Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland (Appropriation)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11 March 1976.

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10.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

I beg to move, That the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th February, be approved. This Order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 of the Northern Ireland Act, 1974 and is one of an annual cycle of orders which make available the money required for the services which are administered by the Northern Ireland Departments. These administer what were known as "transferred" services under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973.

As we are at the beginning of a new phase of direct rule in Northern Ireland and as Members of the House of Commons are not always fully aware of the arrangements for government in Northern Ireland, I hope that the House will bear with me while I set out some of the facts and figures about the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

There are eight major Departments. The senior Department is the Department of Finance with a staff of about 4,400 civil servants and a budget of about £29·1 million. Basically it is responsible for control of expenditure of Northern Ireland Departments, liaison with the United Kingdom Treasury and the Northern Ireland Office on financial matters and economic and social planning and research. It also contains the Civil Service Management Division which is responsible for the recruitment, pay and conditions of the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Then there is the Department of Health and Social Services of which I am the head, which we discussed in the Northern Ireland Committee in the past two weeks. It has a total of 53,000 staff. The actual number of Northern Ireland civil servants contained in it is 5,400. It has the largest departmental budget of all, amounting to £314 million per annum. Its functions are the management of social security, the cash social services, personal and public health services and personal social services. It differs from the Department of Health and Social Security in Whitehall in that it is directly responsible for the control of personal social services in Northern Ireland whereas control in Great Britain is by the local authorities.

My other Department, the Department of Education, has an annual budget of £241 million and employs 645 civil servants. It is responsible for all the normal educational services—primary, secondary, further—including adult—and higher education. It has oversight of the area education and library boards which are responsible to the Department for the local administration of the education and library services; teacher training; examinations—including the selection and review procedures—youth welfare and youth services; museums; the Arts Council; and the Armagh Observatory, which is an excellent institution. In conjunction with district councils, it is also responsible for community relations policy, which was incorporated into the Department of Education by Order.

The Department of Agriculture employs 7,193 staff with an annual budget of £38·4 million. It deals with the development of agricultural, forestry and fishing industries; the administration of legislation and schemes relating to farm improvement, crop improvement, plant health, livestock improvement, animal health, horticulture, and agricultural loans. The Department also acts as agent of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the fields of economic support for the agricultural industry and the implementation of the EEC Common Agricultural Policy.

The Department of Commerce employs a staff of 834 and has an annual budget of £175 million. It is responsible for the development of Northern Ireland's industry and commerce; the administration of schemes of assistance to industry, including linkage with the Local Enterprise Development Unit and the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation; electricity and other fuels; and the development of tourism.

The Department of Manpower Services has a staff of 2,184 and an annual budget of £42 million. The Department deals with employment services; employment and unemployment statistics; advisory services to companies; industrial training boards; management training; industrial relations, including sponsorship of the Review Body; the factory inspectorate; disabled persons; contracts of employment; redundancy pay; and wages councils.

Finally, there is the Department of the Environment, which as from 1st April, as a result of the decision taken by the House tonight, will be merged with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning. The merged Department will be responsible for housing and local government as well as EEC coordination; the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges; street lighting; traffic management; road safety; motor taxation; driving licences; fire services, transport; water supply; sewerage services, and so on.

All the Departments had a combined budget of over £1,000 million in 1975–76. The Northern Ireland Civil Service has 33,402 staff, largely recruited from the people of Northern Ireland. This is a separate service under the Crown answerable, through Ministers of the Northern Ireland Office, to the Secretary of State.

The Departments provide a wide range of services, but despite the considerable improvements which have been made over many years, Northern Ireland is faced with considerable economic and social problems which have been exacerbated by the security situation over the last few years. The economic problems which have led to growth in unemployment in other parts of the United Kingdom also exist in Northern Ireland where their impact is bound to be even greater. These problems should be tackled resolutely and they will be, within the resources which can be made available. Under continued direct rule, it is the Government's intention to take a positive attitude towards the solution of these problems and to govern positively. We are not intending to act as caretakers in Northern Ireland any longer.

The Supplementary Estimates for 1975–76 and the sums required on account for 1976–77 which are being appropriated in the Order provide the means for the Northern Ireland Departments under the direction of the Secretary of State to exercise this role in the immediate future.

I shall deal first with the Spring and Further Spring Supplementary Estimates. The total additional provision sought is some £54 million. The main Estimates provision of £827 million was approved by the House in July and the Autumn Supplementary Estimates provision of some £147 million, was approved in December. The total for 1975–76 is therefore £1,028 million, compared with a total Estimates provision of £725 million in 1974–75. Of the additional £54 million now sought, some £32 million or about 60 per cent. is in respect of pay or price increases. The amount accounted for by real increases in public expenditure is about £18 million.

Details of the services for which extra funds are required are given in two Supplementary Estimates volumes available in the Library. The largest item making up the real increase is the £14 million additional contribution to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive at Class VII, Vote 2 of the Estimates. An additional £1 million is sought as further compensation to the Housing Executive for losses of rent suffered as a result of the Government's counter-inflation policy; and some £2½ million is also sought for writing off the housing deficits outstanding on the accounts of the former New Town Commissions. An extra £4 million is required for water services and over £1 million for roads. Some of the increases in these latter two services are due to the commencement of additional schemes as part of the measures to alleviate unemployment in the Province.

I will not turn to the sums required on account for 1976–77. As has already been agreed by the Public Accounts Committee and the Expenditure Committee, a major reform of the Northern Ireland Estimates is being introduced in 1976–77. In this reform, expenditure will be shown by PES provision rather than by Department, as was done before. This will be similar to that of the present United Kingdom Supply Estimates, the form of which was revised in 1974–75. The grouping of Classes and Votes in the Statement of sums required on account is therefore different from that in the Supplementary Estimates for 1975–76.

The sums required on account have been calculated in accordance with the accepted formula, which is the same as that used for United Kingdom Departments, that is, they are 45 per cent. of the total estimates for the current financial year. The total sum sought on account is £464 million and details are provided in Part II of the Schedule to this Order.

These are the main features of the Order to which I wish to draw attention, but I should like to make one further point before I close. Hon. Members will have noted that the Order makes provision for expenditure in 1976–77 by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning. We have already taken a decision on the Order amalgamating this Department with the Department of the Environment. Provision is made in that Order for dealing with the financial consequences of the amalgamation, so I suggest we need not deal with them in the present discussion.

I understand that it is the particular wish of hon. Members to discuss education on these Estimates. I hope that I have come prepared to deal with any points they may wish to raise.

10.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Airey Neave Mr Airey Neave , Abingdon

I thank the Minister of State for the way that he explained the Order, but I have some questions to put to him.

The hon. Gentleman began by referring to the increase of £14 million in the Supplementary Estimates, mainly on housing. He referred to the deficit last year of the Housing Executive which was written off. Is the increase voted for housing for 1975–76 additional to that amount?

The Minister referred to the Annual Report of the Housing Executive, which I have been reading this evening. In that Report the chairman referred to what he described as an "irresolvable dilemma"—I think the hon. Gentleman will remember that phrase—and estimated that, with the present subsidy structure unaltered, with current interest rates and other expenses and an annual rent increase at about the same level as in 1974–1975, there would still be an annual deficit of £20 million in 1980. What do the Government propose to do about that problem? Do the Estimates for 1976–77 assume that it will continue? Have they taken that point into account? We are concerned to know the answers to those questions.

I notice in the Appropriations in Aid a slight drop for the Department of Agriculture. To what is that related? I am sure that Northern Ireland Members will wish to put agricultural questions, but I should like to put one myself. What has been the effect of the Price Review on the green pound and industries connected with agriculture? We are informed that there are serious problems. However, I leave those matters for Northern Ireland Members to raise.

I turn now to the Votes on Account for 1976–77—Part II—and the figure of £464 million to which the Minister referred. I gather that is taken at current prices.

The total estimated expenditure for 1976–77 on trade, industry and employment is over £142 million, of which we are here voting a large proportion. This is Class II. That seems to involve some drop in expenditure. We reckon that it is a real drop of £23 million. Is that calculation correct?

We naturally support the Government in making all possible economies, but we want to know whether the priorities are clear. Has there been a drop in the uptake of Government grants to industry and investment incentives in Northern Ireland? That seems important. Is there a shift in expenditure on industry from capital incentives towards public investment and public employment? If so, may we have an indication of the extent of that shift?

What provision for the new Northern Ireland Development Corporation is included in the Estimates? Will the Minister indicate what stage Government thinking on this matter has reached? What capital will be available to the new Northern Ireland Development Corporation?

The Minister did not refer to Class IV expenditure in Part II. This is largely on road developments. There appear to be some real cuts in the departmental estimates there. It may be proper that there should be such cuts at this time. Northern Ireland has a much improved road system, which is vital to its economy. What real cuts have been made in road developments?

Another point on Class IV concerns expenditure on transport services. How is the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company carrying on in the present situation? How is it affected by the apparent real cuts in Class IV expenditure?

Those are the points I wish to make. Otherwise, we welcome the Order and thank the Minister for introducing it.

10.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

The total Northern Ireland Estimate for 1975–76 is now over £1,000 million at 1975 price levels. At the price levels of 1973—only two years ago—that figure would have been about £500 million. That is the measure of the effects of inflation on Government finance. The same services are costing two or three times as much today as they cost two years ago. No wonder the entire nation is now involved in a life and death struggle to defeat inflation. That was exemplified this evening in the vote of confidence in the Government, although some hon. Members from Northern Ireland thought it better to abstain than to vote against the Government.

For the younger generation, if they only knew it, this is the Battle of Britain 1976. Victory in this battle will bring the certainty of a better life for all, but defeat will ruin everything which we have created as assuredly as if we had been inundated by a great tidal wave.

The Government have a duty to get their priorities right. When we examine the Estimates for 1976–77 we shall be able to see more clearly how the various Government Departments are being asked to adjust their spending. The aim surely must be to encourage the creation of more wealth for all by injecting a greater proportion of funds into manufacturing industries and agriculture. The industrial infrastructure essential for economic growth cannot be ignored.

In the. Government's White Paper on Expenditure the total decrease in funds allocated to Northern Ireland Departments between 1976 and 1980 is £37·2 million. Surprisingly, £30 million of that amount represents a decrease in those items which stimulate economic growth—for example, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, trade, industry, employment, roads and transport. In other words, the very sector of the Northern Ireland economy which should be receiving a boost is having to bear the biggest burden of the decrease.

About £20 million a year has been switched—I might almost say "stolen"—from Northern Ireland Government Departments in order to give it to the Northern Ireland Office for the purpose of maintaining law and order in Northern Ireland or what goes for law and order in Northern Ireland.

It is absolutely incredible that a part of the United Kingdom is expected not only to endure the tribulations and depredations of the gunmen and the bombers but at the same time to surrender the opportunities promised to the Ulster people in last year's White Paper on Expenditure. If the same criteria were applied to London or to the South-East of England there would be no national subsidy for the London transport system or the London docks. The switch of resources which is very noticeable in the present Appropriation Order is thoroughly reprehensible in principle and in practice.

No doubt the Scottish and Welsh Members will take careful note of the financial consequences of the unitary system of government of the United Kingdom which is so close to the hearts of some hon. Members.

I regret that the majority of Northern Ireland Members seem to want total integration and do not have a genuine interest in devolution for the Province. In my view they do a disservice to the people of Northern Ireland who need to have Government in the Province so that they would be close to the people who could readily approach them. By taking their present stand these Members are turning their backs on the genuine and deeply felt needs of the Ulster people. The sooner we have a devolved system of Government the better for Ulster and for the people of the Province.

It is not just a question of geographical distance, but of lack of understanding from Whitehall. Ministers and officials at the centre are not seen frequently enough at the periphery of the United Kingdom, and certainly not in Northern Ireland. The people cannot identify them with solving their problems. I appreciate that the Ministers fly by helicopter from Stormont Castle to various places in Northern Ireland and are then whisked away again back to Stormont. But that does not give the people a chance to communicate their problems to Ministers.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

I wonder when the hon. Member was last in Andersonstown or the Shankill. I was there last week.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

If I had the sort of security force that the Minister has I would readily go to Andersonstown——

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

I will invite the hon. Member along the next time I go.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

I would go without hesitation if it would help the cause of peace in Northern Ireland. When the security forces are expected to go into all parts of Northern Ireland it is time for politicians to take the lead, even though there might be a risk. Nevertheless it is a risk worth taking for the future of the Province.

In 1975 nearly £8 million came to Northern Ireland from the EEC regional and social funds. In 1976 the figure will be nearly £10 million. This is not mentioned in the figures in the Order, and the Minister might help in that respect. Does it mean that these sums are not to be credited to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund from which appropriations are made?

Suspicion exists, rightly or wrongly, that the EEC funds are not in effect what they should be—that is, in addition to Northern Ireland's total allocation of funds. What has been alleged is that the EEC funds are being used to reduce the allocations made in the normal way by the Treasury. That would mean that the Treasury is actually saving money at the expense of Northern Ireland and contrary to the intentions of the EEC. Trade unionists have expressed a great deal of concern for the last few years on this point, and I hope, therefore, that the Minister will explain the effects of EEC funds granted to the Province.

The charge for school meals is to be increased from 15p to 20p in September. At 33 1/3 per cent. that is the largest percentage increase levied since the scheme was universally adopted about 30 years ago. For a family with three children at school that will mean an increase of 75p per week. This comes at a time of a 2 per cent. drop in the standard of living in the United Kingdom. The drop in some areas has been steeper, particularly in the North-East, which comes off worst, and then in Northern Ireland and Scotland—a drop of 5 per cent. compared with 2 per cent. nationally.

Further education is very sensitive to employment opportunities. In North Down, for example, 17 youths were attending Newtownards Technical College for a bricklaying course. Since builders were crying out for bricklayers, 14 of the young men left the course and started work. The remaining three had to be transferred to Millfield College, Belfast. This year there is no bricklaying course at Newtownards College.

With the closure of the Gainsborough factory at Bangor and the impending closure of Rolls-Royce at Dundonald there has been a dramatic fall in attendances at day-release courses. It is hoped that unemployed young men and women will see the advantage of further study and make use of the opportunities to learn a new skill at technical college or Government training centre. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that the great merit of such further education is brought to the attention of young men and women in the Province who are paid off from employment.

The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) referred to school transport. The education boards in Northern Ireland own and operate more buses than some commercial concerns. Many of those vehicles are idle for many hours each day. They represent a large capital investment and with more imaginative management greater use might be made of them. For instance, elderly people could be collected for a day's shopping in the nearby towns or shopping centres. That sort of semisocial service could be fitted into the school day because the majority of the elderly would want to shop in the late morning or early afternoon—just when children are at school.

I hope that the Minister recognises that there is great scope for dual or optimum use of school buses as well as of assembly and sports halls and swimming pools.

Finally, I refer to a vitally important constituency matter. I make a special plea to the Minister to consult his right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is responsible for commerce, to come to the aid of the young people of Bangor, who have now been deprived of their Blue Lamp Disco. About 600 young people of all religions were able to meet together in Bangor. Such recreational activity helped not only to create friendships between youths of different religions and between youths who might not otherwise meet, but provided an opportunity to give vent to youthful exuberance. Tribute should be paid to the members of the police who run the Blue Lamp Discos.

However, there is now no place available in Bangor. There are some Government factories vacant in Bangor. I hope that the Government will soon find tenants for all those factories but meanwhile why not lend one of them to the youth of Bangor? One factory which is suitable is the Wellrex factory in Bangor. I hope that the Government will accede to my request because otherwise the Minister might have a march of young people from Bangor, which would make a change from some of the other marchers who visit Stormont Castle.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

I was at the Blue Lamp Disco on New Year's Eve, but I did not see the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he has attended the Disco.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

I am sorry that the Minister misses me whenever he makes a tour of the Province. If he had told me that he was visiting the Blue Lamp Disco in my constituency—the normal convention—I should have been quite happy to hold his hand.

Several Hon.:

Several Hon. Members rose——

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

I remind hon. Members that this debate cannot proceed beyond 12.08 a.m.

11.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold McCusker Mr Harold McCusker , County Armagh

As the Minister indicated, I intend to confine my remarks to the expenditure under Class IV, which relates to education.

I ask hon. Members to cast their minds back 15 months when we witnessed here something that worried most hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. At that time we passed a Youth Employment Service Order which, in effect, disbanded the Youth Employment Service at a time when that facility was being developed throughout the rest of the Kingdom. We moved against the trend in Western Europe and the rest of the United Kingdom by transferring that responsibility from Education to the Department of Manpower Services. We were told that that was in the interests of everyone and were advised that it would be introduced under what was referred to as a new all-age guidance and placement service.

We expressed reservations at that time but were reassured by the Under-Secretary that schools' careers masters would get appropriate specialist training with specific responsibility for the provisions of careers guidance. The Under-Secretary went on to say that the schools careers masters would be given full backing, so far as educational needs were concerned, by the area educational library boards and the Department of Education.

What concerned us then was that there was no general evidence that schools in Northern Ireland were aware, in the sense that we should have liked them to be, of what was happening. There was not the requisite number of full-time appropriately trained careers teachers. I remember venturing to suggest that a headmaster confronted by absenteeism, problems of large classes, and so on, would frequently say to a person who was supposed to be a full-time careers guidance teacher "Go down to room 16 and look after that group". There was always the danger that the guidance that we think is so important would become secondary.

Since then I have made inquiries. I know that certainly some of the area boards were not in a position to take over from the Youth Employment Service as we knew it. Can the Minister give us tonight a report on how the transition has taken place? At the time, a document was produced entitled "Proposed Assimilation Arrangements". Has that assimilation taken place? Is the Minister, as the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland, satisfied? Is the alternative to the Youth Employment Service being provided? Are there sufficient full-time careers masters available in the secondary schools throughout Northern Ireland? Perhaps the Minister will even indicate how many such masters he believes there are. We should also be interested to know how many are presently undergoing the training which is so necessary and which the Under-Secretary suggested would be provided.

Our fear, which I must reiterate, was that we would see our Youth Employment Service destroyed, with no adequate replacement. When looking at the expenditure cuts which are so necessary now, one cannot help but feel that we shall be in this "bind". We took that decision 15 months ago. The Youth Employment Service has been phased out of existence. Because of restrictions on expenditure we may not be able to get an adequate replacement. I hope that the Minister will reassure us about this matter.

I notice in Class IV that for expenditure on university grants, teacher training and the Ulster College the amount is roughly two-thirds of what it was last year. I hope that there will not be any cut-back in the provision of this training. While there was a transferred responsibility of the aspect of the Youth Employment Service known as careers guidance to the Department of Manpower Services, the Ministry of Education still had a responsibility. There was to be set up what was known as a Youth Careers Guidance Committee, with representatives from the various area boards, the various Departments and other organisations which were considered appropriate. Has the Committee been established? If so, what work has it been doing? What recommendations has it made to date, if any? What reports has it produced? Can those be made available to us? If we are to make a judgment of what was proposed 15 months ago, we need to know those details.

The problems that we felt might emerge with these assimilation arrangements were not altogether purely technical problems of how the service would be administered. We were also concerned about the personnel problems. I am sure that the Minister remembers that there were reservations and worries among the staff. Have those been successfully overcome? Have the staff of the service fitted into the new all-purpose, all-age guidance and placement service, and are they happy and satisfied that the work that they are doing in the new service is as productive and as useful as that which they were doing in the Youth Employment Service?

I turn to a more contentious subject—namely, the discussion taking place in Northern Ireland about the abolition of the 11-plus selection procedure and the introduction of comprehensive education. We have been assured over the past year that the feasibility study which the Minister requested has been completed and presented. We hear that he is shortly to issue a consultative document.

We are concerned that decisions are being taken that are remote from the people of Northern Ireland as well as from their elected representatives. Those who are most intimately involved and concerned about what is to happen merely read about these events in the Press. In other words, they can obtain only second-hand information. They do not feel that they are taking any part in the discussion. There are differences on detail and we are concerned that everyone in Northern Ireland has the opportunity to say his piece.

I noticed that a spokesman for the Unionist Party expressed concern in the local Press about the ending of 11-plus selection—She said, We are going to have Socialist dogma imposed upon the people of Northern Ireland without adequate consultation. There are some who are thinking along those lines, but that is not necessarily the view of myself or my colleagues. I believe that the Minister will consider the financial and administrative implications. In the light of the debate of the past few days, I am sure that those implications will bear heavily upon him.

I think we are all agreed that nothing should be imposed by a once-and-for-all deal on the whole of Northern Ireland. The Minister will know that different circumstances exist in different parts of the Province and that cuts are already taking place in some areas. Experiments took place a few years ago, and there is now the well-established Craigavon plan or, as it was known at the time, Dickson plan, which introduced the concept of the junior high school.

As someone who lived in the area and witnessed the problems and experience of those involved, I suggest that one of the great weaknesses of the system was the opportunity to opt to go to grammar school at Banbridge, Lisburn or Belfast. At one time over 100 children were travelling from the Craigavon area to grammar schools. That was to the detriment of the scheme.

I do not want to be too restrictive in the choice that is offered to parents, but I think that the option of travelling to other grammar schools had a damaging effect. Lurgan College is an excellent school that is struggling as a result of a decline in its intake of students. The college has all the facilities that are required to provide the best level of education. At the same time there are probably two coach loads of children leaving the other end of Lurgan to go to the grammar school at Banbridge, and two or three coach loads going to Lisburn. There are even some children travelling to grammar schools in Belfast. This is perhaps allowing too great a choice.

We know that in Belfast there are large secondary schools that have been developed into good comprehensive schools. I believe that the Minister recently visited Ballycastle to see the voluntary arrangement that has been established. It is an arrangement which suits the area's needs. We must take into account the locations of schools and the facilities that they make available.

I know that the various teachers' organisations in Northern Ireland have already expressed an opinion about the abolition of the 11-plus examination. We know that the Advisory Council on Education has expressed views, but the real debate amongst the people who matter has not yet started. We hope that account will be taken of the locations and sizes of schools.

While one may believe that schools can be grouped to form good comprehensive schools, it would be a matter of great concern if an attempt were made to bus pupils, perhaps several miles, or to convert small schools into mini-comprehensive schools. We are concerned that opportunities are not being given for opinions on these matters to be expressed and we hope that this is an aspect on which the Minister will help.

We are also concerned that the basic problems in education are not forgotten. We have 115,000 children in classes of more than 30 and 35,000 pupils in classes of more than 36. This may be better than the situation in Great Britain, but we have prided ourselves in the past on three-year and four-year teacher training courses and an educational provision which, at least until comparatively recently, has been better than that in Britain. We want to keep it that way. In the drive towards comprehensive education, we must not lose sight of other priorities.

There is a grievance among teachers in technical schools, which I have raised before. They do not have contracts of employment setting out the terms and conditions enjoyed by their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom. On 2nd December, the Minister told me that the cost of introducing these contracts would be only £260,000 and that savings which would emerge from the introduction of the contracts would have to be set against that sum. Teachers' representatives tell me that approval is still being sought from various managements and the Department. About 400 teachers are involved and they have been waiting for almost three months. This is a source of irritation and grievance and there is uncertainty about their position without these contracts. For instance, are they adequately covered for insurance purposes?

I hope that the Minister will be able to remove this grievance. The amount of money involved is small, and he would receive considerable good will at a time when he may be seeking the co-operation and assistance of these teachers.

11.23 p.m.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I want to deal with three or four matters, under various classes, of which I have given notice to the Minister.

The first concerns sewerage and water, which comes under Class VIII. Is there a maximum amount per house set aside for the provisions of these services? I understand that the Housing Executive has great difficulty in supplying these services to properties in some areas, especially in my constituency. Is account taken, in the sums provided for sewerage and water, of the current rampant inflation? Is there a sliding scale so that people who want and need these services can at least have the opportunity, at some time, of having them supplied?

The only large off-shore island in Northern Ireland is Rathlin Island, in my constituency. For some time strong pressure has been put on the Department to do something about the harbour facilities of the island. What progress is being made? It is to be regretted that the island has been neglected. I pay tribute to the Minister responsible for Northern Ireland under the previous Conservative Government and to the present Under-Secretary of State for visiting Rathlin and taking an interest in this matter. I hope that the Minister will tell us what progress has been made with the harbour facilities.

Even if good harbour facilities were available in Rathlin, access to the mainland through Ballycastle Harbour has to be considered, and I would appreciate some up-to-date information about that. There is also the question of roads on the island. Is the Minister satisfied with the operation of the preliminary scheme? What replies has he received, if any, from the committee of the islanders about the scheme?

Ballymena Textiles in my constituency is, unfortunately, in trouble. I do not wish to say anything which might hinder negotiations between the Department and the firm, but the Minister must be aware that the firm has announced that a receiver has been called in. Over the employees hangs the dark cloud of whether they will lose their jobs or be made redundant. Is the Minister able to make a statement about the firm?

The Minister has received a deputation of old-age pensioners who are concerned about concessionary fares on transport services. In parts of the United Kingdom concessionary fares are available, but not in the Province. Will the Minister tell us what is the position, and can he hold out any hope that the old-age pensioners will be able to get concessionary fares?

11.28 p.m.

Photo of Reverend Robert Bradford Reverend Robert Bradford , Belfast South

In speaking of Class IV of the Order I return to a matter referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker). He stated that an agreement had been reached between the unions representing the teachers in further education in Northern Ireland and the employers but that there was difficulty about the date of implementation of the agreement. I am reminded of a certain biblical prophet who asked "How long, O Lord, how long?" The teachers are afraid that they will receive the answer which he received, which is "Not for generation after generation".

The teachers in further education make a considerable contribution to educational life, and they should receive the treatment to which they are entitled. The conditions of service document relates to the number of hours worked, possible time off for study and the rationalisation of pay rates. These are all important aspects of the conditions of employment.

As the hon. Member for Armagh stated, the cost of implementing this agreement would be about £250,000. One of the excuses offered for delaying implementation is that it would contravene the £6 limit in the Government's present pay policy. This point is justified, apparently, by stating that as fewer hours would be worked by the teachers concerned, they would receive pro rata more money for the hours worked. While there may be some argument in that, nevertheless, it is important to realise that these teachers have not received any increase for a considerable time.

I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that discussions relating to this document on conditions of service have been going on for some years. As it has taken such an inordinate length of time to implement the agreement reached between unions and employers, some teachers in Northern Ireland in further education have a contract but about a third of the teachers in Northern Ireland have not. This is very serious, because it means that there is no power to regulate the time involved in resignation or, for that matter, dismissal. Resignations or dismissals can take place within days, and there is no control whatsoever over that kind of possibility.

Also, the teachers in their own colleges of further education are receiving less money when they work in the evenings than teachers who come, say, from secondary schools, or those who take control of certain classes and are not trained teachers at all. All these anomalies could be removed were this agreement to be implemented.

Another point is that in Northern Ireland there is no discretionary extension for sick leave in extenuating circumstances. In the rest of the United Kingdom there is such a discretionary extension available. It is just another pointer to the fact that teachers in Northern Ireland are lagging far behind those in the rest of the Kingdom in regard to conditions of service and the lack of implementation of this sort of agreement.

I turn now to another issue, relating to wages. This time it is not a question of not receiving a due wage or a proper condition of employment. It is a question of an unnecessary delay in the payment of wages. I refer to staff who are involved as domestic science assistance and refectory staff in colleges in Belfast. This problem relates solely to Belfast, if my information is correct. Although the matter was raised by one college initially—the business college in Belfast—it affects 1,700 people.

The problem, I understand, is that there is a retaining wage paid over the period of the eight weeks summer holiday to the two categories I have mentioned, but the retaining payment is paid in such a way that three weeks at half pay is kept until the staff return after the summer holidays, and, unlike the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom, the staff have to wait for two weeks to receive that money.

The matter was raised with the Education and Library Board of Belfast, but no great mileage was achieved there. It was also raised as a matter of urgency by the Board of Governors of the College of Business Studies in Belfast, and the governors sent a resolution to the Education Board. That resolution was discussed and accepted by a sub-committee of the Education Board, but was rejected by the full Board.

Photo of Reverend Robert Bradford Reverend Robert Bradford , Belfast South

I hope that the comment of my hon. Friend is accurate. He says that the matter has been settled.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

There is a reasonable prospect.

Photo of Reverend Robert Bradford Reverend Robert Bradford , Belfast South

If the matter has been settled, my hon. Friend is saving me some time and some breath. I shall be happy to give way to the Minister if he wishes to say that that is so. However, I proceed on the assumption that it is not yet settled. All avenues of approach have been exhausted. As with another issue that I drew to the Minister's attention, I have no recourse but to ask the Minister to investigate urgently.

The people involved are domestic science assistants and refectory staff, people who rightly depend on immediacy of payment. It is serious for them to have to wait two weeks after the summer holidays before receiving payment. Most of them are among the lower paid and therefore need the money quickly. They tend to be widows or to have families and dependants, or to be nearing pension age, all the kinds of people who need their money fairly quickly and who require their wages to be paid on time.

Although almost as numerous as the teachers under the control of the Belfast Education and Library Board, this category of people does not have representation on the Board itself. I have already drawn the Minister's attention to this. The Board's decisions have a serious bearing on the livelihoods and futures of these people. If they are as numerous as they obviously are and as important to the whole system as they obviously are, it is not asking too much to ask that they be represented on the Board, particularly as there are on the Board people who are not teachers, who are not elected but invited, and whose contributions to the Board may be unhelpful and perhaps even negligible.

I conclude by returning to a subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—concessionary fares for old-age pensioners. I have raised this issue previously. Some days ago, I received through the post a letter from a gentleman who had been in communication with the Minister and who had shared a meeting with the Minister just six weeks prior to the General Election of October 1974. This man documents in the letter than he received a promise from the Minister that immediately after the October election the whole question of concessionary bus fares for old-age pensioners would probably be discussed seriously, if not indeed resolved fully.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. A lot of time has passed and a lot of money has passed out of the pockets of old-age pensioners. I am sure I would receive the accord of the whole House in asking the Minister to confer with his colleague who is responsible for the matter. If he would like a copy of the letter to which I have referred, and it would strengthen his case, I would be happy to convey it to him.

11.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

This evening's experience shows that we have probably hit upon a useful method of utilising these debates upon the Appropriation Order by concentrating, although not, of course, exclusively, upon one previously notified subject. I intend not to refer specifically to Class IV but to make one or two general observations about the background to the appropriation account. Before I come to it, however, there are one or two remarks I should like to make.

First, I think that earlier in this debate, something very unfair was said about the presence of Ministers in Northern Ireland. I do not think that it is sufficiently realised in Northern Ireland that the population of Northern Ireland enjoys a more intensive attention from Her Majesty's Ministers than any other part of the Kingdom. After all, there are five Ministers of the Crown who are concerned full time with the affairs of what is a very important and outlying Province but which has a population of 1½ million. I do not consider that the slightest complaint can be made of their preoccupation with their duties or of the detailed acquaintance which they make on the ground with the problems of the different parts of Northern Ireland. That matter should be put straight and it should be well understood in Northern Ireland.

It is very natural that in Northern Ireland, under the pressure of the events of the last seven years, people should get into the habit of feeling that, in every respect, they are, as it were, getting the thin end. It is just worth while mentioning that in some respects intensive attention is paid to their affairs by the Government and, therefore, quite properly, by this House.

The other observation I should like to insinuate is that we welcome this evening our twelfth representative of the Province. It was rather like the appearance of the ghost of Hamlet's father on the battlements at Elsinore. Some of us feared that the ghost, having made his appearance, was going to walk off the stage on the other side, but at the last moment our anxieties were relieved. I am sure we all agree that the more often he comes here and the more he participates with us in debates on the affairs of Northern Ireland, even if it means that there is a little less time left for the rest of us, the better in the long run and the more we shall be pleased.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

We are delighted.

I want now to come to the relationship between this Order and the appropriation accounts for the previous financial year and the report upon them by the Comptroller and Auditor General, for, of course, this is a continuing link which runs forward from one financial year to another, and when we come to vote sums for the coming year on account, we should at any rate put it on record. It would be improper if we did not air some of the criticisms and anxieties voiced under these heads as a result of the work of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Having for some years—and for several years intensively—as a member of the Public Accounts Committee been concerned with this type of Report, I think that Northern Ireland is exceptionally well served by the work done upon its accounts by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is unfair to him and to the House—and I hope that this matter can be put right—that we receive his Report very late and that consequently the comments of the Government, which we ought to have upon his Report, come even later.

For example, the accounts for 1974–75, for the year ended March 1975, which I hold in my hand, were ordered by this House to be printed on 21st October. But the notation at the end informs us that they were actually printed in February and only became available this month to the House. I do not doubt that it would be agreed by the Secretary of State that that is not satisfactory. No doubt there are impediments which have caused this but it should be accepted that a much prompter availability of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General—and consequently the availability of the Government's comments on it before we come to vote moneys—ought to be the order of the day. I hope that that will be attended to.

I want to place on the record, because it is wrong that they should be ignored, some of the principal points of anxiety which emerged from that Report and which must be continuing; for they run on through the Votes with which we are dealing. First, there is the possible duplication, and consequent waste, of payments from the EEC and from United Kingdom sources for the same purpose. It is astonishing to learn that the Departments concerned are not necessarily informed of payments made from EEC sources. This cannot be right and some way ought to be found of dealing with it.

The second point concerns the continuing losses and frauds on Giro cheques. There is some improvement but this occasion ought not to pass without it being registered that large sums are being lost in this way. There is all too much reason to fear that it is not mere theft but is connected with other malpractices from which the Province suffers.

There is the question of the 100 per cent. grant to voluntary homes for children and the fact that if a grant, instead of being a proportionate grant, is a total grant—if that be not a contradiction in terms—much closer surveillance, a surveillance which would be appropriate if the service were being provided directly, is required. The Comptroller and Auditor General was right there.

I also mention—it has been mentioned in the Press—the extraordinary story of the electronic cash register that never was, which resulted in between £2 million and £3 million being spent under what was, to put it mildly, a misapprehension. There is a lack of foresight and criticism at the proper time in connection with the provision of recreation centres, and particularly a recreation centre in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). There are also the sharp words—and the normal language of the Comptroller and Auditor General is so dulcet that when he does use sharp words we ought to take notice—which he applied to the absence of stores checks in the Government training centres.

I have not mentioned all the points of criticism in the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report. Nor do I expect that the Minister, in replying, will refer to them all because we are to get, I assume, the formal reply of the Government. But I suggest that it would have been wrong if some of the principal complaints had not been put on the record in the course of the debate when these sums are being voted.

11.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

I do not intend to detain the House for long, although the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that he was not going to detain the House and then mentioned five or six points. If Northern Ireland Members are to have justice, the Minister should take a long time to reply in detail to the important questions raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South.

I was in the House on the Friday when the Secretary of State announced the ending of the Convention and when we were told that we were to have a period of direct rule. There will have to be significant changes in the way that direct rule is applied. We were told that it will be positive, not negative.

Reference was made earlier to the old Stormont Parliament. An opportunity would have been given there in a debate on such an Appropriation Order for a wide discussion on all aspects of Northern Ireland life, including education, health and social services, commerce and all the matters mentioned by the Minister. One and a half hours is certainly not sufficient to enable hon. Members to pick out points which they wish to raise either from a constituency or from a wider Northern Ireland view.

For example, all Northern Ireland representatives in the House tonight are concerned that 51,000 people are unemployed in Northern Ireland. That figure is liable to rise dramatically in the next six months. I know that the man in charge of the Department of Commerce is absolutely dedicated and that he is doing everything he can to increase employment prospects, but to support and boost the morale of the Northern Ireland people, further opportunities must be given in the House at times when hon. Members from other United Kingdom constituencies are present. Hon. Members from Northern Ireland also like to go to bed early in the evening.

Such Orders should not be introduced at this time of the night. Hon. Members, and perhaps Ministers who fly to and from Northern Ireland, could be excused for being unable to give each subject the attention it deserves. Northern Ireland Committees have given us the opportunity to discuss education, social services, commerce and other matters, but it would be more satisfactory to do that on the Floor of the House when hon. Members from other United Kingdom constituencies were here and could take part in debates on the affairs of Northern Ireland. The Appropriation Account for Northern Ireland is not exclusively a matter for Northern Ireland Members. I would like to see more English, Scottish and Welsh hon. Members contribute to such a debate.

The two points I intend to raise are of concern to all of us from Northern Ireland. They concern industrial development, and an increase in jobs. We must stop any further increase in the rate of unemployment and, if possible, increase industrial development in Northern Ireland.

I again express my disappointment at the activities of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. We have said this in Committee. The Housing Executive could build more houses. It has fallen down on the job. I recognise its tremendous difficulties, but the Minister should note what is said by Northern Ireland representatives and try to encourage or coerce the Executive into building more houses and so alleviating our great distress.

I know that the Minister will not have time to reply in detail, but I hope that positive direct rule will lead to Northern Ireland debates taking place at an earlier time, as is the case with the business of the rest of the United Kingdom.

11.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

With leave of the House. I would first thank the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for his kind remarks about the activities of myself and my colleagues in various parts of the Province. This matter was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), who on this subject, as on many others, shows a massive capacity for speaking on matters about which he knows nothing. The comments of the right hon. Gentleman redressed the balance. I agree that we do sometimes travel by helicopter, but that makes it possible for us to visit many more parts of the Province than conventional forms of transport. We have an advantage there. We do try to get about.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought that we had found a formula for dealing with these debates. There has been more form to this debate, because UUUC Members gave me notice that they would like to discuss education.

The most substantial point which has emerged was the question of the 11-plus examination and comprehensive education. Northern Ireland faces an important debate about the form that its secondary education should take for the future. When I got to Northern Ireland for the first time, I had before me the Report of the Burgess Committee set up under the chairmanship of the Vice-Chancellor of the new Ulster University at Coleraine, Dr. Alan Burgess, which recommended the abolition of the 11-plus but no method by which that should be done. There was therefore a great deal of planning and staff work to be done before we could start taking decisions.

At that stage it was my ambition to do all the background work for a debate by some future devolved elected Assembly in Northern Ireland. Regrettably that option is no longer open and we may have to wait a long time for such an Assembly and a proper democratic debate on this important subject. I had to ask myself how long it was reasonable to ask the people of Northern Ireland to wait before we could discuss these matters. I concluded that it was unreasonable to ask them to wait any longer.

I appointed the Chief Inspector of the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, a very respected man, to conduct a feasibility study into comprehensive education in the Province. He spent a year going around all the schools in Northern Ireland and making suggestions for the future of every secondary school under a possible reorganised secondary education system.

At the same time, the 11-plus examination in Northern Ireland has been under considerable criticism because of an inherent defect. The Department's regulations stipulate that coaching for the examination should be restricted to, I think, an hour per pupil per paper. That is a difficult provision to police. I suspect that a considerable amount of coaching goes on in Northern Ireland for the examination and that from time to time it is discovered, as it was this year. When it is discovered, those who have not been coached accuse the Department or the education system of putting them in an unfair position. We have had to rearrange the 11 -plus examinations for this year and to ask children to have another go. For the time being we have adopted measures which should limit the impact of coaching by getting the Department to set the examinations. However, this is a matter of diminishing returns.

I have now had the feasibility study put before me. It is not about the theory of comprehensive education but about practical solutions to the problem. The chief inspector has been assisted by the senior staff inspector, Mr. Hedley. Both of them work together. As well as going into the details of the fate of schools, the report lays down general organisational principles which might be adopted.

It is apparent that, in considering secondary school reorganisation, we shall have to consider many financial and administrative implications as well. These were not part of the feasibility study, but my Department has been working on the problems and will, I hope, be putting position papers to me on the subject in the next month. When I have had all these documents and considered them, I intend to issue a consultative document generally to the public and interested parties some time in the late spring or early summer. That consultative document will be the subject of public debate. No irreversible decisions have been taken on any aspect of the matter. The decisions have related to staff work. Therefore, the education officer of the United Ulster Unionists need not worry that decisions have been taken without proper consideration of the views of the people of Northern Ireland.

I am determined that there shall be a full public debate on the matter. I admit that we are under some restrictions in that we do not have a readily available platform in Northern Ireland, but I intend that there shall be the fullest possible public debate during the current year in order that we may get the views of all interested parties on the proposals which we are making for the future of secondary education in the Province. I hope that will serve as some reassurance to hon. Members. There is no intention of rough riding over anybody.

The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) referred to the Youth Employment Service. He said that towards the latter end of 1974 control of the Youth Employment Service was transferred from the Department of Education to the Department of Manpower Services. I should point out that 15 months is not a great time to develop the service to the full extent to which we hope it will be developed in the months and years ahead.

The hon. Gentleman asked some questions, and I hope to give him some encouraging information. We have put 54 teachers into careers guidance courses in Queen's University, Belfast, the new University of Ulster at Coleraine and the Ulster College which is a considerable success, and 93 teachers have been sent for in-service courses on the same subject. There is probably a teacher in every secondary school in Northern Ireland responsible for careers guidance. At the moment these teachers are not trained. It is our intention that they should be properly trained and should take up their responsibilities with the full backing of the Department.

The staff working the new system under the Department of Manpower Services—I am not in personal contact with them—are as content as people can be in working for a Government service. That does not mean that they do not have some points of criticism that they would like to make. However, broadly speaking, they are accepting the new system.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the pupil-teacher ratio and oversize classes in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that at present—and for many years in the past—class sizes are larger in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. The pupil-teacher ratio was 23·8 to one in 1970–71. However, we are making progress and the pupil-teacher ratio at the end of the last financial year had improved to 22 pupils to one teacher. It is the intention of the Northern Ireland Department of Education—all plans are geared to this end—to produce parity with the England and Wales position by 1981.

Although we talk about cut-backs in young people admitted for teacher training, the fact is that the number of teachers available to the service in Northern Ireland is increasing all the time.

I wish to refer to the technical school teachers who were mentioned by not only the hon. Member for Armagh but by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford). I admit that there is a problem here which has been a long time in the making. There was not until recently a proper agreement for the terms and conditions of service of teachers in technical institutes in the United Kingdom. When negotiations were completed in England and Wales they were taken up in Northern Ireland and were introduced into the new negotiating machinery for teachers which has been created in Northern Ireland since I took over the Department of Education.

There were a couple of hitches but eventually an agreement on terms and conditions of service was reached in the negotiating machinery. The matter has been agreed in principle. Regulations are now being drafted to incorporate those terms and conditions of service and they are being submitted to the area education and libraries boards.

When the area education and libraries boards approve those regulations they will let us know and we must then consider whether the policy will fit in with the pay policy. We must find the money which will finance the new agreement from some part of the Department of Education's budget. It is highly unlikely that we shall get any new funds for this purpose. There are 400 teachers in Northern Ireland who have not got contracts. They have been taken on since the new terms and conditions of service started to be negotiated. In a situation of flux it was thought best not to give them new contracts until negotiations were settled. Nevertheless, they are being given appropriate contracts to sign and I understand that their position is, in fact, protected.

There are a considerable number of subjects which I have been unable to touch upon in the time at my disposal and I shall write——

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on theMotion. Mr. SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft which was laid before this House on 25th February, be approved.