HL Deb 11 March 1975 vol 358 cc264-74

8.48 p.m.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE rose to move, That the Draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 25th February, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1975 be approved. It is customary in relation to Northern Ireland expenditure to present three such Orders, the first and main one being in June or July; the second, dealing with the Autumn Supplementary Estimates, generally in December; and the third, the Spring Supplementary Estimates, at about this time of the year. This is the third Order of the series, and it does two things. First, it appropriates the Spring Supplementary Estimates and the Further Spring Supplementary Estimates which cover the additional provision required for the expenditure of Northern Ireland Departments in the current financial year. This is covered by Article 3(1). Secondly, it appropriates the sums required on account of expenditure in 1975–76 so as to ensure that money is available for public services in the opening months of that year. That is covered by Article 3(2).

The Spring Supplementary Estimates and the Further Spring Supplementary Estimates amount to about £75 million and bring total estimates provision for 1974/75 to some £725 million. More than half of the additional provision is ac-counted for by pay and price increases. The more significant items making up the balance are a £21 million grant to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to enable it to wipe out cumulative deficits in its accounts; a £2.6 million grant to the same body by way of compensation for the national policy of freezing rents, and a grant of £3.1 million to the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation. Where the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation has assisted an undertaking by making a loan or giving a guarantee for borrowing and the undertaking is unable to repay, the Corporation has to write off the loan or meet the guarantee as the case may be. In either event the necessary funds are provided by the Department of Commerce by way of grant.

The total of the sums required on ac-count for 1975–76 is £316 million and is calculated broadly on the basis of 45 per cent. of the total Estimates provision for 1974–75. It is not related to the total of the Main Estimates for the incoming financial year which have not yet been finalised.

My Lords, this Order will be considered in another place this week. It is a Bill concerned with finance and is usually not something that your Lordships' House feels it should go into in great detail. The privilege of doing this is reserved to another place, but I shall of course be happy to answer any questions any Member likes to ask. These few words are intended only to provide a brief summary of the contents of the Bill. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid be-fore the House on 25th February, be ap-proved.—(Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge.)

8.52 p.m.


My Lords, having heard the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, and as he must no doubt be anxious for his dinner, I will be fairly short; but we are considering the Appropriations Bill for Northern Ireland, and under the Temporary Provisions Act by which Northern Ireland is governed this House has the right to examine the performance of Government, both future and past, in this light. While in general the consideration of financial matters may not be the duty of this House, under the Temporary Provisions Act and the conditions prevailing in Northern Ireland I should like to welcome the noble Lord's agreement to answering questions in this way. It is a late hour, but in the circumstances which exist in Northern Ireland Parliament has decided that we shall have to deal with these problems in this Chamber. It may be quite useful if we realise the advantages of devolved government, in that if devolved government were working in Northern Ireland we should not now have to be watching the clock to see when we were going to leave. It should be an incentive to everybody to get devolved government as soon as possible. When one looks at the number of people who are involved in this debate today on what, to people in Northern Ireland, is a most important matter, it seems that we are not able to examine this matter in the detail we should.

I think it would be right to say that we in the North of Ireland feel that we are to a large extent being kept in the dark as to what is happening on the governmental field with regard to expenditure. I would appeal to the Government to deal with the situation by being more open in their total explanation about what is going on. I realise of course that the Government have problems due to the fall of the Executive and the way they have to govern. I certainly understand that, but I feel that a greater effort should be made to explain exactly what is happening in terms of not only pounds, shillings and pence but the actual activities that are being curtailed and expanded.

One of the duties which we have under this temporary Government—I am not meaning that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, is temporary ; I am meaning the method by which we are governed—is to reemphasise that Government under these conditions should not be doctrinaire; that is, we should go ahead and govern on the basis of good government and not go either to the Right or to the Left. Successive Unionist Governments in the North of Ireland have always in the past, whether it be that a Socialist Government or a Conservative Government were in power here, adopted and adapted all legislation in order to make it suit Northern Ire-land's needs. Indeed, there are many cases when we think that our adaptation has produced much better government than happened here. For instance, we did not accept the Industrial Relations Act and, as a result, in my view, our labour relations have been quite out-standing. There are other factors which make it right that that should not be done; but that is one policy we did not accept in toto, and there are many others.

The reason I am saying that is that at the present moment many of us are very fearful that under the present Government we may be being used as a Socialist experiment. I should like Lord Donaldson to make is absolutely clear that there will not be doctrinaire operations within the industrial field, because this would be alien to the total electorate of Northern Ireland without its being modified by their own Government. The social and economic activities of the Government of Northern Ireland may not seem very important in the context of Westminister, but they are absolutely vital in terms of Northern Ireland in its present state; that is, we must have progressive, good government when we are suffering from the riot conditions which we are enduring at the moment—it is absolutely vital.

In what one might term as the first period of direct rule under my right honourable friend Willie Whitelaw, the Administration were held together by straight, good government and very energetic government. I realise that conditions are not exactly the same, and the present Government have difficulties which did not confront their predecessors. But I must make it clear that many of us feel at the present moment government is in fact grinding to a halt and there is a tremendous lack of decisions which inevitably leads to bad government—


My Lords, we are supposed to be discussing Supplementary Estimates. It would be to the benefit of the House if we could do so.


My Lords, I beg your Lordships' pardon. I am just coming to the Supplementary Estimates. The question that arises is how the Estimates are arrived at; whether they are coming out of what was called the block grant. It is a new method of financing expenditure in Northern Ireland. From everything I hear, all the expenditure, and cuts in expenditure, are related, or appear to be related, to the financing of Harland and Wolff. I should like to know how much education is being cut because of the support that is necessary to Harland & Wolff. How much is the road programme being cut? I cannot find that out from the Estimates. I wonder, if it came to a point, whether in this country for instance the support for Meriden would result in some effect on education. It is an extremely difficult matter to which to find a comprehensive answer. If we could have an answer to that I believe it would satisfy a great number of people in the North of Ireland.

Next I should like to criticise regarding the commerce grant, where I can find no trace of expenditure for Ministers to go abroad. During the whole period of Northern Ireland government from Westminster, including the period of the Conservative Administration, the Ministers responsible for commerce—my honourable friend David Howell and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham—went abroad to tout for industry or to act as salesmen for industry in this country. I can find no sign of that in the Estimates. We have had success in Northern Ireland in attracting new industry; after all, we have 100,000 new jobs. During the short period of life of the Northern Ireland Executive, the then Member for Commerce went abroad and produced new industry.

The next question which I should like to ask concerns the expenditure on Alder-grove airport. In two months' time we shall have the TriStar aeroplane. I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, came over to this country today in a very nice aero-plane. I came over in a Trident; I thought that it was his aeroplane which was ahead of mine! At the present moment, there is no preparation at Aldergrove whatsoever for taking the TriStar. I can find no more than a very small amount of expenditure which is due to be spent upon Aldergrove airport, which will have to deal with 300 people at a time. Early this morning I waited outside the car park for a quarter of an hour before I could even get into it. What will happen when we have 300 people trying to get in?

We have spent a lot of money upon Aldergrove airport. We have a runway which will take the TriStar, but the taxi-ways are not fit to carry it, and we have spent half of the money on the aerodrome. Thirty per cent. of extra time will be spent in that aeroplane, due to the fact that the TriStar will have to turn around and taxi back along the runway in order to disgorge its passengers—and "dis-gorge" is the right word. Therefore, I appeal to the Government to deal with Aldergrove airport in this appropriation and in next year's appropriation so as to make it fit to take the TriStar aeroplane. I feel that British Airways have bought their aeroplanes too soon. When they cannot find anything else to do with them, they appear to put them on the Belfast route.

The next subject that I should like to raise is tourism, since we are in a period of temporary ceasefire. I should like to know what provisions have been made for reactivating the "selling" of tourism in Northern Ireland, if this ceasefire holds. Where will this money come from? Will the Government make provision for reactivating the "selling" of tourism in Northern Ireland? It is my honour to have had something to do with tourism. The sum of £300,000 is needed in order to reactivate the tourist board which has run down its staff and is no longer selling Ulster in a hard way.

May I go into a few details? Bangor Pier and the whole of Bangor Harbour have been neglected for years—admit-tedly, by a Unionist Government. I should like to feel that money will be provided in the appropriation to make safe this very unsafe pier. And, my Lords, when can we have the by-pass around Dungannon? I am very sad that the Gov-ernment should have decided to abandon that project. But what worries me is that, having abandoned it, they have decided to go ahead with the high bridge in Lon-donderry. The area around County Fer-managh does not riot, but the areas which do so get extra finance.

The noble Lord has mentioned the pro-vision of extra finance for the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation. It is being provided mainly to deal with a textile firm in Londonderry, because it is almost impossible to make it viable. Therefore, my Lords, I should like to be told how this matter is being dealt with on a block grant basis, because—to return to Harland and Wolff—any previous industrial project was dealt with on its merits. It had no effect in reducing a social service. If it produced new industry, it produced only new industry. If it produced new employment, it produced only new employment. Never before this time did the grant have any effect upon roads, education, or any other subject.

9.6 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has made a Second Reading speech on the state of the nation which is worthy of | a debate in a place quite different from this. He has managed not to offend the susceptibilities of the other place, because he has not talked about financial affairs. He has talked about Bangor Pier, tourism, Ministers going abroad and various matters of that kind. I think he has stretched very far the privilege of this House. How-ever, he is a very old friend and a very keen supporter of that part of the United Kingdom which I am concerned in trying to run. Therefore, I shall do my best to answer some of his questions. However, I have to confess that I do not think they arise under the Motion in any way whatsoever.

First, may I deal with two of the generalities. The idea that the public in Northern Ireland is kept in the dark over finance is rather fantastic when, within the last three months, the most elaborate and complete pamphlet describing the entire financial position has been published. It is probably more detailed than anything which has been published in any other part of the United Kingdom at any time in our history. Therefore I reject utterly the suggestion that they are kept in the dark regarding finance. I can assure the noble Viscount that if it is a vast Socialist experiment that is taking place, it has been concealed from me—and I am one of the administrators. We get a number of firms which are in very serious trouble asking to be taken over. That is very different from a Socialist experiment. In many cases my right honourable friend Stan Orme has to say that he cannot do it. Where he can, he does so. It is extremely important to the prosperity of Northern Ireland that attention should be paid to pre-serving jobs where this is economically viable. This we are doing as hard as we can.


My Lords, I am certainly not criticising the support to Harland and Wolff, or any-thing like that. I am really criticising the cuts to the other projects and finding out where they come from and on what basis they are made.


Let me come to the cuts. In the first place we do not admit cuts. There is a certain redistribution. But take, for example, the education programme: in 1974–75 the expenditure was expected to be £60 million, £48 million for current expenses and £12 million for capital costs. In the following year it is expected to be £70½ million of which £56 million will be current expenses and £14½ million for new capital development. An increase of £2½ million, even in the estimation of the noble Viscount, cannot be regarded as a cut. I hear him say "inflation". Of course, there is an inflationary element, but, if you work out the proportion of 2½ to 12, it should cover any immediate inflation; it is about 25 per cent. This could hardly be regarded as a cut, nor should it be.

Regarding the Dungannon By-Pass and the Foyle Bridge, the noble Viscount spoke as if we were rejecting one in favour of the other. This is not the case; both are going ahead. The Foyle Bridge is going ahead as originally planned. The Dungannon By-Pass has been reduced from a motorway to an all-purpose road. This has been done because, under the new Westminster Department of the Environment rules for road construction, the traffic fore-casts on the Dungannon By-Pass do not justify the cost of motorway construction. This is a reduction in standard which makes sense in relation to the forecast of use, and I should have thought that everybody would welcome this as a reasonable and satisfactory economy. It is not being abandoned.

Regarding the Bangor pier, this is falling down and has been doing so for many years. It became rather dangerous for prowling fishermen so the local council very properly put a barbed wire fence on top to stop people going on it, and that is the position which will remain. If small boys or large men like to climb over the barbed wire—which is quite difficult to do—and fall off, this will be at their own risk. So much for the Bangor pier.

As regards tourism, the tourist board is an excellent organisation. In my opinion it is in good nick at the moment. A great deal of very important forestry work is being done by the Tourist Board together with the Department of Agriculture for which I am responsible. Things are being made ready. The minute the ceasefire turns into something which is reliable and more permanent it is rearing to go and I am not the least worried that we will be happy to provide the money to do so and that we will have the personnel and the technique. We are not a bit worried. The tourist industry is all right, but it would be a great mistake to start developing it at this stage.

I shall go through the noble Viscount's speech and if there is anything I have missed I shall write to him. Lastly, I should like to deal with this question of Ministers going abroad. I should like to assure him that it is not necessary to provide an entry in the Supplementary Estimates, the main Estimates or any other Estimates for a Minister to go abroad. We are quite able to do so. I have only to be sent by the Secretary of State and the money will be found, probably for a tourist seat, which is very un-comfortable—the kind of thing the noble Viscount had to travel in today.

My Lords, I appreciate the steady application which the noble Viscount gives to the problems of Northern Ire-land and his relentless bringing one back to the general problem however particular the Order one is supposed to be considering. I shall always be happy to answer him. I hope I have answered the greater part of his questions and I shall write if there is anything outstanding.

9.13 p.m.


My Lords, just before the Question is put, may I thank the noble Lord for that long answer. I have not spoken in the debate and I do not intend to, but I have listened carefully to what has been said. I rise simply to say, with respect, that perhaps we should be a little careful before we start saying that Orders to this House from Northern Ireland cannot, even if they are financial ones, be looked at closely. I am no authority on the procedure of this House, but I think I am right in saying that when the Finance Bill comes to us from another place we have a general debate. But, of course, the noble Lord is quite right in saying that it would be totally improper for this House to take a decision.

So when we have an Appropriation Order I know that my noble friend and I would entirely accept that it would be improper for us to try to take a contrary decision; but it is valuable that my noble friend, himself living in Northern Ireland —as the noble Lord has said in his closing words—should ask some of these detailed questions. Of course there is the theme to which I am afraid I keep reverting in your Lordships' House: namely, that the only way in which we in this House can get information is by raising a fairly detailed debate on these Orders.

I hope the noble Lord will not mind if I detain the House for one last moment, to say that I was glad that my noble friend raised these points and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for the detailed answers that he has given. Perhaps on the subject of Aldergrove the noble Lord will write to my noble friend. It will be a letter which, if I am allowed to see it, I also shall be interested to read.


My Lords, just before we finish, I can give a quick answer in regard to Aldergrove. The position is that the provision of the TriStar service is a matter for British Airways and it is for them to make certain that the facilities are available to deal with it. Complaints can come to us after things have gone wrong, but not before. We are in a position to sanction a further develop-ment at Aldergrove and this is under consideraton, but no decision has been made at this stage. The decision is based not on the TriStar but on the whole future of Aldergrove.


My Lords, I really think that the noble Lord is wrong on the subject of Aldergrove. There are no buildings which can deal with 300 people. Aldergrove is already taking over 40 per cent. more than its planned population. To deal with the TriStar there has to be a major construction scheme—or rather a destruction scheme because a whole lot of walls have to be knocked down. In two months' time we shall be going into this enormous aeroplane and there is no room to do it. There are not the car parks available and it is not a matter for British Airways.


My Lords, the proper course is for the noble Viscount to talk to British Airways, who are responsible.


My Lords, the airports are run by the Gov-ernment, by the Northern Ireland Air-ports Authority. The provision of build-ings and facilities is a matter for the Government, not for the airways.


My Lords, I will look at this point. I know that we are examining the whole question of what expenditure is available for the development of Alder-grove, and it is a very difficult problem. The noble Viscount is speaking of some-thing on a much smaller scale devoted to the reception of one kind of large aeroplane, which is purely a matter for British Airways. In any case, I will write to the noble Viscount. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that it is desirable for us to discuss these matters. I congratulated the noble Viscount on not getting too involved in finance and I enjoyed replying to him as much as he enjoyed making his speech.