§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 11th February be approved.590
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order is made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. It has two purposes. The first is to authorise additional expenditure of some £99 million in respect of the 1986–87 Spring Supplementary Estimates which are covered in Part I of the schedule to the draft order. Your Lordships will find that on page 6 of the draft order. Your Lordships' House has already approved expenditure of some £3,256 million for the 1986–87 financial year, bringing the total estimates provision for this year to £3,355 million.
§ The second purpose, which is covered by Part 2 of the schedule, is the Vote on Account for 1987–88. The sum of £ 1,483 million, which noble Lords will find on page 10 of the order, is necessary to enable services to continue until the 1987–88 main Estimates are approved later this year. Your Lordships will find full details of all the provisions sought in this draft order in the Spring Supplementary Estimates volume together with the Statement of Sums Required on Account leaflet. Copies of these two documents have been placed in the Printed Paper Office.
§ As the financial year moves to its close, perhaps I may divert a little with a few words about the Northern Ireland economy. Like the curate's egg the latest available economic information is good in parts but I leave other parts to noble Lords' consideration. On the positive side the United Kingdom as a whole is in its sixth successive year of continuous economic growth. There are encouraging signs in the manufacturing sector of Northern Ireland industry and the prospects are quite bright.
§ On the negative side there remains the level of unemployment in the Province. The increased output to which I have just referred is yet to have an appreciable effect on unemployment. Again, there are one or two encouraging signs. Seasonally adjusted unemployment has fallen by an average of 700 per month over the last three months as a whole. In January of this year the rate of unemployment in the Province was 19.3 per cent. compared with 11.8 per cent. in Great Britain and 16.9 per cent. in the North of England. The Government remain determined to tackle unemployment through the job creation efforts of the industrial development board, the local enterprise development unit and the various training and retraining schemes.
§ Turning briefly to the Supplementary Estimates, Class 1 covers the expenditure on agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Of the £600,000 required for Vote 1, £400,000 is for agricultural science services. Noble Lords will be able to find details of this on page 2 in Section A of the Estimates volume. In Section B, £120,000 is to provide accommodation for a computerised system of animal health records. Noble Lords will know that cows—bovines of all types—tend to move extensively around Northern Ireland, occasionally across the border in both directions. I wish to assure noble Lords that this system will be of very great help to all of us. It is designed to provide a more efficient information base giving the ability to respond faster to an outbreak of animal disease, thus reducing the risk of spread.
§ Class 2, Vote 1, covers industrial support and regeneration. Just over £750,000 is required in this 591 Vote by the industrial development board and that appears on page 4 of the volume. The major portion of this increase, some £680,000, in subhead A I is for increased administrative costs. In terms of manpower targets, the industrial development board has been allowed to increase its staff complement by 25 hereby increasing the target for 31st March 1987 from 286 to 311. Of particular interest is the strengthening of the business development division by the addition of 12 staff. We believe that that will have a beneficial effect not just on IDB but also on the business climate in Northern Ireland. In the future this division will take a closer and much more active role in its relations with Northern Ireland industry and will aim to encourage the expansion of existing businesses within the Province. The provision sought also contains an element to take account of additional costs of overseas representation in the Far East.
§ In Vote 5, "Functioning of the Labour Market" a net additional provision of £3.78 million is sought. This falls broadly into four areas. First, some £3.43 million is for the action for community employment scheme (ACE). As noble Lords will be aware, ACE provides temporary jobs for the long term unemployed. In line with the Government's continuing efforts to respond positively to the special problems of the long-term unemployed, it has been possible to increase, during this financial year, the number of jobs provided through this programme. The original target was 5,400. We have increased this by 750 places to 6,150. I should like to stress that it is the Government's intention to examine the possibility of introducing an enterprise element into the ACE programme.
§ The second substantial increase in Vote 5 is at subhead B1 on page 8. This seeks an extra £1.24 million for expenditure on government training centres. The additional funding is required mainly for additional running expenses attached to the setting up of the re-start programme for the long term unemployed, and also to carry out necessary maintenance to training centre buildings. Additional provision is also needed to cover increased costs of employers' liability insurance.
§ Thirdly, in the area of management training under subhead B5, a net additional increase in provision of £678,000 is sought. Your Lordships will find that figure on page 8. The additional funds will enable the Government to increase their activity in this area. In this context, I am glad to be able to report to your Lordships a continuing demand under the enterprise allowance scheme. This pays £40 per week for 52 weeks, in place of unemployment benefit, for those setting up new businesses. The supplementary provision will fund an increase in the previous total of 1,800 recipients in 1985–86 to 2,300 in the current year.
§ Finally, subhead B4 of this vote covers the revision of the training on employers' premises scheme and the introduction of a new pilot manpower training scheme. These will require a net additional provision of £397,000. Under the new arrangements for the training on employers' premises scheme, a grant of £65 per week will be paid in respect of each additional eligible employee who is under 25 years of age, or who 592 was unemployed, or unavailable for work, during the previous 12 months. A grant of £52 per week will continue to be paid to all other categories of additional employees eligible under the scheme. This revision to the scheme will cost an extra £200,000 this year and provide assistance at the higher rate to companies during the costly initial training period for new employees. May I draw your Lordships' attention to one unfortunate typographical error in the provision for subhead A 1 in the Estimates volume. It appears on page 10 in Class 2, Vote 5. Under the column headed "Revised Provision", the figure of £10,330,000 in respect of YTP trainee allowance should in fact read £10,200,000. I should make it clear that this does not affect the draft order. I am advised that the sums work out if the new figure of £10,200,000 is adopted.
§ Moving on to Class 2, Vote 6, administration and miscellaneous services, page 12, a net increase of some £2 million is sought. This encompasses a number of initiatives, such as the provision of in-depth counselling interviews, aimed at assisting the long-term unemployed.
§ Class 4 Vote 1, page 15, is the Department of the Environment's Roads Service vote. A net additional provision of just under £6.9 million is required. About £1.9 million has been earmarked for capital works at subhead A2, and, at subheads A4 and A5, nearly £4 million for essential road maintenance. The emphasis within the roads programme continues to be placed on the management and maintenance of the road system. This is complemented by a continuing investment programme in major and minor capital works in response not only to both local needs in particular parts of the Province but also the strategic requirements of Northern Ireland as a whole.
§ At page 22 of the volume, we find that in Class 4, Vote 3, a further provision of £700,000 is required to fund the upgrading and modernisation of port facilities throughout Northern Ireland under the port modernisation scheme.
§ Moving on to page 24, Class 5, Vote 1, housing services, a token provision of £ 1,000 is sought to bring to your Lordships' attention additional expenditure of some £5.5 million. I hope it will become clear why only £1,000 is being sought this evening. The additional expenditure will finance increased activity on the general housing association programme and meet the demand for renovation grants. Noble Lords will note however that the expenditure decreases and the increased appropriations in aid detailed on pages 25 and 26 of the estimates volume offsets the additional expenditure. Your Lordships will find a summary set out on page 24, where the figure "1" indicates 1,000. The main expenditure is nullified by increased appropriations in aid and by expenditure decreases.
§ Turning to Class 6, additional funds are being sought for votes 1, 2 and 4. In vote 1, water and sewerage services, the net additional provision is £2.5 million, of which £1.9 million is for capital works. Vote 2 provides additional expenditure of £3 million for the Urban Development Scheme at subhead D5, page 33, £800,000 for grants to the National Trust at D11 and £600,000 for the repair and maintenance of historic buildings at C4. All this is offset by savings 593 within the Vote and by receipts from the sale of land, which leaves a net requirement of £632,000.
§ Under Vote 4, page 37, which covers rating, records registration, surveys and administration your Lordships will see that the net increase of £ 1.1 million is attributable largely to additional expenditure on computer systems and running costs.
§ Class 7 has only one Vote—and that is on page 40. This is called Protective Services and it covers expenditure on the fire service. An additional £500,000 is sought to cover the cost of an increased allowance to operational staff of the fire authority for Northern Ireland.
§ If I may ask your Lordships to turn to page 42, we see Class 8. This relates to education. In Vote 1, schools, a net addition of £4.2 million is sought: £4.6 million is required to meet the increased cost of school teachers' salaries arising from both the April 1986 salary award and from the balance of the 1985 award. A further £300,000 is required by voluntary grammar schools for books and practice materials for the new GCSE examination. This additional expenditure is offset by savings of £700,000 on capital grants to voluntary schools where progress has been slower than expected on a number of major schemes and such items as gas conversion work.
§ Under Vote 2 of Class 8, page 44, a token estimate of £1,000 is sought to bring to your Lordships' attention increased capital expenditure of £ 1.4 million for equipment and capital grants in respect of the two Northern Ireland universities and capital expenditure at the two teacher training colleges. These additional requirements are offset by savings of about £1.4 million in the recurrent grants to the universities, partly as a result of lower than anticipated rate payments by Queen's University, and partly following a revision of block grants on the recommendation of the University Grants Committee.
§ Under Vote 3, which is labelled Miscellaneous Services and Administration—that is on page 47—an additional £2.4 million is sought. As may be seen from the estimates volume, the additions required cover a wide range of services. I will not detail them all this evening, but in the main they reflect allocations as part of the Belfast Urban Programme. These were made after the 1986–87 main estimates were finalised and reflect the further measures taken by the Secretary of State in October last year to aid the local construction industry.
§ The final education item is Vote 4, page 50. This covers grants to education and library boards. Of the total of £14.9 million sought, £11.5 million is required to cover the cost of a revaluation backdated to 1983–84 of the rates on school property. This follows a recent decision by the Lands Tribunal about the method of assessing schools' rateable value in circumstances where the premises are not fully utilised because of falling enrolments.
§ Responsibility for the education of mentally handicapped children transfers to the education service on 1st April 1987: £2 million is required to carry out essential preparatory work, such as the provision of accommodation, and the purchase of buses. Your Lordships will see that this is detailed under subhead A3 of page 51, under Class 8, Vote 4.594
§ Overall additions totalling £14.4 million are sought in Class 9 for health care provision. In Vote 1, £10.6 million is required for health and personal social services; £6 million of this—at sub-head A2 on page 55—is for capital expenditure which will enable work to begin on a number of major construction projects; £2.3 million is sought to increase existing provision for pay awards recommended by review bodies for doctors and dentists, nurses and paramedical staff, while the balance will fund development in regional hospital services, and will enable enhanced provision for assistance to voluntary organisations. This will also meet expenditure arising from a major campaign aimed at reducing the incidence of coronary heart disease in Northern Ireland. In Vote 2, page 61, we find the seeking of a further £3.8 million mainly to meet the additional cost of dental and pharmaceutical services, where increases in demand, as well as in fees and costs, have exceeded earlier expectations.
§ Turning to Class 10, Vote 2, page 66 of the volume, classified as non-contributory benefits, we find an additional provision of £33-5 million—that is not in block 1, but comes under summary and subhead detail—which is required to meet the increased expenditure on invalid care allowance, supplementary benefits and housing benefits. The increases are offset by a reduction of £1.7 million in the requirement for severe disablement allowance.
§ On page 69, Class 10, Vote 4, labelled as Administration and Miscellaneous Services, we are seeking an extra £4.7 million, mainly for salaries and wages and social security adjudication costs. A further £1.7 million is required to accommodate a shortfall in the amounts to be appropriated in aid in respect of administrative costs of the National Insurance Fund. These increases are offset by a reduction of £768,000 in earlier estimates of requirements, mainly of the amount of the grant to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for its costs in administering the housing benefits scheme.
§ Finally, if I move on to Class 12, Vote 1, Office and General Accommodation Services, page 76, provision is being sought for an additional £2 million or thereabouts to cover the purchase of office accommodation in central Belfast.
§ I have taken your Lordships right through this estimate. I believe this may have been of some help in drawing your Lordships' attention to the figures that I and the Government felt should be brought before your Lordships this evening. I have tried to cover the main features of the draft order and to draw your Lordships' attention to a number of new and possibly interesting items of expenditure, but as always I look forward to listening to any points, remarks and speeches made by your Lordships. With that, I commend the order to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 11th February be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for taking us through the order, and for his explanation of its main features. I can assure the noble Lord that his explanation was helpful. The Minister referred in his opening 595 paragraph to the Northern Ireland economy, and drew our attention to the positive factors from which the Government draw encouragement. He described them as being "quite bright", but in fairness went on to acknowledge that there is also a negative side to the picture. Of course there is a negative side, the position is still worrying and, according to Coopers and Lybrand in their 15th review of the Northern Ireland economy, the prospects for 1987 remain pessimistic.
During the last few months the economic disparity between the North and South of England has rightly been the subject of keen political discussion, including a debate in your Lordships' House. In the North-South debate the economic malaise of Northern Ireland, the poorest of all the regions of the United Kingdom, was disregarded or ignored. Yet on almost every count Northern Ireland has suffered more than any other region. We are not saying that the problems of Northern Ireland are unique, but we are saying that they are more severe than those in any of the other United Kingdom regions.
Indeed, the Minister explained in his opening paragraph that unemployment in Northern Ireland is 19.3 per cent. against an 11 per cent. average for Great Britain; and for the South of England it is very much lower than that. Not only has the Province lost more jobs in the manufacturing industry, but its gains in the fast-growing sector—namely, banking, finance and services—have been way below the figure for Great Britain. Therefore, when the noble Lord, Lord Young, said generally of 1987 that this is the most hopeful start to a new year that we have had for many years, that comment does not apply to Northern Ireland.
The Government are looking more and more to self-employment and small businesses to produce the remedies. According to the Northern Ireland industry Minister, that is to be the way forward. He described small businesses as the seedcorn of Northern Ireland's future economic development. The background to the Government's thinking and the reasoning behind the policy has been spelt out very clearly by the permanent secretary of the Department of Economic Development in the TSB Northern Ireland Review for 1986. Noble Lords who have read that document will have found it very helpful. However, the permanent secretary was also careful to point out in this article that Northern Ireland is not a particularly small-firm economy. Of course therein lies an important part of the problem. Therefore, the seedcorn to which the Minister for industry referred will not flower overnight in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland's economic development will take time to mature. Meanwhile, there are the immense short-term problems. To some extent they are reflected in the main features of the spring Supplementary Estimates, which have been underlined tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. The increased vote for the Department of Economic Development is obviously extremely important in the long term as well as in the short term. I shall touch merely on two or three features of the department's spending programme.
We welcome the new additional expenditure in order to expand the community employment scheme, 596 though sadly this is but a temporary relief for long-term ills. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, acknowledged in his speech that that was so. We also welcome the increased expenditure on the training on employers' premises scheme. We hope that this will encourage employers to recruit more young people.
It seems to me that a continuing and major worry is the lack of employment opportunities for young people in the 16 to 25 age group. Every country in the world looks to this group and its skills to provide the basis for its future prosperity and development. I see that in its last annual report the Youth Committee for Northern Ireland said that over 40 per cent. of young people in this age group are unemployed. That is a shockingly high figure. Can the Minister give the average duration of unemployment for a person in this 16 to 25 age group? Can the Minister also say how many young people are currently being trained under the training on employers' premises scheme? How many are eligible for such training but not receiving training? How many additional places will be made available within the next 12 months.
There is also to be additional expenditure on the training centres. I note from the last annual report of the Equal Opportunities Commission that it is concerned that real changes (which are the words used in the report) are required in the provision of vocational and skill training by the training centres. The commission also considered that much greater effort is required to attract women to training centres. Can the Minister tell the House whether the department proposes to take any steps to meet this criticism, if it considers that the criticism is sound?
For a number of reasons—some historical, some geographical and some otherwise—Catholics in Northern Ireland are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than Protestants. Is the Minister able to give any assurance to the House that young Catholics are not being treated unfairly because of their religion, or because they are perceived to belong to a Catholic community when they apply for jobs or promotion; or must this assurance belong to the future?
Meanwhile, we welcome the additional funds given to the Fair Employment Agency to be used for staff training and increased investigatory work. We also welcome the small, modest increase in the budget of the Equal Opportunities Commission to meet the increased cost of salaries. However, it will be appreciated that the commission is dealing with an ever-increasing volume of inquiries and that its staff are working under great pressure.
This order gives me an opportunity to thank the Department of Finance and Personnel for its first report on equal opportunities in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, which was published in 1986. This report appears to me as a layman to be a first-class document. The programme of equal opportunities which the Civil Service in Northern Ireland is implementing, and which is described in this report, is a precedent which other employers in the Province should be encouraged to follow.
Last September the Department of Economic Development published its consultation paper Equality of Opportunity. The consultation period will 597 expire at the end of this month. Some of the options contained in the consultation paper are far-reaching. Does the department intend to publish the response which it has received to the consultation document? If so, when will it be published?
I should like to link this report with the major review which has been conducted by the Standing Commission on Human Rights into the operation of the laws against discrimination in Northern Ireland. I understand that the review should be completed by the end of this year and that it is being supported by government finance. Can the Minister explain to the House the relationship (if there is any) between the consultation instituted by the Department of Economic Development and the review undertaken by the Standing Commission on Human Rights? Does the Department of Economic Development intend to consult with the Human Rights Commission before deciding what initiative it should take in the light of the response to its own consultation paper?
We on these Benches are anxious that the new measures to be taken, particularly if their implementation requires new legislation, should be the best that the department and the commission, working in partnership, can design. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that there will be adequate discussion with the Standing Commission on Human Rights before the department decides on the measures that it will recommend.
It came as a surprise to read that the expenditure on welfare food—free milk for babies and expectant mothers and vitamin drops—and on meals-on-wheels is proving to be less than anticipated. This appears to be inconsistent with other evidence indicating that a growing body of people are vulnerable in Northern Ireland because of larger families and the persistence of high and long-term unemployment. Thus there is evidence in the Supplementary Estimate itself, and not only in Class X, Vote 2, of an increase in the number of people in receipt of rent rebates, an increase in the number of rent allowances and an increase in the number of rate rebates.
It is difficult to reconcile these figures with the finding that the demand for welfare food and meals-on-wheels is less than anticipated. Unless it is already in hand, should not the department be commissioning, or itself undertaking, a study to find out as soon as possible why the demand is lower than anticipated?
I do not propose tonight to make any comments or ask any questions about the Housing Executive, which has attracted, probably unfairly, adverse publicity of late. On a future occasion I may return to the report of the local government auditor and of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the executive accounts for the year ending March 1986 which we received yesterday and the Housing Executive's comments thereon. That is something to which we may have to return.
I come now to the last matter on which I have a few questions for the Minister. I believe that it is important. Many citizens of Northern Ireland are deeply troubled by the difficulties faced by voluntary bodies and community organisations that provide advice and welfare services to those who are less fortunate and require help. These organisations are 598 facing great difficulties and uncertainties as a direct result of the adjournment strategy adopted by the Unionist-controlled councils in Northern Ireland in protest against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
During the year 1986–87 grant aid from Unionist-controlled councils to enable voluntary organisations to pay such items as salaries, rent, fuel and telephone bills was not released or was released only in part or after lengthy delays. Indeed, it became necessary for the Government to send in commissioners to Belfast to award grant aids to voluntary groups. The House will remember that the commissioners moved into action in April and October, but in each case they moved in after the grant had expired at the end of the previous month. It is almost certain that intervention by commissioners will again be required in the year 1987–88, not just in Belfast but in other Unionist-controlled councils too.
As a direct result of the abandonment of their duties by Unionist councils in this struggle against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, many voluntary bodies have had to curtail their services to people, terminate activities and close down advice centres. In addition, they have simply been unable to undertake new initiatives to respond to new needs. In the result, many people have been deprived of basic services, and essential advice that they need.
The delay in receiving grants or non-receipt of grants has also led to uncertainty for the staff engaged in this vital work. There have been above average staff resignations and above average leave of absence through sickness so that the result of the decision of the Unionist-controlled councils has had a multiplying effect. All this is well-documented and known to the department, as the major voluntary bodies involved have made submissions to Ministers about their difficulties.
The question to the Minister is this. Are the voluntary bodies to experience in 1987–88 a re-run of their 1986–87 difficulties? How do the Government propose to resolve the difficulties which will not fly away for as long as the Unionists are determined to adjourn council meetings?
I was delighted to read that the Department of the Environment has already taken the necessary action to make district rates for those 11 district councils that have failed to strike a rate for 1987–88. We urge the department to take equally decisive action, and promptly so, under whatever instrument is available to it to ensure that grants to the voluntary bodies are made and released in the first week of April.
It has been suggested that the difficulties could be overcome by the department promptly attaching to every council that stands adjourned a commissioner charged with the power and the duty to decide the value of the grant and to rearrange for its prompt release. That is one solution. An alternative solution that has been canvassed would be for the department to release the grant aid direct to the voluntary bodies or through the agency of a third party. Therefore, there are solutions that the department could call in aid.
I accept, although I am not sure that it is right, that it may not be possible or prudent for the department to anounce in advance of implementation what steps it will take to ensure that the difficulties of 1986–87, 599 which had multiplying effects, are not repeated. Nevertheless, I urge on the Minister that the voluntary bodies concerned should be reassured within the next week or two that the appropriate action is in hand. Such an assurance would be, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, a most hopeful start to a new year. If the assurance is not forthcoming, Ministers will rightly be exposed to public criticism in the Province. I should be grateful to the Minister if he would convey that message to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
With those comments and few questions, and my apologies for taking a little time over my speech as I wanted to get the message over we approve the order.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for introducing the order. Before I proceed to deal with matters mainly of finance, perhaps I may reaffirm from these Benches our support for the Government's stand over the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, mentioned some of the difficulties that we hope the Government will meet. We regret that Dr. FitzGerald will no longer be the head of the Government in the Republic. We must hope that co-operation with Mr. Haughey will not be as difficult as has at times seemed likely.
One must condemn the IRA outright for its coldly-calculated process of bombing, brutality and terrorism. But the reaction of the so-called Loyalists—loyal to no-one except themselves—has been to a great extent counter-productive. Add to this the activities of common criminals and the scene is indeed grim. I believe, however, that there is good news and one of my pleas is that the Government should relieve the considerable gloom of mainlanders about life in the Province by more and better information. This is necessary to counterbalance the more newsworthy items of tragedy and despair.
I have given the Minister notice of a number of questions—in some cases rather short notice, I fear—and I shall now proceed to put them. They are based in the main on information sent direct from the Northern Ireland Office. First, corporal punishment. We welcome the announcement that corporal punishment is to be ended in all grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland from the year 1987–88. This is in line with the rest of the United Kingdom where corporal punishment is being abolished by the Education (No. 2) Act of last year. This is also in line with the Government's obligation as a party to the European Convention on Human Rights.
My noble friend Lord Donaldson tells me that he completely supports this move, and was himself, when in the Northern Ireland Office, responsible for the ending of corporal punishment in the Province in approved schools. I should like to ask the Minister whether that move has affected discipline in those schools for better or for worse, or is the situation entirely as before?
Secondly, the fire service programme—and the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, just touched on this. We are told that an £18.3 million fire service programme is to be put in hand. This is necessary because the number 600 of fire calls has increased from 15,800 in 1981 to 27,800 last year. Can the Minister say what is the cause of this increase in fire calls by over 75 per cent? Are there many hoaxes? If so, by whom and why? Are there more terrorist attacks or simple criminal cases of arson? If not, what is happening?
We are told that six totally new stations are to be built, one of them being at Crossmaglen. Are steps being taken to ensure that the work involved will not be countered by terrorist attacks and deliberate damage? I do not ask the Minister to say what steps will be taken, I just ask for an assurance, which I hope he can readily give, that this matter is in hand and that suitable contractors are available to undertake the construction work.
Thirdly, the new Holland sewage works scheme. We are told that in March a £6 million extension and renovation scheme will be started at the new Holland sewage works near Lisburn. This will, we are told, improve the standard of effluent discharge into the River Lagan, and this will be important for future generations of people not only in the Lisburn area but in Belfast, who will be turning their attention more and more towards the Lagan as a major recreational amenity. Can the Minister say what steps have already been taken to use the Lagan for recreation, and what future steps are proposed?
Fourthly, a £28 million inner-city package for Belfast. There has been a recent announcement ofa £28 million financial package to be aimed at improving the quality of life for people living in some of the worst areas of inner-city dereliction in Belfast".We must applaud the Government's move to help derelict areas and to create jobs in the process.
I have just two questions for the Minister here. First, it is said that it is essential that the Government's measures for Belfast should continue to promote the flow of private investment into the city. I emphasise the word "continue". Can the Minister give details of private investment that has recently flowed into the city, and what success there has been for the IDB or LEDU? There is talk of expansion of staff, as the Minister mentioned. Secondly, in the Belfast area almost £100 million will be spent by the housing executive and the housing association on houses. My question is: has there been any real success at stopping segregation of the two communities from each other? It will be tragic if segregation is encouraged in perpetuity, although I realise the immense difficulties of ending the system arbitrarily. The success of a few integrated schools shows that breaking through the divide is possible.
Fifthly, roads. The Minister told us that an additional £4 million is to be spent on Northern Ireland's roads during the next few months. Will he clarify how the allocation of this extra money will be determined?
Sixthly, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland. Is any extra money being allocated for victim support schemes as well as additional aid for voluntary organisations which, we are told, have,developing schemes for the supervision and assistance of offenders and the prevention of crime"?The aim must be to stop crime. But when it is not prevented surely there should be generous support for 601 those who have suffered, alongside efforts necessary to prevent the criminals striking again.
Lastly, Co-operation North. I refer back to the debate recorded in the Official Report for 11th December last year and cols. 1316 and 1324 in particular. My noble friend Lord Donaldson said how enormously impressed he was (and I agree with him) by the work done by this organisation—I quote from Col. 1316:to bring together Irish people from North and South and to destroy the ignorance which breeds fear, hatred and violence".And he mentioned the school exchanges where,Groups of pupils from the South go to the North, and in reverse. They are exchanged for a month at a time in 200 schools-20 per cent. of the secondary schools of the whole of Ireland and 50 per cent. of those in Northern Ireland.When I first heard these figures I felt that they were barely credible, but I came to believe them and found them encouraging.
Two questions arise. Can we not hear more about such splendid efforts as this to counter stupidity such as Mr. Peter Robinson's escapade across the border? And can the noble Lord the Minister give information as to how the Government will help Co-operation North this year? With that, we support the order, and I should be grateful to have the Minister's replies.
§ 8.30 p.m.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his usual courtesy in having written to us in advance of this debate. We are grateful to him, as always, for having sought points that we may wish to raise on this occasion. Looking at a number of the matters in the draft order, to start with the Department of Agriculture, Class 1, Votes 1 and 2, there are many complex and indeed some worrying facets to the new EC price packages with regard to farm produce.
Of course we realise that resolute action had to be taken to control the surpluses of food that exist, but I shall not go into that. If I may, I should like to concentrate on just one matter which is of particular and perhaps peculiar interest and significance to Northern Ireland; that is, the smuggling of beef cattle.
As the Minister will probably know, animals are smuggled from the north of Ireland across the border to the south. They are then given new ear tags so that they can claim to be citizens of the Republic. They are re-imported to the north of Ireland by normal means, whereby they qualify for a monetary compensatory amount, which at the moment averages about 130 per head. In fact it was up to f150 earlier, I believe.
It is estimated by the Livestock Marketing Commission that about 100,000 cattle have been so smuggled over the last year, which amounts to £13 million of public money having gone astray through the MCAs having been paid for smuggled cattle. This indicates that it is not a small operation. It is not a matter of two or three bullocks in the back of a trailer being smuggled across the border late at night. This is a big operation, big business. It is of significance not only to the taxpayer but it also means that those who re-import the cattle are able to take a lower price for them because they already have the 130 premium to ensure a quick and certain sale. That in turn depresses 602 the price to the ordinary farmer in Northern Ireland who is selling to the meat plants.
Furthermore the meat plants themselves are at present on short time. One of them has had to pay off a number of employees because of the shortage of cattle now, due to the number that went across the border by illicit means during the autumn. I know that the customs have been able to apprehend some consignments. This has been a disincentive. But I am told that the cost of policing the border to this extent would be excessive on a continuous basis. It looks as though we are only having a respite at the moment and that the incentive to smuggle will remain.
The noble Lord mentioned the new system, which I sincerely hope will tighten up the movement of cattle. But whatever happens I hope that this will be controlled and eliminated in the future. One suggestion that has been made is that the green pound should be devalued by perhaps 10 or 11 per cent. so as to reduce the monetary compensatory amounts, thus removing the incentive to smuggle. Another suggestion which the Livestock Marketing Commission favours is to equalise the intervention price between north and south, making adjustments for any variation in currency, which might be a cleaner and easier way of doing it. But whichever means is selected this is something which ought to be addressed with the greatest urgency.
Turning now to the Department of the Environment, Class IV, Vote 1, the Strangford Ferry has two vessels. Unfortunately on several, if not numerous, occasions both have been out of service and an ordinary motorboat has had to be put on which can carry passengers only. Even that had bad luck on one occasion and broke down. Is this the best we can do, considering the cost to the taxpayer, the inconvenience to the user and the fact that many people now drive round the lough rather than risk finding that the ferry is out of order?
Under the Department of the Environment, Classes II and V, Vote 2, it was back-in the mid-1970s that I warned in a speech about extortion on building sites and over contracts, both government and private. This warning caused a certain amount of annoyance and irritation at the time. But what I said seems to have been endorsed by remarks made by Mr. Justice Nicholson recently. Here again is public money being wasted and, worse still, being channelled off, very often to paramilitary organisations. I should be interested to know what action Her Majesty's Government can take.
Also under the Department of the Environment, I wonder whether sufficient funds are being devoted to rural as opposed to urban housing. I know of one village near where I live where at least five houses are being built by the Housing Executive after 20 to 25 years. People have been trying to get houses there for as long as that.
Under Class VIII, Vote 1, Department of Education, perhaps the noble Lord can tell us why so many temporary classrooms have become permanent. They were adopted by the schools in question in good faith on the understanding that they would be replaced fairly soon, but after many years they are still there and permanent accommodation has not been provided. 603 Further, under education, I hope, and should be grateful for an assurance, that the Department of Education has sufficient resources to look after mentally-handicapped children, since the responsiblity for them has been transferred from the Department of Health and Social Services.
Lastly, and sadly, a Vote of £173,000 is asked for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Presumably this is for the cost of the residual winddown of the assembly machine—one might say it is the last shovelfull of earth over its coffin—the assembly which was brought down by the Unionist reaction to the Anglo-Irish agreement. The Anglo-Irish agreement by contrast is still alive but in 154 months it has not shown much in the way of visible or tangible results.
The noble Lord sounded a note of optimism on the economy. One can only say that we have yet to detect a continuing favourable trend in the economy or in the employment pattern. The increase from December 1985 was 7,330 unemployed—an increase of that amount from a year previously. Furthermore, I am sorry to say that we have not yet seen any trend towards constructive politics, though it just may be that the document recently issued by the Ulster Defence Association is a straw in the wind. I hope that it is. I do not think that a constructive statement should be discounted because of the record of the source from which it comes.
The activities of the Ulster Defence Association have been damnable, but then so were those of St. Paul before he was converted on the road to Damascus. Therefore, I take this in good faith. But if the UDA were to express sentiments of contrition and repentence, as did St. Paul, it would help to reinforce one's confidence in its sincerity.
One visible result, unfortunately, has been the exacerbation of community tensions. Despite what we are told we cannot see any improvement as yet in the security situation. One could say that life goes on. I believe that our constitutional position has not been eroded by the Anglo-Irish Agreement. But life does not go on for those people (and it is an increasing number) who have lost their lives through violence during 1986, for those who have been injured, for those who have been bereaved and for those who have lost their jobs.
Where do we go from here? One suggestion being canvassed at the moment is integration. It has been for some time. I think that the policies of the campaign for equal citizenship are unrealistic to the point of naivety.
No one would like to see the Northern Ireland electorate voting Labour, Liberal-SDP or Conservative more than I would, but that will not happen until the problem of sectarianism has been overcome. That is the first matter to which politicians should devote themselves, together with the removal of doubts about the constitution. Similarly, I think that any hint of British withdrawal would be disastrous to everyone, whether in the north of Ireland, the south of Ireland or Great Britain.
Therefore I adhere to the view that the only way forward is for devolved consensus partnership government. That must be the objective, with all constitutional parties working together towards that 604 end. It is something which the Alliance party has advocated since 1970. The late Brian Faulkner, subsequently Lord Faulkner—who by coincidence was killed 10 years ago this afternoon—came to realise that in 1973. Unfortunately it was too late, and now it seems that the Ulster Defence Association has recognised the fact in 1986.
Therefore, contrary to what I may have advocated in your Lordships' House in the past, I suggest that Her Majesty's Government should now keep the lid on the situation. They should not promote further political initiatives for the time being. They should try to enable life to go on, with benevolent direct rule, and await a climate for partnership and devolved government. Let us see results from the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Let Her Majesty's Government try to cool it. After all, opinion polls reveal that the people may be very much more reasonable than the politicians. I say to Her Majesty's Government, try to keep the lid on it, take no further initiatives which may stir things up and let us pray that the climate will improve as time goes on.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, this is the 20th occasion on which I have taken part in a debate on a Northern Ireland appropriation order in your Lordships' House. I have expressed many times my reservations about the efficacy of debating across the Floor of the House such complex matters as are contained in these orders. At the same time I have always looked upon the debates in this House, and especially the debates on these orders in another place, as being particularly important to the government ministers for Northern Ireland, to the personnel in charge of administration in Northern Ireland and to the statutory boards whose members have already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, as well as being of special importance for the wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland.
Not only do these orders deal with Votes for huge sums of public expenditure in Northern Ireland—as has already been mentioned the annual total amount of appropriation is in excess of £4,200 million—but the orders also allow for a debate on the likely impact for good in comparative terms on the Northern Ireland economy. The detailed programme of sums allocated to the various sectors and how the finances are effectively utilised can determine to a major degree how Northern Ireland can best move forward from a dependent economy to a resilient economy, better able to build prosperity and progress on its own resources and strengths.
We have already had mentioned by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies and by the noble Lords, Lord Hampton and Lord Dunleath, that such progress requires much more than financial input: it requires political stability and common sense on the part of the citizens. I think that must be realised more and more in Northern Ireland by the people who elect their public representatives.
Notwithstanding the forthright and wide-ranging speech on this order in another place on 24th February by my honourable friend Mr. Peter Archer, I was saddened, as were many people in Northern Ireland, that no elected Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland took part in that debate. As has already been 605 mentioned, the importance of a debate about public finance to sustain the Northern Ireland economy and to provide for the social well-being of the Northern Irish people cannot be denied. Surely there was nothing to lose and much to gain from participation by the Northern Irish elected representatives in that debate.
Perhaps I may for a moment join with my noble friend from Northern Ireland, Lord Dunleath, in expressing sincere gratitude to the Minister, to my noble friend on the Front Bench, to the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and to all those who from time to time come to this House and take an interest in Northern Ireland affairs and who, particularly this evening, have given thoughtful consideration to the problems confronting the people of Northern Ireland and have had that consideration recorded in this debate. I know it is very difficult to address this House when there are rows of empty seats here, but at the same time there is an obligation on us to record how we feel and at least to indicate to those who have prepared this appropriation order that note is being taken of what it contains.
I want to refer particularly to the allocation of available funds and I should like to make a few observations. With a view to promoting a thrust forward from a dependent economy to a resilient one—an economy equipped and prepared to adapt to the challenge of positive and productive change—the four matters I wish particularly to raise and in regard to which I should like the kind attention and the great assistance of the Minister are these. The first is Vote 1, Class I, agricultural research; and the second is Vote 1, Class II, industrial research. I am pleased that there has been some movement by way of additional finance which has been granted to agricultural research. It is a modest increase. In 1985–86 the increase was 9 per cent.; in 1986–87 it dropped to 3 per cent. In the sector dealing with industrial research we find that for 1984–85 the sum was £225,000 and in 1985–86 it dropped to £220,000. For 1986–87 it is £216,000. There has been a decrease in this particular Vote.
Clearly there is a need for forward-looking and well-funded research and development programmes in both agriculture and industrial production—research and development aimed at making swift and effective responses to changes in consumer demand, technological innovation and in competitive world marketing.
In connection with the finance for research and development, I invite the Minister's attention to the report of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology. The report, published in November 1986, dealt with civil research and development projects. In the three volumes of the report, consisting of over 1,000 pages and with some 144 submissions from United Kingdom organisations and individuals, only three pages referred to Northern Ireland, and those were submitted on invitation by the Northern Ireland Office.
I should like briefly to quote a section from that Northern Ireland submission in the report. It reads:It should be noted that the levels of public support for R&D in NI are in general lower than in Great Britain. For example, in the agricultural field R&D expenditure is only 0.7 per cent. of output (compared to 1.4 per cent. in GB). Agriculture is of greater relative importance to the economy of NI and there is a preponderance of 606 small farms and an absence of large commercial organisations which could otherwise be expected to support R&D. In the industrial sector public support for R&D is only 0.37 per cent. of output (compared to 0.53 per cent. in GB or 3.6 per cent. if defence R&D expenditure is included)".I should like to ask the Minister whether he will suitably draw these R&D issues to the attention of his ministerial colleagues and ensure that the Government deal adequately and effectively with these vital aspects of Northern Ireland's economic prospects which have been expressed in this report.
I now turn to Class II, Vote 5, sections A. B. C and D, which are contained on page 10 of the Supplementary Estimates. Under these four headings, there are listed numerous schemes and programmes for employment, industrial training and community projects. In this connection, I would refer the Minister to his Written Answer to my Parliamentary Question which was published in the Official Report on 2nd February this year. The Answer listed some 66 employment, training and enterprise development initiatives which are currently available to people in Northern Ireland supported by the Government and public funds. Many in Northern Ireland were astounded when I pointed out the number of initiatives that are available.
In my opinion, many of these schemes are highly commendable and worthy of support. At the same time, I am led to believe that the very panoply of such schemes has become so complex in its administrative diversity that it has created confusion and communication blockages which have led to delays. Indeed, it has thwarted the main objectives for which many of these schemes were designed.
I would wish the Minister also to read the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland which was published on 12th December 1986 (Report No.77). On pages xxxiii to xxxix of the report, matters concerning the cost-effectiveness and the economic and social objectives of the vote under the heading Class II, Vote 5, are very forthrightly and seriously examined.
I accept the need for flexibility in industrial training and in employment development matters. At the same time, I believe there is an urgent need for clearly defined economic objectives for the vocational training of youth, for measures to help the long-term unemployed and for the provision of suitable retraining in technological development. For these reasons I invite the Minister's attention to a possible review of the programmes and schemes under these four votes, and the application of the criteria stipulated in the examination undertaken by the Auditor General concerning government training centres and industrial training boards, which I have already mentioned.
I now turn to Class IX.1, Section Al—community care services. I could go into some detail but at this stage of the evening I will simply stress that there is a continuing emphasis on care being provided within the community. This means that more health care services are urgently required outside hospitals. To meet this new need, an increase in the numbers of professionals and trained health care workers is vitally necessary if the services are to be meaningful in terms of the health and wellbeing of the community.
607 It is sufficient for me to draw attention to page 57 of the Supplementary Estimates. Your Lordships will note, under community health services and personal social services, the total inadequacy of the amounts granted to meet the steep increase in the demands on these services. As well as enhanced training and the employment of professional people, we require special training for home helps and special measures to deal with meals-on-wheels services—this has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies—day care accommodation and facilities, district nurses, health centres and trained social workers. I request the Minister to use his influence to meet these urgent needs.
Finally, I turn to Class X, Vote 2, on page 66 of the Supplementary Estimates, which deals with invalid care allowances. Noble Lords will be aware of the recent decision to extend the deadline for backdated claims for invalid care allowance from 31st December 1986 to 31st August 1987. It is estimated that approximately 4,500 persons will qualify. However, the Northern Ireland Council for the Handicapped has taken a special interest in this subject. It has made a survey and it is very concerned about the lack of information to ensure that married women who are eligible to claim are fully aware of their entitlement. The council feels that there is a lack of awareness of these benefits by the general public.
Without going into further detail, I appeal to the Minister to draw this matter to the attention of his ministerial colleague who is responsible. If it is not possible to get out some special leaflets which are designed to meet this particular concern, I suggest that he makes a ministerial statement of some kind to let people throughout Northern Ireland know that this benefit is available in the Province as well as in other parts of the United Kingdom.
With those remarks, I apologise for pursuing at some length this Northern Ireland appropriation order. The staff have been very patient and the Minister and his colleagues have sat through this debate. It is an important debate for Northern Ireland and I am sure that note will be taken of it in the Province. With those remarks, I give support to the order.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I begin by saying that the eloquence and kindness of the noble Lord. Lord Blease, are appreciated by everybody in your Lordships' House. It is important that we discuss fully the 76 or more pages of the order that is before us, because it is only three or four times a year that we get an opportunity of examining every aspect of Northern Ireland life from all angles, including the small items that are earmarked for as little as £1,000.
The Government appreciate the close attention and scrutiny that has been paid to the order. I should like to thank everybody who has spoken and I shall try to reply to the points that have been raised with the usual Lyell accuracy, if that is not a double-edged weapon. I shall attempt to improve on previous efforts, although thanks to my ministerial colleagues and my valuable band of helpers I have usually been able to 608 reply to most points. I hope that I shall be able to do that again this evening.
I listened with great interest to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, on the Northern Ireland economy. Nobody would disagree with the noble Lord that the Province suffers the highest level of unemployment of any region in the United Kingdom. I acknowledged that point in my remarks. It is in recognition of the special problems of the Province that the Government have set public expenditure levels for Northern Ireland substantially higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom. That alone, as would be acknowledged by all your Lordships, is not sufficient and it is our further aim to create circumstances in which the private sector can thrive. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, and the encouragement given by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, add considerable power from within Northern Ireland to the Government's efforts.
Output in Northern Ireland has responded to the promotion of growth. Total production in Northern Ireland is now only 8 per cent. below the level of 1980. The most recent private sector survey from PA Management, published in January this year, noted that investment by Northern Ireland manufacturing industry is on the increase. This of itself will contribute substantially to the restructuring of industry and the wealth creating base in Northern Ireland. There are problems and there are challenges but there is subjective evidence that we are making progress. When I say "we", I mean everybody in the Province.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also raised the problem of the quality of employment and opportunity for young people from minority communities, and above all from the Roman Catholic population in Northern Ireland. I stress to him that the Government are making vigorous and consistent efforts to attract new investment, and hence more jobs, to Northern Ireland. In step with this the promotion of equality of opportunity and the eradication of discrimination in employment, for which the Fair Employment Agency has statutory responsibility, remain a central part of government responsibility. I very much welcome the kind comments of the noble Lord about the recent report by the Department of Finance and Personnel on equal opportunity in the Civil Service, which will be widely noted and passed on.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also raised the question of unemployment. The noble Lord targeted some of his remarks upon unemployment among young people in the Province, particularly those under 25 years of age. The Department of Economic Development gives a high priority through a variety of measures to young people in the 16-to-25 age bracket. For those in the 16-18 age bracket, the Government have every year since the launch in 1982 of the youth training programme honoured their guarantee of the offer to every minimum age school leaver of a year's training on the programme. The same guarantee is being made to this year's minimum age school leavers—16 year-olds—who leave school and for various reasons are unable to find a job. If they do not have a fixed and definite job we guarantee that the youth training programme will continue this year.
609 The Department of Economic Development also recently announced its intention to guarantee to offer by Christmas a suitable two-year training to all 16-year-olds who would otherwise be unemployed and a one-year place for the 17-year-olds who would otherwise be unemployed. For those in the 18-25 group there is a wide range of training, employment, self-employment and counselling provision. It is most encouraging to see this age group take up almost one-third of the places available under the enterprise allowance scheme.
Many of the available opportunities are designed to help the longer term unemployed back into employment. The new workers' scheme, the action for community employment scheme and the restart programme all have this objective. A new pilot job training programme to which I referred in my opening remarks will provide an additional 250 places mainly for young adults who have been unemployed for more than six months. We shall continue to increase the number of job clubs, which have been instrumental—and, if I may stress, very successful—in helping those who are unemployed to find jobs, to find the confidence to go to interviews, to learn from what has gone right and to learn from any mistakes. Job clubs have a role to play and I am very pleased to pay our tribute to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked about the employers' premises scheme. The training on the employers' premises scheme is demand-led. The take-up is dependent on the expansion plans of private sector companies. I stress that trainees under 18 years of age are excluded from the scheme. In the year to December 1986, about 4,000 young people under the age of 25 qualified their employers for training on employers' premises assistance. This number is likely to remain at the same level during 1987. That is one answer which I can give to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies.
As regards the criticism from the Equal Opportunities Commission, I stress that there is no obstacle placed by the department on TOEP's application to women or young ladies. However, it is a matter for employers as to the number of women they wish to or indeed can employ. The noble Lords, Lord Dunleath and Lord Blease, may worry about young ladies heaving large sacks of grain or doing heavy manual or physical work on the farm, so perhaps there are some areas where young women may not be suitable. As I said, it is a matter for the employers.
The training branch of the department has arranged to meet a representative of the Equal Opportunities Commission on 6th March to discuss and examine the possibility of single-sex classes in training centres. That is in response to the commission's concern about a lack of women in non-traditional occupations. Taking engineering and construction, your Lordships need only look at my noble friend Lady Platt to discover that there are very eminent lady engineers. I hope that the meeting later this week will provide some progress in that direction.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, may be interested to learn that in management training women are well represented. In the department's junior management programme, 32 of the 71 610 participants are women. I am sure that will please the noble Lord, but whether it will please the other 39 young men rivals we shall have to see.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also asked about welfare food and expenditure on the provision of badly needed vitamins, free milk, baby foods and similar items to families who receive supplementary benefit or who are otherwise on low incomes. This also includes milk for young children in day care. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that the revised provision in the order reflects the actual level of demand. This is slightly higher than it was in 1985–86. Since there has been this rise in take-up, we do not believe that there are prima facie grounds for an inquiry. Although the problem raised by the noble Lord may be there, we believe that the rise in the take-up indicates that it is diminishing and that an inquiry would not serve any useful purpose, given all the other avenues which are at present available to see that the take-up of these allowances will be higher than at present.
The noble Lord referred to the problems of voluntary groups. I understand that a meeting of Belfast City Council took place last night and approved the continuation of grants for 1987–88. I hope that this will set a pattern for other councils where there may have been difficulties—I use that word advisedly—during this year. I think the noble Lord will accept that last night's decision gets us over the worst of the hump since the voluntary services do a tremendous amount in Belfast; and I pay our tribute to them. However, I stress to your Lordships that the payment of funds to community groups is a discretionary district council function and the Government are prepared to intervene only when district council jobs and services are at risk.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, continued by referring to what he called the strategy options and asked what the Department of Economic Development will be doing when the consultation on its strategy options ends on 31st March. On 1st April this year the Department of Economic Development will be analysing responses to its consultation paper. It will also have discussions with selected key interest groups and will provide policy advice. The SACHR has been asked to forward comments on the consultation paper. If the commission wishes, those comments will form the basis for the discussion with the Department of Economic Development. I stress that the reviews are separate and that they have made progress independently; but we intend to take the outcome of both into account when we decide on possible new measures and what options are available. I believe that concludes the queries about which the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, kindly warned me, but if I have missed anything I am sure we will pick it up.
The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, raised several queries. I very much welcome his firm support for the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I do not want to say more than that this evening, particularly as I have already been speaking for quite a few minutes, but we are very grateful to him for his remarks and certainly my right honourable friend will note his continuing support.
His first query concerned the somewhat esoteric subject of corporal punishment in schools. I can advise him that training schools still have authority to use corporal punishment under well defined conditions. 611 However, I am advised that corporal punishment has fallen into disuse largely because of social pressure but more generally because it is no longer considered an effective means of achieving the rehabilitation of pupils. Whether corporal punishment is accepted as a means of modifying behaviour is rather hard to assess. It has not been used since 1981 and indications are that there is no pressing need for its retention. The Northern Ireland Office is in process of consulting the management of the training schools with a view to removing their statutory power to inflict corporal punishment.
The noble Lord raised the question of the Lagan recreation facilities and coupled it with the happy thought of the New Holland sewerage scheme, although I am advised that that also concerns water purification. The Lagan valley regional park stretches a total distance of 10 miles from Lockview Road in Stranmillis to the Union locks in Lisburn. The park provides a variety of opportunities for all kinds of public recreation such as walking, jogging and bird watching, which I understand is a popular pastime in the park since a number of rare and interesting species tend to gather there. They seem to congregate at other points such as Strangford Lough and over vast areas of the counties of Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh, where it seems that there are some rare and exotic birds.
I am also advised that cycling is popular in the regional park. There is a towpath there which is owned by the department for which I am primarily responsible; namely, the Department of Agriculture. The park has provided a number of attractive recreational facilities in recent years. In 1985 it provided a canoe slalom course at Shaw's Bridge and a new footbridge at Edenderry. I stress that the department will be maintaining these facilities, but at present we have no plans for additional water recreation facilities.
The noble Lord then turned from water to fire. He raised an interesting question which led me to search among statistics for the last six years. He noticed that there had been an increase in the number of fire calls between 1981 and 1986. It was not obvious why there was an increase but I do not think that it was entirely due to a single cause. I understand that there were two very large increases in numbers of fire calls during the period in question. In 1984 there were 23,942 calls; in 1986 there were 25,400 calls; but in 1981 there were only 15,000 calls.
As everyone in Northern Ireland will remember, 1984 proved to be a very hot, dry summer, which gave rise to over 10,000 small fires accidentally caused mainly on grassland and heath, as well as in forestry areas. In 1986, February and March were very dry and windy months, giving rise to a substantial increase in small fires on grassland and heath—over 8,700 in fact, which was the second highest figure in the history of the brigade since 1984.
The year 1986 saw an increase over the preceding years in other fires: chimney fires, false alarms (malicious and with good intent), and special service—I shall not go into that category—which appears to entail rescuing cats from trees and that kind of thing. All this appears to reflect a growth in public 612 demand for the services provided and, in relation to the false alarm with good intent calls, an awareness on the part of the public about the dangers of fire.
The noble Lord asked about the security aspect of fire stations and raised the question of Crossmaglen. The fire authority certainly takes the view that the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade is a neutral organisation, and that is accepted by everybody in the Province. The fire brigade serves the whole community and is seen to do so. That view is substantiated by the fact that there have been no attacks of any substance on fire brigade premises throughout the 18 years of the current troubles, apart from foolish, minor vandalism such as people going home in a state of high excitement and lobbing something like a small bottle at a window and shouting abuse. There have been no calculated, vicious attacks made on any fire stations. The Government are encouraged by that. We treat the fire service as neutral. We want to pay our tribute to what we can see that it has done.
The noble Lord asked about the additional £4 million for roads. That brings the roads budget to nearly £110 million. The extra £4 million is in addition to the £4.5 million allocated earlier this year. It is being used primarily on maintenance work on roads. Some minor works and some street lighting improvements are being carried out. They are being carried out earlier than would otherwise have been possible thanks to the provision of the extra £4 million. Those works are well advanced in most instances, and we think that they will be completed by 31st March this year.
The noble Lord asked me about the increase in private sector investment. Remarkable changes have taken place in Belfast in recent years. There has been a large amount of investment in Belfast, especially in the inner city. In the past three years major retail and office developments have been completed, are under way or have been committed to start. They are all in excess of £150 million. That includes a recently announced commitment to proceed with a major £60 million development complex at Castle Court. That is due to begin during 1987–88.
Since 1981, the Belfast enterprise zone has succeeded in attracting substantial private sector investment. An additional 2,300 jobs have thereby been created of which 1,600 are new to Northern Ireland. That is no mean achievement. The total investment in the enterprise zone has been £28 million of which £20 million has been in the private sector.
The noble Lord asked about segregation in housing. He asked whether we had had any success in ending housing segregation in the communities. The public sector housing programme in Northern Ireland is undertaken solely on the basis of housing need. Applicants are offered accommodation on the basis of need, but they are free to choose the areas in which they wish to live. That is important. If people want to live in a particular area and their need is great, then the Housing Executive will do all that it can to meet their wishes. I think that it achieves that to an overwhelming extent. The Government provide good accommodation for everyone who needs it. Everyone who knows about Northern Ireland knows that it is the people who can reduce segregation if they wish to do so, but of course people must and will live where they want.
613 The noble Lord mentioned the interesting subject of victim support schemes. Over 200 such schemes are operating in Great Britain. The development of such schemes in Northern Ireland is still relatively new. I am advised that the Northern Ireland Office has been discussing with other Northern Ireland departments and public agencies how best to achieve the establishment of more schemes in Northern Ireland. We hope we shall be making our way forward. We expect that some additional funding will be available, but I cannot advise the noble Lord this evening how much that will be.
The noble Lord asked about Co-operation North. We think highly of it and want to praise it for the valuable work it has done. We raised the grant that we made available to Co-operation North this year by £5,000 to £40,000. We are carefully considering the level of grant for next year. We shall note, as we have in the past, the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and other Members of your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord also mentioned school exchanges. We do not have much on that, but we take our hat off to and praise Co-operation North for all its valuable work. One may be able to couple school exchanges with this organisation, but I am sure that the remarks of the noble Lord will be noted by Co-operation North, which scans the Official Report of your Lordships' House. I am sure that it will take them on board. We shall be interested in and will note the comments of the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, raised a number of fascinating topics, some hitting hard at my department, and hitting home with the noble Lord's accustomed charm and ability. One of the sad elements of the suspension and non-appearance of the Northern Ireland Assembly is that we do not hear or read his forthright contributions to the Assembly. Everybody in Northern Ireland knows the high esteem in which he is held and the ability with which he used to chair the sometimes turbulent activities in that Assembly.
The first point that the noble Lord raised was on cattle smuggling. We all appreciate the concern expressed by the noble Lord and by everyone who I meet in Northern Ireland about the incentive to smuggle cattle from north to south. This arises almost entirely because of the agri-monetary differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic. In considering this matter we take into account many other factors. One is public expenditure in the United Kingdom as a whole. Another is consumer interest; housewives are not altogether too sad when beef prices are affected, especially in their favour.
However, this does not help the Northern Ireland agriculture industry. It does not help the meat plants in the north, which, as the noble Lord so rightly points out, are having problems. But I assure him that the problem of MCAs, green pounds and agri-monetary differences concern my department. They concern me, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of State, and other Ministers, who all fight hard for all our sakes for agriculture in Northern Ireland. We are trying to see what we can do to alleviate this major problem which rears its worst side in Northern Ireland.
614 I also noted the suggestion of the noble Lord about the setting of common intervention prices between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. This may be attractive at first sight, but he of all people may be aware that the operation of such an arrangement would not only have some difficulty with regard to the tax regime, the green pound and so on, but would also necessitate border controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not know how popular that would be, particularly in the current political climate in Northern Ireland. It is not a matter that I would wish to raise. I assure the noble Lord that this issue is bound to continue to occupy the centre of our attention.
The noble Lord raised the problem of the Strangford Ferry. I am advised that the ferry is generally reliable. It must be enormously frustrating for people to drive from one end of the Ards peninsula and down the other side and to be looking across a very narrow stretch of water. I am advised that that distance is nearly 45 miles. It may be more if one takes the better roads inland towards Comber. However, I am advised that the service is generally reliable.
In terms of the annual levels of service, the periods during which it has not been provided are negligible. But it is infuriating if that occurs for two or three days. I believe that it was longer than that in November 1986 when mechanical problems developed in the standby vessel when the main vessel was having a refit. That was before the very busy spring and summer period when the service operates continuously. I believe that the service is probably more frequent than at half-hourly intervals. I appreciate that interruptions cause enormous annoyance and inconvenience to travellers and local residents. I assure the noble Lord that every effort has been made to keep any interruption in the service as short as possible.
The noble Lord spoke of tax exemption certificates, fraud and paramilitaries. There were a number of recent convictions in Northern Ireland of which the noble Lord will be aware. They are the latest in a long line of successful prosecutions for tax exemption fraud in Northern Ireland. I understand that over 85 people have been convicted in respect of frauds totalling more than £13.25 million. When the noble Lord puts that into perspective with the amount that he was suggesting was crossing the border as regards cattle going back and forth, it is a fairly substantial success. However, other cases are pending and they remain under investigation.
The Government are satisfied that the Royal Ulster Constabulary, with the full support of the housing executive in Northern Ireland and the other relevant agencies, have made commendable progress in combating what is a potential and very lucrative source of finance for terrorist organisations and paramilitaries, as well as being thoroughly undesirable and a mere racket.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, raised the question of housing in rural areas. Since 1981 expenditure on housing in Northern Ireland has been planned on the basis of the strategy for housing in which the levels of the programme have been calculated to achieve "specified targets" for improving housing conditions and for meeting housing needs. The distribution of the resources of the housing executive is a matter for the 615 executive. It will allocate its resources to the regions on the basis of local needs as the executive perceives those needs. The allocation to the housing executive for the year 1987–88, which was made in December last year, matched the bid for resources to mount its strategy programmes. We believe that the executive will have sufficient resources to carry out its plans in all parts of the Province and we believe that that includes rural areas. However, we take the point of the noble Lord that rural areas should not be left out, or feel that they are in any way discriminated against.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, also raised the question of temporary classrooms. Regrettably, it had been necessary to provide temporary classrooms in many schools to meet their urgent needs for additional accommodation. The policy is that the schools' long-term accommodation needs should be met by modern, permanent buildings; but we do not have the resources to meet this aim immediately. My honourable friend Dr. Mawhinney, the Minister responsible for education in the Province, has recently announced a programme of new starts for the year 1987–88 involving no fewer than 24 schools. We hope to be able to mount similar programmes for the next few years.
The noble Lord also raised the question of mentally handicapped children and the fact that their education needs will now be catered for by education and library boards. The boards will take the aim that they must ensure the standards of provision in schools for mentally handicapped children will be on a par with those in other special schools. For the year 1986–87 your Lordships have been asked to approve expenditure of £2 million for the purchase of buses and the provision of accommodation. In addition, £8.8 million will be made available for the year 1987–88, and £2 million of that has been provided for capital expenditure on buildings, equipment and buses for those children.
A major building programme to replace most of the existing schools will be required but the planning is still at an early stage. However, the £2 million will be sufficient to enable the board to make a start in the year 1987–88.
It is right to say that the noble Lord, Lord Blease, raised the question of the residual amount of money for the Northern Ireland Assembly. The provision for the Assembly is required to recover the residual costs, such as the clerk, the members' pension fund and the library. But I should like to stress to the noble Lord, in support of his constant search for value for money and efficiency, that the majority of the staff have gone back to their parent departments.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, referred to the current constitutional and, above all, political situation in Northern Ireland. I hope he will forgive me if I undertake to draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to the remarks of the noble Lord. I should not want to go further than that, and as far as concerns the paper that was put out by the UDA, we take the view that we have noted this and that is as far as I will go tonight. We believe that any negotiations on political and constitutional life in Northern Ireland should be pursued by the constitutional political parties. The noble Lord knows 616 that that is our aim. He, of all people, will know probably better than I exactly what the situation will be from day to day, but I undertake to convey the noble Lord's remarks to my right honourable friend.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, drew attention to research and development. I will bring his comments to the attention of all of my colleagues, my right honourable friends and my honourable friends. I should not want to do more than that, apart from commenting briefly on the IDB, which he will know operates the research and development grant scheme. Between September 1982 and 1986 the IDB offered grants of £28.4 million against a total expenditure by companies which we estimate at £72.8 million, so that is an average of about 25 per cent. over the period. The IDB is encouraged by the fact that the rate of applications under the scheme has been increasing each year. The IDB board itself is anxious to encourage increased research and development activity and it has embarked on a major promotion of the R&D grant scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, also raised a subject dear to my own heart, agricultural research and development in Northern Ireland. This would be approximately £10 million to £10.5 million in 1986–87. A similar figure will be made available next year, 1987–88, and I believe that this represents a reasonable share of the total resources which are available for agriculture.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, raised the question of attendance allowance and invalid care allowance. The administration of both of these allowances may be under pressure, but I believe this is only a reflection of the considerable efforts of the Department of Health and Social Security to publicise the extension of the invalid care allowance to married women. The legislation which gives effect to the Government's decision to extend the allowance did not come into force until 19th November 1986, compared with July 1986 in Great Britain. We feel that this did not have any adverse effect, because arrangements had been made already to match Great Britain's publicity and to deal with claims on an extra-statutory basis pending the introduction of the new legislation.
In September 1986 the department was able to write to each of the 22,000 people who received attendance allowance about the eligibility of the carers to claim invalid care allowance, though in Great Britain it was only possible to contact 60 per cent. of such beneficiaries—the people who should have been receiving this allowance. New beneficiaries since then are similarly advised. The response to all that we have done has been very encouraging, with the result that over 5,000 invalid care allowance claims have been received, while attendance allowance claims have gone up six times. In the light of public interest we propose to issue a further round of press advertisements in the spring and in the summer.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, also raised the question of the youth training programme. This is not of itself an unemployment measure, but it is a vocational education and training programme with both economic and social aims. The method by which full-time training is delivered is more institution-based. It is more geared to government or quasi-government institutions, such as colleges and training 617 areas, than is the case in Great Britain. To that extent administrative costs are proportionately greater, but the vast bulk of YTP expenditure is on direct programme costs. The noble Lord raised the question of the Citizens' Advice Bureau. We are giving consideration to the continuing needs of the association. The allocation of grant which we have approved for next year, 1987–88, should permit improvement in the areas of information and social policy where we have recently been employing additional staff.
The noble Lord also raised the question of community care services. There were some additional amounts. I think that Class 9, Vote 1 takes account of the need to develop domiciliary and community services so that essential care and treatment are available to those people who are being maintained in the community.
I gasp when I look at the clock; but your Lordships have been very kind and I am grateful to noble Lords who have stayed. I have tried to answer all the questions which have been raised. The House may not be exceedingly full this evening, but there are not many opportunities for your Lordships to ask questions of the Government in order that we can account for our stewardship and for the care of everybody in Northern Ireland. Once again, we are immensely grateful for the care, attention and scrutiny given to the order this evening. I guarantee that we shall read through all my replies to check that I have not missed any points. With that, I commend the order to your Lordships.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.