HL Deb 11 December 1986 vol 482 cc1309-25

7.54 p.m.

Lord Lyell rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 13th November be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974 and relates to only one Vote—Class II, Vote 3. This Department of Economic Development Vote covers expenditure on local enterprise, aircraft and shipbuilding, energy efficiency, mineral exploration, other support services, capital grants and the new Technology Board for Northern Ireland. Notwithstanding that rather lengthy list of services, extra funds are being sought for only some of them. For that reason my opening thoughts will be fairly brief. Full details are provided in he Autumn Supplementary Estimates booklet which is available in this interesting cream cover from the Printed Paper Office. I hope that it is fairly clear. I found it illuminating, interesting and reasonably easy to understand.

Your Lordships will see from the booklet that we are seeking an additional £50.5 million. This amount, when added to the 1986–87 Main Estimates approved by your Lordships on 30th June this year, brings the total provision for services under this Vote to £127.8 million.

Turning now to the Supplementary Estimate, at Section A on page 2 of the booklet, which covers the activities of the Local Enterprise Development Unit (commonly called LEDU in Northern Ireland) an increased provision of £3 million is required. The figures in the right-hand column of Section A of £1.775 million and £1.225 million come to precisely £3 million for LEDU. In previous debates I have been able to praise the work of LEDU and I want to do so again this evening. Since its creation in 1971 it is a matter for no small pride that the small business agency of the Province has promoted approximately 27,000 jobs in a highly cost-effective manner. In recognition of the valuable work being carried on by LEDU, and to make it even more effective, the Government recently approved an increase of approximately 30 per cent. in its staffing.

Section B of the supplementary estimates relates to the aircraft and shipbuilding industry. In Section B1 an additional £2 million is required for Shorts Brothers. The Government are naturally disappointed at the recently announced downturn in the company's financial performance in 1985–86, but I hope that the commitment and ability of both the management and the workforce will ensure an early return to profitability. Before we leave Section B your Lordships may wish to note the increase in the provision for the Belfast shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff, from £37 million to £68 million. Part of this increase is to meet the cost of 800 redundancies announced by the company on 25th November of this year.

While any redundancies are to be regretted, Harland and Wolff, like other yards throughout the world, has had to face up to the severe decline in the availability of new orders. The Government are doing what they can to help those made redundant by earmarking £2 million out of the increased provision to fund the setting up of Harland and Wolff Enterprises. This will operate in a way similar to British Shipbuilders Enterprises and will provide redundant work people and operatives with practical advice and assistance towards retraining and, above all, re-employment.

At the top of page 3 we find Section C. In this section we find energy efficiency and other support services. Extra funds are required at Section C3—the energy enterprise scheme—and also at Section C5. Those two are on page 2 (C5, consultancy studies on energy matters), whereas on page 3 we find savings at C4, energy conservation scheme, and at C6, mineral exploration. If we look at the additional expenditure, an extra £100,000 is required for the energy enterprise scheme known as the Monergy Campaign. This has proved to be very successful with Northern Ireland industry and commerce, achieving energy savings of almost £4 million a year.

The year 1986 has been designated as Energy Efficiency Year in the United Kingdom. If we look down also in Section C on page 2, we see an extra £474,000 being required for consultancy studies on energy matters in relation to the mining of lignite, and let us not forget its prospective uses. The original esimate was a token £1,000 and firm costings are now available.

If we move on to Section D, we find that an extra £12 million is required for this financial year for capital investment grants for industrial development, bringing the total financial provision in this financial year to £30 million.

Finally, perhaps I may take your Lordships to Section E and the token estimate of £1,000, the purpose of which is to draw the attention of your Lordships to the setting up of the Technology Board for Northern Ireland. This is an important step in the industrial development of the Province. The responsibilities of the board include that of advising government on the application of science and technology to economic needs in Northern Ireland and particularly on the contribution that technology can make to the growth and development of the manufacturing and service sectors of industry.

The board has members drawn from industry, commerce and the universities and it also has links with the Department of Trade and Industry and, above all, all the Northern Ireland departments. We believe that bringing together the varied experience and expertise of industry and the universities in this forum will give a further impetus to the technological development of the Province. It will keep the need for the exploitation of science and technology to the forefront of the thinking of industry and government, because, as I am sure your Lordships will be aware, the Province faces a major challenge in improving its industrial competitiveness and, above all, in increasing its share of world markets.

We believe that the new board has a crucial role to play in providing advice and generating ideas for new ways of using technology to the best advantage. To that end we believe that we have been fortunate in securing the services of Dr. Daniel McCaughan, who is a native of Northern Ireland and currently the technical director of Marconi Engineering Devices Limited, and we have obtained his services as the first chairman of the board. The board has already met on two occasions and is actively pursuing a number of key issues. It will not only report on an annual basis to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State but will also make appropriate recommendations to Ministers and departments when necessary. It is operating on an extra-statutory basis in the same way as the similar Department of Trade and Industry Requirements Board operates, and that permits a certain flexibility in approaching its task. I am confident that the new Technology Board represents a valuable investment in the future industrial well-being of the Province.

I think that is all that I want to say at the outset. I shall certainly listen to everything that is said by your Lordships and I hope that I can answer most of the points that are raised. I shall of course write to your Lordships about any points that I may miss. With that, I commend the order to your Lordships, and I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 13th November be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for taking us through the main provisions of the draft order and for explaining their significance. I hasten to say that we support the order and I am sure that it will be welcomed from all sides of the House.

When my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton and I were in the province in September—and I should say that as spokesmen for Northern Ireland we wish that we could be in the Province more often—we did not come across any person in a responsible position who seriously believed that the Government's policies would produce jobs on the scale that is required. Such was our finding. We believe that the economic outlook for Northern Ireland remains bleak. Indeed, this order acknowledges that the Province is faced with another heavy instalment of redundancies at Harland and Wolff. Over one-fifth of the working population of the Province remains unemployed. Competition for inward investment is intense, and obviously Northern Ireland is not helped by its geographical location, let alone by its image of being a divided society. On the other hand, Northern Ireland is fortunate in having a machinery of state to guide its development.

I was heartened, if somewhat surprised, by a speech made by the Secretary of State to the Regional Studies Association conference held here in London on 14th November, when he announced that he was encouraged by recent developments on the economic front which suggested to him that Northern Ireland—and I quote his words—"was again on the move". Time will tell whether his optimism was well founded. Our hope must be that the provisions of the draft order when implemented will be a small contribution toward the well-being of families, enterprises and the Province.

As the noble Lord has explained, this order seeks approval for the expenditure of an additional £50.5 million by the Department of Economic Development on about six or seven different topics which the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has explained. However, we are reminded that over half —just about 60 per cent.—is for the cost of 800 redundancies announced by Harland and Wolff. We deeply regret the further redundancies, as we regret the redundancies which have been announced by Van Heusen, National Supply, Gallaghers and others. Can the Minister help the House by telling us what part of this additional sum of £31 million will be disbursed in redundancy payments and what part will be paid to Harland and Wolff enterprises? I understand that it will provide practical advice and assistance towards retraining and re-employment. Will the Minister also tell the House whether these redundancies will also mean that next year Harland and Wolff will have to reduce its apprentice intake, and if so by how much!

We welcome the increase of £12 million for capital investment grants and we were particularly glad to learn from the Secretary of State that the IDB is considering a large number of potential investment cases. We also endorse the smaller increase of £3 million in LEDU's budget, because as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has indicated—and we agree with him—there is an increasing role for small enterprises, whether they be in manufacturing, craft or services. We join with the noble Lord in paying our tribute to the men and women of LEDU and the leadership which they have demonstrated. However, can the Minister tell the house what encouragement is being given by LEDU or the Department of Economic Development to producer and consumer cooperatives in Northern Ireland?

The smallest sum bespoken in the order is a token £1,000 for the Technology Board for Northern Ireland, but we believe that this is full of potential. From little acorns great oak trees grow. I am sure that the setting up of the Technology Board will be supported by all your Lordships. The Minister has been quite helpful and has referred to the tasks which the board will discharge. Can the Minister tell us whether it will also have a direct impact on educational policies so that more young people are equipped for a career in the technological field in the new industries?

Can the Minister also tell us when this board was established? What is its registered address? Where is it located and to whom is it accountable? If this information has already been given to the general public I regret to say that I failed to pick it up. We give our blessing to this new Technology Board.

When the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and I were over in Northern Ireland in September, I spent a little time at the Belfast office of the Northern Ireland Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux. This association has undertaken much hard work almost throughout the Province. I should like to pay tribute to the way in which its staff have served their fellow citizens in very difficult circumstances.

This association employs no more than 30 organisers, and all but one are paid less than £3,000 per year. The organisers call on the services of about 330 unpaid voluntary workers. I was told that during the year ending in March 1986 they had handled 120,000 inquiries. This represents an increase of about 5.6 per cent. on the number of inquiries handled in the year ending March 1985.

I was impressed by the achievements of this small band of people with a small staff of about nine at the headquarters. I was also impressed with the magnitude of their problems. Yet those problems, including the lack of enough trained staff, are, at root, financial. Therefore they are capable of resolution if the Government can find the money. This would be a very small sum of money compared with the sums that the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has mentioned this evening—apart from the £1,000.

There are three specific questions that I should like to put to the Minister in relation to the Northern Ireland Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux. First, will his right honourable friend the Secretary of State now exercise his powers to ensure that central government funds which have been allocated to local bureaux are released to the bureau where the appropriate district council through which the funding is channelled has adjourned its meetings in protest against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, thus effectively preventing funds from reaching the bureaux?

I should remind your Lordships that the association in Northern Ireland has now to consider the closure and abandonment of at least five if its bureaux due to non-release of funds from the relevant district council.

Secondly, will the department consider with sympathy, and urgency, the CAB's very strong case for additional funding to be made available to the Northern Ireland Association to enable it to develop its role as a regional office, even if this is at the expense of another spending unit?

Thirdly, is the Citizens' Advice Bureaux organisation in Northern Ireland an eligible candidate for funding from the International Fund for Ireland, bearing in mind the need for important CAB services both north and south of the Border? I was a little surprised to learn that it is being said that the American contribution to the International Fund cannot be so applied as it is earmarked for—I quote—"private sector investment". Can the Minister tell your Lordships' House whether or not that interpretation is correct? The Minister and the House will know the objects of the fund as set out in Article 4 of the agreement are very much wider than private sector investment. It is very much to be hoped that the board of the International Fund will pay due regard to all the objectives of Article 4 when it comes to disbursing the money.

It is our impression that foreign governments and foreign companies, when considering investment in Northern Ireland, will need to be satisfied that industry and business in the Province are attacking seriously the problems of discrimination in employment. Only the people of Northern Ireland can tackle this problem, and they owe it to themselves to do so with determination. Is the Minister able to assure your Lordships' House that the Government for their part are satisfied that the policies for promoting equality of opportunity in employment are being effectively implemented and monitored?

I have a few additional questions to pose to the Minister, although they do not arise out of the matters covered by the draft order. I will be as brief as I can. A number of your Lordships recently met a deputation from a Unionist background, some of the members being related to life sentence prisoners. They told us that they were worried about a number of aspects of the life sentence prisoners review procedure. I believe that it is my duty to raise one or two questions. Is it the case that the membership of the Life Sentence Review Board, when compared with that of the Parole Board in Great Britain is too dominated by senior departmental officers? Should its membership not contain outside people such as a trade union official? When a life sentence prisoner is being considered for release by the board, is there not a case for informing him of the main features of the case against his release so that he may meet that objection?

Turning to another subject, I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the possible closure in February next of the Short Strand Irish Language Nursery School in Belfast. A letter setting out the circumstances of this school and questioning certain assumptions made by the department was posted to me in Belfast over a week ago, but has not yet reached me. Therefore, I accept that I am inadequately briefed to do justice to this nursery school, which, as I understand the position, will have to be closed down next February because the department is withdrawing funding from the St. Matthew's Trust Association, from which the school draws its income.

I am not fully briefed as to why the department should be withdrawing funding from the association. However, it is my duty to put two questions to the Minister. If for good reasons the department ceases to support the St. Matthew's Trust Association, will it take steps to ensure that the Short Strand Irish Language Nursery School continues to receive government funding so that it remains in being after February next year, in order to seek to transfer the Irish heritage to the children of that area? In any event, if the department has a positive policy of encouraging the reflowering of the Irish language in Northern Ireland, should the Irish Language nursery schools not be in receipt of a direct grant from the department? That is the issue to which I may return on receipt of a more adequate briefing.

Finally, I should like to pay a handsome tribute to the work undertaken by Co-operation North, a non-political, non-denominational reconciliation body, which since it was founded in 1979 has been reaching out into every aspect of community life in Ireland, both North and South. I was sorry that I was unable to be at a meeting last week convened by the study group when the chairman of Co-operation North came to the House to explain its work programme.

In the work of Co-operation North among young people, business people and communities one sees a powerful ray of hope. Both governments have given financial support to that organisation. That support needs to be continued, but on an even bigger scale. This year it is spending about 850,000 Irish punts. It intends to double that expenditure next year and to increase it progressively thereafter until it reaches about 5 million Irish punts in the early 1990s.

On all the evidence known to us, Co-operation North is playing its part within the framework for progress which both governments have been constructing, and in our view it is worthy of the increased financial support which it requires and has requested. I should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, if he would convey that message to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State. With those comments and that question, we give our support to the order.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for taking us through the appropriation order so thoroughly. I am grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for discussing various parts of it. I shall say no more than that the picture is sombre because so much of what is being spent, as the noble Lord pointed out, is for redundancies. It is a great tragedy that there has been a big change in Harland and Wolff. It is not useful at this stage to comment on it because we all know about it. Nobody knows what to do about it. I believe that the Government are genuinely trying to do something.

I want to exercise the licence which we traditionally grant ourselves in this House on the three appropriation orders each year to deal with certain topics which do not arise directly from the order. My noble friend did that also, and good luck to him!

I should like to begin by congratulating Ulster on the fact that the Giant's Causeway has been accepted by the World Heritage Convention as an area of outstanding world value. I have walked down it over two days and two nights, and it is a place of great beauty. Everyone in Northern Ireland loves it. That world honour is satisfactory, but does it involve financial assistance from anybody if there is such applause from the World Heritage Convention? Will it help Northern Ireland to keep it in order? I do not know whether the noble Lord knows the answer to that, but if not perhaps he will write to me, because it is an interesting point.

Secondly, I see from the report of the Arts Council that it was disappointed when in the closing weeks of the year it was informed that the uplift in its grant, far from contributing to its increased functions, was to be so modest that in real terms it amounted to a cut. We have talked about that several times in this House. There is no question but that anyone who reads the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, in The Times today will be clear that we in this country are not doing frightfully well.

The case for supporting the arts is even stronger in Northern Ireland because it is one of the matters which brings people of all denominations together. It brings them into communication and assembly with good, and not bad results. The arts have been an important and successful venture in Northern Ireland. I note that the Belfast Festival at Queen's University ran 200 performances at 70 per cent. capacity. The Ulster Orchestra is respected in all musical circles, and its broadcast programmes are always interesting and well presented. The university managed to find 1,000 people who wanted to hear Jonathan Miller lecture on producing Mozart's operas. I doubt whether Oxford or Cambridge could have done half that.

The Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra gave two concerts. The Abbey, the RSC and the National Theatre companies appeared, and so did Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Requiem. That is a living example of how the arts can bring people with opposing political views together in harmony. Surely the Government should try to extend that. There is a strong case for giving more money to the arts on the mainland; it is unanswerable in Northern Ireland, where so few things lead to harmony.

The appropriation order is about money. This is one of the few occasions when we are allowed to talk about it. I suggest that if it is right to spend £127 million on the various economic and other necessities which are concerned largely with jobs and unemployment—and of course we are happy to agree with that—it is right and even more necessary to spend a few thousand extra on the arts and other things which have an influence on the tolerance and good temper of the community.

Now I turn to the other things. The main one I want to mention has been fully dealt with by my noble friend from the Labour Front Bench. That is because we do not collude in what we are going to say. I prepared most of my remarks about Co-operation North, by which I was enormously impressed. It aims to bring together Irish people from North and South and to destroy the ignorance which breeds fear, hatred and violence. As the noble Lord said, it receives £50,000 from the Government of the South but only £35,000 from the Government of the North. It is doing sterling work and I propose to take a minute or two to add some details which I obtained when the organisation came here last week and which the noble Lord was unable to give.

Co-operation North has several groups of projects. The first, and I think the easiest to understand, is school exchanges. Groups of pupils from the South go to the North, and in reverse. They are exchanged for a month at a time in 200 schools—20 per cent. of the secondary schools of the whole of Ireland and 50 per cent. of those in Northern Ireland. They have various youth-link projects. Groups working on cross-Border projects are exchanged. A group from the North goes South to work with a group from the South, and vice versa. Many members of those groups are unemployed. Last year 10,000 youngsters crossed the Border in school exchanges and youth-link projects. It is not a negligible project when it involves 10,000 young people.

Co-operation North also has a business and a community programme. I cannot go into all these matters. I have its annual report and programmes. I can put them in the Printed Paper Office if any of the many noble Lords here would like to see them. They are interesting.

However, the matter about which the organisation convinces me is that it has raised its income—apart from the Government's £35,000 from the EC—largely from Irish banks, and in one way or another. It was distributing over £800,000 this year. It has plans to go well over the million mark, but it does not have all the money. It wants to do more; it has the demand to do more. It has demonstrated that what it is doing is effective, and it should be helped to expand.

I must tell your Lordships about this organisation. It consists of a joint board of eminent men and women from the professions, business, academic life, the trade unions and the voluntary bodies. The chairman serves for one year and comes alternately from Northern Ireland and the Republic. The current vice-chairmen are the chairman of Ulster Television from the North and the chief executive of Aer Lingus from the South. The chairman elect is Dr. Louden Ryan, Governor of the Bank of Ireland. It is a mixture of business people and people of eminence who are not taking the line that until political issues are settled it is impossible to live properly together. They are doing something about it.

This is a topic where we are agreeing to extra money. We are agreeing to £50 million odd, adding up to £127 million. Of this I think that the Arts Council gets about £3 million and wants probably £100,000 more immediately. These people receive £35,000. The work they are doing is important. Until that kind of work prospers Northern Ireland has no hope of doing better.

I should like formally to ask the Government through the Minister to recognise the long-term importance of this kind of work and to help the organisation meet its great demand for growth by doubling its annual grant this year and again next year. I do not see how money could be better spent. I do not think it right that we should always agree easily to every extension to the main expenditure which the noble Lord asks us for on economic and other affairs without paying some attention to the enormously important social work that this organisation is doing. On those grounds we support the appropriation order.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I should like to support everything said by the two noble Lords speaking from the Opposition Benches about Co-operation North. I have know this organisation more or less since it started. It is something that I have mentioned in your Lordships' House before. I am grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for what he has said about the Life Sentence Review Board. I am pleased that he reinforced the plea that I have already made to Mr. Nicholas Scott in correspondence about putting some independent members on that board, which at the moment is comprised 100 per cent. of officials and civil servants and members of the probation service. There is clearly plenty of scope for many improvements in the procedures of the board, but I shall not go into that in detail now.

The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, will be well aware that agriculture and its products play an important part in the economy of Northern Ireland. I should like to ask him about a traditional crop which appears to have a bright future. I refer to flax. How many acres of flax were grown this year? Will there be substantially more next year? The main brake on increasing the acreage of this crop has been the limited amount of machinery for extracting the fibres from the harvested plant. Can the noble Lord tell us what is being done to remove this bottleneck? For instance, can the available machinery be used over a longer working season? In the past much of Ulster's flax was grown in Donegal and the nearby counties of the Republic. Does the noble Lord see any scope for reviving this type of cross-Border traffic?

For some years now it has been common ground that security, politics and the economy are three linked areas where progress is needed in Northern Ireland. Perhaps I may quote from the Minority Rights Group's recent report on Co-existence in Some Plural European Societies, a document that I hope we may be able to debate next year. In the introduction to this report, Professor Claire Palley has written: Another crucial factor is the state of the economy: economic growth softens inter-group competitiveness, while economic decline worsens it". This was indeed seen to be so in Northern Ireland during the 'sixties. Now, alas, the situation is much less good, as has been pointed out already. In October of this year there were nearly 135,000 unemployed claimants, a figure quite posibly smaller than the total number of unemployed or under-employed people. These claimants represented 23.1 per cent. of the workforce, and for men a still higher percentage. The total had risen by 11,500 over the previous year.

I wish to argue from these figures that the time has come for Her Majesty's Government to recognise that Northern Ireland cannot afford any further job losses in the public sector. There may have to be some switching of resources within public expenditure programmes, for example, when schools have to close for lack of pupils. There may be other reasons for flexibility and the redeployment of personnel. Nevertheless, the total of public sector employment needs to be maintained or even increased until such time as the private sector is able to generate many more jobs than it can at present. I submit that it is no good trying to economise on desperately needed services such as home helps and the nursery schools, which have been mentioned already, because such attempts will be counter productive both economically and politically. Can the noble Lord the Minister confirm that Her Majesty's Government accept that broad view?

I should like to go on to argue that economic and social policy and development should not be separately considered. On the contrary, they should march hand in hand. This should be reasonably easy in Northern Ireland with its six counties and total population of only 1½ million, linked, incidentally, by a rather good communication system.

What is needed is a five-year programme. This should bring together both statutory agencies and voluntary bodies. It should embrace the cities, market towns and rural areas. It will be concerned not only with community development within localities that are often segregated or polarised but also with inter-community reconciliation. This is why the present local authorities are not the most suitable instrument for this purpose. There are already a number of places that provide neutral meeting grounds with reasonable security and access. These will have to be multiplied very considerably if a majority of the people are to be enabled to work towards the common good in the widest sense.

Your Lordships will be aware that there are a variety of activities in Northern Ireland that bring people together across the traditional divides. These include such things as public sector works, trade unionism, and, in leisure and sport, pigeons, snooker, football, rugger, Save the Children Fund, and indeed the arts, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of common ground in regular use by both traditions. Conscious government policy has a part to play in building up the common ground and in developing existing and new shared institutions. For many years grants for children's holidays have been confined to organisations that enable both traditions to mix and meet. This is the kind of precedent that needs to be developed.

The next question is how to ensure that economic and social policies are in harmony, and that there is co-ordination between the public, private and voluntary sectors. I suggest that nothing less will do than a special unit within the office of the Secretary of State. Its task would be to make policy recommendations and to assess the impact of the plans of individual departments. It might well need to be supplemented by a council bringing together representatives of the public, private and voluntary sectors. This would function in a way somewhat similar to a regional Neddy, with the added task of promoting social development and assisting the coming together of two very divided traditions within the wider community. If anyone asks how this essential work is to be financed, perhaps I may urge Her Majesty's Government to use the windfall of the American Government money for this purpose.

I realise that the proposals I have made this evening lie somewhat outside the departmental brief of the noble Lord the Minister. Nevertheless, we would be most grateful if he could comment on it when he replies and perhaps undertake to discuss it with his honourable and right honourable friends.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, we are all immensely grateful for the close attention paid to the regular question of the Appropriation Order. We know that debates on these orders give rise to very wide debate. I think it is known by custom that your Lordships will take an opportunity of raising many very important points. I certainly do not begrudge one second of the time taken by the three noble Lords who have spoken in reply to my opening comments. I shall attempt to cover the many points raised, but I suspect that one or two of the questions will have to be covered by written reply.

My right honourable and honourable friends in another place were pleased to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and his noble colleague the noble Lord, Lord Graham, on their visit to Northern Ireland earlier this year. I am glad that they both obeyed the three-word command given to any visitor to the Province and that is: "Watch your weight". The hospitality there is known for the great damage that it does to the waistlines of visitors. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, is back to his svelte shape. We appreciated the interest that he took in all aspects of life in the Province.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, raised the question of the general economic outlook in the Province, which, I am sure he would agree, is coupled to that in the United Kingdom as well as in the Western world. He referred particularly to unemployment levels in Northern Ireland. The Government share the concern of the noble Lord, and of all those who have spoken this evening: I would assure your Lordships of that.

Of course it has been said by my noble friend many times before that unemployment cannot be countered by government alone. It requires great commitment by employers to be efficient, competitive and innovative. I shall be referring to this later when speaking about the Technology Board. The countering of unemployment also requires the sustained efforts of employees, and ultimately the understanding and support of the whole community in Northern Ireland.

The priority of government is to create a climate in which enterprise can flourish. Jobs are created by successful businessmen who produce quality goods at the right price. Our aim is to encourage more people to set up in business, to facilitate the growth of existing small businesses, to support LEDU—I would reiterate the Government's commitment to LEDU in Northern Ireland—and to stimulate economic activity in communities through the various local enterprise programmes. However, I must stress that for the immediate future the Government recognise that there is a need to help the unemployed, and they provide a wide range of measures for this purpose. Over 5,000 people in Northern Ireland have started their own business under the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. The Action for Community Employment Scheme has provided a wide variety of constructive and practical work for the long-term unemployed in their local communities. I do not think there is anything there that is not also carried on this side of the water in England, Scotland and Wales.

The booklet, Action for Jobs, and counselling for long-term unemployed under the Restart Programme are recent measures to ensure that those out of work are aware of the enterprise, employment and above all training opportunities available. On their own these measures will not cure unemployment, but we hope that by supporting the longer term strategy for self-sustaining jobs they will help and be of lasting value to many of those worst hit by unemployment. Above all, we hope that they will improve the chances of those who are temporarily without work of getting back into work in lasting jobs.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also raised the question of Harland and Wolff, and especially of Harland and Wolff Enterprises, which I mentioned and which is before us in the order this evening. The £2 million of increased allocation for Harland and Wolff in the present financial year has been earmarked to fund the setting up by the company of the separate subsidiary company. This will provide those who are declared redundant with potential advice and assistance towards retraining and re-employment. I believe these schemes have a good record and I am sure your Lordships will agree. I am thinking particularly of a scheme in Consett, and I remember reading of the considerable success of that scheme. I am sure that Harland and Wolff Enterprises will have similar success, and we look forward to looking at the results in due course.

The new company will operate in a way similar to British Shipbuilders Enterprises. We hope that it will be established and operational in the very near future. I do not want to fine down the timing, but "the very near future" will give an indication to those of your Lordships who have spoken. The balance of the increased allocation for Harland and Wolff will be spread. It will cover the costs of the redundancies recently announced as well as meeting capital requirements and trading losses—a mixture of all these elements.

The noble Lord raised the question of the intake of apprentices next year. It is a matter for the company to decide in the light of the circumstances prevailing how many apprentices to take on and train. I am sure the company will note the concern of both the Government and your Lordships as expressed this evening.

The noble Lord also asked when the Technology Board was constituted and what it has been doing so far. It was constituted during the summer of 1986. The board will report on an annual basis to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Most of its work and recommendations will normally be considered on a day-to-day basis by the departmental Ministers. I have not yet had anything from the board crossing my desk but I certainly look forward to receiving any advice.

The board has met twice, and the topics it has considered include research in the two universities in Northern Ireland and its relevance to local industry. Secondly, the board considered the training needs of technologists which included non-technical skills such as language proficiency. I am sure your Lordships will agree to that. I had cause the other night to attempt to address a group of German supermarket owners on the benefits of Ulster beef, with apparently some success, but certainly we should be improving. The board is located in, and operates under the aegis of, the Department of Economic Development. It operates within their precincts and in their premises.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also raised the question of equal opportunities. We agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. We are fully committed to equal employment opportunities in both the public and the private sectors; that is, equal opportunities for everybody. So far as the Civil Service is concerned we have produced a major report on the issue. We have put in place specific and detailed arrangements for monitoring employment, and monitoring this particular aspect.

The noble Lord was kind enough to give me some notice of his question regarding the Citizens' Advice Bureaux. On the question of funding the bureaux during the current protest action and shenanigans (if I may call them that—and your Lordships will understand what I mean) of the district councils in this particular period of disturbance in their activities, the Government are prepared to intervene only where essential district council jobs and services are at stake.

I have to stress to your Lordships, and above all the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies—although it will not be news to him—that the funding of the local bureaux is at the discretion of the district councils. The noble Lord will be aware that some district councils continue to function. There are increasing signs of life in the district councils, but of course mainly we read about resignations, or the non-attendance of members. In the vast majority of the district councils the councils meet, but I could not necessarily tell the noble Lord whether the funding and activities of the citizens' advice brueaux come into the agenda of the particular meetings. If I can glean anything further I shall let the noble Lord know on that point. I would point out to him that because the funding of the CABs is at the discretion of the district councils we are not prepared to make funds available direct to the local bureaux.

The noble Lord also asked in this respect about the support of the central Government for the Northern Ireland Association. This has risen in real terms by over 130 per cent. since the financial year 1978–79, and the association is shortly to meet the Minister responsible, who is my honourable friend Dr. Mawhinney, the Member for Peterborough, and they will discuss a number of topics, of course including funding. We shall give further consideration to the needs of the association in the light of the competing priorities and the Government's wish to ensure that the association can properly fulfil its role, and perhaps, one might suggest, as a result of the interest shown by your Lordships this evening.

Thirdly the noble Lord asked—and this was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—about the International Fund for Ireland. This will be administered, as the noble Lord will be aware, by a board which will decide which projects or bodies deserve financial support. So far as citizens advice bureaux are concerned I understand that they could apply, but I would not be able to say whether or not the CABs would have any success, or would find any success in any application. Of course the board are the ultimate arbiters upon the presentations made to them.

The noble Lord also raised the question of life sentences, and this interested the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, as well. The Life Sentence Review Board was established in 1983. It operates under the chairmanship of the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Northern Ireland Office. It includes among its members senior Northern Ireland Office officials, a principal medical officer in the Department of Health and Social Services, a consultant psychiatrist, and the Chief Probation Officer. While we do not at any time rule out the possibility of widening the membership to include people from the outside community who are suitably qualified by experience for this particular work, I think your Lordships would agree that it would be a little difficult in the present climate in Northern Ireland to appoint outside people who would not be seen as representing the interests of one side of the community or the other.

I ask your Lordships to consider a further possibility were there to be such outside—if I may call them that—members. They might well come under pressures from varying groups or sections of the communities. I do not necessarily say extremist groups, but your Lordships will be aware that in the climate of Northern Ireland these groups are always lurking in the background.

So far as concerns giving reasons for the decisions of the board, this question came up from time to time in relation to the deliberations of the Parole Board for England and for Wales. Some of the difficulties which arise in relation to the giving of reasons—which would include the situation where, although the decision might be unanimous, members of the board might have different reasons for reaching it—were explained by my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook in his reply to a Question by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, earlier this year. We think that the giving of reasons would be likely to lead to their being challenged in the courts, followed by pressure to allow appeals. These factors would apply with equal force in Northern Ireland. I hope your Lordships will bear with me if we say that we do not feel able to go down that particular road.

The noble Lord also raised the question of the Short Strand Nursery School. I understand that this is an Irish language school. I am told that it is called Macairt Naiscoil. I do not speak Irish, but I occasionally hear something on Radio Eireann, and I understand that is what it is called. The school is run by two cultural officers who are funded from a government grant to the St. Matthew's Tenants' Association under the Action For Community Employment Scheme. Your Lordships will be aware that the scheme is generally referred to as ACE. The Government have informed the association that ACE funding will no longer be available to this association because our policy is to ensure that Government financial support for community activities does not give rise to a grave risk—and I stress those two words—of improving the standing and furthering of the aims of a para-military organisation, whether directly or indirectly. I think your Lordships will bear with me if I mention what we believe to be a grave risk. This may explain to your Lordships the actions that we have taken.

The policy of the Government was stated in a written parliamentary reply by the then Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Mr. Hurd, on 27th June last year. I shall not weary your Lordships by going on on that particular Written Answer. I can convey this Answer to the noble Lord, if he wishes, and let him have a copy. It is open to the association to submit an acceptable application for ACE funding, and indeed for the nursery school to relocate its activities and submit a separate ACE application.

There is also the other school, which is called Naiscoil Breandain. The financial resources available for the development of additional nursery provision have of necessity been limited. As a result we have not found it possible for over 100 proposals for new nursery provisions to be accommodated. In these circumstances the department was not prepared to approve the recognition of Naiscoil Breandain, which is a pre-school play group in West Belfast. We could not take this as a grant-aided school.

The noble Lord, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, praised Co-operation North. I welcome the remarks made by the two noble Lords about this, and also those by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. We believe that Co-operation North is a valuable organisation whose efforts deserve support. We have already given a grant of £35,000. This year we shall soon give a further £5,000 and we are prepared to continue the grant next year. We shall consider the case for an increase.

We believe that it is valuable that Co-operation North should seek private finance as well as public finance. It will of course be open to Co-operation North once again to seek money from the International Fund, and I shall convey the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, had a query on co-operatives. In the order, there is provision for assistance to other local enterprise initiatives, for which an increase of £30,000 is sought. This brings the total provision for the current year to £105,000. The purpose is to assist such initiatives as co-operatives. There has already been expenditure this year on the Northern Ireland Co-operative Developers Association. I hope that the noble Lord will see that we attach considerable importance to these aspects.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was kind enough to refer to the Giant's Causeway, which, as we all know, is one of the most beautiful and important tourist attractions in the Province. I understand that the new visitors centre at the Giant's Causeway was built with the assistance of the European Regional Development Fund and other funds. I am sure that your Lordships will be glad to know that the European Regional Development Fund put a considerable amount of money into this project. As to the current funding, perhaps I may make inquiries and write briefly to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord also raised the question of grants to the Arts Council. He rightly argued for an increase in government grant to the Arts Council. Government aid to the arts in Northern Ireland will exceed £3 million this year. While I do not question that the noble Lord regards this as a cut, perhaps he will accept that the Government do not regard it as a cut. He will surely agree that we can spend more on this or in many other areas.

The arts is one area—the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, brought this up—that unites the community across all sections. Indeed, your Lordships have pointed to the great success of the Belfast Festival. In the end, however, I am afraid that funding of the arts and every kind of co-operative venture comes down to a matter of expenditure. I will draw the attention of my honourable friend the relevant Minister to the remarks made in the House this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was kind enough to refer to agriculture. He referred to the crop that used to grow extensively in Northern Ireland—indeed, it was famous in Northern Ireland—flax. I am advised that 250 acres—what I like to call the British measurement—or 100 hectares of flax was grown in Northern Ireland this year. Any of your Lordships who dared to go across to Northern Ireland in 1985 will have appreciated exactly why: the weather made the retting and other processing of flax virtually impossible. This very much depressed any farmers who were likely to plant flax. A total of 250 acres was grown.

Retting, which is of course an important process in the production of flax, is now carried out with enzymes and other chemical and biological agents in tanks. It is no longer done in the traditional Ulster style of retting dams. In the past, when the flax was suitably treated and retted, the dams were opened up and this gave rise to massive environmental pollution in the rivers, of which we do not approve and which is totally banned these days. Retting is the main problem. I understand that the forces of the Department of Agriculture and the technology board may look to further progress in the future.

As to the other points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, he was generous enough to suggest that I might not have them in the brief. As they covered a fairly wide area, perhaps I may write to the noble Lord.

In conclusion, I am grateful for the welcome given to the considerable efforts made by the Government to assist in the economic and social life of Northern Ireland. I am particularly grateful for the support given to LEDU by those noble Lords who have spoken. If I have missed any points, I shall be in touch in writing.

On Question, Motion agreed to.