HL Deb 18 December 1984 vol 458 cc610-30

7.56 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before the House on 20th November, be approved. This order is being made under paragraph 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The purpose of the draft order is to authorise the issue of £41 million out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland in respect of the Autumn Supplementary Estimates for Northern Ireland Departments and to appropriate this sum for the purposes shown in the schedule to the order.

Your Lordships have already approved a total of £2,832 million for this financial year. The present draft order will bring the figure up to £2,873 million. All the details are in the autumn Supplementary Estimates volume, copies of which have been placed in the Printed Paper Office for your Lordships' convenience.

The draft order covers only four out of the 39 votes of the Northern Ireland Departments. We are seeking tonight provision to meet the cost of the continuation of special measures to assist the agricultural industry, and to fund the milk outgoers scheme. If we look further, on the social security side more money is required to pay the increased numbers of recipients of a range of non-contributory benefits, and to cover the cost of the new Severe Disablement Allowance.

Your Lordships might permit me briefly to say something about the economic situation in Northern Ireland. It seems clear that the Province, like the rest of the United Kingdom, is experiencing a broadly based revival of economic activity. In particular, your Lordships will be glad to hear that manufacturing production continues to rise; indeed, output for the second quarter of this year—from April to the end of June—was 3 per cent. above the previous quarter and 5 per cent. higher than the same second quarter last year. But unemployment remains a major problem, although there has been a noticeable easing in the upward trend of the total number of people without a job. Perhaps I may take one example. There are particularly hopeful signs in the manufacturing sector. The number of jobs lost in the 12 months to June this year was 1,250; the figure for the previous 12 months was about 6,200.

One important factor in economic strategy is to keep public expenditure under tight control. Nevertheless, within that overall approach it has been possible to increase the Northern Ireland public expenditure programme for next year—1985–86—by some £30 million against the original plan. This is further evidence of the determination of the Government to tackle the very difficult economic situation in Northern Ireland.

Perhaps I may turn briefly to the details of the Supplementary Estimates before us this evening. The main purpose of the changes sought in the two agricultural Votes is to increase funds for the various special aid measures to assist the agricultural industry. These measures were announced in February of this year. Provision is also sought to cover the initial payments under the milk outgoers scheme and the fees and expenses of tribunal and panel members adjudicating the milk quota cases. There are three main items in Class I Vote I. An estimated £450,000 is sought for continued measures to develop the quality of beef cattle production, mainly through reduced charges under the department's artificial insemination service. This provision is part of the special aid measures most of which fall in Vote II and to which I shall be referring a little later on.

New provision of £800,000 is required to meet the cost of compensation payments to those milk producers who have undertaken to give up milk production and thereby release quota for reallocation. A further £370,000 is sought to cover the costs of the Northern Ireland Dairy Produce Quota Tribunal and local panels established to adjudicate on special case claims and quota allocations, together with payments to the Northern Ireland Milk Marketing Board for the administration of certain functions under the Dairy Produce Quota Regulations. Your Lordships will be interested in the up-to-date information on milk quotas, as we have it so far. All wholesale producers in Northern Ireland have now received their definitive primary allocations, which were based on their 1983 sales. A total primary wholesale quota so issued amounts to some 1,286 million litres out of the total Northern Ireland allocation of 1,316.7 million litres.

Your Lordships may be interested to know that some 3,900 producers of milk applied for special case treatment either because of an exceptional event which adversely affected production in 1983 or because they were committed to expansion. Almost all these special case claims have been considered, and provisional awards of secondary wholesale quota have been made by local panels in about 1,700 cases. The remaining claims have been rejected but the producers have the right of appeal to the Northern Ireland Dairy Produce Quota Tribunal. To date, 1,155 producers have exercised that right.

The tribunal is also required to adjudicate on cases made under the exceptional hardship rule. Here, some 3,430 producers applied for consideration. As at 14th December—the latest date for which we have figures—decisions have been taken on 2,469 of those cases and provisional awards made in 752 cases. The remainder will be dealt with over the course of the next few weeks.

I am sure that everybody who is in any way conversant with Northern Ireland will agree that this is a very difficult time for Northern Ireland dairy farmers, who are having to make business decisions in an uncertain situation caused by unavoidable delays in determining final quota allocations and levy liability. However, I believe noble Lords would agree from the appeal case figures I have given that those cases are being processed with urgency.

I should like to pay my own tribute to the intense work of the members of the tribunal and panels who are considering special cases and appeals. In particular, I should like to mention the tremendous leadership provided by Mr. W. E. Boyd, the chairman of the tribunal. The industry and the Government have cause to be grateful to Mr. Boyd and to the many other people involved in establishing a base from which individual producers can better take sensible decisions about their milk business.

Under the Milk Outgoers Scheme, so far 595 producers have submitted applications, offering to release a total of 53.3 million litres for re-allocation. The Department of Agriculture has written to all producers with a valid application inviting them to proceed. Those who decide to take up this invitation will have four weeks to make a claim for payment. As producers with special case or hardship allocations do not have to commit themselves until their claims are determined, it will be some time before the position on overall quota surrender is clear. However, as a number of applicants have decided to withdraw from the scheme, it is already clear that additional quota released will be well below the initial offer levels.

With only 30.7 million litres of primary wholesale quota unallocated out of the Northern Ireland total, and a potential maximum of around a further 20 million litres becoming available from the outgoers scheme, the way ahead is obviously going to be difficult.

The second of the two agricultural votes before us this evening—that is, Class 1 Vote 2—is mainly for special Northern Ireland support schemes. A sum of £5.5 million is required for continuation of the milk consumer subsidy, which enables a higher wholesale price to be fixed for milk going to the liquid consumption market. Without this, consumers in Northern Ireland would have to pay more than consumers in Great Britain, or dairy farmers in Northern Ireland would suffer an even bigger gap between their average milk price and that in Great Britain. The figure of £2.3 million is required for continuation of aid to pig and poultry meat processing plants and egg packing stations, with the objective of easing pressures on the intensive livestock sector and in maintaining employment in the processing industry.

Finally, £1.94 million is sought under the Grassland Scheme, which was first introduced two years ago in order to encourage the improvement of grassland productivity outside the less favoured areas. Following extension of the less favoured areas, the scheme will now apply to a much reduced area, and consequently expenditure will be less.

I shall close my remarks in relation to agriculture by reminding your Lordships of the background to special aids and the objectives that we are seeking to achieve by continuing to support them. The importance of agriculture to the Northern Ireland economy is clear. It still remains the Province's largest industry. Farm employment represents 9.8 per cent. of total civil employment, and the ancillary and processing industries constitute a further 3 per cent. Agriculture itself produces 5.6 per cent. of Northern Ireland's gross domestic product. At the same time, Northern Ireland farmers face particular disadvantages; they are remote from the main markets, they have a high dependence on imported feedstuffs, and they lack suitable alternatives to livestock enterprises.

The latter is of course less well supported under the common agricultural policy than other products, such as cereals. Against the background of a general economic weakness, and with unemployment rates higher than those in any other region in the United Kingdom, the justification for those special aids is that—without frustrating a gradual transition to a more viable pattern of agricultural production, as and when the state of the Province's economy allows—they will be of some assistance at least in maintaining production and employment both on and off farms.

I turn to the social security programme. Your Lordships will note that additional provision is sought in Votes 1 and 2 of Class 10. Vote 1, which covers national insurance, makes provision for the supplement from the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland to the Northern Ireland National Insurance Fund. The supplement is an annually defined percentage of contribution income which for the current year is set at 11 per cent. The estimates may therefore need revision during or after each financial year in the light of the Government Actuary's revised forecasts of contribution income. The supplementary provision now sought thus comprises an upward revision of £3.9 million for the current year and a final upward adjustment of £250,000 for the year 1979–80. I am given to understand that that was a book-keeping and accountancy transaction. I too was curious about it.

Class 10 Vote 2 covers non-contributory benefits. The supplementary estimate of £26.12 million represents an increase of 6.3 per cent. on the original provision. The largest increase sought is for supplementary benefits. The annual provision of £770,000 in respect of supplementary pensions is necessary because of the reduction from 70 to 65 years of age in the upper qualifying age for age-related heating additions and the introduction of a new higher age-related rate. The additional provision of £14.22 million sought for supplementary allowances is attributable to the rise in the number of beneficiaries and an increasing number of single payments. Your Lordships will note that an additional £7.8 million is sought in respect of housing benefits. Your Lordships will be aware that there have been increases both in the numbers of eligible claimants and in the average weekly rebates and allowances.

I mentioned earlier the new severe disablement allowance which replaced non-contributory invalidity pensions from the 29th November this year. The new allowance is similar in purpose to the benefit it has replaced but more people will receive it. All those who qualified for receipt of non-contributory invalidity pensions on 29th November automatically qualified for the new allowance. Apart from this, people who have been continuously incapable of work for at least 28 weeks because of a disability on or before their twentieth birthday can qualify for the new benefit simply on that basis. Those who become incapable of work later in life must also be severely disabled to qualify.

Married women can claim the severe disablement allowance even if they are able to carry out normal household duties. The benefit is being introduced in two phases. People aged 50 or over and those aged from 16 to 34 could receive the new allowance from November this year, while those aged from 34 to 49 will be eligible from November 1985.

There are a number of other factors contributing to the net increase sought in this vote. In particular, there is an additional provision of £800,000 in respect of attendance allowances, which is primarily due to a rise in the number of beneficiaries.

In the course of my remarks I have tried to outline (I hesitate to say "briefly" because your Lordships will see that it is a complicated order) some of the points of the draft order before us and to give your Lordships an appreciation of the reasons for the changes in these four Northern Ireland votes. I shall try to reply to as many as possible of the points raised this evening. I am grateful to noble Lords who have written to me with some warning of the points that they intend to raise: we shall have to see whether I satisfy them. Even so, on any points that I omit or do not cover satisfactorily I guarantee we shall write to the noble Lords concerned. With that, I commend the draft order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th November be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

8.11 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for introducing this order and for, as usual, explaining it so simply. His remarks, together with the supplementary booklet, enable us to see exactly what is the picture.

We are dealing only with four items under two clauses. Under Class 1, Vote 2, item B8 refers to the £800,000 payment to milk producers who are discontinuing milk production. The noble Lord has referred to the number of outgoers, but can he say whether any milk producers have been forced out of farming completely, and not just from milk production, as a result of the quota procedure? In such cases there are obviously difficulties in certain areas in taking up other farming pursuits.

More than one newspaper today has commented that the Government have told the Community that they will not be collecting levies from farmers who have exceeded their 1984 quotas because other EEC countries have not seriously curtailed milk production. They stress that the quota system has led to a shortage of milk for manufacturing—I think we have levied a 10 per cent. cut, whereas the Community cut is 6 per cent.—and cheese stocks in the United Kingdom are at an all-time low; and several hundred jobs have been lost in the past few weeks. It has been stated that this applies in Northern Ireland, too. Can the Minister comment on those press reports, which, as I said, appeared in more than one paper, including the Financial Times?

Still under this class and vote, I intended to ask the Minister if he could tell me exactly how many cases were involved in the payment of fees and expenses to tribunals, but the figures he gave make it unnecessary for me to ask that question. As he rightly says, they indicate that a number of cases are being heard. He said that nearly 1,700 hardship cases have been given additional provisional quotas. That is some 40 per cent. of the number of cases heard. Can the noble Lord say whether these provisional quotas can be met? Have any been met up to now? Under the same item there is provision for £150,000 for payments to the Milk Marketing Board for functions carried out on behalf of the Department of Agriculture in connection with the milk quota regulations. These are obviously in addition to the tribunals to which I have already referred. Can the noble Lord say what are these functions? It is an item of only £150,000, but we are in the process of accountability so perhaps the noble Lord can tell us what these are.

Under Class 1, Vote 2, item A1, there is the usual provision, as the noble Lord rightly points out, for the milk subsidy to keep the price of milk to the level elsewhere in Great Britain. I understand that the Minister of Agriculture has recently announced that the statutory price controls on milk are to be removed at the end of the month. I believe this also covers Northern Ireland. Can the Minister confirm whether I am right in that assumption? If I am, will this removal of the price control have any effect on the milk consumer subsidy which applies only to Northern Ireland in order to keep the position commensurate with that in the rest of Great Britain? If so, has consideration been given to this? It could affect this particular appropriation item.

On Class 10, the information given in the supplementary booklet—for which, as I have said, I am extremely grateful—indicates the continuing and possibly further decline in the economic and social conditions of Northern Ireland. We recognise that a great deal of it is deprivation due to the special conditions existing there. Additional appropriation under Vote 1 of about £4,155,000, it is stated quite clearly, is for upward revision in the light of the original assumptions being found now to be out of line. The figures for unemployment are given, and although the Minister said that they give us some encouragement, frankly, we wonder whether they do.

I have in front of me the Northern Ireland Economic Council's annual report, published in October. I quote from the chairman's introduction: Although there have been a number of encouraging developments in the past year overall economic activity remains at a low level. We hope that the rapid rise in unemployment which has taken place since 1979 is now over but, as yet, there is no prospect of the marked decline which we would like to see". Is the Minister being over-optimistic in discussing the progress—because page 3 refers to the halting recovery of the local economy which has taken place, and, frankly, does not give a great deal of scope for optimism?

This is not the place for a general debate on the Northern Ireland economy—we are dealing with the four items of appropriation—but the Minister quoted what he thought was the start of an economic improvement. The report to which I have referred from the Northern Ireland Economic Council stresses the part played by the public sector employer in Northern Ireland. It is a point I have mentioned on previous occasions, but the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has not always accepted the comments I have made—if anything, he has challenged them—on the value of public sector expenditure. In June 1984 no less than 45.8 per cent. was due to public sector expenditure. The report clearly states that: it is thus an important element in assessing the local employment situation". I have stressed on previous occasions that if it was not for public sector expenditure the position of employment in Northern Ireland would be drastically worse than it is now.

The other matter that concerns us is that this report emphasises that, taking July 1984, the number of long-term unemployed—that is, persons who have been unemployed for more than one year—is over 58,000, no less than 47.8 per cent. of the registered unemployed in Northern Ireland. That problem is far more severe than in the United Kingdom as a whole.

The largest item in this appropriation order is more than £26 million under Vote 2 for additional expenditure on various social security benefits and allowances. I am certain we are all pleased to see the 500 increase in the number of beneficiaries for attendance allowance. We also welcome the introduction of the severe disablement allowance. I am pleased to note the emphasis given that this is non-contributory, non-means tested and tax free. That is very welcome.

The additional appropriation is not so much for additional payments as for increases in the numbers of claimants. For instance, there is an increase of 3,500 in the number of claimants for supplementary benefit. I note that in the debate in the other place last night a great deal of concern was expressed about the increase in single payments. We do not have the Minister's reply in Hansard; we have only the criticisms up to that stage.

Undoubtedly there may be abuses, but I should like to make a plea. This has been suggested concerning other areas in the United Kingdom. I understand that only about £20 million is spent on single cases out of a total provision of nearly £269 million. I hope that we shall get this matter into perspective. I hope that methods to deal with abuses will not have a severe effect on the genuine cases for single payments which need help. Perhaps the Minister can say whether there are complaints from claimants about difficulties in dealing with welfare cheques, particularly concerning single payments. Are there any complaints? Do some people who have no bank account find difficulty?

There is also a 3,400 increase in the number claiming rent rebates, and 1,800 more private tenants receiving rent allowance. We also learn from the supplementary booklet that some 4,400 additional householders are claiming rate rebates. The total is now about 137,700 out of, on the 1981 Census figures, 456,000 households overall—in other words, one in three households in Northern Ireland is claiming rate rebate.

I do not mention these points in any politically partisan attitude, but they show that the economic and social problems in Northern Ireland are as acute as they have ever been. The position is far worse than in any other region in the United Kingdom. I add this to the pleas made in other spheres. All these factors must be taken into consideration when we are considering other constitutional changes.

8.22 p.m.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord the Minister for introducing this order and for giving us the opportunity to range rather wider than the strict financial instructions might suggest. I should like to revert, if I may, to the recent summit, because it is vital that a positive approach be taken next time round. I trust that this is in order.

When an analysis was made of the last Northern Ireland summit, the general feeling held by almost everybody was that not enough of substance had come out of the discussions and a great opportunity had been missed. Prior to the meeting between Dr. FitzGerald and Mrs. Thatcher, we had all come to expect some sort of progress, although this was tempered on both sides by repeated warnings not to expect too much. The important lesson to be learnt from the summit of November 1984 was not of the progress made—because to those of us observing the meeting there was very little of that—but of the effect of Mrs. Thatcher's press conference and her way of expressing her feelings about the options coming out of the Forum Report.

By her "Out, out, out" statement she has managed to do three things. The first is to make the Irish realise, with a sense of shock, the ignorance of this Government so far as the feelings of the Irish are concerned. The second is to miss the point that there is a genuine concern in the south for the minority group in the north. The effect of Mrs. Thatcher's press conference has been to make the Irish believe, rightly or wrongly, that Mrs. Thatcher simply does not care about that minority. The third, and perhaps the most important, aspect is the damage that has been done to the Coalition Government in the south.

For the first time for some years now the political climate with regard to the north has been one of tempered hope—that now the time is right to make progress. Relations between Dublin and London have been on a good footing, and are getting better. Much credit for this must be given to Garret FitzGerald. This third result of the summit and Mrs. Thatcher's press conference has been to damage the credibility of the coalition and help Mr. Haughey's Fianna Fail, which is more Republican and less sympathetic to the British view. I feel that it is crucial when dealing with Northern Ireland that Mrs. Thatcher realises the necessity of a combined three-pronged attack.

The Alliance wish for an inter-parliamentary council is well known, and we would obviously favour taking this step now. However, there is little chance of anything like this occurring unless the Tories moderate their attitude. I would therefore urge Mrs. Thatcher to recognise, and be seen to recognise, three important aspects of Northern Ireland which to date she seems not to have appreciated. They are, first, that the nationalists must be encouraged to see the unionist point of view; secondly, the unionists must be encouraged to see the nationalist point of view; and, thirdly, London must concede some tangible and solid element to the Irish dimension in return for its renunciation (if it can be obtained) of the constitutional claim over Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland problem is essentially a triangle. First, there is the British Northern Ireland link, which is generally seen to be pro-unionist. Secondly, there is the Irish Northern Ireland link, which is seen to be with the minority—one hopes the SDLP but in some instances Sinn Fein. Finally, there is the link between Britain and Ireland. We must maintain the assurance to the unionists, but we must also concede something to Dublin. We must maintain that third link.

8.26 p.m.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for having kindly invited advance notice of any points that we might raise in this debate. I gave him notice that I wanted to touch once again, I am afraid, on the vexed question of milk quotas. I have with me a mass of figures, but I shall not weary your Lordships with them because this is an appropriation order debate and not a debate on agriculture exclusively. I am sure that the noble Lord on the Front Bench will have a very much fuller brief than I have.

I just ask this once again. What has happened to the 65,000 tonnes of milk which was allocated to Northern Ireland by the EC? This was specifically stated in Regulation 1371/84 as being for the region. The Minister in another place on 22nd March 1984 said: the claims of Northern Ireland must be given equal consideration with those of the Republic".—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/84; col. 1274.] That sounded all right.

Also it was made clear that the 4.6 per cent. advantage for the Republic of Ireland was going to be additional to its 1983 quota, and further that the 65,000 tonnes for Northern Ireland, consistent with what I have just quoted, was also to be additional to the Northern Ireland share of the United Kingdom reference quantity. This is something that has been confirmed to one, if not more, of our MEPs in Brussels: the 65,000 tonnes was to be additional and was to be specifically for the region of Northern Ireland. Article 2 of Regulation 857/84 refers thereto.

But we submit that the benefit has not been received. I would respectfully challenge the noble Lord this evening to prove otherwise. If he can convincingly do so, I shall be the first to congratulate him. If he can do so, he will be one jump ahead of his right honourable friend in the other place. In passing, I may say that his right honourable friend was far from convincing when interviewed on television in Northern Ireland recently. Indeed, he did not seem at all clear about the situation. If it so happens that he is confused, I should be the last to criticise him, because I am confused too. Noble Lords may say that there is nothing unusual or surprising about that. They may say that any time Dunleath gets up to speak he always seems to be confused.

More significant is the fact that the Northern Ireland Milk Marketing Board is confused and the full time officials of the Ulster Farmers Union are confused. These are people whose full-time job it is to monitor the situation, to read all that there is to be read about it and to keep themselves up to date so that they can advise, in the case of the union, its members, and, in the case of the board, the producers. But they do not know where they stand at the moment. In that connection, perhaps I may venture to suggest that when the noble Lord's right honourable friend goes to Europe for high level negotiations, it might be of assistance to him if he had at his elbow someone who was fully conversant with the situation as it stands, not only perhaps in Northern Ireland but in other regions also.

So far as Northern Ireland is concerned, I feel that confusion might have been avoided had he had at his elbow some competent person such as the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Jack, who knows this subject inside out. Had the Permanent Secretary been there, I do not think that the right honourable gentleman the Minister would have found himself coming back from Europe under the impression that he had got a good deal for Northern Ireland, something similar to what had been awarded to the Republic of Ireland, when that turned out not to be the case. Nor indeed would the Prime Minister have been so confused and misled as to have made a statement which had partially to be retracted subsequently. So, I think that confusion is fairly widespread on this. That is why I am asking the noble Lord to give us some clarification this evening.

Another right honourable friend of the noble Lord, Mr. Butler, on 14th April 1984, said that the quota was to be based on 1983 supplies less 9 per cent. He went on to say that the base would be 1981 deliveries with some adjustment for changes between 1981 and 1983. But we cannot help observing that it seems more than a coincidence that this works out almost exactly at the total United Kindom quota divided between the regions on the basis of respective 1983 production proportions. Indeed, the presentation of this has been changed over the last nine months since the original announcement was made in April.

The reason why the Northern Ireland quota is set as it is could be put down to the fact that our production rose more than overall United Kingdom production between 1981 and 1983. But, if that argument is used and if one looks over the entire United Kingdom, there is a lack of consistency and a lack of equity. After all, in Scotland, production rose 2 per cent. above the national average. But the reduction imposed on Scotland was only 0.23 per cent.—less than the national average. To take a smaller but more extreme example, the Shetlands had an increase over that period of 27 per cent., which is substantially greater than the increase in Northern Ireland. Yet they were allowed to continue their 1983 production level without any reduction whatever. Therefore, quoting examples from other parts of the United Kingdom does not seem to explain why Northern Ireland has received the treatment it has.

Furthermore, reference has been made to the reserve already at 2.3 per cent. of the regional wholesale quota by comparison with 3.43 per cent. in England and Wales. This is obviously going to be inadequate for the special cases which have applied for special treatment. This, I think, can be attributed to the fact that there has been a low uptake on the part of outgoers. And the reason is not difficult to find. The alternatives open to milk producers in Northern Ireland are very limited. Only parts of the country can grow cereals with any success. Experiments are being done with crops like oilseed rape, peas and beans, but not with uniform success. Much depends on the season. And they are not crops on which one can rely.

The noble Lord mentioned a figure of 23.3 million litres. But my information is that the number of cases applying is such that that figure will not be anything like sufficient to meet the applications. The situation is that Northern Ireland is the only region of the United Kingdom that is at present subject to paying the levy. Indeed, it could be said that this is because we in Northern Ireland opted to have the quota calculated according to the amount that individual producers supply rather than the total going through the dairies. This is still considered to be a right decision. It is more equitable in so far as those who exercise discipline to cut back their milk production will get a fair crack of the whip by comparison with those who did not exercise such discipline and continued producing away at the same rate as they had done before.

This means, however, that Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom presently subject to the levy. But, if, as we submit and as we contend, the figure earmarked by Europe for Northern Ireland is spread throughout the United Kingdom so that Northern Ireland only gets a small percentage—something between 7 and 8 per cent.—why should not the quota surplus or deficit be globalised as well? In other words, if the entire United Kingdom is below quota—and the last I heard was that England, Wales and Scotland were not exceeding their quota—why should that not be globalised so that the United Kingdom as a whole does not have to pay a levy rather than Great Britain being below its quota but Northern Ireland being above it due to the circumstances that I have outlined and having to be singled out to pay a levy? I would respectfully suggest that, in this way, Her Majesty's Government should not be able to have it both ways.

If the quota is levied on Northern Ireland, I should be interested to know where it will go. Will the levy from Northern Ireland go to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or to Brussels, or what will happen to it? The summary of what I am saying—I will finish in a moment—is that no clear explanation has yet been given by Her Majesty's Government of the mathematical basis on which the regional quota allocations were made—unless, that is, something has emerged since lunchtime yesterday. At that stage, the Milk Marketing Board in Northern Ireland was still adhering to the claim that no clear explanation had been given. So far as quotas are concerned, tomorrow morning I shall take out my full quota of six copies of the Official Report. Like Moses with the Tablets, I shall return with them to Northern Ireland. I shall distribute them to the Milk Marketing Board, to the Ulster Farmers Union, to the chairman of the Northern Ireland Assembly agricultural committee, whom God preserve, and to the agriculture spokesmen of my own party. They will read them with great interest. If the noble Lord can give us a clear answer tonight to the question I have asked—the mathematical basis on which these calculations were made—they will be very interested indeed to read that. But if he gives an equivocal or circumspect answer, all too many of which we have had before—not from the noble Lord, but from elsewhere—they will be disappointed.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, he will take only three copies.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, they will wonder what is the purpose of this debate and what we are doing here at all. Therefore, having given notice that I would ask that question, I respectfully request the noble Lord to give us an answer so that confidence can be restored rather than disappointment and disillusionment being continued.

The second brief point on Class I that I want to mention is the cut in the farm improvement grants. I should like to ask why it is—though I sympathise with some of these cuts—that Northern Ireland, which contributes 6 per cent. to the total United Kingdom agricultural output, should suffer 35 per cent. of penalty when it comes to these reductions.

Leaving Class I now—this does not really come under Class X but I should like to mention it in passing—I want to say that I regret the rundown of the apprentice training scheme at Kinnegar army workshops. This was a very useful scheme, training young men not just to be members of REME in the army but also for civilian employment as mechanics. Despite the unemployment problem in Northern Ireland, there are a lot of fitters about but not all that many mechanics. The advantage of the army workshops was that the young men had experience of a very wide variety of vehicles, as opposed to ordinary fitters who are trained to deal merely with one category or one group of categories of vehicle. This is a skill which is much required. As well as giving young men a trade, it greatly enhances their opportunities for employment. If the noble Lord can throw any light on that, I shall be grateful, because I think it is much better that resources should be devoted to training young men in a useful trade than to paying them unemployment benefit.

8.43 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, from these Benches, too, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his informative and clear speech, and to assure him that when I was across in Northern Ireland recently—though this may be subjective—I felt, as I travelled fairly widely, that there was a more encouraging and a more hopeful atmosphere. If it does not spare the noble Lord's blushes, I should like to say that clearly his own cheerful and approachable attitude in the North is being very well received by many people. All of us in this House are grateful for the way in which he is tackling this task very determinedly.

I have only one comment to make, and it is such a broad question that I do not necessarily need an immediate answer. I take it that this £41 million appropriation order is in addition to the much larger figure that the noble Lord gave us earlier. The figure he gave us some time ago in this debate was £2,800 million. I just wonder whether Her Majesty's Government are finding ways in which the good news of that very large figure can be disseminated very widely throughout the North, because it seems to me that bad news moves fast and good news moves sluggishly. I hope very much that Her Majesty's Government may find ways in which that very large figure may be clearly known, so that the people of the North will know that this country is not only strongly in sympathetic support of them in their problems but is willing to put this sort of large and generous subvention of money behind what we seek to do.

In the last of these debates I spoke of the need to overcome isolation between the mainland and the North of Ireland, and mentioned the need for even better broadcasting by the BBC. I know that is not something the Government can do much about, except to encourage the corporation. I would simply say again that when, last Sunday, I heard the service from Campbell College, beamed on the World Service but heard throughout England, I thought it was really a most moving and fine service which, again, did a lot to remind us what a beautiful country Northern Ireland is within the United Kingdom. I believe that at this Christmastime we want to encourage the noble Lord the Minister to take to the North our warm greetings and the promise of our continued prayers for a just and full solution to the pressures and problems that the people face.

8.46 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, since becoming a Member of this House I have become increasingly aware—I have said this in another place as well—just how remote this place can be from everyday events in Northern Ireland. For quite a number of years I represented a Belfast constituency. I stayed in London on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of every week; I was in Belfast on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I met my constituents when I was a Member of Parliament. They sat in my home, which was my advice centre. They told me their problems, and it was much more instructive than anyone speaking at the end of a telephone or writing a letter. So I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, that he has a distinct advantage over me. This applies also to other noble Lords, including the noble Lord who will be speaking from the Dispatch Box. One has to live in an area to get the feeling of the needs of the people in that area.

Unfortunately, I am not now living in Northern Ireland, though not through any fault of my own. My home in Northern Ireland was burnt to the ground last year by the IRA and their supporters, and at the moment I am living in this country. Even though I write quite a number of letters and make quite a number of phone calls, I have to admit that, living in this part of the United Kingdom, one is isolated, because one has to see the people and see the expressions on the faces one is talking to.

The noble Lord who will be replying will be aware, from private conversations, that I am no expert on agriculture. Indeed, when I was the leader of the SDLP, which was a largely rural and agricultural party. I found it very difficult to understand about pig subsidies, remoteness grants, etc. My language at that time to some of the farmers who addressed me in rather irate language would not find any commendation from the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken. But I read Hansard now. All I can say on the question of agriculture, without being highly political, is that it is one of the practicalities of life. Northern Ireland farmers are subsidised to a great extent by contributions from the United Kingdom Exchequer, and, through association with the United Kingdom Exchequer, the EEC.

Although there is a great political and emotional battle raging about the territorial integrity of the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, I believe that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are more concerned with everyday living and the subsidies and the grants which are given. One has only to read Hansard of another place to see how many people benefit from the association with the United Kingdom.

When I represented the constituency of West Belfast a great deal of my time—Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays—was spent in London. However, on Mondays and Fridays I would try to attend the local social security tribunals in Northern Ireland to represent people as regards sickness benefit, unemployment benefit, disablement benefit, attendance allowances, etc. I must say that I am in total agreement with the honourable member for Upper Bann, Mr. Harold McCusker. There can be total agreement between representatives of the majority community and the minority community in relation to social security in Northern Ireland.

Mr. McCusker said during the debate which is reported in the Hansard of another place that he would like to comment first of all on the attendance allowance increase of £800,000. He went on to say that that must be the best £800,000 that was spent and he was glad that there were 500 new beneficiaries. I repeat: 500 new beneficiaries claim attendance allowance. I can say to the noble Lord that, throughout all the years that I attended local tribunals, those which dealt with attendance allowances and disability allowances were the most frustrating. There were conflicting medical reports; doctors would attend at the person's home and they would ask the person questions. On most occasions the person involved suffered from some form of senile dementia. Such people were asked whether they could go to the toilet in the middle of the night if it were necessary. They did not know the answer and they would say "yes". Once they had said "yes" the attendance allowance benefit which could he awarded was immediately cut by 50 per cent. I am glad to learn that there are 500 new applicants in receipt of attendance allowance.

I recall with some degree of satisfaction that I was responsible in another place for piloting a Bill through the Commons to extend the Chronically Sick and Disabled Bill to Northern Ireland. I believe that that has helped in some small way to alleviate the distress, suffering and deprivation of many people in Northern Ireland. However, my noble friend Lord Underhill was right: although this order is restricted to agriculture and social services one could talk at great length and in great detail about the economic situation in Northern Ireland. If we begin to discuss social services and social security benefits we naturally take into account the whole economy of Northern Ireland.

Although there may be many and varied reasons given for the present parlous state of the Northern Ireland economy, I put it to the House that in early 1979, before the present Government were elected, there were 61,000 people unemployed in Northern Ireland. In my total innocence I believed that that was an horrendous figure. I repeat: 61,000 unemployed in a small economy such as Northern Ireland. That was the situation in 1979 under the last Labour Government. Today there are 125,000 unemployed—over double the previous figure. That increase has been brought about by the policies of the present Government. All that I can say in relation to this matter is that the Government's present policies have proved to be an absolute and total disaster so far as Northern Ireland is concerned.

Within the past 48 hours we have seen and heard the Prime Minister on television and we have heard various Government spokesmen say that they are going to withdraw the dole allowance of £17 which is given to 16- and 17-year olds when they leave school and cannot find a job. The Government are going to channel those young people into some form of youth training. Let me say to the noble Minister that that will not he possible in Northern Ireland. There are just not enough youth training establishments in Northern Ireland. There may be enough in other parts of the United Kingdom, but there are not enough youth training establishments in Belfast, Derry, County Down, County Antrim or any other of the Six Counties, to channel all these young people into youth training.

Throughout the past 20 years in Northern Ireland I have found that young people who have attended Government training schemes, whether adequate or inadequate, have attended those schemes for a year or maybe two years but then they would leave and there would be no job waiting for them—there would be no jobs for them to take. It seemed to me to be a waste of time. It would appear that the latest Government prediction that they will be able to fill all the places in Northern Ireland is one that will not be fulfilled.

Unusually for me I take the view put forward by many of the members in another place. I congratulate the Government on the fact that there has been an increase in those who are now eligible to claim attendance allowance. I believe that the qualifications for attendance allowance in Northern Ireland—as indeed in other parts of the United Kingdom—are far too restrictive. The restrictions deter many people from even making a claim.

I conclude—I have no intention of delaying the House—with the sentiments which have been expressed by my noble friend Lord Underhill. One could go into great detail as regards social security to highlight the great poverty and deprivation that exists in Northern Ireland. I know that the Minister who will be replying, as new to the job as he is, has concern for Northern Ireland and its problems. I hope that he will take into consideration those sentiments which have been expressed from this side of the House this evening.

8.58 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, once again I am immensely grateful for the very close attention that has been paid by your Lordships to my somewhat detailed, and I hope not overlong, dissertation in presenting the order before your Lordships this evening. However, I am even more grateful to those noble Lords who have been able to warn me of the points that they proposed to raise. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, is waiting eagerly for my reply. I promise that I shall not be long, but the noble Lord will appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, began, and therefore if the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, will permit me, I shall attempt to reply—I hope satisfactorily—to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, as regards the several different votes that he mentioned.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill—to whom I am very grateful for giving me fairly precise warning of the questions that he proposed to ask—raised the point about milk producers who have ceased milk production as a result of the imposition of the milk quotas. I am able to tell the noble Lord that so far as we can understand, the Department of Agriculture has no means of determining how many milk producers have ceased production because of milk quotas. But I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, that to date 160 Northern Ireland milk producers have undertaken not to sell or supply milk under the terms of the Milk Supplementary Levy Outgoers Scheme. I am sure that the noble Lord will interpret that for his honourable friend in another place—the chairman of the Assembly's Agricultural Committee—as meaning that they have taken the pledge, and so far as milk is concerned, I am sure that he would see the alliteration in that direction.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, raised the question of statutory price controls on milk. The removal of the statutory price controls on liquid milk will also apply to the position in Northern Ireland. But I would stress to the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Dunleath, and to all noble Lords, that this should not affect the payment of the consumer subsidy during the year for which provision is particularly made and which we have been discussing this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also raised the question of the number of jobs which might have been lost in cheesemaking and ancillary industries as a result of the imposition of quotas. Perhaps I may just expand this a little. The noble Lord will appreciate that the allocation of milk to creameries is a matter for the Milk Marketing Board of Northern Ireland, and in a contracting situation supplies may be curtailed to the outlets with the lowest prices. These include cheese manufacture. In August this year the Milk Marketing Board announced a 15 per cent. cut in the supply of milk available for cheese manufacture for the year ending 31st March 1985 (the current financial and milk year), with a cut in the allocation for butter of 10 per cent. Because the Milk Marketing Board only took the decision in August, it is still too early to say what effect this will have on employment in these particular butter or cheese plants in the winter period. But I am sure that the noble Lord will bear in mind that in 1984–85 Northern Ireland will be able to produce 2 per cent. more milk than was produced in the record year of 1982. So that is a small bonus, and a bonus for which we should be glad.

The noble Lords, Lord Underhill, and Lord Dunleath, will be interested that in another place, in reply to a Question for Written Answer by Mr. Speller, the honourable Member for Devon North, my honourable friend Mr. MacGregor, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, said this regarding the payment of supplementary levies: We are fully committed to the milk supplementary levy arrangements agreed by the Agriculture Council in March. It is clear from last week's Council discussion and from the position adopted by other member states that there are differences in the interpretation of the rules and uncertainty about the amount of levy due. We are, therefore, suspending action for the time being. We are keeping the situation under review and are ready to collect and to pay over any levies that may be due from us once the legal position becomes clearer and other member states are conforming to the requirements."—[Official Report, Commons, 17/12/84; col 37.] That is my honourable friend's reply to the Question. It sets out in unequivocal terms the Government's view as to the payment of levy which the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, is quite right in saying applies to Northern Ireland milk producers alone in the United Kingdom. However, when I deal with the noble Lord's points I shall try to allay the doubts which he has.

I return to the points about which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was kind enough to give me notice. The noble Lord mentioned a payment of £150,000 to the Milk Marketing Board for Northern Ireland. The noble Lord may be curious about these amounts; but the Dairy Produce Quotas Regulations of 1984, in paragraph 13.2 provides that: The Minister and any Milk Marketing Board may enter into an agreement providing for the discharge by that board of any functions of the Minister under these regulations or indeed the Community legislation". As the Milk Marketing Board for Northern Ireland, like any other Milk Marketing Board in the United Kingdom, has the administrative capacity and the required information on milk producers and milk production, certainly I am satisfied that it is best placed to carry out in an economic manner functions relating mainly to the calculation and notification of quotas, the preparation and maintenance of registers of quotas, and of course the maintenance of records of direct sales and wholesale deliveries. So I hope that these fairly widespread functions—and they are desperately important functions in Northern Ireland—are covered by the sum that was mentioned by the noble Lord. Certainly from my knowledge the Milk Marketing Board for Northern Ireland does a superb job. I am afraid that I am not able and would not wish tonight to go into the full details of its calculations but it carries them out swiftly and has shown remarkable adaptability in the past months.

The noble Lord also raised the question of the further £220,000 in fees and expenses which were incurred by the 65 tribunals and local panel members. At the end of this entire operation all of them will have considered special case claims from some 3,900 producers, and exceptional hardship claims from over 3,400 producers. These members of the local panels and tribunals will also have considered the substantial number of appeals which are allowed for within the procedures of the tribunal. All of this work will have been carried out over a period of merely five months. So once again I want to pay tribute to the work that they are doing. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will agree that this expenditure is certainly not unreasonable in the circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also raised the question of the report of the Economic Council. He suggested that economic recovery is not what the Government would claim. I would say straightaway that it was not my intention to give an impression in any way of complacency on our part about the current state of the economy in the Province. The point I sought to make—and I hope that the noble Lord will bear with me just to this extent—was that we are moving in the right direction. If we take one example over the last year, total unemployment in Northern Ireland has increased on average by 350 a month. This was less than half the rate of the increase in the previous 12 months. Overall our objective is to create the circumstances in which the private sector can develop and in which permanent jobs—and I stress permanent jobs—can be, and we hope will be, created.

With life in its present state in the Province, I would agree that public expenditure has a role to play. Of course, it is not the sole answer but it is important. This is why we are continuing with our great commitment to provide adequate resources as the response to the problems of the Province in the social and economic fields, and hence the increase of £30 million against the original plan for 1985–86.

The noble Lord also raised the question of supplementary benefit claimants having a possible difficulty in cashing their entitlements and the Giro cheques if they did not have a bank account. I am glad to be able to inform your Lordships, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that the Department of Health and Social Security has not had any significant representations on this particular point. The noble Lord will be aware that claimants are able to cash Giro cheques through a third party, and they seem generally to manage without any difficulty to obtain all the money due to them through the Giro cheques.

I hope that covers the queries that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, raised. If I have missed any points or if there are any further points, I promise him and all your Lordships that we shall scan the columns of Hansard and that I shall write to the noble Lord or any noble Lord whose points I have not answered from this position this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, raised the important and interesting question of the Government's reactions to the Forum Report. I agree that they are important, but I hope that the noble Lord will permit me this evening to say that it is a little wide of the order that I was hoping I should be discussing this evening. I have ranged pretty widely from the order, but I promise him that we shall read his points with great care. I think even he would admit that perhaps I should not launch into a further discussion of the 1984 summit this evening since this is of great importance, and it requires a lot more consideration than I have been able to give it in the period since the noble Lord raised this point this evening. I am sure that my right honourable friend in another place will note the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, will take them on board, and if there is any answer that I can give him I shall certainly do so but it will have to be in writing. With that explanation I hope he will forgive me for not going further now.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, was very kind and warned me that he would be raising the question of milk quotas. He warned me that he would be raising the question of 65,000 tonnes. I was not surprised at this. I welcome the noble Lord's forthright delivery of his case. The noble Lord continued to put forward the case that 65,000 tonnes of quota have somehow disappeared from Northern Ireland. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree—and certainly I am aware—that Northern Ireland would very much have preferred the quota within the United Kingdom to be divided between the regions in the United Kingdom on a 1983 basis, and to receive its 65,000 tonnes from the European special reserve on top of that; but all the Ministers responsible for United Kingdom agriculture took the view that—as the noble Lord mentioned—given the rapid increase in the production of milk in Northern Ireland between 1981 and 1983, some account—and I stress the two words "some account"—should be taken of production trends between those years 1981 and 1983. I would stress to the noble Lord that the regulations allow this.

Therefore, it was the collective decision of the Ministers that, after taking account of the 65,000 tonnes special allowance for Northern Ireland, the cut in Northern Ireland's milk production in relation to the production of 1983 should not be greater than in any other part of the United Kingdom. I would repeat in the most unequivocal terms that Northern Ireland did receive its 65,000 tonnes.

The noble Lord mentioned the question of coincidence. I am afraid I cannot help the fact that the figures work out either up from 1981 or down from 1983 and come to the same figure. The noble Lord made some kind comments that this was the first time he had heard a Minister in your Lordships' House answering this question as to 65,000 tonnes. I stress to him and to all who may be concerned with the extra baggage which the noble Lord will be taking back with him to Northern Ireland tonight or tomorrow that the presentation will not be changed tonight since the same figures and calculations have been in existence ever since I assumed responsibility for that with which I am dealing this evening.

The noble Lord went on to mention Formula A. I was very glad that he took the point and accepted that it had applied to Northern Ireland, since this was the basis which was recommended both by the Ulster Farmers' Union and by the Milk Marketing Board for Northern Ireland to the department when we had the liberty of calculating Formula B, which the noble Lord will be aware is 100 per cent. of over-production calculated on a diary basis, and Formula A, which we took in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord reiterated the point that it could be seen quite clearly where the responsibility lay, and he and your Lordships will be happy to note that under Formula A it is only 75 per cent. of the total over-production, whereas Formula B is 100 per cent. I stress to the noble Lord and anybody who may care to read the extra reading matter which the noble Lord takes with him in his baggage that Formula A is not responsible for the payment of levy by Northern Ireland milk producers.

The noble Lord further asked me why the quota and the levy in the United Kingdom should not be (I think this was the term he used) globalised, or gathered in, in the United Kingdom. I can say to him quite briefly that the regulations would not allow this to be done. The noble Lord will be aware that the Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish quotas are legally separate, and Northern Ireland, as the noble Lord pointed out, chose Formula A for the calculation of the levy. The noble Lord will agree, I am sure, that the Northern Ireland surplus simply could not be lost in the deficit for the rest of Great Britain.

The noble Lord also raised the question of the capital grants cuts. On the face of it, all of us would admit that it looks strange and unfair that the Province, which produces only 6 per cent. of the United Kingdom's agricultural production, should be taking a cut of 33 per cent. in the capital grants annnounced recently in another place. The noble Lord, I am sure, will be able to study and examine the figures a little more closely, and I think that if he did that—as I had to do—he would see that the apparent injustice seems to disappear because Northern Ireland has traditionally taken up more than one-third (in fact, nearly 35 per cent.) of the types of grant which we are discussing here. Therefore, it is only to be expected that when cuts are made—and the noble Lord will accept that in the Government's overall strategy cuts have to be made—the share of those cuts will be comparatively large; and that is the reason for the apparent disparity between 6 per cent. and 35 per cent.

One point which the noble Lord will appreciate is that we have managed to preserve land reclamation grants in Northern Ireland while these are being cut elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Our justification for doing this is that the balance between agriculture and the environment in Northern Ireland needs to be struck at a different point. We can take, for example, a small, struggling hill farm in County Fermanagh and the more plush acres of East Anglia. I am not referring to the right reverend Prelate! He knows already that I have roots in Wroxham, near Norwich, and I know that they are singularly successful farmers. Even the right reverend Prelate would accept that there have been more than murmurings, that there has been considerable disquiet, at some of the activities that have been carried out under the name of land reclamation there.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, was kind enough also to warn me about the question which he wished to raise about apprentice training. The noble Lord will appreciate. I am afraid, that this is not a matter with which I can help him greatly this evening, because it is within the province of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. I understand that apprentice training is not being ended but rather that it is being reduced, and for the foreseeable future the Ministry of Defence see an annual intake of two apprentices. I understand that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne may be replying by letter to the detailed points raised by the noble Lord.

I was more than grateful for the very kind remarks made by the right reverend Prelate. First I can confirm that this order is in addition to the figure which the noble Lord had remembered so well from my opening remarks, of over £2,800 million. This is already voted for in the Northern Ireland supply estimates and the figure I have mentioned this evening is in addition to those figures. I was immensely grateful for the kind comments that the right reverend Prelate made. Indeed, he, your Lordships and above all the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, will appreciate that anyone such as myself who has had a baptism in milk and has addressed the Ulster Farmers' Union annual general meeting six days after the imposition of milk quotas finds it a little different from the situation in your Lordships' House. I may have more to say on that line to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt.

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his suggestion about good news in the province. Once again, he has praised "Songs of Praise" when it came from Northern Ireland and I undertake that the British Broadcasting Corporation will be informed of the continuing support of the right reverend Prelate.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, mentioned that I had spoken of agriculture. I think your Lordships would agree that debates in your Lordships' House are in the nature of family occasions, therefore the noble Lord's stories of what pig farmers did or did not say to the noble Lord during the 1974 election are to me a constant source of amusement. We shall have to wait until he can put this into written form in his own inimitable style. I stress to your Lordships that this story related by the noble Lord showed his commendable quality of courage as he was under considerable threat in his home in Belfast. The telephone rang and some farmers from Magherafelt—I think he said it was there, if I recall correctly—expressed disapproval of the views of the noble Lord's party on pig subsidy. The noble Lord showed even greater courage in telling them what they might do with the pig subsidies, but I will leave that to the noble Lord.

In the course of his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, raised the matters which were mentioned in another place yesterday by the honourable Member for Upper Bann, Mr. McCusker. It is good that 500 more recipients will be in line for the attendance allowance. I assure the noble Lord that my concern for all Northern Ireland matters grows day by day. I will note his comments carefully. I hope that I have covered most of them, but, if there is anything to which I need to reply in writing, I shall do so.

The noble Lord described the administration of benefits for the disabled. I think he used the fairly gentle terms of "most frustrating". The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, pointed out that this can arise because of conflicting medical evidence. When the report of the proceedings in another place is published I think the noble Lord will see that when my honourable friend Mr. Patten replied to the debate last night he undertook to take a further look at the administration of attendance allowance to see whether, as my honourable friend put it, the gremlins to which the right honourable Member for South Down referred, could be exorcised or chased from the system. If the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, will wait with patience to see the report of the proceedings in another place yesterday he will gain further elucidation.

If I have missed any points that were raised by your Lordships I undertake to reply in writing. I hope that I have not been overlong. Your Lordships have been more than kind in bearing with me.

On Question, Motion agreed to.