HL Deb 12 December 1972 vol 337 cc557-60

6.55 p.m.

LORD WINDLESHAM rose to move, That the Draft Local Government &c. (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, laid before the House on November 28, be approved. The noble Lord said: This Draft Order in Council contains a number of miscellaneous provisions most of which arise from the reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland. It is concerned mainly with the finances of local government following reorganisation, and the transfer of certain burdens to the Northern Ireland Exchequer. In addition, it increases the amount which the Ministry of Development may advance to new town commissions to enable them to finance their development functions.

At present local authorities are in receipt of a general grant which compensates for rate income lost because of derating and provides some assistance to poorer authorities. The Draft Order proposes the continuation of these principles in a general grant to be paid in aid of expenditure of the new district councils. These councils vary widely in resources, measured in terms of the average product of a penny rate per head of the population, and it is proposed that the Ministry of Development will pay a grant to poorer councils to bring them up to a standard to be determined by the Ministry. That standard may be fixed by reference either to the whole of Northern Ireland or the districts of the more wealthy councils. The intention is that the first period of the grant—October 1, 1973 to March 31, 1974—it will be fixed by reference to the whole of Northern Ireland. There will, therefore, be a statistical average over Northern Ireland as a whole. This element of the grant is similar to the resources element of the Rate Support Grant which is payable to local authorities in England and Wales.

The general grant contains a second element, known as "the derating element", which is intended to compensate district councils for rate income lost because of industrial derating. The rateable valuation of industrial hereditaments is £0.875 million, which is one-quarter of their total net annual valuation of £3.5 million. Compensation for rate income lost through derating has been a feature of local government finance in Northern Ireland since 1929 and its retention in the general grant was requested by the Local Government Consultative Committee which advises the Government on matters connected with the reorganisation of local government. District councils will be in existence for several months before they receive money on account of the rates they make, and to finance them during this period the Draft Order will enable the Ministry of Development to make loans to them. The amount to be advanced will be about £100,000 and will be repaid from the normal revenues of the councils.

The Draft Order also provides for an increase in the statutory limit of borrowing by New Town Commissions. The present cumulative limit of £30 million has been reached, and to enable the New Towns development programmes—provision of water and sewerage services, roads, industrial sites and comprehensive development—to continue, it is proposed to increase the limit to £55 million. This sum includes an additional £10 million to meet the expenses of the Commissions' operations during the extra six months occasioned by the postponement of local government reorganisation. Responsibility for all roads in the Province will be in the hands of the Ministry of Development from October 1, 1973, and the Ministry will require power to borrow for capital expenditure purposes. This power is conferred by the Draft Order and it is proposed that the present limit on borrowing, which relates to motorways and trunk roads only, should be increased from £110 million to £150 million. As the new district councils will not be housing authorities, the Draft Order proposes that the financial commitments of the existing local authorities in relation to housing should be transferred to the Ministry of Development either directly or indirectly through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Finally, I should like to explain that, while on completion of local government reorganisation many services will be transferred to the Exchequer, their cost will not fall on taxpayers, as under the recently made Rates (Northern Ireland) Order a regional rate will be levied by the Ministry of Finance for the broad purpose of meeting the cost of those services which, though local, will be administered on a regional basis. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Local Government &c. (Northern Ireland) Order 1972. laid before the House on November 28, be approved.—(Lord Windlesham.)

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, the very great care with which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has explained this Order is much appreciated. He could be excused, having regard to the attendance in the House, if he thought that to go into very much detail mattered not. I am sure we appreciate this indication of the extremely serious manner in which he seeks to discharge his duties to Northern Ireland, as well to this House, and I repeat that we are indeed grateful to him for the patience and the care with which he is treating the House this evening. Not only the House, but also the people of Northern Ireland will be appreciative of the fact that he is going into such detail. From this side we again offer general support to this Order. It would seem to us to be commendable. We have one small doubt, that we are not too sure whether we ought too often to have the word" et cetera" in the title of an Order. We do not quite understand what it means and there may be a danger if it is used too often. Perhaps it is an "Irishism".


My Lords, I should only like to add my strong support to the commendation that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has made of the conduct of my noble friend in presenting these Orders to us this evening.

On Question, Motion agreed to.