HL Deb 13 December 1983 vol 446 cc168-87

7.45 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (The Earl of Mansfield) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd November be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The purpose of the draft order is to authorise the issue of £ 107 million out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland in respect of the Autumn Supplementary Estimates of Northern Ireland departments and to appropriate this sum for the purposes shown in the schedule. Noble Lords will recall that sums on account were approved on 14th March and that the balance of the 1983-84 Main Estimates was approved by your Lordships' House on 14th July; together, these amounted to £2,622 million. The present draft order will bring the total Estimates provision for the year to £2,729 million. Detailed information about the provision sought can be found in the Autumn Supplementary Estimates volume, copies of which have been placed in the Printed Paper Office.

The draft order before us covers only seven out of the 42 votes of Northern Ireland departments. However, major provision is sought in respect of the housing benefits scheme which is already in operation in Great Britain. This is not all new money since assistance with housing costs was formerly provided through supplementary benefits and rent and rates rebates. There are, however, significant additions to existing services, notably the special aid for agriculture announced earlier in the year, and assistance for Harland and Wolff Ltd. for which only a token amount had been provided in the Main Estimates.

Noble Lords will know that we are endeavouring to keep Northern Ireland in the most favourable position to benefit along with the rest of the United Kingdom from the increase in world economic activity which is expected during the remainder of 1983 and 1984. When the United Kingdom experiences economic revival, there are spin-off results in Northern Ireland. Some reports indicate that Northern Ireland manufacturing industry is now holding up in employment terms and, generally, output and other trends are reported to have improved. We are still doing as much as possible to encourage investment in Northern Ireland and to reinforce the effects of the economic swing. The new economic initiative announced earlier this year should help greatly in our efforts.

In the social field, with the introduction of housing benefits, we are maintaining the common system of social benefits which applies throughout the United Kingdom. The special aid for agriculture, the assistance to Harland and Wolff and other provisions for industrial support are evidence of our willingness to take account of the special needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland even at a time when public expenditure as a whole is under constraint. Taken together, they demonstrate yet again the Government's continuing commitment to Northern Ireland.

When I introduced the order for the Main Estimates on 7th July I reminded your Lordships of the extent of the additional special aid to the Northern Ireland agricultural industry which would be made available in the 1983-84 financial year. I also made it clear that the necessary provision for these special measures would be taken in Supplementary Estimates. The additional provision required is now sought in these Supplementary Estimates for Class I, Votes 1 and 2.

An additional £0.8 million is sought for continued measures to develop beef cattle production. This includes some £500,000 towards subsidies for the liming of grassland and £300,000 for the beef development programme. The main significance of this latter aid has been to allow the charge for artificial insemination to be held much below its full recovery level. I am pleased to say that this had the desirable result of buoyant demand for the service with consequential quality improvements in breeding cattle. £5.5 million is included to provide for the continuation of the milk consumer subsidy which enables a higher wholesale price to be fixed for milk going for liquid consumption, thereby ensuring that consumers in Northern Ireland do not have to pay more than consumers in Great Britain.

A total of nearly £2.4 million is sought for assistance to the intensive livestock sector. Two million pounds of this aid is to cover payments, linked to the level of employment, to operators of licensed pig and poultrymeat processing plants and egg packing stations, while continuation of the subsidy on transport costs of egg shipments to Great Britain accounts for some £0.4 million.

A further £2.5 million is required to continue grants for the improvement of pasture under the Grassland Scheme, introduced last year to increase productivity in areas outside the less favoured areas.

The total additional provision sought is partly offset by a decrease in expected compensation payments on the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication schemes resulting directly from the present favourable animal diseases position. I think it worth reminding your Lordships of the importance that is attached to the "disease free" status of livestock in Northern Ireland. This provides a very important underpinning of the Province's ability to market its produce and requires a considerable input and continuing close vigilance by all concerned with the industry. Their success, in my submission, should not go unnoticed.

A lot of anxiety has been raised in the agricultural industry as a result of the first proposals for changes to the Common Agricultural Policy put forward by the Commission as a result of the Stuttgart summit. It is clear that we must get a satisfactory solution to the problem of the United Kingdom budget contribution to the European Community, and this requires positive steps being taken to deal with structural surpluses in agriculture, as these have been the cause of so much heavy expenditure by the Community.

Some of the Commission ideas have not been finally formulated and, in any case, it is likely that many of their proposals will be amended considerably during the negotiations. It is not possible at this stage to speculate on what changes might be made, but noble Lords will be aware of the statement made in another place on 7th December by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the progress of the negotiations. I can assure your Lordships that the Government will be careful to ensure that the agricultural industry in the United Kingdom in general, and in Northern Ireland in particular, is not unfairly disadvantaged compared with other member states. I shall be examining all developments to assess their impact and ensure that any special difficulties for Northern Ireland are taken into account.

I should like to turn now to the industrial support measures covered by Class II, Vote 3, in the Autumn Supplementary Estimates. Under Sub-head B2, there is a provision of £42.2 million for assistance to the Harland and Wolff Shipyard in Belfast, which at present employs some 5,300 workers. This sum is further evidence of the Government's recognition of the company's importance to the Northern Ireland economy, but noble Lords will note that the provision of £42.2 million is some £5 million less than the total level of support required in 1982–83, and, as such, is a welcome improvement.

An increase of some £3.5 million at Sub-head D1 is sought to top up the existing provision of £37.2 million for standard capital grants to industry in Northern Ireland. In particular, a higher than anticipated level of demand has contributed to the requirement for this increase and to the extent that this will improve competitiveness and sustain existing jobs it is something in which we should find some encouragement.

The department is also seeking an increase of £2.7 million in the budget of the Local Enterprise Development Unit, of which £0.3 million relates to administrative costs, and £2.4 million to grants and loans paid out to industry.

The reasons for these increased provisions lie quite simply in the dramatic increase which the last two years have seen in the level of Local Enterprise Development Unit's job promotion activities in Northern Ireland's small firm sector. These have resulted in a record job promotion figure of 2,550 in 1982–83.

One of the major new initiatives taken in the Province this year was the recently launched Local Enterprise Programme, which is designed to provide an integrated framework of support to maximise the efforts of local economic development groups undertaking industrial development projects. LEDU will co-ordinate this activity and will work closely with such organisations, providing financial assistance towards their running costs and grant aid on a pound for pound matching basis for the acquisition, refurbishment and sub-division of factory accommodation to encourage small business start-ups at local level.

I move on now to the votes of the Department of the Environment for which supplementary provision is being taken. An additional £3.8 million is required to finance increased expenditure for Class VI, Vote 3, which covers the Consolidated Fund contributions payable to local revenues. The additional grant is needed for two reasons. First, about £1.5 million is necessary to meet the cost of increasing derating for industrial premises from 75 per cent. to 100 per cent., which was introduced from 1st April 1983 as part of the package of aids and incentives to industry which was announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in another place earlier this year.

Secondly, £2.3 million is required to meet special circumstances arising this year in relation to the resources element of the general grant. The resources element is calculated by means of a statutory formula, and population levels are a key element in the calculation.

I turn now to Class VI, Vote 4—which covers expenditure on rating, records, registrations, surveys and administration matters. An increase of £14 million is sought mainly to cover expenditure on computerisation of rate collection and additional expenditure on general administration.

Provision is being sought to meet increased expenditure in the Social Security field in Class, X Vote 2, Non-Contributory Benefits, and in Class, X Vote 4, Administration and Miscellaneous Services.

In the field of non-contributory benefits, the increased provision sought is £41 million. Of this, £30.3 million, as I have already explained, is attributable to the introduction of the Housing Benefits Scheme in Northern Ireland from 21st November 1983. Prior to the introduction of the scheme, assistance with housing costs was provided mainly through supplementary benefits and through rent and rates rebates or rent allowances provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive or Department of the Environment. Some £1.6 million is owing to a rise in the number receiving attendance allowance, and the remaining £9 million falls in the supplementary benefits area and is required mainly because of an increase in the numbers of beneficiaries.

Increased provision sought for administration is £1.8 million and reflects mainly what is required to meet initial and ongoing costs incurred by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in the administration of housing benefits. With this technical, but I hope reasonably brief, explanation, I commend the draft order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd November be approved.—(The Earl of Mansfield.)

7.58 p.m.

Lord Underhill

I should like to thank the Minister for his excellent review of this order and for getting through so much information in such a short time. I must stress that, although on this side of the House we readily agreed to discuss these three orders during the interval in the previous Bill, we shall insist that the three orders be fully discussed, in fairness not only to the people of Northern Ireland, but to those of us in this House who have responsibility for various matters. Although the debate is limited to a very few points in this particular order, there are a number of issues on which I should like to raise points and questions to the Minister.

I must say again how useful I find the supplementary booklet, which gives far more detail of the various votes in this particular supplementary estimate. I will deal with two points only arising under Class I in agriculture.

Once again, we welcome the provision of a little over £5 million for the continuation of the milk subsidy, as the Minister has said, to keep down the price of milk to the level of that elsewhere in Great Britain. In addition to the points which the Minister made regarding the problems confronting us in the Common Market, there is obviously concern at the possible effect of UHT milk which we discussed fully in this House a short time ago, and also possibly of the super milk levy, which could have some effect not only on milk sales but on production. This is a point which I am pleased to note the Minister has made quite clear: that if there are any special difficulties in relation to Northern Ireland he will ensure that these are taken into consideration.

Also welcome is the £2½ million grant for the improvement of grassland productivity outside the less favoured areas. I wonder whether the Minister could elaborate on this and give some details of the scheme. These days there is much reference to schemes of cost benefit.Can he indicate the effect of these grants on imports of feedingstuffs into Northern Ireland?

The noble Earl also dealt with the question of animal health. He will recall that we dealt with this in the July appropriation debate, in which I drew attention to the fact that the provision for brucellosis had halved whereas that for tuberculosis had doubled. Naturally, I am pleased to note what the noble Earl said about the improvement in animal health, but I note that, in relation to brucellosis, in all there has been a two-third drop from the £1.2 million provided in the 1982–83 estimates, and that the provision for tuberculosis, which in the July estimates doubled that of the previous year, has now been reduced by 40 per cent. since that July appropriation. I am pleased that the Minister has stressed the vital importance of animal health. I hope that these figures in no way suggest that there is any impairment of preventive measures.

I come now to Class II, and I must again refer to some helpful information in the Northern Ireland Economic Council's report for the year ended 31st August this year. I note that when the report was published on 21st October a press statement was issued which included the following: While decline in manufacturing production appears to be bottoming out, there is no sign of the substantial upturn needed to reverse the growing problem of unemployment". The figure which I have for October is approximately 120,000 unemployed in Northern Ireland—about 21.5 per cent. That figure excludes the figures of those who are on training or employment schemes. I fully appreciate that the economic conditions in Northern Ireland are considerably affected by the basic policies followed for the United Kingdom as a whole; but we recognise the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, and that is one reason why we approved the special financial measures brought before Parliament in March this year.

However, unemployment in Northern Ireland is well above the average for Great Britain, and even higher than in the worst region in Great Britain. Some areas have well over 30 per cent. unemployment, which illustrates the hopelessness and the desperation of some people. On previous occasions we have mentioned Strabane, and we must mention it again. It has a 40 per cent. unemployment rate, with male unemployment over 50 per cent. The conditions of desperation are pretty evident in those figures.

The total number in employment is about 9 per cent. below the figure for 1979, with a little over 100,000 employed in manufacturing industry, which is a quarter below the figure of 1979, with manufacturing output down by 12 per cent. In the construction industry only 26,000 are employed. That is down by about 30 per cent. on the 1979 figure, with construction production down by over 16 per cent. This is of considerable importance because, again, the Economic Council's report states: Public expenditure is an important determinant of the level of economic activity in the Province. I hope that the Government will take note of that, because the latest figure I have, which is for September 1982, is that public sector employment in Northern Ireland, including nationalised industries, accounted for 45 per cent. of the working population—round about 213,000. That is a very important statement by the Economic Council as to the level of public expenditure.

On that point, in the July appropriation debate I referred to the policy statement of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions, The Trade Union Alternative. I understand that the Secretary of State met that committee on 28th November. I do not know whether the noble Earl the Minister has any points to make about that meeting with the Northern Ireland Committee.

The Minister has referred to the encouraging development in the Local Enterprise Development Unit. We all welcome the record figures which he mentioned. Can the Minister tell the House whether these are all new jobs, or are any of them jobs which have been transferred from elsewhere in setting up the businesses? Do any jobs relate to exports, and how much of the new production will replace imports?

There are two other matters for which there is no reference under this heading, but I am certain that the Minister will readily deal with them if he can. There is no reference to Enterprise Ulster. In the May appropriation, which we discussed in July, there was provision for £8¼ million, which was a £1.3 million decrease on the figure for the previous year. A decision was taken in March to extend Enterprise Ulster for a further three years. Can the Minister say how this is progressing? I hope that there is no intention of running down this important enterprise.

There is also no reference to the youth training scheme. The provision referred to in the July appropriation debate was for 19 million, when it was expected that 8,200 would enter the programme. Can the Minister say what progress is being made, how many places have been taken up to date, and what is the percentage of young people eligible to participate? Naturally, we welcome the £42 million assistance to Harland and Wolff.

All my points so far have asked for information, but I must make a political point here. It is this kind of subsidy, this kind of help and the number of grants which are made throughout various schemes in Northern Ireland which illustrate quite clearly the need for Government intervention to deal with matters of this kind. I hope that the Government will take the same view when we press other issues elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

I note from the supplementary booklet that under Class II provision is made for two important aspects of energy. First, under C6, there is provision for £200,000 financial help to industry and commerce for energy conservation schemes. Can the Minister say what progress is being made and what are the future prospects? There is also provision under C7 for £219,000 for studies on energy matters. In this connection, can the Minister say when the Kinsale pipeline is expected to commence and when gas supplies to Northern Ireland are likely to commence?

Previously, in connection with the studies, we mentioned the viability of lignite as an alternative fuel and the studies which are taking place. Can the Minister say what is the present position? Is there any firm estimate of the lifespan of such supplies? There have been reports of a possible increase in gas prices in Northern Ireland. I would simply comment: is this a wise move before the scheme for the development of Kinsale gas is completed? At least, the agreement exists but the pipeline is not yet completed.

In conclusion I must move to Class X. I note that the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Patten, who has responsibility for health and social services matters, addressed the Assembly on 8th November and said: There are undoubtedly higher levels of morbidity and deprivation in Northern Ireland than exist in most other regions of the United Kingdom. That, of course, is confirmed by numerous surveys from time to time.

The noble Earl referred to the provision for housing benefits, and the supplementary benefits office told us that the number of persons qualifying for rent rebates, rent allowances and rate rebates is a little over 132,000. We had a full debate on housing benefits, so I shall not go into that again now, and it is too early yet to consider what the results will be, because they did not take effect, as the Minister said, until 23rd November this year.

However, is there yet any firm information on the number of persons who will be worse off, remembering that when we debated housing benefits the Minister said that it is a redistribution between those who are not so badly off to those who are really worse off? In other words, those who are worse off in one way will pay to help the others. Is there any information of the numbers who will be worse off?

Is the manpower adequate to administer this scheme properly in light of the criticisms that there have been for the scheme's administration in Great Britain? Is the information coming in satisfactorily in connection with this from the private accommodation? What steps will he taken to avoid any possible bottleneck that may be caused by the Christmas and New Year period?

My last two points are on the attendance allowances, to which the Minister referred, for which we note that there are 1,500 additional beneficiaries. Is this increase due to additional persons needing help, or is the increase due to the removal of a number of persons from hospital who therefore need more home care? The Minister also referred to the estimate for supplementary pensions allowances, again including the increase of 3,000 persons in the number of beneficiaries under those two schemes. I would suggest that this is a further indication of the growing numbers of persons who are below the poverty line, endorsing what Mr. Patten said to the Assembly, and a problem of which all of us would take keen notice.

8.12 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I should like to follow my noble friend, if I may so call him that, in two particular ways. First of all, the noble Earl gave us a clear and succinct account of what this paper stands for, and I found it useful. I knew that my noble friend from the Labour Front Bench would ask all the questions I was going to ask, and I thought that I should be lucky if I had any left. I have one or two, but very few.

I want now to follow on his second point, which I should like to put rather more dramatically. In spite of some rather hopeful things that were read to us by the noble Earl, the position of Northern Ireland is rather desperate. The tragedy for all of us is that there is every reason to suppose that the really vile thing, the security problem which we all hate so much and which seemed to be exploding around us tonight in a rather disagreeable way, almost certainly could be enormously eased if we could ease the financial problem and this dreadful problem of unemployment which the noble Lord described so graphically.

I want to follow him also by saying how glad I am that the Government have shown great readiness to interfere in Northern Ireland's business affairs, and that their readiness to do this has been increased by the desperate unemployment position rather than decreased by their doctrinaire adherence to the so widely discredited monetarism from which we suffer in this country. Like my noble friend I hope that some of the interfering attitude which is so obviously essential and unavoidable in Northern Ireland might perhaps seep over to this side, because although we are less interference minded on this Bench than the Labour Party, we are still pretty interference minded.

To look to the bright side, we welcome particularly the various things that have been described. The £42 million to Harland and Wolff is the kind of thing we have been doing now year after year, and I suppose will have to go on doing. It is direct subsidy in order to produce work. As such, we have to do it. There is no alternative. However, I should like to ask the noble Earl a nasty little question. Can he tell me, not tonight I am sure, but by letter, how many Catholics are employed by Harland and Wolff? When I was there I think it was eight, but I may be wrong. The noble Earl gave us the figure of 5,300 workers at Harland and Wolff.

The other thing I am particularly pleased about was mentioned by both the noble Lord and the noble Earl. and that was LEDU—the Local Enterprise Development Unit. I am glad that its achievements are such as they are. From a thousand or two thousand it has increased. I think, to 3,000 and 5,000 jobs found and made. This is entirely satisfactory. It is a body to co-ordinate the local enterprise programme, on which the Government are setting a good deal of store, and is a hopeful development. We look forward to some increase in its staff and in its budget. I think I can take not from what the noble Earl said but from what was said in the other place that that is the Government's intention; and we support that.

I have spoken before about the special needs of Northern Ireland for agriculture, and particularly intensive production. The position of the Northern Ireland farmers is that without intensive production they cannot keep up their employment or anything like it, and the difficulty with intensive production is the great cost of bringing in what we call corn and the Americans call maize.

I welcome particularly the AI subsidies, which of course is the way to improve herds and has been going on solidly, and improving solidly, in Northern Ireland. This is thoroughly good. Secondly, I welcome the growth in the disease free area, to which both the noble Lord and the noble Earl referred. This is extremely important because Northern Ireland has to have fine cattle and has to sell them, and you can only do that if you increase your disease free conditions.

Housing and other things have been spoken to. I shall not go over them again. I have one small point which interests me. I do not regard it as a very serious point but I am interested in the policy behind it. I see that the present Supplementary Estimates are allowing £800,000 for the computerisation of the rates—I suppose that means rate collection—and that more will be required later.

As the only point of such computerisation is to save labour I wonder whether it is money well spent. Would it not be better to postpone it to preserve the jobs it will destroy, and give the £800,000 to LEDU? This sounds rather a frivolous comment but it is really quite serious. When we have a position of unemployment such as we have in Northern Ireland we cannot really afford to mechanise any more, and we ought to be careful about it. Having said that, it seems to me that the Government are doing quite a lot to try to deal with a desperate situation, and I wish them every Godspeed.

8.19 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, the House will know that for 18 years I was a Member of another place. During that period of time it was always a considerable disappointment to me that when Northern Ireland was discussed it was always in an almost empty House. I am saddened again tonight because there are even fewer Members in this House at this time than there were in the House of Commons. The problems of Northern Ireland are so intractable, so difficult, and so serious, that it would be in the interests of all noble Lords in this House, and indeed Members in the House of Commons, to sit, listen, and pay more attention to the awful problems which have beset Northern Ireland for so many years.

I am conscious that when this Conservative Administration was first elected in 1979—and, indeed, I have some regrets because I played some little part in bringing about the defeat of the last Labour Government because of the issues I saw as so serious in relation to the security situation—there were 61,000 people unemployed in Northern Ireland. We have just heard the figures quoted by my noble friend Lord Underhill: the figure has now escalated to 120,000—double. That is not the whole story because there are many people, particularly women, who would not qualify for benefits and therefore they do not register as unemployed. So the figure is about 130,000 or 140,000 unemployed in that small area of the United Kingdom.

This figure did not just escalate on its own. We have often heard of the outside effects of world recession. Much of the increase in this figure was due to the monetarist policies of the Conservative Administration between 1979 and the present. However unpalatable those policies may have been to the more affluent parts of the United Kingdom, they were totally disastrous for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is different because it has a smaller industrial base. It has been beset by community troubles throughout the period of its existence, since the creation of the Northern Ireland State. Conditions here and in other parts of the United Kingdom are totally irrelevant when dealing with the problems we have in Northern Ireland. I blame the Conservative Administration for the more than doubling of the unemployment figure in Northern Ireland.

When I was defeated in the recent election in June this year, after having represented West Belfast for so many years—it would be conceded that West Belfast is one constituency, I think the constituency, in the whole of the United Kingdom that suffers from terrible poverty and deprivation—I was asked by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition whether I would accept a place in your Lordships' House. After some thought I accepted. My motive for accepting was that I believed that I would be able to continue to speak on behalf of the constituents of West Belfast and those throughout Northern Ireland, because the present representative of that constituency does not attend another place. Indeed, members of the party which I formerly led do not attend the Assembly at Stormont. All the people of West Belfast, Protestant and Catholic, majority and minority, have no adequate voice in the political structures. The present representative for West Belfast spends his time attending paramilitary funerals and supporting murderers, when it could be better spent in coming to the House of Commons to voice the agonies that are daily suffered by the people of West Belfast.

This little order which covers only seven items, covers two of the major items that affect ordinary people—employment and housing. I can only say that I still believe that more could be done by this Government to alleviate the terrible scourge of unemployment as it exists in Northern Ireland.

In answer to a question in another place last week the Minister replied that social security payments in Northern Ireland amounted to the vast sum of £924,536,085. That is a tremendous sum. A large proportion of that figure is paid out in unemployment benefit and in supplementary benefits. I believe that the Government should take the initiative to spend that money in a better way because there is absolutely no return from that vast expenditure. The Government could initiate programmes which would take people off the street, away from the dole queue and put them into productive employment. The construction industry has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Underhill. The construction industry in Northern Ireland could usefully be employed in building more houses—a matter to which I shall refer later—in buildings of all descriptions and that would take those tradesmen away from the dole queue.

I, too, should like to add my voice to the congratulations and compliments paid to the Government on the £42 million which has been given to the Belfast shipyard. No one can under estimate the psychological importance of the Belfast shipyard. If the Belfast shipyard were allowed in any circumstances to go under, it would be a big psychological defeat for everyone in Northern Ireland irrespective of the sometimes very contentious questions that are asked, and rightly asked, about the religious complexion of all of the employees over the years. The Government are to be complimented in authorising the building of the four ships. But despite the psychological importance of the shipyard, it employs only 5,500 people. I am old enough to remember when the Belfast shipyard employed 30,000 people and to see the sad rundown of that once great shipyard cannot be any joy to any political representative of Northern Ireland.

Mention has also been made of the local enterprise development units. I want to repeat to the Minister something I have said repeatedly in another place over many years. This has been one of the success stories of a succession of Governments, both Labour and Conservative. This little idea was germinated in 1971 or 1972. I know the area officers who are employed in the LEDUs. I know how dedicated and diligent they are in travelling all over the United Kingdom trying to attract people who will invest in small businesses in Northern Ireland.

I hope I do not embarrass the individual concerned, but the area officer for West Belfast is a Mr. John Carmichael. He runs himself off his feet to try to attract any small industry to West Belfast. Even ten, 20 or 30 people employed in small factories in that area, which is so utterly deprived, is welcome.

I have recently been speaking to people in the LEDU organisation over this past number of weeks and months. I do not know—and perhaps later on in another debate the Minister will be able to tell us—what representations the present parliamentary representative makes to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I understand that he does not attend the House but he is still permitted to make representations on behalf of his constituents to junior Ministers. I think that perhaps that position should be queried later, because any elected representative who gives succour and support to people who are carrying out a murderous campaign in Northern Ireland should not be allowed inside Government offices.

I believe that the LEDU organisation is seriously under-financed. I have read the report of the debate in the other place, where the Minister seemed to indicate that they were looking into further financing. I would hope that they will arrive at the conclusion that the success story of LEDU—with its figure of over 16,500 jobs since its inception—particularly in the awful economic climate of last year, 1982, when the organisation was able to create 2,500 jobs in Northern Ireland, represents a remarkable achievement and that every assistance should be given to that organisation.

I have already mentioned that I welcome the fact that Harland and Wolff received £42 million. This is an industrial institution which has been in serious economic difficulty from as far back as I can remember over the years. If the Government think it worth while—and I think it is worth while—to keep that industrial organisation afloat, then it is just as important that more money should be put into LEDU with the intention of creating further jobs.

On housing, I keep in touch with housing development even though I am no longer the parliamentary representative. I am the only representative voice for that constituency because the non-attenders do not go to the Assembly or to another place. I keep in touch with housing. I read and listened to the debate in another place last week. I believe that the Government are far too complacent in relation to the housing situation in Northern Ireland. Certainly, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has done tremendous work in grappling with the terrible problems of bad housing in Northern Ireland. It was accepted that, by European standards, West Belfast and County Fermanagh were two of the worst housing areas in the whole of Europe. West Belfast I no longer represent or live in, but I am in almost daily communication with people who live there. I know that there is still a great deal of distress caused because of the lack of housing in that constituency.

One of my friends in the other place who is now the Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland last week drew the attention of the House of Commons to a report which had been promulgated by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive is not a revolutionary body; it is not an organisation that has all sorts of Trotskyites or trouble-makers in it. It is a rather conservative organisation. On looking into the whole question of housing needs in Northern Ireland, they referred to the fact that the number of people on the waiting list for housing in Northern Ireland is about 23,500 and that there has been a decrease.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive, in their own report, state in relation to the decrease in the numbers on the waiting list: There may be a greater willingness, in very adverse economic circumstances, to tolerate the discomforts of sharing and overcrowding; and there may well be an increasing willingness to endure the low space standards and poorer amenities of older housing rather than face sharply increased rents". This is their own conclusion. Then they go on to say: It does not seem improbable that there is a direct causal connection between the sharp decline in waiting lists for public sector houses and the even sharper increase in public sector rents which has taken place over the same period". They then come to their conclusion, wherein they say: It has been said, and not without evidence to support it, that only those in well-paid jobs, or those on full social security benefits, can now afford the rent of a new Housing Executive dwelling". This is a report which was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. What it says is that the rents of Housing Executive houses are so high that people do not want to take the tenancy of them. They are prepared to live in inferior, overcrowded conditions; they are prepared to live with their in-laws, because they know that they could not afford the rent of a Housing Executive dwelling if one were to be allocated to them. I think that that is a position that will have to be seriously looked at by the Government in Northern Ireland.

I listened to the debate which took place in another place and it seemed to me that the Government were clapping themselves on the back because of the undoubted success of the Housing Executive situation since its formation in 1970. I would tell the Government that in Northern Ireland there is still a crying need for houses at rents which people can afford. Otherwise, there will be an aggravation of the problem: there will be people living in inferior housing conditions, out of a job—and we have just quoted the unemployment figures—and that can only lead to social discontent.

I would say once again to the noble Earl (and perhaps it has been drawn to his attention) that the right honourable gentleman who represents Down, South, in an interjection last week, said—and it was in reply to the Leader of the Opposition and the Northern Ireland spokesman in another place: The right honourable and learned Gentleman will be interested to know from those who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland that there is absolutely no discernible class or wealth distinction characterising those who purchase their own homes".—[Official Report, Commons, 8/12/83; col. 499.] I do not know to what constituency he refers, but I do know that he represents Down, South. I represented West Belfast for many years; and there is a great difference in the class structure between the character of the people who own their own homes and those who live in public authority houses.

If I had known that I was going to take part in this debate this evening I should have liked to ask the Minister beforehand whether he could tell me how many people in Ballymurphy, in Turf Lodge, in Divis Flats, in New Barnsley, in the Springfield Road—indeed, on the Shankhill Road—own their own houses. They are, indeed, very very few; whereas in other, more affluent parts of Northern Ireland, where a different class of people live, they certainly own their own houses. I would urge the noble Earl not to take as gospel anything which was said by the right honourable gentleman in another place when he said that there are no class divisions. Indeed, there are quite serious class divisions in relation to home ownership in Northern Ireland.

The other matter which I know has been drawn to the noble Earl's attention is the question of housing benefit. There is such a complicated way of claiming these particular benefits, and many of the people who are entitled to them are people who, to say the least, are not of a very high educational standard. That is certainly no criticism of them, but everyone knows that, when aged persons are faced with forms and the language contained in those forms, they sometimes prefer not to make a claim for benefit rather than go through what they see as the embarrassment of asking a person to fill in a particular form for them.

Again, the figure of £1,500 has been mentioned as an increase in relation to those qualifying for attendance allowance. I have always believed, and I have said it over many, many years, that the criteria for the receipt of attendance allowance in Northern Ireland, and indeed in other parts of the United Kingdom, are far, far too strict. Over the years, there have been far more people in Northern Ireland who have claimed attendance allowance and been refused than those who have been successful in their claim.

I know that the attendance allowance, although it is used and spent by the person who is giving the attendance, is in fact given to the person who is incapacitated. I have always said that before people can qualify for attendance allowance they must be very nearly dead; they must not be allowed to move or get out of bed; and they must need attendance for 24 hours a day. The conditions for the receipt of this and for the mobility allowance have been far too strictly laid down. Many people who would benefit from this financial compensation are being denied it because of the stringency of the laws related to the granting of attendance.

There is also the question of home helps. This has been an ongoing problem. Even when the Labour Party was in power, there were always far too few home helps employed as compared with the number of residences where they would be needed. However, one cannot but welcome this order, and indeed there is very little that we can do about it.

I should like to say that, when I first became a Member of this House and in fact before actually being introduced, I was walking around the corridors here on August Bank Holiday this year. I met one of my noble friends from this side of the House. He welcomed me to the House in a very friendly way and told me that your Lordships would be very interested to hear what I had to say on Ireland because I have lived there and I know the problems of Northern Ireland. He went on to advise me that if I did not want to lose any friends I should not speak for longer than 12 minutes. I began to have serious doubts as to whether I should tell your Lordships about Northern Ireland by way of instalments on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

However, looking around the Benches here tonight—and I understand there are reasons for it because it is a Tuesday evening and there are certain procedures to be followed—I would say to those of your Lordships who are present and also to those of my noble friends and indeed members of the Government who are absent at this moment, that Northern Ireland is a problem. It is not going to go away. You cannot avoid having to deal with it. Mention has been made this evening of a bomb having been found somewhere in London. That is part of the Northern Ireland problem, however obnoxious a connection it may be.

I would, in conclusion, ask the noble Lord to do what he can with the LEDU enterprise and to look again at the severe restrictions which are placed on the community with regard to the attendance allowance and the very, very short supply of home helps. This is only a very small order: one cannot do a great deal about it, but I certainly welcome the order sc far as it goes.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I should like to say how very much I agee with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, about all these vast empty Benches, particularly, if I may say so, on the Government side. Perhaps the Government Whips could do something to bring this to the attention of their supporters, and perhaps the Government themselves could do something to help by trying to arrange for us to have Northern Ireland business earlier in the day at more popular hours. Then the noble Lord, Lord Fitt,—perhaps I may call him my noble friend—will, I am sure, have great success in persuading many Members of both Houses to come to the annual (and sometimes more frequent) gatherings of the British-Irish Association. These are very valuable occasions which bring together not only politicians from both sides of the Channel and from Ireland, North and South, but also academics and people involved in the media, in a very free and informal way and with the benefit of Chatham House rules.

I am grateful to the noble Earl for explaining today's order and I think we can draw just a little encouragement from what he said, first, about manufacturing industry and, secondly, about the many new small businesses of all sorts that are being stimulated with the help of LEDU. The fact remains, however, that the overall economic situation is still bad and it continues to aggravate the political situation.

I want to raise only three points, and the noble Earl will be relieved, in that I have given him notice of them and, secondly, two of the points of which I have personal eye-witness experience are ones which will not call for extra expenditure during the course of the present financial year. The first point I want to mention concerns the new prisons at Maghaberry. These prisons, one for men and one for women, are very important because they will make possible the closing of the antiquated women's gaol at Armagh and will reduce significantly the overcrowding among men, which I believe is particularly acute in the remand wings of Crumlin Road prison at the moment. The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said in reply to a Written Question of last February that new prisons were expected to open late this year or early in 1984. Can the noble Earl the Minister say by how much this programme has fallen back and what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to regain lost time and to bring these new prisons into use?

My second point is about public access to the whole of the historic walls of the city of Londonderry. These are of great symbolic importance to both the main traditions in Northern Ireland and they attract visitors from the whole world. Two years ago, when I was last in Derry, the circuit of the walls was blocked at the south-west corner by an Army post which obliges visitors to climb down before resuming the circuit. I understand that the Army post is still there, despite numerous requests for its removal. The Army, it seems, still needs an observation point in that area. Will the Government make sure that every effort is made to find an alternative building or structure that would serve the same purpose? If that can be done, an unsightly blockhouse would be removed from a place of great natural beauty, and access for visitors and local people would be much improved. The noble Earl, as a Scotsman, will readily understand the importance of clan gatherings. I hope, therefore, that he will succeed in getting the walls cleared in time for the international gathering of the clan O'Doherty, planned for June 1985 in Derry.

Lagan College, Belfast, is the last matter that I wish to raise. This school has been discussed on several occasions in your Lordships' House. It came into being solely as a result of parents who formed the All Children Together movement. It is a denominationally integrated, mixed sex and all abilities secondary school—a rare example in Northern Ireland of a shared Christian school which teaches and respects both the Protestant and the Catholic traditions. The college opened in 1981 and now has 161 pupils, almost exactly half and half, Protestant and Catholic, with a further 90 expected next September. Because it had to start as an independent school, very large sums of money have been given not only from Northern Ireland, but from Britain, Europe and America to meet the capital costs and those running costs not covered by tuition fees.

Lagan College has successfully applied to the South-Eastern Education and Library Board for recognition as a grant-aided school. I understand that the final decision on this matter rests with the Department of Education. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will take into account the amazing success of this school, its long waiting list and the fact that it draws its pupils from no fewer than 60 primary schools in three different board areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, replying for the Government in the recent debate on ethnic and religious minorities in Britain, said at col. 1153 of the Official Report for 7th December: Much prejudice arises out of fear, and much fear arises out of ignorance. A great deal of both can be dismantled quite easily in our schools where our children can learn not simply from the staff, but from their fellow pupils who are the best qualified teachers of all". I am sure that the noble Lord spoke from his experience both as a teacher and as a former Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland. His words apply just as much in Northern Ireland as they do in Britain. That is why I look forward to a favourable reply, if not today then at the appropriate moment before 1st April 1984.

8.53 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I know that it must be disappointing particularly to the likes of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who has not been a Member of your Lordships' House for too long, to see the familiar empty Benches when matters pertaining to Northern Ireland are discussed. I have to tell him that when I was in the Scottish Office there was rather the same effect, unless matters were being discussed which would eventually have a British connotation. But if we keep our debates sharp, and, above all, if we keep our speeches concise, we may by our eloquence attract back into the Chamber some noble Lords who might otherwise be away for the whole of the dinner hour.

I am very grateful to at least two of your Lordships for giving me notice of part, at any rate, of what they intended to raise. I shall either reply as fully as I can or if I cannot, or if the reply would be too full, then I shall write to the noble Lords concerned. I prefer not to do it in that way, but we have already taken over an hour for the first of our three orders and there may be what, in some circles would be called consumer resistance if I attempted to reply at too great a length.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, first raised the matter of the grassland improvement scheme, and if I tell the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. as I start on this slightly bucolic note, that the present Member of Parliament for West Belfast does not get in contact with me at all regularly, because I understand that there is not much of interest to do with agriculture, fisheries or forestry in West Belfast, I know he will understand. At any rate, the grassland improvement scheme was based on the well understood concept that the production of grass is the most efficient way of feeding stock, and indeed the production of grass is one of the few things at which Northern Ireland excels, particularly in relation to other agricultural commodities. So the aim of the scheme was to encourage producers to improve their grassland and thereby the quality of stock which would be pastured on it. There has been some spin-off, so far as the reduction of imports is concerned, but what is wanted above all is to reduce farmers' inputs.

Then the noble Lord asked me about animal health expenditure. The whole of animal health is of supreme importance in Northern Ireland and I agree with the noble Lord. I certainly give him the assurance which he sought in relation to tuberculosis and brucellosis, but, in fact, additional controls in the form of annual testing and full movement controls on all cattle were introduced in mid-1982 in an attempt to reduce the level of tuberculosis infection. It is the success of these measures which has meant that lower infection has led to less slaughter, and therefore less expenditure on compensation, so there has been what I might describe as a happy result.

The noble Lord raised the question of LEDU, as it is called, and other noble Lords have also commented on this. The first thing that I want to do is to contradict the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that LEDU is under-financed. It is not and neither is any agency in Northern Ireland. I am particularly thinking of the Industrial Development Board, which is a very much newer creation than LEDU, but neither of these is under-financed. The job creation activities of LEDU have not been constrained through lack of cash, they will not be constrained through lack of resources, and I think it is fair to say that if anybody in Northern Ireland has any idea as to the creation or expansion of business which is viable on a reasonably optimistic assumption, then there is no lack of public money to develop that idea.

From its inception in 1971 to December this year, LEDU has promoted over 16,500 jobs and over 2,500 jobs in the last financial year. This is the highest number of jobs in any year since the unit was set up. It is a significant achievement. Of course, the Government are not complacent, but in the circumstances of a difficult economic background I regard this as no mean achievement. The prognosis for the current year is encouraging, and I believe that the number of jobs which will be promoted is likely to exceed the record figures of last year. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who asked whether jobs are new jobs and the answer is that they are. It is a condition of firms receiving financial assistance that jobs are new jobs. I am afraid that I cannot quantify which of those jobs are connected with exports.

The noble Lord went on to speak about the training programme. The programme is obtaining a good response from eligible young people. In November there were more than twice as many 16 yearolds—that is, more than 5,000—on the youth training programme as there were unemployed, who number 1,887. Those 16 year-olds who are unemployed still have an opportunity to accept the Government's offer of a place before the end of the year. The programme also provides a range of opportunities for 17 year-olds. Here we find that there are as many in training as there are who have never held employment. Those young people are gaining experience which will improve their job prospects and let them compete against the 2,410 17 year-olds who are unemployed, who have had employment, and who are between jobs.

The noble Lord asked also about Enterprise Ulster, which is not covered, so far as its funding is concerned, by any of the appropriation orders which we are considering this evening. The terms of Enterprise Ulster have been extended until 31st March 1986 and the new job level is designed to protect the viability of the organisation, to permit a realistic element of forward planning, to maintain cost effectiveness, and to enable the Government to give a reasonable forward commitment on the funding. The noble Lord asked me about the meeting of the Secretary of State with the Northern Ireland Committee, and I shall have to write to him about that matter, as I have no information about the outcome of the discussions. I will write to the noble Lord also about housing benefits, because that is convenient in itself; and I shall write to him on the other matters after I have evaluated them.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, welcomed the measures on the whole, but he suggested that, instead of computerising expenditure so far as local authorities were concerned, we could save the cash, as it were, and put more money into LEDU. I believe that I have answered his point. There is no shortage of resources in LEDU. The expenditure on computerisation is part of the Government's commitment to improved financial management, and it deserves consideration on its own.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, my point was that there is no value in computerisation unless one destroys jobs—and I do not believe that the Government are in a position to destroy jobs in Northern Ireland.

The Earl of Mansfield

But jobs are not being destroyed, my Lords. I believe that even the noble Lord will agree—and unfortunately this is a matter which is occupying many of us today in Britain—that it is no good keeping people on in overpriced work merely for the sake of keeping them on.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, widened the debate very considerably—which, of course, he had every right to do. So far as general economic matters are concerned, I said at the beginning of my remarks—and I meant it—that, when an economic upturn comes (and the signs and portents are already there), then Northern Ireland will share in it. If we were to try to do all the things which noble Lords opposite have continuously urged upon us—in other words, if we tried to spend our way out of the recession—then the cure will be worse than the disease. In fact, Northern Ireland—which, I totally agree with the noble Lord, has an extremely fragile economic base—will suffer more that the rest of the United Kingdom in that eventuality.

I believe that the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is somewhat simplistic, if I may say so. Like many parts of Western Scotland, the industries of Northern Ireland have been declining for years and years and years. It is not the policies of this Government which have been applied since 1979 which have done anything, for instance, to reduce the number of jobs in the shipyards. The other point is, one cannot get away from the situation that, unfortunately, the way in which people live and the way in which they comport themselves in Northern Ireland is not exactly conducive to the creation of new enterprises and the promotion of new jobs. The Government are certainly by no means smug or complacent, as even the bare figures which are part of this debate show. We have tried continuously—and we shall continue to try—to make Northern Ireland into an attractive place in which people can live and work.

Finally, so far as this end of the debate is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised three points. So far as Maghaberry prison is concerned, the main building programme has been completed. Certain modifications—many designed to improve security—are under consideration. The prison should be open by late 1984 or early 1985, and it will greatly ease the prison accommodation problems of Northern Ireland. The prison at Maghaberry will house some 450 male prisoners, and there will be places in the female prison alongside for some 56 women.

The noble Lord spoke also about the walls of the City of Londonderry, which place I am afraid I have not yet had the opportunity of visiting. I know that the noble Lord is concerned about the presence of the Army posts along the walls. We have recently consulted Army Headquarters and they have reported that there are overriding operational reasons for them to maintain their present locations in Londonderry. I am sure that the noble Lord, who has a better knowledge of the area than I, will understand why that is so. As soon as the security situation improves to the point where those measures are no longer necessary, the bases will be moved or abolished, or at any rate relocated. We all look forward to that day. I understand that the security forces are engaged in a constant review of the bases in an effort to improve their appearance and blend them with their local surroundings.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that point, I wonder if he has taken on board the importance of 1985?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I hesitate to enter the lists so far as the Northern Ireland clan are concerned, but I very much hope that the clan will use every sort and kind of influence to see to it that these bases or posts are unnecessary by then, or at any rate perhaps that they will arrange their—I was going to say jollifications—their reunion in such a way that they can get by without being too annoyed by the presence of the posts.

We come to Lagan College. If I may put the matter shortly, the noble Lord will know that there is a two month's statutory period from the date of publication in which objections to proposals can be made to the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, and it is only after the expiration of 25th January 1984 that the department is then able to make the decision. So we are in the period of consultation. This is a statutory matter, and therefore it would be wrong for me to make any comment at this stage, and I do not seek to do so.

I shall look at Hansard with interest tomorrow. The many problems that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, particularly, raised, I will reply to, if I may, by letter. As is my custom in these Northern Ireland debates, I will send copies of each letter to each noble Lord who has taken part so that everybody knows where everybody is.

On Question, Motion agreed to.