§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
It might be helpful if I make it clear that the debate on this order may cover all the matters for which Northern Ireland Departments, as distinct from the Northern Ireland Office, are responsible. Police and security are the principal excluded subjects.
§ Dr. Boyson
The order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974.
The draft order has two purposes. First, it is intended to appropriate the 1985–86 spring Supplementary Estimate. That is dealt with in part I of the schedule that sets out the details, by class and vote, of a further £72.7 million required from the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland. That sum is in addition to some £3,056 million which has already been approved by the House for the 1985–86 financial year. It brings the total Estimates provision for 1985–86 to £3,129 million.
Part II of the schedule gives details of the issues for which the vote on account of the £1,365 million for 1986–87 is required. That provision is necessary to enable services to continue until the 1986–87 main Estimates are debated later in the year.
Full details of all the provisions sought in the draft order can be found in two volumes, copies of which have been placed in the Vote Office. These are entitled the "Spring Supplementary Estimates" and the "Statement of Sums Required on Account."
Before going into the details of the extra funds being sought, I should like to say a few words about the general economic position in Northern Ireland and its effect on all of these accounts. The trend for both total industrial production and manufacturing output has until recently remained upward. There is also some encouragement to be gained from the employment figures. In the year to September 1985—the latest period for which information is available—total employees in employment in Northern Ireland fell by 1,490 as against falls of 2,100 and 5,850 in the two previous 12-month periods. Nobody wants an increase in unemployment, but, in the past four or five years, there has been a steady decrease each year in the number becoming unemployed. There is evidence that the numbers of self-employed may be rising. At the last Northern Ireland Question Time, I said that we estimated that there had been an increase of about 7 per cent.—to 85,000—over three years in the number of self-employed people.
Nevertheless, a continuing rise in the supply of labour has been evident. One factor is that the birth rate in Northern Ireland is 36 per cent. higher than the birth rate in Great Britain. Also, the decline in the number of people emigrating means that unemployment remains the major economic problem in the Province. There is no getting away from that.
The Government are making a determined effort to tackle that problem through the job creation efforts of the Industrial Development Board, the Local Enterprise Development Unit and the various training and re-training 876 schemes. However, the violence and destruction which took place during the strike a week yesterday, which was televised throughout the world, will certainly not help the efforts being made by the IDB, the LEDU and others to bring additional industrial investment into the Province.
I turn now to the provisions of the draft order. In class I, which covers agriculture, token Supplementary Estimates are being taken in both vote 1 and vote 3 to bring some important changes to hon. Members' attention. In vote 1 an increase of £200,000 is sought for the payment of student awards at Loughry, Greenmount and Enniskillen agricultural colleges. This brings these awards into line with other student support arrangements in Northern Ireland. However, additional receipts from board and lodging charges in student halls of residence have more than offset the increased expenditure. This is a book entry in which the figures are moved from one column to another. An additional £600,000 is sought for scientific equipment to test meat for residues, including hormonal content, and for research into the potential of using irradiation for the preservation of food. As about 80 per cent. of meat in Northern Ireland is exported, not only to Great Britain but to the rest of Europe, it is important to consider its hormonal content.
Also within vote 1, an additional £900,000 is required for the milk outgoers scheme to compensate producers who have given up milk production. Farmers in Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Members are very concerned about the milk quota scheme. This additional £900,000 brings the total provision for payment to milk outgoers to £1.3 million to finance the reallocation of 32 million litres of Northern Ireland quota.
In addition, a further 2.5 million litres have been made available through transfer of direct sales quota. Regrettably, this represents only half of the Northern Ireland tribunal determinations in respect of exceptional hardship claims and allows some limited provision for small producers. I am very conscious of the need to find ways of bridging the gap and bringing Northern Ireland producers into line with their Great Britain counterparts. There may be some hope of solving this difficult problem in the proposed new EC outgoers scheme which is presently under consideration in Brussels. We are all concerned about this.
The second token Supplementary Estimate is in class I, vote 3, where £300,000 from the European Community is being appropriated in aid. These receipts under the urban renewal regulation are in respect of expenditure on drainage infrastructure projects largely in the Belfast urban area.
Turning to class II, the additional provision sought in votes 1 and 2 relate to the activities of the Industrial Development Board. Within vote 1 an extra £518,000 is being sought—£450,000 to meet additional expenditure on factory building and estate development and the balance for increased administration costs. The fact that a further £450,000 is required for factory building is a welcome reflection of increased capital investment by industry this year. This money is required to enable extensions or alterations to be made to a number of buildings to meet the requirements of particular projects. A proportion of the money is used in the development of Northern Ireland's first technology park at Antrim where construction work is well under way. The first phase of the main roadway is nearing completion. The building of two 7,500 sq ft units has begun, with a completion date for the 877 first of the buildings in July 1986. I am glad to say that interest in the park by industry has been particularly encouraging.
Of the £21–6 million being sought within vote 2, some £20.6 million is required to meet claims for grant assistance arising from the IDB's activities in recent years in promoting and maintaining employment in Northern Ireland. Expansion and modernisation projects recently promoted by the IDB are now coming on stream and beginning to earn their financial assistance. The IDB is continuing to concentrate resources on the priority activities of attracting new investment projects and encouraging the expansion and reorganisation of existing industry. New measures have also been introduced to encourage companies to focus greater attention on marketing.
One of the basic needs of the Province is to find the markets and to make the goods to satisfy them. The new measures include special exercises to increase exports, to maximise local resources and to improve marketing skills. A major initiative designed to encourage industry to adopt a more strategic approach to marketing has been launched. Successful trade missions have already taken place in the United States, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland. Overseas the IDB's promotional activities are concentrated on clearly identified areas, both sectorally and geographically, which offer the greatest potential for sales from the Province to overseas markets.
In class II, vote 3, an additional £1 million is required for the Local Enterprise Development Unit—Northern Ireland's small business agency. I pay tribute to the LEDU which has promoted almost 26,000 jobs since it was set up in 1971. The figure for the last financial year of 4,009 jobs was a record. Viewed against the economic conditions of recent years, that is a considerable achievement which demonstrates not only the potential that exists for small firms in Northern Ireland but the continuing success of the agency's work in promoting development and employment in the Northern Ireland small business sector.
An additional £4 million is sought for the continued support of Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff. This increases the provision for the year to some £36.6 million and highlights once again the Government's recognition of the company's importance to the Northern Ireland economy.
Right hon. and hon. Members will note the significant increase of £20.6 million in the provision for capital investment grants. Changes to this scheme were announced in March 1985 which included a reduction in the overall rate of grant from 30 per cent. to 20 per cent. with effect from 1 May 1985. There has, therefore, been some acceleration of investment by industry to avail itself of the higher rates of grants under the former scheme and to benefit from the higher capital tax allowances which are now being phased out.
In class II, vote 5, the labour market vote, there are three areas seeking extra funds in the current year. First, an additional £1–82 million is required for the youth training programme. This is a direct result of the programme's continued success in attracting into full-time training schemes a large number of 16 and 17-year-olds who would otherwise be unemployed. At the last Northern Ireland Question Time, I cited figures showing that in the current year a higher percentage of those without jobs have opted to join the YTS than in preceding years. That is a 878 vote of confidence in those working hard on the schemes, as is the fact that more people are getting jobs before they end their training. This year, 57 per cent. of those between 16 and 17 who undertook the one-year course have left to go to jobs. In the previous year, it was 55 per cent., and in the year before that it was 51 per cent. The fact that three out of every five people who join the schemes go directly to employment is a vote of confidence in the schemes. There are still opportunities for employment in Northern Ireland.
Secondly, an additional £1.48 million is required for the training on employer premises scheme, which is designed to help to meet local industries' manpower training requirements and to encourage a planned approach to the training of new recruits. The scheme has proved very attractive to new small firms. This involves the drawing up of a plan by a small firm showing how it will train its new recruits. The plan is then submitted to the Department of Economic Development for approval by its technical assessors. The agreed version covering the extent and period of training is the basis of agreement between the Department and the firm. It is intended to produce a systematic training course which will benefit the firm, the trainees and the Northern Ireland economy. Hon. Members know that comparisons are often made between the amount of training given in other countries—for example, Germany—and in Britain. We should all welcome any increase in training either outside or inside the firm.
Thirdly, class II, vote 5—the action for community employment scheme, better known as ACE—requires an increase of £1–75 million. ACE provides tempora.ray employment for the long-term unemployed. By the end of this financial year the number of employees is expected' to increase from 3,050 to 4,400 and we hope that by June 1986 5,000 will be on the scheme.
We must continue to hope that, with employment in the Province picking up, we shall not need so many schemes of this type. But we must go on the basis that, with the level of unemployment that now exists—and, as I said, the strike a week ago will not help investment there—provision is made so that people need not stay on what we used to call the dole, but have opportunities to retain their self-respect, interest and availability for full employment.
In class IV, vote 1—roads services—net additional provision of £1.6 million is being sought. Increases in expenditure on operation arid maintenance of roads and street lighting and on public liability claims are partly offset by additional receipts from sales of surplus land, the recoupment of VAT and EC receipts under the urban renewal regulation.
In class V, vote 1—housing services—the net increase of £6.1 million is attributable largely to a technical adjustment relating to changes in the pattern of Government recoupment of the Housing Executive's expenditure on house renovation grants and to an increase in the number of grant applications. Within the vote, a fall in demand for the co-ownership scheme in the early part of the year has led to a projected underspend of £4 million in the provision for housing associations. This has been used to offset higher revenue requirements by the Housing Executive, mainly in increased loan charges arising from higher interest rates and borrowing levels.
Further token provision occurs in class VI, votes 1 and 2. In vote 1—water and sewerage services—an increase 879 of £1.6 million for operational and administration costs is offset by savings in computer costs and additional receipts, mainly from metered and other water charges.
In connection with vote 2—improvement of the environment—right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that major conservation legislation bringing Northern Ireland into step with the rest of the United Kingdom came into operation during the current financial year. This, together with the acceptance by the Government of the main thrust of the recommendations of the Balfour report, "A New Look at the Northern Ireland Countryside," has meant the commitment of an additional £700,000. The result of this expenditure will be to provide better access to the countryside, and thus enable Ulster people and visitors to the Province to enjoy the many natural beauties of the area.
§ Dr. Boyson
Yes, if the roads are not blocked. Knowing the ingenuity of the people of Northern Ireland and the beauty of the hills—not that I am suggesting that people take to the hills when the roads are blocked—one trusts that tourists to the Province will come not just to see demonstrations in the towns—we would rather that they did not see such things—but to see the beauties of the whole Province.
This is a side of Northern Ireland which, unfortunately, does not receive much attention from those who observe events in the Province. However, from personal experience I assure the House that parts of Northern Ireland are as beautiful and peaceful as areas anywhere in the world. Hon. Members have a responsibility to sell that fact at every opportunity. Indeed, this morning I attended a meeting designed to increase the number of tourists coming to the Province.
I come to education, class VIII, where Supplementary Estimates are being sought in votes 2, 3 and 4. In vote 2, an extra £2.5 million is sought. Just over £1 million of this is to cover the cost of redundancy and compensation payments made to staff prematurely retired under university restructuring arrangements. A further £300,000 is required in the university capital sector, where additional expenditure on computers has been partly offset by slippage on the development of Magee college campus. Hon. Members will recall the decision we made last year on the extension of the Magee college campus—a development that has been widely welcomed in the area.
About £600,000 is required to cover the cost of the 1985 pay award to further education teachers, while £700,000 is sought because some receipts from the European social fund, which were expected in the current year, will not be received until 1986–87. There always seems to be a difficulty in knowing the date when funds of this type will arrive. Accordingly, we must make provision, pending their arrival, to keep everything going. We know that they will come, though sometimes we should like them to arrive faster. There is a saving of £100,000 on the training and interchange of teachers which contributes partly to offsetting the additions required.
Under vote 3, which covers Department of Education miscellaneous services and administration, a token £1,000 is sought. Increases totalling almost £700,000 are required for departmental administration costs—notably the 880 installation and running costs of computer equipment. These are largely offset by savings on capital grants to district councils resulting from slippage. Substantive provision is also sought for VAT and EC receipts, which are expected to amount to £1.2 million.
Vote 4 is the final education item. Of the total of £900,000 sought, £550,000 is required for increased capital expenditure on essential minor works in schools, including a number of health and safety schemes. The balance of £350,000 is a net figure resulting from a downward revision of estimated receipts, notably those from the European social fund, some of which are not now expected until 1986–87.
On the health and personal social services front, in class IX, vote 1, I draw attention to a new mental health commission and to other significant changes within the vote. Subhead C7 of vote 1 makes provision for the mental health commission, an independent body to be established under the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 to safeguard the rights of patients in mental hospitals. It will not begin work formally until later this year, and the provision in the current financial year is to meet essential advance expenditure.
Now the other changes in class IV, vote 1. It is planned to increase expenditure in this vote by £3.5 million, £1.1 million of which is to assist with the transitional costs of opening the new Belfast city hospital. As hon. Members may know, the first in-patients were admitted to the new hospital early in January, and the transition from old and exhausted buildings to the new hospital is now gathering momentum.
The new hospital took a long time to build. Some sceptics doubted whether it would ever be finished. We can now rejoice in the knowledge that patients have moved in. It is fortunate that the timing of the opening of the hospital should coincide with the debate. That has not been intentional. While some might say that certain unfortunate events are having to be discussed, I am now dealing with a fortunate event. I am glad to say that not only is the new hospital now in operation, but that the new accident and emergency department opened for business this evening, though I hope that no hon. Members of this House will ever have to use it.
Other significant increases in capital expenditure are proposed to take account of essential health and safety work and in grants to voluntary bodies.
Before leaving class IX, I wish to draw hon. Members' attention to an unfortunate discrepancy between part 1 of the schedule to the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and last year's spring Supplementary Estimates volume. The increase to appropriations in aid for vote 2, class IX was stated in the schedule to the order as £1,489,000, whereas the correct figure of £1 ,389,000 appeared in the 1984–85 spring Supplementary Estimates volume. This regrettable clerical error had no bearing on the actual amount which this House approved should be issued out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund or upon the actual level of expenditure by the DHSS. It came to light only after close study. It has not affected anything that has happened in the Province. No one realised until now that an error had been made. Sometimes one wonders what other clerical errors have occurred. Indeed, there may be some in what I am saying tonight. Next year I, if I am so honoured, or some other Minister may have to correct the figures that I have put forward tonight. So far as I know, there are no clerical errors in them — 881 [Interruption.] I must not be diverted by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), obviously a militant in disguise as he is sitting below the Gangway. If he is not upsetting the Church of England, he must not be allowed to upset us. I must add that I have the highest regard for the hon. Gentleman, although I do not think that remark will do him any good. If it would help him in his constituency for me to attack him, he only needs to tell me.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
I had intended to wait until the end of the Minister's presentation, but, as he has kindly mentioned my presence, perhaps I may raise a point now. The hon. Gentleman said that Harland and Wolff was getting a subsidy of £36 million. Can he give an undertaking to the House that none of that money will be used to create unfair competition between that shipyard and shipyards in England and Scotland?
§ Dr. Boyson
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's constituency concern, as well as his ultimate seeking after truth. I should perhaps have put those in reverse: I appreciate his seeking after truth and also his minor constituency interest.
§ Dr. Boyson
No, of course not. I answered my hon. Friend on de Lorean and I can answer him again. We are pressing to the end on those legal cases.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Birkenhead. Any competition for orders must be fair in every way. We are committed to that in our support for Harland and Wolff. When it competes for orders, including defence orders, with shipyards elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the books will be checked to ensure that the competition is fair. I give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that that will be done.
A token estimate is also found under class X—social security—in the provision for non-contributory benefits, where increases amounting to almost £3.5 million are offset by savings and increased receipts. In vote 4, an additional sum of about £3 million is sought for administration and miscellaneous services, covering salaries and wages and charges for agency services.
I also draw hon. Members' attention to amendments to the ambits of votes 2 and 4 and consequential changes to sections G and A of the respective votes. The changes clarify the relationship between the Department of Health and Social Services and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in the payment of housing benefit and were made following criticism by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his report on the 1984–85 appropriation accounts.
In class II, vote 3—other public and common services—£4.1 million is sought mainly to finance the ongoing reorganisation of the efficiency services and the related costs of computer hardware.
Finally, in class XII, vote 1—office and general accommodation services—increased provision of £2 million is required mainly to meet additional costs in the new works and maintenance subheads arising from the repair of bomb damage to Government premises in Belfast.
882 In these opening remarks I have tried to cover the main features of the draft order and to draw the House's attention to a number of new items of expenditure.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
Can my hon. Friend help me with other figures? Apart from security matters, how much does it cost to operate government as a whole in Northern Ireland, and what is the tax take in round figures from all sources within the Province?
§ Dr. Boyson
I welcome questions from the Opposition more than from my hon. Friends. I can answer the second question, but I am not sure about the first. Government expenditure in Northern Ireland is about £4.5 billion. About £1.5 billion, or 37 per cent., is transferred from the United Kingdom. I shall write to my hon. and learned Friend if I am wrong; I shall write to him even more cheerfully if I am right. From my statistics, it seems that the tax take in the Province is about £3 billion.
As for the cost of the administration of the various Departments in the Province, I cannot give my hon. and learned Friend an answer without studying the document. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, who will be winding up, is already turning the pages rapidly. I should not be surprised if he, either himself or by inspiration from outside, found the answer to the question. If my hon. and learned Friend wants an answer from me, I shall write to him tomorrow.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
I shall not press my hon. Friend at this time about the cost to the administration in Northern Ireland of pursuing the de Lorean affair. There will be future occasions when. I can do that. I have listened with great interest to the able way in which my hon. Friend has put forward the appropriation measure. Has he any concern about the increase in administration which, as he has indicated to the House, is occurring in the appropriation measure? Under a number of separate headings he has indicated that the cost of administration has been more than was estimated. When all is said and done, the cost of administration is necessary, but it is not passing the real facility and service to the people who need it. People are not necessarily receiving the benefit of the funds and resources which are going into Northern Ireland. Does he have any concern about that and is he prepared to comment?
§ Dr. Boyson
I shall comment. Obviously administration involves those who are directly serving the public. The ultimate test of administration is: is the public served as it should be? The Department of Finance and Personnel checks carefully the numbers employed and keeps them under tight control. If we add up the changes in the various orders, it is not a great amount. That does not mean that we should not look at them. A man can drown in 6 ft of water as easily as in 20 ft if he is only 5 ft 11 in tall. Much of that is the result of late pay claims. A similar situation arises from the current teachers' pay claim which, on my reckoning, will cost about £20 million, and that will have to be cleared up. However, I shall write to my hon. Friend and give him a full reply dealing with administration as a percentage of the overall budget and of the numbers employed over the past three or four years for his satisfaction and for mine. I must hurry on before hon. Members think of other questions, and that must not be encouraged.
As usual on these occasions, right hon. and hon. Members will wish to express their views on these and 883 many other matters. I shall listen with great interest to the points raised, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will reply to the debate. The order deals with the basic question of money going to the Province. We do not take that lightly, although I trust that we take it cheerfully.
I commend the draft order to the House for the continued good organisation and administration of the various Departments in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)
This debate is an exercise in direct rule. In the previous debate the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) expressed some criticisms of the way in which Northern Ireland is ruled. Some of us in the House have expressed those same criticisms more than once. A few months ago some discussions took place with a view to improving matters but they were overtaken by more dramatic events.
The House is debating tonight the intensely practical needs of the people of Northern Ireland, and, as the Minister of State has just said, they are important issues. They are not dramatic issues. They are not highly charged or likely to be widely reported and the House is not so well attended for this debate as it was even for the previous debate. If those facts come to the knowledge of the people of Northern Ireland they may conclude that no one here really cares about them. That would be a misleading assessment, but it would be an understandable one. I hope that we shall be able to resume the discussions which were taking place some months ago to ensure that while direct rule survives it becomes a more meaningful process.
I say at once that we are not seeking to oppose the order. The Opposition's complaint is not that the Government are seeking to make provision for services in Northern Ireland but that they are making so little provision. We should have been glad to support a more generous provision. The Government never tire of telling us how much money is provided for Northern Ireland, and, as the Minister said in reply to the hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) a few moments ago, a substantial sum of money is being transferred—£1.5 billion a year. That is not inappropriate because for many years public services in Northern Ireland were allowed to fall tragically behind the equivalent services in other parts of the United Kingdom. We are still engaged in the catching-up process.
In addition, the people of Northern Ireland still have more than their share of contemporary crises. We heard in the previous debate from my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) of the many voluntary services into which so many people pour so much dedication and care, in many cases with no financial reward. Those are services which can make vital differences to whole communities. Those people are looking forward with no joy to the end of their contemporary funding.
That situation is not principally of the Government's making but we have ventured to hope that the Government might want to help. The Government's sin is not that of the thieves on the Damascus road. They have not robbed the traveller. If there is a sin—perhaps we shall be able to assess this better when we see what transpires in the immediate future—
§ Mr. Archer
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He reads my mind better than I know it myself. I did mean the Jericho road. His geography is also better than mine.
§ Mr. Archer
I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman's scripture is better but on that occasion it was more accurate.
We shall be in a better position to assess the Government's actions in the near future. Their sin is not that of the thieves. If there is a sin, it is the sin of the indifferent officials who passed that way and who saw the problem but passed by on the other side.
For the services to which I now seek to invite the House's attention, the provision is the Government's responsibility. The way in which it is provided is part of a pattern that applies to the whole of the United Kingdom—squalor in the public sector. We are speaking of public provision of services of which once this country could be proud, services which were the envy of the world, but now public provision appears to be seen as the last resort for those who can afford nothing better.
I turn first to part II of the schedule, class VIII, No. 4, grants to education and library boards. In order to live within the Department of Education allocation of £35,460,000 for the coming financial year, the southeastern education and libraries board will have to cut £711,000 from its services. It will be spending that much less than it is spending in the present year. But that is not the full extent of the shortfall because to keep its services at the existing level would require just under £750,000 additional money, so it would have meant reducing the services even if there had been no cut at all. The real reduction, therefore, will be the sum of those two figures, in the region of £1.5 million for the year. That is the southeastern board. The Belfast board is having to reduce its budget by about £1.6 million, and the southern board by about £700,000.
All those are figures on paper, and are the work of accountants. But I have seen what they mean for people in the area of the Belfast board. I have been to some schools whose heads have received instructions from the director to reduce the cleaning bills by taking out of use part of the floor area. It may mean locking away classrooms or other accommodation, it may mean closing off parts of the school and that, it is hoped, will reduce cleaning bills by reducing the cleaners' wages. I was shown what that would mean for education—parts of the school will simply not be in use any more for education purposes.
I saw the other side of the coin. I spoke to ladies who had given years of service as school cleaners. In a number of cases they were the only wage earners remaining in their families because their husbands, sons and daughters were unemployed. When I spoke to them, it was not known whether some of them would be sacked. Some were wondering whether their earnings would be reduced below the figure that would qualify them for pension entitlement so that, having worked in some cases largely in order to be assured of a pension when the time came, they may find those pensions taken away from them. They did not know how the cuts would be made. They knew only that the total 885 amount to be paid to them collectively as wages would have to be reduced. They felt that the board not only had not prescribed how the reductions should be achieved, but possibly did not greatly care. It may be that was an unfair assessment, and that members of the board cared desperately and were very unhappy about what was happening.
What I suspect may be wholly fair is to say that this all came about because of the Government's proposed cuts. The Government have not demonstrated that they care greatly how those cuts are to be achieved. The Government have not measured the need, they have not calculated how much could be saved from a particular bill without causing harm, they have not assessed whether there was any identifiable slack in the system. The Government just lopped a global figure off the budget for those boards. They have told the boards that this has to be saved from somewhere, irrespective of its effect on the children, on the men and on the women. It may be achieved by reducing the earnings of people who depend upon those earnings, or it may mean sacking people who will have lost all of their earnings, or it may mean cutting the budgets in some other way, but the Government have decreed that those cuts should be made and apparently they have not manifested any concern about how they should be made.
Mr. J. Enoch Powell
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out that the Government have referred to the boards a required quantum of reduction and have left the boards to decide how that is to be achieved. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with me that since these boards are appointed by Ministers who are agents of the board the Government are just as responsible for the methods by which he cuts are achieved as for the quantum of the cuts themselves? In fact, a sham local government responsibility is placed upon the boards which stand between the Government and their real responsibility for detailed administration decisions.
§ Mr. Archer
I follow what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I would not want to associate myself with the view that the members of the boards are virtually robots who are propelled by strings that are pulled by the Government. That would be less than fair to people who make a substantial contribution to public life in Northern Ireland. It would be better if these matters were decided in some way by the elected representatives, and I certainly agree that, when they are given a global figure and told to get on with it, those who give that global figure to them must accept their share of the responsibility.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept, as I do, in support of the elected representatives in this House from Northern Ireland, that they would wish to see much more meaningful local government implemented in the Province at the earliest possible date? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman accepts the argument that I have put forward and my point of view, would he and his colleagues support those hon. Members who want really meaningful devolved government to be granted at the earliest possible date to local authorities in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Archer
I have read the document entitled "The Way Forward". It would be out of order and perhaps out of place in this debate if we became involved in a 886 discussion about the future of local government in Northern Ireland. I was seeking to draw to the attention of the House not so much how these decisions are taken but what will happen to children and their families because these cuts are being made. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I content myself with that question for the moment. We may have an opportunity to discuss his question on another occasion.
We are told that the board takes the view that £35,000 could be knocked off the milk and meals bill. No doubt it could, but so far as I can see that could be done only by reducing the quality of the meals. In many of these schools, meals are not an additional snack which provides a kind of optional extra. Many of the children I saw receive virtually no other substantial source of protein. One headmaster to whom I spoke in a deprived area said to me, "They do not come to me to be educated; they come mainly to be fed." That may have been a cynical view, but we are speaking of schools where it is unusual for a child to come from a family which can afford to pay for school meals. I asked one headmaster how many of his children pay for school meals. He said, "I am still using the roll of meal tickets I started four years ago."
One way in which the Belfast board is seeking to meet the target is by cutting £100,000 off the Belfast school of music. That would mean an end to something like half of its teaching. Belfast has a long musical tradition. It has maintained that tradition, despite all the difficulties of recent years. The people of Belfast have found solace and inspiration in their music. Now, in addition to all their other deprivations, they are to be deprived of music teaching. The Government are even stopping the children from singing. I have written to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney). I say at once that he has not yet had time to reply. I look forward to his reply. But when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), replies to this debate we shall be grateful if he is able to provide a crumb of comfort about that subject.
§ Mr. Mallon
I see the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making. He is concentrating on one area board, but I hope that the Minister will bear in mind that more places in Northern Ireland than Belfast are affected by such cuts.
§ Mr. Archer
I readily accept that. But the hon. Gentleman will understand that in the interest of time I cannot go through all the figures with which I have been provided. I was citing an example of something which is tragically widespread.
One other way in which the Belfast board proposes to save £50,000 is by closing two nursery schools and, I believe, five nursery units. I do not know whether the Government have assessed whether there is a need for those schools and units. But I heard today about one of the schools which is to be closed. I refer to Stranmillis school. Its closure will save rather less than £10,000 a year. It is attended by Catholic and Protestant children, and, I am told, by black and white children. The school is already over-subscribed, so there is no suggestion that the places are not needed. The families of those children do not seem to have any alternative school to which to send their 887 children. They just have a problem. The total number of nursery places to be lost amounts to about 300. What is to happen to those 300 children?
I turn to class V and housing. In his clear opening speech the Minister told us that the apparent increase in the grant for housing was simply a technical adjustment. However, I know that on 30 January 1986 the Housing Executive announced that its budget for 1986–87 was £94 million less than it had envisaged. It had requested a budgetary increase of £50 million and it had received a cut of £44 million. That means that there will be 1,500 new houses instead of 2,500. In addition, improvement work on 7,000 homes will have to be shelved, including work on 2,000 homes that are designated as priority, and the rehabilitation of old houses will have to be halved.
I say at once that the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland is to be congratulated on a substantial improvement in Northern Ireland's housing position over the past few years. But that, of course, has to be seen against a background of deprivation. There is still a waiting list of 24,500 families. About half of them are estimated to be in urgent need. Although that need is still unmet, it looks as though some 3,000 jobs will be lost in the construction industry as a direct result of those cuts and that another 2,000 will be lost indirectly.
That gives the lie to the suggestion that unemployment is caused by modern technology. Those 5,000 workers will be eating their hearts out on the dole not because those vital houses are being built by robots but because they are not being built at all. So we have a Government who appear to be indifferent to education and housing need.
Class X relates to social security and other financial benefits. It would be easy to give examples of families in need of immediate benefit. But the House has discussed such problems before, and I do not propose to list them tonight. Instead, I shall turn to the Government's proposed restructuring of social security. As the Prime Minister told us some time ago, it is a restructuring. There will be some winners and some losers. The implication, as I understood it, is that that makes it about right. I do not accept that, for two reasons. First, we are dealing with individuals. It does not follow that because someone has done a good turn to A it is all right to do a bad turn to B. It might be acceptable if it could be shown that the losers were all those who could afford to lose, but that is not the case. The cuts are falling on the low paid, the unemployed and the elderly along with everyone else.
Secondly, there is no evidence that the winners and losers will balance. Those in the most vulnerable categories are not likely to break even, even when they are considered not individually but as categories. As I understand it, no one will receive benefit to cover the whole of the rates. Even the poorest will pay 20 per cent. of their rates bill. There will be no additional lump sum payments for those receiving supplementary benefit for special needs.
At Question Time on 27 February, I quoted some calculations of Dr. Eileen Evason, who estimates that, overall, single people will losean annual total of £8.9 million, pensioners £11–4 million, low-income families £3.3 million and families as a whole £8.8 million" .—[0fficial Report, 27 February 1986; Vol. 92, c. 1061.]888 Has the Minister a word of comfort for the people affected by all that?
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate—and I am sure that my hon. Friend will say this when he responds to the debate—that the Social Security Bill to which he has just referred is still going through the House, and its conclusions have not been reached. I hope that he and his colleagues, together with some of my colleagues on the Government Benches, will put down amendments not only in the remaining Committee stages but also on Report. There are still some uncertainties and the concern that he has expressed about certain areas is shared by both Government and Opposition Members. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that?
§ Mr. Archer
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those encouraging words, and I will see that they are passed on to my colleagues who serve on that Committee. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Bill is not directly concerned with Northern Ireland, but it may be that any advantages gained on that Committee will be reflected for the people of Northern Ireland. I am most grateful to him.
Finally—and I say "finally" not because it is the last example of deprivation but because my time will be exhausted long before this unhappy catalogue of suffering is complete—I draw attention to class IX, item 1, expenditure by the Department of Health and Social Services on health and personal social services. Does that item include any provision for the hospital service? The hon. Gentleman referred to the new City block. I had pointed out to me recently the new guidelines for getting better value for money in the health and social services. I make no complaint about that. We are all in favour of better value for money. If that inquiry can identify areas where resources can be saved without damage to services, there will be no complaint from Opposition Members. Until that has been done, however, we still have to look at cases where the lack of resources causes serious problems.
For some months there has been widespread anxiety about hospital services in Northern Ireland. Some local hospitals are threatened with closure. At others there is concern because the services are not meeting the requirements of the public. There has been concern about what is called "paediatric cardiology". Those are long words. The use of technical terms sometimes seems to soften the force of the blow. What it means is children with heart conditions. The Government have made some provision for that, for treating renal disease, for cervical screening and for the diagnosis and treatment of AIDS. For that we are grateful. The provision came after some recent manifestations of widespread concern. The Government made the money available, but the Minister will have seen the letter by Professor Buchanan, the chairman of the medical division of the Royal Victoria hospital, in the Belfast Telegraph of 6 March, indicating that it is very far from the end of the problem. Recent losses of acute medical beds in the region have thrown considerable strain on other medical beds. The closure of Claremont hospital has led to the loss of neurology beds, and that has led to a shortage of specialty beds generally.
Two days after the letter, on 8 March, Mr. Jim O'Reilly, an official of CoHSE, gave examples of the 889 consequences of that loss of beds. He spoke of seriously ill patients waiting in the corridors of the Royal Victoria hospital because no beds were available. We know that hospitals have been placed under acute strain. Perhaps a crisis has been averted because the staff are concerning themselves to avert one, but unless something is done lives will be placed at risk. I cannot attempt to put it better than Professor Buchanan when he said:The Government appears to be intent in cutting the 'boiler room' of medicine, the unsorted acutely ill who are often elderly and may have additional social problems. This area tends to be unglamorous, without champions and pressure groups. It is, therefore, a softer target, as it is less indentifiable and has less muscle. But it is at the front line of hospital medicine.The public must be made aware of the feelings of impending doom prevalent among the servants of the National Health Service. We agree with rationalisation, but the cutting of funding which can result in deterioration in patient care and almost certain loss of life is unforgiveable.I do not seek to improve on that as a way of drawing to the attention of the Minister what is going on in the hospital service.
I have sought not to over-dramatise these matters, but to recite the facts as I know them. Unless the Minister says that those are not the facts, the House is entitled to ask: what action are the Government proposing to take? The burden on the House is all the heavier because today, for political reasons, which I would be out of order to discuss, all those misfortunes are falling on the people of Northern Ireland when most of them are not being represented in the House and when their needs are not being made known by their elected Members of Parliament.
We in the Labour party have not made the task of government in Northern Ireland more difficult than it needs to be. No one can accuse us of lacking in restraint. But these things are crying out to be said, and someone must say them. Thousands of people in Northern Ireland will be listening to the Minister's reply.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)
In presenting the order, the Minister gave the House a painstaking analysis of some of the major expenditure decisions which were reflected by the figures in the order. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) responded in critical vein by dealing with the substantive matters of expenditure in a number of classes and votes.
I intend to concern myself, however, as heretofore exclusively with the constitutional aspect of the order. My difficulty is that the Minister in charge of the order knows what I will say, but does not know how I shall say it in a different way from the way in which it has been said already, but hopes that I shall succeed. The gravamen of the matter is that, with the appropriation orders, we are wasting the time of the House without any corresponding gain in the precise scrutiny by hon. Members of the separate items of expenditure, or the opportunity to bring forward pertinent criticisms and to push them through. We are doing that because of the existence of an entirely unnecessary piece of financial mechanism—the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, into which money is poured so that it may be poured out again, but with the side effect that a simulacrum of financial control is created which is discharged by means of these three appropriation orders during the year.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that this evening we were engaged in an exercise in direct rule. With great respect, I would not say that that is correct, 890 because we could dispense with the necessity of these orders, and, indeed, with the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, without altering, although I hope that he is as anxious as the rest of us to alter, the procedure on legislation by Order in Council. I have his assent that that is the essence of what we have agreed conventionally to describe as direct rule.
The exercise in which we are engaged is the preservation of one of the relics of the Stormont Government and Parliament. It was set up in 1920 in order that the Stormont Government and Parliament might operate as nearly as possible as if it were a dominion Government and Parliament with a separate financial organisation and a duplication of the financial machinery which this House uses in the United Kingdom. We are taking part in the charade of keeping that in existence on the offchance that—one does not know, but somehow, some day or other in some unforeseen circumstances—it might be handy to have a Consolidated Fund for Northern Ireland.
In doing that we are perpetuating one of the causes of instability in the Province, which is uncertainty as to the constitutional future and repetition of the determination to the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom to deny to the people of the Province that to which they are entitled as part of the United Kingdom, to be treated, administered and legislated for like all the rest.
I did give a half-indication to the Minister that I would try to vary the message to which he has so courteously responded and acknowledged on previous occasions. Happily enough, there came into my hands—although not only into mine but into those of other hon. Members and I am sure into the hands of the Government or the Government's advisers—an article by Andrew Likierman, who is the senior lecturer at the London Business School and a director of the school's institute of public sector management, which has published a propos in the Journal of Irish Business and Administrative Research—it could not be better blessed in its origin or in its authorship.
He has, for the first time so far as I know, carried out a thorough and critical examination of exactly the phenomenon which is before us this evening in the form of this order. He is not in favour of it. He believes that it mystifies far more than it enlightens. He is on the track of the question that the Minister was asked from his own Back Benches. It tends to obscure the real relationship between the finances of Northern Ireland and the finances of the rest of the United Kingdom. It also denies to those who are attempting to control expenduture in Northern Ireland the full use of the opportunities which are given in the rest of the United Kingdom by the financial mechanisms which operate there.
I am not going to trouble the House with many quotations, but in fairness to Mr. Likierman I think it would be right if one or two sentences were on the record. He said:the Northern Ireland position is made very much more obscure than that of the rest of the United Kingdom because of a mechanism in the control of Northern Ireland expenditure which has no parallel in either financial or constitutional terms elsewhere in the United Kingdom—the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund which was set up in the 1920 Government of Ireland Act.He then points out that it is perfectly practicable to dispense advantageously with this antiquated survival from a past constitutional era and says: 891To bring Northern Ireland into line with the practice for Wales and Scotland, it would not appear to be difficult technically to cover the Northern Ireland Supply Estimates as a whole in Class 17. The dividing line between what was covered in Class 17 and what was covered in other Classes"—this dividing line applies to Wales and Scotland as well—would then be decided on the basis of administrative boundaries".In other words, he is saying that Northern Ireland should be treated as Wales and Scotland are treated for the purpose of Estimates and for the purpose of financial procedures.
He then outlines the two steps which would produce that result:First, the creation of a Select Committee to handle the affairs of Northern Ireland in the same way as the affairs of Scotland and Wales are handled by their respective Departmental Select Committees.May I interrupt the quotation at that point to refer to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West? I am sure that he would agree with me that that interrogation would be conducted much more effectively if it were conducted within the ambit of a Select Committee which could call for witnesses and interrogate Ministers and report to the House.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
I have advocated such a Select Committee and I am most interested to hear that the right hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting one himself as a mechanism for ensuring that there is proper discussion in the House where all who have the right to be consulted and can consult one another can sit around a table, discuss matters and call for papers and witnesses.
§ Mr. Powell
I am answering the hon. Gentleman's question strictly in the financial context, but he is entirely right. The deduction from treating Northern Ireland for financial purposes as Wales and Scotland are treated is indeed that that method of scrutiny would be available to deal with the Northern Ireland Estimates.
I interrupted the quotation. I shall return to the remaining part of it which outlines the second step which, in the author's opinion, would need to be taken.Second, the winding up of the NICF and the direct voting of Northern Ireland expenditure by Parliament in the same way as public expenditure for the rest of the UK is currently voted. With or without Direct Rule, Northern Ireland Supply Estimates could be voted through without the need to engage in duplicate voting of 'Transfers to the NICF' at Westminster or the transfer of funds into and out of a notional account.We are holding an inquest, I hope, this evening upon a constitutional device which does not serve Northern Ireland or those who represent the people of Northern Ireland, which does not serve the convenience of this House and which is out of line with the financial mechanisms that the House has evolved, and recently improved, for the control and scrutiny of public expenditure.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
I do not want to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman or to delay the House on this important subject but if the right hon. Gentleman's proposal were accepted—I would urge the Government to give it more than just sympathetic consideration as a means of bridging the gulf—would the right hon. Gentleman, whose presence we are all delighted to have, give an assurance that it might bring some of his worthy colleagues back to the House so that the people of 892 Northern Ireland would be represented here? Would it give them the opportunity to come back without breaching the principle upon which they clearly feel it difficult to serve in this place despite having been elected?
§ Mr. Powell
It is not for me to pass my personal judgment on my colleagues' decision where and how their duties to their constituents of the Province are best discharged, but I can come towards the hon. Gentleman by saying that anything which holds out to the people of Northern Ireland an assurance of the only available constitutional stability—that is, to be treated as what they are: a part of the United Kingdom—would be a pacificatory and beneficent act and could well be crucial in overcoming the current crisis which has been upon us since 15 November.
I wanted to refer to a respect in which Northern Ireland happily is within the ambit of the financial procedures of the House. We have the benefit of the consideration by the Public Accounts Committee, along with the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General and of the Comptroller and Auditor-General for Northern Ireland. It would be churlish of me, having said what I have about financial arrangements, not to acknowledge in this House the work done by the Comptroller and Auditor-General for Northern Ireland and the stimulating effect it has on the Northern Ireland Department.
I hope that those who serve Northern Ireland in such a way do not imagine that, because of our apparent preoccupation with politics, which is unavoidable, we do not study or benefit by their work. I have taken the occasion in other contexts to pay tribute to those who scrutinise the delegated legislation. I pay tribute here to those who scrutinise the financial accounts of the Northern Ireland Departments.
I should like to refer to the response published only in October 1985 by the Northern Ireland Department of Finance and Personnel to two reports of the Public Accounts Committee, particularly the 14th report. I think that it would be fair to those whose work resulted in that interchange between the Committee, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Northern Ireland Department of Finance and Personnel to underline some of the recommendations. I underline the recommendations in connection with hospital costs, the separation of staff and patient catering, full trading accounts for canteens, monitoring of the level of staff contribution to overheads, and target levels for waste. I believe that all those matters have been taken on board by the Department of Health and Social Security but it would be welcome if it could be acknowledged by the Minister when he replies. If there is anything to add since the report which was laid before the House in 1985, I am sure that he and I could contrive ways in which that could be made available more widely than simply by a letter to myself.
I want to refer to the supplementary benefit paragraphs of that report, particularly to the subject of single payments and the potential abuse of single payments. Here, I am approaching ground mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West. I was one of those who was dismayed by the proposal so drastically to reform the single payment procedure as has been agreed, at any rate, for the rest of the United Kingdom. I think that this is one of the opportunities that one can take to put on 893 record what I have found to be the function of the social security offices in Northern Ireland and the use by those offices of the weapon or instrument of the single payment.
It has been my experience in the 12 years that I have represented a constituency in Northern Ireland to have been far more closely involved in the affairs, needs and anxieties of my constituents than I ever found was the case in Wolverhampton. I have been much closer, thereby, to the practical work, individual by individual, of the social security offices and have often been a bearer of tidings between the constituent and the social security office. I want to put it on record—I hope that it is not too late for this testimony to be taken into account in any reforms which take place more generally throughout the United Kingdom—that I have been impressed by the extraordinary value of the single payment as a means whereby unique circumstances can be treated uniquely by the social security staffs.
Social security staffs are, for the most part, highly experienced and very hard-boiled individuals. They combine those necessary qualities of experience and being hard-boiled with very real human understanding and sympathy and knowledge of local circumstances. Over and over again I have been astonished at the way in which what seemed to be a way out, request or plea from a family or a person has been recognised, defined and met by a social security office by means of a single payment.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
The right hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the corporate wisdom of the Select Committee on Social Services, which has undertaken a short but full report on the reform of social security proposed in the White Paper, fully endorses his views.
§ Mr. Powell
I am glad to hear that, and I believe that a substantial element of such discretion will be left behind in the hands of the social security officers, for over and again I have found that apparently intractable family and individual conditions can be analysed and dealt with in a way that they could not have been dealt with without the power to make a single payment.
No doubt there has been substantial additional expenditure beyond what was estimated under this head; there will always be, where there is discretion, marginal cases where judgments might be different and where possibly pressures—perhaps especially in Northern Ireland—have been unduly exerted. I have no hesitation in testifying to the House that overwhelmingly, on the basis of my experience in the past 12 years, not only do the social security officers perform the most outstanding of all the social services in the Province, but the ability to use their discretion in the form of a single payment is an instrument of which it would be wrong to deprive them.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
It is of the essence of the Union that we are all united in one country, and it is because we are united with Northern Ireland that tonight we are debating this order and the moneys that will be transferred from this part of the United Kingdom to that part of the United Kingdom. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for clarifying in my mind the fact that those moneys are about £1.5 billion each year, 894 excluding the cost of defence. It is proper that the better-off portions of the United Kingdom should be paving that money to assist Northern Ireland, which is less well-off at the moment, but which I hope will not always be so.
Nevertheless, we should be conscious that this is the first appropriation order debate since the Anglo-Irish agreement and it is the view of the House, which is one Chamber of the Parliament of the Union, that the agreement is in the best interests of our nation as a whole and of Northern Ireland. That view may be right or wrong. With my limited knowledge, I support it. Real benefits for Northern Ireland and our country as a whole can derive from the agreement, and I do not believe that it represents the threat to Northern Ireland that I know that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and some Opposition Members, believe it to be. Whatever we believe, it is the will of Parliament.
I realise that those who oppose the agreement feel the matter deeply, but because we are all one Parliament I am taking this opportunity to say that if people hold such feelings, the right place to express them—they have the best possible example in the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell)—is in this Parliament, where they can talk to us and help us to understand their views better, and give us the opportunity to express to them the reasons why we hold a contrary view.
I was most interested in what the right hon. Member for South Down said on his constitutional theme—that he wished that the whole of the United Kingdom were governed in the same way. I may be misrepresenting what he said, but I hope that I understood at least that he was seeking to say that we should be governed much more closely in the same way, whether we be in Northern Ireland or on the mainland. I cannot see why that should fit in with any dislike of the Anglo-Irish agreement. It should make the agreement even more popular because, whereas they see themselves separately treated, it would mean that we were all treated in exactly the same way.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Is the hon. and learned Mernber suggesting that the Anglo-Irish conference should deal with the administration of Wales, Scotland and England? If that is so, I would join hands with him.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. May I draw the hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to the fact that we are debating the appropriation order and expenditure in Northern Ireland and not the agreement.
§ Mr. Lyell
You are correct, Mr. Speaker, to draw me back to that topic. I shall return to the appropriation order. I started with that subject and I apologise if I have gone on a slight loop.
I started with the agreement because the appropriation of moneys from one part of the United Kingdom to another part is essentially the function of this Parliament. It is 895 inextricably bound with the other elements of government and with the most important element of government in Northern Ireland which is in all our minds at present.
Whatever the view about the appropriation order or the view of the nexus of this party or Government or of the Government of any other country, the right place for such a view to be expressed by hon. and right hon. Members elected from Northern Ireland is within this Chamber. The right attitude for those hon. Members to express towards bullying, barricading, or threats to their citizens, which will increase the costs and the requirements for appropriation from this House, is here in the Chamber. That last point brings me back within the rules of order.
Hitherto I have received no correspondence from my constituents on the subject of Northern Ireland in all the years that I have represented my constituency. My constituents now make the point that they think that the people in Northern Ireland should obey our laws, particularly those people who set themselves up as leaders in their community. They should obey our laws in the same way as we expect everyone to obey our laws.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
My hon. and learned Friend is making an interesting speech, quite late at night. Would he agree with me that, if he wants to see his objective reached, the Government could achieve it by setting up a Select Committee for Northern Ireland along the lines described by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) in his interesting and positive speech earlier in the debate? Would my hon. and learned Friend agree that—
§ Mr. Winterton
Would my hon. and learned Friend agree that that could be achieved, in relation to appropriation matters, along the lines of the Select Committees for Wales and Scotland that already exist in the House?
§ Mr. Lyell
You will recognise, Mr. Speaker, that constitutional suggestions from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) always require the most careful thought. Consequently I shall ponder his suggestion.
There are other interesting constitutional ideas in the Anglo-Irish agreement which might or might not have a bearing on my hon. Friend's suggestion for wider discussion between various parliamentarians. I commend those ideas for careful thought also.
I should like to conclude by saying that the way of democracy is persuasion and the way to persuade is to be present to persuade. We greatly look forward to seeing those whom we deeply respect as brave men, elected to represent their constituents in this House, present in the Chamber to do that.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lye11) and the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), I find it refreshing to have an opportunity to speak without referring to Northern Ireland's constitutional position or any of its attendant problems. I shall be brief because the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, 896 West (Mr. Archer) put his finger on all the major issues in the order with which I wanted to deal. He did so superbly and referred to the essence of my criticism of the legislation. When it comes to buildings, machinery and land, there is an increase, but when it comes to people, there is a decrease. That is the essence of the order.
I should like to refer to the people who are least able to look after themselves. People in the farming industry are suffering. On the suggestion of agricultural advisers in Northern Ireland, they went into the milk industry. Suddenly, a milk quota was tied around their necks and they could not cope. They could not sell their milk. We have been told that there has been a £1.3 million increase, but that is not an adequate amount to give the people who need to be saved.
I ask the Under-Secretary of State to re-examine the quota to ascertain ways to help those farmers. It is not merely a matter of farmers having had a bad year. It involves the loss of the farmer's entire stock and machinery. It entails total reinvestment by the farmer if he is ever again to become viably involved in agriculture.
I have dealt with one raw material in Northern Ireland—grass. I should like now to deal with another resource—our young people, especially in relation to education cuts and the comments by the Minister of State on class II. The Minister said that there was an increase of £1.2 million in the youth training programme. What provision, if any, will be made from that sum for the special training programme for handicapped people? Last year, I contacted the Minister's office about this matter. It is sad to see the way in which young handicapped people cannot avail themselves of the programme's benefits. Under that programme, they can develop at their own pace. They cannot cope in training schemes, so they give up. I specifically ask for an increased provision because of the need in all towns in Northern Ireland. It is a shame that we do not have such a provision.
I agree with what the Minister said about the increased allocation for the ACE schemes, but he made no reference to Enterprise Ulster. That was a serious omission. Although I am a great advocate of ACE schemes, I recognise that Enterprise Ulster has created employment stability. It has provided great advantages for district councils and various other bodies. Enterprise Ulster caters for the middle-aged part of the market whom ACE schemes simply do not cover. Has the Minister been converted about Enterprise Ulster?
Under class V, the Housing Executive will receive £94 million less than it requires. I should like to home in on one element of the Housing Executive. It applies not only to Northern Ireland but to England, Scotland and Wales. The cuts have meant that maintenance is not of lasting benefit. That applies right across the board. In five, 10 or 15 years, some of the maintenance work will have to be carried out again. That means pouring good money after bad.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ It being Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Questions which he was directed by paragraph (1) of the Standing Order (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.) to put at that hour.