§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th May be approved.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move. The order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The draft order before your Lordships' House authorises the expenditure of £2,020 million. This is in addition to the £1,598 million approved by your Lordships on 16th March and gives a total for voted expenditure of £3,618 million for the 1988–89 financial year. Details of the services on which this money will be spent can be found in Northern Ireland Estimates 1988–89 volume which is available from the Printed Paper Office. It is of the usual considerable bulk and fascinating interest.
§ I should first like to highlight certain key features of the Northern Ireland economic situation. I am certain that noble Lords will welcome the fall in unemployment in the Province. In May this year seasonally adjusted unemployment was some 9,400 below the level of May 1987. The latest figures for employees in employment are equally encouraging, showing an increase of 5,000 in the year ended March 1988. The number of jobs is growing across most sectors of the economy. The shining sector of the economy which we should like to detail is the construction sector, where output in 1987 was nearly 20 per cent. above its 1986 level.
§ The UK economy is growing and we have, therefore, the reasonable expectation that in the months ahead the Northern Ireland economy will benefit from further growth at national level. Independent surveys, such as the CBI, indicate a favourable economic outlook for the Province with relatively buoyant investment intentions and business confidence. In my agricultural travels in Northern Ireland I am very impressed by the revival of the commercial life of Belfast and other urban centres. The fact that the Province's job-creation agencies had a successful year in 1987–88 also bodes well for the future and is a clear demonstration that Northern Ireland offers, as many noble Lords know, a most attractive location in which to invest.
§ I now turn to the details of the Estimates. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has picked up several details and 1 look forward to answering his questions. I should like to take your Lordships through the details which appeal to me particularly. As regards expenditure on agriculture, page 28 of the Estimates shows that in the two Votes we are seeking the sum of £127 million covering agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
§ Vote 1 on page 28 of the Estimates volume covers expenditure of some £40 million on national support measures which apply throughout the UK. In the main this is made up of some £27 million to assist structural improvements by way of various capital and other grants, and nearly £12 million is to support farming in the less favoured areas by means of headage payments on hill cattle and sheep.1857
§ Vote 2, the broad details of which are given on page 33, seeks total provision of some £87 million for local agricultural expenditure programmes. This includes £16 million for industry support of which I would draw your Lordships' particular attention to the allocation of just over £6 million, in subhead C3 on page 36, for the first year of the revised agricultural development programme which will commence shortly and which is of considerable interest to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. As can be seen from the fine print in the subhead detail, the programme will provide a range of assistance for farmers in the less favoured areas, including renewal of existing drainage, grassland improvement and silage effluent and animal waste storage facilities. That is of particular interest in the Province with greater attention being paid to environmental protection.
§ These measures are extremely important to farmers in Northern Ireland's less favoured areas, which cover almost 80 per cent. of the Province. The re-opening of the agricultural development programme will place farmers in a strong position to maintain levels of capital investment in farm structures. I know that a lot of effort has gone into securing European Community agreement to reopening the programme and I hope that there will be a high level of participation by eligible farmers. I have no doubt that there will be.
§ Turning back to page 33, the other main elements of Vote 2 are nearly £38 million in Section A for agricultural, scientific and veterinary services to the industry; £20 million out of the £28 million in Section C for drainage and forestry; and nearly £12 million in Section D for central administrative services including accommodation.
§ Moving on to the Department of Economic Development, Vote 1 on page 41 covers many aspects of economic, industrial and commercial life. Vote 1 covers IDB industrial support and regeneration. Three-quarters of the £75.7 million sought in section D on pages 41 and 43 is for industrial support and regeneration, including support for marketing and research and, development. In addition, £13.4 million in Section B at the bottom of page 42 is required for the provision and maintenance of industrial land and buildings. The balance of £13.3 million is made up of £9.1 million for administration and £4.2 million for industrial development promotion.
§ The Department of Economic Development's Vote 2 covers other economic support measures. As can be seen from the second entry in Section B on page 46, some £59.7 million of the £110 million sought is to provide assistance to Harland and Wolff. At the top of the same page, the Local Enterprise Development Unit, the Northern Ireland small firms agency, has an allocation of £22.9 million. We believe that the unit's record speaks for itself. Since 1971 when it was founded it has promoted over 35,000 jobs. It is a local enterprise development unit of small businesses which has required considerable individual effort to produce that figure of 35,000 jobs. However, the current allocation which we are making this year will enable 5,000 jobs to be promoted, and we hope, retained in 1988–89.1858
§ In Vote 3 on page 50, which is happily entitled "Functioning of the labour market", a total of £116.4 million is sought for various labour market measures such as the youth training programme. This programme is an important item in the government strategy for fighting unemployment. As can be seen from Section A, it requires some £34 million this year. Perhaps if I tie up this section with what I said at the outset, we believe it is very important to note that training can be guaranteed for every unemployed young person in the Province who is under 18.
§ Another important element in the Government's programme is the Action for Community Employment Scheme and, I am pleased to report, it is proving very successful. The scheme provides useful employment for those who have been out of work for at least 12 out of the previous 15 months. The provision of £37.4 million, which can be found near the top of page 53, will enable the number of ACE jobs available to increase this year from 6,200 to 8,000. The balance of £45 million in Vote 3 is made up of £29.2 million for industrial training, £12.4 million for other employment schemes such as Enterprise Ulster and just under £3.4 million on various labour market services such as the Fair Employment Agency.
§ Environment in Northern Ireland is especially important and, as regards the Department of Environment, Vote 1 on page 65 covers roads, transport and ports. A total provision of £126 million is sought for these services. The major portion, some £102 million, is required for roads. Vote 2, on pages 73 and 75, covers another very important area—housing. In his statement in another place on 24th November 1987, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State indicated that in the face of competing pressures in other key programmes it was no longer possible to provide resources for housing on the scale of recent years, or to meet in full the Housing Executive's bid for resources for the current year. Nevertheless, the Government's public expenditure allocation to housing of some £338 million in 1988–89, which is supplemented by rental income and capital receipts, will mean that gross expenditure on housing should be over £552 million. Considerable progress has been made in tackling the Province's housing problems, for example, the level of unfitness has fallen from 14.1 per cent. in 1979 to 8.4 per cent. in 1987. The substantial resources available now will enable the Housing Executive to continue to tackle Northern Ireland's housing problems and to build on the improvements achieved in recent years.
§ DOE Vote 3, which covers other fascinating matters such as water and sewerage services, is set out on page 77 of the Estimates volume. Of the £84 million total over £26 million is earmarked for a capital works programme. Part of this is aimed at improving sewerage facilities in the greater Belfast area thereby improving the quality of the River Lagan. I hope that it is also pure water and pure air that is going into that. Your Lordships will appreciate that sewerage will aid water purity.
§ In Vote 4, Environmental and other services, the main provision I would draw to your Lordships' attention is the £18 million in Section C, on page 83, 1859 for urban regeneration measures, which stresses very much what I said earlier about the regeneration of city centres and, above all, the city centre of Belfast which, even in my career in Northern Ireland has been quite startling and is going ahead at an ever increasing rate. These measures are aimed primarily at improving the economic health and the environment of areas suffering from urban dereliction. An important element in this policy is the encouragement of a partnership between government and the private sector. This is best illustrated by the Urban Development Grant scheme, which is very successful, in which every £1 of public money generates £3 of private finance. Indeed, only last week I was in a major new office redevelopment, which goes to show that this partnership is achieving results and we believe that it is no mean success.
§ I now turn to education and the consultative paper outlining the Government's proposals for education reform in Northern Ireland which was published at the end of March. These proposals are designed to improve standards and to increase the involvement of parents in their children's education. The main features are the introduction of a common curriculum, attainment testing of pupils, financial delegation to schools, the opportunity to seek a new type of grant maintained status and greater freedom of choice for parents in selecting their children's schools. I can assure your Lordships that, in making decisions, the Government will be considering all the comments which have been received, and which I have no doubt will continue to be received.
§ The estimates before your Lordships today seek a total provision of £803 million for Department of Education services. Of that amount some £677 million, in Vote 1, detailed on page 99, is for recurrent expenditure on the schools. A major element of this expenditure is required for the salaries of almost 18,700 teachers in the Province. This will maintain the pupil/teacher ratio at the enhanced 1987 level of 18.3.
§ The recurrent grant of £250.3 million, at the top of page 100, to area education and library boards, is for the running costs of controlled and maintained schools. This represents an increase of 5 per cent. over last year's spending. In the further education sector, provision has been made for an additional 30 lecturers in the priority areas of engineering, business studies and micro-electronics. The estimates in Vote 1 and 2 provide for total capital expenditure on education of some £51 million.
§ In the Department of Education's Vote 2 on page 107, which covers higher education other services and administration, provision of £127 million is sought. Some £100 million of this in Section A and B covers expenditure on the two universities in the Province, expenditure on the Open University and expenditure on teacher training. Grants to the universities are based on the principle of maintaining parity of provision with comparable institutions in Great Britain.
§ Turning to the Department of Health and Social Services, a total of £762 million is sought in Vote 1 on page 117 to maintain and further improve Northern 1860 Ireland's excellent health and personal social services. The largest elements within this total are the advances to the health and social services boards, which come to £625 million. This figure appears at the top of page 118. A further £25 million has been earmarked for capital expenditure. This will permit the continuation of a substantial programme of major and minor works, including the first stages of the new area hospital at Antrim, the new block at the Mater Hospital, Belfast and geriatric units and day hospitals at Enniskillen and Armagh.
§ Vote 3, on page 129, provides £70.8 million for the Department of Health and Social Services administration and miscellaneous services. And, finally, Vote 4 on page 133 provides £825.3 million for social security. This includes £32 million for support for the National Insurance Fund, £18 million for payments to the Social Fund and the balance, nearly £775 million, is for family and noncontributory benefits as well as for means-tested benefits.
§ Once again, I thank and commend your Lordships for your patience while I have taken your Lordships through one or two of the headings in the volume before us today. With that, I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th May be approved—(Lord Lyell).
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I rise to acknowledge with appreciation the care to detail that the Minister has shown in this opportunity—and those of us who have an interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland do not get many such opportunities—to debate the order somewhat dispassionately away from some of the awful happenings with which we are all too familiar.
I also acknowledge that in this order we are seeking to redress some of the balance in the impression that may have been given from the detail in the earlier debate. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to the depressing feeling that one can get from listening to the recent debates in another place. Although I was not there as long as my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies or the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, I have read the reports. All of us in public life are accustomed to vigorous debate, anger and passion. However, the element involved in Northern Ireland politics is difficult to understand—I refer to the vituperation and the personal denigration that one cannot seem to escape in considering those matters.
We also acknowledge that we are debating what the Member for South Down, Mr. Eddie McGrady, said recently are the bread and butter issues. My honourable friend Ms Mowlam in winding up also used the same phrase. We acknowledge that in Northern Ireland affairs the all-pervading vital interest—in fact, the life and death interest—in security and constitutional matters certainly plays a full part. Nevertheless, as one of my honourable friends in another place said, we must also reach a due proportion in these matters. There are priorities in resources, men and materials, and the attention of the mind to security and constitutional matters is all 1861 very proper. However, life goes on, and it goes on sweetly for a great many people in Northern Ireland. With these orders we must examine closely how to ensure that that continues.
The ministerial friend of the Minister, Mr. Needham, gently chided my honourable friend Ms Mowlam for what he said was a torrent of questions. That is perfectly proper and fitting in the circumstances. On this side of the Chamber we are eager not only for the truth but for information. We are hungry for it. And I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, because he always satisfies those of us who raise such matters. He is not only diligent at the Dispatch Box during debates, but we always receive a full reply to matters that we have raised and to which he cannot immediately reply. I will be asking a number of questions today and I shall not in the least be upset if I have to wait for a letter in a day or two, or even a week or two—but not a month or two, though we never wait that long. I shall be happy to wait for his replies.
I turn to unemployment. The Minister is right to draw attention to the improvements that have occurred in the general economy. Those improvements have certainly occurred in Northern Ireland. However, we should also acknowledge the depressing employment prospects in Northern Ireland. If one uses last year as the bench mark or measuring rod, of course there has been an improvement. However, if one goes back to 1979 it appears there is still a great way to go. The Government are entitled to say that in the past 12 months unemployment in general has been reduced by almost 1 million, but it is still twice as high as in 1979. I hope that before we conclude our debate the Minister can augment the unemployment statistics by giving the figures relating to 1979. He is entitled to say that there has been an improvement over last year but perhaps he can say how far the figures must improve before they get back to what they were when his party came to power.
I should like the Minister to take on board the remarks of my honourable friend Ms Mowlam when she drew a relationship—not too fine, not too firm—between the depressing fact that there seems to be a greater proportion of 16 year-olds leaving school in Northern Ireland who are unqualified for the very limited number of jobs available compared with other parts of the United Kingdom. The Minister will understand that these are not malicious questions designed to make a political point, but we must be realistic in assessing the situation.
Ms Mowlam drew attention to the statistics for youngsters and said:That is a worrying statistic because it creates a climate of deprivation, poverty and unemployment which is a breeding ground for alienation, frustration and paramilitary recruitment."—[Official Report, Commons, 29/6/88; col. 493.].I hope that the Minister does not dismiss all of that as either nonsensical or invalid. Those of us who study these matters are satisfied that where those elements exist it is easy to see how breeding grounds can exist for people who want to misuse and abuse the situation.
Can the Minister also say something about the elements in the appropriations in respect of consumer 1862 affairs and consumer protection. Turning to the Department of Economic Development, in the global phrase we have expenditure on administration, consumer protection, and so on. Can the Minister give any Northern Ireland statistics for consumer credit and the problems of consumer credit? One of the facts that must worry the Minister and his colleagues is the extent to which the total debt of individuals has grown enormously. We all understand why that is so. The cost of consumer durables goes up. Families 20 years ago might never have had a motor car, a television set or owned their own houses. There is a natural expectancy for such items now. The size of the debt is absolutely frightening. Has the Minister any statistics about the indebtedness of individuals in Northern Ireland, and whether it is any greater or less than for other parts of the United Kingdom? If the debt is as high as it is elsewhere that would be worrying, but if it is higher, that is even more worrying.
I should like the Minister to tell us a little more about what he alluded to as the great Education Reform Bill and the follow-on—the consultation that is taking place with parents on the Government's plans for changes in the curriculum, the ability to opt out, to choose their own schools and participation in governing bodies. In my view the Government have a shocking record, in general, for not taking notice of the people they consult.
In looking at the other elements in the report and referring, for example, to youth facilities, we have under the Department of Education Vote the arts, museums, youth, sport, and community services. Perhaps I may remind the Minister that about two hours ago in another place, a ministerial colleague made an announcement as regards the privatisation of sports and leisure facilities in local authorities.
I should like to use this example as an illustration. Earlier this year the Government sought consultation with local authorities and said to them, "What are your views on whether (a) you believe that this service should be privatised, and (b) what are the options?" I can tell the Minister that 97 per cent. of the local authorities said, "Do not touch them and do not change." That did not prevent the Minister saying an hour ago that the Government have consulted widely. We have not been told what is the response.
I hope that as regards education the Minister will tell us that he has consulted widely with parents concerning their views on the changes. If my information is correct—the Minister will be privy to better information—and one takes into account the views of parents, the Minister will not touch the changes with a barge pole. However, we know that the Minister is not a free agent in these matters. He will continue to visit upon Northern Ireland substantially the writ and the whim of the Government here at Westminster. I do not quibble with the constitutional position, but the Minister should not pass off in this House or anywhere else the view that he takes into account what parents and educationists are saying.
Having raised the question of privatisation, can the Minister tell us what are the consequences of the Local Government Bill which earlier this year passed through this House? It provided local authorities 1863 with a wide range of opportunities to privatise their services. I raised the question of sport and leisure. There needs to be in Northern Ireland full and comprehensive facilities for the young, the unemployed and the disabled and the maintenance of a wide measure of recreational and sports facilities. That is essential. Can the Minister say whether he and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office will say or do anything to ensure that Northern Ireland is treated somewhat differently from what I fear will happen in other places?
The Minister quire rightly pointed out his desire to develop and regenerate. I ask the Minister to look very closely at situations such as the one I now wish to put to him. In Northern Ireland the co-operative movement plays a very full part in a wide range of matters. There are not only agricultural cooperatives but there are marketing and servicing cooperatives. There are also credit unions which are responsible for the management of the small amounts of money that people have in order that they may better manage their financial affairs.
There is also the very important place of the Cooperative Wholesale Society, which is a powerful financial institution. Alongside that organisation we have the Co-operative Bank, the Co-operative Insurance Society, which collectively are powerful organisations. Currently they are playing a large part in the regeneration of Northern Ireland. If the Minister cannot give much information in his reply today, I hope that he will write to me on this point.
To what extent do the Government recognise the value of the co-operative arm? There is a private and a public sector and there is the co-operative sector. The Minister never used the words "co-operative" or "co-operative sector" in his speech and I do not cavil at that. However, I believe that it would be a very good use of time and money by the Minister and his colleagues if they concentrate upon helping the cooperative sector and, in particular, on paying attention to the desires of bodies such as the Co-operative Wholesale Society which has money to invest and expertise which it is anxious to use in a helpful way.
I ask the Minister whether he has any comments to make about the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. Can he tell us to what extent there is liaison and an exchange of experience between the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland and both MAFF here and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland? I have in mind areas such as marketing, forestry and fisheries. They have common problems and restrictions on expenditure, actual and pending, in England and Wales and also in Scotland.
I say to the Minister that though he serves, and is proud to serve a Government, he is also responsible for a department. Along with others, I believe that departments have common problems. The question is to what extent he and his colleagues try to ensure that their common problems are looked at as joint problems and not merely as problems relating to a department?
1864 As regards the Department of Economic Development, and Vote 5, can the Minister tell us what form of assistance is being given to the gas industry and at what cost? How are electricity tariffs being subsidised? Does mineral exploration include the area surrounding Lough Neagh? If it does, what are the prospects for exploiting the alternative electricity generating material, lignite? While the commercial exploitation of this source benefits domestic and industrial consumers, can the Minister confirm that? If development is being undertaken privately, will the public sector be rewarded for past financial help given to this important venture?
I wish to say a final word about housing. I was disappointed by the acknowledgement frankly given by the Minister that in general there has been a curb upon the new build housing in Northern Ireland. As the Minister knows and I acknowledge, the Housing Executive is led very well indeed by Mr. Victor Blease, the son of a Member of your Lordships' House. He is leading the executive with distinction and flair. He is in desperate need of as much support as he can receive. We have a right-to-buy situation when we need houses desperately; and it is a nonsense that at the same time we are encouraging people to buy the very houses that are needed for rent. Has the Minister any figures of the extent to which the right to buy has been taken up in Northern Ireland?
Many other questions remain, but today I have had the opportunity to ask a fair number. There are other people who can speak with authority and experience of these matters and they have yet to speak. I very much hope that the Minister has something helpful to say. I repeat that noble Lords on these Benches recognise the enormity of the task which faces the Minister and his colleagues here today. Very often we feel for you, at the burden you have to carry almost thanklessly in Northern Ireland. We wish you to know that we appreciate very much that you are doing your best and we wish you well.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for presenting the order that we are discussing today in such detail and so thoroughly. I shall not detain your Lordships very long on this matter. I wish to concentrate upon one aspect of the employment position in Northern Ireland. The stark fact is that Northern Ireland has, and always has had, massively higher unemployment than Great Britain. As the Minister said, though the situation has improved in the past year it is still horrendous. The latest figures I have are up to April 1988 and they show that unemployment in Northern Ireland is 118,000. The terrible fact as regards that figure is that 33 per cent. relates to people under the age of 25, and 52 per cent. of those 118,000 people have been unemployed for over a year. Taking the figures a little further, unemployment is two and a half times as high among the Catholic population as it is among the Protestant population. It is this matter at which I wish to look briefly, particularly in relation to the White Paper Fair Employment in Northern Ireland. That is a most admirable document. I hope he will take steps to ensure that it is brought to the attention of the Home Secretary with the utmost speed. If in 1865 race relations legislation in this country, we had a coverage, an enforcement procedure and an organisation such as is set forth in that document, we would be more than satisfied. It contains almost every recommendation made to the Home Office since race relations legislation was first passed in this country. I should like to say a few words about its merits, something which one does not often have an opportunity to do when speaking from these Benches about a government measure.
The White Paper was prompted by the limited success—some would say failure—of the Fair Employment Act 1976. What is encouraging is that it does not respond by concluding that the law is useless in this area and that it cannot change attitudes and cannot change practices. It asks: why has the law in this case been ineffective? How can it be made more effective? How can we set up a better way of changing practices and attitudes? The figure of unemployment which I quoted earlier showing the disproportionate number of unemployed Catholics is, according to the Standing Commission on Human Rights, based on discrimination, that being in its view the most likely explanatory factor. That second element lies at the heart of the White Paper. Why does the commission regard this as so important? It may seem self-evident but it is worth rehearsing the reasons which it gives.
It says it is important to eliminate discrimination partly because it is wrong that anyone's employment prospects should suffer on account of his religious background; because fair employment has a part to play in building up a more united community; because fair employment will make the best use of our human resources; and because fair employment will help to broaden employment opportunities for people in areas of high unemployment. Hence it extends the law to expand the duty to ensure that equality of opportunity is being afforded and in addition it splits the responsibility of the agencies into two bodies—one responsible for individual complaints and one for patterns of discrimination and education.
This is a sensible and constructive approach to the problem. Moreover, it provides adequate enforcement procedures and sees to it that the public sector falls squarely under the supervision of the Fair Employment Commission and the Fair Employment Tribunal and that the public sector carries out its duty both by setting an example and by ensuring that those with whom it makes contracts conform with the law. This is a promising and constructive document which I notice is to be reviewed periodically. It will be interesting to see how effective it proves. I hope it will provide a model which we may imitate in this country. It is an interesting undertaking from the present Government. It is generally believed that the Prime Minister is not very enamoured of social engineering. This is a piece of social engineering via the law on an ambitious and well thought out scale. I commend it and I congratulate the Minister and those who have produced it.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I shall certainly take a question from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in the gap, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is boiling and ready to speak. If the noble Lord wishes to ask a question, I shall certainly take it.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, I do not want unduly to detain the House but I must say that I found it heartening to listen to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. It is obvious that he has been reading into the affairs of Northern Ireland.
I remember vividly being a member of the Standing Committee in another place which considered the Fair Employment Bill in 1976. Several members of the Committee were Northern Ireland Unionists, ably led by the then new Member for South Down, the right honourable Enoch Powell. During the debates in Committee over several months the Unionists said that there was no discrimination in Northern Ireland and that the whole thing was a figment of the nationalists' imagination, and in particular of my imagination. I could have expected this from Unionist representatives but I had to listen to tirade after tirade from the newly elected Member for South Down who was the leader of the Unionists in that Committee. He insisted time and again that there was no employment discrimination in Northern Ireland and that the Fair Employment Bill, which subsequently became the Fair Employment Act, was totally unnecessary. As we now know, even with that Act, we have been unable to contain the ongoing ravages of discrimination.
One can see further injurious elements emerging from this position. For example, throughout the history of the Belfast shipyard 90 to 95 per cent. of its employees have been from the Unionist tradition. The yard was situated in East Belfast and generation after generation of families were employed there. So far as I was concerned, it was keeping people in jobs. I did not want to see anybody losing a job. However, the industry received no sympathy from the Catholic population.
I was leader of the SDLP. When the subject of further financial subventions to the Belfast shipyard came up in Parliament I supported it on the ground that it was keeping people in employment. When I went back to my party councils I was hauled over the coals on many occasions for supporting an industry which employed only Protestants. I did not see it that way, but if certain industries or commercial undertakings in Northern Ireland predominantly favour one religion, great industrial unrest is caused. I am delighted to see the White Paper referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I believe that is is being discussed in another place today. It is a well drawn up document and it points clearly to the need for further legislation if we are ever to get away from the cancer of discrimination in employment as it exists in Northern Ireland.
On the question of jobs in Northern Ireland, the Local Enterprise Development Unit is one of the few organisations set up by the Government to have gone from success to success. I have never heard anyone criticising the efforts of LEDU in all the years of its existence. I know some of the officers of LEDU. They 1867 are men of total dedication who day after day give their utmost to ensure that further employment opportunities are created in Northern Ireland. For example, the Minister announced today that in the past year LEDU has created 4,700 jobs. That is more jobs than at present exist in the Belfast shipyard and people ought to look at it in that way. I think all those who have been responsible for this should be commended. As I say, I know some of the officers in LEDU. They are certainly of a calibre which would be hard to find in any other branch of the Civil Service in any part of the United Kingdom. They have created 35,000 jobs in all the years since their existence. That certainly is no mean achievement.
I am afraid I had to leave the Chamber for a few moments to make a telephone call and I wonder whether my noble friend on the Front Bench mentioned the Belfast shipyard—
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, as we know, the Belfast shipyard has become a big talking point in Northern Ireland in recent days. It is more than an industrial undertaking; it is a whole symbol of industrial life in Northern Ireland. For that very reason there are many people who want to keep it in existence and many people who would like to see it wiped out of existence. There are many people in high areas of unemployment throughout Northern Ireland who will say, "Why should the Government pour so much money into Harland and Wolff and not give us the same sort of financial assistance?" I have never taken that view. I believe that the Belfast shipyard has a history in peace and war that we can be proud of. I hope that the Government will do everything to keep it in existence as a viable shipyard.
As a former and wartime merchant seaman, I speak with some considerable feeling on the matter. I think it would be a total disaster politically, industrially, economically and symbolically if anything were to happen which would lead to the closure of the Belfast shipyard. I am a bit worried at the moment about recent developments regarding the proposals made by Mr. Ravi Tikkoo for the building of the "Ultimate Dream". I should love to see that come in. It would also be a dream so far as many other people are concerned. I should like to see it happen. But it appears that the Government are now saying, "You go ahead and build it yourself, and we will sell you the shipyard". The gentleman concerned has been on television in Northern Ireland and said, "I wanted to see a ship built but I didn't want to buy a shipyard".
I hope that that is not the beginning of a process which will lead to the privatisation of Harland and Wolff. If that were to happen, it has been predicted by the trade unions in Northern Ireland that within one or two years when the profit motive has become paramount and all the social consequences have been pushed to one side, it would be the beginning of the end of the Belfast shipyard. I hope that the Government will do everything they can to ensure the continuation of the Belfast shipyard as a viable shipyard. I say this not only for the sake of Belfast but 1868 also for the whole of the United Kingdom. If it were to close, to refer to what was said in the last debate, it would be of such symbolic importance to those who are at present employed there that it could indeed—and it is being talked about at the moment—be the beginning of British economic withdrawal from Northern Ireland. That is the way it is being talked about at the moment. I hope that the Minister will be able to dissipate the fears which are at present abounding in Northern Ireland.
The other matter I should like to speak about is this. I still act in many ways as an MP in Northern Ireland, because the present MP for my former constituency would not perhaps be approached by people in the same way as they have been able to approach me. I believe that there is a great rundown in many aspects of our hospitals in Northern Ireland. I have been most proud of hospitals, especially the Royal Victoria Hospital. Rumours are abounding now that the Government may have taken a decision to close down this whole hospital complex.
I received a letter only recently from an old man who was most concerned because his wife was on a very long waiting list for a cataract operation; in fact she was very nearly blind. He was worried about the length of the delay which was taking place because of the waiting list. It would appear that the only place that such operations can be carried out in Northern Ireland is in the Royal Victoria Hospital. He wrote to me and I then sent a letter off to the Minister in charge of Northern Ireland. They must have a most efficient Civil Service going on over there since I left because an acknowledgement was sent to my Belfast home—although I do not have a Belfast home: it was burnt out in 1983. But that is where the acknowledgement was sent.
In view of this I took it upon myself to ring certain individuals and eye specialists whom I had known in Northern Ireland and within a few weeks the old lady had had her cataract operation. It has changed her whole life. Now, had I not been able to do that, 1 think that that old lady would have been living in most unfair circumstances. Therefore I hope that the cutbacks that are taking place have not led to a very lengthy waiting list in relation to those operations which are so important to those who need them.
The other thing which has not been mentioned—I hope the Minister will be able to tell us something about it—is the proposed plan for West Belfast, the area which has been so industrially deprived and economically neglected over so many years. I can say this irrespective of its present representative. When I was the representative it was indeed industrially neglected and there was always a good deal of despair and deprivation in the area. It would appear now that the Government, in conjunction with the International Fund, which was an adjunct of the Anglo-Irish Agreement may do something. If something could be done here I may even say something in favour of that agreement, or at least the International Fund end of it. Can the Minister give us any indication of how much the Government are prepared to spend on the revitalisation of West Belfast and how much will be coming from the International Fund?
1869 Let me just say this in support of the Government. We hear of the great friend that America has been to Irish nationalism, to Irish republicanism and to Irish aspirations throughout the years. In relation to the International Fund, the figure mentioned was 250 million dollars. That is not an awful lot of money by American standards and it is spread over a period of five years. There is some talk now that the American economy is in such dire straits that they are even thinking about whether it will be possible to give the second instalment of this sum. So, whatever money comes from the International Fund, the present government—albeit a Tory Government—are giving a hell of a lot more to try to maintain the position in West Belfast. Therefore I do not think that we should unduly clap our hands at whatever small amounts may be coming from the International Fund. We are grateful for anything and we hope that it will be matched by the Government—indeed, exceeded by the Government.
I do not want to use the word "warning" but I must ask the Minister to be very careful in regard to any public expenditure that takes place in West Belfast to ensure that the paramilitaries do not get their hands on it. All sorts of representations will be made to the Government and government agencies as to where the money should he spent and how it should be channelled into West Belfast. Speaking from experience, I have no doubt that the paramilitaries will not be far away from the scene when the Government try to direct the money to where it should be spent in West Belfast.
I have already referred to LEDU. There is at least one officer—there may be more—in LEDU who is aware of all the circumstances and nearly all the personnel in West Belfast. I shall give his name to the Minister. I believe that that officer should play some part in advising where the money should be spent in West Belfast to ensure that it does not go to the paramilitaries.
The Belfast shipyards are important for West Belfast. They are the two main symbols in Northern Ireland, and symbols can be all-important. I hope that in those two projects the Government are seen to be giving even-handed assistance to both organisations.
My Lords, I do not wish to burden the Minister with more than one question to add to the formidable list to which he has already been asked to reply. I noted that when speaking in the education debate he did not refer to integrated education, neither did I see it in the Estimates at page 97. I shall be grateful to know whether the Government, not having made any specific reference to the establishment of integrated education, nevertheless intend to give it maximum support. Integrated education in Northern Ireland, as the Minister knows only too well, has a special connotation. It is difficult to exaggerate its importance to the long-term future prospects of Northern Ireland. I am thinking especially of institutions such as Hazelwood College, but there are a few others. Will the Minister say something on that subject when he rises?
§ 2.11 p.m.
My Lords, I was more than happy to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and to 1870 hear him make that observation with which I entirely agree. It was most encouraging to learn just the other day of the granting of maintained status to the new integrated school in Newcastle, County Down.
Time is moving on. I thank the Minister for his presentation, as usual, of the draft appropriation order. I shall touch upon a couple of points only. First, there is the Department of Agriculture Vote 2 in which fisheries are referred to. The Minister will be aware of the grave apprehension caused to residents of North East Antrim and the fishermen on the coast there by the proposal for a caged-salmon fish farm in Red Bay. I mentioned that point to the Minister in advance. They are concerned about the environmental and ecological effect that fish farming may have because of the discharge of excrement and, what is perhaps even more dangerous, the large amount of antibiotics that I understand have to be used when fish are confined in an area of high density so as to avoid the spread of disease. There are other hazards. I understand that dye has to be used artificially to colour the flesh of the fish before they mature. There is some danger of the caged fish escaping and mingling with natural fish, which can have a detrimental effect.
All those possible dangers are open to argument, or they should be. The trouble is, contrary to the provisions of the Environmental Assessment (Salmon Farming in Marine Waters) Regulations 1988 which I think are to come before your Lordships this day week, it would seem that there has been no consultation with interested parties. As far as I can see, there has been no proper environmental statement. Not only has the information not been given to the interested public; it has been made inaccessible to them. That is inexcusable. Conflicting replies have been given to inquiries. There have been contradictions about the area that the fish farm will occupy. Had it not been for the alertness of the local people, the public would not even be as aware of the situation as they are now.
On the face of it, this looks shady or at best incompetent. But one way or the other I put to the Minister most strongly that there is need for an independent public inquiry with proper advertisement so that everyone will know about it and have access to all the relevant information. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord will take that on board if he is not fully conversant with the situation already.
I am sure that the noble Lord must be tired of my referring to the Strangford ferry. I shall not ask about it today but merely sympathise with the noble Lord on the bad luck which he seems to have with the briefs given him on this subject. On 17th March—incidentally St. Patrick's Day—he told your Lordships, in answer to my question, that a survey by experienced marine consultants showed that the existing two vessels could give useful service for some time to come. Unfortunately, within three weeks of the noble Lord having made that statement, the steering on the principal vessel broke down with the result that it drove on to a rock, was holed below the water line, had to be pumped out by the local fire service and was out of service for five or six weeks. That was bad luck; the noble Lord could not have 1871 foreseen it. It is significant however that he made that statement on St. Patrick's Day. It indicates that even if St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, he has not yet been successful in driving the gremlins out of the Strangford ferry.
Finally, I should like to refer to the Department of the Environment Vote 4 on conservation, environmental services, urban affairs, lands, planning and administration. The inconsistencies which exist in the implementation of planning and conservation policies are quite astonishing if we look into them carefully. It is the law-abiding citizen who tries to play the game by the rules—if he can understand them—who suffers. By contrast, the experienced developer knows that the most effective cash-flow way of going about his business is to build first and then to seek planning permission later, presenting the planning office with a fait accompli.
I should be very glad if the noble Lord could tell us, (if not this afternoon, then perhaps he could let me know in due course) on how many occasions an unauthorised building, erected without planning permission, has had to be demolished or radically altered, as opposed to retrospective planning permission having been given.
Similarly, in the case of listed buildings, on how many occasions have penalties been imposed for unauthorised demolition? It is suprising how many listed buildings just unfortunately fall down in the night. To what extent are owners of listed buildings made to observe the obligations which they have to maintain them so that the buildings do not get into a dangerous condition and thus have to be demolished?
Furthermore, how do we know what the curtilage of a listed building consists of? The Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 states, with regard to listed buildings:Any object or structure fixed to a building or forming part of the land and comprised within the curtilage of a building shall"—shall, not may—be treated as part of the building".The situation then was that the prinicipal building which was listed was delineated on the map in red. Around it there was a pink shaded area which indicated the curtilage to the building. But there has since been a change. In 1982 it was stated that the pink shaded area which had always been regarded as the curtilage was no longer a curtilage but, rather, the setting for the building. Despite what Article 31(7) of the 1972 planning order says, the charge map shows a charge against the principal building but not against the objects or structures in the curtilage. How does the owner of a listed building know where he stands?
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, lived in a listed building when he was in Belfast. Did he know what the curtilage of it was? How did he know that a developer might not come in and build an eight-storey block next to him or either side of him, perhaps? He might have opened a sandwich bar if he had had two eight-storey blocks either side of him. But it would have destroyed the environment of an important listed building.
1872 There are other inconsistencies too complicated to go into at the moment. The whole thing is a muddle. It is the small property owner who suffers. He may, in good faith, have lived up to his obligations and spent money on his listed building, maintaining it and keeping it in a condition whereby it will survive for future generations. But then an inappropriate development takes place within what would have been the curtilage, the context is ruined, and the value of the listed building depreciates.
This is a cause of great concern. It is too wide a subject to consider in detail now as the hour is late. But I should be glad to hear more from the Minister. Not to put too fine a point on it, the planning and conservation divisions of the Department of the Environment are in disrepute. Something must be done.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, once again I am very grateful to noble Lords who have picked their way through this fascinating volume of estimates. I am grateful too for the detail of the questions asked today. As the perspicacious noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, was quite right to observe, I shall not be able to answer, nor would it be the wish of noble Lords that I should answer, every single point from the Dispatch Box today in the detail which is deserved. I shall write in considerable detail to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, on many of the points that he has raised. But I shall try to answer quite a few of the points today.
The noble Lord pointed out that his honourable friend in another place had made a speech—quite an interesting speech it would appear—the day before yesterday. But the noble Lord failed to emphasise that my honourable friend the Minister stressed that he could not answer all the points raised by the noble Lord's honourable friend in 90 minutes, let alone the nine minutes that were allotted to him.
I am sure that the point about the 25 per cent. of school leavers in Northern Ireland who leave school without qualifications, as compared with the 10 per cent. in England and Wales, will be covered by my honourable friend in another place. I shall certainly co-ordinate that reply and let the noble Lord, Lord Graham, have a detailed reply in my own hand in due course. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the nice things he said about myself and my right honourable and honourable friends who serve in Northern Ireland. But I stress to the noble Lord and to your Lordships that while we are immensely grateful for the encomia thrust upon us, such praise is also due to every member of the Northern Ireland Office—both here and in Belfast, as well as to those in my department—the Department of Agriculture scattered throughout the Province—those in the Department of Health and Social Services and all those who assist in our life in the Province.
The noble Lord raised a question about consumer credit. That will constitute the first note in the letter that he will receive from me. As regards unemployment, in 1979 the total number of people unemployed in Northern Ireland was 55,000. In 1987 the total was approximately 124,000. The percentage of unemployed in 1979 was 8.2 per cent. and in 1987 1873 it was 18.3 per cent. I think that the noble Lord would agree, and your Lordships would be at one with him, that in common with the United Kingdom, unemployment in Northern Ireland rose rapidly as a result of the international recession of 1980–1981. Indeed, in the year 1980–1981 it rose fairly mildly. By 1981 unemployment had risen to 13.1 per cent. However, all of us agree that the figures are too high. Everything that we can do in your Lordships' House and elsewhere will be done to try and reduce these enormous figures.
The noble Lord also asked about the debts of individuals. That point may be covered by the note on consumer credit that I shall send him. He will, of course, appreciate that a large proportion of the debts of individuals are in respect of electricity bills, gas bills, rent and rate bills. Those are covered by single payments where individuals receive payments from the Department of Health and Social Services. If large outstanding payments are owed to corporations, be they for gas, electricity or rates, a deduction may be made from the payments. That is always a matter for discussion, negotiation and agreement with individuals.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
; My Lords, I was referring to the growth in debt per se. I illustrated that by noting the increase in the purchase of consumer durables. More money is spent these days on holidays, leisure activities, motor cars and televisions. There is a tendency in our society to encourage people to incur debts. That is all very well in terms of employment and so on. However, there are social consequences as well.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I shall make sure that that point is covered in the reply relating to consumer credit which I shall make to the noble Lord. I hasten to add that there is no less pressure put on individuals in this country as regards the purchase of the things which the noble Lord has mentioned.
The noble Lord also asked about electricity tariffs. As he will be aware, Northern Ireland remains heavily dependent on oil for electricity generation. Even though the first phase of the current conversion of Kilroot power station will be completed next year, 70 per cent. of the Province's generating plant will still be oil-fired. That is an excessive dependency on oil. The unpredictable nature of world oil prices must be considered. Our policy remains one of keeping tariffs in Northern Ireland at the level of the highest tariff in England and Wales. I believe that that will be the continuing policy in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord raised the question of the co-operative sector. The Government and we in the Department of Agriculture recognise the contribution which has been made by the cooperative movement to the life and economy of Northern Ireland. The noble Lord may be interested to note that on page 46 the sum of £160,000 is mentioned as being allocated to other enterprise initiatives. The major percentage of that money will be used to assist the Northern Ireland Co-operative Development Agency. The role of that agency is to promote in all areas the co-operative approach towards assisting economic and social development 1874 in the Province. I hope that the noble Lord will think that that is a reasonable starting figure for the Government's commitment and support to the co-operative movement.
The noble Lord kindly raised the matter of my own department—the Department of Agriculture—as regards fisheries, marketing and forestry. Concerning fisheries and marketing, the noble Lord may rest assured that my department, along with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in London and the Welsh Office Agricultural Department (with the attractive acronym of WOAD), are in close consultation. As regards forestry, in Great Britain that is administered by the Forestry Commission. In Northern Ireland, those matters come under the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service. So far as forestry policy is concerned, I believe that we in Northern Ireland are at a level with, or even ahead of, the Forestry Commission in several respects.
The noble Lord mentioned consumer and industrial gas. With the exception of the largest gas undertaking in Belfast, all undertakings dealing with gas in Northern Ireland have completed their closure programmes. The conversion programme for Belfast is planned to be completed by November of this year. And expenditure on that process in this financial year will be some £15 million. I do not think that I can assist the noble Lord with anything more today. He will therefore be receiving a fairly heavy tome from me with the accustomed detail.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, we were most grateful for the very positive comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, on our proposals dealing with the promotion of equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland. As he will know, the White Paper setting out our proposals for strengthening the law against religious discrimination in employment, as well as promoting fair employment practices, was published just over a month ago, on 25th May. It is being debated in another place today.
The White Paper sets out very detailed and comprehensive frameworks for promoting fair employment which the Government are fully committed to implementing. The noble Lord will be aware of the main points of the White Paper so I shall refrain from repeating them today. Any noble Lords who wish to question me further on that issue may certainly take another opportunity to do so, and I recommend that they read the White Paper.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, raised the interesting questions of the shipyard, Harland and Wolff, and the Local Employment Development Unit. We are particularly grateful for his support for the LEDU and his mention of the 4,700 jobs which it has created. In my earlier speech this afternoon I mentioned that we are very keen on promoting business studies and micro-electronics, which are two of the main aspects at the forefront of LEDU's development programme in small businesses throughout the Province.
1875 The noble Lord asked about what he called the Belfast shipyard—Harland and Wolff. As was indicated by my honourable friend the Minister in another place, the Government's position is perfectly clear. If there were to be an expression of interest in the acquisition of Harland and Wolff, we would invite the interested parties to talk to us. Any such proposal would be taken very seriously and would receive detailed scrutiny.
I understand that an expression of interest in the acquisition of Harland and Wolff has come forward from Tikkoo Cruise Line Limited, which to all intents and purposes is the same as Mr. Tikkoo. As I said on an earlier occasion, when my noble friend Lord Bruce-Gardyne asked me about the projected cruise liner "Ultimate Dream", the Government will consider this proposal from Mr. Tikkoo and any other proposals from any other parties which might lead to the privatisation of the company, or indeed to any other project for the yard.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, raised the question of rumours which are apparently circulating about the closure of the Royal Victoria Hospital. My honourable friend said in another place earlier this week that those rumours concerning the Royal Victoria Hospital are totally unfounded. Those are the words of my honourable friend, who is responsible for the hospital as well as the health services in Northern Ireland. Our plans are directed towards further development of the Royal Victoria and certainly not to its closure.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, quite rightly raised the question of not only Bell's Hill but also West Belfast. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is most anxious to see an improvement in economic activity in West Belfast and is considering urgently what additional practical steps he might take to promote such an improvement. As I hinted earlier in relation to development grants and the redevelopment programmes, success will not be achieved in that area or in West Belfast merely with unilateral efforts by the Government. The private and voluntary sectors must and I believe want to have a major role.
As the noble Lord knows and has said many times in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, the biggest single boost to the prospects for that area would come from a renunciation of the violence which is a major obstacle to achieving better prospects for everybody who lives there. As he also suggested, the Government have a responsibility for seeing that any funds put into the area by the Government or in the form of voluntary aid remain where they ought to remain, for the promotion of business—that is, what we understand by "business", and not the kind of business that one reads about in novels or what one might call paramilitary business.
We take that responsibility very seriously and I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and other noble Lords that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State hopes shortly to be in a position to make a statement on the subject of West Belfast. I am sure that the noble Lord will contain himself with patience and I hope that there will be some good news for him.
1876 The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised the question of integrated education. The policy of the Government is that such education should be encouraged. Moreover, the Government will support proposals where they can be shown to reflect the wishes of local people and will not involve undue public expenditure. I hope that those last three words will not be taken as cast iron, cast in concrete or anything like that. I hope that we will be open to discussion and perhaps to persuasion.
I want to stressߞand I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be at one with me on this matter—that there can be no question of forcing integration on anyone who does not want it. As a point of detail, applications for maintained status follow the normal statutory development procedures, which include an assessment of any long-term viability of any such change in educational facilities in any particular areas or schools.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, raised three points with me. First, there was the question of salmon farming in North-East Antrim. I think that the concern about salmon farming in Red Bay is not entirely well founded. All the expert knowledge that we possess in this field is satisfied that the tidal currents off the Antrim coast and indeed throughout in that area should mean that no significant pollution problems are likely to occur. It was in the light of that knowledge that the decisions were taken to issue discharge consents and fish culture licences. We also paid very close regard to the economic benefits of those proposals.
However, I am sympathetic to the points that were made earlier and raised this afternoon and stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. Before any licences are issued I shall consider the need to provide an opportunity for public consideration of proposals for marine fish farming. I confirm that future proposals will be advertised as appropriate and that the departments—departments in the plural—which are concerned will be considering the best way of giving effect to that.
I should like to stress to the noble Lord and others who are concerned that I am prepared to meet all those people who have raised objections to the proposals for a salmon farm in Red Bay. In fact, quite inadvertently I stumbled upon four of them at a reception given not more than a fortnight ago by my right honourable friend at Hillsborough Castle. I am prepared to meet the people who have raised objections.
The noble Lord mentioned the draft fisheries amendment order. Following publication of the draft order, representations have been received from various quarters. I am considering these representations before finalising the order and laying it before your Lordships.
The noble Lord also raised the question of planning policy. The Department of the Environment controls development on the basis that planning permission is granted unless there are sound reasons in the public interest for withholding it. Each application for planning permission is determined having regard to that basic policy, to the development plans for the area and to the individual 1877 circumstances of the application. With certain exceptions—and perhaps as one major example we may take development relating to agriculture—planning permission is required for carrying out any development of land.
However, where development is undertaken without the benefit of planning permission, the department normally takes enforcement action aimed at ensuring compliance with the planning law. On listed buildings, anyone who proposes to demolish, alter or extend such a building in a manner which would affect its character is required to obtain the consent of the department. On the query of the noble Lord about the figures, perhaps I may write to him with them.
The noble Lord quite rightly raised the question of the Strangford Ferry service. I know how important that is to everyone in the Ards Peninsular. As he is right to point out, there was what I am told was a minor collision. I enjoyed the noble Lord's description. Perhaps it did not tally with the facts that I have. I understand that the motor vessel "Strangford Ferry" struck Swan Island just outside Strangford Harbour. Luckily the vessel, which had only three vehicles on board, was able to dock under its own power. The vessel has been repaired, as the noble Lord will be aware. It is operating a service. When I was in Strangford last weekend it seemed to be operating at full capacity. I hope that that will continue to be the case. We would regret any hold up to this generally reliable service, and we would take appropriate and swift action.
I note that almost the last word with which I have intervened was "swift". I hope that I have covered all the points that have been raised. If I have not dealt with them today we shall scan my remarks and those of noble Lords and I shall write to cover any further points. I commend the order to your Lordships.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at eighteen minutes before three o'clock.