HL Deb 20 March 1986 vol 472 cc1058-87

3.53 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th February be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 that was laid before this House on 19th February be approved. Your Lordships will be pleased to learn that the order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974.

The draft order appropriates the sum of £72.7 million for the 1985–86 Spring Supplementary Estimates. Your Lordships will find the detailed allocations of that amount by both Class and Vote in Part I of the schedule to the draft order. That sum is in addition to some £3,056 million which has already been approved by your Lordships for the 1985–86 financial year. A simple addition will show that that brings the total Estimates provision for 1985–86 to £3,129 million.

Part II of the schedule gives exact details of the issues for which the Vote on Account for the next financial year of £1,365 million is required. That provision is necessary to enable services to continue until the 1986–87 Main Estimates are considered by your Lordships later in the year in the traditional way. Full details of all the provisions sought in the draft order can be found in two volumes, copies of which have been placed in the Printed Paper Office. Those are entitled the Spring Supplementary Estimates and Statement of Sums Required on Account.

As is usual on an occasion such as this, I shall say a few words about the general economic position in Northern Ireland. The trend for both total industrial production and manufacturing outputs remains upward; output for those sectors in the first three quarters of 1985 was up by around 2 per cent. When compared with the same period of 1984. However, that is still some 9 per cent. below the level obtaining in 1979 in the case of manufacturing.

On the employment front, in the year to September 1985, which is the latest period for which information is available, total employees in employment in Northern Ireland fell by 1,490, as against falls of 2,100 and 5,850 in the two previous 12-month periods. There is evidence that the numbers of self-employed may be rising. For the period 1981–84 the increase in self-employment is estimated at 7 per cent.

Unemployment remains the main economic problem in the Province and the statistics go to prove that. In January 1986, the rate of unemployment was 21.6 per cent. compared with 13.9 per cent. in Great Britain and 19.5 per cent. in the North of England, which is the worst affected region after Northern Ireland. The Government will continue to do their best to relieve that problem through the job creation efforts of the IDB, LEDU and the various training and retraining schemes. The events in Ulster on the day of the loyalist strike, which, regrettably, were televised throughout the world, will not have helped the efforts being made by our industrial development agencies to attract inward investment, as your Lordships will appreciate.

In my remarks on the Estimates before the House this afternoon, I shall be using the term "token estimate", as is traditional. In fact, of the 22 Votes that require supplementation, nine are token estimates for £1,000. The purpose of a token estimate is to bring important changes within a Vote to your Lordships' attention where, in strict accounting terms, additional funds are not required.

The first of those token estimates appears in Class 1, Vote 1. In that Vote, an increase of some £200,000 is sought for the payment of student awards at Loughry, Greenmount and Enniskillen agricultural colleges, thus bringing them into line with other student support arrangements in Northern Ireland. However, additional expenditure has been more than offset by receipts from board and lodging charges in student halls of residence at those colleges. An additional sum of £600,000 is sought for scientific equipment to test meat for residues, including hormonal content, and for research into the potential of using irradiation for the preservation of food. Finally, within that Vote we have found it necessary to increase provision under the milk outgoers scheme by some £900,000 to meet the cost of compensation to those producers who have given up production.

In the light of the supplementary provision that is being sought on milk, I shall comment briefly on the quota situation. I know that this matter will interest the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and others who are interested in the agricultural scene in Northern Ireland. The additional amount of money brings the total provision for payments to milk outgoers to £1.3 million and represents the purchase of some 32 million litres of Northern Ireland quota that has been reallocated. In addition, a further 2.5 million litres has been made available through transfer of direct sales quota. Regrettably, that represents only about half of the Northern Ireland tribunal determinations in respect of exceptional hardship claims and allows some limited provision for small producers. However, the resolution of the quota shortfall difficulties in Northern Ireland is not, as your Lordships will be aware, a simple matter. Nevertheless, I am able to stress that there is presently a new EC outgoers scheme under consideration in Brussels and this may go some way towards solving the problems.

In moving to Vote 3 it will be seen that some £300,000 in aid from the European Community under the urban renewal regulation is being appropriated in aid in respect of expenditure on drainage infrastructure projects in the Belfast urban area.

Class 2, Votes 1 and 2, relate to the activities of the Industrial Development Board. In Vote 1, headed Industrial Support and Regeneration, an extra £518,000 is sought, £450,000 of which is to meet additional expenditure on factory building and estate development. The balance is to cover increased administration costs. In Vote 2, General Support to Industry, £20.6 million is required to meet claims for grant assistance arising from the IDB's activities in recent years in promoting and maintaining employment in Northern Ireland. Your Lordships may wish to note that in 1984–85 alone the IDB entered into agreements to provide selective financial assistance totalling some £133 million. The additional requirement in the current year is partly to meet that commitment.

In Class 2, Vote 3, Miscellaneous Support Services, an additional provision of £26 million is sought. This is made up of £1 million for the Local Enterprise Development Unit, £4 million for Harland and Wolff and £20.6 million for capital investment grants. The substantial increase for investment grants stemmed from changes to this scheme announced in March 1985. These included a reduction in the overall rate of grant from 30 per cent. to 20 per cent. with effect from 1st May 1985. Therefore, there has been some acceleration of investment by industry to take advantage of the higher rates of grants under the former scheme and also to benefit from the higher capital tax allowances which are being phased out, as your Lordships will be aware.

Class 2, Vote 5, covers expenditure by the Department of Economic Development on services such as youth training and employment. On the training side, an additional £1.82 million is required for the youth training programme and £1.48 million for the training on employer premises scheme. Your Lordships will be pleased to note that this year almost 16,000 young people benefited from the YTP compared to 14,000 in 1984–85. While we are still considering employment services, I should add that the action for community employment scheme, better known as ACE, provides temporary employment for the long-term unemployed. This very worthwhile service requires an increase of £1.75 million. However, by the end of this financial year the number of employees is expected to increase from 3,050 to some 4,400. The figure should exceed 5,000 by June 1986.

In Class 4, Vote 1, Roads Services, a net additional provision of £ 1.6 million is being sought for operation and maintenance of roads, street lighting and public liability claims. This additional expenditure is partly offset by additional receipts from sales of surplus land and the recoupment of VAT and EC receipts under the urban renewal regulation.

Moving on to Class 5, Vote 1, under the heading Housing Services, the net increase of some £6.1 million is attributable largely to a technical adjustment relating to changes in the pattern of government recoupment of the Housing Executive's expenditure on house renovation grants and to an increase in the number of grant applications.

Token provision of £1,000, which I referred to earlier, is sought in Class 6, Votes 1 and 2, headed Water and Sewerage Services and Improvement of the Environment, respectively. In Vote 1 an additional £1.6 million for operational and administration costs is offset by savings in computer costs and additional receipts, mainly from metered and other water charges. In Vote 2 your Lordships will be aware that major conservation legislation bringing Northern Ireland into step with the rest of the United Kingdom came into operation during the current financial year. This, together with the acceptance by the Government of the main thrust of the recommendations of the Balfour Report, A New Look at the Northern Ireland Countryside, has meant the commitment of an additional £0.7 million. The offset in this Vote is mainly from European Community receipts, again under the urban renewal regulation, leaving a token provision of £1,000.

I turn now to education. Supplementary Estimates are being sought in Class 8, Votes 2, 3 and 4. In Vote 2, Higher and Further Education, an extra £2.5 million is sought mainly for redundancy and compensation payments made to staff who were prematurely retired under university restructuring arrangements; some additional expenditure on computers and the cost of the 1985 pay award to further education lecturers. Under Vote 3, Miscellaneous Services and Administration, a token vote of £1,000 is sought to bring to your Lordships' attention the expenditure of £0.7 million on the installation and running costs of computer equipment and, on the income side, some £1.2 million from VAT refunds and EC receipts.

Vote 4, Education and Library Boards, is the final education item. Of the total £900,000 sought some £550,000 is required for increased capital expenditure on essential minor works in schools, including a number of health and safety schemes. The balance of £350,000 is a net figure resulting from a rephasing of estimated receipts from the European Social Fund, some of which are not now expected until 1986–87.

Class 9 covers health and personal social services and, in Vote 1, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a new Mental Health Commission which is provided for in subhead C7. The commission, which will begin formal work later this year, will be an independent body established under the draft Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 which your Lordships will remember we were discussing earlier this week. The commission will safeguard the rights of patients in mental hospitals. The provision in the current financial year is to meet essential advance expenditure.

The other changes in Vote 1 cover increased expenditure of some £3.5 million, £1.1 million of which is to assist with the transitional costs of opening the new Belfast City Hospital. As your Lordships may know, the first in-patients were admitted to the new hospital early in January this year and the transition from old and (we have to call them) exhausted buildings to this splendid new hospital is now gathering momentum. Other significant increases are proposed in capital expenditure to take account of essential health and safety work and in grants to voluntary bodies.

In Class 10, Vote 2, Non-Contributory Benefits, a token estimate brings to your Lordships' attention increases amounting to almost £3.5 million which are, again, offset by savings and increased receipts. In Vote 4 an additional sum of about £3 million is sought for administration and miscellaneous services, covering salaries, wages and charges for agency services.

I briefly also draw your Lordships' attention to amendments to the ambits of Votes 2 and 4 and consequential changes to Section G and A of the respective Votes. These changes clarify the relationship between the Department of Health and Social Services and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in the payment of housing benefit. They were made following criticism by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his report on the 1984–85 Appropriation Accounts.

In Class 11, Vote 3, Other Public and Common Services, some £4.1 million is sought mainly to finance the on-going reorganisation of the efficiency services and the related costs of the computer hardware.

I am glad to say that I now have the word "finally" in my brief. In Class 12, Vote 1, under the heading Office and General Accommodation Services, an increased provision of some £2 million is required mainly to meet additional costs in the new works and maintenance subheads arising from the repair of bomb damage to government premises in Belfast.

I have gone galloping through this Spring Supplementary Estimate and your Lordships have been remarkably patient. I have brought out the points which seemed to us to be of greatest importance and worthy of your Lordships' attention. I trust that I have covered the main items and the main threads in this draft order, and I promise that I shall listen attentively and deal expeditiously with any questions and queries which your Lordships may raise. I commend the draft order to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th February be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

4.10 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, we on these Benches thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for having taken the House through the Votes and the divisions which are particularised in the draft order which is before the House and for having singled out the items which the Government consider to be of particular importance. However, the noble Lord the Minister acknowledged that in Northern Ireland unemployment has continued to rise. Would the Minister confirm whether or not there is also an emigration problem in the Province or whether we can forget about that? We have been told that unemployment is at its highest level and as usual the Province has a much higher rate of unemployment than is suffered in any other part of the United Kingdom; moreover, sadly 40 per cent. of the unemployed are under the age of 25. I think that this kind of evidence shows clearly that the employment policies of the past seven years have not broken down the core of the unemployment difficulty. It remains the biggest single problem and the central one which faces the Province.

The debate on the Motion for approval of the draft order must be seen in this context and in the light of the contribution that the proposed expenditure can make to the creation of jobs. We on this side of the House are therefore very glad to give our full support to the proposed additional expenditure by the independent development board, the local enterprise development unit and the training and re-training schemes, in order to enable them in combination to press on with their industrial development policies and to produce jobs.

This order brings out how vital it is that the policy of attracting foreign capital and investment should not be put at risk. I understand that there are some grounds for believing that the IDB has found it more difficult during the past 12 months to attract foreign investment, and perhaps the Minister can confirm whether or not that is the case. I also assume from what he said that there may be firm evidence (though it is early days) that the destructive events of 3rd March and the threats of more days of protest to come have either produced or are likely to produce repercussions on inward investment. Perhaps the Minister can confirm this. It seems to me that everyone who cares about the future of Northern Ireland has a heavy responsibility not to damage the image of the Province around the world.

Whether the jobs which are available are being fairly distributed between Catholics and Protestants is quite another matter. I was not entirely surprised to read a worrying report from the recently established Fair Employment Trust, pressing home its attack on the Fair Employment Agency and its failure to correct employment inequality in the Province. I am not sure whether I am doing justice to the report of the trust, but surely it is a trenchant criticism of the agency. I should be interested to learn from the Minister whether the Government regard it as fair criticism. Do they accept that the existing religious inequality in employment is a matter of pressing concern in Northern Ireland? In particular, in the light of this report will the Minister assure the House that the agency is not subject to undue constraints on its resources? And, if the resources are there, how can the agency adopt a more vigorous role in bringing about religious equality in the place of work?

There is no question of a lack of vigour or failure of will at the Northern Ireland Equal Opportunities Commission, which is concerned with sexual inequality in the place of work. Of course this is another area of importance to the Department of Economic Development. The department will know that the commission is pressing for more funds to enable it to discharge its statutory functions effectively and to cope with an increasing workload. The commission tells me that a small additional increase of no more than about £10,000—we are talking about that kind of money—would make a world of difference to the commission. It is to be hoped that this modest additional expenditure can be found somehow or other. The Northern Ireland Office obviously covers a wide range of activities in health, education, housing, agriculture and environment as well as industry, and the Minister has highlighted the achievements which have been secured, which we do not seek to deny.

The Minister has also referred to the increased allocations for the various Votes, but the point that I and other noble Lords are making is that they fall far short of what is needed if services to people are not to be curtailed. The health boards, the education boards and the housing executive are still faced with major problems. As I understand it, every board and the housing executive will have to effect savings, and they will have to curtail services in order to live within their budgets during the next financial year. One has only to read the Northern Ireland newspapers and the bleak warnings in their letters columns to know that there is a lot of anxiety about the provision and the standard of services, and that there is a growing belief that the shortage of funds is biting deep. One reads of action committees bringing together local citizens to defend their services.

All this has been highlighted in the debate on this draft order in another place, and in the time that is available to me I do not propose to go over the same ground. We on these Benches are bound to accept that one of the prime concerns of any department of state must be to ensure the cost-effective use of public funds, and it is right that every undertaking or board should constantly review and examine its pattern of expenditure and policy assumptions. But it must also be accepted that in seeking to achieve savings a board may sometimes get the arithmetic wrong. It may demand savings, when none should be demanded, or indeed a unit may be asked to bear an unduly heavy share of the burden.

That brings me to the savings which are required of the physiotherapy department of the Royal Victoria Hospital, which is a major teaching hospital with specialities which serve the entire Province. I should like to dwell for a minute or two on the difficulties facing this department. The Minister of Health for Northern Ireland believes that there is too little control of the budget in this particular hospital. He seems to base his belief on comparisons with expenditure in hospitals in Great Britain. I am not sure that that is a fair comparison because we are not necessarily comparing like with like. But if the department wishes to make that kind of comparison, then it ought to be with the teaching hospitals on the mainland and taking into consideration the multi-million pound endowment funds which are available to some of the teaching hospitals on the mainland. That has a bearing on your pattern of expenditure.

About six months ago, as part of the drive for economies, the Eastern Health Board required the physiotherapy department of the Royal Victoria to produce savings of £65,000 in the financial year 1985–86. So in a full year the savings could amount to about £80,000 to £100,000. In order to secure this target of £65,000, the board placed an embargo last summer on the filling of vacant posts. Eleven posts have not been filled and in the result the staffing of the physiotherapy department has been reduced by about 25 to 30 per cent. That is the problem.

Those working at the hospital who have a feel for the situation have made it clear to the hospital administrator that the savings required are totally unacceptable. That is the considered judgment of at least seven consultants at the hospital, including a consultant surgeon, consultant physicians, and, very importantly, a consultant physician in geriatric medicine. Those eminent men consider the decision to be shortsighted because the rehabilitation of patients and their discharge to the community to live an independent life will be delayed. Indeed, some of the consultants claim that it may no longer be safe to admit patients to some wards if they are denied access to adequate physiotherapy facilities.

We know that the Department of Health has received many critical letters about the decision since last August, but to no avail. The Minister has adopted the line that he will not interfere with a decision of the board, although the board is his agent. In the replies which have emanated from his office over the months, copies of which I have seen, the Minister does not even bother to question how his agent has arrived at the target of £65,000. He appears to assume that the target is correct. But, my Lords, is it? And what is the position if that target is wrong?

So we should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, will speak to his colleague and persuade both his colleague and the department to question critically the validity of the target of £65,000 in the light of the following three specific considerations. First, physiotherapy, compared with the other units at the hospital is being asked to shoulder an unduly heavy proportion of the cutbacks. I understand that the planned physiotherapy staff cuts are of the order of 25 to 30 per cent. while the reduction expected of other units at the hospital are no more than 5 per cent. If my information is correct, that comparison suggests in itself that something may be amiss.

Secondly, it is thought that the decision pays inadequate attention to its adverse effects on the service to patients, even though at least seven consultants at the hospital have testified that the effects on standards are not acceptable to them. In the Department of Health, surely the testimony of the seven consultants is worthy of note. Thirdly, the decision fails to recognise that an effective department of physiotherapy in an acute hospital is essential for the working of a dynamic geriatric and rehabilitative service, which in turn will have a significant spin-off for the community health service.

It would make nonsense of planning and policy statements if the action taken in this one department in order to save £65,000 in the short term weakens the long-term strategy of the Minister of Health, a strategy which we believe to be correct and which is to prevent or reduce long-term dependency wherever possible. So here we have an instance where a short-term policy appears to be in conflict with a sound long-term policy.

I should like to move on to one other subject. The debate takes place against the background of the Hillsborough agreement. In Northern Ireland, one requires not only political co-operation and security co-operation between two sovereign states but economic co-operation as well. Indeed, this is promised in Article 10(a) of the agreement. Is the Minister able to give an indication to the House whether consideration is now being given to joint initiatives to assist the economic and social development of the Province, and in particular the border counties, the border areas? I understand from EC literature that the border area has been hard-hit by international recession. The EC seems to acknowledge that almost by definition it is in need of cross-frontier co-operation and joint development programmes, and indeed in the past the EC has considered that the problem is worthy of special investment. Is the department giving consideration to joint co-operation between the two sovereign states to improve economic and social development in the frontier area?

I have also read that some knowledgeable people in Strabane and Dungannon believe that the competition between the two main promotional bodies north and south of the border might be working to the detriment of this particular area. Indeed, a leading trade unionist in Northern Ireland has called for the integration of the IDB and the IDA. Is this too sweeping a suggestion? Even if it is, is the department examining the case for evolving reciprocal arrangements between the IDB in the North and the IDA in the South, which could lead to mutually satisfactory developments?

Britain and France have co-operated to make Concorde. Is there any valid reason why Britain and the Republic cannot co-operate in the shipyards of Belfast? Or is the room for manoeuvre still too limited? I believe that the fact that one can ask these questions in March 1986 suggests that we are able to think afresh, and that is due to the political initiative of last year. I have taken up more than my allotted time. With those few remarks, and one or two caveats, we approve the order.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord the Minister for introducing the order. There was a significant debate on Monday on the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order which I was unfortunately not able to attend. I hope that it will be in order therefore for me now to make a few general comments on the critical situation that the Province faces before moving on to some questions more immediately linked to the present order. Of the 15 Unionist MPs in the other place, only one, I believe—an honourable exception, I feel—Mr. Enoch Powell, attended to take part in a debate there last week on this order. It is good, however, that there are speakers from Northern Ireland here today. I shall, of course, pay careful attention to what is said.

I was shocked, in the literal sense, to read in an article in the Sunday Times of 9th March by Michael Jones and Chris Ryder the following: The Reverend Martin Smyth, the Belfast South MP and contender for the Official Unionist leadership said on 22nd February 'Today is the 100th day of Dublin rule over Ulster"'. The article went on: To those who have not actually read the modest and cautious Hillsborough text or taken on board the Irish Government's treaty commitment that the status of the Province can be changed only with the consent of the Ulster people, it makes a powerful rallying cry". I find it depressing that a man of intelligence and integrity—I do not believe that Mr. Smyth deliberately sets out to deceive—can so totally misrepresent the position. What, I would ask him, does he think that we are doing here in this Chamber this afternoon? I should like at this stage to recall the response to the Statement by the Secretary of State, repeated in your Lordships' House on 4th March, about the day of disruption in the Province the previous day. At col. 104, the noble Lord, Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, said: My Lords, may I as one who has for long supported the Unionist cause ask my noble friend whether the Government can do anything to convey to the leaders of the Unionists in Northern Ireland that they are rapidly losing all the goodwill which over many years has been built up on this side of the water?". The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, was rather guarded in his reply. Can he now tell the House whether this message has been brought home to the Unionist leaders with maximum force? For the Unionists, I submit, seem bent on a tragic course, and their actions, paradoxically, seem more likely to damage the union that they so determinedly espouse than all the activities of the IRA over the past 16 years.

Secondly, have the Government been able to make any progress in convincing the Unionists that the Hillsborough agreement is much more modest and cautious than they seem to think? I read in yesterday's Irish Times that Dr. Paisley and Mr. Molyneaux have been invited to talks with the Prime Minister but that they insist that the Anglo-Irish agreement must be torn up before they accept. Is the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, in a position to give the House any further information on developments here?

I come now to some questions more immediately linked to the order that we are considering. Under Class II, paragraph 3, on page 7, we read, For expenditure by the Department of Economic Development on the Local Enterprise Development Unit"— that is, LEDU— aircraft and shipbuilding industries, energy efficiency", and so on, the sum of £35 million. I wish to ask, at this stage, two questions relating to matters on which the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has already touched. Is it not true that the valuable work done by LEDU to ease the unemployment situation by helping small businesses will be seriously threatened by a widespread policy of disruption? Secondly, is it not true that Harland and Wolff is hoping to win the order for an auxiliary oiler replenishment vessel for the Ministry of Defence in open competition, and that this order also would be seriously threatened by any resort to stoppage of work? I understand, however, that excellent industrial relations have been maintained there over the past 10 years. We must trust that good sense will prevail.

Under Class VI, paragraph 2, we read of grants towards environmental services. This brings me close to the subject of tourism that I wish to raise. Would the Minister agree that visits from outsiders to the Province are sadly all too few and that tourism, which could be a valuable boost to the Province's economy, is already at a low ebb and would be completely knocked out if disruption went ahead? At a time when it is particularly vital to maintain close contact between the Province and the mainland this would seem particularly tragic. Can the Government do anything to help here?

Under Class XI, paragraph 1, on page 9, we see, for the expenditure of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the sum of £1,452,000. I believe, sadly, that the Assembly is no longer sitting. Can the Minister kindly inform the House whether this figure will be adjusted? Will he also remind us whether those elected as Members who choose not to take their seats are still entitled to claim payment?

We read that it may be necessary to send more troops to Ulster. I would only say that I support what my noble friend Lord Donaldson said on Monday—that the present form of direct rule is not an altogether satisfactory form of government. We must continue to look forward to an agreed form of devolved government when the people who live in the Province and who know the problems first hand can run their own affairs. In the meantime, we must continue as at present. We, on these Benches, support the order.

4.36 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, let me at the outset reinforce the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, when he draws attention to the incongrous situation in which only one, or at the most, two representatives from Northern Ireland took part in the debate on this order in another place. As your Lordships will know, the order makes provision for the financing of almost every facet of life in Northern Ireland—jobs, homes and all the social services that are necessary in a modern state. Yet those elected to represent their constituents were unavailable. I understand why they were not there. I realise the very real depth of feeling that exists within the Unionist community against what they see as a betrayal by the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement.

I notice, the longer I continue to live in Britain, the totally different atmosphere that prevails here in this island and the reality that exists for the people who have to live in Northern Ireland. It hinges on this great word "perceived". People on this side of the channel see the agreement as a step forward to bring about better relations between the Republic of Ireland, the two communities and the people in this island. In Northern Ireland, it is not perceived in that way. That may be wrong. It may be silly. The agreement may be totally misunderstood. Lies may be told; untruths may be told. But the vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland feel that it is an encroachment on the government of that country as they have known it hitherto.

Your Lordships will have heard in this House, and particularly in another place, that the Unionist Members are misleading their followers and that they are telling them untruths about what is contained and what is not contained in the Anglo-Irish agreement. But the Unionist Members are not the only people giving expression to those sentiments. For example, the Belfast Telegraph is by no stretch of the imagination an extremist newpaper, yet daily in its editorial columns the leader writers express great reservations as to whether the Anglo-Irish agreement will do what it was intended to do and bring about reconciliation.

It has to be conceded that since 15th November there has been very little sign of any reconciliation taking place in Northern Ireland. I think that this will be an on-going situation into the summer months. In Northern Ireland the summer months can be a very dangerous time when all the marches and demonstrations take place by both sides. I have seen them on all too many occasions. Both sides try to assert their supremacy and superiority over what they regard as the other "tribe". It is a potentially very dangerous situation. All the people of Northern Ireland would do well to sit back and take stock of the position they are in, and how much that position could deteriorate by unwise words or acts by leaders of the two communities.

In relation to this order there are only three items to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. First, I am not living in Northern Ireland but I have a telephone here in London. Hundreds of representations have been made to me recently about the massive cutbacks in the budget of the Northern Ireland housing executive. From that budget £44 million have been cut away. That means that 1,000 fewer houses will be built, many more thousands of houses will not be repaired, and many more hundreds—if not indeed thousands—of houses will not be rehabilitated. Northern Ireland still has a waiting list of nearly 25,000 people who are living in deplorable conditions. It means that they will have to continue to live in these conditions until the Government reassert their policies, or discover new ones, and take into account the very real hardship that has been caused by this massive cutback.

In yesterday's Official Report, in answer to a Question by my noble friend Lord Blease regarding the Government's policy in relation to the provision of nursery schools, the noble Lord in his reply said that it was the Government's policy that nursery schools should be made available for the whole population. That was the Government's intention. In fact in this order there is a cutback. In an area where it is very necessary that expenditure should not be cut back 3,000 places are being cut from two nursery schools. These two schools are desegregated schools. If the Ministry were looking for any schools to close—and I would not concede that they should close any—they should have been much more sensitive than they have in this case.

The reason I rose to my feet this afternoon is to reinforce what has already been said and to make a further personal plea on behalf of Harland and Wolff, the Belfast shipyard. Many people throughout these past few weeks have referred to the sad events of 3rd March when industrial disruption took place in the city of Belfast. That had not happened in the Belfast shipyard since 1974. It is 12 years since a day's industrial production was lost. That was lost because of another appendage of the Sunningdale agreement—in other words, the Council of Ireland. I suggest that other shipyards in the United Kingdom which are in competition with Harland and Wolff do not have the enviable record that we have in that shipyard.

Harland and Wolff have produced both Royal Navy and merchant ships for this nation. I have had the pleasure to sail in some of them throughout my years as a merchant seaman. I do not think that there can be any question about the ability of the workforce in Harland and Wolff to take on this project. Indeed, Harland and Wolff would not be the sole beneficiary if its consortium were to be successful because 30 per cent. of the consortium's activity would be based in Belfast, 35 per cent. in Glasgow, and 20 per cent. in other parts of England. It would therefore bring work and employment to a spread-out workforce throughout the United Kingdom.

The dangerous thing about what is happening and what people are saying is this. Some people are saying that because Harland and Wolff went on political strike—like many of the other industries—on the 3rd, the Ministry of Defence may take the attitude, "You are not going to get this order because you engaged in industrial disruption against the Government's declared policy of support for the Anglo-Irish Agreement".

I should not like to attempt to blackmail the Government. However, Harland and Wolff, I believe, is entitled to receive this order. Let me put on record—as most of your Lordships and I hope most of the elected representatives in another place will know—the unremitting activities on behalf of Harland and Wolff by its managing director, Mr. John Parker, and his public relations officer, Dr. Maria Moloney. They have spent night after night, and day after day, trying to make people on this side of the water, both in this House and another place, aware of the great potential. They are not trying to sell a pig in a poke. They are not trying to over-sell Harland and Wolff. They are quite aware of the abilities of their work force. If Harland and Wolff are successful in getting this order—as I sincerely hope they are—I believe that every man jack who is employed in the Belfast shipyard should express his thanks to the present managing director.

I therefore ask the noble Lord to take into account the linchpin that Harland and Wolff has always proved to be in industry in Northern Ireland, and in particular its relationship with the city of Belfast. I ask the noble Lord to do everything he can to ensure that the shipyard is given the order, on ability, and that no attempt would be made to blackmail the workforce of Harland and Wolff by saying that they were not to engage in industrial disruption or they may not get the order. In fact, if orders were to be given on that premise there would be a lot of shipyards—particularly Harland and Wolff s main competitor—who would not be in a very favourable position.

In replying to these three questions, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give some kind of satisfactory answer, with particular regard to housing, the provision of nursery schools, and the AOR delivery to Harland and Wolff.

4.48 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I should first like to welcome this order and to thank my noble friend for the way he has introduced it. I should like to say how much I support the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in his remarks about the general situation in Northern Ireland. It is to that effect that I should like to attribute my remarks.

In politics 24 hours is a long time, and in the time of Northern Ireland politics at the moment it is a very long time. I therefore think that it is absolutely right and proper that the situation in Northern Ireland should be debated in this House at this time because it may be some time again before we have an opportunity of looking in a calm way at what is a very difficult situation. Following the approval by this House and by the Government of the Anglo-Irish accord, the Government appealed to Unionists to delay their judgment because on looking at it in the cold light of many the day, Unionists would eventually see the advantage of this accord.

I am reporting to you the results of those reflections. They are my own as well as those of all the people to whom I have talked. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has said, almost every citizen of Ulster believes that their status has been changed by the accord. Some are delighted with the change. They see it as the eventual end of the United Kingdom and of the Union. However, all the people to whom I have spoken, who believe in the Union—both Protestants and Catholics; and there are many Catholics who believe in the advantage of the link with the United Kingdom—feel shocked, shattered and betrayed, as do I. There is total unanimity among business people, professional men, farmers and workers—people who have never taken part in politics feel the same. If the CBI and the various organisations appealed for people to take no action on that day of action, it should not be taken that they approve of this accord. They do not, and privately they have made their recommendations to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State implying exactly what I have said.

It is impossible for me to describe the deep hostility that is felt. This is not due to bad or dishonest leadership on the part of the elected representatives; it is total gut reaction. I deplore many of the actions taken by some of the elected representatives. I especially deplore the insulting and extreme language which has been used. But no one should doubt the depth of feeling.

However, it is four months since the accord was signed; and what a condemnation of the Government there has been, because in those four months, in spite of enormous efforts, they have so far failed to convince the good people of Ulster that their original judgment was wrong. Day by day all who I meet are more than ever convinced that the accord is bad for Ulster.

Perhaps I may remind this House that in the days of the debates on devolution for Scotland and Wales the Conservative Party led the way to establish consent within those devolution Bills. Indeed, in Article 1(a) of this accord the two governments affirm that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of the majority. In 15 out of the 17 Northern Irish constituencies where an election was held in January, 420,000 people voted "No". If the Government cannot see that as a failure to reach a consensus, we should have a referendum.

In Ulster there is a widespread view that the accord is the result of two things: 14 years of murder and violence by the IRA, and many years of abstention and obstruction by the SDLP. Without those we should not have this accord. To me it is quite ironic that in English eyes the SDLP, who have spent many years in abstention, are the bright-eyed boys, the favourites; and the Unionists, who have soldiered on supporting the Government and the forces of law and order through all these difficult years, are the baddies. The ideas behind the accord were, first, to establish a reconciliation, a reconciliation what would allow the SDLP to get back into government within Northern Ireland. That good man, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Robin Eames, has said that his finding is that reconciliation is far more difficult than it was, and I agree with him.

The agreement was an attempt to appease the minority and in fact has totally alienated the majority. The SDLP now have no incentive to participate in government in Northern Ireland. They have a 50 per cent. input into the conference, backed by the Dublin secretariat. They have no reason to move; they have got what they wanted.

The next part of the agreement was the intention to improve security. In fact, it must have made security far worse, because it must now be realised that the extra burden placed on the Royal Ulster Constabulary is immense and will be seen to be more unbearable as the summer season progresses. We have always been told that policing is possible only with the consent of the population, and we should not forget that 98 per cent. of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the police come from the Protestant community which feels so betrayed. The fact that the number of Roman Catholics within the police is so low is not because anyone wants it that way; it is because the IRA has been incredibly accurate in their ability to murder gallant members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who happen to have been Roman Catholics. Secondly—and this should not be forgotten—it has been due to the attitude of the SDLP and the Irish Government in their failure to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary and encourage the participation of the members of that community in the force. Something must be done politically before the lack of consent damages that magnificent force. There are powerful elements in the SDLP itself who look with considerable glee at the prospect of damaging the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

While I do not believe that it was the Government's intention to inflame Unionist opinion with the stationing of Dublin civil servants in Hollywood and the holding of the conference meetings at Stormont, the fact must be faced that it is inflaming Unionist opinion. At the last meeting (and I do not know how many noble Lords saw this on television) the castle was surrounded by police, and the policing cost £300,000.

A Member of the lower House said of the violence which was going on at Wapping that to print newspapers behind razor wire was unacceptable in a democracy. To me, to confer from behind those same sort of fences with rows of the Royal Ulster Constabulary must be more unacceptable. Is there not some room here for someone to do a little manoeuvring?

I appeal to noble Lords to understand that the Unionists have a case. A foreign power claiming sovereignty over part of British territory has been ceded power without the consent of or without the consultation of the majority of Northern Ireland. It is worth speculating what the position would have been if the minority had disapproved of this accord and not the Unionists. I do not believe that it would have been approved. It is a question of "minority rules".

I know—and it has been said here today—that Ulster lost all sympathy over the rupture of the Downing Street talks and the disastrous strike. However, if the newspaper reports are correct that the Prime Minister has asked to see the Unionist leaders, there is a ray of light. I beg the Government that, having misjudged the reaction of the Unionists—and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that they had misjudged the reaction—they must do all that they can to help the Unionists back to the table. They must be magnanimous.

I also appeal to the Ulster Unionist Party to find a formula which leads back to Downing Street. To fail to talk will lead to bloodshed and independence.

4.59 p.m.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench for his letter once again kindly inviting us to give him notice of any points that we might want to raise. I regret that, since I replied to the noble Lord, some water has flowed under the bridge and the points that I shall raise may not be entirely consistent with what I had anticipated when I wrote to him.

First, I turn to Part I, Class VI, Vote 2, which concerns grant aid to historic monuments and in particular listed buildings which are used for ecclesiastical purposes. I was one of those who put a certain amount of pressure on Her Majesty's Government to get them to expedite legislation to enable listed church buildings to be grant-aided. Eventually I welcomed the fact (and said so in the Northern Ireland Assembly) that this grant-aid was approved, even though we were unanimous in our view that the total sum of £150,000 per annum was inadequate for the task. But we welcomed it just the same.

Now it has become apparent that whereas grant-aid may be given towards restoration work required by the Department of the Environment, the amount of that grant aid may be more than offset by the amount of VAT charged. To quote an example, there is an appeal at present for the restoration of Down Cathedral, Downpatrick. This current year, if we are lucky, we may be given £25,000 in grant-aid, the maximum amount available to any one building used for ecclesiastical purposes, but we are going to have to pay out £30,000 in VAT. It is a question of "The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away"—and of course I do not refer personally to the noble Lord on the Front Bench.

It has since been put to me, and I had not thought this before, that it might save public money if, instead of grant-aid from the Department of the Environment, VAT were to be zero-rated, which would save administration and would mean that the saving in VAT would be proportional to the amount of money being spent on the restoration of that historic building. I should be grateful if the noble Lord would give some thought to that.

Turning to Class VIII, Vote 3, the Department of Education, I am aware that regional museums are not high on the list of priorities. But, if I may, I should like to make a brief plea for Carrickfergus. The borough council there were given to understand some years ago that there might be grant-aid available for a regional museum, but this has now been deferred indefinitely. The same is the case in other parts of the Province. But in the case of Carrickfergus it leaves the combined Cavalry Museum in an awkward position because they have been requested by the Department of the Environment to vacate the keep of Carrickfergus Castle, and, having hoped to be able to move into the new regional museum, they are left more or less between two stools. I would ask the noble Lord to be good enough to keep his eye on this. If it is not possible to grant-aid a regional museum in the near future, would he at least use his good offices so that the combined Cavalry Museum can remain in the keep of Carrickfergus Castle?

Also in the same class, the Department of Education, Belfast Education and Library Board are cutting, I think, £100,000—about 25 per cent. —from the budget of the Belfast School of Music, which is leaving this institute in a difficult position. Similarly, the South-Eastern Education and Library Board were going to cut £75,000 from the budget of Ballynahinch Music Centre, though I understand since that this has been reduced to £50,000. I shall not go into the detail of this, except to say that I am sure that your Lordships who read the papers, watch television, and listen to the radio will mostly hear bad news about Northern Ireland. I like to try to take the opportunity whenever I can to say that that is not all the news. There is good news as well.

One of the bits of good news is the renaissance which has taken place since the war in the field of music. Quite apart from the well-known names such as James Galway, the flautist; Heather Harper, the singer; for that matter Desmond Hunter, our organ man; George Chambers, our New Orleans jazz man—a socialist in whom there is no guile—there are lots of musicians who have made it to the international scene as singers or members of well-known orchestras.

Music is a common field in which people from all social strata and denominational strata can come together. Those of us who make music in however amateurish a way know the sense of fellowship which exists when you get together with other people whom you probably did not know before, and with whom you may not have anything else in common, or when you get together and sing in a choir, however badly, or play in an instrumental ensemble, however badly. I would ask the noble Lord to have a look to see whether the education and library boards could be so funded as to avoid what I understand would be swingeing and damaging cuts to the two musical institutes to which I have referred.

May I turn quickly to Part II, Class IV, Votes 1 and 2. Again, I would venture to mention the rail service and the Department of the Environment. I have raised this matter before. The cross-Lagan rail link, I genuinely think, would be a good investment. It would make more viable the existing track mileage of Northern Ireland Railways. As the noble Lord will be aware, Northern Ireland Railways has recently invested in new trains for the Lame line, and I suggest that there would be much greater patronage of those new trains if the Larne line were directly linked to Central Station and the line to Bangor. I sincerely hope that when—I do not say "if"—it is possible to fund this rail link, the bridge will be made strong enough to be able to carry a certain 440 compound No. 85 called Merlin, which I hope will be having occasion to cross that way.

Part II, Class XI, Vote 1, refers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I have in the past been presumptuous enough to say a few words about the Assembly every time a vote comes up relative to it, because I am the only Member of your Lordships' House privileged to be able to give a first-hand report on it. I am sorry to have to say on this occasion that the Assembly is no longer doing the work that it was appointed to do in the 1982 Act. Since late November it has not been scrutinising legislation; the committees have not been sitting and doing the work they are supposed to do and reporting to Ministers.

In fact, the Assembly has been used as a platform for the two Unionist parties to voice their discontent with the Anglo-Irish agreement. My party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, felt that they could not, in all conscience, participate in this irregularity. Therefore, there is no alternative other than to face up to the fact that at the moment the Assembly is a waste of money. There is a sum voted here for it, and that money at the moment is not being properly spent. However, I respectfully ask that the Secretary of State should perhaps hold his hand for a little while, perhaps withdraw staff who were previously servicing the committees because there is nothing for them to do at the moment, but delay prorogation if possible.

I follow that with another suggestion which may perhaps be surprising to some of your Lordships. In fact, it is consistent with what I said in November just after the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement. I said then that I should like to see the agreement work, but I doubted at that time that it was workable. I am afraid that I still have that doubt now. But consistent with my desire and the desire of my party to see something work, because we applaud and salute the objectives of the agreement, I ask the noble Lord to convey to Her Majesty's Government—and he will not enjoy doing this—the suggestion that they should in fact put the inter-governmental conference on ice for four months to allow consultations and talks to take place with the leaders of political parties and their representatives in Northern Ireland.

I realise that if Her Majesty's Government were to do this, they would be accused of weakness. They would be accused of being bullied by the day of action; of giving in to rhetoric and sabre rattling, and so on. But it takes a strong man, or for that matter, a fearless lady, to be brave enough to stand up to the risk of being accused of weakness, because in any dispute you have to be seen to be more than reasonable. Many is the industrial dispute that has lost public sympathy because one side has not been seen to be reasonable. Her Majesty's Government, to those with eyes to see and ears to hear, would be seen to be strong if they were to do that.

After all, what difference would it make if the governmental conference were suspended for four months? Let us for the moment look at the list which we received the other day of the topics to be discussed: tourism, industrial relations, industrial design, motor vehicle administration and road safety. You do not need Maryfield and an inter-governmental conference to discuss that sort of thing. Such matters have been discussed for years between the governments, north and south. It is not going to make the slightest difference to what goes on in any way. The main thing is cross-border security co-operation; and the two heads of police, the chief constable and the commissioner, have already got together. In the time-scale of the whole thing, four months is not going to make much difference. And I deliberately say "four" months. Noble Lords who have a diary on them will realise why I say "four" rather than "three". But otherwise we are faced with the situation of an irresistible force up against an immovable object, and that can lead to nothing but confrontation.

If there is no outcome over the four months that I suggest, Her Majesty's Government can then say that every opportunity has been given for devolved government and for the politicians of Northern Ireland to work out their own destiny; and yet that has been turned down. Then, with every strength, justification and evidence of reasonableness behind them, they can say, "All right. We have done our best. It is direct rule for the foreseeable future and commissioners to run the councils which decline to do their work".

But, parallel with that, I think that three things are needed to convince the majority; and I still hope and believe it is most necessary to try to convince the majority which the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, represents and speaks for. First, the South of Ireland must deliver. We have not seen reciprocal action either from the Republic of Ireland or from the SDLP yet. The SDLP has not come into the Assembly; the South of Ireland has done nothing about Article 2 of its constitution. I am not so worried about Article 3 because it is completely incomprehensible. But Article 2 certainly should be reviewed, as, indeed, its 1967 commission recommended that it should be, but it has done nothing about it.

Secondly, there is security. We have seen no substantial signs of improved security since the agreement was signed in November. If that were to happen, that would be very convincing to the majority. Thirdly, if the inter-governmental conference has to proceed, please let us have it more public; let us have the agenda made clear in advance and the minutes of proceedings made public in the same way as in the European Parliament which impinges much more on our sovereignty than does the Anglo-Irish agreement. but at least in the European Parliament the public have a right to know exactly what is going on and not just what the communiqué says afterwards.

I am a member of the Alliance Party whose objective is to build and not destroy, but I am not speaking for my party at the moment; I am speaking personally. I am sorry to have had to say what I have said, but I genuinely think that this is the only way forward. We cannot allow the situation to trail along indefinitely.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Moyola

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for what he said in introducing the appropriation order. I am afraid that I am not going to cover the wide field that he covered, because the only thing in my mind at the moment and the only thing that is taking priority as far as I am concerned is trying to resolve the extremely unpleasant political situation that exists in Northern Ireland today as a result of the Anglo-Irish agreement. I am not here to excuse or to condone in any way the events of March 3rd. I was abroad at that time so that what I know about it is only second-hand, but, at the same time, I know enough to know that it was an utterly deplorable day and probably did more harm to Northern Ireland than any other day in the course of my lifetime.

But I think it was a predictable outcome after the way in which the Anglo-Irish agreement came about and in view of its contents, bearing in mind that it came about without any Northern Ireland voice having a say in the matter at all. I say again that I am not here to condone what happened but I should certainly like to support the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, in what they said about the feelings of the Unionist population. They feel completely affronted, very offended, and offended because they believe that those who have been upholding them for so many years against IRA efforts to push them into a foreign country have suddenly allowed that country to have a voice in their affairs. There is a feeling of absolute incredulity and disbelief; of being let down. It is not too strong to say that there is a feeling of betrayal that this should have happened. The crying need now is for something to redress that situation and to try to give support to the moderate opinion which still exists and which wants to see this matter dealt with in a democratic, reasonable and sensible way.

There are lots of people in Northern Ireland who are saying at the moment: "Why can't the British Government abrogate the agreement?". Those of us who live in reality know perfectly well that a sovereign Parliament is entitled to make what agreements it likes without asking anyone and that once they are made they are not normally abrogated without some extraordinarily good reason. To my mind, the idea of passive resistance, or any kind of resistance, with that object in view is complete, total and utter folly.

That is why I was so glad to see in the papers today that there are talks at least in the offing between the Unionist Party and the Prime Minister. I hope, if it is possible that the noble Lord when he replies may be able to tell us a little more about the prospect of this. Talking is what is needed. Talking is needed urgently, talking is what the moderate people of Northern Ireland want and talking is what the business people in Northern Ireland want so that they can at least keep intact such employment as still exists in the Province. I can only say that I hope that these talks will take place quickly, without any preconditions, and that, as a result of them, the agreement can be improved so that, while I doubt that it will ever be wholly acceptable, at least it can be made more palatable.

I think it should be borne in mind when entering into the talks that a lot of people have got themselves into positions which they cannot get out of at the moment without drastic loss of face. Great efforts to try to resolve this particular difficulty must be made on both sides. I say "both sides" because I honestly suspect that Her Majesty's Government had no realisation at all of what a storm this agreement was going to create.

I still believe that the worst feature of the agreement is the fact that there are no Northern Ireland voices or representations in the conference. In my view, this is what has been lacking all through and very little, if any, notice has been taken of the advice coming out of Northern Ireland. I am sure that the right and proper thing now is for there to be representatives of both communities at least sitting in on the conference and preferably taking part in its discussions. It must be quite plain now that secrecy has bred all this wild extremism. I am quite certain that the more secrecy there is the more extremism there is bound to be; and if things are to be cooled down, like the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, I feel very strongly that it would be much better if the conference were held anywhere but in Northern Ireland.

I believe, too, that the secretariat in the building at Holywood is nothing but a focal point for disorder and ought to be removed. The same applies to holding the conference in Northern Ireland. It is possible that Her Majesty's Government may feel that to move the conference elsewhere would be some sort of a climbdown, but I am bound to say that I think it might well be worth it simply to obtain a measure of peace and to take the heat off the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who are at the moment a sort of "pig in the middle" between both sides of the community.

If I may digress at this point, like the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough—I will not labour this point because he has covered it very adequately—I feel that as a result of the agreement the Royal Ulster Constabulary are no longer policing with the consent of the Unionist population. I will not labour that point but I would say we all know that to do proper police work the consent of the population is absolutely vital.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, I should like to mention the question of security, which was so much stressed in the Anglo-Irish agreement. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether there is any information he can give us—and of course I respect the fact that he may have a lot of secret information which he cannot give us—to show whether security on the southern side of the border has improved. My information is that there is really no change and, perhaps being wise after the event, it is obvious that there is not going to be any change, because certainly we in the North know, as I am sure many of your Lordships' know, that there is a massive law and order problem in Dublin in regard to drugs and mugging. Therefore most of the southern Irish police are very heavily committed in that field and so cannot be deployed effectively along the border.

I shall make one further point about the agreement itself, if I may. As I understand it, the aim of the agreement is to try to establish a devolved government in Northern Ireland which is acceptable to everyone. That is an aim with which no one could possibly disagree; but I certainly think, and I believe many others would agree, that the method of trying to arrive at it is probably self-defeating. The agreement makes plain that once a form of devolved government is established and various departments have been, so to speak, delegated to it, the matters delegated cease to be subjects for discussion in the Anglo-Irish conference. Put very simply, the difficulty here is that members of the minority may well think (and quite justifiably) that the Dublin Government are far better equipped to represent their views than would be their elected representatives in a devolved government. If I am right in this thinking, then it seems to me that there will be no devolved government and one of the prime aims of the agreement will have been defeated.

These are simply a few suggestions to try to deal with a very difficult situation. All I know is that if it is not dealt with urgently and the present impasse is not resolved, we are on the road to a major disaster. I can only say that it seems to me that this is a time for magnanimity rather than defiance on the part of Her Majesty's Government, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to indicate when he replies that this is the view they are taking. I would just add that I hope the talking will be given top priority and that no effort will be spared to bring that about.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I start by paying tribute to the powerful and responsible speech made earlier today by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. I should like also to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, in what he said about the importance of having a Northern Ireland voice in the conference of Ministers. I do not think I would go so far as my noble friend Lord Dunleath, when he talked about putting the agreement on ice for a period, but I should like to underline the importance of what the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, was saying about the symbolic importance of the Maryfield office.

The general situation in Northern Ireland was well debated on 17th March, when your Lordships considered the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order. I hope very much that the Hansard report of that debate will be widely studied in Northern Ireland. I will not go over that ground again except to say that I believe there is an urgent duty upon we English people to seek to understand the Unionist mentality. We need to enter into the shock and the shattered outlook which was described by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. We in England need to realise that many in Northern Ireland have been brought up, as the expression goes, to "look to your border"—in a similar way as so many white South Africans have been brought up in the tradition of the laager.

But while one can make that point, I have also to make the parallel point that it is equally the duty upon Unionists to understand British traditions—traditions based on notions of fair play, cricket, and the Queensberry Rules. Unionists have to recognise that the British public will not tolerate relationships of dominance and subservience within the United Kingdom. It is well known that there are two traditions and two cultures in Northern Ireland. Each is entitled to equal respect and equal opportunities, so long as each obeys the law and keeps the peace. People in Britain will not, I suggest, put up with the dominance of one tradition over the other any more than the rest of the world today would accept a continuation of British colonial rule in Africa. It is in this context that the recent speech of Mr. Frank Miller, the general secretary of the Official Unionist Party, was made, in which he mentioned that a better alternative agreement is so greatly to be welcomed.

Many of your Lordships call yourselves Unionists, or have Unionist sympathies, and I beg of you to use your influence with the Apprentice Boys organisation to prevent violence in the town of Portadown on Easter Monday. Some marches may be traditional, but they are no longer acceptable if they infuriate local inhabitants. In a democratic society, respect for one's neighbours' feelings is essential. Provocation is completely out.

I come now to the nuts and bolts of today's order. I have given notice to the noble Lord the Minister of a number of points that I wish to raise. The matter of grants to Citizens' Advice Bureaux, community associations and voluntary organisations has already been raised. It was explained in considerable detail by Mr. Stuart Bell, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench in another place. That will be found in Hansard of 11th March at cols. 683–4. The situation is also well covered by two parliamentary Questions for Written Answer put down by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, on 11th March. I entirely appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, probably cannot tell us much today on that subject. As he rightly pointed out on Monday, Belfast City Council will meet on 27th March. I am sure that we all hope that it will take the steps necessary to protect common and community services which are as vital to ordinary people in Unionist areas as to everyone else elsewhere. As we still have 11 days in hand, I shall assume that contingency plans are well advanced.

I turn briefly to education. I submit that Lagan College and the three new integrated schools which opened in Belfast last September have established beyond all possible doubt the strong parental demand that exists for integrated schooling. I think that the "Dunleath Act", if I may call it so, which my noble friend piloted through Parliament some time ago envisaged that existing schools would from time to time opt for integrated status. Experience now seems to show that that is unlikely to happen. The demand is for new integrated schools with new governing bodies—new wine skins for new wine—although it may well be that some of those new schools will be able to use existing school premises.

I therefore plead with the Government to reduce to the minimum the probationary period during which new schools have to pay all their capital costs, as well as 100 per cent. of the teaching costs. As each new integrated school is saving the Government money, could it not be conceded that at least the tuition costs should be met from public funds from the very start?

As to prisons, I very much welcome the news that the new prison in Maghaberry has opened and has already absorbed all the women prisoners from Armagh. I should like to ask the noble Lord when the first wing for men will open on that new site and what effect that will have on the existing overcrowding in the Crumlin Road prison?

The noble Lord may be aware that I have a certain fondness for the city of Derry and its walls and, indeed, a remote family connection with the Bishops Gate. That rather splendid monument, which I can well believe to be a listed structure, at the moment is crowned with a very unsightly army post made of concrete blocks. Surely with modern, sophisticated electronic and other means of surveillance that post could be removed. To do so would give access to the whole circuit of the walls to visitors and tourists whom we all wish to encourage. The Government, I think, missed the opportunity to remove the post in advance of the international gathering of the clan Doherty. I hope that they will soon remedy that omission.

In conclusion, it would be helpful and enlightening if the noble Lord could say something about recent progress in Northern Ireland towards a two-year youth training scheme for people aged between 16 and 18. Will he also say what the prospects are for a two-year period for the ACE (action for community employment) scheme? At present, the one-year scheme means that people have to be laid off by voluntary organisations at the very moment when they are beginning to become really useful.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I, the Government and, I am sure, your Lordships will be immensely grateful for the very high level of debate and the concentration that there has been on wide aspects of the order that we have before us this evening and for the wide-ranging subjects which were covered by two of my noble friends, my noble friends Lord Moyola and Lord Brookeborough. He has once again caught me out. I am afraid that this afternoon I am not wearing one of my proudest possessions. My County Fermanagh tie is packed ready to go with me on various journeys. I assure him that my love affair with the county of Fermanagh is undying and as strong as ever.

The replies to my opening comments were led by the noble lord, Lord Prys-Davies. We were grateful for his forthright support and his party's support for the promotion of Northern Ireland's economic well-being. The noble Lord began by asking me what I thought was a fairly simple question, but he and your Lordships will be aware that one must be careful and try to get the details right. He asked me about the effects of immigration in connection with unemployment levels in Northern Ireland. I am advised that Northern Ireland has experienced what we classify as net out migration—he may make of that what he wishes—since before 1871. I hazard the hypothesis that 1871 is a statistical benchmark. There has been out migration since 1871, although its level has, for obvious reasons, varied.

The 1970s were a period of relatively high migration outwith the Province. We have some evidence that that has dropped to very low levels at present. One potentially more serious problem is that many of the best qualified students from the Province do not necessarily return after studies at universities in Great Britain and, thanks to Northern Ireland's immensely high standard of education, at universities and institutes throughout the world. From my visits to various institutes, I have found a gratifyingly high rate of return of students who have had experience and training throughout the world. They have taken their qualities and spread the fame of Northern Ireland throughout the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked me about the Fair Employment Agency and the criticism of that agency from the Fair Employment Trust. I understand that the Fair Employment Trust has written to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on that matter and that he will reply shortly. But I stress that the Government fully support the work of the Fair Employment Agency which seeks to achieve equality of opportunity and eradicate discrimination in employment in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord also raised the matter of the Equal Opportunities Commission and its request for a modest increase in funding. Once again, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is corresponding with the chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and I hope that once we have a definite result from this correspondence we shall be able to let the noble Lord know. But the point is being taken on board.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, raised the matter of the day of action and the image of Northern Ireland that it gave throughout the world. This point was put strongly by my noble friend Lord Brookeborough. We understand that there has been considerable negative feedback—which means that there has been a bad impression—from the overseas promotion officers of the IDB all over the world, and their own very praiseworthy and strong efforts to promote inward investment have become more difficult as a result of the so-called day of action. As I stressed before, the events of that day received widespread adverse publicity and the effects will become fully known in the immediate and near future.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, raised the question of physiotherapy—something which has concerned me personally—in connection with the Royal Victoria Hospital. All of my limbs have been great beneficiaries of physiotherapists, following various efforts of mine on the ski slopes. So I speak with heartfelt gratitude to the noble Lord for raising this point. The closure of the out-patient service at the Royal Victoria Hospital is temporary. Some posts will be filled as an interim measure and the hospital's medical executive committee is to set up a small subcommittee to draw up plans for the physiotherapy services. This is a local management issue and I hope the noble Lord will accept that it will be dealt with at unit level. I take the noble Lord's point about the various comparisons. He mentioned the sum of £65,000. He and the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, will know that the figure of 65,000 is graven on my heart. I thought, at first, that he was referring to the tonnage of the milk quota. I cannot answer the other three points raised by the noble Lord this afternoon, but I will see that he receives a swift and efficacious reply to them.

The noble Lord mentioned development in border areas. The Government are fully committed to alleviating social and economic problems throughout Northern Ireland. The machinery that we have developed for dealing with public expenditure priorities is designed to ensure that the very substantial level of expenditure in the Province, which on a per capita basis is about 30 per cent. higher than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, is allocated in a way that ensures that taxpayers' money is spent in areas of greatest need. To the extent that it makes economic sense to co-operate with the Republic in any particular project, we shall do in the future, as we have done in the past.

The noble Lord mentioned our initiatives on unemployment. The entire thrust of the Government's economic policy for Northern Ireland is dictated by the need to tackle this problem. We have always said that there is no simple or easy solution and our strategy is many-faced and comprehensive. There are three main elements. They are, first, to strengthen and diversify so far as we can the industrial base through assistance for new investment and expansion and maintenance of existing firms in Northern Ireland; secondly, to equip the workforce with the skills which are needed in modern industry; and, thirdly, to give useful work and training opportunities to everybody in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord also asked about the IDB and its opinions on attracting inward investment over the last year or so. I am advised that in the calendar year 1985 the IDB managed to promote approximately 4,000 new jobs in Northern Ireland. Those included some 1,900 new jobs in companies with a parentage outside Northern Ireland. The IDB managed to secure those new job promotions in spite of the very difficult economic background in Great Britain and western Europe. On the inward investment side, competition for internationally mobile investment continues to intensify and we have to fight very hard. But we believe that the IDB has all the tools it needs to represent Northern Ireland to the best of its ability. We believe it is doing a fine job and we undertake to see that the IDB will receive all our support in that objective.

The noble Lord raised the question of constraints on resources for the Fair Employment Agency. The budget for the agency in 1985–86 shows an increase of 63 per cent. in real terms since its inception in 1976. I am able to tell the noble Lord that additional resources will be provided in 1986–87, as soon as agreement has been reached with the agency on the recommendations arising from its recent review of the staffing structure.

The noble Lord referred to the general constraints on public expenditure. I am not able to accept the thrust of what the noble Lord said, which was that all social services in Northern Ireland are suffering expenditure cuts. I shall give two examples. First, expenditure on health services in the six years 1979–80 to 1985–86 has grown in cash terms by 82 per cent., which is 13 per cent. when measured against the general rate of inflation. Secondly, we shall be spending more in real terms on housing in 1986–87 than in any of the years 1980–84 inclusive. I hope that that covers most of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, was kind enough to warn me that he would be asking one or two questions about tourism. The tourist industry in Northern Ireland has, I am afraid, undoubtedly suffered from the poor image of the Province over the past 16 years, but the industry has proved to be exceptionally resilient and it has maintained a tremendous level of activity. But we have not yet returned to the level of the peak years of tourism in the late 1960s. In those days, over 1 million tourists were recorded per annum, but, with the exception of 1981 which proved particularly difficult for the tourist industry in Northern Ireland, the numbers have strongly increased since the mid-1970s. In 1985, we recorded 912,000 visitors to the Province who spent just under £90 million. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board will continue, strongly and vigorously, to promote the Province as a tourist destination with the aim of ensuring that tourism continues to increase and to bring economic benefits to the Province.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and others of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—who alas, told me that he had to leave the Chamber for the very good reason that his wife is unwell; and I hope that she soon recovers—referred to Harland and Wolff, and expressed the hope that it will be successful in its bid for the auxiliary oiler and replenishment ships for the Ministry of Defence. Your Lordships will be aware that the decision on the placing of this order is a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I hope that a decision on the order will be taken shortly. We are all very grateful indeed, and I am sure Harland and Wolff will be grateful too, for the kind and generous tributes paid by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, to the capabilities of the yard which are known world wide, and also for the tribute to its chairman and to the managing director and his assistants.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, had one other query on LEDU. Since its inception in 1971 LEDU has promoted more than 20,000 jobs, including 4,000 in the last financial year. This is the highest number of jobs promoted in Northern Ireland in any single year since 1971. It maintains the performance of recent years in which a succession of record job promotions has been achieved by the agency. We regard this as a marvellous achievement which has been attained in the face of a very difficult economic background. I am sure all of us would hope that the future performance of LEDU will not be affected by the recent day of action. It is much too soon to say, as I expressed in an earlier reply, whether this day of action will have affected LEDU in any way, but we shall have to wait and we may have to see.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, raised a number of points, some of which I shall be able to help him with; others not. I noted with interest the noble Lord's query on VAT. I am afraid that I am not able to give him an answer this afternoon. He will accept that it is a very complicated matter, but I shall certainly bring his comments to the attention of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, and I hope that, expeditiously, either that department or I as one arm of the Government will be in touch with the noble Lord.

The noble Lord raised the question of the railways and the cross-harbour bridge. He and other noble Lords who go to Northern Ireland will be aware that a firm of consultants was appointed in the middle of 1985 to review Belfast's strategy of transport. This review is being carried out as part of the statutory development plan for the Belfast urban area for 1986 to 2001. A major element of that review will be the reappraisal of the investment proposal included in the present strategy—the new cross-harbour rail and road bridges downstream of the three main central Belfast bridges over the Lagan. I am given to understand that the review is proceeding on schedule with a report which is expected towards the end of this year, 1986. I hope that ere long we shall have some better news for the noble Lord.

The noble Lord raised the question of the Carrickfergus Museum. He will be aware that there is a Question down on the Order Paper to be answered orally. I think it is still there and will be answered later. He will know that the castle is maintained by the Department of the Environment as one of our most important historic monuments. There is a need for urgent restorative works in the portion of premises currently used by the museum, but the provision of local museum facilities is a matter in the first instance for the Carrickfergus District Council, and it need not necessarily be dependent on the availability of central government funds.

Lord Dunleath

It is, my Lords.

Lord Lyell

I said "need not necessarily", my Lords. Perhaps we can leave it there. I am sure that if the noble Lord wants to take part in the deliberations that might be carried on at a later date in your Lordships' House he may elicit a little further information.

Finally, the noble Lord referred to the funding of the Belfast School of Music and also the one at Ballynahinch. I would agree that Ulster musicians have made and continue to make a very significant contribution to the music scene internationally. Perhaps I may study the noble Lord's comments on this question and write to him in due course. I am sure that he will accept that and we would be very grateful.

My noble friends Lord Brookeborough and Lord Moyola raised the central core theme to Northern Ireland politics at the moment. I refer to the agreement and the developments since 15th November. Perhaps I may say to all noble Lords, and especially to my noble friends, that the Government have made it very clear that they will not be deterred from implementing the Anglo-Irish agreement. We believe that the agreement provides the best hope of ending the estrangement of nationalists from the public institutions of Northern Ireland. We also hope that it will enhance cross-border co-operation against terrorism. But it offers hope to Unionists as well as to Nationalists. It reinforces the constitutional guarantee that the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom cannot change unless the majority of the people in Northern Ireland so wish.

The Government are well aware, and nobody could fail to be aware, of the strength of feeling against aspects of the agreement in parts of the community. The people of Northern Ireland—I stress this and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Moyola will take it on board—can themselves, through their political leaders, reduce the scope of the activities of the conference by devising arrangements for a devolved administration. Matters which were devolved to an adminstration would no longer be for discussion in the inter-governmental conference. I believe that that is a very important point in the agreement.

We, and I am sure the huge majority of the people in Northern Ireland, really want to find a way out of this present impasse. I assure your Lordships that that objective can be achieved only through constructive dialogue. That is why I am so grateful for the thoughts and the comments of my noble friend Lord Moyola. I hope that the Unionist leaders will be able to take up the offer of discussion on the suggestions which were made at the meeting with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 25th February.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of what those suggestions were. The Prime Minister said then that she would welcome talks with the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party about new arrangements for enabling Unionists to make their views known to the Government on affairs in Northern Ireland. My right honourable friend further went on to offer consultation with the Unionists on the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly and on the arrangements for handling Northern Ireland business in your Lordships' House and in another place. Further, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister agreed to consider positively a suggestion for a round-table conference to discuss devolution. That offer remains on the table. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Brookeborough will accept that; I hope that will be accepted in Northern Ireland. The Government believe that the way forward for the whole of Northern Ireland is through political dialogue and certainly not through violence, disruption and what, regrettably, too many of us saw on 3rd March. We were grateful for the points raised by my noble friends Lord Brookeborough and Lord Moyola.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised a number of points. He started with a reference to the position since 15th November. He all but took me back 15 years when my first speeches in your Lordships' House were on what I called the British position in Northern Ireland; but if the noble Lord wishes to go back and look in the Official Report for those days it might be interesting to see what I said then beside what I say now. I do not think they are vastly apart.

The noble Lord raised the question of integrated education. I hope he will accept that the position of the Government is quite clear on this matter. We shall support integrated education where there is clear local demand for it. He will accept that it could be counterproductive if that demand were to be generated at the central rather than at the local level. For that reason, we shall give general encouragement and support for the establishment of integrated schools, but we shall not be able to consider them for grant aid until they have proved their potential viability.

The noble Lord raised two points concerning Maghaberry prison and on the army's blockhouse on Derry's walls. I am not able to give the noble Lord a good reply this afternoon. I will write to him on those points, and I will take into account also the other point that he raised concerning the first wing of Maghaberry and the men in connection with Crumlin Road. I am not sure that I can write to the noble Lord about the clan Doherty. Doubtless the reunion in the maiden city will be one of the events that will come to my notice next summer or perhaps in the early spring.

The noble Lord mentioned also the two-year youth training programme. The Northern Ireland programme has always offered two years' training since it was introduced in 1982. However, in line with the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has guaranteed a YTP place to 16 year-olds who would otherwise have been unemployed. Since 1982, there always has been an offer of two years' training.

As far as the two-year ACE scheme is concerned, the noble Lord will be aware that its object is to provide temporary employment for the long-term unemployed. He will bear in mind the large numbers of people in that category in Northern Ireland who number in the region of 60,000. We consider that an extension of the period of ACE beyond one year would reduce the numbers of those who could benefit from that provision.

Finally, the noble Lord asked about the facilities that are provided by voluntary and community organisations in Belfast. I cross my fingers and I pray that some solution will be found. I stress again that which I said earlier this week: there is to be a meeting of the Belfast City Council on 27th March to consider that point. We must hope that some acceptable solution and reassurance will be found. We cannot give the reassurance sought by the noble Lord this afternoon, but we consider it regrettable that the actions taken by the Belfast City Council have created those problems and the fears that have been so eloquently expressed by the noble Lord. I repeat, we are unable to give any reassurance but I hope that we may see some developments after the meeting on 27th March.

I am conscious that I have tried to answer as many questions as I can. I shall take up any points that I have missed and will write to those of your Lordships to whom I have promised to write. With that, I commend the order that is before the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.