prices further, especially in Northern Ireland, because of the specific problems in the Province. Very properly, the Minister echoed my point that energy prices are reduced to the highest level obtaining in Great Britain, which is 8 per cent. above the average.

Secondly, we make the same criticism of Government policy in Northern Ireland as we do of Government policy in the United Kingdom generally. I must not stray outside the rules of order, but it has been said that the proposal is inflationary. That is a profound misconception. It is certainly inflationary to put money into people's pockets to buy more goods when there is a limit on the goods available. But if the reason why the goods are not available is that no one has the money to buy them and if people are waiting to produce them as soon as they are required, that is not inflationary.

We have argued all that before. It has been argued in a wider context by abler advocates than me. I believe that their arguments fell on deaf ears. If I have managed to persuade Conservative Members and Ministers within the Northern Ireland Office, I would not expect them suddenly to announce a recantation. I should be happy if they pleaded the case quietly within the confines of the Government.

We are pleased for those reasons to see the proposals in Class X. They will inject some purchasing power into the pockets of people in Northern Ireland. I doubt whether a subvention of this order will make a great impact on the problem, but it would be helpful if the Under-Secretary could tell the House how much of the sum in Class X it is proposed to allocate specifically to housing benefits. If a breakdown of that figure is available, I have not been able to trace it.

The transfer of responsibility for housing benefits from the DHSS to the housing authorities has brought with it a great deal of hardship, for reasons that have been canvassed in the context of the whole of the United Kingdom. First, the scheme is more complicated than the one that it replaced. It is always difficult for benefit recipients to calculate the benefit to which they are entitled. This one would be beyond the calculating powers of almost anyone who has not possessed of a computer. Secondly, for some families, this scheme means a fall in total income. A change that is canvassed as an administrative transfer but which actually reduces the end product must be unacceptable by any standards.

The housing problems that are evident throughout the whole of the United Kingdom—not least in the area that I have the honour to represent in the west midlands—bite harder in Northern Ireland because of the history of housing there. It is general knowledge that for many years housing in Northern Ireland was a neglected subject. In the 1970s, in Belfast alone, 30,000 houses were declared unfit for habitation. Since it was established, the Housing Executive has made commendable efforts to redeem the position, and I happily pay tribute to it. It has earned tributes from all those who have had occasion to evaluate those houses. But by 1981, there were still three times as many unfit houses in Northern Ireland proportionately as in England and Wales.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that in the last year of the Stormont Administration there were 14,000 new housing starts? We have not come near that pattern since those days.

Mr. Archer

Far be it from me to comment on where the responsibility for those figures lies. I appreciate that within Northern Ireland there are debates as to where the responsibility lies and what might have happened had a different constitutional course been taken. I am prepared to leave that matter to be debated by other hon. Members.

The Housing Executive in its annual report to March 1983 was able to record that the numbers on the waiting lists had fallen to 23,755—a far from acceptable figure. However, very properly and honestly, the Housing Executive has pointed out that that fall was due, at least in part, to a decrease in demand, and that that was a consequence of inadequate incomes. The Housing Executive stated: There may be a greater willingness, in very adverse economic circumstances, to tolerate the discomforts of sharing and over-crowding; and there may well be an increasing wittiness to endure the low space standards and poorer amenities of older housing rather than face sharply increased rents. It then spelt that out: It does not seem improbable that there is a direct causal connection between the sharp decline in waiting-lists for public sector houses and the even sharper increase in public sector rents which has taken place over the same period. It then said something even more worrying: It has been said, and not without evidence to support it, that only those in well-paid jobs, or those on full social security benefits, can now afford the rent of a new Housing Executive dwelling.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)

Another reason for the fall in the number on the waiting list is the increase in the number of people in Northern Ireland who have been able to buy their homes in the past few years. There has been a fall in the number on the waiting list of about 36 per cent. over the past three years. In the first nine months of this year there were 5,300 new starts in the private sector. It looks as if there will be record figures this year. I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman to realise that that in itself has a considerable and commendable effect on the waiting list.

Mr. Archer

I should be reluctant to enter into a debate between the Northern Ireland Office and the Housing Executive. I thought that the Minister was underlining the point that the Housing Executive made. Those who can buy their own homes and those who are on full social security benefits may not face the problem but those in between have the problem that the Housing Executive is endeavouring to spell out. I should not have thought that that was a reason for congratulating those who have responsibility for these matters.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be interested to know from those who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland that there is absolutely no discernible class or wealth distinction characterising those who purchase their own homes. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will find that in Northern Ireland house ownership spreads through all classes and callings. The deduction that he is drawing, possibly with English conditions in mind—that those who purchase their own homes belong to superior social or income classes—is inapplicable to the Province.

Mr. Archer

Of course, I respect the experience of the right hon. Gentleman, who, I am certain, knows his constituency well. But the fact remains that many people are in publicly provided houses in Northern Ireland, and there is a substantial waiting list, to which I referred. If it were easy for them to solve their problems by buying their own houses, I find it difficult to believe that they would not have done so. It may not be a class thing, but it is certainly a financial thing.

Mr. Chris Patten

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Archer

I shall give way. I apologise that I am taking longer than I expected to make my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but that is because I have given way such a lot.

Mr. Patten

This is an important point. The overwhelming success in the increase of owner-occupation in Northern Ireland is low-cost housing. When he looks at the figures, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will find that the effect of things such as the co-ownership schemes has been substantial in giving low-paid people the chance to own their own homes for the first time. Regardless of partisan debate about home ownership or the private sector, I think that we should commend that.

Mr. Archer

Of course I commend any attempt to solve the problem in the way that the Minister mentioned. All that I need for the argument that I am seeking to adduce is the fact that a substantial number of people in Northern Ireland are in publicly provided housing and many more wish to be in publicly provided housing. They at least have the problems to which I alluded. If there are some who, fortunately, are not confronted with those problems, we can only be pleased that that is so. But that does not destroy the argument that I am making.

I appreciate that the Housing Executive, in its report, expresses the hope that some of the burdens will be alleviated by the new rent scheme, but that entails simply a transfer of burdens among tenants. If some tenants face hardship because their incomes are insufficient to meet their rents, the burden of rectifying that should fall upon the whole community, not simply upon their fellow tenants.

For many families, the situation is made worse by two other factors. The first relates to the cuts in public services, particularly the NHS. I realise that there are constraints on how far that matter can be debated, but it was said earlier that there had been an increase in the money subvented to the NHS. Of course we appreciate that. We also appreciate the fact that the Government need to spend more money on the Health Service even to maintain standards at their present levels, not only because of inflation but because there is a higher proportion of elderly people than there used to be and more handicapped people are now surviving because of advances in medical science, new forms of treatment can be offered, saving people's lives or totally transforming their lives by offering them activities that previously they could not enjoy. To keep pace with all that, it would have been necessary to spend an additional 1.5 per cent. per year on the Health Service. That would have been running to stay in the same place.

I understand that the Government have ordained that growth should be 0.5 per cent., plus a further 0.5 per cent. if the Health Service can make savings elsewhere in its own budget. That means that jobs have to be cut. So not only are the suffering deprived of the services that they need, but those who could provide those services are added to the lengthening dole queues. Money which they could have spent on providing employment for others is lost to the economy. So it is not a question of whether money should have been spent on providing public services or on investment to provide jobs. The same money could have achieved both purposes. Of course, that is equally true in many other areas.

One consequence was alluded to earlier today by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). The home help service has had to be reduced. In one sub-office in Belfast, 550 hours a week have been cut from the payroll. Surely that is false economy. Unless members of the family are able and willing to look after elderly patients, people who might have been discharged to their own homes where, with a little help they could have managed, and been happier, will now have to be kept in hospital and occupy beds at much greater public expense.

The second factor which exacerbates the situation is the Payments for Debt (Emergency Provisions) Act 1971, to which some of the benefits will be subjected. It was passed to enable debts due to public authorities to be deducted directly from state benefits or, for public employees, from wage packets. Of course people ought to pay their debts, but it seems that the scheme is being used increasingly to manage the whole budget of some low income families. It is causing great resentment.

In 1980 the Government further introduced the rent and fuel direct payment scheme. Sometimes as much as £40 per week is deducted before the recipient obtains anything in cash. We all have to live within our income, but those of us on higher incomes have a whole range of banking services at our disposal. We can raise short or long-term loans. We can find ways to tide ourselves over periods of difficulty. It is hard to envisage the problems of people who depend entirely upon the cash that is put into their hands at the end of each week. Sometimes, if they can have cash two days earlier than they have to pay it out, that can tide them over until more cash comes with pay day, so that they have a little cash in hand.

We heard recently of a ward orderly in Belfast who, after all the deductions from her pay packet, received in cash £8 per week. I hope that the Minister can tell us whether an investigation is under way into the way in which those schemes work and their impact on people's lives.

I was going to say something about agriculture, but I have no doubt that other hon. Members will speak about it. Having given way, I have occupied a great deal of the time of the House. Agriculture is the largest single industry in Northern Ireland. We welcome the subvention as far as it goes. Despite the reduction in jobs, agriculture still employs about 3.5 per cent. of the working population. In recent years it has been hit by the high cost of cereals in the EC. It is now threatened with the removal of the beef variable premium scheme and the calf premium scheme. It is further threatened with the super-levy on milk, based on a 1981 base line, which is misleading for reasons that are well known. I mention it only to say that the Opposition would support the Government in any measure to resist those further burdens on agriculture in Northern Ireland.

Today, hon. Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland will tell the House and the Government of their constituents' problems. They will argue for measures to make a real impact on those problems. That is what constitutional politics are about. I believe that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland would wish to look for redress of their difficulties within the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law. If they can be assured that there is hope in that direction, those who offer instead the bullet and the bomb will be ignored. But if that hope is denied, there will be some, particularly among the young, who will be tempted by spurious remedies, and terrorists will be able to claim that they have roots in the community. That is one reason why it is important that the economic ills of Northern Ireland should be cured, but it is not the only reason. The message should not go out from this House that the Government propose to do something for Northern Ireland just because they regard it as a problem. They should meet those needs because it is right and proper to do so.

5.29 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box in a Northern Ireland Appropriation debate. He is a new face in this debate, so we all listened to him with interest. However, I was forced to the conclusion that he still has a lot of digging to do before he fully understands housing conditions in Ulster and the housing situation generally in Ulster. I am sure that when he comes to a fuller understanding of the housing conditions and of the people who live there he will realise exactly what has been done in recent years, what was done in distant years past, and what remains to be done.

This is always an interesting and informative debate, and I do not intend to take up too much time. However, I want to refer back to what I said on a point of order earlier this afternoon about the sums of money being made available for the dogs legislation, which passed through the House within the last year or so. It was a matter of great importance to farmers, as well as to others in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the instruments spawned by that legislation have now been laid, bringing certain parts of the legislation into force.

In the documentation that I have obtained I cannot discover what sums were made available, and for what purposes, in connection with the dogs legislation. It is a matter of considerable interest to farmers and no doubt also to councils in the rural as well as the urban areas of Northern Ireland, where there is a different dog problem. I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate he will tell us exactly what the position is, what sums are being made available, and what progress has been made by councils in Northern Ireland in dealing with the problem. Certainly the legislation and the framework are there, but there does not seem to be much on the ground.

I want to say a word about agriculture in Northern Ireland. On 30 November of this year a long press notice was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at Whitehall place, London. The same information was contained in a written answer in the House. It concerned the decrease in the moneys available for agricultural capital grant schemes in Northern Ireland. In this order a considerable amount of money is set out for various items of agriculture. As those sums were decided in the light of the changes that were made on 30 November, I wonder whether they now need to be revised.

If grants are chopped off on 30 November, with four months of the financial year still to run, surely that chopping off must have an effect on the figures that are before us. If we are to discuss in any reasonable way the needs of agriculture and the provision that has been made for it, we surely need a statement today about the effect that the Minister of Agriculture's decision on 30 November will have on agriculture and on the sums that are being sought in this Appropriation Order.

In a recent debate I referred to the drop in farming income in Northern Ireland. On that occasion I took the precaution of getting some figures from the Library. As it happened, there had been a change from the way in which the figures had been computed over the years. It was not until later that I obtained more accurate figures. I said on that occasion that farming income in 1983 would work out at about 64 per cent. in real terms of what it had been in 1973 in the United Kingdom as a whole, and I suspect that matters are rather worse in Northern Ireland. As it happened, the figures that I used then were flattering. According to more accurate assessments that I have made since then, in 1982, on an indexed figure, the real income of farmers was only 56 per cent. of what it was in 1973.

In that period there was, of course, an enormous increase in the cash amounts that farmers handled. There were also enormous differences in costs for farmers, but at the end of the day their income was much less, with all the implications that that had for the agriculture machinery industry and everything to do with farming. As farming occupies such an important part of the Northern Ireland economy, providing itself directly and with the ancillary industries 13 or 14 per cent. of the employment, the effect is greater in Northern Ireland than it is in the United Kingdom.

I maintain that many of the problems in farming arise from our membership of the Common Market, but no matter in which way we look at it, we are forced to the conclusion that the real incomes of farmers over the years have declined drastically. In the long run, that cannot be good for Northern Ireland.

I am sure that we shall not get out of the difficulty by paying more and more money into intervention schemes, and so on. In my opinion, there should be a complete rethink. Of course we are glad to see what is before us this evening, but it is only because of the Government's lack of vision—and, for that matter, the lack of vision of the Opposition, who clearly have not thought through their own agricultural policy for the United Kingdom—that our agriculture is in the state that it is. I hope and pray that when we come back here next year, and the year after, conditions will be changed so that the real income of the agricultural community will start to increase again and get back to the levels that pertained 10 or 12 years ago.

The next subject that I want to raise on the Appropriation Order relates to the announcement by the Minister to the Assembly during the last week or so about funding and the carryover of funds granted to Northern Ireland. Hitherto, it has always been the practice in this country to claw back at the end of the financial year the sums that remain unspent. It is now, apparently, the intention for those sums to be carried over and spent in the ensuing financial year. This will have far-reaching implications for expenditure in the United Kingdom as a whole, because it will not be long—if there is any real benefit in it, which I doubt—before every other part of the United Kingdom and every other Government Department will start to look for similar benefits. If there is to be a real carryover, what effect will it have on the Supplementary Estimates, such as those before us, that are produced in the House every year? Will they be cut back, or what will the effect be?

I wish to have a full and detailed explanation of the implications of such a decision, which on its face is so favourable to the economy of Northern Ireland. I do not take a gift horse without looking carefully into its mouth. Therefore, I wish to have the teeth of this horse laid out where we can plainly see them.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

But one does not kick the horse in the teeth.

Mr. Ross

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is satisfied. If so, that is his affair.

The questions that I am asking are an attempt to get to the truth of this matter, and they deserve an answer. We must know the truth before we can judge whether the decision which has been taken is beneficial. I have been a Member of Parliament much longer than the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), who interrupted from a sedentary position. Therefore, I make the most careful inquiries whenever a gift horse is offered to me. My experience is that whenever one takes a gift horse apart, there is a heck of a lot of tissue paper and not much else inside.

The Minister referred to the upping of the census figures. I believe that a census is held to gain an accurate count of people not only in Ulster but in the United Kingdom as a whole. The needs of the various communities can then be assessed accurately so that the House can grant the sums of money needed to assist them. When the census was held, an enumerator was murdered in a part of Londonderry which was then within my constituency. The murderer is still at large. Complaints have been made that the count, principally in that city but also in other places, was wrong and that the numbers were underestimated. It is now necessary to increase the assessment of the numbers of people resident in Londonderry and other places. The effect of an increase in the assessment, by what appear to me to be fairly arbitrary rules—if they be rules at all— is that extra money must be granted from the United Kingdom Government to those areas.

Why should the Government accept that the count was wrong in one council area—I assume that the count was fair—and not accept that it was wrong elsewhere? This is not an insignificant matter. The Government, by accepting that fact, have undermined the validity of the entire census exercise. If a council can tell the Government that its figures are higher than the census showed and the Government accept that the census was inaccurate, what is to prevent every local authority, for financial reasons, making similar allegations and obtaining the same treatment? If the figure can be upped for one council area every other area should have equal treatment.

5.43 pm
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the Appropriation order and some of the Minister's general comments on it. Allowing for the fact that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) is making his first appearance as Opposition spokesman in a Northern Ireland Appropriation order debate and that he has just returned from a visit to Northern Ireland, I wonder where he travelled? I realise that one can travel within Great Britain and see what one wishes. I believe that some people provide American visitors with Sinn Fein Cook's tours of Belfast to show the seriousness of the position.

Other people who come to Northern Ireland and dwell amongst us for a time discover that economically and socially things are not nearly as bad as they were led to believe, and certainly not as one-sided as some people have sought to portray. I am not saying that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West portrayed a one-sided attitude. He recognises the high level of unemployment throughout the United Kingdom and especially in Northern Ireland, about which I am not satisfied. Time and again, even in areas of high unemployment, however, I have realised the difficulty of getting people to work. People are not available for jobs. That must be put on the record.

If the House is constantly regaled with arguments that social and economic theories may provide a solution to the problem of Northern Ireland, there is little likelihood of the House solving it.

If we analyse the list of those apprehended and convicted by the courts, one would be amazed to discover how small a proportion of those who were involved were unemployed. If we are using socio-economic theories to read the situation, they must be upgraded. I do not suggest that adverse social conditions are not a contributing factor to the turmoil. The example of worker in the Health Service having an £8 take-home pay reminded me of the person who demanded to know to where her deductions went. The woman had accumulated debts. When it was pointed out to her that that was why the money was taken from her at source, she said, "If that is where it is going, I will leave my job and let the Government pay the debts"

The House, above all others, should tell all citizens that the Government do not have a responsibility to pay their debts. We are saying loud and clear that people cannot believe that, just because Mr. or Mrs. X can get away with not meeting their lawful debts, so can everyone else. I have, unfortunately, discovered that to be a growing tendency among people who hitherto were numbered among the most industrious in our society. They say. "Why should we worry when the Government will bail us out?" I have constantly sought to lead such people in another direction. If we use socio-economic theories to explain the position, we are using a two-edged weapon, which could be counter-productive.

I do not have before me the figures showing the state of the economy of the Irish Republic. However, Northern Ireland, as we were told today, has the highest retail prices in the United Kingdom. It is an amazing fact that one of our booming economies is in the border shops where people come from the blossoming Irish Republic to buy goods at the high retail prices in Northern Ireland. Some figures are selective. I do not want anybody to misunderstand me. I am not saying that our price rates are correct in Northern Ireland, but, equally, I am not so sure that we can accept the blanket statement that our retail prices are the highest in the United Kingdom. The facts show otherwise.

I should like to introduce some Ulster reality into the debate. I agreed with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West when he spoke about the problem facing those who move out of outdated accommodation into renovated houses or into new houses in the public sector. Time and again they are caught in the poverty trap. One of my constituents had to leave a job in the Health Service because he could not afford to pay the rent for the new house that the state was providing. I urged him to be careful, and he has since regretted his decision. However, it confirms that there is pressure on some of those on low wages who immediately move into high-cost public sector housing. I want to put that on the record, because it should be recognised that there is a problem.

I shall leave it to the Minister to tell us where the millions of pounds to which my hon. Friend the Member for Down, South referred, are that do not appear in the accounts. I hope that I can be assured that this is new money and that the other money that was voted earlier to the Housing Executive can go towards a roll-on programme to upgrade some of the programmes in Belfast and elsewhere. I shall not object if that is the content of the Minister's answer.

I refer to the housing benefit scheme. Together with others, I greatly appreciated the response of the Minister and the department concerned to the representations made about publicity, and I welcome the improvement in the Government's publicity for the scheme. I also welcome the fact that when the scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland there was a softening of the blow that might be felt by some because of the tapering method. However, the reaction that I have experienced as a Member of Parliament leads me to think that the warnings given by some parts of the poverty lobby were not wrong. Some people are already finding it extremely difficult to find their way through the benefits.

I welcome the use of computers in some offices and hope that it will spread to other offices. Many people have found that they were entitled to benefits that even the well intentioned benefit officer did not know were available to them, because the system is so complicated.

An interesting fact came to light as a result of debates on that subject in Northern Ireland. There are those who want the money to be paid directly to the tenant. I understand that the money is being paid directly to those in the private sector. However, I have also heard that there are problems there. Under the new laws a person could draw benefit for six weeks without using it for the purpose for which it was given. He could be in arrears before any action was taken and so find himself in difficulties. There are people on certain levels of income who would find it very difficult to sort themselves out if they were six weeks in arrears with their rents.

Those of us who argued that Government money that was to be spent on a specific purpose might be better paid directly to the person involved might have something on our side. I am told that if people want to manage their budgets they are entitled to do so. However, if money that is given for a specific purpose is used for something other than that, it amounts to misappropriation, if not something worse. Thus we may have to save some people from the temptation of getting themselves further into debt than they might otherwise be.

In class X there is an increase from £300 to £500 in the capital limit. I welcome that increase, but before anyone starts congratulating himself on doing a wonderful job I should point out that that £500 is often painstakingly saved by an old age pensioner towards the cost of burial. The sum is only enough to cover a fairly simple burial. Thus old people in particular are concerned about that. We have given them some safeguard, but they still do not have any leeway if an emergency should arise.

Although we are debating an Appropriation Order, I should like to think that the Minister will use his influence with his colleagues in the social security departments so that a decision is reached quickly that will help those who most need a larger burial grant. The sum of £30 has been with us for far too long.

I welcome the money that is being allocated to the attendance allowance as well as the fact that the number of beneficiaries has increased. Indeed, I also welcome the money that is being paid for mobility allowance. However, I regret that the mobility allowance is still dealt with rather mysteriously. People are turned down and then have to appeal. The appeal is granted for so long, and then it is back to the drawing board despite the fact that there has been no change in the circumstances. The person has to go through the trauma of being told that he is not entitled to it, and through the trauma of a tribunal. A caring department should have a little more heart. I could spend the evening citing case after case, involving, in particular, those who suffer illnesses that the able bodied do not experience. Because we do not suffer them, we seem unable, unfortunately, to understand the problems of those who do.

I regret that the order says nothing about home helps. I recognise that it is a vexed question, and that because of trade unionism something that was a casual service to help those with specific problems has now grown into what has been called an administrative nightmare. We now have home helps who are entitled to holidays, with the subsequent problem of infill while they are not on duty. I recognise that there are scores of other problems.

There is a subtle tendency for the Department to claw back in home help allowances the money used for attendance and mobility allowances. The Department may not have made that calculation, but that is what happens. Time and again, when we have drawn attention to the problems of those home help has been cut, the explanation has been that they get attendance and mobility allowances.

I realise that there may be some social workers whose task it is to allocate, in the first instance, the hours to which people are entitled. I recognise that those social workers are human. Just as there are some chemists who dispense drugs like dolly mixtures, so there are some social workers who hand out hours without proper supervision. But the outcry throughout the Province is too great to be explained in that way. People are suffering because the hours worked by their home helps have been reduced. I could spend a long time relating instance after instance, but I shall merely ask the Minister to take the point on board and investigate what is really happening in the Department. Down from on high—thank God it is not the on High that I look to—comes the instruction, "You must save money." That instruction is passed on to the area level, and those at lower levels have to save money by hook or by crook and they do not seem to be concerned about whom they punish. At times the situation has become intolerable.

Some people in the social services do not realise what the guidelines are. I wonder whether the Minister's wife could clean even a few rooms in the time that the home help is allowed for her tasks. Hon. Members should study the guidelines allocating time for the tasks. They might then wonder, as I do, whether someone in the Department has been reading about Wonderman or Wonderwoman and has failed to realise that home helps are ordinary people trying to do a difficult task which has proved socially helpful to many. While we are debating the Appropriation Order, we should consider whether it would be appropriate to give that service more help.

6.3 pm

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

I support the draft order providing assistance for Northern Ireland, so far as it goes.

I am conscious today that my young friend and colleague, Edgar Graham, who brilliantly chaired the Northern Ireland Assembly's committee on finance and personnel, was murdered only yesterday by terrorists. The Official Unionist party, and the people of Northern Ireland, could have benefited greatly from his skill and ability, had he been spared.

In supporting the provision in Class I of an additional £208,000 for agricultural education and research and development, I note the level of assistance for the development of beef cattle production. Our farmers are producing a first-class product for the meat plants, but the Minister should urgently examine the need in Northern Ireland for skilled boners and, indeed, for the training of additional boners for the meat industry. The work is seasonal, but I understand that there have never been enough boners to satisfy requirements at peak periods at our meat plants. The meat plant operators have advertised extensively but are forced from time to time to employ boners from outside the United Kingdom, despite high unemployment in Northern Ireland.

Additional funding should also be made available to enable more of our research veterinary officers to attend conferences and courses outside Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) has already mentioned the provision for dog control. The whole agriculture industry looks forward to effective dog control through the operation of the district councils.

As the Minister has pointed out, the Local Enterprise Development Unit in Northern Ireland has been very successful in assisting job creation. Success breeds success. The LEDU has received an increasing number of inquiries from potential new business starts and from existing small businesses requiring guidance through a period of threatened closure caused by cash flow problems. Increased funding would, I hope, provide manpower to relieve pressure on staff arising from those extra applications by local people wishing to invest their redundancy money—people who have had no previous business management experience. Applications coming before the LEDU should be speedily dealt with, and there has been an improvement in that area.

The increased allocation to capital expenditure for the LEDU reflects the growth and importance of small business enterprises and the growing need for capital assistance in that area. The Minister pointed to the co-operation between the LEDU and promotion groups at local level. That deserves further encouragement. Where staff are available, regular clinics have been set tin at local level and that has proved advantageous.

There appears to be substantial provision for Harland and Wolff, which is one of the largest employers in Northern Ireland. However, the figures could be misleading. There is no direct subsidy from which the Belfast shipyard alone benefits. Approximately 60 per cent. of the sales value of the end products of Harland and Wolff is spent on purchasing materials outside Northern Ireland, from the mainland. Recently, for example, £45 million to £48 million was spent on purchasing materials outside the gates of Harland and Wolff. Only £5 million of that was spent in Northern Ireland. Some £40 million to £43 million was spent on direct purchases from mainland manufacturers. Of all the materials used by Harland and Wolff, 95 per cent. are sourced in Great Britain. There is an indirect spin-off for other regions of the United Kingdom from the input into the Belfast shipyard of some £40 million.

Mr. Butler

I take the point that the injection of money into Harland and Wolff benefits the economy of the United Kingdom as a whole, but is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that it should be possible to source more of Harland and Wolff's requirement in the Province? The answer to that would be of the greatest interest to all who wish the economy of the Province—let alone that of the United Kingdom—to be developed. Should it be possible to source more requirements locally?

Mr. Beggs

I am happy at the level of sourcing taking place within Great Britain. There could be advantages, however, if more of the materials used in the Belfast shipyard were sourced in Northern Ireland. It should be possible for companies in Great Britain investing in Northern Ireland to take advantage of the opportunities that exist to supply some of that 95 per cent of the requirements of Belfast's shipyard. I hope that support will continue for Belfast's shipyard well into the future.

I regret that I was unable to detect any special provision for Enterprise Ulster, which provides valuable job creation and training for the unemployed in Northern Ireland.

With regard to Class II, Vote 3 energy conservation, I ask the Minister to consider making provision to enable quarry operators to qualify for grant aid under the energy conservation scheme. At present, I understand that it is not possible for them to obtain assistance to cover exposed large stone stocks used in the production of tarmac. I have some calculations that show that assistance would be justified and that energy savings would result. A great deal of energy is required to extract water out of the stone before processing.

I welcome the increase of 1,500 in the number of beneficiaries who qualify for attendance allowance. I regret that married women, on whom the burden of invalid care falls heavily, are still excluded from benefiting under the present conditions of the invalid care allowance scheme. I hope that the House will soon remove that discrimination against married women. Has the Minister any plans for such a change in future?

Reference has been made to the effect of the high cost of energy on domestic and industrial consumers in Northern Ireland. I hope that early consideration will be given to the provision of extensive funding to change the dependence of electricity generation from oil to coal, thereby creating much-needed jobs for Scottish miners and helping all in Northern Ireland.

6.13 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

As usual, this has been a useful debate on the Northern Ireland economy, The one thing that we must never allow ourselves to forget —I have said this many times and I regret that I have to go on saying it—is that there is no evidence to suggest that the economy is emerging from the slump that it has been in since the Government took office. Every now and again it is put to us that a major recovery is under way, but the evidence suggests that we are just bumping along the bottom. Each time it bumps up we are told that there is a recovery and that things are better, but there is no evidence of that. I recognise, applaud and welcome the few positive signs that are available, and there are some.

Let us not underestimate what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said about the devastating effect of mass unemployment on a community as small as Northern Ireland where so many young people are without jobs. I reiterate a key point that he made. An unemployed young person who sees little prospect for his future in the economy or in politics is easy fodder for the paramilitaries, because they offer a degree of certainty and ideology for which to fight and to believe in. Paramilitary organisations, with all their uniforms, marching and grouping together, appeal easily to young people. That fact must always colour our remarks on the economy.

It is interesting to note that during Question Time today the Minister could not deal adequately with the point about measures that had been introduced in Northern Ireland to stimulate the economy. If they are relevant there, why are they not relevant here? I did not pursue the matter at Question Time because one makes short contributions then, and I am sure the Minister was glad that I did not do so. The important point is that the Government recognise that in Northern Ireland there is a need for state intervention in the economy to bring it out of the slump.

The Secretary of State has attracted around himself in Northern Ireland a group of Ministers who are widely regarded as "wet". I should be the first to endorse that interpretation. He has a small group of exiles who are prepared to use old-fashioned Tory methods to try to reflate the economy. Of course, they are doing so in the context of a Prime Minister who is dead set against any such activities. Therefore, the Secretary of State and his Ministers can only tinker with the problem

The evidence—and I must emphasise that I regret saying this—is that employers are continuing to shed labour. I believe I am right in saying that unemployment in October was the highest on record. There is no evidence to suggest that new industries are developing. I wish to make some comments about the Local Enterprise Development Unit and the Goverment's policy towards it.

Mr. Butler

I do not wish to enter into a long debate on the point that the hon. Gentleman has just made. I made my point at Question Time, although I did not have time to elaborate it. The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the tempation for a young person without a job to become involved in paramilitary activities. The youth training scheme is, by and large, proving extremely successful. We hope that this year again we shall attract about eight out of 10 of the qualifying group of 16-year-olds—first year school leavers—into the scheme, but that still leaves one in five who does not participate. Will the hon. Gentleman use his good offices—his right hon. Friend referred to this — to ask the Northern Ireland trades union movement to support the youth training scheme fully so that we can bring more people into it?

Mr. Soley

We would love to do that in many ways, but the Minister must surely know that the problem for the trade unions, which I understand and respect, is that although the youth training scheme has potential, it is lacking in several key areas. There is a low rate of remuneration for those taking part and there is a lack of checks on the quality of training in certain areas. I accept that things are better in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom, but the fact that there are insufficient checks on health and safety also worry us.

If the Minister moves on some of those key areas, particularly. remuneration, he might find the trade unions willing to discuss this scheme with him. They cannot reasonably be asked to do so while they see the scheme as a means of undercutting existing wage rates and lowering training and safety standards. That is the problem facing trade unionists on the mainland and in Northern Ireland. The Government will think that some of those fears are misplaced, and it may be that some are overstated, but on balance they are real and must be considered sympathetically.

Mr. Butler

We may be moving away from the main subject of the debate. The factor which the hon. Gentleman describes as the "low rate of remuneration", and which I describe as the "training allowance", applies as much in Great Britain as in Northern Ireland. In Great Britain the trade unions have supported the youth training scheme, although they have expressed reservations similar to those put forward by the hon. Gentleman. In Northern Ireland the arrangements for operating the scheme are different, but there is a central organisation in which trade unions can take part and air their views and improve the scheme. That is what I wish to see. I do not wish to us the hon. Gentleman as an intermediary, but we should try to bring more young people into the scheme if we possibly can.

Mr. Soley

It would be wrong to go too far down this road now, but my right hon. and learned Friend and I hope to discuss the matter again with the trade union movement —it has already cropped up in our discussions. Some trade union groups in Great Britain do not participate, for precisely the same reasons. As is often the case in a democracy, we must take people with us and remove their fears. Hon. Members sometimes forget that a worker with a relatively low earning capacity is dependent on a weekly wage and that his fear of losing his job is much greater than that of those who, over a longer period of time, have had a higher income from a professional occupation.

However we dress it up, our attitude is affected by class. Class is sometimes dismissed as irrelevant, but it is very relevant, both politically and economically. I shall not expand the point beyond that, because quite rightly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would rule me out of order if I did.

The Local Enterprise Development Unit has been doing extremely good work, and I welcome the additional funding available to it. The Government have been relying for the expansion of the economy on the growth of small businesses. In 1979 the Government expounded the philosophy that by cutting income tax and public expenditure money would be put back into private pockets, promptly invested in new industries throughout the country and that the economy would grow spontaneously. I always believed that theory to be the height of nonsense, and time has proved me right. There has been no evidence of that, and instead the money has been invested overseas. The turnround in Government policy has been to defend the investment policy.

With regard to the work of the LEDU, it must be recognised—especially in Northern Ireland, although it is a general point—that the first three years are the most difficult for a new small industry. That is when it most needs flexible and innovative help. The evidence from bankruptcies in Great Britain and Northern Ireland is that that is the period during which most new companies go under, whether they are involved in new or in older technology. That is a constant problem.

The additional funding of the LEDU would appear to be mainly for administrative costs. Will the Government consider expanding its work in other areas, perhaps to the investment bank which was mentioned earlier? Will the Minister ensure that companies are helped through the critical first three years? After three years one can begin to get an idea of whether a company will survive. The first three years are often poor guides — some companies survive while others do not—and it is difficult to predict the vulnerable companies.

The Minister also mentioned housing. I recognise that since the Housing Executive was set up housing in Northern Ireland has improved dramatically. That is extremely important, and I shall not say anything against it. I have no objection to the right-to-buy concept where a local authority replaces those houses if it has a waiting list of people who wish to rent homes. I should be the first to acknowledge that one matter which the Labour party failed to get across to the public during the election campaign is that if there is a right to buy one's home, and the cost of buying it is lowered because of the large subsidies being given to the Government, those who wish to rent are pressurised into buying. We know that that happens, and since rents in Northern Ireland are relatively high, the difference between renting and buying is small, and at the end of the day people realise that house purchase is an investment.

The concept would be fine if everyone wished to buy, but that is not so. Those who wish to rent should be able to do so, and they should not have to wait much longer for a transfer or for a decent house. Ideally, we should have a housing policy which provides equal opportunity to those in the public and in the private rented sectors. We do not have such a policy at present.

I am still not satisfied with housing benefits. The Secretary of State, who is in exile in Northern Ireland and is running an alternative Government in competition with the Prime Minister— perhaps one might call him the gentleman in waiting — improved the housing benefit scheme in Northern Ireland. More money is available in Northern Ireland, and in some other respects it is better than the scheme that operates on this side of the water. but it is still not a good scheme. We all know that the housing benefit system causes problems, which we cannot ignore.

I should emphasise that there are real opportunities for giving more financial assistance to the growth areas of food processing and biotechnology. We should consider possible links, not just with the Government of the South — we must recognise that agriculture is the dominant industry in all of Ireland, and is another example of the way in which the border has distorted not only political but economic development in the island of Ireland — but with the universities. Such a link could be important for the Irish economy.

Ireland has always been on the fringe of a major economy, in the sense that it has been on the fringe of the British economy, but it is now in a worse position because the major economy on which it depended—that of Great Britain—is collapsing. In the past four years especially our gross national product has decreased. The main market is now continental Europe, and the market has grown, especially in the northern European triangle of Germany, France and the northern Benelux countries. In those circumstances, a nation such as Ireland — North and South—is at a real disadvantage and can rely only on specialised products and mechanical development, or on products that are easily transportable to a large market, or on its domestic market.

The Government have not considered that matter sufficiently. We should pay more attention to, and provide more money for, research and development in agriculture. I was worried when I saw what appears to be a cut in research and development provision in the order. However, I might be wrong about that, so it would be useful to have a breakdown of the figures. If I am right, we should be increasing it instead of decreasing it. This could be done, as I have described, by links with the universities and with the Department of Agriculture in the South. This would be a positive and innovative approach to the problems of the economy of Northern Ireland and also of Southern Ireland.

Our agriculture lobby, heaven knows, is one of the strongest lobbies there is. It always amazes me that the Government are so much against subsidies to industry when they hand out the most enormous subsidies to agriculture and then knock on the door of Europe to ask for more. There is a double standard within the Government's economic policy. When we make our application to the EC we must remember that we are doing so on behalf of the agriculture industry throughout the island of Ireland. It is extremely important and an area to which we perhaps pay too little attention in these debates. It must be expanded, not just by traditional farming methods, but in the new offspring industries.

Having made those comments, I shall gladly sit back and await the Minister's response.

6.31 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)

The last time we debated an Appropriation Order in the House it was in less unhappy circumstances. The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) referred to the murder yesterday of Edgar Graham. I should like to join him in offering my condolences to Mr. Graham's family. I offer my condolences, too, to his political colleagues and to his many friends in and beyond the ranks of the Official Unionist party. I refer in particular to my hon. Friends the Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) and for Hampshire, North-West (Mr. Mitchell), who preceded me in the Departments for which I have responsibility. I offer my condolences as well to all who placed their trust, confidence and hopes in that intelligent, thoughtful and brave young man.

As is customarily the case, this debate, whatever the constitutional arguments that we occasionally have about the order itself, has given the House a reasonably wide-ranging opportunity to discuss the problems facing us in Northern Ireland. On these occasions the debate sometimes ranges even wider than the usually generously set bounds of the order, but I shall try, in responding to the debate, to confine my remarks within the limits that you would doubtless judge appropriate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I shall, as usual, try to answer as many as possible of the questions raised, or at least to answer broadly similar questions. If I am not able to cover all the questions which were raised during the debate, I shall as usual write to the hon. Gentlemen concerned or ask my colleagues in the Departments covered by the Appropriation Order to do so.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) tonight made his maiden speech on Northern Ireland. As Sir Winston Churchill might have said, we welcome him to our deliberations. I do not think he will mind if we do not extend beyond that the normal courtesies due to a maiden speaker. One or two points made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman displayed a view of Northern Ireland not quite as well informed as his views will doubtless be within a short time.

For example, the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to retail prices being higher in Northern Ireland than the rest of the United Kingdom. Some prices are higher. A number of hon. Gentlemen have referred to fuel prices. The House will know of the steps that we have attempted to take and have taken to deal with fuel poverty, but as for retail prices as a whole I am not sure where the right hon. and learned Gentleman got his information. As I recall, it is not borne out by any of the regional studies which are done from time to time or by the major study which was done by John Simpson and one of his colleagues from Queen's university, Belfast, a couple of years ago. Northern Ireland has enough serious problems without exaggerating them or claiming that some things are problems when they are not.

Questions were raised about the economy and perhaps I may say one or two things in general before dealing with them. We all recognise that the appalling level of unemployment in Northern Ireland merits special measures, just as the Province's other severe problems of economic and social disadvantage justify a higher level of public expenditure than obtains on this side of the water. The figure which is customarily, and I think rightly, put forward for the difference is 30 to 40 per cent. per capita. When looking at those figures, I do not think that anyone could fairly argue that Northern Ireland's economic problems are the result, as I pointed out at Question Time, of inadequate public expenditure. When one considers the proportion of public expenditure taken up by capital projects as opposed to current expenditure in Northern Ireland, it is worth remembering that the proportion is about 16 per cent. as against 9 per cent. on this side of the water.

Our awareness of Northern Ireland's economic difficulties, caused by a number of factors, not least the rundown of some old industries, led to the major economic initiative announced by my right hon. Friend earlier this year. Its principal intention was to provide a stimulus to local industry and to sharpen the attractions of Northern Ireland for overseas firms. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) mentioned some of the major elements of that initiative—for example, the abolition of rates on industrial property, a new advisory service to industry, an incentive scheme to help companies attract the quality of management needed for the development of their businesses and a new grant scheme to provide a relief of corporation tax on a selective basis for new job-creating projects. These steps have been taken and were widely welcomed by local industry as helping it to survive and develop.

The Northern Ireland community recognises that it cannot rely on the Government alone. One of the more heartening developments of the year has been the growing evidence of the determination in Northern Ireland to tackle and overcome economic problems by concerted community action. I have seen that myself, for example, in much of the work that is going on to make the enterprise zones in Belfast and Londonderry a success. The Northern Ireland Partnership is another major example of this spirit. It is using the spirit of self-help to show potential overseas investors a different aspect of Northern Ireland from that which they see all too often on their television screens.

However, overseas investment will not provide a panacea for the Northern Ireland economy. It must be balanced by a sound foundation of local enterprise. The last year has again seen the remarkable growth of small businesses, assisted in many cases, of course, by the Local Enterprise Development Unit. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and the hon. Member for Antrim, East referred to the Local Enterprise Development Unit which since its inception in 1971 has promoted over 16,500 jobs, including 2,550 within the last financial year. This is the highest number of jobs promoted in any year since the unit was set up. I regard this as a significant achievement which has been attained against an extremely difficult economic background. I am also pleased to say that the outlook for the current year is extremely encouraging and the number of jobs promoted is likely to exceed the record figures of last year. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West asked particularly about job promotion. The job promotion to creation ratio of both industrial development agencies in Northern Ireland is about six to four.

During the course of the last financial year the LEDU board formulated its strategy for the unit for the next three years. The strategy has recently been updated to take account of subsequent developments. The implementation of the strategic plan resulted in the introduction of new and improved measures of assistance, further enhancing the unit's scope for promoting jobs. New measures have been introduced by the unit during the course of the last financial year, including the enterprise grant scheme to cover new business and start-ups, the opening of the business centre in Belfast to offer facilities for trade promotion and the opening of the product ideas licensing library to assist those searching for product ideas. A new enterprise workshop has also been established to help individuals to develop and test new products. The overall aim of the implementation of the new strategy is to achieve a job promotion target in excess of 3,000 in 1983–84 and beyon. LEDU will continue to keep the thrust of its strategy under review to ensure that it is appropriate and effective.

The hon. Member for Antrim, East referred to the processing of applications from clients. I know that the unit is fully alive to the need to deal with and process applications in the minimum possible time, bearing in mind the need to ensure that the risk of case failures is kept to a minimum, as public funds are involved. LEDU has been making a number of attempts to improve its efficiency, and it is fully aware of the need to deal with applications as quickly as possible. Recommendations for improved administrative arrangements were made following a review in 1980 by a firm of independent consultants. The implementation of these recommendations has in recent years resulted in LEDU being able to handle an increased number of inquiries in a much shorter time, and as part of its future strategy the unit wants to continue to improve its efficiency.

The hon. Member for Antrim, East also spoke about Harland and Wolff and, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, he did well to remind the House of the importance of Harland and Wolff not only to the regional economy of Northern Ireland but to the rest of the United Kingdom. The House knows that as a result of this order the Government will be supporting Harland and Wolff to the tune of £42.2 million in the current financial year, and that shows our concern that the company should succeed and prosper, becoming more competitive in a tight international market, under the excellent management of Mr. Parker.

The hon. Member for Antrim, East raised another question, to which I am bound to confess, as confession is good for the soul, I do not know the answer, about quarry owners and the conservation of energy scheme. I shall take this point up after the debate, and my hon. Friend the Minister will write to him about this as soon as possible.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West spoke at some length, understandably, about housing. Some of his remarks were curiously ungenerous both to my predecessor the present Under-Secretary of State for Transport and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because under their leadership the Government have given housing the priority that it has deserved for quite some time. We have some way to go in coping with Northern Ireland's housing problems, but in gross terms we have increased expenditure on housing in Northern Ireland since 1980–81 by over 50 per cent. and that is a considerable achievement.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the brief used by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) was written for him by the Labour research department?

Mr. Patten

It is not for me to speculate about research departments, even those that are not as respectable as the one with which I used to be involved.

Mr. Archer

I have hesitated to interrupt, but I thought that I gave credit for the present position on housing. My comments were taken from the report of the Housing Executive. My brief, as it were, was taken from the Housing Executive's words.

Mr. Patten

I am sure that the chairman and board of the Housing Executive would be the first to recognise that the targets that we set in 1981 for our housing strategy, both in terms of reducing waiting lists—which have fallen by 36 per cent.—and reducing housing unfitness, have been exceeded in less than the five-year period originally set. We are ahead of target and the Housing Executive would recognise that.

My next point relates to what the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and other hon. Members have said to me from time to time. We are considering with the Housing Executive how best to develop the housing strategy in Northern Ireland during the next few years, taking account of the appropriate balance. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West also made a point about this, but I shall not take exception to what he said.

The balance between new build and improvement and maintenance of the existing stock is important. I hope, following my right hon. Friend's statement about the allocation of resources within the Northern Ireland budget, to say how we shall be able to fund the reviewed housing strategy of the Housing Executive. We should be able to say something about that within the next week. The House can see that we are building — if I may use that expression, given the subject—on the foundations laid by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, who made a considerable contribution to public administration and property development in Northern Ireland.

I assure the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West that I am not always as tetchy as this. He referred to the Health Service and the alleged cuts that the Government have made in the past few years, but it is difficult to reconcile what he said with the figures. Manpower in the health and personal social services has increased by 4,000 between 1980 and 1983, taking the figures from 45,000 to over 49,000. As for money, since the Government came into office, total resources devoted to the health and personal social services in the Province have risen from £392 million in 1979–80 to £647 million in the current financial year, which represents an increase of about 5 per cent. in real terms over the period. Therefore, we are doing 5 per cent. better now than the Labour Government of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was such a distinguished member. I do not deny that there are considerable problems of management of Health Service resources in a decade that is not seeing the same exponential, or seemingly exponential, growth rate as was seen in the sixties and seventies. However, I point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there have been no cuts in the Health Service in Northern Ireland following the Chancellor's July statement. At the same time, we have found more resources this year for the family practitioner services in Northern Ireland and more money for the dentists' and doctors' pay award in Northern Ireland.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, and he is right, that the regional strategic plan is posited on the assumption of extra resources made up to 0.5 per cent. of new money and 0.5 per cent. of efficiency savings ploughed back into the system. He said that the figure of 1 per cent. had to deal with 1.5 per cent. increased costs due to demography and technological development. In fact it is not 1.5 because the demographic figure in Northern Ireland is lower than the demographic figure in Great Britain for all sorts of reasons to do with the age of the population. The demographic figure in Northern Ireland is 0.7 rather than slightly over 0.9. Adding the demography and technological factors together, one arrives at a figure of 1.2 per cent. and we are—at least, we were—talking about 1 per cent. in new resources.

I notice, however, that in Great Britain the Secretary of State for Social Services has announced that he will be able to take account of the whole demographic factor over the next year. I very much hope that, when we are in a position to make announcements about Health Service provision in Northern Ireland, we too will be able to go as far as the Secretary of State for Social Services has gone. To go any further on those lines would presume on the statement that my right hon. Friend will be making shortly.

The right hon. Member for Down, South referring to housing benefit, asked where the enhancements of the housing benefit scheme in Northern Ireland could be found in the Appropriation Order. The answer, I am pleased to tell him, is in Class X, Vote 2, Sub-head (g)(i). The Supplementary Estimate includes £300,000 to finance the enhancements we have been able to provide. This money has been made available from shortfall in other programmes. In all, the enhancements we are proposing will cost, as I recall, £500,000 over a couple of years, but in this Appropriation Order we are talking of only £300,000.

A number of other references were made to housing benefit. Perhaps the House will allow me to make one or two remarks on this important subject. I need not remind the House of the reasons for reforming the schemes that provide assistance with housing costs for people on low incomes. We have been over these arguments on a number of occasions. The House had the opportunity of a full debate late one night last July on the housing benefit order. As I said during the debate on the order, I am grateful for the suggestions and recommendations for improving the Northern Ireland schemes that were put forward by the Assembly and by others. These resulted in some significant enhancements, in particular more generous transitional protection against paper losses and an extra £1 in the child's needs allowance from this November.

On publicity—this is a point that the hon. Member for Belfast, South made on a number of occasions when the House was discussing housing benefit and has properly made since—all three bodies involved in implementing the reform schemes undertook comprehensive steps to publicise the new arrangements. Individual notifications were sent to existing beneficiaries explaining how they would be affected by the reform. There was a campaign throughout the Province and advertisements on local commercial radio and television in the six weeks preceding 21 November when the scheme came into operation.

In addition, officials explained the new scheme to councillors. I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the work done by officials on the scheme. Officials also explained the scheme to voluntary bodies and members of the public in a series of 38 seminars throughout the Province. There was an extensive distribution of new leaflets on the reform scheme and a housing benefits guide. Finally, during the week commencing 21 November the Housing Executive ran a week-long promotional campaign at its Belfast housing centre.

I am glad to say that, thanks in part to the slightly later introduction of the reform scheme in Northern Ireland and also to the careful planning for its implementation, the new system has been operating successfully since 21 November without any major difficulties. No doubt there will be some teething troubles in the weeks ahead, but I have every confidence that they will be dealt with speedily and effectively.

The main problem identified so far is the failure of claimants to return properly completed rent or claims forms with a consequent delay in determining entitlement in a few cases. Most of these little difficulties should be sorted out very soon.

I am very much aware of the concern that has been expressed both inside and outside the House about the proposals to introduce certain changes in housing benefits that would have the effect of reducing the amounts payable. The implications for Northern Ireland of the proposed changes are still being considered and a statement on the outcome will be made as soon as possible. I cannot at this stage anticipate what that will be, but I assure hon. Members that all the relevant factors will be taken into account in reaching a decision. One of the most relevant factors is the fact that Northern Ireland has come six months later than Great Britain to the scheme.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East raised a number of issues. On the question of the net real income of farmers, he said that those incomes had fallen very sharply since 1973. The Government are aware of the importance of agriculture in the Province. The special aids we are presenting to the House are designed to meet precisely that point. I am bound to say that in selecting 1973 as his comparator the hon. Member selects a year that suits his argument because in 1973 farmers did well in income terms. It is not unusual in adducing arguments such as that to choose periods that most suit the propositions that one wishes to put forward. From time to time I have even done it myself.

Mr. William Ross

Can the hon. Gentleman, then, tell me a year since 1973 in which the real income of farmers shows an increase? Will he also accept that I chose 1973 because that is the year when the United Kingdom went fully into the Common Market?

Mr. Patten

I should like to be able to oblige the hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid that I shall have to refer the question to my noble Friend, who I am sure will wish to respond to the hon. Gentleman as rapidly as possible.

When the hon. Member refers to capital grants and the effect in Northern Ireland of changes that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture announced on 30 November, I find it difficult, speaking as a layman in these matters, given that date, to see how it would have been possible to deal with it appropriately in this debate since the order the House is discussing was laid on 23 November. However, I shall draw the point to the attention of my noble Friend.

The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about dogs. He was interested in the amount of money that had been made available to district councils to deal with dogs. I have to tell him that no money has yet been provided to councils. However, we are making some progress and some councils have started the process of appointing dog wardens.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to end-of-year flexibility. In addition, he gave us the advantage of his views on gift horses. There are quite a lot of these gift horses about because end-of-year flexibility applies already to all Departments throughout the United Kingdom. It applies to up to 5 per cent. of cash-limited capital expenditure. The carry forward from 1983–84 to 1984–85 will not be known until we know the 1983–84 outturn. But, whatever the amount, it will be reflected in the autumn Supplementary Estimates this time next year. The scheme will of course add to my right hon. Friend's flexibility in managing public expenditure.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South referred to the death grant, mobility allowance and home helps. I appreciate his concern about the present level of death grant, a concern that he has expressed on other occasions. My right hon. and hon. Friends who are responsible for social security in Great Britain have been giving the matter close and earnest attention, and I shall bring his views to their notice.

There is no connection between expenditure on home helps and expenditure on mobility allowance or other benefits; they come under separate programmes and a saving on one cannot be used to finance an increase in another. Reductions in home help hours arise not because of a reduction in the money available for the home help service — it has been increasing in real terms — but because some districts have found that their spending is exceeding the budget that is available, and, like the rest of us, they must live within their budgets.

Overall, however, as I said today at Question Time, there has been a steady increase in home help provision. There was an increase of 91 per cent. in expenditure on the service between 1978–79 and 1982–83. The number of home helps expressed in whole time equivalent terms has increased modestly, from 3,167 in September 1980 to 3,453 in September 1983.

We have set up a joint review team between the Department and boards to see how we can make the best use of the home help provision that is available. I am keen that that team should report as rapidly as possible. I appreciate the concern of a number of hon. Members about the subject and I assure them that I am aware of the substantial increase in the number of clients for the service. I am equally aware of the increase in the number of home helps, the increase in the number of hours worked per week, the increase in the amount of funds expended on the service and the number of home helps per 1,000 of the population over 65. That figure is 19.4 per 1,000 in Northern Ireland, which is about two and a half times the English figure.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Will the Minister accept from me that, although in cash terms there may be no connection, people writing to hon. Members on the subject draw a connection and point out that people are in receipt of other benefits?

Mr. Patten

I will look into any cases that the hon. Gentleman brings to my attention. What has sometimes confused the argument is the assumption that going beyond one's budget, even when it is an increased budget, and then being told that one should not do so is a savage Government cut. It is not that at all; it is the difficult but important job of trying to manage Health Service resources as competently as possible.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

When the Minister considers the results of the review, will he bear in mind the special factor that where there has been a home help allocation to a household, even a household into which sums in respect of attendance allowance are being paid, that household settles into not just a routine but a degree of dependency which can be brutally interfered with if there is a sharp reduction in the hours of home help?

Mr. Patten

I understand that, and it is a point which the review team will have to consider. A difficulty that we face is whether the resources should be spread as widely as possible, in which case they are spread rather thinly, or concentrated on cases of great need. But moving rapidly from a position in which one of those is being done to a position in which the other is done, whichever way round it is done, undoubtedly creates the sort of personal problems to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

I noted what the hon. Member for Antrim, East said about skilled boners. I shall have to draw the attention of my noble Friend to his remarks, as I shall with some of the other points to which I have referred.

Mr. Butler

That is for me.

Mr. Patten

I am corrected by my hon. Friend the Minister of State; it is a point for him and I am delighted that he will be dealing with it as rapidly as his intervention in my remarks suggests. If something can be done to increase the speed at which skilled men can be trained, that would obviously make a significant contribution to the meat processing industry. The House will be interested to know that this year Northern Ireland will export to the European Community and further abroad 45,000 tonnes of beef out of a United Kingdom total of 180,000 tonnes.

The hon. Member for Antrim, East also referred to married women still being excluded from benefit under the invalid care allowance scheme. I understand his concern, but he will appreciate that many improvements could be made to social security schemes, some of which would be extremely expensive but none of which lies within my gift. I would hazard a guess that the change that he suggests would come into the expensive category, desirable though it may be. Nevertheless, I welcome the views of the hon. Gentleman and others on such matters and will bear them in mind when improvements are being considered at national level.

I have answered most, if not all, of the questions that were raised in the debate. Those that I have not answered will be dealt with, as always, in correspondence later. I hope that I have said enough to commend the order to the House and that we can proceed on this occasion—unlike my first outing at the Dispatch Box—without dividing.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 23rd November, be approved.