HL Deb 15 July 1975 vol 362 cc1230-45

8.52 p.m.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE rose to move, That the Draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 27th June, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1975 be approved. This Order is being made by normal procedure under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974.

This Order appropriates the balance of the 1975–76 Main Estimates, the Vote on Account of 1975–76 having been appropriated in March this year, and also certain sums arising out of Excess Votes for the financial year 1973–74. The total sum to be appropriated by the Order is almost £512 million of which £1.6 million relates to the Excess Votes. Main Estimates provision for 1975–76 amounts to over £826 million, an increase of some £101 million over total Estimates provision in 1974–75.

The major increases relate to teachers' salaries and grants to the Education and Library Boards for which an additional £26.6 million are required very largely as a result of pay and price movements; industrial development, for which an extra £34.6 million are provided including £25 million for financial assistance to Harland and Wolff; and compensation payments to electricity and gas undertakings in Northern Ireland to wipe out losses suffered as a result of compliance with Government prices policy, for which additional provision of £19.8 million is included.

The Excess Votes arose on Class VIII No. 1, Department of the Environment and Class VIII No. 3, Roads Services. They have been considered by the Public Accounts Committee, which has recommended that the necessary sums should be made available. The circumstances in which the Excesses occurred are set out in the Statement of Excesses which has been placed in the Printed Paper Office. This Order has already been considered in another place. My purpose has been to indicate the general nature of its contents. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 27th June, be approved.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

8.55 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has made clear, this Order, the second Appropriation Order for 1975, deals with the balance of the Estimate for the current financial year and covers almost all the responsibilities of Government in Northern Ireland. At this hour, I should like mainly to confine my questions to Class IV; namely, educational expenditure, although possibly other noble Lords may wish to question the noble Lord on one or two other aspects of the Order.

Earlier this year, in the Budget, the Government decided on public expenditure cuts. I am not sure of their full effect on education in Northern Ireland, but I understand that at least there will be no growth in real terms in educational expenditure in the Province. In this financial situation, I can well understand the reasons for this; but this Order gives me the opportunity to ask where the reductions in planned expenditure in education in Ulster have had to fall; in other words, are they mainly falling on the primary, secondary or higher education fields? Especially I should like to ask whether there will have to be a reduction in the planned expansion of teacher employment.

On the 9th July there were reports in Northern Ireland newspapers that Queen's University in Belfast is experiencing considerable financial difficulties. I wonder whether any representations have been made to the Government by the University and whether the Government have any comments to make on this matter at this stage. I believe I am right in saying that a co-ordinating committee has been set up on which the Northern Ireland Universities and the Ulster College are going to plan together for the future. May I say what a welcome step this is. I am sure that the universities and the polytechnics have each their respective roles to fulfil and I should like to ask whether the Government are confident that the new university at Coleraine is going to be able to continue to develop in the foreseeable future to its full planned establishment of numbers.

Lastly, on education, 18 months ago the Lelièvre Report on Teacher Training in Northern Ireland was published. I realise that some of the proposals, notably for increase in in-service training will be costly, but I wonder whether the Government could tell the House whether any action has subsequently been taken to put any parts of the Lelièvre Report into effect.

The effect of economic recession, I suppose, has probably more harmful social effects in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I should be interested to know what is the present level of unemployment in the Province compared to Great Britain and how the sums to be spent this year by the Department of Manpower Services for employment, training, rehabilitation and settlement (Class IX(2)) compare with last year's figures. Although the Northern Ireland training centres are a cause for considerable pride for anyone who has anything to do with them, they cannot of themselves create new industry and commerce to any great effect in the Province. I should be interested also to hear how the expenditure of the Department of Commerce on industrial development services compares with last year and what success there is at the moment in attracting new industry to Northern Ireland. This is a matter which the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, spoke about some weeks ago when we were debating Northern Ireland in another respect.

I may have asked some questions of which I did not have the opportunity to give the noble Lord notice, and the noble Lord may prefer to write to me on them. This is a late hour to be debating what is in effect the budget for Northern Ireland. Let us hope that soon the Convention will produce a plan upon which the Government of Northern Ireland by the people of Northern Ireland can once again he settled.


My Lords, if I may reply to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, before other noble Lords speak and while his questions are still clear in my mind, it may be useful. The expenditure on education does not represent a cut. The total education estimate in 1974–75 was £169 million. The estimate for 1975–76 is £201 million, which is an increase. The noble Lord may have in mind expenditure involving the Area Education and Library Boards, and I should like to explain exactly what the situation is there. I think this is where the noble Lord's feeling that there is a cut has come from. In 1974–75 the Department agreed that the Area Boards could spend up to £11 million on capital projects. In the current year the Department has agreed that the Boards may spend up to £14.6 million on capital projects, which is more than they spent last year. So far there are no cuts. But the Board as a group requested permission to plan for £37 million, or about 200 per cent. of what they had spent last year. This has not been agreed. Even so, I hope the noble Lord will agree that we have not cut the education programme, but have introduced realism into the plans.

The Department of Education is in continuous touch with both universities about their financial difficulties. They arise, like so many people's difficulties today, because of inflation. The Department is taking the advice of the University Grants Committee on the level on the recurrent grant for the universities for 1975–76. That is all I can say about that. As to the Lelièvre Committee, there has been some progress. For example, induction training was a major theme of the Report. A number of induction training trials are proceeding and the results will be assessed. Another theme was the need to increase in-service training. Progress is being made here: for example, the Universities' Colleges of Education and the Ulster College are organising one-term courses for teachers involved with careers work which will begin next January.

The noble Lord spoke about Northern Ireland training centres of which we are very proud, as he knows. We lead the British Isles in this and we agree that they cannot solve the problems by themselves. I should like to write to him if I may about his detailed questions about the manpower services.

9.3 p.m.


My Lords, some time ago the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said when talking about a partial Appropriations Bill, that this was the proper time to discuss the Government of Northern Ireland and its appropriation. Tonight, at this late hour, we are demonstrating once more the difficulties of direct rule. We are showing how almost impossible it is for Parliamentary control to be exercised over the Government of Northern Ireland, because in the course of an hour we are discussing the expenditure of £800 million, which is the total budget, and £510 million which is in this particular appropriation.

I should like to support my noble friend Lord Belstead in his appeal for, as it were, special treatment for Northern Ireland in this affair. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said that Northern Ireland must contribute, as part of the United Kingdom, to the total economic welfare of the United Kingdom. I entirely agree with that. But I should like to feel that, as all Governments in the past, direct rule Governments and Governments in Stormont, they always exercised their right to expect the special circumstances which might exist—if they were special circumstances—in fighting on behalf of the Northern Ireland Government and Northern Ireland Government affairs. I should like to get an assurance from the noble Lord that the present Northern Ireland Government, of which he is a member, is fighting hard for this effect because Northern Ireland is a special case with special problems.

The noble Lord will know, because I spoke to him, that I had intended to pay a compliment to him for the work he has done. Unfortunately, time will prevent me from doing this, so he will have to forgo that pleasure. However, it is worth while saying that there has been a considerable amount of anti-Whitehall talk in Northern Ireland lately. This may have rubbed off on certain Ministers as being criticism of their personal efforts. I should like to make clear that I do not believe that there is any more anti-Whitehall talk in Belfast than there is in Edinburgh, and that this is the problem of rule from Westminster. The personal efforts which the noble Lord and his colleagues make—I may disagree with some of their decisions—are great. The problems they have to face with constituencies in this country, Ministries here and in Northern Ireland, make an intolerable situation which is demonstrated by the debate we are having tonight.

I must tell the noble Lord that there is a problem on this question of direct rule to which the Government should pay some attention. There has been an increase in transferred civil servants from this country to Stormont Castle and a decrease from the Northern Ireland Civil Service to the hub of power which resides in Stormont Castle. Discontent has been voiced within the Civil Service of Northern Ireland that at a critical time expert advice, which has been given and which has been recognised by Governments as being very valuable advice, may not be available in the volume at which it was. There is a reduction in that area.

I should like to turn to the area in which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has a great interest. This is Class IV, Agriculture, which is the pig and poultry industry or the intensive farming industry. The total number of people employed directly and indirectly is about 14,000. This is a very efficient industry which was built up when we had access to the world market of grain. We have now gone in the EEC, and various other political decisions have been taken which have nothing to do with the efficiency of the industry, and they have put that industry in jeopardy. The EEC in their latest paper, which arrived late last week, recognised that this was a problem and that for social reasons support should be given. I realise that we are in a stringent economic position and that many thousands of jobs are in jeopardy; but for social reasons I believe that this whole situation should be looked at very seriously.

It is much more potent if you have 7,000 people in Harland and Wolff who are going to be made unemployed if the Government do not support the firm, than if you have 14,000 who will be only partially unemployed throughout the community. This is lack of muscle, and it is our duty to see that just because muscle is not being provided by sensible people spread over the country, they should not be put in jeopardy. It was, indeed, for social reasons, among other things, that the Government supported Harland and Wolff.

This brings me to Class VI which concerns industry and commerce. I should like to ask the noble Lord—and perhaps he will write to me because it is a very complicated matter, although I did give him warning of it—whether he would state exactly where the money for Harland and Wolff is coming from. We have been told that some of that money, though not all of it, is coming from the general Budget for Northern Ireland. As I said before, this is the first time that services within Northern Ireland—road services, water services, sewage services—have been cut back in order to provide for industrial employment. I believe that Northern Ireland should be told exactly where that money is coming from.

Arising out of that, as Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom which is budgeted separately, this provides an opportunity for the Government to say where such money will be coming from. For instance, is the Midlands suffering in any way? Is there a school, a waterworks, or a sewage works in a geographical area, which is being cut because of British Leyland? Is there an area in Scotland which is suffering because another factory is being supported? If not, this is rank discrimination against Northern Ireland, because the Province is separately budgeted for. I think this should be made clear, because what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and I feel it is right that that should be spelt out to the people who are benefiting from this Government support, as well as to the people who are suffering from it. There are two issues here and I think the effects should be made clear on both sides.

As we are dealing with Class VI relating to commerce, I should like to refer to something with which I have had a great deal to do; that is, tourist development. I am glad to see that we are spending a lot of money on tourist development, but I would appeal to the noble Lord and his colleagues, instead of travelling by those beautiful jet planes from Belfast to Northolt, to "pig it" without declaring who they are, so that they travel with me and other people on a TriStar, because it is really impossible to imagine that these cruelties could be inflicted on us. It is no use spending money on tourist development and asking people to come if the facilities are not there.

British Airways and all their personnel, together with the British Airports Authority, could not be more helpful, and I have no complaint at all about any of the people involved. British Airways has always been subject to pressure from Governments in Northern Ireland with a view to encouraging them and finding out what problems they have; the Northern Ireland Governments have always helped them in the past. But the fact is that we suffer TriStars because British Airways wish to have a shuttle service with Tridents to Glasgow. That is their commercial decision; and I should like to ask the Government whether they wll make representations to see that we have proper communications between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

We suffer one tremendous disadvantage in that it costs very nearly £40 direct to Northern Ireland from London and return. That is the price put against any tourist who comes to England, lands at Heathrow and wants to go on to Northern Ireland. There are so many foreign tourists, including Americans, who wish to do so. Of course, everybody objects to high prices, but if there is a high price, my goodness! there ought to be a high-quality service at the same time.

I am not complaining, as your Lordships will know, about the security arrangements, because security must exist and I am the last to suggest that there should be no security. But last Sunday, when I arrived from Northern Ireland, three other aeroplanes—which is the equivalent of one TriStar—arrived at the same moment. There was one of those revolving platforms, which I now understand is called a console, on which the baggage goes round. First one truckload came out from Edinburgh; then there was one from Glasgow and then one from Belfast, and there were 300 or 400 people around that one console. I could not get near my baggage. Your Lordships can imagine my pleasure when I saw the five dozen eggs, followed by the ham I brought come zooming down the console and slipping over the top. We have been eating scrambled eggs ever since. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, will know that I appreciate good food and I was bringing these as presents for people with whom I was staying, not being able to afford to go to hotels with the House of Lords allowance.

In every economic crisis which has hit Northern Ireland the Ministers of Commerce have been very energetic in making visits abroad to get business and to bring employment to Northern Ireland. It is a long time since a Minister of Commerce has been abroad touting for business for Northern Ireland. If it was effective in the past, then the worse the crisis the more important it is that a Minister goes abroad to places where there is money to bring in industry. By that alone will we get employment and some form of stability.

9.16 p.m.


My Lords, may I reply first to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, because otherwise I shall lose the thread. The noble Viscount began by asking whether we on the Ministerial side of the Northern Ireland Office fight Northern Ireland battles. I think he can rest assured on this. We are reasonably good departmental Ministers in this way and we try very hard to look after our side. The noble Viscount referred to the question of direct rule. It is of course an awkward and difficult subject and it is because we realise this I that my right honourable friend, with everybody's agreement, set up the Convention, and we hope that this will lead to something else. I do not think there is anything more to be said on that. None of us thinks that direct rule is the best answer; it is the only answer we have got.

My Lords, on the question of agriculture of course the noble Viscount is right. Northern Ireland agriculture is and must always be basically a grass converting job and if individual farmers particularly small ones are going to have any jam on their bread and butter they must do some intensive farming such as pigs and poultry. I suggested this the moment I got there and I am working very hard to help them but it is not very easy. First one has to realise that there is a differential—for two reasons. First, because, as the noble Viscount has said he himself is, they are a certain distance away from their markets and we pay a fairly large subsidy for the moving of Northern Ireland eggs to England. This is not entirely neglected. Secondly the situation has changed. These rather efficient intensive farming efforts were built up particularly on the pig side when there was a great deal of cheap cereal available direct in ships from America. The absence of this is nothing whatever to do with the EEC but to the absence of cheap cereals. Although the EEC has some influence in that a good deal of cereal is imported to Great Britain a-d breaks bulk there and comes over—which of course is more expensive—the main difficulty is in the change in terms of trade.

We therefore have to confront the British farmer and my colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with a very efficient industry which has the capital, the men and the plant to produce things which the English farmer reckons he can produce just as well without the subsidy. So when the noble Viscount speaks of a social subsidy, one is probably getting somewhere near it. In these times it is very difficult to get much support for this. We are in constant discussion, and we have agreed with experts from the Ministry of Agriculture that there is a real differential. Whether or not it is met is a different point, but we have agreed on its existence so quite a lot is going on about this. I hope we shall be able to do something later on, but I certainly make no promise.

As regards Harland and Wolff, I think the noble Viscount was rather rhetorical in asking for a Birmingham deficit to meet British Leyland. As the noble Viscount knows very well, the accounts of Great Britain are one thing and the accounts of Northern Ireland are another. This throws up certain facts about Northern Ireland rather more clearly than it does sometimes in the much wider figure in the case of Great Britain. But of course there is no particular deduction which is made in order to meet British Leyland. They are just that amount short and it must be found by not doing other things. Exactly the same is the position in Northern Ireland.

My right honourable friend said a negative thing. He said, "The money has to be found, clearly, out of the money we spend. I undertake not to cut"—I think he said this: I have it down somewhere—"the social services or areas of high unemployment." But he never said: "I am going to give you a list to show that we have taken so much off customs and excise and so much off something else." The accounts are done as a whole. I think the noble Viscount is asking for something he will not get and has no right to expect. What the Secretary of State said was that this money would have to be found somewhere, as indeed it will. "Somewhere" means either out of the Northern Ireland Budget or out of the United Kingdom Budget. There is no other place where the money can be found, and the first place one turns to is the local place—the Northern Ireland Budget. Of course, we have been reviewing the matter hard and carefully, and I have every reason to suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer here is doing the same. The results will come out one way or the other in a number of rather disagreeable cuts here and there, one assumes, but they will not be related directly to Harland and Wolff.

As regards tourism, the same situation arises. What is wrong with tourism is the distance plus the instability. The Tourist Board, as the noble Viscount knows, is in rather good shape. It has done much very useful work, but it would be absurd to spend a great deal of money on advertising at this stage. My own view is that when we obtain stability in Northern Ireland the distance will be all right; I think people will come in spite of the faulty pound. But I do not think we should try to induce them to come yet.

As to going abroad to obtain business, my right honourable friend Mr. Stanley Orme at the moment spends his whole time trying to keep business, rather than getting it. He is run off his feet with companies which are in trouble and which he is trying to help. When one speaks of getting business, it reminds me that we used, I think 18 months ago, to sell a good deal of meat to the American forces on the Continent. This was stopped because they said it was not safe to send a meat inspector to Belfast. We are up against things of that kind. The difficulty is not to persuade people to come over to us but to persuade them not to go away. My Lords, I may have missed one or two points, but if I have I will write to the noble Viscount.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down might I press him on the question of tourist facilities as provided by aerodromes, and aerodrome facilities? I entirely agree with everything he is saying, but, no matter how quickly we get stability, if there is going to be the mess up we have over a vast aeroplane coming in we shall simply never attract people. The situation is due to the introduction of a vast aeroplane without the facilities capable of dealing with it. At Aldegrove there is only one runway that can take the TriStar. If one lands down wind or up wind—I cannot remember which—one has then to taxi the whole way back, and it takes about 15 or 20 minutes after landing to do so. I agree that the Tourist Board has done a great job, and continues to do so, but both in London and in Belfast there is a vast deficiency in facilities.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has put his point very clearly.

9.24 p.m.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, I should like to make only a few remarks at this late hour. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, quite rightly in my view, raised the question of universities. In the peculiar educational system which exists in Northern Ireland today the only place at which Catholics and Protestants can meet is in the universities. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is of course well aware of this. Therefore, both Queen's University, under the chancellorship of Lord Ashby, a Member of this House, and the new University of Coleraine, under the vice-chancellorship of a wonderful Australian, Mr. Alan Burgess, are worthy of every effort which the Government in London can make for their support. That is so for the reasons I have just given, which, in my view, are far more compelling than any other reasons which may be advanced from the point of view of the Treasury in London.

Secondly, with regard to Harland and Wolff, looking back on the old days I suppose that the most traumatic experience I ever had during my Premiership was when the chairman of Harland and Wolff came into my office one day in July and said, "I cannot pay the wages on 1st August. What are you going to do about it?" In the then—though not at all now—rather revolutionary way in which Mr. Harold Wilson, who was then Prime Minister, ran the Government he had a habit, which is no longer revolutionary, of appointing chairmen of Boards long before the First or the Second Reading of the Bill took place in the House of Commons. At that time this was of very great importance to us in Northern Ireland, for he had already indicated that Mr. William Swallow, the then Managing Director of Vauxhall, would be the new Chairman of the Shipbuilding Industry Board. Although the legislation was not introduced for another six months, we were then able to bring Mr. William Swallow to Belfast and frogmarch him around the vast area of Harland and Wolff. I shall never forget that when he came to lunch with me afterwards he said, "This is a massive national asset and I will go back to London and advise the Government to save it."

But for that fact—and I think people should remember this—Harland and Wolff would have closed down then and 12,000 people would have been thrown out of work. It was a turning point in the saving of the shipbuilding industry in Northern Ireland at that time. Many of the people in the old days who were in favour of UDI said, "Let us have a block grant and we will manage our finances". I always opposed that; I always said that we were getting fair treatment from the Treasury. And I oppose it today. If a block grant were given to Northern Ireland, they could fight among themselves about how it should be spent. They would never come to any agreement. Thank God we have never had a block grant in Northern Ireland!

Finally, rather strangely, may support the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, in all he said about the introduction of the TriStar. I put down a Question about the TriStar a month ago and received a most unsatisfactory Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. All the fears that I expressed in that Question have come true. On Monday of last week I tried to catch the so-called 12.10 aeroplane from Belfast. Sitting beside Mr. Gerry Fitt, we took off—or, rather, tried to take off. I suppose that we were going at about 80 mph when suddenly there was a most ghastly shudder. The automatic brakes had come on by mistake. We were then motored round to the main terminal building where, after three hours, they were able to mend the so-called automatic brake. And eventually we arrived in London some four hours late. Since then there have been many other problems of this kind. The spare parts are all kept in London. Therefore if one of the TriStars breaks down in Belfast there is no method of mending it there, and three or four days later in fact they had to fly a special TriStar over with the spare parts and the people were delayed not, as I was, for four hours but for seven or eight hours.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brooke-borough, is perfectly correct: this has been introduced in order to facilitate the Glasgow shuttle with Tridents and it is intended to run the Belfast service with three TriStars a day each way. I realise that we have been very fortunate indeed to have seven Tridents each way each day, but I would beg the noble Lord to look into this problem. It is not working; the facilities at Aldegrove are totally unacceptable. It is very hard for the noble Lord to understand this because he does not use these facilities himself.


Sometimes, my Lords.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, the facilities in London are also totally unacceptable. This is the only airport in the United Kingdom that has the TriStar. Otherwise the TriStar is kept entirely for foreign service, and while it may suit British Airways—as I know in my efforts to support the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, when she was fighting the Conservative Government to maintain the facilities at Cromwell Road which have now been dispensed with—it is not working. I beg the noble Lord to lean heavily on British Airways to ensure that if we are to be inflicted with a Jumbo Jet carrying 320 people, with security which does not exist at any other airport in the United Kingdom, the facilities must be made right, both in Belfast and in London. Having said all that, I should like to support what the noble Lord has said in the very difficult circumstances which exist in Northern Ireland today. Anyone who has read Mr. Crossman's autobiography will know that direct rule was something which the British people never wanted to impose but which they were forced to impose against their will.


My Lords, there are not many eyes in the House but there can hardly be a dry one after the noble Viscount and the noble Lord have described their experiences. Sneaking seriously, I am aware that this is working badly and assure the noble Viscount and the noble Lord that I will bring it to the attention of my colleagues who are more deeply involved in this than I am.

I will say two things in answer to the support given by the noble Lord. I entirely agree about the importance of the universities and the reason for it. I would only point out that there is one educational establishment apart from the universities which has absolutely mixed public and that is Lisnevin Training School for Delinquent Boys, where nobody can tell you whether a boy is a Catholic or a Protestant, which is very attractive. I entirely agree that it is most important in the university, as my friend and colleague, Mr. Roland Moyle, who is responsible for this is fully aware, but I will draw it to his attention.

My last remark is that I think Sir William Swallow preceded me as the Chairman of the Hotels and Catering Neddo." It is a curious thing, but I was interested to hear that the advice he gave them is the same advice that we are getting now and taking, perhaps not for a sequence of rescues but for this rescue which we really are trying to pull through. I am grateful for the support and I hope that this Draft Appropriation Order can be accepted.

On Question, Motion agreed to.