§ 3.18 p.m.
The Earl of Gowrie
rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th February be approved.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 16th February, 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 both the 1981–82 spring Supplementary Estimates and the Sums Required on Account for 1982–83 by Northern Ireland Departments. These spring Supplementary Estimates represent the final adjustments to the spending plans of Northern Ireland Departments for this financial year as set out in the 1981–82 main Estimates and the 1181 autumn Supplementary Estimates covered by the Appropriation (No. 2) and (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Orders 1981 which were debated and approved by your Lordships' House in July and December 1981 respectively.
Detailed information on the draft order is to be found in the Estimates volume and the Statement of Sums Required on Account, copies of which have been placed in the Printed Paper Office, and in the Explanatory Memorandum which I have circulated to those noble Lords who participated in the previous appropriation debate.
I shall now refer to the most important aspects of the draft order dealing first with the 1981–82 spring Supplementary Estimates which amount to £43.4 million. These bring total estimates provision for 1981–82 to £2,388.2 million. Under the heading of "Functioning of the Labour Market", that is to say Class II Vote 3, the House will see that a token Supplementary Estimate of £1,000 is sought to provide additional provision for demand-related grants schemes such as training on employers' premises, the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, the job release scheme and apprentice training grants. I think that there is an error in my text and that that figure might be £1 million. Additional provision is also required to fund a severance scheme at Belfast Docks on which agreement may be reached in this financial year, and for the administrative costs of the industrial training boards until the end of 1981–82 pending the outcome of a review of their functions. A token Supplementary Estimate only is required for this vote—and may I now correct myself again? I am sorry about that, the figure is indeed £1,000—because sufficient savings to meet these additional needs have occurred in other areas. That is the point. The savings arise mainly because of a slower than anticipated expenditure rather than because of a deliberate reduction in planned expenditure.
Noble Lords will be aware that expenditure on this vote represents part of the Government's programme to strengthen the Northern Ireland economy and to alleviate the devastating unemployment in the Province. A permanent reduction in unemployment can only be achieved by world economic improvement, a stable financial climate in general, and in particular an increase in the level of new and productive investment in Northern Ireland. The Government are determined to play their part in bringing this about and your Lordships will recall that my right honourable friend the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced on 13th August last year that the institutional arrangements in this field were to be quite radically reorganised with the setting up of a new industrial development board. Our plans are now well advanced, and I hope that we shall soon be able to publish a full account of our intentions along with the proposal for draft legislation. I would just add that the Government hope to announce the names of the chairman and the members of the board in time for them to start work—initially in parallel with the existing institutions—during next month.
At this point I have unfortunately to acquaint the House with an item of bad news. Some of your Lordships may have already heard of the statement made by my honourable friend the Minister of State 1182 responsible for industry on the closure of the British Enkalon factory at Antrim. This is sad and disappointing news particularly in view of the Government's willingness to consider substantial short-term assistance provided that the parent company could see a future for the Antrim factory, and also because of the improved productivity which was commendably achieved by the workforce in recent months. But the parent company has concluded that there is no prospect of commercial viability for its factory in Northern Ireland and the Government must, however reluctantly, accept that decision. It is to be hoped that the creation of the new industrial development board will enhance Northern Ireland's prospects of creating new jobs which will permanently sustain the local economy.
The current recessionary conditions all over the western world are not, of course, conducive to attracting inward investment. But in spite of these conditions there are some notable achievements by way of new investment such as Hyster and the expansion of well-established companies like Hughes Tool. I can assure the House that our performance in the Province in this field has not been hampered by lack of financial resources provided by the Government. As I have said, the world situation is having its effect but, of course, the image of violence portrayed abroad does not encourage would-be investors. That is why the Government are determined to play a part in encouraging the political progress that alone can consolidate the improved security position and alert investors at home and abroad to the many inherent strengths as well as to the potential strengths of the Northern Irish economy.
I turn now to those votes in the draft order for which the Department of the Environment is responsible and shall refer to the most significant items within them. An additional £9.1 million is being sought on the roads programme—Class IV, Vote 1—largely to meet the cost of a variety of urgent small-scale works, including a number which are related to housing projects and to commercial activities. The House will be aware, of course, that the road infrastructure of Northern Ireland is second to no other region in the Kingdom. Approximately £1.1 million of the extra provision is for repair of damage caused by rioting during the tragic hunger strike of last year, and for additional expenditure on street lighting because of increased electricity tariffs.
In the housing programme—that is to say Class V, Vote 1—a net additional provision of £11.8 million is being sought. The House will know from the announcement made on 6th January last by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that housing is regarded as a top priority within the social and environmental programmes for Northern Ireland and, indeed, the build-up towards the substantial increase in the housing programme announced at that time has already begun. The Supplementary Estimate reflects an increase of some £17.3 million in the housing grant payable to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, partly offset by shortfall in other parts of the Vote, giving us the net increase of £11.8 million. This addition of £17.3 million to the housing grant, combined with savings among other things in interest charges which fall in the housing executive's budget, will I believe enable the executive to redeem in 1981–82 1183 a £30 million bank loan which would otherwise fall due for repayment in 1982–83. Were such a repayment to be postponed until next year, our efforts to secure the expansion of the housing programme could be jeopardised and the improvement in the conditions of the Northern Ireland housing stock and the reduction of very urgent waiting lists would be further delayed.
The House will realise that crucial to all this has been the outstanding success of the Housing Executive in the sale of its houses to sitting tenants, and the consequent public expenditure resources which have been released as a result of this success. Not only is the Housing Executive's record in this respect altogether the best in the United Kingdom—local authorities please note—but the vast bulk of sales are being financed by private funds, chiefly through building society mortgages. I would like to offer my appreciation to the building societies who have responded so well to the encouragement which the Government and the Housing Executive have given them to expand their hoavities in Northern Ireland both in sales of executive ctiuses and also at the lower-priced end of the private market. The Government are very pleased that the societies are continuing with this support.
The supplementary provision sought for the Department of Education in Class VIII, Votes 1 and 2, relates mainly to increased costs arising from the 1981 teachers' salaries awards as well as additional costs arising through the deliberate expansion of the education service input to the Youth Opportunities Programme. Increases amounting to some £4.1 million on these Votes will be offset by decreases amounting to £1.3 million, largely resulting from revised estimates of provision required for a number of services.
I am sure that the House will be aware of considerable recent interest in the press and elsewhere on the question of teacher numbers. I think it is well worth making the point that, despite the very considerable pressures on public expenditure generally, despite the many competing priorities within Northern Ireland and also despite increased costs, nevertheless pupil/teacher ratios in Northern Ireland have been maintained.
The latest year for which actual figures are available is 1980–81, when the ratio in primary schools was 23.6 and that for the secondary sector, 15.5. In 1978–79 the equivalent figures were 23.8 and 15.6, so there was, in fact, a slight improvement. We expect, when final figures are available, that the resources being allocated to teachers in the current year will maintain pupil/teacher ratios at their present level, and the Government have already indicated that they will continue to attach the utmost priority, within the education budget, to provision for the teaching force in the next school year.
I shall now pass on to the health and personal social services field where provision is taken under Class IX in the Estimates. In Vote 1 the increase of £5.1 million consists of £5 million for additional expenditure by health and social services boards on backlog maintenance and replacement of essential equipment, and £0.1 million—£100,000—for grants to voluntary bodies in the health and personal social services sector. Under Vote 2, some £8.3 million is sought for demand determined expenditure mainly arising from general medical, pharmaceutical and welfare food services, and to a shortfall on receipts from health service contribu- 1184 tions. This is partly offset by savings on general dental and other services.
In the field of social security, falling under Class X in the Estimates, a net additional provision of £2.3 million is being sought in Vote 3—that is to say, family benefits—because the estimate of children qualifying for child benefit has been increased due to the growing tendency to remain at school beyond the minimum school-leaving age.
I turn now to the other element in the draft order; that is, sums required on account for 1982–83. These amount in total to £1,075.4 million and it is necessary to have these sums made available to Northern Ireland Departments by the beginning of the incoming financial year so as to enable services to continue until the balance of the 1982–83 main Estimates are debated and approved along with the next appropriation order, which will probably be debated in early July. The sums required on account for 1982–83 are calculated on the basis of a formula linked to the 1981–82 Estimates and, as such, they are not, of course, definitive of expenditure plans for 1982–83.
I trust that I have referred to the most important features of the draft order, but I know that individual noble Lords may well wish to raise other points. I am very much obliged to those noble Lords who have given me advance notice of the matters which are particularly of concern to them. I shall try to answer as many questions as possible at the end of the debate. Those questions which remain unanswered will, of course, be dealt with in correspondence later. In the meantime, I commend the draft order to the House.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th February be approved.—(The Earl of Gowrie.)
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl the Minister for his outline presentation of this appropriation measure. I also wish to thank the noble Earl for making available, some two weeks ago, the Explanatory Memorandum which, as usual, has been most helpful. I have been looking in the Official Report at some of the previous debates on these various Northern Ireland appropriation orders. It appears to me that it has become customary on such occasions for those taking part to range widely over the prevailing economic and social conditions in Northern Ireland. Whatever may be the political merit of exercising this practice, it is obvious that when the appropriation order comes before us in this House there is little or no chance to change the amounts required for specified services. Nor is there any likelihood of additional finances being made available to improve existing services, where this may be considered desirable.
Last week I was privileged to share with others in several special industrial and community events held in Northern Ireland. These events were designed to attempt to find solutions to the desperate problems of chronic high unemployment and the serious decline in the Northern Ireland economy. Among those who played a leading part in some of the projects were the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. James Prior, and the noble Earl opposite, the Deputy Secretary of State, Lord Gowrie.
The noble Earl the Minister and this House will know that I strongly disagree with the Government's overall 1185 policies concerning the United Kingdom—social and economic policies which are having untoward results on employment and on industry in the Province, and which I believe are compounding our community tensions. However, it would be churlish of me if I omitted to state from this Box that Mr. Prior's and the noble Earl's positive, thoughtful and encouraging contributions to the events that they attended last week in Northern Ireland were warmly respected and supported. I would also add that it was pleasing to me to hear both the Secretary of State and his deputy, the noble Earl, pronounce that they were prepared to battle for the promotion of the Province's economic recovery and to work for the wellbeing of the Northern Ireland people. The noble Earl has clearly demonstrated that he is knowledgeably concerned about the current plight of Northern Ireland, and I believe that he has the commitment to tackle the problems resolutely.
Therefore, as we question and challenge some of these appropriation decisions, or the lack of decision, although we may not achieve any immediate change of direction, I am confident that the noble Earl will ponder and probe the relevancy of the points raised in this debate. I should like to turn to the order before us and to the spring Supplementary Estimates. I realise that it is extremely difficult to follow the type of discussion and debate that one would consider necessary in dealing with orders of this kind, because we are really dealing with four separate documents, and across the Floor of the House it is not an easy exercise to draw attention to them and to discuss them in a way that one would like. Nor do I want to become a single public accounts operator, or something like that.
However, there are matters which I think concern a number of people in Northern Ireland and I shall do my best to deal with them in a specific manner. First, I come to Class I—No. 5 relating to the Department of Agriculture. The heading is "A4—Programme for Forestry". The revised provision of £50,000 enables an increased uptake in grants to private planters. AZ shows a decrease of some £200,000 in the sales of forestry produce, and A3 indicates a decrease of some £47,000 on expenditure on the purchase of land and other capital equipment. I believe that there is wide support in the Province for a vigorous forestry development programme, and I welcome the increase in the Vote for grants to private planters, small as that amount is.
However, I would express concern about the decrease in purchases of land for forestry development. Was the loss of £200,000 on sales of produce due to a fall in quantity, quality or of standards—or was it price reductions? I should be glad to know whether the Minister is satisfied that the Forestry Division is being suitably encouraged to support the development of afforestation, improvements in forest recreation facilities and the efficient marketing of forestry produce.
I turn to Class II, concerning the Department of Manpower Services and the functioning of the labour market, to which the noble Earl made special reference in his presentation of the order. A Department of Manpower Services publication stresses that manpower and training are vital to the Province as a regional asset.
The publication states:the Government has striven actively to promote manpower and 1186 training arrangements directly related to the economic needs of Northern Ireland. Otherwise, plans for improving the unemployment position would be without practical significance. This inevitably entails a great deal of direct training activity by Government. Without it, it is impossible to break out of the vicious circle of restricted employment opportunities and hence limited opportunities to acquire a skill, which in turn must produce unused manpower reserves lacking immediate attractiveness to industry".That is a clear and precise statement of improving the whole infrastructure of management and training schemes in Northern Ireland. It contrasts considerably with the position that we find when we examine the amounts in the appropriation order.
As to C.4, Training by Employers, Current Expenditure, the revised note is for an increase from £5 million to £7 million. I realise that the Minister has in his statement said that there has been a scaling down of the schemes. I may not be correctly quoting him here, but I understand he meant to convey at least that some of the schemes have not been taken to the full extent that was originally thought.
When we examine the Employment Services we find a surprising number and amount of decreases in expenditure. Under A.2, Employment Transfer Schemes, there is a decrease of £127,000; A.3, Enterprise Ulster, a decrease of £480,000; B.1, Schemes for the Disabled, a decrease of £4,000; allowances for disabled trainees, a decrease of £23,000; C.1, Government Training Centres, a decrease of £1,342,000; D.6, Youth Opportunities Programmes, a decrease of £2,296,000; and in D.12, Action for Community Employment, a decrease of £1,601,000.
It is apparent that there has been a marked change of policy and certainly a decrease of financial support for industrial training in Northern Ireland, a change which I believe has not the approval of employers nor of trade unions, nor indeed of educationists. Mr. Angus Gordon, chairman of the Northern Ireland Board of the British Institute of Management and a prominent leader of commerce in Northern Ireland, stated on 30th November last year:industry cannot afford to meet increased spending in the vital fields of training for young people and the re-training of adults. Further expansion in training must depend on Government".Mr. David Tinkler, personnel director of Harland and Wolff, the Belfast shipyards, said at an apprenticeship prizegiving day meeting held on 17th February:Indeed, our fear must be that in the present economic climate we will be unable to provide training places to anything like our previous levels".The noble Earl will know about the growing concern for the future of industrial and commercial training at all levels, and the awful hopelessness for the employment prospects of many young people.
May I ask the Minister whether he will consider making some urgent and fresh approaches to matters concerning the advisory, executive, and monitoring arrangements directly related to training and to the youth opportunity employment schemes? I am convinced from my experience over the years that there exists among trade unionists, management, educationists, and the Civil Service personnel a large fund of goodwill, experience and skill—goodwill, experience and skill which can be called upon to give leadership in the promotion of our valuable manpower assets, and especially in meeting the challenge of the new technology. 1187 In class IV.1, the Department of the Environment, Section E, Roads, other expenditure, the revised provision is for an increase of some £700,000 as compensation for damage for injury. Can the Minister indicate the nature of these claims and the reasons for the increase? In Section F, Transport Administration, which I think is related to the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, there is a purchase of office machinery to the amount of £162,000. I am all in favour of anything that may enable a more effective and efficient service, but it appears to me to be a large amount in respect of office machinery for an already long-established office.
Class IV.2, Transport Services, programme 4.2, Section A.1 Railways, grant towards concessionary fares reduced by £200,000; Section B, Road Passenger Services, grants towards concessionary fares reduced by £155,000. May I ask the Minister to whom these concessionary fares are made available? Does not the decline in the demand indicate a need by public service passenger transport—both rail and bus—to undertake some new marketing approaches to encourage the travelling public to use the public transport service? Section D, Road Safety Services, while I would be all for cutting out wasteful and unnecessary expenditure, here we have a reduction of £351,000, over one-quarter of the total budget for the road safety services. Can we be assured that these vital road safety services can be maintained, and indeed progressed and improved, with this particular cut?
The Department of the Environment, Housing Services, Section B.1, Assistance to the Voluntary Housing Movement: the expenditure on home improvement grants is considerably lower than expected, despite the fact that within the United Kingdom Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of dwellings capable of improvement; and also, that in the past five years the take-up has been growing dramatically. Is this not another indicator of the sad economic state of the Province and yet another example of the contradictions of a social strategy which depends greatly on private initiative and private investment at a time when the Government's economic policies are making private initiative—and private investment—more and more difficult?
Last year, and again this year, the Government announced massive rent increases. It is claimed that these steep rent increases are necessary to help in the financing of the housing programme by the Housing Executive. This may be so, but only if one adheres strictly to market values and the monetarist philosophy and blindly ignores the awful deprivation and terrible social consequences of bad housing, and indeed no housing for some people.
The Minister will know that many of the Northern Ireland district councils—that is, the local district councils—have in the past few weeks been, for the first time, united in supporting a call to withhold rent increases. I understand that at least three members of the board of the Housing Executive have publicly voiced opposition to the Housing Executive's financial programme being so dependent on these steep rent increases. The Minister in his opening statement said that the Government have given top social priority to 1188 housing, and this has been claimed on several occasions by Government spokesmen. Yet it seems that it is dependent so much on the capital investment to come from three major sources other than the Government. One is the building societies and finance from the sale of Housing Executive homes, about which the Minister has spoken and the efforts of which he has praised. From the point of view of the sale of publicly-owned housing, it has been, according to the Minister, the best in the United Kingdom, though in my view it has been an extremely bad thing and in the long term will not help in the provision of homes, and certainly it will not help to house the poorer sections of the community in Northern Ireland.
The second source on which the Government are depending is the integrated operations of the EEC, and the third is the rent increases of over 20 per cent. annually. Already arrears of rent to the Housing Executive are over £17 million, and the proposed increased rents will add greatly to the problems of arrears. In the circumstances of Northern Ireland, in my view the rent increases are excessive with the result that the most vulnerable groups are being driven to further despair. Will the Minister urgently examine the financial arrangements of the Housing Executive in relation to housing needs generally, and will the Government undertake such a review in full consultation with the board of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive? Will the noble Earl also consider the general political and community consequences of the proposed new rent increases?
I come to Class V-I, the Department of the Environment, item A2 of which deals with water services. Under programme No. 6 we find, under new construction and improvements, a decrease of £800,000, while under the item concerning town and country planning and comprehensive development schemes we find a decrease of £1 million. It is stated that both have been caused by slippage in those two major capital works schemes, but is the Minister satisfied that everything has been done to progress those capital works programmes? Not only could those schemes have provided much-needed employment, but the improved services, particularly of water, could have greatly assisted the community, and of course the delay will probably lead to additional cost.
Finally, I come to the statement of sums required on account for 1982–83. As the Minister indicated, these are not definitive amounts of expenditure or plans for the next financial year, but there is a temptation, even at this stage in the debate, to try to influence the Minister to go along some different routes to promote the economic recovery of the Province and the wellbeing of the Northern Ireland people. However, from the several meetings we had last week in Northern Ireland, I know the noble Earl is fully apprised of the plight and problems of workers in many sections of the community. I will refer to a few, and I place them on the record so they may know that this House is concerned about them; this is not the time nor the occasion to debate such matters in detail, but as I say, they should be on the record.
We have De Lorean; the Belfast Shipyard; Short Brothers and Harland; the closure of mills and factories; the chronic male unemployment in Strabane, Newry, Derry and throughout the Province; the tragic closure, 1189 to which the Minister referred, of British Enkalon at Antrim; the many and growing number of closures and bankruptcies among small companies; the high unemployment among construction workers; the severe fall in incomes among the farming community; and the continuing problem of energy, particularly in relation to gas and electricity, with which I would have welcomed the opportunity to deal in detail, but I will not do so at this time.
Will the Minister consider making suitable arrangements for the Secretary of State, Mr. Prior, and the noble Earl himself, along with other Northern Ireland Ministers to undertake a series of urgent meetings with the Northern Ireland Economic Council with a view to enlisting the support and co-operation of all sections of the Northern Ireland community in a programme of industrial and economic recovery and development? The Minister referred to the forthcoming announcement in relation to the Industrial Development Board. I welcome the announcement on the subject, although we have certain reservations about its structure and the way in which it will come into being. It will certainly be some time before that board will be able to operate in a way which will enable it to give the necessary input to the needs of Northern Ireland. Hence, between now and April I should like to see a climate of opinion created to enable the board to enter a much more hopeful situation. Therefore I suggest, almost in the form of a proposal, that we should have an initiative for economic recovery; let the Secretary of State invite a response from the Northern Ireland people and politicians to co-operate in a sense of common purpose and wellbeing. With those remarks, I support the Motion.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for his clear introduction and explanation of the order. There are a number of questions I wish to put to him, about almost all of which I have given notice. I listened to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, with interest. My first question is to ask what was the cost to the British taxpayer of supporting the Ulster economy for the most recent 12-month period for which figures are available. The order shows that there are many points of outlay, but perhaps most in the public mind at present are funds towards the electricity support grant, to the De Lorean car industry, to which Lord Blease referred, to Harland and Wolff for shipbuilding, to Short Brothers for aircraft construction, to the very worthwhile Local Enterprise Development Units and so on.
Two further points arising out of that question are these: do the Government know how those who advocate an independent Ulster expect to compensate for the presumable loss of such funds, and does not the provision of such funds afford some lever, particularly on those who term themselves loyalists, to co-operate with this and other United Kingdom Governments in their persistence and most patient attempt to find some solution to the political problems of Ulster? It is clearly understood that such a solution must be acceptable to, even if not considered ideal by, all parties who seek to achieve their aims by the ballot and not the bullet.
I should perhaps make it clear that my party in no way advocates the suspension of aid. Looking back 1190 on the history of Ireland as a whole, there have been tragic and far-reaching events—perhaps the great famines of the 1840s were the most striking—brought about by an unswerving reliance on the undisturbed play of market forces rather than a recourse to the dictates of common humanity. I was much shocked when I first saw the old-fashioned slums in so much of Belfast, even today, and am disturbed that more, even at a time of desperately high unemployment in the Province, seems not to be possible. I noted what the Minister said on housing and I was interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, on the subject. At the same time I return to the point that as we British offer the hand of friendship in the most practical way we can, we are surely entitled to expect the maximum co-operation from all who want to see a prosperous and peaceful Ulster, in whatever political context.
My second question follows an article in the February edition of the magazine Scope, entitled "EEC Poverty Programme", and I will read the opening paragraph:One of the conclusions of an EEC report on the poverty programme that ran for five years in several European countries states that Northern Ireland and Naples are two of the worst areas of the EEC in terms of poverty, unemployment, housing and primary health care".I therefore ask the Minister—perhaps I need to be reminded—what aid the Province has received from EEC funds to date, and are the Government seeking aid for the Province from EEC funds during the next five-year so-called poverty programme, and can he give any details?
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I shall not take advantage of the debate on this order as I did last time, to make a number of general comments, beyond agreeing with the peroration of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, in which he listed all the things which are so terribly wrong in Northern Ireland—things of which the Minister is fully aware but which need restating, and I am glad Lord Blease restated them. I shall be very interested in the answers to the questions, all of which were of a general kind, asked by my noble friend on the Liberal Front Bench.
I should like, very briefly, to follow the rather extensive examination of the order by the noble Lord, Lord Blease. I have one or two points which I believe supplement the point that he made. First, with regard to Class I, Vote 5, relating to forestry, what does the word "remanet "mean? Is it a misprint for "remnant", or what? It is not a word that I have ever heard before. It is in the last line of the note. Perhaps the noble Earl can explain. It is always as well to have a faint idea of what the words that one is talking about indicate. The Northern Ireland forestry has always been excellent, and I am glad to see that it is going ahead in a perfectly normal way.
The labour market budgets worry me a little. The items under paragraph (i) in the noble Earl's notes relating to additional expenditure are all perfectly acceptable to me. However, they amount to £3.6 million, and the items that are being taken away—Enterprise Ulster, which I always thought to be most excellent, government training centres, Youth Opportunities Programme, shipbuilding redundancy payments, and Action for Community Employment—add 1191 up to £5.4 million. I am sure that there is a perfectly good answer to this, but on the face of it it seems that £3.6 million is being given with one hand, while £5.4 million is being taken away with the other.
Since employment is really the most important problem in Northern Ireland, that situation requires an explanation, which I have no doubt the noble Earl will give me in due course. But on the face of it, it looks rather odd.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, before the noble Lord moves on to his next point, will he very kindly repeat his first point about the word that troubled him in the forestry estimates? I did not quite catch the point, and I should like it looked at by my officials.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I agree that it is frightfully important to know what we are talking about. It is on page 3 of the noble Earl's notes to us, under Class I, Vote 5, two lines from the bottom of the paragraph, in Subhead A5:£17,900 to meet actual remanet expenditure"."Remanet" is not a word with which I am acquainted. It may be a misprint, or it may be a mystery—I do not know—but I look forward to the noble Earl's answer.
With regard to transport, which the noble Lord, Lord Blease, mentioned, I do not think that any of us would object to a bit of money being spent on track laying. It seems rather a pity that £400,000 should come off road passenger services and £300,000 off road safety.
Of course housing should be the top priority, and the noble Earl said that it is the top priority. The difficulty is that it is the only labour-intensive occupation mentioned in the entire estimates. Though I am very glad that more money is being spent on housing, if everybody has been so successful in selling off their houses, I should like to know whether that money is being used for building more, because we see that fewer projects by housing associations are reaching completion, with a saving of £2.2 million. The whole housing position as expressed here appears very unsatisfactory, and since, as I say, it is one of the few labour-intensive occupations, it is frightfully important that we should push ahead with it.
Speaking of labour-intensive occupations, I would point out that forestry is the only agricultural activity mentioned. Agriculture is the most labour-intensive of all the occupations and one of the most important in Northern Ireland. I do not know why we do not hear more about it. In the last debate we all begged the noble Earl to devote more money in particular to the intensive end of agricultural production. I have no doubt that there is a good reason for the omission—but the matter is not mentioned.
With regard to Class VIII, Vote 2, is the figure of £1,000 correct, or should it be £1 million? It is stated:Higher and Further Education (Department of Education) £.1,000".I am delighted to see that the Grand Opera House, Belfast, is to be put right, and I hope that the opera company, which I have heard and admired over there, will have the success that it deserves.
Of course, everybody is delighted at a little more 1192 being spent on health and personal social services, where the savings have not been as difficult to account for as elsewhere.
Why was there a shortfall in the land registry fees? Does this mean simply a collapse in industry generally, or what? It seems odd. At the moment I have lost the place in the notes, but it is somewhere towards the end of the details of classes. I ask for clarification.
I would float a question on two other points. The newspapers are saying that there will be very many bankruptcies as a result of De Lorean difficulties. I should like to know the noble Earl's view about that. Is it going to be a very serious economic situation for the Province? I do not know what can be done about it if that is to be the case.
Secondly, we have read with interest about talk of a new departure, which is not yet clear in anybody's mind. I want to say that we from this Bench maintain our bipartisan approach with the Government in continuing to try to find a modification of direct rule, in the direction of some local rule being returned, and we wish them every success in that. The news remains very worrying, and what worries me most about these figures is that they do not seem to be directed towards employment, as I feel they could have been.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the Minister very much for his very clear presentation of the order and for sending me the explanatory memorandum. I should like to make a few comments about provisions in the order, mainly in support of my noble friend, and principally in the areas of employment and housing. I think of when we last debated a Northern Ireland appropriation order in this House and of the considerable political activity that there has been in Ireland, both North and South. I know that the plans for some kind of an elected assembly in Northern Ireland are welcomed and admired by many people in this House.
However, the economy of Northern Ireland has shown a tragic decline since the last debate, and is now in a desperately serious condition, following the tragic lay-offs at De Lorean, and Harland and Wolff, and yesterday the closing of British Enkalon. We all know that insecurity in Northern Ireland is the enemy of peace and progress and that it has both economic and political roots. To me the order does not seem to provide enough evidence that the Government intend to act decisively on the growing fear of unemployment in Northern Ireland. It provides not enough evidence that the Government intend to try to halt the collapse of the industrial base to a point from which it could not recover, even if there were a recovery in the British and world economics.
First, from the point of view of how the order affects the all-important issue of youth employment prospects, and in support of what my noble friend Lord Blease said, I should like to ask the Minister about the provision made for the Youth Opportunities Programme. In the order it is stated that arising from a slow build-up to the target levels there was a saving of £2x00B7;3 million in the estimates. Despite what the noble Earl said, it seems very surprising that, at the present time, with the prevailing employment crisis for school-leavers, there should be an actual lowering of provisions for pro- 1193 grammes designed to get young people off the streets and into some form of employment structure. While explaining that point, can the Minister also say why an additional provision of £0.7 million has been made for extra staff to meet further expansion of the Youth Opportunities Programme? Those two items would seem to be in direct contradiction, and I should be very grateful if the Minister could reconcile them for me.
On a similar issue, may I ask the Minister how it came about that there has been a saving of about half a million pounds in the provision for the Action for Community Employment, again through the target levels not being achieved? This job-creation enterprise, operated by the Manpower Services Commission, is a very important one, providing temporary employment for men who have been without work for over a year. I know that there is a constant demand for ACE workers, so it seems very surprising that resources for this scheme should not have been taken up.
While I am talking about this particular job-creation enterprise I should like once again to mention the anomaly which I have already pointed out in this House; namely, that an employing body in Northern Ireland taking on an ACE worker has to contribute 10 per cent. of his salary, while employers using similar schemes in the rest of the United Kingdom are not required to make any contribution at all. The reason why employers are not necessarily deflected from taking on ACE workers from this scheme is that very often they in turn apply to a charitable trust to raise that 10 per cent. I am myself closely associated with an organisation called the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust, which I know is very often approached in this way.
Of course, the final result is that if these trusts respond positively and pay the 10 per cent., then some of their own very-hard-won resources are diverted from important projects for which they were in the first place destined. So really do wish that the Government would look again at this very unsatisfactory situation, because apart from the reasons have already given I know that workers engaged in this all-important field of community work feel very strongly about it and feel very bitter that there should be this anomalous difference.
May I now ask the Minister for clarification on something that I have perhaps got wrong. It is in the Estimates in Class V for housing services. In Vote 1 it shows that there has been an increase, as I read it, of £9.6 million for assistance to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. This is certainly very much to be welcomed, but would the Minister say how much of that sum is accounted for by the sale of existing houses, how much is from (however successful it may be) income from next year's proposed rent increases and how much is from EEC money? In fact, therefore, how much additional Government money has been contributed? Secondly, how much of the £9.6 million will be in respect of loan repayment by the housing executive, and how much will be for the provision of new houses? Thirdly, regarding the provision for the housing associations, will the Minister please explain to me why, in view of Northern Ireland's obviously critical housing shortage, there was an actual reduction in the number of projects reaching completion, which 1194 accounted, as I read it, for a decrease of £3.3 million in the housing associations' grant?
Surely there is a desperately urgent case for an expansion in the housing programme. Apart from the need to create this better housing for Northern Ireland families—conditions which, after all, the Secretary of State himself has described as being three times worse than in the rest of the United Kingdom; but apart from that social need—an increase in the programme would also serve to create those desperately needed jobs in the construction industry; and, as we know, there are now 24,000 of those workers who are unemployed.
On another point, the present policy, whereby the increase in rents is meant to provide for some of the construction of new houses, cannot be right. It cannot be right for the Government to tell the Housing Executive that if they want to help those on the waiting lists get a house then it is the existing tenants who will have to pay for it. From another point of view one wonders how some of Belfast's most under-privileged tenants are going to be able to afford that rise of 22 per cent. due in April. Where will they find the money? Even by cutting down on their existing and, I should think, very modest expenditure on food, household and clothing needs it will be impossible for some families to raise it. So there will be no alternative for them but to go into debt—and debt is a state which is only too easily achieved in Northern Ireland on account of the higher unemployment figures and the higher energy prices.
May I make one short point regarding education? In the debate on the previous appropriation order I asked the Minister about the posssible closure of 12 controlled primary schools in Belfast. I understand that as a result of a public outcry in the affected localities the plan has now been abandoned, and there will be no closures. While saying how much I welcome this news, might I also say that I very much hope that, having survived, these primary schools will continue to receive sufficient provision for their efficient running.
May I also make one small further point about social welfare. 1 think there is often a danger, when viewing the overall Northern Irish situation, to be over-mindful of the high priority needs caused by the particular circumstances prevailing at the expense of the areas of social need which appear secondary. The particular case I have in mind is the effect on the old and the housebound of financial restrictions imposed on the health and social services. There is overwhelming evidence from social workers, from trade union officials and from people on the ground that the allocation of home help hours has been very much cut, and this, of course, has the result that in areas of great social need and deprivation it is the elderly and the housebound who are suffering particularly badly. Furthermore, it must be remembered that sums to provide home help serve not only to satisfy a very great social need but also to provide for socially useful jobs for women who desperately need any work they can find.
Finally, may I make one last point. It is one that I have previously mentioned in this House, and it has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, this evening. It concerns the part that the European Community can play in Northern Ireland's affairs, 1195 both from a political and from an economic point of view. I have always been convinced that if the Northern Irish can develop a trust and a reliance in the European framework as a means of finding agreement over economic issues, then this might lead them to wish to use it for seeking agreement on political issues and on more far-reaching issues.
Further, as I have said before, there is a great deal of potential economic assistance to be derived from the European Regional and Social Funds. This potential is confirmed by the fact that the European Commission rates Northern Ireland, as Lord Hampton was saying, as a priority area within the Community; and they have also shown their commitment by setting up the Integrated Operations Programme and the Martin Report to look deeply into Northern Ireland's economic problems.
So, as the Secretary of State has convinced us of his personal commitment to confronting the deplorable and tragic economic crisis in Northern Ireland, should he not justify and back up this commitment by himself working steadfastly towards turning this potential European economic assistance into something which might become a reality?
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran
My Lords, I must preface my brief intervention by two apologies: first, that I was not present here when the noble Earl the Minister made his opening speech; and, secondly, that I have not given him notice of the question I am about to ask him. I must declare an interest in that, under the umbrella of my position as President of the Institute of Patentees and Inventors, there are referred to me numbers of inventions and we have to try to find outlets for the exploitation of those inventions in parts of the country. My question is: to whom in Northern Ireland should one refer those inventions for further consideration and appraisal, in the marketing conditions in Northern Ireland, in order that they might get some kind of start for marketing purposes? There have been two or three inventions referred to me from Northern Ireland, and we have been happy to find persons in this country who have been able to help the inventor in seeking a market for the invention.
As the noble Earl no doubt knows, there was an advisory note given by the Advisory Association for Research and Development to the Prime Minister, at her request, in March of last year, when she asked for advice on innovation and how inventions could be exploited. When I listened to the moving speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, when they were dealing with aspects of unemployment in the territory, it seemed to me that there is an opportunity for inventions or, shall I say, gadgets—not far-reaching inventions, not epoch-making discoveries, but gadgets—which could be exploited in the context of the present situation in Northern Ireland. I do not expect an answer tonight from the noble Earl as to where one should send these inventions, perhaps to his department or to any agency associated with his department or associated with the Government. I end, as I started, by apologising for the fact that, as at 4.30 I am unfortunately due to be at a Select Committee on trade mark law, European 1196 Communities law, under the chairmanship of Lord Scarman, I may not be present when the noble Earl replies.
§ 4.21 p.m.
My Lords, I am interested to hear the point that the noble Lord has just made. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, and I served on a voluntary body called the Ulster Enterprise Voluntary Committee for a number of years for this very purpose of monitoring designs and inventions. Our main difficulty was that we did not have the technical expertise to be able to evaluate the various proposals that were put forward. We tried as best we could to refer them to those who might know; but, since then, the Local Enterprise Development Unit has taken over and perhaps the noble Earl might want to make reference to that in his winding-up speech; but I would agree that any original thought from any source should be exploited.
If I may, as I think is traditionally permitted in your Lordships' House, I should like to range a little wider than the actual provisions of the draft order. On Monday of last week the Secretary of State was good enough to permit an interview with the noble Lord, Lord Blease, and myself, at which the noble Earl on the Front Bench was present, and we are grateful for the generous amount of time that they devoted to that consultation. Since then, the Secretary of State has asked for ideas both from corporate bodies and from individuals as to how best to employ the £200 million devoted to the support of industry and the stimulation of job creation in Northern Ireland.
There is no single, simple solution to this problem. All that we can do is to chip away at it from various angles. I will make a quick (in the words of the training major) "appreciation of the situation". It seems to me that there are three main reasons for our very daunting economic situation in Northern Ireland at the moment. The first, is world recession; the second, the continuing violence, albeit on a reduced scale; and, third, the continuing political instability and uncertainty. Many people would say that the violence and the political uncertainty are the main cause of our problems and of the disastrous increase in unemployment.
But I would suggest that it is the world recession, coupled with the unpredicted increase in the price of oil, that has caused the loss of jobs. It is my belief that ICI, Courtaulds and British Enkalon would be in business still if it were not for the world recession. Similarly, if it were not for the world recession, I do not think that such institutions as Harland and Wolff and even De Lorean would be faced with the problems that they are facing. There is nothing that Northern Ireland can do about the world recession but what could be done would be to make economic conditions more favourable by reducing the costs of energy.
On several occasions, I have advocated the laying of an undersea gas pipeline to link the Scottish natural gas grid with the Northern Ireland grid, but Her Majesty's Government have turned this down on every occasion. Now, it looks as though a more likely possibility is going to be a pipeline to bring Kinsale 1197 natural gas from Dublin to the North. Kinsale is further away, and Dublin is further away, than the coast of Scotland. But if feasibility studies prove Kinsale to be more practicable, so be it. I would say this. Let Her Majesty's Government expedite plans to have that link-up so that cheap energy in the form of natural gas can be available to consumers in Northern Ireland, industrial, horticultural and domestic—horticultural, because the Dutch are able to beat us hands down because they can heat their glasshouses with natural gas; whereas only a handful of growers in Northern Ireland are left now who are able to make the sums work out so as to justify heating their glasshouses. The result is that the Dutch can beat us hands down, particularly early in the season, on lettuce and similar commodities and no longer can we complete with Guernsey over tomatoes in the months of May and June. This is what I would urge Her Majesty's Government to do and perhaps a modest number of jobs could be created by the installation of a plant whereby the gas could be compressed and liquefied and put into cylinders, small for domestic use and large for industrial use, and delivered all over the country without having to go into a lot of capital investment in extending a main grid. That is one suggestion I would make, returning to the matter of our full particiption in the EMS, which would mean instead of our importing so much of our horticultural produce from European countries, we should have a better chance of exporting to them when the conditions are favourable.
Turning to the second of the two points that I made, that militating against our economic recovery are the continuing violence and the political uncertainty, I think that these two are inter-related. I would repeat the suggestion (and I apologise for wearying the noble Earl on the Front Bench because he has heard me say this before) that Her Majesty's Government should consider a framework for a committee form of devolved government in Northern Ireland, maintaining the present or any future team of the Northern Ireland Office Minister, who would act as senior Ministers answerable at the Dispatch Box, perhaps on certain days of the week; giving a re-affirmation of the guarantee that Northern Ireland will remain in the United Kingdom for as long as the majority there so desire; and then having the chairmen of the committees of the proposed devolved assembly acting as junior Ministers also answerable at the Dispatch Boxes.
This, on the one hand, I would hope would reassure the Unionists that it was acceptable and that there would be no danger of a sell-out to Dublin. Similarly, I hope it would involve sufficient partnership, and that the members of the committees and the chairmen would be elected from the Floor of the House on a proportional basis according to the number of seats held by each party in that Assembly. I would hope that that would provide a sufficient degree of partnership to at least go some way towards satisfying the SDLP. I was much encouraged by what the Secretary of State said the other day, which in many ways reflected the suggestions that I made in your Lordships' House on 1st November, 1979. Whether, in the words of management consultants, this is conscious parallelism, I do not know. Anyway, I welcome the approach that is being taken by the Secretary of State.
1198 Having said that, I have a nasty feeling that, the way things are at the moment, he may be faced with deadlock because the politicians on both sides have got themselves onto hooks off which they will find it difficult to work themselves. Several public opinion surveys have indicated that at least the sample is very much more moderate in their outlook than the politicians who represent them. It must be admitted that if there were to be a referendum to ascertain the view of the entire electorate on principles rather than personalities, as I have suggested before, obviously the politicians would try during the run-up campaign to that referendum to undermine it if they feared the result. They would suggest that the questions were trick questions, however carefully they might be drafted. Nonetheless, at the end of the day a referendum might be necessary to ascertain whether or not the people want a devolved government and, if so, what sort.
A lot of thought would have to go into this. However, if I may say so with respect, my final warning is this: we could ill-afford another failed political initiative. It would undermine public morale; it would boost terrorist morale. It would be better to continue with direct rule or to move further towards total integration rather than to have an Assembly which did not work—
§ Lord Kilbracken
My Lords, may I ask what questions the noble Lord foresees being asked in the referendum to which he refers?
My Lords, I did write to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, (I think it was) suggesting some questions. I am no demographer. Nor am I an expert on public opinion surveys. This is a very specialised field, because one has to ask questions to which there must be a clear-cut answer, "Yes" or "No". We already have a referendum coming up next year similar to the one held 10 years ago asking the electorate whether they want to remain in the United Kingdom or whether they would prefer to leave the United Kingdom and become part of a united Ireland. Those are the first two fundamental questions.
The next question—and I am not precisely specifying the wording—could be along the following lines: "Do you want a devolved Government for Northern Ireland or do you want to continue with direct rule or integration with Great Britain?" —government from Westminister, in other words. The next question could be: "If you want a devolved Government, do you want it to be on a partnership basis or on a majority rule basis?" Those are the questions that I have in mind. One appreciates that this matter will require a lot of work to be carried out and it will take specialist and expert advice to get those questions properly worded. However, to ascertain the view of the electorate rather than the view of the politicians, who are scared of having the word "traitor" shouted at them if they withdraw from their already stated position, is what I have in mind.
The point I was trying to finish on was that I think the removal of uncertainty is most important. Whereas I personally would favour a devolved Administration on a partnership basis, if the majority of the electorate would prefer to have continued direct rule, 1199 total integration or a devolved Administration by majority rule, so long as some minority participation on committees was guaranteed, then so be it. I should accept that. However, it is important to get rid of the uncertainty and to remove from the terrorist any incentive or sense of hope that by continuing terrorism it will be possible to influence the course of events.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord O'Neill of the Maine
My Lords, I had not intended to say anything and I apologise to the noble Earl for not having told him that I was going to speak. I shall be very brief. I am fired off by the tragic closure of Enkalon—the final closure, apparently, of Enkalon last night. I remember so well being approached by a senior official in the then Ministry of Commerce. I came from that area and I was asked whether I would help with the arrival of a new Dutch factory which I was told would be of great advantage to the country around Antrim. So the closure is tragic. I and the noble Lord, Lord Blease, can remember well Princess Beatrix coming over from Holland to declare the factory open. We thought it was going to be marvellous for that district.
As noble Lords know, Northern Ireland in years gone by was the head of the linen industry. Later on in our time it became the most important part of the man-made fibre industry in the United Kingdom. Now, over the past few years, we have seen closure after closure. I appeal to the Minister: will the Northern Ireland Office please make every effort to try to find alternative employment for the people in and around Antrim? Antrim used to be quite a small village. It was all built up for Enkalon; and, as the noble Earl knows, it is not only the people of Antrim who work in Enkalon. People come from as far away as Magherafelt. It draws people in from the countryside all round.
Also, people were encouraged financially to move from Belfast to Antrim in order to work at this marvellous new factory. Now it is closed. It is an absolute tragedy, when one knows the difficulties which already exist in Northern Ireland, that constantly rising unemployment should add to those troubles.
In addition to that, I should like to say that in my day Northern Ireland led the United Kingdom in the field of training and retraining. I should have thought that it would be very wise for this programme to be kept up in the hope that it will be possible to bring new industry or expand existing industry in the not too distant future.
Mark my words, my Lords, if unemployment in Northern Ireland is allowed to rise, any political solution will be totally impossible. I am sure that the noble Earl realises this. I hope that the Northern Ireland Office will bear this very important point in mind. I hope that my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, will not be annoyed with me when I say that I personally do not have very much faith in referenda. If I may add a personal note to this, I remember that six weeks before I was kicked out from being Prime Minister of Northern Ireland a referendum showed that 80 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland wanted me to stay on. I am afraid that referenda in Northern Ireland do not really mean what they say. The trouble is that if someone knocks at the 1200 door and asks a question, one wants to give a respectable answer. It may not be what one really feels, but for the record one is going to say the right thing. This is why in my personal view referenda in Northern Ireland mean very little indeed. However, I wish the noble Earl and the Secretary of State well in the various attempts they are making to create some kind of "talking shop" at Stormont. But it is going to be very hard, as all of us who have, or have had, anything to do with Northern Ireland know only too well.
My Lords, may I intervene for a very few minutes? I do so as a past chairman of Harland and Wolff and I am moved to do so following a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, in his very interesting speech. He referred to the apprentice school in Harland and Wolff and in particular to a remark made by the personnel director of the shipyard, Mr. David Tinkler—whom, incidentally, I had the honour to appoint—at the recent prize-giving to apprentices just the other day. In his speech he said, as I understand it, with sorrow that he feared very much that the level of the apprentice school would be maintained in the future with very great difficulty.
I should like to express the hope that everything will be done to maintain that school. When I was chairman, we had about 1,000 apprentices: I believe the present figure is roughly half that. Of course one realises that with the very dim outlook today for shipbuilding the world over and perhaps in particular as regards Harland and Wolff, not so many apprentices are needed. But we should remember that over the years Harland-trained apprentices have been used not only in Harland and Wolff but have found their way into many activities in the United Kingdom and indeed are to be found the world over—and very acceptable they are and great ambassadors for our skill and training. Therefore, the point I particularly want to put to my noble friend is that, in considering training and its effect on youth, everything possible should be done to maintain so far as possible that very excellent apprentice school. I personally have had the privilege of presenting prizes there on more than one occasion, and one realises what a feeling there is in that school and how important it is to maintain it.
§ 4.43 p.m.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, if I may, I should like to congratulate all those who have spoken on the acute and expert points put to me. This, of course, brings a problem for the winder-up, because he needs to go into some detail which will be of interest to some while not being of such interest to others. I shall have to go at a bit of a gallop, because noble Lords did not rest on the heels of generalities but asked me quite informed and specific questions.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, whose general approach I very much welcomed, while disagreeing with some of his macro-economic strictures, as he will not be surprised to hear, asked me particularly about whether provision had been reduced in respect of the forestry estimates as regards recreation. I can assure him that the reduction of expenditure was entirely on the capital side and had no effect on recreation. The income is expected to exceed the forecast of £102,000 a year by £18,000: in fact I am glad to say there have been more 1201 visitors than anticipated. Northern Ireland is certainly one of the most beautiful parts of the Kingdom and I would urge all noble Lords to come and spend their holidays there. I shall be very surprised if they see anything which they consider to be out of the way, in security terms, in any of the rural areas there.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, also asked why there had been a change of policy regarding support for industrial training and whether the Government would consider a fresh approach to advisory and monitoring arrangements for training. Of course, I note what my noble friend Lord Rochdale said in respect of the great training tradition at Harland and Wolff. The figures for expenditure under the general heading "Functioning of the Labour Market", do not represent a change of policy in relation to industrial training. The subheads referred to cover the employment services, the rehabilitation and employment of disabled persons and other labour market services, as well as industrial training. Additional provision is required for demand-related schemes: for instance, the training on employers' premises scheme, the job release scheme and also the provision of severance pay at Belfast docks as well as the administrative costs of the ITBs. The additional expenditure is covered in fact by savings from Enterprise Ulster, Government Training Centres, the Youth Opportunities Programme (of which more in a moment or so) and the shipbuilding redundancy payments scheme. These payments arise from a slower take-up than was anticipated rather than from any policy decision on reducing expenditure. For example, in respect of the Youth Opportunities Programme, a decrease of £2,296,000 was due, first, to a slower buildup from the 1980–81 figure of 7,000 places to the 1981–82 level of 12,000 places, and, secondly, to a transfer of almost £1 million to the Department of Education to found Youth Opportunity Programme courses in colleges of further education.
On the question of advisory and monitoring arrangements for industrial training, the Government have, of course, launched a new initiative in the shape of the new Manpower Advisory Council. This has met twice and has proved to be an effective body, reflecting quite a spectrum of views, and certainly it is of great help to us in forming policy. However, I have to say that it is a matter of profound regret to us that at present the interested employees are not directly represented on the council. We would certainly welcome trade union participation in what we believe is proving to be a very useful body.
The noble Lord asked me about public liability claims against the road service. A study of the upward trend in the cost of settlement of public liability claims against the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland indicates no falling off in the standards of inspection and maintenance but rather a growing awareness of the operation of the law in this field. While not seeking to avoid its proper obligations to the public, the department has recently reviewed its arrangements to ensure that spurious and inflated claims are identified and challenged. The noble Lord will be well aware that we have quite a nice line in hyperbole all over Northern Ireland, particularly where claims of that kind are involved.
On the topic of concessionary rail and bus fares which the noble Lord raised, reduced fares on public 1202 rail and bus transport are payable by the following categories of person: schoolchildren under 16 years of age, persons over 65 years of age and registered war disabled persons. The reduction is 50 per cent. of the normal fare, and there are no limitations whatsoever on travel. I should perhaps add that all blind persons may travel altogether free of charge. The noble Lord referred to the marketing of these concessions. The transport companies are conscious of the need to bring the concessions to the attention of the public and there are advertisements in the press and on television for this purpose. I have no evidence in fact that people are not aware that they exist.
Regarding road safety, I am happy to give the noble Lord, Lord Blease, and also the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, an assurance that, despite a reduction in the provision for road safety services, the services will be maintained, and indeed we shall attempt to improve them. The reduction in the provision is largely due to delays in the purchase of equipment and materials. The operational and promotional activities have not, therefore, been at all affected.
The noble Lord asked me what would be the relationship between the Industrial Development Board and the Department of Economic Development. Since Ministers, and ultimately Parliament, must maintain accountability for the large sums devoted to the economy of the Province, and since, in many cases, social considerations have to be taken into account, it is intended that the IDB should be an arm of the new Department of Economic Development. Its chief executive will be the accounting officer for the votes allocated to industrial development. The board will be given a great deal of freedom to create an aggressive and successful organisation, and it will effectively have the operational and final say over a wide range of industrial development.
The noble Lord asked me about reductions in the water service and about comprehensive development. I can tell the noble Lord that slippage did, indeed, occur in the proposed Richmond development scheme for Londonderry. However, the House will recall that early in January this year the go-ahead was, in fact, given for the scheme to proceed and this has been very well received in the second greatest city of the Province.
On the subject of rentals and housing, obviously the noble Lord, Lord Blease, and I have different philosophies. I think it is an admirable thing, as a matter of general principle, that people should be able to buy their own houses, and it is an admirable thing, in the particular history of the Province, that last year it beat England to the draw in this respect. I was asked about the increase in rentals, in percentage terms and in comparative terms, by both the noble Lord and his noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs. For housing executive tenants, it represents an increase of 22 per cent over the average rent payable throughout 1981–82 and the increases in Great Britain are 22 per cent. for England and Wales and 28 per cent. for Scotland. So that, relatively, I do not think the Province is faring too badly.
Nevertheless, the fair point was put to me, notably by the noble Baroness, that, given these higher costs and the lower income levels in Northern Ireland, those increases might place an intolerable burden on those least able to bear them. It is the policy of the 1203 Government that tenants who can afford to do so should make a greater contribution towards the costs of the houses which they occupy, but we are not, of course, unmindful of the need to cushion less well-off people from the full effects of increases. Sixty thousand housing executive tenants who are in receipt of supplementary benefit will, effectively, bear no increase whatsoever, while the 35,000 tenants who are in receipt of rent or rate rebates will pay no more than 40 per cent. of the full increase. Thus some 95,000 housing executive tenants, which is about half of the total number, will be exempted from the full effects of the rent increase.
If I may just illustrate the extent of the assistance offered by the rebate system, I should explain that a married man with two dependent children, and a wife not working, with rent and rates of £15 a week, will still be eligible for a partial rebate with a gross income, including child benefit, of over £6,000 a year, or £125 a week; and, again, that does not seem to me to indicate too severe a policy.
I was grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Blease, said towards the end of his remarks, when he reverted to general questions about the relationship between economic and political advance in the Province. His remarks were echoed with some interesting suggestions from another Ulsterman in your Lordships' House—the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. It has been the Government's position that there is an infernal triangle, if you like, between security matters, economic matters and questions of political movement, and that we shall not really help any one of those attributes without the other. That is why my right honourable friend is at present engaged in consultations with many individuals, and all the political groupings in the Province, about what form the possibilities for a restoration to the Province of more responsibility for its own affairs should take.
Inevitably, when you are engaged in consultations, and seeing very many people who come in and out of your office, the air is alive with rumour and excitement, and the air is somewhat alive with rumour and excitement in the Province at the moment. But, in fact, we have made very clear our commitment to the guarantee and to the Union; our commitment to continued co-operation with the Republic, which has been so successful, particularly in security terms; and our commitment to the view that it is better, in terms of the Province, for there to be greater responsibility taken by people from the Province for their own affairs. Within that triangle, if I may again so express it, we are seeking to achieve some progress. I hope that that progress will come soon, because, as the debate has shown, the economy is sinking very fast in Northern Ireland and, if one compares it, relatively, even with the difficulties experienced in this country or in the Republic one can see that the special security situation and the image of the Province abroad have exacerbated an already difficult situation, rather than helped it.
Coming to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, he asked me what was the level of subvention to Northern Ireland from British sources. The total subvention last year was a bit over £1,000 million—£1,090 million. This represented about 37 1204 per cent. of the total public expenditure in Northern Ireland during that year. The latest estimate suggests that this proportion should be rather lower in 1981–82. Noble Lords will, I hope, acknowledge that this level of subvention is evidence of successiveUnited Kingdom Governments' commitment to dealing with Northern Ireland's problems. It is worth repeating the point that other relatively depressed regions in the United Kingdom also benefit from revenue generated in the more prosperous areas, and that it is the existence of separate Northern Ireland funds which makes it possible to measure the transfers more precisely in this case. But these transfers are very large and they are an earnest, not only of the commitment of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole, but also of some obligation on the part of responsible people in the Province to try to make the necessary accommodations, one with another, without which normal political life cannot flourish, to see that these very large sums are put to creative use. We have always striven to make political progress on the basis of proposals that should recognise the existence of the two traditions in Northern Ireland and secure at least a minimum degree of consent from both of them. In our view, any other approach would be likely to prove counter-productive and would not make best use of the economic help that we seek to give and shall continue to give.
The noble Lord also asked me whether the Government were seeking aid for the Province from European Community funds during the next five-year programme —the so-called poverty programme. The Commission's final report on the first programme of pilot schemes and studies to combat poverty is now being considered by the Council of Ministers, and that means that there are not funds at present for which the United Kingdom Government can, in fact, bid. Therefore, we are watching this space to see what happens. However, in response to the noble Lord's question as to what aid the Province has received from Community funds to date, I can say that it has received £94 million from the European Social Fund, £69 million from the European Regional Development Fund and £24 million from the guidance section of the European Agricultural Fund, which adds up to a total £187 million. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, is known to be a great friend of his native Province. I think it is regrettable that he still subscribes to a party which now wishes to take us out of the Common Market, since the EEC has shown itself to be so anxious to help—and on a relatively considerable scale.
The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, who, as spokesman for the Social Democratic Party, does not wish to take us out of the Common Market, asked me about the increase in agricultural support. The decision to increase the special aid available to Northern Ireland agriculture from £10 million in 1981–82 to £16 million in 1982–83 was taken following a recent review of the industry aimed at helping my colleagues and me to reach decisions on the necessary level of support. We were very mindful of the fact that the overall net income for Northern Ireland farming fell from about £67 million in 1980. So again, while one would always like to be able to get hold of more money, I think we have put our money where our mouth was in respect of Northern Ireland agriculture. On the word "remanet" it is, I am advised, a technical 1205 term which in layman's language might best be described as "remaining". In the Vote concerned, the expenditure to be incurred is that which is in respect of accounts still to be settled.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl. One does learn something new every day.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, in that case, so do I. The noble Lord asked me how serious, in employment terms, are likely to be the consequences of bankruptcies among De Lorean suppliers in Northern Ireland. I am afraid that I can do no more than speculate on this matter at the moment. But any loss of employment would of course be a very great blow to the Province. As has already been made clear by my honourable friend in another place, the Government cannot accept responsibility for the De Lorean Motor Company's liabilities. At the same time, however, individual Northern Ireland firms faced with temporary difficulties following the receivership but with firm prospects of viability may be able to get assistance from Government under our schemes for the maintenance and assistance of employment. Sir Kenneth Cork, as the receiver, has made it clear that he is committed to continuing the operation of the motor company, albeit at a reduced level. We must hope that his great talents succeed in bringing it off. I can also say to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that I, like him, have had many happy nights at the Belfast Opera and look forward to many more.
I will try to deal with the points on the Youth Opportunities Programme raised by the noble Baroness in respect of the slower take-up. I can assure her that we operate the guarantee there, and we shall try to find a place for every young person who needs one. On the ACE programme, the 10 per cent. contribution required from employers is surely justified in the light of the encouraging response to the scheme by sponsors. They show no evidence of being put off by the contribution which we asked for from them.
On the question which the noble Baroness raised regarding the Class V, Vote 1, issue of the housing services, the additional provision is required to increase the housing grant to the housing executive, thereby enabling it to repay in the current year a 30 million loan which would otherwise have to be repaid in 1982–83. Offsetting savings on the executive's revenue expenditure, primarily on loan charges, results in a net provision of £9.6 million being required.
In determining the financial allocations for housing programmes for 1982–83, account has been taken of receipts from house sales, anticipated now to be in the region of £38 million, as well as receipts from the first tranche of European Community aid which may become available in 1982–83. Those would add up, according to the present estimate (and it must be an estimate), to some £4 million. Net rental income in 1982–83 is expected to be £98 million, an increase of £12 million. To put these figures in the context of the total capital and revenue expenditure for the housing executive, excluding loan charges, this is 1206 likely to be £275 million in 1982–83, which is an increase of £67 million over the current year. Loan charges are likely to amount to £130 million, and net rental income will meet only 48 per cent. of the housing executive's revenue expenditure.
I can reassure the noble Baroness about housing associations. The decrease in the provision for housing associations reflects the method of financing association schemes and the delay in converting the short-term loans provided while schemes are in progress into housing association grants when the schemes are completed. This is a purely technical adjustment and does not reflect any reduction in housing association activity. Indeed, during the course of the current year it was possible to increase the level of housing association expenditure by £2 million. Again, sitting where she does, I am grateful for the words expressed by the noble Baroness about the help which Europe can give and will continue to give. I hope that the noble Baroness will direct them not merely to me but to the policy-makers in the Labour Party.
I hope I have covered most of the points made to me. During this period of consultation, I shall take on board some of the political suggestions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. I echo the sorrow expressed by my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine about the Enkalon closure. He will be aware that this is not due to any faults of the Province itself, whether in the image or in the performance of the Province, but to a really devastating deterioration in the terms of trade where fibre carpets are concerned, due mainly to American competition and cheaper feedstock there. I will do all I can to find alternative employment round about Antrim—which will of course be extremely difficult at this time. I am grateful for the way in which the House has received the order. I shall deal with any points that I have not covered by correspondence.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I ask him, when he has an opportunity tomorrow to read what I have said about a co-operative approach to an economic initiative, to give the matter serious examination?
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord. I did make a note of that point and I shall examine it seriously. We had discussions last autumn with some of the political groupings about the way forward for the economy. Last week, the noble Lord and I both attended a very lively conference at the polytechnic on the economy. I will see whether we can knit some of these ravelled strands together. Nevertheless, it seems to me that this is yet one more argument for trying to achieve more political responsibility, more devolved activity, in the Province. It is more convincing if the Province itself tries to deal with some of the difficulties in the economy, albeit with the help of funds raised by the rest of the British people.