HL Deb 08 March 1995 vol 562 cc370-83

9.55 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th February be approved.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move. I am sure that the noble Lord opposite will feel that, unfortunately, this is not an unusual time at which to start Northern Ireland business.

This is one in a series of financial orders covering Northern Ireland departments which come before the House each year. The draft order before us today authorises expenditure of £198.2 million for Northern ireland departments for the current financial year. That is in addition to the £5,824 million voted by the House last June. The order also authorises the vote-on-account of £2,705 million for 1995–96 to enable the services of Northern Ireland departments to continue until the 1995–96 main estimates are brought before your Lordships later this year.

Before turning to the details of the estimates, I should like to set them in the context of the recent performance of the Northern Ireland economy. The local economy as a whole continues to perform well. That is reflected in the figures for those in employment and those out of work. The number of employees in employment in Northern Ireland now stands at 553,850—an all-time high for the region. Seasonally adjusted unemployment has fallen in 10 of the past 12 months and, at 12.4 per cent. of the workforce, is now at its lowest level for 13 years.

That is encouraging, as is the marked upturn in business confidence, exports, output and investment intentions revealed in recent surveys of Northern Ireland business. Those also indicate that Northern Ireland industry is beginning to benefit from the cessation of violence by the paramilitaries. While those are welcome developments, none of us can afford to be complacent. Government will continue to assist local industry to improve its competitiveness and to maximise the opportunities offered by the economic recovery now under way.

With your Lordships' permission, I now turn to the main items in the estimates, starting with the Department of Agriculture. In Vote 1, a token increase of £1,000 is required to reflect various changes in the vote. Some £2 million is required for additional uptake under the Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme. That is offset by savings in other areas.

In Vote 2, covering local support measures, some £25.2 million is sought; £26.5 million is for the Agricultural Development Operational Programme, where claims were higher than anticipated; £0.7 million is for the disease eradication programme; and some £1.3 million is carry forward of capital and running costs from 1993–94 to 1994–95. Those increases are partially offset by reduced requirements elsewhere within the vote.

Turning to the Department of Economic Development, a net increase of some £19 million is sought in Vote 1. That includes £4.7 million for the Industrial Development Board for the provision of land and buildings which is to meet expenditure on factory buildings for recent inward investment projects and reflects the continuing success of the board in attracting competitive companies to Northern Ireland; and £17.7 million is for selective assistance to industry, mainly for existing inward investment projects and for local, very competitive companies. Also in this vote, £6.5 million is required for Shorts recapitalisation programme. Those increases are offset by increased receipts totalling £8.5 million from the sale of IDB factories and lands.

In Vote 2, a token increase of £1,000 is sought. Some £0.6 million is for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. That will enable the board to promote and market Northern Ireland as a tourist destination. The increase is offset by increased receipts elsewhere in the vote.

Vote 4 makes substantive provision for expenses incurred in the privatisation of the electricity supply industry in Northern Ireland. Those costs have been met from the second instalment payments received in respect of the Northern Ireland electricity share issue.

I now turn to the Department of the Environment. A net increase of some £5.4 million is sought in Vote 1, including some £4.3 million for the road network. Some £0.8 million is for the Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency. Those increases are partially offset by increased receipts, including those for car parking and ferry services. Also in the vote, over £47 million is appropriated in respect of the sale of Northern Ireland Airports Limited.

In Vote 2, covering housing, token provision of £1,000 is sought. Additional grant to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive of some £4.7 million includes increased resources for maintenance and to offset a fall in rental income from lower than anticipated house sales. Gross housing expenditure in Northern Ireland this year is expected to be about £564 million, some £5 million more than 1993–94. Much has already been achieved in improving housing standards in Northern Ireland and that will enable further progress to be made.

In Vote 4, covering environmental and other services, a net increase of some £3 million is sought. That includes £1.3 million for comprehensive development schemes and various adjustments between programmes. Increased expenditure is partially offset by additional receipts of £2.5 million.

I now turn to the Department of Education, where a net increase of £2.7 million is sought in Vote 1. That includes some £4.1 million for grants to education and library boards, mainly for maintenance, minor works and equipment. £1.7 million is for voluntary schools, mainly for health and safety and equipment. Those increases are offset by savings elsewhere in the vote.

In Vote 2, an additional £5.4 million is sought. Some £3 million is for mandatory awards and student loans, reflecting increased demands. £1.2 million is for universities, mainly for essential equipment. Some £0.4 million is for arts and museums, including the adaptation of premises to improve access and facilities for disabled people. Increases are also required for departmental administration, youth services and the Armagh observatory and planetarium.

I now turn to the Department of Health and Social Services, where a net increase of £12.9 million is sought in Vote 1. That includes £9 million for hospital, community health and personal social services and £6.5 million for capital expenditure. It also includes £1 million to provide additional help for people disabled by violence. That will help improve facilities at the regional development centre at Musgrave Park Hospital and provide better wheelchairs. Those increases are offset by increased receipts and a reduction of £3.4 million in loans provision to trusts.

I move now to Vote 3, where additional net provision of £2.1 million is required. That includes some £7 million for administration costs and capital expenditure. Those increases are offset by reductions elsewhere and by a net increases in receipts of some £4.9 million.

Finally, in Vote 4 which covers social security, £80.5 million is sought. That is due mainly to a greater than anticipated demand for income support and disability benefits, in particular, attendance and disability living allowances. That is offset by a decrease in family credit. I hope that your Lordships have found the summary of the main components of the order helpful. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th February be approved.—(Baroness Denton of Wakefield.)

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, first, I wish to thank the noble Baroness for the care with which she has explained so clearly to the House the important details of the expenditure which is authorised by this draft order. It is very much our hope, as it is clearly the hope of the whole House and the people of Northern Ireland, that the peace process in Northern Ireland will make it possible in the not too distant future to put an end to the Westminster machinery of an appropriation order. The prospect of achieving an enduring peace is far better than anyone would have dreamt of two years ago. I believe that is the time I last spoke to an appropriation order.

We have had the ceasefire for six months and the two governments have produced their agreed joint framework document. I believe it is fair to say from these Benches that the Government are entitled to their full share of the credit for the changed scene. But our hope must be that the ceasefire and the enormously improved prospects of achieving an enduring peace should make it possible to adjust the December 1993 estimated expenditure of £2.8 billion on the law and order programme for the period 1994–97, and to divert yet more resources to the task of regeneration in Northern Ireland.

However, I am conscious of the warning by Coopers & Lybrand, in its January review of the Northern Ireland economy, that the Treasury may take its own peace dividend. That warning has not gone unnoticed. I am sure that I need not remind the House, notwithstanding the Minister's comforting and sincere words, that unemployment still remains a considerable social problem, being very high at 12.1 per cent. compared to 8.4 per cent. in Britain. Over half the unemployed—90,000 or so—have been unemployed for more than a year. Therefore more money is badly and urgently needed to strengthen the economy.

As is the custom at this time of the year—and has been the custom for 10 years at least—the Minister has reviewed the performance of the Northern Ireland economy. The noble Baroness has done so in pretty optimistic terms. I trust that she has got it right.

As the Minister explained, the draft order falls into two main parts. First, it authorises additional expenditure for the financial year 1994–95, ending on 31st March. Secondly, it authorises the sum required on account for 1995–96 pending the main Estimates. That funding is very substantial indeed and this, of course, excludes the expenditure by the Northern Ireland Office on law and order.

It is late in the evening and we have to turn our attention to two orders. Therefore in the short time available I wish briefly and inadequately to draw attention to two or three topics in which I happen to have an interest. If we look at the supplementary increases for the year 1994–95, I believe, if I have understood the columns correctly, that the biggest single item is in connection with the privatisation of the electricity industry. I am sure the Minister will know that the privatisation of the Northern Ireland electricity industry has been a most controversial issue, and the division was not only on political or party lines. I shall not weary the House with those arguments tonight. But I would like to ask the Minister to confirm whether the proposed expenditure in 1995–96, under Vote 2, on what is described in Vote 2 as "residual privatisation costs", will see the end of this item of expenditure.

I note that there is a small increase in one of the Votes of the Department of Agriculture on measures of agricultural and fisheries support for the year ending 31st March of this year. This gives me the opportunity to ask the Minister—I believe that she is in charge of the Department of Agriculture—how many fishing vessel owners from Northern Ireland have applied for the decommissioning grant under which they would scrap their vessel and surrender its licence. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether Northern Ireland's fishing industry receives equal treatment from the EC compared with the fishing industry in the Republic.

I have good news for the Minister. She will be pleased to learn that the community development programme of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Council has attracted a great deal of favourable comment by voluntary bodies which are primarily concerned with the well being of the Welsh countryside. Consequently they refer me to the development programme of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Council. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the programme is achieving the objectives set out in paragraph 5.46 on page 44 of the Expenditure Plan and Priorities, 1994–1997.

The Minister touched upon the health Vote. On that I merely ask whether she can assure the House that the Department of Health in Northern Ireland is not pursuing an insensitive policy of closure of hospital beds. There is increasing concern about the hospital beds run-down programme in England and Wales and that sick people are suffering in the result. I hope that the Minister can be reassuring on that point.

I wish to spend a moment or two on my final point. It relates to a matter that is not in the order—or at least I have not seen it. I refer to a possibly hidden Vote, which I suspect is among the smallest of all the Votes. I refer to the expenditure on promoting community relations and fostering mutual understanding and respect among children and young people in schools and colleges in Northern Ireland. This programme has considerable potential, but also considerable implications for teacher training colleges, the education and library boards, head teachers, teachers and school governors.

I have always been a supporter of integrated schools since the first was opened in 1981. There are by now about 23 such schools with enrolments of about 4,000. My support for integrated schools, and certainly party support for such schools, in a divided society is undiminished. But in the short-term there is also great potential in the cross-community programmes for bringing about changes in attitudes and improving relations between the young people of the two communities.

Arising out of what is not stated explicitly in the appropriation order, I wish to ask the Minister two questions and to make one comment about the cross-community programme. First, the planned expenditure for 1994–95 was, to quote page 122 of the December 1993 Estimates, "almost £2.5 million". What is the outturn, or estimated outturn, for the year ending 31st March? Secondly, what is the planned expenditure for the year 1995–96?

My comment is this: I have searched in vain through the order—I believe that there are about 3,000 words in the draft appropriation order—for a single reference (even a five worded reference) to expenditure on promoting community relations and mutual understanding during the coming year, and have failed to trace it. I assume that it is included under the heading "miscellaneous services". If that is so, it is discouraging for those working in that difficult area. I ask the Minister whether she will ensure that the programme receives the priority that it rightly deserves. That is the single most important message that I want to deliver to the Minister arising out of the appropriation order.

I have touched inadequately upon a few topics covered by the order. Some will say that undoubtedly the heart of this order lies in the industry Vote. For others it lies in the countryside Vote. For others it undoubtedly lies in the health Vote. But for my part, it lies in a Vote which does not deserve a specific mention, if I have got it right. I believe it is true to say that the heart of all the people in Northern Ireland lies now in fostering mutual understanding and tolerance which could lead to enduring peace in the not-too-distant future.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her extremely clear and helpful introduction of the order. Perhaps I may also say what a pleasure it is to see the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, back in the select club of those who deal with Northern Ireland orders late at night, as is our wont.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said that for some people the economic and industrial section of the appropriation order was at its heart. I may be one of those, although I shall wish to come back a little later in my remarks to the point on community relations which he made. It would be right to preface what I am about to say by briefly trying to give an overview of the state of the Northern Ireland economy.

The noble Lord referred to the extraordinarily high level of unemployment. Despite the best endeavours of local companies, local employers and the Government, as well as the Northern Ireland Office, we still have a painfully high level of unemployment. As the noble Lord said, about half of those are long-term unemployed. The economy of Northern Ireland is such that only 20 firms employ more than 1,000 people. It is an economy still more dependent on agriculture than other parts of the United Kingdom. However, it is also particularly dependent on government expenditure. It is worth reminding ourselves—though not in any grudging sense—that the total subsidy paid by the mainland GB taxpayer to developing the society and economy of Northern Ireland amounts to some £200 per household per year, £4 per household per week. So we all have a great interest in ensuring that that money is spent to good effect, to develop what successive governments have thought of as the twin track in Northern Ireland: trying to achieve a stronger economy and society at the same time as we achieve a political settlement. We all know that those go together.

There is a point on which I wish to press the noble Baroness. In a way it is unfair because she is particularly active in industrial matters and I know that she is greatly respected in Northern Ireland for that reason. But I wish to press the' Government and ask at this juncture, when matters are so hopeful, how we can all make Northern Ireland less of a dependency economy, less dependent on the continuing flow of funds and less of an economy where nearly half the people are ultimately employed in one way or another by the Government. How can we make it more of a self-sustaining and growing economy? There is a unique opportunity to attract inward investment, not merely from the United States, where sometimes the promise seems to be greater than the reality, but also from the European Community and from private firms throughout the world. It is a wonderful opportunity and I know that the Government are active in that respect.

There is the matter of skills and the way in which education relates to industry and the economy. I was very impressed two weeks ago to see the way in which the Magee campus in Derry—or, to be politically correct, Londonderry, or shall I say "Derry" again; whichever it is—is now closely intertwined with the local economy and producing the sort of skills that will make for economic growth.

There is, for instance, the Northern Ireland Growth Challenge that the CBI has undertaken. It has identified, I believe, 13 sectors and is trying to develop sectoral priorities. And there is, of course, the potential of EC structural funds.

All those lead me—perhaps erroneously, but I shall be glad to have the noble Baroness's opinion—to two conclusions. The first is that we really do need for Northern Ireland an industrial strategy. I know that those are difficult words for the noble Baroness's party. However, in Wales, under the leadership of her right honourable friend Mr. Peter Walker, the Government had a very successful industrial strategy. Is it not now time to do that in Northern Ireland: to pull together the best hopes of industry and of the University of Ulster and Queen's; to pull together the Government's own efforts and incoming money, whether governmental or private, and try to get the whole economy pulling itself up by its own bootstraps with its friends? So many people round the world wish it well. That is a little more than the IDB is doing.

The other conclusion I draw is that of the fundamental importance of doing more things on an all-island basis. I am not talking for the moment about the new body in the framework document. I do not want to get off into the wilder shores of politics. I am talking about practical co-operation on tourism, infrastructure and telecom. In all these areas there is so much scope. Again, it needs slightly more than the "invisible hand" approach which characterises the Government's policies on the mainland. It needs an active industrial strategy. I do not hesitate to say that to the noble Baroness because of her own robust reputation in this respect.

Perhaps I may turn to one or two specific questions on the order. The first is on the matter of education. I should like to ask the Minister two questions that fall within the educational budget. First, can she tell me a little about the funds that will be made available for integrated education? I voiced my fears in this House on a previous occasion that, as the two communities begin—we hope that they will move faster—towards some sort of accommodation with each other, the danger is that integrated education may be squeezed out. It is part of a plural society, and does not necessarily fit with the prejudices of the leadership of either main community. It is vitally important that the percentage of students who benefit from integrated education rises from the present 4 per cent. to a higher level. The Northern Ireland Office is proposing some fairly rigorous tests on how many students you have to have in order to open one of these schools. I should like to be reassured about the budgetary provisions that are available for those parents and communities who can get integrated education projects up and going.

The other question is a rather specific one. I am very excited by the imaginative project for a peace line campus in West Belfast, the so-called Springvale site. This project is imaginative if—and it is a big "if—it can be fully integrated into the community of West Belfast. Are the Government planning (this would clearly be cross-departmental) on a forward basis for the very large-scale investment that will be needed? I understand that the noble Baroness's right honourable friend Mr. Ancram is considering this matter. Can she tell us a little more about the potential and the plans?

I turn to the matter of community relations which was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. If I read the order aright, there is a very slight fall from just above £2 million to just below £2 million this year for community relations. Do the Government not believe that community relations are now even more important than they were before? And in particular I should like to ask the Minister about the balance between inter-community relations and intra-community relations.

I was very impressed when I visited the Corrymeela community recently to see the work being done with groups of young sixth-formers from the two main places coming together there, working on projects and undertaking adventures together. I believe with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that that kind of practical getting-together and working together of young people offers one of the best hopes for at least a higher level of mutual understanding on which a better future can be built.

The final point that I should like to raise has, I suspect, been mentioned already. If there is success with the political dimension of the settlement and there is to be a devolved Northern Ireland assembly, this could be the last time that we discuss an order of this kind in the House. Is there now any clear assessment of the financial scale of the so-called peace dividend? Can we have an assurance from the Government that their priority for any peace dividend will be to reinvest it where it is needed in building a better economy and society in Northern Ireland rather than allowing it to be clawed back by the Treasury.

That is a danger of which all spending Ministers are well aware in all situations. But in this instance it is particularly important that the Treasury should not be allowed to lead the debate. It is essential that the debate is led by the need for political and economic progress in Northern Ireland. I am glad to say that the Government have already answered the question about additionality on any extra European funds and that they will not be, as is true of regions of Great Britain, taken back by the Government.

I should like to widen the question beyond that and ask the noble Baroness whether in her response she can say that the Government and the Northern Ireland Office are successfully resisting the fell embrace of the Treasury. It is very important that they should do so.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, perhaps I may detain the House and indeed my noble friend for just one minute. I must thank her for everything that she presented in the order. I have had a request not to ask any questions, although I may speak for as long as I wish. Certainly, I shall not detain your Lordships for one digit on the clock let alone double digits. I certainly have no questions to ask.

I beg my noble friend to give as much support as she can give in Vote I under the Department of Agriculture to market support or marketing and processing. I hope that my noble friend will bang the drum on all sides of the Community for the Northern Ireland food industry in ANUGA, the world-famous fair in Cologne this autumn. Above all, I hope that she can use her remarkable talents to promote the production and marketing of Northern Ireland's food industry.

My noble friend in Vote 2 mentioned the sum of around £25 million and she said that there was a very high take-up of grants. I am delighted that the industry is still observing the wise words that it used to me: "Act fast while grants last". You never know—they might stop tomorrow. However, it seems that the industry is making full use of the funds available. I hope that my noble friend will be able to reassure us on that score over the years.

With regard to the Department for Education and Vote 2, I am glad to see—indeed, my noble friend took time out to mention it—the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium. Clearly, there is a major programme there. I appreciated all that went on there and enjoyed visiting it, which I did three, four or even five times. I learnt something new every time that I went there. I know that it is a unique and worthwhile site in Northern Ireland.

Finally, I conclude by adding my good wishes to those of the noble Lords who have spoken for integrated education and cross-community education where possible. I appreciate that there are priorities for funding. But I should like to add my support to the good wishes of the two noble Lords who spoke before me.

I thank my noble friend for presenting the order tonight and for all the nice things that she was able to say about Northern Ireland.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. How fortunate Northern Ireland is to have such friendship in this House. We much appreciate the support that the Province is given.

Despite the brevity of the debate a number of points were raised. I am grateful to noble Lords who gave me notice of many of those points. I shall try to answer all of them but if I miss any I shall read Hansard carefully and write to your Lordships.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that it is nice to see the noble Lord back dealing with Northern Ireland matters—for his acknowledgement of the Government's achievements in leading forward the peace initiative. Much of that tribute should go to the people of Northern Ireland, who themselves have earned, worked for and now have a peace which they so rightly deserve.

I was described as presenting an optimistic plan. I am optimistic. I daily visit companies and I daily see the innovation and creativity of companies in Northern Ireland. I think that we can look forward to a bright future and it is the future that the ceasefires have allowed us to build on. We can be rightly proud of what is happening there but not unaware—I promise your Lordships that I am not unaware—of the issue of unemployment in the Province. It is a long-term unemployment issue. I am delighted to report that we are piloting programmes in Strabane, Fermanagh and West Belfast for the long-term unemployed and we are doing so with funds resulting from the peace dividend. The sooner we can roll out that programme to the whole Province, the better. It will allow the long-term unemployed to have three years' experience of work and then, it is hoped, they will be able to go to the top of the ladder for recruitment in future.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to the closure of hospital beds. Northern Ireland has, as I know personally, a very good health service. A rationalisation of the services in the Belfast centre is under way. That is necessary. But business plans are coming forward for Downpatrick, for a new hospital in Coleraine and for the Royal Victoria Hospital. There is investment in the health service in Northern Ireland.

I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, raised the issue of how the Province is moving from a dependency culture to actually being a wealth creating economy. It is key that we change the tilt from the public sector to the private sector. We have to face outwards. The Department of Economic Development has been working consistently for several years on an industrial strategy which we are now reviewing. We are consulting with the players and we shall return with a revamped strategy which will show that our aim is to make the companies of Northern Ireland competitive. No company ever went to the top of the league by building on grants.

Companies have to be competitive in global marketplaces. It is a very good time for inward investment. The number of calls that we have received at IDB in recent months since the ceasefires is greater than the number we received for the whole of the previous year. There is interest and people who did not have us on their list before now do so. I pay special tribute to the role of the Koreans in inward investment. We have major investment already and other companies have followed Daewoo into the Province. There is much to do. We must not waste or duplicate the resources that we have. But I can assure the noble Lord that we have not only an active strategy but an active Minister.

My noble friend Lord Lyell raised the issue of agriculture which is so important to the economy of Northern Ireland. I promise him that I shall go to ANUGA with the companies from Northern Ireland. I shall also be attending the international food exhibition which is being held very shortly. Our food processing companies are second to none. I am delighted that their exhibition at SIAL means that we are now not sending coals to Newcastle, but sending bread to France. That is a great success.

I am glad that my noble friend mentioned Armagh. A great deal of work is taking place there on the economic development plan, which deserves to succeed. The cross-Border initiatives give it particular point.

I shall try to answer the questions quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, raised the question of expenditure on residual privatisation costs in the electricity industry. The residual expenditure in 1995–96 for the privatisation of the electricity supply industry will be mainly for the redemption of bill vouchers which customers can set against their electricity bills. That will be relatively minor and is likely to continue into 1996–97. As in the case of all other costs associated with privatisation, they will be met from the proceeds of sale.

The noble Lord raised the very important question of the fishing industry, which has seen a great many problems. There is no way in which we can put more fish back into the Irish Sea. We have to conserve stocks which are already there. Decommissioning is important. I shall let the noble Lord have the number of fishing vessel owners who applied for decommissioning grants. In 1993–94, 28 Northern Ireland applicants under the decommissioning scheme were successful and a further 15 qualified in 1994–95. Substantial funds will be made available in this area in the 1995–96 scheme which is yet to be finalised. My understanding is that no equivalent scheme currently operates in the Republic of Ireland.

The noble Lord was looking for a level playing field. There is rightly concern among fishermen about quotas between the Republic of Ireland and ourselves in Northern Ireland under the Hague preference scheme. That is something which my honourable friend the Minister is looking at very closely. We are trying to see whether there can be solutions.

I was pleased to team that people recognise that the rural development programmes are working well. That has been a neglected area in the past. Inner city deprivation has taken the high ground for so many years. There is a great deal to do. I am delighted that it is a bottom-up programme and that the people themselves are looking at how we can build on it. The strategy of our own Department of Agriculture was well received. I am happy to confirm that expenditure on this programme will not be reduced in 1995–96.

Not surprisingly, the noble Lord raised the important matter of integrated education, a subject in which this House takes a continuing interest. We recognise the importance of integrated education. I am pleased to say that there are now 23 integrated schools in operation with a total enrolment of over 4,700 pupils. Four new integrated schools will be established in September. We expect to see pupil numbers increase to 6,300 in 1997.

Expenditure in 1994–95 on integrated education will be about £13 million. That is an increase of £2.2 million over the previous year. Since the funding of integrated education was introduced in 1990–91, we have spent £43.5 million which is clear evidence of how important we believe it is.

Noble Lords have expressed concern about community relations and education for mutual understanding. I can promise Government support and commitment in both areas. Healing the divisions in Northern Ireland has been, and remains, at the centre of our policy. The end of violence can be only the beginning of peace. Far from reducing the need for community relations work, the ceasefires present new opportunities for such work and have given a new urgency and impetus to those who are working to promote reconciliation and understanding.

In 1994–95, the Government are spending almost £7.3 million on community relations. That includes estimated expenditure of over £2.5 million on measures to foster the mutual understanding and respect among children and young people which is so important. I am relieved to discover that that does not come under the heading of "Miscellaneous Services" but under "Youth, Sport and Community Services". That expenditure is set to rise to over £3 million in 1995–96. That money is worked extremely hard and is used to assist activities which seek to increase the level of cross-community contact and to encourage much greater understanding and respect between different cultures and traditions. There is also the cultural traditions programme which receives £1.5 million of the community relations programme budget. It involves work on the cultures of particular communities with the overall aim of promoting appreciation of, and respect for, the diverse traditions which make up the cultural heritage of Northern Ireland. I believe that that too is very important work.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, raised the important question of the size of the peace dividend and the implications for government spending in Northern Ireland. We hope that the peace will be consolidated. The ceasefires have allowed the security forces to respond to a diminished threat and that, in turn, has enabled the Secretary of State to reallocate savings totalling £15 million in the current financial year, largely due to a reduction in RUC overtime. Further savings amounting to £180 million over the next three years will come mainly from criminal damage and emergency provisions compensation and, again, from the reduction in RUC overtime. That has been allocated to important economic and social programmes in Northern Ireland. Those savings are in areas which in recent years have placed increasing demands on the Northern Ireland block.

We have benefited both from the saving of £180 million and from the absence of new demands related to violence. It is much too early to estimate the extent of further savings on law and order expenditure. Everything will depend on developments on the ground. In that respect, the Government have made it clear that they will not lower their guard prematurely - nor will they do so on political grounds, but will be advised by their security professionals.

The resources already released from the law and order budget would have to be restored if terrorist violence were to be renewed. If that were to happen, it would unfortunately be necessary to impose cuts in the economic and social programmes in order to reinstate that provision in the law and order programme. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that that would be most unfortunate. We must all pray that it does not happen.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to the fact that the Coopers & Lybrand study feared that there would be a reduction in funds. I believe that that message is uttered often in Northern Ireland in an effort to ensure that it does not happen. The Treasury has not clawed back money from this year's allocation, and I remind noble Lords that in his speech in Belfast in October the Prime Minister gave an undertaking that the Government would take full account of Northern Ireland's special needs in setting future levels of public spending for the Province. As the Minister in the Province, I can assure the House that we have enormous support.

A further issue which has been raised and which is of enormous interest in the Province is the question of the Springvale campus. As I suspect the noble Lord knows, we have commissioned a full economic appraisal of the project and have asked the Northern Ireland Higher Education Council to consider the educational aspects. Both reports are expected in March this year and in a reasonably short time we should be able to look at a decision on the Springvale project. It is an exciting concept and one which will require a considerable amount of help from our friends throughout the world. However, I am delighted to report that Northern Ireland does have friends throughout the world and we are very grateful for their support. Given that friendship, we still have the task of managing the funds which the Government contribute to the Province of Northern Ireland. I believe we do it well, and I commend this order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.