§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Before I call the Minister to move the Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, I should remind the House that this order deals with specific Supplementary Estimates and the debate should, therefore, be confined to agricultural assistance and social security benefits, or to other specified matters arising directly from the order.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 20th November, be approved.This order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The purpose of the draft order is to authorise the issue of £41 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. The House has already approved a total Estimate provision of £2,832 million for this financial year; the present draft order will bring the figure to £2,873 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 four out of the 39 Votes of Northern Ireland Departments. Provision is sought to meet the cost of the continuation of special measures to assist agriculture, and to fund the milk outgoers scheme. On the social security side, more money is required to pay increased numbers of recipients of a range of non-contributory benefits and to cover the cost of the new severe disablement allowance.
Before I deal with the details of the provisions I shall, as is customary on these occasions, and with your permission Mr. Deputy Speaker, say a few words about the economic position in Northern Ireland. Mr. Deputy Speaker has not yet intervened. I have read the previous Appropriation debates as part of my training for this post, which is why I asked for the permission of Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The Minister should set a good example by following the advice that I tendered at the outset, when I reminded the House that the debate should be confined to agricultural assistance, social security benefits or other specified matters arising directly from the order. I am sure that the Minister does not want to debate the economy of Northern Ireland.
§ Dr. Boyson
I shall accept your guidance on that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall have to use my rather splendid paragraph on some other occasion, when I know that it will be enjoyed by hon. Members.
Now to the details of the four Votes covered by these Supplementary Estimates. The main purpose of the two Votes in Class I, which covers agriculture, is to increase funds for the various special aid measures to assist agriculture which were announced in February 1984. Provision is also sought to cover the initial payments under the milk outgoers scheme and the fees and expenses of tribunal and panel members adjudicating milk quota cases.
In Vote 1 there are three main items. An estimated £450,000 is sought for continued measures to develop the 86 quality of beef cattle production, mainly through reduced charges under the Department's artificial insemination service. That provision is part of the special aid measures, most of which fall in Vote 2, and to which I shall be referring a little later in this speech.
New provision of £800,000 is required to meet the cost of compensation payments to those milk producers who have undertaken to give up milk production and thereby release quota for reallocation. A further £370,000 is sought to cover the costs of the Northern Ireland dairy produce quota tribunal and local panels established to adjudicate on special case claims and quota allocations, together with payments to the Northern Ireland Milk Marketing Board for the administration of certain functions under the dairy produce quota regulations.
Right hon. and hon. Members would, I am sure, wish me to make some comment on the present milk quotas position. All wholesale producers have by now received definitive primary quota allocations based on 1983 sales. The total primary wholesale quota so issued amounts to some 1,286 million litres, out of the total Northern Ireland allocation of 1,316.7 million litres, which means that 30.7 million litres have not been allocated. About 3,900 producers applied for special case treatment, either because of an exceptional event which adversely affected production in 1983 or because they were committed to expansion. Almost all these special case claims have been considered and provisional awards of secondary wholesale quota have been made by local panels in about 1,700 cases. The remaining claims have been rejected. Producers have, of course, the right of appeal to the Northern Ireland Dairy Produce Quota Tribunal, and at present 750 have exercised that right. The tribunal is also required to adjudicate on cases made under the exceptional hardship rules and here 3,430 producers applied for consideration. As at 28 November, decisions had been taken on 1,788 of these and provisional awards made in 540 cases. The remainder will be dealt with over the course of the next few weeks.
I have great sympathy for those farmers who are attempting to make unwelcome and difficult adjustments in circumstances where unavoidable delays have resulted in uncertainty about final quota allocations and levy liability. It would be remiss of me to continue without reference to the immense efforts being made by members of the tribunal and panels on behalf of those farmers who have sought a change in their position under the special case rules or have made appeals. In particular I should mention the leadership, which has been provided by Mr. W. E. Boyd, the chairman of the tribunal. The industry and the Government have cause to be grateful to Mr. Boyd and the many other people involved in establishing a base from which individual producers can better take sensible decisions about their milk businesses.
Under the milk outgoers scheme 595 producers have submitted applications, thereby offering to release a total of 53.3 million litres for reallocation. The Department has written to all producers with a valid application inviting them to proceed, and those who decide to take up this invitation will have four weeks to make a claim for payment. Since producers with special case or hardship applications do not have to commit themselves until their claims are determined, it will therefore be some time before the position on overall quota surrender is known. However, as a number of applicants have decided to 87 withdraw from the scheme it is already clear that additional quota released will be well below the initial offer levels.
With only 30.7 million litres of primary wholesale quota unallocated out of the Northern Ireland total, and a potential maximum of about a further 20 million litres becoming available from the outgoers scheme, the way ahead for distribution to people with special claims will obviously be difficult.
The second of the two agriculture votes, Class I, Vote 2, is mainly for special local support schemes. There is £5.5 million required for continuation of the milk consumer subsidy, which enables a higher wholesale price to be fixed for milk going to the liquid consumption market. Without that, consumers in Northern Ireland would have to pay more than consumers in Great Britain, or dairy farmers in Northern Ireland would suffer an even bigger gap between their average milk price and that in Great Britain. There is £2.3 million required for continuation of aid to pig and poultrymeat processing plants and egg packing stations, with the objective of easing the pressures on the intensive livestock sector and maintaining employment in the processing industry. Finally, £1,948,000 is sought under the grassland scheme, which was first introduced two years ago to encourage the improvement of grassland productivity outside the less-favoured areas. Following extension of the less-favoured areas the scheme will, of course, now apply to a much reduced area and expenditure will consequently be less.
I close my remarks in relation to agriculture by reminding the House of the background to special aids and the objectives we are seeking to achieve by continuing to support them. The absolute and relative importance of agriculture to the Northern Ireland economy is obvious. This is one of the first points that struck me when looking at the structure of the economy of the Province. Agriculture remains the largest industry — farm employment represents 9.8 per cent. of total civil employment and ancillary industries constitute a further 3 per cent. Agriculture produces 5.6 per cent. of the Northern Ireland gross domestic product. At the same time, farmers in Northern Ireland face particular disadvantages, such as remoteness from the main markets, high dependence on imported feedstuffs and lack of suitable alternatives to livestock enterprises, the latter being less well supported under the common agricultural policy than other products such as cereals.
Against the background of a general economic weakness, and unemployment rates higher than those in any other United Kingdom region, the justification for those special aids is that they will be of some assistance in maintaining production and employment on and off farms. Having visited farms in Northern Ireland, I know why farmers have concentrated on livestock as opposed to cereal growing, and I now realise how high up they are and the amount of rain that falls in those areas.
With regard to the social security programme, additional provision is being sought in Votes 1 and 2 of Class X. Vote 1, which covers national insurance, makes provision for the supplement from the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland to the Northern Ireland national insurance fund. The supplement is an annually defined percentage of contribution income, which for the current year is set at 11 per cent. The Estimates may therefore 88 need revision during or after each financial year in the light of the Government Actuary's revised forecasts of contribution income. The supplementary provision now sought thus comprises an upward revision of £3.9 million for the current year, and a final upward adjustment of £250,000 in respect of 1979–80.
Class X, Vote 2, covers non-contributory benefits. The Supplementary Estimate of £26.12 million represents an increase of 6.3 per cent. on the original provision. The largest increase sought is for supplementary benefits. The additional provision of £770,000 in respect of supplementary pensions is necessary because of the reduction from 70 to 65 years of age in the upper qualifying age for age-related heating additions and the introduction of a new, higher age-related rate. The additional provision of £14.22 million sought for supplementary allowances is attributable to a rise in the number of beneficiaries and an increasing number of single payments.
An additional £.8 million is sought in respect of housing benefits. There have been increases both in the numbers of eligible claimants and in the average weekly rebates and allowances.
A new benefit — severe disablement allowance —replaced non-contributory invalidity pensions from 29 November 1984. The new allowance is similar in purpose to the benefit that it has replaced, but more people will receive it. All those who qualified for receipt of non-contributory invalidity pensions on 29 November automatically qualified for the new allowance. Apart from that, people who have been continuosly incapable of work for at least 28 weeks because of a disability on or before their 20th birthday can qualify for the new benefit simply on that basis. Those who become incapable of work later in life must also be severely disabled to qualify. Married women can claim the severe disablement allowance even if they are able to carry out normal household duties. The benefit is being introduced in two phases—people aged 50 or over and those aged 16 to 34 can get the new allowance from November 1984, while those aged 35 to 49 will be eligible from November 1985.
There are several other factors contributing to the net increase sought in that Vote. In particular, there is an additional provision of £800,000 in respect of attendance allowances due primarily to a rise in the number of beneficiaries.
In my opening remarks I have tried to outline briefly the main features of the draft order and to give right hon. and hon. Members an appreciation of the reasons for the changes in these four Northern Ireland Votes. I shall listen with interest to the points raised by hon. Members, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will reply.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)
I intervene briefly to give my agricultural friends the opportunity to shake the straw out of their hair because no doubt they will be splashing about in the milk quota once again when they have had time to digest what the Minister has just told us. I should like to comment on three of the allowances that he mentioned when he introduced the Supplementary Estimates for the Department of Health and Social Services in Class X, Vote 2.
I should like to comment, first, on the attendance allowance increase of £800,000. That must be the best £800,000 that we shall spend this year. I am glad that there are 500 new beneficiaries. There are not all that many of 89 them in Upper Bann, but I am glad that some people are having success in getting that allowance. It is one of the most frustrating allowances to deal with and upon which to advise one's constituents.
I should like to refer to the method that is used to determine whether someone qualifies for the allowance. A doctor visits the applicant, who might be an old person, with his memory failing. Not all applicants, but many, might suffer from varying degrees of dementia. The doctor asks the applicant a series of questions, as well as giving him a medical examination. Such people are not in the section of the community that tries to suck the system dry. The applicant tries honestly to answer the questions asked by the doctor. He might be more than honest, and understate his case, thus depriving himself of the allowance. In doing so, such people are only doing themselves and the community in general a disservice. The assessor might take at face value what the person says, so he is doing us all a disservice.
Surely, if anything, the allowance was designed to ensure that we do not put a greater burden on geriatric hospitals and other homes which are the alternative for elderly people if their families cannot maintain them at home. Some 500 people will put an added burden of almost £1 million on our social security budget, yet the one thing of which we can be sure is that there will be no gross abuse of the increase. The only abuse, if there is one, is that the elderly person might marginally receive some assistance to which he is not entitled if one applies a strict interpretation to the rules. But, in reality, £1 million is being spread among several concerned families in the community in an attempt to help them to look after the elderly people in the bosom of the family and prevent them from becoming an added burden on our society.
I hope that an effort will be made to involve the applicant's local doctor, because the applicant's general practitioner is frequently at variance with the assessing doctor. If local doctors are professionals and we are to believe that they will make an honest judgment—which we must believe — some cognisance must be taken of their assessment of whether that person, and his family, should benefit from the allowance. Therefore, I welcome the increase and look forward to its increasing even more. I believe that it will be offset by savings in other places.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the most frustrating thing in connection with attendance allowance is that, if someone has an independent mind and does not want to feel embarrassed by letting the person visiting him know how incapable he is, there is no appeal system, except on a point of law?
§ Mr. McCusker
I have suffered the same frustration as the hon. Gentleman and others. We are dealing with a category of people who do not want to take advantage of the system. Perhaps one can say that that is unfortunate. That applies to other aspects of the social security system. Those are the people who are least willing to take what they are entitled to — for example, in supplementary benefit—whereas others are prepared to take what they are not entitled to.
Heating addition is another part of the supplementary benefits system. A few days ago I had a visit from an elderly constituent who had moved home. In her former home she had used a room heater from which she ran 90 several radiators. She had been assessed as qualifying for the higher rate of heating allowance. In her new home she used a similar room heater but without radiators. She still had to fire that room heater, but she also bought a couple of oil-filled radiators to heat the other rooms. That combination was more expensive to run, yet she was told, "I am sorry, but you no longer qualify for the higher heating addition. You will now qualify for the lower heating addition." That is incredible.
I choose that allowance as an example, and I should like to make it clear, first, that we are dealing with the same category of person to which I referred earlier, and, secondly, if there is any abuse, it is marginal. We are talking about someone aged 60 or 70 who is taking advantage of the social security system to get perhaps £1 or £2 more than he ought simply to heat his home. That is an extremely fine judgment to make.
Most of the money is spent on supplementary benefit. Is the Minister satisfied that every effort has been made to prevent massive abuse of that system? Is he convinced that the number of investigators at his disposal is adequate to do the job? Equally, is he convinced that in his Department and social security offices generally there is an even-handed application when judging these cases?
The Minister of State talked about an increase in the number of claims for single payments. I have been supplied with some statistics, which show that 33,000 single payments were made in 1979. By 1983, the figure was in excess of 100,000. In 1979, single payments amounted to about £1.5 million, but by 1983 they were in excess of £12 million. Is the Minister satisfied that we are getting value for money?
In essence we are not talking about people aged 65 or 70 who have given a lifetime's service to the community and have applied for assistance to help buy a new appliance. In fact, the lady who came to me with her heating problem bought a new cooker for £90. She is in receipt of minimal supplementary benefit, and I suggested that she should apply for supplementary benefit assistance to help buy that appliance. She told me, "I'll do no such thing. I wouldn't have the town of Lurgan talking about me." She was indicating that she was sufficiently independent and had saved enough money to buy the cooker. She was also indicating that she did not believe the system to be watertight, and that if she did apply there was no guarantee that it would be in confidence. That lady did not believe that her application would be in confidence because of the rumours and talk that one hears throughout Northern Ireland about the abuses of the system.
For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) will no doubt be aware of the strong rumour that a firm in Newry will remove one's furniture, store it and return it when required, thereby enabling the householder to make a large claim for furniture under the single payments system. No doubt that firm will be happy to furnish the individual with a receipt to prove that he was entitled to the £1,000 that he received.
There is also a rumour in my constituency that if someone gets a single payment of £350 he can approach a "dealer" who will buy the cheque for £250 and furnish a receipt. The single payment was not designed to enable people to line their pockets with £250 or to allow a so-called "dealer" to take a £100 cut.
I asked another of my hon. Friends what he considered to be the worst abuse of the single payment system, and he told me that it was voluntary separation. A man and 91 wife can agree to separate temporarily, and for some reason they seem to be assisted by the Housing Executive. The two partners then set up home independently and claim £1,000 or £1,200 to furnish those households. Consequently, they are reconciled, but £1,000 has been lost by that time. We have all heard of someone applying for a cot when there is one in the attic, merely because he wishes to cash the cheque.
I must accept a strict interpretation of the rules for elderly people applying for attendance allowance to help their relations support them within the bosom of the family. I also accept that great care must be exercised to ensure that there is no abuse of that system. But if a pensioner is to be taken off the higher rate of heating allowance and placed on the lower rate because of the number of radiators she uses, I want an assurance that the same effort is being made to prevent abuses of supplementary benefit, which now amounts to £250 million, £12 million of which goes on single payments.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I estimate that this year we shall be spending more than £20 million on single payments.
§ Mr. McCusker
That makes my point. If he has not already done so, I ask the Minister to investigate this matter. I appreciate that there are dangers in what I shall say, but is it possible to identify where most of that money is spent? I should not be surprised if it was spent in those areas of the Province where the Queen's writ does not run as it should. There are all sorts of pressures on all sorts of people in those areas to be extremely careful when dealing with these matters. If we are now talking about an increase from £1.5 million to £20 million in five years, action clearly needs to be taken. Now that the Minister has confirmed that figure, I look forward to an assurance that he is getting value for money in respect of every penny of that £20 million.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Like the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), I am sure that any hon. Member from Northern Ireland would express concern about attendance allowances. Such concern must be highlighted. The other matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred are also of the utmost importance, especially as the Minister has said that single payments this year will amount to £20 million. That must be looked at carefully. No doubt my hon. Friends will develop these matters further.
I wish to speak about Class I, items 1 and 2. Anybody who heard the Minister introducing the order and who did not know anything about Northern Ireland would think that Northern Ireland was to receive special aid which would put agriculture in the Province in a far better position than agriculture in any other part of the United Kingdom. I should like to underline what has been taken out of Northern Ireland agriculture and the cross which Northern Ireland farmers have to carry so that our view of special aid to Northern Ireland is put into its proper perspective.
On 12 November the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told us of his intention to save £40 million in 1985–86. Those who know something about Northern Ireland agriculture will be aware that the Department of 92 Agriculture in Northern Ireland has a special relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and that MAFF is a very important part of the administration of Northern Ireland agriculture. On 11 December the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced, in reply to a written question, that changes in the farm capital grants were estimated to save about £40 million. In other words, United Kingdom farmers will be £40 million worse off in 1985–86.
The new standard rate of grant in the lowlands under the agriculture and horticulture grant scheme will be 15 per cent. It was 20 per cent. In the less-favoured areas the new standard grant will be 30 per cent. Grant will no longer be available for land clearance and land reclamation. Those activities will be assisted in Northern Ireland only where the Minister says that they are essential to maintain farm incomes. The ceiling on the amount of investment that may be grant-aided will be halved, except for heated glasshouses and orchard replanting. Heated glasshouses in Northern Ireland are few and far between. Grants for orchard replanting will not be of very much help to Northern Ireland farmers. The limit per labour unit will be about £25,000, and the overall business limit over six years will be about £50,000—again halved.
The changes made under the agriculture and horticulture development scheme and the agriculture and horticulture grant scheme relate to the exclusion of certain land reclamation items and reductions in the rate of grant for field drainage, from 70 to 50 per cent. in the less-favoured areas, and from 50 to 32.5 per cent. in the lowlands. According to the Minister, the policy is to have a closer integration of conservation and agriculture policies through high rates of grant for certain agricultural works which are of benefit to the environment, and to exclude land clearance except for Northern Ireland reclamation works. That may be helpful in East Anglia, but it is not helpful in Northern Ireland.
The sugar on this pill is an increase in the rate of grant from 20 to 30 per cent. for hedges, walls and dykes built of traditional local materials and for associated gates. The farming community in Northern Ireland is told that more cereals should be grown. If it were to grow cereals, instead of erecting dykes ail hedges and putting up traditional gates, the farming community in Northern Ireland would have to remove them. So that will not be of any real benefit to Northern Ireland.
I am trying to put these special aids for agriculture into their proper perspective, because the brakes have been firmly applied to the agriculture industry of the United Kingdom. What was described by the Government as savings in 1985–86 have turned out to be a major change in policy. For Northern Ireland, this is a serious matter. The changes made to the national schemes will apply to Northern Ireland. There are, however, two valuable supplementary schemes which have been recognised, and I give credit for that. I am pleased that Northern Ireland is to retain the grassland scheme and that it will continue to be paid for land reclamation. I am also pleased that the agriculture development programme in Northern Ireland is to continue. That programme is 40 per cent. funded by the European Economic Community, but I suppose that we should be grateful for small mercies.
The rates of grant and special supplement for the grassland scheme which applies to lowland areas remains unchanged, but the changes and reductions in the national capital grant scheme mean that the overall benefits to 93 farmers will be reduced. In the case of drainage, for AHGS relevant items the reducion will be from 45 to 30 per cent., and for AHDS relevant items the reduction will be from 55 to 37.5 per cent. The Ulster Farmers Union says that under this announcement Northern Ireland stands to lose £14 million. This means that farmers in England, Scotland and Wales will lose £26 million. That adds up to £40 million. Does this seem to be a fair proportion for Northern Ireland—a loss of £14 million compared to a loss of £26 million in Great Britain? I believe that it is a disproportionate loss to Northern Ireland agriculture. I hope that the Minister who is to reply to the debate will be able to help us about that problem.
The effect of the EEC farm price agreement for 1984 is having a depressing effect upon farm incomes. Farmers must spend money in order to earn grant. They have been caught in a pincer movement. The future looks bleak indeed for our most important industry. I am pleased that the Minister who introduced the order pointed out that 13 per cent. of all those employed in Northern Ireland are employed in agriculture. Nearly £250 million worth of our exports came from the farming industry. This industry is very important to Northern Ireland.
That leads me to the other very important inroad that has been made into Northern Ireland agriculture. The milk quotas will take about £20 million out of the agriculture industry. This will result in a total reduction of £34 million, while we are given aid amounting to £10 million.
I am sure that both Ministers on the Front Bench know the views of Northern Ireland dairy farmers. I am sure, also, that the figures that we have been given today about the quota that will be available will come as no surprise to those of us who know what is happening to the dairy industry in Northern Ireland. We are in a very serious position. That situation should never have arisen, and that is why the dairy farmers in Northern Ireland strongly condemn the Government for their handling of the matter.
The Milk Marketing Board in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Farmers Union and the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Organisation, together with the three Members of the European Parliament from Northern Ireland, the right hon Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and I, met Mr. Dalsager, the Commissioner for Agriculture, in Strasbourg. He told us that the purpose of the 65,000 tonnes allocation was to give more to Northern Ireland, because of the position of our agriculture industry within the United Kingdom. It was proposed that when the United Kingdom quota was settled Northern Ireland should get an extra 65,000 tonnes. To our cost, we know that that 65,000 tonnes was not given to Northern Ireland. It was spread throughout the United Kingdom, so that we got little more than 5.5 per cent. of it. That is why there is so much bitterness in Northern Ireland. We were told in Europe that we should get more, but we did not get any more. The jewel of Northern Ireland agriculture—the dairy sector—has been kicked into the gutter and will face serious problems.
Panels and tribunals have been set up, but when they give judgments the Government are not able to give allocations to those for whom they were intended. We spend money on a system to investigate hardship cases and to allow people to put their case to tribunals. Those people win their cases, but they still face serious problems. Some cases have already been adjudicated upon and the appeals machinery has been used. People who have brought those 94 cases have been told that they will get a bigger quota. But how much will they actually receive? That question needs to be answered.
The Prime Minister said that until every member state of the EC pays the levy the British Government will not collect the money. We should remember that Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that will have to pay the levy. Therefore, our farmers want to know what the future holds.
§ Dr. Boyson
I referred at a recent Question Time to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the milk levy. The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced in a written answer today:We are fully committed to the milk supplementary levy arrangements agreed by the Agriculture Council in March. It is clear from last week's Council discussion and from the position adopted by other member states that there are differences in the interpretation of the rules and uncertainty about the amount of levy due. We are, therefore, suspending action for the time being. We are keeping the situation under review and are ready to collect and pay over any levies that may be due from us once the legal position becomes clearer and other member states are conforming to the requirements." — [Official Report, 17 December 1984; Vol. 70, c. 37.]I have not discussed the matter with the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but it seems that we are not paying any levy at the present time.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I welcome that reply, even though it only puts off the evil day. Knowing something about Europe and about the Governments who have not taken even the first steps to legislate so that they can collect levies, I know that it would be the height of madness for us to demand payment from our people.
§ Dr. Boyson
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the different attitudes of various countries. It may he helpful if I point out that Belgium, the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland are taking the same approach as we are. So are the Germans, except that they have already collected some levy, which they are holding on to. The position in other countries varies.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
That statement will help the farming community, the Milk Marketing Board and everyone else in Northern Ireland. I trust that the Government will remain firm on the issue. I know that if the British Government had said, "We will not pay the levy," other countries would have used that as an excuse not to pay the levy either. Now the matter is in the court of those who have not legislated to enable themselves to pay the levy. I am glad that that information is out in the open.
Ministers in Northern Ireland will be confronted by people who feel bitter because they have been badly treated. The Prime Minister said that we would get an increased production allocation. Subsequently, that undertaking had to be withdrawn. We were also told that we would be as well off as the rest of the United Kingdom. Now we find that Northern Ireland farmers do not get the same as British farmers for their finished products.
Northern Ireland agriculture faces a serious problem. The Minister of Agriculture said that that was a thing of the past, but it will never be a thing of the past. I trust that, even now, we can find a way to alleviate the hardship of Northern Ireland's dairy farmers.
Agriculture in Northern Ireland faces other problems, but the difficulty experienced by dairy farmers 95 overshadows the others. The beef sector faces problems, but I am glad that the intervention regime has been made to work in Northern Ireland. At one time we did not think that we would have the necessary storage space or get the rights that we ought to have as a member of the European Community to get our meat into intervention. I am glad that the pressures put on the Minister of Agriculture have been effective and that there is provision for intervention.
I understand that an application is before one of the other Ministers for blast-freezing accommodation and factory space in Northern Ireland. I hope that that space will soon be available, so that we shall not have to take produce from Northern Ireland. That would be a great help to our farming community.
We shall no doubt hear more about how the Minister hopes to allocate special aid. However, even with special aid, agriculture has been badly hit and will suffer severely in the coming year. As agriculture provides permanent jobs and maintains the heart of employment, a larger measure of aid should be made available for it. That is what the Minister's message should be to farmers tonight.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) on that latter point because it may raise difficulties in that shopkeepers and industrialists may also look for more aid. We are debating a specific Appropriation order. I would be happier if we were doing so in a United Kingdom context because some of the issues that I shall raise may be applicable to other parts of the United Kingdom. I may appear to ask for something specifically for the people of Northern Ireland, but I shall deal with the division of the cheque of the nation to the needy, especially regarding Class X, Vote 2.
I welcome the Minister's statement that there has been an increase in the numbers who have taken up the severe disability allowance. Under the old scheme many deserving cases did not get it. I suspect that even yet all those entitled to it are not claiming it and that some who should receive it may not be entitled to it because of the way in which the rules are drawn. The rules were widened but they were drawn to exclude many people because the nation could not foot the bill.
How are the new policies on housing benefit working out under the new point system? I understand that anomalies are developing and injustices occurring. The housing authority introduced a fine point system. The normal bureaucratic process is to think of a number, double it, subtract 10 and come up with an answer. In some of our houses people were given points for having a kitchen dinette. However, we discovered that there was no specific measurement for a kitchen dinette. After several test cases it was acknowledged that a kitchen dinette was not specified. We thought we had won that, but then we discovered that there was no reduction in the rent and no housing benefit. When we inquired we found that, although there was no kitchen dinette, there was a living-room dinette. Therefore, the Housing Executive transferred the points across and charged people accordingly. Yet a house that is supposed to have a living-room dinette is no bigger. In many such rooms there is not 96 space to put a table. At best one can have a drop-leaf table or a card table. Have there been savings in housing benefit for the Department?
There has been an increase in the basic pension, together with a re-examination of the allowances of those who hitherto had them. There is a case in my constituency that is typical of the sort of older people to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) alluded. The husband is more than 80 and the wife is more than 70 years of age. Previously, they were entitled to a heating allowance, which brought them in about £1 a week. They now have the increased pension. However, through regrading, the allowance has been reduced. That family has an overall increase of 3p a week. Top salary review boards, Members of Parliament and trade unions would not be satisfied if, at the end of a pay review when there was supposed to have been an increase in line with inflation, they were losing. As we are considering the Appropriation order, will the Minister say how many people are being adversely affected by the new arrangements?
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that that also bites upon payments for special diets as well as payments for heating?
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I thank my right hon. Friend for widening my point. The arrangement has an adverse effect on those with special diets. Can the Minister assure us that food prices have been reduced, and tell us how those who three weeks ago were entitled to a special rate to meet the needs of their special diet can get resources to meet their medical needs?
As I said earlier, I would be happier if we debated the matter in the context of the United Kingdom as a whole, because it bites throughout the kingdom. My constituents are not happy with it or the glib response from the Department and the Prime Minister that the policy is to give people more in their basic pension so that they can choose how they use their money. That sounds nice, but those who receive an increased pension and have other pensions or savings to augment it find that the Treasury claws it back in income tax. It is not simply that pensioners are automatically given more money to spend as they wish. Many pensioners will lose because the increased pension takes them over the margin for benefits.
I am even more worried about pensioners who are net losers. A caring Government and Parliament should never legislate willingly for that and then dismiss complaints by saying that it is rough and ready justice. Can the Minister tell us how many people have been affected in that way?
Tonight we are dealing with an appropriation in aid. What worries me about social services in Northern Ireland is that whenever there has been a shortfall in the Northern Ireland programme the Department that deals with social services has made no bids for money to meet people's needs. Perhaps in its wisdom or otherwise the Department decided not to trawl for that money. I am referring especially to the problems of the elderly who have done their best to maintain their dignity in the community. According to the rules, they are entitled to the provision of a telephone service, but because there is a shortage of cash in the Department such telephones are being rationed and social workers must tell those elderly people that they cannot have telephones. It is rationing by lists. Time 97 magazine has said that it is becoming a modern problem in medicine, with doctors hoping that people will die before they have to spend money to meet their needs.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I may have misunderstood what the hon. Gentleman said, but I think I am right in saying that my Department suggested several ways in which some of the underspend might be used in the social services area. The Assembly disagreed with those proposals and our views were changed. I make no elaborate constitutional point on the issue, but the hon. Gentleman will discover that the Assembly and many others believed that the money should be spent on educational schemes rather than on DHSS schemes.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
The Minister is saying that the spending of the nation's money goes outside the remit of this Chamber. I am asking him why the Department did not put in bids for the specific services to which I referred. I assure the Minister that either here or in the Assembly I would have fought my corner on that matter. I have made inquiries and I understand that the Department did not put in a bid. Does the Department believe in the emphasis on community care and that we do not therefore need more money? If so, it is going in the right direction, although in the end it will cost the Department more than if it supported such people in the community.
I support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann about the attendance allowance and ask for a little more understanding from those who conduct the final vetting. We live in an age of interdependence, but it would be utterly false to remove the pride of independence from the sick or the elderly. I have known doctors ask elderly people how well they can walk unaided. In many cases, those elderly people get up and do what we call in Ulster the rounds of the kitchen, holding on to the furniture and without using the Zimmer frame. They are then classified as being able to move unaided, and as a result they lose the mobility allowance or the attendance allowance.
I know a lady aged more than 80 who is remarkably fresh mentally and clear-eyed. She lives with her brother, who is aged more than 70. Her brother has managed to keep his car on the basic pension, but now he must give it up because they are not entitled to mobility allowance. Although he is looking after her, because of the way the axe comes down, he is not entitled to attendance allowance.
I draw the Minister's attention to the misuse of supplementary provision, which is creating an attitude that could not be described as helpful. I am thinking of a rehabilitation home for young people where those who have managed to obtain work are penalised whereas those who cannot find work are not. If a youngster is unemployed, his rent at the home is paid—it costs about £48 a week—and he is given £19 a week pocket money. His time is his own. However, if a youngster manages to find a part-time job, he is penalised by not being granted supplementary benefit. If a youngster must pay travelling expenses to go to work, he is worse off than the person whose rent is paid and who has £19 a week pocket money.
I hope that the review of the supplementary benefits system will do something more to help those who genuinely want work but who are not encouraged to find it. The Government speak about incentives and urge people to get up and do things, but in this case youngsters are encouraged to do nothing, to sit back and to relax. 98 There is misuse of the supplementary provisions, especially of those for younger people. I am glad to see that within England, at any rate, there has been a growing awareness of this problem and I hope that the forthcoming reviews will come up with something positive.
I take this opportunity to welcome the increase in the Appropriation order, but I wish to highlight the needs and misuses. I agree with my hon. Friends about some of the abuses that have occurred. This is straying outside the order somewhat, but as the matter has been raised and as the Minister has thrown it back to us I take the opportunity of asking whether the Minister has had any reply from any sources in Northern Ireland about the possibility of the aid for transport for pensioners being put on the rates.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
I come to this House from a constituency with the highest unemployment in the United Kingdom and with a large farming community, in which the majority of the farmers have smallholdings. I appreciate and welcome any money being allocated to Ulster, and I appreciate the Minister of State's efforts on our behalf. He has shown clearly his interest in these matters since coming to Northern Ireland a short time ago, and I appreciate his grasp of the many problems, which he displayed clearly a few days ago when he addressed the Northern Ireland Assembly.
However, I wonder whether the Government fully appreciate the effect that the milk quota system is having, especially on the small farmers in my constituency. I was led to believe, whenever the matter was discussed, that the Government had it in their mind to safeguard dairy herds of about 40 cows. However, as the milk quota system is being applied, I find that there is a genuine suspicion that there is somewhere a desire to force the small farmer into liquidation and, rather than saving the small herd, a desire that the farmer with a small number of cows should be pushed below the poverty line and forced to rely on supplementary benefit. I assure the House that these are the genuine worries and concerns of the people whom I represent.
What assurances can the Minister give to those farmers who have already been adjudicated on? Will they receive the quota that they have been promised? The tribunals have sat and listened to the cases, especially hardship cases; and an extra quota has been given. What assurances can the Minister give to the farmers of my constituency and throughout the provinces on the likelihood of getting any of this quota? The Minister drew to our attention the fact that the outgoers scheme will fall far short of the Government's intentions for the initial estimation of the amount of quota that can be spread. I should like the Minister to direct his attention to that matter.
Farmers in Northern Ireland have been encouraged to invest in agriculture and new farm units. Up until the time that the quota came into existence, farmers were encouraged by the Department of Agriculture to go into milk production. After that encouragement, it is disgraceful that farmers are now being left high and dry and with a great financial burden on their shoulders.
§ Dr. Boyson
I do not think that what I can say will be helpful, but the hon. Gentleman has asked me a straight question on a matter that concerns everybody, and which has concerned me since I have looked at the figures. Originally, there was a cut of 6 per cent. plus a cut of 3 99 per cent. The 3 per cent. cut was to provide extra resources for those who, on appeal, won the right to keep the extra number of cows producing milk on their farms. At the moment, all but 30.7 million litres of the clawback have been allocated, and that 30.7 million litres are still available for distribution. It was hoped to add to that what was expected to come back on the outgoers scheme. Originally, that was estimated to be 53.3 million litres. Since a lot of people are not going ahead with the scheme, having been given the right to do so and to get their money from it, I estimate that less than half that amount will come back. Let us assume that it is 20 million litres. That means that the total available for distribution in Northern Ireland amongst those who have won their appeals will be only about 50.7 million litres.
I have come into this in the middle of it, and the Northern Ireland farmers know about this better than I do. But it was obvious from the start to anyone who could add up that, with the tribunals being left to decide appeals, there was no means of getting the equation into balance. It depends how many appeals are allowed and the demand. We know that we can provide about 50.7 million litres, but we only know that now because fewer producers are outgoing than the number who intended to at the beginning.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am not sure whether the Minister is seeking to make a second speech or whether this really is an intervention, but even ministerial interventions should be brief.
§ Dr. Boyson
Your intervention has saved me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Bearing in mind hon. Members' knowledge of these matters, I shall conclude my intervention immediately by saying that there was no means at the beginning of getting a balance, and there will be the Dickens of a job at the end to decide what is to be given to those whose appeals are successful.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I thank the Minister for his interesting intervention, though I am not sure that it was all that helpful. However, I hope that his hon. Friend, when he replies to the debate, will address himself to another question on the same subject. What has already been allocated of the 50.7 million litres by the tribunals so far? The Department should know the answer, and we shall be able to judge from it whether there is any reason for farmers to go to Dundonald house to have their appeals heard.
I suspect that, although some farmers will come back satisfied, having had their cases heard by the tribunals, they may be in for a disappointment when we come to consider the 50.7 million litres available. This is very serious, because the farmers have had a long wait. They have experienced months of deep concern and financial and other worries about this. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, they may come to a serious bump in the road when they discover that it is not possible to keep the promises that they felt were made to them at the tribunal.
Other hon. Members have raised a number of matters which are of the utmost importance to the people of the Province. Among them is the problem of housing benefit. I hope that the Minister will be able to say how the new points system for housing benefit is working in the Province. Only today I visited an estate in Watson Park, 100 Omagh. The tenants told me that under the new rents system their aluminium bungalows, which they could be blown out of on a windy night, will be on a par with a normal Housing Executive house. That causes me great concern. Within the next few days I shall be asking the Minister about matters relating to this estate. There are many worries about it.
I draw the Minister's attention to housing benefit. I notice from the paper that Northern Ireland Housing Executive rents are going up again. I was a member of the board and felt strongly about those rents. We were always being told that rents in Northern Ireland compared favourably with those in England and Wales. Will the Minister tell the House tonight how they compare with those in Scotland? What is the average rent for a Northern Ireland Housing Executive property compared with that of Scotland? When I was a member of the board there was a considerable differential. The problems of Scotland are no different from those of Northern Ireland. I hope the Minister will answer that clearly when he replies.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
Would the hon. Gentleman also like Northern Ireland to have the same expenditure, pro rata, on housing as Scotland?
§ Rev. William McCrea
I am sure that the Minister is fully aware that spending on housing in Scotland is through the local authorities. It was taken from the local authorities in Northern Ireland. If the Minister wants to tell the House tonight that he is handing housing back to the local authorities in Northern Ireland, it will be a most interesting statement. I shall be glad to welcome that as a former member of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive board because that is an unwieldy body and unfortunately it is far removed from many of the day-to-day problems of my constituents in Mid-Ulster or those of other hon. Members. I hope that the Minister will not run away from my question. Will he, for the record, tell the House the difference between the average rent in Northern Ireland and that in Scotland?
As the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) said, I do not know where all the people who are getting an attendance allowance come from. They definitely do not come from my constituency. I am delighted that there will be 500 new beneficiaries. I strongly believe that it is desirable to keep the elderly in the community. The Ulster people have an independent character that is in many ways commendable. The Government do not desire to put an extra burden on geriatric units or hospitals because there are already insufficient for the number of elderly people who desire to enter them.
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Member for Upper Bann that the majority of those being denied attendance allowance in the Province are honourable citizens who do not like to complain. That is the last thing they want to do. Indeed, the elderly in Ulster have always come from a proud stock and they do not like to say that they do not have the means to look after themselves. Indeed, when a doctor visits them they get into a nervous state and deprive themselves of many of the benefits which are their right because they are unwilling to plead poverty. That is the simple substance of the situation.
Some families are anxious to look after their elderly relatives, but there are many who are not. The House should — I believe that the Minister will — commend those families who genuinely care for the elderly in the 101 community. Everyone should salute them. Indeed, it is desirable to encourage more of that. I would wholeheartedly encourage families to show greater concern for their loved ones.
I turn to a point that has already been touched on. People rely on their local doctor. People are always told that their doctor is their professional adviser on health and that they must believe him. But he is believed only until it comes to benefits, and then it is said that the local doctor is not the man to rely on. I doubt whether the Government will disagree when I say that they probably have a better record than the Labour Administration on pensions and other benefits. Indeed, I think that I have heard the Prime Minister state that at the Dispatch Box.
But I assure hon. Members that ordinary pensioners do not find that they have a lot of money to spend at a time of cuts in the number of home helps and in the provision of telephones. Indeed, the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) mentioned that. It is like David in the scriptures, who said "no man cared for my soul". Many pensioners think that no one cares for their bodies either. Quite a few pensioners have come to speak to me about the 50p being taken off. Everyone got the addition to their pensions, but 50p was taken away from heating allowance. I know that 50p may not mean much to hon. Members, but I can assure them that it means a considerable amount to pensioners, to those on long-term supplementary benefit and to widows.
I should like to hear the Minister's comments, because I am told that the allowance amounts to practically nothing. I think that the hon. Member for Belfast, South said that his constituent got a 3p addition. Where is the allowance for inflation in that? People feel that they are worse off as a result of the change.
Like other hon. Members, I must express alarm about supplementary benefit. Every effort must be made to stop abuse. I do not believe that the number of investigators is sufficient. I speak as a former employee of the DHSS, and I feel sure that there is an inadequate number of personnel to investigate the abuse and skullduggery going on.
A few weeks ago I went to the DHSS about a very serious instance of abuse. One of the senior officials there told me that he knew that it was going on. Indeed, the mechanism of abuse was so great that there was an early warning system among the fishermen. Consequently, whenever someone from the Department was in the vicinity, the alarm was raised over the air waves, the boats were cleared and the men are able to live on supplementary benefit as well. It is alarming that a chief official at the Department should know that that is going on, yet say that there is nothing that he can do about it.
I know that many who genuinely need single payments are denied them. But many of us are worried that, although genuine cases are sometimes denied, those skilful in abuse are apparently able to get away with it. I shall give a typical example and invite the Minister to ask the business man concerned whether what I say is true. I raised the matter in another place and my case was not believed. A person desired a colour television. He was on supplementary benefit and put in for a special needs allowance. That person went to an electrician, a business man, and asked him to order a colour television and to make out an account for furniture. A television enclosed in a cabinet is regarded as furniture. To ensure that he got the best furniture and television, the person asked the electrician to ensure that the cabinet had Queen Anne legs.
102 The business man was worried. He asked, "Are you sure you are entitled to this?" The person promised him that he would be back immediately with a cheque. The business man thought that he would like such a television set himself and wondered whether to order it. He decided to but thought that he would never see the person again. Inside three days the person was back with a state cheque for his colour television in a cabinet with Queen Anne legs. That should be condemned, but it is not unusual. The hon. Member for Upper Bann talked about buying cheques. My friend the business man told me that he was offered £230 if he would buy a cheque. In that one-off payment he would be allowed to keep the £230. He was not willing to buy the cheque.
I find such incidents alarming. The Minister is also worried. He has said so in the Province. What action is being taken on the ground to ensure that that practice is stopped?
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would help the Minister if a close examination were made of those business premises which cash such cheques? Does he accept that honest and upright business men refuse to accept the cheques or to participate in fraud?
§ Rev. William McCrea
I agree wholeheartedly. That is a matter which should exercise the Minister.
As the hon. Member for Belfast, South said, there are parts of our country in which the Queen's writ does not run. Government officials cannot go to parts of the Province. In another place I described a typical example involving a television licence. The official was investigating. He was taken out of his van, stripped, sent back and told, "Appear again and you'll get a bullet through your head." In that area, licences do not have to be paid and yet people in the rest of the community have to pay their licence fees. I do not suggest that they should not pay; I suggest that everyone should pay.
A special calibre of officer is needed to go into some of the areas because he might be putting his neck on the block.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
Extremely committed and brave officers do such work and go into every area in the Province. I have discussed the problem with them. The hon. Gentleman makes serious and important allegations about individual firms and abuses. I hope that he will bring those cases to my attention and we shall pursue them in the normal way. General allegations are not worth much unless one has specifics on which to act.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I accept that the allegations are serious. As with other serious allegations, they have been brought before the House. It is appropriate and proper to exercise my right to draw the attention of hon. Members to these matters. I shall seek to do so as quickly as possible.
Whether or not the Minister accepts it, there are vast areas of the Province where few charges are brought against those fiddling the social services. I should be delighted if the Minister would reveal the figures. What charges of fraud are being brought, and how many stick?
I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I have been glad of the opportunity to do so. Indeed, it would be wrong if I did not welcome funds for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. James Nicholson (Newry and Armagh)
I wish to address myself to Class I, Vote 1. I welcome anything that improves the facilities of our agricultural colleges. However, I must make it clear that I only welcome improvement to the existing system—the funds should not be used to purchase additional land for the colleges.
An agricultural college in the Province recently bid for land against local farmers and the price rose to more than £3,000 an acre. It is bad enough when farmers make fools out of themselves by bidding land to exorbitant prices, but when they bid against the Department it is quite ridiculous. The Department does not have to worry about milk quotas, about the troubles in the intensive sector or whether the pigs will pay. Quite frankly, the farmer does not stand much of a chance. I hope that that will never be repeated.
There is sufficient land within the control of the Department in Northern Ireland, and the colleges should not need to bid against the farmers for additional land. There is no point in educating our young if, when they return to their farms, they cannot expand. Our young farmers must be given their heads and must be allowed to expand. When I left school I would have been severely disadvantaged if I had had to face the problems that many young people face today.
Our farmers are not allowed to expand their milk production—the one profitable area of agriculture where they can see a return month by month. More importantly, their bank managers can see that return. They can count on repayments being made against borrowing. The Government's present policy does not allow that.
Restrictions were announced last week on farm capital grants, and that will cause difficulties to the agriculture industry. I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) about the severe difficulties that will arise in Northern Ireland from the reduced grants. The hon. Gentleman talked about a £14 million reduction out of an overall reduction of £40 million. I received a written answer from the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in which he said that Northern Ireland will suffer a reduction of £13 million. I am sure that the hon. Member for Antrim, North will not disagree with me over £1 million. However, it is most unfair that the small six counties of Northern Ireland should be asked to bear one third of the reduction in the agriculture budget for the entire United Kingdom. I do not think that that proposal will bear scrutiny. I hope that the Minister will consider it further and tell us at a later stage why he thinks that it is fair. I shall be most concerned if the proposed reduction is implemented.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the estimate of the Ulster Farmers Union is not so very far out. We often find with the Ministry that £1 million is neither here nor there, but is of much greater concern to the farmers from whose pockets it will have to come.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that £1 million would be considered extremely important by Northern Ireland farmers. It is only right that we should stress that Northern Ireland is expected to accept one third of the cut for the entire United Kingdom.
I direct myself to milk quotas, the buy-out scheme, the administration of the scheme and the consequent costs. Milk quotas have been with us for a short time but they 104 have caused many problems for farmers, politicians, the Government, those involved in the manufacturing industry, those engaged in the ancillary industries and those who depend on agriculture for their employment. We all know that there has been a reduction in employment because of the implementation of the quotas. I do not wish to repeat everything that has already been said about the quotas but there are many grey areas that must be clarified. I have spoken about those issues on a number of occasions in the House and unfortunately we have not found answers to many of the questions.
The production allocation of 65,000 tonnes remains the burning issue. In the first six months, Northern Ireland producers started paying in excess of £5 million in levy. I hope that there will be a ministerial statement this evening even if its effect is only to put off the evil day of reckoning. At least that will give us a breathing space to enable us to ascertain how things will work out as the months progress. No other part of the United Kingdom has any levy to pay, or has had to do so. The United Kingdom is still falling far short of the overall national quota that was determined as part of the Brussels agreement.
Many of us contend that the 65,000 tonne production allocation that was set in the Brussels negotiations never reached Northern Ireland. The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food maintains that it did. The whole problem has been cloaked in mystery. I still cannot accept that we have been informed correctly, especially in view of the statement made by the right hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) when he was the Minister of State responsible for agriculture. He made that statement during a dinner on 29 April at the Ulster Farmers Union and in numerous press releases issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The press release of the speech made at the annual dinner of the Ulster Farmers Union stated:those who contributed most to the surpluses through increasing production since 1981 should stand the biggest cutbacks. Such a principle applied to Northern Ireland would have been little short of disastrous: a 15 per cent. cut in overall output against 1983. Under pressure from the United Kingdom the EC Agriculture Ministers agreed that Northern Ireland had to be specially treated. The result, as you know, was a special allocation of 65,000 tonnes to Northern Ireland. Then the Agriculture Ministries of the United Kingdom agreed a further special allocation; and the possible 15 per cent. cut was reduced to 6 per cent.On 26 April 1984, the Minister replied to a question I raised by stating:The 65,000 tonnes allocation has certainly gone to Northern Ireland. The allocation between the regions of the United Kingdom was initially based on 1981 levels of production, to which was added a special quota of 65,000 tonnes agreed between the EEC Agriculture Ministries. A further addition of almost the same amount was then agreed between the Ministers responsible for agriculture in the various regions of the United Kingdom." — [Official Report, 26 April 1984; Vol. 58, c. 875.]Those two statements complement each other. They were not off-the-cuff speeches about a one-off possibility.
Where has the 1981 allocation plus 1 per cent. quota gone? Where has the amount from England, Scotland and Wales disappeared to? The Minister, who then had responsibility for agriculture, told us what would be the solution. That was the position of the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture until the end of June this year. What changed all that? The position was changed in the House on 3 July. The Minister of State told us when presenting the regulations that it was not the 1981 105 allocation plus 1 per cent. quota. That milk would not flow from England, Wales and Scotland to Northern Ireland. I do not know whether the Government were forced to change the provision because of earlier discrepancies in the regulations. The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) — replied to my question by stating:The allocation of quota between the regions of the United Kingdom was based on deliveries in 1983, but in the calculations we have taken account of the trend of deliveries since 1981, and that includes the rapid growth in deliveries in Northern Ireland as compared to the other territories."—[Official Report, 3 July 1984; Vol. 63, c. 235.]Therein lies the difficulty that faces Northern Ireland agriculture. The important phrase istaken account of the trend of deliveries since 1981".That proved to be important for Northern Ireland. It meant that England and Wales received a cut of 6.25 per cent. on 1983 production; Scotland received a reduction of 6.39 per cent.; but Northern Ireland received a reduction of 10.35 per cent. That reduction of 10.35 per cent—this is the argument that is put forward—includes the 65,000 tonnes, which brings us back to the reduction, on the 1981 figure of 5.83 per cent. Northern Ireland should not have been treated differently from any other part of the United Kingdom. The Government have used that excuse to justify their action. The spirit of the Brussels agreement was not honoured.
We have spoken of the trend in deliveries. That is what the figures are based on and the argument that is used. I gave the Minister of State some figures about the trend in deliveries in other areas. If other areas had received the same treatment as Northern Ireland, we should have had more difficulty in arguing our case. The islands of Arran, Bute, Coll, Tigh and Great Cumbrae increased their production by 14.4 per cent. The Orkneys increased production by 19.4 per cent. and the Shetland Isles by 26.8 per cent. between 1981 and 1983. I do not argue that the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles should not have received the consideration that they have. I have no doubt that they were entitled to that consideration because of their remoteness. The increase in production within the Aberdeen district milk marketing area was 11.7 per cent.
Will the Minister tell the House tonight whether the areas I have mentioned received a more severe cut based on trend in deliveries than other parts of the United Kingdom? He and I know that that is not what happened. That is how the Northern Ireland argument for fair treatment under the trend deliveries has arisen. Northern Ireland's isolated position within Europe and its difficulty in reaching markets means that we should have received the 65,000 tonnes that was awarded to us in Brussels. We did not receive it, and that is our main problem.
That places Northern Ireland dairy farmers at a serious disadvantage compared with their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom. The figures that I have given illustrate that. Northern Ireland's case for the 65,000 tonnes is accepted by everyone but the Minister. He appears to be the only man living who does not accept it.
I shall refer the Minister to a good booklet produced by the Select Committee, which deals effectively and efficiently with the problem of the Northern Ireland milk quota. The Select Committee called upon the Minister to clear up the matter, not tomorrow but immediately. I reiterate that call tonight.
106 I should like to refer to the buy-out scheme and its effects. In reply to part of a speech that I made on 3 July, the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said:In addition, I hope that the hon. Gentleman has noted that we have selected Northern Ireland for special treatment under the outgoers scheme. As a result of buying out 5 per cent. of Northern Ireland in the outgoers scheme, as opposed to 2¼ per cent. in Great Britain, we shall be spendng £4.73 million more in Northern Ireland than if we had applied the same percentage as in the rest of the United Kingdom. We have adopted this approach because we recognise the special problems of Northern Ireland, which include an especially high number of small producers. That is why we have given it favourable terms under the outgoers scheme."—[Official Report, 3 July 1984; Vol. 63, c. 235.]After what the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, told us about the amount that is available in the outgoers scheme, the amount of milk that is to he bought appears to have diminished. We were told that the outgoers scheme would be a panacea for the dairy problem in Northern Ireland. However, we find that it has not worked. It was never going to work, and we cart now say that it has not worked. Why? Because the farmers of Northern Ireland, who depend on the milk industry, could not afford to take up the scheme. They had to cut back to the required level because there was no other option for them. They could not expand into grain or any other part of agriculture as farmers could in other parts of the United Kingdom.
I ask the Minister what proposals he has to make up the shortfall to which the Minister of State referred on 3 July. We were told that the scheme would be the panacea to solve the problem. What proposals does the Department have to make up the shortfall? If I understand the Minister correctly, there are roughly 50.7 million litres of milk left to Northern Ireland. We have been given the figure of 5,000 litres per cow. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) is right in his calculation, when he tells me that that means that there are 10,000 cows to be shared out among all the farmers who are competing daily at Dundonald house for quota. That means that there are about 15,000 or 16,000 litres per applicant, in special cases. However, those are only rough figures. If that is so, I think that the Minister will not disagree that it will not solve the problems—and they are great; they are vast. I sometimes shudder when I wonder how they will be solved.
Daily, I receive telephone calls from farmers, not only in my constituency but outside, asking me how they can improve their position. They tell me the position that they are put in by the Department of Agriculture schemes in which they have participated in all sincerity. They tell me that they have purchased land on the strength of increasing their dairy herd and making the repayments. I cannot reply adequately to the farmers. I sincerely hope that the Minister will tell us that there is a chink of light at the end of the tunnel, because 50 million litres is nowhere near what is required to deal with the problem in Northern Ireland.
I should like to refer to farmers in the rest of the United Kingdom in a similar position, who have applied to participate in the scheme. From what the Minister told us, I do not know what percentage a farmer who has achieved a secondary quota will receive in the final analysis. I doubt whether even the Minister knows. We shall be shocked and dismayed, and there will be even more anger and 107 resentment if farmers in the United Kingdom get 100 per cent. of secondary quota while farmers in Northern Ireland receive only 40, 50, 60 or 70 per cent.
§ Mr. Nicholson
That may well be, but I did not want to go that low. That would be unacceptable to the farmers of Northern Ireland, just as I hope it will be unacceptable to the Minister.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I do not want to distract my hon. Friend, but is he aware that a particular problem affects a limited number of dairy farmers which under the present system seems to be insoluble? That is the problem of dairy farmers who over the past eight, 10 or 11 years have, through terrorism, been forced to leave farms that are close to the frontier with the Irish Republic. They have held on to their land in the hope that the violence would decrease and they would be able to return to continue dairying, which they have done for generations. But when they go to the Dairy Produce Quota Tribunal to argue for a quota, they are told that as they have stopped milk production, perhaps 10 years ago, there is no basis on which their application can be judged. Consequently, they are penalised yet again. They have received no compensation for being forced to move from their farms because of terrorism, nor have they any hope of returning to continue their farming if things improve.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I thank my hon. Friend for his valuable and learned contribution. He makes a valid point. The Minister has no doubt listened to it and will perhaps in due course comment on it. It is a matter that will cause concern to the farmers placed in that invidious position.
It is fair to say that no other bureaucratic body, in an attempt to solve one problem, could have created a greater one. The EEC, with which we are all saddled, has forced a monster on us. Day after day, farmers throughout Northern Ireland travel to Dundonald house to face tribunals in an attempt to secure secondary quotas, but the number of such quotas is insufficient. They must all fight for the small amount available. I must express my distaste and anger at the cost of administering and processing these, appeals. It is a total waste of public money and is unjustifiable, even though those attempting to administer the regulations have a difficult and thankless task which I do not envy. The total cost is £370,000—£220,000 to run the panels and tribunals and £150,000 to the Milk Marketing Board to administer any awards that may result. When that is placed against the £800,000 which was set aside for the buy-out scheme, it means that almost half of the amount which was to be paid to farmers is being spent on administrative and bureaucratic nonsense. This has been brought down on our heads by what I consider to be the worthless organisation known as the European Economic Community.
It has been brought to my attention that there are apparent discrepancies in the awards which are made to Northern Ireland farmers. If the tribunals were able to demonstrate a 100 per cent. success rate, I have no doubt that everybody would be assured that a fair allocation had been achieved, but that is not possible. Farmers come to me and say that they have been treated unfairly. There 108 must be another way in which to look at the small number of cases where farmers believe that they have been treated unfairly. Having fought a large number of cases at tribunals, I believe that there are some cases that do not appear to have received a fair and just reward.
I welcome the continuing aid that is to be given to the pig and poultry industry. Given help, these two industries will have a chance to survive. However, I am most unhappy about the Department's attitude towards the intensive sectors of agriculture in Northern Ireland. If they put their mind to it, ways could be found by which intervention grain could be brought from Europe to Northern Ireland. Farmers could also be encouraged to grow more grain. Although we may never be self-sufficient in grain, Northern Ireland could be encouraged to become more self-sufficient than it is now. This must be one of the top priorities for the Minister. This policy would not only help the agricultural industry but would also have spin-off effects. Intensive sectors of agriculture in Northern Ireland would result in an increase in employment throughout the length and breadth of Northern Ireland.
Marketing must be improved. However, to say that marketing must be improved could be used as a very lame excuse to justify areas where marketing is bad. Although marketing must be improved, it must be improved in conjunction with proper and planned expansion. Agriculture in Northern Ireland is showing more foresight than was shown in the past. However, it must show more determination to improve. That has been lacking for a long time.
I am not very happy about the way in which the SPP has been established. It is yet another quango. The House knows my views on nominated boards and quangos in Northern Ireland. There are far too many of them. This is yet another quango. Because of my prejudices, it may be that I am being totally unfair to it. However, I should like producers to have a greater say. They must not be abused. Similarly, the SPP must not be abused by those who have been appointed as members. I ask the Minister to keep under scrutiny at all times the funds being spent by the SPP. I hope that the special land improvement scheme will ease some of the burdens, especially by means of a reduction of the farm capital grants in Northern Ireland.
The main problem of the past nine months is that we have been so involved with milk quotas that we have not paid enough attention to other equally important problems facing agriculture in Northern Ireland. For example, we have not paid enough attention to the intensive sectors or to the beef sector. Agriculture is Northern Ireland's largest and strongest industry. I hope that Ministers will work hard to ensure that it survives and flourishes.
§ 10 pm
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
The guide to Supplementary Estimates for services in Northern Ireland gives a number of reasons why such Estimates may be produced.
The reasons include securingthe authority of Parliament to use money already voted for particular purposes to meet expenditure on other services within the same vote. This is commonly done when the allocation is substantial, likely to be controversial or involves a new service. In other cases, the authority to approve reallocations of this sort … has been delegated to the Department of Finance and Personnel.109 I can understand the need for Supplementary Estimates when there is a new service or when a matter is controversial, though what is controversial may be a matter of opinion. However, I should like an explanation of what "substantial" means. Is it substantial in relation to the sum involved, or substantial as a percentage of the sum originally allocated for a service? Given the differing sizes of the sums allocated, I cannot see that they can all be regarded as substantial.
A number of hon. Members have spoken about the problems created by the milk quota system and about the changes in farming grants. In a press notice on 12 December, the Secretary of Stale for Northern Ireland said:The planning figure for Agriculture for the coming year was increased in last year's Survey to allow for local support to be maintained at a substantial level.When one realises that the support for certain schemes has been cut by at least £13 million, one wonders what the Secretary of State meant by "a substantial level". There appears to be a considerable decrease, both in total sums and in the percentage of the public input into Northern Ireland farming.
A Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food press release said that there would be an increase in the money available for work on hedges and for other schemes. I find it difficult to believe that there will be so little extra money for that work that the overall decrease in the rest of the United Kingdom will be as small as it appears to be. I also find it difficult to understand how as much as two thirds of the decrease will be in Great Britain. I find it impossible to visualise the farming community in Great Britain being so sparse in its grant aid schemes that only £26 million or £27 million will be chopped, while in Northern Ireland we are so anxious to spend money that we lose £13 million. We need a full explanation of how that has happened.
We must look beyond farming when we consider the sums of public money that are being invested in it. The cut will mean that schemes which were reasonable to carry out at the higher rate of grant are no longer viable. We are not considering a cut in spending of £13 million but a much larger cut in public and private spending. That is bound to have a wider effect than is generally realised. When farmers undertake a drainage scheme, they buy pipes, which provides employment right back to the smelt works, and considerable amounts of gravel. All in all, schemes provide an enormous amount of labour. That trend is echoed throughout agricultural grant schemes. When the Minister considers the loss to the commercial life of Northern Ireland, he will find that it would have been better never to have made the saving. The volume of work in Northern Ireland is such that one third of the United Kingdom's savings is made there.
Land reclamation schemes have been retained in Northern Ireland when they have been wiped out in the rest of the United Kingdom. I cannot believe that the differences in agricultural practices in Northern Ireland compared with Scotland or hill areas in England and Wales are such that there is no need for the work to continue.
I cannot envisage how much worse off Northern ireland would have been if land reclamation grants had disappeared there as well. We are to lose £30 million. How much more would we have lost if the land reclamation scheme had also been wiped out? We were told that it was kept in Northern Ireland because it was essential to maintain incomes. What is the Government's thinking 110 regarding farm incomes in Northern Ireland over the next few years? I think that the Government expect a decrease in farming incomes and that they are saying to the farming industry that it must learn to sustain itself in a much harsher economic climate. The Government talk about maintaining incomes, not increasing them. If it is necessary to maintain hill land incomes — that is basically where land reclamation work takes place—the Government are expecting a decrease in farm incomes generally.
Finally, I shall quote a passage from the MAFF press release for supplies to Northern Ireland. It states:The changes will come into effect immediately in respect of expenditure under the AFIGS incurred after December 11, and new applications or variations under the AHDS, and variations under the FHDS, received after that date.Is it normal that such expenditure changes should come into effect immediately under the AHG scheme, but only in respect of new applications under the other two schemes? If this is a departure from normal practice, we should be told how it will affect the schemes that farmers already have in hand. If it represents a change, why has it been introduced now?
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) in welcoming the new Minister State, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), to his first debate on Appropriation in aid for our beleaguered Province. In the short time that he has been with us, our new Minister has pursued his brief with flair, sympathy and understanding, and he has shown great readiness to come to grips with the many complex problems of his Department. My remarks in this debate will be directed to the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), who has made many fact-finding visits throughout the Province. His dedication and his wide knowledge of the matters dealt with by his Department are well known.
I refer first to Class X, Vote 1. I note the Government's anxiety about unemployment in Northern Ireland, which is shared by all those who represent the Province. I support most of the measures announced in the public spending plans, and note that there has been a slight increase over expected inflation. Although that will not improve job prospects, it will at least maintain those that we have. It is regrettable that law and order expenditure has reached such proportions, but the provision of another 500 jobs in the police force is at least a consolation.
I welcome the Government's approach to the measures outlined in Class X, Vote 2, and their recognition of the fact that additional expenditure is necessary to combat the social deprivation caused by our geographical location, the civil unrest in the Province and the poverty with which we must contend. It is generally accepted that Northern Ireland is the most deprived area of the United Kingdom. As a result, families derive substantially more of their incomes from benefits, while at the same time they must pay more for food, clothing and fuel.
I am pleased about the introduction of the severe disablement allowance, which will replace noncontributory invalidity pensions, but I am disturbed by several aspects of the implementation of the criteria. I realise that there must be a test for incapacity, and I am glad that the Government have given a lead by publishing 111 the document entitled, "Guidance in Adjudicating for Medical Practitioners", which will be available at all DHSS offices.
Nevertheless, some cases will be more complex than others, and I am worried that people who could qualify for benefit now will not qualify because they do not meet the 80 per cent. disablement test, although they may be incapable of working. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) that people who are severely incapacitated should not have to prove such incapacity from time to time to retain their right to benefit. I should have thought that where medical records showed a permanent incapacity, such persons should not be required to present themselves at tribunals, which subjects them to a painful and exhausting experience with which they are completely unable to cope.
I am glad that in section F1, of the Autumn Supplementary Estimate for 1984–85 the Government have responded to the needs of the aged for help with heating costs. I draw attention to the plight of those elderly who have homes which are difficult to heat. Many of these are large family homes which are ideal for bringing up families but which have deteriorated and fallen into disrepair after the families have grown up and moved to homes on their own. In most cases there is no alternative accommodation available to those who are left behind. These people are left to live in unsuitable houses and such grants as are available for extra heating are soon exhausted, particularly as the price of coal is £10 per tonne more than on the mainland.
In section F2, I note that there are an increasing number of claims for single payments. There are many and varied circumstances when a single payment is necessary, but, as has been said, the system can be abused. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) said that in many parts of Belfast there is evidence that crooked so-called business men are ripping off customers who come to them with welfare cheques issued under the single payments system. In my constituency, I have had reports of people being given substandard and secondhand articles not worth a fraction of the grant, and when people discover that the articles are not of an acceptable quality, they are told by these unscrupulous traders that their guarantee ended when they walked out of the store.
Another abuse of the system occurs where young people have applied for accommodation as a single person. On being allocated a flat, which is usually in a hard-to-let area, they immediately apply for a single payment for furniture. However, in most cases the allocation is not taken up and the recipient uses the grant for purposes other than that for which it was intended.
A matter that is worthy of consideration is the plight of prisoners' wives and families who wish to visit their relatives in prison. Most of us know that prisoners are allowed one visit per week, but close relatives can claim the cost of their journey to prison only once every four weeks. Therefore, it is distressing that the family entitlement to visit cannot be maintained where there is financial hardship, particularly among wives of ordinary, decent criminals who do not have access to, or wish to avail themselves of, paramilitary transport.
Section G deals with housing benefits. Attempts are being made to implement the system fairly for everyone who is eligible for help. The amended scheme now brings 112 Northern Ireland generally into line with Great Britain. I note that there is now a high level of local liaison between the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and its social security counterpart. Such a liaison highlights cases where supplementary benefit could be claimed, and the fact that the persons concerned in these cases are now advised about their entitlement is a step forward in the take-up campaign.
It has been recognised that the housing benefits scheme has had a smoother introduction into Northern Ireland, with fewer problems, than in many other parts of the United Kingdom, and the Government must be commended for their efforts in this direction. However, some Housing Executive tenants, although they appear to be gaining the benefits to which they are entitled, are nevertheless forced to live in houses which either need replacing or need expensive repairs. These are the tenants of the Orlit and similar types of houses. I ask that the executive announces its timetable for dealing with such houses.
Section A covers old pensions. Even with linked increases, inflation and increased costs are substantially reducing the real value of pensions. Any Government decision to impose VAT on printed products would undoubtedly affect them, as would an increased television licence fee.
The proposal that doctors should be obliged to prescribe medicines from a restricted list worries me. Unsuitable drugs might be prescribed which could put the lives of elderly persons at risk. The proposal must give cause for alarm. I hope that the implications of the proposal for this most deserving section of our population will be examined fully.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)
I shall refer to two specific matters falling within the ambit of the order and then I shall come to two constitutional issues.
I had not meant to refer to Class X, Vote 2, until I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker). Now that I have heard him, I want to underline what he said on the subject of the attendance allowance.
The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) must be beginning to detect a certain uniformity running through much of the correspondence that he receives in his capacity as being in charge of health and the social services. I find myself writing to him rather more monotonously repetitive letters on this subject than I would wish, and I am sure that someone as sensitive as the Minister is to administrative implications will long ago have arrived at the conclusion that something must be wrong somewhere.
Something is wrong when one finds so often the irresolvable conflict between the advice given by the family doctor of an applicant and the conclusions arrived at by the doctor who examines that applicant in the course of an appeal.
There is somewhere in the application or the administration of the rules for attendance allowance a deficiency which is subjecting applicants to a great deal of harassment in the cases where they are ultimately successful—there are some of those—and is denying to other applicants the assistance to which they and their families were always intended to be entitled. I hope the 113 Minister will say that he intends to clear the board and address himself afresh to the administration of the scheme to find where the gremlin in it is.
Included in the matters falling under Class I, Vote 2, is the "improvement of livestock" and the "control of diseases". It is in that connection that I draw attention once again to the control of veterinary medical products because—and I quote the submission made to me by the Ulster Farmers' Union—it is a matter of concern to our own producers that certain materials in this field are under strict control in Northern Ireland, but not of in the Republic … the bona fide trade … is … disquited about the traffic in medicinal products which is apparently going on from the Republic to the Province.It is not seriously disputed that the application of existing EEC rules in this respect leaves much to be desired on the other side of the frontier but is accurately observed in the United Kingdom. I tabled a question in October in which I asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what he was doing about that. I have abbreviated the terms of the question, but the Minister's reply was even briefer. He said:This is a matter for the European Commission, and we have written to the commission about it." —[0fficial Report, 31 October 1984; Vol. 65, c. 1114.]That is not the sort of reply which most of our constituents would long tolerate about 'a grievance which they had put before us. It is not good enough for the Minister to have written to the Commission about it, if he has left it there. Therefore, I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to confirm that that matter is being directly and actively pursued with the Commission with a view to bringing into line the country which lies across the border from Northern Ireland.
One of the main topics in this debate has been the working out of the milk quota scheme. Whatever else can be said about it—there is not much that is favourable—it is certain that it has caused an enormous amount of irritation, misunderstanding, disquiet and sense of injustice. How the scheme was going to work, how it was going to be applied, what the meaning was of the various assurances that had been given from stage to stage, remained obscure and in some cases remains obscure to this moment.
It occurred to me to investigate why it was that a scheme which affected the whole farming industry in the United Kingdom, and which affected differentially the farming industry in Northern Ireland, should still remain in such confusion and obscurity for nine months after its introduction. The reason is not far to seek, and it should not be far to seek, above all, here in the House.
The seeker after enlightenment on the working of the milk quota scheme requires to deal with three fundamental documents. They are all EEC regulations. The first is regulation 804 of 1968. The second is regulation 856 of 1984. The third is regulation 857 of 1984. By a careful reading of those three documents one can, at first dimly and then with increasing clarity perceive the outlines and the underlying principles—which are even, arguably, in some respects rational—of the milk quota scheme.
They are a remarkable collection of documents. Regulation 804 of 1968 set out, as I have said, the principles. In our language it would be called the principal Act—it is the CAP for milk—I am sure that that is an unofficial description—and it is constantly referred to in the documents which immediately impinge upon the farming industry in Northern Ireland and which repeatedly 114 refer to paragraph 5 of the principal regulations—to the bewilderment at first of the student who finds no resemblance between article 5 of that regulation and what is being talked about. What has escaped his notice is that regulation 856 of 1984 virtually rewrote, or wrote a whole new regulation into, article 5 of the principal regulations of 1968. On that article as amended was built the trigger regulation 857.
One fact which is common to all those regulations is that they are Community legislation directly applicable in the member states. Each of them is directly applicable — the CAP regulation, the amendment of the CAP regulation, and then the inauguration of the milk quota scheme—it is all legislation made in Brussels which automatically takes effect in this country.
It seems self-evident that such legislation when it reaches into the very lives and farms of individuals in the Province will not be understood—that is almost to say, it simply will not be accepted — until it has been properly and publicly debated in this country. There is one sovereign way — that is not intended as a pun — of getting such matters properly understood and debated. That is to bring them before the House. But because of the EEC's legislative procedures, all that was involved in the milk quota scheme—how it would work, how it would impinge on individual farms — how the quotas were assesed and how the levy was to be drawn—was never thrashed out on this side of the English channel. The matter was never thrashed out, and, therefore, never properly understood, let alone accepted, because it did not have to come before the House. It did not even have to go before a Scrutiny Committee.
It is for another debate to declaim against the directly applicable legislation of the EEC. Suffice it to say tonight that we and the dairy farmers of the whole United Kingdom, and especially of Northern Ireland, have learnt by an object lesson just what it means to be legislated for by a foreign body which imposes its decisions, in effect, by decree.
I turn to another constitutional matter—one that it is within the Government's power to deal with. We are given to understand that the Government are in some difficulty over their programme for the current Session. That has been brought to our attention by the unprecedentedly early date at which we are to terminate our Christmas holidays and return from all the oceans and continents of the world to resume our deliberations on Wednesday 9 January. The Government are short of time—the very predicament most feared and dreaded by all Governments, particularly by all Government business managers. Yet in every Session three whole days in effect are devoted by the House to the business of appropriation orders such as that which has claimed our attention since about 7..30 pm tonight—there is still another hour to go, if we can find the means to apply Parkinson's law. One might think that some useful or necessary purpose was served by such orders. Those hon. Members who are anxiously wondering how soon the Division will be must naturally assume from the fact that they are about to be marched through the Lobbies that those parliamentary days are being used for some practical—I do not say "good", as I put the matter more modestly—purpose. Not at all.
It is not in order to provide these sums for expenditure in Northern Ireland that such orders are brought before the House. The sums eventually come out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom anyhow and would continue 115 to do so, subject to the decisions of the House, even if these orders were heard of no more. Nor are these orders brought before the House to give Northern Ireland Members an opportunity to air their constituents' grievances on major matters of public concern. If they were, that would be a signal and peculiar instance of generosity towards Northern Ireland and its people on the part of those who sit in the seats of power. Not so: if this order was not taken tonight and if this procedure was disused, my hon. Friends and I would still be raising exactly the same subjects, perhaps with a little more concision and thereby a little more force, in the debate which is to be held on Wednesday.
No, Sir; the only effect and purpose of this expenditure of parliamentary time and effort on appropriation orders for Northern Ireland is to preserve an ancient absurdity —the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland. This is a "Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland Preservation Order." That is what it is about.
Since the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland performs no ascertainable financial function, being only a receptacle into which money is poured in order that it may be poured out again, hon. Members may still be inquisitive to know why the Government attach so much importance to preserving this ancient and fatuous institution that they will spend three good days of parliamentary time per Session in preserving it. And, indeed, hope is growing that the Government are approaching the time when they will no longer wish to preserve the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland.
The original purpose of conserving the fund, with which this pantomime started some 12 years ago, was that Northern Ireland might, as far as possible, be a separable entity which could be floated off in the direction of an all-Ireland state. It was to render it essentially self-contained and separable that it was given the same sort of distinct Consolidated Fund and financial organisation as a self-governing dominion, in the hope that one day it would take itself off and go somewhere else.
116 That motive was disposed of with striking and beneficent clarity by the Prime Minister during and following the recent conference at Chequers. We know now, in a way that we did not previously know, that that is not the Government's intention.
Perhaps it might be said that Her Majesty's Government are still anxious to provide Northern Ireland with another Stormont — Stormont back again with Stormont's Consolidated Fund.
§ Mr. Powell
The Under-Secretary of State, clutching at a straw, thought just now that he heard something in my discourse with which he could safely be seen to be agreeing. I suppose that the Minister "indicates assent" will duly appear tomorrow in the appropriate column of Hansard. That is also out of date, however, because the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been brutally candid. With brutal candour he has explained the terms upon which—and upon which alone—administration or legislation will be devolved to the Province. They are conditions upon which there is no prospect of a devolved constitution being accepted or worked; and I do not think that the Secretary of State or Her Majesty's Government generally—if for such a purpose one can take them as a generality—are so stupid as to suppose otherwise.
So at last we have worked through to a time when the House can, without any loss whatsoever, be deprived of this tri-annual entertainment, a time when the business managers of the House can gain three days, a time when it is no longer thought necessary for any purpose —attainable or unattainable—to preserve the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friends and I, in expectation of that day and by way of giving, to this Government so far as is in our power, a gentle nudge from time to time in that direction, have made a habit in the last two years of marking our disapprobation of the motives behind this legislation, by voting against it. After all that, it should not come as any surprise either to the Whips or to the Ministers, to hear that we intend to do likewise tonight.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) referred to our proceedings as a triennial entertainment and as a pantomime. As the festive season is approaching, I prefer the description of a pantomime. Like the Minister of State, I have spent some time reading in the Hansard the record of the debates on Appropriation orders. Having read them, I was surprised that such dehydrated topics as milk quotas, levies, outgoers schemes, and the quality of beef cattle production could be so interesting and scintillating. I shall seek to make equally cogent arguments on the same manifold subjects, although I doubt that I can match the level of articulation of other hon. Members.
Class I, Vote 1, of the supplementary Estimates spell out clearly the nature of the supplement as it relates to agriculture. Class I covers the administrative cost of the new milk quota arrangements and the compensation scheme for farmers who want to give up milk production, thus releasing quotas for reallocation.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) drew the attention of the House to the considerable bitterness about the quota arrangements in Northern Ireland. He declared that the jewel of our Northern Ireland industry had been kicked into the gutter. I originally thought that that was a mixed metaphor, but the industry would not be the worse for that — in fact, it was an accurate description of how some of the farmers feel about the quota arrangement, reallocations and penalties.
The reason for the bitterness was that the Government had announced that the first instalment of the levy on farmers who had exceeded their quota must be paid, notwithstanding that the European Commission had said that four member states had not implemented the regulations. The Minister was kind enough to tell the House that while the Government were fully committed to the mutual supplementary levy agreed by the Agriculture Council in March, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland and the Federal Republic of Germany had decided not to pay any levy because there appeared to be a confusion over the interpretation the rules. Only West Germany has collected some portion of the levy. It was a timely intervention that may assist in alleviating some of the bitterness felt by the farmers in Northern Ireland.
The Minister also took the opportunity to tell the House that he had sympathy with farmers who were attempting to make unwelcome and difficult adjustments. One additional source of bitterness is that no levy will be payable in Britain because of the summer drought that resulted in a drop in milk production. Production also fell in Northern Ireland—down 6 per cent. since April—but total production will still exceed the quota and up to 5,000 farmers will face the levy payments. The Ulster Farmers Union has claimed that individual payments could be as much as £20,000. The average will probably be more like £1,000 per farmer. The Government have estimated that about 2,000 farmers will exceed their quota.
The Northern Ireland farmers are bitter about the Government's decision to collect the payments—they may now be held in abeyance—because they feel that they never received the 65,000 tonne special allocation granted by the EEC specifically for Northern Ireland. That was referred to by several hon. Members. They believe that the special quota was subsumed into the special quota 118 allocated to the United Kingdom overall. This issue was touched upon by the hon. Member for Antrim, North. I shall not attempt to untangle the entangled questions of milk quotas and levies as expressed and interpreted by the European Community and its Agriculture Council. Grievances may be perceived as well as being real; and I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State will wish to take an early opportunity to elucidate the true facts.
The Minister of State has said that 3,430 producers have applied for special treatment as hardship cases and that the claims are still being evaluated. In the meantime, producers who regard themselves as eligible for special treatment do not know whether they will find themselves in excess of the quota. The Minister has said that decisions have been taken in 1,788 cases and that provisional awards have been made in 540. He explained that the remainder would be dealt with over the next few weeks.
There is considerable confusion over the nature of the quota and whether it will be a salable asset. I understand that 595 farmers in Northern Ireland have applied to stop milk production and that the Government have said that all valid applications will be accepted. The 595 applications will yield 53.3 million litres.
In Class X of schedule 1 the sums to be paid out by way of expenditure by the Department of Health and Social Services on important items such as old-age pensions, attendance allowances and non-contributory pensions amount to £26.118 million. That figure must be seen against the overall background of social security in Northern Ireland. According to information provided by the Confederation of Health Service Employees in Belfast, social security statistics on the payments of sickness benefit, invalidity benefit and non-contributory invalidity pension show a level of demand in Northern Ireland that is 66 per cent. above that in Great Britain.
According to the same source, the incidence of severe disablement or incapacity based on attendance allowance statistics for Northern Ireland is 35 per cent. above the figure for Great Britain. There are higher birth rates and levels of infant mortality and handicap in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in Great Britain. There is a higher incidence of mental handicap. The level of new outpatients seen in Northern Ireland in 1982 was 51 per cent. higher than the comparable Great Britain figure. There is also a higher incidence of congenital abnormality and in 1981 deaths from this cause were 16 per cent. higher than those in England.
We welcome the fact that under the Health and Social Security (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, severe disablement allowance will replace the non-contributory invalidity pension. We welcome equally the fact that the severe disablement allowance—the SDA— is for those who cannot work because of long-term sickness or disability and who have not paid enough national insurance contributions to qualify for contributory sickness benefit. It is to be welcomed that it is not means tested and is tax-free.
The Minister of State rightly said that the Supplementary Estimate of £26.12 million represents an increase of 6.3 per cent. on the original provision and declared that the largest increase sought is for supplementary benefit. We welcome, too, the reasons for the increase, which is a reduction from 70 to 65 years of age as the upper qualifying age for related heating additions and the introduction of a new, higher age-related rate. The Minister referred to an addition of £7.8 million 119 for housing benefits. The reason for this additional supply is the increase in the number of eligible claimants and the increase in average weekly rebates and allowances.
The House has heard several criticisms of the housing benefit scheme. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) pertinently asked how the housing benefits points system is working. He declared that rents were being increased again. We note that under Class X the increase to cover rent rebates, rent allowances and rates rebates is the net result of a rise in the number of eligible claimants, and that this has been partly offset by changes in the housing benefit scheme, which has reduced the extent of the assistance.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will be well aware of the fact that the impact of the housing benefits scheme in Northern Ireland has given rise to some anxiety and criticism from hon. Members with Northern Ireland constituencies. Allegations are made that, because the scheme's administration is shared between the Department of the Environment, the DHSS and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, there are serious cases of administrative failure. People feel that the housing benefits scheme has been based on a novel principle—robbing one set of claimants to pay another. It is therefore not surprising that the housing benefits scheme was rejected by all political parties when it was proposed for Northern Ireland. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State took that aspect into account when he gave a clear undertaking to the Northern Ireland Assembly that no supplementary benefits claimant would be worse off because of this reform. We trust that that will be the case.
We have had an interesting and long debate. It has been well attended, in the way such debates are, by those hon. Members who have listened to most of the speeches. The Labour Opposition support the order. We accept and understand the principle put forward by the right hon. Member for South Down, who wishes to make a constitutional point about the Appropriation order. The Labour Opposition believe in public expenditure as a principle. We believe that it helps to alleviate distress and that the appropriation order will assist those recipients of non-contributory benefits. We welcome the fact that more people will receive the severe disablement allowance than received the non-contributory invalidity pension. We welcome the £800,000 for attendance allowance, although we take on board the criticisms that have been made. We welcome the fact that married women can claim the disablement disallowance, even if they are about to carry out normal household duties.
We accept that there is confusion about the milk quotas and take on board the point made by the right hon. Member for South Down about Common Market legislation. The right hon. Gentleman said that these matters are decided elsewhere and give rise to different interpretations throughout the Common Market because we deal with many different nationalities, languages and technical matters that are difficult to grasp. We accept the new input into agriculture and understand the importance of agriculture to the economy of Northern Ireland. Every help should be given, and the Supplementary Estimates go some way towards giving that help.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)
I believe I am right in saying that I have enjoyed the privilege of responding to every debate on Northern Ireland Appropriation orders since the last general election. I suppose that if I am particularly fortunate I shall be able to notch up the dubious record of replying to every Appropriation order debate during the entire Parliament. I realise that, for constitutional reasons at least, the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) would not be too pleased with that idea, but that question is, of course, not entirely in my hands.
I welcome, as I am sure do all hon. Members, the hon. Member for Middlesborough (Mr. Bell) to our debates. I am sure that he will learn to enjoy them as much as the rest of us do. As on all these occasions, we have had a good and lively debate, which has ranged to the furthest limits of the order. The order is more limited in scope than some that we have considered in the past, but, nevertheless, the debate has covered a wide variety of subjects. I shall try, once again, to respond as adequately as I can to the main points raised. As usual, when I cannot cover a point today, or if I inadvertently pass one by in the night, I shall try to ensure that the hon. Member concerned receives a suitable reply as soon as possible from me or from one of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
A number of hon. Members have referred to social security. I shall make one or two general remarks about the Government's record on social security benefits in Northern Ireland, in view of what the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) said in his customarily well-informed speech.
We shall spend about £1.2 billion on social security benefits in the current year. As the House is aware, it is our policy to maintain parity with Great Britain in the rates and procedures applying for those wide-ranging benefits, and I believe that that policy has served Northern Ireland well.
At the same time, when we introduced housing benefits, which the hon. Member for Middlesbrough mentioned, in November 1983, which was a benefit system which allowed some measure of local discretion within the national framework, I was able to provide some local enhancement of the scheme; for example, a more generous transitional protection against losses, the inclusion of water charges within rate rebates and allowances and, for the time being, more generous needs allowance for children. We were also able to tailor the administration of benefits to local circumstances. Northern Ireland has a more localised network of offices than elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and uniquely unemployment and supplementary benefits are delivered from the same local office.
The take-up of benefit in the Province already compares favourably with that in Great Britain, and is demonstrably higher in some cases. We have run some successful media campaigns in relation to particular benefits. More can and should be done. I have recently announced an extension throughout the Province of the information and advice service, which was successfully piloted in some of my Department's local social security offices.
Over the next year each local office will provide a separate advice point at which members of the public can 121 obtain information about the range of benefits available. We are also introducing a freephone service for those who cannot easily visit their local offices.
These developments have been welcomed by many local representatives and have been commented upon favourably by the Social Security Advisory Committee, whose close interest in Northern Ireland I greatly appreciate.
In these ways, and assisted by a flourishing welfare rights movement in the Province—a point to which I shall return in the context of the remarks of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) — we are doing everything that we can to ensure that benefits reach everyone entitled to them. These efforts depend heavily upon the splendid and dedicated staff administering benefits in our local and central offices. I am pleased that hon. Members from Northern Ireland have often paid deserved tribute to their work.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann mentioned three matters on the social security Vote. I agree with him and the right hon. Member for South Down that attendance allowance is an extremely valuable benefit in that it can make the difference between an elderly or disabled person staying at home and having to be admitted to hospital. The view of the claimant's general practitioner is taken into account by the examining doctor, who must be satisfied that the conditions attaching to the allowance are met.
I accept the point made by the right hon. Gentleman about the administration of attendance allowance, on which, as he said, we have had a good deal of corresponsdence. I have had a good deal of correspondence on the subject with every hon. Member representing the Province. I am therefore prepared to consider further how the allowance is administered. I shall do so against the background of the Oglesby report, which reviewed the procedures for that and other benefits in Great Britain. I shall also consult the Attendance Allowance Board, which plays an important part in administering the scheme. If there are any gremlins still left in the system, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested there may be, I want to remove or perhaps exorcise them as rapidly as possible.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann will appreciate that I cannot readily deal on the Floor of the House with the case of his constituent who was denied higher rate heating addition. He will be aware that his constituent could take the matter to an appeal tribunal, or the hon. Member may wish to raise the case with me first for further examination.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Belfast, North referred to single payments under the supplementary benefits scheme. This is a subject about which I have learned an increasing amount as I have visited social security offices throughout the Province. As was said, the number of single payment awards has grown significantly in recent years—from 77,000 in 1982, to 126,000 in 1983, and, I estimate, to upwards of 200,000 in 1984. Expenditure in 1984 will be more than £20 million.
Although from time to time allegations are voiced about abuse of single payments, we have no evidence that this is a major problem. Clearly there is scope for abuse, but the Department of Health and Social Services does all that it can to prevent it. Home visits are made in most cases, and Girocheques are made payable to suppliers rather than to claimants where large sums are involved.
It is fair to say that one of the main reasons for the surge in single payments is the development of a thriving welfare rights movement, which I welcome. I intend to give 122 support to that movement through a grant to a regional welfare rights resource centre. It is also fair to say that the single payments aspect of the supplementary benefits scheme is being given particular attention by my hon. Friend, who is leading the review of the scheme. I should not be surprised — I do not put the point any more strongly, and I have no inside information at this stage — if we saw changes proposed in this aspect of supplementary benefit.
Meanwhile, I assure the House, and the hon. Member for Upper Bann in particular, that we shall do everything possible both to encourage full take-up of all the benefits to which claimants are entitled and to check against abuse.
§ Mr. McCusker
Will the Minister say more about this group to which he intends to offer financial assistance? Who has selected it, and what justification is there for giving it public funds?
§ Mr. Patten
The justification is the belief, which I hold strongly—I should be surprised if I did not share it with hon. Members—that we should do everything that we can to encourage the take-up of benefits to which people are statutorily entitled. That should involve work by my Department, particularly by local social security offices, and by the voluntary sector. That has already helped considerably; for example, through the action for community employment scheme.
I want to make sure that, wherever possible, the voluntary sector works with the statutory sector to encourage take-up. That is why we have been discussing with the Belfast law centre how we can best help provide a resource centre and training for local welfare rights groups which are legitimately involved. There are a large number of local groups which at present are helped by district councils and through the ACE scheme and in other ways. I assure hon. Members that the provision of more training and advice centrally should enable us to have a more sensible take-up scheme throughout the Province.
When I hear hon. Members properly talk about constituents who are not getting the benefits to which they are entitled, I think that there is an obligation on us, through our local social security offices and through the voluntary sector, to do all that we can to make people aware of the things they are entitled to receive.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Is the Minister not undermining the democratic process by encouraging voluntary groups of this sort and giving them almost statutory recognition? Can he assure us that a group such as this will be monitored in a way that will ensure that it is not exploited by organisations such as Sinn Fein—[Interruption.] I fear that it may be. Will the hon. Gentleman assure us that the members of this voluntary welfare group will be made known to those who have an electoral responsibility within the community?
§ Mr. Patten
The answer to the first substantive question of the hon. Gentleman is no. The answer to his second substantive question is yes. We are not talking about my Department giving grants to local groups but about giving funds to an organisation that is already heavily involved in helping local welfare rights activities. I have noted the point that the hon. Gentleman has made; it would be idiotic if we had not already done so. A great deal of this work has been carried on for some time with the Belfast Law Centre. We are discussing how it can help further.
§ Mr. Bell
Can I point out to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State that, while one understands the views which have been put forward tonight, we welcome the statement he has made that all those who ought to have benefit and who are entitled to benefit should be encouraged to have it and assure him that any steps that he may take in that direction will be warmly welcomed by us?
§ Mr. Patten
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his message of support. When hon. Members in other parts of the House note what is already happening and note also our intention to work closely with the voluntary sector to improve the quality of the advice that is provided, I hope that support in the House will be rather more widespread than it is now. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) asked a number of questions about social security and the expenditure covered by the Appropriation order. He referred initially to the Department of Health and Social Services and asked why we had not put in a shortfall bid for telephones for the housebound. Because shortfall money is available only for spending in the year in which it arises and because the expenditure on telephones which the hon. Member has in mind would be a recurring commitment for the health boards, it could not be covered in the way he suggested. The boards have been doing a great deal of work but they have to live within their budgets.
Hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, asked questions about the housing benefit scheme. It is fair to say that the reformed scheme, to some of whose enhancements I referred earlier, has been operating reasonably satisfactorily in Northern Ireland. We have managed to avoid some of the problems that existed on this side of the water. However, reviews of the schemes are being undertaken in Northern Ireland as well as in Great Britain, mainly because of difficulties in Great Britain and concern about the rising cost of housing benefit. In the light of the reviews we expect to be able to publish proposals for change in the new year.
Hon. Members referred to the available scale margin. This is the amount deducted from certain additional requirements of claimants on the long-term rate of supplementary benefit. It was first introduced in 1966. It was intended to reflect the fact that the long term scale rate should cover nearly all additional needs, amounting at that time to 45p, the difference between the long term and the short term rates. Although the difference is now £7.65, the available scale margin remained at 50p, having been increased to that amount in 1968. To allow the previous relationship between the available scale margin and heating additions to remain unchanged would have resulted in the continuation of an increasingly anomalous situation. The Government therefore decided that it was reasonable to increase the margin to £1 and to apply it again to heating additions, which were originally within its scope.
In response to the hon. Member for Belfast, North in particular, I stress that no pensioner has suffered an overall reduction in income as a result of the change and that, for the first time, supplementary heating additions of £2.10 per week are automatically payable to householders aged 65 to 70. Householders over 70 already qualify. Furthermore, the higher rate addition of £5.20 per week is now given to pensioners aged 85 or over.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
The hon. Gentleman said that pensioners over 70 qualify automatically and that no pensioner has suffered a loss as a result of the change. I have written to the hon. Gentleman giving him details of a case were that has happened.
§ Mr. Patten
I shall look into that case and reply to the hon. Gentleman as soon as I can.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) mentioned rents. I am not sure whether it would be in order for me to dwell on that subject, but I think that the proposed increase of 4 per cent. for the coming year is not unreasonable. The hon. Gentleman referred to comparisons with the position in England, Wales and Scotland. I shall be delighted to give him the figures and, if necessary, to discuss the comparisons with him.
I assure the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster that there is no part of Northern Ireland in which the writ of the DHSS does not run. About 60 fraud investigation staff are doing sterling work throughout the Province, checking overtly and covertly on abuse and fraud. I shall be glad to supply the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members with figures of prosecutions, which are quite impressive. I have met members of the fraud investigations staff to pay my personal tribute to their work, which is often done in particularly difficult circumstances.
As hon. Members know, my remit in Northern Ireland Departments runs fairly wide, but I am sure that it is a relief to all concerned that it does not cover agriculture, though I have been called on to say a word or two on the subject from time to time. As the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) will confirm, I am all too conscious of my limitations in dealing with the subject.
I appreciate that hon. Members have serious worries about agriculture. Many have been expressed by the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who is chairman of the Assembly Committee, for Mid-Ulster, for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) and for Newry and Armagh and by the right hon. Member for South Down, though he touched principally on some of the constitutional aspects.
I shall not deal with all the detailed points raised, because I prefer to mention three major issues. Naturally, I shall draw the attention of my noble Friend the Under-Secretary to the vigorous speeches made in the debate, and I know that he will respond to them as quickly as he can.
With reference to the payment of the milk levy, my hon. Friend the Minister of State quoted a written answer given today by the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I do not think that I can shed any further light on that. I gather from hon. Members that they thought that that had clarified the matter a little.
There is the question of the regional allocation of the milk quota, which I enjoyed debating with the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh on a memorable evening earlier this year. When my hon. Friend the Minister of State introduced the debate, he made it abundantly clear that he has great sympathy, as we all do, with Ulster milk producers. I should like to associate myself with those remarks. Nevertheless, Northern Ireland has received the full benefit of the 65,000 tonnes from the Community reserve, and an additional amount from the United Kingdom total. As a result, the percentage amount by which the Northern Ireland quota was less than 1983 deliveries will be no more than in other regions of the United Kingdom, although deliveries of milk in Northern Ireland have increased proportionately more between 1981 125 and 1983 than deliveries in England and Wales. My noble Friend is aware of the need to ensure that we again receive the 65,000 tonnes for 1985–86 in the price fixing round which is about to begin in Brussels.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster asked whether the reserve was sufficient to meet the needs of those producers. More than 3,800 farmers—almost half of all milk producers in Northern Ireland—submitted special case claims. The local panels have many cases remaining to be considered, including some from producers complaining against the Department's decision to reject cases which, in the Department's opinion, did not fulfil the criteria.
In addition, the tribunal received about 750 appeals from producers against provisional awards made by the local panels. Further appeals are expected. There is, therefore, some way to go before all cases are finalised. I cannot give a categoric response about the reserve question, as hon. Gentlemen understand. However, indications are that it will probably be necessary to scale down substantially the awards to these producers who have claimed secondary quotas and who meet development plans.
The subject of agriculture capital grants was also raised, especially by the hon. Members for Antrim, North and for Newry and Armagh. I appreciate that at first glance it must look strange and unfair that a province which provides only 6 per cent. of the United Kingdom's agriculture production should produce 33 per cent. of the cuts. However, that is not so surprising as a large proportion of any general reduction in grant rates was bound to fall on Northern Ireland, as more than one third of the United Kingdom's capital grant expenditure of this type is incurred in the Province. If a large share of the money goes to Northern Ireland, it is inevitable that a large share of the cuts will fall on the Province.
However, there is some good news for farmers. Because of the rather different needs in Northern Ireland —this touches on a point raised by the hon. Member for Londonderry, East—for a balance between conservation and agriculture, the Government have agreed that while grant rates for land reclamation will be reduced in the rest of the United Kingdom, they will not be reduced in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Member for South Down asked about the control of veterinary products in the Republic. The proper handling and control of veterinary medicines in the European Community is essential for human and animal health. I therefore accept that we should continue to ensure that all concerned are alive to the need for agreed Community-wide measures. I undertake to draw the attention of my noble Friend to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.
Finally, the right hon. Member for South Down made a point, in a particularly engaging style, which he has made on previous occasions, and to which I have replied. I doubt whether he will find my reply on this occasion any more convincing than he has found it previously. The arrangements that were criticised by the right hon. Gentleman are not new. As he conceded, Northern Ireland has had separate legislation and a separate Consolidated Fund for more than 60 years. There is no secret or hidden reason why the Government persist with the arrangements. We believe that a devolved Government would best meet the special needs of Northern Ireland's divided community, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of 126 State is encouraging the political parties to work out mutually acceptable arrangements to that end. The right hon. Gentleman has reservations about that policy, but the Government, with the support of Parliament, are seeking to do that. In that light, the financial and legislative arrangements for Northern Ireland are appropriate and sensible.
I hope that I have dealt with most of the main points raised during the debate. If not, I repeat that I shall respond by letter as soon as possible. I have only one task remaining, which is to commend the order to the House. I am only sorry that, once again, we shall not enjoy the company in the Division Lobby of the right hon. Member for South Down and his disapproving colleagues.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 126, Noes 8.127
|Division No. 56]||[11.22 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Ancram, Michael||Jackson, Robert|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Jessel, Toby|
|Baldry, Tony||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Bell, Stuart||Key, Robert|
|Benyon, William||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Blackburn, John||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Knowles, Michael|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Knox, David|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Lang, Ian|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Brinton, Tim||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Browne, John||Lester, Jim|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Lightbown, David|
|Budgen, Nick||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Burt, Alistair||Lord, Michael|
|Butterfill, John||McCrea, Rev William|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||McCrindle, Robert|
|Carttiss, Michael||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Cash, William||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Chope, Christopher||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Maclean, David John|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Conway, Derek||Major, John|
|Coombs, Simon||Malins, Humfrey|
|Cope, John||Mather, Carol|
|Couchman, James||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Dover, Den||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Dunn, Robert||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Durant, Tony||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Fallon, Michael||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Needham, Richard|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Newton, Tony|
|Forth, Eric||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Freeman, Roger||Norris, Steven|
|Gale, Roger||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Galley, Roy||Osborn, Sir John|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Ottaway, Richard|
|Gregory, Conal||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Ground, Patrick||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Pawsey, James|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Harris, David||Penhaligon, David|
|Harvey, Robert||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Hayward, Robert||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Henderson, Barry||Powley, John|
|Hickmet, Richard||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Hind, Kenneth||Raffan, Keith|
|Hooson, Tom||Rathbone, Tim|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Rowe, Andrew||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Wheeler, John|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Steen, Anthony||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Mr. Archie Hamilton and|
|Thompson, Donald (Calder V)||Mr. Michael Neubert.|
|Beggs, Roy||Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Nicholson, J.||Mr. William Ross and|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)||Mr. Ken Maginnis.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 20th November, be approved.