§ 4.37 p.m.
§ The Earl of Gowrie rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st June be approved.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 21st June, be approved. The order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. This draft order provides for the appropriation of the balance of the 1982–83 Main Estimates of Northern Ireland departments and also of the excess votes for 1980–81. The House will recall that a sum on account for 1982–83 was approved in the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 on 1st March. The House is now being asked to approve a further sum of £1,396,967,000 for 1982–83 in this order, bringing the total to £2,472,366,000. The Main Estimates represent the detailed spending plans of departments for this financial year. I shall be itemising these in a few moments. These plans 993 were published in broad outline in the Northern Ireland section of the Government's Public Expenditure White Paper, (Cmnd. 8494) which was presented earlier in the year, and also in the statements of 6th January and 10th March by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Noble Lords will be aware that first priority in the allocation of the resources available to Northern Ireland continues to be given to the industry, trade, energy and employment programmes as part of the Government's strategy to promote a better future for the Northern Ireland economy. Within the social and environmental programmes, the top priority is attached to housing, where a considerable increase in provision has been made in a major bid to improve what are commonly agreed to be very poor housing conditions.
§ Detailed information on the draft order is to be found in the Estimates Volume and the Statement of Excesses, copies of which have been placed in the Printed Paper Office, as well as in the Explanatory Memorandum which I have circulated to Northern Ireland Peers, Opposition spokesmen on Northern Ireland affairs and to those who took part in the last appropriation order debate.
§ Before I mention some of the main components of the Estimates provision which is being sought, I should like to draw the attention of the House to two changes which have been made to the format of the Northern Ireland estimates volume. These reflect similar changes which have been made to the United Kingdom Supply Estimates. The object of these is to make the estimates generally more informative. I would particularly draw attention to the inclusion of an introductory note at the beginning of each Vote putting it in the context of the department's activities and indicating expenditure trends. These prefaces, as it were, contain the information which until now has been provided in the Explanatory Memorandum. In order to avoid duplication I therefore intend to discontinue the circulation of a separate Explanatory Memorandum for future Estimates. The other change which has been made in this year is the provision of figures for the two previous years instead of only one. In addition to these two changes the narratives of subheads within the Votes in Northern Ireland Estimates will be expanded next year to give a fuller explanation of the nature and purpose of the expenditure involved.
§ I hope that these changes will make the Estimates Volume more useful to the House, and that they will be welcomed for that reason. The House will remember that my right honourable friend the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland last year made a number of proposals for departmental reorganisation in Northern Ireland with a view to making the machinery of government of Northern Ireland more effective and accountable to his direction and control. The merger of the control functions of the departments of finance and of the Civil Service and related changes have been effective since 1st April and they are reflected in the Vote structure of the Estimate before your Lordships today. The reorganisation of economic development functions will not take place until later this year and some further Vote reorganisation may be necessary at that stage. I should now like to refer to some of the main aspects of the draft order.994
§ The House will note that there is total provision of £60.8 million in Class I of these Main Estimates for agriculture, fisheries and forestry. This provides for the on-going services of the Department of Agriculture; that is to say, mainly education, research, advice, measures to effect improvements in livestock, crops and product standards, disease control, and drainage, forestry and fisheries. Some £7 million is provided in Vote 2 for direct support to the agriculture industry.
§ The House will recall too that last January my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced that a further £16 million special aid would be made available during 1982–83 for Northern Ireland agriculture. As my honourable friend the Minister of State indicated in another place on 1st April, the aid will permit the continuation of the special measures which were introduced in 1981–82; namely, an additional sucker cow subsidy financed by the European Community and borne on a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Vote, a package of aid to encourage beef cattle production, a milk consumer subsidy and pay-payments to operators of licensed pig and poultry processing plants and egg packing stations. New measures to be introduced in 1982–83 include a grassland improvement scheme, assistance for the seed potato industry and the European Community calf subsidy. I hope these measures will ensure continuation of the improvement of farm incomes and the increases in confidence in the future.
§ I should make it clear to the House that the necessary provision for these measures is not contained in the Estimates now before us, but will be taken in Supplementary Estimates when the detailed provision has been finalised. However, pending approval of the Supplementary Estimates, expenditure on the new services and, to the extent that this proves necessary, on the continuation of the 1981–82 aids, will be met by advances from the Northern Ireland Civil Contingencies Fund.
§ Coming to the field of industry and employment, Class II of the Estimates, noble Lords will be aware of the Government's intentions to establish a new Department of Economic Development which will amalgamate the functions of the Department of Commerce and Manpower Services, incorporating within the new department the Industrial Development Board, which will oversee the industrial development functions currently the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Development Agency and the Department of Commerce.
§ Although it does not bear directly on expenditure, I can report that we have made good progress on the reorganisation of these departments and good progress in the establishment of the new Industrial Development Board. Most of the board members have already been named, and legislation—the draft Industrial Development Order—is well advanced. Subject to the will of your Lordships, it is intended that the IDB should be operational by 1st September of this year, and that shortly thereafter the new Department of Economic Development will come into operation.
§ To facilitate the smooth transition to the new arrangements from a financial point of view, there are some changes in the Vote structure of the 1982–83 Estimates as compared with those for 1981–82. Votes 1 and 2 in 1982–83 Estimates contain provision 995 for those functions which it is proposed will be overseen by the new Industrial Development Board, including some £15 million for the factory building programme and some £70 million for industrial development grants. Vote 3 includes provision of £54 million for the continuing assistance to the aircraft and shipbuilding industries in Northern Ireland; and £8 million for the Local Enterprise Development Unit. The amounts devoted to the industrial development programmes and these organisational measures demonstrate our commitment to tackling Northern Ireland's severe and deep-rooted economic problems.
§ In Vote 4 just over £6 million has been provided in aid to the Northern Ireland tourist industry. There are clear signs now that many of the factors which have been influential in keeping visitors away from Northern Ireland during the past 10 years are no longer having quite the same deterrent effect. For example, some 70 North American and European tour operators now feature Northern Ireland holidays as part of their Great Britain and Ireland tour programmes, and the unrivalled facilities in the Province for special activity holidays, such as fishing, water sports and golfing, are I am glad to say attracting growing numbers of foreign visitors.
§ The Government are convinced of the potential for the development of the tourist industry, which currently provides some 10,000 jobs. We also recognise the contribution which the provision of good tourism infrastructure can make to the well-being of the people of the Province. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board will continue to develop and expand its marketing activities, to strengthen the foothold which it has established in the American and European markets and, above all, to seek to attract more visitors from Great Britain and the Republic, which are our traditional tourism markets.
§ May I now turn to the expenditure on the functioning of the labour market proposed in Class II Vote 5. The present period is a very active one on industrial training. Since the beginning of the year, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has published two important documents on this subject. The first of these contains the proposals for a comprehensive youth training programme for Northern Ireland, and that is to start in the autumn. Provision of £18 million for the youth opportunities programme is included in the Estimates for 1982–83, and the cost in the first full year is expected to be some £42 million. The scheme will guarantee to all 16-year-olds who cannot find jobs a year of full-time education and training, as well as providing a range of opportunities for other 16- and 17-year-olds both at school and in employment.
§ A consultative document was published in June containing proposals on the future of Northern Ireland training boards and the Northern Ireland Training Executive. In addition, I can say today that my right honourable friend intends to publish a further document very shortly, setting out the Government's proposals for developing management training in Northern Ireland—a key requirement in the revitalising of the Northern Ireland economy. The whole area of training is thus undergoing close scrutiny and action is proposed—and in many cases already well advanced—across a wide front. This is practical 996 innovation work which should stand Northern Ireland in good stead in seizing opportunities for industrial regeneration, and offers a solid background and support to the work of stimulating new industrial development on which so much job creation depends.
§ Class III in the Estimates relates to energy matters, the House will know that detailed discussions and negotiations have taken place with the Republic of Ireland following that Government's initial offer to consider making a supply of natural gas available to Northern Ireland from the Kinsale field. Those negotiations were interrupted by the recent general election in the Republic and have therefore been more protracted than we would have hoped. We have nevertheless now achieved a heads of understanding on the main terms and conditions, and that is currently being considered by both Governments and hopefully the matter will be brought to a conclusion in the near future.
§ If I may move on to Housing, which is Class V in the Estimates, the provision for housing reflects the high priority which we attach to tackling the very great housing problems in the Province. The allocations to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for capital and revenue expenditure in 1982–83 total some £50 million more than the previously planned levels of expenditure. This substantial increase acknowledges the agreement between the Government and the Housing Executive on the measures necessary to effect both real improvements in physical housing conditions and a reduction in the urgent waitinglistsfor accommodation in Northern Ireland. The current year should see contracts let for 4,500 new dwellings in the Province, while future new building programmes will be planned to achieve 5,250 new starts per year. Expenditure on new building should rise from the 1981–82 out-turn of £67 million to about £95 million in 1982–83. This will be accompanied by an even greater relative increase in expenditure on improvement to existing dwellings where spending should rise from the 1981–82 level of £35 million to over £60 million in 1982–83. I should make it clear to the House that I have referred to the total programme of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, not all of which is borne on this Vote since the executive's capital expenditure is financed from other sources.
§ One of these other sources is the income generated by house sales to tenants. This is an appropriate juncture at which to give to the Housing Executive well-earned praise for its efforts in bringing the possibility of home-ownership to its tenants. Since 1979 the Housing Executive has been in the vanguard of the house sales movement. I hope that British local authorities will note and copy. Its work has been an example to housing authorities here, not only in the promotion of sales themselves but also in attracting building societies, whose response has been highly gratifying, to support these tenant sales. The results have been over 10,000 sales completed, more than 21,000 applications still being processed and new applications being received at the rate of approximately 100 per week. Because the sales are financed by building society mortages rather than by mortgages created in the Housing Executive's books, the Housing Executive has realised substantial capital receipts. These are estimated at no less than £38 million in the 997 current financial year and the executive is being allowed to apply these receipts fully in support of its capital programmes.
§ I believe that the Housing Executive's performance underlines the two major advantages of the house sales policy. In purely financial terms, there are the benefits for capital programmes arising out of direct capital receipts but, perhaps even more importantly, the policy recognises a strong desire among public sector tenants to own their own houses. In Northern Ireland 30,000 tenants have expressed their preference for owner-occupation and believe that it is a viable alternative to renting. They have also given an immense vote of confidence to their community by their willingness to take a capital stake in it. The diversification of tenure which results should help to break rigid social patterns in housing, and all this encourages stability in the community. I do most warmly commend the Housing Executive's work to the House.
§ Another aspect of housing finance to which I would draw the attention of the House is the proposed special aid for housing in Northern Ireland from the European Community. Your Lordships will be aware that the regulation confirming this special action failed to achieve agreement at a recent meeting of the Council of Ministers. The Government are disappointed that the regulation, which would bring valuable additional resources to bear on Northern Ireland's housing problems, has not yet been approved. We are, however, grateful for the continuing support of the majority of member Governments for the measure, and of course we will continue our efforts to achieve unanimity on the proposed regulation. In the meantime, in order to ensure that the new houses to which Community aid will be directed are not delayed, the Housing Executive has been advised to plan its new building programme on the assumption that assistance of the order of £16 million will be available (spread over this and the next two years) towards the cost of commitments entered into in the current year. We have not yet reached the stage where firmer decisions need to be taken. If the regulation is agreed in due course, the provision will be included in a Supplementary Estimate. If it is not agreed, however, the Housing Executive's programme may have to be reviewed.
§ Let me now turn to the provision sought for the Department of Education, Class VIII. The provision in the Estimates for the education programme is some £526 million. Of this there is provision for schools in Votes 1 and 4. Vote 1, which covers teachers' salaries together with provision for grants for capital expenditure by voluntary schools, amounts to £210 million; and Vote 4, amounting to £193 million, provides for the recurrent and capital expenditure of the education and library boards. These are significant sums and I think it would be helpful to the House if I quickly referred to some important factors underlying educational provision.
§ Until recently, educational policy and the allocation of financial resources to education have been geared to growth but pupil numbers are falling in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The fall is very steep indeed, particularly in the Belfast area, where the number of primary pupils in 1982 is only two-thirds of the 1974 figure. In controlled secondary 998 schools in Belfast, the number of pupils in 1982 is down by a quarter from 1974 and the decline has only really just begun.
§ These trends cannot be ignored and henceforth we must tackle the problems of contraction in order to ensure that we match provision to need. In short, rationalisation of school provision must become a predominant concern of policy. It follows that school authorities must also accept the importance of rationalisation for it seems certain that, as rolls continue to fall and staffing numbers decline, the range and balance of educational opportunity and provision for many pupils could be at risk. Schools will find themselves increasingly unable to provide for the pupils' needs and aspirations from within their own staffing resources and the undesirable consequence of falling standards, particularly in the Province where standards are very high, will be inevitable. There must, therefore, be movement on rationalisation by our school authorities in order to allow for an improved pattern of staffing in both the primary and secondary sectors. Unless this can happen it is unlikely that Northern Ireland's generally good position, as measured by assessment of standards of performance, can be maintained.
§ Pressing on to the health and personal social services programme, your Lordships will see thatweare seeking, in Class IX of the Estimates, a total net amount of £535.3 million. This represents a very significant continuing investment in the health and social wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland. In Vote 1, the total provision being sought is £472.1 million for the Hospital, Community Health and Personal Social Services as well as for some centrally funded services. The major element in that provision is the amount of £434.1 million being sought in subhead A1 to meet the revenue expenditure of the health and social services boards. That level of resources is intended to provide for a real increase in expenditure in 1982–83 of 1.5 per cent. Supplemented by the savings produced by the boards' continuing drive for greater efficiency and economies, this will enable development of services to take place to cater for the increasing numbers of elderly people and young people in our community, and to make the best use of advances in medical technology. The level of resources available for the capital programme will enable us to meet our continuing commitments in the hospital field and to proceed with some priority developments in the community. The provision being sought in Vote 2 will allow for expenditure of £91.5 million on the family practitioner services.
§ Under Class X, provision has been made for £415.1 million to cover non-contributory benefits, which comprise almost 45 per cent. of total social security benefit expenditure. The remaining 55 per cent. is paid from the National Insurance Fund, which receives a supplement of some £51–9 million from the Consolidated Fund. This is provided for in Vote 1. In Vote 3, provision amounting to £700,000 has been made to cover the extension of maternity grant to all mothers on a non-contributory basis. This new benefit will be payable in respect of confinements from 4th July, 1982. As the House may know, cash social security benefits in Northern Ireland are provided in parity in all respects with the corresponding benefits in Great Britain, and proportionately higher expenditure in the 999 Province reflects and meets our higher levels of need there.
§ I am sure that the House will have noted the provision of £188,000 for the Northern Ireland Assembly in Class XI Vote 1. The Main Estimates before the House today encompass only those functions of the previous Assembly, such as the provision of library facilities and the salary of the Examiner of Statutory Rules, for which there was a continuing need. In view of the Bill which has just passed through your Lordships' House, a Supplementary Estimate will be required to provide for the costs of a revised Assembly, including the salaries of its members, the administrative staff and so on. The costs of elections to the Assembly will be borne on a Northern Ireland Office Vote.
§ I would now like to mention, as the Minister responsible there, the Department of Finance and Personnel, which has been set up as a result of the departmental reorganisation. This new department is responsible for resource planning for the whole range of the Secretary of State's functions in Northern Ireland, for control of both money and manpower in respect of the Northern Ireland departments, for the other matters which were formerly the responsibility of the Department of the Civil Service and for the Valuation Office, for the Ulster Savings and for the Office of Law Reform and Charities Branch. Provision for all of these services, with the exception of superannuation, is made in Class XI Vote 3 and amounts to some £16 million. I am confident that the merger of these functions is a major step towards improving the machinery of government in Northern Ireland.
§ Finally, I should like to mention briefly the excess votes for 1980–81 which occurred in three votes and amount in total to £255,056. Detailed explanations of how the excesses arose are contained in the 1980–81 Statement of Excesses to which I have referred. The Public Accounts Committee in another place have raised no objection to these sums being voted. I have tried to cover the most important features of the draft order, but I am sure that individual noble Lords will wish to raise other matters as well. I am grateful to those Members of your Lordships' House who have given advance notice of points that they intend to raise. I will do my best to answer as many questions as possible at the end of the debate. But any questions which remain unanswered through lack of time or, I must add, competence will be dealt with in correspondence later. I commend the draft order to the House. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st June be approved.—(The Earl of Gowrie.)
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl the Minister for the helpful and detailed way in which he has presented this order. I also wish to say that I am appreciative of the improved arrangements and of the format used in the printed presentation of the appropriation measures and in the Estimates of services. In relation to the Province and to United Kingdom regional matters, I believe it is fair to say that in this order we are dealing with a massive amount of public expenditure. We on these Benches fully accept that 1000 this vast amount of public expenditure makes it all the more important that every effort is made to ensure that moneys are used in a carefully selected programme of social and economic development that will clearly stand up to defined objectives and to agreed cost-effective criteria.
In previous debates on Northern Ireland appropriation orders and Estimates of services, I have mentioned a general concern, and my own reservations, about the effective role of this House in influencing Government decisions. Along with other noble Lords, I am anxious to ensure that every effective measure is taken to support productive and competitive trade and industry in the Province. While I fully realise that the appropriation orders cover much more than support for trade and industry, it appears to me that we are debating decisions in retrospect. Indeed, there is a danger that the debates on the orders may become somewhat of a ritual.
In this connection, noble Lords will have noted that these appropriation measures had a wide-ranging debate last Friday, 16th July, in another place, in which many Northern Ireland elected Members and other Members participated. It was a debate ranging over some five hours or more. I do not wish to repeat views which have already been expressed in detail during the debate on the Northern Ireland Bill. The noble Earl has already mentioned some matters in this connection. But I am convinced that, in an elected Northern Ireland Assembly, matters concerning the priorities and the effectiveness of public expenditure should be enabled to be debated in the formative and decision-making stages by the elected departmental committees and by the Assembly. Surely that is the best and most democratic way for them to be handled.
Before I leave these general appropriation matters, I wish to mention one further point; that is, the "historical" approach, which seems to me to colour and influence almost every vote in the Estimates. Valuable as the new format is in the Estimates publication—and I should like to say here that I welcome the notes and the manner in which they are now being presented to us—providing figures for the two previous years and indicating expenditure trends, it appears to me that this could compound "historical" expenditure approaches and attitudes. I am sure that Northern Ireland departments and Ministers carefully scrutinise expenditure and estimates before submitting them to the Department of Finance and Personnel and to the Public Expenditure Survey. At the same time, I would feel happier if I could see some evidence of attempts to define objectives, in terms of jobs and of a social development work programme.
I should like to ask the Minister whether there are, at present, any studies being undertaken at departmental and sectional levels to evaluate "input" measures and "output" achievements, and to measure performance in wider terms than mere public expenditure. When I say "mere", I do not want, in any way, to belittle the tremendous amounts that we are considering in these appropriation measures.
There are a few matters which I wish to put before the Minister, arising from the order, and I think it would be helpful if I dealt with the items as they occur in the estimates for services as published. I think that if I deal with them seriatim they will be easier 1001 to cope with. I want to make it clear that I do not propose to argue the points, because time will not permit that. So if I put them as succinctly as possible, I hope the Minister will accept that it is for reasons of brevity.
Clause 1.1 vote 85—the agriculture section—mentions the sum of £150 of grant aid to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. We all know that the increased mechanisation and electrical equipment in agriculture has resulted in a steep increase in accidents on farms, as well as in forestry and fishing, for which the department is responsible. I understand that the figures for accidents are not available, but there were 16 fatalities on Northern Ireland farms in 1981, which is a sharp rise in the number of accidental deaths on farms. I should like to ask the Minister whether he would make suitable inquiries into the action taken on farms, as well as in forestry and fishing, to prevent accidents. What information is available regarding injuries and reportable accidents in agriculture, forestry and fishing? I realise that the Northern Ireland Health and Safety at Work Agency has a role here, provides an excellent programme and is committed to dealing with accidents arising in this area. However, it is important that this should be dealt with in its proper context.
Turning to Class II.3.C.3, I welcome the Minister's remarks concerning energy and note with interest the proposal concerning gas supplies from the Republic. As it has been so long in the pipeline, many of us will watch what happens about gas supplies from the Republic to Northern Ireland. The matter I wish to raise comes under the heading of C.3: the energy interest grant scheme. I draw attention to a scheme which was introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in March 1981. At that time I drew attention to the fact that I believed the scheme was not appropriate to Northern Ireland. In March 1982, after about six months of operating the scheme, we were pleased to note that major changes were made to the scheme. It provided for the minimum threshold to be reduced to £15,000 and for the coal firing scheme to be renewed.
I am concerned about the fact that not only in Northern Ireland but in industry generally the lead time for surveying what is required to bring about the necessary changes to make plants more effective is about 12 months. This scheme is due to expire in March 1983. It is considered that there is insufficient time, particularly in Northern Ireland, for American and other international bodies to contact their head offices and obtain the necessary approval. May I ask the Minister to use his good offices concerning an extension of the time limit so that if additional requests are made relating to the measures contained in the scheme, the necessary capital sum will be provided.
I have noted with surprise that in an excellent publication by the Parliamentary Liaison Group for Alternative Energy Strategies—their bulletin published in June 1982—there is the heading "Japan buys Belfast wave device". I understand that Fuji Electric of Japan has purchased from Queen's University the right to build under licence five 100 kilowatt wave generators. Queen's University have pioneered and developed this project. I believe there is considerable concern that Northern Ireland Ministers and United 1002 Kingdom Government departments do not appear to take the necessary interest in it. This project appears to be feasible—it is one which could be readily and easily adapted for use—and there is concern that this project should be going to Japan to be exploited. I would ask the Minister to look into that particular aspect of energy.
Turning to Class II.4—tourism—I welcome the Minister's remarks concerning tourism developments. We all applaud the new and imaginative efforts of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to promote and encourage the industry in the Province. The employment of 10,000 people is a very important aspect of the tourist trade in Northern Ireland. I need hardly add that we readily appreciate the difficulties they face in countering and surmounting the competition and the difficulties facing the tourist industry. In 1980, the income from 710,000 visitors to Northern Ireland was £54 million. In 1981, there were 590,000 visitors and the income fell to £47 million. This shows that tourism in Northern Ireland needs a boost if it is to succeed in rescuing its position in the industry.
The 1982–83 provision of £6.1 million is 25 per cent. higher than the 1980–81 provision. This is being made available to local authorities in Northern Ireland. There is a switch in the direct use of the funds from the Department of Commerce to local authorities. Concern has been expressed about this and I want to ask the Minister to look into the question of the local authorities, the tourist board and the new Department of Economic Development working to an agreed programme of development and to keep in mind the distinct tourist attractions and requirements of Northern Ireland. By all means let local authorities decide what is required, but it is considered that it is necessary to work to an agreed programme. This appears to be absent.
The Minister mentioned manpower matters. In Class II.5 I see that the expenditure under C.4—grants to employers for apprenticeship training—has risen from £2,766,000 to £4,197,000, a rise of over £l½ million for the year, while industrial training board grants have decreased by some £800,000. May I ask the Minister to give the reason for the steep increase in funds and grants to employers while there has been a decrease in the funds made available to the industrial training boards? May I also ask the Minister whether any evaluation has been made of the cost effectiveness of the end result? I welcome the fact that the Minister mentioned that management development has got to be looked at and that new approaches are being made by the Government. However, in this year's Estimates there is a decrease in the amounts voted for management development.
Under Class IV.1.A.1—new construction and improvement—there has been a considerable decrease from £37 million in 1980–81 to £24 million. On 17th May 1982 Mr. David Mitchell, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, mentioned in a public statement the need for the improvement of the Newry to Dundalk Road. He said that there was a need to expedite the request to the European Commission for support for a joint survey. May I ask the Minister to indicate whether there has been any movement concerning the apparent deadlock over this matter? Can he state when the 1003 road improvements in this area are likely to be undertaken or completed?
Noble Lords will welcome the Minister's statement concerning housing accommodation. We join in his congratulations to the Housing Executive and to the building societies who have contributed considerably to the improvements in this area. We welcome his approach to the EEC efforts concerning the £16 million. It is very suitable that the Housing Executive has been assisted to go forward with their programme in this way.
However, under this section dealing with rent assessment committees, from representations made to me and from general inquiries I have made, I have every reason to doubt the effectiveness of the 1978 Northern Ireland rent order. There are two aspects which I should like to ask the noble Earl the Minister kindly to consider. The first concerns the inaccessability of rent assessment committees. Apparently, the facilities and procedures for persons requiring the help of such committees are not readily accessible in particular parts of the Province, especially in the Belfast area.
A further point to which I want to draw the Minister's attention concerns the hook, Rents, Repairs and Despair by Paddy Hillyard, which is a study of the private rented sector in Northern Ireland. I understand that there are about 9,000 private furnished and unfurnished tenancies outside the rent order. The security of tenure and control over rents in this category are, I know, very difficult matters. May I ask the noble Earl the Minister to look into the situation regarding this aspect of privately rented furnished and unfurnished accommodation? It would appear that there are allegations of Rachmanism raising its ugly head in this area in Northern Ireland.
Finally, may I say that, while I realise that the noble Earl the Minister has been bludgeoned, if that is the proper way to put it, by a number of questions, I hope that he has found my questions as constructive as I could possibly make them. In making a massive amount of expenditure available in Northern Ireland, which certainly we all welcome, we seek to have it used in the most effective way in pursuit of building up the economy and ensuring the wellbeing of people in Northern Ireland. With that, I certainly give support to the order before us.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, for his full introduction of this order. If I may, I will leave detailed general analysis and questioning to other speakers as they wish.
Despite some time spent in an accountant's office, I find the explanatory memoranda confusing and that the figures do not altogether seem to tally; I understand that these memoranda are to be discontinued anyway. However, the noble Earl, will doubtless convince the House that they do tally, and I wish him well. The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, invited me to join him in raising certain problems confronting Lagan College, which may perhaps be taken under Class VIII, Vote 1, "Expenditure by the Department of Education on Schools", under what the Minister calls a "process of rationalisation". The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, will be speaking shortly, with his 1004 greater personal involvement and knowledge, as will the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. I will therefore only seek briefly to pave the way for their fuller accounts.
For many years, people in Northern Ireland and outside the Province have argued that community relations would be greatly improved if there was a network of integrated schools where Catholics and Protestants were on an equal footing, alongside the existing systems which, de facto, seek to serve the needs of either the Catholic community or of the Protestant. What we ask is that the Government will "come clean" and say frankly that they support this viewpoint, and that they will do more than the bare minimum that they have to do to encourage such brave examples as Lagan College, which seeks to fill just that gap described. I understand that the college will not of necessity be supported financially until it achieves an enrolment of 300 and qualifies for grant-aided status. The college prospers modestly, and I submit that many will bitterly regret it if it founders now because of lack of official support for an exciting and brave experiment in what may be a difficult interim stage.
I would like here to raise just two points which I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, will expand upon later. First, it seems that there is no place for Lagan College within the grant-aided system of Northern Ireland as it is at present, because it is, and intends to remain, an all-ability school, Secondly, I understand that college parents feel extremely bitter about their inability to secure the normal payment of school travel expenses to send their children to the only available integrated post-primary school.
I am sure that an expression of willingness by the Minister and his Secretary of State to seek the necessary changes in the law to help on these and many other points would confirm and give substance to their expression of support for integrated education by consent in Northern Ireland. I wholeheartedly support the view that the college's independent status should not be used as a reason for refusing to authorise discretionary grant.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I have always found the Northern Ireland appropriation accounts to account for the least satisfactory period of the year in this House. I have presented them for two years and we only had good discussions when noble Lords raised points which did not really arise from the figures. Exactly the same thing is happening today. We have had, with the greatest respect, a very clear but not passionately exciting explanation of what the figures are—and a very clear but not epoch-making discussion on them from the other side. Now we are going to have a discussion of some interest about Lagan College and I am looking forward to hearing it.
It seems to me that we ought to be able to have interesting discussions about Northern Ireland without going through the farce, if I may call it that, of presenting an extremely elaborate set of figures to people who are not really qualified to deal with them. These are the sort of figures on which the Treasury as a whole, with all its expertise, must spend some time. But from my point of view, just looking at them leaves me exactly where I was. I would like to ask the noble 1005 Earl two questions. He has taken great trouble to make the figures less dry-as-dust than they were, but has not altogether succeeded so far as I am concerned.
There are two things I should like to know about these figures which do not seem to come out of them. The first question is, what has been the United Kingdom's expenditure on the Province in real terms over the past five years or 10 years, or any period you like? I should like to have that figure in every time. Are we spending more in real terms or are we spending less? Secondly, as the biggest problem in Northern Ireland is that of unemployment, how much of the Class 4 or Class 5 group is unemployment pay? This is always a very relevant point. How much is supplementary benefit in relation to unemployment?—because that is money which we might like to see deployed in some other way.
I cannot wait to hear the discussion about Lagan College because it will be very much more interesting than anything I have to say.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, sits down, he mentioned a "farce" and I mentioned a "ritual", and I put it to the House that if we are to treat with respect the publications which come before us as far as expenditure is concerned, what is our duty and responsibility? If it is not about expenditure and quantifying terms of performance, then we ought not to have the figures presented to us.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, I would like to start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Gowrie on his presentation. The figures show that we have a very energetic Secretary of State and Ministers. We have always been extremely lucky and our present Secretary of State, in the way he cares and talks about unemployment, is one of the best that we could possibly have. The whole of Northern Ireland is conscious that he worries terribly about unemployment and all the problems in Northern Ireland right across the board. All his Ministers work extremely hard and we are very grateful to them for that.
I would like to support the noble Lords, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge and Lord Blease, for their comments about the ritual—although I do not quite see how it can be avoided, because there is only one way in which people can raise a lot of subjects right across the board. I find in dealing with these appropriations that the amount of expenditure is so vast that it is almost impossible to pinpoint anything that is interesting enough to develop here. Therefore, I probably am one of the people the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was blaming most for running off at a tangent on other occasions. However, I do not apologise for it because I think quite often it is worth while doing.
I would like to pinpoint one matter particularly, and then go on to two other points. The first is the question of the presentation by Her Majesty's Government for the extension of the less-favoured areas. This was supposed to have been done in a matter of weeks after November last. It still has not been presented, and I simply cannot understand why it has not. Within that area, I wonder whether any study has been done on the effective employment of, let us say, 1006 £5,000, being the cost of one unemployed man, when it is spent in Government grants into less favoured areas. How much does it generate, because it is my belief, living on the edge of a less favoured area, that every £5,000 there generates far more employment and prosperity than money spent pretty well anywhere else. Therefore, I would ask the Government to see to it that, when the area of less favoured areas is extended throughout the United Kingdom, they persuade the Treasury—that they do know, first of all, in order to persuade the Treasury—exactly how much employment and prosperity is generated by the expenditure of that particular £5,000.
The next item is a hoary old chestnut of mine which is the intensive pig, poultry and dairy industry. Twelve months ago, or perhaps 18 months ago, the pig and poultry industry and the dairy industry in Northern Ireland were in a very bad way, and the differential in feedingstuff price was enormous. It was so great that our business was running down at an alarming rate. Year after year the Government have pulled all the levers possible and have saved that industry. We were on a fairly even keel because in April this year the input of feedingstuff price was on a parity with this country. No sooner do we get on to that than the EEC decides to restrict importation of manioc, puts duties on bran and tries to restrict importation of maize gluten. The result has been that the differential is going to go right out again. I know our Government will not let 5,000 people become unemployed without taking action, but this is plughole action; we are always putting the cork in.
Could the Government not give some continuity of confidence to the industry. For one thing, every ton of maize or barley exported and subsidised by the EEC to third countries costs £31 to subsidise and get out. It would only require a matter of £4 million in all to pay £15 a ton to bring the price of home grown cereals to Ulster, to make sure that our industry can compete on the same price. This is a vital thing. It is a question of 5,000 unemployed unless something is done, and 5,000 unemployed costs £25 million; the multiplication is so clear. I am sure the Government will make sure that our industry can survive, but there really is an enormous need for confidence, because every year a different device has had to be used in order to make that possible. I know from another sphere, your Lordships' sub-committee, that the people in Brussels are only too willing to help if it can be done in any way that is within the terms. If it was in France they would do it without the terms and argue about it afterwards, but we have to do it within the terms.
I want to touch on a generality, and I will do it very quickly. It is something which will give my noble friend an opportunity of proving his warmth towards the constitution of Northern Ireland and the unity of the United Kingdom. I have met on so many occasions the criticism of Northern Ireland that it is a pensioner of the United Kingdom, that we are such a burden that we are not worth having. The reason that we are that burden is very simple. It lies in the way that our accounts are presented. We are the only part of the United Kingdom that is separately costed. Not only are we separately costed, but even when they make comparisons they do not make comparisons like with like. Take, for example, Bournemouth/Eastbourne. 1007 They have far more pensioners than we do. Parts of England have far more subsidies, for instance, on transport, far more than we do. Yet we go on being presented with the fact that we are pensioners.
I would draw your Lordships' attention to the Northern Ireland Economic Council's Report on Expenditure Comparisons Between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. They bring the figure down to 2 per cent. I believe that the Northern Ireland figure should not be presented in isolation, because it is abrasive to many thinking people and will have a very material effect on the future of the Union. On page 3 it says:Furthermore, the exclusion of Government lending to nationalised industries in Great Britain is not consistent with the inclusion to similar industries in Northern Ireland.That inconsistency goes through those accounts again and again, and it is totally misleading, and in my view is to the detriment of the Union.
I will finish by saying that so many of our policies are national policies, decided nationally. The level of family allowances is decided nationally. The level of unemployment, which is our main bugbear—it is the Government of the day that decides the rate of interest which provides the unemployment which provides the problem. We then get that separately accounted and get separately blamed for it. Lastly, I note that there is a terrible inconsistency in our income. When I made my maiden speech—and everybody can remember their maiden speech with terror—I had to make mine on a subject I really knew nothing about and it was on the offshore oil industry. I had already had something to do with it in the Ministry of Commerce. I found that Northern Ireland had bartered, sold its share of offshore oil at, I cannot remember what percentage, and that this was to be credited to our account. I understand that at the present moment the figure might be £150 million. Certainly, it was £150 million last year which we have not been credited for, and next year it could be up to £400 million. That makes a very big hole in the deficit which is being attributed to us.
So if my noble friend will show his friendship and his warmth towards the unity of the United Kingdom will he undertake to mention to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that something should be done with the presentation of these accounts, and possibly another area of comparable size and comparable problems should be put against it, so that it can be seen that Northern Ireland is in fact a normal part of the United Kingdom from that point of view. I therefore approve of the appropriate order.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I too, would like to thank the Minister very much for his presentation and also for sending notes to help us to understand this appropriation order. We have recently debated the affairs of Northern Ireland rather more than usual, and most recently, of course, we have given a welcome, most of us, to the forward-looking political initiative of the Government. However, in contrast, there has also been during this week the tragic evidence that Northern Ireland's destructive forces are continuing to persist.
1008 On this occasion I feel that we should add to the usual ritual of examining specific figures in this appropriation order by trying to also establish whether, on the one hand, the spending priorities are in line with the political progress being made, while at the same time providing a counterweight to the forces of violence which continue to undermine the fabric of life in Northern Ireland. By that I mean trying to establish whether the distribution of these funds effectively counters those cycles of poverty and deprivation which are the allies of the terrorist, and whether they relate to the fundamental social and economic problems peculier to Northern Ireland, such as Northen Ireland's bad housing; Northern Ireland's high number of unemployed; and Northern Ireland's disaffected young people. My contention is that in Northern Irleand the three threads of politics, economics and security are all woven into one skein and if the figures before us do not reflect this interdependence, then our priorities and our balance are wrong.
So starting from that premise, let me make a few comments about this appropriation order and put a few general questions to the Minister. First, under Class I Vote 2 let me support the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and ask the Minister indeed, when the Government are to make an application to the EEC for an extension to the less-favoured areas in Northern Ireland. I am sure we all know that this application is now very, very long overdue in that not only was the survey completed some time ago, but also that it is being very favourably anticipated by the Commission authorities. At present, as the Minister knows, less than half of Northern Ireland as a whole is treated as a less-favoured area, and considering how well the Republic has done out of extension, and if something is to be done for agriculture in Northern Ireland, there would seem no better place to start than on this particular issue.
Under Class V, Vote 1, let me bring out the vexed question of Community assistance to Northern Ireland in the field of housing. I have a different interpretation of this from that which the Minister has given. Will the Minister justify or explain why, out of the £64 million exclusively identified for housing in Northern Ireland under the special measures for the United Kingdom Kingdom during the course of this year, not a penny has yet arrived in Belfast? None of these funds, which as we all know are desperately needed to alleviate Belfast's chronic housing situation, has been provided as additional money to Northern Ireland's housing executive. So while this amount remains locked in the United Kingdom's Exchequer, would the Minister not agree that it is hardly surprising that the German Government are blocking the transfer of the further special housing grant of £16 million from the EEC, although it has been rightly guaranteed by the Secretary of State as additional to his own spending?
I have informed myself a little about this predicament. There is no doubt that the German Government's sympathy lies with Belfast's housing and, indeed, with Belfast's economic plight in general. Encouragement is being given to German industry to invest in Northern Ireland, but on the question of allowing the passage of the £16 million of European funds to Belfast's housing, the German Government 1009 feel that as Germany, in common with Britain, is a major contributor to the European Budget, they would first like to see the British Government liberate some of the original subsidy earmarked for Belfast's housing.
Let me make the following points about education under Class VIII. First, there can be no doubt of the supremely important place that education holds in the life of Northern Ireland. On the one hand, Northern Irish parents are among the most supportive of their children's education in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, a stable school life is even more crucial to the children of Northern Ireland, exposed as they are to extra tensions, than to children in the rest of the United Kingdom.
So bearing that in mind, it would seem wrong that education is losing out rather badly in its share of Government spending in Northern Ireland. Proof of this was revealed in a recent Parliamentary Answer by Mr. Nicholas Scott who stated that education and related services in Northern Ireland took only 15.3 per cent. of the total—this is the lowest proportion since the early 1970s.
Some intitial effects of these gradual cuts in education were felt in the provision of school meals and milk and, indeed, in 1981 a survey of health visitors expressed a fear that children in the 13 to 15 age range were at risk from a poor diet resulting from the cutback in subsidy for school meals. But despite such reservations, the cost of school meals has recently been increased yet again with a subsequent fall-off in the take-up of these meals. This, in turn, has brought on a reduction in the number of working hours of school meal attendants and many of these attendants, of course, are women, and women, as we know, already represent a very high proportion of Northern Ireland's jobless.
Furthermore, on another point, the statistics reflecting female unemployment will be greatly obscured by the proposal that from October there will be no obligation for married women without work to register as unemployed. Thus it is evident that indirectly both the extent of child poverty and the extent of unemployment have been aggravated by cuts in the education budget.
On another level, it is evident that education spending cuts have adversely affected the work of the youth service, the library service and expenditure on the building and equipment of schools. An example of how the crucially important work of the youth service has been impaired was brought to my attention the other day by an organisation in which I am involved called the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust, who are engaged insupporting and financing self-help and youth employment projects. They say how worried they are about the cutback in funds for summer play schemes for young people. Both youth and social workers together with the police community relations branch have really been appalled by this totally false economy which, among other things, runs completely counter to their efforts to shield young people from the adverse influence of the paramilitaries. These summer schemes have proved extremely valuable in recent years in keeping young people usefully occupied and off the streets during those difficult summer months.
The final point that I wish to make about education is in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, 1010 has said and what the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, is about to say about Lagan College. I have been very involved with Lagan College since the outset and so far as possible I have been supportive of this educational initiative. Like many others, I am convinced of the eventual aspiration that Northern Ireland's children should be educated together. Moreover, I have been encouraged by the supportive evidence that Northern Ireland's parents, from both communities, wish for the provision to be made for integrated education. I have on several occasions been in touch with the Minister responsible for education to see how Lagan College could be assisted.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, has already said, the organisers of this college, which opened last year, wished from the outset for it to be a voluntary grant-aided school eventually, rather than an independent one. They accepted that this would not happen for three years while they were achieving an enrolment of 300 pupils. But they were led to believe that the Department of Education would be supportive and that requests for help during that period might well receive favourable consideration. I myself was given very much the same impression by the Minister responsible. But the point has now been reached when those hard-working and very dedicated pioneers of this scheme feel that they have received no favourable evidence whatever of any Government support. There has been nothing but a great deal of backtracking and vacillation on the part of the department. So in my view, as again the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, has said, the time really has come for the Government to come out into the open and declare themselves either in favour of the principle of integrated education in Northern Ireland or to state their reasons for holding the opposite view.
The last general point that I want to make concerns the necessity to relate economic strategy regarding Northern Ireland to the present forward-looking political strategy. I would like to give one particular example of how I think this can be done. We see reflected in these figures before us a very substantial amount set aside for the purpose of attracting external investment, especially from the United States and Europe, following the establishment of the new Industrial Development Board. But in direct contrast to the setting up of a Northern Ireland Assembly and the hope that it might devolve governmental functions upon itself, there is little evidence of any encouragement to the Northern Irish people, especially those involved in industry and commerce, to undertake some modicum of responsibility in attracting investment from abroad. Although this sizeable amount to be spent on industrial development should, of course, be accountable by Ministers, I would suggest that the representation of the Province should gradually be transferred into the hands of the Northern Irish. It would seem a strange paradox to encourage political development one day, bringing in the resulting local political responsibility, while not conceding any responsibility locally to supervise inward industrial development.
So I end by saying that, much as many of us admire the efforts of the Government towards political progress in Northern Ireland, there may be some doubt 1011 in some of our minds whether this appropriation order will give the economic balance necessary to bolster that political initiative.
§ 5.51 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, should like to add to the tributes paid to the noble Earl on the Front Bench for his presentation of this order. I am grateful to the noble Duke for giving way to me because I rather wanted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, because they dealt with the subject with which I want to deal.
Following on what the noble Baroness said, I should like to emphasise to your Lordships that it is not vast sums of money that the college is looking for at the moment. Rather, it is co-operation, consistency of response and moral support of the Department of Education. We accepted—we knew right from the start—that we would not get grant-aided status until the college had established itself and shown over three years that it looked like being a permanent seat of learning, and had shown, by building up the enrolment to 300—as the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and the noble Baroness Lady Ewart-Biggs, have said—that it was capable of making a worthwhile contribution to the education system in Northern Ireland. We realised that.
Right back at the feasibility study stage we were clearly given to understand that when those criteria were met—three years and 300 pupils—we would be given grant-aided status. There is just a sniff—a hint—in the air now that a little hit of back-peddling is going on in the Department of Education. I sincerely hope that I am wrong. If that were to be the case, it would be disastrous because—and it is cardinal to our policy—in appealing for funds from the public and from charitable trusts (and I must declare an interest in that I am president of the appeal) we have said all along that this is purely seeding finance: £500,000 to prime the pump and get us going over those first three years. So I sincerely hope that I am wrong.
I should like to quote a second example of where we would like to have seen more positive support from the Department of Education. As your Lordships may be aware, in Northern Ireland there is an Action for Community Employment Scheme, comprising bodies such as the National Trust, local councils, voluntary societies and almost any group which is prepared to employ someone on a steady full-time basis on a project or projects that are in the public interest. People are employed on the basis that they have been unemployed for a reasonable length of time, the bulk of their salary being paid from Government funds. In fact, the voluntary society to which I belong has been employing a welder for some months now and the department is paying 90 per cent. of his wages.
So on that basis the governors of Lagan College went to the Department of Manpowe Services and asked whether they would be able to employ a full-time science teacher, taking advantage of the ACE Scheme. The department was very sympathetic but, quite understandably, referred the application to the Department of Education for a recommendation. To our 1012 great disappointment, the department gave an unfavourable recommendation; so the application has been turned down. I should have thought that the department would like to have seen the queue of unemployed teachers being reduced, even if only by one.
What is even more ironic is that the department does not exactly criticise us, but it tactfully made us aware that it thought our capability for teaching the subject of science was perhaps not as strong as it ought to be. So there you are, It looks as though there is inconsistency again.
Further inconsistency seems to appear every now and again within the Department of Education itself. For instance, the community relations division of that department last autumn actually encouraged the governors to make an application for a grant in respect of school transport—as the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, mentioned—establishment costs (lighting, heating, et cetera), and the salary of one teacher, indicating to the governors that there was no reason why applications for forms of assistance of this kind should not be granted. In the event, unfortunately, the applications were not granted because, having been referred to the schools division of the Department of Education at Rathgael House, once more they were turned down on account of the fact that the college was independent.
In view of the above frustrations, a delegation of governors—with, I may say, considerable difficulty—managed to secure an interview with the honourable Member who sits in another place and who has responsibility for the Department of Education. On that occasion they got nowhere, other than to gain the impression that Mr. Nicholas Scott had been advised by his civil servants that, being an independent college, nothing could be done for it. This was, again, contrary to the impression that had been given.
Next, it became clear from inquiries made from parents that two extra classrooms would be required, and the cheapest and most flexible way of doing this was to acquire two secondhand classrooms of the mobile variety to sit outside the existing school premises. Towards the end of last autumn two suitable mobile classrooms had been found. A price was agreed, but, as a formality, the permission of the Department of Education had to be sought. A reasonable length of time was allowed to elapse and then, when nothing had been heard, a further inquiry was made of the department to see what was happening. A further period of time elapsed and eventually, seven and a half months after the permission was sought last December, a reply came saying that they were still awaiting the drawing from an architect indicating which two of several mobile classrooms at an Antrim school were being made available for transfer.
It was not the responsibliity of Lagen College to commission an architect to do that. In fact, I think that they would have been going beyond their remit in doing so. They were waiting patiently. But it seems to me to be a remarkably elaborate way of doing it, when one considers that an hour-and-half's drive takes one from Rathgael House to the school in Antrim where the classrooms are. I should have thought that any junior civil servant equipped with a piece of graph paper and pencil would have been able to take half a day and go to see where the classrooms are. 1013 Eventually, I understand that when it was made known that I might be raising the matter in your Lordships' House this afternoon, a civil servant did go off in his car and find out where the classrooms were.
So when the people of Northern Ireland are, quite properly, continually being urged to help themselves as best they can and when quite a number of people are working extremely hard to make a go of this, when you are stifled by red tape like this, you begin to wonder who is for us and who is against us.
The organisation to which I belong, which initiated Lagan College, is called "All children together". It might equally well have been called "All children and all parents together", because it is remarkable the amount of work that parents of all religious persuasions put in shoulder to shoulder, side by side. This surely is what community relations and reconciliation are all about. I could not agree more with the noble Baroness when she said that it would make it much easier for us all if we knew exactly where the Government stood on this. If they think we are wrong, let them say so and give their reasons.
I have just another quick point or two. On the subject of housing, euphemistic noises are being made about the generous grants available for voluntary housing associations. I have researched this one and have been told by the chairman that in fact there is no finance available for new housing developments on the voluntary basis. All the additional finance that has been put in is for catching up on the backlog of schemes which have had to be postponed. Again, hoping that the Ulster people will do their best to help themselves, I think this would be money extremely well spent providing employment in the construction industry and also helping to ease the housing shortage in various places.
Similarly, those of us who have tried in a modest way to provide employment in the countryside, particularly those parts of the countryside where unemployment is running at a high level, have found ourselves restricted and frustrated from time to time by planning restrictions. None of us wants to see heavy, thumping, smelly industry in rural areas generating a lot of traffic on roads which are unfit to carry it, but there are all sorts of things like the cottage industries on which the economy of Northern Ireland was built up in the 18th century that could be slotted into the small towns and villages of the countryside. Things like craft centres, which would give employment not in a big way, but obviously it is in the small way that we have to look for hope because I cannot see us getting more ICIs or Courtaulds, or employers of large numbers of the labour force.
With those remarks, I again thank the noble Earl and I apologise that I did not give him earlier notice of the points I was going to raise. I apologise too that I forgot to put on my brief, which is why I forgot to mention it before now, that I should be interested to hear what is happening about the electricity inter-connector between the North of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
§ 6.4 p.m.
The Duke of Abercorn
My Lords, I should like to support and endorse the tributes paid to my noble friend and indeed all Ministers in the Northern Ireland 1014 Office for their tireless efforts on behalf of the people in Northern Ireland. In fact, since the advent of direct rule we have been extremely fortunate in the talent and dedication of all administrations. In welcoming this appropriation order I should like to confine my few remarks to the votes on agricultural and industrial support. In regard to Class I on agricultural support, there are now significant signs that at last the industry is emerging from the long recession and that farmers are beginning to recoup part of their lost income during the last two years.
However, there is much concern, as already expressed in this House, and in my opinion unnecessary frustration in the continuous delay in the submission to Brussels of the United Kingdom application for an extension of the less favoured areas. It is essential that this submission is made without further delay to ensure that the extension is designated for 1983, for the less favoured area payments are due. I need hardly remind the Government that during the month of August the Commission virtually goes to sleep. Therefore, it is essential, indeed imperative, that this submission is made prior to this dormant period. In other words, made before the end of this month.
An extension of the existing scheme would be most beneficial not only to Northern Ireland agriculture but to the economy as a whole, for due to the serious de-industrialisation that has taken place over the last few years Northern Ireland is becoming more and more once again dependent on agriculture as a basic economy, since many rural towns have literally lost their industrial base and more than ever are dependent on agriculture. In fact, the health of agriculture has a ripple effect throughout the length and breadth of the rural population.
In regard to Class II, while welcoming the proposed expenditure on industrial development I believe that it is essential for the Government to determine that this expenditure, particularly in regard to attracting inward investment from abroad, is utilised in the most effective method possible. During the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Bill I attempted to emphasise the real problem of attracting mobile foreign investment to Northern Ireland, due to the outside damaging perception of instability.
I should now like to emphasise that in the opinion of many the only positive method of counteracting this damaging outside perception and the image problem is through the introduction of fiscal incentives which are, without doubt, the most effective method of attracting the limited number of mobile firms. Although the Department of Commerce offers a wide and complex—in my view, far too complex—range of incentives there is without doubt the most important ingredient missing; namely, tax incentives.
Sadly, the De Lorean project demonstrated only too clearly the pitfall of attracting new investments of high cost and high risk that are over-reliant on subsidy and are too capital intensive. Therefore, surely the Government agree that the most effective method of attracting profitable firms which are in the process of expanding is through tax incentives. I accept that the Treasury will emphasise the problems of introducing special fiscal incentives for Northern Ireland, an integral part of the United Kingdom. But I must emphasise that Northern Ireland's special problems are 1015 not only the unfortunate image problem, to which I have already referred, but also our remoteness problem, which is comparable only to the Irish Republic, which for many years has benefited from tax incentive schemes. Furthermore, from past experience of Brussels I would not anticipate any opposition from the Commission to this proposal, as Northern Ireland only requires and asks for fiscal incentive parity with the Irish Republic.
When replying to the debate on the Northern Ireland economy which took place on 7th May 1982, my noble friend Lord Elton assured me that a review of fiscal incentives was in hand. Since there has been a marked deterioration in our economy since that date, it is essential for the review to be completed without further delay and for the Government to adopt a radical approach in order to assist a drastic economic situation.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, the debate we have had is perhaps a fair indicator of why my right honourable friend and I may not be as offside as many people have accused us of being in suggesting that more debate and more scrutiny be devolved to Northern Ireland. I am grateful for the genuinely helpful tone that noble Lords have taken, even when they have been critical. My opening speech, which inevitably ran for nigh on half an hour—it was effectively a budget speech for a very wide range of departments and issues—necessarily had to truncate things a little. So as not to detain the House too long I shall have to go at a fair lick in my winding-up speech.
I will not make a winding-up speech but will simply try to answer the points which noble Lords have made. If I do not, then perhaps noble Lords will have a word with me, and if I do not satisfy them I will follow up the issues in correspondence. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, started, very properly, with issues of life and limb and industrial safety and as a Minister who used to work in the health and safety field in employment in this country I very much welcome that. I certainly regret that there has been an increase in fatalities through accidents on farms in 1981 over 1980 and the preceding three years. To reduce the number of accidents on Northern Ireland farms the following measures are used by the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland.
There is the operation of the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Northern Ireland Order. There are advisory visits to farms by farm safety inspectors. There is education in the form of talks, discussions and film shows to schools and also to farming audiences. There are safety competitions and exhibitions at shows, and there is publicity in conjunction with the Health and Safety Agency for Northern Ireland; and during the past year four additional farm safety inspectors have been appointed, making a total of six full-time inspectors. I do urge farmers all over that agricultural Province to be especially careful and to make 1982–83 a year in which we can reduce these sad statistics. Safety is still largely a matter of getting into the right habits, and I urge everyone to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, also asked me about the development of wave energy projects. We are aware of the excellent work being carried out by Queen's University, Belfast, in the development of wave energy. While I understand that the first licensing agreements 1016 have gone to Japan, that does not exhaust the commercial possibilities, and Northern Ireland companies have shown and are continuing to show interest in industrial developments of the concept.
The noble Lord also mentioned the switch in resources from Subhead A.2 to Subhead A.5. He observed that the amount estimated for Department of Commerce grants towards the provision of tourist amenities by local authorities under Subhead A.5 was increased as compared with the outturn figure for 1981–82, while the amount provided under Subhead A.2 in respect of the direct provision of tourist amenities had decreased in comparison with previous years. Expenditure of £172,000 was made under Subhead A.2 in 1981–82. This was largely in respect of the Anersley Mansion Centre, a project undertaken directly by the Department of Commerce and financed entirely by that department at a total cost of £900,000. The sum of £50,000 under Subhead B.2 in 1982–83 is intended to cover outturn expenditure on this project. The department has no plans for further expenditure on direct works projects in 1982–83.
Grants to local authorities by the Department of Commerce at the rate of 75 per cent. of project cost is made under Subhead A.5 towards local authority expenditure in providing tourist amenities. By increasing the amount of grant available from the 1981–82 outturn figure of £305,000 to an estimated £797,000 in 1982–83 it will, I believe, be possible to encourage the provision of a much more varied range of developments over a wider area for Northern Ireland; and as one who enormously believes in the tourist potential of Northern Ireland I certainly welcome that.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, asked me to explain the increase of £1.5 million in respect of apprentice training grants. This reflects the greater interest shown in the scheme, I am glad to say, by employers who take on additional apprentices or recruit young people who have completed their initial craft training at a Government training centre. That welcome interest is evidenced by the increase in applications from 1,734 in 1980 to 2,246 in 1981; and in the first half of 1982, 1,872 applications have been received. The noble Lord asked me whether I would explain the reduction of about £800,000 in the provision for training services and operating costs of industrial training boards. The total provision of just over £1 million is intended to cover the period up to 30th September 1982 and not the full financial year. There is, therefore, a reduction. The Government had originally decided that, as in the case of Great Britain, the funding of the operating costs of the board should be returned to industry completely in 1982–83. As the review of ITBs in Northern Ireland has not yet been completed it has been decided to support the operating costs of all boards until September and consultations with the interested sectors of industry on the future of the boards are still going on.
There was mention of the Newry-Dundalk Road by the noble Lord, Lord Blease. There have been discussions between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland on the adequacy of the existing road between Newry and Dundalk. There is a divergence of view on the matter and it has been agreed that a joint study should be undertaken 1017 on the position. Applications for grant aid to help finance the cost of such study have been made to the Economic Community and commencement of the study is dependent on the outcome of the applications.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, turning to housing, asked about an extension of rent control to the private unfurnished rented sector. As a matter of general principle the Government are unwilling to interfere in freely entered into agreements between landlord and tenant, but I shall pass the noble Lord's comments to my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State who has responsibility for housing. In the same way I have to pass his query about the coal-firing scheme to my right honourable friend the Secretary or State for Industry in this country, because he is responsible for the scheme and he will give consideration to that point.
I am not entirely clear as to what the noble Lord meant in saying the rent assessment committees were inaccessible—I believe those were the words he used. Anyone, either a tenant or a landlord, wanting to know whether he is entitled to a hearing by the rent assessment committee has only to contact the Rent Officer for Northern Ireland at Windsor House in the centre of Belfast and he or his able staff will be only too willing to advise people of their rights. I am glad to say that many people take advantage of this service. If the noble Lord has any specific complaints I should be most grateful if he would let me have details and I will ask my ministerial colleague to look into them.
The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, asked me about levels of public expenditure planned for Northern Ireland in 1982–83. The Government's expenditure plans were set out in a recent White Paper, Command 8494. The total planned expenditure in 1982–83 is £3,546 million, which is some £125 million more than was planned a year ago. The net increase takes account of Northern Ireland's share of planned increases and decreases in expenditure on comparable programmes in Great Britain, and also reflects the revision of the economic assumptions underlying our previous plans. I will write to the noble Lord with the figure of the costs of unemployment benefit in the Province.
There was considerable mention of the good work of Lagan College, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, from the Liberal Benches, the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, also dealt with this. The college has been established as an independent, not a grant-aided school and therefore is not eligible for assistance from public funds; but the college has been assured that the Government will give whatever assistance they can consistent with the college's independent status. I am sympathetic to the points raised by noble Lords on this, and I will bring the points they have made to the attention of my honourable friend Mr. Scott.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, had a specific criticism, which was that the application in respect of Lagan College was previously turned down by the Department of Manpower Services because the Action for Communtiy Scheme could not be used in an area where clear statutory authority rested with the department or body making the suitable provision, and in that case the department or body was the Education and Library Board. I am afraid that it is in the nature of provisions of this kind to have rules, because 1018 limitations have to be drawn. Rules are inevitably decried as being bureaucratic. Sometimes one can unplug the blockages, but I rather doubt that I would be able to in that case.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough asked me a rather technical question about cereal substitutes and manioc; he advised me that he would not be able to be here for this final speech, so I will deal with that privately, unless other noble Lords are agog to hear the answer. I said however that I would try to answer him on a point which was raised by others, notably by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and my noble friend the Duke of Abercorn. That was the issue of the delay in submitting the case to Brussels in respect of less favoured areas for an extension of the less favoured areas in Northern Ireland. Although the Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom Survey of Marginal Land was completed quickly, by the end of 1979, the result of the survey for the rest of the United Kingdom had to be awaited, and as my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture said in another place on the 8th of this month, there is still no Government commitment to provide additional aid to any marginal areas which may eventually be designated as less favoured.
Government expenditure on compensatory allowances and certain capital grants would qualify far a contribution from the EEC. It would have been inappropriate to consider an application on behalf of Northern Ireland before the full extent of the problem in the United Kingdom as a whole was known. The United Kingdom case is now under consideration and preparation. It will be submitted by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture as soon as possible. No special measures could be implemented before the Council of Ministers approve the application, and therefore I cannot, I am afraid, forecast when they will reach a decision.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough—I said I would deal with this as it was of general interest—asked whether it would be possible to present the income and expenditure accounts for Northern Ireland in a less detailed form, particularly given the fact that similar detail is not available for other regions of the United Kingdom. I sympathise with my noble friend, but the fact that Northern Ireland's public financial structures were established in the context of a local parliament, and continued to be geared to the devolution of functions to a local Assembly, makes it inevitable that a separate system of accounts be kept for Northern Ireland, and generally I think Northern Ireland has recognised that they sometimes benefit from this.
It is this which enables the income and expenditure of the Province to be identified in detail, something which is not possible for the other regions of the United Kingdom. I think if it were possible, we should see that other relatively depressed regions also benefit from revenue raised in more prosperous regions. I do not think this practice casts any doubt on the future of the Union, and I must say that to my noble friend in the friendliest and, to use his term, in the warmest possible manner.
The noble Baroness asked me why one penny of the £64 million provided by the European Community in supplementary measures for housing in Northern 1019 Ireland had not been spent there. In determining public expenditure allocations, the Government take into account anticipated income from all sources, including the various means of assistance available from the EEC. Were such assistance, including the supplementary measures referred to by the noble Lady, not available, public expenditure levels could not be maintained at current levels. But the proposed special aid for housing represents additional funds—at present they stand at the considerable sum of £16 million—which would not otherwise have become available to the United Kingdom. It has been possible therefore to earmark these sums, if they are eventually agreed on—and I touched on that issue in my opening remarks—as additional to the planned public expenditure on housing in Northern Ireland. It is a matter of regret to us that agreement has not yet been reached with the member states a whole, but as I said in my opening remarks (if she will do me the kindness of reading it) we have, as it were, put our money where our mouth is and made this avaiable.
The noble Baroness then moved to the education budget and asked about the cuts in the Education and Library Boards recurrent budget in this year. Excluding the costs of the expanded youth training programme, which will be funded separately, the cash available for recurrent services, including milk and meals, is £172.9 million. This represents a reduction in real terms of about 1 per cent. on all services as compared with expenditure by the boards in the last financial year. Within this total, provision has to be made for all pay and price increases in the 1982–83 financial year and an expected increase in numbers of mandatory student awards. Thus, in effect the boards have been required to reduce provision for their main services—that is, excluding their statutory commitments—by some 2.65 per cent. in real terms, and this assumes that inflation on these services can be contained within the Government's cash limit factors. Obviously, we should all like to have more money available to us, but neither people in professions in Northern Ireland, as with their counterparts here, are always willing to restrain pay demands in order to keep up the level of service provision.
The noble Baroness, and by proxy the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, asked me our views about integrated education. Again, we welcome integrated education wherever there is a local wish for it and we shall support practical proposals put forward to this end. But we cannot force integration—or indeed little else—on those in Northern Ireland who do not want it. There is of course no statutory bar whatever to children of different religions or backgrounds being educated together.
The noble Baroness widened the debate in arguing there was insufficient local control in Northern Ireland over the attraction of inward investment. Again, I refer back to our debates on the Northern Ireland Bill. It has been in order that the Secretary of State and I and others should have something to sell in the terms of political movement in the Province, however slow or modest, that we have put our proposals forward. I shall shortly be dealing with some structural and organisational issues in connection with the promotion of inward investment on the Industrial Development 1020 (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, and I should rather reserve my remarks for that debate, otherwise we waste time in duplication.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, referred to the resources available for housing associations in the Province. I cannot accept his assessment of the case. The allocations have in fact risen progressively over the years. It now stands at £24 million for 1982–83, and this represents an increase of some £3 million in out-turn over 1981–82 of £21 million. This is a significant increase and surely reflects our commitment to the voluntary housing movement. It will enable a start to be made on over 900 new or rehabilitated dwellings and will assist about 1,000 people to take the first steps on the owner-occupation ladder through equity sharing schemes operated by the Northern Ireland co-ownership housing associations. In common with other housing services, housing associations will continue to receive the highest priority among the Government's social and environmental programmes.
My noble friend the Duke of Abercorn, while generously recognising—which is no more than the case—that assistance to industry in Northern Ireland currently available is the most generous in the United Kingdom, thought that in the long run this form of deservedly highest assistance should start operating in a fiscal context rather than, to use his words, in capital grants. I must say that he does not have to convince me. I am very sympathetic to this point of view, and I hope that eventually what both my noble friend and I should like to see happen will come about.
However the Government have other practical difficulties in divorcing the fiscal schemes between the mainland and Northern Ireland—as I think my noble friend was very alive to—but we are always looking for practical suggestions for making our arrangements more effective in a way that is not damaging to the United Kingdom as a whole. In that spirit and context of sympathy, and indeed conviction—which is about as far as I can go at the moment—I welcome my noble friend's remarks, and I shall continue to use his experience and observations with which to beat my colleagues about the head. I think that I have dealt with most of the points that have been raised, but I shall look through the report of the speeches and write to any noble Lords whom I have short-changed.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.